December 27, 2009

a new life begins.

Wednesday night, under the cover of darkness, we moved ourselves and our 99 hens and began our new life! We chose to do the moving at night because as soon as darkness falls, the hens go to sleep. In this state they are completely out of it and are very easy to grab, put in crates and transport. It's less stressful and traumatic for them and in turn, for us. Earlier in the week while I was packing up the camper, Nate was at the new farm setting things up for them. We stacked all of the crates in our mini van and off we went on a new adventure.
It was hard to drive away from the farm that started everything. The farm where we spent the last 2 years learning and growing. Where so many experiences were born. But many new changes and experiences are on the horizon.
So...where did we go?
For over a year now, we've been trying to make things work out with a well-known organic farmer. He raises organic grass-fed beef and organic grains. He's very knowledgeable and we have a lot of respect for what he's done and stand to learn a lot from him. The farmer, 'Farmer R', has been running this whole operation by himself (which is A LOT of work) for many, many years and he's getting tired and is in need of help. We will spend time helping him and learning the ins and outs of raising cattle. It's a whole new learning curve for us. We have a future vision of a sustainable, multi-faceted, multi-farmer farm where we have a group of people involved and we produce a little bit of everything.
We have moved ourselves and our hens here but we don't actually have a house yet. Luckily, a good friend of ours, also lives on the farm with her family and is letting us stay here until the housing situation works itself out. The good news is that our hens are settled into their new home on the farm and are doing well and we're staying in a real house with a wood burning stove, a REAL SHOWER and a REAL KITCHEN. I'm seriously in heaven.
After a most stressful period of freezing, worrying, packing and moving, we were able to relax a little and spend christmas with our family. There's no rest for the wicked though.....or, I should say, the farmer. This morning we started our new lives as cattle farmers, complete with the 2 of us being covered in manure by 1pm. Ah, life is good.
We still have a long way to go like getting into a house and moving the rest of our stuff from the old farm but for now, in this moment, we're here. We finally, finally made it and we can now take a deep breath and let it all sink in.

December 20, 2009

we're snowed in.

We love the snow. The hens, on the other hand, are not so into it. This is the young girls' first big snow and they don't quite know what to make of it. They are braving the cold weather amazingly well. We still plan to move them into a barn for the winter once we move but we're glad they're doing so well.

We are so ready to move but are still waiting for the final word. Time is going so fast and I can't believe it's taken so long to work this out. I promise more details soon. And yes, it's December 19th. Nuff said.

7 foods people shouldn't eat

I can think of many things people shouldn't eat but I just came across this article that mentions 7 foods you might not expect could be harmful...

Canned Tomatoes
The tin can your tomatoes come in is lined with a product that contains bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen. The natural acidity in the tomatoes causes the BPA to leach into your food. This could cause all sorts of medical ailments, including diabetes and obesity. Buy tomatoes in glass jars, or can your own organic tomatoes using the old-fashioned Ball Canning Jars. Aseptic pack tomatoes can also be found in Whole Foods Markets, natural food co-ops, and most large supermarkets.

Corn-Fed Beef
Cows are herbivores, and as such, were meant to eat grass, not grains. "We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure," says Joel Salatin, co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming.

Microwave Popcorn
The bag microwave popcorn is popped in, is full of chemicals that vaporize during the process of microwaving, and end up in your popped corn. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. They also stay in your body for years. Quit microwaving your popcorn, and pop it the old-fashioned way – in a pot on top of the stove. Tastes better too.

Regular Non-Organic Potatoes
Potatoes grow underground, and as such, whatever is sprayed on top leaches into the soil and eventually ends up in the potato. Fungicides and herbicides are the worst culprits, but then they are doused again after harvest to prevent sprouting, because no one likes potatoes with "eyes". Washing isn't good enough, so buy only organic potatoes.

Farmed Salmon
For obvious reasons, farmed salmon is not as good for you as wild salmon. They are kept captive in pens, and fed things most wild salmon don't eat. As a result, the salmon are lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens and various pesticides. Buy wild Alaska salmon. Stay away from Atlantic salmon. Despite the label, they are still farmed salmon.

Conventional Apples
The produce with the most frequently sprayed pesticides probably has to be the apple. The residues don't get washed off easily. Studies are being done to determine whether or not cancer and Parkinson's disease are directly related to the chemicals doused on apples. Buy organic or at least peel the apples before eating.

Milk with Artificial Hormones rBGH or rBST
It comes as no surprise that milk tainted with artificial growth hormones, rBGH or rBST, would be one of the top do-not-eat foods—or drinks. Recombinant bovine growth hormones have been in the news for a while now, citing that high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. The solution of course, would be to check labels, and buy organic milk. Ben & Jerry's ice cream uses milk and cream from dairy farms that have pledged not to use rBST. Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores featured hormone-free "Great Value" brand milk, but did not label it as such in 2008.

December 13, 2009

the downside of having laying hens.

Something else happened this week that added to the intensity and I've been conflicted as to whether or not I should blog about it. For seasoned farmers, it will sound like "blah, blah, been there, done that. Toughen up already." And to the average person it will sound cruel as hell. But this is the reality of farming and honestly, I need to talk about it. This blog is mostly about chronicling our journey and I want to remember all of it. Even the sucky parts.
We had to butcher our older flock of laying hens this week and man, I think it was the hardest thing we've had to do so far. Really. These were our first hens and we were very attached to them. They taught us a lot. See, a hen really only has 2 seasons of good laying in her and ours had pretty much stopped. We could have taken a loss and foolishly kept them anyway if only for better circumstances. We hope to be moving somewhere soon and just can't realistically move 2 flocks of hens nor could we easily house them for winter. If inside for a spell, hens need more space than they would if allowed to range outside. There's also the expense of feeding them without getting any return. Oh how I wish there was a 'spent hen sanctuary' somewhere that could house all of the old layers of the world. Unfortunately, that would have to be run by a very wealthy person because they're very expensive to feed.
We knew we would be doing this someday but needless to say, it was a very emotional day. We thanked them for all they've taught us and given us and did what we had to do. They have gone on to fulfill another purpose...the most healthy, flavorful and golden soup ever. We process and sell them as stewing hens and people love them. Most older folks know what amazing stock, chicken noodle soup and 'chicken and dumplings' old hens make since that's what our grandmother's used.
So, we're hurting a bit here. We miss them a ton and keep wondering if we made the right decision, even though we know we did. We're appreciating and loving our younger girls a little more these days and holding the memories of our very first girls close. Oh, and we might have let our two favorites escape....on purpose.

still here, and brrr!

Wow. This last week has been pretty intense around here. For starters we've been having a serious cold snap which should be normal for this time of year, however, we're STILL living in this teensy tiny little box on wheels and baby, it's cold! We've worked out a little system where we let the faucets run to keep them from freezing and add a little electric heater into the mix. It's far from ideal but we're surviving. I'm dying to have a house again. I haven't had a real kitchen or taken a real shower since August. Yeah, seriously.
Add to that the crazy 60 mph winds we've had and it sure makes for a super fun ride. The wind would howl, the camper would sway and we would just look at each other and hope we didn't fly away. I'm happy to say that we're still here, safe and sound.
And our hens made it through as well. After losing our first Eggmobile to 2 windstorms last year, Nate has done a fabulous job building 2 new, very windproof designs and we're thrilled to report that they're still standing. We're waiting to figure out their winter housing arrangements for the girls when we get to our new destination so we've been trying to make do for now. We thought we had really pushed our luck when we had those 12-14 degree nights. Nate put up a windbreak around the Eggmobile, covered the wind-facing windows and they were in good shape. They are such resilient creatures, it's amazing. Our only issue is keeping their water from freezing which is next to impossible so we just keep dumping out the ice and filling with more water.
You're probably wondering just how long we're going to be stuck in this camper, right? I mean, we were supposed to have moved to a new farm way before now, right? Well, some amazing and very exciting news may be coming but we're just not able to say anything just stay tuned.

November 25, 2009


It seems so fitting that it’s Thanksgiving because this time of year, as our farming season comes to a close, I am feeling so very thankful for so many reasons.
I'm thankful to be a part of this exciting local and sustainable food movement as it's something I believe in so much. I know Nate and I can't change the world but it's a start.
I’m thankful to have such amazing customers. The fact that there are so many people who have educated themselves about food and farming and who really appreciate what we’re doing feels amazing. I love talking with you at farmers markets and telling our story. I love that so many of you care enough about your food to want to come out to the farm, have a look around and learn about how your food is raised. That is what we’ve always hoped for. We think everyone should want to know how their food is raised and anyone is always welcome here.
I’m thankful for all of our animals who have enriched our lives and have given theirs to nourish others. I'm thankful for the privilege of knowing and raising them. I’m thankful to have such supportive friends, family and customers without whom, we could not do this. When we started this farming endeavor, we never would have dreamed that we would raise products that would be so well received. We completely sold out of chicken and turkey this year and have such a demand for our eggs, we never have enough. Somehow, we have to figure out how to increase production without compromising our sanity. That, my friends, is how we’ll be spending our winter. Lots and lots of planning.
We are still unsure of where we’ll be moving to and we're just about out of time. I simply cannot describe how that feels. We have a few options and are waiting to see what happens so stay tuned.
All of that stress aside, I have never felt more like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And for those of you who know me, you know that this is huge. And for that, I am most grateful.

November 24, 2009

empty nest

The feelings we are experiencing today are truly bittersweet. We just butchered the last of our turkeys yesterday and our only animals remaining are our 180 laying hens who we keep over the winter. Besides those hens, WE ARE FINISHED FOR THE SEASON!

On one hand, we welcome the break as we’ve both worked harder than ever this year. I feel like I could sleep for days and days. But to be honest, we’re feeling a bit sad. We miss our animals.

We have such amazing friends. We had a big crew helping with the turkeys and it was a really fun day. We made it a ‘turkey honoring party’. Everyone left not only with their Thanksgiving birds but also with a deeper appreciation of what it takes to get those birds ready for the customer.

Chris, Greg, Jen, Nate, Marc, Mike, me in front and Justin far right.

Nate and I love raising turkeys. They have such personality and are so much fun. We put a lot of love and sweat into those birds and, however sad it is to see them go, I can’t begin to describe what it feels like to know that our turkeys will grace so many tables and nourish so many families this week.

Is this really my life?

November 16, 2009

this gets easier, right?

I'm not going to try to be the tough farmer today. No, today I write with a hole in my heart. That's the space that my lambs used to fill. Yep, they're gone. I know, I need to toughen up. And actually, I'm quite proud of myself for handling it so well.
After all, that was the deal. They were to be butchered in the Fall and here we are. I can't say that made it any easier to say goodbye to them. Of course, it doesn't help that we bottle-fed them and bonded with them. And it doesn't help that they were SO cool and friendly towards us. And it certainly didn't help that since they trusted us with their lives, it was super easy to load them up and take them away.
That was the deal though. And we gave them the happiest life we could. Since they were orphans, they wouldn't have been good for breeding and keeping sheep over the winter means buying or growing hay which we're not prepared for. We don't even know where we're staying for the winter! They were also all males (Rams) and their cuteness and sweetness would soon have turned into aggressiveness. I have heard stories of people being knocked over and injured by their rams.
They were so much fun and so easy to raise. Nate and I could have spent all day sitting with them, scratching their heads. There are definitely more lambs in our future but there will only be those 6 that were our first.
To top things off, we've started processing some of our turkeys and they too leave a little hole in your heart each year. They've got a sweetness all their own and it's hard to see them go.
That's the price we pay for providing good, clean, healthy food for folks.
Sigh....this get's easier, right?

October 22, 2009

behold...the molting process!

Folks, I'm here to tell you about one of the wonders of nature.

About this time of year, our laying hens go through a process called molting. What is molting you say? Well, just before the cold weather sets in, a chicken loses its feathers and regrows new ones. Just in time for full feathered fluffy warmth when the cold temperatures arrive. It's truly an amazing process and quite a sight to behold. During the molt, the hens lay far fewer eggs as the majority of their energy is put towards growing new feathers. They also eat more and require a bit more protein as feathers are made up of mostly protein. They also get a little....well, bitchy. We are very friendly with our hens and spend a lot of time with them and we notice that they tend to want to be off on their own while molting. Maybe they just don't wish to be seen in such a disheveled state. I can't really blame them. A 'No hair' day is way worse than a bad hair day!

Example. . .

This is 'Lazy Eye Hen' looking extra bummed that she's such a hot mess.
First, the feathers fall out. Sometimes they fall out to the point of 'naked' and sometimes they lose them while replacing them simultaneously. See on this next photo, the pin feathers that are coming in on her chest?

And check this girl out below. See all the pin feathers on her head and wing?

This is an after shot. Now doesn't she look beautiful?! And look at all of that nice extra fluff under her feathers. She'll be nice and toasty this winter.

Amazing, right? Nature never ceases to amaze me.

October 17, 2009


It's Fall!?! How did we get here already? It seems like just yesterday we were in the height of the season; overworked, overheated and up to our eyeballs in chickens. I can't believe we're quickly approaching the end of our second season. We raised more chickens this year and somehow it still wasn't enough. We have been overwhelmed by the demand for our chicken and I think that's a good problem to have.

Well, I'll tell you....we have some HAPPY turkeys right now. Nate worked his farmer butt off making this very unique shelter for them.

See, those wheels in the middle flip up and down. You flip them down on each side and it raises the shelter up so it can be easily moved and then you flip the wheels up to lower it to the ground. It's genius, right?

We don't have crates big enough to fit these guys so we had to carry them one by one to move them into their new digs. And let me tell you, those males are big strong suckers! I know it looks like I've got him under control but my inner voice was saying "hurry up and take the damn picture, Nate. He's gonna bust loose!" I got wing slapped many a time that day.

Happy, happy turkeys. We have another shelter that's not as fancy with more turkeys and we move both of the shelters several times a day to keep up with their appetite for grass.

Right now our last batch of meat chickens of the season is ready to process. We're having the absolute worst weather, and have been for days, which is making things very difficult for us but we have to do it anyway. Once these chickens are gone, it's just turkeys and laying hens.

We are desperately trying to figure out what to do next as we have to find another living arrangement after Thanksgiving. This little camper does have heat but it is not winterized and the pipes will freeze. Plus, it's starting to be a pain in the ass. We are looking for a new farm as the clock tick tocs. It is crazy stressful and we're really hoping something comes along quick. Keep your fingers crossed for us. WE NEED A FARM!

September 22, 2009

eggmobile II

 This is the new Eggmobile that Nate lovingly built for our new flock of laying hens. Just like the other Eggmobile, this one is parked out in the pasture and we move it every few days to a new spot so the girls have access to all of the fresh grass and bugs they want. We just moved them outside a few weeks ago and they are loving it.

 That lucky guy in the middle is our rooster, Mr. Blonde. He has his hands full. He's in charge of keeping all 100 hens in line. One of his jobs is to get all of the girls inside at night. That's actually why they're called roosters, because they get the hens to go inside and get up on the roosts at night. This keep them safe from predators.

 And our new girls have started laying! That means lots of tiny eggs for a month or so before they get bigger. Below is a regular sized egg next to a new egg. People LOVE our eggs. They are a huge draw at markets and we can never have enough. We have several different breeds of hens that lay different colored eggs; green, blue, white,pink, brown. At farmers markets, people line up at my table waiting for the market to start and I sell out of eggs in the first half hour. And for good reason...they are absolutely delicious. I could never eat a grocery store egg again....ever.

 So, what do we do with all of these tiny eggs when we have more than we can handle?? Well, we hard boil them and feed them to the turkeys, of course! Our turkeys are still growing and they need extra protein. They have to stay in the brooder building for a few more weeks and then they can move out to pasture. They LOVE hard boiled eggs and go CRAZY for them. Working on uploading a video of the egg-feeding mayhem but sadly, I think the file is too big. Maybe another post.

September 7, 2009

life, simplified.

Wow. So much has happened and I really should have been blogging about it as we went along but alas....there was no time.

A little background... I mentioned before that we are 'borrowing' space on this farm. We were given the opportunity to use the land, tools and equipment. This was an amazing way for us to see if we liked farming without making the huge commitment of buying a farm. We knew our time on this farm was temporary from the beginning as the owners had purchased a bigger farm and put this place on the market. They still live here while waiting for it to sell and their cattle reside on the new farm. We have spent our time here contemplating what would be next for us and considering all options. After almost 2 seasons as farmers, we are now sure that we want to continue farming and we have been searching for a new location to move to over the winter so we could be ready to start up again in the spring.

I also mentioned before that we were able to rent a house just 400 feet from the farm to live in. This house has a separate owner from the farm. A few weeks ago, on the day before my birthday, our landlord informed us that he was kicking us out. He said he wants to do some remodeling on the house so he can put it on the market and told us that we have to leave. We have no lease, just an informal rental agreement so our rights are limited. We told him that we currently have 700 animals who need our daily care and that we can't just leave. See, our last batch of meat chickens will be finished for the season in mid October and our turkeys will be finished before Thanksgiving. The lambs should be gone by then as well. So that would leave the 200 laying hens that we keep over the winter. We asked our landlord if he could hold off until the end of November to help us out but he wasn't in the 'helping' mood. We had 3 weeks to figure out what to do.

We had 2 options....move our entire operation plus 700 animals somewhere or find a place close to the farm to live for 3 months. We could have rented a place nearby but that would have cost money that we didn't have and would have required a commute back and forth throughout every day to collect eggs, feed and water animals and work on other farm projects.

Enter my Dad. He and his wife have a 27 ft travel trailer which they generously offered us. We had to clear it with the farm owners as we would need to park it on the farm and hook into their water and electric. They allowed us to do it and here we are. This is our new home for the next few months...

 The one on the left, that is. That structure on the right is the new Eggmobile that Nate just finished for our new flock of hens. More on that to follow...

So the last 3 weeks have been spent processing 240 chickens, moving 200 chickens out to pasture, getting 260 new chicks, packing up a house, deciding what will fit in the camper with us, what we need to have access to and can store in the barn, what will go into the storage POD, building a new Eggmobile, doing 3 different farmers markets a week, moving into said camper, daily farm chores, etc. In addition, our van which we heavily depend on for getting our product to market and for hauling things around is now broken beyond repair. Stress has been felt in indescribable ways and I questioned whether one or both of us would survive. However, we're still here.

I will say that being free of a house is quite liberating. It feels good to simplify to just the essentials. I will also say that our new living space is...small.

For now, at this moment, we are more than fortunate to have a free roof over our heads with heat and running water. We also have the ability to pick up the wireless internet from the barn office, however spotty the connection may least we have it and it's free.

We are working on planning our next move. The universe was very cooperative in facilitating our entrance into farming as things just sort of fell into place. Things have been challenging lately, to say the least. We have had to work really hard and make many, many sacrifices to continue to follow our dream. It's heartbreaking to think that things could not work out for us. Farming is our life and we are determined to make this work.

Where will we go in December? Well, we'll just have to see...

August 15, 2009

american gothic

We thought it would be fun to re-create a modern version of American Gothic. There were so many hilarious outtakes that were too good not to share.
We set up the tripod, used the timer on the camera and experimented with many things.....
This rare, exotic "Mohawk chick" didn't show up too well against my black shirt...

This pitch fork was a little too big...

No explanation for this one...

Should we smile or not smile???

And then I thought it would be cute to have the little hen on my shoulder. And it was, until she got bored, turned around and pooped on me. Just as the automatic timer button on the camera was pressed. What follows is the hen-poop-on-the-boob series...
Neither of us has noticed yet...
Nate still hasn't noticed yet...



And our 2 favorites...

August 2, 2009

on a brighter note. . .

The turkeys have arrived!! A baby turkey is called a poult and we now have 51. All arrived happy, healthy and cute as ever.
Turkeys are very different from chickens in that they're very friendly and social. They also imprint easily so they think Nate and I are their momma. If we put our hand inside their pen, they all come running. We loved raising them last year and looked forward to their arrival this year. I must say that after the week we've had, they are a breath of fresh air and generate many, many much-needed smiles.

just need to vent a little

Another crazy week gone by. We processed 240 chickens, had a health scare with our 'teenage' batch in the brooder which was easily remedied by administering garlic and vitamin E (no antibiotics here, thank you!), moved the teenage batch out to pasture to make room for new chicks, got 51 turkeys which arrived early and got a new batch of chicks. The new batch came with problems which 4 days later, we're still feeling the repercussions of...
I spent Wednesday at the farmers market selling while Nate spent the day cleaning out and setting up the brooder to get ready for the new chicks. It was a LONG day but we were all set up and ready to go. That night, knowing we would have an early wake up call from the post office telling us our chicks were there, we brought the phone into the bedroom.
So the phone rings sometime before 7am and we are utterly exhausted. Nate answers and of course, it's the post office. Unlike other times they've called, I hear Nate say "Oh No!" and "That's awful." Oh great, what now.
Ordering chicks through the mail can be a crap shoot. We are solely at the mercy of the postal service which is, to say the least, not a good feeling. Unless we have the set up needed to hatch our own chicks, which is something we're entirely not ready for, this is the way it has to be. When an egg hatches, the hatchery counts them out, puts them is a shipping box which is square with lots of holes and divided into 4 quadrants. They usually put about 100 to a box with 25 in each quadrant. This way the little guys keep each other nice and warm. The hatchery ships them Priority which takes 2 days. Once a chick hatches, it doesn't need any food or water for the first 48 hours because it's still living off of the inside of the egg.
These little puff balls are super susceptible to 2 things....stress and temperature. Both of which can make or break a life. So far, we have had very good experiences getting chicks with few weather-related exceptions.
So Nate hangs up the phone and says "A bunch of them are dead", "The post office just told me a bunch of bullshit, they're blaming it on the hatchery." Now, I'm sure I don't need to tell you how devastating this is. We feel a tremendous amount of guilt and sadness when something like this happens. Yes, these guys are going to eventually give their lives to become food but we love and respect all of our animals and work our butts of striving to give them the best lives possible. We can talk about eating food grown, raised and handled with good, loving energy as opposed to something treated inhumanely, infused with bad energy but that would be a whole separate post.
So off Nate goes to the post office, not knowing what he's going to find while I head up to the brooder to turn the heat lights on and get the feed ready. When he gets to the post office he sees 2 chick boxes in black garbage bags sitting outside. As he walks up to them, he can hear peeping coming from the bags. The post office had attempted to throw out the evidence, which was 2 boxes with the dead chicks and left some live ones in there! The remainder of the boxes were inside the building. He didn't say much to them because he was fuming. He grabbed the garbage bags, and the good boxes and headed back to the farm.
I start unloading and counting the chicks, dipping their beaks in water, trying to get them to eat and drink as soon as possible. We're still not sure what happened to cause the deaths or when in transit it occurred but somewhere along the way, the postal workers noticed that there many dead and proceeded to take out the lives ones and cram them all into one box. I unloaded 200 chicks from one box. Needless to say, that was way too many for one box. The chicks at the bottom were smashed and barely alive. We had to euthanize a few who were in really bad shape but I spent the morning feeding a bunch with a syringe trying to get them to pull through. So far, including the DOAs, we lost about 65 and amazingly, the ones who made it are doing really well.
We called the hatchery right away and while they know it's not theirs or our fault, they will compensate us for them. And the post office will have to answer to them as they try to track the chicks and attempt to find out what happened. Our guess is that they got left outside by some insensitive ass in the heat or something. I wont even describe the picture of what we saw in the boxes that were in the trash bags. It was awful.
We are more than grateful that the survivors are doing so well and hope that the cumulative stress of their journey doesn't claim any more lives from this batch. As I type this, they are running and jumping around as if they've already forgotten all about it.
And us? Well, we haven't forgotten. We're looking around for hatcheries that we can drive to, to pick up our chicks in the future.

July 10, 2009

find out where this is playing near you. . .

an art which we're beginning to master

I've been absent for a while. We've been busy with not much to report.
We harvested another batch of 240 meat birds a few weeks ago. Some were sold to a CSA, some were sold off the farm and the rest are to be sold by us at a farmer's market.
We got our fourth batch of baby chicks last week. With every batch, it seems, we learn something new, thereby improving our system of raising them. They really can be tricky little suckers to raise often looking for any reason to just fall over dead. Keeping them alive and in good health without the use of drugs is not only a science, it's an art. An art which we are beginning to master. And it's amazing how the whole dynamic changes when things are managed properly. Last season the chick-raising part of our operation was often overwhelming and stress-inducing but is now almost enjoyable. It's all about the poop folks. Once you learn how best to manage the manure/carbonaceous matter ratio, it's a whole new ballgame. In addition, we may have just figured out the missing link in achieving almost zero mortality while in the brooder. Still waiting for the results to come in with our latest experiment.
I am constantly amazed at how much we learn from our animals. You can read books and attend workshops but the animals themselves are the greatest teachers.
Our egg production seems to be down a bit as of late and much time has been spent just watching and observing the hens and trying to figure out what the deal is. One guess is that it's the heat. They tend to eat less when it's hot and consequently have less energy to convert into eggs.
Our lambs are doing really well and are still such fun. We move them to a new patch of grass using electrified netting and step-in posts. We move them about every other day and when they see us setting up the new area, they know what's up and they're ready to move.
We'll be getting our baby turkeys (called poults) at the end of the month and have much to do to prepare. The poults have to stay in the brooder twice as long as the other chicks because they're very fragile when young. We will be building a new structure for them to live in once they move outside. We're looking forward to turkeys again because they're really fun to raise.
A new eggmobile for our second batch of little hens is in the works as well. We purchased the running gear and I'll try to document the construction in photos. It will be modeled after our current eggmobile.
More later...

June 24, 2009

more farm press

We recently wrote an article for the PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) newsletter which just came out. We did a presentation at a recent farming conference and were approached and asked to write about how we started farming.
We have really been working our butts off so when something like this comes's kinda nice.
And Nate was just interviewed on our local NPR station as part of a short 3 part series on sustainable farming along with some other farmer friends. Nate's in part one.

June 9, 2009

harvesting chickens for food

The 9 year-old I mentioned.... this is the paper she wrote for school about what she learned.
Harvesting Chickens for Food
By Blue Park
First, you put the chicken in a cone, not a ice cream cone, upside down.
Then, you cut off the head.
Next, hold the chicken in the the cone until the rest of the body stops shaking. It doesn't hurt the chicken because it happens so fast.
Then, you stick it in hot water that helps the feathers come off more easily.
Next, you stick the chicken in a plucker that takes out the feathers.
Last, you take out the insides.
When you go to a farm you can learn a lot. This is one thing I learned.

Future farmer, Blue
Future farmer, Blue

June 3, 2009

the cycle continues

We are beginning to recover from last week.
We completed the HUGE job of harvesting over 200 chickens which we did in 2 days. There's no way around it, it's part of the cycle and it's really hard work. Some very good friends generously donated their time to help us. One of our friends brought his 9 year-old daughter as it was the only way he could come.
She has been to the farm several times and the plan was for her to hang out with another adult elsewhere so she didn't have to witness her cute little chicken friends meeting their fate. We have been amazed so far about how much she 'gets' this whole farming thing and how she understands why we do things differently than most commercial farmers. But she really surprised and impressed all of us by asking if she could watch the slaughter/processing and then being totally cool with it. She was full of questions about the process and completely understood that this was necessary to turn the chickens into food for people. It was fascinating to watch the light bulb above her head as she thought "Oh, so that's how they get to look like food." She even wrote a report for school about how to harvest a chicken humanely. With her and her dad's permission, we might share that report someday in a later post.
And so the cycle continues. With that batch gone (batch #1), the "teenage" birds (batch #2) who are currently inside need to be moved out to the recently vacated outdoor pens. This must be done to make room for the next batch of baby chicks (batch #3) arriving Friday.
Now, if we could just get a break from the rain....
The lambs are doing well adjusting to their permanent outdoor status. They're starting to figure out how to use the shelter to get out of the rain. We're using electrified fencing that is move-able with step-in posts. We're now moving them to a new patch of grass about every day. They're like little 4-legged lawnmowers!

May 29, 2009

week from hell

This past week has been one of those weeks that has made us question why we're doing this.
For starters, we're broke. This time of year we have to get a half ton of chicken feed every week which costs about $400 and there's no money coming in because the first batch isn't ready to butcher yet. We have a total of 700 birds who need to be fed 2-3 times a day. We are extremely lucky to have some family who really believe in what we're doing and have helped us financially. But that doesn't feel very good. We know we will eventually get there but we want to at least be pulling our own weight.
So last week we got low on chicken feed. Getting feed is not a simple process. First, we have to drive to a local farm to buy roasted soybeans. Then we bring them back to the farm and weigh out what we need for the batch of feed. We then weigh out the 6 different minerals which go into the feed. All of this gets loaded onto the truck and taken to the feed mill where they grind it with their corn and oats. Then we bring it back to the farm and unload it.
Now, 2 things can severely interrupt this process and those would be rain and lack of money. The fact that it rained all last week and the fact that we were low on money forced us to put off getting feed until the last minute. Once Nate finally got feed and brought it back to the farm, we noticed that it looked different. It seemed lighter, fluffier and like it had too many oats. I should mention that our poultry have very specific nutritional requirements and exact calculations of protein percentage are taken into account for every batch depending on which type it's for (layer, meat bird, turkey). So Nate called the feed mill and asked the guy if he remembered exactly what he put into the feed. He thought he may have added 30 extra pounds of oats but didn't think it was a huge deal. This particular batch was for our new little laying hens who are just a month old and who, by the way, we love very much.
So we gave them the feed and 24 hours later, disaster hit. First we noticed that one hen had an anal prolapse so severe we had to make the decision to cull/euthanize her immediately to end her pain. We have never seen anything like that before and we just thought it was a fluke. A few hours later we see that a few of them were being pecked at and had bloody spots where their feathers were pulled out. So we started grabbing them and treating them with a natural ointment. They also seemed frantic and were making lots of noise for some reason. Then we noticed that almost all of them were bloody and some looked really sick. We looked at each other and immediately it clicked... it was the feed. They weren't getting enough protein so they were trying to eat each other's feathers (which are primarily made up of protein). Once chickens get the taste of blood, they start habitually pecking eachother. Plus, we found out that too many oats can be really bad for their digestive systems which is what happened to the poor little hen we had to kill. We quickly grabbed the feeders and pulled them out. Nate weighed all of the feed he had gotten and realized that we had 200 more pounds than we should have, meaning that the feed mill added 200 pounds of something extra which seriously affected the protein percentage. At this point we had run out of broiler feed also so we had given some of this feed to the meat birds. So we ran and pulled those feeders out too. Since we didn't know what the extra ingredient was, we couldn't correct it so we have 700 pounds of feed which we couldn't use. We gave everyone feed from our adult laying hens for the night and Nate was able to go get a new batch the next day which they didn't charge him for, but only after a few hours of trying to get the truck to start. I scrambled a bunch of eggs to give them a protein boost and we put salt in their water to break the pecking habit and all is well with them now.
One person's mistake could have cost us our entire flock. For this reason, we want to buy our own grinder and eventually grow our own grains so we can do it all ourselves..... but that is thousands of dollars away.
While all that was happening, it was down pouring meaning several trips in the rain to put the sides of the chicken shelters down. We had just moved the lambs outside permanently and they haven't quite figured out that they should go under the shelter to get out of the rain. So they're standing there soaking wet looking terribly sad and pathetic. It took all I had to not run out there and scoop them up in a fuzzy towel and bring them inside. They're sheep, after all, and have been living outdoors for thousands of years. Tough love.
We were scheduled to slaughter our first batch of meat chickens on Thursday. There was much to be done to get set up and ready for that but we were dealing with feed and a rain crisis instead. So on Wednesday, we're scrambling around to get everything done in time; set up and clean equipment, set up awning over equipment, set up hoses, sharpen knives, get aprons and gloves organized, clean chill tanks, make ice, check propane for the scalder, fill the scalder, etc. Plus, we have to catch and crate all of the birds the night before to get them off of feed. So it's 10:00 at night and we're out in the dark catching birds, hauling heavy crates onto the truck which of course, wont start again. After a few tries and some cursing, it starts and we make it home by 11 at which time we have to feed ourselves and get some sleep. We spent all day yesterday butchering and were very grateful to have some help but it was a long, long day and we got home at 10pm. We still have another 80+ birds to slaughter on Sunday. And then we have to move the next batch outside to make room for the 3rd batch which arrives next week. By far, the butchering process is the hardest job. It takes so long and is so much work. After they're all slaughtered and processed, they have to be shrink bagged, weighed, labeled and frozen. Oh, and then we have to clean the mobile processing unit, deal with the leftover chicken "stuff", lugging it over to the compost pile. We HAVE to find more help for those days otherwise we wont be able to keep this up. We do this once a month until May-October.
At this point we're wondering if maybe we should rethink things and not have poultry be our main 'thing' since it costs so much to feed them and it's so much work. I would love it if we had enough other money making stuff going on that we could just do a few batches of meat chickens a season instead of 1600.
We got home late last night and were so tired we could hardly stand and we ached so badly from being on our feet all day. Our hands sore and almost numb from gutting 126 chickens. We're starving having eaten nothing but a few random handfuls of snacks and.... it starts to pour. And I mean POUR. I'm standing in our kitchen with tears streaming down my face praying for the rain to stop so we don't have to run out and save birds.
Someone was on our side as the rain soon subsided and everyone was dry and alive this morning.
No money, no feed-then the wrong feed, sick and traumatized birds, truck problems, weather-related stress, rushing to meet deadlines...the list goes on. The stress was palpable to put it mildly and it was all we could do to keep it together and try to support each other.
Today is another day and so far, no crisis. Why can't all of the animals give us a day off and find their own food and keep themselves alive?

May 23, 2009

why we do things the way we do. . .

Some of you might be wondering how things work around here or why we do things the way we do. I thought I should fill you in a bit. Be prepared.... some of this info is not for the faint of heart.
Free-range eggs
Our hens spend their days happily roaming around foraging for bugs and grass in the fresh air and sunshine. We supplement their diet with a custom ground blend of local grains and minerals. No hormones, antibiotics, medications or anything unnatural. At night, they head into their 'Eggmobile' and we close the doors keeping them safe from predators. Because of their grass consumption, the eggs are super yummy, the yolks are bright orange, the whites aren't runny, they're high in Omega-3's and they are very low in cholesterol. In fact these eggs are rich in CLA, an essential fatty acid, which can help lower your cholesterol.
Unfortunately, the conventional method for raising laying hens is in confinement. Sometimes eight hens to a cage, their poop covered eggs drop onto a conveyor belt. Sunshine and fresh air are but a mere dream for these ladies. The conditions are so unhealthy that there are often sick or dead hens in the cages. They HAVE to administer vaccines and antibiotics just to keep them alive. Ironically, the white leghorn, the standard for conventional confinement operations, are the most active and are the best foragers. They de-beak the hens because they often resort to cannibalistic behavior when forced to live in such confined conditions.
Right now, we have 89 hens and most of them lay an egg a day. We have another 105 little hens who will start laying in about 4 months.
The Eggmobile
The Eggmobile and some very happy hens
These are the meat birds. This breed is conventionally raised by the thousands in horrible warehouse conditions never allowed to see daylight. Same conditions warrant the same need for drugs. The goal is to grow a chicken as fast as possible. Lights are kept on 24 hours a day so they eat all the time. Believe it or not, they even put arsenic in their feed to encourage them to eat more. And yes, that arsenic is passed along to the eater, of course.
Poultry are very susceptible to stress and it’s affects can be devastating. We’ve often heard people rave about the difference in the taste and texture of our chicken. We believe it is due to the lack of stress in their lives.
We do all of our own butchering here on the farm. In conventional operations, butchering is done mechanically, often causing the intestines to break in the process contaminating the chicken. These chickens sit in a chill tank with all of that feces. The chickens then go through up to 40 chlorine baths to get them clean before they are injected with dyes and flavorings, bagged and ready for your consumption. This is why we decided that we want to see these birds all the way through to their end. We can’t guarantee our product otherwise.
We choose to raise our meat birds outside on pasture. It’s harder work for us but the result is a healthier bird with no need for any drugs. We also feed them a custom ground mix of local grains and minerals.
This is how the baby chicks arrive. They are shipped Priority mail and the post office calls us in the morning to let us know they’re in and we go pick them up.
We count each one as we unload them. They stay inside the brooder for the first few weeks where they have heat lamps to keep them warm and cozy.
After 3 or 4 weeks, once they’ve grown feathers, they get to move outside into our field shelters. These shelters are bottomless and offer them the best of both worlds. They can forage grass and bugs while staying safe from predators and weather. This breed is not quite as smart and self sufficient as our layers so they need a little extra care. We move the pens by hand twice a day to a fresh patch of grass. Their manure is an excellent fertilizer and the grass grows back unbelievably lush and green.
Field shelters
Field shelters
Our turkeys are raised the same way as the broilers except that they eat so much more grass, we often move them several times a day. We love raising turkeys. They’re lots of fun.
Kristen moving the turkey pen last year.
Kristen moving the turkey pen last year.
Our lambs are raised organically and are 100% grass-fed. Sheep are ruminants and like cows and goats, are meant to eat grass. Feeding grain puts such a strain on their systems that again, health problems arise and drugs are needed. As a result of the extensive use of antibiotics in animals, people are becoming immune to their effects are are now needing new stronger ones. There is, of course, more than one school of thought on this which is why some farmers feed grain. More info to come on grass-fed meats…
Doing things this way only makes sense to us.
Some resource links:
Grass-Fed basics at
Home-grown vs. Agri-industrial chickens

May 19, 2009

out here in the sticks

Farming has totally changed our lives in may ways. One of the biggest changes has been how we view weather. We have learned, (the very, very, very) hard way, that weather can have the power to seriously break us.
Let's take the 2 major offenders for us....rain and wind. I love rain and I love how it makes things turn green, grow and flourish but too much rain can be a bad thing. If it rains hard enough,the movable pens (to be explained in more detail in a future post) will flood requiring us to get straw to lay down inside the pens. The straw is enough to get the chickens up and away from the water. That has happened a few times and of course, always at bad times like when we had plans to go somewhere or when it's late at night. And now we have the lambs who are outside during the day. So, while in my previous life, if I heard it start to rain, I might wonder if my windows were down or maybe if I'd left something outside. These days it's more like *grab all of the laying hen's feeders and put them under the shelter, *Run across the road into the other paddock and put the tarp sides down on the broiler pens and make sure they're spaced well enough so any water runoff from one pen doesn't run into the pen below it, *run and grab the lambs and corral them inside, *make sure windows in brooder are closed so the baby chicks don't get wet.
Knowing that you are responsible for all of those lives is a pretty intense feeling. We would feel terrible if something happened to them and of course, that's money sitting out in that field getting wet.
Ah yes, then there's Wind. I'm still adjusting but at the moment, the wind and I don't have a very good relationship. 92 mph winds picked up, flipped, crashed, and destroyed our 'Eggmobile' (portable hen house). This happened on 2 different occasions. It was devastating because Nate had spent so much time building it and around here, time is valuable. It was a huge setback. In addition to the Eggmobile carnage we had some damage to our field pens and were out in the crazy winds trying to stake down the tarps.
I can't explain the feeling I get when I hear heavy rain or high wind. We have since built a shorter, less flippable Eggmobile and I am beginning to forgive and learn to work with Mother Nature. However, I still hold my breath every time a huge gust comes through here. Having so many living things who are depending on you and living outside where they're vulnerable can be scary. Take, for instance, the other night...
Nate was in town for a friend/art event. At 11:00 pm I was awaken by a pack of barking, howling dogs. I sat straight upright in bed immediately flooded with fear. I couldn't tell how far away they were but they sounded pretty close. I could tell there were at least 4 or 5 of them. They were going crazy. We have heard that there are coyotes around here and Nate thought he heard some a few weeks ago. All of our animals are either inside at night or locked up in pens or in the eggmobile but I was afraid the dogs were harassing them trying to get into their pens or something. I was alone and didn't know what to do. If it was coyotes or wild dogs, what could I do? If they saw me would they come after me?
20 minutes later, all of a sudden, they were all quiet. The next morning, everyone was fine and there was no sign that anything had happened.
I have since learned what that comotion was all about and you will not believe it. I had no idea at the time but I was experiencing my first "Coonhound Night Hunting". Um, yeah. It's an actual sport. A group of guys have a contest to see whose dog can chase the most raccoons up a tree. The dogs are specailly trained for this. They don't kill the raccoon, they just scare the livng crap out of it. Sounds like a humane sport, right? I am slightly disturbed to learn this but at least the coyote theory was put to rest..... for now, anyway.

May 13, 2009

we quite our jobs to start a farm. Here's our story. . .

We're both Pittsburgh natives....well sort of. I'm actually from Northern Virginia but have spent a large part of my life in Pittsburgh. Nate and I were living in England where he worked for a company designing toys for children with special needs. Nate became bored with his job. He enjoyed the concept of his work but was not allowed the freedom he felt he needed to really design well. The weather was awful there. It rained or was gray for what seemed like 90% of the time we were there which didn't help with homesickness and missing friends and family. I was unable to find work there which made things difficult. We did however, make some lovely friends whom we still think of often and miss. Man, it would've been rough there without them.
We had both always been very health conscious and felt that the world's food system was broken. During our time in England we began to learn more about the horrors of factory farming, confinement operations, and genetically modified foods. We decided that we no longer wanted to support that industry so we became vegetarians. After a while it became clear that Nate's body was not a fan of the no-meat diet. Despite being extremely protein-conscious, he lost weight and suffered headaches and fatigue. So we decided to begin adding meat back into our diets but found it very difficult to find natural, humanely raised meat.
Around this time we returned to Pittsburgh for a much needed visit. While we were here my mother, Jeannette, and her partner, Gerry, enthusiastically told us of the local food movement that was starting to happen here in the region. We began discussing the possibility that there was an inevitable economic collapse on the horizon and that we'd all like to be more self sustainable. We were also trying to think of industries that would be the least affected and that would be in need if such a collapse should occur. Gerry had just been to visit Joel Salatin's Polyface Farm in Swoope, VA and he showed us his book "You Can Farm". Gerry suggested that we become farmers. We glanced at the book but honestly didn't think too much of it. None of us knew it then but Gerry had planted a seed.
We flew back to England and neither of us could stop thinking about the idea. We were looking for a life change and wondered if this could be it. We Googled Joel Salatin and saw this video. We were truly inspired. He spoke of an alternative farming method of raising poultry and ruminants naturally, on pasture.... like nature intended. Like our ancestors did because it only makes sense. That is until the giant, money-hungry agricultural industries entered the picture. We immediately ordered all of his books. The first book I read was "Pastured Poultry Profits". I would read all day and when Nate came home from work, I would tell him what I learned. We became really excited at the idea of being able to change the way animals are raised while healing and improving the land. Not only could we grow our own food but we could provide quality, natural food to other people like us who care about what goes into their bodies and the bodies of their loved ones. We kept thinking of Mahatna Gandhi's quote "Be the change you wish to see in the world".
We brainstormed with our family and received tremendous support. My mother and Gerry told us that if we moved back to do this, we would have a place to stay and some financial support to get on our feet. Within a week, Nate walked into work and told them he was quitting and we were moving back to America to start a farm. You can imagine the responses he got but overall, people were supportive.
We moved back in December, 2007 and immediately started researching farming. We attended the annual PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference in February where we learned more than we could have imagined and met lots of good contacts. Following the conference we posted an ad in several places looking for space on a farm to use. We knew we could not buy a farm so our hope was to find a farmer willing to share a small part of their land.
To our surprise, we got a call from the past president of the board of PASA inviting us to come out to his farm. The farm was incredibly beautiful, they were incredibly kind and we worked out an arrangement to start up our farming operation on their land. We couldn't believe how generous they were and how committed they were to helping new farmers. We were even lucky enough to rent a house just 400 feet down the road from the farm.
And so began our first year of farming. We decided to start with poultry and work our way up. In our first season we raised over 1200 meat chickens, 26 turkeys and 100 egg-laying hens. Our first year was filled with stress, mistakes, overwhelming responsibility, HARD work, weather-related chaos, the loss of our social lives, the learning experience of working with your spouse 24/7, and the general adjustment of "city kids move to the country". However, I must say.....WE LOVED IT!
We absolutely love our jobs now. We work for ourselves, we work outside, we work with animals, and however small it may be, we are trying to make a difference. We raise all of our animals naturally, on grass and in the fresh air and sunshine. We never use any antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers or pesticides. We love our animals and treat them with respect. To quote Michael Pollan (author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma"), "Our animals have very happy lives with only one bad day".
So here we are starting our second season. We are in the process of looking for a farm of our own where we can really expand our operation. But for this year we plan to raise 1600 broilers (meat chickens), 50 turkeys, we have another 100 laying hens, and we just got 6 lambs.
You are invited to follow us on our journey...