March 30, 2011

our week in pictures

Because I'm too tired for words. . .

March 21, 2011

the shearing of the sheep

We didn't get around to shearing the sheep last fall so they were pretty woolly, to say the least. Up until now we've been using hand shears but Jen just invested in some electric shears and boy, did that go faster.

Our 3 sheep are for wool. After shearing, Jen cleans, combs and spins the wool into yarn. More to come on that . . .

Nate with the hand shears and Jen with electric

Tiny, the goat, is not too sure about this.

All done!

March 19, 2011

starting seeds

Jen and I have been busy.

We're spending our days in the greenhouse starting lots and lots of seeds. It feels like another world in there. It's bright, sunny, super warm and I couldn't love it more. Really.

Some of these herbs, flowers and vegetables are to be sold as seedlings and the rest will be planted in the fields. So far we've started:

  • parsley
  • basil (genovese, lemon, thai, purple ruffles, dark opal)
  • rosemary
  • dill
  • onions (green and purple bunching)
  • leeks
  • chard (rainbow, yellow, ford hook)
  • kale (red russian, ripbor, lacinato)
  • cabbage (wakefield)
  • chinese cabbage
  • pac choi
  • kohlrabi
  • fennel
  • broccoli (gypsy and ?)
  • lettuce (red sails, nevada)
  • peppers (california wonder, cherry bomb, cayenne, jalepeno, hot wax, volkov, sweetie)
  • tomatoes (stripped german, brandywine, cherokee purple)
  • nasturtiums
  • snapdragons
  • asters
  • pansies
  • zinnias
  • strawflowers
Today we started:
  • eggplant (nadia, zebra, orient charm, rosa bianca, thai yellow, turkish orange, machiaw, black beauty)
  • more lettuce (coastal star and green summer crisp)
  • bee balm
  • valerian
  • celosia
  • more snapdragons
  • lupine
  • feverfew
  • hore hound
  • mullein
  • stinging nettle
  • dahlias
  • more green bunching onions

Hello, Spring!

awaiting Spring

We're bracing for a few more cold nights here. Spring is always full of tiny little bumps in the road. There's always the mud and the warm days that we all get too used to, only to be shocked back to reality with a few snowflakes, storms and lower temps.

Most likely, we wont be sleeping too soundly as we'll be hoping the critters stay warm enough and that the heaters in the oh-so-full greenhouse stay lit these next few nights.

And we'll all be enjoying these last nights cozied up by the wood stove . . . awaiting the real Spring.

March 16, 2011

there's always one

Nate and his favorite girl.

At this age, the girls are used to us being around but they're still pretty frightened by us big, tall humans. With each batch of new hens, there's always one that's extra friendly and curious. One that befriends us before the others do.

This little girl though, she just wanders right up to us, we crouch down and she jumps into our hand, walks up our arm, and perches on our shoulder.

Yep, she's the one.

March 11, 2011

ramblings from an exhausted farmer

the farm this morning - photo by Jen

another awesome photo by Jen

We tucked the new girls in at about 11:30 last night, topping off their food and water for the night and making sure they were warm enough. A snow storm was quickly moving in, painting the farm white as we all went to bed. At 2:30am, I woke up because the house just seemed too quiet. Sure enough, the power was out and I had no idea how long it had been out. I sprang out of bed, threw on my farm clothes, stumbled my way to a flashlight and called the power company. The power outage was reported at 2:15 so it hadn't been long at all.

This has been my biggest fear with these chicks since the heat lights are the only thing keeping them warm. We had a 2 hour power outage the previous morning which inspired Nate to seek out the old generator and see if it worked. Unfortunately, after exhausting himself trying to fix it, it's beyond repair and we'll have to buy a new one. I felt pretty helpless about the situation this morning knowing that there wasn't anything we could do.

I made my way out to the barn, snow stinging my face. I was a little put out by the whole thing, having to drag myself out of bed and into the cold. That is, until I saw how unbelievably beautiful it was outside. It was just breathtaking and despite the stress of the moment, I felt grateful to be there, witnessing this beauty.

We have an awning over our poultry processing unit that has been threatening to collapse so I spent some time knocking the snow off of it to lighten the load. Nothing like a little snow in the face and down the shirt at 3am to make a farm girl feel alive. I held my breath and walked into the brooder expecting to see and hear chaos but it was eerily silent. By the light of my headlamp I saw them all peacefully asleep, completely oblivious to the what was happening. It was as if they all stopped what they were doing the second the lights went out and just went to sleep. I was fully prepared to spend the rest of the night in there with them for some added body heat and moral support but they were just fine. I knew they would be warm enough in the dark for a few hours and just hoped the power company would make some progress soon.

I crawled back in bed and tried to go to sleep with no luck. I began to think of the seedlings Jen and I have started in the greenhouse. They're in a heated germination hut and now they had no heat. Are we going to lose all of those little guys and have to seed them all over again? And what if this power outage takes hours and hours to get resolved. Then at 4:45, the power came on.

And then went out again a half hour later.

By then Jen was awake and we shared the worry together. The power came on for good around 6am and she took a shift checking on everyone. All was well and everyone made it through.

Today, I'm feeling grateful that the girls are far enough along in their development that they were able to handle that.

And that the germination hut held enough heat to keep those little seedlings alive.

And even more, that there are 2 more people to share the worry with. It doesn't feel so scary now. Instead, it feels like an adventure . . . in a roller coaster sort of way.

March 6, 2011

common misconceptions

Broilers on pasture - Summer, 2008

This has been on my mind a lot lately. There are so many buzzwords in the food world today and unless you do your homework, it's all just a recipe for confusion. It's a common misconception that just because chicken or eggs are 'free-range' or 'organic', it's healthy and humanely-raised. I hope that for the few souls who stop by this space, I can help to clear a few things up.

I have learned a lot about alternative medicine in the last 9 years and while I'm not here to preach, I can tell you, without any doubt in my mind, that food is medicine. Simply put, you are what you eat. Our food system is spiraling out of control, as is the health of Americans. You can no longer purchase food from the grocery store and assume it's safe to eat. You have to be educated, you have to read labels and you have to be aware. If you do your research about the health effects of high fructose corn syrup and still choose to feed it to your family, that's more than fair. You would be making an educated decision and I can respect that.

Our government is making it harder and harder for small farms like us to offer you healthier choices. The rules and regulations are becoming stricter and stricter for us and soon, a day may come when it's no longer legal. You're going to have to put forth more of an effort to seek out healthy food. You may have to go further than farmers markets and be willing to make a trip out to the farm. Know your farmer, look around, ask questions. Ask what the animals eat and how your meat is processed or better yet, ask if you can observe.

It's worth the effort.

Aside from the benefits to your health, each time you support a local farmer, you're opting out of the industrial food system. You're making it known that you don't agree with that system and aren't going to support it.

Pastured or Pasture-Raised means the animals are raised outdoors on grass. The poultry eat the grass and scratch for bugs while fertilizing with their manure. Cattle and other ruminants can (and should) live on grass alone and would be considered 'grass-fed' but poultry need to have their diet supplemented with some grain. It's the grass consumption that makes for such an exceptional, nutrient-dense product. Pasture-raised meat, milk and eggs are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and higher in Omega-3's, cancer-fighting CLA, and many other vitamins and minerals.

This is a good definition found here: "Pasture-raised animals roam freely in their natural environment where they're able to eat nutritious grasses and other plants that their bodies are adapted to digest." Farmers do this several different ways; using field shelters, portable coops, portable fencing, livestock guardian dogs, etc. Portable is key here. The idea is to keep the birds moving along, as they would in nature. They get the freshest grass this way and their manure is spread evenly over the farm. This is our fertilization program. On our farm, the egg layers sleep in an eggmobile at night and free-range during the day within a temporary fence to protect them from predators. The eggmobile and fencing is moved every 1-3 days to a new spot. Our turkeys are raised a lot like the layers and our broilers (meat chickens) live in bottomless field shelters that are moved several times daily to fresh grass. Our poultry feed consists of organic grains, vitamins and minerals. While the vegetables we grow here are certified organic, the poultry is not (yet) so we can't call our chicken, turkey or eggs organic . . . even though they are. To do that we have to pay to have a certifying organization come out, inspect our system, look at our feed ingredients and check the certifying paperwork that goes with the grain we purchase just to be able to say it's organic.

Organic means poultry are fed grains that have been grown without the use of chemicals, have not been genetically modified (GMO) and that no antibiotics or hormones are administered to the animals. The animals may not necessarily live in individual cages and they're required have 'access' to the outdoors. This may simply be a window or a door to a small run that may not be open all day. Most likely, there is no grass involved. The birds can still be raised in inhumane conditions shoulder to shoulder in their manure.

Free-Range/Cage-Free means pretty much the same thing as organic as far as housing, but DOES allow the use of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and genetically modified grains.

Conventional applies to all meat and eggs you'd find in the grocery store, unless otherwise specified. Poultry are raised in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) either in confinement cages (egg layers) or shoulder to shoulder on the floor (broilers and turkeys), in their manure in large buildings. These buildings often house anywhere from 20,000-100,000 birds each. The use of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and genetically modified grains are standard practice. In many cases the birds are fed arsenic to stimulate their appetites and the lights are purposely left on 24 hours a day to encourage them to eat more. Medications are then necessary to keep birds alive in these unhealthy and unnatural conditions. Birds are often de-beaked to discourage cannibalism which occurs when animals are kept in confinement. The arsenic, medication, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides that the animal ingests makes its way into the meat and eggs that are consumed. I wont go into the fact that the mistreatment of the animals also makes it's way into the food. That, of course, depends on your beliefs.

I would encourage you to learn more about factory farming and CAFOs, just google it.

When it comes to buying eggs from a grocery store, rumor has it that eggs are often at least a month old before they make it to the store shelves and that they re-box and change the dates on the eggs that haven't yet sold. If you want to check the freshness of an egg here's a trick: Fill a large bowl with water and place the egg in the water. If it sinks and lies horizontal, it's fresh. If it sinks somewhat but seems vertical, with one end floating up, it's old but may still be edible. If it floats, it's definitely old and should not be eaten. If you've never tasted a fresh, pasture-raised egg, you honestly don't know what you're missing.

I wont even begin to get into the processing of the meat(in this post!) but I will say that even certified organic chicken can go through chlorine baths before packaging. I'll bet you're dying to know why . . . and I'll tell you next time.

Read more about the benefits of pasture-raised here and also find local producers near you:

March 3, 2011

the best christmas present ever

Right before Christmas, we bought a used (but new to us!) mixer/grinder so we can grind our own poultry feed. I really cannot tell you just how wonderful this is. In the past, we've had to source all of the feed components and then we had to rely on someone else to grind it for us. That became really difficult and required lots of planning, driving and hauling feed. I can't begin to describe how nerve wracking it is to have someone else grind our feed. I basically just hold my breath and hope they do it right. We have had instances where it's been done wrong and it has cost us big time, in the form of tiny little lives lost. Finding organic grains is a whole other story but someday, we hope to grow all of our grains here.

Until then . . . well, this gets us one step closer.

So, this mixer/grinder was used and not very well taken care of. Turns out it needed work and was full of moldy grain and there's no way we were going to let any of that contaminate the feed for our animals.

Enter the amazing Nate.

He suited up, crawled inside the thing and cleaned it all out. Not a fun job at all. He also rebuilt some of the parts and made several improvements. It ended up being the never ending project that he's just now finishing. We're so, so happy to have this piece of equipment. And I'm so, so lucky to have Nate!

Life is about to get so much easier.

Thanks for taking one for the team, Nate!