Don’t let anyone know, but we got two dozen this morning. . . .the chickens are starting to lay again. Keep it under your hats, close to your vest, buttoned up tight.  More eggs are coming.

State of the Farm

Ahhh November!  This is our first weekend off from processing in a long time and the work has really piled up.  We have high hopes of a productive weekend.  This post will give a run down of where we and the animals are for during the cold season.

Layers– The Black Australorps are molting and I have to think we are at rock bottom with egg production.  We’re down to about a dozen a day from 225 hens.  The good news is this is the natural cycle for a chicken, the bad news is that there are early and late molting birds.  The early molters are invisible molters – they drop only a few feathers at a time, maintain near normal appearance, drop very little weight,; they just don’t lay eggs.  I fear we have a ton of these birds.  Late molters drop their feathers like they are trying to shake something sticky from their wings.  These birds get in and out of molt and are back in production in a couple of months while the early molters are out for half a year.

So…as a farmer trying to sell eggs and not feathers- what are we to do?  We are trying the change up the timing a bit this year.  Last year we started the flock at Christmas.  This is the last shipment of the year for most hatcheries and we have to question the state of hens that produced the eggs.  We should have been much more diligent about culling this flock (this task is still looming).  Of the 225 or so that we have now, I would guess that 35 have no or dark combs, 5 are runts, 5 have orange feet (a clue that the pigment is not heading towards egg production), and maybe 30 that have narrow pubic bone gaps.  So 75 of the birds out there are probably poor layers and have been since day one and need to be culled.

The dilemna is what is ‘poor’.  We know that a good layers will give up an egg a day during the spring.  If a ‘poor’ layer gives one every other day or every third day is it worth keeping around?  Probably not.  However, we still have orders to fill so all eggs are welcome,  even an unprofitable one.  I think we need to bite the bullet and get this task done; however, the idea of an egg drop might get pushed back even further.  Also, the timing was a bit late, the flock was not in full lay by the time the farmer’s markets started.

This year we received the new chicks two weeks ago (late October).  We are hoping for a better batch this year as we think we are stacking the deck in our favor.  Barred Rocks ended up being the choice for this year’s flock; they are more heat tolerant than the Astralorps,  but still good foragers and friendly birds.  A major difference is in size. These girls should be a couple of pounds heavier and might do well in the stewer market – we will see how squeamish folks are with yellow skin.

Turkeys– The Thanksgiving turkeys were processed and picked up last week.  Thanks much for picking up your birds so early, I am sure it is an inconvenience to tie up freezer space this time of year.  We will change the timing around next year and try some different things with the housing.  The plan right now is get a dry land crop going this spring, fence it with 10′ netting and let them grow out there.  They should eat down the crop, then turn and fertilize  the land for next year.  The pasture model was tough for heritage birds – mainly due to large housing/roosts/roof demands, more aggressive foraging than chickens and, since we run them till the holidays, the weather is a much bigger factor.  Our routine was to hang scissors on the side of the pen and when we caught a turkey outside the pen we would clip the wing feathers.  Eventually we gave up and put a roof on the pen.  We also learned the roosts were critical, and with the weight of these birds we needed a pretty bulky set up – not good for pasture moves.  We are excited about the ‘destination range’ model.  I look forward to growing a crop for the turkeys.  We will stick with only one batch of turkeys next year and the ground will be dedicated to the turkeys for the full year.  I can’t wait to compare soil samples over the next couple of years in this area.

We were happy with the flavor of these birds and a couple of early reviews have been great.  There is a lot more stress providing wonderful meat for a Thanksgiving dinner than a chicken dinner. However, we had good luck with these birds.  Our biggest concern centered on the protein levels in our custom ration which is much lower than recommended.  We know we get a lot from the pasture bugs but it is hard to measure. This is why we started the turkeys early, thinking that they would grow slower.  Not the case: they grew out well and we had to process early.  We did learn that most folks are interested 15-20 pounders so we either need to stick with hens or stagger the processing.  Trouble here is that heritage turkeys need to be mature – you cannot process on weight alone.  Turkeys get ‘ripe’.  In order to have the tender, self basting qualities of heritage turkeys the skin needs to thicken up with a bit of fat.  If we are just after weights we will sacrifice flavor.  This can be solved with the right breeds and we are looking forward to seeing how the Bourbon Reds and Narragansetts dress out.

Pigs– The Tamworths are wonderful pigs!  Fifty years ago pigs were raised for either bacon or lard.  Lard for lamp oils and bacon for long storing food.  There were different groups of pigs bred for these completely different purposes.  Today’s factory pig is designed for the factory mantra – ‘bigger, fatter, faster’ and at best contains a bit of both types.  The Tamworth is one of the oldest breeds in the world and was near extinction a couple of decades ago.  Fortunately, there were farmers out there that kept the breed around.  These pigs are designed for the  pasture. They convert grass to meat extremely well,  engage in limited rooting, and have great personalities and manners to boot.  These are very lean pigs with long, long sides that will hopefully yield some great cuts.  These pigs will take longer to reach maturity…we are planning on 8 months for these guys and should have a nice supply all year round.

Broilers– We are done for the year!  We are very happy with our production model with both the Cornish Cross and the Label Rouge chickens.  Our mortalities were next to nothing, our weights were predictable, and the flavor has been great.  There are so many things that we do differently to make this model work and cannot wait to have a full year of production (assuming our local governmental obstructionists are sufficently satiated with our misery and money).

Resturants- Good news- craving a little Great American Egg chicken or eggs? Head to Scanlon’s at the Athletic Club of Bend.  Chef Brad Wood has compiled a great local menu that will carry through the winter and to spring.  The menu looks like the who’s who of local farms.  We are looking forward to a long term relationship and we hope things continue to go well.  Worst part is storing the birds over the winter and doling out the birds a little at a time.  It is also tough to turn down steady customers that want birds and can see them right there in the fridge!

Well….you would think we have all sorts of time with ramblings like these- good thing I can type with more than my index fingers!!

Beef Share

Hey Folks!

We just got our half beef share back from the butcher and thought there might be some folks that are unsure about all the terms and prices that are involved in buying an animal on the hoof.  To this end – here is the breakdown of our purchase this year.

First things first – why buy a share?  Everyone has a tipping point concerning what they eat.  There are a million things wrong with the factory animal model that must be balanced with the suspicious taste and price.  My tipping point for beef (where I don’t care how cheap I can get it or what flavor enhancers are in it – I will not eat it) was the Stephanie Smith story.  How is it possible for bits of meat, taken from hundreds of animals from different factories around the world, that then  get a dose of trimmings, bread crumbs, ammonia and different additives, are then amalgamated into a frozen patty and labelled as ‘beef’.   How can it be that there is ‘recipe’ for meat?  How is it possible to add things to meat to make it cheaper than the purchase price?  Anyway- we haven’t had beef in a while except for what we get from the Home on the Range guys out east.

Okay,  back to the breakdown. We bought a half share of an 18 month Angus cross, grass fed and rotational grazed, and lightly finished cow.  This beef was customer inspected (we were there when the calf arrived and visited just before slaughter- with several stops along the way) and were pleased and excited for our share.  The steer was about 1000 lbs on slaughter day. This is the live weight.  After slaughter the skin, feet, guts, and head are removed and the carcass is weighed again; this is the hanging weight.  This is the second most important number in the process.  You will likely pay the farmer and the butcher based on the hanging weight.  Next the animal is hung for two weeks (typical) to allow cooling, drying and for enzymes in the meat to break down connective tissues to help with tenderness.  The younger the cow the less this is needed- this is called dry aged beef and is something that you will only get from the our local abattoirs.  Another benefit of grass fed beef is that the shrinkage is less than found in grain fed animals.  Remember, the hanging weight is taken before the shrinkage…so the less the better.

Next the carcass is cut to your specifications.  This is where everyone’s confidence takes a nose dive – mine too- when it comes to beef.  I think there is a great conspiracy to make sure that this process as confusing as possible to the novice, that way the shops can get a more or less a consistent cut list.  For example, I was with a guy when he was specifying his cuts and the shop asked, “Do you want x or y’?” My friend asked where the cut came from and the response was, “Oh, you won’t find it on any chart you find on the internet.”   So how is one to do their homework??  The key part is this is your beef and making sure you get the cuts you want is the primary goal of the discussion with the butcher shop.  First step is understanding the primal cuts – these are the natural sections of the animal.  However, this will trip you up to in that there are primals and subrprimals and some elevate subs to primes and everyone will call them something different.  You can further be tripped up by leading questions like, ‘ “Do you want T-bone steaks’?” You say ‘yes’ not even knowing that you just gave up your filet mignon.  There are far better resources on the internet to help with this than I can provide, but just be pateint and ask questions.  Some butchers ask  just four questions – 1- How thick do you want your steaks ? 2- How many people will be eating per package?  3- How much hamburger do you want in a pack ? and, 4- Does you dog like bones.? But even this guy will cut it anyway you want, so make a day of it if you have to, but get what you want or you will be frustrated for a year when you pass the clear packages at the grocery store wondering why you cuts didn’t look like that.

Back to the breakdown….started with live weight (1000 lbs), then there was hanging weight (625 lbs in our case), so 313 lbs a half.  This is not, however, what you take home.  Your cutlist will determine what the wrapped weight will be.  Obviously, the more bone-in cuts you have the higher the wrapped cut weight will be and visa versa.  Here is what we got from our 313 hanging side:

  • Hamburger – 86.9 pounds (We went heavy here.)
  • Stew Meat – 15.22 pounds (Heavy here too as we need always have a need for quick and easy meals.)
  • Top Round Steaks – 14 pounds
  • Round Steaks Tenderized – 8.54 pounds
  • Rib Roasts – 15.4 pounds (These will be steaks but I like to get them in roasts so I can cut each steak thickness different for each person)
  • Brisket – 5.3 pounds
  • Short Ribs – 9.6 pounds
  • Sirloin Tip – 9 pounds
  • Tri-Tip Roast – 2.5 pounds
  • Tenderloin – 4.2 pounds
  • New York Roast – 8.06 lbs (strip steaks later)
  • Flank Steak – 1.14 pounds
  • Chuck Arm Roasts – 8.4 pounds
  • Bones for Woody, the dog
  • So we ended up with about 200 lbs of ‘retail cuts’ in the freezer.

Expenses were as follows:

  • To the farmer – $2/pound hanging weight = $626
  • Half of the kill fee – $37.50
  • To the butcher – $.65/pound hanging weight = $203.45
  • TOTAL =  $867 for a half beef

This all works out to $4.33 a pound.  Not such a good price for hamburger, but a heck of a deal for beef tenderloin!  The cuts have tasted great, the animal lived well, we supported a neighbor not an industry, and most important of all – the hamburger was all made from one cow and contains – if you can believe it – beef, just beef.