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Archive for the ‘Pastured Poultry’ Category

Back from vacation and the list of things to do is long. The high tunnel is almost done. With help from neighbors and friends, the plastic should go up on Tuesday. This is exciting because our salad greens, spinach and bunching greens are ready to go out. We are already behind on our planting dates and greenhouse work and it isn’t even March! That said, our two new awesome apprentices arrive on the equinox, so it will be nice to have some eager, helping hands on the farm.

We are finishing up our renewal forms for our og certification. We’ve found two acres to lease next door for the poultry and are still looking for leased land nearby for vegetable production. Any ideas? We realize we’ve maxed out on our two acres here and want to have another five to start doing some rotations with cover crops and veggies.

We had some enlightening conversations with fellow farmers this past week and finally figured out an alternative poultry feed. It is going to take a bit more labor as we will have to mix all the ingredients ourselves, but we are pretty excited about the option. It should cut our feed costs significantly. More on that later.

The oat and pea cover crop is filling in nicely with all the moisture and warmer temperatures. It really does seem like spring is right around the corner. I’ll get some pictures up of the new high tunnel in a few days!

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We are starting to get excited for our 2009 season. We can’t believe we are only 2 months away from going to our first farmers’ market this spring. If all goes well, we are aiming for the first couple of weeks in April. Most of all, we are hoping that we get some snow and moisture some time soon. It has been such a mild winter so far. I mean, it was almost 70 in Ashland the other day!

There is still room in our CSA, but we are filling fast, so don’t forget to sign up!

We’ve been working in the greenhouse alot so far this year. This is one of my most favorite parts of the year. Starting seeds in the quiet of winter. I think we have started over 20,000 onions & leeks. We found that we just didn’t grow enough of these last year and with our increase in markets this year, we are bumping up these 2 crops. Now, we just have to find the space to plant them. We are currently working out some leased land agreements, so they should find a home before planting time.

The first round of salad mix, spinach and bunching greens have germinated and will hopefully be ready to go out into our new hoophouse by the end of February. This will be our first year experimenting with season extension with a really large hoophouse. We hope to do early greens followed by early greenhouse tomatoes. We learned last year that because our site is a bit cooler at 1,800 feet, we rely on season extension for quicker maturity on a lot of crops, especially the warm loving vegetables like peppers & tomatoes.

Josh is about to start a four-week class on designing a farm mentorship, so that we can be better farm mentors for our interns this year. We are so excited about teaching eager, young new farmers and hope we can design a really productive and interesting learning and work experience for folks this year. We are increasing our labor this year to three interns who live and work on the farm. And then adding an hourly laborer to help with weeding and harvesting. We are expanding our markets this year, so we definitely need more help.

We are curious to see how the recession is going to impact our farm this year. We were astounded at the support of our farm in last year’s market season and we look forward to seeing everyone again this spring.

I have posted some new pictures here of our new pastured poultry Eggmobile! We finally got all 200 hens on pasture and the results have been amazing. The egg yolks are so beautiful and richly orange this time of year. We are looking at leasing more land next door to increase our pasture abilities for the hens. Right now, they get about a 1/4 acre in space to wander and eat bugs and grass. It took them a few days to get used to their new house — Josh was out there every evening putting the hens into the house for the night, but they have finally got the hang of it. Josh has been diligently researching alternative poultry rations and has found a farmer who might contract with us to grow certified organic grains for the flock. Josh is going to be talking at the OSU Extension Small Farms Conference in a few weeks about this very same topic. Go to this link if you want to hear him speak: http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/.

I spoke on panel last night on local farming and climate change in Grants Pass. That was a pretty interesting discussion. The questions went all over the place from GMO canola to horse farming. I had fun.

There’s the update. I love this time of year.

Eggmobile

Eggmobile

Eggmobile & hens

Eggmobile & hens

Everett in the Hen Brooder

Everett in the Hen Brooder

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As I’m working to get our website up and running, I wanted to post our 2009 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) brochure in case anyone wanted to download it and join! We are expanding our CSA this year to accommodate 30 members, so we hope some of you will think about subscribing to the farm.

Barking Moon Farm 2009 CSA

Here are some fun new pictures from the farm. Josh moved the older hens into our fall broccoli crop. They’ve been loving it. We have 150 new layers to go out on pasture in a week or two in the new eggmobile. Stay tuned for more pictures.

chickens

chickensbroccoli2

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Poultry Processing

As promised, I took a bunch of pictures of our chicken processing on Sunday. All in all, Josh, Patrick & Jamie butchered 28 chickens (15 roasters and 13 laying hens for stew and stock) in about five to six hours with Everett and I looking on. Someone asked whether Everett understood what was happening. I let him watch for awhile and he seemed fascinated and attentive, not bothered at all. He spent most of the day in the sandbox, more absorbed with his shovel and tractor than the chickens. He is very used to the chickens by now, so….He did really like the broilers while they were alive. He would wander over to their coop, open the door and go in and hang out with him. Yesterday while we were finishing up in packout, he wandered over to their coop and they weren’t there. I’m not sure what he thought about that. I wonder if he made the connection with the events of the preceding day.

I did have an opportunity to slaughter a chicken, but I wasn’t able to bring myself to do it. I’m not sure why it was difficult for me. Life and death are so much a part of the farm, but when I went to do it, I just couldn’t. I was happy to read a very thoughtful post from Val from Mossback Farm about raising animals for slaughter. Check it out here. She reviews the book Compassionate Carnivore, which I think I’ll order from the library today.

The poultry equipment belongs to a cooperative of ten farms that share the equipment on a lottery system. Everyone paid a share to join the cooperative and buy the equipment and then we pay a per bird fee when we use it. It works out great. So, for, all of you who don’t know how to butcher a chicken, here’s the process.

You start by putting them in kill cones and cutting their jugular vein and then letting them bleed thoroughly before scalding them. The kill cones keep them calm and prevent them from flapping around. Here, Josh shows Jamie how to do it.

And then you scald the bird to loosen the feathers. You do this in water that is 140 degrees. This particular scalder is heated by propane. Josh woke up at about 4am on Sunday to start the scalder and have it ready to go by 8 or so.

And then the birds go into the plucker, which is this very efficient round machine with plastic fingers that when you turn it on, the birds go round and round until all the feathers are plucked off. It saves so much time to use this plucker! Doing it by hand takes so much longer. You let the birds spin for about a minute so you don’t bruise their skin. The feathers come out a little chute onto the ground. Great for the compost!

And then the birds go to the eviscerating table. This is an actual old-time eviscerating table that Margaret from Rogue Valley Brambles donated to the coop. It has a hole in the middle for the innards to fall through and lips all around the side of the table so the birds don’t slide onto the ground. The eviscerating isn’t really very fun. You have to cut off the oil gland, pull out the crop, the gizzard, the intestines, the heart, cut off the feet and head. For the laying hens, we left the neck and feet on so I could make stock. The feet have a lot of nutrition and provide gelatin for broth. Jamie & Patrick kept a lot of the other parts like the head and other innards to make stock. For the roasters, we took the feet, neck and heads off so we could just roast the chicken whole.

Jamie and Patrick happily eviscerating. They really rocked it! And that’s it for the birds. They get rinsed with water, thrown into cold water with ice until they are packed into freezer bags and put in the freezer. We are so happy it is done and look forward to raising more meat birds next year.

On the poultry front, Josh ordered 150 baby laying hens to arrive on November 7th. Oh boy! He assures me that he has a plan for this — new housing, new pasture, new feed, an egg handler’s license. While this is all in his head, I’ve asked him to put it all into writing for me in the next few months–I want to see the number crunching and the plans for marketing the dozens and dozens of eggs we are going to have in the spring. I am really hoping this won’t be a money losing endeavor, but he assures me that he is up to the challenge. Really, the challenge is finding cheaper sources of certified organic feed and getting an egg handler’s license, so we can move eggs into restaurants and stores. That’s the big plan anyway. I’m being supportive, but skeptical at the same time.

This week is the last of some of our markets. Sigh of relief. The Siskiyou CSA ends this week as does the Saturday Ashland market. That leaves us with one farmers market per week until November 18th, our restaurant accounts and some wholesaling to the Ashland Food Cooperative. I keep thinking it is going to slow down, but it hasn’t yet. I’m looking forward to slow mornings, coffee in bed and sitting by the fire with a book, while Josh takes Everett out to play in the snow.

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We went to the Grange Co-op the other day to pick up our ton of organic poultry feed. The price had gone up another 25% (now up 75% since last year). $718 for a ton of organic poultry feed! We were shocked! Needless to say, we only bought half a ton.

We’ve been trying to figure out what to do. We love raising poultry and would like to expand our poultry operation (despite the predators and the labor), but these rising feed costs are pushing us out of the poultry business. We pride ourselves on our organic pastured eggs and we have such loyal customers, but we are currently charging $6.00/dozen and after doing the math, we have to raise our prices to $7.50/dozen to even make the smallest margin of profit. We’ve been informing market customers of this change. Some have been supportive, some will buy eggs from other producers. While we have the only certified organic eggs at the farmers’ market, the problem is that other egg producers don’t charge very much for their eggs (even when the chickens are fed conventional feed, which is just as expensive too), so we are sort of up against a wall. Essentially, we are going to be priced out of the market. I’m curious whether these other producers are doing the right math–are they really making any money by charging $4.00/dozen? They just can’t be. Raising poultry on a small-scale, especially if you are pasturing hens and rotating them, is expensive and labor intensive. $4.00/dozen just doesn’t cut it.

We were planning on ordering another hundred layers this November, but we are seriously considering slaughtering most of the flock and just keeping a few chickens for our family. I’m not sure I see an end in sight for cheaper grain prices what with all the investment into biofuels and ethanol. Speculators have said that it is going to be a great corn year for the Midwest–the best ever–and millions of acres are coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program (which means that these farmers will most likely put corn back into production with the high prices they can get), so perhaps we will see a decrease in grain prices, but I’m not sure it is that simple. Check this out–Rich from Mossback Farm–has a link to a video (see Junk Food journal entry) from Wall Street Journal about how feedlots are mixing in candy from M&M factories into their corn silage for their beef cows because they can’t afford to buy regular feed corn. Woah. Woah. Do people know that the feedlot beef they are eating is being fed candy? That isn’t good. Not for the cow and not for us.

Anyway, we are in quite a dilemma here about our poultry operation. We have some serious thinking to do about the sustainabilty of raising organic eggs from pastured poultry. On a more positive note, we are participating in a grant with Oregon State University and Washington State University, in which they are going to look at formulating alternative poultry feeds grown in the Northwest for various small-scale poultry farms in Oregon & Washington. I’m looking forward to participating in that and seeing what they come up with. They will basically pay to feed half of our flock with alternative feeds to see how the poultry do on their rations. Josh and I are also going to start doing some research on our own about formulating our own organic rations and what that would take. Oy vay. Are we really that dedicated to this? I think so.

The hardest part, I guess, is communicating to our customers why we have to charge so much for eggs. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks. We may be eating a lot of eggs and slaughtering a whole bunch more than just our broilers in October.

In other news, the broilers are happily ranging on pasture in their beautiful chicken tractor that Josh built. I went out to take pictures this morning and of course, the battery was dead on the camera, so stay tuned. I’ll have some soon. We’ve lost 16 to predators so far, so we are down to 34 chickens. We’ve made some adjustments (basically putting steel claws on every side of the chicken tractor as well as flashing red lights to keep predators away), so we haven’t had any more losses in the last few days. We also caught a skunk in the live trap last night, so the whole farm smelled like skunk this morning as did Josh when he came in for breakfast. Yuck!

The broilers are quite happy and have had no health problems at all. I have heard so many horror stories about leg problems and heart attacks with the Cornish Cross breed, but we’ve had none of that yet. We went with two slow cornish breeds, so I think that’s helping. We also add an organic supplement–a Fetrell Kelp mineral product–that helps with leg problems and nutrition. Anyway, we’ll only have a few to sell at this point with so many losses, but at least we will have a freezer full for ourselves and be able to cover our costs. We’d like to do a whole lot more on the broiler scene next year, but that all depends on grain prices. I’ll be eagerly waiting and watching the grain market in the months to come.

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