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Archive for February, 2011

Had a big to do list today.  Got most of it done, too.  Got the chores done early so we could get moving.  First, we had to get 25 bales of hay from the feed store.  I’m hoping this is the last hay of the season.  The spring pastures are looking good.  They are starting to green up.  If we keep the current rain/sun ratio they should be ready for grazing by the last week of March.

After unloading the hay into the shed, it was off to Home Depot and Lowes to get some building and gardening supplies.  We needed some 2 x 12 x 12 boards to make some more raised beds.  We also bought some seeds and a few cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts to transplant. Oh, we also bought the materials to build a special chicken tractor for our laying hens.  It will be much smaller than the current tractor, because its designed to be used in a free range model, which we’re moving to in March.

Next up was a trip to the landscape store to buy 1.5 cubic yards of Organic Planting Soil (compost).  That’s 3 scoops from the front loader or 800 to 1000 lbs.  It weighs down my long bet pick up truck, that’s for sure.

After we got home, we built a 4 x 12 garden bed.  Brittan did the construction, I provided the muscle when needed.  I also spent a good amount of time picking up dog piles from the yard.  4 dogs can leave quite a mine field.

As soon as the bed was built, I backed up the truck and shoveled the Planting Soil into the bed, while Brittan raked it smooth.  Tomorrow we will add some lime and some rabbit manure.

By the time we got the bed finished, it was time to go grocery shopping then settle down for the evening.  Pretty much every muscle in my body hurts right now.  I can put in as good a day’s work as ever.  But at my age, the odds of doing that back to back are pretty remote.  I’m as good once as I ever was.  After that, I need 4 days of recovery.

Tomorrow we will transplant some veggies and I will process some rabbits.  On Monday we have to get the brooder box ready because we have 150 baby chicks arriving this week.  Farming and gardening season has begun.   I hope you’re ready.

 

 

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It seems like only yesterday that we drove 4 hours through the oppressive Georgia spring heat(in a truck with no air conditioning) to collect our freshly weaned dairy sheep, then turn around an drive 4 hours back.  By the time we got home we  were sweaty, tired and filled with wonder at our new additions.  We named them, Howard and Vestal, after the old Southern Gospel Singers, better known as the Happy Goodmans.

Howard and Vestal were our first farm animals.  They were so small and so sweet.  Over the last year we’ve been through a lot together and they have taught us so much.  The two of them have been pure joy to have around.

Today they went to their new home near Macon.  I took a longer than normal lunch break and drove out to the farm in time to help get them loaded up and say goodbye.  Apart from both of them needing a little assistance in getting up into the trailer, the loading went without incident.  I told them goodbye and headed back to work.

About 4 miles down the road, it hit me, Howard and Vestal were gone.  I must confess, I cried.  I talk big about not getting attached to any of our animals, but the fact is, I’m attached to all of them.  Yes, even the ones we eat.  It’s the attachment that requires me to process them myself, whenever I can.  I want to make sure they are treated with dignity even in death.

I decided to call Brittan to see how she was doing.  Yep, you guessed it, she was crying, too.  We will miss those sheep.  But we are comforted in knowing they have a good home where they will provide milk and wool and baby lambs to a family who will enjoy them as much as we have.

Some days farming is very enjoyable. Today was not one of those days.  Today was a day we made a right decision rather than an easy one.  I will console myself by getting a good nights sleep.  Tomorrow I may just have to buy a goat.  That will make me feel better.  I’m sure of it!

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A Weekend of Tough Decisions

One of the challenges of the micro farmer is making sure we balance our love of farming, good business decisions and our work/family/farming lives.  Sometimes we get the balance right, sometimes we tip over.  This past weekend, Brittan and I spent some time planning our next steps in our attempts to keep, or at least achieve, some balance.

Among those decisions was to sell our beloved dairy sheep, Howard and Vestal.  We are crazy about them.  They were our first farm animals.  But they just don’t fit the direction we’re going and we can’t afford to keep animals that don’t fit.  A lady is driving up from Macon today to pick them up.  We will miss them terribly.

We’ve also decided that our two new cows will be butchered this fall instead of next fall.  The cows are awesome, but just too expensive to feed through the winter.  We will keep Butter as a dairy cow, but the other two will go.

Our focus will be on the hair sheep and the Nigerian Dwarf goats.  Brittan talked me into keeping the donkeys as guardians.  We will add two or three more doe goats to the mix.  We love them and there is a market for pet and dairy goats.  There is also a niche for goat’s milk and goat’s milk cheese. Of course, there’s always the practical matter that the weed to grass ratio in our pastures begs for goats, sheep and donkeys much more than for cattle.  At least for now.

The chickens, especially the laying hens, have shown the most growth potential, so that will be our primary direction.  We are moving toward an even greater ‘free range’ model that will allow the chickens to spread out a little more in a large, mobile paddock.  We will continue to raise broiler chickens twice a year.

Although we sold 15 rabbits in the last week, there isn’t much market there, yet.  We will continue to raise them for ourselves and a handful of customers and friends who like them.  Ten of the bunnies we sold this week are going to a new life in a petting zoo.  How cool is that?

These were tough decision for us, but given our space and time constraints they make sense.  It’s just that making sense is not always easy.

 

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It’s time for a little update.  First, in the garden front, our tomato and pepper seedlings are growing splendidly.  We are expecting some excellent peppers this year.  We are increasing the number of Ghost Pepper plants and expect to be North Georgia’s First Choice for fresh Jolokia Peppers.

For the Jalapeno Pepper lovers out there, we are featuring two varieties this year, Gigante and Biker Billy.  Gigante Jalapenos are large, zippy and perfect for poppers, stuffing, roasting or pickling.  Biker Billies are my favorite Jalapeno variety.  They have all the flavor of a traditional Jalapeno with the heat of a Habanero.  These little fireballs will kick your nachos clear into outer space.  We can hardly wait for summer.

We may have a few bell peppers to offer, but we keep so many of those, that we don’t know yet how many we’ll have to spare.  As for tomatoes, keep your eyes open.  If the weather is kind to us, we will have a couple varieties of juicy slicing toms to offer after mid July.

We’re already getting excited about canning up green beans, zucchini and squash.  I think B is planning to make pickles this year, too.

On the meat front, we have a couple spaces left for reserving turkeys, but time is running out.  Turkeys are $55 including the $10 deposit with the rest payable at processing time (First Saturday in November).  Chickens will be available June 18.  You can still pre order chickens as well.  Reservations are the best way to guarantee your order.

Requests are starting to come in for rabbit, both as meat and as pets.  We will have a few ready to go the first weekend in March.  They are $12 each.  You can order online.  Just let us know whether you want them live or if you want your rabbit processed for you.

Finally…. the egg report.  Demand still outstrips supply by a huge margin.  Please be patient.  Our girls provided us 11 dozen eggs last week.  We had requests for about 15 dozen.   We are overwhelmed with the response to our eggs.  We are so happy that you are enjoying them as much as we are.  We will continue to supply on an ‘as available’ basis through the summer.  By September or October we expect to be able to handle demand comfortably.

I guess that’s about it for this weeks commercial break.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled surfing.

 

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All the books say that hardly anything ever goes wrong with lambing, especially if you are raising Katahdin or East Friesian sheep.  The book are full of hooey!  “Hooey”, that’s a technical term.

I was busy at the office, getting ready for a meeting, when my phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID and saw it was Brittan.  I looked at the clock, saw the time and knew exactly what it was about.  I answered, expecting to hear her say, “We have a lamb”.  Instead, she gasped, “Gabby is giving birth and something is wrong.  I think the lamb is dead.  It doesn’t appear to be breathing, it’s tongue is hanging out and Gabby is in great stress.  It’s been a long time and I think Gabby isn’t going to make it, either.  Bring the gun. How do I pull the lamb?”  I gave her a crash course on where to grab and pull, hung up and reached for my jacket and car keys.

I informed a few people at the office of the reason for my sudden departure and bolted up the road.  It is, of course, a 4o minute drive at the best of times.  This morning was not the best of times.  It seems that drivers across North GA chose this morning to keep the police, ambulance drivers and their insurance adjusters busy.  Murphy strikes again.

Tikka

I called Brittan frequently for updates.  One ended abruptly with, “Oh my gosh, I’ve gotta go.”  When I finally got her to answer the phone, she screamed, “I did it!  I pulled the lamb. I pulled the lamb.  They are both laying on the ground and can’t get up.  It’s a girl. Where are you?”

By the time I reached the farm with some towels and blankets, Gabby was drinking water and eating hay, while Brittan was wiping down the lamb with her sweatshirt.

I dragged Gabby down the hill towards the lamb, while B moved the lamb towards Gabby.  This was a totally disinterested mother.  By now, the birth was past by nearly an hour and still the lamb had not been fed.  I said, “We’ve got to put them both in a stall to force Gabby to let her nurse.”  Then it hit me.  I was going to have to carry Gabs up the hill to the barn.  She weighs between 125 and 150 lbs.  I picked her up ok, but moving my legs up the incline with that load was not as easy as it sounds.  Slowly, and with much grunting from both Gabby and me, we reached the barn and got the mother and daughter safely inside.

Over the next couple hours, Brittan and I each managed to hold Gabby still so the little one could get some dinner.  By three thirty, the lamb had eaten three times and the last one was a good feed.  We will go back out one more time tonight.  We have some bottles and supplement just in case, but it appears that Gabby may finally be starting to bond.  We certainly hope so.

Anyway, we have a lovely little ewe lamb.  Her name is Tikka. We hope you like her.

My Hero

I leave this little update with a photo of the hero of the hour.

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Sometimes it’s difficult making business decisions.  Especially when the business and philosophical sides of what we’re trying to do start to conflict.  We were having that challenge earlier this winter, when we had to decide whether or not to raise the price of chickens this year.  On the one hand, this is a business and with the price of feed and baby chicks spiking, our already thin margins were going to be drastically pinched.  On the other hand, one of our stated goals is to make healthy, local, fresh meats and produce affordable.  That is extremely difficult to do in a small, pasture based operation like ours.  We can’t afford to operate at a loss and we don’t want to price our products out of reach.  They are already high enough due to production costs.  We only make pennies on each chicken we sell.  Decisions, decisions.

In the end, after talking it over and praying about it, Brittan and I decided not to raise chicken prices this Spring.  It was going to make life tough, but we concluded it was absolutely the right choice.  Perhaps the fall crop would require a different decision, but for now we would hold the line.

We have been pleased at the number of pre orders we’ve already received.  We feel so blessed.  That encouraged us to stay the course.

We’ve also been wrestling with what to do about the ever growing demand for eggs.  We have the fortunate issue of demand exceeding supply.  So we decided to bite the bullet and double the number hens in our spring order so that they can be laying by fall.  The expense of housing for them could be considerable, but again, it felt like the right choice.

Tonight we got a very pleasant surprise when I went online to order chicks.  By placing the extra large order, and by ordering early, we got a major price break that actually brings the price of the chicks BELOW what we paid last year.  That price break will offset the feed cost increases just enough so that our decision to keep prices at last years rate will not completely wipe out our margins.  God is awesome!

One more thing; if you live within driving distance of us, and you want chickens this spring (processing date: June 18), drop us a line and let us know how many you want.  We’re still taking pre orders.

If you want a turkey (processed in November), go to our store and put down a deposit.  Turkey orders will close the first week in April.

Gosh, I love this time of year.

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Michael Pollan called his mega selling book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for a number of reasons, one of which we experience here in the burb each on each occasion that animal processing comes around.  Simply put, if we are going to continue to have meat as a part of our diet, there is death involved.  It is unavoidable, inevitable.

For the 21st century super market omnivore, it’s fairly easy to avoid thinking about the killing, the violence.  Most of the cuts of meat, poultry and fish are already killed, processed and often conveniently pre packaged.  Heck, some are even cooked.   It’s not an animal, a living sentient being, its meat.

Brittan and I made the mistake of looking behind the curtain at the factory farming methods of the modern food industry, for both animal and vegetable production and we opted out.  The cruelty to livestock, workers and the environment was more than we could bear.  Instead, we chose the hard road of self sufficiency.

We provide 90% of our own meat and vegetables.  By this time next year, it may be 100%.  We still have to buy beef and pork, but we have found local producers to fill that gap.  One look in our pastures will show that it won’t be long before we have that final 10% covered.

A part of the challenge of self sufficiency is processing day.   Processing involves an act of violence and it involves death.  It is a somber, sobering moment.  For us, it has not been possible to feed, water and care for a creature over a period of weeks and months without developing a measure of attachment.  We are genuinely fond of our animals, even the chickens.  We made the choice to raise and process our own, for that very reason.  We wanted our food, from birth to plate, to be treated with respect and dignity.

Yesterday, I needed to process some rabbits.  The skinning and eviscerating are not a problem for me.  It is just a part of the program.  Taking the life of the creature is another matter.  An element of remorse accompanies the act.  In the end, though, I can cope with the emotional difficulties associated with killing our animals, because I know that even in death, the animal has been treated with respect.

Even vegetable gardening involves death.  Digging in the soil to harvest potatoes, for example, is a phenomenal act of violence, but because the carnage happens microscopically to soil dwelling organisms, it does not affect us in the same way.  It happens, nonetheless.

I like meat and will continue to eat it.  Since B and I started raising our own meat animals, I have a whole new attitude about it, though.  Each bite matters.  I genuinely appreciate my meals in a way I did not do before.  I’m ok with that.

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