Archive for April, 2011

We’ve had some trouble with electrifying our poultry netting this year.  I think my charger has gone on the fritz.  It couldn’t possibly be user error.  We’ll just rule that out from the beginning.  Whatever the cause, we’ve had some amusing and sometimes scary side effects related to the problem.  Essentially, without the electricity, the netting is nothing more than a visual barrier.  Even 8 week old chicks figured it out.

As we’ve mentioned in other posts, we are moving from a chicken tractor confined model, where we move the tractor every day with chickens inside, to a ranging model where the chickens stay in the tractor overnight for safety, but spend the day in open foraging.  We’ve had excellent results with the layers this season.  We’re happier, the chickens seem happier and the pastures are cleaner than we ever could have imagined.

Earlier this week Brittan decided to go ahead and let the broilers loose inside a poultry net perimeter.  The young uns were delighted.  They spread out inside the range and went straight to work harvesting grass and other edibles.  B finished her chores and went home.

I’ve been working late at the office this week, so we have been getting out to the farm a bit later than usual.  It’s also resulted in us racing against storms to ensure all the animals have access to shelter and that the birds are safely tucked away for the night.

So the other evening, like the second day of the chicks ranging, as we pull into the driveway at the farm, B groans, “Oh no.  Chickens are everywhere.”  Sure enough, the broilers had abandoned their range for the freedom of the entire 4 acre field surrounding it.  I feared we would spend the entire evening rounding up juvenile Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  I was not feeling cheerful.

I seriously under estimated our little yard birds.  The moment they saw us coming with feed, they charged straight towards us, just like their grown up cousins do.  One minute, 60 or so birds are all over the farm, and before I could get a camera out to grab some pictures, they are swarming around Brittan like a school of piranhas.  The photos at least show them well outside the pen, then at the entrance and finally back inside the netting.

We were a little apprehensive about moving to free range.  We wanted to do it, but were afraid the chickens would wander off, never to be seen again.  We were wrong.  For small scale operators (we only have two small flocks of layers and one of broilers), free range is fantastic.  It is visually appealing, practical and beneficial.  Our only real problem is that we do have to have a brief egg hunt in the evenings as a few of the layers like to find hidden corners and nooks to lay in rather than return to their nest boxes.  Apart from that minor inconvenience, it’s all good.

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First, the bad news.  As we feared, we are going to have to raise prices on eggs, chickens and rabbits.  Since meat prices on goats and beef have not been set yet, there is nothing to announce in that regard.

Beginning May 1, eggs will be $3.50 a dozen.  Chickens and rabbits will be $15 each.  Those who pre ordered chickens and rabbits at $12 will receive your promised price and will only be charged the $12.  Similarly, pastured turkeys will go from $55 to $75.  We will honor the pre order price of $55.

It is difficult for us to do this, because keeping prices as low as possible is a part of our whole business plan.  The cost of feed and fuel has simply forced us into this.  In the case of the turkeys, we grossly underestimated what it would take to get a turkey to market at 6 mos.  Yikes.

Now for the good news.  Also, beginning May 1, we are launching an Edible Suburb Referral Program, giving you a chance to earn rewards for promoting East of Eden products.

Here’s how it works:  Beginning May 1, if you refer a customer (someone who has never purchased from us before), we will give  you a 10% commission on everything that person buys for the first 6 months they are a customer.  For example, you refer someone who buys 2 dozen eggs in May, that’s 70 cents back to you.  If they, then buy 4 dozen eggs, 1 rabbit and 2 chickens in June, you would earn $5.90.  That’s like getting a dozen and a half of your eggs FREE.

If you do the math, you’ll see that if you refer three or 5 people and they become customers, you can knock a big chunk off your produce bill for a while.  We will pay out monthly.  Eg.  we’ll pay the second week of June for what is earned in May.

We consider you more than customers and friends, you are our partners and we want to reward you for helping us spread the word.  Sometime in May, we will have business cards available.  When you buy from us, we’ll give you a few cards.  Just write your name on the back of it and when your referral buys online or on the farm, we’ll give you the credit.  The credits will be good on garden produce too, when they (if they) are available later in the summer.

If you have any questions, just let us know.

One more thing; as mentioned yesterday, you can now write to us at sam@eastofedenfarms.com and brittan@eastofedenfarms.com.  The hyphens are no longer necessary.

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For anyone who reads this spot regularly, or visits the main website and store, you know that we have a bunch of hyphens in our url.  http://www.east-of-eden-farms.com.  That can be hard to remember or to type, especially in the dark.  Well, we’re finally eliminating the problem.  After many months of trying, I’ve acquired the domain http://www.eastofedenfarms.com  That’s a big deal to us.  We will also have new email addresses; sam@eastofedenfarms.com and brittan@eastofeden farms.  Mine is already active.  B’s will be active once she gets home from farm chores today and confirms it.  The new website address will be active in the next day or two.  Stay tuned.

Speaking of farm chores, we are happy to announce that yesterday’s storms bypassed the burb and EoE farms.  We had zero damage.  I walked the farm this morning before work and everything was in place.  One weird note, though, our Katahdin ram, Amram, has a crush on one of our cows, Diane.  This morning he was snuggled up next to her in the barn.  Brittan has noticed their attachment before.  Amram has a strong flocking instinct and he misses the other sheep terribly, but they are in another pasture.  He as chosen Diane as his flock.  It’s pretty cute, really.

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the people I know who have joined the organic, pastured, local, sustainable food revolution.  But I’ve also been thinking about those who haven’t, especially those who CAN’T.

For all of us who are a part of the revolution, it’s important to be upbeat and evangelistic.  It’s also important not to come across as arrogant, smarmy or elitist.  Yet, that’s how we’re often viewed, elitist, holier than thou.  Alternatively, we come across as suburban hippies who are 3rd degree eccentrics, with way too much money to throw around.

It’s important to be passionate about taking care of God’s creation, eating well, knowing where our food comes from, etc.  But we don’t ever want to appear self righteous.  Much of the world does not understand the value of a local, sustainable, slow food model.  Many more simply can’t afford the lifestyle.

Let’s face it, grass fed, pastured, organic, sustainably produced fare is expensive.  Not everyone can afford $4 or more for a dozen eggs, $6 a gallon for raw milk or $7.99 a pound for grass fed hamburger.  Often, organic vegetables are twice the price of their commercially produced counterparts.  And as much as we all love farmers’ markets, they are not cheap places to shop.

As producers, Brittan and I know how much it costs to get a pastured chicken or egg  from hatchery to table.  That’s all well and good, but if I’m trying to feed a family, I have limited means to get as  many calories as possible into my family for as little pain to the pocket book as possible.

It shouldn’t be easier to stock up on ramen noodles and lunch meat than strawberries and grass fed meat,  but it is.  Those of us who can afford to buy the healthier items, should.  But we must NEVER feel or act superior.  We are not.

For producers, we absolutely must find ways to make our products as affordable as possible.  It’s not easy.  I don’t want, and wouldn’t accept if offered, Govt. subsidies on my farming.  That doesn’t make food cheaper, it merely hides the cost in taxes and forces someone else to help pay for my farming model.

As usual, I’m rambling.  In a way, it’s ok this time because this post is really just processing some thoughts rather than trying to be coherent.  I’m thinking out loud.  I want the whole world to gravitate to a more sustainable, humane, and I believe, God honoring, model.  It’s just not that simple.  It will take time.  I don’t want to judge anyone who isn’t where I am, or who can’t afford to eat what I grow and I don’t want to be seen as judgmental.  I want to be seen as a facilitator of a better way, as a liberator, as a freedom fighter, as a patriot. No high horse here.  Besides, we raise donkeys.  I love owning jackasses.  I just don’t want to be one.

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I’m a fat man.  Pretty much by default that demonstrates I love food.  It also indicates a lack of restraint, but I digress.  The point is, I do love food.  I love raising it.  I love eating it.  I also love, as does Brittan, preparing it.  Cooking is a passion my bride and I share.  Fortunately, our skill sets tend to be complimentary rather than conflicting, which minimizes the arguments over who’s turn it is to cook.  Most of the arguments, or at least head shaking and snide remarks, are born from the simple truth that while I am a pretty good cook, I am a messy one.  The devastation I sometimes leave behind, looks like the aftermath of a bombing raid.  I am truly a kitchen assassin.  The results, though, are usually worth the trouble.  And…I’m learning to clean up a bit as I go.  Learning, I said learning.  I’m not there yet…

Since we switched to grass fed meats and pastured poultry, we’ve had to make some adjustments in our cooking.  Grass fed is not the same.  It requires different techniques than grain fed.  We learned it the hard way.  Many of our first efforts were less than satisfactory.  Some of our early dishes led us to believe that one had to sacrifice taste and texture for nutritious and humane.  Over time we learned we were wrong.

The secret, if it be called a secret, to cooking grass fed meats and pastured poultry is to take your foot off the accelerator.  It’s called ‘slow food’ for a reason.

We are in such a hurry.  We race home from work, fire up the gas grill, or heat up the frying pan (if we’re cooking at all), grab a package of meat from the fridge, throw it on the grill or baptize it in boiling oil, turn it once then toss it on a plate.  For side dishes, the trusty can opener and microwave give us virtually instant vegetables.  Add in some brown n serve rolls with a dolop of ‘this can’t be edible’ buttery spread and we’re good to go.

Grass fed meats and home grown vegetables, just won’t work if prepared that way.  Slow down.  Focus on the flavor and the experience.  Food is much more than getting calories in our gullets in as short a time as possible.  Cooking is a fabulous way to ease away the stress of the day, enjoy time with your spouse and to show respect for your food.

Start by lowering your cooking temperatures.  Grass fed meat and pastured poultry don’t respond as well to high heat.  We have learned first to bring the meat to room temperature and allow the muscles to relax.  Keep the grill medium or low.  Make sure the frying pan is not heated to screaming (unless you’re making fajitas).  In point of fact, we hardly every fry anything anymore, except eggs for breakfast.

Cooking on lower heat may take a bit longer, but it allows the tissues to break down and the meat to receive the flavor of the seasonings or the goodness of the charcoal cooking.  Crock pots were made for grass fed roasts and chickens. We learned from a local Indian eatery that slow cooking brings out the very best in goat meat.  And I do mean the very best…

Since you’ve got some extra time on your hands while your meat cooks, you can prepare some fresh, or home preserved, vegetables.  Again, they take a little longer, but the flavor is worth every extra minute.

Instead of grabbing a bag of bread from the bread box or the local supermarket, try baking a loaf or some rolls.  Spread on some home made butter and maybe some local honey.  You’ll never look at the bread shelf in the grocery store the same.

I’ve taken a long time to say it, but the secret to fantastic home cooked grass fed meat and pastured poultry is, slow down.  Relax.  Turn DOWN the heat on your stove or grill.  Your taste buds will thank you.

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Just wanted to post a couple of pics of Zeta and Nia, our baby Nigerian Dwarf Goats.  They are about 7 weeks old now and are getting close to weaning time.  They will go in with the big goats sometime next week as a transition from bottle feeding to full time pasture.  We just have some baby proofing to do to the fences first.

The first pic is just the two girls together.  Zeta is the black one.  She is named after Catherine Zeta Jones.  Nia (pronouced nigh ya) is, then, the ‘painted’ one.

Second shot is Nia on the dog/goat house.  She is all goat and loves to climb.

The third photo is Brittan putting the chickens to bed in the evening.  Zeta is the acting herding goat.  This picture gives some perspective on the size of the goats.  As you can see, they are not much bigger than the laying hens.

Have a happy and blessed Easter, everyone.

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Eggs, glorious eggs. Man have we got em!  Even with the predator taking 17 layers, we’re still getting 3 dozen a day.  Part of it is the fact that it’s spring and chickens go into overdrive in the spring, but I am convinced that there is another factor.  About a month ago, we switched from a chicken tractor model to free ranging our hens.  The production picked up almost overnight.  Not only that, but I really believe the chickens are happier.  The picture on the left shows a few of the ladies enjoying the April sun.

They waddle out of the hen pen in the morning and go straight to work scratching, grazing, digging through straw and old hay looking for critters.  They make short work of any cow pats that are more than two days old.  Fresh ones are ignored, but the slightly aged ones are an excellent place to find bugs and larvae.  The pasture gets the benefit of having fertilizer spread on it.  And it’s all done without machinery.

At night, when we go out to put them to bed, they come running full speed to meet us, because they know we’ll have a couple scoops of feed as a bedtime snack.  The girls follow us straight to the hen pen and run in to grab their treat.  Brittan and I are much happier with this model.  And the eggs are phenomenal.  The yolks are dark orange and the taste is out of this world.  Our customers seem to agree.  Sales are strong and customer satisfaction is high.  If you know anyone in our area who is looking for the best tasting eggs they’ll ever have, just send them our way.

We’re finally making some progress getting the garden planted.  We’ve had a lot of wind and storms this spring which have put us about 10 days behind.  This week, though, we’re starting to gain momentum.  Our roma tomatoes have survived the storms and sunburn and are growing new leaves.  The green beans Brittan planted last week sprang up today.  It looks like about 100 plants in our first planting.  A few beets seem to be sticking their first leaves up, as well.  And, we have some slicing tomatoes along with cherry ones and peppers out now.  Slowly, but surely, the garden is taking shape.  It’s work, but well worth it.  I’ll get some pics on here once the thing is done.

Lastly, I must tell you about Brittan’s latest great invention.  Unfortunately I don’t have any photos yet, but I’ll get some soon.  It’s a rolling cattle paddock.

We’ve had a hard time figuring out how to get the animals from one pasture to another without risking an escape.  The land we lease does not have a complete perimeter fence so there is ample opportunity for livestock to make a run for it if they get out into open space.  The donkeys and goats are no problem because we can put leads on them.  But the sheep and cows are another story.

First, we collaborated on designing a portable pasture that we could move every day.  You’ll see pics of that once it arrives.  We still had to figure a way to get the cows to the portable pasture as it’s a couple hundred yards away from where they are now. At first, we considered using step in posts and horse cable to make a channel, but that was time consuming.  Then, out of the blue Brittan had the idea to make a cattle truck without an engine.  Essentially, it’s 4 gate panels connected together and two sets of gate wheels.  The cows or sheep go in to eat, we close the door and walk them to their new pasture.  It worked like a charm with our sheep.  Once we get the new pasture up, the cows will go next.  My wife is not just gorgeous, she’s a genius.

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