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Archive for January, 2012

Large Black Hogs

East of Eden Farms and Our Edible Suburb are going through changes.  We’re growing up.  You should expect to see some of those changes in the very near future.

First, our website is undergoing a makeover.  We have enjoyed our site and I know many of you have complimented us on it, but it’s time to kick things up a notch or two.  We have been working with a web designer and really like what we’ve seen so far.  We think you will like it, too.

Secondly, we’re cutting way back on our rabbit population.  Georgia just doesn’t have the market we hoped for, so we are only going to keep our two pair of American Chinchilla rabbits. The Am Chins are a heritage breed and are rather rare.  We will have two or three litters a year and sell as many as we can as pets and to show people.  We will still have a few for meat for our personal consumption and certainly we’ll get plenty of great fertilizer.

Thirdly, we’re making a substitution in the pig department.  While we have loved our Vietnamese Pot Belly Pigs very much, they are just too destructive and frankly, too small. We have 4 to process next month and a litter of piglets due in March.  We will make the piglets available as pets or as feeder pigs once they are weaned.

Pot Bellies have amazing personalities and they make us smile every day.  I never tire of watching them leap up from their hiding places under the straw in the barn, but I’m beyond tired of the craters they’ve created in their pasture.  We’ll have to reseed it this spring at the same time we reseed the mule pasture.

We are replacing our mini porkers with a rare, heritage breed called, Large Black.  I wish I’d done this earlier, but I wasn’t paying attention.  Large Black Hogs do not root like other pigs.  They can graze along side our goats and cows.  They will still gobble up our excess milk and whey, but they will produce serious quantities of meat.  Large Blacks are processed at 200 lbs, whereas a Pot Belly is large at 90 lbs.  A full grown Large Black will tip the scales at 700 lbs plus.  They are docile, attention loving animals, with poor eyesight and big floppy ears (a trait that B is especially excited about).  When full grown, our breeder pigs weigh more than our donkeys and almost as much as our Dexter Cows. We pick up our new pigs on Feb. 12.

Speaking of Dexters.  We are forging ahead with our plans to add a couple more to our herd.  Dexters are our breed of choice as they can supply us with dairy as well as meat.

The sheep are gone. We won’t be raising broiler chickens anymore, but we will sell the occasional stewing hen.  We will keep laying hens and will have turkeys at least one more year.  Our livestock focus will be our goats, both meat and dairy, with some pork and beef as a supplement.

Keep your eyes peeled for the changes in the website.

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Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’ve only been farming for 2 years.  Even if you count the two years of gardening alone as farming, the total is still only 4. That’s not a long time at all, but I’ve learned a great deal in that time.  Here are some highlights:

  1.  If your wife is the better mechanic, just go with it.

I am not, and have never been, handy.  My wife, on the other hand, is.  I believe in the Yellow Pages. Brittan believes in doing as much as she can by herself.  That’s true of carpentry and engine mechanics.  She likes stuff like that. I don’t get it.  I have rudimentary skills, in that I can do some rough carpentry, plumbing and electric when forced to.  I have done roofing, drywall, laid blocks, taken apart starter motors and a few other things as well over the decades, but I loathe it and am poor at it. One should only depend on my handiwork in dire emergencies.

Brittan, on the other hand, is good at these things and enjoys doing them enough to want to improve and broaden her skill set. Silly girl. But she has saved us a ton of money on things like chicken coops, feed troughs, raised beds and even minor truck repair.  Her latest wild idea is to replace the brakes (lines, discs and calipers) on the truck, by herself.  Her logic is sound. Doing it by herself will save us hundreds of dollars. And since the truck is a 97, what have we got to lose?

I have neither the desire nor the attention span to do things like that myself.  And yet, for the longest time, my ego didn’t want Brittan to do them, either.  Eventually, I got over it.  Saving money and having a happy wife are much more important than admitting to my macho friends, “My wife does that stuff around here.”  Oh, did I mention that she’s pretty darned good at it?

  1.  Pot Belly Pigs are liars and deceivers.

I love pigs. I love the pork they produce.  What I never liked was seeing a field or pen destroyed by the rooting and burrowing that pigs are famous for.  I figured the answer was Pot Belly Pigs.  They are cute, tasty, smart and too small to do much damage.  Besides, anything that can be leash and house trained can’t be too destructive, right?

We got our pigs back in the summer. They were just little weanlings and too cute to describe.  We kept them in an old chicken tractor for a couple weeks to make sure they were acclimatized to us and our other livestock.  We fed them some garden scraps and lots of whey and excess goat’s milk.

When we turned them loose, they went right to grazing and browsing, eating weeds and grasses that even the goats had ignored. It was perfect. Between the chickens and the pigs, we have not thrown a single table scrap in the garbage can for months now.

This idyllic scene lasted all summer.  A handful of goats, some chickens and 5 little pigs sharing a pasture in perfect harmony.  Brittan even trained one of the pigs to let her squirt goat’s milk straight into his mouth from about 3 feet.  It was a great party trick.

Then winter came.  The grass died. The milking stopped. The rains fell. The pigs got bored. Now, their pasture is dotted with pot belly pot holes. They have turned that idyllic space into the Iraqi frontier.  The little monsters deceived me. They spent an entire summer like some sleeper cell, lulling me into a false sense of security, then out of nowhere, BAM, shock and awe.

Sure, they’re still cute.  They love to get their ears scratched and bury themselves in the straw in the barn to nap, then pop out of their camouflage to squeal with delight when they’ve scared the wee, wee, wee all the way home out of me.  But I am no longer deceived.  They are terrorists.  Adorable, heartwarming, loveable terrorists.  It will not be forgotten at bacon makin time.

  1. Farming for food involves a lot of death.

Whether it’s eliminating rodents from the garden, processing animals, finding the remains of predation or dispatching the sick and injured, I’ve seen a lifetime’s worth of death and gore in the last couple years.

Death never gets easier. Nor should it, I guess.  I did not anticipate, though, just how emotionally, mentally and spiritually exhausting it would be.

Brittan and I are omnivores. With a couple of notable exceptions, our customers are omnivores.  Fortunately, even the vegetarians among the East of Eden family of producers and consumers are appreciative of what we do here.

We started farming to produce our own food naturally, sustainably and ethically.  We knew there was death involved.  Brittan and I hunt and fish. We are not new to animal death, but shooting a turkey at the edge of field from a safe distance is a whole lot different than the up close and personal methods employed in pasture based poultry. I assure you that when you’ve spent 13 or 26 weeks with chickens and turkeys respectively, or 9 to 18 months with a feeder cow, the emotions change.

Over that time, we watch them grow from tiny, helpless little things, to maturity. I the case of poultry they are usually just a day or two old when they arrive. Rabbits and other livestock are often born here. In many cases we were there to watch and even assist in the birth.  We have fed them, cuddled them and nurtured them every day. We have talked and sung to them, and they to us.  They have made us laugh and they have made us angry. They have brought us something that too many people never experience; joy.

Processing days are hard. Anyone who does this will tell you the same.  It is emotionally easier to pick up a plastic wrapped package at the supermarket. That’s just meat.  To look a creature in the eyes and take its life, is an act of intention and is not done lightly.

It’s just as easy to ignore the fact that the steak, pork or chicken picked up already neatly presented at the supermarket very likely lived its life without a moment’s pleasure.  In the case of poultry, the birds may have never seen daylight until they were loaded on a truck and taken to be processed. Most pigs have never had a chance to tear up a pasture or bury themselves in the straw. The cows that produced the hamburger lived the last months of their lives in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions, without the feel of grass beneath their fee or the sheer ecstasy of lying down at the edge of a hay stack for a nap in the afternoon sun.  That is why we do what we do. Our animals have a good life. They live as God intended, eating the food God created them to enjoy.  Their end comes at my hand and I know their lives are taken with respect for all they have given me.  When we sit down and the dinner table to enjoy a meal of vegetables and meat that we have raised, processed, preserved and prepared ourselves, we are aware of the connection we have to the soil and the life. We are more aware than at any other times in our lives that life is not cheap, but it IS precious.

While processing animals is stressful, having to put animals down is more so.  On multiple occasions, we’ve had birds or bunnies, which due to accidents or illness had to be put down.  For a while last summer, it was every day. We had a serious predator problem and we would come to the pastures to find killing fields. The carnage was awful.  Each time, I felt more helpless and angry than the time before.  Dozens of headless, partially eaten chickens and turkeys littered our pastures. Coyotes, hawks, owls and neighborhood cats and dogs were wreaking havoc.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there were ‘survivors’. Some animals escaped, but with mortal injuries.  For weeks on end, I had to dispatch one or more birds a day. I remember telling Brittan that I was totally exhausted from the task.  My soul hurt.

With the help of better fencing, donkeys and mules, my own .45 caliber pistol and the marksmanship of a good neighbor, predation has dropped to a manageable level, if such a thing exists, and I don’t know how I will cope if I ever have to go through a spell like that again.

To be continued…

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From Seattle to the Outer Banks, America has seen blast after blast of Winter’s wrath. People all over America are posting photos of freshly minted wonderlands of white. It’s a magical time of year….or not.  Here in North Georgia, we’ve had storm upon storm, but of the wet rather than white variety.  We’re up to our hips in mud.

I absolutely love the milder temperatures. It’s been great for our heating bills.  The sheer volume of rain, though, has been exhausting.  Our goats spend days on end in their shelters, because they hate rain and mud.  The mules, cows and donkeys are weary and grumpy from all the sloshing and slogging. The chickens and rabbits are soggy and discontented. The turkeys are too stupid to come in out of the rain, so they don’t count.  Only the pigs are enjoying the moisture.  They dig and root and tear up great patches of pasture, creating ponds and craters wherever they can, then race back to the barn and bury themselves in the straw to warm up and dry off.

Even the dogs are tired of the rain.  They are too muddy to come in the house and it’s too wet for them to play outside for long periods of time, so they mostly lounge around in their covered porch, alternately snoozing and barking at school children headed for or away from bus stops.

Yesterday, I got the truck stuck in the mule pasture while I was delivering hay.  I knew it would be tough sledding, but it was nearly my undoing. Fortunately, our 4 wheel drive got us out of the mire, but there are some pretty impressive wheel ruts left behind as a memorial to the adventure. Oh well, we were going to have to reseed anyway.

Speaking of seeds, that brings me to the high point, it’s seed starting season. I love this time of year, when we go through the catalogs, order our seeds and start the ones that need to be planted indoors and transferred outside in spring.  This year, we have all the usual suspects, but we’re adding a new heirloom tomato, German Green, and discontinuing our Early Girl tomatoes. The Early Girls never do as well as we hope, so we are planting more cherry tomatoes which always do well, and are adding these green tomatoes, which should be fun.

I couldn’t find my Ghost Pepper seeds, so I’ve had to order some new ones. I need to save some seeds this year as the prices are really rising. We have planted a few extra ‘gigante’ jalapeno peppers because everyone loves them for making poppers.  For the heat lovers, our ‘Biker Billy’ jalapenos are back this year. They have habanero level heat with all the normal jalapeno flavor. They make outstanding salsa and are fantastic when grilled and put on burgers and hot dogs or diced into sloppy joes and spaghetti sauce.

The other new product will be blue hubbard squash.  Winter squash is hard for us, because of the long growing season required, the space needed and the squash bugs that love Georgia clay so much.  I think I’m going to try and grow a lot of squash aquaponically, since squash bugs don’t like water. I’m also going to try to grow them vertically.  B has some trellis ideas that we can experiment with.

I still have to start our cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower seeds, but I ran out of starter cups.  Fear not, I know how to get to home depot, and there are plenty of rainy days in the forecast to keep me locked inside, so the seeds WILL be planted.

Such is the story of our winter in the burb. Now, though, I have to get this updated. I have some restless dogs and rabbits and the Tilapia need a water exchange. Father time stands still for no man.

 

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Every breed of cow has its strengths and weaknesses. Every breed has its proponents and detractors. Popularity of breeds waxes and wanes like the tides, or the phases of the moon. In my lifetime, beef breeds have come and gone like the flavors of the month at Baskin Robbins.  At one time, it was Herefords, then Charolais. For a while everyone who cared about beef wanted a mighty Simmental. These days, Angus are en vogue.

Dairy cows have pretty much gone the same route, with Milking Shorthorns, Brown Swiss and Guernseys having their day. Those who are big on butterfat, swear by Jerseys. For sheer volume, nothing beats a Holstein.

Across the country, there are dozens of other breeds who have a following; Brahman, Longhorn, Pineywoods, Murray Grey, Belted Galloway and many more have found a place in the pastures and barnyards of America.

There is one breed though, that stands head and shoulders above the crowd as the ideal family cow.  The Irish Dexter has functioned for centuries as a beef, dairy and draft animal for small farmers, crofters and homesteaders in its native Ireland. For nearly a century and a half, the Dexter has served a similar purpose here in the USA.

Saying Dexters stand head and shoulders above other cattle, is a bit of a stretch as they are the smallest Heritage breed of cattle, standing only 36 to 44 inches or so tall.  A mature female will top out at 600 – 800 lbs, while a bull might tip the scales at 1000 lbs.

Dexters are outstanding foragers and can thrive on the best or even the most marginal of pastures. They are a great choice for those who want to supply their families grass fed beef, but have only a few acres of pasture available. It is fairly easy to keep two Dexters plus their calves on a good acre of grass.

High producing Dexter dairy cows will give up to 2 gallons a day in sweet, rich milk. A 100% grass fed cow will provide ½ to 1 gallon a day; more than enough for most families to drink and to have extra for butter and cheese.  The leftover whey and buttermilk will be a fantastic supplement for chickens or a feeder pig.

A family raising two cows can plan their breeding so that one of the cows calves early in the year and one late in the year so that milk is available year round.  The calves can be raised as beeves or sold for extra cash.

Did I mention that I don’t think any breed of cattle comes close to matching the Dexter for temperament?  They are easily trained to halter and rope. They enjoy being petted and handled. Ours will follow us anywhere as long as there is a treat at the end of the journey.

We are slowly building our herd of Dexters. For a while, we’ll still be buying feeder steers from the auction, but within a couple of years, we expect all our beef and dairy to come from Dexters.  Whether you have just a couple acres and want to raise a cow, or have hundreds of acres and want to be an honest to goodness rancher, you should give Irish Dexters a serious look.

If you want to learn more, you might want to check out this website.

 

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If even half of our plan comes to fruition (pun partially intended), 2012 should be the most exciting year yet here in the burb (and out at the farm).  We’ve talked about some of these things and hinted at others, but I thought I’d list them all here as kind of a teaser.

1. We are expanding the garden considerably by adding three aquaponics systems.  In order to handle the extra vegetable volume, we are offering a few CSA shares.  The details and pricing will be made available at the end of this month in a newsletter to our mailing list.

2. The aquaponics gardens will also allow us to add fish to our other meat and poultry offerings.  Fish will have limited availability starting this fall, but will expand throughout the winter and into next year.

3. We will be adding pastured pork to our offerings. Again, this will be on a specific, limited, pre order basis. Our mini porkers will be available in whole or half pig portions. Details in the coming newsletter.

4. Pastured beef. Yes, you herd right (sorry, couldn’t resist a little homonym humor), pastured beef.  We will be taking pre orders in February for a few partners to join us in raising some of the best beef in North Georgia. You guessed it, details coming in the January newsletter.

5. This will be our first year to offer Cabrito/Chevon from our newly acquired Kiko herd. Our does were bred to a Boer herd sire and are due in early Spring. By the end of June any males born will be ready for market.  We may also have a few Alpines available as well, though our great hope is a crop of does to strengthen our dairy herd.

6. Speaking of Dairy, Britttan will be milking 3 Alpines and three Nigerians this year, which means more milk and more yogurt for you.  In addition to the usual a la carte offerings, we will make goat shares available so that you can be guaranteed a regular supply. Thank you, btw, for the emails and phone calls raving about the milk and yogurt from last year.  We love it that you’ve enjoyed your experience.  Just a couple months more waiting.

7. Let’s not forget pastured turkeys.  Feed prices are rising like everything else, so turkey prices will have to go up a bit this year. However, we’ll make it worth your while by having larger birds.  Those of you who have been out to the farm to see Mr. Tom, will know exactly what I’m talking about.

8. We are eggspanding our flock of chickens to provide more breakfast and baking goodness for everyone who’s been begging for more eggs.  Assuming we can keep the hawks at bay, we will dramatically increase egg availability starting this spring. We are also giving share opportunities for those who want a consistent, regular supply.

9. Pastured chicken production will be greatly reduced. We will have the occasional stewing hen available, but we will no longer be marketing broilers.  Stewing hens have better flavor anyway. So if you want to be notified when stewers  coming up, you’ll need to get on the mailing list.

See, I told you this is going to be a huge year for us. We are excited and a little awestruck by the task, but farming is our passion and providing you with the freshest, tastiest meat, dairy and produce in North Georgia is our goal.  As alluded to several times, we have a newsletter going out either the last week of January or the first week of February.  We have a list of everyone who have written to us or purchased from us in the past.  If you want to be on that list, or are not sure if you are on it, you can email us by using the contact page on our website or simply by emailing sam@eastofedenfarms.  Happy New Year, everyone.

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I don’t know about you, but we’re not really resolution people at East of Eden Farms.  We are however list makers.  And it seems like our list for this year is going to require some new running shoes!  I’m not talking about a marathon, but a year so jamb packed with tasks and improvement ideas that we’re going to have to move quick, quick, quick in our efforts to achieve them all.  Here’s what our year looks like so far:

Winter:

* Construct run-in shelters in winter pastures

* Tear down old chicken tractors

* Clean up winter pastures and get them ready for re-seeding

* Fencing, fencing, fencing…

* Instal guttering and set up rain barrels for water collection

* Set up a buck goat pasture for the dairy goats

* Butcher summer pigs

* Finalize CSA structure for spring, summer, and fall garden

* Construct baby goat pens and begin milking the dairy goats as they kid

* Clear all burn and debris piles from new pasture sites

Spring:

* Re-seed all the winter pastures

* Begin intensive rotational pastures

* Set up a designated pig pasture

* Fencing, fencing, fencing…

* Set up a buck pasture for the meat goats

* Build additional laying hen houses

* Plant spring garden and begin CSA drop-offs

* Construct and cycle aquaponics tanks

Summer:

* Process spring roosters

* Construct run-in shelters in summer pastures

* Fencing, fencing, fencing…(did I say that already?!)

* Plant summer garden and continue CSA drop-offs

* Set up a market stand at the Farmer’s Market

* Process spring goats

* Construct a brooder house and begin incubating eggs for 2013 spring layers

Fall:

* Construct greenhouses

* Prep winter pastures

* Store initial load of winter hay

* Move aquaponics units into greenhouses

* Harvest tilapia

* Plant winter green’s garden

* Finish out CSA shares for the year

* Process spring pigs and feeder cattle

Whew!  Just typing all this out has exhausted me!  But a farmer’s work is never done!  Good thing I’ll have Sam’s help with a lot of this.  And you too can get involved – we’re always looking for volunteers and interns.  2012 is going to be an amazing year here on the farm, I can’t wait to get started!

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