Sunday, February 21, 2010

Meat Day!

Today was a pretty busy meat pickup day.
Chickens are just about gone folks but good news is that baby chicks arrive next week.  So in 11-12 weeks you can have fresh chicken.  

Order your chicken now.  We are keeping small batches and doing them as a pre-order.  

Also, a word to those that want quality food at a decent price.  Hint:  local farmers who are in their first few years of business are likely going to give you a good deal.  It's not economical to have a sales and marketing department so word of mouth is what you hope for.  Our goal is to break-even this year or at least come really close to break-even.

For those in the Chicago area (as you've all been asking), I'll be coming to visit family at Easter, so if you do want to make a purchase, we've got the means to transport meat and keep it frozen.  (dry ice is so cool....)  
So although it's not exactly 'local' produce-- it will be traveling in a van that is already going to be on the road so no more extra emissions for the trip. 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pending Poultry Legislation

I took a trip to Annapolis a few weeks ago with some fellow farmers and met with our elected state representatives.  They surprised us by immediately offering to sponsor legislation that would address our concerns.   Could have knocked me over with a feather.  Who knew it would be so easy?

We went to Annapolis because the regulations in Maryland say that we are not allowed to sell on-farm processed poultry or rabbit at farmers markets.  We are allowed to sell here on the farm, but not at a table at the market.  The state recognizes farmers markets as an extension of on-farm sales for ALL OTHER PRODUCTS, but not poultry or rabbit.  The state requires all meats that are sold to have been processed at a USDA inspected facility.  However, the USDA specifically exempts small poultry processors from being inspected.   So, the state says we need to be inspected, but the USDA says we dont.  And the State doesnt care if we sell on farm, just not at a farmers market.  Does that make any sense?

So, we went to Annapolis and our representatives agreed. The links are below.  If you live in Maryland and are passionate about local food and supporting small farms and pastured poultry, please contact your representatives and urge them to support this legislation!!!

House Bill 1070
Senate Bill 912

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why is Grass Fed Beef a Dark Red Color?

I was on a search for a scientific reason as to why grass-fed beef is dark, dark red or in our case almost a dark purple.  I found that the science behind why meats are darker/lighter in color is pretty interesting but not easy to understand or explain.  I need to get the book The Science of Cooking to get the even more detailed explanation.

So here goes nothing on the simple answer.  A muscle needs oxygen.   Typically a muscle can get oxygen from the blood flowing through the muscle.  However, muscles that are heavily used may not get enough oxygen from the blood inside the muscles so they resort to oxygen stored in myoglobin (a protein molecule).  When myoglobin is carrying oxygen, it is red.  So because grass fed animals have to walk around the pasture to find their food and walk around to get their water, run with the calves, etc.  their muscles need more of the oxygen stored in myoglobin as they won't get enough from the blood in the muscle, and will be darker as a result.

Now I would assume that if you had a grain fed animal that had to walk from one end of the pasture to get their food and another end to get their water, then maybe those animals would have darker meet as well.  So the color has nothing to do with food (grain/grass) but all to do with exercise.  

This is also why turkey and chicken legs are dark meat while the breasts are white meat.  The legs are working so they have more myoglobin.  Same goes with different cuts of pork.  If the muscle is getting used-- it's darker.  

Now darker meat has more flavor but the danger is that it can be tough so must be cooked properly.

We've been plowing steadily through our beef and I can say it's all dark, dark red and so, so, so flavorful. 

So there you go--- lesson of the day!!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Blizzard 2010

Wow, time to take a breath.
For those who have been asking for pictures, this posting is for you.
We've been busy digging out, keeping animals alive, starting up generators and the last few days, watching the Olympics.  (we're big Olympic fans..... I just cannot help but watch and admire.  The athletes are amazing.  Hannah was awesome on the moguls...I was in awe)

So the weekend Feb 9th we got about 24-30 inches of snow.  That's what you see below.
No big deal I thought..... the Blizzard of 79 was worse..... this is nothing.

Notice the cattle hanging out and the snow is not that high.  It melted pretty fast.

The chickens could still hang out under the eggmobile and were having fun.  Dougie (our sheltie, could still run through the snow).... and then....and then...

Below is a picture of one of the cows walking from their hay house to the waterer.  Can you find the cow?  Look carefully....

The snow came down again-- another 24 or so inches... beautiful but annoying!

The hens in the eggmobile couldn't get to the barn so I had to carry them 2 at a time from the eggmobile to the barn.  Then the crazy hens flew back into the mobile at night!!! UGH.  I just didn't want them to die of starvation and dehydration in the eggmobile.  

Our house is old and the guy who lived here before us built this add on room and I don't trust the roof.  So I made Mike shovel it off.  Our onions and leeks are growing in the room beneath that roof.

So then the snow finally stopped.  The cattle cannot fit in the barn.   Folks around here have modest barns and run-in sheds for their animals.  Our cattle are from Vermont and they are orignally from Scotland.  The cattle are used to harsh winters but I do wish we had room for them in the barn.  Maybe next year they'll get a run-in shed.  So they create a path from their hay house to the waterer.  This was a funny standoff.  One cow coming back while 7 more are in line.  Want to guess who won?  I called the kids to the window as I snapped a picture.

Thank goodness for our grill with extra side burner.  I always thought those were stupid until we ran out of power and I wanted to reheat food, boil water, etc.  We hooked up the generator but it doesn't run the water or the furnace and I didn't want to waste the electric on the stove.

Eggmobile a little more snow covered!!!  That fence has 4 one point you could only see 1 1/2 boards.

The cats enjoyed the sunshine the day after the 2nd storm.

The goats, sheep and chickens are living together until the snow is low enough for the sheep to go back to the field.  We need to clean up the barn as lambing time will be late March.  Most folks lamb in February and have had to deal with that during this snow.  Thank goodness we opted for later births this year!  I said (hey ladies-- picture time!!! - and they all turned to look at me... he-he)

When the sheep are near the chickens... they are grass fed and slightly chicken feed fed sheep.  
It cracks me up to see the ewes stretching to get their heads thru the gates for the chicken feed that falls to the ground.  Nothing is wasted that's for sure.  
That momma below is a loud mouth..... I haven't named her but I probably should.  Anyone have a good name for a loudmouth ewe?

The calm after the storms....

The snow is melting fast.  Thank goodness.  I need to till the ground mid march for peas!!  Might be early April the way things are going.  

So that's the picture update.  We have beef, lamb sausage, lamb kabobs, pork sausage, pork chops, bacon, breakfast sausage, and lots of beef (ground, sirloin, etc).  Let Mike know and he'll hook you up.  I have been so happy with the meats.  The beef is lean and incredibly flavorful.  We are out of rack of lamb.  Rack of Lamb is heaven.  I don't know if it's because it's grass fed that the lamb tastes so good, but it is fabulous.  If you think you don't like lamb... try some grass fed lamb and tell me what you think.  I had no idea what I missing all these years.  The pork chops and pork sausage is also out of this world.  So lean and so flavorful.  I'm loving all the meat lately but I'm craving veggies.... soon... only a few more months.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A couple of questions

Our friend Alina asked a couple of questions: do chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter and do cows give less milk in the winter?

Well, lets address the chickens first, shall we?

Chickens egg laying is affected by the amount of daylight. As the daylight diminishes in the fall, so does the chickens rate of egg laying. It is starting to pick up now that the days are getting longer. What a farmer can do is to supplement the light with artificial lights in the coop. We put lights on a timer to go on early, about 4:30 or so. You gradually increase the amount of light so that they have 12-13 hours of daylight all year round and you can keep them laying just like it was mid summer. Another thing affecting egg laying is that older hens will molt and lose their feathers in the fall. It takes 6-8 weeks or so for the molt to finish and for the birds to start laying again.

Cows in milk operations generally calve in late winter, around now, and will have their calves taken from them right away so the farmers can get all the milk they can. The calves are fed milk replacer. Its like formula. Then the cows are put on a milking schedule, twice a day for probably 10 months or so. They are then dried off, not milked for 2-3 months while they are in the last trimester of pregnancy and then have their calves and are milked again.

Some farm operations are switching out of this model and are milking only once a day. Their milk yield goes way down, but supposedly the cows live a bit longer and are not pushed to the limit that their bodies can handle producing milk. Some folks, especially those with only a family cow, share the milk with the calf. They will milk once a day and let the calf have the rest of the milk. The cow's body will adjust if there is only one calf, and they produce much less milk. Modern dairy cows produce ENORMOUS amounts of milk. Much more than necessary for one calf, so its a good way to get milk for the family and still have the calf raised on mother's milk.

I will defer to our Blue Heron Farm friends on most of these points, because they are the dairy goat folks who know MUCH MUCH more about this than I do. Please feel free, BHF to correct any points, or expound on them!


Probably close to 50 inches of snow here at the farm between last saturday and this tuesday. The cattle are not particularly happy, but they have lots of hay. The sheep are in the barn. Not particularly happy either, but dry and fed. The chickens are itching to get out and SCRATCH. Its going to be a while before the big piles of snow are gone. The driveway and lane are clear. The roads are not. There is so much snow that there is no place to put it!

At least its melting here pretty fast. The snow is already compacting down and melting, probably at least 10-12 inches lower than it was 24 hours ago. Im really glad I have a front end loader and tractor. 6-8 foot drifts. Fun. Or not.

And the forecast calls for 4-8 more inches of snow on Monday. Yay.

Friday, February 5, 2010


This is a picture from November of Mike with Daisy.  Daisy needs to have babies so lets all cross our fingers together.  She and Xeno are hanging out lately.  You know all those phrases about rabbits.....they are all true.  

This is also Mike with a beard... its gone, though I did like it.. gave him that hippie farmer look.

We've got 1 spot left for the CSA and we are closed for the season.
I have onions and leek seedlings growing right now.  Also some more strawberries for 2011 and rhubarb for 2011.  

I'm going to enlist all the CSA members in an experiment.  I've read that a good way to store fresh greens is to take 2 cotton woven dish towels and sew them together and use that as your storage for greens.   You just wet the towels lightly and then they stay crisp.  So I am sewing up lettuce bags for all of you to try this concept out.  It will save on plastic bags and be a little more 'green' so we'll see how it goes.  You will all have your own set of dish towel bags and you'll just have to do me a favor and wash them before you return them.  So I'll have a set of 8 or so bags for each of you with your name on the drawstring.  

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Blog Is Man's best friend

Well, hello there! Long time, no blog. I have not blogged in a long time, but Ive decided, ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!! Time to get off my behind and let everyone know whats been happening lately.

Lets see.

The voice of the blog has been decidedly that of AD for the last several months. And that makes me happy. AD's energy and enthusiasm is just what we need around here. The everyday poop and bluster that is wintertime farming gets me down sometimes. It is always refreshing when the first weekend in February comes along because that can only mean one thing...PASA!!!!

Thats right kids! PASA is here. The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture holds an annual conference at State College, PA on the campus of Penn State University. Around 2000 farmers, consumers, teachers, advocates, marketers, vendors and hippies descend upon poor, unsuspecting Penn State each February for a weekend full of information, workshops, classes and speeches and best of all, DINNERS!

The PASA weekend is where we got the inspiration and affirmation that we could actually do this farming thing. I learned how to process a chicken there 2 years ago. Last year I spent a day learning the grass-fed beef thing. Annette spent a day 2 years ago learning about small ruminants. Probably more than she ever wanted to learn about small ruminants. This year, Im going to spend a day learning as much as I can about starting a value added dairy. Regulations, equipment, dairy layout and design, cheesemaking, raw milk rules, marketing, and more. There are some really wonderful workshops and lectures this year and I cant decide which ones to attend. has the information about the Farming for the Future Conference that begins Thursday. Take a look and tell me what you think. I cant wait. PASA always recharges my batteries.

So, we have lots of beef now. And lots of pork, lamb and chicken in the freezers. And um, eggs. Yes, the chickens are starting to lay again. And all at once! Today I found that production had doubled. If that keeps up, Im going to seriously need to find an egg market and quick! I collected about 80% of what we were getting at the height of the summer today. And I sold 6 dozen eggs today too. So...I think Id better get going on that front. If its not too snowy, tomorrow morning Ill take the kids out to breakfast and see if I cant get one of our local restaurants to buy into my sales pitch. Its actually very simple. I dont want them to necessarily stop buying their regular eggs, just buy some of mine and then offer them as an upgrade to their existing customers. Charge an extra dollar or two per breakfast to have their meal prepared with farm fresh eggs rather than the normal lifeless, stale, factory farmed eggs. This works nicely because the restaurant only has to then sell one upgrade per dozen and they pay for the difference in price right there. They are already getting their regular egg prices subsidized in the cost of their dish, its extra profit once they sell one breakfast upgrade per dozen. The rest is cash money in their pocket. Think you can find 6 customers per day to upgrade? There you go. Thats 6 dozen eggs sold per week at a dollar per egg. So, perhaps an extra 57 dollars per week in profits. Not bad. It doesnt sound like much but over a year thats a bit of change. And perhaps it pays for the waitresses salary for the morning shift.

Anyway, the ability to have the best eggs in town for breakfast will help separate the restaurant Im thinking of from everyone else.

So, yes, its a long post today, probably a bit scatological, but thats ok. Its my first post in a long time.

AD had a laugh yesterday as she was Googling grass-fed meats, one of her posts on this blog came up in the google search! She let out a huge guffaw and cracked us both up. Its pretty amazing when your own blog posts start showing up as possible matches to your own google searches. I guess that must mean something.

And go to the Sheppard Mansion in Hanover, PA for dinner. Chef Andy Little is doing fantastic things in his kitchen with local ingredients. Im going to keep plugging that for a while. At least until I eat there again. I want more damn carrot cake. :) Chef gave me the idea to do some video cookbooks for our CSA members and blog to help prepare our products. Hell, Id to that in a heart beat. Plus, I want another look at his hams.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.