Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Work Day & Hoop House

Hi there - here's to the enthusiasm of new members! Robin & Steve and Erin & Ben came over last Saturday for a tour and to lend a hand. Robin, Erin, Hannah & I planted 7 flats of tomatoes, peppers, and broccoli. The guys worked on trying to ream out the posts for the hoop house. After 3 hours of: trying to pound out the clay with a sledge; going home for a power washer and attempting to hook it up with frozen hoses; trying to ream them out with a paddle drill; they finally stopped, after clearing 2 of approx. 50 pipes. The next day: Dave borrowed Mike's (Stadium Hardware) hammer drill and dropped it; tried to fix it, took it back; rented a small jack hammer from A-1; the two of us jack hammered away for about 2 more hours and cleared maybe 3 more pipes. Finally, Dave went to Bob's who pulled out the right tool and Dave cleaned out the rest in about 2 hours. So, that job done, we were ready to erect the hoop house.

Now everyone who has been around for awhile knows how excited I've been to get to this job. We thought it might happen in October or November but Thanksgiving was around the corner and most of you also know that around that time, I do every job to the house that has been delayed throughout the year - paint, mud walls, hang ceiling fixtures - whatever. So, the hoop house was on delay. Then the freeze came. Then I came up with a machine that would supposedly do the trick even if the ground was frozen. No time. So, with winter break upon us, we set the goal of erecting the house. With two new members volunteering to come out, I thought it would be helpful if Dave could get some help with those pipes. It started the ball rolling on Saturday. Finally, on Friday we went out to set our corner posts. 4 corners in. 2 so damaged from using the make-shift pipe insert which was supposed to "protect" the pipe that they will probably need to be cut in order to accept the hoops. So, we had to call the factory. It's been a long time since I've called a factory where the first person I speak with can actually answer a question - even longer still that the person can walk over to the "Manager of Installation" - who's on a machine in the plant and has to come down to talk - to confirm that what she's telling me is correct. Jaderloon, folks - if you need a greenhouse, give them a call. They took about an hour out of their day to ship us 2 $10 parts. So, end of story, they sent us the proper post driver and we have now erected 13 hoops and only have about 9 more to go. Woo hoo! There's a lot more to go before we can get the plastic up and secured but hopefully it will be done in 2 -3 weeks, in time to move the seedlings out and get things moving.

So, for anyone who has thought about coming out to help, please give a shout. I'll figure out a job to do and it will be one that needs to be done and you will help move things along. Thanks again Robin, Erin, Steve & Ben.

Friday, February 12, 2010

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Sandy had 3 kids today! Nathan, Grandpa Gerry, and I helped in the delivery. All are standing, nursing and seem well. Now we're just waiting for Dixie to deliver.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

2010 Turkeys

When I first started researching the cost of heritage breed turkeys, I was surprised to see them for sale at $7.50 - $10/pound. How can that be when you can go to the market and buy them for $0.39/lb before Thanksgiving? Are they crazy? Now, after raising them and actually accounting for the costs, I understand. We raised Naragansett turkeys 3 and 4 years ago. Before that we raised Broad Breasted Bronze. We had one tom B.B.B. which dressed out at 38 lbs! He was fully mature (about 2). The 6 - 8 month birds were between 18 & 25 lbs. The Naragansetts (heritage breed) dressed out between 14 & 22 lbs. at around 7 or so months. Not bad. This past year we purchased 7 Blue Slate and 10 White Hollands, also both heritage breeds. Now, most people know that I'm all for raising animals that are sustainable. I like the goats because they are healthy, require less land to graze, make it to market relatively quickly, etc. It is said that the heritage breed turkeys can forage nicely, can reproduce naturally, and aren't as inbred as some of the "commercial" breeds, thus may have fewer health problems. I don't know what happened, but of the 7 Blue Slates, only 1 made it to market. Of the 10 White Hollands, 7 made it. The Blue Slates were weak from the start, lost eyesight, and were not very adventurous. So, we won't order them again. The White Hollands did well. But, in the end, they dressed out at a max of 15 lbs for the toms and 8 for the hens. It costs approx. $10/chick. Processing is $7.50/bird. So, as you can see, it's impossible to sell a bird for about $2/lb. when they are so small. If you add in solely the cost of feed, it cost us $5.89 to raise 8 turkeys this year. I sold them for $4.50/lb because I had told people that would be the approx. cost (which it would have been if they had reached a higher weight). So, we had 2 turkeys for Thanksgiving. If I subtract out the gross proceeds from the costs, the result is that our 2 turkeys cost us $226 or $7.63/pound. Of course, the labor and overhead are not factored into any of this. So, I now understand why some people are charging $7.50 - $10 per pound for turkey. I will say that the taste of White Holland is the best we've had - they were tender, juicy and excellent. Those of you who bought the birds this year might want to comment (there were only 3 people) individually but I heard comments that concurred that these were the best tasting turkeys ever. All of this said, I realize that not all people can afford meat at $6/pound. So we'll raise some of the giants. Their feed conversion ratio is higher than the heritage breeds - they're too heavy to fly so they don't expend as much energy as others. Since they grow larger, we can charge less per pound. We realize that we can't offer birds at $0.39/lb. but we hope to be able to offer healthy meat at a price point that is affordable, thus sustainable.

What happened in 2009?
  • We ordered 2 breeds that looked cool. There is quite a bit of info. out there on the White Holland. But we couldn't find much on the Blue Slate. I think there's a reason for that - sometimes people don't raise certain breeds because they just don't do well. So, we won't buy Blue Slates again.
  • We "pasture raised" the birds. What does this mean? Dave built a very nice enclosure for them and we put them out in the goat paddock. It has a corrugated roof and is made from ash slab wood from our forest. It's surrounded by poultry wire. Every 3 days or so, he went out and moved the pen so that the birds would have fresh grass and a fresh supply of bugs. When we could, we let them out for exercise. They'd spend 3 - 4 hours walking around - flying up on the roof, looking at themselves in the windows, pooping all over the place. Our neighbor did her best to keep them out of her flowers - it's kind of like shooing away a squirrel from a feeder - they just keep coming back. Turkeys love to look at themselves so they're drawn to doors and windows at the house. The dog likes to bark at them. It's all very amusing if you can keep your sense of humor. Every once in awhile we'd have to go out and herd them back from the road or out of our other neighbor's garden (she doesn't really like turkey peck marks in her tomatoes). If they get into the lettuce, forget it! We didn't clip their wings so they could go anywhere. Before dinner, we'd have to herd them back to their enclosure.
  • One Saturday morning Dave went out to let them out for their weekend walk and 4 were dead. A raccoon had found them and the birds had stuck their heads through the enclosure in an attempt to escape. So that was bad. He reinforced the enclosure with smaller wire so that they couldn't stick their heads through and we didn't have another occurrence. But, we're always mindful of the risk of predators. It's said a weasel will finish off a whole flock; we hear the coyotes at night; the hawks circle the chickens during the day. We try to keep losses to a minimum but realize that we are part of nature.
  • One turkey looked to the sky a bit too long during a rainstorm.
  • One turkey walked into the woods never to return (a Blue Slate, of course).
  • And 3 chicks died within 3 days of delivery - two Blue Slates (we did receive a refund for those).
So, that's the turkey tale of 2009.

What's up for 2010?
  • I wonder about letting the birds out. I know that they'd gain weight faster if they weren't flying around and using their energy to spar with each other for the attention of the hen (the toms start this at about 10 days old - strutting around, looking all puffed up). But, they also wouldn't be as happy. When they're out, they cluck and chat and goof off. Quality of life vs. quanity.
  • We're going to raise 4 types of birds this year. The White Hollands will be $6/lb., Naragansetts will be $4.50 (or maybe 4), Broad Breasted Bronze about $3.25/lb. and White Giants $3. Maybe the giants will be less but they won't be more. Again, the larger breeds are generally huge. We like this especially for ground turkey - it's much easier to get a good amount of ground meat from one large turkey than 3 small ones.
  • Maybe we'll save 3 hens and a tom so that we can raise our own chicks next year. We tried to hatch 9 turkeys 2 years ago and only 3 made it out of their shell. They were cute and lived in with the goats. They would hitch a ride with the goats. One day, the hen got under a goat's foot. So we were left with 2. Anyway, we had fun letting the chicken hens rear their chicks last spring and I've read that people have good luck with turkey poults in this manner so maybe we'll give it a try.
If you'd like to reserve a turkey for this fall, please let me know - tell me if you want a heritage breed, the approx. size bird you'd like, send a $10 deposit per bird, and I'll write you down. The deposit is refundable if we don't get a bird to you. They will arrive the week of March 22 and will be processed before Thanksgiving (hopefully 3 - 5 days before).

Goat Meat - Nutritional Information

We're preparing to process our first goat for meat. Despite our efforts not to name our goat kids, they all have names. A family from Midland bought Brown Foot about a month ago. By now, hopefully he has gotten to know their milking goats and is expecting some kids of his own in 4 1/2 or so months. Dixie's first kid, which Allie has named Lars, is now in training to walk on a lead and, hopefully, be a nice buck (is there such a thing?). We'll keep him for future breeding purposes and to someday show. White Ear is headed for the processor within the next week or so. I bought some goat meat from Monaghan's (Kerry Town meat market) a couple of weeks ago. I bought a partial slab of ribs and a shoulder roast. I didn't par boil the ribs - just barbecued them. They were a bit tough for us. But the shoulder roast was excellent - tender and not gamey as we were a bit afraid of. We slow roasted the roast in the convection oven. So, now that the taste test is over, we will process White Ear and fill up the remaining space in our freezer. I know some people ask how we can eat the animals that we raise. My response is that I have a hard time eating animals that are raised by someone that I don't know or can't visit. Here we know what they're eating, what they're breathing, what they've taken if they are sick, if they were ever sick, etc. We know what we're eating. We appreciate that the animals help complete the growing circle here on our farm.

The following is an excerpt from article by Jean-Marie Lughinbuhl, “Meat Goat Production in North Carolina”, 1997, Last modified February 28, 2000. It was published through the North Carolina State Cooperative Extension.

Comparison of Goat Meat to Other Meats (3 oz roasted)
Animal Calories Total Fat Saturated Fat Protein grams
Goat 122 2.58 .79 23
Beef 245 16.00 6.80 23
Pork 310 24.00 8.70 21
Lamb 235 16.00 7.30 22
Chicken 12 0 3.50 1.10 21

In addition to the health benefits of goat meat, goats require less land to raise than beef as they are excellent foragers. If they had their way, they'd eat up to 60% of their diet in scrub brush. Depending upon the quality of the pasture, 10 - 14 goats can be maintained per acre and goats are processed between 6 and 12 months of age. It takes about 2 acres of pasture per grass-fed cow and up to 2 years, depending on the breed and whether the feed is supplemented with corn.