Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Cocktail

We enjoy a spirit now and again, and have put together a delicious cheap recipe that some of you may like to give-a-go this evening as you are welcoming 2013. So in lieu of waxing poetic or any deep reflections, we're going to just enjoy this last day of the year and offer cheers to those of you who are following our story. So join us and raise a glass to small farming, working hard, and to those you love dear!

R'Eisen Shine Cocktail 
1 shot (or more if you'd like) Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Whiskey (12 dollars, not the best whiskey I've ever enjoyed, but nice for this)
1/3 glass Cream Soda
2/3 glass Vanilla Seltzer

Add a desired amount of ice to your glass, pour in your shot. Add your Cream Soda and Seltzer and enjoy. Easy, slightly sweet- full of flavor and perfectly seasonal. 


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Farmer's "Vacation"

We've been taking a bit easier the past week, with the rushing of the holidays and the regular farm bustle finally catching up with us. We've had two decent snow falls, and that's made it easier to hide away inside with nothing but the wood stove to tend to. It's been relaxing, and helps me start to dream about next season rather than worry about it. 

It looks like the horses will be coming on the weekend of January 12-13. We're still waiting to confirm details, but it's looking good! I still need to run electric line on the fences posts I drove before the snow. It's probably a day long project, though I still need to purchase materials. That will likely happen this week and our neighbors mentioned they may have a spare solar energizer, which would be great. I'm nervous about the horses, just like I am before any big change or addition to the farm. Horses are a big responsibility, and we really are hopeful about their work on the farm. It's not nerves that feel overwhelming, but rather like the night before a big performance. You're hopeful, preparing and crossing your fingers not to fall flat on your face.

Noel and Lucia are recovering well from their disbudding yesterday, we expanded their pen this morning so they could better stretch and hop and skip. They were very appreciative and are quickly turning into the farm comedians. 

This morning our neighbors came up for a farm brunch. We chatted and sipped hot coffee over some fritatta and fresh bread with a side of jam and pickled green beans. It was tasty and relaxing. We're lucky to have some really wonderful folks who live near by, and we don't get to have them over as often as we'd like. After they'd headed back down the road we curled up to start looking at the seed catalogs. Ordering seeds now helps us ensure that we get our favorite heirloom varieties and the best selection of new seeds. So we usually start a few days before New Year's and then sit down on New Year's day to really hash it out. Seed ordering is all about potential, you picture fields full of all of these amazing plants, brimming with produce. In reality, some of these crops will totally fall flat. But that's alright-- because we will try another variety in it's place the following year. Eventually we will have a strong selection of seeds we know are pretty sure bets, and we can rotate in some of the fussier plants. 

Some folks spend vacations in far-away places, on beaches overlooking scenery. They drink tropical drinks and go out to eat. I'm sure it's lovely, but it's not super possible for us right now with a young farm. We huddle in the farm house and pour over seed catalogs. We drink beer, turn on the netflix and read up about horse care and baby goats. It's not for everyone, but it works for us. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Livestock- Not for the faint of heart

Yes, baby animals are adorable. And yes, there are few things sweeter than a bottle fed baby goat or a three week old baby bunny hopping out of a nest. But livestock farming is not all baby faces and soft fur. Often it is pests in the barn attempting to spoil feed, shoveling out layers of excrement, sadness when there is death, vaccinations, bumps-bruises, diarrhea, clipping hooves and checking for worms. It's smells, it's messy, and most livestock don't appreciate it when you want to give them a shot or some other routine care.

Today was one of those less-cute days.  Goats grow horns. Well, goats have the potential to grow horns. And when it comes to modifying animals- we usually err on the side of less intervention. For example, if an animal gets sick, we start with electrolytes and basic first aid (rest, separating them out, ensuring cleanliness, lots of fresh water) before even considering antibiotics. But a goat with horns is a danger to itself, pen mates and us as farmers. Goat horns grow straight out and can easily gore or get caught in fencing. Goats are affectionate and playful and can easily injure each other or their farmers just in their day-to-day behavior. We believe that we have to accommodate our livestock to give them a healthy life- we give up sleeping in, we go out of our way to get the best feed, we provide ample space and clean living spaces. But we also are raising them for a purpose, so they live a modified life- and our goats can't have horns. So how does one take care of horns on a sweet baby goat?

Through a process called disbudding. Essentially, you use a very, very hot iron to halt the growth of horn buds when the goats are just a few days old. You check every day for the little buds to appear, and then once you feel them (like the size of a bug bite) it's time to take care of them. It takes a skilled hand and some special equipment, both of those brought to us by our good friends who have their own dairy goats. It all took less than hour, and we'll spare you the finer points. It's tough to inflict any kind of temporary pain on a puppy-like goat. But being a responsible livestock farmer is providing appropriate care. And honestly, just a few hours after we were done the babies are back to normal, lest the potentially harmful horns.

I love working with animals, they bring a real richness to our work here. Even on days where an escaped turkey catches me the wrong way with a wing and gives me a black eye or I'm scraping rabbit cages, I really enjoy the livestock. Today wasn't an exception. I know we've done the right thing for Noel and Lucia, and it that it's just one step in raising healthy dairy goats. But I also will greatly enjoy heading down to the barn to get them a warm bottle while the snow falls with the unpleasantness behind us.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The quest for the perfect bread....

My first experience with really thinking about food came when I was in high school. I worked at a specialty foods store called Pasta at Large. Up until this point, I had had an agnostic relationship with food at best, most often opting for whatever was easy and available, or often nothing at all. It was certainly not a healthy relationship. I went to work for the awesome owner of PAL, and a lot of that turned around for me. 

The store specialized in homemade pasta and ravioli and fresh bread, the most popular being sour dough and the french baguette. While I never had the opportunity to cook at the store, I learned a lot from the owner and the women who worked in the kitchen. Making pasta and serving empanadas, chicken con pollo and fennel salad opened my eyes to food that was so different from what I was choosing for myself at that time (often plain, dry chicken sandwiches and raw vegetables). I looked up to the women I worked with, and I loved the smell of the baking bread and new sauces that were constantly coming out of that kitchen. 

Far and away my favorite item that we made at the store were milk bread dinner rolls. I can't even describe to you the magic that happened when those rolls came out of the oven. Anyone who tried one, bought a dozen and they were always gone in a heartbeat. 

Since committing to making most of our bread at home, I have been on a quest to recreate the deliciousness. I have tried at least a half dozen milk bread recipes, but nothing has come close. I'm sure that I won't be able to really ever capture the awesomeness that Pasta at Large did, but I'm trying! They had magic wands, I'm convinced.

I discovered this recipe the other day, while searching for a specialty bread for the holidays. The original recipe came from the Tasty Kitchen blog. Here's my version:

Mix together over medium heat until thick:
  • ⅓ cups Flour
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1 cup Warm Milk
  • 4 teaspoons Dry Yeast
  • 6 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 5 1/2 cups Flour
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 4 whole Eggs, Divided
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, Softened


Combine the 1/3 C flour and 1 C milk in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the mixture thickens, but don’t bring it to a full boil. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. 
In a small bowl, mix the warm milk, yeast and sugar. Whisk to combine and let the yeast start.
Combine flour and salt. 
Once the first flour mixture is cooled off so that it won’t kill the yeast, mix in with the yeast mixture and add 2 large eggs. Mix with the dry ingredients. 
Mix the dough,  then add the softened butter. Work it in. 
Knead the dough about 5–8 minutes.
Remove dough from the bowl and knead on a lightly floured cutting board until smooth.
Oil a bowl and let the dough rise until doubled (about an hour). 
Once risen, divide the dough into sections. The sections should be as big as a dinner roll or larger. Once baked, the easiest way to serve is to pull the bread apart, so your sections should be based on your serving amount. Take the sections and flatten to about a 1/2 inch thick. Roll the section as you would a cinnamon roll. Combine and press together in a lightly greased pan (round or loaf). 
Let rise under plastic wrap for about an hour. Brush with a lightly beaten egg wash. Bake at 350ºF for about 30 minutes. Check at the 20 minute mark, to make sure the bread isn't browning too much because of the egg wash. 

It's a great recipe, but it's not my Shangri La. The search continues! - Kim 



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snowed In and the Holiday Recap

We're snowed in. And iced in. And basically not going anywhere until tomorrow morning....which is a good time to re cooperate from the Christmas blitz.
For these Eisen's, the holiday festivities took us up the road to Livingston on Christmas Eve to Aunt Pam and Uncle Bob's. Every year we head over to their house for dinner and presents. We brought cheese and shrimp ravioli that we made from scratch, and my cousin Becky brought alfredo. So delicious! We always do a round of present giving at their house as well, which includes "secret Santa" and what we call Silly Stuff. We got Uncle Bob in the present swap, and we gave him a Leatherman tool. The Silly Stuff included a pair of reindeer antlers for everyone, cookies, pens and pencils, funny goggles, and a lot of other useful and crazy items.
Ravioli and filling!
Ejay and Geoffrey, the best looking in the family. 




On Christmas morning, we woke before the sun came up to feed the new baby goats and the rest of the usual suspects on the farm. There is seriously nothing cuter on a cold, slightly snowy morning than a small goat kid bleating softly in the barn. It's about as close to the manger scene as I've come in a good many years.
We went inside after the chores, gathered all our presents and loaded the car with gifts and pork products from our good friends at Tiny House Farm in Grafton. We traded turkey for pork around Thanksgiving and we were going to have bacon for breakfast and ham for dinner. All this while still in our pajamas. You do not get dressed to go to the Layton Road Eisen's for the morning present routine. It's forbidden.
There are a lot of people in my immediate family, so it was a long morning of coffee, gifts and holiday cheer. We rushed back to the farm, prepped a turkey for the feast later in the day, fed the dogs and cats inside, got showered and changed for the second round at Aunt Debbies in the afternoon, and put on our coveralls to do the afternoon/evening chores.

We jumped in the car and headed to Red Hook for another holiday meal and one of our favorite new traditions: Christmas-Disney-USA trivia! The second annual high-stakes trivia game featured the teams of: Les Mistletoes, the Glitterbugs and the Mistle-hoes. To the left you'll find a photo of the Mistle-hoes, who took the trophy from last year's team of winners, Dr. Dreidel.

All in all, a hectic and beautiful holiday season! On to the new year and all of the amazing, crazy and lovely events it will bring with it.







snow day

The weather is certainly winter out there! We're content to stay inside and just keep tabs on all of the livestock. Right now it's freezing rain/ice coating the couple inches of snow, but it going to keep switching back and forth all day. The upside is that the snow should be perfect for a winter snow shoe tomorrow! And, Kim is off until after the new year. So we are going to enjoy left over goodies, put away the rest of the Christmas wreckage and catch up on some sleep. We're not complaining! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Lucia



Noelle and Lucia

Noelle and Lucia are 4 day old Alpine dairy goats, both females. They are an unexpected addition to our little farm, but a welcome one.

On Christmas Eve I got a call from our neighbor who works on a local goat dairy farm. In the past week, almost all of their breeder stock had given birth a little earlier then expected to a plethora of goat kids.The farm keeps some of their kids, but often sells the rest. Due to the time of the year, they couldn't seem to sell any of the kids and were overwhelmed with the bottle feeding (the pull their kids right away because they need the milk for cheese) and the herd of tiny bleating babies. They wanted to know if we had any interest in a couple of well bred goats for our little operation. The initial answer was - no.

Kim reasonably reminded me that we have horses coming in just a few weeks, and the goats will just be eating hay and adding to the chores for a good long while before they become productive members of the farm. I agreed with her, sort of. I'm always up for trying new livestock, and have long wanted to try my hand at some small dairy just for our household. I like the idea of raising the girls from this small and building a good relationship with them. Plus, caring for them is pretty minor given I have to do chores for the rabbits and hens twice a day anyway. And who doesn't love tiny baby animals? We finally agreed to serve as a last resort, if the farm really got in a jam we would take two does.

A couple hours later, while we were at a family party we got another message that two does were on their way to our farm. We were a little surprised, but once we commit to something- we're all in. Our neighbor was happy enough to let himself into the barn and set up a little spot for the girls in one of the chicken brooding pens. When we finally did get home, there were two cat-sized kids nestled up in a bed of shavings and straw, sleeping away. I set up a heat lamp and added some extra hay when we got home to make sure they were comfortable. They are absolutely a delight. Sweet, docile and knock-kneed I already can tell I'm going to love having them around. They will stay in the barn until they are big enough to be out in the pasture with the sheep- there is plenty of room up in the run in for them. Though to contain them I will definitely have to add some electric line to the sheep fencing. 

It's been a crash course in goat care here, I've been going through all of the websites and recommendations from friends and books to make sure we are doing our best to raise good strong does. We've had sheep for years, and there are some similarities but goats seem to have a much different character. I think we'll get along just fine. Sometimes things like this happen- where you take a good opportunity even if it's a little unexpected. We have hay, we have room in the barn, I have a bit more time then usual to brush up and add a twice daily bottle feeding. It's pleasant to get a little variation in the routine- and stretch my skills a bit. Plus, with the costs of raising poultry being so sky-high I never know if I will need to change the enterprises around here. I'd rather have the skills to switch it up if need be then be caught with no way to keep the farm going. 

Oh, who am I kidding- I'm just a sucker for a baby animal. Big-tough farmer who can split wood and plow a field both by hand- turned to mush by small critters. Sheesh. 

The storm on the horizon

We have two new baby goats on the farm! Before I can write the whole story though, there is much work to be done this morning. There is a pretty serious winter storm coming, snow, ice and wind. That means that the preparation must take precedence over cute baby goat pictures.


  • Firewood must be cut, we still are waiting on a part to be shipped in to fix our splitter- so it will take a few hours to cut enough by hand
  • Water buckets must be filled in case we loose power, the hens need more bedding down, the barn needs extra lights to keep the rabbit water bottles unfrozen, the sheep need extra hay
  • Christmas mess must be mitigated to a degree, including playing catch up on dishes
We'll check in soon!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Last year I wrote this post, three nights before Christmas- and how things have changed! So in the spirit of tradition, here is an updated version. It really hits home how much has grown and changed- and so have we. We couldn't have done it without so many folks helping us, and as we prepare to give gifts- we wanted to remember the gifts we've received this year. We hope that you are somewhere that matches you as much as this farm fits us, with company (animal, people, whoever) who make you feel whole and push you to be better everyday. 

Twas the night before Christmas
And throughout the farm
There were 3 litters of rabbits
Warm in the barn

There are egg laying hens
In their small winter pen
And 4 sheep are munching
We can hear the hay crunching!

In three weeks there will be
Two farmers calling "Gee"!*
The horses are due to arrive
To help our farm grow and thrive!

A year ago the farm was really a dream 
We had  ideas but the budget was...lean
Through lots of hard work and some sleepless nights
And starting the days at the first break of light...

The progress and life really started to grow
And even when it seemed the work was so slow--
We believed in this place and more in each other
But we couldn't have done it without back up cover

We had friends and relations who gave up their time,
And didn't mind the dirt or the grime!
We've had a wedding, a drought, and hundreds of livestock
And even survived raccoon attacks on prized flocks!

We are so grateful to meet each new farm day
We've had a wonderful year and have much more to say
But for now we must end it here 
Just a brief picture of two young farmers' year

Wherever you are, and whatever you celebrate, 
Follow your path- do it now and don't wait!
We know anything worth doing is worth all the fight-
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night! 

*Gee is the command for 'turn right' with draft horses.






Saturday, December 22, 2012

Snow!

Falling gently on the farm as we loaded up the car for the CSA delivery were flakes of frozen glitter. It was remarkably cooler, and everything looked sweeter in the cold air. Hens with snow covered feathers pecked merrily at their breakfast, and I could smell the wood smoke and hay.

Things are so hectic, and I will be up to my neck in kitchen projects for the next few days (no complaints though!). Tonight starts our blitz of visiting relatives- but first we have to go pick up a big order of organic rabbit feed. We have been special ordering it and the delivery schedule is erratic, but the quality of the food is great. So good that when we ran out and had to substitute the rabbits were reluctant to eat it. That's good feed!



Friday, December 21, 2012

Fridays

Fridays are all business for us. Even in the winter there are still orders to pack, and products to get ready for the Saturday CSA delivery. So what have we been up to all morning?

We've been prepping this recipe! It sounded really delicious and will make a nice side to any holiday cheese plate.

We also made a chocolate blackberry sauce for desserts. Now it's on to packing up potatoes and winter squash and then my least favorite chore of washing eggs. You'd think that of all the unpleasant smelling farm chores, eggs wouldn't be a big deal. But honestly, I dread it every week. And now that the farm is especially muddy with all the wet weather... the eggs are also muddy. But I'd better get to it. Also on the chore list for the day is getting our two dogs a bath. They smell like... well...dogs. If I have time, I think that the rabbit hides I've been tanning are almost ready for the next step and there are still presents to wrap!




Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tweeting?

We're giving Twitter a go- facebook has made some changes to their page policy and we like to keep in touch with as many people as possible. So if you want short sound-bite updates or to know when we are posting longer blog entries- you can follow us at REisenShineFarm!

Hand plows, Rabbits and Students

We always look forward to community events. It's not often that the timing works with our schedule, and sometimes things we plan to be attending or want to be attending just can't be managed with the farm. So last night we headed over to the local high school to talk with their agriculture club (along with some other really wonderful local new farmers) about choosing farming as a career.

I've already mentioned that I would have really loved to have such an opportunity as a teenager, and I think it's really amazing that the schools here really foster agriculture as a good career option. And these kids are serious- they planted a 'pizza' garden to start, and grew all of the vegetable ingredients to make good pizzas. Recently they finished building a huge commercial greenhouse, and they've been raising meat chickens and show rabbits. They were bright, engaged, and even made snacks.They're thinking about integrating meat rabbits into their enterprise- and if they do we'll be happy to help them get started. Awesome.

We were on a panel with farmers that we had met before and some that we just met that night. There is a local farm pretty much right down the road who have a lot in common with our story. They also have struggled with a hand plow, and bucket watering their crops. I forget sometimes that there is a similar struggle with young farmers, and that shared experience is really valuable. A lot of the ways we find to interact with others are through selling our goods, or writing about our experiences online. But it's really different to sit next to someone who has thrown their farm together with spit and will power and lived to tell the tale.

It's powerful to talk to young people with the same drive that threw us into farming. Some of those students have that inescapable drive that will steer them into agriculture. It's addicting, farming. I think that if you have the pull, it's a gravitational force. You can try and fight it, but sitting at a desk is never going to cut it. At least that was my experience. Even when I was working for a non-profit I really believed in, I would find myself counting minutes until I could get home to the chickens. I spent all my free time in the garden. I drew maps of future farms, I read books. The drive was insatiable.Not all of the students may end up running their own farms, but I think that they will have a clearer understanding of the work of food- that something you can't forget. Not everyone may choose to grow their own food, but everyone should know how the food got to their plate- and recognize the effort behind it. Schools with programs that encourage students to go on a journey to grow pizza ingredients teach those students not to take food for granted.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

getting ready

We are getting ready to head out to Taconic Hills for the forum tonight w/youth interested in farming (see earlier post Wanted: Young Farmers). We'll write about how it goes tomorrow!

Winter?

The weather lately is odd. We have been pummeled with winds, and it's rather muddy. It feels much more like early November than late December. I'm very worried about a warm winter with no snow.

According to the farmer's almanac, we are supposed to get a good strong winter with several coatings of the white stuff. I know that long winters are unpleasant and a struggle. But we need the cold and snow to prepare the ground for next year. The cold kills off the plethora of pests, and after a plague like population this year- i would like to see some die off.

After a drought year, the snow could add valuable moisture and help the soil recover. All around, this warmth is unnerving.

Aside from that, I won't deny that a good clean coating of snow would do much for the barren manure covered chicken pen, and of course live up to our first Christmas on the farm expectations. I'd like to see the wood stove smoke curling amongst snow flakes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wanted- Young Farmers

When I was a kid, I got steam rolled into attending college to escape a pretty negative family situation, because I had good grades and because that's what everyone did. But when it came right down to it- I probably shouldn't have gone. Not only did I not have the financial resources to pay for college at that point, but I was a fairly traumatized kid with no real idea of where I wanted to go with my professional life. I still was successful in college, participating in campus life to the fullest and attaining great grades. But, looking back and now faced with loans after having to drop out due to finances and a variety of other factors- I'm not sure it was the best choice for me. I had an interest in agriculture from the time I was very young (third grade all the way through high school) but was steered away because I was 'smart'. I'm not sure when in our culture we associated agriculture with a lack of intelligence, but it's a mistake. Running a business, managing crops and livestock, marketing, budgeting, all of these tasks stretch my intellect and body in ways I'd never imagined. There's no 'easy way out' about farming. 

So we both try to talk to college-age folks about the choices they have, and encourage them to think critically about their options before just going to college. College is an amazing experience, and there is much to be said for higher education. But getting into a ton of debt to be educated in a field you probably won't pursue isn't necessarily going to make your job prospects or future brighter. Taking time, or a few classes of interest at a community college should be a respected option. And of course for students interested in agriculture--we should foster that interest to the best of our abilities. So tomorrow, we are going to put our time where our mouths are and participate in this event:

Taconic Hills Central School District

Welcomes the New Farmer Narrative Project


Brought to you by the students of the HARVEST Club

(HARVEST - Healthy Agriculture Resources by Volunteers and Educators in Science and Technology)
An opportunity for students, aspiring farmers
and other community members interested
in agriculture to talk to new farmers.

Date: Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
Time: 6:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Where: Taconic Hills High School Cafeteria
Interested in local agriculture?


Considering a farming future?

Want to know more about what it takes to start a farm?

Interested in how other farmers have fulfilled their dreams of starting farms?

Then come out on 12/19/12 as new local farmers share their experiences, answer questions and engage in a conversation about what it means to pursue farming.  

With New Farmers from: Common Hands Farm (Claverack), Cool Whisper Farm (Hillsdale), Lineage Farm (Claverack), New Leaf Farm (Hillsdale), R’Eisen Shine Farm (Copake), Row by Row Farm (Chatham) and Sol Flower Farm (Ancram)…among others

Cool right? I'm looking forward to it! I can't just spout off on the internet and expect change. Getting our thoughts out there via the blog is good, but this gives us an opportunity to interact with people in a different setting. We'll report back how it goes, and if you're near by we hope to see you there! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rain, Rain it's ok to stay, but we'd rather you were snow.

Drippy, Dreary morning. So that means...canning! And wrapping presents! And office work (no exclamation for that one). And more Christmas gift making! And drying beef jerky! Sounds great, doesn't it?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas is coming...

We spent the day holed up in our cozy farm house, while the wind wailed outside. Not a flake of snow or any significant rain fell- but boy was the wind mighty! It howled fiercely and ripped plastic off the windows in the greenhouse.

Things have died down a bit now, and all of the animals are tucked away under shelter. Dinner is roasting in the oven. We have short ribs from a neighbors farm, and baked potatoes and butternut squash from our own stores.

We spent the day crafting away for our holiday gifts. We usually make everything we give away, maybe only purchasing a trinket or two. I won't give away the surprise of what we were making, in case anyone we are related to is reading the blog. But things are coming along, down to the wire as they are. We usually have everything buttoned up by now, but the farm has been so busy that our gift making took a real backseat. Last year, all of the projects started in July- this year- early December.

It's a happy quiet evening here, good smells are pouring from the kitchen, and I'd best check in on dinner and perhaps enjoy a brew.

Rabbit Chases Cat

This morning I went into the barn for usual chores. Yesterday I was out later than I usually am due to some holiday shopping and an evening celebration. The wind here is whipping mightily, and it's quite chilly. There is talk of snow but it feels more like cold rain out there.

Upon sliding open the barn doors I was greeted with quite the unexpected sight. Peering out at me from the opening was Walter, a chocolate brown Rex buck rabbit. He had grown thumbs overnight and escaped from his cage. I then watched him hop merrily up to the barn cat- a huge black cat named Rory who spends his evenings on rodent patrol. The barn cat, though twice his size- shrunk away like a coward. Walter, apparently thrilled at this discovery proceeded to chase Rory around barn floor for a good five minutes before I managed to lure them both with food.

I've seen this cat take out rodents and farm vermin nearly the size of Walter- but he never goes after baby chicks or other farm livestock. Either he knew not to chase the rabbit, or was frightened. Either way, it was quite the entertainment this morning!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Around the farm

I thought I'd give you a little farm tour this morning. The farm is still pretty busy in the winter, though nothing like the high-gear of early spring and summer. I'll add some pictures from around in a separate post.

They laying hens are spending more time inside the coop, they don't like the cold and they are spoiled with a heat lamp inside. Today I will be mixing a little milk with some left over stale corn bread and making cereal for the hens. When the weather gets colder, little treats keep them happy and happy hens lay better eggs.Oatmeal is a favorite treat too, I love to bring a steaming hot tray of oatmeal out to the hens in the winter.

We also are trying a little test run of some freedom rangers as laying hens. The last batch we processed had a few little hens that wouldn't have even been worth the effort to butcher. After a little research, it looks like the heritage gals will probably make suitable layers. It's worth a shot, and they are pretty little things who will be laying eggs much sooner then the next batch we get in. We plan on ordering some more hens later this month, so that in June we will have young pullets to replace this year's hens. Many of our hens will be past production age this coming May, so we have to have a flock ready to replace them. By keeping some freedom rangers, we will have more of a buffer and less drop off in egg production. Well, that's the theory at least.

The rabbitry is packed full of little kits right now. We have two does with litters just about to be weaned. We also have a litter of kits that will be ready for the CSA in a couple weeks. We have one doe who should kindle (give birth) in about a month since she was just bred, and another who we will likely pair up next week. We are shifting our production to be more rabbit-focused, we don't have to order kits like we do baby chicks and overall they are just a more sustainable meat for us. Now that the barn is cleaned from chicken season, I can start to look over how we can arrange cages to add a few more does. We'd like to up our doe population quite a bit, but it's going to take some maneuvering to make sure our barn has the space for the increased population. We're going to try and graze our batches of kits next year, which will free up some space in the summer months. I'm also doing a little research on sprouting grasses for the winter time. I'd like to get more fresh feed into everyone, since the enjoy it so much.

The sheep are, well, themselves. All bleats and grain begging. They are sweet and we love to keep them. We recently re-did their stall to make more room for the horses, and built a new hay feeder for them. We're still not sure how overall our sheep fit into our business enterprise, but we really like to keep them. Their personalities make us laugh and they are easy keepers for the most part. I'm hoping to graze them a lot more next summer utilizing the portable electric fencing.

The greenhouse is green and growing, though a bit slow. We do have grow lights in, but had a malfunction with the heater out there and are using a back up for right now. I need to put up some more storm plastic to stabilize the temperature a bit. It's on the list for the next week. The short days in December keep many of our plants in a resting state- as soon as we pass the solstice it will ease a bit. In January/February we will see a lot more growth. I'll start more seedling in January, I'm thinking of trying some super-early peas in the greenhouse to have them ready as early as possible. At the very least, there will be greens of many shapes and sizes with any luck.

There's still some canning to do, I have a batch of sauerkraut I started weeks ago that needs to be processed. I'm making some special treats for the CSA too- a chocolate blackberry sauce based on a ball recipe that a friend gave us as a gift. She brought us a chocolate raspberry sauce (for ice cream, biscuits or yogurt) that is SO delicious I think it's the perfect addition to next week's share. I still have some summer berries frozen, so I'm looking forward to canning not in the 100 degree heat.

The farm is always busy, but in the winter the pace is different. It's not about pushing and production, it's about sustaining and keeping everyone comfortable. The winter work is still plentiful, but it's more about comforting all- including ourselves through the cold weather and low light. Keeping firewood stacked, laying fresh bedding, feeding hay and breaking ice on water buckets. It is a contemplative season. We reflect, improve and plan.

So on that note, another cup of coffee is in order before splitting some fire wood and setting to organize the garage. I have a date to start pouring over the seed catalog later.

It's easy to get caught up in the rush of the holiday- but perhaps we should take a lesson from the hens and just settle in under the heat lamp with a bowl of good farm cereal.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I believe in farms Or The myth of cheap chicken and other bed time stories

We've been crunching a lot of numbers lately, projections for next year's sales, costs for equipment and general productions costs such as feed. And the results are in- it's expensive to grow good food. We already knew this, but with the drought in the mid west, and the constant rising of basics like electricity and fuel, the price for good, clean food isn't going to come down any time soon.

In fact, it's not just this farm who are shaking their heads and looking at innovative solutions to control the cost of growing poultry, eggs and veggies. Even Marketplace from APR took the topic on in a news story discussing the wide variation in the price of feed corn. They get one thing wrong though- they assume that the profits that industrial farmers (read: not us, small CSA farms) made were solely due to the fact that the crops that sold were hot commodities and sold for higher prices. While of course this is a factor, it also has to do with the government subsidized crop insurance that pays farmers when yields fail.

In theory, the government supporting farmers by protecting them from catastrophic loss during a drought year sounds good. But in practice, crop insurance only covers those farmers who grow massive amounts of GMO corn, soy, wheat, and a couple of other select crops. So... not so much farmers who grow your basic, day to day food- but the farmers with huge lobbies, giant bank accounts and acres and acres of row crops leaving the land devastated. And while those farmers are covered in their losses for the year, small producers who grow sustainable meat but are still affected by grain prices are left holding the bag in the next years. All of this is outlined in the Farm Bill- which ironically is set to expire at the same time as the dreaded 'fiscal cliff' negotiations but gets far less coverage. This is incredibly sad to me, since it will affect everyone, just as tax breaks will- but is much less esoteric- it's what we eat. Among the provisions set to expire this year without a new bill is funding for beginning farmers and ranchers- a dying breed in the American society. While it's true that many young people (including ourselves) are returning to the art of farms, the overall age of the American farmer keeps rising and the number of farmers keeps dwindling. 

And this affect you, how? Well, if you eat- it affects you. And if you support a small farm, or a CSA, it affects you. While the government keeps subsidizing big corn and big ag, small farms struggle to keep their environmentally conscious products at a manageable price and keep the planet able to produce food for generations to come. So if you haven't already, do a little research on the farm bill, and know what is being decided. You can start here, on some thoughts regarding the future of farming. Knowing WHY your foods costs what it does it just as important as knowing WHO grows it. 

But here's the thing- in all of this- We believe in farms. We believe that even though our food costs more, the benefits are worth it. I've seen the look on our customer's faces when they see our pastures, full of contented animals, and our crops growing tall. I can't offer 99 cent chicken, but I can offer chicken with flavor, and the dignity of a good life. As responsible farmers, we also are constantly seeking ways we can turn away from the models of farming that center on the 'cash crops'. We grow heritage chickens because they do a better job converting pasture then their grain heavy relatives. We pasture our turkeys so that they taste better AND because we don't rely so much on grain. Next year, we will be growing much of the feed we provide to our rabbits- who as a general rule don't need nearly as much commercial grain. We buy non-gmo feed from a smaller mill. And next year, we will be planting a 'livestock' garden, growing vegetables and crops specifically for our hogs and chickens, along with all of the 'uglies' they get tossed from the market garden. We are transitioning to drafts to keep out of the fossil fuel pit, and are constantly looking at ways to invest in renewable energy on farm. 

Cheap food is paid for not just in the grocery store- it's paid for by a farm bill (your tax dollars at work) that doesn't look at the value of small agriculture in the same way as we do. And yes, I'm on a soap box. But being a farmer isn't always tales of the hard work, or the sweet victories. It's also about the big picture systems that keep the status quo, promote the destruction of valuable land, and keep good whole food prices high while keeping high fructose corn syrup cheap and accessible to the masses. 

We all have budgets we need to keep, and choices to make. And no matter what your choice, if you're reading this you are at least thinking about it more than most. But maybe start to think about each of your food choices as a political act, and act in good taste. pun intended. 

end rant. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

CSA enrollment is OPEN!

If you're dying to get in on some R'Eisen Shine Farm CSA goodness in the 2013-2014 season, now is the time to get the info! Our shares are first come, first serve- so if you want in- Don't wait! 

Below is a brief intro we are emailing out to interested parties, for the actual contract/pricing information send us an email at reisenshinefarm@gmail.com. Mention the blog and we will spare you this intro again in the email and cut right to the chase!

UPDATE! You can now find our CSA agreement here!


As you may know, our farm is a bit different from other CSA farms. We offer more choice in what your share contains and include a variety of items not typically included in farm shares. We want you to be as informed about our farm products, growing methods and general business policies. We are always open for questions and try to be accessible.

Our farm is a very small diversified operation in the Hudson Valley. We are introducing draft horses to our program this year, who will be doing most of the field work. We try to keep our fossil fuel consumption to an absolute minimum and did all of our plowing, cultivating, and farm labor by hand last year. We also use non-gmo feed, ordered from Hiland Feeds out of PA. We are not certified organic, but take a 'common sense' sustainable approach in our methods. We use companion planting, integrated pest management and avoid toxic products. 

We believe that our livestock program grows some of the best tasting meat out there, and we take great pride in using heritage breed Freedom Rangers for our chickens. What is a heritage chicken? Farmers throughout the world have raised thousands of different animal breeds and plant varieties. However, since today’s industrial farms rely upon only a few specialized types of livestock and crops, thousands of non-commercial animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared, along with the valuable genetic diversity they possessed. We try to preserve agricultural variety and protecting biodiversity by raising “heritage” or “heirloom” animal breeds and crops. We focus on heirloom vegetables and find that the range of flavors and colors we get are worth the effort. 

A CSA is a big commitment, for the farmer and the customer. Farmers are agreeing to provide their products to a select group of people, on a regular basis with all the irregularities of agriculture. Customers are investing in a single farm, and sharing those same 'irregularities' of agriculture, along with commiting to pick up products on a weekly basis. Before you make a decision about our farm, or any others, here is a great link to check out:

If you are new to CSA memberships, or a seasoned veteran, it's a good idea to read through and figure out if our program is right for you. We want you to be as happy with our products as we are growing them. 

We email weekly with what products are available, and then pack your orders based on that. Below is a sample survey, to give you an idea of what that looks like:

Thank you again for your interest, and we hope to be growing for you soon!


Monday, December 10, 2012

The day we met the future

I've been told more than once that I have a bit of the flare for the dramatic. This is true, for certain- but it's also more about the way I retell stories then my actual emotions. I like to give a lot of detail and let folks into my head a bit during a story.

All of this is to explain the title of this post. "The day we met the future"- we all meet the future every day unless something catastrophic happens. For us, this year has been a series of efforts to get our dreams into reality. It's been a year of stopping all of the talk of what we want, and getting there instead. This started with gutting an old farm house, lead to building a business and planning and having a wedding. Now it's converting the farm to draft power and working to get Kim on site full time. A lot of people spend their livest posting images or statements of things they want on social media- and that's good. Putting what you want out into the world can't hurt anything. But at some point, we all become responsible for actually making the future happen.

So despite having limited knowledge, and very controlled resources, we took a trip to VT to look at a pair of dream horses. It was a Sunday, we were tired and kinda nervous about looking at horses without a more experienced person to accompany us. But they were only 3 hours away, and we also really just wanted to give it a go. We felt ok about a preliminary look based on our good livestock sense, and some horse-specific prep through research and the Cold Antler Farm workshop.

The girls were in a winter paddock with a few other of the farmer's horses, eating some hay. They were short, stocky and completely disinterested in the new comers oggling them from the fence line. Joshua, the farmer and his wife met us outside. After a quick tour and a view of some of the equipment they had up for sale, we headed over to the barn to see what the pair could do.

Admittedly, we were trying not to fall in love. Kim and I have this habit of deciding we need to do something and then honing in like a laser beam to the exclusion of everything else until we have obtained a goal. It's a blessing and a curse- because when we fall- we fall hard. So we were doing everything in our power to find fault with this pair of horses.

And they are animals--so there is no such thing as perfection. Joshua hadn't worked them in a few months due to some work and family obligations, and one of the mares was a bit rowdy while being harnessed up. Nothing unmanageable, but clearly a girl with a desire to Go. But once they were settled in their gear and attached to a forecart though they were all business.

Kim and I were both able to drive the team easily. The pair obeyed our every command despite our inexperience and were amazingly strong. Sunny, the aforementioned rowdy girl was all snorts and manners once she was hitched. Then we sat down over coffee to talk business.

The deal we were offered for the pair and some much needed equipment was a good one but we still needed to think. We took a few days, and Joshua called to check in. Someone had made an offer on Sunny, but he wanted to keep the girls together. I told him we would get back to him. It wasn't an easy decision, and we called around to several advisers about whether or not we should make an offer. But at the end of the day, we knew it was the right decision. I wrote up a manageable contract and sent it on it's way to Joshua. We needed to still be careful about finances and not over commit. If it worked with Joshua, it would work for us.

And then we waited.

Joshua wrote us back and with some minor changes the contract was fine and the horses are ours. It's funny simple and amazing it all played out. It's just another business contract- but it's so much more. It's two farmers spending years dreaming of trail rides and days following a pair of horse butts in furrows. It's late night conversations and spread sheets and calculators. But it's also just possibility. It is not being afraid to go ahead and do it. Because even if you mess up, you tried to make it happen. 

We met our future, and now there is much work to be done. We've already started converting some pasture into horse friendly area. The run-in shed has been cleaned and a new stall built. And it's still a few weeks away before the mares arrive. We've scheduled 5 months of driving lessons, and reached out to experts willing to work with us. The 2013 season will be horse powered!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The pitter patter of Haflinger Hooves

We've signed a contract for a pair of mares! The full story will come soon, once the last of some chores are put to bed here and I have time to write the whole story.

They will be arriving on farm around January 19th, and we've already set up a stall for them where the turkeys were kept. We still need to run some fencing, and finish a little more work on their new digs.


We are so excited but also know that this is a huge undertaking, so we aren't taking this decision lightly. Horses are no small matter, and counting on them for our field work is something we've always planned to do, but getting to that point isn't a quick process. Driving lessons with the local draft club start next month, and we have some other resources we can count on to help us with the transition.


I would really like to start looking for a sleigh though...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What's on the agenda?

Today I will be processing chickens. Well, correction, today and tomorrow I will be processing chickens. The season has stretched so long, partially due to the holidays and also admittedly because of some naive planning. The later season chickens have taken much, much longer to reach full size. It's going to be a long, slow climb to get the rest of those birds done solo- but it will get done. 

The weather is unusually warm today, though they're calling for a cold snap tonight. We were gifted a fantastic wood splitter by an uncle who noticed we'd been hand splitting all of our wood. I don't mind hand splitting, but damn if it isn't much faster by machine. With the worst of winter still up ahead, it will be much better to have much of the wood split ahead time and stacked neatly on the front porch while the snow falls. 

Pardon my not having much time to update today, I'll try to get a longer post once the fridge is filled with fresh poultry. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Introducing our NEW logo

We bartered a turkey for our new logo, which we absolutely love!



In other news, we have chicken and turkey available for sale for anyone interested. If you are considering joining our CSA next year, it's a great opportunity to try out our products before you sign up. For pricing and availability, please email us at reisenshinefarm@gmail.com for details. 

AND- not to make too early of an announcement but we are VERY close to finalizing a deal on a team of haflingers for our draft operation. More on this to come, but we it's exciting! We are also signed up for 5 months of driving lessons with our local draft enthusiast club and working closely with some more knowledgeable local friends. We have these really incredible neighbors who just dropped off a whole bin of horse items they aren't using. I spent all of yesterday cleaning out the half of the barn used for turkeys and building horse stalls. Things are moving quick over here!

Now I really better get to it, there is firewood to cut, fencing to move, and a barn in desperate need of cleaning. 


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Kim says...

Since it seems like more often then not, I'm the one to write the blog postings, I've decide to harass my wife into saying something on our illustrious blog here. I've decided to interview her, since it may be the only way to get her to comment.

How was your week on farm?

"You mean my work end? It's been fine. Aside from slaughtering chickens in the freezing cold on Friday, it's been delightful."

Is there anything you are looking forward to?

"I was looking forward to Christmas crafting but since my husband vetoed that, I'm looking forward to speaking with my uncle about a tractor. Also, ending the meat chicken season this week."

What would you like to see happen on the farm this week?

"What would I like to see happen on the farm this week. I would like my husband to have a good week. I think we need to put up some new fencing for the possibility of something big we aren't talking about yet. And I would like my husband to do all of the meat chickens so I don't have to."

What would you like for dinner?

"Cereal and goat milk."

Seriously?

"Yes."

What's your favorite part about winter farming?

There was no answer because my wife was singing a theme song. off-key. I'll spare you which one.

After a brief pause: "My favorite part of winter farming is shorter livestock chores in the morning because then you get to snuggle more baby bunnies."

There ya have it folks, the second half of the farm team here at R'Eisen Shine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

First Year Turkey Processing

The business of processing chickens is routine around here. A serious chore to be done respectfully, but often and with a familiarity similar to many of the other farm tasks.

But turkeys, they are no small feat. With a live weight around 25-40lbs, and huge wings capable of giving a black eye (no really, that happened) , it's a much bigger proposition to turn fowl to food. Our small set up does not have the equipment capacity to process turkeys, even the scalding pot we use to loosen feathers can only fit 1/3 of the smaller birds.

So on last Monday, the big trailer owned by a place with the right equipment showed up to herd our flock of 60 in for their final trip. As a general rule the turkeys followed us around the farm when they has escaped their pen, cheerfully and relentlessly requesting additional rations despite being fed at least twice a day . We don't leave feed out all the time because we want the birds to eat pasture and bugs, rather than hoarding corn and not moving around. But when that trailer backed up not a single bird would respond to my requests to come along. Maybe they knew, but more likely the trailer looked mighty strange and like an open mouthed predator. Slowly and calmly we adjusted the position of the trailer and worked the birds in with a little grain coaxing and slammed the door.

I won't lie--it was a mix of things watching them pull away, the turkeys character added a real vibrancy to the farm. But their care was also exhausting and relentless- and we love to eat turkey. I had butterflies at the thought of sharing them with customers and friends. I barely slept overnight, worrying about their size. Being our first year with these guys, judging their weights was extra tricky, and I wanted to be sure we filled orders as close as possible.

It was ok that I slept on needles though, the alarm went off at 3:30 the next morning. We bundled up and took care of the residents still on farm. Kim's sister Deborah was still trying to catch a few more moments of rest upstairs, she would be joining us for the day of work.

By 4:30 we were all headed over to the processor, with coolers and freezer bags and labels packed into a borrowed van and our tiny prius.

There were some hiccups getting started, and we didn't really get moving with the birds until 6:30. Kim and I were sweating the time, we needed to be back on farm with 60 processed birds by 1pm when pick ups started, and in the van by 3:00 with our full delivery to get to Albany. But we had to stay focused on the task.

I worked in the dispatch area first, gently catching each bird from their holding pen and steadying them for the man with a knife. He commented how calm our birds were, they were so used to being handled they barely fussed when being picked up. Having worked with this crew before, I was at ease knowing just how fast they really were, and how skillful. My arms were a little sore from helping a fellow farmer process 170 birds a few days earlier, and my hands were so beaten you could no longer see my knuckles. That's sayin something since I hand plowed 2 acres with less pain.

Once the birds hit the scalder and the plucker they were sent to the next room, where Kim and Deborah worked with the crew to remove organs, clean remaining feathers, take off necks and prep the birds for packaging. It's kind of like an assembly line, everyone moving quickly to get the birds cooled down and safely clean in the right amount of time.

When the first batch of 30 was chilling in huge vats of ice water, and we had to stop to reset all the equipment. I switched over to packaging, the birds came out of the chill tanks to get the final cleaning, and once over. A pack of giblets was set inside each once, then we vacuum sealed them and set them in coolers outside to be weighed and labeled. Despite the late start, everyone picked up their pace and we had birds packed in cooler bags with ice and name tags.

While the guys took a quick coffee and donut break, the girls and I started matching turkeys to orders. The turkeys were gorgeous and we received great compliments from the processing team which made us swell up with pride. Some did dress a little lighter then we expected, but were remarkably healthy.

Soon it was time for the second batch and it wasn't long before they were chilling too. It was getting late, everyone pitching in to keep up a fever pace. Then, of course our scale broke. We had to move all 60 turkeys up to a spare scale the place owned, setting us back at least a half an hour. While I helped scrub walls and haul out guts and feathers, Kim and Deborah frantically worked to keep the birds cool and get correct weights/labels. Remarkably, we managed to speed out by 12:30 and race back to the farm.

I made a quick stop on the way home to drop off a 15lb donated bird, while KIm stopped for additional ice. We met back on the farm and set to sorting the birds ito on-farm pick ups, Albany delivery and staying behind or extras. Then we loaded the van with all if the other products for delivery, kale, carrots, cranberry sauce, potatoes etc.

The first customers arrived about 2, we took turns handling the transactions while eating quick sandwiches and getting much needed showers. The day was only half way through. Every customer was so excited to receive their turkey though, with our brand new logo labels that I had a good strong burst of energy.

By some kind of miracle, we all got on the road in time, 6 turkeys already picked up on farm successfully. Another 6 would be picked up Wednesday and both fridges were bursting at the seams with turkey.


We made it to All Good and it was only moments before we were loading huge orders into chipper customer's cars. Deborah had never before processed poultry and today had been a trail by necessity. But even she was so proud and happy when we handed months of work to each person. It really does make it worth it when you have people who are delighted to get the food you've poured your entire body in to. The aches fade, and you're just left with the knowledge that it means something.

Before long the van was empty, and after a quick delivery to a member out of town, we were back on the road. A friend was meeting us in near-by Troy for a beer, dinner and the final turkey hand off.

Wearily, the day finally catching up and the adrenaline wearing off, we three poured ourselves into the restaurant booth. I can't say we were much good company for the friend we were meeting, it was 7:30 and we were ravenous. By 9 we were on the road and Kim heroically drove our zombie selves back to Copake.

The sight of the farm was so welcome, and we barely made it to 10:15 before our heavy lids snapped shut.

It was an intense, busy, taxing and wonderful day. We did it--with some good help. The taste of those turkeys was beyond our expectations. They were raised and processed with care, and sold to people who prepared them with the same care. That, feels like a job well done.