Monday, August 27, 2012

The Draft

The Draft.

No, not the armed forces.

The Draft, as in- the farm powerhouse- the living breathing tractor implement. And- another of our future big projects. After a year of the hand plow, the term 'breaking ground' has new meaning, and I'm not interested in repeating that feat again. We've been beginning the planning for next year and discussing the tractor vs. a draft animal. Our intention has always been to use drafts but every decision on farm has to be examined and evaluated. But we just keep coming back to drafts as a better choice for us. I have mentioned many, many times my distaste for mechanics, and I've been around enough tractors to know that mechanics are a necessity.

Livestock, I get.We both are comfortable with animals, and feel pretty strongly that the best investment of a draft animal will be wiser than realistically having to pay someone to fix what goes wrong on a tractor. Plus, I love the companionship and the working relationship between a farmer and their draft. We haven't decided what will work best for our farm, ox, mule, donkey, horse...

It may seem like a throw-back to the past to go the draft route, but with the price of fuel and our wariness of borrowing huge sums of money, it seems like a better trot forward. Terrible pun intended. Plus, many of the folks who work drafts report less soil damage from big machines.

But we can't just run out and buy a halter and a halflinger and call it a day. We have no experience working drafts, so we need to start now learning and gathering the necessary materials for next planting season. So we are going to try and go to some of the Hudson Valley Draft Association meetings, get to know the experts. We are also attending a day workshop in October on owning a horse for farm purposes. We're very excited to start on this venture, and hopefully will be posting updates as we move forward.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sebring Zucchini and Kale Stuffed Chicken Breast w/Garlic Mashed Potatoes

This recipe is pretty easy, I had dinner on the table in 40ish minutes. We cut the chicken breasts down from a whole chicken that the night before we had used in our cast-iron bbq chicken dinner. Right now, the rest of the chicken is simmering for Kim's lunch. You can find a video on our FB of how to easily break down a whole chicken. 

2 chicken breasts, we used small-ish ones 
3 good size stalks of kale, stems trimmed off the bottom
1 smaller sebring zucchini- If you have green zucchini or yellow squash instead of the sebring- I'd go with the the yellow squash. Traditional green zucchini might get a little mushy
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup shredded cheese (or a little more if you'd like), parmesan, mozzerella, cheddar all will work fine
1 clove garlic
salt, pepper, garlic powder, olive oil, thyme, oregano, rosemary

1. Drizzle a bit of olive oil in a medium skillet and set the heat to medium-low. Slice your garlic very thin, along with your squash. Shred your kale (I just tare it up into bite size pieces). Add it all to the skillet.
2. Season the veggies with salt, pepper, and add in the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, mixing occasionally. Turn the heat back down to low after simmering for 2-3 minutes.
3. Season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, garlic, thyme, oregano, and rosemary, just a dash of each coating each side. Set aside.
4. Add most of the bread crumbs to your veggie mix. I always use seasoned breadcrumbs.Keep a little aside, just enough to sprinkle. Add in your shredded cheese, turn off the heat, and mix it all in. 
5. Oil a baking pan on the bottom, and pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees
6. Spoon your veggie mix onto one half of each chicken breast. Fold the chicken breast over, secure with a toothpick. Sprinkle the remaining breadcrumbs over the chicken. 
7. Set the chicken in the oven. It takes about 30-35 minutes to cook with smallish fresh chicken breasts. It may take less or more time for you, check it often. 

Garlic Mash

4 medium-ish potatoes- we used yukon golds
2 cups veggie or chicken stock
salt, pepper, garlic powder
1 tablespoon crushed roasted garlic (this can be as easy as just pan-roasting a glove and crushing it, you can also just use fresh)
1/8 cup half and half
2 tblspn butter

1. Chop potatoes into equal sizes
2. Bring your stock to a boil 
3. Add in potatoes and crushed garlic.
4. Cook until fork-tender, drain potatoes.
5. Mash the potatoes, add in your half and half and the butter. Mix it thoroughly, continuing to mash if necessary. Add in salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Life and Times of a R'Eisen Shine Farm Chicken

We thought that it's long overdue to explain more on our methods of raising and slaughtering our chickens. We are so glad that people love the taste as much as we do, and feel great about how we get that flavor with each batch. But that certainly doesn't happen without a lot of thought, care and research!

We base our methodology on Joel Salatin's recommendations. Joel is a farmer and author well known throughout the sustainable and organic food movement. If you've never heard or read any of his work, be sure to check it out! You can see some of what Joel and his associates do here:

Our chicks arrive through the mail, at only a few days old. The last thing a chick does before it hatches is consume the yolk in the egg. This allows the chick to be shipped fully fed and hydrated over a few days without dying. The post office calls our farm on the morning the chicks arrive and we rush over as quick as possible.

Once we get the little peepers home, we move them into a temperature monitored 'brooding pen'. Our version are plastic bins, with wood shavings and heat lamps. We immediately dip each chick's beak into water fortified with electrolytes. This teaches them to drink (sometimes they don't know how) and shows them where the water is located. The electrolytes revitalize our weary travelers and encourage eating. Then they usually head over to get a snack and get warmed up under the lights. We use an non-gmo feed, from Hiland Feeds- which we order in huge quantities with a network of other farmers to keep our costs more manageable. It's a very high quality feed, we blow through about 4,000 lbs of just poultry feed in 2 months.

In the first 2 days with each batch of chicks we check them every few hours, to make sure everyone is eating, drinking and moving around well. Wood shavings are freshly added to the pen each morning, chicks don't do well if they aren't kept dry and clean. We keep them with our rabbits, it's a little quieter there and we can better regulate the temperature. Chicks like it WARM- 90 plus degrees, especially in the first week.

After about a week and a half, the chicks have some feathers and are big enough to move out into the barn. We have a separate pen within our larger chicken pen, where we have lights suspended. We do this to keep our batches of chickens separated by age, and to keep on top of climate control. Week and a half chicks are still pretty sensitive, and often need lamps overnight. At this point, we add larger waterers, and more feeders to the pen. We check on the barn- chickens at least twice daily. Each time we check them, they get fresh water, more feed, and fresh wood shavings. Waterers and feeders are washed often, to prevent build of bacteria.
Once the chickens hit about 3 weeks of age, we move them into the wider chicken pen. Here they have more room to stretch, perch, and look out windows. Again, we increase their feed and water. At this point, unless the weather is really finicky, they don't need lamps. They start to really 'feather out', losing almost all of their baby-down and start to look like miniature full grown birds. They are switched over from a super-high protein feed to a medium high protein chicken grower, so they don't gain weight so quickly that they develop incorrectly. At this point, we introduce grass/clover from the field they will be moving to, and start giving them small quantities of garden waste (lettuces gone by, cabbage leaves etc). They also are given 'grit', small stones to help them digest their food. Chickens don't have teeth, they store grit in their crops to break down larger pieces of grain etc.

At 4ish weeks, once they are fully feathered, the chicks get a ride in the farm pick-up. We load everyone into the back (with the cap over the flat bed) and head out into the pasture. We use PVC moveable chicken pens (chicken tractors), that are staked down with step-in posts. The pens are partially covered by a tarp, to protect them from inclement weather- but have a nice open area for sunning and strutting. We include a much larger waterer, but mostly set their supplemental grain directly on the pasture land within the pen. We find that this encourages them to scratch around and look for pasture treats. Our pasture has clover, alfalfa, grasses, and of course the usual weeds and bugs. Each morning, we move the pens down the field, so the chickens get fresh pasture land. To prevent predator intrusions, we stake the pens down very firmly. We visit the chicks at least twice daily (in the heat it's sometimes 4 times a day!) to give fresh water and the feed. Chickens do require feed to keep them healthy, and get them to market size. Plus, they love it!

Freedom Rangers, the red heritage broiler we raise, take about 10 weeks to really hit a nice 5-6 lbs, but we will take them at about 8 weeks for a smaller but very flavorful bird. We haven't found a better tasting chicken then the Rangers, and we've found them to be very hearty stock. They do dress a bit smaller then the Cornish Cross (huge breasted and 6-8 lbs in 7 weeks), so we raise both.

We process birds weekly, on Fridays. The chickens set to be processed on Friday are not given any extra grain on Thursday afternoon. This helps their bodies clear out and use up the remaining feed, and makes for a much cleaner butchering. Early Friday morning, we set hay in the back of the farm pick up, and make sure the cap is on. We head out to the field, and try to catch the birds with minimal stress. Usually this means that I climb into the pen, catch the chickens and hand them to Kim to put in the truck. Many farms load their chickens into small cages, and let them sit in them overnight. We don't find this to be particularly compassionate, or really necessary. There is enough room in the back of the truck for all of the chickens to relax in the hay, away from the sights/sounds of the butchering as much as possible. Most of the time when I go to grab the next chicken up for processing, the flock is literally asleep in the back of the truck. Some research is starting to show that animals can release stress hormones during butchering, which can affect the taste of the meat. At very least, we think it's more pleasant for everyone involved if the chickens are kept as low stress as possible.

*slightly descriptive of butchering* We believe that the most compassionate way for a chicken to die is through a quick cut to the artery directly underneath the jaw line. The chickens are suspended upside down and lulled into a sleep-like state. Then, with a very, very sharp knife the chicken is dispatched. Once the chicken has bled out thoroughly, we remove the head and proceed to plucking. Contrary to many cartoons, we do not use an axe and tree stump and allow the chickens to run around without heads. This would be effective, but would cause the meat to need much more cleaning and have many more blemishes/bruises once plucked. We will spare you the details of plucking and evisceration. The chickens, once they look very similar to what you buy in the grocery store are put into an ice bath. We add apple cider vinegar to our ice tanks, it has anti-microbial properties and we believe it also could help tenderize the meat.

We believe our chickens are raised with compassion and dignity. If chickens can be happy, our flocks certainly seem to feel that emotion. They are often found snoozing in the sun, content and full. The more ambitious saunter about clucking and eating bugs. We have a great respect for our poultry, and we think it comes through in the taste!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012


I'm not sure that I believe in curses, but on this fine day, I'd like to say that it's kind of ridiculous every single piece of equipment we have bought this year, new and used, has imploded. Here is the current running list:

Chainsaw (used once, bought used)
Rototiller (used 3 times, bought two different new ones)
Lawn Tractor (fixed one million times, bought used)
Washing Machine (bought used, got it home yesterday and spin cycle doesn't work)
Computer (old one broke last week, we ordered a used replacement, and it'll do...but certainly less then cutting edge. we're grateful it will let us run the business though!!!)

All is in like- 4 months. Either I need to be more superstitious, or we just have hit one of those mechanical rough patches. Unfortunately, I'm pretty comfortable with construction like projects, but I really really hate mechanics. Of any kind. I can fix some things, but it usually takes me a heck of a lot longer. If I had more time, or money, I'd probably take a course. But in the meantime, I'm chalking it up to bad luck.

In better luck news, we are headed to look at a potential new lean-to for the turkeys/sheep. A local builder here is offering a good deal, with low monthly payments. We aren't sure it will work out for us, but it's worth a shot. Progress must continue, cursed or no. 

We got some nice rain yesterday, and I'm sure much of the week will be spent weeding. I hope to keep the crops happy now that they are freshly hydrated. We ate a lemon summer squash with dinner last night, and the sweet buttery flavor was outstanding. I'd like to keep them coming, preferably by the bucket full.

I'm hoping to write a longer post this week with some recipes from the share veggies this week- and on our methods of raising chickens. We just got in a huge order of chicks, hopefully part of the batch we will put up for everyone for the winter. We had to order a surplus of at least 150 chickens for those months when it's too cold to keep them growing, and when there is no pasture. Between the turkeys, and the chick bumper crop- we are at poultry capacity! I want to really give a run down on how we raise our meat birds, and why we think it makes the difference in taste. 

In other poultry news, the search for healthy hens drags on. We're doing a lot of work to change their hen house, trying to prep for winter and increase egg production. The hens have been a real challenge this year, and trying to find replacements for our diminished flock is proving difficult as well. We lost some to predators a few weeks ago and just haven't found the right stock to boost the flock back up yet. We need healthy birds, who haven't had their beaks trimmed (a common practice for confinement chickens, but dangerous for birds who are more free ranging. Our whole flock has beaks, and we don't want to introduce some who can't compete. Chickens raised without enough space are often trimmed to prevent fighting injuries). We have 17 young pullets who should start laying in mere moments, but everyone is missing eggs (including us!!) and we still need more ladies for Todd the rooster and his young protege. The plan for the week is totally move all of their fencing to fresh grass and let the old space re-coop from the drought and busy hens. 

As always the rabbits are charming and growing! We have a nice batch of kits who are close to butchering size, I'm going to weigh them later this week to see if it will be this week or next. We are thinking of adding another breeding doe, we enjoy their company and their production immensely, and of course- their taste. I think we'd both like to get the whole rabbitry down into the barn before adding any more stock though. In order to do that we need to move our meddlesome sheep out of the front of the barn and into new pasture. This can happen if we build a lean-to off the back of our existing barn, or if the new structure comes through we can transfer them out. It's the farm shuffle!

My project for today is home based, we need a clothesline. We are going to use the kinda-working new-to-us washer for the time being. The clothes will be wetter than ideal with no spin, but at least they will be clean without hauling them anywhere. Farmers have to be glass half-full people. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

On being 'the deciders'

Last Wednesday, a chemical fire erupted in Ghent, NY, a little over 15 miles north of where our farm is. It burned for around 20 hours or so. We are lucky not to be closer, but we definitely noticed some evidence that the fire was taking place. Since that point, we've been obsessively checking any/all information regarding the testing that has been done to ensure air, soil etc quality.

We don't consider ourselves to be alarmist, though we are very cautious and pretty shrewd when it comes to believing anything out-right. The initial tests have been positive, there is little contamination from PCBs in the direct area of the fire, and close-ish surrounding areas. This is great news, and we are pretty relieved. But, there still remains to be further testing, including indicators for dioxins, which are pretty hazardous contaminants.

We have spent hours over the past few days trying to figure out how to handle the situation, given that we've seen some evidence of the fire here, without any tangible guidance from state/local offices, extension services etc. I think the advice given thus far has been decent for the average gardener, throw out things with soot, wash/peel everything else- but it doesn't really give us confidence as a small business focused on organic products. It makes us uncomfortable as food producers to tell people that they *should be fine* just washing out produce after an event like this. We don't feel confident that we have all the facts, and folks should be washing our veggies regardless... that's not really a confidence booster for us.

We decided that based on the info we had on hand, we would only deliver some of the produce, and things that would have been protected from any blowing ash etc until we can really get enough information. It was incredibly painful to walk into our field, after months of toiling to keep everything hydrated, and not deliver so many things we had nearly killed ourselves growing. This first year has been a labor of love. We're not sure if we are being overly cautious or not, and the precautions we've taken might be unnecessary. But when it comes to food, we'd rather be considered alarmist, or overly concerned then reckless.

I sincerely hope that in the coming days, with more test results, we'll be found to be completely fine-- and that our decision to hold produce will have been utterly needless. But we know that the nights of tossing and turning around this decision would have been more gut wrenching if we had brought food to members, and then found out later that there was more to be concerned about. We don't just grow ethical, sustainable produce for kicks, we do it because we believe it's healthier for people and the planet. How can we say that without the due diligence of all the testing available after a huge chemical fire? Maybe it's the years in politics and activism that have made us suspicious, maybe it's the lack of experience running our own farm... or maybe we are just too obsessive for our own good.

I know one thing though, this year has given me more gray hairs then any other.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

internal struggle

Things to be grateful for:

- wagging dog tails
- turkeys
- sunshine
- Beets growing well
- Amazing Kale plants
- rabbit kits

Stressful Things:
-Slow ripening tomatoes
-No rain yesterday
- Chicken Predators
- Unavailable hen replacements
- Broken Farm truck

Planning things:
-Finishing hen house
-Building Turkey pen
-Renovating Greenhouse
-Building sheep lean-to
-buying/cutting fire wood
-meeting for farm loan