Sign up for 2013 CSA shares!

Join us for 16, 20, or 24 weeks of produce in 2013.  If you have any trouble downloading the application, let me know in the comments.

CSA flyer 2013

2012 was an interesting summer, with 51 days over 90 F and rainfall way below average.  We are offering 50$ off a 16-week share to all returning members.   This includes those who were members before 2012.

 

The joys of raising meat chickens

Mr. B. got up around 4 AM today, and 2 teenaged helpers pulled in the driveway just before 5.  They headed out to the pasture to load up 118 9-week old broiler chickens.  They arrived at our processor a little before 7 AM, the first birds of the day.  The teenagers took a nap in the truck on the way back to our farm!

I went back to the processor at 4 PM to pick up a portion of the batch that had been pre-ordered fresh.  The owner came out and told me that the processing staff thought they looked great, nice and clean.  Based on the meat I picked up this afternoon, we have our meatiest batch ever, weighing an average of just over 4.5 lb each.

We have always raised our meat birds on pasture, moving them daily or more often if needed.  The learning curve increased last summer, when we increased our batch size from 25 to 125.  Broiler chickens are nowhere near as weather-tolerant as their less inbred, egg-laying counterparts… we must be fastidious about dumping rain off their roofs, making sure the tarps don’t blow off, and getting heat lamps out into the pens if it’s too cold or wet.   We switched to certified organic feed last spring, and the additional feed cost (more than double) made us eager to get the birds to the processor as soon as they were ready.

When raising 25 birds for ourselves, we processed our own. So it was feasible to process the male birds at one time, then process the females a week or two later, when they looked ready, and the exact bird size was not all that important.    Additionally, we only raised one batch, in late spring when the weather was fairly favorable.  After upscaling to 3 batches, 125 birds each, we noticed the great differences in weight gain between birds raised in 70 degree weather versus birds raised in 100 degree weather!  So we now plan on 9 weeks (instead of 7 or 8) to avoid ending up with a batch of 2 – 3 lb birds.  It is very easy to over or under-feed broilers, so keeping close track of daily feed weights and weekly bird weights in each pen helps us estimate just what the birds need.  This way we can avoid leg problems (caused by too much feed) or insufficient weight gain and stress (too little feed).

Even with our current management system, the chickens in the smaller pen (30 birds) tend to gain more than the birds in the larger pens (40 birds). We believe this is because in the smaller pen, there is more feeding trough area per bird.  They also nibble on grass, devour clover, and enjoy grasshoppers.  We are amused by how large and slow they are compared to egg layers, but appreciate their rapid growth and great feed conversion! Even the so-called “combination meat or egg” breeds take twice as long to raise, eat twice as much feed and don’t ever get quite as meaty as these cornish-cross “meat birds.”  

The meat chickens you get at the grocery store are raised in buildings by the tens and hundreds of thousands, in 30 – 42 days.  We think it’s worth taking an extra few weeks to use organic feed, get the chickens out on grass, and then end up with a healthier bird at processing time. 

Hay!

The rental portion of our farm was seeded for hay about a month ago.  It’s finally rained enough to see some green out there.  We’re looking forward to watching oats grow (this spring) and seeing the alfalfa mature.  Year-round green is a beautiful thing.

Broiler chicks are just over 2 weeks old.  We plan to get them out on grass next weekend, if the weather cooperates.  They are growing feathers, eating like mad, and are already the size of 6 – 8 week old layers.  We’ll be taking them to the processor around the beginning of June.

The early greenhouse tomatoes are just starting to bloom.  I don’t believe we’ll have tomatoes by May 19th, when our Saturday market resumes, but things are looking promising for early June.  

Our laying hens are finally out of the garden perimeter and into the “real” pasture.  They wiped out the early kale and tore up some garlic in the mean time.  Occasionally a hen wanders into the greenhouse (about 3 acres from where she belongs!) and I do my best to discourage her with the watering hose..

 

Rotational Grazing from Space

Many times, we do something because we know it’s the right thing to do, even though we don’t get a lot of immediate positive feedback.

Today, I was looking to see if I could see a satellite picture of our greenhouses. When I saw the picture of our farm, I quickly forgot about the greenhouses.

I saw the fire ring I set up for cooking down maple syrup. The fence row that is now cleared was not cleared in the picture. I noticed that the chickens were in their winter quarters. The picture is from February or March of this year. If I dug through emails and my calendar, I could probably pin it down to a particular week, or maybe even a specific day. (Of course, the exact date doesn’t matter.)

Among other things, I noticed that the paths our chickens took through the pasture last summer were still very visible.  They’re green!  The entire pasture greens up later in the spring (it’s all very green now), but these images show how our mobile chickens fertilize as they go.  The layers have a less continuous track since they wander around much more. You can see that I plowed up a new vegetable plot on the north half of the area fertilized by the broilers.

Besides being useful for recordkeeping, we now know where to start this year’s chickens.  The north half of the pasture is ready for their attention!

Eggs, labor, and other thoughts

This warm spring has resulted in an egg-stravaganza.  There are more eggs on our farm than we have ever had.  We  have been able to provide eggs to local food charities as well as having plenty of eggs for new customers, old customers, and our own consumption.

We are one of a very few farms in Central Indiana that provide pastured eggs from hens that are given certified organic feed.  The organic feed is a substantial portion of the cost per egg, but I love knowing that pesticide, herbicide, and GMO free grains are going into our eggs!  It takes a bit more labor to move the chickens around pasture and to gather eggs by hand.  However, the dollars you spend on our eggs are going right back into our local economy- our feed comes from a local mill, and, of course, we hire local people to help out on the farm.  

We live in a rural area with a pretty low cost of living, but unlike many farms I do not take advantage of the reduced minimum-wage ($5.15- $5.50 per hour!) that the IRS allows agricultural businesses to use.  For one thing, my employees have to drive several miles to come to work.  I prefer to treat folks fairly and pay them something for their time.   

If you have a strong stomach, The New York Times has another article talking about the hideous nature of commercial egg production.  It’s the usual- dead hens, rodents, ammonia fumes, and salmonella.

I really take issue with the producer in this article stating that the other hens “don’t notice” when dead birds are laying around.  On our farm, occasionally a hen is killed by a predator, dies of natural causes or illness, or meets with an unfortunate accident.  The other hens DO notice this, and if the hen dies in the henhouse, will usually avoid going into the henhouse.  The difference?  My hens have outdoor access 100% of the year and get moved frequently to new locations. They do not HAVE to stay next to dead birds.  And, since we are not raising millions of birds at a time, we are able to notice and quickly remove any birds that are sick or dead!

 

 

Eggs galore!

We have more hens laying more eggs than ever before.  Egg salad, deviled eggs, homemade ice cream and angel food cake, and scrambled eggs are being consumed by us in great quantities.  We personally eat the eggs that are not of high enough quality for our customers, and lately, we’ve been barely able to keep up!  Hens love increasing day length, so spring is always a great time for egg production.

We’ve also got lettuce from the hoophouse for another few weeks.  With our recent warm temperatures, outdoor planting is underway, and lettuce will be in the field soon.  We’ll then have room for cucumbers, eggplant, and peppers in the greenhouse, along with the tomatoes, which are already planted.

Today’s rain was perfectly timed- onion sets, peas, radishes, and salad turnips seeded this week in the field will now have a chance to start growing!

 

January in the greenhouse, again!

Let’s see.. last January, we had one greenhouse.

Now there are two.  Let’s take a look inside the big one.

Looks promising.  What’s growing in here?

Tatsoi.  Beautiful tatsoi.  More people need to know about this delicious spinach alternative.

Lettuce & green onions.  The lettuce maybe has another cutting in it, since we’re having this warm, sunny spell.

For really early spring, there is a bed of radishes & carrots.  The radishes are only a couple weeks away.. the carrots probably won’t be ready until March or April.  The southernmost bed, not pictured, has red mustard, kale, arugula, and spinach.

 

The small greenhouse looks nice too.

Baby kale, anyone? The other beds contain mizuna, arugula, and yukina savoy.  Another grower told me I should try yukina savoy, and I do like it a lot.

All the rows are uncovered today because it’s 55 F outside, and the forecast is for fairly warm nights this week.  When it gets below 20 F at night again, I’ll cover the beds back up with the white row cover.