Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking back over 2010 and forward to 2011

Wow, has a year really gone by again? How quickly time passes.

As I sit and ponder what 2010 brought us, its staggering. At this moment I am typing this blog post with a little man in my arms that did not exist in the world before 2010. Amidst all the good and the bad, life goes on. Two constants in our world are birth and death, the circle of life. We each have a few moments when we are in charge of a piece of the earth and the earth's future. We hold the keys to the future for a moment. That in itself is an amazing thought!

2010 was a great year for Little Sprouts. During this year we put in place all of our existing breeding stock through choosing breeds and breeders, building facilities, and learning how to accommodate these animals. Jacob sheep, Narragansett turkeys, Red Wattle pigs, and a variety of heritage chickens. This year also marked the birth of this blog, and the installation of the first southern Oregon farm webcam. Both of these giving voice and openness to the sustainable movement. Little Sprouts finally got a real logo and identity. The orchard was built and planted, including several types of trees and blueberries. The greenhouse was purchased and built (can't wait to plant!). And most importantly, we learned... and learned.. and learned. The year 2010 come to a close with the sale of the first Little Sprouts produced pork, our first ever actual retail product.

I must admit, during the year there were plenty of moments of doubt. Can a computer geek who hasn't seen a farm since he was 6 actually learn all that is required to run one? The jury is still out on that one, but it is encouraging to look back over what we have done and where we are. The reports coming back from the pork and turkey we have sold or given out are glowing and serve as a testament to the farm's success. Of course I understand that profitability has to be part of the equation, but at least we have reached the point of satisfied customers!

I want to spend a moment here thanking all the people that have supported us in our mission, especially all the customers who have bought products. The farmer is NOT the most important part of the puzzle, it's the customer. You, Mr. customer, are the one making this happen. A farmer such as myself just stewards nature and follows divine inspiration, nurturing nature to produce. We as farmers don't make anything happen, we only facilitate what nature already does. We are stewards of the earth and life. The people that trust and consume the goods produced, you are the ones that drive things forward, determine the fate of the next generation.  Its not production that pushes a society forward, it's consumption... the choices made at buying time. I applaud each and every person that is buying food from a local farmer anywhere in the world. You are the reason things will change for the better.  You should be proud of your decision to help make the world a better place for your grandchildren. There are literally people that will live instead of die because of your buying decisions.

2010 was indeed a great year for Little Sprouts.

2011? Well, one very important change has taken place during the last week of 2010 that will affect 2011 greatly. Our family has decided that it is time to put our faith into what we are doing and God's grace and guidance. For the last 3 years I have been full time employed off farm. This of course steals time, energy, and focus from the future of the farm. It limits how fast we can move and how far we can move. So, at the end of 2010 I quit my day job, trading it for a part time  position. That of course cuts our family income dramatically but it allows us to devote at least half of our time to farming operations. The plan is to move to full time farming within the next 2 to 4 years.

Why would we make such a decision? Why would we cut our income in half voluntarily?  Because we believe in what we are doing at Little Sprouts. We will probably never again make the cash that the corporate life in the computer industry can provide, its not realistic to believe that a small family farm could ever make that salary. But, there are things more important in life than cash. This mission, to create good wholesome safe healthy food is the most important mission I have ever embarked on. The end of 2010 marks the time for us to personally choose to be committed to this goal or not. We have chosen to be committed, sink or swim. There are no regrets giving up a rather nice salary and future in the business world to spend the rest of life raising animals, driving tractors, solving the nations food production problems, helping our neighbors eat well and be healthy, raise our children and healing our land. What greater life could there be?

So, 2011 is a very important year for Little Sprouts and our family. We learn to actually live off the farm income, for better or worse. We learn to follow the gentle guidance of our heavenly Father as he guides us down this path. We learn to enjoy what is truly enjoyable in life. And... we get to see this great plan of returning to local family farms to heal our people, our land, and our nation.

Yes, 2011 will be a big year. a big year indeed.

Ending 2010 with another week of continual food recalls

Sadly, on the last day of 2010, yet another reminder why our food system has failed us pops into the news. In fact, the last week of the year 2010 is filled with almost daily food recalls.

First  it was cilantro and parsley.

Then it included  alfalfa sprouts.

Then the list expanded to 18 other vegetables capable of making you sick.

And today it's ground beef again.

And yes, sadly, that is just for this week, and yes it is pretty normal. America has achieved almost a food recall per day, usually each originating with a set of individuals made sick or killed by one bacteria or another in the clean, packaged, healthy looking food.  Most often these individuals are our children and our grandparents.

Even more amazing to me is the response we get when mentioning this to people. In general the view of most Americans we talk to is "wow, isn't it great we are now catching so many of these occurrences and doing recalls." That type of response shows me one thing... we have fallen so far in this country that we as a society have accepted that we cannot raise healthy safe food and must rely on catching the necessary bad food before too many people suffer. This is an assumption either that we have given up on food production, or that we don't even know food can be safe. This argument is much like saying our "nation is more moral because the prisons are full." It does not address the cause of the problem nor recognize that it is getting progressively worse, instead it praises the ability to catch the growing number of failures of the system.

This isn't a debate about the health content of food, whether organic is better for us than chemical... no... this is a debate whether food is poisonous or not. How far has our country fallen when the topic leaves "which approach makes people healthier" and becomes "how many people can we prevent from dieing this week".

sigh

Why is it so bad? Virtually all food production experts agree its simple.

  1. We as a nation value convenience over health
  2. We as a nation value profit over health
  3. We as a nation strive to save a dollar on our food so we can spend it on pleasure
  4. In order to achieve 1 - 3, we have applied industrialization factory based consolidation to food production.
Bottom line is, it doesn't work. Industrialization works great for cars, computers, inanimate objects. Industrialization as a model fails miserably at containing and controlling nature.  It can not be done. Even if produce and meat is raised properly to be safe and healthy, the centralization of processing for produce and meat will corrupt its safety and sicken people.  There are two sides to the equation, production and processing. Both must be handled properly to produce healthy and safe food. The longer we try to continue using this industrialized centralized model for food production and processing, the deeper we fall into debt through health care and suffering. These debts we are racking up will be paid, by our children and grandchildren. What a legacy to leave behind. Can you imagine as a grandmother or grandfather answering our grandchildren when they ask "why did you do things that way?"

What the point of all this? This is not a pointless ranting about the evils of society. Instead I present to you a call to action. The problem is actually amazingly easy to implement. To fix the system all we must do is, one at a time, change our buying habits. That's it. I propose that if you, as a reader of this blog, commit today to make 2011 the year you become part of the solution instead of part of the problem, the tide will change within 1 generation. How can I be so sure?

Remember the 70's  and 80-"s? How many organic options did you see in the supermarket? I recall my own Dad as one of the only organic gardeners around.  I recall people laughing at his attempts to use manure, compost, natural pest control, etc instead of chemical poisons and fertilizers. Organic in those days was the buzzword for crackpot, extremist, backwards, uneducated. Today walk the isles in the grocery store. The word "organic" appears everywhere. Why? because people started buying it.

What you buy today determines what you can buy tomorrow.

It is that simple. If you commit for 2011 to visit farmers markets for produce, buy meat from a local farmer processed in the local butcher shop, and buy only organically produced canned foods, the system will change for your children. It has to start with you, not your neighbor, not the government, just you.  How much easier can it be?


2011 is just around the corner... Will you be part of the problem, or part of the solution? Today is the day to choose.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sprouted Grains for Hog Feed

Here is the results of our first experiment in sprouting organic grains to feed the hogs.

Sprouted wheat ready to feed

This one is sprouted barley
This experiment was easy enough. I poured a 40 lb bag of organic grains in a plastic trash can, added enough water to just cover the grains, and placed the top on. What you see is about one to two weeks later. The hulls are nice and soft, and the sprouts have a quarter to half an inch of growth per kernel. The hogs love this for food, they prefer it to the pelleted food when offered and eat to the last kernel.

My theory is that this is a healthier food for them than dried grains, especially in the winter when there are few growing things available. The dried grains are not fully digestible where the sprouts are (except for the hulls which still provide fiber) and I really like the idea of living growing things to be a big part of their diet.

Now that this is successful and easy, I'll do some research to see the protein content of sprouts and determine how this blends with our new soon to be announced soy free program.

White Winter Morning at Little Sprouts Farm

We woke up this morning to a white cloud laying all over the ground. What a beautiful site!  Here's some pics:

Samson and Callie wondering what happened to their grass.

In the distance you can see some Red Wattle Pigs roaming the icy pasture.

Skies looking stormy again behind the barn.

One of my favorite views.. past the front fence is a field that never gets mowed, making it picturesque at times like these

The oak trees beside the house are raining snow.

The sleeping orchard under a fresh blanket of snow

How do herbivores eat when there's is no grass visible? Well these guys were served breakfast in bed! The horses, the sheep and llama, even the pigs had their own bales of fresh green grass thrown to munch on.

Hunter decides to take advantage of the lazy morning to do some crow hunting with his new pellet gun.

Yes... how may I help you?

Update: Farm Animals Get 80 Percent of Antibiotics Sold in U.S.

Those of us who have been parents for a while have witnessed the shift away from using antibiotics until absolutely necessary. In days gone by, antibiotics would be prescribed for virtually any illness or pain. Even if the source of the problem could not be helped by antibiotics (such as a virus infection) doctors would often prescribe antibiotics to prevent "a secondary infection". Today, antibiotics are reserved for use only in cases where it has been proven to help. Even childhood earaches do not get antibiotics routinely as they once did. Why this severe shift in policy? Because of resistance.

We now know that frequent use of antibiotics for decades has and is creating resistant strains of the bacteria that are immune to antibiotics. Simply put, expose bacteria to antibiotics and a few isolated bacteria have the capacity to survive. If you do this frequently enough, the effect is that of "killing off the weak but leaving the strongest". over time those strongest multiply and cause the same disease, but can not be stopped by antibiotics. I suspect we have all heard this warning in the doctor's office lately, as the explanation of why they hesitate to use antibiotics unless they know it is required and helpful.

But wait. The first thing that bothered me about this explanation is... if before the antibiotics were prescribed in a large enough does to kill off the bad bugs, resistance is highly unlikely. Only smaller doses would allow the strongest bugs to live and multiply while killing of the  weak ones. Now sure, this could be caused by people not taking all of the pills in a full week dose, allowing the stronger bugs that can live through a few days to make return once the pills are stopped early, BUT this doesn't seem a likely source of resistance. Even in this case, the bugs are killed off by the persons immune system, or the person would have a relapse. I suspect not many people have suffered  from a continual infection for weeks or months while breeding these little bugs for resistance.  Perhaps it does happen, but it doesn't seem likely.

So lets explore the question...How would one purposefully create a resistant strain of bacteria easily if one wanted to? Here is one scenario :

  1. Choose a single species or breed of host
  2. Place high concentrations of this host in very close living conditions
  3. Allow the living condition to be conducive to bacterial proliferation through unsanitary practices
  4. Control the nutrition of the host in such a way that lowers the natural immune system
  5. Expose the host to a constant life long dose of antibiotics at a low enough level to not kill bacteria but only inhibit them
  6. Follow this model for several generations of host in the exact same physical area to allow bacteria to grow in the environment as well as the host, passing the increasing resistance from generation to generation
That sounds like a very plausible and effective  plan to create resistant bacteria, would you agree?

The shocking and sobering news here is that... we in America do this every day and have been doing this for decades. The model described above is EXACTLY what happens in factory farms day in and day out. AND it happens on such a scale that the activities of the doctors in human health really seem ridiculous as an effort to stop the trend of resistance.  This article clearly show why this is the case :

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/12/news-update-farm-animals-get-80-of-antibiotics-sold-in-us/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wired%2Findex+%28Wired%3A+Index+3+%28Top+Stories+2%29%29

You see in this article that the use of antibiotics in humans is only 20% of the total. Therefore, if we cut antibiotics use in humans through the policy change of doctors by 10%, that only affects overall antibiotics usage by 10% of 20% which of course is 2% of the total. Not enough to make a difference in the actual problem. If in fact 80% of the antibiotics use in America goes to factory farm animals in the model described above, the problem can not be relieved through any policy use of doctors. Even if humans quit using antibiotics completely, if the government banned their use in humans entirely, 80% of the problem still exists and is therefore unaffected.

Perhaps you wonder.. but these are animals, we are talking about resistance in humans. The truth is the bacteria that frequent feedlots and factory farms are also the ones that are becoming most resistant in humans. A Small amount of research will show this fact.There is a direct connection between resistance within feedlots and humans, in fact, those that work in factory farms are at highest risk for antibiotic resistant infections. Ever see the protective clothing required when entering a factory farm today? These places have become virtual bacteria factories and hazardous waste factories, unfit for human presence without careful procedures and protective clothing.

So now we might ask, WHY would owners of factory farms and feedlots do this to America, to us? 

We were often told when entering the farm occupation that "antibiotics increase health and weight gain". That is given as the primary reason to encourage farmers to spend money on antibiotics. "BUT WAIT" a small voice in side me says... "WHY is that?". Why would antibiotics encourage weight gain and improve health in animals when that does NOT happen in humans? The answer lies in how you look at it.

IF you take animals and place them in single species overcrowded facilities
AND IF you neglect to keep those facilities clean and sterile through nature's methods
AND IF you feed them artificial food built for growth, not health
AND IF you breed them for growth genetics instead of health genetics
AND IF you ignore all the warning signs of nature
THEN animals loose weight, get sick, and often die
SO IN THAT CASE antibiotics encourage weight gain and health.

You see, antibiotics allow factory farms to use inhumane, unhealthy, and appalling approaching to animal treatment without as much death and disease. Antibiotics allow for factory farms and feedlots to exists, because without antibiotics it would be hopeless to raise animals in this manner. Nature itself fights against  what we are doing in our food supply and antibiotics allow us to break the rules anyway... for a while...

Even in factory farms it is becoming evident that the whole approach used is not working. It is not sustainable. Disease is rampant, genetics are deteriorating, people, especially children, are dieing as a result.

So, I propose three fixes to antibiotic resistance:
  1. The government outlaws factory farming
  2. The public refuses to buy food produced in factory farms
  3. The owners and workers on factory farms go on strike and refuse to continue killing Americans
Sound extreme? Unfortunately the only way to stop antibiotics resistance is to stop factory farming that is producing it. As long as antibiotics are used in production of meat on a routine basis, there is no hope of stopping the trend in the doctor's office.

So, I plead with you, starting today, do what you can. Refuse to buy anything produced with antibiotics. Just say no and choose an alternative. Your body, your children, and your grandchildren will thank you for being part of the solution instead of part of the problem. The sad truth is, when you buy meat that is raised with antibiotics, YOU become part of the reason that our grandchildren will suffer. It is a very easy fix to start the new trend.

Find a preferably local family farm that does not use chemicals, does not follow factory farming methods, and buy meat from them and only them. If you eat out, reject fast food and always ask of the source of the meat in restaurants.  It may cost a few pennies more today, but save much more money and even save lives of your offspring. Don't wait for the government to do something, make the choice to be the solution today yourself. Where we spend our money every day has more affect on the future than any government policy or law. In fact, the government will NOT address this problem until enough people are already refusing to pay for factory meats.

Which side will you be on today?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Two More Hogs Butchered Today

Even with the rainy cold weather, farm life goes on! We were up and outside at 8am this morning in the rain catching the hogs for today's butchering. One inconvenience to our "community pen" approach is at this time when we must separate one or two out. Fortunately today it was fairly easy since all the hogs were sleeping in the shelters when I first went out. This allowed me to close the shelter pen gates without chasing the unwanted hogs inside. Then I discovered that both of the chosen ones were sleeping in with the 3 breeders (Romeo, Penny, and April). It took a bit but by quietly and carefully irritating the chosen hogs i managed to get them out without disturbing the three adults.

So, as of tonight we have two more at the butcher, mostly already sold. I'll know the weights on Monday. We will also be able to arrive at a live weight this time, even without weighing them while alive. Yes, sounds interesting huh? If you would like the details of how we do this, drop me an email and I'll explain.

If you are interested in buying part of these hogs before Christmas, please let me know ASAP. There is very little left unclaimed and we probably won't butcher any more until after Christmas.

New idea for Hog Feeder, The Third Approach

We are on our third try at creating a decent feeding station for the hog's pellet food. Try # 2 was so short lived, I didn't have time to blog about it!  This third attempt has promise so far... but before I explain what we did, lets review what didn't work:

#1 - Feeders along the fence, secured with baling wire, floored with rubber mats.

This was created by simply laying 4 ft x 6ft rubber mats on the bare ground against the fence, setting the metal feeders against the fence, and strapping bailing wire around them to secure it to the fence and tposts. It worked OK in the summer but not in the winter. First problem was that the hogs would tear the feeders off (breaking the bailing wire) if a feeder ever ran out. This was their attempt at "getting to the feed" when one appeared empty.  The worse problem showed up in winter with the rain. The rubber mats were soon covered with an inch of muddy water and although they kept the hogs from sinking, the top surface was unacceptable.

#2 - Mounting feeders on a pallet and moving around the pasture.

I personally thought this was a grand idea. Silly me. I did mount the 4 feeders on a single pallet, 2 on each side, securing them with 2x6 on each end and a 2x4 down the middle. 3 inch deck screws secured the metal feeder to the wood on the sides. First problem showed up when the horses figured out how to open the TOP of the feeders the second day. I tied them shut and then they learned how to open the feed doors themselves. Sigh. That meant putting up a border of electric fence around the area where the feeders would be kept to prevent the horses from reaching them.  The bigger problem showed up after a 3 day rain. The ground was so soft that driving the tractor in to retrieve them and move them was impossible. In fact. on the second try the tractor sunk down to the frame where the hogs had stood to eat. it took an hour to work it out, even with 4 wheel drive.  Both the area under the feeder and the path to  it was trashed into swamp mud within 2 days.  The third problem was that the hogs would completely tear off  the feeders, seemingly for fun.

#3 - Build a floor from pallets, secure feeders to the floor, line with rubber mats.

So, now we have 6 pallets screwed together underneath with 4 inch deck screws and 2x4 braces. that made a floor strong enough to pick up on one end and support itself.  This was placed in the corner of the pig pen, right on top of the straw. Then we covered it with rubber mats, except for under the feeders. the feeders themselves were screwed down to the pallets on the inside as well as across the back with a 2x6 inside and out for strength. The 2x6 on the outside was then screwed to the end of the pallet. The finished product seems stronger, stationary yet movable if necessary, and sanitary since it is above the water and mud level. The wide surface area underneath seems to keep the weight of the hogs from pushing it into the mud. So far so good!

Here are some pics:

Here is a view from the back. You can see the 2x6 braces attaching the feeders to the pallets.  The pallets on the outside of the fence are to allow refilling without standing in the mud. You can also see the rubber mats hanging over the edge of the pallets just a tad.

Side view showing the size of the "floor" relative to the hogs. On the right you can see the two barrels we are sprouting grain in as a test.
Hopefully this will last the winter, or until we decide to go ahead with the big round feeder we are tempted to buy. It holds half a ton at a time, making filling less frequent. Perhaps a setup like this would make it movable yet usable.  Anyway, until then this setup might work nicely.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Soy Free Pork ? Coming soon through Little Sprouts!

It seems that every day we have more exciting things to learn about raising good healthy food.  This week was no exception. One of the most important points we have been exploring is the "soy free" approach to feeding and producing meat.

We spent some time this week talking to the Rogue Valley Chapter Leader of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF),  Summer Waters, L.Ac., N.T.P., an acupuncturist and nutritionist in Medford and Ashland, OR . If you are interested in learning about the local WAPF chapter, please visit http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/RogueValley-WAPF and join the RV WAPF yahoo group to receive periodic emails about important food and health solutions.  If you're not familiar with the Weston Price Foundation, it is worth spending some time on their website to explore the fascinating, cutting edge health information there.   I won't go into the details of the foundation itself, since they are much better at explaining the healthy living plan than I, but one fascinating item came out of the conversation - the notion of soy free animal feed to produce healthier meat.
First, a little background is helpful. Today, farm animals rarely eat a truly natural diet. Instead of the pictures you see on labels of animals grazing out in the great open prairies, the reality is that the majority of any farm animal's food today comes in a bag. There are lots of formulations available, but the basic point here is that a small variety of foods are ground up, combined with some added vitamins and minerals, and pressed into pellets. This process is somewhat akin to us eating nothing but breakfast cereal every day, three times a day, our entire lives. Their health depends totally on the formula of that feed being right and supplying everything needed for good health.

That in itself is a scary thought to me. I have very little confidence that man has learned what real food is and what balance of ingredients are necessary to maintain health. Think for a sec how many times in our own lifetime the recommendations for food have changed. Pick almost any food type and follow it through the last 40 years, you will see conflicting, sometimes opposing recommendations over time. Why? Simple... life is incredibly complex. Life seems dependent on a complex balance of nutrients. It is not enough to ensure that all ingredients are provided, because the balance or proportions of the nutrients are just as important as presence or absence.

So, back to animal feed. I find difficulty with the basic approach of only providing one "perfect" food  for an animals entire life. That is why at Little Sprouts we are committed to allowing each animal to forage for its own food as much as possible. We also bring in a wide variety of produce, greenery, forest products, etc to provide as much natural diet as possible. Nevertheless, we have not been able to eliminate the "perfect" man made feed yet. Which brings me back to "soy free".

There is a wealth of information available about the potential health problems caused by a diet with excess soy. Weston Price Foundation is a good place to go to find the theory and evidence behind it. Plenty of people today are working hard to eliminate soy from their diet, including the meat they consume. Oddly, today, soy and corn are the two most prevalent ingredients in all animal food. Corn provides carbohydrates, soy provides protein. There are particular reasons behind this, most founded on our government and its choices.

So, eliminating soy is a difficult problem to solve. Protein is required by all living beings, Hogs seem to need somewhere between 10% and 20% of their diet in protein. There are of course other sources of protein, and we have decided to explore these. I contacted our mill, who has already altered the "recipe" for us in other ways, and they are committed to working with us to produce a Soy Free hog and Poultry Food. We have the added difficulty of requiring only organic protein substitutes, since we are committed to being "chemical free" already. Even so.. we will solve this problem asap! Our ultimate goal is the best health for our animals and for us.

Speaking of taste, its  worth mentioning that hogs seem uniquely bound to the old saying "you are what you eat". It is obvious through a little research that the flavor of pork depends as much on the feed given during the last 3 months of life as much as any other aspect including breed. I suspect that is one reason our first round of Red Wattle pork is so significantly different from that available in stores, and even different from farm raised pork we have had previously. These hogs were fed half or more of their diet in fresh produce in that critical 3 months, largely pears! I cant wait to see what acorn fed pork taste like! Acorns above all else, is the most natural diet for hogs.

So, if you are committed to eliminating soy from your diet, Little Sprouts will soon have pork for you. We will be able to add "Soy Free" to our label along with "Humanely Raised, Organically Fed, Pastured Pork."  Until then, when you buy our pork, feel secure that it is healthy, tasteful, humane meat. We are sure you will find the quality much higher than pork purchased elsewhere. When soy free is available, the good just gets better :)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anonymous Visitor Leaves Acorns and Oranges

Today some kind soul visited Little Sprouts while we were away, and left some goodies. Upon arriving home late this afternoon we discovered a bag of small oranges, 2 paper grocery bags of acorns, and a large trash bag full of leaves and acorns. There was no note that we could find, just the bags sitting right outside our gate.

If anyone knows who left these, please share! We definitely appreciate the generosity. Acorns are in high demand right now as hog feed, as the local trees made virtually NO acorns this year. We can certainly use any and all acorns we can get. But... I do need to make sure they are organically raised before feeding to the hogs. Most acorns are, but it never hurts to be sure.

So please let us know if you have any information on who we can thank for the kind gift :)

I should add.. if you know of anyone with acorns in southern Oregon area, please please let us know. I would love to find a source of a few tons of acorns to add to our hog feed. Acorn fed pork is often said to the the best tasting pork available, and it certainly is the most natural.

We do offer a big THANK YOU to the kind soul that left the acorns and oranges!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Turkey hens keeping watch


Ok.. So the farmer looses the battle of turkey containment again. Over the last few days we have a small flock of hens and a small flock of toms roaming our yard. Back to the drawing board on this one.

These little hens seem to be keeping watch over the place as we head off to church on Sunday morning.

Egg production increasing!


Here's a pic of 2 days of eggs. We collected 34 eggs from Sat and Sunday. That's pretty good considering we were at only 2 eggs per day 3 weeks ago.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What exactly is "Antibiotic Free" meat?

Browsing through the isles of any supermarket that sells other than the standard factory produced food products, you will see a variety of labels and terms. There is organic, free range, grass fed, vegetarian fed, antibiotic free, hormone free, etc. The list goes on and on.  What do all these labels mean? We want to start taking a look at each of these and give a little background into what you are buying and feeding your family.

Today, lets explore the label "antibiotic free". It can be worded a number of ways, but all have a similar meaning. To have this label, the meat inside the package can not have been fed any antibiotics while the animal was alive. That sounds good, right? but wait.. lets ask a simple question... why would you need to put that on a label? everyone today knows that you don't take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary, and only take them under a doctor's supervision, right?

Not so in factory farms. That tidbit of basic understanding is completely ignored within the confines of factory food production. It is  in fact necessary to feed the factory food animals a constant diet of low dose antibiotics their entire lives. The politically correct reason for this is "to keep them from getting sick". But wait.... lets ask another simple question... why would they get sick? Didn't these same animals exist for thousands of years before man invented antibiotics a few decades ago? How is it possible that animals today cant live without constant antibiotics yet the same animals did fine for all of recorded history?

There are two answers to that. First, these are not always the same animals. The factory farms use machines to do much of the meat processing, so it is to their advantage to ensure that all the animals have identical growth rates and body shape. The natural variety that occurs within genetics is unacceptable to a corporation wanting to produce meat on an assembly line. So, these animals have been altered... carefully bred to produce carbon copies of themselves only. They have also been bred to cause faster growth on less feed, to increase the profits of the corporations. Unfortunately these genetic alterations do not come without a price. The animals become genetically more fragile and disease prone. The breeding has become so advanced today, that the problem is magnified. It is somewhat true that the animals used for food in America can not always exist without antibiotics any longer. Genetically speaking, the animals we eat are "freaks of nature" that could not exist in the wild, because nature itself removes such genetically inferior animals to protect the species. That in itself should make us all take pause... we are genetically altering the animals so that they can no longer exist in the real world.

The second answer is even worse. The reality of confinement based factory food plants is that the animals are in such deplorable unsanitary conditions that bacteria is rampant, and even good healthy genetically superior animals would become ill in those conditions. Oddly, in many situation, the government recognizes that the  conditions in which the animals live are hazardous to the point that humans are not allowed to enter the facility without protective clothing to protect themselves, not the animals. It would be "illegal" to place a unprotected person in the environment that these animals live in day to day. That, my friends, is the main reason animals in factory food production need antibiotics, to fight off the daily onslaught of bacteria they live in.

There is a third answer in some species is in the unnatural food fed to the animals. In order to increase profits in one way or another, food is provided to the animals that nature never intended for them to eat. A prime example of this is feeding grain diets to cows. When this is done, the only way to keep the cows alive seems to be antibiotics. The cows themselves do not have the ability to fight off the effects of this unnatural food in the quantities provided.

Here is an interesting quote from Stanford University on the effects of antibiotics use in factory food production:

Shopping for meat and dairy products that contain no antibiotics or growth hormones is a winner for your health and the environment. Because of crowding, stress-inducing conditions, and unnatural diets that often occur in the conventional meat and dairy industries, antibiotics are needed to fend off disease. In addition to antibiotics, animals are also given growth hormones— to stimulate year-round high production of milk, for instance. It is estimated that as much as 80-90% of all antibiotics given to humans and animals are not fully digested or broken down and eventually pass through the body and enter the environment intact through wastewater and runoff. When bacteria in the environment interact with these antibiotics, they may transform into more resistant strains that pose a greater risk to both animals and humans. By choosing hormone-free and antibiotic-free meat and dairy products, you can help keep the environment clean and healthy.



source: http://sustainablechoices.stanford.edu/actions/at_the_store/antibiotichormonefree.html



So... an interesting thing happens... when the farm is producing "antibiotic free" meat, suddenly everything changes. The animals pens actually have to be cleaned. The food has to be right for the animal. The animals have to be provided healthy living conditions to eliminate a bacteria laden environment. The breeds have to be capable of having their own immune system.  So, in essence, "antibiotic free" means that a fairly decent life was provided to the animal. Antibiotic fed meat (anything without that label)  virtually guarantees a life for the animal that is sad, unhealthy, and against the laws of nature.

For the record, the animals at Little Sprouts Farm are never fed routine chemicals or antibiotics. We even discourage use of medicines for illness unless all natural methods have failed. We use nature, instead of fighting her. The irony here is that ultimately, profitability increases when this is done, over the long run. This is one of the proofs Little Sprouts is trying to show. Most farmers that have converted from the accepted knowledge of chemically sustained poor quality of life to natural healthy environments have lowered labor costs, increased product quality, and increased profits.

So, when your shopping labels and you see "antibiotic free", you know what the history of that is. When you don't see that.. you also know the history. The choice... is in your hands alone.

First taste of the Red Wattle pork!

We picked up our first set of pork from our Red Wattle hogs and cooked some for the ultimate taste test. For the last year we have been hoping and praying that we made the right choice in our hog breed to raise. So far we have been impressed with this breeds ability to live on their own in a social group, breed and raise young naturally with no intervention, protect themselves from the harsh weather, summer and winter, and a host of other positive traits. But, we didn't know how the finished product would come out.

Well, we are happy to report that we have now tried sausage and pork chops, and both are absolutely incredible! The sausage was well balanced, tender, and uniquely flavored. We cooked it with no additional spices to get a feel for the natural taste and I have to say it was the best breakfast sausage I have ever tasted!

We also made pork chops for dinner and again, the meat was incredibly tender, had  good fat to meat balance, and a very pleasing flavor without much extra seasoning. Cooked to allow the natural goodness of the meat to come through, it is a gratifying experience.

So, we are pleased with our choice of Red Wattles in entirety. I can recommend this pork to anyone who wants to try some real, fresh, healthy meat that tastes the way pork was intended to taste.

We are considering offering samples to help spread the word about this incredible product. If you interested in tasting some, please let us know.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blueberries Arrive Finally!

Today the blueberry bushes were delivered! Apparently there was quite the demand for mature blueberry bushes in the southern Oregon area, because several other people showed up at Little Sprouts to pick up their plants too. The bushes arrived on a rather large flatbed, which barely fit in our circle drive.  Here it is waiting to be unloaded with about 40 blueberry plants on the trailer.

Blueberry bushes waiting to be unloaded
We ordered 20 plants ourselves, and the other farmers that showed up all had a few each, so it took a while to unload the plants into the various trucks and trailers. What a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon! It was really wet and muddy after the last few days of rain...  the ground is very soft. and an inch off the driveway and its like being in quicksand. Times like these I am thankful for 4 wheel drive tractors!

Loading some plants into a trailer
And of course, my usual supervisor was on site making sure everything was done right. Most of his time was spent inspecting the water puddles.

Is this puddle compliant with OSHA?

Sure does make a nice splash!
So now we have 20 mature blueberry plants in hibernation resting comfortably by the front fence. They can sit there through the winter since they are dormant. Come March we will start planting them along the fence line to provide a nice privacy hedge and buckets and buckets of blueberries! There should be enough blueberries to harvest this coming summer to provide all we need for our family, and have plenty left over to sell. We are considering offering them as dried, jellied, jam, or baked into something yummy.

Iowa State chooses cash over truth?

One of the realities within the sustainable agriculture movement is that higher education has turned against truth in favor of profit. I know that sounds harsh and extremist, but before you disregard this as "extreme radicalism" take a few moments to consider the arguments. the story below is a good example of a case where, from all appearances, the obvious conclusion is that Iowa state prefers to say what supports big money in big agriculture even when it conflicts with the truth.

I'll leave the details of the story to your reading of the original article, but here are a few interesting clips;

When the dean of the agriculture school in Iowa State was asked "have cows evolved to eat grass?" her answer was a very politically correct "I don't have an opinion on that statement". So apparently a basic understanding of agriculture is not required to be dean of agriculture? Or is that she does not wish to loose her job over speaking the truth. Oddly enough, all of the images about agriculture in Iowa State that the public sees show cows eating grass, although virtually every cow within the state of Iowa actually is fed Grain, and then antibiotics to keep it from getting ill from the grain. (yes, that is the way it is done, grain followed by necessary antibiotics, because without antibiotics, the grain could kill the cows from disease).

The story speaks for itself, and you must draw your own conclusion, but I am firmly on the side of concluding that Iowa State is choosing to ignore truth, teach a lie, and keep receiving money from the big business that need the lie to be accepted to succeed.  and yea, that is harsh, but can you honestly say its not true?

Sadly, this is NOT unique to Iowa State. check with the agriculture departments in your state universities, colleges, and even high schools. You will see that the vast majority of them teach that is it necessary to continue doing what big business is doing, involving heavy use of deadly chemicals at all stages of food production, artificial fertilizers to keep things growing on dead ground, and antibiotics fed to animals to allow for feeding of wrong or inferior food and unsanitary living conditions. In a nutshell, that is what our children are being taught about agriculture. Oh, you will probably also run into ... you must use lots and lots of petroleum to create food and in the process you wont make any money.

I am sad that so many people in authority have chosen to follow the path of  "repeating what they heard"  without thinking for themselves. How hard is it, truly, to admit that cows eat grass? How hard is it to see that the images required to sell meat show completely opposite scenes than those uses to produce it? Apparently today, in higher education, that type of truth is very hard.. that type of truth gets you thrown out.


Here's the original article, what do you think?:

http://chronicle.com/article/At-Public-Colleges/66044

Friday, December 10, 2010

S.510 - Looking deeper

As S.510 gets bounced around in the government, debating food safety regulations, FDA authority, tracking, recalls, funding, etc. I find myself wondering...

What would happen if the government, a senator or representative, took the brave and bold action to actually do something about the real underlying problem?  It is common knowledge today among anyone who studies the science behind food production, that the problem is systematic. the root problem, is not lack of funding, or too few inspections, or too little authority or too slow to recall... the problem is the approach. Consider this:

The current method of food production is through industrialized factories and factory methods. It honestly has nothing at all to do what what the American public thinks of as farming.  What the public sees in the images on the labels and television, and perceives in their own understanding, is a myth. virtually all of the  food in America today is produced in factories, not farms.  To make this more palatable to the public, and prevent a public outcry, the corporations involved simply change the public definition of "farm" and close the doors to viewing and understanding in the name of "preventing contamination".  If you doubt any of this, just do a little research, its really easy to find the truth on this if you look.

So, food safety... The core problem I see is that the government is dedicated to making factory production of food safe. Their primary goal is to preserve the inhumane and unhealthy practices used in the factories.  The scientific reality of this is that it can not be done. It is not possible to produce good food within the factory based system in use today. Yet, all of the  government focus, energy, money, and regulations are dedicated to preserving the system of factory farming and attempting to minimize the deaths resulting from it.  To their credit, the government actually does a tremendous job at minimizing the deaths resulting from this flawed system. IF the government didn't do what they do today, we would have rampant disease directly due to the factory food production methods. It  truly is that dangerous.  As it stand today, we do have a failing national health, with health care being the new biggest problem America faces. This is almost directly due to the altering of the food supply from farming to factories. Virtually all degenerative diseases can be prevented and sometimes cured by returning to true farming and rejecting the factories.  If the government didn't do what they do to regulate this flawed system, we would not only have degenerative diseases rampant, but we would have many more outright deaths directly from consumption of  tainted food. So, in that respect, I am thankful that the government is doing what it is to contain the spread of disease and death from factory farming.

But, to my original point. what if a senator or representative had the courage to say that the system itself is flawed, as we know it is... to expose the industrial food system for what it is, and propose legislation to start limiting the spread of factory food production and encourage the return to true farming.  Think about that.. if, over the next 50 years, we reversed the trend and saw small family farms springing up all over America, thousands or millions of them, and a corresponding decrease of food factories, our grandchildren could reap the benefits of better health, less health care cost and crisis, better environment, less fossil fuel reliance, less transportation cost in the food system, and overall better quality of life.  Close your eyes for a sec and dream about such a world for your grandchildren.

It starts with one in power who has the courage to do what is right, instead of doing more of the same. Healing our food supply isn't going to come through more inspections, it will come through re-learning how to produce food that does not need to be inspected.  One senator or representative could start this ball rolling. It will take a very long time to see through, but most valuable changes do take a long time. It has to start somewhere.

I throw out a personal call to anyone in power to consider what I say, consider being the one that starts the process, even if you can not finish it. Put your own career aside for a  moment and consider the responsibility you have on your shoulders as a representative of the people to do what is right.  Reject the notion that it is too late, that it cant be done, and take that first step. Outline for America a plan on how to crush the factory food system that is killing us, and restore farming to its rightful place of preserving the health and welfare of America.

Who will take such a challenge?

Chickens have built in GPS?

Animals are simply fascinating! Some day we might be able to understand more of nature to make sense of the odd but wonderful things we see every day on the farm.

I have read that chickens, like migratory birds, have the ability to "home in" on their nest area. It is not the structure they head to as humans would. Instead chickens can identify the exact spot on the ground where their nest was even if the next is removed.  I have read warnings about not moving a moveable chicken coop too far at a time, because the chickens will not find the structure and instead nest in a pile on the ground where the coop used to be.

Last night I witnessed this for the first time, exactly as described! Our teenage chickens are still in the moveable coop in the orchard. This week we opened the coop so they could roam, since they are large enough to fend for themselves now. The birds would put themselves to bed inside the coop each night as expected.

Then, a couple days ago, I decided to move the coop to the opposite side of the orchard, maybe 100 feet away. That was a mistake! Last night I walked by after sunset and sure enough there was a little pile of chickens all huddled together on the bare ground right where the coop used to be.  They looked so sad sleeping out in the cold under the sprinkly skies!

I had to pick up each chicken and walk it to the coop, place it inside where the food and water was. If i didn't put them inside the coop, they would turn and run back to the huddle on the ground. The last couple of them almost refused to go! It took a while to get them all settled in safe and warm.

How do they do that? It is amazing to think that these little chickens can return to within a foot of a certain spot on bare ground, even when he structure is removed.

Nature is more fascinating than we give credit. Even in all our knowledge, we still don't begin to understand some of the most simple things.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fresh the Movie --- a must see

We have only seen trailers so far (awaiting the arrival of our copy), but this is said to be the single greatest expose on local and healthy food production and procurement. While similar to Food Inc, (you have seen this, right???) Freshthemovie is said to concentrate on the positive aspects of local and healthy foods instead of the negative aspects of factory farms. While I am sure there is mention of the negative aspects (its impossible to talk about food without touching on the unhealthy norm our country accepts) I am looking forward to a more positive approach to the problem.

We definitely want to find a way to host screenings near Medford as soon as practical and will report back here once we watch the movie for ourselves.

The website can be found at http://freshthemovie.com/

S.510 - FDA Food Safety Modernization Act ---- call to action

Little Sprouts Farm has remained silent thus far about the ongoing debate over food safety in our national government. But, alas, it is time to speak out. If you value the ability to have a choice in your family's food purchases and production, then it is time to act.

As you may know, recent "food" factory failures have caused more deaths and illnesses recently than ever before. This rightfully prompted an outcry from Americans for something to be done. Unfortunately, in true "big government style", the answer from our elected official was largely more of the same. They reacted by working to enact tougher food safety laws, which in reality are just better tracking and ability to recall the inevitable dangerous products coming from today's factory farms. These new laws do very little to decrease the occurrence of lethal contaminants within our grocery store isles, they simple make it more efficient and quicker to remove the poisons once they occur, so fewer people are affected.  In the process it creates more government, more paperwork, and higher cost to everyone. Ok, Ok, that's my interpretation, but I would challenge you the reader to dispute my claims.

The next major event that happened was the amendments. The most important one is the Tester amendment. This amendment adds the logical exemption of small traditional farms. Since small family farms are virtually immune to the problems rampant in the factory food system, it does not make any sense to subject these small farms to the overbearing regulations that are intended to help root out the bad products from the factories. Adding the regulations to small farms actually worsens the overall situation by putting more small farms out of business, thereby increasing reliance on factory foods that are inevitably poisonous. Therefore, the "fix" from the government, without the amendment, actually makes the situation worse for the consumers with increased risk of food illness and death.

The senate thankfully passed the bill with the amendment in place. Now it is up to the house.

Today, the small handful of owners (yes, incredibly small) of the factory food networks have come out in strong opposition to the amendment. They know that the amendment levels the playing field between decent food and their product. They know the new regulations will stifle small farm production of real food and protect their market share of the food dollars. They are working very hard to distort the facts and make twisted claims of logic to coerce the house into dropping the amendment. If this happens, you, the consumer, will have less opportunity to choose where you buy your food and how it is produced.

So here is our official position:
With the Tester amendment in place, we support the food safety bill because:
  1. It makes recall of factory produced and tainted food faster and therefore less deadly
  2. It creates more tracking, cost, and consequence for factories producing food, which ultimately raises factory food prices from their unnaturally low level, lessening the gap between this imitation food and real food.  This makes it easier for consumers to buy real food and increase their health, ultimately lowering their out of pocket expense overall due to lower health care.
  3. It makes the corporations in control of our food system pay a price for their disrespectful deceitful behavior geared at only making themselves profits instead of making America healthy.

Without the Tester  amendment we oppose the food safety bill entirely because:
  1.  It makes small farms pay a higher cost for the failures in the factory food system thereby increasing cost of real food and broadening the gap between real and factory produced food, thereby consumers ultimately shift towards factory food, decreasing health and increasing health care cost
  2. It removes choice from the consumer since many small farms will give up instead of fighting the fight, farmers markets shrink, and supplies of decent food dwindle.
  3. It rewards corporations responsible for the failures in our food system and the subsequent health crisis in America through removal of competition. Their profits increase, which encourages them to continue producing even more poisonous dangerous foods.
Don't get me wrong... I fully support everyones right to make a profit. One of our goals at Little Sprouts is to prove that it is possible to make a profit while producing decent food (which oddly the bulk of agriculture community states is impossible in America).  Nevertheless, we do not support increased profits today through methods that leave a scarred and sick land to our children, and cause a national health crisis that is touching each and every one of us today. Profits have to be balanced with responsibility to the consumers and the next generation.

For example... would you dump tons of DDT on your yard today if it gained you a few extra dollars, and then handed the scarred cancer producing land to your children and grandchildren to live on? Most people would say no. The reality is, all that has changed since the realization that DDT kills people is... the name of the chemical used. Agriculture today uses more man made chemicals than ever before, ALL of which are slowly being proven to cause health problems and are constantly being replaced with new ones. All in the name of profit for the few. Every non-organic food product purchased in the grocery store supports these chemicals. Every product bought at the grocery store instead of off-farm or farmers markets supports factory "psuedofood" and factory vs farm methods. The strongest arm we have, each of us, is our wallet and our voice. You can either be part of the problem, or part of the solution. I find it fascinating that people will change incandescent bulbs at home for fluorescent to save energy and feel "green", but buy anything presented at the grocery store without a second thought. The time is here to choose.

Bottom line here is.. if you value freedom of choice, health, and fairness, than I implore you to contact your representative and tell them that S510 should not pass unless it has the Tester amendment intact.  Do it today!

I also encourage an open debate on this topic. It is truly one that affects our families in our every day life. Through open discussion, eyes are opened and truth prevails.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Little Sprouts has a Logo!

We are very proud to announce that Little Sprouts Farm now has an official logo! We have been working with a very talented graphic designer who helped to capture the essence of who we are and what we do.  Here's a sneak preview of the final product.




The graphic we worked with designer is :

Jason D. VanDusen

Owner - Design Specialist - VanDusen Design
Toll Free: (800) 691-8566
http://www.vandusendesign.com/

Monday, December 6, 2010

Organically and humanely raised pastured heritage breed pork for sale now!

Drum roll please!

We finally, after 3 long years of preparations, have our first official Little Sprouts Farm products for sale. The Red Wattle hogs are officially at market weight and ready for immediate sale.  We butchered one for our own use last Friday and it weighed in at 151 lbs hanging weight, which is about 200 to 220 lbs live weight.

Often when you browse the food in the grocery store you see different claims such as "organic", "Humanely raised", etc. We are proud to announce that we have not one, but many reasons why this will be the best tasting, healthiest pork you ever tried.

1. Heritage Breed -- Our hogs are untouched by genetic engineering, and unchanged by breeding. They are hogs just as nature created, never modified to increase profits to the breeder. What you get is real natural pork.

2. Humanely Raised -- Our hogs are raised as a large community, no confinement. They roam the pasture, choose their own sleeping and eating arrangements, play together in the sunshine, and act like.. well.. pigs.  We work very hard at providing to them the most natural yet safe environment possible, mimicking their life as it would be in the wild. We do not use commonly used medical intervention such as castrating or teeth trimming. Our pigs are physically the same as the day they were born. We strongly believe in a minimal intervention into their natural life.

3. Organic Feed -- The only hog feed we provide is certified organic hog feed, blended to our specifications.

4. Organically grown natural produce -- in season we collect and offer as much natural organically grown produce and leftovers as possible. This provides a variety in their diet of good wholesome fruits and vegetables, as well as green plants, to provide all the nutrients that cant be found inside the processed grain food.  To date we have collected thousands of pounds of pears, pumpkins, apples, vegetables, and various stalks from farming operations.

5. Natural Foraging --  In addition to organic feed and organically grown produce, we allow the pigs plenty of room (about 4 acres) to roam and forage for their natural food of roots, bugs, etc.  They happily dig and root int eh soil looking for that extra bit of nutrition only nature itself can provide.

6. Organically raised -- we do not use any antibiotics nor chemical treatments. When required only natural pest control (diatamaceous earth) and herbal parasite control (verm-x)  is used. No supplement shots are given at birth or later. These pigs are allowed to achieve their health naturally from their environment.

7. Farm Fresh -- when you purchase our uncured pork, it is fresh 100% meat, no water or chemical added during processing.  The cured cuts (bacon, ham, etc) are produce to your desires at out local butcher.  You can specify exactly how you prefer the cuts in shape, thickness, etc. From start to finish takes about 2 weeks for uncured, about 3-4 weeks for cured.

Care to give it a try? You will not be disappointed!

For Pricing click on "FOR SALE NOW" above.

WEIGHT:
The first hogs weight in at about  150 hanging weight.

QUANTITY:
We currently have 5 hogs ready to go for December.  There will be another set in late January to February.


To secure your portion, just give us a call or email

541-826-4345

littlesprouts@salchfamily.org

And brace yourself! This is going to be the best tasting pork you ever experienced!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Four more gallons of the best sauerkraut ever!

We harvested cabbage and kohlrobi today, and made 4 more gallons of sauerkraut. that makes a total of 8 gallons so far this fall.

The first batch turned out extra yummy! In fact, by far the best sauerkraut we have ever made, or tasted. it has an excellent balance of sour, salty, and a hint of spice from the kohlrobi.  We made some sausage and sauerkraut the other day that was incredible!

Check the previous post for the full recipe. it basically just :
1 to 2 cabbage,
3 to 5  kohlrobi,
2 heaping tablespoons sea salt,
1/2 cup fresh gathered whey

Combine all this in a large bowl and squeeze / mix for about 30 minutes, then pack in gallon glass jars. Use the gallon size Ziploc bag with water to hold cabbage in place, and let it sit for 3 to 4 days then refrigerate.  the flavor really develops after a week of so in the fridge.

Once we get further along in the food production business, we will be bottling this for sale as a completed product in smaller quantities. It is definitely too good to pass up!

Hog reach 5 months today! Time to offer pork for sale!

Today is the 5 month anniversary of the first litter of pigs. They were born on June 27.  This means it is time to move into the next stage of pork production.

Our plan is to butcher the largest from this litter this week, for our own use. We have as of yet not tasted the meat from these heritage pigs. I do not feel comfortable selling what I have not personally tried and liked. So, the moment of truth has arrived... while I am convinced that we made the right choice on breed in every other respect, the last remaining aspect of a breed is taste.

We are also in the process of creating our first "farm brochure" to aid in advertising locally through the butchers.

While we are investigating the option of taking the hogs to the local USDA processing facility (in Springfield, OR), the first litter will be butchered locally and sold off farm as whole, half's, or quarters. This means pork will be available in these three quantities very soon both to locals and anyone who wants to have it shipped frozen.  If we go the USDA route later it will allow us to sell through retail outlets and farmers markets also.

So, if your interested in trying some truly American heritage breed pork, stay tuned! We will be taking deposits very very soon, and quantities will be very limited. there are only 5 pigs in this first litter (after one for our family and samples)  so that serves anywhere from 5 to 20 customers at most.

For now, if your interested in trying this, regardless of where you live, please drop us an email for pricing:

littlesprouts@salchfamily.org

Egg production is down

Unfortunately our egg production has dwindled to almost nothing.  As of now we get 2 to 4 eggs per day out of 30 chickens. About half of them are visibly molting.

It would appear that we were not careful enough with the lighting system around the time that the baby was born. As stated in a previous blog post, this is a danger of using artificial lighting... even a day or two without the lengthened days can wreck havoc on the bird's hormones and stop egg production.  Even though the lighting has been restored and improved, and the roof on the coop has been replaced, it will be 2 to 3 weeks until egg production is restored.

We are now learning about the different dietary needs of chickens in cold weather and when molting.  During cold weather chickens require more carbohydrates. During molting they require more protein (feathers are mostly protein). So we are going to take this opportunity to work on their diet supplement for both groups. Even though our birds are mostly free ranged (have complete, unrestricted access to our property almost every day)  we still supplement with organic feed during times that the natural food supply is diminished. Its actually easy to tell when they need supplementing, because normally we can fill the feeders, and they stay full for a few days. The chickens definitely prefer to eat outside, foraging for their own food when available.  When food becomes scarce outside, they gobble up the commercial feed every day. Hopefully by adjusting their feed with more natural proteins and carbs, we can help them through this cold and difficult time.

I also ran across a great book:

Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens

 By Gail Damerow


you can find it on google book at :
http://books.google.com/books?id=GxoH_NRDxe8C&lpg=PA199&ots=0Sa5ZAZl5d&dq=shorten%20chicken%20molt%20chicken%20lay%20eggs%20during%20molt&pg=PA201#v=onepage&q&f=false

Particularly interesting is page 201. Here the author shows plainly how you can tell exactly how long a chicken has been molting, and how long it will take to complete.  I cant wait to go out and record the flight feathers of each of our birds and test this approach!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Heritage Turkey and Dressing recipe - our favorite

Today we have further "perfected" our Thanksgiving turkey and dressing recipe for heritage turkeys.  Here are the details of what makes it the best turkey you will ever taste. The actual recipe is at the bottom of this long list of necessities. although this may seem like a lot of work, if each step is followed as stated below, you will not be disappointed. to achieve the best end result, you have to have a combination of all of these elements. One missing will alter the finished product significantly.

1. start with a heritage breed

our preference is by far the Narragansett breed. This breed is one of the larger heritage breeds, resulting in a nice size body cavity for dressing, and a good even balance between white meat and dark. It is the breed we have chosen to raise and sell, and our favorite in taste tests thus far.

2. raise naturally:

It is critically important that the birds be raised in a natural environment. By definition this means not cooped for most of their life, feed mostly consisting of grass and bugs freely foraged on their own, only light supplement with organic bird food when necessary. They need to spend their life in the sunshine and grass, free to fly when necessary, nest under the moon, and forage under the sun.

3. allow to mature:

Non-genetically altered turkeys (real turkeys) need to be allowed to mature to at least 5 to 6 months.  The best age is between 6 and 9 months. less than 6 months and the fat does not develop, more than 9 months and the meat gets tough. That magic windows of 6 to 9 gives a bird full of moist flavorful and healthy fat, that cooks up tender in a short time.

It is important to note here that this is utterly impossible for factory produced birds. The genetics in these birds do not allow them to live long enough to develop healthy fat.  If they did, they would be unable to walk due to genetic deformities.

It is also important to not, in this day of fat-fear that the fat which develops on these birds is healthy, if the above 3 items are followed. If, on the other hand, the bulk of the birds diet consists of artificial foods, than this is not the case and fat should be avoided.

4. humane and healthy processing

the actual processing of the birds must be done as stress free as possible. If the birds experience stress during the act of butchering, the body releases stress hormones that do affect the meat quality.  the best way to avoid stress (we have found) is quite and efficient catching, tie the legs together to prevent thrashing, followed by placing a full size dark bag (such as a feed bag) over the entire bird. this keeps them calm while awaiting the inevitable.

Killing the bird is best done by placing the bird upside down in a kill cone, and slitting the artery on the side of the  neck at the base of the head  with a very sharp knife, allowing the bird to bleed out quickly. The faster the blood leaves the body the more humane the act is, and the more tasteful the meat is. for this reason we do not chop off the heads. The goal is to drain the blood as quickly as possible with as little movement in the body as possible.

Lastly, the processing must be done cleanly. We do hot water bath scalding, followed by defeathering in a drum. Then the bird is placed in an ice water bath to drain off the body heat quickly while awaiting the next step.

Evisceration must be done quickly and carefully under running water to ensure that no contamination of the meat occurs. This is then followed by another ice water bath.  This second bath is then followed by a third clean ice water bath to ensure that the body tempo of the birds drops to about 35 degrees as quickly as possible in clean water.

5. aging

The best meat is aged meat. Just as an aged steak required proper aging so does poultry. We have found 24 to 48 hours of aging in a refrigerator yields the best meat.  We place a clean damp towel over the meat while aging to prevent drying out.

6. storage

Freezing does alter the quality of the meat, so the best end result is achieved by using fresh - never frozen birds. This  of course requires that the processing be done within a few days of cooking, as stored non frozen poultry only has a shelf life of a week or so at best.

now... what you have after these 6 steps is the best quality meat available  ready for cooking.  to make the best turkey and dressing, here is the actual recipe we use:

Brine

Brining further moisturizes the meat and adds flavor deep into the meat evenly. You can alter the brine recipe to include any flavors you prefer, just leave the water to salt to sugar ratio the same.

 container - 5 gallon plastic drink thermos
3 gallons water
6 cups salt
3 cups sugar
herbs - thyme or rosemary - if dried, about 3 or 4 tablespoons
1 entire garlic, crushed and peeled

Directions - mix the salt, sugar, and herbs in a large saucepan with a gallon of water and heat until it dissolves and steams. Then let it cool back to room temperature. Pour this into the thermos and add the rest of the water as cold as possible. The resulting mixture should be about 45 degrees. If your water temp does not allow this, substitute some ice for water in the thermos to bring the total to 3 gallons within the thermos. Rinse the bird and drop it into the thermos. If the water does not completely cover the turkey when it is held down, add a little more water.  Then fill a gallon size zip lock bag half way with water and place it on top of the water / turkey. This bag needs enough water so that when the lid is tightly fitted on the thermos, the total level of liquid rises to the top and just spills out.  Let this set in a cold place for 24 to 48 hours (we prefer 36 hours).

---- wait 24 to 48 hours

Giblets

We prefer to use the giblets in the stuffing because it is healthy, and if done right quite tasty.

Place giblets (heart, liver, gizzard, neck)  in a small sauce pan of water. add half an onion chopped in quarters, and a few black peppercorns. Sprinkle with a half a teaspoon of sea salt. Bring to a light boil and let it boil for about 2 hours. If the water level drops, add more to maintain the level above the giblets.

After 2 hours strain the  mixture in a strainer, retaining the liquid (to be used in dressing). Chop the giblets finely.

-- now is a good time to preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Stuffing mix

For each10 lbs of  bird, we use one box of stuffing mix (2 - 6 ounce packages). If you need more, its best to make no more than 1 box at time to make mixing easier.

1 box (2 6oz bags) unseasoned stuffing mix (croutons)
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrot
giblets from above
1 cup of liquid from giblets above
1 cup of slightly melted butter (half softened, half melted)

Mix the chopped veggies with chopped giblets in a large bowl. add in the semi melted butter and mix thoroughly to coat all evenly. Then mix in the liquid and again mix until uniform.  Then pour in the bread crumbs and fold it all together gently. Continue only until everything is uniform again.

bird preparation

Remove the bird from the brine and rinse it inside and out. (don't worry, the flavor is now in the meat, not on it). Drain thoroughly and sprinkle a little black pepper inside the bird.

Now it is time to prepare the oven bag. I suppose a turkey roaster would do as good a job, but i don't own one, so we use the oven bags.  Open the bag and drop a spoonful of flour inside. Hold the neck closed and shake violently to spread the flour evenly. Place the bag into the pan and open it. inside the bag place 2 carrots chopped into 1 inch pieces, and 1 onion chopped in quarters and 2 celery stalks, chopped into 1 inch pieces.  Spread the veggies evenly across the bottom so the bird can rest on them.

Slide the bird breast up, neck end first into the bag and place it on the veggies. Then rub some semi melted butter or olive oil across the top of the bird and legs. This aids in browning.

stuffing the bird

Now open the bag enough to reach inside and place the stuffing mixture into the neck cavity. Pack it loosely and cover as much as possible with the skin.  When this is full, start stuffing the large opening with the rest of the stuffing, again loosely. If you have any stuffing left and both cavities are full, I like to stuff the extra between the legs and the body. If you still have leftover (you shouldn't now) it can be placed in a glass casserole pan and covered with foil to bake later.

baking

The oven should be preheated as above to 450 degrees. just before baking, poke 6 half inch holes in the bag across the top. Then place the bird in the center of the oven and immediately adjust the temp to 325.  The initial high heat helps to seal in the juices a bit without overcooking it. this of course depends on how quickly your oven looses heat. every oven is different in this so adjust the starting temperature as necessary.

Bake for 2 to 4 hours.  You know its done when 3 things happen;

1. The skin has nicely browned
2. The legs are completely free in the sockets, so when you push or pull on one it literally falls away from the socket.
3. The temperature of the deepest meat reaches about 175 degrees and the stuffing is about 165 degrees

The most critical one is actually #2, even if the tempo shows done, don't remove the bird until the leg sockets give little to no resistance when moved.

Presentation

Remove from the oven and cut the bag open, being careful to watch for the steam, its hot! We like to remove the stuffing from the bird and place it in a serving dish covered with foil. this lets it rest, voids some moisture through steam, and just balances the flavors while the bird is carved.

Remove as much meat as possible. If all above steps were followed, the meat should fall away from the bone. instead of carving most of the meat can be removed with a fork.

Lastly, sprinkle some of the juice from the bottom of the pan (bag) across the meat, especially the white meat. this gives a nice shine and keeps it moist and hot for serving.

Soup bones?

the bones make an excellent turkey stock, just drop all the bones in a large soup pot with enough water to cover. then add tablespoon of vinegar for each gallon of water.  drop in a few peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, lightly salt it, and perhaps a half an onion. bring this to a simmer and hold at simmer with a tight cover on for 2 to 3 days. the bones should more than half disappear.  strain the mixture and you have excellent turkey stock for soup or cooking. it can be canned while hot and stored in the fridge for a few weeks. this is a great source of calcium and minerals in our diet, not to mention much better tasting then any store bought broth.

Enjoy! You have just created the world's best turkey and dressing, and it is healthy for you!

Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.
We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven, we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown.

But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, to proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

-- Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chicken processing day

Since we had the poultry processing equipment to do the Thanksgiving turkeys, we decided to process a few chickens also. Our first flock of chickens are now 3 years old, which is pushing the useful life of an egg chicken, plus we prefer to not buy chicken from the store unless absolutely necessary.

So, i cranked up the scalder again and we did 7 chickens by noon. These birds are noticeably smaller and differently shaped than the factory created chickens, but the flavor and nutrition is worlds better. Since these birds are a tad older, we will cook them a bit slower and longer.  The cast iron dutch oven does wonders for this situation.

The next processing will probably be the week before Christmas, when we do some more turkeys and chickens.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Turkeys processed for Thanksgiving today

Today we scrambled a bit and successfully processed three tom turkeys for our own Thanksgiving. Our breeding flock has 11 hens and 13 toms, so we decided to have fresh turkey for Thanksgiving.

The equipment we use belongs to the Southern Oregon Poultry group, which had a grand idea. The group purchased the scalder, plucker, stainless table and kill cones. All of this is placed on a small trailer. Then any small farm that wants to can join the group for a small membership fee, and "borrow" the equipment when needed for processing. This certainly makes it easy to raise poultry since now we have access to commercial equipment without investing the high cost of equipment. the plucker is a little small for large turkeys but we manage by doing only one at a time and watching closely.

Today we were under threat of a winter storm watch, and we couldn't pick up the equipment until lunch, so the afternoon was quite a scramble.  It worked out though, and by sundown we had 3 nice size turkeys in the fridge ageing.  Monday morning we hope to process some chickens.

One of the turkeys was nicely matured, with a good fat layer. The other two were a bit smaller and minimal fat. That seems to indicate that by next month the extra toms can be processed and will be perfect age. We really prefer allowing then to gain a good layer of fat because it makes all the difference in flavor and moistness in the meat. Unlike factory turkeys, these are allowed to live at least 5 to 6 months, sometimes as much as 9 months. factory turkeys are normally only 2-3 months old.  It takes at least 5 to 6 months to develop proper fat. This way our turkeys are naturally moist, without needing soaking in some chemical solution before selling.

Another good point is that the fat on our birds is actually healthier fat than factory birds, mostly due to the diet. Our turkeys are pasture raised, living mostly off their own foraging of grass and bugs.  This builds the type of fat that is high in positive elements, and low in negative.  Its actually a good thing that factory produced turkeys do not have much fat, because their diet is so atrocious that any fat developed would be unhealthy to consume.

So.. this Thanksgiving our family will have fresh farm raised turkey on the table. We plan on smoking one and baking the other with stuffing. Next year we will have the same turkeys for sale, hopefully more matured than this flock is right now. Raising our own eggs allows us to determine the optimum processing date based on age, and ensures that the genetics are similar from year to year.

If you'd like to try fresh farm raised turkey for your important family days, let us know. We will be starting a reservation list for next year.