Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reflecting on 2010

This year has been a very busy year for us!  We have had lots of ups and downs but hopefully we have averaged an upward direction.  This year we were blessed with the opportunity to expand our farm.  We purchased a new parcel of land about 1 mile from our previous location.  We built a new home on the farm as well as a large workshop/barn.  We have some of our pens built and will work on more through the winter and coming spring.  Our new farm will give us lots of room to grow.  This spring we will plant new pastures as well as a small apple orchard.  Our new location seems to have a constant wind, something we plan to utilize.  As finances permit we plan to install 2-3 SkyStream wind turbines (or equivalent) to offset the farm's energy needs.
CSA Shares
Our CSA Share program changed a bit this year.  After delivering 10 lb shares every month to our CSA customers we found that many of our customers' schedules conflicted with our delivery schedules.  (Especially during the summer.)  It was also a little hairy tracking which customers had received their shares and trying to deliver make up shares etc...  We now offer a one time delivery of 30 lbs.  (3 months of meat by the previous standard.)  When you run low on your CSA Share, you can easily reorder online. We have some meat lovers who order this every month and others who can make 30 lbs stretch for 6 months.  We have a 30 lb Pork Share ($160) as well as a 30 lb Combo Share (15 lbs of beef and 15 lbs of pork)($175).  Beginning in February we will be offering a 30 lb Beef Share ($190) and a much demanded 30 lb Ground Beef Share ($150).  Our goal is to keep these Shares in stock ready for a quick delivery.
Raising poultry has been the source of many of our "downs" this year.  In Vernon, our growing season is a mere 90 frost free days.  This is good info for gardening but as it turns out is equally applicable to raising chickens on pasture.  This strong winds proved to be fatal for nearly every breed we attempted to raise.  We have concluded that in order to successfully/profitably raise chickens in our area that we would need to provide the chickens with a heated building that allowed easy access to pastures outdoors.  Another option would be to team up with another farmer in an area with better weather.  However, our plans have recently been squashed by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF).  Last winter we spoke extensively with the inspectors to find out how we could legally and safely process chickens for our customers.  They helped us get set up under an exemption that allowed small farms to process their own poultry.  Under this exemption, we had a young aspiring butcher process our chickens outdoors on our property following safety guidelines set forth by the department.  This has worked wonderfully all year.  Recently, we received a call from the department informing us that we would now have to take the live chickens to each of our customer's private property and process them on their property in order to continue under this small farm exemption.  We protested their request stating that not only would it be economically unfeasible, less sanitary, and ridiculously time consuming, but that no city would allow for processing poultry in people's driveways.  However, they refused to budge.  Our only alternative is a costly one, which would require us to build a full blown processing facility.  Even if we were able to justify such an investment the UDAF informed us that there isn't an inspector in Utah who is even certified to inspect our facility.  So, for now poultry is on hold for 2011 as we explore our options.
Our Berkshire pork continues to be the product that defines our farm.  We are pleased to be acquiring the reputation of raising Utah's finest pork.  Even customers from Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado, and California have found our pork worth the drive.  This year we successfully switched to our own custom feed that consists of 100% Utah grown grains.  Much of the grain is purchased from local farmers right here in Vernon.  The grain we use consists of wheat, barley, triticale, and oats.  These small cereal grains produce an even higher quality pork than pork raised on corn and soy.  The small grains produce a harder and whiter fat that our chef and foodie customers love!  We also love the fact that our grain isn't being shipped in from all over the country.  In 2011 we will began raising our pigs to a live weight of 300 lbs rather than the 250 lbs we have aimed for in the past.  In our own experiments, we found that a 300 lb Berkshire pig offers a higher yield in terms of meat to bone ratio.  The marbling is better defined and the meat develops a slightly deeper flavor.  Overall we feel this will take our quality up a notch as well as offer our customers a little more bang for their buck.
Our beef sales have pleasantly surprised this year.  So much so, that we have teamed up with some of our neighbors to help us keep us with demand.  These neighbors have committed to raising beef to the standards that we have set forth.  We have been fortunate to be able to work with neighbors that have quality stock and well managed pastures.  They also have considerably more land than we have.  Our grass fed beef is complimented by our butcher who does a fantastic job dry aging the beef until it has developed a rich flavor and tender texture.  Our customers have repeatedly been surprised by the mouthwatering flavor of our hamburger.  We frequently hear, "It tastes like steak!"   To which we chuckle and reply, "Why shouldn't it? It all comes from the same cow!"
Thank you!
We would like to express our gratitude to all of our customers for their support; both in terms of orders as well as in the many kind comments and emails we have received.  As we look forward to a new year we will continue to dedicate ourselves to raising the finest, safest, healthiest, and tastiest meats utilizing sustainable, humane, and natural practices.  We are excited to pursue new ideas next year.  This spring we will kick off 2011 with another Farm Day!  We plan to host several farm days in 2011.  Not only do we love to meet and mingle with you, but we also enjoy allowing our customers the chance to see where their food comes from.  Our farm days offer customers a chance to really connect with their food.  As always, we want to be your farmer!  Please feel free to communicate your ideas, suggestions, and comments.  Let us know what products you would like to see.  We have toyed with the idea of offering bratwurst/sausages that are spiced with local Utah flavors.  Or finding a local artisan to cure hams and bacon.  Perhaps Rose Veal is of interest?  We are constantly trying to learn and improve and would be happy to hear from you.  We hope that as you gather with your families this holiday season that the meats you prepare are delicious and nourishing.  
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
PS.  Please don't forget that our farm is very much dependant on word of mouth referrals.  Please feel free to forward this blog or our contact info to your family and friends.   

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Whole Truth

I was recently questioned why I post some of our negative experiences on our blog.  It sort of caught me off guard.  Was it being implied that I am a whiner?  Because that certainly hasn't been my intention.  Was it out of concern that it may not be good for business?...something I hadn't considered.  Was the blog perceived as being negative?  All of these questions danced around in my head.

The reason I post some of our negative experiences is because I want to be honest.  I want people to have a well rounded idea of our farm life.  Of course we enjoy sharing our positive stories and at the same time we aren't afraid to share our negative experiences.  Raising animals is something our family enjoys.  But animals are living creatures and susceptible to predators, weather, sickness, their own mischief etc... To present ourselves as a perfect farm where nothing goes wrong would be far from the truth.  We want our customers to have a real sense of where their food comes from.  To use the trendy term, we want to be transparent.  Our hope is that we offer the opportunity for people to connect to their food and even us as the farmer, if that is their desire. 

Some of our failures have been from our lack of experience.  We enjoy acquiring our experience.  We were not born into this lifestyle.  Well, Hollie grew up raising apples.  But I think most would agree that is different from raising pigs! : )  There are times I wish I did grow up on a farm.  It would likely mean that I would have inherited the farm or at least have access to it.  That really would have made things easier.  Think about it, little or no mortgage to pay, plenty of equipment, many more years of experience, good sources and contacts, good established farm ground, and family familiar with our operations that could lend a hand when needed.  But at the same time, I know I wouldn't appreciate what we have like I do now.  I also would likely do things the same way my dad had done things which is the way his dad did things.  This is good and bad because I would likely have continued to make the same progress as well as the same mistakes that had been done for generations.  Instead we have tried (or rather been forced) to take a fresh approach.

Some of our success stems from our non agricultural experience.  For example, Hollie has a degree in Business and has worked for several years as an office manager.  This is critical in keeping track of our growing list of customers and our accounting needs.  I have been employed as a business manager for 10 years.  This has given me lots of experience in marketing, customer interaction, dealing with vendors and so forth.

Other failures we have experienced are just part of life.  Even the most experienced professionals encounter new obstacles or are subject to the ever active and evolving world of biology.  Our little farm has its own unique ecosystem that we learn more about every day.  We prepare the best we can and make every effort to learn from past experiences.  It is a journey.  We hope to have more success than failure.  And hopefully sharing this journey with others will contribute to our success as well as the success of others.

As we share bits and pieces of our farm life, keep in mind that what we share is the truth.  How would we be any different from the large factory farms if all we did was portray this mythical nirvana of a farm?  We would be trying to pretend that we were something other than what we are.  We will continue to share our farm experiences both positive and negative.  We will present our farm exactly as it is.  No rose colored glasses, no fluff, and no sugar coating.  Who wants to connect to that?  From us you can expect the whole truth and nothing less.      

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Good Company

I hope everybody had an enjoyable Thanksgiving.  Last week started out hectic and stressful but ended well.  After 8 months of carefully raising our heritage breed turkeys, the time had finally come to butcher them.  Sunday evening Hollie and I went out to catch the turkeys that were to be butchered on Monday and Tuesday.  We naturally chased after the largest turkeys first.  As we ran around, the weight of the turkeys we were catching began to feel lighter and lighter.  I was a little concerned but reassured myself that these birds had been fed high quality feed and were 8 months old, nearly twice the age of the commercial breeds when they are butchered.  We were scheduled to deliver the turkeys on Tuesday evening.  Well Tuesday morning came and all the news stations were getting quite worked up over the "Blizzard of 2010" that was forecasted to hit Utah that evening.  We decided to be safe and reschedule the turkey delivery for the following evening.  Of course this threw a few of our customers off as they were planning to be out of town Wednesday evening.  We felt bad to have interfered with their plans but couldn't think of any other options.  Tuesday afternoon we picked up our turkeys and hurried home to get the animals tucked in before the storm hit.  We were so busy getting our animals situated that we never had a chance to look at the turkeys.  We stored our turkeys in the walk in freezer but left it turned off so that we could keep the turkeys fresh rather than frozen.

The next morning was cold.  I got up at 5am and went outside to check on things.  The thermometer was reading -11F!  Dreading what I knew I was about to find, I went and opened the freezer.  Sure enough, the turkeys were partially frozen.  Immediately a wave of stress swept over me.  If you can believe it, we placed a space heater in the freezer to raise the freezer temperature to 35-40F in an effort to thaw the frozen portions of the turkeys.  I went and checked on our last group of meat chickens.  I counted 15 dead from the cold despite heat lamps, shelter, and straw bedding.  The pigs were fine and snorted in annoyance when I shined the flashlight on them.  The Berkshire pigs are very hearty and able to adapt to a wide variety of conditions.  I checked their watering stations and found they were frozen solid.  More stress.

As I was leaving our farm to go to work, the truck was acting a little sluggish, I figured it was because the engine was cold.  Soon, I noticed I was losing more and more power.  Pretty soon the truck stopped all together.  The diesel fuel had gelled.  I called my brother in law, Stan who gave me a ride to work.

Hollie called me at work to report that she had been out weighing turkeys and didn't have good news.  Most of the turkeys were considerably lighter than we had planned on.  We were hoping for an average dressed weight of 15 lbs.  Instead, we were looking at turkeys in the 5-10 lbs range.  I literally thought I was going to throw up and grabbed the trash can as a precaution.  If I was stressed out before, now I was freaking out!  I kept thinking of all the customers who would be let down.  I wondered how many customers were going to give us an "earful".  I prepared for the worst.  I realized that there was nothing I could do but be honest with our customers.  On my lunch break, I drafted an email explaining the situation.  Hollie called me in tears thinking we were ruining everybody's Thanksgiving.  I understood her feelings.  As farmers, the products we deliver are literally the fruits of our labor along with some blood, sweat, and tears.  It is very personal for us.  However, I put on a brave face and told her that we had done everything we could.  If somebody was going to be upset all we could do was apologize and offer a refund.

Then a miracle happened.  We began getting all kinds of positive responses to our email.  Hollie and I felt a wave of relief as we realized (once again) what amazing customers we have.  There are so many good people in this world.  The delivery went smoothly that evening.  We seemed to be able to get larger turkeys to those who were really banking on them and the smaller ones went to those who didn't need tons of meat.  We heard many words of encouragement.  We would like to thank our customers for being so understanding.

In trying to figure out why we didn't get the weights we were expecting, I did a little research.  The website we ordered our turkey chicks from listed the weights next to each breed of turkey.  I mistakenly thought that these weights were dressed weights when they were actually live weights.  Then to compound the problem, because the turkeys are not the heavily muscled turkeys, the live weight to dressed weight percentage yield drops quite a bit.  Fortunately we raised a few different breeds some of which were a larger breed which gave us the larger turkeys that some people were counting on.

We would like to apologize again for not being able to deliver the weights we had planned on.  Raising poultry has proven to be very difficult (and costly) for our location.  Fortunately, we have done better with our Berkshire pork and Grass Fed Beef.  Thanks again to our wonderful customers.  Below you will find some of the responses we received to our email.  As you will see, we are all in good company.

"Thank you so much for all your hard work!  Starting a new business is not an easy thing.  I hope this year's learning experiences won't deter you from continuing the great work you do!"

"No problem! I am so proud and excited to have a REAL turkey from a free range, local farm this Thanksgiving. I don't care what size it is. They're probably just a natural size, not the genetically altered, freak turkey's we've become used to. ;-)  And really, how much turkey can you really eat? It seems like we throw out a ton of Turkey anyway. People can just eat more yams.  See you later tonight!"

"I feel very bad that you think you need to apologize for your turkeys. This is what a CSA is all about, in my opinion. You guys have been wonderful to deal with and bend over backwards for your customers. And you have wonderful products! We will take whatever you have for us. And if you have folks turn you down, maybe some of your other customers will buy some of those smaller birds. I know I would!"

"We'll be there to get our turkey and we want you to know that we support and encourage all you're doing.  Certainly there have bumps and things haven't worked exactly as you planned, but I'd much rather put my money in the hands of a local farmer who is providing for his family and raising quality and ethically cared for meat than in the hands of the mighty [Corporation A]!  Good luck as the weather gets colder and colder; we have a flock of nine egg-laying hens who are having their first winter and are not sure what to make of it all."

"Not a problem for us, Christian.  We'll happily take whatever you have.  Thanks so much."

"No worries - we are happy with anything!"

"HI There, Don't worry too much!  I think that any of us that love doing business with you understand the challenges of a small farm.  We will be there tonight to pick up one(maybe 2 if you have extras)!  Thanks for everything you do."

"No problem for us at all, I am sure the little guys are just as delicious and worked very hard to get as big as they could. :)"

"Sounds like a rough morning for you...but keep your chin up!"

"Sorry to hear about the turkey yield.  Considering it is a first time, moving farms and all, a good learning experience.  I am sure the next year will improve.  Would prefer a turkey, but can see others may not have an option or be able to wait.  Either way, a substitution would work."

"Thanks for being straight with us. It's all very interesting and part of what we signed up for. And thanks for not being [Corporation A] or [Corporation B]!"

"We would like to pick up our turkey on November 4th, if that is still okay.  We were not going to use it for Thanksgiving, so this was not an inconvenience for us at all.  Thanks for offering local poultry.  I believe most of us understand that there is a learning curve and just appreciate that you are willing to try and offer us all an alternative.  I hope you are able to get through the deliveries and enjoy your holiday."

"Oops.  I swear, this holiday is setting a record for messed up plans.  As it turns out, we can't make the pickup after all.  Would it be OK if you kept our turkey (your pick but smaller is better) until the first of next week and we'll drive out and pick it up.  And it's fine if you let it freeze.  What else can you do.  I'm sorry about this last minute change and I wish all  had gone better for you, too.  Just think how slick it will all go next year.   Thanks for you fine pork, beef and turkeys."

"I am so sorry that you guys have had to go through all this!"

"I don't mind the smaller birds.  Thank you for all of your efforts."

"You guys are great - we are looking forward to the turkey, regardless of the size."


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tough Times

What a crazy couple of weeks we have had!  Now I know why so many old time farmers have stayed at their farms their entire lives.  It is an incredible amount of work moving equipment, animals, setting up new pens etc...  I have used up nearly all my sick leave and vacation from my "off farm" job just trying to get everything done.  It also is very expensive to move/expand the farm.  There are many little costs that we didn't think of that sure add up.  With our energy gone, bank accounts low, lots of work ahead, and the days getting shorter it would be easy to get down.  But this is something we will not allow!

This past weekend we were reminded of just how fortunate we are.  After fighting and fighting the ground with the post hole auger attachment on the tractor, I finally broke down and rented a Bobcat Skidsteer with a hydraulic post hole digger for a day.  With hundreds of posts needing to be installed I was struggling to find enough time to dig this many holes.  For being on the edge of the West Desert, we have pretty decent soil.  However, about 18-20" down there is a miserable hard pan that is very difficult to penetrate.  It is so hard that it takes about 1 hour for me to chip out a hole with a digging bar.  (On a positive note, I am starting to see a little muscle tone return.)  When I purchased my post hole digger for the tractor, I opted for a hydraulic kit that adds a little down pressure.  However, even this wasn't enough for this hard pan I have been fighting.  So, I rented this Bobcat thinking I could punch all the holes in one day.  However, I quickly realized that I was severely limited by my ability to maneuver this piece of equipment.  It takes a few hours on a machine to get comfortable with the controls.  With the time ticking I quickly realized that it was going to take a couple of days with the Bobcat to get everything done.

After an hour on the Bobcat, I had a few holes completed.  I heard Grizzly (our Anatolian Shepard Livestock Guardian Dog) barking and looked up to see what was going on.  I saw an old van parked by our house and a scruffy looking man approaching me in the field.  I shut down the machine and jumped out to greet the man.  He extended his hand and introduced himself as Mike.  He explained that he was construction worker recently laid off and was hoping to buy a live pig at a reduced price.  He wanted the pig live so that he could save money butchering it himself.  While his introduction had initially impressed me as few people seem to shake hands these days, I was suddenly put off a little.  Perhaps I was jumping the gun a little and perhaps he was nervous asking for help but the way he asked me made me a little leery.  I explained that all of my butcher sized hogs were spoken for and that if I sold him a pig that I would be shorting somebody else who had already placed a deposit months in advance.  As I walked him back to his van, he then saw our turkeys and asked if he could purchase a turkey for his family's Thanksgiving dinner.  I began to feel like a scrooge as I explained that they too were all sold with deposits.

We continued to have a friendly conversation, during which Mike explained that he had four children.  His wife was a substitute teacher was pays something like $50/day.  He told me that they had a house in Tooele in the same neighborhood that Hollie's sister and her family live.  Mike was somewhat of a chatterbox and as he was talking, a verse from the New Testament came to my mind.

"35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
  36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
  37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
  38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
  39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
  40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. "
Matthew 25:25-40 
I thought to myself, here is a grown man with a family, who lives in an average neighborhood, yet he is out visiting farms looking for food.  My leeriness went away.  I explained to him that because of our recent move, we were low on cash, but that if he was willing he could work with me for the day and I would pay him in meat.  He eagerly replied that was willing to do whatever he could to keep food on the table.  He ran back to his van to get some work gloves.  I began walking back to the skidsteer realizing that I was in a situation that reminded me of movies I had seen where the story takes place during the Great Depression.  A time when men literally went door to door looking for work.  It made me wonder what kind of visitors we would have if the economy gets worse. 
I climbed back into the skidsteer and Mike grabbed a shovel.  As I struggled with the skidsteer, Mike offered a few suggestions for smoother operation.  I began to ask what kind of construction he had worked in realizing that he knew a lot more about the Bobcat than I did.  Turns out he was a heavy equipment operator!  I jumped out and told him to run the skidsteer while I did the shovel work.  Mike thought this was backwards.  He thought he should do the grunt work while I ran the skidsteer.  I explained that I needed to get as many posts in the ground as possible and that this would be the most efficient way.  Mike proved to be very good at operating the skidsteer and we accomplished far more than I would have been able to had Mike not showed up.
At the end of the day, I went to our freezers and began pulling out meat.  We had never agreed to what cuts of meat or anything like that.  We simply made a verbal agreement and shook hands on the deal.  Knowing full well how good food can lift your spirits during tough times, I made sure that Mike received a good mixture of cuts including roasts, steaks, chops etc... During our move, we had a discovered an extra turkey buried in the freezer.  I pulled it out and added it in addition to our agreed amount of meat.  I figured his family would appreciate it on Thanksgiving.  As I handed Mike the bag of meat his face lit up.  I fought back tears as the day had been very humbling and rewarding for me.  Mike had been a blessing in helping me get my money's worth from the Bobcat rental.  More importantly, he had helped me get a good portion of the overwhelming work done.  His situation reminded me of the struggles that we have had in the past as well the struggles that so many people go through.
Our family and farm have been blessed incredibly over the past couple of years.  While it is a lot of work, we have a steady family business that has grown rather quickly during the one of the nation's most challenging economic times.  We have healthy, wholesome, comfort foods on the table that nourish our bodies after a hard day in the field.  I have stated it before, but there is something about good food that helps one cope with life's struggles.  I invited Mike back anytime.  We parted ways both being better off that evening than we had been when we started the day.     

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bad Blogger

It's official.  I am a bad blogger.  I can't believe how much time has gone by since our last post.  If anybody is still following this blog, please forgive our silence.  In our defense, we have been incredibly busy this summer and fall.  As some of you know, we have spent this year expanding our farm.  We had the opportunity to buy a larger plot of land on which we are in the process of moving our farm to.  We also built a new house which in and of itself was surprisingly time consuming.  This past weekend we moved into our new house which has been very exciting for our family.  We have also been moving all of our "farm junk" from the old place to the new place.  Farm junk includes barrels, railroad ties, containers, pallets, fencing, feeders etc...  It is stuff that isn't being used, but is handy to have around.

The turkeys and chickens have all been moved to our new place as well.  We haven't moved the pigs yet, but are hoping to in the next week or two.  The new pig area will have 12 watering stations compared to the two we have now.  It will also have a much better handling, sorting, loading area that will make rounding up pigs a breeze.  In order to provide water to the pigs, we had to dig a trench that was 800 feet long and 4 feet deep!  We also ran power to each watering station so we can keep the watering stations from freezing.  We are now needing to build pens and shelters which we will start this weekend if the weather cooperates.  There has been a lot of thought and time spent laying out the new farm.  We want to utilize the ground as efficiently as possible.  We also want to be as energy efficient as possible.  While we have accomplished a lot less than we had hoped in terms of setting up our new farm, we are pleased with the results.  We certainly want to thank our family and neighbors who have helped and continue to help.  We especially would like to thank our loyal customers for supporting our farm.  It is because of our customers that we have been able to justify the expansion of our farm.  Thank you!

We promise to post pictures soon!   

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

CSA Shares Available!

We are pleased to announce that we are taking orders for CSA Shares once again! 

We have come up with a new CSA option that we feel will serve both you, the customer, and us, the farmer, better.

Earlier this year, we offered 6 month and 12 month CSA Shares where we delivered 10 lbs of meat per month. We found that with the busy summer months, many customers have had a hard time meeting us because of vacations etc... This resulted in several extra deliveries and created a logistical headache as we tried to keep track of who had received their order and who hadn't. It also meant many late nights for us sorting and weighing shares for each order. During one of these late nights, Hollie and I were discussing ways we could be more efficient so that we could feel comfortable with increasing our CSA Share membership. (It is frustrating for us to have customers on a wait list.) After bouncing some ideas around we finally came up with what we feel is a good solution.

Rather than deliver 10 lbs of meat each month, we will now deliver 30 lbs at once. 30 lbs is still small enough to fit in most freezers as it only takes up 1 cubic foot. It also means fewer deliveries to coordinate. This helps frees up your schedule and ours. Our goal is to keep CSA Shares in stock, so that when you run low on meat, it is readily available for you to order or at least receive within a month or so. While we can't guarantee this, we will work really hard towards it. Another advantage is since you are only buying 30 lbs (or 3 months by our previous model) you aren't tying up as much money at once. Our CSA Shares will also make nice gifts.

As we approach fall and winter, we will offer two different CSA Shares.
Pork Share: 30 lbs of Berkshire Pork of assorted cuts of chops, roasts, bacon, ground pork, ribs, and ham. Cuts come wrapped and packaged in portions small enough for two people.

Combo Share includes: 15 lbs of Berkshire Pork of assorted cuts of chops, roasts, bacon, ground pork, ribs, and ham. Cuts come wrapped and packaged in portions small enough for two people.

15 lbs of Grass Fed Beef of assorted cuts of steaks (Rib, T-Bone, Round, and Sirloin), roasts, ground beef, stew meat, and ribs. All beef is dry aged to perfection and cuts come wrapped and packaged in portions small enough for two people.

We hope that you will be happy with these new options and look forward to your order. Please visit the CSA Share page on our website to order. Orders will be delivered on October 2, 2010.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bad Timing

By now everybody has heard about the massive egg recall due to a salmonella outbreak affecting 380 million eggs.  Unfortunately for the West Valley City council they recently decided that they wouldn't vote on a proposal that would allow residents to keep backyard "urban" chickens.  Of course this news is horrible timing for the city council.  Hopefully residents of WVC will use this recall as leverage to get the city council to reconsider.  A few backyard chickens can be a fun hobby for families who might otherwise not have the chance to be involved in farming even if it is on a small scale.  Chickens offer a natural way to keep insects down thereby reducing/eliminating the need for harmful pesticides.  They earn their keep with delicious, nutritious eggs.

In some of the documentaries like Food Inc and Fresh, Michael Pollan explains how cheap food isn't really cheap.  That somewhere a price is paid.  This recall and all the others we have seen this year are good examples of the price that is paid.  I haven't bought eggs from the store in years but I would imagine that they are probably priced around $1.50-$2.00/dozen.  Most local farms sell eggs for $3.00/dozen.  Why the increased cost?  Scales of economy obviously come into play here as does the use of government subsidized grain.  Most small producers buy local unsubsidized grain which costs more than the grain the big CAFO operations are buying.  Naturally the costs are going to be a little higher.  For those who raise their own eggs or buy fresh local eggs, they can attest to the enormous flavor difference and as well as quality difference.  One of the contributing factors to these outbreaks is the routine use of antibiotics which help build superbugs.  I am sure none of this information is new to readers of this blog.  Aside from the increased nutritional value and resulting increased health to the consumer, consider the cost difference. $1 to $1.50 savings every week or two.

Now consider the cost of getting sick with salmonella.  Visit to the doctor, usually an emergency visit, missed work, prescriptions, etc... not to mention the risk of further illness with a compromised immune system.  The bottom line, is that eating fresh and local, is cheaper in the long run.  Not to mention you will likely enjoy a higher quality of life, that nutritious food offers.

Your body is worth it and you will enjoy the food more as it tastes much better.  Consider all the costs next time you consider buying from factory produced food.   

More Local Food

We continue to be amazed by the demand we see for quality, local food. For those who follow our farm, you know that we are in the middle of expanding our farm. We are trying desperately to shorten the wait times that currently exist. Ideally, we would like to have beef, pork, and chicken in stock so that as orders come in, we can fill them within the week. By purchasing additional land our goal is to increase our livestock to the point that this becomes a reality. We have already ramped up our pig numbers considerably. However, we won’t see the rewards of this effort until a few months down the road when the pigs are ready to harvest. Hopefully we can keep up with the feed bill until then! : )

Our little farm isn’t the only one growing. We are starting to see more small farms pop up in Utah. We applaud and welcome these farms. More and more consumers are starting to recognize the benefits that come from locally produced foods; stronger economy, fresher food, less pollution, etc… We are happy to see more farms stepping up to the plate. One thing that often surprises us is our customers’ reactions to tasting our pork, beef, or chicken. I get the impression that many customers buy from our farm because of our farming principles (humane, sustainable, pasture raised etc…) rather than buying for a gourmet quality product. Perhaps, when we get a shorter wait list, we will start emphasizing more on our quality. While all of our farming principles contribute towards superior, gourmet quality meats, we also have incredible breeds, and amazing bloodlines within those breeds. The feed we offer our animals is both a science and an art. In fact our feed looks so good to us that we have half joked about trying to make multigrain bread out of our pig/chicken feed. I actually think it would turn out pretty good. The quality of our feed is so high that I would not hesitate eating it myself. My point is that when you combine all these elements you end up with a product that is uniquely superior to anything else. I believe that this is a secret that our chef and restaurant customers hope we keep to ourselves.

In acknowledging the increased number of farms we are starting to see, I also wanted to reemphasize the need for consumers to learn about their food and how it was raised. This is one of the wonderful advantages to buying from small, local farms. As we mentioned above, we are excited to see more local farms offering high quality food. However, because we are so familiar with our “industry” which is rather close-knit, it is easier for us to recognize what some farms are or aren’t doing.

For example, we have seen a chicken farm here in Utah advertising with pictures that show chickens on pasture. It turns out that the chickens are actually raised indoors. This same farm also advertises that they are Certified Organic which really caught my attention as to my knowledge; certified organic feed in bulk isn’t available in Utah. In trying to track down this farm’s source of organic feed, it was mentioned that they are actually under scrutiny of the USDA for improper use of the Organic label. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case as stories like these damage the reputation of other farms.

Similarly, we have seen farms selling Berkshire cross pork. This seems to be rather popular. I know that some farmers are artificially inseminating their commercial breed sows with Berkshire lines. However, Berkshires cross better with some breeds than others as far as increasing meat quality goes. Even with the best crossing, the pork is nowhere near the same quality as purebred Berkshire pork. We know because we have done careful side by side comparisons. The price I have seen on most of this pork is higher than our price for 100% Berkshire. Besides, they make no mention of the way the animals were raised, the type of feed being used etc… which again are large contributing factors.

To be clear, it is none of our business to judge how a farmer raises their products. They need to do what is best for their farm and family. We are excited that more farms are open to trying heritage breeds to increase their quality, as well as try raising animals on pastures rather than small pens or barns. We just hope that they represent their product for what it is. We also hope that consumers are demanding transparency and that they try and understand and even see how their food is raised. Consumers shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. If a label states, “Berkshire cross” a couple questions that come to my mind are, “Crossed with what?” What percent Berkshire?” Technically, a pig that is 1/16 Berkshire could be called a Berkshire cross and wouldn’t likely yield any of the favorable qualities the Berkshire offers.

Hopefully, I don’t come across as a spoilt child who’s upset over competition. Again, we think it is fantastic that other farms are increasing their quality. If we did view it from a competitive perspective it would only help demonstrate the value we offer. In fact, we have had a couple calls from other chicken producers asking how we can offer our chickens at the low price that we do. We simply want to see the momentum Utah has going, continue. Utah is surging forward with CSA’s, farm to table restaurants, locally raised food is in higher demand, I think I even read that one of the school districts in Salt Lake County recently switched to buying locally grown produce. We want to see this continue! Farmers who try and capitalize on buzz words and representing their food as something less than what it really is will hurt this momentum. Consumers can act as the police in this regard. Asking questions and seeing how a couple different farms operate can offer a wealth of knowledge.

As a teaser, my secret project that I have mentioned in the past will help our customers gain a better understanding of how we operate. (I am sure some of you can guess what we are working on!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Chicken Talk

Chickens have been the topic of conversation in our home for the last 6 months.  We have now raised 7 different breeds of chickens and tried to evaluate the pros and cons of each breed.  There has been a lot of failure and some success.

We have evaluated the different methods of raising chickens.  The commercial industry raises their chickens in dark warehouses as most of our customers understand.  Joel Salatin of PolyFace Farms is one of the pioneers in pasture based farming in our era. He raises Cornish cross chickens in "Salatin" pens or chicken tractors.  These consist of large 8x12 pens with an open floor that allow the chickens access to fresh pasture.  The pens are moved each day onto fresh pasture.  This system offers many benefits to the chickens when compared to traditional chicken CAFOs.  However, there is one drawback which is the chickens are still closely confined.  In our experience, this has led to more pecking problems and less exercise for the chickens, which in turn negatively impacts the quality of the meat.

We have been raising our New Hampshire Red chickens in large paddocks enclosed by electrified netting.  The chickens are protected from the shock due to the insulating properties of their feathers.  However, predators receive a shock that sends them running.  To date, we have not lost one chicken to predators.  The chickens get to run around, flap their wings, and enjoy roosting on top of their portable shelters.  Those who have visited our farm have enjoyed watching the chickens roaming about.

The additional exercise does slow down our growth rates which has resulted in us pushing our delivery dates far longer than we had originally anticipated.  The hatcheries told us that our chickens would reach a harvest size in 9-10 weeks.  However, we found that it actually takes 11-12 weeks.  Now that the days are getting hot, the chickens stay in their shelters until it cools and primarily come out in the mornings and evenings.  While we feel they are comfortable, they just aren't eating during the day like they used to.  This means that they have slowed down even more.  We are now looking at 14-15 weeks to reach a harvestable size.  This is basically 6 weeks longer than we calculated when we first set up our schedule and calculated our chicken prices.  At 14-15 weeks, we are making very little (if any) profit after we have accounted for all the costs.  Pound for pound, chickens are far more labor intensive than pigs or cows.  These two elements combined are the reason we are talking chickens lately.

So we have decided to change things up a bit.  Next spring we will build an open shelter in the pasture that will allow the chickens access to food and water in the shade.  We will also provide them with misters during the warmest part of the summer to help cool the area.  In addition to the New Hampshire Reds, we will also start raising Cornish Cross chickens.  This is a significant change for us as we have been opposed to the use of this breed as we feel that many of the chickens suffer because of their fast growth rates.  However, we found that by making some adjustments to the way we raised them, that we were able to raise happy, healthy chickens that didn't experience the leg problems and heart attacks that we had seen in the past.  The result is a beautifully dressed chicken with abundant white breast meat.  Because they are raised on pasture, they still produce firmer, leaner, healthier, and more flavorful meat.

We are also excited to announce that all our poultry is now fed a mixture of Utah grown grains.  Like our pigs, the chickens are now exclusively on a diet of Utah grown wheat, barley, triticale, corn, alfalfa, and of course, pasture.  All of the feed is mixed right here in Vernon using recipes created by me.  It is part of our continued commitment to sustaining the local economy, supporting local farmers, and reducing pollution.  I also don't like the idea of buying govenment subsidized grain.  It also gives us peace of mind knowing exactly what goes into the feed.  This really hit home recently after reports of high levels of arsenic was found in some children who eat home grown eggs.  The chickens producing the eggs were all being fed feed from a large feed mill here in Utah.  I am sure there are investigations under way and it may or may not actually tie back to the feed mill.  However, it really brought a feeling of peace when we heard about this and didn't have to panic.

We still have lots of chickens on the way!  So if you haven't ordered yet or didn't order enough to get you through the winter, hurry and get your order in!  Click here to order from our website!  We really work hard to keep our prices affordable.  We believe that healthy, humanely raised meats should be the standard and not a luxury.  While we know we can "get away" with charging more, we are striving to keep our prices low while still staying profitable/sustainable as a farm.

Thanks for supporting your local farmer!  We thank those who have provided us feedback and would love to continue to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pigs on Parade

Independence Day is the main annual event for the town of Vernon.  The day is full of activities some of which include Pony Express reenactment, parade, carnival/booths, and town dinner.  This year we donated a Berkshire pig to the town for our town dinner.  The pig was cooked in the ground by our neighbor Marlin who did a great job of smoking it with apple wood! Yum.

This year the boys (Hans and Dane) decided they wanted to be in the parade and throw candy to the spectators.  They decorated their 4-wheeler with balloons, ribbon, and a few hand made signs.  Then I decided that we should do a family farm float.  So at the last minute, I hooked our tractor up to our new portable freezer (something I will post about soon).  Hollie, placed some signs on the sides of our freezer inviting everybody to come try our pork at the town dinner.  We added a couple of American flags but something was missing.  We needed a little extra something...but what could we add....?  Pigs of course!  I found an old crate with a pallet on the bottom.  I switched the bucket on the tractor with pallet forks and loaded my crate on the tractor.  Then I had the glorious chore of catching two 100 lb pigs and lifting them into the crate.  By the time I was done, I was completely covered in all things pig.  However, the float was now complete.

The pigs were a huge hit and everybody had a good laugh seeing pigs in the parade.  I drove the tractor with Shia on my lap.  Hollie sat on the back of the freezer trailer and the boys followed us on their 4-wheeler.  In Vernon the parade is so short that we go up the street and turn around and go back a second time!  We won the Best Family Float award. 

It was a much needed day off from the farm and construction of the new farm.  We are very grateful to live in a country where we enjoy the freedoms that we have.  We are especially grateful to live in a country where capitalism can thrive and allow small family farms like ours to have a chance at fulfilling a dream.   

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Farm Update

This week, we cleared some land for our barn. We will get some power poles this weekend and set them in the ground to build a pole barn. We have also hired a neighbor to “brush hog” the land. A brush hog is basically a heavy duty lawn mower. It rips out any sage brush or rabbit brush. The land has a lot of good native grasses that we want to keep as part of our pasture. We will plant additional seed including a mixture of grasses, both cool season and warm season, clover, alfalfa etc… Ideally there will always be something growing a good portion of the year. If we were to till the land, we would lose a lot of the native grasses which can be difficult to reestablish.

We also began drilling the new well that will supply water to our house and pastures. We set aside enough money to drill 200 feet. The first day of drilling didn’t go very well. The well drillers went down 140 feet and only found enough water to supply a rate of 5 gallons per minute. This is basically enough to run one shower and nothing else. If that wasn’t bad enough, the water wasn’t very good and rather dirty. The next day I called to get an update and they had reached 180 feet with no additional water. They called back a couple hours later to report that they had reached 200 feet and found an additional 10 gallon per minute (gpm). This is enough to supply our house and maybe a little bit of lawn for the kids to play on. They wanted to know what I wanted to do. My options were to live with 15 gpm, or to drill deeper. The problem is that water is hit and miss around here. Just a few miles away some wells were drilled to 1000 feet and water was never found. At the cost of $70/foot this wasn’t an easy decision to make on our limited farm budget. ($70/foot is just the cost of drilling and well casing.  It doesn't include water pipe, pump, electric wire etc...)  I could drill deeper and still not have any more water than the 15 gpm I already had and not only not have enough water but now be over budget as well. Hollie and I talked about it and decided that the whole reason for buying this land was to have more pastures in order to grow our farm. We decided to roll the dice and keep going. I called the well driller back and asked him to go another 80 feet and see where that put us. They replied that they would go get more pipe and be back in the morning. I barely slept that night realizing that our whole farm teetered on something as basic as water. I was so stressed out that my back, neck, and jaw ached from being so tense. My mind was going a million miles an hour playing out all the different scenarios. Our kids felt the tension and realized that something wasn’t right.

The next morning seemed to drag on as I waited for an update from the well driller. Finally around noon they called and reported that they had gone 40 more feet and were now getting about 40 gpm of good water. Instantly relief swept over me and the tension disappeared. Hollie was so excited that she took the kids over to the land to see the water they were pumping. By then they had gone the last 40 feet and were now getting 70 gpm. Then they explained that they still needed to perforate the pipe which they estimated that once done, would give us a total of 100 gpm. We are still waiting to find out the actual results of the pipe perforation, but regardless, we have enough water to irrigate some nice sized pastures. So we are already over budget, but at least we have water.

How's the Chicken?

Last Saturday was our first CSA Share delivery where we delivered to all of our customers. Preparing each 10lb share turned out to be a little more work than we had calculated. We tried to make sure that every share included both beef and pork as well as a variety of cuts. At first we second guessed our decision to limit CSA Shares. However, now we are glad that we did. Like everything else we have experienced, the first few tries require us to overcome a learning curve. Once we get into a good groove with our CSA Shares, we will reevaluate our ability to handle more CSA Shares.

Last Saturday was also our first chicken delivery. Aside from the chickens being a little smaller than we expected, we are very happy with the quality and flavor that our chicken offers. We have already had several emails from our customers who are thrilled with the superior meat quality and flavor. The chickens we delivered on Saturday were the New Hampshire Reds (Red Ranger). We found that the chickens that reached a 4lb dressed weight had considerably more breast meat than the 3-3.5lb chickens. Our next batch of New Hampshire Reds will be raised two weeks longer in order to get all of them into this 4 lb. range. We plan to have these ready the first weekend of August. In the meantime, our next group of chickens will be the Delaware and Plymouth Rock chickens. We expect that these chickens will be true to the heritage breeds with more slender dispositions and an abundance of flavor. We will harvest these chickens in June. For July we plan to harvest another type of chicken. This chicken will be the Slow Cornish Cross. These chickens have the heavy muscling and large breasts that many are used to. The difference is that they grow much slower allowing their skeletal system and organs to keep up with their growth rate. As a precaution, we are also feeding them a lower protein feed to ensure that they stay healthy and happy. This is simply an experiment, but so far we haven’t lost a single Slow Cornish Cross chicken which leaves us very optimistic.

Turkeys have been a bit more challenging than the chickens. Again, we blame ourselves for simply lacking the experience required to raise poultry on pasture on this level of production. However, how else can we learn unless we try? This past Friday we moved our 80 young turkeys from the brooder to the pasture. The forecast called for a little rain but in Vernon it decided to snow. Sadly, we found 17 turkeys that didn’t make it through the night. Had we known it would get cold enough to snow, we never would have moved them from the brooder. Interestingly, all but two of the 17 were Bourbon Reds. The Royal Palms seem to be much more hardy and cold tolerant. This is good for us to know as Vernon is rather cold. In fact, we run the furnace in our home from September to the first of June. This only leaves about three months of warm weather. Even during these three months, we have day/night temperature differences of 40-50 degrees. This kind of weather can be hard on certain breeds of animals which is partly why this year has been so challenging. Since, nobody in Vernon or Utah for that matter, has raised large numbers of heritage poultry, we really have no record to reference. We are learning as we go. We have helped several other small farms who are getting started in Utah by sharing our experiences so that they might avoid some of the problems we have incurred. We are learning (the hard way) which breeds are better suited for our climate. We are confident that by next year we will have a much better success rate.

As mentioned above, we have already heard back from several customers that the chicken is fantastic.  However, if anybody else has had a chance to try the chicken, we would love to hear your feedback.  What do you think of our idea to raise Slow Cornish Cross?  Do you like the idea of more breast meat or oppose the use of non heritage breeds?  Remember we we want to be your farmer.  This means we need to know what kind of food you want.  We look forward to hearing your ideas!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bigger Farm

Some of our Berkshire pigs enjoying new pasture

Have you ever found yourself playing a board game like Risk or Monopoly where you go all out in an effort to win the game?  Where you make moves that are somewhat risky, where you spread yourself a little thinner than is comfortable?  This is how I often find myself playing such games.  Usually I end up losing but every once in a while I catch a break and the strategy pays off.  Usually it requires a little luck to gain some momentum, but once you get going, you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you know you are going to win.  I am sure that there is a smart person out there who has a term for such a situation/strategy.  Well, apparently, I like to play life the same way as this is the situation I now find myself in.  Only, I am still hoping for that little bit of luck to gain some momentum.

Our little farm continues to grow and we continue to learn along the way.  This year we decided to start offering pasture raised chicken and turkey.  We have raised poultry for years, but never on this scale.  As we now know, raising poultry 10-20 birds at a time is vastly different from raising 400-500 birds at a time.  There is very little room for error as we sadly learned when one of our brooders went out last month.  Of course, as luck would have it, it went out on a particularly cold night causing us to loose half the chicks in one of the brooders.  Combine that with a slower than expected growth rate from our Plymouth Rock and Delawares has left has feeling spread thin.  While we look forward to harvesting our first chickens of the year, today, we were sad to inform many of our customers that we would not be able to meet our delivery goals.  That one brooder incident also cost us a lot of money.  Our spirits were lifted however, when email after email returned from our customers expressing sympathy and understanding.  We were so nervous that some would be upset, and while I am sure that some are annoyed, all have been very good and easy to work with.  Several reminded us that such incidents are part of membership in a CSA.  While we acknowledge this fact, we will still deliver the chickens we said we would, just a little late.  We would like to thank our customers for their loyalty and understanding. 

New Hampshire Reds (aka Red Rangers) on our pasture

While it will take until July to get fully caught up on our chicken orders, we are optimistic with our chicken operation as our mortality rate is getting lower with each group of chicks/chickens.  Also, in seeking out the best chicken breed for our climate (by experimenting in raising 6 breeds), we have found a breed of chicken that we particularly like.  We have selected the Red Ranger which as it turns out is actually the New Hampshire Red.  This chicken is very meaty and hearty.  They grow well, range well, and don't peck each other like other breeds do.  They are well proportioned, not slender like some of the other Heritage Breeds, and not unnaturally large in the breast like the Cornish Cross.  They are just right for our farm when all things are considered.  Being able to discover the right breed this early in our chicken venture is that "little bit of luck" we need to get some momentum going.

Some very exciting (and scary) news is that just as our little farm was busting at the seams, we were able to close on a new piece of farm ground.  The piece we are on now is 3 acres with the cows on leased pasture.  Our new land is 20 acres in size and located just 1 mile down the road from where we live now.  While 20 acres is a lot of land to most city folks, it is scarcely a building lot to some country folks.  However we are grateful and happy for this land and will utilize it to the best of our ability.  Since we can't afford to keep our current place and buy the land, we decided to build a home on the new land and sell our current home.  This will also give our family a little more room as we too are busting at the seams in our 2 bedroom 1 bath house.  The land we just bought offers beautiful, unobstructed views of the mountains and is on the edge of town.  The land has only been used to graze cattle on it for decades.  This means that the ground is clean of any pesticides and gives us a completely clean slate to build our farm upon.  However, now is when the real work begins.  While keeping up with our current operation, we are going to attempt to put up new fencing, build a barn, drill a well, install irrigation, establish new pastures, set up new pens with sorting and loading chutes and run power and water to all the areas where we will be raising animals.  Somewhere in there we will likely sell our house which will require us to move to a temporary location until our new house is finished.  We are still not sure how that is going to work out, but will figure it out as we go.

In purchasing more ground, we are hoping to raise more animals and reduce our long wait lists.  We are especially going to focus on ramping up our pork and chicken production.  We also are planning to offer more on farm activities like regular farm days where customers can come tour the farm.  We are even thinking of doing some camping activities where our customers can spend the night and then help out on the farm the following morning.  The starry nights that Vernon's remote location offers is a site few people have experienced.  We have lots of other ideas we are bouncing around as well including my own secret project that will take transparency in the way your food is raised to a whole new level!

While expanding our farm involves some risk, we are confident in our investment given the strong response we continue to receive.  Hopefully with a little luck, we can gain the momentum we need to make offering locally grown, pasture raised, all natural, humanely treated, gourmet quality pork, beef, chicken, and turkey a winning venture here in Utah.

PS. If anybody would like to spend some time helping us on Fridays and Saturdays on our new farm we could sure use it.  We can offer you fresh air, a good work out, beautiful views and drinks (Gatorade, Coke, Water, sorry no apple martinis!).  : )   

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Farm Day! April 17, 2010 12:00 - 4:00pm

It's official! On April 17, 2010 we will be having a Farm Day.  We have received many requests from customers and potential customers to visit our farm.  Initially, we invited people to come over whenever they wanted.  We quickly found that while we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with our customers, that we easily lost lots of precious time to work on projects around the farm.  For this reason, some farms even charge money for a visit/tour as they feel that they are losing money by having customers over.  We don't view it this way, in fact, we feel that we are investing in our farm by spending time with our customers, getting to know them better, and helping to answer questions about the way their food is raised.  We have tried to find the right balance between getting crucial chores done and keeping an open door.  Having a Farm Day a few times a year seems like a good balance of allowing customers to visit while still giving us time to get our work done.

Since we are rather casual we will just offer more of an open house type format.  Visitors can come anytime between noon and 4pm.  You can stay for as long as you would like.  We will show you around on the farm.  We plan to have newly arrived turkey chicks in the brooder, young chickens on pasture, and pigs on pasture.  Keep in mind that this is a farm which means that there is lots of "organic fertilizer" spread about from the animals.  Don't wear shoes that you don't mind scrubbing when you get home.  If when arriving, you have recently been around other livestock, (circus, zoo, stock show, other farm, etc...) we may ask you to step in a shallow pan of bleach to help prevent the spreading of any disease or parasites.

We won't have anything official planned, so this will be your opportunity to just enjoy watching the animals, ask questions, etc...  If there is interest, we can take you 1 mile down the road where we are hoping to set up our new farm.  Children (and adults) will have the opportunity to hold the chicks, pet the pigs, and check our chicken coop for eggs.  Parents are expected to keep a close eye on their children that they do not harass or hurt the animals, or get themselves hurt.  There is rusty barbed wire, electric fencing, and other hazards that can cause injury if caution is not exercised.  If we continue to get all of this good moisture, you may want to get some disposable "booties" to slip over your shoes as it may be muddy.

We will offer some samples of grilled pork chops, bacon, ham, and grilled steak for visitors to try.  Our visitors will also be welcome to use the bathroom in our house.  Feel free to invite your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, etc... All are welcome.  Should anybody be interested in ordering meat from our farm, we will be taking orders, and can take checks as a deposit.  The Silver Sage (local store/gas station/grill) has great burgers if anybody would like to stop in for lunch.  (No, they don't use our beef, yet.) The store looks a little scary, but the food is good. : )

If you can send us an email and let us know how many people you will be arriving with, it would be appreciated so that we can be prepared to accomodate you.  That being said, please don't exclude anybody who decided to tag along at the last minute just because you didn't notify us.

Finally, our farm is not fancy in any way.  We have made due with what we have to the best of our abilities.  There are many things we wish we had and wish we could show our visitors but we are limitied by space, time, and money.  We hope nobody shows up expecting a grand tour of a beautiful farm like one you might see in New England.  If you come prepared to enjoy the peace and quiet that country living offers and would like to see happy animals out playing around we believe you will have an enjoyable time. 

If you have questions, just give us a call or send an email.  We look forward to seeing you!

Christiansen Family Farm (Hog Heaven)
47 S. Main Street
Vernon, UT 84080

Below you will find directions to our farm:

From Salt Lake County:

1. Merge onto I-80 W - 20.9 mi
2. Take exit 99 for State Hwy 36 toward Stansbury Tooele - 0.2 mi
3. Merge onto UT-36 S - 44.9 mi
4. Turn right at Castagno Rd - 0.1 mi
5. Turn left at Main St - 200 ft

From Utah County:

1. Turn right to merge onto I-15 N toward Salt Lake - 7.8 mi
2. Take Lehi exit 279 for Main St toward Lehi - 0.2 mi
3. Turn left at E Main St - 1.3 mi
4. At the traffic circle, take the 1st exit onto W Main St/UT-73 W
5. Continue to follow UT-73 W - 24.0 mi
6. Slight left toward Pony Express Trail Rd - 11.1 mi
7. Continue straight onto Pony Express Trail Rd - 2.5 mi
8. Turn left at UT-36 S - 5.7 mi
9. Turn right at Castagno Rd - 0.1 mi
10. Turn left at Main St - 200 ft

Chickens on Pasture

We finally got the chickens out on pasture, which turned out to be a lot more work than we thought.  They were getting a little crowded in the brooder.  First I grabbed a box and placed a few chicks inside it.  They immediately hopped out and started running around the shop.  After a few minutes of chasing, I was able to gather them back up.  I put them back in the brooder and began searching for another way to move them from the brooder to their fenced pasture area.  Soon I found some larger boxes with lids.  I began to place 2 chicks at at time in the box and then quickly pulled the lid back over the box.  This also meant that I had to uncover the box with my hands full of chickens squaking and fluttering about.  I was able to comfortably fit 50 chicks in each box.  By now each chick weighs close to 1 lb. which as I began to pick up the box, realized, adds up rather quickly.  I am not a wimp, 50 lbs is no big deal, but the box was large and akward.  The bottom of the box began to sag under the weight of the chicks.  As the chicks felt the motion of the box being lifted, they started scrambling inside the box which constantly shifted the weight.  I felt like a cartoon character running back and forth trying to balance this large box as the weight shifted from side to side.  I realized that I wasn't going to be able to walk the box out to the pasture without the likely chance of dropping the box and possibly hurting the chicks.

Immediately, I was able to justify yet another use for my new toy.  New is relative as this "toy" is actually 40 years old.  In anticipation of buying our bigger farm, I was checking out the classifieds for farm equipment.  I came across a 1970 International Harvester 656 tractor with a front loader.  The price was right and Hollie and I decided it would be a wise investment given the amount of work required to set up the new farm.  

My two boxes fit just perfectly inside the bucket of the tractor and allowed me to easily place the boxes over the fence of the chicken pasture.  We let the chickens out and after a few minutes of nervously looking around, the chickens began to relax and check out their new home.  I built a plywood box that they can access for shelter.  Their pasture is enclosed by a 4' tall electric net fence.  The fence is more for keeping predators out than keeping chickens in.  Because chickens are covered in feathers, they are insulated from the electric shock of the fence.  Predators that we have in the area include, foxes, racoons, skunks, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, badgers, stray dogs and cats, and hawks/eagles/owls.  All of these animals are in abundance because of our remote location.  With the exception of the birds of prey, all of these animals will first try and find a way through the fence rather than dig under the fence.  During this process, they will touch the fence and receive a shock that has almost brought me to my knees at times. (The boys and Hollie find witnessing this hillarious.)  This shock will send any wild animal scrambling and they won't even think twice about trying to dig under.  Hopefully, we won't loose any chickens to the birds of prey as there is really no protection from them.  We may get a livestock guardian dog (LGD) to help us out if we start having problems.

With two trips of the tractor, I was able to get all 207 chickens out on pasture.  Later that evening, it starting getting cold and windy.  I went out to check on the chicks and about 80 of them hadn't been able to find the shelter.  They had all huddled together and were actually spreading their wings to help cover each other.  I was very impressed by this.  I scooped them up and moved them into the shelter with the other chicks.  The next day we woke up to 3" of snow.  I jumped out of bed and went to check out the chicks.     

They were all peeking out of the shelter trying to figure out if they liked this snow or not.  I reached my hand inside the shelter and found it surprisingly warm.  The feeders and waterers were covered in snow which is not good for actively growing birds.  I grabbed the shovel and grumbled to myself as I was shoveling snow for the spoiled chickens.  I then sprinkled a little feed on the ground which gave the chicks the courage to step out of the shelter.  I moved the feeders very close to the shelter and they soon started eating.  After a few minutes, I was able to scoot the feeders back which gave room for more chickens to come out.  Soon they were all out eating, drinking, scratching the ground and discovering the wonderful taste of fresh spring grass.

They are very entertaining almost hypnotizing to watch.  They are now 5 weeks old and thriving.  Contrast this to the commercial breed known as the Cornish Cross which are already reaching a harvest size (3-4 lbs) at this age.  Many of them are barely hanging on to life as they sit planted in front of a feeder and growing too heavy to walk on their own legs and on the verge of a heart attack.  It brings me great joy knowing that we are providing a healthy and happy environment for our chickens.  It is even neater that our customers are supporting this way of farming as this flock and the next two flocks of chickens are already all presold.  Remember, we vote for how our food is raised with our wallets.  The support we have received has us excited to continue raising premium meat, raised on pasture, treated humanely, and raised naturally.     

Monday, March 29, 2010


A few weeks ago, we received our first batch of chickens.  The USPS is the only service that will ship chicks.  Since Vernon is such a small town, we receive our mail through a PO Box rather than delivery to our home.  Normally, the post office will call when the chicks have arrived and then we drive down and pick them up.  However, since the person who picks up the mail and brings it to the Vernon post office is our neighbor, she decided just to swing them by the house.  She figured that since I was at work and Hollie was at home with the kids that it would be easier for her to drop them off than for Hollie to load up the kids and drive to the post office.  We really appreciated her kind and thoughtful gesture. 

Here Hans and Dane can hardly wait to see the new chicks.  In this shipment, we received 130 Plymouth Rocks and 70 Delawares.  Both of which are heritage breeds and featured on the Slow Food Ark of Taste Program.  The hatchery sent an extra 10 chicks in case we lost any during shipping.  Fortunately, they all arrived alive and healthy!  When a chick hatches from its shell, it has enough yolk in its stomach to survive three days without food or water.  This is what makes the shipping of chicks even possible.  However, once they arrive, it is important that they get food and water right away to ensure a low mortality rate.  Hans and Dane were given the job to gently take each chick and dip its beak in the water before placing them in the brooder under the heat lamps.  The dipping of the beak, helps the chick learn where the water is.  The chirping of 200 chicks can be deafening and leaves our ears ringing.  : ) 

Here are the chicks after four weeks.  We have only lost four chicks which we are very happy with; the low mortality rate that is!  They are almost completely feathered out which means it is time to go out on pasture.  Today we will move them to their new home.  They will spend 6-8 weeks on pasture before we harvest them. 

Here is the next batch of chicks we received two weeks ago.  These are the Red Rangers.  (The hatchery had a problem with their incubator and lost the batch of Naked Necks they were supposed to send us.)   We received 300 chicks in this shipment.  They were supposed to arrive on a Thursday and we had a weekend trip planned for that weekend.  When they didn't arrive on Thursday we panicked since we weren't going to be here on Friday.  We are so thankful for our good neighbors Karen and Richard who stepped in and took care of the chicks while we were gone.  (It isn't the easiest thing to call you neighbor and ask for that kind of favor!)  These chicks haven't faired as well and we have lost about 10% of them.  We don't know if it is the breed, or the lamp placement, or something else. I guess as we get more experience we will figure it out.  As you can see in the picture, their wings are feathered out.  A couple more weeks and they will be on pasture as well.

The Royal Palm and Bourbon Red turkeys should be arriving in the next week or two and around the same time, we will have another 200 chicks showing up.  Hopefully everybody likes our chickens because we will have plenty of them available!  Tell your friends and family to get their orders in!    

Monday, March 15, 2010

Defining Ourselves

As the word spreads about our little farm, it is interesting to see who contacts us.  We get all sorts of questions and requests from people.  If I get a call from somebody wanting to order a pig, I will always ask how they would like the pig processed.  (Cured or fresh ham etc...) Once in a while, before I have a chance to explain their options, a customer will eagerly give me their order.
"I would like 100 lbs of bacon, 12 pork chops, and the rest ham."

While this may seem humorous to those who understand a little bit about the various cuts of meat, it is somewhat reflective of how disconnected from our food our general population has become.  If I could grow a pig that would yield 100 lbs of bacon, I would be a rich! : )  I don’t want anybody to feel bad if they are one of the customers who tried to place an order like the one above.  We welcome all questions and want to be perceived as approachable.  I just offer it as an illustration that part of our role as the farmer is to help educate our customers about their food.  This is not something we foresaw when we decided to offer the food we were growing for ourselves to others.

Because the supermarkets have their meat processed a little different than what we offer, some customers don’t always know what to do with certain cuts.  The frequently asked questions we get are what do you do with a ham hock?  (Hollie will be posting a delicious ham and bean soup recipe soon.) What do you do with a beef soup bone?  What is the difference between cured ham and bacon and fresh ham and bacon? (Another post coming soon.)

Side Note: We are working on improving our website with a FAQ section and adding recipes, ideally at least a couple for each type of cut.

It is actually fun and rewarding for us to share a little bit of what we know with others.  We always try to remember to offer the disclaimer that we are not chefs!

Speaking of chefs, we have had a quite a few restaurants contact us wanting to buy our meats.  As a small farm this can be exciting and overwhelming.  For example, we have had companies like Creminelli Fine Meat and Café Rio who could potentially purchase thousands of animals per year express interest in purchasing from us.  We have also had smaller local restaurants contact us and inquire about our meats.  In these instances we have had to decide who we are as a farm and where we want to go.  We love getting out and meeting with our customers on a Saturday morning.  However, from a business perspective, having customers like Creminelli and Café Rio could offer some big opportunities.  It pleases us that companies are starting to show interest in buying local, humane, and natural meats from sustainable family farms.  (I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting this, but we have decided to supply Creminelli with a very small supply of pork as they test the market with delicious sausage and salami made from heritage breed pork.  Look for it this holiday season.) 

At this time we really aren’t interested in supplying the bigger customers with all of their meat needs.  For one, we don’t have the resources.  There isn’t a processing facility in Utah that could handle the quantities.  It would require thousands of acres of land and gobs of money.  In principle, we would like to see Utah be able to raise all of its own food which will require more farms and certainly farms bigger than ours.  It would be good for the economy, residents, environment, and animals, and it reduces dependency on one source which reduces vulnerabilities.

Working with restaurants can be a little tricky.  Chefs are used to ordering by the cut and getting terms on their purchase.  We try and carefully explain that we are a farm and not a processing/distribution facility nor are we a bank.  I could be wrong, but it seems that some chefs want to be able to offer buzz words like “local, natural, humane, family farm” on their menus but don’t understand what it means to work with and buy from a local family farm.  For us, these aren’t just buzz words but rather principles that we live and work by.  As a small family farm, we can’t just sell one cut from an animal.  What would we do with the rest of it?  We don’t have the time to go and find a home for each cut of meat.  Unfortunately, some of the local restaurants don’t care to work with us once they find this out.  (It really isn’t that unfortunate in a business sense, since we can’t keep up with orders as it is; just in principle.)

Other local chefs like Colton Soelberg with Communal Restaurant in Provo have been wonderful to work with.  They understand what it means to buy from local family farms.  They have even adjusted their menus to utilize the entire animal.  We hope to work with more restaurants like these in the future.

Some people contact us pretending to be customers but are actually interested in setting up a farm similar to us.  It is actually really funny when this happens because they will ask a few general questions and then slip in a very specific question that only a farmer would care about.  I usually will just ask if they are interested in farming and if so, what questions specific to farming they have.  We do not view it as competition.  We wouldn’t even be able to raise enough meat to support our little town of Vernon.

All of these people help us define who we are.  They require us to make decisions that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.  I suppose like anything else in life, figuring out who we are as a farm is a journey. We will likely try things that work and others that won’t work.  We are learning to structure ourselves better.  By this I mean having guidelines that we operate by.  We have limits and cannot accommodate every customer’s request.  We try and be flexible but can only do so much.  This year we sold out of turkeys very quickly.  We simply don’t have the room to raise anymore than the number we have offered and it is very difficult to tell our customers that we won’t have any more turkeys this year.  We could put some turkeys on a neighbor’s land, but this would strain our time running back and forth several times a day.  We hope that the land we are trying to buy will work out.  This will allow us to raise a lot more turkeys next year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  We have had several requests to raise guinea fowl, geese, ducks, sheep, goats, etc… While we would love to do more, at this time we are choosing to focus on our current offerings.  We can easily spread ourselves too thin.  We enjoy what we do and want it to stay that way.