In case you can't tell by the lack of blog postings....we have been rather busy lately. Cold and Flu season has also taken a toll on the family. As soon as one person gets feeling better somebody else is coming down with something else. The animals are very inconsiderate and expect to be cared for even when we have been sick. : ) Some of the sickness is undoubtedly brought on by Hollie and I burning the candle at both ends. We are learning to plan better and work more effeciently. We have also learned many times the value of having the right tools for the job. Sometimes in an effort to save money, we have made decisions that ended up costing more money and heartache than investing in the right tool to begin with would have cost. I am sure most people can relate to that.
We recently built a series of pens and chutes that now allow us to load and handle the pigs much easier. Our neighbor Jeff who is 16 years old, designed the whole system for us. We told him that we needed to build the system using as much material that we had on hand as possible. He designed the whole thing in Google SketchUp. Jeff and his dad, Richard, are the ones who mill our feed for us. They do a fantastic job using grain and alfalfa grown right here in Vernon and make our whole operation possible.
We can now herd the pigs into a large pen and weigh them one at a time. Depending on their weight, we can either load them directly into the trailer or into one of three pens. It is saved us a lot of time with the last group of pigs we took to the butcher. The whole family is needed to operate it however. Hollie will herd one pig from the large pen onto the scale. Hans (5 years old) runs the gates on the scale by pulling sliding gates up and down with a rope on a pulley. The scale is a 2' by 4' cage with a sliding gate on each end. Hans opens the first gate to let the pig on the scale. Once I have recorded the weight, he opens the second gate to let the pig out. The pig is now in an alley where by swinging another gate, we can steer him onto the trailer or into one of the three holding pens. On the last group of pigs, we decided to sort all the pigs first and then load the heaviest pigs onto the trailer all at once. I would run ahead of the pig coming off the scale and open the appropriate pen depending on the size of the pig. Dane (4 years old) then gets behind the pig and shoos the pig through the gate I am holding open. If Dane didn't shoo the pig, it would likely just start rooting around in the soil. Once we had the 15 largest pigs in one pen, we then unlatched their gate and herded them onto the trailer at once. The pigs load much easier in a group than one at a time. We like this as it helps keep the stress level down for both the pigs and the farmers. A few apples in the trailer quickly convinces the pigs that they want to load in the trailer on their own. We were able to weigh 45 pigs, sort them into three holding pens and then load them on the trailer in a little over an hour. It worked like a dream. We literally couldn't have done it without Hans and Dane. Sometimes we wonder if we work too much. However, we felt reassured when at the end of the day, Hans said, "This is so much fun working together. I wish we could do this everyday!" When we were all done, they each got some money for their work which made them even more excited. Of course then they started looking at us with dollar signs in their eyes asking what else we needed to get done.
We recently picked up the beef from a couple of our steers that we had taken to the butcher. I was so excited that as soon as it had been loaded in the freezer I pulled out some T Bone steaks and grilled them. We were in heaven. It is so flavorful and delcious! We are very happy with the results. Normally if I get too much fat in a piece of steak, it kind of gags me. The flavor of the fat is just disgusting. However, with this steak, it was beautifully marbled and the fat was the best part! I couldn't believe how good it was. I know corn fed beef is popular with many people. I honestly believe that if they tried some of this grass/alfalfa fed beef they would never go back. Today we grilled up some hamburgers which is the first ground beef we have tried. We took the ground beef and formed patties with it. We gave the patties a dash of salt and pepper and threw them on the grill. I couldn't believe how fresh it smelled as it cooked on the grill. We sauteed some onions that we served on the hamburgers. The burgers literally tasted like steak. Right after we finished, my brother in law stopped by. They too had just grilled up burgers for dinner with ground beef they bought from Costco. He saw an extra patty still sitting out and asked if it was from our steers that we just got back. He said he wanted to try it. He couldn't believe the difference in our beef. He came to the same conclusion that it tasted like steak. I guess it goes to show that when you raise animals humanely, give them a diet that they were designed to handle, and then process it right that you can get results that most people aren't used to. Our beef was dry aged before being carefully packaged by a very reputable butcher shop. For those who have placed their beef orders you can look forward to a real treat when we get your beef order to you.
I jumped from sorting pigs to our beef, and now I will jump again. We have 400 chicks on order that will be arriving soon. We are excited to try a couple of different kinds including the heritage breed Plymouth Rock that is featured on the Slow Food Ark of Taste program. We will also be raising two breeds of chickens that have been bred from old European breeds along with old American breeds. These breeds are the Red Ranger and the Naked Neck. They are carefully bred to be raised on pasture similar to France's Poulet Rouge program. The Red Ranger will offer a superior flavor coupled with good growth rates. The Naked Neck is often regarded as the premier eating bird because of its superior meat texture and very thin skin which crisps to perfection when roasted. Once we have had a chance to raise each of these three breeds, we will combine our experience raising each kind with our customers' feedback and preferences before choosing just one or two to raise continuously.
As you can see, there is a lot going on. We are trying to keep up with our orders which has helped us decide to buy a bigger farm. After hearing no from just about every bank, we are hopeful of a USDA loan that will help us buy more land, build a slightly bigger house than the current 800 ft2, as well as a small barn for storage. We found a pretty good deal on 20 acres, but it doesn't come with very much water. We will have to apply for water over the next few years to have enough for a decent pasture. Everybody else we have talked to in Vernon wants anywhere from $7,500 to $24,000 an acre for irrigated farm ground. This just doesn't make sense from a farming perspective. Even the $7,500 an acre land would take years of working for free to break even. I suspect that there are landowners who are trying to retire on the sale of one piece of land. While we are probably crazy to farm, we are not crazy enough to farm for free for the next 15-20 years just to pay for the land. Hopefully the 20 acres we are looking at will work out. Or maybe some long lost relative I didn't know I had has left me in their will and I am about to inherit a beautiful farm. : )
We look forward to this spring, when it greens up a bit and we have chickens and turkeys out on the pasture. We will be sure to post pictures of the chicks and the progress they make. We appreciate the support we have had from our enthusiastic customers.
PS. IF YOU WANT A TURKEY THIS YEAR, ORDER SOON! We will be placing our order soon and won't be able to order after that.