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.