In today's industrial food system, chicken is raised by farmers who don't own the birds, only the infrastructure used to raise them. Or at least they own the debt as the agro industrial poultry corporations require farmers to build facilities to their specifications on their own dime, carry the debt of hundred's of thousands of dollars while the corporation has the right to cancel their grower's contract with a thirty day written notice, leaving them with expensive empty buildings to pay for. The feed that is used is heavily made up of subsidized corn and soy grown in depleted soil propped up with synthetic petroleum nutrients and sprayed with herbicides all of which end up in the food chain. The subsidized grains mean that the taxpayer is footing the bill for these less than nutritionally valuable food products and the corporations are able to buy them for less than it costs to produce them. The finished birds are then rounded up and shipped to processing plants where underpaid workers are hired to process them. The parts are then shipped out to the domestic and global market. If all this wasn't enough, the chicken is then often plumped up with saline injections to repair moisture and flavor compromises during growing and increase market weight.
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Spring is here and that means we have chicken again! There is also lots of spring goodies that are only around for a very short time in the farmers markets like garlic scapes, flowering pea sprouts, just about anything flower I love, and also spring onions which taste good just cut in half and drizzled with oil, a sprinkle of salt and cooked for a couple minutes on the grill or under the broiler. I like mine to have a tiny bit of char on them.
I wanted to share a recipe I wrote for Garlic Scape Pesto, it goes well with roasted chicken, tossed in with a bowl of radishes, or right on top of some sunny side up eggs. Garlic Scapes are not as strong as garlic and have a nice tender texture like asparagus not to mention they just look really cool. Over on our Facebook page we will have a short video about how to butterfly a whole chicken and then use the garlic scape pesto to season it. Its really tasty and this way of cooking a chicken keeps the meat nice and moist. Seriously I have never had a chicken dry out when I cook it this way, its fool proof even for a novice like me. For a side salad I chopped up two bunches of spinach put them on top of a warm bowl of pearled couscous (about 2 cups cooked) and drizzled it with the fat and pain juices from the roasted chicken. Then I added 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and tossed it before I added fresh flowering pea sprouts to the top. All of the veggies and inspiration came from our friends at Whistling Train Farm in Kent.
Garlic Scape Pesto
10 Garlic Scapes chopped
1 Heaping cup of Fresh Basil chopped
1/2 cup pistachios
1/3 cup grated parmesan
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup of Olive Oil
Put all ingredients in food processor and blend until its a consistency you like. I like mine a little more on the course side so you can still see chunks of pistachios and scapes. I have been eating this pesto all week on everything and next up I am going to try to talk Farmer Matt into making his tasty pizza dough so we can have a pizza night with it!
The season is in full swing and we have more animals on the farm then we have ever had before. So many chicks, turkey poults, ducklings, and lambs its hard to keep count. We are also without help again and doing it all on our own for the most part. We tried interns for a third time and just didn't work out. Every time we start with high hopes that we are bringing people onto the farm and into our lives that really want to farm. We pick people specifically because they say they want to start a farm of their own but the one thing we have been successful at is showing people they don't want to have a full scale farm. Maybe they want a little homestead, or just a garden, but they sure don't want the kind of responsibilities that we have taken on. We are thinking about and working on the farm 24/7 at this point. There is still infrastructure to build, also a learning curve figuring out how to manage a much larger group of animals, and also experimenting with value added products to make the farm financially sustainable. Everyday is different and full of chances to learn, adapt, and adjust what we are doing. Lets be honest doing this kind of work with a busy family life is not for everyone. The ability to juggle lots of different hats and also do a job that isn't always going to be laid out for you and may require some critical thinking is a tall order but really a must if you want to start your own farm.
The most disappointing thing about not being able to successfully have interns isn't just the much larger work load and not being able to do all the projects we wanted to do this season but the fact that we wanted this farm be a place where people could learn about grass based farming and also give them a chance to see how a farm is built. We have been planning and building fencing, irrigation, ponds, and shelters for almost three years now and its the kind of thing that many young new farmers would also be faced with because your not going to necessarily get a farm that has all of those things and the amount of land you want handed over to you. So for now we will try to teach people through our blog when we have time or if people want to come visit the farm we will teach them as much as we can but we won't be taking on any interns anytime soon.
We have been getting by with the help of friends and neighbors lending a hand when they can. I also have a friend that is going to work in the garden once a week in exchange for some veggies so even though the season isn't working out they way we hoped we still feel good about the future. I have also enjoyed working more one on one with Farmer Matt. Our first summer on the farm I was pregnant and last season our son was just a newborn so as you can imagine I had a hard time taking care of three little boys and getting actual work done on the farm. Now I try to wake up before the older boys and Malcolm and I will start doing morning chores near the house, I even have a sitter coming a couple mornings a week so I can help Matt move larger projects forward. We also try to split up and get things done by one of us taking one or two of the boys and vice versa. Its not perfect, things take a little longer, the house is a little messier, and many nights we eat nachos for dinner but we are making it happen. We are also taking copious notes for how we want to do things differently next season. There is always room for improvement, especially in farming. You can't control the weather or the animals most of the time but you can create the best possible environment for them to thrive.
On a happier note we found out the breeder that we got Lulu, our Great Pyrenees, from just had another litter so we will be going to pick out another puppy in about a month. Lulu, Bella, and our soon to arrive puppy are and will be integral members of our farm team. Lulu spends time going between the sheep and the chickens day and night keeping prey both in the sky and on the ground away. Bella still officially a pup helps us heard the animals even the chickens, although that is something we have to work with her on on a daily basis so she just herds them when we ask and doesn't chase them for fun. Both of them alert us if something is amiss and I really appreciate Bella always wanting to be by your side especially those night time runs out into the pasture to check on animals or to lock the chicken tractors up. The second Great Pyrenees will help us cover more ground especially when we have groups of animals on separate sides of the culvert and also give Lulu another companion. She spends much more of her time out in the pastures and could use another dog to keep her from getting bored. Lulu was an amazing puppy and although she was and still is harder to train basic commands to, unlike Bella the border collie, her strong guarding instinct plus her incredible gentle way with the kids make her the perfect dog for our farm.
It has been a very productive winter for us. We finished our website www.greenbowfarm.com, worked on some grant proposals, but the majority of it was spent planning our next year, talking about what worked and what didn't, and the new things we want to try out and grow into over the next couple of seasons. Last year we were building up our breeding flock of sheep and figuring out if there was a market for our eggs and poultry so we haven't had much to sell this year, but we will have more than double the amount eggs and meat to sell next year at our farmers markets. Last year we tried a little bit of everything and quickly learned what we wanted to put our time and energy into the most but also keeping the key elements that create biodiversity on the farm. In addition, we spent the winter selling at the West Seattle Farmers Market where we sold our late season pasture raised broiler chickens, all our fall lamb, and of course our pastured eggs. One place where we took a risk was investing a large amount of money to send our lamb pelts off to be tanned and turned into lambskins not really knowing if people would want to buy them. Luckily we were overwhelmed by peoples interest in them so much so that we will probably be selling the one that we were going to keep for ourselves. Believe me it's a good problem to have. We are enormously grateful to all our wonderful customers and all the feedback they've provided us. It's really hard to imagine farming without the community we have found at farmers markets. This spring, we are getting busy on fencing with help from the NRCS and improving our pastures by finalizing our rotational grazing system. It amounts to dividing our large pasture with two permanent fence lines. From there we will be able to section off smaller pastures using temporary fencing. This style of rotational concentrated grazing improves soil health and there by grass production. It also greatly benefits the animals by moving them to fresh ground regularly and allowing the chickens to follow cleaning up and sanitizing after the ruminants so that when the cattle and sheep return all the manure they left when they were there before has been scratched out by the poultry and returned to the soil, greatly reducing the risk of parasite infection. It is a symbiotic relationship that regularly occurs in nature and with a little help from temporary electric fencing we are able to mimic it. All of these activities builds soil, builds forage production and protects the health of the soil. In effect, we are grass farmers first and the wonderful beef, lamb, chicken and eggs are simply a byproduct.
Weather wise, winter didn't seem to show up until February. We had some cold spells, but mountain precipitation was absent and the threat of drought was worrying everyone in the northwest. But at the beginning of February, the high pressure ridge off the coast broke up and brought us winter. The mountains began receiving heavy snow fall. Getting over the pass every Sunday morning for market became challenging as it seemed to snow every Saturday night and into Sunday. Once, I even drove from door to door on snow, getting to the market 100 miles away and shoveling our booth spot free of snow.
This week our new apprentices arrive on the farm. Ryan and Crystal found us through a social media site and sent us their letter of interest. After a brief discussion, we invited them to come and stay with us for a few days as a get-to-know-you session. We hit it off famously and invited them to be here for the 2014 season. They are very serious about starting a farm of their own and its that desire to learn by doing that feels like it will be a good fit for our farm. We are very excited to have them here and their presence, I suspect will greatly improve our farm. You'll see them at the markets, so please give them a big "Hello".
Our chicks begin arriving soon and with the break in winter weather the workload will begin to increase rapidly. With a couple of nice days in March I already feel behind on all the repairs and building work that needs to be done. With a growing family and growing farm there really isn't a day that goes by that I don't feel behind on projects but we are hoping to get the boys out with us more often and have more projects be a family affair now that they are getting older. With a toddler though, that won't always be possible so we'll also try to get some family days squeezed in hiking and camping or just exploring our valley. We have been so busy starting our farm there are still many parts of our valley and surrounding mountains we have yet to explore.
I can't hear those two words without the song getting stuck in my head and now the part "it's like sunshine and rain" has a whole new meaning being a farmer. A good rain means growth and more forage for the animals. Pain is having below freezing temps mid April after you have dozens of seed trays started in the hoop house without a good way to keep them warm. Rain is no longer a pain.
I should really start with the joy of the last couple weeks. We had our first of many lambs born on the farm. It happened less than an hour before we were having a community potluck for the first time. So minutes after we welcomed her into the world we then shared a bountiful and tasty feast with some new friends and introduced her to all of them. There was no drama with the first birth only the beauty of seeing this ewe take on her new role as mom and the little lamb latching on right away like a champ. It was also a huge relief to see how easily it was for Lulu to transition into her new role as protector for the new lamb, never leaving the pairs side and even keeping Bella the border collie from playing too rough. The second birth was also uneventful but the lamb hurt one of his legs the second day and was abandoned by his mom in the pasture. Matt brought him back to his mom and kept an eye on him and slowly the lamb healed up and the ewe was no longer abandoning him.
Our third birth was one of the ewes who was huge and we suspected she was going to have twins, which is unusual for the first year of breeding. She did have twins but she quickly abandoned the second lamb born and head butted him away, not letting him latch on. It was heartbreaking to see not only his mom but all the ewes do this to him. Luckily we found a local farm that dairys and was already bottle feeding goats and sheep that was willing to take him on and bottle feed him until he is ready to come back to the pasture. We noticed the ewe that had given birth to the twins was showing signs of pneumonia so we gave her some medicine but by nightfall she had died. It was shocking how quickly it all happened and then we had another lamb on our hands with no mother. So now our new farm friends at Parke Creek are bottle feeding both of the twins for the next couple of months and in exchange we are going to raise some turkeys for them. We are still awaiting the arrival of at least 6 more lambs and hoping we have learned a thing or two from the first four births on the farm. This has gotten us interested in doing all of our own breeding so we think our next flock of laying hens will be homegrown.
While all these births were going on we celebrated two birthdays in the family and also had to put to sleep our long time companion and rescue dog, Cooper. I could think of no other title for this post because I have never had a time in my life that was filled with so much joy and celebration but also the pain of losing animals that we loved. We can look at the death of the ewe a little more pragmatically but the death of a incredibly loyal dog you have known for over a decade is a little harder to get over. We had hoped he would spend his last couple of years enjoying life on the farm but by the time we got here his health was declining and we just did all that we could to keep him comfortable.
We had yet another experience this week where we felt we took one step forward and two steps back. It was always a part of our farming model to have pastured poultry and we were excited when we got over the hurdle of finding a place that we could process them and also be able to sell them at farmers markets and restaurants. Then we started to look for business insurance and found that there was only a couple companies that would allow us to raise pastured poultry but they were going to charge us so much money that the only way it would be financially sustainable is if we were raising 500-1000 birds a year. We had been planning on just a couple hundred including turkeys. We don't have the right kind of land that it would take to raise that many and we honestly just don't want to raise that many. So we are back to square one, raising chickens and turkeys that will most likely be for ourselves and rethinking our farming model. We do have some exciting plans to bring pastured pigs and cows to the farm in the future but for now we are enjoying our first lambing season, busy moving chickens around the pasture, and looking forward to some planting in the next couple of weeks if it stops snowing.
We knew it was going to be challenging to start a farm from the ground up while raising two, soon to be three, small children at the same time but it is more challenging then we could have ever imagined. In exchange for 14 hour days full of household chores, animal chores, and larger projects like fencing and irrigation we get the luxury of time. When we lived in the city we juggled two different work schedules and tried to work opposite schedules so we could afford childcare. We didn't have many days off together and we definitely didn't share all of our meals as a family. We haven't gotten to the point where we can get much done as a group on the farm but we have found a couple of things that work. Out of necessity we decided to move the chicken tractors together. We had been grazing the chickens on the grass in the front yard but once the sheep had cleared out some taller grass in the paddocks we just fenced we decided to move the chickens out there and move the sheep onto new pasture. This involved using the tractor because moving the chicken tractors by hand more than several yards is a back breaking experience. So with one child on Matthew's lap while he drove the tractor and one child with me keeping the chickens moving forward we slowly made our way at .7 miles per hour. Then we hit a bump in the road. We were almost to our destination when we hit a large rocky area that was impossible to get the chicken tractor over. We got out our digging bar and small shovels and got to work. Who knew that two little boys would think digging rocks out of the dirt was just about the best thing they could be doing? They would have done it all day if it didn't start to get hot but there is plenty of more rocks to move and we even have a need for them because there is a long section fence that doesn't meet the ground where the land slopes so they also helped me move the small ones and alternate them on either side of the fence to keep our animals in and the coyotes out.
With one chicken tractor move under our belts we decided to try it again but this time we were moving the chicks. I would like to say it went smoother but the chicks were much more challenging. They seemed determined to get squashed underneath the tractor. Harlow, our 4 year old, was a huge help moving a box of turkey pullets along and keeping them from tipping over while I used a broom to keep the the chicks moving along and we managed to keep them all alive and unharmed. We have a long way to go before we can actually spend a significant amount of time doing work together but we're slowly getting there at about .7 mile per hour.
At the end of the day when all the animals and boys have been put to bed we collapse in our chairs outside to enjoy the cool air and lately we have been watching as thunderstorms move across the valley. The last one was so tall (35,000 feet) that they could see it on the other side of the Cascade Mountains in Seattle. Here is one of our pictures of that storm.
The sheep are coming in less than a week and Matthew has been working long hours making our fencing more secure for the sheep and putting in new fence posts and gates. The fencing will be an added security measure to keep the sheep in their pastures along with the temporary fencing we will use to practice more intensive rotational grazing. It is also a way to keep the wee ones out of the two ponds. Luckily there have been some calm, not too hot days to make the long days easier and of course some little helping hands.
It all started with the first new fence post that the gate secures to alongside some impromptu sculpture that the little hands made when they were tired of helping.
Then came the all important H-brace, three wooden posts and wire, that create an anchor for the rest of the fencing and also attach to the gate.
Once the H-brace was finished and he secured the pasture fencing to it, he attached the end of the fencing to a bracket he made that was hooked on to the tractor's bucket and pulled it tight against the old fence posts. Then all that was left was to secure the new fencing to the old posts. So simple, right? I'm glad my job was just to explain it to people.
The week would not be complete without some pictures of the napping Chicks and Poulets. I love it when they sleep in a heap, when they sleep in pairs, but especially when they fall asleep in their feeder(which we didn't get a picture of but trust me it's adorable).
We are starting out as farmers with only a small amount of experience and working with a large piece of land that has almost no infrastructure and very few trees. Working with this blank slate, both the land and ourselves, is one of the most exciting parts of this new venture but also the most frustrating. We don't have a rhythm to our day with set farm chores or an exact idea of what we will produce or how we will sell it to people. What we do have is an enormous amount of ideas, future plans lists and current projects lists, and his and her stacks of farming books to read. I will let you guess which one is mine and which one is his.
Here is a short list of plans we have for the farm-
Reinforce fencing for Sheep Build Sauna
Three new gates to separate paddocks Build High Tunnel for Garden
Finish second Chicken tractor Winter Chickens in Tunnel
Start Turkey tractor Build Barn
Plant late summer veggies Find a breed of Pigs
Amend soil for healthy spring garden Build Pigs a Home
When I make lists one of my favorite parts is crossing off the things I've done so I will share with you a couple of the things we have accomplished. We had a work party with friends and planted 75 saplings, Built a Pond and Culvert so we could drive a tractor to the back pastures and for future irrigation plans, and tilled our first garden and planted alfalfa and wild oats in it to enrich the soil.
We received a call at 5 am this morning that our chicks and turkey poulets had arrived at the post office. We knew they would be arriving in a small box and that they will have been without water or food for 24 hours so before anyone had coffee or breakfast we rushed down to our local USPS where our friendly postal woman Diana was keeping them safe on a table with boxes full of other peoples chicks. This is our fourth brood of chickens but it still feels like Christmas morning anticipating their arrival and getting to hold our fuzzy little feathered friends for the first time. The kids got to help me free them from their tiny box and put them in their new home, which is an old watering trough for the horses that used to live here. Our farm family now includes 25 Bard Rock Hens, 5 Roosters, and 8 Bronze Turkeys.