There is way too much to report on in depth from 2011 (this post is long enough as is) but I thought a post about what was accomplished and some stats from the past year might be fun. Also, 2012 has kicked off with a bang and I’m really excited about what the next year has in store for the farm.
While we did have chickens before and were testing the pastured poultry waters, we didn’t officially started raising chickens out in the pasture on a considerable scale until May so I’ve broken the 2011 stats into pre and post chicken farm.
2011 Slow Food Farm Stats
(January 1st – April 30th)
(May 1st – December 31st)
|Meat Chickens on Farm
|# of Chickens Processed
|# of Blog Posts
|Hours of Sleep/Night
|# of Nervous Breakdowns
|# of 100+ Degree Days
|Times Pooped On
|# of Times Jennifer Cleaned the House
No doubt we had a hell of a year and, assuming we find it impossible to block out the memories from 2011, it will always stand out as the year of the chicken. And drought. And heat. Here is the full farm scoop broken down by animal:
At some point in 2010 we decided raising chickens out in the pasture in Central Texas would be a good idea. In 2011 we started getting about 50 meat birds every three weeks until May. Then we started getting in 200 meat birds per week until we increased to 250 per week at the end of September.
An amazing amount of infrastructure to support the pastured poultry operation was installed, including the brooder (which is being overhauled in 2012), processing shed, 12 portable coops.
Somewhere along the way we went from all-night processing to being able to knock out 100 birds in an evening. We figured out how to keep birds alive in the heat and now we’re figuring out how to do it in the wet and cold. Our personal chicken consumption has sky-rocketed and we’ve both been covered in more blood, poop, sweat and all kinds of other gross things than we ever thought imaginable. Some tweaking was in order but it feels like 2011 was just one big, flawed crash-course in pastured poultry production. Our learning curve will always be vertical but 2012 is promising to be a much better year in regard to the chicken.
We’re excited to have friends/farmers/co-conspirators Ward & Jill Taylor entering the meat bird world this year and we’re finding our groove in the market together. This year we can be found at The Mercantile at Dyer Dairy, our first commercial customer and a loyal one to boot, who carries our chicken in Georgetown. Bastrop Producers Market stocks it in Bastrop and now we have chickens available retail in Austin at Boggy Creek and Green Gate. Anyone preferring to buy direct from the farmer can find Jill or myself manning our booth at the Bastrop Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm or at the Lakeway Common’s Market on Sundays from 9am to 1pm. Of course we also have farm direct sales still.
Organic certification is on the horizon too for the early part of 2012 thanks to the help of a friend kind enough to tackle the stack of organic applications/paperwork. New for this year too we’ve switched to soy-free feed at the prompting of some of our favorite chicken consumers. The birds we’re processing now are soy-free feed finished and in about six weeks any Slow Food Farm bird will be soy-free.
Our poor ol’ layers have had a rough year. All our younger birds were excessive free rangers and they insisted on trespassing onto the crazy neighbor’s property (these are the people who called the cops about the chickens in their pasture), so we placed almost all of them in homes. The only ones left are still pissed about the lack of grass plus they’re menopausal anyway, so they’re not laying at the moment and all have a date with the stew pot.
When we started pastured poultry we were given bad advice that the egg market was saturated. That has shown to be anything but true and we have plans to start adding in SMALL flocks of layers in the spring. I know many of you doubt we can do things on a small scale but I’m determined to ignore the obnoxious part of my brain that usually talks me into jumping off of preverbal cliffs.
Friends Hoyt and Kim Todd started Big Huffy Eggs at the end of 2011 and we’re looking forward to working with them as they rev up production this year. While Ward & Jill are a consistent wealth of information, we’ve already learned a lot about getting started in pastured egg production from Hoyt and Kim’s start-up adventures.
The rabbits have been pretty boring. Heat was brutal this summer and we did lose a couple of bucks and some older kits but I gave the rabbits a misting system and was able to pull everyone else through although all breeding halted.
Hopefully the girls are all bred – the boys certainly have a good work ethic, so we’re hoping the does “took” and are “with kit.” Keep your fingers crossed we figure out how to consistently produce these tasty little cuties.
Currently the girls live in large cages in their still not-quite-finished rabbitry but I’ve been really intrigued by the idea of running them in colonies. Dorsey Barger a brand new friend, and owner of what might be the coolest urban farm ever, wants to raise rabbits and she got me rethinking cage-free rabbit living. Next week she’s going to start an experiment with two of our does to see if colony living and free-range rabbit is feasible or not.
Dominique is ready to leave her cage behind
We sold most of our beef cows even before the drought hit. Only JJ and her granddaughter Sha-nay-nay make up our beef herd pair right now. JJ gave us a wonderful calf, Randy, this past Spring and he’s in the freezer now. Between the beginning of December and now we’ve sold almost all of the beef from him and are looking forward to another Spring calf from JJ and maybe one from Sha-nay-nay too.
Our pastures were beyond devastated by the drought but we were fortunate enough to get some hay and the cows are munching away on a Certified Organic bale of timothy and alfalfa from some incredible farmers up in Iowa. These farmers donated hay to TOFGA to help out the drought stricken farmers down here.
We have what may be the best ever pair of WWOOFers here this week. WWOOFers Kyle and Jason are diligently working on creating two pastures in our big 30 acre field. Yesterday they tuned up the chainsaws and pasture weed eater for some serious fence clearing so they can continue running electric wire along the existing perimeter fence and then across the middle. For now this will allow us to separate the horses and cows (necessary when feeding hay because of the way we feed) and will be the shell for future rotational pastures in that field.
The tractor is rearing to go too so, if time allows, we hope to resume fence construction while the ground may still be soft enough to dig post holes in.
Gulf Coast Sheep
These creatures are probably the ones I’m asked about most because everyone wants to know what happened to them. My standard response is that the sheep hit the fan. Unfortunately the mischievous and super cute little ewes we got from friends Garth & Kim Travis gained access to feed which caused them to bloat and die. Rumor had it that Gulf Coast meat is tender even if they die under distress and we were able to put one of the girls in the freezer. True to the claim she has been incredibly delicious and I appreciate she wasn’t completely wasted.
Even though we’re itching to add sheep to our program, we have no plans to obtain more Gulf Coasts in 2012. If the weather is better AND we’re fenced properly we’ll get sheep in 2013.
Pigot and Lullabelle, our original sows courtesy of Peach Creek Farm, didn’t farrow but we were happy to keep them on and have truly enjoyed having these incredible animals around. However, part of farm life is eating such animals and we did take Pigot to the butcher at the end of December. I had planned to take Lullabelle first but she wouldn’t load in the trailer and Pigot wouldn’t get out. I had no choice but to head to Westphalia (the slaughterhouse) with my favorite pig in tow.
We opted to use a State inspected processor so we’d be legal on the resale of the pork. Our first batch of pork should be back in about a week. Westphalia Slaughterhouse was kind enough to allow me to watch the whole process. Now I can sleep at night knowing Pigot passed into the pig afterlife as humanely as possible. Still I’ll really miss having her around.
Also at the end of 2011 we added in two feeder pigs. Both had to be kept in a reasonable size pen until they were a little bigger and tamer. Recently they moved out to the pasture and are working to clear brush around a huge oak tree. The tree is so covered in thorny vines it’s hard to even begin clearing around it mechanically but the pigs are already making paths throw the vines.
More pigs. I love the pigs – they’re funny, they talk, play, cuddle (I really wish I could get a picture of Wilbur and Maxwell spooning together), root, wallow, and eat lots of chicken guts. Currently we plan to focus on feeder pigs because we have an abundance of cheap protein for them. Overfeeding a breeding sow is bad for her health; therefore going with these little disposals makes more sense. We give them hay, pasture, certified organic feed from Coyote Creek and guts from our organically managed chickens. It may sound less than appealing to some but the end result is some seriously good, GMO free, scrumptious pork. And pork is hard to argue with.
Sandy, our little red Spanish goat, died in a hay bale feeder accident so only Simone and Patches remain. Both are fairly useless and they spent 2011 living in the same exploited 2 acre pen they’ve been in. At the end of the year they journeyed out to the pasture with the pigs and are staying within the electric fence boundaries.
Goats Earning Their Keep
I haven’t finalized plans for the goats yet. If they start earning their keep we may keep ‘em around. If not…think goat sausage? We still plan to try our hand at what we’ve coined “a year of sustainability” during which time we would try to produce at least 90% percent of consumables on farm. That may mean the addition of a dairy goat, but nothing is set in stone.
I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting to tell you about but that is the recap of 2011 and what we’re looking forward to in 2012. As we go forth into 2012 I’ll do my best to keep you posted on the farm happenings and mishaps.