The Crown

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When I first gained access to the couple of acres of pasture that I currently farm, my eyes would casually skim over the poly-culture of plants and grass-life, unable to differentiate one from another due to the vastness of the fields. I only gained insight into the nuances of the pasture once I started to rotationally graze my livestock. When using this method a farmer becomes intimately familiar with the many paddocks that are formed through the process, creating a magnifying lens focused on the different plant families. Rotating back to a paddock that the animals haven’t had access to in a month or two feels similar to visiting an old friend. Then things you haven’t noticed before start to take center stage.

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Onto this stage stepped Purple Vetch (better known as Crown Vetch), a legume that’s used in agriculture nationwide as a cover crop because it fixes nitrogen in the soil. But the USDA recognizes it as an invasive species, growing unchecked throughout Oregon (it is what creates the large purple patches on the hills in the Rogue Valley during the spring and early summer). At the time I was excited to find it in abundance, happily fixing nitrogen on my land and providing quality forage for my livestock. I didn’t know that this plant was invasive until a friend brought it to my attention.

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But over the next couple of years there seemed to be less and less of the vetch in every rotation. This plant that had grown throughout the region had started to disappear to my and my sheep’s dismay (the sheep loved to eat it). Pressure from the sheep’s grazing and chickens following behind cleaning up the seeds seemed to have created an environment that was in uninhabitable to vetch.Instead of changing the paddock system around to save what was left, I decided to allow events to play out. As I move in to my fourth season, there is no vetch anywhere on my pasture land. It only grows where the sheep cannot reach, on the neighbor’s side of the fence line. I have effectively (and unintentionally) eradicated purple vetch.

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A Turkeys Nature

2012 073This season, I built what I thought was a really deluxe turkey house;  place for the birds to relax that’s shady, dry, with a roost so they can sleep out of the reach of predators.

Farm pics 012Farm pics 033But one day, a turkey decided that this snug little house just wasn’t good enough.  He felt that sleeping on top of the house was superior to sleeping in the house. The next night this turkey felt a little lonely, so he invited a friend to enjoy this new, higher perch.  Then this turkey’s friend invited his friend, and then his friend invited a friend. In ever-growing numbers, in a short time they wrecked their warm, dry, shady house.  Farm pics 036Farm pics 042

Some turkeys, however, couldn’t come to terms with the destruction.

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I should have realized in hindsight that given a turkey’s nature, they would disregard a charitable act and do as they wish. Who am I to stop them?

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Free-Range Turkeys

As some of you know, last season we had an issue with skunk predation on our poultry. We lost a number of chickens but it was the turkeys that suffered the most. This season, we have taken steps to ensure that this will not happen again.

The first thing we did was to change the pen from a low, flat Joel Salatin-style house where the birds were on the ground, to a taller hoop-style house. Once we did that it only seemed logical to capitalize on the turkeys’ natural instincts to protect themselves by roosting high off the ground, so we installed lateral boards as roosts three feet off the ground. It’s amazing how effective this small change has been, made easier by the fact that once we showed the turkeys how to roost they have done  it on their own ever since (maybe some of our chickens can learn

a thing or two).

 

The second change is that we got a portable electric net that we place all the way around the turkeys’ house and electrify it.  This has had the great unforeseen benefit that we have been able to create a larger secure area, which allows the turkeys to free-range and also gives them access to more bugs and grasses each day.

Learning to roost!

Our chickens spend almost all of their lives on pasture, so it is essential that we introduce them to the world of grasses as soon as they are ready to get them off on the right foot. When we first expose the chicks to this poly-culture of grasses, they are a little unsure and maybe a bit surprised, but after a few moments they get right down to business. The morning is the best time to make this introduction. It gives the chicks the time needed to adjust before they spent their first night on pasture. By the time night falls, the chicks have already forgotten that they lived anywhere else.

As resilient and tough as chicks are, they do need some protection from animals that would enjoy some tasty chicken nuggets for dinner. A chicken’s natural defense is to sleep in trees or someplace out-of-reach.  Although roosting comes naturally to chickens, you need to coach them along in the beginning because when they are small their preferred method of sleeping is in a tight little pile. So every night for the first week they are on pasture we quietly place them on the roost with the adult laying-chickens until they figure out that they can just as easily do it themselves.

Testimonial

Nice testimonial from one of our favorite customers.

 


Ever since I have been purchasing eggs from Able Farm I do not buy eggs anywhere else.

It’s not just because it’s a reliable source of happy chickens running free and producing healthy eggs.

What is very important is that the color and flavor bring me back to my childhood and simpler times spent at my grandma’s farm.

I enjoy baking with them, too. All the cookies, cakes and pies I baked with the Able Farm came out smelling and testing divine (and earned me a title of a “family baker”)

 

Karolina Wyszynska
Director of Sales & Marketing
Ashland Springs Hotel

 

March 2012 Newsletter

 

Dear Folks,

With the approach of spring, our animals have started to get that I’m-tired-of-this routine attitude. They are trying to tell us that they are ready to be taken out of their winter housing and start exploring  the grasses among the pasture for bugs or that over-looked blade of clover, come rain or shine. (I’m sure they would prefer sunshine, but after the dry winter we have had I’d like to see more rain). Throughout the winter we have housed our chickens in a hoop house using what is known as a deep litter system. We have a post on our website about this housing model if you would like to find out more. We will be moving our egg-laying chickens out to pasture in the next few weeks (weather allowing) and this is where they will stay until next fall. With constant access to the new pasture growth and because fresh young grass is a chicken’s favorite food, our eggs will start to take on the deep orange color we know you love.

Once we set out our egg-layers and sheep to pasture, our growing season will start in earnest and before we know it we will have meat chickens and turkeys arriving in the mail. In the past years we have had meat chickens available in fits and starts throughout the summer months, but this year we are going to try something a little different. We have recently come to the realization that we weren’t truly meeting your needs, at least not consistently enough.  Those two or three processing days in a whole year just weren’t adequate. But frankly we like you and want to see more of you. Having the opportunity to have a conversation with the people that consume and enjoy our products is the life blood of a small farm like ours. With that said, how do we achieve all that you wonder? We feel that our starting point is with a chicken CSA this coming fall. If you would like more information on our CSA, please contact us at able.farm@yahoo.com .

As for the turkeys, we have timed their arrival to coincide with the warm summer months to insure they get off to a strong start. They tend to be a little delicate as babies but when we get the turkeys out on to the summer grasses they go crazy taking a bit of this, a nibble of that, and their grass consumption is quiet high. Sometimes they won’t even eat the organic grain we give them because they are too busy enjoying the pasture’s abundance. This creates the tastiest turkey I have ever had.  Last year we sold out in an hour. So I would encourage those of you that would like a turkey to get your orders in as soon as possible. They will not last!

If you have any questions or comments, you can reach us by email able.farm@yahoo.com. We look forward to hearing from you. Able Farm = Clean Food.

Sincerely,

Jake Hayes

It ain’t easy

“Nothing is guaranteed in life.” This statement really became clear this season with all the challenges we have had to face. Between the skunks killing everything in sight and the mistake I make when buying feed this year, I couldn’t help but wonder if we could take much more. We haven’t taken out any loans to start Able Farm, but instead we pinched pennies and saved up the capital to start-up and most of this capital is tied up in the animals we raise. This created some real stress when animals started to turn up dead.

In January I bought 1,000 pounds of organic feed and had assumed it would be the same price in May, five months later. I didn’t know this but the price of corn was on its way to making history as the highest it has ever been (I’m told by the local feed dealer), pushing it out of my price range. What to do? I had chickens and turkeys coming in the mail any day. I decided to buy what I could afford. In an attempt to reduce food costs and circumvent an ongoing frustrating relationship with our local feed distributor, I bought the feed in bulk (which comes in a giant 1,000 pound sack). I brought it home and unloaded it into our storage containers and started to feed it out to the chickens and turkeys. Little did I know that the food had antibiotics mixed into it. No one mentioned this to me when I bought the feed; instead I found out three weeks later when I happened to notice a small tag stapled to the sack , and right there on the tag it read “medicated”. It also spelled “the end of our season,” since all of our capital was tied up in tainted feed.

Tainted Feed

As if the feed disaster wasn’t bad enough, suddenly I started to find broken eggs and dead chickens every morning and evening. I couldn’t figure it out because the perimeter fence is electrified and let me tell you it hurts! One night as I was walking through the pasture, with grass up to my chest, I came upon a little black and white…. something. Oh crap! A skunk in the middle of the trail staring me down! Now no one I know wants anything to do with skunks, let alone trying to kill one. But something had to be done, before the little devils killed all my chickens. I guess the skunks don’t care if the chickens have been eating antibiotics.

I didn’t want to use a live trap because what would I do with the skunk? Let it go down the road for some other poultry owner to deal with. Nor did I want to use a killing trap (inhumane) and I can’t use a gun–the skunks come at night and I could hardly imagine running around in the dark trying to shoot skunks. This wouldn’t exactly engender neighborly affection. I resorted to one of the very best friends of farmers everywhere the shovel! It makes quick work of any situation. One by one the skunk population began to decline, but not before they ruined my turkey season by eating ¾ of my young turkeys.

This summer growing season was hard and costly and one I will be happy to put behind me. But that’s part of the risk of farming. Growing food in an environmentally responsible manner is the right thing to do. But it isn’t always easy.

Introduction

In our excitement about our new blog, we forgot to give ourselves a proper introduction for those of you who are not familiar with Able Farm. Able Farm is the collaboration between myself (Jake Hayes), Jessica Ward, and our landlords, Richard and Joyce Stanley. On pasture, we raise chickens, turkeys, and eggs. I have worked in and around the restaurant industry as a chef for a number of years. I found that my love of food and the outrage I feel about the way in which the animals we eat are treated, and the poor quality of the meat produced has led me down the path to clean, authentic,  small family farming.

Jess and Jake

Jessica Ward is my fiancée, and although she is not always farming (she has a career of her own as a teacher), she helps with many of the details I miss.

Mr. and Mrs. Stanley are the owners of a non-profit organization called Legacy Foundation (www.legacyfound.org) and they lease the land Able farm is located on. Their support of local agriculture has helped make Able Farm a reality. If you meet the Stanley’s, please thank them for making local, clean, food a priority.

Meet the Stanleys

To create a really good meal that is exploding with complex flavors and is visually inviting, one needs to think of all the details involved and get the perfect balance between each flavor. Attention to balancing the relationship between grasses, clovers, soil, and livestock health is central to my farm practices and vision. This vision is what it takes to create clean, healthy, flavorful food. Able Farm’s mission statement is as follows: to create premium food with integrity, placing quality of life and taste at the forefront of our production.

Lamb dinner at a local restaurant

Food helps to bring our families and loved ones together; we nourish our relationships over steaming bowls of soup, laugh while enjoying the spring crunch of salads, and tell stories as we savor a chilled wine. The food on our plates should be just as nourishing as the company. Crazy I know!

Unfortunately very often this is not true. 99.94% of all meat chicken raised in the US is factory farmed (from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer). This is a depressing and sad statistic that we have all contributed too. But this is changing; we at Able Farm are proud to be a small but important part of this change.

Our founding chicken, Edith

You are taking the power back with when you choose to opt out of the system by voting with your dollars. Feel good about your choice- which is a choice for Freedom from processed foods and for health and Sustainability. Able Farm=Clean Food.

We have recently sent out our most recent newsletter If you would like one please contact us.

The farm store will be closed the first week of May. Sorry for the inconvenience.