Tag Archives: Small Farm

Challenges of a Small Farm

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When I first started farming about five or six years ago I could get organic whole grains in 50 pound sacks locally. This was great because it created the opportunity for me to mix my own ration for our chickens, as I’m sure a number of backyard flock owners love to do as well.  With a small flock it was easy to mix and use 3-4 hundred pounds at a time and feed it out over a month or two. But after a short while the 50 pound sacks dropped, unannounced, to 40 pounds. The price remained the same. Then access to the whole grains came to an abrupt end altogether without any clear cause. Frustrating to say the least. We were forced to start feeding processed feeds in 40 pound sacks because that was the only available organic feed. It worked for a short time, but the quality was questionable and the price was too high to make a profit.
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Certified organic feed can be a challenge to get at the best of times, especially for us at our small scale. So our next step was to push our production up to the next price break. We increased our production by adding more Turkeys and egg laying hens so we can order 1000 pound of feed at a time. That way we could use up the feed in a reasonable amount of time, because unless the feed is in a whole grain form it loses its nutritional quality over time. This worked well and we were able to build a productive small farm business.
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But once again after a short while our access to the 1/2 ton sacks came to an abrupt end without clear cause or warning. We found out the day we tried to order our next batch of feed. The only option’s now for organic grains are to go back to getting grain in 40 pound sacks (not an option) or jump up to the now 3 ton minimum, meaning we have to order no less then 6000 pounds at a time. Wow, thats a lot of feed! We can and do feed this much in the course of a season but the hard lump to swallow is where and how to store this amount of grain. When you are at the scale we are, you just have to take it as it comes and is just the nature of running a small business. But it would seem that the mantra of “get big or get out” is still strongly with us today in agriculture.

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Fryer

As noted previously in the post titled “Broilers”, traditionally chickens were separated into different classes defined by age. Youngest to oldest the classes are: broiler, fryer, and stewing hen. Here we will focus primarily on the fryer. IMG_1511
Traditionally fryers tended to come from farms that specialized in egg production. In advance of industrial hatcheries (where one can order just female chickens) eggs were incubated and hatched on farm, leaving the farmer with an excess of males to do something with. And herein lies the rub; it’s likely that fifty percent of the eggs hatched will be male chickens. Sure, the farmer keeps a few of the best for breeding purposes, but the rest are fattened and sold, helping to make the farm become a little more sustainable. The farmer has had to find a niche market or create one. IMG_1513
An egg-centric farm’s production of chicken for meat just couldn’t compete with farms focused primarily on producing broiler chickens. With a larger size, heavier weight, and rapid growth, the broiler type breeds quickly outpaced the egg-oriented chicken’s marketability for eating. Egg-focused birds, on the other hand, are small, light-weight, and place their energy into preparing to lay eggs instead of growing flesh. Because of this, in order to reach the the 4 pound market weight fryers need more time to grow. At a couple weeks older than the broiler, fryers are in the 14-20 week age range. They have had more exercise in the extra weeks needed to mature and have become more flavorful but are a little less tender. august 2013 088
With a firmer texture to their meat, grilling is no longer an optimum cooking method. Grilling is high heat and tends to dry out food. When applied to a fryer, this is a recipe for inedibility. Because of this they need a different cooking method to be rendered into a quality meal. Frying is the best method because the breading keeps the moisture in the meat. But there are many other delicious recipes. For instance, chicken cacciatore is also a wonderful way to utilize fryer chickens; seared in hot olive oil and then cooked in tomato sauce with olives and onions until tender and served over pasta. In this method the chicken cooked slowly in liquid helps the meat to soften and most importantly provides the opportunity for the flavors to marry. Fryers prepared in this way are hard to beat. Below is another possibility and is one of our favorite recipes.

Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Vegetables

This is a one pot dish and is a wonderful way to prepare a fryer chicken. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Estimated baking time: 1 hour and 15 minutes for a 3 pound bird.
A 3lb fryer or roaster chicken
2 Tb. butter or olive oil
1/4 Tsp. salt
10-15 small fingerling potatoes
3 large carrots, cut an inch and a half thick
5-7 cloves of garlic
3 to 4 tarragon sprigs

Put chicken out at room temperature so that it can warm up before roasting, about 1 to 1 ½ hours is best. Place a casserole pan on the stove top and melt the butter. Season the chicken with salt and stuff the tarragon into the cavity. Once the butter is hot, place the chicken into the pan and sear on all sides. This could take 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from heat. Remove the chicken from the pan. Add potatoes and vegetables, then place chicken back into pan on top of the vegetables. Place the casserole pan into a preheated oven and bake until the chicken reaches 160 degrees. Pull the pot from oven and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes. Serve and enjoy.

The Evil of Plastic On-Farm

Just animals and grass. That is our focus. We keep that principal in mind when designing housing for our livestock. And through this ideal of simplicity we are pushed to focus on man-powered equipment.
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Our chicken houses are designed to meet those demands; they are open-floored, light enough to move by hand but just heavy enough to keep from blowing away in a rain storm. But to achieve these requirements the roofing material has to be light-weight and waterproof. So in the beginning we started with green, moderately inexpensive tarps from our local hardware store. These tarps met all of our criteria and at the time I thought this was a great idea. But in retrospect it turned out to be a terrible gift that just keeps on giving.
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Light, flexible, and waterproof, one could reasonably assume that a tarp is to be used outside in all sorts of weather. There are even pictures on the packaging of outdoor use. We got the sizes we needed. We put them on and everything was hunky dory. But sunlight (a.k.a ultraviolet rays) is the one element that we seem to have over-looked. IMG_0628
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We didn’t even get a single season’s use out of these tarps. When newly opened out of package they off-gassed. If that isn’t bad enough, as they degraded in the sun they shredded into tiny, chicken-bite-sized-pieces. The pieces spread all over the farm from the wind and into any paddock that the hens spent time in. Farm pics 042
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We essentially polluted our own small farm’s beautiful fields with these plastic strands of poison and lost a number of chickens because they would eat it if given the opportunity. The adage “you get what you pay for” couldn’t fit better and to be honest this was a hard lesson to learn.

Overdue Update

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The past couple of months seem to have just slipped by like the snap of the fingers. Wasn’t it just the holiday season? Well we had better share with you what we have been up to.
This is a quick overview of some projects we are working on right now. We will post more in detail about these projects as they move forward.
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Our sheep have been enjoying this dry, mild weather and have decided to have some lambs! A little unexpected but no complaints here.
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We are also working on creating a locally adapted flock of chickens. This way we can help in a small way to protect of some of our national birds.
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And most importantly we are moving our farm from Ashland to Talent! We are extremely excited about this move.

Guard Geese

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A couple of seasons ago we lost a large portion of our turkeys and chickens to skunks (check out the post “It Ain’t Easy” for a better idea of what went down). It took some time and a lot of research to figure out what we needed to do to remedy this problem.
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Chickens need and like to roost, and as it turns out it’s also their first defense. This was an easy fix–we just changed the way we house them.
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Then we got a couple of geese because our research lead us to believe that their aggressive temperament would deter predators.
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At first I wasn’t convinced that geese could perform this job and thought of them as just another mouth to feed. But we haven’t lost a turkey or a chicken since we added them.
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I have often seen them cock their head to the side and stare up in to the sky. When I follow their line of sight, inevitably there is a hawk floating in the blue, and once in a while an airplane. Needless to say they will always have a place at Pradaria.

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Grassland Turkey

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Allowing turkeys to run and frolic in the grassland setting that encompasses our farm just really feels right. It’s often hard to imagine that turkeys could be raised in any other way; they are so well adapted to this lifestyle.
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Spending up to four months on pasture their conditions range from ninety-degree summer days to the cold rain of a Rogue Valley fall. Even though we provide them with shelter they will often be found in the direct sun on a hot day looking for a tasty morsel or scouting out worms in the rain.Sept 2013 010

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Blackberries and blackberry leaves, legumes, grasses and grass seeds, and the wayward cricket are just a few of the things I have seen turkeys eat. This does also include corn and grains because they need carbs like the rest of us. But when given a choice these birds love to forage. Sept 2013 028

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Testimonial

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I have numerous food allergies and intolerances and have had problems with chicken (even organic). But Pradaria Farm chicken not only tastes wonderful it tastes clean and I never have a reaction to eating it. I eat it almost every day, in soups or roasted. And Pradaria Farm turkey is the absolute best turkey I’ve ever eaten…tender, flavorful…amazing!

Evelyn Ward