Capricious March weather means lots of layers and a steady stream of hot tea and coffee when available. The one place on the farm that will be consistently warm over the next few weeks is our baby chick brooder!
250 yellow fluff balls arrived at the Fairview Post Office this morning. We had to clear out the brooder and put in a nest of fresh hay for the little guys’ home for the next few weeks. It’s always difficult to tell how March weather will affect our first batch of chickens.
Last year we scheduled our first group of chicks just two weeks earlier, at the end of February. While they were fine in the brooder, once we moved them out onto pasture the weather turned nasty. We had several frigid March weeks full of sleet and snow. Because our birds are pasture raised and we have a system set up that doesn’t have a lot of provisions for cold weather, we lost far too many chickens to the freezing temperatures. Chickens will crowd together in the cold to share body heat but they are overzealous in their push for warmth and often smother several of their fellow birds during a frosty night.
Unfortunately for us, Walker decided to go on a two week Vacation to Germany that coincided exactly with our chicken debacle. Jake (the intern at the time) and I had to deal with the daily frustration of frozen fowl without the reassurance of our fearless farm manager. Every morning was the same. We’d slosh our way up the pasture to the house and peer gloomily inside. If there was a dark mass of birds in a corner of the structure, it meant that several had been smothered. We would tally up our losses and make a report of how many we had lost that day, each time bemoaning the dwindling number that would be left for our customers.
We were beginning to give up hope for that first batch, to the point that I remember sending Walker emails apologizing for the fact that we probably would lose the entire group in his absence. The damage wasn’t quite has bad as we’d anticipated but, but the time we sent that first group of broilers to the processor, they were a bedraggled and scrawny few.
We pushed our schedule back for this year in hopes that we won’t run into this problem again, but it’s difficult to tell when winter will release Fairview from its grasp entirely. In any case, the babies are cozy and dry for now, cheeping happily in their new home and bathing in the warmth from the heat lamps. By the time they go out on pasture, I hope all the vestiges of cold have vanished. I hope the winds are warm, the sun bright, and the nights balmy. I hope spring comes in earnest!
There are some things you can control, like the heater in your car, and other things you can’t, like how many Turkeys you manage to raise successfully despite predators, finicky weather, and random disappearances. As a farmer, you have to learn this lesson early on. There are just too many factors that are beyond your influence.
We were feeling great about our crop of turkeys this year. We felt great when we only lost a handful of chicks in the brooder. We felt even better when we managed to count 380 birds the day we moved them out to the pasture. We were ecstatic when, after a few weeks, we had only lost three or four of our fowl to hawks and they were quickly growing to the size that would make them an unlikely meal for most predators. We estimated that we’d have at least 350 by the time thanksgiving shoppers showed up. With that number in mind, we started selling birds. Of course, 350 was supposed to be a conservative guess. If we only promised 350 birds, that would leave room for transport and processing damage and any other slight problems that might arise.
The other evening Walker got a call. It was Amanda from the Foothills Processing Plant informing us that the numbers were in…324 birds, not counting those damaged during transportation. That is the kind of phone call you don’t dread. Not only because it meant dozens of customers would be left out to dry, but it also meant that, somewhere along the line, we’d made some big errors in judgment that couldn’t be undone.
As we piled boxes of birds into the cooler this morning, Amy said something that made me really appreciate this job, even in the midst of a minor crisis. She handed me one of the 60 pound boxes and said, “It just makes me feel so bad to disappoint customers. I mean I know it’s not our fault exactly, but I can’t help but think if we had worked a little harder at a few details, we wouldn’t be letting all these people down.”
It wasn’t as though Amy was worried about the extra work this debacle cost us or the credibility of the business. She wasn’t even most concerned about loss of profit. She was thinking about the customers who were so looking forward to a Hickory Nut Gap, pasture raised turkey for their Thanksgiving who wouldn’t be able get one. I know that lots of businesses tout customer service as a core concept in their mission statements, but it meant so much to me to hear so directly that our goal is to give customers the very best product we can muster– to give this farming thing our best shot– our very best. Whatever the weather, whatever surprises come up, this bunch of farmers is going to put in the effort because there is value in a job well done.
One of the reasons I love getting a whole pasture raised chicken from the farm is because I get 3 meals out of one piece of meat! First, I roast the whole bird. Check out the Foodnetwork’s Perfect Roasted Chicken Recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/perfect-roast-chicken-recipe/index.html. Second I pick the carcass clean and save those chicken scraps for sandwiches, quesadillas, salads, etc. Third I place the carcass in a large stock pot, cover it with water and cook it on low for 8-24+ hours. Voila, you have chicken stock! Use the stock in your cooking or add salt, pepper, carrots, onions, and celery while its simmering for a hearty broth!
Sweet, sour, savory, and a little spicy, this pork chop marinade/glaze is sure to please all members of the family!
4 8 oz. HNG pasture rasied pork chops
1/4 cup honey
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T lemon juice
1 T braggs liquid amino acids or soy sauce
1 t cayenne pepper (leave out the cayenne to keep the marinade mild)
Mix the honey, garlic, lemon juice, braggs/soy sauce, and cayenne. Add to pork chops and marinade in the fridge for 4+ hours.
Prepare your grill to medium high heat. Remove chops from marinade and place on the grill, baste chops 2-3 times with extra marinade while cooking. Grill for 15 minutes flipping once or until the internal temperature reaches 145 F.
Spring has sprung! Time to pull out those smokers and slow cook some pasture raised pulled pork! The Boston Butt, cut from the shoulder of the pig believe it or not, is the most common cut from the hog for classic pulled pork. You can use all different types of wood chips from apple to pecan to give your pork a unique flavor. Barbequelovers.com has a great recipe and explanation of how to smoke a Boston Butt, check it out here: http://barbequelovers.com/recipes/pork-recipes/smoking-a-boston-butt-recipe