Magda Farm Newsletter - July 2010

Happenings on the Farm & Filling the Freezer

Firstly - as always - on the Farm…

Things continue to hum along on the farm. We're slowly getting caught up on the winter clean up after the wrap up of another good year growing and selling organic seedlings via Vera's business (Trout Lily Greenhouses). As of yesterday, we shipped our young beefers up the road to their summer pasture at the neighbours, leaving our cows and calves to enjoy the home pastures while the teenagers have a good time up the road. Our calving season went well with all cows giving us a healthy and thriving calf. The picture at right shows one of the 2010 crop of calves enjoying the shade of an apple tree with a couple "teenagers" - mama's a black Angus, while daddy's a red Angus, giving us a sweet little red fella.

With the cattle on the home pastures, we are continuing to use the intensive grazing management system we began last year, with good results. The pastures are coming back stronger than ever and we're noticing that there is a lot more wildlife, mainly in the form of songbirds that are taking advantage of the increase in diversity and growth stages in the fields. With this system, we are allowing some of the grasses to reach maturity far more than in the past, thus allowing for more cover and fare for the birds.

Our piggies are also doing well as we rotate them through the vegetated lanes we have for them and continue to give them restaurant vegetable scraps. It's interesting, every set of pigs seems to have its own "group personality". This set is taking a very long time to work its way down the lanes but is doing a VERY thorough job of unearthing all roots and shoots. They seem to enjoy digging more than browsing, which is just fine except that they have not yet discovered the joys to be found under the shade of the large lilac that's at the end of their current lane. They do not cross over from the area that they've unearth ed into the remaining vegetated area. Since the digging and unearthing seems to be pretty time consuming and is only done in the early and late hours of the day, the progress to the end of the lane is slow. We're thinking about enticing them through the vegetation with apples combined with back scratches so they discover that lilac but may just leave them happily rooting as they are. The picture at left shows one of the little fellas on a rather mucky spring day.

Our hope is to finish the fall set of piggies under the many wild apple trees we have here on the farm. This, however, will depend a little bit on the "personality" of the next group of piggies as moving them around the farm could be tricky if they aren't super adventurous like the current group. Some of you may know that pigs cannot be moved like cattle. They do not move away ahead of humans in the way that cattle do, so different techniques have to be employed. We were talking to our neighbour up the road recently and she said it took them three or four days to move their boar about 300 metres. A bit grumpy and weighing in at about 700 lbs, one could not push him, so they just had to let him make his way down the lane at his own, apparently very slow, pace.

Finally on the piggy end of things, pictured here are a couple of the oinkers cooling off during last week's crazy heat. After the first hot day, on Monday, we noticed that one of them was panting a bit. When the weather's a bit wetter a wallow forms in the depression shown in the picture as it's at the end of a downspout, but it had pretty much dried up by last Monday. So when the heat hit again on Tuesday, we filled the wallow using a garden hose and they immediately showed their appreciation. Within a few minutes five of the eight piggies jumped in and began splashing about. It may look messy and dirty, but it's just good clean soil, well away from where they defecate. Pigs do not sweat and can only thermoregulate to a point by panting. Their most effective cooling method is by wallowing - thus the classic image of a pig in a wallow and the accompanying belief that pigs are dirty (which they are not – of all farm animals they are the most likely to keep their eating, sleeping and waste elimination areas separate from each other). So we're now keeping the wallow well filled with water to keep our oinkers happy on those hot days.

With the meat birds, after our experiment last fall with one set of chickens being raised on "pasture" (our lawn actually), we are now pasturing all of them. They are raised in "chicken tractors" in the cow pastures starting at about 4-5 weeks old, basically as soon as they have feathered out. They go on the regrowth in lanes that the cattle have grazed about one week prior. The photos at right show the progression of stages in the raising of the meat birds. We have encountered some challenges with respect to providing adequate shelter while at the same time ensuring that the chicken tractors don't overheat on hotter days. It was particularly difficult with the wet weather we had through much of June. We've come up with a system though that we think will work, giving us the flexibility to lower three sides in inclement weather and raise them when it's hot and sunny.

We are also finding that the large White Rock meat birds that we've always been raising get pretty heavy and slow as they get older, such that moving the tractor can be a challenge. The photo at right shows a four week old White Rock chick that is just "feathering out", and will soon be ready to go out on pasture. This breed of birds can also be prone to health problems, so we're currently experimenting with a new type of chicken called the Bonnie's Heavy Red. They don't grow as fast as the White Rocks and so will require more time to raise but we decided that we are willing to see how it goes and put in the extra time for the decrease in difficulties raising them. The yellowish brown baby chick shown in the lower photo is a Bonnie's Heavy Red chick, while the little black girl is a barred rock laying hen chick.

With the pasturing we did notice that the birds seemed to require less feed than in the prior system where they were largely indoors with access to an outdoor run. As far as what they consume from the pasture, they seem to prefer broadleaved plants like clover and dandelion, whereas grass seems to be a bit further down on their list of must haves. So, the system is a bit more work for us, but results in lower feed costs and less labour in other areas – e.g. far less poop shovelling. We became interested in doing this after reading Virginia farmer Joel Salatin's books, "Salad Bar Beef" and "Pastured Poultry Profits", and agreeing that it seems like a healthier way to raise the birds. A number of studies have also shown that there are a broad range of health benefits for consumers of pasture raised meats – including higher levels of a number of vitamins as well as Omega 3 fats (this is true for eggs from free range hens as well). 
Finally, our flock of free range layers just keeps doing its thing - providing an abundance of eggs. In addition to replacement chicks purchased this year, we also bought two new adult additions for the flock last week. They won't be providing us with a lot of eggs though as they are not of the correct gender. At one point last year we had five roosters, which was, uhhhh, a few too many, so we decided to make three of them into soup chickens. Unfortunately, soon after the three became soup chickens, the coyotes seemed to come to the conclusion that the other two looked tasty as well and all we found was feathers in the field. So we've been without a rooster for a year. We always like to have a couple around, mainly just for fun though we do have the odd chicken that lays in some hidden nook and hatches out a clutch of eggs. The two roosters we bought are a Barred Rock, the black and white race of which we almost always have a few hens, and an Araucana, shown in this photo. For those of you who are regular purchasers of our eggs, the lovely blue ones that you see now and then are from our three Araucana hens. We now have the male to compliment those hens and may try to incubate some eggs from the Araucana rooster with both the Araucana hens and the brown egg layers, which apparently will result down the road in hens that lay either bluish or greenish eggs. We'll keep you updated on that project if it comes to fruition. Unfortunately for the Araucana rooster, it appears that his Barred Rock competitor has won out in the pecking order in the coop. So the Araucana spends more of his time outside near the pig shed with a smaller flock of hens and has taken to sleeping with the barn cat at night on top of a pile of feed sacks. The cat doesn't seem to mind whatsoever and the rooster seems pretty content with the arrangement as well.

Secondly – can we help fill your freezer…?

Our first batch of pastured meat chickens have been butchered and are in our freezers - we have both whole and quartered birds available, as well as packages of necks and giblets. We also have a small number of soup birds (old layers) available for sale. Pricing is $3.10/lb for whole roasters and $3.25/lb for quarters. The soup/stewing chickens are priced at $7.00 to $8.50 per bird depending on size.

As per last year, we will be raising two sets of hogs this summer and fall. The first set is scheduled to be shipped on August 10 and will be ready about 2 weeks thereafter, after smoking and cutting. So, for those of you who are interested in a side or family box of our lovely pork, you've still got a bit of time to get the freezer empty. For those wanting a whole side, we'll be sending out cutting sheets nearer to the butchering date. Our pricing on pork sides is $2.65/lb base price, with an additional approximate cost of $.65/lb for smoking and $.50/lb for sausages. We'll be selling our 25 lb pork boxes, which include a great mix of ham, bacon, sausage, chops and a roast, for $115.

We also have a significant amount of lean and extra lean ground beef ($3.50/lb) and pre-made hamburger patties ($7.20 per pkg of six) available for the barbie. Our likely slaughter date for beef (quarters, sides, and 30lb boxes) will be late November.

Last but not least – anyone interested in helping out …?

We find it difficult at times to keep up with all the various farm projects along with Nick's building business and the translating and editing work that Vera does. Unfortunately we do not (yet) make enough money on farm to allow the luxury of not having off farm jobs. As such, we have been mulling over the idea of having individuals join us for short one day volunteer stints to help us get through some of the activities that we need to complete. Volunteers would gain a bit of hands on knowledge of how our animals are raised and how other activities around the farm are done. The volunteers would help with basic chores, like feeding and moving stock, perhaps a bit of mucking out of pens, perhaps a bit of gardening, etc. - just the day to day farm activities. Then they could also participate in whatever happens to be the project of the day. As an example, yesterday's activities included moving chicken tractors to their new starting point for the next set of birds, raising the height of a fence to ensure the one little steer we have who is a jumper didn't get away on us when we loaded the "teenagers" for moving up the road and weeding and a bit of planting in the garden. We are hoping to build a new layer coop a bit later in the season and could use some help with that. In return, the volunteer(s) would get a couple great meals, farm experience and, if they want to stay overnight, could camp out, spending the evening before or the following day hanging out and swimming at our lovely pond at the back of the property. We're not sure if this will appeal to you or anyone you know, but thought we'd put it out "out there"!