Sunday, December 12, 2010

dreams of my daughter

I was sitting at my computer, poking around on the website. I had posted a new testimonial, updated some pics, responded to a comment on the blog, and I heard from upstairs little feet get out of bed and run towards mommy and daddy's room. Since I was up, I intercepted to preserve mommy's sleep.
"What's a matter Maddie?"
"I had a really bad dream"
"oh what was it about?"
"there was a so scary bird with a really long beak. It was so scary. And there were so many chickens, everywhere"

oh dear, what have I done?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

thanksgiving eve

All the customers have their thanksgiving birds. Despite not taking deposits, or being able to really properly count the birds, I ended up with just the right amount of birds and sizes of birds. All the customers got a bird or birds they were happy with and I had one each for my two pasture landlords and everyone went away happy. Whew! On top of it all, we had a third lamb today!

That's right, we have a skewed lambing season. I dont know why, probably because this pair of ewes I had matured and bred later than I realized. I thought I'd have lambs mid summer but instead I had them in November. The first pair came on Veteran's day. We thought they were going to come the Saturday before that, I got a txt during my kids' violin recital, but that turned out to be a vaginal prolapse. It was her first lambing, it was twins, and they were takin up all the space. The oncall vet was good 'ol Sarah that I photographed caring for Shawna the goat last spring. She said I could pick up a device and tie it to the wool on my own but I decided to spring for her visiting and luckily I did because hair sheep have no wool to tie a "ewe saver" to and she ended up putting in a couple of sutures to hold it in place, which held everything else in place. We had to re-tie it once, and that pretty much lasted until the day she lambed, when she managed to bust it into pieces. So I sent Carrie to get another one and install it, but then I got a call on Veterans day, around 4:30, that it was happening and I better get down there fast. We had reservations at Nick's Cove and Mary was on a walk but Sarah agreed to drive her down there when she got home so I loaded the kids in the minivan and got on down to Rose and Thorn, where I'm leasing some pasture (but I need to get out of there ASAP, its very wet there).

So we got there and Sarah and Elena were watching, and they said they had seen head and hooves but the ewe saver that is not supposed to interfere seemed to get in the way and it all went back in. Decided to phone the vet again, he said to go ahead and take the new ewe saver out, asked should I pull the lamb out and he said yes, should I wash my hands, yes, is purell OK? yes. So Sarah Silva reached in and pulled the lamb out. Boy. Then she had the next one all by herself. Mary arrived between the first and the second one but Jeremy and Madeline got to see both. It was pretty magical. Today, the sister (#4) of the mom of the twins (#5) had a lamb. The new one is a ewe. Sorry meat customers, looks like we are still building our flock :) Since Ram Sam Sam was the dad I guess we'll be breeding the new ewes in about a year to Sammy Jr., or maybe the Katahdin Ram I haven't named yet.
some lamb pics (lighter one is the boy, born first, darker one is the girl, born second):

November 2010 will always be remembered by me as the month of getting stuck in the mud. Lets see if I can remember all the times I've been stuck in the mud...The first time was after the big rain, when I was trying to stay out of the mud and I'd seen Sarah during the big rain drive the path by the forest from the house's rock driveway at Rose and Thorn in the middle of the big rain and we had a bunch of stuff for the pigs in the back so I decided to take it. Natalie was in the passenger seat and when I slipped off the path into the ditch she said "this is exactly where Sarah got stuck yesterday." I have to admit I went bananas on her for not mentioning that little tidbit of knowledge. She defended that since Sarah and I talked often she assumed I knew that already. Well I didn't and speaking up would have been the smart thing to do I still think. I got stuck deep in the ditch by that road that slopes to the ditch and wasted half a day first trying with John's tractor to pull me out and then waiting for AAA to get me out, which they did easily, but then I spent another day getting base rock from Canyon Rock and fixing mess I had made along with the original problem I might add. I also put base rock over the culvert where we normally enter. Which the construction guys that are parking their massive trucks there should have done but they dont seem all that great if you ask me. I'll never hire that guy for sure. He just put regular dirt over that culvert and that was just stupid. First time it rained that created a muddy mess. Which Sarah and I swept up once we had that fixed with base rock. We are conscientious tenants and land stewards...

Second time I got stuck was trying to bring the water trailer home from Salmon Creek Ranch where the layers are, I thought it was dry enough to go all the way in and turn around, but no, I found a muddy spot and got stuck, but was able to dig myself out and put boards down but had to leave the water trailer there. Meanwhile the tanks in the eggmobiles got lower and lower, so finally one day I dedicated to getting the water trailer and the livestock trailer out. Another backstory is that we had big rain in October, 10" in one weekend, and we couldn't get an adequate shelter for the pigs. I was at a strategic planning retreat for City Slicker Farms and texted Sarah that my flatbed trailer still had too much hay on it to move her a-frame and anyway I was not available so she could use my livestock trailer for the hog shelter. But instead of backing it in just to the border she drove it straight into the middle of the hog pasture! When I saw this I had her adjust the fence so that at least the hogs couldn't muddy up the spot in front of the trailer, but still there was no good way out of that pasture with my one livestock trailer that I depended upon to get all my animals out of that floodplain! So the day that was finally 4 or 5 days since rain that I decided Natalie and I would spring the water trailer was also the day we would get the livestock trailer out or die trying. We put several pieces of scrap siding from eggmobile4 in the pickup and 3 big pieces of 1" plywood that had been the deck of the flatbed that became em4. This was November 15th, the day of a Zazu farmer lunch that I had donated a turkey and 2doz eggs to and didn't want to miss. We got the trailer out of the pasture no problem but then we had to go through a narrow path in the forest that had a wet spot on the right side and I thought I could stay left enough but the trailer slid to the right and got buried to its axles. We spent 3 hours digging, putting wood down, backing up, putting wood down, moving forward, putting wood down, getting the mats out of the trailer, putting them down, digging, emptying the trailer of all the pig-shit/straw, putting that down, getting that out of the wheels where it got all seriously stuck, chainsawing blackberry canes into our knuckles and getting constantly whapped in the ass by blackberries, digging, putting wood down, backing up, digging, going forward etc. you get the picture. We fought and sweated and bled for every inch we moved that trailer until we got it free. And we did get it free.

here's Natalie and I with John's mule which got the job done. We were seriously proud. Natalie was a trooper and never complained once about the hell we were going through. I complained incessantly of course:

She and I earned the special sushi lunch we ate that day. But we missed the Zazu lunch by two hours. Oh well. Luckily Mary covered for us for the first 10 minutes of chicken pickup time. Sorry we were late Uni...

OK, so that was the second time I got majorly stuck. The third time was the night before the Thanksgiving Turkey harvest, I tried to drive the truck up to the turkey pen. I had all that wood at Rose and Thorn because of the stock trailer fiasco, and so I thought I could put it down in the one wet spot between road and turkeys and drive right up to them. I had my parents in the truck to help and didn't want to borrow the mule after dark and make noise at the barn that might bother John and Carole. Oops. there was another wet spot and I buried the front wheels of the truck to the axles. So my parents and I went through hell putting boards down, jacking the truck up, digging out huge areas to put the big 1" plywood pieces down, and doing that for all 4 wheels. Sarah Silva had a cold but she came down to help anyway so now I owe her bigtime. Once we got all the wheels on wood (this took hours, there were too many challenges to list) we connected the mule to the back of the truck with the pull chains and I gave the 3-2-1 signal and revved the engine for all it was worth as the mule pulled mightily but nothing happened. Oops, I was in neutral. got it in reverse and we got out of it no problem, re-adjusted the wood for the first wet spot but still managed to get stuck in that spot a second time but getting out only took 15 minutes this time, part of why we got stuck is the chain came unhooked and we lost momentum with the mule pulling. OK, dont drive the truck into the RT pasture. Filling up those holes we dug is still on the todo list.

We move the chickens to their third spot at Salmon Creek Ranch, and I took some pics to put in my power point for the poultry science class at SRJC that Dr. Famini asked me to speak at. Also did some footage for a new TV show re: food that was a neat experience and the people doing it are really cool and good company. Anyway, here's what my layer operation looks like as of Nov 2010...

The last time I got stuck was just last night. I spent all day from 11-5 working on the SRJC processing presentation, actually bringing my processing trailer and 2 turkeys and everything necessary to process and sell 2 turkeys to Dr. Famini to Shone Farm to give the class some exposure to actual poultry processing. It was the only exposure they were going to get, and I love the SRJC ag program (I took IPM and Org. farming classes there) so I had no choice but to oblige. So after the long day of preparing, speaking, then processing the turkeys in the frigid wind I needed to do my evening chicken chores, because Carrie's evening was spent on turkey pickup (I was sad I missed that customer interaction, so many new customers I didn't get to connect with). We had just added another 900 lbs to the feed trailer because Sarah got 3 more wine barrels delivered to her for me from her lovely family, and so I had 2K of layer feed loaded onto the trailer and headed to the chickens at around 7:30 pm in the dark. I almost made it up the hill when the wheels started spinning and I started sliding sideways. So I decided to back up and just drop the trailer, but in backing it off the road it started jack-knifing too much, in trying to correct that I got the front right wheel into a ditch that I couldn't get out of and the jack of the trailer prevented me backing up. Sarah Silva came out and picked me up before milking her goats. I got it out this morning by trailering up my tractor with Robert who was hired to work on 2 pig pens but instead spent half the day getting my truck out and getting my feed up the hill (with the tractor).

So that's my November. I really need my own land with some more gentle slopes, sandy well drained soil and some hard packed roads.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

moved to winter pasture

hmm, where does the time go? we finished egg-mobile3 and moved the birds from hoop-tractor1 into it, then we sold the birds from egg-mobile1 and only had to cull 10 of them. We tore out the floor to put the correct size wire in it (that was the first one I'd built), cleaned out the water tanks and put in nipple waterers instead of the plasson bell waterer. We also re-painted to make it as cheerful as em3. Then we moved in the birds from hoop-tractor2. Whew! Now I am working on eggmobile4. And none too soon, the birds have begun to lay already...

Also importantly we filled out all the paperwork to start selling our eggs to Whole Foods. We heard they put a laser thermometer on the eggs when they arrive to make sure they get there at 45 degrees. Kind of cool. I was very impressed with how they wanted to tour my operation before they would agree to sell my eggs. That is very cool. Some friends warned us that our egg price was too low. When I look at the feed bills from Modesto Milling, I am sure that they are right and that we are losing money just on the egg business alone. Next year we will keep good records and find out just how much we are losing and what price we need to be at to break even. For now, I just want to get people in Sonoma County to taste some real pasture fed eggs. Not just eggs from chickens that are let outside to eat, but eggs from chickens that are kept in clean, mobile coops and supplemented with free choice oyster shell, captured rainwater, and modesto milling organic feed. And are as beautiful and well presented as ours.

Plus, in our new winter pasture courtesy of salmon creek ranch, they now have a view...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

oops where did June go?

Hi Blog. sorry I neglect you. simple fact is, when I neglect you you don't die or suffer. Maybe I lose readers, but I'm not blogging to have lots of readers. Why am I blogging? who knows...

Anyway, I was back east for a family wedding a few weeks ago and Adele (Mary's sister) gave me grief again for being the worst blogger ever. So here I am, posting again, because I respond well to criticism I guess.

Truth is, I was procrastinating the next post because of the big news, and some unmade decisions. The big news is that we got our first full time employee! Her name is Natalie and she's the one I was waiting so long for. I was so afraid of bringing someone new into the household that I basically just waited until someone fell into my lap, someone who was working on a farm far away but came a couple of times to volunteer for chicken harvest. She was taking the bus and had to stay overnight to do it, so she spent time with the family and I was sure it was going to work out. When she and Jeremy and I hauled all the compost in the wheel barrow for middle field I knew she could handle hard work. When she let Jeremy talk her ear off while she was washing eggs I knew she was going to get along with the kids. Jeremy and Madeline always fought over who got to sit next to her at dinner and still do.

Here's a picture of wonderful Natalie:

what's that in the background you ask? Yup, we have pigs again. I have 3 breeder gilts (2 berkshires and 1 tamworth) and Sarah Silva has 3 breeder Tams (2 gilts and a boar). I also have 4 meat pigs (2 tams, 2 berks) and Sarah has 3 meat pigs in this batch (1 tam and 2 berks). We were fairly disappointed that there weren't more Berkshire market pigs for us but he gave them to someone else because apparently Sarah wasn't clear that we were going to pick them up for sure when she talked to him. We are always going to send a deposit from now on when we commit to animals.

I also mentioned there was a decision I was trying to make. I had picked up these guard dogs that hadn't been kept with livestock like they were supposed to be. They started out as a real pain in the butt. They had no vaccinations, no training, and they were not bonded to sheep like I wanted. The female (I can't use the "b" word though I know I should) liked to chew hoses and I swear she was breaking in the garden and tearing it up just out of spite. She killed one of Sarah's ewe lambs and I felt so bad I had to give up my St. Croix ewe lamb to compensate. Any way, I got rid of her to someone who wanted a pet dog like her, after paying for grooming and all the vaccinations and I gave her away free. Now the male, Leo, is earning his keep protecting the meat chickens from the weasel. We've lost 1 meat bird while he was watching that looked like weasel and in 6 weeks that's not bad. Here's a pic of Leo:

I had taken some other pics, in June when I finished some chicken housing that I'm calling "hoop tractor" for starting pullets until they are ready to lay and move into an "eggmobile" on a trailer. Basically its a way to get them out on grass while they are still small enough for hawks to eat them. I never did get the pics out or make the blog post. It was a busy time. But I want you to know how I protect the birds between week 12 and week 20 when they are laying and ready to replace the prior flock that is getting culled. I move these things by dragging it with a tractor or John's Kawasaki "mule" (he is the landlord of my current farm lease) every 3 days or so.

OK, so that's it for now, can't possibly write about everything. Something you want me to write about? Let me know. As I said, I need more reasons to spend time on this.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mother Earth confirms pasture-fed eggs are healthier!

A volunteer forwarded me a link to Mother Earth News' information regarding eggs and the benefits of letting the chickens out on fresh pasture (especially by moving them around, they will quickly turn a covered stationary "yard" into conditions similar to a factory farm). I'm going to cut and paste the whole article...

The results from Mother Earth News’ latest round of pastured egg nutrient tests are beginning to come in. So far, pastured egg producers are kicking the commercial industry’s butt — woo hoo, go free range! We’ve invested a lot of time and energy over the last few years in researching the differences between the meat and eggs coming out of the commercial industry and those produced by conscientious farmers who let their animals graze on fresh pastures. In the past, we’ve found that eggs from hens raised on pasture, as compared to those commercially raised factory farm eggs, contain:

• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Now we’re looking at vitamin D, which many of us do not get enough of because we don’t spend any time outdoors, and even when we do we use sunscreen that blocks vitamin D production. (More about that here.) Eggs are one of the few food sources of naturally occurring vitamin D, and we wondered if true free-range eggs might be higher in this important vitamin, too. Our latest tests show that pastured eggs have anywhere between 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs.

So … (1) Get out there and eat some fresh farm eggs! and (2) Check out our ongoing pastured egg research here

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

OK, that wasn't in the plan

Got a call from my landlord of the layer chickens today. How ironic that this morning I just posted pics of their nice home next to the forest. Well, some of that forest decided to fall over. A huge ash took out 4 other trees on its way to landing right in between my two chicken coops. Clearly God loves my chickens but likes to keep me busy. I spent the entire afternoon keeping two chainsaws very busy but I did manage to free one of the three sections of fence that was smashed by trees. Not cheap fence, but hopefully I can get there tomorrow in time to free another section before his tree guys come and brutalize it with their chainsaws.

Look at how perfectly those trees came down right in between the two coops. What a miracle!

Not a single chicken was injured. But this kind of thing is why my eggs are the best. This is why markets need to be scheduling phone calls with me when I offer them the privilege of offering my eggs to their customers. This is why there are no bulk discounts! These eggs move to pristine pastures and those places are alive with activity instead of sterile and safe concrete boxes. Sometimes, that activity comes crashing down on me though and I need to drop everything to protect the chickens from that which comes lurking in the night.

egg cartons

Yesterday there was a radio program about bottled water that I heard a snippet of while driving home from my newest lease. When I repositioned eggmobile1 by the way it was tilted wrong and the water overflowed the gutter on the opposite side of the water tank and I wasted all of yesterday's storm without collecting any water :( But the new property they are on is on a creek next to a huge forest, a very beautiful old orchard, lovely forage for the chickens, and full of wildlife (and predators) so its a good test of my electric-net fences. They've been there almost a week and so far so good. All this driving back and forth wears a farmer down, but having small properties is the fact of California so I've gotta make this farming model work. Also, the eggs are better this way. Just when your pathogens and predators think they know the drill...



Back to the radio, the speaker was lamenting the recycling of plastic water bottles. They are made from petroleum, and always made fresh. When we recycle water bottles he said, they are almost always shipped across the sea to china and "down-cycled" into carpet batting and other parts of things, but never back into water bottles. Apparently there is one company thinking about building a plant to "close the loop" but this hasn't happened yet.

Enter my egg cartons. They are made from recycled water bottles. OK, its not a water bottle, but its a product being purchased here in the U.S. and its clear PETE plastic containing a food product just like the original water bottle, so its closer to closing the loop than carpet batting. It is labeled with a 1 on the bottom so it can be recycled again. I am not aware if carpet batting gets recycled. I need to look into where these cartons are manufactured, that's the one thing, if its happening in China that's sad. Anyway, I got the clear ones because they display the colorful dozen that is so superior to anything else on the market, but I also knew that providing a market for recycled materials here in the U.S. is a good thing. When we get rid of plastic water bottles, I will stop using plastic cartons from the recycled product.

Weds and Thursday last week I worked back to back 17 hour days acquiring new sheep because of customer demand, so now I can start taking orders for fall lambs because I got 14.5 more sheep in 2 days. All hair sheep (8 are barbados, 5 whethers, 3 ewes, the rest are St. Croix). The half sheep is because Silva Star and I are sharing a St. Croix ram because we got someone's entire flock. I also picked up 2 Italian sheep dogs called "Maremmas" from someone who couldn't keep them anymore. They are a year old and unfortunately aren't yet bonded to sheep like they should be, so its going to take some work, but they are very good with the sheep already, they do not harass the lambs at all. I have been working non-stop every day since then so I haven't taken any pics yet, but I'm going to try to get that done in the next few days.

Lastly but not leastly, poor Madeline was playing on the swing (standing) and fell off forward and broke her arm a little. I say a little because the doctor said its a very small fracture and the cast only needs to be on a week. Still, its uncomfortable for her, and she was very frustrated about it. She seems to be getting used to it now. She wanted me to take this picture of her and Ruby.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May harvests are done

Whew, another month's worth of chicken harvests are done. Now I can finally focus on getting some plants in the ground and moving my chickens to another location again. I just can't use the property they are on now because the semi-dwarf orchard is too modern and the trees are too close together. can't farm chickens in the rows, and I was able to put the eggmobiles on the edge of the orchard and run the nets towards the inside, with the plan of going all around the orchard on the road like that, but now the neighboring orchard has run his disc through it all and it would appear he owns the entire backside up to the treeline, so that is out. Hooray for layer coops on wheels that are road-worthy.

When you are thinking about volunteering for a chicken harvest at Felton Acres, but are a little intimidated that you might not be able to do it, you can reflect on the following photo of a volunteer from this week. We just love our volunteers, they add so much good conversation and fun to every single harvest, and this week was no exception. Thank you very much to all of our past volunteers.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

liver pate

I was getting a little burned out on working. I tried to have a day off on Sunday and I managed to not work for about two hours. So today again by afternoon I was really dragging, so I decided to cook that liver pate recipe I mailed out to customers a couple of weeks ago. I had a few extra livers from some necks that mysteriously disappeared and 2 from the dinner we had Sunday for Mary's Dad & Stepmom being in town, and one from the chicken we are having later this week. (Mysteriously we eat a lot of chicken) From the LA Times:,0,5055248.story

Anyway, I went to whole foods for the pancetta and a baguette. Came home and patted the livers down and removed the connective tissues and patted the livers down and salted and peppered them no problem. These tasks were apparently well within my culinary abilities. Since I only had 1/2 lb of liver I substituted the "large saucepan" for the non-stick frying pan I use to cook eggs because I am comfortable with it and its non-stickness. I threw in the 1/4 cup oil when the pan was hot, and then started putting the livers in, and the fun began. Little firecracker sounds and explosions of oil started hitting me as I tried to sneak more livers into the pan. Mary was attracted to the commotion and wandered over only to be splattered. She yelped and I wouldn't say "yelled" "you can't deep fry in that pan, get the big one" so I pulled out the huge red Le Crueset but she screamed "not that one, on the lower left! aughhh" she got hit again. I pull out the pan and I'm like "what do I do now?" and Mary, calmer now, "just dump it in and keep going, you'll be fine"

Feeling sorry for me, Mary helped me by chopping the garlic and zesting and juicing the lemon while I fried livers and chopped scallions. Also she told me when the pancetta fat was rendered and what it meant to shake the pan to deglaze. The rest of the preparation was straightforward but all things considered cooking is pretty stressful. I couldn't believe how yummy it was though and ate crostini after crostini of the stuff, heaping it on with a spoon. Delicious. Washed down with a certified organic amber ale from Eel River Brewery. Now I was really feeling lethargic. But my goats and pregnant ewes needed some daily grain, and the mutt roosters I plan on selling to Western were outta food, and the thanksgiving turkeys needed their droppings pan dumped and re-bedded. back to the grind.

As I was out there I remembered another topic I have completely forgotten to blog about: my 2 new beehives. I had read this book by Novella Carpenter a while back called "Farm City" and it made me want bees, and one day early in spring I couldn't resist the "Order bees now" sign in front of beekind. I now have 2 hives of Italian bees.

I picked them up with Jeremy on Saturday April 17. I talked to Doug about his video online where he defies most of the videos you'll see and just places the package inside the hive instead of shaking the bees out. He offered to show me one that he had placed just a few hours earlier, sure enough, almost all of the bees were out. I brought the bees home, tractor'd the 2 hives out to the middle of the "lower field" that is in the middle of the orchard, and commenced, Jeremy in tow, to remove the can of syrup and pull out the queen cage. I think in Doug's video he does it all without protective gear so I, being a fully macho man, intended to do the same. I hadn't noticed the subtle nuance however of shaking most of the bees off the queen cage before you brush the last 1 or 2 off with the wad of grass, so I went at this mass of bees on the queen cage with my wad of grass and immediately got stung on the finger. OUCH! and reflexively tossed the queen cage on the ground. Oops, left the gloves back in the barn. With gloves on I recovered the queen cage and was able to remove the cork, plug the hole with a marshmallow, and put the package in the hive for both hives. The next day though it seemed like most of the bees were still inside the package, so I ended up shaking them out. I also noticed one of my queens had already been released, I think I didn't jam the marshmallow in tight enough. I didn't even check the other queen cage, just filled up the feeders and closed it up.

Yesterday I finally checked on the bees again. Feeders were totally empty. Lots of larvae so it looks like both queens were accepted. But in both hives I had major beespace violations and they had built their own triangle shaped combs in the open space in the middle where the queen cage was. I removed these, thinking they were bad and also empty, but when I got them up to the house I saw in one of them each cell had a tiny egg in it or a tiny larva. Oops. I probably should have just left all that since it was their brood super anyway. Well, hopefully they just get over it and with the frames pressed closer together they don't build another one of those unframed combs. I should seek out an online forum of beekeepers to whom I can ask questions before I go undoing all the wonderful work the bees are doing. They really are a miraculous animal though. I love all sorts of creatures. I just wish I had a few more of me to go around...

Monday, May 3, 2010

My eggs ARE the best

This I believe: my eggs are the best in Sonoma County. It has been bothering me lately that people want to lump other eggs in with my eggs simply because they are local or raised on a small farm, when the coop that those chickens live in is fixed in a single place. That just is NOT a comparable product to my eggs, which come from chickens housed in mobile facilities. Chickens are great foragers but they are also prey items with a limited range they'll go from their safe haven. Eventually, they eat all the good food in and around their coop and the quality of the eggs goes down. Because my chickens are in trailers surrounded by electro-plastic net fences and they get frequently moved to fresh ground, this problem does not happen. Also, the orchards in which I graze my chickens greatly benefit from their presence. Also, pathogens attracted to chickens get cut off from their chicken supply way before they ever get established. Yes, this is a labor intensive way to raise an animal that notoriously doesn't make you much money. But once you achieve a certain scale I believe it can be valuable, and also this is such an important food, a key ingredient in so many dishes, and a chance to have a truly differentiated product over the competition. Not all LOCAL, small farm eggs are equal!

Here's a picture of me collecting my beautiful eggs:

When in my travels I see an inferior product selling for a higher price than I'm selling for it bothers me. So I'm increasing my egg price to $6.69. That won't completely solve the problem (I see plenty of eggs selling for $8 that aren't as pretty or guaranteed from mobile coops like mine) but it is closer to their real value. The only risk of trying my eggs is getting spoiled on anything else.

Friday, April 30, 2010

felton acres welcomes its first lamb!

There we were, moving chickens and feeding and doing our evening chores, and I looked down at the sheep for a moment and exclaimed "OMG, we had a lamb!" You gotta love Barbados Blackbellies. No suplemental grain, no lambing barn, no sleepless night. Just looked down at the sheep and saw the cutest little lamb among the now pretty big looking crew. Brought the kids down the next day with the nice camera for the evening chores and snapped a few pics. Even zoomed they are not great because mommy is being very protective and hanging back. Good job Ram Sam Sam and Ghoully Ghoully Ewe!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

is commercial fishing bad? NO!!!

I was just responding to a letter to the editor in a magazine, but somehow it turned into an essay, so why not add to my poor neglected blog with another of my enviro-rants?

I read with some pain the letter in your May 2010 issue calling for an end to the commercial harvest of wild fish. Yes, the previous letter calling for an end to all sport fishing so there would be more fish for the non-boat-owning population was also wrong, but Mr. Johnstone's opinions about what's wrong with commercial fishing were incorrect enough as to force a response.

The summary of Mr. Johnstone's argument is that because technology for fishing is so advanced, humanity is incapable of sustainably harvesting wild fish; in essence the greed of commercial fishers has no antidote, they will always over-fish if allowed to fish at all. This is the "tragedy of the commons" argument. More people need to understand that this was an argument created by the super-rich to take the commons away from everybody so they could expand their exclusive hunting grounds. The commons were doing just fine when commoners had little plots of garden and a few animals grazing to put a little something extra on their tables. They had a vested interest in preserving it and they did just that. But back to fishing.

There IS an antidote to overfishing: it is called fisheries science, regulation, and enforcement. Nevermind some people do not think government is capable of anything (while they depend upon it every day for so many many things); that too is a hypocritical viewpoint. If your regulators aren't doing their jobs well then what are you doing to force them to improve? There are several examples of fisheries that are commercially harvested and THRIVING. Look at the Pacific salmon fishery in Alaska or the Halibut fishery in the Pacific Northwest. Lobster in the Northeast. (OK, those traps are not efficient and very leaky thus sustainable, but that's because of regulation and enforcement, likely mostly by the fishermen themselves, that those are the only allowed pots). When the Sacramento river Fall chinook run collapsed, smart people blamed everything but commercial fishing and commercial fishing interests have supported the total ban on their activities until the stocks rebuild. They have a vested interest in preserving the stock in perpetuity. That's how incentives really work here, the science just needs to be plain and accurate. And we can put people on the moon if we want to and fund it.

The most dangerously incorrect assertion followed: that fish FARMING is more sustainable than harvesting the wild ocean; that farming the ocean which we barely understand and do not live in is comparable to farming on land. This could not be further from the truth. There are at least 2 huge unsolved problems with fish farming (it is my belief they can NEVER be solved until we have lived in the ocean for three generations): 1) concentrations of a single species in a small confined area concentrates both waste and pathogens which then cannot be contained in the pens basically making dump-sites and dead zones 2) even if you solve that problem (more or less) by keeping the pens way way out to sea and diluting the pollution with miles of open ocean, you have to feed the fish baitfish that have been commercially harvested, thus robbing the wild populations of their forage resource. In the case of salmon for example, feeding them baitfish means they are going to get 100% of their food from a "trophic level" (each rung on the food chain ladder is one trophic level, algae/diatoms->copepods->krill->herring->salmon) just below themselves where in the wild they often eat 2 trophic levels down. At each trophic level you lose efficiency. Its simply much more efficient to let wild populations of fish do their thing and then harvest them with small artisanal fishing craft (which could be mandated by law). There are some efforts to fix this one by genetically modifying salmon to eat corn, or feeding feather/bone meal from factory chicken farming, which besides being somewhat distasteful propositions are both farmed unsustainably on land and pollute the ocean with tainted runoff. Fish farming other than shellfish is a lose/lose/lose system. Shellfish is a winner because it is done in a way that mimics the natural system and nothing needs to be imported for feed or medication.

The wild ocean is a beautiful efficient system that we should interact with in thoughtful and provably sustainable ways. Fish farming other than shellfish in the ocean is a dangerous practice that should be banned outright. The "how are we going to feed the world?" argument is a ruse and should not be accepted. There are unimaginable amounts of food waste in our corporate agricultural systems right now in the name of economies of scale and due to basic human laziness. There is plenty of capacity to feed everyone if we re-diversify our land based agriculture, appropriately steward and benevolently utilize our environment. Sustainably harvesting the wild ocean with copious pleasurable jobs for millions of people world wide can be accomplished by forcing government regulators do their jobs (and have enough funds to do them) because we the people are all so well educated (by sportfishingmag). Please do not eat farmed fish. Please do insist on wild caught fish, and whenever it is a wild fishery that is certified sustainable (like Alaskan Salmon) you can feel good about putting your money there.

Marc Felton
Sebastopol, California
(sport fishing for salmon, halibut, dungeness crab, albacore tuna, and pacific rockfish out of Bodega Bay)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I finally figured out a mystery cause of mortality in my chicken flock. Well, I should probably say the mystery revealed itself to me. One cost of letting chickens do what they love and live out of doors and have this outdoor housing is that you attract predators. I feel like I've had every kind: racoons, skunks, hawks, and now: weasel! Yesterday I had the kids for the day because Mary was at a board retreat, and while Nate was napping and Maddie didn't want to do chores with me due to roosters the little guy showed himself. A lot! At 10 am he was out and about looking for a way to get at those chickens, and he didn't show much fear of me. It was like he knew that there wasn't a darn thing I could do but take pictures. So I did. Ran in and got Mary's good camera and Madeline too, but of course when properly prepared he decided his recon was over and he was in the burrow planning his attack.

He ended up with one meat chicken for lunch. He bit her right on the butt, which caused a prolapse. Much like several chickens in the last batch, and solves a mystery about one of my pullets too. Time to move to the new property I just got a verbal on using that's very close to here so its a good next step.

The fact is, it is worth it to pay more to get real food. This weasel sure knows what a real chicken should taste like. I bet he'd turn his nose up at the factory farmed stuff. Shouldn't you eat as well as a weasel? With my chickens gone, he'll be forced to go back to the gophers, rats, and mice that are his usual specialty. And here I'd thought the owl boxes must be working...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

baby pictures

Can't really call Nate a baby anymore, and the little goats are growing fast. But Mary took some pics with her nice camera (all mine seem to be the phone these days) so I'm using it as an excuse to post to the blog.

a couple of nice pics of Nathaniel.

Flicker and Madeline.

Just can't take a nap with your goats. They seem to think you are something to climb all over. You watch your step there Andy, that's awfully close to not cool!

Monday, March 15, 2010

poor neglected blog

Lately my life has been dominated by farm work, 100% completely. I got some bottle feeding dairy goats and the extra work involved has pushed me over the edge. I haven't had less than a 12 hour day, including weekend days, for the last 3 weeks. Of course, my first 2 chicken harvests were part of that, so I'd think that this would be letting up soon, but looking at my calendar for the next few days it seems unlikely. Maybe next week things will get easier.

So I haven't been posting much to the blog, the only thing I've been managing to do is post to twitter using my phone. The problem with that is just that it amounts to nothing, in the end, the Japanese word "mu-da" (nothingness) seems to best describe my time with twitter. Its very easy to post to, takes no time at all, but nothing is also what you get in return. So my new plan is to try to save up the efforts into a batch and put them in the blog, at least I will end up with a permanent record. See ya twitter.

Here's what I've been up to, in 140 words or less...

The pigs got out of the fence because it wasn't turned on, so I went with the flow and just put up more fence around them.

The pigs are happy when the sun not only comes out, but someone comes out to scratch them on the tummy.

Our Saturday ritual is waffles from scratch from Mary's family recipe. 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, 1 grass fed egg, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tbsp sugar; separate the whites from yolks, beat to peak and fold into batter at end.

Oh boy!

Baby female dairy goats have their horns removed for the safety of the person milking; it sure beats what they do to baby males (sheep, pig, cow, goat, & even some human baby boys have a rough ride at first)

I wanted nest boxes for my second eggmobile that could be slid out and dirty litter would just drop to the pasture. I was able to build that trailer myself, but it took my Dad to have the woodworking skills to do this one. Thanks Dad! (they work great!)

I took Shawna to Cotati Large Animal hospital because after 4 days she still wasn't bottle feeding. The vet confirmed I was doing it right, she speculated that leaving her with her mommy for an unusually long time was the cause. I got a lesson in tube feeding and she finally got 4 oz. in her belly. I traded her with one of Silva Star's goats that was on the bottle fine and in a few days Sarah amazingly taught her to take a bottle. Yay! But I lost my favorite La Mancha baby in trade for an Alpine mutt. Whatever; Sarah earned it.

The first chicken harvest of 2010 is in the fridge. That's real food.

Batch2 (harvest 3 & 4) are almost ready to go out on pasture. I really like the looks of this mixed batch which I have only because JM accidentally sent Silva Star a batch of Freedom Rangers by mistake, so I bought some from her.

The remaining hogs enjoying a sunny nap time. The farmer was jealous.

Monday, March 1, 2010

is it OK to eat a sentient creature?

I finally was able to be concise about why I think its OK to eat meat in an email to Mary's aunt. I liked it enough that I decided to post it here, questionable vocabulary and all.

OK Anne,
can't wait to discuss it over wine. the executive summary is that I believe in God. Who am I to criticize the food chain that God set up and put into motion? God gave us a special responsibility in that food chain to be good stewards of it. I don't believe opting out is the best way to do that. IMO it is a cop-out for people who feel powerless to think they have some power. Really they are just supporting bad farming practices of taking a wonderful diverse ecosystem and grinding it up and planting a single vegetable there in a monoculture, not even using livestock for fertility. God never farms without livestock, so I don't think we should either. Eating that livestock delivers the immortality that we are all after. What lamb wouldn't like to be part of a child that may some day cure cancer, bring world peace, or figure out how to change the food system so that we can begin repairing the damage we have done to the environment?

As for the sentience of an animal, well, we ALL gonna die someday, and out in the wild they are going to die in fear and pain at the mercy of a merciless predator, or a minivan bumper, or starvation, or if they are tough and lucky, old age. 1000s of years ago many animals "decided" that a partnership with these god-like humans was a better way to go. They get all the comforts of life that we ourselves find so indispensable, shelter, secure food, water and physical safety, and some love and attention every once and a while. Then they go to God. Who am I to deny them that option? I think I'd choose it myself, given the farmer was like me. I invite anyone who thinks all livestock should be freed today to head out in the woods butt naked and make themselves a life with nothing...see if they don't come crawling back right about dinnertime.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

what if?

I can't sleep because I have an idea knocking around in my head. Obviously I'm passionate about the environment, I've decided to focus the rest of my life's work on it, and I've (along with many others) identified the food system as the major problem within that to work on solving. It all started when I caught wind of the local Whole Foods getting beaten to a pulp on a local internet forum. I'm not thinking they are the solution to our food/environmental woes by any means, but I find it hard not to jump to the aid of ANYONE getting unjustly stoned in public. I mean that in the old-testament sense! If what they were saying was true, or even made sense, it might have been ignorable, but no, these folks were spouting off in the most inflamatory ways despite being relatively clueless about farming, food, and the economy itself. I felt it was my duty to correct the inaccuracies therein. So I did, and I didn't pull punches. I could never be in politics even though that's probably the best shot at making real change happen because I'm just not able to be likable enough. Not with my inflammatory writing style and willingness to publish-while-angry.

I asked a big question during that thread that my mind then simply wouldn't let go of. It went back to an old idea I'd had and fleshed it out just a little bit more, such that now it almost makes sense. Since I can't sleep, I'm hoping writing it down here will get it out of my head and I will be allowed to sleep. Plus, I went out to the garage and grabbed an old anti-insomnia prescription of Mary's that she let me have for a trip once, its 6 years expired but it worked on my trip so I figure I have about 45 minutes...

The question was this: what would be a viable way for me to sell whatever vegetables or meat products I produced, as much or as little as I produced, whenever they were ready to be harvested, for a fair price, me and every other small or even backyard producer? The farmer's market doesn't work, like everything else its all set up to exclude random little first years like me who just grow a tiny amount of the same thing everyone else has. They want 25% farms, 25% prepared foods, 25% crafts, 10% value added and etc you get the picture. You have to apply in advance, be on a waiting list, and pay a fee for the privilege of dealing with all that hassle. And its one day a week, so most people don't even do their real shopping there, it takes years to build a devoted following who come to get YOUR stuff if you want to be successful there. At least that's how it seems to me.

So my first idea was a full time farm market, in some central location, which operated maybe every afternoon/evening 6 days/week or something, so that people could shop there whenever they wanted. But you'd have real bootstrapping problems with that, farms wouldn't come because the customers weren't there yet, and vice versa. It just wasn't a compelling enough idea.

But this food fight on the local forum got me thinking about the economy, and unemployment, and the whole problem of lacking local manufacturing and production. We think we are saving our local economy buying stuff from Mexico or China or Chile at a locally owned independent store. Well we are not. As long as it is produced or manufactured elsewhere we are sending money out of our economy and over to theirs. For stuff we can't produce here, great, we should do that, those people need to make a living too. But there's lots we can produce here that we aren't, even though there's all these unemployed people here, there's about a million obstacles codified into law to prevent these people using their time to make and sell stuff locally. The middle men, the whole system makes sure that "production" only works for the big guys.

So what if some local whiz kid supervisor like Effren Carillo could literally re-write truckloads of legal obstacles just for our little renegade community and give us a real old-school market/bazaar? Like we could use the huge and centrally located with lots of indoor space and outdoor parking Pellini Chevrolet location and allow ANYONE who wants to just set up a table there and sell stuff any day they wanted 6 days/week. The only rule would be that it had to be produced, manufactured, grown, or created in Sonoma County. Heck, be magnanimous, throw Marin and Lake Counties in until there's critical mass and they get their own.

Lots of people would try it as a seller, because there are low costs and obstacles to doing so, and lots of buyers would check it out because they could go whenever it was convenient for them and be assured that they'd succeed in getting their shopping done (assuming the sellers were there in numbers). I might not be there with my eggs every time you go but there will always be someone there with no factory farmed eggs. So when we all have a ton of zuchini in the middle of summer, we bring it down along with everyone else. Some recently unemployed enterprising person comes through with a cart and buys them all cheaply cause supply is high and demand low, and takes them home and with the help of their backyard flock of chickens makes them into zuchini bread, which shows up piled on a table in a few days at the market and sells out. Long days and nights, but worthwhile work turning something nobody wants into something everybody wants. Not in a "certified obstacle" kitchen, but in _their_ kitchen. If people are leery about quality, ask for a sample. Be your own food inspector, right? Regular old bread made from a bunch of backyard gardens and backyard eggs is really tasty and desirable stuff, and factory made bread from elsewhere wouldn't be there.

It just seems to me that if people had a way to sell the stuff they grew or produced or made, they'd spend more time growing, producing, and making things, and less time tearing hair out or gnashing teeth about the bad economy, the job market, and the high prices at Whole Foods. If they could convert labor into cash, maybe they'd be willing to hand some of that cash to farmers, who then could afford health care coverage for their own family and maybe even to pay a living wage to an employee and get coverage for them too. Tourists might even be attracted to this market, thus turning those local products into instant exports and enriching our local economy with outside money. Wow.

Like I said, truckloads of laws are in place preventing anything like that from ever occurring in our "free" country. Food for thought...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

before the storm

My latest flurry of work has been about finishing my second eggmobile so I could get my flock two out into their new home. It seems only a couple per day escape the netting/hardware cloth and have to be caught when the door gets closed.

The picture below is flock one. These birds are laying well and seem happy and healthy despite the wet conditions.

I also moved the pigs before the big storm. They had pretty much finished off the first area I had them in, and the areas I added to that area, and it was time to move them before the storm pinned us down. I put them in a prior year's garden to let them tear it up and stop the weed cycle.

The sheep are now opposite the pig's new area...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2010 customer email

I sent out my first email to customers and friends today. Sums up what we have available in terms of product, so I figured I'd paste it in here also...

Happy 2010 to everyone. Now is the perfect time to let you know that we've planned a ramped up season this year, as last year was a sell-out every single harvest.

This year, the first 2 Sunday/Monday afternoons most months will be chicken pickup days excluding September and October due to the dry grass season. The 2010 price for our chicken is $5.00/lb.

We will be harvesting the Saturday before pick-up this year so that the meat will have been "rested" (for tenderness) for 24-48 hours by the time you get it. The pick up times will be Sunday afternoon from 3-5 and Monday afternoon 4-6 (you don't have to tell us which window you'll come in--just place your order for that harvest). You'll get a reminder email the Friday before the harvest.

Here's the list of chicken pick-up days: March 7/8, March 14/15, April 4/5, April 11/12, May 2/3, May 9/10, June 6/7, June 13/14, July 4/5, July 11/12, Aug 8/9, Aug 15/16, Nov 7/8, Nov 14/15

In other good news, since we like variety and dislike inhumane, environmentally unsustainable, confined animal operations, we've expanded our efforts to include lamb and pork. Sure, almost all lamb is grass fed, but they are excellent mowers and fertility builders, and a very welcome addition around here. Pork rips and roots up pasture like crazy, but now we can retire our diesel powered roto-tiller, and there is no better example of inhumane animal production than intelligent hogs raised in concrete boxes. They say a pig's happiness is measured by how far up their face the mud stain goes. Ours have mud up to their ears! Fill your freezer with meat that you and mother nature can both feel good about! If you find someone to split a half hog or lamb with, you don't even need a big freezer (you just have to get rid of a few of the mystery items back in there, like the 2 year old tater tots, which is a good thing!)

The hogs and the lambs will be ready around April/May, and I am taking orders now. Lamb is priced at $3/lb and we will only sell them whole (about 70 lbs.), and pork will be $4/lb for a half hog and $3.75/lb for a whole hog (about 220 lbs.) The animals will be humanely harvested by the butcher (Willowside Meats) and then prepared according to your taste (you will call them to specify how thick you like your pork chops, how much you want made into sausage and so forth). You will be buying the live animal from us, but don't worry, you won't get it until it is packaged up and frozen, and you'll pick it up at Willowside. In addition to paying Felton Acres the price of the meat, the butcher (Willowside) charges a harvest fee (around $50/animal) as well as a "cut and wrap" fee (around $0.70/lb) which you pay directly to them. Get your orders in soon to ensure your share!

Once again, it was a pleasure farming for you in 2009 and we look forward to seeing you all when you come pick up your chickens. Thanks for being such mindful eaters!

-Mary and Marc