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.