Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Duck, duck, goose!

So, what's next for Treffynnon Farm? We have been discussing the future of the farm lately and trying to decide what to do. Of course, we want to make money at farming, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that one. The way our economy and food-belief system works, farmers almost never make money at what they do. They do it for the love of the land and animals, and because they MUST farm. I feel that way about theatre. Heaven knows there's no money in that, either. I'm hoping we can make enough to cover our expenses and our own food costs. Even at the rates we charge we are NOT going to get rich, no matter what people might think.

We had a great success with raising a few broilers this past summer. We took the standard 'supermarket' chicken, the Cornish Rock and raised it on pasture with organic, soy-free feed. We grew them for 12 weeks, which is double the time the 'big barn farmers' do, plus ours are outside the whole time. The chickens were super easy to clean and pluck (a major consideration, honestly), and they have big, juicy breasts and good-sized legs. But the big difference is the taste: ours are delicious! They have that 'what chicken is supposed to taste like' flavor. The meat is not dry and tasteless like most of the chicken I've had in restaurants. I stopped buying supermarket chicken years ago. I didn't see the point in paying that much for cardboard. We are looking at the less overbred broilers out there, but they just don't meet the requirements of a good-sized breast and tasty meat. But whatever we choose, we are going to raise more chickens this year, and believe it or not, almost half are already claimed! We have a few dedicated customers (many thanks!!). The other half will probably sell before we butcher them, or we'll eat them ourselves. Nothing like a good, home cooked chicken we raised ourselves. Did I mention I made chicken fricassee with one? Julia Child would have been so proud!

We have also come to adore our ducks and are going to raise a few more, mostly for the eggs, but also for meat. Our original gang of five (1 Indian runner, 2 Khaki Cambells, 1 Pekin) will have the run of the place forever, but the new lot will either lay eggs or be eaten. I can only let the warm heart go so far. The turkeys will, hopefully, breed over winter and we'll have some babies for next year. We feel like they were a success this year, so want to continue with them again. We want to also add Geese to our menagerie. Geese are very popular in Great Britain as a Christmas bird, and from all accounts are much more tasty than our national thanks-bird. I have never had goose, but look forward to trying it. To help our costs and make what we grow our very own, we are looking into buying an incubator for eggs. While I would love it if our birds could raise their own young, that is not the best solution for a farm trying to pay bills.

We still have thoughts of adding milk goats or cows to the farm but recognize that that will add a lot of time and effort that we aren't ready to commit to yet. I want to make artisanal cheeses and have our own raw milk, but goats are a big step up from chickens. We are also looking into Alpaca or maybe Llamas for fiber and (in the case of Llamas) guarding. The Alpaca are a huge investment, but perhaps it could be our way into making money at farming. I'm leaning toward Llama, myself, because I want animals for guarding as well as companionship and income. Llama aren't even a shadow of the cost of Alpaca, but I think the output matches the input. I wish we could win the lottery.

I am reading more and more about 'back to the landers' and 'urbanfarmers' lately. I'm so happy more people are recognizing the need to grow their own and re-connect to the land. Much of it is hard work, so many of those might fall by the way, but many will continue and pass along this new ideology to their kids. Good for them and for all of us. For those reading this who can't or don't want to farm or even have a garden, good for you, too, but remember that you get what you pay for and pay your farmers as much as you can truly afford. Skimp on the cable and the cell phone--it doesn't feed you or your family, but don't skimp on your food.

What food really costs

So last Friday was "turkey d-day" here at the farm. Yes, THAT day. I never quite know what to call it. Most people say they are "processing" birds, but really we are butchering them. Another semantic adjustment to help our little psyches from wholesale collapse, I guess. I do end up saying "processing" to our customers. I don't want to shock them or fill them with horror, but we are killing the birds for the human's dinner. Slaughter, prepare, carve, cut up, dress, cut, clean, joint are all synonyms for 'butcher'. I suppose it doesn't help that the word means both "to kill for food" and "to kill cruelly". Perhaps 'dress' is the best word? We dressed the turkeys. Well, we did that after we slaughtered them. But 'dress' sounds very classy.

So last Friday my friend Mary and I dressed several of the turkeys that Barry has been raising since April. Luck was on my side in that Barry got a last minute emergency landscaping job and had to be gone for the day. I think that really was the best thing. He has gotten very attached to the turkeys. He knows each by their personality and says they all look different. Hmmm.

The day was long and difficult. Mary and I are both animal lovers, and we recognize clearly what it means to raise and kill an animal. We don't like to do it, but we must do it. And we do it with as much grace and respect as we can muster. Quick, clean and humane are right up there as

Turkeys are big birds. Even though ours are Heritage Blue Slate turkeys, and don't get as big as the supermarket birds, a couple of the toms were pushing 20 pounds. It took us the best part of a day to dress just half our turkeys (we saved back six for a breeding trio and Christmas dinners). I have a new respect for my grandmother and the other women who kept their families fed. They did what we did, often alone, and without electricity or refrigeration.

We sold all our turkeys, but had one whose owner 'forgot' to pick up theirs. It was a 15# tom, great for a large family. I suspect from our conversation that the customer did not expect the turkey to
cost as much as it did. We charge $7.00/lb for our turkey. Yes, that is a lot of money! But guess what? The turkey you buy at the store for $.69/lb is NOT the turkey we raised, nor do we want it so. We aren't trying to market to everyone, but to people who really want to know exactly where their food is raised, how it has lived, how it was killed and that it is a sustainable piece of agriculture, not the current industrial monstrosity in which we are trapped. Our turkeys really DID lead happy, free lives on our pasture. They got to mix with chickens and ducks and humans; they ate organic grain and bugs and grass; they were talked to every day by a Welshman; they were slaughtered quickly and humanely and the only traveling they did was from the pasture to our refrigerator. For all you who "just want food, not philosophy", go to Publix or Kroger or where ever. I love knowing where my food comes from and how it was treated. That $7/lb will pay for their upkeep and some of my labor. What kind of pay out do you think that $.69/lb turkey gives to the farmer/processor/packager/store? You have to raise a LOT of turkeys at that price to get any return. Millions of turkeys, I think. I'll stick with what we are doing, even if it ends up that we are the only ones who eat them. I like the cost factor for me better.

Oh, and in case that isn't enough--this was THE BEST tasting turkey I have ever cooked. I have heard the same from a couple of our customers, too. There is not comparison between what we have raised and what you can get for super cheap in the store, both in style and taste. That makes it all worth it for us.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

And another thing...

Note to self (and others): working a full-time job in the theatre plus trying to run an all-natural farm means the blog probably gets lost in the shuffle more often than one wants. The thing about theatre is that it is organized just like any specific timed project, but with a non-negotiable drop dead date (the show MUST go on, no matter what). I think that in my 20+ years in the industry I've only been involved with one show that pushed back the opening by one week. I was an actor on that one, I just want to make that clear(not my fault, in other words, lol!). You just don't delay openings, but you can delay planting the turnips or butchering the chickens. The chickens certainly don't mind and the turnips don't have an opinion, despite what the vegetable rights activists say.

Hey, I thought this blog was about natural farming and living, so what gives with the other stuff? Well, just my way of saying "sorry I haven't posted in awhile, and you can bet it will happen again in the future". Okay, 'nuff said on that. The next post will actually be about animals!

Next up: Flying turkeys, waddling chickens, cowering tortoises and who knows what nonsense!

Oh, and here is Barry's Jack-O-Lantern for this year. I think his name is Purly.