Our little girls are growing up

I should have know it was almost *that time*. Why, with the extra crankiness and squawking at me at all hours, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out. My little girls were becoming women, uh…. Hens.

There’s something so endearing about that first egg. After months of freeloading, finally – a payback! And in such a precious, petite package. More a promise than a product, really. When my first flock of chickens that I raised from chicks (we actually inherited our very first flock of adult hens at our last house about 12 years ago) started laying 10 years ago or so, I actually blew out the insides of all those eggs, green and brown shelled. They made a cute decoration for Easter which is possibly still buried in a box in our barn from when we moved almost eight years ago. This time, after hundreds of chicks, I’m not quite so sentimental, but I’m definitely excited about what’s to come. Our older layers are three and a half now and thanks to a problem bear and various other natural causes, their number have dwindled to three. Not enough to feed a family who loves eggs.

Now I have thoughts of omelettes, egg salad and homemade mayonnaise – oh, and angel food cake with the white and lemon curd with the yolks – endless uses and exploitation. And it all begins with the humble, tiny, fragile first egg.

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the four little pigs

We brought home four little pigs yesterday, all Berkshire/Hampshire cross gilts (girls) from the same litter.  They are two months old today and we will have them until approximately January.  They are as cute as can be and still a little skittish but seem to be settling in well.ImageImageImage

July chicken available soon!

Our last batch of chickens for the spring/summer of this year is growing nicely and should be ready July 29th and 30th. We have found in the last couple rounds that our feed costs have been higher than anticipated, and we’ve had some predator issues, therefore we will have to charge a slightly higher price per pound this time, $5.50/lb.

We have to ensure that our tiny corner of the sustainable farming community stays truly sustainable, in that we can actually stay in business raising chickens and pigs. With feed costs for organic chicken feed so high, we need to charge a little more to cover our costs and have money left over to invest in future projects and development to our land.

We just added four piglets to our farm and we plan to expand our forest-raised swine component and have USDA inspected and packaged pork available by the pound in 2014. We will continue to raise truly free range chicken, and we are looking into ways to streamline and optimize our process.

If you have a moment, I would love it if you could drop me a quick note to tell us what your biggest priority is in choosing to purchase meat from a small farm like ours. Is it the organic feed, the outdoor free-roaming life of the animals, or just the great taste? Maybe all three or something else entirely? Getting feedback from our valued customers will help us so much. Email me at schrecksacres@gmail.com.

Back to delicious chicken! We have a large batch of birds who should be ready for deliveries or pick up on July 29th & 30th. They will be $5.50/pound and should weigh in between 3-5 pounds ($16.50-27.50). If you have a preference for smaller or larger, let me know in your order and I will try to match you up when we package. We will not have chicken available again until late fall, mostly likely November.

We are now accepting credit cards if you’d like to utilize that option!

Thank you again for your business and please share this with anyone you know who is looking for delicious chicken, fed organically and raised with love and care in the great outdoors.

Chandra & Mark Schreck

Lard. Not a four letter word.

I have a confession to make.  I did something yesterday that I never imagined I would do, something I’ve only read about – that few people I know talk about doing. Something that is so renegade, so obscure, so taboo that my grandmother probably did it – and her mother too. I rendered lard.  There, I said it.  I took leaf lard (the fat in the body cavity, around the kidney area) from our heritage pasture/forest raised hogs and rendered it down into snowy white goodness.  Here’s the process:

First, I cut the fat into small pieces and piled it in the slow cooker.  This was approximately 4 pounds of fat:

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I turned it on high for about 2 hours, then down to low for about 4, keeping the lid askew to allow the moisture to evaporate.  After there was more liquid fat than solids left, I started spooning it out to make it easier for the rest to stay hot:

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Once I had all the liquid oil out of the pot, I strained it through coffee filters set into a colander:

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I poured the lard into individual jars, I got about 4 pints out of the batch, plus a little left over in the crock pot with the solids, know as cracklings or Chicaronnes.  Here’s how they looked after frying them up in a cast iron skillet:

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Wow.  Just wow.  Here’s my haul, and this is just from one half of one pig.  Liquid version before cooling:

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This morning, after chilling all night in the fridge.  Lucky jars. We’re going on day six or something of one gazillion degree heat with no A/C.  I wish I could sleep in the fridge.

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Of course, I wasted no time cooking with this amazing stuff, and whipped up fries and home grown zucchini this morning, both in the lard.  Hardly any oil soaked into the potatoes, I guess because the smoke point of lard is high and you can really fry them at a good temp.  Some scrambled eggs from our hens rounds out this amazing breakfast.  And some organic ketchup.  Delish!

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Now, I know everyone isn’t sold on lard as an “acceptable” fat and as a child of the 70’s who spent formative body image years in the non-fat craze of the 90’s, it is a little weird to partake in such an “off-limits” product.  There are plenty of articles online and in books from the real-food movement that will espouse the benefits of properly rendered lard from naturally raised hogs, so I don’t need to go into that here.  But common sense tells me, without a doubt, that if I can utilize fat from an animal for whom I cared for 6 months and fed no genetically modified feed to, no junk food to, and who lived in the sunshine, the mud, the grass and the leaves and who was happy and stress-free up until the the exact moment of slaughter (no transportation, no feed lot, no indoor confinement) – then that fat is far superior to any product available in a store.  While I will still use my olive oil, butter and coconut oil without hesitation, there is a supreme satisfaction in knowing exactly how this got into my pan.  It’s a primal, earthy, feel-good revelation that no spray can of Pam could ever touch.

Birds on the move

We moved the last batch of spring/summer birds to the larger grass area for their final 3-4 weeks. They have a ton of room now and lots of grass and bugs that have been growing since its bring irrigated. The birds had a ton of fun pecking around this morning until Placerville turned into Death Valley around 10 AM. Geez it’s hot. I hope these chickens were crossed with some Central American wild fowl so they can withstand the next several days of 100+ temps. Right now they are hunkered down in the shade doing the spread-wing, open beak panting looking like they’re thinking about how we must have decided to cook them alive or something. Poor babies!

Speaking of poor babies, it seems that the predator(s) that killed a few of our birds a couple weeks ago must have taken off with more than we thought. When we moved the birds we were able to get a solid count and we are down about 7 or 8 more birds than anticipated. What a bummer. When we sell these, we will have to charge a bit more, $5.50/pound, to cover the losses. But they will be worth it, we get compliment after compliment on how our chickens are so delicious.

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Another great year at the County fair

I really can’t say enough good things about 4H. My kids have learned responsibility, gained confidence and are growing into leaders. Fair week is amazing and exhausting and memorable. Seeing all the great youth of our area showing off their work from the year is inspiring, but more importantly, the way they help each other out and learn to rely on each other instead of just the adults is the best part. Younger and newer members learn from the experienced ones and the experienced ones develop the confidence and competence that comes from teaching what you know.

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smarter than the average bear?

Nobody ever said farming is boring.  Or full of endless hours of high quality sleep.  Last night proved both of those points here at Schreck’s Acres.  I was woken up shortly after falling asleep around 10:30 to my dog Mitzi busting out with a “someone is invading my territory and I’m not happy about it” bark, which she thankfully reserves for emergencies.  And the UPS truck. The tone of her bark got me right on my feet and I cracked the sliding glass door to be greeted with the sound of chickens having a not-so-splendid time.  Oh boy, I thought, something jumped the fence to our new pasture and it enjoying chicken tartare free of charge.  Well, I actually just come up with that right now, I was not exactly feeling witty at that moment.  Armed with my super powered flashlight and semi-scared dog, I bolted out the door like a doomed character in a predictable horror flick. “geez, chick, are you stupid or something?  shouldn’t you at lease bring a steak knife with you or icepick or something?  don’t you see how this could go???” I headed right back to the meat bird pasture and found everyone pretty chill.  Believe it or not, chickens have a fair amount of body language and these ones were saying “we’re fine, mama” so I made my way back to the house thinking perhaps the whole thing was a dream or something.

I pointed my flashlight in the area where Mitzi was focused, near our small egg laying coop.  Then I saw this (made even more dramatic when lit by my super powered flashlight):

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And this (note the semi-livestock guardian dog keeping watch):

 

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And then this, laying on  the ground (well, actually in the jaws of said semi-livestock guardian dog, who is also a bird dog.  And is bird hunting dog.  She’s going to need therapy later in life, growing up on a chicken farm):

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What I didn’t see was this, presumably because he made a quick exit after being scared by my super powered flashlight:

 

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I moved the remaining chickens into a transport crate, tucked as safely as possible behind our six foot pasture fencing.  Their body language was saying “OMG, WTH just happened?!”  Needless to say, 45 minutes later I was back in bed and it was not easy to sleep.  I’m sure the bear will be back, looking for his second course. Ruh-roh.

RIP Scooter, our three year old Rhode Island Red, enjoy your journey to the big pasture in the sky.

 

i think baby goats are actually the cutest animals

 

I know there’s puppies and kittens and all that, but these goaties are simply precious.  I think what makes them so cute is how playful they are, how they climb on each other and leap off anything they can climb up on, doing it over and over again.

 

Here is Trixie, who has a sister who is similarly marked, but with less white.  These two are available in a little over a month, for anyone who is looking for registered Nigerian Dwarf does:DSC_1950

 

Here’s Pixie, Trixie’s sister, with their mama Glenda, who may be available as a doe in milk:
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And here is a shot of Coco mama with her little wether-to-be, S’Mores.  Not a great shot of her, but you can see how much alike they look. S’mores is also available as a wether, in late June:

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