Update on the farm goings-on

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything on the blog and I thought I’d give an update on everything around here.  We’ve certainly been busy, and are about the get much busier in the next couple weeks!

Virtual tour begins now:

 

It’s a porcine party, who could ask for more?

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“I smell her but I can’t see her!”

Our current round of market hogs are gaining quite nicely and getting very close to harvest weight.  For the last several weeks, we’ve had them moved into a new paddock in the woods that we have fenced only with electric fencing.  After taking a ride on the five star roller coaster known as “The Learning Curve” Mark successfully fenced these gals in with 7,000+ volts of electricity. Alessandro Volta is officially on their hate list. The cool thing about this fencing is that is inexpensive, relatively easy to set up and move and adaptable to wooden terrain such as ours.  We can move pigs all over our acreage to provide food for them and light clearing of the land for us.  They eat poison oak, for goodness sake.  And make bacon out of it, no less!  

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These pigs are thrilled they are being raised right next door to Apple Hill:

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Next on the farm tour, we have Clover, our very pregnant gilt (she’ll be a “sow” once she farrows her first litter….farrow=birth, for pigs).  She is Maddie’s 4H project this year (and hopefully for the next few years!): 

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Here’s a better belly shot:

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No, she’s not currently giving birth to a lamb.  That’s Shirley, our Christmas lamb who is keep Clover company until she gives birth.  Clover was feeling a bit lonely and we were feeling a bit hungry so it was a win-win.  Once Clover has several hungry piglets gnawing at her 24/7, she’ll wish for some loneliness.  And a glass of wine and a bubble bath.  Piglets are due on or around December 7th, we have all our fingers and toes crossed for an easy labor, healthy piglets and good mothering.

On to the fine feathered friends:

Cornish Cross soy-free batch is almost seven weeks old now.  We are looking at probably two-three more weeks I think.  These guys are looking great, well feathered and very active and sturdy.  I raised them on whole grain and fermented feed and it’s really made for some healthy growth rates, they aren’t too big too soon and are therefore very active and not just laying down with their head in the feeder all day.  Now I’ve transitioned back to an organic soy free higher protein feed and they are putting on weight nicely.

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Sadly, no photos of the little two week old chicks who are being raised by their mama, because a hawk(s) has killed off all of them over the last few days.  All six of them, well, actually just five but the mom abandoned the last remaining one overnight last night and sadly he died too!  Nature is brutal.  I have four left who are a little bigger, but I’m keeping them in the chicken yard for a few days to see if I can get the hawk to move on.  It’s such a bummer because the mamas do such a great job raising them and teaching them to free range and forage for food.  I was really hoping we could keep a “closed” flock this way and keep producing new layers for eggs and fryers out of the roosters, but we need to get more hawk protection.

Now to the bovine buddy…

Lastly, we have Joey, who is Calista’s 4H project steer for this year:

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He comes home with us this week.  What a sweetie he is!  We’ve never had a cow before so I’m sure we’ll be taking another ride on “The Learning Curve” throughout the next six months or so when he is here.  Should be fun!

 

I think that is it for now!  Cheers!

 

 

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Wake me up when September ends.

I really hate that Green Day song, but I agree with the sentiment. Aside from this beautiful basket of bounty, September is among my least favorite months. It’s such a tease – cool crisp mornings fooling you into sweatshirts that you will later rip off in the seat of your broiling car. By October, it will be much more likely to stay cool all day and rain, which is something everyone seems to be looking forward to, not least of all the dry, parched earth. The leaves will do their amazing color parade and pumpkins and apples will rule the land. Bring it on!

In the meantime, I have a date with my cuisinart to purée that basil into pungent pesto futures, which I will unleash into my kitchen during the dark days of January, my second unfavorite month.
😉

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Sweet Clover

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Is she or isn’t she?  We did the AI (artificial insemination) with Clover two weeks ago, and we should know whether or not she is pregnant sometime next week.  If she shows no signs of heat, we can celebrate with some champagne (not for the expectant mother, of course!  Oh, and not the kids either…. so I guess it will be me and Mark drunk on a bottle of champagne).  If she starts to go into heat again, we will have to do the AI or find a boar to do the *job* the old-fashioned way.

I can see the craigslist ad now.

“SPP (single pink pig) seeks SB (single boar) who enjoys rooting in the dirt, lounging in the mud and chewing leaves and acorns.  Must love long walks in the pasture and holding hooves with me.  Must be okay with a little meat on a girl.”

Sigh.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.  Cross you fingers for us, k?

 

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.