Here Comes 2012!!

As I write it would appear that Winter is still undecided about a long term visit this year. The last  four or five days have been almost spring like in their temperature and lack of snow cover. What it will all mean in the months to come is anyone’s guess, for now I will simply try to enjoy! Aside from periodic ruminations about the weather, we are settled into a routine of chores and planning for the year ahead. We continue to be encouraged and honored by the support and encouragement of our customers and community. Thanks to everyone for helping us make 2011 such a great year.... on now to 2012!

These Days Will Soon Return These Days Will Soon Return

As many of you know, I (Joe) am not teaching full time this year. While I miss the kids and my colleagues I do not miss the level of commotion that accompanied a full time job in the midst of running a small farm business. We are working to take full advantage of the change and do some work here at home on the vision and direction for the farm and our future. We will go into 2012 with a very similar structure as last year, however I will point out some changes and we also will be asking for some feedback on your experience with the farm and our food.

Our structure and offerings this year will be very similar to last year. Lambing season is right around the corner, our new batch of steers arrived on January 18th, and we will be placing our bird orders in the coming weeks. Our hens are enjoying a very cozy winter so far and the new group began laying right after Christmas. We are averaging about 125 eggs a day at the moment so we feel safe in declaring the egg shortage over! So, as hard as it may be to imagine at the moment, those wonderful pasture grasses will be under foot and hoof again in no time. For us that means its time to plan out the 2012 pasture season!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a model that relies on relationship and communication. The more we know about what our customers want from us in the season ahead, the better able we are to plan and prepare to raise that food. Getting your orders and deposits lets us take advantage of the winter months as we plan our use of fields, our processing schedule, and our farm’s orders for chicken and turkey chicks.

Lone Coyote Lone Coyote

In the pages that follow you will find some news and notes about the farm and the year ahead. You will also find an explanation of some small changes we are making as we tinker with our business plan and structure. If you have been to the farm to visit or you have purchased a share from us or something from our store please take a minute to complete our survey so we can gather some data on our customer’s experiences. Finally, you will find attached the ordering info for 2012. Getting your order and deposit by April 1, 2012 would be a huge help as we gear up for another fantastic growing season.

So thanks again for your business and support in 2011. We hope you are satisfied with your food and we certainly want to continue farming for you. Believe me when I say it is NEVER a problem for you to call (especially Joe’s cell: 207-400-7999), email, or stop by the farm. Take advantage of us for your questions, concerns, ideas, or feedback. Take advantage too of the farm for walks, visits with kids or grandkids, or a place to access Casco Bay and comb the shore. We want to put the “C” in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

We hope to hear from you soon,

Joe, Laura, Yvette, Muriel, and JoePye

2012 Winter Newsletter

2012 Order Form

Share Packages 2012

Working in the Weather

The heat has a way of really focusing your priorities. On the farm we have a very close relationship with the weather. We work in it, we need to react to it, we pay close attention to it. I can not think of a time in the past 6 months that I could not have waxed about the short and long term forecast according to various weather outlets (I have to say that Kieth Carson from WCSH6 is the best out there at explaining and elaborating on his daily forecast).

So days like today I wake up with a couple butterflies in my "tummy" as I consider the things that a day like today presents on the farm. As we all know, caring for animals means making sure they have what they need when they need it to stay healthy. For us that usually means fresh water and lots of food. Shade is something that we like to give the animals but in reality we are not always able to provide shade. The sheep usually adjust and are ok as long as they have had a chance to get used to the heat. A good portion o f our flock have lines that run back to African and Middle Eastern locals. As long as they have water and food they will hunker down and laze their way through a hot day with no shade.

We like to give the cows shade almost always when we get into July  and August. I remember a day last spring when we hit the low 90's out of nowhere for a couple days. I was not yet tuned into the weather and was still at school . I had the cows out in the open and returned from school to find one cow with his mouth open, panting like a dog. This is NOT behavior that cows should ever exhibit. Thankfully I led them all to the tree and he cooled down rapidly. Not an experience I would like to repeat any time soon.

Got Shade?

Days like today, however, break all the rules because it is so extreme. I spent the morning carving out spots on the farm for the sheep, both groups, to have shade for the next 48 hours. When you manage a piece of land with lots of wide open space this can be challenging to frequently utilize shade in your grazing rotation. However, we have lots of woods and brush to move animals to on days like this as long as it is not for too long a period. It was interesting this morning to see the lambs struggle to find the shade I had provided. They were only about 15 feet fron the edge of the woods but were clumped together and panting (at 8:30!!!) and clearly getting stressed. I had to grab a bucket and lead them into the woods.... even when you think you have done right by the animals you may find that your job is not done!

The chickens are another good example of being careful and complete in your execution of safe environments for the animals on a day like today. Chickens are not dumb but they of coursed can not "consider" a situation. Anyone who has read some of my posts from the winter knows that one thing we struggle with is birds that will cluster so tightly in the winter that they end up smothering themselves.  The same thing can happen if there is not enough shade... they will crowd towards it and get so clumped that they get even hotter! (more hot?). Yikes!

So you can see how the focus is very singleminded when facing such extreme weather. The priorities are simple but life and death.... shade, water, food. Enjoy the heat because you know what will be back soon.....

What heat?

Fox!

He continues to strike. He had a good old rumpus out there this evening. We have been holding our own with the chickens, the problems seem to be corrected although I don't have the coop on wheels yet! But this fox, man you can tell why this is one of the oldest stories in the long tale of man vs beast.

Ever read a short story called "Leiningen Versus The Ants"? For me it is the classic story of man vs. nature. I read it in high school can not really tell you the in's and out's of the story but it always comes to mind when I ponder squaring off with a "pest". The problem, of course, is that these critters are so damn smart, and cautious. I think that the brazen nature of this creature will lead, eventually, to his downfall. (I have watched him urinate and this is how I know it is a "he".) He is becoming more and more brazen here on the farm.

His visits are always after the farm has settled down from chores. I am pretty sure he listens to the sheep blatting all over the place while we feed and water everyone at chore time. Then we all go in to make supper and eat... stories... bed, etc. He slips in behind the barn, digs in some compost, grabs a loose chicken... whatever suits him.

I maintain lavish daydreams of out "foxing" him. I ponder camo, face paint, long silent stake outs with gun at the ready. I become Bill Murray as he plots the destruction of the gopher in Caddyshack.

So if you see me making small chickens out of plastic explosives you know what I am up to. The funny thing is that I have taken two shots at this critter (with the wrong gun but, as Donald Rumsfeld once said , "You go to war with the army you have") and have missed badly because all my rage at his pesky raids and their consequences pump away as I hyperventilate at having him in my sites at last. Maybe if I were a hunter I would have a clue how to manage the adrenaline and calmly defend my flock.

It forces that realization that he and I can not share this little peninsula, not as long as he is smarter than I am. Free range and foxes don't mix...

What an Egg Can Communicate

We had our first 100 egg day here today. The first time we collected over 100 eggs in a day. 103 to be exact. We will eventually expect about 130 or so a day for the next 6 months. This is great news in that it will provide a steady income through the season and will help us stay afloat until the fall sales of meat get completed.


Eggs are not a big money maker, you can cover your costs and make a little profit after going through the 2 year cycle. You spend a lot up front to feed them in the first 6 months before laying begins, you try as well to keep the lights on and make sure they produce as much as possible during the winter months. What is great about eggs, I have found, is the connection most people have to them. Eggs have a place in most people's diets and, beyond that, they have a place in our culture that is also noteworthy.


People can relate to eggs, and to me they are an amazing communicator of quality and health. I wrote a earlier of the 99 cent eggs at Walgreens. Part of this reflection was about scale and quality, about how a small producer can compete with those able to sell an egg for a little over 8 cents. What I have found though, and it was not clear in that post, is that increasingly people are willing to admit that not all eggs are the same. That is one of the biggest battles still out there in food marketplace, to convince people that some eggs are better than others, some peppers are better than others, etc. Not just better in taste, better food.... more nutrition, more mineral, more power for your body.


I think most people will willingly admit that some pizza is better than others, some apple pie is better than others, etc. The human factor is worshipped here, the ability of one vs. another in the kitchen. While the ingredients are a level playing field, it is the skill of the cook in the kitchen that makes a big difference. For example, my Aunt Lib made (hands down) the best blueberry (pronounced "bluebry") pie EVER.  Maybe there is some recognition of the quality of the ingredients, but for the most part its a matter of cooking skill.


What I have seen with the almighty egg is the ability is has to communicate the primacy of methods. I have seen that for many it is a stretch to imagine one egg really differing from another. Shell, yoke, white... and egg is an egg man. When people do see the difference, when they taste the difference, it is such a great opening for conversation about the power of pasture farming.


 



Your Egg on Grass... color, texture, "body"

A chicken can not hide the care she receives. She only has what she is fed and surrounded with to make her eggs. She will make an egg, in most cases, regardless. What she can tell us is that it matters what she is fed, how she is housed, what is under her feet each and every day. Given the right conditions, she will produce a masterpiece of health, nutrition, and beauty each time. We need to keep spreading this message as it is just as important for the cow, the sheep, the pig, and the vegetables. I think it was Michael Pollen in one of his books who said: "you are what you eat eats"...  love that.


 

April Fools

Chickens are out, lambs are everywhere, compost is getting turned, and the mud, in spots, is drying.

Chickens in the Compost

Apparently all in time for some snow to come on Friday. How do you spell "uugg", like Charlie Brown uugg? Please help us weather the storm by letting us know what you will be ordering this year. It is a huge help!

Longer posts and a Spring Newsletter in the coming days, promise.

2011 Order Form Final

Share Packages 2011

If you are "from away".... we are happy to examine options to get your food to you... maybe even delivery, just saying don't count it out. The food is worth it.

So a quick joke about "from away" which is the term in Maine for folks who are not from Maine. Full disclosure, I am from away... born in Michigan. So the big question is always... well, how long before a family can be considered native? I mean my kids are born in Maine so they are all good right? Can't say they are from away... right?  Well, one old Mainer I spoke to about this said:

"Son, just cause a cat craws into the stove to have her kittens... don't make 'em biscuits"

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Awoke this morning to another batch of lambs. Triplets this time. While it is an amazing sight and really helps your lambing "percentage" (we are currently at 250% (5 lambs out of 2 ewes) ) the general attitude of triplets among farmers is not positive.

Nature provides two "feeding stations" at the milk tap, as we all know. Three mouths makes for quite a bit of competition, that bit of stress translates into slower growth overall. Generally you are also going to have slightly lower birth weights with triplets. Overall it is more efficient to have a healthy, robust set of twins. In the long run your returns are greater.

However, I only spend some of my time looking at things through that critical business oriented eye. The other side of me simply looks in awe at the three lives that just emerged out of this sheep. Her attention to all three, her concern about each one's location, and her natural ability to keep them close is quite a sight.

Speaking of animal behavior.... our joy at the start of lambing season has been tempered by the continued problems we are having with our new layers. We are up to about 20 small eggs a day, which is good, but the aggressive tendencies of some of the birds continue to be a problem. More docile birds are getting pecked (some even to the point of death, its ugly and quick) and it is a problem not easy to solve at this point.

We took two actions yesterday that we hope help the situation. Our favorite breed, as many of you know, is the breed that lays the blue and green eggs (Araucana). They also happen to be less production oriented and (as far as we can tell) less aggressive. They have been chased and pecked all winter, many of them continue to have no feathers in their back. We took all of them out and put them in another coop hoping to calm the rest down a bit. We also added rescue remedy to the water hoping to, again, calm everybody down.

The hardest part about the recurring problems with these birds is that there is nobody to deflect blame or share it. When you raise animals and understand that nature really has it perfect, you become clear pretty quick that problems that develop in your flock or herd are almost always management issues. I have been amazed, over and over again, at the ability of animals to care for themselves and their young given the proper conditions.  When you have a problem manifest itself you have, generally, to only look in the mirror and try to learn form your mistakes. In the mean time.... find ways to relieve the stress that your management has caused so far. Either that or get out the beak clippers, the antibiotics,  and the individual cages like the big boys.

I'll keep you posted (is that a blog pun yet?).

Winter Recap and Chicken Catharsis

We took on 150 new chicks in October. As summer ended we were taking a look at where we would like to grow and one "no brainer" was eggs. Eggs have been our ambassadors here in our opening years, spreading the word about quality and local flavor. We have two stores interested in the product so we feel good about being able to move all those eggs.

You would think that keeping chickens would be fairly straight forward. I guess it is, for the most part. It has been startling, however, to find how things with these birds have not gone according to plan, at all. We basically have had about three trouble free weeks with these birds since they arrived. Ahhh, those wonderful days when they were only little three week old peepers.

So this is October, remember that. I am in school full time, it is getting colder, and we have about 6 months until green grass and bugs to chase and eat. But, getting the little chicks in October means that in the spring, as the days get longer, they will hit the 5 -6 month range and start to lay their eggs. Should work out great!

New Hens A Couple Days Old

Just about the time that November is cranking up it dawns on me that these little birds do not yet have a winter home. *&@#!! Better get on that, time to build the Pasture Palace. The superbly built, versatile, cozy home on the range for these birds and the eggs they will lay for you and yours. Materials... check. Design.... check. Time set aside to build..... sort of. Proper skills and tools...... anyway the design was great and I found a trailer to mount it on so we would be ready to rotate through the pastures.

Pasture Palace Frame

So you know those cartoons where a snow ball starts at the top of a hill and by the time it gets to the bottom it has collected all kinds of things inside. Not the best metafore to use here but the one that keeps popping up when I think of our winter with these birds. One problem after another as winter rolled on.

First they started piling on each other at night resulting in some getting smothered to death underneath. Next came the AMAZING wind storm that BLEW THE PALACE OFF THE TRAILER! WE woke up to find it propped on one corner at a rather steep angle (sorry no photo documentation on that one) . That resulted in a huge pile of birds in the lowest corner of the off kilter palace.... 17 dead. Then came the "it is winter and we are board out of our mind so we will peck each other's tail feathers off as they emerge" phase. Each bloody tail feather stump would lead to more pecking which, if you know anything about chickens, can get out of control and turn cannibalistic. The answer: pine tar applied to the tail feather area.... one bloody bird at a time. Remember the snowball?

At this point we have lost about 30 birds. We are doing normal chores everyday, shoveling their "yard" so they can go out and get space and air, tarring feathers daily, and trying to find things for them to peck (suet, dirt, compost) so they will peck each other less. Then we start to realize that we are missing some birds.... the reason we know is that the birds we are missing are some of the roosters we got with the hens. Where did they go? We have not found dead birds. They can not fly away.Huh???

It is now late January, the snow is deep but now hard on top. Easy for certain critters to travel over the top. Critters like.... fox. We figure he got about 10 birds in all before we caught on to his routine. (About 3:30 travel around behind the house, down around the cows, up through the woods, and then over to the coop.) I have never shot at a wild animal before this fox. I shot at him twice with the wrong weapon and from too far away. Needless to say I did not hit him, I did seem to scare him away though and he knows we are on to him. That plus another layer of fence and we seems to have solved that problem. Now we are down to a little over 100 birds. Remember we started with 150.... you ever seen money burn?

So catharsis. This weekend I was able to finally "muck out" the palace. It had accumulated about a foot of bedding as we had not been able to deal with it until the recent "warm up". The bedding was so deep (necessary to keep the birds dry and clean) that getting in and out of the structure to do chores was becoming difficult. Got a nice little reminder twice a day for weeks about how overdue that chore was.

The Clean Palace

The Carnage

Compost Food

The palace is now clean, "mucked out" clean that is, the fox has not made an appearance in over a week, we seem to be holding the tail feather eating at bay, and we got our first eggs yesterday. Come on spring!

A smattering of comments...

A sampling of feedback from the past year. We love to hear this stuff, it is extremely satisfying!

“wanted to let you know we thought your lamb was the best we have ever had......without question..... We just simply grilled some shoulder chops and ate them hardly speaking because we couldn't believe how good it was”

“The turkey was great (as it was last year) and the chickens are just unbelievable. We have really enjoyed the product."

“The turkey was even better than we anticipated; it was FANTASTIC!  My in-laws want another one for next year as well.”

“We had some of the ground beef with lasagna already and I'm cooking a stew today. The ground beef had great flavor and seemed very lean. The stew meat looks amazing. Friends and family were very impressed with the look of the meat and professional packaging.”

“...your eggs are the best in the area...”

“I discovered your eggs at Morning Glory a few months ago and have been buying them ever since. For the extra cost they are worth every dime. They are beautiful to look at, fabulous for baking, exceptional to eat.”

“Thank you for taking the time and energy to produce exceptional food.”

“Just had our first steaks from "the cow". Great stuff Joe! Keep it coming!”

“We had rib steak last night and it was so tender and delicious! We shared with our friends who will now be your next customers!”

“Grilled one of our porterhouse steaks last night with a spicy dry rub. Freakin' delicious. Thank you Two Coves Farm!”