Day at the Office

With only three hours spent in the pasture each day, I’d say the last two days have spent at the office. A shift has most certainly occurred in our schedule, and right now all we can think about are the 400 chickens we need to sell by our processing dates on September 11 and September 18.

The deadlines are crucial because we are still operating on such a tight budget, that we would seriously prefer not to maintain an inventory of birds that has to be stored frozen in expensive and energy-intensive freezers. As such, we are doing all we can (including staying in to make phone calls all day) to sell pre-orders for our two processing dates so customers can come out to the farm and pick up their birds chilled and fresh.

The transition to sales has been interesting, but certainly helpful for letting our aching muscles repair themselves. So far we’ve sold about 70 of the 400 chickens, and without embellishment, the customers we’ve met over the phone and via email have been amazing. It’s been so exciting. Yesterday I sent a message about pre-ordering to the South Bay chapter of The Weston A. Price Foundation, a group that Shae Lynn and I consult very often for nutritional advice.

What’s been great about marketing to this group is that they truly value the nutritional-density of quality animal products and they are incredibly knowledgeable and interested in exactly how their food is raised and prepared. In one day, we doubled our orders, and had several meaningful and enlightening discussions about our methods and our priorities. While it took up a lot of our time, they are exactly the kind of customers we want.

I’ve also begun the search in earnest for the components of our slaughter facility. My preliminary design is for a converted open-air trailer that can be setup in new places on the farm each time we process. This will allow the waste water we produce to be an asset rather than a liability. With a mobile unit I can irrigate areas of pasture with the amazingly nutritious water that is used to clean the birds and tables and avoid problematic concentrations of organic matter and moisture in a single area of the farm. It’s amazing how with a little management and creativity, things that plague the industrial system can be used to benefit the small farmer. As such, we are on the lookout for a work truck still to tow the trailer with as well as a hay wagon or cotton trailer, and stainless steel work tables. A bit of each day is now spent on Craigslist looking for the deal of the century, which is essentially all we can afford.

We have also begun the design of a structure that will keep the turkeys dry and shaded once they move out of the pasture shelters with the broilers. The design requires a good bit of tarp to keep the shelter light, which can be expensive. However, my incredibly smart and resourceful wife had the amazing idea of sewing together our empty feed bags from to make a tarp. It’s just another example of taking a traditional waste product and turning it into something of serious and measurable value for the small farmer. Obviously things would be different if we had 10,000 of these bags, but because we only deal with about 80 of them at a time, we have this flexibility to be innovative.

Lastly, both the turkeys and chickens have been growing well and eating A LOT of grass. They eat everything they can find or dig up, but their favorite is the clover, which coincidentally is the cows’ favorite and is compared by Joel Salatin to ice cream for the livestock. Each morning we take their feeders out for about an hour after we’ve moved them to encourage them to focus on the pasture. It slows their growth down slightly because they are eating food with more vitamins and minerals than calories, but it is worth it!

They graze all day, but during that concentrated first hour on the new pasture, it’s amazing to watch them run to find the freshest clover patch. What strikes us every time is that they have the same exact DNA as the industrial birds that are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to keep them alive and can’t walk or die of heart failure. The juxtaposition is breathtaking. Even though we are waking up at sunrise, it really is our favorite part of the day now.