Tread Softly...

I certainly don’t want to tempt fate by counting my turkeys before they are processed and sold, but with winter approaching it’s time to start making some plans.

Having a seasonally-driven schedule has some significant disadvantages, but it allows us to reset our minds and use the “off-season” to play around with projects and see how we can improve or expand the business.  This year has been truly wonderful to us and while we are still a little ways away from paying for the broiler and turkey business and rebuilding our savings, we have a few projects that we are planning for the winter that we’d love to share with all of you.  Your input, critiques, ideas, and even help are all welcome and encouraged.
Our winter planning board!   See all the ideas?

Rabbits- In 2011 we are planning to start a small rabbit enterprise on the farm.  Many restaurants and customers we’ve talked to have been disappointed at the availability of local and especially pasture-raised rabbits, and we are thrilled that we might be able to help fill the gap.  The project would likely be quite modest as rabbits don’t scale easily.  However, on a small-scale they are wonderful and can potentially bring in a nice supplemental income for the farm.

We are thinking of breaking from the Polyface Raken House (It really should be spelled Racken House) that combines Rabbits and Chickens on a composting floor to eliminate the dangers of concentrating rabbit waste.  Instead, we are considering combining the rabbits with a worm composting structure that will keep our hens out on the pasture and control the rabbits’ waste while creating some really valuable compost for our garden.
Garden- So this one is a bit of a pipe dream, but it’s an important one to me.  I have very limited gardening experience, but next year I’d like to produce 75% of the vegetable calories Shae and I consume.  In fact, I’d like to produce a heck of a lot more… like comfrey for the rabbits to eat and herbs to sell with chickens.  However, I think this is possible.  I am a devoted student of Steve Solomon (look up his books on gardening!) and I’m surrounded by truly gifted vegetable growers and a near-constant supply of manure.  Additionally, ShaeLynn’s father and mother are both now experienced gardeners, and would be amazing resources.  If I can’t get them out here to help by offering chickens, I’m willing to try luring them with grandchildren.

Bread Baking- A big challenge that we have to overcome is that our cash flow ends in the winter.  This is not completely terrible, but it does put some hefty pressure on the other seasons.  In the next few weeks Shae and I will be talking with some local farms and seeing if we can team up with their CSAs and provide them with a steady supply of artisanal breads baked in a wood-fired brick oven.  Sounds pretty great, huh?  Shae is an accomplished baker now and her curiosity and devotion to the craft are really exemplary.  In the end of 2009 and the beginning of this year she worked full-time baking these sorts of breads in New Jersey and frankly we haven’t been able to find anything like them out here.  The time commitment is quite serious, but as a winter business I think this is a great fit.  I can’t imagine Shae will be too unhappy in front of a roaring oven during the cold wet months and I can’t think of a single customer that wouldn’t be interested in fresh hearty breads to enjoy with a warm bowl of soup this winter.

Soup and Chicken Stock- As I am not one to brag, I’ll simply say that the stock we make from our chickens is downright stellar.  With the rich and nutritionally-dense fat that our birds put on eating grass and clover, we can produce a stock that is thick, flavorful, and wonderfully healthy.  The best part about stock and soup is that it is a great way to add value to the chickens and empty our freezer (that is in cahoots with PG&E to destroy our budget).  Producing chicken stock or soup would be a great winter business as well and help to distribute or income a little more evenly.  Further, it would be a great way to cooperate and build relationships with the local vegetable growers whom I am sure would like to see aesthetically unsalable vegetables get purchased and used to feed people.

Slow Growth Broilers- The last project (although the list goes on) that I’ll put out there is that we’d like to begin experimenting with new breeds of meat chickens.  I love the Cornish Crosses that we raise.  They are efficient growers and produce at a low cost a meaty bird that we hope lets more families eat wholesome and local food.  However, they are not the only meat bird out there.  Other breeds bring other assets to the table and many of our customers have been interested in the slower growing breeds.  These birds take longer to produce and have mostly dark meat, but as a result are usually quite flavorful.  One of our big ambitions is to see if we can actually start a self-sustaining flock of these guys that we breed and raise on the farm.  Over time, this would allow to us experiment with breeding a meat bird that is specially suited to unique climate and pastures of the Cloverdale Valley.  Pretty exciting!

We’ll see how all of this develops.  Our model for growing this business is to expand the diversity of the farm rather than the size of any one enterprise.  We are also looking into getting a dairy cow (my cheese making skills are in desperate need of practice), starting a grass-fed lamb operation, and beginning to raise pastured pigs, but these enterprises might be too capital-intensive to begin in the winter and may have to wait until spring.

All that said, 2011 looks like it’s going to be a pretty formative year for the business.  As I mentioned above, we’d love to hear ideas, encouragement, warnings, or anything else any of you are willing to offer.  We really can’t thank all of you (friends, customers, family, and blog-readers) enough for helping us start and keep the farm going.  We wouldn’t have even gotten this far if it wasn’t for your cheering, advice, support, and friendship.

Happy winter!

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams