Monday, December 2, 2013

Turkey Update

Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

Yes, we still have turkeys, though less than half are left.

As we mentioned in a previous post, we were able to find a USDA inspected processor that was also Animal Welfare Approved. Their name is Garner Abattoir Meat Processing and they are a family run business located in Van Buren, Arkansas.

On Wednesday, November 20th, Debbie, Danielle, and Elizabeth rounded up turkeys and got 3 Tom's and 5 Hen's into two cages (the 3 Tom's and 1 Hen in one, and 4 Hen's in the other). When Donald got home from working out-of-town, he and Adam loaded the cages up in the truck, and Donald and Debbie got up at 4:30 am Thursday morning to take them to the processor. They were picked up late Friday evening.

USDA Inspected
We processed 8 turkeys ranging in weight from 8 pounds to over 14 pounds. We originally dedicated three turkeys for the Heavener First United Methodist Church, and also gave a close friend that has helped with the farm one of them. On short notice, we sold two, and kept two.

As we generally get a 22 pound turkey from the market, we kept the 8 pounder and a 14 pound Tom. Debbie cooked the 8 pounder the day before Thanksgiving just in case we needed it, and cooked the 14 pounder Thanksgiving day.

The turkey definitely looked good, and initial taste tests indicated we were in for a treat.

Cut up Turkey, ready to eat
After cutting up the turkey, it did not look like much, but the dark meat was dark, making the dark meat on a store bought turkey look almost white.

The turkey was extremely favorable, rich and very tender. Part of the processing technique used included "air-drying", which eliminated any water weight. As a result, our 14 pound turkey provided essentially the same amount of actual meat that a 22 pound store bought turkey would have provided. Needless to say, we still have turkey left over.

Reviews from all of those that got some turkey (church, friends, customers) were very good, and we plan to sell 4 or 5 of the remaining 6 (yes, we had 15, but one is crippled and we will keep her for awhile) for Christmas. They will travel to their final destination (the processor) on Thursday, December 12th.

We have only good things to say about Garner Abattoir, everyone is very friendly and helpful (even their long-time customers), they are quick and efficient, and deliver a very high quality product. They are a blessing to the community.

We will most likely not be raising turkeys in 2014 (though this may change), but will probably revisit the subject for 2015. If we do raise them again, we will most likely not be able to call them free-range, as we will probably clip their wings to keep them under control.

In our area, non-organically raised heritage breed turkeys will bring over $4.40/pound. If you check Ebay, whole turkeys are bringing between $180 and $240 per bird, plus shipping and handling. This means that raising turkeys can be profitable (we sold our for $30 and $40 per bird, though we will most likely sell them for $40 - $45 per bird for Christmas).

In the meantime, the turkey operation has proven to be another success for our farm.

From farm,

to table,

to stomach,

Farm fresh, all natural, heritage breed turkeys from Baker Heritage Farms - the only way to go.

Blessings from Baker Heritage Farms

"You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play." Warren Beatty

Chicken Update

Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms;

As promised, this is the first of two updates. This update is about our chickens.

Egg production is down. At our peak, we were getting upwards of 15 to 16 eggs per day, sometimes as many as two dozen. We are now (as of today) down to 12 hens, having lost the others (including Red, our rooster) to our local fox. The fox is getting more daring and has taken at least 3 hens in the last week (in the past, the fox was taking 1 hen about every 7-10 days) and is even coming into the yard to get the hens. In fact, he actually tried to take one when Donald, Debbie, and Danielle were in the front yard today (he came back and got one anyway). As a result of feeding the fox, as well as colder weather setting in, we are now getting between 6 to 8 eggs per day.

Because the eggs are so good, and in high demand, we will most likely keep raising chickens, but will not add more until we can make some changes. While our intent was to be cage-free and free-range, we will no longer be able to offer free range once we ramp up our chicken operation again.

We are currently considering converting our small barn (right by the chicken pen) into a hen house and putting a roof (netting) over the pen so that they cannot fly out. We will be limited to a smaller area (the area that is currently fenced with permanent fencing) so will raise fewer chickens (probably about 10 - 12 instead of 25 plus). We will also work on the breeder pen so that we can raise our own.

The major change will be that, while they will still be "cage-free", we will not be able to call them "free-range" as they will not be able to leave the pen. This will also require us to have an ample supply of hay and supplemental feed available on the hill, which we will supplement in the summer with small garden crops that can be moved into the pen to provide a natural food source.

In addition, we will have to get another rooster, which is always a gamble, but well worth it. The chicken operation is a fairly easy operation to maintain, but we will need to work on curtailing feed costs.

We hope to start working on converting the small barn into a hen house the first of the year. We will partition off one-half of the barn for the chickens and will include nesting boxes and an area that they can occupy in cold weather. The other half will be left for feed, supplies, and equipment (candling, scales, egg cartons, etc.). We also hope to be able to run electric to the barn to provide for heat in the winter. We will need to purchase strong netting and build a "roof" over the pen to prevent them from flying out (they cannot get out under the permanent fence, nor can a fox get in). We may also add electric fencing around the pen just in case.

This is the one operation we will continue during the next year.

Our next blog will provide an update on our turkey operations.

Blessings from Baker Heritage Farms.

"Everything that is really great and inspiring is created b the individual who can labor in freedom." Albert Einstein

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Catching Up

Greetings from Baker Heritage Farms:

It has been several weeks since we last updated our farm blog, but we have not been totally inactive.

Over the past two years we have planned, executed, and delivered some farm operations, and other farm operations have withered on the vine. We have learned a lot and have had both successes and failures.

Our first year was spent planning and included the planting of a test garden for produce. Overall, the test garden was a success and taught us that (1) we can grow produce, (2) we need to do better planning, (3) we need to include a total time plan into our lives and operations if we want to be a success, and (4) we can beat the weather if we have a good plan and follow the plan. Most of all, we have learned that farming is not for the weak hearted or the lazy.

Our second year was, in part, a failure, in that we did not learn about the need to include a total time plan into our lives and operations until it was too late. Family emergencies, full-time and part-time off-farm jobs, family needs, and weather will all join together to make farming a challenge. While we suspended crop operations after two failures (cabbage and tomatoes and peppers) due to time issues, we did continue our chicken and turkey operations. Both our chicken and turkey operations can be considered a success.

We have learned that it is very hard to meet the high standards that we set, and that those standards resulted in a lot more labor then originally anticipated. Our standards included growing heirloom crops and heritage chickens and turkeys. The need to maintain organic standards in the growing of our crops required much more up front labor then we anticipated and much better time planning as well as contingency planning. The standards required for raising free-range chickens and turkeys increased our daily chores as well as increasing our loss to predators (chickens). We felt that we would not really be offering "free-range" turkeys or chickens if we clipped their wings or enclosed their pens. This resulted in losing chickens to our local red fox and having to constantly put our turkeys back in their pen (they have a very large pen, but still tended to wander several times a day).

We know that, if we were to operate our farm using crop seed that has been genetically modified and processed with stacked insecticides and herbicides, we would have been very successful. We also learned that if we had caged our chickens and turkeys, they would have been much easier to raise and manage. Neither of these options were available when we started this project, and we do not feel that they should be used in future operations.

We plan to spend the next year re-evaluating both our crop and poultry operations to make them less labor intensive and more productive. We plan to put to use all of the lessons that we have learned and hopefully be able to begin 2015 with a more manageable and enjoyable farm operation.

Over the next several months we will be completing our evaluation of what went right, what went wrong, operational costs, potential income, and many other aspects and will report our results on this blog as promised.

The next several entries will bring you up-to-date with our chicken and turkey operations over the past few weeks.

Blessings from Baker Heritage Farms.

"People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get." Frederick Douglass