Wrong Direction Farm

Foraging Baby Steps

I’m not a wilderness food forager by any measure, but I’m making baby steps in that direction. This weekend I found a new-to-me mushroom, the shaggy mane, growing in a patch of well-rotted wood chips. There was also a small, dense puffball (growing rather later than most) nearby.

Puffball on the left, Shaggy Manes on the right

A few of the shaggy manes were overripe, so I had to trim off dark frills, but I didn’t pick any that had gone fully blackened. Rachel and I both preferred them over puffballs, but I’m not sure that they’d truly rate as any kind of culinary delicacy. So for now, my three edible mushrooms on the farm are: chanterelles in summer, puffballs in September, and Shaggy Manes in October.

The mushroom at the left edge of the frame is overripe, showing ink on the lower frills. Two days later it had ink all the way up to the top.

Philistine though the admission reveals me to be, none of these mushrooms do much for me. I don’t think anyone actually enjoys puffballs, but I know that some people gush over chanterelles. Perhaps the problem is in my palate; more likely the problem is in my cooking skill. I’ll still keep trying to enjoy them. I like the idea of liking these mushroom varieties.

TurFOMO Marketing

I’ve been receiving questions about Thanksgiving turkey orders, so here’s the broadcast message: Turkeys for Thanksgiving sales will be listed on Friday Nov 1st. Simple enough, right?

Marketing experts tell me I should make this into a launch event, with a steady email campaign to build up excitement, a frenzied, almost panicky tone to my communications, and lots of emphasis about scarcity and FOMO (“almost sold out”, “get yours before it disappears”, “last year we sold out in the first 72 hours”, etc). I should also offer secret coupon codes if anyone sends me an email address so I can pester them for years to come. And I should offer a free product with a large enough shipping charge to cover the price of the freebie.

I know I need to improve my marketing because farm sales have been limping along the last few months. But it is hard to come to terms with the conventional wisdom that reduces marketing to behavioristic manipulations. Marketing, both traditional and digital, seems to be built upon the same logic as conventional row-cropping and confinement livestock farming. Production volume is the ultimate arbiter of success, customers should be reduced to idealized widgets, and individual preferences and group diversity are ignored in favor of monocropping a preset product offering. Consumers get herded into narrow marketing funnels to create predictable outcomes for each one that passes through. I’d like to think there’s a better way to market the farm without feeling sleazy, but my past experience tells me that I’m prone to pursuing unachievable ideals.

So sign up now for my free newsletter where I’ll tell you the top 5 secrets to cooking a delicious Thanksgiving turkey, plus I’ll give you exclusive access to members-only content where top chefs share their turkey tips, plus I’ll send you my grandmother’s special stuffing recipe. But wait, there’s more. Sign up today and you’ll get early access to our turkey preorder event before we open it to the public. And be sure to use our 10% off coupon code.

Yeah, I can’t pull that off…

Wrong Season

By the old milkhouse we have a prolific crabapple. Every year a few of its buds bloom in the fall.

Each hapless flower is a defiance, no mild acceding to inevitable winter. We smile seeing in each one an impudent opening of hope. All good stories have a doomed protagonist.

Tomfoolery

We’ve been taking pictures of the tom turkeys as they’ve grown and become more photogenic (in their peculiar blue-faced, snoody, wattly, caruncly way), but we haven’t gotten around to posting them. So I’ll unload a bunch of turkey pictures all at once. Enjoy!

The Farm ATV

Our ATV is thirteen years old and is starting to show its age. It had plenty of wear and tear when we bought it, but I’m sure its life around here has been harder than whatever the previous owner put it through. But for all its wear and tear, it is one of the most useful tools we have on the farm. It gets used for all sorts of transportation, but it is most valuable for cattle grazing management. This is the case because the herd can at times be a long walk from the house and because we have a lot of posts and reels to carry while building each day’s grazing paddocks. We’ve made a few simple customizations that make fence work more efficient.

Early this spring I built a guard that allows us to drive over electric fences. This saves a surprising amount of time and hassle. I had seen some pictures of farmers in New Zealand using these, but I’ve never seen one in person so I didn’t quite know what to expect when building mine. Call it either beginners luck or uncanny engineering skill, but it seems I landed on a good design for the slope and curves on my first try. The guard is built from 3/4″ EMT conduit. It starts out in front of the ATV higher than the normal fenceline on our farm, and the curve of the tubing pushes the wire down and under the vehicle. I carried the conduit the full length of the belly and out the back, to prevent the wire from snagging on some of the undercarriage surfaces.

On the front we’ve mounted milk crates for storage. Yes, I know the crates have warnings “USE BY OTHER THAN OWNER PUNISHABLE BY LAW”, but we actually came by them honestly from a milk bottling plant that was throwing out their cracked crates. I cut out the damaged sides and bolted them together to make a work basket. We use it for holding fence posts and bungee gates. The basket also has a brace for carrying a fence reel so we can unwind polywire while driving. Extra reels and posts can be strapped to the rear platform, allowing us to zip around with four reels and a hundred posts.

During most of August I had the ATV all in pieces in the driveway. It was due (overdue) for a complete suspension overhaul. We literally drove it until the wheels came off, at which point I couldn’t put the repairs off any longer. Finding time for the job was challenging so I chipped away at the project, dragging it out over weeks. I ended up repairing:

  • Front ball joints, wheel bearings, bushings, tie rod ends
  • Rear CV axles, bushings
  • Brake pads
  • Front propshaft u-joints
  • Exhaust manifold studs (several had walked themselves loose)
  • Battery box (it cracked, letting the battery fall through the chassis!)
  • Loose bolts and plastic panels all over the place

The repair job kept growing as I dug deeper into the machine, but I’m glad I stuck with it. With all the other projects going on, I was sorely tempted to send the machine to an upcoming equipment auction. I’m glad I stuck with it though. Working with a lightweight ATV is far easier and faster than trying to do fieldwork in a heavy pickup truck or tractor. The way we’ve set up the machine, all the needed supplies are within arm’s reach and we can hop off and on the machine in seconds. Having it up and running well again, I’m reminded of how useful it is.

I’ll call your attention to my seat repair. The vinyl on the seat has cracked and torn, giving us soaked butts on rainy days. Duct tape to the rescue. As Red Green said, “Remember, this is only temporary. Unless it works.”

We’re From the Manipulated Food Industry, and We’re Here to Save the World

Young rooster on pasture. He’s at the awkward-looking stage of still having his baby fuzz on his head while sprouting his true feathers on his breast and back.

As a livestock farmer, it has been interesting (and of course disappointing) to hear the disingenuous environmental arguments against meat that have been increasingly promulgated during the past year. These arguments cherry pick the worst situations in conventional livestock farming and then project them generously to include the whole world’s agricultural output. Of course the people behind these campaigns stand to gain tremendously, as their “solutions” of lab grown meat or synthetically manipulated protein pucks present opportunities for consolidation and control of the entire food supply to extents never before conceivable. This isn’t about the environment, it’s about global capital seeing a chance to concentrate itself.

People’s general angst about the environmental issues of the day creates a market opportunity to be filled with a new product, one that makes us feel better about ourselves while not requiring anyone to make structural changes in their daily lifestyle. This is just the logic of Nutrasweet marketing: we’ve made a perfectly safe product you can enjoy, without giving up any of the foods you like, and you’ll become skinny and healthy, and you won’t feel any more of those nagging bad feelings about yourself.

Moving turkeys to a new pasture.

It is telling that those who present themselves as the world’s saviors trust so little in the natural systems that have sustained the world. All the synthetic meat substitutes rely on genetically modified bacteria to create the amino acids and vitamins that can only be found in meat. They create their ideal foods based on “expert” understanding of nutrition, the same hubris that led experts in our lifetime to proclaim that fat is bad, that sugar belongs in a food pyramid, that margarine is healthier than butter, that breakfast cereals are a great way to start your day. There is no respect for food production systems that allow plants and animals to work together to create an environment that nourishes itself.

The prefab food business is all built upon monoculture feedstock inputs, trade secret production methods, gleaming stainless steel sterility, and fully automated production lines. Less nature, more precise control, zero margin for error. Everyone from Moses to Philip K Dick has been warning us about this kind of arrogance, but we seem destined to continue making the same mistakes about our competence to outsmart natural systems using top-down planning and control.

The cattle are not impressed with misinformation campaigns blaming them for greenhouse gas problems. Translating from bovine, “We didn’t create the carbon crisis; you humans did with your patterns of excess. Ruminants have always been part of the natural system to capture and store carbon.”

At Wrong Direction Farm, we’re all about a more fulsome approach to food. We believe that everyone is free to choose what plant or animal products they eat, and in which proportion they balance between the two. We believe that the natural systems that have shaped our landscape continue to represent the best hope for the world’s ecosystems. We want farms that have forests and grasslands. We want more farms with more people involved at every step. We want a balanced system with large ruminants, birds, and plenty of room for wildlife. We believe that great food only comes from great places where August days feature green grass growing under foot, cicadas buzzing in the trees, chickens chasing grasshoppers, kids drawing pictures on the porch, and cats sleeping in the shade.

Turkeys settling in on the shade trailer for the night

Spatchcocked Chickens in Stock!

For our table we often spatchcock whole chickens for the fastest and most consistent way to roast them. But we realized that not everyone knows how to do it, so we’ve saved you the work and made the cuts so you too can enjoy a perfect roast chicken every time. Available in the farm store here.

Spatchcocking is not new, but it is popular these days, perhaps because the word just sounds so much more fancy than the old term “butterflying”. But whichever moniker is used, it works because the entire chicken is heated more evenly compared to roasting a chicken with the backbone intact. In the traditional style, the breast can be overcooked because it is the most exposed portion of the chicken, whereas the legs, which need the most heat, are tucked down below. Spatchcocking gives the best results of any method I know.

There are a lot of recipes out there, but the premise is so simple that you really don’t need to know anything other than the following framework:

  1. Flatten the chicken and place skin side up in a roasting pan. The breast should lay flat, but if it doesn’t, just give it a little push into position with the heel of your hand.
  2. Splash on a little olive oil or a smear of melted butter, add a generous layer of salt, and sprinkle with whatever herbs are handy.
  3. Place in a hot oven (450 or even 500 if you keep a watchful eye on it), and roast for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven when the breast at about 150 and the legs are at 175 or even 180. In many ovens, the back is hotter than the door side, so place the legs facing the back. Since each oven heats uniquely and since the size and shape of each chicken isn’t identical, start checking temps at about 20-30 minutes into the cooking process to see how things are going.

A digression on cooking temperature. The US Government wishes to warn its citizens to be deathly afraid of any chicken product cooked at less than 165 degrees. But I’ve found that if we cook food to government specifications, it tastes pretty much like overdone, bland bureaucrat. I don’t look to government agencies for instruction on which foods are healthy, or which pesticides are safe, or which people are dangerous, so I don’t feel compelled to abide by their cooking instructions either. Breast meat is perfect at 150 degrees. Legs and thighs, particularly on truly pasture raised chickens that actually walk around on grass, can benefit from higher temps (170 up to somewhere in the low 180s) since the additional heat helps soften the collagen.

Seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, and rosemary, ready for the oven.

Sorry, we didn’t take any pictures after it came out of the oven – we were ravenous after a long day in the hot sun and we weren’t in the mood for picture taking. But it looked good and tasted better.

Portable Water Trough

We’ve been using worn out heavy equipment tires for permanent drinking troughs for a few years now, but I finally got around to building a portable tire trough. For portables, we’ve used plastic and galvanized troughs but inevitably they crack or crush when cattle lean on them too enthusiastically. Our fixed tire tanks have been unphased by the roughest treatment from cattle, so I knew I wanted to replicate that durability in my new portable trough.

Since I need to be able to move the trough, I selected a smaller payloader tire, about five and a half feet in diameter. The industrial tire scrap yard had bigger ones, but I wanted to keep the weight within the range of what the four wheeler could drag.

Harry volunteered to spray paint the underside with some mismatched cans of spray paint. I think he built it up from layers of graffiti messages, but eventually the whole thing was covered, so we both were happy.

I removed the top sidewall with a reciprocating blade and used an angle grinder to remove any small reinforcing wire. For the bottom, I installed a 1/4″ plate and drilled it with 1/2″ holes. I used carriage bolts in the tire bead that passed up through the plate. The carriage bolt heads dig nicely into the tire and create a water tight seal. 3/8″ bolts would probably have been fine, but I had a box of 1/2″ hardware left over from another project. Because this is a low pressure application, I might have been able to rely on the tire bead for the sealing, but I applied a generous coating of silicone caulk to the interface between the steel plate and the rubber as insurance.

Plumbing connections in place. The extra hose just gets tossed into the tank when it is time to move it.

For the water inlet, I drilled a 1″ hole and hammered in a 3/4″ galvanized pipe (1.050″ OD, so it provides a good seal without any caulking). I have had good success with Jobe Megaflow float valves, so I used another one for this application. One thing I hate about all the commercial water troughs I’ve seen are the small threaded drain plugs. So on this one I used a 2″ Camlock fitting. This allows me to drain the whole tank in a fraction of the time.

In service

As with all farm projects, the testing phase for equipment needs to extend over five or ten years of hard service. But based on the initial results, I’m optimistic about this tire trough.

Wills, Ways, and Wondering

To him that will, ways are not wanting.

George Herbert, Jacula Prudentum (1640)

This weekend Rachel and I were discussing how being stuck in a corner brings out resourcefulness. She was noting just how many things she’s been able to repair using the bits and bobs of broken parts that rattle around in the toolbox of the ATV. We all know the truisms about wills finding ways and necessity mothering invention. I’ll admit that I enjoy the challenging time when I am feeling the pressure of the will but before the way is quite apparent. That period of wandering and wondering can be thrilling.

After months of disruptions, I finally installed the auger on the grain bin we use for broiler chicken feed. It was a job that could have been knocked out in a day, but due to competing commitments I could only work on it in little snatches. The motor is currently running off a generator because I haven’t pulled the wires and installed a subpanel out there so I can’t claim to have fully completed the job, but it is running.

I needed to install the auger outlet higher than most farm augers in order to place grain into my tall feed hopper trailer (more on that project in a future post). But that created problems for filling smaller feeders, like our 800 lb range feeders which have about 7 feet of space between the auger outlet and the top of the feeder.

So I did a little thinking, wandering into the shed and garage, inventorying materials on hand. Then I saw a stack of plastic five gallon pails in the corner, and it sparked a memory of an article I read in Fine Homebuilding years ago. Thanks to the internet’s memory, I found the article again.

I built a similar flexible bucket chute that I can hold in place with the tractor forks. The principal modification from the magazine’s sketch was in upgrading the connection between buckets by linking them with light chains instead of wire. Sections of chute can be added or removed using snap links. The whole kit is lightweight and nearly free. Everything in the assembly came from parts I had on hand except a dozen 1/4″ bolts and fender washers, so I think there should be a few extra points awarded for scrounging.

And it works! Quite well actually. With the auger and chute I can line up my range feeders and fill each one in just a couple of minutes. Cumulatively over the summer, this will save hours of shoveling feed. That’s a job I won’t miss.

Once the feed hopper is full, I can swing the chute out of the way.

At Least Pastures Are Great

This June has brought some exceptional pasture growing weather. With temperatures hanging out in the 70s and rarely going beyond 80, the plant growth has been tremendous. Consistent rain has helped too. The cattle are slick and growing. The chickens have been enjoying the long days and mowing down grasses in their own nibbly way.

AJ is in the back of the shelter helping herd the chickens while I tug it forward with the tractor.

I’m trying to count blessings. The wet spring has been a hardship for gardening, planting, and haymaking. And I’ll admit that I’m already casting nervous glances to the future, wondering about the price of this year’s grain crop and its effect on the price of chicken feed with all the delayed or skipped planting. Keep on the sunny side Dave, always on the sunny side.

Looking in the grain bin and wondering what this will cost in a few months…