Wrong Direction Farm

WDF Store Improvements

I’ve been busy updating the farm website.

Winter is a good time for website projects. I look outside the window and think, “maybe I’ll keep sitting at the computer today”.

The most visible change is the addition of dozens of new product pictures. Many of our old pictures only showed the packaged items, and they didn’t do justice to the texture and shape of the meat we’re selling. My goal is to update all items in our store to share images for both raw and cooked meat. I don’t have a complete set for all the items, but I’ve made substantial progress.

Other changes are related to layout and presentation. After five years of requesting it, our software provider gave us an option for consolidating all our bulk discounts on the website. So now you can see, for instance, all the different discount levels (single package, 10 pack, 40 pack) for ground beef on one page, rather than looking at many different items. Here’s how it appears on the site now:

Let me know what you think of the updates. If there is anything we can do to improve the product descriptions or listings, please tell me.

Farm Dog Retraining

Winter on the farm is altogether different from the other seven months of the year because we don’t have flocks of chickens and turkeys. And what is a livestock guardian dog to do without chickens and turkeys?

We have been trying to re-train Greta the guard dog to bond with the cattle to keep her active and occupied during the winter. Neither Greta nor the cattle want anything to do with each other. Despite our efforts, we don’t see much improvement. I suspect the problem is that the cattle are pretty self sufficient. They regularly encounter coyotes and run them off, so it seems that they feel confident in their place in the world and that they really don’t need a dog to complicate their social order. It makes me wonder if next winter I’ll need to keep a token flock of hens or rams just to give Greta more meaningful work.

Greta came to us from another farm, and somewhere in her young history she made some unpleasant associations with Amish men. Since then, she has always been wary of anyone with a big beard. Unfortunately that prejudice carries over to my beard. From her arrival she loved Rachel, the kids, and most (non hirsute) visitors, but she’s been slow to warm up to me.

So the other dog related project this winter has been a concerted effort to win Greta over. Unlike the cattle-dog bonding attempt, I’ve been more successful at dog-human bonding. Slowly, she has begun to trust me. Lately she is responding to my verbal commands and now I can walk her off leash in her pasture.

It is funny that these days I can get some of the cattle to lick my left hand while Greta is on the other side licking my right hand, but I can’t get the cattle and the dog to meet in the middle. Somehow they both depend on me being the middleman. It seems they are slowly moving away from outright hostility toward each other, but I’m not seeing enough progress to hope that they’ll reach detente before I reassign Greta to chicken duty in the spring. Oh well. Dogs are like people; certain ones have knacks for certain things, and it seems Greta isn’t a cow guardian dog.

Apparently neither of us knows how to pose for selfies.

Pre-Christmas Ordering, And Florida

We are sending packages out Monday this week but we aren’t sending anything out the week of Christmas due to shipping congestion.  So if you want your Holiday feast to feature a prime rib roast or a leg of lamb, today and tomorrow are the days to get your order in.

We’ll be back to our normal shipping schedule the week after Christmas and for the rest of winter our deliveries should continue at their regular pace.

Rachel with the cattle

Or I should say that deliveries will continue through the winter except when we need to reschedule for snow.  We’ve had a few snowfalls that have quickly melted, but it looks like we’ll start to settle into real winter this week.

And for those of you who can’t tolerate snow at all…

We are now doing deliveries to Florida

Over the past few years we’ve had requests from our customers who migrate to Florida for the winter to send packages down there to provide them some food continuity year-round.  At first we couldn’t get shipping rates to make it work, but we’ve been able to improve our UPS rates specifically for Florida, so we can get next day delivery throughout the state.  If you would like us to send your orders there, let me know and I can adjust your account before you finish checkout and change your delivery zone if you have trouble updating it on your own.

It isn’t our plan or desire to become a national distributor, but we felt it made sense to keep up with the chunk of our customers who migrate back and forth between the Northeast and Florida. So if this is a fit for you, let me know.

The Calves Come Marching In

Our calves arrived this morning.  It is always a pleasure to see the young ones here on the farm.

We have a great arrangement with our neighbors.  They manage their herd of Angus cows and bulls, and we buy the calves from them each spring and fall as the weaned calves are ready.  We raise the calves for the next year and a half until they are fully grown and ready for butchering.  It helps each farm to focus on one aspect of cattle rearing.  And the situation suits the calves because they don’t need to undergo any stressful travel to distant farms.

Buying from neighbors and supporting a local farm economy is important to us.  To the extent that we are successful we feel the need to make sure that success is shared around.  There are many places where only one sprawling farm is left standing, but that isn’t the goal of the agricultural model we’re pursuing.

These calves will spend the rest of the day in the corral to allow them a chance to acclimate into the new location, and then tomorrow morning we’ll walk them out to join the older cattle in our herd.  Right now they are little 600 pound guys, but soon enough they’ll be 1200 to 1400 pounds.  All from eating grass.  I never cease to find that transformation remarkable.

“Sustainable farms are to today’s headlong rush toward global destruction what the monasteries were to the Dark Ages: places to preserve human skills and crafts until some semblance of common sense and common purpose returns to the public mind.”

Living at Nature’s Pace: Farming and the American Dream by Gene Logsdon

Composted Wealth

I have been building a compost pile for a few years now, waiting to have enough to justify a full day’s rental of a spreader for the tractor. I think the heap is just about right.

Wealth can be measured with many different standards.  But a mound of loose, sweet compost surely deserves recognition as a kind of wealth.  I find myself sifting it through my fingers the way a TV miser pours gold coins between his hands.  And of course, keeping it in a pile is a kind of miserly hoarding.  To make the wealth something truly valuable, I need to spread the compost and let it be incorporated into the soil.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”

― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Meet AJ, your chicken farmer

AJ is our chicken guy here at Wrong Direction Farm.  As we finish up the pasture season for chickens this week, it is a good time to recognise his work.

In 2013 we gave AJ his first batch of 100 chickens to raise.  He was eight years old and the job challenged him but he enjoyed the project.  Each year since then we’ve approximately doubled the number of chickens on the farm.  This year AJ raised about 6,500 chickens in batches of 500 each.  This requires tremendous effort and responsibility, and his knowledge and competence have grown commensurately over the years.

The first chickens he raised on his own in 2013

Setting up newly hatched chicken in the brooder in 2017

With one of the chickens from the final batch of 2020

If you enjoy eating Wrong Direction Farm chicken, this is the guy who makes it happen.  He is out with the chickens several times each day, whether it is sunny, rainy, or snowy.  He cleans out the brooders, moves hoses and water lines, checks perimeter fences, diagnoses problems, and fixes innumerable details with an understanding of what it takes to raise a healthy chicken.  And let’s not forget all the feedings.  This year he poured over 40 tons of feed into feeders, all carried bucket by bucket!

Thank you AJ for all your work this year.  Enjoy your time off.  Next spring we’ve got more in store for you.

Thanksgiving Turkey Update, and Farm Stuff

The response to our announced availability for Thanksgiving turkeys has been stronger than in past years.  We have already sold 60% of our inventory, so thank you!

As a reminder, you may place your order for delivery this week or next week, but your turkey isn’t guaranteed until you confirm you order.  We are delivering orders the following dates:

  • Tuesday, November 10th
  • Tuesday, November 17th
  • Friday, November 20th

We are not doing deliveries on Tuesday November 24th because that doesn’t leave enough time for defrosting and brining a turkey if there happen to be delivery delays.

Chickens trying to figure out this white stuff.

Meanwhile back at the ranch…  We began this week dealing with cold, wind, and cold.  Nighttime temperatures dropped down to 15 degrees. We were glad we added heaters for the chicken shelters this spring.  The heaters were a welcome addition, bringing the temperature up enough that the chickens remained comfortable despite the cold.  As I write this, the forecast for today is 70 degrees, so the winter coats are back in the closet and we’re wearing short sleeves. Weather whiplash!

I find mental peace in the way farming forces me to work primarily with elemental forces of weather, animal physiology, and plant biology.  With all the sturm und drang this week as the entire country is strangely unified by a collective ulcerative uncertainty about election results, it is freeing to be able to put all that away as I work and to focus on the peace of wild things.

Thanksgiving Turkeys Are Ready

Our Thanksgiving turkeys are ready!

You may place your order for delivery right away or you may choose a date closer to Thanksgiving at checkout. To guarantee you get the size turkey you want, I’d recommend putting in your order soon.

Besides whole birds, we also have boneless turkey breasts and breast tenderloins.  We are restocked on turkey wings, drumsticks, and ground turkey.  New this year we’ve added smoked, precooked turkey drumsticks.

It has been a big year for raising turkeys on the farm and we are glad to have so much to offer for your Thanksgiving gatherings and for your regular meals. Enjoy!

Pasture Raised Shakeup

I’ve been thinking this week about Perdue’s recent acquisition of the largest pasture raised chicken farm in the country.  I had a feeling this was coming, but I only heard confirmation recently.

Pasturebird was the real deal, a large scale independent farm that took “pasture raised” as a serious and important aspect of everything they did. I don’t know what Perdue’s goals are, but they’ll certainly be working to grow the business further. Their prices are currently a bit higher per pound than ours, but I’m sure they’ll apply the vast vertically integrated Perdue network to sell pasture raised chicken for fractions of what it costs in my world. I am confident that the other big industry companies Tyson, JBS, and Sanderson are also eyeing the pasture raised market.

The industry news makes me ask, what will make our farm continue to be relevant even if Perdue, Tyson, and the others manage to replicate our methods? In comparing price and distribution they can crush us, so there’s no chance of making a stand on those fronts. Relevancy is going to have to be established on the set of principles each side represents. These large poultry companies have been busy the last year fighting antitrust investigations over wage suppression and rounds of indictments for price fixing schemes. Conspiring against customers, conspiring against employees, conspiring against farmers, this is what Big Meat stands for. We know where the industry is headed.

Instead of “conspiring against”, our farm will “aspire toward”. We will aspire toward improving, building, and strengthening the people we work with and the land we farm. We’ll set the roots down deep. The industry sees this as the wrong direction because it isn’t the most efficient way to generate capital, but when they say “wrong” we know we’re on to something they’ve overlooked. During the next few years with the big guys barging in things may become more difficult, but I’m confident if we stick to our principles our farm will continue to connect with people who aspire toward the same goals.

Saplings can thrive even in the understory of the giants. There’s hope for the little guys still.

Dig This

Five years ago I wrote about digging 1500 feet of trench for buried water lines.  It turns out that on the same exact day this year I was at it again, only this time we placed 1800 feet of pipe, five hydrants, and roughed in the plumbing for one water trough.  I’d gladly take credit for getting better in my old age, but the truth is that the kids are becoming more useful so they contributed to the efficiency of the work.

This project is long overdue, but getting weather and time and money to align has been challenging.  We now have a frost free water line running the entire length of the farm.  This will simplify our grazing rotation.  We’ve been making due with hundreds of feet of garden hose, but above ground hose is prone to breaking, kinking, and freezing, so we’re thrilled to have water available in or near all our pastures.

Allie screened crushed stone to make some drainage material for the frost free hydrants and for the tank drain valves.  The hydrants have small drain holes to allow the water to run out of the end of the standpipe after closing to prevent freeze damage.  Placing a load of stone around the base of each pipe creates an adequate drainage field.

AJ and Harry helped with backfilling the hydrants.  I needed one person to steady the hydrant and another person to steady the wooden bollards while I began the backfilling.  After the first foot or so was buried we were able to shovel together.  The bollards are essential because cattle love to scratch their necks on things, and a 1200 lb beast with an itch to scratch can work four feet of buried pipe out of the ground, breaking the connection and causing a gusher.  That’s a situation we’d prefer to avoid.