Wrong Direction Farm

Andouille!

Our selection of pork sausages gets an addition we haven’t had in stock for many years:  a Cajun fresh style Andouille.  All the spices are certified organic and of course all the ingredients are pronounceable and unrefined.

Andouille Label

The kind of ingredient list we like (well, except for the onin typo).

This is a mildly spicy sausage, less spicy than the Mexican Chorizo.  It has enough pepper to notice it, but not enough to leave anyone (except the most tender-tongued) feeling overspiced.  It cooks easily and quickly in a pan, but we especially enjoy it grilled until the outside has a little crackly crust.  Like a lot of the Louisiana culinary repertoire, the flavors are universal and can cross over into all sorts of other food traditions.  So while of course you would do well to use this sausage with your favorite gumbo recipe, it will be perfectly at home in all kinds of unlikely meals, for instance substituting for chicken in a chicken tikka masala recipe.

Apple Blossoms

We’ve had some close shaves with frosts and even a little snow this week, but it looks like the apples are going to pull through without any damage to the blossoms.  Apples are blooming everywhere!

Blasted

Five years ago I built a portable shade hut for the pigs when we had them in an open pasture.  We stopped using that field for pigs, and the hut has been left sitting out in the field ever since.  But after years of neglect, my plan for this Saturday afternoon was to strip off​ the metal roofing and reuse it for our chicken bulk feeders.
Rachel sent me this picture today.  Thunderstorms lifted the hut clear from the mud, tossing and tumbling it three hundred feet.

So my project for this weekend looks like it will be different than I planned.    It isn’t surprising that my plans didn’t work out, but I am always surprised by the multitude of ways my plans can unravel.

New Brooder, New Chicks

The chicken season officially began today with the arrival of 350 chicks from the good folks at NEPPA Hatchery.  Most farms need to have chicks shipped to them, but we are fortunate to live one town away from a hatchery.  Not only does this save us shipping costs, it also saves the chicks from the stress of being bumped and jostled and transported through all kinds of temperature transitions.

AJ with 2017 chicks

AJ, the Chickeneer of Wrong Direction Farm.  He’s got his work cut out for him this year as he’ll be raising twice as many chickens as last year for us, plus raising a few hundred extra for other farmers.

For the previous six years of brooding chickens, we’ve used all kinds of cobbled together brooders.  This year as we transition to bigger groups of chickens we knew we needed to get our brooding act together.

Step Carefully

Harry demonstrating the ponderous art of the “brooder walk”.  Chicks are constantly darting back and forth so each step needs to be carefully planned and executed.

Now we have a dedicated chicken brooder.  It isn’t fancy, but it should be just what the chicks need:  warm, dry, well-ventilated — yet not drafty, with room for a large heated hover, automatic nipple waterers, and plenty of feeder space.  There is easy access for us and a secure perimeter to keep out predators.  I built in a storage anteroom just big enough for a pallet of feed and extra bales of wood shavings.  The total cost came in around $3200, $2800 of that for the container (yes, container prices are high right now).

 

I bought a twenty foot shipping container for this project.  In retrospect I should have gone with the forty foot container because they are about the same price, but I wasn’t sure I could move the large container with the tractor.  It turns out that the tractor can easily drag the container all over the place and the bucket can lift the ends without straining, so the larger one wouldn’t have been a problem.  Duly noted for the next time I need a prefab box…

Make Me a Liar

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we were not going to be farrowing piglets on our farm this year; instead we’ll be working with a few other farms to purchase their weaned piglets.  That is still the plan, but since we have a coed dormitory for the pigs, one of the gilts decided to make a liar of me and gave us this litter of piglets.  While it wasn’t according to plan, we’re glad to have them around.

Piglet on Sow

“Won’t you kids just let me sleep?”

There Will Be Solar

(Only instead of big oil, our milkshake is being drained by big solar.)

“Here, if you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and I have a straw. There it is, that’s a straw, you see? Watch it. Now, my straw reaches acroooooooss the room and starts to drink your milkshake. I… drink… your… milkshake!”  There Will Be Blood

I’ve been waiting for this shoe to drop for a while.  The land surrounding us and various properties extending for about two miles have been signed over to become redeveloped as a solar facility that, if built, will be the largest in NY State.  The developer formally submitted the application a few days ago.  Because of the scale of project, it can be built under the oversight of the State Department of Public Service, bypassing our town’s planning and zoning.  Not all the land will be covered in solar panels, but 900 acres of pasture will be leased.  I haven’t seen all the lease agreements, but from what I have seen most of this land will be under solar panels until I’m eighty years old.  The payments to the landowners will be generous, far more than anyone could make in farming.

I don’t blame folks for signing up.  Times are tough for farms around here and I guess the landowners chose the economically sane route.  When a project funded by federal and state subsidies elbows into a neighborhood making offers that can’t be refused, how can unsubsidized farms withstand that pressure?  A farm trying to be successful on its own merits can’t outmuscle a developer backed by private investment and public grants.

The PR characterizes our neighborhood as “under-productive farmland and pasture.”  That sounds pathetic, right?  Basically any farmland that doesn’t grow corn and soybeans is “under-productive”.  Solar electricity = productive; commodity crops relying on tillage, fertilizer, and herbicide = productive; photosynthesis and carbon capture from deep rooted perennial pasture plants = under-productive.

I can’t predict all the ways this could affect land use.  In the best case it would fragment things to such an extent that new grazing lease opportunities open up for us.  But I don’t think it will go that way.  I’d say our farm’s future in beef cattle is in dire straits.  Getting the herd to a size that can support our family will require leasing pasture along with our existing 80 acres of pasture.  Between the aggregation of nearby land for a feedlot, the proliferation of subdivided farmland into five acre “country living” lots, and the loss of pastureland due to solar development, the prospects for grazing are dwindling.

It is a bitter disappointment, now that we finally are achieving some momentum in selling our products, to see our prospects for growing to a scale that can support our farm suddenly diminish.  As I’ve thought about this project over the last few years as it churned away, I’ve wondered whether we are wise to continue investing in this farm.  Should I continue building fences?  Should I build the corral?  Should I install water lines?  Would I be better off going to the solar developer, hat in hand, asking to become part of their system, and use some of the proceeds to put a downpayment on a new farm?  Or is my milkshake already slurped up and I just don’t know it?

Mud Seeding

I had plans to frost seed the bale grazing areas in March when the temperatures were ideal (20s at night, low 30s during the day).  But then we had a few feet of snow and all those plans were put on hold.

This weekend I did my best to spin the seeds out counting on a light frost Monday morning.  It was more mud seeding than frost seeding.  Conditions were far from ideal.  I had to gun the four wheeler through the muddy parts, slaloming diagonally across the field, so I’m sure the seed distribution is inconsistent.  The vehicle and I both finished the job “rode hard and put up wet”, since there wasn’t much point in washing either of us since the next jobs of the day were equally filthy.

Bespattered Four Wheeler

Bespattered. Which brings me to a personal quirk:  I’ve never understood what people get out of trail riding ATVs for recreation.  Sure the machine is fast and loud and it can splash around in the mud, but riding as a hobby seems like a tedious approximation of real work without any of the rewards of knowing that you are accomplishing anything.  Yeah, I know… all work and no play.

I’m not investing a lot in reseeding since I know that the grass will come back on its own, both from root regrowth and from all the seeds in the bales, but I would like to add some higher digestability forages to the field while I have the opportunity.  I spun on a mix of several seeds:  dwarf essex rape, ladino clover, leftover pearl millet I stored in the freezer from last year, and some really old ryegrass.  I’m not certain that this seeding will catch, but hey, I’ve made worse decisions and wasted a far more than the $100 I spent on this project.

It Must Be Spring

… because the first spring calf arrived this afternoon.  I thought we only had one cow bred early, but this cute little heifer came from another cow I wasn’t expecting to calve for another month.  Guess I wasn’t paying careful enough attention to the hanky panky in the pasture last summer.

E28 with Luna

The calf got her mother’s whiteface genes and her father’s red coat.  That’s a unique look in our herd since we don’t have any other whiteface cows.

The weather is a bit chillier than I’d prefer for calving, but I don’t foresee any problems.  This calf’s mother is the best cow in the herd, so the calf will be well fed.  With a belly full of milk and some dry hay to keep out of the spring mud and the remaining snow patches, she’ll be fine.  Calves usually spend their first days napping, but a week or two from now she’ll be skipping and running wind sprints while the rest of the herd stands around watching her askance, probably thinking, “Calves these days…”

Doorstep Delivery Now Available

It feels like it has taken ages to get to this point, but we’re now ready to announce the beginning of our Doorstep Delivery service.  We’ll be doing weekly shipments of our meat via next day delivery to customers within our Fedex delivery zone.  Orders should arrive on Wednesdays.

We’ve done a lot of work on the pricing to pare things down and we’re happy that we can offer this service with a minimum of overhead.  We’ve looked at the big national natural/grassfed meat companies, and we’re glad to note that our prices are still competitive (better in most cases) even when the shipping and handling are all included.

We don’t have any aspirations to become a nationwide meat distributor.  Lots of folks are working hard to do that with venture capital funding going into box services, home delivery, and extensive grassfed vertical integration efforts.  Following that path would cause us to stray far from our identity as a family farm to become a brand that represents farmishness without being viscerally connected to a farm.   (Note that I’m not knocking farming cooperatives or partnerships, I’d actually like to be part of more partnerships, but I am dubious of the ability of a nationwide brand to stay true to the roots that gave it initial success and legitimacy.)

Our goal is to be one farm in our area that distributes food to people in our part of the country.  We realize that our Neighborhood Deliveries¹ don’t work for everyone who wants our products, so we’re doing what we can to make ourselves accessible to the people who are looking for better alternative food suppliers.  We would rather be part of a system that encourages many farms to produce food for consumption within their own regions.  Such a robust, regionally distributed food system is counter-cultural in our age of consolidation, standardization, and homogenization.

So I’ll say in this post which is by its nature also an advertisement to buy our stuff, “Yes, go buy our stuff.”  Or buy stuff from another farm in your area.  But send a message with your food dollars that you won’t be an interchangeable part in the industrial organic/natural food machine.

¹ Regarding neighborhood deliveries, we’re always looking to find good dropoff points.  We’d like to extend deliveries between southeastern Albany county up through Saratoga.  Likewise we’re looking for neighborhood delivery points for a Saturday late morning delivery in NJ between Bayonne and Fort Lee.  If you have a suggestion for a location, please let us know.

Goldilocks and the Three Egg Cartons

It seems like I’m never ready for the way stupid stuff trips me up.  I wanted to upgrade the presentation of our egg cartons, so I ordered a batch of stickers to cover the entire top of the egg cartons.  I thought it would be easy to use a date stamp to imprint the “Best By” dates on each carton.  Wrong wrong wrong.

I bought a stamp and ink pad, but I found that unless each stamp was applied exactly perpendicular to the page, there would be skid marks.  And even when we hit the angle of approach perfectly, the ink tended to bleed.  I replaced it with a self-inking stamp that has a stand built in and a non-bleeding type ink.  That solved the skidding and bleeding problems, but created a new problem because the ink was very slow drying, so most cartons smeared as we stacked them.  I bought a supermarket-grade pricing gun and a big roll of stickers, and at last I’m satisfied that I’ve got a solution that works quickly and produces legible results.

I only wasted about $40 on stamps and ink, so this isn’t anywhere near the top of the list of expensive mistakes in my history.   But it is illustrative of the absurd amounts of time I spend on silly stuff researching and messing around with different options, just for something as trivial as dating egg cartons.

Whenever I encounter a farm (or really any operation) that is running smoothly and efficiently, it is easy to assume that they always were that way.  I’ve come to realize that efficiency is something that only exists after a period of inefficient trial and error.  Maybe over time I’ll get better at sussing out dead ends without having to explore each one.  Somehow I don’t think so.