Wrong Direction Farm

Afternoon View

I stopped the tractor on this crisp and windy afternoon to photograph a bit of the beauty in our pastures.

afternoon view

 

Turkey Everywhere

After a successful season of raising turkeys, we have frozen turkeys everywhere.  The small walk-in freezer is crammed with them, on the shelves and in the aisle stacked right up to the ceiling.  I have another pallet of turkeys at a commercial cold storage facility in Albany.  The rest is stored in a couple of chest freezers we’re using for overflow capacity.  At this point, I can’t wait for Thanksgiving to unload them and to finally have room to find items in the freezers without having to unpack towering stacks of boxes to get to anything.

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A pallet of Thanksgiving turkeys on the loading dock at the cold storage facility.

 

The vast majority of whole turkeys in the United States are cooked for Thanksgiving, but if we look at the total turkey meat consumed in the country we find that it is primarily eaten as ground turkey.   One of the reasons for getting our 20-C license was to grind turkey, so that we could offer commonly used turkey products at a steady pace and not just in one big hectic burst at Thanksgiving.  Our first batch of ground turkey was packed this week, and is listed on our store.  We also have drumsticks, wings, backs and soup parts, hearts, and livers.

Ground Turkey

Speaking of hectic bursts at Thanksgiving, note that whole turkey orders are filling up.  We still have a good number left, but orders are coming in more quickly as we approach the holiday.  If you want a turkey, it would be best to place your order soon, even if your next delivery is a few weeks out.  If you place your order early, you can continue to update it until the ordering window closes, but as long as you’ve placed your order you can be assured that your turkey is guaranteed.  If you wait until the last minute we can’t promise we’ll have turkeys.

Someone asked me at last week’s delivery if the turkeys were any good, and I couldn’t answer because we haven’t had a chance to eat a whole turkey from this year’s batch yet.  But we did get the following comment from a local customer who ordered a pair of turkeys last week, so take this for what it’s worth:

FANTASTIC!  That is how I will describe the Wrong Direction Farm’s Turkeys!!!  Thank you so much for helping our family celebrate Thanksgiving, a month early!!!

Grazing in the Woods

Slowly over the last two years we’ve worked on fencing in the woods and then managing it as a silvopasture (meaning wooded pasture).  Lots of good background info on the silvopasturing concept can be found by reading some of Brett Chedzoy’s work here.

I’m convinced of the merits of managing cattle and goats in woods, so long as they are actually managed and not just allowed to roam freely for months.  What looks to the casual observer like natural forested areas in our region are often pretty biologically skewed forests, as most of our woodlands have suffered from invasive plants and insects and from too much “best first” logging taking the best trees and leaving the poor ones behind.  Managed grazing combined with some judicious thinning have the ability to increase biological activity in the canopy, on the ground, and in the soil.  We know we can increase carbon capture, nitrogen fixation, and oxygen generation all while growing beef and allowing us to harvest timber.

So while I stated that I’m sold on the idea, progress is slow.  This is one of those projects that can be done with money or it can be done with sweat.  It costs a fortune to hire a good logger who can do the kind of careful logging I require.  Most loggers have a financial incentive to maximize their profits on the wood they remove, not an incentive to leave the most value in the woods.  To hire a conservation forrester like that requires an investment of thousands of dollars per acre.  So I’m just chipping away as I get the time (which means not very often).  It is satisfying to see what we can accomplish with a small tractor and chainsaw, and of course, with a lot of help from the cattle.

 

Silvopasture 2017

Here is one area last September.  Trees are rather sparse because this was an ash forest until the emerald ash borer started killing all the trees in 2010.  I trimmed a few scraggly trees and pushed the honeysuckle and buckthorns into brush piles.  The cattle ate the leaves off the branches as I cut them down.  Waste not, want not.

SIlvopasture 2018

The same area this week, 13 months later.  I fed bales of hay in this area last year so the ground got lots of tramping, manure, and seeds from the hay.

Silvopasture Clover

This is what the ground looks like in places where the cattle were eating the hay bales.  Clover everywhere!  Other areas are a bit brushy, but I think the cattle can keep the brush regrowth under control.

 

Great Skies

This week has featured fantastic sunsets with all the rainy afternoons followed by evening sun. We were out doing the poultry chores when we saw a four banded rainbow Wednesday just before sunset. Three of the rainbows were bunched together with a fourth and fainter bow some distance away. I’m not sure if that would count as a quadruple rainbow or two doubles, but it was something none of us had previously seen. Sorry, no photos, we were too busy looking…

I did take pictures of the turkeys moments later. The light made some of them golden.

Monarch Caterpillars

The pastures are full of monarch caterpillars, chowing down on the milkweed leaves. One of the many virtues of pasture-based agriculture is that with proper grazing management, there is plenty of food for the livestock (in this field, cattle and turkeys) and for all the insects. We aren’t fighting a war against bugs, we’re just living alongside them. And because of that inclusiveness, the pastures continue to become more diverse and more productive.

Pigodiles

Harry coined the word “pigodiles”. We think it aptly describe the pigs as they lie half submerged in their mud wallow during the recent spell of hot weather.

Licensed

I was glad to receive a letter from the NY State Office of Agriculture and Markets today granting us our 20C license to Process Food.  The laws governing how foods can and cannot be processed by the producers are complicated.  We work with a great team of butchers who process our poultry, and under state laws they can package them whole or cut up into parts, but they can’t grind, smoke, make sausage, or do any other further processing.  However, now that we have the 20C license we can legally do all those extras using a rented licensed commercial kitchen.

We plan to offer some ground poultry products in the early winter.  Smoked turkey breasts and smoked whole chickens are also products we are considering.  We’ll start with some baby steps to make sure we have things the way we want them.  Keep an eye out for announcements of new offerings in the next few months.

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Pet Food

As we’ve worked to build relationships with people who appreciate organic/pasture-raised/local/family-based/etc food for themselves, we’ve also gradually found that many of these same folks want to source quality food for their pets.  It is no secret that pet food has long been the dumping ground for all manner of questionable ingredients, so we understand their desire to find food that comes from trustworthy sources.  It isn’t surprising that in a country of overfed yet chronically undernourished people we’d find that many pets are also suffering from analogous debilitating conditions.

I’m glad to announce that we have been able to work with our butcher to put together a nicely proportioned raw chicken blend for cats and dogs.  We use thigh trimmings (bits of meat left over as the thighs are cut off the chicken backs), chicken backs, necks, heads, feet, livers, and hearts, blended in a balanced ratio, ground well, and packaged in 1 to 1.5 lb bags.  I tried to get a picture of the cats eating it, but they all crowded around it and jostled so I had a hard time actually getting the camera to focus on the meat in the bowl.

What can I say.  It looks like pet food…   I suppose I could fancy up the photo with some catnip garnishes or a big cartoon-style dogbone resting against the side of the bowl.

Here are the links to the individual packages or to our 40-pack bulk box.

Ground Whole Chicken

Maturing Fences

Every year I chip away at fencing on the farm.  And every year, my technique refines a bit.  I’ve watched as minor differences contribute to a fence’s longevity or lack thereof.  Most of my changes have been toward simplification.  Fence construction manuals are all written by people selling fencing supplies.  Caveat emptor.

I started with 6 wire electric fences, with an alternating hot-ground configuration.  I learned that with our mostly wet climate, the alternating wire arrangement loses too much spark when high moisture vegetation gets between the two polarities.  Now all our fences are hot.  I also learned that 6 strands is overkill.  If I had sheep, then perhaps I’d need the extra strands, but even there 3 strands would be sufficient for all situations except road frontage.  All my new fences are two stranded.  To speed up installation, I set the wires biometrically.  The top strand goes in at the height where my pocket knife has worn a bare patch in my pants (all my work jeans get the same wear patterns) and the bottom strand goes in at the bottom of my kneecap.  This arrangement works fine for  our cattle.  The top wire is low enough that I can jump the fence using a scissor kick jump, but the bottom wire is low enough that the cattle can graze under it, saving me the hassle of trimming under the fences.  If I want to run pigs in that pasture, I just add an extra polywire strand temporarily.

Another change has been the switch from H braces to floating braces.  It saves one driven post, and speeds things up considerably.  My floating braced fences have proven more durable over time than my H braces.  And now that I’ve dropped to two wires, I really don’t put much stress on the corner and end posts.  I’ve had some floating braces in service since late 2012 (and those were hand-dug posts, which is the least reliable way to install posts).  So if they can remain in perfect alignment through 125 degrees of temperature variation, floods, snowstorms, and bulldozers driving over the fence wires, then I think they’ll last until the posts rot.

I’ve played around with line post spacing.  Originally I used 100 foot spacing with plastic droppers at 50 foot intervals.  The droppers all failed within a few years, when the snow would drift over fences and buckle the droppers.  I tried fiberglass (too splintery) and plastic composite (too weak after about five years).  Both the fiberglass and poly posts were prone to frost heaving in winter and popping out during spring mud, just because it wasn’t possible to drive them below the frost line.  I’ve gone back to all wood posts, driven four feet deep, and installed 75 feet apart.  This seems to be the magic combination for fencing on relatively flat land.  On bumpy terrain, the spacing needs to conform to the natural undulations, so spacing is tighter in these areas.

Fence End Post

Not much to look at, but the technique is refined by years of testing different small tweaks on each of the components.  Ask me again in a few years and I’ll probably be making more changes.

I’m always amazed at how much art and skill is involved in good work.  I pass by fences, or houses, or sweaters, or paintings without stopping to consider what the creator of that work was thinking, or what that person had learned to enable the creation of the object.  I probably wouldn’t enjoy a full time job of building fences, but I like the change of pace, when I am able to focus on getting a few important details correct, and then seeing the resulting product:  a fence that will last us for many years.

Stretching the Bungee

We probably have a dozen bungee gates on the farm.  None of them are permanently installed.  We attach a hook handle on each end, so we can install them across any gateway on the farm (well, almost all of them).  We’ve standardized our gateways and our lanes to 20 feet wide.  We keep a pile of bungee gates in the toolbox of the ATV, so it is easy to close off a gate or lane as needed.  We appreciate that they can be coiled up and stored in compact bundles, and that they can be deployed so quickly and easily.

One problem with the bungees is that they just don’t last very long.  After about two years the ends wear out from the stress where the cord wraps around the loop of the gate hook.  This is especially the case if a bungee gate is used during the winter when it can get buried in four or five feet of snow drifting across a gateway.  As the snow compacts and settles, this can exert weight on the material, over-stressing it.

I used to solve this problem by cutting the cord shorter, but this fix eventually shortens the cord enough that we overstretch the bungee on our 20 foot gateway.  My solution to stretch the life of a bungee gate is to install a wire reinforcement.  This works well for conducting electricity, and it relieves the stress on the fibers.

Reinforced Bungee

So simple, I wonder why I didn’t think of doing this years ago…

Bundled Bungee

Ready to go back in service.