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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And he’d given up on ecology when the ecology magazine he’d been subscribing to had shown its readers a plan of a self-sufficient garden, and had drawn the ecological goat tethered within three feet of the ecological beehive. Newt had spent a lot of time at his grandmother’s house in the country and thought he knew something about the habits of both goats and bees, and concluded therefore that the magazine was run by a bunch of bib-overalled maniacs.From Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I was listening to Good Omens again after reading it a few years ago, and I appreciated the quote above. It sums up my jaded feelings about a lot of books and articles on ecology and agriculture.
While moving my desk I found some notes I made about ten years back when I was preparing to jump into farming. Back then I was scouring out-of-print books for information on how pigs and chickens were raised before industrialization. My goals were worthy enough, but what a sucker I was for impractical ideas. So many unmanageable, unscalable, unachievable ideas…
One thing I didn’t appreciate was how many “experts” are actually only vocal novices. It was true in the old books and it remains true. Perhaps it is a little worse these days because the barriers to broadcasting ideas are lower. So much of the advice for farmers is based on people’s expectations of how the system should work, not built on years of experience. In one particularly egregious example I recently read, the author hadn’t even started his farm before he wrote his book the farm he planned on establishing.
I’ve come to appreciate experienced farmers more. Even if their practices aren’t fully compatible with mine, they embody a deep and hard-won wisdom. Often the agriculture of the possible is the only sustainable agriculture. Many of the people who were loud voices in ecological agriculture ten years ago are no longer farming. I’d like to make it to the ten year mark, and beyond. Maybe I’ll last to the point where I can be the crusty old grouch who has a few well-tested ideas worth listening to.
We had a bulldozer in yesterday cutting a couple of terraces on the steep hill behind the house, making room for a few new chicken brooders. If I could have all the money I’ve spent on terracing over the years, I could buy about four extra acres of flat land. But extra acres aren’t on the market, so we’ve got to make use of the land we have.
After creating the terraces, we dumped and spread six loads of gravel, moved two shipping containers into position, and graded the area to make room for the new chicken brooders. The smaller shipping container will be used as a storage shed for all things poultry related, such as spare parts for feeders, water lines, extra hose fittings, etc. Implementing better systems for organizing supplies and equipment is a high priority for this year.
We’ve been revamping our home delivery options and we’re glad to announce a few big changes. Many customers have trouble meeting us at specific dates and times for neighborhood deliveries, so we’re trying to make home delivery more convenient. Here’s the summary:
- Free home delivery on all orders over $99. Orders under $99 will have a $9.99 flat fee, which is also lower than our previous fee.
- Two delivery dates every week. Packages will arrive Wednesdays and Fridays except when there are conflicts with holidays.
- We are now including eggs in home delivery. Because of the custom packaging to protect them, our home delivery options will include packs of 2, 4, 6, 9, or 15 dozen eggs since those are the size packages that work with our shipping materials.
If you are one of our Neighborhood Delivery customers and you’d like to switch to Home Delivery, you may do that by choosing Home Delivery at checkout. The shopping cart may ask you to remove the eggs from your current order and to add them again. If you have any questions about the process, send me an email and I’ll help you out.
The first chicks of the season should be here on Thursday. To prepare for their arrival we’ve been running shakedown testing on our newest chicken brooder. A brooder is a controlled environment where chicks spend their first few weeks until they develop the ability to regulate their own body heat, after which time they can go out to pasture.
Every year I end up building new brooders, both to accommodate larger flocks and to overcome design flaws in earlier models. I’m feeling pleased with what I’m seeing in this setup, but I know from past experience that by the end of this season I’ll have ideas for improvements. An expensive departure from previous designs is the addition of an auger-driven feed line. I haven’t used one before and so I’m not sure if it makes sense, but I felt like a limited trial in a brooder would be a good opportunity to dip a toe in the water.
We’ve made some tremendous progress over the years in chicken comfort, energy efficiency, and feed efficiency. My goal for this year is to improve operational efficiency, allowing us to achieve more with less grunt work. I don’t want to spend less time with the chickens, but I want to spend less time carrying things and more time observing the birds.