Chicks Arrive

The first chicks of the season hatched this week.  They wriggled free of their egg shells on Monday morning. We picked them up a few hours later and brought them back to the farm the same day.  From now until Thanksgiving it is bird season at Wrong Direction Farm.

The chicks are kept in close quarters inside vented cardboard boxes while we bring them home from the hatchery.  It is a loud drive for Zia, as she sits in the car with a chorus of 500 chirping birds!  Chicks need to be kept at 90 degrees for their first few days, so crowding for warmth helps keep them comfortable.  Once home we place them in our brooder with the heater thermostat cranked all the way up.  Here they are as we unload them:

Snuggled up together, they keep each other warm during the ride home from the hatchery.

It was a sunny, warm afternoon so I carried a few outside to pose with them:

Even with all the excitement, they fell asleep within seconds.

I didn’t plan it this way, but when I reviewed the pictures Harry was taking, I guess I even wore my special Get Real Chicken shirt for the occasion:

My Get Real Chicken shirt. This was from a project to create a directory of farmers that go beyond fake labels like “free range” to actually raise birds in movable pasture environments.

I find it to be a delight to spend time with newly hatched chicks.  They alternate between lightning-fast running and passed-out napping.  Here’s one that charged up my sleeve and then just perched there, undecided where to go next:

New Delivery Boxes

We’re rolling out new boxes for our home delivery orders of grass fed and pasture raised meat.  I realize the idea of custom-printed boxes is nothing revolutionary, but it sure feels like a big accomplishment for us.

Here’s a look at the new boxes.  If you place an order starting this weekend, you’ll have one of these show up on your doorstep:

Wrong Direction Farm delivers these boxes of pasture raised chicken and turkey and grass fed beef to customers in the Northeast, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.
A turkey on one side of the box and a chicken on the other.

I worked with an artist to adapt photos into sketches.  We began with a whole folder of pictures our chickens and turkeys out on the pastures.  I’m sure I drove her a little nuts with my request.  I wanted to represent the birds and to tie their images to the way we integrate poultry within the larger ecosystem of our farm’s perennial grass pastures. For us, grass fed and pasture raised aren’t just marketing ploys; they are critical parts of an agricultural system that regenerates the soil and biological life of our farmland. Hence the drawing shows grass underfoot and the curved surface of earth to hint that there is much more going on below the ground.

Here’s the evolution from my first prototype to the finished artwork:

We wanted the art to reinforce the message that our chickens are pasture raised.  Pastured chickens and turkeys are more than a marketing ploy, they are a vital part of a regenerative farm ecosystem, working alongside our grass fed beef cattle to create grasslands and forests that contribute to environmental health.
Clearly I haven’t progressed much beyond stick figures, so it helps to find someone who knows what they are doing.

I’m pleased with the look of the boxes and consider them to be a tremendous improvement over plain cardboard boxes with stickers.

Boxes of grass fed and pasture raised meat stacked and ready to go out for home delivery.
Here are the older boxes stacked up in our van for the trip to the UPS shipping hub.

Thanks to our friends Karen and Brad for the use of their beautiful front porch for the photoshoot.  Do you have any pictures of the places our boxes end up?  If so, please share a photo of your box on Instagram and let us know @WrongDirectionFarm.

Mud Season Arrives

This is the time of year to bring out E.E. Cumming’s perfectly turned phrases “mud-luscious” and “puddle-wonderful”

This is mud season on the farm, and we are in the splash zone.  Everything and everyone is spattered with mud.  Receding snow is opening up patches of brown grass.  Within a day of exposure the vegetation begins greening as photosynthesis renews.  South-facing slopes already are bare and the rest of the fields are losing the snow pack rapidly.

The seasonal creek is lively with all the snow melt from the higher elevations.

Feeding the cattle gets tricky this time of year with sloppy ground.  The tractor wants to sink right down when we’re moving the hay bales.  I have to drive strategically to avoid creating an utter mess of ruts and mud pits.  It is an annoyance, but we’ve come to expect this part of the annual cycle, and we take it in stride.  Spring is coming, and we’ll put up with anything to experience spring again!

This may look prosaic, but I always feel a renewal of potentialities in a field shedding a winter’s blanket of snow.

This week we began the annual cycle of pre-season chicken projects.  With the snow gone and the roof accessible, I completed roofing the newest brooder.  I have been working with the nutritionist on fine tuning our chicken and turkey feed recipes.  It is time to inspect our chicken feeders, waterers, and other supplies to know which things must be repaired, replaced, or reordered.  The first chicks of the season hatch in less than two weeks, so I am feeling the fire of urgency under me.

Now to put our heads down, to lean into the long pull of the next season of the year when our lives seem to be all poultry, all the time.

Getting the farm Certified Organic

Before we even started farming we knew following organic principles would be foundational to our farm.  But somehow we never got around to filling out the paperwork and getting the inspections to certify the farm officially.  It always seemed like it was not quite the highest priority; it was something to put off until next year, or the next year, or the next year…

Enough procrastinating!  This week I took the momentous step of submitting all the paperwork to begin the formal certification process for Wrong Direction Farm.

For our grass fed beef, Organic Certification was never an urgent issue because our cattle have a simple diet, and we’re not dosing them with hormones and antibiotics, so there wasn’t a lot of differentiation between Organic and non-Organic grass fed beef.  But our pasture raised poultry can’t survive on a grass-only diet.  We need to provide additional feed for them.  The vast majority of poultry feed available (including most non-GMO feeds) contains grains treated with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. Only Certified Organic feed avoids all these chemicals while also avoiding GMOs.  We have only ever used Certified Organic feed on our farm, but now we’re taking the steps to document and recognize this.

Certified Organic, non GMO feed for our pasture raised chickens.
Organic feed pouring into the five gallon buckets we use to carry feed to the chickens.

Why are we certifying now? 

The decision to certify came down to a desire to take a firmer stand on an issue we believe is important: poisons shouldn’t be part of our food.  We wanted something categorical to convey, to reassure our customers that harmful chemicals are never part of WDF’s poultry food system.

There are certain words used in food marketing that are red flags for meaninglessness.  “Natural”, “free range”, and “heirloom” come to mind. Despite any possible virtues these words conveyed originally, whenever I see them now I know that a brand messaging specialist selected them intentionally to confuse and to distract me.  Who would suppose that “natural” is capacious enough to include dyes and preservatives?  That “free range” can apply to chickens that never leave a barn or see a blade of grass?  Or that “heirloom” can describe poultry that are actually crossbred hybrids?

But “Organic” is different because it has a very specific meaning governed by extensive, strict rules.  There are multiple aspects to Organic, but my primary goal in standing behind the Organic label is to shine a spotlight on our chickens and turkeys, to show that they are never exposed to poisons.  Not in the fields, not in the feed, and not in the processing.

I don’t want to eat chicken with residues of Atrazine, Glyphosate, 2,4-D, or Dicamba.  I don’t want my kids to eat that.  I don’t want my birds to suffer the tissue and organ damage associated with those chemicals.  I don’t want to be complicit, even indirectly, in the exposure of farm workers operating the sprayers.  I don’t want those substances disrupting my soil biology or soaking into my groundwater.  And I know that this farm’s customers don’t want any of that either.  So I think the best way to convey that message is with the Certified Organic stamp, to show that our poultry never even come near that stuff.

Downsides to Certification?

There are a few criticisms farmers have about the certification process.

The first is about the cost, both in terms of cash and time. Maintaining certification annually will cost us a few thousand dollars to certify the farm and require several days of work filling out papers and meeting with inspectors. At the beginning of the farm, when we were losing huge amounts of money each year trying to get this started, just having the money on hand to pay for certification was out of the question. These days the farm isn’t exactly a cash machine, but it is breaking even. Even though I feel some buyers remorse writing these checks, I believe it is an investment we ought to make.

The second is about trust. Do I need a third party certifier to back up what I am already telling my customers about our chicken feed? Do the customers need the certifier? I’m not sure that framing this as an issue of trust is the best approach. I prefer to think of the rigors of the certification process as a kind of accountability, something by which our farm can continually and more objectively assess our progress. I would appreciate the discipline of outside observation to help me stay on track and perhaps even to show me some things I’m not currently seeing.

The third objection is the most insidious. What about Organic cheaters, people and companies that are certified but aren’t being honest?  Such situations sadly do exist.  There are even plenty of producers claiming to be “Beyond Organic” even though they don’t meet the baseline Organic standards.  But abandoning Organic is not the right solution to these problems. Pessimism and cynicism have their place, but they can’t carry us all the way to a new food system. We’ll need to rely on the combination of hope and hard work to arrive there.

What’s Next?

So when will the Certified Organic label show up at Wrong Direction Farm?  The wheels of Organic turn slowly with lots of paperwork, inspections, and verifications, but if all goes well you should start seeing it pop up later this summer or early this fall.  I’ll be sure to let you know when we get there, and if we encounter any interesting things along the way I’ll let you know about that too.

Containerized Farm

I love and hate shipping containers as farm infrastructure.

We have four shipping containers and five tractor trailer boxes serving in some capacity on the farm.  They provide modular, low-entry cost flexibility our farm has found essential. I don’t think we could have afforded to build out our farm’s business selling pasture raised chicken and grass fed beef if we also were trying cash flow the construction of traditional barns. So I love them. But I also am always frustrated by containers.  They also are always just a little too inadequate.

This container is a walk-in freezer.  It is an insulated food grade container, previously used for overseas transport for bananas, now retrofitted with our refrigeration equipment. We put an extra door in the middle because shipping container doors are a pain to work with if they are being opened and closed on a daily basis.
This shipping container has storage for all the parts and repair items for managing our pasture raised chickens.  Looking at the picture, I’m reminded that it is time for a cleanup.
Here we store all our order packing supplies.  We need to build some shelving and dividers in there to help with the organization.

Containers don’t offer the visual appeal of a classic bank barn or the impressive storage capacity of a pole barn.  But they do give us valuable flexibility as we continue to adapt our farm.  Permanent buildings would tie us down and prevent us from being able to adjust our farm businesses.

My biggest gripe with containers is that they are too narrow.  The 8 foot width dictates that only one half of the container can be loaded with pallets, otherwise I lose my aisle.  If I fill the aisle then everything needs to be unpacked to remove something near the back.  A 12 foot wide container would be tremendously more efficient, even if it would be more of a hassle to move on the roads.

In the next year or two I’m going to need to step up our freezer space beyond what a single shipping container can provide.  And by then it probably will be time to commit to a “real” building.  But I’m confident that even with a purpose-built building I’ll still find uses for the containers we have now.

How Big is a Small Farm?

When people visit the farm I’ll frequently get a surprised comment, “Wow, that’s a lot of chickens!” And for the average person’s experience, I suppose a group of five hundred chickens is a lot, so I understand. But to my eye, this is just a small group of chickens. A conventional United States chicken farm usually raises in the range of a half million to three million chickens per year.

I spoke with a farmer who had three thousand laying hens on pasture. When people at the farmers market would ask him how many birds he raised, he’d always lie and keep the number in the hundreds. That made people happy. If he quoted a number in the thousands, their faces would fall and they would leave the stand. “Three thousand” sounded evil, like a factory farm. People wanted to hear a number less than one hundred, but they’d accept anything less than a thousand. At the place where people shopped with the goal of knowing their farmer, the two sides couldn’t communicate openly.

Everyone likes small farms. But how big can a small farm be before it is no longer a charming small farm?

When feeding the cattle their hay this morning I took a picture of only a portion of the herd.  That kept it from looking like “too many” cattle.

This is where we face the Old MacDonald problem. Most of us grew up with farm coloring books showing one horse, two cows, three ducks, four geese, five chickens, six ears of corn, etc. These childhood storybook views of agriculture stick with us and influence our conception of farming. The picture books present the straw-hatted farmer working from sunup to sundown, so it is pretty clear he doesn’t have time for a side gig. How does Old MacDonald generate enough cash to pay the mortgage? Or the property taxes, general liability insurance, utility bills, internet, tractor repairs, and worker’s comp for his trusty farmhand? Where does he get the money to keep his barn so well coated in red paint?

Old MacDonald’s barnyard is a great model for a homesteader. But he wouldn’t survive as a full time farmer here in Upstate New York.  Unless maybe, all this time he’s been running that farm as a front for something else…

I’ve gone over numbers with other farmers who are producing and selling products similar to ours, and it seems that for a family to earn a $50,000 salary from direct marketed livestock farming, they need to be selling between $250,000 and $500,000 annually (lower numbers for established farms with land and infrastructure paid for and higher numbers for new farms building everything from scratch). This level of production is difficult for most small farms to achieve. In our economy, is $50k even enough to compensate motivated, educated, entrepreneurial farmers? We often bemoan the low pay for teachers, but for reference a teacher in New York City with a bachelor’s degree and no teaching experience earns $57,845 starting pay plus retirement and healthcare.

In every respect, Wrong Direction Farm is a small farm. I don’t have any plans for gobbling up the market. I’d prefer a world where this farm remained one tiny piece in a grid of successful farms. But I wonder at the focus on small over successful. For farmers to be successful they need to be productive. Based on the average selling prices I see in the marketplace and the average production costs, a farmer with a direct-to-consumer market will need to sell about 10,000 pasture raised chickens or 80 grass fed beef cattle in order achieve that $50,000 pay target (again with some variability based on the amount of fixed costs in the operation).

Those numbers may not seem small, but in this case small isn’t the right goal. If we as a society wish to support a thriving agricultural system, we must think bigger about small farms. We need to have successful, productive farms. This isn’t about productivity über alles. None of this requires an expansionist race for each farm to become the next Tyson Chicken. And we never should compromise on critical issues like land stewardship, water quality, soil health, humane treatment, farmworker pay, or nutrition. But we absolutely need to make sure there are opportunities for farmers to reach productivity levels that meet their income needs.

Who is going to draw the coloring books so the next generation of kids are not carry the same misconceptions forward?

Keeping the Cattle Hydrated

The last few weeks have been running on the colder side. Every morning and afternoon either Rachel or I chop the ice from the water trough that is fed by underground pipeline from the pond.

For all our effort, most of our cattle never use the water trough whenever there is soft snow on the ground. A few hang around waiting for us to finish chopping the ice so they can get in for a drink but the others just come to watch us work, and after their companions have had a drink they all walk back to the hay bales for more feeding. It is hard to do a precise survey, but it seems that only a small minority of the cattle actually prefer liquid water. When the snow is crusty they’ll go back to the trough. Like skiers, cows love fresh powder, and we’ve had plenty this season.

I don’t know this as a fact, but I wonder if the preference for snow is that slurping down a gallon of ice water is chilling, but eating a gallon’s worth of water as snow takes a lot longer as the the snow is chewed and swallowed, so the body isn’t hit with such a shock of cold. It is just a theory…

Steer number 234, one of the grass fed Angus beef steers at WDF, chewing a mouthful of snow as he eats grass hay.
Steer chewing a mouthful of snow

I used to wonder if the cattle would get dehydrated, but over the years I’ve learned to let them figure out what they wanted to do about their thirst. On the paleontological scale, grass fed cattle have been managing this on their own for long enough. The water trough is there if they want it.

Winter Farm Wood Chores

We heat our home with a wood stove in the living room. Wood heating is a kind of domestic commitment that doesn’t suit all lifestyles. One has to be there to keep the home fires burning. Wood needs to be cut, split, stacked, and often restacked. It is heavy and messy. But it is homemade heat, free for the taking, and it suits the pattern of our life.

One of the challenges in having wood heat is preparing it far enough in advance. I prefer for wood to season for one year before burning it. Wet logs are hard to kindle, and when they do burn, much of the heat is wasted on evaporating internal moisture. So midwinter finds us busy cutting the firewood we’ll be burning this time next year.

This year we are using primarily maple for firewood. We have a patch of maple trees growing on some wet ground, really too wet for them to thrive. Every tree in this group has a rotted core. The trees seem to all fall over when they hit the 40 year mark, wiping out the young oak trees nearby. Since the oaks aren’t prone to rot, I’m taking out all the frail maples and leaving the more robust oaks. This is forest succession at work, just with a little push from me to speed it up.

I’ve been quite pleased with a simple modification I made to the log splitter. Our splitter never had much room for logs, so it created extra work picking up and repositioning pieces of wood. I went through my pile of metal offcuts and welded up a small platform next to the cutter where I can stack a few chunks of wood, working on them all at one time. It works beautifully and my back appreciates the change.

State of Concentration

The Farm Family Action Alliance recently published a paper titled “The Food System:  Concentration and Its Impacts.”  I keep a close eye on the state of the grass fed beef and pasture raised chicken landscape, but this report has given me some hard statistics to back up my impressions about the larger food industry.

If you look back at some of the critical times in rethinking the American food system, for a large group of people that wakeup moment came when reading Michael Pollan books or watching influential documentaries such as Food, Inc and Supersize Me. The early 2000s started a cultural shift, creating an alternative path by bringing food attributes like Organic, Small Batch, Artisanal, and Local into the mainstream consciousness.

But in taking stock of the state of our food system, it is sad to note that very little has improved.  Or to be more precise by looking at the data, the problems in our food system have only intensified.

The growth of what the food industry calls the “natural food and beverage” category has been a sleight of hand that has helped the conventional industrial brands to create higher margin segments, funding further cost cutting on their conventional brands.  Competition in the marketplace is rapidly disappearing.  Significant segments of the food system can be demonstrated to have more than half the market share owned by four or fewer companies.  73% of beef processing and 54% of chicken processing are controlled by four companies.  48% of all pork processing in the United States is owned by two companies, one of which is Chinese and one Brazilian.  This same situation is found in beverages, snacks, bread, and everywhere up and down the grocery aisles.  Maybe the greatest example of fake consumer choice is the beer aisle, where Anheuser-Busch InBev owns over 40% of the market, despite the appearance of a plethora of microbrew choices.

Extra Credit:  Think Like a Robber Baron!

Fact: 80% of soybeans are processed by four companies. Think about which companies and which of their investors are leading the charge for meat substitutes. Consider that many of the investors are currently profiting from significant capital positions in the meat processing industry. Consider that the alt-meat industry depends on soybean and pea processing. Do you think those who stand to profit are actually motivated by the ecology of meat production as they claim or are they enticed by the opportunity for further capture of the entire soybean processing market? Give supporting information for your answers.

On the agricultural supply side, farm numbers continue to decline while the number of crop acres per farm and livestock per farm shoot upward.  Between 1987 and 2017, the median dairy farm went from 80 to 1,300 cows.  The median chicken farm raises 770,000 broilers and the median beef feedlot handles 43,000 head.  Wheat, corn, and soybean farms are now about three times bigger than they were in 1987.

These trends have continued unabated despite the emphasis on small farms and local foods during the last fifteen or twenty years.  So where is that small farm and locavore revolution?

The Food Revolution that Wasn’t

Upton Sinclair famously noted that his book The Jungle motivated consumers to clamor for food cleanliness standards, yet it never accomplished his goal of generating concern for the workers in the Chicago meatpacking plants.  “I aimed for the public’s heart, and by accident hit it in the stomach.”

I believe a similar situation has occurred during the last twenty years.  The public has grown to want and to expect healthier, cleaner food options, but as a whole very little has been done to look behind the attractive labels.

It seems that people think that they purchase premium food about 25% of the time, but national sales data suggests the actual “natural food and beverage” segment is about 8% of the market.  Regardless of the exact number, the natural segment continues to grow rapidly.

But all that growth isn’t accomplishing anything to improve the overall industry, the position of farmers, the position of workers, the problems of pollution and resource use, or the loss of local control.  Since the ownership of these natural-branded products is almost entirely connected to the same companies that own the conventional product lines, there are no market forces exerted on those companies to change any of their practices.  Buying Applegate Organic turkey puts money in Hormel’s pockets.  Buying Coleman Natural Organic chicken funnels cash back to Perdue.  Nothing changes, not even for the chickens or turkeys.

The actual food system alternatives, such as small farms, artisanal processors, and producer cooperatives continue as a tiny pixel on the map of the entire food system.

Here is what I think happened in most people’s minds when they watched some food documentary and decided to start eating responsibly produced, healthier food.  They imagined that although not everyone would do it, enough people would start buying better food and it would create a clear division in the food industry, like this:

Below is what actually happened.  Almost everyone kept on buying the same old stuff.  A few people thought they were taking a new path but ended up merging back into the conventional market.  And a fraction of a percent actually ended up on an alternative path.

Where do we go with this?  There’s not a great “we’re going to change the world” message here.  By all objective measures, our choice of a farm name is still as applicable as it was when we started.  Our farm is pointing out a path that is generally considered to be a Wrong Direction.

I can’t tell you that you are going to change the world if you buy my hamburger.  Indeed, the world will continue pretty much the same whether you buy it or not.  But you change my world, and for that I am grateful.  And you help the many people this farm touches.  Think about this web of connection:

I can’t tell you that you are going to change the world if you buy my hamburger.  Indeed, the world will continue pretty much the same whether you buy it or not.  But you change my world, and for that I am grateful.  And you help the many people this farm touches.  Think about this web of connection:

  • Clint and Jim, two incredibly patient and hardworking guys for whom our farm has become their biggest customer for chicken butchering work.
  • Our neighbor Mike who sells us his weaned calves each year for us to raise as grass fed beef cattle.
  • Our other neighbors Mike and Brian who cut hay for our farm.
  • Mary-Howell, who sends us a truckload of Organic feed for our pasture raised chickens and turkeys every week or two all spring, summer, and fall.
  • Alana, Garth, Normandy, and Edmund from Cairncrest Farm who raise all the pigs and lambs for us.
  • Zia, our farm employee who puts up with all manner of crazy situations.
  • And the list could keep going on

The changes don’t just happen here on the farm.  I believe you are changing yourself when you go down the alternative, regenerative agriculture path.  On the physical level, if you’ve tasted our grass fed beef, pasture raised chicken, or if you’ve eaten a cucumber or a strawberry from a great produce farmer, you know in your body that you are eating something dramatically better than what you could get elsewhere.  But this is more than just a different type of consumption-based activism.  The choice to look for alternatives that do better for more people is part of a mindset, a conscious decision.  That mode of thinking surely influences all aspects of life.

What I’ve Learned About Making Bone Broth

With the cold weather, I thought it would be a good time to go over the lessons I’ve learned in making bone broth. We use one quart per day on average in our kitchen, so I make a lot of broth. Here are a few things I’ve learned in all that simmering.

  1. Use the bones you have!  Usually our broths are a blend of leftover bones.  Last week’s batch included chicken bones from roasted drumsticks, turkey bones from jumbo hot wings, beef neck bones from stew, and one pig’s foot for extra gelatin.  I keep a tub in the freezer and collect all our bones after our meals, saving them for broth.
  2. Target about 1 quart of finished broth for every pound of bones.  I add more water to start and reduce down to my target volume.  This ratio gives me the thickness I like for a sipping broth.  If your broth feels sticky on the tongue, you probably reduced it a bit too much.  If you are using the broth as a foundation for a more complicated soup, you might want to thin it out to 1.5 or even 2 quarts.
  3. Salting at the beginning brings out more flavor than salting at the end.  I used to only add salt at the end, but moving this step to the beginning dramatically improved the taste.  Try it; you’ll be surprised at the effect.  I measure 1/2 tsp of salt per pound of bones and then adjust for taste a little more at the end.
  4. Cheat to amplify the flavor.  Scrape the browned bits and  gelatin puddles off the bottom of roasting pans, storing them frozen until needed.  I sometimes strain braising liquids (for instance, last week we did that when Rachel cooked a brisket in a crock pot) and add that to a batch of broth.  Just be aware that if these additives have salt in them you might want to back off on the salt I mentioned in #3 above.
  5. Be careful with the mirepoix.  Onions, carrots, etc. create a classical balanced profile, but these ingredients can also contribute to off-flavors if overcooked, especially when the pot boils too vigorously.  I’d recommend perfecting your bone-only broth first, then gradually adding vegetables to your repertoire.
  6. Most of the flavor is developed in a bone broth within 12 hours of simmering.  You can cook bones for days to extract more nutrition, but you’ll have a great broth within the first half day.  For us this means I can start a pot of broth when I’m cleaning up supper, and ladle out a bowl for breakfast the next morning.
  7. Love the fat.  Our family thrives on a diet rich in animal fat, but we prefer our broths to be skimmed.  I pour the hot broth into quart containers and then chill them in the fridge (or in the unheated mud room at this time of year).  Once the fat congeals, I skim it.  Consider using the fat for pan fried eggs, drizzled roasted potatoes, or my current cooked veggie favorite: roasted onion chunks, apple wedges, and sage basted with rendered fat.

If you aren’t in the habit of making bone broth, don’t be intimidated.  There’s nothing like a steaming bowl on these cold winter days!

Don’t have a stash of bones in your freezer?  We sell 5 lb bags of beef bones to get you started.