A Blogger Fail

My apologies for the delay in updating the blog.  In addition to my full time work as an IT director and the ongoing projects associated with it, I was named to a volunteer position in our church as Minister of Education.  So in all my “free” time (lol), I’ve been working on developing classes and small groups for our growing congregation and visitors.  Would not trade anything for it, but with limited hours/days in a week, the blog has just fallen to the wayside.  

My goal is to begin posting more regularly later this year as things smooth out on both job fronts.  I hope you all have had a bountiful and blessed Summer and I look forward to spending more time here in the very near future.  

I should also have our new logo up by then.  Would love to hear your feeback, good/bad/or other!

Thanks!  -Ben

The Hens! They are a-laying!

While much of the Southeast has endured a cool, wet winter with dreary and overcast days, the start of meteorological Spring (March 1st) has begun. After a high of 19-22 eggs a day in September and October, we saw egg production fall to less than a dozen per week! We also had a health scare with the chickens in November; I thought a few of them had come down with an upper respiratory virus or infection, but they recovered and I diagnosed it as an aspergillus (mold) reaction when I introduced some new hay to their pen and coop. Now that the days have lengthened, egg production is picking up where it left off and we are seeing 10-14 eggs a day now. Even this morning, I gathered 31 eggs since my last effort, less than 48 hours prior. We also welcomed 30 or so biddies (pullets) to the brooder from Meyer Hatchery. They are 1.5 weeks old and doing well in their brooder on the back deck. We’re still battling cool temps, so I’ve rigged a space heater with thermostat in the brooder to supplement the heat lamp.

Pastured eggs are in high demand and I’ve added over a dozen regular customers to our delivery schedule this Spring. I am also purchasing additional chicks in late April/early May to continue supplementing our laying flock as we cull the older hens and try to revive a stewing hen market, not seen since the mid 20th century. Stewing hens were popular up until the 1970’s when mass produced poultry became “normal” in agribusiness. But I believe we can generate some demand by offering tips and tricks on how to prepare these wonderful old birds!

I hope everyone is as anxious as I to get out and work in the garden this Spring. Warm temps and sunny days are just ahead and I look forward to sharing our work and hearing about yours in the days and weeks to come!

May God bless you and yours richly as we celebrate the risen Savior and the rejuvenation of life on the farm!

Ben

Happy New Year!

Well, I must apologize. It has been nearly 5 months since my last post. We are still producing eggs (although production has dipped quite a bit since winter set in) and look forward to the coming weeks with the arrival of new chicks and an increase in egg production. I also hope to finish hanging the last few gates on my fence. Maybe a few meat goats and a pig or two are in our future??

Fall was busy with the usual chores, but was also filled with multiple family members having surgery, the passing of my last grandparent, and an escalation of kid activities that keep us hopping 5 out of 7 nights a week. My full-time job has also picked up and we are loaded with projects through the next 8-10 months. So with the arrival of Spring and longer days, I hope to be able to squeeze in some additional farm work days and get to many of the projects that are waiting in the wings….

I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas and Happy New Year. Look for more frequent posts as we get ramped up with all the activities that Spring and warm weather bring! My thanks to all of you!

Ben

Poultry Processing in Alabama

Pastured broilers (whether the Cornish X or new free-range variety) have always been a part of our long term plans. Housing, feeding, and growing them appears difficult at first, but nothing compared to processing. Once you begin processing an animal, however, you invite the state and federal government onto your property due to the Food Safety Inspection Act and other related regulations. While the purposes, intents, and/or reasoning behind this act or any other are up for debate, I will save that for another post. Today, I want to address the current state of small producers in Alabama, the exemptions currently available, and some possible alternative methods to get your product in front of consumers who are demanding it in the marketplace.

Federal Exemptions

There are many, but the ones below probably affect most small producers at this time.  Unfortunately, Alabama laws trump the Federal law when it comes to exemption.  More on that a little further down.  Details and criteria for each can be found in this USDA document:  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/oppde/rdad/fsisnotices/poultry_slaughter_exemption_0406.pdf

  • Personal Use Exemption
  • Custom Slaughter/Processing Exemption*
  • Producer/Grower – 1000 Limit Exemption*
  • Producer/Grower – 20,000 Limit Exemption*
  • Producer/Grower or Other Person (PGOP) Exemption
  • Small Enterprise Exemption*
  • Retail Store Exemption
  • Religious Dietary Exemption

* – denotes those exemptions likely to be employed by the majority of small producers in Alabama (however, only one exemption may be claimed).

Summary Table Adapted from the USDA Bulletin linked above

Summary Table of Exemptions and Limitations2.JPG

Alabama Exemptions and Notes

(The following is adapted from:  NMPAN Guide to State Poultry Processing Regulations, version date of 02 August 2012)

Alabama has a state poultry inspection program, administered by the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI). ADAI inspects state, custom-exempt, and federal plants (per the Talmadge-Aiken Act).

Summary

1. Does Alabama accept the federal exemptions for poultry processing?
Yes. ADAI has adopted all the federal exemptions.

2. Does Alabama require licensing to process poultry?
No.

3. Does Alabama have sanitation requirements for processing facilities?
Yes. Alabama follows the USDA sanitation requirements (9 CFR 416). For those under exemption, ADAI conducts periodic inspection of operations to ensure they are meeting requirements.

4. Do I need to talk to anyone locally other than ADAI?
No. Contact ADAI to determine specific requirements for your operation.

5. Where can I sell my poultry?
There are no restrictions for where poultry can be sold within the state other than those specified in the USDA exemptions.

Useful Links
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Animal Industries

Laws
Alabama Administrative Code: 2-17-1, 2-17-38, 2-15-110, 80-3-10-02, and 80-3-10-03.

Contact
Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries
Meat & Poultry Inspection
1445 Federal Drive
Montgomery, AL 36107
Phone: (334) 240-7210
Fax: 334-240-7167
Cal Norris, Unit Manager
Cal.Norris@fsis.usda.gov

At one time, there was a $200.00 annual limit to the amount of poultry that could be sold.  I will investigate that further and see what the law is currently and repost here, hopefully with some official documentation from the state that will provide an accurate account of what is and is not allowed.

My hope is that we as small producers, can not only sell directly to consumers but also to niche retail outlets that provide locally sourced/produced goods.

Thanks for reading and enjoy what remains of Summer!

Ben

Polyface Part III – Salad Bar Beef

One of the cornerstones of Polyface is their “salad bar beef” operation.  Joel coined the term due to the rich variety of grasses, herbs, legumes, and forage consumed on their pastures.  But he is quick to tell you that it’s not just grass-fed or pastured beef; the operation is managed to closely resemble the mobbing, mowing, and moving attributes of herbivores found around the world. Polyface Farms From the wildebeest and cape buffalo of Africa to the bison and antelope of the American West, bovines around the world exhibit these behaviors.  They mob together for protection from predators, feed (mow) vast areas of savanna or prairie, and they move regularly, never remaining in the same spot for long.  Traditional grass fed operations may use a single pasture or rotational grazing through paddocks.  Polyface takes it a step further utilizing the technology of electric fencing to mob the cattle together in a confined paddock, then moving them to a new, fresh paddock every day.  In each paddock, the cattle mow down the pasture from waist high grass down to 6 or 8 inches (more on grass growth below).  And, like their African, Asian, and American relatives, these bovines are followed by complementary avian species (swallows, meadowlarks, buntings, and poultry).  The birds serve to control the insect populations by consuming bugs that are stirred up by the cattle (aerial) or by scratching and spreading manure around the pasture and consuming fly larvae (poultry).  Joel noted that cow “pies” actually contain the 7 enzymes necessary for poultry health, giving another reason for multi-speciation on the farm and the importance of symbiotic relationships.

Water is provided via gravity fed pipes which flow downhill from retention ponds creatively constructed on the mountainside of the property.  Polyface keeps cattle on the family’s 550 acre farm and leases additional pasture/farmland in the surrounding area for the balance of their herd. Polyface beef is sold through it’s buyers club, the farm store, multiple white-tablecloth restaurants in the Shenandoah Valley, and through it’s T&E abbatoir in Staunton, VA (abbatoir is French for slaughterhouse, or your neighborhood butcher as it may be).  During our visit, we missed out on some “salad bar” burgers that were being sold to many of our Lunatic Tour colleagues.  But boy, did they smell and look good!

Joel SalatinNow, back to the grass.  Joel educated us on the growth stage of grass, why and when you graze it, and how efficient it is.  Very simply put, grass is only 5% soil/organic matter and 95% solar energy.  It has three basic growth stages that happen along a sigmoid curve: diaper, teenager, and nursing home.  In the diaper stage, the grass is fragile and susceptible to being killed off if grazed at this stage.  During the teenage stage, the grass is growing (hence the phrase “growing like a weed”), accumulating biomass each and every day.  This is the stage at which the grass should be aggressively grazed down to, so it spends the majority of it’s season in this stage.  The final stage is the nursing home, whereby plant energy is devoted towards seed head development and overall biomass accumulation slows to a crawl.  If grass at this stage is allowed to go on for too long, it becomes less succulent and more woody, thereby losing it’s palatability as a forage.  By carefully managing your herds and pastures, utilizing a combination of grazing and haying, you can achieve lush pastures capable of being cut for hay and grazed several times over the course of a season.

If interested in learning more and acquiring a better insight into this type of careful, yet aggressive management, I would recommend the Stockman Grass Farmer and Salatin’s book “Salad Bar Beef“.

Thanks for Reading!

Ben

Polyface Part II – Layers and Eggs

This next post concerns one of my favorite things – eggs. Our tour began with visits to two of Polyface’s “Egg-Mobiles”, where 500 or so brown egg layers free range within the confines of an electric poultry fence under the watchful eyes of a guard goose.

Hen Mobile 1

The electric fencing (150 feet arranged in a square) is used to keep out ground predators.  The geese provide protection from aerial predators.  In this caption, she has spotted a vulture circling  nearby and is keeping a cautious eye out.

Being omnivores, chickens will eat just about anything.  Joel’s layers follow his herd of cattle from one paddock to the next, scratching through cowpies in search of tasty worms and fly larvae.  This scratching keeps the fly population in check and distributes the aggregated manure over a wider area.  We learned that cow dung contains the 7 essential enzymes necessary for poultry digestion.  Pretty amazing, huh?  They are spread their own manure in each paddock thus injecting large amounts of nutrients into the pasture to feed the grasses, forbs, and microbial cultures above and below the soil surface.  In addition, the layers are also fed a specially formulated layer ration they developed and produced by a Mennonite mill nearby.  While not labeled organic, this feed ration contains non-GMO grains, kelp, and other locally-sourced, natural ingredients.  Water is provided through a system of retention ponds, built in the draws and hollows in the higher elevations of his property and gravitationally delivered via a series of pipes and spigots to the pastures.

Free Ranging Polyface Style

Because the layers are moved every couple of days, the previous paddock is allowed to rest, the sun sanitizes through its light and heat, and the pathogens are confused and unable to find a suitable host.  This intensive management process, based on the natural herbivore/omnivore behaviors in nature, mimics the great populations of bison in the American West or the wildebeest on the plains of Africa (more on this in my next post about cattle).

Joel’s management and stewardship of his farm are a great example of how agriculture and animal husbandry should be practiced.  It involves multi-speciation, accumulation of bio-mass, and an ongoing commitment to keeping the herds and flocks on the move.

I welcome your questions or comments about our visit or about how we are beginning to employ some of these practices with our laying flock so we can bring you those big eggs with tasty orange yolks you’ve come to expect from Redemption Farms!

Waxing eloquently on doing things Beyond Organic

A Visit to Polyface Farm

Earlier this year, my wife learned of a family wedding in the D.C. area in May, and we began planning our trip. It happened that we would be passing within a few miles of Polyface and I jumped at the chance to spend an afternoon there. After checking the website, I signed us up for a “Lunatic Tour”, offered only twice a month at a cost of $15 per adult and free for kids under 13. $30 was a very inexpensive price for 2+ hours of exposure with one of the pioneers of the localvore, sustainability, and “beyond organic” movements.

If you are not familiar with Joel Salatin and his Polyface Farm, he was a prominent figure in Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, the films “Food, Inc.” and “Farmageddon”, and is the author of numerous books. For a more comprehensive overview, click the Polyface link under the “Resources” section of this site.

Because of the volume of information, I will break this “post” into multiple posts over the next several days as I pull together photos and videos of our visit.  So please bear with me as I attempt to recall as much info as possible!  Now, on to the introduction…

Polyface is located on 500 acres in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley, outside of Staunton, VA, in a small community called Swoope (pronounced Swope as in rope).  It is a short, 20 minute drive through some of the most beautiful, pastoral land I’ve ever encountered this side of the Mississippi.  You eventually end up on a gravel road that parallels a small stream and if you blink, you might miss the sign.  You pull up to a nondescript, old farmhouse with a few outbuildings, machinery, and other evidences of a working farm.  Right off the bat, I noticed that looks and appearances aren’t near the top of the list.  The place is clean, but the focus is on functional, not aesthetics.  After parking at the store, we wandered in and  found a refrigerated section with various Polyface meats, eggs, and veggies.  There was a merchandise section with t-shirts, hats, books, and videos; and numerous articles/awards/citations on the walls detailing the philosophy and history of the farm’s 50 year existence.

Wandering outside, we ran into Noah, a California man in his 20’s who looked more cowboy than surfer dude.  He was 2/3 of his way through a year long internship, wiry and lean from 8 months on the farm.  He described the farm’s various activities and processes, but encourage us to explore on our own.  That is a hallmark of Polyface (and should be of all farms); complete transparency and freedom to inquire, explore, and investigate.  Our first visit was to the pigerator barn, where young pigs of varying age were being acclimated to the new place before being turned out on the mountain.  Evidence of the winter work of the pigs was found in two enormous compost piles, waiting to be spread across a garden or section of pasture. We then moved on to a hoop house where several pullets were awaiting their turn to be moved to an egg-mobile as soon as they begin laying.  Rabbits were in another hoop house, while the cows were busy grazing another paddock further up the mountain.  Polyface’s 500 acres is a narrow strip, just a few hundred yards wide, but extending from the valley up the side of a mountain for nearly 4 miles.  We eased back towards the store, met some others who were arriving for the same tour and watched these visitors enjoy some grass-fed burgers, complete with leaf lettuce from the garden.  We regretted our fast food stop in Staunton.  Had we known of the cookout, we definitely would have enjoyed a Polyface burger!

As we gathered for the start of the tour, Joel gave us a brief introduction on what we would be seeing, a little history of the place, and an estimate on how long the rain and storms would hold off.  Follow the link below to see a brief video of that opening intro (and please forgive the poor audio):  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-Shm7NuvYg&feature=youtu.be

One final note about our trip.  We shared it with members of the Wounded Warriors program who are working with the Department of Defense on helping wounded veterans train in sustainable agriculture and polyculture agrarian enterprises.  Definitely a worthwhile use of tax dollars!

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back in the coming days for more on our visit!

Ben