This morning we processed 8 roosters being raised for meat. And tonight we will eat the one Vicki named Butter. She was very excited to finally eat a leg that she had been watching grow since May.
Imagine you walk out to feed your chickens and spill some of the chicken feed on the ground in an area where the chickens can’t get to it. If you came back a few weeks later, what would you expect to find? Well, if it was commercial feed, you would probably find a pile of moldy feed. What you wouldn’t find, is sprouts. Just like the potatoes you bought in the grocery store – when was the last time you had to remove a sprout? More and more chemicals are being used on the foods we eat, and on the foods we feed our animals. Soy is cheap and has become a MAJOR component in animal feeds. One REALLY big problem with that is almost all of the soy grown in the US today is GMO soy.
For quite a while, this topic has concerned us. The problem is, commercial feed is cheap, and organic, GMO free, soy free feed is NOT cheap. However, we have decided the time has come to shift our farm to a product line that is GMO free, Soy free, and organic. We have chosen Countryside Organics because they offer feed varieties for all the animal types we currently have on the farm (and are considering in the future). The down side is cost. Our rabbit feed will be more than 2x as expensive. The chicken and goat feed will be about 80% more. However, in gathering info, another farm told us that their goats consumed about 3o% less feed and produced more milk on the Countryside product.
Since we know others in the area may also be interested in some of the products, we are starting a co-op. There are no resellers nearby, so we will be buying a full pallet at a time and having it shipped from VA (that’s not cheap). By coordinating a co-op, we won’t really save any money, but it allows us to order more frequently and not have to worry about exactly figuring out the next 3 months of feed needs.
If you are interested in joining our farm in the co-op, let us know. The first order will be going on Monday, 8/12.
We enjoy raising rabbits as a meat product. Unfortunately, it’s not very cheap to raise a rabbit. It actually costs about as much to raise a rabbit for meat as raising a chicken (and takes about as much time). However, because of the skin, head, feet, etc, the live to meat conversion is about 50% but on a chicken it is about 65-70% (for the heritage breeds we raise). This means we have to charge more per pound for rabbits. If only we could use all those other pieces and distribute the cost, making the meat cheaper. Finally, we have been successful at figuring out how!
We are now selling Raw Dog Food products! Specifically, we are packaging the heads and feet for the raw dog food community. It turns out, these are used as treats for dogs. In fact, I discovered websites selling 1/2 lbs of rabbit feet for $10! We have also developed some outlets for the rabbit pelts.
The bottom line is, we have a new customer base and the use of previously discarded parts means we can LOWER our prices for rabbit meat. These days almost nothing gets cheaper, but we found a way to do it. We also improved our packaging of the rabbits so they are less likely to get freezer burn. Now is a great time to try rabbit!
First, Thank You to everyone who supported Sawyer Family Farm in 2012!
Last year was marked by significant growth and trying new things on the farm and we learned a lot. When we started our farm, it was with the intent to provide healthier food for our family, that we could trust was free of antibiotics, artificial hormones, injected juices, and all the other things that we don’t know about in the mainstream food supply. We are well on our way to achieving that goal. Frequently last summer, we were able to serve entire meals with items produced exclusively on our farm: meat, vegetables, and dairy products. We enjoy raising the animals, however, it is a lot of work (just ask our farm sitter who experienced the life for 10 days while we were gone at Christmas)! A frequent conversation starter at our house is “What do we enjoy, what do make money at, and what isn’t worth the money.”
So, here is a breakdown across the areas we tried out in 2012 and some of our 2013 plans.
Eggs: There is a constant demand for our eggs. We love the idea of having a cooler at the end of our driveway to sell fresh eggs to local neighbors, however, after losing around $100 in coolers, eggs, and money, we had to stop. We have been providing eggs to other groups such as Wesleyan University Food Co-op and for sale on CT Farm Fresh Express, however, our local customers come first, so if you still want our fresh eggs, give us a call. 2013: We will continue to have fresh eggs available, however, we will not expand our laying flock. NOTE: we are getting ready for chick hatching season soon, so eggs may not be quite as available as we set them aside for hatching.
Meat Chickens: Wow. I never expected so much demand for the meat chickens. We ended up selling almost half of what we planning to keep for ourselves, but that is ok, because we have been eating more rabbits. In 2012, we tried Freedom Rangers as a meat chicken and also raised more heritage roosters. While we didn’t raise any Cornish Cross, we did process them on a number of occasions for another farm. While the Cornish Cross get bigger, have more breast meat, and are ready in half the time, we have decided they WILL NOT be raised on our farm. Additionally, we will not raise the Freedom Rangers again. We have decided that we prefer chickens that move around, scratch the grass, and act like chickens, even if that means it takes longer to raise them at a slightly higher cost.
2013: We will still raise some chickens as meat birds. However, based on the time it takes to process when they are all ready (and our extremely busy weekend schedules), we will likely have a very limited number of chickens available for sale. These will be offered to previous customers first.
Chicks: We hatched a lot of chicks in 2012 on a continuous hatching plan. This year, are going to try a very different approach. Stand by for an update on this within the next week.
Turkeys: Turkeys are stupid. That’s all there is too it. While we did get excellent feedback, we haven’t decided if the turkeys are worth the trouble. It was definitely more stressful than I anticipated as we approached Thanksgiving and realized many of the birds were going to be smaller than expected. We haven’t decided what future turkeys will have on the farm, however, we are committed to the heritage breeds if we raise them again.
Rabbits: This has to be one of the more frustrating areas of the farm. The rabbits are easier to care for than the chickens, easier to breed year round, and require less work. However, due to the feed costs, they are more expensive, which I think is negatively impacting our ability to sell more rabbits. Additionally, since rabbit isn’t a mainstream food source in the US, many are reluctant to try it. Rabbits are not going away (in fact we would really like to expand). We have a few ideas about what we might be able to do in order to lower costs for feeding. Stand by for a new project announcement in the near future.
Goats: We love the goats. They are just fun. The human kids enjoyed showing last summer at the North Stonington Fair, and this year, in 4-H, they will show goats a little more. Last summer, we used the milk to drink (a lot), make ice cream, and make soft cheese until we got tired of goat cheese and wine (which takes about 3 months, every evening after the human kids go to bed). Right now we have 9 does that we think are all bred. Kidding season starts in February and continues into early June. We haven’t completely decided on how large our dairy herd will be in the future, however, we do plan to sell a lot of kids (goat version only). Anna has grand plans to make hard cheeses (as soon as I buy or build a press) and soaps. That’s right, we will be selling Goat’s Milk soap and other skin care products in 2013.
Beef: We didn’t do anything with raising beef in 2012. However, we did by half a veal calf from some friends who also raise goats, and the meat was fabulous. We got 40lbs of meat from our half calf. Our plan is, buy a bob calf (male dairy calf) at less than a week old. Switch it over to goat milk and raise it for 2-3 months. The calf will live with the goats and be raised on milk and hay – no grains. We will pre-sell the calves as a whole or half calf and you pick up your meat at the butcher. More info and pricing will be available in the future, however this will be a very limited commodity.
Horses: Anna has been teaching some lessons. She is very good at it, even if she doesn’t believe that herself. At dinner the other night, Alex even stated his favorite riding instructor was his Mom! This year, we expect to continue to expand our horse involvement as the kids are more active in Pony Club and Anna and I try to riding more hunter paces for ourselves. We became dealers for a number of horse care products, primarily as associated with my trimming work. Horses have always been our first passion, and we are always challenged to make time for that as the other activities on the farm grow.
Stay true to heritage breeds.
Continue to find efficiencies on farm.
Reduce reliance on commercial feed.
The Wesleyan Local Co-op was started in 2011 to help students gain access to more local food. The first year, the co-op had thirty members who received weekly deliveries of local produce. In 2012, it expanded to 100+ members with 86 produce shares, 46 egg shares, 25 dairy shares, and a few meat and tofu shares too. The co-op is student run with the help of our food service provider, Bon Appetite’s Production Manager, Ernie Arroyo, and Matt Couzens, who operates Horse Listener Orchard. The co-op has a pickup every Wednesday in our student center, and all co-op members work two hours over the course of the semester to help with pickup while a leadership team of six people deal with logistics.
Sawyer Family Farm is happy to have joined other farms in supporting this student organization with farm fresh eggs! I believe we are providing about half of the eggs consumed by the co-op.
We have ordered our final batch of meat chickens for this year, and they will arrive the first week of Sept. We are going to raise a group of Cornish Cross to see how they perform, mostly because of the rapid growth rate. I anticipate they will be ready for harvest around the first weekend of Nov.
Anyone who is interested in an advanced order, and therefore a 20% price reduction, contact me with the number of birds you would like to reserve.
This morning, we harvested the remaining Freedom Rangers that we were raising for meat. Here is the summary:
We started with 51 birds. None died from sickness. None suffered broken legs from excessive growth. We lost 6 due to predators (raccoon pulling birds through the side of the chicken tractor at night).
23 were harvested at 10 weeks old and averaged 3.7lbs (mostly roosters)
22 were harvested at 12 weeks old and averaged 3.95lbs (all hens).
The birds consumed 900 lbs of feed.
Therefore, it took 900 lbs of feed to raise 172 lbs of meat for a 5.24:1 conversion.
Average live to package weight was 65%.
29 of the 45 birds were sold and the rest reside in our own freezer.
We also harvested 9 heritage breed roosters this morning that were approximately 4 months old. The average weight was closer to 3.5lbs, the body cavities were smaller, breasts smaller, legs larger, and I suspect the meat will be slightly tougher. Since we cook almost all chickens in the crock pot, that doesn’t matter as much. The biggest difference is the heritage birds are not nearly as nasty as the meat birds.
We are torn about what kind of birds to raise next. Freedom Rangers are off the list. If we are raising meat birds, we might as well do the Cornish cross. However, we don’t really like the meat birds as much as the heritage breeds.
In April, our Freedom Ranger meat chickens arrived on the farm (read here). Saturday morning, the first group of 23 got processed. Of the original 51, none died due to disease, however, we did lose 6 to predators (probably a raccoon). Here are our observations about the birds:
1. The chickens were just over 10 weeks old and had an average packaged weight of 3.7lbs. This is a little lower than originally hoped for, but was a 67% live to packaged weight conversion. By comparison, a group of cornish cross that I processed for someone else at 8 weeks averaged over 4lbs and had a 75% live to packaged conversion.
2. 45 birds at 10 weeks were consuming 25-30lbs of feed a day. The first 23 that we processed were the larger birds. The remaining 22 birds will be raised another 3 weeks.
3. It took 750 lbs of feed (15 bags) to raise the entire group of birds to the 10 week point. I expect to use another 200-250lbs to raise the remaining birds 3 more weeks. Rough math means that it took about 4.5lbs of feed per lb of meat. By comparison, I have seen numbers more like 2.5-3lbs of feed per lb of meat for the Cornish Cross.
4. Meat birds are disgusting. They poop a lot and sit around a lot more compared to dual purpose birds. From all the discussions with others, I don’t think there was a significant difference between our Freedom Rangers and Cornish Cross birds.
5. While the Freedom Rangers definitely got larger faster than a Dual Purpose rooster (like a Barred Rock), the meat was not necessarily better and the higher feed consumption was a disadvantage.
6. Cornish Cross had fewer feathers, larger breasts, and bigger chest cavities at 8 weeks than our Freedom Rangers had at 10 weeks.
Overall, we have decided that if we raise more pure meat birds, they will be Cornish Cross. Also, even as large as our chicken tractor is, 50 is more than we want in that space. I think we will plan for 25-30 next time.
While we do make a little profit on the birds sold, it is not significant enough to make us want to do chickens full-time.
Today our batch of meat chickens (Freedom Rangers) arrived at the post office and Anna picked them up. The 51 chicks are 2 days old. Since this is our first experience with an actual meat bird, we will be keeping detailed records. They should be ready for harvest around July 7/8.
In other news, we have decided to cut back significantly in our chick hatching. After a review of the records, we just aren’t really making enough for it to be worthwhile. We definitely have a market for the Jersey Giant chicks, however, the other breeds don’t seem to sell very well. And when you are running 5 heat lamps at a time, it costs $5-6 a day to raise the chicks and your electric bill gets pretty high. So while we can make some money selling chicks the first week after they hatch, we lose all the profits on the extras that don’t sell.
With arrival of the meat chicks, by my spreadsheet we have about 162 chickens on the farm right now,and less than 50 are mature. Between all the different chickens, we are using about 30lbs of feed a day (that was before the 50 meat chicks got here). Did I mention it’s time to cut back.
I have completed another chicken coop for the farm. I used a farm wagon (purchased used for $100) under a shipping crate (free) for the coop. The shipping crate was laid on its side, making a 7’x7′ coop that is 44″ high. The 8 nest boxes inside were free from someone else no longer keeping chickens. I put ventilation on 3 sides and both a front and rear access door to make cleaning easier. Once it warms up, we will get some more oops paint at Home Depot and paint the coop a natural color to blend in to the scenery.
Total cost on this coop was a little higher because of the wagon. I spent about $125 with the wagon, hardware ,and lumber used. We plan to house up to about 25 chickens in this coop with electric netting around it. Once the netting arrives, we will move the Jersey Giants into the coop (even though there are only 6 birds) and put it near the back of the farm.