|Posted on May 5, 2015 at 5:50 AM|
It's been two weeks since the first batch of chicks came and Sunday they graduated to their portable hoop shelter.
During their first two weeks - here is where we're at.
|Posted on April 26, 2015 at 9:10 AM|
There are days at our stand at Detroit Eastern Market when joy, hugs and deep conversations are a large part of our market experience. On a typical Spring Saturday at Eastern an estimated 30k - 40k people flow through market looking for fresh produce, a sweet treat and farm raised meat. Some who come are longtime customers navigating the market deftly, transacting with vendors they trust and rely on. Others are newbies taking in the vast market and array of choices. And a few are on a mission - looking for well raised meat.
They have read books like Michael Pollan’s ‘Omnivores Dilemma’. Or watched a film like ‘Food Inc.’ or listened to a podcast or TED talk about food animal issues. They have an inkling that while there’s something wrong with industrial meat there are small farmers working hard to be the difference they want to consume. And they begin their list of questions to divine if we might be the farmer they’re looking for.
I was that newbie back in Oregon when I started taking back my meat. I recognize the hope, zeal, and optimism. And when you stop by our little stand and look at our signage and entourage of mobile freezers know you’ve got my attention. Ask me how our animals live. Ask us what our animals eat. Ask us for parts and parts and pieces that are your favs. Share your meat needs wants and desires.
One of the most galvanizing proof point responses I share is ‘I get it, it’s why we started our farm in our 50s to be part of the solution’. People who are our age rock back, eyes widened. In that one sentence people who are our age peeps, who are thinking of retiring, traveling more, enjoying time with grandchildren, friends and simply slowing down, feel our mantle of taking on creating a thriving pasture based farm. All of the commitment, physicality, learning curve, failure, success and challenges that statement encompasses within spitting distance of our 60s. We are living the credo be the change you want to see in the world. It’s an awesome life!
I have a deep debt of thanks to all our regular customers who not only patiently indulge me while I connect with a new tribe mate but chime in to share what our farm means to them. Because I’ve owned your newbie frustrated, hopeful and searching shoes and now they live sated, happy and healthy alongside my trusted, durable muck boots. I’ll answer your questions; give you a ton of options through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube.com/melofarms, and simply travelling a piece to come see our farm for yourself. And know I’m overjoyed to be part of your well raised food solution! Peace ~Melody
|Posted on April 23, 2015 at 5:05 AM|
Chicks arrived a bit later than planned, but all arrived safe and sound.
As I mentioned in the last entry, the big thing is getting the environment stable as well as warm. Their water should be air temp or better vs right out of a tap. Since ours comes from a well, it'a about 50 degrees and a bit 'chilly'. Also, no matter what type of waterer we've used, a few of them always end up taking a bath, so keep an eye and if they do, just warm them up ... their 'fuzz' being wet is not a good thing.
A video of their first few minutes on grass is at http://youtu.be/YEhM_yj5LB0
To say the least, the weather for mid to late April is not helpful. Highs in the low 40's and overnight around 28 degrees ... so I added an insulation tarp over the half of the hoop shelter they occupy.
The front hoop house helps keep the air off of them while we check in / water / feed, etc....
|Posted on April 20, 2015 at 5:40 PM|
|Posted on April 15, 2015 at 4:40 AM|
It's finally here ... warmth and therefore chicken season for all of us who raise Pastured Chickens.
This will be the third year of our First Day on Grass practice, which is based on our 'Instinctive Habitat' practices. So, I'll take a shot at documenting our approaches and experiences.
Bypassing a brooder and going straight to grass for baby chickens was evolutionary and we've learned a number of lessons, but rather than seeing a loss of 5% or higher of baby chicks we're closer to 1% for the first 2 weeks of life.
The foundation for First Day on Grass is the Hoop House shelter. We can provision the hoop shelter in a number of ways that match the weather / season to make sure all are warm and dry. It is also a shelter that we believe provides the best life-cycle for chickens. Basically - we're not against Chicken Tractors, but we think it inhibits the movement and therefore natural foraging. It definately limits 'cardio', which is worth the entertainment value as well.
So the chicks come next week, which means I'll be getting the Hoop House set up ... so I'll see you in a couple of days with some photos, et...
|Posted on January 9, 2014 at 9:00 PM|
Ok, this is why it’s hard for me to share recipes. My cooking often lacks….we’ll call it….structure. Let’s use my latest confection, Boston Baked Beans, as an example. The ingredient list looks like this
1 bag navy beans from Hampshire farms, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 pint jar homemade ketchup from Megan
8 oz. hock meat
16 oz. bacon
Some chicken stock
Some reduced to gelatin pork stock
It looks simple until you get into the how of the hock meat and stock. Chicken stock is simple, you grow chicken for 12 weeks, store them in your freezer like gold bars, make baked chicken, save some of the non-crispy skin and when the roasted chicken is reduced to a barebones carcass break up that carcass and cover it with filtered well water in a quart pan, don’t forget to add the skin, and cook it on low for 8 hours. Let cool and drink some of the broth because it’s January 2014 and the Polar Express or Vortex or whatever arctic Loki has brought minus 30 temps and you were just stuck up to your thighs in a snow drift and thought you were going to die with your house within sight…. Then strain the rest into a bowl so the fat can rise, solidify and be peeled off for stir frying veggies. Ok that’s how much chicken broth went into the Baked Beans.
As for the pint of homemade ketchup from Megan, that was a gift but when tomato season is upon us again I’m sure you could put in your order, she’d be grateful for the business. And Megan, if we have a really good 2014 tomato season, this goes viral and you get a TON of orders I promise to help you….unless we’re birthing, then it’s every woman for herself :>) Without Megan’s gift ketchup I’d substitute your favorite brand of organic ketchup, 16 ounces worth.
The hock meat is a result of an earlier 3 day cook fest where I combined frozen skin on shank, skinless shank and a hog foot in my huge stock pot filled with filtered well water and simmered for 12 hours more or less. Pulling the meat from the pot, cooling it and making 8 oz. packages of cooked hock meat is the first step, saving the bones for our dogs is the second and turning up the heat and cooking the broth for another 12 hours is the third. The skin and hoof will turn the stock reduction into a gelatin when cooled. Strain the reduction and fill 9x12 glass baking pans and chill. Cut the gelatin into cubes, put the cubes on trays, freeze and store the cubes for use in soups, gravy, refried beans, braised greens, nursing your friends back to health after they catch nasty bugs or whatever tickles your fancy.
The reduction gelatin at hand for this dish was the amount in a glass bowl that had not yet been ‘cubed and iced’ probably due to readying for the Arctic Pole Ice Band of Badness and I would guess it was around 10 to 16 ounces.
Organic dark brown sugar, well I just used what was left in the bag as I was too tired to walk a flight of stairs and grab another. Maybe 1/3 cup packed? And the organic maple sugar was around the same. Basically sugar to your taste. The two sugars give a balanced sweet depth and I can get away with using granulated maple sugar over liquid due to the gelatinous stock base.
Add enough water to make a thin mix because the beans will absorb some of the fluid, some will evaporate and you’d really like a tangy, gooey sauce with your baked beans if only to dress the rice or sautéed kale you’ll serve it over.
All of this should fit in that roaster pan you pulled out for Thanksgiving and haven’t stored away yet. Bake at 350 for 3 or 4 hours till the beans are soft. Check at 3 hours, or alternately when you smell that I’m going to burn and become a ruin scent, add more water if necessary. You could be really smart and cover the dish with foil, I did the almost burn and ruin route.
As I write this the process becomes clear. I have to start documenting how I make stock because this essential ingredient is not only a key to outstanding dishes but an essential component of using every bit of what we raise. Also I believe broth/stock is an elemental basic for nourishing our hard working bodies. I was raised with a mealtime prayer that contained the phrase ‘may this food strengthen and nourish us’ and I work to incorporate all the good things that we and other farmers raise to do just that.
Lastly I could commit to measuring though I know everyone always modifies the amount to their own tastes so a ‘real’ recipe would only be fiddled with anyway! And you have to trust that you can start with frozen meat, become secure in your ability to perform small pieces of cookery over several days and be willing to find your own taste palate sweet spot. So I will commit to sharing more cooking inspiration and we’ll continue to supply well raised meat. This is my Boston Baked Bean recipe. Of the moment. I may add caramelized onions next time. Fiddling already :>)
|Posted on April 11, 2013 at 3:20 AM|
I’m listening to Cokie Roberts read her book ‘Founding Mothers- the Women who Raised our Nation’ on cd. It’s a great listen and inspiration from a historical and a female tenacity perspective. This leads me to the topic of this blog – work, time and the perception of the inverse proportion of one to the other.
I’ve not often thought of myself as a strong woman though I’ve been described as one by many. More, I think of myself as tenacious. Tenacious is what gets you to goal when nothing goes as planned. Tenacious is that otherwise named stubborn streak that rears its stiff necked head when you’re told you can’t do something you really want to do and are sure ‘it’ will work despite all evidence to the contrary.
And that strength has seen me through many farming challenges. Time is a relative concept. I believe ‘it’ can be done so I tackle ‘it’ and somehow I’m continually surprised when it’s way past a civilized bedtime! My tenacious bearing keeps me going when I’ve underestimated project scope, when I’ve misread instructions and am redoing something (yet) again and when my productive wakeful hours have ended but I’m not to the finish line.
So my perspective on time is I’m simply grateful to have it. Starting Melo Farms has taken us back in time to the more labor intensive pasture based farm life of the old days. Chores, yes please I’ll have another. Trading old habits and expectations for new rhythms and success metrics and realizing the day is never ‘done’ you just rest in anticipation of what’s to be done tomorrow.
Generations of hard working women before me worked much longer hours in environs far less warm, safe and dry, doing more with less and thinking their lives more sweet than sour, taking little leisure but great pleasure in a task done right. There is a drive to succeed, to accomplish; to fulfill that makes me feel a kinship to these great women. I’m thankful for this day and all the accomplishments I savored, big and small. It wasn’t a day too short it was a day well spent with another to begin in mere hours. It’s now 3:12 am and time for a little sweet rest before tackling the day ahead. Joy!
|Posted on March 24, 2013 at 8:05 PM|
It's been a long winter! The most upbeat people I know are actually beginning to get a bit grumpy, the new has worn out of wearing woolens and creating warm spaces.
In a darker moment last week it hit me like the ton of lake effect snow hitting my windshield why Eastern and Midwest pioneers were so willing to pull up and head to the mythical, magical Willamette Valley. The place where I've spent a great deal of my life since 1970 and living, literally at the end of the Oregon Trail within view of the Willamette River. They'd heard about fertile land, long growing seasons and braved the Continental Divide AND the Cascade Mountain range to live free and prosper in that Promised Land.
I grew vegetable gardens annually a good part of my adult life so I know from being out in the elements. And, I wasn't one to complain (too often) about the 'liquid sunshine' Portland, Oregon is so famous for. BUT the two hogs we raised in Oregon did lose their lush, perfect pasture within a week of arriving in February. Nothing like two 12 week old piglets to turn wet, rain saturated soil into one big mud bath.
Hmmm. Well. Extended, Michigan cold winter silver lining time. Last spring everyone may remember the warmer temps but have forgotten the TON of rain and flooded pastures many rural farmers dealt with. We personally were knee deep in mud and had lost a hefty percent of our winter pasture so dry, cold Michigan winter 1. We had to press more 'not yet ready' pasture into use to keep clean, healthy conditions for our younger piglets. Dry cold Michigan winter 2. We purchased 5 large round bales for winter wind breaks last year, which became unneeded due to rain but have filled in beautifully for straw bedding this year. Dry, cold Michigan winter 3 and winning by a landslide!
And, while the overnight temps keep us from starting our dinner chickens as early as we'd initially planned it is the perfect condition for our year round, outdoor heritage pig raising.
So here's to Mother Nature. I may have grumbled a time or two this March and grown a deeper understanding of why my distant kin wagon trained it West. But, when I look at the big picture you've proved to be a real friend to these Midwestern heritage hog farmers. 2013 Yale, Michigan. We are in the right place at the right time.
|Posted on September 18, 2012 at 8:20 AM|
I hear so many cool memories from people my age who knew / raised / sloped pigs at their grandparents. I love the moments of the faraway look that recaptures and relives those feelings and have come to realize it’s less about the pigs and more about touching the tangible memory of time spent with a grandparent. I have a tad jealous love of those memories as I don’t have them and people enjoy a rapt audience as I live vicariously through these stories.
Not that I was born from a rock it’s just when you’re born to parents who are 38 and 45 in 1960 I got the aged out absence from my Father’s parents and the bad luck of my Mom’s bereft childhood. Dad’s parents were in their late 60s and 70s and had simply already lived their life expectancy by the time I entered the scene. Mom was an unfortunate product of her time in the early 1930s in the deep Depression era who lost her Dad, who was a lineman, to electrocution by grabbing a live wire when she was 8 and her Mom 4 years later to death at her replacement husband’s hand. My grandmother lived in the age where women did remarry to keep a roof over her head, food on the table and a chance for a future for her 8 and 10 year old children and had chosen disastrously.
So you understand why I simply answer no grandparents. And I love Lynn’s stories, the loving grandmother and grumpy but loving grandfather. Spending summertime weeks at their house and building a lifetime of memories that delight and define him to this day. And it’s my own lack of personal experience and idealization of the role which has led to my love for my own grandchildren. Though they’re almost half done with their 3 year stint in Germany they were here at the beginning. They were here when we brought home our first 6 pure breed Berkshire hogs. We all marveled together on pig nature, the feel of a snout, eating habits and finding our comfort level with animals that are large and have a low center of gravity. Holding close and snuggling a suddenly shy, unsure and delicate 5 year old granddaughter. Feeling Ethan’s comfort and wonder at the new, new in his life.
I don’t know what Ethan and Abby’s memories will be as they reach our age and they’ll have a gap from Grandparents just starting a farm to coming home to a fully realized operational dream come true. But from the stories my Dad shared of a early 1910s home in metropolitan Boise Idaho where they had a chicken coop for egg layers who became dinner chickens to moving 100 years forward to the 2010s where we raise chickens, hogs and partner with other well skilled farmers to bring other good food to market . I know they’ll know the intimate relationship of how food is nurtured before coming to table and the responsibility of stewardship and the reward of loving what you do. We’re contributing to a new generation of adults who will have that moment stealing memory that will bring a smile about their lives with grandparents and pigs.
|Posted on September 17, 2012 at 8:20 AM|
I'm asked on a weekly basis how can I kill the animals I care for. The query as written is not verbatim. The actual questions run the gamut infused with you heartless bastard to true disconnected disbelief. I've honed my sound bite response to 'it's not my favorite day of the week' but this does not cover the true depth of my conflicted feelings about raising animals for food.
So let's begin there, food. I had winnowed down my meat to fish and buffalo by the time I started the journey to raising my own food. I like chicken and as a 40 something, with no actual farming experience I was full enough of myself to think I could raise and kill chickens for food. Well, I was right about learning a skill set but it started a journey that evolved me from consumer to conservator.
The only true flavor of the initial experience can accurately be shared by my best friend Carol. She was the first call I made when the chicks came home and shared loads of phone calls sharing weeks of innocent awe and discovery raising these awesome animals. Chickens! They have a pecking order! They have friends, habits, personality and they go through a tremendous growth change over the span of a short 6 week period. Cute, adorable day old chick. Week old fuzz bugs just showing the tiniest tail feather. 2 week olds, skin showing moving from fuzz to feather in unadorable awkward fashion, no longer really attractive and pooping like mad. 3 weeks old, visually better with most of their permanent feathers filled in to make them pretty again. Week 4, the mini full feathered versions of the adults they'll become. Week 5 through 12 the absolute best of dinner chicken life. They forage, strengthen their friend circles, chase bugs, test their wings, rise with the sun and rest with the sunset. It's a glorious cycle to watch and celebrate.
The first group I raised I took to a processor. So much anxiety in crating the chickens, transporting them 30 miles, listening to their cries and squawks of uncertainty, discomfort and general panic at the changed surrounding and handling. Then the ultimate moment of out of the crate and throats cut. I stayed for it all. The processors were efficient. I came home with a cooler containing 25 well raised chicken bodies. And tears. The yard was empty of the chirping I'd grown accustom to and the life that had thrived just hours before. Plus the true test was to come. Could I actually eat the very chickens I'd held, petting and marveled over? To be honest the first one I cooked I gave myself permission to just serve her and eat the sides. But I did take a bite and the chicken was every taste I'd been wanting. Tender, juicy, clean, fresh. I didn't feel polluted after drinking chicken broth.
The journey had begun. I was no longer a consumer. Chickens were broken down into parts and pieces and vacuum sealed. Chicken served that year was savored and portioned. Friends were judged for chicken worthiness. Once served there was no waste tolerated. 2 per month was the allotted ration. And in the following spring the reality that I'd need to change my on the road work schedule to ensure I was home for a continuous 4 week stretch to begin the raise cycle again was entrenched. My sister was begged into stewardship to help me care for the next 25 when I had business trips in weeks 5 through 8. And in response to the humanness of transporting chickens to kill I made the next leap and steeled myself for learning how to process them myself.
That's another blog entry so I'll stop here. I believe in a relationship with your food as ultimately it's an act of caring for yourself. I own the relationship and the responsibility. And when it's all judged in the end I hope I've given our animals the best life and the best environment. I'm no longer a consumer. And as the years have marched forward I'm thankful to the family and friends who tolerate my non consumption of other animals. I don't eat meat out anymore. Animals are thinking, feeling beings and if they've been raised poorly, confined, and denied the nature of their animalness I refuse the support the system that supports those types of grow operations. Because, by extension I have a relationship and impact on those animals as well.