November 22, 2007

So much for writing more frequently! Our transition to our winter garden has been underway for several weeks, and has (and still is) been demanding of our time. But lately, my attention has been on turkeys, not too surprising for this time of year. It all began about 5 weeks ago, when we found one of our hens with one of the worst injuries I have ever seen on a bird. Some predator had attacked, and taken a chunk out of her side about the size of the cut surface of a large grapefruit. Still not sure why, but we decided to try to fix it. It took a solid hour of two people, with the bird in the bathtub, irrigating the wound to clean it and remove the hundreds of….life forms….(think larval-stage-of-housefly……the “m” word……) that were roiling through. The grotesque little life forms probably saved her, since however vile they may be, they clean wounds of infected and dead tissue. Then, an entire tube of triple-antibiotic ointment was slathered into, onto, all over, every part of the injury. The ointment was reapplied as often as needed to keep the area good and greased up. 5 weeks later, the bird was healed, although she’ll never have feathers in that spot again. Next, it was time to clean the bathroom. No magazine has the kind of housecleaning tips I need. What’s the secret to removing dried persimmon and glued on turkey droppings from bathtub walls? (apparently, about an hour of scrubbing with warm water). When we moved here, I really had no idea that our bathtub would be used for just about everything except baths.

And, today is Thanksgiving. We went through our turkey sales gauntlet again, and it was a lot of hard work, but about 500% better than last year! We sold out, and had more customers than the year before. We have really improved our processing, and did 14 birds last Sunday with the help of some friends. The birds for the most part turned out very nice. We are still on a learning curve to avoid tears in the skin…this is a function of scalding bath temperature and how finicky the automatic plucker is at any given moment…but everyone received a bird that looked closer to ideal than we managed the year previous! We also had the experience of actually getting to meet most of our customers this year, which leads me into my latest preoccupation. Yesterday, I finally had time to read the latest newsletter from the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC). This is an organization we belong to, which works to prevent the disappearance of our nation’s imperiled ancestral breeds. This edition contained the data from the 2006 heritage turkey census, and for me, it was just shocking. I found out that one of the breeds we have, the Beltsville Small White, had a census population of 138. I called ALBC, because I wanted to ask if the number referred to the number of breeders or flocks. No, that was the number of BIRDS. We raise an animal that is so endangered that fewer than 150 known birds are in the hands of private individuals in the entire United States of America. That’s a pretty sobering thought. It’s a choice to take on a big responsibility when conserving these breeds, but I had no idea of the exact situation we were in. It means for us, that we will be focusing much more on the flock that we have, and doing as much as we can to get these birds in the hands of other breeders. Three of these birds were butchered for meat this year. Two hens were selected out because of non-standard body weight and behavioral problems, and one surplus tom was sold to a client. Unfortunately, this excluded the other tom we had that could not be sold because he killed himself by drowning in a mud puddle two inches deep (they’re still stupid, endangered or not!) Out of all the birds we processed, these were hands down the most attractive, well-proportioned birds. They look like mini-turkeys of the grocery store variety. So, while it’s not quite the same as the last 150 Bengal tigers, any animal on the verge of oblivion that needs extra help should get it. And, we send a sincere thanks to our turkey customers, whose support is so essential to the success of our conservation efforts.

Today it’s a nasty, icy north wind, and a great day to be in the greenhouse. We eat our holiday dinner tomorrow. Enjoy yours, whatever day you eat it 🙂

November 2, 2007

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Every year, something works like no other. Apparently, this year, lettuce works. There it is, 80’x3′ of it, and that’s just my little experimental bed. Off to the left, heads already good to go for harvest are sitting there, waving in the breeze. And thanks to all that seed I spent hours saving last spring, that’s not ordinary lettuce. Those are heirloom lettuces, with the odd names like Bunte Forellenschuss (say that 3 times fast) and Bronze Oakleaf. I spent hours today weeding that patch, since the idea is to be able to come along with shears and clip the young tender leaves off into bags. I have no idea if this is a good way to grow young lettuce, but I’m going to try and see how it goes.

Today I oversowed the radishes and turnips that didn’t come up so well. I had mixed success from using the Earthway seeding tool. I think I may have set the seeds in too deep; clearly there is a learning curve involved in using this gizmo. Because I don’t have time, I’m doing it the hard way this second time around to make sure the job gets done. Already I can see that this part time at home thing is soooo much better. My seed beds look like they should, since I can spend hours weeding and cultivating. Unsurprisingly, the plants grow correctly when they are properly cared for. There is still a lot to plant, but mostly I feel like I’ve turned the corner, and that I will have stuff to sell at the right time.

This weekend we are going to start in on turkeys in earnest. We are getting new orders almost daily, and there is no doubt we will sell out this year, because we have fewer birds available. I am planning to retain the vast majority of our hens for the next breeding season. If we’re going to do this as part of our operation, we need to scale up to having at least 50 birds available for holiday sales, not….15. Still, I don’t see us getting much bigger than that. We have an absolutely premium product and we intend to keep it that way…healthy birds that aren’t crowded, humanely raised. Right now they’ve taken over. There is even one in our bathtub, recuperating from some kind of predator attack. It’s astounding what some knowledge of veterinary medicine and tubes and tubes of neosporin can accomplish. I have seen animals recover from really ghastly wounds, as long as they can be kept clean and awash in neosporin. That thing on the package about "For External Use Only" is, fortunately, entirely ignorable. And frankly, with the state of healthcare, I will admit that I’ve patched up a few people using the same method. Just a few days ago a local farmer stopped by, who got caught up in some machinery. It’s pretty sad when folks can’t afford a trip to the doctor for deep cuts and other injuries. Neosporin is cheaper at Wal-Mart, and now comes with some topical anesthetic in the ointment…..just in case you can’t afford heathcare either….get that item in your medicine cabinet.

The weather has been sunny and breezy and just being outside has been wonderful. All the animals are enjoying the weather. We have a red-fronted macaw that has moved in, it flew here some weeks ago. This is a mostly olive green bird with splashes of bright red and orange, parrot-type. I guess someone lost it, they are probably very expensive. It happily hangs out with the rest of the birds; I have no intention of bothering it. Hopefully it can stand the winter here. And, our little addition continues to prosper. We had one white peachick hatch and survive. Ken named it "Figgy" because it likes figs. We won’t know the gender for a long time. These white peas make an odd, whistling noise whenever they find something they really like. We hear a lot out of Figgy….

Some weeks ago we also maxed out on cats. There was a festival of kitten-dumping in the neighborhood. Out of it, we got Luna and Leda, and our farming partner got Phoebe. Phoebe may get some other name sooner or later, because mostly I seem to call her Kittycakes just to nauseate everyone into picking a better name. Both Leda and Phoebe are suspiciously associated with the sporadic visits of a certain local person. As in, the past two times he came by, a kitten mysteriously appeared. The good news is, all three of these cats are really great pets. Too bad, however, that the jerks who dump them don’t tape two $100 bills on their fur to pay for the vaccines and spay operations that, if they would get done on their own animals, would save other responsible folks the trouble. Ah, and speaking of responsible pet owners, it seems that certain nameless neighbors of ours who continually neglect their animals have found themselves in a bit of trouble with the law. Last weekend, local law enforcement showed up to conduct an inspection of said neighbor’s property, when they were reported for selling sickly puppies. I wish with all my heart that someday my dear neighbors will find themselves in need of care, and that someone will take the same care of them that they do of their own pets. With such care, they will surely languish in filth and misery in no time flat. Here’s to Karma.

Those are about all the goings-on at the farm. Winter is creeping up slowly, the days shorten, and at last the glorious run of summer flowers is drawing to a close. I cut all the dahlias I could tonight, and could barely make one bouquet. It had to happen sooner or later, but what a bounty we had! Enjoy the fall weather….best wishes to all.