Saturday, December 5, 2009

Come See The Phelan Ranch


I have finally made the time to create a Blog about my family's ranch in Oklahoma. I have been back since the middle of October and have established many enterprises and have already sold lots of product. I even have a restaurant serving my beef and lamb!!!

This is exciting stuff and I want you to be a part of it so jump on over to the new Blog at:

Looking forward to your comments and questions.

Your Farmer on a Ranch,

Grady Phelan

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Time At Polyface Has Ended

To all that have been so curious about Polyface farm:

September 30th ended my year long apprenticeship at Polyface. Now I have cast off into the world to start my own. My time at Polyface was unbelievable! I do believe I learned more in a year at Polyface then I did in 4 years of college (I still love you OSU cowboys). The Salatin's are a wonderful family and I look forward to knowing them the rest of my life. Polyface is the keel that keeps local farmers on course for sustainability and innovation. They will be my keel as I begin to serve my local community with Grass-based meats.

As for this blog... It is finished.

But... I will start a new blog as soon as possible about my farming and marketing experiences. Look for the link in a couple weeks on this blog. Those of you residing Oklahoma and North Texas in need for some fresh, local, grass-based meat and eggs shoot me an email sometime.

Grady Phelan

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Polyface Knives

I have had a lot of inquiries about the kind of knives Polyface uses and how to keep them sharp. The knives come from Victorinox (same company that makes Swiss Army knives) and we sharpen them by hand with sharpening stones.

Here is the link for Victorinox butchering knives. Below I have listed the knives we use and their purpose during broiler processing.

Butcher Knife (heavy stiff blade) --- Used for killing.

Skinning/Lamb Skinning knives --- Used for cutting up processed chickens into pieces and parts.

Here is the link for boning knives that we use for evisceration.

Any of the small straight narrow blades --- evisceration.

The straight back wide knife --- cutting off feet.

Narrow curved blade --- also used for cutting up processed chickens.

As for sharpening we just use a technique that Daniel has shown us. Any way will work and the internet is a great source for videos and articles explaining different techniques. I recommend getting a book or DVD or both and practicing. There is really no easy way that I know of.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Here is a picture of the triple york egg I had for breakfast back in like March. Just found the picture and wanted to share. Here on Polyface we have about 6000 laying hens and we eat the cracks. On this morning the egg I was going to eat was huge (more than 3oz) and when I broke it on the griddle I was pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Best Way To Bleed A Chicken

In reference to killing broilers (or any chicken for that matter), Squaw Creek Ranch asked, "Now, what is "best" , as far as getting all the blood out, chop off their heads or cut the arteries?"

Well... here are a few links about processing chickens, one of which is me killing a chicken.

David Schafer with Featherman Equipment Company sells poultry processing equipment and comes highly recommended by the Salatins. He came out to the farm and took pictures and video and then created these videos in order to help people learn how to process chickens. If you are ever in need of poultry processing equipment here is the company's contact information.

Featherman Equipment Co.

PO Box 62
Jamesport, MO 64648

(660) 684-6035

Jessica also asked, "Videos? I'd love to see them (The Pigs) moving about." Must be her lucky day. Here is a video I took back in the spring of a group of pigs immediately after I moved them into a new pasture. Notice the grazing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pig Update

When I was a small child I asked my father one day, "Dad, can I have a pig?"  

He questioned, "Son, you can barely wake up in time to get ready for school, how would you ever be able to wake up early enough to take care of the pig before school?"

To which I retorted, "I don't wake up early because I don't have a pig."

The logic was simple enough for me, but needless to say, I never got my pig.  Well Dad, I've got more pigs than I ever dreamed and I am able to wake up early to care for them.  If you haven't ever experienced caring for a pig, I highly recommend getting one (or 10) and find the joy I have in them.  Here on Polyface I have become the "Pigboy" (much like a cowboy... no horse).

Anyway, here is a little update on the pigs and Lunch Box, the lead pig.

Currently on the farm we have ~155 pigs.  They range in size from 30 lbs to 300 lbs and are mostly out on pasture or in the woods (save for the little new pigs and the "about-to-be-butchered" pigs).  We run males and females together (males are castrated) and keep them in bunches of 15-50.  

Pigs in the Beaver Pond Pasture.  Notice the grazing?

Polyface is doing something this year that is Brand new with the pig enterprise.  We have put 100 pigs on actual pasture.  I say "actual pasture" because it isn't grass in the woods like the beaver pond pigs above, but rather grass in an open field that, until this summer, was grazed by the cattle.  We have two herds of 50 on 1/2 acre paddocks and we move them about once every 5-10 days.  Movement depends on the age of the pig and amount of feed consumption.  They have all-you-can-eat access to the normal Polyface pig ration (Corn, Soy beans, Oats, Diatomaceous Earth, and Fertril Nutri-Balancers swine mix) and large quantities of lush, tall, jungle-like pasture.  The clover is thick the fescue is tall and the alfalfa is blooming.  When we move them they don't head to the newly filled feeder.  Instead the put their heads to the ground like cattle and graze their way to the feeder.  It's UNREAL and BREATHTAKING.  Probably should be on the 1000 things to see before you die... maybe.

Pasture difference on day of move.  WOW.  Fencing is only a single strand of 12 1/2 gauge  Aluminum electric fence.

Same pasture after a few days.

Lunch Box is part of one of these 2 herds on pasture.  We put her with the newest/smallest pigs to act as a mother with good habits.  When I enter their pasture I usually began calling for her.  In no time she finds me for a good rub down and scratch.  Then something unbelievable happens.  Once I start scratching her, all the other little pigs lose their fear for me and allow me to pet them.  Its unreal.  The day I turned them in with her they had a huge flight zone, but now they aren't afraid and usually like to nibble on my feet.  Displacement in pigs has risen to the top on my list of desired qualities.

By the way...

Pork is the most consumed meat in the world.  Believe it or not.

Here is a link to a video Nightline did with Joel and Steve Ellis (founder of Chipotle).


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Photos From David Schafer

So I finally have a little breathing time to get some photos up on the Blog.  I hope you enjoy!!

Andrew and I going to look at the pigs.

Andrew also doubles as a dumbbell.

He was holding onto a stick... the stick broke.

Here is a shot of the electric fence in the pig pasture.  We actually have pigs on pasture (not just woods).

Here is the shade-mobile we use with the pigs on pasture.

More pigs on pasture... you can see in the background the wooden gates we use between paddocks.  We tried electric gates but the pigs didn't want to cross the ground where the gates were after we had opened it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Sorry I haven't been keeping you all up to date on Polyface.  I have several photos in my camera... where ever it has been lain down... and when I find it I will post them.

Here are a few updates:

We are butchering birds!!!  Today we butchered 700 broilers.  I usually gut birds but not today.  Today I did the killing.  I never thought I could say that I killed 700 animals in one day, but now I can.  Emotionally it doesn't bother me.  Maybe if I get some time I'll write an essay about why it doesn't.

Lunch Box is making a great lead pig and has endeared herself the the farm.

We have lots of pig on pasture... so actually on grass at a rental farm.  They love it and graze like you wouldn't believe.

My parents are coming to see me this weekend for my birthday on Sunday!!!

I'll try and update soon...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

USA Today Article

An article on Polyface ran yesterday in USA Today for Earth Day and I wanted to share it with everyone.  Great article about us and I even got a quote in.  There is a Video on the same page that is pretty rockin' (I'm in it briefly watering the field shelters, but no talking... I'll leave that to the pros.)


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Broilers are IN THE FIELD!!!

Hello chicky...

Three weeks ago we received our first set of broiler chicks (cornish cross).  On Wednesday of this week they all went to the field.  The season is here and there is no turning back!!

All-in-all we put 2,945 broilers in field shelters.  I was very surprised how big they were at 3 weeks old.  The difference between cornish cross and Rhode Island Red chicks is incredible.  At 3 weeks of age the Reds were half the size of the cornish cross.  I guess that is why we eat cornish crosses and not Reds.  Joel calls them "High Octane race car birds," thats why we feed them "High Octane Fuel."

Here are some pics of the first batch of broilers in our brooder.  I'll try and get out to the field and get some pics of them in the field shelters.

Here I am... chick in hand... goofy smile on face...

Daniel on Left... Matt on right...  They were dunking the beaks of the new chicks.  Sometimes when they come in they are a little groggy and dipping their beaks helps bring them out of it.

This is one of 6 propane hovers that warm the chicks.

Here is one of the 1 gallon waters we use for the first few days.  I forgot to photograph the main watering system which is a tube with water nipples.  They use the nipple most of the time.

We feed 2 ways for the first week.  One way is in this tray that they climb into.

The other way is via trough.  As you can see they prefer the tray for now.  Soon they will be bellied up to the troughs filling their crops.

Five weeks from Wednesday we will be butchering.  If you are interested in ordering fresh chickens for pick-up on farm, check out the website and give us a call.  

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pasturing Pigs

Yorkshire on the move.

Now that spring is here and summer short to follow, my mind buzzes about pigs on pasture.  One of my newer duties here on the farm is to look after all the pigs... all 191 of them (this number is of course always changing).  For the most part we are currently on hold for turning pigs out on pasture.  Many of the hogs are currently pig-aerating and many of the young pigs are living in the barn and hoop-houses.  These groups are on deck and warming up, waiting for the the grass to get a head of steam before they're put to the plate and allowed to swing for the fence.  All the groups are waiting... all but one.

The Pine Glen Group

February 20th we took a group of 38 pigs out to a brand new pine glen.  I call it a pine glen instead of Joel's term "acorn glen" because this particular glen has very few oaks and lots of pines, so by overwhelming majority it becomes a pine glen.  Anyway... I have been keeping track of feed consumption since the 20th and I want to share with you what I have found.  Get excited... I know I am.

I want to compare with you two groups of pigs.  One group, which we shall call the "West" group is composed of 20 pigs and has been keep in the barn all winter.  They arrived in the fall and we're too small to go to pasture, then winter came and we brought all the pigs down, so...  The other group, which we shall call the "Pine Glen" group, is 38 strong, arrived in the fall also, were to small to put out to pasture, winter came, same story... until February 20th when they went to the new pine glen.

Except for the differences in living space, the groups have been treated almost the same.  Both have a waterer that allows free access to as much water as each pig wants, 24/7.  Both have a self-feeder that allows free access to as much of the pig feed ration as each pig wants, 24/7.  I give the West group about a bale of hay (small square) a day for eating and bedding, but I give no such amenity to the Pine Glen group.   

I went back to my data of feed and began counting how many days it took each group to empty a one ton pig feeder.  It took BOTH groups the SAME amount of time to finish the SAME amount of feed even though the Pine Glen group has TWICE as many pigs as the West Group!!!

Moral of the story...

Pigs are able to find at least half of their food when they are allowed to forage.  Even though the Pine Glen group had free access to the feeder, just like the West group, they chose to root up food, graze, scavenge, and forage for at least half their diet!!  This isn't really scientific data, but it is definitely eye opening data to say the least. 

When we let livestock express themselves fully, they thrive.  Pigs have a God given talent (or naturally selected variation for those evolutionists out there) for foraging and the moment we allow them to express it, they impress us.  
Doesn't look like there is much to eat... but then again I'm not a pig.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another Good Question...

Sorry its been so long... the farm is getting busier by the day and we have started working a little after supper, so my time at the computer is getting more and more limited.  Here is the blog I promised Kim.

The other day Kim commented on my post about raw milk.  In that comment she asked what seems to be a common question among visitors here at the farm.  Here is her comment:

I have been looking for a source of raw milk to make butter, cheese etc. Many of the farmers around here do not sell it. At polyface to they grain anything? Are the chickens, pigs, cows exclusively on pasture?  -Kim


As for not finding and source of raw milk thats too bad.  I would wager a bet that the reason why many of the farmers around you do not sell it is because it is highly illegal in most states.  Kim may already know this but the government has decided to protect you from the life giving, nutrient rich, immune boosting, great tasting, super safe, local, unpasteurized, unhomogenized, drink of God, RAW MILK.  Thats right, you can go to jail, they can seize your product and equipment, and they can shut you down from making food for your wonderful and knowledgeable customers.  In some states its actually illegal to press a glass of raw milk to your lips and drink it, let alone sell it. 


To address the grain question...

Here on Polyface, the philosophy is to allow animals to express themselves to the fullest.  We look at what an animal is designed to do and go from there.  Here is a breakdown of that thought process for cattle, pigs, and chickens.


Cattle are herbivores and ruminants.  They are designed to eat plant material (mostly grasses) and with the help of millions of microorganisms break it down into digestible materials.  They are not designed to eat massive quantities of corn (or any grain for that matter) or meat products or chicken manure (yes that's what I said and some people feed it to cattle).  They may get the occasional mouthful of a seed head, but not lbs and lbs of grain.  (If you are interested in why its bad for cattle to eat grain, ask and I'll blog and link about it.)  So here on Polyface, our cattle are grazed exclusively on pasture.  

Pigs and Chickens

Pigs and Chickens are omnivores just like you and I.  They were designed to eat all types of food: plant and animal.  Most people think of grain when the question "What do pigs and chickens eat?" pops into their head.  Unfortunately this is not the right train of thought.  They eat so much more than just grains.  If you are one of these people, next time you should think "They eat: grain, grass (and other plants), roots, bugs, flesh (scavenged or killed), nuts, and anything else you may eat.  So here on Polyface we allow these animals to collects what they need from the pasture and then supplement them with a grain based ration. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Raw Milk... YUM

Pre-Raw Milk

I never drank much milk growing up, only in the occasional bowl of cold cereal.  Even when eating cereal, milk was only a medium to help advance raisin bran down the trap.  Milk didn't seem to be a big part of life... or food.  I remember drinking milk out of the cardboard containers at school, but as soon as they had apple juice as a choice, milk lost.  My intake was probably around a cup a day or less.  I bet Mom would know.  If a cup a day is accurate, then it took 16 days to drink one gallon.

Raw Milk Begins 

As soon as I came to Polyface, raw milk was on the radar.  I had never learned about the difference between raw and pasteurized until I moved out here.  I don't even think I knew that people drank raw milk.  (one more example of how far my generation has disconnected from our food and its sources.)  Anyway, Matt was very informative of the "Real Milk" movement with the Weston A. Price Foundation.  I was able to get my hands on some (not telling how... sorry crazy food police bureaucrats) and began to drink it everyday.  The taste was incredible and I started craving milk.  I have NEVER craved milk.  

Closer to Addiction?

Now I drink at least a quart of grass-fed raw milk a day.  Usually I drink it with breakfast, but here lately I have been drinking a glass before bed.  So, now that I love milk (because its raw) and I drink a quart a day, it only takes four days to go through a gallon.  On Sunday mornings I make homemade pancakes so all-in-all I go through about 2 gallons a week... all by myself.  I have almost stopped drinking Mountain Dew (now only 12 ounces, once a week) and I only crave it when I'm in town and see a convenient store.  I never crave it on the farm and I think the raw milk plays a big role in curbing of soda addiction.

Pancake Recipe

I mentioned pancakes above... here is my recipe.  The cakes are dense and filling.  They stick with you longer than most pancakes and go great with natural maple syrup.  


3 cups grass-fed raw milk (I bet normal milk will do but...)
2 cups whole flour (don't use bleached or enriched... not good)
2 large eggs (from pastured hens if possible)
1 teaspoon baking powder (Not Soda... Powder)
1 table spoons lard  (self rendered from hog fat) 


1.  Mix milk and whole flour.
2.  Beat in eggs and stir in baking powder and let set.
3.  Heat skillet to medium and add lard to coat pan.
4.  Pour 1/2 cup of batter into skillet and cook till bubbles raise in pancake.
5.  Flip.
6.  Finish cooking... add butter... add maple syrup... 
7.  Add fork in hand and smile on face. 

Makes enough for 2 hungry apprentices.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More Field Tripping...

The other apprentice here at Polyface, Andy, is headed back home this Monday.  To celebrate his time here we took him out to dinner.  (Teresa has been cooking all his favorite meals this week also, so this is the best week of food so far!!)  On Sunday, we went to Staunton Grocery for dinner and The Split Banana for dessert... even though we had dessert at the restaurant.  

Staunton Grocery is a high end restaurant in downtown Staunton that serves all local food.  They currently do not serve any Polyface food, but this is not because they do not like our products.  From what I hear from some inside patrons, the restaurant focuses of supporting those farms that are small and/or starting.  Since Polyface has grown enough, the restaurant decided to support others which would allow for their growth.  I think its a great idea.  What a mission... helping small farms to grow.  

The food was wonderful!!  I started with a Sea Scallop, followed by a Lamb dish, ending with Carrot Cake.  I had a Pilsner with dinner from Germany??  I can't remember every detail but you get the hint... delicious.  Other entrĂ©es included pork and fettucini with goat cheese.

The Split Banana is an ice cream parlor also located downtown near Staunton Grocery.  It has become a favorite for the Salatins and all other ice cream lovers at the farm... Andy being one of them.  I'm not really fond of ice cream, but I do like a good shake and they can make one of those.  Being a big fan of Milk, I got a Cream flavored shake.  Ingredients:  Two scoops of Cream Ice Cream, and whole milk... yummmmm.  (Not Raw Milk... thats illegal silly... thanks again USDA for saving my life.  What would we do without the government saving us all day.  I guess we would probably THRIVE.  Can you smell the sarcasm?)

Anyway... here I am with my shake.  

And here is a picture of the rest of the gang.  Thanks for the nice evening everyone!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Field Trip

Sunday is the only day that full-time apprentices here on Polyface get time off.  We do chores in the morning and evening, but the rest of the day is freed up for us to run errands, work on personal projects, read, or just rest.  Since Sundays follow Saturdays and Saturday is filled with projects and customer service, Sunday is a nice follow-up for a week of work and a day of sells.  Brings it all full circle.  Usually I go to church at the Hebron Presbyterian Church in the forenoon  and do some shopping in the afternoon.  Not this sunday... this sunday involved a little local history.

Below is a picture... guess where?

Think 5000 acre farm.

Think wonderful garden and gardener.

Think 200 years ago.
Think Thomas Jefferson.

You guessed it... Monticello.


This Sunday I went to Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson.  I had no idea that Jefferson was such an agrarian.  He said that every farmer should be trying to create a plant that will help better feed mankind.  Of course he did not use genetic engineering, but instead used cross breeding techniques to try and develop this wonder plant.  He never created that plant and died broke with a debt of about 2 million today dollars.  His family had to sell off his possessions, including his slaves, in order to match the debt.
One of the stories I learned about really put into perspective life in the early 1800s.  One of his slave families, the Fossets, was split-up at his death.  Mr. Fosset was one of the blacksmiths on the farm and his wife was the head cook.  In his will Jefferson freed Mr. Fosset but not his family which includes 10 children.  Fosset was able to free his wife and several of the children though not all of them.  I couldn't imagine going through that kind of strife.
I'll leave you with a picture of me behind the house at Monticello.  The one handed handstand has become my way of posing for picture in front of famous places. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lunch Box: Potential Lead Pig

Introducing Lunch Box
In October when I first arrived, Andy took me with him to move a set of our pastured pigs.  We went to the farthest pig pasture, The Mountain Pig Pasture, and were set on moving the pigs to a new paddock and filling their bulk/self feeder.  Everything went as planned and the pigs looked great, but one caught my eye.  She walked right up to me and beckoned to be rubbed on.  I succumb to the urge to scratch her and friendship was made.  Ever since then she has been the friendliest animal on the farm.  

Here she is... and what a lady!

Why Lunch Box?
This may be a little morbid, but I'm not so sure.  The name Lunch Box came to my head for two reasons.  One, she is pretty rectangular.  Her body looks like a box with legs.  Two, what better to have for lunch than pork?  I know, I know, but remember kids don't become attached to something that you will eat later.  Or if you're like me understand that livestock are here for us to eat, but only after we have provided a wonderful respected life.  I think a big step toward reality is that idea.  Its silly not to look at livestock for what they are... a blessing God gave us to nourish our bodies.  So, I reckon naming them that way helps.

What is a Lead Pig?
Lead pigs are a new idea here at Polyface.  If you keep up with Polyface you may remember Doc, the lead steer.  His job was to help lead a new herd of cattle during moving time everyday.  Whoever was moving the cattle would call them and Doc would know the routine and others would follow.  We don't usually need a Lead Pig when moving pigs from on paddock to another, but it would help to have one when herding them up to the pig pastures in the spring, or down to the barn in the fall.

In Steps Lunch Box
This fall while bringing in the pigs for the winter, I noticed something special.  When we brought down Lunch Box's group (remember they were the farthest from the barn) she lead the way.  Of all the pig herding we did, her group was by far the easiest to bring down.  Even though pigs get a bad rap, they are actually very smart and clean animals.  Focusing on the smart characteristic for a minute, what about using Lunch Box as our lead pig?  We have toss it around during supper and I think we might try in come spring.  I hope we do.  Her mer presence with a group of pigs seems to make them more calm and willing to follow instructions.  If we do it I'll let you know.  Hopefully I'll get some photos.



Thursday, February 5, 2009

Hare Pen

After posting about the Rabbits and Chickens, questions were asked about the processing and grazing of rabbits.  Below this post is the processing post and to make good on my promise here is one about grazing rabbits.

Natural Food
One of the problems with rabbits is providing "natural" food.  Most rabbit production models use a pellet feed of some kind.  While this is sufficient for nutrition, it fails to provide what I think is a very important aspect for all livestock, normal eating habits.  What I mean by normal eating habits, or mastication, is the act of actually obtaining the food.  For an animal to be able to express itself to the fullest, and therefore providing the healthiest, tastiest meat possible, it needs to be able to live to life that nature intended.  
For example here on the farm we are always talking about chickens and their ability to express their chickeness.  Chickens are omnivores by nature, so when you read that a chicken has been "vegetarian fed," to me that is horrible.  As Matt has said numerous times to customers, "There is nothing more unnatural than a vegetarian fed chicken.  Chicken are designed to eat plants and animals, and when you take away the animals, something is wrong with the system.  A vegetarian fed chicken can only occur in confinement.  If they aren't confined, then they are eating some sort of animal product, i.e. insects."
Back to rabbits.  Rabbits are herbivores.  They don't have a rumen like cattle and sheep.  Instead they preform Coprophagia which is the act of eating their feces.  Now before you get grossed out and never want to eat rabbit meat again or for the first time, let me explain.  Its really not that disgusting.  After a rabbits eats, its food (vegetation) is broken down into simple sugars through bacterial fermentation.  Since a rabbit does not have a rumen, this takes place in the hindgut or cecum.  At this point the feces still has vital minerals and nutrients that the rabbit needs so they eat this "first feces" (cecotropes) straight from their anus.  This happens several hours after ingesting there food.  Once these cecotropes have passed through a second time, the rabbit allows its feces to fall, in our case, to the chickens underneath... waiting eagerly.
Think about rabbits in the wild for a minute.  How are they obtaining food?  By grazing!  If you take that idea and and use your imagination, something like the hare pen will appear.  Below are some pictures of a Polyface Hare Pen.  We just took these pics a few days ago so there is no rabbit inside, but I hope it will give you an idea of what we do.  Hopefully in the spring I'll get pictures of working hare pens.

Here I am pulling the hare pen.  Its light enough to just lift and pull without a dolly like we use for broiler pens.  Its also much smaller than a broiler pen.  If you look close you can see a feed trough on the right.  We do still feed them alfalfa pellets while in the Hare Pen, but feed consumption plummets when they can graze.  You may also notice there is no waterer?  Usually there would be a bucket with a drip drinker.

One of the pieces of tin lifts off to provide easy access for grabbing bunnies.  This is important since we only graze fryers for 6 weeks.  This is the time from weaning (6 weeks old) to butchering (12 weeks old). 

Here is the slatted floor.  This allows for grazing without escape from digging.

Thanks again to Rachel for all the pictures.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Butchering Rabbits

So about two weeks ago Matt and I butchered several rabbits and we have been really busy here lately that I haven't allotted an of my down time to blogging.  Tonight I decided was long enough to wait, so here are some pictures and a little but of the procedure.  Any questions?... Feel free to ask.

The Deciding Factor:
After we wean bunnies from their mother (6 weeks), we allow them to reach 4-5 lbs (12 weeks) before making the decision to butcher or keep for breeding stock.  To eliminate breeding full brothers and sisters, we only keep either bucks or does from a working doe.  We don't always keep every buck or every doe from a litter.  Only if they're awesome like doe #14 and buck #4 (who multiply like... rabbits?) do we keep all does.  We seldom keep all bucks from a litter.  If they aren't kept, they're butchered.

The Capture:
The hunt is simple... put bunny into crate from hutch.  Its best to carry them like a mother cat carries her kittens, by grabbing  a handful of skin on the back of their neck.  Be careful of their kicking feet and sharp claws.  My war wounds (scratches and one bite) just healed up.

Two bunnies ready to be butchered.

The Kill:
Once your are prepared to butcher... burnt peace offering, say prayer, deep breath, or whatever it takes for you to be mentally ready to kill such an awesome creature (I usually just jump right in), grab to fryer (terminology helps desensitize the act) in your non-dominate hand by grasping right in front of the hind legs.  This is different than the description of carrying mentioned above (see picture below).  In your dominate hand grab a heavy stick or metal pipe about 18 inches long.  Give to fryer a good blow to the back of the head, right above the ears.  This will instantly knock-out the fryer and allow you to hang it up by both feet and slit it's carotid arteries.  The fryer will then bleed out and basically die in its sleep.  In my opinion the most humane way to kill.
Here I am right before "The Kill."  Notice the holding technique.

Here the fryer bleeds out.  We catch the blood in a bucket.

Skinning 'em out:
Once you get them hung up and bleed out, it's time to skin 'em.  We start with the hind legs and pull the skin down over their bodies like a shirt over their head.  Once we cut the front feet off, the head comes next.  We try to cut the head off at the same cut used to bleed them out.  
Matt and I skinning fryers.  Rope and a clothes line post is all you need to hang them.

Cutting the tail off.

Notice how the skin is in one piece.  Just like a shirt over its head.  
I'm pulling out the front feet to cut them off.

Here Matt cuts off the head.  Notice how he holds the ears and pulls down.
This allows him to cut against something firm, not limp and dangerous.

One you have the skin off, its time to eviscerate.  If you have ever butchered a deer, the process is exactly the same... only scaled way down.  Be careful not to get any urine or manure on the carcass.  If you do just wash it off... no big deal to me, but for customers you need to keep them as clean as possible.  We keep the liver to sell with the carcass.  The only difficult task is removing the gall bladder.  Its hard to get a hold of, but unlike a chicken, it won't bust easily.  I tried to bust one and its rather strong.  Make sure to go past the diaphragm and remove the heart and lungs.   

Starting the cut into the cavity.  
Use your fingers to protect the guts from puncture and cut up.

The inside of a healthy fryer can be a awesome sight.

Pinching the gall bladder off.  
Don't worry about busting it... just grip and pull.

Clean Up and Cool Down:
Once we have eviscerated, we cut off their hind feet. wash the carcass with cool water, and then place them in a tank of cool water while we butcher the others.  This allows for quick cooling and hydration.  It also keeps the flies away from the meat.  Once we are done butchering, we pack the carcass (with liver in body cavity) in plastic bags and freeze them.  

Nice hind quarters after feet have been removed.
Makes you wanna slap your daddy!

Here Matt washes the fryer with clean water.

Cooling down in the tank.  Notice the liver below the carcasses.

I hope this brings you closer to understanding Polyface's butchering process.  It's really simple and only requires a sharp knife and some practice.

Thanks again to Rachel for all the photos.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pictures from today... More Skating

Here I am pulling Travis and Andrew Salatin on the frozen pond out by the sales building.  The knee pads are very important... Look below to see why.

I would run along the ice at a high rate of speed, then glide down on my knees as the boys slide past me.  As you can see Andrew is really enjoying himself.

Andy (other apprentice) and I standing on the ice getting ready to start our hockey game.  If you look behind me you can see the new hoop-house we are building.  I really enjoy doing construction work and this project has been really fun.

Bring It On!!  Though this is a pose... I was a pretty intense goalie.  Notice the gear: one home-made hockey stick (thanks to Andy), two knee pads found on the back porch, and one little league version baseball glove (came in useful).

Another pose... still intense.

Here is most of the group.  Like I said yesterday only a few with skates but still loads of fun.

Thanks Rachel for taking all the pictures!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cold Enough...

The current temperature is 10 degrees (F) here on the farm.  Its cold, but...

I like the cold!  I know, I know.  Who really enjoys the cold.  Well I must confess, I wouldn't like just sitting out in the cold doing nothing, but cold weather allows for certain activities that can only be done in the cold.  It allows for snow, which allows for skiing, snowball fights, snowmen, sledding, etc.  Today that activity was ice skating on one of the ponds.  We don't have any snow for sledding but since the temperature plummeted to well below zero last night and the low tonight is -6 degrees (F), ice skating is very possible.  

This morning after chores we began to discuss what we were going to do on such a cold day.  Not much was on the agenda so after breakfast we all went to the pond nearest to the house.  Daniel and Rachel both had skates on by the time I got out there and were skating around.  Daniel had some hockey sticks and Andy and I made a wooden puck (which worked awesome I might add) and the games began.  There were only 3 pairs of skates so most of us were just sliding around in our boots attempting to pass and shoot the puck.  After Daniel got tired and had to go back to his house for lunch, I borrowed his skates and played a short game with everyone that was left.  I think if I would have grown up in a cold weather climate where hockey was part of everyday life, I would have loved it.  I probably would have went pro... right?

Anyway, today was a fun play day on the ice with the whole bunch.  Just goes to show you that life on the farm can be a lot of work, but life on the farm can also present itself with a lot of fun.  A kind of fun that can only exist on the farm... "The Good Life."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rabbits and Layers

One of the great things about being an apprentice on Polyface is the realization that opportunities for food production are ENDLESS!!  Now don't run out and buy 1000 cows and expect to have money just rolling in, but people need to eat and some if not all of Polyface's production models are simple enough for anyone to take on.  I've been watching the rabbit production model for the past few weeks and I have no doubt that rabbits could provide a nice side income for someone wanting to produce healthy, tasty meat.  Rabbits alone could work but rabbits plus laying chickens equals great success.

Let me explain...

Rabbit meat is highly sought after by restaurants and many people.  Here at Polyface we cannot produce enough to keep up with the demand.  Currently we are not selling any rabbit meat to restaurants or through our buying club.  At least one restaurant asks our delivery driver weekly if we have any rabbits or if we will anytime soon, and our buying club customers ask the same questions.  You might say to yourself (as I have many times), "I don't know anyone or any restaurant the eats or serves rabbit meat."  Here's why... because they don't have a source or producer to get it from.  I'm starting to believe that many restaurants and costumers would love and may in fact prefer rabbit over many other meats.
During the summer we try and get the rabbits out to pasture in the "Hare Pens" and if not in the hare pens they get some sort of fresh green clipping.  When they aren't out on pasture during the summer (and winter for that matter) they are kept in one of the hoop-houses in 2ft x 3ft x 4ft hutches.  They are feed alfalfa pellets while in the hutches and watered via spigots that fill from tubes hooked into one central bucket (for 10-15 hutches).  Chores for the rabbits take minutes to complete and they reproduce quickly.  Gestation is only 28 days and litters contain up to 11 bunnies.  Lots of meat... FAST.
Adding chickens is the logical next step.  If you raise the rabbit hutches off the ground so they are easy to feed/water/check then they are also high enough for their manure to fall down below the hutch.  Without chickens it can pile up and reek of ammonia.  With chickens however, their manure disappears.  The chickens scratch trough the manure and eat anything nutritious and the rest gets spread throughout the wood chips and saw dust used as bedding.  So even without providing more income with the eggs they lay, chickens act as sanitizers for the rabbits.  This is what I call a WIN-WIN situation.