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.