Author Archive for garth

The Cattle Have Their First Day Out!

They sure do like their fresh grass!

“They weren’t cows inside. They were waiting to be, but they forgot. Now they see sky, and they remember what they are.”
River Tam, Firefly

Due to some circumstances beyond our control, the cattle were a little late getting out on pasture this year, but we’ve finally got them out and they sure are happy! In order to preserve soil and water quality, we keep the cattle indoors for the winter and feed them stored grass in the form of hay. They’re perfectly content and healthy with this diet, but it’s less satisfying for them and for us. And I miss the fun of being out on the pasture moving them every day and watching how well the pastures respond to being grazed for the first time in at least fifteen years.

"I sure do love grass!"

“I sure do love grass!”

Cattle love eating fresh grass. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? It’s sweet and succulent and juicy. The problem is that going from hay to fresh grass too quickly can cause bloat which is basically a potentially fatal accumulation of stomach gasses. Ouch! Bloat happens when the gut bacteria, who ferment the grass so that the cattle can digest it, get out of whack with the food that’s coming in. That’s why we need to change their diet slowly.

So we need to stuff them full of as much hay as possible and introduce them to the grass when they’re already full and in their digesting or ruminating portion of their day. This also helps keep them calm and a calm cow means a happy cow means a calm farmer means a happy farmer. So we tried to keep them as calm as possible for the transition. The upside is that it worked! The cattle went out and back in again without getting too het up about the grass or being outside. And then they got back in without getting too het up about us putting them there. It’s the best in Low-Stress Ranching®! Low stress for me, low stress for the cattle. Everybody wins! The downside is that there was little cute bucking and kicking to be filmed.

Recommended Feeders and Waterers for Pastured Chickens. (Also, why are there so many hats involved?)

We’ve been raising chickens for five or six years now and, while we’re very much new at this, we have some knowledge that we’d like to share. In particular, I’d like to share some of the feeders and waterers that work for us. As regular readers know, our broilers are raised on rented and borrowed pasture, so we can’t invest in permanent infrastructure. Our laying hens are at home, so we can run hose and build permanent housing for them. Oh, and also let them run all over the yard. Because they’re fun to watch.

Also, as I wrote this up, I discovered the sinister fact that feeding and watering chickens involves an inordinate number of hats for these troubled and hatless times.

Note the complete lack of the iconic galvanized metal feeder and water that you see in every feed store in the country. That’s because I hate them. They’re expensive, they rust, they smell bad, the hats on the waterers bend out of shape, and they’re really hard to keep clean. The top-hat-shaped feeders are held together with flimsy metal rods that are far too easy to lose, resulting in the separation of the body of the hat-feeder from the brim. No fun.

Plastic, on the other hand, is easy to scrub out and can be readily sanitized. The downside is that it photodegrades, especially the hat bit, and thus has a shorter lifespan when exposed to the sun. This is a tradeoff that we’re willing to make.

Waterers

Plasson Bell Waterer

Laying hens (permanent coop, running around all over the place)

At home, we have the laying hens on a Plasson waterer. The red bell is connected via a spring to a little hat, and when the water gets low, the lack of weight triggers it and it just fills right back up again. It’s been very successful for us in that I haven’t thought about them in about four years. We’ve tried other auto-refilling waterers and I’ve had to put on my thinking cap and fix or jury rig something way more often than I’d like.

The Plassons are on a pressure regulator that I also haven’t needed to think about since I bought it and hooked it up. Hooray!

Broilers (rented pasture, in tractors)

QuickClean 5-gal waterer

We don’t have water in the pastures where our broiler chickens forage, so we water them with the QuickClean Five Gallon Waterers. These are so great it’s not even funny. I use them at home when the water lines for the refillers freeze and I need to bring the birds hot water. They are simple, reliable, easy to handle, and easy to fill. I hope to never have to deal with a galvanized feed-store waterer again. Blech!

Against recommendations, I hang the QuickCleans by the handle instead of placing them on the ground, which is very hilly in our rented pastures. Hanging levels them naturally so we don’t have to carry around shims as we move the chickens through the pastures. Hanging them also deforms the handles slightly but I’ve had no serious problems so far. Putting the hat on before hanging the waterer reduces the deformation somewhat and makes it easier for that hat to fit.

Where I have seen these waterers fail is in two places. One is that the lids tend to break after being in the sun after a few years, as anything made of plastic will do. It’s important to replace the lids because, absent that little hat, overanxious chickens can jump in and drown. If that happens, it’s not your best day ever. If you don’t have a chance to order a replacement, the lid from a regular five-gallon bucket will work, though you’ll lose some water capacity.

Chix on pasture, with feeders and waterers: Waterers in front, feeders in back (NOT the recommended feeders! These ones aren't nearly as good). Note that the waterer on the right has not got its hat, and is sporting a hat that belongs to the back left feeder instead. This illustrates the slight loss of volume that happens when you wear the wrong season's fashion.

The second problem I’ve seen with these waterers is that the little hole that lets the water flow from the reservoir to the trough can get clogged. They come with a little hat (of course) over the hole to prevent this but, well, generalized farm entropy being what it is, they get lost. When the hole clogs, I just clean it out using a stalk of grass and life is good. It’s my tiny hat trick.

By no means let these minor problems dissuade you. These waterers are hat-head-and-shoulders above anything else I’ve used. And cheaper to boot!

I’ve found what looks like an identical waterer at my local feed store under the “4-H” brand. The only difference I can see is that it’s green instead of red. Oh, also they cost more money. The “H,” presumably, stands for hats. Four of them.

Feeders

The biggest problem with feeders is spillage. In a stationary application, this isn’t a huge problem because chickens eat off the ground naturally. It’s kind of what makes them chickens. However, our broilers are confined to a tractor and moved every 24 hours and any filled that’s spilled is just lost. Well, mostly lost. The geese and the crows like it. Our grain mill evidently includes some sort of brassica because I can follow the path of the tractors by the freshly sprouted brassicas.

Broilers (in tractors) and laying hens (permanent coop)
22-lb Lancaster feeder

For both broilers and laying hens, I’ve had good luck with the Lancaster feeder from (again) Premier 1. It’s important to buy and use the optional grill which snaps in place like a skirt to prevent the chickens from knocking the feed out as they bury their faces in it. And when filling the feeder, it’s important to pour kind of slowly, or inertia will carry the feed will splash out through the skirt in iconic Marilyn Monroe style. Oops.

Also, hanging the feeder makes it harder for the birds to spill feed. If at all possible, try to hang the feeders. As the old saw goes, wherever you hang your chicken feeder is home.

There’s a little hat-lid that comes with the feeder that I usually lose within days. I’m pretty sure the only reason it’s there is to set off the skirt. Sometimes I use them as frisbees because I’m weird like that. I have found no drawbacks to the absence of hat other than occasionally finding a very happy and very ambitious little peeper *inside* the feeder when they’re still in the brooder. They grow out of this feeder invasion technique. The lack of hat isn’t a problem because this style of feeder is really only suitable for use under cover or in dry weather. If you keep your chickens in pre-1950s America, you’ll want to keep the hat because it was an important accessory for the well-dressed chicken feeder of the time. And for feeding outdoors in inclement weather, something with a more robust cover over the actual feeding areas is needed.

You see my point about the hats? Where did that come from? What manner of haberdashery is this?

The meat closet is getting full.

lardo and mocetta drying
In the Closet

Lardo on day one, mocetta on day 18

The lardo has finished curing and has been hung to dry. The mocetta is on day eighteen and is doing very well. There’s either salt or good mold on the outside of it.

cured fatback on a scale
Lardo Rinsed and Weighed

Look! I actually weighed it this time!

574 grams of pastured goodness. You can much more clearly see the resident hairs in the skin. Today I learned that industrial/conventional pork producers aim to produce a carcass with no more that 0.6″ of back fat. The minimum thickness for curing into lardo is 1″. It’s truly wonderful to have so many artisanal producers in our neck of the woods.

Ruhlman doesn’t, I think, talk much about before/after weights in Charcuterie or, at any rate, I missed it. Either way, it’ll be interesting to get the data on moisture loss. Come to think of it, what would the percentages look like in pastured pork versus industrial, saline-injected meat?

lardo with cure
Finished curing

Ten days later, it's unwrapped.

This is what the fatback looked like once unwrapped from the plastic wrap and tin foil that held the cure in the fridge.

Fat back wrapped in foil
Some Steps Lack Visual Appeal

No, it's not exciting, but it's documented.

Poor lardo spends all of its time in the dark. Light will cause the fat to turn rancid so it’s wrapped in foil in the fridge and cured in the dark. On top of that, it’s swaddled in cheesecloth while it hangs.

lardo wrapped in cheesecloth
All Snugged Up

All wrapped up in cheesecloth to protect it while it hangs.

I confess that it has more than a little to do with my odd reading habits of late, but locking things away in a darkened closet seems a little sinister to me. While charcuterie has very little to do with unnamable evil, there are a few commonalities.

charcutepalooza
charcutepaloozaSMALL2

Cure Your Belly Fat Now! Making Lardo.

That’s not actually true, it’s back fat. However, I once saw one of those godawful women’s magazines at a grocery store and, after reading the headline “Cure your belly fat now!,” was honestly confused that they weren’t talking about bacon.

As I alluded to earlier, there’s a little over a pound of fatback curing in the fridge right now in anticipation of joining my mocetta (goat prosciutto, roughly) that’s hanging in the Harry Potter closet under the stairs.

First, let’s check in on the mocetta. It’s been hanging for 11 days and is definitely looking more like prosciutto that rotten meat.

Mocetta at Eleven Days
Mocetta at Eleven Days

As you can see, I was in the middle of doing knife maintenance and sharpening.

There was a bit of white mold turning to blue green on it so I performed a little surgery.

Mocetta with notch in it
Mocetta Post-op

The nice thing about the bad mold was that I got to check on the progress of the drying. It seems to be moving along nicely. It’s distinctly firmer and the cured texture goes about a centimeter into the ham. It turning into food instead of rotting meat!

After a few more days (okay, a week), I checked back in on it and the “wound” seems to have healed itself and the ham is drying as intended with no more blue mold.

Moving on to the lardo.

First of all, it’s fat. Pure fat (almost) which has been salted and dried. I’m not sure if I’ve had it before but I hear good things and have a lot of fat back. Now, I’ve been served pork belly confit* (Yeah, that was these guys). And it was fantastic. Not cured though.

I started with Michael Rulman’s recipe from the book Charcuterie but, as ever, fiddled with it. Juniper berries were added and white pepper substituted for 1/4 of the black pepper.

Bowls of herbs and spices laid out in preparation
Mise en Place for Lardo

From left to right, juniper berries, bay leaves, peppercorns, and basic cure #1

And now the meat. The recipe calls for fatback or, you know, the fat from the back of the pig. This may sounds obvious, but butchery terminology is rarely so straightforward. The boston butt, for example, comes from the part of the back directly over the front legs. What this implies about bostonians is unclear.

fatback on a cutting board next to a knife
Fatback Trimmed in Preparation for Curing

Fatback on a plate.
It waits...

The pink that you see is muscle that came along when the fat was removed. The other side has little bits of stubble that remains from the process of scraping the pig. Pig, not carcass, is a deliberate word choice. It’s a carcass once it’s gutted or skinned, as I see it. Since scraping is the first step after killing and bleeding, I still see it as a pig.

Scraping is cool though. The pig doesn’t get skinned or plucked like sheep, goats, and poultry (the only animals I have firsthand experience with). Instead, the pig is scalded, or immersed or exposed to water around 145F and the hair and outer layer of skin is scraped off in an unpleasant and time-consuming manner. Basically, you skritch skritch skritch every inch of the pig’s skin with a knife or a pastry scraper or even a hog scraper if you’re well equipped.

The scraping process inevitably leaves a little bit of the hair behind. Like pinfeathers on broilers, this has resulted in a drive toward lighter-colored animals to satisfy consumer and producer demand for a blemish-free product. Like white poultry, the lack of pigmentation makes the animal less hardy in the sun. When I get pigs, I’m thinking a breed like the large black hog. Mmmm, hardy.

Due to misremembering the recipe, I was looking forward to posting this with pictures of the lardo leaving the fridge and being hung. Fortunately, I re-read the recipe and it’s got another three days. (Less botulism means more years to eat food!) I’m going with Ruhlman’s minimum this time as my stuff has been turning out saltier than ideal.

In other news, I’ve come into possession of a 5.5 pound leg of ram from a mature, adult ram who, until yesterday, displayed a bad attitude toward children. During the butchering, the meat smelled intensely of the flavor of lamb. He was also tremendously fatty with much more marbling than other lambs/goats I’ve and the meats has a deep red color. Much of the odor faded while he hung, which is why one hangs meat, I guess.

I am a bit bereft of recipe ideas for the leg. Suggestions? I’d like to find something to highlight the powerful flavor and muscle development in the same way that coq au vin is best with a gamy old rooster.

Thoughts?

Quick and Easy Cassoulet!

This was the title of course offered down the street from us by the local parks and rec department. The joke, of course, is that we’d just ordered 15 muscovy ducks with the express purpose of making our own cassoulet. I now provide you with the timeline of the Official Dropstone Farms, LLC Quick and Easy Cassoulet.

1) Order ducklings. This saves you the tiresome labor of maintaining your own breeding stock.

2) Brood the ducklings on pasture and move them daily. Now you’ve got fewer slugs to deal with. Win.

3) Clean and process all 17 ducks in the pouring rain over the course of two days. Skip cumbersome hand-plucking by using a mechanical plucker and a labor-saving rotary scalder. Compost the leftover bits and use them to grow vegetables.

4) Reserve a pig from a neighboring farmer. Order it already butchered. Easy.

5) Grind, season, and stuff sausage. Use an electric meat grinder and mechanical stuffer. No sense putting in too much unnecessary labor, right?

6) Bone out a duck carcass and, after making prosciutto, render the fat and confit some duck legs.

7) Acquire two baby goats, deal with them for six months, butcher them at home (again composting), salt the hides, hang them for a few days, break down the carcasses with a broken meat saw, and bone out one loin roast.

8) Oh, just go pull a random hunk of pork out of the freezer! No sense getting carried away.

9) Let an entirely awesome farmer grow the beans for you.

10) Cut up and brown the sausage, pork, and goat.

11) Add beans, seasoning, and wine. Simmer on the woodstove for a day or so.

12) Add duck confit, home grown and preserved, natch. Home grown and home canned tomatoes. Season with some dried home grown chiles and cover with breadcrumbs.

12.5) Take advantage of the downtime to put some lardo on to cure. No sense not putting some more meat in storage.

13) Bake at 375F for twenty minutes. Stir in browned top layer and bake at 350F for another 45 minutes or so.

14) Eat. Collapse. Half-heartedly write blog post with promise of images coming soon. Also more about that lardo.

Because I’m out of freezer space, that’s why.

Well, not really. As Lauren posted earlier, we’re doing fairly well at reducing the contents of our still-very-full chest freezers. And, with the departure (ascension? transfiguration?) of orange and blue I’ve renewed my interest in curing my own charcuterie. And it turns out there’s a blog challenge underway.

As is typical, I’m both ahead of and behind in the game. My duck prosciutto was finished before it was supposed to be and next month’s isn’t started yet. Oh well. Orange’s leg is curing in the Harry Potter closet under the stairs, delicately suspended about a huge pile of musical instruments, so that puts me ahead of the game, maybe. Except that’s not what’s supposed to be curing right now. Now as in my youth, I suck at following along with the class.

Duck prosciutto and pocket knife
Duck Prosciutto

Home-grown duck home-cured in the guest room. The knife is my souvenir Portuguese lamb butchering knife.The recipes is from Ruhlman's book Charcuterie.

The prosciutto turned out well. Perhaps a bit too salty but it’s supposed to be that way, right? Also, I don’t know if the white stuff is mold or or salt. Research time.

Mocetta curing under the stairs.
Mocetta curing under the stairs.

The mocetta (goat ham) is curing under the stairs. This is day four.

This is the hind leg of one of our goats. He’s curing according to Hank’s recipe for Mocetta or goat prosciutto. Well, except for the fact that I forgot the bay. Twice. It cured in the fridge for a total of three weeks and will need to hang for 2-6 months. I suspect it’ll be on the longer side of things because it’s pretty humid here. There’s a gob of white on the bottom left that I think is fat, but I’ve got my eye on it.

When I get around to it, I’ll hang some lardo in there as well because I finally managed to subdivide the fatback from our latest big. It’s inconvenient to work with a single bag containing all the fat from a pig. I did the same with the five(!) livers from the previous pig. No, the pig did not have five livers, the other customers did want their livers so I was forced to save them. And then toss them in a ziplock and freeze them into an undifferentiated mass of offal. Note to self: don’t do that. Also, make paté.

On the upside, seems like other charcuterizers on the internets have to build complicated temperature and humidity management systems. I checked out our unheated guest room/office/library and found it have perfect conditions for curing meat, right down to starting at a lower temperature and becoming slightly warmer as it cures. It is becoming clear to my why subsistence farmers have traditionally butchered in the fall/winter. And that I like my Cascadian climate.

If you look closely you can make out an ATA flight case for a Sho~Bud Superpro pedal steel guitar.Yes, I do have strange hobbies.

Prefer garlic scapes to turkey ‘scapes — an email exchange

A torn shirt and cut arm from struggling with turkeys
Turkey Damage

G:
Prefer garlic scapes to turkey ‘scapes.
Less hurty.

L:
Yikes!!

G:
But they got a size on them and hella vigor.

Should store h2o2 in the truck I reckon.

(On edit)

Lauren suggests that I clarify that h2o2 is hydrogen peroxide and that I include the photo I took mere seconds before the opportunity to photograph turkey-inflicted carnage presented itself.

The entirety of that email was the subject line “Large Turkey is Large” and the following photo.

A cellphone picture of a large turkey shortly before he tears up the phone owners arms and t-shirt.
A Large Turkey

The perils of heritage livestock.

Heritage chickens. They have great foraging instincts and they love to explore. It’s great and it’s the reason that we raise only these breeds. It’s wonderful to raise an animal that acts like an animal.

Additionally, we raise our birds outdoors from the day we get them. They are on grass and dirt (and straw. and under a heat lamp) from the day they show up at our long-suffering post office. We think that a heritage breed on soil and grass is unmatched from an animal welfare and a taste perspective.

However, there is a downside.

They get out.

All. The. Time.

You know 1″ poultry mesh? So do they. They like to go through it. My theory is that the squeeziness is reassuring to them. Temple Grandin is with me on that one.

Excuse me, I need to collect a chick.

Lest you think that’s a rhetorical device, I assure you that I just stepped away from my computer to collected a panicked, five-day-old chick. What does this look like? Let me show you.

Small chickens in my hat.
Yep, chicks in a hat.

Yep, it's a hat full of five-day-old chicks.

This is not, I confess, the chicken I just went to collect. She was only a single escaped chicken and the ones in the photo and my hat are the chickens that escaped when I was at our other farm, dealing with our other chickens.

Lauren’s dog is, in general, an amazing animal possessed of a tremendous amount of mothering instincts. Seriously. I’d sooner trust her with a newborn than an electric mesh fence. She has been a tremendous asset in identifying and locating escaped chicks this year. She’ll hear a distress peep long before we do and zero in on the poor little peeper in the way that only a critter with ears that big can do. Good girl.

But she’s bored with it by now.

Ruby is bored with baby chicks
Ruby Doesn't Care

What? This is a hat full of chicks. Seriously?

I’d like to have a really awesome punchline right now… Something that just drives this whole anecdote home… But I don’t, so I’ll leave you with the thought that I’m currently wearing a hat full of baby chicken poop.

This is probably not how antique stores are supposed to work.

Firestone(?) wheel hoe and cultivator
Our shiny new cultivator!

Our shiny new cultivator!

We took a day “off” this weekend (Visited farmer’s markets and farms around Chimacum. And shopped for hay.) and headed up to Port Townsend. We perused an antique store and found a perfectly functional corn planter and a brightly painted Planet Junior-type wheel hoe. We’d been eyeing these tools for years but could never justify the price for a new one. However, our valuable antique cultivator was priced at about a third the cost of a new one. A bargain!

The antique dealer, however, seemed a mite confused that we were evaluating his antique with an eye toward using it in our garden. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that his antique was, in point of fact, a thrifty and useful tool.

It wasn’t as awkward as the time Lauren had the following conversation about an antique egg scale:

“So how can it accurately weigh eggs with this sticker missing?”

“Well, you are just going to use it for decoration.”

“No, I need it to grade eggs for sale.”

“…”