The student farmers came back to the farm on Tuesday, and it has been wonderful to be at Maggie’s Farm with folks in the farmhouse and out at work. We had a short week, but got a lot done, and the students have gone off to attend the NOFA-NY Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs, New York for the weekend. This week included a fiber-arts introductory class, delayed a day for the traditional annual snowstorm that seems to arrive every year on fiber-arts day, our first class in the crop planning series, our first class in the garden planning series, and introduction to our huge winter firewood production project, and some time keeping all of livestock happy and comfortable in their winter quarters. The next few months will include a nice balance of indoor class time and outdoor work time, with the majority of the work focused on our yearly firewood production.
Beside for making firewood, winter is also the time of year when farmers can go to conferences and workshops, and dream of ways to integrate the new ideas and approaches that they’re learning into the work of their own farm. Farmers can spend some time learning about areas of the farm that they are most interested in and passionate about, areas that they would like to improve, things they would like to add to their group of farm enterprises, or things they are only dreaming about. This new
learning is brought back to the farm, and is mixed into the yearly winter planning sessions that lay out the arc of the coming growing season. This mixture of learning and planning is a fertile brew, and given the breathing room of the slower winter season, it gives many farmers a chance to refresh themselves and the perspective for a fresh look at their operation. New ideas and new ways of doing things that feel like just another thing to add to the seemingly endless list of things to do in the growing season, seem much more reasonable and possible now, and commitments usually dismissed out of hand in the summer are confidently made. Small issues that have been ‘good enough to get by’ until now can finally rise to the top of the to-do list, and get fixed.
I have always wanted to raise different breeds of meat birds in our pastured poultry system to see which would be the best fit for our approach and thrive most thriftily. In the heat of the summer and swirl of getting everything ordered and lined up for the year, this always just seemed like one more complication that we didn’t need to take on. This year we’ve changed hatcheries, and they carry both types of birds that I would like to include in our initial round of testing, so we have ordered fifty+ of each. We will have a couple houses of our usual Kosher Kings, and a couple houses of the also common Freedom Rangers. Both will be raised under the same conditions, and through their raising, and after processing, we’ll be able to evaluate which type did better for us. There is also the conventional Cornish Cross white meat bird that populates the massive indoor poultry farms supplying the chicken found in grocery stores and fast-food restaurants. Many, or most. small farmers raise this type of bird as well, but I am not sure they would be a good fit for us. These birds grow to market weight in only seven weeks, rather than the twelve that we raise ours for, and that rapid growth often leads to quite unpleasant health problems, immobility and high mortality. Our daily, and twice daily, moved pastured approach has proved a poor fit for this type of bird, and we’ve found that the slower growing birds, more dynamic, and mobile enough to keep up with their moving houses, works better for us. I look forward to keeping you informed as we go through this experiment, and to having the best product we possible can at the end!