John & Emily Mercer here. Welcome to our first Life Cycles Pasture newsletter. This letter is really long, but I think you’ll find it good reading.
Happy Spring! It’s here, growing season is getting started and it’s time to think about food.
One new thing for the farm is a name. We decided on Life Cycles Pasture. As most of you know, Emily and I are avid cyclists. I mean, after all we did ride our bikes from New Zealand to Nepal. We also wanted Pasture in the name, which lends itself to our grass based farm. We started a website, www.lifecyclespasture.com, there’s not a whole lot on it yet but there will be in time.
Our farm is a little different from most of what you see nowadays. It’s kind of like they were a long time ago. But we do it in our own way and the way we see it fitting best in to our land. We raise meat chickens, layer hens, dairy goats, beef cattle, pigs, and humans. Everybody is raised on 8 acres of grass pasture. We also grow veggies and new for this year is sheep and animal fodders. Sounds like a lot of works doesn’t it?
For the most part, we’re an organic farm. But we are not certified organic and probably never will be. Organic is a term owned by the big corporate farms nowadays. Look at it this way, according the the USDA you can raise organic chickens in a barn with 20,000 housemates and organic beef in a feedlot. Our pasture is organic, our grass fed animals are organic. Some of our chickens are organic, some eat conventional feeds. None of our animals receive man-made medications of any sort. This doesn’t mean neglect, this means proper care.
We’re starting our 2nd year on this little farm. After a learning year, we decided that we want to grow things that grow well in our soil. Imagine that. As the years go on our soil will get better and we can begin to offer more. But for now we know that grass grows really well on our clay soil. So we’re going to focus on raising animals on the grass. Makes sense right? In the meantime we will raise veggies for us and fodder crops for the animals with an eye towards the future.
Another thing we want to focus on is doing what we like. John loves the farm, the animals, and the work that goes with it. Emily likes it all, but wants to go camping. Anyway, we love raising pigs. Most people say raising pigs in the winter isn’t worth it. We tried it this year, we wanted to practice before we get in to breeding. Is it worth it to us to keep pigs over the winter? The work those 2 pigs did for us over the winter was amazing. Last fall we got about 400 bags of leaves from the City. That’s a lot of leaves! The pigs worked almost all of these leaves into the soil and enjoyed every minute of it. The pigs would dig down about 24″ into the hard packed clay soil chasing roots. In the process of doing that they worked all of those leaves into the soil. Plus they chewed on the leaves, stomped on them, slept on them. Like a rototiller, they were loosening the soil and adding huge amounts of organic material to the clay soil. They had fun, we had fun; it was really cool to see. We’re going to grow fodder crops in that soil this summer and see what happens. Lots of organic material plus manure, should be exciting. Based on this winters experience, we might actually put an emphasis on raising pigs in the winter?
We also really like raising beef cattle and laying hens. The cattle are usually the easiest to raise. They get fresh pasture (or hay) each day, plus water and organic kelp. We follow the cattle on the pasture with chickens a few days later. Flies lay eggs in the cow poop. The eggs develop into larvae, then the chickens come in and eat that larvae, scratching the poop into the soil at the same time.
In winter, laying hens and pigs do really well together. The pigs dig and make lots of piles, the hens scratch and level those piles out. It’s funny, the hens are pretty aggressive towards the pigs at feeding time. The chickens have their heads right in the pigs feed bowl while the pigs are eating. They even peck corn bits off the pigs noses when they come up for a breath. So far the pigs haven’t figured out that chicken tastes good. Very funny to watch.
We are going to raise pastured meat chickens again this summer. These are amazing birds, entirely different from laying hens. Meat chickens go from a tiny chick to an 8 lb butcher size in 8 weeks. Along the way they eat a little bit of grass, insects, and leave large amounts of nitrogen rich fertilizer on our pasture. Meat chickens, and birds in general do not eat large amounts of grass. This means we need to buy a lot of feed which makes for an expensive end product.
One big new thing we are doing is an Open Farm day on May 18. We’ll open our farm up for a day of getting to know the neighbors, learning and educating, and hopefully have some fun too. We’ll be open from 12 PM to 5 PM that day. It’ll be family friendly. But no dogs and the kids gotta be under control, our electric fence will be on. We probably won’t have much for sale, it’s too early in the growing season for that. But bring your wallets just in case:) We will have lots of young chicks, hopefully some young pigs, and probably baby goats as well. We hope to make this an annual event. We’re also hoping to get orders and add people to our newsletter list.
Also new for this year is our first baby, Jemma. She was born in January and is an awesome baby. Very mellow. She has her own website, www.jemmamercer.com. More pictures will wind up there as well.
So this has turned in to a long story about our farm and what we do here. Sales pitch coming up…
Here is a list of what we will have available this year. If you would like to purchase anything, please let us know and we will let you know a few more specifics. One thing we are trying to do is raise animals on order. Basically you tell us what you want and we’ll raise it. The alternative is we raise it and hope to sell it. Big difference.
Pastured broiler chickens early July
Organic, grass fed ground beef early August (maybe)
Pastured Pork early May and Fall
Pasture raised eggs ask us
Organic, grass fed beef late November
Organic, grass fed lamb Summer 2015
Our quantities are limited and subject to change. Predation is always an issue for our birds. So far we have had problems with hawks, owls, mink, racoons, and fox. It’s our job to protect the birds from these predators, but they are mighty presistent- and quick. And of course we’re still learning.
Pricing on our products varies. I am trying to keep prices as low as I can and still make a living. The biggest variable is processing cost. We can process chickens ourselves and sell them, but we can’t do that with pork or beef. Strange but true.
I love the question, “Why is pastured chicken so expensive?” I wish it wasn’t and I don’t get a good feeling selling chicken for $5 per pound. We all know you can buy a whole cooked chicken at City Market for $4. Subsidies are a big part of the answer. Chickens eat grain. Grain is heavily subsidized for large corporations. Not for little guys like me. How is a little guy like me supposed to compete with Tyson foods on pricing? I can’t and never will. But I can compete on quality, variety, and nutritional value.
The good news is you can get a lot of food out of one chicken. We tend to roast the chicken whole. Have some for dinner that night, pick the rest of the meat off the frame for dinners and lunches. Right there we have 5-6 meals. Then we make broth with the frame, wings and skin. Add a tsp of vinegar to the water and simmer it for 24 hrs. At the end we’ll have about a gallon of delicious, healthy broth. The vinegar boils off, but what it does is acidify the liquid so the minerals in the bones wind up in the broth. This is why pastured, naturally raised chicken is so good for you. The whole animal is healthy for you. Anyway, the broth will help make 2-6 more meals; so one $25 chicken can make 7-12 meals. Now it doesn’t seem so expensive and it helps me sleep at night knowing that. Here is a great article from one of our favorite bloggers about the true cost of pastured chicken. Subscribe to her blog, she’s really great if you’re in to cows, gardens, and someone growing 100% of the food her family eats year round.
Thanks for reading this far, this is the end. If you would like us to grow anything for you, please just email us directly and we will talk about details. Of course you can also call us too. Hopefully we will see you at the Open Farm on May 18, if not before then.
Have a wonderful Spring,
John & Emily Mercer