Spellcast Farm May and June, 2012 Newsletter
Greetings from Michelle, Wally and all the critters at Spellcast Farm!
Okay, we are now on track with regular newsletters. But I have to admit that the reason why a newsletter is going out now is that we have FANTASTIC news!
On June 1, 2012, Spellcast Farm was approved by the Animal Welfare Approved program!!!! Animal Welfare Approved is a program that audits and certifies family farms raising their animals humanely, outdoors on pasture or range. Farmers who earn the AWA seal benefit from having a third-party verification of their high-welfare practices and consumers benefit by knowing that the humane label means what it says.
AWA only approves farms that raise the animals outdoors on pasture or range on true family farms with the “most stringent” humane animal welfare standards according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Annual audits are conducted by experts in the field and cover birth to slaughter.
AWA offers this certification and technical and marketing services to farmers at no charge. Because AWA is not financially dependent on farmer fees, the program is unbiased and completely transparent. AWA is NOT government funded.
Wally and I are so proud and excited to be Animal Welfare Approved!!! Hopefully it will help with our marketing and our existing and new customers will recognize the great care we give to our animals: from birth to slaughter!
For the past couple of months, Wally and I have been going to the Conover Farmer’s Market held Saturdays from 7:30 to Noon. We are both enjoying it very, very much!!! The Manager and Board of Directors of the Market have been nothing but supportive and encouraging and the other farmers attending the Market have been very welcoming and friendly. It is a big change from the Charlotte Farmer’s Market. It’s taken a few weeks for people to realize we are there and to try our products, but we are now starting to see repeat customers.
Now if we can only get the rabbits and chickens to grow faster; but really, they are growing right on track. Animals on pasture, especially those not fed any corn or soy products, grow slower. Their slower growth and healthy diet results in tastier meat which is healthy for you to eat, so eat more of it!
Michelle has been going to an Amish farm to learn chicken processing from the experts. She’s scheduled to go one more time and then hopefully, she’ll become a chicken processing expert herself. Rabbit processing is going much better; as long as Michelle wears her glasses when she’s finishing up the rabbits to make sure there are no black or grey hairs on the carcass. So that’s why big processors like white rabbits (and chickens): if any hairs or feathers are accidentally left on the carcass, they don’t show up as much as darker colored hair or feathers do. That’s okay; we’ll stick with our beautiful dual purpose breeds. We’ve got several pelts in the freezer to be tanned in the near future. What we’ll do with them? Who knows, but they are too beautiful to throw away. While the AWA auditor was inspecting the farm, he told Michelle that he’d like to see her start to use the hides rather than compost them. But isn’t composting using them?
In May, we hatched approximately 25 Dark Cornish chicks and have another 41 Dark Cornish eggs in the incubator. The original combination that resulted in the Cornish X meat bird was a Cornish crossed with a White Rock. The White Rock is a faster growing/feathering breed, but is typical of most dual purpose birds in that it has more leg meat than breast. The Cornish has a bulldog appearance with a wide stance and large breast. They grow REALLY slow, but their meat is supposed to be very, very tasty. Cornish are EXCELLENT foragers, they hardly need grain to thrive and they are good mothers. The goal is to keep the Dark Cornish hens, butchering the roosters for meat (Cornish roosters are rowdy characters, they are often crossed with game roosters to make a better fighting bird, the Cornish is also called Indian Game). We have about ten White Rock hens, ten Delaware hens (the Delaware is a rare breed that was the meat bird before the Cornish X became popular), as well as 20-some-odd White Rock chicks that are growing like gang busters. We’ll keep the hens for eggs, some of which we’ll hatch out in the incubator, some we’ll allow to be raised by broody hens. The goal is to have a good combination of laying birds that produce decent meat birds.
I say “decent” meat birds because this cross or any dual purpose breed for that matter is not going to grow as fast or as big as the Cornish X birds. Remember, I spoke last month of our batch of mutant Cornish X? Animal Welfare Approved does not allow its farmers to raise the Cornish X because of their fast growth (which often results in lameness and even death) nor do they allow chicken tractors (open bottomed pens that are moved daily). This prohibits a lot of farmers from being approved by AWA for meat chickens. After our experience with the Cornish X, Wally and I vowed to never, ever raise them again. There are other meat birds that grow slower and do better on pasture than the Cornish X, but we don’t want to raise more than 20 or 30 birds at a time and if we bought these chicks, with the shipping, it would cost $3 or more for a chick. That’s a lot of money for chicks. Plus, the idea of shipping chicks troubles us and it is not sustainable. It’s better for the birds to be born on the farm.
Like the heritage breed rabbits, the heritage (dual purpose) chickens grow slower. A Cornish X can be ready for market at nine weeks, yes, nine weeks! Who wants to eat a nine week old chicken? A chicken doesn’t develop good flavor until it’s at least 12 weeks old. Dual purpose birds are usually ready for harvest at 16 to 20 weeks. “Big” farms don’t want to feed their birds for that long, but luckily we have access to a lot of pasture so our birds can do a lot of their own foraging which also contributes to better tasting meat.
We work hard towards sustainability. A lot of that is due to a very, very, VERY limited budget. We slide by the skin of our teeth making our monthly utility, insurance and rent payments. Luckily much of our food comes from the farm.
On June 4, we brought a Jersey bull to be processed. He wasn’t as big as we wanted him to be, but he had become out-of-control. He was constantly knocking over full water tubs, tearing up fences and acting aggressive when we came near the fence. Luckily, he was still very much afraid of Gel, but Wally and I decided that he had become a risk and that he would have to go in the freezer. We were both dreading loading him, but once we sent Gel in to push him through the chute onto the trailer, the bull loaded like his tail was on fire. Yea Gel! So we’ll have tasty grass-fed beef available for sale in the near future. We brought the bull to a processor that is FDA-certified so we can legally resell the meat.
The goats are doing well. The goat kids are growing well and two or three of them will be going to the processor the middle of July. We are very excited about having goat meat available. It’s supposed to be very tasty and given that these kids will have been raised on their mothers’ milk and pasture, they ought to be really good!
Michelle’s job situation hasn’t gotten any better; the resumes she sends out end up in some dark hole. Hopefully something will come up soon. Luckily, Wally’s job seems secure, however, in this economy, nothing is secure.
Thank you for your continued patronage and support! We appreciate it more than you know.
Until later …
Michelle and Wally