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A Quick Look at the Coops

On our farm we have to flocks of laying hens.  Each flock has a different coop.

Here is the first coop…

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Here is the second coop…

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7 Tips for Shopping at Your Local Farmer’s Market

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Shopping at your local farmer’s market is fun but can take time to get used to.  Americans have grown accustomed to having whatever they want, food wise, at their finger tips regardless of season.  As a grower, I want to share some tips that I feel will help the seasoned farmer’s market shopper as well as the newbie.

1. Seek out a producer only market.

The beauty of shopping at a local farmer’s market is being able to talk and buy directly from the person that has produced the food.  I am not a fan of markets that allow people to set up mini grocery stores and sell produce from hundreds of miles away.  I understand that everyone has to make a living, but in my opinion a farmer’s market should be just what it is called; a market belonging to the farmers.  These small, local markets are essential to the survival of small family farms.  Large farms that sell wholesale have large corporate grocery chains that buy from them.  There are many certifications with hefty fees that are required to sell to large grocery store chains that many small farms cannot afford to pay.

We also ask our customers if there is something that they would like for us to grow.  How cool is that!?  A lot of farmers will try different crops if there seems to be an interest.  I have seen more variety available at the farmer’s markets than what is available at the grocery store.

The most important thing about a producer only market is that you can find out exactly how your food was produced and get to know the farmer.  You can find out if any chemicals were used, fertilizers etc. We have an open door policy at our farm which allows our customers to come out and visit.  Transparency is crucial when it comes to being an informed consumer.  You also know exactly where your dollar is going.  There is no middle man when you buy straight from the farmer.

2. Learn to Eat with the Seasons

I am sure you have heard this before but it needs to be repeated.  Farmers can only grow what the weather will support.  Call your local agricultural extension office and get a copy of a seasonal produce chart.  Most of this information is available online as well.  This information lets you know what to expect currently and what to anticipate will be available in the future.  This will also come in handy when talking to farmers about what they are planning to grow for the next season.  If you aren’t sure how to prepare a particular crop, ask farmers if they have any recipes and search out recipes.  The market where we sell has a chef come and do food demonstrations.  The chef calls all of us farmers early in the week to find out what we will have available and then plans his menu accordingly.

Remember that the seasons not only control produce but they can also control pasture-raised meat availability.  Since our chickens are raised on pasture they can only be raised during certain months of the year.  We can’t put them on pasture when it is too cold and we don’t put them on pasture when it is terribly hot.  Summer in North Carolina, where I live,  can be very different in the mountains than the piedmont.  We have a lot of customers that stock up on chickens when we process in June because they know that they may not be available in the middle of August and they will have to wait until October when we process our next batch.

Matt cooking at the market.

Matt Huggett, the chef that cooks some delicious food at our market.

3. Get There Early

This is pretty easy to understand.  If you want the best selection be there when the market opens.

4. Plan Your Meals After Your Trip to the Market

I know this seems a little backwards, but remember this goes along with purchasing food that is regulated by nature.  This is where having cookbooks that feature whole foods come in handy.  You can check out my post on my favorite whole food cookbooks for some ideas.

5.  Bring Something to Carry Your Goodies

Having something to carry all of your purchases in is important.  Some farmers offer bags, but some don’t.  Some of our customers that live within walking distance pull a wagon and load it up with their goodies.  Baskets with handles work great as well.  If you are buy meats and eggs I would highly recommend bringing a cooler.

6.  Bring Cash 

Many farmers like us are now able to take payment with credit/debit cards.  Many only accept cash.  I recommend bringing  cash in a variety of 1′s, 5′s and 10′s.  Twenty dollar bills are harder for making change.

7.  Treat Each Farmer as an Individual Store

I tell people to think of a farmer’s market in the same way they think of a mall.  You don’t expect the stores at the mall to have the same practices, so don’t assume that each farm will either.  Don’t barter like you would at a yard sale.  Some farmer’s don’t mind this but some do.  You would not go to Wal-Mart and when your total comes to $10.59 ask the cashier if they will take $10.50 for your purchase.  If a farmer cut their price by $.09 for 100 people they would loose $9.00 that day.  While that may not seem like a lot, multiply this amount by twelve weeks (the average length of seasonal markets) and that total is $108.00.  Farmers have many expenses and every penny counts.

Shopping at farmer’s markets can be fun, rewarding and healthy.  You get out in the fresh air, meet great people and eat some of the freshest food you will ever put in your mouth.

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The Life of a Broiler – Week 1

We received 157 new broiler chicks last week.  They seem to be doing great!  Thankfully we didn’t have any dead chicks on arrival  and we haven’t lost any yet.  With that said, loss is to be expected, especially during the first two weeks.  The chicks can suffer from shipping stress that can result in death as well as unknown genetic issues.

Here we are getting the brooder ready the morning the chicks were due to arrive.

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We keep our brooder underneath a tree.  We learned the hard way that having a brooder in full sun is not a good idea.  Full sun helps to decrease the use of a heat lamp but it can get too hot real quick.  We found that we can keep the brooder at a comfortable temperature much easier under the tree.

The brooder floor gets a nice layer of wood shavings.

Seth spreading shavings in the brooder.

Seth spreading shavings in the brooder.

Our chicks arrive at the post office in boxes.

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We take each chick out of the box one at a time and dip their beak into water before we place them in the brooder.  The chicks are normally very thirsty from traveling and this helps the chicks learn where to get water.

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We mix Broiler Booster that we get from Murray McMurray Hatchery into their water.  This gives them vitamins that helps gut health and helps to strengthen their legs.

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We use two heat lamps to keep the temperature at 95 degrees for the first week.

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We scatter the feeders and waters around the brooder to allow easy access for the chicks.  If you are wondering what we feed our chicks, you can read my post about what we feed our chicks.

This is what a day old chick looks like.

Seth holding a day old chick.

Seth holding a day old chick.

This is what the chicks look like when they are one week old.

One week old chick.

One week old chick.

They are starting to get their wing feathers.

One week old chicks in the brooder.

One week old chicks in the brooder.

If you haven’t already, sign-up to follow me and you will get to follow the life of our pasture raised broilers all the way to processing day.

 

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Knowledge is Power

My husband and I are all about education. We never get tired of learning. Last year we attend the first Piedmont Farm School, sponsored by our local agricultural extension agencies. For seven months we attended a monthly, evening business planning class and went on a monthly farm tour. The business planning classes were helpful in learning about laws, insurance, certifications, inspections, knowing cost and general resources. The farm tours were great because we got to see first-hand the different types of small farms in our area and learn from what established farmers are doing and also what they aren’t doing.
I was excited to be asked to attend one of the business planning classes and share what we do for marketing for our farm as well as the importance of good record keeping and knowing your costs.
I set up a table showing how we set up for the farmers’ markets we attend.

Me with Mike Roberts at Piedmont Farm School in Lexington,NC

Me with Mike Roberts at Piedmont Farm School in Lexington,NC

I am by no means an expert, but I hope that I was able to share some helpful information. All of us small farmers need to work together and encourage each other.

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The Life of a Broiler – Week 2

The chicks are two weeks old now.  Their fluff is quickly being replaced by feathers and will soon be ready to go out on pasture.  We are gradually weaning them from the heat lamps so that their systems won’t be shocked once they are in the mobile pens.

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The Life of a Broiler – Week 1

Our broilers are now one week old. Other than loosing six chicks to shipping stress, things are going well. Broilers grow quickly compared to other breeds of chickens. In the picture below you can see that they are starting to loose their fluff and their wing feathers are coming in. They have already gone through one 50lb. bag of feed. Around eight weeks of age they will be consuming 50lbs. per day.

One week old Cornish Cross Broiler chick. Wing feathers are starting to come in.

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The Life of a Broiler

Yesterday we received 100 day old Cornish Cross chicks. I thought it would be interesting to post weekly on raising pastured broilers from start to finish. Below is a picture of the new outside brooder my husband and two of our sons built. A brooder can be made out of all kinds of materials.  Some people use large plastic totes, cardboard boxes, anything that can keep chicks confined but at the same time allowing room for them to move about.  Baby chicks have to keep very warm the first few weeks of their life. The first week they like it HOT! Ninety-five degrees is their preferred temperature. Since this temperature has to be kept constant during the night and day, we  use heat lamps to mimic being under mama hen.  In the past we have used a section of our garage as a brooder.  We prefer to have the chicks in an outside brooder so that they can get fresh air and sunshine.  Sunshine is a must for a developing pituitary gland.  We cover the ground with hay and/0r wood shavings which gives the chicks a dry surface to lie on.

Baby chicks have to be one of the cutest critters around!  It won’t be long until they loose their fluff and their feathers will come in.  Here is a picture of a one day old chick.

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