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Cows, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Newborn Calf

One of the greatest joys of living on a farm is witnessing the miracle and constant renewal of life everywhere around you.  Pastures and hayfields, browned by the cold winter, turn green with spring.  Fuzzy baby chicks peep out from under their mother’s wings.  Little yellow ducklings swim in single file behind mama duck.  Calves kick up their heels, running and playing together like puppies.

This little fellow here was just a few hours old when this picture was taken.  He had no fear of humans.  Why should he?  It’s a bright, exciting world and every sight, every scent, every sound is a new experience to be savored with wonder and awe.

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[Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.  ~ Laura Ingles Wilder]

 

dale339, Food, Porter Valley Farms

A Sweet Treat

Here’s a recipe for a low-carb peanut butter cup and I swear these taste better than Reese’s Cups.  We used to buy the Russel Stover peanut butter cups, but after tasting these, the Russel Stover candy just doesn’t cut it anymore.

First, here are the ingredients.

  • Smuckers Natural Peanut Butter (Creamy).  I had to empty the entire jar into a bowl and stir it because the oil tends to separate in the natural peanut butter.
  • Swerve Confectioners Sugar Replacement.
  • Butter (The real stuff).
  • Organic Coconut Oil (It’s solid at room temperature).
  • Hershey’s Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips.

First, put a cup of the sugar substitute, a cup of the peanut butter, and 3 tablespoons of the butter (softened) into a mixing bowl to make the peanut butter filler.

Stir the ingredients until you get a good consistent dough.

Spoon the dough and press it into a silicone mini muffin pan.  Once the dough is in the pan, stick the pan in the freezer until the dough freezes.

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When the peanut butter filling is frozen, begin preparing the chocolate.  Melt half a bag of the sugar-free chips with one tablespoon of the coconut oil.

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Finally, dip the peanut butter cups in the melted chocolate until they are well covered and then stick them back into the freezer until the chocolate sets up.  We keep them in the freezer all the time because the sugar-free chocolate tends to melt quickly.  Try these.  You won’t be disappointed!  We calculated 1.8 carbs per cup.  These are pretty big too!

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[Chocolate is the answer.  Who cares what the question is!]

Broilers, dale339, Layers, Porter Valley Farms

Poultry Building

We used to heat our home and water with a Hardy boiler furnace.  This is essentially a giant outdoor wood burning stove surrounded by a tank of water and it kept our house and water toasty in cold weather.  We usually fired it up the first of November and kept it burning until the first of April. Keeping it burning meant stuffing it with firewood twice a day.  When the weather was cold, I’d burn a full-sized truckload of wood every week.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally get a heat pump.  And the money I saved burning firewood all those years?  It MIGHT pay for the surgery I am going to need one day to replace the saddle joints in my thumbs where I wore the cartilage out picking up large sticks of firewood.  Anyhow, I built a large shed over the stove to keep the wood supply dry (and me when it was raining).  This shed is 16′ x 20′ and we are thinking of repurposing it for our poultry operations.  It has electricity and water, and it is located conveniently close to the house.  In the picture below, you can see it on the left side and slightly behind our house.

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Below are a couple of pics of the inside, looking up at the ceiling.  I think I will take the old metal roofing off and put down boards all the way across the tops of the rafters, from the ridge down to the bottom.  I’ll cover the top of the boards with tar paper, then add slats to screw the new metal roof onto, and I’ll put foam insulation between the slats.  This will insulate the roof and keep it from sweating and it will also let me keep the inside ceiling area open (which will just look nicer).  All of the interior beams and boards will be painted white and all of the metal brackets will be painted a glossy black.

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I want to build a covered patio off the back of this building and add a door leading out onto the patio.  This will be the area we will use when we process our own broilers.  This will be where we have the kill cones, the scalder, the plucker, a table for gutting the birds, a hose to wash them, a vat of cold water with vinegar to soak them for about 10 minutes, and a vat of ice water to cool them down before taking them inside to part up and package.  Inside the main building, we will have several freezers and refrigerators.  We’ll probably start out with two freezers (for broilers) and one refrigerator (for eggs).  This building will be air-conditioned too.  There will be a stainless steel table for cutting the birds, a sink for washing them, and an electric burner to boil water so that we can heat-shrink the poultry bags onto the birds before putting them into the freezers.  Off the side of the main building, I’d like to have a small storage room.  This will be where we keep the poultry transport cages, the scalder, the plucker, tables, hoses and any other outdoor processing equipment.  Below is the layout of how I envision this.

Poultry Barn

I plan to put black metal roofing on the top of the building and board and batten siding on the sides.  I will paint the siding white and paint a picture of our logo in black on the long side facing the drive coming up to the house.

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I’d also like to paint this on the gable over the door.

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And have an old farm lamp hanging over it to illuminate the sign (and the entrance) at night time.

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Here’s what the white board and batten siding will look like.  Actually, the front of this building is very much what I envision the front of my poultry building to look like, except where there is a window in the gable of this particular building, mine would have the fresh egg sign and the farm lamp would be mounted higher, over the sign.

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This project is not on the list for this year, but definitely on the to-do-list next spring.  Once we complete this project, our poultry operations (layers, broilers, stew hens) should be in full swing.

[Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.  ~Henry Ford]

dale339, Dogs, Porter Valley Farms

Hey Ya’ll, Watch This!

Ever heard one of your friends say, “Hey ya’ll, watch this!”?  Usually, things don’t turn out quite as planned.  My youngest son owns a kennel with some of his coon hunting buddies.  The name of the kennel is Indian Hill Blueticks and they raise and hunt Gascon Blue Ticks Hounddogs.  I would tell you more about it if I could, but he’s the one who can give you the run-down on the pedigrees and bloodlines.  Anyhow, he had this cool idea to rig up a system to walk his dogs at the side of the Mule (ATV).  We’ve seen pictures online of people who have done this to walk several dogs at one time.  Here’s a picture of them with three dogs hooked up and ready to roll.

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See the firepit in the yard?  Right behind the birdhouse?  That’ about how far they made it before the system collapsed.  That’s life though.  No matter how much we plan and prepare, sometimes things don’t turn out like we expected.  So what do we do?  We get up, dust ourselves off, and go back to the drawing board.  I think the next design should incorporate a Reese hitch.  Maybe, weld the pipe to the hitch so that it projects out to each side and evenly distributes the load?  I’ll post more pics when we get the next prototype up and running.

[A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.]

dale339, Layers, Porter Valley Farms

Egg License

Our egg license came in the mail today, so our layer operation is official!  Our flock of chicks will not be laying until the October/November timeframe, but that’s okay because we still have lots to do…

  • Purchase electric poultry netting.
  • Purchase small trailer to mount water tanks, feed containers, feeders, battery and solar fence charger.
  • Purchase egg washer, egg scales, egg candle.
  • Order cartons and stamps.
  • Build a mobile shelter with nesting boxes.
  • Prepare a winter shelter and enclosure for the months when forage is no longer available (December, January, February).
  • Build a feed storage facility so we can buy our feed in bulk.
  • Put the finishing touches on our brochures and signs.

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[The key to everything is patience.  You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not smashing it.]

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

The Numbers Are In

I ran the numbers on our broilers today.  The first bag of feed (when they were tiny little chicks) lasted 3 weeks.  During weeks 4, 5, and 6 we fed one bag per week.  Finally, through weeks 7 and 8 we fed 2 bags per week.  That’s a total of 8 bags of feed and at $22 per bag, that brings our total feed bill to $176.  Since we processed 22 birds, our average cost per bird was $8 per bird or $1 per week per bird.  Not bad.

I did not weigh every bird, but half were roosters and half were hens and I weighed enough of them to know that most of the hens were a little over 5lbs and most of the roosters were a little over 6lbs.  There were a few hens just under 5lbs and conversely there were a few roosters just over 7 pounds.  Anyhow, I did weigh almost half of them after processing them and the average weight was 5.68lbs.  Multiplying that number by 22 birds brings the total weight to 124.96lbs (we’ll say 125lbs).

Since we could only fit the hens that were under 5lbs into the poultry bags, we had to part out the majority of the birds.  We bagged legs, thighs, wings, and (boneless) breasts on most of the birds and threw the carcass out.  I did weigh every bag that went into our freezer and the total weight of the “bagged” meat was 88.42lbs.

Using the average weight of 5.68lbs and a cost of $8 per bird for feed, our cost per pound for the whole bird was $1.40, but since we aren’t selling these and we put up 88.42lbs of meat our actual cost per pound came to $1.99.  Still, a very good price for pastured broilers fed certified organic and certified non-GMO feed.

We’re not ready to retail broilers yet.  There are several things we need to have in place before we do…

  • We want to build a couple of Joel Salatin style tractors that will house 50 birds each (we’d like to test the waters with 100 birds).
  • We have a building that we are going to convert to a processing and storage facility for our broilers and eggs.  We will only process our own broilers, but we will need two or three chest freezers to store our “retail” birds when we get them back from the USDA certified processor.  As our egg business grows, we will add refrigerators for storing eggs until they are delivered to market.
  • We have a trailer to haul the chickens, but we will need to purchase enough poultry crates to safely and comfortably deliver 100 birds.
  • When the birds are ready to pick up, we will need multiple large coolers to ice them down for the trip back to the farm.
  •  Lastly, we will need a feed storage building so that we may buy our feed in bulk to cut expense.

Cornish-cross broilers are selling on the Clemson Area Food Exchange (CAFE) for just over $28.  That’s for a bird that weighs between 5lbs and 6lbs.  I don’t know how much of a markup is put on the bird, but I’m guessing the grower is asking for $25 and the markup is $3.  If I can maintain a feed cost of $10 per bird (I know my cost for this batch was $8, but feed prices fluctuate) and assuming a processing fee of $5 per bird, my expenses (excluding gas and labor) will be $15 per bird.  That leaves us with a $10 profit per bird and with a batch of 100 birds that comes to $1000 or $125 per week income.

I know $125 per week income does not sound like much, but you have to consider that the amount of time spent caring for these birds each day would probably be 20 minutes or 140 minutes per week.  That comes to around $53.57 per hour.  Not bad when you look at it in that light.  The key for this to become a successful operation is to have a quality product, a reasonable price, and a great marketing plan.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

[Farming is a profession of hope.] 

Broilers, dale339, Porter Valley Farms

Processing Day

With all the rainy weather, we were not sure we’d be able to process today.  We waited until after lunch and when the sun began to occasionally peak out from behind the clouds we decided to put up a canopy and get started.  The canopy was a life saver because when the sun did come out it became very hot and humid.

We didn’t have any kill-cones, so I picked up a couple of traffic cones at The Tractor Supply Company.  I think they were around $11 each.  We cut the ends off and screwed them to the top of a post and they worked great.  My youngest son, Isaac, worked as a vet tech while going to college so he volunteered to do the killing.  I guess when you have to euthanize someone’s beloved pet you become somewhat immune to putting an animal down.  However, I’m glad he was there to help because even though these birds are bred for this purpose, it is still somewhat sad to see them die.

KillingScaldingPlucking

We kept the temperature in the scalder at around 158 to 160 degrees.  Dip the birds a few seconds at a time and pull them out.  When the wing feathers pull out easily, the bird is ready to drop in the plucker.  Be sure not to hold it under for too long or it will begin to cook the bird.  When this happens, the skin will develop a splotchy, yellowish tint.  The skin should be a light pink color if scaled properly.

This was really a team effort.  My wife, Melody, both of my sons, Kyle and Isaac, and Isaac’s girlfriend, Aniston, all pitched in to help.  Once the bird came out of the plucker it went onto the processing table where we removed the head, the feet, and the insides.  I won’t go into the details on how to do that because there are tons of YouTube instructional videos out there that teach this.

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After the birds were processed, we hosed them down and washed them with clean, cold water.  After washing them, we soaked them in a cold water bath with a little vinegar for around 10 minutes and then transferred them to a vat of iced water to cool.

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Once we had several birds in the cooling container, I went into the house and began to set up the kitchen.  I put a large pot of water on the stove to boil, spread parchment paper on the table, got out the chopping boards and some sharp knives and laid out the heat-shrink freezer bags.  I also put a scale on the table so that I could weigh every bird.

It turns out that our birds grew so much that they were too large for the poultry bags and had to be parted out.  We processed 22 birds, half were roosters and half were hens.  All of the roosters were close to 7 pounds or slightly over.  Most of the hens were over 5 pounds, close to 6.  The few that were slightly below 5 pounds were the ones we were able to get into the freezer bags whole.

We parted the birds into bags of legs, thighs, and wings and into bags of breasts.  We did about half of the breasts with skin on and about half with skin off.  After trimming the breast meat off the carcass, we’d trim any meat that we missed and put that into separate bags for stir-frys.  Lastly, we put up two bags of livers and one bag of hearts.  We did not put up the gizzards, because no one eats them except me and they are not my favorite (too tough).

FinishedProduct

I haven’t added it up yet, but I’m pretty sure we put up over 100 pounds of chicken.  Next thing I want to do is see how much we spent on chicken feed so I can see where my feed-to-meat conversion ratio lands.  We are doing this for health reasons, but we want to do it as cheaply as possible.  Also, when we are ready to sell these to the public the birds will have to be processed by a USDA certified processing facility.  That could add as much as $5 per bird to our costs, so we need to trim expenses everywhere we can and the biggest place to trim the expense is with the feed.

[What came first, the chicken or the egg?  I don’t care.  I eat both!]