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Posted 11/20/2014 12:33pm by R Heritage Farm.

pie crust

I absolutely LOVE Thanksgiving and it’s without a doubt my favorite holiday. It's the perfect day to relax, and visit with our family whom we rarely see during the farmers market season. Our home always feels so warm and inviting; it's lit up with candles, autumn decorations, and heavenly smells. Every year I go all out and I always make EVERYTHING from scratch from the homemade bread in the stuffing, cranberry sauce, egg nog, desserts, pie crusts, etc.

Not everyone likes to cook everything from scratch, but if there's one thing you're gonna make - make a homemade pie. I thought I’d share my favorite pie crust recipe which in the 15 years I’ve been using it has never failed me. It always produces a delicious flaky crust, and it only takes a few minutes to make. Making a homemade pie crust is easier than you think and it starts with a basic recipe and some great tips and tricks...

Butter Pie Crust

(makes 2 crusts)

2 cups flour (it helps to chill the flour but it's not necessary)

¼ tsp salt

2/3 cup VERY COLD butter (the colder the better)

4-6 Tbsp ICE COLD water

*See below for tips  

Mix flour and salt and cut in small amounts of the butter using a fork, pastry blender or old fashioned potato masher (I use the latter) until it’s mixed into coarse crumbs. Gradually stir in 4 Tbsp water and mix just until the flour is moistened. (Add 1-2 Tbsp more water if needed.) Don’t pour the water in all at once and use the smallest amount possible. It’s also important you don’t over work the dough or you’ll develop the gluten which will make it tough. You can use the pinch test to see if your dough has the right amount of liquid. Pick up a small clump of dough and gently squeeze between your fingers. When the dough just sticks together with small dry cracks, your dough is perfect.  

I lightly dust my hands with flour and then roll the mixture into a big ball and then cut it in half. (If your dough is too soft refrigerate it for 20-30 minutes.) Roll each half into a ball and roll it out with your rolling pin, rolling from the center outwards to produce a uniform thickness. Don’t forget to dust your counter top and rolling pin when you roll it out so it doesn’t stick. Once it's rolled out I fold the dough in half and place in the pie dish and unfold it, or you can roll it over the rolling pin and sort of "roll" it out over the pie pan. That's it and now you're ready to fill it!

Tips:  

~ I recommend using a glass pie pan instead of the cheap aluminum ones as they produce a flakier crust and cook more evenly. 

~ Beat an egg and brush a little onto the bottom of your pie crust before adding your filling. It’ll help prevent the bottom of your crust from becoming mushy.  

~ To produce a beautifully shiny golden brown crust try an egg wash. There are many variations you can use but for a slightly glossy nicely browned look beat one whole egg with one Tbsp water. (If you use milk instead of water it will increase the browning). Lightly brush on the egg wash just before placing your pie into the oven.  

~ To prevent excess browning of the edges during baking, cover the pie edge with a 2- to 3-inch wide strip of aluminum foil, and mold lightly around the edge of the pie. Bake as directed, removing the aluminum foil 15 minutes before the end of the baking time.  

~ Cool your pie on a wire rack which allows the air to circulate underneath. This helps prevent the bottom from becoming soggy and cools your pie uniformly.    

~ For a prebaked crust, place the pie plate in the oven, and bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes; for a partially baked crust, bake it 7 to 10 minutes. If the bottom begins to bubble up, prick it with a fork. You can also prevent the crust from bubbling up by spreading dried beans, rice, or pie weights on it before putting it in the oven. Let it cool completely before you add any filling.  

~ You can store pie crust dough in the freezer for up to 3 months. Before using it bring it to room temperature before rolling it out.

Tags: food, recipes
Posted 11/11/2014 11:09am by R Heritage Farm.
     

Meet Bella and Bryna – the new purebred registered Gloucestershire Old Spot sows that were gifted to us recently. Both were born in 2011 and come from the same litter so they are full sisters (they are about a year younger than Pig Pig) and they’ve each had 4 litters of pigs. Bella has more spots on her than her sister Bryna; in the photo of them standing up Bella is on the left and in the photo of them laying together Bella is closest to me.

Bella is more laid back and friendlier than Bryna, but neither are nearly as friendly as our other sows (Miss Pig Pig, Tinkerbelle, or Annabelle), but we raised those girls from the time they were babies. Bella and Bryna aren’t really sure what to make of us yet because I keep bothering them by trying to give them belly rubs which they clearly aren’t used to. Both kind of growl at me when I touch their bellies, so that’s something we’ll have to work on. It’s important to be able to touch them and gain their trust (it’s a two way street by the way) because sows can move like lightening, have big teeth, and enough weight and power to inflict a lot of damage if they’re scared or feel threatened. You have no idea how fast they are!

Both are due to deliver babies in December/January but we don’t know who’s due first or the exact date. (I’m guessing Bella is first.) I’m not comfortable sitting in with them yet because they haven’t earned my trust. I’ve never seen a pig have a tantrum before but the other night Bryna had a major fit. Long story short she got so upset she started growling and grabbed Bella’s feed bowl and started shaking it like a dog does with a toy. (It all started because she spilled her own food.) She grabbed that feed bowl with so much force she flung the food all the way out to their water trough in the outside paddock and it was raining feed in their stall. Ben and I just looked at each other like “wtf was that!?” A few minutes later she was fine, but I don’t do temper tantrums (only I can have those ;)) NEVER experienced that before, so she definitely needs some more time to settle in. Will keep you posted!

Posted 11/7/2014 2:46pm by Monique Russ.

It’s not every day you get a call from a farmer who is retiring and get told they have a herd of pigs they want to donate to your farm, but it just so happened to us a few weeks ago! Whaaat?? No waay! You’re serious? What an amazing opportunity for us! A retiring farmer just graciously gave us some free pigs to help grow our small farm…and not just any pigs either... Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs!!

Gloucestershire Old Spots (pronounced Gloss-ter-sheer) aka Old Spots aka GOS are another heritage breed of pig, but they are considerably more rare in America than Berkshire pigs.They are listed as Critical on the The Livestock Conservancy's Priority Status List which means there are fewer than 2,000 GOS pigs worldwide. (Berkshire's aren't as rare in the U.S. as the GOS is, but in most other countries the Berkshire is listed as critical on that country's conservation list.) GOS pigs nearly went extinct globally in the 1960's, but a recovery effort has slowly increased their numbers.

Among the numerous pigs donated we were given two pregnant sows which are due to have babies in the next couple of months. (exciting!) These pigs have only been on our farm for less than a week but already Ben and I really like this breed because they are quiet (so far) and are very docile and relaxed. They are absolutely adorable to look at too because they are white pigs with big black spots and giant floppy ears. We love our Berkshires though so we have no intention of switching breeds – we will offer the GOS pork in addition to the Berkshire pork.

We haven’t had the pleasure of tasting this pork yet, but we do know a few people who have and they said it was fantastic. Many chefs say it rivals Berkshire because it has many of the same qualities; beautiful marbling, tenderness, moisture, texture, deep color, etc. Not only are we adding another wonderfully flavorful type of pork to the menu we’re also helping to conserve another rare breed and help bring the GOS back from the brink of extinction.

In early 2015 we will offer wholes and halves of the Gloucestershire Old Spot pork, and add it to our CSA Program. Once the farmers markets start back up we’ll begin selling it at the markets too. (We love our Berkshires so we are not switching breeds - just introducing another one.) Having never raised this breed before we’re not sure how long it will take to raise the GOS pigs to market weight. Our purebred Berkshires take about 8 -9 months on average and from what I’ve found the GOS are similar but only time will tell. Back in the day in the UK these pigs were known as the ‘Orchard Pig’ because they were used to clean up windfall apples in the orchards and they were easily fattened on the fruit and dairy products. They are supposed to be excellent foragers and fantastic pigs to raise on pasture as their caloric needs are supposed to be less than most other breeds. The Gloucestershire Old Spot is also said to be a smaller pig so there will likely be a learning curve in determining when they’ve reached a desired butcher weight.

For now the GOS sows are housed separately from our Berkshire sows as we have some pretty large girls who could easily inflict injury if they all didn’t play well together. We also maintain a closed herd to prevent disease on our farm so all new pigs are quarantined from the existing herd for a minimum of 30 days to observe them. This period of separation will also allow us to get to know the sows and build a foundation with them without the existing sows getting jealous and chasing them away from getting pets. I can say we have a lot of work to do with these sows – it doesn’t appear they’ve really been trained to respect personal space and they also don’t seem to understand what belly rubs are yet. They’re still learning our routines and trying to figure out who we are and why they’re on our farm, so it’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.      

Stay tuned!

 

Posted 7/29/2014 9:16pm by Monique Russ.

I love pigs, and they’re by far my most favorite animal. They’re affectionate, playful, emotional, fun, and they each have their own unforgettable personalities. Because these misunderstood animals are so much like dogs it makes what we do incredibly difficult, but we can’t keep every pig we raise as a pet.

From birth these animals are played with, pet, cuddled, and given a wonderful life where they’re allowed to just be themselves; free to do whatever it is they want when they want to do it. We could be like many farms and just put them in a pen and ignore them aside from feeding and watering them, but we don’t know how to do that. That’s not who we are. Instead, we interact with them every day and when their end comes it’s always a very difficult day for us. There isn’t a day that I haven’t cried when we’ve had pigs slaughtered and I expect it will always be this way.

Generally we do not name the pigs that are intended for slaughter, but last December we decided to keep three of Tinkerbelle’s babies who became known as the Three Stooges. We later renamed them because we couldn’t help ourselves; Potter reminded me of Harry Potter because as a baby he had a similar lighting strike of white on his face, Spaz, who had identical markings of his momma, was always the one to dance and twirl around, and Tenacity, well, I think her name explains how she ended up with that name. They were goofy, mischievous, curious, and just downright adorable and irresistible to play with. Because we only kept three out of Tinkerbelle’s litter (sold the rest) we let them stay in the barn for a couple months and every day we’d go out and romp around with them in the straw; they’d crawl all over us and give us piggy kisses, they’d untie our shoes, grab our pant legs to rouse us, etc. I knew back then I was way too attached to them, but I figured I’d have some time to distance myself before their day came. 

When they went back to the woodlands for the spring months I started distancing myself and stopped visiting them as often in an attempt to sever my emotional ties with them. However, I’m still attached to them, and even just a few days ago I was out in the pasture playing tag with them. (Yes, pigs play tag) They’d follow me everywhere I went and Potter, the smallest of the three, still attempted to walk between my legs and none of them would leave my shoes alone.

(Potter - Tenactiy - Spaz)

Of all the pigs we’ve ever raised these are the boys I might have kept as pets if we had the land for it. I always seem to fall in love with the barrows (castrated boys), but on our small farm aside from being farm mascots and pets to play with they’re not useful in the continued production of our pork. It sounds terrible, but it’s a cold hard fact. These animals have a purpose on our farm; to provide our family with food and pork to sell to our customers. As crappy as it is their destiny is to become food, but that’s not to say we aren’t remorseful.

Friday was Potter and Spaz’s last day on the farm, and even as I write this my heart aches for them. I’ve bawled my fool head off over them, as I do every time we process hogs, but because we made emotional connections with these hogs it’s been harder on Ben and I. My mind is filled with memories of when they were babies, of their sweet faces, and their lovable personalities.

(Potter)

(Spaz)

Every time we process hogs I wonder why in the hell do we subject ourselves to this? Why do we put ourselves through this heartache? Why do we raise animals just so they can be slaughtered? It’s an emotional battle, and I always have to remind myself why we do what we do. The answer is very simple. Humanely and ethically raised food.

I NEED to know the meat I eat comes from animals that lived happy, playful, and relaxing lives. I need to know they weren’t fed garbage or chemical laden feed, that they weren’t given hormones, antibiotics, or raised in confinement. I need to know they lived the best life possible, but just as importantly I need to know they were humanely slaughtered. I have zero tolerance for inhumane practices or practices that don’t meet my strict guidelines because there is absolutely no way in hell I could stand the thought of my food dying in fear, a state of anxiety, or otherwise. Absolutely zero tolerance. We can’t devote so much to these animals, and do what we do so they can have a bad end. We pray for every animal we have slaughtered and we make sure their end is peaceful and calm because we monitor it.

I can't tell you how hard it is (on many different levels) to do what we do because taking the life of an animal is never easy. Ben and I firmly believe that just because an animal is raised for food it should never be made to feel that way which is why we pet and play with them. I would rather go through this heartache every time than give it up just because it’s tough and to be honest, as difficult as it is, I wouldn’t have it any other way because I just don’t trust anyone else to do it. 

Tenacity, the only female (gilt) of the three, will remain on our farm and go on to become one of our sows if she proves herself to be a good momma. Tinkerbelle (her momma) is a fantastic mother and we’re hopeful Tenacity will have the same wonderful mothering abilities as her mom. We need another gilt to grow our farm, and who better to take on that role than her?! Will I stop getting attached to our market animals – never. My mantra has always been “for every animal I can raise and sell its one less commercial animal raised in confinement and the horrible living conditions of those raised commercially.” I hope that’s true, but loving all these animals gives me peace and it enriches their lives as well as ours.

(Tenactiy)

 

 

Posted 4/4/2014 3:27pm by Monique Russ.

 

 

We’ve raised turkeys for ourselves for several years now, but last year was the first year we raised them to sell at markets. Raising a few turkeys for your own family each year is significantly different and more challenging than raising 50, and for several reasons we’ve decided not to raise them this year.

Last year we started out with 75 heritage turkey poults (baby turkeys) last spring, and by the time slaughtering rolled around we only had 41 left. That’s an incredible death loss! Why did so many die? Well, first of all turkeys are not very smart and in fact some are just down right dumb. We lost a couple in the brooder which is fairly common, but the biggest losses were sustained after the poults were several weeks old.

Young chickens and turkeys are known to smother one another - it's what farmers call "piling," and it can cause substantial losses. Young birds will sometimes literally pile on top of one another when they’re cold, startled, or become afraid of something. In the process they pin and press each other against a wall or the floor and the poor birds on the bottom of the pile are unable to escape and they literally suffocate to death. We lost quite a few to piling, and I can’t tell you how sad it is to find dead birds that were senselessly smothered to death.

Our poults are raised in a 12x12 heated stall in our barn, and when they are old enough to withstand the weather we turn them loose on pasture. They free range and have the freedom to do whatever they want and go anywhere they want whenever they want. We don’t confine them or restrict their access to any one part of the farm – we’ve never had to. Of all the land they have to range on some of them just happened to find their way into an old water trough that had a few inches of rain water in it. (Keep in mind this water trough was behind another fence and was not easily accessible.) Approximately 10 of them wound up in there and were unable to get out and they died. So, in one day we lost 10 birds. 10 birds! Over the course of the next several months we lost a few more to some neighborhood dogs (our 2nd biggest predator problem) and a couple flew away. Down from 75 birds to 41.

Did you know that 50 turkeys consume as much grass as one cow does? Well neither did we! They ate so much grass it reduced our pasture to nothing, and we had to make a giant aviary and keep them confined in it for a few weeks to allow the pasture to recover. With the wet August & September we had the pasture recovered very well, so they were able to go back to foraging in no time. By the time November came around they had decimated the pasture again only this time it didn’t have time to recover before the cold weather set in. That caused a bit of a problem for our winter meat birds because they weren’t able to consume as much grass as they normally would have because the turkeys ate so much of it.

Raising turkeys the way we do isn't cheap and last year we took a big financial loss. For a small start-up farm business trying to be sustainable that’s a big problem. Our turkeys were fed our custom made non-GMO feed which was not cost effective, and even though they stuffed themselves silly with grass, blackberries, bugs, and the like, they still ate a huge amount of grain. Last year, not knowing what our true costs were going to be, we charged what some of the other small farms charged; $7.50/lb. Big mistake! Most other farms are raising the Broad Breasted White commercial breed – not the old heritage breeds we raised. These commercial turkey breeds are just like the super fast growing Cornish Cross chickens; bred to develop and mature as fast as possible and provide copious amounts of bland tasting meat. Heritage turkeys take about 30 weeks to mature whereas the Broad Breasted turkey only takes an average of 16 weeks. That’s quite a gap when estimating feed costs!

Another problem is heritage turkeys don’t get real big. In fact they don’t even come close to the weights of grocery store birds, but having raised turkeys for several years now we thought we could safely estimate our overall average would be around 15 lbs. Toms would get 17-20 lbs and hens would be 10-12. After all, our Bourbon Red toms have averaged 17lbs and up in previous years. Nope. No, our birds only averaged 9.44 lbs. Holy cow batman! Another surprise we encountered. We thought they ate a lot of grain, but they ate even more grass. Grass, even good grass, doesn’t put enough weight on turkeys for them to be ready in time for Thanksgiving.

Another big motivator for not raising turkeys was the stress. You’re probably thinking ‘what stress’? Boatloads of it! People have a lot of expectations about their Thanksgiving turkeys and there’s a lot of pressure to produce the perfect bird. They want a specific size, shape, color, etc! We told people when they placed their order that we couldn’t guarantee weights, but we’d try to get them matched up with a turkey close to their desired weight range. Most everyone wanted a 15 lb bird. Guess how many birds we got over 10 lbs? 12! Most of our turkeys ended up being hens which weighed 7-8 lbs – not the 10-12 lbs as we expected. So, out of 41 birds only 12, all Toms, were larger than 10lbs. We only had one bird weigh 15lbs.

We alerted everyone in mid-October that our birds were going to be smaller than expected, and we offered everyone a refund that wanted it. Most people took it in stride and knew to expect smaller birds, and some bought a second turkey to make up for the smaller than anticipated size. Others weren’t so understanding, and some became irate and belligerent. I’m not ashamed to admit that the day after slaughter I had a mini-breakdown because we were shocked at the weights. I knew these birds were going to be small, but this small? How could I get everyone the size they wanted when only a handful of large bird requests could be fulfilled? How would you feel if you ruined someone’s Thanksgiving because they had all these special guests coming and only a tiny bird to feed them with? The stress was AWFUL! The end of the world didn’t come, and we survived pickup day with most everyone being grateful and thankful for their turkey, but those few nasty people ruined the experience for us.

So, for now, our farm won’t be producing turkeys - we will only be raising them for ourselves. It negatively impacts our small plot of land, it’s not profitable, and the stress was ridiculous. There aren’t many small farms in the Puget Sound area that raise turkeys, and there’s even fewer raising heritage breeds. Most of the farms I’ve talked to have said they stopped raising them because the financial loss was negatively impacting their overall farm profits. I can’t stress enough how important it is for small farms to raised heritage breeds to save them from extinction, but until the true costs can be recaptured more and more farms will switch to the commercial breeds or stop raising them altogether. Hopefully, we’ll be able to move to a bigger farm in the next couple of years and begin raising heritage turkeys again, but until then if I hear of a farm raising heritage turkeys I’ll be sure to post their info on our Facebook page.

 

Tags: Turkeys
Posted 3/2/2014 9:52pm by Monique Russ.

Our chick nursery

My hubby and I are no strangers to the school of hard knocks just the same as Gold Bar is no stranger to severe wind storms, and for the past couple of weeks we’ve been enduring one of these relentless storms. The winds are none stop, and it’s not just a little windy - we’re talking constant wind around 35-40 mph with gusts well over 50 mph and probably close to 70mph at times. The winds shake the house and rattle the windows, blow over rod iron garden furniture, knock over full garbage cans, and it’s even been strong enough to blow our quad a few feet when it’s been left in neutral.  

Back in 2009 Gold Bar was even mentioned on the news for having a snow hurricane; whiteout conditions, 100+ mph winds and 6 foot snow drifts. This was the winter the Puget Sound got hit with a massive storm that knocked out power to thousands of people for several days. We were one such household, and back then we didn’t have an alternate source of heat, light, etc. That was the year we bought our generator and indoor-safe portable propane heaters. However, in 2010 Snohomish PUD re-routed our power, and even though we’ve had several nasty storms since then our power has never been out for more than a couple of minutes.  

Most wind storms are harmless and just knock down some branches here and there, but Saturday’s storm nearly killed all of our meat birds and baby chicks…  

Saturday night we went out to dinner and hung out with family for several hours, so we ended up getting home around 12:30am which is something we don’t normally ever do. (Normally we’re so tired from all of the hard work that we’re passed out long before then.) As we pulled into Gold Bar we realized something was off..it was dark, too dark. When we realized everyone’s power was out panic instantly set in. The chicks!!  

We currently have nearly 300 baby chicks on the farm right now; mostly meat birds which will be sold later this year. The meat bird chicks which are housed in an enclosed stall in our barn are only 4 weeks old, and in another room we have approximately 75 egg layer chicks that are less than 2 weeks old. All of the chicks are still too young to survive out on pasture with the other birds. Their feathers haven’t come in yet, and until they do they need supplemental heat to survive, so they are in large heated stalls. Unfortunately, our main heat source for the chicks is electric based, so with the power out there’s no heat to keep these babies warm. No electric, no heat, no ability to keep the babies alive.  

As soon as we got home we raced out to the barn and peeked in on the chicks. Thankfully the power must have just gone out because they were all still warm and sleeping. However, it was snowing (it snowed all weekend), temps were below freezing, and with the wind those rooms would lose heat rapidly. We needed to get our backup plan up and running; our generator. Guess what! The damn thing wouldn’t start!! (That’s MoBen law – Murphy ain’t got nothing on us.) Ben had just performed maintenance on it, and had it running last week just to make sure it was still working properly, so why in the heck wouldn’t it start?! So, our only hope…put the chicks in the farrowing stall.  

In the winter our sows farrow (deliver) their babies in a heated stall in our barn to help reduce baby pig losses from the freezing temps. The stall is heated using a thermostatically controlled propane radiant heater and Miss Pig Pig, who is due to deliver babies in the next couple of days, was comfortably asleep in there. In order to put all the chicks in there we had to kick Pig Pig out (she would have crushed them) and she was not a happy camper that she was losing her stall at 1am in the morning. (She still had a huge covered area with straw sheltering her from the wind.) By the time we got Pig Pig situated, the heater started, and the room ready for the chicks we had already lost 7 birds to the cold.  

At 2:30am we finally crawled into bed. Not half an hour later the power came back on - Thank God!! I was so worried about the chicks and Miss Pig Pig that I didn’t get much sleep, so 3 hours later we got up and headed out to the barn expecting to find the worse…lots of dead chicks. (When chicks get cold they pile on top of each another and oftentimes inadvertently suffocate one another so the cold temps weren’t the only concern here.) Miraculously we didn’t lose a single chick! Amazing! We successfully avoided a major catastrophe and we felt very blessed that this didn’t turn out much worse. I don't even want to think about what could have happened if the power had gone out hours before we got home.  

After checking on the chicks we started checking out the rest of the farm and we realized just how bad the wind had gotten…it ripped off the roof on one of our egg layer houses. Fortunately, all the ladies and roosters were fine and no major damage was caused but now we have another project to add to the list. After walking the woodlands and seeing that the rest of the animals were safe and snuggled up in their houses we feel we got pretty lucky.  

So, another storm another lesson learned. Never rely on a generator, and always have a contingency plan in case your backup fails when raising animals. Farming is a constant learning process, and once again, the animals and Mother Nature have proven to be our best teachers.

Posted 2/24/2014 10:30am by Monique Russ.

 

I’m mad, really mad. My husband, Ben, and I are very upset and unbelievably disappointed in our postal system.  

Over a month ago we ordered nearly 60 heritage breed egg laying chicks to add to our existing flock. The chicks hatched Wednesday morning, and were supposed to arrive no later than Friday morning. On Friday morning when the Gold Bar Post Office didn’t call us at 5:30am like they usually do when our chicks arrive we thought it was a little weird. Ben went down to the P.O. around 6:30am, but they hadn’t received any chicks yet, however, it was possible they could be on another incoming truck which was due to arrive by Noon. By 3pm we still hadn’t received our chicks, so Ben called the Post Office; no chicks, and no more shipments expected.  

Saturday morning around 11am we got a call from the Gold Bar Post Office saying that our chicks had just arrived at the Snohomish Post Office (which is over 20 miles away from us) and we needed to pick them up at the Monroe Post Office. (Normally Gold Bar P.O. drives to Snohomish P.O. to pick them up because Snohomish won’t deliver them to Gold Bar, but because it was a Saturday they didn’t have anyone available to pick them up. Instead, Monroe P.O. transported them to their own facility where we picked them up. It’s a convoluted and ridiculous process.) We drove there as fast as we could, but knowing that chicks can’t survive a trip that long we expected the worst.  

So, here’s a quick lesson on baby chicks and the shipping process…Just before a chick completely hatches it absorbs the yolk in the egg, and it can survive for 3 days on the yolk alone. They don't have to have food or water within the first 72 hours which makes it possible for hatcheries to be able to ship live chicks. To combat cold weather conditions a certain number of chicks must be shipped together in order to provide enough heat to ensure their survival. Without enough chicks to keep each other warm they develop hypothermia and die. If too many chicks start dying during shipment the remaining chicks' ability to maintain adequate body heat is drastically affected which results in more deaths. By Saturday the chicks we ordered were already 4 days old, so they were long past the shipping “window of opportunity.”  

When we walked into the Monroe Post Office we could hear some chirping, but it was faint and far quieter than it should have been. Ben and I already knew the odds of these chicks surviving were remote, and sure enough when we peeked into the box we saw numerous dead chicks. Naturally I got mad and I lost my cool. (I didn’t yell at anyone – it wasn’t their fault – but I was livid with the way these chicks had been handled.) Some guy overheard me and said “what’s the shelf life on those things?” The shelf life? Are you kidding me?! These aren’t canned goods people! These are live animals; living, breathing, fluffy balls of cuteness who are helplessly dependent on human care without their mothers. Dumbass!  

We got in the car, cranked the heat, and Ben raced us home. These poor baby birds were ice cold, so I forced some heat into their box by manipulating the cars heater vents. If a chick is too cold or suffering from hypothermia its digestive system shuts down, and its instincts to eat and drink are suppressed. (Most chicks actually die from dehydration and starvation which is a direct result of decreased body temperature.) So as soon as we got into the house we put them under heat lamps and then started giving them a water based electrolyte/vitamin solution and boiled egg yolks. This will seem controversial to some, but giving a chick a hard boiled yolk is the best and fastest way to save a baby. A yolk has all the proper nutrition that a chick needs to survive (which is why they can survive their first 3 days without food and water), and because it’s soft, easily digestible, and palatable chicks will readily consume it. It gives them an energy boost, triggers hunger, and gets them to eat the chick feed much faster.  

We spent the day trying to save as many birds as we could; the stronger ones ate the egg and drank the water on their own but most needed help. About 10 of the birds were dead when we picked them up at the post office Saturday morning, and many more have died in the last couple of days. It’s been a valiant effort on our part, but as of this morning only about a dozen babies are still hanging on. Out of nearly 60 chicks only about 12 survived this catastrophe. I can’t tell you how sad and frustrated we both are. It's awful to watch animals die despite your best efforts to save them and knowing there's nothing more you can do for them doesn't make it easier.  

The really sad part is that it’s not uncommon for entire shipments of chicks to die in transit or shortly after arrival. It’s so common in fact that the hatcheries don’t even need photo’s to file a claim. Most of these deaths are attributed to someone making a “mistake” – a tragic mistake that costs innocent animals their lives. Chicks can be very annoying in a post office because they chirp loudly, and when people get tired of hearing them it’s common practice to put them in a broom closet or office where they get forgotten about.

In our case the birds were last scanned in St. Paul, MN Wednesday night, so they were either left unattended in St. Paul or at the Seattle distribution center. There’s no electronic record after the St. Paul scan, so they’re not exactly sure where the “mistake” occurred. I can’t help but wonder if postal employees would take the shipment of live animals more seriously if they were cute kittens or puppies. Regardless, this was tragic, senseless, beyond heartbreaking, and it could have all been avoided if someone would have done their job right and followed proper protocols.  

At least we were able to save some of them, but the whole experience has just proven how broken the mail system really is. Until we can afford to buy more incubators and master the art of hatching our own chicks we are forced to buy from hatcheries, and the danger of losing chicks in shipment is a threat our farm will continue to face. In the 3-4 years that we’ve been ordering chicks this is the first time we’ve ever experienced this type of loss, and hopefully it will be our last. Unfortunately, yesterday we heard that several other people have been experiencing the same situation we just went through.

Our end goal has always been to hatch our own chicks; some via an incubator and some the good old fashioned way - raised by momma herself. Unfortunately, not all hens have a deep desire to sit on a clutch of eggs. In the last year we’ve purchased two incubators, increased our parent stock, and started hatching some of our own chicks. It’ll likely be a few years, but we can’t wait for the day when we can say that all chicks we raised were born on our farm. In the meantime, these rugged, tough, and strong little girls who survived the odds will be given lots of love and they'll go on to live happy, healthy lives.

Posted 9/18/2013 4:04pm by Monique Russ.

Us & FionaOn Saturday, August 24th, 2013 my husband and I went to the Evergreen State Fair in Monroe to watch Fiona Lyle show 2 of Miss Pig Pig’s babies. Fiona purchased these pigs from us earlier this spring for her 4H and FFA programs, and she’s been raising and showing her pigs with the hope of getting to the Washington State Fair in Puyallup. Since we support both programs we went to watch her compete in the Fit & Show Class for both 4H and FFA. This competition demonstrates the qualities of the hog, but also the showmanship and abilities of their handler.

Ben and I have never been to a pig show before – we’ve walked thru the barns, sure, but we’ve never actually watched people show their pigs, so this was a treat for us. This is also the first year we’ve ever sold weanlings for a 4H or FFA project (not for lack of trying), so it was definitely exciting to see pigs produced by our farm at the fair. These are ¾ Berkshire and ¼ Chester White pigs out of our beloved Miss Pig Pig who produces friendly, very nicely built pigs, and Fiona has done a great job in raising and training them.

Pigs are highly intelligent animals and they're easily trained, so I was eager to see how well the pigs would react and listen in the show pen. With all the commotion going on around them these kids had to control their pigs around the show ring, demonstrate what they thought were their animals best qualities, and get these pigs to show their bodies in a certain way to the judge. It was easy to tell which handlers didn’t spend enough time with their pigs, and some kids had pigs that were too young to be shown (in my opinion) because they weren’t able to control them effectively. Most of the handlers were able to control them (as much as you can expect anyway), but it was frustrating to see how many of these kids were actually afraid of them! Having the judge shout out that the kids needed to be careful with the pigs interracting with another for fear "they'll eat one another" blew us away. This judge says he's been in the business for years - well why in the world would you make such outrageous claims!?

There’s no doubt pigs are large animals and to someone that doesn’t know their wonderful personalities and calm dispositions they can be very intimidating just because of their sheer size. Take Miss Pig Pig for example –she’s about 750lbs, taller than my waist, and she’s got a lot of power in her, but she's a big baby. Pigs are gentle giants in most cases. Just like dogs it all depends on how they’re raised, treated, and whether or not you respect them.

Now, on to Fiona and her pigs…she did an outstanding job in the show ring! Seriously, she’s got talent!! There were quite a few good competitors, but I honestly have to say we thought she was the best presenter and handler because she was listening to what the judges were telling her, she was able to move her pigs and display them as asked, and she was always focused on the judge and getting her pigs out in view of him. I’ll be honest in that I don’t know anything about showing pigs, but I’ve been told that one of the biggest objectives while you’re in the show ring is to get your pig noticed.

While pigs are easy to handle and train on the farm it’s a little more difficult when you have a show ring full of rambunctious and excited pigs. They’ve been cooped up all night and they’re excited and nervous by their new surroundings and all their new playmates. (One of the best parts was watching the pigs bolt into the show ring and start running around and barking.) Fiona did a fantastic job of keeping her pigs under control, and despite having some little pigs interfering with her own she was able to keep her pigs' attention and focus on her and what she was asking of it.

Fiona did an exceptional job with her pigs and watching her was exciting. Her best quality as far as my husband and I are concerned was her willingness to get in between the pigs when needed. Pigs are curious by nature and these guys often wanted to play or check each other out, but Fiona wasn’t afraid to put herself between two pigs to break them up. If a bigger pig was trying to push hers, she stepped in and moved the pigs apart. Unfortunately, she was the ONLY handler there that wasn’t afraid to do this. When raising animals you can’t be afraid of them or to get involved when it’s needed, and this trait will carry her far in her dreams of becoming a vet. We had a great time watching the show and it was fun to be a part of it. We were so happy for her when both her pigs won Grand Champion in Fit and Show at the Evergreen State Fair in both the FFA and 4H division! Congrats to Fiona!!  She definitely deserved it, she worked hard for it, and we were proud that she was the one showing pigs born and bred on our small farm.

Fiona went on to show at the Washington State Fair in Puyallup on September 16th, and she won blue ribbons for both her hogs. She was competing against 14 of the best competitors and farms in the State, and even though she didn’t win grand champion we’re extremely proud of her. She stole the show at Evergreen! She is an energetic and remarkable young lady and she has a gift and natural ability around animals, and we have no doubt that if she chooses to she’ll go on to make a wonderful vet. I wish there were more kids like her that were passionate about animals and involved in FFA.

 

Posted 8/29/2013 4:14pm by Monique Russ.

As members of the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce we get weekly newsletters, and in this week's newsletter there was some great information I thought was worth passing on. The most interesting information to me was learning that there are more farms in Snohomish County than Skagit County who, in my opinion, has done a fantastic job of advertising their agriculutral importance in our state.

Our farm is located in Snohomish County in the gorgeous Skykomish River Valley, aka Sky Valley. Snohomish County ranks 6th in the state with over 1600 working farms and Skagit only has just over 1200. This is surprising to me, but then again I've always thought Snohomish County has done a poor job of supporting farms and the agricultural community as a whole. Their farmer market permit fees are triple what they are in King County, the number of actual farmer markets is extremely low when compared to the overall size of the county and the number of residents, the grant and funding programs are pitiful, and they don't advertise our rich and diverse agricultural history or significance. If you're a farm in Snohomish County it's difficult to get your farm advertised outside of the Puget Sound Farm Guide which was created and sponsored by King County.

The Annual Sky Valley Farm Festival is held the 2nd Saturday in October in Sultan and it's sponsored and organized by the Sky Valley Chamber of Commerce. Our farm is one of four farms in the Sky Valley that participates in this fun and educational event. Mark it on your calendars...and check back for more information which will be posted on our blog and on our Facebook page in the upcoming weeks. Now, on to our State's role in agriculture and its contributions to our State's economy...

The Importance of Agriculture in Washington- by Rep. Dan Kristiansen

It is often said that from apples to airplanes, our state has a diverse economy. With our rich farmland and ties to the aerospace industry, perhaps no region of the state exemplifies this diversity more than ours. As Dreamliner orders and other Boeing endeavors grab the headlines, what often goes under the radar is agriculture. For example, did you know there are more than 1,600 farms in Snohomish County and 1,200 farms in Skagit County? In these two counties, the combined market value of crops and livestock is $382 million, according to a 2007 Census of Agriculture by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To see information on all counties, click here.

When it comes to agriculture, our state has distinct advantages. Our talented farmers, rich soils, various climates and irrigation operations result in the production of 300 different commodities. We also have deep-water ports that enable our state to export these commodities all over the world – including lucrative Asian markets. In fact, more than $15 billion in food and agricultural products were exported through Washington ports in 2011 – the third largest total in the nation. It probably comes as no surprise that Washington is the nation’s top producer of apples, but did you know we are also number one in sweet cherries, pears, red raspberries and hops? You can find a list of our state’s top 10 commodities here. You can learn more about our state’s national rankings in agriculture here.

The $46 billion food and agriculture industry also provides jobs. It employs approximately 160,000 people statewide and contributes 13 percent to our state’s economy. The food processing industry alone employs more than 2,700 people in Snohomish and Skagit counties and generates more than $800 million in gross sales each year. To see similar data for all counties, click here.

Posted 4/9/2013 4:17pm by Monique Russ.

Ben @ Whole Foods

Yesterday my husband, Ben, joined Cascade Harvest Coalition at the Lynnwood Whole Foods Market to help promote our farm and the work of Cascade Harvest Coalition (CHC). Ben spent his time discussing our farm, the Puget Sound Farm Guide, and the fantastic work CHC does for our region.

Sheryl Wiser at Cascade Harvest Coalition has been instrumental in helping us get our name “out there.” She’s given me advice on social networking, how to present our farm and products, provided us with networking opportunities, public exposure via special events, and has passed on program information to help make our farm more successful. This is what CHC is all about – helping farmers succeed by providing them with the tools to do so, and by connecting "farmers to farmers, farmers to markets, and farmers to eaters.”

CHC is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to “re-localizing”food by connecting consumers and producers. Many people are not aware how easy it is to buy local farm fresh food, and CHC does a great job of educating the public thru various means. One way they do this is via the Puget Sound Farm Guide which is a treasure trove unto itself if you are looking for farms to buy from. This pamphlet has an extensive list of farms in the Puget Sound area. It summarizes the products they sell, provides information and descriptions of these farms, harvest celebrations and special events, and contains information on all of our local Farmer’s Markets. The 2013 guide should be out in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eyes out for it. (You can also find it at http://www.pugetsoundfresh.org/farm-guide-news.asp or contact CHC for more information.) Another great tool for consumer education is one of their programs called Puget Sound Fresh which has searchable listings of local farms and farm products, what’s in season, recipes, etc. Check it out at www.pugetsoundfresh.org

Cascade Harvest Coalition has other programs devoted to getting local farm fresh food to consumers, and even a program to help preserve farmland by keeping it in the hands of farmers and providing farmers with a solution to owning their own land. I would highly encourage you to check out their website to learn more www.cascadeharvest.org Educating yourself on why, how, and where to buy food produced from local farmers is invaluable and it’s an important step in eating healthier foods. 

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