News and blog

The adventures of MoBen...
Posted 2/10/2013 4:21pm by Monique Russ.

Violet

This evening when my husband headed out thru the pasture to feed the feeder pigs in the woodlands nothing seemed out of the ordinary. All of the chickens and adult pigs seemed happy and content. On my way out to help I noticed my husband petting one of our turkens and I thought nothing of it. As I walked through the barn I saw it wasn’t a turken after all. He had just found Violet, our Buff Orpington rooster, dead.

I ran out and scooped him up and started crying because Violet is the only bird on our farm I considered a pet. We thoroughly checked him out and found nothing awry, and it almost looks as though he just died of old age. However, Violet is barely 2 years old and chickens can live 7-8 years or longer if well cared for. When my husband found him one of our nasty little turkey hens was beating on his head, and she can be an aggressive bird at times. She’s actually not one we plan to keep for breeding. I have to assume that somehow she killed him, but I’m not sure how because he had no marks on him.

At one time Violet was top cock, so he’s been in some pretty good scraps, and he was a tough boy. He was finally overtaken by our Barred Rock rooster, Hannibal, earlier last year, and that was a hell of a nasty fight because both birds were bloody and beat up after it. When Buff Orpingtons are kept in a mixed breed flock which ours is, they are usually “low man on the pole,” because they are so docile and friendly. So, this turkey hen was definitely big and powerful enough to do some damage especially if one of the big toms got involved, but I’m still skeptical. In all honestly I’ll probably never know. (We check our birds regularly for sickness, diseases, and injuries and there’s absolutely no sign that was a factor.)

He was a gorgeous, elegant, and stately rooster. He was incredibly photogenic, and friendly enough I could pet and pick him up. I remember when we first got him he was being picked on by the other baby chicks so much that his little bottom was bloody. I pulled him out of the nursery and put this herbal medication on him which turned his butt purple. (That’s how he got his name.) While he was in our house he would follow me all over the place and even chill out on my foot, and when he couldn’t see me he would cry. He was a cute little bird, and I knew he would be one to keep as a pet.

Now, I don’t have many pets on our farm, in fact I only have one “pet” for each type of animal we raise, and it would only ever be one that’s kept for breeding. Our bull, Rocky, is my favorite bovine, Miss Pig Pig is without a doubt our pet pig with Brody as a close second, and Violet was my pet chicken. I don’t have a favorite turkey. It’s a tough job raising animals, especially the way we do, and allowing myself to have one pet is what makes it easier for me to raise them for food. It’s not anything like losing a dog or a cat, but at the end of the day I’m saddened by his death, and I’ll miss his presence.

Tags: Chickens, Pets
Posted 1/23/2013 4:24pm by Monique Russ.

Yesterday ABC News released a news story about the increasing number of fake ingredients in products, and they reported food fraud is up 60% this year. Many claims on labels are not regulated by the FDA, and some manufacturers are taking advantage of this...and you. Many of the labels found on products in grocery stores are deceptive, misleading, or even a down right lie.

My husband and I have been trying to educate people about the labeling gimmicks for years, so last year we put together a list of the most common misleading labels used on packaged meat . As an example, just because a package has a "free range" label on it doesn't mean that animal was out grazing or foraging on open pastures. The following label definitions were taken directly from the USDA website, but we added important facts clarifying the definitions and outlining deceptive raising practices. All of this information can be verified by going to www.ams.usda.gov.


All Natural This term refers to the finished product only. Products labeled natural cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed ( ex. ground). All products claiming to be natural must be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term natural. ("no artificial ingredients”, “minimally processed," etc.)¹ There are no regulations defining how the animals must be treated, raised, or fed.

Naturally Raised Livestock used for the production of meat must be raised without the use of growth promotants or antibiotics, and cannot be fed animal by-products.¹ There are no standards or requirement that the animals must be raised in their natural environment, raised humanely, or raised free from confinement.

Free Range Producers that claim their animals are free range must provide the animals with continuous, free access to the out-of-doors for over 51% of the animals' lives.¹ Animals can still be caged or confined for 48% of their life, raised on concrete slabs or confined in small outdoor pens or enclosures. For example: chickens can still be raised in dark poultry houses so long as they have access to the out-of-doors, but feed and water can be kept in areas that would discourage them from going outside

Pasture Raised or Free Roaming Livestock must have continuous free access to the out-of-doors for a significant portion of their life.¹ No exact time frame is defined, and animals can still be raised on concrete or wood slatted floors. The USDA does not require the animals to actually live on pasture.

Certified Organic In short, all organic livestock operations that sell over $5,000/year of organic products must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. Dairy animals must be fed and managed organically for at least one year prior to the production of organic milk. Slaughter animals must be managed organically from the last third of gestation, or from the second day after hatching for poultry. Feed must be 100% organic. All livestock must have access to the outdoors, and ruminants must have access to pasture during the growing season.¹ There is ambiguous language within the certified organic program that allows producers to confine ruminants within feedlots for up to 244 days each year, and they can still be fed high amounts of grain. There are no living condition standards specific to hogs or poultry. Access to pasture and/or dirt is not required for hogs and poultry, therefore, they can be raised on concrete slabs or on slatted flooring.

Our Claim R Heritage Farms’ claim to All Natural, Naturally Raised, Pastured Pork and Poultry is genuine, justifiable, and truthful. Our own standards far exceed those outlined by the USDA because our animals have unlimited access to dirt and/or pasture, clean water, sunshine, and fresh air. We raise our animals humanely and ethically, and by providing them with pasture and forest land they live in a habitat that is conducive to their needs and resembles their natural environment. They are never fed antibiotics, hormones, animal by-products, A-Preservatives, chemicals, etc. Our finished products do not contain artificial ingredients, coloring, flavoring, etc.

Posted 11/27/2012 4:27pm by Monique Russ.

Broad Breasted Turkey (aka Frankenturkey)

This year we did something we’ve never done before…raise a couple of broad breasted bronze turkeys. We’ve always raised heritage breed turkeys such as the Bourbon Red and Eastern Wild turkeys, so this was the first time we’ve ever raised a commercial turkey breed – and it will be our last. These turkeys were raised with our heritage breeds – roaming freely out on our pasture, but with access to all natural grains. The differences in their lifestyles were amazing. The heritage breeds spent their days foraging on pasture, flying and playing, and perching in the trees at night. However, the broad breasted turkeys waddled around and stayed close to the feeder. They were too heavy to fly, so they weren’t even able to perch on the fence let alone in the cedar and pine trees sprinkled on our property.

The tom turkey we butchered weighed 43 pounds live, and dressed out to an amazing 36 pounds!! I’d never even seen a turkey that big before!! We knew he was big, but unlike a heritage breed he didn’t have the down feathers which can make a bird appear much larger than they really are. As a comparison our heritage toms typically weigh around 20 pounds dressed out, so that’s substantially less compared to the broad breasted. This turkey was so big we had to find a special sized pan to fit him in, and even then we had to make tin foil “drip pans” to put under his tail because it stuck out of the pan. Had we not just purchased a new stove with the oversized oven a month ago this bird wouldn’t have even fit in our oven. It took both my husband and his son to lift the finished bird out of the oven, and they had to pull the oven rack and all because the pan wasn’t strong enough to hold the weight on its own.

Our broad breasted “frankenturkey” as we call him was also very fatty compared to a heritage breed because he didn’t forage as much as the other birds. He mostly ate the grain, and was so glutinous he wouldn’t share with the other birds. Now fat gives the bird’s flavor, and while he wasn’t nearly as flavorful as a heritage I’ll admit he did have that genuine turkey taste. Like I said, not robust like a heritage, but definitely not the salty, bland, tasteless birds you find in the grocery stores. It was more of a true medium of the two. The breasts on this bird were enormous – so huge it was unnatural looking and almost disturbing. It was very disappointing, although expected, that proportionately there was next to no dark meat. The pile of dark meat was shameful compared to the two overloaded platters of white meat, and our family loves dark meat!

90% of all turkeys produced (commercially) in the United States come from only a few strains of the broad breasted white turkey. These birds have been bred to grow at a rapid rate, and they produce huge amounts of white breast meat; hence the name “Broad Breasted” or more commonly called “Double Breasted.” At some point people began demanding large quantities of white meat, based in part on the false information we’ve been fed that has misled us to believe that dark meat is bad for us- which it isn’t! Based on the demand for more white meat growers developed the broad breasted turkeys, and because these birds produce enormous breasts they are the popular choice among commercial growers. However, these birds cannot reproduce naturally, and they are known to develop problems similar to what the Cornish Cross chickens suffer from.

Never again will we raise a Broad Breasted Turkey, but we wanted to do it to see what all the fuss was. I can honestly say that if you have never eaten a wild or heritage breed turkey you’ve never had real turkey before. Get your 2013 Thanksgiving Turkey from R Heritage Farm, and you’ll never want to buy a bird from the grocery store again!

Posted 10/27/2012 4:30pm by Monique Russ.

Tinks first delivery

Tinkerbelle (Tinks) had her babies on Monday. YEA!! She delivered on day 117 which is right on target for a Berkshire. She started active labor around 9:45pm and finished just after 3am. It was a long and exhausting night! While it’s exciting now it was quite stressful for a little while because it was an awfully difficult delivery for her. If we hadn’t been there observing she could have certainly died had we not intervened and provided assistance. (This is why we are always present during farrowing .)

She had a normal pre-labor, but after about 20 minutes of active labor I knew something wasn’t right because she was grunting in pain, and there didn’t seem to be any progress. Long story short – it turns out somehow the first baby had opened its mouth in the birth canal and its bottom jaw was trapped behind her anus and Tinks wasn’t able to get the baby out. It was obvious she was in great pain and distress and that she needed help. I had just put my O.B. gloves on when I saw this little nose trying to come out, and when I reached in to grab it I only felt the top portion of its mouth and I panicked. Thankfully my husband didn’t hesitate and jumped right in and provided the assistance that was needed. (Unfortunately this little baby died later, and I bawled my fool head off.)

The rest of the delivery wasn’t easy on Tinks, and we had to provide birthing assistance to several other babies as well. That first baby badly tore her and she was so exhausted she was having difficulty pushing the rest of her babies out. It was an awful delivery – the worst one we’ve experienced – and it’s upsetting her first delivery was so rough on her. I have no doubt that she could have quite possibly died during delivery because of the severity of the situation, but I’m happy to report that she is healing well and her and her babies are doing great.

Tinks delivered a total of 10 babies, and 9 survived the delivery, and I have no doubt she will raise all of them successfully to weaning age. Some sows “savage” or turn on their young. In most instances it’s the first born that is killed. Typically a sow savages because of fear, anxiety, pain, distress, or a combo of all of these, and some believe this “trait” can actually be passed on genetically. We haven’t had a sow that has turned on her young, but one of our sows, Pig Pig, is pretty rough on her first born pigs. (In her defense she’s only rough when they start climbing on her face while she’s still delivering. I don’t know about you, but that would irritate me too.) Tinks on the other hand seems to be gentler, and she actively kisses and nuzzles her pigs. We knew she was going to be a good momma, but she has proven to be an outstanding mother. We’ve never seen a sow walk so softly or maneuver so carefully around her young. She is very aware of where they are, she’s very vocal and affectionate, and a couple of days ago we saw her trying to play with them. We laughed so hard watching her! She would spin around, bark and then quickly drop to the ground, so she didn’t actually knock a baby down. I didn’t get a video of that, but I did get some cute pics…Tinks nursing her first litterTinks' first litter

Posted 10/17/2012 4:44pm by Monique Russ.

TinksTinkerbelle (Tinks) is about to farrow her very first litter later this week!!! Yea!

Pigs gestate for 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days - almost always on the nose. The average gestation period is 113-116 days with purebred Berkshires being right around 116 days. (Miss Pig Pig who is only 1/2 Berkshire farrows on day 116 every time and she's always farrowed during the day - typically right around 4:30pm.) Since Tinks is our first purebred Berkshire we're assuming she'll deliver on day 116 too which will be this Sunday.

We've learned that our sows like company during farrowing - especially when it's their first time. Who doesn't want reassurance during their first delivery? They like it quiet, and they like knowing someone's there. I'm assuming they find it comforting just like most people do because they don't know what to expect. They know they're going to have babies - but I'm sure just like any first time mom they're a little nervous. Tinks seems to be a little needy, and for the past few days has been wanting more and more attention, so beginning tonight I'll spend an hour or two a night with her just hanging out. I enjoy it, and like I said, it's comforting for them.

We like to be there just in case the sow needs some birthing assistance too. Sometimes they get so nervous or they're in so much pain from the contractions and delivering so many babies that they are agitated way more than usual (who wouldn't be!?), so they can be a little rough with the first couple of babies. New mothers sometimes aren't as aware as more seasoned sows, so the chance is higher for a baby pig to get hurt too. For example, Miss Pig Pig doesn't like it when they climb on her snout while she's still delivering, so she's been known to fling them off. By being there we can help to monitor the sows health, assist in difficult deliveries, and keep the sow more comfortable by helping to "babysit" if needed. I also get a little radical and go so far as to keep the sow's backside clean by periodically washing them (if there's time) and I'm also diligent about keeping the stall as clean as possible too. (Once the delivery mess dries on a sow it's near impossible to get them clean, so it helps make my job easier, and so far they all seem to appreciate it.)

Some people bed down their sows at night and never check on them again until morning, but that's not how we operate our farm. We believe it's important for us to be there whenever possible especially for a first time mom, so we'll start checking in on her at night beginning tomorrow night if she's showing signs. With my luck she'll be a nighttime farrower like one of our other sows, and I'll walk out at 2am to find she's already delivering. It can take several hours for them to deliver all their babies, so that's a night without sleep. Huge bummer! I can't help but get excited when babies are coming because they're just so dang cute and fun to be around.

Check back for updates!!

Posted 10/13/2012 4:48pm by Monique Russ.

This past Saturday was Sultan’s annual Sky Valley Farm Festival, and our first year as a participating farm. This festival is held the second weekend in October and showcases the 3 main operating farms in Sultan – River’s End Cattle Ranch, Groeneveld’s Dairy, and Stocking’s Garden & Nursery.

Because our farm is so far away from the main event River’s End Cattle Ranch was kind enough to allow us to participate by letting us “bring our farm to them.” They're wonderful people, and they provided us with a fantastic spot which allowed us to setup an educational booth and a big enough area to showcase our farm’s mascot and beloved pet “Miss Pig Pig” along with her 12 babies. She was fantastic as always, and was a huge hit with the all the kids and even the adults.

Our educational booth was overflowing with educational material, pictures of our farm, free recipes, and more. We created and handed out our very own kid’s activity pack which included a word search with definitions, and pictures of our farm converted into coloring pages. Balloons…we handed out a ton of free balloons to all the kids that visited us, and they could be seen all over the participating farms. Yea!

Miss Pig Pig and her babies were showered with attention, and all the kids loved feeding her strawberries and apples. Poor girl ended up with a tummy ache which thankfully was quickly relieved with fresh cut corn stalks and her supplemental grain. Parents were amazed that such a giant pig (615 lbs) could be fed by their one year old babies, and many were quickly relieved and surprised when they saw how delicate she was with their kids. She is so calm and patient, and has such a wonderful temperament (as do all of our pigs) that she was eager to be pet by everyone and was very engaging with her audience.

The Sky Valley Farm Festival has only been going on for about 4 years now, but it’s a great event where people can learn about farms and where their food comes from. It’s a fun way to spend the day with family and friends touring real working farms, watching demonstrations, browsing the concessions and vendor booths with lots of opportunities for kids to partake in different activities. Personally, my husband and I enjoyed being a part of it by sharing our farm, meeting people, and educating everyone that braved the rain to visit us. We’ll be back next year, and we’re looking forward to it. It’s a year away, but we hope you’ll come out and meet us and Miss Pig Pig at next year’s festival.

Posted 9/23/2012 4:51pm by Monique Russ.

Me & Pig Pig'

Miss Pig Pig farrowed (delivered) 13 live babies this past Saturday. YEA! This is her biggest litter yet! Last time she farrowed 10, and that delivery was a little tougher for her as two babies were stuck in the canal together.

Yesterday evening we noticed one of the baby pigs went missing, and we quickly discovered that one died. We are assuming that it was accidentally smothered by Pig Pig becasue it was covered with straw. My first reaction was to get mad at her for being so careless, but then I reminded myself that she really is a good mom, and this is only her second loss. Baby pigs like to snuggle right up against their moms, and she's a big girl weighing roughly 650 lbs and with her udders so full of milk it takes a little momentum to get up.

Now Pig Pig isn't as delicate with her piglets as her mom was, but she's still an excellent mother. She always warns her babies before she gets up with a soft grunt or a movement, but since we don't confine our sows to farrowing crates it can result in a loss of a baby pig ocassionally. We would rather endure the risk of losing a baby pig than confine our sows because farrowing crates are awful. I'm going to do another post on the use of farrowing crates at a later date, but to summarize it, the use of crates is a hideous practice.


Momma and babies are all doing great, and soon they'll be out running around.

Posted 8/18/2012 4:54pm by Monique Russ.

We came home yesterday and discovered Ebony, our cow, had her first live calf while we were gone! Now, this is a big deal for us because we've been waiting since 2009 to get fresh raw milk from our own cow.

A little history...Ebony is a 5 year old 1/2 Scottish Highland, 1/2 Irish Dexter cow. We bought her back in October 2009 as an unbred heifer. For those of you that don't know, a heifer is a term for a female that hasn't delivered a baby yet. We bred her in the spring of 2010 hoping for a calf later that year. In December (2010) she went into premature labor and delivered a stillborn calf. A week earlier she was playing with one of our pigs - yes, I said playing, and at the time I thought she was being mean to our sow not realizing what was going on, so I yelled at Ebony to stop chasing Pig Pig (our sow). Being that Ebony is the sensitive girl that she is she got upset, and ran to the back of the pasture and hopped the fence into our woodland area. (Up until then I had no idea cows could jump that high!) I had hurt her feelings, so she ran off to sulk. A few days later she went into labor.

While Ebony was pregnant we had butchered the bull that had bred her (that's a story on its own), and we hadn't found a replacement yet. In February 2011 we found a perfect bull for her, but he wasn't old enough to breed, so she wasn't able to get pregnant until October of that year. So we've been patiently waiting for a calf and fresh raw milk for a couple of years now.

I've been dreaming of drinking raw milk, and making cheeses, yogurt, butter, and having fresh cream in my coffee for years, and I'm ecstatic Ebony had a little bull calf. She's been a great mom so far, but she's been very over protective of her calf - so much so it was really hard to catch him the first time. She bellows her fool head off everytime we pet him, yet she shows no concern when the calf is playing with our lab mix farm dog. Go figure - an herbivore and a true carnivore playing and she's ok with it?! In the coming weeks we'll have to band him (castrate), so that's going to be an interesting adventure...

By the way - I'd just like to say that if you haven't ever had raw milk you need to find a farm and get some. It's delicious! Don't believe the hype that raw milk is dangerous...people drank it for thousdands of years and survived!! More on the benefits and safety of raw milk to come.

Posted 8/1/2012 4:56pm by Monique Russ.

This blog is new to me…in fact I’ve never had a blog before, so I’m sure I’ll stumble my way through this. I’m assuming that blogging is like farming – a “learn as you go” process. My husband, Ben, and I have been living on a farm since 2004 and we’re always learning how not to do things. ha! The animals and mother nature can be tough teachers at times, but I’m sure blogging is going to be extremely easy by comparison.

We created our website to not only provide information about our farm, our practices, and the animals we raise, but to also educate people about farming practices. In our blog I plan to share my experiences, stories, and life on a real working mini farm in the Cascade Foothills. The content will vary, but it will usually be centered around farming with an emphasis on the animals.

I am also interested in Charcuterie which is the craft of curing meat, and while I have dabbled into this already I plan to do quite a bit of experimenting in the coming winter months. I also want to make cheeses, yogurt, sour cream, etc using raw milk from our cow, and I’m addicted to canning my own home grown food, so I’ll share the outcome of my various experiments. I have a ton of recipes I want to share as well, but mostly I want to blog about farm life – homesteading, the animals, and our gardens. From time to time I also want to chat about issues that are important such as food safety, nutritional information, and the global industrialization of agriculture and how it affects us.

Tags: farm
Follow us on Facebook...
Blog archives