April 23, 2014

Pasture raised beef available this fall

This fall, we will have a limited number of steers available for butchering. They will be sold by the whole, half or quarter.  For those who have never purchased beef in bulk, don't worry! We'll explain it all and help you along the way.

Bulk beef is measured in three weights - live weight (how much the animal weighs while alive, also called "on the hoof"), hanging weight (the weight once killed and eviscerated), and processed weight (the actually amount of beef products you take home for your freezer).

Once a steer (castrated, male cattle) reaches a good live weight (usually around 800-1200 lbs for the type of cattle we raise), we will schedule a butchering date with the butcher.  The animal will be delivered to them, killed, cleaned and hung to age.  At this point, the butcher will call us with the hanging weight.  After aging for approximately two weeks, the steer is then cut into all the pieces you're familiar with - roasts, steaks, ground beef, etc. - then packaged and flash frozen.

About our beef
Our cattle are raised on pasture -- they eat grass.  They are never fed grains. That means no genetically modified grains (non-GMO), no soy products, no chemicals in their feed.  We do not treat our pastures with chemicals.  The pastures are fertilized by our cattle, chickens, pigs, and rabbits.  That's it.  We do not use growth hormones, steroids, or antibiotics.  As needed, we will give our cattle Chaffhaye which is a non-GMO, alfalfa hay product that is chopped and mixed with molasses and yeast to start fermentation.  Chaffhaye is like providing pre-digested fiber and nutrients to the cattle. They love it and do very well on it.  We love that it's all natural and is mimicking their own digestive process.

We believe in making sure our customers know exactly what they are purchasing. One woman shared with us that after being told her beef was grass fed and grass finished, after visiting the farm to see where they animals were raised, she then called the butcher and mentioned that the cattle were grass finished.  She was stunned when the butcher told her that every steer processed from that farm had corn in its stomach. She was lied to.  You are welcome to call our butcher once the cattle are processed and check up to be sure they are not fed grain. You have our guarantee that all the butcher will find is grass and possibly Chaffhaye.

Setting a date
Greg will determine when the steer has reached the appropriate weight and will schedule a processing date with the butcher. Once we have a date, we'll let you know.  We estimate that the steers will be ready this fall anytime from September to late November. 

We have a limited number of cattle available and will require a deposit of $250 to hold your spot.  Deposits are non-refundable.  Cash or check only.  You can mail us a check or bring it by the farm.  We will not hold a place for you until we receive the deposit.

Butcher fees
You are responsible for the butchering fees which are payable directly to the butcher. The butcher charges between $60 and $80 for a one time kill fee. Those purchasing a whole steer will pay the entire kill fee. Those purchasing a half will pay half the kill fee. Processing is $0.65 per pound hanging weight.

Calculating cost of the steer
Once the steer has been killed and eviscerated, the butcher will give us a hanging weight.  A lower live weight will yield a lower hanging weight so these are all estimates.  We are estimating a whole steer will yield 600-800 lbs hanging weight depending on the live weight. 

Whole steer $3.25/lb
Half or quarter steer $3.50/lb

A whole steer would cost $1,900 to $2,600 plus butchering fees depending on the hanging weight.  These are ESTIMATES.  We will give you the actual hanging weight once the steer has been killed.

These prices are subject to change as we get closer to butchering time. Once you pay your deposit, you are locked in at this price.

Cut list
Once we receive your deposit, we will send you the butcher's standard cut list. You are responsible for approving this cut list. If you want to change the cuts, you are responsible for any changes in the fees. Cut lists can seem intimidating but we are happy to help you choose the cuts of beef that will work best for your family.  An example of a change would be having hamburger patties patted out for you instead of receiving 1 or 2 lb packages of ground beef.  Minute steaks and fajita meat are additional examples that might cost a small bit more than the standard list.

There are three payments: deposit, cost of the steer, processing fees.  The deposit and cost of the steer are payable to Greg Mauzy.  The processing/butcher fees are payable to the butcher.  We only accept cash or check.

We will take installment payments up to the butchering date. If you want to make a monthly payment throughout the spring, summer and fall, we can apply it to the total cost of the steer at butchering. We will send you a monthly statement of your payments.

Bottom line
The two most asked questions are: How much total will it cost? and How much meat will I be taking home?

Total Cost is based on the hanging weight.  We do our best to give you examples of how much the cattle will weigh but until it has been taken to the butcher and weighed, we cannot promise a small or large steer.

The total amount of meat is usually 40-60% of the live weight.  Based on this estimate, a 1,000 lb steer could yield 400-600 lbs.  Factors that influence this range is bone density, how the meat is cut, amount of fat that is trimmed off, etc.

How to reserve a steer
Email us at skyviewfarming@yahoo.com and let us know if you want a whole, half or quarter.  We will respond and let you know what to do from there.

This is first come, first served.  Emailing us does not reserve your beef; your deposit does.

January 26, 2014

What does a fox say?

In our case, the fox said, "Dinner!"

A fox dug at the edge of the rabbit pen and was able to snag a baby and pull it out.

Considering that we've have rabbits on pasture for two years now, I'm surprised this hasn't happened sooner or more often.

November 24, 2013

Fresh vs frozen turkey: The logistics

Every year, we're asked if we raise turkey for Thanksgiving. We have individual customers ask us as well as potential commercial customers such as butcher shops, markets and restaurants.  Everyone wants a fresh turkey and they want a guaranteed weight range.  On a large farm with multiple sales avenues and a large, established customer base, this wouldn't be such a big deal. But for a small farm, this is a logistic pickle.

To provide fresh turkeys, we would need to start processing them (killing, cleaning and packaging) no more than one week before Thanksgiving.  Our processing is mostly outdoors and in an open door garage that has been converted for animal processing. November in the Shenandoah Valley is pretty cold.

Hot Water
To properly process poultry, we need a large scalding pot with water at 150 degrees. Keeping the water at this temperature in the freezing cold and wind is time consuming and costly. We heat the water with a propane fire and go through a lot more propane when it's cold and windy.  Because turkeys are so large, they require a lot more hot water for scalding. This means that we have to continuously replenish -- and reheat -- the water for each bird as it is processed. This adds more time and expense to the process.  We have limited space to process each bird because they are so large. Because of this, we can only kill and process two or three at a time. During this processing time, the water cools significantly and we're back to reheating the water.

Chill Time
After each bird is processed, it is immediately put in a chill tank of ice water to bring down the core temperature, protecting against bacteria growth.  While this is not a huge expense, it does require a lot of coolers. Each cooler is sanitized before being filled with the ice water. It only takes two or three 15 lb birds to fill up a cooler. Imagine needing to process 100 turkeys over two days!

Keep It Fresh
Normally we get our poultry packaged and into the freezer as soon as possible.  But for fresh turkeys, we would need multiple refrigerators to keep them all at a safe temperature while awaiting customers to pick them up. Investing in more refrigerators is a very  large expense.  While we can often work timing around when people are scheduled to pickup their orders, we often find ourselves having to call customers to remind them to pick up their orders so we can have more space in our freezer or fridge.  Imagine if 25 customers didn't pickup their orders on time.

These are all considerations we deal with just in deciding on whether to offer fresh or frozen turkeys.  Even with frozen turkeys, it's a lot of freezer space and we have to balance the potential profits against using the freezer space for other products that won't take as long to be sold.

What Size?
We had several commercial customer ask us to provide 100 birds - 25 in X weight range, 50 in Y weight range and the final 25 in Z weight range.

Weight gain for turkeys is pretty predictable just like it is for broiler chickens.  We know it takes a certain number of weeks to get our birds to a desired weight. But in every batch of 100 birds, there will be a range of weights. Our batch of 20 turkeys ranged from 13 to 18 lbs with an average of 16lbs.  For a Thanksgiving bird, that's a wide range of sizes.  Not many people have the capacity to roast an 18 lb bird!

We always want our customers to be more than happy with our products. We want you to be blown away by the quality and taste. Our goal is to impress you, every time.  We would hate to take an order for a 12 lb turkey, give you an estimated price based on that weight and then have our smallest bird be 14 lbs or more.  In order for us to get a wide variety of sizes, we would need to do two things: stagger the hatch dates and grow significantly more birds to give us more variety.

Staggered Hatches
Instead of ordering 100 poults (turkey chicks) for delivery all at once (which saves us a lot of money on the price per bird and saves us tremendously on shipping costs), we would need to order 25 for week 1 (to grow out the longest and be the largest when butchered), 50 for week 3 (to be the mid-range size birds), and 25 for week 4 or 5 (to be the smallest when butchered).  This would require three different brooders, three different pasture pens.  Each brooder needs its own set of heat lamps, waterers and feeders.  Each pasture pen requires it's own waterer and feeders. Our list of expenses continues to grow and our profit margin decreases.

Economy of Size
The more we grow, the more variety there is and the easier it would be to provide specific sized birds to our customers.  After the first year purchasing the essentials for a larger operation (heat lamps, waterers, feeders, etc), our profit margin would start to increase a bit because we'd have all the construction and reusable supplies already on hand.

Back to the Freeze
By growing out our turkeys over the summer, butchering them mid-fall and freezing them for Thanksgiving, we're able to keep our expenses down and provide a competitively priced turkey.  And because they are not being sold fresh, we can butcher them at the weights we want all from the same batch of birds instead of having staggered hatches so they are all butchered at the same time, right at Thanksgiving.  We're able to process the birds in a more relaxed environment, giving each product our full attention without the stress of the weather and deadlines.

Our turkeys are delicious. Absolutely phenomenal, really.  And we hope to do more of them next year. But until we have a commercial style, enclosed processing area, we won't be doing fresh turkeys.  I promise, the frozen ones taste every bit as wonderful as the fresh.

But if you are convinced that you need a fresh turkey, please purchase from a local farmer. Give him or her an extra thanks for working in the cold and for sacrificing their own family time right before the holiday.  I'm sure they're putting in long hours to make sure your Thanksgiving turkey is perfect. Be on time to pick up your bird. Pay with cash if you can. Compliment their hard work but don't stay too long chatting because they still have lots of work to do.  Be respectful of their schedule -- try not to come at dinner time or during chores. Ask them what is the best time for pickup.  If you're running late or can't make it, call as soon as  you know so they can get back to work instead of hanging around at the house waiting for you.

Turkey season is hard work. We love the work and love sharing our products with you.  We'll see what next year brings, but we'll probably have frozen turkeys again next year. It's okay if you want a fresh one and choose a different farm to provide your Thanksgiving turkey. We understand.  We're glad you're buying local, no matter which farm it is.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thanks for sticking with us as we grow. We're so glad to be able to share our experiences and products with you and your family.

November 20, 2013

It's Already 2014

The last of the 2013 chickens have been butchered and the pasture pens have been winterized. That's it. That's the end of the season for us.  Everything else falls into maintenance mode and we can start taking on all the projects there wasn't time for previously.  For us, 2013 is over and 2014 has started.

Planning for the 2014 season began a couple months ago and will continue into the winter.  We will continue to offer the same core meat products we offered this year: rabbit, Cornish hens, broiler chickens, turkey, beef and pork. We are working on some new developments for our CSA customers next year and know you will be as excited about them as we are.

Turkeys and Cornish hens were new products for us this year and we are very pleased with how they turned out.  The turkeys were a delight to raise. They were very gentle and sweet. They were rather ditzy and sometimes outright dumb but they were easy to raise and we'll gladly do it again.  The Cornish hens were the biggest surprise for us as they sold out ever time we butchered, usually before we even processed them!  For those unfamiliar with Cornish hens, we use the same chicken as our broilers and grow it the same way as our broilers - on pasture with non-GMO feed. However, we butcher these birds much earlier so you get a very young, tender and juicy bird.  Typically, they average 1.75lbs each.  We cook two of them to feed our family of five with no leftovers. We get rave reviews from everyone who tries them.  They will definitely remain on the menu next year!

A few Cornish hens freshly butchered and packaged, ready to go in the freezer.

This was also our first year offering pork and beef cuts for on-farm sales, at the markets and as part of our CSA.  In the past, Greg has dealt with selling whole, halves or quarters. We feel that offering cuts has given our customers flexibility in choosing the pieces they want for their meals.  We don't have a firm plan yet for beef next year, but it will remain grass raised and grass finished.  This produces a low fat meat that is absolutely delicious.  We were concerned that such low fat content would be detrimental to the overall taste and texture of the meat.  We no longer have that concern. The steaks we pull off the grill are better than any we have ever had in any restaurant.  The ground beef cooks with so little fat that it doesn't need to be drained but remains moist with a great texture.  Yep, we'll keep the same formula for the cattle next year.

With our pork, we purchased Ossabaw-Tamworth cross pigs. We've heard a lot of great things about these two breeds.  We definitely enjoyed the meat but not enough to stay exclusively with these breeds.   While we do enjoy using heritage breeds, we're not married to the idea and want to keep experimenting to find a breed or mix that will grow well in the woods, not carry too much fat, and give us a good favor to the meat.  We really like that the OTs are foragers and have kept two sows for breeding.  We'll be breeding them with boars of different varieties and see where we land. But the bottom line is that no matter which breed we raise and butcher, the pork from our farm is light-years away from the taste and quality of what you find in the grocery store.
Greg with two of his best girls

We made great progress with our pasture-raised rabbits this year. Our herd size has increased as has demand for rabbit meat.  We found natural methods to combat certain illnesses that are often the result of living on pasture.  We'd always much rather treat naturally than when chemicals. This winter, we're hoping to move our rabbits to a fodder system. This would be a big step in self-reliance as well as a way to remove GMO grains from the rabbits' diets.

Baby bunnies

Will we produce pheasant and quail next year? It's hard to say. We have offered this as a possibility for special events to our restaurant contacts but no one was motivated to try it. If we have a request, we'll definitely look into the viability. We're always open to trying new things if we can work out the logistics.

Now we are in planning mode for 2014.  We're working out orders for chicks and poults, rabbit breeding schedules, construction requests for more rabbit pens and farrowing shelters for the sows. We are researching farmers markets for next season to decide where our time will be best spent. For us, it's already 2014 and there's no time to rest.

And here you thought that farmers get the winter off.

September 22, 2013

Greener Grass

We utilize rotational grazing with the cattle. Some people call this mob grazing; others call it intensive pasture usage.  Whichever nomenclature you assign to the practice, it all boils down to moving the cattle from small areas of pasture to the next small area in very short time frames in order to better, intensely fertilize the ground and get the most use out of the grasses.  Greg has been very pleased with how quickly the bottle fed calves have grown and gained weight on grass alone - no grain at all.  Now, the brood cows and their calves are part of the same rotational grazing.

We have found only one draw back to this system -- the cattle.  Man can they be noisy when they are ready to be moved!  If they are done with a pasture, or if they have decided they don't want to eat what is left in that pasture, they get loud and obnoxious.  Whenever they see Greg, they start hollering. They can really make a lot of noise!  Sometimes they sound more like elephants than cattle.

Today was no exception.  While Greg was putting up the electric fence for the new, temporary pasture, the cows followed him up the fence, bellowing and snorting the entire time.

The next time someone asks, "What sound does a cow make?" you can show them this video.  The answer isn't always "moo!"

September 2, 2013

Poultry processing

We've processed a lot of chickens this year. No where near our USDA exemption limit of 1,000 birds, but definitely more than we've processed in the past.  Greg has a system down of how he handles the birds, how he scalds and plucks them and then how we clean the birds.

Over and over, he has utilized his home-made Whizbang plucker.  He purchased the plans and built it himself. 

We've processed turkeys, Cornish hens and broiler chickens this season. Greg can pluck all three types of fowl in the plucker but the motor is a bit too small for the turkeys. They require a bit of old fashioned, hand plucking.  We haven't tried ducks in the plucker yet.  Ducks are notoriously difficult to pluck.  If we had a duck, we don't plan on raising or selling ducks anytime in the near future.

July 7, 2013

Print, Post, Win!

Our meat rabbit workshop/class/seminar is coming soon! September 7th isn't far away so we've decided to host a contest. 
  1. Print out the flyer
  2. Post it on a community bulletin board, at your local feed store, etc
  3. Post a picture of the flyer on our FB page or the FB event page. Tag the store where it's posted.
  4. Each time you post it, you're entered for a chance to win a New Zealand doe!
Be sure to register soon! The price goes up to $100/pp after July 30th.  You must be a registered attendee to qualify to win the NZ doe.