Thursday, September 13, 2012

New website

The blog and a new and improved Clawhammer website (complete with options to buy meat from us online) can now be found here, at clawhammerfarm.com

Thank you for your support!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Extra Curricular Activities

When we started the farm, our meandering, vague business plan was to do a sort of "homesteading plus" -- raise things we'd want to eat ourselves, plus some extra, and sell the extras, learn the ropes of raising x, y and z, decide what we liked and what there was a market for, and so on. It sounded so smart and so...manageable. We patted ourselves on the backs for not throwing ourselves and our money/credit into one or two potential money-makers.

Money-maker Scar, who, at this very moment, is adding some souls to the pig herd. Go, mama, go!
Well, manageable is apparently not an option for someone starting a farm. Theories that make so much sense when they're nothing more than theories are completely inadequate in four dimensions. For us, it quickly became obvious that it made more sense to scale up a few items radically, both because buying in bulk is cost-effective, and because to keep larger restaurant clients we need a steady supply of product. Poultry and pigs expanded exponentially, and our infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the pace of expansion. The pigs are eating 1.25 tons of feed a week, which we are still, stupidly, ridiculously, buying in 50 pound sacks twice a week, moving them from the truck to the barn and from the barn to the mixing bin and from the mixing bin to 5 gallon buckets, which until a couple weeks ago, we would carry seven at a time, twice a day, down the hill to wherever the pigs are on pasture. Now we drive a truckload of feed down to the pasture and unload the bags down there, pile it up, and drag 125 pounds worth of bags over the fence at each feeding time. It's a better system, but it won't work if and when it gets wetter. We know this is ridiculous, and every single time that we are low on feed one day after we made a trip to the feed store, or a weeks worth of pasture pig feed gets torrentially rained on within 6 hours of piling it down the hill, we feel like idiots. But that's how it happens when you go from 3 pigs to 100 in under 2 years and money stays in your bank account barely long enough for the checks to clear before it is whisked out for other immediately essential projects. You do things like idiots for awhile, and then you laugh about it when you are a few years older, and then when you are many years older you tell your grandchildren about how many pounds of feed you carried for how many miles over uneven ground, and it isn't even an exaggeration, and you grin at your partner across the room and shake your head while you think fondly about how hard and how fun and how stupid your life used to be.


What be these?
Anyway, in this whirlwind, our other homesteading projects (bees, garden scale-ups, house remodeling, hops growing, etc.) became side projects that are only granted attention when the farm is running smoothly enough...which is never, if it is June, July, or August. This works out better for some things than for others -- the garden this year is is having the best summer yet (JULY TOMATOES!), despite my ignoring it more than I ever have before. I am even getting comfortable with its jungle-like atmosphere...the dense carpet of clover and purslane is rather pleasant to kneel on when one is digging root vegetables, and it makes the discovery of a huckleberry plant underneath a clump of Queen Anne's Lace a pleasant surprise. The bees, on the other hand...well, let's just hope they are happy and healthy wherever they decided to move. *sniff.*

However, we've still been interested in the self-sufficiency idea. We have a lot of people coming to the farm, which we love (and actually, at this point, REQUIRE), and having freezers full of meat and a garden full of produce is a huge help in feeding hungry farmhands. Not to mention ourselves...our city-folk appetites have probably tripled since carrying buckets and walking all day became the norm.

We still find ourselves at the grocery store fairly often. We go through a gallon of milk in 4 days, a quart of yogurt in 3, wedges of cheese disappear into eggs and roasted vegetables, and sour cream is dolloped out onto just about everything these days, from tortilla chips to eggplant dips. Some homesteading projects are worth it economically. And also, some of them are just plain fun.

This is Beulah.  She is a jersey-holstein cross, and she is very cute.

She's 8 weeks old, still drinking milk replacer out of a calf nipple bucket, still not to keen on walking politely on her lead, still figuring out grazing and her long legs.

In the past week, I've been cramming to learn how to appropriately train her to be our milk cow. A lot of behaviors need to be taught when the cow is still your size (or, in our case, already slightly heavier), or you'll be stuck with 1,000 pounds of stubborn. Or worse -- 1,000 pounds of aggressive.
This is her sardonic face. She uses it a lot.
So, I walk Beulah to and fro through the barn yard, swatting her nose with a switch cut from the lilac bush if she gets too pushy with me. I introduce her to the pigs, the chickens, the indoors, thunderstorms, dark places, being manhandled while she is eating, generally anything I can think of that she will need to know (except, so far, the electric fence. I am at a loss as to how to do that one safely...).

So far, she doing pretty well with her milk cow training. She is definitely pushing boundaries, but she does respond quickly when I push back.




We can breed her in 10 months, she will calve in another 10 (ish), and then we will be raking in 6  gallons of milk a day for everything from butter to cheeses galore.

I've read a lot about the relationship between a farmer and her milk cow, and I have to say, it is indeed easy to fall in love with them. Especially on a farm where most of the animals will be dinners within eight months, having a working animal that will be productive and a critical part of the farmstead for ten or twelve years makes quite a different kind of impression. I am allowed to like this one.

Of course, I can't let her know that yet. Until she grows up and I'm sure that she is gentle, respectful of my personal space and keeps her kicks to herself, no doting is allowed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mama Down


Pigs get sick and injured, just like people do. We see a large variety of scrapes, gashes, broken bones (usually ribs, usually only found during butchering), and ailments. Like good parents of infants, we monitor and discuss their excrement. If we notice worms, as we did among the breeding herd for a period early this spring, we feed them diatomaceous earth and watch to see if it works out (it did; otherwise we would have had to dose them with a wormer). If we notice diarrhea, as we did when we introduced whey to their diets this year, we adjust their feed rations accordingly (more fiber!) and keep an eye on it to see if more intervention is necessary. Sometimes an animal is sick with the flu or a cold -- for a week or so in the winter, the boar wandered himself out to the pasture, laid in a pig-nest, and refused to get up. After some time of being pandered to by us farmers, he was fine. Victoria and Stripe, breeding sows, were both the victims of large, deep, boar tusk-induced gashes. We treated those topically, kept our eyes open and waited it out (we actually tried to give Victoria a shot of antibiotics, but she evaded us and the needle well enough that we figured she was going to be fine. Which she was). We've had three pigs with anal prolapses (google at thy own risk), all of which we were able to fix up and only one of which included minor surgery. We've had a handful of piglets needing stitches, all of whom made a full recovery.

Missy (left) and Little Red
And so we meandered on, confident in the hardiness of pigs and our budding amateur veterinarian skills, and then Missy began throwing up blood on Saturday morning.

She had just had a litter of piglets -- 10 happy little ones -- a couple weeks ago and was in the barn, co-parenting with first-time mom Victoria and her litter of 6. In fact, it was when we were opening up her farrowing stall to the common area that joins with Victoria's stall when we noticed that something was really, terribly wrong.

Before Saturday she had seemed lethargic and irritable, by turns. I figured that she was slightly depressed, postpartum (It totally happens. Chilly the Pig was completely distraught after weaning. No interest in food, companionship, the boar, grazing, nothing. She spent her days laying in a sad heap and breaking out of the pasture to wander listlessly around the barn, knocking over tools and wheelbarrows. She's fine now, although she still spends more time than the other breeder pigs visiting with the younger ones through the fence.).


Missy and Little Red. Can you sense the theme? They were very close.
It became clear that I was wrong when, as I was shoveling out hay, she vomited a frothy red mess onto her uneaten breakfast. I poked around in it a good bit (this is what farmers do, for real), worrying that it was blood. Nick came over and ruled it inconclusive. However, four more bouts of increasingly viscous (I am so sorry for these words, but, like I said, it really is a part of the job) vomit convinced us that it was blood. Antibiotics were administered; three giant syringes, taking a full 90 seconds or so each to depress. The fact that Missy allowed this to happen was incredible, and perhaps the most dire sign thus far.

We were at a loss of what to do with her. She had 10 piglets that she was nursing, all mixed in and inseparable at this point with Victoria's. We didn't want to move Victoria to be with the other new moms, co-parenting in a separate area of the barn, for fear she was contaminated and would spread the blood-puke. We didn't want to separate Missy out for fear that Victoria wouldn't be able to sustain 16 piglets alone. We left them in together and hoped for the best, googling furiously and finding a depressing void of information on both "sow vomiting blood" and "farm veterinarian."

Over the next few days, Missy seemed to improve. She stopped vomiting, allowed her piglets to nurse (but only sometimes), and never failed to grunt a greeting to farmers.

On Tuesday night, I found another pool of bloody vomit. This one was especially disconcerting, because it seemed to contain a hunk of an internal organ (stomach was my guess). More antibiotics were administered.

 Nick found her dead on Wednesday morning. He had to shoo away piglets attempting to nurse, and chase off an especially ardent defender piglet standing on top of Missy, refusing to leave. Things like this suck to deal with just as much as you would imagine. Not to mention the fact that, when death happens, and an animal becomes a body, that is the time when you feel how actually physical the animal was, how much weight the animal carried and how much space the animal displaced...especially a sow of Missy's size (500 pounds or so, over waist-high on this farmer). Despite any emotions, it has to be dealt with: body moved, earth moved, compost moved.

Missy dying is a different thing for us than a butcher hog slaughtered for meat, economically, obviously, but also emotionally. All the animals that die on the farm get an appropriate amount of respect; it is always a solemn thing and we treat it as such. It is always, on some level, a hard thing and a messy thing, and a strange thing. But Missy's death was harder and messier. She is the first of the breeders to go. She had a personality that we knew. We had a relationship with her, and she had one with us. Logically, we know we did all we could for her given the circumstances, but we will still spend some time chastising ourselves for not doing more.

Little Red, Stripe, and their piglets
And, there are her piglets left behind. And Victoria, a first time mom with an entirely prudent litter of 6, suddenly stuck with 16 starving piglets to nurse for upwards of three weeks, she and they possibly exposed to some death virus. You better believe that she is getting all the grain she wants, and that she is being closely monitored for lethargy and loss of appetite (although, to be honest, she is so  exhausted that it will be  hard to tell if that turns into lethargy), and that we are trying our best to keep cross contamination at a minimum. So far Victoria is scarfing down food with almost a wild desperation, which is good, and the little ones are not too gaunt, though they do complain and spar loudly during feeding times (sorry, neighbors...).

Somehow, death events like this tend to be accompanied by subtle little affirmations of life. Last year's broody hen has done it again, and debuted her new little fluffballs.

The broody, (shy), speckled hen and her new fluffy specklings
Missy was a good pig soul, pushy and demanding, but attentive to her little ones and fond of carrying fresh hay to them and to Little Red (often more gaunt and tired than Missy when nursing) when they were raising up their piglets together. Soon she will be soil, and I'll likely spread bits of her on the garden in a few years. We put Missy in the ground, and we pull radishes out; that is the way it has always been, and still is.






Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Butchering at the Farm: June 29 - July 1


We've got fresh piglets in the barn and hogs out on the pasture, the lake is ready for swimming, and the garden is brimming with greens, peas, radishes and garlic scapes. It's time for the summer's first butchering weekend -- from June 29th to July 1st. If you've been waiting for good weather and summer hogs to buy a half or a quarter and come to the farm to learn the process of butchering and processing pork, this weekend is for you.

More information about SYO butchering on the farm and pricing are here.

If you'd like a half, quarter, or some such but aren't interested in butchering it yourself, let us know and we can work something out.

If you are interested, email us at clawhammerfarm@gmail.com.

Farmer-made Bratwurst and Hot Italian Sausage
                                    

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Clawhammer Farm Art

Our wonderful and talented friend, Greta Van Campen, has done some sketchings and paintings of the farm, which she is offering for sale through her website.  She is generously donating 50% of the proceeds to the farm, and the rest will go to fund the last leg of her Greta Paints America project (she only has Alaska left!).


If you want to support the farm and a fantastic artist, you should check out her work. You can pay through paypal by clicking on the price, or email Greta at gretavc@gmail.com if you have questions or want to pay by check. She also does commissioned work, so if you like what you see but want something specific, please get in touch with her!


Friday, June 1, 2012

Hog Haven This Sunday in NYC

This Sunday we are leaving the farm in capable hands and coming down to the City for an event at Haven's Kitchen.

The entirety (pretty much) of one of our very own spring hogs will be at center stage, prepared by numerous NYC chefs and served in bites (small and large, sweet and savory) alongside cocktails and local beers. 

                              

It's a great time for those interested in one of our butcher-your-own events at the farm to taste the less common parts of the animal, talk butchery with real butchers and chefs, and discover new ways to cook your favorite cuts. It's also a fantastic opportunity for those of you who have been interested in the farm but haven't made it out yet to get a taste (literally) of what life at Clawhammer is like. And, of course, it is the perfect time for old friends and acquaintances to catch up with us without leaving the busy city.  

We will also be selling some of our meats (pork cuts, chicken, rabbit) and jars of chive blossom vinegar made from the chives that grow wild on our hillside and bloom beautifully every spring.

You can buy tickets here. The fee includes food and two cocktails; more drinks will be available at a cash bar at the event.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fresh Never Frozen?

As busy as anyone is when starting their own business, when you throw a few hundred animals into the mix, with relentless, weekly slaughter/processing days and trips to the City, animal injuries, predators, new feeding regimens that bring digestive and infrastructure issues, pigs too big, pigs too small, pigs escaping and trotting down the road, chickens too big, chickens too small, something is killing the chickens, killing the thing that killed the chickens (possum), tracking down restaurant clients, setting up distribution sites, major garden expansions in addition to regular spring plantings, plus the we-have-no-money-so-we-do-everything-ourselves state of our infrastructure building -- infrastructure that includes fencing of a few dozen acres and building chutes, pens, waterers and feeders for a herd of almost a hundred hogs, we are very very very busy this Spring. I am trying to stay abreast of things like World Affairs and Writing and Reading for my own Edification/Sanity, and also less lofty things such as hygiene, general house maintenance and eating dinner before midnight, but some things -- like regular communications of any sort -- are indeed falling by the wayside. I am trying my best to not feel guilty about all this (and would like this opportunity to say 'hello!' to all of my sorely neglected friends and family who have not made it to the farm yet this Spring, and thus, have not heard from me.  I do still like you, and when you do come to visit, please ignore the dirty floors.) but, alas, I feel guilty nonetheless. Here is a picture to make us all feel better.

Chilly Piglets, now weaned but still indoors, like to watch the barn goings-on.
Now that all of this busy-ness is starting to really produce meat in somewhat of an overwhelming capacity, we are thankfully beginning to encounter lots of customers, and it is interesting to see what consumers look for in meat. Most of what we hear from consumers is incredibly gratifying -- I will never tire of hearing our customers rave about the superior quality of our product, but some conversations about what we do serve only to show how disconnected people are from the origins of their food -- like the younger folks who are unable to make the connection between ham and a pig or the folks who just never thought to realize that one cannot possibly buy a fresh, local, pastured chicken in January. Which leads to one of the observations that, for us, is somewhat troubling: the widespread and strong preference for fresh meat over frozen meat. This makes some sense -- why people eschew frozen meat is probably a combination of bad past experiences, the intimidation of thawing, the fact that "fresh" just sounds so much better, and the ability of the large-scale industrial animal production-distribution monolith to provide "fresh never frozen" meat to shelves near you with the relentlessness of a team of hungry spiders --  but it is nonetheless problematic for us and other small farmers who raise meat on pasture and lack a nationwide distribution system or regular large buyers, and therefore rely on freezers to keep meat on hand.

Very fresh chickens in early April grass.
Big Man and I visit the large-scale industrial food distribution center known as the grocery store every few weeks, and more often than not we linger morosely in the meat section to stare in dismay at the prices and labeling of what we find there. The pork is cheaper per pound than just the butchering fees that we have to pay to sell by the cut. The sausages are sometimes cheaper than the cost of casings and spices, let alone the meat itself. The chickens are priced at half what it would cost for us to buy a chick and slaughter it at one day old. And, of course, there is the "fresh never frozen!" label sneering at us, and the other adjectives that subconsciously travel with "fresh" -- wholesome, healthy, local, real, clean, delicious, natural, juicy -- trip along on its heels to make the meat attractive to the consumer.

Five week old meat chicken on May grass.

But let's look at what "fresh" really means. The USDA defines "fresh" meat as anything kept between 26°  and 40° F;* the temperature is allowed to swing back and forth between those two numbers to any extent and the inspectors won't bat an eye. The problem is that, at 26°, the meat is actually starting to freeze, and every time it climbs into the low 30s, it begins to thaw again. This means that small ice crystals form, thaw, and reform under the skin and in the cell membranes, which damages the cellular structure and results in drier, tougher meat (Christopher Kimball says so, so you know it must be true). With the slaughterhouse, truck, distribution warehouse, grocery store stock room, grocery store shelves, and consumer refrigerator all involved, plus the loading, unloading and transportation of the meat between each of these, it is all but guaranteed that the full up and down swing will happen several times (not to mention that the meat has probably strayed out of the range on one end or the other for a bit).

Growers are new to grass as of last night; they are very happy to meet it.

So yes, our meat is often frozen. But it has only been frozen one time, and it's stayed that way. Aside from the obvious boons of grass, sunshine, the generally more natural lives of our animals and whatever other mysteries that make actual farm meat so much tastier than its industrial counterpart, this handling post-death is one of the things that I think we have going for us in the meat quality department. If only more people knew it.



*According to their website http://www.fsis.usda.gov/regulations/Labeling_Fresh_Not_Frozen/index.asp, they chose 26 as the lower number because even though at 26 degrees a good many parts of the bird will indeed be frozen, it still "gives" a little when touched by the consumer; thus the consumer would consider it "fresh." Basically they asked consumers what they considered fresh, and consumers said that it would be pokable when poked, and the USDA was like "ok, cool. whatevs." This is apparently how food labeling laws are made.