Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Heritage turkey vs broad breasted

I got a call from a fellow today who had purchased a "heritage breed" turkey from a local consumer coop. The coop does a good job of offering good quality produce and meats, and i was pretty sure that he'd been sold a heritage bird. He was concerned that the breast looked "collapsed" or "misshapen". I asked him a few questions and he's probably got a heritage bird, but here's what a heritage bird looks like next to a broadbreasted turkey.

But there are several things about heritage birds that aren't really obvious. first, they look different than a standard turkey.

Both of the birds in this picture are 12lbs. The one on the left is one of my heritage birds, raised on pasture. This particular bird is a young blue slate tom turkey, about 7 months old.

The one on the right is a "fresh" "free range" bird. "our birds have access to the outdoors and fresh air". This usually means they're raised in a barn, and sometime late in their life a door opens and they can look outside. I'm a little cynical, but at $.99/lb, it can't be very good.

You'll notice that my bird is quite a bit narrower than the broad breasted bird. This narrow shape is because my bird can (and did) actually fly. The broad breasted bird probably never did, and cannot. The red dot in the breast of the broad breasted bird is the pop-up thermometer.

Looking at the outside of the bird, the thing that is pretty obvious is that my bird has larger amounts of fat under its skin. This will result in a beter tasting bird -- basted in its own fat. Andrea is pinching first my bird, and then the broad breasted bird

pastured bird

Broad breasted bird
Notice in those pictures that the skin appears thinner on the broad breasted bird. This is a function of the amount of fat in the skin. the veins in the broad breasted bird are much more visible.

Just a note: the broad breasted bird was sold as "fresh". The body cavity was frozen solid. I sell birds "fresh" that are never frozen, and most of them are delivered to the customers on the same day they're processed, packed in ice.

The internal organs are very different. on the left is my pastured bird. On the right is the broad breasted bird.
The top organ is the gizzard. My turkeys gizzard is considerably larger and covered with a layer of fat, showing that the bird used its gizzard and had a good life. The broad breasted gizzard is smaller, less than half the size, and has no fat to speak of.
The middle organ is the liver. Mine is firm to the touch and uniform in color. The broad breasted is watery, spreading out a little like jello. this may be a result of it being frozen. It is also uniform in color.
The hearts are both about the same size and consistency.

Tongan Thanksgiving feast


I've been selling an increasing number of my animals live, to people who want to prepare them themselves. Each culture has its own traditions and preferences, and each one its favorite food.

Soni and Sime have been great customers of mine. They prefer a small pig, what I call a weaner pig, usually having a live weight of 40 to 50lbs.

I'm ok with people eating animals; I eat them myself, and that's why I started farming -- to make sure the animals I eat have the best life possible while there here.

For pigs, I prefer they be shot. It's a clean and quick, humane end. There are many cultures that have a specific way they kill the pig, and while I try to be tolerant of other cultures, I've found that a bullet is the way that I prefer, and for animals killed on my farm that's what I require.

After shooting, the next step is to cut the arteries at the top of the heart while it's still beating. Most of the blood is out of the pig in a few seconds. After that, it looks like this.

Pork skin is delicious.

Pork rind (southern USA) or pork scratchings (UK) or Pork crackle (Australia) or in spanish They will be spit-roasting these pigs whole. The skin of the pig is a prized bit -- it's delicious. In the south part of the USA, they'll call it pork cracklins or pork rind. In Spanish it's chicharrones. Whatever language, many cultures all over the world love it, and Tongans are no exceptions.

There's a propane heater underneath the garbage can. Both of these guys are immensely strong; they can easily handle a 50lb pig at arms length. I'm not sure I could. They dip it in and then pull it out and quickly rub off the outer layer of skin and hair. It comes off pretty easily.

All pigs end up white after they've been scraped, no matter what color they started with. This particular animal had a moire pattern on its skin. The line there is where the outer layer of skin has been removed. These fellows dip the pig, and then pull it out and lay it down, and rub off the skin with their fingers. the fellow on the left is removing the toenails from the pig. they don't cut the feet off -- the whole pig is spit-roasted.

The head is a favorite part of the roasted pig, but there's a lot of hair on the head. It takes a while to scrape it all off. There are a lot of nooks and crannies that have to be cleaned.

There are still a few hairs here and there -- the ears are particularly problematic. So a propane torch is used to singe off the remaining hair.

The torch quicky removes the hair. They run the torch over one side, flip the pig, and finish the other side. They are very careful to get every single hair.

Now they are ready to gut it. The digestive tract of most mammals is only anchored at the mouth and anus. They reach in to the wound used to bleed the pig and cut out the vocal cords, effectively severing the connection at the head.

Now you carefully cut around the anus. The goal here is to cut the anus free, but not to cut the colon it is attached to. He makes a small square cut around the anus and poking his finger in carefully works it free, cutting as he goes.

The digestive system is pretty much free, but the opening at the anus isn't large enough to allow the liver or other large organs to come out. So an incision is now made in the belly -- but a small incison. They're going to spit-roast the animal, so they want the ribcage to be whole so that it'll be easier to spit.
Working his hand in carefully, he pulls the colon out the incision, and then the rest of the organs. The heart and lungs and kidneys also come out this same hole.

Once the organs are out, they sort through them and cut out the ones they want; in this case, the heart, liver, kidneys and lungs.

This pig is now ready to go for spit roasting. Soni and Sime -- happy holidays

If you'd like to learn how to roast a pig from here, there's a great website that goes into detail. You'll find it here
Total elapsed time from shooting the pig to finished pig: about 45 minutes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Tractor update

The tractor is stuck a few hundred feet from the road and it weighs 10,0000lbs and it's on soft mud. So I don't really want to jack it up or bring out heavy equipment to get it out.

I used 20 sections of 4x4 that are 4' long. I put 5 under the bucket of the front loader so that it wouldn't just push down through the mud when I pushed down. I used the front loader to lift the front of the tractor up until I got both the front wheels off the ground. You can see in this picture that the front right wheel is off the ground about a foot or so. The other wheel I lowered down onto some 4x4 cribbing laid across the wheel hole and in front of the wheel.
Ok. So now the tractor is balanced on three wheels. I drove my 4x4 truck out to the tractor, and used 60' of chain to attach the chain hook in the middle of the bucket to the towing ball on the back of my truck. and then I raised and curled the bucket. to pull the front right wheel of the tractor down to the ground.
So one hand on the front loader joystick, right heel on the differential locks and left foot on the clutch and left hand on the wheel, I drove it out.
and then turned it around and plucked the implement out of the hole, too.
Figured I deserved a short day after that.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Turkey processing class

This is my third year of raising heritage turkeys for the holidays, and each year about this time we select the birds that we're going to sell and process them, or sell them live.

Each year when I offer my birds I get questions from people who are curious about the process, and I invite them out to watch. First, if I'm doing something I don't want them to see, should I really be doing it? and second I honestly think that getting close to your food, and understanding where it comes from, makes it more precious. I do appreciate the sacrifice that the turkey makes for me, and it's always a little sad for me to kill an animal. At first I wrote "...a little sad to see an animal go" and then realized that I'm specifically saying the euphemisms and distance are what I hate about packaged meat. So "kill" it is.

I posted this ad on the local craigslist:


Date: 2008-11-20, 10:41PM PST
you can bring your own turkey, or we'll sell you one. you'll start with the live bird, and end up with an oven-ready turkey.

At every step there will be someone to explain the actions, and demonstrate them on another bird so you can get it perfect the first time.

If you provide the bird, the class is $30. If we sell you one, it's $55. Class is 2 hours long, at my farm in everett. All tools provided, bags and ice provided. Our turkeys are heritage breeds, never penned, and carefully hand raised on my farm.


I recieved a number of replies; a fellow who's part of a turkey coop that raised 7 turkeys in a backyard in Seattle and wanted a better idea of how to process their birds; a college professor who was really interested in getting closer to his food and wanted his daughter to know more about it; a park ranger who'd bought a half a pig from me last year and brought her nephew to watch the pig being slaughtered; an architect and brewer who's been involved in designing and working with farming regulations for a nearby demonstration farm.

So this morning was the morning of the class. I have to admit, I was pretty curious what the range of reactions would be.

This is the scene. At the base of the post you can see to center, you 'll see the gas stun barrel. We used carbon dioxide last year, but it appeared to be irritating to the turkeys, so switched to a carbon dioxide/argon mix. The purpose of a gas stun is to basically make the bird unconcious prior to killing it, or provide a level of anasthetic. 100% carbon dioxide is pretty quick and will put a turkey under in a minute or two; 75% argon/25% carbon dioxide takes a bit longer.

We use large road cones for killing cones. I pick them up when I see them laying on the side of the road, and over the years I've found 4. I cut off about 4"s off the tip. After the turkey is unconcious you put the turkey head-down in the cone. The cone both holds the bird inverted for good blood drain, and prevents the bird from bruising itself with any twitching that occurs. We put down two sawhorses about 6' apart, and put a pair of 2x4s on top of them. The cones rest nicely between them. To make sure there's no issues, i nail the 2x4s to the sawhorses and the cones to the 2x4s. It's simple, cheap and works well. After the bird stops twitching we pull the tail feathers and large wing feathers here. The plucker handles most of the other feathers.

This is pretty much the hardest part. After this step it's basically cooking.

Pulling tail and wing feathers

We scald the bird at 150 degrees. You need to watch the temperature closely -- +- 5 degrees is best. Too hot and you'll cook the skin and it'll tear in the plucker. Too cool and the feathers won't come out. We use a 35 gallon galvanized garbag can and a crab cooker with a thermometer, periodically checking temperature.

After scalding the turkeys go into a tub plucker, not pictured. It removes most of the feathers, in aboout 45 seconds, leaving the bird looking like this

We remove the last few feathers by hand; typically a couple under the wings and here and there on the carcass.
Starting to look like dinner

Everyone took home at least one bird, and some people took home 4! We processed another 40 turkeys to fill holiday orders, and will be processing another 50 or so birds in the next few days per customer requested pickup date.
Thanks to all who participated.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Catching pigs

Today we sold 2 pairs of pigs -- two boys, and two girls. One pair went to Won, a farmer a mile or so down the island. Won and I have traded pigs for goats (weiner pigs for nubian goats) and I bought a thousand bales of hay from him earlier this year; Jose has a house with 6 acres, and he wanted a pair of pigs so that he could breed them.

Mostly when you have boy pigs in a litter you castrate them. There's an issue of meat taste with some boars, called "boar taint", and if you castrate the pigs you eliminate that risk. I did not castrate Shorty's male piglet from her current litter, which was good luck for Jose. So Jose got a 7/8ths berkshire boar and a nice little gilt that I'm sure will make many piglets for him.

Jose also bought a pair of Narragansett Turkeys -- which will be cool for him. A handsome tom and a really nice hen -- I hand-picked them from the flock -- why breed bad stock? -- and I'm sure he'll have a good time with them.

We sold another breeding pair of black spanish turkeys today, and 15 chickens, and a bantam rooster, and all this was going on while I was trying to figure out how to get my tractor out. Busy day.

But we have our own little rodeo every time we sell a piglet to someone.

This is Andrea, showing proper piglet catching form. First, the piglet really doesn't want to mess with you. She wants to run away, so you really don't have to get worried about getting bitten, but the proper technique is to grab the pig by the hind legs. A diving grab is good form, as Andrea is demonstrating here.
Once youv'e got a hold of the rear legs, you then play a game of pig wheelbarrow. By lifting the rear legs off the ground the pig doesn't have as much traction as it used to, but it's still wiggling. and squealing. oh, SQUEALING. no really -- loud. WEEE!!! WEEEE!! I"M DYING!!! HELP ME MOMMA!!!

Ok, the pig is a little easier to handle here -- but Andreas hands are covered in mud. And the pigs legs have mud on them. And the pig is squealing. And the pig is wriggling like a crazed tuna.

So at this point I put the camera down and went and helped her put the pig into a pet crate for transport to its new home. This one went to Jose.

This happened 4 times today. A good time was had by all.

Tractor stuck!

My land is pretty darn fertile. It's river bottom soil; black, and it smells good. It grows great animals and crops. It's also very similar to pie crust.

you see, there's 2-3 feet of fairly firm soil over super saturated mud. When they built the freeway next door they measured how deep the mud is. It averages 160 feet deep under my farm.

So i have to be fairly careful when I"m moving around not to disturb the crust too much -- or THIS happens

So when this happens, it's pretty much as much fun as you would imagine 10,000lbs of tractor sunk to its frame is.

I was using a new implement, a harley rake, power landscape rake, to level an area that has gotten a lot of traffic and is currently mostly mud. I want to plant it with something; oats or winter wheat mixed with a legume for nitrogen fixing (fancy way of saying improving the soil for cheap so I get more corn next year from the same area) when I felt the back left corner of the tractor break through. I've been considering putting dual tires on the back of my tractor, but that's $4k. I guess this is just a reminder that it'd be a really good idea.

The turkeys think that fresh turned earth is cool, and while they're not sure what's going on, they're fascinated as only turkeys can be. There's about a hundred of them to the right of the tractor.

The dog thinks it's pretty cool when I dig, too. He believes that under each shovelful there could be a rat, and each needs to be investigated to make sure that it is rodent free.

So how do you get a tractor that's this stuck out? Well... when I get it out, I'll tell you.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pigs at night

One of the things that you do every day on a farm is a welfare check of the animals; you look at each animal and at their food, and water, and shelter, to make sure that things are good. So tonight i was walking through the pasture and checking

This is a pretty typical pasture scene taken with a flash. The pigs sleep head to tail, next to one another. You can see the hay used to bed the pigs. I put a new bale in from time to time -- they eat some of it, and as it gets wet, they actually move it out of the shelter. Pigs like to sleep dry and warm. Each one of these sows weighs around 400lbs. The calf dome that we use for pasture shelters is 4' tall and 8' wide.
This is tank, one of my older sows, at 24 months. Shes calm, and good natured. I am not sure why she's taking an evening walk tonight, it's kind of rainy and cold, but she's out there pacing along the electric fence you can see in the background over her head and to the left. She is pregnant, so she may be looking for someplace to nest.
Her teats don't look bagged (enlarged, full of milk), so while she is pregnant it's not something that is close. So off she wanders.

Close behind tank is her sister and littermate, big momma. Momma has been rooting around -- that's dirt on her nose, and is just finishing raising a litter of pigs. Notice that she's still bagged. Must be the night for a walk. The pigs don't mind the rain in the slightest, although they do like to sleep in in the morning.

Over in the big shelter, the piglets are nursing and squealing; all is well there.

One last shelter to check.

This is a surprise. That's our boar, a 550lb berkshire boar, who generally is the animal we have to watch while we're working with the pigs. And that's one of our goats standing on the boar. Of all the animals that the goats could sleep with I wouldn't have picked this one. Goats have sharp little hooves. I'm suprised he's tolerating this.
Now there's two goats on the boar. Ok -- pretty funny, but I'm sure that the goats will be safe from coyotes tonight. All is well on the farm.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Puppies and piglets

That's monster on the left, cat on the right. I use the dogs to patrol the property, deter and eliminate predators. They are the largest terrier, and take their job very seriously. They also eat the animals that don't make it. They are quite clear that any dead chicken, turkey or piglet is theirs. In fact, we've started calling monster DR. monster because of his diagnostic skills. When he's sure that an animal is on the way out he's usually right.

I really like airedales. I've had 5 generations of them, starting with an airedale/shepherd mix that was named Max. Max was a rescue from the Humane society, and a pretty special dog. He was 8 months old when I adopted him, and I kept him until he was 9 and had to be put down because of terrible hip problems.

These are puppies from Monster and Cat. They're 11 weeks old at this point. The one on the left is "tiny" -- the runt of the litter. He weighs 13lbs. The other we haven't named yet, but is 18lbs.

Today is the day we're starting to condition them to work with the livestock.

That's monster in the background, tiny on the left, and the two unnamed ones on they right. They are really cute puppies. We have to be careful in introducing the puppies to the pigs. The pigs have piglets and are protective of them, and are generally interested in eating anything they can catch. Pigs aren't vegetarians. We work with the pigs every day; they know us and we know them.

Shorty is a purebred berkshire sow. She weighs about 400lbs and is just finishing nursing her litter of piglets. She likes to sleep on the edge of the pasture right next to the electric fence; she usually clears an area of grass to make a wallow and then lays down. In this picture she's awake, but trusts us and knows the dogs, so isn't alarmed at all. Annoyed maybe. the pups approach very slowly -- this smells different! its BIG! BIG ! a little growling from the pups -- they are terriers, after all. You can't back down if you're a terrier, no matter how big the challenge!

Pinky is a 6 month old gilt -- a virgin female pig. She's pretty noisy; she talks a lot. The black and brown pig isn't named yet, but will probably be kept and bred as well. The black and brown pig knows dogs and plays with the Monster and Cat. Pinky is annoyed. So watching carefully, we're letting the pups interact with the pigs. The black and brown pig makes little runs towards the pups and makes them retreat; but they circle and slowly get it to retreat. Good dog -- I want them to work together to bunch or control the pigs later in their lives.

Another sow who's currently nursing notices the fuss and comes over

Run away!!

Now we're going to introduce them to the piglets. The sows are only a few feet away -- they'll respond if the piglets squeal an alarm. So the goal here is to let the dogs and mom herd the piglets a little, but don't let anyone bite anyone.

Cat is helping here. The rules are that you can chase piglets outside of the electric fence, but you have to break off the chase when they're in their pasture.

Mission accomplished!! good dogs!! lots of praise

Oh no! piglet revolt!!

A good time was had by all. Next time we introduce them to the turkeys in their stealth turkey disguise.