I went to visit a local farm last weekend. The farm, Sojourner Farms, has chickens, eggs, turkeys, cows, and pigs. The farmer, Pierre Dionne, who is also a doctor, gave my parents and I a very informative tour. The animals are all pastured. We first saw the laying hens (his broilers are all in the freezer…if you know what I mean. Well, I guess that wasn’t a very good euphemism). The hens were in a large pen along with two “eggmobiles.” There were, oh, 100 or so hens. They were a mix of Rhode Island Reds and Leghorns. The pen was big, and “pen” might not be the best word to use, because these guys were basically in a small, movable pasture. This is actually a particular technique called “intensive management farming,” where the pastured animals are moved frequently around the available pasture in such a way that the grass never quite goes to seed nor gets irreversibly diminished. In the case of the chickens and the cows, we’ll say that the available pasture for these animals is divided into three smaller pastures (which is a gross simplification – the reality is that the fields are divided up into many more smaller pastures – but it’s a big farm), we’ll call them field A, field B, and field C. So the cows are pastured in field A and the chickens are pastured in field C. Three days after the cows move onto field B, the chickens move into field A. The reason is that the chickens will eat the grubs that flies lay in the cow pies. The grubs are incredibly nutritious for the chickens, and along with the grass in the pasture supplemented with grain as needed, they are able to lay exceptional eggs. A bonus is that this effectively cuts down on the fly population, thereby forestalling disease and pests. Additionally, as the chickens scratch up the pies, they fertilize the field. So we saw the chickens, who all ran up to us at the edge of the pen. Friendly little guys.
Then we walked further up the field to see where the cows are pastured. The pens or pastures that these animals are in change frequently, thanks to movable fences that are thin, flexible (electrified) cords that can be strung between plastic posts. Besides the mental capacity to plan and determine the best days to move the animals in such a pattern that flies are kept at a minimum, the grass isn’t overgrazed or undergrazed (if it goes to seed, it’s essentially done growing for the season, and the cows won’t get any more nutrition out of it if they eat the seeded grass), and the grass is effectively fertilized, besides all that, the fences get moved every few days. It’s a lot of work. We went to see the cows who all lumbered over to the gate to see us when we approached. Perhaps it’s worth noting now that Pierre turned off “the juice” when we went into the fields, so we could climb over the fences. And then the cows got excited that Pierre was there and began bellowing. The cows were a mixed lot. Some Dexters, some Polled Hereford (horns off), and another type that was sort of dun colored and shaggy, but I can’t remember the name. We got in the pasture with the cows, and after an initial bout of the shys, they came over to get petted. Interesting fact (I wasn’t sure, so I asked): not only boys have horns. Several of the cows had horns, so I wasn’t sure if everyone was just mixed in together (they are, by the way), but most of the cows with horns were, in fact, ladies. They are also not very careful about how or where they toss their heads when others are about. I thought for sure I was going to get gored by someone. They don’t put a lot of power behind their head tosses, thankfully. Someone did give me good poke in the back, but it didn’t even hurt. By the way, the cows at the farm are not named. They have ear tags and are numbered (there’s only about, oh, 12 or so). One of the girls was pregnant and was expected to give birth in the next few days. It was an interesting meeting.
Next we saw the pigs. The pigs were in two groups: the pigs that will go for slaughter in November (and were piglets earlier this year), and then the breeding pigs (who are named – there’s two girls and a boy) and the current batch of piglets. So we got to pet the big pigs, Black and Red are the sows, and Sam is the boar (as I think they call the gents). The pastured pigs being raised for slaughter were far afield so we didn’t see them up close, but we did get to pet Red and Sam (bristly giants) and see Black and her piglets up close. It’s funny because the pig’s fence is lower than knee-high. Those fat porkers can’t get past it, so it’s not necessary to make it higher. The piglets are another story. They can slip under the fence easy-peasy, and one did join us in the lane to gobble on some acorns. Pierre wasn’t too concerned about it, and said that Black would call him back before too long, since having her piglets separated makes her nervous. As the farmer emphasized over and over, the fences are mostly there to keep things OUT, as well as to keep the animals easy to manage.
We saw the turkeys through a little copse of trees. He raises white turkeys (not albino, just white feathers) because dark or natural-feathered turkeys have pigment in their feathers that gets left behind when they’re plucked, so the skin looks like it’s covered with blackheads, and people who don’t regularly consume wild turkey aren’t used to that. One turkey was in the barn because it had twisted an ankle and while it was lame it’s flock descended as a fury on it and was well on its way of pecking the lame turkey to death. Turkeys hate different. So the injured bird got rescued, and until he’s shipshape, he has to stay separated from the other turkeys.
We also saw next year’s layers. These birds are a black bird flock, so the farmer can tell the ages of his birds by color. The first few lots of birds are all the same color, so he doesn’t know the birds that are old from the birds that are younger, so he’s decided to differentiate by color going forward.
We finished the visit by buying eggs and I also bought two frozen chickens. I plan to woo Bob with a nice roast chicken one of these days. We (my mom and I) also arranged to purchase a half pig when the pastured pigs go to slaughter this November. So a freezer chest is in my future. It sounds like I’m getting a lot of meat for not eating meat, and that’s pretty accurate, but I will again someday, and I really want Bob hooked on the pastured meat in the meantime.
Anyway, this morning I had my first real farm fresh eggs. Oh my. I went with scrambled, because it’s a Saturday morning and I can’t handle getting too fancy before my first cup of coffee. The first egg I cracked into the bowl stayed remarkably together. Like, the yolk was large, but also tall. Like a flabby ping pong ball, kinda. And the white didn’t spread out to fill the entire bowl. Then I added the other egg and got a little alarmed because it suddenly seemed like a lot of eggs. The yolks are really golden. I’ve heard them referred to as orange, and I guess that’s kind of accurate, but I think if you imagine golden-orange you’ve probably got a better mental image. And these eggs, from chickens that get a wide range of feed from a variety of nutritional sources, are packed with beta carotene and protein and all that. Lovely. So I got out my whisk and kind of had to work to scramble them; they are much denser than store eggs. They cooked up quickly and were amazing. They had a taste that was just so essentially eggy. It’s hard to describe.
See? They’re kind of intensely colored. Cooking them cools some of the orange/goldeny color out, but the intensity of the color is still pretty evident.