Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Alternative to the Cornish Cross

For years, we have raised chickens here on the farm, both for meat and eggs. The standard breed to raise for meat is the Cornish Cross. It is the same bird that the major producers raise and has been bred for quick development and large breast size. Wanting the best quality meat that we can produce, we raised our birds on pasture and supplemented their feed with locally milled grain, free of animal by-products and chemicals. Last year, I built several pens following the model of Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms, and moved this every day so they would have fresh pasture.

Over the years, though, the Cornish Cross has been hybridized and genetically manipulated by the poultry industry to suit their confined farming style. The Cornish Cross has been bred to put on weight at an astronomical rate, reaching 5 pounds of live weight by 42 days of age. The aim was to produce a bird that basically sits, eats, and grows quickly while producing a lot of breast meat. However, this incredible fast growth is detrimental to the birds welfare and health. Since they have been selected for high muscle-to-bone ratio, the Cornish Cross bird often suffers from joint, ligament, and muscle problems as well as hock burn and other skin ailments. Their heavy weight makes them prone to heart strain and sudden heart failure. Their immune systems have been compromised through selective breeding, and they are susceptible to many infectious diseases. Due to these health concerns, the common practice is to keep the birds on antibiotics their entire, short life. Because of all of these problems, the Animal Welfare Approved association has determined that the Cornish Cross breed "is inherently flawed as a high-welfare pasture-raised bird," and they are encouraging small farmers like us to experiment with other breeds that do not have the problems that the Cornish Cross have.

This year, I am going to switch to an alternative breed of bird to raise for meat. Freedom Ranger Chickens are derived from the American and European old heritage breed of chicken and was developed in the early 1960’s to meet the highest standards of the French Label Rouge Free Range program. Currently, the Freedom Ranger genetic stock is used by most non-factory farm production models (alternative) all across Europe and also by small pastured poultry producers in search of a traditionally raised farm chicken. They are naturally better suited to the higher welfare and all true natural rearing systems (full pasturing, free range, organic, certified, backyard etc.…). They reach 5 to 6 pounds live weight in 9 to 11 weeks. Because they are allowed to grow longer, their meat is more tender and firm. They are also bred for flavor rather than rapid muscle-to-bone ratio. Therefore, they are highly sought after by chefs. As always, our chickens will be pasture-raised, giving them the benefits of exercise and sunshine. I plan to house them in a movable coop with temporary fencing, giving them more space for free range pasturing. We will also continue to feed them with locally milled grains free of antibiotics and animal by-products.

We put several dozen chickens in our freezer from last summer, and are still eating them. I like to roast a bird once a week. We get several meals from the meat, and I put the bones in a pot of water with scrap vegetables to make fresh, natural chicken stock. I generally can get 3 - 4 quarts of chicken stock from 1 chicken.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Starting a Sourdough Starter

For Christmas, my lovely wife got me a book I had been asking for, Artisan Baking.

I love baking our bread, and wanted to learn to make crusty artisan bread this winter, especially sourdough bread. This is a wonderful book, filled with plenty of good recipes and tips for making great artisan bread. I got started by following the directions in the book for making a sourdough starter. After a week of feeding, I realized that this wasn't growing the way it should. The temperature in our kitchen was too cool.

So, I started over. This time, I decided to follow the tutorial at Sourdough Home for making a sourdough starter. They have a wonderful tutorial on their website, which they have refined over the years. I won't recreate the steps here. If your interested in making a sourdough starter, I recommend reading their tutorial.

Here is my starter after 3 days of feeding. I put my starter on a rack that I had set up near our wood stove. I intend to start my seeds on here also, since it is usually above 74 degrees near the stove.

Each day, I discard half of the starter and feed it again with 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of stone ground rye flour. The idea is to keep feeding the starter for a week and it will double in size each day. I discard half of the starter because, if I didn't, it would quickly balloon out of control.

Recently, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Chiot's Run, for sourdough pancakes. Not wanting to wait until my sourdough starter was finished, I thought this might be a good use for the starter that I discard each day. I mixed up a batch and let it rest overnight. The next morning, we feasted on sourdough pancakes and homemade sausage.

I can't wait for my starter to be ready so I can bake some bread.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beer Braised Bear Roast

Today, I decided to cook a bear roast that some friends had given us. It was small roast, 3.5 lbs. and boneless. Since bear meat needs to cook long and slow to get tender, I decided to braise it with some root vegetables.

The ingredients:

1 bear roast
1-2 thick slices of bacon, cut into cubes
2-3 garlic cloves
1 rutabaga
3 medium potatoes
4 carrots
1 bottle of dark beer, an ale or stout

In a dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325 and cut the vegetables into 2-inch cubes. Coat the bear roast with salt and pepper. When the bacon is crisp, remove it to a small plate to drain.

Turn the heat up to high. Add the garlic cloves. Brown the bear roast on all sides, about 2-3 minutes per side, scraping the bottom of the dutch oven while it cooks. When it is brown, add the beer and simmer for 1 minute. I used a Nut Brown Ale from Mountaineer Brewing company. Add the vegetables, cover and put in the oven for 1.5 hours.

Roast, straight from the oven.

Remove the roast and vegetables to a serving platter and place the dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of cold water. Whisk cornstarch mix into the stock and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes until it is thick.

One serving of bear roast with root vegetables and gravy.

Yum, bear roast.

If you can get a bear roast sometime, I hope you try this recipe. This recipe, and many more, can be found on our website.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The New Growing Challenge

I just signed us up for The Growing Challenge, Extreme Edition. The rules are:

  • Grow 3 crops from seed this year
  • Plant the seeds in 3 new people
  • Tell your story
  • Make it seed to seed
We are getting ready to start buying our seeds and starting seeds indoors and outdoors in our low tunnels. All of our seeds will be non-hybrid and non-GMO. Look for upcoming posts as we get started.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Homemade Laundry Detergent

One of the things I like to do for us is to make my own laundry detergent. It's really simple, economical, and environmentally friendly. The recipe is easy and the ingredients are few.

1 bar of natural soap, grated, 4 oz.
1 cup of Washing Soda
1 1/2 cups of Borax powder
1 two gallon or larger bucket for storing the detergent

Here are the ingredients, all natural and cheap. You can use unscented or scented natural soap, or you can make your own essential oils from herbs and flowers, (that's another post). The unscented detergent can be hypoallergenic.

Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan with 6 cups of water. Heat until the soap melts. Add the washing soda and borax and stir until it is dissolved. Remove from heat. Pour 4 cups of hot water into the bucket. Now add your soap mixture and stir. Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir. Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel. Use 1/2 cup per load.

Here is the final mixture, before it has gelled. I made this batch while cooking breakfast this morning, it's that easy and quick. A two gallon batch of laundry detergent costs less than $3.00. We buy our bars of soap for $2.50. The boxes of Borax and Washing Soda each cost less than $3.00 and are enough for many batches of detergent.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Overnight Whole Wheat Waffles

I like to make homemade waffles for my family because they are easy to make and far better than store bought waffles. This recipe is really easy and is best if you start it the night before. In a pinch, you could make this recipe at the last minute and just bake them immediately.

The ingredients are:
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 cp. whole wheat flour
1 cp. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tblsp. sugar
2 cps. milk
8 tblsp. (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
oil for brushing on waffle iron
2 eggs

Before going to bed, combine the dry ingredients and stir in the milk, then the butter and vanilla. The mixture will be loose. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside overnight at room temperature.

The next morning, brush the waffle iron lightly with oil and preheat it. Separate the eggs and stir the yolks into the batter. Beat the whites until they hold soft peaks. Stir them gently into the batter.

Spread a ladleful or so of batter onto the waffle iron and bake until the waffle is done, usually 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your iron. Serve immediately, or let cool on baking rack. Store in the freezer for up to 1 month, although ours have never lasted that long. Pop them into the toaster to reheat.

Golden brown and toasty, yet light and fluffy inside. These waffles will melt in your mouth.

Whole wheat waffles, fresh breakfast sausage, juice and a banana. Yummy!

This recipe, and more, can be found on our website.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Taking Care of the Animals in Winter

During the winter, I house the rabbits and hens in the large pens that used to be the tiger shelters when the lodge was a zoo. It has chain link fence on three sides, and faces southwest, so they are sheltered from the colder winds from the north. Unfortunately, it doesn't get much sunshine, so it stays cool in there all winter. The chickens have a heated water tank, but it is not practical for the five individual water bottles I need for the rabbits. So, I walk down to the pens 2-3 times a day, carrying a bucket of boiling water, to thaw the rabbits' water bottles. This hadn't bothered me, until we got snow a month ago that has continued and won't go away. Now I wade through waist deep snow everyday to get to the pens. It doesn't help shoveling a path, because the wind just drifts it back over. We have a base layer of over 4 feet right now, after last nights additional 8 inches. Tonight we are expected to get another 6 inches. Oh joy!

Here is a rabbit in her pen with fresh water and hay to keep warm.

The rabbits are housed on the left side, with the clear plastic to block the wind. I have kept the chicken side opened for them. But this weekend we saw night time temperatures near zero, so I thought they might like a little extra protection for a couple of days. When the snow starts to melt, I'll clear some of the grass in front of the pen for the chickens. I let them free range, even in the winter. They don't care much for deep snow though.