• Home
  • About us
  • Farm Facts
  • Order & Prices
  • Recipes
  •  

    Chicken you can feel good about eating

    Our chickens eat feed that was never sprayed with chemicals, and they run around outside living chickenly lives and munching on clover. We rotate our chickens’ yard so they always have fresh greens, making them healthier and more delicious. You’ll be able to taste the difference. If you want a deeper relationship with your food, you can follow what’s happening at the farm on Facebook. (You don’t need a Facebook account to see it!)

    We sell mainly whole, frozen chicken but also have a limited number of frozen packaged parts. See our Orders and Prices page.

    We deliver frozen chicken to Minneapolis, and we welcome you to our farm in the Northfield area.

    NEWS FROM THE FIELDS

    Snow Days

    February 5th, 2016

    The snow that fell earlier this week meant different things for all the residents of our farm.

    The chickens disapproved of it. Two days in a row, when we opened the door to one of our youngest layers’ coops, a hen went flapping out into the world, and landed like a comet in the powder. Each time, the hen just sat there by herself, in the nest-like depression of snow. After checking out the situation for some time, she took flight again and went right back into the coop without touching the snow again. The other hens, who have lived through previous winters, perched on their door to to take in the sights, but they didn’t venture farther than that.

    The children approved of the storm because it meant two snow days in a row. They did their chores in broad daylight, which was a refreshing change during these short days. There was a bit of snowball fighting, and of course we had some “snow” for dessert (which is fresh snow with cream, sugar and vanilla extract mixed in).

    Sassy in snow

    I am not sure if I understand the dogs’ reaction. As snow fell thickly Monday night, our most dedicated guard dog, Sassy, slept soundly in the chicken coop. I never can pet her for an extended period of time after dark because she’s working so hard, but this week was different. Apparently guard dogs get snow days just like children. However, the lovely blanket of snow soon brought out snowmobiles. We’re on a major snowmobile path. (There are miniature “yield” signs on each side of our driveway, and the path stretches along our ditch and also across the corn field to our south.) Sassy has been working overtime barking at all the snowmobiles that roar across the fields after dark. I thought this was upsetting to her, but my 11-year-old disagrees. He thinks she feels satisfied that she’s always able to scare those snowmobiles away from our property. The snowmobilers continue on blissfully unaware that they have been chased off by our dogs.

    For Ian, snow means tractor work and staying in the cities one night to avoid a treacherous drive. As soon as he was back home, he was on the new International, clearing paths to all the coops. I know the chickens appreciated his efforts.

    Ian’s mother, bless her heart, had a sleepover here and kept us company while Ian stayed in the cities. It was a wonderful gift to us as she helped big kids with homework and played Legos with the little one.

    I loved the storm. After a terrifying drive home from town, I just stayed put. Leaving the grocery store Monday late morning, things looked fine while I was still surrounded by stores and signs. As soon as I got into the country, all I could see was white. Thank heavens they put some bumps in the asphalt to warn cars that are heading into the ditch. We wouldn’t have made it home without them. Once that scary part was done, I loved breathing in the scent of new snow, and trudging through the new accumulation feeling like I was getting acquainted with the storm. Something in my heart brightens when there’s a fresh blanket of snow on the fields, like I too can hold the light and sparkle.


    The new flock

    January 31st, 2016

    Earlier this winter I wrote about how flighty our youngest flock of birds is. They’re still a jumpy group, but they’ve decided that I can hang around with them if I really want.

    The cold weather inspired the change because instead of thinking of themselves primarily as wild outside birds that come inside to sleep, the hens decided that the coop is a good place to spend much day. In my mind — and apparently in their minds too — this makes them officially domesticated animals.

    There’s a lot to be said for being domesticated in the winter. Besides being warmer and offering a constant supply of food and water, the coop has no snow on the floor, which is important to chickens. They don’t enjoy walking in snow and have made tracks in the snow from theirs coop to the patches of bare ground under all of the nearby parked trailers.

    Before it grew cold, all the birds would rush for the exits when I came to check on them. Now, they do a little extra squawking, especially when I first open the door, but after considering the cold and snow, they decide it isn’t worth it to go flapping out into the world just because I am with them. Most of them even let me reach under them to gather eggs.

    eggs from the new flock

    And speaking of eggs, these birds lay a beautiful array. The Brown Leghorns lay white eggs, the Black Australorpes lay brown eggs, and the Ameraucanas lay green eggs. A dozen of their eggs are like a work of art. When they raise their voices a little more than most flocks I’ve cared for, I’ll remind myself that they’re my emotive artists.

     


    Descendants of dinosaurs

    January 28th, 2016

    According to a movie shown at the Science Museum a few years ago, birds are actually dinosaurs that survived mass extinction. This was hard for me to believe at first. As a chicken farmer, I know that dinosaurs inspire a sense of awe in people that chickens just do not. Crowds never gather to view chicken bones at the Science Museum, and preschoolers don’t reverently learn the names of different types of poultry.

    After gathering eggs for several years now, I believe that chickens have been cheated out of some of the glory that is rightfully theirs as descendants of dinosaurs.

    My hens’ eggs are timeless. Their perfect, rounded shape feels ancient and comforting. I know small child who calms down immediately if she can carry an egg around in her little palm, and I can relate to that feeling. However, we have 700 layers, so I can’t afford to get to meditative with my eggs.

    I have to move quickly and focus hard so I don’t get clumsy and crack the shells. If I’m on my game, I can shift three or four eggs into familiar spaces between my palm and fingers and lift them gracefully. If conditions aren’t favorable, I can only grab one or two.

    One of the most unfavorable conditions for gathering eggs is a fierce hen on the nest, but thankfully not all hens are fierce. When I slip my hand into the warm soft place between a hen’s feathery belly and the floor of the nest, a mellow hen will sit with dignity and croon at me.

    A fierce hen will peck though. An exceptionally fierce hen will peck, grab skin in her beak, hold on to that skin, and pull as hard as she can. Hens like that make my husband wear gloves, but gloves annoy me while gathering eggs. Feeling with my fingertips helps me find the eggs that are tucked way back under a chicken. So in this very small area of life, I am quite valiant and bravely go up against the worst my little ladies can dish out.

    I don’t mind it much actually. I understand the need to be a fierce mama sometimes. Using the sing-song voice I use to reassure pets, I tell my ferocious hen that she is such a brave dinosaur and then reach slowly under her, angling in hopes that she will grab my sleeve instead of my skin. My patronizing talk does nothing for the bird, but it helps me stay calm.

    The hens talk to me too, except for the most serene birds, they sound prehistoric when I am gathering eggs. Picture a gaggle of enormous, hook-beaked dinosaurs hovering warily over a cluster of eggs. Imagine the guttural, unmelodious sounds that those creatures might croak at another animal that threatened their nest. This is what my chickens sound like.

    It makes me grateful that they’re small, and I’m higher on the food chain. I’d feel the same way about dinosaurs.


    Evening chores after a cold snap

    January 14th, 2016

    With our four-year-old asleep last night, the rest of my family went through the long process of donning insulated overalls, boots, headlamps, and other hardy clothing. We have as much protective gear as knights decked out in full battle regalia, and putting it on takes us longer than it might because we start to procrastinate a bit before venturing out on winter evenings. The kids have a story to tell about their day at school and we all have to stand totally still and listen to it, or I urgently need to check something on the computer. Someone puts everything on and then decides it’s time to visit the restroom.

    We finally got outside though. After several nights of below zero temperatures, we marveled at the luxury of the weather. Our hands didn’t hurt. Our scarves were not covering our noses, and were not suffering because of it. I told my teenager that having the family outside on such a pleasant night made me feel like having a picnic, but she didn’t think we should get carried away.

    As I hauled some water jugs, I found my 11-year-old lying flat on his back by the pump, watching the steam of his breath rise in the light of his headlamp. At first I worried he was hurt, but he was just enjoying himself and taking in the world. A kid does not do that kind of thing when they are miserably cold. It was a good sight, and I told him I appreciated that he was communing with nature but that he had to get up and help is sister.

    “It’s 20 degrees out here!” shouted my husband happily as he pulled up in the pickup truck we use to haul feed. We hauled our buckets and jugs and then went back inside where the darkness doesn’t wrap around us, and we don’t need flashlights strapped to our heads to see what we’re doing. We peeled off our extra layers of clothes and tackled homework, laundry and dishes.

    In retrospect, the outdoor chores seemed more fun than working inside. Only the end of a cold snap could make me so grateful for a dark and pristine winter night, and for sharing that night with my family.


    Christmas Eve with the dogs

    December 25th, 2015

    I have spent almost every Christmas Eve of my life with my aunt, uncle and cousins in a suburb of Minneapolis. This evening when we were driving north on I-35 to get to the family dinner, a pain in my right eye grew more and more intense. This is a sure sign of a migraine, so Ian turned the truck around and dropped me off at home before taking the kids up to the gathering.

    I wasn’t incapacitated, and relaxing alone with some food stopped the progress of the migraine, so I did what anyone in my situation would do on Christmas Eve. I went outside to brush dogs in the chicken coop.

    Being outside and being with those dogs are two of my favorite things in the world, and while I was with them, I felt no pain at all. As I suspected though, one of my dogs didn’t have much time for brushing. I started grooming Sassy (our sheriff) but she heard something important happening out in the world and took off barking.

    Morgan (our deputy) considered going with her. With the perfect timing of a comedian, she first turned her head toward Sassy who was charging into the darkness like a lion, barking her deep, authoritative bark. Then Morgan looked back at me, sitting on the straw in my coveralls, holding brushes. She looked back at the door where Sassy had gone, and then trotted over to me.

    Morgan rolled over on her back and I had the luxury of unpressured time with her, finally sorting through some of the snarls that had been waiting for quite a while. After chatting with her at length, I serenaded her with Christmas carols, which she seemed to appreciate.

    Sassy was less appreciative of the carols. She came back to the coop and left several times to bark at something in the darkness. When she was inside, I noticed her turning her head in different directions and perking her ears, straining to detect the most subtle sounds. I suspect my singing made it harder for her to hear the really important things in the world. Finally, she left and didn’t return. She clearly had serious work to do.

    I kept singing to Morgan, with songs full of shepherds and stars. She comes from a long line of shepherds. It’s only because she was raised with chickens that she cares for them the way she was bred to care for sheep. She has spent her life being watchful under the stars.

    Finally, I stood up to go. After waiting to be sure the brushing was completely done, Morgan ran outside with a few low growls to join Sassy on patrol.

    Tonight I will go to sleep especially appreciative that right here, on our farm, there are two beautiful shepherds guarding their flocks (of chickens) by night, vigilant under the wide sky. My love for those gorgeous dogs mixes with my love for the shepherds in those dear old carols and the joy they found while watching in the night.


    Lard candles

    December 20th, 2015

    Lard was never a household staple for me before I started farming. Although I’d read about the benefits of traditional fats, I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone speak a positive word about lard before I started raising hogs myself.

    Mom's phone Dec 18 033

    Melting rendered lard

    Learning how to raise hogs, I read about how they used to be bred to pack on the fat so people could enjoy lots of lard. It went for cooking, baking soap, skin care, candles, and many other practical projects. This versatile fat has been prized all over the world for ages.

    These old-time folks knew what they were doing. They had centuries to figure out what worked and what didn’t. That lard we scorned was full of vitamin D and apparently pure lard like mine does not harden arteries the way its modern replacements do.

    We put that knowledge to good use at my house now. We cook with big dollops of lard, and if I can get away with a less buttery flavor, I bake with it too. We make soap and a rich hand balm that protects my skin from the itchy effects of chlorine because I teach fitness classes twice a week in a swimming pool.

    With Christmas coming, I decided the 4-year-old and I would take on a special project of making candles using lard. (Some of these candles will be used as gifts, so if you are family and are reading this, please pretend to be surprised if you receive a home-made candle!)

    Mom's phone Dec 18 027

    Our brick of beeswax

    First, my son and I got out the kitchen scale and cut off 2 oz of beeswax from a beloved old brick of beeswax that was given to us as a gift some time ago and has been used in many memorable projects.

    We melted a pound of rendered lard from our own hogs and mixed the liquid wax and lard. After cooling it for a while, we added .5 oz of orange essential oil and .25 oz of cinnamon essential oil.

    While we waited for the wax and lard to cool, we curled some candle wicks around pencils and balanced the pencils on jars. My son helped with the curling of the wicks. I think this was his favorite part. I held the tip of the wick still on the pencil while he rotated the body of the wick in large circles around it.

    Mom's phone Dec 18 037

    Jars with wicks, ready for hot wax and lard.

    Eventually, we poured our hot mix into the jars and then had to let them cool. It felt like it took a long time to cool (or at least my son thought so), and when we were done, we found that the candle was still very soft. You can easily make an impression in it with your finger, but this shouldn’t be much of a practical concern because it is a container candle. I expect if someone added a higher proportion of beeswax, they could have a firmer candle.

    001

    I rarely buy scented candles because I feel uneasy with their chemical perfumes, but one of our own scented lard candles is burning on the table right now, and I am enjoying it so much. Every time I breathe in, I smell a gentle whiff of cinnamon. My 11-year-old just came down and said, “It smells great in here! Is that the candle?”

    Mom's phone Dec 18 062

    I can enjoy that lovely scent knowing that it is coming from a pure source. Honestly, I did not expect to enjoy the lard candles so much. We may do this again, maybe with some citronella to keep mosquitoes away from outdoor suppers in the spring and summer. In the meantime, we have a lovely aroma and a light for family suppers during some of the longest nights of the year. (And some other people in our family will have that soon too! Shhh!)


    Our young hens are coming of age

    December 12th, 2015

    Raising chickens is like parenting. Each child is different, and what worked with one does not work at all with another.

    Our youngest flock of layers is wild. I have never had a group of birds like this in my life. Our hens are usually quite tame and mellow. They might fuss a little if my four-year-old moves too quickly, but they’re generally quite content to be around people and will amble up to peck my boots or overalls to check if they might be tasty. Their calm clucks and squawks are soothing and familiar.

    12370815_1026273084093373_6018568666057474570_o

    These young guys literally fly into a panic when I step into their coop. I have to move to the side and stand their very still as they all make their way to the exit with many squawks and flaps.

    I think this is because the majority of the flock is made up of two flightly breeds: Black Australorpes and Brown Leghorns. Still, like I would do as a mother, I wonder, “What have I done wrong? We’ve been gentle with them. We’ve been with them every day. None of our other birds have acted this way!” I’ve been a mom for long enough now that I can confidently tell myself, “You have not caused them to be like this. It is just the way they are. Try to work with it.”12391010_1026273060760042_2947145310497888715_n

    Just this week, our wild flock has begun laying just a handful eggs every day. If they were young ladies, they might have a special party, but I don’t think these birds would appreciate that. What they want most from me is my absence. So I will mark this occasion online and invite you to celebrate with me very quietly, away from those hens.

    Still, I thought a picture would be appropriate. The other day, I noticed a group of them gathered sweetly around one of our evergreens, so I stepped out to snap a celebratory picture of them, marking this important time in their lives. With any other chickens, this would have been fine. With these guys, it was not. As I neared the full evergreen, they all fled to the far side of it. I walked around the tree, and they started pouring across the field toward their coop. I started snapping pictures, but they were not what I hoped for. Instead, I ended up videotaping them as they all fled from me up. (That’s the video that’s included in this post.)

    After a couple days, I tried again, opening their door slowly in the morning and quickly snapping photos. They eyed me suspiciously but let me take their pictures, which are also included in this post.

    They are lovely, and I wish them vigorous and happy laying in the seasons to come. I hope they’ll mellow with age.

     


    Dark fields

    December 10th, 2015

    I have mixed feelings about the warm weather.

    On one hand, we are so grateful that the mild weather has made the construction of our hoop house easier. The ground froze slowly, so we could dig up the ground and smooth it out again before it became hard as ice. Now, we have a chance to enclose the building before winter really sets in. Our roof is up, of course, but we also have the side walls and then some 4-foot walls that run the length of the building.

    Also, it’s a luxury to be doing chores this time of year without freezing parts of ourselves. No matter how bundled up I might be, my hands freeze. For Ian and my daughter, it’s their feet. We’ve been comfortable outside so far this season with happy hands and feet.

    Still, I miss the snow that we had for a while. When it was on the ground, I went out in the morning to open the doors for the hens and feed breakfast to the dogs. The sky was pink, and the fields were white and smelling sweetly of snow. I had to stop in my tracks to stand there with a bag of dog food in my hands, just breathing. That pink sky on the snowy fields were so astounding I couldn’t ignore them or wrap my understanding around them. The only thing to do was to just stand there and breathe, embracing the world with each breath.

    I stood quietly for just moment because there were animals to tend and preschool would be starting soon for my son in town. Even in that short time, those fields and that sky made me a little more beautiful from the inside out. I could feel the change in my lungs and my shoulders and my face. It made me smile.

    I miss that snow.


    The roof is up

    December 3rd, 2015

    Our new chicken coop has a roof now, and we pulled it up there just before the snow fell.

    We did the job Sunday night, just as the light was fading. Ian and a couple of helpers had placed the tarp on the ground one side of the hoops they had raised up. They tied 8 ropes to the tarp and threaded those over the top of our hoops.

    Our job, working all together was to pull that tarp over the hoops, which were maybe 12 feet high at their highest.

    The tarp was enormous and inconceivably heavy. I started off on the side of the building opposite the tarp. Our friend John showed me how wrap the rope around each hand and then lean my weight back, pulling the tarp a little bit farther up the framework. I threw my whole weight into it and tipped over very slowly as the tarp moved a bit.

    Just pulling wasn’t good enough though. We needed two people pulling ropes side by side, and on the other side of the building, we needed two people to lift the tarp and push it a bit. Our friend John shouted “One, two, three!” and then we all threw ourselves into the jobs of pulling or lifting, and the tarp inched up a bit over the hoops.

    After we made a few inches of progress, we tied those ropes and then everyone shifted a bit down the length of the building to make the same few inches of progress a little bit farther to west.

    Eventually I stopped pulling those ropes because it seemed like I was fiddling around with them much longer than everyone else, trying to tie them or untie them while John was ready to count to three again for another great heave. I went to help my 11-year-old son lift tarp at the count of three while the men pulled the ropes.

    As dark settled in earnest, Ian started up a generator and ran some flood lights which made the work even more impressive because as the light reflected off the white tarp, I felt like I was in a glowing sanctuary hemmed by deep wintery night.

    What impressed me the most was the way we worked without words. I have not often worked with a team of people on such a big job together, and it was my first instinct to chat a lot about what people were doing and how I could best help. I noticed nobody else was doing that, so I tried to take my cues from them.

    In this quieter way of communicating everyone had to be so observant and sensitive with one another. We had to keep our eye on the progress of the tarp as well as the challenges that each individual was experiencing with it. It seems to me like another language that people have spoken since we started tackling impressive projects in groups. I can see it being used by people hunting big game at any time in human history, or by sailors handling the enormous sails of old ships. I’m sure it’s being used in construction projects in every town in the country right now.

    It’s a beautiful way to communicate, and I am terribly awkward at it. With practice though, it might come more naturally.


    barn raising in progress

    November 27th, 2015

    ian camera 022

    We’ve made huge progress on our new chicken coop over the last couple weeks. The first job was to assemble and raise up all the metal bars that will support the structure. Our boys helped with the job.

    Once those supports were up, it took a great deal of effort to be sure that the base of each metal hoop was in a straight line with the other hoops. Ian and our friend John would peer along the line of metal supports sticking out of the ground and offer advice about whether it was in a good position or not before they permanently attached it.

    “You’re out of line!” they kept telling each other until it became the joke of the evening.

    ian camera 031Then, just before Thanksgiving, Ian put up the baseboards around the bottom of the hoop. This time the challenge wasn’t being “out of line.” Instead, he was worried about if he was being “on the level.”

    Usually, when people are working as hard as Ian and John are, it’s safe to say that they’re staying out of trouble. This project is the exception to the rule because those guys were getting out of line and Ian work wasn’t always on the level.

    ian camera 043With time – and a whole lot of effort — it sorted itself out. All the poles and the baseboard are up to everyone’s satisfaction, and on Wednesday dump trucks and a bobcat were working here for the entertainment of our four-year-old. Those vehicles – and the guys driving them – patched up our driveway and landscaped around the new coop.

    A great deal remains to be done with the coop, but we’ve won our race with the freezing ground, at least where the coop construction is concerned. We’re certainly thankful for that.