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    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.


    Free-range hens in flight

    November 22nd, 2015

    Video of flying free-rang hens

    Every morning I open the doors for our youngest layers, and then I find a safe place to watch. They enter the world with style each day, flying, squawking and flapping. A couple of times, flying birds collided me when I was puttering with something outside their coop. They pack a punch when they’re moving, and the impact left in me shock for just a split second, wondering where I was and what happened. The surreal truth hit me like a punch line: You have been struck by a chicken, and you’re OK.

    The hens are even more surprised than I am after a collision — even though I was the stationary object. It seems like they can’t steer very well when they’re in flight. Maybe that’s why chickens don’t fly too often. For them, taking flight is literally taking a huge leap of faith, hoping that they’ll land in a good place at the end of their little adventure.

    It seems to us that these chickens are at their peak age for flying. They’re five months old, so they’re not quite grown yet, but they’re big enough to be strong and bold. I always assumed that it became harder for them to fly as their bodies grew a bit heavier, but maybe it’s an emotional thing too. These flight-happy birds are still teenagers. They’re willing to take that leap of faith because they’re filled with youthful optimism and a desire to take the world by storm. They haven’t yet settled into the serious work of laying eggs yet, so they’re still a bit fancy free.

    Now I am completely anthropomorphizing, but that’s part of what makes my job fun. When I watch those birds flying, and I remember some of the best parts of being a teenager — when I felt like I was just taking flight and the world lay ahead of me like a wide field, gently hemmed by trees.

    It’s good to remember that in such a vivid way — especially when you’re a parent. This morning, I’ve been daunted by the zeal of my four-year-old, trying to channel his energy into cleaning the house instead of tearing it apart. In some ways, he’s like those young birds, ready to leap into the sky, and hungry for adventure. At this stage of my life, it seems like I’m the one breaking the falls of adventure seekers, whether they’re feathered of not. That’s fine, as long as I keep a place in my own heart that’s ready to take that leap of faith myself, briefly flapping and flying into the unknown, just for the glory of it.

    Candling eggs with a grandma

    November 18th, 2015

    My mother-in-law Ellen came down Monday night to pack and candle more than 200 dozen eggs with me. The eggs were picked up by our wholesale buyer Tuesday – the same day when my husband needed to enter first quarter grades for his 180 sixth graders. He couldn’t work on packing eggs and grading 6th graders’ essays at the same time, so his mom came down to help.

    I’d like to t011hink that if I didn’t have a couple of migraines every week, we would not be candling 200 dozen eggs the day before they were to be picked up. Instead, we would have worked on it carefully during the days leading up to the delivery. Maybe this is just wishful thinking.

    I made good progress on the eggs during the day Monday, but the bulk of the job remained to be done by late afternoon, which is always a scramble of activities, homework, chores and dinner. Finally, Ellen put the 4-year-old to bed while I set up an egg candling station in the garage, near our large outdoor egg cooler. This saves a tremendous amount of time because we aren’t staggering around, carrying large boxes of eggs back and forth from the house.

    Ellen did most of the candling, using a system Ian taught her. He moves eggs two at a time over a battery powered light that makes the eggs glow so we can see any hairline cracks. He spins each glowing egg to see each side. Then, he drops it in a waiting egg carton. Ian, who loves numbers, times himself and can do a dozen eggs in 20 seconds. (Ellen scoffed very companionably about Ian’s stellar skill, which made me feel less insecure about my own candling speed.)

    Sitting in the dim garage, bending seriously over her work, Ellen looked like she was doing something ancient and mysterious. The egg candler, shining up from the table, cast an unusual glow up on her face. It was deeply impressive.

    My grandpa and mother did impressive things like this in the garage when I was a child. Grandpa had invented a tool that was used in plastering work, and whenever he had to fill an order, my mom would come help him, welding in his garage shop.

    Sometimes I had to go out to that garage and tell Grandpa that he had a phone call. The dark garage was lit with sparks from a welder that I wasn’t supposed to look at directly. My mother wore a huge helmet that made her look like a space traveler or a super hero. She always tipped it away from her face when she saw me, which gave me a wave of relief. A child always likes to be reassured that one’s mother has not been permanently transformed into a helmeted master of sparks.

    It was always my impression that they were doing deeply important work in the world, and I left that garage with a sense of awe. I think that if our youngest son had seen me and his grandma at work Monday night, he’d come away with the same impression.

    I left that garage with a different feeling Monday: gratitude. I was so grateful for Ellen’s help and her company. She turned a daunting job into a fun one.

    Our impassable driveway

    November 14th, 2015
    We're putting in a water line that will lead up to our new hen coop.

    We’re putting in a water line that will lead up to our new hen coop.

    We’re having a water line installed to the site of the new hen coop. This is what our driveway looks like this morning. Last evening it was completely blocked with a large truck, a dumpster and a Bobcat.

    I had to pick up two sixth graders at the middle school and bring them back home last night, but I couldn’t use the driveway. I put the truck into four wheel drive, drove it across our field, down the ditch, and then up onto the street on a driveway our neighbor uses to get equipment into the field. I could hear the truck throwing bits of mud off its tires as I sped down the country road.

    I came back at sunset with two sixth grade boys in the truck. Construction equipment, lit up and busy digging in the growing darkness, looked dramatic as we bumped through the field again. It was probably the coolest trip to town and back that I have ever made.

    Migraine adventure

    November 14th, 2015

    I’ve gradually come to the understanding that I’m farming with a disability. Over the past several years my migraines have moved from being a nuisance to being an obstacle to being a major factor in how we organize our work.

    There are – obviously – plenty of down-sides to this. One doesn’t need much of an imagination to paint a clear picture of those. With a sense of humor though, one can sometimes find an “up-side” as well. For one thing, it makes a person vulnerable to having adventures. It’s a lot like farming that way. In fact, when you combine farming and migraines, adventure will ensue.

    This week, for example, I took my 4-year-old and a livestock trailer and took off for Osceola where I was going to buy some equipment I found on Craig’s List. My good old pickup truck, with the livestock trailer in tow, carried us steadily through torrential rain, flooded streets and road construction. I secretly felt like a tough guy making several 3-point turns with a trailer as I narrowed in on our destination. (My trailer backing skills are growing!)

    We got the equipment loaded up just before it started to rain, and I started home feeling good. We’d gone a couple miles before the mild pain in my right eye rapidly dug in and became formidable. As we stopped for gas, I popped my prescription that’s supposed to stop migraines in their tracks. With gas in the truck and rain pouring down in the pitch black of a November evening, I started losing my ability to think clearly.

    I couldn’t make heads or tails of the directions that would take me home. It was like trying to read Chinese. I sat in the truck for a while and talked to my husband by cell phone, but phone conversations are hard for me when I can’t think straight. They seem disembodied and impossible to track.

    In the haze of impaired thinking, I decided I was going to be cheerful for my four-year-old. No matter what happened next, it would happen with great cheer. With the little one in tow, I went back into the gas station and asked if there was a hotel nearby. There was one just down the road! I literally needed to turn out of one driveway and into another.

    My four-year-old and I headed out into the rain. As we left the lights of town behind and sped deeper and deeper into farm country in the pouring rain, I started to lose faith in my plan. A new adventure took shape in my mind.

    We would get a ride in a police car and watch cartoons at a hotel! What an unexpected treat. I pulled over and called 911. Sure enough, the Osceola police showed up and after checking my license and registration, the young officer chatted with Asher and gave us a ride in the back of the police car. We could even hear him talking on a walky-talky with the dispatcher and other police. This is absolutely fascinating if you’re four years old.

    Finally, we curled up on a hotel bed with the cartoon network on TV. We don’t have a TV at home, so my four-year-old sat absolutely transfixed. My husband, meanwhile, found a restaurant that would deliver dinner to us, found someone to drive our big kids home from play practice and the YMCA, got the big kids started on farm chores, recruited his parents to help us, and then drove for several hours to come rescue me, our little one, and the abandoned truck with its trailer.

    Ian and his folks did great work, and we all got home safe. From the point of view of our 4-year-old, I think it was a very special evening — a real adventure.

    Offending our “sheriff”

    November 12th, 2015

    We think my mother-in-law Ellen offended Sassy the guardian dog yesterday morning. I was off taking care of some things in town, so Ian’s mother kindly offered to look in on the dogs and laying hens. She’s a real dog person, and so I asked if she could brush the “girls” a bit while she was with them. She thought that was fine and went out to the barn where the laying hens live.

    Morgan was the first dog to greet Ellen with many tail wags and nuzzles. This is her style, and Sassy usually greets me with slower dignity in the morning. Ellen brushed Morgan right away, after greeting Sassy briefly, since Morgan was right there waiting for attention.

    Sassy returned to the barn and stayed there. When Ellen came to brush her, she didn’t get up. She just lay there and endured the brushing. Sassy never does that. She sits with great poise and then seriously paws a person if their attention is diverted for a moment.Sassy is our sheriff – our alpha dog – and Ellen guessed that by brushing Morgan first, she had snubbed Sassy’s high position on the farm. After the brushing was done, Ellen sat by Sassy a long time, petting her and assuring her that she was clearly a wonderful alpha dog. When there was a pause in this love, Sassy went out briskly to bark at something outside.

    It’s pretty common for Sassy to go charging off after something that I can’t detect, but Ellen wondered if the dog wanted to demonstrate that she was a hard-working dog with responsibilities here. Ellen should be able to see that she is obviously the sheriff on this farm.

    Ellen advised me to brush Sassy first – which I had already been doing. Morgan doesn’t seem to mind, but it seems important to Sassy.

    Our Livestock Guardian Dogs!

    November 10th, 2015

    We are the very proud owners of two Great Pyrenees dogs. Until last summer, they spent all of their lives guarding poultry together at a farm in Kentucky, but people that loved them had to leave tIMG_0459he farm. We found our “girls” at Northstar Great Pyrenees Rescue.

    Sassy came to us first. Someone from the rescue group arranged to drop off Sassy at the Fulton Farmers Market after it had closed and we were packing up to leave. As soon as I saw that huge, regal dog, I almost started to cry. It’s like the whole farmers market just melted away for a moment while I received a great honor. I had to get a grip on myself quickly before greeting the lady at the other end of the leash!

    Sassy stayed with us for a little over a week before Morgan came to join her. We thought this would be a joyful reunion, but they had some things to figure out before they felt they could celebrate much.

    After clashing (harmlessly) several times the first day, Sassy and Morgan are getting along well. As soon as Morgan came, Sassy took complete ownership of the place. She no longer tried to follow me out of the gate ever again once Morgan arrived. Recently, I saw them playing together in the field, dancing almost. It was very beautiful.

    They’ve decided that Sassy is the sheriff and Morgan is the deputy. We call Sassy our Mountain of Love. It’s like she’s carrCAM00028ying very heavy responsibilities on her shoulders. Sometimes, if we’re petting her and stop for a moment, she looks at us very seriously and paws us. Other times, she is so busy smelling the air and learning about the world that she just paws us to restart the petting without even looking at us. Morgan wears her big heart on her sleeve and greets us with smiles and wags. She nuzzles and cuddles us. We are so grateful to see this because she was so expressive of her pain the first few days she was with us.

    They take their chicken guarding responsibilities seriously. They love getting petted, and we spend time doing that every day, just sitting there petting one on each side. But if something happens (that they are both aware of, but I am not) they go tearing off together barking. It is like their former owner from Kentucky said — if someone is giving them direct attention, they like it. If not, they go back to work. Sassy has only pulled on her leash once, and it was a night when they were aware of coyotes. I am so glad the leash was wrapped around my wrist, or she would’ve been gone. I only learned about the coyotes later that night when they started to howl, and then I understood why she’d been acting so strangely. She knew about them long before I did. Her former owner said said she left the farm in Kentucky only once to go after a wildcat. This is very easy for me to believe. She is an amazing guard dog.

    In addition to keeping hawks from eating our hens (which we have seen Sassy do now), they have taken on the special project of getting some voles out from under the large chicken feeder we have. Morgan was keeping some chickens away from the feeder one afternoon as they worked on it, but I think it’s possible she had the chickens’ safety in mind! The voles are not a threat to the birds, but that’s hard to explain to dogs.

    My 4-year-old has a special bond with Sassy. He’s slowly starting to talk more about Morgan, too, but I think Sassy has his heart. My bigger kids talk about both dogs.

    The dogs live in a barn and very large yard with our mature hens. We’re applying for a grant from Fund a Farmer to get a fence all the way around the property. With a perimeter fence, they could care for all our flocks at once — and we could be with them whenever we opened our door to go outside.

    Every day, I look forward to my time with the dogs.

    Getting ready for the barn raising

    November 9th, 2015
    Ian's digging a trench so we can run electricity to our new chicken coop

    Ian’s digging a trench so we can run electricity to our new chicken coop

    As of March, we won’t be able to use the barn where most of our laying flock lives, so we’re planning on building a huge new hoop house that can hold almost 800 laying hens. We’ll be working on it this weekend. (Please think of coming down for a barn raising!)

    In the meantime, this week is full of preparation — starting with the delivery of our hoop house four hours before we had expected it.

    On Thursday, my friend Molly came over for our weekly work trade. (Every week we tackle a project either at her house or mine.) Molly arrived at my house a minutes before I did and called me on the cell phone to say she was parking across the street because a semi truck was filling up our driveway. The delivery of our hoop house materials had arrived about four hours before we were expecting it.

    The timing couldn’t be better though. The driver waited for about 5 minutes and then the two of us showed up to unload. My friend Molly is the kind of person you would hope might help you unload a semi full of materials. She’s cheerful and laid back, and she’s naturally very strong. It’s one of the gifts she brings to the world. Molly is the only person I know who has played professional women’s football, and she lopes along gracefully with loads that make me stagger.

    We unloaded all the rods, boxes and the tarp for the hoop by the side of the driveway then moved on to the 10 huge boxes of egg cartons that had also been delivered that morning while I was out. If Molly hadn’t been there, I don’t know what I would have done.

    Then, on Saturday, Ian rented a trencher — a “Dingo”, my 4-year-old wants everyone to know. It was an impressive thing. It had what looked like a 4-foot chainsaw that dug into the dirt, making a trench for the electric wires that runs from our garage over to the barn. My 11-year old, who wants to be an engineer, was deeply impressed by all the hydraulics on the machine. He also could picture it being used in a battle because the earth-cutting blade could be held high up as the heavy machine chugged along at a good pace, looking menacing.

    Ian, thank goodness, did not have anything menacing in mind. He dug the trench peacefully, then he and our friend John tried to cover up the resulting mounds of dirt beside the trench because our hens were having way too much fun scratching that newly turned dirt. They could flatten those mounds in no time, and we need that dirt to refill the trench.

    With the trench dug, we moved all of those rods and boxes that Molly and I had unloaded. They’re at the building site now, and we are expecting that this week someone will come to dig another trench for water lines and run water up to the new barn.

    Then, if all goes as hoped, we’ll be putting together a hoop house next weekend. It’s also the weekend of our Holiday Market at Bachman’s. Again, if anyone wants to be part of a real, modern barn-raising, send me an e-mail: auntieanniesfields@gmail.com

    Hawks and Livestock Guardian Dogs

    November 7th, 2015

    Sassy the dog keeps an eye on the chickens

    Before I started farming, I had a reverential attitude towards hawks. I’d spot one by the side of the road and slow the car down if nobody was behind me, admiring the proud curves of its head and beak.

    I’ve only known the name of one kind of hawk – a red-tailed hawk. Still, I speculated about what kind of hawk it might be as though I were an expert at bird identification and the red-tailed hawk was the greatest treat any bird watcher might see.

    Those magnificent hawks have been eating well at our place. Instead of a farm, we’re running a five-star restaurant for hawks. We feed our birds organic feed, which costs extra, so by the time we’ve spent 6 months raising a hen to adulthood, we’ve spent significant money and time on that bird and are depending on the eggs it will lay.

    About a week ago, as I was scattering grain for my chickens in their yard, a bunch of hens started squawking and running back towards their coop. Sure enough, there was a hawk sitting very nobly in a tree at the southern border of the property.

    I ran over to that tree, and it looked at me regally. I started whooping and jumping and flapping my arms in a performance you rarely see from an adult. The hawk was barely impressed and swooped to a tree about 30 feet to the south.

    I followed it, stomping, hooting, and waving. Again, it watched me carrying on at the base of the tree for several moments before choosing another tree just down the property line. I kept at this, eventually chasing the hawk all the way to my house. I threw a five-gallon bucket into the air to give it extra motivation to leave the property entirely. Instead, it swooped low over the hen yard and landed in the same tree where I first saw it.

    By this time, my son was late for preschool, and I realized that I could only protect my birds by spending the day with them. I left with my son and returned to find a dead hen in the yard. The hawk had its meal.

    We got a dog the next day. This had been planned for some time, but the timing was good. It is a livestock guardian dog that protected poultry in Kentucky until its family had to leave the farm. The dog is still adjusting to its new home and didn’t seem to notice the hawk at the edge of the chicken yard when went out for morning chores earlier this week.

    The hawk noticed the dog though. Without any whooping or throwing of buckets, the hawk was gone, soaring away to the south. It didn’t come back.

    I don’t slow down the car to look at hawks any more, but I look at that dog with a new sense of respect. Unlike the hawk, the dog respects me back.

    Favorite morning chore

    October 25th, 2015

    For a couple years, we had a flock of a hundred laying hens that ran freely around the yard. This was a great help because those hens reduced our tick population so much that instead of finding a couple ticks each day like we did when we first moved here, our family finds a couple every season.

    That’s a practical concern because I’ve known many people suffer terribly with various tick-borne illnesses. Having a few chickens around the yard seems like a great preventative health measure.

    Having the hens in the yard worked well except for the flock that gathered on our deck every afternoon. I have no idea what the appeal was. Usually our hens are pecking and scratching and generally being productive outside, but these birds gathered about 4 p.m. to stare into space together on the deck. It must have been the equivalent of kicking back on the couch with a beer after a hard day’s work. Our chickens work hard in their way, and I wouldn’t begrudge them a place to relax if they were potty trained.

    Our business has grown, and we had close to 600 layers this year. These hens never hung out on our deck, and there were no ticks, but it became clear that we could not share our yard with that many birds. Our daughter wanted designated shoes to walk from the house to the car when we were going into town.

    My husband put up some fencing to keep most of the chickens in the hay field, but they hated it. They stood by the gate that led to our yard, waiting there, seemingly all day. They stopped laying.

    We started a new routine to encourage them to enjoy their new yard. Now every morning I let out the birds and then walk into that hay field, tossing corn and shouting “Here chick chick chick!!” A whole crowd of hens follows eagerly as they see me with a bucket, and others tear out of the coop when they hear me calling. I recognize my own bad habits in the hens that are always rushing out to the field late, after all the other hens are busy pecking in the grass.

    I can create art in the field because the hens gather everywhere I scatter the grain. I can form a long narrow arc of hens or a short, wide shape. I think I could form letters out there and spell words with my flock. When I’m done, I have to run away because they chase me hopefully. I picture someone watching and advising me that I don’t need to flee from hens because they are not usually dangerous.

    This works well for the hens and for me. They don’t wait at the gate any more, and they’re laying more. I love feeling like a celebrity every morning, and the chickens’ gawky eagerness makes me laugh out loud. It’s like we start every day with a little celebration. That feels right.

    Half and Whole hogs

    September 13th, 2015

    We’re officially done taking orders for the half and whole hogs that we’ll butcher Nov. 4, but if you’re in the market for a half or whole hog, e-mail us to see if we can work something out — maybe still for this fall, or maybe for next year. These hogs ate certified organic feed (meaning non-GMO and no sprays) and were raised outside with a varied diet. The pork will be available in mid-November.

    To put down a $150 deposit to reserve a half hog, contact us via phone or e-mail, or use this Paypal button. (If you use the Pay Pal button, please e-mail us at auntieanniesfieldsATgmailDOT com with your contact information!) The remainder of the cost will be paid when you pick up your pork at Dennison Meats in November.

    Deposit on pork

    How much does it cost, and how much pork would I get?
    A whole hog would cost VERY ROUGHLY $915 including processing, and a half hog would be VERY ROUGHLY $458. A whole hog would yield very roughly 145 lbs of meat, and a half hog would be around 73 lbs of meat. This breaks down to roughly $6.30/lb for the packaged pork.

    How is the final cost calculated?

    We charge $3.35/lb hanging weight plus processing cost, which is estimated at $230 per hog. Here’s an estimate of how that breaks down for a whole hog:
    Live weight: 300 lbs
    Hanging weight: 204 lbs
    Packaged weight: 145 lbs
    So, a whole hog might cost approximately $915 ($3.35 x 204 lbs plus $230 processing cost) and a half hog would be half that amount.

    That price will vary depending on the size of the hog, and also on what you ask the processor to do with your meat. If you want just fresh cuts but no prepared sausage or smoked cuts (like bacon and ham), you could save on the cost of processing the hog. If you wanted more than the average amount of sausage and smoked cuts, you could pay more.

    How are your hogs raised?

    We feed them:
    • Certified organic feed,
    • Hay from our own land,
    • Eggs from our organic-fed chickens
    • A small amount of leftover fruits vegetables as a little treat (some organic, and some not).
    They are raised in a small herd of 10 hogs. We’ve never given them hormones or antibiotics, and they have an old-style pig pen with a shelters and a yard where they like to wallow and play around and sometimes sleep under the stars on nice nights.

    What kind of cuts will I get?
    If you order half a hog, you’ll get the right or left side of a particular animal. Within that, you can get as creative as you like or keep it simple. The processor can give you a pretty standard set of cuts, or you can take this on as a creative work. For example, if know you love brats more than roasts, the processor can talk with you about your choices for brat recipes, and then cut your animal accordingly. Want extra-thick pork chops? No problem. Love bacon? There’s only so much on each side of an animal, but most bacon lovers also adore cottage bacon. Want everything packed up for a family of 2? OK! Setting up a cutting order for your hog can be a fun process.

    A HALF hog would yield something around: 23 pork chops, 3 lbs Spare Ribs, 9 lbs ground pork (maybe for sausage?), 15lbs ham (for a great potroast or smoked for big hams or ham steaks), 8 lbs bacon, 14 lbs roast, 5 lbs Stew Bones, 8 lbs unrendered lard. Again, it’s possible to play with these amounts sometimes to have more sausage, etc.

    I need to avoid gluten and nitrates! I am delighted that Dennison Meats can work with you to avoid nitrates, gluten, and most other ingredients that one might be avoiding. If that’s the case for, you should talk directly with the processor about your needs. She is fabulous at guiding you through these choices.

    When and where will the pork be available?We’ll be processing the hogs in early November. If you order smoked meat, your pork will be available a couple of weeks later. The fresh cuts will be available sooner. When you pick up your hog at Dennison Meats, (109 Farm Road, Dennison, Minnesota 55018,) you’ll pay both the processing cost (to Dennison ) and the remainder of the cost of the hog (to us). If you like, click to see Dennison Meat’s website, or call them at 507-645-8734