Of Freezers and Turkeys

Life is going in so many directions I can’t select just one topic to talk about. So here is a tasting of everything that is going on at the ranch.

Freezer – The freezer has been a bit of a larger task that I first thought it would be. Back in the spring, John and I planned to spend a couple of weekends and a few evenings putting the whole thing together. That turns out to be a massive underestimation of the actual amount of work necessary to build a walk in freezer. Adam (our intern) and I have spent just about two full weeks on it so far. Week 1 was cleaning, layout, and shopping. Week 2 has been construction, electrical, and hopefully refrigeration.  Right now, the freezer has walls but no ceiling, the trench is dug for the electrical and the contractor is supposed to be working on it this afternoon, and our freezer guy says we are next on his list. It won’t all come together tomorrow, but it sure seems like next week, we will have a functioning walk-in freezer.

Refrigerated Trailer – Holly (my fiancée) was cruising on craigslist earlier in the week and found a refrigerated trailer for sale.  An odd find to be blogging about you might think, but to me it is a magical find. Have you ever pondered the logistics of transporting hundreds of pounds of meat around? Well, there are good solutions and workable solutions. So far, I have been surviving with chest freezers in the back of the truck to transport meat around, which is a workable solution, but involves a lot of lifting of both meat and freezers. While I am young and stupid, someday I want to grow up to be old, wise, and not lifting 60lbs boxes of meat all the way up into a chest freezer in the back of my truck. Hence, my delight in this potential trailer, that I finally have a good solution. Let’s just hope I didn’t jinx the sale with this post.

Chicken updates – Our last batch of 2009 chickens are two weeks away from harvest. I am looking forward to this harvest and testing all of the updates to our processing line. Since our last big harvest, we have added a printing scale which saves us having to hand calculate all prices, devised a way to transport 200 chickens to the processing unit, and streamlined our chilling process. (Thank you, refrigerated trailer). This may be an odd reason to be excited about harvest, but the reality is that if we want Barbarosa Ranchers to be a success, we need to get this part of our operation down to a manageable task. Currently, it is doable, but requires hard long days with only moderate output. In the future, we need this process to result in high output and only require regular hours of labor. Every time we harvest, we move closer to that end goal and I love to make progress, so hence my excitement over our upcoming processing weekend.

Turkey thoughts — I have been too busy with building a freezer to have gotten turkey poults in time for T-day. Right now, if I bought them next week they would be ready for Christmas. However, I am hesitant to buy more than my family and friends can eat because I am worried if people would be willing the pay the price that I would have to charge for the turkey.

Before I shock you with the price, let’s consider what attributes our turkeys will have; free range, organic, sustainably family farmed, allowed to roam and roast like turkeys should, and absolutely delicious. You think our chicken is good? Try what we can do with turkey.

Now the price sketch: A turkey poult costs $4, organic feed for one turkey is $40, labor is right around $50. So the basic break-even puts a whole 20lb turkey right around $100. So now you can see that a free range organic turkey isn’t cheap. The question is — Is it worth it? If I knew that people would say yes, then I am off to the races. But since I don’t know, I am hemming and hawing. If anyone wants to pre-order a turkey for Christmas, contact me.

Next week looks to be Adam’s last week out here on the ranch, funding for his program is running out. I hope that we can finish off the section of fencing we started back when he first showed up.  But that is only my hope for next week; plans have a way of going out the window out here. All I know is that next week is going to be fun, exhausting, and rewarding.

Kitchen Sink

Life has been on fast forward since my last post. I just checked the date of my last post and it was over a month and a half ago. Wow, so much for my regular updates.  I hope that I can increase my post rate to once a month, but we shall see if life permits such an extravagant rate.  Since it has been so long since I lasted posted, this is going to be a kitchen sink update (as in everything including the kitchen sink)

So what have I been so busy with?  Hmmm, where to start….I have been updating our prices, starting to twitter (@barbarosaranch), processing two flights of chickens, harvesting this year’s lamb and pork, and working with our intern.

Marketing – I have created a whole new catalog of our packages and prices. I started off with just some individual package styles, but it quickly became clear that we have so much to offer that it really need to become a catalog. Cruise over to our price page to check it out.  You will find that we now have a meat CSA option (I will write a post dedicated to this soon), mixed meat packages, bulk packages and individual cuts. All in all, I am really pleased with what we grow and quite pleased with how we can offer it to you.

Blogging –  I have been hearing so much about twitter and micro-blogging that I just had to try it. I hope that having the limit of 140 characters per Twitter post will encourage more posts. A giant blank screen can be intimidating, which is what a regular post can feel like.

Chicken Harvests – We have processed two flights of chickens over the last 1.5 months. We processed one huge flight of about 350 Cornish cross. That was a long weekend with little help and some equipment malfunctions, but we survived and learned some valuable lessons. Our other flight was 90 Colored Rangers, which are not the industry standard growing machines. They are the same genetics as the French Label Rouge birds. They grow slower, act like chickens, and have all their feathers. We liked these birds quite a bit and plan to raise more of these rangers next year.  If you would like to try a Ranger, just ask.

Four legged harvests – We have sent 4 hogs and 15 lambs down to the abattoir.  The pork is back in our freezer waiting to find its new home. Some of the lamb has returned from the butcher, but we still have one more load of lambs to take to harvest next week.  If you would like a lamb cut your way, let me know and I can pass that on to our butcher.

Intern – We have also been benefiting from Obama’s stimulus package.  How the money traveled I am not sure, but our local Job Training Center got a pot of money to create a program to help underemployed youth by placing them in internships with local business. The interns get paid minimum wage and the business get free(ish) interns, a pretty good deal all around.

Our intern, Adam, has been with us for the past three weeks. He shows up at 7a and leaves a 3:30. So I have 8 hours of free labor to utilize and I want every second of that to be used. We have a large grant funded fencing project on the ranch to complete, so Adam and I have been building fence for the past week. Well, mostly been building fence – we have been pulled off task by a number of other things, so Adam doesn’t feel like he got dragooned into pure fence work. We have also setup drip systems, built chicken coops, built stockwater systems, and other stuff that I can’t think of right now. He is really into what we do out here, and I am trying to find a good place for him to work at after he is done out here.

The weeks ahead don’t look to be all that much calmer. We have a walk-in freezer to built, the fence to finish, meat to deliver, another huge chicken harvest in four weeks, and all of the regular chores that daily life requires.  Good thing I like what I do, otherwise I might get tired.