Farming

The Agony and The Eggs-tacy

dozeggs

Every winter we face the agony of fewer eggs to sell. It’s a chicken thing. When the days get shorter and colder, the chickens slow down (or stop) laying. Some types of chickens are more cold hardy, but in general… winter means less eggs. And every year we have to face our customers’ disappointment each day when we say, “Sorry, eggs are gone for the day.”

As a sustainable farm we try to do everything in balance… the right number of animals for the land, pasture, and farmers. As such, we raise a limited number of laying hens and that means a finite number of eggs every day, in every season.

Which brings us to the eggs-tacy. These eggs are the real deal… from pasture-raised hens who each fresh grass and insects all day. From a variety of chickens who roam in the same fields with our sheep, spending their days scratching, pecking, and being chickens. They lay eggs in many subtle shades of brown, lavender, blue and green, making each carton a veritable Easter basket of colors.

Our eggs are hand picked every day. We hand wash (no soaking!), and set them out for sale within 12 hours of collection. When you break them open, the yolks are deep orange and the surrounding white has substance. This is not a pallid, watery egg that has been sitting in a cooler or on a truck. Truly pasture-raised eggs are the gold standard.

As the days lengthen and spring turns to summer, our hens start laying in earnest and we again have 20 to 30 dozen pastured eggs to sell to neighbors and farm friends each day. Like everything else on the farm, this is the regular cycle of agony and eggs-tacy.

(Supply is up from January and we see more smiling faces each the morning. Morning is always the best time to find our pastured eggs in the case.)

 

 

 

‘Tis the season of sharing autumn bounty!

It is also the season of harvesting autumn honey.

Honey, that sweet liquid amber, is what the bees live off of over winter, so we have to be very careful not to pull too much honey from the hive or the bees will not survive. This week, our beekeeper will check the strength and stores of our hives, to assess how much honey our apian friends can share with us.

Each hive needs both a critical mass of bees and 60-70 lbs of honey to overwinter (for an “average” winter in our zone). Bees nourish themselves with both nectar and pollen. Nectar is used to produce honey, the key energy source for the bees. All through the year busy bees are producing honey, filling the hive in preparation for hard times, like winter. This summer’s drought has been hard on the bee community. Lack of water affects plants, which affects the creatures that depend on them, which includes us. Although our bee-critical native goldenrod was blooming well, the ground was too dry for the plants to produce much nectar, so honey production has been low the past few months.

When we pull honey, we have to leave enough for the bees first, then harvest whatever extra is there to share. Young hives, like ours, are especially vulnerable to winter stress, so forgive us if our farm honey supply is light this fall. Our bee friends have had some rough months, and we have to make sure they are taken care of.

We will always have local honey in the farm store. Our own honey remains a very small production. We share what we can.

Can Grazing Save Us?

According to Allan Savory, it can. And Savory has dedicated his life to promoting and educating people about the importance of the restoration of our grasslands through holistic management.

The Savory Institute teaches that sustainable land management involves a series of interconnected system; that a symbiosis exists between the soil, the plants, the grazers, the predators, and us. Seems commonsensical. doesn’t it?  There is a natural balance to our earth’s systems that, sometimes, in our zeal to make things stronger/better/faster, we tip. A balanced approach to healthy land management addresses the systems as a whole, enhancing ecosystem resilience, sequestering carbon, and building biodiversity.

By our nature, we seem more tuned to attacking individual symptoms without addressing the entirety of the system. Treating the land and our food systems holistically creates a sustainable process.

The Savory Institute puts it this way…

Nature functions in wholes

You can’t control or change one thing in one area without having an impact on something else in another area.

All environments are different

It is crucial to acknowledge nature’s complexity and that an action can produce completely different results in different environments.

Properly managed livestock can improve land health

When domestic livestock is properly managed to mimic the behavior of wild herbivores interacting with grasslands, they can reverse desertification.

Time is more important than numbers

Overgrazing of plants is directly related to the amount of time the plants are exposed to the grazing animals and the amount of time that lapses between consecutive grazing events.

We believe that the Savory Institute has something to teach us all. The cliff notes version of this complex, consuming subject is that all of life, a healthy sustainable world, is a balance… from the water systems under our feet to our food systems, from the plant and animals around us (domestic and wild) to our own physical health. Resolving our water troubles, our land use issues, our air and food quality troubles, should be from the whole systems, big picture approach.

We farm our land in a holistic manner, understanding that the soil beneath our feet is the foundation for the health of everything that lives on the farm. We are mindful that the Shippetaukin Creek runs through the property, and that how we treat the land affects the creek and folks downstream. Our animals are raised on pasture to allow them to do what comes naturally – forage, root, graze, and interact with one another – which helps keep them safe, healthy, and happy. For us, farming is a big picture, whole system process with many moving parts. And we are committed to managing all of those parts.

Small farms that manage their land in this way are helping to restore some of the balance we have lost to each region where they farm. In supporting these farms, we help heal the land, and since we are a part of the big picture, ourselves.

For more information about the Savory Institute, visit their website.

When the Cows Come Home: The A2 versus A1 debate

friesian head

For the past year or so, we have been in a transitioning from a pasture-based model, where the cows got some grain during winter, to a 99% grass fed dairy. That is a slow transition. Going purely grass fed is both an adjustment for the cows, and for the farmer, who must monitor his cows to see how they are adjusting, and plan appropriately to grow and harvest enough hay for the winter months.

Cows adjusted to grain give more milk, so our grass fed model requires more cows to maintain the volume of milk needed to make our cheeses. In the name of balance, we decided to introduce a few new cows to the herd; ten hearty Friesians with A2A2 genetics.

What are A2A2 genetics, you ask?

It seems that hundreds of years ago there was a mutation in a gene that changed the nature of the proteins in cows’ milk. Now, this was a long time ago, but over generations this A1 mutation predominated in Europe and the US, while the original A2 cows continued to thrive in Africa and Asia.

Fast forward to today. There are many claims about the digestibility and health detriments/benefits of A2 milk versus A1 milk. Although there are no concrete studies to prove it one way or the other, there is a book, “The Devil is in the Milk” by Dr. Keith Woodford, that has become a bible for believers.

There is, however, anecdotal evidence that cows with the original A2 gene are more hardy, more likely to thrive, in a 100% grass fed environment. These are the original cows, with the more feral genetics, and as a grass fed creamery that has meaning for us. Introducing some A2 genetics into our herd seemed right.

After much googling and visiting, we found a farm in New York State with a herd of healthy, thriving grass fed A2 cows that we felt would be a match for our herd. Our ten debutantes arrived the last Friday of February, pushing into the pole barn to get acquainted with the CGF herd. Our girls lined the paddock fence, craning their necks to see the new arrivals, amidst much mooing, snorting, and sniffing.

The new cows will be kept apart for a while to give them time to acclimate, and when the grass springs again, they will be introduced to our pastures and begin their life at the farm. We expect about 45 calves this spring. We hope you will drop by to visit and say hello to the newcomers.

Note: A1A1 and A2A2 genetics are not, as sometimes reported, breed specific. The A1A1 gene may predominate in certain breeds, but you can find A2A2 Holsteins and A1A1 Jerseys. The only way to know for sure is to test the milk.

Living Through The Dumb Time

There aren’t many grass-fed dairies around, but our numbers are growing. Grass fed dairying is something that our grandparents and great grandparents knew all about. Once upon a time, grass fed was the only way, yet in the space of three to four generations, we’ve forgotten how to do it.

A number of progressive Pennsylvania and New Jersey farmers believe that getting back to basics is the best way to produce wholesome, quality products. These dedicated souls meet periodically to share their knowledge, their challenges and their successes. Slowly, through trial and error, these farmers are rediscovering the art and science of running a grass fed dairy herd.

Transitioning a dairy farm from conventional process to grass fed, is far more complicated than just hanging up the grain bag and turning the cows out into the field. Most U.S. dairy cows are bred for conventional, grain-based dairy farming. These cows do their best work when eating grain, genetically selected over time to convert grain to energy effectively. That means that not all breeds of cow, or even individual cows, transition to grass easily. Some take to it, some take time to get in the rhythm, and some cannot adjust. As information about transitioning to grass is not readily accessible in a book or online, what we need is the down and dirty; the detail you get from sharing knowledge with your peers.

To get the high quality milk required for artisanal cheese you must have quality forage. A good farmer manages the herd’s health and well-being, while also managing the pasture’s healthy and productive. Without added organic nutrients, soils deplete over time as energy is removed through grazing. If you don’t put something back, the pasture won’t thrive and support the cows, which means a good dairy farmer is also a grass farmer, monitoring the pastures, adding organic matter when necessary. It’s a many-headed beast, farming. You need to understand a lot about livestock, soils, plants… and in real time, as your animals and pastures grow and change with the seasons.

One dairy farmer we know describes the early transition to grass-fed dairying as “living through the dumb time.” He says, “We all go through it, searching for the path to a healthy farm.” What makes it easier is this meeting of the minds, the sharing of knowledge and discovery. We are proud, as a farm, to be a part of the rediscovery.


1902 - Family purchased farm

1910 - Leased land to dairy farmer

1987 - Hamill Brothers inherit farm

2002 - Started as a family business

2003 - Started a beef herd, laying hens, and pigs

2004 - Added sheep and attained organic certification of pasture land

2005 - Added dairy herd and began making fresh cheeses like mozzarella

2006 - Built aging caves and began making aged cheeses

2012 - Grid Magazine’s Cheese of the Month (Nov – Full Nettle Jack); Finalist at the Good Food Awards (Toma)

2013 - Won 2 blue ribbons from the American Cheese Society(for Buttercup Brie and Lawrenceville Jack Reserve); Added second cheesemaker

2014 - Broke ground on additional aging space and began process of getting AWA certification for our chickens
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