This is a little later than usual to be posting, but we have finally gotten to reporting on our visit to Stillman’s at the Turkey Farm Open House.
Let me first tell you, the actual visit was great, but the getting there was hell. We have driven out to Western Massachusetts for three or four weekends in a row, each drive at least an hour and a half, the longest being three and a half hours. Stillman’s is about two hours away. We really wanted to see the farm, so we sucked it up, drove out, and got lost. Then we went to the wrong farm. Then got lost again. Cried on some (very pretty) country road. Finally, we made it to the correct farm.
Unfortunately, we wanted to also go to the Stillman Vegetable Farm tour as well, but we ran out of time, with all of our chaotic and emotional traveling. I’m not saying that the directions on the Stillman’s web page was bad, or misleading, we just didn’t really think it through and concentrate on where we were going. Theresa didn’t get directions to the right farm, our car needed a jump start for us to leave, we left our trusty map at home, our GPS was of little help, etc, etc.
Our Local Food Year has been a little overwhelming recently, but mostly due to our undying love of visiting farms, and the long drives that keep us away from our kitchen and all that produce waiting to be preserved. Obviously, to eat locally, you don’t have to travel to all of your farms on a weekly basis. We are forgoing long drives for a few weeks, and probably won’t be going back out until Red Fire Farm’s Tomato Festival, August 28th.
Enough of our angst. On to the good stuff!
Meat eating is an interesting topic, and being the over-obsessive food-thinkers we are, the controversies and various ideas on eating animals and animal products is something we have to consider. Ad nauseum. So, this is the introduction to a series of four, possibly five posts on eating meat. Tentatively, in no particular order, these will be:
- Animal Husbandry, Humane Animal Farming, and Big Agra [Ho boy]
- Animal Farming and the Environment [PubMed and Google Scholar here I come]
- The Ethics of Eating a Once Living Creature (and it’s products) [I am currently reading Eating Animals, and I want to read Peter Singer]
- Eating Animals and Human Health [I intend to read The China Study and related materials]
So, I have a favor to ask of all of you darling readers: If you have an opinion PLEASE Comment. If you have a resource you think we should read, PLEASE send it. If you have any information, PLEASE share it.
We eat meat. We like meat. We don’t eat it regularly, and not in large amounts, so we want it to taste good. And Kate at Stillman’s Farm provides tasty meat. What does the farm look like? How are the animals kept? We investigated and here’s what we learned!
At the Greenwich Road Farm, we were able to be guided around by Kate Stillman (I don’t have a good picture, sorry ’bout that) and see the pigs, some chickens, some turkeys, and the sheep (way way way off in the distance).
We visited to sows, boars and piglets first off, and got to feed them fresh corn on the cob. They loved the corn, gnawing off the kernels and chewing on the husks. Kate talked a bit about breeding her pigs, and that she doesn’t breed them over the winter due to the cold. She also doesn’t breed the sows directly after they finish with one litter of piglets, giving them a chance to recover. In a rather heartwarming story, one sow had miscarried a litter a few years back, and Kate allowed her to recover for quite a long time, in lieu of putting her down. She is ‘just now starting to look like a pig’, and is mean enough to fend off coyotes that may try for a piglet.
The pigs had quite the pen, the picture doesn’t do it justice. It went really far back, and had all manner of trees, shrubs and mud wallows.
After seeing the breeding pigs, we moved down to see the meat pigs, who had just as nice of an area to be pigs in.
So if they look crammed in the picture, it’s because they want food. And they get such good food, too! Fresh corn, peaches, tomatoes, strawberries, basically anything from the farm leftover from CSAs and farmers markets. They get such good food, they’ll develop six inches (!) back fat. Kate collects and has the pigs processed when they reach market weight, about 150 pounds if I remember correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong). We didn’t learn much about the processor, other than that the facility is up in Vermont. We might try to look into this a little more in the future, but for now, the pigs seemed content (dare I say happy?) with their life.
I was too busy bird watching (no good pictures, sorry Dad) to catch all of what Kate said, but she was discussing coyotes, and how she likes the wildlife, even if it means loosing some of her animals. A healthy ecosystem comes with predators, and you have to strike a delicate balance with keeping your animals safe while respecting and admiring the natural word. I also learned that weasels like chicken brains the best out of any part of the chicken.
We then moved to the poultry area. Laura and I were initially bother to see the chickens pretty tightly packed in the cage, until we realized there were few chickens on the other end of the pen. Then Kate told us that the chickens were not out on pasture because it was too hot for them to be out all day, especially because they don’t remember where their water sources are very well. When it cools down, the chickens will be allowed to run around in the fields, picking worms and grubs out of the animal manure in the field. This makes for yummy chicken and healthy grazers, as the parasites don’t have a chance to re-infect their hosts. Kate also talked about the lack of feathers on some of the birds. Pecking order is a real and nasty thing. I’ve seen it in my extended family’s backyard flocks, where the hens will gang up on each other and beat the shit and feathers out of an individual before returning to foraging.
Right next to the chickens were the baby turkeys (turklets!)
These babies, poults properly speaking, are enclosed because it is not hot enough, and they need heat lamps (not in view) to stay a toasty 105 degrees fahrenheit. They will also be given ‘out’ time as they age.
One thing that was nice to see, even though the chickens were partly naked, they were healthy. As we have parrots, we are pretty in tune with avian health, from baby to aging adult. These birds were remarkably healthy, with clear eyes, clean nares and beaks, pink, clean skin and clean, healthy vents and overall pertness. The enclosure was clean, and looked pretty freshly raked.
Overall, we had a good time. The animals were fun to look at, and Kate was really entertaining and informative. The animals were healthy, well fed and content. We feel that Kate really walks the line between practicality of her business as an animal farmer and the caring, humane animal care that makes for content (and tasty) animals. We like what we saw, and trust our meat even more. Maybe we would like more information about the processing facility, if Kate has ever been, and if they have humane slaughtering standards, but we can address that in the future. But, Kate, you are doing a great job! We support you!
Stay tuned for future posts about the various aspects of eating meat. This post is just about the source of our meat, but we will address the ethical, political, environmental and health impacts of eating meat in the future. I will reiterate: Please please please send me information you feel is relevent to eating (or not eating) meat and animals products.