What’s a Pullet?

Pullet comparison
Our eggs are always labeled as a dozen of “mixed sizes” and with good reason! With three groups of hens of different ages the size of the eggs we collect vary on a daily basis.

If you’ve visited Apple Creek Farm’s booth at your local farmers’ market lately then you’ve seen a stack of egg cartons labeled, pullet. Enough visitors have looked across the table at me and wondered, “What’s a pullet?” that I figured a public explanation is in order.

According to the dictionary, pullet is a noun meaning a young hen, less than one year old. The origin of the word is from 1325–75: the Middle English polet; the Middle French poulet, diminutive of poul cock; Latin pullus chicken, young of an animal.

IMG_4754Our 500 organic pullets (nicknamed “The Laceys” for their lacy white tail feathers) were purchased at 16 weeks of age. Since pullets begin laying anywhere between 16-24 weeks of age, our girls are also called a “point-of-lay” hen.

We use the word pullet on our egg boxes to communicate that our young hens are laying, yet not quite producing a full size egg. Why is that?

Well, making an egg is complicated and the whole process takes 24 hours. This short video gives a concise overview of chicken anatomy and helps explain why.  A variety of factors (including nutrition, weight, and genetics) influence how quickly an individual hen will lay eggs of normal size. It’s interesting to note that the older a hen the larger the eggs they will lay and the fewer in number they will lay.

So, whether you love these tasty little eggs or choose to pass until they size up– you’ll know exactly what pullet means! For the backstory on how we found ourselves with 500 pullets check out our previous post, Hatching An Eggs-Pansion!

Nest Box View.jpg
Our new “roll-away” nest boxes allow for easy egg collection. Note the various sizes.

 

 

InstaChicken

As many of you know we love to eat! And, we love it when you share recipes with us.

A few weeks ago one enthusiastic eater shared this recipe with me. It is a simple yet foolproof way to cook a moist, flavorful whole chicken. I tried the recipe myself and found that yes, it as straightforward and tasty as promised.

But, I love the crisp skin of a roast chicken and wondered could I have it all?
Moist, flavorful chicken and crispy skin?
Then I wondered, could this recipe be made even easier using an Instant Pot?

Our friend Jenn of Turtle Rock Farm took on this recipe testing “mission” to find out! Below is her recipe for a delicious, roast chicken in roughly 30 minutes!

static1.squarespaceJenn says, “Let this be a base for any chicken recipe – pot pie, enchiladas, and BBQ chicken come to mind, or serve whole chicken atop roasted vegetables and with a side of gravy, recipe below. ”

InstaChicken

InstaChicken

Ingredients

4.5 to 5 lb Whole Apple Creek Farm chicken – over 5 lbs may not fit in your Instant Pot but anything under this size will be perfect.

2 stalks celery, chop to 1 inch pieces

1 medium onion, chop to 1 inch pieces

2 medium carrots, chop to 1 inch pieces

1 bay leaf

1 tsp Sea salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

  • Setup up the Instant Pot according to the manufacturer’s instructions, being sure there is no food or liquid on the heating element underneath the cooking basket.
  • Place chopped vegetables, salt and pepper in bottom of pot and cover with 3 cups of water.
  • Place chicken, breast side down, atop vegetables.
  • Cover pot according to instructions, lock and set steam valve.
  • Choose Poultry setting and adjust time to 25 minutes. Keep pressure settings to High.
  • Allow Instant Pot to work its magic, coming to heat, cooking and releasing steam on its own.  If you are needing to release steam earlier, carefully follow instructions and keep face and hands away from steam valve when releasing pressure.
  • The chicken will now be perfectly cooked and ready to pull meat for any recipe.
  • To serve whole with a crispy skin :
    Place bird breast side up on a roasting pan or in a roasting dish on rack.  Lightly pat skin dry and place in oven under Broil for 3-6 minutes, watching carefully to cook to your desired crispiness.  Serve whole on a platter atop roasted vegetables and with gravy jus.

IMG-4197Chicken Gravy

Ingredients

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 cups of strained chicken stock

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

  • Strain liquid left after braising chicken in Instant Pot.  Measure 2 cups and set aside.
  • In a small saucepan over medium, melt butter with salt and pepper.
  • When warm and melted, add flour, whisking constantly.  Continue to whisk at a steady pace until thick and pulling away form bottom of pan.
  • Slowly whisk in chicken stock until smooth and fully combined.
  • Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking.
  • Serve warm with roasted chicken or over potatoes and cheese curds

    Thanks to Jenn Legnini of Turtle Rock Farm for this recipe!
    We’d love to hear about it if you try this recipe, cooked in a dutch oven or in your Instant Pot.

Farm Dogs

Dogs are an iconic part of American farms. Border collies may be the first breed you picture and while these hard-working athletes are common, they aren’t the only useful ones. As a dog lover, I especially enjoy looking through Jan Dohner’s recent book, Farm Dogs. The sheer variety of dogs and their historic uses is inspiring. At Apple Creek we’re keen to keep two specific types of working dogs; terriers and livestock guardians.

IMG_20131023_162850Terriers
Fiercely loyal, tenacious and energetic the terrier is well-suited to farm life. These dogs are useful in keeping squirrels out of the barn, catching nesting mice in the hay mow and digging up burrows of ground hogs. Ever watchful, it is difficult to get anything past these dogs!

Terriers come in a wide variety of sizes based on their use.  The largest I’ve met is the Black Russian Terrier . These dogs weigh as much as 140 lbs!

Our first terrier was Chicory (pictured at left). Also called the Blonde Coyote, he lived to the ripe old age of 13. His years were spent on various farms across New England where he learned about farm life alongside Abby. Chicory weighed 35 lbs, large enough and tough enough to intimidate the livestock, but small enough to join us on the couch. We miss Chicory the most at lambing season. He wasn’t always at ease with people, but was an amazingly attentive nursemaid to our lambs. He loved to lick the lambs clean after they drank their bottles or to encourage them to drink up by licking their behinds.

 

 

IMG_1691Many readers know our newest terrier, Rye. He came to us in the summer of 2016 as a rescue from Arkansas. He is a mix breed and though his coat says “terrier” his behavior indicates he may have an equal mix of retriever. Ever playful, Rye loves a good ball toss and was described by our nephew as a, “real boy’s dog.” Rye only weighs 20 lbs and so he isn’t much for interacting with the livestock. He prefers cruising the fields looking for mice and voles. Like all terriers, Rye has a surprising bark which he loves to use. Often, he uses it to bring our attention to a piece of equipment that has changed location in the dooryard or to scare off potential threats. Both Rye & Chicory have proved they are more brave than brainy.  Rye has met several possums in his time here in Maine and he has to be convinced not to tangle with them!

Livestock Guardians
IMG_20140702_053034_673Ochi is a Pyrennees / Maremma cross. She joined Janet and Pete’s household about 10 years ago and has slowed down the last few years. Ochi walks the perimeter of the farm every morning with Pete. This keeps large carnivores like coyotes out which keeps our animals safe. There are a wide variety of livestock guardian dogs from locations worldwide. Several studies are underway to use dogs to guard large sheep flocks in the American West.

Though the farm hasn’t had a coyote attack in more than 10 years, we’re sure that having Ochi around has helped. That’s why we’re adding a new member to our farm dog crew this season. We’ll be picking up a Great Pyrennes pup very soon! She’s been raised alongside goats at a farmstead in Massachusetts and we look forward to introducing her to the farm. This photo of the whole litter (below) may give you the same sense of excitement we have. We visited the breeder last week to identify a couple of prospective pups. The breeder will be watching each as they get introduced to their goats to find us just the right temperament– a independent and confident pup that will be up for the job.

Our new girl will have her work cut out for her. In a recent blog post, Who Else Lives on the Farm we describe some of the recent uninvited guests who have been calling on our hens!  Our new pup will be trained as an LGD or Livestock Guardian Dog in order to spend her days (and nights) patrolling the fields and deterring owls, hawks and other would-be predators.

This will help us sleep better and eliminate the need to lock up our broilers and turkeys every night.  We’ve been reading our copy of Jan Dohner’s other book, Livestock Guardians to be sure we’re prepared and know how best to support our new pup as she learns basic obedience and how to trust her instincts. Breeds such as the Great Pyrenees don’t need to be “trained” how to protect their stock. For centuries they’ve been bred specifically for that purpose, so our instruction will mainly be corrected undesired behaviors such as chasing livestock. Stay tuned for more on this topic!

Who Else Lives on the Farm?

These days the farm is a blank canvas, a landscape draped in snow. It might be easy to only see our animals, content in their winter quarters but to do so would ignore all the wild animals who share our farm. We’ve seen the tracks of the smallest residents, red squirrels on up to the biggest, a moose!

 

We’ve had a number of unwelcome visitors over the last few weeks. One was the only North American marsupial, the possum.

I regret that we didn’t inspect this one further to determine whether male or female. If female we could have checked its pouch for joeys, but when you look that face…. you change your mind about getting too close!

 

And while opossums are a fine addition to your yard, (here’s why) they are not permitted in our chicken yards! Rye bravely crawled under the hen house and sniffed ever closer until we decided he should probably observe from a safer distance.

On of our other visitors has been around since last fall. An adult red-tailed hawk has spent much of its time scanning the big field for rodents. But, perhaps since our Rye is such a competent mouser or because the snow is now fairly deep the hawk has turned to other prey – chicken!

This series of photos documents his flight into the pasture, through his successful hunt and departure (click for larger images). The neat part about this visit was that the hawk sat and watched from the tree in the background for over an hour before flying into the pasture. Then, once on the ground inside it waited another 30 minutes for its opportunity to strike. I have to admire that patience.

 

One of our other frequent visitors is another avian carnivore, a great horned owl. We caught this owl’s photo on our game camera. In the photos below you can see an owl arrived, saw that we’d left him a dead chicken (set up as bait) and then returned an hour later to dine on the leftovers. The game camera helps us get a positive ID and to better understand the animal’s behavior and habits which in turn can help us to deter it.

 

For the past few years we’ve been using our Emden geese as guardian animals. Since geese don’t normally sleep at night they have worked well for us. However, they aren’t 100% effective and our regal avian predators seem increasingly undeterred. So, we’ll be adding a livestock guardian dog to the farm this season. One of these rugged and adorable Great Pyrennes pups will be joining us in March!

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Photo courtesy of Peter Sannicandro, Guardians of the Honey Hive. We found Peter through Geri Vistein founder of the Farming with Carnivores Network. Geri is a wildlife biologist who has helped us to understand the benefits of biodiversity on our farm. Geri and I were joined by Deb Perkins and Mort Moesswilde in a recent presentation about this very topic. You can read more on Deb’s website, First Light Wildlife Habits.

 

 

 

In our house, dinner is often discussed over breakfast. The dreaded question, “What do you want for dinner?” usually elicits a heavy sigh. Despite being farmers and enthusiastic cooks with access to seasonal vegetables and a wide variety of meat on hand, meal planning isn’t any easier for us than it might be for you.

Don’t wait for the perfect tool! We use a weekly calendar to identify daily activities on the farm, including tasks for the week and supplies we need to purchase. This tool takes that one step further, with space to note what you’ll be cooking and the ingredients you need – meat, vegetables, etc. Simply print one each Friday and bring along to your favorite farmers market on Saturday.

Begin defrosting meat on Sunday to avoid meal prep panic. Pull all the meat you’ll be using in recipes throughout the week and corral it in a shallow glass pan or bowl on the lowest shelf in your fridge.

Choose recipes that use what you may already have on hand or in your freezer. Rather than selecting yummy recipes at random consider what the recipes have in common. For instance, you could cook a whole chicken that is served first with roast potatoes, then as a chicken pot pie and later in the week as an egg drop soup. Ideas by type of meat can be found here.

Prep as you plan. As you look at your week’s menu identify items that you can prep on Sunday afternoon. These might include chopped or sauteed onions or garlic, grated cheese or the whole roast chicken that will be the mainstay of your week’s menu.

Make Mondays easy! In order for meal planning to work, make it achievable. Having Monday’s meal be one that is simple to put together or has been prepped on Sunday will increase your likelihood of success.

Consider using themes to inspire your recipe selection. Sometimes called “meal themes” this is one way to give your meal plan some structure and familiarity without becoming as mind-numbingly predictable as the school cafeteria.

Meatballs
Mini Turkey Meatloaves – not quite a meatball per se, but pretty darn close!
Jumbo BBQ Beef Meatballs

Related imageEggs
Shakshuka – as easy as breakfast for dinner, but with a bit more adventure.
Baked Eggs with Spinach & Mushrooms – can be 100% local year-round in Maine.

Soups
Green Curry Pho
Egg Drop Soup – one of my favorite ways to use local, seasonal veggies and cracked eggs.

Low & Slow
Classic Roast Chicken – Ideal for making chicken the keystone of your week’s meals.
Chicken in Milk – My “go-to” recipe to change my approach to roasting a chicken.

Meat Lite – eating more better meat is our goal.
Stuffed Burgers
Turkey Shanks – versatile to work with a variety of shanks from lamb to turkey.

Spicy Turkey Tacos VerticalTacos & Nachos
Spicy Turkey Tacos
Three Cheese Chicken Nachos 

Burgers
Italian Turkey Burgers
Cheddar and Onion Burgers

Building from any one of these ideas consider pairing prep for two meals. Plan-overs can also ensure you have a meal ready for the next night. See Christine Burns Rudalevige’s delightful cookbook, Green Plate Special for more ideas!

July Newsletter

Summer lasts only about a 100 days (and not all of those sunny) and so this is our busiest time of year. We’ve been busy making hay, watching our new farm emerge from the forest and moving animals to maximize the lush green grass. Hay has been slow and steady with great yields due to our application of fall manure and this spring’s mix of rain and warm temperatures.
IMG_7863The land clearing began just about 2 weeks ago and we’re looking at 13 acres or so of future pasture and silvopasture. Jake and I spent several evenings walking the land and choosing a mix of big and small trees to leave for shade and future timber. The result will be a mixed hardwood forest with enough openings in the canopy to allow grass to grow while offering some shelter for our animals. We have been very pleased with the crew from Comprehensive Land Technologies.

Moving animals is a daily activity. Not every animal group moves each day, but each day there is a group to be moved. Our goats have been doing their annual road crew work, controlling the bittersweet along the road edge and clearing along the stone walls. The cows, seven of whom will calve in the fall are getting wider and wider with all the fresh grass they are consuming.

We hope you’ll come out and see us this weekend for Bowdoinham’s annual Open Farm Day & Art Trail which coincides with Maine’s Open Farm Day. We will be open from 9AM-1PM offering tours (including a look at our newly cleared land) and a pop-up farm store. What should you expect? Check out our previous Open Farm Day post.

Copy of Open Farm Day 17-2(1)

You can now order your Holiday Birds! Our Thanksgiving turkeys arrived this week and they are the most feisty birds I think we’ve every had. In just a few short weeks they will head out on pasture where they will be eating a mix of clovers and grasses supplemented by certified organic grain until they are ready to grace your table. We are raising two groups of geese this year to expand availability. Our summer geese have been acting as night watchmen, protecting our chickens from a Great Horned Owl that lives on the farm. The owl’s nocturnal visits usually come at the cost of a broiler so putting a pair of geese in with the broilers scares off the owl.
Follow these links to reserve your turkey or goose.

Copy of Christmas in July-2-1Christmas in July! We are offering 20% off all our sheepskins and goat hides July 22 – July 29. You can visit us at market or order online– use code JULY17.

MARKET SCHEDULE
Tuesdays 8 AM-2 PM Brunswick Farmers’ Market on the Mall Brunswick
Saturdays 8:30 AM- 12:30 PM BTLT’s Farmers’ Market  Brunswick

June Newsletter

May seemed like an especially long month, with so many different things keeping us busy. We received chicks every week, transitioned from barn life to pasture rotations, took Sam (the bull) up to Penobscot for the summer and let our summer turkeys out of their brooder. Everyone is doing well despite the cooler (then much hotter) temperatures and wet pastures. It remains delightful to have the hot sunny days of summer and rain too (since last year we had so little!)

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Our goose, TW has hatched out 7 goslings! We stopped selling goose eggs in April so we could let her set and she did a great job. She and her mates are very protective parents but the goslings are sooooo cute, nothing will deter me!  You can see more photos and a video of the goslings on Instagram. I got to hold all 7 goslings in my shirt for their move down to our East pasture. There they will grow up with a stream and fresh grass to mow.

PulletsOur newest batch of laying hens arrived on Friday. This group features all white breeds including White Rock, Austra Whites and Delaware. We are excited to try two new breeds in this group and thrilled to keep having Delawares on the farm. They remain my (Abby) favorite chicken. The Austra White breed is a cross between an Australorp and White Leghorn, these birds will lay white eggs and will (we hope) combine the efficiency of the Leghorn with the laid-back temperament of the Australorps.  Having unique breeds in each group will make it easy for us to keep track of how old the hens are when they get mingled together in their winter housing.

What’s in Season?

This is a big week, on June 17th we’ll have fresh chicken, rosemary mutton sausage and chicken mousse at Saturday market! Fresh chicken season is just getting started, look for it most Saturdays from now until September. We will again be offering whole and half birds as well as a full-range of cuts.

Some call it, “deliciously addictive” and our rosemary mutton sausage is good in just about everything from chili, breakfast omelets to burgers.

Turtle Rock Farm, run by the unparalleled Jenn Legnini is pleasing OUR taste buds with a smooth as butter chicken mousse. It is life-changing!

Look for turkey and goat to return by the end of August. We appreciate your patience and thank you for purchasing so much grass-fed & organic meat!

SUMMER MARKET PROMO 17-2

IMG_6640We now offer a  Market Share CSA. The program is modeled after a traditional CSA meaning the farm receives payment upfront  for a share of the harvest throughout the season. In Apple Creek’s model you will receive a 10% bonus for every $100 share purchased. This means our $110 market share will be priced at $100, a $220 market share at $200 and so on.

You can purchase your share at market and upon doing so you will receive a swipe-able card loaded with your share amount. Simply bring the card to market, we’ll swipe it and you’ll draw down your share. We hope the CSA will make it even easier to shop at market, give you added value and reduce the fees paid to our credit card processor. Your card can be refilled at any time and is good for all our products.

Haying has begun! IMG_7283

April Newsletter

We’re just about done with lambing with a single ewe left. The goat kids have begun to arrive and we have 10 kids out of 5 does so far! The lambs are bashful and shy when they are born, while the goat kids come into the world willful and independent.

We give all our newborns a shot of BoSe, a selenium and vitamin E booster commonly given to goats residing in selenium deficient areas. Selenium is necessary to maintain muscle tone in adults, and prevent “white muscle disease” in newborn animals, read more. These shots are given under the skin and take less than a minute. However, in that time the average goat kid will emit 2-5 blood-curdling shrieks. Keep in mind these babies are roughly 4-6 pounds, half the size of lambs, which can weight between 10-15lbs. Size can be deceiving when it comes to these little ones!

Our first batch of broilers arrived on Thursday which to me is the OFFICIAL start of the season. We plan to start having chicken at market by the end of May with weekly processing through the summer. Part of our expansion plan includes having a walk-in so we are aiming for fresh chicken at both Tuesday and Friday markets. Stay tuned for a post on our processing schedule or follow the farm’s Facebook page where we’ll announce where you can find fresh chicken.

Our first batch of goslings also arrived! They are the sweetest of creatures. These are the only babies who are visibly excited to see US! These Emden goslings will be raised alongside our broilers this year to protect them from the avian predation we’ve experienced the last few years. A fellow farmer shared with us the tip to start them off together so that the geese learn to appreciate the chicks from an early age, otherwise some bullying occurs. We will be offering holiday geese again this year. Like turkeys we will start the reservation list in July and you’ll be able to choose when you’d like your goose in either November, December or January.

We have 10 DAYS left on our crowdfunding campaign. Our thanks for the donations we’ve received so far. We love growing happy, healthy animals and appreciate your recognition of our work. Your continued support means a great deal to us.

The funds we raise will be used to purchase a hoop house, nest boxes and related lumber and supplies for a larger and improved winter house for our hens. A year from now we aim to have 500 hens laying which will mean more of our great eggs and expanded availability at Morning Glory in Brunswick and as an “add-on” share to a local vegetable CSA. There are many benefits to be derived from this expansion. We’ll be using 4 moveable houses to rotate our hens through pasture which will add a tremendous amount of fertility to our soil. We’ll need it as we open up our new land and to ensure the continued productivity of our current acreage.

Please support our campaign and share it with your networks of friends, family and neighbors who are excited about new farmers and local, organic food. No pledge is too small and we’re glad to accept pledges at farmers market and answer your questions about the project. We created a detailed post about the farm’s expansion plans and in coming weeks we’ll share how the changes we’re planning will improve animal health, streamline management and allow us to grow the farm while maintaining the same high quality of products & our sanity!

We know that crowdfunding isn’t for everyone and we’ll be launching a Market Share CSA later this month. This will allow you to purchase a flexible sized “share” and give you a cash bonus based on the size you choose. Much like a CSA this will help us have operating funds during May and you’ll have the flexibility to use your share to purchase whatever you like throughout the 2017 season. Look for details at market and in the next newsletter where we’ll also talk about outdoor markets- just 4 weeks away!

Hatching An Eggs-Pansion!

 

Yellow Egg Spansion Instagram-2
Update! We reached our funding goal!

Thank you so much to those that contributed, shared our campaign and let us know of their support for our farm’s growth. We are so appreciative.

IMG_3852 Though our hens produce more than 100 dozen eggs each week we are often sold out within the first 2 hours of our farmers’ markets. Our eggs, produced by free-roaming and adventurous hens are in high demand because of their golden yolks and unparalleled freshness.  We love our animals and want to provide them with the best possible living conditions. Through this project and others detailed in our “growing out” plan we can both improve animal well-being and create efficiencies. These changes will enable us to grow our business to provide more local, organic meats & eggs to the great Brunswick area and support us as full-time farmers.

We're Hatching AnLast week we launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $12,000. The funds are specifically to build housing to double the number of hens we keep from 250 to 500. We also see this as an opportunity to raise awareness about the farm, our products and kickstart the farm’s expansion. At present we lease the majority of our farm buildings. Over the last 3 years our business has grown, fueled by local demand, and we’ve outgrown our leased barns. We’re ready to begin expanding the farm to land we own in order to build the larger barns, processing areas and the cold storage we need to farm long into the future.

Donate-2

We have great markets, unparalleled products and a love for our work- with your support we can make this vision a reality. Please pledge & share our campaign. 

Early August

For me the weather in July seemed more like August, so it feels a bit like we’re getting an extra month of summer! We’ll be busy this month with our last two groups of broilers, introducing the turkeys to pasture and hopefully enjoying a day or two at the beach with visiting family members.

We had a fun Open Farm Day and thank everyone that came out despite the rain. The day cleared shortly afternoon and we were able to enjoy the local foods bbq with family, friends and neighbors. We are hoping another such rainy morning will come along soon as our pastures are getting quite dry. If you have been to the farm you know we have many beautiful trees and this year there are distinct patches of dry grass around them. If you’re curious about where we stand with rain visit the US Drought Monitor. We are fortunate to have options to mitigate the dry conditions though this does mean feeding hay earlier and grazing what has in the past been an on-farm hay field.

No GeeseDue to a variety of circumstances we won’t be raising geese. While this a big disappointment (they are the most adorable babies) it also a blessing as the dry weather means there is less grass coming up. The geese are fantastic grazers and grow best with plenty of pasture.

We will be raising turkeys for Thanksgiving again this year. These Turkey Promobirds are available to order now, so be sure to make a note. Birds are priced at $5/lb with average sizes between 12-15 lbs. We sold out last year so don’t delay!

So what else has been happening on the farm?

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