What’s In Season?

If you’ve seen our display at farmers market you know that the “Whats’s In Season” sign is part of it! This is our way of sharing with you when certain products are available. This chart is unique to our farm!

Many of you have been asking about chicken. For Apple Creek Farm this is a seasonal product. We begin raising our meat birds (broilers) in late March so they are fully feathered and ready to go out onto pasture when the grass is green. We raise broilers March – September (when there is fresh grass) and offer them fresh each week through the summer and frozen throughout the winter.

Each year we raise an increasing number of these chickens for weekly processing and the last two years we’ve sold out of our supply before our processing begins in Mid-May. So our lack of chicken is not because of the corona virus, rather due to it’s popularity!

FRESH CHICKEN available each week beginning mid-May

We’ve also sold a great deal of beef this winter. We’ll be restocked in two weeks and look for both greater variety AND the return of your favorite cuts including chuck roasts, meaty soup bones, stew meat and more!

What about Spring Lamb? Isn’t that in season?

Nope! Our lambs are born in February and March allowing them to nurse from their moms (our ewes) until May. This gives them time to learn to eat hay and then head out to pasture with their moms to learn about what plants are good to graze and how to be model farm residents by responding to our claps and daily moves to fresh pasture. We train the lambs to come when we clap so that they can easily be moved from one field to the next.

The lambs spend their summer growing while grazing. This is a slower way to finish them (by this we mean prepare them for eventual harvest) and is what makes our lamb lean yet tasty (never gamey). Our lambs stay on the farm until September or October when we choose which ewes (girl lambs) will be kept for our breeding flock (moms) and which will be harvested. This is why lamb generally isn’t available until September at the earliest.

Our goat kids are born in early to mid-May. They spend six months with their moms (our does) out on pasture and in the woods eating lots of deep-rooted perennials and invasive plants such as bittersweet. At six months the kids are weaned and join the lambs in their daily pasture moves. Our goats take a full two years to finish and as a result goat cuts are generally not available until September or October.

We're Here For YOU

Thank you for the outpouring of support, it has been heartening to hear from you!

Our dedication to raising the best tasting, highest quality meats and eggs for our community remains unchanged. As we grapple with tough decisions and conversations, as we weigh the options of feeding our community alongside the advice to stay at home- we are thinking of you.

Our conclusion is that the best thing for our community (wonderful eaters, fellow farmers, your family and ours) is to remove ourselves from spaces, indoors or out, where 10 or more people might gather. As of this morning, Brunswick Winter Market is closed for at least two weeks as the steering committee evaluates how to better serve both member businesses and customers. 

CAN I BUY DIRECT FROM THE FARM?  YES!
Apple Creek Farm will continue to take orders via our email- info@applecreekfarm.meVisit our website for our list of products and pertinent details. Please share this with your neighbors and friends.

Wishing you our best,
Abby & Jake

Bonus!

Imagine Jake’s surprise when he found an “extra” lamb! Freshly cleaned off and “baaing” for its mother.

Sunday mornings are generally when we let ourselves sleep in a little bit and last Sunday was no different. But, upon waking we realized with a groan that it was daylight savings time! Already feeling late, we rushed out to begin chores. We arrived at the barn and Jake went over to check the nursery, the area where we put ewes and lambs after their time in individual lambing pens. Everyone in the nursery has bonded and know who belongs to whom. Imagine Jake’s surprise when he found an “extra” lamb! Freshly cleaned off and “baaing” for its mother.

Immediately we suspended normal chores and with the lamb tucked into my jacket, began a search to figure out who the likely mother might be. We assumed one of our first-time moms had this lamb and somehow (as unlikely as it seemed) it had made its way from their adjacent paddock into the nursery. To do so, the newborn would have to maneuver through multiple locked gates. After twenty minutes of “hind-end” reviews and doing a full headcount of ewes, we concluded that none of the first timers had given birth. I returned to the nursery area and noticed that a pretty brown ewe, named Peppercorn was stretching her neck over the nursery fence and calling to the lamb. “Just being friendly” I thought.

At this point, knowing the lamb had been out in the cold for at least an hour and unsure if it had eaten, we decided to take it indoors and get it some packaged colostrum. Inside I trudged with the little lamb who by now was quite cozy in my jacket. I tubed the lamb as Janet and Pete stood by scratching their heads; as confused as us. Once he got the warm colostrum in his belly, he was quite happy. By this time, Jake had examined all the ewes in the nursery and determined that Peppercorn had blood on her tail, a sure sign she had given birth. The only problem was that she had already given birth, a week prior and had delivered twin lambs!?!?

Jake came into the house to let me know. Janet then produced her iPad and did a quick google search, turning up results in the British Isles of this condition called (without much flair) “delayed birth.” It is not unheard of in other species and with sheep it generally results in death for “delayed” lamb.

Still dumbfounded, we returned the lamb to its mum, Peppercorn. She was removed from the nursery with her twins and placed back into an individual pen. The twins seemed delighted to have a new playmate rather than grumpy with their new, younger sibling. Triples are not uncommon in sheep but with only two teats on a ewe’s udder there always tends to be one of the three lambs that doesn’t grow as well as the others. Survival of the fittest I suppose.

I am proud to say that little Bonus is doing well. He gets supplemental milk daily from a ewe that lost her lamb at the start of the season and nurses vigorously from his mother. Despite his age difference he is bouncing around with his brother and sister enjoying being a lamb and Peppercorn continues to be up for the challenge of caring for her triplets.

35 years, reflections on lambing

We are past the first week of February and generally that means if we haven’t gotten things ready in the barn for lambing yet, we’d better get going! So far, I’ve ordered ear tags, inventoried health supplies, cleaned the heat lamps, checked the bulbs and prepared the permanent stalls for early arrivals. And so we wait and watch.

Throughout December and early January Abby and I feed square bales from the southeastern corner of the barn in order to open up more space for the lamb pens. The south facing side is covered with greenhouse film, protecting the new lambs from wind, snow, ice, or rain.  This part of the barn warms up quickly on the ever-brightening winter days. As impatience rises, I start cleaning up udders and legs by shearing off the excess wool. This helps the lambs find the teat and more easily get their first drink. Soon we’ll begin our daily “udder checks” – walking behind the ewes as they eat and occasionally pulling a warm hand from a glove to feel their swelling udders, which gives us some indication of how soon a ewe will give birth.

2020 marks the 35th year of lambs being born at Apple Creek Farm. Since 1985, each Spring the flock has grown stealthily, new members coming late each night and in the early hours of the morning. My father, Pete can claim the bulk of the work for those 35 years. He and my mother, Janet have logged closer to 45 years of lambing since they acquired their first sheep. After celebrating a milestone birthday for Pete at the end of January, I thought back 35 years when we moved from Brunswick to Bowdoinham, sheep and all. I was only six and new lambs were a thing to celebrate, like a birthday. As with much of farming, it’s all about the routines and familiar seasonal rhythms- new each time yet familiar. Three and a half decades of observing ewes whose names we know without seeing their ear tag. Of looking up into frozen, starlit skies on the quiet walk to the barn to check for ewes in labor. Almost four decades of drying off lambs in the dark, moving ewes and lambs from the paddock into pens. Hands covered in blood, milk, and iodine. 35 years of life and sometimes death.

Our sheep aren’t needy. They don’t ask us for much, least of all an abundance of attention. But after a ewe has delivered a lamb or two, they let us carry their newborns to a safe, dry place to bond. They tolerate us sitting with them, waiting, helping the lambs find the udder.

The pre-lambing season involves a lot of standing around and watching. After morning chores Abby and I will lean on gates looking across the sea of wool and hay and snow. We speculate aloud about who looks ready, playfully place bets on which of us will be right. We recount the previous year and who lambed first, who was bred to which of the rams. In the evening we remark how a particular ewe is walking, whether she is gazing thoughtfully into the night sky chewing her cud or if she is laying down rather than joining the others at the feeder. During each of the nighttime checks we walk through the stillness of the night, ears perked, listening for the telltale sounds of new life. A small bleat, a nicker from a new mom, a groan from as a ewe shifts her bulk or paws in the hay as she readies her nest. Arriving at the barn we slowly ease open the gate and slide into the paddock to avoid waking the sleeping ewes.  A third are chewing their cud and another third pushed up to the feeders, still not sated.

As long as it seems we wait, with the first birth a familiar rhythm takes over.

Are YOU a Local Foods Investor?

Chances are good that you are!

Whether you know it or not, choosing to do any one of the following more than once a week means you are a local foods investor!

Buy Direct

This means you buy products directly from the person(s) that produce them. If you buy our organic eggs each week then you’re buying direct!
Buying directly from a farmer means that you get the greatest value for your dollar AND the farmer receives the greatest return.

These purchases happen at the farmers’ market, an on-farm store, through Community Supported Agriculture or a buying club. When you purchase directly from a farmer know that you’re getting the freshest products and that the majority of your dollars stay at the farm to be recirculated through wages and purchases from other local businesses. On average we retain about 48 cents of every $1 our farm produces.

Photo by Liz Clayman

Buy Local

Maybe you bought our eggs at Morning Glory Natural Foods or another local foods retailer.

Perhaps you did so because you saw on our carton that the eggs come from a place nearby, a town you know. Indeed this is a perfect reason to buy our eggs. Purchasing local foods from a locally owned grocer means that your dollars stay in that community up to five times longer than if you shopped at a locally managed grocery chain.

Social Capital

Influence and connections are social capital. A person or entity who has ‘good social capital’ can ask favors, influence decisions, and communicate efficiently. Social capital is of primary importance in politics, business, and community organizing.

Ethan Roland, 8 Forms of Capitalism

Another means of local investing doesn’t cost anything at all! Social capital is one of the 8 forms of capital that help explain how value can be exchanged through means other than physical currency. Every one of us hold standing in our community that we can leverage to benefit local businesses.

One of the most straightforward examples of this is “word of mouth.” Even in this digital age making a referral or endorsing a product to your friends can have a sizable impact.

Every week at the farmers market we have at least one new customers who heard about our farm from a friend, or co-worker – that’s amazing!

This effect can be multiplied when you share one of our social media posts or when you “tag” our farm in one of your own posts. The same is true when you provide feedback or a testimonial, you’re contributing social capital!

Social capital and the other 7 forms of capital are used in combination with holistic management. The trust we build with you is important to us and that’s why we aim to be consistent with our market presence and quality of our products.

And the return on this investment?

In a traditional sense any investment demands a return. So how do farms provide a return on your investment? GREAT FOOD!

In addition, farms employ local people, purchase supplies locally and support other small businesses. When we buy shavings for our chickens they come from the feed store just up the road. Our favorite nest boxes (pictured at top) come from a small business that is thriving due to the support and growth of small farms just like ours!

Farmers collaborate so much! We order seeds, minerals and other supplies together. Our eggs are included in CSA shares, in on-farm stores and in value-added products around the state- all because we want to support other farms and farmers.

All these farms keep your neighborhood looking beautiful by retaining open space and habitat for wildlife and building community through weekly events such as farmers’ markets. Creating these spaces for us to connect over food may be the best return we could anticipate.

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.

 

 

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!

October Newsletter

October weather has run the gamut from typical frosty mornings following bright, clear nights to balmy, tropical feeling days. It is strange to have the varied hues of fall while the temperature feels like July. Like every fall, I have to retrace my steps at the day’s end to collect cast off long sleeve shirts or the lightweight down jacket that seemed necessary when I first stepped out the door. Another hallmark of the season is that the light fades early, this allows us to get inside hours earlier than in the previous four months and for me it means a return to books. I just started, The Shepherd’s Life which chronicles the life of the author, James Rebanks in England’s Lake district. I’ve included a brief excerpt here that I think captures the essence of why I farm.

There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months, and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow, and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives, and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter. We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true. Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape.

Calving continues and we have three healthy bull calves out on pasture. Evening chores now include a few minutes to watch the calves frisking around together, tails straight up and long legs stretched into an ungainly gallop. We have four more cows to calve and hope all arrive as healthy and without incident as the three so far.

IMG_9568

Jake has been busy with all sorts of projects including groundwork at our new property for our walk-in cooler and freezer, setting water and electric lines for the hoop house and egg washing area in the garage, and building a third moveable hen house for our growing flock. After a week with the excavator the property has gone through another stage of transformation, bringing us closer to having our hoop house and cooler/freezer completed by year’s end.

What’s in Season?
We’ll have LAMB & GOAT this weekend at the BTLT’s Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm. It has been a wait and thanks for your patience. Our pasture-raised lambs are slow-growing and with the warm fall we wanted to maximize our opportunity to keep them on pasture as long as possible. Our goats spent their 18 months with us browsing on the field and road edges of the farm. They visited Whatley Farm in Topsham to do some work clearing up the gullies bordering their crop fields. Knowing these animals will nourish your families reassures us as we let them go. We’ll miss the individuals in each of these groups while taking solace in the bonds of trust and care with the animals who remain.

We’re nearing Halloween and this has traditionally been the deadline for ordering your holiday birds. Having scaled up the number of turkeys we produce, there are still birds available. Enjoyed yours? Spread the word to your friends and family by sharing these links to reserve turkey or goose.

IMG_3511MARKET SCHEDULE
Tuesdays through November 22nd
8 AM-2 PM Brunswick Farmers’ Market on the Mall Brunswick
Saturdays through November 4th
8:30 AM- 12:30 PM BTLT’s Farmers’ Market  Brunswick
Saturdays beginning November 11th
9:00 AM – 12:30 PM Brunswick Winter Market Brunswick

 

 

September Newsletter

IMG_9282As the days get shorter the tempo of the farm keeps picking up. Though our daily chores take less time our project list remains lengthy. We’ll be installing a new walk-in cooler/freezer on the farm this fall as well as putting up the hoophouse for our laying hens. These pullets (at right) will be the first residents!

Despite the lack of rain in July and August we are feeling good about the season overall. Two major accomplishments are the amount of hay produced (3,000 + square bales and 175 round bales) and the clearing & seeding of 12 acres.

We are eagerly awaiting calving season, which should begin in another 10 – 14 days. The mama cows are especially loved. The corn husks from the garden and apples gleaned from around the farm are welcome treats. Unlike many of our other animals the calves are pretty elusive. After their first week they are wary of us and jealously guarded by their mamas and aunties. So, once they arrive we spend their first few days seeking them out and stroking their soft, clean hides.  Visit the blog for some calf photos designed to tide you over.


IMG_8702We had some excellent help in August and you may have seen us at market with our nieces and nephews who hail from Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. It as much fun to have help feeding birds as it having these visitors get us off the farm and out to have fun!

What’s in Season?
We’ll have BEEF this weekend at the BTLT’s Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm. It looks like there will be more grilling days in our future, so be prepared with some of our certified organic and 100% grass-fed beef. We will have a full range of steaks as well as roasts and slow-cooking favorites for the inevitable rainy days.  Our cows perfectly express our ideals of land management as they harvest sunshine in the form of grass and transform it into delicious, healthy meat.

Though the holidays seem a safe distance away, they will come sooner than you think! Please plan to reserve your Holiday Birds! Your thanksgiving turkeys are growing rapidly and keeping us entertained with their antics. Geese are ready now and will be available frozen for Thanksgiving or fresh the week of December 19th. These birds are raised on grass, supplemented with certified organic grain and vegetables. Follow these links to reserve your turkey or goose.

IMG_9064MARKET SCHEDULE
Tuesdays through November 22nd
8 AM-2 PM Brunswick Farmers’ Market on the Mall Brunswick
Saturdays 8:30 AM- 12:30 PM BTLT’s Farmers’ Market  Brunswick