The days are definitely shorter, mornings and evenings cooler, the golden leaves of Autumn covering the ground, and the crispness of early winter is setting in. May is normally quieter in the guesthouse, before school holidays, but it is a very busy time on the farm as we try to cram as much as we can into the last warm days before shutting down for winter. It takes some planning to work crop seeding and chicken schedules out to ensure we have enough to last through winter. It gets busier before it gets quieter.
By the end of June, all broiler chicken operations will stop for winter. Because our animals are outside 24/7, they have to be hardy enough to withstand the freezing temperatures of winter in the Midlands. The layer hens are cooped in their egg mobile at night so they will remain out on pasture during winter but we will move them to warmer areas of the farm. The pigs are now between 3 and 4 months old so they are big enough to keep themselves warm and seek out shelter.
Because of the late rain, we have been able to still plant a lot and the days have been gorgeous! We are now pulling out the end of the Autumn crops and seeding things like kale, cabbage, broccoli, radish, spinach and other cold-loving crops. Last week saw our first light frost, right on time.
Pasture Raised Chicken
Our last batch of pasture raised chickens went out onto pasture this week. They will be on pasture for a month before the real cold sets in. We have moved them to a warmer area of the farm, a new spot, so it will be interesting to see how they go. This is the second batch that we have done with chicks from the smaller, private hatchery. They have done incredibly well in the brooder so far.
The first batch from this hatchery also did very well. They were much more active and didn’t let the colder temperatures bother them much. This is a great development.
Many people have asked about the value of pasture raised chicken. You can read more detail in our blog post here but a quick definition is that pasture raised is good for the animal, and good for the land. Both are considered equally in all actions. The carrying capacity of the land is not over-exceeded – considering the recovery of grass, rainfall, temperatures, nor allowing the chickens to remain in one spot for too long where they can damage the grass and soil.
At the same time, the chickens are have a large protected area to roam in, are exposed to sunlight, eat grass, bugs, grit, insects, dirt bath, run, and all normal chicken behaviours. This gives a beautiful golden egg yolk – a true golden egg yolk! Most chicken feed contains colourants to mimic this golden colour. Chickens will only have a golden yolk if they are fed on grass as the golden colour comes from a plant based nutrient. This same nutrient will also affect the colouration of the chicken meat in broilers. Some chickens will eat more grass than others, they also have their likes and dislikes, so there should be natural variation in egg or meat colour. Pasture raised products contain much higher amounts of vitamins – especially vitamin A, E, D and Omega 3 because of the more natural diet of the chickens, as well as being outdoors 24/7. But this way of raising chickens is much more labour intensive. The cost is borne by the farmer and the customer, instead of by the chicken and the environment.
Pasture Raised Eggs
The pasture raised layers have also been making their impact on the grass. For a while they rotated through a paddock where our neighbour’s cattle had been. The egg laying sky rocketed from the bugs and larvae in the cow manure. In this paddock they had access to an overflowing borehole so the geese also had a great time!
Forest Raised Pork
The pigs are now old enough and big enough to move around on the forest edges. Their digging and rooting helps stimulate forest growth. They just look so at home in the dappled sunlight. This lot of pigs are very vocal, and they certainly know what is good for them. They turn their little noses up at any “sub-standard” meal offerings so we’ve had a run for our money with them! Milk production from the dairy has dipped as the temperatures dip but the cattle are not yet on silage. We have been lucky enough to source whey, discard milk, and excess vegetables scraps from a number of REKO producers. The pigs love this! In the cooler weather, the pigs seek out little nests under the trees – clearly the house we built is also considered sub-standard by this lot! They stack themselves in a little pile to keep warm and grunt with annoyance if disturbed once they’ve tucked themselves into bed!
Last month we mentioned that we were finally getting our pork sausages back from a small, private butcher who would make the sausages according to our recipe – no MSG, fillers, preservatives etc. Well – as quickly as the sausages arrived, they went! We are already sold out of sausages, chops and pork mince! The response to our forest raised pork has been so encouraging.
REKO continues to be a fantastic market stream for us. We are involved in 3 REKO Rings so it is a very busy two days of REKO every week but it has made such a difference to our business. We’re also heavily involved still with the organisation of the 3 REKO Rings which takes a toll but worth doing for the long term.
Although this is really the May blog, this past weekend (which is technically June!) saw us being part of the Spekboom Meandering the Midlands cycle tour for the first time! This was something really big for us as it was part of our original vision for Bramleigh. It was so refreshing to spend time with others who appreciated the outdoors and natural beauty of the setting. After a series of stop overs, the group staying with us enjoyed a farm to fork dinner with produce from our farm, served next to a roaring wood fire and then set off to bed in cosy eco-friendly country accommodation. An early start the next day saw breakfast with our pasture raised eggs, bacon from our forest raised pigs, homemade sourdough toast, and yoghurts from Tatsfield (a calf-at-foot dairy in our REKO Network). At 7:30am we set off for an early farm tour, on the coldest morning so far! We loved the interactions and questions. Thanks to a group of other REKO producers, we were able to send the group on their way with a packed picnic of delicious homegrown/homemade goodies for lunch.
We finished building a wood fired pizza oven, thanks to plans from a friend. We are now deciding whether this will be a communal feature, alongside a braai, for guests, or whether we will use it to serve pizza to guests using our own bases and toppings from the farm. What would you enjoy, as a guest?
We also finally have our farm shop up and running! This area is now part of the workflow between the wash station, laundry, garage and serves as space for baking breads and pizza bases, meat processing, egg packing, and is laid out in an accessible way for guests wanting to purchase farm fresh produce. Currently we have our products on sale but we are wanting to grow this to include other local growers too.
We are looking forward to a bit of downtime at the end of June during which time we will only have one blog post covering Winter. You can keep an eye on daily happenings on our Facebook page Bramleigh Farm or Instagram bramleigh_farm