Moxie in the Big City - Union Square Greenmarket

For most of 2018, I've been preparing to start Moxie Ridge's first NYC market. I had the opportunity to be accepted into a new greenmarket on the Upper West Side in Manhattan with GrowNYC but when that market was postponed for a year at the last moment, I had the incredible opportunity to be accepted into the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays!

This market is consistently ranked as one of the best farmers markets in the country. For a farmer, the Union Square Greenmarket is the Superbowl; and in keeping with the sports analogies, it means Moxie Ridge has been called up to the Big Leagues. 

 Moxie’s first day at Union Square

Moxie’s first day at Union Square

It is difficult to describe just how big of an impact this has. The best way I can describe it is by telling you what I told my father when I found out: it means everything is going to be OK. 

It does not mean that it will be easy.

In order to participate in the opportunity and security that this market can bring, it means waking up at 2am on Friday morning, packing up the special coolers and tetris-ing them into my Jeep Patriot. (Amazingly, my father stays over and gets up with me to help me out the door.) At this point, I head out between 3am - 3:30am and drive 3 hours and 45 minutes to Union Square where I unpack and discover what I have forgotten. On my first day, that was my credit card chip reader. Ah well. 

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I drive in using the Lincoln Tunnel, and I reach it not too long after sunrise. As I sit staring at the huge wall of rock and arches, waiting in line with hundreds of other cars to enter the city, I always think of medieval Europe and if this is what farmers felt like in the 15th and 16th centuries standing outside the walls of the closest large town at sunrise with their livestock and wares in tow, waiting for the drawbridge to open and for market day to begin.  Weird, I know. But at this point in the morning I’m in a high functioning fugue state, so these types of observations shouldn’t be too surprising. 

So far I have attended two Fridays at the Union Square Greenmarket - both during August, which is historically the slowest month at this market. The timing is fortunate for sure, as my first day was a bit bumpy (think cash box falling to the ground in the middle of like 5 transactions). However, I think I have the bugs worked out and I'm looking forward to returning on 9/14 after the cheese tour.

Moxie Ridge Farm & Creamery in American Farmland

You may have seen the stickers that say "NO FARMS, NO FOOD" around - that is the tagline of an organization called American Farmland Trust, a non-profit dedicated to preserving farmland in the US. They also happen to be a very big part of how Moxie Ridge was started here in Washington County. 

 Special delivery from American Farmland Trust

Special delivery from American Farmland Trust

This is an organization I have always looked up to and have donated to in the past, so when I was contacted about being featured in an AFT newsletter, I of course said yes! The resulting story is on this Summer's cover of the national newsletters hitting mailboxes now, and features gorgeous photographs by Lawrence White. 

There have been many instances of "full circle" so far in the couple seasons Moxie Ridge has been around, and going from a supporter to being a featured farmer by AFT has been a very special experience for me and I'm incredibly grateful to them for everything they do. 

 

The New Milking Parlor (One Year Late)

There are few things in my life - and by "things" I mean like actual inanimate objects - that I am deeply proud to call mine. The things I am proud of are either living beings, things I've made, accomplishments or achievements. There is one brand new exception to this: my gorgeous new milking parlor.

 New Moxie parlor in use, Summer 2018. 

New Moxie parlor in use, Summer 2018. 

Even before I closed on the farm, I had already found my headlocks and stanchion. I knew from my time at Coach Farms that I wanted a similar parlor setup and cascading headlocks were an absolute must. A headlock is a type of gate that allows the goat to put their head through to eat, then locks them in for safe milking. Once milking is finished, the gates are released and the goats go on their way. Cascading headlocks are a type of headlock that only ever have one gate open at a time, which means the goats must learn to essentially organize themselves in the parlor and lock in in an orderly fashion in order to get their breakfast or dinner. It's a thrill to see when it's working well, and it saves a lot of herding time during milking. 

 Barn addition in progress, Summer 2017

Barn addition in progress, Summer 2017

The barn that was on the property had a very small pit parlor with 6 calf headgates. I knew the first time I saw it that I would have to build on a new parlor for better flow and to accommodate more goats at a time, as well as a new milk room with a bulk tank to store up to 150 gallons of milk. I literally built my parlor around the specs of my precious headlocks. The size, the ramps and doors, the floor drain - everything. In the meantime, I had a great local metalworker adjust the height and railings of the headlocks and stanchion to my exact specifications. And since they had been sitting outside all Winter, we decided to clean them up with some paint - at which time I seized the opportunity to go with my favorite color on the locks and rails. 

 The new parlor was literally built around these cascading headlocks. 

The new parlor was literally built around these cascading headlocks. 

The exterior and most of the interior of the addition was completed by Winter of 2017. During the Spring and early Summer of 2018, the interior was finished aside from some final plumbing, the ramps and doors for goats were put in and the special feed bunk was installed. At this point I was hand milking 22 goats in the tiny, windowless parlor, often pouring sweat the entire time. 

 Original milking parlor with calf headlocks. 

Original milking parlor with calf headlocks. 

In July 2018 on a rainy Wednesday night I ran the inaugural milking in the new parlor solo.

It was a nightmare. At least no one was injured. 

As I mentioned, it was raining. The goats needed direction and encouragement on the new ramps, the queen was NOT a fan of the new parlor and so the rest of the herd was a bit rudderless, and though I had checked the vacuum pump, I neglected to test the pulsator after not having run it for over a year. After spending too much time trying to fix the pulsator, I ended up hand milking. At the end of the (very long) night, I was soaked to the bone with rain and sweat, with my wet skin was coated with goat hair from handling each girl individually, and my back was sore from hoisting rogue goats back up on to the stanchion. I was afraid I had made a terrible mistake. 

But as the days went by, the girls grew to love the new parlor and their entrances and exists became less fraught and more fun. 

 Sunset over the Adirondacks as seen from the parlor. 

Sunset over the Adirondacks as seen from the parlor. 

And at this point I am absolutely in love with my new parlor. It's not without its quirks and there are a few things to finish, but I'm not sure I've ever been so proud of something I've owned in my entire life. 

If you set up an appointment to tour the farm, don't be surprised if I show off the parlor to you.

 A room with a view after morning milking. 

A room with a view after morning milking. 

Babies Away!

The time has come to collect all the female kiddos and bring them to their very first "big kid" pasture. At the bottom of the ridge is a hollow that runs North to South, and this is where the best browse on the farm is located. The soil here isn't shale like on the ridge, but rather a softer soil more receptive to temporary fence posts (thank goodness). On the South end of the hollow is the yearling barn - a little shack that will be the nexus of a rotational grazing pattern that will keep young goat minds excited, challenged, comfy, and healthy. Not to mention all the delicious nutrition for little growing goat bodies they'll be getting. 

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These goats will be rotational browsing (the goat version of rotational grazing) their whole lives, and teaching them about electric net fences, set feeding times, and herding expectations now is crucial to a low stress life later on. This environment will also be where they learn about their own herd hierarchy, and having extra space during this time in development is key.

 Doelings and dry does snack on a delicious shrub in the new pasture. 

Doelings and dry does snack on a delicious shrub in the new pasture. 

This year, the "dry" does (breeding does that are not milking) will be in with the babies, making a mixed herd of 23 standard and dwarf-sized goats. (Add this to the herd of 23 girls in the dairy barn, plus the 5 breeding bucks, 3 landscaping wethers, and 4 sale bucklings... and well that's a lot of goats.)

If you come for the Cheese Tour this year, you'll get a peek at the little girls' pasture and the life of leisure they lead during the late summer and early fall. It's probably my favorite time of year and having the kids out for the first time is a big reason for it.

The Price of Goose Eggs

 The culprit, looking all innocent on the day he arrived at Moxie Ridge

The culprit, looking all innocent on the day he arrived at Moxie Ridge

Did you know that geese can kick? Did you know they can kick HARD?

I should preface this by saying it's possible it's just my geese - one in particular. Iceman is the head gander of my little flock of Pilgrim geese here at the farm. Just like his namesake, he's got blue eyes and a bit of an aggression issue. Now normally, Iceman and I have an understanding. About once every 3 weeks or so, we renew that understanding when I gently but firmly stretch his neck out and press his body to the ground, mimicking the submissive mating pose of a goose. He yells about it for about 15 seconds, then takes a deep breath and relaxes. Then we're good for another 3 weeks. Usually.

Pilgrim geese normally only lay in the Springtime and only lay about 60 eggs a year. One of my girls, Patches, got a bit confused this year and started laying in the Autumn. It's her first time laying and I'm thinking she may have gotten confused with the weather we had coming into Fall, and this is why you'll see fresh goose eggs at the Moxie Ridge market stands this Winter. Her nest is meticulously maintained in Duckingham Palace (a general waterfowl pun was as close as I could get to goose, don't judge) where she is tucked away and feels safe. This happens to be right next to my breeding bucklings pen.

 Patches's nest in Duckingham Palace

Patches's nest in Duckingham Palace

One day earlier this month, I was cleaning up the property around the bucklings and noticed that Iceman was agitated. Confident that my recent "reset" of our relationship would hold, I went about my business thinking that even if he were to act out (he hasn't since he arrived this Summer) that goose bites are not very painful particularly when one is wearing pants. What I did not realize is that he was on high alert serving as a lookout/guard for the nesting female. I walked right between him and the nest.

What happened next was very impressive, even in the painful moment. Iceman gave his warning behavior, and when I kept walking, he reached out and bit my leg at the knee with a quick strike.  When that produced no reaction, he struck again, only this time he held on with his beak, jumped in the air, and hauled the rest of his body into my knee using his apparently very strong neck.

He connected with the side of my left knee, just under where he was biting my pant leg, and he must have hit just right and nailed a nerve or something because HOLY WOW was it painful. Honestly it felt like someone hit me with a small wooden mallet and the bruise that blossomed 36 hours later was frankly a relief - proof that I wasn't overreacting to the pain. It was the size of my hand and I'm pretty sure it contained every color of the rainbow.

 The goods

The goods

Factor in the cost to feed and care for the geese (and what it takes to deal with their prolific pooping abilities), then add Iceman's martial abilities, and you now have a very good idea why my goose eggs cost $4 each.

Cornish Crosses vs. Rangers

  A pair of Freedom Rangers work the pastures at Moxie Ridge

A pair of Freedom Rangers work the pastures at Moxie Ridge

Having raised both breeds of bird this past season, here are my takeaways.

FREEDOM RANGERS

The Rangers were a natural fit at the farm - they were so athletic I switched management systems from pastured to free-range in order to accommodate this natural behavior. They are excellent foragers and love to hunt and chase the tiny creatures - they are also very sneaky about absconding with the goods once they've got their prize. They grow slower than CCs, but not by too much. They are ready for the butcher 1-2 weeks later than a Cornish Cross would be. I also like to process smaller batches in order to offer fresh chicken to my customers weekly, and while it's pricier for me to do so, the chickens continue to thrive as they reach 12-14 weeks.

Milk-finishing also went incredibly well with this hybrid breed. The combination of a high-forage diet with a milk finish resulted in meat that was both savory and delicate. Rangers have a much more even ratio of breast-to-leg meat (which is why they don't have the problems CCs do), and are much closer to the heritage birds I would ultimately like to be raising in taste and make-up than the CCs.

A consequence of the more "natural" bird is leg meat that must be cooked longer in order to reach peak juicy-ness (the meat should fall off the bone when done). For this reason, I think I will start offering breast and leg meat as options with my next round in the fall. 

CORNISH CROSS

The Cornish Cross look GREAT on paper and great in their final packaging. Fast rate of growth, breast meat is half-again as much as a Ranger, and they look familiar on a consumer-level once they are processed and packaged. They also took to milk-finishing incredibly well, and resulted in a very delicate meat. If I were doing this with the single intention of making money, I would be a fool not to raise Cornish Crosses as they have literally been engineered by people to be raised as efficiently as possible while yielding supermarket-style results.

I don't run my farm on paper, however. In real life, even though those CCs came from a reputable hatchery and were bred for pasture-raising, they still fell apart after 10 weeks. By that I mean I was hand-feeding food and water to birds with broken legs and it was heartbreaking.

THE FINAL DECISION:

ETHICS

The reason I decided to raise meat animals in the first place was to do so in a responsible and ethical manner, giving these animals the best possible life before their final day (and to make that final day as stress-free and pain-free as possible). By doing this, I hoped to replace even just the tiniest little corner of the industrial meat system. For me, raising Cornish Crosses is just not aligned with my beliefs and ethics on meat. Conversely, Rangers are a natural fit and are much closer to the heritage meat breeds I hope to be raising one day.

MEAT QUALITY

On the product side, there is no comparison in flavor of a milk-finished Ranger to a milk-finished CC. The depth of flavor along with the moisture and delicacy of a milk-finished Ranger in my opinion is far and away superior to a milk-finished CC - in the same way a farm-raised bird is superior in flavor to a supermarket bird. 

While management practices make an enormous impact on the quality and flavor of meat, no one can change the fact that the Cornish Cross is an industrial breed and ultimately will produce industrial meat.

 

IN SUMMARY

Out of the two, the Freedom Ranger wins. This isn't surprising as I had an opinion going into the season, but this has solidified things for me. The Rangers may not have the breast-to-leg ratio we as American consumers are used to, and they may look a bit different in the final packaging, but even leaving out the ethical questions I'm raising here I'd choose Freedom Rangers.

As we always said in wine, "you can make bad wine from good grapes, but you can't make good wine from bad grapes," and the same goes for cheese and milk. While the Cornish Cross isn't a "bad grape" if it comes from a reputable hatchery, it will always be an animal engineered for the supermarket and while management practices can improve on this, it will never have the health, vigor, or depth of flavor that an animal bred for a farm has. I hope in future seasons to move to heritage breeds, but in the meantime the Freedom Ranger is a perfect fit for Moxie Ridge.

Not So Fast: Cornish Cross

 This is an image from Wikipedia showing a "beaked" cornish cross chicken. This is an industrial practice and we DO NOT practice this at Moxie Ridge!

This is an image from Wikipedia showing a "beaked" cornish cross chicken. This is an industrial practice and we DO NOT practice this at Moxie Ridge!

So... an unexpected update on chickens.

Not long after I wrote the previous post on Freedom Rangers and why I'm not doing Cornish Cross, I found out that the previous farm had ordered 200 cornish Cross pastured chickens that had been delayed in delivery. Well, they were delivered last week and I will be raising them alongside my first batch of Freedom Rangers. I'd rather not, but when the post office calls and tells you there's 200 live chicks waiting there... it is what it is.

It's interesting to see them so far. We'll see how the behavior changes as time goes by but they seem to be much more hyper and skittish as chicks than the Rangers. The Rangers are learning who I am, are really active and seem to be growing quite nicely. I'm interested to see any differences in behavior.

The Cornish crossbreed is pretty much designed to not live past eight to ten weeks, and the people that I've talked to and have read about who raise them are pretty clear on the chickens reaching the end of their life by their processing date. (Processing is the farmer word for going to the butcher.) If you come to Moxie Ridge this summer sometime before June you'll be able to see both sets of chickens at comparable ages there only one week apart and you can observe the different behavior and potential health differences as they grow.

I am not planning on ordering anymore Cornish Cross for personal reasons, but I'll do right by this batch. They will be raised on pasture in the same manner as my Rangers.

Freedom Rangers, ho!

 The Freedom Ranger(tm) chicken from Freedom Ranger Hatchery

The Freedom Ranger(tm) chicken from Freedom Ranger Hatchery

I have been agonizing over meat chickens. Let me explain.

The type of chicken that we as consumers purchase in the grocery store here in the US is a breed of chicken called the Cornish Cross. It is what is called an "industrial breed" in agriculture. It was developed specifically to produce a ton of breast meat (what we consumers want to buy) and to produce it quickly. A bird that grows quickly means that it needs less feed and care through its life because it will reach eating age faster. So it's more profitable to "produce."

The issue with the Cornish Cross is that it has been bred for these characteristics to the detriment of the overall health of the birds. Their breasts grow so fast that their bones and muscles struggle to keep up and by the time they reach market weight, they can barely stand. Some have broken bones in their legs because their legs literally cannot support the weight of their breasts. The birds that escape these issues simply end up spending their time laying near the feeder once they grow out. This is just one of the many issues with these industrial breeds. (If you are interested in learning more about what happens with this type of breeding, I highly recommend you pick up one of Temple Grandin's books.)

Philosophically, I obviously have a huge issue with this. The Cornish Cross breed is the result of irresponsible, small-minded breeding designed to make a buck and damn the consequences. It is also the meat that consumers expect to purchase when they buy chicken. It is ALSO the cheapest bird to produce as a meat chicken.

While I have made it no secret that my goal is to transition to heritage breed livestock in the future, financially we can't swing it just yet. The previous owners of the property were big proponents of the breed in their own meat bird program, purchasing them through a pastured poultry-specific hatchery that I can only imagine produced healthier specimens than most. I initially agreed to continue purchasing those chicks, as they and their customers had been very happy with them, and I was assured that the extra time to grow a different breed would be a waste of feed and labor. But I felt terrible. I felt like a hypocrite. I put off ordering. I searched for a different option that would make financial sense and not lose money. I was stuck.

Finally, after speaking with a new lady farmer friend about options the other day, the answer finally came. Freedom Rangers. These are chickens that have been bred to grow swiftly in a healthy way. They don't grow as fast as Cornish Crosses and are excellent free-ranging. They also mature to market weight just a couple weeks after the industrial hybrid. Hooray!

I've heard of Freedom Rangers before, but I was not aware that the name had been trademarked. In fact, the only place to get these birds is from the Freedom Ranger Hatchery in Pennsylvania, as I learned from my local farmer friend. 

I'm thrilled to say, Moxie Ridge's first Freedom Ranger chicks will be on their way this week! Even if they do cost more to raise and take a bit longer, I'm happy to pay the price. Who said you can't buy peace of mind? 

Hopefully my customers will feel the same way.

Moxie's Babies

The skittles have arrived.

 The kids settling in to their new home in the Baby Barn at Moxie Ridge.

The kids settling in to their new home in the Baby Barn at Moxie Ridge.

In order to grow the herd, we've brought in 16 babies from the illustrious Laini Fondiller at Lazy Lady Farm. These girls (and two boys) will provide the foundation lines for the Moxie Ridge herd for decades to come. These little nuggets are the future of the farm.

 Lazy Lady Farm founder Laini Fondiller says goodbye to the kids before their trip to Moxie Ridge

Lazy Lady Farm founder Laini Fondiller says goodbye to the kids before their trip to Moxie Ridge

 

We have 13 Alpines and 3 Saanens. Of those, we've got 2 bucklings (males) - 1 Saanen and 1 Alpine. They are all about 2 weeks old, and so are "bottle babies," and we feed them a combination of fresh goat's milk (thanks Tinkerbell!) and a special milk replacer that helps them grow.

 Me and the babies leaving Lazy Lady Farm in the Joy Jeep

Me and the babies leaving Lazy Lady Farm in the Joy Jeep

They've started nibbling on hay and they will start to drink water from their buckets. We'll be introducing some non-GMO solid feed soon for them to start nibbling. Kids grow up so fast, you guys!

So far, the main troublemaker is Milton, the Saanen buckling. Just look for the biggest white blur in any photo and you've found him. He eats enough for two and is trying to mount at 14 days old, so I'm sure we'll have our hands full. Fortunately, he's also a love bug.