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Follow organic dairy farmer Jonathan Gates as he reports weekly from his Vermont family farm. Howmars Farm is a certified organic dairy farm, one of many Organic Valley/CROPP Cooperative farmer members who supply the milk that goes into making Stonyfield's yogurts and smoothies. The entire family pitches in on this third-generation farm. Check out some of the happenings on his farm and post your comments. Jonathan loves to get feedback from readers.

Turkeys, for Turkey Day, when they were prepared for the market

Back in October, Farmer Jonathan sent this report of the day the turkeys he had raised all summer were processed for sale...

Today was turkey day here at Howmars Farm. Back in June, I had reserved the date for the state mobilepoultry processing unit, run by George Eisenhardt, right after I had ordered our turkey chicks. The turkeys had thrived on our farm all summer and early fall. This morning we had 37 organic, pasture-raised hen turkeys ready to be processed.

The processing unit was due here around 7 AM, and we had started milking early to be done by the time George arrived. Halfway through milking, we narrowly escaped a potentially dangerous situation that could have changed our plans for the day. The thermostat on our oil-fired hot water heater quit, and the burner kept running super-heating the water. The pressure relief valve also malfunctioned, and if a half-inch black plastic water line hadn't ruptured when the super-heated water was forced back into the line, the hot water tank could have exploded. I heard the water from the ruptured line hitting the wall of the milking parlor, and I rushed into the room housing the hot water heater to steamy, water-soaked chaos. I shut off everything I could, and the steam cleared to show rupture waterlines, and rigid pvc pipe twisted into s-curves from the extremely hot temperatures. Now I really needed to get the milking done so that I could reconnect water lines and have water available for the processing unit.

George arrived on time, we finished mill king, and just about when George was ready for the water we had the lines put back together to supply cold water to the processing unit. By 2pm, the first turkeys were chilled down enough to package. George, his co-worker, Jim, and the Vermont State inspector, Terry, all agreed the turkeys had turned out very well. The 37 birds packaged, labeled, and put in the freezers ranged in size from 15 pounds to 21 pounds, with the average weight being 18.25 pounds. Very marketable birds.

While George and Jim cleaned the processing unit and readied it for the 50-mile trip back to Morrisville, we prepped the milking machines and penned up the cows for milking. Thanks to Paul from O.C.McCuin and Sons, the hot water heater was repaired, we ran the wash cycle for the bulk tank that had been emptied this morning, and we had hot water for doing chores. The processing unit headed down the road, and the cows headed into the milking parlor for the afternoon milking.


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