Starting in just a week or two our pastures will again be full of chickens, pigs and yearlings grazing, scratching and rooting. Our meat season really begins now with these new arrivals coming by mail, by trailer and by truck. Harvest will start with chickens in mid-June, and turkeys, pigs and beef in the mid-late fall when they have reached slaughter weight.
At this time of year, we ask our customers to put down a deposit on your portion of the cow or pig and on the number of chickens and turkeys you’d like. This deposit helps us pay our expenses throughout the season and also makes the animal yours, allowing us to legally provide you the service of raising and butchering your animal on the farm. You can find the order forms on our website by clicking on each link below
We’re offering a 5% discount on your order for deposits received by April 30, 2014.
Raising Reber Rock Meat
Before you decide to commit to supporting us, we think you might want to know more about how we raise our animals. Below you’ll find a brief description for each animal, and if you have more questions please don’t hesitate to contact us. (Click a photo for larger view.)
Chicks arrive in batches of 150 via UPS every three weeks starting in early April from the family run Freedom Ranger Hatchery in PA. We choose this breed because they are be both good foragers and fast growing. While they take a week or so longer to get to slaughter weight, we find that extra time and feed is more than compensated for by their delicious taste and ability to fertilize large areas of field as they rotate.
When the chicks are between 2 and 3 weeks old we put them out on pasture in Joel Salatin style: Chicken Tractors surrounded by electrified netting to keep them close to home and predators out. Each morning we top off their grain ration (an organic feed custom mix from family-owned Green Mountain Feeds in VT), check their waterers and move their coops forward one length, giving them access to new fresh grass inside the coop. We also keep the doors of their coops open 24 hours a day so they can get out and forage as early in the morning and as late in the evening as they like. Between 9-10 weeks of age they reach 3-4 lbs, and we harvest them early in the morning right on the farm.
Roasted chicken is one of our favorite meals on the farm. We’ve found that with these birds they only dry out if way WAY over-cooked. We often just throw three of them in a chaffing dish with nothing else in the oven frozen at 375 degrees and let them cook for 2.5-3 hours. The juices make a terrific gravy and voila you have lunch, dinner and lunch again for many hungry farmers.
Baby turkeys are called poults, and look just like baby chicks except for the tiny snood — a bit of flesh — just above the beak. They are much more fragile than chicks, more sensitive to cold and damp and temperature swings in general. This year we will raise Broad Breasted Whites from Mohawk Valley, NY based Neppa Hatchery and try some heritage breed Bourbon Red from Murray McMurray Hatchery.
Poults are much more curious and active than the broiler chicks. By the end of week-1 they are climbing on top of their brooder hood and calling loudly to each other using three or four clearly distinct calls.
After about four weeks we give them intermediate outdoor housing close enough to hook up a heat lamp on really cold nights. The young poults have lots of energy and chase everything that moves. Last season their pen was just outside the office window, so Racey got to watch “Turkey TV” all day long
Then finally, they get to start rotating through the pasture with their outdoor roost. Conventional wisdom tells us that turkeys will drown in the rain if they don’t have shelter, but we’ve heard from old timers that in the wild they will actually choose to roost out in the open. We took a chance that turkeys’ survival instincts had kept them alive for thousands of years and would keep them alive for one season longer. We were right! The turkeys thrived in their outdoor environment, growing to an average of 18 pounds in the 12-weeks we had them outside.
We harvest and package right here on the farm, freezing them immediately to ensure the highest quality for you.
Our piglets come when they are 8-weeks old, weaned and castrated and ready to go right on to the pasture. We favor heritage breeds such as Tamworths, Gloucester Old Spots and Large Blacks that have long loins (more bacon!), good back fat and sweet dispositions.
For 20-24 weeks they rotate through marginal pastures at the edges where the woods are creeping in, and do an excellent job plowing and clearing shrubby pasture. We feed them a custom grain ration from Green Mountain Feeds and some kitchen treats.
As we establish our own herd, breeding and raising our steers and cows on the farm, we will buy in steers from a few local farms with management practices similar to ours: Sunset Farm in Willsboro and Full and By Farm in Essex. This year we will have a mix of Herefords, Angus and American Milking Devons on our farm. They arrive in the spring, and rotate once a day through our pastures all season long with harvest between October and November depending on their size. Breeding stock and young steers overwinter with us, eating first and second cut hay we make over at Racey’s parents farm on Christian Road in Essex.
A great reference book for cooking custom butchered meats is The River Cottage Meat Book, by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall. We use it mostly for pork and beef roasts. Here we made a Sirloin roast by dry roasting it on 450 degrees for 30 minutes and then 20 minutes a pound on 375 degrees.
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #1 Just Getting Started (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #2 June in July (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeeds #3 Season’s Changing (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeed #4: Year in Review (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Reber Rock Farm Fotofeed #5: Getting Ready for Sugar (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)