Bonnie here: We're pleased to announce that Janet Majure, who has guest-posted for us peviously from Lawrence, Kansas, has donned an Ethicurean team apron. Janet is a mom and has written about cooking for years for newspapers; she started her blog, foodperson.com, in March. You can read more about her at her Ethicurean bio.
I talked recently with Yvonne Bauman of Garnet, Kansas, who, with her husband John Bauman and their six children, operates a small but diversified family farm with an emphasis on poultry — selling pastured eggs and chickens.
I already knew a little of the challenges of pastured chickens, partly due to the messages in the Baumans' Cedar Valley Farms egg cartons. (More on that in a second.) For instance, I knew that their pens must be moved often so that they have new grass and bugs on which to forage (not to mention to spread their droppings around).
Photo of the Baumans' chicken pasture by Jerry Jost, courtesy Kansas Rural Center
But I hadn't fully realized they're seasonal. A great frustration for the Baumans is that at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when people want to do a lot of baking, the hens' production slows.
"I think they will purposely go on strike," Yvonne joked. She added that cooler temperatures and shorter days were more likely the reason. Heat can slow them down, too. These are problems that warehoused chickens — and their owners — don't have to worry about.
At the time we talked, the Baumans had 400-500 hens that were laying on their 160 acres and about 400 babies that would be ready to lay in another month or two. Those are in addition to the broilers they raise. The hens lay their eggs in elevated nests in the center of their enclosures, then the eggs roll down to be collected by the people. This arrangement also mostly prevents the chickens from soiling the freshly laid eggs.
The 11- and 13-year-old Baumans do most of the egg gathering and help feed the chickens. The birds get feed, largely from grains the Baumans raise, to supplement what they forage. Then, Yvonne handles each egg, candling it to make sure there are no blood spots (although spots are only an aesthetic issue) and grading the eggs according to size.
The family members place the eggs in dated cardboard cartons and top them with a message on paper, what the family calls "egg slips." Finally, they deliver them to the Community Mercantile on Thursdays. (Don't expect to find any on Wednesdays.)
It's a whole-family affair. Father and oldest son work both on and off the farm; oldest daughter Rosanna, 19, does all the paperwork and writes most of the egg slips; the 15-year-old cares for the lambs; and the 7-year-old "does a little bit of everything."
Now, about those egg slips. These are little slips of colored bond paper, about 1 1/4 inches high, with (usually) five lines of small typescript telling about life on the farm. From a few weeks ago:
The Farmers go out and the animals go in. That's what happens at Cedar Valley Farms when a rainstorm hits---instead of seeking shelter, we go out in the rain and make sure all the chickens are safely under shelter....Day or night, when a big rainstorm hits, we head out to the pastures. Sometimes we work by the light of the lightning flashes, sometimes hailstones pelt us; always we get soaked to the skins....In really windy storms, the wind will actually blow the shelters up off the birds and across the pasture, leaving the poultry without any place to go. That's when we get rolling: Quick, bring the tarp! Hurry, get some hay! ~ Baumans
Like lots of buyers, I love these missives. Rosanna would like to collect them in a book. They add meaning to the words on the cartons:
PASTURE RAISED EGGS
THE DIFFERENCE IS IN THE YOLK!
EGGS LIKE GRANDMA USE TO RAISE
The Baumans don't have a website. You can read more about them on the Kansas Rural Center's report (PDF) of its recent value-added farm tour.