Big Plans for a Small Cow at Summer Run Farm

Cathryn Baerwald’s Summer Run Farm is known for its produce and certified-organic garlic, but this Snoqualmie Valley farm has recently had the opportunity to diversify in a unique way, with the addition of a diminutive bovine whose large brown eyes are as sweet as the milk she produces. Her name is Petunia.

Petunia is a six-year-old miniature jersey cow, standing only 42 inches tall at the hook. She traveled from Nebraska and arrived at Summer Run Farm a few weeks ago, and has settled into her comfortable barn overlooking her own five-acre pasture on the property. Petunia and Cathryn have formed a fast bond, although it was a bit of a winding road before their paths joined in the milking stall they now share every morning.

A basket of unused calf bottles sits atop a refrigerator in the barn. As she busily sanitizes and prepares the milking equipment on a mild January morning, Cathryn explains that when she set out to obtain a miniature jersey cow, she had intended to bring home a calf – not an adult cow. However, after seeing a photo of Petunia on the breeder’s website, those plans changed. Petunia had been sold previously, but was brought back to the breeder’s farm after she was severely neglected by her owner. Petunia’s breeder had no intentions of selling her again, but eventually relented, and Cathryn brought home to Summer Run Farm the cow whose crumpled-up photo she had been carrying around for quite some time.

Caring for an adult cow whose milk production is at its peak is a much different game than caring for a calf, as she originally had planned to do, so Cathryn comments that she’s had to learn a lot very quickly. Petunia is milked every morning, and Cathryn can now complete the whole careful process – cleaning and sanitizing the equipment, milking Petunia, storing the four gallons of milk Petunia produces daily, and cleaning the equipment once again – in about an hour.

Cathryn explains that most produce farmers don’t have an hour to spare in their busy schedules to spend milking a cow every morning, which brings up the question of why one would take on this task. Cathryn’s aim in bringing Petunia to Summer Run Farm was to assess potential on-farm uses for raw milk, especially as livestock feed (for pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc.) and trial runs as a natural fertilizer and pest repellant on the fields, with the ultimate goal being a healthier, more sustainable and self-sufficient farm. A miniature jersey cow is the ideal candidate for such a situation, since their small size makes them less resource-intensive and their physical impact on the land is much lighter. Additionally, the feed-to-milk-production ratio is higher for a miniature jersey than a full-size cow, so they will yield a greater amount of their sweet, high-cream milk on proportionally smaller quantities of feed. Cathryn expects that the milk Petunia produces will be plenty for the farm’s needs.

The Humanlinks Foundation/Tilth Alliance grant Cathryn was awarded not only helped with purchasing Petunia, but also with purchasing the milking equipment and a fertilizer sprayer, which will be used to apply the diluted raw milk (with fats and cream removed) to sample crops of non-edible plant parts, grasses and flowers. Cathryn plans to evaluate the success of these trials in terms of reduced spending on fertilizer, shipping, and tractor fuel; increased vegetable yields and quality; decreased pest damage to plants and improved health of other animals on the farm.

Cathryn acknowledges that keeping a cow for the purposes of using the raw milk on-farm may be an endeavor more of interest to homesteaders than to produce farmers, but she stresses that it is possible to make it work for the farmer’s needs. She plans to dry Petunia off so that she’ll be out to pasture and not in need of milking during the busy produce season for Summer Run Farm. Once Petunia has been bred back and has a calf at her side, Cathryn will then have the option of milking her or not, depending on the needs of the farm at the time.

In the meantime, Cathryn and Petunia will continue their morning milking routine. Once the equipment has been cleaned and the milk added to the fridge whose shelves are already filled to capacity with beautiful golden milk frozen in bags, Petunia gets a good brushing with her required scratch under the chin before being let out to pasture for the day.

Cathryn sees the addition of Petunia to Summer Run Farm as a turning inward; a step toward making the farm more self-sustaining. She hopes that her experience will be an example to encourage other farmers to pursue grant funding for their own projects, and for others who may want to look into the benefits of cow ownership and the use of raw milk on their own farms.

 

 


 

The submission period for 2018 Tilth and Humanlinks Foundation Farm Grants is now open. The application deadline is January 31st. For more information: http://www.humanlinksfoundation.org/programs

Story and photos by Lainey Piland

WSDA Licensed Poultry Processing at Crooked Shed Farm

Poultry processing building and digester at Crooked Shed Farm

Tucked beneath a bigleaf maple tree on Laile Fletcher’s Crooked Shed Farm, a tidy, unassuming two-room building is big news for poultry farmers in the Snoqualmie Valley. This new facility, along with Laile’s recently-obtained WSDA Food Processor License and USDA Co-Pack Exemption, mean that farmers in the Sno Valley and surrounding areas now have a convenient and viable local option for processing their chickens, turkeys, ducks and rabbits for resale.

With the next-closest WSDA-Licensed processing facility more than a two-hour drive away, Laile Fletcher is stepping in to fill a crucial need for local farmers. In speaking with her about the new facility, one quickly gets the sense that this project was motivated not only for the benefit of her own farm, but even more so by the needs of the local farming community. “My goal was to support small farmers in the valley,” she notes, and “to provide a reliable, year-round service that folks can build or add on markets for the farms they have.”

Recalling how she embarked on this venture more than a year ago, Laile explained that when she decided to raise poultry to diversify her farm income beyond the fleece goats, Dexter cows, and Tamworth pigs she was already raising, she struggled to find someone to process her birds, so “I then decided that I would look into that, having helped other farms [with processing] and done some myself.”

After reviewing the Green Book (WSDA Handbook for Small and Direct Marketing Farms), visiting local markets, speaking with other farmers and “calling or emailing WSDA a ton of questions,” Laile decided to pursue the WSDA Food Processor License to process her own poultry. Additionally, the USDA Co-Pack Exemption allows her to process poultry and rabbits for other farmers, which can then be sold frozen, whole, or in cuts, at farmers markets, butcher shops, retail outlets, or to restaurants anywhere within Washington state.

Laile Fletcher shares the story of Crooked Shed Farm with SVT staff

With this license, Laile can process up to 20,000 birds per year, and an unlimited number of rabbits. Unlike many processing facilities, Laile’s has no requirement for a minimum number of birds – a hurdle she faced when looking to process her own birds, and one she wanted to eliminate for other farmers. Being a one-woman show for now, Laile has the ability to process up to twenty-five birds per day, with farmers dropping birds off between 8:00-9:00 in the morning. She requests that birds be brought to the facility in boxes or crates, from which they can then be transferred to the holding crates tucked onto the front porch of her processing building.

Current pricing is as follows, and includes scald, pluck, gut, shrink wrap bags, label and waste disposal. Rabbits are skinned. Taxes extra.

Chicken $4.00 each
Duck $12.00 each
Turkey (up to 20lbs) $12.00 each
Turkey (21-25lbs) $15.00 each
Rabbit $6.00 each

 

As can be expected with any venture of this scope involving licenses and permits, this project was not without its challenges. Laile comments that “As far as challenges, there has been a list and some we are still working on,” but one of the biggest challenges was simply getting in touch with the right people in various regulatory bodies as the project was getting underway. After being shuffled back and forth between different people at the county and state levels, she was eventually able to secure the required permits and move forward with constructing the facility and obtaining her license.

Another challenge was determining how to dispose of the remnants left over after the poultry has been processed. Where do those gizzards and buckets of greywater end up? The solution can be found by peeking behind the processing building, where a cheerful purple shipping container houses a fascinating bit of innovative technology: an anaerobic digester made by Impact Bioenergy. The leftovers from poultry processing are added to the digester’s “stomach,” where they are broken down by bacteria and give off waste products that are put right back to work: waste heat is used to warm the circulating water that keeps the digester at an optimal 100 degrees; methane gas is collected in a large bladder and is used to produce electricity that will be fed back into the power grid; and once fully digested, the liquid digestate can be used as a soil amendment – an offering that Laile hopes to have available to local farmers.

Crooked Shed Farm’s anaerobic digester

The digester is yet another example of a common theme at Crooked Shed Farm, where a problem isn’t merely solved, but is leveraged to create greater benefits. The digester solves the issue of waste disposal, but also creates electricity and material for soil amendments. The new poultry processing facility solves Laile’s problem of finding someone to process her birds, but also creates potential new opportunities for other local farmers who’ve considered adding chickens or turkeys to their farms, but have hesitated due to lack of local processing options.

What’s next? Laile is looking into obtaining organic certification for the poultry processing facility, so that she can process organic birds as well.

“We’re trying to make it work,” Laile says, “and we’re trying to show others that it can work.”

For more information on poultry processing at Crooked Shed Farm, contact Laile Fletcher at farmer@crookedshedfarm.com or (425) 328-6650.

Need a copy of the Green Book for your own reference? Stop by and see us at the SnoValley Tilth Office (above Carnation City Hall) to pick one up! You can also find it online here.

Photos by Melissa Borsting.