Chicken Holders

On June 22, I was invited to a stakeholders meeting for small scale poultry producers to create a framework of regulations to allow small-scale producers in the state of Colorado to process and sell their own poultry. Recently, a bill passed that allowed the sale of poultry raised processed on the farm to be sold to individuals, and called for this group to create laws that would allow producers to sell to retail outlets such as stores and restaurants. At this meeting there were members of Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA), Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the USDA. There were small producers, a restaurant representative, an insurance agent, state officials, USDA Certified Poultry Processors, and other individuals all there to discuss what they would like to see come from this bill to allow Colorado to move forward with small-scale poultry production. Out of the producers at this meeting, I was easily the smallest scale farmer in the room, but had plenty to bring to the table, especially regarding mobile processing. I was also the only person physically present that was representing the Western Slope. Coming to this meeting was important for me because as a small scale producer and a processor, I want to make sure that we are being supported by our own state. Although Delta County and the North Fork Valley are full of smaller scale farmers- we also have the highest concentration of organic family farms in the state, and want to stay that way. There are regulations and laws that protect people that raise other meat- such as red meat, pork and other livestock, but up until now there has been nothing regarding poultry at the state level without having a facility certified by the USDA. Sadly, creating a USDA certified plant as a farmer of such a small scale is just not worth it. Plus, there isn't one for 3 hours from here and at least one mountain pass at over 10,000 feet, which would mean certain death for the birds. This meeting was in hopes that we could make it legal for poultry producers that are not USDA certified to be able to sell at the retail level.

It's great to be able to sell our chickens to individuals, but with the farm to table movement and the drive to support local economy, this could be the first open door for small farms to be able to sell chickens to restaurants, markets and other retail vendors. This being the first meeting, there was not much to solidify what we might see- but stay tuned. Hopefully, in the near future, you'll be able to see Gray Acres poultry in a Colorado restaurant.

Cut the Cheese

One of our main products, now that we have a small herd of dairy goats, are various types of goat cheese. Two types that we currently make are chevre and feta.  Chevre is actually french for goat's cheese, and is very creamy and fluffy. We serve the cheese in jars where it is used to spread or crumble. We also make feta- and like most people who enjoy a nice fancy salad or like pairing it with crackers, our goat cheese feta is great for any occasion. Feta is a little more acidic compared to chevre, and it is a harder cheese. Also, in comparison to chevre, it has a longer shelf life.

A common comment about goat cheese for the general population is the overall flavor and smell. There is a risk when processing goat milk that the product you are making has a distinct "goaty" taste. Not to toot our own horn, but our processing methods and consistent cleanliness of our cheese making has been a big selling point for our cheese. Most customers and tasters have told us that the goat taste that is normally found in goat cheese is nowhere to be found in our cheeses. Also, we are told that our the flavor and consistency of our cheeses are widely enjoyed.

The purpose of this blog isn't really to just talk about how good our cheese is, but really to share our hurdles and accomplishments we've already had since taking on this enterprise. I have been working for Lamborn Mountain Farmstead for a little over two years and have learned the trade of cheese making from them. Since it was originally done at their farm, I had the comfort of having their wisdom and guidance by my side whenever I was making these prodcuts. However, now that the goats and business have moved over to my farm, I had to dive in with both feet and learn how to do all these things on my own environment. Honestly, it was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. Simple things such as temperature control, pH levels and proportions of culture and rennet were all obstacles I had to overcome to get into the groove of making cheese.

cheese box

The first couple times I made chevre, my wife and I found that it was too grainy- definitely not the creamy consistency we were used to. We found that this insulated box that I designed to keep the cheese warm was essentially re-cooking the cheese. Since the wash room for the dairy can get quite cold, I over-corrected with the temperature regulated box. The chevre had the right flavor, but it cooked too long or got too warm resulting in a spongy cheese that we needed to fix. Then, with the feta, I somehow got a mushy result the first time I made it at our place. I speculated that maybe I didn't use enough rennet, but I knew the cheese was fine. I deducted that it was the brine, so I looked online and asked around to find that it was the pH balance of the brine that I needed to work on. I tried some remedies such as vinegar and calcium chloride that could lower the pH and help firm up the cheese. All in all, so many little things happened before I honed in my skills. I've had multiple food grade thermometers break, I've been so distracted that just being one hour off schedule resulted in a fairly different cheese, and I had to figure out how to drain and age my cheese consistently.

All in all, these little battles just helped me realize how proud I am of being able to do this part of my job. Of all the things that I do on our farm, cheese making is one of the pieces I am most proud of. It's a true depiction of the work we do from start to finish. From the quality of living our goats have to produce good milk, to handling it properly once they are milked, to creating a food that people enjoy so much that I can go through about 5 lbs a week for my customers. It is something we have found to be fun to work with and we are grateful to even be able to provide such service and product.

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