Steve’s Weekly Update for 4/8/10

Dear members,

Mesa Top recovery from winter is moving along.   We finally got one of our cow herds out onto pasture, and off of expensive hay.  It was costing $1500 per month to feed 12 full grown (or equivalent) cows.  We brought them in early in November, which is our norm.  Most winters the cows go back to pasture by the beginning of March, sometimes sooner.  This year we had to feed them all the way past April 1st.

Cassie, the family cow, is now out on pasture with her 4 month old calf  (her 5th bull calf in a row).  The only cows left in the coral are Elko, a jersey cross who lost her calf and is being nursed/milked by an orphan Red Holstein who lost her mother, and Huey, a young bull out of Cassie and an Ayrshire sire.  We hope Huey will breed Elko soon.

I am working to lease about 15 acres of pasture in Santa Cruz, NM and am planning to move all of the yearling heifers over there in the next month or so.

I still have to decide where the next group of six Ayrshire cows will go when they are ready to calf.  I have to breed them soon as well.  They are coming up on 2 years of age.  In a conventional dairy setting they would be ready to calf at that age.  From my point of view, despite the cost of raising them with no “product” to offset the cost for another year, the health and possibly even the lifetime yield of milk and calves from a cow that is allowed to mature more before she is first calves is superior to that of an early bred cow.  The numbers and conventional wisdom derived from those numbers do not support me…  YET….  I hope to prove that the higher animal welfare standards that I aspire to will prove economically viable over the long haul… Meanwhile the dairy herd just eats $$$$.

At Mesa Top we are building up the soil in the greenhouse, and will be transplanting lettuce and baby bok choi out in the next week or two.

After a thorough cleanup we will start composting the garden and preparing the beds, and should also be planting out to the garden within a couple of weeks.  Kale, Collards, and Chard are ready to go and soon we will also start planting large seeds like fava beans and peas in the garden, and also in the greenhouse.

The incubators are full of fertile (we hope) eggs, and by end of April our annual hatch of Beneficial replacement chicks will be popping out of their shells.  This is the 13th year that we have been raising chicks hatched from our own eggs.  Another animal welfare problem and associated costs comes out of this commitment:  the young roosters!  In conventional settings, the males of laying hen breeds are destroyed promptly at hatch.  They are not allowed to live.  We raise out your roosters, and have been working for years to establish a market for them among local and slow food supporters.  We would sure appreciate it if more members would take the opportunity to learn how to prepare these flavorful chickens.  We are investigating other, lower valued uses, but they sure do taste good, when prepared the right way.  Amy has put a lot of info on the blog about preparation.  Your purchase of Mesa Top young roosters supports the high animal welfare standards that we apply to all of our chickens.  Look for more recipes and tips on the blog this Friday.

This week’s update on cheese value chain and Jim Miller Ayrshire projects:

The Ayrshire herd that was at Old Windmill has been moved over to Desert Sky Creamery in Las Palomas, NM.  The big (old) stock trailer that I bought in January so that I could move cows safeyuin larger groups nearly fell apart:  one of the 3 axles almost fell off, as I prepared to load cows at OWD.  I found that the entire suspension of the trailer needs to be rebuilt, with the front axle leading the way.  I spent many hours and dollars last week on repairs to trailer, truck, backhoe, grader, generator.  Much of the damage of winter is now reversed, the deferred maintenance no longer deferred.  The credit card is worn out.

But back to the cows and Desert Sky Creamery:

Here is a description of their operation that Ilana from Farm to Table wrote up, that will be included in a New Mexico Cheese marketing brochure that we are working on with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture Marketing Department:

What started out as a 4-H project turned out to be a successful business with tasty results. Desert Skies Creamery, located in Las Paolomas, New Mexico, south of Truth or Consequences, has been producing goat cheeses and yogurt since 2004, when cheese-maker Chance Carter turned 18. Chance started raising goats when he was 9 and he and his father Ken soon discovered that making cheese was the best solution to too much milk. Since then, they have built a grade-A dairy to milk their herd of around 90 goats who seem to love their caretaker as much as you’ll love Desert Skies cheese. Desert Skies produces fresh chevre (in a variety of flavors), queso blanco (a traditional Mexican soft cheese), and numerous aged cheeses including La Mancha manchego, farmstead cheddar, and Chipotle. While Chance loves his goats, he realizes that not everyone loves the goat flavor, so the complex flavors of Desert Skies cheeses do not have the strong gameiness of other goat cheeses. Desert Skies is soon to launch a line of cow cheeses, made from the milk from the Jim Miller Ayrshires, a breed that has been bred and selected for almost a hundred years to live happily in the climate extremes and rough forage of New Mexico.

Watch fore more cheese and soon to come our weekly cheese share!  Your support of the Beneficial CSA cheese program will support the Jim Miller Ayrshire project and Mesa Top’s ongoing investment in a dairy product line based on high animal welfare herd management standards

This week’s Veggie/Share Update:

This week we have another whacky transitional mix of local/regional foods:  The lovely pea shoots return for their monthly engagement, along with a small helping of braising mix from Green Tractor Farms in La Cienega and oyster mushrooms from Desert Fungi in Velarde, NM.

The onions that I forgot to bring in from Mesa Top WILL make it in this week.  There will also be a good quantity of White Mountain large russets.  We continue with the fuji apples, as they are still looking fair and tasting good.

On the grocery side of the aisle we will include dried pinto beans and a 16 oz apple-pom juice, produced as a result of La Montanita’s networking efforts between Shiroz Vineyard, Velarde area apple growers, and Big B’s juices in Hotchkiss, Colorado.

More local, current season production will be making its way into the share bags as the weeks pass.  Watch for Mesa Top over wintered spinach next week!

Membership news:

You will receive flyers and email explaining soon-to-go online member/account management system, powered by Farmigo.  New products and options for members, greater convenience through access via the internet, and the same ongoing commitment to members support from our terrific staff.  We expect a smooth transition and are will be available to help all members old and new to make the move to this new system and to enjoy its benefits.

Your membership renewal and up front deposit ASAP will help us extend support to more farmers, enabling them to return to us food as the season and eventually the fall and winter processes.  Scary, mention of winter, NEXT winter…  Oh well, it is the cycle of seasons around which all else revolves and evolves.

As always, I want to thank you for your support.

Steve Warshawer

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