FREEDOM RANGER MEAT CHICKENS
The Freedom Ranger brand of meat chickens are robust and once feathered, well suited to life in our open-bottomed, moveable pasture pens. When the chicks are in the brooder, a protected pen, they start eating greens with their certified organic feed. Chickens are omnivores; they relish the greenery and bugs. As they grow, we increase the frequency of pen moving to keep fresh pasture under the birds. Adding the pastured poultry to our fields has resulted in more dense stands of plant life with more variety for our sheep and geese.
The meat produced under Lilac Hill's management plan, which includes a varied diet and exercise for the chickens, is firm and flavorful.
When choosing a sheep breed for meat I was drawn to the hair/shedding breeds. Having had a couple wool sheep, I knew that the cost of shearing and the added labor associated with producing a high quality wool was beyond the scope of my interest. I like the look of the Katahdins with their undocked tails and bits of color. Breeding stock is locally available, the ewes are attentive mothers and Katahdins thrive on pasture. Although they are not the largest breed of sheep, their smaller stature and gentle nature allows for easy handling. Their medium-sized frame muscles well and produces a lean, mild meat. Honestly, I am a recent fan of lamb meat, I did not care for its strong flavor, but I find our pastured Katahdin meat delicious.
Driven by Maria Spivak's TED talk highlighting massive honey bee losses, I decided to add bee hives to the farm. Keeping bees seems to be a positive action in the face of a multifaceted environmental problem.
I was surprised that I find bees as fascinating as my sheep and fowl flocks and I was energized by the support and strong scientific bent of our local bee group, Beekeepers of the Susquehanna Valley. And finally, I was delighted to discover that I love dark honey.
For me, soap making is fun kitchen chemistry without the lab report. Rendering beef tallow (from a nearby farm that raises pastured beef since we no longer raise cows) and making soap seems a sensible way to utilize an otherwise wasted by-product of raising meat. A bar of Lilac Hill Soap, made from a blend of tallow, coconut oil, olive oil and scenting or essential oils, cleanses well without drying the skin.
I like geese; like my sheep, geese act as a flock. Geese grow well eating grazed pasture, not expensive grain. Managing the grazing goose flock is a work in progress as I experiment with different pen and paddock options. Containing the flock while allowing them maximum opportunities for grazing all while keeping them safe from predators is like solving a puzzle, one I haven't quite figured out yet. Pilgrim geese are grey and ganders are mostly white, which helps in selecting breeding pairs and comparing growth rates of individual birds. In addition to their rich dark meat, their rendered fat adds a delicious layer of flavor to sautéed dishes.
Murphy the donkey
Why a donkey? Because compared to a guardian dog, a donkey is quiet and he eats the same diet as the animals he is guarding. Donkeys have a natural aversion to canine, both wild and domesticated. Even though I have rarely seen or heard coyotes, the flocks need safeguarding. The sheep especially need protection from dogs, who love to chase sheep to the point of exhaustion. Although Murphy is a mini, his alarming bray is a loud deterrent to predators and his ears pinned, teeth-bared charge keeps dogs away from the animals in his care. Although purchased to guard the sheep, he loves attention from us.