Welcome to Painted Hand Farm

Painted Hand Farm is a 20 acre Civil War era farm located in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. We raise meat goats, veal calves, turkeys and organic vegetables using humane and sustainable agricultural practices.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ralph Recycles More

Anyone who knows us or follows this blog are always on the lookout for the latest recycled gadget from Ralph. Well, here it is. That's just not any old bucket. That's one of those $35 jobs with the heater coil in the bottom to make those whole live in locales that stay below freezing from having to constantly break ice out of their animals' water buckets.

We got five years out of this one until it quit working in the latter part of winter. Try as he did, Ralph could not fix it and in the process put a hole in the bottom of the bucket rendering it useless for holding water.

But did he send it to the local landfill. No! He screwed it to the back of the barn next to the water hydrant as a place to hang the hose.

He didn't just stop there. He attached an old rake head to the front of the bucket to help keep all hose attachments and brushes we use for cleaning water buckets on the inside as well as provide a place to hang the end of the hose. Wait! There's more. As you can see, instead of removing the bucket handle, he left it on for an instant towel rack. What a guy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Colorful Explosion of Spring

Winter stretched out far too long this year leaving a drab, muted (and white) Easter--no tulips, no hyacinths, no fruit tree blossoms. But the last few days of 70 & 80 degree weather has everything popping at once in a brilliant display of spring.

Future peaches and pears.

Spring onions & greens.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mission Accomplished

For the last twenty years I've been a regular at farmers markets, both for personal consumption and during my many years in food service. Actually, it was my patronage of local farmers that originally set me apart from my competitors with the catering business and restaurant. So when I purchased my farm in 2000, my goal was to one day sell my products at the local farmers market.

Although I did go as a drop-in farmer to the Pomfret Street Market in Carlisle a few years ago, I really don't count that as reaching my goal because at the time I was only trying to make an extra buck on a bumper crop of greens that were soon to be tilled under to make way for the peppers. It seemed like such a waste so I procured a space for the day, spent hours in the rain picking and packing produce the night before and the next morning trying to sell my organically grown chards, kales, lettuces (washed & bagged, no less) and spinaches at a market where people were more interested in the Amish guy next to me selling baked goods.

One man complained that, at $1.50, my free-range brown, green and white eggs were too expensive. He could get a dozen at Wal Mart for .79 cents. The only thing I sold out of were the flower bouquets I had also brought to liven up the table.

After paying for my fuel and the space rental, my net gain was $10.19. I had estimated if I would have sold half of what I took, I would have made around a hundred bucks. That told me two things about this area--the farmers market location stunk and the consumers were uneducated about nutritional local foods.

I hung up the idea of farmers market until I began helping out friends who do two markets in the Washington DC area. I've also witnessed an increase of support for locally-produced foods in the wake of killer produce and toxic meats.

Still unwilling to hock veggies for a living, and happy with raising meat animals I held with the direct marketing approach. Having customers come to the farm and pick of their products is not only convenient for me, but also more profitable.

But I still had this nagging lust to be the farmer on the other side of the table.

In order to sell meat products at a farmers market, there are a number of hurdle to clear. First, it's a trip to the insurance man. In our litigenous society, selling at market requires a minimum of a million dollars liability coverage. Then, all meat sold has to be slaughtered and packaged by a USDA-certified butcher with a USDA-approved label.

My label design was fairly innocuous, but Mr. USDAman told me it had to be changed. I wasn't allowed to call my meats "Naturally-Raised". That constitutes a qualifying statement and if I want to use it, I have to be certified natural by an accredited oversight organization to verify that my meat is, indeed, natural and not cardboard or plastic. I knew the government had the word 'organic' locked down, but natural? Give me a break! So I took out the offending words and Mr. USDAman gave my label his stamp of approval.

Two veal calves (I also couldn't say they were humanely raised--that's another certification) and two goats went to the USDA butcher and came back all neatly cryo-pack vacuum sealed and flash frozen just days prior to Dickinson College's third annual local foods dinner which this year featured a farmers market three hours prior to the dinner.

So this was my big day. While getting ready it hit me that it has taken just a little over six years to reach my goal. Dreams (and farms) don't happen overnight, but if you persevere, you do get there. Six years of building pastures to feed multiple generations of goats where I finally feel that I have the quality and inventory to sell individual cuts at a farmers market.

My goat was to sell $100 in meat at the market and I far surpassed it as well as made several contact with people from out of town who were there visiting their children who would like to have goat shipped to their home.

Was it stressful? Yes. A lot of work? Absolutely. Exhausting? Definitely. Satisfying? Well, let's just say that's it's going to be a long time before anything will be able to wipe the smile off my face.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

April Showers Bring May Flowers

At the rate the rain is coming down this morning, all our flowers will be washed downstream! I'm so glad we didn't spread our pasture seed earlier this week as planned. Equally as fortunate, the rain held off until last night so we had a gorgeous day for our PA WAgN Grazing & Fencing Workshop held here at the farm yesterday. Two dozen people came from all over the state to learn more about rotational grazing and fencing. We had representatives from the Cumberland County Conservation District and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture who spoke about various programs. The best part of the day was Ralph's presentation of tools, fencing techniques, equipment and most importantly--what NOT to do and use on a fencing project.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Not Your Normal Easter Eggs

Ok, so they weren't eggs. Instead, the Easter Bunny decided to goad our last pregnant doe into delivering a healthy set of twins. Trucking out to the barn first thing in the bitter cold wind, I found Marylin with a buck and doe cleaned and dry nestled in a deep nest of straw resting comfortably.
Later in the afternoon, Ralph and I went over to my parents' house for Easter dinner and to pick up Jess who was having a sewing weekend with her grandma. I hem with packing tape and staples, so when Jess wants to tackle a sewing project, I send her to Mom's house. Needless to say, that's one talent I didn't inherit.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Population Reduction

While the herd has been expanding with all the new babies, there have also been some departures this week. My primary market is the ethnic community and three goats were purchased by my Moroccan customers this week. They just tie the goat's legs and put them in the back of the car! I'd hate to have one get loose going down the road though, so I think I'll stick with the stock trailer when it comes to transporting live animals.

Also this week, we sent our first batch to the abattoir to be butchered and packaged under our first USDA-approved label. That means we'll be able to sell meat by the cut to the public. Coming up later this month is the local foods farmers market & dinner at Dickinson College. It will be my third year attending, but the first time I will ever have cuts of meat for sale. Progress!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Seeing in Black & White

We're getting down to the home stretch of kidding season. It was between Lucky and Marilyn as to who would come straggling in last place. Not wanting the honor, Lucky blessed us with a set of twins around lunch time--a buck and a doe. There really hasn't been much color variation in this batch of kids, so we were excited when a solid black buck with a small white spot on his stomach and one white foot was born. He's jet black and had the thickest crew-cut like coat I've ever seen on a goat kid. Not only is he thick coated, but well-muscled, too. His sister is smaller, traditionally colored with a white body and a black head.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Neonatal Ward

Without fail, every year we end up with at least one bottle baby. They are usually the runt of a set of triplets such as Taco Belle, who has now graduated to the outdoor nursery so she can play and learn to be a goat with all her other caprine brethren. Plus, she has been spotted on a number of occasions gorging herself on our "power udder" doe, Breeze, who even with her own twins produces more than enough milk for everyone and is more than welcome to let kids other than her own help relieve the pressure.

While Jessica and I were at the Pennsylvania Meat Goat Producers Association seminar & sale yesterday, one of the younger does whom we didn't think was bred left a surprise package in the field.

When Ralph first found the kid, it was so tiny and appeared to be dead. But as soon as he touched it, it let out a wail. He took the little doe into the house to get her cleaned and warmed before putting her in the maternity ward in the barn with her mother. Unfortunately, the doe had very little milk and rejected the kid.

So into the neonatal ward in the living room she went. Made up of a high-sided Rubbermaid tub, a heating pad and clean towels, the bottle babies have a safe, warm place to stay. The little doe, who we named April Fool (she's April's granddaughter) has been eating well, peeing, pooping and can stand on her own.

Taco wasn't quite this small when she was born, but now she's bigger than her siblings so let's just hope the little Fool grows just as well.