Rettland Farm

Rettland Farm

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Poultry Processing, Rettland Farm Style

So tell me. What do you see here?

"Well", you say, "I see a U-Haul truck that rolled off the assembly line sometime back when Milli Vanilli was a really cool music act, ole Ron Reagan was riding off into the sunset, and Freddy Kreuger was scaring the hell out of a whole generation of pre-teens. Oh yeah, and the aforementioned truck also looks like someone spent a little quality time gettin' jiggy with a DeWalt sawzall..."

Um. Okay. Correct on all counts.

But dude. Let's take a look in the box, that's what really matters. Come on, walk around back here with me...

So, whaddya think is behind the door? An ultimate party wagon complete with big screens, leather recliners, and multiple beer meisters to be used for hardcore tailgating at PSU Football games this fall, you say? No. But a damn good idea though....(stroking chin thoughtfully...)

All right, all right, enough suspense. Let's take a look. That's it, roll up the door, and feast your eyes upon the interior...

Tah. Dah.

Welcome to the Rettland Farm Mobile Poultry Processing facility, or MPU for short. This is my solution to the problem of finding local, reliable, sanitary facilities to slaughter the poultry that is raised on small farms like mine.

I wanted to build a facility that met a variety of needs. First, I needed a place that matched or exceeded any food processing facility in cleanliness. I needed to be sure that the integrity of every chicken was as high when it came out of the facility as it was when it went in. So we needed washable floors, walls and ceilings. We needed bright lights so we could see what the heck we were doing. We needed REALLY hot water. We needed LOTS of stainless steel.

Second, I wanted a facility that could be used to educate the public in general, and my loyal customers in particular, about what went on behind the closed doors of a facility that turns live animals into food. I think it's highly unlikely that the public would ever be given that opportunity to "peak behind the curtain" at a large scale, commercial slaughterhouse, and I think that's unfortunate. For my operation, I wanted to literally throw open the door, and shed light on the whole process, from the kill to the chill. To welcome and even encourage the presence of those people who are the ultimate end users of my birds.

Lastly, I wanted this facility to be a resource for other small farms like me, who may otherwise decide that the rewards of selling amazing, wholesome poultry to people and their families just wasn't worth the hassle of getting it to them. I wanted them to be able to use this facility on their own farms, using their own labor and their own quality standards to process the food to which they affixed their names. Take the abattoir to the animal instead of the other way around, so the animals died where they were raised, and didn't spend their last day (or two) crammed into a cage on a fast moving truck.

So enough background. Ready for a tour?

First stop for the birds: the kill station. The birds are placed head down in these stainless steel funnels, and their heads protrude from the bottom. One quick, small cut with a sharp knife, and they bleed to death.

Just across from the kill station are the defeathering machines. The machine on the left is a scalder. The scalder is where the dead birds are placed in scalding hot water, which they rotate through for about a minute or so. This process loosens the feathers.

The chickens then go into the machine on the right, called the picker or the plucker. This has about 1oo rubber fingers inside it, and a rotating disc on the bottom that spins the birds around for another minute or so, until the feathers are gone.

Next stop is the eviscerating (a big word for "gutting") rail. The shackles you see hanging on the rail hold the birds, so there is no surface contact that could be a source of bacterial contamination. At different points on the rail, the birds are alternately hung by the neck or the feet to allow the worker to remove the entrails and wash the carcass thoroughly. After all other unusable parts have been removed, the feet and the neck come off, and the result is a bird that looks like...well, like the raw bird that we're all accustomed to seeing.

The carcass now spends about a half hour in a cool bath of tap water to start the chilling process.

But after that...'s into the chill tank. This to me was a critical piece of equipment. It was very important to me to have a reliable way to chill a large quantity of chickens to a safe temperature very quickly. I think this tank serves the purpose. The tank will hold up to 500 gallons of water, at least 200 chickens, and chill it to 34 degrees F, and keep it there indefinitely.

The bird spends about an hour or so in the tank, but it is usually chilled to below 40 degrees F in a half hour. Not much chance for bacterial growth there.

After the bird comes out of the chill tank, it hits the table. Here it can simply be bagged whole, ready for delivery to the customer, or it can be broken down into breasts, wings, leg quarters, whatever we have a need for. This is a new service that we couldn't provide before, and based on the way these parts are snatched up, it is definitely nice to have this ability. I also don't use any machines, other than the knives you see here, to break the birds down into parts--we don't need them. How do you break down a chicken with just a knife, you ask? Come see us sometime. We'll show you.

Sooo, this concludes your nickel tour of the Rettland Farm MPU. If you'd like the chance to see the facility in operation, please contact me--we'd love to have you come out and look over our shoulders for awhile. If you're a small farmer who is looking for a way to process your poultry in a safe, reliable way, I'd like to hear from you too. This old U-Haul truck holds a lot of opportunity for everyone.

Now, about that PSU tailgate mo-sheen...

Note: I owe an incredible amount of gratitude to my cousin, Marc Barron, who is a skilled electrician, and who generously gave me many of his Saturdays off this winter and spring to help me wire this baby. I am many things, but an electrician isn't one of them, I discovered. If it weren't for him, I'd be in the fetal position in the corner of a padded room right now, muttering incoherently about wire gauges and full load ampacity, with my vision for this MPU laying in tatters with the rest of my sanity. Thanks Ned. You rock.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkeys, 2011

Yep, it's time to think about Thanksgiving turkeys already.

The Background:

As you may recall: Last year, Rettland Farm raised pastured turkeys for Thanksgiving on a preorder basis. We got the turkey poults on the farm in early July, and raised them until the week before Thanksgiving. We then harvested the turkeys the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and some of our loyal (and adventurous) customers even came out to the farm to help butcher their own turkeys. That day, and the entire experience as a whole, was really enjoyable for me, so I decided to do it again this year.

The Details:

1. All turkeys will be a heritage variety, most likely Bourbon Reds, but we may have a few other rare breeds mixed in for kicks, just to see how they perform, and more importantly--to see how they taste. By using these heritage breeds, we'll have birds that have different composition than commercial turkeys, i.e. more proportional bodies, with the breasts and thighs being closer in size and weight. You can also expect a deeper, richer flavor from the heritage turkeys, as compared to a commercial turkey.

2. I'm estimating the weight of the dressed turkey will be 20 lbs, give or take 5 lbs. If you order a turkey, I'll try to keep you posted of their projected finished weight as the summer goes on, so you can plan your Thanksgiving meal accordingly. If in doubt, order two turkeys--you can always freeze the second one for Christmas!

3. We WILL be doing the Turkey Butchering day again this year, because I thought it was an overwhelmingly positive experience last year. We will be doing the processing in our brand new on farm processing facility. This day will be the weekend before Thanksgiving, date TBA. Anyone who orders a turkey is welcome to attend, and bring their friends, families, etc. While this day has been a great outing and an educational experience for all who attended in the past, you do not have to participate in the butchering day if you don't want to.

4. All turkeys will need to be picked up the weekend before Thanksgiving. Again, details for the pickup will be announced later in the season.

5. The total cost for the turkeys will be about $70.00, or about $3.50/lb. The reason for the increase in price over last year is the result of a drastic increase in feed costs, the slower growth rate of the heritage breeds, combined with the increased price of the heritage breed turkey poults.

6. New this year: I am asking that if you order a turkey, that you put a deposit of $35.00 down on the turkey. You may mail your deposit, payable to Rettland Farm LLC to: 920 Barlow Two Taverns Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325.

7. The number of turkeys will be limited, so orders will be taken on a first come, first served basis. If you are interested, please don't delay in placing your order.

So, if you'd like to have one of these great turkeys on your Thanksgiving table this year, please respond with your order no later than this Friday, June 10, 2011. Email your order to . I will confirm all orders within a day or two of receiving them. Please contact me by phone or email to place your order first--we can then get your deposit in the mail in the following days.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


So, are you ready for a whole new product line from Rettland Farm?


The Background:

Some of you may know that I have pretty extensive experience in the dairy industry. My dad has been a dairy farmer for almost 40 years, and I have been milking cows on his farm since I was twelve years old. After spending my childhood on the farm, I took the next step and acquired a degree in Dairy Science from Penn State. Finally, I decided to make dairy farming a career after I graduated. I have worked full time on the dairy since then.

The Milk:

The milk for the cheese comes from my family's dairy farm, which is operated by my dad, my brother, and myself. We milk about 75 cows twice per day. During the grazing season, from April until December, we graze the cows on grass pastures. Through the winter, we feed them stored feed, harvested off the farm during the summer.

Our milk is not "Organic", but we don't use antibiotics on any animal unless it is sick. Every load of milk that leaves the farm is tested for the presence of antibiotics in the milk, and for high levels of bacteria. If either would be found, the milk would be rejected.

Most importantly, our cows have NEVER been treated with the artificial hormone known as rBST, and they NEVER will be.

The Cheese:

We have been very fortunate to find a processor that uses his amazing artisanal skill to make cheese from our milk. The cheese plant is located in Eastern PA, and specializes in high quality, delicious, old style farmstead cheeses.

By using this custom processor, we are able to concentrate on producing high quality milk, and not needing to spend time, money, and labor developing and outfitting our own cheese plant. This synergy allows everyone to do what they do best, resulting in an amazing product.

Our initial varieties? How about Cheddar, Gouda, American, Muenster, Colby, and Farmer for starters? We are also considering a Feta, and maybe a Mozzarella. If you have a suggestion for a favorite cheese of yours, I'd love to hear it.

Where to Find it:

For starters, our cheeses will be offered at the Carriage House Market in Hanover. I will also have it for sale this summer at the Farmers Markets in Gettysburg. For those of you in the Harrisburg area, our cheeses can be found at Olewine's Meat and Cheese House. When our cheeses can be found in other places, we'll be sure to publicize that fact here and on the Rettland Farm Facebook page. As always, if you can't find these amazing cheeses, contact me directly and I'll FIND a way to get you some.

So, there you have it--a variety of delicious new products from Rettland Farm that can be an incredible addition to any meal. Try all the varieties, then tell me which one you like best!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chicken Plans, Part 1

Here we are, fresh into a New Year, and things here at Rettland Farm are already shakin'. So much for winter downtime, huh? Since we have the holidays behind us, I've been busy getting the wheels turning on some pretty big changes here at the farm, changes that are going to make the RF product line bigger and better than ever.

So let's talk about the biggest change first.

Those of you who have been with me since the beginning of RF (the Littles, the Moores, the nee Sheppards) might remember the early days of the pastured broiler program when I butchered the birds right here on the farm. Every Sunday afternoon, all summer long, I would break out my knives, my feather picker, and my giant gas burner, and butcher the chickens that I needed that week.
I ended up with sore feet, aching back, sunburn, and absolutely phenomenal chicken.

Ohh, what memories!

But for several complex reasons, it became necessary for me to hire out the butchery of the chickens. For the past year and a half, a small butcher in a neighboring county has done all of the processing of the pastured broilers. I have been mostly satisfied with the performance of this butcher and the care they took in processing my chickens.

The problem is, I think that there is room for improvement in our broilers. In an effort to constantly improve the taste, texture, and quality of the chickens that we produce, I've decided to bring the butchery back home.

Here's why: Despite the relative short distance between me and the butcher, it still takes about an hour to drive there. So, my chickens are caught, placed into crates, and the crates are put on a truck. That all takes about 30 minutes. Then I drive them to the butcher as quickly as possible, (the hour, as mentioned), and then they wait their "turn" once we get to the butcher. This wait can be as much as another hour.

Reducing that two and a half hours is where I am going to improve the quality of the meat.
Crating the birds up and then driving them down the road creates stress in the birds. It is a new, unfamiliar process to them, and chickens like monotony (as do most animals). The longer they are stressed before they are killed, the less desirable the meat becomes. (Which, incidentally, is one of many reasons that commercial chicken is unpalatable.)

By eliminating the drive, and most of the wait time immediately before slaughter, you, the loyal Rettland Farm chicken lover, end up with a chicken on the table that is more flavorful, moister, and more tender.

So, how am I gonna do the butchery, now that I am producing about 10 times the birds that I did back in the good ole days? Still gonna have my little table and my little bunsen burner on steroids??

Nah...we're going state of the art, baby.

Stay tuned for the unveiling of the all new Rettland Farm slaughter facility, coming soon.