Chicks are here!

175 Red Rangers from Hoovers Hatchery. It never seems like there’s that many in there.

I feel like such a hillbilly raising chicks in the garage attached to our house. But then again, when the weather’s as cold and damp as it’s been the last couple of days, I’m glad to have them in a building with a heated floor. The garage has its own thermostat so I can keep it just right for chicks in there. I’ve got it set to 60 degrees, plus 3 heat lamps going.

Titus is interested, but so far not too interested (thank goodness.)

They’re so cute when they fall asleep standing up!

My favorites are the ones with chipmunk stripes.

Titus settled into his guard duties right away. At the end of the day I had to bribe him out of the garage. But it may be a different story when they’re out on pasture where they can be chased. He’s still very much a puppy, and lately finds it fun to chase the few laying hens we have. He likes to chase the cat, too, but more than once I’ve looked out and caught them curled up with each other on the porch. Hopefully he’ll be as cuddly with the chickens as Ike was.

4 years ago:


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Titus on Tuesday

At the end of winter,
whenever someone says,

“I’m so ready for winter to be over!”

I just nod and say silently to myself,

“But then comes mud season…”

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Chickens & Record Keeping

I told you in my last chicken post that chicken are tyrants to work for.  Not only do I have to keep their schedules, there are also records to keep.  Tyrants, I tell you!

I need new bosses.

Or better jokes.

But if you’re going to keep chickens for profit, then you’ll eventually need to figure out whether or not you’re actually making a profit. If you’re not, it’s like our accountant likes to tell us… “You know you’re just supplementing other people’s grocery bills, right?”

I like to use a spreadsheet. This is just a tool we use for decision making. We use QuickBooks for the record keeping we actually base our tax returns on. Some of the numbers in the spreadsheet (like feed costs) come from QuickBooks. Here’s an example of what I use with some made up numbers:

What you can’t see are the formulas behind some of the cells. The death loss is calculated as (B3 – B4)/B3

The feed consumption and cost per head are calculated using specifics from another area of the spreadsheet:

So feed consumption per head is the Total Pounds divided by Chickens Processed, and feed cost per head is the Total Feed Cost divided by Chickens Processed. These numbers are useful because improving them improves your profit per bird.

Then you have Variable Costs. These include the costs of purchasing the chicks; the cost of the feed (which can be pulled directly from the Total Feed Cost cell); round-trip mileage to the hatchery and processor, calculated at the IRS mileage rate for the current year; processing costs; and the cost of other miscellaneous supplies. I usually break out the miscellaneous costs off to the side like this:

and then pull that total directly into the “Bedding & Misc Supplies” line item in the first picture. Divide Total Variable Costs by Chickens Processed to get Variable Cost/head.

Then there are fixed costs that are spread out over the “life” of the asset. Furthermore I divide each year’s cost for that asset between the number of batches I’m doing that year. I just made a best guess as to how many years to depreciate these costs for each asset, and I keep track of what year I’m on in the spreadsheet. (I noticed that I have “poultry netting” in both Supplies and Fixed Costs. It should just be in Fixed Costs.)

Pull that total directly over into the Total Fixed Costs cell, and then divide that total by Chickens Processed to get Total Cost/head.

The rest of the calculations go like this:

Total Cost = Total Variable Costs + Total Fixed Costs
Total Cost per Head = Total Cost / Chickens Processed
Total Cost per Pound = Total Cost / average processed weight per chicken (in this example I used 4.5 pounds)

Then I list the sales. You can either enter your actual sales (from QuickBooks or whatever accounting record keeping you use), or you can just use the average processed weight per chicken multiplied by the number of chickens sold. That will get you close enough for the purposes of a decision making tool.

I also list the chickens we kept, but I list those at cost. If you don’t include these, you won’t get a true picture of your profit.

So finally,
Total Profit = Total Income – Total Cost
Total Profit per Head = Total Profit / Chickens Processed

There’s one other cost that should be included, but I don’t quite have it here yet. That’s Overhead Costs – things like Insurance, Rent, Bank Fees, etc.

If you’re only raising chickens, then you can just include all of these as part of your Total Costs. If you have other sources of income, then you have to split those overhead costs over each of your income classes. For us, that would be beef, pork, and chickens. I won’t get into the specifics of how to allocate those expenses between each class, but you get the idea.

Having these numbers helps with a lot of decision making! Knowing your true costs helps you determine what you need to charge. You can address specific costs to see if they can be lowered, which will improve your bottom line. It takes time to set up a system, and time to keep that system up-to-date, but so important if you want to be supplementing your own grocery bill instead of your customers’.

5 years ago:

Filling up

New gilts

Some days are like that

1 down

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How to Cook :: Meatloaf

You guys, I seriously suck at food photography. I get so excited about eating that I forget to take a picture of the finished product while it’s still fresh and hot. So I end up saving a little square of a leftover in a separate storage container and putting a note on it that says, “Do Not Eat!” so that I can take a picture of it later. Sad and all alone on a little plate. But maybe that’s a good advertisement for this recipe, that it’s so good I couldn’t delay eating long enough to take a picture.

Apparently it’s also so good that it’s what Madeline requested when I asked her what she wanted me to make when she was home from college for the weekend. As my kids were growing up I’ve sometimes wondered what dishes will stand out as their favorites. For Madeline, this is one of them.

This is my mom’s recipe, and as you can see it’s well loved. It was originally to be cooked in the microwave, but I like to double it and cook it in the oven. (The notations in light blue are the measurements if you want to make it with just 1 pound of ground beef.)

I always use oatmeal. I don’t think it matters whether it’s quick oats or regular rolled oats, I just use whatever I have on hand. Bread crumbs should work equally well. My one cheat is that instead of chopping up an onion I often use dried onion flakes instead – about a handful.

Then take off your rings and prepare to get messy! Dump the whole mess together and dig in with your hands until everything’s mixed together well.

I take my broiler pan and line both the top and bottom parts with foil. Then I make a slit in the foil for about every other slit in the top part of the pan so that the fat can drain through.

And here endeth the pictures. Because I was hungry and ready to get the show on the road already!

Then just dump the whole meatloafy mess onto the broiler pan and shape it into the general shape of a loaf. I try not to make it too thick so that it gets cooked all the way through.

Slather the whole thing with sauce and stick it in the oven. I only use about 1/3 to 1/2 of the sauce initially, then add more about halfway through the cooking time, and save the last third or if anyone wants additional sauce at serving time.

Meatloaf makes great leftovers, hot or cold. And it freezes well. And if you have more self-control than me, share an Instagram pic of your meatloaf with me!

3 years ago:

The story of today

How to Cook :: Meatloaf

How to Cook :: Meatloaf


  • 3 lbs. ground beef
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 c oatmeal or crumbs
  • 1 c ketchup
  • 4 T mustard
  • 2 small chopped onions
  • 1/2 c brown sugar
  • 4 T Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Sauce:
  • 2 c. ketchup
  • 4 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 T. brown sugar


  1. Mix all meatloaf ingredients together.
  2. Shape into loaf on a broiler pan.
  3. Mix sauce ingredients together and spread 1/3 to 1/2 of sauce over meatloaf.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes, spread with additional sauce, and bake another 15 minutes.
  5. Serve with remaining sauce.

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Titus on Tuesday

The cat is not cooperating with Titus’ plan to chase her.

7 years ago:

New-ish cow

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Chickens & their schedules

Did you know chickens have schedules? And secretaries (aka “me”) that manage said schedules? Ours do, and they are tyrants to work for, I tell you.

Last year we raised a batch of Red Rangers at the end of the summer just to give them a try. We weren’t sure what our customers would think, but we’d heard good things about the breed so we took a leap of faith that we’d be happy and so would our customers.

We absolutely loved raising them. They had fewer health problems overall than the CornishX we’ve raised forever. They act more natural – more “chicken-y”, if you will – than the CornishX, which means they’re a bit flightier in the brooder stage. But once on pasture they could actually be taught to put themselves in the shed at night!

We were equally as pleased with the taste and, from the feedback we’ve had so far, so were our customers. When compared with the CornishX, I’d describe the CornishX as a very neutral meat whereas the RR’s have more of an actual taste and flavor to them. The breasts are somewhat smaller on the RR’s, and the drumsticks somewhat bigger.

So we decided that for 2014, we’re raising all Red Rangers. The one downside is that they take about 3 weeks longer to finish than the CornishX. Which means that my usual schedule for raising 600 birds a year had to be revised. Previously we would raise 4 batches of 150 – 2 back-to-back in the spring, a break during the hottest part of the summer, then 2 back-to-back in the late summer into fall.

We’ve always scheduled the first batch of the year so that they’ll be 3-1/2 weeks old when we move them onto pasture the first weekend in May. Yes, there have been years when there were snowflakes in the air while we were moving them out, but it’s generally short-lived and when they’re that small we can shut them inside of the shed for a few days if needed and they do fine.

With the RR’s taking 10 weeks to finish, we’ll still base the first batch on moving out the first weekend in May but we won’t be able to take a break mid-summer. Which is okay, because another advantage of the RR’s is that they can take the heat! And we’re going to try 175 per batch instead of 150. That will leave us short of our usual 600, but we don’t want to overcrowd them. We’ll see how it goes this year and whether we need to make some adjustments to our setup with the brooder and/or in the pasture.

So our first batch will be arriving a week from Thursday! Anyone wanting a bit of baby chick therapy is welcome to stop and hang out in the brooder (aka “my attached garage that I can only park in about half the year and I feel like a total hillbilly raising livestock in it.”). They’re so much fun to watch, and there’s just something soothing about all that peeping.

You can reserve your freezer chickens for June now! Cut ups are $2.85/# and uncut is $2.75/#. Just let us know how many, and whether you want them cut up or uncut (or some of both), and the best way to contact you when they’re ready.

Yeah for the first batch of chicks of the year, because it means spring is finally here!

3 years ago:


Nine is


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Stick a pin in me

Just wanted to share with you all our new Pinterest board with all of the recipes from our site, Recipes :: Sugar Creek Farm.

Now you can easily pin our recipes from there to your own Pinterest boards, and follow our recipe board so that new pins will show up in your own Pinterest feed.

Going through the recipe posts was a nice walk down memory lane. In particular, I love this one:

How to Cook : Eggs Benedict

because it’s the story of me and my best friend’s 30th birthdays.

And I love this one:

How to Cook : Pumpkin Pie

because there’s an adorable picture of my now sixteen-year-old middle child when she still had that adorable gap in her front teeth.

And I love that so many of the recipes I’ve shared have a story associated with them. More recipe posts are in the works!

1 year ago:

Good morning

Snow day

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March Mason City delivery

Our next Mason City delivery will be Thursday, March 27th. Same bat time (6:00 p.m.), same bat channel (southwest corner of the KMart parking lot.)

Check out the cut availability page for the complete list of cuts available and prices.

Please call or email orders by Wednesday the 26th at noon. See you soon!

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Gratuitous puppy pictures

Because who’s day isn’t made better by pictures of a cute puppy?

I’ve added a link to our Instagram account over to the right, where I’ve been posting Titus pictures almost daily.

One of my favorite things is that as soon as he gets in the door from being outside, he sits down immediately and waits to be petted. He’s such a lover! 11 weeks old today.

5 years ago:

Music to my ears

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How to Cook :: Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup

Sometimes I go to the grocery store with a list and a plan for recipes I intend to make. Other times my strategy is to shop the sale items and plan around them, which exercises my creative-cooking muscles while helping out ye olde grocery budget.

So I’m strolling the sort of smallish produce section in our sort of smallish local grocery store, when what to my wondering sale-seeking eyes should appear? Kale.

I’ve never had kale (except for one unfortunate foray into kale chips), but I remembered seeing a recipe somewhere on the internets involving kale and sausage in a soup. We all know how I love me some Sunday afternoon soup making, so I threw a package in my cart and figured I’d figure it out later.

A quick Google search found me exactly what I was looking for: Pioneer Woman’s Sausage, Potato, and Kale Soup. I made it last Sunday for the “Soup”-er Bowl (which I didn’t even really watch because I’m about the food part of that particular holiday. Or any holiday, for that matter.) Matt & I just finished off the last of it at lunch today and I’m already thinking about when I can make it again because it was that good.

I started with a package of our own Italian sausage:

The recipe calls for a dozen medium red potatoes. I never know what’s considered “medium”, but after slicing up the ones I had plus a few extra’s for good measure I felt like maybe I’d overdone it in the potato department. But it all seemed to work out fine.

The recipe calls for two bunches of kale, but I had only bought one package so that’s what I went with. But it all seemed to work out fine.

And finally a chopped onion.

I’ll let you get the details over at PW’s site, but please, I’m begging you, for the love of all that is holy, whatever you do, make this soup. It’s so lovely and creamy, with just the slightest hint of spice from the red pepper flakes. And eating kale in any form should make you feel like a superhero. Because, you know, it’s a superfood. (Right? I didn’t just make that up, did I?)

Next up, I’ll tell you about the wings I made on Sunday with the wings I’ve been hoarding since this post.

4 years ago:

Win some, lose some

Getting promoted


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