Voodoo Farm committed to stay in fowl mood

AFP Correspondent

HARDWICK TOWNSHIP (April 15, 2017) — It isn’t voodoo, of course, it’s farming.
Voodoo Farm got its name from a conversation laced with dark humor.
Owners Oren and Cybele Ritterband were talking about how raising animals for meat is a darker part of coexistence between humans and animals.
Acknowledging “you can’t have life without death,” the Ritterbands came up with the name and the motto, “Bringing chickens back to life.”
The farm is at the end of a private lane on a 15-acre plot the Ritterbands bought more than three years ago after renting a nearby cottage.
Both came to Hardwick from New York City. Oren worked in film for years, but when he got together with Cybele and her three children, he knew he didn’t want to stay in a profession demanding extremely long hours often seven days a week.
Cybele was writing for a living and the couple researched possibilities for both of them working out of their homes.
Orin noted he and Cybele were both “latchkey kids” and didn’t want that for their family.
Orin admits he didn’t know much about farming, but he did his research and discovered Bresse chickens.
The breed is from the Bresse region of France and came to America through Canada.
The Ritterbands can’t call their chickens “Bresse” because they are not in France.
“It’s like ‘Champagne.’ They can only come from a particular region,” Orin explained.
The birds’ red comb, white body and blue feet are said to represent the French Tri-color, he pointed out.
So his birds are called American Bresse or American bluefoot.
Since the Bresse has the only chicken meat that marbles, they must be feed milk and mash before finishing, Orin said.
The Ritterbands keep Nigerian Dwarf goats to provide the milk.
Acknowledging how cute the goats are, Cybele explained they are locked up when customers come since some people don’t appreciate goats climbing into or on their cars.
Orin has set up a series of pastures on the wooded property for the heavily foraging birds. He built several coops for the Bresse and for his laying hens.
The wooded, sloping farm mimics the Bresse region of France.
“The birds can dive under leaves for the best bugs,” he said.
The pastures are surrounded by electric fence although coyotes and foxes occasionally make an appearance.
Birds of prey also have been known to pick off a chicken or two.
He rests each pasture for a year to limit dust.
This early spring saw a skunk move into the layers’ house to snatch eggs, Orin noted.
He creates rotation for the birds, using their guano and wood chips to create new soil for growth for the next year.
Cybele handles the sales which are mostly at the farm.
Without employees, it’s too hard to be away from the farm to go to farmers’ markets.
She also keeps bees. Her family has been beekeepers for generations, starting in Ireland.
Most customers come through word-of-mouth, she said.
They do some advertising and miss the Centenary College radio station, WNTI, which was closed by the school last year.
They said they felt the listeners to that station were just the type of customers they need.
They slaughter on-farm having learned from another farmer.
They cool down the birds with the European air chilling method to avoid the risk of contamination that can come from water-chilling, Orin said.
“There is no toxic water created and we compost the water we use,” he said.
The son of a rabbi, Orin no longer keeps kosher but he keeps to the kosher rules of not killing in an inhumane fashion and to minimize pain.
He believes transporting chickens off the farm for slaughter would also be inhumane.
Most of the sales are to families, although they have occasionally sold to restaurants in nearby Blairstown.
The problem with selling to restaurants, Cybele said, is that they want mostly breast meat but still want to pay wholesale.
Chickens and farm cats greet visitors to the farm as a beagle barks a greeting.
The children are in and out of the farmhouse, often with friends, sometimes helping and sometimes playing. They are Joe, 16, Eve, 13, Grant, 6, and Alelph, 3.