When Jake Galle and Abby Sadaukas combined their experience to start farming together in 2014, they each brought a wealth of knowledge. After working on a variety of farms, the couple returned to Apple Creek Farm in Bowdoinham, Maine, the farm Jake’s family had established in 1985, and began raising certified organic livestock together. Abby quickly found that the community was interested in purchasing farm-fresh meat at farmers markets.
The Apple Creek beef herd is primarily Black and Red Angus. Jake selects AI sires from several breeds including Hereford, Black Angus and Red Angus. When looking at bull traits, he looks at weaning weight, yearling weight and marbling index. For retained heifers, calving ease is important. Jake uses sexed semen if he wants a heifer from an outstanding cow.
Although traits are important, Jake and Abby believe that much of each calf’s mature size and quality is influenced by how they’re managed.
Although the farm is set up for rotational grazing, cattle are wintered in an area with barn access and bale grazing. Calves are raised on grass for 24 months prior to processing in autumn. “The marbling comes through nicely between 22 and 28 months with grass-fed animals,” said Jake.
One of Abby’s contributions to the farm enterprise is cashmere goats. “I knew I wanted to raise goats,” she said. “I visited some goat farms to look at different breeds and quickly realized I didn’t want to milk goats. At the time, it was difficult to buy a herd of Boer goats, and there are two relatively large cashmere goat producers in the state who had peer groups. Having that mentorship was a good fit for me. We have continued to raise cashmere goats because they’re excellent mothers, mostly hands-off, and we can finish them on the same timeline as our cattle.”
The Apple Creek sheep flock is growing, with 55 breeding ewes currently on the farm. While some sheep trace back to the Romneys and Rambouillets from Jake’s parents’ flock, new additions include Clun Forest, Cheviot, Bluefaced Leicester and Border Leicester.
“We keep tinkering with the breeds,” said Jake, noting the addition of a Cheviot x Texel cross ram to the flock this past autumn. “We want to keep the ewes that throw good lambs, and we keep a variety of colored rams for a diverse selection of sheepskins.” Both goat and lamb pelts are sent for processing, some as washable and others with a natural finish.
Several poultry products round out Apple Creek offerings. Cornish cross broilers are raised on pasture in moveable hoop structures. “They’re moved every morning throughout the growing season,” said Jake. “They provide a lot of fertility when they’re on pasture during the grazing season.”
Each year, 700 pullets arrive on the farm. While older birds are already on pasture, pullets transition to pasture, resulting in two flocks through summer. Apple Creek sells eggs through several natural food stores, farmers markets and local vegetable farms.
The farm includes 70 pastured acres and 80 leased acres for hay. Fields are primarily orchardgrass or timothy with vetch, red clover, white clover and native species. Jake and Abby make hay on 80 leased acres and also feed purchased baleage in winter.
All pastures are perimeter fenced with high-tensile or woven wire. Poly net fence delineates grazing areas according to pasture growth. “Early in the season when the grass is coming on so fast, we can make tighter paddocks,” said Jake. “This past summer it got dry fast, so we had to make much larger paddocks. It’s nice to have flexibility.”
Raising livestock on pasture can come with a price, so livestock guardian dogs are on duty to protect animals, especially poultry, from what Abby refers to as a “healthy raptor population” including hawks and great horned owls. As with any small ruminants, barber pole worms are a concern, so rotational grazing is a key component of maintaining healthy animals in an organic system.
Goats are first to graze, followed by beeves. Because of their preference to graze high on the plant, goats have helped eliminate weeds such as Queen Anne’s lace by nipping off seed heads.
Apple Creek Farm sells primarily at several farmers markets in and around Brunswick, Maine. Meat, eggs, tanned hides and value-added products are popular throughout the year. Lemon curd helps use pullet eggs and excess eggs in spring. Chicken liver pate and broth are also popular added-value products.
Abby says the farm’s core customers range in age from 25 to 45, many of whom don’t cook often. “One thing I enjoy most is talking with customers,” she said. “We have a lot of recipes on our blog and in our weekly newsletters to help people with ideas. We also have an online store so people can order ahead and pick up at farmers markets or on the farm. That has strengthened our relationship with customers.”
While goat meat may not be at the top of most consumers’ shopping lists, Jake and Abby have garnered quite a following for it. “We experimented with cooking both goat and lamb and realized both meats were excellent eating,” said Abby. “Sometimes we didn’t have ground lamb available, so we offered ground goat for the same price. We went to all the workshops we could and learned to watch the calendar for religious holidays to feature goat meat.”
Apple Creek Farm was recently awarded a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant, which will be used to develop several added-value products, including a shredded chicken product in three flavors. Funds will also be used to construct a new sheep and goat barn and add a larger walk-in freezer.
Abby noted that their poultry processor also received a grant, which means better year-round processing capacity and, ultimately, more consistently available product for Apple Creek to sell.
“Maine’s population is growing,” said Abby. “Brunswick is a popular place to live. There are plenty of customers who are committed to animal agriculture.”
Visit Apple Creek Farm online at applecreekfarm.me.
by Sally Colby