Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Recent conversations have brought to my attention the lack of success with the Blueprint for the Chesapeake Bay so I decided to do some research into it.  Known as the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint (CCWB), six states within the Bay watershed agreed and signed onto the Blueprint to reduce nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment runoff into the Chesapeake in efforts to restore the Bay.  Those states are New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia

Within the Blueprint, milestones were set for each state to accomplish.  I came across reports produced by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the Choose Clean Water Coalition (CCWC) on interim progress achieved by each state.  These reports were derived from limits established by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010 under the Clean Water Act.  Although there are 6 states, to monitor for progress, my concentration zeroed in on the Delmarva Peninsula including Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.  Indicators are – the milestones won’t be met for certain “stakeholders”!

Further research into the subject had my head spinning.  I often wonder if things are done this way just to confuse people!  To sum it up – attempting to sift through all of the related documents, publications, agreements and re-agreements, memorandums of understanding, analysis, legislation, and any other document you can imagine, it is a wonder that anyone knows exactly what is supposed to be done to clean up the Bay.

Agriculture is one of the major contributors to the killing of the Chesapeake Bay and that is a fact.  Within the framework of federal and state agreements limits on Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment were established.  This relates primarily to agricultural runoff.

“While pollution controls put in place over the last five years have lowered the amount of nutrients and sediment entering the nation’s largest estuary, new data show that agricultural sources have sent more nitrogen and sediment into the Bay since 2007 than previously thought.”  Chesapeake Bay News/Chesapeake Bay Program

This troubled me because I have observed local area grain farmers monitoring soil conditions before planting crops and re-monitoring throughout the growing season.  Of course I’ve heard a lot of mumbling and grumbling about the excessive paperwork and field work required, however they do what they must. These farmers, in my humble opinion, have been vigilant.

I think it’s safe to say that we all know where the problems stem from! Chicken manure is the number one product of the Bay woes coming from the Eastern Shore.  I once heard the descriptions that chicken manure was spread like icing on a cake over the Eastern Shore and one of Maryland’s past Governor’s described the states eastern shore of the Bay as the “shithouse” of the state.  What a legacy for us Eastern Shore folks!

Efforts by farmers to try and stem the flow of manure pollution into the Bay have overwhelmed them.  There is way more chickens than available land to utilize manure produced from those chickens.  Heck, there are more chickens than people – 449,226 people, only 8 percent of Maryland’s population compared to 305,200,000 chickens (2013). The answer to that problem was to establish State programs to assist.  Implementing taxes including a tax just to flush the toilet. That was my favorite!  All courtesy of taxpayers to clean up a mess that wasn’t created by them and doesn’t belong to them!

With the wild frenzy occurring within the chicken industry to build more chicken house developments, we will never reach the milestones set out in the Blueprint. Period!  Delay’s in identifying the problems with more studies, panels, organizations, commissions, advisory boards, or whatever other clever name can be thought of doesn’t solve the problems.

Maybe a little bit of common sense would help.  It’s perfectly clear that we already have too many chickens being produced on the Delmarva Peninsula.  Why in the world would we allow increased numbers in production of chickens?

The Blueprint for the Chesapeake aims only to restore Bay health not to aim higher than restoration. It’s highly unlikely that it will ever be restored to its original state rather restored to a palatable state where it will be safe for human utilization.  We can throw all of the tax dollars we want toward fixing problems created by private industry or we can tell private industry to clean up its own mess!

This folks is part of the REAL cost of cheap chicken!

I’ll be perfectly honest about the Chesapeake Bay being a pet peeve of mine. I don’t believe that any one of us has the right to wantonly destroy a National treasure. It shouldn’t matter who you are or what you have or don’t have. There are NO exceptions. There are consequences to actions and if you are a culprit of destruction to the Bay, you, alone, are responsible for your actions.

On the Delmarva Peninsula the chicken industry has a presence that can be seen from major routes that visitor’s travel to visit our beaches. If one were to take a detour down any side road that presence would be highly notable. We are no longer talking about the occasional farm with a few chicken houses we are talking about huge developments of chicken houses. Thusly, what used to be farms are now classified as CAFO’s – concentrated animal feeding operations and called CAFO developments.

In today’s terms, the chicken houses are huge long buildings, 67 feet by 650 feet. That’s 43550 square feet of living space for chickens to be crammed into for six to seven weeks, 5 times per year. At best, the chickens are given three-quarters of a square foot to live on until they are sent to the processing plant. Using the figures above and giving the benefit of the doubt on exact living space per chicken, each building would house 58,000 chickens. Exact figures are hard to pin down. I’ve been told 3 different numbers the highest being 60,000 chickens.

Needless to say, there are a lot of chickens in one building, too many chickens that produce, roughly, 180,000 pounds of manure during the course of one 6-7 week period per house. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that cramming animals into a building with less than a square foot per animal and living on their own excrement for 6-7 weeks is going to brew undesirable and dangerous consequences.

The consequences are many. A constant diet of antibiotics/antimicrobials to counter diseases created by the model of cramming as many chickens into a given area comes to mind. So does ammonia emissions from the huge fans that exhaust bad air out of the buildings. Communication of disease to humans, such as avian influenza, is a scary one. Some have charged animal cruelty, environmental degradation, a huge contributor to the destruction of the Chesapeake Bay, loss of enjoyment of property and worthless property values. The list goes on……

A good example of CAFO development can be seen in Somerset County, MD where 6 residences sit right smack in the middle of 28 chicken houses. The CAFO development came long after the homes however the county never took into consideration the residents who would suffer the consequences. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is located 2 miles from the same CAFO development.

We’ve heard all of the excuses from the county and the state permitting this type of development. These excuses are the same that industry has hidden behind for years. Land zoned agriculture, Right to Farm, and county regulations for setbacks from roads and property lines. Who made up the planning, zoning, and regulations? The county and state with input from industry! Other input, if it was oppositional, went into the wastebasket!

With a burst of chicken house development suddenly occurring in the lower counties on the Delmarva Peninsula and some chicken companies offering incentives to build CAFO’s, residents are raising objections and well they should. What was once acceptable and allowed to run feral is now being resisted by local communities. In both Somerset and Worcester Counties in Maryland, residents affected from CAFO developments have raised objections and concerns to county officials. Well organized with legitimate and sound scientific concerns presented to the Somerset County, MD Planning Commission, residents have asked the county to revise CAFO regulations. Public Health concerns are at the top of the list of reasons for taking a look at permitted CAFO developments.

I’ve sat through some of these meetings and honestly have to say that it was akin to a dog and pony show on the part of the county. Other than a court room, I’ve never heard of a public meeting where the public wasn’t allowed to speak or ask questions. Furthermore, it is inherent that those making the decisions excuse their self from the process when a personal interest or conflict of interest would cloud their decision. Public servants have a duty to put personal gain and beliefs aside.

A moratorium on further building until regulations, considerations, and sound science can be looked at has been asked for and rejected. As the powers that be slowly draw out the process CAFO developments are advancing at a fast and furious pace.

From a moral standpoint and doing the right thing, industry should take into consideration those who are affected by its practices and not pay out cash to CAFO Developers that want to plow over anything and everything that is in their way!

A recent opinion from Watt AgNet  crossed my desk concerning the world outbreaks and deaths of humans from avian flu.  The author, Mark Clements, presents his thoughts with a British twist, according to Watt AgNet.

Also known as bird flu, I agree with Mr. Clements that human deaths from avian flu go largely unreported in the news headlines.  He states a staggering statistic from the World Health Organization (WHO) for 2015.  In the first 4 months of this year the number of human deaths worldwide has almost doubled compared to the entire year of 2014.  I would call that a headline!

There are various reasons as to the “why” we don’t hear about the human deaths from avian flu.  I think the foremost reason is sensationalism.  Human outbreaks and deaths slowly rise in number compared to the rapid millions of infected chickens that have either died from the disease or Have been euthanized in an effort to control the disease.

Secondly, the various organizations, agencies, and industry around the world don’t want to start a panic.  Mr. Clements clearly states that “the WHO warns that wherever avian influenza viruses are circulating in poultry, sporadic infections and small clusters of human cases are possible in people exposed to infected poultry or contaminated environments”.

If the general public were made more aware of the warning from the WHO questions would arise about industry practices and why such things are allowed to go on while keeping people in the dark about the risks to their health.

Just this year alone in the United States, avian flu has spread across the country killing or causing to be killed, millions of chickens and turkeys.  Some experts are calling this the worst ever outbreak of avian flu in the country.  The Center for Disease Control says that highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5 infections have been reported in U.S. domestic poultry (backyard and commercial flocks), captive wild birds, and wild birds. HPAI H5 detections began in December 2014 and have continued to date in 2015. USDA is reporting H5 bird flu virus detections in 21 U.S. states.

So, where does avian flu come from and how does it spread?  Government agencies and industry are saying that migratory birds such as ducks and geese are the initial culprits.  Three out of four migratory flyways have shown a few wild fowl to be infected with avian flu.  Interestingly enough is the fact that the strain of avian flu appears to have mutated from a Eurasian strain to combine with the North American strain creating a whole new strain.  My question on this fact is – did the migratory waterfowl bring the Eurasian strain through traveling the flyways and when they arrived in North America the virus combined with an already live North American strain of avian flu?

In researching the avian flu outbreak looking for exact numbers of poultry infected in the United States, I ran across a report released on June 15, 2015 from Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an agency of USDA.   This definitely wasn’t what I was looking for however I decided to peruse it.  Although lengthy and highly scientific, what caught my eye was analysis of the avian flu virus traveling on the wind and in the air.

I quote, “The results obtained to date indicate that HPAI can be aerosolized from infected flocks and remain airborne.  HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) RNA was detected in air samples collected inside and immediately outside of the infected premises. Low levels of genetic material were detected at distances of approximately 70 to 1000 meters. Viable virus was detected in an air sample collected inside an affected barn.”  70 to 1,000 meters translates to 76 to 1093 yards or up to almost one-half of a mile.

Based on considerably sound science is it reasonable to question the possibilities of humans becoming infected with the avian influenza virus from environmental routes such as airborne?  Common sense which I have a degree in says that human viruses such as the flu are easily spread by aerosolized routes, like sneezing.   “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” keeps popping in my head!  Does anyone remember the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind“?

While avian flu hasn’t reached the east coast some experts warn that it could be seen by this fall.  Personally, we began practicing strict bio-security measures on the farm as a preventative measure after receiving a Virus Alert from the Maryland Department of Agriculture.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen bio-security being practiced by industrialized chicken production, locally.

Of specific concern is the sudden land grab and building of many chicken houses concentrated in one area and the related traveling by CAFO developers between their chicken developments.  What better way to spread a virus such as avian flu or other diseases?

Should we be concerned over the possibilities indicated and implications of risks to human health?  Is questioning called for?  Taking a look around at the heavily concentrated industrialized chicken production locations in relation to airborne avian influenza being transmitted to humans – we better start questioning!

Note:  This post is in relationship to public health concerns and avian flu and in no way is meant to take away from the disastrous affects the virus has on poultry.

Last week, Tyson Foods made the announcement that it’s “striving to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its US broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017”. I snickered to myself after reading this and thought, what’s the catch?

Researching this big announcement took me firstly to Tyson’s website for the official announcement and found that the company does indeed say that “it is “”striving”” to eliminate the use of “”human antibiotics from its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017″”. The company will report annually on its progress, beginning with its fiscal 2015 Sustainability Report.  Tyson Foods has already stopped using all antibiotics in its 35 broiler hatcheries, requires a veterinary prescription for antibiotics used on broiler farms and “”has reduced human antibiotics”” used to treat broiler chickens by more than 80 percent since 2011.”

So why the snicker, wondering about what’s the catch, and double quotes in the last paragraph?

Back around 2007, Tyson began a huge advertising and labeling campaign of “raised without antibiotics” on its chicken products and was enthusiastically applauded for it by many.  I can remember hearing from some acquaintances about the “big” news and I can also remember me saying that I didn’t believe it for a second.

In June 2008, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved Tyson’s use of the raised without antibiotics label.   USDA reversed that approval and ordered Tyson to remove the label after finding out that Tyson injected its chickens with antibiotics while still in the egg, before hatching, warning that it could no longer consider the raised without antibiotics label “truthful and accurate”.  Tyson admitted that the company used gentamicin which had been used for more than 30 years in the U.S. to treat infections in humans interjecting the belief that rules on labeling describing how chickens are raised typically begin from the second day of life.

According to an AP report, a U.S. District Court Judge had ordered Tyson to stop running any advertisements, setting a May 15, 2008 deadline after Perdue and Sanderson Farms sued, claiming Tysons advertising campaign was misleading.  Sanderson Farms claimed a loss of $4 million in and Perdue claimed it lost about $10 million in revenue.

A consumer lawsuit against Tyson followed accusing the company of falsely claiming that its chickens were raised without antibiotics.  Tyson settled the lawsuit in 2010.  The settlement was capped at $5 million.  The consumer payout was based on proof of purchase (a receipt) which would award $50 dollars, those who didn’t have proof of purchase but provided a sworn statement detailing the poultry they bought would receive $10 dollars.  Any residual funds after paying consumer claims that were left over the company would donate its products to food banks in lieu of the dollar amount.

“While we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said.

While researching this ongoing saga, I found some fairly strong words being used to describe Tyson’s actions.  Statements such as “no longer consider the raised without antibiotics label truthful and accurate”, false and misleading, and getting to the heart of the issue – “It is quite clear to this court that it was in Tyson’s financial interest to delay the phase-out period as long as possible,” Judge Richard D. Bennett of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland written opinion referring to Tyson delaying further use of its advertising campaign.

Take the time to go back and read the bold print above and what I’ve double quoted.  Tyson’s announcement does not say that the company no longer uses antibiotics.

It’s all in the words folks!  It’s the twisting and turning of what the words actually mean and the assumption that consumers read the words and believe them as the gospel truth.  Is it any wonder that I snicker and wonder, what’s the catch over Tyson’s newest BIG announcement concerning the use of antibiotics?

Furthermore, $14 million was claimed to have been lost by Tyson’s competitors, just in 1 year.  Settling for $5 million with consumers is peanuts.  Were any fines levied for not being truthful and accurate, false and misleading, or delaying being so for financial gain?  Does anyone keep their household food purchase receipts for 3 years or bother with a sworn statement to a court for $10 dollars?  Was Tyson able to write off the value of products donated to Food Banks?

After transitioning our farm from industrialized chicken production to an Animal Welfare Approved certified pasture based egg farm 3 years ago, a CAFO now plans to be our neighbor!  We’ve learned from the prospective buyer of the property neighboring us that he has plans to build a chicken CAFO.

It is unfathomable as to why any company would allow their chickens to be put next to a pasture raised farm with chickens on it.  The industry claims that strict bio-security is a mainstay of their operations and necessary to its survival.

Bio-security is the practice of measures taken to prevent the spread of disease on poultry farms.

Looking at the situation from an independent farm, raising hens in a pasture based system one has to question the rights of an individual farm.  What about the right of that farm protecting its chickens from viruses and bacteria’s spread by industrial chicken CAFO’s?

All appearances indicate that the independent farm has no rights and that the highly potential risk created to that farm by the chicken industry is of no concern.

Industrial chickens are vaccinated for many diseases.  Introduction of live viruses into an area where no viruses exist or introducing a bacteria or disease where none exist is a recipe for disaster.  That is basic 101 bio- security for any poultry producer.

In 2008, Johns Hopkins researchers found that poultry trucks driving to processing plants spread harmful bacteria into the environment, exposing other drivers, pedestrians, and rural communities to these bacteria.  Researchers consistently detected drug-resistant bacteria in the air and on surfaces inside vehicles while driving with their windows down behind poultry trucks (Rule et al. 2008).

In our case, a right of way from the county road will be mutually used.  Harmful bacteria will exist in the environment spread from the industry trucks entering and leaving the CAFO.  It’s reasonable to expect that our vehicles will pick up bacteria’s not only harmful to ourselves but also harmful to our disease free hens.  Walking to our mailbox could be harmful to our health!

Drug resistant bacteria spread by industry vehicles will not be the only concern.  County regulations allow for building of chicken houses to be 20 feet from property lines.  These huge buildings can hold up to 60,000 chickens in one house.  Air exchange is accomplished through fans only.  It’s not unreasonable to conclude that the same drug resistant bacteria’s that are found in feathers and dust blowing from trucks will also be exhausted into the air from housing.

Less than ½ mile down the road from the farm is a YMCA.  Joggers and bicyclist use the area for recreational activities and for YMCA sponsored events.  Schools use the sports fields at the YMCA for practices.  Are public and school activities to be discontinued just to accommodate a CAFO that wants to move into the area?

Clearly, the chicken industry has no thought or care of potential risks to human health nor any respect for the neighbor that their CAFO’s want to go next to.

Craig Watts did the unthinkable in the world of a contract chicken farmer and industrialized chicken production. He allowed cameras inside of his chicken houses and showed the world the deplorable conditions which contract growers are mandated to raise chickens under.

Some will say that Craig is brave, others might say he’s crazy, and surely most contract chicken farmers will say that he should have known it would cause trouble for his self. Having walked in the shoes that Craig is now walking in I would say it’s a little bit of all of the above and more!

With the release of the shocking video, taken by Compassion in World Farming, reaction was swift. For those wanting to do something to stop the methods used in raising our nations chicken they had the option to send a letter to supermarket CEO’s asking them to replace the source of their supermarket brand, in Craig’s case Perdue.

All supermarket brands come from a source. All chicken companies supply one supermarket brand or another. Inside of chicken company processing plants packing under many different labels is all in a day’s work. Do you know who supplies your favorite supermarket brand?

Back to Craig Watts…. Having known Craig for quite some time I’m not at all surprised at what he has done. He has been simmering like a pot of water on a stove for a long time. He’s tried talking to Perdue representatives, he’s shocked them with video before Compassion in World Farming came along, and most often was given a message in some shape or form of keep your mouth shut. It’s nothing new and every contract chicken farmer knows it. In this case the swift reaction for Craig was for Perdue to inform him that he is the subject of an “internal animal welfare” investigation.

Secretly and behind closed doors, fellow farmers will pat Craig on the back. He will be the topic of conversations in the farmer community for a long time. Those in the outside world will use the video and the compatible New York Times Op Ed article by Nicholas Kristof for different purposes. When all of the sensationalism dies down, Craig Watts is still on his farm in North Carolina battling Perdue and hanging on to his farm by a thread.

I’m not saying that the world shouldn’t have been given a view into our food production system. We as individuals need to see where our food comes from and make informed choices. What I am saying is that now that Craig has provided that view, who will be standing with him in his battle?

I’ll have much more to say on this subject in the days and weeks ahead.

As some of you know we raised a few Heritage Bronze Turkeys this year mostly to see how they would make out on pasture rather than in confined controlled housing and feeding.

The vast majority of store bought turkey’s come from industrial mega farms which confine and control the living environment and implement a continuous feeding program. The genetically mixed breed of turkey is meant to have a broad breast and to grow rapidly. These turkeys become so large that it’s impossible for them to mate naturally and artificial insemination is the only way that fertile eggs are produced for hatching.

Our newly hatched turkey babies (poults) arrived last June and were about the same size as a baby chick. I knew absolutely nothing about raising turkeys and it was an exciting, but scary, moment when I realized that okay, they are here, now what do I do with them?

If anything the turkeys became an exercise in building family as all of the grandkids had to come and see the new babies. As a matter of fact, our oldest grandson, Noah, was with us on one of his weekly summer visits and the turkeys’ arriving was a big surprise for him. Needless to say, he fell in love with them and most days we had to drag him out of the turkey pen.VOM Turkeys 6192014 008

There is no question that baby animals are cute and cuddly and explaining to the kids that we were raising them for Thanksgiving dinner was hard. Much to my surprise they looked at me and said “I know”. So much for thinking that it was going to be tears and screaming over the turkeys!

At four weeks of age we moved the turkeys into what I called, “the turkey condo”. My husband and son had converted an unused horse stall into a home for the turkeys and they had our horses for company. We installed electric fencing to surround their pasture, not to keep them in, rather to keep foxes out.Turkeys 7182014 008

I found that turkeys are much friendlier than chickens. They love having visitors and will follow wherever anyone would like to take them for a walk. On the other hand they are kind of strange creatures slanting their heads sideways to look at you took some getting used to.

As thanksgiving has drawn nearer and people have found out that we have turkeys, I’ve had numerous requests to buy a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ve gently turned folks away and hopefully pointed them in directions of where they could buy the same type of turkey as what we have. Selling on farm is not an option for us as State regulations would require us to build something akin to a processing plant.

Slaughter time has come and it’s not something I’ve not looked forward to. And here I thought it would be hard for the kid’s! This brings me to a point of the understanding of where food comes from. 10698459_953630784665250_3111914355740412800_n

Animals raised for food don’t just magically appear at the grocery store although if you ask most school aged children they will tell you that their food comes from the store. I can say that the grandchildren understand that the animals are raised on the farm and they are what people eat.

It comes down to the turkeys are for Thanksgiving dinner. How they were raised and the life that they had is what makes the difference. Having raised industrial chickens for twenty three years it never crossed my mind when the company removed them for slaughter.

When I think about it now relating to the turkeys I think that Thanksgiving dinner is appropriate to say that I will give thanks to the turkeys, among other things, for providing a holiday meal for family to share and for sustaining human life. I know that our turkeys were raised and cared for in the best way possible, and for a time they were part of family life. They were raised for a purpose, not just as a thing, and raised in the best animal welfare standards that any turkey can have. They were stunned before slaughter which is the most humane method possible.

Our turkeys will be the centerpiece, not just on the dinner table, but also something that family comes together over and memories are made. No matter where your Thanksgiving turkey comes from this year, take a moment to thank the turkey along with all of your other thanks. Happy Thanksgiving!
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P.S. I’ve had many requests about how to cook a heritage pasture raised turkey. I’m in no way an expert on this subject as this will be another first for me. I’ve done some reading on the subject and I got some advice from my youngest daughter, Natalie, who cooks one every year. She soaks her turkey in a brine for 24 hours before cooking.

What I can tell you is that heritage pasture raised turkeys are not self-basting so make sure you use oil or butter along with your chosen spices and herbs and generously rub onto the breast between the meat and skin before cooking.

Here are a few ideas:
Local Harvest – http://www.localharvest.org/features/cooking-turkeys.jsp

Pintrest has several recipes – http://www.pinterest.com/bighornranc1222/pastured-chicken-recipes/

Martha Stewart – http://www.marthastewart.com/347005/roasted-heritage-turkey

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