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

Posts tagged ‘Free range’

Eggs and Philosophy

Undercover Video reveals a not so pretty picture

A recent undercover video taken by Direct Action Everywhere and released on the Now This facebook page shows the worst of the worst about hens involved in egg laying.

The video made me sick and I’ve a message for industrial agriculture – “clean up your act”.  The conditions of the hens and the environment they are living in are horrific.  It’s actors such as this that make it hard for those of us who don’t even think about animal husbandry being such as what is revealed in the video.  Animal agriculture is going to have to start standing up and condemning these types of practices and behaviors.  Don’t make excuses, own it, and fix it!

The hard truth and what makes the point of rubber stamping for humane practices an armed weapon for those opposed to animal agriculture is that this particular farm is “Certified Humane”, a project of Humane Farm Animal Care.  According to the organizations website, the program certifies products from farm animals that meet program standards related to practices required in the raising of the animals. Farms and ranches are monitored annually and may use the Certified Humane Raised and Handled® logo. Charges levied are to cover inspections and program costs which include promotional materials which help promote the products of the producers that are Certified Humane®.  Trust me folks, the fees applied aren’t cheap and certification predominately include large numbers of animals produced.

The organization has a “Humane Farm Animal Care Scientific Committee”, presumably who develop the standards that farmers and ranchers must meet for certification.  The Committee has some heavy hitters participating on it and I must wonder, what in the world they were thinking when they lent their names to something that doesn’t even come close to the definition of “humane practices”.

I can’t continue without describing the organization responsible for the undercover video, Direct Action Everywhere, is a network of animal rights activists claiming chapters in 160 cities in over 30 countries.  The organization, developed in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2013.  It operates on the theory of “speciesism”.

Getting Educated about Speciesism

I’m not big on giving out labels or definitive categories so I had to do some research on this one.  The term delves deeply into the realm of philosophy.    According to Wikipedia speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences.  Broadly speaking in the world of animal activism it means the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the rights, freedoms, and protections afforded to humans.  June 5 is considered to be World Day Against Speciesism.  Who knew?

Without delving too deep into the topic of speciesism, it appears to me that it means every living thing is equal and has equal rights, no matter human or non-human.  I’m assuming if you don’t believe in this equality or you behave against the principal theory you are akin to a racist or sexist. I dunno, sounds good!

Of course agenda motivation is the driving force behind the video, why else would it be undercover?  Was it for the purpose of exposing Humane Farm Animal Care and name lending to a rubber stamping of the “Certified Humane” label?  Was it to expose the bad behavior of industrial agriculture?  Or was it a push toward the public to support veganism and animal rights? I think it’s all of the above.

On the other hand, what can be the excuses from industrial agriculture.  Historically industry will repeat all of the things listed above and describe the people taking the video as terrorists. They’ll say that the particular farm and the conditions revealed wasn’t like that when it was audited for humane standards and certification. My question would be, what changed in the farming practices between the standards audit and everyday practices?  Is it business as usual except when the humane farm animal standards audit is conducted?

No matter what your belief about what you eat, what is revealed in the undercover video is just plain wrong.  It doesn’t take a room full of philosophers or theorizers to figure it out.  You decide!

Fair Farms Maryland Launches

A network of nonprofit organizations, farmers, consumers and businesses launched a campaign earlier this month aiming to reform Maryland’s food system that lacks adequate fairness, transparency, and accountability. I’m happy to say that I participate on the group’s farmer advisory council.

Fair Farms Maryland, convened by Waterkeepers Chesapeake and supported by more than 40 endorsing partners, is working to create awareness about the relationship between our food systems, the environment and public health.

A sub title on the group’s press release says “Fair Farms campaign showcases sustainable farmers who “”farm against the grain””.  I guess it could be said that I’m one of those farmers.  Sending my brain into overdrive is the “farming against the grain” part.

For example, Nick Baily of Grand View Farm in Forest Hill, MD says “we set out to prove that wholesome food can be produced in a way that regenerates the land, respects nature and the needs of the animals and reestablishes a lost visceral connection between consumers and their food”.

I started thinking that the goals of Nick’s farm shouldn’t be considered farming against the grain it should be the norm in farming.  I mean really, shouldn’t we all want to produce wholesome food, regenerate the land that gives to us, respect nature and the needs of our farm animals and have a connection with those who consume our food?

Another example, “Taxpayers heavily subsidize the intensive farming norm, while also paying higher bills for related health care costs and to restore the damage done to our environment” says Bob Gallagher, in Annapolis, MD, a board member of Waterkeepers Chesapeake and co-chairman of the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition.  Bob wrote a guest column “Let’s insist on sustainable food system”, in the Capital Gazette about the Fair Farms campaign.

Bob refers to intensive farming as the norm for food production. Without going into a lengthy explanation suffice it to say that I’m talking about industrialized food production utilizing methods without regard to public and environmental health, lack of respect for the land and animals that sustain us, and where the almighty dollar outweighs the inclination to produce food that sustains farms and communities.

Comparing the two farming methods, which are on opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s hard to reconcile how food production became so jumbled.  It befuddles me when thinking about the notion that food can be, and is, produced with total disregard or care of what is good for people, animals, and the environment.  It also boggles the mind to think that the goals of Grand View Farm aren’t considered as normal!

Taking it one step farther – what about just doing the right thing?  Seriously folks, I’ve seen so much denial, blame shifting, meetings behind closed doors, ambiguity, fear mongering, strong arming, influence peddling, deal making and breaking, and sometimes outright untruths from big ag proponents that nothing surprises me anymore.

I’m sure the first serve from detractors in the volley will be that the Fair Farms campaign is against farmers.  “This campaign is not about environmentalists versus farmers,” said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “Fair Farms is about working together to reform a food system that is out of balance. We shouldn’t be rewarding farm operations that produce cheap food with steep hidden costs to the environment and public health. Instead, we need to find new opportunities to support those agricultural practices that will grow food in healthy ways for generations to come.”

Working together to reform a food system that is out of balance and growing food in healthy ways – sounds like good ideas to me!

If you would like to know more about Fair Farms Maryland   take a peek.  While you are there take the pledge to be a Fair Farms Consumer.  It’s free!

A CAFO Intends To Be Our New Neighbor

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.

It’s Turkey Time

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!
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

All In A Days Work

Late spring and early summer have been extremely busy on the farm. In May 700 new chicks (baby girls) arrived while our current flock of hens (the big girls) turned a year old.

We celebrated the big girl’s birthday with their version of a birthday cake, lettuce and tomatoes, their favorite treats. Although the baby girl’s arrival was a few days before the birthday celebration, they weren’t a birthday present for the big girl’s. Actually, the big girl’s weren’t too pleased sharing the attention.

We now have roughly 1,200 hens. The baby girl’s won’t start laying eggs until late October. They spend their days running around like a bunch of hooligans and practicing their flying skills, which by the way aren’t so great! 5212014 BR RIR DE 019
The baby girl flock is a mixture of Rhode Island Red’s, Delaware’s, and Bard Rock’s. They are traditional breeds of chickens and this is a first for us as our previous flocks have been all Rhode Island Reds.

Becoming 1 year old also brought on the first molt for the big girl’s. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “molt” it can be easily compared to animals shedding. The big girls are in the process of losing their feathers in order to grow new feathers. This process can take as long as 6 months and since we let our hens molt naturally, they don’t all shed their feathers at the same time. Working with the flock every day I see some hens that are fully feathered, others are partially feathered, and some are downright naked!

While molting, the hens slow down on egg production and some stop laying eggs altogether. Growing new feathers while producing eggs is an extreme drain of calcium on the hens and nature decided, they can’t do both.

For the first time, we decided to try raising some turkeys and in June, 15 baby turkeys (poults) arrived. VOM Turkeys 6192014 007It’s hard to imagine that these tiny creatures grow into becoming the large Thanksgiving turkey we are accustomed to seeing. The poults are much more sociable than the chickens. They love human companionship and the grandkids had great fun sitting in the turkey pen while the babies climbed in their laps.

They were moved this week from their brooding pen to their new condo. We converted an empty horse stall into their new home and provided pasture space for them to forage. Turkeys 7182014 008Allowing them outdoor access for the first time was like a bunch of kids on a candy spree! They didn’t know which to go after first – grass, clover, or bugs. They now have our two horses for companions however the horses try to ignore them.

Unfortunate for me (or maybe not ), is that the turkeys are now visible from my window in the living room and it’s just a short walk to go visit them. I find myself looking out the window much more often than I should and then being drawn outside for a visit.

The new additions to the farm have also brought a lot more work. Some days don’t end until evening. Farming is hard work, but hey, I’m not complaining! Sitting on the front porch (yes, in my rocking chair) thinking about the accomplishments of the day, I’m rewarded.

Insanity in the House of Representatives

In keeping with the apparent theme of insanity running wild in Congress the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill. Of particular interest to me is an amendment introduced by Congressman Steve King (R), Iowa. Known as the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act” (PICA), King is crowing its victory of inclusion in the final markup of the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill.

Essentially, PICA “prohibits states from enacting laws that place onerous conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders but are produced in other states”, says Kings website.

Specifically, King points to “free-range eggs” or “free-range pork” saying that “PICA will ensure that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.” According to meatingplace, King’s statement wasn’t as well crafted, saying the amendment will “shut down the Humane Society of the United States, PETA and other radical organizations from creating a network of restrictive state laws that will slowly push agriculture production towards the demise.”

Iowa’s egg farmers lead the nation in egg production, caring for nearly 60 million laying hens producing nearly 15 billion eggs per year. That’s almost one out of every five eggs produced in the United States, says the Iowa Egg Council (IEC). What isn’t said is that the great salmonella enteritidis outbreak in 2010 was linked to DeCoster Eggs, whose huge egg production operations in rural northern Iowa prompted the recall of 550 million eggs and sickened roughly 2,000 people. IEC also doesn’t tell you that a former manager in the network of companies owned by Jack DeCoster, plead guilty in 2012 for his role in a conspiracy to bribe a federal inspector to allow the sale of unapproved eggs.

California is at the crux of the issue when state legislation becomes effective in 2014 requiring only ‘free range’ eggs are sold. Voters in California and other states choose this. King argues that “the impact of their [CA] large market would compel producers in every other state to invest billions to meet the California standard” of production methods.

This has nothing to do with protecting interstate commerce. It has everything to do with protecting industrialized animal production and forcing its products on states that clearly don’t want them. Wouldn’t it be nice if all farmers could get a guarantee of business mandated by our government?

It appears that Congressman King is promoting farm animal practices which aren’t conscientious of animal welfare, public health, or food safety. King only knows that his state produces a lot of eggs which translate to big bucks!

What can one expect from a congressional member who rabidly defended “pink slime” in 2012? Using phrases and words such as “lean finely textured beef”, “enhancement”, and “supplement”, King went on an aggressive campaign pledging congressional hearings against those who conducted a “smear campaign” against pink slime.

Adding salt to the wound, other members of the House Agriculture Committee went along with Kings amendment.  INSANITY!

Note: All links accessed 05/17/2013

What Came First – The Chicken or The Egg?

Here on the farm, we are making preparations to expand. Yes, I said EXPAND! The great egg adventure has blossomed into something viable. Imagine that folks – viability on the farm. More Girls for Bird’s Eye View Farm and of course more eggs. Our current supply can’t meet the demand for product.

Back in January, I participated on a farmer panel at the Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FH CASA) conference and our great egg adventure was used as one of several “case studies”.

Becoming a case study is something that I never considered when we first began. All joking aside, I had my doubts. Jumping into it was a leap of faith. As I told conference attendees we were flying by the seat of our pants in the beginning and in opposition to my colleagues successful case studies presented, I bluntly told folks – “do not follow my model”! Being a Guiana pig means making all of the mistakes and figuring out solutions.

If I had to do it over again I would have…… how many times do we say that in a life time? Exploring marketing and distribution would have been first before putting the Girls on the farm. I would want to know that I had outlets for product and have it figured out how I was going to get product to market – Note to self: Marketing and distribution, figure it out first.

Thinking back, I recall being told several times, don’t worry, the product will sell. That put me in a comfort zone and allowed me to relax and enjoy raising the Girls for 22 weeks. And then the eggs came! Getting the first eggs was a thrill and heartwarming because our grandson and my husband found the first ones. But then, more eggs came, lots of eggs!

Of course there are steps in between collecting eggs and selling eggs to consider such as washing, packaging, and cold storage. Washing and packing is done by hand (machinery is expensive) and a spare refrigerator works if you don’t have too many eggs. As the Girls increased egg laying the necessity for much larger cold storage space was presented. As any farmer knows, utilizing and modifying what you have is imperative for economic reasons – waste not, want not. There are not many of us who can go out and purchase a walk in cooler at the blink of an eye. Lucky for us, my husband ingeniously converted a pump room into a walk in cooler at a relatively low cost.

As the eggs started piling up the task of marketing became necessity! Marketing is a humbling experience for one who has never done it before. Thankfully, being an Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) Certified farm also meant that AWA lent a hand in marketing, free of charge. Who can afford to go out and hire a marketing firm to sell product? Sales began slowly and I had many sleepless nights wracking my brain thinking about markets. There are several ways to sell product. There is a lot of trial and error. Finding the way which best suits the individual takes time, patience, and persistence – lots of it.

Once the market was found, meeting the requirements of a buyer is something that never entered my mind until it was put before me. Researching Federal, State, and Local laws for production, processing, packaging, distribution, and selling is enough to make one’s head spin. Understanding and compliance is not the end of it. Each market or buyer has individual requirements and is something one should be well aware of before entering the market. Insurances, licensing, and permits for individual localities are a must.

Different types of packaging are something to consider such as chef’s preferring bulk (egg flats) in 30 dozen cases or consumer’s preferring half dozen or full dozen cartons packed in 15 dozen cases to suit the buyer and what sells best in the market place.

What size eggs do your customers want? Regardless of what some would have us believe, hens don’t lay uniformly sized or shaped eggs. Depending on the egg laying cycle of the hens decides what you get and how many. What do you do with eggs that don’t meet your customer’s preference?

Distribution – getting the product from farm to market can be a nightmare. Spending a good twelve hour day making deliveries each week was exhausting. Ensuring that product is kept sufficiently cool and as required by law is a must. Taking cost into consideration the question arises, will distribution cost outweigh profit margin expected after production and processing cost?

In my case, the chicken came before the egg! Was it a wise move? Probably not! However, I don’t have regrets over the roller coaster ride it presented! Settling on a market and developing a partnership with our buyer has been a relief to all of the unknowns mentioned above. I feel as if the farm has reached a point of serenity and life has leveled out over the past year. While not becoming complacent with where we are I’m a happy camper! Although eager to move forward I also realize that adding more hens presents new challenges. A new chapter in the great egg adventure!