Friday, January 21, 2005

Head Counting

Phew... we do keep busy here. Seems there's not much time for blogging.

Our chicken world has changed since I last wrote. All the white birds have been slaughtered except for one, who has been claimed as a pet by Farmer Boy. After a week of slowly integrating her, she now comfortably waddles through the masses of smaller chickens with the superiority of a know-it-all older sister. She had to go through a series of challenges by the teenage roosters who are busy establishing the pecking order, but by sheer bulk she has subdued them all.

A few weeks ago we spent an afternoon at the farm of our friends who, until recently, ran a commerical poultry farm. They have a state certified processing facility, and were kind enough to allow us to use it and teach us some tricks. I still have not done, or even seen, the killing, but I actually can eviscerate fairly quickly now.

Can you believe it? I can't. I have a lot of dead birds in my freezer. Big ones... up to 8.5 lbs! That's practically a turkey!

The other chickens continue to grow, and we awaken to genuine cock-a-doodle-doos every morning. We still have a few months until we get eggs.

As for dogs and chickens, to date 11 chickens have been killed by mammals other than us. The last we actually know of for sure as having been killed by a dog was on Christmas Eve.

If the courts can distinguish between murder and manslaughter, I suppose we can distinguish between canine-poultricide and equine-poultricide. One of the 11 deaths falls into the latter category, and was amusingly referred to by Stephen as "an unfortunate industrial accident".

Seems horses haven't read the books that say they shouldn't eat spoiled, poopy hay. Nor have they grasped that they should be appreciative of the fact that their grain ration is way up because it is winter and they are getting fed more than twice what they were in December. To them, food is food, and they don't hesitate to use their considerable mass to increase the size of the openings to places that harbor hidden treasures of food, like, say, the opening to the chicken house and its trove of nasty hay.

Hank the wonder horse, known around the farm for his stubbornness and extremely small personal space zone, crashed his way to the front of the chicken house, in the process knocking down our makeshift hardyplank door. It wasn't until several hours later, when Stephen went out to pick up after him, that he discovered the, er, chicken pancake.

The next day Hank knocked down the extension ladder and further damaged the door, necessitating a brand new and innovative door design hammered together as the sun set by none other than your fearless blog author. :-D It remains as our chicken house door, in all its makeshift, ugly glory.

And dogs... with Christmas came guests, freezing weather, two new dogs, and an end to canine-poultricide. Weird, eh?

I actually think this supports my theory that Molly was bored, and was just playing with the chickens. She *would* eat them, but I don't think that was her original plan, if dogs can be said to be of the planning sort.

Fred and Luke are settling in. They both very much like being here, although both were a little confused and mellow at first. Now they are annoyingly spastic, so to speak, at times, but we are managing.

Our current trial with Luke is that he got bitten by the "Let's bark at cows!" bug when his brother came to visit, and has had a terrible time restraining himself since. This is mildly annoying when it is our own cattle... it is very unneighborly when the cattle are across the street.

Fred just likes to bark. And I think he is going deaf. I have to get his attention physically and try to distract him away from whichever critter he's in the middle of haranguing. He is an ancient dog, and while well endowed with sweetness and a huge heart, very minimally endowed with brain cells. I don't think Fred is going to be with us for long, and I'd like his retirement here to be pleasant, but I simply can not have him tormenting the horses and cat. We are working on it.

So our chicken head count is going down, and our dog head count is going up. Still no goats because we still have not finished either the fencing or the repairs to the barn. We continue to be amazed by how much work there is to do, how much more time than we expect each job takes, and how little time we actually have available for farm work. We have other small matters eating up our time, like off-farm work, home schooling, and tending to the every day needs of all the critters (human and otherwise) who already live here.

I am working on planning our first gardens. I will be putting in some fruit trees tomorrow, and have picked the spot to put veggies and flowers for this year. I think I will ultimately want the garden space to be elsewhere, but with all the animals I have to find a spot that won't be trampled or eaten up. The space I have picked is the easiest to manage fencing-wise. I still have to put in some fencing, but it can just be metal t-posts and chicken wire... it's in place where it doesn't have to keep out a 2000 lb animal.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Loving Your Enemies

Today, on this day set aside in the US to honor Martin Luther King Jr, I had the privilege to read, for the first time, the following sermon on love by the great preacher:

Loving Your Enemies

I hope you will take the time to read it. It isn't just theology, it is real. Do it and your life will be transformed. Mine has been.

Monday, January 10, 2005

organic certification

So back when I was writing my thoughts on humane slaughter, I ran down a bunny trail about organic certification. The humane slaughter topic was all together enough for one post, so I clipped the organic certification bit for later posting. I read an article tonight that prompted me to pull it back up and have a go at being generally annoyed online.

What exactly is "organic certification" do you think? The USDA organic standards are actually lower than many small farms are keeping to, out of their own sense of what is right for the environment and for their families. But these farms can't afford the certification. The paper trail that is required to be kept is virtually impossible to maintain for a small operation. We are talking about people who spend 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day, working out in their fields and with their animals. When do they have time to keep a complicated paper trail? They don't, so they have to hire someone, but they can't afford that, etc.

On top of that, many of the products that you buy in the grocery store that are labeled organic may technically be meeting the organic standards set by the USDA, but the corporations behind them are not necessarily practicing sustainable agriculture or environmental gentleness. Great, you used seaweed instead of synthetic fertilizers, but you are consuming huge amounts of fossil fuel running those big farm machines and trucking product all over the country. And just because you feed your cattle organic grain in the feedlot doesn't make being in the feedlot a great idea.

Have a look at this article on organic dairies in today's Chicago Tribune.

You might be surprised by the debates that go on in Washington about your food. Did you know, for example, that in February 2003, a modification was made to a Farm Aid bill at the last minute, allowing organic livestock farmers to feed their animals non-organic feed if the cost of organic was more than double the cost of conventional feed? And still label them organic!

Thankfully, this slipped-in modification was repealed a few months later. You can read more about it here.

Eliot Coleman, a leader in the grassroots organic movement, writes in his super cool book The New Organic Grower that really the only way to be sure of what you are eating is to know the name of the farmer who grew it.

Coleman has some thoughtful things to say about the effects of national certification on organics and the coopting of terminology.

Around here, we are partial to the phrase "sustainable agriculture". We think that does a pretty good job of summing up what we are trying to do. We want to be kind to our animals, kind to our soil, air and water, kind to our children and the many generations to come that will be left with the fallout from whatever we have done. We fervently hope that what we will leave them will be a healthier little 40 acres, and a rich heritage of living fully with God's creation.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Stephen Brown on Chicken Management

"Man to the moon? Trivial. Keeping the chickens from pooping in their drinking water... now that would be one of the great accomplishments of all mankind."