Archive for the ‘factory farming’ Category

The Time to End Farm Subsidies is Now

I try to avoid discussing and mixing politics with my posts but frankly it’s impossible when government is so heavily involved in agriculture. The very existence of government subsidies (read tax payer $) is what keeps destructive, corporate agriculture alive and thriving. I see it all the time, other small farmers and consumers calling for equal or greater subsidies to small farmers. The thought seems to be that it’s only fair that if the government is going to help the big guys, the little guys should get “help” too. It doesn’t make the farmers more prosperous, it brings in corporate interests who, like hyenas following the scent of blood from a dying animal, see an opportunity to line their pockets and grow their portfolios. This is how we got the Archer Daniel-Midland, Cargill, Tyson, Smithfields and others.

There are several government programs (tax $) that give small, beginning, and minority farmers money to “help” them get started or to implement practices that are conservation minded. Now when we first got started, I did look into some of these government grants and programs. What I found was just more ridiculous bureaucratic foolishness that wastes money, time and resources. For example, I had a well on the property we were leasing. I wanted to explore the possibility of using that well for irrigation and for watering livestock. Our government would not allow for that, they required that  we drill a new well. Not only did they require a new well be drilled, but that we install a pump that is twice as big as we needed!

I don’t advocate for applying for such programs simply because of how infuriatingly wasteful and inefficient I found them to be, but I came to the conclusion that they are unethical. Several years ago, I met a family who farms as their sole source of income after losing their construction business.  They shared with me that they refused to seek any government funds because it was not right for them to take money that had been taken from fellow tax payers for the sake of helping their farm pay for fencing, seeds, equipment and such. I couldn’t agree with them more. If I want to be a farmer, let it be by my own merit, not by looking for a hand out.


But back to the whole ending subsidy idea. There are many who will say that I’m an uneducated idiot for suggesting such a thing and that doing so would force farmers out of business and that the corporations would just get stronger.  Well, they’re wrong and I can prove it. Back in the 1980’s, New Zealand was in a financial crisis. Government spending was 44% of the GDP and the national debt was 65% of the GDP. A newly elected government recognized that some drastic had to be done and one of those drastic measures was to eliminate agricultural subsidies immediately. They didn’t slowly phase them out or put them on some 10 year reduction plan. Overnight the money stopped, cold turkey.

New Zealand’s economy is even more dependent on agriculture than the United States and many predicted a disaster. Well a disaster never happened. The corporations didn’t take over, corporations love welfare and since the government wasn’t handing out any more, small family farms stepped up and the corporate conglomerates lost power. Read the following excerpts with links to articles.

“The removal of farm subsidies in New Zealand gave birth to a vibrant, diversified, and growing rural economy, and it debunked the myth that farming cannot prosper without subsidies. Thus rather than passing another big government farm bill that taxpayers can’t afford, the U.S. Congress should step back and explore the proven alternative of free market farming.”

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Today, New Zealand’s farmers are some of the world’s most productive and innovative.

Removing government assistance completely, New Zealand officials say, freed farmers to produce what people really want, and to do so in an efficient way that could turn a profit.

Since the reforms, New Zealand farmers have cut costs, diversified their land use, and developed new products, Clark says.

Additionally, productivity in agriculture has grown faster than the New Zealand economy as a whole.

By 1984, New Zealand sheep farming was receiving about 44 percent of its income from government subsidies. Its major product was lamb, and lamb in the international marketplace was selling for about $12.50 (with the government providing another $12.50)per carcass. Well, we did away with all sheep farming subsidies within one year. And of course the sheep farmers were unhappy. But once they accepted the fact that the subsidies weren’t coming back, they put together a team of people charged with figuring out how they could get $30 per lamb carcass. The team reported back that this would be difficult, but not impossible. It required producing an entirely different product, processing it in a different way and selling it in different markets. And within two years, by 1989, they had succeeded in converting their $12.50 product into something worth $30. By 1991, it was worth $42; by 1994 it was worth $74; and by 1999 it was worth $115. In other words, the New Zealand sheep industry went out into the marketplace and found people who would pay higher prices for its product. You can now go into the best restaurants in the U.S. and buy New Zealand lamb, and you’ll be paying somewhere between $35 and $60 per pound.

If you ask me, this is what the American Farmer needs.


A Battle of Biblical Proportions

Everyone; Christian, Jew or not, I believe is pretty familiar with the story of David versus Goliath. If you aren’t, here’s the condensed version and you can read the full version in 1 Samuel 17. The Army of Israel was going to battle against the Philistines. They came to an agreement that the battle would be decided between their two best soldiers. Little did the Israelites know that the Philistines had a secret weapon, a giant name Goliath. None of Israel’s soldiers were brave enough to face this giant, none except a boy named David, a shepherd boy. He was so small, no armor would fit him but that didn’t deter him. None the less, he gathered 5 smooth stones from a brook and walked onto the battle field to face a giant who was fully armored save his face. David placed a stone in his leather sling, which he would use to defend his sheep from wolves, whirled it overhead and let his stone fly. His aim was perfect and the stone struck the giant just above the bridge of his nose. Goliath fell dead and David then beheaded him with his own sword.


I share this because we are embroiled in a very similar confrontation except the giant is a behemoth so big those who stand against it are as small as mites. The main body of this beast is chemical agriculture and the head is a multinational corporation named Monsanto. Monsanto has unleashed a demon on us all and it is Genetically Modified Organisms. GMOs have been in the food system since 1996 and in this short time in our history, we can hardly find a way to make our diet GMO free like we could couple of decades ago.


Around the world in other countries, laws have been passed requiring the labeling of foods that are comprised of GMOs, but since no such law exists in the US, Americans can’t make an informed decision about what they eat. Nearly all products on grocery store shelves have derivatives of corn and soy, and these two crops are 90+% GMO. It’s really too late to try to hammer out how we got to this point, but we must focus on how we can get ourselves out of this mess.

Well so what can you do? Is buying organic or “greenwise” enough? No, not really. These organic companies are all subsidiaries of the companies that are using GMOs. Therefore, when you buy “conventional” organic foods, you’re still supporting the conglomerates. The only way to really change the landscape of our agriculture system is for everyone to quit focusing on the initial dollar amount and think long term. Plant a garden and grow something and get it from a non-GMO seed company. Find a farmer who only raises non-GMO crops and his animals are pasture raised and only receive non-GMO feed. If the farmers you meet say that they want to but the cost is too high, support him anyway. Drive business his way so that when he sees there really are people who care about the food they eat be his champion when he announces that he’s taking the steps necessary to be GMO free, organic or not. This means a different way of thinking and a completely different way of thinking.  If you need further convincing, there are a number of documentaries about GMOs and corporate agriculture, such as King Corn, Genetic Roulette, Fresh, and one of the most widely known ones is Food, Inc. Some can be found for free in the web or for a small nominal fee.


How antibiotic use fuels weight gain in animals and obesity in people | The Bovine

Animal feed is the number one distributor for pharmaceuticals. The original intent in feeding antibiotics to animals was to ward off disease and infection but the side effect is that the animals gain weight faster and now we see people are too.


How antibiotic use fuels weight gain in animals and obesity in people | The Bovine.

Before you grill it, You gotta kill it.

Or get someone else like me to do it.

We processed the broiler chickens we raised from day old chicks that we got from S & G Poultry this past Saturday. We raise our chickens on the pasture where they can live out their lives in a much more natural, healthy and sanitary environment than factory farmed chickens. They eat a diet of grass, insects, and a non-medicated feed ration that we have to special order to ensure that we aren’t propagating meat loaded with pharmaceuticals, which is what you get from the mass producers. Our chickens live in portable pens we call “chicken tractors” which we move two or three times a day to ensure that they have constant access to fresh pasture to forage. We don’t just let them free range because they would be easy targets for predators. We grow them for 10 weeks because we don’t rely solely on commercial feed, if we did we could shorten the time to 9 or maybe even 8 weeks, but the flavor of a 10 week bird is much better in my opinion. This does mean that the meat is much firmer than young birds and after eating our chickens, the one in the grocery store labeled as “young and tender”, just feel mushy in my mouth.

The day for me started by leaving the fire station at 6:15. When I arrived home, Katie had already fed all of the critters but the rabbit pens still needed moving and the cows need to be moved to their new paddock for the day. As I rushed around completing chores, it started to rain. It was NOT supposed to rain! We had already set up all of the processing equipment in an open area between the house and the barn which is paved. As drops of rain got heavier, Katie and I moved the tables to the pavilion by the house and set up the killing cones in a car port by the barn. The scalding tank and plucker are too heavy to move around, we just left them in place.My goal was to get started at 8:00, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

We depend heavily on volunteers to help us get 100+ chickens processed in time to be picked up by customers who had already placed deposits to reserve their birds. Our first volunteer, John, arrived and I was still running around like a “you know what” with its head cut off. I finally got the scalder filled and now getting it fired up my next task. The scalder heats the water with propane but first I needed to light the pilot light. The factory installed igniter  had long ago quit working, so this task requires one to lay on the ground (wet) and with a long lighter, match or taper apply the necessary  flame to start the flames of propane. Fortunately, John was able to lend a hand by pushing in the gas control knob while I lit the pilot. Now we had to wait for the water to heat, which takes 45 minutes to an hour. While we were waiting, Tom arrived, and it was looking like the six volunteers that I was hoping for was actually a third as many. I knew already that the day was going to be a long one, but I could feel it getting longer.

Once the water was hot enough, according to the thermometer, we fetched the first batch of chickens from the pasture and brought them to the killing station. The chickens are not hard to catch because they’ve always associated people with food and opening the gate of the tractor brought a swarm of feathers, beaks, and claws. My method of dispatching the chickens is to use a razor-sharp knife to cut their carotid artery and bleed them while they are held securely in an inverted position in a cone. A quick, deliberate cut ensures that the chicken isn’t subjected to any undue stress or pain, unlike the slaughter assembly lines in the factory packing houses. Once all of the involuntary electrical impulses stop firing, I move the chickens to the scalding tank. The purpose here is to loosen the feathers to facilitate quick feather removal. It’s actually one of my least favorite parts of the process because keeping a constant eye on the water temperature is a pain, not to mention the pilot light is prone to be blown out by a gust of wind. The supposed ideal temperature is around 148 deg. Farenheit, but I ended up running the temperature up to 170 because the feathers just weren’t coming loose from the birds and we had to do a fair amount of hand pulling. So, after scalding is the plucking, which fortunately is performed with a plucking machine made by Featherman. It’s a tub with a bunch of rubber fingers on the sides and bottom. The bottom of the tub spins when you turn it on, causing all of the chickens to tumble around against the fingers, stripping their feathers off. Care must be taken not to run them in the plucker too long or there is a risk of breaking wings and legs. From there the process continues with removing the heads, feet and necks. We save the feet and necks for making stock and a few of our customers even enjoy chicken feet themselves as a snack! Eviscerating involves cutting open the body cavity at the bottom of the bird, reaching in with the hand and breaking loose all of the membranes from the cavity wall. The gizzard is the largest organ and once you find it, you grasp the tube on top of it and firmly pull, all of the entrails come out together for the most part. Once they’re out, a cut around the rectum and the bird itself is ready to be washed, inspected and put on ice.

We had some more helpers show up around noon, our friends Debbie and Mark made it after  dealing with a son-in-law who is in the hospital. They, like our other helpers, desire to one day have the means to be self-sufficient and raise food for themselves and others. Soon after, my sister came by with my nephews, Cameron 9 and Trey 6. They enthusiastically joined in. The kids were assigned to catch the chickens, and then help with the scalding and plucking. Cameron and my 8 year old wanted to get in on the eviscerating but, I’m not ready to turn them loose with knives so, the figured out that if you just twist it enough, the head would pop off. This gave the grown ups one less task to do.

I wasn’t surprised to find that we weren’t done when customers first started to arrive, we were still killing, plucking, and eviscerating. I was glad to see that no one looked squeamish or grossed out. I believe that it is vitally important for those who do not grow their meat, should have the opportunity to see exactly the manner in which it is raised and killed. The consumer should not have to blindly trust some nameless individual to certify their meat is safe. I was very glad to see that some parents even encouraged their children to watch the whole process of processing. One mom asked if she could take pictures and I said only if she’d share them with me. Thank you Sarah for these awesome photos!

Got a PUStache? The truth about PUS in pasteurized milk – YouTube

How can you argue with this? I was raised on stories of  “a land flowing with MILK and honey.” What if Sunday school classes, in an effort to  be factual changed it to “PUS and honey”? Just doesn’t give that spiritual lift does it?

My one issue with the video is that he only advocates buying raw milk from a certified organic dairy. We will never seek “organic” certification as it’s only a label that says you’re approved to use a certain list of chemicals. Anyone who visits our farm can see that our cows are healthy and produce PUS free milk.

Got a PUStache? The truth about PUS in pasteurized milk – YouTube.

Then there was one… Rooster that is.

When we first moved onto the farm, we were given four young chickens. Three Rhode Island Red hens and a rooster of some other breed. We named the rooster Max, one of the Rhode Island Reds turned out to be a rooster and we dubbed him Rex. So, after we added 32 White Leghorns, we had 2 roos and 34 hens. Max ruled the roost while Rex worked his game outside of Max’s radar.

One day a few months ago Sarah, our four-year old, decided to wear her fairy wings. Max apparently thought she was some type of mutant come to devour “his” hens. He climbed her back and gave her quite the thrashing. No blood was drawn but she now had an irrational terror of Max. We reasoned that if she  didn’t wear the wings, then Max would leave her alone. She didn’t believe us and I reckon she was right not to. Max soon took to terrorizing our boys to who are 6 and 8. We soon had three of the most gun er, rooster shy kids around. Before they’d step out side, they’d look all around to see if Max was anywhere in the vicinity. They would either arm themselves with sticks, rakes, rocks etc. and venture out, OR they’d see Max strutting past and slam the door shut and wail, “MAX IS OUT THERE!!!” I was soon hearing requests that Max be dispatched, more or less. I planned to, but I wanted to wait until we process our meat birds.

It all came to a head though yesterday, when I gave David the task of filling up the water troughs for the cows. As he pulls the hose up to the tubs, Max comes around the corner of the barn. “Daaaddy!” David hollers. “What!” I all but scream back. “Max is coming!” “Well, you have a hose. If he comes toward you, swing it at him.” I walked to the spigot, and David basically turned into a quivering mass of blubbering hysteria. I spun the water on and told him he could just spray Max with the hose, but the poor kid just kept wailing. His mother stood guard over him and kept him safe from Max’s beak and spurs.

Now before the accusations start flying about child abuse or some other endangerment, this is a farm. Roosters are a part of farming according to my model. My kids needed to learn how to deal with an animal such as Max. I don’t want them to flippantly decide that an animal could simply be gotten rid of due to one trait. Max actually fulfilled his job well. He kept an active lookout for danger. If he spotted a hawk, he would give the call that must equate to “Take cover!” and every hen on the property would make tracks for the barn. Max had a role and he filled it. Unfortunately he included terrorizing my kids.

After the incident at the water trough though, I decided that the time had come. I told the kids that I was going to kill Max the next day. You’d have thought I’d announced that we were going to Disney! I admonished them a little for their celebratory reaction. “We’re not just killing him to kill him  I told them. “His death will have a purpose so, we’re going to eat him.” They were quite fine with that. Early this morning, I caught him and put him in the chicken crate. After the kids were up and dressed, we went to work. Max got the same treatment as the broilers. I put him upside down in a make shift killing cone ,he was quite calm. I cut his carotid, and he quickly “went to sleep”. The next task was plucking. I opted to pluck as much dry as possible. Pulling wet feathers is less than fun. I’ll spare the rest of the details but I’ll say this, eating a bird that has been running around for at least six months was quite the culinary experience.

Power Steer – New York Times

So what’s the big deal with red meat? For over a decade now, we’ve been hearing more and more caution about consuming beef. Why? Beef consumption has been linked with the rising statistics in cardiac disease, obesity, and even cancer. But is it really the cow’s fault his flesh has contributed to this health epidemic? Or is there something more? Michael Pollan, who has written a number of best sellers, among them “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” wrote the following article about his experience researching the commercial beef industry.  Power Steer – New York Times.