- The DNR filed for an injunction, asking our judge to order us not to sell live pigs to in-state buyers. This happened early this spring, just before people who want a pig for their family are looking for weaned piglets. We had a hearing scheduled for this for the beginning of May.
- The DNR offered us a settlement: we kill all our pigs and they graciously will decline to fine us up to $10,000 per animal, fine any purchasers of our animals up to $10,000 per animal, and not pursue felony charges worth up to 4 years in Federal Prison against Mark and any associates and employees. In other words, we kill our pigs or they will bankrupt us and jail the husband, wife, and oldest children of a family (this is a family run farm). Really. Would they seriously do that? Check their track record and the track record of other government agencies in food cases. I’d assume they would leave the 16 and 14 year olds out of the fray, but they still made the threat.
- The judge in Baraga County decided that there are issues common to all the cases and that, even though we’ve retained a separate lawyer and have no legal connections to the other cases, the lawyers and judges Read the rest of this entry »
I know I need to catch the blog up on the hog case, but the weather’s finally nice and there is a lot to do on the farm in the spring:
This is Coco. He’s a bull calf (male) born about a week ago. He’s a Jersey/Wagyu cross. Penny is in milk now! We’re excited because Rosie just wasn’t keeping up.
We are getting ready to put chickens outside. Usually we feel safe around the middle of May, so next week will be a little early, but not much. Keith is washing the field waterers. Our waterers have an automatic float valve and are fed by garden hoses. It’s a great system that keeps fresh water in front of the birds all the time. Everything gets washed before the new season (and periodically during it), so this is part of getting ready. Joe is fixing and outfitting the tractors themselves. Next week will see chickens in the pasture! We still have chicken in the freezer, so if you are looking for flavorful, healthful, juicy chicken, contact us ASAP!!
Sometimes during spring cleaning the staggler birds, like this leftover Thanksgiving turkey get in the way. This fella got himself colored with paint! Good thing he can’t see that it clashes with his head. The boys are planning to raise turkeys for Thanksgiving again this year. They aren’t taking orders yet, but will be soon and it’s good to speak for one by the beginning of July.
Joe and Sam are putting together a bunkbed for the Anyone Can Farm Bunkhouse. We are getting ready for our classes, and for those who want to stay with us during the classes. The boys have been learning a lot of carpentry, drywall, and other building trades in the process. It’s exciting to see things coming together!
Spring gets us outside again. The bikes come out and rides are a family affair. Jim (4) is having fun digging in the sand. Here he commandeered the temporary fence posts and built himself a “horse fence.” When his Dad told him he couldn’t dig in the grass because someone might fall in the hole at night, Jim assured him, “I’ll get them a ladder.”
Mark brought home the first installment of bunkbeds for the Bunkhouse. The guys set them up this morning and they look great! We are excited to have people come and stay with us.
Sam and Joe would like you to think that they worked so hard setting up the new bunkbeds that they had to nap. They report the beds are comfortable and those who stay in the Bunkhouse will appreciate them. Especially after a hard day of making biochar, working in soil, or building a chicken tractor. We still have room in the Biochar, Soils and Permaculture, and Pastured Poultry classes. The Hog Harvest classes are a ways off, but it can’t hurt to plan ahead as that’s a popular class. Sign up today to get your spot!
Wondering what all the hullabaloo is all about? I have several articles in the archives (just search Michigan DNR), and you can read a copy of the Declaratory Ruling for yourself.
Tomorrow (April 30) we will be receiving a handful of layer chicks. If you are interested in any of them, please give us a call or e-mail so we can reserve yours for you.
We will be receiving broiler chicks at the same time. If you can get them same day or next day, we let them go for $1.40/bird.
Our scalder should be fixed by the end of the week, so we’ll be back in the processing mode again very soon.
Let us know how we can help you!
I was just introduced to another under-fire farmer. Montana Jones lives in Canada. She raises Shropshire sheep. At least, she did. Until the Canadian government decided that her sheep, despite their extensive, vitally good health history, might possibly at some time in the future develop scrapies. Their solution was to “depopulate” the 44 pregnant ewes and others on the farm. Montana’s genetics had been carefully preserved since the first Shropshire was brought over from England. This action leaves only about 80-90 Shropshire ewes (purebred, registered animals) in all of Canada. Her website tells the story: ShropshireSheep.org.
She makes a comment about the fact that all we’ll have left in the genetic pool are animals who fit into the industrial food model. That struck a chord for me. Wouldn’t it be nifty if all the animals fit nicely into a neat, large barn sized box. Hmmm… Homogenized animals.
I talked with an ex-dairyman recently about Holsteins. He told me that when he was a boy and even up until he changed careers 30 years ago, you could find white holsteins, holsteins with a wide variety of patterns and sizes, and they were noticeably smaller framed. He added that now they all pretty much look the same and are huge. “But, boy do they milk!” They’ve homogenized the cows! Interestingly, they’ve bred them so that the holsteins actually can not survive and thrive on a grass based diet. They need more protein, so a large amount of grain is required to maintain a healthy animal. Our Jerseys are not so refined–they still do fine on just plain old grass.
We keep saying that Michigan’s “feral pig” law is a front. Right now they say they are after Russian boars and all their cousins (you know, the “feral” ones). But the way the law is worded, they have the power to go after any pig, any time, any where. If you want to know if your pig may be an “old world swine” or a hybrid of a “feral swine,” you consult the Declaratory Ruling. In there you read that if your pig looks like a pig, it’s a hybrid of a Russian boar, old world swine, etc. and is illegal. What is clearly legal? A white pig with a docked tail and clipped teeth who can’t thrive on dirt outside a barn. The pigs must become homogenized.
Cows. Sheep. Pigs. What could be next?
The sun is out this afternoon! Yeah! Tomorrow is predicted to be sunny, warm, and not too breezy.
We’ve been just maintaining on the farm. Planning for spring, looking forward to it, but not able to do too much. Basically, it’s muddy here. The rain is good because we’ve been so dry for so long, but we are ready for sunshine.
The kids have been outside a bit more anyway. Jim went running out in glee one morning because the sun was out (briefly) and the snow dusting had melted off. He was sure it was July! Five minutes convinced him that it wasn’t warm enough for bare feet, shorts, and t-shirt yet. The hens are outside and roaming now, so they have to go on an egg hunt everyday. That’s a fun excuse to get outside.
Sadly, our dogs didn’t realize the hens had moved and didn’t guard them the first night. Something got in and killed 10 of them–about 1/3 of our flock. The next night it got one, but hasn’t been successful since then.
We are waiting for Penny to have her calf. It should be any day. She looks like she’d be happy to have the calf, too! Spring is the time for babies. The beef cows will calve in May. It’s much warmer then, and the cows get the spring flush of grass to help them in the last of their pregnancy and as their milk comes in. That helps them be in good shape going into lactation, bear a well nourished calf, and set a good threshhold for milk production for the calf.
Tomorrow we will be at the Transition Cadillac Earth Day event. There will be a lot of information about gardening, many vendors and demonstrators, and good live music. We are bringing a chicken tractor for demonstration and will have biochar for sale. We are looking forward to talking to folks about the new Buying Club as a way to have the farm’s produce available to families. We’ll also have a table for Anyone Can Farm, so there will be information about that, also.
That green ring is the result of a chemical interaction between the sulfur in the egg white and the iron in the egg yolk. The reaction occurs when the egg is overheated. It doesn’t look pretty but is harmless. Some common suggestions to get nice yellow (or orange if your hens get green in their feed) yolks follow:
- Put the eggs in ice water, or under running cold water, immediately when done.
- Don’t overcook the eggs. Most common method suggested is to put cold eggs in cold salted water. Cover. Bring the water to a boil and then turn off the heat. Let sit for about 15 minutes. Immediately run under cold water. This method prevents overcooking and keeps the eggs from “popping” if there are hairline cracks.
- Salting the water helps with peeling farm-fresh eggs.
- I usually bring the salted water to a boil, shut the heat off, then add the eggs. Let set for 10-12 minutes. Rinse in cold water. This seems quicker, but the eggs do sometimes pop.
- Cook the eggs in a single layer in the pan.
If you are cooking eggs from a local farmer you trust, and especially if the hens are on pasture, don’t be afraid to undercook the eggs just a bit. Heat kills the enzymes in food. Cooking things till “thoroughly done” isn’t always advantageous–you are just killing it twice. Eggs are one of those things. The white should be thoroughly cooked if you have allergies because the proteins in it are harder to digest. The yolk is the part with all the good stuff–the fatty acids and enzymes as well as protein. It’s a package deal, to my mind. Nature gave us both parts to eat and so we should, as a rule. But if you leave the yolk soft, even runny, you preserve the proteins and enzymes for your body to make the most of. Plus, you won’t get that green ring around the yolk.
Mark presents a math lesson for us. We realize he went ultra conservative and didn’t add some numbers back in. Just imagine if he did!
I haven’t updated on the legal situation in a while. Mostly things have been quiet, waiting to get court dates. We still have pigs, though because of financial constraints and the market outlook we culled half our sows in December. Things have been quietly moving along–until a couple of weeks ago.
Mark has started doing daily videos answering questions people have about farming and particular animals. In one he answered a question about heritage hogs. In the description I added that we have weaner pigs (ready to leave the mother) for sale. The Attorney General’s office quickly contacted our lawyers asserting that we can not sell our pigs in Michigan per the Invasive Species Order and wanting assurance that we wouldn’t. Sound reasonable, you may say, but I’d like to clarify a few things.
1) The ISO lists the following as prohibited: “Wild boar, wild hog, wild swine, feral pig, feral hog, feral swine, Old world swine, razorback, eurasian wild boar, Russian wild boar (Sus scrofa Linnaeus). This subsection does not and is not intended to affect sus domestica involved in domestic hog production.” Why do they specify an exception? How do I know if the hogs I’m raising are prohibited or are sus scrofa domestica involved in domestic hog production? What is domestic hog production? Can you have feral hog production, by definition? To answer these questions, the MDNR issued their Declaratory Ruling.
2) The Ruling describes phenotypically what a “Russian wild boar” and a “feral swine” are. They can’t use a genotype or DNA assessment because a DNA sample from a feral, or out-of-the-fence pig is identical to that of an in-the-fence pig. They state that in the Ruling. For real. To tell if my pigs meet the criteria, I have to look at them and compare them to the description. Here’s the description of a “feral pig”:
Identification may include use of one or more of the following characteristics (Mayer and Brisbin 2008):• Bristle-tip coloration:Sus scrofa exhibit bristle tips that are lighter in color (e.g., white, cream, or buff) than the rest of the hair shaft. This expression is most frequently observed across the dorsal portion and sides of the snout/face, and on the back andsides of the animal’s body.• Dark “point” coloration: Sus scrofa exhibit “points” (i.e., distal portions of the snout, ears, legs, and tail) that are dark brown to black in coloration, and lack light-colored tips on the bristles.• Coat coloration: Sus scrofa exhibit a number of coat coloration patterns. Patterns most frequently observed among wild/feral/hybrid types are: wild/grizzled; solid black; solid red/brown; black and white spotted; black and red/brown spotted.• Underfur: Sus scrofa exhibit the presence of underfur that is lighter in color (e.g., smoke gray to brown) than the overlying dark brown to black bristles/guard hairs.• Juvenile coat pattern: Juvenile Sus scrofa exhibit striped coat patterns. This consists of a light grayish-tan to brown base coat, with a dark brown to black spinal stripe and three to four brown irregular longitudinal stripes with dark margins along the length of the body.• Skeletal appearance: Sus scrofa skeletal structure is distinct. Structures include skull morphology, dorsal profile, and external body measurements including tail length, head-body length, hind foot length, ear length, snout length, and shoulder height.• Tail structure: Sus scrofa exhibit straight tails. They contain the muscular structure to curl their tails if needed, but the tails are typically held straight. Hybrids of Sus scrofa exhibit either curly or straight tail structure.• Ear structure: Sus scrofa exhibit erect ear structure. Hybrids of Sus scrofa exhibit either erect or folded/floppy ear structure.• Other characteristics not currently known to the MDNR that are identified by the scientific community. (Emphasis mine.)
The chickens are in full production mode right now. Our twenty or so hens are laying about 20+ eggs a day, and I know the Araucanas are not pulling their weight. Chickens are a great place to start with livestock. They are easy to acquire, easy to keep, and are generally accepted in most urban situations. There are two basic types: broilers and layers.
Broilers are cornish hens crossed with another breed to produce the double breasted, fast growing meat bird. They are not genetically modified, just very hybridized (specialized through breeding). Every now and then we’ll get a genetic throw-back–either one that favors the cornish and stays small or (less often) one that favors the other breed crossed in with less breast meat and a touch of color in the feathers. If you see “cornish hen” in the store, it is no longer a true cornish hen. It is merely these cornish crossed broilers processed at 3-4 weeks of age instead of the 7-9 weeks it takes for a full grown bird.
Laying breeds of chickens have a lighter breast and more dark meat. They grow slower but are meant for egg production, not so much meat production. They make fantastic tasting, super healthy meat, but don’t pack it on like the broilers. They are more aggressive (not necessarily mean, just active) and can forage effectively for food. They can thrive on what they forage, especially if you get an older “heavy” breed (good for eggs and meat).
Here are a few “fun facts” about chickens:
The average hen lays 300 eggs a year.
The record for multiple egg yolks in one egg is nine.
A chicken needs to eat approximately four pounds of feed to make a dozen eggs.
Chickens will lay fewer and fewer but larger and larger eggs as they grow older.
Newly laying hens and menopausal hens will sometimes lay shell-less eggs and misshapen eggs.
Chickens will lay more, larger, and stronger eggs… if they think the day is 28 hours.
The largest recorded chicken egg weighed 12 ounces and had two yolks.
The record for egglaying belongs to a white leghorn that laid 371 eggs in 364 days.
The world record for the most eggs laid in one day is seven.
Americans eat 80 pounds of chicken per capita, which is more than beef at 63 pounds per capita. That translates to about 8 billion chickens a year.
The longest recorded chicken flight was 13 seconds and a total distance of 301. 5 feet.
A Chicken can run about 9 miles per hour, a human can usually manage 12-15 miles per hour.
Chickens have a different alarm cluck for different predators. They have about 200 different vocalizations all told.
A chicken’s heart beats 300 times a minute (about 4-5 times more than a human).
The chicken has been domesticated for 8,000 years.
In 2007, researchers were able to extract small amounts of collagen protein from a 68 million year old Tyrannosaoures Rex leg bone. Further analysis confirmed that the chicken is the closest living relative to the T. Rex.
There are more chickens on earth than humans.
Hens are very protective of their young. Being called a “Mother Hen” is a good thing!
Hens lay eggs just fine without a rooster. Secure hens lay more eggs. A rooster provides protection in a pasture/forage situation.
A laying hen is called a pullet for about the first year of life. Hens typically begin laying eggs at about 20 weeks of age.
Most hens lay for about two years, but can continue at a lesser rate until 3-4 years old. They can live for a couple of years after that.
Hens require light to lay eggs. Decreased winter daylight, as well as temperature extremes, stress, seasonal molting, or lack of proper nutrition can affect how many eggs a hen lays.
China has the largest population of chickens (meat and layers) with nearly 3 billion chickens and represents nearly 45% of world egg production with 30 million metric tons of eggs produced yearly. The U.S. is second with 450 million chickens laying 5.4 million metric tons of eggs, about 8.1% of world wide total.
A broiler chicken’s brainstem is larger than its brain, and its brain and brainstem are smaller than its eyeball.
Come check out how you can have chickens in your backyard from start to finish! Follow this link to Anyone Can Farm: America’s Farm to Fork Academy. The Courses page describes the classes and the Calendar page tells you when we offer the course and has a button to sign up. We hope to see you here!
I just read an article about a new group of genetically modified seeds. The RNA of the seed is changed. The RNA is the switch flipper of the cell. It’s programmed to turn on and off particular cell functions at appropriate times. But Monsanto and its cronies are rewriting plant cell RNA to kill insect pests. That sounds like a noble cause, but there are no long term studies on how that will affect eaters of the plant. There is legitimate concern that the RNA will be intact and can affect your RNA such that your cells will fire and misfire at the wrong times. Imagine the havoc. Judging from how the DNA modifications are working out and from the passage of the Monsanto Protection Rider we could be in for quite an experience.
We grow, eat, and sell real food. It’s good-for-you, body building stuff. Our bounty lately has been eggs. We add alfalfa meal to our layers’ feed through the winter. It helps keep their yolks nice and orange, telling me that there’s green goodness in there. The hens aren’t pastured but it’s the next best thing in our northern climate. Pasture fed chicken eggs have a reputation for being lower in cholesterol, higher in vitamin A, and higher in Omega 3 fatty acids. We work hard to take good care of our hens and eggs so the eggs can be as nutritious as possible.
Enter Easter. The kids love to color eggs. I’ve been reading, though, about the nasty things in food dyes. I believe our bodies are designed to handle a great deal of garbage and process it out. On the other hand, why make it work any harder than necessary–even a good environment presents enough challenges. Then I saw this article about using tea to color eggs. It’s a natural alternative to the dyes. I think we’ll try it!
Moral of the story: keep your food as real as possible. As much as possible, don’t contaminate good food with fake stuff (like the dyes). Real food grows real bodies!
We’ve had a great weekend at the Weston A. Price Foundation Regional Conference. We eat our own food and have worked (yes, it is that sometimes) to eat a healthy diet for years. Last Novemeber at the national conference we learned things about food and eating and health that were new to us. Since putting them into practice–such as bone broth for breakfast–we’ve felt more energetic, stronger in body and clearer in mind. I strongly recommend that everyone check out the website. It’s full of great articles and information. There are many blogs by folks who are writing about the Weston A. Price way of life and how they are making it work. One of those is a great lady from Grand Rapids who has championed our cause, Kelly the Kitchen Kop. She did a lecture on transitioning your family into real food eating. She offers lots of information on her site.
The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is a critical sister organization to the Weston A. Price Foundation. They showed Farmageddon on Saturday evening to help confernce attendees understand that good food is key to good health, but it is under attack at the source. The USDA, FDA, and state agencies are attacking farms and healthful food, preventing knowledgable consumers from getting the products they want. The food from these small farms has harmed no one, yet the government is launching deliberate, measured, punitive attacks on the farmers and their families. One person commented that we’d have more rights growing marijuana or making meth than we do if we sell healthful food. Mark spoke after the movie about our experience with Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and the “feral pig” issue. We have been encouraged by the kind words, generous donations, and sharing of the story from so many people here.
The most common question we get asked is always, “What can we do to help?” Here are our best answers:
1) Call, e-mail, write your Michigan Senators and Representatives. Let them know how you feel on the issue. Be respectful, but they need to hear from their constituants.
2) Same goes for the Governor and the Attorney General. Both have gubernatorial asperations the next time around and need to know that the issue of government, the Constitution, and private property rights are important.
3) Donate to the Legal Defense Fund. It takes money to keep lawyers on staff. The state has all of our tax dollars and lots of time. The strategy is to wait us out and hope we go under or give up. All the bits and pieces from real people add up to a big message that they can’t tread on us–we are an army! Thank-you in advance.
4) Spread the word. This regulation/law is ridiculous, but it is law. The story needs to be told far and wide. People need to know what is going on and that it isn’t pigs in Michigan–it’s freedom to choose, it’s control of your own body, it’s private property rights.
5) Check out Anyone Can Farm. This is the positive angle on the situation. Anyone can grow food, however much it is. We want to see everyone have a “victory garden,” even if it’s a window planter. The victory is our own as we take back the freedom to eat the best way we know how. You can help populate our nation with food producers by coming to a class, or by sponsoring someone to come. It’s a great way to spend a weekend on a working farm, learn something about nutrient dense food, and maybe figure out how you can be a part of this new “green revolution.” Our Indiegogo Challenge is a way to take part and get some great perks.
Thank-you in advance for all the morale support, financial encouragement, and all the other forms of good will. We can make a stand together and strike a blow for freedom.
I’ve heard that smell is closely linked with memory. Ever noticed how that works? You walk in someone’s house or a restauant, take a deep breath, and Grandma comes to mind along with a flood of warm and cozy feelings. Or have you walked past a gentleman and gotten a whiff of a certain cologne, aftershave, or maybe just “old gentleman.” You want to giggle remembering a fun time with a Grandpa who smelled just like that.
One of the participants at our Hog Harvest Days this fall came, in part, for such a reason. He remembered his grandparents preserving pork outside refrgeration, in their cellar, and wanted to learn to do it. He recalled how they boiled the pork–in July by his memory–and rendered the fat. Then they put the pork pieces in crocks, poured the rendered fat over it, covered it, and made him help carry the crocks to the cellar. The smell! He remembered the overwhelming smell of boiling pork in July as horrible! (You can read an account of someone who really did this on the Hillside Homestead blog.)
As she was out and about she saw an Eriobotrya japonica tree. It was covered in ripe fruit. She remembered how her mom, back in Brazil where she was a girl, would make jelly from this fruit every year. It took 2 people peeling the fruit for 4 hours to produce a dozen little jars of jelly. It was young Cristine’s favorite jelly. She was inspired.
She asked the landowner if she could pick the fruit. She carried the buckets home and worked at peeling and cooking them. She’d never done this before, but memory served her well! It was good. She exchanged her little jars for donations and shared the donations with us. This is her message to us, and I pass it on to you:
I am sending you this email to keep you encourage that we can make a lot out of very little with hard work. Never give up!
Today is one of “those” days. Blah. Uninspired. Gray. Snow sifting down and settling on frozen dirt. Dirt. Wish I had some right now.
Two of my boys had a craving for dirt last week. They dug up one of my planters of basil. There’s dirt all over the bench the planter is on. Once I convinced the three and one year old males that my planter is not a sandbox, they decided to dig in our Michigan basement. That was OK until they started carting up treasures from previous owners (a sparkplug, for example). Today they wanted to dig in their outside sandbox since the snow melted off it over the weekend. Jim (3) went out in his jeans, shirt, and tennis shoes. Alas, it wasn’t actually summer out there yet! Frank (18 mo.) was wise enough to heed his mother and put on warm outdoors clothes.
We were in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan this weekend, spending time with Randy and Libby Buchler of Shady Grove Farm. Way up in Marquette, under a couple feet of snow yet, they have dirt. I was jealous. Libby planted spinach and other cold hardy crops Sunday after we left. Hands in the dirt. Lovely, compost rich, fluffy dirt. Randy and Libby already have calouses from double digging the beds–not an easy feat when it’s zero degrees outside days in a row.
Next winter I really want to have a hoop house. We could be eating broccoli, kale, spinach, cabbage, and such cold tolerant veggies fresh all winter! A friend of ours didn’t believe it was possible to grow fresh vegetables in our northern climate without a heating system. It is absolutely possible! We know several people who have fresh food all winter (one runs his CSA year round) using hoop houses with layers of agribon (a type of fabric with varying insulation values) to insulate the plants while maximizing what solar input we have. And dirt. We could have dirt. Maybe then I wouldn’t crave dirt so much. I might even be tired of it. I’d like to find out.
Well, as long as the dirt is still snow covered and frozen, I’ll have to settle for dreaming. And looking forward to April-spring. Maybe I’ll go through the seed catalog and think about french breakfast radishes, Fortex pole beans, peas, and the varieties of sweet corn that I can spread homemade butter on. Oh, yeah. Dirt.
We’ve been enjoying the sun the last couple of days. It seems like this winter has been so dark. I think everyone’s ready for spring, but that’s normal for March. It’s time for the seasons to change.
Yesterday I heard a chickadee singing it’s spring song. The bird thinks spring’s coming.
This weather lately is “for the birds.” It’s cold, windy, icy. Yuck. Sam became my hero this week when he chipped and melted my skis out of a frozen puddle. Who’d have thought that snowbank would turn into a puddle and then freeze in FEBRUARY? Hopefully we’ll tap maple trees for syrup next week. That’s always a sure sign of spring and a sweet way to end winter.
I started thinking about birds this week, though, and ordering chicks for the spring. I’m not really sure I’m ready for the chickens again, but I am ready for warm sun and green grass. I realized I haven’t written much about pastured poultry and why we do it. I did some writing for Freda Mooncotch and her e-book, Defying Age With Food, and thought I’d share some of what I wrote here.
The double breasted broiler chicken is the centerpiece of our farm. This chicken is a hybrid chicken that became popular in the 1960’s, coinciding with the blossoming of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and industrial agriculture. Besides being bred for ease of raising in concentrated barns, these birds were bred for their heavy breast. The industrial health system mantra at that time was to eat low fat. Chicken breast was promoted as healthy. Dark meat was vilified. Science knew better than your taste buds. These chickens were bred for the needs of profit driven industrial agriculture and the new science of healthy eating. On our farm these birds are raised to a ripe age of 8-9 weeks old. They enjoy being in mobile pens from about 3 weeks of age to “maturity.” They get fresh grass and a clean bed every 24 hours, in addition to a grain ration. They do not need routine “subtherapeutic” antibiotics or arsenic appetite stimulants. They are healthy and as happy as these birds get. The grass helps to balance the Omega 3 fatty acids with the Omega 6 fatty acids from the grain so that the meat has a healthy balance—this is sometimes seen as a slight pinkness in the white meat. Since they are outside in the sun, pastured birds are reputed to be higher in vitamins D and E. Their meat is firmer since they actually move around. These birds are naturally lazy and the mobile pens force them to walk a little every day. These birds are the main product off our farm for a few reasons:
1) They grow quickly and economically, yielding a lot of meat compared to carcass (bone).
2) People want to eat boneless skinless breast and tenderloins. These two cuts comprise only 25% of a chicken but people will pay the equivalent of a whole bird to obtain these cuts because they are white and have little to no fat.
3) On the whole, few people know how to cut up a whole chicken, even less what to do with all the parts. We want large portions made easy to prepare. This is a practical issue and a training issue. These birds are bred to be easy to cut up and to yield large portions on the pieces.
This is not the bird Grandma or Great Grandma served for dinner. Ours taste close, according to the older folks who like our chicken, since they are raised in a similar fashion. Heritage chickens (such as Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and other “heavy” laying breeds), however, are hardier and fare much better out on pasture where they have to forage for food. They don’t reach butcher size until at least 24 weeks of age, at least 4 weeks after they reach breeding maturity. They have less meat on their carcass, as a rule, than a broiler at the same weight and have stronger joints that are more difficult to cut. This is important for several reasons:
1) They can consume more grass and utilize what they find to make meat, the diverse diet means a richer mineral profile in the meat.
2) They are mature, resulting in a more developed, better mineralized muscle. This equates to texture, flavor, and health.
3) They have more dark meat. This muscle contains more fat and more mineral nutrition (hence more flavor) than white meat.
4) They are naturally proportioned to an appropriate serving of meat for a meal.
5) They do better with a “slow and low” cooking method. This helps preserve the integrity of the enzymes and protein structure in the meat, making it easy for your body to utilize.
6) Their well mineralized, strong, mature bones make flavorful, rich, healing broth.
1) Look for “pasture raised” or ask specifically if the birds were out on grass. “Free range” or “cage free” are sometimes used and only mean the birds weren’t in tiny cages, but don’t mean they had sunshine, grass, and bugs.
2) Organic is good if you can’t shake hands with grower. Better is if you can ask the producer how they feed their chickens, what they do with sick birds, if the birds are in movable pens on pasture or not, how do they handle the waste/manure (do they ship it or compost it and use it), and how do they process their birds. The more a grower does personally and keeps the whole process in a cycle on the farm, the more invested they are in a safe and sustainable product. A face to face relationship is the best guarantee of food safety and accountability.
3) Invest in knowledge: learn to cut up a whole chicken (we have some helpful youtube videos available: Basic Cuts, and Cutting Up a Chicken). Learn to use all the parts. You can learn how to make boneless skinless breast and thighs, chicken sausage, and rich bone broth.
4) Expect to pay more from a reputable farmer making a living farming than from Wal-Mart. Your tax dollars support Wal-Mart’s suppliers. Integrity has a price. You’ll know what you’re getting at the farm or farmer’s market.
5) If you get a chance to purchase a “heritage bird” or a “stewing hen,” try it. The “heritage bird” is most likely a spring rooster and can be cooked in many ways. A “stewing hen” is a laying hen who has reached menopause. Those birds are good for canning or for soup stock. You’ll never have a better broth than that from a stewing hen. It’s worth the time.
Just a shameless plug: One of the perks offered at our Indiegogo campaign is a free class of your choice. Two other perks feature free on-line courses. Check it out at: Indiegogo: Anyone Can Farm.
Hi all, We just launched the Anyone Can Farm Fundraising page. Please pass this link on to your friends and family. This is our plan to make a difference and help people locally and across the world gain their independence.
You can click on the link or you can send someone the link http://igg.me/at/anyonecanfarm/x/2386273. Thank you all for your support.
Many of you have heard us talk about the solution to the DNR pig problem. Since we’ve also said, “it’s not about pigs in Michigan,” the solution is much bigger than this one piece of legislation that a court will ultimately decide on. The ultimate solution is to get as many people as possible farming. Farming simply means growing carbohydrates or proteins. It’s having a planter of lettuce on your porch. It’s growing a pot of herbs on your windowsill. Maybe you have space for a small garden or raised bed for veggies. Maybe you want to venture into chickens or pigs. Anyone Can Farm.
We need your help. This is a two prong battle, after all. The legal is one prong, and a very necessary one that so many people are enabling us to hold strong. The other is a bigger vision. In order to make this vision available to as many people as possible in a highly effective manner, with hands on classes on farm along with online and DVD offerings, we need your partnership. There are perks along the way, too. This is a vision for giving back, for sharing what we know and the knowledge of other skilled farmers and that’s part of what you can get. We are on our way already (we’ve had classes and made videos this past year) and this Indiegogo project will help us reskill America’s public that much faster. Check out the Indiegogo link at:
Partner. Share. Spread the word. You can be part of the solution. Anyone Can Farm.
I wanted to share with you a few things I’ve written that encapsulate some of my thoughts lately.
This first item is from an action letter but expresses some of our basic issues with the MDNR’s Invasive Species Order and Declaratory Ruling. This is a message to Bill Schutte, Michigan’s Attorney General. He is an elected official.
|1) Bill Schutte claims a platform of constitutionality. This “law” is clearly vague, judging from the number of people who have had to call for clarification and the DNR’s statements that if average citizens don’t understand their liability under the law (the definition of unconstitutional vagueness) they should ask the agency for an arbitrary decision. This law is vague and subjective at best and outright unconstitutional at worst.2) It is clear to the citizens that this administrative law was made in defiance of our elected representatives and in cooperation with big agriculture organizations–to the detriment of the smaller scale agricultural citizens, of which there are thousands. This arrogant defiance of the voters’ voices is of great concern to the electorate.
3) This administrative law and its enforcement is an encroachment on private citizens and their property. The farmers and hunting ranch operators have done all they agreed to do and ensured they have secure fences and healthy animals such that no one else’s person or property will be infringed upon. The administration’s unwillingness to protect the citizens from an overzelous agency is disturbing.
The second item is a thought from a movie. I just watched Le Miserables, and it struck me that the rebellion staged against the government towards the movie’s end relied on the people’s support and the populace standing with the young men. The people did not stand up. One young man said they were beaten down and too fearful. The young men all were killed and the rebellion failed. In our case the people are standing up and it is making all the difference. This not an armed conflict or “rebellion” per se, but the people are waking up, standing up, and saying “don’t tred on me!” The issues I outline to Bill Schutte regarding our pigs in Michigan could apply to various DNR and property cases people have shared with us, to aspects of Obama’s healthcare law, to the raw milk and food sovereignty cases around the country. We must support each other or our Creator endowed rights will be usurped. Thank-you to all who have stood by us in so many ways through our challenge to the Powers.
I like heritage pigs. Increasingly I’m appreciating the heritage breeds of any animal, but tonight I appreciated pigs.
Yesterday morning we had -2 degrees F at sunrise. Today it was around 32. After drizzling and raining this evening, it’s now snowing, blowing, and dropping in temperature. Nasty weather for animals under any circumstance, but we have mama pigs with less-than-week-old babies out in the field. The sows picked a variety of places to farrow (have their little ones). Some chose the portable huts we put out. A couple kicked the boys out of the field shelter. One decided to go out in the open where Mark had placed a straw bale. Four sows teamed up and so we have two groups with their babies together. They’ve been doing OK in the relatively deep straw in the huts. Mind you, there are no heat lamps or pads, the ground was frozen cold before they laid down, and we’ve invested little to no fossil type energy other than the straw bales.
Then today’s weather hit. I was worried about them in the drizzle and rain, but knew Joe had his eye on them. However, icy windy cold is another thing. So, before tucking in the children, I donned my Muck boots, coat, and a solid hat plus a head light and headed out. The snow was the stinging, icy kind, nicely propelled by the wind. I grabbed a couple of straw bales on the way to the pig pasture. The first hut I checked in contained 5 wedged in adults and a bunch of babies sleeping on top of them. The little ones had living heating pads. No straw needed there. The mama in the straw totally outside didn’t appreciate me messing up her nest by shaking 3/4 of a bale over her and fussed at it the whole time I was out there. She wasn’t cold, but I wanted her to have dry bedding. All the other sows were snuggled up with their little oinkers. No one was shivering or looked remotely cold. I dispersed straw to a few that were more exposed just to prevent any problems as the temperature drops toward 12 degrees.
It amazes me continually, after all the years we spent raising pigs of many other non-heritage breeds, how easy these guys are. They only had about 5 or 6 piglets on average, but all of them have survived and are thriving–and from start to finish it’s been with an almost zero carbon footprint. The other pigs required good, tight housing, heat for the babies, and intense grain feeding. The heritage pigs definitely need the food and shelter we provide, but nothing radical. They don’t lay or step on their pigs, shove them out into the cold, or otherwise neglect them. They aren’t prone to parasites and diseases like we struggled with in the hogs that required more care.
One thing I have to point out: these pigs are hardy, but they can’t dig for roots or find other pig food in the swamp right now. They could not do this without the food and shelter/straw we provide for them. These are hardy, heritage pigs–but definitely not “feral.”
Yep, I like our heritage pigs.
The last two weeks have been intense. The weekend before and the weekend after New Years we spent advancing the cause of the farm, of Anyone Can Farm, of a handful of local folks, and of local people who needed some good meat. We had about 15 sows to cull. Several groups of friends–old and newly made–who wanted to help and learn came to help us process them into packages and products. It was a fantastic time of learning for us all. For the folks that helped us, it was a much desired opportunity to learn how to process a hog. One family worked with us both weekends and became fairly proficient at the task by the end. We even had a couple, a gentleman from Germany and a lady from Italy, show up hoping for a farm tour. They got to help cut up carcasses and then take some meat home. It was a fun time. Most of the meat was dispersed through our helpers to people who needed a bit more protein in their freezers. It felt good to honor the life givers of our farm, our sows, in such a manner. A final benefit, one that surprised me, was that it honed our teaching skills such that we are prepared for an Anyone Can Farm opportunity that has arisen. By the intense processing weekends we are better trained to train others in the art of feeding themselves. This is all the law of unintended consequences at work to the positive.
An Egyptian ruler once told his lying, traitorous, murder minded brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” In my last post I outlined the bind we were in and why. We’ve had to, literally, change our business model with our hog market overnight. There is a lot of pressure right now on the support system behind us. The powers that be would like to see us fold. The door on our wholesale market has closed. It’s painful to have to change sometimes. The support we’ve received in visits, cards, e-mails, phone calls, and donations (including literal sacks of feed) from across the country has been overwhelming. I wish I could send everyone an individual thank-you. You have been the cushion that has allowed us to regroup, do what we had to do, and keep going. The fact is, as we’ve worked through this challenge, new opportunities have opened up for us to share the vision with others. I believe that, ultimately, it will work for the good of everyone.
The unintended consequence of the embargo is that we have had opportunities open up to share what we know about turning raw product into great food, stuff that is the backbone of pleasure and survival. The passion behind Anyone Can Farm is to help recover lost knowledge. A couple of generations ago, everyone knew how to ferment cabbage, make butter and drink buttermilk, pluck a chicken, make salt pork or cure hams. This is good food! Not only that, it is the stuff of life, of survival in cases of natural or unnatural events when the electric appliances don’t work. It thrilled us to teach our friends and their kids and a group of 20-something folks how to scald a hog and make bacon that can hang in their kitchen. These are good things. Such good things are not the intention of the Powers That Be. Yet, here we are.
Thank-you to everyone who has helped in any way with keeping the farm going and helping us recover the vision. The more people who know how to feed themselves to any degree and will directly support the people who raise food, the stronger we all become. That’s putting the law of unintended consequences to GOOD use.
Here it is, the day after Christmas. It seems like the holiday just snuck up on us. I have a stack of Christmas letters on my desk waiting to be addressed and sent. The stack of bills is overshadowing the letters. I did my first shopping on the 20th. I think we’ve had one day of sun the whole month of December and everyone is a bit tired and cranky, but almost maintaining. Bring on the cod liver oil (or tuna oil, as is the case for most of my crowd)!!
Mark decided that this morning was the time to castrate the few little guys who slipped through before. They aren’t so little anymore, so it’s a bit of a rodeo. Actually, these heritage pigs are easier to handle once you get your hands on them than the newer breeds. These guys don’t panic when their world is changed like the white pigs do–they are much steadier mentally and don’t stress as easily. On the other hand, they do size up a situation quicker and have their own ideas about things. I was watching Joe and Sam try to get all the weaner pigs into the barn. This involves going up a ramp and through a little door. The pigs do this constantly all day, so that part isn’t new. What is new is all of them doing it at one time during the day. Pigs universally have a penchant for stubbornly refusing to do the one thing you want, at any cost, and in defiance of any reverse psychology you may try. Even with food inside the barn there was a group–mostly comprised of the intact males–who ran back and forth all over the outside corral and refused to go in. The boys have done this countless times, so they had it pretty well coordinated to open the inner gate keeping the inside ones in and letting a few outside ones in each time they ran past. They are amazing (Joe and Sam, that is) to watch work together like that. A couple bigger ones that had to get inside they ended up having to tackle. It’s reminiscent of school playground games like “Red Rover.” Finally both boys landed on a 50 pound pig. Grins signified success as they recovered from their aerobic workout and deposited him inside. Then they came and unloaded the feed I brought home, tossing 50 lb. bags of grain around. As three year old Jim practiced his jumping prowess off the straw bales, I realized what capable young men my little boys have become. Gratifying and wistful all at the same time.
The pig situation deepens. Mark was needing to process a group of our feeder hogs in January and decided to see if they would be OK through the USDA facility we’ve used before or if the vet would reject them. The reason he did this is that the state rejected the health paperwork done for a friend of ours and threatened the license of the vet who certified the pigs as healthy. Once an animal is in a USDA kill facility it can not be released back to the farm. If it can’t go through for some reason (illness, injury, or a quality control issue), it must be disposed of or transferred directly to another USDA facility. This place had done Mangalitsas for us before, but now that our name would flag because of the lawsuit, Mark wanted to be sure he wouldn’t have to pay a “disposal fee” because his pigs may be deemed “feral.” Sure enough, the USDA inspector had a form listing the characteristics, with photos. The processing plant owner said Mark’s pigs could be tagged on the kill floor, and so he’d rather not deal with the problem. It would be a major problem for the plant and for Mark, and would cost them both considerable time and money. The fellow wasn’t being mean or unreasonable–just practical. In both cases the state is making our veterinarians the enforcers by threatening their license to practice if they break rank. What is also disconcerting about both situations is they involve agencies other than the DNR, agencies that deal with farms that raise animals for USDA slaughter: the Michigan Dept. of Ag and the United States Dept. of Ag. Wait a minute, you may say, the DNR simply wants to stop the flow off the hunting preserves, they aren’t after traditional type farmers. HA! Only a farm such as ours uses a USDA processing facility. Hunting operations use custom exempt shops that do animals for the owner’s use. Farms such as ours sell live animals across state lines for other farms to use for food and breeding purposes. Hunting operations do not sell or move live animals off the property. So, this was all rather upsetting. Our farm is basically embargoed. We can raise all the pigs we want, but can not move them out to our market. That cuts off cash flow, effectively starving the farm financially and the pigs practically. In his last video, Mark compared this action to the Soviet blockade of Berlin post-WWII. They attempted to gain control of the entire strategic city forcibly by controlling the food and fuel the people could have. Bold American and British fliers provided about 4700 tons of food and fuel to the destitute inhabitants of the German capital and the Soviet hold was broken. We, the citizens of this country must stand up and stand together. The purposes of this government are in defiance of the people’s expressed will. This administration seems to go that way more often than not (reference the Canada to Detroit bridge issue and the handling of the “right to work” legislation). This has all sparked a lot of discussion about what to do with the pigs, examination of any possible options, and several sleepless nights for the feeder of the pigs. Not exactly “holiday spirit” stuff.
Every year brings its challenges. Last Christmas Mark had a broken leg and Keith had a broken arm. This year we’re all healthy. Today we’re enjoying some much needed sunshine. For Christmas the big boys got a weightlifting set and a punching bag. That kept everyone busy on Tuesday. Yesterday the kids went dogsledding for the afternoon and downhill skiing for the night. While they were away Jim and I started making cookies. Unfortunately, I used all the eggs for scrambled eggs in the morning and the hens took a break for the day, so no eggs. That’s part of farm life–the seasons. This is the season for slowing down, resting, and preparing for the summer’s production. Life’s not easy, but not all bad. The thought that is developing for me is that the world seems, on so many levels, to be getting exponentially more chaotic and potentially dangerous. Fear is the byword. Not only does it sell merchandise, but it can be used to manipulate individuals and groups. It is an energy and health sapping force. Yet it’s easy to be there. It seems that the opposite is Peace. Not roses and beautiful sunsets, but the little bird resting in a nook with a gale blowing around it. It’s Peace that comes from something bigger than any of us and is loosly or not at all related to our actual circumstances. It’s a good thing and a thing to be sought after in these times of ours.
We wish you, our readers far and wide, Peace in 2013.