Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tractors never do this

Doc bolted right for me, as Bobby ran for cover and made me wonder if I should do the same thing.  He'd never been aggressive before, but...

Just as I was contemplating my fate, Doc spun 180 degrees and came to a screeching halt, presenting me with his enormous fanny just inches from my face.   Planted firmly above his tail was a small bird horsefly which I promptly slapped.  It made a satisfying "crunch" as the blood he'd been sucking splattered all over my arm.   Doc thanked me and looked quite relieved. 

This is fly season, which makes me glad I'm not a horse.  The horseflies around here approach 1.5" long, and seem to be especially bad this year.  The horseflies don't bother people too much, unlike the smaller deerflies that like to play "trampoline" on the back of my head.  They seem to be genetically programmed to only land in this spot, such that you never actually see them.  Even if the sun's not shining, I always curse myself for forgetting to put on a hat when they're around.

I had lots of things figured out before we started farming that haven't worked out too well in practice.  One of those things was the promotion of dung beetles.  Why are dung beetles such a big deal?   Because they bury cowpies and displace the face-fly maggots who otherwise inhabit them and grow up to harass every animal on the farm.  Most people unknowingly kill the beetles with wormers such as Ivermectin, and have never seen them.

I was quite excited last year to discover that we do have dung beetles, such as the rainbow scarabs shown here.  Tunnelers like these are the best, since they actually dispose of the cowpies by digging tunnels underneath and then packing them with egg filled dung balls.  Another type is the "dweller", which just lives out a life of bliss while crawling through the food it likes best.   I'm sure their world is very much like the "Land of Chocolate" envisioned by Homer Simpson.

I've done my best to avoid the use of dung-beetle killing wormers, but it just doesn't seem to do the trick.  They're around, but not in enough numbers to bury many cowpies.  Last year I blamed it on the arrival of Doc and Bruce (our draft horses), who had undoubtedly been wormed.  This year, Bobby (our driving horse) and Shasta (our newest cow) could be to blame.  Maybe the beetles will take over next year, but I'm not holding my breath.

We've got some organic fly spray, which is just a bunch of essential oils (cedar, cinnamon, thyme, etc) blended with mineral oil.  Doc knows what it's for, and lets me spray him down with it.  Bruce, on the other hand, runs away from me like a two-thousand pound sissy when he sees the sprayer.  The cows run away from the sprayer as well.  It ain't cheap, but it does seem to work for the animals who hold still long enough to let me douse them.  The conventional sprays all use permethrin/pyrethrin, which are actually quite dangerous neurotoxins, so I've been avoiding them. 

Let's all hope for a nice early killing frost!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Piggies

We have two hogs now, both purchased from an Amish family whose chicken butchering services we've been using.  It was a very hot day when they arrived, so we showed them the water right away.  This one knew just what to do with it.

Hogs are omnivores just like people, and are known for eating people who pass out or die in their pen. Our hogs don't seem to feel the need to wait for either event, and are both interested in eating me no matter how lively I am (they gnaw on my leg when I'm in their pen). So I guess we're even, now that we both want to eat each other.  Hopefully I'll eat them first.

Our broiler chickens have all gone to Freezerland now. We're quite happy with the breed, a newer variety called "Freedom Rangers". They dressed out to a nice 4-5lbs at 11 weeks, and are quite tasty. Although one kicked the bucket (heart attack?), we had no health problems with them whatsoever, aside from the few I ran over with the portable pen.

The more common Cornish Cross (the meat bird raised in the US, aka "Great White Mutant") is known for twisted feet, high mortality rates, and poor foraging ability. But they also finish out in 8 weeks, which means much lower feed costs. We may try those next year just to see how our experience compares.

While I'm on the subject of home-raised chickens, I read recently about a Utah family whose daughters were found to have extremely high levels of arsenic, well above what's considered safe according to the EPA.  How did they get it?   It turns out that their family was using conventional chicken feed for their backyard flock of layer hens, which was essentially the same feed being used by comercial poultry growers.  The commercial poultry growers now add ARSENIC to their feed, achieving the same increase in growth rates that poultry growers have been getting with antibiotics placed in the feed. 

So guess what?   Eat any "regular" grocery store or restaurant chicken lately?   Not only are you getting your RDA of arsenic, but you're very likely getting a dose of FORMALDEHYDE, which is also used in poultry feed as well as in "sanitizing solutions" applied directly to the meat. 

So let's see here... that same old chicken you buy at the grocery store now has:  antibiotic resistant bacteria, arsenic, and formaldehyde (a known carcinogen) in addition to the usual load of salmonella and campylobacter (66% of all grocery store chicken has one or both types of these infectious bacteria).  In addition to that, conventionally raised chickens are being fed a diet of corn and soy, both of which are most likely genetically modified to produce their own toxins, as well as being heavily sprayed with endocrine disruptors like Atrazine (60% of the US corn crop gets this) which are known to cause cancer as well.  Anyone wanna go to KFC?

Arsenic in your chicken is yet another fine example of corporations displaying psychopathic behavior, as is very well documented in the movie "The Corporation".   If you haven't seen it, go and rent it.  It's well worth watching.

While you're gnawing on that chicken leg, let's talk about what makes these corporations behave the way they do.  That's also your fault, btw.   You know that IRA or 401k you have?   The one that has recovered to about 75% of where it was back in '07?  Yeah, that's it.

Let's say you've got a couple stocks and a handful of mutual funds.  If the funds are anything like the mutual funds offered by my employer's plan, they're full of morally and ethically challenged companies like Monsanto, Halliburton, Wal-Mart, ConAgra, and Exxon. 

You've invested in these companies, which makes you their master.  Only you don't really exert any control over them.  You're not actively involved in their management, so you exert no moral or ethical pressure.  You're really just there for one reason, which is to get a little money.  Sure, you may want them to act morally, and within the confines of the law.  But you're really just there for the cash, and these corporations are designed by law to provide it for you.  Whenever a decision is made that will affect your bottom line, they have no choice but to select the option which they believe will result in the greatest return on your investment.  They do need to follow the law (or at least not get caught if they don't), but there's no requirement for them to behave ethically.

And really, it's not that hard for them to follow the law when they often write it themselves.   The congressfolk they bribe lobby usually don't have much of a problem with the industry writing its own laws.