Last Friday we were driving from Durango to Silverton and Ouray (on an incredibly scenic road–if you are in the area, do it), and just north of Durango we saw a sign for James Ranch Market: Open Saturday. It being mid-April, farmers market-type places are in short supply, so we happily returned the next day to check out the James Ranch offerings. It’s a gorgeous property, with rolling green fields dotted with cows, a mobile chicken coop, picnic tables, and a little burger hut serving their own beef and cheese, in addition to the shop selling the farm’s products. We were disappointed that we’d already had breakfast so didn’t get to try a burger, but we did buy some ground beef, flank steak, and eggs, and strolled the grounds hoping to spot some baby animals.
James Ranch raises beef cows on a 100% grass diet with no chemicals or hormones. The beeves (a new word to me since spending time out West and I love it) spend their entire lives with the family herd in a stress-free atmosphere. The dairy cows and goats also live on grass, or rather leaves, bark, and shrubs for the goats. Pigs are new to the farm, living in herds on pasture, able to root and wallow like pigs do. Chickens are pastured too, happily eating fly larvae from cow pies to keep the fly population in check–and they have a guard donkey to protect them from predators!
The James family practices sustainable agriculture in preserving soil and water quality, and believes in transparency in farming: they encourage consumers to visit the farm to see where the meat, eggs, and milk come from and how the animals are treated, and if you have questions about the animals or the meat, they are happy to answer them. It’s how a farm should be!
Hello from London! Monday puzzle: can you find the theme in the following images?
If you were clever enough to figure out the puzzle, you’re clever enough to donate to the Kickstarter for BuyingPoultry:
BuyingPoultry.com will take the guesswork out of choosing the most high-welfare and sustainable products. Our free buying guide—available via the web and on your favorite mobile devices—is going to list every poultry producer and poultry certification (organic, free range, cage free, etc.) in America, and will tell you how they treat their animals. With BuyingPoultry.com you will be able to see who’s best and who’s worst in the United States, and who’s best and who’s worst in your local grocery store. We’ll list what each company can do better and make it easy for you to add your voice to the cause.
Most people eat chicken without knowing that poultry endure the worst conditions of all food animals. Help BuyingPoultry get the word out by supporting their campaign, and help yourself find ethical poultry in your area!
Saturday’s purchase was from Liberty Farm and included an unusually large egg. Sure enough, when I cracked it open–
two yolks! It was (they were?) delicious. But why do double-yolk eggs occur? They’re usually produced by young hens with immature reproductive systems that release two yolks at once. Less often, stress could make an older hen could pop out a double-yolker. Double-yolking can be hereditary.
For a household of only two humans, we go through A LOT of eggs, but this was my first double-yolk experience. In fact, double-yolk eggs are quite rare: apparently, the probability of getting a two-yolk egg is 1/1000, but I couldn’t find an explanation of that number and what it takes into account. One would think the relative probability of finding a double-yolker in a carton of local, small-farm eggs would be much higher than finding one in a carton of graded commercial eggs, because the USDA grading and sorting process typically excludes these abnormal eggs.
I read that finding a double-yolk egg is good luck. Seems it’s also good luck for the chicken, as the layer of your lucky egg is more likely to be a local, small-farm hen, and good luck for the farmer who sold you the lucky egg and pockets your cash. Everybody wins when you buy local eggs!
I recently finished Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin. She discusses what different types of animals need to be happy, and how to improve the living conditions of pets, livestock, zoo animals, and wildlife. Below are some of her thoughts on chickens and other poultry. Read cow thoughts here, and pig thoughts here.
Chickens and Other Poultry
The industry has created chickens that have chronic pain in order to get birds that grow at the far outer limits of what is biologically possible… The other problem is that modern broiler chickens have been bred to have stupendous appetites so they’ll grow super-fast and reach market weight as soon as possible… These chickens have to be kept on a strict diet just to maintain normal weight… These birds have low welfare no matter what you do. If you let them eat all they want, they have bad welfare and if you don’t let them eat all they want, they also have bad welfare… The industry is going to have to breed parent stock with smaller appetites. There’s no other way to fix the problem. (p. 219)
Today, only a handful of companies provide all of the commercial layers and broilers around the world, which has greatly narrowed the gene pool. This has created a risky situation because genetically similar animals are vulnerable to the same diseases. (p. 222)
How to improve chicken welfare: The first thing you have to do is raise consciousness. (p. 222)
Wendy’s is the one chain that has a shot at changing the US chicken industry because they buy chicken from over twenty-seven slaughter plant complexes instead of only four or five because they use standard cuts of chicken. Wendy’s can throw a plant off the approved supplier list and still have enough chicken to supply their restaurants. They’re doing an excellent job auditing the handling at their suppliers. (p. 226)
Unfortunately, even when you combine Wendy’s twenty-seven plants with the plants supplying Burger King and McDonald’s, which also audit their suppliers for welfare, you’re still auditing only 30 percent of the poultry complexes compared to 90 percent of the beef industry. That’s not enough. The other 70 percent of the plants sell to supermarkets that either do not audit or have auditing programs that are less strict. (p. 227)
The question is: Do chickens need to do natural, hard-wired behaviors in order to have good welfare? Or can they live happily without some of these behaviors? (p. 231)
Chickens may not have as strong a need for novelty as other animals. If that’s true, it’s all the more reason for the industry to give chickens simple enrichments like string devices. A little goes a long way with a chicken. Laying hens have the poorest welfare of all the farm animals. If we can make their lives better by giving them simple pleasures inside their cages and pens, we have to do it.
Last week Haute Pasture was on vacation in the Caribbean. We cooked half our meals, and had two grocery stores to choose from when doing our provisioning for the week. Neither store seemed to be on the local/organic/sustainable bandwagon. Despite the fact that chickens could be found wandering the streets in many places, our grocery store egg option was this:
Factory farmed eggs that travelled from far away. I visited the Hillandale Farms website hoping to at least read some marketing lip service regarding caring about the well-being of the chickens, but alas, there’s nothing.
So yes, I willingly ate factory farmed eggs that were shipped a long distance. What made it worse was I had just gotten to the chapter on the treatment of chickens and other poultry in Temple Grandin‘s book Animals Make Us Human.
The chickens chapter details the horrors she found when she first started working to improve the living conditions of factory farmed poultry. I recommend reading it, but not while you’re eating factory farmed eggs.
It’s a good read if you’re interested in animal behavior, including dogs, cats, and horses, as well as livestock. I’ll write a more formal review when I finish. And yes, the eggs I just made for breakfast are local and from pasture raised hens.
Guest post from dear friend Cheenius, who got political last night to fight for the right to keep chickens in her backyard. Go Cheenius!
Cheenius likes to stay active politically from time to time, and this evening she made it to Albemarle County’s Planning Commission meeting. Why? Because the topic was urban agriculture, and like all HP readers, she knows that favorable zoning is crucial to the local food and sustainability movements. Andy Sorrell, Senior Planner for Albemarle County, gave a thorough report to the 10 commissioners on pros and cons and how other cities and counties are handling this issue. Then the commissioners gave some initial thoughts before opening it up to the public. Cheenius, as a gardener, beekeeper, AND chicken-keeper, felt compelled to get up in front of the microphone and shout out: “MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR!” Well, actually, not quite. She thanked the planners and the commissioners for moving urban agriculture forward, and said that they seemed fully capable of hashing out the details, but that they should keep in mind that if they want to impose maximum hen numbers, chickens are flock animals so they should really keep the number at 4 or more. Also, since the county is strained for staffing, requiring permits seems like a waste of time, when you can just have reasonable regulations that can be enforced as needed. After the standing ovation (I can’t rule out that that was only in Cheenius’ head), she sat down and realized that if there isn’t a clear zoning mandate now, then possibly she’s currently in violation on all three counts of gardening, beekeeping and chicken-keeping. She considered running for the door, but decided that would draw even more attention to her lawlessness. Instead, she’s confident the commissioners will ultimately do the right thing when it comes to letting county residents grow their own food. Initial language they’re looking at adding to the County’s Comprehensive Plan:
“Urban Agriculture Objective: Support local food production and consumption through the use of urban agricultural practices as a means for increasing access to healthy, local, and affordable foods and encouraging the productive use of vacant land.”
Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This? by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times tells the horrifying story of Kreider Farms, which was recently exposed by a Humane Society undercover investigation. The article describes the dirty, crowded, rodent and fly infested barns where hens are raised and argues that even chickens, who don’t display much personality, should be exempt from cruelty.
I argue that chickens have plenty of personality. I submit the following as evidence:
Guest chickens quickly sized up the threat level presented by Dog, and acted sassy toward him to the point of stealing treats from under his nose.
Guest chickens learned that the humans came through this door and rushed it whenever it opened. They would have come into the house if allowed.
Chickens are hilarious. I’m not sure how anyone who has spent time watching chickens putter around a yard could think they don’t have personalities, or could eat a factory farmed egg or chicken meat product.
The Fall 2011 issue of ASPCA Action describes a July agreement between United Egg Producers (UEP), representing the owners of 80% of the US laying hen population, and animal welfare groups, in which the UEP pledged to support (yet-to-be introduced) legislation phasing-out of battery cages for hens.
A wire cage, measuring no more than 16 inches wide, in which four or five hens are housed. These cages are lined up in rows and stacked several levels high on factory farms. This system of production has been outlawed by countries in the European Union.
Hens in these cages are so cramped that they can’t extend their wings, and the discomfort can lead them to attempt stress relief by fighting. Factory farmers often use debeaking to curb the damage done by these miserable birds. Again, from the ASPCA glossary:
Debeaking [is] a process that involves cutting through bone, cartilage and soft tissue with a blade to remove the top half and the bottom third of a chicken’s, turkey’s or duck’s beak. This measure is taken to reduce the excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen among stressed, overcrowded birds in factory farms.
Let’s hope the ASPCA and other farm animal welfare groups can push Congress to enact legislation quickly to improve conditions for laying hens and other factory farm animals.
Everybody can help to make a difference, every day, through small choices and lifestyle changes that can have big impacts to the general health and well-being of the planet.
While wandering around Hong Kong, looking for a Pret in Central, Mr. HP and I came upon a woman selling eggs and displaying this:
She didn’t understand my questions, but gave me a flyer for Kadoorie Farm. It’s too far from downtown to visit on this trip, like the Singapore goat farm, but it’s a great educational resource for the city-folk, and I hope it gets many visitors.
Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) raises chickens in a healthy living environment. In 2004, we adopted “natural” poultry farming practices. We care about animal welfare and treat our chickens with dignity. They are free to roam, enjoy fresh air in their living area and can stay outdoors. We do not use antibiotics or growth hormones. This is different from ‘factory-farms’ where large numbers of animals are tightly packed, crowded together. We believe a healthy environment is critical for bringing up strong and healthy animals. We have also set up a waste management system to recycle organic resources generated from our poultry into compost for use in organic farming of vegetables and fruits.
For the past 50 years, KFBG has worked to improve livestock farming. In the early history of the Farm, one of our main goals was to help local farmers by raising and supplying quality livestock, namely, chickens and pigs. Today, we still keep a family of 11 pigs as a heritage display and maintain a natural poultry farming system with about 2,000 chickens.
The farm has walking trails, educational displays, a cafe, flower and vegetable gardens, an aviary, and a pig sty, in addition to the chicken farm. Sounds like a lovely place for locals to spend a few hours enjoying the environment and learning about responsible consumerism.
(Bonus: while researching this post, I learned there’s a Pret only 2 blocks from my hotel!)
Haute Pasture has been busy preparing for a trip to Asia. While we are slacking on the real posts, here are some headlines:
‘We Support Agriculture’ combats animal rights initiatives in Nebraska: A new political action group, formed by the Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Poultry Industries, Nebraska Pork Producers Association and the Nebraska State Dairy Association, is organizing to protect themselves from regulations, such as the banning of gestation crates.