Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Our first dual champion!

Scandal, one of our Nigerian dwarves, won her second and third legs of her permanent ADGA championship this weekend, making her a dual champion since she already finished her championship in AGS. This picture was taken after she won the Saturday show. We couldn't find a very nice place to take a picture because they had several inches of rain the night before.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Free-range chicken eggs

Just came across this link on the Web:
Supermarket vs. free-range chicken eggs
I actually read this article a couple years ago in the magazine. I'm glad they put it on the Internet, since it's easier to share with people. I need to create a permanent list of links on this page. There is a chart that shows you how free-range eggs are healthier than supermarket eggs.

I also was alerted to this cool article in The East Bay Express in California. It gives all the details about having chickens in your backyard, including the local ordinances for those who live in the Oakland, Calif. area. Although I'm glad that they have the article, I wonder if it makes it sound more difficult than it really is?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Chicken activist

As I continued research for my sermon yesterday morning, I found a great article that had just been published in the Seattle Times about a woman in Kent, Washington, who has three hens in her backyard to provide her family with eggs and her garden with manure. Life was good until a persnickety neighbor called the city and said Tami Jackson was in violation of the city codes that ban residents from raising chickens on lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. Jackson and several of her neighbors had no idea it was illegal to have chickens in their yards. It sounds like Jackson has been successful in convincing most of the city council to amend the code to allow residents to have three chickens if their lot is 5,000 square feet and one additional chicken for each additional thousand square feet of land.

People frequently ask me if I grew up on a farm. No, I didn't. I did, however, grow up with chickens in my backyard. We lived in a small Texas town, and since my parents had always lived on a farm until I was three years old, it was not a big deal to them to have chickens in our backyard. We usually had 10-20 hens, and we sold eggs to our friends and neighbors. I grew up thinking that all chickens ran around in grass and breathed fresh air. I was in my mid-20s when I learned about factory farming. At that point, I wished I could have my own chickens again, but since my husband was in the Navy, and we frequently moved -- and we lived in cities -- I didn't think it was possible. Our egg consumption was cut to almost zero. We only used eggs for baking and an occasional quiche. Unlike most children, mine did not grow up eating eggs. A year before we finally moved to the country, I found a little farm where I could buy fresh eggs, and I was thrilled.

Now that I have chickens, I'll never be without them again. Even when I'm old and gray, and even if I'm in a wheelchair, I'll still have at least three or four hens. They're not any more difficult to raise than a cat -- they're easier than a dog -- and the reward of their delicious eggs is well worth the effort.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Kindred spirits -- or not

Tomorrow I'll be giving a sermon at church. My theme is Aldo Leopold's quote,

[T]here are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

So, I'll be talking about what you learn living on a farm. As I am preparing for this, my mind keeps hearing people say, "Well, that's great for you, but most people can't move to a farm" or "don't want to move to a farm," and so on. Remembering the articles I've read over the past few years about people who feed themselves from a 1/4 acre city lot, I wondered if I could find an article like that. So, I went to Google News -- and I found dozens of articles about such people -- all posted recently, as in the past few hours and days. I've been enjoying Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle over the past couple weeks and feeling like I'm not so weird for wanting to grow my own food -- and thinking how cool it is that a best-selling author who could live anywhere and buy whatever food she wants has chosen to grow her own as much as possible. Now, I see that Barbara and I are not all that unusual!

Take for example, this family in Wroughton, England, who has their own vegetable garden, four chickens, and a duck to help feed their family fresh produce and eggs. Yes, ducks lay eggs, and yes, you can eat them. I am personally not fond of duck eggs because they have huge orange yolks, but my husband enjoys them.

And there is this family in Sydney, Australia, that has a very "green" house with solar panels, rainwater collection for drinking and washing, reclaimed wastewater, and chickens who lay the eggs for their family.

There is a couple that moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, 12 years ago to a small farm where they now have multitudes of vegetable and flower gardens, an apple orchard, 40 chickens and a few other animals.

And all three of these stories have been published in the last 24 hours!

Another interesting pair of articles recently published started with Chicken Killing Day, an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about butchering chickens at a local sustainable farm that sells meats to local customers. In Readers aren't neutral about chicken killing, the newspaper printed readers' responses to the article, which included meat-eaters who were "disgusted, appalled, horrified" and so on that the newspaper had printed the article. Some were upset that the article was published in the food section. I have no problem with vegetarians who find the subject disturbing -- that's why they're vegetarians! I do have a problem with meat-eaters who are offended when someone mentions that they are eating a dead animal. What do they think they're eating? If they have a problem with eating a dead animal, then they should become a vegetarian. It's not that big a deal.

Our family became vegetarian in January 1989 after I read an article about factory farming. I couldn't live with the idea that my food choices were contributing to the suffering of an animal -- and I don't mean the killing. Killing a factory-farmed animal is just about the nicest thing that is ever done to them. It's their horrible life that's immoral. We did not move to the country with the intent to end 14 years of vegetarianism. But one day a hen was hit by a speeding 4-wheeler on the road in front of the house. It was not squashed, and after it had died in my arms, I said to my husband, "You know, this is perfectly good meat. It seems a shame to just bury her." We knew she'd lived a happy life up until that 4-wheeler came along, and she was healthy, so I pulled out one of my books that gave us instructions on how to butcher a chicken.

Then we realized that if we let the hens hatch their eggs, half of them will become roosters. We wound up with about 27 roosters and 40 hens, and since roosters only have one thing on their mind 24/7, and one rooster can "service" about 12-20 hens (according to my books), you can imagine that my poor hens were literally run ragged with less than a 2:1 hen-to-rooster ratio. Many of the hens no longer had feathers on their backs due to the constant mating. In addition to that, the roosters would frequently fight with each other.

We realized something had to be done, so we took all of the roosters except two, to the chicken processing plant in Arthur, and we came home with chicken in plastic packages, looking a lot like it did at the store -- except ours had longer legs and smaller breasts because they're all heritage breeds. There were also some dark pin feathers on our chicken because nature makes chickens in all different colors, not merely the white-feathered variety that is used in factory farming (which creates the nice pretty carcass in the store).

Today, I still don't eat commercially-raised meat. In fact, since I've been living out here, I have become even more adamant that factory farmed meat is unhealthy, inhumane, and unethical. When I receive chicken catalogs that offer to "protect" my investment by debeaking day-old chicks, I am reminded why I became a vegetarian 18 years ago.

So I have absolutely zero tolerance for meat eaters who don't want to know that they are eating dead animals. But I know that some people are content to go through life sleepwalking, and like most people who are in a deep sleep, they'll get really angry at anyone who tries to wake them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Three days ago, I was walking in an area that I thought was nothing more than overgrown weeds and bushes. In fact, we'd been dumping manure in that area for the past two years. Then something red caught my eye only a few feet from the ground -- then something black and shiny. I squealed, "Oh!" as I thought I had discovered wild raspberries. As I looked for the source of the berries though, I discovered they were growing on a rather short tree that had low-hanging branches. I called Mike over to take a look at my discovery. He quickly popped a berry into his mouth and said, "It's not sweet." That surprised me, so I plucked a berry off its branch and popped it into my mouth and quickly came to the conclusion that either he had a different definition of sweet or he had picked a bad berry. It was delicious -- and unlike anything I had ever tasted. After a bit of research, I learned that it was a mulberry tree. Mike was disappointed that the song about the mulberry bush had such a glaring error in it.

The tree sits in a trench that goes from the east pasture to the pond. We doubt that it's a natural trench. I suppose it could have been a creek at some point in the past, but it just starts in the middle of nothing, so I don't know where the water source would have come from. Anyway, we mowed around the tree so that we could easily get to it for picking, although there is this issue of the trench that is a foot or two deep, where we can't mow, and if we were to step down in there, we wouldn't be able to reach the branches, so that does make picking berries a bit of a challenge. Still, I was able to pick more than a cup of berries two days ago, and this morning there are lots more ripe ones!

Today we had mulberry muffins for breakfast. I used my chocolate chip muffin recipe and replaced the chocolate chips with mulberries. I also used all white sugar, rather than half brown sugar. It made a perfect breakfast muffin because it wasn't overly sweet. I always feel kind of guilty for eating chocolate chip muffins for breakfast because they taste more like a snack than a food that is meant to get you moving in the morning.

Gooseberries won't be ripe for another month, and then we'll be eating gooseberry muffins for breakfast. I love the idea of eating wild foods, because they are organic and free!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Geese take on the world!

Did anyone out there in the blogosphere know that geese love tree bark -- especially the tree bark of newly planted fruit trees? [cue primal scream] Yes, the geese are chewing the bark off the fruit trees we recently planted. The little stinkers also ripped up my watermelon seedings through the floating row covers that I put over them to protect them from the insects (which I thought would be their only predators). The only goose (female) of the five (yes, four are ganders) laid another seven eggs and is now setting again. I was happy about this a week ago, but now I am wondering why I want more geese!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Time to rant! I had a conversation with a neighbor last night who said that he noticed I finally got my sheep sheared. I said yes, and he said, "There's no money in that, is there?" I tried to say that there was, but then he started talking about how it was great back when they got paid $2.50 per POUND for wool, but then the bottom dropped out of the market, and you can't make any money on it now.

A couple weeks ago when I was at Garfield Farm, a woman was telling me that the 4-H kids in her county sell their wool to a co-op for 23 cents a POUND, and when she tried to tell the extension agent that she'd buy the kids' wool for more, the woman wanted to hear nothing about it.

Last year, I sold out of my Shetland roving at $1.50 per OUNCE, and it seems that the price has gone up since then, so I'll be selling it for $2 an OUNCE this year. When I attempted to tell my neighbor last night that once you process your wool into roving, you can get $32 a pound for it, he quickly said, "Well, that's a winner!" turned on his heel and left before I could say another word. He clearly thought I was crazy.

This morning, I was telling my husband at breakfast that our neighbor probably thought that my comment was about as crazy as saying that you could make $100 an hour working at Wal-Mart. I started thinking about it, and it's even crazier than that! Imagine that they are paying 23 cents an hour to work at McDonald's, and Wal-Mart is paying $23 an hour. Where would you work? I don't think it's a stretch to say that NO one would work at McDonald's for 23 cents and hour when they could 100X as much money working at Wal-Mart. But of course, I'm not crazy, because I do sell my wool for that much. I sold out of every last little fiber last year at $1.50 per ounce ($24 per pound)!

Today I posted a message on my sheep group about this, and several people said that they have had the same conversation plenty of times. Yes, I have to clean the wool and have it carded (or card it myself) to sell it at that price, but I look at the 20 fleeces in my living room right now and think: I could sell them at 23 cents a pound to some co-op and make a whopping $25 -- if they would be willing to buy colored wool! Or I could spend a few hours skirting them and a few more hours washing them. It will cost me $6 a pound to have the wool carded ($360 total for 20, 3# fleeces -- they weigh less after they're washed), and then I have to post it on my website, which costs $6 a month, and I can sell all of that wool for $2,000. Hmm ... is it worth the extra $1,615 to do that work and sell directly to the consumer? Which one would you choose?

We spent this morning preparing our fleeces to be washed.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Wisconsin goat show

We went to a goat show in Wisconsin today. We were hoping Carmen would win, because she already has two legs in AGS (a goat registry -- like AKC is a registry for dogs), so a third win would make her a master champion, and since she already has her advanced registry milk star, she would be an ARMCH. There are not a lot of ARMCHs in the goat world. Although she did win "best udder," she did not win grand champion. That honor went to Caboose, a goat owned by Margaret. Caboose now has two legs, so she also needs only one win to finish her permanent championship. This picture is of Carmen, because she was in the best mood for pictures. Caboose, however, was in the best mood for prancing around the ring looking like a champion!


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