Monday, December 17, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
You can find out more at the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) at the Deliberate blog in a post dating from April of this year. This blog has some interesting information. There is apparently $500 grant available to help you implement this system. A company called Global Animal Management which will provide you with a turnkey package in this arena is also apparently linked part and parcel of the pharmaceuticals industry. Hmmmm. I am leary of the connection. Additionally, the existence of a grant implies that there will some cost to implementation. Probably one I really wouldn't want to bear.
For information about feedlots and the agro-industrial methods, I refer to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and a book called The Hundred Year Lie. I cannot recall the author at the moment. Both books are available from Amazon or at your local library. I also recommend reading through Joel Salatin's website http://www.polyfacefarms.com/ for a description of sustainable pasture management.
Also check out http://www.nonais.org/ This website contains articles about a host of applications of a Radio Frequency Identification, called RFID, including human implantation, etc. It is hosted by another small farmer in Vermont. Today's post notes that the 2007 Farm Bill has passed the Senate. On the right-hand side of this site there is an extensive list of links related to this issue.
The final word is, of course, from the USDA at www.usda.gov/nais which states that the purpose of the NAIS as follows:
To protect the health of U.S. livestock and poultry and the economic well-being of those industries, we must be able to quickly and effectively trace an animal disease to its source. When a disease outbreak occurs, animal health officials need to know:
- Which animals are involved in a disease outbreak
- Where the infected animals are currently located
- What other animals might have been exposed to the disease
By choosing to participate in NAIS, you will join a national disease response network built to protect your animals, your neighbors, and your economic livelihood against the devastation of a foreign animal disease outbreak.
The main issue I have with this whole setup is that it is reactive. It does nothing to actually address the problems of which disease outbreaks are a symptom. NAIS will not reward good disease-preventive agricultural management practices which are counter to an agrindustrial approach to food production. All NAIS does is help the industrial food system figure out who is responsible and far the quarantine needs to go. This is not a sustainable approach because it does not prevent disease. It seeks to limit the spread of disease. Do they intend to imply that disease is inevitable and unpreventable?
Reading a bit more at usda.gov on who must participate and who doesn't have to, I learned that the following criteria means you do not have to participate.
- Animals that never leave their premises of birth, even if they move from pasture to pasture within that premises
- Animals that never leave their premises other than when they "get out"
- Animals that are only moved directly from their birth premises to custom slaughter
That is good news for the backyard hobby farmer for now. All small family farms must keep up their best management practices without fail. The minute a disease outbreak is traced to a small farm, NAIS will become mandatory for everyone. NAIS does, however, affect small farmers who like to show their animals because the USDA recommends animal identification in the following situation(s)
- Animals that are moved from their premises to locations where they "commingle", or come into contact with, animals from multiple/other premises (Examples include - livestock auctions, feedlots, or fairs)
I think may also include swapping animals to improve herd genetics. Just a thought.
So there you have it. Right now, animal identification is voluntary.
Now onto the Senate Farm Bill which passed recently. It includes the controversial Crop Insurance component which allows farmers to grow crops which are not sustainable or financially viable. For more information, I refer you to the Senate Agriculture Committee website. When I finsh digesting the main points of the Bill, I will be sure to have something to say about it here.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I have found cabbage to be one of the cheapest fresh vegetables around. It is also very versatile for light fare and winter comfort food. You can use in salads, soups, stir fry, as a side vegetable and so on. Here is a recipe for New England Boiled Dinner that will warm you up on those cold winter days. Cabbage goes uptown in this Simmered Cabbage recipe. And here is a Polish Borscht Soup recipe with cabbage that belongs in the First, You Eat category. I am not a fan of stuffed cabbage, but there are plenty of versions of it around and many people also consider it comfort.
Here's how the nutrients stack up:
Cabbage has a good amount of vitamin C which can help ward off those winter colds. One cup of shredded boiled cabbage contains nearly an entire day's supply of vitamin K. That same cup contains 13% of your daily fiber intake. Mineral-wise it contains large amounts of potassium.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
We currently have seven dogs: Yellow Boy, Daisy, Sarah, Star, Salt, Pepper & Shakers. Yep, seven. Some of them bark more than others. In fact, if we lived in the city, I'm pretty sure some people would find the barking level to be obnoxious at times.
We didn't want our dogs just barking all the time for no apparent reason. We had a challenge with Star because she was from a breeding operation where she was not really socialized. period. When we first got her, she was people shy, terribly aggressive toward other dogs and quite the barker.
She barked if you looked in her direction. She barked when you came out of the house. She barked when someone came up the driveway. She barked at new people, same old people, other dogs, other animals, and at things we didn't see. And sometimes she just barked. As I write this down, I realize that we assumed she was barking for a reason, not just barking. We just didn't always know what the reason was and sometimes she really didn't need to bark. We figured she was not properly socialized.
Once she became pregnant with her first litter, she had less energy for defense. She even let us pet her and rub her belly. And she didn't bark quite as much. We slowly realized that her barking was defensive. She had six puppies in that first litter and we certainly didn't want them to pick up Star's bad barking habits. We began to browse books stores, book racks, the library and to search the Internet for tips on breaking the barking habit. We even watched an Oprah episode on training dogs to behave.
Here is what we came away with. When your dog starts to bark you have about 30 seconds to correct her/him. Go to the dog and tell it No in a firm voice. When she/he stops barking, reward the dog with some loving attention and praise. The trick is to not yell No or say so often that you are "barking."
When we started going out to Star to tell her to stop barking, she would almost immediately calm down and at least look at us. That is all without us saying anything like No. Sometimes we would say, "What is it? Show me." The point is, she immediately relaxed when one of us came to her while she was barking. We also discovered that she barked a whole lot more when she was on a run or loose on the porch than if she were confined to a pen with a doghouse.
It was clear she felt threatened and that she needed to defend her/our territory. On the porch her territory became anything she could see, smell or hear. On a run, her territory was somewhat smaller and there was still a lot of nighttime barking. My husband took her squirrel hunting a few times and determined that she responded more to visual stimuli than scent or sound. It made sense that she barked more at night. She was less likely to clearly see what she smelt or heard.
By changing her territory to something that was more secure and probably more familiar, we enabled Star to feel less threatened by her environemnt. She also had less territory to defend and thus less reason to bark. By establishing a pattern of responding to her barks, we trained her to bark when she saw something out of the ordinary, not all the time.
It seems counter-intuitive to go to your dog when they start barking. But by saying no and responding to the barking, you establish that barking has a purpose and when it should be used. It does take time and patience, but even an improperly trained dog, like Star, can learn new tricks.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Let's say you manage to wheel and deal your way through the equipment and you bought no equipment with a loan. So you have no monthly equipment payment to make. Your total expense would then come to $5082.43. You would net $2730.07.
Here is a key concept for sustainability. Do not take out loans for new and expensive equipment. Buy only what you can pay for immediately. For a small farmer this means making deals with neighbors to borrow attachments and buying a much older tractor. That $2730 could get you an older tractor with attachments and you would break even, the first year.
Next week I'll discuss in detail how a sustainable organic scenario might play out.
The new Tuesday topic will be Plants We Love to See More Of.
So I am asking you, dear readers, Please tell me what plants you would like to see more of.
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to make a suggestion.
Your suggestions will be posted here with a suitable photo. If you have any, we'll put them up, too. One per week.
Oh yeah, if you have any growing tips, cuttings or anything else like that, include that too. Send an email to email@example.com to make a suggestion.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
The ingredients are deceptively simple: onions, beef stock, butter, old bread and cheese.
Slice 1 or 2 large onions into rings and saute over low heat in a stick of butter.
Then add your beef stock. I use a 3 gallon stockpot and add enough water to make it about two-thirds full of soup.
You can make stock using bouillon and water which is somewhat salty or you can spend an extra dollar and buy a jar of reduced beef stock. The reduced stock makes a huge difference in the more delicious direction.
Bring the soup to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for however long you want or don't simmer at all. Turn your oven to Broil and let it heat up. This is when you can simmer the soup.
Ladle soup into oven safe bowls. place a large slice of brown bread and a slice of cheese. Any cheese from cheddar to provolone to Swiss will do. But you want the stuff that will melt. Not the commodity cheese for this meal.
Place the bowls on a large cookie sheet and carefully slide them into the oven. Check on the bowls every so often to see the status of the melted cheese. If you just want it melted then it's only a minute or so. I like mine with a little brownness on the cheese. Some days that takes 5-7 minutes.
GET THE POTHOLDERS. I have to remind myself. The cookie sheet will be HOT!!!!
Carefully slide the cookie sheet out of the oven and place it on the counter to cool.
Allow the bowls to cool to a temperature you can handle and then serve the soup. It should be very warm but not scalding hot.
This is a soup that you will end up eating with a fork and spoon. And you will be astonished at how filling it really is. Make sure you have plenty of cold water available to drink with this soup.
And now we will have a Martha Stewart moment...
Thursday, December 6, 2007
My friend, who will always remain nameless, may possibly been using the stuff off-label which I know is a huge OSHA no-no. "If it works, use it" is a small farm mantra. No, I'm not turning over a chemical leaf. My friend is not particularly chemical oriented either. She prefers the natural approach. So here's what happened.
She received, in barter, three pygmie goats with livestock lice. The lice were included free of charge. I'm not totally sure if there's a difference between livestock lice and human lice. Not sure I want to find out through unplanned experimentation, either.
Anyway, the Sevin dust treatment sparked a conversation about animal management practices. When my friend's children, asked about how the goats came to have livestock lice, the discussion began. These goats had been raised on a larger farm where livestock was kept close together. Lice will flourish in unclean environments and multiply in close quarters. Worms came up, also. I mentioned that my goats and chickens don't have those problems and my friend observed that hers really didn't either. We decided it came down to animal management practices.
Here's where pasture rotation and pasture size to animal population ratios are important. By rotating grazing animals through your pastures - larger to smaller and ending up with poultry, like chickens, ducks or geese, you control your insect populations. Chickens love to eat ticks, lice, grubs, whatever: grass, fly larvae and other things left in the manure of the larger animals. By rotating pastures between grazing animals, you also strengthen the roots of the grass and make it healthier. Take care to avoid overgrazing and overuse.
Overgrazing occurs when too many animals stay in too small a pasture area for too long. There are three factors at play: number of animals, size of pasture, length of stay. These factors are tied to each other. A larger number of animals means a larger size pasture for the same length of stay. A longer stay can be managed by less animals with more space for each animal. Lower animal density means several things: lower rates of disease and less feed costs. If you do not have enough space for your grazing animals to get enough forage by themselves, then you are supplementing their feed. Period. Buying feed costs money and brings in nutrients from elsewhere. It also uses more energy in the form of transportation gasoline, production and manufacture.
Animal/pasture management can apply to pets, like dogs, too. Dogs generally need quite a bit more space then we allow them. While we probably always buy dog food, we can pay attentiont ot their outdoor spaces. If your dog pen or fenced in dog run becomes muddy quickly, then you know that the space is not big enough for your dog. Enlarge and move the space to allow your lawn to regenerate. This is why invisible fence is important. An invisible fence will give your dog fairly free roaming capabilities without the stagnant views of a fence. Dogs also tend to pace less when they are not fenced in with a visible barrier. That mean less wear and tear on the lawn.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
A little while ago, I posted a bit about trying to figure out whether a farm purchase was sustainable in Money Matters. I promised to continue writing about money needed to run a farm and how it's related to sustainability. So here is the another installment on this topic.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
There is a little, well sometimes little, plant that most homeowners love to hate. And it started out as a garden plant which escaped and naturalized. Every part of this plant is edible. It is used to make salad, wine, coffee and as a salve. Its root can even be dried, powered and used for medicine or chopped and eaten. The flowers can be fried and eaten, too. Here are some more clues. It first came to North America with European settlers, as an early spring green.
Its prolific seed capability, its fast maturation and its amazingly long tap root make it hard to get rid of. It can be virtually indestructible. If you get rid of it on your lawn, your neighbor's lawn or a lawn a couple miles away will happily re-seed your weed-free lawn.
photo by williac
environmental factors here that control their growth over there in Europe. I can say, I
didn't see one dandelion over there. Even in the so called "wild" spaces. Really they were
more "untended" but that's a different story.
So back to how to get rid of them. That's what you came for, isn't it? Well, this is one
plant I've never actually tried to get rid of. Not the answer you expected, is it?
Dandelions have so completely naturalized, that to me they are like dock, mullein or
violets. They're expected in the landscape. I'll warrant though that I don't like them
actually in my garden, even though I don't mind them in my so-called lawn.
When you have dandelions in places you don't want, the trick is to dig them up completely.
You have to get the whole taproot. And you better do it BEFORE they go to seed. Otherwise,
just forget it. Of course, if you're having folks over to tour your garden, you'll want them
out anyway. There is a perfect tool for digging them up. I think it looks like a flattened
forked tongue, but you probably have your own ideas. It's called a dandelion weeder and you can get them just about anywhere. If you don't feel like spending money, a fork works pretty well, too.
If you can't dig them up, then you can slice off the top portion of the dandelion and as much of the taproot as possible up two inches. That'll at least give it a pause before it comes back.
Some people swear by regular severe lawn cutting, but this is not good for the grass and the
dandelion adapts by flowering sooner when the plant is below the cut level. Smart little
weed isn't it?
Of course, you want to take off the flower heads before they go to seed. A bonus there is that you can take them in, wash them off and pan fry them in butter with some diced onion, maybe a little salt and pepper. Yum. You may not care then that you have dandelions. I warn you, though, if you start eating them, they'll be harder to find in your yard.
For further reading on this subject check out these links:
Monday, December 3, 2007
When the Open Air Market opened this April, the first Saturday was not great. In fact, I was the only one there and it was drizzling. It was also a bit airish. I set up and stayed, so that people would know I was planning to be there on a regular basis. I think I even sold something. That day began my unofficial smile and wave campaign here in Ashland City. I felt the compulsion to smile and wave at every car passing my small stand.
I remembered how in Cordele, GA, where I lived in my 'tweens, that everyone was always friendly whether they actually knew your name or not. "Hey, Howya doin'?" was the most common greeting. It was delivered with the air of utmost familiarity and friendship everywhere in that small town. I also remember how different that felt than how it felt where I was born, a big metropolitan area. I became friendlier and in the process relaxed. The relaxation led to an unintentional kindness. I certainly wasn't taught at earlier age to be nice to strangers.
This act became so reflexive that when I went to college in a different large metro area, I was astounded to be approached by the "spices of life" everywhere I went. It wasn't until I realized it was the friendliness I brought with me from Georgia that was attractive, that I stopped. I did not want to be the target of unwelcome attention, so I reacquainted myself with the rules of big city life - don't smile, don't make eye contact, stay in your bubble. The kindness that I habitually exhibited began to disappear. I became bitter, cynical, unfriendly. To my Southern self, I became rude. I was anonymous in the crowd. I considered it necessary survival tactics. What exasperated the situation was that I actually enjoy being friendly. It's easier for one thing and it's less stressful.
I moved to a neighborhood that was close-knit and began to meet my neighbors. Soon I could walk down the street and greet nearly everyone I passed. And we were kind to one another. We collected cans for the man who made his living from them. We looked out for each other's houses and vehicles. We fed each other's animals and we checked on the sick and elderly regularly. One day, I was at Mrs. R's taking coffee with her and Marie, when the subject of tenants came up. Nearly all of us were tenants, but the comment was made that the tenants who were not from the neighborhood did not take care of the property they were renting. I asked if the tenants were known. Had anyone ever visited them? No. They're not from this country. We wouldn't talk to them. Then very logically and naively, I asked (I had to - it's in my nature) Well, then how do you know the place was a mess? It was explained to me that people like that always lived in filth. It was clear to me that the unkindness and prejudice in this situation arose from the relative anonymity of the newcomers. Nobody got to know anyone else and certainly there was no greeting going on between relative strangers.
This story brings me up to Ashland City, another smallish tight knit community. One thing I like about Ashland City is that it is a small town and I could get to know everyone if I wanted to. But something puzzled me about this place in Tennessee. I rather expected it would be somewhat like Georgia where everyone would say Hello to each other and give a friendly nod. Nope. Not really. I used to joke that this was a little bit of New England plopped into the South. Keep to yourself. Really. Please.
This allows all kinds of gossip. I have witnessed first hand, how word spreads around town about this, that and the other. How people bear 20 and 30 year old grudges over high school gossip. What we need is a little more kindness and a little more community. One of the roles of local farmer is to bolster community. It may be unintentional but nonetheless, people meet each other at the market and they begin to talk. More folks will stop in and check out your vegetables if you smile and say, Hello. More than that, I learn what food the community needs and what difficulties some people might be having. All the various kindnesses that were paid to me over the years, can be paid forward to others.
Paying kindness forward is not a new concept to me and it doesn't appear to be exclusive to my upbringing, although that is certainly where I learned it. Check out this Zen Habits post on paying kindness forward. This idea drives the food giveaways and various neighborhood assistances that go between us in a small town. It is the old way of farming. We all help each other, without a ledger to keep track, because we are paying forward. We are not lending a hand, we are giving a hand. And there is a difference. A loan becomes a debt which must be returned to the lender. A gift becomes the property of the recipient who can re-gift it to someone else. And it all starts with a smile and wave. A friendly hello. If we don't know each other, it is hard to be kind. We don't know. We have no information. In the absence of information, the mind fills in the blanks. And the gossip spreads without basis.
The first step is to smile and wave. Ask how the person is doing, and listen to their answer. Take the kindnesses given to you and pay them forward. Mule Shoe Farm will be at the Open Air Market this Saturday (unless there are sick children) and I will be smiling and waving at the passing cars, just like always. Stop in and say Hi. We'll talk and build up our community through mutual kindnesses.