Monday, July 24, 2006

Chicken Labels

Sunday afternoon it rained.

I was pretty much worn out from all that working in the heat so I took that for an excuse to flop down in my easy chair and look at the TV.

You have to understand that while I do look at the tube from time to time, it has been many years since I was able to sit through most of the nonsense it shows. I just look at documentaries and ball games, and those filtered through the TiVo.

I wound up looking at a couple of farm shows from RFDTV. They were conventional Agribusiness shows put on by different State Farm Bureau organizations.

This all got me thinking about chickens.

According to Farm Bureau the current price for eggs is thirty some cents per dozen. Broilers are going for a similar price per pound. Really.

That’s the whole story from the Commodity Ag report. What is not part of that number I feel sure is the fact that I get 2.50 a pound for broilers and the same price for a dozen eggs.

I recently read a blurb on the Internet posted by my State Extension Service that stated flatly that there were no independent egg producers in my State. None, really.

The poultry industry, be it eggs or broilers, is one of the worlds most tightly integrated markets. It all goes thorough two or three huge companies. Farmers contract with them to raise poultry under tightly controlled circumstances in monstrous numbers.

There are more people raising small numbers of chickens in farmyards and suburban backyards by far than there are factory style poultry farmers. Of course the factory farmers raise such large numbers of birds that they account for the overwhelming majority of the poultry out there.

It seems likely to me that even the Extension Service people are aware that some people have backyard flocks. If pressed they would probably admit that it is possible that some of the eggs and meat from these flocks is bought and sold.

This activity doesn’t get included in the numbers because somehow it doesn’t count. It is not agribusiness. I’m not arguing that it should count; I’m not arguing at all, I’m just making observations.

I was at a grocery store near here a while ago. I noticed that they had more than the standard eggs on offer. They had brown eggs, cage free eggs, organic eggs, and a few other variations.

Someone has figured out that some people will pay a premium price for eggs that are special. Clearly the shopper is being invited to believe that these eggs are produced in a way that is closer to a backyard flock than a food factory.

In the last decade or so many laws have been passed controlling the clams made on those fancy egg carton labels.

This was not done for the benefit of those keepers of backyard flocks.

It was done to help the big integrators pretend they are keepers of backyard flocks, or near enough as to make no difference.

This, it seems to me, is the whole point of the “organic food” industry.

Back in the day if someone told you that something was organic, it was a simple if somewhat imprecise way of saying that it was produced using old fashioned, artisan techniques, and was not immersed in petrochemicals or hosed down with any sort of nuclear waste.

Now if you see a food label that claims the contents are organic, what is required for that product to qualify for that label is precisely defined by statute, but probably does not mean what the casual customer thinks it means.

It is a sham intended to make the customer think he or she is getting something they are not.

To get through all the red tape required to qualify for organic labeling requires resources that are not available to small-scale producers, absolutely including the willingness to wade through all that bureaucracy.

If you imagine organic food, I bet the image you conjure up is of items that do not even have labels.

For someone who cares where his or her food comes from, the only sure way to know is to raise it your self or get it directly from the producer. This would have to be a producer who has shown you the details of production, or at least earned your trust.

Agribusiness can’t do this. What they can do is come up with whatever sort of marketing drive that folks seem to like.

That’s what organic labeling is.

Weekend Update

This weekend we weaned the lambs. We sorted them off from their mothers and moved the mothers in with the dry ewes. We left the lambs where they were, in the barn and dry lot. Before we separated them they had access to the whole paddock that the barn is in, now they don’t. The ewes are about 100 yards away.

This is not fence line weaning, but there has been a bit less trauma than I expected. As expected, the ewes are more upset by it than the lambs.

The next project was to finish putting a floor in the hoop house the laying hens use for roosting. The hoop house is made from two cattle panels bent over a 8ft by 8ft frame with a tarp over the top. It has chicken wire walls on the ends with a door in one end. There is nothing inside but roosting perches. I have a separate little structure for the nesting boxes, and all the feed and water is outside.

The reason for the floor is to make it easy to move the chickens from place to place. The floor is 1 x 2 inch cage wire over 2 x 4 inch floor joists. It is not necessary to clean it out because the poop just falls through the wire floor to the ground.

To move the chickens I just go out after dark and shut the door. The next morning I can just tow the whole thing behind my pickup to a new location.

We did this Sunday morning shifting them to the garden spot near the house. The garden is done for now until the temperatures cool down a bit in the fall. I picked all the corn and most of the cowpeas but left the corn stalks and pea plants intact. This gives the chickens some shade and interesting places to scratch around in.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Processing Poultry

Last weekend I processed the first batch of broiler chickens we have raised this year.

The good news is that all the paying customers got the chickens they wanted and seemed very happy about it. The bad news is that there was none left for me.

We need more chickens and soon to fix that.

I made a little video of the process, it runs a little over 12 minutes. If you have any sort of broadband connection and don’t mind the realities of converting live birds into food then you may want to have a look. It is in windows media format.

Chicken Processing video clip

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fourth of July weekend

You may have noticed that posting is getting more and more sparse as summer comes on. That is not because nothing is going on, it’s because so much is going on I just haven’t been taking the time to write about it.

Dave, my best pal from our old address, came up with his family for part of the Fourth of July weekend.

It was especially good to see his oldest son Alex, who was on a short leave after finishing his second year at West Point.

Cadets don’t get summers off. It just amazes me that some one so young can have so much on the ball.


The big news as to farming is the new gadget we just got. A Chinese mousetrap for sheep that allows us to trim hoofs without getting beat up.

We wormed all the lambs and wet ewes and trimmed all the hoofs on those ewes on the Fourth.

We try not to herd sheep around here on the theory that it is better to lead than to follow.

Here is my bride AKA “The Corn Goddess” leading the beasties to their pedicure session.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Around the house and around the farm we use tools and equipment all the time to accomplish what we want to do.

I’ve noticed that at any given time some of these contraptions are broken.

At the moment my riding lawn mower and my weed whacker are both in the shop. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that the most critical piece of equipment on the place is out of commission.

That’s right, my easy chair is busted! Bummer!