Eggs, Eggs, and More Eggs…

Who would have thought that I would be awash in eggs.  Just a few short months ago, people were calling for our farm fresh eggs, and I had to tell them that our hens were in a “drought” situation.  We hoarded each egg they produced and kept only the very smallest eggs (virgin eggs we call them) for ourselves. It was the holiday months and everyone had guests and wanted to serve up some truly free-range pastured eggs.  My newest hens, mostly, had not kicked into laying yet… a few were starting to lay but not reliably.

Large, regular, & "virgin" eggs

The first time I had brand new hens start laying… I thought I had made a mistake and gotten the wrong kind of hens.  I was getting MICRO eggs! I was so relieved when someone told me that they often start out with tiny eggs, but they should get larger. And sure enough, they did! We started calling those eggs, “virgin eggs”.

Laying Hens

A hen starts laying around 5 months old. Daily (or almost daily) egg laying is triggered by the amount of daylight hours… so in the winter months hens typically stop laying, or greatly reduce their production.  On top of that, they are using their food energy for staying warm with the colder, wetter weather.  We do provide a balanced layer feed because if a hen’s on forage & don’t get enough of the essentials, they stop laying.  But besides access to extra food, to keep our hens laying, we have a light and timer in the barn that serves two functions.

One, it provides a light that the hens are attracted to, so that at night they head to the barn where their protected coop is located.  We have had predators come through an avail themselves of the “Heritage Farm” buffet. UGGGH. We got away with letting them roam completely free and then nest in the rafters of the barn, for quite a while, but then paid the price.  I lost most of my hens… and had to BUY store-bought eggs.

An Egg SNOB

OMG, that was an education.  Organic ,free-range, cage-free eggs, hmmm. Nada. I was really surprised at what a snob I had become.  First off, all the labels say “vegetarian feed”… sorry, chickens are not, I repeat, NOT, by nature, vegetarians. Eggs from hens fed that kind of diet are, to me, bland & blah.  We were fairly new to the neighborhood, so in desperation, I had to hunt out someone who had real live free-range pastured eggs… and the difference was total. I was back to the rich tasting nutrient dense eggs I was used to. But my hens, now have a light they are attracted to at night, and they go into LOCKDOWN until morning.

Second, the light encourages egg laying during the winter months. Still not as prolific as the rest of the year, as they are using extra energy for their own needs. A hen needs roughly 14 hours of light to produce eggs. She will produce the most eggs her first laying season, molt (shed feathers) & take a break, before picking up again. Each year thereafter she will produce fewer eggs. Most hens are no longer “used” for laying after two years.

Darker yellow legs

Pale leg color

Interestingly you can tell who has laid a lot of eggs by the color of their legs!! Hens, of the same breed, have  legs of a certain color yellow. The hens with the lightest shade of that yellow will have laid the most eggs. The yellow (beta carotene) gets pulled from the chicken to go into her eggs.

EGG Production

All the eggs the hen will lay, are already there at birth. Just not developed but the germ cell is there. A chicken will have several eggs developing at various stages at once, like a production line. We’ve had a couple of new hens who haven’t gotten the process quite worked out… out pops an egg WITHOUT the shell (just the tough membrane encasing the egg), or all white with no yolk, or double yolks inside one shell. From start to finish, 25 1/2 hrs to produce an egg:  It takes about 20 hours for an egg-shell to form around the yolk/membrane, and only 1 minute to actually lay the egg.

I have been told that pastured eggs always have deep, deep orange/yellow yolks.  Since all our hens have the same diet, I know that this is NOT true.  It depends on the breed of the chicken… they will have varying shades of yellow to deep orange.  I do know that veggie fed hens have very pale, tasteless, almost watery egg yolks!

Rhode Island Red hen, laying champ!

Historically hens would lay up to a 100 eggs a year.  Some of the breeds today will lay up to 300-350 eggs; almost an egg a day.  These hens have NOT been genetically modified via some scientific voodoo magic; just simple selection for a specific trait. The best bred to the best producers… some traits are left by the wayside.  Going broody is definitely a trait NOT bred for.

Some hens will “go broody” meaning they will lay a clutch of eggs and after collecting up to a dozen, will then “sit” (i.e. incubate them for 21 days). She’ll hatch out her chicks and then spend the next two months raising them. But for this three-month period, she is not laying any eggs. You can see why in the commercial industry this mothering behavior is not useful. Me, I WANT the mom to do all the work, because she is MUCH better at it.

Most turkeys cannot breed on their own or raise their own chicks, due to the intensive breeding used to  produce big breasted turkeys. They physically cannot do the “deed”.   We raise heritage chickens and heritage turkeys to encourage specific traits; breeding and raising their own chicks.

Another stunning egg producer, A Golden Wyandotte

Heritage chickens are fairly easy to get that will go broody and raise a clutch successfully.  We’ve had a warm winter and I had TWO hens who marched out from the barn with a clutch of chicks… that I did not even know were nesting. We put a green bracelet on a hen that does this, so I know who I want to keep for eggs production.  Some hens will start but not finish, or can’t seem to figure out what to do with the chicks after they are born (sad).  I’ll put a yellow band on her so I know she should be discouraged from going broody, and that I do NOT want to incubate any of her eggs.

Turkeys are a basket case

We raise heritage turkeys so they can at least bred and produce fertile eggs. But those eggs we set aside and incubate.  I have one turkey hen who is interested in setting so we’ll see if she can manage a clutch this spring.

Right now we have three different breeds of heritage turkeys: midget white, heritage bronze, and what looks like to be a variation on the Royal Palm (white, with some black markings). We have them separated so that we can prevent cross-breeding.

I have had one Heritage Bronze, when we were on the ranch with lots of acreage, that went broody, disappeared , and came back with a clutch of turkey chicks.  We were so excited to see this, but the downside of her “disappearing” is that she & her chicks became coyote food. Circle of life, I remind myself! But here on the farm we can have more control.

I’m keeping breeding pairs to encourage egg production… but had to separate the males because they began to fight among themselves.  Only the dominate male will mate… with all the available hens. Whoops, not in my plan…. so we had to separate the breeds. Now I just need to get more females of each breed… but that’s a plan for this spring.  We have a couple of dozen turkey eggs incubating right now, so we’ll see what we come up with.  The extra toms will be on someone’s dinner menu.

Eggs Galore

But now that we’ve past spring equinox… I have eggs galore!  Seems like I somehow (I have no idea how.. well, wait.. there were some broody hens last fall…) ended up with close to 40 hens.  Rhode Island Reds, Golden Wyandottes, and Dark Cornish who are all great layers, it turns out… and mothers, as well!

Eggs, eggs, and more eggs!

It’s time for me to learn how to make mayonnaise! All you need is egg yolks, oil (canola oil, olive oil, etc), and some seasonings (salt, mustard) & a bit of lemon/vinegar with water. And deviled eggs, Quiche’s, egg-cheese casseroles…

Anyone need a few laying hens? I’ve got some to sell!

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Cocoa’s introduction to milking…

It’s always an unknown, how a cow will respond to being milked.

When I think of a milking cow, I see a picture in my head. It’s of a mellow cow slowly moving to the milking trailer, browsing around inside the head stall, searching out her treats & munching away on a bits of hay

Extra fine hay & a bit of grain

while she stands patiently, and is milked. I don’t even need to lock her into the headstall to prevent her from backing up.

She knows, and is comfortable with the whole routine.  It’s an expected part of the day. If I don’t come soon enough, she will stand at the gate waiting for me, with large patient eyes. No fuss, no mooing, no impatience… she just “waits”.

I open the gate, and she marches right in.  I don’t even need to put up a paneled run to make sure she doesn’t “escape” and go somewhere else.  She knows right where she wants to go, and we are on the same page.

A Different Kettle of Fish

But now, a brand-new cow to milking, is whole different kettle of fish.  As I’ve mentioned before, we like to leave the calves on their mom’s full-time for the first few weeks, and then we will start to share milk with the calf, milking once a day. She has recovered from the birth and bonded with her newborn. (In the industry, she would never see her calf again, after the delivery.)

I run through my head of all the possible “problems” and things I need to get ready “just in case” we run into one of those problems. She could be frightened of the milking trailer… you go from bright sunshine into a shadowy area; it’s spooky to a cow.  The smells should be OK… calm cows have been in there before her so have not left the “scent” of fear/anxiety/stress.  (Under stress a cow will shoot out a VERY icky, smelly, liquid poop! guaranteed to tell the next cow, DANGER).

Competition & other misc matters…

Panels confine the space, for milking in the protected trailer

She might not like the confined feeling of the trailer, or she may not like the hen who is trying to nest in her food/hay in the head stall (a BIG problem… I have no idea why the hens seem to think that is the optimal place to lay their eggs)!

I have even seen a hen squawk so much, when her “laying time” is getting interrupted that Bessie will back out and WAIT until the hen is done!

Quite funny to see a 7 lb hen, dictate timing to a 1000 lb milk cow!

And then the big problem that must be ready for… what if she’s a kicker? or a tale swisher.  We’ve had a cow before that would just wait (and remember… they can keep one eye on you AND one eye on their food, AT THE SAME TIME)…until you are in position and let loose a kick or swatch your face with her tail. (Oh yes, they can hit a fly at 30 paces, I swear! they are so accurate with that tail). Heaven help you if that tail is a bit yucky with manure… ’cause you are sure to wear it, if she’s that kind of girl! 

Our 9 yr old standard Jersey…  Bessie is as mellow as they come, and she is a treasure to work with… very, very good for beginners to start with. But like I said, a new cow is just unknown territory.

A beef cow… you can’t get anywhere near their udder… unless you have them locked down in a squeeze chute where they absolutely can’t get away from you.  Amazingly… they never have ANY problems with their udders… tiny, petite, and absolutely functional ’cause their calves grow like weeds. At least, that is our experience with our Lowline Angus… great moms & healthy calves.

Breeding Stock for small family farms…

Because we are working on developing stock for the small farm, we decided to branch out a bit from the traditional milk cow and beef cow.  Each have been bred for a specific purpose and if you have lots of room, they are generally your best bet to utilize.

If I want a beef cow to give milk… I’ll probably have to give up milk quantity.  If I want a milk cow to be good for meat… I will probably have to give up high-end quality  meat (i.e. tenderness & taste).   It will still be good, just not 5 star rated!

And then there are temperament issues.  Like I said, a milk cow tends to be mellow and gives up her calf easily but a beef cow is very protective of her calf (and her udder). She may not want to be separated from her calf or follow you dociley into a metal box and just stand there.  (Remember, her world is the wide open pasture and she must protect her young from predators!)

Jersey/Lowline (aka Jer-Low)

Cocoa, is our first result of crossbreeding a milk cow with a high-end mini-beef bull.  She was a bit taller than we expected, her coat is darker than her mother (but not solid black like the Angus), and she has more of the dairy build with a more pronounced udder and excellent teat size and placement.   Something you don’t really know until she has her first calf. (Bessie has teeny, tiny teats which makes hand milking very difficult!).

I was running over in my head the need to take her into the milking trailer and just feeding her there a few times to get used to the space, adding the milk strap that goes over her back (which will hold the milk bucket under her), and in a few days, actually turn on the pump (noisy, although it IS placed outside the stall)… but letting her build up a tolerance to all the “new” stuff.  All the while rubbing, brushing and sweet talking her.

In the meantime, Job (our intern) goes out to the pasture, brings her into the stall. He just skips to the end and gets it DONE.

Now I grant you, she needed some rear pressure to get her in the first time but once she discovered the fresh hay and a bit of grain she was a convert! The next day, she headed in without missing a beat, and Job, with his long legs stretched out under her, proceeded to hand milk her. I think, after milking her, he did turn on the pump so she could near the noise from it and realize that it wasn’t going to hurt her, or take her food!  The next day… you guessed it, Job put the portable milk machine on her and that was that.

Except, bless her udder, she gave more and more milk each day. Luscious sweet raw milk, with a rich yellow tint that speaks of lots of vitamins,  from the pasture she has been on. When the milk “settles” it has a layer thick with cream that we will harvest to make butter (or ice cream or real whipping cream).

All my worry and problem-solving down the drain… Job just goes out and does it.  Did I mention that he is brand new at this game?  Awesome!

It was wonderful to find that Cocoa has kept the best traits from her dairy side… while her bull calf will be valuable to the small acreage for very usable meat… he is 3/4 Lowline Angus and will have excellent genetics for quality beef. A Two-for-One package deal: milk and beef. We call that success!

Interesting Tidbit

Discovered that you can tell how many views of the blog posting, and WHERE the views originate!  Thought you might find it insightful to see, as well.  I’m truly surprised at the broad reach postings have traveled. Almost 20 countries, including Morocco, Malta, Fiji…. who would have guessed. Over 1500 views in 10 weeks… just incredible. (list at bottom of post)

While Ruminations is focused on a small family farmstead in the USA,

building trust with the cows

and the happenings on the farm and how they relate to the broader picture, I wonder how other cultures/countries view what I have to say.

I know I have friends from other cultures who mourn the loss of their capacity to be in touch with the land & food production. They are working to return those values to “their world”, as well.

It all has to do with localization, I think. That and rebuilding local community.

Waiting for something to happen on the larger scale (government, business, etc) is just NOT going to happen. If its not about making more money, it’s long-term value seems to HAVE no value to them.

So it is up to us, and our neighbors, and our friends… to support our local resources… encourage, nurture, and give that positive feedback.  We have to take back control of quality, enriching the earth, and thinking long-term… it will matter to our children and grandchildren. We can choose to be victims, or we can choose to make a difference, however small it is.

Anyway, hope you continue to follow this journey with me, as we experience “our return” to an “integrated homestead”! Where land, soil, livestock, gardens, all play a part in an ecological cycle that is complete… Where there is no waste… everything, at some point, becomes an input for something else… just as it does in nature.  Mother Earth has spent 4.5 billions years working out this process, and we are only beginning to touch on the subtle relationships that she has developed.

Patiently we watch & listen… and hopefully, learn!

Country Views
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Ear Piercing Squeals

It occurs to me that Mother Nature has selected for the loudest, most piercing squeal possible, in piglets.  Those with the loudest voice got the most results.

All Momma Sow's piglets lined up to nurse

Mellow, easy-going guys fell by the wayside (or in real world pig terms “got squished or eaten”). If you didn’t speak up for yourself… you might pay a pretty deadly price (literally, of course)!

Those who squealed the loudest and the quickest, got a response, whether it be a 300 lb mom trying to sit on you, or if you got separated from the “herd” and needed finding…because alone, you were food for the predators!

SHARING…

We invite our visitors (or maybe twist their arm to come see our newest babies!), but anyway… take them out to the farrowing pen. Take them to see all the little ones racing around, burrowing into the hay piles, and trying to chew on each other ears or tails to see if they give milk, or crawling on top of other sleeping piglets to join in a group nap-time! At least until mom gives out the special grunt that says, “come and get it, kiddos… lunch is ready!”

Until that happens the piglets enjoy exploring their world. Job, our farm intern, scoops up two little guys and hands one-off to visitors so they can feel how soft the skin is, and generally, just get a chance to cuddle one of the babies. Who ever gets to actually touch a piglet!

Only, once the piglet realizes it is off alone, all by itself, with unknown creatures stealing it away from  his siblings… he lets out an ear-piercing squeal, and doesn’t stop. If you didn’t know better you would think he was being tortured instead of cuddled! And let me tell you, it’s a non-stop squeal that just gets more tortured sounding each moment it continues.

It’s all the same… you can turn it off… at least, on YouTube!!!

Mom perks up immediately to see just what is going on.  Job is standing in the pen, still holding the other piglet (who hasn’t yet figured out he’s all by himself & thus has NOT started squealing… but will shortly, I assure you).

OH NO, Momma begins her investigation and notices that Job is holding one of her babies.  She makes her way up behind him, and very carefully (I tell you, she IS a good mom, but a GREAT family farm pig) puts her mouth around his calf and gently mouths his leg.

HISTORICALLY…

Now this is impressive… because my husband freaks out.  In his teenage years, he was responsible for 400 pigs and learned to jump a 5 ft high fence, from a standing start, in a micro second. His experience was that a momma pig would take a hunk out of you without ANY warning… if they were even a bit concerned about a piglet.

A warning nip was just not in their repertoire! But a trip to the hospital would be in your immediate future, if you ever lost sight of where and what that mom was doing. Our pigs are bred for a better temperament, but it’s always better to take NO chances.

Job reached back quietly and put pressure on the mom’s shoulder, pushing her away, as he put the piglet back on the ground, all the while talking quietly to her.

Our visitor quickly handed the noisy baby back to Job who got him back to mom, as well. Job continued to keep pressure on the mom, and then began to scratch her.

What an intuitive touch… she responded to his returning her babies and then the treat of a good scratch.  Rather than lose his cool, he worked with the mom and reassured her. Elements of an excellent farmer… one who tunes into the needs of the livestock he is tending.

A FARM EXPERIENCE…

Going out on the farm, to milk!

I have to say that one of the greatest pleasures on our farm is being able to offer hands-on learning experiences at various levels.  Whether it be kids coming out and seeing a momma hen, roaming freely, gather her chicks around her and teach them to scratch, or young adults who want to learn how to milk a cow, make butter, or experience what it is like to care for animals on a day in,day out basis, it each has its own value.

In our lives today, we really live very disconnected from real things. We watch life. We watch movies, reality TV, play video games, interact on-line. We are, for the most part, passive participates in life watching other’s live a fantasy.

We don’t get too hot, too dirty, too tired, too anything.  We are always somehow “connected” (or is that “wired”) into the world and yet, not.

We bike, hike, sail, swim, skate, ski, play baseball, tennis,etc., but it’s usually very recreational and for our own pleasure. Somehow in doing something that is actually productive, there is another quality that comes into play. A sense of connectedness with the world that reaches into the soul. How can you explain color to the blind man?

Ever just stopped to listen… to see… to feel…? We’re always so busy on the way to something that we never stop and actually experience life.  Take that moment out to “just be”. To stop being in control of everything around us.

THE QUIET TIME…

One of the things I enjoyed about milking was the forced quiet time.  I could check out of the rest of the world… and just spend the moment with Bessie as she chews her hay, the milk machine clicks away, and the sounds of the barnyard drift into the milking stall. Bessie’s warmth and smell comfort me in a way I can not really express.

Probably because our culture has lost the words that express those experiences…. sadly.

Quiet time in the day, to milk Bessie

This little piggy….

Whoops: Change of Plans

We were headed out the door to head to town when our intern alerted us.

He walked by the pregnant gilt’s farrowing area… and saw three baby piglets!

Newborn piglets, dozing in the sunshine

One was still wet and working on figuring out which way was up. He was that new.

I grabbed a towel, my cell phone (to call and delay a meeting), and checked to make sure I was wearing something that could get grubby… very grubby. No telling what I would need to do… stand by and just watch a normal labor process, dash in to grab a piglet who was in trouble, or even help deliver babies if the gilt’s labor stalled out.

I say “he was that new” just because I don’t want to check the sex and upset the newborn, and trigger ANY squealing. Turning a newborn upside down and poking around, for some reason seems to initiate an ear-piercing squeal that WILL not stop until he is put back on the ground.  Our new momma has VERY strong instincts and will immediately jump up to defend her newborn.

Unique

Pigs are very interesting creatures as they deliver their young in a totally different way.  Cows, horses, cats, dogs, etc. all deliver and to some extent help their young… usually by licking them to stimulate, to clean off, and to help dry them. But piglets do it all on their own!

Mom lays down on her side and labors.  She gets up occasionally and may go check on the babies delivered (just sniffs them) but then she goes back and lays down.

The critical part is that if there is a newborn where she lays down, he must have an escape route! 300lb momma laying down on a 3 lb newborn can have some very distressing results.

Jim designed and built (with intern assistance!) angled areas in the corners of the farrowing stall.  Enough for a person to stand behind & in.  The angle area cross pieces are NOT all the way down to the floor.

Job, making sure the newborn piglets are safe!

If the momma sow lies down next to the angled area (which of course she does), there is a space that allows the piglet to move away from mom, and she is blocked from that; the piglet can shift into the protected angle.  We have flakes of straw in those areas so the piglets can burrow in and get warm.

Momma pig lays down and breaths/ pants with her labor and then will give a push. Out flies a piglet still encased in its amniotic sac & still attached with the umbilical cord.  As the baby “hits” the ground the sac is pulled away from its snout.  Sometimes the cord “snaps” (i.e. breaks at the delivery & sometimes not).

At first the newborn is totally still. My heart always stops until I see a little wiggle or flip of an ear. I have to consciously “STOP” myself from helping out!

Finally, real movement. The newborn is “shaking off” the shocking introduction to the world! As he begins to move around, the sac encasing him, breaks away.  As he wiggles around, and then finally finds his feet (usually less than 3-4 minutes), he is pulling on the umbilical cord and it  breaks away so that he is free to move away from mom.

On average piglets delivery every 20-30 minutes. We’ve even had them deliver an hour apart.    Our new sow proceeded to deliver piglets at the rate of one every 10 minutes! That includes taking a break occasionally, getting up, nosing around to sniff & nuzzle her newborns.  After a brief check, she goes back to lay down…  carefully, so that any piglets in the way can move, and if they are trapped under her, squeal. A good mom whe will immediately jump up to prevent any squishing of newborns!

Cautious, is the name of the game!

Job, our intern, had never dealt much with livestock (thus part of the reason he is at OUR farm).  Jim had gone over a few techniques to use when working with the laboring mom, and he went right to work.  If mom gets a little bit shook or worried, she can be calmed by rubbing her belly.  Initially he stayed in the protected angled area, where he was in place to rescue a piglet if he needed to. He was just a hands-breath away, and had a clear view of what was happening.

It’s an unknown situation with a first time mom. Some sows can become confused, very aggressive and protective.  We had a sow who started to attack her first baby (it was her first litter) because it was squealing.  She hadn’t quite made the connection that it was her baby squealing but thought the baby was “attacking” her newborn.  We quickly had to scoop that newborn out of momma’s reach & calm her down by rubbing her belly.

As this was a new sow, and this was her first litter… we had no idea how she would act.  I must say, we were really impressed. She will be a keeper. First off, she had 12 healthy piglets (no runts & no super big piglets)… all pretty much 3-4 lbs each.  She was mellow during her labor and very careful of her newborns, even in the middle of labor.

Some TLC for the babies…Nursing

The first group of piglets are now quite hungry and search for a teat to nurse on. Momma sow has a minimum of 14 teats, seven on each side, but getting on for the first nursing can be a challenge. Job works out a method.

Piglets first nursing

When all 12 try to nurse and get to the upper seven teats, nobody gets to eat! Oh, I’m sure eventually they would but to short cut the drama, and make sure each piglet has gotten a good first nursing of the colostrum, we  assist. Remember?  that first milk which has lots of goodies in it for the baby – immunities passed from mom to babe. If a newborn does not get a good nursing within hours of birth, he will tend to be sickly or just not grow well.

So Job divides the group up into two parts, each made up of 6 piglets.  He corrals up one group away from mom, and then makes sure each piglet finds and attached to a teat.  Over a few hours he has made sure all the babies have had several good nursings. What an outstanding start!  And whenever mom would get a little anxious, he would just rub her belly and she would flop back, and snooze.  When Job brought her sweet cob, grain, and curdled jersey milk (her favorite), in a low bucket, she didn’t even bother to get up. Just picked her head up, pushed on the buckets edge until it tilted toward her, and munched away happily on her treat.

In the past, when we’ve had a sows labor stall out, we’ve put piglets to the teats to nurse, to stimulate more contractions. The nursing process releases hormones that trigger the let-down of  milk, and uterine contractions.  I think it’s Nature’s way of making sure the labor process is completed and the placental tissue is passed.

Nighttime…

Enough for now; we’ll leave the babes & mom alone and “pray” they get through the night OK.  I always worry about the little ones getting squished but this mom is very careful. She moves slowly, watches, and nuzzles the straw before she lays down.  If she hears someone start squalling she will immediately jump up, and then carefully try again.

Mom and babies sleep separate! All the babies bundle together, overlapping each other, usually burrowing into the straw… and keep each other warm.  When mom carefully lays down, she will then call to her babies and they all come running, to nurse. But when done, the babies gather together and sleep in their little angled protected area, or huddled together under a flake of straw.

Reducing Losses

If you don’t have a “good mom” you could have a 25-100% loss of piglets! That’s why in the swine industry, in their confinement system, the moms are put in farrowing crates, that barely allow her any movement.

We have lost several piglets in the past, with different sows, because the moms were not careful enough during and immediately after labor. We switched breeding lines to see if we could improve our delivery numbers and survival rates.  In the past we would have 8 piglets, with 6 surviving delivery. Generally never lost a piglet after the first day.

Selecting for Survival

But our approach is different from the industrial model. Instead of using every sow, even if she is not a good mother, we selectively choose who will breed. That way our stock will get better… need less intervention, be healthier, and more productive. Strikes me that the industry method is decreasing the quality of the breeding livestock, over time.

We aim toward a sustainable model, where livestock don’t actually need humans to survive!

False Choices

False Choices

This is the link to the article I responded to, dissing the EWG (Environmental Working Group) work on the most heavily contaminated fruits and veggies: The Dirty Dozen (2012). They also listed the Cleanest Fifteen. I neglected to include the link (the title False Choices) to it so you could read it yourself!

My argument was that is was a false choice being set up.

You can NOT know that something is “safe” until you have done long-term studies and some effects don’t show up for 20-30 years.

We need real Info!

There are only “safe” limits for acute toxic effects.

The choice is not between eating food with pesticides or NOT eating veggies/fruit at all.

You CAN choose to eat organic, preferably local, and avoid the whole question. Yes, it will hurt the pesticide companies and their users, but my vote is the longterm safety of our children and the soil.

When you are told that 97% of tested products are “safe” according to federal standards… just what does that mean. First off, how much is actually tested.

If I test 100 apples out of 1 million, that’s not enough data to be significant…. and where did those apples come from… China, Canada, Chili?

And as I pointed out: safe federal levels ONLY refer to acute toxicity… not long-term exposure.

Results of MercuryPoisoning

Do you know where the term “mad as a hatter” came from?  In the 1800’s when everyone wore hats (i.e. big market in making hats) mercury was used in the process. Guess what mercury does to the brain, while it is being absorbed through the skin & the vapors breathed in. I’m guessing those “hatters” were told it was “safe” to use.

My grandfather died from a rare leukemia that was later found to be related to the “benzene” that the men in oil fields routinely used, to clean their hands.

It take a while to get the answer!

He died at 50. He started working in the oil fields when he was 25. I guess enough “retrospective data” was finally collected to get the answer on longterm toxicity with that chemical.

It’s the day in/ day out exposure to this stuff (pesticides, herbcides, neurotoxins) that has me concerned.

The reality is that it is only with conscious choice, that we can begin to control how much exposure we do have.

The “bean counters” are only interested in profit margin… even if they cut their own throat, longterm, in the process! Sad, but I think, too true.

Spring Babies, At School, At Home

A hands-on visit at school!

Spring Babies to School

Taking our farm animals to the local elementary school is pretty high on my list of things we want to do.  Especially the young ones… they appeal so much to the kids. We took three calves (2 beef & 1 milk breed), as well a 2 mini-horses to the school.

On the Trailer, to the school

The calves were from 2 days to 6 weeks old. With a neighbor’s help, we loaded them up and a short trip later, they were out on grass being introduced to the students.

It was a chance for the kids to talk about, see, touch, and learn about real livestock. They get to see them pee and poop! call to their mothers, to their friends.  Get tired & lay down to take a nap!

They are able to check out the mini-horses in great detail, as mini’s are busy eating fresh “playground”… and of course, leaving some fertilizer behind as a “thank you”!

I like taking the smaller creatures because I think they are more “kid-friendly” size… as well as having a naturally built-in “baby” attraction that we all seem to have in our make up. We are drawn to babies and want to “nurture” them.

Great Discussions!

We talked about how soon after a calf is born, can it walk.  Guesses from the 3 & 4th graders ranged from hours to days to weeks.

A chance to actually touch a calf

I told them that the calf is born with hooves that are very soft… too soft to walk on. They look white at birth.

Newborn Lowline Calf, still hasn't stood-up yet!

The hooves are soft so that they don’t hurt the mother when the are being born. It’s like having your hands in water for a while; your fingernails get really soft. But as soon as they are exposed to the air, they begin to harden up.

In nature, the calf need to be able to stand, within 30 mins usually, and navigate to the udder to nurse, within a few hours at the most.

There is a “key” window for the calf nursing.  The best is within 2 hours, but 4 hours at most.  That is when the calf’s gut is open to absorbing the immunities that the mom passes on to the calf.  If he does NOT get that special milk, he will tend to be very sickly and not grow well.  It’s important for him to nurse as soon as he can. After 4 hours the gut changes and begins to lose the ability to absorb the larger molecules. By 12 hours that door is completely shut.

We always try to have some of that special early milk (colostrum) saved up in our freezer if we have a baby that has a problem with nursing or a mom that can’t produce the milk.  It’s good for calves, colts, kids (goats), lambs, etc!

This is a “real world” experience.

group discussion, and then hands ON!

It’s amazing what a great time we had talking about the livestock, with the kids. I was impressed at their questions and how much of an in-depth explanation they where able to take in.

They were very excited about learning about all the things that actually come from the milk the jersey cows produce.  They were able to name off quite a few items besides milk; cheese, butter, yogurt, whipped cream, ice cream, but NOT actually chocolate milk! Well, not the chocolate part, anyway. I think it made it very real to them.

As their teacher said, “Most kids see the world through books, pictures, TV, movies, video games, cartoons, computers…. but never REAL, in life!”  I was told that last year, when we brought animals, the kids talked about it for weeks.

first steps of newborn calf

Spring Babies on the Farm

Today we had newborn calf just suddenly appear… I love our compact pastured beef livestock.

They do their JOBS so well.  They convert the green grass and hay for their food energy.  They get pregnant, at the drop of a hat, and then proceed to calve with hardly a murmur. And smart enough to do it on clear, sunny days, for the most part.

Interestingly, the cows/heifers synch their cycles!  What that means is that they will all deliver about the same time.  We had three newborns this week!  Unlike commercial farms we don’t use medications to make the cows ovulate at the same time… but in nature, at least with the Lowline Angus breed, they do it themselves.

Safety in Numbers

Now WHY?  This is a comparatively old breed, Aberdeen Angus, so I think the older drives are much intact. In the wild or out on extensive pastures, it is actually safer to calve at the same time… and it’s usually early spring.  Why would that be safer?

Coming out of winter, the predators are looking for food, and young livestock are a perfect meal.  If there is only one calf… the chances of it being “prey” go up significantly.  If there are a dozen calves, then there is safety in numbers and the odds are YOU will not be dinner.  And by the time predator comes back, the calves are older and able to manage escape! Mom’s who tended to cycle together had more survivor calves. Outliers (those who delivered at odd times) did not have offspring with as high a survival rate.

Bigger is Better, NOT

I feel so sad when I hear stories from other farmers/ranchers who talk about their difficulties.  Having to get up in the middle of a (of course) cold, windy night (or freezing sleet night, or howling winds), … to help a birthing cow. In their stories it NEVER happens on warm, sunny days, mid afternoon!

Calf puller, for those that are too large for the mother

They also have these horrific looking devices to attach to a calf and pull it out, found at your local farm supply store. For those “Too Big Too Deliver Syndrome” calves!  Our calves weight in at around 40-55 lbs.  Standard or large breed calves weight in at 75-120 lbs AT BIRTH.

We have never lost a calf or mother, at birth because it was too big or badly positioned, which is sadly not true of the typical large beef breed ranches. But then, we only have at any time, 5 – 15 cows…

But many ranchers are beginning to see the advantages of the smaller calves, especially for their first time moms (AKA a heifer – never had a calf). They use Lowline Angus Bulls to decrease the size of those calves to make for very easy births! They lose fewer calves and their night’s sleep are NOT interrupted. Makes for a much happier farmer/rancher.

A breakfast surprise... new calf

But for us… Our experience, as our new intern said, “Oh, I was feeding this morning and an extra calf showed up!” I think Big Momma has delivered.

We were able to finish our morning coffee; then go out to see if we had a boy or a girl!

What a life… just love it.

Dirty Dozen, Clean Fifteen, pt 2

I’m appalled at how much “crap” is on fruits & veggies! The stuff that is supposedly, OK.

Dirty Dozen Fruits/Veggies

The Western Farm Press, dissing of the results of the EWG (Environmental Working Group), tell farmers everywhere to discount the research done.

When we are told by “officials” that eating foods with residual chemicals on them is better than nothing…

I have to differ…. because that is NOT the choice.  We all have access! Yes,  it will cost more or we will have to narrow our food choices.

I think of it in this context:

taking a daily micro-dose of a neurotoxin WILL eventually catch up with me. Not today, not tomorrow, but certainly down the road!

But I do have a choice in this. I can vote with my fork, and make a difference.

FoodNews.org is the link.

Overview: 12 Dirty, 15 Clean

“Eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure, according to some researchers.”

How can someone say that with a straight face?

They would say, use EWG‘s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all. Do I agree with this statement: Absolutely NOT!

The Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide in Produce will help you determine which fruits and vegetables have the most pesticide residues and are the most important to buy organic. You can lower your pesticide intake substantially by avoiding the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated produce.

But don’t let me, or anyone else do your thinking for you… Check it out yourself; go to the Environmental Working Group  website, EWG.org, and look at how the studies are done.

Basic Principles to work with:

Dirty Dozen  … leads to a print out of the following info… for your wallet!

Be very careful about imported fruit/veggies… they do not have the same safety standards and most of it is never tested. Also, SWEET CORN. If you have concerns about GMO foods, then you need to buy organic sweet corn, as almost all commercial corn in the USA is genetically modified.

Below the video clip is a list of the Dirty and the Clean… with some informative data about each group. See what YOU think!

Highest Pesticide Residue

The Dirty Dozen – Buy these organic

If you need to really watch your budget (and who doesn’t!), these are the ones I would be sure to purchase from a reputable organic producer.

Of the 12 most contaminated foods, 6 are fruits: apples, strawberries, peaches,  nectarines, imported grapes and blueberries. Notable findings:

  • Every sample of imported nectarines tested positive for pesticides, followed by apples (97.8 percent) and imported plums (97.2 percent).
  • 92 percent of apples contained 2 or more pesticide residues‚ followed by imported nectarines (90.8 percent) and peaches (85.6 percent).
  • Imported grapes had 14 pesticides detected on a single sample. Strawberries, domestic grapes both had 13 different pesticides detected on a single sample.
  • As a category. peaches have been treated with more pesticides than any other produce, registering combinations of up to 57 different chemicals. Apples were next, with 56 pesticides and raspberries with 51.

Celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, lettuce and greens (kale and collards) are the vegetables most likely to retain pesticide contamination:

  • Some 96 percent all celery samples tested positive for pesticides, followed by cilantro (92.9 percent) and potatoes (91.4 percent).
  • Nearly 90 percent of celery samples contained multiple pesticides, followed by cilantro (70.1 percent) and sweet bell peppers (69.4 percent).
  • A single celery sample was contaminated with 13 different chemicals, followed by a single sample of sweet bell peppers (11), and greens (10).
  • Hot peppers had been treated with as many as 97 pesticides, followed by cucumbers (68) and greens (66).
1
Apple
Apples
2
Celery
Celery
3
Strawberries
Strawberries
4
Peaches
Peaches
5
Spinach
Spinach
6
Nectarines
Nectarines
– imported
7
Grapes
Grapes – imported
8
Red Pepper
Sweet bell peppers
9
Potatoe
Potatoes
10
Blueberries
Blueberries
– domestic
11
Lettuce
Lettuce
12
Kale
Kale/collard greens

Clean 15 – Lowest in Pesticide

Here’s where you can save your grocery dollars if you need to, and buy non-organic.

The vegetables least likely to test positive for pesticides are onions, sweet corn, asparagus, sweet peas, eggplant, cabbage, sweet potatoes and mushrooms.

  • Asparagus, sweet corn and onions had no detectable pesticide residues on 90 percent or more of samples.
  • More than four-fifths of cabbage samples (81.8 percent)  had no detectible pesticides, followed by sweet peas (77.1 percent) and eggplant (75.4 percent).
  • Multiple pesticide residues are extremely rare on vegetables low in overall contamination. No samples of onions and corn had more than one pesticide. Less than 6 percent of sweet potato samples had multiple pesticides.
  • Of the low-pesticide vegetables, no single sample had more than 5 different chemicals.

The fruits least likely to test positive for pesticide residues are pineapples, avocados, mangoes, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi, watermelon and grapefruit.

  • Fewer than 10 percent of pineapple, mango, and avocado samples showed detectable pesticides, and fewer than one percent of samples had more than one pesticide residue.
  • Nearly 55 percent of grapefruit had detectable pesticides but only 17.5 percent of samples contained more than one residue. Watermelon had residues on 28.1 percent of samples, and 9.6 percent had multiple pesticide residues.
1
Onions
Onions
2
Sweet Corn
Sweet Corn
3
Pineapple
Pineapples
4
Avocado
Avocado
5
Asparagus
Asparagus
6
Peas
Sweet peas
7
Mango
Mangoes
8
Eggplant
Eggplant
9
Cantelope
Cantaloupe
– domestic
10
Kiwi
Kiwi
11
Cabbage
Cabbage
12
Watermelon
Watermelon
13
Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes
14
Grapefruit
Grapefruit
15
Mushrooms
Mushrooms
Because you want to enjoy what you eat, not worry about what you eat!

Throw some mud in the water: Boiling Mad, pt 1

OK, NOW my blood is boiling! The name of the game: Confuse the Consumer.

Erggg… it’s so hard to keep my mouth shut when “data” gets slanted or manipulated… here is my response, in two parts.

When the Western Farm Press (goes out to farmers all over the USA) says to ignore the results of EWG studies done, I have to ask what their interest is. I mean I could say something like:

New mom, New babe

“Hey, pregnant mom, don’t take that medication ’cause it might hurt your baby, but here, have some wonderful strawberries.

Oh, by-the-way, they were grown in Chile and are loaded with neurotoxins which are systemically absorbed and can’t be washed off!”

Only, guess what! That is not slanted or manipulated data. It’s well know and the EWG (Environment Working Group) has highlighted those issues in their annual Dirty Dozen report.

Many of you know that I am coming from a background in High Risk Labor & Delivery. From working in the newborn intensive care units, to working with high risk moms (heart problems, diabetics, premature labor, mutilples…twins, triplets, etc), working in family centered units with midwives; in the home, in the clinic, and in the hospital. A fairly broad exposure to the field of Maternal-Child nursing.

Systemically Contaminated Foods

Pieces of the Puzzle - Autism

After 30 years in high risk obstetrical nursing… I have some big concerns about the accumulations of “small” amounts of toxins (pesticides, herbicides, neurotoxins) in our bodies, and in the growing fetus.

I’m concerned about the sky-rocketing rates of autism; from 1/10,000 to 1/100! Yes, one out every 100 babies is diagnosed with autism. And guess what, it’s the middle class and affluent who are experiencing the highest increases.

Do I know that contaminants are directly related? NO, but I worry that it does.

It’s been demonstrated that the “placenta” is NOT a barrier, and what mom takes in, the developing fetus is exposed to, during very critical stages of development.

Toxic effects, know only over time

Most medicine/research advances are made when data is collected RETRO-ACTIVELY, meaning… we look back over time to see what happens. We look at that data, and alter our views.  Short term studies are only good for acute issues (drink a poison, you get an immediate response).

Long-term studies are needed to parse out the real effects.

And I have no desire for my children/grandchildren to be the “test subjects”. “Whoops, we thought it was safe… I think we might have made a slight error”…. Right!

OF course we need to eat fruits and vegetables. It’s the “additives” that I want to stay away from. We do have a choice about the “additives” that find their way into our foods… we can talk with our dollars because that’s the only thing Industrial Ag listens to.

Repeatedly, in medicine and in the industrial corporate world, we are told something is OK, only to find over time, that it was absolutely Incorrect. Because it takes time to get to the real answers… and it’s not the sellers who pay the price, it’s the consumer. You pay both short-term and long-term.

Research & Documenting

We need information, without a vested money interest in the results

I would encourage you to look at the Environmental Working Group website.  I find it balanced, thoughtful, and educational.  Look at how their studies are done.  It is in a very friendly format that is easy to understand (not like those usual dense research reports that I have a hard time wading through).

Look at the FAQ’s: frequently asked questions…. the concerns that other people have had… and the group’s response.  Are their answers dogmatic or rational thinking responses.

I think you can tell pretty quick what a site’s bias is and whether it is based in emotional appeals and/or trying to manipulate you. Or if they are explaining their concerns and giving you the data to make your own decisions.

Good & the Bad Guys

Anything you want, it will get served up… somewhere

I agree… you can find anybody on the web to support any side of any argument, theory, conspiracy, etc. The challenge is to educate ourselves intelligently.

We discuss with our interns, working on the farm, how do you tell when something is true? I mean, you can find info to back up anything you believe… and the tendency is to only look for info that will back up what you WANT to believe.

We’ve gotten some good responses, and two of the best:

  1. when the data is confirmed coming from multiple fields.  From math, from history, from biology…
  2. when you use the information/theory/belief and predict outcomes that are consistently true over time
I would enjoy hearing your opinion on this issue. I’d like to know if others share the same concerns.
  • are you aware of the residual chemicals that can not be removed by washing, on your food?
  • do you ever think it’s important, for safety reasons, to choose american vrs imported?
  • did you know about the dramatic rise in autism rates?
  • have you changed your buying patterns once you  became more aware?
  • does your pediatrician ever say anything about organic foods?
Please use the comment section to respond… it would be great to hear everyone’s experiences or thoughts!

Back to the Basics
Eat Healthy, Eat Local, Eat Quality

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