Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Coals to Newcastle.

I received some good books this Christmas, two by Joel Salatin.  Joel is well known within the real food world, both in the US and much further afield.
A good read.
 His book 'Everything I want to do is Illegal' pulls no punches when it comes to exposing the stupidity of so called ' food safety' both in the US and Europe. Just about all the laws passed in the name of 'food safety' are to cover the backs of the large food corporations and supermarkets and to make sure that the small producer who is producing a quality and safe product can not be expected to compete. Governments do not want the small farmer, the small farmer does not have lobbyists to swell the coffers of different parties, and they certainly don't want real food.
In the US eggs are washed,  in the EU it is illegal to sell a washed egg unless it is pasteurised. The US store eggs in a fridge not so in the EU. Washing an egg removes the cuticle which is a natural  protective coating, this allows all manner of pathogens to  pass into the egg, fridges are a good source of contamination, storing an egg in the egg compartment of a fridge which is nearly always in the door of the fridge subjects the egg to a variation of temperature which can cause the shell to effervesce, allowing even more contamination. Yet pastured hens are not encouraged, pastured eggs are rather different from 'Free Range' which normally describes a system where 4000+ birds are kept in one house with access to pasture. Pastured hens are birds who live in small flocks, in the case of Joel,  the house being moved daily, yet these eggs can't be sold to any food outlet only directly to the end consumer, the same law applies in the EU. unless you are registered as a producer. I know which one I would feel safer with.
The US has now removed the ban on imports of Irish beef, the discerning American consumer wants 'Grass Fed beef' they do not want feed lot beef, and who can blame them, but to supply this market from Irish beef when there are many US small farmers producing grass fed beef is crazy. It might be good for Ireland but it is not good for the small US farmer. So why don't the US farmers give the discerning  consumer what they want? Food safety laws. In the US unless you have an animal slaughtered in a Federal abattoir that animal can not be taken  across state lines. Many states only have state abattoirs, so the beef is safe to eat in that state but deemed unsafe if sold into another state. Crazy.
The UK has a major problem with campylobacter in their chicken supply, with 80% of the chickens tested showing positive, this might also apply to Ireland, if so its being kept quiet. There are just a hand full of poultry slaughter houses left in the UK ( I think it's six) and most table chicken will have come from battery houses.  I would be very interested to know if small free range chicken units are also contaminated, I suspect not. We eat our own produced chickens and have never had any tummy bugs, but I can guarantee that if we had chicken in a restaurant we would feel the effects, it is something that I never have or would eat in a restaurant, I just do not trust mass produced food, but I would have no problem eating at friends who serve their own chicken.
To me it stands to reason that if you are buying or eating locally produced meat you will know where it has come from, it  will have been killed on farm or at a local butchers. It has not travelled heaven knows how many miles and handled by so many people.
For anyone wanting to know the real truth about  food safety I can recommend this book, it is a good read, frustrating but funny, and it is equally applicable to the EU as well as the US.
Reception committee.
Keeping poultry is never easy, although we have a large population of foxes in the area we have never lost a bird to one, this we put down to the electric poultry fencing, we have four 50 m rolls protecting the birds against the fox, this has worked even when the fence has not been switched on, a fox gets a belt and learns.   Not so with the mink, the mink may get a belt but it will be back, it only takes human error, like forgetting to turn the fencing back on after bird feeding or egg collection and the mink will take full advantage of the opportunity. We have had three attacks in as many weeks, the first attack was at night, the mink got through a 35mm gap at the top of the house and killed six birds. Mink don't eat the bird they just kill by puncturing the neck, Simon found the birds the next morning when he went to let them out. The second attack was at dusk, between giving the birds their grain scratch feed and looking them up half an hour later, the birds had already gone to roost, the mink attacked leaving three more dead birds behind. In both cases the fencing was not on. Time to take stock. Each time the paddocks were  entered the fencing  had to be turned off, it is easy to get distracted and forget to turn it back on again. With the reduced stock the paddocks were rearranged, extra fencing bought and a main paddock gate made. The fencing is now doubled, two rolls on each section and each paddock contained within the outer boundary has it's own gate way. However, between the time of creating what we hoped would be Fort Knox and a ten minute tea break once again the fencing had been left off, once again the mink struck in broad daylight killing a La Bresse pullet who had just come into lay.
A quick  poke just to make sure.
This was in the run not five yards from our back door with Tess our not  so good guard dog on duty. She is great if there is a fox around and will give chase but mink she appears to ignore. The mink was still in the run or rather under the hen house trying to pull the bird underneath the house. Simon tried to get it with a spike each time it stuck it's head out, eventually the mink run off, through the turned off fencing into a ditch.
Traps have now been set, a total of five I think, the electric fence no longer has to be turned off to get into the runs and we have invested in a vermin killer in the form of a Jack Russell puppy.
An object of curiosity.
We have named her Megan, Meg  for short, she comes from a long line of working terriers, her mother has killed Pine Martin, even more vicious than mink, hopefully she will grow up to be our ultimate mink control. The cats love her,
Time for siesta.
 Tess thinks she is wonderful once she realised that this tiny thing was in fact a dog and not a toy, even Robbie our geriatric Jack Russell has welcomed her, he is a grumpy old man but has always got on with puppies and cats.
Do I eat it or clean it?
Meg will have a lot to learn, not to chase cats or poultry but being only  nine weeks old she should learn quickly.
Mink are deadly creatures, they are not a native species, they were released from fur farms when the bottom dropped out of the fur market, not to mention the actions of the Animal Liberationists. If you trap a mink you must be prepared to kill it, it is illegal to release it, they devastated wild life,
At least the blue tits have survived the mink.
especially ground nesting birds, we did have a good population of wrens around us, I have not seen any for months now, I suspect they have also fallen prey to these vermin.
Things are growing in the garden, bulbs are showing their leaves,
A three year wait,but worth it.
and this year the Mahonia that we planted three years ago has rewarded us with masses of yellow lily of the valley scented flowers.
We still have an abundance of vegetables growing, it has been very mild so far this winter although rather wet since  Christmas, but the days are getting longer.


  1. First of all i had to google what a mink looked like. Cute little creatures with sharp teeth. They look sneaky and cunning. Meg looks so cute but i am told they are great little dogs for your purpose. I've reviewed this book on Joel's site and my goodness, its an eye opener. Is everyone crazy!!! This books needs to be in every home so that everyone understands (no matter the country) how power corrupts beyond common sense.

    1. I agree with you Linda, anyone who is interested in real food should read this book. We can relate to it from the days when we were full time farmers, all our lamb was sold privately as was our beef, we also did table birds, again we sold privately, as far as the Dept. of ag. was concerned it was for our own use. From the Organic Certification point of view there was no problem, only with the Dept. of ag who had totally conflicting standards to the Organic ones. This has now changed, with much lower standards from the Organic point of view, to allow the big boys to come on board.
      Ireland produces wonderful lamb, but it is cheaper to import lamb from NZ. How can that be, and where the hell is total traceability? Give me the small back yard producer every time, someone that you can talk to face to face.

  2. The books sound really interesting, I will look out for it. What a lovely puppy, great photo of the cats giving her the once over.

  3. You might be able to get it second hand from Amazon, Chickpea, it is well worth reading. The puppy although only here two days has won over all the cats, and Tess the Lab thinks she is just wonderful.

  4. I watched Joe Salatin on 'Farm Kings' on Sky last night. He talks a lot of sense.

    1. We don't have Sky Dave so did not see the program. His farming methods are remarkable, he is an outstanding person, his farm now makes over 2 million $ a year! Both of his kids had $20.000 in the bank by the time they were 20 from their own farming enterprises with no financial backup from dad! It just proves that you can make money from farming without grants if you are prepared to find the right products and fight for what you believe in.

  5. Sorry to hear about the birds. We have pine marten here and a few fox so we may need to get ourselves a Meg - adorable.

  6. And you also have wild boar! If you are getting a Meg Ian make sure she is very young so your cats are the boss and not the other way round. Meg is just 9 weeks. You will need to make sure the boar can't barge through the hen house, they will take fowl. Pine Marten were a real problem to us in Spain, they never took birds who were out free ranging, but they annihilated an entire flock of Jersey Giant growers who had gone to bed. P.M can get through 2 inch netting with no problem, they can also burrow under netting, as you know they climb, so they can climb over /go under netting, they also use convenient trees to climb and drop down onto the roof of a poultry house. They might be beautiful but they are full bloodied killers.

  7. Welcome aboard, young Meg (my own first dog's name, by coincidence!). You will have a great life with Anne and Simon, for sure; may you chalk up many a mink!

    Do I recall from my Food Safety training days that commercial slaughtered poultry will always have a higher score on the campylobacter etc because the evisceration is done by a fast moving corkscrew-cum-hoover apparatus which tends to splash the whole body cavity with gut contents and parts. We smallholders go at it a bit more gently, typically slipping a clean and gentle, accurate hand up the 'back end' and scooping out the insides in one undamaged 'lump'? You'd know more about that than me, obviously, but I do vaguely recall that from my 'Intermediate Cert' days (Blimey, that must have been as long ago as Edwina Currie's 'Salmo' episode!)

    1. Meg is well settled, just one of the family Matt. The mink struck again this evening, through two electric fences!
      Everything I have read in the press has tried to make out that the campylobacter is being spread through poor biosecurity in the poultry houses, this would not have been our observations and we have been in a fair few large commercial houses, the biosecurity was always first class, we may not have agreed with the way the birds were kept but the hygiene regime was first class. I'm with you on this Matt, I think the fault is in the processing plants. Well over half the workers do not speak English I suspect that the training given is poor, but as long as the right boxes get ticked for HACCP that's all that matters.

  8. Hello Anne

    Have a look at the Sustainable Food Trust and The Soil Association, they both do an on line weekly news letter for those who are interested.

    Afraid to say that the majority of people seem not to care about the food they eat as long as it is cheap.

    We lost poultry to Pine Marten when we were in France. They are vicious!

    1. I'm a member of the Soil Association Irene and was part of their consultation panel when they were looking for input on the standards for organic poultry. They only have a couple of farms which are allowed more than 500 birds per unit, all their bird units have to have outside shelters for the birds. The Soil Association symbol still means something and I would not hesitate to buy eggs if they carried that symbol.
      Unfortunately you are correct in what you say, people do not care where their food has come from or how it is produced as long as it's cheap. They also don't care if a food is out of season, they don't care if it's come from the other side of the world, produced by slave labour. I think you would enjoy the Joel Salatin books, I know I am. We are fortunate to be able to grow or produce most of our own food, if we had to buy most of what we eat I think we would starve. Why do people buy bread? it costs so little to make and only requires three basic ingredients, yet commercial bread which tastes like cotton wool has over a doz different things added.
      One statistic which I find very interesting is that the average town has only a three day supply of food, so if all transport stopped into a town people would soon starve, not too much food security in that is there?

  9. From what I have been reading, there are quite a few who would not starve. It seems to be trendy now to be "frugal". Ok that's good, but it has become very competitive among those who are choosing to be frugal who can go out and buy up all the reduced food, good food, bad food, stock piling it in their freezers, leaving nothing for those who have no choice. That is greed.

    The sad scary thing is, that those who can afford to make choices just don't care. Money is still priority, even when they are comfortable they plead poverty as an excuse. Animal welfare, the health of their families is way down the list when buying food. Quantity not quality is the mantra. No one can be in the dark about our food industry, facts have been thrown at us for years.

    Like you, I cannot understand why people do not make bread, a basic food. Considering a lot now own bread making machines. Or for quickness, soda bread only takes 30 mins from beginning to end.

    It does not surprise me that you are also a member of the soil association.

    I do apologise for my ranting.

    1. No apology needed Irene, we both agree with you 100+10%. We can also not understand why 'farmers' so seldom grow their own vegetables and just how little knowledge they have regarding soil science or animal feeding. Around us there are many small farms by that I mean less than 50acres, these farmers have their allotted quota of cattle, it's all good land but they in-house the cattle on slatted floors during the winter. The cattle are then feed on concentrate feeds contain grains, not a normal diet for cattle and expensive, instead they could be out wintering their stock and just supplement with hay or silage, with shelters for the cattle to come and go with straw on the floor. These farmers complain about veterinary bills, either lameness ( from the slatted floors) or pneumonia, lack of ventilation, breathing in damp air etc. Then they spread the slurry on the land, it contains all manor of medications plus it kills off earth worms and micro organisms which is essential for healthy soil,then wonder why they still have a weed or rush problem and throw yet more chemicals onto the land doing yet more damage. Many of these farmers will have been to agricultural collage, heaven only knows what they have been taught, no doubt the collages get funding from chemical and fertiliser companies.
      We used to keep Jersey cows, they out wintered, were healthy, never needing veterinary attention, the straw from their shelters was composted and used on the land, this increased the fertility of the soil so increased the health of the animals. For no cost other than a few bales of straw.
      That's my rant for the day!

  10. Hello Anne
    5 below zero this morning bone chilling to be sure.. Thank you so much for sharing the book I will be sure to get it and read it. People in the states think they are so smart and so advanced but in reality we are far behind in many things. Our government helps big corporations baies them out of messes its terrible. While small farmers get left behind.
    Here is one story that I am sure you will enjoy. A large egg producer says that his chickens are free range. He has one door in this very large building for them to go out of and it remains shut till they are of laying age. No one goes out because they are not used to going out and scared of the big outdoors so they stay inside. Large companies lie so much I don't believe any of them.
    I shop at a food co-op where prices of meat are not much higher than in a regular store. All meet is grass fed and humainely raised.. The food at this coop is mostly local and if it isn't you know where it came from. When people wake up and use their wallets to show large scale farmers that they don't want their product things will change/
    There is a local farmer near me who sells meat. I would never buy his meat because of the way his animals are treated. I think its a good idea to know your farmer. The co-op has classe on permaculture, bee keeping and meeting your farmer.
    I enjoyed the pictures of Tess and her new mate Meg. The cats seem to like Meg too. Can't wait to hear of more adventures.
    Best wishes for the new year

  11. Hi Carole, I'm now reading 'Folks, this ain't normal' also by Joel, this is a book that should be in every school as part of the national curriculum whether you live in the US or in Europe, I thoroughly recommend it although like ourselves you realise what is going on in the so called food chain.
    In our house we have long believed that if an item of food has a list of contents that you either cant pronounce or make in your own kitchen the chances are it is not good to eat.
    Here in Ireland butchers are closing down, people think that meat is cheaper in supermarkets, it's not! And in fact the odd bit of meat that we do buy is cheaper in the Organic farmers market than in the butchers, so in fact it is much cheaper to buy Organic meat than the junk that is sold in super markets, if I have not planed ahead for the week we do buy from the local butcher, he will tell us exactly which farm the beef or lamb has come from, he inspects all the animals he buys on the farms! Unfortunately he is now well into his 60's his sons have no interest in taking over the butchers.
    I honestly can't remember the last time we bought veg with the exception of some avocados at Christmas, we have over ten veg crops still growing in the garden, from roots to green veg, plus all the stuff we have stored.
    Your so called Free Range egg houses are much the same as the EU, except the US have more birds per house, anyone who buys so called free range be it eggs or chicken is deluding themselves and paying a high price into the bargain.
    Hope you LLama is better, update on your blog please!

  12. Grrr... Trying to comment on this rubbish hudl and it disappeared! Thanks for the book recommendation, looks very interesting and Iv nearly finished my book here. Meg is adorable I'm sure she's going to settle in well with you guys, sorry to hear about the mink, it was the pine martins causing chaos when I was with you in Spain..

  13. Hopefully you will be here long enough to read both books, they are worth reading.
    Yes, Pine Marten and Mink the two worse predators to get rid of, it makes keeping the fox at bay seem simple.