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Turkey Tracks: Friday Night Update

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Turkey Tracks:  January 17, 2014

Friday Night Update

It’s 4:04 p.m., and it is not pitch dark yet.

But, soon.

And, soon, spring will come, too, as the days are growing longer.

We have been having a January thaw for the past week.  We can see green grass again, and there is still lettuce in my cold frame.  Imagine that…  Beneath all that snow…

I HAVE TO ORDER SEEDS!

The chickens are laying again.  Rosie, the Copper Black Maran, laid her first egg since, I don’t know, October?  The Americaunas molted in the fall and started laying again a few weeks ago.  They are, once again, looking posh with all their new feathers.  Beauty, who is so ugly I called her Beauty, laid all winter–though the shell to her eggs is very thin.  She is so friendly and sweet.

The Diva, who I think is Queeny, is in the kitchen, resting, healing (one hopes).  Her neck still looks pretty bad, but her eyes are bright, and she’s eating.

The brother of my friend Linda, who house sits for me and cleans, was standing beneath the edge of a roof with lots of ice on it.  A slab broke loose and hurt his arm, side, and leg and broke his foot.  Last Tuesday, in the middle of our January thaw, Linda went to get into her minivan, slipped on hidden ice next to the van.  Her face is all bruised, and she broke her wrist.  She drove herself to the emergency room.

Of course she was not looking for ice; everything had melted off.  And that’s when the ice is the most treacherous.  When you think it’s gone.  Now she and her brother visit each other, each nursing a broken bone, and laugh wryly.

I talk to her every few days to see if she needs anything and to remind her to go slowly.  The loss of income is very serious for her, of course, and I will pay her same as always, work or no work.  She is so good to me in so many ways–I can’t even begin to tell you all she did for me when John was so sick and how she has cared for me this past year.

Today I went to Belfast (about 40 minutes north) to the big Coop for ground chicken for the dogs and green things for me.  AND to pick up this amazing herbal powder from Dr. Herzig, a holistic vet, that keeps Miss Reynolds Georgia bright and busy tailed.  She thinks she’s a puppy again, which is great since twice now I have been sure she was not going to live through the night.  For about three months this summer I had to gently force feed her.   Anyway, it was nice to get out a bit.

Celtic Solstice:  I put on the white border yesterday.  And got one triangle border on when I realized that I had TWO blocks with the orange going the wrong way.  Mercy!  I took the rows apart and turned the blocks, and the job was easier than I had expected.  When I finish here, I’m going to make a cup of tea and put on the other three borders.  Tomorrow I’m going to a big quilt fabric sale to get some green or blue to finish this amazing quilt.  And, the backing and binding.  There are so many seams that I do not want to piece blocks for the back.  It will be so hard to quilt if I do.

“Sails Up and Flags Flying,” the bright orange quilt,  is loaded onto Lucy the longarm, and the great yellow thread has come in the mail.  So….  Tomorrow, maybe…

Here’s a block to remind you…

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And one of the really fun things I’ve learned from Bonnie Hunter is to take the time to “swirl” your seams on the backside of a block as it cuts down on bulk when it’s time to quilt the layers.  See the little tiny squares in the middle of each block–that “swirling” means two layers of bulk, not four.  Bonnie has detailed instructions under the four-patch unit “clue” of Celtic Solstice on her quiltville.com blog.  Look for the “Celtic Solstic” mystery information.

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I have been hand-sewing blocks for this great quilt–pictures below–from Material Obsession 2 by Kathy Doughty and Sarah Fielke, both from Australia.  I have not decided which layout to use yet.

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I am kind of leaning toward the second one, but maybe making it a bit bigger.  I have almost finished two blocks and have cut out pieces for the third and chosen fabric for a bunch more.  I am getting obsessed with the beauty of these blocks.  I’ll take some pictures tomorrow.

BUT, if I do the first layout, it might make a great quilt for the red guest bedroom…

Who knows?  It’s a work in progress…  And I’m just having fun.

It’s dark now.  I’m going now to lock up the chickens, fix dinner (stuffed green peppers and baked squash), make a cuppa, and sew.  And to listen to what is likely the final part of P.D. James’ Devices and Desires, which has been wonderful, wonderful.  James is a master of murder mysteries.  This book is so full and rich and so full of depth.

Tonight after watching two Castle episodes from season 2–which is really all about watching Nathan Fillion whose Firefly series got cancelled way, way too soon (Josh Whedon, and  the movie Serenity kind of finished off that series)–I’ll read another big chunk of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which I’m really enjoying.

And, oh my gosh!, when checking spelling for Fillion, I realized he’s also in Buffy the Vampire Slayer just a bit, which Josh Wheden also did!!!  I’ve always wanted to check out that tv series…ever since Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia (from her blog about Julie cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking) and spoke of her delight in Buffy…

If you don’t have dog-eared volumes of Child’s Mastering the Art of…, you might want to get at least the first one and cook around it a bit.

Life is so full of wonderful surprises some times…

Tipping Points 10: Meat Chickens

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Tipping Points 10

June 9, 2010

 

Meat Chickens

 I am helping raise fifty pastured meat chickens with Pete and Rose Thomas of the Vegetable Shed on Route 173 in Lincolnville.  I am mostly a bystander at this stage.  I paid for our twenty chicks when they arrived, am paying for half of the feed as Pete and Rose are doing all the work, paid for half of some of the start-up equipment, and go admire how healthy and beautiful the chickens are about once a week.  I will help slaughter them later this month.

We got twenty pastured chickens in a Community Shared Agriculture arrangement last fall, and we would have done so again.  But, as Pete and Rose helped us acquire and manage our layers, it emerged that they wanted to raise some Silver Cross meat chickens.  They agreed to let us be partners, and we’re all learning a lot as we go along.

After watching the movie JULIE AND JULIA, where Julie Powell cooks all 536 recipes in Volume One of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (1961) in one year and blogs about the experience, I pulled out my Volume One—nearly 50 years old now and one of the cookbooks I brought with me when we culled books and moved to Maine.  I made the master leek and potato soup recipe.  Delicious!  Next, as I’ve never been a strong baker, I challenged myself with the cake section.  I was amazed at how many eggs and how little flour and sugar the French one-layer cakes contained.  And, real butter cream icing is velvet on the tongue; has an intense, satisfying flavor; and is smooth all the way down.  Yummo!

Then, I discovered the DVD set of eighteen of the early Julia Child television shows, made throughout the 1960s.  One of these shows is “How To Roast A Chicken.”  Julia lines up six chickens to compare their sizes and purposes:  a broiler, a fryer, a roaster, a capon (castrated rooster), a stewing fowl, and an “old lady” hen fit only for soup.  The broiler Julia shows weighs 1 ½ to 2 ½ pounds and is 2 to 3 months old.  The roasting chicken is 4 to 7 pounds and is 5 ½ to 9 months old.

Nowadays, we are raising 4 to 5-pound Cornish Cross chickens in six or seven weeks.

And, they are tasteless.  In her memoir MY LIFE IN FRANCE, Julia sums up the problem she encounters in 1955 when she begins to experiment with chicken cookery:  “The American poultry industry had made it possible to grow a fine-looking fryer in record time and sell it at a reasonable price, but no one mentioned that the result usually tasted like the stuffing inside of a teddy bear” (213).

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NCAT), beginning in the 1950s, industry worked to develop a chicken that was meatier, was broad-breasted, grew rapidly, converted feed efficiently, had limited feathering which minimized plucking, and which had “other traits considered desirable for rearing very large numbers of birds in confinement.”  Uniformity dictates this model.  If all the birds are the same size, processing equipment can be designed for maximum technical efficiency (http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/poultry_genetics.html).

In April 2009, Harvey Ussery, in “Backyard Poultry Magazine,” noted that the development of the Cornish Cross has “pushed muscle tissue growth to extremes, at the expense of balanced growth of all other systems—resulting in failed tendons and crippled legs, compromised immune systems, heart failure, and other problems.”  This chicken is given antibiotics and arsenic to “force still faster growth.”  And, since they are raised in “filthy, high-stress conditions,” antibiotics are required from “day one to slaughter” (“Sunday Dinner Chicken:  Alternatives to the Cornish Cross,” Apr/May 2009, “Backyard Poultry Magazine,” www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Cornish+Cross+Alternatives.html.).

Ussery vowed never again to “coddle such a compromised bird” when he lost twenty-two in two hours during a temperature spike.  The distressed birds, wrote Ussery, were at slaughter weight.  And, they “sat…in the shade of their pasture shelter, panting desperately, and died—rather than walk six feet for a drink of water outside the shelter.”  Meanwhile, his group of “young New Hampshires, the same age as the Cornish Cross to the day, [were] scooting about the pasture like little waterbugs, crossing their entire electronetted area when they needed a drink of water.”

Steve Hode of the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, who raises chickens in Windsor, Maine, says the flesh of the Cornish Cross chickens is so soft that it dissolves in your mouth without much chewing.  Further, Hode noted, the bones of these chickens, because they grow so fast, never develop the density that makes for mineral-rich bone broths.

The efficient feed conversion factor means that meat chickens are fed, as are industrial layers, 90 percent corn and 10 percent soy.  Feeds, even organic feeds, contain the synthetic protein methionine and an array of chemicals and waste-product oils.  Changing to 70 percent corn and 30 percent soy solves the protein problem, but affects production costs as less carbohydrate (corn) means a longer growth time, more money for additional feed, and more manure (“There’s a synthetic in my organic chicken,” Rodale Institute, 1 April 2005, http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/columns/org_news/2005/0405/methionine.shtml).  A 70/30 mixture does not solve the problem of making omnivore chickens vegetarians, which affects the omega 3 to 6 ratio of the meat.

According to the Lion’s Grip web site, what chickens prefer to eat is much more diverse.  Too see this list is to understand how blighted a diet of 90 percent corn, 10 percent soy, and a bunch of chemicals is.  Chickens need ample grass and living plants, especially clover; subterranean flora and fauna; insects; and protein that raises the omega 3 content of flesh and eggs so that it is equal to the omega 6 content, like fish, meat, milk worms, and nuts.  A grain supplement should only be given free choice and should be based on a mixture of five or more grains.  Legumes should be offered with grain to balance grain proteins.  Salt should come from free-choice kelp, and calcium from oyster shells or grass-fed bone.  Oils, like the highly processed, already rancid waste products from industry, should never be added to chicken feed   (www.lionsgrip.com/chickensidealfeed.html).

We are feeding our chickens commercial organic feed, as we have not yet worked out how else to feed a large flock of organic chickens outside what the so-called free market has standardized.  We do not like giving the chickens soy, synthetic chemicals, and waste products from industry.  But we have not yet located local grain mixtures and protein sources that are economically feasible and not too time consuming to organize.

Four major transnational companies supply 80 to 90 percent of the chicks to the worldwide commercial meat chicken industry, some in the form of hatching eggs sold to independent hatcheries.  Alternatives to the Cornish Crosses are limited, but some of these companies are now offering a slower growing Cornish Cross, like our Silver Crosses, which are slaughtered closer to their sexual maturity.  And, and at least one of these companies, Hubbard, a French company, is offering a chicken sold under the Red Label system in France that is most commonly known here as a Freedom Ranger.  This chicken, apparently, takes twelve weeks to grow, forages pasture well, and is loaded with flavor.

Our Silver Cross chickens come from Henry Noll in Pennsylvania.   While still a Cornish Cross, they are slower growing and will take at least 9 weeks to grow to 5 pounds.  Crossed with a Barred Rock, they are a beautiful silver grey with barred feathers and red combs.  Pete and Rose, who ate one last fall, say they definitely taste better than the flavor-challenged standard Cornish Cross.

Our chickens are very lively and have huge yellow feet and legs.  You can tell which ones are roosters now, and they are, suddenly, looking quite heavy.  However, all of them eat like piranhas.  It’s eerie to watch them eat.  And they are eating us out of house and home.  They will eat the grass and clover in their large, movable pen only if grain is withheld.

So, for fall and the future, we are looking to the Freedom Ranger chicken.  Ussery describes the meat as being “incomparably better.”  And NCAT says the “meat is flavorful and firm, but not tough.”  Freedom Rangers are also good layers.

Do not ask us to sell our meat chickens to you.  We cannot.  The food Nazis at the Quality Assurance and Regulation Division of the Maine Department of Agriculture, in the name of food safety and without any evidence of problems, will likely be successful in revoking the 1,000-bird poultry exemption for small farmers.  Now, any farmer who wants to sell even one chicken must build his/her own, very expensive processing facility, which would only be used a few weeks a  year.  Additionally, equipment may not be shared between farmers.

Here’s exactly how government helps the big and uniform get bigger and more uniform.  Here’s how small, local, and diverse gets driven out of the market.  Here’s how tasteless chickens are created.