Category Archives: Ethical farming

Needless suffering

More politicking with predators

Over the past few weeks, my neighbours had a collective loss of all their chickens, several turkeys and many ducks, to marauding bears. By the grace of God, my chicken sheds still stands unharmed and my chickens unravaged (however, I did lose the last of my female Muscovy ducks to a fox two nights ago). Two days ago, I ran into Clarence while out for lunch and he invited me to go with him to survey the damage that a bear had wreaked at a friend’s place two nights before. He wanted to read the signs and understand what happened: he would reveal the story while I recorded and photo-documented the scene.

What remains of Gladys chickens

What remains of Glady's chickens

As we approached the chicken shed we passed through Glady’s orchard. As Clarence surveyed every inch of the snow he described what he thought had taken place. Because of the size and shape of the footprint, he realized it was a full grown adult grizzly bear, while the pile of carcasses told him it was planning on returning.

Like a butcher, the bear first cleans out the guts to preserve the meat for when she returns.

Like a butcher, the bear first cleans out the guts to preserve the meat for when she returns.

The proximity of her chicken shed to her house tells me it's a bold bear.

The proximity of her chicken shed to her house tells me it's a bold bear.

Clarence concluded that on the south side of the shed (photo above), the bear actually had the smarts to slide the plywood open and then tear through the heavy wire to get at the chickens. (Note the proximity of the chicken shed to my friend’s house, which tells us the bears are not afraid of humans.) On the north side, the shed was not so lucky. The bear tore off the plywood covering and wooden slats that held it ,before ripping into the wire. Clarence showed the difference between the claw marks and teeth marks on the wooden walls.

North side of shed where the bear ripped apart the 2 x 6 inch wood and plywood covering of the window.

North side of shed where the bear ripped apart the 1 x 6 inch wood and plywood covering of the window.

Clarence soon determined it was actually two bears because there were two distinct prints in the snow. He reckons it is a mother grizzly and her two year old cub. We followed the tracks and saw the fence they broke getting into the property. They left fur on the wooden fence and barbed wire fencing, too. We found where they had bedded down and eaten some of the chickens.

Where the bear bedded down to eat, notice the chicken feathers everywhere.

Where the bears bedded down to eat; notice the chicken feathers everywhere.

Once we came across the bear bed, the hunter in Clarence almost took over: “I bet they’re bedded down right now within a 100 feet or so…Oh my achin’ back, that trail is hot…that’s an old army expression…wanna walk a ways into the bush with me?” As attractive as that offer was, upon cooler consideration we concluded it would be better that we were both armed before rummaging further afield through the dense forest at dusk in pursuit of the ‘robbers’, as Clarence affectionately called them.

In his forty-two years in this valley, he has never observed bears not hibernating at this time of year. Officials will likely say this is because there were not enough fish in the rivers this summer; more experienced people here in the valley tend to subscribe to the idea that this is because we are no longer trapping and shooting the bears, so they are no longer afraid of humans. In the case of these two bears it is probably a combination of both.

The bears did come back that night, and for two more nights, to finish off what they’d left behind. Once they were done, they moved on to yet another neighbour and cleaned out her chicken shed, too. Altogether at least seven households have been attacked and their livestock completely wiped out. Normally under these circumstances you could call the Conservation Officer and they might bring a cage up to trap the bear. However, we are presently without a Conservation Officer and had been since June and are likely to be until April (if we are lucky).

Our community should have been able to deal directly with this situation by phoning any number of equally qualified and experienced, willing hunter-neighbours. They could have effectively and safely destroyed the bear immediately, either themselves or by using the Ministry of Environment’s bear trap, which sits idle in the snow just across from where I write. (Like the fire and ambulance service, we could have a resident volunteer team ready to go into action; actually we already have the team, just not the permission to act.)  But British Columbia’s laws prohibit this kind of common sense approach. Instead, our community had to wait to plead the case to the Ministry which took days, even weeks. Fortunately the bear didn’t decide to enter someone’s house during that time.

As I write this post, my dog is barking her head off letting me know something is out there, but it’s nearly time to close up the shed and put away the animals. Meanwhile the Conservation Officer from Williams Lake has just begun his six hour drive to get here…

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Filed under Animal issues, Conservation, Ethical farming, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, personal food sovereignty, Politicking with predators, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Crack and sniff: How fresh are your eggs?

Because they all look roughly the same on the outside, the only real way to know if you have bought healthy, fresh eggs, is to crack them open. The following information will help you determine whether your eggs are fresh and if they have come from healthy chickens, or are old and have come from poorly fed, stressed birds.

First rule of thumb: it is best to bypass the cheap, supermarket brand egg.

These are usually produced in vast factory ‘farms’ (though certainly not my definition of a farm, hence the ‘single quotes’) with upwards of 500,000 birds in one facility. The birds are caged in buildings that are artificially lighted and ventilated. The feed is most likely a mixture of conventionally grown corn and soy, undoubtedly contaminated by Genetically Modified Organisms and laced with antibiotics; these confinement operations must lace their feed with antibiotics in order to keep disease from spreading among the hens. They contribute to the amount of antibiotics we humans are ingesting (along with milk, cheese, and other animal products that come from confinement operations). There is not much goodness in eggs like these.

‘In-store’ freshness tests

The shells should be dull, not shiny. The eggs should feel strong, not so delicate that regular handling threatens to crack them. Hold one up in front of a light: sometimes you can see through them well enough to see the size of the air sac inside–it should be small and lopsided or angled.

‘At-home’ freshness tests

  1. Place the eggs in a large bowl of cold water. If they float, they are quite old.
  2. Once cracked open and lying on a plate, the yolk of a fresh egg will ‘dome up’ and stay up, while the white will clearly be thicker in the middle part, thinner on the edges. (A family that buys eggs from me has morning breakfast contests to see who’s yolk stands up the highest.) The yolks should be a deep yellow-orange, not pallid yellow; this deep orange color will tell you that the birds have had access to fresh greens, like grass and mixed pasture. They should also be virtually odor-free.
  3. Another test you could perform (though you will know well enough by the above two methods whether your egg is fresh or not) is to break the egg into boiling water, as if to poach it. Most supermarket eggs break up into tiny pieces on contact with the water, whereas fresh eggs will hold together.

‘Get Crackin’: shaking the hand that feeds you

If you seek out eggs from a small local grower, consider asking the following questions to learn more about the eggs you buy:

What do you feed your chickens? The ideal feed is a combination of grains, legumes, grasses, greens, worms and insect–in other words, pasture raised with free access to grains, to supplement their range diet. Less than ideal, but still acceptable to many, are organic lay pellets and organically grown corn and soy. At the bottom of the heap are commercial lay pellets, conventionally grown corn and soy, and cottonseed meal.

Do you use antibiotics? If the health of a whole flock is threatened, then the judicial use of antibiotics can usually be tolerated by the consumer, as long as eggs from that period are not sold. The answer should not be, ‘Antibiotics are routinely added to the feed ration.’ (Nevertheless, this is the practice of conventional agricultural operations. )

How many birds do you have? In this arena, small is beautiful–and better. If the birds are separated into smaller flocks–maximum 100 to 150–the chickens can maintain a healthy chicken society and a natural pecking order, and thus will be less stressed.

What are living conditions like for the birds? The birds should have regular access to the outdoors. Their living quarters should not be cramped, and they should be able to express themselves as chickens. In other words, they should be able to run around, scratch for worms and bugs, and have personal space to get away from marauding roosters if they want to. If chickens are given enough space, they are less likely to become stressed and/or diseased.

How fresh are these eggs? Small producers sometimes store eggs for days or weeks until they have enough to make a delivery. Eggs should not be older than 10 days when they are brought to market, and should be labeled with the date of harvest.

Are the eggs fertile? If the producer keeps roosters, the flocks will better resemble a natural chicken society and the hens will be less stressed. There should be a good ratio of roosters to hens; 1 to between 1o and 20 is a good balance, depending upon the breed and aggressiveness of individual roosters. Many producers say they cannot keep more than one rooster because they will fight. This is a sign that the birds do not have enough space to get away from one another! A healthy, happy flock with enough personal space will not fight to the death, or pick on another bird and kill it.

What breed are your chickens? While this likely doesn’t matter much to individual egg quality, you may want to know for your own personal reasons. There are reasons beyond freshness and animal ethics to consider. For example, do you want your dollars going towards helping a farmer keep a heritage breed alive, develop a breed with special adaptive characteristics for your area, obtain farm status to lower their land tax, or increase food security in your neighbourhood by being able to be economically viable? These options are not only interesting philosophical motives, but also politically oriented, in that they help ensure increased food security by keeping the gene pool of chickens varied (which makes them less susceptible to a host of problems), developing regional characteristics in a local flock, maintaining important animal husbandry skills alive, and helping a local farm be or stay viable. These are all interesting, conscientious ways to spend your hard earned dollars.

May I visit your farm? While you might never do this, the producer’s response will give you an idea of whether he or she is proud of the operation or ashamed of it.

When asking these questions, remember that life is a compromise. In an ideal world, your farmer’s feed would be organic, the chickens would have constant access to fresh pasture, and they would roam around a large space, never at the risk of being predated upon. However your farmer has many variables to consider in creating a healthy, vibrant yet economically viable, ecologically sustainable farm. How much you’re willing to pay for the end product is a big part of that juggling act!

In the end, it is always better to shake the hand that is feeding you. You will have the confidence of knowing where your food is coming from, and where your dollars are going and what they are supporting. You may also develop strong relationships between yourself and the grower, and indirectly strengthen your community bonds (what academics call ‘social capital’).

Isn’t that better than mindlessly letting your dollars get funnelled through a chain supermarket check-out to an unknown conglomerate far, far away?

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Filed under Chickens, Conservation, Educational, Ethical farming, Food Security, How to..., Locavore, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Egg ‘profits’

A couple of years ago I asked one of our local grocery store managers (there are two grocery stores in the valley)  how many dozen eggs per week the store sold: the answer was 1500 dozen. That means  our community spends annually at least $312,000.00 on eggs, and likely twice that considering the second store! We are a remote, economically depressed community. Imagine if all that money kept circulating in our valley instead of the majority (the local stores keep a small percentage  of that money in retail mark-up) going to an anonymous corporation  a thousand kilometers away.  If we could develop a local food system, this money would be used to support small family farmers, who could farm in an ethical manner as I do. Then, our community would  not be supporting which treats animals inhumanely, raisies eggs of questionable integrity,  and polluties the environment with long distance egg travel–and let’s not even start on the idea of freshness!

Why am I on about this? I was recently crunching the numbers to see if I could make my farm economically viable through the egg business. Here are my preliminary calculations:

  • I am trying to build my flock up to 99 laying hens and am almost there. Hens only lay well for approximately 40 weeks per year(industrial producers might achieve 46-50 weeks by confining the birds in artificial conditions, stimulating them with artificial light, mutilating them,  and feeding them antibiotics and hormones). So:
  • 99 hens x 1 egg per day (almost) x 6  days per week = 594 eggs per week;
  • 594 eggs per week divided by 12/dozen = almost 50 dozen per week;
  • 40 weeks (to give the benefit of the doubt) x 50 dozen x $4.00 per dozen (average cost based on local grocery store)= $8 000 gross income.
  • That doesn’t sound too bad until you factor in the feed cost (which has increased dramatically recently) and the costs to build a henhouse, buy the chickens as day-olds, transport them to the farm, provide electricity for lighting and/or heating to raise them and keep water from freezing during the winter, provide bedding material (including trucking it to the farm), and pay the occasional vet bill. Oh–and factor in the mistakes, blunders, ice storms and power outages (e.g. 47 new chicks and no extra room in your bra to keep them warm!). How much is left of the gross income? It doesn’t take a sharp pencil or further detailed calculations to realize there will be next to nothing left over at the end of the year!
  • Other expenses that must be factored in if you are to make a serious ‘go’ of it include: the up-front cost of the building to house the hens, nesting boxes, roosts, waterers, feeders, and special lights for heating the chicks as newborns; egg cartons and their labels (legally you can’t re-use cartons!); and annual taxes –which are not lessened unless you obtain farm status, an increasingly difficult thing to achieve.
  • Additionally, there are labour costs. Like many small farmers, I have chosen to work on my farm rather than develop a career (for which I am well qualified) which would give me a good wage, full benefits replete with life and disability insurance, a pension plan, unemployment insurance and paid leave. Instead of selling my time to an employer, I choose to spend it conscientiously:  caring for my birds; checking their feed and water daily; letting them in and out twice daily; changing their bedding regularly; collecting and cleaning eggs; putting them in cartons daily; delivering them to customers; doing the specialty chores (which take an inordinate amount of time) like giving them greens or conducting the Poopy Bum Patrol; creating an ecologically sustainable farm; contributing to local food security; practising local economic development; increasing my community’s social capital; advocating for food sovereignty through meetings, discussions, educational workshops, and writing this blog; researching, reading and learning from mentors and trail-blazers.

In fact, as I write, the powers that be are considering upping the amount of money which a small farmer like me needs to make on a farm of 2 to 10 acres from $2500 per year to $10 000.

That increase in requisite gross sales volume will put many small farms in British Columbia, Canada,  out of business. According to Statistics Canada (2006) there are 19 844 farms in B.C. 9466 of them make less than $10 000 gross sales each year. In other words, if the powers that be have their way, nearly 9 500 family farms will go out of business!

The increase in required gross sales revenue, coupled with the Egg Producers Marketing Board’s ceiling of 99 laying hens, make it impossible to keep a two acre farm in non-industrial egg production alone.

Ah, you say, what about economies of scale? Why not get bigger? Why not have more hens? Because I’m not allowed to, that’s why.

Here is the British Columbia government’s regulation:

The British Columbia Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) issues egg layer quota to registered egg producers. An egg producer is legally required to obtain quota from the BCEMB if they have more than 99 layer hens. Registered producers with quota are bound by the BCEMB’s Standing Order to produce eggs according to provincial and federal legislation.

The BCEMB Standing Order defines a layer, applied to chickens, as a laying hen, layer, and any class of a female chicken hatched for the purposes of egg production that is aged nineteen (19) weeks or older.

[See BC Egg Producers Board for more information; but be forewarned, it is difficult to wade your way through to understanding the rules and regulations–I’m still wading.]

The British Columbia Egg Producers Board governs how many laying chickens anyone is allowed to keep, without getting ‘quota’ (say, 10,000 or more). This legal exclusion of chicken numbers between say, 100 and 9,000, severely limits the ability of a ‘would be’ farmer to grow and develop a sustainable, economically viable, environmentally-more-sustainable-than-the-system-we-are-locked-into, local business.

Somewhere in these pages, there seems to be a window of exemption for  a flock of 99-399 flock limit, but I have yet to be able to find out how this is achieved. The next  stage up is 1000-3000, the ‘Small Lot’ farm. There is an application form on the website; however, it is not as easy as filling out the ‘Small Lot Authorization’ application form. You cannot simply grow your business the way you you see fit: if you want to be bigger than 99 or 399, you must decide which of the categories–Free Run, Free Range, Organic, Certified Heritage Breed (along with requisite mountains of paperwork, reporting, etc.)–you wish to comply with, and the mountain of paperwork you are willing to submit yourself to.

Here is a sample of the less-than-crystal-clear legal requirements:

Small Lot Authorizations – The Board has established a Small Lot Authorization program to a maximum of 10,000 layers.  A person who wishes to keep or maintain more than ninety-nine (99) layers but three hundred and ninety-nine (399) layers or less, must apply annually to the Board to be exempt from: the requirement of obtaining a licence, registering as a Registered Producer and paying marketing licence fees if they do not market their eggs through a Federally Registered grading station. The following conditions apply: (i) No person shall keep or maintain, in concert with another person or persons, such layers in facilities contiguous to or a part of each other, such that in aggregate, the number of layers kept or maintained, would if kept or maintained by one person in such facilities, require that person to obtain a licence and register as a Registered Producer. (ii) No Registered Producer shall permit a person exempt from the requirement of obtaining a licence, to keep or maintain layers in the Egg Production Unit of or in facilities contiguous to or that ordinarily would constitute a part of the Egg Production Unit of the Registered Producer. (iii) The producer is certified organic, certified heritage breed, certified free run or certified free range by an agency meeting the criteria contained in SECTION 7(p). (iv) For certified heritage breed flocks the applicant must demonstrate that 99 birds is too few for the maintenance of a viable heritage flock. (v) If the producer direct markets their eggs ungraded at the farmgate the producer must be in compliance with the Agricultural Produce Grading Act, Shell Egg Grading Regulation.  Should a producer decide to market eggs as Canada Grade “A” the producer must also pay Marketing Licence Fees on product marketed through a registered grading station. (vi) Priority for entrance into the Small Lot Authorization program will be given to applicants producing specialty eggs, including certified organic, certified free run and certified free range in regions outside the Lower Mainland. (vii) Persons currently holding laying hens that may qualify for a Small Lot Authorization have until December 31, 2006 to complete and submit an application for Board approval. (viii) If required, a waiting list system will be established for the Small Lot Authorization program.

This is not the end. You must meet the ‘New Entrant’ requirements. What are they? Ah, well … all is on hold, and has been since June 13, 2007 when the Egg Producers Board put out the following letter:

June 13, 2007

To : New Entrant Applicants

From : Mike Gillanders, Operations Manager

NEW ENTRANT WAITING LISTS

At their meeting May 30, 31, 2007, the BC Egg Marketing Board (BCEMB) reviewed the BC Farm Industry Review Board (BCFIRB) decision on eligibility for New Entrants and addressed the waiting list process that has occurred over the past several years while the BCFIRB reviewed the New Entrant policies. Due to uncertainty of how waiting lists would work and who would be eligible, the process has been very confusing for everyone involved.  The BCEMB Directors therefore resolved to replace the New Entrant selection by waiting list with a New Entrant selection by lottery. As a consequence, the Standing Order will be revised to remove the sections dealing with Waiting Lists and a new section will be drafted to detail how a New Entrant Lottery will operate. Once the new policy is approved, the details will be posted on our website and you will receive a copy.  Any persons who have paid the Waiting List fee will receive a refund.

Despite the fact that I don’t have inordinate material aspirations, the limitations imposed by the BCEMB are painfully prohibitive to my aspirations of working from home and increasing our community food security. It’s no wonder there has been a mass exodus from the rural communities and family farms, and a concomitant burgeoning of cities and their environmental issues. Why would anyone want to try to develop a farm and raise food for their communities when the profits are too low (or non-existent), and the barriers are too high?

When you cannot grow your business as you wish (build your chicken flock up to a reasonable number–beyond the allowable 99 but in keeping with your farm size and sustainability–without having to jump major ‘exemption’ or ‘special status’ hoops that might provide you with an actual profit at the end of the year), what is the incentive to farm? How can a small egg producer in BC avoid throwing in the towel and working off the farm, returning to the city, and becoming part of the unsustainable urban flock?

 

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, Food Security, Locavore, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Store Wars

I just came across this little video from U-tube. While I don’t often find my way to these, this one struck me as quite hilarious and very well done. While the message is simplistic, it will give you a good laugh. I would highly recommend it to teachers who want to pass the food security message on to young adults. Incidentally, I also recommend the Meatrix series for the same reason.

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Filed under Educational, Ethical farming, Politics of Food, Sustainable Farming

Butchering day: turkeys (graphic photo documentary)

Warning: If you are not seriously interested in learning about turkey butchering, seeing the process documented in photos, then I suggest you do not read or look any further.

Hot water ready for scalding birds.

Hot water ready for scalding birds.

I have, up until today, learned most of what I know about farming, animal husbandry, animal veterinary care, and butchering from a book. When you have been raised in the city, don’t have a farming background nor access to someone knowledgeable to teach you, this becomes the only way to learn.

My friend Clarence was butchering his turkeys today, and upon hearing his technique, my ears perked up and I asked him if I could help. Not only was it a chance for me to learn by doing, but also it was a chance for me to get behind the camera and document the process!

We had discussed the various ways of killing a turkey and when he asked me how I did it, I told him we cut the heads off. ‘That’s how we did it on the farm’ he told me. ‘I don’t do it that way anymore’. A long time ago, an old Jewish Rabbi taught Clarence how to butcher turkeys the kosher way. Since learning from the Rabbi, Clarence has never looked back. ‘You sever the jugular’ he said, gesturing to his neck  with a slicing motion, then telling me how this technique keeps the bird from flapping around, risking hurting itself and/or you in the merry dance. ‘They only flap a bit at the very end of their life this way’ he told me.

Until today, I had only read about this technique. This not only sounded like a much better way than I had been doing, but also it was the way that Joel Salatin described dispatching chickens and turkeys in his books. According to Salatin, it is the most humane and effective way to do it; the animals fall unconscious and die, but their heart works until the end to pump all the blood from the body and veins. Thus, the animal is clean for the rest of the proces; the part that makes it kosher I imagine.

I have been thinking about attempting the process of Salatin’s description since reading about it. However, I have previously had terrible experiences with attempting to slaughter animals by following a book’s description and had tried all sorts of ways to kill chickens. I found that there is technique involved in each form that simply does not get translated well, or I didn’t understand clearly. Finally, after putting several chickens through misery in my attempts to dispatch them ‘ethically’ and ‘bloodlessly’, I decided I would simply cut the heads off, and keep the suffering to a minimum. At least that way, I reasoned, they are dispatched quickly. It might not be very artful, but it was effective.

However, here was an opportunity to learn first-hand a better way under the guidance of someone well versed in the art; so I leaped at it.

Photo documentary: The slaughtering process (graphic photos included)

NOTE: this documentary and step by step will work for turkeys, chickens, and ducks (and their wild equivalents).

Step one: catch the bird by the legs and tie it up from its feet, high enough over the ground so its head is up off of it by about 6 inches (see fifth photo below). When catching the bird, grab it by one leg, then the other, being careful not to get hurt by the wings. Most turkeys are pretty benign once you get a hold of them by the feet, but you should be cautious during the process of catching them because their wings are powerful and the claws on their their feet are sharp.

Locating the jugular vein on either side of wind-pipe.

Locating the jugular vein on either side of wind-pipe.

Holding the head, cut the jugular veins on either side of the neck.

Holding the head, cut the jugular veins on either side of the neck.

Step two: grab the bird by the head and sever the jugular vein, do this on both sides of the neck. The jugular is on either side of the wind pipe which runs along the centre of the neck, below the beak. Be sure to cut deep enough to have the blood flowing fast, not a slow drip. You will know that you have cut the jugular when the blood-flow is strong. It may even spurt a little. Once the jugular is severed on both sides, step away from the bird, out of the reach of the wings. During the bird’s  ‘last gasp’ they will flap their wings several times and you don’t want to be in the way. You could be hurt, or they could break a wing.

Cutting into the jugular vein.

Cutting into the jugular vein.

A good steady flow of blood lets you know you've cut into the jugular vein correctly.

A good steady flow of blood lets you know you have cut into the jugular vein correctly.

Hung by his feet, cut and bled, and performing his 'last gasp' flapping.

Hung by his feet, cut and bled, this Tom is in the 'throws' of death.

Step three: place the bird in hot, nearly boiling water for about 10-15 seconds. Be certain the bird is dead. He will have his eyes closed and there will be no more movement from him. Carefully take him out of the half-hitch knot and place him in 180 F degree water, not boiling; you don’t want to scaled the skin or meat. Be sure to completely dunk his body for 15 or so seconds (Clarence says 10, but he counts slow!).

Dunking the Tom in hot water to make the feather plucking easier.

Dunking the Tom in hot water to make the feather plucking easier.

Step four: remove the feathers and the pin-feathers (re-dunk the bird if the feathers do not come off easily).

Let the plucking begin.

Let the plucking begin.

De-feathering, a close-up shot.

De-feathering, a close-up shot.

Step five: Remove the head and neck. To do this, you want to cut the skin around the neck and pull the beard back over the head. Then, find the aorta and windpipe, get your fingers under them. Then, cut into the chest wall, careful not to rupture the stomach and spill the content. Cut through the layers of skin, and then rip the fat with your hands, pulling it gently away from the stomach which will be located behind a wall of fat. Once you have located the stomach, pull gently on it and get it out of the chest cavity. Then hold  the aorta and wind-pipe and and cut them off as deep into the chest as you can get. Then, peel it all back over the head, turn the head gently to find the joint where it attaches to the neck and cut between the head and neck joint. This will sever the head without having to cut through bone.

Cut skin all the way around the neck, below the beard in case of a Tom.

Cut skin all the way around the neck, below the beard in case of a Tom.

Locating the wind-pipe and aorta.

Locating the wind-pipe and aorta.

Gently pull stomach away from chest wall and out towards head.

Gently pull stomach away from chest wall and out towards head.

Stomach, head and neck, ready for severing.

Stomach being pulled out of chest cavity.

Sever head (and stomach, wind-pipe, aorta) from the neck at the joint where the head meets the neck.

Sever head (and stomach, wind-pipe, aorta) from the neck at the joint where the head meets the neck.

Wind-pipe, aorta, stomach and neck off the bird.

Wind-pipe, aorta, stomach and neck off the bird.

Cutting off the neck.

Cutting off the neck.

Step six: Remove the lower legs. To do this, cut between the joint and sever the cartilage. This way, you don’t cut through any bone and the leg comes away easily.

Cut between the joint, through the cartiledge and sever the lower leg.

Cut between the joint, through the cartiledge and sever the lower leg.

Within minutes of his death, the Tom begins to look a lot like Thanksgiving dinner.

Step seven: remove the oil sac. At the base of the bird, just above the tail is the oil sac. It is under the skin. Cut the skin, and gently pull away the skin and the oil sac as you go.

At the base of the tail is the oil sac, remove this first.

At the base of the tail is the oil sac, remove this first.

Step eight: remove the anus, being careful not to cut through the colon. To do this, cut the skin on either side of and around the anus. At this point, Clarence tells me that it comes in handy not having his left thumb and index finger tip, ‘I can use it to remove the stomach contents and not worry about my nails rupturing the contents!’ Incidentally, he did not lose them to the butchering process, but to a dynamite mishap as a young child.

Cutting around the anus, careful not to sever the colon and spill its contents.

Cutting around the anus, careful not to sever the colon and spill its contents.

Anus and colon tube.

Anus removed and colon tube exposed.

Step nine: Remove the innards. To do this, reach into the cavity with your hand. Roll your hand to one side, detaching the innards from the chest wall. Repeat towards the other direction. You should then be able to feel the heart and lungs. Take hold of these and gently pull your hand out from the belly cavity, pulling the contents with you.

Carefully removing the innards from the turkey.

Carefully removing the innards from the turkey.

Step ten: Once the innards have been removed, carefully cut out the heart, liver, and gizzard. Slice the heart in half (butterfly) and rinse of blood. Cut the liver away from the gall, careful not to spill the gall bladder contents, rinse. Cut the gizzard away and then carefully butterfly the meat, being sure not to cut into the  crop and spill the contents, rinse. Put these items to one side with the neck. These pieces are kept for cooking and are cut up small and used to make the stuffing.

Carefully cut through meat surrounding the gizzard.

Carefully cut through meat surrounding the gizzard.

Behind the meat is the gizzard, a small pouch-like stomach full of grinding stones and undigested feed.

Behind the meat is the gizzard, a small pouch-like stomach full of grinding stones and undigested feed.

Carefully cut the liver away from the gall bladder, then rinse it clean.

Carefully cut the liver away from the gall bladder, then rinse it clean.

Neck in two pieces, liver between neck, heart, and gizzard.

Neck in two pieces, liver between neck, then heart, and gizzard.

Step ten: cool the bird. Place the bird in cool water to chill the meat completely and give it a final rinsing.

The final dunk, cooling the meat.

The final dunk, cooling the meat.

Finally, you have your turkey ready for the table or the freezer!

Three Tom turkeys now ready for the table.

Three Tom turkeys now ready for the table.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ducks, Educational, Ethical farming, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Turkeys

Yellow Legs

Yellow Legs.

Just one example of yellow legs.

While in New Zealand, I acquired a flock of chickens that were made up from an assortment of ‘hand me down’ and otherwise general cast-offs that were all very good at living on our farm. In other words, they were good at free ranging for their own food and generally looking after themselves. All I provided them with was safe housing and water.

We were building a house on three acres and one of the contractors, Ian (who built our driveway), not only kept chickens but also ‘showed’ them. I had never heard of such a thing but was curious enough to ask about the ins and outs of showing chickens. Not only did he give us the grand tour of his chicken facility, but also he gave us a ‘chicken starter kit’, vis-à-vis some of his less than show-perfect stock. He was getting out of a certain breed, and was happy to let them go to a good home.

He had been showing chickens for years by then, but related to us a charming, self-deprecating story of his first attempts at showing. A newcomer to the exciting world of chicken showing, he began his career with Leghorns. It was the only breed he knew. He bought a breeding pair, built them suitable housing and a run, and proceeded to take great care in feeding them, talking to them and paying an inordinate amount of loving attention to them (I think his wife on occasion had been jealous of the chickens).

He began to breed some of his own. When it came time to go to his first show, Ian hand-selected two of what he thought were his most beautiful chickens; a cock and a hen, lovingly incubated and hand-raised. Both were plump, well plumed and had gorgeous, yellow legs. He took them to the show and stood there proudly displaying his stock. When the judges came by to appraise them, he was shocked when some of them snickered and generally looked down their noses at his birds; he was completely dismayed when his chickens came in dead last. He was the laughing stock of the chicken show. What he’d failed to do was check to see what the ‘show’ quality guidelines were for the Leghorn chicken: legs were to be white; what Ian thought a charming attribute was in fact a show-stopping conformational fault. When relaying this story to us he said sadly, ‘You know, some of them go so far as to bleach the legs to make them whiter before a show!’

Fast forward 7 years and we are now in Bella Coola, BC. I have acquired another bunch of hand-me-down, cast-off chickens. I don’t care. I’m not going to show them so I’m not worried about their pedigree or their adherence to breed specific guidelines. In fact, I am quite happy to see them interbreeding and am always fascinated to see how the chicks turn out.

Consequently, we end up with all sorts of shapes and sizes. I cull the roosters that don’t get along with our stud rooster Pavarotti, and also the smaller birds, because I am trying to develop hardy chickens that can handle the cold winters here, and that are good dual-purpose birds.

Because I’m not paying attention to breed conformation, it was inevitable that someone with yellow legs would appear eventually; and he did. ‘Yellow legs’ was a very striking bird. My husband–who had forgotten all about how Ian been the laughing stock of the New Zealand chicken breeders’ show–loved him (maybe this is a man thing); night after night, he would return to the house after putting them to bed and wax lyrical about his beauty: “He’s got these really beautiful yellow legs.” I reminded him of Ian’s story, but he was undeterred. Eventually, ‘Yellow Legs’ became a star of the farm. I would watch him walk, and with each step, I would say: “Yellow…legs…yellow…legs…yellow…legs”. As it got closer to slaughter time, my voice changed intonation and I pretended to be the rooster himself: ‘Yellow… legs… yellow… legs… David likes my… yellow… legs.’ Sometimes I would chant it to my husband as if this might save ‘me-now-Yellow-Legs’ from the fate of the dinner plate.

RCMP uniform.

RCMP's yellow legs.

We went on like this for months as the roosters grew. Eventually, friends were exposed to the drama and also Ian’s background story, and Yellow Legs became a bit of a community legend. Once, a friend and I were on a road trip to Williams Lake when an RCMP officer walked out in front of us. Without missing a beat, she suddenly blurted out, ‘Yellow Legs, yellow legs, yellow legs’ in time with his foot-falls (the RCMP uniform has yellow stripes down the black pant legs). I burst out laughing and hoped he didn’t hear. How on earth would I explain the ridiculous effect of his RCMP uniform on me?

Some time later that year, this same friend and a host of others were over for dinner. There was good food, fine wine, great dessert and lots of laughter. There was a plate full of chicken and the people were helping themselves to it al gusto.

This rooster, having heard what happened to 'The' Yellow Legs, is reluctant to show off his legs.

This rooster, having heard what happened to The Yellow Legs, shows some reluctance to show off his pair of yellow legs.

The friend who had been in Williams Lake with me picked up a drumstick and began to devour it, then suddenly burst out, ‘Oh my god!’ The conversation came to an abrupt stop; her hand, still holding the drumstick, had shot out of her mouth and was now poised at eye level over the centre of the table demanding all eyes’ fullest attention– ‘Is this Yellow Legs?!’

Taken aback, but not willing to lie, I admitted that, somewhere on the plate among the pile of drumsticks, were Yellow Legs’ legs. Of course I couldn’t confirm that the one she was holding was indeed the show stopping star. After a short pause of what could only be described as contemplative consideration, someone uttered a brief toast in honor of Yellow Legs. We all had a good laugh and continued eating: ‘Yellow legs, yellow legs, we all liked his yellow legs.’

Sadly, this conscious celebration of an animal’s life so that we could eat was not the reaction that a farming colleague faced when she presented to friends of hers a sumptuous dinner of roast pork, which she had raised and cooked herself. Upon hearing that the pork was not bought at the supermarket but instead was one of the pigs they had ‘met’ on a previous visit to the farm, these so-called ‘friends’ refused to eat and chose instead to take their meal at a local pub.

What did they order when they got there? Why, roast pork of course. The snubbed hostess, being much more polite than me, bit her tongue and didn’t reveal that she often supplied that pub with her own pork.

See: A pig in a poke for more on the issues related to this topic.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ethical farming, Food Sovereignty, Politics of Food