Category Archives: personal food sovereignty

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

Poultry in motion

Turkey plucker in background. Fire heating scalding water in cauldron.

Turkey plucker in background; fire heating scalding water in cauldron in foreground.

Last week I butchered 27 roosters, 8 turkeys and 2 ducks and, until a few days ago, I was doing it all by hand (see Butchering day: turkeys for complete photo documentary of the process).  Several days into the planned massacre, I had a food security meeting at the hospital (it being the only venue in the valley with video-conferencing capability). During the meeting, my mind drifted back to all the work I had to do back on the farm. While I was agonizing about how often I was having to sharpen my knife, it occurred to me that I might just be in the right place at the right time. After all, a hospital is the place where they cut people, in particular their skin, open. Why not use a scalpel?

With that thought I was suddenly anxious for the meeting to end so I could get back to the business ‘at hand’. My mind began leafing through the possibilities of who might give me a contraband scalpel; I mentally listed off the doctors whom I knew well enough to ask and noted, sadly, that all were either out of town or recently retired. While I was lamenting the loss of fruitful connections, one of the nurses walked by as if on cue. Perhaps I would be able to buy one: “Sure, but you might want to consider buying an exacto knife instead,” the nurse replied, listing off the virtues of the exacto knife: they are probably cheaper, just as sharp, not made for one time use, more convenient  and would last much longer. Laughing, he rounded out his thoughts with, “Besides, a scalpel is made for making nice neat incisions that are repairable–not really what you’re after.”

Who knew they were made for one time use? As I left the nurses’ station, I had the good fortune of running into another neighbour who at one time owned a chicken plucker. Convinced I was suffering the preliminary states of arthritis, but suppressing my desperation, I asked him nonchalantly if he still owned the contraption and whether I could borrow it. “It’s actually a turkey plucker,” he said rubbing his chin, then added mercifully, “Sure you can use it.”

Holding his hands in the air and turning them from side to side, he provided me with a quick virtual demonstration of how to use the machine, replete with the final stages of turkey plucking–holding it by the feet and gently letting it roll away from you, careful not to let it go but moving with it as it bounced up and down on the imaginary rubber prongs–and finally we made arrangements for me to pick it up the next day. (I wondered what the other patients thought we were discussing as we stood there in the corridor!)

cutting table, scalding cauldron, and turkey plucker.

The sum total of my processing plant: cutting table, scalding cauldron, turkey plucker, guts bucket, hand washing pots and towels.

The next morning, he and my husband man-handled the great machine onto the brick patio which surrounds our fire pit, where I would be working. After they both left, I got myself organized, then got a chicken slaughtered, scalded and ready for the plucker. I plugged the machine on and it whirred satisfyingly to life. Doing my best impersonation of my instructor, I gently laid the chicken over the turning rubber prongs. With a rapid fire ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk’ (reminiscent of a playing card held on the spoke of my bicycle wheel by a clothes peg), the chicken throttled to life, leaped out of my hands, whisked itself through the plucker with nary a feather lost, and flew through the damp air, pure ‘poultry in motion’, before coming to an abrupt stop on the wet grass on the far side of the machine with an unceremonious ‘thwap!’

Turkey plucker almost winning!

Turkey plucker almost winning!

When I switched dance partners from chickens to turkeys, which are much heavier than chickens, the torque was several magnitudes greater, and once again I was caught off guard as the first turkey made one final attempt at flight. Determined to win, I hung on to his legs for dear life, bracing my gumboots against the machine in a desperate tug-of-war. When I thrust my body backwards in a final heave, the battered and torn turkey, still not exactly featherless, brought the whirling prongs to a momentary halt, and I retrieved my bird. If I’d been working alongside Kevin Costner, I would have earned the right (from the native Americans peering at me from the tree-line) to the name: ‘Dances with Turkey.’ While I lamented the loss of my first investment (battered and torn as it was), my dog Tui smiled smugly at the prospect of several gourmet meals.

Dances with turkeys.

Dances with turkeys.

After a few false starts, I developed a feel for it. Overall, it was a fantastic addition to my repertoire and sped up my processing operation almost threefold! Here are a couple of (not so great) photos of my ‘slightly more high-tech’ but still incredibly low-tech, little operation.

Hanging turkeys ready for killing.

Hanging turkeys ready for killing.

Cooling the meat down quickly after gutting.

Submersing the meat in cold water to cool it down quickly after gutting.

Final checking over for pin feathers and general good condition before bagging.

Final checking over of chickens for pin feathers and general good condition before bagging.

Bagging up final product ready for the freezer.

Bagging up the final product (chickens) ready for the freezer.

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Filed under Animal issues, Chickens, Ducks, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Turkeys

Pressure canning meat and poultry

This post is at special request of Jo at Little Ffarm Dairy.

Chicken canned and ready for storage and winter use in soups, stews, and my favourite, curries!

Chicken canned and ready for storage and winter use in soups, stews, and my favourite, curries!

This past week and weekend, I completed a marathon butchering fest. In total, I butchered 27 chickens, 2 ducks and 4 turkeys which may not sound like much, but when you are doing it solo and without the aid of any modern day technology, it is a feat, to say the least.

In the midst of it all I also canned 8 chickens, all the stewing beef from our butchered cow, and am presently in the process of cooking two more turkeys and will can them later today. Having taken in the half a cow, I now have no room left in my freezer, so can I must! Food preservation is a juggling act at all times here, as we do not have much room in our wee house and we don’t have any form of cold storage… yet.

The following information includes recipes and methods for SAFE canning of meat, game and poultry which I have collected over the past few years:

Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning meat and poultry

Home food preservation must be done with care, to protect the quality and safety of the food. Jars or cans containing low-acid foods–such as vegetables, meats, poultry and seafood–must always be processed under pressure, to prevent spoilage or food poisoning. The bacteria which cause botulism, a severe and potentially fatal from of food poisoning, are not killed by using the hot water bath canning process.

PRESSURE CANNING MEAT (Beef)

All meat should be handled carefully, should be correctly slaughtered, and canned promptly or kept under refrigeration until processed. Keep meat as cool as possible during preparation for canning, handle rapidly, and process meat as soon as it is packed. Most meats need only be wiped with a damp cloth, though I make a habit of rinsing it in cold water (but that is just personal preference).

Use lean meat for canning: remove most of the fat, cut off gristle and remove large bones, and cut into pieces in a convenient size for canning. Pack hot meat loosely, leaving 1-inch head-space in Mason jars.

Prepare broth for filling jars: place bony pieces in saucepan, cover with cold water, and simmer until meat is tender. Cool liquid and discard the layer of fat that hardens on the surface. Bring liquid to a boil and use it to pack into jars packed with precooked meat (and poultry).

NOTE: Meat should not be browned with flour nor should flour be used in the broth to make gravy for pouring over the packed meat as the starch in the flour makes the sterilization process very difficult, and so this is not recommended for home canners. (Best leave this to Chef Boyardee and Heinz.)

Meats may be processed with or without salt. If salt is desired, use only pure canning or pickling salt (table salt contains a filler which may cause cloudiness in bottom of jar). I use 1/2 teaspoon salt to each pint, 1 teaspoon to each quart. More or less salt may be added to suit individual taste.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process meats according to the following recipes.

When canning food in regions less than 2,000 feet altitude (dial gauge canner) or 1,000 feet altitude (weighted gauge canner), process according to specific recipe. When canning food in regions above 2,000 feet altitude (dial gauge canner) or 1,000 feet altitude (weighted gauge canner), process according to the following chart.

ALTITUDE CHART FOR CANNING MEAT AND POULTRY

ALTITUDE DIAL GAUGE CANNER
Pints and Quarts
WEIGHTED GAUGE CANNER
Pints and Quarts
1,001 – 2,000 ft. 11 lbs. 15 lbs.
2,001 – 4,000 ft. 12 lbs. 15 lbs.
4,001 – 6,000 ft. 13 lbs. 15 lbs.
6,001 – 8,000 ft. 14 lbs. 15 lbs.

Processing time is the same at all altitudes.

PRESSURE CANNING GAME MEAT

Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning meat.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process your game meat according to the following recipes.

CUT-UP MEAT (strips, cubes, or chunks) Bear, Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal, and Venison
Remove excess fat. Soak strong-flavored wild meats for 1 hour in brine water containing 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water. Rinse. Remove large bones and cut into desired pieces.

Raw Pack—Fill jars with raw meat pieces, leaving 1-inch head-space. DO NOT ADD LIQUID. Adjust jar lids.

Hot Pack—Precook meat until rare by broiling, boiling, or frying. Pack hot meat loosely in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1-inch head-space. Cover meat with boiling broth, water, or tomato juice (especially with wild game), leaving 1-inch head-space. Adjust jar lids.

Dial Gauge Canner—Process at 11 pounds pressure – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts 90 minutes. For processing above 2,000 feet altitude, see chart for recommended pounds of pressure.

Weighted Gauge Canner—Process at 10 pounds pressure – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts 90 minutes. For processing above 1,000 feet altitude, see chart  for recommended pounds of pressure.

PRESSURE CANNING POULTRY

Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning poultry.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process poultry according to the following recipes.

CUT-UP POULTRY

Boil, steam, or bake poultry slowly to medium done. I tend to boil it and make the broth at the same time. If you have broth on hand you can precook in the concentrated broth for more flavor. Poultry is medium done when the pink color in the center is almost gone.

Cut poultry into serving size pieces and if desired, remove bones. I always debone the meat as it is my personal preference. I find it easier to use in recipes if it is done this way. Pack hot poultry loosely in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space.

Make broth from bones and bony pieces, neck, back, and wing tips and the gizzard, heart and liver if you have them. Pack hot meat in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1-inch head-space. Do not pack food tightly. Cover poultry with boiling broth or water, leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space. Adjust jar lids.

Poultry may be processed with or without salt. If salt is desired, use only pure canning or pickling salt. Table salt contains a filler which may cause cloudiness in bottom of jar. I use 1/2 teaspoon salt to each pint, 1 teaspoon to each quart.

Dial Gauge Canner—Process at 11 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts 90 minutes.
For processing above 2,000 feet altitude, see above chart  for recommended pounds of pressure.

Weighted Gauge Canner—Process at 10 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts for 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts for 90 minutes.
For processing above 1,000 feet altitude, see above chart for recommended pounds of pressure.

RABBIT

Pressure canning is the ONLY SAFE METHOD for canning rabbit.

Follow step-by-step directions for your pressure canner. Process rabbit according to the following recipes.

Soak dressed rabbits 1 hour in water containing 1 tablespoon of salt per quart. Rinse and remove excess fat. Cut into serving size pieces. Boil, steam, or bake to medium done. Rabbit is medium done when pink color in center is almost gone. Pack hot rabbit loosely in clean, hot Mason jars, leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space. Cover rabbit with boiling broth or water leaving 1 1/4-inch head-space and adjust jar lids.

Dial Gauge Canner—Process at 11 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts for 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts for 90 minutes.
For processing above 2,000 feet altitude, see chart for recommended pounds of pressure.

Weighted Gauge Canner—Process at 10 pounds pressure.
With Bone – Pints 65 minutes and Quarts for 75 minutes.
Without Bone – Pints 75 minutes and Quarts for 90 minutes.
For processing above 1,000 feet altitude, see chart for recommended pounds of pressure.

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Filed under Chickens, Ducks, Food preservation, Goats, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Preserving the harvest, Turkeys

Food Security & Food Sovereignty: Tasty rhetoric, unpalatable realities

The Non-existence of Food Sovereignty in BC

The idea of ‘food sovereignty’ is an attempt to address the complex issues that directly impact the ability of individuals, families and communities to respond to their own needs for access to healthy, culturally adapted foods. The concept was developed by a global farmers’ movement La Via Campesina and was launched to the general public at the World Food Summit in 1996. While there is no universal definition of food sovereignty, the most common one referred to in the international community is as follows:

Food Sovereignty is the right of peoples, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies, which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances. It includes the true right to food and to produce food, which means that all people have the right to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food and to food producing resources and the ability to sustain themselves and their societies.

The concept of ‘food sovereignty’ is certainly on the media agenda here in British Columbia, Canada: position papers, new civil servant positions, news items, best-selling books. But what of the ‘ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate [legislation and/or policies]’ fitting a people’s ‘unique circumstances’? How is our government doing? Take the recent changes to the Meat Inspection Regulation (MIR) for example. It has put more processors and producers out of business than has created new processors;  consequently it has reduced the community capacity to produce meat, and reduced the quality of our meat (thanks to the smaller custom operators going out of business). It has created more dependence upon an already unsustainable and ecologically questionable food production and distribution system.

The overall result of recent legislation, then, is Food Insecurity, with food sovereignty obviously not even being considered: communities are more dependent upon a centralized food  production and distribution system (and all its ethically and environmentally questionable  and unsustainable practices) instead of a decentralized, locally controlled, economically diverse (and thus more stable and sustainable) system. Not only that, communities are socially unraveling due to the inter-dependency that is being lost as producers ‘throw in the towel’. The only recourse for consumers is to buy from an anonymous supply chain.

‘Culturally appropriate’ foods are foods which are grown in your area, or gathered from  the wild in your area. These, too, are becoming scarce: for example, wild stocks of salmon have been depleted due to the commercial fishing industry, while custom facilities that formerly handled the butchering, wrapping and packing of hunted game may no longer afford this time because of their financial responsibilities due to legislated upgrades.

Here is an overview of the Meat inspection regulation:

If the meat is intended only for your personal use, you have two options for the slaughter of your livestock:

1. You can take your animals to an abattoir for slaughter. This can be either a fixed or mobile abattoir. By September 2006, all B.C. abattoirs that produce meat for human consumption must be licensed.

2. You can slaughter your own animals. It is okay if friends or neighbours help you with this task, as long as nobody is paid or otherwise compensated. If you slaughter your own animals, you cannot sell any of the meat, nor can you use it in any transaction that is commercial in nature, such as regular trading or bartering for other goods or services. Nor can you sell products, such as sausages, or meals made from this meat.

What sort of schizophrenic logic is this? Meat that you slaughter yourself is fit for you and your family to eat, but not for the neighbours who helped you? (The same ill-logic applies to poultry slaughtering and milk products in B.C.) If you, the farmer, are able to decide whether or not the food you have just processed is safe, why shouldn’t your neighbour, who helped you, also be able to discern this?  Or a customer who wishes to buy directly from you? After all, isn’t your customer going to scrutinize your farming and butchering practices just as diligently as, if not more diligently than, the government inspector?

This legislation has effectively shut down ‘farm gate’ sales. Not only does it mean a loss to farmers’ incomes (and diversification of economy and skills), but also a loss to communities’ food security and food sovereignty.

Oh, and if you thought you might get around the legislation by doing it for free, they have that one tied up with the following note:

Note: if the slaughtering of animals is part of the ordinary course of somebody’s business, even if it is done for free, it would be considered operating an abattoir. So, a farmer who sold live animals to his/her customers and offered to slaughter them for the customers for free would need to be licensed as an abattoir.

While our government’s minions produce tantalizing feasts of rhetoric about such things as rural economic development, food security, and food sovereignty, their ‘one size fits all’ approach to so-called food safety legislation is the equivalent of a  Hostess Twinkie in terms of nutritional value. It undercuts the contemporary interests of British Columbia’s citizens, creates greater dependency on the corporate food production system,  and increases a community’s food insecurity.

Food (In)-Security in B.C.

How does this change affect people in B.C.? Some producers and processors are happy about the change. I have spoken to a beef producer near Quesnel who is quite happy with the change, because she can now supply people in Vancouver with her pasture fed beef. That’s because she lives within an hour’s drive of a licensed abbatoir.

Other producers are not so lucky. Many producers in more populated areas are used to having access to custom slaughtering, but now find themselves without a processor who is willing to do custom orders. Because of the Meat Inspection Regulation changes, many smaller slaughterhouses, who did the majority of the custom and specialized work, are now closing down (or already have closed). They simply cannot afford to make the requisite changes required to meet the new standards. (Two of these inordinately costly abut rerquired changes are: provide a separate office and bathroom facility for the Meat Inspector; provide an automatic, hands-free hand-washing system for the slaughterer/staff. See Plant construction and equipment guidelines for more information.)

I have to ask: If surgeons who cut you open can move washing taps with their elbows, why can’t someone who is butchering an animal? After all, the surgeon expects the body she is working on to live, whereas the butcher doesn’t. Further, I don’t have a separate office in my house for my own business, but I need to supply one for a government inspector. Is he/she planning on moving in? What does this separate office and separate bathroom have to do with meat safety?

There is still a third kind of producer and community that is affected entirely differently than the above two examples. Many rural/remote communities never did have a processor near them, and instead relied on doing it themselves and/or with the help of the local butcher or otherwise experienced and knowledgeable people. These communities are now without any facility to legally process their meat, and have no hope of ever having one because of the cost and lack of legislated economic viability.

Because of British Columbia’s geographically diverse topography and vastly dispersed populations, there are many communities which will no longer have the opportunity to be self-sufficient in their meat producing and processing capacity. Take Bella Coola where I live, for example: the closest provincially inspected slaughter facility for red meat is over 500 kilometers away (in Beaver Valley) and the closest poultry slaughtering facility is around 900 kilometers away (Chilliwack or Salmon Arm). In economic terms,  for the local farmer and his customers these facilities might as well be on Mars. This is without considering the environmental and animal rights concerns.

Not to worry, the new Meat Inspection Regulation has addressed us rural/remote folks:

Producers in remote and isolated communities face special challenges because they may not have access to a licensed slaughter establishment.  Some of these communities may need time to carry out feasibility studies before developing construction plans for new or updated facilities.  In these limited circumstances, a Class C transitional licence applicant can apply for an exemption from the requirement to have a construction plan. This will allow the applicant to continue operating and selling direct to the consumer until feasibility studies are done and construction plans can be completed.  As with all Class C licences, the meat produced must be labelled as uninspected and not for resale.

Transitional licenses are valid for six months, and renewal is subject to continued progress towards a fully approved and licensed operation.

In exceptional circumstances, in remote and isolated areas, the Minister of Health has the authority under the Meat Inspection Regulation to exempt transitional Class C license applicants from the necessity of getting an approved construction plan, if in the Minister’s opinion it is necessary to maintain slaughter capacity.

Well, thank goodness for small mercies. We don’t have to take any responsibility for our community and make the decision for ourselves; the Minister will decide for us whether or not it is ‘necessary to maintain slaughter capacity’! Five generations of my family have been waiting for the Minister to tell me if what we’ve been doing for 120 years is worthwhile.

What have we gained by this change in legislation? It has shut down local producers, put a stop to farm-gate sales, and put many small specialized custom operators out of business. Several producers have been driven underground–the only available option left to them. Larger producers now have huge debt for the upgrades and consequently can no longer ‘afford’ to do custom orders; as a result, small-scale, often specialized, producers have nowhere to get their meat slaughtered unless they contravene environmental and animal rights standards by shipping their animals huge distances. Further, these custom operators may now be overloaded.

How does this new regulation support food safety, or eating locally, or rural economic development, or food security, or food sovereignty? The answer is: it doesn’t.


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Filed under Animal issues, Food Security, Food Sovereignty, personal food sovereignty, 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

Yeast wrangling 101

Several years ago, while still living in New Zealand, I wanted to learn more about bread. I went to the library and took out virtually every book they had on bread making and bread baking. There of course were several beautifully done books, and one that stands out in my mind to this day was called The Bread Builders. As I recall, it was exquisitely illustrated providing tantalizing glimpses of far away places, evoking succulent smells of baking breads and heady aromas of wood fired ovens.

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

The book that taught me the basics of yeast wrangling!

While that book got my mouth watering, my eyes dancing and my imagination traveling, the book that intrigued me the most was called Classic Sourdoughs: A home bakers handbook, by Ed Wood. In this book, he skillfully describes the art of developing a true sourdough culture, how to feed it, ways of preserving it, and how to use it artfully. There are also a host of wonderful recipes to work your way through on your journey of becoming a bread builder.

Once you have caught your true sourdough, Wood explains, you need never go to the store to buy yeast again. Now that kind of knowledge is a cornerstone in the foundation of true independence–I had to try it.

Of course, while reading the chapter on how to acquire the yeast spores, my imagination got away from me. Instead of the benign creatures Wood described, I pictured something different. After all, the yeast spores I was to catch were not at all like the garden variety you picked up at any grocery store. No, these spores were wild, untamed, unruly.

The microscopic, but voracious, yeast spores my mind conjured up were riding tiny Mustang horses, sporting yellow sombreros a la Speedy Gonzalez, decked out in full gaucho gear, replete with chaps, hand-guns, and cross-their-hearts-ammo belts, galloped through the air, and indiscriminately shot  their guns off. Obviously, this sort of yeast wrangling was going to be a challenge. What I had to do  was figure out how to catch and tame them: lasso, tie down, corral, file steadily into a small bowl, and finally, break and train them to a level of finesse required to enter the culinary equivalent of Grand Prix Dressage.

The process is, sadly, much more sedate. No horse needed. In fact, it is shockingly simple: mix water and flour together in bowl, cover with gauze to protect from flies, set near open window, keep warm, feed often. Voila, a couple of weeks into this mild mannered process, you will have yourself a viable sourdough culture.

I tried it. Within days, I had a bubbling concoction that smelled exactly as you would expect a yeasty brew to smell: like yeast, with light undertones curiously reminiscent of a beer burp. The next step, of course, was to see if it actually raised bread. Wood warns the reader that it may take a few weeks, sometimes several months, of keeping the culture alive before it will make a good bread. In the meantime, he advises, use the part of the product that you pour off, when feeding the culture, to make pancakes and muffins. So I did. If you like sourdough pancakes, but have never caught a true sourdough culture, then you have never truly had sourdough pancakes–and thus you are missing out. The pancakes made from this culture were fantastic, possibly the tastiest I’d ever made.

It wasn’t long before I was brave enough to try making my first loaf of bread with my own sourdough culture. I started with a focaccia so that, I reasoned, in case it didn’t really rise well no one might notice! I needn’t have worried; it worked beautifully. The focaccia was gorgeous, the air pockets well formed and uneven, just like the  better bread from bakeries. I was immediately hooked and never looked back. Today, I scoff at the ‘regular’, store-bought yeast for bread making. Instead, I make everything with my own: a wide variety of breads both sweet and savoury, muffins, pancakes, even chocolate cakes!

This process is the only way to obtain a true sourdough culture, pure and simple. Unlike the more popular version of so called sourdough of present day, the kind that begins with store-bought yeast and adding sugar and vinegar or some such other phony brew, the true sourdough culture dates back through antiquity to ancient Egypt.

The ancient Egyptians were the first peoples to discover this technology, of how to leaven bread. Having studied this, and being a passionate collector of sourdoughs from around the world, Ed Wood founded Sourdoughs International, a company that collect, maintains and sells sourdough cultures from around the world.

He also wrote the above mentioned book, in which he chronicles many of his worldly travels, all in the name of true sourdough collecting. In 1993, Wood collaborated with Egyptologist, Dr. Mark Lehner, to determine how man made his first leavened bread in Egypt, a project supported by the National Geographic Society (National Geographic Magazine, January 1995).

After about a year of continual use of my own culture, I decided to contact Ed Wood from my home in Rotorua, New Zealand, and let him know how much I appreciated his book and how wonderful my culture was. He was intrigued enough to ask me to send him a sample, which he subsequently put through his testing kitchen. He was very happy with the results and said he was surprised at how well it performed; so he offered to buy it from me in exchange for the ability to sell it. ‘You’re not going to get rich off this,’ he laughed, and offered me a some-time-in-the-future commission ‘once some sales have been made’.

Several years later, I returned to Canada and was really glad to have made that ‘deposit’ with Ed at Sourdough International, because not only could I not bring my yeast back home to Canada, but also the yeast that I caught in Bella Coola was lazy. My New Zealand yeast was caught in the volcanic centre of the North Island, which was possibly a factor in its vigour–like Old Faithful, you could count on it to rise! However, with this Northern hemisphere variety I could not raise a decent loaf of bread to save my life. After about a year of unsuccessful Bella Coola yeast wrangling and frustrated bread making, I gave in and contacted Ed Wood again. He kindly sent me a package of my own yeast starter. It was amazing to have this resource–like having my own ‘ark’ or vault from which I could access my own heritage food!

To obtain the Rotorua Sourdough culture, see the following link

Rotorua Sourdough

To learn more about sourdough culture raising

Sourdough International

Classic Sourdough: A home bakers handbook

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Filed under Fermented foods, Food preservation, Food Security, Funny stories, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Preserving the harvest

Raw milk pasteurizing

Once a week I pay $6 (the equivalent of 18 eggs or an equal amount in a variety of my fresh produce) as my ‘share’ for access to a cow from whom I get 1 gallon of milk. When I get the milk back to the kitchen, I skim the raw cream off, refrigerate it and put the milk in a pasteurizer. I keep the fresh cream for our coffee (and if you have never had fresh, raw cream in your coffee you are missing out!) and pasteurize the fresh milk so I can make it into yogurt or fresh ricotta cheese.

Here is fresh milk I am about to pasteurized by hand on the stove.
Here is fresh milk I am about to pasteurize by hand on the stove.

To pasteurize, you can either buy a home pasteurizing machine, which I have now done, or do it on the stove. To do this safely on the stove, bring the milk to 145 F degrees and hold it there at temperature for 30 minutes, then cool it quickly.  Before I bought my pasteurizer, I did it this way.

Once this process is complete, remove the pot from the stove and immediately transfer it to a sink full of cold water with ice cubes, and stir the milk until the temperature comes down significantly (when it stops dropping). Once cooled, put it in a clean container and store in the fridge as you would any milk you buy from the store.

Pasteurizer filled with milk and ready for processing.
Pasteurizer filled with milk and ready for processing.

If you use a home pasteurizer, follow the directions for use. With mine, I first pour the milk into the container that fits inside the pasteurizer, then place the container inside the pasteurizer and fill the machine with water. I then place the lid on top, plug it in, and walk away until it is done. That easy. My machine has a buzzer to let me know when it is done. NOTE: the first few times of use, you should check the temperature of the milk once the cycle is complete, just to check that the machine is calibrated correctly.

Once it has finished the pasteurization through temperature process, you then sluice the container with cold, running water until the milk is cool, much the same as the above process. Then transfer it to a clean container and store in fridge until you want to use it.

NOTE: other sources say you can bring the milk to 165 F degrees for just a few seconds and then cool it immediately for safe pasteurizing.

See the following links for further information about pasteurizing milk safely:

University of Guelf Dairy Science

Health & Beyond (see table 2)

See the following Blog to read the issues around access to raw milk in Canada:

The Bovine

Go to Hoegger Goat Supply for home pasteurizing machines:

Hoegger Goat Supply

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Filed under Food Security, Food Sovereignty, How to..., personal food sovereignty, Politics of Food, Preserving the harvest