The blog of Hope Grows

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

How To Clip a Chicken's Wings

In order to keep our hens inside the poultry netting it was necessary to clip their wings to restrict how high they can fly. This does not hurt the bird or affect its quality of life in any way.

What we didn't mention was to make sure you don't cut too far down the feather--which can cause bleeding and possibly lead to the death of your chicken (dun dun dun). With a closer look at the feathers, you'll be able to see which part is still alive and which part is more or less like fingernail. Also, you'll want to clip both wings, not just one, and only remove the primary flight feathers.

Believe it or not, this was an extra challenging video to make, it took 8 takes.

P.S. - Thanks Sarah McGann for the camera--video quality has greatly improved.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Our New Electrified Poultry Netting!

Big day today! We opened up our brand spanking new Premier 1 Electrified Poultry Netting. Using this fence we will be able to much more effectively manage the rotational grazing of our layers.

First we laid the fence flat on the ground...

Then went around and staked it into the ground while pulling it tight.

Our first try ramshackle energizer set-up...

The moment of truth!

Tomorrow we put it up around our older layers, look for a post about how effective the fence is.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Funny Thing That Happened

Early last Tuesday I went to Savannah to pick up my friend from the train station. He opened up the trunk and said, "There is a chicken in here." And I thought, oh, what a jokester. So I went back to take a look and sure enough there was a very confused looking chicken in the trunk!

Apparently when I was unloading bags of feed she had jumped in and stowed away behind some empty feed bags. Which means at this point the hen had been in there for 24 hours, lucky for her this didn't happen summertime...

After a drink of water and snack we made the trip back to Sylvania and she appears no worse for the experience. But I learned a valuable lesson, check the trunk when you are done unloading feed.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Chinese Organics

Over Christmas my mother bought some frozen organic vegetables and when she took a closer look at them it turns out they were grown in China... and USDA certified Organic.

Visions of lead coated beanie babies, killer cat food, and depleted uranium childrens candy came to mind.

I had seen this before and thought to myself that I needed to investigate further but I didn't until tonight.

My initial uneducated reaction is: This has to be REALLY fishy. How can a USDA Organic certification be enforced in not only a foreign country - but one with an atrocious environmental record and an closed and authoritarian government?

It turns out that my initial jump to conclusions was pretty much right.

After some serious digging I found a USDA Economic Research Service report titled "Imports from China and Food Safety."

Here is the main meat on how food is certified organic, its a little long and jargony but interesting. The main thrust is that the vast majority of inspection is done by a Chinese-government affiliated organization and that their are only a handful of third party inspectors. In any case, information is closely held by the Chinese government so it is impossible to know whether the standards are being followed or not.

In China, certifications and lab tests are performed mainly by government or government-affiliated organizations (Ye). Domestic “pollution-free” and “QS” certifications are performed by organizations affiliated with provincial agricultural or technical supervision bureaus. The sanitation certification for exporters is conducted by a team of provincial CIQ auditors, and products are
tested by CIQ. Only a few private-sector certifiers and labs have been accredited to work in China. HACCP certification for Chinese exporters is performed by provincial quarantine bureaus. CQC, China’s largest certification agency, also performs HACCP certifications, as well as organic, GAP, ISO 9000, and
other certif cations. CQC is nominally an independent entity but was a branch of AQSIQ until 2002. Wang and Ren concluded that water quality testing in China was beset by technical problems, funding and manpower shortages, and selective testing or manipulation of data by officials. Both overseas and domestic consumers might have greater confidence in Chinese food products if a wider range of certifiers and labs were given greater latitude to operate in China. Overseas consumers might have more confidence in government-sponsored tests and certifications if their results could be verified by private-sector third parties.

More on the Chinese government witholding information.

The general level of food safety in China seems to be improving, but it is difficult to assess the seriousness of problems or the degree of progress since information is closely guarded by the Chinese Government.
Alright, so if Chinese food imports are unsafe, wouldn't they be stopped at the border by our vigilant USDA inspectors? Well not really...

FDA inspects less than 1 percent of food shipments

destined for the United States, and it performs laboratory examinations on an even smaller percentage of shipments. The refusal data do not include consistent measures of the value or volume of an entry line so we cannot calculate the value or share of food imports refused.

But when they do inspect:

Unsafe pesticide residues were found on some vegetables and their products: celery, soybeans, lotus, pea pods, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, and ginseng. Several shipments of purportedly organic beans and berries were refused for unsafe pesticide residues. A number of shipments of eels were also contaminated with pesticides.

What I take away from all of this is that it doesn't seem like a great idea for any country to be importing a significant amount of its food and that as a consumer you best bet is to know where your food comes from. Buying organic from across the planet or California when you live in Georgia is kind of missing the point.

And if you're wondering, my mom returned the veggies.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Open Letter to the Lady Who Gave Me A Really Hard Time About Our Price Today

Dear Lady Who Gave Me A Really Hard Time About Our Price Today,

Hi, my name is Elliott, you might remember me from today, when you gave me a really hard time about the price?

The conversation went something like this.

"How much for the eggs?"
"A dozen, ma'am."

Then you reacted like I was charging 10 million rubels for a loaf of bread during the Russian revolution.

I don't have a problem with folks who think our price is too high, its up to you to decide whether our products are worth your hard earned money.

I do have a problem when someone seems personally offended by the price. That react like cheap food is their God-given right and that farmers are supposed to practically give their work away and take the few pennies thrown their way. Well, there is a place where you can get that, its called a grocery store. Do I go to where you work and say, "Oh, you make how much? To do THAT? That is really unfair, you should make less money."

It's certainly a fair question to ask how we arrived at our price. The answer is that this is what we need to charge to make a fair wage, which means a basic standard of living and a Farm Rolls Royce.

In depth:

- We work extremely hard to produce the best food that money can buy. We work in the rain, in the cold, in the heat, we work when we don't want to work, and then we work some more. You're never really off and unexpected problems are always cropping up, and they don't care whether its midnight or on Sunday.

- We are a small farm and there are advantages to this, namely - we can maintain high quality control, are more environmentally sustainable, and can provide great lives for our animals. However we cannot operate on an economy of scale or get discounts by buying huge amounts of feed. Even still - our prices are competitive with the higher end eggs sold in stores.

- We understand that you can find "farm eggs" for cheaper prices. But there is a big difference between those eggs and pastured eggs - which are the best, highest quality eggs you can buy. We do not have a few chickens running around in the yard, we are a legitimate, consistent, and accountable business that makes our products conveniently available to consumers, and there are costs associated with that.

- We love providing great food for people and we want to keep doing it. The only way we can do that is if we are financially sustainable.

I don't mean to come off as a martyr. It is just disconcerting when you put your heart and soul into your work and you are treated like a criminal for trying to make an honest living.

One more anecdote and I will get off my soapbox. Today I woke up at 6:30am, took care of the birds, set up to sell eggs in Savannah at 9:30am, ran my table until 1:00pm, came home and spent the next 2 hours in the rain putting down hay in our birds' coops and living areas. Tonight I went back out in the rain to put 200 soaked teenage hens inside their coops so they wouldn't get sick from exposure.

That is why our eggs are $4.75.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"Tear down this fence!"

Our new flock of heritage birds (Black Australorps, Auracanas, Barred Rocks, and Rhode Island Reds) are all to egg laying maturity, and already--in the dead of winter--we're getting several dozen eggs a day. By spring they'll be laying faster than we can pick 'em. We've kept them separate during their growth up to this point, but now that they're all on layer mash they get the chance to intermingle. Here's a video of us taking down our final fence inside the blueberry patch, where they'd been living in breed-specific quadrants. Today was a big sigh of relief. Managing four different types of feed, a labrynth of fences, etc. was a big pain. But now that everyone's more or less on the same track, the labor involved in taking care of them will decrease greatly. Go us!