Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

Eggs, Markets and Rain? Oh My!

In General Farm News on August 21, 2010 at 4:15 pm

This week was shocking to the egg industry as a whole, as more than a half billion eggs have been recalled as part of a nationwide investigation of a salmonella outbreak that expanded (again) yesterday to include a second huge farm in Iowa. Already the outbreak has sickened more than a thousand people and that number is expected to increase as the investigation continues.  To be fair, this recall dates back to May, but as the hours progress forward, Americans still consume about 220 million eggs a day.

So how does an egg get Salmonella?
The salmonella bacteria is not passed from hen to hen, but usually from rodent droppings to chickens. This strain of bacteria is found inside a chicken’s ovaries, and gets inside an egg that way.  So, basically, there are millions of infected chickens on big farms out there, who are laying contaminated eggs.

It can happen on big farms. It can happen on little farms.

Practically speaking, for humans, it is good to know that you CAN eat a contaminated egg, and you might be absolutely fine. If an egg containing Salmonella has been kept refrigerated and someone who uses good hygiene practices serves it to you immediately after proper cooking, you’ll simply have a nutritious meal. If the egg has been improperly handled, though, you might experience the foodborne illness called salmonellosis.  Salmonellosis is when you have those horrible side effects that we have all heard about on the news.  They are seldom fatal.

I am not poo-pooing the issue.  It is a serious problem and brings to light a management and handling weakness in the food chain for large scale producers at two farms in Iowa.  It rarely happens when you buy locally. I don’t know why. But it is just rare.

Speaking of buying locally, Farmers’ Market week is this coming week.  Get out there and support your local farmers.  Nationally, there was a sixteen percent growth in number of farmers markets over last year.  And if you live in, or are vacationing in Massachusetts this week, you have more than 221 markets from which to choose.  Usually, I would suggest purchasing some tender, flavorful and moist heritage breed pastured pork from our farm at one of the three markets that we attend, weekly, however, we will probably not be attending those markets this week. If you do want Wells Tavern Farm heritage breed pastured pork or sustainably raised, humane veal this week, I would ask that you make a phone call and we can make arrangements to drop off, or have you take a beautiful drive to Shelburne. (Please call and leave a message with the un-natural computer generated voice at 413. 625. 2797 if you would like some Maple Syrup Cured Hickory Smoked Bacon to go with your tomatoes, etc)

My non-farming life in radio is taking over for the week, and I will be commuting between Shelburne and Amherst daily.  It is back to farming after August 29th, and back to the markets! (Tuesday – Bernardston, Wednesday – Conway, and Thursday – Northfield — all from 4-7 p.m.)

The forecast says rain for tomorrow. “Rain is a Good Thing” (to quote country music singer Luke Bryan)
We need rain very badly.

Last week we attended a portion of the the 2010 Normande Field Day, which was hosted for the first time in the Eastern part of the country.  Usually it is held in the Wisconsin-area.   Normande cows are all about sustainability and added-value.  That is what we are all about as well, and we just purchased a Normande cow last week — so the irony of the alignment of the event and the acquisition made us drop some farm projects that should have been accomplished, in preference for the beautiful drive to Warwick, Massachusetts’ Chase Hill Farm.  At Chase Hill they create some unbelievable aged cheeses with the high quality milk that this breed of cow produces. In France, the Normande is associated with the production of such famous cheeses as Camembert, Pont-Lévêque and Livarot.

I can’t wait to get the chance to snap a picture of our Normande in a pasture, contentedly grazing.

In other great news, Dr. Schmidt stopped yesterday to do two pregnancy checks on our two milking Jerseys.  Both are due to calve between December and February.  And the best part of the news is that the sire (father) has got to be our White Galloway, as long as they are that far along in their nine month gestation.

It Never Gets Old… Bringing Home The Bacon

In General Farm News, Heritage Turkeys, Pigs on August 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Brought home another batch of bacon yesterday,  and the process of bringing home the bacon never seems to get old!

A quick search on the internet brought this origin of the phrase to the top of my heap of possibilities:

“Bring home the bacon”
Meaning: To earn money, especially money for one’s family; to be successful, especially financially successful.
Origin:  The origin of the phrase ‘bring home the bacon’ is sometimes suggested to be the story of the Dunmow Flitch. This tradition, which still continues every four years in Great Dunmow, Essex, England, is based on the story of a local couple who, in 1104, impressed the Prior of Little Dunmow with their marital devotion to the point that he award them a flitch (a side) of bacon. The continuing ritual of couples showing their devotion and winning the prize, to considerable acclamation by the local populace, is certainly old and well authenticated.

Geoffrey Chaucer mentions it: The Wife of Bath’s Tale and Prologue, circa 1395:
But never for us the flitch of bacon though,
That some may win in Essex at Dunmow.

Okay, so another infusion of Maple Syrup Cured Hickory Smoked Hams (slightly smaller!) and Bacon are here, but what else is going on at the farm?  I have found a new hatchery in Pennsylvania with whom I hope to become a regular customer.  They appear to be a pretty small farm, as compared to other commercial hatcheries across the country, and they are about an hour and a half from Harrisburg, PA.  If I weren’t a farmer (and needing the chicks in the first place) I would love to jump in the minivan, pack up my husband and kids and take the trip down there to pick up the chicks (which I wouldn’t need since I wouldn’t be a farmer) and take a day or two down there and visit some old farmer friends and see the sights on the trip.  However, I must stop daydreaming, and write out my check for the extra $25 shipping and get the day olds transported via the U.S.P.S.   These chicks that I hope to have shipped are Heavy White Cornish Cross meat-type birds. They are able to achieve 10 to 14 pound dressed weights if managed correctly. 

In the current batch of Cornish Cross chicks that we got as leftovers from a local feed store, we have had zero mortality (so far) and they will easily dress at eight pounds in the next week, I’d guess.  The Cornish previous to our current Cross batch, were very well fleshed out (note Cornish Hens not crosses) as seven to eight and a half pounds and barely fitting in my roasting pan.

You can see that we have a revised price list posted on our website http://wellstavernfarm.com/Shopping.aspx  The items that are available are listed on the price list. Those items that we have offered in the past have dropped off, and will remain off until they are back in stock.  Get it… “in stock”  — Stock?  Farm stock?  Livestock?  Right. Okay.

Speaking of livestock, as I believe I mentioned back in the Spring, it was a tough early Spring at the farm.  Consequently, we are not able to have Thanksgiving Turkeys this year.  We might have a few Turkeys for Ben Franklin’s Birthday in January, Groundhog Day in February, and maybe for April Fools Day.  The young turkeys that we have on the ground at present are just the wrong ages for traditional feasts.  

The  Belted Galloway herd is smaller than it should be for creating meat for sale, and that has negatively impacted our available meat for sale.  You can see the absence of beef on the price list.  The Belted Galloway herd is however, a better size for our seven acres and has not yet overgrazed their pastures this year.  This is a mixed blessing in many ways.  I would almost give anything to have beef in the freezer (and be able to eat our own beef too!) but when that means that in the middle of summer, when grass actually grows in New England, you are supplementing the cows with hay at the cost of $4-$5 a bale, it just doesn’t seem so charming.  In the Winter, that is what we must feed — but there is no good reason to overgraze the land and force ourselves into doing that hay feeding any earlier in the season that we must.

Hogs.  I call them pigs, or piggies, but technically, they are hogs in a professional sense.  They are great.  Couldn’t be better.  We are so pleased with them – friendly, happy, stay in their pasture, produce us great piglets to sell to other farms, and tasty meat as well.  Great pigs. 

The chickens are beginning to lay eggs again.  What a strange Summer it has been.  No rain, no eggs, early fruit and apples… the list goes on and on.

And then there is this article that I read the other day in a farming publication.  Most of my reading is done in between “action” at the farmers’ markets – I have the babysitter there with my children, and I have a half a chance at quiet, some days.  This article was very interesting, and I had very mixed feelings after reading it.  What is your takeaway?

Why Do We Produce Beef?

by Dr. John Comerford

Dr. John Comerford is associate professor of dairy and animal science at the Pennsylvania State University.

Many beef producers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast produce beef from small, specialized herds. This includes novelty breeds, grass-fed beef, naturally raised beef, local sales and marketing, freezer beef sales and organic production. It is important these beef producers are a part of the collective beef industry. In many cases, they are selling beef to people who would not buy beef from any other source. However, sometimes we need to stop and ask ourselves just what is the purpose of producing our beef? The lost element in all of this is often the consumer. We like our own breed; we like our own method of production; we, like our farm, are often the drivers for the beef enterprise. What we have to recognize is that the normal beef consumer could care less about these things. “The reason people buy beef is because they like it,” is a statement I heard many years ago, and it is still true today.

The grass-fed beef enterprise is a particular example. For many years, producers, marketers and retailers of grass-fed beef touted human health benefits, environmental benefits, specific breeds and other items. There were no unbiased scientific studies to dispute or to validate these statements. Some of those studies have now been done, and the results are as follows:

  1. There is no evidence that grass-fed beef has any benefit to human health other than the common protein, iron and B-vitamin advantage of any beef.
  2. There is no difference in the CLA content of grain or grass-fed beef in cooked beef (Duckett and Pavan, 2007). All of the numbers that have been thrown around about CLA content was in raw beef. Most people do not eat raw beef, or did we all just conveniently forget this? The recent study by Daley et al (2010) got a lot of press about the “advantage” of the nutrient content in grass-fed beef. However, on a closer look, one would find all of the data presented was in raw meat, and it had little to do with the nutrients people actually eat. The original CLA study (Ha et al, 1987) used a dosage of CLA in mice that was 181,000 times higher than the amount in 3 ounces of raw grass-fed beef, and 16 of the 20 treated mice still got tumors. What value does the CLA content of cooked grass-fed beef have in the human diet? None. Close examination of the amounts of Omega-6 fats, beta-carotene and Vitamin D in cooked grass-fed beef are insignificant to the human diet as well.
  3. There is no difference in the cholesterol content of grain and grass-fed beef and there never was (Duckett, 2006: Pavan and Duckett, 2006). The implication is still out there that cholesterol follows fat; it does not. One of the meats with the highest levels of cholesterol is venison.
  4. The studies are continuing about the environmental impact of grass and grain-based livestock production. The results are not impressive so far for grass-based beef production (Yan et al, 2009; Agriculture Canada, 2009). Specifically, greenhouse gas emissions are particularly troubling for grass-based livestock production. This is nature at work, and is not a matter of conjecture.
  5. Consumer studies show there is no advantage for frame size, final fat thickness, marbling (low Select to low Choice) or final weight for grass-fed beef harvested at 17 months of age (Steinberg, 2008). All beef from the cattle was deemed acceptable by consumer panels. No studies have compared beef breeds for grass-fed beef production, so any advantage for a breed is purely speculative except for any marketing advantage labeling beef from Angus cattle.
  6. E. coli contamination of meat does not happen on a farm. It occurs in a processing plant. It can come from a worker’s hands, a knife, water splash and many other ways, so distinguishing the source from a single carcass is very difficult. There is now evidence to show there are OH-157 E. coli present in grass-based environments as often as in concentrated environments.

After stating this heresy to many producers and marketers, where do we go from here? We pay attention to the studies that determine why people buy beef. The data show the first priority for people to buy beef is to have a superior eating experience. The huge advantage many northeastern producers have is we can also tap into the features of locally produced and source-verified food.

So the wind was whacked out of my sails a bit after reading this debunking commentary.  The science is real, and the studies are verifiable.  And, too, it is true that I would not prefer to eat raw meat in order to realize the advantages of the CLA content. I bet you would forego that version of a raw diet as well.

I can echo his parting commentary: even if there are no scientific reasons to justify your purchases, eating locally produced meats that are grown on local soils, local grains (if you choose grain fed meats) and sold at locally controlled markets or stores, is good for the local economy.  The products will be as high a quality as can be created within the current microclimate and you will be able to taste the “terroir” of each farm.  (Yes, I know that currently terroir is only applied to wine, coffee and tea, but, perhaps it needs to be applied to meat as well!) So, take out the smoked sea salt and shake some on your locally grown steak,  hot off the grill, and enjoy!

(Here’s a parting eeewww idea for you: It takes SIX RAW quarter-pounders a day to meet the MINIMUM RDA of Omega-3 fats.)