Saturday, July 26, 2014

Barrington Living History Farm

On my recent visit to Texas, I visited Barrington Living History Farm in Washington-on-Brazos. It's a lovely spot, rather green despite the hot summer days. Docent Pam Scaggs takes care of the chickens. She's got a small flock in a lovely shaded chicken house, including a Brahma hen.
The chicken house, in a shaded yard.
Pam Scaggs at her fenced yard.

There's a second flock, with a Polish rooster named Kramer presiding over five Dominique hens. They live across the way, in the livestock barn.

There's a Black Spanish turkey hen, too, but she didn't pay much attention to him.

One of the Dominiques likes grasshoppers, so she flies over the fence every day and enjoys hunting them. She's very quick!
No many escape her sharp beak.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Sustainable Food

How cool is this -- Tom Philpott in Mother Jones writes about a group of design students who got together to come up with icons that would tell consumers about the food they are buying. Icons are an instant way to communicate how they were grown, the issues that people want to know. Take a look at what they came up with:
They even came up with one for heritage breeds! Featuring, of course, a chicken.
Twenty years ago, or even ten, this wouldn't have been on the radar. Now, it's common knowledge. how fast things can change!

When I first got chickens, that's where I was. I didn't know anything about them until the chicks I bought at the feed store grew up and the Buff Orpington started crowing.

Thanks for giving instant recognition to our heritage.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Growing up

The Cuckoo Marans and Welsummer chicks hatched by my Blue Laced Red Wyandotte are growing fast. I kept them separated from the rest of the flock to avoid having babies scooting under the fence into the neighbor's yard. Now, they're big enough to stay (mostly) inside the run.

We liberated them from their enclosure inside the coop last week. They spent most of the day exploring the coop, but by afternoon they were ready for their appearance in the world. Ms. Wyandotte led them out like a princess leading a parade!

They gained confidence quickly and venture away from mother to scratch around, explore and take dirt baths. They soon discovered the perches.
Ms. Wyandotte is a fierce mother. The pecking order has been disrupted by all these changes. She's now targeting Blondie, the only other hen even close to her in size. The Welsumer and Ancona get along fine with her and the chicks.

Every day is different. Occasionally one or more chicks escape from the run. When they realize they are separated from mother, they set up their distress call, which alerts me to come out and save the lost baby. Last night one got out on the vacant lot side and started wandering, squawking loudly all the way. From a predation point of view, it was the worst thing she could possibly do. I'm delighted that there are still seven chicks.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Heritage Park

I visited Heritage Park in Calgary, Alberta, as part of the Association for Living History and Agricultural Museums annual conference. What a terrific place! The park welcomed us, offering a detailed presentation on its historic costumes -- for over 900 people, both employees and volunteers. They cover the time period from 17th century trappers and missionaries through the 1930s.

The designers create their own patterns.

Bride and groom, for those special occasions.

Seamstresses use both machine and hand sewing to get every detail right.

They also make their own hats. Every person wears a hat.

It's an ALHFAM tradition to have an ox driving competition, but that was replaced by a tractor driving competition this year. Heritage Park has some beautifully restored vehicles. Novice drivers competed on a 1946 John Deere, but anyone who had ever driven a tractor before qualified as Experienced and drove a 1911 Reliance. It was a truly remarkable contraption. My husband Godron drove it well.
The steering wheel makes 44 complete revolutions to turn the wheels.
I didn't get the model of this one. Anyone know what it is?
They also have a lot of livestock. The Muscovy ducks were sweet.
Two females and one male.
Muscovies have these caruncles.
Two separate chicken coops.
One for these hens...
and one for this mother and her chicks.
As always, the live animals are a big attraction for all the visitors. Thanks, Heritage Park, for passing on enthusiasm for livestock!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Patrick Martins on Seasonal Meats

Patrick Martins of Heritage Foods USA is writing a book about our food systems. He has also written The Carnivore's Manifesto. Here's an advance chapter: Sex Sells, or, For Every Season There is a Meat.
Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.

— Henry David Thoreau

An industrial farm is a joyless place. Even the studly breeders don’t get to have sex! Everything is artificially coerced, and then artificially inseminated. These farms are not idyllic, impressionist paintings of greenery and sunshine — more like the technological nightmare of tubes and machines and vault-like freezers, racks of test tubes, genetic manipulators, and the cold-hearted tools of a science on the brink of disaster.

Did you ever read Charles Dickens and wonder why they were always eating ducks and geese at Christmastime? Well, it’s because of the sex lives of these toothsome birds. It’s that simple. Remember the song “Makin’ Whoopee”? Another season, another reason, for makin’ whoopee. You certainly didn’t think that applied only to people, did you?

Just as tomatoes and strawberries are best in the summer, so too do our animal chums have their own seasons, and being tuned in helps teach us respect for the natural order of things — the miracle of Earth orbiting the Sun and giving us the joys of spring, summer, winter, and fall. These days it’s not so obvious, in the supermarket, anyway, because all meat is available all the time. But when naturally bred animals are ready for slaughter, in season, that is Earth speaking to us.

Eating meat at its naturally most robust, ready-for- market time of year is part of our covenant as responsible, sustainable, thoughtful, spiritually sound human beings, and it’s humbling in a way that makes us all feel part of something much bigger than us.

And when the season strikes, buy these animals in bulk and freeze what you don’t eat fresh — to embrace livestock by season means more than just laying out a single lavish holiday meal. You can make it your fashionable protein for weeks. Think sandwiches, and then meat for chili or rag├╣ for your pasta. Almost any animal, including lamb and turkey, makes a great burger, and this is very important — when we only eat prime cuts, it leads to waste. Grinding the cheaper cuts is going to help us achieve an America where small farms can survive, because we are helping them sell the entire beast.

Let’s start in fall: In October farms all over the world are exploding—this is harvest season, when the spring’s efforts are ready for the table and it’s time for us to fatten up for the winter. But at Heritage we’re most excited about October’s bounty of goats — in fact, we call it Goatober.

Goat is consumed in more places on the planet than any other livestock, with wonderful recipes and traditions representing a mosaic of cultures, although in America it suffers from the lack of a good marketing scheme—no “Where’s the beef?” or “the other white meat” to push goat to the forefront of a carnivore’s cuisine that has always been dependent on cows and pigs.

Goats are like horny newlyweds down on the farm. They do it like crazy in the fall, and they reproduce easily, usually birthing twins in spring. When fall comes, you either eat them, especially the males that do not produce milk, or you’ll have to get them sleeping bags to get through the chilly evenings. They’ve spent their summers munching on green grass and by early fall they are at their peak, before they get too old, tough, and gamey.

In November, don’t be a turkey, eat one! Left to their own instincts, turkeys do it in the late winter and early spring and are ready for harvest in twenty-four weeks, which conveniently turns out to be Thanksgiving, when as a species, they want to be eaten. And that is why the tradition exists. But don’t leave it there—you could be eating turkey sandwiches and beautiful turkey breasts and drumsticks right through till Christmas, and don’t forget the ground turkey for burgers or chili. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, ground meat is what keeps America’s independent farmers in business.
Commercial turkeys are nothing like Frank Reese's Narragansett

Today, of course, turkey sandwiches are everywhere all year round, but nature pushed hard to put that bird on the Pilgrims’ table. If you are eating a fresh turkey in July, well, you can bet that turkey was not the product of a satisfying sexual experience—there wasn’t a tom anywhere near a female when that bird was conceived.
Metzer Farms' German Embden Geese are good for a family flock.

December is Dickensian and, once again, the time for ducks and geese. For Americans, they may seem a bit Old World and intimidating to cook, but the truth is they are no more difficult to prepare than a chicken or a turkey, and they are an incredibly tasty alternative. Stephen Barber, the chef at Farmstead restaurant in Napa, calls geese “rib eye in the sky” because they are that meaty and wonderful.

This is a commercial goose I roasted for Christmas at our house.

January and February are great times to enjoy cured meats, salami, prosciutto, anything that has been salted and preserved. Why? Because as humans became civilized, this is what we created to survive the winter. Winter is tough — it’s why squirrels hoarding nuts set such an apt example for the rest of us. It’s why bears hibernate. Winter is about survival. And if the winter lasts into March, you can still gnaw on that prosciutto.

Come spring, when March roars in like a lion, you should be tucking into some lamb. There is a reason that lamb is central to Passover and Easter — or did you think it was just convenient symbolism? Nope, that’s when young lambs are ready for the slaughter, based on their natural mating patterns. And it’s a good time to eat the older, more mature sheep, too, since they are done breeding or milking and are ready for harvest.

Again, buy in bulk: Many of the country’s best lamb and goat farms are not at the level yet where they can break up those animals into pieces and still keep their business viable. Buying a twenty-pound half lamb or goat, butchered to your specs, is the only way to eat the elite at this point in time, and the best way to help the farmer.

Even though cows do it all year long, some cuts are best known during certain seasons: Just look at how many Jewish grandmothers have ruined perfectly good briskets at Passover, overcooking them with ketchup and chemically based dry soup mix. We can’t explain why anyone would want to cook like that, but the reason brisket is popular in early spring is that it is a good, lean rough cut, the cut of the cow that stands up and lasts best through the winter until it is the last part of the cow left. It’s also no coincidence that we eat corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day.

Coming into summer, you’d be a fool not to eat salmon during the wild salmon harvesting season — those are the months you’ll get it fresh from Alaska, and you should only ever eat salmon from Alaska (even frozen the rest of the year!), which is the largest wild salmon run in the world. Better not to eat salmon at all than eat their flabby, sad- sack, farm-raised industrial cousins.

More importantly, summer is grilling season. Pigs, chickens, and cows are incorrigible, they do it all the time. Like rabbits. So sure, you can eat them all year round, but you should try to leave them alone when other animals want eating during the rest of the year. That’s a good way to help promote sustainability.

And that is today’s lesson: When an animal has its moment, eat it, eat it often, and learn to prepare it in many ways. Celebrate nature, and the traditions we have created around these animals over thousands of years of farming and breeding. Do it because it is healthy and responsible, because it is the natural thing to do, because it is sustain- able and succulent.

Cole Porter said it best in “Let’s Do It” — Birds do it, bees do it...They say that roosters do it...With a doodle and cock... And there you have it. Let our animals be happy. Please, eat them in season. Let them have sex.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

IWBA Directory

The International Waterfowl Breeders Association published their 2014 Member Directory. If you have any interest in waterfowl, these are the people to contact.

Joining IWBA gets you the directory and the newsletter, which is always worth reading. I keep mine, for the photos as well as the information, straight from the breeders. These lovely Runner Ducks are perfect for the cover.

Think waterfowl -- ducks and geese -- for variety in your flocks!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Incan Basket cockerels

Three of the South American chicks I hatched in the incubator earlier this year turned out to be males. Since I live in town and can't have a rooster, they will have to move.

Kermit Blackwood, who sent me the eggs, is happy to have them back for his flock. Raisin, their father, was killed by a raccoon shortly after these eggs, so Kermit needs a new rooster. These all have different qualities:

Raven has a tail and a coat of many colors. He's beautiful, especially in the sun, where his plumage glistens purple, green and orange.

Ebony is truly a collonca, tailless. He also has brilliant plumage and a bright disposition. He and Raven alredy often square off for a fight, ruffs of feathers fluffed around their necks.

Star was the first chick to hatch, from a different mother, who laid blue eggs. I hoped he would be a hen to give me blue eggs, but it was not to be. He was a leader from the start, not only because of his size. However, he's less inclined to fight than the other two.

They are moving to Kermit's New Hampshire farm. I look forward to watching their progress in years to come. I'll sure miss them, though.