Friday, December 25, 2009

environment and livestock

came across a good explanation of why livestock done wrong is a big part of the problem and done right it can be a big part of the solution to our little greenhouse gas problem:
"Beware of Bad Science"

A couple of days ago I realized what change I want to make over the coming year in my own life: no more CAFO meat. I will give up meat that I did not produce in a humane and environmentally sustainable manner, or source locally from a farmer I can insure did the same. There are going to be a few exceptions to this rule of course:

-I will eat what I am served as a guest in another person's home. I don't want my choices to make me a pain in someone else's a$$.

-I will eat sushi from my favorite restaurant: Hana Restaurant in Rohnert Park.

-I will eat wild caught seafood (except Chilean Seabass, Southern Bluefin Tuna, endangered species type stuff). I believe hook and line fishing has proven sustainable over 1000s of years, appropriate regulation and enforcement is the answer to overfishing, not boycotting paying fishermen for their labor. High prices for the product actually reduces "effort"/resource extraction.

Basically since I've filled the fridge with grass-fed chicken we've been pretty close to that at home, excepting for the occasional package of chicken-apple sausage from Whole Foods. Luckily for me, Mary, who was really close to this eating style already, has also signed on to this change for herself, which will make it easier. So bye-bye whole foods CAFO sausage.

I however had a bad tacqueria habit. I even used to have a McDonald's habit, until Omnivore's Dilemma turned me off on that, and now the few times I've wanted comfort food so bad I've tried it I've ended up with a stomach-ache. So that hasn't been around for me that much. But the burrito Thursday is going to be a hit. I've never really preferred falafel to schwerma at middle-eastern places. But now, that's what its going to be. The other day I was out and about at lunchtime though so I had a salad at the bar at Pacific Market. It was great! My bet is in the end I'll be gaining a lot more than I'm giving up by adding this small amount of discipline to my own eating habits.

Prius Sucks!

The Prius is a great example of how consumers have a herd mentality that doesn't necessarily track proportionally with quality, value, or anything that you'd think rational individuals would use as criteria to make their decisions. I'm as guilty as anyone. I own a 2007 Prius.

My mother bought the 1st generation Prius when it first came out, and one test drive and I knew it wasn't for me. Main complaints were that the accelerator drags on you, so unless you ride it with a lead foot all the time, you find you are going too slow on the freeway. Secondly, the brakes, with their charging feature, are so "grabby" that everyone in the car suffers mild whiplash.

But after a few years, wanting to get a car for around town or even day fishing trips with good mileage, I decided to test drive one of the later generation Prius' to see if they had solved those problems. To my delight they had, the car was zippy and responsive, and the brakes felt like any others. I bought it.

Then I found out that it is the worst car I've owned. It has been well below expectations in so many ways that I feel compelled to list them here. I believe that Toyota's design engineers made a long list of bad decisions that leads me to think that they literally despise their own customers, and our satisfaction is not high on their priority list. It is the worst car I have ever owned by FAR, and I'm including my '79 Datsun 510 wagon in that, my first car.

What sucks about the Prius? First and foremost, all this hybrid technology and money and effort has gone into this car, we have to put up with all these idiosyncrasies, for how much mileage? 40ish miles to the gallon? That's pathetic! You can do that with a regular engine and a car that is aerodynamic and light.

Actually, I think a bulleted list might be better:
-poor technology/mileage increase ratio. 45 miles/gallon is ridiculous Toyota!
-the stupid reverse beep is awful
-your passenger cannot use the GPS while the car is moving
-if you have any objects in the passenger seat, the seatbelts beep at you 3x normal duration, followed by a louder even more incessant beep. usually you give up and buckle up your items (but it wont let you operate the GPS w/ a passenger detected, oh no, not Toyota)
-The battery is in the back, but you can't open the back door if its dead.
-There is a relay for the battery up front, but you have to read the manual to know about it, and its under a plastic cover that is impossible to remove with cold fingers alone
-If you need to move your car to jump it, you are out of luck, can't get neutral w/ a dead battery AFAICT
-Toyota's answer to traction control is to separate the accelerator pedal from the engine for 1 second if it detects wheel slippage. So you go to merge into traffic, and you give it gas, but the wheel hits some sand and slips. You are half way into the street have no gas pedal, just a little orange light saying the car slipped. Thanks, idiots!
-the recall where the gas pedal and the mats are incompatible. This one I'd tolerate as just an unforseen design flaw, without all the other stuff.

I know there are more but those are the ones that I can think of for now. What a terrible car, to be so darn popular. I personally can't wait for the Chevy Volt, and I'm going to have to refuse to sell the Prius to family members because I can't let them suffer as I have. I will not buy another Toyota. Be smart; stay AWAY from Prius! These things would be tolerable for 70 or 80 miles to the gallon, but 45? Demand more from the top car company before rewarding them with your hard earned dollars...

Friday, December 11, 2009

new arrivals

some new arrivals. a ram, 2 baby ewes, a baby ram, and another whether. 8 weaner pigs. Yorkshire x Hereford cross.

now I need to go fortify that pig pen...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

green meat

Looking back on what I've written so far, I've realized I've touched on some of the darker aspects of my fun and low impact methods of producing meat: castration, predation, slaughter, the fact that given the chance our food will escape or defend themselves with nasty pinches; in other words they are not 100% willing to be eaten at any given moment.

And yet, these are the realities of food production, animals (like us) eat other animals. Death is part of every life. I believe that these animals have some of the best lives animals could ask for. There is a bargain between farmer and crop and land in any kind of production. My feeling is that it is possible to live up to our end of that bargain to the benefit of all. They thrive so they dodge the predator attacks. Their eggs and meat taste fantastic. Personally controlling the final stages of their lives is the least I can do for them, and no "pristine state of nature" insures this type of passing the way I can. The guiding principle is to take processes that occur in nature sustainably and sustainably enhance those processes to produce viable, quality food. It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game of resource extraction and environmental quality depletion.

I have taken a few stabs at the morality of meat eating vs. vegetarianism, but I give up I can't write about stuff like that without ranting. Here's a link to a good article.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

got sheep?

Crab season opened last Saturday but was accompanied by a 15ft swell from the Gulf of Alaska that kept me off the water until Monday. It was only 10ft by then. So I dropped 6 pots with a variety of baits (first time trying whole chickens that I had chucked in the freezer when they expired) out on my favorite spot north of Bodega Bay that I found several years ago by throwing pots all over the place and counting the crabs. By the time I was back to pull my first pot after a mere half hour soak, it had 4 keeper crabs in it. You gotta love the week-long sport season before commercial starts this Saturday. Once the ocean is blanketed with their pots, overnight soaking becomes a necessity almost. Certainly with rockfish closed there's nothing to do while they soak anyway. So we've been eating dungeness the last few days and once again my children have demonstrated that they are adventurous. One unfortunate thing is that Jeremy got so into helping clean the crabs that the second day I came home with them he wanted to do it all, including bringing them over to the chopping block. I put one upside down on the tailgate for him but he grabbed it with his fingers on the bottom instead of the back, so a pincher reached down and grabbed the tip of his ring finger. When he started screaming I came over and finessed the other claw away and took a terrifying moment to pry it off; they are damn strong little creatures. Subsequently I recited: I am Marc Felton. You pinched my firstborn. Prepare to die. Crabs are by far the easiest psychologically to dispatch of all the food items I have encountered.

Apparently according to someone on the local chicken chat group, it is migration season for hawks. I can testify that suddenly hawks are targeting my day-ranging laying flock. Its basically my worst nightmare, because there's no way to protect free ranging hens from interested hawks. Basically, if one gets determined, I need to find a new location, and I haven't any at the moment. How do I know they're getting attacked? About 4 or 5 days ago I went down to collect eggs and all the chickens were hiding under the coop. Uh oh, somethings attacked them. But no evidence of success like feather piles or carcassas. Then the other day I was shucking some old corncobs I'd grown as a treat before I went off to catch crabs and the orange rooster made this low guttoral moan that I now recognize as the serious alarm sound. Hens scattered running for cover. Instead of a dive bomb from high above, the hawk came sizzling in almost parallel with the ground and very low; bursting from the cover of 4 large apple trees that are clustered together just uphill of the current hang-out area. Due to the rooster warning, the hawk missed getting any bird, but it landed in a tree right above the feeder just as casual as it owned the place. Of course after the initial paralysis wore off I went running at it screaming and yelling, pushing it to another tree and another and another, until finally it was far off my property. When I was setting up for sheep yesterday another attack happened the same way. I heard the alarm, looked through the trees and fences to see the hawk doing some trick flying low to the ground, and had to run down there and chase it off. Again, unsuccessful. It doesn't look like a big hawk. It looks like a cooper's hawk, which I didn't think were large enough to take adult birds. It could be that this is another scary kind of hawk that is migrating through though. Tough to get an ID on an attacking hawk. What this tells me is that my instinct telling me to keep roosters with my flock was dead on. I am now convinced that roosters are necessary for hawk protection, and I will not keep one of my eggmobiles on land that someone has a no-rooster stipulation.

Did I say setting up for sheep? Yes, I couldn't stand watching that dryland pasture mix regrow with all that chicken fertilizer and yet nothing eating it, so I bit the bullet and got some sheep. These are not for wool, but for meat, with 2 for breeding to make more meat. Turns out you can't leave males you intend to eat intact, it gives the meat an off flavor, so I got to watch the process of actually banding one of the whethers. The breed I got is the American Blackbelly sheep and they are sooo cute in a non-white lamb sort of way. The ewe looks about 10 months old, the ram was born in September and the 2 whethers were born Oct1. They seem very happy with the forage; I saw them eat grasses etc, baby apple tree leaves, seed pods of old summer weeds gone to seed, and apples! I didn't think sheep would eat the apples but there they were last night eating apples on one side of the fence with a few turkeys dining on apples on the other side. Very cool. I looked at them at 4 am and they weren't in the shelter I'd built for them out of a raised bed cover I'd built out of PVC + tarp, they were just snuggled around the base of a tree near their water trough. Here's the latest family portrait (minus chickens).

Monday, October 5, 2009

wannabe farm update

I figured this morning that its been too long since I took pics of the animals.

I recently acquired another salvage trailer for eggmobile2, and spent an hour with the drill/wire brush knocking rust off, with probably another hour left before I can hit it with phosphoric acid, then prime, then paint, then build the coop.

Here's our own wild thing tearing into a pasture fed drumstick. She really rolled her terrible eyes and gnashed her terrible teeth on the thing she held in her terrible claws. A spinach salad in the foreground from saved seeds no less. Easiest crop I ever grew, just collected seeds in a bucket and my brother spread them on a raised bed that already had irrigation. A couple weeks of neglect later and I'm cutting spinach for our salads.

Eggmobile1 is surrounded by electronet because I integrated 2 flocks into it and the new guys need the net to prevent them all roosting in trees. They are doing it anyway, but at least its not all of them. Hopefully I only have a few more nights of chicken catching and then I can remove the net and move the thing again. I doubled the ventilation with the addition of the new birds but I'm thinking I'll double it again. Really can't have too much ventilation around here since it doesn't really freeze much. I have been trying to throw them supplemental goodies as they scratched this area bare: whole uprooted tomato plants full of ripe fruit is their favorite, but they love zuchini and raw corn on the cob. Lots of neglected veggies around here.

This roo was looking like he was going to be top of the order when they first matured, and the black and white one was very timid and always running and hiding. But one day it switched, big red turned timid and b/w is now in charge.

The turkeys are much cuter than I anticipated. They have a well earned reputation for being stupid, but they are dopey in a really endearing way I think. They are very inquisitive and they look up at you with these huge blank eyes and chirp-chirp-chirp. When you try to walk away several of them gobble. Big lumbering hulks. The bronzes are getting huge and will make spectacular thanksgiving birds. The biggest narragansets will be good for those who want a smaller t-giving turkey and left the little guys unsold to sell as Christmas turkey.

Some people might think it strange that a person could love an animal, think it is amazingly cute and precious, and then at some point end its life and eat it. I however feel that life includes death, and life in the wild can be hard and cruel (ask a racoon for mercy and see what happens Mr. PETA). Life on my farm for my animals is hopefully comfortable and borderline idyllic. Then one day, graduation day, they are brought quickly and humanely to their end right here on the farm so there's not even the stress of transport. That's as close as I can get to eating a wild caught fish.
I just wouldn't enjoy a vegetarian diet, and I disagree with anyone who thinks its got a shot at being a solution to environmental problems. Yes, its been proven that some people can survive without eating other animals. But to my mind, large environmental problems will not be solved by a tiny number of people embracing and evangelating self sacrifice. Our best shot is to breed a new generation of smarter consumer who is willing to pay more for humane/green meat and a continue the spread of farmers who do it that way. Its in the farmer's instinct to be the best stewards of their land and their beasts they possibly can be. But farmers are forced by the market at this point in time to do what works.

Will there ever be a time when most eggs come from chickens that know sunlight and have ever eaten a blade of grass? Time will tell...But the eggs sure are different. Like wow different. Like you can't go back anymore different. There's a downside, what do you eat at a hotel breakfast buffet?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

4 tuna monterey monday

Dad and I left Monterey in Feeling Lucky at 6:30 and went to the 36'15"/122'55" spot. That's a mere 50 miles from Pt. Pinos. Waves and whitecaps started about 25 mi out. Outside was fishable but not pleasant all day.

From 15/55 started a tack south-west. At 14/56 had a triple (water temp was 62), but the usual moves produced no further fish, tacked south, then north-west, then straight east, fix a tangle, back west again at 16/47 a single, once again no subsequent fish rose in area despite several passes in a search pattern.

We gave up at 16/46 with 59 degree water and 4 15-20 lb. fish in the box.
This was another long boat ride, 3 hours to get home, not back at the house with the boat parked until 5:30.

It turns out there is a major White Sea Bass bite in Monterey and being adventurous about the target would have been a better decision. But I couldn't ignore the major tuna catch reports from Sunday and I just didn't know it was rough right past where the weather buoy said it was calm, didn't want to fiddle with a fish I didn't know how to catch and miss on a sure thing. Whatever, I like to run a boat and tuna is my favorite fish to catch. The custom 18 gallon tank we added to dad's boat makes long tuna trips like that possible, we made sure to drain the aft tank fully. Once again Feeling Lucky turned out a solid performance despite the pounding and the distance we put her through. We need to clean out the speedometer tube in the motor, that was the one system fail.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Left Monterey harbor around 6 am with high hopes of catching a few tuna, but these turned into fears as soon as I got outside the bay and saw the whitecaps and felt the 10 knot wind. It was going to be a bumpy one.

My general plan was to head for 36.30/122.30 and tack SW because of the SST on tempbreak, but the break was a few miles past that. We dropped in around 9ish after the 3 hour pounding to get out there. We started working once the water was 59 degrees W/SW but were hearing radio fish at 34/57 so eventually fishless in 61 degree water I set a heading for those numbers.

Around 11 I switched the spread from purple and black feathers to zuchini clones. We were only running 4 rods due to the wind and difficulty keeping it all fishing properly.

Finally at about 12:00 we got a single, but turning back over that spot produced nothing. Around 12:30 I heard on the radio some big Farallon had just felt the weather had gotten bad enough to turn around and I was in Dad's little 21' Grady, and we were looking at a 3 hour run home at least.

At 12:45 I called it with one fish in the box and decided it was time to limp home with my tail between my legs. We pulled the rods and started heading east, and as I was trying to figure a comfortable speed and heading in the slop and chop I looked down at the sonar and the SST had shot up to 61.9 degrees. OK, put em back in! We didn't get all 4 rods back in when the short corner went off, my brother was in the process of dropping back and I think hooked a fish with the rod in his hands. We just kept turning back over that spot for 16 more tuna in singles, doubles a triple and a quad to finish in the next hour and a half. I was pulling my fish over the rail by the leader to gaff the others cause they weren't that big (12-15 lbs maybe). Too fun!

The numbers on that spot were 36.27 /122.44.
At 2:30 we decided we had enough fish for our needs so we left them biting. Tuna fishing. wow! back at the dock just after 6 pm. return the boat to my dad, eat a nice dinner my parents had prepared for us, back home in Sonoma County around midnight. longish day, brutally rough conditions, and I can't wait to do it all again when the calendar and the weather and the fish permit.

the catch minus 4 already packed in another cooler.

a visibly tired crew, but no longer sorry about the pounding I put them through!

me with the big fish of the day. boga on the water after we bled it said 27 lbs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

salmon season slow

Back from my vacation (where I worked hard as a boat captain, and when lucky, fish processor) up in Trinidad, CA. What a beautiful place to tie up a boat. A great community. Right off the bat the Harbormaster saw me fueling at the Chevron and started helping me out, the mooring that they had for me wouldn't work but he had other ideas, etc. In the end I tied to a commercial boat's mooring who wasn't in the harbor at the time.

We got 2 fish on the opener, listened to the weather report the next day and stayed in and fished the klamath river for 4 fish, then got skunked on Monday, 2 fish Tuesday, skunked Weds, 1 fish Thursday outside the mouth of the Klamath, skunked on Friday.

Fishing was so slow, and I was outta gas, so I decided to pull the boat and go home a little early rather than gas it up and keep trying. Lots of work to do on the farm.
I sold 6 started pullets to a neighbor who just finished his chicken coop. I need to thin out my upper flock. I think one night when the door was left open there was some predation, I am down one cuckoo maran and no birds will roost by the door now, so they've taken to roosting in the next boxes which is annoying cause they poop there now.

I'm going to put up an electric fence around the turkeys so I can let them out of their tractor without fearing for my high-calcium hen feed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

its harder than I thought to produce food

I used to serve systems administrators and network engineers as their manager for a series of Internet companies. I needed to spend more time with my new kids, and wanted to combine work with my passion for fishing. I was thinking most likely I'd try to become a sport charter captain. Then the Sacramento River winter run chinook salmon simply collapsed to 5% of its normal population. That was the fishery I had been concentrating on with my limited free time all those years.

During this time I read Omnivore's Dilemma, and I had the not very unique idea that I could probably produce food in this way that actually benefits the earth. Also I already knew in the back of my mind that industrial agriculture was killing the wild oceans (while fishing was getting the blame). Before "the book" I had unconsciously subscribed to the myth that producing food inherently equated to environmental degradation. I had an environmental science B.S. from a major university. I had the passion for interacting with animals and plants. I filled some of the gaps of my knowledge and experience by taking Sustainable Agriculture 110 (organic farming) and Agriculture 70 (Integrated Pest Management) at Santa Rosa Junior College and was very impressed with the quality of these classes. I never found out how to check what grades I got but I assume I did fine. I got some of the knowledge I was looking for was the important thing.

After that I just went ahead and planted a bunch of heirloom veggies, ordered a ton of chicks for future eggs and made a project plan of several batches of broilers, somewhere between 500-600 in total by the end of it I think. The chicken venture has been the more rewarding of the two, I had low introductory prices so I sold out completely with relative ease and my birds all turned out really well, sized between 3.5 - monster 6 lbers. In retrospect the low intro price was a mistake. Yet Sarah and I are still planning to charge less than the standard rate for pasture raised birds despite our highest in the state cost of living. I kind of see my competition as industrial organic, not other pastured chicken farmers. I've got my instincts guiding me as to how to build a market for real chicken.

The vegetables have been a real challenge to sell. The pasture fed eggs that started coming out in August sell easily, but I made some heritage mistakes in breed selection that caused me to get less than half what I expected. Right now I am only getting 2.5 - 3 doz/day though...

So I have another 100 chicks coming in October, and I have 20 turkeys in a mobile pen.

That is the story of Felton Acres so far. I am about producing local food with integrity, ideally benefitting at minimum not degrading the environment, and respect for the animals which will be incorporated into my family, friends, and customers. Am I the kind of person you would like to have producing the food you give to your children? I hope so.