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).