Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's Mother's Day

PETA just launched a TV public service announcement about the filth and cruelty that they exposed in their undercover investigation of a farm that supplies Land O'Lakes. Apparently, some Philadelphia-area viewers were so sickened by the ad that they complained to the TV station that aired it. (If only they'd complained to the Land 0' Lakes perpetrators of the abuse, instead!) As a result, the station pulled the spot after it had aired just twice. Ironic...if it was a worker defiling their milk or butter, they'd watch,and then call Land O'Lakes to complain, and probably even demand a criminal investigation.

Yes, it's graphic, but this is the reality of the dairy industry: Cows are electro-shocked and jabbed with knives, they live in stalls covered in urine and feces, and sick cows collapse and die. There's nothing pretty about the way that animals who are used to produce milk are treated, but those who still eat products made animals' milk (aka dairy products) sometimes prefer to live in blissful ignorance.

You can make this ad go viral! Help by sharing the pulled ad through blogs, e-mails, and any other way you can think of. And if you are still eating the products made with animals' milk, make a commitment to stop. Think about the other mothers on this Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Reality Check

Here's Natasha surveying The Back Forty (Feet), sitting near the 360 degree swivel table Steve made to put the solar oven on...

Some things have not gone well on our little homestead recently. First, all of our poor bees died over the winter. We don't know if it was because they had mites, or if there wasn't enough sun behind that bee enclosure, or because there weren't enough consecutive warm days this winter for them to get outside to eliminate, or because the hive got too moist inside. Most likely, it was a combination of all of these things. It's not CCD, that's for sure. Lots of people here lost their bees over the hard winter, including our next door neighbor. And it wasn't that they didn't have enough honey. We had not touched their honey, as they wouldn't have had enough if we did. Now we have about a dozen huge jars of it; Steve spent a very sticky Monday in late March with a rented extractor, and then probably another four hours scraping off and cleaning the foundation sheets, (where they build up the comb for their brood), for the new bees, who are doing well. The new spot for the hive is sunnier, behind a beautiful woven willow gate and chicken wire fence that Steve made to keep the cats from getting too close. The willow branches are from our small willow tree that was so heavily damaged by the December blizzard that it had to be taken down; it had to go anyway, so we could put something that will fruit in, but we were still sad to lose it.

Then we discovered that the peach tree has curly blight. Its first year of blossoming, and so beautiful, but it's not well. The treatment, apparently, is to remove lots of blossoms (more than one would usually) so it doesn't use up all its energy fruiting, make sure to give it seaweed extract as fertilizer and water it if there isn't much rain, then treat it organically with copper next spring.

The back yard, frankly, is a mess---on any trip across the yard, you stumble on clods of bare dirt, scraps of wood, fabric, or metal lying about, or holes that the chickens have scratched up for dust-bathing, or half-rotted sheets of cardboard lain down to help curb the invasive ornamentals. It's easy to catch an ankle in a twist of baling twine or a length of cut raspberry cane or multiflora rose that hasn't yet made it to the compost or stick pile yet. I want it to all look nice and tidy, but am realizing that it's hard to do that and still take care of the earth properly. Practicing permaculture is a SLOW process, so we have to wait and make mistakes.

At least the chickens are all happy and healthy, and the bush cherry is blooming beautifully and looks good. We should have cherries this year. I forgot to get a photo of it, as it's in the front, unlike most of our projects. Steve innoculated more shiitake mushroom logs yesterday. The first set, which might not fruit again, were innoculated in the spring of 2007, and we never got around to posting to show how it was done. He bought spores through the mail, and then drilled holes in oak logs that he got from a big old oak that came down on our friend Glenn's land. (Oak is best because the shiitakes prefer it and it holds its bark longer, so it stays moist longer.) The spores get pushed into the holes with the innoculator tool, and then he seals the hole with melted paraffin. Turns out you can use beeswax, too, and we have lots of that, so he'll use it next time. You'll notice he set up shop in the shade; that's so the open holes don't dry out too much while he's working.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Be a Chicken Advocate: The Backyard Chicken Movement

So many people are excited when they hear that we have chickens, and say, "I want to get chickens, too!" After I tell them about what it's really like to have chickens, they aren't always as enthusiastic. The plain fact is chickens poop alot, and they can be a bit noisy. They also require alot of care---it's not like you can just go away and leave them for a weekend, and they need interesting things to do, especially in the wintertime. They need to get out of their coop and scratch around in real dirt, and that means they will eat most anything that they can get to that you've got growing in the ground. Most vets don't know much about chickens, also, so yours might not live very long. So it's not something I recommend to anyone who doesn't really care deeply about chickens. Of course, if someone wants to get them just for eggs or to kill them to eat them, I don't recommend it.

As interest in "urban farming" spreads across the U.S. many cities are considering letting residents keep backyard flocks of chickens. This can present opportunities for people to learn about chickens and other domestic fowl, but also presents challenges regarding the quality of their care and will likely lead to a huge increase in abandoned birds at local shelters. Many urban centers tolerates wanton breeding, swapping, and backyard slaughter, all of which are being actively promoted by many urban farming enthusiasts. Chicken Run Rescue (CRR) encourages animal advocates to take an active role in advocating for chickens and other domestic fowl as this trend continues. Here's what you can do:

* If you live in Minnesota, sign up as a foster or volunteer with CRR to help care for chickens, consider adopting birds who need homes, and apply for chicken permits. (If you're not a Minnesota resident, contact CRR for more information on groups in your state.)

* Become involved in local policy development and standards of care. Lobby for education requirements for permit applicants. Work to ensure that backyard slaughter is prohibited in your city.

* Advocate for roosters - 50% of hatched chicks are roosters and they are killed outright, abandoned, or sold to slaughter. Oppose limits and bans on roosters.

Every year, domestic fowl, mostly chickens, are impounded by urban Animal Control. These birds are victims of neglect, abuse and abandonment, sometimes used as a source of eggs or intended for slaughter, fighting or ritual sacrifice. Some are the discarded outcome of "nature lessons" for children or after a hobby that no longer holds interest. Don't breed or buy- Adopt! There are never enough homes for displaced animals.

I've always been a big fan of "This American Life" and its producer, Ira Glass, so it was great to find this video, where Ira Glass talks with TV host David Letterman about Chickens and why he (Ira) doesn't eat them anymore!
Ira Glass and David Letterman Talk About Chickens