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Archive for October, 2011

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This weekend we had a visit from the sixth grade Environmental Science class of the Roxbury Latin School in Boston.  For weeks, the boys have been studying different ways in which humans have interacted with nature, now focusing on the production of food. They have studied and debated source materials from 19th century native American literature to the documentary Food Inc. The trip to our farm was the culminating experience for the boys, and after touring the farm and helping with some chores, they ended with a cook off between supermarket hamburger and our grass-fed hamburger.

Needless to say, our hamburger won hands down!

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Federal Budget Debate

October is a very busy month for farmers. This year, it is also very busy for the lawmakers and lobbyists who are working out how much the federal government will spend on agricultural programs. We understand and support the idea that the government must not spend beyond its means, and that agricultural spending must be cut in line with everything else to balance the budget. But we would like to defend a small part (3%) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget that many people don’t understand: the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Most people know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to prevent people from harming the environment. But while the EPA is telling everybody what they are doing wrong, the NRCS is actively helping farmers do things right. The NRCS provides expert consulting and funding for farm projects that benefit the environment. This may sound self-serving coming from a farmer who has directly benefited from NRCS funding, but the carrot-and-stick system really works.

Last week, a group of conservation organizations sent a letter to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that says it all.

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Who knew that you could fill a whole day learning about egg quality? Not me! Not until this week, when I attended a seminar by Dr. Kenneth Anderson from North Carolina State University. In this photo, Dr. Anderson (background) is giving pointers to Craig Fournier on how to grade an egg. Besides grading, here are some other things we learned that I never knew before:

  • Eggs should be packaged small end down for best protection of the yolk.
  • That plastic egg-holder in your fridge? Throw it away! Eggs keep much better in cartons.
  • Larger eggs degrade faster than smaller eggs.
  • Smaller eggs have higher quality shells than larger eggs.
  • Younger hens lay higher quality eggs than older hens.
  • Modern laying hens will lay one egg each day about an hour later than the previous day until they hit mid-afternoon. Then they will skip a day and start over in the morning.
  • If promptly refrigerated, eggs will remain grade AA quality for about 7 days, then grade A for about 60 days (but the sell-by date must be no more than 30 days from packaging).
  • It is true that the cuticle (bloom) on an unwashed egg has anti-microbial properties, but only for 96 hours. After that, it sloughs off.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Many thanks to Dr. Anderson for making the trip north to help us Yankees re-learn some of our forgotten skills!

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We finally have finished building our corral using one of the designs published by Dr. Temple Grandin. As you can see from the video, the cows move quite calmly through the corral, with no yelling on our part and zero cattle prods. This is thanks to the genius of Dr. Grandin, who has revolutionized the science of cattle handling with her insights into the bovine mind.

Having a corral makes it much easier to weigh the cattle, to divide them into groups, to load them onto the stock trailer, to inspect them, and to administer veterinary care. It even makes for easy handling of the pigs! Now that we have it, I wonder how we ran the place without it.

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