Categories
Agriculture

U.S. Egg Prices Explained

Everyone has been talking about the drastic rise in egg prices here in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of eggs has increased 120% from January to December of 2022. Now, I’m just a small scale farmer from the Adirondacks, but I happen to be a farmer who has studied agriculture for six years of my life at the undergraduate and graduate levels, so I do have a solid handle on agricultural economics, and some thoughts as to why the prices are what they are.

The United States is currently experiencing a massive outbreak of avian influenza, commonly known as bird flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 49 million birds across 46 states have either died or been culled due to avian influenza. This disease is highly contagious, and is a reportable disease, meaning that suspected cases must be reported to state veterinary officials. If an infection is confirmed, state officials must depopulate all of the farm’s birds to prevent the virus from spreading. Tens of millions of laying hens have been lost, as well as breeding stock and young pullets being raised to become future laying hens.

Not only have farmers been coping with the threat of bird flu looming over their heads, they have been faced with large increases in the cost of labor and feed. With the job market being favorable to job seekers, it has been difficult for farms to maintain an adequate number of laborers, who are often working long, hard hours for little pay. Corn and soybeans, both important ingredients in most livestock feeds, reached record high prices in 2022 and remained at these levels after the harvest. Many factors are currently affecting the global grain market, one of which is the war in Ukraine. Ukraine is a critical producer of grain and oilseeds, with exports totaling $27.8 billion in 2021. Although a deal with Russia has been brokered by the UN to move stored grain out of the country, Russia has already broken the agreement once, leaving room for doubt as to its continuation in the future.

The bottom line is that the food security that many Americans have come to enjoy is not guaranteed. We saw major disruptions to the supply chain during the height of the pandemic, and we’ve been seeing them ever since. We need to decentralize the American food system to promote resiliency within it; the best way to do this is by supporting the small scale farms in our local communities!

Works Referenced

https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/APU0000708111

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/spotlights/2022-2023/nearing-record-number-avian-influenza.htm#:~:text=Since%20early%202022%2C%20more%20than,outbreak%20that%20occurred%20in%202015.

https://www.farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2022/11/tempered-expectations-for-2022-23-supply-and-demand-for-corn-and-soybeans.html#:~:text=Yield%20prospects%20for%20the%202022,-%2415%2Fbushel%20for%20soybeans.

https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/ukraine-russia-grain-deal-success-or-failure

https://www.fas.usda.gov/sites/default/files/2022-04/Ukraine-Factsheet-April2022.pdf

Categories
Uncategorized

Funding a Loan to a Farmer in Need

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you may remember our post from last year about Virgilio. He was the first farmer we ever lent to through Kiva, a platform that allows ordinary people like us to help folks with limited access to capital by crowdfunding micro loans to start or grow their business endeavors and enhance their livelihoods. In Virgilio’s case, he requested a loan to purchase inputs needed to improve his coffee harvests.

Because empowering our fellow farmers is something that we feel so strongly about, we decided to make a tradition of funding a new loan to a farmer at the end of each year. We allocate all repayments received towards new Kiva projects as well.

27 year old female farmer Mareta.

This year, we have contributed towards the $1,100.00 loan requested by Mareta, a vegetable farmer from Samoa. She is a single mother of five children, who grows cabbage, eggplants, and cucumbers to sell within her community. The proceeds of her loan will be used to purchase seeds, tools, and supplies needed to expand her produce business.

Categories
Pastured Poultry

Ink Spots on Pasture Raised Poultry


You’ve just purchased your first pasture raised turkey (or chicken, or duck, etc.), and now you’re probably wondering: what’s the deal with the dark spots on it? Rest assured, there is nothing wrong with your bird!

Ink spots on one of our pasture raised turkeys.

Dark spots, also called ink spots, are just small amounts of residual pigment from the feathers. They are more often seen on pasture raised birds than on conventionally raised birds, because the vast majority of conventionally raised birds are white for the very reason of preventing ink spots and other “defects” of appearance. Some pastured poultry producers may select white breeds, but having been developed with emphasis placed almost exclusively on yield and color, these breeds do not always possess all of the traits necessary to thrive in an outdoor setting. On our farm, we have experimented with both Cornish cross chickens (white feathered) and red broilers (red feathered with some black feathers here and there). Overall, we found that the red broilers were a much better fit for us, because they were less susceptible to disease, more tolerant of our region’s cold weather, and had greater foraging ability than the Cornish crosses. We are happy to accept some decrease in visual appeal of the finished product, knowing that we are raising the healthiest and happiest birds possible!

Another reason for the selection of darker colored poultry breeds is preservation. Heritage breeds, the livestock of our ancestors, have been in decline since the industrialization of agriculture in the 1900s. Heritage breeds represent an important reserve of genetic diversity. The Livestock Conservancy is dedicated to safeguarding rare breeds of farm animals from extinction, enhancing the resiliency of our planet’s food system.

While ink spots are often unavoidable when working with darker colored birds, they are completely harmless. They may not be aesthetically pleasing, but these naturally occurring blotches of pigment will not alter the flavor of the meat in any way. You should feel good about having purchased a pasture raised bird: the healthy, humane, and environmentally sustainable choice!

Categories
Pastured Poultry

Why You Should Be Eating Pasture Raised Turkey and Where to Find One

Two and a half square feet: that’s the amount of space per bird that is recommended by the National Turkey Federation. Their guidelines are actually published in pounds per square foot, but two and a half square feet per bird is what 15 lb/ft2 boils down to when you consider that an average tom weighs somewhere in the 35-40 pound range. That doesn’t sound like very much space, does it?

Conventionally raised turkeys are crowded into warehouse style barns by the thousands. This is problematic for several reasons. Being housed exclusively indoors with feed provided to them via automated systems, the turkeys never have the opportunity to forage as is their instinct. They lack adequate space to engage in other natural behaviors, and so resort to pecking out one another’s’ feathers out of frustration. In order to reduce feather pecking and cannibalism, the beaks of young turkeys are often trimmed and the lighting in barns is kept dim. High stocking densities in indoor production systems also lead to elevated levels of dust, ammonia, and other noxious gases, which cause damage to the respiratory tracts and eyes of the turkeys as well as the workers who are exposed to the polluted air. Soiled bedding and droppings are only removed from the barns at the end of the turkeys’ lifetime, generating tons of waste all at once that must be hauled away.

The story is very different with pasture raised turkeys. On many farms, turkeys are given a large area in which they can freely roam. On farms where predator pressure is higher (as is the case on our farm), turkeys may be confined to a mobile enclosure that is moved once or twice a day to provide the birds with fresh grass for grazing and a new space in which to forage for seeds and insects. In either case, the turkeys have room to run, jump, and flap their wings. They also have plenty of fresh air and sunlight: two things that conventionally raised turkeys never experience. Instead of generating tons of waste that must be scraped out of the barns and disposed of, their droppings are deposited onto the ground and incorporated into the carefully managed soil, acting as a natural fertilizer for plant regrowth. On our farm, poultry are also processed on site, so they never experience the stress of being transported to a slaughter facility.

Not only are pasture raised turkeys the humane and environmentally sustainable choice, there are health benefits associated with consuming pastured poultry. Studies show that pasture raised poultry has less saturated fat, and more polyunsaturated fat, which is better for cardiovascular health. Studies also show that pasture raised poultry has higher levels of protein, collagen, vitamin E, and omega-3 fats.

So where can you find a pasture raised turkey? If you’re local, you can order a turkey from us! If you live elsewhere in the northern New York region, there is a good chance that there is another Adirondack Harvest member farm raising turkeys near you. For folks in other states, the Food Animal Concerns Trust has compiled a national list of pastured turkey producers.

Works Referenced:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S003257911931449X

https://www.humanesociety.org/sites/default/files/docs/hsus-report-turkey-welfare.pdf

https://www.foodanimalconcernstrust.org/nutritional-benefits

Categories
Other

My Five Favorite Chicken Breeds

I think that I was about 9 years old when I got my first chickens: five laying hens in a little backyard coop that my dad and I built together. Flash forward 17 years, and I now have between 45 and 150 chickens at any given time. I have dealt with birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and have formed some opinions along the way. I can’t pick just one favorite breed, so here are my top five:

1. Brahma

Native to the United States, the Brahma is a large, dual purpose breed with a docile personality. Because they are so heavy, they are easy to contain and make for an excellent stew once they have surpassed their productive years. Brahmas lay approximately 150 large brown eggs per year.

2. Buff Orpington

They are basically the Golden Retrievers of the poultry world. Buff Orpingtons are quiet birds, laying around 160 large brown eggs per year. They are slow to mature, but grow to be quite large, making them an excellent dual purpose bird. Buff Orpington roosters are an inexpensive alternative to other meat breeds.

3. Australorp

They don’t have the best personalities, but they have proven to be extremely productive layers. Australorps average 260 large brown eggs per year. Out of all of my birds, they have been the most broody.

4. Ameraucana

These ladies are kind of flighty, but their beautiful blue-green eggs make them well worth putting up with. They are highly productive, laying around 250 eggs per year. They come in a variety of colors, which makes it easy to identify individual birds.

5. Silkie

These are most adorable chickens of all time, and they are SO SOFT! Silkies are very calm and easy to handle. Even the roosters are generally friendly. Silkies lay an average of 160 small, cream colored eggs per year.

All breed photos were borrowed from the Cackle Hatchery website.

Categories
Goat Care

All About Angora Goats

Angora goats produce the lustrous fiber called mohair (not to be confused with the fiber called Angora, which is produced by Angora rabbits). The use of mohair is mentioned in texts dating to 1571 BCE. The breed was developed in what is now Turkey and was exported to France and Spain during the sixteenth century, followed by South Africa in 1838, and the United States in 1849. Today, the United States, South Africa, and Turkey lead the world in mohair production. Within the United States, Texas produces 90% of the total volume of mohair, and is home to over 200,000 Angora goats.

Angora goats are often mistaken for sheep because they are similar in appearance. Angora goats can be distinguished from sheep by the distinct ringlet formation of their mohair and their pendulous ears. Mature does typically weight 70 to 110 pounds, while mature bucks can weight up to 225 pounds. Goats of both sexes are horned, although bucks tend to have larger horns that are quite impressive in appearance with an outward spiral away from the head. The ideal goat has a thick covering of mohair on the head and legs as well as on the body. Goat Breeders Association. Although smaller than other goat breeds, Angoras produce a good quality carcass. Their meat is marketed as chevon and is quickly growing in popularity.

On average, American Angora goats produce 10.6 pounds of mohair annually, with a staple length of 12 cm to 15 cm. Mohair takes dye easily and is widely used as an upholstering material due to its durability. The finer hair of young goats is preferred. Mohair is sold in large quantities through cooperatives or fiber warehouses, or it can be sold directly to independent spinners and crafters, or processed on the farm.

Angoras thrive on dry rangeland. They are susceptible to illness and may die if exposed to cold, wet conditions. In climates like ours, indoor housing is required during the coldest months of the year and may be required during the six weeks following shearing, when the goats are most sensitive. Like other goats, they prefer browse to grass, making them an excellent animal for management of brush and invasive species. They will often eat as high as they can reach when standing on their hind legs. Angoras are not the most prolific and grow more slowly than other breeds of goats. Consequently, they are rarely large enough to reproduce as yearlings. Does typically deliver a single kid at two years of age, although a higher plane of nutrition and lower stress levels can increase the incidence of twinning.

Like other goats, Angoras require routine hoof trimming and vaccination. Goats living in selenium deficient areas may require oral or injectable selenium supplements. Angora goats need to be shorn twice per year; this is typically done in the fall and in the spring, just before kidding. Shearing is done by the owner or by a professional shearer that the owner hires. In either case, care must be taken to avoid cutting the animal. Angora goats are said to be more difficult to shear than sheep because of their loose skin. Angora goats are particularly susceptible to both internal and external parasites, and require careful monitoring to prevent infestation. There is even a louse species referred to as the Angora Goat Biting Louse (Bovicola limbatus).

For further reading about the Angora breed, visit:

http://afs.okstate.edu/breeds/goats/angora/index.html/

https://goats.extension.org/goat-breeds-angora/

https://www.mohairusa.com/

http://www.aagba.org/AAGBABreedStandard_110630.pdf

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/lice-what-they-are-and-how-to-control-them

Categories
Agriculture

Why We’re Raising Goats for Meat

We used to sell all of our goat kids as pets… Until we realized how poorly pet goats are often treated. Many people will buy goats when they’re adorable youngsters, but aren’t willing to tolerate their adult behaviors, or keep up with routine hoof trimming, or pay for costly feed, mineral supplements, and veterinary expenses for 10+ years. This results in goats that experience years of neglect, goats that get shuffled around from farm to farm, and goats that end up being dumped at auctions. For this reason, we now only sell goat kids to exceptionally well qualified buyers: people who have done their research, and are willing to go above and beyond to provide the level of care that all goats deserve. It is also for this reason that we decided to begin raising goats for meat; we wanted to ensure that the goats we breed will stay on our farm, and lead comfortable lives from start to finish.

Another factor in our decision that may be worth mentioning is that goats are trendy right now, but that doesn’t mean that they always will be. Alpacas and emus were both very sought after at one point in recent U.S. history, but the markets for these species have now become saturated. Eventually, everyone who wants to have goats as pets will have purchased them, and then who would we sell our kids to? It would be foolish to continue to grow our business without having a plan in place for when the pet goat market declines.

Neither of us were raised eating goat meat, but we did grow up eating meats from a variety of other species. When we thought about it, we realized that chevon isn’t really so different from lamb or beef. We value sustainability and humane treatment of livestock above all else, and raising our goats’ offspring allows us to check both of those boxes. Goats are browsers more than they are grazers (unlike most of the other ruminant species that are widely raised for meat), making them the ideal animal to convert forages on marginal lands into lean red meat. Our animals will enjoy an excellent quality of life in our pastures, a quick death when we deliver them to our butcher, and respect at every moment in between. At the end of the day, we believe that our goats are providing our family and our community with a healthy, safe, ethically produced source of protein.

Categories
Agriculture

Top 5 Issues Facing Sustainable Animal Production


I was recently asked to identify what I perceive as the five greatest issues facing sustainable animal production for my Diversified Animal Production class, and I thought I’d share it here too! Here’s my list:

1. Availability of cheap, unethically produced substitute products: It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, but there are people out there (many of them, I suspect) who will still choose the cheapest option even if they know that it’s bad for the evironment, bad for the animals, bad for workers, etc. The fact that these products are readily available in virtually every grocery store in the U.S. doesn’t help.

2. A misinformed public: there are some well meaning people out there who care about animal welfare and sustainability, but they get their facts from the wrong sources, and end up working against sustainable animal production rather than for it.

3. Government programs and marketing infrastructure: both were designed to reward agribusinesses that produce a great volume, with little regard to sustainability or other important considerations.

4. Economic viability: sustainable operations tend to require more land and more labor than their “more efficient” counterparts. This can make it difficult for start-ups to reach profitability.

5. Lack of Scalability: what works well for one sustainable livestock operation won’t necessarily work for another, and that’s ok! However, because there is no franchise model that can be duplicated across the country, increasing the supply of sustainably sourced animal products may be challenging.

Categories
Farm Happenings

LGDs: Lessons from the First Year

A little over a year ago, we took a leap and acquired our farm’s first ever livestock guardian dogs. Yes, I said dogs as in more than one! We purchased TWO Great Pyrenees puppies within a couple months of each other. We’re sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly about our experiences with our LGDs thus far. To be clear, we do not advise raising more than one pup at a time! Not only is it twice the work, but it puts the dogs at risk of experiencing littermate syndrome, among other issues. It was a calculated risk on our part, and although it seems to have paid off, we don’t plan to do it again in the future.

The Good:

Our chosen breed of LGD, the Great Pyrenees, has been bred for thousands of years to work with livestock, and it shows. Their protective behaviors and gentleness towards the goats are instinctual. Because of this, we’ve done relatively little training with our dogs, other than basic obedience and correcting a few energetic puppy behaviors. We were careful to select purebred Great Pyrenees whose parents were also working dogs to ensure the greatest chance of success within our farming operation.

Not only are our dogs excellent with the goats, they have proven themselves to be gentle with our ducks, our chickens, and even our new barn cat. They are incredibly affectionate towards everyone they have met, although they put up an intimidating front with strangers and delivery drivers.

The Bad:

They’re HUGE! While their size may give them an advantage over coyotes and other predators, it also means that they are apt to knock over small children, elderly people, and anyone who’s unsteady on their feet. Because they are large, they also consume large quantities of food, which means that we spend a considerable amount each month at the feed store.

Although the dogs took to the goats readily, the goats weren’t keen on the dogs at first. Our goats had never been exposed to friendly dogs before, so of course they perceived the new canines as a threat. We had to carefully supervise their interactions while the puppies were young, in order to prevent the goats from injuring or terrorizing the puppies. Placing a young dog with aggressive stock can quickly ruin the dog’s working career by making them fearful or resentful. Puppies must be protected at all costs!

The Ugly:

Food aggression is real with these guys! “Resource guarding” is a common behavior in livestock guardian dogs. To avoid dog on dog and dog on goat violence, we ended up feeding the dogs in crates. Although this may not be feasible when the dogs are moving from pasture to pasture, it works for us right now. Each dog has a safe space where they can eat in peace.

Sanitary trims… Our male, Thor, needs to have a sanitary trim approximately once every month, to avoid having dog poop sticking to his fur and potential intestinal blockage. He is fairly cooperative about allowing us to trim the long hair around his rear end with clippers, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy it, and neither do we.

Although our dogs have had few behavioral issues to date, we are not out of the woods yet. Livestock guardian dogs can’t be considered fully trained until they reach 2.5 to 3 years of age. Until then, we’re keeping our fingers crossed!

If you’re considering adding a livestock guardian dog to your farm, I highly recommend reading Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care and Training by Orysia Dawydiak & David Sims. This book has proven to be an invaluable resource for us throughout this process.

Categories
Recipes

Too Many Eggs? Try One of These!

Farmer’s markets have ended, which means that we have officially reached the time of year when we have entirely too many eggs. As in, every member of our family could eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and we would still have extra. Pretty much anyone who has a large number of chickens knows what we’re talking about…

Here are some of our favorite ways to use up our excess eggs:

Do you have a good recipe for using up eggs? Share it in the comments section!