USDA Sued Over Salmonella

SalmonellaThe US Department of Agriculture [USDA] is being sued by the

Center for Science in the Public Interest
[CSPI] in an attempt to force the
agricultural watchdogs to treat antibiotic resistant strains of salmonella
bacteria as adulterants that would prevent the sale of tainted meat to the
public.

The complaint
is specific to four strains of salmonella – Heidelberg,
Newport, Hadar and Typhimurium – that have been identified in dozens of
outbreaks of salmonella poisoning via ground meat and other products, but more
resistant strains are showing up almost weekly.

CSPI petitioned the USDA three years ago to address the growing problem, but
the department never got around to a response. Antibiotic resistance is an
inevitable result of the overuse of important antibiotic drugs solely for the
purpose of making livestock grow fatter and faster, as well as to sustain what
is in truth an unsustainable production model that has food animals being raised
in grotesquely overcrowded and unhealthy conditions.

This past Tuesday (May 27th), the

Center for Disease Control [CDC]
reported 50 more illnesses in an ongoing
“outbreak” of seven strains of drug-resistant salmonella tied to Foster Farms
chicken parts. That brings the total of reported cases to 574 since March of
2013. 40% of those people required hospitalization. The company involved, Foster
Farms, has refused to issue a recall on the tainted meat, and USDA does not have
the power to force a recall.

Those Spoiled Ducks: The Pond

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Gladys and Amelia are indeed as pampered and spoiled as any fat Pekins can be. Which was of course entirely predictable due to my husband’s tendency to spoil his pets unmercifully. Gladys, in fact, still insists on being tucked in to the coop every night, and she’s pushing 15 pounds of what one of the grandsons calls “Jabba The Duck.”

Thus it was over the last couple of weeks when the bitter cold gave way to days in the 50s and 60s, that the family was called together to finally finish the duck pond project begun last spring and not finished beyond a hole big enough for the plastic kiddie wading pool that served as bath until now. In this picture you can see my elder daughter the experienced labor straw boss overseeing the elder grandsons as they widened and deepened the depression that would hold the pond liner.

spoild ducksNow, any project that requires more than a year’s worth of planning – usually over beers around the campfire across the back yard from the someday pond – can’t just be as easy as digging out a hole, laying down the liner, and filling it with water. Because it’s a duck pond, and ducks poop in their ponds just like bears poop in the woods, it has to have drainage capability that will allow it to be emptied and hosed down occasionally (I figure from size and depth about once a month). This means the deepest part must have a drain mechanism and a stopper on a chain we can pull, plus a length of pipe extending through the back dirt wall to channel the dirty pond water to the downslope. From a year’s worth of kiddie pool clean-outs plus filling and draining the pond-pond as we engineered over the past couple of weeks, there’s already a water-cut arroyo bisecting the back-back yard extending past the shed to the drop-off at forest edge.

Cold Duck(s) …and other critters

Cold_Duck More below freezing days and absolutely frigid nights on my homestead this week. I keep reminding myself that despite the title of “North” in my chosen home of North Carolina, we’re still ‘officially’ considered the south. But if February turns out to be colder than Alaska (which January has been this year), I’m going to be putting a lot more thought into Costa Rica in my old age…

When we first got the kids – a.k.a. the girls, our two pekins purchased at Tractor Supply as little yellow peeps for the youngest grandchildren a couple of years ago – we became studious consumers of duck facts and duck lore and ‘How To’ information on how to help them live for awhile longer than just Easter week. By last winter they were all feathered-out, white as snow for a winter in which we got no snow, and delivering 2-4 delicious free-range duck eggs per day. And it wasn’t anywhere near as cold as this winter has turned out to be.

My little bit OCD husband fretted and worried all that winter long that his poor ducks were going to freeze to death if it got down into the 20s at night. I pooh-poohed that by reminding him that they’re wearing duck down coats, which are rated to be toasty to well below zero, work even better than fur coats like our dogs and cats wear. Even better, they repel water. All that might get really cold are their feet, and they can always just sit on those for awhile, right?

Well, this winter it’s a whole lot colder, and we were advised by the “Duck Lady” at Tractor Supply when we bought our last 50-pound bag of duck food that sure enough, if it gets below 10º at night, they do need that heat lamp we got when they were just peeps, in their comfy big coop with the door closed overnight. They’ve adjusted okay to the light, and now the biggest challenge is keeping liquid water in their pen’s bowl for long enough to drink before it freezes solid.

Today I found a nice article from Countryside Magazine entitled Managing Livestock in Winter Conditions. Author Robyn Scherer, M. Agr., is a regular fond of good information talking about everything from prepping for winter before it happens, to details on shelter, wind protection, bedding, water, food, supplements, hoof care, exercise and particularly bad weather. Keeping animals old and young and of many species healthy during the high stresses of the winter season.

If your homestead boasts livestock of any variety – or you are planning to add livestock in the future – check out Countryside’s informative article so you’ll have the lowdown on how best to get your animals through the winter happy and healthy.

Poultry Project 5: Duck Eggs… Yum!

duck_egg

Easter’s downy ducklings are now grown, and have begun producing eggs. Beginning three days ago we were finding one or two chicken-sized eggs in the coop when letting the ‘kids’ out in the morning from their secured night quarters. In fact, we amassed a total of 5 eggs over the weekend, began to wonder if maybe both ducks were female. There are several unscientific ways to try and figure out the sex of Pekin ducks, but none of them are very reliable. Worse, Pekin ducks are notorious for laying eggs wherever they happen to be when the mood strikes, and promptly forgetting it ever happened – described in the literature as “no maternal instinct to speak of.”

We’ve not found any out and about the yard yet, so perhaps our ducks will prove to be the exception and lay in their coop at night instead of littering the yard. Though since one of them is laying two during the night, I expect we’ll find some Easter presents here and there over time.

duck_eggThis morning when I opened the coop there was one chicken-sized duck egg, and one that was at least twice that size – a real monster of an egg that won’t fit into the egg crate! Given that ducks come in all sizes like people do, we will now have to re-name our presumed male, who is much heavier than the other and isn’t a male at all. We had scrambled duck eggs for Sunday brunch and they were delicious, but my family simply doesn’t eat enough eggs to keep up with production at this rate. Luckily grandson’s girlfriend has a co-worker who is eager to buy any and all fresh duck eggs we want to sell, and will pay 75¢ apiece for them. Though I’m going to charge a dollar for the Super-Size.

Doing my homework, I have found that duck eggs are higher in protein than chicken eggs, and the yolks are higher in fat. Overall significantly higher in nutritional value than chicken eggs but take a little getting used to. They taste fine, but if you used them in baking – like a cake – you need to cut back on the shortening (butter or Crisco) or it’ll turn out too rich. For omelets you’ll want to add a bit of water to thin them out some, but far as I can tell they can be prepared in all the same ways chicken eggs can be cooked – hard boiled, fried, scrambled, etc. Whipping whites takes a little more effort to get them started, but they hold their foam and shape even better than chicken eggs.

I’ll put all the money I make from selling the eggs in an “Egg Money” jar atop the ‘fridge, and that should pretty much offset the cost of bedding and feed. The eggs are said to keep up to 2 weeks without refrigeration, a month if they’re kept cold. Which is good, so there will be half a dozen at least for the customer, though I might sell the big ones one at a time.

Still haven’t managed to install the duck pond, though we have started digging. So the kids are still stuck with one of those cheap plastic kiddie pools, which I move around the yard every couple of days so it doesn’t kill the grass. They’ve got their sliding form down pat on the porch ramp, make us laugh regularly by how much they enjoy it. Figure we’ll next have to teach them to skateboard, and if we can manage to get Gladys to say “Aflac” WHILE skateboarding, we can make a fortune!

All in all, the ducks have proven to be wonderfully funny pets, love hanging out with people and other critters, and have even turned out to be excellent snake alarms. They keep the yard and garden picked fairly clean of slugs and bugs, don’t manage to snag butterflies very often. Their favorite thing is to take walks with us whenever we go to the top of the drive to get a cell phone signal, and chase the cats around the yard with their necks down and wings half outstretched as if that were the funniest thing ever. The cats don’t agree, but the dogs think it’s highly humorous.

Last but not least, we’ve figured out where the term “Lame Duck” comes from. Our fat used-to-be male duck can’t see his feet when he’s waddling around on the hillside, has taken several tumbles that have us considering some kind of barrier that would prevent the ducks from getting that far up the hill. Sprained his ankles so badly I was afraid they were broken, so I had to sit out with him all day for a week to make sure he didn’t wander uphill and learned to lie down when not actually trying to get somewhere. Poor thing was so lame he… er, she, didn’t know which leg to limp on. Googled to see what was to be done and discovered that these big ducks sprain their ankles quite regularly. I could wrap them, but that’s a difficult feat that would only last as long as it took for the duck to go swimming, so I didn’t bother. 50 mg. ibuprophen – I got the 100 mg. children’s chewables and half them – worked great as an anti-inflammatory and she’s much better now. More careful as well, which is fine with me.

Autumn project is to tear out the entire back deck so it can be re-planked, the old wood is rotten and beginning to give way. That will allow us to lay a concrete pad underneath, onto which we can put the coop – we’ll have it on lawn mower sized wheels to roll out for cleaning. Can go ahead and put in a concrete half-pipe drain next to the basement wall at the same time, which should finally cure the flooding issue every time it rains hard. Which around here, is every day all summer.

Ah, Homesteading! Always a Work In Progress…

Previous Posts to this series:

The Poultry Project: 1… Peeps!
The Poultry Project 2: Quills!
The Poultry Project 3: First Feathers
Poultry Project 4: The Great Outdoors

It’s Summer: Must Be Preservation Time

PreservationBoy, oh boy – it’s hot! That means tomatoes, apples, peppers and beans are coming in as fast as I can pick in the scorching heat of late July, taxing my tolerance for dripping sweat at the counter prepping tomatoes and apples for the solar dryer, keeping the oven on low – propped slightly open – in a cabin with no air conditioning to dry pans full of shell beans, just trying to make it to the usual every evening thunderstorm to cool things down. Whew!

Got 18 half-pints of apple-blackberry sauce/butter stuff from those not-yet ripe apples salvaged from the lost limb a couple of weeks ago. Very yummy and extremely useful stuff, Have enough to gift family and friends as well as use myself to sweeten plain yogurt, turn into a vinegrette dressing, dollop on pancakes and stir-fry veggies, mix into barbeque sauce, etcetera. I do NOT plan to can any more now that it’s apple-climbing harvest time. Those suckers will be dried, the lot of ‘em. Along with the peaches and pears when their time comes, of course.

My biggest dilemma right now is what to do with all those duck eggs we can’t manage to eat fast enough, mostly because it’s too darned hot to cook a breakfast this time of year. They just keep on piling up day after day, and I am unable to give them away fast enough to keep up either. It’s a good thing we didn’t go with my plan to get chickens the ducks could guard!

At any rate, I had to compost a full dozen this morning that were quickly coming up on 6 weeks of age, though in the ‘fridge they’d have been good for another couple of weeks at least, but there are two dozen newer eggs that have ‘em beat, so there’s that.

Preserving Surplus Eggs

Now, there are lots of sites out there that recommend painting sealers on eggshells or packing in sand, mud or sawdust, but the fact that eggs are bacterial havens – and salmonella isn’t fun – I’m looking for something that seems a lot safer and long-term. Regular refrigeration can preserve fresh eggs from two to five months, but they’ll need to be in air-tight containers and kept away from the door. Out of the shell eggs can only be kept for four days in the ‘fridge (and should be covered with water to prevent toughening of the white). Hard boiled eggs will keep a week in the ‘fridge, so I’m better off storing them raw.

For longer term storage freezing works. Don’t try to freeze them in the shell, as it’s likely to break during freezing and make an awful mess. You can open the eggs and whisk them thoroughly, put into those plastic food storage containers with tight lids, and they’ll keep for a year. These can later be thawed for scrambled eggs or omelets, or used for baking cookies and cakes. You could also use zip-lock freezer bags and stack them, and these will thaw faster in a pan of cold water when you decide to use them. Egg whites keep well, but if you also wish to freeze the yolks you should add some salt or sugar when whisking so they don’t turn gelatinous. Hard boiled eggs can be frozen, but they turn into rubber. Yuck.

One interesting idea I discovered from the Oregon Extension Service is to put your thoroughly mixed whole eggs into an ice tray, freeze, then remove and put into a zip-lock in the freezer. About 3 tablespoons of egg mixture is equivalent to one regular size chicken egg for recipe purposes, so this seems particularly handy. Add a 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar or 1/2 teaspoon salt to the egg mixture, depending on how you intend to use them, and do label the zip-lock so you don’t put sweet eggs in a dinner casserole or salty eggs in your pound cake.

Some people use the ice tray method, but do not blend the eggs first. This probably works, but isn’t what the extension service recommends because of the tendency for whites to become rubbery when frozen.

Another handy method is to whisk in a little whole milk or cream with the eggs, about 3 tablespoons per cup plus the half tsp. per cup of salt, put into sterile canning jars for freezing, cap with clean lids not tightened (so air can escape in the freezing process, tighten later). A jar can later be taken out of the freezer and placed in the ‘fridge to thaw and use as your basic egg-beater stuff for scrambled eggs or omelets. Do shake it up thoroughly before using. For this, half-pint jars such as those for jelly and jam are best so it doesn’t sit too long in the ‘fridge before using. Unless, of course, you have a large egg-loving family or a house full of guests to feed. In which case a pint sized jar would be optimum, to be emptied over no more than 2 or 3 days.

You can also pickle hard boiled eggs in a vinegar-brine solution, an old technique. If you do pickle, remember that the jars can’t be kept at room temperature due to botulism. Sterilize everything, and store jars in the refrigerator. Some people like to eat whole pickled eggs, but they’re also good sliced on salads. Still, they’ll only stay good for three months in the ‘fridge, and who eats THAT many pickled eggs?

You can of course add herbs and spices to pickled eggs, according to your tastes. It takes 4 to 5 days for the pickling liquid to flavor eggs the size of Pekin duck eggs, less time for chicken and smaller eggs.

Useful Links:

Oregon Extension Service (pdf)
Backyard Poultry: Preserving Eggs
How to Freeze or Dehydrate Eggs

Livestock: A Rabbit In Every Pot

rabbitI’ve been looking into the various classified ads locally for livestock I want, to get an idea on budgeting first for proper quartering and actual animals. Chickens are of course a first choice. Also want bees, been looking at hives and queens for sale. If I can site them properly, bears shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Goats are sometime in the future, will need more fencing than we’ve got.

On those classified pages I discovered an awful lot of meat rabbits for sale, and remembered some homesteader friends in Virginia about 25 years ago who were big into meat rabbits. At the time we’d recently become vegetarian and I rejected the idea for our just-started homestead, but all these years later I think the ease of raising rabbits might make them an excellent livestock choice… so long as I don’t have to be the one who slaughters and prepares them for sale. There are surprisingly ample markets locally for good rabbit meat, especially organically raised. Even including some of the high-end eateries and B&Bs who are my regular fresh organic herb and sauce customers.

I ordered a book entitled Raising Rabbits to Survive, which promises to be a very handy reference and educational tool. Even better, the book comes with 5 supplemental books covering just about everything you need to know.

In the meantime and most serendipitously, I also encountered an interesting 5-part blog series about the same subject, which is immediately accessible. Looks like this is something my homestead should be seriously aiming for, before the year is out.

Many of you, like me, will remember raising and keeping rabbits as pets as kids back when we lived in far more urban areas, and think bout how rabbits as livestock could be a considerable cog in our self-sufficiency machinery as homesteaders. Because homesteading these days isn’t always about living way out in the country.

Rabbits are quiet, they don’t take up much room, and with proper care and feeding will readily reproduce on an amazingly quick schedule. You might be surprised that there’s a market for rabbit meat, but homesteaders I knew a quarter century ago raised meat rabbits as well as chickens and goats, for that very purpose. They never could manage to saturate the market. Go surfing through some of the internet’s ample offerings of food and recipe sites for “rabbit recipes.” You’ll get way more than just a camp version of rabbit stew. Things like honey roast rabbit, Chinese sweet and sour rabbit, fried rabbit in breadcrumbs, Louisiana Creole rabbit… the possibilities are endless.

One Rabbit Recipe site notes that rabbit meat is high in protein, low in fat, uric acid, cholesterol, sodium and calories. It is also easily digested and is recommended in diets that restrict red meat. Rabbit is all white meat, fine grained and has a mild flavor. It substitutes well for any recipe calling for veal or poultry. I haven’t personally eaten meat (other than fish) for about 40 years, but I’m not averse to growing rabbits as an organic meat offering if I don’t have to do the slaughtering. I’m fairly sure I could find someone locally who would do the job for a cut of sale price at any of a dozen local organic meats suppliers and cooperatives.

So. How easy or hard is it to go with raising rabbits as a homestead food stock? Apparently not that hard, or even terribly expensive. If you’re willing to do the work. Here’s an overview of the series by DawnG I mentioned, and hope interested readers will take the time to check each installment out. They each contain valuable and useful information.

Part 1 introduces the many good reasons to consider rabbits as livestock, and lists some of the downsides. Such as how difficult it is to not love them as pets. Which for many of us, might be overwhelming.

Part 2 talks about food independence on the homestead, even if you don’t plan to make money (or trade) on your stock. Very good rundown on the details of proper housing for the rabbits, food and watering details, and things to look out for. DawnG also suggests supplying your rabbits with toys, as their teeth grow perpetually and they need things to chew on as well as to play with.

Part 3 looks in depth at rabbit food, commercial and supplementals. She includes the proper protein/fiber ratio for producing the best meat, and varying feed requirements depending on season. Some of the supplementals are things our homesteads can provide quite readily for free, which means they won’t be an added expense. Grass hay, sunflower seeds, fresh or dried fruit, fresh veggies and herbs, weeds and lawn clippings, etc. I figure all the bruised and otherwise compromised fruit and veggies I usually compost could go through rabbits first. Then I could compost the droppings!

Part 4 looks at the best breeds to get as your original breeding stock, and what to look for in each one as to health and pedigree. I had no idea there were so many meat breeds, or that there are show rabbits, and stud rabbits, and an entire sub-business involved in selling such rabbits to other homesteaders for starting their stock. Maybe that’s something a vegetarian could go for as far as participating in meat production.

Part 5 gets into the nitty-gritty about… um… rabbit sex. How old your buck and does should be before you let them breed, what to look out for, what records to keep to ensure your best breeders are the ones producing stock (and not getting eaten), and how to care properly for pregnant does and fresh litters. Also advice on paying attention to mothering traits, culling does that don’t measure up.

All terribly interesting, not very expensive an investment, and something to seriously consider as part of our homesteading adventures. The economy isn’t scheduled to get any better for at least a decade, as social support systems are scheduled to be cut to the bone or entirely eliminated. Self and community sufficiency is only going to become more and more important in the coming years, we homesteaders need to be ahead of the game.