FARM NEWS from Fred Owens, December 18, 2010
Being Nice to Chickens
But first, the Harvest News. Lots of apples in Washington this year -- 102 million forty-pound boxes are predicted. The mind boggles at that huge number of apples, and they didn't just jump into the box.
Somebody had to pick each and every single apple -- hard work. I hope they were paid well, and the farmer should get a profit too.
Red Delicious is still the dominant variety in Washington, followed by Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious.
These are the "industrial-strength" apples that get shipped all over the world. Persons of more refined taste can shop the farmers markets and buy the tastier varieties.
Oranges. Likewise in California, the orange harvest is underway. Yield is predicted to be 93 million forty-pound boxes.
Just to push this point a little farther -- Every orange you ever ate, somebody picked it, had their hands on it before you did.
May that person prosper, and the farmer who hired him deserves a profit.
Quality is good for California oranges this year. More than 85 percent is good enough to sell as fresh. The rest get sold for juice at a lower price.
And the harvest is running two and three weeks late -- that's because of the cool, wet spring that pushed every crop late this year on the West Coast.
It doesn't matter, early or late, eat your oranges every day, and a blessing for the people who grew them.
Ventura County in California. Strawberries are a big crop in Ventura County, where I am now living. Last year, they harvested berries with a total value of over $500 million. It's kind of hard to visualize how many strawberries that is.
I don't have figures for this year, but it should be in that range.
Again, these are the "industrial strength" strawberries that get shipped all over the world. You could criticize their quality, but it would be better to feel grateful that you have berries at all.
There is no machine that picks strawberries. Somebody had to bend over to the ground or crawl on their knees to pick each and every single berry. Hard work -- you should try it some day.
May the strawberry pickers prosper, and the farmer deserves his profit.
Being Nice to Chickens. We have nine chickens on the farm -- to be exact, we have six hens, two ducks, and one bantam rooster.
It's colder now and the hens are not laying so many eggs, but they are the very best eggs you can eat.
I let the birds out of the coop first thing in the morning and feed them. They also get table scraps and whatever they can find by pecking around.
These are well-housed and well-protected chickens. They move into the coop on their own every evening because they know it's safe inside. Nonetheless, someone closes and locks the door, just to be sure.
Lots of critters around here would love to eat a chicken -- hawks, owls, and eagles ready to swoop down. Raccoons and coyotes too.
Chickens are domestic fowl and we protect them, feed them, and gather the eggs.
Now, if you want to buy eggs as good as what we have, you can find them at the farmers market at $3, $4 or $5 a dozen.
You can buys eggs for a lot less at the supermarket, mass-produced eggs, laid by chickens who don't live the life of luxury like ours do.
That is the problem. Now comes the politics. In 2008, by a margin of 63 percent, California voters passed an initiative requiring poultry farmers to be kinder to their chickens, banning the small confining cages that chickens are often kept in.
"They need fresh air, they need to scratch in the air and flap their wings. They need to live like chickens in days of old, when the housewife went to the yard and scattered her scraps of vegetable parings and bread crusts."
By law! By a vote of the people!
I am very suspicious of efforts like this. I believe that the government ought to have a minimum of regulation against cruelty toward animals.
Because the voters, by and large, simply do no know enough about chickens to have an opinion about how they ought to be cared for.
I don't want to sound like an expert or anything, but I know a happy chicken when I see one. and I know the abuse too, abuse that can arise from carelessness or a wicked desire for profit.
But the government can only prosecute the grossest offenses.
Everybody wants the chickens to be happy. No wonder the proposition passed by 63 percent. Who would vote against it?
But it was not properly worded. It should read, "We favor better care and more freedom for poultry and we are willing to pay more for our eggs."
Not that's being honest.
And this kind of thing is happening all over the country anyway -- people are paying more for eggs from free range hens. More and more people are raising their own birds. Search "urban poultry" on the Internet -- it's everywhere. People doing it themselves, and becoming real chicken people.
We're going to have happier chickens, and we're going to be eating better eggs. But it won't happen by law.
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