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Facts About Livestock Farming – the Meat on Your Plate

September 1, 2014

Millions of people today have never been to a farm, don’t know anyone with a farm and aside from a movie or news item don’t know how (or why) meat gets to them from the farm. When I wrote A Look at Agriculture it was to bridge that gap – to give some insight to the ordinary person who wishes to know how ordinary people produce the cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals and food that gets to their plate, or that helps it get to the plate!

Consumers interested in learning more about how their food is raised can find conflicting information. A bonus post today is an excerpt from that ebook. (Just $3 if you want a pdf copy and it helps towards projects like heirloom gardens, a barn before winter and a hoop greenhouse!)

Here are some facts about livestock – and your food supply.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA typical dairy cow can produce over 40 pounds of milk per day. A gallon is 8.6 pounds and it takes about 4.65 quarts to make a pound of cheese. A dairy cow produces enough milk for 40 people each year.

A dairy goat can, pound for pound, out produce a dairy cow although she can’t compete with volume. A good dairy doe can produce over a gallon per day.

Cattle, goats and sheep are ruminants, meaning they have four chambers to the stomach and chew cud to more efficiently break down tougher forages.

Beef cattle are the second highest source of income for Alabama farmers with 2007 figures showing the state 17th in the nation for cattle production. In this state alone 23,000 had beef cattle.

Stressed animals eat poorly and are less productive as well as more susceptible to disease. This is true no matter the species.

Market hogs are 200-250 pounds, but mature breeding animals are much larger than that. Pigs cannot sweat to cool themselves so must have a way to keep cool in hot weather. Climate controlled barns are a way to do this.

General cattle terms include bull (uncastrated male), steer (castrated male), heifer (female before calving) and cow (mature female after calving). Additional terms one might here are working steers or oxen which is used for those animals that are castrated and in training, or used for, draft purposes.

Pigs can grow from weaning size to market sized in 5-6 months depending on feed and management. A barrow is a neutered male while a gilt is a young female.

Neutered goats and sheep are called wethers and are typically used for meat. An exception may be fiber animals which can be kept for fleeces by handspinners who are not interested in breeding.

Most sheep have their tails docked short early in life. This reduces area for wet and manure to gather which leaves the sheep open to maggots, also called fly strike.

Baby pigs have needle teeth cut to prevent large tusks later in life. This makes it safer for handlers and the pigs themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost poultry used for meat are white because they pluck easier without unsightly marks. The average domestic chicken hen lays 255 eggs per year. In 2002 there was 32.2 billion pounds of chicken produced for meat in the USA.

Different breeds of chickens have different colored skin. Americans prefer a yellow skinned bird, reducing demand for birds like the Sussex or Orpington that have white skin.

Commercial rabbits are also preferred in white as the fur more readily accepts dye that is used in the pelts which are a ‘byproduct’ of the meat industry.

Farmers strive to use the most efficient ways to produce meats and other food for your table as well as their own. There normally are good reasons for management decisions. With today’s technology such as Twitter and Facebook you can easily connect with farmers to learn more about what and why they do what they do. Most are eager to share their stories and welcome consumers who sincerely want to learn more.

Breakfast The Best Start to Your Day

September 1, 2014

800px-ToastSeptember is National Breakfast month and reminds us breakfast is an important part of our day. It gives ‘fuel’ to get through the morning. Long term those who eat breakfast have a healthier weight, lower cholesterol levels and less irritability from mid morning hunger than those who skip breakfast.

Focus on fiber and protein. Quick meals are possible and you can make meals on the run too! Keep it simple. A piece of toast with peanut butter can be folded in half and you’re out the door. A piece of fruit on the way out is even faster! Blender drinks, instant oatmeal, leftovers and premade things all add up to no excuses! It’s faster, cheaper and just as easy as hitting the drive-through on the way to work. It’s healthier than sugar laden donuts – which are fine on occasion but not as a basis for meals! For those who say they don’t like toast think of variations beyond just butter! Toast can go with any meal or as a snack!

Egg yolks is one of the few foods with naturally occurring Vitamin D and a great source of protein. Ham and eggs is a typically American breakfast but also a favorite of Egyptians in 1500 BC according to some sources.

Think convenience – make your own oatmeal mix and use flavorings you enjoy, be it a little cinnamon sugar, maple syrup, fruit or chopped walnuts stirred in.

Here’s 30 breakfasts to get you started off! Think of breakfast at dinner time – make extra mashed potatoes or use leftovers in casseroles.

1.Apple Cider Shake, toast with butter, cinnamon-sugar mix or honey

2.Scrambled Egg Sandwich To Go

3. New Mexico Green Chili Breakfast Burritos

4. Oatmeal with toast

5. Breakfast Casserole II

6. Bacon and Egg Breakfast Muffins (add a little oatmeal to the batter!)

7. Sausage on toasted English muffin with a slice of cheese

8. Chocolate Chip Coffeecake

9. Cinnamon Smoothie

10. Tortilla Rolled with Scrambled Eggs Cheese & Caramelized Onions

11. Potato Pancakes with bacon or ham

12.Cinnamon Twists

13 Multi-Grain Maple Granola

14. Ham & Cheese Special

15. Downeast Main Pumpkin Bread with scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon bits

16. Sausage-Potato Frittata

17. Grab & Go Cottage Crunch

18. Peanut Butter Feather Pancakes

19. Raspberry Almond Morning Parfait

20. Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

21. Six grain crockpot Breakfast

22. Scotch Eggs

23. Silver Dollar Pancakes with Roasted Pears & Syrup

24. Sausage Potato Casserole

25. Biscuits & Gravy

26. Crispy Breakfast Quesadilla

27. Ole Breakfast Roll-up

28. Easy Morning Glory Muffins with Monkey Shake

29. Almond Butter Coffee Cake

30. Peanut Butter, apple & Sausage Muffins

Many of these can be made or started the night before, popped in the oven before you get in the shower or done quickly in the morning on the way out the door. There’s a wide range of smoothies and other treats that you’ll never have to get bored with eating the same thing over and over again.

Make a habit of breakfast. Make it even better tossing a handful of oatmeal in with pancakes or muffins. Breakfast gets the day off to a good start.

Organic, Local or Politically Correct: What is Your Food? From the Archives

August 31, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany American consumers have been duped. They blissfully by organic at higher priced markets so they don’t contribute to China “as Wal-Mart does”. The truth is they’ve supported the same all along. The difference is they paid more for it and it may or may not have been organic. USDA organic is a $5billion per year business.

Whole Foods projects local organic foods and customers support them because it’s not supporting food from China like Wal-Mart. Guess what – their brand is indeed from China. The organic label has particular things to follow as well as USDA requirements.

The USDA doesn’t inspect imported food. Whole Foods reportedly hires Quality Assurance International – which reportedly doesn’t inspect any farms in China. The foods are, still, stamped with QAI, USDA and labeling from China on the package.

Quality of foods from China is an issue for contamination reasons. Whole Foods know their foods are from China, VietNam and other countries. Those “California blend” 365Blend organic vegetables – may or may not be organic and certainly are not local. WJLA out of D.C. reported the story that shows the circus overlooked and the mockery of labels that American farmers must follow. People are buying these for higher prices and not looking at the ‘product of China’ in fine print.

Consumers flock to Whole Foods anyway and buy up these products, endorsing them and pointing to those who shop elsewhere as defilers of the planet. Meat eaters are chastised for their contamination and food choices. All the while ignoring, or not seeing, that their own food not only doesn’t support American farmers let alone local, but may or may not be really *organic*! Without inspections and tracking – required of U.S. farmers – there is no way to know for sure.

The list of contaminated products from China is well known. From formula to pet foods to toothpaste and with hundreds of products not approved for pesticide use and more, not all is as it seems.

FreshPlaza.com digs even deeper. They found reference to a Dallas Morning New report quoting a Chinese official who spoke of organic crops fertilized with human waste – not allowed by USDA organic rules. They further touched on a Japanese inspector finding an empty bag of herbicide in an ‘organic Chinese soybean field. FreshPlaza.com quotes: The official who stamped the certificate told her, “I don’t know. I don’t care. They just asked me to stamp it, so I stamped it.”

They further point to USDA testing of 127 organic samples in five years, finding chemical residues including Roundup.

Further in 2007 BusinessWeek reported of chaos in the Chinese organic markets. Blogs had made note of the discrepancy after noticing the labeling.

The WJLA report mentioned dozens of food with a country of origin label on it, a list that Whole Foods denies existence of.

While some activists cling to “organic” in judgment the truth is unless you see it grown or know the farmer you don’t really know. Volume feeds volumes of people. If you’re serious about avoiding pesticides it seems clear – ignore the labels and know your farmer. Prepare to pay them well.

  • Many organics have been imported from China for several years.
  • Organics in other countries undercut American farmers
  • “Organic” often isn’t insured as much as consumers think.

Did you know – Many farms offer personalized growing and service, insuring you know where and how your food is grown. We are just one focusing on personalized growing and documenting of food production.

Southern Breakfast Easy, Economical

August 30, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA taste of the country can often be conjured up with a real southern style breakfast. Breakfast is important whether as a light snack or a full fledged meal preparing you for the day. Southern breakfast food can be either.

A southern breakfast menu famously has grits where other areas may have oatmeal. Other breakfast items may be French toast, eggs, biscuits and gravy, fruit, muffins, pancakes, waffles and hash browns. Omelette’s are also favorites, usually served with grits, hash browns and toast. Real butter and real, fresh ingredients contribute to the southern cook’s reputation.

Traditionally in the south much was raised on the farm. Past and present it was and is considered one of the “poor parts” of the country. This meant meals that “stick to the ribs” for a day of work, and stretching the budget with biscuits and gravy was a low cost way to make a pound of bacon go further! Add fresh eggs from the hen house and it’s even better.

An omelet is an easy southern meal as it makes use of varying ingredients as well as leftovers. That half cup of ground beef, or leftover ham, diced onion and whatever else is available makes for a morning breakfast. Casseroles are also an easy way to make use of leftover food, have a great southern breakfast and stretch the budget.

A few easy breakfast favorites – the day after I fix chili cheese fries or sloppy Joe’s I plan for a little leftover. Put this in a lightly greased skillet and lightly beat 6 eggs. I use some garlic pepper seasoning, a couple shakes of cinnamon and any other small amounts of leftovers I want to use up. Pour in the pan with the leftover meat cook and stir often – almost constantly – until cooked. Top with a little cheese and it’s a tasty quick meal. Diced ham is also very good here! I’ve also used bacon bits. For those who point to cholesterol, my tested levels are in outstanding shape.

French toast is another treat and one that I can alter. A half dozen eggs, a little milk, cinnamon (yes we use ‘hidden cinnamon’ – good for health!) mixed together thoroughly. Have a pan with just a little bacon grease or vegetable oil hot – dip bread into the egg mixture, turn over then into the pan. Work quickly so the bread doesn’t soak up too much liquid. Cook until light brown and done, serve topped with powdered sugar or maple syrup.

These are very easy breakfast meals to make and allow home cooked meals that are fresh and flavorful, without taking a great deal of time. Southern breakfast items are versatile and can change with seasonal availability and preferences. Have a quick and easy breakfast!

  • Eggs are an easy and nutritious base to a southern breakfast.
  • Moderation and balance is important.
  • Adapt ingredients to what is available.

Did you know -Balance “heavy” dishes with light ones. Moderation helps in all things including diet and health!

12 Ways to Save Money on Groceries

August 29, 2014
While we all have food choices, some of us have a better ability to afford those choices than others. If you’re needing to tighten the budget a bit, here’s some ways to do so.

  1. Check the meat clearance counter. You’ll save money but need to freeze or use food right away. This can add up to savings from ground meats on up to steaks and pork chops.
  2. Check the prices of ground turkey – some areas it’s around $1/pound. Mix a pound of ground turkey with two pounds of ground beef to cut the fat without substantially changing the test. Aside from cutting the fat it trims your cost by stretching your beef.
  3. Get large containers or save the ones with screw on lids for storing bulk foods. Large plastic containers that have pretzels or other snacks in them are great to ‘recycle’ and store pasta, keeping it dry and bug free. Smaller jars can work great for seasonings.
  4. Buy in bulk but watch costs to make sure it’s cheaper.
  5. Watch your per serving cost for the best value. Stretch meats with oatmeal…for example when browning meat for sloppy joes add a couple handfuls of oatmeal and mix in before adding the sauce stretches your meat, adds fiber without changing the taste or texture of the sloppy joes.
  6. People pay a great deal for convenience. Make your own convenience and save money! Get reusable containers and when you make dinners make an extra serving or two – seal and freeze one, and take one the next day for lunch. Doing this regularly means you have “heat and eat” dinners for those nights you don’t feel like cooking. Don’t buy the premixed slow cooker dinners and others – it does not save you time cooking and doesn’t take that long to slice some vegetables and add to the crockpot!
  7. Check discount stores for day old baked goods – use older bread for making croutons and stuffing.
  8. Check store brands and generics to save money. While sometimes there is a difference, often the taste is no different and the offshoot is from a major company but costs less.
  9. Use “edible landscaping” to grow some of your own food. Peppers, herbs and other plants can be pretty and productive. Sunflowers are easy to grow and feed the birds in the winter for pennies if stored properly. If you have a deck only use containers to grow what you can and dress up your outdoor area.
  10. Shop at farmer’s markets and buy direct when you can – this can save money and with a little effort you can make your own salsa and other foods for not much time invested.
  11. Learn to process your own food. Canning, drying and freezing have never been easier than with modern appliances.
  12. Mix up, bag in zipper bags and label cake mixes and cookie mixes. Mark with baking directions and what ‘wet’ ingredients – eggs, oil and so forth – to add.

Explore the World of Mint

August 28, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany people hear “mint” and think spearmint or peppermint. There is much more to the mint world! There is much in common between varieties – they’re typically hardy and easy to grow. They can be invasive if not contained. And the wonderful flavor of mint adds to food as well as tea.

If you’ve not met the other members of the mint family consider these!

Chocolate mint is hardy and easy to grow, with a purple tint to the stems and veins of the leaves. .So often I mention chocolate mint and people picture a strong peppermint covered candy…chocolate mint is more subtle. There’s a hint of chocolate flavor. It whispers where peppermint yells. Chocolate mint is an attractive plant that would do well confined in raised beds or containers. We have some planted in the holes of concrete blocks. They aren’t fussy about soil and can handle a spot that is shaded for part of the day. Flowers are light purple and it’s known to attract butterflies as well as culinary uses.

Apple mint is another member of the mint family. A hint of apple that blends well with chamomile for tea, apple mint has an edge to the leaf that is almost ornamental. Slightly lighter green color to the leaves it does not have the dark stem color of the chocolate mint. The apple mint will have white flowers and is about two feet tall before trimming.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALime mint is a little different type of mint. I first started this variety in 2009 and it smelled wonderful when brushed against – a cheery scent of lime, but it did not taste lime. It almost tasted like a bad spearmint – but this year it has settled in and the hint of lime is there! Small light purple flowers top this variety when it flowers, looking almost like a clover flower and a distinct lime smell comes from the plant.

Orange mint is another variety giving a hint of flavor paired with mint. Like other mints it is fast growing and best contained to keep it from invading where you don’t want it! The plants send out ‘runners’ that spread quickly until the runner (root strand) is stopped.

Lilac mint is another option. Like the other flavors it can be used in tea, salads or other foods. Warm honey or oil and add a few bruised leaves of mint to make flavored honey or oil.

Explore the world of mint! Go beyond the peppermint and spearmint introduction.

Why Is Pork Getting So Expensive? (And Beef and Chicken!)

August 27, 2014

hamIf you’ve been to the meat counter lately you’ve seen prices going up. If you haven’t prepare yourself before you go look. In all parts of the country prices are going up. It brought a question from a friend recently on Facebook, and inspired this post for all of those who may be wondering the same thing.

I’m going to speak (or write!) for a few minutes here to those *not* involved with agriculture. If you have questions please ask in the comments – it may be another blog post! If I don’t know I will sure get someone who does! Most people in the suburbs and cities, and many in small towns and rural areas, aren’t fully aware of issues that have been in agriculture the last couple of years. It might be a news headline here and there but many don’t see those headlines. At this point a part of me wants to say go to our farm page, or find a farmer blogger to follow for another view but many just don’t want to take time to do that. Unfortunately, although not all want to know about the nuts and bolts of food production, those nuts and bolts affect your food!

With the busy day to day world you probably aren’t aware of or concerned with PEDv, a virus that has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of baby pigs this year. There is no vaccination for it, no means of treatment and little known about it. Just recently there was indication found it may trace to feed. As a virus, it will not respond to antibiotics or nutrition. Nearly 200 farms in 13 states suffered extreme losses – and by losses I mean dead baby pigs. That’s a vast amount of pork that now is not going to slaughter and on to meat counters as bacon, pork chops and sausage. Supply and demand – and when supply gets hit, it gets more expensive.

My friend Wanda did a post on PEDv some months ago, as did another friend Chris. Both of these ladies actively raise hogs, including that which you might find on your meat counter at the store. While we do a smaller scale, custom version, it’s no less at risk from danger than their larger farms.

Looming also in the hog realm is the cost of meeting regulations from eliminating gestation crates – what people said they wanted and would pay for. Business expenses are added into costs which determine what you pay. This same thing can apply to chicken housing of hens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut what about beef? Most beef cattle are raised outside, and spend most of their life out in the pasture. Last year the drought made headlines, as did the afterthought of farmers selling off cows because there wasn’t pasture or hay to feed them. That’s a lot of cows that didn’t have calves this year. Then came the storm Atlas – more calves, many that were almost ready for market – didn’t get there because of an early storm. Those calves, normally, would be going to market now and…they aren’t here. Many areas were hit with drought again this year, and combined with high cattle prices, old cows that are less productive are going for burger, making things tighter still for *next* year. This is your warning – make provisions!

Chickens, too, had issues on a commercial level, with some strains of chickens showing infertility in roosters. Fewer chicks hatched means fewer meat birds being processed and…higher prices. The connection between beef, pork and chicken issues isn’t as much as many will think – it’s a bad year in some ways for three types of farming. There are options – small farms like ours can ease the strain but that takes a willingness to alter slightly to meet us enough to make it happen. There’s rabbit, duck, turkey and other choices.

Another option for a few meals per week is make meats an alternative. Use a pound of ground beef in a casserole to feed a family instead of a few people. Look for meals that make it an accent. We might do chili mac and cheese or breakfast skillets.

Make more efficient use of the meats you use. American farmers are working hard to keep food choices in front of you at any time you want it. That’s large farms, small farms, direct, grocery store, organic and not. As supplies come back up, we get the crisis issues dealt with hopefully prices will relax. As it is, the $4/pound pork and beef I’d sought to book, and about $6/pound rabbit makes for great deals now.

Any business has expenses and agriculture is no different. This will pass. In the mean time there are farmers of all sizes ready and willing to engage you and answer your questions.

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