What the USDA Really Thinks About Backyard Poultry

A recent symposium hosted by Ceva Animal Health (an animal pharmeceutical company) addressed the topic of vaccines in the poultry industry. One of the speakers was Dr. Andrew Rhorer from the National Poultry Improvement Plan. Here is a quote from the Ceva Animal Health write-up on Dr. Rhorer’s presentation:

According to Dr Rohrer, raising backyard poultry, hobby chickens and interaction with chickens at shops or other consumer events or fairs could reduce the change to control avian and human influenza succesfully [sic]. (quotation found here.)

Got that? A USDA official is stating that backyard poultry is a danger to the nation. He believes that my taking a chicken (tested under the NPIP, BTW) to a school, could prevent the government from protecting the nation from an outbreak of influenza. Interesting that he says this at a conference paid for by a drug company and attended by factory farm producers.

The American Poultry Association (which supports poultry shows and backyard breeders) tries to send a representative to NPIP meetings and inject some sanity into the discussions and resultant regulations. The Cornucopia Institute understands that it’s not the small farms that cause the major disease outbreaks. They do their best to get the word out. What other organizations are giving a voice to the “village hennery?” (A phrase discovered in The Biggle Poultry Book from 1895, and my favorite way to describe backyard chicken keepers.) Those voices need to turn into a chorus.

Note: The NPIP, created in the 1930’s, did a terrific job of eliminating deadly diseases that were decimating large and small flocks. I do believe in vaccination and the judicious use of drugs. But I also believe that it’s the factory farms that are the potential reservoirs of devastating diseases, not the well-cared for backyard flock, and that regulations must take the different types of animal husbandry into account.

Okay, now I’ll stop ranting.

What’s For Dinner

There’s going to be a cold, torrential rain tonight and it will continue well into tomorrow. There’s a few nice-looking green tomatoes left on the vine, but there’s no chance they’ll ripen, and they’ll probably be inedible by Saturday.  I don’t have the time or interest to make green tomato chutney (though am happy to buy the efforts of others at farmers markets!) Still, I hate to see the tomatoes go to waste. So, this afternoon I decided to make this:

I pulled a package of short ribs out of the freezer. These came from a a farm near Troy, New Hampshire. I happened to be driving by and saw a sign that said, “our own meat, farm store open.” The farmer was in the barn, so we had a nice chat. His animals are raised on pasture and slaughtered locally. I filled a cooler to bring home. (The bacon was incredible!)

Anyway, I had the meat and the tomatoes. What else? I pulled some carrots from the garden. (The goats were delighted with the carrot tops that I fed them.  They let me know how delicious the greens are by a show of much head bumping and burping.) I have scallions from my garden in the freezer (alas, my onion crop was miniscule this year, but the scallions did fine.) Garlic from a neighbor. An open bottle of white wine. Canned organic chicken broth in the pantry. With these ingredients, you can’t go wrong.

Here’s what I did. Use it as a guide, take a look in your pantry, and cook up something similar. If you don’t have the ingredients, stock up! A meal like this can be had with only 15 minutes of prep time, and a few hours of you-don’t-have-to-watch simmering.

The best pot to use for stews like this is a Dutch oven, which is a heavy, preferably enamel-coated, cast iron pot. New ones can be expensive, but will last at least your lifetime. Mine has seen many years already. I didn’t buy the one in this picture. I found it at the town “transfer station.” (It used to be a dump, but now the trash is hauled away. However, there’s a small building where people leave things that might be reused.) The Dutch oven is chipped, but that doesn’t matter with cast iron. I love it.

I used short ribs today, but lamb shanks and stew meat would work just as well. Heat the pan (no added oil) and sear the meat on all sides until brown. Remove to a plate. If there’s a lot of fat, pour off the excess. Cook the vegetables over medium heat in the pot until the edges begin to soften and brown. I used carrots and tomatoes, cut into large chunks, and sliced scallions. At the end of the cooking add minced garlic, a couple of bay leaves and salt. Pour in a splash of wine and put over high heat until most of the wine cooks off. Pour in some chicken broth so that there’s about a half-inch in the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat.

Add herbs. Fresh is always good, but mine have all flowered and bolted. I’ve left them out for the last of the bumblebees to enjoy. I could add a cube or two of frozen pesto. But, I brought a package of herbs back from Iceland and this was my first chance to try them. The package label reads, “Blodbergsblanda.” (Actually, there’s some squiggles over the o and a funny d, but that’s as close as I can type.) From what I can make out, there’s thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper in the mix. Doesn’t that sound perfect for a short rib stew?

Cover, put over very low heat and let simmer a few hours. It’s what I call fast slow food.

Let me know if this  inspires you to try anything similar!

The Small Things

It has not been a spectacular year for foliage. Only a few trees look aflame in oranges and reds. Most have tinges of brown.

It’s a year to find beauty in the small details, like this path, lined with a deep bedding of fragrant pine needles.

And this small dog in the leaves. Scooter puts things into perspective, doesn’t he?

My Money Making Scheme

Like most families out there, our cash-flow situation is tight. The hens aren’t laying enough to bring in egg money. What to do?

Yesterday I was in a trendy Boston neighborhood, wandering around a crafts fair and farmers market. I also popped into an old warehouse that now hosts vintage sellers on the weekend.

One of the vendors was selling this:

The tag said claimed it is a “chicken feeder from Texas, cleaned and sealed.” The price? $175.


So, here’s my idea. I’ll get a few nesting boxes, let my chickens give them that authentic patina, and then sell them to decorators! Genius!