Quite simply, the term “free-range” simply means the animals have access to the outdoors. Period. The term has been much abused by factory farms that keep their chickens in a standard poultry house–something like a warehouse with chickens wandering around on the floor–that has a small door open on one end leading to an enclosure that is quite small, relative to the size of the rest of the poultry house. You might think of it as a small balcony outside a large apartment. For that matter, this outdoor enclosure could have a concrete floor. Most of the chickens in such a facility will probably never bother to go outside. They may not even realize it’s an option.
Why do the factory farms bother with the little enclosure if it’s not of any benefit to their flock? Because it entitles them to use the term “free-range” on their packaging, and they know those words conjure images in consumers’ minds of chickens happily wandering the open range. And because people think chickens are better off wandering the open range, they think that’s a more humane way to raise them.
In practice, however, turning chickens loose on open land is simply a way to feed the wildlife–the coyote equivalent of putting out a bird feeder. A popular blogger who goes by the handle “The Chicken Chick” demonstrates this in her recent post, “Chickens, Predators, and the Myth of Supervised Free Range,” wherein she describes how a coyote snatched one of her hens from right behind her back in broad daylight. Even the rooster wasn’t aware until it was too late.
Indeed, the factory farmers who raise caged and “cage-free” birds invoke this negligent form of free-ranging when defending their own practices. Defining “free-range” strictly as letting poultry run around where they’re vulnerable to predation, the confinement house operators claim that their methods are more humane. That’s a disingenuous claim, however, because free-ranging can include much more protective methods.
Some farmers use portable electric netting on pasture. Joel Salatin made this method famous, moving his hens behind his cattle. Some people use portable, bottomless pens called “chicken tractors” or “arcs.” This is what I used when I was first raising chickens as a hobby. I stopped doing it this way, in part because I felt like the pen didn’t offer adequate shelter, despite the fact that it had a roof. I switched to what some have called “day ranging,” which is really what most “free-rangers” do–locking the chickens in a coop at night, and letting them out into a fenced area during the day.
But what qualifies as “outside?” Being inside a barn with a dirt floor is still being inside. If you take down one wall of such a barn and cover the opening with fence wire, anything inside that barn is still inside, isn’t it? But I’ve seen chicken tractors that have tarps or plywood on three sides, with one side covered with fence wire, and the chickens inside them are considered to be pastured. So if you have a three-sided barn and throw fresh sod in there regularly, are the chickens inside pastured? Certainly no, but I doubt there’d be much difference between the diet of chickens raised like that and chickens raised in portable pens on pasture.
But what if the building itself is portable? I’ve seen some farm supply companies selling what looks like basically a carport or a picnic shelter–not unlike my farmers market canopy, only more enclosed. Take a look:
Would you call that free-range? I wouldn’t. For one thing, it has a floor. That looks more like it should be called “cage free.” Then again, if you look at the cage-free facilities on factory farms, they’re nowhere near this open. They have solid walls all the way around and may not even have any windows.
How about this one?
I’d definitely call this free ranging, because the fence is well outside the perimeter of the building. The chickens can wander around in a place where there is naturally growing grass under their feet and no roof over their heads. Then again, what if they only had a one-foot strip of ground like that all the way around the house? The house is so open as to not afford any protection against predators or wind. It’s really the worst of both worlds: too confined to meet the expectation of rambling prairies, and yet not protective enough to offer any of the benefits of confinement.
As I said, I used totally enclosed houses with a door open to a fenced-in area during the day. I found even this was inadequate to prevent predation, though, as predators would just go under or over the fence. I didn’t have electric poultry netting, but I did string a couple electric fence wires along the tops and bottoms of the fences. But this does nothing to keep flying predators from attacking, nor does it keep thieves from simply yanking down the fence and climbing under the top electric wire.
My plan, then, for when I replace my chickens, is to continue with the fully-enclosed house, but with a run that has fence across the top as well. They’ll still be free ranging, and actually, I wouldn’t even have to close their door at night so long as the run is secure enough to keep out raccoons and such. In that respect, then, it’s even more free-range than what I was doing before…but at the same time, it’s more enclosed. Some might even call the run a giant cage.
What do you think? Would you be less likely to buy my chicken and eggs or feel it’s dishonest of me to call it “free-range” if the chickens’ view of the sky was through fence wire six feet overhead, provided they’d still have just as much room to run around under that sky as they’d had before? Is it somehow preferable to let the chickens get killed or stolen?
For the past thirteen years, allergies have prevented me from eating most raw tree fruits–apples, pears, cherries, mulberries, peaches, etc. But in the past several months, I’ve discovered that the symptoms have vanished, so I’ve been enjoying fresh fruit as often as I can get it.
What you see there are five seeds from an organic Honeycrisp apple that I wrapped in a damp napkin, stuck in a plastic sandwich bag, and put in a drawer in the fridge on October 15th. Already, the middle one on the right has split open and started to poke the tip of a root out. In a few days, it’ll be ready to plant in a container and to be put under lights for the winter.
I also have seeds from Gala and Yellow Delicious apples and Bartlett pears started. Whenever I get around to making a pie, I’ll have some Granny Smith seeds, too. I’m also thinking about sprouting some of these Black Walnuts I’ve been gathering, if for no other reason than so my great-grandchildren can harvest the wood.
Do you have any recommendations? What’s your favorite variety of apple? Are there any other fruits you’d be interested in a few years from now? Plums? Peaches? Nectarines? Cherries?
My three-year-old daughter Amalie and I planted 799 cloves of garlic in a new garlic bed. Seeing weeds popping up just a few days later, I had the bright idea to cover the bed with plastic. I had a few 50′ lengths of of plastic that I had used as mulch for my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants last year (the ones the deer ate), so I spread those on top of the garlic bed. The plastic was full of holes I cut in it for the transplants, but I overlapped the pieces and figured it’d be good enough to kill some weeds. We weighed it down with rocks I had unearthed from the plot itself.
Then I started thinking about a YouTube video I had watched about “solarizing” the soil as a weed control method. Basically, they cover the plot with a thin, clear plastic to heat up the soil enough to pasteurize it, killing any weed seeds. The thing is, you’re supposed to do this before planting. I worried that if things got too toasty under my plastic, it might kill all that garlic we had just planted. Or, more likely, if I waited too long, the garlic might sprout and suffer the same fate as the weeds.
A couple days after having that thought, I removed the plastic. As luck would have it, my timing was pretty good. The plastic had largely stunted the growth of the weeds (all but the most ambitious thistles and a bit of grass), but it had also warmed the soil and kept it moist enough to force the garlic to sprout. And since it wasn’t getting enough light, it really struggled to grow. As a result, the garlic now appears to have a head start over the weeds. It just needs some sunshine. Unfortunately, the forecast is for clouds and rain the next ten days. Still, I think just being exposed to daylight now will help it enough to survive until we get some sunny days again.
In the mean time, I’ve got some clearly discernible rows of garlic between which I can hoe and lay cardboard. I’ll just leave that to decompose in place over the winter, and weeds shouldn’t be too much of a problem then next year. While that’s going on, I’ll spread compost on an area the same size right next to this, and lay out the black plastic on top of it for the winter. By spring, it should be relatively easy to prepare for planting. It’ll just be a matter of using a cultivator and rake to dig the rocks out, like I did here.
We have Giant Puffball mushrooms, picked fresh this afternoon. They’re in the fridge now, but they still shouldn’t sit around too long. We’re at 2624 Woodland Avenue, Columbus 43211. Come by today (Friday) anytime before 8:00 p.m, or Saturday or Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. $10 each for the smaller ones, and $15 for the huge one. (We also have a couple baseball-sized ones that are a few days old for a dollar each.) The really big one in this picture, third from the right, is close to 2.75 lbs.; the rest in this picture range from about .75 lb. to 1.25 lbs. (All weights are approximate, as we don’t have a scale that’s legal for trade. That’s why I’m not pricing by the pound.)
We also have Music garlic for sale. Music is a purple-streaked, hardneck, porcelain garlic, more flavorful than the softnecks you buy in the store, though not as well suited to long-term storage. Either cook it in the next couple months or plant it now to harvest your own crop next summer. Fifty cents each for medium bulbs, twenty-five cents each for small ones. (I already planted all the big ones.)
Cash, check, Visa, Mastercard, Discover, and American Express accepted…though we probably won’t have enough cash on hand to make change if you don’t have the exact amount.
I spent this evening in the woods with a stencil and a backpack full of spray paint cans. I was marking selected trees: M for maple, W for black walnut, and X for dead trees to be cut down. I’m going to try my hand at making syrup next spring (late winter, really). It’s hard to get through those woods without getting scratched up, though. It’s so overgrown with multiflora roses, blackberries–vines and honeysuckle, too, but at least those don’t have thorns. I cut vines when I see them choking the trees, but there’s really no good way to clear out the rest of that stuff other than goats, which we don’t have.
I’ve been researching goats, seeing how feasible it would be to raise them here. On the plus side, we wouldn’t have to feed them much (if anything) as long as we didn’t have too many. Also on the plus side, we’re located just a couple blocks south of a large Somali community, with halal markets nearby. According to a report by OSU, Columbus Somalis eat 14,000 goats a year, most of which come from Detroit. There are several butcher shops in Ohio where I could take them, either to sell or to have butchered so I could sell the meat myself. I wouldn’t have to worry about goats being eaten by raccoons, foxes, opossums, or minks. Having goat milk would allow us to make fudge and soap, or to feed some pigs. And of course, they’d manage the weeds.
On the down side, we’d have to fence the whole property before we could even start. Goats are more expensive than chickens, and it takes longer for them to reach slaughter weight. They require more veterinary care than chickens do. I’d have no intention of investing in the necessary facilities to be able to produce milk or cheese for sale–and I’d rather not deal with the daily hassle of milking (though Mayda says she wouldn’t mind). The closest goat butcher I know of is Blystone/Harrison Farm in Canal Winchester, and I don’t know that they’d cut mine up for me, especially since I’d be cutting into their meat sales. Regardless of where I’d want to take them, I don’t currently have a truck or even a car that works. And even then, I don’t know that the local goat consumers are willing to pay any kind of premium for locally grown if they can get it cheaper from Michigan…or Texas, or Australia.
Obviously, then, there’s a lot to consider before deciding whether to start raising goats.
One of the things that troubles me about the business plan I started with is that it’s so heavily reliant on outside inputs. I buy chicks, I buy feed, I buy bedding, then I put them all together and try to make a profit selling the final product. You might as well call it manufacturing. I still want to raise chickens, but I’d like to move toward more of the farm’s income being generated by the land itself. I don’t have the acreage or machinery to grow all the grain I’d need to feed chickens. Woodland makes poor pasture for sheep or cattle, and I have no intention of clear cutting our forest to make grazing land. Pigs like the woods, but I’d still have to bring in feed from outside. LOTS of it.
This is why I was thinking of goats. They’re well suited to our ecology. They eat what grows here; I wouldn’t even have to plant their feed. Fans of Joel Salatin will remember that his whole business model is based on grass farming, selling the critters that eat the grass, with both the grass and the critters replenishing themselves each year. I need something like that…something other than pawpaws. We had a good pawpaw harvest this year, but very poor sales. (On the bright side, I have a lot of really ripe pawpaws in my fridge I’m going to make something out of tomorrow. I’m thinking a pawpaw cream pie.) A few people said they were interested, but then never showed up to buy any. I had one sale: someone who had me ship them out to Arizona so her aunt could take a trip down memory lane. That was rewarding, being able to share in making someone happy like that, but one sale doesn’t pay the bills, y’know? There’s no “going out of business,” because as long as we live here and the trees keep fruiting, I’ll have something to sell…but languishing on the edge of bankruptcy is no fun. I need this land to produce something that turns into money instead of just costing us property taxes.
I planted some ramps around the forest in the spring, hoping they’ll grow here and multiply. I haven’t seen any puffballs yet, but it’s about time for them. Tomorrow, Amalie and I will start prepping the new garlic bed in the north yard. I’ll be planting almost my entire harvest from this year–around 300 bulbs. This winter, I’ll be fencing in the north yard so I have a larger deer-proof area for gardening. The deer fence in the front garden worked very well, but it’s not enough space to grow much more than my family can use. Of course, since we moved to Woodland, we haven’t been seeing deer here nearly as often as we used to. They mostly stay back in the woods now. We have LOTS of black walnuts, but I’ve had trouble finding anyone interested in buying them. I’m thinking I may actually have better luck drying the hulls and selling them online to herbalists and crafters. To crack the nuts open quickly enough to be worth the bother, I’d have to build a machine. To then sell the nut meats or press the oil and sell that, I’d need a commercial kitchen. If my truck was running, I could probably just drive a load of them, still in the hull, to a commercial processor, but with the price of gas being what it is, I don’t know that such a trip would even pay for itself. It’s frustrating to see so much food hanging on the trees and not being able to make anything of it.
It looks like most of the dead trees I marked today were ashes. I’m hoping that at least one of them is still good enough to make tool handles out of. Once the house is fixed up enough that I can justify taking the time–maybe this winter–I’m going to set up my forge. I want to start discombobulating the old fire engine and turning some pieces into things I can use and sell. First thing will be a froe, so I can split some of these trees into fence posts and pickets and such. Then I’d like to make myself a sturdy machete for hacking through all the briars and weeds here. From there on, I’ll probably just make knives and tomahawks, and various home decor pieces (wall hooks, forks, etc.) to sell. Below is a video I made when I did a little forging earlier this summer.
A vegetarian friend of mine brought to my attention the fact that California recently banned the sale and production of foie gras–not the cruel practice of gavage, but the end product.
I feel that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I told my friend I felt this was not a victory for animal rights, but was instead a lose-lose situation. If the welfare of the animals is really the chief concern of animal rights activists, then real victory would be not just eliminating gavage torture facilities, but creating “Garden of Eden” goose paradises like Eduardo Sousa’s farm. Likewise, victory for fans of foie gras would be not just defeating this ban, but pushing the inferior, gavage-produced foie gras off the market in favor of the superior, naturally fed foie gras. Rather than banning the product, California could have regulated the production. Instead, extremism conquers, prohibition rules, and everybody loses–not least of all, the geese.
The video below explains this natural method of producing foie gras from happy geese.
I picked our first couple pawpaws for the year, and they’re tasty. Since they passed the taste test, the kids and I will be picking the rest of them later today (Saturday).
Pawpaws are a native fruit, the largest one that grows in this region. The texture and flavor are something like a cross between banana and mango. You can eat them raw, bake with them, mix the pulp into a milkshake or a smoothie–anything you’d do with any other fruit pulp. (They don’t lend themselves well to slicing.) Just don’t eat the skin or the seeds. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and fragrant.
Would you like some? Send me an email (email@example.com), contact us on Facebook, or leave me a message at (614) 390-2692. The pawpaws are $1.50 each, and I’m open to barter. Supplies are limited. When they’re gone, that’s it ’til next year.
“Downy mildew was confirmed today on watermelons from Medina County, OH. It is safe to say at this point that downy mildew is widespread in vine crops and growers throughout the state should be out scouting for the disease, especially in cucumbers. Susceptibility to downy mildew is as follows: cucumber>melon (cantaloupe, honeydew)>pumpkin>watermelon>squash. Squash is the only vine crop for which downy mildew has not been confirmed somewhere in Ohio (which doesn’t mean it isn’t out there). Fungicides need to be applied early – especially for cucumbers. It is not possible to stay ahead of this diseases if fungicides are not applied in a timely manner.”
My cucumbers recently got hit by powdery mildew. They were really productive before that. I sprayed them a few days ago with a baking soda solution. Now I’m not seeing mildew, but the leaves that were affected are all dying off. It was a good year for cukes, though. (And everything else, for that matter.) I’ll be happy if I can just get the little fruits that are still on the vine to finish growing before the plants are entirely dead. The sweet corn is doing great, but I didn’t plant enough to share. In light of the news above, I may try to squeeze in a crop of yellow squash before it gets cold. Mayda’s been wanting to try low tunnels.
The walnuts are getting big and I’m seeing quite a few pawpaws on the trees. I’m hoping the acorn trees produce as well as everything else has.
The deer fence around my small garden (about 25′x30′) has proven effective in keeping the deer out. Now I just have to deal with the groundhog. He (or she) has been eating whatever tomatoes he could reach and has begun to do the same with the cucumbers. Since the garden is in the front yard close to neighbors and we have cats loose on the property, my pest control options are limited. I’m probably not going to bother burying chicken wire around the perimeter of the fence. I’m guessing that when I fix the privacy fence out front, that’s going to disturb the groundhog enough to run him off.
Given how effective the deer fence out front has been, I’ll be spending much of the winter fencing in our north yard to keep the deer out of the large garden. If the weather is as good next year as it’s been this year, I expect a good yield.