December 29th, 2007

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Meat, quality, money

Depending on where you live, and how resourceful you are, you should be able to get better meat at or below supermarket prices, by working with other consumers and dealing directly with local farmer/ranchers.  

Better meat: In my books, that's meat from healthy animals raised in low-stress situations with food natural to that species, no growth hormones, very little use of antibiotics (if animal gets sick it can be treated, but not slaughtered within 60 days of such treatment) or other drugs.  Thus pasture-raised cattle,  hogs with  some room to roam and wallow, sheep on grass.  Ideally, the pastured animals are on pasture fertilized only as needed with organic fertilizers.  Animals are handled quietly and gently; transported for as short a time as possible in as low-stress a way as possible, and slaughtered humanely.  Processing plant adheres to modern standards of cleanliness and safety to maximize the quality of the meat from the healthy animals. 

If you can't afford a farm/ranch of your own (and most of us can't),  you might make a deal with a farmer or rancher to pasture your stock on their land (for a share of the crop or for money) this is an excellent way to go.  I started by purchasing two cows from a local rancher, and trading half the calf crop each year for pasture use.   To do this, you have to know something about the animals--enough to pick good ones--or you have to really trust the farmer/rancher.  I chose to purchase their cows because they had a certified TB-free and Brucellosis-free herd that had been on the same land for over 20 years...healthy, sound, fertile cattle.

If you go this route, then you are responsible for finding a meat processing plant to slaughter and pack the calf/hog/lamb and for transportation to the plant.  I pay the rancher for the gas it takes to drive our calf to slaughter.   Still, you will be getting quality meat for less than supermarket price (you just need the storage capacity for it.  But you can share it with friends, and if you have a group who agree to pay a share of the cost for a share of the meat, you're all ahead.) 

Another route: contract with a producer to buy one calf at market value (whatever that happens to be) and pay for its transport and processing.  This will add to the cost, but will probably still be below retail.  If I had paid market value for a dressed carcass (estimated at $1.40/pound the week before Christmas), this would have raised my cost from $0.90/pound (processing cost plus gas to transport the calf and gas to transport the meat) to $2.30/pound...which is less than the $4++/pound average retail price of beef.  

You can also buy a calf at a cattle auction, but there you know nothing about the calf's history prior to the auction--was it on pasture, or was it being supplemented with grain, or on hormones, or what?  I think this is the riskiest approach--if you know enough about cattle to pick a good calf at auction, you know enough to work with a farmer/rancher who will grass-feed  your calf for you.

Another source for meat animals is students in ag programs at schools (FFA, 4-H.)   Show animals are always sold off at the end of the show season.  If they're sold at the show, they usually bring a high price (but not always) but nothing says you can't contract with a family who's got a few lambs or pigs or calves to buy the one that doesn't do well at the show so it's not going to the next show.   You want it "relaxed" from the heavy exercise regiment that the animals are put through for showing (to build the muscle that is supposed to make them win), but that takes only a few can specify that the animal be fed only natural feed, no additives, or add some grain, but no additives, and ensure that it has had nothing in the 45-60 days prior to slaughter that you don't want.  I'm buying a lamb that placed last at the last two shows.  It's a Southdown, which means a meaty, stocky lamb, and it's getting past lamb-size...but that doesn't bother me as I like mutton, too.

These approaches benefit small farmers/ranchers and allow you to source your meat closer to where you live, with more knowledge of how the animal was handled in life and more control of what you're eating...all things I think are valuable.   Connecting with others interested in local food production and consumption may make it possible for even single people living in apartments in cities to find high quality meat at reasonable prices.

woods, Elizabeth, camera, April

Live with Horses: "the evil halter"

During the treatment of his laminitis episode, Mac hated being haltered because it meant having medicine squirted into his mouth and he hated it.  He took to pinning his ears and threatening to bite.  I worked on that awhile and thought I had it cured--and then with the run-up to Christmas music performances, and the weather, I didn't work with him for awhile.

Yesterday the farrier came to trim their hooves, and Mac pinned his ears and threatened when I tried to halter him.  I got the rope around his neck, but had managed to get his halter twisted up (it's a weird kind of one; I really need to replace it with something simpler) and the farrier had to untwist it for me while I held Mac, who was twitchy and flicking his ears nervously.  I got it on him, but there were moments of...resistance. 

So today I went out into the field with the halter and a plan.  I petted Illusion.  Mac came over to get petted.  I offered the halter; he threw up his head and pinned his ears.   So I swung the knot on the end of the lead at him and told him to "get on".   He took a few steps, looking puzzled. I pushed him on; he swung around Illusion to get away from me, and I followed, swinging the rope.  Illusion looked at both of us as if we were idiots (no comments, you in the corner!)  and occasionally moved a little, but not much, as we did merry-go-round around him.   Since these two squabble, I was careful not to be where Mac crowding in on Illusion to get away from me could result in a hoof-smack from either one.  But I kept Mac moving, and moving, and moving. 

After awhile, he turned to face me and stood while I walked up to him.   I gave him a pat and a "Good boy!" and then offered the halter.  He moved his head aside.  I offered it again; this time he put his nose in, but as I moved to toss the halter strap over his neck so I could buckle it, he pinned his ears and laid his head sideways, ready to nip.   I let the halter slide off his nose, released the neck rope, and drove him around awhile longer with the lead rope (notice--not hitting him, just moving it in a way that suggested I might).  He kept trying to hide behind Illusion, who by now was ignoring both of us, and I kept him moving anyway.   Finally he stopped again, facing me, and I walked up, put the rope around his neck, and gave him a pat, then offered the halter.  He stood a moment, considering, then put his nose in.   Cautiously (not wanting to be nipped) I pushed the strap up on the other side of his neck and brought it over.  His neck stiffened, but he didn't toss his head, tilt his head, or pin his ears.  I buckled the halter.  Owner 1, Horse 0. 

So then we went walking.  His ground training was poor when I got him, and I've worked on it just about every time I've had him out.  This time he did very well for awhile:  starting when I said "walk on" and stopping when I said "whoa" and turning as I asked, keeping a better (though not yet perfect) position beside me.  Then he started his usual creeping in, subtly invading my space.  I pushed him back: he should be about an arm's length from me, his head a little ahead of mine...perfect is with the horse's shoulder by the person in charge.   Mac wants to come right in and push on you, if he's beside you, or walk on your heels right behind you by first lagging and then moving in to follow.  This is not polite, and it can be dangerous, besides being scary to guests who aren't used to horses.   The following right behind is really dangerous, as a horse that spooks in that position can run right over the person leading.   (Kuincey the spook tried to jump in my lap for security a couple of times, and 900 pounds of horse suddenly in your space is not a good thing.)

Tomorrow I'll try the evil halter again.   Last time it took several days to convince him that a) it was going to happen and b) it didn't always mean the bitter medicine.   He's not stupid; I'm hoping he'll behave tomorrrow...but he is, after all, a horse with little native generosity, so he may try to intimidate me again.  But the improvement today was noticeable...what I want (what I've gotten with my other horses) is a horse that is happy to come, that cooperates because cooperation is rewarding for us both. 

He is walking sound without booties at the moment, hopefully toughening up his inadequate soles.