Thursday, October 17, 2013

Put Mutton Back on the Menu

It is not often that Prince Charles and I have the same goals but I am right on side with his campaign to put mutton back on the menu.   This tasty meat got a bad rap around WWII and never recovered.  My parents' generation ate stringy, overcooked mutton and passed their culinary prejudices on to my generation without any of us ever having gone through that experience.

Think about it.  The majority of North Americans only consider lamb.  That is like only eating veal.  It doesn't make sense with cattle nor does it make sense for sheep.

Let's talk terms.   A lamb is an animal up to one year of age, a hogget is an animal from one to two years of age and mutton is from an animal over two years of age.  A lamb will have a hanging weight of 30 to 60 lbs.  A hogget will have a hanging weight of 70-100 lbs depending on the breed with mutton being about the same range.  Cuts from each will be appropriate for the size of the animal.

For the first time this year we processed three adult ewes: two 6 year old Tunis ewes were made into ground meat and a three quarter Tunis hoggett was processed into chops and cubes.

And the verdict.  The shepherd's pie made out of the ground mutton was fabulous.  I would never consider making this dish with beef again.  There is a reason it is called shepherd's pie.  The chops from the hogget were indistinguishable from our lamb except for their size.   

We are starting to learn about how to process and cook mutton. It seems that mutton should be hung for at least two weeks.  That is going to be an education for our butcher as well.

The lambs are all weighed and we are ready to start processing. The first lot goes out next week with two more lots going out over November and December.  There will be some lagging into the new year that had a slow start.  

The weather is getting cooler.  It is time to start eating lamb, hogget and mutton.  With winter vegetables and a good glass of wine, it doesn't get any better.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Shoe-maker's kids

Most of us have heard the story of the shoe maker's kids who ended up going barefoot.  Well, it turns out that Bob and I are the shoe maker's kids when it comes to monitoring our nutrition.  

Over the years we have researched the nutritional requirements for our horses, sheep and chickens, analysed their feed and supplemented to balance the vitamin and mineral deficiencies in our feed.  Every year we ship hay samples out for analysis.  Not only do we analyse the macronutrients such as protein, we also analyse the micronutrients such as selenium, copper and zinc.

Because of the region where we live, that is eastern Ontario, where the soil is deficient in some of these minerals, not surprisingly our hay is deficient in copper and zinc and totally lacking in selenium.  So we carefully supplement for these deficiencies. And what about excess?  Iron levels in our soil and in our hay are through the roof.  We do not use commercial supplements for the horses because it is impossible to find one with no added iron.  For a number of years, we have custom blended our own mineral supplements for the horses.

Over the years we also have expanded out vegetable gardens and rely more on them for producing our food.  Our food production is not just a 100 mile diet, in most cases it is a 100 foot diet.  This year we plan to build two small greenhouses to allow us to extend our growing season well into the fall and start it earlier in the spring.  Our ultimate goal is to be as self sufficient as possible in our food production.

Now there are many of you out there that are cheering us on, what a great healthy, environmentally responsible diet.  Yes it is but.....  remember the hay analysis?  If our soil mineral balance and deficiencies result in deficiencies in our hay, why would we not expect the same to happen with the fruits and vegetables that grown on the same land?  And yes, after contacting Rob Wallbridge at SongBerry Farm, we can expect exactly the same deficiencies and inbalances in our veg and fruit.    A quick web search showed that mineral levels in vegetables varied greatly depending on location, irrigation,  etc.  Mineral balance is necessary not only for plant health but also for our health.

So, what do we do?  To begin with we are going to have our garden soil analysed and try to balance the minerals in the soil by additives such as kelp and fish meal.  I would love to do that on a macro scale for the whole farm but the reality it is less expensive to supplement our livestock than to supplement the soil.  The down side is the plants we are growing are probably not growing optimally.  However that is the economic reality.

When I first had horses, I got caught in the popular trend to supplement them with a myriad of products to improve their health.  Like with so many horse products, these supplements were expensive.  Our feed costs were high and the horses did not seem to be benefiting in any obvious way.  Then we started to analyse their diet through an on-line feed analysis Feed-XL (which by the way I can highly recommend).  It turns out we were overfeeding the horses and under nourishing them.  We were able to cut back our feed costs by hundreds of dollars a horse and still have them in great shape.  So the lesson learned is we are not going to have the same knee jerk reaction to our own nutrition by automatically taking a range of supplements.

The next step is to talk to our doctors and get referred to a nutritionist.  If it is possible to have our diet and us analysed and see if we do have inbalances then we will address them on an individual basis.

The net result should be healthier us... and the shoe maker's kids will wear shoes. That is the plan anyways.  Stay tuned.


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Spring, wherefore art thou?

When I look out my office window, all I see are fields of white.  It is the tail end of March and we still have lots of snow left on the ground. Unlike last year when we were in T-shirts and some neighbours were getting their fields ready to plant, I am still sporting a winter coat in the evenings and wearing insulated boots.  

Yes, the red-winged blackbirds and robins are back but I am sure that all of them are checking their travel itineraries and wondering what went terribly wrong.  We just sheared the sheep and I think a couple of them have the OSPCA on speed dial.

The sap is running... sort of.   We are having on and off again runs where one day it runs like crazy and the next two to three we get nothing at all. We only tap a few trees around the yard to produce enough for our use.  We are hoping to get about 8 litres of syrup and we are well on our way to producing that.  This year we are trying a turkey fryer to boil down sap and then we finish it off and bottle it in the house. This summer I hope to put up a little three sided shed that I can put a wood stove in to boil sap down outside the house.

This spring brought a new Maremma pup to the farm. His name is ZeusHe is about 4 months old now and is a pen with two 8 month old lambs.  Unfortunately they do not have the temperament to correct his puppy nips so we will be putting him in with the rams today. They will teach him what behaviour is acceptable and what is not.  He also is getting introduced to our other dogs: first Mayla and later Titan. Mayla, is on reduced duties due to her multiple dysplasias.  Zeus was purchased to replace Mayla when we are no longer able to keep her comfortable. I still have a hard time believing a breeder could sign a health guarantee for Mayla and then totally dishonour their guarantee. This is definitely a case of buyer beware.

Shearing the sheep revealed developing udders.  Lambing starts in about 5 weeks.  There is lots to do before then.  I just hope the fields start drying up and growing so we can put the ewes out soon after the lambs are born.  

We just set up an incubator with 31 Partridge Chantecler eggs.  We have lots of orders for chicks and mature birds so we will be filling the incubator at least twice this spring.  

The day lilies have started to sprout.  Hmmm, maybe spring is not too far behind,


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Grocery store flyers and the fallacy of food costs

Every week we all collect our mail and there they are... grocery store flyers with their bright colours, bold print, enticing photos and even more enticing prices... especially those on the front page.  Then we go to the farmer's markets and ...What is with the prices?!  Actually those prices at the Farmer's Markets are probably still lower than they should be based on cost of production.

Grocery stores are trying to entice you into the store with their flyers and offering big discounts on a selected number of items to get you in there with the hope that once you are in the store you will buy a whole lot more where the price is marked up substantially.  Many items are sold at or below cost to entice you into the store. These are called loss leaders.  "A loss leader, or simply a leader,is a product sold at a low price, at or below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services." - Wikepedia  Typical loss leaders include perishable items such as milk and eggs.  

The prices that you see in the flyers and even the prices for selected items that are never in the flyers do not reflect the true cost of these items.  However, even grocery stores who sell in huge volumes are scrambling for the profit dollar

No matter what you call it be it a "Cheap Food Policy" or something else, the reality is the proportion of household income spent on food has steadily declined since the end of the second world war to the point where the average household in Canada spends less than 10% of their disposable income on food compared to over twice that back at its peak in the 1930s. Only the United States spends less. (
The price for food has not even kept pace with inflation.  For example, the price of eggs in 1954, i.e. the year I was born, was 76 cents a dozen.  What would that be in 2013 dollars just taking into account inflation? The answer is $6.51.  So why are the stores often selling for less than $3 a dozen?   By the way you can do the same with all basic food commodities with the same result.

I recently took a farm budgeting course and we did a back of the envelope calculation as to the true cost of producing a dozen eggs in a free range non-confinement system that actually included labour costs (and we are not talking big salaries but marginally above minimum wage).  The cost of a dozen eggs was $6 a dozen.

And consumers wonder why can't farmers make a go of it unless they automate and raise thousands of birds.  It is because you as consumers have been handed a bill of goods as to the true cost of food. Not only is food underpriced in this country but it is also undervalued.

Public policy advocates and animal rights activists petition the government to change policies and regulations, to outlaw large "factory" farms and return to the family farm.  However they fail to recognize the most powerful tool of change, that is the consumer dollar.  If you cease to buy these products, they will cease to exist.  If you want to see an end to practices that you feel compromise the health and welfare of animals and the environment support farmers that follow the practices you want to see.  However you MUST be prepared to pay to the true cost for food.  You cannot expect farmers to subsize your food budget for the sake of your values.

If you want to take a position on food production (and I hope you do), do so but be willingly pay the true price for food.