Pasture Standards for Laying Hens

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This weekend Kelly and I and our friend Dale attended the massive Natural Products Expo West, a convention where grocery and health food stores go to find the latest quinoa chip. While the vast majority of exhibitors are peddling highly processed vegetarian junk food, in recent years I’ve spotted a positive trend: pasture raised eggs and meat.

Having witnessed agricultural fraud first hand and even collusion from mainstream journalists (wish I could tell that story, but Root Simple would need an investigative division and lawyers), I’ve come to view animal husbandry claims with suspicion. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the standards for pasture raised laying hens.

As usual, food marketing claims are confusing and often misleading. In fairness, assessing a farm’s “humaneness” isn’t a simple question and there’s no oversight from the government. The USDA does not have a pasture raised designation. Pasture certification is done by third party organizations. Thankfully the Animal Welfare Institute has a guide to animal welfare claims.

I thought I’d take a closer look at the designation I’ve seen the most, Certified Humane. One important thing to note is that a company can have the Certified Humane designation and not raise poultry on pasture. That said, the non-profit that adjudicates the Certified Humane label has pasture standards. Here’s an excerpt from those standards relating to exterior access for laying hens on pasture:

R 1: Pasture area
a. Must consist mainly of living vegetation. Coarse grit must be available to aid digestion of vegetation.
b. The pasture must be designed and actively managed to:
1. Encourage birds outside, away from the popholes, and to use the area fully;
2. Prevent and/or minimize heavily degraded, muddy/sodden, or worn areas;
3. Minimize any build-up of agents (e.g., parasites, bacteria, viruses) that may cause disease;
4. Prevent hens from coming into contact with any toxic substances.
c. The minimum outdoor space requirement is 2.5 acres (1 hectare)/1000 birds. Land used for cropping (except grass or hay) is not accepted as part of the Pasture Raised space allowance and must be excluded from space calculations.
d. The maximum distance that a hen has to walk from the perimeter fence of the pasture to the nearest door into a fixed or mobile house must be no more than 400 yards (366 m).
e. The pasture must be rotated periodically to prevent the land from becoming contaminated and or denuded, and to allow it to recover from use. A written rotational grazing plan must be in place. The written rotational grazing plan must be submitted with the application.
f. Water temperature must not be less than 50° F (10 C) or greater than 100° F (38 C).
g. Birds must be outdoors 12 months per year, every day for a minimum of 6 hours per day. In an emergency, the hens may be confined in fixed or mobile housing 24 hours per day for no more than 14 consecutive days.
h. Shade, cover and dust bathing areas
1. There must be sufficient well-drained, shaded areas for hens to rest outdoors without crowding together.
2. Cover, such as shrubs, trees or artificial structures, must be distributed throughout the pasture to reduce the fear reactions of hens to overhead predators and to encourage use of the pasture.
3. The pasture area must include patches with loose substrate suitable for dust bathing.

These standards seem reasonable to me though there are other things to consider such as de-beaking. Personally, I feel good about buying pasture raised eggs with the Certified Humane designation. But I wish that the USDA would step in and clear up the confusing and misleading egg labels such as “cage free,” and “free range.” as well as putting together a standard for “pasture raised.” I’m not holding my breath. On the positive side, we vote with our food dollars and those votes are beginning to be counted. Unfortunately, there’s going to be a few years of wading through the marketing manure and the current anti-regulation political climate.

Saturday Tweets: Counting Poultry, Cocktails and Homesteading Without a Garden

Kitchen KonMari Session, Illustrated

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Few topics in the home arts cause as much ire, backpedaling and recrimination as the techniques of tidying up guru Marie Kondo, a.k.a. “KonMari.” In the interests of full disclosure, I thought I’d show yesterday’s kitchen KonMari session, illustrated with crime scene type photos. Clutter is a crime, right?

On the day real estate speculators grab hold of our house, they’ll no doubt blow out all the walls, head to Ikea and install a cheap Dwell Magazine type kitchen with stark white melamine cabinets, acres of marble counter-tops and a bar people can saddle up to in their flip flops. What we’ve got right now is the original 1920s kitchen, a cramped and sealed off room with small cabinets. Space is as precious as in a sailboat’s galley, which is why we had to clean out the main storage cabinet. I wish I had the foresight to take a before picture of the cabinet, but I did get a “cabinet dump” photo, above, showing what happened when we emptied the contents of the cabinet into the breakfasts nook.

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KonMari suggests holding each object and asking if it “sparks joy.” When you do this with someone else there are, of course, things that are easy to part with and things that cause controversy. At one point I managed to snap a series of photos of Kelly running off with–get this–a bag of cat hair which she claimed would someday be used in some kind of highly conceptual cat hair felting project.

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After some tense moments, we managed to purge a decent number of unused kitchen items and Kelly rearranged the cabinet to place frequently used items on more accessible shelves.

Ironically, the kitchen cleaning session overlapped with the lunch hour preventing meal preparation. We decamped to a local Mexican restaurant for a meeting with a friend and Kelly finished this KonMari session on her own later.

I’d call it a victory but we’ve still got to tackle the pantry.

[An editorial note from Mrs. Homegrown: First, I cannot believe he has shared this cat hair business with the world! The age of chivalry is long gone. Also, yes, I know it’s a crazy lady thing to do, to collect cat hair, but I have an Idea and will not toss the hair just yet, not until I’ve tried it. Also, the bag of hair was not stored with our cooking stuff, which would be genuinely disturbing and wrong and taboo breaking, but rather was tucked away in our utility room off the kitchen. Erik rooted it out as sort of a decluttering sideline. I could point out that the very same day Erik clung with equal fervor to his crusty old pasta maker, despite the fact he has owned it for 15 years and made homemade pasta exactly…once? Twice? It seems we have both attached imaginary futures full of possibility to rather useless objects and are reluctant to let go of these fantasies. All in all, I figure it’s a successful session if each of us only holds on to one useless object when all is done. N.B:  A good rule of of decluttering with mates: No blame, no recrimination!]

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A Three Step Strategy for Curing Internet/Smart Phone Addiction

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I suspect I’m not alone in finding myself checking the news on the interwebs a little too much lately. While I have a rule against discussing politics on this blog, let’s just say that I think we can all agree that things have gotten profoundly weird. Each day brings with it new kookiness and with that novelty comes the desire to stay glued to our smart phones and computers.

How to break that addictive cycle may just be one of the great questions of our time. On our deathbeds, I doubt many of us will look back fondly on those thousands hours we spent on our Facebook news feeds.

So what practical steps can be taken to climb out of the internet hole? I have a simple, three part thesis:

  1. Recognize that we fall down in the Facebook/Twitter/News Feed hole when we are feeling anxious, lonely or depressed.
  2. The only way to avoid wasting time on the smartphone/interwebs is to replace that mindless surfing with alternative activities.
  3. Engaging in those alternative activities, particularly physical ones, establishes a positive feedback loop that reduces problem 1.

At this risk of this post turning into yet another listicle, here are some suggested alternate activities to plug into point #2:

  • Take a class. Hint: if you pay for the class you are more likely to go.
  • Schedule a time to exercise. The more that exercise activity interferes with the ability to use a smart phone the better.
  • Don’t look at your phone/computer first thing in the morning. Pick up a book first.
  • Build something.
  • Garden, pull some weeds and plant some vegetables.
  • Go to concerts, plays, lectures etc.
  • Seek out a spiritual practice that involves both private time and scheduled group engagement.
  • Read and apply some of the “deep work” anti-distraction strategies found in Cal Newport’s blogs and books.

I think the common thread with these activities is redirection and physical separation from our computers and phones, though I’ve found that you can take an online class and avoid mindless surfing with some discipline. There are many other activities that I’ve left off here, and I’d love to hear suggestions from our readers in the comments.

Much has been made of the crack-headed bio-neurological addictiveness of the internet, particularly Facebook. While there’s some truth here, the philosophy nerd in me rejects the idea that this problem is entirely within the domain of the neuroscientist/psychologist (see David A. Bank’s excellent critique of positivist explainerism if big ideas float your boat). Internet addiction is not a problem that can be solved solely on the individual level. We also need collective action. We need to meet face to face, create new narratives and work together to make the world a better place. Face to face group activities go a long way in defeating the cult of the individual so favored by the Silicon Valley elite who profit from our distraction.

Still, there will be times that problem #1 gets the best of us. We won’t always succeed in avoiding the interweb hole and we might, as Newport suggests, even schedule some time to mindlessly surf just to get it out of our system. But the more we get out and just do stuff the less we’ll end up internet surfing and the better we’ll feel. In short, schedule a time to surf a real wave rather than a virtual one.

Root Simple at Nature Fest March 18 and 19

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Hey Angelinos,
Root Simple will be doing a coffee roasting demo at 1:00 pm at the Natural History Museum’s Nature Fest on March 18 and 19. We also have a booth and you’re welcome to come hang out during the event. I’ll be selling some of our lesser known publications at a steep discount as well as answering random homesteading questions. We’d love to meet you in person!

The Natural History Museum is one of my favorite places in LA. The event will feature:

  • Over 30 exhibitor booths in partnership with local organizations
  • Access to scientists and nature experts to answer all your questions
  • Live animal presentations, stage performances and nature walks
  • Expert tips on how to attract wildlife to your garden
  • Nature crafts​
  • Early morning bird walks

If you’ve got gardening or nature questions, the NHM staff is incredibly knowledgeable. More info here. Bring the whole family!