Monthly Archives: April 2012

Guest Post: Oversight

The beautiful thing about social media is all of the wonderful people you will come across. If you pay attention these people will teach you all kinds of things. One of these people, who has taught me a lot, is Hal Kreher. When I need to know something about poultry, Hal is my go-to source. I asked him to guest post a couple months back, this is the finished product.

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The other day it was suggested to me that farms need more regulation and oversight.  In particular, large farms need more regulation (apparently small farms are of higher integrity just by being small).

I think that there is a knowledge gap that this person and many others fall into.   Not only is the knowledge missing but often a value judgment is made based on this poor knowledge. Many people do not have the first hand knowledge of the subject, have not questioned someone directly involved, yet have already formed an opinion based on what little knowledge can be gained from one or two inflammatory articles.  How unfortunate.

So I have decided to write what I hope to be an enlightening article on what really happens.

First a little background.  My family has what most would consider a fairly large egg business.  We have been fortunate and successful through a period of history where the number of egg producing companies in the US has decreased from 10,000 in the 1970’s to a few hundred left today. We achieved our success through perseverance, customer service, a great team of workers, luck, etc.  We did not achieve success by cutting corners, ignoring safety, breaking the rules, intimidation, etc (although the assumption that you are big because you are bad seems to be made sometimes).

Most people do not understand that to supply a grocery chain – you have to have a certain sized business.  Grocery chains do not want to have to deal with a different farm for each store.  They want one supplier that can handle the business.  Also it is not a good practice for one of your customers to be too large of a percentage of your sales because if something (like a bankruptcy) happens to that customer, you are in trouble.  This, the advances and mechanization and automation of poultry husbandry and economies of scale are what led to where we are today.

So, getting back to the regulations – the following only pertains to egg farms.  There are probably a whole bunch of other regulations that apply to broilers or pigs or dairy or beef or crops or vegetable/ fruit production.

Here is the list of audits that we have mostly on an annual basis:

FDA Food Facility Registration – registers our facility with the FDA so they know where we are, this was put into place by the Bioterrorism Act of 2002.

FDA Shell Egg Producer Registration – similar to above but particular to shell egg facilities (as opposed to Egg Breaking facilities)

FDA inspection – this is where they come out and walk through your facility and look through your paperwork (a two day visit per farm, minimum).  What they are looking for here is that we are following the FDA Egg Safety Rule – this means that we have a Salmonella Program – we buy chicks that come from Salmonella free breeders, test the growing and laying houses at the appropriate times for Salmonella, have a biosecurity program (which includes limiting visitors – we are required by law to limit visitors!), and have an effective pest control system and are keeping the eggs properly refrigerated (at 45 deg).  There is a lot of paperwork and training of personnel involved. This is a new program that started in 2010 for farms with over 50,000 and in 2012 will extend to farms with 3,000 or more hens (there are some exceptions, for farms that sell all their eggs directly to the consumer for example.)

You can find out the results of the inspections of all the egg farms in the US if you know where to look.  All three of our farms passed with no problems.

NYSEQAP – this is the NY State Egg Quality Assurance Plan (we haven’t had an audit in a couple of years but are still following this program) – another paperwork audit to make sure you are following the program.  Very similar to the FDA inspection and will probably be replaced by it.  This voluntary program has been in place since the ‘90’s.  Several states have similar programs.  This program and a preceding HAACP program that we needed in order to supply McDonald’s (we were a supplier to them in the 1980’2 and 90’s) helped us to have very high quality standards in respect to production and packaging.  One of the key things that happened on our farms during this was the elimination of rodents on the farm.

Eggland’s Best – a thorough facility inspection.  Eggland’s Best has a very high expectation that the farms producing product for them produce the best quality possible.  In addition to following the FDA Salmonella program, EB requires additional salmonella testing of incoming baby chicks and at the end of the flocks cycle.  The inspector for EB is one of the pickiest persons that I know.  He has a very critical eye and we really try to make it so that he doesn’t find anything to report.  Our poultry care attendants and packing room folks work very hard to keep things in good shape and as clean as possible.

Kosher Certification – a visit by the Rabbi to make sure you are following those rules.  Inspection is not very rigorous as eggs are basically Kosher, you just have to use the proper soap when washing them.  He does not bless your eggs.  Only certain labels pay to have this on their label.

UEP Animal Care – a paperwork audit (which means a review of the records kept in respect to daily inspection and monitoring of the hens) They also inspect buildings to make sure the cages have the correct number of hens.  This program also requires animal care training.  Hens are housed at 67 sq inches per hen.  The cages contain 5 – 7 hens depending on the size and shape.  The chickens are much calmer than you usually see on videos – bright lights and strangers can trigger the flight response – to view live video on a California farm go to   HYPERLINK “http://www.jswest.com” www.jswest.com and view the “hens live tab”.

NYS Dept. of Ag & Markets (animal ID) – to make sure we properly report our chickens so the state knows who has chickens and where they are sourced and where they eventually end up.

American Humane Certification – of our organic farm – to make sure we follow their program.  This is an incredibly detailed program that requires proper space allowance, drinker, feeder and nest space.  There is an incredible amount of detail that has to be documented daily.

SQF – Safe Quality Foods – egg packing plant food quality program inspection.  This extremely comprehensive program was billed as the audit that was supposed to replace all others.  Well, it hasn’t done that (obviously) but it is an extremely detailed food safety program and inspection by a third party auditor.  This inspection covers the packing plant, warehouse, and egg cooler, inside and out.

2 customer audits – inspection of our egg packing operations by QA people from the customer office.  They do this to make sure that we are doing things properly to minimize their exposure to a food safety problem.

Quickfire Reg. # – Our SQF registration where we interact with the certification body and SQF.

iCiX (International Compliance Information Exchange) –  a repository for audit reports and other certification documents where suppliers can obtain all your information from one secure spot.  Auditing bodies post their results here so that we are not posting our own audit report (to prevent falsification of documents).

Organic Certification – Crops – one day paperwork and field inspections to make sure we are following the National Organic Program rules on our crop farm.  There is a stack of paperwork about 8 inches deep because we have 2,800 acres in the program and most of the fields are not very large (I would say an average size field would be in the 20 – 30 acre range).

Organic certification – Egg Production – combined with handler – paperwork and egg farm inspection to make sure the chickens are being taken care of in accordance with NOP rules.  This includes documenting ALL inputs.

Organic certification – Handler – paperwork inspection and check of our egg packing operation

CAFO – DEC – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation – check of our environmental monitoring system to make sure our manure and waste water are being handled properly.  This includes accounting for all manure (we sell 2/3 of our manure and use the other 1/3 on our crop operation).  Required for farms with over 37,500 laying hens if using a dry manure handling system.  A farm is a large CAFO if it has over 80,000 laying hens.

Petroleum Bulk Storage – we have some fuel stored on the farm and this is an audit of the tanks where they make sure we are inspecting them and watching for leakage/spills.  Any spill over 5 gallons must be reported to the DEC.  I don’t know when the last time we had a spill like that on our home farm, if we have ever had one.

This is just a portion of the regulations that we fall under.  For instance there is a lot of regulation with respect to grading of the eggs that I did not get into (both state and federal).  We produce fertilizer so we have recently had to get a fertilizer blender license (if it was just the product we make from our own manure we would be exempt but we bring in some other ingredients to supply blends that our customers want).  There are trucking regulations on our delivery and grain trucks.  There are regulations on employing other people (tons of rules! And a lot of reporting/tax filing). Regulations on grain storage, purchasing, etc.  Regulations on our Feed Mill.  OSHA Regultions.   I wonder what I am leaving out…

So, still think we are under- regulated??

You can e-mail Hal at hkreher@aol.com

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Thank You Readers!

Photo courtesy of Dain Sandoval

I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge you. Yeah, you. The Beef Jar readers! You guys rock. It’s been about a year, since I’ve seriously started  blogging here. And what a year it has been, lol! I never imagined this blog would lead to so many awesome opportunities and experiences.

Your support of this blog, just by reading it, means the world to me. The likes and comments you leave are like bacon frosting on meatloaf cupcakes. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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Wordless Wednesday; Spring in the Mountains

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Wordless Tuesday: Spring in the Mountains

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Earth Day 2012

For most farmers and ranchers, everyday is Earth Day. Talk to any farmer or rancher, they are always worried about the environment, it’s “too hot, too dry, too wet, too much sun, not enough sun, too much wind, too many weeds,” I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. However, there is an actual Earth Day, that people not in agriculture, celebrate and acknowledge. I wanted to participate in Earth Day too, but I had choose between staying here on the Ranch, or going to watch my Boyfriend play in the Chico News & Review Cammies.

My little garden with the fake fence that the deer laugh at.

Since I’ve been so critical of the CN&R’s ag reporting, I thought it best to practice what I preach and use the ag degree and basic knowledge of plant science I have acquired to lessen my carbon footprint and to celebrate Earth Day by planting some food. I know the Cammies would have been an awesome time, but since I am a rancher, and the environment is life to me, I felt that planting my garden was a better use of my rare day off. Even though all local music is important to me, and I am trying to lead by example, I’m sure the CN&R will forgive me for living the dream.

Every year, in the spring, without fail, I get spring fever. I break the old VISA out, head to Home Depot, and spend enough money to ensure I’ll stay at my in-town job for another year. About mid-June, right about when everything is ready to harvest, the bane of my existence, rats with horns, (the deer) break into whatever ugly, booby-trapped, excuse for a fenced in garden I have, and eat all things. Then they poop on the bare earth and run away into the night, gleefully laughing and burping cucumber burps.

I planted 2 different types of radishes. They both have the same amount of days until harvest, so it will be a surprise every time I harvest!

I swear, I’m never, ever, ever going to plant another thing until I have a proper fenced in garden, or greenhouse, or move to town where people don’t have to deal with the damned deer. Every year, about mid-April, the cycle starts again. Sigh.

Hundreds dollars and three years later, I’m getting a whisper better at the deer control. As you recall last year, I went a little crazy buying dwarf citrus trees and planting them in up-cycled cattle supplement tubs. My logic behind the tree planting was the deer wouldn’t eat them! The deer ate them. Several rolls of wire and tree cages later, the deer can’t eat the trees and they just happen to form a convenient fence that does a decent job of keeping the deer out. I’ve also added a wire fence around my raised bed, making it even harder for those damned deer to get in, and next weekend, it’s getting a lid!

I love supplement tubs! They make the perfect radish bed.

Now my grand plan is to continue planting trees as the cattle continue to eat their supplements. In another year or two I should have enough containers to plant a tree fence all the way around my yarden. Until that time, I am continuing with the ugly, booby-trapped ultimate-fail, garden.

So be ready for a blog I will write in a couple of months where I swear I’m going to get tags and have garden-finished venison for dinner.

My poor citrus tree fence. The trees are slowly recovering from the vicious deer attacks of last summer.

As a reminder, gardening is hard work. I’m hot, sweaty, sun burned, cranky, and I have a blister. Remember that when you feel guilt about not having a garden! There is a reason why people stopped doing it. Incidentally, if you chop jalapeno peppers the night before, and wear your garden gloves the next day, the sweat from your hands will activate the pepper burn from the night before. And there is nothing you can do about that once it happens (protip: wear gloves when you cut hot peppers! For the love of God).

But on the flip side, gardening is fun! I burned so many calories, I can have a milkshake later if I want to, I’m going to have really yummy veggie’s later this summer (or rather the deer will), and this is an excellent reminder to myself that not everyone wants to or can garden and it is really incredible that we have that choice.

The Boyfriend's "new" saddle.

Ok, off my choice soapbox, and back to Earth Day. Like I mentioned above, in honor of Earth Day, I finished my garden (I mean, is a garden really ever finished?), and my boyfriend and I oiled saddles (that way we can use horses to check cows and not ATV’s).

Isn't this a neat old saddle? Look at the brass horn.

One cool method of gardening I would like to share with you is growing potatoes vertically instead of in a plot. Since I only have a small raised bed in my yarden, I try to maximize my growing space by using  a lot of containers. Also anytime I can add to my deer fence, I’m game. You can google this method and find some really great tutorials. I’m going to give you the quick and dirty cheat-sheet here.

Potatoes growing up!

I made a cage of  up-cycled wire and cultivated the earth inside of it, placing the sprouted Yukon Gold potatoes in a circle in the cage. I covered them in soil and when they sprouted, I lined the sides of cage with paper, and I added mulch to cover the vines.

The vine covered in mulch.

I will continue to do this, letting the vine grow, building the cage with paper and covering in mulch, until I reach the top of my cage. When that happens, expect another blog about how to harvest them and some yummy recipes. Happy Earth Day!

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Wordless Wednesday: the things you do to amuse yourself in the country

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The Continuing Quest; CN&R

I enjoy learning. I enjoy a challenge. I also LOVE to “stir the pot”  or “push the envelope”. Mainly because this is how I learn best. Getting outside my comfort zone often forces me to think about a subject in a way I never considered before, which usually leads me to a new point of view. This method of learning isn’t always easy for people, but like that Thomas Dewey quote says, “Minds are like parachutes – they only function when open.”

As many of my readers are aware, I’ve been on a quest lately. This quest involves one of our local papers, the Chico News and Review. For as long as I can remember, they have held an “alternative” view about agriculture. Maybe “alternative” isn’t the best word to use, perhaps “negative” would be a better word? Regardless, we are entering our third week of publicly asking CN&R to do their due diligence and report the facts when they talk about agriculture – unfortunately it looks like we are getting the opposite effect.

One of my biggest “beefs” (lol, get it?!), are the sources CN&R use in their paper, in regards to agriculture. They are less then awesome, factual, or science based. For example, I’m willing to bet Farm Sanctuary is not going to provide the best, fact based, and relevant information when it comes to animal agriculture. Same with Grist.com, in all of my many years in agriculture I’ve never once found myself saying to the cowboy next to me, “did you read that well done, fact based article about cattle production in Grist?”

Ms. LaPado's response to Jenny Dewey's (of Chico Locker and Sausage) letter to the editor.

I think a great example of what I am talking about here can be found in this week’s edition of the CN&R. Instead of doing any independent research about the topic, or even verifying the validity of the reported information (you know, like calling the plant that makes LFTB, or interviewing the meat scientists that made themselves available to her), Ms. LaPado regurgitated less than factual information from other media sources. She didn’t even research what LFTB actually looks like, she used a stock picture of mechanically separated meat (MSM), which is chicken. Chickens (poultry) and cows (beef) are two different species, Ms. LaPado.

It’s sad, and I hope I mis-read this, but in a way, I feel like Ms. Lapado’s column tried to “slime” our local butcher shop, Chico Locker and Sausage. This might be a good time to remind Ms. LaPado how supportive Chico Locker is to our local community. Chico Locker has always been very generous with their knowledge and time. In addition to giving demonstrations to our local Weston Price Foundation, they are also incredibly supportive of our local 4-H and FFA groups. They also are one of the few family operated slaughterhouses in our area. Without Chico Locker, this community of local farmers and ranchers would be in a world of pain. My point is, this is a local business that rallies around our community. Trying to portray Chico Locker as the bad guy for providing truthful information to our community, is just wrong and in really poor taste.

The other article that grabbed my attention immediately was about GMO labeling. Well, in addition to a letter to the editor that supports GMO labeling.  California is being threatened with potential legislation that would require labels on food that contain GMO ingredients. The article states that Safeway refused to allow paid signature gatherers to harass their customers. The article didn’t mention that Trader Joe’s did the same thing. Or that food labeled organic is already GMO free. Or that forcing us to label GMO food will make food more expensive. Or that GMO food has been proven safe again and again.

Heck, I even asked the CN&R if they called the manager of Safeway to get their side of the story. And I asked why they didn’t include Trader Joe’s in the article, because they did the same thing. No one responded.

No response, yet.....

Like I mentioned above, we’ve had this little movement going for a couple of weeks now. And it seems to me that the CN&R is enjoying this, it’s like a game to them. They don’t seem to care that beef prices are down, hurting family farmers like me, they don’t seem to care that people are out of jobs because beef plants are closing down. They don’t seem to care that there are repercussions from their actions. That really scares and concerns me.

From Butte County Farm Bureau (another wonderful resource!)

Butte County’s main source of venue is agriculture. We have two agricultural colleges. Hundreds of family farmers and ranchers live, work and die here. So this makes me question – what is behind CN&R’s response?

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Farmers Are True Environmentalists | Blog | Blog | Feedstuffs FoodLink

Predator animals, for the most part, are something that farmers and ranchers must deal with far more than our urban counterparts. When Heather Kingdon wrote her guest post for this blog, she articulated the pain and heartache producers feel when we are unable to protect our animals, far better than I ever could. I think it is very important to show all aspects of our ranches, the good, the bad and the ugly. Hence my latest column…..

http://www.feedstuffsfoodlink.com/ME2/dirmod.asp?sid=124ECF05FDF84451B3E79A337664CA3C&nm=Blog&type=Blog&mod=View+Topic&mid=67D6564029914AD3B204AD35D8F5F780&tier=7&id=5D5F69AEE1F54690B040D285BE097029

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Back in the Saddle Again

I know I’ve been saying this all the time, but what a weekend! This was a biggie. I got a new horse. I know, I know, I can’t believe it either. I can only explain it by saying this was meant to be. My poor readers, you have been forced to read horse related post after horse related blog post. Apparently this fact was not lost on all those in my inner-circle-of-Megan. My Fairy God Mother, Cathie called my Mom last week because there was this horse, a horse named Sue, that Cathie thought was perfect for me. Sue is a mare. And as you recall, mares have not been allowed on this Ranch since the early 1980’s. When my Mom told me about Sue, I immediately dismissed the idea. I’d never been allowed mares, why would I be allowed to have one now?
Well, I don’t know if it’s something in the water from our new well, or my Dad realized how much I miss having a ridable, dependable, Megan appropriate horse, but I was allowed to pursue the possibly of getting Sue. My Boyfriend and I went out to the Trainer where Sue was staying to meet her, and learn a little about her. Sue is an 17 year old retired cutting horse. And she was good at it, in her prime she was ranked 3rd in non-professional cutters. Robert Wagner (yes, the actor), owned her. She ended up being retired at age 12. Her last owners were dispersing their herd and wanted Sue to find a special home, because she was their special little mare. Once I saw her and got to visit with her, I understood why.

Sue saying hi!

She is breathtaking. I’m not just saying that because she is my pretty, pretty, princess horse. She really is beautiful. She is very sweet, alert, curious and SMART! Plus her confirmation and color is just perfect. She is petite, feminine and dainty. She even smells like new horse. Just a lovely little mare.

Watching Sue move through her paces.

After I met Sue and watched her move around the arena, I just knew she would be the perfect little girl for me. But would my Parents allow it? Making that phone call to my Mom, the one where I told her Sue was my dream horse, was sooooooo scary. What if they changed their minds? What if they wanted me to wait for gelding? What if they completely changed their minds and ALL horses were off the table?! I tried not to completely melt down when I called my Mom, I tried to stick to the facts, she was cow-type horse, she was my-sized, well trained, smart, well built, sound, perfect for exposing our cattle to a horse and rider (as Dr. Grandin recommend I do).
They said yes. Yes, Sue could come home, here to the Ranch. We could see if it worked. As long as I was committed to being back in the saddle. Ha! As long as I was committed to being back in the saddle!? Being horseback is more natural to me than walking! When I was a little girl, I couldn’t run, I galloped. Like a horse. All of my most vibrant and happy memories are horse related. Hair didn’t grow on the inside of my legs until my mid-twenties because I rode so much as child and teenager. Being around and on horses is my happy place. It’s what I was born and bred to do, five generations before me lived for horses and cattle. A very large piece of who I am was returning to me. I’m back.
This was Wednesday, when this all came to a head. When I got to send that text that said “it’s a go!!!!!”. I had to wait until Saturday until Sue came home. LONGEST. FOUR. DAYS. OF. MY. LIFE. I spent the week killing time. I cleaned my house. I cleaned my closet (lots and lots of western type jeans available!). I cooked for my Parents. I talked about Sue non-stop. My boss told me to go home early Friday, I’m sure, because I couldn’t shut up about Sue. Friday was the hardest day. It was the day that would not end.

My Boyfriend, the rockstar. And cowboy in training.

My partner in crime/boyfriend/legal counsel, plays in this band called Surrogate (they are really good, you should probably check them out). Friday night they played at a local venue because they were nominated for a Cammie, which oddly enough, is put on by my friends at the Chico News & Review. It’s a wonderful event, all kinds of different, local musicians and bands are showcased and honored. I think it is just awesome the CN&R supports all kinds of music!

Me supporting our local newspaper CN&R, and local bands! I’m trying to lead by example in hopes that the CN&R will support all local ag, like they support all local music! Hey, I can try right?!

Seeing that show couldn’t even calm me down. All I could talk about was Sue. I think my excitement was contagious. Sue was kind of a big deal. I finally had to take myself home at 2:00 A.M. because I was just too excited to stay in town with the Boyfriend, he needed sleep.
Finally. Sue got delivered Saturday evening. She was mine. She was here.

Sue’s first steps at her new home.

I spent the rest of my weekend bonding with Sue. We’ve been taking walks. We’ve been grooming. We’ve had treats. We’ve been taking walks with the Boyfriends (mine and her’s, Leo).

The Boyfriend, having his first ride on his new, old, horse, Leo. They did so well!

We are going to spend this week becoming friends. We are going for walks, we are going to graze, we are going to be groomed. After a day, Sue already nickers to me when I go out to her pen. This coming weekend, we will ride. Before we become a team, I want her to know we are friends, that this is her home, and she is loved.

Grazing and bonding.

I spent my weekend outside with my horse. I am sunburned. I’m covered in horse sweat, hair and dust. I’m exhausted. I stink. I’m sore. I am so stinking happy.

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Rattlesnake Bite

A cold, hard fact about raising animals is bad things will happen. Animals will get hurt. They will get sick. They will die. You cannot avoid it. Losing an animal never gets easier. Seeing an animal in pain never gets easier. As Ranchers it is our job to mitigate these illnesses and deaths to the best of our ability.

We have developed a stellar vaccination, supplement and genetic program, which fortunately keeps them very healthy. We rarely use antibiotics, our Ranch focuses on preventing disease and illness, so we don’t have to use them.

However sometimes things happen to our cattle that we can’t prevent or do too much to fix. We’ve had cattle get hit by lighting, break legs frolicking, people have driven by and shot them. Bad things happen, its a fact.

As you saw before, we have rattlesnakes here on the Ranch. A lot of rattlesnakes actually. Inevitably, every year we have a couple of calves that get bitten. The majority of the time they will live without any intervention from us. The calves are usually never the same though. This is what a fairly fresh snake bite looks like on a calf. We will continue to watch him to make sure it gets better, not worse.


Look at his back thigh.

See the swelling?

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