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Guest Post: A Piggy Tale

Living and working on this ranch give me the opportunity to share this lifestyle with others. Sometimes that is as simple as inviting friends to come over for a hike, but sometimes it involves giving my friends animal body parts. My friend amazing Alyssa asked me for some body parts for her kids, now I know this might sound weird or strange at first, but stay with us here. When I figured what she was planning to do, I squealed with delight because this is something I’ve heard a lot about but never seen done. Know what? I’m going to let her tell you what she did….

A Piggy Tale

by Alyssa Manes

When I was young, I loved to read. I picked books based on author (I read all the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley), based on cover (King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry), and based on title (The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnett). There were books I didn’t read for the same reason, and Little House on the Prairie series was one of them. One cover had a girl holding a doll, and that definitely wasn’t a book for me. I’m so glad that having children has given me a chance for a second childhood! We borrowed Little House books on audio CD from our local library to listen to, because our homeschool co-op group was doing a unit on the Little House time period.

Now one of the many advantages of home school is the ability to do some really neat hands-on projects with your kids that might be impractical in a larger group. So when we listened to Little House in the Big Woods, and heard the mention of playing with a pig bladder like a ball….well…..why not try it out? All we needed was a pig bladder and a bit of willingness to try something new.
My friend Megan has a ranch and has started breeding heritage pigs, and was very gracious about hooking us up with several fresh bladders. So here’s how it went down:


The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

The pig bladder. Note it is about the size of her hand.

I have three children – my son, the oldest, is cautious (which is great because he’ll be driving first), the second has special needs (I think she was napping during our bladder experiment) and the youngest girl is full of joy and mischief.  My plan was for my oldest and youngest to follow instructions and blow up the bladders while I took pictures and helped.  No go.  The youngest was excited to help, but at the age of two, she was a little limited in her ability.  She did hold the pig bladder and watched me closely.  The oldest became the photographer and watched me blow them up.  Now I supposed I could have blown directly into the bladder….after all it didn’t really smell or look all that awful.  But I took the easy route and used a drinking straw.   It actually fit perfectly in the urethra (I’m pinching that part in picture below).  I had a really hard time finding the “tube” that carried urine to the bladder.  I’m not sure if it was a smaller part attached to the urethra or if it was either so small or had some valve to keep the air from flowing out that we never had a leaky bladder once we blew one up.


Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Pinching the urethra of a pig bladder.

Considering the bladder started about the size of my hand, it actually expanded quite a bit (see below). When the bladder was full of air, I pinched the urethra as I pulled out the straw, and had my son help me tie a piece of thread around it. I tried once or twice to use the urethra to tie it off like a balloon, but things were too slippery and/or the tube was just too short.
So there you have it!

Blowing the bladder up

Blowing the bladder up

Getting bigger!

Getting bigger!

Once the bladders dried, I suppose you could have played with them. They have a bit of a crinkly sound now, but they have lasted a year and a half looking like this:

Dried bladders.

Dried bladders.

The fat on them is a little greasy, but the main bladder part is translucent and oddly beautiful.

Bladder balloon!

Bladder balloon!

If I had to rate this “activity” as a family experience, here is what I would say:

  • not very stinky/smelly (although my dog thinks differently and is hoping that a dried bladder will come within her reach)
  • fascinating to see the bladder inflate and to think of its usefulness in historical terms as a child’s “toy”
  • didn’t take very long
  • medium gross-factor


  • tying the string while holding the bladder was a little challenging, since my oldest didn’t want to get too close to the bladder
    wrangling a toddler with gross hands (but this part is still totally worth it in my book….as long as she doesn’t try touching my face…)

Overall, a really cool and memorable experience. Thanks, Megan, for the opportunity to do something so unique!


Thanks for sharing this project with us Alyssa! As an avid reader of the Little House books myself, this was so fun to read about!

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Guest Post: Ode to Sanadian

Those of us lucky enough to be raised around horses will tell you, we always have “that” special horse. My Dad had Leo and I had Dusty. These horses are once in a lifetime horses. Our memory makers. Our companions and friends. When Carol sent me this post I cried when reading it, it reminded me of  my Dusty horse so much. Carol has been great help to me with my Throwback Thursday posts, and really has a knack for writing. I was super excited when she agreed to do a guest post for theBeefJar.com!

A Bittersweet Farewell

by Carol Viscarra

Today… I start my day in it’s usual way ~~ a stout cup of iced coffee, a leisurely moment at the computer, trying to search out something positive from the news headlines, something to tie my anchor to in our complex and puzzling world. Pausing to reflect about ALL that is good and right in my world. And indeed, there is so much to be thankful for.

But today is NO usual day. I cannot begin to pretend that it is. Today we say a final goodbye to a beloved horse, Sanadian, that has been a living, breathing, partner in our family, helping our family with one of the most precious tasks of all, the rearing of our grandchildren. Some of you will stop reading right here, and that is OK, for your life experiences may not have gifted you an understanding of emotion I wish to share.

Sanadian came to our family “free”. He had some stiffness in his front shoulder that made it difficult for him to continue the hard physical work as a “cowboy’s” horse. But here, in Indian Valley, he was to meet a little girl who needed a horse to call her own and it would be his job now to teach her what it meant to truly have a cowgirl’s heart .

Sanadian exited the trailer, his lead rope handed directly to the 3 foot tall little person who was to become his master….he paused, leaned forward and exquisitely lowered his muzzle to take in a full breath of the smell of this little person…and Faith Ann, as if on cue, stood on her highest tippy toes, offering the full measure of her face and being ..as if to say “Hello” friend. And from that simple moment in time..in the matter of instant, a bond was forged that would prove life changing for Faith Ann.

Was Sanadian a “kids horse”??? That is an easy answer. That would be a most definite NO…he was an alpha male…a pistol… Had spent years in Idaho as a ranch horse with a no nonsense job… Always in charge…keeping his rider safe but cutting no slack for stupidity, ignorance or mistakes…..not even if you were 3 foot tall and 5 years old.

Sanadian let FaithAnn take her fair share of falls… you could almost read his mind “put me on a cow sister..and you better hang on”. But when she would come off, he was so purposely careful not to step on her or injure her… he would stop.. put his muzzle to the ground where she lay and look at her as if to say…”get on girlfriend..let’s try that again” Barrels and poles..what is THAT?? Well OK.. I will do it but I don’t have to like it!! Scooby Doo race..now wait just about a minute…When Sanadian would find himself in the unfortunate position of being scrubbed, shampooed and polished…he would heave a huge sighs… because he knew what indignities awaited him… another kids gymkhana or parade…

This horse embodied and complimented Faith Ann’s human family in cultivating the “traits of the soul”. Be kind, be fair, honorable to your responsibilities to those who need you , and if you are gonna ride…ride like the wind!!

And now we know that the time has come to say goodbye..before another cold hard winter..a winter that leaves you, Sanadian, weak and thin, ribby and rough coated. A shell of your former beauty and grace…the bright light in your eyes dimmed.

Your human family owes you a huge debt of gratitude. We owe you the dignity in death that you embodied in life, to NOT find yourself down in the cold mud, no longer able to rise on your own. To NOT be able to take in enough nutrition to sustain yourself.

Sanadian, your final task is done.

Faith Ann has the true heart of a cowgirl!!

FaithAnn and Sanadian

FaithAnn and Sanadian

My Parting Prayer
St. Francis
to come escort this beloved companion 
across the Rainbow Bridge.
Assign Sanadian to a place of honor,
for he has been a faithful servant
Bless, Roberta, and the hands that send him to you, 
for they are doing so in love and compassion,
Grant us the strength not to dwell on our loss.
 Help us remember the details of his life
 and the love he has shown Faith Ann
Thank you, Lord, 
for the gift of his companionship
and for the many lessons taught

Carol can be reached at narmrn@frontiernet.net

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Guest Post Meet Your Beef: California Drought on a Central Valley Ranch

I met my friend Brooke on social media. We are both multi-generational cattle ranchers, who are very passionate about our way of life. Brooke has a wonderful blog where she details her life. Because of the hurtful and ignorant comment made by my local environmental group (which I am now a member of), I decided to attempt to humanize this drought, so they could see the farmers and ranchers and families behind it. Brooke was kind enough to let me re-blog her original post (please see here).



My friend and fellow blogger, Megan Brown, over at The Beef Jar recently uncovered some rather hurtful words that her local Butte Environmental Council shared on their Facebook page. After I saw what’s pictured below, I decided that maybe I should continue to share how real the drought in the Central Valley is and how it has hurt my family’s business as well as multiple farmers and ranchers in the area. Just to be clear: my intent in writing these posts is to share our business, foster agricultural education, and develop conversation pieces that may lead to a better understanding for the greater good. I hope it comes off that way.

Here is what Butte Environmental Council put on their Facebook page that inspired this post:

Cry me a River??

Cry me a River??

My mom is the 3rd generation cattle rancher and she runs the ranch my grandparent’s fought hard to preserve all their life. As most everyone knows by now, over the last 4-5 years we have had a heck of a time with the drought. 2014 has been the worst. The ranch we raise our beef on solely relies on annual rainfall to grow the native grass to feed our cattle. There is no irrigation on this land. Average annual rainfall for us is somewhere around 12-13″ a year. This year, there was no rain in December and most of January (typically wet months for us). Our grand total was a whopping 4.89″ of rainfall. That was also accompanied by record high temperatures.

We take pride in how well we manage our ranch land but regardless of what we did this year, there was no saving it from devastation. Between the months of January and April we had to cull 20% of our herd as well as spread our cattle out amongst another field just to sustain them and the land. 20% of any business is no small amount… especially when these animals are your livelihood. My mom has worked her whole life to build these genetics, making the decision to sell those cows not just a business decision, but an emotional one as well. To make matters even worse we also had to buy and feed 3 times the amount of hay this year (it’s outrageously priced right now because demand is so high).

Relying on Mother Nature is a gambling business. We know that. I can remember growing up when ever we would sit down to a large meal in celebration of someone’s birthday, we would say a prayer before eating. My grandfather would always chime in at the end of that prayer with “and PLEASE don’t forget the rain!” It became a bit of a joke then because he’d say it regardless of the season (we have a lot of June birthday’s in our family and it tends to be in the 100’s then). But this is no joke. This drought is real and it is hitting the bottom line for every farmer and rancher in the state of CA and beyond.

Some close family friends of ours, the Estills, who are also a multi-generational cattle ranching family in both CA and NV have sold a staggering 60% of their herd this year due to drought. 60%!!

A family whom leases part of our ranch also grows oranges in the surrounding area. On my way to the ranch I pass their orchard. They put up this sign that reads “No water. No trees. No work. No food.” And behind that sign is acres upon acres of DIRT.

No Water Sign No Water, No Trees, No Jobs, No Food

No Water Sign
No Water, No Trees, No Jobs, No Food


Orange Trees that have been ripped out

Orange Trees that have been ripped out


There used to be a beautiful grove of orange trees but they were forced to rip them out due to the water crisis. I can’t imagine what kind of financial impact that will have on their business. For the people of the same mindset as Butte Environmental Council, this isn’t just a bunch of propaganda. It’s real life and it’s devastating. We aren’t a bunch of “giant agribusinesses”. We are close knit families trying to carry on traditions and a passion for this industry that our mothers, fathers, great grandmothers/grandfathers and so on worked tirelessly to build.

A recent drought impact study published by UC Davis (read more here) states that the total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion! Amongst other things, there was a loss of 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs related to Ag which represents 3.8% of farm unemployment. Regardless of whether someone is directly connected to Agriculture in this state or not, those numbers tell a brutal story.

I will leave you all with a video that my mom and I were asked to be a part of for a news station from France that was covering the drought here in CA. This video was done in March when the grass was still green. It is now very brown, very sparse, and very brittle.

Having trouble viewing the video above? Click below to see it on YouTube!

California Drought on a Central Valley Cattle Ranch


Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, Beef, Field Trip, food, Know a California Farmer, Media, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized, Video

Guest Post: Anjanette Shadley Martin

I’m a huge fan of guest posts. I always learn something. I get a new point of view. It’s all good stuff. I’ve been after many of my friends to write posts for me, and when they do I get all kinds of happy! Anjanette has been a long time commenter on thebeefjar.com but this is her first post here! Thank Anjanette, I appreciate your hard work!


AgChat Foundation was started by farmers and ranchers and those in the agricultural community; throughout the United States, even the world, a “place” to tell their story, share and even dispel false and negative information to a broad audience that would not otherwise be possible.

When only 2% of the population make their living in agriculture the need to share their stories through social media platforms and engage those; who in this generation have probably never even seen a farm, becomes increasingly important to its future. I became involved in AgChat to tell the story of water and the environment. Similarly, northern California where we have an abundance of the water resources and the least population in the state, it’s become clear that we must share “our story.” The story of the Sacramento Valley as an essential part of California’s economic well being and long term viability must be told. Our local communities and water resources are intertwined as it supports healthy ecosystems, recreation and highly productive farming that support the region’s economy and communities.

Western Canal WD started a “Wildlife and Rice Farming” webcam to share the part of this “story” through multiple social media platforms i.e. Twitter, YouTube, Vine, Pintrest, and Instagram. Some we use more than others for various reasons; at the #AgChat Northwest Regional Conference in Portland at the end of January, I will be leading session on the pros and cons of each platform so you can decide which one(s) are best for you. There are other sessions led by today’s leading agricultural bloggers and social media experts to help farmers and ranchers to gain the skills to engage in and build social communities to tell their story of agriculture and #Agvocate for our way of life. To sign up for the AgChat Northwest Regional Conference go to agchat.org.

For local examples of Agvocates follow Megan Brown @MegRaeB and Jenny Dewey Rohrich @Jenlynndewey and of course Western Canal Water District @WCWDwebcam.

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Guest Post: The City Girl That Dreams of Being a Country Girl

Those of you that have been following my blog for a while remember my adult 4-H program. I asked the Ladies to write a guest post for me if they felt like it. Again, I have a tendency to take my life for granted, cows and pigs and horses are my daily life. I love when I can get into someone’s head and see my life from their point of view, it helps me understand what and how I need to speak to people.

Shannon was not an original 4-H member. At the beginning of this project she was busy! She was in law school (!), has a family and a fulltime job, (having dropped out of law school, I know what that stress was like (OH SO SCARY! Run away, run away!)), anyway, Shannon wanted to raise a pig, but couldn’t. So I told her I would do it for her and she could come out as much or as little as she could.

Well she ended up coming out a lot, helping with the hogs and cattle. And she was darn good help! I’ve noticed some people have a natural knack for working around animals, she is one of those people. I got to know her and her daughter Olive, better as well, and I’m really glad I did. I’m looking forward to many, many  more fun adventures with both of them (also: keep your eyes open for a pony for Olive, she needs one out here)!

I am super stoked to share with you Shannon’s guest post, enjoy!

Disclaimer: Megan called me up and asked if I’d be willing to write something for her blog. I was hesitant at first; I’m not much of a writer. In fact I’d rather be doing calculus problems then writing. But with the advent of the internet and everyone else thinking they are writers, how bad can it be?

I had the pleasure of helping Megan out with her Adult 4H pig project. She pretty much adopted me into the program. I work fulltime, was in law school at nights, and I have a family at home. So I initially told her I’d pass on the project as I had no more time to give to anyone else. But I ended up taking my daughter out to see the pigs on a number of occasions and helped Megan make them food. I found Megan, her Ranch, and the pigs to be so relaxing that I had to keep coming back to escape the crazy, hectic life I had made for myself.
Some background about me: I grew up in a suburb of San Diego in a basic 3 bedroom, 2 bath house. I loved gardening and my family had a variety of pets from dogs, rabbits, birds, and fish. Each year we’d go to the Del Mar Fair (now called the San Diego County Fair) and I’d marvel at the cows, pigs, sheep, and goats and all the young kids rising and taking care of them. But I never had to chance to do anything like that. I am thankful to Megan for giving me that opportunity.

Me, circa 1990

Me, circa 1990

I met Megan about 5 years ago at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She brought meat cupcakes. We talked grass-fed beef. And eventually I bought a half-cow from her.
It has become more important to me over the years for my family to eat healthy food. And a big part of that is knowing where our food comes from. I like knowing what goes into making my food. We grow most of our vegetables, we eat very little breads, starches, and sugars, and I like knowing that the meat we eat was raised humanely and fed well because what the animal eats, my family will eventually be eating. It just gives me peace of mind in this crazy world.
Side story… On one of our trips to visit the pigs Megan let my daughter and I herd cattle. Oh…my…gosh…I LOVED it. Basically the cattle already knew what to do. They’ve been walking from one huge field to the next for the fresh, better grass for years. There was one older cow and you could tell by her body language that she wasn’t too interested in moving. She walked slow and was unimpressed by the 4 wheelers coming her way. She was the last cow we needed to get into the neighboring field. So what did she do? She crossed a rather large creek to avoid us. It felt like she just gave us a cow’s version of, “F-you”. Megan got out of the vehicle and convinced her to cross back over the creek and into the adjacent field. I have 100% respect for that cow and Megan!
Back to the pigs… The first time we visited the piglets, I brought the whole family: my significant other, Jason, and our daughter, Olive. We had a great time and Olive got to feed the pigs and pet them. When we came out additional times, Jason didn’t want to come. I finally asked why. He grew up on a ranch where they raised pigs, chickens, and goats for his family’s food. He’d been through the raising of the animals, helped with the slaughter, and helped put the food on the table. (His grandma actually did most of the work, killing the animals and all. She’s currently 99 and a half. She told me you get to count the half’s when you get to be that old.) Although Jason is thoroughly enjoying the pork, he didn’t want to get attached to the animal that he would eventually be eating. I can respect that. Ranch life isn’t for everyone. And he’s been there, so he knows. In fact I would say it isn’t for most people. It’s easy to walk into the grocery store and buy the attractively wrapped meat that doesn’t have a face. It’s much more difficult to feed and care for these animals every day without a vacation, and then eat them. That takes a different type of person to do that day in and day out.
So Olive and I would still come out and bring the pigs treats. We’d also help Megan with cooking all the food. She would spend all weekend cooking up vats and vats of food for the pigs to eat for the week. I really don’t know how she did that all especially with her full-time job during the week. What a crazy time commitment. And also why I’d make a bad rancher…I like my vacations!

Slaughter day… I left Olive home for this one. She is only 2 years old. Although I think it’s important for her to know where her food comes from, this wasn’t the right time.
We waited around for the slaughter truck to show up. I wondered how I would feel about this. I’ve fed and petted these pigs too; will I feel bad or sad? I wasn’t there every day like Megan was so my attachment is much less. I was more nervous about my reaction then the actual event.
The truck showed up and the butchers got ready. A small caliber rifle was brought out. The butcher walked into the pig pen with some food. A pig came up and BANG, the deed was done. The butcher quickly cut a small hole in the pig’s jugular and the pig bled out. I was surprised how fast it was. There was some shaking as the body released its energy. But it was all pretty tame under the circumstances. If I had to choose a way to go, that would be it. Quick and painless. Then what surprised me more was the next pig that walked up to get food, completely unaware and uncaring that his buddy no longer existed and was laying there right next to him. BANG! And repeat the quick jugular cutting.
The two pigs were brought out of the pen and were put onto tables so the cutting process could begin. They were washed and cleaned up. Their hooves were removed and they were skinned. Then the organs were removed. The butchers walked us through the process and showed us everything. It was all quite fascinating. I looked over at the other pigs while all of this is happening and they are milling about in the pen like nothing occurred. Like it was any old day. I don’t know if they were oblivious or just didn’t give a shit, maybe a little of both. Pigs aren’t the nicest of animals.
So how did I feel? I felt honored to be a part of this process. The butchers respected these animals. There was no malice or disregard that these were living beings. These pigs were treated with respect and kindness the whole time. These pigs were here for us to eat and this is just part of their life and they had a great life. I feel that their happy, joyful lives gave me better meat. If an animal is stressed, that goes into their muscles and tissues. Just like humans have adverse health effects from stress, so does an animal.

Olive and her piggies

Olive and her piggies

I really enjoyed the process of helping to raise my own animal for food. I liked knowing what it ate and that they got exercise and rooted about and dug things up and were basically being pigs. Thanks Megan for giving me this opportunity to help you, and I look forward to our next venture together.

Yummy pork chop

Yummy pork chop

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, Beef, family, Guest Post, photos, Pigs, Ranch life, Uncategorized

Agriculture Proud: I am a commercial cattle rancher.

OK, I feel like a cheater butt to re-blog this on my blog, but it’s a big deal to be on Ryan’s blog and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was really exciting for me. I hold Ryan in very high esteem. I think he is doing more the the beef industry than certain industry groups. He’s earning his masters right now, so he allowed his blog to be high-jacked by the Ag Chat Banditas (see the incredible support system agriculture has, this is one of the many reasons I love ag so much!). Any way please go check out Ryan’s blog, it is so well done and so informative! Thank you.

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Guest Post: Eat Retreat 2012

While I was at California State University, Chico, earning my degree, I had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of different people from various ag backgrounds. I managed to keep in touch with several friends from college, and it’s been pretty fun to watch them go out into the world. I met my friend Emily through our membership in Alpha Zeta (that is a smart kid club, FYI), she is the epitome of going out into the world and changing it. Unfortunately, while I cannot attend this event, hopefully some of you in internet land can have the pleasure (if you do please consider doing a guest post for me!)


Eat Retreat is back on for its 2nd year! Food community leaders from around the country will come together for a weekend long burn-out-cure full of the kind food and lifestyle that we all want to share with the world.

Courtyard party Photo credit: James Collier

Last year, we stayed on a 12,000 acre mountain ranch in Mendocino County. This year, we are upping the stakes with a sustainable farm and ranch in the beautiful Los Altos Hills, just south of San Francisco. Picture 48 hours of cooking collaboration, showing off your skills in food demonstrations, and most importantly sitting back with a good snack and new friends.
On the farm, we’ll learn about sustainable farming and ranching in California, and be able to create meals out of the farm’s produce.

Pig breakdown Photo credit: James Collier

In our first year, Eat Retreaters included brewers, coffee roasters, jammers, food photographers, chefs, food health advocates, writers, journalists, farmers market organizers and more! Since that glorious weekend, Retreaters have collaborated together for new food and cooking projects, and simply made new friends to lean on for creative inspiration.

Food lesson 1 Photo credit: James Collier

My favorite story of collaboration involves Bruce Cole, the fantastic editor of Edible San Francisco and Anna Larson, founder of Siren CSA. Anna came to Eat Retreat with a background in seafood working for a wholesale and distribution company. After our weekend ended, he started encouraging her to begin a seafood CSA. With her seafood background, and his entrepreneurial know-how, along with the talent of 2 food photographers, and a web designer, all from Eat Retreat, she created the Bay Area’s first seafood CSA, Siren CSA. Five people, who had never met before Eat Retreat, all came together from their various backgrounds to help start a new business bringing better food to everyone!

Applications are open now until August 24th. Below is some other critical information.

Location: Hidden Villa, Los Altos Hills
Date: October 26-28

Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for reading!

Emily Morgan can be reached at emorgan707@gmail.com.

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Guest Post: Good-bye

Quietly we loaded the bull #55 into the trailer…he has an injured stifle from a bull fight earlier this spring. He must be sold. He is so gentle and kind to humans, walking into the trailer that was parked in the corral. As the trailer door closed and he was eating his hay and grain I had put in a tub for him, I gave him a pat on his broad back and silently said a good-bye. On the way up the hill I told myself again “don’t get attached to Bulls!”…and I felt small tears roll down my cheeks.

Heather Kingdon is a commercial cattleperson, photographer, horsewoman, teacher, artist, mentor, Mother and Grandmother in Plumas County. She can be reached at heatherandbrian.kingdon@gmail.com 

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Filed under Ag, Beef, Guest Post, photos, Ranch life, Uncategorized, Wordless Wednesday

Guest Post: Meet the Drakes

A couple months ago I received an e-mail from someone I went to high school with, she had moved back to her families’ farm and she wanted to meet up and talk grassfed beef. Well you guys know me, I love to talk about beef, but I also keep myself pretty busy these days, so I can be a flat out pain-in-the-butt to pin down. Well after about a month of playing phone, text and e-mail tag, we finally met up at our set of corrals to talk beef and cattle corrals. 

I hadn’t seen Katie since high school. Like all kids that grew up in Chico, I actually have memories of going to her families’ farm to pick pumpkins (they had a you-pick pumpkin farm). They also had draft horses that would pull a wagon around the pumpkin field, it was incredible, even to a ranch kid like me (Ok, I may be just a whisper horse crazy, just a whisper). It was awesome seeing Katie again and I got to meet her husband Brian and their super cute son, Jack. 

It was a great visit and great meeting Katie’s family. I really love what Katie and Brian are doing. They’ve moved back to the family farm and are living the dream. Talking with the Drakes gave me so much hope for the future of my industry! Their goals and beliefs about agriculture mirror mine in a lot of ways. Brian and I got to visit a little more when he brought his horse over to ride with Sue and I. 

Now as you recall Sue is a retired cutting horse, she is fancy pants, I’m not used to riding a horse so well trained. And Sue isn’t used to be a ranch horse. She has to stop to poop, doesn’t like to walk in the mud, and really doesn’t care to be by herself (like some high school girls I know). Anyway Brian gave me some really great tips, that have helped Sue and I immensely. As cliche as it sounds, part of being in agriculture, at least for me, is the culture. The exchange of information, having neighbors you can go to for help or advice when you need it (I think this is why I’ve taken to social media, it’s one big neighborhood of knowledge).

Katie and Brian  are like a breath of fresh air to our ag community. I feel like Butte County will soon be having an ag renaissance (we have a lot of support for ag and its building everyday), and families like the Drakes will be an essential part of agriculture’s success. 

I could go on an on, but I’m going to let Brain Drake do the talking:

The Drake Easter family photo (Brian, Katie, Jack and Emma)

I always jokingly say my son wasn’t born in a barn but we got him into one as soon as possible. It gets laughs and thats why I say it. Its ironic for my wife and I because graduating from college if we had been asked what our future held for us neither of us could have predicted we’d be where we are now. Back to my son though, we literally did get him back into a barn as soon as possible. Our son Jack was born around 8am at a great birth center in Gainesville Fl and by noon that day was asleep in my arms in my blue recliner while mom got some much needed rest in the bedroom of our one bedroom barn apartment. Yep, our apartment was 2 horse stalls renovated into a 400 square foot apartment in a barn. My son Jack has barns in his blood. And horses, they lived a mere cinderblock width away on either side! It was tiny, cramped, we shared it with our border collie Luna, and I always tracked in shavings from the stalls but I look back on that tiny dwelling as the place we brought our first child home to. Even as I think about it now, the thought of my son that tiny, in that place just the the three, er 4(dog) of us wow I was so happy to be a dad, so proud of my wife and on this journey of beginning an ag based lifestyle that now I don’t think I could live without.

Jack checking on the cattle

There is this great book called Little Britches. Its one of my favorites and I’ve read it many times. Its about a family at the turn of the century. The author recalls his experience as an 8 year old boy as his family moved from the east coast to the eastern plains of CO. The first chapter is called ‘Father and I become ranchers.’ My dream for Jack and I! The family lives through incredible catastrophe to flee the hopelessness of the east. To be free, raising livestock, trying to cause produce to grow where it shouldn’t, milking cows, meeting the men of the frontier! Cool stuff. I wonder about my son’s interpretation of his own life.

Jack’s Grandpa Book teaching him about milking a cow

We now live on a great farm here just south of Chico, the Book Family Farm. To him it’s gotta be the land of milk and honey. Really, grandpa has milk cows and sells raw milk, we raise grass fed beef and pasture raised pork and poultry. Much of the produce we eat we grow. For my son and daughter they will grow up being connected to the food they eat and this land that gives life! Here on this little parcel of natural abundance his life isn’t that different from Little Britches author Ralph Moody. And the men of the frontier are still here. Everyday we meet men and women dedicated to this way of life that is rapidly diminishing. We are newbies eager to glean knowledge from those that have been there done that, tried this and that till it finally worked and became sustainable. I have huge admiration for those that have stewarded this land that really does give life.

Brian and Jack with Luna checking on a calf.

I’m a first generation rancher and have so much to learn. And my son Jack, daughter Emma and wife Katie are right there along with me. I spent the last seven years working on a horse ranch in CO and FL. My wife is Katie Book now Katie Drake and we have come home here to Chico CA. Hopefully to raise great kids, be a part of this vibrant community, raise livestock and manage this piece of land with Katie’s family in a way that inspires others to want to know how their food was raised, where it comes from and respect the farmer or rancher responsible for it all. Agriculture is so necessary, but also it’s a way of living that resonates with so many. We are excited to share it! I’m so glad it was shared with me!

Jack and Dynamo

You can reach the Drakes at briankatiedrake@gmail.com


Filed under Ag, Beef, Guest Post, Humor, photos, Ranch life, Uncategorized

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.


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


Filed under Ag, food, Guest Post, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized