Another Midwestern State Caves to Big Ag and Bird Flu Hysteria

I loved teaching at The University of Illinois as a Grad student, and I was often assigned to teach English in a stately building named Lincoln Hall. A giant bronze bust of Honest Abe greeted all students and staff at the entrance, in honor of the man who in 1861 famously said,

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Lincoln, First Annual Message (to Congress)

Alas, not many people from the Land of Lincoln, which has instead become the land of tractors with A/C, stereos, and GPS guidance systems, still share such a view.

It was no surprise to see the following headline from WGN Chicago: “Illinois recommends residents halt use of bird feeders, baths,” complete with a stock photo of a hummingbird. The rules were actually nothing but some recommendations, which most literate people will ignore as just more evidence free corporate sponsored agit-prop. The only notable one is the last one, again from WGN: “Avoid feeding wild birds in close proximity to domestic flocks.” Take that, wild things.

This empty rhetoric (I also taught in the Department of Rhetoric) is a diversion away from the real problem, overcrowded factory farms where birds have died by the millions–last count was around 27 million, with 10.3 million coming from just two farms in Iowa–and so we have the classic solution in search of a problem. Even WGN seems to be saying as much with its last sentence:”So far, the [current bird flu] strain has not been detected in any songbird species.” Bird flu is ahead 27 million to 0, and the contest isn’t even over.

Stop Feeding Songbirds (If You’re Easily Frightened)

“Why experts say you should immediately stop filling birdfeeders”. So blares a leading headline on our state’s top “news” site, Al.com. Never mind that there is only one expert cited, and she lives in Minnesota. At any rate, here’s what Dr. Victoria Hall has to say.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks. We have some data from previous outbreaks around the world, but this outbreak is very different. The 2022 outbreak is unique because of the very high levels of transmission of the currently circulating H5N1 virus strain in wildlife.”

Hall

Let me translate:

“…we have a lot of gaps in knowledge about the role of songbirds in HPAI outbreaks.” Trans–We don’t know.

“With minimal viral surveillance being done with songbirds, it is hard to measure the risk of transmission from songbirds to other birds.” Trans–We don’t have enough data to prove anything, but I am an expert, so I don’t need any.

Let me step in to the void with what is actually known. Here’s useful information from the CDC, cited near the end of the article:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 27 million cases of avian influenza have been reported in backyard and commercial poultry as of April 8th. Another 637 cases have been reported in wild birds in 31 states, including Alabama. The Alabama case was reported Feb. 23 in an American wigeon found in Limestone County.

AL.com

Divide 637 by 27 million, and you have it–0.0000236% of documented bird flu cases in the US have been found in wild birds. I personally am going to roll the dice and keep my bird feeders full, and my chickens fed. Though I will end with a witty fake headline:

All cases of bird flu reported in Alabama were in the wild bird population.

Of course that number is only one, which occurred almost two two months ago, and was a couple of counties away from here. I just like to live dangerously.

How to Put the Hammer Down on Big Chicken

The AI [Avian Influenza] virus is most often transmitted from one infected flock to another flock by infected birds, people or equipment.

North Carolina State University

In yet another amazing display of smoke and mirrors, the British government has banned free range chickens, and therefore, free range eggs. This rather transparent ploy came as many large indoor factory farms suffered bird flu outbreaks, which the government blamed on free range flocks, which strangely enough, were not experiencing the same levels of infection. Free range eggs, however, had taken over two-thirds of the consumer market in the UK, with five large grocery market chains selling nothing but free range eggs. Now that market share will be shifted back to factory farmed eggs.

This is the politics of Big Chicken–if you can’t beat the competition, have the government shut them down.

And it isn’t just free range chickens that are taking the blame–there are also those pesky wild birds. The following quote came from the NPR website, under the title of “A worrisome new bird flu is spreading in American birds and may be here to stay.” Here’s what one of the people who head Big Chicken in the US has to say–

“So I think I am kind of holding my breath this month,” says Denise Heard, director of research programs for the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.

The virus has a number of ways to get from wild birds into poultry, says Heard. Since the last outbreak, the industry has worked to educate farmers about how to protect their flocks.

“Wild migratory waterfowl are always flying over the top and when they poop, that poop gets on the ground,” she says, explaining that the virus can then get tracked into bird houses on boots or inadvertently moved from farm to farm on vehicles.

Heard says there currently seems to be less spread of the virus from farm to farm than was seen during the last major outbreak. Instead, there are more isolated cases popping up, perhaps because wild birds are bringing the viruses to farms and backyard flocks.

NPR, April 9, 2022

There is just enough truth here that it makes the idea of 5 million chicken mega-farms being composed of “bird houses” more than particularly hilarious. Migratory waterfowl do in fact suffer from bird flu, but they don’t die at nearly the death rates that battery caged chickens suffer. The slip-up comes when Ms. Heard says the virus is “moved from farm to farm,” which will be obvious when spring migration ends, and the disease just keeps on trucking.

My crystal ball tells me the next scapegoat will be backyard flocks. After all, of the more than 13 million diseased and culled poultry that Iowa had in March 2022, 53 were from backyard flocks. Just do the math. The interwebs is already full of do’s and don’ts for local chicken. Big Chicken gets a pass.

However, don’t expect anything from Big Chicken except higher prices, windfall profits, and the same low quality products. Therefore, I am proposing a Joel Salatin, aka the world’s most famous farmer, style solution to the problem: do nothing, as long as part of the nothing includes buying none of their products. Salatin, who is the right kind of conservative, in that he works to conserve the environment, says you can protest, lobby, and write all the letters that you want, but if you still buy those McNuggets regularly, Big Chicken just doesn’t care.

So the next time an industry plays the old look over here, not there, game, just assume they have something to hide. I know where my eggs come from, and its from our big chickens, but not Big Chicken.

With Five Million Chickens on One Farm, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Actually, there were two farms in Iowa that had more than five million chickens each. Were. Iowa, the largest egg producer in the US, obviously is interested in quantity rather than quality. Now they have 10.3 million fewer chickens because of just two mega-farms, all in the space of one month.

Factory farms are justifiably notorious for the use of battery cages for chickens, that are too small for the chickens to even turn around. Disease will spread throughout an entire population of birds in no time due to the overcrowded conditions. But the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture thinks he has found the true culprits in this story–wild birds.

The theory is that asymptomatic migratory birds transmit bird flu to chickens that are locked up tight from both reporters and wild birds. As imaginative as I usually am, I am at a loss to see how this transmission occurs, short of crows with crowbars. Even sabotage by the Animal Liberation Front sounds more plausible (ALF has the most unintentionally humorous website on this planet).

Anyway, the numbers, via the Iowa Capital Dispatch

March 17–5.3 million chickens to be culled from one farm

March 31–5 million chickens to be culled from another farm

I foresee more to come. Those pesky wild birds are everywhere.

Want Jumbo Eggs? Raise Jumbo Chickens

Double Extra Large

Our Barred Rock chickens have passed their third birthday, and are still churning out some eggs. Not only that, but they continue increasing in magnitude. Here are the USDA grades for eggs:

Size or Weight ClassMinimum net weight per dozen
Jumbo30 ounces
Extra Large27 ounces
Large24 ounces
Medium21 ounces
Small18 ounces
Peewee15 ounces

Notice these are per dozen sizes. Therefore I have deduced the per egg sizes. I just give the three largest:

Jumbo–2.5 oz per egg

Extra large–2.25 oz per egg

Large–2 oz per egg

Obviously the grades are divided by increments of .25 oz, which makes perfect sense, but these grades are intended for commercial producers. For home growers who sell a few eggs, I propose a couple of new marketing categories:

Double Extra Jumbo–3 oz per egg

Extra Jumbo–2.75 per egg

The Jumbo is considered a rarity in the commercial market, but two out of a random dozen of our eggs that I weighed were Jumbo eggs, and one was a 2x. This size was not at all unusual:

Extra Jumbo

Using these new size categories could mean a few extra bucks at the farmer’s market this year, for growers of quality eggs. I think we will have a couple of 2x jumbo eggs for breakfast today.

Send Ukraine Aid, and Russia US Factory Farmed Chicken

Talk about chemical and biological warfare! I am taking my idea from Steve Ellis, the founder of the Chipotle restaurant chain. In the early 2000’s, McDonalds owned a 90 percent share of Chipotle. That was when they made the mistake of inviting Mr. Lee to tour one of their chicken producing farms in the South.

To get to the point, Lee said it was absolutely the most disgusting sight that he had “ever seen in his life.” Soon thereafter, McDonalds sold off all of its stake in Chipotle.

The trick is to make a great diplomatic offer of free chicken to Russia, to be supplied by McDonalds. In fact, also re-open all the now closed McDonalds in Russia. Both Vlad and Ronald McDonald will be happy, as well as all the cardiac specialists in Russia. Their business will boom.

A modest proposal, endorsed by both Big Pharm and Big Chicken. I know of a couple of senators that I can likely get on board as well, like the one from Alabama who said we absolutely have to help the Uranian people-his spelling, not mine.

Fire Pit Chicken with Carrots and Purple Fingerling Potatoes, and Brioche Rolls

One Hot Bird

There’s nothing I like better than cooking a meal that requires welding gloves. This is a sure enough one, as that fire was as hot as seven little devils. Fortunately I had my crane arrangement with S-hooks, and could move the dutch oven up and down that chain. There isn’t a tremendous amount to this, but it’s all about heat and good ingredients.

Ingredients

One blazing hot Fire

Home-rendered Lard (bacon fat)

One chopped Onion

One organic Chicken

Organic Carrots

Organic fingerling Taters

White wine

Salt and Pepper

The only trick here is to sear the chicken in the lard before the other ingredients are added. Then de-glaze the dutch oven with the wine, and add the onions first, and then the other two veggies. An inch of water and a heavy dutch oven lid will turn this rig into a primitive pressure cooker. Those little taters cook fast, so don’t mess around.

The pot juices make a superior sauce or gravy, especially if you brined your bird. Any kind of bread with gravy is good, but the brioche rolls allow us to get rid of some of our surplus of eggs. It’s either that, or give them to the in-laws.

Chicken Liver and Mushroom Pate

Burning Down the House

No critter, not even an Aussie Shepherd, likes chicken livers as much as I do. Fried, and with ketchup, are good, but pâté is supreme. Here’s how I make it, which means simplicity, along with some fire, is better.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon Butter

1/4 pound Chicken Livers

Salt

A handful of Porcini Mushrooms–I rehydrate dried ones

1 clove chopped Garlic

Enough Brandy to set the house on fire (that’s a joke)

A few drops of Heavy Cream

Heat the butter at medium heat, and fry the livers with a pinch of salt–they don’t need much. Throw in the diced Porcini when almost cooked, add the garlic, and prepare for the conflagration.

Pour in the brandy and light her up. Poof! There is nothing as good as a kitchen fire, unless it is a sure enough grease fire. A good hot fire is the last step in the cooking.

After things cool off, pour the livers and mushrooms into a food processor. MJ and I had to step up to the plate and buy a French made Robot Coupé machine, which is advertised as “Three Robots in One.” That company did invent the things.

Add the cream–NOT TOO MUCH–to make the stuff even richer than it already is, and let the robot go to work. I leave some texture to the meat, as I didn’t like baby food even when I was a baby. Put it into a terrine/custard cup and refrigernator it. From this point, get as Frenchified as you want–I love this with a crostini, a cornichon, and nothing else. There is nothing like this kind of food to make life worth living.

The Chicken’s New Dishwasher

New to Them

The junk pile groweth. The latest addition is a dishwasher tub, another ingenious idea from Melanie Jane-I guess she wasn’t a Phi Beta Kappa (farm girl) for no reason. Our twenty year old dishwasher blew a gasket, and the gasket wasn’t worth replacing. She said–put the main plastic part into the chicken’s junk yard. Mission Accomplished, and no chickens were harmed.

Nothing Like Junk

The birds like their junkyard as much as the digital sheep in the phenomenal British show Shaun the Sheep. Inventory reveals one mailbox, where the vast majority of our eggs come from, a red wheelbarrow, two tires, and now the dishwasher.

The bottom of the washer is leftover plywood, and the front is leftover 2×4. Some pine shavings and it’s done. Broody Bird, a Barred Rock, was the first in there. The ISA Browns like the dirt under there. I expect eggs in the dishwasher in the next week or so.

Shirley the Sheep, our favorite character from Shaun the Sheep, would be proud.

Amish Made Berry Basket

Blueberry Muffins for Breakfast this Week

It’s always a pleasure to know where a product or ingredient comes from–I think it’s called accountability. Not only did this come from the Amish region of Ohio, but its maker was proud enough to sign his name to the basket–a Mr. Jonas Miller. We liked this so much we bought a matching piece to use on the center of our dining room table.

The uprights of the basket are nailed to a solid wood bottom with brass nails. Then the splints are used to shape the piece.The top is a piece of woven Raffia sandwiched between to splints. The belt loops are made of some very nice leather.

We purchased these from the best of the old school hardware stores, Lehman’s in Ohio, which was originally founded to serve the Amish community. If it isn’t top quality, Lehman’s will not sell it.

This basket is in for a long hot summer, as this was only the first picking from our eight Blueberry bushes. We leave some berries for our winged friends, and throw some to the chickens. There is no better way to start a chicken riot than to throw ripe blueberries into the chicken run.

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