Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why Eating Meat is Bad for the Environment

I own sheep and have sold them for meat, but I am still intelligent enough to know that eating meat is bad for the environment.  I should preface this article to also note that when I talk about meat I am speaking more about meat from animals raised on a large scale and not hunted meat.  I also want to note that I am not trying to convince anyone to turn vegetarian, but rather suggest we should eat less meat to reduce the negative impact of livestock production on the environment.


One of the biggest concerns for the planet as a whole is deforestation.  Vast areas of rain forest in North and South America have been lost due to deforestation to make way for grazing land or to turn a forest into a hay field (or to grow other feed for livestock).  There are many negative implications when a forest is turned into a pasture or used for crops.  The loss of trees means the loss of important carbon filters as well as a loss of habitat for hundreds of animals. 
Cattle at auction


Livestock animals require water.  The foods they eat (crops) require water.  The more water taken out of rivers to be used for irrigation or for livestock to drink the less there is for other needs downstream.  An average steer requires roughly the amount of water contained in 30 Olympic sized swimming pools before going for slaughter.  Water is a vital resource.  We cannot continue to divert water for livestock farming without continued negative impacts on the environment.


Of course animals have always produced waste (methane, urine, feces) but with the numbers of livestock animals being what they are today the amount of waste produced is an environmental nightmare.  We are talking about huge amounts of toxins (more than three times what humans alone produce) that go into the environment.  Some of the waste is used as fertilizer but even this is not environmentally friendly as particles do run off into the local waterways, contributing to the growth of blue-green algae in lakes, and killing coral reefs in oceans.  In the USA the methane produced by cattle is roughly 20% of all American methane emissions.

Poor Use of Resources

Overall it takes far fewer resources to grow crops for humans than to grow crops for livestock to produce "meat".  Cattle are consuming more vegetable matter than humans.  In the USA alone roughly 41 million tonnes of plant protein (including things such as corn and cereal grains) is fed to cattle, to produce an end result of 7 million tonnes of meat, according to a study from Cornell University.   This translates into the equivalent of 50 bowls of food that could have been eaten by humans to produce just one 8oz steak.  Or consider that Basically farm animals are poor at converting one food (plants) into another food (meat).  It would be less damaging to the environment (require less land) if people simply at more plant matter and less meat.


In order to produce all the feed for livestock the USA uses 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer.  This produces nitrogen oxide which is even worse for the planet than carbon dioxide and is a greenhouse gas, as reported by the Scientific American.

Overall Notes

  • The human population is over 7.5 billion people, our numbers combined with the amount of meat we eat are very alarming.
  • We are now eating more meat per person than we have in history.  In the past meat was not consumed daily and not to the portion sizes we consume now.  
  • While a vegetarian diet may not be for everyone, if people could simply have smaller portions of meat (4 oz is the recommended portion size) and could adopt at least 2 meatless days per week (such as Meatless Monday and one other) then we could reduce some of the negative impacts that livestock production has on the environment. 

Further Reading : How is Eating Meat Bad for the Environment

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Information on Sheep with Horns

Polled is a term given to sheep without horns, the animals with horns are said to be non-polled. The poll being the highest point on the animals head, roughly between the ears. 

Some sheep breeds have no horns in the rams (males) or ewes (females), while others have only the rams with horns, a few have horns on the ewes too. Some breeds can have sheep that are both polled, or non-polled. Scurred is a term given when an animal has small, poorly formed, horns, and these are more common in ewes.

When people consider what breed of sheep they wish to have, horns, or lack of horns, should be a consideration, as for some people horns are an advantage, and for others they are a disadvantage.
Six month old ram lamb.

Advantages of Horns on Sheep

Horns make great handles. When a sheep is caught there really isn't much to hold on to, especially with the wool sheep, a rope around the neck, or a halter, can be used, but horns are far easier to hold onto and offer excellent control of the head.

Horns can add value, as a mature ram with a good set of horns will often sell higher, and in some areas are very sought after by hunters (certain breeds of sheep in particular).

Disadvantages of Horns on Sheep

Large horns prevent sheep from getting their heads into the feeders.

Horns can get stuck in the wire fences. This is more of a concern in lambs whose horns are small enough to fit through a fence along with their head, but will catch when the lamb pulls its head back.

When the lamb is still nursing, and its horns are growing, they can hurt the ewes udder, and underside.
Although sheep do not fight aggressively as some animals they do head butt each other, in play, and at feeding times. When sheep have horns such action can be more of a concern, while they don't intentionally hurt each other with their horns, they may lock and as such when rams are penned together they should be checked regularly.

When damaged (which occurs more often in young, and scurred sheep) damaged horns from can result in bleeding which can be a problem, or lead to infection.

When sheep are not using to being handled, the horns can be dangerous to the human handler, or can be dangerous if a ram is aggressive to humans.

If not curved correctly they can go into the animals head, or eye, a serious problem, and should be removed if this is a concern.

One of my ewes, featuring 5 horns (two smaller).

What are Horns?

Horns start growing from a horn bud which can usually be seen when the lamb is born. In rams the horns grow faster than in ewes, and often become larger. Horns stay on the animal for its lifetime (unlike antlers which shed seasonally). In sheep that do grow horns, they grow the most in the first two years.
Horns grow from the skull and are a boney structure, make of keratin. The center of a living horn has blood flowing through it will will result in bleeding if broken.

Sheep Horn Genetics

Horn presence is controlled by three genes, P (dominant for Polling), p (sex linked for non-polled) and p' (produces horns in ewes as well as rams). Each sheep has 2 genes and depending which ones they pass this will determine if their offspring are to be born with, or without, horns. Note that of course some breeds are always polled so all animals of that breed would be PP and could never pass on a gene for horns.

As an example two sheep who are both polled (no horns) might have the genes Pp. Each would have a 50/50 chance of passing on the P gene for Polling, or the p gene for non-polling. For every 4 lambs the chances are that 1 would be PP, 2 would be Pp, and 1 would be pp, as such only one in four lambs would have horns, and only if it was a ram as this gene is sex linked. The other three lambs would be polled and there would be no physical way of determining which was PP and which was Pp.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe to use for Chickens?

In recent years more and more people are looking for natural solutions to pests.  Diatomaceous Earth has been used to control garden pests, such as slugs, and has been recommended as a way to control fleas on cats and dogs.  The question is "Is it safe to use Diatomaceous Earth on chickens?"

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous Earth, also known as DE, is actually a soft rock; the fossils of ancient lake algae, known as diatoms.  It can feel mildly abrasive and at the microscopic level it is very abrasive.  It works at controlling small pests, such as slugs, mites, and fleas, by being abrasive and cutting them.  Diatomaceous earth is considered natural and can be used in organic farming.  It may also be sold as Red Lake Earth.

Using Diatomaceous Earth With Chickens

There are two possible ways of using DE with chickens (and other birds).  One is internal, the other being external.  Some people add it to the feed in their birds, with the idea being that it can control internal parasites.  Other people use it as a dust bath, or sprinkle it in the nesting area; the idea being that the diatomaceous earth will control external pests.

When mixed with feed, no more than 2% of the entire feed should be DE.  As chickens are likely to ingest what ever is in their environment, even if used only externally the diatomaceous earth should always be labeled as "food grade".

A rather lengthy study was done on laying breeds of chickens, you can read it here, but the results basically showed that hens that had diatomaceous earth added to their feed did not show any difference in resistance to internal parasites.  Therefore using it as a feed supplement to control parasites proved to be a waste.  

However, the study did show a reduction in skin mites when the DE was used as a dust bath, or when applied and rubbed onto the birds themselves.  When sprinkled around the coop it does help control odors and moisture to some extent.

It should be noted that studies on mice have indicated that long term exposure to breathing in DE can cause some lung cancers, and as such using DE in the nesting area on a regular basis may not be advised.   As such use in the coops should only be when certain insects (mites or other crawling insects) are an actual problem.

Friday, August 26, 2016

How to Breed Frizzle and Sizzle Chickens

Frizzle chickens are becoming very popular, but please note that "Frizzles" are not a breed of chicken.  Frizzle refers to the type of feathers.  Frizzled feathers can appear on any breed of chicken.  In a frizzled chicken the feathers are loose and curve upwards or forwards.  As such birds with this type of feathering require special protection in the winter where it is cold as they are not at all cold hardy.  Additionally they don’t cope well with rain, but they sure look interesting.

A sizzle is the term given to a bird with frizzled feathers when the bird is also a silkie chicken.  Other breeds such as Cochins, and Polish chickens, are often bred for frizzling, but sizzle is a term reserved specifically for frizzled silkie birds.

My silkie rooster and sizzle hen. ©BNelson

The frizzle feather gene is dominant, however the presence of two frizzle genes can create birds with feathers that are so “frizzled” they break easily, potentially leaving the bird with many bald patches.  This is known as being “double-frizzled” and most breeders try to avoid it by breeding a frizzled bird to a smooth (regular feathered) bird.  The frizzle gene is dominant; any bird with even one gene will be frizzled. 

Breeding a double-frizzled (has two dominant frizzle genes) bird to a smooth feathered one (no frizzle genes) will always produce frizzled chicks.  The chicks will have one dominant gene for frizzled feathers and one recessive gene for smooth/regular/non-frizzled feathers. 

When breeding a frizzle feathered bird (one with one frizzle gene and one regular/non-frizzle gene) to a smooth feathered bird the results are that half of the chicks inherit the dominant frizzle gene and will be frizzled and half the chicks will only inherit the non-frizzle gene and will be smooth feathered.  This tends to be the cross many breeders prefer. 

When breeding two frizzled birds together where both have one frizzle gene and one regular/non-frizzle gene 3/4 of the birds will be frizzled, but 1/4 will be double frizzled which may be undesirable (as mentioned), and 1/4 will be smooth feathered (regular/non-frizzle).

Silkie chickens, frizzled chickens, and sizzles, are typically kept as ornamental pet chickens.  They are often taken to shows and can command high prices at sales.  They can be any color as per the breed of chicken.  Egg color is also related to the breed of chicken used and has nothing to do with being frizzled.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

On August 1 our bantam silkie hen hatched 9 eggs sometime in the afternoon.  She remained sitting on the chicks all that day and the next.  I thought it was a bit odd that she had not moved on day two.  On the 3rd I checked under in an attempt to see how many chicks she had and noted two unhatched eggs.  She refused to move.  On August 4th, one of the other two eggs hatched.

The rooster with a different chick.

For those of you not familiar with chickens it should be noted that a hen will normally lay an egg every day (roughly) for a period of time and then she will start to sit on all her eggs and stop laying any more.  After 21 days the eggs hatch, often within a few hours of each other, regardless of when they were laid.  Usually all eggs that are going to hatch will hatch at that time and any remaining are duds, and can be discarded. 

By the time the last chick hatched the hen decided to leave the nest but that chick was unable to keep up and was on the ground when I found it.  I picked it up and put it with the others, but later that day when I went out to check them the chick was where I put it, but the hen and her other chicks had already moved off...

I figured I should bring the little one inside and set it up in an empty guinea pig cage.  I gave it a light for heat.

I noted the chick had splayed legs (not too bad in that it could stand but they really made it hard for the little one to walk).  I learned that spayed legs were somewhat common in late hatching chicks.  There are two methods of fixing splayed legs in chicks.  One is to keep it in a small cup and take it out often to give it food and water; the other is to put an elastic band around the feet, with a cut portion of a straw in between.  I did the second method and should have taken a photo of that.  I kept this on for two days (but removed it in the night).
The chick sitting down because it could not stand well.

The little chick is now 1 week old and doing well.  We call it a "him" but really do not know for sure.  We take him outside for periods of time but he still is kept in the cage indoors as we have gotten close to him and he will be more friendly than the outside chicks as the hen and rooster are very protective of them so they think people are bad!

Two days old.
About Silkie Chickens

Silkie chickens are often kept as ornamental pets.  They are unusual in that they have black/blue skin and meat.  They also have an extra toe.

Silkies come in bantam and standard sizes.

We keep ours as pets, they are just fun to have around and are super cute. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

One Very Gross Cheese

Until recently I had always thought that Blue Cheese was the most disgusting type of cheese.  Blue cheese contains mold. Blue cheese is very popular, this other type of disgusting cheese is less so.

Casu Marzu, a sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia and area, is most noted for containing maggots.  The maggots are the larvae of a cheese fly and are intentionally introduced to the cheese itself.  They help break down the fat components in the cheese causing it to be very soft and in some cases it even oozes a liquid.

The maggots are just under a centimeter in length but have the habit of flinging themselves out of the cheese when disturbed. They can actually fling themselves 15 cm in distance (almost a hand's length).  When served on bread the consumer may cover their food with their hand to stop the maggots from flinging themselves into the diner's eyes.
Photo by Shardan, via Wikimedia Commons

Other times, when diners are not so fond of eating the live maggots, the cheese is placed in a bag and the maggots tend to fling themselves out of the cheese as they use up the air in the bag.  Similarly it can be placed in the fridge to kill the maggots and consumed afterwards.

Casu Marzu cheese is said to have a strong taste, soft texture, and lingering aftertaste.  It is often served with a red wine.

It is often said to be dangerous due to the risk of maggots potentially surviving being eaten and causing health problems in the person who consumed the cheese.  For this reason it is considered illegal (laws regarding this are back and forth).  Nonetheless it is popular for special occasions. 

A few other cheeses throughout Italy and France are also made and/or served with the intentional use of maggots, cheese mites, or other arthropods.