Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Already 2nd half of the year; start of Plastic Free July

The end of June was the anniversary of us moving here and starting our smallholding lifestyle at Maes-y-Delyn; Hard to believe it’s already been six years. Even after that time we are still evolving and developing our block, our skills and practices, learning new things and trying to do that little bit more, and as always keen to share our journey; though the time between posts pay suggest otherwise- again I am sorry. I have no excuse. I’ve started and re-started posts numerous times. And either the topics timing has past (as it was related to a specific even to date) or it’s just not felt right.

You may (or may not be aware) that a rather destructive cyclone hit our region earlier this year, and then continued on causing more issues. And so far, every post I have started has had some reference to it or a comment about its impact here. As even though we were reasonably unaffected (believe me there are many that received direct damage and it will prove a long time to fix) to comment of the ongoing effects its had on our smallholding have just felt inappropriate.

Damage to roads on local range
Small things like our fruit trees have been loaded as a result and some are still being propped up (as the rain and winds associated with the cyclone push them over; we’re hoping they can re-root.). So I had started a few posts about making the most of a glut. But it just felt wrong as it maybe perceived as benefiting, but copious amounts of orange oil (or at least attempt) jellies, jams, marmalade, juices and cordials have been made (so plenty of future battering tender and gifts ready)- but will post regarding this separately.
They have loaded due to the stress of the cyclone and have only now started to slow down. They have also finally started to blossom again; this being vital to our bee colony. The bee community in the region have been reporting stories of people feeding their hives, as they are ‘starving’. Most of the   foliage here had either been stripped bare, fallen or cut down following the cyclone, meaning they have had little in the means of food. Fortunately, we hadn’t harvested prior to the cyclone; as cyclones bring rain and bees don’t feed in the rain. And we haven’t harvested since, as they need the honey stores more than we do. But the return of blossom on the fruit trees are a great sign, so hopefully we can raid the hive for ourselves again as we are completely out of honey and I am keen to harvest some wax too… Which brings me to a time-relevant subject. So, I will try and get this post out ASAP- before I miss the boat again!

Topic of the day, or should I say month is #Plasticfreejuly. Now we’re not here to lecture anyone, after all we could do better too. But then that’s part of my point in bringing I up. I know I have posted about this event/awareness initiative on our Facebook page, though looking through my past post I don’t think I have discussed it here. In general we have attempted to keep the blog posts to farm related discussions or make it yourself, and kept the sustainable aspect to social media. However sustainability and use of older practices are an extension of this lifestyle; though you don’t need a smallholding to achieve all of them. Granted some are necessary due to our set up- i.e. being off mains sewer/water etc. but many are personal choice and something we have advocated for. But I have chosen to discuss it this year as I have been inspired by some friends who have also decided to take up the challenge and have been inspired by our discussions, to discuss it publicly here.

So what’s the big deal?

Being in Australia the ocean and its marine life is often a hot topic, so ocean plastic pollution is a big driver here. And I guess to many world wide this may seem like a distant problem that they can’t do anything about. But that’s not true and the problems surrounding plastic waste (well waste in general) are huge and will only get worse.
The average Australian household uses 100kg of plastic packaging per year* and many of these items are just discarded and they take a long time to degrade. But the facts are these items have to go somewhere (as it lasts so long), and this costs- money, land, materials… and no-one wants a landfill site on their door step, but it has to go somewhere.

I often hear the comments that ‘plastic is in everything’ and that its overwhelming (and I have to agree). But think about it, we didn’t always have plastic- so how did we manage?

Even in my lifetime; and besides what my other half may say- that wasn’t that long ago. I remember

having milk delivered (by the milkman) in glass bottles that were collected and reused (we even had milk delivered at primary school). Meat could be bought from the butchers wrapped in paper and vegetables were bought from the grocers in paper bags.
Plastic has just become convenient and the norm, but we can reduce this if we think about what it is we are doing.

So what is plastic free July?

It is an award-winning campaign that now has more than million registered participants world wide- though it started as a simple idea challenging 40 people in Perth to eliminate the use of single- use plastic for that month (and every July since), hopefully some if not all habits transfer to everyday life and everyday choices.
Now am not expecting everyone to sign up to the challenge, but I have signed up previously and I am committing to do it again this year (so watch our Facebook page for updates on our progress) and I will debrief here in a month, as to our efforts, tips/ techniques and experiences.

We are not about to throw out every Tupperware container or piece of plastic in the house- after all that would completely defeat the objective and increase the level of plastic within landfill.
Am sure most would have heard the mantra;

“reduce, reuse, and recycle.”

And I think this fits our approach to the challenge

We are committing to “reduce” our use of single use plastic.  Am not promising to eliminate it, as I am sure there will be some slip ups or difficult calls. Then what we do use, we ‘reuse” and where all else fails, ensure we “recycle”.
Once you begin this process, you become acutely aware of how much single use plastic is out there and how easy it is to use it, and for many this would be overwhelming. SO as a starting point the #plasticfreejuly challenge often advocates starting with the ‘top 4’, so am going to discuss those first.
If everyone reduced their consumption a little it would quickly add up. At the very least we can avoid the top 4

Where to start
 1- Disposable coffee cups
Being a huge coffee lover it may surprise you all to know this one is not a biggie for here. Generally, if we drink coffee out and about, we choose to ‘have it in’, so it comes in a mug (after all your paying for the experience). And I do take a travel mug to most days, with my morning coffee in from home.

But it does highlight what I consider my ‘bad habit’ or ‘guilty pleasure’ and something that is becoming an increasing issue in its own right- coffee pods.
Since the demise of the peculator this machine has received more attention than it should receive and as such is being parked for this challenge possibly for the foreseeable future.
Australians are now consuming between 2.5 and 3 million coffee capsules per day and last year (independent consumer group choice reported) that Nespresso sold and estimated 28 billion capsules worldwide. I think anyone who wanders down the caffeine fuel isle of any supermarket would notice the number of options, brands and shelves there are now dedicated to these… an obvious indication to a rapidly growing market (and problem).

Now I can hear people asking why we don’t just recycle them- after all they are just plastic and aluminium; however, these will not be recycled by your roadside collection/ general service due to their size.
There are now options to recycle your used pods, should you wish to do so; by a company called TerraCycle- they have partnered with most major brands, however you are required to either take your used pods to a nominated collections points (they vary for different capsule brands) or you can purchase a collection zero waste box and send them- generally targeted at businesses (as this is at your cost)

There have been some reusable options around for a while now, with varying results available in plastics, and stainless steel. Whilst some may think this reduces the convenience of the pod, I see it as an advantage as I could choose the coffee I put in- and even buy it from the local producer (as I used to with the percolator). But as they haven’t manufactured any compatible with my brand of machine yet- guess I’ll have to wait.

Bio-caps are available from companies, using bio-degradable materials that maybe composted and degrades within 6 months, but again we are waiting for this alternative to be rolled out for the other brands and this still reaches landfill (although breaks down quicker) if you don’t compost at home. And am not sure about their impact on commercial composting systems (if your waste collection includes a separate compostable bin)

So until we can source either a reusable option or bio-degradable pods we will be sticking to instant- Good job the instant brands/varieties we buy come in either glass jars or aluminium tins. (Personally, prefer the one in the aluminium tin, but the jars are handy for reusing around the kitchen or upcycling)

2- Plastic bags

This may seem like a no brainer, particularly to those who live in area that has already ‘banned the bag’. It is possibly one of the easiest for anyone to do, but it does involve some forward thinking or planning (or buying more reusable bags).
I know we struggled with this one when on holidays last year (in an area that had banned bags), as we often made impromptu purchases. Funny as my grandparents were great at this, even twenty (plus) years ago before it was even a mainstream concern; I still remember their tartan patterned trolley and reusable bags with the dogs on the front.

So step one is to place reusable bags in the boot of the car and place a few (rolled up) in my handbag, just in case.

3- Plastic bottles

You may wonder what the big deal is with this one, as any single use drink container may be recycled, whether it be plastic, glass, aluminium or tetra packaging?
But the truth is only (approx.) 2/3 of aluminium, 2/5 glass bottles and less than ¼ of PET (plastic) bottles are recycled in Australia.
And while aluminium and glass are considered more pollutant to extract initially, neither deteriorate during the recycling process, so can be re-processed like for like. Where a PET bottle requires approx. 75% new material, as the plastic degrades as its recycled- which is why plastics are often turned into other things (so not repeatedly recycled).
Ideally, we need to plan more effectively and carry reusable bottle or receptacle. For us this is not that big a step, as it has proven a necessary habit with a toddler, and I keep a glass at work. We also do not drink a lot in the way of soft drinks and when we do, we tend to purchase aluminium cans (and recycle them!).

4- straws
I was always amazed at the inclusion of this one. But I guess in general it is possibly one of the most unnecessary uses of plastic that I can think of. And having a little one, I am now very aware of how often straws are just added or included.
So as we transition to ‘grown up cups’ this may prove more of an issue. However carrying a reusable drink bottle does help eliminate some of this. But for those who love their straw, or are concerned about the health of their teeth (yes that’s the most common ‘reason’ for using them) there are reusable products out there.

We have a supply of paper straws from hosting previous birthday parties. However they do degrade after a single use, and end up being waste- though paper can (usually) be composted. There are reusable ones on the market made from various materials; silicon, stainless steel, glass and bamboo; guess there are pros and cons to each.

Beyond the top four

There are an endless list of ‘improvements’ or traditional practices we can make to reduce our plastic consumption;
But where possible we can make more things ourselves and stop buying them in packaging (yoghurt, cheese, bacon, cleaning product- I'll post a few how too's on these as I need them), consider the packaging of item we buy, our purchase of pens, razors, nappies and sanitary products, or not purchasing products with microbeads in them-  we can’t use these anyway as they won’t break down in bio-system, but then that’s the point; they don’t break down in any waste water system… the list just keeps going

Other tips from personal experience;
Buying in bulk is a good way, it doesn’t eradicate the use of plastic, but it reduces the quantity. Or try and purchase items in alternative packaging- cardboard, paper, glass. Personally I prefer glass jars as I can save and reuse them for preserves, or just upcycled for storage.

Reducing the use of cling flim/glad wrap (depending on where you are). Found a great reusable alternative a few years ago and still have a couple of my originals- cotton wraps coated in bees wax.  Not suitable for covering hot foods or meats (not had a lot of success replacing freezer bags for meat- not on a scale suitable for our use anyway), but otherwise very versatile. They mould to most things (bowls, jars, dishes etc or itself) with the heat from your hands. The ones I purchased also have a mixture of oil and tree resin in the coating.
I was very excited when I recently found a few DIY instructions, as we obviously have our own beeswax, so will follow up with progress about these soon.

Nappies; this may seem a daunting prospect, but the modern cloth alternatives are very effective and fun (well as fun as nappies get- I mean their appearance) and with options such as bamboo liners, waterproof covers (though I didn’t get along with either) and wet bags they are not particularly inconvenient.   Though our little one suffered from baby eczema and use of disposables seemed to make it worse, even burning her skin, so we had greater incentive to persist. And I firmly believe they were a positive contributing factor in her successful toilet training- as she didn’t like being wet!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Raising chickens for the table- Tablebird project

We regularly get asked what birds are best for various purposes, but one in particular is for the table. And to be honest I think every smallholder would love to find the ‘ultimate bird’; one that not only supplies a sufficient number of eggs per year (or week), but that carried sufficient body weight (and growth rate) suitable for the table.I'm just not sure such a bird exists.

In recent years we have primarily processed excess roosters for the freezer; a sub sequence of breeding and hatching.

Indian Game for table
Indian Game Hens
-Indian Games are a smaller framed bird (even the large size that we breed) their mass is predominantly muscle and therefore they have a greater meat yield.
The slower growing breed are better suited to free ranging, this does produce a darker (sometimes yellowing) and tasty flesh, though this may not appeal to all. Their docile nature does mean roosters can live together. Average age 7-8months/ 2-2.8kg dressed.

Light Sussex rooster
-Light Sussex (standard) are a larger framed bird, though not as ‘meaty’ and once of size tend not to gain a lot more weight, or do so in their latter years (not so great for eating purposes)
Sussex roos for freezer
The paler meat and light feathers/skin etc. are generally more appeasing to the general consumer. Some males may live together if reared together from hatching, however the breed are known for aggressive male behaviour, so this generally only lasts until working age/when crowing begins (which maybe as young as 10-12 weeks).  Average age 3-6 months (depending on behaviour)/ 1.0-1.8kg dressed.

However in recent years these have been few and far between.
As between maintaining our own stock; due to losses, replacements coming of age, equipment failure (I needed to replace the incubator) amongst other issues. 
Sourced Heritage style tablebirds-  purchased August 2015
bought as part of a group (they're not all ours in the picture)
In mid-2015 we even sourced some ‘heritage style table birds’ from a hatchery and purchased and flew them up as part of a group- only to be disappointed with the results. [And we were not the only ones who didn't see the anticipated results]. As they were slower growing and smaller than the pure IG and Sussex we reared around the same time.

So it’s safe to say it's been a while since we had home grown chicken on the menu… So this year we may have gone a little overboard!

Chicks are generally something people associate with spring, but chicken eggs will actually be fertile at any time of year (given the hens are laying and rooster in working). So here with the tropical condition we generally incubate during autumn and winter; with cut off generally being mid-November, to avoid raising young birds through the wet season.

This year we broke that rule, not only did we not incubate in autumn (due to going overseas) we did incubate upon our return and continued to do so into early December; as the Indian Games were laying. And as these birds only lay for short periods of time throughout the year (for a month in every 3 or 4) you incubate when you can.

We purchased our original Indian Game stock with the intention of crossing them with the Sussex (and laying flock we already had). As the concept was to produce a meatier bird, with a larger frame that laid reasonably well… the smallholders ultimate bird. To date this idea has never eventuated, though we have not dedicated time or resources to attempting to breed and rear them either. This year however we decided to make the best of an unfortunate situation- lost an Indian Game rooster in the early part of the laying season. So we decided to place the Sussex rooster in one tractor with half the Indian Game girls and try.

So we incubated both pure Indian Games and Indian Game cross Sussex (ended up purchasing a second incubator so we knew which hatchlings were which)… though to be honest now they are old it is obvious anyway.

Along with our experimental hatchlings we came across the opportunity to purchase some ‘Ross’ parent flock chicks. These arrived via transport on the 19th December.
Ross’ are a hybrid, selectively bred for commercial poultry production… so what you buy from the shops. They are generally referred to as ‘broilers’ developed for maximum growth and meat yield. There are other hybrids developed by other suppliers, often hear them referred to as ‘Ross-Cobbs’, these are actually two different birds but both are commonly used, and are very similar in appearance.

We have reared ‘broilers’ before, they were an early addition to our smallholding.  early on in our
Broilers August 2012
smallholding. However not only did I find they were more susceptible to illnesses, but found they lacked a number of general chicken behaviours and were not particularly compatible with a free range environment; as they gain weight and mass quite dramatically over a short period of time they are larger than birds we generally move out of the brooder box and outside, but they were not yet fully feather and therefore more susceptible to the weather. As they grew older their mass meant moving became slow and cumbersome, and we had to remove feeders to stop them sitting in their own mess and eating.
We had postponed D-day for one flock for 2 weeks(due to other commitments), meaning these birds were approximately 3 months old by time of slaughter. During which time the birds became so large and movement so restricted culling became necessary due to their lack of quality of life.
Commercially ‘broilers’ reach market weight and therefore slaughter by 40 days, so less than 7 weeks.
new broilers roaming
We have accidentally reared one to over 6 months of age. She was sent to us from a hatchery as a ‘Light Sussex’.  We even had a few eggs from her, eventually she pasted in her sleep curled up in her spot.

So if I am honest I still have reservations about trailing broilers again. Being the parent stock they are also supposed to produce a fair egg yield, so you would hope they would have a greater life expectancy. [Guess only time will tell on that one]
However the rational being that whether we purchase and rear them, or whether we purchase free range chicken from the stores (which we have been for some time); they will be ‘broilers’, so we may as well feed and rear them- this way we know how they have been treated and how much free ranging, exercise, daylight they have had, what treatments or chemicals (if any).

Experimental flock- Indian Game x Sussex

To date we have sold a few of the younger/smaller female crosses. We will not need as many as we hatched; so not only will that pay for a few bags of feed, but it maintains their living conditions in the longer term. At the moment they are housed in tractors that rotate around the garden, allowing for grazing, and are free ranged rotation-ally, to ensure the other birds do not eat all their food.
Now 6-9 weeks of age, these are older than 
commercially reared ‘indoor’ birds.


2 broilers (centre), IG hen (right) of same age, 2 IG's (left) twice age

The Ross’ have been transitioned to their outdoor shed and have undertaken their 'holding period' where we gradually allow them greater free ranging time until they are eventually fully free ranged- ensuring they know where 'home' is. 
We are not sure whether this may change with age, or whether it is a result of free ranging them with another breed, so far they are expelling all my reservations from our previous experience. They are relishing the free ranging conditions; scratching, foraging and running around, displaying 'normal' chicken behaviours. 
They have been indoors longer than we would have likes, as although only one month old (and still quite sparsely feathered) these birds are already en-par (size wise)with their Indian Game cohabitants, who are twice their age and far too large to remain indoors. We have only  prevented free ranging/transitioning earlier due to the torrential rain of the previous fortnight.  During which the crosses had to return to their transitional housing for fear of losing the flock to the wet. [This is why I try not to incubate so late, though this wet was a little earlier than the last few years] Thankfully this week’s drier (though exceptionally humid) conditions have allowed for everything (and everyone) to dry out a little.   

 So from no chicken to potentially a years supply… Should be interesting to compare their progress and their outcome. We will keep you up to date on the tablebird project.