Interesting item in our local paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, this morning. There is a new, large-scale chicken facility opening up in Arkansas which specializes in meat chickens being raised in a “carbon-friendly” way. Arkansas, as you probably already know, is a major producer of our nation’s chicken. Most birds live in pretty awful conditions, either in the dark and in cages, or in large ‘barns' which support huge amounts of birds ‘free ranging’ - that is, not in cages. I’ve already expressed how I feel that chicken should be raised - on pasture, free to eat bugs and weeds, with plenty of room to stretch wings and dust bathe. Fortunately we have a lot of farms that raise chickens this way, here in California. The chicken is expensive, upwards of $10 per pound, but meat should be expensive. In my opinion, all animals should be raised humanely, on pasture as much as possible, and butchered close to the farm. We recently re-joined a meat CSA called Tara Firma, and are very happy with the variety of cuts, taste of the different meats (chicken, beef, pork), and the fact that we area supporting a small farm that raises its meat sustainably. Not only sustainably, but also in a way that regenerates the land.
You might be hearing or reading that going vegetarian is the best thing to do for the climate. Eating less meat can certainly help, and our personal choices matter, but at this point, we’ll need some large-scale carbon reductions in order to halt the onward march of climate change. I think we can make the choice to eat meat that improves the land, rather than depletes it. Because that meat is more expensive, we’ll eat less of it; it’s a win all around, with us making better choices, supporting small regenerative farmers, and eating much less of the meat raised in CAFO’s.
Let me here recommend a book called Grass, Soil, Hope, by Courtney White. It details the Marin Carbon Project, which is a local movement to help farmers increase the carbon sequestration in their soil. Farmers can be huge improvers of our atmosphere by following certain steps to improve the carbon footprint of their operations. It would be great if this became a nation-wide movement, and this chicken farm I read about, in Arkansas, is following right in the footsteps of the MCP.
Major poultry producers like Tyson, Cargill, and Pilgrim’s Pride are located in Arkansas. So think what a message it sends when this new farm, Cooks Venture, dedicates its 800 acres to pastured poultry. Not only is this farm going to produce meat using best carbon sequestering practices, but also produce an affordable pastured chicken for mass production. This model can be followed all over the country. They are even working with local farmers to produce grain to feed the chickens, using regenerative practices. This is so fabulous.
Now I still advocate eating locally and it’s best to support the farmers who are doing the right thing near you. But this operation gives me hope that other farmers (who I believe want to make a living AND do the right thing for the planet) will see that it can be done. Another book you might be interested in is Growing a Revolution by David Montgomery. This book details the work of farmers all over the country who are practicing regeneration of soils instead of depletion (which is the conventional way of farming).
In other bird news: Goldfinches. A neighbor asked me over to look at her garden - she had several questions about holes in her leaves and what would be causing them. Now, I’m no expert, but I gotta say, the goldfinches this time of year are simply crazy for leaves, and leaves of all types. I’ve researched this behavior before and not found much in the way of satisfying answers. What most IPM programs tell you is yes, goldfinches strip leaves, and netting is the best way to deter them. But it’s the WHY I’m missing. Why do goldfinches feed on the leaves of certain plants? I notice them in my sunflowers every year, but this year they are also stripping the leaves of yacon, and pumpkins. They are also apparently voracious feeders of chard and beets. Sparrows also will eat seedlings of lettuces. Birds can be a real problem in the vegetable garden.
I found a study done in the 1960’s by Ellen L. Coutlee titled “Maintenance Behavior of the American Goldfinch.” In it, she covers grooming, feeding, locomotion, and posturing. She does mention the tearing of the leaves: “Pecking was always directed to the margin of leaves and small pieces were broken off and swallowed in rapid succession.” She suggests that it is less for nutritional needs and more for the “compulsion to twist, pry, and bite at objects.” But she doesn’t say anymore about it, which is frustrating.
I found a blog by someone who said that their grandmother always called goldfinches ‘salad birds,’ which is charming. Apparently these birds nest in July, much later than most birds who lay eggs in early spring, and this is because seeds are more available in July. Their primary food source is plant seeds. They tend not to eat insects unless they are handy near the seed source, and then they’ll add those to their diet. And, as we all have observed, leaves. Lots and lots of leaves.
Netting IS the best way to deter them, or you can follow my lead and just plant an awful lot of whatever they are eating, so that there’s plenty for both you and them. This is true of almost any pest. If you have a lot of it, and it’s scattered about the garden, chances are you’ll get some of it. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for. :)