Marijuana silage turns pot-eating pigs into tastier pork roast

With Washington state about to embark on a first-of-its-kind legal market for recreational marijuana, the budding ranks of new cannabis growers face a quandary over what to do with the excess stems, roots and leaves from their plants.

Susannah Gross, who owns a five-acre farm north of Seattle, is part of a group experimenting with a solution that seems to make the most of marijuana’s appetite-enhancing properties – turning weed waste into pig food.

Four pigs whose feed was supplemented with potent plant leavings during the last four months of their lives ended up 20 to 30 pounds heavier than the half-dozen other pigs from the same litter when they were all sent to slaughter in March.

“They were eating more, as you can imagine,” Gross said.

Giving farm animals the munchies is the latest outcome of a ballot measure passed by Washington voters in November making their state one of the first to legalize the recreational use of pot. The other was Colorado. Both were among about 20 states with medical marijuana laws already on their books.

The federal government still classifies cannabis as an illegal narcotic, and the Obama administration has not yet said what actions, if any, it will take in answer to the newly passed recreational weed statutes.

You were expecting, maybe, leadership?

Matt McAlman, the medical marijuana grower who provided the pot leavings for Gross’ pigs, says he hopes the idea expands with the likely impending expansion of Washington state’s marijuana industry.

We can have pot chickens, pot pigs, grass-fed beef,” he said.

Draft regulations issued last week to govern the burgeoning recreational-use industry seem to leave open that possibility. The rules dictate that marijuana plant waste must be “rendered unusable prior to leaving a licensed producer or processor’s facility,” adding that mixing it with food waste would be acceptable.

Sounds good to me. Might even enjoy some baby back ribs with a dash of THC flavoring brought to a bouquet by delicate smoking.

Burger King makes cage-free eggs, cage-free piggies promise

In a boost to animal welfare activists looking to get livestock out of cramped cages, Burger King will be the first major U.S. fast-food chain to give all of its chickens and pigs some room to roam.

The world’s second-biggest burger chain has pledged that all of its eggs and pork will come from cage-free chickens and pigs by 2017, hoping to satisfy rising consumer demand for humanely produced fare and increase its sales in the process.

Other companies have made similar but less broad announcements this year, part of an industrywide shift to consider animal welfare when buying food supplies…

Conventionally raised eggs come from hens confined in “battery cages,” which give them roughly the same space as a sheet of standard notebook paper. Most pork comes from sows confined during their four-month pregnancies in narrow crates…

Animal welfare groups applauded Burger King’s decision.

“So many tens of thousands of animals will now be in better living conditions,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, which has been pushing Burger King and other companies to adopt similar policies. “Numerically, this is significant because Burger King is such a big purchaser of these products.”

In recent months, other companies have announced similar policies.

Chipotle, with just over 1,200 restaurants, made a splash during the Grammy Awards in February with its viral commercial detailing the company’s commitment to humane treatment of animals and healthy food. After the commercial created so much buzz, other companies were quick to announce new policies…


Free rides for Rick Perry on corporate jets are just part of the job

Pilgrim Chickens on the left – with his favorite chicken plucker

On a July morning in 2008, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and several aides boarded a plane for Washington to lobby on ethanol use, an issue important to corn growers and livestock owners in his state.

The growers favored federal rules requiring the use of the corn-based fuel in gasoline, but beef and chicken suppliers said the rules would raise the price of feed stocks. Mr. Perry was firmly in the livestock camp, and he took his case straight to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, urging him to waive the ethanol mandate to lower the cost of corn.

While executives from the livestock industry did not attend Mr. Perry’s private meeting at the E.P.A., the governor would not have made it there without them — literally. The Hawker 800XP plane that Mr. Perry and his team flew from Austin to Washington and back was provided by Lonnie Pilgrim, one of the world’s largest chicken producers and a leading critic of the ethanol mandate…The poultry magnate also flew the governor to Washington in June to take part in a news conference on the issue.

The two trips, each valued at $9,179, were among more than 200 flights worth a total of $1.3 million that Mr. Perry has accepted — free — from corporate executives and wealthy donors during 11 years as governor, according to an analysis of Texas Ethics Commission records by The New York Times.

Although many of the trips were for political or ceremonial events — not unusual for elected officials — others involved governmental functions, including some that were of interest to the planes’ owners. As a result, a group of well-heeled businessmen has effectively helped underwrite some of Mr. Perry’s activities as governor.

The head of a Texas oil refinery spent almost $20,000 flying Mr. Perry and his staff to a trade meeting in Mexico, where the governor asked Mexican energy officials to consider more joint ventures with Texas oil companies. Other Texas business owners have paid Mr. Perry’s way to Washington to lobby on immigration, testify before Congress and meet with the homeland security secretary.

Mr. Perry’s travels adhere to Texas ethics laws, and he is far from alone in accepting gifts of air travel. But among politicians he stands out for taking private flights for activities that are considered part of his job as governor. That is different from campaign travel or the sort of quasi-official trips for which officeholders normally use private planes, like attending a conference or giving a speech.

Texas ethics laws, of course, is a contradiction in terms. Ethics has little or nothing to do how Rick Perry or pretty much any other Texan governs. Taking care of the Big Boys is what counts. The Texas legislature will make certain laws are bent, broken, or stapled together to allow for as much influence as “grassroots” organization like the Petroleum Club or Chickenpluckers International require.

RTFA for lots of details, anecdotes, the sort of corrupt practices considered trivial in Texas.

French fighter jets killed 4,800 of my chickens, claims farmer

A French poultry farmer is suing his country’s defence ministry, claiming that two low-flying fighter jets frightened almost 5,000 of his chickens to death.

Etienne Le Mahauté, a farmer in the village of Pléguien, Brittany, western France, claims that the military aircraft caused a chicken stampede in which 4,800 of the terrified fowl died of suffocation.

Mr Mahauté said he was having lunch on Tuesday when two military aircraft shot over his farm at very low altitude.

“We were in the house eating. When (the planes) passed overhead, we had vibrations in our backs it was so loud,” he said.

He ran straight to the giant coops where the chickens are kept only to find they had rushed into the same side and lay lifeless in their thousands.

“The chickens were terrified. They were stacked up on top of each in several layers on the same side of the three buildings,” he told the newspaper Ouest France. “If we hadn’t been there, it could have been worse. We separated those we could…”

The farmer, who is in charge of 68,000 fowl belonging to an agricultural co-operative, is demanding between 12,000 and 15,000 euros in compensation.

Frédéric Solano, a French air force official, confirmed that two jets had flown past the farm on Tuesday at midday as part of a “scheduled flight at an altitude respecting current rules”…

Last year, Britain’s Ministry of Defence paid out £42,000 to a Staffordshire farmer whose chickens laid fewer eggs because they were frightened by the Red Arrows display team.

I suppose we have to have compensation for animals in our care – although the premises of that care, including the level of stupidity bred into a pursuit of passivity, don’t especially convince me that all farmers deserve payment.

One of the farmers in my family raised “modern” domestic turkeys for a spell. Not to be confused with the crafty, intelligent critters roaming the wild. We always had to wave at them to halt any practice of looking skyward when it started to rain – because they would stand there with mouths open and drown.

Another half-cocked mystery solved

Researchers say they’ve solved the mystery of why some chickens hatch out half-male and half-female. About one in every 10,000 chickens is gynandromorphous, to use the technical term.

In medieval times, they might have been burned at the stake, as witches’ familiars. But now these chickens are shedding important new light on how birds, and perhaps reptiles, develop.

It used to be thought that hormones instructed cells to develop in male or female-specific ways.

That’s what happens in mammals, including humans, and it leads to secondary sexual characteristics like facial hair for men or breasts for women.

But scientists at the Roslin Institute and the University of Edinburgh say they have discovered that bird cells don’t need to be programmed by hormones. Instead they are inherently male or female, and remain so even if they end up mixed together in the same chicken.

It means a half-and-half chicken will have totally different plumage, body shape, and muscle structure on the two halves of its body.

It even affects the wattles on the bird’s head, and the spurs on its legs. They will be larger on the cockerel half, and smaller on the hen half, of the same bird.

There has to be a sci-fi story in here, somewhere. Like, from eating too many eggs.

Hot-air balloons are making chickens explode!

Ms. Lloyd and a survivor chicken

Abbi Vincent-Lloyd said she lost 30 hens on days when balloons were flying low over her Herefordshire farm. She claimed the stress of seeing the enormous balloons overhead caused them to run for cover.

It is as they desperately try to find shelter that they bump into each other or their surroundings, exploding the eggs inside them, she said.

This in turn causes an infection, which is thought to have led to scores of them dying…

“I told the vet about the hot-air balloons and jets flying low over the farm and straight away he said that was the cause…

“It is absolute chaos, when they go into anything and that causes the egg to explode inside them. “The fragments of the egg and its contents then infect them and then they die from it – it’s a horrible way to go.”

I spent an enjoyable portion of my youth on a poultry farm. I know that turkeys, for example, are stupid enough to stare at the sky when it starts to rain – and drown.

I have never before heard of exploding chickens.

Thanks, Justin [I think]

Commercial chicken factories take a toll on genetic diversity

To the connoisseur of fine food, chicken may seem depressingly monotonous no matter how it’s prepared. But scientists worry about a more basic degree of sameness — a lack of genetic diversity in the birds that are raised for meat and eggs.

An analysis of commercial chicken populations around the world by William M. Muir of Purdue University and colleagues has revealed the extent of the problem. Fifty percent or more of the diversity of ancestral breeds has been lost, they report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. That could make chicken production more susceptible to disease outbreaks for which resistant genes have disappeared.

Their findings indicate that most of the diversity was lost with the advent of wide-scale commercial production in the 1950s. Only a handful of hundreds of breeds have been crossed to produce broilers and layers.

Dr. Muir said restoring some diversity was not simple a matter of crossing with more breeds — producers would lose the improvements they have made in existing lines. Instead, one approach would be to use genetic markers to aid in cross-breeding, “to select for the parts that are good,” he said.

In fact, this reminds me of one aspect of cloning and genetic modification of anything that’s rarely if ever discussed. Diversity.

The article relates a common failure of hybridizing – especially for commercial developers. Quick and easy. Narrow and profitable. The short-term mindset that characterizes Wall Street traders.

Science and scientists have a responsibility to oversee – including retrospective analysis like this – healthy, long-term prospects for a species. Including us, eh?