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The Domestication of Cattle Cait

What is a "Heritage" Breed?

The Domestication of Cattle CaitWith the recent movement across the country towards sustainably-produced, organic, humane, Eco-friendly, grass-fed meats, one label in particular jumps out at me in places where it shouldn't: "heritage". The heritage label is rarely seen in the supermarket, but many smaller producers are jumping on the bandwagon, for good (and bad) reasons. Heritage breed livestock are known for being a bit hardier in conditions that pasture-based and non-conventional producers raise their animals in, they generally have better parasite and disease resistance, and it just feels good to help preserve an endangered breed with historical and cultural significance.

Unfortunately, the term "heritage" is muddled in many ways and leads to some confusion from the consumer and sometimes even the producer. The organization that coined the term "heritage", The Livestock Conservancy, defines that heritage breeds, as quoted from their informational website, " ... are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by our forefathers. These are the breeds of a bygone era, before industrial agriculture became a mainstream practice. These breeds were carefully selected and bred over time to develop traits that made them well-adapted to the local environment, and they thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern agriculture."

The Livestock Conservancy is dedicated to preserving endangered heritage breeds that have fallen by the wayside and been replaced by industrial-type breeds that are better suited to conventional animal production practices. Heritage breeds are typically bred for specific climates, topography (mountains versus plains versus swampy woodlands), and use. They also must be able to breed naturally (unlike most industrial poultry varieties including Broad-Breasted turkeys and Cornish cross broilers). The organization also keeps a Conservation Priority List that outlines specific breeds of eleven different species and organizes them according to level of rarity.

There's a laundry list of reasons why or why not to raise heritage breeds, and that's for another post. Awareness is the first key step in preserving these genetically valuable animals; the second key step is integrity from producers. When buying meat labeled as "heritage", do research to ensure that actual heritage breed stock is used at the farm — or, if you are the producer, do your part in keeping purebred heritage-type breeds if they appropriately suit your needs. Angus cattle, Broad-Breasted turkeys, and Cornish cross broiler chickens are not heritage breeds, and these are only a few of the commonly mistaken animals. They may work perfectly for a producer, but honesty and understanding of this particular label are key for ensuring its integrity and meaningfulness. Heritage means a lot when applied properly.

palm turkey
Pictured: Stephen, Royal Palm tom turkey

How to Make a Lazy Semi-Polish Dinner

This is an exciting, easy dish to use to dupe your friends into thinking that you can cook exotic and delicious things. I dumped this one on my roommates last second, and they tolerated it with sub-par enthusiasm, but at least they sort-of picked at it. I, personally, absolutely loved it.

First off, you'll need to gather the things. I have to tell you that, having grown up in a Polish family in a Polish-strong part of the country, it was pretty annoying to have to hunt for decent sauerkraut and kielbasa that isn't from Hillshire Farm. I settled on a jar of domestic kraut, ugh, and the dreaded HF beef kielbasa. It isn't as good as our homemade pork kielbasa, but it did the job. That's probably why it didn't end up as fabulous as I had hoped.


Just kidding, but I'd give it an 8.5. I impressed myself.

But seriously, here's the ingredients you'll need to make the best lazy Polska-esque dish ever:

2 things of kielbasa, or Hillshire Farms' imitation of kielbasa, which is essentially a hot dog in the shape of a horseshoe
1 jar of kraut, preferably imported but do what you can
1 pre-packaged, styrofoam-wrapped container of pre-cut sweet peppers and onion from the deli (you could also get sweet peppers and onion yourself and cut them, if you have the sort of excessive leisure time for such things)
1 fat potato
some oregano
some salt
some pepper
some EVOO
vodka (Sobieski, or Stoli if you live in a region that lacks quality alcohol. Down here in south Georgia, I'm stuck with Popov)

Cut the potato into thinnish chunks so that it cooks fairly quickly. Slice your horseshoe hotdog into slices, and dump the concoction into a frying pan with your pile of deli veg. Drizzle too much olive oil on it (because fat) and mix some of the herbs and salts in there. Turn the heat on high. In an ideal world, you could put a lid on the frying pan and let it all simmer and steam together, but four interns can't be expected to have full sets of cookware, so I just used a plate to contain the heat and then utilized salad tongs to slowly turn and mix the mess so that it didn't burn too badly. All in all this system worked very well. Put as much or as little oregano and spices as you wish. Take a shot.

After the potatoes seem to be decently cooked (I prefer them a little crunchy, more out of lack of patience than palate preference, but it's not bad), remove from heat. Take a shot. Let cool, and then dump on a plate.

Open the kraut. Try to open the kraut. Ferociously attack the lid of the kraut jar. Take a shot. Ask your stronger roommate to open the kraut. Ask your Internship Husband to open the jar for you, because this is his job. He successfully loosens it, but in reality, it was a group effort, so he doesn't get a sandwich. Take two shots.

Now that you're sufficiently woozy, anything is delicious. Dump your mess onto a plate, apply way too much kraut on top of the mess, and enjoy.

Take a shot.

kielbasa hash

Photo credit: Alena Ivakhnenko

How to Love Your Farm Store Employees

The Domestication of Cattle CaitLet's face it — as a hobby or small farmer, you may spend an excessive amount of currency at the local big-box farm supply store. I know I do, and I work at one! We do work very hard at the store to make your experience a positive one, and to provide as much education and information as possible. Here are some good tips to think about to help us make your shopping experience smooth and pleasant:

1. Tags up!

To get you through the line and out the door in a timely manner, it helps immensely to arrange bags so that the tags are visible. We can scan, scan, scan, and you're on your way. If there are five 50lb feed bags piled haphazardly in your cart, it takes time and muscle to pull each one out, neither of which I have a lot of. Need help loading the cart? Grab someone off of the sales floor and ask for help, it's our job!

Add to this that it helps if your item has a tag. If it doesn't have a tag or scannable code, take a picture of the shelf label or sign on the pallet. One example of this is if you want to buy a bag of feed, but there's no tag on the bag. We have four kinds of rabbit feed in an identical bag. If the tag isn't on it, I don't know what it is either, and I can't choose at random which one it is. (See: Inventory)

2. I'm the cashier and can't fix that.

There are certain situations where things go awry — someone sold you the wrong part to your garden tractor, you got a bad batch of feed, or you don't get enough coupons in the mail. I can absolutely point you in the right direction, but sometimes I'm not authorized to fix that particular problem. Please don't yell at me. I'm helping to my best ability.

3. "Just leave it there, it's their job to clean it up."

It IS my job to pick that t-shirt up off of the floor, but I also have a thousand other things to do to make the store a better experience for you. Other things fall apart because we spend an incredible amount of time just tidying up messes. Please help. Please hang back up the shirt, or even just give it to me at the register and say, "I changed my mind and don't remember where I got this." We will put it aside for later when we have time to put it away.

4. Inventory hurts.

I can't just type in the price of something for you. I need the item number or barcode to scan so that you get charged for the exact product that you're holding, and so that our inventory in our computer doesn't get silly. Management highly discourages "just looking it up", and I want the management to like me.

... and finally ...

5. We are trying!

Please be patient with us. We are not ignoring you, we are not trying to be rude, we are simply doing our very best. Many stores are understaffed and stretched very thin trying to keep the big boat of box retail afloat. If I don't know what part your tractor needs, I'm sorry and I'll try to help you — but if I had a certificate in agricultural mechanics, I wouldn't be here ringing up cat food. I don't wipe down all of the wet carts because it'd cut into valuable other time, like picking up shirts off of the floor.


Photo by Fotolia/Robert Kneschke

A Girl and Her Truck

The Domestication of Cattle Caitlittle purple truck

I own the most beautiful truck in the world.

Alright, well, I suppose to some it may not be the most beautiful truck in the world, but to me, she’s priceless. This little truck is the first vehicle I’ve ever owned that was worth a nickel, and I’ll be darned if I let anyone ever tell me otherwise (and they surely have). Let me tell you why.

By the way, her name’s Donna.

For my whole life I dreamed of having a truck loud enough that everyone could hear her from miles away, and within three days of owning this gem, the exhaust fell off on my way to church, and now Donna hollers like a cat in a trap. My boss tells me that he can hear when I’m on my way, far from the farm. It even sounds intentional! I’ve gotten many compliments from deluded strangers about how nice my little truck rumbles, and I don’t tell them that our secret is simply a rusty exhaust system. Someday I’ll fix it. Someday is a long way off.

Now, she may not be new and shiny anymore, but she and I share a birthday (at least, that’s what I tell myself) in the great year of 1992. Donna is even a fancy, schmancy Regency Conversion truck with a retro, woodgrain interior and a bench seat straight out of a New Jersey living room. I sleep like a baby in this truck on those warm summer nights after I’ve been fishing and had a couple too many Woodchuck ciders. Just myself, the stars, and a silly, purple, step-side Chevy — sometimes even the dog, who fits comfortably in the passenger seat with her silly face hanging out the window.

Our best admirers are older gentlemen at the gas station. I’ve received many a compliment on Donna. Once recently a fella, fueling up a lovely mid-80’s Cutlass Supreme, told me how nice she sounded, and quizzed me about her V-8. After chatting a moment, he mentioned the patch of rust on the roof; that I should get my boyfriend to do some body work on her. I told that man that my boyfriend doesn’t touch my truck, only me! You should have seen the look on his face.

Donna hauls my feed and has yet to leave me stranded on the road, save for the one time her windshield wipers quit; a thing that happens from time to time but is quite inconvenient on the way to work in a rain shower. Thankfully after sitting for a minute at a roadside park, she remembered her wiring and we were back on the road to work. Haven’t quite figured this issue out yet, but it’s on our list. New passenger mirror, cab corners, etc … the list grows. I chip away as I have the money — and I do quite a bit of it myself. My dad helps me, obviously, but when I have the chance, it’s me under the hood.

Of course, when I first got her, the men in the family had some things to say about a rusty, lowered, purple truck. That she wasn’t worth the $1,000 that I paid for her, that she wasn’t reliable, that I didn’t need a truck, yackity-yack. But guess who has the only running truck in the driveway?

My poor city man, bless his heart, wonders why I need a truck. I tell you what, he best never utter those words, “It’s me or the truck,” and if he does, I dearly hope he enjoys the smell of exhaust fumes and burnt oil as I putter away over the horizon.



Yesterday, I Was a Shepherdess

The Domestication of Cattle CaitYesterday, I brought forth life.

Yesterday, I was in the right place, at the right time, exactly as the universe had intended, and I assisted, and because of this coincidence, a lamb lived when he otherwise may not have.


A lovely Dorset ewe at the university research farm that I live at had been calmly lambing, doing her part beautifully as she had in years past. First one lamb, cleaned him off, got him walking, and then another. I stayed near, just in case, but she had it handled. She is a seasoned mother, experienced at her lot in life and, as far as I could see, content with it as well.

I did piddly chores, and watched, and waited for her to pass her placenta, and in a split second that I had turned around, a third lamb slid out of his mother, completely encased in his sac, and not moving. The ewe appeared to not be concerned, she was still busy cleaning her first two sheep, so I hopped into the pen and helped her out a bit.

He didn't wiggle, and I thought maybe he was gone already. Somewhere I had read, long ago, about how children born completely inside their birthing sac intact were inclined to magic, but apparently that wasn't true for this fellow. We lose some, it's part of life. I broke the sac anyways and as I wiped the mucous away from his nose, he deeply inhaled and was suddenly alive. The lamb sneezed, and sneezed again, and then stopped breathing again. I rubbed his little chest and swung him gently from his back legs (to run out any fluid that may have gotten into his lungs) until he came back, and sure enough, he did come back.

The little lamb was wet and cold, so I plopped him in the huddle with his two siblings, and his mother recognized him immediately as hers. In this moment, I remembered why I am here.


Maybe he would have lived otherwise, maybe I was unnecessary, I don't know, but nothing makes me feel alive like helping another being breathe for the first time. All the reminders of production, and efficiency, and industrialization, and the education I'm receiving at this university, mean nothing in that minute where there's nothing in the world except for myself and four sheep.

An Emotional Breakdown County Fair Edition

The season of county fairs is winding down, and in memorial to the most fun and stressful time of the year, here is a timeline of the emotional breakdown of fair week from the eyes of a 4-H alumnus turned leader.


The fair for exhibitors starts days before the carnival, but at our county fair, Sunday is the day for livestock check-in. We’re all optimistic about the week, excited to set up our pens and see our “county fair friends”. We all have them, you see them once a year, but you’re best buds as soon as you step onto the fairgrounds. The first day is hectic, but after check-in, you’re relaxed and ready for the week. You feel empowered, ready to take on the world…or, at least, take on Senior Poultry Showmanship.


The week has begun! Everyone is anxiously waiting for the midway to open up and shows have started at the very crack of dawn. While your friends are going on with their lives, you’re at the fairgrounds at 7am hollering at 4-H and FFA youth and scraping chicken poo off of plywood tables. Monday is poultry show day for our fair. The excitement of the week has just started!


Tuesday is Kid’s Day, so most regular fairgoers either spend this day running up and down the midway (if you’re under 15 years old) or hiding in their campers, waiting for the chaos to trickle away. Spirits are starting to wear a little bit, but we’re not beat yet.

midway at the county fair

Photo: on the midway, Fotolia/jdoms


For the rest of the world this is Hump Day, and for the county fair, it’s no different. You’re tired. Your feet are somehow already sore, and you have third degree burns on your face from the sun. You are still chugging along, but feel that the string might be about ready to snap.


The kids are screaming, you are screaming, everyone is screaming. The drama heightens as shows have started to die down and everyone is ready to stir up trouble in the massive temporary camper town that is the fairgrounds. This is about the time that a parent screams at a volunteer, the fair manager is called to the barn, or someone’s kid spray paints a pig.


Just stay in your camper.

waiting for a chance at a showmanship ribbon

Photo: ready to show, Fotolia/pearlguy


This is the day of our Small Animal Livestock Auction, so we slap on our happy faces and charge through the sale ring as if we don’t want to just lie down and cry.


If you have exhibits, you check them out to load up and take home. By now, the stress has pretty much gone. You got a decently good sleep, half of the livestock are on their way to the slaughter plant, and life is good. You’re already discussing what you’re going to show next year, and everyone is dismayed at how fast the week went by!

Rabbits in Colonies 202: Rabbits Breeding Like Rabbits

So you have your colony of rabbits. The does are all settled and happy, they have grown to a mature weight, and you are ready to start breeding. First, make sure that your does are actually at comfortable age and weight to become mothers. It's tempting to begin breeding as soon as possible, and rabbits can become parents at the ripe old age of 3 months, but it's important for your doe's well being to be patient and wait until she is ready, both physically and mentally. Very young does don't usually have the maternal instincts to properly raise a litter, and being pushed too early into production can have a negative impact on her ultimate growth.

Wait until she is 75 percent of her adult weight, or if you don't know what her adult weight might be, breed her at 6 months to kindle at 7 months. If she is a Giant breed, don't breed her until 8 to 10 months. Giant breeds take longer to mature.

Rabbits do not have regular heats. They come into "heat" upon stimulation from breeding, so it's recommended that you breed her, and then breed her again 12 to 24 hours later. Some breeders keep their buck in their colony, but that makes it impossible to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Does will breed back immediately after kindling, and raising two litters takes too much out of a doe. Keep them separate and control your population. Our bucks are kept in large conventional cages. I'll address how to care for your bucks in another post.

When you want to breed your doe, check her lady parts. A moist, swollen, purple-red vent indicates that she is ready to breed and will probably be receptive to the buck. If her vent is puckered, dry and light pink, she will not let him breed her. If her vent looks right, pop her into the buck's cage. There will be a few indicators when he "gets" her – he will probably flop over to the side, make noises, and he may cry or flop his ears (if he's not already a lop breed). If he's simply riding her around the cage, he hasn't bred her.

If they have successfully bred, you'll have little ones in 28 to 32 days. If she hasn't given birth by day 35, assume that she is not pregnant. You may palpate her (check for pregnancy by feeling her stomach area), or have someone palpate for you. There is a chance of retained kits, which will require medical attention, but for the most part if she hasn't kindled then she probably was not pregnant. Palpation can help you figure out if she is pregnant by the second week of pregnancy, but it is not always reliable. Always provide a nest space if you bred your rabbit unless you are very good at palpation and can determine that she is not pregnant.

As it gets close to day 27, it's time to provide a box. Provide them early so that the doe has time to build a nest, and just in case she gives birth early. A large plastic tub makes an excellent nest box, because it is warm, spacious, and protects her and the kits from the elements and other rabbits. Drill holes in the bottom and sides for ventilation and drainage, and cut a large hole in the front to get in and out. Make sure to leave an edge on the bottom of the box under the entry hole so that babies don't crawl in and out. With this design, the doe can fill the box with bedding to make a natural, safe space for her babies.


You wouldn't even know that there are babies in here, would you?

full nest

Sometimes multiple does will choose to nest in the same box, which is completely fine. Just check each day to make sure that all the babies are getting fed. If there are some that look wrinkled and underfed, move them to a box with a smaller group of babies. Here are two does that share a nest, checking out the box after it's just been cleaned. These boxes do need cleaned quite frequently because they quickly get wet.


Babies can be weaned after 8 weeks of age. Any younger than that and you compromise their growth rate, overall health, and in some states it is illegal to sell kits under 8 weeks old. Twelve weeks can be even better for market rabbits, but remember that rabbits may begin breeding at 12 weeks, so if they are going to be living past fryer age (10 to 12 weeks) they should be separated by gender.

For more information, check out RabbitTalk, a complete forum filled with helpful members, many of whom raise rabbits in colony or alternative settings, and the BackyardMeatRabbits Facebook page.

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