Apr 2015



Outdoor work season is nearly upon us. I dug a post-hole yesterday and about a foot down, where the loamy leaf-mold gives way to gravel and clayey sand in the woods, the ground is still a bit frozen. So I mowed a bit of the pasture.

For indoor activities, son G and I have been watching
J Anthony Allen's music theory and Ableton Live tutorials on Udemy. So I've started playing around with warping and remixing. Put my first attempt on Soundcloud.

Minnesota Turkeys

Minnesota is apparently the biggest exporter of turkey meat in the U.S. Doesn't surprise me. We lived in Mankato a few years ago, in the heart of turkey country. Minnesota farmers raise about 45 million turkeys each year, many as contractors for Hormel, whose Jennie-O brand is an industry leader. Recently, turkey farms have been hit with a "highly pathogenic H5N2 strain of avian influenza [which] recently wiped out a flock of about 15,000 birds in Pope County," according to newspaper reports.

The avian flu outbreak is not believed to be contagious to humans, but tens of thousands of birds have apparently been destroyed to stop its spread. The main
Minneapolis paper covered the story, and several other news sources have commented on it, including a statement from the state turkey growers association admitting that three different flocks have been infected but suggesting the danger of additional spread is minimal and there is no danger to the public because "All poultry identified with HPAI are prohibited by law from entering the marketplace." It's difficult to get a real handle on the extent of the problem. The farms involved have not been named, although one has been reported to be a breeding facility rather than a producer. To the extent the outbreak is being blamed on anything, the most frequently mentioned suspects are wild turkeys and waterfowl, which supposedly can carry the disease without being infected by it. No one seems to be asking why production turkeys which live indoors in huge barns are so much more susceptible to the disease than wild birds. Or how they managed to become infected, for that matter. One agriculture-related news outlet mentioned the farmers are basically out the cost of the birds if they die on the farm, but get an indemnity from the USDA if they euthanize them.

Amidst all this obfuscation and cover-up by the Minnesota turkey corporations and their allies in state government, it's hard not to doubt the claims that the outbreak hasn't affected the Jennie-O brand. The system seems to be very reactive. Poultry identified with the disease are taken off the market, but those not identified? Growers are going to take a look at their sanitation practices and start (start?) washing trucks used to transport birds to the processing plants. I don't think I'll be running to the store to buy a bag of smoked turkey lunch meat anytime soon. Forty countries, including China and most of Europe, have banned Minnesota turkey imports. China actually bans all U.S. turkey.


Luckily, we have a freezer that's well stocked with our own turkey, and a paddock outside with ten birds in it. The meat in the freezer is from commercial hybrid birds that we raised as an experiment last summer. The birds outside are heritage breeds (Narragansett and Old-fashioned Bronze) -- they're so hardy they spent the entire up-north winter running around in the snow and roosting in trees at night. Turkeys are some of the hardiest beasts you'll ever see, which makes the susceptibility of the commercial flocks all the more sad. The agribusiness-site's article makes fun of the idea that commercial turkeys are confined, saying "Can you imagine the size of the cages needed for 15,000, 25-pound turkeys in a barn?!" Funny, huh? Try to imagine a barn filled with 15,000 turkeys, caged or not. Gee, they get sick -- what a surprise!

It's easy to raise a few turkeys, if you happen to live outside town. Our commercial birds weren't as hardy as the heritage turkeys, but they did alright and grew to about 45 pounds. The heritage birds are a bit smaller, but they can actually reproduce on their own. Yesterday morning I found our first batch of turkey eggs in one of the nest boxes I made for them a couple weeks ago. That's sustainability.