Farm News


Monthly Archives: July 2014

July 2014

In 1066 William the conqueror crossed the English Channel in what would be the last successful invasion of England. His army was weak with dysentery, fever, and ague. In medieval time disease in the military accounted for almost half of an army’s total mortality. One of the leading causes of death in the army at the time was food poisoning. Due to ease of storage, cured meat products – normally pork, made up the bulk of an armies protein requirements. In the third century the Romans codified salt curing when Cato wrote the recipe for salt curing of ham. At that time meat was cured with salt for a specified period time and then eaten or smoked. Curing meats with salt was an accepted way of extending the shelf life of meat in an era that was without refrigeration. The problem, for people who relied on preserved meat as a dietary staple was that food poisoning from eating cured products was rampant. Sailors in the Royal Navy had more chance of dying by food poisoning than by fighting pirates or the French. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the early settlers in America discovered that meat cured in the sea water allowed people to eat cured meat with much less worry of food poisoning.

Sea water contained an important element that was overlooked in previous curing attempts – sodium nitrate which at that time was called salt peter. Today we know that some bacterium can survive in a salt environment and the use of nitrates, along with proper sanitation, is the only guaranteed way to ensure cured products are safe. Like all living organisms bacteria produces waste products as it synthesizes food. Bacterial wastes can be quite toxic to humans and some of them such as botulism are deadly. Botulism is so deadly even a minute amount can kill or make people violently ill and the symptoms are stomach cramps, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Once the toxin has infected the meat it cannot be destroyed. Cooking will kill the bacteria but not the toxin the bacteria produces. This is why it is so critical when curing products to kill the bacteria immediately through the use of salts and nitrates.

In the 1970’s there was a question about whether nitrates could be carcinogenic and several tests were conducted. Although there was never conclusive evidence to prove the carcinogenic claim the Canadian Food Agency moved away from the use of nitrates and instead used nitrites which produced the same bacterial killing results.

One of the ways that the early settlers knew that their meat was “safely cured” was that it had a pleasing rosy hue to it when cooked. Today the government has specified that all cured products must have various quantities of nitrite in it during the curing process ensuring that the cure will kill all bacteria. Various vegetables such as celery or beets have natural sodium nitrite in them and the CFIA has made allowances that allows producers to use quantities of the natural nitrites. The kitchen staff and chef at Townsend looked into using the natural nitrites however because no two vegetables will hold a definitive amount of nitrite the government specified quantities are greater than if we just put in straight sodium nitrite. Today there is a chorus of health activists and farm producers who claim that nitrites are not necessary and that eating meat without this important mineral causes only a slim chance of illness however, like King Harold found out when a Norman arrow found its way past his heavily armoured body through the eye slit in his helmet, even small chances can have fatal consequences.

Large Black Pigs at Townsend
We are awaiting a new batch of pastured pigs from the US. We are getting a Defender boar piglet, a Matilda sow, a Prudence Sow, and a Charlotte Sow. It should make for interesting combinations.
Hyrum is busy with another year of free range poultry. He is halfway through his next run of chickens, they’re 3 weeks old, and he is also busy with his Muscovy ducks, guinea fowl, turkeys, and pheasants.
Sophia’s lambs are almost ready to be processed she will start to call her clients about their cuts.

Belted Galloway
Townsend’s small herd of grass fed cattle are enjoying the summer in the field however the angus’ time here on earth is becoming short. We will be switching their diets shortly to ensure good marbling in November.

June 2014

In 1192 King Richard the Lion heart left his crusade in the holy land bankrupt and without an army. Many of the countries he had to pass through to get back to England were ruled by Monarchs who were either unfriendly or a bitter enemy of the King. To disguise himself while passing through these unfriendly territories the King dressed himself as a poor peasant travelling in search of work and lodging. The disguise worked well until Richard was captured in Vienna because he refused to stop eating chicken which at the time was a food too expensive for any but the wealthy. Someone saw a poor peasant eating chicken and thinking it was odd reported it to the marshal who arrested Richard and took him before the King of Austria. The Austrian King recognized Richard, put him in jail, and then demanded a large ransom from his brother, John (the one from Robin Hood), who was ruling Richards Kingdom in the Kings absence.

Today, unlike medieval times chicken is one of the cheapest types of meat available for purchase at local markets. Chicken per pound is cheaper than beef, fish, lamb, and pork; oddly though it is one of the poorest animals at converting grain to meat. This means that the same chicken which uses more grain per pound of meat to raise than the other animals is cheaper than all other types of meat per pound. The ability of stores to provide cheap chicken comes at a high cost to the health of the birds as well as the potential health to humans as consumers of chicken. Chicks are fed a steady diet of antibiotics and hormones from the time they hatch until they are processed as well to keep costs down producers only allow for chickens to be raised in one square foot of living space. Chickens are genetically modified to ensure they grow the most muscle mass per pound of grain eaten and chickens are fed animal by products for higher protein. At Townsend our free ranged chickens are not given any antibiotics and no growth hormones. Just like in medieval times they are allowed to roam freely and graze for what they will eat. Our birds are fed a natural vegetarian diet supplemented by whatever they find in the pasture.

It was said that King Richard could eat four or five chickens per day and at Townsend we try to produce a chicken that tastes good enough to lose a kingdom for. Speaking of losing a kingdom, when Prince John received the ransom demands from Austria, he promptly responded to it by offering to pay the Austrian King even more money to keep Richard in jail. John must have wanted all the kingdom’s chicken to himself.

Townsend Free Ranged Chicken
HIMG_0737yrum was very successful raising chickens this year. He has finished producing the first round of birds and is now in the process of delivering them. The chickens came out great and he is meeting with all of his customers. We had 40 pheasants come to the farm and so we will see if we can keep some game birds here on the farm. Our guinea fowl are growing and we received a new batch of Muscovy Ducks

Grass Fed Beef
Our Belted Galloway herd received a tragic loss when the cow which was expecting had to be rushed to Dr. Hamilton’s office for an emergency C Section. We lost the calf which had a rare congenital defect but we managed to save old Bessie and we will have to see if she can carry a calf again.IMG_0721

Manitoba Lambs 
Our lambs are all growing. We have a Horned Dorset lamb entered into the all Canada Classic competition in Toronto this year and we are waiting to see how she will do. Our Horned Dorset flock

IMG_0714is growing and Sophia is looking after the lambs very well. Dawn, the farms head chef, was attacked last month by the ram – he’s in the deep freezer now.