Saturday, November 20, 2010

The World's Largest Pig Nipple: Adventures at Euro-Tier

So here it is - the world's largest pig nipple - it's actually not as gross as it sounds..... A pig nipple is just an attachment for the end of a water pipe to allow pigs to efficiently drink water - this is a ~5ft tall wooden replicate!

Yesterday I joined 140,000 fellow livestock farmers and specialists in attending "The World's Largest Event for Animal Agriculture", Euro-Tier, held at the expansive expo center in Hanover, Germany.

There were almost a dozen gigantic exhibit halls - each filled with hundreds of companies, from a total of 49 countries. While true "innovation" was harder to find than I would have hoped, there was a handful of exhibitors that really impressed me.

I was very intrigued by a modest booth with only a museum-quality skeleton of a
dairy cow on display. I approached the exhibitor, who explained to me that their booth was not a company, but rather a project of Prof. Dr. Martin Kaske of the Veterinary School at the University of Hanover. He was there to promote the latest research from their department - which documents the specific health problems we have created in certain cows by creating a "bigger is better" system of breeding. This project was promoting that cattle breeders work towards a significantly smaller cow size - pointing to impressive gains in profitability, not to mention animal welfare. I greatly appreciated this, after years of working with the "miniature" breed of irish dexter cows. In addition, through working with Dr. Elkins at the Buck Run Farm in eastern Pennsylvania, USA, I have become very much convinced that small to moderate sized cows (~1,000 lbs or 453 kg) are best for both people and animal.

Next I met a soft-spoken and intelligent Swedish fellow who was displaying a very clever feat of engineering. Yes.....another pig nipple - but this one is real and quite brilliant. By simply changing the location and shape of the 'button' the pig pushes to release the water - this new design has proven to reduce water waste by 40%!! This, and a few other swine-oriented exhibits, made me dearly miss my days of breeding pigs....

The last exhibitor I'll share really impressed me - for the shear
simplicity of the idea, and the very real impact it can have on animal welfare and farmer profitability. was described to me as "ebay for cows" by co-founder Godehard Gerling, a Bavarian from the information technology field with surprising insight into the realities facing cattle producers. The website is very simply, an on-line trading portal for regional trading of all matter of livestock. This in itself, may not sound like a big deal, but consider the alternatives. Livestock auctions, the traditional way to sell animals, creates insanely risky conditions for the spread of disease, undue animal stress, and low prices for farmers. Having a dedicated, professional forum for the direct farm-to-farm trade of livestock is a need I am sure will grow into the future.

At the end of the day I was astounded by the power of technology to shape our food system, but even more impressed by the role of human intent as a determining factor in the real impacts that these technologies will have. We can clearly do anything we desire- so let's make sure that we really do know what it is that we want!

Just to end on another crass note, here is an amazing taxidermy of a boar being collected for semen ;) I can't even tell you how many bizarre photos I could be posting from this event....

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Feldkieker...

Just came back from Tegut with a freshly matured batch of Feldkieker! A fermented-sausage unique for many reasons - but loved for just two - taste and texture...

The Feldkieker seems to have originated, or at least been perfected, just under 1 hr from here in the Eichsfeld region. Starting with 12 month old pigs (as opposed to the usual 6-8 months), the butcher then uses a unique and challenging casing of pig skin to ferment and age the mixture of meat and secret spices. The end product seems to be prehistoric in nature. Irregular in shape, the meat inside appears almost as uncooked ground - yet the enticingly familiar aroma assures you it is absolutely prime for the spreading on a slice of cheese and topping with mustard!

This sausage was made in an innovative meat plant in Fulda (the same city I study in each Monday) - working directly with a small number of certified-organic pork producers to make a very traditional sausage, sustainably - and at a reasonable if fair price (~$18/lb)

I'll end with a very roughly translated quote from a recent German blog - "Wurst-Sucht" [Sausage-Obsession]. The language is passionate if not shocking - yet I have no doubt that it describes the magic experienced by any child lucky enough to have been raised in a family rich in regional meat tradition:

"Whenever I visited my grandma, my cousin and I snuck in from time to time in this chamber. We lay on the stone floor, our arms behind our heads, looking longingly into the sausage heaven. The Stracke, the bubbles, and the ham gave off an intense smell of smoke and spices. Fat droplets glistened on the ends of sausages in the sun, which stole through the wooden slats like magically sparkling stalactites. We passionately breathed in the aromas like old connoisseurs and with a bite, the water shot us in the mouth. I still have this taste in my mouth. It was the first orgasm."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Month of Meats: Getting Settled in Witzenhausen

My first month in Germany has been a wild ride - a European vacation and ruthlessly challenging 60hr work week at once....but there is definitely no complaining. I am located in the heart of Germany, the state of Hesse, in the fairytale village of Witzenhausen. The former home and inspiration for the Brothers Grimm, Witzenhausen is a small river town where the hillsides are dotted with gingerbread houses and rosy-cheeked women cloak themselves in abundant woolen warmth. And the meats ain’t bad either ;)

Here in town, on both sides of the river Werra, lie the two campuses of the Faculty of Biological Agriculture for the University of Kassel. It is here, and, for one day a week, at the southern urban center of Fulda, that I will master a wide variety of practical skills needed to manage a small-scale sustainable meat processing plant upon my return to the US.
While I am confident I can gain the skills here that I need to create an innovative meat operation at home - many readers might be surprised to learn
of the wide diversity of interpretations that the word “sustainability” has here on the academic front-lines of the world’s food trade. When I talk to some students and teachers around campus, I can tell I am viewed as ‘an extremist’ in my views on producing cows with out any grain. Yet, when I talk with many others, I can equally ascertain that my complete lack of interest in Organic Certification is disconcerting to that segment of the school. For me, this plethora of thought is an environment we should always seek to immerse ourselves in. Only through critical thinking and frequent discussion will our food system become what we know it can be - ideal!

Tomorrow - I go to Gottingen after class to the fleischereibedarf (butcher supply store) - and pick up the few remaining pieces for my newly obtained hand-crank meat-grinder.....Get ready for a rainbow of sausages the likes of which few Americans have ever seen!