Monday, 14 August 2017

The problem solving pig and the hens who learned by watching TV

Leaving the European Union will be an economic and political catastrophe for the people of the United Kingdom. It will also be a catastrophe for animal welfare in the UK if the legal status of animals is not safeguarded.

For the last 20 years in European Union law animals have been recognised as sentient beings. This law underpins animal welfare in the EU defining animals as......." having the faculty of sensation, and the power to perceive, reason and think." Legal dictionary definition of animal sentience

I have just signed a petition, along with 34,000 other concerned people, calling on the UK government to safeguard the status of animals as sentient beings. You can do the same.......Compassion in World Farming

Happy high welfare pigs
Everyday I work with animals as I have done for over 60 years. during this time I gradually came to the conclusion that farm animals are much more sensitive, intelligent and perceptive than I or anyone else thought and that industrial farming practices are inherently cruel and unethical.

The problem solving pig
Thirty years ago pregnant sows were mostly kept in steel crates on concrete floors for most of the 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days of their pregnancy. This reduced labour costs, enabled the precise feeding of concentrated rations and was unbelievably cruel. The practice is now banned thanks to EU wide legislation.

Sometime in the 1990 s I came across a video of a very intelligent pig solving a problem. The video showed pregnant sows in a yard littered with straw and fed by a computer controlled dispenser. The dispenser was activated by a transponder around each sow's neck. It doled out a prescribed amont of feed in every 24 hr period. Labour costs were low, feeding was precise and it was high welfare.

One sow however found a transponder which had fallen off another pig. She picked it up and carried it to the computer to get second helpings. How reasoning, intelligent and sentient is that?

Hens can learn by watching TV

Another video shows a pen of hens feeding from red plastic bowls, these birds feeding were being displayed on a TV screen visible to another group of hens. The researchers then placed different coloured bowls  of food including a red one, in the pen of the TV watching hens. The TV audience went straight for the red bowls. They had learned something to their advantage by watching TV, this is highly intelligent  learning behaviour.

Please support the petition Sign the petition

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Perseid meteor shower is back with celestial fireworks

Shooting star over Ardnamurchan

I first became aware of the Perseid meteors while lying on my back on a rock in Death Valley. It was August and we were on a family holiday when sensible people avoid the place. There was one stand pipe for water, it was marked "hot", we didn't. pitch the tent we just spread our sleeping bags on the flat rock and lay there under a magnificent firework display.

The Perseids are debris from the Swift-Tuttle comet , pea sized bits of rock and ice that hurtle through the atmosphere at a rate or 60 to 100 an hour. It's advisable to find a dark place and to be out there in the hours before dawn.

This weekend 12th / 13th august the shooting star display will be at it's height. The forecast looks good with partial cloud so it's worth a try. This time I'll be lying on my back on a rock above high tide at Sanna Bay sometime after 10.30 pm.

No Death Valley temperatures at Sanna, I'll have an arctic sleeping bad, a balaclava hat and a flask of hot chocolate.
Video of Perseid shower 2016

After the show I will add the images, if any.

Where do we get our environmental values?

In the Pacific N.W.there is ongoing debate about the protection of "old growth" natural forest systems and the economic and cultural vitality of local communities. There is a similar but different debate in Scotland about the proposed re-introduction of the lynx to Kielder forest. and more recently Argyll.
Re-introduction of lynx to UK

The debate is often crudely characterised as being , local red neck loggers or agricultural fundamentalists v urban based tree huggers. The lynx debate is polarised between local sheep farmers and urban based wildlife enthusiasts. At the heart of these debates are different values about forests and wildlife and our human relationships to forests and wildlife.

On the one hand there is a set of materialist utilitarian attitudes and on the other values rooted in ecology and a notion of the intrinsic value of nature. This research in the US has shown that these traditionalist utilitarian values are inversely related to income,urbanisation and education but positively related to residential stability. Manning, R 1999

In other words if you have a low income, a low level of education and you are a long time local resident you are likely to value wildlife and trees for their use value. Those valuing trees and wildlife for their own sake, attributing intrinsic value, generally have higher income, higher educational attainment and are not rooted in the local community.

The authors of the article suggest that if current social trends continue then the "traditionalist / utilitarian" value systems will decline and of course as academics always do, they suggest that more research is needed.

We, especially as grandparents ,can do a lot to influence environmental values, the kind of values that would support re-introduction of large predators and rewilding in Scotland.

It's my belief that environmental values tend to be function of age, gender, geographic location, income and education. Many years ago I did a quick and dirty bit of research with a group of environmental studies students to try to determine what influenced their values and choice of degree course.

Formation of their environmental values was largely down to the influence of their grandparents. and primary education. It's one of the reasons I took my grandchildren for a woodland walk this morning.

Manning,R. et al, Values, Ethics,and Attitudes Toward National Forest Management:An empirical study, Society and Natural Resources,12 1999 pp.421-436

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The UK Government Renewable Heat Initiative - Socialism for the wealthy - diddly squat for the environment

If you have £1,000 in a deposit account getting 1% return it will take roughly 70 years to double your money it's the "rule of 70",  divide 70 by the annual rate of return and you get the years to double your money.

Clear felling for firewood
But if you were a mega-rich UK landowner with  trees, and cash in the bank you could do much better out of the "Renewable Heat Initiative" (RHI). This will more than double your investment in 3.5 years, it has a rate of return of 20% and of course these people don't pay taxes, if they pay VAT they get it all back.Fantastic returns on boiler investment

This scheme is based on the Tory (Republicans too in the US) principle that wealth should always flow upwards to those who already have it. We the tax payers are once again subsidising the wealthy and helping the Government to achieve it's targets, there is nothing in it for us.

A woodlot or forest produces an annual increment of wood throughout it's life, the yield varies according to the species, the site and age of the trees. If you selectively remove this annual increment for firewood then that is sustainable and is making a contribution to carbon sequestration. This can be done by selectively felling smaller trees or "thinning" and thereby increasing the growth rate of those that remain by reducing competition when the last trees are felled they are replaced.

However, if you clear fell a wood for burning within say 12 months you will be releasing  50 - 60 years worth of stored carbon in one event.  You have  fuel miles and pellet processing energy to add to the total.

A least one owner of a wood fueled centrally heated castle is Scotland has discovered that he can earn more cash  by leaving his windows open and burning more wood. Of course we are also paying for his central heating. This is,"socialism for the wealthy" and diddly squat for the environment, what the post-Brexit hard right future will look like in spades. But at least the UK government meets it's targets for renewables so that's OK!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Natural poultry keeping...... hatching and rearing

I have been keeping poultry for over sixty years, hatching, rearing, producing eggs and table birds. It has taken a long time but experience has taught me that for the small scale poultry keeper natural hatching and rearing is superior to the use of even the most sophisticated modern incubators.

First invented in ancient Egypt incubators were to supplement natural hatching not to replace it. Of course if you are producing tens of thousands of chicks for sale the use of hens is out of the question. New incubators are expensive, used ones can be dodgy. constant attention to the temperature, humidity and turning routine is called for. Then you need heat lamps, a cage of some description and a draught proof vermin proof shed for 5 to 6 weeks of rearing.

You can safely ignore the advice in textbooks. Eggs can be set at any time of day either by placing them under the broody hen or putting them in a nest at floor level and letting her find them herself. Once she has settled down don't interfere. She doesn't need dusting with insecticide for example and doesn't need the disturbance of a daily inspection. She knows what to do.

She knows exactly what to do
During the first week the hen will rarely leave the eggs to eat or drink, she begins to eat again in week two, by day nineteen she has a voracious appetite for grain.

I put my broodies in a small coop with access to food and water, the coop is then used to provide protection from hoodie crows, sun, wind and rain during the first week of life.. After that the hen and chicks can rake about outside reasonably  safely and supplement their diet with seeds, insects and worms.

After 5 or 6 weeks the hen begins to lose interest in the chicks as they become bigger and more independent, the chicks are also integrated into the social hierarchy of the flock..... simple!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Under regulated capitalism, competition and consumerism are destroying global ecosystems, driving climate change and wiping out species

All of our environmental problems are a result of the unintended consequences of the application of new technology.

Fossil fuels
For example; the greenhouse gases  that drive climate change are the unforeseen effects of the energy use that arrived with the industrial revolution 200 years ago, the massively increased use of fossil fuels.Video-A century of climate change in 35 seconds

A recent example is the use of novel neo-neonicotinoid insecticides that harm honey bees.Recent research- Neonicotinoids harm bees

If you doubt my claim try this; think of an environmental problem that is not a direct or indirect consequence of the application of new technology. You cannot do it. If you think you can......please post it in the comments section.

Neonics kill bees
An individual capitalist or corporation must apply appropriate new technology as quickly as possible in order to gain a competitive advantage. Business does not want to be held back by testing for side effects on the environment. They usually get their way and this results in more environmental degradation.

The market for our basic needs; food, shelter and security depends largely on the size of the human population. Demands of the market can be sated relatively easily. So you have to be sold stuff that you don't really need in order for businesses and the economy to grow. This is consumerism.

Shop till you drop....destroy the planet
ergo Capitalism, competition and consumerism are destroying the planet.

He owns the White House, the Kremlin and Westminster
The, Trump White House is wholly owned by corporate America. In Russia the Kremlin is owned by a kleptocratic oligarch mafia. China practices "State Capitalism" and elsewhere corporate lobbyists call the shots and pull the strings.

The global capitalist system is out of control and  incapable of change.

Effective change would require fewer people with fewer perceived needs and more government regulation of business, that might just save  the planet but how to we get from here to there....Greed rules OK.

Oh... and the people who voted for Trump are still being screwed by his corporate supporters.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Can a Scottish wildcat hybrid go missing? or is she just a "free spirit"?

My cat, Mimi , went missing at the weekend. She habitually turns up every morning, as I am shaving, to demand food, proprietary cat food, none of that wild stuff. Then..... on Sunday she didn't arrive for breakfast. Had she met up with a fox ? a speeding car? or was she caught in a fox trapper's snare?

She is trained to come to the sound of a goat bell. She didn't come.

Mimi at home in the woods
You might think that a wildcat hybrid could look after herself out there in the fields and woods, she has ferocity genes after all. But cats learn survival skills from their mothers in the first two to three months of life. If that period was spent in a domestic environment they wouldn't necessarily get a skill set suited to life in the wild.

Then there is traffic on this narrow single track road where the national speed limit 60 mph applies and some drivers lack basic common sense, There are cat thieves, fox traps, foxes, eagles and weird people with guns who shoot anything that moves.

Cat owners also have a vivid imagination and often imagine the worst case.

At home in the kitchen
Last night at about ten o clock, after I rang the goat bell and she sauntered up to the house to demand food.

We have had two hot sunny days with a cooling north wind, blue sky and blue placid sea. It's been perfect summer weather. So my guess is that she went on holiday. She spent the time sleeping in the sun having found a nest of field mice.

Cats and particularly wild cats are free spirits., This free spirit is recognised in UK law and hybrid scottish wildcats are not included in the "Dangerous wild animals act". They and their owners cannot be held liable for any damage that they might do to your dog for example..