Goosebumped – & the True Cost of Christmas

Sorry I’m a bit behind on the Diary –

I’ve been rather busy & things are getting VERY exciting here…!!  However there are new (backdated) posts for the 6th, & also 8-11th December, if you want to have a wee ‘shuftie’; & I promise to ‘play catchup’ as much as possible over the next few evenings (after I’ve written the Christmas cards, wrapped the presents, puffed my way around town to gather the last remnants of the shopping, put up the tree, cleaned the house, cleaned out a couple more livestock pens, moved the goat kids, reconstructed the milking parlour, helped mend the window in the Long Barn…etc etc!).   You might find this post gives you a fair bit of food for thought about Christmas, too; the statistics I’ve included make surprising reading…..

To have seen us today, you’d have thought we’d had a ‘plucking’ good time enjoying our annul pillow fight; in fact we were preparing the Christmas dinner….this year we are again having our own hand-reared goose, although this chap had a lucky a stay of execution last year so may prove a little tough to chomp on, as he’s enjoyed an extra Summer strutting around & gobbling copious amounts of corn. 

Despatching the goose is one of the hardest jobs of the year; we never find it easy to say goodbye to one of our menagerie, regardless of whether the creature in question has been bred specifically for the table.  Even this particular bird, who had an exceptionally mean streak & attacked anyone & everything at the merest opportunity, will be missed in a funny sort of way.  Tony took the rifle & gently caught the goose, quickly holding him down & firing the standard five shots straight through the bird’s brain in quick succession; although he was killed immediately by the very first shot.  Being thoroughly professional Tony wanted to be in no doubt the job was done; although having spent sixteen years in the RAF we both know full well how to handle a weapon effectively!   Although there are many methods used to kill poultry, as smallholders we have been advised by a professional organic free-range producer that where geese are concerned, being such large birds, this is by far the kindest & quickest method – & the gander in question certainly knew nothing about it.

Making sure our that Dave & Roberta, our resident pair of Brecon Buff geese were well out of the way, Tony hurried across the yard with the freshly-killed gander & strung him up by the legs so that we could immediately begin plucking him.  The job has to be carried out as quickly as possible because as the bird’s flesh becomes cold it inevitably contracts, constricting the quills in a vice-like grip.  So we plucked like fury, disappearing in a flurry of white feathey down which was whipped up by the light breeze & turning us into a pair of pantomime snowmen by the time we’d finished.  He was then strung up in our makeshift game larder, to hang for a few days until he is eviscerated & prepared for the oven.

Whilst many people might find it distasteful that we raise & kill our own poultry for the table (unfortunately as the male birds do not lay eggs they aren’t much use for anything else – & we only ever keep one male at a time, to prevent fights) we do make sure that inevitably the birds have the best possible quality of life: free-ranging with ad-lib organic feed where possible; & we do not force their growth unnaturally, keeping only traditional poultry breeds which may grow more slowly but reward with a fuller flavour albeit slightly tougher meat owing to their free-ranging longevity.  But meat which is a little less tender, is a small price to pay when the flavour is so wonderful; & at least the goosey element of our Christmas lunch will have only travelled ‘food feet’ rather the 7,000 miles many others will have come (did you know the majority of our seasonal turkeys are in fact bred in Thailand?) – & we have the comfort that our gander had an unsurpassed quality of life compared with so many other unfortunate, intensively-reared table birds.  

Staggeringly, the average Christmas Dinner travels between 30-85,000 food miles to reach our tables; with the ‘trimmings’ such as sprouts & carrots, coming from Zambia, wine from Australia, fruits for puddings, cakes & mince pies from Turkey & cranberry sauce all the way from the USA to name but part of the meal.  This is frankly bizarre; as by eating local, in-season produce we naturally enjoyer fresher, tastier food; support our local economies & cut down on greehouse gas emissions to boot. 

Meanwhile the presents we buy are another contributor to global warming with 70% of the EU’s toy imports coming from China – & they’re produced by poorly-paid & ill-treated factory workers. 

Gazing out over the woods in our lovely valley, makes me think of trees in a wider context: did you know that 200,000 trees are felled every year to supply the 1.7 billion Christmas cards sent by British households?  And that another 40,000 trees will have been used to make the 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper for our pressies (which is enough, incidentally, to wrap Guernsey!).  Or that 6 million spent fir trees end up in landfill every January? (Why they are not burned as biomass fuel is beyond me). 

By the end of the festive season, collectively we will have produced an extra 3 million tonnes of rubbish.  With UK households a frightening £1 trillion in debt, can we really afford such waste?


 If you want to read of a real Local Food champion, do check out Nora’s excellent “Chicken Dumpling” blog (featured in the right-hand column); not only is her heart in the right place, it’s also a cracking good read peppered with tasty recipes.

And here are some helpful links if you’re dreaming of a green Christmas:

For recycling Christmas cards:

For ethically-sourced, fairtrade gifts:

Contacts for local food suppliers:

For alternative Christmas meal ideas:

….& for suppliers of UK-grown, sustainable Christmas trees:

Wishing you a peaceful – rather than a wasteful, Christmas!



About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in December 2007, Diary, Food, Fruit & Veg, Life, News, Poultry, Smallholding, Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Goosebumped – & the True Cost of Christmas

  1. holiblue says:

    I hope that this years goose has a more comfortable end than your last Xmas dinner.
    I distinctly remember you telling a table of dinner guests that Tony shot the poor thing five times in the head with an air rifle!

  2. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Hi there Sylvia –

    oops, I think that something got missed in the translation, then! Yes, Tony did indeed shoot the goose in the head, a full five times: we were advised by a professional free-range organic producer, that for a goose this is by far the quickest, most painless & most humane method of dispatch for such a large bird. Said gander was actually killed by the very first bullet & knew nothing about what had happened; however as always with killing poultry, there was the inevitable involuntary twitching as the bird’s nervous system shut down (hence the old adage of chickens running around the farmyard after their heads have been chopped off!).

    Tony, being a professional (who has, after all, sixteen years of RAF service behind him including substantial time in a variety of operational theatres – & is therefore highly trained in handling a rifle!) simply wanted to ensure that the job had been done correctly; the shots were fired in immediate succession & everything was over in a matter of moments.

    I’m sorry if we inadvertently gave the impression the poor bird was dodging bullets around the farmyard – this most certainly was not what occurred & rest assured this year’s bird will likewise be granted a mercifully swift & painless end (unlike, alas, many of the poultry which will end up on dinner tables the world over, this Christmas!). For our part therefore, our consciences are clear that we gave the goose a quick, clean & humane death; indeed, because we care so much about each & every one of our charges, we would not have had the stomach to consume him, had this not been the case.

    So, please don’t worry about the goose; as you know, with all our livestock, everything we do for & with them from cradle to grave, is the very best we possibly can – their welfare always comes before ours, after all!

  3. Dear Jo & Tony

    Many thanks for the card. I read the note about selling some of your dairy stuff. When that is really what you want, give me a shout and see what we can do. Regarding the launch in Spring, give me a shout and I do my best.



  4. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    Cost of Christmas update:

    Here’s another interesting fact, folks: a friend of ours who’s a retired forestry worker, mentioned that in fact all those trees aren’t felled specifically to make cards – in fact the wood pulp from which the cards are made, comes from the thinnings from trees felled for other purposes such as to make fence posts or whatever. The scrubby bits from the top of the tree which would otherwise just get burned, are therefore technically at least given a purpose – I suppose you could say, recycled! Just to demonstrate that there are two sides to every story; & the gentleman in question has no axe to grind. Quite literally; as I did say he’s retired from his forestry job….!

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