Friday Offcuts – 10 April 2015

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UAVs, robotics and automation - they’re the three central themes for this regions MobileTECH 2015 event starting in Australia on 21-22 April. This week we’ve got three stories linking directly to the technology series. The first is a short video clip showing a robot wielding a chainsaw. The second is linked to a young after-dinner presenter who's going to be speaking at the Gold Coast event. Their Brisbane based start-up company is just one of a handful of Australian businesses that Google has approved to develop its latest "Glass" display technology. Agriculture or primary industries are seen as one of the key areas for this new digital revolution.

The other piece is an update on the research and field trials being undertaken by New Zealand based Scion and Raglan-based Aeronavics Ltd. They've teamed up to test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) mounted with interchangeable remote sensing technologies for forest management. Aeronavics, along with a number of other key suppliers of UAVs in this region are going to be putting their aircraft through their paces as part of the upcoming MobileTECH 2015 series.

In last week's issue we covered a story on the attractiveness and returns that have been made on timberlands by institutional investors. News this week is that Graeme Hart is understood to be planning to float most of Carter Holt Harvey around the middle of the year. The building supplies division is believed to be worth around $1 billion (see story and comment below).

To get you thinking, we’ve also included a short story recently published on issues around light timber frame construction. It's a thought provoking piece written by the CEO of Australia’s National Precast Concrete Association. Certainly, an interesting perspective and obviously compiled with a particular agenda. It clearly demonstrates though the importance of our own industry associations, researchers and wood producers coordinating their efforts in putting forward the “facts” – often, regularly and through a wide assortment of media.

Stepping right up to the plate are Planet Ark and Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA). From this Sunday, award-winning architect Peter Maddison will again be extolling the environmental advantages of working with wood to the wider community through TV commercials (see the clip featured below) on free to air TV, pay TV and online. Big dollars but tracking research from previous campaigns clearly points to a very big payback.



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Carter Holt float could raise $1 billion

New Zealand's richest man, Graeme Hart, is understood to be planning to float most of Carter Holt Harvey in what could be the biggest IPO this year. Hart's Rank Group bought CHH almost a decade ago and has been carving up the business since, with the Carters outlets and timber products the last piece of the company to be sold.

The building supplies division with exposure on both sides of the Tasman could, according to one market source, raise as much as $1 billion based on earnings multiples but subject to price and demand. Brokers Credit Suisse First Boston and First New Zealand Capital are believed to be working on the float, which could hit the share market around the middle of the year.

In an IPO, Hart would be expected to retain a cornerstone stake of around 30 per cent in the business, which is comprised of more than 50 Carters Building Supplies businesses in New Zealand, Woodproducts New Zealand and Woodproducts Australia. Brands include Pinex and Laserframe. More >>.

Further comment.

Source: NZ Herald & Scoop

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FWPA returns to TV with a successful partnership

On Sunday April 12th across Australia, award-winning architect Peter Maddison, host of Grand Designs Australia, will enter the living rooms of hundreds of thousands of people, telling them about the environmental advantages of wood for Planet Ark and Forest and Wood Products Australia (FWPA).

The commercial, produced under Planet Ark’s Environmental Edge brand and co-branded Wood. Naturally Better.™ returns to free-to-air and pay TV in metropolitan and major regional markets in a short, targeted schedule.

Now in its fourth media campaign, the commercial has successfully communicated the wood and carbon message. “Tracking research has indicated excellent increases in awareness of our key messages from the previous campaigns” said Ric Sinclair, Managing Director of FWPA, “Our market research also shows this ad is effective in helping people’s understanding of the environmental benefits of wood. I look forward to this campaign continuing to create good results for our industry.”

In the commercial, Peter Maddison explains that wood stores carbon and that carbon is better locked away in wood than free in the environment. He ends by suggesting that by choosing wood, viewers are doing good.

Paul Klymenko, Planet Ark’s CEO, said that Environmental Edge was providing a valuable service delivering facts to assist people to make more informed environmental decisions and that he looked forward to the commercial helping promote the use of responsibly sourced wood.

On free to air TV, the spot will feature in programs such as Better Homes and Gardens, Good Chef Bad Chef, Sunrise, The Living Room, movies, news and lifestyle programs. A pay TV and online schedule rounds out the campaign, aiming to reach a broad audience while targeting people interested in building and renovating.



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Aerial robotics add new dynamic to NZ forestry

Aerial imagery, near infrared detection and aerial robotics sound like they belong in a military operation, however these advanced technologies are set to change the dynamics of forest management.

New Zealand based Scion and Raglan-based Aeronavics Ltd have teamed up to field test unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) mounted with interchangeable remote sensing technologies for use in forest management. Researchers from across Scion, led by their Forest Industry Informatics team, will be using a multi-rotor craft from which LiDAR, infrared or hyperspectral sensors and video cameras can transmit vital information on many aspects of forest management – such as resource assessment, tree health and pests. These technologies will also be a valuable addition to biosecurity surveillance and eradication operations, and fire management.

“UAVs could seriously change the way forests are managed,” says Science Leader Bryan Graham. “They will make it possible for us to gather a larger volume of information, which combined with existing data and technologies, will add greater precision to forest management decisions.

“We spent the past year looking into the feasibility of using drones for this purpose, for both large forestry companies and smaller units, and have since received industry support to conduct field trials. By investing in UAV technology at this scale we can work with Aeronavics to further develop both the aerial platform and associated sensors, and speed up the delivery of a whole new generation of management tools for our forestry and government stakeholders.”

The UAV will be able to collect data on up to 1,000 hectares in one flight. Using LiDAR, data can be collected on stand attributes, such as stocking and tree height, and the infrared camera will capture aspects of tree health. The hyperspectral camera detects a much broader spectrum of wavelengths, and can be used to identify the spectral signature, or fingerprint, of vegetation types and tree diseases such as red needle cast.

“Combining LiDAR data collected at 10 metres above the canopy with that collected from satellite or plane will give us a much clearer picture of what’s happening within both native and planted forests,” says Bryan.

The team is working with several forest companies, Callaghan Innovation and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to conduct the field trials, which are due to begin in May. The trials will also be used to investigate the technical requirements for UAVs used in forestry to fly beyond the line of sight, with Callaghan Innovation and the CAA developing what may be the world’s first regulatory framework to support UAVs flown beyond line of sight. Under current regulations, UAV operators must maintain visual contact at all times to ensure it does not endanger other aircraft.

A report commissioned by Callaghan Innovation stated these new regulations could boost the farming, forestry and energy sectors by up to $190 million a year through increased revenue and reduced costs, of which some $72 – $96 million will be contributed by forestry. Scion is partnered with both Callaghan Innovation and end-user group UAVNZ to ensure forestry is selected as an early adopter of beyond line of sight regulation changes.

“Other big challenges for us will be developing the systems to process the increased volume of data and automating the system using avoidance technology to allow UAVs to manoeuvre through the forest canopy safely,” says Bryan. “Our researchers have begun developing algorithms to extract relevant information from the data collected. This will build on work we are already doing with LiDAR and link with other systems to extend Scion’s capabilities in UAVs and remote sensing technologies for precision forest management.

For further information contact Bryan Graham at Bryan.Graham@scionresearch.com.

Source: Scion

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Does lightweight construction really stack up?

An interesting article – or contribution – written by the CEO of Australia’s National Precast Concrete Association (bias – what bias?).

Anyone in the design and construction sector is well aware of one of the latest fads of the construction sector – lightweight construction.

In fact there are those out there, including some from within the academic fraternity, who strongly advocate this form of construction over and above the more traditional – and heavier – methods of construction. It raises some serious questions and concerns about how these buildings will perform from a lifespan, durability, thermal performance, fire and flood perspective.

Certainly, the producers of lightweight construction materials have carefully prepared their various testing, supporting documentation and glossy feel-good marketing material, which address some of these issues. But do the products really tick all the boxes and will they stack up in the face of the increasing climatic fluctuations we are experiencing?

Lightweight products that are imported need to first come under scrutiny. By specifying them, are we supporting our local economy and local communities? Have the many transport miles they have travelled been factored into their sustainability equation? Surely there is a substantial argument here in favour of locally produced products.

We all know that some of the more traditionally constructed structures, made from concrete, brick, block and even steel, stand the test of time. There is evidence of extremely old structures built from such materials all around us.

Given that Australia is a newer nation, many of the really old structures are to be found overseas; nonetheless, they are there and they are not just hundreds, but thousands of years old in many cases. Are lightweight structures able to compare? Do we see them of a similar age? Can they be refurbished and reused, rather than having to be demolished and rebuilt? I’d suggest the answer to all these questions is "no."

Durability and ongoing maintenance are also questionable. What is the life of lightweight structures? What treatments have they been given to make them durable (or termite resistant) and are those treatments friendly to our environment? Do the materials require recoating to maintain their integrity over their lifespan? One thing we do know about some of the higher thermal mass products in particular, such as concrete, brick, block and stone, is that they require minimal maintenance. They are inherently low maintenance and still durable, with a long life.

From a thermal performance perspective, how do lightweight structures stack up? Most need to be heavily loaded with insulation, and it is only the insulation which provides any degree of reasonable thermal performance. This is not the case with high thermal mass products.

Research at the University of Newcastle over the last 10 years has demonstrated that the inclusion of mass in a building provides increased levels of natural thermal comfort and reduces the dependence on artificial heating and cooling. The research showed that buildings without mass perform poorly in comparison to those with mass, even when the R-value is similar. R-value therefore does not necessarily correlate with the actual energy used to maintain thermal comfort in a building.

Thermal mass not only reduces the temperature fluctuations in a building, it also delays the heat flow by up to eight hours, outside of the peak energy demand time. This is critical in reducing the heating and cooling loads and particularly the peak demand on energy networks.

This practical research is supported by more recent work by Prof Terry Williamson from the University of Adelaide, whereby a method of calculating the benefits of thermal mass, and resultant mass-enhanced R-values, have been developed. The method is used in a suite of R-value calculators for precast concrete, brick and block.

The fire and flood resistance of lightweight structures would have to be the other serious concern. Certainly, the lightweight materials industry – including the suppliers of one lightweight option, cross laminated timber – will claim safety and durability in such disasters, but talk to the fire protection industry and you will get a different view.

Fire fighters ask questions such as "are we prepared to risk the lives of our fire fighters to rescue occupants of a five storey burning building when it’s made from timber?" There are very real concerns amidst their ranks about the spread of fire both within a structure and to adjacent structures, plus the emission of fumes, and the time which it takes to rescue occupants many stories up. Already, there have been deaths associated with fires in multi-storey timber structures in the UK, France and Sweden. It will be interesting to see exactly how they perform when the first disaster strikes.

Maybe the lightweight trend is just that, a trend, or maybe it is here to stay, but the decision of whether to specify lightweight materials needs to be all encompassing.

Source: Sourceable

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Tasmanian Government to pay Launceston sawmiller $1m

A Launceston sawmiller will receive AU$1 million to stay in the timber sector rather than leave, in a record agreement struck under the Tasmanian Government's rejigged Regional Sawmiller Structural Adjustment Grants Program reports ABC News.

Barbers Sawmill was to pocket AU$2,032,875 under the exit scheme set up by the previous Federal Labor government. The State Government has since restructured the program with the Commonwealth's consent. Sawmillers now have the option of keeping half their exit payout while remaining in operation.

Barbers Sawmill managing director Graham Barber told reporters on Tuesday he would use the AU$1 million to upgrade equipment and had secured a contract to receive sawlogs from Forestry Tasmania. "That'll involve upgrading our equipment, buildings, vehicles and allow us to buy equipment to sawmill smaller logs," he said.

Resources Minister Paul Harriss hoped up to eight other sawmillers would follow Mr Barber's lead by opting to stay in operation.

Source: ABC News

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Queensland Company focuses on wearable heads-up display

A south-east Queensland IT company, founded by two men in their early 20s, has got its eye on breaking into the international world of wearable heads-up display technology. Start-up company Buckham and Duffy is one of a handful of Australian businesses Google has approved to develop its latest "Glass" display technology.

The company was chosen in January after Google announced it would stop producing the Google Glass prototype but remained committed to its development. Google Glass looks like a pair of glasses but is a cutting-edge wearable device, which projects images on to the eye to create a "heads-up display".

Buckham and Duffy director Jordan Duffy, 20, said his company got the Google gig because of its focus on innovation and glowing references from its blue-chip clients. Buckham and Duffy. which began as a fledgling two-man outfit in Redland City east of Brisbane, will develop Google Glass concepts in Australia as part of the "Glass at Work" program.

"We can overlay a huge range of data in the user's view using glass," Mr Duffy said. Victoria Point's Jordan Duffy is breaking into the Google Glass sector. "This could include patient health data for doctors and nurses or GPS data for surveyors.

"We can see this product increasing public safety, efficiency for organisations, with key areas of focus for us in agriculture, healthcare, security and education. "We are only at the beginning of a digital revolution," he said.

The young entrepreneur will be providing the after-dinner presentation as part of the upcoming MobileTECH 2015 series running for the country’s primary industries on 21-22 April at the Gold Coast. Full details and late registrations to this eye-opening technology series can be made on the event website, www.mobiletech.events

Source: Western Advocate

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Atlas products gaining traction internationally

Since acquiring the Atlas suite from Scion recently, Integral have had an exciting year seeing the Atlas tools reach a much broader market. Recent sales to Syarikat Samling Timber in Malaysia and Fiji Pine have been keeping the Atlas team busy. At the same time, partnerships with service providers like Interpine Forestry of Rotorua and Esk Mapping in Tasmania have seen GeoMaster implemented in numerous smaller companies throughout New Zealand and Australia, and now also in Uruguay.

“Adopting the Atlas suite was an exciting extension to our existing Forestry technology skillset but definitely a new challenge with the additional technologies in play” says Integral CEO, Andrew Taylor “but we’ve been delighted with the way the Atlas team have settled in, and how well the brand has continued to grow. GeoMaster Mobile has captured the imagination of the industry, and we’ve received a very enthusiastic response to this recent addition to our tool set.”

According to Francois Blignaut, Planning Manager at Samling, they evaluated various plantation management systems. “We have decided on using the Atlas suite as it proved to be the best solution to cater for all our needs. Integral keeps abreast with the latest trends and has added GeoMaster Mobile to its tool set, and apart from the fact that all stand details and stand history is now easily accessible on a smartphone, the app also has the ability to record any notes against a stand which makes record keeping and reporting incidents so much easier.” Francois was recently in New Zealand to catch up with Samling’s sister company, Hikurangi Forest Farms, as well as spending time with the team at Integral.

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Tequila to plastic composite

When the sap from plants such as sugar cane is extracted for commercial use, what's left over is a fibrous material known as bagasse. This is commonly used as biofuel, or is compressed into a wood substitute. Now, Mexican startup Plastinova is using agave bagasse from the tequila industry to make a wood-like material of its own, although it's also incorporating recycled plastic.

To make the material, the alcohol and sugar content is first removed from agave bagasse, leaving nothing but the fibre. That fibre is then dried and ground into a flour-like powder, to which a chemical agent is added – that agent allows the fibre powder to bond with waste plastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene, which make up 65 to 90 percent of the composite material.

The finished product is claimed to be stronger than natural wood, and takes the form of tablets measuring 1 m x 1.2 m x 10 cm (39 x 47 x 4 in) from which pieces can be cut as needed. Plastinova suggests that it could be made into items such as construction forms, benches, tables and chairs.

That said, the company is now looking into replacing the agave bagasse with coconut fibre, as lab tests have indicated that it should offer higher strength. Additionally, the agave bagasse can be difficult to acquire, as tequila companies usually keep it to fuel their boilers.


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Adhesives and insulating foams from softwood bark tannins

In collaboration with its partners, VTT developed tannin extraction from softwood bark as part of an ERA-NET project. At least 130 kg of crude tannin powder can be produced from one tonne of dry wood bark, still leaving 87% of the original bark mass available for incineration. In Finland, tannin could replace, in particular, fossil-based phenols in adhesives used in the wood products industry.

Hundreds of tonnes of tannin is produced from wood materials and wood bark for the needs of leather, beverage and animal feed industry in South America and South Africa in particular. However, the supply of the main sources of tannin, acacia and quebracho trees, is not sufficient to satisfy the increasing industrial demand for tannin.

In industrial use, tannin could be used to replace fossil chemicals in adhesives and insulating foams. In Finland, softwood bark tannins would be well suited for adhesive production for the manufacturing of wood products at sawmills. It could also enhance the fire resistance of insulating foams.

As part of the international ERA-NET project, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd developed, in collaboration with its partners, a tannin extraction process from bark material generated as a by-product in the paper and wood industry to give added value to the fraction currently used for incineration.

The extraction process is quite simple: tannin can be extracted from bark using hot water, after which the extract is dried into a powder. Drying the water extract into powder may not be necessary if the tannin is extracted near the site where glued wood products are manufactured. One tonne of dry wood bark yields at least 130 kg of tannin powder, leaving 87% of the original bark mass available for incineration.

The market price per kilo of tannin extracted from present raw material sources is approximately 1-2 euros. The market price per kilo of phenol is has varied recently from 0.8 to 1.4 euros.

For more information check out the latest issue of R&D Works.



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Council adopts Wood First Policy for Rotorua

Rotorua Lakes Council in NZ has adopted a Wood First Policy and action plan. The policy, aimed at encouraging use of wood products and supporting the district’s vital wood industry, was adopted at a meeting of the council’s Strategy, Policy & Finance Committee on 1 April.

Rotorua was the founding city of the world’s plantation forestry industry. The concept of growing ‘wood crops’ was first developed in Rotorua in the early 20th century, and is now a world-wide practice.

Today, Rotorua sits at the heart of New Zealand’s forestry and wood industry, which has a significant impact on the district’s economy. Approximately 40 per cent of the country’s wood is harvested within a 100 kilometre radius of the city. The wider industry is the district’s largest direct employer, contributing an estimated 9 per cent of Rotorua’s GDP.

Rotorua District Council’s new Wood First Policy has three key broad objectives:

1. Facilitating and encouraging the use of wood as a preferred, sustainable building material for all projects in the district;

2. Requiring wood to be used in all council building projects; and

3. Actively supporting and advocating for wood and the wood industry – locally, regionally and at a national level.

To view the recently adopted Wood First Policy click here.

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NZ dragging its heels on committing to carbon cuts

Russia did it. The United States did it. All the countries in the European Union have done it, as have Mexico, Norway, Switzerland and Latvia. Even oil-and-mineral-exporting Gabon, population 1.3 million, did it. But New Zealand did not.

What? Meet the deadline to submit details of its 2030 emissions reduction target – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions in the latest United Nations parlance.

The new approach to tackling climate change on a global scale, agreed upon at negotiations in Lima last year, requires all countries – including developing nations which were exempted under the Kyoto Protocol from setting emissions reduction targets – to “communicate” their post-2020 emissions reduction targets before negotiations in Paris in December.

This poses a big problem for New Zealand. Treasury has told the Government that it expects this country to have a serious carbon deficit by 2030, so making cuts will require policy changes that the Government is not keen to make. It might, for example, be forced to include agriculture – responsible for nearly half of New Zealand’s annual greenhouse gas emissions – in the Emissions Trading Scheme, a move it perceives as being politically unpopular.

That’s because at the moment, the only real way of significantly reducing biological greenhouse gas emissions is by less-intensive farming. With dairy farming intensification driving the economy over recent years, that would have serious economic implications that the Government doesn’t want to have to deal with.

During the Kyoto Protocol years, when only developed or “Annex 1” countries were required to make emissions cuts, New Zealand got away with excluding agriculture from its climate change action plans because it was the only developed country with such a heavy contribution of agriculture in its emissions profile, and argued that targeting agriculture would lead to a reduced global food supply.

But with other countries, such as Mexico, with high levels of agricultural emissions in their profile now stepping up to the plate, exempting agriculture from New Zealand’s commitments will become increasingly difficult. The UN had asked countries to submit their INDCs (their commitments) by the end of March. Climate Change Minister Tim Groser has said that New Zealand’s target will be submitted before the Paris talks.

Source: Carbon News 2015

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Parity with Aussie dollar will hurt timber exporters

Jobs will go and sawmills may be forced to close if the Australian dollar continues to lose value against the Kiwi dollar says John McVicar, President of the New Zealand Timber Industry Federation.

Australia is a very important market for New Zealand timber representing 21% of the value of our timber exports. More importantly it has been a higher value market that the industry has relied on to make money. However since 2012, the rising value of the New Zealand dollar has eroded 20% of the value of our timber sold in Australia.

Mr McVicar says there simply isn’t that sort of margin in the product and mills will now be supplying at a loss to stay in the market. That scenario is not sustainable and will be devastating for many mills.

The effect of the exchange rate movement almost totally impacts on New Zealand sawmillers because there is very little imported content in timber so there is no countervailing benefit arising from the adjustment in the exchange rate.

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Robot complete with chainsaw

As we look towards some eye-opening presentations on robotics and automation – and opportunities and uses in our primary industries (including forestry) as part of the upcoming MobileTECH 2015 technology series, check out the video-clip below. This one is wielding a chainsaw.



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ForestBucker web service for harvesting contractors

Managing Director Steve Smit, an electronic engineer of the company ELECTRONICS123 has developed a new website product called ForestBucker Web Service for Harvesting Contractors. The Web Service is provided with a unique internet address, to every client. All stakeholders with valid access like harvesting contractors, forestry managers and forest owners can securely connect from any location in the world to the new service. The service provides data hosting, storage and a reporting interface for displaying and analysing the data from processing equipment at the harvesting site.

It’s a real-time reporting tool for contractors to monitor production at harvesting sites and inform managers and operators on parameters such as utilization, productivity, operational status and downtime causes. In the convenience of the forest owner’s home with his laptop he will see in real-time how the volume and value of all the different log grades accumulates at the skid-site. Harvesting operators will be able to retire their paper based systems when using the system.

All production data, in detail, is automatically recorded in the database and synchronized to the Web Service for real-time reporting. The Woodsman processing head used in logging operations is the first processing head that can interface directly to the Web Service software. Production data from other processing systems can be uploaded to the Web Service in StanForD (Standard for Forest machine Data and Communication) format. The StanForD system is the industry standard protocol designed to work with logging equipment and machinery.

Cutting instructions can be saved as APT files. The APT files can then be loaded in the on-board computer systems of forest harvesters. The Web Service integrated with a Woodsman processer is currently been used successfully in production at Pan Pac Forest Products Limited and is now being made available throughout the rest of New Zealand. The Web Service accommodates large-scale forest harvesting operations.

You can read more about this product in the March 2015 NZ LOGGER magazine or visit www.forestbucker.com/.



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Jobs


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...and one to end the week on...fast chickens

One day a travelling salesman was driving down a country road at about 50km/h when he noticed that there was a three-legged chicken running along beside his car.

He stepped on the gas but at 70km/h, the chicken was still keeping up. After about five minutes the chicken ran up a farm road and into a shed.

The salesman turned around and drove up the farm road. He knocked at the door and when the farmer answered, he told him what he had just seen.

The farmer said he knew about the chicken. As a matter of fact, the farmer said his son was a geneticist and had developed the chicken because the three of them each like a drumstick, and this way they only have to kill one chicken.

The salesman said, “That’s the most fantastic story I have ever heard. How do they taste?” The farmer said, “I don’t know. We can’t catch ‘em.”




And on that note, have a great weekend. Cheers.

Brent Apthorp
Editor, Friday Offcuts
PO Box 904
Level Two, 2 Dowling Street
Dunedin, New Zealand
Ph: +64 3 470 1902
Fax: +64 3 470 1904
Web page: www.fridayoffcuts.com


This week's extended issue, along with back issues, can be viewed at www.fridayoffcuts.com

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