27 June 2007
My meetings concluded at about 1pm. As I headed to the car, looking forward to returning to the country, I listened to a voice message that Mrs. Yeoman Farmer (MYF) had left. Her tone was frantic but not panicked, and she spoke quickly as she relayed the information: One of the kids had come in to the back porch and started screaming. MYF dashed to the back porch, just in time to see this "huge, five to seven foot long, really big around" snake slithering down the steps to the basement. She secured the basement door, and Artistic Girl posted a sign reading "No one allowed in basement. There is a SNAKE."
Once in the car, I called home and MYF and I discussed a plan of action. First, off, we concluded that the snake probably wasn't poisonous...but we couldn't be sure. It was probably like the big Bull Snake that I'd run over with the riding mower a few years back --- enormous, but more beneficial (as a mouse and rat eater) than dangerous to people. Still, this thing had to be gotten out of the basement ASAP. Given the horrible traffic, it'd be at least 2-3 hours before I could get home. By then, the snake could be camped out under/behind Who Knows What down in that basement. But I assured MYF that as soon as I arrived, I'd find the square headed shovel (nice flat striking surface), track down the snake, and dispatch it. And I must say that for the typical male, there is nothing quite so exciting as the idea of being able to slay a serpent to save his frightened damsel.
But if by chance that thing thing was poisonous, I didn't want it in the house another minute. The idea of a big, fat, seven foot long monster in my basement for even 2-3 hours, as I was stuck in Chicago traffic, began to worry me. I gave a quick call to my friend Mike, who is an avid outdoorsman and hunter --- and who lives less than 2 miles from us. He assured me that it was almost certainly a bull snake, and that there aren't poisonous snakes around here. We discussed snakes for a few more minutes, and then he said: "Do you want me to go over there and take it out?"
I told him that I'd be perfectly happy to do it myself when I got home, but that if he didn't mind going over and taking a look, that'd be great. Because as much as I wanted to slay that serpent, it was more important for my family that the serpent get slain (or at least out of our basement) as quickly as possible.
The phone rang about 45 minutes later. "Mission Accomplished!" Mike's familiar voice laughed. He'd found it under a pile of junk, deep in the basement, after only a few minutes of searching. He hacked it with a hoe, and then tossed it in the ditch across the street from our house. I thanked him profusely, as had MYF.
Turns out, the thing was only about 4 feet long and about an inch in diameter. But that's still much bigger than anything I want in my basement, no matter how many mice it may consume.
26 June 2007
Yesterday afternoon, I'd been in town for about an hour and a half. I arrived back home at about 4:15, and shortly thereafter a car pulled into our driveway. I didn't recognize it, so strolled from the barn to investigate. It was a middle-aged married couple.
"Did you get our message?" the woman asked.
"I just got home," I replied.
"Oh," she continued, "We found you on the Internet and we were in Tuscola [about 45-60 minutes south of here] and we didn't know if you'd be home but we decided to take a chance and see if we could come see the farm."
We're listed in a couple of different online directories of small scale farmers, but she couldn't remember which one she'd pulled up. Turns out, they live in Florida but have recently purchased a 20 acre spread in Arkansas, to which they hope to move (and eventually retire on) in the next few years. They'd like to have "a little bit of everything," more or less like us, and wanted to see first hand how we're doing that. Like us, they don't want to make money at it. They just want control over their own food supply, and to perhaps sell some surplus to others who appreciate where that food came from. Unlike us, however, they also want to have horses --- and that's why they were in Tuscola. There is an Amish community down there, and they'd come to take lessons in driving horses (e.g. "horse and buggy"). They had some free time, and figured they'd come take a look at our farm.
"You're just in time for chores," I told them, which they thought was quite exciting. They followed me all over the property, as I tended to the various animals. We fed the ducks and chickens, checked on the sheep, inspected the grape vines, gathered eggs, and so forth. They admired the chicks in the brooder, and the turkey poults in the pasture pen, and were impressed with Mrs. Yeoman Farmer's garden. They were particularly delighted by the several mother ducks quacking around with their broods of ducklings.
They stayed for about 45 minutes, and then had to head back to Tuscola. I went into the house to wash eggs, and found myself thinking about why we like farming so much: apart from the rural lifestyle and good food, it's all the people we've been able to meet and share our farm with.
I should add: If you're ever in East Central Illinois and would like a tour of our farm, we'd by all means enjoy having you visit. But please contact us more than an hour in advance. We'd hate to have you show up when we weren't home to meet you.
25 June 2007
They spend their nights back under the stanchion, and their days patrolling the barn. They seem to spend most of their time in the goat stall. Henney Penney scratches up a section of soiled litter, steps back, clucks instructively as she bobs her beak toward the scratched-up section, and the six chicks swarm in to look for bugs, larvae, and seed-heads. A minute later, Henney Penney moves on to the next section of litter.
By the time these chicks grow up and move out of the barn, the goat litter will be very nicely aerated. Call it "chickenated," by the "chickenator." Then we'll shovel it out and take it to the vineyard, where it will make a wonderful organic mulch.
18 June 2007
17 June 2007
Thursday evening, as I separated the goat kids from their mother for the night, I could hear a faint peeping noise coming from somewhere. Once the kids were secure, I knelt by the stanchion and listened more closely. Sure enough, the chicks were beginning to hatch.
When I came out Friday morning to milk, the peeping had grown louder. I glanced under the stanchion, and saw that a couple of chicks had already fluffed up and come out to explore a bit. They were still staying close to Henney Penney, though; she was sitting tight, and apparently still had more chicks she was working on hatching.
The peeping continued the whole time I was out there, and made a wonderful background music as goat milk squirted into the metal pan.
As a mother hen gathers her brood... kept going through my mind, and I tried to remember the rest of that passage. Eventually, it came to me: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not?
Squirt, squirt, squirt. Peep, peep, peep. Squirt, quirt squirt...
Of late, I'd been rather anxious about a few different things---and I'd been allowing that anxiety to drive me to distraction. Now, as the milk squirted and the chicks peeped, I realized that Matthew 23:37 was about more than just Jerusalem. It was an admonition to me. An admonition to let myself be gathered in. An admonition to let God shelter me. An admonition to let go of the anxiety and trust that things would be taken care of. Yes, I still need to use all the human means available to me. But I must do more to remember the supernatural means, and to trust in them.
Squirt, squirt, squirt. Peep, peep, peep. Squirt, quirt squirt...
15 June 2007
We combined over 30,000 survey interviews from Missouri, spanning 1992-2006, and looked at changes in pro-life/pro-choice self-identification (national Gallup Poll numbers are similar). We find there have been dramatic shifts in the pro-life direction: in 1992, the electorate was 30% pro-life and 43% pro-choice. The two labels reached a rough parity in 1997, and the pro-life label has since grown to a 41% to 30% advantage. In other words, the turnaround has been nearly complete.
Some of the demographic subgroup changes are especially interesting. For example, young women had been the most strongly pro-choice group in 1992; now they are the most strongly pro-life. Other dramatic shifts have occurred among voters who rarely or never attend church services, and those with post-graduate degrees; they had been very pro-choice in 1992, but have abandoned that label in droves.
The most likely cause of the attitude changes, we speculate, is the silencing of confrontational clinic protests---coupled with the ascendancy of partial-birth abortion as the new frame for the issue. The public has clearly changed its mind as to who the "abortion extremists" are.
There have also been implications for the party coalitions. The Democratic coalition is now much more divided on this issue than the Republican coalition is, which may explain why Democrats in most states no longer make such a big deal of their pro-choice stance. The pro-life label no longer carries the stigma it once did, and pro-life candidates should not shrink from identifying themselves as such.
A slightly different version of the article, which includes graphical displays of the trend and subgroup data, is available for download from my consulting website. These graphs didn't really fit MercatorNet's format or style, but please do download this document and take a look at them: they show at a glance just how dramatic the over-time changes have been. They also give much more detail about how the data break out; the MercatorNet version had to truncate some of those details for journalistic purposes.
14 June 2007
Small-scale sustainable farmers, however, can raise any breed they choose. Some of our neighbors do raise these "homestead hogs," and they're absolutely delicious. My wife, unfortunately, isn't a big pork eater, so we've never tried raising hogs --- and neither have we bought much pork from our neighbors. But don't dare get between me and the fried, breaded pork chop that Matthew, our homeschooled neighbor, gave me in exchange for putting a bullet in the pig's head for him on butchering day.
Anyway, there is hope that "traditional" pork (with all the fat) might be making a larger comeback. A recent story in the New York Times profiles a few different NYC restaurants that are serving "whole hogs", in the middle of a table, and letting everyone in the dinner party simply dig in.
They’re porky times, fatty times, which is to say very good times indeed. Any new logo for the city could justifiably place the Big Apple in the mouth of a spit-roasted pig, and if the health commissioner were really on his toes, he’d draw up a sizable list of restaurants required to hand out pills of Lipitor instead of after-dinner mints.
The list would encompass more than steakhouses, which have multiplied exponentially over the last five years, because what’s lumbered into particular favor with culinary tastemakers and the food-savvy set isn’t just beef and isn’t just any old piece of meat.
It’s a piece of meat that’s extra-messy, like one of the fat-ringed slabs of lamb at Trestle on Tenth, which opened last year. Sometimes it’s a mammoth cut, sometimes just gooey nuggets of animal parts less conventionally appreciated or lyrically named than the tenderloin.
Now ...“lardo is sought after, and it no longer raises people’s hackles,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “People finally realize that fat is truly delicious, particularly pork fat.”
The story doesn't discuss which breeds of pig are being raised for these restaurants, or how they're being raised, but I'd bet that these are not traditional factory-farmed hogs. And if these restaurants are currently settling for factory-farmed breeds of pork and lamb, just wait until they try a heritage breed that has been raised with a more natural, healthy layer of fat.
I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. And wondering if I have one of Matthew's pork chops left in my freezer.
13 June 2007
One of the Khaki Campbells has hatched three ducklings, and so far has been taking good care of them. However, Khakis are one of those notorious "production" breeds that has basically had the mothering instinct bred out of them. We'll watch her closely in the upcoming days, but we may need to put her ducklings into the brooder.
Meanwhile, the Khaki in the hollow tree is in the process of hatching her clutch of eggs. Notice that my presence has made her nervous, and she has puffed up the feathers on her back as a warning (much like a cat does when threatened). Two ducklings are entirely out and getting around nicely, and at least one more egg is half-hatched (I tried to zoom in, but the half-hatched egg isn't really visible in this shot). We'll check back with her in the morning.
UPDATE: Thursday morning, she had six ducklings and had led them the entire length of the vineyard to the "watering hole." About an hour later, she had successfully led the entire brood all the way back to the nest in the tree. Looks like we may have among the rarest birds of all: a Khaki that's a good mother. We'll keep checking.
12 June 2007
My first post, up today, discusses some of our children's favorite read aloud books.
11 June 2007
"That's a good question," I replied. "They certainly wouldn't ship a box of dead chicks, would they?"
"So why does it say live? Why not just say 'chicks'?"
I thought for a moment. "Maybe to remind the post office people how important it is to take good care of them, because they are living things and not just some box of stuff?
"Well...," she said, gazing through the air holes in the box, as the chicks continued peeping back at her. "Of course people would want to take care of little chicks that are cute like these."
Indeed. Anyway, we are now the proud owners of 25 Barred Rock pullet chicks (to replace our aging laying flock), 12 mixed gender broiler chicks (wonderful eating in 6-8 weeks), 2 male Silver Leghorn chicks (to replace an absolutely beautiful rooster that was hit by a car a couple of years ago; we got two in case one dies), and the one exotic "mystery" chick that McMurray Hatchery always includes with orders of chicks.
Meanwhile, several deaths later, the turkey poults are doing well. The "dead wood" seems to have been shaken loose, because none have died for a few days now. Hopefully we'll have clear sailing with them from here.
07 June 2007
Chattanooga’s goats have become unofficial city mascots since the Public Works Department decided last year to let them roam a city-owned section of the ridge to nibble the kudzu, the fast-growing vine that throttles the Southern landscape.
The Missionary Ridge goats and the project’s tragicomic turns have created headlines, inspired a folk ballad and invoked more than their share of goat-themed chuckles.
On Missionary Ridge, which bisects Chattanooga and where homes command stunning views of the valley below, the battle with kudzu is constant. Of particular worry for the city were vines that draped over the mouth of the McCallie Tunnel, which cuts through the ridge.
Enter the goats. Mr. Jeansonne, after reading an article on the subject, persuaded city officials to hire a local farmer to graze his herd over the tunnel. When the farmer released the herd last fall, the experiment took some unexpected turns. Pranksters put up “goats working” signs. City officials took them down, with some stern words.
Guard donkeys accompanying the herd earned more guffaws and proved ineffective when dogs attacked, killing two goats and mauling a third. This year, llamas replaced the donkeys.
There have been the logistical problems of goat-proof fences, gawkers and the live electric wire. Mr. Jeansonne himself roped an escapee and hauled it back to the pen.
But the headaches have been worth it, he said. Walking a fence line, he held one hand high to show the height of the kudzu before the herd was released. The vines are gone now from the tunnel and the hillside above, some areas newly planted with grass.
“It was kudzu up to an elephant’s eye,” Mr. Jeansonne said.
The city plans to use goats to clear the tunnel’s east entrance, and recently, officials sponsored a four-day academy for farmers, hoping to stimulate a micro-industry of kudzu-fighting herds-for-hire.
Attention enterprising yeoman farmers! This could be a great business opportunity.
As for us, we've had mixed results with getting goats to clear big swaths of brush. They certainly do eat it --- but they also eat all the things you don't want them to eat. That means goats can't simply be turned loose on a cultivated property. The portable electric fencing would probably help; that's not something we've investigated. (We don't have any kind of electric fencing on the property, for fear that our small children would get tangled in it.)
05 June 2007
04 June 2007
I don't mind supervising them; I've set up a plastic chair, and enjoy having a cup of coffee in the morning as I watch them graze. If they get too close to a tree, I walk over and shoo them away. But the kids and I have discovered something even more fun for the late afternoons: they help drive the sheep down from the pasture, and then we all put on baseball mitts and toss a tennis ball around as we supervise the flock. If the sheep get too close to a tree, one of us is usually close enough to drive them away. And then it's back to playing catch.
Until it's time to drive them back north, of course. I clap my hands three times and shout "Let's GO!" The sheep have learned that this is the signal, and they usually begin stampeding back across the property. The kids have great fun chasing the stragglers, and Scooter loves getting out in front of the flock and leading the way.
This is my idea of multitasking.
This year, we bought 15 Bourbon Reds and 10 Broad Breasted Bronze (BBB) turkeys. The Bourbon Reds are a heritage breed; they’re excellent foragers, can fly, and therefore develop a wonderful flavor and texture to their meat. These heritage birds are in high demand, and even though they’re smaller than the average supermarket turkey (12-15 pounds dressed) we completely sell out every year. The BBBs, by contrast, resemble the turkeys you usually see at the supermarket. Ours are still different, however. The supermarket birds are raised in enormous confinement buildings, and all have white feathers. Ours are raised on pasture, where they get a great variety of fresh greens in their diet --- and lots of fresh air. Not to mention bugs, and anything else they can forage. The result is an unforgettable Thanksgiving experience. As one customer remarked, “I never feel sleepy after eating one of your turkeys. Or sick the next morning.”
Anyway, turkeys tend to spend the first several weeks just thinking up ways to die. This year, surprisingly, we went all weekend without losing one. Then, predictably, I came out to find two dead and another close to death. (We always order several more than we think we’ll want to butcher.)
Here is a wider shot of our brooder:
It’s a two-level structure, which we custom-built a few years ago. We can raise up to 100 birds at a time on each level, but we haven’t been than ambitious (or crazy) for awhile. The top level is empty now, but we’ll be using it in another week or two when the baby chicks arrive. Notice the automatic, gravity-fed watering system I set up. Just out of the picture, up in the rafters of the garage, is a 40 gallon tank of water. The blue hose brings water down to the red plastic water dishes; there is a float valve inside each dish that controls the flow of water. If we had a water faucet in this building, we could’ve hooked the system up to that (with a pressure-reducing valve). I decided it was a lot easier to set it up this way, and fill that 40 gallon tank with a long hose from the house whenever necessary. Sure beats digging a trench from the house and laying pipe.
…over 100 young grape vines are decimated.
Up in the northwest corner of our property, I’ve planted what’s called the “new vineyard.” Last year, I put in about 100 young vines---which the Japanese Beetles managed to severely injure, but not kill. This spring, I planted 55 more vines; this time, I decided to try Concords. Their leaves are supposedly more resistant to Japanese Beetles, and I’m so frustrated at this point that I’m willing to try anything.
But no leaves are resistant to hungry Icelandic lambs. I’d isolated these young vines behind two sets of gates, but early Sunday morning the lambs managed to smash through one set and squeeze through the other set. By the time I came out for chores, hordes of them were working their way through my grape plantings. I chased them out, strengthened the barricades, and then began taking stock of the damage.
It was extensive, and demoralizing, but could’ve been worse. All 150 or so vines are in protective blue grow tubes that fasten to the bottom trellis line and act like a miniature greenhouse. Not all vines had cleared the top of their tube. But among those which had, nearly every one was chomped off (or at least stripped of its leaves). Naturally, the lambs left all of the delicious clover and other weeds untouched. They went straight for the most valuable cultivars.
Yes, the vines will recover, in no small part because the tubes protected them from more extensive damage. But the question is: how strong will they be when the Japanese Beetles arrive later this month? They’d really been flourishing, which had stoked my optimism about surviving the upcoming onslaught. Now…well, we’ll just have to see.
That lamb is sure going to be delicious. Just wish I had some homemade wine to enjoy it with.
02 June 2007
As we were piling them up near the woodpile, to use for kindling next winter, Scooter was tagging along with us. With yesterday's near-tragedy clearly still on their minds, one of the kids suddenly said something really poignant:
"I'm glad we're not collecting these sticks so we can burn Scooter."
Yes, I told them, I had just been thinking the same thing.
Like us before we moved here, people probably have a romantic image in their head of the rooster crowing to greet the sunrise. And, yes, roosters do crow to greet the sunrise. But you know what? Roosters also crow at any other time, day or night, that they jolly well please. That includes 11am, when I'm on an important conference call with a client. Or 8pm. Or 9:30am. They crow for any reason, or for no reason.
Now, picture this: the weather is hot and humid. You're sleeping with the windows open in your 120 year old farmhouse, enjoying the light breeze. It is pitch dark, hours away from sunrise. And then, at precisely 3:23am, a rooster in the nearest outbuilding begins crowing. Really loudly. Then, from another outbuilding, another rooster crows a response. Not to be outdone, the rooster in the barn with the goats lets loose. And the original rooster simply cannot let that go unanswered. And so on. And so on. Until you drag yourself out of bed, shut the windows, and wonder if you'll be getting any more sleep before it's time to get up and milk the goats.