29 July 2007

Gotcha. Twice.

One of the more unexpected lessons we learned soon after moving to the country is that field mice, well, don't always stay in the field. Particularly when you have a ~120 year old farmhouse, the mice are constantly finding a way in. The problem is significantly worse in the spring and the fall, when farmers are thundering through the surrounding fields with planting or harvesting equipment. But if you live in the country, you need to be prepared for mice any time of year. Even with a barn cat that likes spending a good amount of time in our basement, those mice can be very creative in getting past the gatekeeper.

After going a couple of months without any mouse activity, we've had one particularly brazen mouse find its way into the kitchen in the last week or so. Or at least we thought it was just one mouse. More on that in a moment.

Over the last week, nearly every member of the family spotted this particular mouse. It would use the stove's metal propane line to climb up to counter top level, then slip out from behind the stove to the adjacent kitchen sink. Once there, it would explore for food or water until a family member entered the kitchen. Then, in a flash, it would disappear again behind the stove.

Last night, we'd had enough. Just before bedtime, I baited a mousetrap with peanut butter and set it on the counter top next to the stove. I placed it such that no mouse could emerge from the stove and bypass it.

At about 1:15am, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer awakened me. "We got it!" she whispered. "We got the mouse. I heard it snap."

"Oh, good," I moaned.

"But I can hear another one behind the stove," she continued (our bedroom adjoins the kitchen). "Can you empty the trap?"

This is one of the very few errands I am happy to perform at 1:15 in the morning. Sure enough, Brazen Mouse was caught by the neck, uneaten peanut butter still filling his mouth. And I could hear something rattling around with the metal of the stove.

I tossed the mouse body out the window to the dogs, then carefully reset the trap in the same place and went to bed. When I got up this morning, I discovered we'd nabbed that second mouse; a moment later, he was flying through the same window to the dogs.

We'll keep the trap in place for another day or two, but hopefully this has solved the problem.

Before we moved here, the idea of rodents in the house gave me a sense of being somehow "violated." Now, setting and emptying mouse traps is just another part of life. And what's most remarkable is how quickly that adjustment came.

End of the Line for Henny Penny

Yesterday was butchering day. We cleared out the last nine Rhode Island Red hens, and the kids had a grand old time helping me.

We color-code our hens, getting a different breed each year, so we can better tell how old the various birds are. These were in their third season of laying, which is past their prime. To be honest, I simply didn't get to butchering them last December (though I should have), and then got too busy this spring. For the last several weeks, they've been in their own pasture pen so I can see just how pathetic their egg production has gotten. The nine of them were seldom producing more than three or four eggs per day, which is pretty lousy.

Helper Girl climbed into the pen and crawled around catching birds. As she grabbed each one, she would hand it through the top to me, and I would hand it to one of her brothers. Once everyone had a full load, we took all nine (holding them securely, upside down, by their feet) over to a dog cage I'd set up by the killing cone. This is the Death Row I've described in previous posts.

One by one, we positioned them upside down in the killing cone, slit their throats, and let them bleed to death. The kids took turns holding the hens' feet, having first changed into their "butchering clothes". (Which are, of course, one stage more ragged than "play clothes". I have certain clothes that are so ragged, the instant I put them on the kids know it must be butchering day.)

As each bird died, I would load a new bird, slit its throat, and have a child hold the hen as it bled to death. I would then take the dead hen to a large pot of scalding water, dunk it several times to loosen the feathers, and then use a mechanical feather plucker to whisk all the feathers off. The plucker is a large drum, drilled and filled with over 100 rubber fingers, belt-driven by an electric motor. This thing is wonderful: it transforms a 5 minute chore into a ten second blip, spitting all the feathers out into a pile on the back end.

With the hen fully plucked, I'd pull off its head and cut off its feet. The hen and the feet went into a clean bucket of water to cool, as I went to get the next hen (which was dead by now). We repeated this process for all nine birds, and then the kids went off to play as I went inside to eviscerate the hens.

These birds are far too old to use for anything but stewing into chicken soup. I freeze each one in its own gallon Ziploc bag, complete with a pair of feet. Once a week, I thaw one and make a large pot of chicken soup. I put that into quart mason jars, and have a week's worth of lunches ready to go. I figure these birds will last me until it's time to start butchering the next batch of burned-out laying hens.


27 July 2007

Take that Dog to Vegas!

Scooter's lucky streak continues, and I'm now considering taking him with me to Vegas, a la Rain Man.

After going AWOL yesterday morning, chasing us on the bike, there was no sign of him. As evening fell, we whistled and hollered for him. We figured if he was lost in the 80 acre corn field across the street, the noise would help give him some bearings.

But no luck. As I went out to milk the goat, I really got down in the dumps, thinking about how eagerly Scooter would always tag along, to get the few squirts of milk I always put in a bowl for him. I wondered if he was lost, or if he was even still alive.

Came out this morning to do chores, and half-expected to see that he'd found his way back in the night by listening to Tabasco's barks. But no luck. Tabasco tagged along as I did chores, but it just wasn't the same without Scooter.

And then, at 8:45, we got a call from our neighbor. A dog matching Scooter's description had been hanging out at another farm all night, just a quarter mile from where he'd stopped following our bike. Overjoyed, Mrs Yeoman Farmer jumped in the van and sped over to that farm. It took her awhile to get him loaded into the van; once he saw her, he cowered and wouldn't move. MYF thinks Scooter figured he was "busted, big time." After considerable prodding and hoisting, he finally came.

So, he's back. We all gathered around and made a big fuss over him, and he was soon running around the farm doing all the things he usually does. Artistic Girl and I had a long talk about making sure we don't get too attached to the animals. I'm not sure how much that conversation sunk in, because she really likes Scooter a lot.

As for me, I'm just glad he's home. I sure missed the way he'd tag along during chores, and help me herd the sheep to fresh pastures. Definitely gotta take him to Vegas. Definitely.

26 July 2007

Where oh where could he be?

We're hoping that the world's luckiest puppy hasn't had his luck run out. Ever since his brush with death in June, Scooter has been very good about staying on the property and simply doing his job herding livestock.

Yesterday, the kids and I acquired a wonderful tandem bike. I used to be an avid cyclist, and have been trying to find a way to get back into the sport that doesn't include long hours away from the family. As the kids don't yet have the bike control to ride a straight line in traffic, a tandem seemed the perfect solution. After a bit of searching on the internet, I found a solid, used, Santana tandem that was in excellent condition. Artistic Girl and I took a five mile ride last night, and she had a grand old time waving at everyone between here and downtown Loda.

Big Brother and I decided to ride the tandem to Mass this morning in Paxton, eight miles away. But as we rode off the property, Scooter spotted us and excitedly began running alongside. Both of us shouted "No!", repeatedly, but this only seemed to egg him on. (He may be the World's Luckiest Puppy, but he's certainly not the World's Smartest Puppy.)

We reached the main blacktop, a half mile from our house, and Scooter was still tagging along. I shouted more, but he made the turn with us. I actually got off the bike, shouted, swatted him, carried him back to our road, and shoved him in the direction of our house. He cowered with his tail between his legs, looking at me, as I jogged back to the bike. And as soon as the tandem was again rolling down the blacktop...Scooter was again jogging along.

I told my son not to look at him, as this might only be encouraging him, and to ride as fast as we could. Scooter was falling behind, but was clearly still trying to follow. And he never gave up.

A mile from home, I had my son dig the cell phone out of my backpack, and I called Mrs. Yeoman Farmer. She wasn't pleased about having to come get the dog, but said she would. My son and I kicked the bike into high gear, turned another corner, and Scooter disappeared from view.

A couple of more miles up, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer pulled alongside in the van. There'd been no sign of Scooter, she said, and I didn't know what to tell her. As Big Brother and I continued on to Paxton (now quite late for Mass), MYF drove all over our town and the surrounding countryside looking for Scooter.

We looked for him, too, on the way home...but none of us saw any sign of him. We put calls in to both the Ford and Iroquois County animal control offices, so everyone knows to contact us if a dog fitting his description gets phoned in. And he had his Ford County rabies tag in place, with its unique ID number that can be traced to us.

But so far there have been no calls, and everyone around here is really down in the dumps. Artistic Girl was particularly inconsolable this morning. Yes, Scooter is just a dog...but he's an awfully good dog. And he's proven himself to be an invaluable assistant when it comes time to herd the sheep. Just the other day, MYF and I were watching him work, and she observed, "Wow. He really loves doing that, doesn't he?"

A dozen times today, I've looked up and expected him to be there...and he hasn't been.

Sure hope that phone starts ringing soon.

25 July 2007

Animal Rights Impact

We soundly reject the notion of "animal rights"; animals don't have rights, because they don't have responsibilities or duties. However, we as humans do have a duty to treat animals with dignity and good stewardship. A chicken gives glory to God by being a chicken; if I stuff that chicken in a cage with four other chickens and turn it into an egg-laying machine, I do not allow it glorify God as the chicken he created it to be.

The shorthand word for this is "stewardship," or perhaps "husbandry." We are firm believers in it, and practice it here on our farm. Interestingly, treating animals humanely yields much better produce after slaughter. And the praise and demand for our free range eggs is astounding. You simply cannot produce something this good without allowing animals to behave in the way God designed them to behave.

An interesting story in today's New York Times gives some insights into how the "animal rights" movement, by shifting its focus in recent years, has contributed to the public's newfound appreciation for the kinds of farming techniques we practice:

But all of these believers have learned that with less stridency comes more respect and influence in food politics. So they no longer concentrate their energy on burning effigies of Colonel Sanders and stealing chickens. They don’t demonize meat — with the exception of foie gras and veal — or the people who produce it. Instead, they use softer rhetoric, focusing on a campaign even committed carnivores can get behind: better conditions for farm animals.

In some ways, it’s simply a matter of style.


The broader-umbrella approach is working. Take the case of Wolfgang Puck. In March, he announced that he would stop serving foie gras and buy eggs only from chickens not confined to small cages. Veal, pork and poultry suppliers will have to abide by stricter standards, too.

For five years before the announcement, Mr. Baur’s group had been pressuring Mr. Puck to change his meaty ways. Mr. Puck, in an interview in March, said that had nothing to do with his new policies. He simply came to the conclusion that better standards were the best thing for his customers, his food and the animals. But he did credit the Humane Society for his education.

The full story has much more about the interplay between the activists and professional food producers and chefs.

The gap between animal lovers and animal lovers who love to eat them is exactly what Mr. Baur, a man who eats noodles with margarine, soy sauce and brewer’s yeast and has only barely heard of Chez Panisse, would like to close.

“We’re not really in philosophical alignment,” he said. “But I like to think we’re in strategic alliance.”

23 July 2007

Crop Subsidies

Readers of this blog probably don't need much convincing as to the negative effects of crop subsidies, but I've rarely come across a newspaper article which gives so straightforward a look at how the system works. It's not an opinion piece; it's matter-of-fact reporting on what farmers today "must" do to be successful. Interesting (but not surprising) that "switching to sustainable agricultural practices" is not even mentioned as a possibility (let alone a "must").

A sample of this world-view:

The modern farmer must pay as much attention to subsidy programs as the weather. There are programs that pay even if no crop is planted. Other programs also turn conventional farming on its head.

The government’s loan deficiency program, for instance, has farmers hoping for low prices at harvest, when they have the most grain to sell. It works like this: When the price of corn falls below what’s called the loan rate, usually about $2 a bushel, farmers are eligible for per-bushel subsidies, regardless of whether they borrowed money on their crop. If the loan rate is $2 and the market price is $1.50, a farmer can collect 50 cents for every bushel of harvested corn. Except he doesn’t have to sell when he gets the government money. Rather, farmers typically collect the subsidy, then store their crops for a few months until prices rise.

“That’s absolutely part of our strategy,” said Kendall Cole of Virden, former vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Most of us didn’t come into this game because it was low risk. You take the challenge out of it, you get lazy.”

Go read the whole article, if you can stomach it. But you might find yourself asking why, if "most" farmers don't want the "challenge" taken out of agriculture, they don't explore doing something other than raising all this (subsidized) surplus corn and soy that the government then needs to find and subsidize a use for (read: Ethanol and biodiesel).

I especially love some of the comments, including this one:

Farmers provide a safe stable food supply. I would say our nations food supply is worth tax dollars. A little more important than an auto shop. Did you also know you only spend about 10% of your income on food? The lowest percentage in history! Lets support our farmers who support local economies, and put food on our tables.

I'm left asking the question: why not support our farmers by paying MARKET PRICES for their produce? If prices rise, so will production. We don't need subsidies to ensure a stable food supply. Market demand will do an excellent job all by itself.

17 July 2007

Food Refugees

I spoke with a very nice older lady yesterday, located near Peoria (a couple of hours from here). She was inquiring about buying some of our pasture-raised chickens and turkeys, and wanted more details about how we raise them.

I explained that they are not certified organic.

She said she didn't care.

I explained that they're not certified organic because they eat conventionally raised feed.

What does that mean, she asked.

We feed our birds corn/oats/soy raised by local farmers using typical industrial agriculture methods, I explained.

"You mean," she asked, "they sprayed it with pesticides and herbicides?"

"Unfortunately, yes," I replied. I explained that we're not capable of producing our own animal feeds on just five acres, and that there is no local source of organic feed.

She said she wasn't interested, and that she'd keep looking. I was about to write her off as one of those "Organic is my religion, and I must maintain ritual purity" types, but then she went on to explain why she was so particular about the meat: her daughter has a chronic medical condition, and they've only been able to control it these last sixteen years by keeping strict controls over her diet. She's so sensitive to additives, even the pesticides in the animal feed affect her.

I explained that I completely understood her situation; our kids have severe food allergies, which was a big reason why we began producing our own food. Our own children are fine with meat the way we raise it here, but they have all kinds of other sensitivities (particularly sprays on fruit and vegetables) that we must strictly eliminate.

We carried on a very nice conversation for about ten more minutes. I recommended a couple of other people she could try contacting, and she told me all about having grown up on a farm and the way she ate as a girl. She asked lots of questions about what we raise and how we raise it, and what our plans are for the future; she was genuinely interested, and really seemed to care. She hoped that someday we could acquire enough land to raise our own organic grain for the birds to eat. We discussed dairy goats, organic gardening, poultry-butchering, and a whole host of other farm topics. What amazed me is how far she was willing to drive to get the meat to stock her three freezers with, and the lengths she'd gone to in the past to obtain that meat.

And it occurred to me that our family, along with so many who contact us, are to some extent or another "food refugees." Big Industrial Agriculture can't supply what we or our families need, and we're forced to either take matters into our own hands (by moving to the country and raising our own) or cultivate relationships with farmers...and then drive hours to obtain that special produce. I wish we could meet the needs of every single person who contacts us; as I've posted before, it's particularly satisfying being able to deliver duck eggs to people who cannot eat any other kind of egg.

But there are so many highly particular needs, we'd go crazy trying to meet them all. And we can't ship our produce; I've lost track of the number of people who've inquired from the four corners of the country, hoping we could put a chicken in a box and FedEx it to them. Our solution is to produce food that meets the specific dietary needs of our family...and sell it to anyone who also needs that kind of food and is willing to get it from us in person. But we don't do "special orders." We simply can't. And it's illegal for us to ship meat anywhere.

And thinking about "food refugees," another particular lady comes to mind. She must have meat raised without any grain at all, preferably 100% on grass. In theory, Canada Geese can be raised on grass without any supplemental grain --- but Canadas don't provide much meat, they're illegal to raise without a wildlife permit, and they can fly away. I won't touch them with a barge pole. And unless a person had a good supply of fish meal and alfalfa, I don't know how you'd get enough protein into your broiler chickens, turkeys, or ducks to sustain them without grain. Ditto for laying hens."Grass Only Lady" has contacted me a few times over the years, hoping I've somehow figured out a way to accomplish this feat...but each time I've had to tell that no, we still are giving our birds supplemental grain.

If you're a food refugee, don't give up. If you look hard enough, you can probably find a farmer who is producing something that will work for you. And if you can't find that farmer...don't be afraid to take the plunge and become your own Yeoman Farmer. It's the best decision our family ever made.

16 July 2007


Several weeks ago, a mother hen hatched six chicks under the goat milking stanchion. Those chicks are now getting to be a good size, are fully feathered, and are foraging all over the barnyard.

Yesterday evening, one of them got separated from the rest of the brood, and was running around the barn peeping in a panic. Something about this behavior got both of our dogs very worked up, and they began chasing the chick all over the barn. Neither dog is a chicken-killer; I think they just figured it was a game --- but being chased simply got the chick into more of a panic.

As I was milking the goat, the chick eventually ran into the stall where the doe kids spend the night --- and where the dogs could not follow. The chick flew up onto the back of one of the goat kids, settled comfortably into his perch, and looked out triumphantly at the dogs. My daughter thought this was uproariously funny, and ran inside to get a camera.

15 July 2007

One Big Adoption Agency

Our Khaki Campbell ducks have proven very flexible about "adopting" ducklings that other ducks hatched (but for some reason abandoned). Looks like the "industrial ag" folks who bred the Khaki Campbell as an egg-laying machine couldn't eliminate their mothering instinct. And thank God for that. I can't remember the last time we had to buy a duckling.
This one managed to pick up a massive swarm of ten ducklings, in part by collecting a few strays that hatched in a nest by the front door. She's proven herself an outstanding mother, moving her brood all over the property in search of food --- and, after nearly two weeks, not losing a single one of those ducklings. Call her the "duckling magnet."

A few days ago, I found a single very young duckling running around the vineyard unattended. It most likely hatched earlier than a duck's other eggs, and wandered off the nest while she was waiting on those other ones. I tried adding it to the "duckling magnet" brood, but the other ducklings were simply too much larger; the new one couldn't keep up. But, remarkably, another Khaki (whose eggs likely didn't hatch, but whose hormones were likely still elevated in a motherly direction) grabbed onto him. He now follows her everywhere, and she's been doing an excellent job with him.

And, finally, this is the oddest collection of ducklings. Where this Khaki (the one on the far right) picked up this brood, no one knows. But they've been together for weeks now, and are thriving. Sometimes it's best not to ask too many questions, and just let nature do what nature will do.

12 July 2007


The abortion analysis that a colleague and I published last month has continued to percolate across the internet. NewsMax ran a story about it yesterday, which led to James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal running his own commentary on it today.

Taranto mentions an important possible reason for the dramatic pro-life shifts we observed among young people:

What they don't mention is the demographic consequences of abortion itself--that is, the Roe Effect. It was in 1973 that the Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, found a "constitutional" right to abortion, effectively legalizing the practice nationwide. By 1992 the oldest post-Roe babies were only 19. In 2006, by contrast, the entire 18- to 29-year-old cohort had been born after Roe.

If one makes the reasonable assumptions that "pro-life" women have a lower propensity to abort than "pro-choice" ones do, and that parents are a strong influence on their children's moral attitudes, then one would expect the post-Roe cohort to be more "pro-life" than their elders.

This point is something that did not occur to us until after the piece had been published, and it was too late to include, but we agree with his general reasoning about demography. And I would add that, even leaving aside the greater propensity of pro-choice women to have abortions, people who are strongly pro-life simply tend to have significantly more children than those who are strongly pro-choice. Children tend to absorb the cultural values and political orientations of their parents ---and as they enter the electorate, those who have absorbed a pro-choice orientation are finding themselves outnumbered by the children of pro-lifers.

If I have any readers in Charlotte, NC, I'll be interviewed about this research at 3:35 Eastern Time Friday afternoon (tomorrow), on the Danny Fontana show, AM 1220 WDYT.

I'll also be appearing on Lynne Breidenbach's conservative Christian radio program next Tuesday from 7:15 to 7:30 Eastern. She is based in central Florida, but syndicated in a number of other locations.

10 July 2007

My Idea of Recycling

The turkey poults are doing very well in their portable pasture pen. We've been moving them daily now, and as soon as they get fresh grass they go crazy snapping it up with their beaks.

We also give them supplemental grain, of course, as meat birds need a higher protein diet than grass can provide.

And, in addition, the turkeys help us do some excellent recycling. Mrs Yeoman Farmer has been harvesting loads of green beans from the garden lately, and has produced quite a few scraps (snapped ends of beans, etc). Add some bread pieces and goat milk to that pan, and you've got...something only a turkey could love. But are we ever glad they love it.

08 July 2007

Little Surprises

While I'm on a roll posting about "little things," I wanted to mention a few new little things that were complete surprises.

First off, a Khaki Campbell duck suddenly showed up one morning with a swarming brood of ten --- count em --- TEN little duckings. Where she'd built that nest, nobody knew. And roughly three or four days later, she still has all ten. She's remarkably disciplined, and they follow her closely everywhere she goes.

An even bigger surprise was the hen that showed up in the barn a couple of days ago with six little chicks. This particular hen is the sister of the one I've mentioned before; both of them are cross-breeds who were hatched out by a mother hen last year. This one's mothering instincts were so good, she simply disappeared and built a nest I was completely unaware of. Again, she simply showed up one morning with all these chicks. Because she herself is a hybrid, her chicks are all kinds of different colors. Oddly, this morning, she was back --- but now had seven chicks. One of her eggs was probably near hatching when she came off the nest, and the blistering hot weather kept that last chick alive. She likely hatched that chick out last night, and it seems to have fallen right in line with the others.

So while it was sad to lose Dilemma last night, the wonderful thing about a farm is that there are constantly new beginnings...and surprises around every corner.

Sure Enough

In yesterday's post, I described our struggles to save Dilemma from the parasites which had rapidly overtaken him.

Unfortunately, as I suspected would happen, he died in the night. If there's anything positive to say at all, at least he curled up and expired right in front of the main pasture gate; that'll make it all the easier to transport him to our neighbor's 80 acre field for disposal. With temperatures headed into the 90s again today, we'll need to get Dilemma's body out of here ASAP.
With both Dilemma and his sire meeting the same fate --- succumbing to a worm load the rest of the flock was handling fine --- we're not sure what to do with the male lamb Dilemma produced this year. He's absolutely beautiful, and we'd like to keep him for breeding, but the susceptibility to worms concerns us. Perhaps the solution is to keep him, and make sure we aggressively worm him even more than the rest of the flock.

07 July 2007

Little Things

When we first got sheep, our worries all centered on the big problems than can befall livestock. We made sure the pasture was securely fenced. We got a Great Pyrenees guardian dog. Any time we heard coyotes howling, I had the 12-gauge loaded and was out the door.

But after nearly five years, we've never lost a sheep to the road. Or to a thief. Or to a coyote. Or to any other predator.

All of our losses have come from little things:
An unattended ram that got into a bag of corn and died of bloat.
A lamb that pushed through a poorly-secured gate, ate too much clover, and bloated.
A lamb that found a rusty piece of metal and got tetanus.

And then there are the parasites. When we first got sheep, we didn't know a thing about worms. But it's worms that have caused more problems than everything else combined. We've tried to keep ahead of the parasites' life cycle, but somehow or another events keep conspiring to delay our worming treatments.

Somehow, the big magnificent rams are the ones that get hit hardest. Pinch, an absolutely stunning animal, had worms creep up on him so fast we never knew there was a problem until he wouldn't keep up with the flock. An hour later, he couldn't get to his feet. The worms had literally bled him white. Meanwhile, the rest of the flock was running around just fine with the same worm load.

And now the same ugly story is replaying itself for Pinch's one surviving offspring --- an equally stunning ram we named Dilemma. I just wormed him about a week or two ago. Then, this morning, I noticed he wasn't grazing much with the rest of the flock. I caught him (another bad sign; he should've had enough energy to stay away from me), checked his eyes, and sure enough...he was getting bled white. I wormed him again, and drenched him with an apple cider vinegar tonic, but I fear it was too late. Even after drenching him again this evening, he's barely getting to his feet and certainly not grazing. And even if I kill all the worms, how can he regain his strength if he doesn't eat?

Tonight, as the rest of the flock eagerly grazed on some prime green stuff, Pinch refused to get to his feet. I sat with him for a long time, holding his head in my lap, rubbing his neck and telling him how sorry I was. And I couldn't help thinking about a passage from St. Josemaria Escriva's book, Christ is Passing By (section 77):

We must convince ourselves that the worst enemy of a rock is not a pickaxe or any other such implement, no matter how sharp it is. No, its worst enemy is the constant flow of water which drop by drop enters the crevices until it ruins the rock's structure. The greatest danger for a Christian is to underestimate the importance of fighting skirmishes. The refusal to fight the little battles can, little by little, leave him soft, weak and indifferent, insensitive to the accents of God's voice.

And as I asked myself why I'd not been vigilant enough about rotating their pastures, and making sure the flock was wormed on a hard and regular schedule:

It has been a hard experience: don't forget the lesson. Your big cowardices of the moment correspond — clearly — to your little cowardices of each day.You 'have not been able' to conquer in big things, because you 'did not want' to conquer in little ones. (The Way, #828)

As I came out to my office to prepare this blog post, Dilemma was still laying on the grass just outside that building. The rest of the flock had long been put away in the main pasture, and I'd decided to just leave Dilemma here to die overnight. But as I approached him, he surprised me by climbing to his feet and stiffly trying to trot off to join the main flock. I caught him and drenched him again, all the while saying as many encouraging words as I could.

Then I opened the pasture gate, let him through, and he bellowed to the flock as he approached. It wasn't his usual bellow, and I still wouldn't put money on his being alive in the morning, but it was a beautiful sound all the same.

03 July 2007

Stupid Idiot

Icelandic sheep are pretty smart, as sheep go, but even they can --- on occasion --- do pretty stupid things.

This lamb isn't going to win any awards for brains:

(Note, in the background, the pastured poultry pen moving up the aisle of the vineyard.)

What Goats Can Do

I recently posted about an effort in the South to use teams of goats to clear out-of-control kudzu vines.

Taking some inspiration from that story, we've turned our goat kids loose in an area which had been serving as Mrs Yeoman Farmer's herb garden. It's since become totally overgrown with weeds, and the fence surrounding it has vines (not exactly kudzu, but close enough) crawling all over it.

As we've been trying to wean the goat kids (and are now milking their mother twice a day, getting two quarts of milk total), this is a win-win situation. We have a place to park them, they have plenty to eat, and we're clearing out some terribly overgrown weeds. Note, in the photo below, that they've completely cleaned the vines off the fence. Look at how thick the vines are along the fence at the far right of the photo. That's how thick the vines were all the way around, before the kids went to work.

01 July 2007

Excellent Documentary

Yesterday, by accident, I stumbled onto an excellent documentary about sustainable agriculture. It was on The Documentary Channel, and was called "Broken Limbs: Apples, Agriculture and the New American Farmer." The focus is the filmmaker's own home town in Wenatchee, Washington, and the perils faced by conventional apple farmers such as his father. Between globalization and industry consolidation, small-to-medium sized conventional apple growers are getting squeezed out of business.

The turning point for the filmmaker was discovering the writings of Professor John Ikerd, from the University of Missouri, on sustainable agriculture. The second portion of the film focuses on people who have shifted to an entirely different model of farming. He has since been trying to help his father transition to a more sustainable production model.

One of the farmers profiled was Grant Gibbs. He has put together an amazing farming operation that has almost entirely eliminated off-farm inputs. The livestock provide fertilizer for his fruit and vegetable gardens, and the fruits and vegetables in turn sustain the livestock. How he's managed to integrate this system is truly a beautiful thing to behold. I also found a good book excerpt, with photos, of Gibbs and his operation. Note that Gibbs has internships for those interested in learning first-hand how he does things.

Back Home Again

Back in mid-April, you'll recall that we made the fateful error of leaving the farm for a weekend with ewes still pregnant. Naturally, as soon as our minivan was on the road headed for Michigan, all the lambs came tumbling out. In terrible weather. Had it not been for our sixteen year old homeschooled neighbor, Matthew (who'd thought he was only signing up to take care of the chores), a good number of lambs surely would've been wiped out.

One of those ewes, Bianca, rejected one of her lambs. Just like the previous year, she had twins --- one white male and one black female. For the second year in a row, she rejected the black female (earning her the nickname, BianKKKa). We told Matthew he could keep the little black lamb if he wanted to go to the trouble of bottle feeding it; otherwise, she would surely be lost. Matthew's younger sister did an excellent job of nurturing that lamb, and she grew up as a gentle little pet. Unfortunately, however, their property is not set up to keep a grown sheep. With the lamb now weaned --- but not large enough to butcher --- they were wondering if we knew of a potential buyer.

We immediately volunteered. For the price they wanted, it would be worth it even if we simply turned her loose in the pasture and then butchered her this fall. But we're hoping for something more valuable than that: with this lamb being so tame and calm, we hope we can keep her as a dairy animal. Icelandic sheep are wonderful milk producers, but our flock has always been too wild to actually milk.

We drove over and picked her up yesterday. Our plan is to keep her separated from the rest of the flock, so she doesn't go wild. We'll probably tether her and move her around to various places where she can graze. Stay tuned for details on how well she fits back in with the farm.