29 April 2008

On the Other Hand

The responsorial psalm at Mass this morning was from Ps. 138: "Your right hand has saved me, O Lord."

After repeating this response a few times, Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) got a puzzled look on her face, leaned over, and whispered a question: What does his left hand do?

I almost burst out laughing, but then realized that she was serious. Because HFG is left handed, this is a natural question. And one that I think is best to leave for Mrs Yeoman Farmer (who is also left handed) to answer.

27 April 2008

Our Family

Amazing how much this television spot manages to pack into just two minutes of running time. Guaranteed to give you chills.

The same group has put out this very thought-provoking spot as well. Both of them recently ran in Phoenix, with outstanding results.

H/T: Crunchy Con.

26 April 2008

Going Batty

Last night, it was approaching 11pm. I was nearly sound asleep, as were Forest Puppy and Homeschooled Farm Girl. As I lost consciousness in the master bedroom, Mrs Yeoman Farmer was in the boys' room getting Big Brother tucked in.

Suddenly, the master bedroom door flew open. MYF announced, "We have a bat in the house!"

Groggily, I sat up and tried to assess the situation. "Huh?" I groaned.

"A bat," she repeated. "In the boys' room! I saw it come in!"

I groaned again, dragged myself out of bed (having gotten just enough sleep to ensure I'd be wide awake for a long time), and dressed. Remembering a story MYF told me once from her childhood, I asked if we had any tennis rackets; Big Brother assured me that we did, and told me exactly where I could find them in the barn.

The tennis racket idea is simple: you can't hit a flying bat with a broom, because the bat will sense that large object and change directions at the last minute. But a tennis racket is entirely different: the bat's radar (or sonar, or whatever) goes right through...so he continues on course and dies without ever knowing what Grand Slammed him.

Note that I have nothing against bats. We had them in Illinois, and I've seen them flying around inside our barn in Michigan. They'll reportedly eat hundreds of pounds of mosquitoes in a night, and after watching them circling our security light in Illinois I believe it. And I'm not advocating breaking any local laws protecting bats. I'm just saying that when there's a rodent in my house that's possibly carrying rabies...I'm getting my tennis racket first and asking questions, um, never.

MYF showed me where she first spotted the bat; apparently, it managed to squeeze in through a closed window, and plopped on the floor. Of course, by now there was no sign of it anywhere in the room. Dressed in gloves and armed with two tennis rackets, I stood guard as MYF moved Forest Puppy to our bed and then began searching the room. Naturally, we didn't turn up any trace of the bat no matter how hard we looked. The dang things can squeeze into any little place, and for all we knew it was inside the baseboards or under a dresser.

We had Big Brother sleep on an empty bunk in his sister's room, and we sealed off the boys' room. In retrospect, under ideal conditions, we should have left windows open all night to let the bat out --- but my primary concern was not allowing more bats in. And, as it turns out, it was better the windows remained shut: we got quite a bit of rain overnight, and the carpet would've been soaked.

This morning, there was still no sign of the little critter. I checked all around the eves outside the window in question, but couldn't find traces of a bat colony he might have strayed from. In the meantime, the boys' room remains shut tight. After nightfall, we'll see if the bat emerges and starts looking for a way out. If not, we'll repeat last night's sleeping arrangements until we're sure he's either gone or has likely starved to death.

22 April 2008

How Did the Human Race Survive without the FDA?

Today's Chicago Tribune brings an excellent (and balanced) story about raw milk, including a graphic showing where it is legal and where it is illegal. The story is especially helpful because it not only quotes Sally Fallon (of the Weston A. Price Foundation, of which we are members), but also gives us this nugget from the other side:

"Raw milk is inherently dangerous, and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any reason," said John Sheehan, director of the FDA's Office of Plant and Dairy Foods. "There is absolutely nothing to the claims that it is this magical, mystical elixir that cures all."

Talk about finally showing their true colors! Kind of makes you question how the human race managed to survive for so many centuries, without the "benefits" of a process that cooks milk to death and primarily exists to allow big dairy companies to efficiently combine milk from various mega-herds --- and bar entry to craft dairies who might like to compete by offering a healthy alternative to Big Milk. Thank God for the FDA saving us from such a fate.

Raw milk has been a godsend for our family, and our Saanen dairy goats are among the most valuable animals on the farm. Too bad that in order to get raw milk, you pretty much have to own your own dairy animal.

But for those contemplating a move to the country, and who might be wondering what kind of business to go into: Note that the Illinois raw milk producer quoted in the story gets TWELVE DOLLARS a gallon. With limited supply, prices skyrocket. Dairy is a tough business, because the schedule is so unforgiving: those animals must be milked twice a day, at particular times, and the milk must be handled with great care. It's no day at the beach, and you don't get days off. But the potential rewards for niche markets such as raw milk can be substantial.

21 April 2008

Three More!

Amazingly, our flock's lambing percentage has surged above 200% this year. Homeschooled Farm Girl burst into my office a moment ago with big news: Nera has had triplets, just like her sister Licorice did a few weeks ago. All three of these triplets are males: two black and one brown.
No triplets since our first year of lambing (2003), and now two sets in the same month. Incredible. This makes fifteen lambs from seven ewes, and just one death. With one ewe left to deliver, even if she only singles, we're still guaranteed a 200% average for the full flock.
Looks like we should have a whole lot of lamb in the freezer this winter. And a whole lot of wool to send to the fiber mill.

Queen Sheep

As promised, here is a better photograph of Dot and her new lamb:
Saturday was shearing day here on the farm, which made for a hectic weekend. But with temps now in the seventies, Dot and the rest of the flock are much more comfortable without their heavy winter coats.

Homeschooled Farm Girl and I figured that because Dot had only one lamb, and her udder is larger than that of any other ewe in the flock, it might be interesting to try milking her. It took a bit of cajoling, but we managed to get Dot secured in one of the goat stanchions yesterday. We quickly discovered that milking a sheep is quite different from milking a goat. The teats are much smaller, and it was hard to get a good milk flow going. I found that if I squeezed half of her udder gently with my left hand, elongating it to resemble a football (with the teat at the bottom), I could wrap my right thumb and fingers around the teat and get the milk coming out fairly well. I managed to get about two or three cups from her, and was careful to leave plenty for her lamb.

I don't think we'll be going back for more of this stuff. It was barely tolerable on my cereal this morning, and is so thick and creamy it really ought to be saved for cheese. But since we only have one ewe we can milk, and getting her into the stanchion is such a production, it's not really worth the effort. But it was a fun little Sunday project, and HFG and I got some quality Daddy-Daughter time out of it.

18 April 2008

Dot's Swan Song?

Dot, our queen leader sheep, is now nine years old. She's getting around more slowly, but is still definitely in charge of the flock. Last year we were holding out hope that she might "lamb for the cycle," and deliver quadruplets (after supplying twins, a single, and triplets in the past). This year, we were just happy she delivered at all. Nine years old isn't over the hill for an Icelandic sheep, but it's "getting up there."

Yesterday morning, she had a beautiful little ram lamb she was licking off. As the day went on, she was again proving herself one of the best mother ewes; she's always been significantly more protective of her brood than other ewes, and quicker to challenge any child or dog that even comes close to one of her lambs. It was a beautiful thing to watch today; I just hope we get to see it again next year.

I apologize for the poor picture quality; this is what a phone-based camera gets you in a poorly-lighted barn. Better photos will follow.

17 April 2008

Speaking of the South

Since this morning's post, I've been unable to get the American South off my mind. And this song is the one that keeps going through my head.

As another indicator of how much progress the country's made, I believe that when most people think of "Dixie" today, the images in this song --- much more so than burning crosses or lynchings---are what come to mind.

Confederate States of America

I'm not usually one to watch documentaries on the Independent Film Channel, and particularly not documentaries under the direction of Spike Lee. But last night I stumbled upon the movie Confederate States of America, and it was both fascinating and thought-provoking.

The premise is that the South won the Civil War, thanks to foreign intervention by the French and British. Confederates took over the entire USA, sent Lincoln into exile in Canada, and then established slavery in the "reconstructed" North.

What's fascinating is the way it's framed: it's a faux-documentary, supposedly produced by a British Broadcasting service, presented as if being shown for the first time on Confederate States of America (CSA) television. As we watch, we view it literally as a modern Confederate would: just like on any television broadcast, there are commercial breaks, where we see news updates, advertisements for slavery-related products, and plugs for other television shows (especially funny is the parody of "Cops," which is instead called something like "Runaway," and is about tracking down escaped slaves). The "documentary" traces the history and development of the nation since 1864, with some hilarious manufactured historical footage --- often very cleverly doctored versions of actual materials. There is also a modern political candidate who's an identical twin of David Duke; no idea where they found that actor, but he was cast perfectly.

The problem is that, being a Spike Lee film, it tries too hard to make us believe our modern racial tensions are really not much different from what they'd have been if the Civil War had turned out differently. As the film's website tells us (in case we missed some of the more ham-handed rhetoric in the movie itself):

We arrive to a today that, in many ways, we recognize. Although a nation that is content and prosperous, there is a tremendous divide within and suspicious eye without. Current politicians refer to us as two countries and perhaps, other than geographically, there is no difference between Red and Blue or North and South states. We have always struggled as to whether we are the United or Confederate States of America.

And, as the the Director explains:
In many ways, the South did win The Civil War. Maybe not on the battlefield, but they won the peace. They won the fight for their way of life. The North changed, not the South. . . . Maybe the history of the "C.S.A." would not be all that different from the one we have known - some differences, perhaps, but not a complete counter history.

I find this preposterous, and I had a very different reaction. I kept thinking, It is really remarkable how much better our country is than the CSA depicted in this movie. We are incredibly lucky that the Union won the Civil War. Particularly when watching the advertising for slave-related products and other television programs, the contrast with today's America is striking. I also couldn't help thinking about Jerimiah Wright's "God Damn America" and "U.S. of KKK-A" sermons, and why so many Americans find them so deeply offensive: Wright is describing a country in which the South won the Civil War...a country like the one portrayed in this documentary --- and that's a country that does not now exist in reality.

I was also struck by the CSA leaders' obsession with racial purity and identity, and that was probably the most personally thought-provoking. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, mixed-race marriages and children were extremely rare; I never would've dreamed that I'd marry a black woman. Up until 1967, our marriage would have been illegal in several southern states. That may sound like a long time ago, but it was only a year or two before Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I were born. Who could have imagined that less than thirty years later (literally just a generation), we'd be spending the first year of our marriage in one of those states...and welcoming our first child just a stone's throw from where some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place? And getting only a few funny looks the whole time we lived there?

My sense is that the increasing number of mixed-race marriages is both symptomatic and a cause of the underlying change in race relations that's taken place over the last generation in this country. Symptomatic because such an intimate relationship cannot take place unless individuals are willing to look past outward appearances and get to know each other deeply as co-equal human beings. The increasing numbers of mixed-race unions indicates, I think, that increasing numbers of people are getting past skin color in just that way. And families like ours are in turn causes of improved race relations in two ways: (1) as an outward sign and signal to others, particularly within families (think of how many people have come into close contact or friendship with members of another racial group as a result of a family member's marriage); and (2) we're muddying the gene pool so thoroughly, the practical distinctions between racial groups are dissolving at a rapid pace. Eventually, as one former pastor told us, so many people will be carrying so many traits from so many different groups, we won't have race hatred because we won't have races and therefore won't have racism. That may be overstating things (and, to be fair, I'm paraphrasing his words), but I think the general sentiment is on target. And though we're far from a completely mixed-race society, the process is clearly underway and already bearing fruit.

To all those who think race relations are unchanged from the 1950s, or that our nation's history would not be "all that different" if the South had won the Civil War, or that this is "the U.S. of KKK-A": please stop by our farm, and stay for dinner and some conversation. We're living in a very different country from the one you're imagining, and would like the chance to share that perspective with you.

13 April 2008

Enigma Delivers

Homeschooled Farm Girl and I came out to the barn to do chores, and had a nice surprise waiting for us: Enigma had delivered a beautiful little male lamb. I came back about an hour later, and discovered that lamb now had a twin sister.

Enigma was one of the first lambs born on our property, and is a twin sister of Bianca (who, by the way, is doing an excellent job with both of her lambs this year). We gave her that name because her markings look like jigsaw puzzle pieces. When Enigma had a daughter with similar markings a few years back, we named her Conundrum. The male lamb we kept as a breeder got named Dilemma. We're now sort of running out of "puzzle" names, but as all these lambs will be butchered (they're too inbred to keep for breeding this year --- we need to get some fresh blood this fall), they'll all be named variations of "Lamb Chop."

09 April 2008

Culler Dog

I think tragedy is always most painful when it's most unexpected.

This evening, Homeschooled Farm Boy (HFB) and I were out tending the sheep, and we had Tabasco (the Red Healer / Australian Shepherd mix) with us. Scooter the Amazing Wonderdog was also there. For whatever reason, Tabasco got extremely agitated about the nine lambs running around in the sheep area, and was barking at them like crazy. Scooter, for his part, simply stuck his face through the fence and tried to make sure any adventurous lambs didn't try to slip out of the pen.

HFB and I finished the chores, and went outside to work on the fence for Mrs Yeoman Farmer's new garden. Scooter came with us, and helped chase chickens away from the newly-plowed beds. Tabasco disappeared from our radar, which is not atypical for her.

Ten minutes or so later, I needed a particular tool. I walked toward the garage, and momentarily got a good line of sight into the sheep area. Tabasco had gotten in (she's like a rat - able to squeeze through impossibly tight holes) and was doing something to one of the lambs. I shouted at her, ran and hurdled the gate, and then discovered...the lamb in question was DEAD. She'd apparently shaken it to death, as it was like a rag doll in my arms. I jostled and jostled it, but there was no response.

Needless to say, I beat the living daylights out of Tabasco as I shook the lamb in her face. She did seem cowed and submissive (by her standards, anyhow) after that, and crept along to my office. What stuns me is how out of character this is for her; I've never seen her kill anything but mice and rats before this. She somehow thought the lambs were predators or intruders --- while Scooter instinctively realized they are livestock to protect and herd.

Obviously, I spent much of the evening in a funk. But as I explained to HFB, if we could've picked one lamb to kill early---this would've been the one. She was a triplet female, and was by far the smallest we had. She was barely gaining weight; definitely the runt of the litter. In a year when all the lambs are inbred (and so we'll be butchering everything), she would've yielded much less meat than any other. And with her eliminated, her two remaining brothers will get a bigger share of the milk. Thank God this didn't happen to a lamb that was the only offspring; the ewe would've simply dried up.

So, we'll be keeping a much tighter leash on Tabasco and keeping her away from the livestock. She's the best companion animal we've ever had, and I love having her around. I just wish she was half as good with animals as she is with people.

Sad Farewell

With a trip to the mailbox this morning, I've brought an era to an end: For the first time in nearly 17 years, I do not own a Volvo 240. Or any other kind of Volvo, either.

Yes, the old things are known as quintessentially liberal cars...but I think blowing the stereotype was part of why I enjoyed driving them so much. Nothing like putting a Bush-Cheney 2004 sticker on the bumper, and an NRA sticker on the window, to thoroughly confuse people.
I learned to drive on a 1973 144, and a 1983 242 was the first car I bought after graduating from college in 1991. That vehicle ended up saving my life; I spun out on an icy freeway, and was crushed against a guardrail by two tractor-trailers...and walked away from the accident with little more than scrapes and bruises. Needless to say, everything you've read about Volvos and safety is true. I quickly bought another; when it rusted out in 1998, we got our 1978 244. Later, I would buy a 1984 station wagon. The whole series was solid, reliable, and even an amateur mechanic like me could do a lot of the work on them.

Alas, the 1978 sedan eventually became unreliable; after stranding us in St Louis on vacation, we retired it to the second string. As the 1984 wagon also became unreliable, we finally broke down and got two late model vehicles. The 1978 sedan was redundant, and we never drove it, but I couldn't bear to part with it.

But we couldn't take it with us to Michigan, and I couldn't find anyone in East Central Illinois crazy enough about old Volvos to want to buy it. The solution: donate it to Illinois Right to Life's vehicle donation program. The tax deduction will be minuscule, but hopefully IRTL will get something for it...and I hope someone will be driving it (I couldn't bear to take it to the junk yard, even if they'd have paid $100 cash for it.) The title is going in the mail this morning, and they'll pick it up from our old farm next Monday.

Someday, I hope to have another of these cars. Actually, the 1975 164E, with manual transmission, is the Volvo I dream about. But right now, I have one old project car in the garage...a second one would be irresponsible.

Here's hoping the end of this era is only temporary.

03 April 2008

Now Nine

Two more newborn lambs greeted me in the barn this morning at chore time. We'll be watching them closely, as the mother ewe is Bianca. Long-time readers remember that we dubbed her BianKKKa, because for two years in a row she nursed her white male twin and rejected her black female twin.

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer wanted Bianca culled last year, but I didn't have the heart to take her to Forrest Meats. Why? She was one of the first lambs born on our farm, she has excellent bloodlines, and (perhaps most importantly) I personally saved her life during her first summer. She'd gone down with an injury, and the vet doubted that she'd ever get back up again. I spent considerable time with her out in the pasture, dressing her wounds and making sure she had plenty to eat and drink. Against all odds, she made a full recovery. Even today, the scars of that injury are still visible on her left front foot; every time I look at her, I remember how I saved her.

So I had to give her one last chance to prove herself. She was tending to both lambs this morning, and allowing both of them to nurse. But since one is again an all-white male, and the one with more black wool is again a female, we'll be monitoring the situation closely. Better not catch her trying to burn any crosses out in the pasture, or I'll butcher her myself.

02 April 2008

LiveBlogging the Lambing Pen

They just keep coming. Homeschooled Farm Girl got a play break about an hour ago, and decided to take a look at the this morning's triplets out in the barn. A moment later, she excitedly appeared in my office. "I think one of the other sheep is in labor!" she announced.

Busy with something, I assured her I'd be along in a bit. Then, five minutes later, Forest Puppy showed up. "Come right now!" he shouted.
So I did...and discovered that Conundrum had delivered a beautiful little lamb. She'd been doing a great job licking it off, and he/she was up and nursing.

I went about doing some other things, then checked back in a few minutes. As she continued licking Lamb #1, I saw another one slide out and plop on the barn floor. Managed to get this photo from directly above it, on the barn steps.
Five lambs in one day...wow! And it's not even 2:30pm.

Too Furious For Words

When we left Illinois late last year, we made two trips with 26-foot U-Haul trucks; the first had a whole winter's worth of hay and straw, plus as much farm equipment (rolls of fencing, t-posts, etc) as we could fit. The second trip was all our household goods. Even with both of those trips, we knew we'd need to come back a third time to get the remaining farm equipment --- and I told this to the new owner of the property. I told him that repeatedly. We were moving to a place with three times the acreage, and we needed all our fencing and posts. And gates.

We had at least a dozen of those expensive, steel pasture gates stacked neatly against the barn. At least a dozen rolls of expensive chain link fencing. Chain link fence posts, all neatly stacked. And a huge pile (hundreds) of t-posts that I'd yanked out of the ground before it froze.

And it's all now gone. GONE.

Our intent had been to come back in mid-December for all of this, but the snows came first. I did go back in mid-February for some stray household goods, but couldn't get a big truck on that trip. And I told the new owner, again, we'd be back soon for all that farm stuff.

That trip was to be this weekend. But when I called to let him know about these plans, he told me EVERYTHING HAS BEEN GIVEN AWAY to his buddies. "I didn't know what you were going to do with that, and I needed to clean up the property," he said.

There are no words to describe how furious we are at this. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer is especially angry, because she spent two weeks out in the cold, very carefully taking down the chain link fence and rolling it up neatly. We couldn't have made our intentions clearer to the buyer.

I was frankly so stunned while on the phone with him this morning, my brain didn't engage enough to even ask, "WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL US FIRST?"

We're talking about a couple of thousand dollars worth of supplies we're now going to have to purchase...and that's money we don't really have at the moment. Yet with more lambs arriving every day, and goat kids bursting at the seams, we need to get these animals out on pasture. We do have some t-posts, and some fencing material. But that's only enough to get us started.

It's an old lesson, but one I grew complacent about following while living in the country: get it in writing. Even if all your country neighbors do everything with a handshake and verbal understanding, when this much money is on the line you really need to spell it out on paper. I'm not sure a piece of paper would've prevented him from giving the stuff away, but at least it would've provided us with some legal recourse to recover our losses.

Attention, Chicagoans

I will be in Chicago this Friday, April 4th, and have some duck eggs available. Anyone interested in meeting me, please drop an email. Thanks.

Thrice Blessed

It hasn't happened to us since 2003, the first spring we had lambs. But it happened this morning: Triplets! Came out to do chores, and the three happy arrivals were up and getting themselves licked dry by Mom, who still had afterbirth hanging out her rear end. Two males, one female.

The mother ewe is Licorice, and this is her third lambing. Funny to think we just got as many lambs from her as some ewes take three years to produce.