29 October 2008
1) A clean, brand-new pasture with no parasite build-up from previously grazing animals;
2) Climate that is more similar to our flock's native Iceland than the swelteringly humid Illinois summers we've had;
3) An excellent barn, providing better shelter, especially to newborn lambs;
4) Mineral feeders always kept full and sheltered in the barn --- back in Illinois, they frequently ran out of mineral or it was ruined out in the pasture;
5) A switch from rain water (in Illinois, collected in tanks from building run-off) to iron-rich hard well water.
Yesterday afternoon, Scooter and I rounded up the whole flock and secured them in the barn. I then backed my old 1984 Ford Bronco 4x4 into the barn, put the seats down, and spread a tarp in the back. One by one, I selected the largest male lambs and hoisted them into the back; one of the children stood guard at the truck's tailgate to ensure we had no escapees. We managed to fit seven large male lambs, plus the yearling female who was rejected by her mother and proved too small to be bred last fall (she also had a lousy set of horns, another reason to cull her). And to the great joy of Homeschooled Farm Girl, we also loaded up Biscuits (the pathetic goat kid who was so stupid, he never learned to drink water from a bucket and had to be bottle-watered his whole life).
So, down the highway we went, NPR on the radio, and Scooter the Amazing Wonderdog perched on the passenger seat with me for the ride. Actually, we deliberately avoided highways and made the 11 mile trip almost exclusively on deserted country roads. This proved to be a wise decision, as I had nothing to separate the testosterone-laden back of the SUV from the passenger compartment. Biscuits in particular seemed to be squeezing the last moments of trouble from his miserable life, repeatedly trying to climb onto the truck's console and into my lap. I shoved him back each time, and each time he again stuck his face up to my neck and tried to nibble my collar. Had we been on a busier road, driving at high speed, I probably would've caused several accidents.
Finally, after one especially firm shove, Biscuits waded through the ovine hoard and made his way to the back of the truck. My first reaction was relief, but this proved premature. After smashing his long horns against the ceiling several times (destroying the headliner), I then noticed him trying to butt his head through the window on the tailgate. Being an old truck, we haven't been able to latch that window in years. Each time he tried opening the window, I slammed on the brakes to force all the animals to move forward. This only worked, however, as long as the truck was rolling. At the next stop sign, Biscuits seized his opportunity --- and disappeared out the window.
Disgusted, I slammed the truck into Park and got out to look for him. He'd hopped into a ditch, but appeared too stunned to figure out what to do next. I easily caught him, without even needing to get Scooter (I brought him along in case of a massive jail break). Once Biscuits was again loaded in the truck, we were fortunately only a mile or so from the butcher. We arrived without further incident (apart from complete destruction of the headliner).
This butcher, unlike the one we used in Illinois, has an extensive set of holding pens in a barn out back. At first I thought this was wonderful, as it meant I could bring the animals the evening before --- rather than loading them up and driving early in the morning on the day of slaughter. However, once we began unloading the animals, the butcher and I immediately grew concerned: their gates are set up to contain commercial-sized meat animals. Standard breeds of sheep would've been fine, but we never would've used gates like these to contain Icelandics on our farm. We managed to get all of them into a pen far in the back; even if the lambs had worked really hard and gotten through a gate, there were two additional sets of gates they'd also need to negotiate to get totally loose. Also working in our favor: several members of the flock were too big to squeeze through, and because they were in a strange place we knew they'd all stick together. Plus, dusk was closing in and they'd want to stay in a shelter.
Even so, I worried about my flock last night and even considered driving over to check on them. These were our biggest animals, and represent hundreds of pounds of meat that would be literally impossible to replace on the open market. There was a busy highway not far from the butcher, and I imagined my little flock wandering onto it in the night. Funny how, even when the animals are within hours of being slaughtered, a shepherd can't help worring about their safety and well-being. In the end, I decided to entrust them to the intercession of St Francis of Assisi, and told myself to get a good night's sleep. This proved to be a good decision; I called over this morning, and they confirmed everything was alright. All the same, next time, I will bring the animals in at 8am on the day of slaughter.
It was a little strange last night, securing the barn and seeing such a reduced flock. I don't exactly miss the lambs we took in, but it was an odd feeling to see so many fewer. A little sad. But those feelings evaporated this morning when I put hay out for the remaining flock, and saw how much easier it was for the smaller lambs to get at it now. We'll give those little guys a couple more weeks to put on weight, and then take them in at the same time I pick up the meat from the first batch.
Yummmmm. I can hardly wait to enjoy some Icelandic lamb chops again.
23 October 2008
20 October 2008
16 October 2008
Though I do wonder, with Conservatives winning in the recent elections up there, if any Republicans might be looking North with longing eyes this November...
15 October 2008
That said, the New York Times has put together a great story about a former cattleman who has gone into meat goats big-time. He was an early pioneer in the humane treatment of livestock; like us, he believes that the better an animal is treated, the better it will end up tasting.
We don't believe animals have "rights," but we do have a duty to exercise responsible stewardship over them. And part of that responsible stewardship means letting a sheep or a goat glorify God by allowing it to behave in the way God designed it to behave. Remarkable how when you allow animals to behave in the way they were designed...they end up having all the wonderful flavor and nutrition that their Designer intended them to have.
Sorry for that digression. The goat herder profiled in the Times doesn't express this kind of philosophical argument for humane animal treatment, but his story is still very instructive for anyone contemplating raising livestock for meat:
He and Nicolette Hahn Niman, an environmental lawyer, were married five years ago, and now they are raising what they hope will be the best-tasting animals around. They have a handful of premier cattle that fatten only on pasture and a flock of traditional turkey breeds they personally chauffeured from Kansas to Bolinas last spring. Mr. Niman also has an organic pig project going in Iowa.
But he hopes goat will be the cornerstone of his comeback. That’s in part because he has more of them around, and because he sees a wide-open market for pristine, pasture-raised goat meat. The guy is, after all, a businessman.
“I don’t need to get 10 percent of the market anymore,” he said. “I just want to be the best.”
Chefs on both coasts are fast discovering his goat meat, although it is still available only in limited amounts, under the name BN Ranch.
In June, Mr. Niman stopped by Eccolo in Berkeley with a piece of shoulder, a loin, a leg and a rack of ribs. The chef and owner, Christopher Lee, now breaks down one or two of the 30-pound goat carcasses a week.
“It was succulent,” Mr. Lee said. “It was mild. It was just perfect.”
Like other chefs who have begun to cook with goat, Mr. Lee predicts a bright future for the meat.
09 October 2008
07 October 2008
Michael Novak wrote an excellent piece on the subject two years ago, and is well worth another read. In part:
The two greatest naval forces ever assembled — 280 ships in the Turkish Armada, some 212 on the Christian side — came into each other’s sight on the brilliant morning of October 7. So confident was the Turkish admiral, Ali Pasha, that he sailed proudly at the center of his own Armada, bringing with him on vessels just to his rear his entire fortune, and even a part of his harem.
Historians tell us that all over Europe a pall fell. Few had hopes that the Christian fleet could avoid the doom that seemed to hang over Italy. The pope had urged all Christians to say the rosary daily on behalf of the brave crews on the Christian galleys. The rosary is a simple prayer that can be said in almost any setting, and had already achieved a certain popularity among humble folk. With each decade of the Hail Marys they had been taught to reflect upon a different event in the life of Jesus. The beads went through one’s fingers as regularly as the blood through one’s body, as regular as heartbeats and the breathing of the lungs.
To make a long story short, Don Juan aimed his own galley directly at the heart of the Turkish armada, directly at the clearly colored sails of the Ali Pasha’s galley, with its great green flag, inscribed 28,000 times with the name of Allah in gold. The Venetian vessels sailed furiously into the Turkish right wing, and with the help of the revolt of the galley slaves collapsed that wing. Six of the largest Christian vessels had been outfitted with a platform elevated above normal levels on which rows of devastating cannons were arrayed. Blasts from these new cannons were withering, and within minutes sank dozens of Turkish ships. The sea, witnesses said, was covered with flailing sailors, floating turbans, pieces of wood and sail.
The passion for defending their own civilization against ruthless invaders also strengthened the muscles of those engaged in the close, bloody, violent hand-fighting when one vessel came alongside another. But it was mainly the new firepower of the smaller Christian fleet that quickly sank galley after galley until, after not too many hours, the Turkish center also collapsed, as if cut through by a hot knife. The Admiral’s galley was captured, along with 240 more Turkish ships.
These are lessons well worth remembering, in the midst of the seeming-impossible trials that our country is now facing. Let's all remember to pray for our country and her future every time we say the rosary, and to ask Our Lady of Victory to pray for us.
As for me, I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving.
05 October 2008
03 October 2008
Kudos to our congressman, Mike Rogers, for voting the right way on this atrocious assault on the free market. And to Senator Debbie Stabenow, who cast perhaps the first vote that I've agreed with. No doubt she and I opposed the bill for different reason, but I'll take my political allies pretty much any way I can get them.
I need to organize my thoughts before I say much more, or anything that might be taken the wrong way. Went out for a good ride on my road bike this afternoon, cranking up and down some hills, and that cleared my head a little. But I need more of that before I say much else about what's happened to this country and what's becoming of our freedoms.
For now, I think this succinct summary of Hayek's book sums up most of what I'm thinking:
Hayek’s central thesis is that all forms of collectivism lead logically and inevitably to tyranny, and he used the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany as examples of countries which had gone down “the road to serfdom” and reached tyranny. Hayek argued that within a centrally planned economic system, the distribution and allocation of all resources and goods would devolve onto a small group, which would be incapable of processing all the information pertinent to the appropriate distribution of the resources and goods at the central planners’ disposal. Disagreement about the practical implementation of any economic plan combined with the inadequacy of the central planners’ resource management would invariably necessitate coercion in order for anything to be achieved. Hayek further argued that the failure of central planning would be perceived by the public as an absence of sufficient power by the state to implement an otherwise good idea. Such a perception would lead the public to vote more power to the state, and would assist the rise to power of a “strong man” perceived to be capable of “getting the job done”. After these developments Hayek argued that a country would be ineluctably driven into outright totalitarianism. For Hayek “the road to serfdom” inadvertently set upon by central planning, with its dismantling of the free market system, ends in the destruction of all individual economic and personal freedom.
Hayek published this book in 1944. Sounds like it could have been written literally last week.
02 October 2008
1) From [NAME OF CREDIT CARD COMPANY] Small Business: 0% APR on purchases and transfers until January 2010!
2) From [NAME OF OTHER CREDIT CARD COMPANY]: Rewards for Professionals! 0% APR for 12 months. 3% back on eligible business expenses. No annual fee!
Again, I realize that credit marketing efforts are separate from the actual granting of credit. But I'll believe we're in a global credit market freeze when I stop finding these things in my mailbox every single dang day.
You'd better hope that these exotic packages of mortgage-backed securities don't contain many properties from Saginaw, Michigan like the one that just sold on Ebay. I suppose $2.20 is technically more than "zero," but I'd wager it's a whole lot less than what was owed on any mortgage. And, while you're at it, better check for anything in Detroit --- like the house I blogged about a few weeks back, that sold for one whole dollar.
And while the government is going on a shopping spree for new "assets," maybe their next purchase should be all those unsold cars that the automakers have been sitting on. After all, those will have value some day, too, right?
Don't laugh. I bet some legislator from Michigan will propose an "unsold auto asset" purchase next week.
01 October 2008
After emailing that same question to someone I know, who has worked extensively in mergers/acquisitions and other credit-intensive fields, he explained that marketing efforts often continue despite what may be happening in other departments of a financial institution. The idea is to keep bringing prospects through the door, and to decide later whether those prospects ought to be granted credit. And those prospects can always be sold to another firm if need be. (Thank you, Danby, for posting a similar comment on my original post.)
But my email correspondent added something else, that I found more troubling:
Lastly, this crisis is not overblown at all. If congress doesn't do anything, we will most likely go into a depression that many think will be worse than the Great Depression. Our world revolves on credit to a ridiculous extreme, moreso than most people can even possibly fathom. When credit stops, so does the economy.
A lot of Investment Bankers used to joke about how the whole economy was a house of cards supported by debt markets that would stop if banks decided to stop lending. The response of economists was that this would never happen because there is too much money to be made in lending. Well, it could be upon us and it will get ugly.
I'm not sure I agree with the premise that the current crisis extends beyond investment banks; I think some of these folks may be deliberately freezing interbank lending as a means of forcing Congress to act (a big game of "financial chicken"). But my larger question is this: if the current economy truly is a house of cards, supported by debt markets (a premise I do not dispute, by the way), is that an economic structure we really want to continue propping up? How many hundreds of billions of tax dollar interventions will that prop-up require? All to continue living in a house of cards?
I'm not saying I want to blow down the house of cards, start another Great Depression, make everybody do penance, and hope we all learn the value of thrift. I'm asking why we don't seize this opportunity to restructure our economy and our lifestyles in a way that doesn't require a sea of debt markets to keep us afloat?
I love my credit cards; they're an incredible convenience. I use them to pay for nearly everything, meaning I don't need to carry cash (which can be lost or stolen). And I can write a single check each month. But here's the key: I write that check. And I write it for the full amount. We never carry a balance. But as George Will points out in his brilliant piece today, far too many Americans have been thinking they can budget like the government does: constantly carrying a balance, and "hitching outlays to appetites."
In running my own business, I don't depend on "commercial paper." When a client hires me to conduct a public opinion survey, my only real cost is to hire a fieldhouse to make the phone calls and tabulate the results. I have one fieldhouse I send almost all my projects to, and we have developed a solid relationship of trust. The moment I get paid, they get paid. And they have the cash reserves to live with that. Likewise, for me, I know my clients and trust they will pay when I deliver their results. If it's a new client, or someone I'm not yet comfortable with, I ask for a chunk of the total once the interviewing begins. That way, even if I get shafted for the balance (which, BTW, has never happened), I can still pay my fieldhouse. I'd rather starve than shaft the company that collects my data. Again, it's a matter of maintaining cash reserves and not depending on "commercial paper" to keep me afloat. And it's also a matter of trust --- knowing and evaluating the people you're doing business with, and making judgments about who you will grant your own informal short-term credit to. I have clients who are notorious late-payers. But I continue doing analysis work for them, because my only "expense" is my own time --- and I've known them for many years, and they have never failed to pay. Trust.
The Yeoman Farmer wonders if we'd all be better off in the long run if the current house of cards does fall down, and we can rebuild the system on a foundation of saving and thrift --- and personal relationships, and trust, and cash reserves. But have we gotten ourselves into a situation where such a transition is impossible without massive dislocations for massive numbers of good families and businesses who have acted in good will?
Back in Illinois, we had many neighbors who'd lived through the Great Depression and could still tell vivid tales describing what it was like. I couldn't imagine making a deliberate choice to put my family through that. But I pray that if our nation does undergo some kind of massive dislocation, the transition is swift and the ultimate resolution is truly beneficial to us all.
If the credit markets are in such a crisis situation, with banks no longer lending to each other, and millions of small businesses are in danger of losing their vital credit lines, why is my mailbox still jammed every day with credit card offers?
Just today, I got an offer from one of my current credit card companies, offering me thousands of dollars in cash advance convenience checks at a really low interest rate and no fee. And I got another offer from another company, for a whole new credit card account. And this is just a typical day. Sometimes I get even more offers than that --- particularly since I own a small business, I seem to get several offers a week for small business credit cards and lines of credit.
Granted, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have good credit ratings, have lived within our means for many years, and pay our bills on time. But we don't have a particularly large income. And these new credit lines they're offering us are completely unsecured, with no collateral needed.
I realize we've proven ourselves to be good credit risks. But the local shoestore is probably just as good of a credit risk. Why are they in danger of losing their credit, while we're still getting all this new credit thrown at us?
Christopher Blunt has written a novel demonstrating nearly the entirety of the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality. I am stunned by how well everything hangs together without being forced. The plot involves fornication, abortion, contraception, personalism, NFP, annulments, and marital chastity. The story is gripping and believable with a main character, Stan, who appeals to me, a Simpsons-loving entrepreneur. Stan is also a Catholic like me, who takes the Truth for granted and needs to re-learn the Faith constantly.
As Stan re-learns the Faith, a variety of events occur in his life which succeed in being surprising while not being unexpected. Stan's life is not a common one, yet it appeals to the common man. His is a truly Catholic life, where small things can teach great lessons and where an average man is prepared for great gifts.