29 October 2008

Lambs to the Slaughter

The first batch of lambs went in to the butcher last night. As long-time readers of the blog know, we had a bumper crop of lambs born this spring; the 8 ewes had 16 lambs between them. One succumbed to disease and one was killed by a dog, but we had 14 survivors --- and they've been extremely healthy. I credit several factors for this year's success:

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

Time to Play Ball

Very moving:

H/T: Baseball Crank.

20 October 2008

Shorn Again

Yesterday was sheep shearing day again on the farm. "Mrs. Lisa, the Sheep Shearing Lady" (as the kids call her) was up here from Indiana for the weekend; she drives a huge circuit across the region, hitting a nearby flock on Saturday and then us on Sunday. (As posted elsewhere, we don't typically like to do work on Sundays, but in this case we didn't have much of a choice --- you need to get the sheep shorn when the shearing lady is available.)

We got 25 beautiful fleeces from our flock, ranging from the very small (a couple of our undersized triplet lambs) to the very large. In all, we have 14 lambs and 11 mature adults. Apart from the fleeces, shearing day gives us an excellent close-up look at each individual member of the flock. We won't be keeping any lambs as breeders this year (our flock is plenty large), but under normal circumstances this is a good chance to identify the best-conforming animals.

It's also a time to identify definite culls. One male had a beautiful set of horns, had reached a reasonable size, and had a nice fleece; until shearing day, I'd been thinking of possibly keeping him for breeding next year. But with his fleece off, we immediately spotted a big problem: he has a significant hernia on his belly. He will be among the very first to go to the butcher.

Today, the whole flock was out again in the pasture, enjoying the fall sunshine and 60 degree temps with their coats off. Here they are, enjoying some windfall pears that I'd tossed over the fence for them. (This picture also gives a good look at how expansive the new pasture is.)

16 October 2008

Moving On Up

If John McCain somehow manages to pull off an election upset, that will no doubt be the final straw for a whole lot of liberals. They'll finally make that move to Canada they've been threatening for so many years! In that vein, someone has put together this very funny instructional video:

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

Going with Goats

We really like our dairy goats, and enjoy eating the male offspring, but Icelandic lamb has been our primary meat of choice.

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

Vote Your Conscience

I haven't found a more succinct statement of what is at stake in this election:

Vote your conscience. And make sure your conscience is well-formed.

07 October 2008

This Day in History

Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and sometimes called Our Lady of Victory. The feast was dedicated in memory of the tremendous victory that Christian forces won over the Turks of the Ottoman Empire on October 7, 1571. When Muslim forces were threatening to overrun the Mediterranean, and with it all of Western civilization, Christian Europe rallied and went out to meet the Ottoman Empire. Pope Pius V famously asked all those back home to pray the rosary on behalf of those in harm's way; the result was a stunning victory which saved Christendom.

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.

Turkeys Hard At Work

I had a couple of posts about turkeys back in the spring, and apologize for not providing some updates since.

Regular readers recall that we're raising Bourbon Red turkeys again this year; they are a wonderful heritage breed, and we've had good luck with them in the past. In getting a garden established on our new property, we decided to incorporate "poultry tractors" into the design from the very beginning. We had a neighbor use his tractor to bust the sod in several four-foot rows across a sunny section of our front yard. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer planted several of these beds this year, and we reserved the remaining rows for our turkeys.

We have 22 mature turkeys now, divided between two portable pens. As described in a post earlier this year, each pen is four feet wide, eight feet long, and two feet high; the eight-foot sections are covered in plywood, and the four-foot sides are enclosed with chicken wire. Every day or two, we've been moving each pen eight feet farther down its own garden bed. In the photograph below, the pens are moving toward the camera. Note the height of the weeds in the portion they haven't gotten to yet, and the complete devastation in the portion behind each pen.

This system has three excellent benefits: the turkeys destroy the weeds, the turkeys get excellent supplemental greens in their diet, and the turkeys provide an excellent layer of fertilizer that can be worked into the garden bed for next year's planting. Next year, we will rotate the pens to the garden beds that were planted this year, and plant our vegetables on the beds the turkeys have been working this year.

Here are the turkeys in one pen, with the lid removed, just before the pen is to be slid down to the next eight-foot patch of weeds. Clearly, they're wondering what's taking me so long.

As for me, I can hardly wait for Thanksgiving.

05 October 2008

For Simpsons Fans Only

Some fun election-time parody: McBain for President!

(Warning: some mild profanity.)

03 October 2008


Well, it's official. With today's bailout vote, the country is now officially on Hayek's Road to Serfdom. And I wonder what will ever be able to pull us back.

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

Starting to Get Funny

Following up on yesterday's post...another day of supposedly frozen global credit markets, ready to cut off capital flows and shut down businesses. And what does my mail bring?

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.

Better Hope...

This is addressed to those who argue that the 451-page monstrosity working its way through the Congress is not really a "bailout," but rather a "purchase" of "assets" that will always have market value, because real estate is always worth something. Putting aside the philosophical questions about whether the government has any business intervening in private transactions, or whether such interventions only encourage future moral hazards, I'd like to bring a more practical issue to your attention:

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

One Answer

In my previous post, I asked why, if credit markets are supposedly frozen, I'm still getting so many offers for new credit cards and credit lines.

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.

Can Someone Explain this to Me?

Can someone with more knowledge of financial and credit markets please explain something to me?

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?

Family Life Review

Many thanks to James Volpe at the Natural Family Life blog for running a review of my novel.

In part:

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.