25 March 2009

Out With the Old, In With the New

We had such a large number of lambs born (and survive) last year, it was impossible to take them all to the butcher in one trip. Our solution was to take a first batch last October, with all the large males, and to keep the runts and females to see if we could fatten them up a bit. I even planned to try butchering one of the small ones myself, just to see if I could figure it out.

One thing led to another (or, more precisely, one bitterly cold snowstorm led to another) all winter, and I never did get around to trying my hand at butchering a lamb...or even driving the second batch in to the butcher.

Finally, today, I got my act together and cleared out the seven remaining lambs. They'd been eating us out of house and home, plowing through the hay that needs to last until the pasture begins growing --- but they weren't putting on much weight. Yesterday, I made the call to the butcher to see if I could get them in; Wednesdays are the only day they do lambs and goats. Fortunately, they had some availability, so I made the appointment.

I went out to the barn early this morning, to make sure everything was okay with the sheep. I flipped on the lights, and immediately noticed the Scooter the Border Collie was acting a bit unusual. He seemed extremely interested in what was going on in the sheep area, was wagging his tail purposely, and had his muzzle tucked into the fence separating him from the sheep. One quick look revealed what had Scooter so interested: a tiny black lamb, tottering near the fence.

Maybelle, one of our best mother ewes, was hovering protectively over the lamb, not quite understanding that Scooter was only trying to be protective (and helpful), too. A moment later, I spotted another tiny black lamb...and realized that Maybelle had done it again: delivered twins, and delivered before any of the other ewes. Her streak now extends to seven years in a row.
The arrival of Maybelle's twins (one male and one female) meant it was doubly important to get those seven extra lambs from last year out of the sheep pen. All the extra bodies would only multiply the opportunity for little lambs to get trampled.

I managed to get our old 1984 Ford Bronco II fired up, and the rear seats folded down. Spread some old paper feed bags on the floor to catch sheep droppings, and then backed her into the barn. Homeschooled Farm Boy (HFB) helped make sure we barricaded both sides of the Bronco, to discourage any escape attempts. He then helped me pick up Maybelle's lambs, and we used those as bait to lure her outside to the fenced sheep paddock. We also got Dilemma, our big breeding ram, out of the barn; he would have been liable to attack us as we caught the lambs to load them on the truck.

With the barn door shut, Scooter, HFB and I quickly caught lamb after lamb and hauled them into the back of the Bronco. The hardest part was hoisting each lamb up and in, and closing the rear hatch door, without any of the already-loaded lambs pushing their way out. Fortunately, between the three of us, we managed to get all seven loaded without any escapees.

As there is only one spare seat in the Bronco once all the lambs are loaded, our children take turns being the one who gets to ride with me to the butcher. This was HFB's turn, which he thought was very exciting. Scooter always goes as well, in case he's needed to quell a jail break. (The Bronco's rear window does not latch, and we have had animals --- particularly goats --- try to escape at stop signs. Plus, when unloading at the butcher's, anything can happen.) So, at about 7:40am, all of us set off.

With seven four-legged passengers in the back, and one four-legged passenger up front with us humans, we had a very full vehicle. The seven passengers in the back were particularly upset about having missed breakfast. Also, every time we went around a corner or came to a stop, all seven of them would tumble in one direction or another --- and I would have to look carefully to make sure none was attempting an escape through that rear window. Needless to say, I made sure I obeyed all the traffic laws as I drove; I couldn't imagine the conversation with a police officer, were I to get pulled over.

With HFB's help, and Scooter looking on attentively, the unloading went off without incident. Once all seven lambs were secured in the holding pen on Death Row, I went around to the retail portion of the shop and explained to the butcher how I'd like the lambs prepared. HFB, Scooter and I then sped off to Mass in town; we managed to arrive just in time for HFB to get dressed to serve on this the Feast of the Annunciation.

Once back home, we were able to get some good pictures of Maybelle and her lambs (both of which seem to be doing very well):

Just another crazy day in the life of a homeschooling yeoman farm family. A family, I might add, that is looking forward to lots of dinners featuring delicious Icelandic lamb.

23 March 2009

Piglet The Goat Kid

I have given up trying to figure out the names that our children come up with for various animals on our farm. As long as it's a certainty that the animal in question will eventually be going off to the butcher, I don't mind too much. (The two most recent goat kids we had butchered were named "Naughty" and "Less Naughty," respectively...and our children now seem to be recycling those names for the latest twin male goat kids.)

Which brings us to Piglet. Who, despite the name, is a goat kid.

Last Wednesday, Queen Anne's Lace delivered a pair of beautiful kids. After just a couple of days, however, the male kid was developing problems. He was struggling to get up and nurse, and had a raspy noise in his lungs. Homeschooled Farm Girl immediately realized something was wrong, and reported the problem to Mrs Yeoman Famer.

This proved to be a very good move. Had she come to me, I would have told her "It's just the male kid. We'll only be butchering him anyway, and his meat isn't worth the veterinary bills. And besides, at just two days old, he doesn't have the reserves to survive whatever he's sick with. Which is probably pneumonia."

MYF also diagnosed pneumonia...but took a different approach. She simply announced that she was taking the kid to the vet clinic in the next town over. Period. I ran through my objections, to which she listened politely...and then insisted that we should do everything in our power to save this kid. Because in her opinion, we'd discovered his pneumonia early enough to do something about it.

I grudgingly agreed, and got back to work. MYF sped off to the vet, and after spending some time in the waiting room (enduring odd/curious looks from all the people who had brought more conventional pets), the vet confirmed our diagnosis of pneumonia. Most likely, the kid aspirated some milk while nursing --- essentially "sucked it down the wrong pipe," getting moisture in his lungs. In the chilly barn, it didn't take long to develop into pneumonia. He gave the kid a shot of antibiotic, and then gave MYF several more syringes of antibiotic to inject over the next days. He suggested we keep the kid in our warm house, and bottle feed him until (1) he was stronger and (2) the barn warmed up a bit.

So, since Friday afternoon, we've had a goat kid living in an old laundry basket in our family room. How our children thought up the name, "Piglet," I'll never know...but it's not something I have any desire to argue about. The wood stove keeps that whole room very comfortable, and Piglet has been thriving. Homeschooled Farm Girl has been a big help in milking Queen Anne's Lace, and in taking the kid out to her in the warmer parts of the day to nurse directly. Fortunately, Queen Anne's Lace has not rejected or forgotten him; she bleats urgently as soon as she sees him, sniffs his backside approvingly as he nurses, and bleats plaintively when we take him back out of the barn.
Needless to say, the laundry basket is pretty tight quarters for a growing goat kid. With MYF's permission, our children let him out a couple of times this weekend (right after he'd relieved himself), and let him romp around the downstairs of our house. Everyone thought this was great fun, though MYF was of course concerned he might try to piddle on the carpet. "Maybe," I joked, "we can train him to a litter box and keep him in the house."

"Yeah!" the children cheered.
"Can't you just see it?" MYF replied. "Him trotting up and down the stairs. Kicking his legs up on the walls, like the other goats do in the barn. Probably smashing windows. And making the whole house smell like goat."

We all had a good laugh...and hope he'll be well enough to move back to the barn in the next couple of days.

And, yes, I have eaten my full serving of crow. I'm glad MYF took him to the vet, and have told her so. It's a tough balance, having livestock. There is a definite "utilitarian" component to farm animals, and it's much more pronounced than it is for pets. We simply cannot justify squandering resources on an animal that isn't "worth it." But there is also a humanitarian component to raising livestock on a small organic farm. In a sense, God has given us temporary custody of these animals...and we have a responsibility to exercise good stewardship with them. That means having a heart, and sometimes making personal sacrifices on behalf of an animal's welfare --- even one which, at the end of the day, might be of borderline monetary value.

In this case, I think we struck a good balance. Piglet's vet bill was $55, and it will eventually cost $40 to butcher him. That will make his meat more than twice as expensive as the meat from a kid with no medical issues. But given the quality of what we'll be getting, I think it's still a bargain compared to buying meat at the supermarket.

21 March 2009

Ultimate Security Flashlight

Too bad the FMG9 is still just a prototype, because I really want one of these. And am not sure I'd want to go out and walk my dog at night in an urban area without one handy. Heck, even on the farm, one of these would make it infinitely easier to go investigate what the dog was barking his head off at in the middle of the night.

This brief video really must be seen to be believed:

H/T: Baseball Crank

Rod Dreher on NAIS and Food Safety

Rod Dreher has an excellent column out with more thoughts about the NAIS (discussed here in a recent post), and some of the other dubious "food safety" legislation working its way through Congress.

The Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009 attempts to streamline the unwieldy federal food regulation system, as does the similar Food and Drug Administration Globalization Act of 2009. Both, however, are written as a "one size fits all" bill that would ramp up fees and regulation on all producers of food (and, in the case of the latter, drugs and cosmetics). The little guy who sells homegrown tomatoes or homemade soap at the farmers market would be subject to the same regulation as industrial giants, without the resources to implement it.

"There are legitimate problems that the large commercial producers – the peanut factory that ships around the country – those need to be better regulated," said Judith McGeary, an Austin lawyer and board member of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. "What we need is a very explicit, unambiguous, clear and broad exemption for small farmers and small producers – people who are making jams and breads for the local farmers market."

Those exemptions aren't in the current legislation. On the NAIS front, a House subcommittee hearing this month was "a disaster" for the local food movement, McGeary said. In the Texas Legislature, proposals to make NAIS voluntary at the state level, absent a federal mandate, are going nowhere.


Ironically, the food safety problems that cause such legitimate public concern are caused by large-scale, technology-driven industrial food production and distribution methods – precisely the sort of thing that local, sustainable farmers don't engage in. Yet they are the ones who will suffer the most from these government attempts to solve a problem caused by bigness and technology by imposing more bigness and technology.

We do need better food safety regulation of major producers, but local family farms and artisans shouldn't pay for sins they didn't commit. Consumers need to have the small-farm alternative – and if they are going to preserve it, they have to contact federal and state legislators now.

18 March 2009

AIG Mess

With every member of Congress now posturing and trying to outdo one another in expressing outrage over retention bonuses paid to AIG executives, it didn't surprise me to receive an email tonight from Senator Debbie Stabenow. I guess I got on her mailing list last fall, when I wrote asking her to oppose the $800 billion financial bailout (which she did, and for which I give her enormous credit).

Anyway, this is the text of the message she sent tonight:

This morning, Senator Stabenow went to the Senate floor to speak about the outrageous bonuses being lavished on employees at AIG. She spoke about the outrageous double standard between Wall Street and America's automakers, who have submitted their management plans to the auto task force and are renegotiating contracts with their workers, who have already taken cuts. Our families are struggling, and those who got us into this mess should not be rewarded for their failure.

Here is the link to Senator Stabenow's speech:


I do agree with the Senator that those who got us into this mess should not be rewarded for their failure --- and, as I said above, I credit Senator Stabenow for opposing the original TARP legislation, out of whose funds AIG was bailed out. That said, this was my reply to Senator Stabenow:

Didn't you vote for the "stimulus" bill which included an amendment explicitly protecting these bonuses? I'm assuming you were not aware of that amendment, given the short amount of time available to review the conference report. But had you been aware of that amendment, would you have voted differently on the bill?

Naturally, every member of Congress will now purport to oppose that provision. But just how much do they really mean what they say? Given that the amendment was indeed part of the final stimulus bill, do they oppose the bonuses enough to have voted against the stimulus?

My larger question, directed at the Senator's colleagues (including the current President), who did vote for TARP and are now expressing outrage, is this: If you really wanted fundamental change in the way these financial institutions do business, including the way they compensate their employees who "got us into this mess," shouldn't you have let those institutions fail and be liquidated? Or at least written your mandated compensation changes in to the original bailout agreement? By continuing to prop them up with $173 billion of no-strings-attached taxpayer dollars, why are you surprised that they continue to operate their business as they have in the past?

Personally, I'm more outraged by the $173 billion that was "loaned" or otherwise entrusted to this failed monstrosity than I am by the way that company spent $165 million compensating the employees which the government's bailout package enabled them to retain.

More than Just Bloat

After last night's adventure saving Queen Anne's Lace the Goat from bloat (detailed in a post this morning), it turns out that my suspicions about her engorged udder were correct: she was more than just bloated. She was also majorly pregnant!

I checked on her at lunchtime, and she was in active labor; the first kid's amniotic sac, with fluid, was hanging out of her rear end. I ran to the house, and the children quickly came out to watch. Homeschooled Farm Girl cleared other goats out of the barn, and then helped me move QAL to the kidding pen. This took some real effort, as we had to time the move to fall between QAL's increasingly-intense contractions.

Fortunately, we got her secured in time. Homeschooled Farm Girl and Little Brother made themselves comfortable, and we all settled in to watch. A hoof was clearly protruding and visible, and the kid's head emerged next. Progress then slowed down; QAL struggled and pushed for several minutes, but not much more of the kid came out. HFG fretted that perhaps QAL needed help. My own private worries aside, I assured her that everything looked fine, and we just needed to leave QAL alone.

Sure enough, a few hearty pushes later, the kid emerged the rest of the way. QAL turned around and began licking it off. She looked to have another kid inside her, and we dcould have stayed to watch --- but at this point I figured that what the goat needed most was some privacy so she could bond with Kid #1 and ready herself to deliver Kid #2. So, I told our children we needed to head back into the house and return to the books. But I think that the most valuable homeschooling lesson of the day had already taken place, right there in the barn.

I went back out about an hour later; both goat kids had been safely delivered, licked off, and were on their feet learning to nurse. We appear to have one male and one female.
And with three does now having delivered in the last month, we're about to have a whole bunch of delicious goat milk.

Late Night...With Queen Anne's Lace

We have three dairy goat does: Queen Anne's Lace (our original doe, bred and drying up but not currently being milked) and her two daughters, both of whom recently had twin kids. Those two daughters, Button and Marigold, get a ration of supplemental grain in the morning and evening; this helps them keep their milk production up, ensuring their hungry kids get as much as they need.

In the mornings, I scoop that grain into a pan and set it in an empty stall in the barn. At the sound of the grain hitting the pan, Button and Marigold eagerly stand on the gate and look to see what's taking me so long. Scooter the Border Collie also knows the routine, and plants himself just outside their gate. Once I open the gate, Scooter's position blocks the goats from going anywhere but toward the empty stall with the grain. (Not like they need any help from Scooter --- both goats make a beeline for that grain even when he's not with me.)

I then re-latch the gate, and get hay for the sheep while the goats eat their grain. By the time I return from the sheep pen, the two goats are finished and ready to be let back in to the main goat area. Once they're back in, I secure the gate behind them.

Homeschooled Farm Girl takes care of this chore in the evenings, and it usually goes off without a hitch...except when it doesn't. Last night, she apparently didn't get the gate secured all the way. While we were inside eating dinner, and then spending a little time watching something on the History Channel, the goats managed to get their gate open and disperse themselves all over the barn. Queen Anne's Lace (QAL), being the largest, oldest, and smartest doe, knew that a couple of swift head-butts to the grain can would manage to tip it over --- and she wasted no time settling in for a feast.

Homeschooled Farm Boy didn't discover this disaster until he stopped by the barn to turn the lights off for the night. With Scooter's help, he managed to get all the goats back in their pen...but he was concerned about the amount of grain that QAL had ingested. If a goat eats too much grain all at once, they can develop a terrible (even fatal) case of bloat. He had me come out and take a look at her, but not much time had elapsed yet. QAL still looked fine. But as Mrs Yeoman Farmer was concerned she might still develop bloat, I agreed to check back a little later.

Back out in the barn at 11pm, it was unmistakable: we had a terribly bloated goat. Remember those old Alka-Seltzer commercials, where the person blows up like a balloon and moans, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing"? That was the look that QAL was giving me.

MYF swung into action, getting out one of her natural goat care books and reviewing the instructions for dealing with bloat. We put a half cup of olive oil into a jar, got out a new 30cc syringe (with no needle), and together headed to the barn. Somehow, with MYF straddling QAL to hold her in place (and shoo away all the other goats, who were terribly curious and wanting to get in on the action), I managed to drench all of the olive oil down the goat's throat. Then came the really fun part: trying to get QAL to run around outside, and heavily massaging her bloated belly every time she stopped. Given her bloated state, running around seemed the last thing on her mind --- and goats can be very stubborn when they make up their minds about something. Even Scooter wasn't much help in getting her to move.

We managed to get QAL to belch a few times, but weren't making too much progress. MYF sent me in the house for another half cup of olive oil, which we again drenched down the goat's throat. More belly massage. More trying to get her to run.

At least it was a really nice night to be out --- clear sky, huge canopy of stars, and comfortably warm (hey, after the winter we had, 50F feels sweltering). As we worked with the goat, alternating between running and massaging and listening for belching, MYF and I found ourselves having a fun time joking and chatting and getting caught up on what's been going on.

Finally, at midnight, we figured we'd gotten all the gas out of QAL that we were going to get out. We returned her and Scooter to the barn, double-checked that the goat gate was secure, turned out the lights, and called it a night. Back at the house, I fell into bed and went right to sleep.

This morning, before doing anything else, I headed straight to the barn to check on QAL. She looked a bit tired, and still a little on the large side, but no longer bloated. Her udder and teats looked fairly full of milk; that could be an effect of the grain, and I'm hoping it doesn't mean she's about to deliver her kids. But I may have our children put her in the stanchion and see if they can milk her out today.
There's never a dull moment on a farm. Even when you might really, really want one. Like at 11pm on St Patrick's Day.

But we still wouldn't trade this life for anything.

17 March 2009


Yesterday, Mrs Yeoman Farmer was going over a history lesson with Homeschooled Farm Boy.

MYF happened to remark, "Your history book is a lot more interesting than mine was in the eighth grade."

HFB replied, matter-of-factly: "Well, yeah. A lot more has happened since then."


It has come to my attention that in recent days a particular website has begun linking to this blog. That site, which I will not name and to which I will not provide a link, specializes in providing seeds and supplies for growing a particular kind of "grass" which we do not cultivate on this farm and have never cultivated elsewhere. I have asked for that site's link to be removed, but I'm not sure how long it will take. And in the meantime, that link may still be generating traffic and readership.

So, let me clarify and emphasize an important core philosophy of The Yeoman Farmer: if you don't like the rules in your state or your country, advocate for and work to change them --- but don't flaunt and break them unless you're being asked to do something immoral or unconscionable. As one of William Golding's characters put it, "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages."

This blog discusses grape cultivation and home winemaking, but will not tell you how to brew a batch of moonshine or build a backyard still. I discuss firearms and support responsible gun ownership, but would not explain (even if I had the knowledge, which I don't) how to build a silencer for your pistol or convert your rifle to fully-automatic fire. Our family strongly opposes the NAIS, but will (reluctantly) register our livestock with it if we are eventually required by law to do so.

Longtime readers may have observed that the War on Drugs has never before been the subject of a post on this blog. The reason for that is simple: it's not a subject that interests me much, and I don't have strong opinions about it one way or the other. Neither Mrs Yeoman Farmer nor I have consumed marijuana (or any other illegal controlled substance) in any form, and have no desire to do so, even if we were visiting a place where it was legal. That said, I am not unsympathetic to those who would like to change some of the drug laws in this country. But if you're looking for advice on cultivating a crop that isn't currently legal, you won't find it on this blog. We do hope you stick around and enjoy the commentary about everything else related to farming, family, faith, and citizenship --- and work to change the law rather than break it.

13 March 2009

Midwest Book Review

The March issue of the Midwest Book Review is out, and they are running a very positive review of my novel:

A passport is what's needed to pass into new lands freely, and they are not always easy to get. Passport is the story of Stan Eigenbauer and his search for happiness. He thinks he finally has it, but fate has it in for him, and he soon faces a decision which could either make or ruin his life. Using the passport as a symbol, Passport is a tale of choices, love, and doing what's best for others and oneself. Highly recommended reading.

A reminder that you can see all editorial reviews, and find links to the book's Amazon and Barnes & Noble listings, at the publisher's website.

The .380 Mystery

Last week, I noted the strong sales of guns --- and now, particularly, ammunition. Among other things, I pointed out that no retailers around here, even the local gun shop with high prices, seem to have .380 pistol ammunition in stock.

Ruger makes an extremely popular concealed carry weapon, the LCP, chambered in .380. It's so small, it can literally fit in the palm of an average man's hand. And while .380 isn't the most powerful cartridge, the LCP can hold seven rounds. Our local gun shop cannot keep them in stock, and only sells them on a wait list. No doubt this is one reason why Sturm Ruger's stock is trading near its 52-week high. (Also, Smith & Wesson released earnings data last night: Adjusted net income for the third quarter 2008 was $9.2 million, compared to $3.7 million in the 2007 third quarter.)

Anyhow, I wondered if the popularity of the LCP, and the shortage of .380 ammunition, were unique to our area. A story today from Tulsa suggests otherwise:

The surprise sales come with .380 caliber semi- automatic pistols. A relatively small self-protection weapon, it's not one that people typically fire in great quantity at the firing range, Prall said. Yet, the ammunition is now hard to find. "Nobody would have predicted that," he said.

"We ran completely out here of 9 mm and .380," said Johny Mathews, product and service manager at the U.S. Shooting Sports Academy on East 66th Street North. "We were begging, borrowing and stealing from wherever."

Concealed-carry classes at the academy are booked through April. "We used to do 15-person classes, and now we do 24 because of the demand," he said.

Mathews believes that politics are partly to blame, but the economy also has people worried. "It's 50/50, I think" he said. "When people lose jobs and get desperate, good people can sometimes do bad things. People hear more about home invasions, robberies, and they think it will only get worse. Then they're afraid they might lose their guns or ammo, so they stock up."

Sales are so intense that Stone has limited sales of .380 ammo to one box per customer at Dong's. He has .380-caliber handguns for sale, and likes to be able to sell ammunition to whoever buys a gun, he said.

A shipment of 10 Ruger .380 LCP handguns was sold in 24 hours this week — seven the first day, three the next. "Last week I had 28 boxes of .380, rationed to one per person, and it was gone in three days," Stone said.

Academy Sporting Goods stores also are low on .380 ammo. "The other day we got 16 boxes of .380 and a guy came in first thing and bought all 16," said Jon Ide, hunting and fishing sales associate at the 41st Street store. "A few people are doing all the buying, and it's the people who are trying to just get a box or two that can't find any."

I'm just glad I got my LCP, and a good supply of .380, when I could. Now, if only I'd invested an equal amount of money in Sturm Ruger stock at the same time...

12 March 2009

The Colonel

Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I have not laughed this hard at anything chicken-related in a really long time:

H/T: Rod Dreher.

11 March 2009

Stop the NAIS!

Many of you may already be familiar with the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) that the federal Department of Agriculture has been trying to set up. Under this system, every location which raises pretty much any species of livestock must obtain a "premises id number," and then get a separate fifteen-character number for every individual animal. Then, every animal will be tracked every time it leaves the premises. The idea is that if a diseased animal shows up at a slaughterhouse, it can be tracked back to its farm of origin in 48 hours. The system is currently "voluntary," but everyone knows it's only a matter of time before before it becomes "mandatory." It already is mandatory in some states, including Indiana. We have turned down the trade/purchase of a couple of Icelandic rams from Indiana, because we would have had to be registered with the NAIS for the seller to have transferred them to us.

As you might suppose, this is a program we strongly object to and refuse to join. Other organizations, like this one and this one, have done an excellent job compiling and documenting various problems with it, and I'd encourage you to browse these if you want to know more. What's particularly heartening to me is that the ACLU has also gone to bat for some farmers against the NAIS --- concerns about this system seem to bridge the political spectrum.

Our most fundamental objection to NAIS is the invasion of privacy. Quite simply, it isn't any of the government's dang business what kind of animals we have, or how many. We moved to the country precisely because we wanted to be left alone, and to raise some livestock for our family's own consumption. We do not want to implant our animals with RFID tags, or microchips --- and we certainly do not want to send reports to the federal government every time we take a goat kid to the vet.

Apart from privacy concerns, compliance cost is one of the big issues for small producers. The NAIS is being pushed by big agribusiness lobbies; most of the enormous livestock producers already have sophisticated computer systems to track their animals, already have the RFID hardware in place, and in any event have a large herd over which they can spread fixed costs. The NAIS represents a much larger relative cost for the small producers. Small ranchers, like the neighbor from whom we buy beef, are already operating on a very narrow profit margin; adding these additional costs would make his beef significantly more expensive --- just as consumers are becoming more cost-conscious. It's hard to escape the conclusion that the NAIS is being pushed by large agribusiness concerns precisely because it makes it more difficult for smaller producers to compete.

Cost aside, I'm generally quite suspicious of governmental "national databases" of any kind (apart from those related to criminal offenders), because the opportunities for abuse are legion. Should a disease break out on a farm a mile down the road, the government may decide (as happened in some places with Mad Cow disease) to exterminate every piece of livestock within any radius it decrees --- regardless of the health of our individual animals. A national database would only make it easier for the feds to find and kill our healthy animals.

And remember the Depression-era programs which slaughtered millions of young pigs, in an effort to increase commodity prices? And the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation which directed these "excess" agricultural commodities to the poor? Just imagine the opportunities for mischief if the federal government determined that, based on the NAIS records, our family had "too many" sheep and goats...and that a "fair share" of these needed to be "redistributed" to those who had not made adequate provisions.

What can you do? The Department of Agriculture is currently pushing for a set of new rules that will further advance the NAIS. However, there is a public comment period open until March 16th --- so, by all means, please weigh in and let them know what you think. If you follow this link, it will take you to a page with all the comments that others have posted thus far; they're currently up to over 196 pages, which translates into more than 4,900 individual comments. The very first line on the very first page says "Proposed Rules." Click on the bubble in the far right ("Add Comments") column of that line. That will open up a form, where you can give the Department of Agriculture your own two cents about the NAIS. It will take awhile for your comment to post to the site, but it should show up within a few hours.

You can also click on individual comments, to see what others have written. I browsed through a random selection of several of these, and every single one was negative. Generally speaking, I think the more effective comments --- like good letters to the editor --- are more brief, and do not try to make too many individual points.

I'm honestly not sure how much of a difference folks like us can make in slowing down this regulatory leviathan. But let's not allow that uncertainty to stop us from trying.

10 March 2009

One Dollar

Nearly twenty years ago, I made a big investment in a one piece of cycling equipment: a Silca floor pump. What's so big about buying a tire pump? Well, at the time I was a starving undergraduate, whose primary income came from working at McDonald's on school vacations. And Silca pumps have never been cheap; depending on the model and the retailer, one can easily pay in the neighborhood of $100 these days. I seem to recall getting mine for about $35 or so --- a big chunk of change, given my income. But I made the investment because I was getting increasingly serious about cycling, and there were/are no better pumps than Silcas. Just borrowing other people's Silca pumps a few times convinced me of that.

My Silca outlasted the bike I owned at the time, and traveled back and forth across the country so many times I lost count. It flew with my bike in its case, and rode around in the trunks of cars that long ago went to the junkyard. It sat in sheds and basements and garages and barns in Illinois, Michigan, California, Washington, and Virginia.

And, eventually, it began to wear out. I hardly ever used it, or even rode a bike, between 2000 and 2007; only since then have I slowly begun to get back into the sport. This past year, as I've been getting increasingly serious about riding (both my own bike and the tandem with our kids), I found that the Silca pump wasn't holding a good seal with the tire valve stems. Air leaked like crazy as I pumped, and the pump head would easily disconnect from the stem at even moderate pressure.

My first thought was that I'd gotten a good run from my investment in the Silca pump, and that it was time to buy a new one. One look at current retail prices quickly disabused me of that plan. My next thought was to buy a new brass pump head. A little searching revealed that to be a better course of action, but it still felt odd to be paying $20 to replace a part on a pump that had originally cost me only $35.

I continued searching, and discovered something important: Silca pumps are designed to be entirely rebuildable. And even inside that brass head, the rubber washer can be replaced. I opened up my pump's head, inspected the washer, and realized that was probably my problem: it was hard and dry and didn't seem able to provide a good seal. Back to Google, I found any number of online retailers listing that rubber washer for just a few dollars. But, just as quickly, I also discovered the limitations of online retailing: every one of those sites was going to charge at least $7 or $8 to ship that tiny rubber washer. They could've put it in a letter-sized envelope and mailed it to me for less than a dollar, but every site was set up with automated UPS or FedEx shipping calculators. Simply on principle, it seemed wrong to buy something and pay three or four times as much for shipping as for the product. But I wondered how else I could get something as seeming-obscure as a Silca rubber washer.

The next afternoon, I made a point of stopping at the local bicycle shop ("local" being relative...the closest bike shop is 15 miles from our house). It's a fairly well-stocked place, and they've done an excellent job getting my bike out of mothballs, but the shop itself doesn't compare to what you'd find in Seattle or a college town. I didn't expect them to have the washer, but figured they could special-order it for me. Even if my total cost ended up being similar to buying it online, it was the principle of the thing. Especially in these economic times, I wanted to support a local retailer.

The first clerk I spoke with was significantly younger than I am. As I explained what I was looking for, he got a puzzled expression on his face. I quickly added that they'd probably have to special-order it, and perhaps we could look at some catalogs. He agreed, and led me to a stack of books in the repair area, but still didn't seem to know quite what I was talking about. As he began opening a parts book, a middle-aged (female) employee happened to go past us. (Fortunately, this woman was the very person I'd originally hoped to speak with; when I'd brought my old Bianchi in for servicing, she'd expressed great appreciation for its vintage Campagnolo components, so I knew she knew about old Italian bike stuff.) Young Clerk turned to her and tried to ask which book he should look in, but he didn't even know how to describe what he was looking for. "Rubber washer for the head of a Silca pump," I told her.

"Oh, yeah," she said. "I think we may even have those," and walked briskly to a wall of parts bins in the service area. A moment later, she returned with a small plastic wrapper containing not one but two of these rubber washers, marked 95 cents each. "Perfect!" I exclaimed.

As the female employee hurried off to assist the customer she'd been working with, I turned back to the younger clerk. "Is that all you need?" he asked, still looking slightly bewildered.

"Yep," I smiled, removing one of the washers and producing a dollar bill from my wallet.

Later that night, I showed Homeschooled Farm Boy how to change the rubber washer. Earlier, he'd had to help me me inflate the bike tires by holding the pump head tightly to the rim --- but even then, we'd lost a lot of air to leakage. Now, with the new rubber washer, everything worked perfectly.

I'm hoping I get another twenty years of service from this pump. And maybe Homeschooled Farm Boy will someday show his own son how to rebuild it for just one dollar.

07 March 2009

What about OctoMom?

I've been holding off on commenting on Nadya Suleman. I may have more to say later, but I think Jennifer Roback Morse nails what is truly so disturbing about this case. In part:

Now children get separated from their parents all the time. But we usually recognize this as an unavoidable tragedy, from which any humane soul would spare the child if we could. But in the case of artificial reproductive technology with anonymous sperm donors, the state is actively separating a child from his or her father. The state itself is enabling something that we ordinarily strive to prevent.

And why is the state acting as the agent of separating children from parents? Because the woman wants the state to do so. But her desires are sufficient reason to violate so basic a right as the child’s right to affiliation with both parents.

This is the real tragedy which the Nadya Suleman case brings to light. It is not that she made an unconventional decision, in part using other people’s money, and counting on financial support from her parents and the state. The problem is that no one has a right to have a child, in the way that anyone with the ability to pay has a right to buy a house. This use of the language of the market assumes the very point that is necessary to prove, and which I believe can not be proved: namely that a child is a kind of commodity, to which other people have rights and entitlements. The child is not an object of rights, but a person who has rights of his or her own. The child is an end in himself or herself.

The violation of rights in this case took place well before she and her doctor decided to implant “a lot” of embryos, rather than a “reasonable” number. The real violation took place when she decided, with the help of the state, that she was entitled to the use of someone else’s genetic material to achieve her personal reproductive goals.

06 March 2009

Just a Couple More Numbers

A quick follow-up to a post from earlier this week, about the increase in sales of firearms and ammunition. Not only do the sales numbers appear to be real...but they're having a real impact on the value of those companies. Most gun and ammunition makers are privately-held corporations, but two in particular are publicly-traded.

Sturm, Ruger and Company (RGR) closed today at $10.32. It opened the year at $5.97 and was at $6.02 on Innauguration Day. Since the innauguration, it has increased 71%.

Smith & Wesson (SWHC) opened the year at $2.27. The day Barack Obama was innaugurated, it had inched up to $2.45. It closed today at $4.43. That's an increase of 81% since Innauguration Day.

By comparison, the S&P 500 closed today at $683. That's a decline of 15% since the Innaugural.

And, to follow up on my previous post about the price of gold: the spot price of gold exceeded the value of the S&P 500 on Innauguration Day (for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War), and has remained comfortably ahead of that index ever since. The two were at a rough parity on January 20th; one ounce of gold is now 37% higher than the weighted average of the 500 largest publicly-traded companies.

I don't offer investment advice on this blog, and I'm not an economist or financial analyst. And I didn't have the foresight to buy stock in either of the gun companies above. But I think these trends are fascinating indicators of what's going on in the marketplace --- and in the sentiment of this nation's investors. And the ways in which Americans are now "voting with their wallets."

Goat Kid Class Portrait

With the beautiful spring-like weather, all the goat kids were out in their fenced area next to the barn. All four of them are growing nicely, and today seemed to enjoy playing with each other --- and Sausage, the yearling goat buck we decided to keep as a backup breeder.
For all we know, Sausage could be the sire of some of these kids; none of us is certain what goes on in the goat pen when we're not looking. But since we're primarily raising the goats for milk, pure bloodlines aren't something we're worrying about at this point.

Meanwhile, Eight Bits (our mature Toggenburg buck, and sire of Sausage) looked on proudly:

Rooster Posse

Spring weather finally arrived at the farm today. The thermometer reads 64F at the moment, and the sun is shining brightly. Later this afternoon, the two boys and I are planning to take our triplet tandem out for the first ride of the year.

In the meantime, the chickens are loving the opportunity to get out of the barn and scratch up what they can. Before we moved to a farm, we wondered what the point was of having roosters; apart from fertilizing chicken eggs, and waking everybody up at the crack of dawn with their crowing, roosters didn't seem to have much practical purpose.

How wrong we were! For starters, roosters provide order to the flock. When out foraging on the property in groups, it's usually the rooster who is most on the lookout and giving leadership to the hens accompanying him. When he uncovers a particularly prime piece of forage material, he doesn't gobble it all up. Rather, he bobs his head up and down, pointing at it, making a particular kind of deep-throated clucking noise. The hens pick up on this signal, and come running to devour whatever he's found. We've also watched roosters round up groups of hens and drive them into shelter when a fast-moving afternoon thundershower has approached.

Roosters also provide all kinds of entertainment --- especially when you have more than one. Ever wonder where the term, "Pecking Order," comes from? Just spend a day or two watching the chickens interact. There's a definite hierarchy in the chicken house, and it's loads of fun to watch. Our current Alpha Rooster is a big Rhode Island Red; he's easily the largest of the flock, and he carries himself in a way that flaunts that size. The other roosters tread lightly around him, and give him a wide berth, especially near the feeders.

But just because a particular rooster is lower on the totem pole doesn't mean he's out of luck. He just gets a smaller posse (or harem) of hens! It's the whole "posse" thing that I've found most amusing about roosters. A lower-ranking rooster will often take a small group of hens and move to either a different outbuilding or a remote corner of the chicken house. That unit will stick together, particularly when they roost at night. (Yes, the chickens really do come home to roost. Nightly.) There is one group, in particular, that Mrs Yeoman Farmer would like me to move from a corner of the barn to the main chicken area --- but every time I try to transplant them, they're back in their corner the next day.

Anyhow, these "posses" also tend to stick together when they go out to forage in the daytime. The way they carry themselves, and cluck, and signal to each other is fascinating. When we humans come too close, the rooster tends to pull himself into a "high alert" stance, and interpose himself between us and his hens. He'll then begin a more urgent clucking, which sends the hens scurrying to a new place. Once they've gone, he will then follow.

This Barred Rock rooster may rank low in the pecking order, but that's not stopping him from being a leader to the group he is in charge of:
And maybe that can be an inspiration to us all.

04 March 2009

Ready for Some Numbers?

In December, I reported on the surge in sales of semiautomatic rifles at our local gun shop; in January, I posted about the remarkable news that the BATFE had actually run out of original forms used to conduct federal background checks on gun buyers, and was allowing gun dealers to use photocopies of the forms.

Semiautomatic rifles and handguns continue flying off the shelves of gun shops across the country, and it's also getting very difficult to find ammunition. The online dealer I usually buy from in bulk is now sold out of .223 (AR rifle ammo), 7.62x39 (AK-47), 9mm Luger, 12-ga buckshot, and many many other popular rounds. He's not even listing .380 Auto on his site anymore, and I can't find that size in any local stores (am glad I stocked up when I could). He finally got some .45 ACP back on his site this morning.

Another dealer I buy from listed a whole bunch of new ammo last Thursday, and I tried calling to place an order. The lines were busy all afternoon, and I never got through. On Monday, they posted a notice that all the new 7.62x39 rounds they'd just listed were now gone (and keep in mind that this was Wolf brand ammo, which is far from the first choice for most serious shooters). Here's what they've posted today:





Since I couldn't get through on their phones, I stopped by Wal-Mart yesterday afternoon, looking for some .45 ACP. They had exactly one box of 50 rounds, and very little in other handgun calibers. (No .380, no .40 S&W, and no 9mm Luger.)

I bought that one box of .45 ACP for $15, and drove to the local gun shop. The place was jammed. After browsing a few 9mm handguns, I turned my attention to their ammo shelf. They had cases upon cases available, in nearly every caliber (except .380 and 7.62x39). It was all the ammo you could ever want --- but at a very high price. A box of 100 rounds of .45 ACP was $45. You read that right: Fifty Percent more than Wal-Mart! But at least they had it in stock. I suppose Wal-Mart could also keep it in stock, if they wanted to jack their prices --- but that doesn't seem to be Wal-Mart's business model. Speaking of Wal-Mart, there are some fascinating discussion threads on various message boards, where people report how difficult it is to find ammo at WM these days. (As for me, I'm seriously wondering if Wal-Mart is deliberately keeping most of their ammo off the shelf, and putting it out a couple of boxes at a time, to ration it and thwart bulk sales.)

There are no readily-available numbers for ammo sales, but there is one indisputably reliable indicator for gun sales: the number of NICS background checks conducted by the FBI. Each background check does not necessarily translate into an actual gun transfer; some sales may not go through after the background check, and I believe some people may be purchasing multiple firearms on the same background check. But it's still a good rough indicator of volume --- and how that volume has changed over time. The raw numbers for the last ten years are available from the FBI. For the last four months (beginning the month Barack Obama was elected), here are the totals:

Nov-08: 1,529,635
Dec-08: 1,523,426
Jan-09: 1,213,885
Feb-09: 1,259,078

Being a social scientist, my first question was "Compared to what?" Well, November and December were 47% and 46% higher, respectively, than the next-highest month last year (March, 2008). January (+17%) and February (+21%) of 2009 were also considerably higher than last March. But the typical sales reporting compares a month's results to the same month one year previously. Here are each month's percentage increases compared to that same month the year before:
What's driving these numbers? For the gun sales, no doubt part of it is concern that the Clinton-era ban on sales of semiautomatic rifles will be reinstituted. (Indeed, the new Attorney General is already beginning to talk about a new ban.) But I think there's a lot more to these numbers than that. All of that increase can't be accounted for by AK-47s and AR-15s. And even if it is, why the run on popular handgun calibers like .45 ACP and 9mm Luger? There is no talk in Washington about banning sales of those.

My gut tells me that these sales are being driven by a deep anxiety that all you-know-what is about to break loose in this country. With increasing economic troubles, the specter of large numbers of people losing their homes, uncertainty about the future of the banking system, the possibility of hyperinflation...I think a lot of people are growing concerned about a widespread breakdown in civil order. Most of us are familiar with the video from the Los Angeles riots in the early 1990s, and remember how business owners had to take their security into their own hands when the police were unable or unwilling to assist.

As for our family...we're relieved beyond words to be far from urban centers, particularly this year. But we're also painfully aware of how far we are from police assistance should we ever need it.

Which is why we are continuing to take prudent measures to augment our own personal security here on the farm. And, should there be serious disruptions in the food supply chain, we are making sure we have plenty of firepower available for bringing home our own game.

02 March 2009

Which Song Are We?

I had a rather odd experience this weekend. While driving around, hitting the "SEEK" button on the car stereo, I stumbled onto a real blast from the past: Seasons in the Sun, by Terry Jacks. For those not familiar, it's among the darkest and most depressing songs from the early 1970s [The refrain includes nuggets such as: "We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach" and "We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but the hills we could climb were just seasons out of time."] I settled deeper into the car seat, glad to be alone with my thoughts; the music seemed to match the gray and dreary February landscape perfectly.

The next song began playing, and the mood and message couldn't have been more different: I Knew You Were Waiting, by George Michael and Aretha Franklin. I cranked the volume up, and realized that the juxtaposition was so sharp it couldn't have been accidental; some D.J. at the radio station must have put those two songs together on purpose.

When the music faded and the station went to commercial, I switched the radio off and tried to process my thoughts. I've always thought of America as an "I Knew You Were Waiting" nation --- a country that has encountered more than her fair share of difficulties and setbacks, but in the midst of them remained optimistic about her ultimate future triumph. What other country has even claimed to have a "Manifest Destiny?" Our best days, it has always seemed, have been those still ahead of us.

And yet...and yet...in a distressingly short period of time, we seem to have become a "Seasons in the Sun" nation. Our family used to make confident plans about the future, secure about certain assumptions. But how do you make decisions about significant business investments, or even personal retirement planning for 30 years down the road, when you can't even be sure who will be running the banks next week? What our tax rates will be next year? How much more the stock market will slide? If the bank will revoke the line of credit we have against our house? (We've never tapped it, but it gives us tremendous peace of mind knowing it is there as a last resort.) Have we moved enough cash into assets that will not be wiped out by the inflation that seems inevitable given the current spending spree in the nation's capital? If the Michigan economy thoroughly implodes, and displaces large numbers of people who have grown accustomed to having all their consumer wants satiated, how far will the civil unrest spread? If I have to call 9-1-1, will anyone be able to come and help? Do I have enough firepower here on my farm to protect my family? And will the Attorney General try to take that firepower out of my hands? Why does my bulk ammo dealer keep selling out of .45 ACP, 7.62x39, 12-ga 00 Buck, and nearly every other popular defensive round? And why have I started to see people around here flying the Stars and Stripes upside down, which is the universal sign of distress?

While our country was distracted celebrating the historic events of January 20th, something quite different (and underreported) was happening in Iceland: economic collapse led to rioting in the streets. Are images like these a precursor of what we can expect this summer?

I don't think the USA is "coming apart at the seams" --- but it sure appears poised to do so. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I want, with every fiber of our beings, to believe that this is still an "I Knew You Were Waiting" nation. But we also believe, with equal intensity, that we need to prepare for what may break loose when large swaths of this country conclude that the wine and the song, like the seasons, have all gone.