28 April 2010

Raw Milk Crackdown

Don't know about the rest of you, but I sure feel safer knowing the Feds are out there working hard to protect us from ... Amish famers trafficking in "raw milk in final package form for human consumption."

“They came in the dark, shining bright flashlights while my family was asleep, keeping me from milking my cows, from my family, from breakfast with my family and from our morning devotions, and alarming my children enough so that the first question they asked my wife was, ‘Is Daddy going to jail?’”

That’s how Amish farmer Dan Allgyer described an early morning visit last week from two FDA agents, two U.S. Marshals, and a Pennsylvania state trooper. Apparently, investigating a single farmer for possibly trafficking raw milk across state lines requires a show of force.

The full story is here:
Raw Milk Crackdown The Daily Caller - Breaking News, Opinion, Research, and Entertainment

Kind of makes you wonder how the human race survived for so many thousands of years, drinking this unpasteurized poison, without an FDA to shield us from it.

And definitely makes me glad we own our own dairy animals.

27 April 2010

Our Intrepid Hen

The intrepid Buff Orpington hen continues to do an excellent job. She's been taking her brood of seven chicks all over the barn, and has been letting little stand in her way. The chicks, for their part, are sticking close and not getting lost. (We've not had such good luck in the past with ducklings).

This morning, she had the brood all the way up a slope, in front of the barn. It was windy and chilly this morning, but the large red wall and southern exposure made for a nice little heat island. How she knew to take her chicks there, I'll never figure out. And she's had them there all morning, scratching around looking for food (yes, I put some feed down for them as well).

There's nothing quite like walking back and forth from my office building to the house, and looking over at the barn and seeing this:

Next up, we're going to give some goslings to a broody goose and see what happens. We've been getting the goslings off to a good start under heat lamps and with high protein feed, but I'd like to get them out in the next week or so. That should make for some interesting video, so stay tuned.

24 April 2010

Another Brood

We've had a few Buff Orpington hens go broody lately (in addition to the one that insisted on hatching a clutch of eggs last fall). Given that we've got eggs coming out our ears, I figured there was no harm in allowing them to set.

Note to readers who are learning about/taking up farming in preparation for civilizational collapse, or who simply want to hatch their own chicks: Buff Orpingtons are a wonderfully self-sufficient breed. We've found them to be excellent setters and mother hens.

Broody #1 started hatching her chicks a few days ago, and yesterday took her chicks for their first stroll off the nest. I checked on her last night, and she had all seven of her chicks safely under her wings; there is really nothing quite like listening to the deep, reassuring clucks that a hen makes to her brood in a darkened barn.

Today, she took all of them for an outdoor adventure:

She quickly found a spot where Little Brother spilled some grain, and had the chicks getting their first good meal. I'm just glad the spilled feed didn't go to waste. Then she took them into a weedy/overgrown area between the barn and the garage.

I managed to shoot a brief, low-tech video. (It's the very first one I've uploaded to YouTube.) My sense was that a still photo wouldn't give the full sense of how fascinating a mother hen's behavior is. She clucks constantly, and is constantly pointing out new food, and scratching to uncover new food. And watch the way the chicks respond to her!

About five minutes after I shot this, she seemed to have decided the chicks had been exposed to the 55 degree temps for long enough. Like a football quarterback, she called a huddle --- and all of them found their way back under her feathers. No telling how long she's going to sit out there before scratching around again. But she's picked a safe spot for the huddle; it's in a corner, and she has a full view of everything approaching.

Hard to think of any place better for homeschooling than a farm is. We never run out of real life education here.

16 April 2010

Animal Welfare

I started out posting this as a follow-up comment to a thoughtful comment that reader Sara left on a recent post. But the longer I typed, the more I realized that the issue deserved its own post.

The original post concerned the procedure we used to remove the horns from one of our rams. The horns were beautiful, but curling badly into his face and were beginning to crush his skull. Had we left them in place, his death would've been only a matter of time.

Sara remarked:

It is totally okay if you don't publish this comment, but I have to say that although you seem to be genuinely concerned with the high welfare of your animals, I find this appalling. To perform such an extreme procedure without pain control, sedation, cautery, or veterinary supervision is the stuff of nightmares. My heart breaks for that ram.

I'll start by saying: I publish pretty much every comment that is respectful and not spam. I appreciate every thoughtful observation, including those offered in a spirit of fraternal correction. Those are usually the best, anyway.

I completely understand these concerns, and want to assure all readers that we're very solicitous of our animals' welfare and comfort.

I can assure you that this method of horn removal is not as extreme as it looks. When we lived in IL, and had a large animal vet nearby, he came to our farm and did the exact same procedure with exactly the same type of tools on more than one occasion. Sara raises a good point, however, and I wonder if a sedative of some sort may have been in order this time. I do think it would've caused the ram less stress. That said: keep in mind that for dominant male animals such as this one, the primary source of stress is not being in control, and being tied up/dominated by a different Alpha. The horns themselves are not loaded with nerve endings, and cutting through them doesn't cause the animal the kind of pain that --- say --- amputating a leg would cause. Our Illinois vet used sedatives and pain medications in every instance where it was appropriate. He did not judge horn removal to be such an instance. We didn't hesitate to proceed without them, either.

This is a good example, I think, of a procedure which does cause some discomfort for the animal --- but which is necessary, and without it the animal would face a far worse fate. I probably waited longer than I should have to cut these horns off, as I wanted to see if they'd really press into his skull and threaten his welfare. At this year's shearing, it became clear we'd reached the end of the line and it had to be done. And as noted in a follow-up post, the ram is now thriving.

This is also an example of the practical realities of what many small farmers must do given the vanishing number of large animal vets these days. The nearest one to us here is many miles away, and must cover a very wide territory. Having a nearby vet is one of the things we miss most about our Illinois farm. The few large animal DVMs remaining tend to specialize in large dairy operations, etc. As you may imagine, bringing a a far-away large animal DVM to a farm like ours quickly becomes cost prohibitive. The ones that specialize in dogs and cats simply won't do it. Our sheep shearer has performed this same procedure many times (including on some of our other sheep, on other occasions), and has learned to do it as quickly and effectively as possible. We had no hesitation about asking her to do it for us this time.

Again, I appreciate the comment from Sara. I hope this post helps clarify things for all.

14 April 2010

Remember Piglet?

Over a year ago, I posted the story of Piglet the Goat Kid. I hadn't wanted to save him when he contracted pneunomia, but Mrs Yeoman Farmer and the YFCs insisted on nursing the poor little guy back to health (and took him to the vet).

Piglet grew up, and became a strong adult goat (though, as you can see by looking at the original post, he lost his cuteness really fast). Unfortunately, he didn't have really great breeding genetics. And he was definitely a "beta" male in the herd. We decided it would make sense to cull him. So, today, over a year after MYF and the YFCs deomonstrated they had the right instincts, we took Piglet to the butcher.

Here he is with Homeschooled Farm Girl, just before we loaded him into the truck:

I'm glad to eat crow on this one. And even gladder to be able to eat goat.

Don't Mess with Lucy

Lucy Goosie, that is!

One of our White Embden females has gone broody in the last week, so we began collecting goose eggs from the other females which were still laying. She'd made a nest in a secure location, and was hissy as all get-out about keeping people away from it, so we were confident about giving her some eggs to hatch.

Here she is, under the barn steps, defending to the death the eight eggs we've given her.

Just don't get close to her. That long neck can reach a lot longer than you'd think. And she's got one powerful set of jaws.

Don't ask me how I found out.

Dilemma Cut Down

As noted in a recent post, we had to cut the horns of Dilemma, our breeding ram. Just to give a quick update: his bandages are off, and he's doing very well. And fortunately still getting the respect of the rest of the flock.

I just hope those horns weren't too distracting for him last fall. We've only had five ewes deliver, and on shearing day it wasn't even clear that the other four had been bred. Granted, one of those four is very old. And one is a yearling. But there's no reason the other two shouldn't be obviously pregnant.

So...we'll see.

08 April 2010

Shearing Day

I'm admitedly almost two weeks late in getting this post up, but I did want to share some photos and stories from our spring sheep shearing. We have a woman who drives up from Indiana to do the job; she's an expert with fine wool breeds like our Icelandics, and watching her work has convinced us this is something we want to leave to an expert.

First, we got the entire adult flock (nine ewes and two rams) tied up with halters:

Here they are, looking in from outside:

Lisa then began shearing the ewes. Note the lambs examing Mom's huge udder and wondering what's going on:

Most of the lambs decided to hang out together until all the excitement was over.

Dilemma, the big breeding ram, had a magnificent set of horns. Unfortunately, they were badly pressing against his face and would've crushed his skull had we let him keep them. And note how badly his vision was compromised by them:

So, after getting sheared ...

We tied him with two halters, and anchored them to a pair of eye rings mounted on the barn. It was unfortunately the only way to hold him still. We then used a wire PVC cutter to saw through his horns one at a time. The friction of the wire helped cauterize the blood flow as it went through, but he still bled quite a bit. Scooter the border collie enjoyed lapping up the blood. No doubt that's a predator control instinct that got bred into him 500 years ago.

By the time we finished, and bandaged him up with gauze and duct tape, Dilemma was one very unhappy sheep (today, he's looking much better).

Adding to the indignity, the yearling ram immediately challenged his position. Dilemma, tired as he was from struggling, did put the yearling ram back in his place.

The big question was...what do we do with the horns? They were too nice to throw away, but they were of no use to us.

I put the word out on Facebook, and within days heard back from an old junior high school friend in Seattle. He's a knife enthusiast, and had put the word out on those message boards. He'd heard from someone in Alabama who was looking for ram horn to use for making knife handles. I got in contact with that person, to discuss a transaction. I'd never sold horns before, and he'd never bought them...so neither of us was sure what the market price should be. I mostly just wanted these things to be put to good use, so I told him $25 would cover the cost of shipping and cutting them off the ram. He thought that was fair, and immediately sent the money via PayPal. And I got them in the mail that afternoon.

Which I think is an illustration of online social networking at its best. People of similiar interests can now find each other and connect, no matter where they might be physically located. We're brought together by our interests, rather than the accidents of our geography. This is not to dismiss the importance of local communities, but rather to emphasize the positives of virtual communities.

Twenty years ago, I probably would've tossed these horns in the trash. But with the power of social networking, Dilemma's horns will someday grace the handle of a nice knife.

07 April 2010

Worth It?

Can you make money at farming? Perhaps a better question is: Is it worth your time? But in answering that question, you need to give some thought to all the various meanings of the word "worth."

Let me give one example that's on my mind from yesterday. As I've posted before, when we lived in Illinois we developed a nice clientelle that was interested in duck eggs. They're hard to find, rarely appear in stores, and those who really want them are willing to pay a premium. We charge $5/dozen.

Since we're talking "worth it," let's first look at some basic facts. Last spring, we ordered a straight run of 30 Cayuga ducklings. They cost us $93. We lost a couple of them to accidents and random fatalities, and I butchered about ten of the males. Right now, I think we have 18 or so Cayugas in the barn. A few of them are males that escaped my knife last fall. Figure we have 15 females. (I should mention that Cayugas are not an optimal laying duck, but Mrs. Yeoman Farmer prefers their eggs, and the males provide a bigger carcass than the specialized laying breeds like Khaki Campbells.)

We got a few eggs from precocious layers last fall, but not enough to pack up and take to market. They began laying in notable numbers in January. At their peak, were were getting over a dozen eggs a day from the flock. That's tapered off in the last week or so, and we're now getting 6-8 eggs per day.

Yesterday, I took a load of 27 dozen eggs to Chicago with me. We have a Filipino customer who brines them in big buckets of salt water and sells the finished product in their ethnic community. In my previous trips this year, I've sold another 15 dozen to him and various other customers.

So, right now, we've pocketed $210. Not bad, and the ducks aren't done laying. But consider all the expenses I haven't listed (and can't easily compute): heat lamps to brood the ducklings, high protein feed for their first few months of life, all the layer ration they've eaten since, electricity to run the extra fridge, etc. There's also the matter of transportation costs, getting the eggs to the customer. I mostly get around this by finding a professional reason to go to Chicago, and take the eggs with me. Still, this is not a huge financial return by any standard. And there is also the matter of time. Not only gathering the eggs, but also washing them. Packing them. Driving to the place(s) where we can meet the customer.

Now, consider the other rewards. First, we had ten delicious duck dinners; one Cayuga drake is just enough to feed our family (By contrast, Khaki Campbell drakes are so small, we'd need two for a meal). How often have you eaten duck in the last year? In your lifetime? Second, we had a good supply of surplus eggs to eat; we eat mostly chicken eggs, but there were plenty of cracked and otherwise unsalable duck eggs for us to eat.

The remaining rewards are more intangible: First, at least three people who otherwise cannot have eggs in their diet because of allergies...got to eat eggs again. It's difficult to describe the joy on a person's face, when they thank you for even having your product available. As parents of children with lots of food allergies, this is something we understand very well. Second, I've gotten to connect with our Filipino customer again, and experience his happiness at again being able to supply a product. He does these eggs as a side business, and if we don't have eggs...he doesn't have eggs. And his customers usually cannot find them elsewhere.

We've known this person and his wife for many years now, and have come to enjoy seeing them and talking with them. In fact, to be honest, a call from him last winter was what gave me the nudge to again expand our duck flock. I wouldn't be keeping more than a handful of females if (1) I didn't have him as a customer who'll take every egg and (2) he wasn't so appreciative and personally connected to us. If it was a question of cold hard numbers, and loading our eggs on a truck to go to a factory, I'd almost certainly have said "forget it," even if the money was the same.

So I guess at the end of the day, when you're trying to decide if supplying a farm product is "worth it," it's as important to consider the intangible rewards alongside the tangible ones. For $210, given what we've spent and the time it's taken, I'd be hard pressed to say these ducks have been worth the trouble. But for $210, plus the relationships with our customers?

Yes. Absolutely.

02 April 2010

Real Face

A quick post with a strong recommendation: the History Channel has put together an excellent documentary program called "The Real Face of Jesus." It's a two hour scientific investigation of the Shroud of Turin, led by an American research team.

These researchers are graphic experts, and their goal was fascinating: decode the 3D data embedded in the 2D image of the Shroud, and use their 3D imaging software to create a true-to-life image of the Man the Shroud wrapped. We've never seen anything like this. The end result is a stunning likeness.

They had to address all kinds of issues in being able to lift the 3D data, which are all described in the program. Our family learned much more about the Shroud (and the science of imaging) than we'd ever thought possible. Although the History Channel producers don't officially take a side as to the authenticity of the Shroud (which the same position of the Catholic Church, BTW), the evidence presented is overwhelming. Also, as an aside, the level of detail as to the wounds Christ suffered in the Passion is remarkable in itself. Lots of food for meditation on Good Friday.

My only criticism is a few sections where they talk about the Gnostics in the early Church, and their conceptions of reality. These passages are totally unnecessary, and paint the gnostics as way-ahead-of-their-time-intellectual-victims-of-know-nothing persecution. Seemed almost lifted from unused portions of The DaVinci Code.

But if you can put up with some of that nonsense, I highly recommend this program. It's slated to air again tomorrow (Holy Saturday) at 8pm, Midnight on Easter Sunday morning, and next Saturday (April 10th) at 5pm.  All times Eastern. Check your local listings, and set your DVR. It's worth it.

A very blessed Good Friday to all. Hope everyone has a good end to Lent, and a blessed Easter.