21 March 2012

Every Other Day Now

Our unbelievably good, summer-like weather has continued; we topped out in the eighties today! On March 21st! And there's no sign of a letup. Things are supposed to be really nice all the way into next week.

Fortunately, the sheep are continuing to take advantage of the warm temperatures by delivering their lambs now. (Obviously the deliveries are timed by the gestation period and not by weather, but it's a very fortunate coincidence.) The third of our ten ewes lambed this morning; she had male and female twins, but the male was stillborn. The female appears very healthy, and by late afternoon was already out and exploring the barnyard.

And, much to her mother's consternation, had also figured out how to get on the wrong side of the fence that separates the sheep from the goats:

With a little intervention from the Yeoman Farmer, things were again put right:
Mother and lamb are happy.

And so is the whole Yeoman Farm Family.

19 March 2012

Spring Keeps Coming

Early lambing continues on the farm, as we had a wonderful early-morning suprise in the barn at chore time:

The lamb is a singleton, and she is HUGE. By the time I arrived, she'd been on her feet and licked nearly dry. She's the first lamb ever born to this particular mother (a name for whom we have yet to decide on), who was herself born very late in the spring of 2010. Last year was a little too early for her to lamb, so she seems to have "saved it up" and given us a really nice little girl now.

I managed to catch this shot of the three generations:

Mom is nearest, nuzzling her lamb. Grand-damme Biancha is in the background, chewing cud.

17 March 2012

Spring Comes Early

Spring doesn't technically arrive until next week, but we've been reveling in several straight days of unseasonably warm weather. And when I say warm, I mean warm: highs in the seventies every day since Wednesday, and it's supposed to continue well into next week.

For those of us who brace for typically frigid Michigan winters, this balmy streak has been a wonderful gift. We even fired up the grill this evening, and enjoyed a dinner of lamb steaks (with potatoes from last year's garden, and some cabbage to celebrate St. Patrick's Day).

Speaking of lambs, they decided to come a little early this year as well. Enigma surprised us this evening with twins, a male and a female:

March 17th ties a record for our earliest lambing ever; it's only happened on our farm once before.

Enigma was a triplet, and one of the first lambs ever born to us. She was the product of Dot (the flock matriarch who passed away on Good Friday last year) and a magnificent ram. She's our second-oldest ewe (and, come to think of it, our second-oldest animal of any type), so we're not sure how many more lambs she'll produce. She tends to do an outstanding job of mothering, and hopefully her female will grow up to be a replacement breeder.

I love Spring!

28 February 2012

Goat (and Sheep) Horns

We finally got around to culling seven of our goats last week. Each had some kind of "issue" that made it undesirable for us: a few were very small and stunted, one had kidded before but never developed much of an udder or teats, two were males we didn't need for breeding (and were becoming obnoxious fence-jumpers and bullies), etc.

I've been so swamped with work, I haven't had the time to butcher them myself. Besides, with goat meat, we prefer to just have it all ground up --- something I don't have the equipment for. And yet, I'd been hesitant to take these things to the butcher; one mature male in particular had a huge set of horns, and I feared he'd smash the windows in my old Ford Bronco.

Finally, a thought occurred to me: could we perhaps kill the animals here, bleed them out, and have our butcher take over from there? I called the shop that usually slaughters and processes our lambs, and they agreed to take the goats already-dead.

So, last Wednesday morning, I backed the Bronco up to the barn. The two oldest Yeoman Farm Children lead each of the seven culls out to me. I dispatched each goat with a single shot to the back of the head, then pulled the head straight back and cut the throat all the way open. As it bled out, the YFCs led another cull from the goat pen. And so the process continued, until we had seven goat carcases piled up.

Before continuing, I must add a quick word about the method of dispatch. In the past, I've usually put sick animals down with a shot to the forehead --- with mixed results. Sometimes it scores a direct hit to the brain; sometimes not. It all depends on the angle, and whether the animal moves at the last instant. The butcher suggested shooting the back of the head, and this definitely proved to be a better way to go. Because I could stand behind each goat, straddling its body between my legs, I was able to control and stabilize the animal much better. Shot placement was much more sure, and very effective. Each goat immediately crumpled, and then barely even twitched.

As a further aside, the experience gave an opportunity to test the pistol and hollow point ammunition that I regularly carry around the farm with me in a belt holster. (I carry it not only for personal protection, but because of the number of predators that have gotten away while I ran to the house for a firearm.) Although I'd obviously test-fired the pistol before, this was my first chance to see how well the ammo would work in an actual kill situation. Of course, a shot to the back of the head will always be effective --- regardless of the ammo type. But I was still impressed by how smoothly the pistol cycled, and (as noted above) just how quickly and painlessly the animals went down. The Hornady 95 grain XTP rounds were extremely reliable and effective, and I won't hesitate to rely on them in any kind of situation. The pistol itself is an old CZ-82 military handgun chambered in 9x18 Makarov; I'll say more about it in another post.

But back to the goats. Four of them had some kind of horns. These ranged from little stubby things on one of the females, all the way up to the huge set that I'd feared going through the Bronco's rear windows. Before loading the carcases into the truck, I used a hacksaw to remove all four sets of horns. I wasn't quite sure what to do with them, but I hate seeing anything potentially useful go to waste.

Before I put these things up on eBay, I wanted to offer them to my readers. Is anyone out there a knife-maker? A button-maker? Or just looking for some nice horn material for some other craft project? This is your lucky day!

I don't have specific prices in mind; I'm mostly interested in seeing these go to someone who will appreciate them and get some good use from them. I'm thinking $10-$20 for each of the larger horns, and $5-$10 for each of the smaller ones. Plus whatever the actual shipping is. But I'm flexible. Maybe we could do a package deal for multiple horns?

I'm going to show them below, in pairs, with some commentary on each set. These are fairly high resolution pictures, so you should be able to click on any of them to open a larger view with more detail.

First, the stubby things from the smallest female. These are only a few inches long, but at least won't cost much to ship. If you need material for a small knife handle, this could do the job nicely. Obviously, the cost for these would be minimal.
Next up are some larger horns. Note that these have a lot of interesting ridges, from the way in which the horns grew. They're about seven inches long.
Here is the flip side of those same horns:

These horns are a little over an an inch across, at their widest point:
The third set is much smoother, and slightly longer than the previous horns:
These are about two inches across, at their widest point:
The largest set came from a yearling buck, the one I was most worried about transporting to the butcher still alive. I'm certain that he would've put these horns through a window, or at least taken down the headliner in the back of the truck. And then I would've been chasing him down a rural road, or across a field. Anyway, you can see that the horns are very long and have some interesting contours:
This is the other side, which is smoother. This horn set has a number of smooth sections, and a number of ridged sections; plenty to choose from:
These horns are about three inches across, at their widest point:
While I'm thinking about horns, we also have a nice set of ram horns that came off one of our sheep last summer. They're much more curly than the goat horns, and have a lot of ridging. The black color also gives some variety. These have been sitting in a box in my office, as one thing after another distracted me from selling them:

If you're interested in anything on this page, please send me an email and we can make arrangements. I'd like to see these horns go to someone who can put them to good use!

21 February 2012

Small Town Transactions

What's it like doing transactions in a small town? Two quick examples from my last 24 hours should give a good idea.

First off is dealing with our Township government. We have just a handfull of elected officials, and each one wears several hats; the Clerk is in charge of voter registration and election administration, among other things. In recent days, it's occurred to me that there is a chance I may get called out of town on business next Tuesday --- the day of the Michigan presidential primary. As it's extremely important for me to vote, I thought I'd inquire about getting an absentee ballot. I wasn't optimistic; in most larger places where we've lived, it's necessary to get those requests in far in advance of the election. It's probably too late, I told myself, but it never hurts to ask.

Forgetting that yesterday was a government holiday, I called the local township clerk shortly before their usual closing time (they're only open for a few hours, and only a few days a week). I was kicked into voice mail, and left a message with my name and number and a question: "I was wondering if there was still time to request an absentee ballot?" I didn't ask for one. I didn't say I wanted one. Just wanted to know if the deadline had passed.

The rest of the afternoon passed, and Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I left the Yeoman Farm Children with their grandfather and went off to attend the Jackson County Republican Lincoln Day Dinner. It was a terrific event, and the two of us had a nice evening out together. The keynote speaker was J.C. Watts, of whom Mrs. Yeoman Farmer in particular has been a big fan for many years.

We returned fairly late that evening. As the Yeoman Farm Children prepared to milk the goats, I went to my office and checked for email and voice messages. To my surprise, the township clerk had called back. In the message, she apologized for getting back to me so late, and said she'd put an absentee ballot request form in the mail to me, and that I'd probably get it Wednesday, and that I could then come right down and get my ballot and just make sure it was back by election day.

Think about that for a minute. This is a government official, hard at work even on a government holiday. She's never met me and doesn't know me from Joe Blow up the street, but (on a holiday), she not only took the time to return my call and answer my question --- she looked up my address on the voter rolls and put a ballot request in the mail.

Can you imagine this happening in Los Angeles County?

That was last night. This morning's transaction wasn't quite as dramatic...but is still noteworthy. My 4x4 truck was getting low on gas, and snow was falling, and I wanted to make sure I had a full tank before taking goats to the butcher tomorrow. I ran a mile or so into town, pulled up to the pump...and did not swipe a credit card or deposit any money. I simply inserted the pump nozzle in my gas tank, selected the grade, and pumped about 18 gallons of gas. I put the nozzle back in its place, strolled into the shop, and only then paid for the fuel I'd pumped.

When was the last time you ever did that?

This particular gas station is owned by a family that's been in the area so long, there are rural roads named after them. They also run a fuel oil and propane delivery service; when I need propane or oil, I simply walk past the front counter, go talk to one of the guys in a back office (usually the same guy who'll be driving the truck), and tell him I need my tank filled. I don't give my name, or my address. They just know. Heck, sometimes when the company's owner (the guy with the road named after his family) is out driving around making oil deliveries and we haven't gotten oil in a while...he'll just stop his truck at our farm and ask if we need any. "We're going to be having some nasty weather," he might say, "and I just wanted to check."

Has this ever happened to you, where you live?

Such is rural life in mid-Michigan.

13 February 2012

One Less Threat

In breaking news, you'll be pleased to learn that there's now one less threat facing the world:
The FDA has won its two-year fight to shut down an Amish farmer who was selling fresh, raw milk to eager consumers in the Washington region, after a judge this month banned Daniel Allgyer from selling his milk across state lines, and he told his customers he’ll shut his farm down altogether.

The decision has enraged Mr. Allgyer’s supporters, some of whom have been buying from him for six years and who say the government is interfering with their parental rights to feed their children. But the Food and Drug Administration, which launched a full investigation complete with a 5 a.m. surprise inspection and a straw-purchase sting operation against Mr. Allgyer’s Rainbow Acres Farm, near Lancaster, said unpasteurized milk is unsafe and said it was exercising its due authority to stop its sale from one state to another.
You can read the full story here.

Raw milk is of course so important for our family, and so difficult to purchase, that we bought our own dairy goats. Although it was sad losing our best doe (Queen Anne's Lace) last week, we had a very good development going into the weekend. One of our other does kidded, and she is providing a boatload of milk above and beyond what her little one is taking. What a blessing!

I've asked this question before, but I never tire of asking it again: how on earth did the human race survive drinking this "poison" for 5,000 years, without the FDA to protect us from it?

09 February 2012

Saving the Queen

I have a goat kid living in my office again, wandering around with the dog (and getting bottle feedings) by day, and sleeping in a box near my desk by night. How this came about is quite a story.

Our best dairy goat ever, by far, was Queen Anne's Lace. She was also our first goat, and our oldest. She got the name because, as a nearly-full-blooded Saanen, she was basically the same color as the Queen Anne's Lace flowers that grew all over our Illinois property. We got her already in milk, after her first kidding, and she was a wonderful addition to our farm. Her udder was enormous, as were her teats, making her copious volume of milk easy to access. What's more, she had a pleasant temperament, was docile and gentle, and readily came to the stanchion at milking time. She is the goat standing along behind the barn in the photo dominating this blog's masthead.

QAL didn't have papers, but we think she recently turned eight years old. Eight is no longer young for a goat, but not exactly over the hill. That's why I was surprised, about a week and a half ago, when she began having a great deal of difficulty following the rest of the herd out of the barn. I helped her over the threshold, but she then promptly stumbled and went down on her stomach. I helped her back up, but she stood for only a moment before again going down. With something clearly wrong, I had Homeschooled Farm Girl help me lift and half-drag QAL back into the barn and over to the separating pen.

QAL's udder and teats looked full, and given her girth and weight she was obviously in advanced stages of pregnancy. We brought feed and water to her, and made her comfortable in the separating pen; that was a week ago Friday night. On Saturday morning I managed to help her up, but it took great effort because of her weight. She stood for a few minutes, but then laid back down. Given how much she weighed, I chalked this up to the late pregnancy. Once she delivered, I hoped she would be able to rise more easily --- like dropping ballast from a balloon. Until then, we resolved to keep her comfortable with lots of clean bedding, bring her feed and water and mineral, and not try to force her to her feet.

I had to leave for a business trip on Sunday evening, which is usually the cue for some kind of disaster to break loose on the farm. Sure enough, Monday evening, just as I was getting ready to go out to dinner with some colleagues in Atlanta, I got "the call." Mrs. Yeoman Farmer informed me that Queen Anne's Lace was in labor --- and was having a lot of trouble. QAL was in the middle of delivering twins, and the first one had come out easily. She'd now been working on the second one for some time, and was sounding horrible. Nothing more than a hoof was coming out. MYF wanted to know how long she should wait before intervening and assisting with the delivery. We talked it over, and MYF decided to take some time to review her books about kidding; if the kid wasn't out by the time she finished, she wouldn't wait any longer.

It's a good thing MYF didn't delay long. She called me back a little while later (I was still at the restaurant) with an update: she'd gotten out her big shoulder-length plastic gloves and started reaching inside QAL to see if she could help extract the kid. From what she could tell, the kid was very large. She'd managed to guide its hooves and head into the birth canal a number of times, but it was so big its forehead kept getting stuck halfway out. QAL was exhausted and sounding like she was going into a death rattle. I felt absolutely awful, and wished there was some possible way to get home. I tried to be encouraging, but didn't know what else to tell her other than "keep at it."

Back at the hotel, I called again. It was now after 10pm, and things were looking really bad. The kid was still stuck. QAL was still in agony. Back in the house, Yeoman Farm Baby was nearing meltdown. No one had eaten dinner. Everyone was exhausted. Morale was as low as it could be. "I hate to just let her die," MYF said, "But I really don't know what else to do. I just cannot get that kid out."

I said not to worry about the kid. It was probably already dead. Just somehow, some way, get the thing out.

Actually, ssurprisingly, MYF told me, the kid was still alive. While she'd been feeling around inside QAL, her finger accidentally went inside the kid's mouth --- and the kid had reflexively begun sucking on it!

MYF needed help, badly, but there was really no one we could call. Our local vet does not yet serve large animals (though, thankfully, that will be changing later this month). The only vet in 30 miles who looks at livestock is retired from farm calls; you have to bring the animal to him, during regular clinic hours. I suggested that MYF call a friend, to watch the Yeoman Farm Children and help with the house, while MYF finished with the goat --- but it was too late to call anyone. Who's still up at 10pm and willing to come help with this kind of chaos?

With no other options, going on pure hope, I signed onto Facebook and sent a message to a friend who lives up the road and raises horses. I explained that it was too late to call, and we didn't want to disturb them, but that MYF was totally out of options. If she (the friend) still happened to be up and happened to be reading this message, would there be any possible way she could come over and help with the youngest YFCs while MYF and the older YFCs assisted the goat?

What unfolded over the next two hours was one for the books. The friend was indeed up, and did get the message. She wasn't personally able to come, but called MYF and suggested some large animal vets that had seen their horses. MYF tried calling them, but they were either unavailable or said they did nothing but horses. In the meantime, the friend's husband volunteered to help. He had zero experience with goats --- but got online, watched some YouTube videos, and quickly read everything he could about the kidding process. He got to our farm a little bit later, and MYF called with this news. She'd managed to feed the YFCs, and was preparing to take the neighbor out to QAL.

With the time now well past 11pm, and it uncertain how long it would take for a resolution to the situation in the barn, we agreed that I should go to bed and wait for a call in the morning. I sent a heartfelt thank-you note back to the neighbor via Facebook, and then tried to go to bed --- but the sense of guilt and helplessness gnawed at me. I only got a few hours of sleep, and kept waking up feeling bad about everything unfolding on our farm while I was so far away and unable to help like I knew I should.

I finally got up around 6am, with a heavy heart, knowing we'd probably lost our best goat in a terrible fashion. But then I turned on my phone, and discovered a voicemail notification from Mrs Yeoman Farmer that had come in at about half past midnight. As it began playing, the tone of relief in her voice was palpable. Our neighbor had, miraculously, managed to extract the goat kid. It was HUGE. Far larger than any newborn kid we'd ever seen. Monstrously large. Both kids were in the house in a box near the fire, and were hungry. She was preparing to feed them, and didn't know how late everyone would be sleeping in the next morning, but she wanted me to get the news as soon as I woke up. Best of all: QAL was alive.

I made many acts of thanksgiving, and walked with a real spring in my step to a nearby church for Mass --- where my acts of thanksgiving continued in an unbroken stream.

Once I spoke with MYF later in the day, it became clear we weren't out of the woods. QAL still hadn't gotten up. And there was something seriously wrong with the big goat kid --- he seemed really slow. But the smaller one seemed very well, and was even learning how to drink milk from a pan.

QAL's inability to get up was curious. Our neighbor said she'd heard of this happening to horses during pregnancy; if the foal presses on a nerve in the wrong way, it can cause paralysis. I did some research online, and learned that the same thing can happen to other livestock (including goats). I promised to get QAL to our vet as soon as I got home on Wednesday.

In the meantime, I phoned a friend who's been trained in chiropractic techniques and described what was going on. Is it possible, I wondered, that her spine could be pinching a nerve because it was out of adjustment? This person confirmed that it was possible, and said a spine adjustment certainly couldn't make the goat's condition any worse. To my great surprise, this person went out of their way to drop by our farm at 9pm that night to give it a try. They did uncover a few places where she was out of adjustment, and did what they could to get her better aligned. QAL still couldn't get to her feet, but I was grateful to this friend for giving it a shot. I figured it could only help, once I got the goat to a vet.

I called the vet's office from the airport, and they said QAL could be seen that evening at 6pm. From my description, the vet said the pinched-nerve-paralysis (it has a more technical name, but I can't remember or spell it), was a highly likely diagnosis. He'd seen it a lot in cattle, and said it could be treated with steroid injections.

Back home, I learned that the monstrous goat kid had unfortunately expired early Wednesday morning. But QAL was in surprisingly good spirits, despite not being able to stand. Her head was up, she was alert and eating, and would drink from a bucket when put in front of her. I washed her backside, and moved her to clean bedding. She could move her hind quarters and legs, but just couldn't pull herself to her feet. Still, I was heartened that she was trying.

That afternoon, the YFCs helped me load QAL in the back of our old Ford Bronco, and Homeschooled Farm Boy rode with me to the vet. The vet met us in the parking lot under a street light, and indeed diagnosed the pinched nerve parylasis --- but he said he was encouraged by her rumen, and that her digestive system was functioning so well. He gave the goat some steroid injections, and instructed me to call him Friday morning with an update.

Things were largely unchanged on Friday. She was still struggling to get up, and still failing, but was continuing to eat and drink well. The vet prepared an additional injection, which I drove to his office to pick up; I administered that one to the goat myself. And that one had as little effect as the first.

As the weekend progressed, but the goat's condition did not, the question became: "How long do we let this go on?" The vet told us that animals could be down like this for some time, and that the healing process at her age could be slow. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I talked it over, and decided that as long as Queen Anne's Lace wanted to continue fighting...we would continue doing everything we could for her.

The YFCs and I kept going out to the barn several times a day, offering QAL water and grain and good-quality hay. And she continued eating and drinking and holding her head high. And was even beginning to get good at scooting around a little to reach things.

And then came Tuesday afternoon, eight days after the delivery. She drank some water, when offered, but not much. She did poke at the hay, but wasn't much interested in her grain. She mostly turned her head from me when I put things in front of her. I hoped it was temporary, and that perhaps she was just full. But late that night (after midnight, actually), when I made one last visit to check on her, she still wasn't interested in anything. Even when offered the bucket of water, she cranked her head sharply away. I sighed, patted her big neck, and told her what a good goat she'd been.

Wednesday morning, to my complete unsurprise, Queen Anne's Lace's body was motionless in the straw. I was proud of her for putting up such a good and long fight, and I knew we'd done everything we could for her. It was tough losing her, but the end of the road comes eventually for every animal --- even the best.

Are we sad? Sure. She was the greatest goat we could've asked for. The toughest part, by far, was removing her heavy collar before disposing of her body. The physical difficulty of loosening the buckle reminded me of just how long we'd had her; we fastened that buckle onto her over six years ago, and had never unfastened it since. It'll be strange putting it onto another goat. It'll certainly be a big collar to fill.

But as sad as it is to lose her, I remain deeply thankful. Thankful that we got to have such a wonderful goat for so long. But above all, we're thankful for experiencing the blessing of friends, who dropped everything to help us at odd hours of the night --- and at great personal inconvenience to themselves. We learned that even the most monstrously large goat kids can be extracted with some perseverance. We learned a lot about this new "pinched nerve" condition, and will be alert to it in our other animals.

And we have this new, healthy little kid, who's having a grand time with me and the dog all day every day in my office.

02 February 2012

Nostalgia Land

I returned yesterday from a three-day business trip to Atlanta; I was part of CNN's "decision team" that determined when and how to call the outcome of the Florida Republican primary election on Tuesday night. I've been part of the team since 2006, mostly working on calling House races in general elections, and this was my first primary. The decision process is fascinating, and I will say more about it in a future post. Suffice it to say that for someone who grew up a political junkie from his early teens, working behind the scenes at a major network on election night is like being in the broadcast booth for the Super Bowl.

One nice thing about working election night: the morning schedule that day is usually pretty light. I took advantage of that opportunity to visit an iconic Atlanta landmark: the World of Coca-Cola. If you've never been (or, heck, even if you have), I highly recommend it. The best way to describe it: a high-tech interactive museum of all things Coke.

I arrived right at the 10am opening, so got to experience the place while crowds were lightest. The two dozen or so of us were led into a cavernous room called "the Loft," decorated with all kinds of vintage Coca Cola memorabilia and advertising, and were treated to an interesting introductory talk about the company's history and all the different things we could see later in the day. They then led us to a theater and showed a fun, upbeat animated film on an enormous screen, after which we could roam through the remainder of the rooms and exhibits --- including the actual vault where they keep the secret formula locked up. (No, you don't get to go through the locked vault door.) Another exhibit takes you inside an assembly line, where you can see bottles being prepared, filled, and capped. And so on.

My favorite part of the place was called "Milestones of Refreshment." It's a series of ten galleries that you can wander deeper and deeper into, at your own pace. There are video clips playing, telling the story of the company, but the rest of it is decidedly low-tech. It's the most museum-like part of the tour, and I really enjoyed browsing the vintage memorabilia and getting lost in my own memories and feelings of nostalgia.

The most high-tech part of the tour was a 4-D theater show, which I saved for near the end. It was amazing, but the over-the-top effects (such as moving/shaking seats and occasionally hyperbolic acting) are probably more popular with kids than adults. Still, the 4-D experience of speeding down an African river in a small boat delivering Coke to an isolated village was unforgettable.

The tour ends with a tasting room, filled with soda fountains dispensing sixty some odd different beverages that the Coca-Cola company sells all over the world. I tried a few of them, and am still puzzling over why a certain bubble gum flavored drink is so popular in Latin America, but mostly just enjoyed sipping Classic Coke itself.

I emerged from the building into warm Atlanta sunshine, which was a perfect match for how I was feeling inside: cozy, nostalgic, and like everything in the world was right. In other words, pretty much exactly how you'd expect to feel after nearly two hours of immersion in a Coca-Cola commercial. (Nearly forty-eight hours later, I still have some of that happy, upbeat music in my head.)

Am I simply a sucker for corporate advertising? I like to think not, but Coca-Cola is an interesting (and in many ways unique) product. It's one of the best-known brands around the world, and I think all of us have special memories of times we enjoyed a Coke. The company's marketing has always been warm, upbeat, positive, and focused on the way Coca-Cola brings people together. It reminds us of the times and places and people with whom we've experienced Coke; as such, it's difficult to disentangle how many of my feelings for the product come from my experiences with the product itself, and how many feelings come from the marketing which reinforces my memories of those experiences.

All I know is, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Coca Cola World. And then, as I strolled across Centennial Olympic Park toward my hotel, I remembered the conference call that I'd need to be joining in a few minutes. And a check of my phone revealed an urgent data analysis request from a client. I quickened my pace, and tried to refocus my thoughts on work. Because as much as I like Coke, and as much as I enjoyed the morning's tour, you can't live your whole life immersed in a Coca Cola commercial.

26 January 2012

How Thick is Your Bubble?

I've read quite a bit of the advance press for Charles Murray's new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, and am looking forward to reading it. I plan to blog about it once I do, as I think his central premise is important and on-target.

For an excellent overview by Murray, I recommend this recent WSJ article.

Murray has also put up a fun quiz, where you can estimate your own degree of cultural isolation or engagement with the broader American culture. My results (and a link to the quiz) are below.

How Thick Is Your Bubble?

View user's Quiz School Profile
Score » 10 out of 20 (50% )
On a scale from 0 to 20 points, where 20 signifies full engagement with mainstream American culture and 0 signifies deep cultural isolation within the new upper class bubble, you scored between 9 and 12.

In other words, even if you're part of the new upper class, you've had a lot of exposure to the rest of America.
Quiz SchoolTake this quiz & get your score

25 January 2012

Q: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

A: To stir up a whole lot of trouble.

Last summer, we had a wonderful surprise: one of our hens made a nest in one of the darkest corners of the barn, and three weeks later emerged with a nice brood of chicks. They were loads of fun to watch. Mother hen would take the chicks out every morning, and aggressively forage all across the property with them. At night, they would huddle up under her feathers to sleep. This went on for several weeks, and then suddenly...she was done. Just like that, she vanished back into the general population and left the juvenile chicks on their own.

After a few days of disorientation, the brood began thriving on its own. They continued to stick together as a distinct unit, and were easy to identify because many were of mixed breeds. (That crazy variety of colors was itself quite fun.) While the other chickens were content to stick around the barn and eat their layer ration, the half-dozen or so "hen brooded" juveniles continued foraging far and wide. They were impossible to contain, and sometimes we even had trouble getting them to roost inside the barn at night (we lost a couple of them to predators as a result).

As winter took hold full force, the "wild brood" began foraging still wider and discovered the corn field across the street from our farm. Commercial harvesting equipment tends to drop a fair amount of loose corn and even full cobs on the ground. Only the half-wild chickens ever foraged widely enough to discover this treasure trove...and, once they did, they started going over a number of times per day.

As the road that separates our farm from the corn field is a major feeder, with a speed limit of 45 MPH, it was only a matter of time before chickens started falling victim to traffic. We began finding dead chickens along the road, and as weeks went by the number of intrepid foragers dwindled to just three.

Then, yesterday morning, the issue suddenly became much larger than cleaning up dead chickens. Apparently (I was not home, and no member of our family witnessed the incident), one member of the foraging pack attempted to cross the road in front of a contractor's work truck. Whether the guy tried to slow down, or whether he may have even been trying to hit the chicken, we don't know. But, apparently, one way or another, the chicken ended up dead.

Contractor Dude then stopped his truck, stormed down our driveway, and banged on the back door of the house. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer was upstairs trying to keep a sleeping Yeoman Farm Baby asleep, so Homeschooled Farm Boy answered the door. Contractor Dude demanded to see one of the parents. When HFB explained that the parents were indisposed, Contractor Dude snarled that our chicken had smashed the front of his truck and caused all kinds of damage, and that unless one of the parents called him right away and paid for it he was "going to get the police out here." CD left a business card, and stormed off.

HFB was obviously flustered by this confrontation, and immediately called my cell phone. I assured him that I or his mother would take care of things when I got home, and that he shouldn't worry.

Although I questioned how a four pound chicken could do any significant damage to a pickup truck (I hit a flying pheasant once at 55 MPH, and it simply dented my hood), I figured anything might be possible. And with the rates that some auto body shops charge, we might get hit with a significant bill. So, as I drove home, I called our insurance agent to discuss our coverage and potential liability.

The agent assured me that in the event one of our animals inflicted damages on a person (i.e. dog bite) or property (stampeding goats?), our homeowners policy would cover it. But, he went on, under Michigan law we would almost certainly not have to pay anything in this particular case. Our state has an oddball set of "no fault" insurance rules, which means that every driver is responsible for collecting from his own insurance company --- regardless of who was at fault in an accident. Even if the other driver is 100% responsible for an accident, you can't collect a thing from him (other than a portion of the damages not covered by insurance). In the case of a collision with an animal, there's not even a provision to collect damages not covered by insurance. It doesn't matter if the animal in question is a deer, or if it belongs to someone who let it get out on the road. The only damages the driver can collect are from his own insurance company. If he isn't carrying comprehensive coverage, he's out of luck.

When Mrs. Yeoman Farmer called Contractor Dude to (1) express her regret that the truck had been damaged and (2) to explain that we were not legally responsible for those damages, CD cut her off. He launched into an accusatory tirade, claiming that our chicken did $1800 worth of damage to his truck. It'd apparently busted both the grille and the radiator (?!?), and he'd had to miss a meeting because of it. He said he wanted us to cover his insurance deductible, "or I'll have to get the police involved."

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer tried to explain that this was a civil matter and not a criminal case, and that therefore the police would not touch it, but he again angrily cut her off and and said he'd hired a lawyer to sue us for the $250 insurance deductible.

Whether that's true or not we don't know; Michigan law is pretty clear cut in saying he's not even entitled to that $250 (unless, as a representative from our insurance company joked, our chicken had been driving a car when causing the accident). I can't imagine a lawyer taking such a case. Just to be sure, I spoke with an attorney friend from our parish today; he confirmed that the guy would never prevail against us in court.

Contractor Dude made a few more threats, and then hung up on Mrs. Yeoman Farmer. She and I discussed the situation, and quickly came to the same conclusion: this guy is a bully, plain and simple. He's trying to brow-beat or scare us into coughing up some money, and thinks he can intimidate us enough to pay out quickly and wash our hands of him. (Why else would he mention bringing the police into a civil matter?)

Assuming we've read his motivations correctly, he's picked the wrong family. MYF and I genuinely feel bad that one of our animals seems to have been involved in this. (Though, since we have yet to see the damaged truck or the dead chicken --- which he says he hauled off to the police station as "evidence" --- we can only say "seems." And we're certainly not admitting any kind of blame or guilt.) If the guy had simply knocked on our door and explained the situation matter-of-factly to HFB rather than trying to threaten and intimidate, and had had a civil conversation when MYF called him, we might have agreed to pay out the $250 regardless of what Michigan law says. Assuming that one of our animals really had been the cause of someone else's loss (and we're not admitting it was), then compensating the other party would be the right thing to do.

But instead, we're feeling bullied --- and will fight any additional attempt that Contractor Dude makes to extort compensation from us. It's now about the Principle of The Thing, which is not letting our family get intimidated by this guy. If he again sets foot on our property, we will gently but firmly ask him to leave. If he refuses, and again attempts to intimidate us, we will be the ones calling the police. Unlike damages to a truck, trespassing on private property is a criminal matter.

Should a court, for some reason, order us to cover CD's deductible, we will honor and obey it. But nothing short of a formal legal judgment will cause us to pay out in this case.

It's a real shame that it's come to this. Almost everyone else we've met around here has been very nice and neighborly, and we've felt genuinely welcome in this community. I have no idea what's gotten into this guy, but I take solace in reminding myself that there are so few locals who are like him.

And, yes, we will be putting up a nice tight fence along the road as soon as spring gets here.

22 January 2012

Not Strong Enough

We gave it the old college try with the goat kids born early Saturday morning, but in the end they just weren't strong enough.

It was an easy call with the smaller of the two. It was really scrawny, and couldn't even hold its head up to eat. We made it comfortable, and then I euthanized it.

We had higher hopes for the larger of the two. She made numerous attempts to stand up, and was clearly acting hungry. We warmed up a cup or so of milk from one of the other goats, and I fed it to the kid with a medicine dropper. She sucked it down with gusto, and I wondered if she might just have enough fighting spirit to make it.

Alas, spirit wasn't enough. There was something wrong with her legs, and we could not get her to stand up for more than a couple of seconds. This is even after having gotten her good and dry, and fed, and letting her take a good nap. Her legs kept buckling, every time we tried to get her to stand.

I suppose we could've kept bottle feeding her indefinitely, hoping her legs would eventually strengthen. But there was another problem: her mother goat was so pathetic and runty, her udder was barely discernible. The Yeoman Farm Children didn't see how the mother could ever support this kid. Which means the doe is a good candidate for a cull, but that's another story.

The more immediate issue was the kid that couldn't stand. Given the extremely long odds against her ever living a normal life, it didn't seem that we had a lot of options. She had a comfortable afternoon in a box by the heater in my office. Then, unpleasant as it was, I knew we really had to put her down.

I realize that there are any number of ways to kill a little goat kid quickly and without pain. Still, my preference is a pistol shot to the forehead. It's extremely fast and sure, and with a relatively small caliber doesn't amount to overkill. I won't go into details, other than to assure you that the kid's death was indeed instantaneous.

Farming has such great joys. And it also has days like yesterday. It's all of one piece, and it really isn't possible to have the former without the latter. But I wouldn't trade this life for anything.

21 January 2012

What Would YOU Do?

We're facing a tough dilemma this morning. While out in the barn at about 6:30am, feeding the various animals, I stumbled over a couple of little newborn goat kids. They were still wet, and were barely moving, but were definitely alive. As it was about 25 degrees in the barn (and near zero outside), my first thought was getting these poor things warmed up.

I found a cardboard box, put some loose hay in it, and made the two kids comfortable in front of the fire. They bleated and cried at first, which is a good thing, and then they got quiet and went to sleep.

Once Homeschooled Farm Girl awakened, she went out to the barn and identified the mother goat. It's a small little runt of a doe, and I believe this is her first delivery. I had HFG move the doe to a separating pen, because that's the only way we'll have any hope of putting these kids on her.

My plan is to get the kids warmed up, get some milk into their stomachs, and see if they can stand on their own legs. If not (and one of them is so small, I have serious doubts), they're going to have to be put down. If we can get them strong enough to stand and walk today, we'll try to get the doe to take them and bond with them in the separating pen. But if not...

All of this is a super-duper long shot. I don't expect either of these kids to make it, and maybe I should've just put them down when I found them half-frozen in the barn. But here's the thing: they're here. They're alive. They're our responsibility. And by our way of thinking, we have an obligation to give these two of God's tiniest creatures a fair shot at survival.

We've seen this "movie" a number of times, and know how it ends 99% of the time: the kids don't get strong enough to stand, or the runt doe doesn't take them, or we bottle feed them to maturity only to discover they're so structurally unhealthy that there was a reason the doe rejected them. But I think we owe the Filmmaker enough to at least sit through the opening credits.

It's not the happiest part about having a farm or raising livestock. But, really, what else could we do?

20 January 2012

A Modest Proposal

The next time you buy or rent a DVD, check the "special features." Along with the Director's commentary and deleted scenes, it's often possible to select an alternate language to hear the movie in. Spanish. French. Portuguese. Italian. Whatever. It must not be too terribly difficult or disc-space-consuming to include an alternate audio track, because so many DVD movies now include that feature.

So, here's my question and proposal: Why not include the cleaned-up version of the dialogue that is used for television broadcasts of the same movie? It could be another language option, alongside Spanish and French or whatever else. And for any movie that's been cleaned-up with dubbing for television, that audio already exists. It shouldn't be hard to do. Yet, in all the movies we've rented from Netflix, I've never seen a disc that offers this option.

I'm not talking about the "bad scenes" that are cut for television; I know some Christian groups have tried to produce and sell or rent versions of movies that cut these objectionable scenes, and have been sued. That's not so critical for me; if I know there's a bad scene in a movie, I can skip through it, mute it, or make my kids face away. But I can't press the mute button every time Bruce Willis says the F-word. Sure, "melon farmer" is a silly substitute. But I'd rather my kids hear that than the original words.

What prompted this thought was recently renting Rain Man. It's a wonderful movie, with absolutely superb acting from Tom Cruise and (especially) Dustin Hoffman. In fact, it's hard for me to think of a movie with a better-acted lead than what Hoffman did in Rain Man. And the story itself, with Cruise growing to appreciate his brother for who he is, is powerful and moving. I really wanted to have the whole family watch it.

But it was rated R, and because I hadn't seen it in many years I couldn't remember exactly why. I knew there was at least one sex scene, but if that was the only problem...well, I could skip through that. But I had to know where it was, so I sat down to preview the movie by myself.

I found the sex scene, and it was pretty mild. Really mild, in fact, by Hollywood standards. The much larger problem was Tom Cruise's mouth: the profanity never stopped flowing. The longer I watched, the more dismayed I grew. I loved the story and Hoffman's acting as much as I remembered, but I knew I couldn't share this film with the Yeoman Farm Children. If it'd just been that one sex scene, I easily could've skipped it. But the foul language was far too pervasive.

And you know what's most frustrating? How completely unnecessary the rough language is. Yes, it fits Cruise's character as a rough and profane guy who thinks only about himself. But an actor as good as Cruise could sell that role without dropping F-bombs.

In a similar vein, the first time I saw Coming to America was on an airplane. I was delighted. What a wonderful romantic comedy, I thought. And Eddie Murphy played such a refreshingly clean role! And then I rented it at home, and saw everything that'd been cut out. The language and short clips they'd cut weren't just crude. They were totally unnecessary for the story --- I'd loved it just as I'd seen it. The rough language and innuendo ruined it for me.

So, getting back to my proposal, why not offer cleaned-up dialogue as an alternate DVD audio track? If the film producers think it's important not to exclude potential customers whose primary language is not English, why not show the same attention and concern to those of us who'd like to watch a movie with our kids and without all the four letter words?

19 January 2012

Farewell, Drake

We had a notable passing last night: our ancient Muscovy drake finally succumbed to old age. "Drake" is of course the word for a male duck, and for lack of creativity we simply called him that as his proper name.

Drake was special because he was among the first birds we ever got. Muscovies are weird ducks; unlike pretty much every other breed, they are not descended from Mallards. They're a South American tree bird, and can fly. They also tend to be good mothers, and are highly self-sufficient.

Soon after moving to Illinois, we got word from a friend that another farmer was looking to get rid of all her Muscovies. Being new to the whole farming thing, we were willing to try nearly anything. The idea was to experiment with a variety of livestock before settling on something. So, we gladly took the dozen or so Muscovies off this person's hands. This must've been nearly ten years ago.

I liked the Muscovies, but was pretty much alone in that opinion. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer found their odd rituals and noises to be a little strange, and she especially disliked how ugly these birds could be. Especially the males. I agreed that they weren't exactly beautiful, but sort of endearing in their own way. Still, I assured MYF that we'd focus on more conventional duck breeds going forward.

As the years passed, the Muscovies gradually died off one by one. They never did prove themselves to be very good mothers, and I don't think we ever got more than a handful of ducklings to survive to adulthood. By the time we moved to Michigan four years ago, we were down to just a couple of Muscovies...including Drake. They stuck to themselves, and did not even interact with the other ducks.

The last females died of something or other, and then it was just Drake. He seemed kind of lonely, being the only Muscovy, and still didn't interact with any other birds. He simply kept to himself, minded his own business, and carried on.

I didn't have the heart to butcher him. Not only would the meat have been terribly tough, but it just didn't seem right. No, he wasn't a pet. But he was a fixture. One of our first birds, and easily the oldest on the property. The grand old man. A survivor. One who'd made the big interstate trip in our Noah's Ark On Wheels. One who, even in his old age, the other male birds stayed out of the way of and showed respect to. Who could butcher a creature like that?

In recent months, it was clear that Drake was slowing down. Then, last night, Big Little Brother came to my office and said he was worried, because Drake could hardly walk. I asked him to bring Drake inside, and I held the bird in my arms. He'd definitely lost weight. I set him down, and he indeed could barely walk.

I thanked BLB for being so attentive, then cuddled Drake a little and talked to him as I carried him back to the barn for what I knew might be the last time. I told him what a good Drake he'd been, and that we'd appreciated having him on our farm for so long.

When I opened the barn this morning, I immediately looked for Drake. There was no sign of him with the other birds, so I looked all over the barn as I did my chores. At last, I found the spot where he'd finally run out of gas --- in the sheep area, not far from the door where he used to go out to play in the rain puddles.

No, I didn't shed any tears. And we didn't give him a special burial. But I did think about him a lot today, and I will miss him. It's the odd creatures like Drake which make a small farm so much fun.

18 January 2012

Lots of Hot Water

I'm not much of a tea drinker, and never had much interest in tea kettles. After all, who needs a special implement just to heat up water? Why not simply use a saucepan and lid? Even Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, who does make large quantities of herbal and medicinal teas for herself and the Yeoman Farm Children, has tended to agree. Besides, given that she usually makes tea in huge (2 qt) jars...the typical tea kettle doesn't produce enough hot water anyway.

Sometime earlier this winter, MYF started thinking: we have a woodstove burning pretty much around the clock. We use a lot of hot water, not just for tea and warming up the baby's milk, but also for cooking. It's time-and-energy consuming, and a hassle, to heat up a saucepan of water every time we need it. Why not take advantage of that constantly-burning woodstove, and keep a kettle of water on it all the time? We could have hot water on demand, basically for free.

The only problem is that the typical tea kettle is so small, we'd be emptying it too frequently. And then MYF found the solution while browsing a Lehman's catalog. Behold, super-sized tea kettles!

They come in 5 qt, 7 qt, and 9 qt...and the picture doesn't really do justice to how big they are. We bought a 5 qt, and it is giant. I can't imagine how big the 9 qt is. Most remarkable is how beautiful the kettle is, and because it's made of stainless steel it is extremely solid. And, at less than twenty bucks, surprisingly inexpensive. I highly recommend it.

One of the most amusing things about this kettle, though, isn't its size. It's the whistle. I hate the typical shrill scream of most tea kettles. So, imagine our surprise and delight the first time we brought this one to full boil and discovered...its whistle sounds like a freight train! Truly appropriate for the thing's massive proportions, and actually kind of fun to listen to.

We basically never run out of hot water anymore. And now that plenty of hot water is available any time, it's become more convenient to make my coffee using a French press. I prefer coffee made that way, and the high mineral content of our water tends to ruin conventional drip coffee makers, but the hassle of heating up a quart of water at a time meant I didn't use the French press very often. Now I use it every time.

Not to digress too much, but I really like my French press. The thing has a beautiful and elegant simplicity to it. And using it couldn't be easier: put 1/2 cup of coarsely ground coffee in the bottom, add about a quart of near-boiling water (to within an inch or so of the top), stir with a wooden spoon, and fit the lid / pushrod / circular mesh filter assembly to the top.

Let it steep for at least four minutes, and then plunge the pushrod / filter all the way down to trap the grounds. The result is a wonderfully rich cup of coffee, with all the oils and flavors still in it.

Perfect for a cold Michigan afternoon by the woodstove of an old farm house. Or anywhere else you might find yourself today.

17 January 2012

Tax Day

This morning, I dropped a couple of checks in the mail: one to the U.S. Treasury and one to the State of Michigan. Like most people who are self-employed, I make quarterly payments for the year's estimated taxes; the deadline for 4Q 2011 is today.

If you're an employee, your federal and state taxes are automatically deducted from each paycheck. You never see the money. Oh, sure, you'll see the line item on the pay stub for the deducted taxes...if you look for it. But if you're like I was when I was an employee, you probably have your check directly deposited into a bank account and never bother looking at the paper pay stub. You confirm that $X shows up in your account, and you think of $X as the amount you "get paid." Seldom, if ever, do you think about the amount you never saw.

Then, after you file your taxes in March or April, chances are good that you'll receive a sizable refund check for the amount of tax that you overpaid during the course of the year. Ever stop to think about that? You're giving the government an interest-free loan from every paycheck. Then you get this big check, which you then probably think of as "bonus" that you can use for something special.

The bigger the "bonus," the happier you probably are. It should be the opposite: the bigger the refund check, the more troubled you should be at the size of the interest-free loan you provided. But, human psychology being what it is, the government knows that's not how you'll react. You never saw the tax deductions all year. You never thought about what you never saw. Now you get a chunk of it, all at once, in a lump sum, courtesy of the U.S. Treasury. Isn't that great?

Contrast that with the experience of the self-employed. You deliver a project for a client, and get a check at some indeterminate time in the future. You deposit this money in a bank account, where you see it and control it all quarter. You spend some of it. You think about what else you'd like to spend it on. And then, at the end of the quarter, you must sit down and write a check relinquishing a portion of those funds to the United States Treasury. It was yours. You held it in your hands. You thought about what you could do with it. And then you turned it over to the government.

When you're making these quarterly payments, you try to make each one as small as legally possible --- and are happy when you sit down in April to do your taxes and discover you owe additional money to the government. That means you didn't overpay, and didn't provide an interest-free loan. But even if you have an unexpectedly large number of deductions in a particular year, and overpaid Uncle Sam, you don't even think about requesting a refund check. Instead, you apply the overpayment to the next year's tax bill. It becomes part of your first quarter estimated tax payment.

Why do I raise this topic? I love being self-employed, and the independence that goes with it. But it's remarkable how much the experience has changed my perspective on taxes and government spending. The more of these quarterly payments I've made, the more personally I've come to view government spending. The dollars government spends seem much more like my dollars now, in a way they did not when my paychecks were getting directly deposited with deductions automatically taken.

The local freeway resurfacing? The aircraft carrier? Ethanol subsidies? Payouts to failed solar panel manufacturers? Subsidies to buyers of electric cars? The person in line ahead of me at the grocery store, who pays for a cartload of junk food with an EBT card before whipping out a wad of cash to pay for their beer? Whether I approve of any of these particular expenditures or not, they represent dollars that used to be in our family's bank account. And I remember writing the check which turned them over for the government to use in these ways. That is much more real to me now than it was before, and much more real than I think it is to those who never see the deducted dollars at all.

For the record, I don't think our family is overtaxed. I happen to agree with Oliver Wendell Holmes that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. I'm happy to see the government provide a strong national defense, build and maintain roads, and fulfil the rest of its core functions. But the experience of writing quarterly checks has made me much more attentive to "everything else" the government spends money on --- and has led me to question those priorities to a much greater degree.

Try a thought experiment: imagine that, starting this year, every working American received every penny of his or her paychecks. And then had to sit down once a month and write a check to "United States Treasury" for the same amount that is currently being deducted. And a second check to their state or local tax authority.

I'm guessing we'd see much more vocal pushback against government spending at all levels. And maybe even a political revolution that restores truly limited government.

Which is why automatic tax withholding will never be eliminated. But we can still dream, right?

16 January 2012

Still Here

I apologize for the long break from posting, and wanted to let you all know that I'm still here and do intend to keep this blog updated more frequently going forward. I had an extraordinarily busy November and December with work, which is unusual for a non-election year. I had a number of things concerning the farm that I really wanted to post about, but was simply too absorbed with delivering results to clients.

As many of you know, we are not "professional" farmers. My primary occupation is public opinion research; I design and analyze opinion surveys. My background is in political science, and election years are particularly busy times for me. Much of my work, in even-numbered years, involves voter targeting and turnout modeling for Republican candidates across the country. In odd-numbered years, most of my work is related to public policy and is done on behalf of industries or corporations. This fall and winter, I've had an unusually large number of such projects. Client confidentiality limits what I can say about the particulars, but the studies I've worked on have been quite interesting. What I enjoy most about this profession is getting to learn "what people think and why they think it" about a wide variety of issues. But it's easy to get absorbed in these projects, and my farm duties, and to neglect the blog.

Some other reasons for my slow posting in recent months is that, quite honestly, I would second guess myself as to whether my readers would really be interested in the particular thing I was thinking about sharing. Or I would have trouble getting a picture of the thing I wanted to discuss, and decide to wait until I could get one. Or, if I'd already put up posts in the past discussing the same thing, I would tell myself that readers would get bored with my repetition. Or...or...or...

For the writer, any excuse for procrastination can turn into a good one. And then the thing never gets written. (Exhibit A is my new novel's manuscript, the edits to which still need to be made.) So, going forward, my range of topics may grow wider. Many posts may have nothing whatsoever to do with farming. But the blog will always remain true to its original mission: to give the perspective of one Yeoman Farmer on the connection between farming, faith, family, and citizenship. Some posts may relate only tangentially to these topics...but whatever the topic may be, you will be getting The Yeoman Farmer's perspective on it.

My goal, going forward, is to post at least something every day. It may be brief. It may sometimes seem "off topic." It may not interest you. Feel free to skip. But there will be something, so please do stop by if you feel so inclined.

Thanks to all of you for your patience, and your loyalty in reading this blog.