Hello everyone! This is Julie. I love to take pictures and I am going to start sharing some of them here on Chris’ blog. I hope you enjoy! You can also follow me on Instagram.
Chris taking over…You know I can’t let a post go up with so few words. Comments in order of pictures:
Somebody photoshop me into the Abbey Road cover. And remind me to stand up straight.
Reserve your turkey now. Now.
How did he turn 11? What happened?
Swallows have about a week left before they go away for the winter. Dragonflies are coming through now. Hawks will start soon. Less than a month until we light the wood stove. That picture is a reminder of how little time we have.
Well, the answer to the flash title is…you pay the vet $80.
But the better question is, “Why do I have cats to fix anyway?”
Ah. That’s the right question. I will accept several answers.
Some [Content Edited] got tired of the litterbox, couldn’t bear to have it euthanized and dumped their kitty out in the stix and it wandered here. (Happens all the time.)
Some irresponsible idiot didn’t get their cat fixed…then dumped it in the stix when it showed up pregnant. (awesome.)
Feral cats found out there was food here and started showing up, we made it a point to tame their kittens. Now we need to take the proper steps with those grown kittens. (Feral cats really don’t last long against the food chain. Tame cats run to us when they are in trouble.)
We do what we can to keep the cat herd numbers down in a humane manner. Unfortunately, lots of cats just disappear during the winter. Coyotes, owls, cars…who knows. Sometimes they bed down in the straw under the horses or cows and are stepped on or suffocated. If cat numbers get high enough disease spreads through them and knocks the population back a bit. It saddens us to just find a dead cat laying by the pond or something…no obvious injuries, no sign of starvation. Just a dead cat laying in a field. None of these are desirable outcomes. Especially for Bubba.
When they were smaller, Bubba and her siblings used to ride on our shoulders as we did chores around the yard. I guess it felt nice to have their paws somewhere warm on a cold winter day. Obviously I fee some level of affection for Bubba but I don’t want baby Bubbas. At all. Ever. So we sent Bubba to the vet for $80. (That is the same amount of money he charged me to preg-check my heifers.)
So what happens when Bubba gets hit by a car on the road or killed by a raccoon? Was that a waste of $80? Well? I don’t know. But I have solved the kitten problem…just in case she lives a long, healthy life with us. And that’s the outcome we desire the most.
I’m not complaining about the $80. I am describing what is. Cats show up. Cats are handy to have on a farm. We take responsibility for them. I hate finding dead cats…even feral cats. Kittens are fun but I have had enough kitten fun to last me a lifetime. Cats multiply like rabbits…then they eat all of the rabbits. And wild birds.
Have you taken responsibility for your animals?
If you even think about taking them to the farm to run and live their life…well, you will be on my bad side. And it’s really not about the $80. It’s about you being a cruel, irresponsible person. You can find a home for an unwanted cat. If not, you can put your grown-up pants on and make a grown-up decision about your animal’s life. Dumping them is worse than euthanizing them…except you don’t have to see it happen. Coyote jaws are less than humane. Ever sleep with your windows open in the fall and hear a coyote catch a rabbit?
Do the right thing. Get your pets fixed.
If you want your kids to learn about the miracle of life get rabbits. Then teach them about the miracle of baked rabbit and bacon.
Julie bought me the book Holostic Management 5 or more years ago. We took a stab at reading it at the time but really couldn’t get through the meat. We had a conceptual understanding of grazing but no real hands-on experience…and experience was needed. So we put the book aside.
I am overdue for another stab at the book and as I read it again I am fascinated. This time I seem to be getting it…or, at least, getting more of it. And that’s good since I sent a copy of it to dad’s friend Marty…and I know he’ll breeze through the book.
Chapter 3 kicks off a discussion of Jans Christian Smuts’ book Holism and Evolution, presenting the concept that, though we tend to break things down into individual parts, we need to look at wholes. In a recent post I discussed the loss of native diversity because in our local oak/hickory forests, Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchids are a part of the whole. Remove that part and the whole is diminished by the loss…the remainder becomes increasingly fragile.
The book gives several examples of ecological degradation caused by predator removal. If I trap out the minks I will open a void in predation. Minks eat mice. Extra mice may be a benefit to other predators but the loss of the mink makes our farm slightly more fragile. What happens when I kill the mink and disease removes the coyotes and foxes? Can the owls pick up that much slack?
But who cares about mice and minks and owls? We are farmers. We grow cows and pigs and chickens. And minks eat chickens. And owls eat chickens. So why not just kill the minks and scare off the owls and raise chickens in greater security?
Because of the whole interconnected web occurring on the farm. Owls also eat skunks. If there are no owls what will eat skunks? Maybe I could get a big dog? But that won’t eat large numbers of mice. So…barn cats? But those will eat song birds too. I could keep searching for substitutions to force my will on the land but it is not hard to imagine that I would be better off nestling, rather than imposing, my farm into the countryside. To make my farm an enhancement of the natural order rather than a replacement of the natural order. I need to find a pattern of farming that compliments the patterns of the landscape.
So I have to manage for diversity. And that includes making room for my enemy, the mink.
But I also need to recognize and enhance patterns. Hackberry trees grow alongside walnut trees. Gooseberry grows in their shade. Opossums eat gooseberries. Squirrels eat and plant walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts. Hawks eat Squirrels. All of them add manure.
The wildlife can’t begin to eat the gooseberry, nut and squirrel crop. I happen to like gooseberries, hickory nuts and squirrel. I have to find ways to fit myself into the landscape without diminishing the whole. Further, I have to fit cows, pigs and chickens into the landscape while retaining and respecting coyotes, foxes, mink, mice, squirrels, owls, hawks, deer, raccoons, groundhogs, skunks, opossums, rabbits, gooseberries, walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns and Yellow Lady’s Slipper orchids.
There are patterns holding this abundance of life together and my job, as a farmer, is to weave myself into the pattern, not to unravel it.
That only scratches the surface of the chapter but it is enough for today’s posting.
How are you weaving yourself into the patterns you observe?
My brother-in-law and I took my children and nephews for a walk around the pond edge. The ice was nearly 2″ thick everywhere but the group of us together caused some fractures so we stayed in the shallows. We were looking for turtles. We found turtles…and more.
The real value of the farm can’t be measured by the cattle we can raise. There is also the joy of taking a group of children around the edge of a frozen pond enjoying their squeals of delight and discovery.
Not only am I keeping this for them I am teaching them about it. Teaching them to enjoy it. This is stewardship.
It started this way. The fence was unplugged late last week.
Skip to the end, I come home from church Saturday night and find 5 dead ducks, one almost dead duck that couldn’t be pulled through the snow, a dead pullet (why do they never kill roosters!) and footprints in the snow. All bitten on the neck, nothing eaten. You know all those things they tell church people not to say? I’m ready to say them all. I hate minks. In all of creation I hate minks the most. They are smart hunters and viscous killers. A few years ago we lost 28 birds in one night to a mink.
If I hold the flashlight just right I can follow the track around the perimeter of the fence toward the big walnut tree and toward the iron pile. The iron pile.
I’m gonna git you sucka!
Gun in hand, I follow the track to the edge of the walnut tree’s canopy. At that point the snow is disturbed in a 100′ circle by snow that clumped on branches and fell off throughout the day. No more tracking. No shooting. No gittin’ suckas.
Just a long sleepless night.
Morning rolls around. Time to make the donuts. I take the flashlight out and hear the familiar duck greeting we are used to hearing. No additional casualties. One duck is bloodied up but healing.
The fence is good and hot now. The ducks and hen will be rendered into cat food. Another day passes.
After checking that everything is cool outside I tuck into bed. At 4:30 I wake up. Time to make the donuts. I have a sickening feeling in my stomach. Maybe the mink found his way through the electric fence. Do I have any more ducks?
Once again, the familiar noise of ducks greets me. It’s kind of like the sound of laughter. Maybe cynnical laughter. I don’t particularly care for the ducks but I don’t want them to be killed by a mink.
The mink. He’s still out there. Somewhere. Hunting. Waiting. Searching. Biding his time. One sleepy night I won’t be paying attention and he’ll sneak in. Taking what is not his. And there will be little I can do about it.
Minks are skilled hunters and hard targets. I do have my trappers permit. It is season. But am I skilled enough? Will I kill the offending mink or just another mink?
Should I kill a mink?
Yesterday a fox ran past the cows in the pasture. We watched him stop, dig and hunt for mice then he jogged (do foxes jog?) to the pond to drink from the hole I cut in the ice. Finally he ran through the bottom East of the house. A few hours later I walked to the barn and a second fox was napping in the straw.
These predators can easily jump the electric fence and will help themselves to a chicken or two in the spring when they are feeding kits.
Should I kill a fox?
Maybe. My neighbors seem to think so. But fur is a fashion faux pas…for some reason. Like we are no longer a part of nature, just observers. Seems wasteful to just shoot it and let it rot. It’s kind of fun to see a fox run on the snow in the afternoon sun. They don’t kill all that many chickens (never roosters, only hens). How many mice do they kill?
Mr. Mink eats mice too. Do I value that service? I certainly don’t value serial killing of my ducks.
How do I balance this out? Shoot ’em all?
I don’t know.
I think I have to decide what a problem is and only deal with the problem. A dead chicken here or there isn’t much of a problem, really. 30 in one night is a problem. We dealt with that problem. But maybe we only lost the 6 because I didn’t turn on the fence. My bad. Is killing a chicken a capital crime? I guess not. But killing 30…that’s something else.
Obviously I have no problem with shooting animals. That’s just part of the deal. In the Zombie Post-Apocalyptic world I’ll shoot zombies. Skunks have a lot in common with zombies. But another part of the deal is being judicious about taking life. Part of stewardship is managing for biodiversity. That includes diversity among natural predators. Right?
Fence is off? Shame on me. Keep coming back for more? Shame on you.
My apologies to the show Heroes for my choice of title. I never saw the show but the marketing still found me. Give that marketing firm a raise!
I read a lot of Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s work as I read economics information on “the internets”. You know, a man has to have a hobby. I read about global economics for fun. Seriously, if you pay close attention you’ll be in stitches. If it helps, begin by understanding that the world’s financial experts are all idiots. Pretenders. They have no real insight into the future they rarely grasp the present and they learn nothing from the past. But, since they have some prestigious degree, they think they can tell us how to improve – even save! – the world with (…get this…) interest rates. LOL! I guess if all you have is a hammer…
Anyway. Mr. Evans-Pritchard published an article about dirt. Well, he published an article about a published article about dirt. And I think it’s worth reading. Kind of a validation that I’m moving in the right direction…but not fast enough. Further, he points out that we, as humans, have a tendency to prefer instant gratification over delayed…or even deferred. I mean, we could have acorns for the next 50 years but I need an oak board now. I could avoid diabetes and keep my feet but I really like pie. We could have savings but there is so much cool stuff to buy. We could have had cedars in Lebanon but we needed a desert. We are a short-sighted species. Ripping the soil gives us an immediate boost in fertility…though at the expense of future fertility. “Well, we’ll figure out tomorrow when it comes.”
Now that I have agreed with him let’s look closer at what Mr. Evans-Pritchard actually wrote. I mean, I kind of just picked out the points that make me feel vindicated as I initially skimmed the article. How does he really feel? I think he’s a little confuzzled. How about this quote?
It comes as China and emerging Asia switch to an animal protein diet, replicating the pattern seen in Japan and Korea as they became rich. As a rule of thumb it takes 4kg-8kg of grains in animal feed to produce 1kg of meat.
What kind of meat requires 8-16 pounds of grain per pound to produce!? It doesn’t take any grain to produce 2.2 pounds of beef. Or lamb. Or goat. What about fish? It takes 3 pounds of grain to make a pound of pork on a production hog floor but you can reduce or eliminate that if you park your piggies under oak trees, chestnut trees and apple trees. They also do well on alfalfa and a healthy dose of cow manure. I mean, his article is essentially about how modern row cropping is destroying the earth and goes on, in the quote above, to say that we can only feed animals with additional row cropping. And that, we have established, is bad. So we have to do more row cropping to feed the world grains. And that, we have established, is bad.
But why not just let the cows eat grass? Make beef the new chicken. Close up shop on all those Arkansas chicken houses and twelve-thousand sow farrowing operations in Manitoba. I am suggesting the issue at hand isn’t simply the lost of soil biota brought on by tillage and chemical death but, instead, our continuing use of the wrong paradigm. Stop taking feed to cows. Take the cows to the feed. Ta-da! Stop buying eggs at the store. Keep a few hens and feed them kitchen scraps. Ta-da! Use tree crops instead of annual crops. Make our Coca-Cola with high-fructose chestnut syrup! Ta-da! Just give your HOA the bird and get some chickens. See how easy?
The UNCCD is aiming for a global deal to achieve “zero net land degradation” from 2015, mostly by replanting forests. The body’s environment chief Veerle Vanderweerde says it is not going well. “We know what to do to restore degraded land. It’s not impossible but it takes time, money, dedication, and political will, and there is not a lot political will.”
Where to begin? Political will? I think that means use of force. As in, “we have the guns so you do what we say.” Remember this passage?
Yacouba Sawadogo, “the man who stopped the desert”, began to revive the ancient zai technique thirty years [ago] to stop soil erosion on his little farm in Burkina Faso. It involved digging small holes and filling them with compost and tree seeds to catch the seasonal rains, recreating a woodland of 20 hectares in the arid Sahel. Sadly, local officials then expropriated the land.
So much for political will. Time? Money? Dedication? Whose? If we elect some bonehead to fix our problems…well, I don’t have high hopes that our problems will get fixed. In fact, I have centuries of evidence that our problems become worse as governments become more involved. I don’t need regulation forcing me to set aside forested land as magical and protected so we can have a “net zero land degradation.” We need massively net negative land degradation. And this is something we can do on our own. No guns election required! Stop ripping soil and leaving it bare and exposed for 6-7 months each year. Instead, grow cover crops, graze livestock, rotate polyculture crops through. If you have the time, Gabe Brown has a lot to teach us on this topic. He talks about “speeding up biological time” and says, “Feeding 9 billion people will be not be any problem whatsoever if we change our production model and focus on soil.” I feel he backs up that bold claim.
We need the freedom to do the things that were traditionally done before 1950 but leveraging modern technology and new ideas. I need to be free to combine livestock, wildlife, trees, people and time in a carbon-sequestering, soil-building, sustainable and profitable mix. The money will suddenly appear so Mr. Elected Bonehead can have his pound of flesh. Check out Mark Sheppard’s book for a real life example of regenerative forested agriculture. (I could list any number of books that illustrate this well but Mark Sheppard is high on my list. I mean, who can resist a guy who has the …stuff… to lecture for two and a half hours then pull out a guitar to sing a song at the audience?)
Back to the point, there is no need for political will to do this. We don’t have to elect leaders to point guns at us so we will behave. We already know what to do. If you don’t I hope you are sitting down for this. It’s utterly profound. Stop looking at “them“. Stop blaming “them“. What are you doing? How are you saving the world? Where do you buy your food? What system do you vote for each day? We don’t need people signing petitions against industrial ag. What a waste. We need consumers educating themselves…involving themselves. Just go – you yourself – and purchase products from farmers who care about soil health. Farmers who don’t saturate their fields with chemical death. Farmers who enhance life by composting and growing food and building healthy soil. We need agricultural pioneers finding ways to do more with less in spite of existing government regulations and writing narcissistic little blogs like mine about what goes right and what goes wrong. Farmers, not legislators, need your support.
If you are not a farmer (and most people aren’t), find a farm that looks and smells good. Don’t worry about the ugly buildings or the beat-up jalopy in the driveway. Learn what healthy animals look like. Learn what healthy grass looks like (it doesn’t look like a lawn). Look at tree health. Smell the air. Feel the soil. Then invest in the farmer by buying his produce so he can continue to grow.
Patronize a farmer, save the world.
I have a few afterthoughts that really don’t belong in this posting. Don’t worry about peak oil. Peak oil will bring modern industrial agricultural practices to an immediate halt. But not before peak phosphorus brings modern ag to a halt. Unless the lack of humus in our soils enables a drought that brings modern ag to a halt first. There are alternatives. In case you haven’t seen this (how could you have missed it?) I give you this short presentation. May it change your whole life…and through you, the world. Please watch this video. (BTW, note his confession that, as a government agent, he advised his country to shoot 40,000 elephants to “save” the ecology. Made the problem worse.)
I also have to add, if you live near us and are interested in partnering with us in saving the world we can offer you excellent quality and value. If you are inclined to vote, please vote for us.
I have a specific and technical skill set that we rely on to pay the bills around here. Put simply, I make it easier to find data stored on a big computer. To do this well, I have to remain on top of new technology. To that end, I just attended an intensive 9 day training course in Sarasota, FL.
I was busy in school then studying at the hotel in the evening. This was no vacation. Well, it was no vacation for me. My wife flew down to visit me about half way through and she made it a point to see the sights and took a few pictures.
Sarasota is a beautiful town. Rabid consumerism, broad, flat, straight roads, a surprising number of cows, swamp…what more could you ask for?
There are any number of wetland preserve areas (as if a wetland can express itself when confined to a 30×30 area and surrounded by pavement). There were whole groves of live oaks, pine and pineapple trees. The larger trees were dripping in spanish moss. Our forests are a dense clump of about 100 kinds of trees (most bear edible nuts), multi-flora rose, poison ivy, dewberries, may apples, grape vines, gooseberries, ginseng and abundant fauna that aren’t inclined to eat your leg. I couldn’t identify anything edible in the woods there other than acorns and was always aware of the possibility that the thing that looks like a log in the water to the left may be hungry.
So that takes us to alligators. Alligators.
This fella lives in the swampy water hole area across the street from the hotel. Others live in the various other water holes surrounding the hotel…and on out into the community. Gators. I found myself wondering if my electric poultry netting would even bother an alligator…or what I could legally do about it if I found a gator eating my flock. The birds on the shore often just disappear. One second there’s a juvenile sandhill crane. The next second…not even a feather floating in the air.
If there’s anything I fear worse than having my leg eaten by an alligator in Florida it’s finding out my wife’s leg was eaten by an alligator in Florida. I would rather she had not taken the picture of the alligator. Before I saw the evidence, gators were just some myth the guys behind the desk in the hotel propagated to scare the tourists. Julie made it real. What if they are like velicoraptors? What if the one is just laying there in the open to get your attention while the rest of the pack hunts you silently from the shadows? Think I’m kidding? One of the locals told us they have to be careful because the alligators will warm themselves under your car. Look before you get in.
Does anybody raise chickens in Florida? Does anyone else share my entirely rational fear of alligators?
I hate that question. I work in tech. I have a hard time telling management, most of whom don’t work in tech, that I have no idea what changes are in store for my career. I don’t really see myself moving to management and if you try to explain current tech trends to HR their eyes glaze over and they just wait for you to finish talking. I like what I do and would like to continue doing it. Tech changes constantly and if I were to guess, 5 years from now I’ll still be diligently working to stay abreast of new trends, add value, etc. Looking back 5 years I couldn’t foresee the iPad. I couldn’t foresee (and still don’t really understand) Facebook. I have no idea what Microsoft will dream up next. I don’t think we’ll use keyboards much longer though.
Looking at my farm in 5 years is a little easier. I’m a little restrained by the economy and have no idea how to pay for this but I have a vision of how I would like to reshape the farm over the next 5-40 years. I have plans to add greenhouses and ponds, I have a plan for pasture grazing and improvement, woodlot improvement, establishment of new tree stands, orchards, swales and general beautification of the farm. On the topic of beautification I need to replace a number of buildings but that’s further down on the list. More water on the farm = more life. I need to build 6 or 7 ponds over the next few decades.
I plan to transition our primary revenue generation away from chickens to cattle. We haven’t begun to build our beef herd yet. I hope to divorce myself from the feed grinder as it is both dangerous and expensive to operate. Further, it’s one more thing I have to store in a shed…a shed I need to replace. Instead we’ll use dense swards of grass to harvest sunlight, earthworks to harvest rainfall and cows to cycle nutrients. It’s a terribly complicated machine with no moving parts but entirely dependent on free and continued sunlight. I plan to use a solar-powered fence charger to keep the cows where I want them.
To prevent wind and evaporation we have plans for tree plantings. These will be primarily fruit and nut trees but I would like a larger stand of sugar maples to tap in my old age. I better get started now! The fruit trees will give guests another reason to come visit the farm…another over-arching goal of ours.
Everything we do should boost biodiversity, restore the local ecology, and help nurture our community. I hope to raise big, fat cows and have room for big, fat groundhogs. We plan to leave meadows ungrazed until the ground-nesting birds have hatched in July. I hope friends and customers continue to come here seeking rest and inspiration…or at least entertainment.
We have given strong consideration to picking up a Fertrell dealership. It could happen in the next 5 years though I have a lot to learn and, again, need a shed. And a scale. And a truck. But it’s possible…
I anticipate my oldest son will begin to step up his involvement in the farm and will either relieve me of one or more enterprises or will start some of his own. At 17 he should be ready to test his wings and I plan to enable him to do so. He has always been our guinea pig so he’ll set the pattern for his siblings. Whatever they are interested in, we are interested in.
I didn’t list revenue in my planning. I can’t set financial goals outside of paying for the land and the improvements. I am not a corporation. This isn’t a machine. This is a biological process. Financial goals fit with biology like socks on a rooster.
These are, of course, moving targets. These plans will likely shift as the wife and I dive deeper into our studies of permaculture. So I guess, like tech, my farming goals aren’t entirely knowable. It’s a best guess either way. But it’s easier to keep my audience interested when I’m not explaining database index optimization strategies. Yeah.
So, there you go. The top-down view of the next X years. That question is so much easier than career planning. What about you? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Will you finally achieve your “someday“?