What’s Wrong With Pooh?

For all of you parents who’ve been reading A.A. Milne to your kids, here’s a new take on the books’ characters. This paper was published a few years ago in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, by a group of five developmental pediatricians, but I’ve just now stumbled upon it. Here’s how it begins:

On the surface it is an innocent world: Christopher Robin, living in a beautiful forest surrounded by his loyal animal friends. Generations of readers of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories have enjoyed these seemingly benign tales. However, perspectives change with time, and it is clear to our group of modern neurodevelopmentalists that these are in fact stories of Seriously Troubled Individuals, many of whom meet DSM-IV criteria for significant disorders. We have done an exhaustive review of the works of A.A. Milne and offer our conclusions about the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood in hopes that our observations will help the medical community understand that there is a Dark Underside to this world.

H/T: Baseball Crank.

Gotcha. Twice.

One of the more unexpected lessons we learned soon after moving to the country is that field mice, well, don’t always stay in the field. Particularly when you have a ~120 year old farmhouse, the mice are constantly finding a way in. The problem is significantly worse in the spring and the fall, when farmers are thundering through the surrounding fields with planting or harvesting equipment. But if you live in the country, you need to be prepared for mice any time of year. Even with a barn cat that likes spending a good amount of time in our basement, those mice can be very creative in getting past the gatekeeper.

After going a couple of months without any mouse activity, we’ve had one particularly brazen mouse find its way into the kitchen in the last week or so. Or at least we thought it was just one mouse. More on that in a moment.

Over the last week, nearly every member of the family spotted this particular mouse. It would use the stove’s metal propane line to climb up to counter top level, then slip out from behind the stove to the adjacent kitchen sink. Once there, it would explore for food or water until a family member entered the kitchen. Then, in a flash, it would disappear again behind the stove.

Last night, we’d had enough. Just before bedtime, I baited a mousetrap with peanut butter and set it on the counter top next to the stove. I placed it such that no mouse could emerge from the stove and bypass it.

At about 1:15am, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer awakened me. “We got it!” she whispered. “We got the mouse. I heard it snap.”

“Oh, good,” I moaned.

“But I can hear another one behind the stove,” she continued (our bedroom adjoins the kitchen). “Can you empty the trap?”

This is one of the very few errands I am happy to perform at 1:15 in the morning. Sure enough, Brazen Mouse was caught by the neck, uneaten peanut butter still filling his mouth. And I could hear something rattling around with the metal of the stove.

I tossed the mouse body out the window to the dogs, then carefully reset the trap in the same place and went to bed. When I got up this morning, I discovered we’d nabbed that second mouse; a moment later, he was flying through the same window to the dogs.

We’ll keep the trap in place for another day or two, but hopefully this has solved the problem.

Before we moved here, the idea of rodents in the house gave me a sense of being somehow “violated.” Now, setting and emptying mouse traps is just another part of life. And what’s most remarkable is how quickly that adjustment came.

End of the Line for Henny Penny

Yesterday was butchering day. We cleared out the last nine Rhode Island Red hens, and the kids had a grand old time helping me.

We color-code our hens, getting a different breed each year, so we can better tell how old the various birds are. These were in their third season of laying, which is past their prime. To be honest, I simply didn’t get to butchering them last December (though I should have), and then got too busy this spring. For the last several weeks, they’ve been in their own pasture pen so I can see just how pathetic their egg production has gotten. The nine of them were seldom producing more than three or four eggs per day, which is pretty lousy.

Helper Girl climbed into the pen and crawled around catching birds. As she grabbed each one, she would hand it through the top to me, and I would hand it to one of her brothers. Once everyone had a full load, we took all nine (holding them securely, upside down, by their feet) over to a dog cage I’d set up by the killing cone. This is the Death Row I’ve described in previous posts.

One by one, we positioned them upside down in the killing cone, slit their throats, and let them bleed to death. The kids took turns holding the hens’ feet, having first changed into their “butchering clothes”. (Which are, of course, one stage more ragged than “play clothes”. I have certain clothes that are so ragged, the instant I put them on the kids know it must be butchering day.)

As each bird died, I would load a new bird, slit its throat, and have a child hold the hen as it bled to death. I would then take the dead hen to a large pot of scalding water, dunk it several times to loosen the feathers, and then use a mechanical feather plucker to whisk all the feathers off. The plucker is a large drum, drilled and filled with over 100 rubber fingers, belt-driven by an electric motor. This thing is wonderful: it transforms a 5 minute chore into a ten second blip, spitting all the feathers out into a pile on the back end.

With the hen fully plucked, I’d pull off its head and cut off its feet. The hen and the feet went into a clean bucket of water to cool, as I went to get the next hen (which was dead by now). We repeated this process for all nine birds, and then the kids went off to play as I went inside to eviscerate the hens.

These birds are far too old to use for anything but stewing into chicken soup. I freeze each one in its own gallon Ziploc bag, complete with a pair of feet. Once a week, I thaw one and make a large pot of chicken soup. I put that into quart mason jars, and have a week’s worth of lunches ready to go. I figure these birds will last me until it’s time to start butchering the next batch of burned-out laying hens.

Yum.

Take that Dog to Vegas!

Scooter’s lucky streak continues, and I’m now considering taking him with me to Vegas, a la Rain Man.

After going AWOL yesterday morning, chasing us on the bike, there was no sign of him. As evening fell, we whistled and hollered for him. We figured if he was lost in the 80 acre corn field across the street, the noise would help give him some bearings.

But no luck. As I went out to milk the goat, I really got down in the dumps, thinking about how eagerly Scooter would always tag along, to get the few squirts of milk I always put in a bowl for him. I wondered if he was lost, or if he was even still alive.

Came out this morning to do chores, and half-expected to see that he’d found his way back in the night by listening to Tabasco’s barks. But no luck. Tabasco tagged along as I did chores, but it just wasn’t the same without Scooter.

And then, at 8:45, we got a call from our neighbor. A dog matching Scooter’s description had been hanging out at another farm all night, just a quarter mile from where he’d stopped following our bike. Overjoyed, Mrs Yeoman Farmer jumped in the van and sped over to that farm. It took her awhile to get him loaded into the van; once he saw her, he cowered and wouldn’t move. MYF thinks Scooter figured he was “busted, big time.” After considerable prodding and hoisting, he finally came.

So, he’s back. We all gathered around and made a big fuss over him, and he was soon running around the farm doing all the things he usually does. Artistic Girl and I had a long talk about making sure we don’t get too attached to the animals. I’m not sure how much that conversation sunk in, because she really likes Scooter a lot.

As for me, I’m just glad he’s home. I sure missed the way he’d tag along during chores, and help me herd the sheep to fresh pastures. Definitely gotta take him to Vegas. Definitely.

Where oh where could he be?

We’re hoping that the world’s luckiest puppy hasn’t had his luck run out. Ever since his brush with death in June, Scooter has been very good about staying on the property and simply doing his job herding livestock.

Yesterday, the kids and I acquired a wonderful tandem bike. I used to be an avid cyclist, and have been trying to find a way to get back into the sport that doesn’t include long hours away from the family. As the kids don’t yet have the bike control to ride a straight line in traffic, a tandem seemed the perfect solution. After a bit of searching on the internet, I found a solid, used, Santana tandem that was in excellent condition. Artistic Girl and I took a five mile ride last night, and she had a grand old time waving at everyone between here and downtown Loda.

Big Brother and I decided to ride the tandem to Mass this morning in Paxton, eight miles away. But as we rode off the property, Scooter spotted us and excitedly began running alongside. Both of us shouted “No!”, repeatedly, but this only seemed to egg him on. (He may be the World’s Luckiest Puppy, but he’s certainly not the World’s Smartest Puppy.)

We reached the main blacktop, a half mile from our house, and Scooter was still tagging along. I shouted more, but he made the turn with us. I actually got off the bike, shouted, swatted him, carried him back to our road, and shoved him in the direction of our house. He cowered with his tail between his legs, looking at me, as I jogged back to the bike. And as soon as the tandem was again rolling down the blacktop…Scooter was again jogging along.

I told my son not to look at him, as this might only be encouraging him, and to ride as fast as we could. Scooter was falling behind, but was clearly still trying to follow. And he never gave up.

A mile from home, I had my son dig the cell phone out of my backpack, and I called Mrs. Yeoman Farmer. She wasn’t pleased about having to come get the dog, but said she would. My son and I kicked the bike into high gear, turned another corner, and Scooter disappeared from view.

A couple of more miles up, Mrs. Yeoman Farmer pulled alongside in the van. There’d been no sign of Scooter, she said, and I didn’t know what to tell her. As Big Brother and I continued on to Paxton (now quite late for Mass), MYF drove all over our town and the surrounding countryside looking for Scooter.

We looked for him, too, on the way home…but none of us saw any sign of him. We put calls in to both the Ford and Iroquois County animal control offices, so everyone knows to contact us if a dog fitting his description gets phoned in. And he had his Ford County rabies tag in place, with its unique ID number that can be traced to us.

But so far there have been no calls, and everyone around here is really down in the dumps. Artistic Girl was particularly inconsolable this morning. Yes, Scooter is just a dog…but he’s an awfully good dog. And he’s proven himself to be an invaluable assistant when it comes time to herd the sheep. Just the other day, MYF and I were watching him work, and she observed, “Wow. He really loves doing that, doesn’t he?”

A dozen times today, I’ve looked up and expected him to be there…and he hasn’t been.

Sure hope that phone starts ringing soon.

Animal Rights Impact

We soundly reject the notion of “animal rights”; animals don’t have rights, because they don’t have responsibilities or duties. However, we as humans do have a duty to treat animals with dignity and good stewardship. A chicken gives glory to God by being a chicken; if I stuff that chicken in a cage with four other chickens and turn it into an egg-laying machine, I do not allow it glorify God as the chicken he created it to be.

The shorthand word for this is “stewardship,” or perhaps “husbandry.” We are firm believers in it, and practice it here on our farm. Interestingly, treating animals humanely yields much better produce after slaughter. And the praise and demand for our free range eggs is astounding. You simply cannot produce something this good without allowing animals to behave in the way God designed them to behave.

An interesting story in today’s New York Times gives some insights into how the “animal rights” movement, by shifting its focus in recent years, has contributed to the public’s newfound appreciation for the kinds of farming techniques we practice:

But all of these believers have learned that with less stridency comes more respect and influence in food politics. So they no longer concentrate their energy on burning effigies of Colonel Sanders and stealing chickens. They don’t demonize meat — with the exception of foie gras and veal — or the people who produce it. Instead, they use softer rhetoric, focusing on a campaign even committed carnivores can get behind: better conditions for farm animals.

In some ways, it’s simply a matter of style.

[snip]

The broader-umbrella approach is working. Take the case of Wolfgang Puck. In March, he announced that he would stop serving foie gras and buy eggs only from chickens not confined to small cages. Veal, pork and poultry suppliers will have to abide by stricter standards, too.

For five years before the announcement, Mr. Baur’s group had been pressuring Mr. Puck to change his meaty ways. Mr. Puck, in an interview in March, said that had nothing to do with his new policies. He simply came to the conclusion that better standards were the best thing for his customers, his food and the animals. But he did credit the Humane Society for his education.

The full story has much more about the interplay between the activists and professional food producers and chefs.

The gap between animal lovers and animal lovers who love to eat them is exactly what Mr. Baur, a man who eats noodles with margarine, soy sauce and brewer’s yeast and has only barely heard of Chez Panisse, would like to close.

“We’re not really in philosophical alignment,” he said. “But I like to think we’re in strategic alliance.”

Crop Subsidies

Readers of this blog probably don’t need much convincing as to the negative effects of crop subsidies, but I’ve rarely come across a newspaper article which gives so straightforward a look at how the system works. It’s not an opinion piece; it’s matter-of-fact reporting on what farmers today “must” do to be successful. Interesting (but not surprising) that “switching to sustainable agricultural practices” is not even mentioned as a possibility (let alone a “must”).

A sample of this world-view:

The modern farmer must pay as much attention to subsidy programs as the weather. There are programs that pay even if no crop is planted. Other programs also turn conventional farming on its head.

The government’s loan deficiency program, for instance, has farmers hoping for low prices at harvest, when they have the most grain to sell. It works like this: When the price of corn falls below what’s called the loan rate, usually about $2 a bushel, farmers are eligible for per-bushel subsidies, regardless of whether they borrowed money on their crop. If the loan rate is $2 and the market price is $1.50, a farmer can collect 50 cents for every bushel of harvested corn. Except he doesn’t have to sell when he gets the government money. Rather, farmers typically collect the subsidy, then store their crops for a few months until prices rise.

“That’s absolutely part of our strategy,” said Kendall Cole of Virden, former vice president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Most of us didn’t come into this game because it was low risk. You take the challenge out of it, you get lazy.”

Go read the whole article, if you can stomach it. But you might find yourself asking why, if “most” farmers don’t want the “challenge” taken out of agriculture, they don’t explore doing something other than raising all this (subsidized) surplus corn and soy that the government then needs to find and subsidize a use for (read: Ethanol and biodiesel).

I especially love some of the comments, including this one:

Farmers provide a safe stable food supply. I would say our nations food supply is worth tax dollars. A little more important than an auto shop. Did you also know you only spend about 10% of your income on food? The lowest percentage in history! Lets support our farmers who support local economies, and put food on our tables.

I’m left asking the question: why not support our farmers by paying MARKET PRICES for their produce? If prices rise, so will production. We don’t need subsidies to ensure a stable food supply. Market demand will do an excellent job all by itself.