Tonight at dinner, Mrs Yeoman Farmer (MYF) muttered: “I wonder how many kids will be out tomorrow dressed as Hillary, with a broom.”

Before I could say anything, Eight Year Old Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) cut in: “But Hillary Clinton is much too [AIR QUOTES WITH FINGERS] ‘fancy’ to be sweeping with a broom.”

MYF and I disolved into uncontrolled laughter, doubled over and practically banging our heads on the table.

“What?” HFG asked. “What’s so funny?”

Nothing, honey. We’ll explain it later.

Ingesting Unnatural Stuff

When your kids are allergic to nearly everything on the supermarket shelves, it really does change the way you think about the myriad things we put into our bodies. My diet still isn’t as “natural” as it ought to be (I confess to grabbing McDonald’s hamburgers and Fritos corn chips in a pinch), but since switching to raw milk at breakfast, and lunches of nutrient-dense soups made from our own livestock, my health has improved markedly. I hate to think of all that McDonald’s food I put away as a teenager; I loved the stuff, but can’t help thinking about how it impacted my growing and developing body. I guess I’m just glad that our kids have been enjoying such an incredibly wholesome diet from their earliest ages.

Confirming my suspicions about disparate impact of various things on younger people, last night NPR had an excellent story about the ways in which steroids are particularly damaging to teenagers. As Dr. Michael Miletic explains, compared to a thirty year old professional athlete taking steroids, for teenagers “[T]here is a significant difference, because of the continuing development both physically, developmentally, emotionally, and neurologically in adolescents. Things are still rapidly changing within an adolescent’s brain and body; therefore when you introduce something to that body which is changing in such a rapid way, you’re going to have unpredictable effects on all those systems.”

My first thought: why do schools crack down so hard on student athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs…but remain silent about — and in some cases actually encourage — adolescent girls who employ hormone-based contraceptive pills and patches? I’m not a physician, but it seems logical that nearly everything Dr. Miletic says above can be applied as readily to contraceptive pills as to anabolic steroids. It’s one thing for a thirty-year old woman to take these things; it’s quite another for a fifteen year old girl, whose system is still maturing, to be manipulating her body with synthetic hormones. And if you read the medical literature closely enough, you will find plenty of examples of the side effects that hormone-based contraception can cause. As one physician told me:

We had one girl who had a condition called pseudotumor cerebri. This can arise as a consequence of using OCPs [Oral Contraceptive Pills] to treat painful or irregular menstruation in adolescent and teenaged girls. It’s not a cancerous tumor but they are these little masses that lead to very difficult to manage headaches. Also I remember a 22 year old girl we had who had a stroke. She was a smoker and even though she hadn’t used OCPs in 2 years, the only conclusion they could come to was small clots caused by the years of hormone use.

I find it particularly interesting that when it comes to steroid use by high school athletes, no one is saying “Well, the kids are going to do it anyway. We should let them take the steroids, but under a doctor’s supervision, so they can do it as safely as possible.” No, rather than even tacitly condoning unhealthy behavior, we assume that the kids will respond rationally to the mix of incentives and penalties placed before them. Why, then, do we assume these same kids are such uncontrollable little animals that it’s acceptable to manipulate their still-developing endocrine systems with synthetic hormones…as long as it’s in the name of “safe sex”?

I’m all for zero tolerance toward anabolic steroid use; kids engaging in this kind of dangerous and self-destructive behavior ought to be punished as severely as possible. But in our rush to clean up student athletes, let’s not overlook the significantly more widespread other uses and abuses of synthetic hormones being undertaken by high school kids with still-developing bodies.

Carbon Emissions

In all the debate about “global warming” and the degree humans may have contributed to it through carbon emissions, there is seldom much discussion about the amount of carbon that nature herself puts into the atmosphere. And I think that’s because we so seldom see images like the one below — and, when we do, we usually don’t think of them as “carbon emitting events.” And we forget that fires like these burn all over the globe, every year. If anyone has come across a rigorous scientific estimate of how much carbon was released into the atmosphere by these California wildfires, and how many automobile engines (or whatever) this translates into, I’d be interested in seeing it.

Given the enormity of such natural contributions to global warming (not only through carbon emissions such as volcanoes and forest fires, but also by increased solar activity), I remain deeply skeptical about the human race’s ability to affect climate much beyond the margins. But let’s stipulate for a moment that man’s carbon emissions do have some impact on climate, and let’s even stipulate that this impact is more bad than good. But in making our grand calculations of “our share,” let’s remember something else: human beings extinguished those California fires and thus prevented a great amount of additional carbon emissions. Imagine how much more carbon would’ve been released without our efforts; indeed, before human settlement, imagine how much more of those forests burned every year when the Santa Ana winds blew in.

How much of a “carbon offset credit” does the human race get for that?

More on the Farm Bill

National Review has an excellent editorial today, blasting the new farm bill:

For a long time now, federal farm subsidies have rewarded farmers for producing far more than they can profitably sell. Removing the subsidies would precipitate a painful downward adjustment for the nine percent of farming operations that receive roughly 54 percent of the payments, but sustaining them year after year exacerbates the costs of overproduction: the gross inefficiencies, the environmental degradation, and, of course, the redistribution of billions of tax dollars to farm families whose incomes are well above the national average.

The piece goes on discuss some of the alternative and competing proposals that have been introduced in Congress, but my sense is that this train is unstoppable. Why? The editors nail it precisely, with this:

The benefits of farm subsidies are concentrated in the hands of just a few farmers, who accordingly have an incentive to organize and lobby Congress. The costs, by contrast, are widely distributed. This political calculus means that there are powerful forces behind the status quo. With the current farm bill set to expire, the farm lobby has already won over the House of Representatives, which passed a new farm bill back in July. Barring any surprises, the Senate Agriculture Committee will follow suit today.

My congressman, unfortunately, is one of the biggest cheerleaders for the new House bill. I tend to agree with his positions on nearly every other issue, but on this one we definitely part company.

Shearing Day

Yesterday was sheep-shearing day at the farm. To answer the most obvious question first: No, we do not shear the sheep ourselves. After watching it done just one time, we quickly decided that was a skill we did not need to acquire. It’s hard work, wrestling the sheep into the correct position, and requires a lot of experience to master. For the small flock we have, it makes much more sense to bring someone in a couple of times per year. Besides, with fleeces as nice as our Icelandics produce, we want someone who will bring them off the animal in as good a condition as possible. And it doesn’t cost that much per animal to have them shorn, anyway.

Icelandic sheep are shorn twice per year. The spring fleece is almost always bad; imagine a heavy winter coat that’s received lots of wear and abuse. If we’re lucky, we get one usable fleece. The rest become mulch in the vineyard. (If we really wanted to take up felting, the spring wool could in theory be used for that. Mulching is a whole lot easier.) Fall fleeces are the best, and include wonderful soft wool from this year’s lambs.

The day begins will all three of our kids, plus Scooter the Amazing Wonder Dog, driving the entire flock into a small diamond-shaped area that joins four quadrants of the pasture. The four of us humans fan out across the pasture, behind the flock, and get them to bunch up. Scooter takes it from there, helping us drive them into the central area. Each wall of that diamond-shaped area is a gate; by closing three sides tightly, we can drive all the sheep in and then close the remaining gate.

Next, we run about 200 feet of electrical extension cord from the barn down to this area. (Next year, at our new property, we’ll be able to do all this in the comfort and shelter of the barn itself!) Lisa the “sheep shearing lady” (as our kids have dubbed her) sets up all her equipment, and then goes to work on the first member of the flock.

She begins by cutting off all the nasty matted and dirty wool in various places on the underside of the sheep. She then skillfully buzzes off the entire rest of the fleece; if the sheep doesn’t thrash around too badly, the fleece all comes off in one piece. And it is a beautiful sight to behold.

Meanwhile, as each shorn sheep rejoins the flock in the holding area, Scooter continues to stand guard. His presence insures they stay bunched up — and out of Lisa’s work area.

We ended up with 16 very nice fleeces this year, which we will send off to a fiber mill for processing into yarn. (Or, since the mill is in Canada, I guess that would be “fibre” and “proh-sessing.”) Someday, perhaps at our new property, Mrs Yeoman Farmer hopes to get a weaving loom — so she can begin using this yarn for some really beautiful crafts.

As Malibu Burns

I’ve been following the latest round of Southern CA wildfires with particular interest, as they are burning areas where I spent a lot of time when in graduate school. The Santa Clarita/Canyon Country/Agua Dulce blaze is on the way from LA to where we lived before moving here. And the Malibu fires are raging across canyons where I spent many hours doing long distance cycling. It’s among the most beautiful territory in the country, and hard to describe what a thrill it is to climb those narrow switchbacks while all the time looking out on the Pacific Ocean. Watching the news this weekend, every time they’d mention a road or landmark, I would remember the many times I’d ridden on that road or past that landmark. And now, it was a wall of fire.

Did it make me glad to be out of there? Sure. But it also brought back a lot of memories from those days, when the biggest concern in my life was what time I could clock going up Tuna Canyon Road.

But there was one small detail, mentioned almost as an afterthought in one of the news stories, that has been most thought-provoking for me now:

Lisa Clunis, 17, was among dozens of volunteers who hauled horse trailers to Malibu and helped residents in canyons evacuate their horses and livestock.

Sheriff’s deputies summoned the volunteer crew at 6 a.m. Its first task was evacuating 60 horses from Sycamore Farms to a site farther from the fire’s reach.

A volunteer corps of livestock owners, standing by and ready to rush into the fire zone at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning…to help other livestock owners! The story said nothing more about Miss Clunis or her fellow volunteers, leaving us to use our imaginations to fill those details in. For me, it was a powerful affirmation of the universality of the “livestock fraternity.” Should some natural disaster strike our area in the heartland, I have no doubt that unaffected farmers in area would stop by and help us secure our sheep and goats; it’s just what people do around here. And when somebody’s cattle have escaped and are out on the road, you stop and help the rancher get them back in the pasture.

But what this story indicates is that such a spirit is not just an “Illinois thing,” or a “rural America thing.” I think it points to a deep spirit of fraternity among livestock owners, wherever they live. When you get up every morning and invest so much of your time and attention in husbanding an animal or group of animals, it really does change the way you think about livestock generally and the other people who raise them. You identify with their challenges and crises. You realize that you share something in common — and it’s not just a “hobby” or an “interest.” Not to make this too mystical, but it’s an investment of yourself that these animals require, and you know that the other farmer/rancher has made the same investment of self. It may be a different animal, or a different breed of animal, but it’s the same spirit and the same fraternity.

I have no doubt that even if the only vehicle available to me had been our minivan, I’d have been yanking the seats out and doing what I could to help transport some Malibu animal to safety. And I wouldn’t have thought twice. I’d just hope the grateful owner of that animal would help me clean the mess out of the back of the van before Mrs Yeoman Farmer discovered what I’d done.

One other quick thought: Miss Clunis is only seventeen years old —yet look at the maturity and sense of responsibility she has. Take a stroll through the typical urban or suburban high school, and how many of those kids do you think would be up at 6am on a Sunday morning, ready to help others? (I know I wouldn’t have been.) There are many ways to raise a child to be this responsible, in any sort of environment. But from what I’ve observed in the last six years, kids who’ve grown up in 4-H and have habitually shouldered the responsibility for nurturing livestock…tend to grow up into some of the most responsible and mature young adults we’ve known.

Upon Further Review…

The sale stands! Our buyer called this morning to tell us that they will, in fact, be able to complete the transaction and purchase our house. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is that we should be moving on or around December 1st. It’ll probably take several trips, but that’s the target to put everything in motion.

The wonderful news came midway through an urgent novena we were making to St Jude, begging that he help get this transaction back on track. Looks like the remaining days of our novena will be lifted up in thanksgiving…and in asking that everything continue smoothly. Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I will probably not exhale the collective breath we’ve been holding until the money is actually sitting in our checking account.

But we’ll still be reciting the Te Deum in our house tonight.