On the Other Hand

The responsorial psalm at Mass this morning was from Ps. 138: “Your right hand has saved me, O Lord.”

After repeating this response a few times, Homeschooled Farm Girl (HFG) got a puzzled look on her face, leaned over, and whispered a question: What does his left hand do?

I almost burst out laughing, but then realized that she was serious. Because HFG is left handed, this is a natural question. And one that I think is best to leave for Mrs Yeoman Farmer (who is also left handed) to answer.

Going Batty

Last night, it was approaching 11pm. I was nearly sound asleep, as were Forest Puppy and Homeschooled Farm Girl. As I lost consciousness in the master bedroom, Mrs Yeoman Farmer was in the boys’ room getting Big Brother tucked in.

Suddenly, the master bedroom door flew open. MYF announced, “We have a bat in the house!”

Groggily, I sat up and tried to assess the situation. “Huh?” I groaned.

“A bat,” she repeated. “In the boys’ room! I saw it come in!”

I groaned again, dragged myself out of bed (having gotten just enough sleep to ensure I’d be wide awake for a long time), and dressed. Remembering a story MYF told me once from her childhood, I asked if we had any tennis rackets; Big Brother assured me that we did, and told me exactly where I could find them in the barn.

The tennis racket idea is simple: you can’t hit a flying bat with a broom, because the bat will sense that large object and change directions at the last minute. But a tennis racket is entirely different: the bat’s radar (or sonar, or whatever) goes right through…so he continues on course and dies without ever knowing what Grand Slammed him.

Note that I have nothing against bats. We had them in Illinois, and I’ve seen them flying around inside our barn in Michigan. They’ll reportedly eat hundreds of pounds of mosquitoes in a night, and after watching them circling our security light in Illinois I believe it. And I’m not advocating breaking any local laws protecting bats. I’m just saying that when there’s a rodent in my house that’s possibly carrying rabies…I’m getting my tennis racket first and asking questions, um, never.

MYF showed me where she first spotted the bat; apparently, it managed to squeeze in through a closed window, and plopped on the floor. Of course, by now there was no sign of it anywhere in the room. Dressed in gloves and armed with two tennis rackets, I stood guard as MYF moved Forest Puppy to our bed and then began searching the room. Naturally, we didn’t turn up any trace of the bat no matter how hard we looked. The dang things can squeeze into any little place, and for all we knew it was inside the baseboards or under a dresser.

We had Big Brother sleep on an empty bunk in his sister’s room, and we sealed off the boys’ room. In retrospect, under ideal conditions, we should have left windows open all night to let the bat out — but my primary concern was not allowing more bats in. And, as it turns out, it was better the windows remained shut: we got quite a bit of rain overnight, and the carpet would’ve been soaked.

This morning, there was still no sign of the little critter. I checked all around the eves outside the window in question, but couldn’t find traces of a bat colony he might have strayed from. In the meantime, the boys’ room remains shut tight. After nightfall, we’ll see if the bat emerges and starts looking for a way out. If not, we’ll repeat last night’s sleeping arrangements until we’re sure he’s either gone or has likely starved to death.

How Did the Human Race Survive without the FDA?

Today’s Chicago Tribune brings an excellent (and balanced) story about raw milk, including a graphic showing where it is legal and where it is illegal. The story is especially helpful because it not only quotes Sally Fallon (of the Weston A. Price Foundation, of which we are members), but also gives us this nugget from the other side:

“Raw milk is inherently dangerous, and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any reason,” said John Sheehan, director of the FDA’s Office of Plant and Dairy Foods. “There is absolutely nothing to the claims that it is this magical, mystical elixir that cures all.”

Talk about finally showing their true colors! Kind of makes you question how the human race managed to survive for so many centuries, without the “benefits” of a process that cooks milk to death and primarily exists to allow big dairy companies to efficiently combine milk from various mega-herds — and bar entry to craft dairies who might like to compete by offering a healthy alternative to Big Milk. Thank God for the FDA saving us from such a fate.

Raw milk has been a godsend for our family, and our Saanen dairy goats are among the most valuable animals on the farm. Too bad that in order to get raw milk, you pretty much have to own your own dairy animal.

But for those contemplating a move to the country, and who might be wondering what kind of business to go into: Note that the Illinois raw milk producer quoted in the story gets TWELVE DOLLARS a gallon. With limited supply, prices skyrocket. Dairy is a tough business, because the schedule is so unforgiving: those animals must be milked twice a day, at particular times, and the milk must be handled with great care. It’s no day at the beach, and you don’t get days off. But the potential rewards for niche markets such as raw milk can be substantial.

Three More!

Amazingly, our flock’s lambing percentage has surged above 200% this year. Homeschooled Farm Girl burst into my office a moment ago with big news: Nera has had triplets, just like her sister Licorice did a few weeks ago. All three of these triplets are males: two black and one brown.

No triplets since our first year of lambing (2003), and now two sets in the same month. Incredible. This makes fifteen lambs from seven ewes, and just one death. With one ewe left to deliver, even if she only singles, we’re still guaranteed a 200% average for the full flock.
Looks like we should have a whole lot of lamb in the freezer this winter. And a whole lot of wool to send to the fiber mill.

Queen Sheep

As promised, here is a better photograph of Dot and her new lamb:

Saturday was shearing day here on the farm, which made for a hectic weekend. But with temps now in the seventies, Dot and the rest of the flock are much more comfortable without their heavy winter coats.

Homeschooled Farm Girl and I figured that because Dot had only one lamb, and her udder is larger than that of any other ewe in the flock, it might be interesting to try milking her. It took a bit of cajoling, but we managed to get Dot secured in one of the goat stanchions yesterday. We quickly discovered that milking a sheep is quite different from milking a goat. The teats are much smaller, and it was hard to get a good milk flow going. I found that if I squeezed half of her udder gently with my left hand, elongating it to resemble a football (with the teat at the bottom), I could wrap my right thumb and fingers around the teat and get the milk coming out fairly well. I managed to get about two or three cups from her, and was careful to leave plenty for her lamb.

I don’t think we’ll be going back for more of this stuff. It was barely tolerable on my cereal this morning, and is so thick and creamy it really ought to be saved for cheese. But since we only have one ewe we can milk, and getting her into the stanchion is such a production, it’s not really worth the effort. But it was a fun little Sunday project, and HFG and I got some quality Daddy-Daughter time out of it.

Dot’s Swan Song?

Dot, our queen leader sheep, is now nine years old. She’s getting around more slowly, but is still definitely in charge of the flock. Last year we were holding out hope that she might “lamb for the cycle,” and deliver quadruplets (after supplying twins, a single, and triplets in the past). This year, we were just happy she delivered at all. Nine years old isn’t over the hill for an Icelandic sheep, but it’s “getting up there.”

Yesterday morning, she had a beautiful little ram lamb she was licking off. As the day went on, she was again proving herself one of the best mother ewes; she’s always been significantly more protective of her brood than other ewes, and quicker to challenge any child or dog that even comes close to one of her lambs. It was a beautiful thing to watch today; I just hope we get to see it again next year.

I apologize for the poor picture quality; this is what a phone-based camera gets you in a poorly-lighted barn. Better photos will follow.

Confederate States of America

I’m not usually one to watch documentaries on the Independent Film Channel, and particularly not documentaries under the direction of Spike Lee. But last night I stumbled upon the movie Confederate States of America, and it was both fascinating and thought-provoking.

The premise is that the South won the Civil War, thanks to foreign intervention by the French and British. Confederates took over the entire USA, sent Lincoln into exile in Canada, and then established slavery in the “reconstructed” North.

What’s fascinating is the way it’s framed: it’s a faux-documentary, supposedly produced by a British Broadcasting service, presented as if being shown for the first time on Confederate States of America (CSA) television. As we watch, we view it literally as a modern Confederate would: just like on any television broadcast, there are commercial breaks, where we see news updates, advertisements for slavery-related products, and plugs for other television shows (especially funny is the parody of “Cops,” which is instead called something like “Runaway,” and is about tracking down escaped slaves). The “documentary” traces the history and development of the nation since 1864, with some hilarious manufactured historical footage — often very cleverly doctored versions of actual materials. There is also a modern political candidate who’s an identical twin of David Duke; no idea where they found that actor, but he was cast perfectly.

The problem is that, being a Spike Lee film, it tries too hard to make us believe our modern racial tensions are really not much different from what they’d have been if the Civil War had turned out differently. As the film’s website tells us (in case we missed some of the more ham-handed rhetoric in the movie itself):

We arrive to a today that, in many ways, we recognize. Although a nation that is content and prosperous, there is a tremendous divide within and suspicious eye without. Current politicians refer to us as two countries and perhaps, other than geographically, there is no difference between Red and Blue or North and South states. We have always struggled as to whether we are the United or Confederate States of America.

And, as the the Director explains:
In many ways, the South did win The Civil War. Maybe not on the battlefield, but they won the peace. They won the fight for their way of life. The North changed, not the South. . . . Maybe the history of the “C.S.A.” would not be all that different from the one we have known – some differences, perhaps, but not a complete counter history.

I find this preposterous, and I had a very different reaction. I kept thinking, It is really remarkable how much better our country is than the CSA depicted in this movie. We are incredibly lucky that the Union won the Civil War. Particularly when watching the advertising for slave-related products and other television programs, the contrast with today’s America is striking. I also couldn’t help thinking about Jerimiah Wright’s “God Damn America” and “U.S. of KKK-A” sermons, and why so many Americans find them so deeply offensive: Wright is describing a country in which the South won the Civil War…a country like the one portrayed in this documentary — and that’s a country that does not now exist in reality.

I was also struck by the CSA leaders’ obsession with racial purity and identity, and that was probably the most personally thought-provoking. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, mixed-race marriages and children were extremely rare; I never would’ve dreamed that I’d marry a black woman. Up until 1967, our marriage would have been illegal in several southern states. That may sound like a long time ago, but it was only a year or two before Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I were born. Who could have imagined that less than thirty years later (literally just a generation), we’d be spending the first year of our marriage in one of those states…and welcoming our first child just a stone’s throw from where some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place? And getting only a few funny looks the whole time we lived there?

My sense is that the increasing number of mixed-race marriages is both symptomatic and a cause of the underlying change in race relations that’s taken place over the last generation in this country. Symptomatic because such an intimate relationship cannot take place unless individuals are willing to look past outward appearances and get to know each other deeply as co-equal human beings. The increasing numbers of mixed-race unions indicates, I think, that increasing numbers of people are getting past skin color in just that way. And families like ours are in turn causes of improved race relations in two ways: (1) as an outward sign and signal to others, particularly within families (think of how many people have come into close contact or friendship with members of another racial group as a result of a family member’s marriage); and (2) we’re muddying the gene pool so thoroughly, the practical distinctions between racial groups are dissolving at a rapid pace. Eventually, as one former pastor told us, so many people will be carrying so many traits from so many different groups, we won’t have race hatred because we won’t have races and therefore won’t have racism. That may be overstating things (and, to be fair, I’m paraphrasing his words), but I think the general sentiment is on target. And though we’re far from a completely mixed-race society, the process is clearly underway and already bearing fruit.

To all those who think race relations are unchanged from the 1950s, or that our nation’s history would not be “all that different” if the South had won the Civil War, or that this is “the U.S. of KKK-A”: please stop by our farm, and stay for dinner and some conversation. We’re living in a very different country from the one you’re imagining, and would like the chance to share that perspective with you.

Enigma Delivers

Homeschooled Farm Girl and I came out to the barn to do chores, and had a nice surprise waiting for us: Enigma had delivered a beautiful little male lamb. I came back about an hour later, and discovered that lamb now had a twin sister.

Enigma was one of the first lambs born on our property, and is a twin sister of Bianca (who, by the way, is doing an excellent job with both of her lambs this year). We gave her that name because her markings look like jigsaw puzzle pieces. When Enigma had a daughter with similar markings a few years back, we named her Conundrum. The male lamb we kept as a breeder got named Dilemma. We’re now sort of running out of “puzzle” names, but as all these lambs will be butchered (they’re too inbred to keep for breeding this year — we need to get some fresh blood this fall), they’ll all be named variations of “Lamb Chop.”