Going Down

It’s official: I’m losing my internet service later today, due to the switch from landline to mobile phone. In fact, our (landline) home phone number started ringing on our cell phone today — but for the moment, we still have a dial tone on the landline. AT&T assures me that the dial tone will be gone soon, and with it our DSL internet. However, they’re now saying it will take until next Wednesday to reestablish internet service. This is a switch from the “single day” interruption they told me earlier.

Bottom line: I won’t be posting much over the next several days. I will be driving in to a WiFi hotspot to get coffee and check email each day, but blog posts are unlikely.

I’ll give a review of our “cutting the cord” experience once we’ve lived for a few weeks without landline service. With the cost savings ($40/month in our case, even after the cost of adding a third cell phone and $10 more for internet), this is a move that others out there might want to seriously consider.

Hay is Done!

It turns out that the hay wasn’t as wet on Sunday as we had feared. Our neighbor came over late that morning, flipped it over, and then determined that it was drying fast enough to bale later that afternoon. A contributing factor is that they had a field full of their own hay to bale, and needed to get that done Monday before Tuesday’s rains came; that meant ours needed to be cleared out on Sunday if at all possible.

A final check at 4pm proved that the hay had dried nicely in the sun, and the baling commenced. For the first load, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and her father stacked bales on the hay wagon as they emerged from the baler. The baler is quite a device; it is towed behind the tractor, but its intake for the hay is set off to the side. As the tractor drives between the raked rows of hay, the hay is drawn into the baler, compacted into a bale shape, trimmed, and emerges in a continuous feed from the chute in the rear. It is automatically tied into bales of a standard length as it comes down that chute. In this photo, the farmer has stopped the tractor momentarily to deal with a broken string.

Once this rack was filled with 80 or so bales, the farmer towed it to our barn, backed it in to the second story, and unhitched it. Then, as three people got busy unloading and stacking bales in the barn, he went back to the field to fill a second rack. We soon had a smoothly-functioning system running, with the two teams handing off full and empty racks every half hour or so.

After the first rack came in, MYF and her father opted to stay in the barn and work with the farmer’s wife to unload and stack all of the day’s bales. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening riding around in the hay field, stacking newly-tied bales on the rack behind the trailer. Joining me was an extremely hard-working 15 year old homeschooled boy from a nearby farm; his family had a lot of experience farming hay, and he had the muscles to prove it. He is also an avid hunter and shooter; we had a grand time discussing firearms and the best way to dispatch various wildlife — which made our hours out in the hot sun fly by.

With the last bale put away at 8:45, and the evening twilight beginning to fade, all of us were bone tired and ready to eat and go to bed. MYF’s father and I cracked open a couple of beers, which tasted all the better for having been so hard-earned, and surveyed the day’s handiwork: a literal wall of 465 bales of hay, stacked 15 feet high in our barn.

Because this first cutting was so early in the year, and the field is well fertilized, it’s likely we will get at least two additional cuttings. The rule of thumb is that those two additional cuttings will roughly total the first cutting. Although we can’t count the hay until it’s baled, we’re looking forward to having 900+ bales stored up for the coming winter.

No one had any trouble getting to sleep Sunday night. Then, we ended up toiling most of Monday, trying to get the remaining beds of MYF’s garden cultivated and planted before Tuesday’s expected rains. Again, no trouble sleeping last night.

It’s a relief to finally have my day of rest, even if I had to wait until today to get it. But that’s the thing about farming: you have to do things when you have to do them. And now…I’m just glad they’re done.

God’s Plans, and Ours

A few years ago, I attended a week-long theology workshop taught by a very holy and learned priest. One subject had to do with Natural Law foundations for morality, and proofs from natural reason for the existence of God. At one point, the priest posed a question to us: “How many of the Ten Commandments are knowable from natural reason alone?”

Various people threw out various guesses, ranging from “six” to “all ten.” The priest shook his head after each one, and we ran out of guesses. Then, with a wry smile, he gave us the answer: “Nine and a half.”

“Huh?” we collectively responded. “What’s the ‘half’?”

Still giving the wry smile, he explained, “We can know from natural reason that human beings need a day of rest, but we need God to reveal to us which one it should be.”

As I explained in one of this blog’s earliest posts, we’ve grown much more appreciative — and much more observant — of Sunday as a day of rest. We’re not Pharisaical about it, but we try to avoid doing any kind of hard labor or other work that isn’t strictly necessary. Livestock certainly need to be cared for on Sundays, but the garden certainly doesn’t need to be weeded and laundry almost never needs to be washed. We try to spend our time seeing and hanging out with extended family, taking bike rides with the kids, catching up on some reading, or having other families over for dinner. The idea is to avoid shopping for anything but emergency items, trying to clear backlogs of work, and other kinds of “running around”.

This weekend, an unfortunate necessity loomed over our Sunday: Haying. Thanks to a timely application of fertilizer last fall, we have a bumper crop of hay this spring. We hire a local farm family to cut it, flip it, rake it, and bale it; we assist with hauling it to the barn and stacking it. The farmer did the cutting late last week, and thanks to some hot weather it was nearly dry enough to bale yesterday afternoon.

Nearly dry enough, but not quite. The hay was so thick on the ground, it hadn’t all dried even after flipping and raking. But by his estimation, Monday might be too late; the hay could be so dry, much of it would crumble into dust and be lost.

We reluctantly decided that we’d better bale the hay on Sunday afternoon. In this case, as backbreaking and exhausting as the work is, it was necessary if we were to feed the livestock. We decided that this week, our “day of rest” would be Monday.

We decided. But, as it turns out, God had other plans. I awakened this morning, threw back the bedroom curtains, and observed a surprise: rain. Not a hard rain, but the ground was definitely wet. Going out to take care of chores, there was definitely a steady drizzle. Everything, including those five acres of neatly-raked and ready-to-bale hay, was wet. Not soaking wet. Not we’re-going-to-lose-it-to-rot wet. But definitely too wet to bale today.

Fortunately, the drizzle has already let up, and it’s supposed to be sunny and warm all afternoon and Monday. It’s not supposed to rain again until Tuesday. I suppose we’ll let the top of the hay dry today, flip it, allow the other side to dry Monday, and bale it Monday afternoon.
Regardless, it’s looking like Sunday will indeed be our day of rest this week. And thank God for that.

Starting Small

In a recent post, I advised aspiring farmers/homesteaders to “start small” in their plans for livestock. For us, that meant we should have tried dairy goats before graduating to a cow. Smaller livestock are easier to work with, easier to contain, cost less to feed, and are often more efficient at transforming that feed into meat or milk.

We got one thing right: we bought a Jersey cow, and not a Holstein. You’d have to have an extremely large family to consume the volume of milk a Holstein produces. For nearly any small farm, a Jersey is plenty — and much easier to manage.

A story in today’s LA Times highlights a number of farmers who have chosen smaller, heritage breeds of cattle.

They bought minicows — compact cattle with stocky bodies, smaller frames and relatively tiny appetites.

Their miniature Herefords consume about half that of a full-sized cow yet produce 50% to 75% of the rib-eyes and fillets, according to researchers and budget-conscious farmers.

“We get more sirloin and less soup bone,” Ali said. “People used to look at them and laugh. Now, they want to own them.”

In the last few years, ranchers across the country have been snapping up mini Hereford and Angus calves that fit in a person’s lap. Farmers who raise mini-Jerseys brag how each animal provides 2 to 3 gallons of milk a day, though they complain about having to crouch down on their knees to reach the udders.

“Granny always said I prayed for my milk,” said Tim O’Donnell, 53, who milks his 15 miniature Jerseys twice a day on his farm in Altamont, Ill.

Minicows are not genetically engineered to be tiny, and they’re not dwarfs. Instead, they are drawn from original breeds brought to the U.S. from Europe in the 1800s that were smaller than today’s bovine giants, said Ron Lemenager, professor of animal science at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Petersens’ mini-Herefords, with their white faces and rounded auburn-hued bodies, weigh in at a dainty 500 to 700 pounds, compared with 1,300 pounds or more for their heftier brethren.

Big cows emerged as a product of the 1950s and ’60s, when farmers were focused on getting more meat and didn’t fret as much about the efficient use of animal feed or grasslands.

“Feed prices were relatively cheap, and grazing lands were accessible,” Lemenager said. “The plan was to get more meat per animal. But it went way too far. The animals got too big and eat so much.”

Today, there’s little room for inefficiency on a modern farm, and that has led some farmers to consider minicows.

You should, too. Go read the whole thing.

The overall lesson in here for aspiring homesteaders: don’t think you need to get the “industry standard” of whatever livestock is out there. I’d add, in a vein similar to that of the article, that Giant White turkeys might make sense for Butterball, but are lousy homestead animals. Heritage breed turkeys are usually much more practical.

But that doesn’t mean smaller is always better. White Leghorn chickens are very small, and are highly efficient at transforming feed into eggs, which makes them perfect for packing into concentration camp egg factories — but we tried letting a few run around our farm and we hated their temperament (and there was almost zero carcass left for chicken soup when we butchered them). Likewise, our friends who raise hogs have much preferred heritage breed pigs to the breeds raised in confinement in Iowa, even though the body sizes are similar. And if you’re going to be raising an animal which is already smaller by nature (i.e. goat versus cow), there is no need to keep going smaller. Pygmy goats, for instance, are cute and make nice pets, but I wouldn’t rely on them for my family’s meat or milk supply (unless we were trying to do stealth farming in an urban environment).

Paging Jeff Culbreath: Would you like to post a comment regarding the merits (and drawbacks) of Dexter Cattle? I didn’t see the breed mentioned in the LA Times story.


As I pulled up to the house at about 6:30 this evening, I spotted an animal running erratically along the shoulder of the road about 50 feet or so ahead. It was roughly the size of a large cat, but I’d never seen one of our barn cats that far off our property — and certainly not running along the side of the road in this manner. Not able to get a better look at the animal’s markings, I dismissed it and turned into the driveway.

As Mrs Yeoman Farmer used a hose to water newly-planted bushes in the front yard, I went inside and began cooking dinner. A moment later, she came running into the house with an urgent request: “Get your gun! There is a sick, rabid-looking raccoon wandering around in the street.”

So that was it. No wonder I hadn’t been able to recognize the animal at first — raccoons are never out in the daytime, and they certainly never run around like this one was. Unless, of course, they’re rapid.

I dashed upstairs, grabbed the 12-gauge pump shotgun we use for home defense, and then hurried out to the road. The raccoon had now crossed to our side of the street, and was looking as disoriented as ever. Two cars were coming, so I stood just off the road. Strange as I must have looked, standing there holding a large shotgun, neither car so much as slowed down to get a better look at me. Once both had passed, I raised the shotgun to my shoulder, lined the coon up, and blasted.

Because rabid animals are known to charge and attack, I hadn’t wanted to get too close to my target. As a result, I didn’t score a direct hit with enough of my nine pieces of 00 buckshot to kill the coon. He was definitely wounded, but still on his feet.

I racked another shell into the chamber, and took a couple of steps toward him before firing again. This blast took him off his feet. As he rolled around on the shoulder of the road, I knew he’d never survive these wounds — but I wanted him all the way dead. Now.

Except there was a small problem: another car was coming. I stepped back from the road, sheepishly holding the shotgun in my arms, wondering if the driver was at all curious as to what I was doing. If he was, he didn’t indicate it by slowing down. Once he was safely past, I racked a third shell and again approached the coon. As he was now unable to charge me, I got to within about ten feet before letting go with my final shot — and this one left no doubt.

MYF and I were both concerned about leaving a dead rabid coon on the side of the road, especially with the propensity our dogs and cats have for poking around and exploring. And what would happen if some scavenger cleaned up this carcass? Could the disease spread wider into the local wildlife population? Plus, we weren’t sure if the game department needed to be informed about the situation.

I made a quick call to the local Department of Natural Resources, and the woman I spoke with assured me that there was no need for them to catalog the kill. Coons are terrible spreaders of disease, she said, and I shouldn’t hesitate to dispatch them any time they come on our property. As for this one, she told me, I could either bury it or carefully dispose of it in the trash. I chose the latter. After donning latex gloves, I dropped the carcass into a large paper feed bag and then secured it in the trash can. And then washed my hands thoroughly.

What I still can’t get over is how totally nonplussed the drivers were as they went past me. As one who grew up in a quiet Seattle subdivision, and lived in fairly densely populated neighborhoods for most of my adult life, I can imagine the utter panic (and calls to the police) that would have ensued if I had walked any of those streets with a 12-gauge pump shotgun over my shoulder.

It really is different out here. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Cutting the Cord

One of the few positive things about an economic downturn / recession is that it exposes and leads people to eliminate unnecessary expenditures from their lives. By analogy, a leaky faucet, which we may have once tolerated and put off repairing in normal times, will quickly find itself getting fixed when there is a drought and water is rationed. In a recession, many of the “leaking faucets” in our budgets are now coming under closer scrutiny. I’m not a trained economist, but my hope is that, as we all work to eliminate those expenditures, the system as a whole will become more efficient.

Here on the farm, we’ve begun going after our own “leaking faucets.” One small one: I realized that every broadcast television program I want to watch is now streamed over the internet. There was no longer any reason to pay Dish Network $5.99/month for local channels, so I ditched those this week. And when our contract with Dish is up later this summer, I will quite likely cancel that whole service.

A bigger leaking faucet, that we’re eliminating today, is landline phone service. At $60 per month for local and unlimited long distance (more like $67 after all the taxes and fees), this didn’t seem like a bad deal when we moved here. But Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I both have cell phones, with plenty of “family share” minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling. For the last several months, as I’ve written my check to AT&T, I’ve grown to increasingly view the landline as a redundancy.

MYF and I did our homework, thought the decision through, and concluded that we should add a third cell phone to our plan, so we could always have one parked in the house — and we would transfer our existing home phone number to that phone. Cost for that third line is $10/month. And without a landline, AT&T will charge us an extra $10/month for high speed internet. But that still puts us ahead by $47/month.

We’ll be making that transition today, and the internet will be disrupted for a day or two as AT&T adjusts our service. Blog posting will therefore be sparse for awhile, and there may be a delay in my moderating any comments you post.

One interesting thing about planning for this transition: I hadn’t stopped to think lately about how dependent I am on internet service, and how much anxiety I’d feel about being deprived of it for even two days. Fortunately, I was able to identify a couple of days where I wouldn’t need it for work. I will be able to drive in to a WiFi cafe to check email during the day, but that is quite some distance from our house and I won’t be going often. I’m trying to see the break in internet connectivity as an opportunity to (1) examine and reflect upon my degree of attachment to the service; and (2) get outside and take care of some projects on the farm.

Both of which are pretty good. And maybe I’ll identify a few more leaking faucets while I’m at it. How about the rest of you? What have kinds of budgetary leaking faucets have you eliminated over these last several months?

UPDATE: When I made the call to pull the trigger on porting our landline over to the new cell phone, they gave approval…but said it will take until May 28th to actually go through. So, it looks like I’ll have uninterrupted internet service until then. There is no technological reason why AT&T couldn’t release the old landline number to my new Sprint cell phone today. They’re simply trying to milk eight additional days of landline service out of me. And, yes, this makes me all the more glad about my decision to dump them.


We got some great news over the weekend: my novel has won a bronze medal, for best 2008 religious fiction, in the Independent Publisher (“IPPY”) Book Awards. Although Independent Publisher magazine has not yet disclosed the number of titles that were competing in that category, there were a total of 3,380 books entered across all 65 national categories — an average of 50+ per category.

According to the sponsor, the “IPPY” awards are conducted annually to honor the year’s best independently published titles. The “IPPY” Awards reward those who exhibit the courage, innovation, and creativity to bring about change in the world of publishing. Independent spirit and expertise comes from publishers of all sizes and budgets, and books are judged with that in mind. All independent, university, small press, and self-publishers who produce books intended for the North American market are eligible to enter titles copyrighted or released in 2008.

All I can say is: I’m very honored that the novel was judged to be near the top of its category. But what makes me even happier are the messages of appreciation from those who have read the book and found themselves moved or inspired by the story. If this award helps the book find its way into the hands of even one more such person, that’s the only thing I really care about.