Just Another Sunday Morning

We were looking forward to a particularly easy-going Sunday morning this week; we’d gone to Mass the evening before (very unusual for us), and didn’t have anything on the schedule before mid-afternoon. I figured I’d sleep in, and then spend some time in front of the fireplace.

Mother Nature had other plans, and proved that “farmers never get a day off.” Out in the barn, I got hay for the sheep and fed the chickens. Then, as I took hay to the goats, I spotted something very odd: a smallish white body of some kind of animal, laying under the hay feeder. My first thought: it’s a dead cat. Then, an instant later, I remembered that we have never had any white cats. A wild animal? Nope. Possums are the only white animals I can think of, and this was definitely not a possum.

Finally, my brain kicked into gear: STUPID. It’s a GOAT KID. One of the does obviously gave birth in the night, and this is where she deposited the kid.

All the goats were swarming me, trying to get the hay that I was still holding in my arms. I feared that if I filled the hay feeder the goat kid was under, the herd would trample the kid to death. So, brain now fully engaged, I filled the feeder at the other end of the goat area first, drawing the herd away from the kid. With the herd distracted, I filled the other feeder and then snatched the kid into my arms before any adult goats could get close.

Fortunately, the kid was alive. She’d been laying so still, and looked so dirty and neglected, that hadn’t been clear it first. Now came my next two tasks: (1) see if there was a twin laying around somewhere else, and (2) identify the mother.

A quick scan of the goat area revealed no twin. But identifying the kid’s mother proved more difficult. The kid was now bleating (which I took as a good sign of life), but none of our does was responding. And they were doing so much swarming and fighting over the hay, none was standing still long enough for me to get a good look at their backsides. At last, I found a young doe (Holly) with dried blood on her haunches — but it looked like it’d been a while since she’d delivered. Her udder and teats looked tiny, and she wouldn’t stand still for me to see if any milk had come in. Worst of all, despite the kid’s insistent bleating, Holly seemed oblivious to her.

Being only fifteen degrees outside (and about 25 degrees in the barn), I decided to take the kid into the house and confer with Mrs Yeoman Farmer. We put her in a box next to the fire and let her warm up a bit, and sent Little Big Brother [with Yeoman Farm Baby’s arrival, he’s not “Little Brother” anymore] upstairs to rouse his siblings. They weren’t happy about getting out of bed initially, but eventually came tromping down excitedly to see the new kid.

Our biggest concern: how would we handle the logistics of our herd? Holly and her newborn kid needed a separate place where they could bond and she could focus on taking care of the little one, but we already had two older kids in the kidding pen, in the process of weaning so we could milk their mother (Button). If we just turned those two older kids back into Gen Pop, we’d lose the morning’s milk. The two oldest Yeoman Farm Children volunteered to go out immediately and milk Button, and we decided that the kids could then stay with her in Gen Pop for at least the next 24 hours while Holly adjusted to motherhood. Perhaps Monday night we would put the two older kids back in the kidding pen with Holly and the new arrival, and see how that went. (The YFCs were of course pleased to realize they wouldn’t have to milk again before Tuesday morning.)

So, the YFCs and I headed for the barn. We took Scooter the Amazing Wonderdog with us, to help move Button’s kids out of the kidding pen — and move Holly into it. I got Holly a nice clean bucket of warm water with apple cider vinegar (as a good overall tonic), and a little bit of grain (to aid her milk production). As the YFCs began milking Button, I smashed ice out of the sheep water trough and goat water trough (both were frozen solid), then thawed the faucet and refilled both water troughs to the brim.

After taking the milk into the house, Homeschooled Farm Girl and I turned our attention to Holly and the new kid. The kid was still just laying in the stall’s bedding, and Holly was showing no interest in anything but eating. We wanted to make sure that the kid (and Holly) figured out the whole nursing thing, and that the kid got a good meal, before we left them to their own devices. HFG held Holly still, which allowed me to finally do a good inspection of the goat’s udder. There was definitely milk in there, but it was way up high and felt hard. I gave the udder a thorough massage, and HFG managed to express some milk from the tiny teats. She guided the kid to a teat…and Holly pulled away. HFG got a new grip on Holly, and I focused on keeping the kid on the teat. To get low enough, and at the right angle, I had to basically lay in the stall’s soiled bedding…but the kid did eventually get a good first meal. As the kid suckled, HFG and I had a nice conversation about goats and milking and cats and everything else that HFG likes to talk about. Which is many things.

Our mission accomplished, the two of us headed to the house so we could finally have some breakfast. After breakfast, with my prospect for quiet “Sunday morning time” in front of the fire long gone, I went out to the solitude of my office for a bit. About a half hour later, I heard the farmhouse door closing and wondered where the YFCs were going (and why). Ten or fifteen minutes after that, I got my answer: HFG appeared at my office door with good news. She’d just been to the barn, and the new kid was finally up and on her feet. And she was nursing on her own — and Holly was standing still for her to do it, and sniffing the nursing kid just like all the other mother goats do.

I thanked HFG for the update, and praised her initiative in going out to check on the new kid. And asked her if she’d like to take my camera to the barn, so we could share some photos of the new arrival with all of the blog’s readers.

HFG happily agreed to carry out that task. She brought back a nice photo of the kid:

And of Holly taking good care of the kid:

Just another Sunday morning on the farm. Just another day when you have no idea what to expect.

A Time to Plan – and Dream

One of the few fun things about winter on a farm in Michigan is spending time poring over catalogs and planning for the upcoming growing season. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer is the farm’s designated gardener, and she loves sketching out which beds will be used for which plants. The task involves rotating certain plants into different beds, and making sure that certain plants are not grown in certain other beds. She also needs to decide roughly which week/month each bed will be planted, so I can make sure I’ve hauled and spread manure in the right places early enough for it to break down and be worked thoroughly into the soil.

MYF has a core of seed companies that she likes to order from (see the blog’s right margin for links), and spends hours comparing prices and varieties in their respective catalogs. Just a couple of days ago, we ordered our seed potatoes (this coming year we hope for a large enough yield so we can keep our own seed for 2011 — with the adoption of Yeoman Farm Baby this last year, we didn’t get the potatoes watered enough, and the yield barely covered our eating needs).

I have no less fun making plans for livestock. How many new laying pullets should we get? How many broiler chicks? Ducklings? Goslings? Turkeys? Which breeds? How should we stagger them, to ensure enough chicken tractor pens are available inside for brooding — and available outside to move them into once they’re feathered? Do I need to build more tractors? Which hatcheries have the best deals on which birds?

If you’ve never raised chickens (or other poultry) before, I highly recommend McMurray Hatchery as your first stop for shopping. They are one of the most experienced, and widely regarded to be one of the best in the business. And their variety of birds is staggering; if you can’t find it in McMurray’s catalog, you’ll probably only find it from a preservation center like Sand Hill  or other highly specialized breeder (Magpie ducks come immediately to mind – we liked the breed, but had to get them from Holderread’s Waterfowl Farm in Oregon). Anyway, the McMurray Catalog is tremendous fun to browse and let your dreams run wild. You can view everything online, and I recommend going online to place your order, but we personally like the experience of holding that full-color catalog in our hands and thumbing through it. You’ll also find excellent advice for getting your new birds started. And McMurray has one of the best poultry guarantees in the business. Their birds are excellent, healthy, and when something tragic happens in shipping they make it right.

However, all of that service, and the beautiful catalog, and the top-notch website…comes with a price. McMurray’s prices tend to be significantly higher than from other suppliers, especially when you factor in shipping. A good lower-cost alternative we’ve been happy with is Cackle Hatchery in Missouri. They don’t have the same fancy chicken selection, their website isn’t slick, it sometimes takes a really long time to get through to them on the phone, their printed catalog is all black-and-white … but they have most anything a small farm would want to raise. They have a good selection of the most common laying breeds, a good broiler meat chick, and all the heritage turkeys and waterfowl breeds we’ve wanted of late. An especially good deal, if you’re not choosy, is their “surplus rare turkey” package, where you can get a box of 15 or 20 heritage turkey poults that are left over from when the orders for specific breeds have been filled. Cackle’s prices are great, and their shipping charges are very reasonable.

Here in Michigan, our local feed store has an even better deal: they send a large combined order to a hatchery that’s just a couple of hours away. This yields a bulk discount, no shipping charges, and no interstate shipping stress for the birds. Best of all, the feed store has a special deal: for each 50# bag of chick starter you buy, they’ll give you ten free broiler chicks. Since the feed costs $8.50 per bag, and the ten chicks would normally cost $10.00, this deal is beyond a no-brainer. Anyway, this particular hatchery’s selection is very basic, but covers most of what we want to raise.

I’m thinking we’ll get 30 or 40 of those broiler chicks, 25 Black Australorp pullet chicks ($2 each), and 20 White Pekin ducklings ($2.75 each). We can easily brood up to 100 chicks in one of our tractor pens, so we’ll put the broilers and pullets into one pen; the ducklings will get a separate pen. All these chicks come in to the feed store on April 7th, so they should be ready to go outside the first week of May. Because the local hatchery doesn’t have heritage breed turkeys, and their goslings are $2 more expensive than Cackle’s (even after taking shipping into account), I’ll order 16 goslings, and a box of 20 surplus rare turkeys, from Cackle to arrive in early May just as the brooder pens are being cleared out; the goslings will go in one and the turkeys in the other. (By ordering all the Cackle birds at the same time, we get a big break on shipping.)

Longtime blog readers know that we color-code our layer chicks, so we know how old each one is; after two years, it’s time to put them in the freezer and soup pot. Last year, we raised Buff Orpingtons…so the Australorps will be easy to distinguish from them.

I’ll probably have to build a couple of more tractor pens for the garden, but that’ll be a fun project to do with the Homeschooled Farm Children…and we’ve built so many of them now, they come together quickly.

Lots of things to plan. Lots of things to dream about. Lots of fun in the year ahead.

Truly Marvelous Eggs

In a recent post about eggs, I noted that a researcher from Iowa State University appeared on a History Channel program and declared that there is no nutritional difference between eggs from caged hens and free range hens. I’m not sure what evidence she was basing that conclusion on, or if she’d been comparing “caged” to “cage free” hens which all ate the same commercial layer ration diet, or what; one of the weaknesses of television is it doesn’t allow much depth and nuance. I noted that my gut told me that conclusion couldn’t be correct — and, thankfully, commenter Sara directed me toward the necessary evidence.

This article from Mother Earth News is outstanding. Their nutritional testing concludes that:

Most of the eggs currently sold in supermarkets are nutritionally inferior to eggs produced by hens raised on pasture. That’s the conclusion we have reached following completion of the 2007 Mother Earth News egg testing project. Our testing has found that, compared to official U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for commercial eggs, eggs from hens raised on pasture may contain:

• 1/3 less cholesterol

• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

These amazing results come from 14 flocks around the country that range freely on pasture or are housed in moveable pens that are rotated frequently to maximize access to fresh pasture and protect the birds from predators. We had six eggs from each of the 14 pastured flocks tested by an accredited laboratory in Portland, Ore. The chart at the end of this article shows the average nutrient content of the samples, compared with the official egg nutrient data from the USDA for “conventional” (i.e. from confined hens) eggs.

And later in the article they do address the sorts of misleading statements that the Iowa State University researcher made in the Modern Marvels program. Go read the whole thing.

I should mention that here in Michigan there is very little for our free range hens to forage on in the winter. They do eat our table scraps, but we must supplement their diet with layer ration from the feed store. We hope to remedy this in the future by growing more “winter keeper” feeds such as pumpkins, mangals, and other squashes that can be broken open for our hens when the pasture is gone.

Thanks again to Sara for directing me to this article.

Marvels of Eggs

One of our kids’ favorite television programs is the History Channel’s series, Modern Marvels. We’ve seen nearly every episode, and each one provides a remarkable amount of educational content — while remaining entertaining and engaging.

Last night, a brand new episode aired, and it was about…eggs. As many Modern Marvels do, they began by showing the modern, industrialized production models — basically, taking the viewer through a massive facility in Iowa and explaining the way in which 98% of eggs find their way to market. They then move on to alternative production models, showing the differences between “cage free” and “pastured”; the segment about Eatwell Farm in California, raising hens on pasture is beautiful, and an inspiration for all of us who are trying to keep livestock in a holistic manner (rather than by declaring war on nature). Later in the program, they explore different ways in which eggs are packaged, shipped, and consumed by end users.

They did their best to paint the industrial egg plant in as good a light as possible, but what struck me was the number of times the narrator had to explain that a given practice was “in accord with [SOME OFFICIAL-SOUNDING GROUP OR ORGANIZATION] guidelines.” I think that’s because, really, the concentration camp production model strikes most human beings as an affront to decency and the good stewardship with which animals ought to be treated. And I couldn’t help laughing at the Iowa State University researcher who looked into the camera and solemnly declared that there are no nutritional differences between factory eggs and free range pastured eggs. It may indeed be true when subjected to a scientific analysis, the different kinds of eggs have identical levels of various enzymes and vitamins. But aren’t “health” and “nutrition” about more than that? Does anyone really believe that a hen kept in close confinement with six other hens, allowed roughly 67 square inches of space, who never sees the light of day, and is fed a diet laced with low-level antibiotics to keep her from getting sick…can really produce from her body a fruit that is as healthy as what comes from the body of an active hen who spends her days ranging freely on pasture? (I discussed this issue, including my conversation with a USDA meat inspector who has seen what the hens look like when they’re done laying and heading to the processing plant, some time back here.)

Anyway, I highly recommend watching this episode; chickens are so integral to most small farms, it’s good to get a look at the variety of ways in which eggs are produced and used. Unfortunately, the History Channel isn’t scheduled to run it again any time soon; if I do see it pop up on the schedule, I’ll post an alert on the blog. In the meantime, I understand that Modern Marvels are available for purchase and download through the iTunes store. This is something I have zero experience doing, and can’t even figure out how to post a link to the relevant page over there, but if you’re an iTunes user you may want to give this a try.

Finally, speaking of eggs, look what I found in the barn this morning:

Yes, one goose egg, one duck egg, and one chicken egg (we’ll get many more chicken eggs this evening). This is the first duck egg we’ve gotten in several months, so hopefully our Cayugas are kicking in and getting ready for some serious production. I thought you’d enjoy seeing the difference in size, and what they look like straight from the barn.

Goose Eggs

For those interested in the productivity of geese as egg layers, I have some preliminary numbers. Today we got Egg #12 from our yearling Embden goose; she was hatched last April, and this is her 20th day of laying. Goose eggs are so big, a single one makes a meal for an average person (and when cooking, we treat goose eggs as we would two or three chicken eggs).

We’ve enjoyed goose eggs for many years, but I’ve never before been able to keep track of a single bird’s productivity; in the past, we’ve always had multiple geese laying at the same time in the same area. But as far as we can tell, the yearling Embden is the only one currently laying. We’ll keep you posted on her production, but so far we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve been getting — especially given how bitterly cold it’s been here in Michigan, and the number of days the birds have been totally confined to the barn.

Helping Out

As you no doubt have been, our family has been astounded at the magnitude of devastation in Haiti. Because I haven’t been there, and don’t know anyone on the ground, I can’t add anything to what you’ve already read or seen about what’s going on in Port-au-Prince. But I would like to share this brief anecdote:
Yesterday morning, I was at the customer service desk at a Whole Foods in Ann Arbor; “Whole Paycheck Market” isn’t exactly my shopping destination of choice, but there is precisely one kind of formula (lactose free, soy free, and free of high fructose corn syrup) that the recently-adopted Yeoman Farm Baby can consume…and, as you might guess, there is exactly one place around here that sells it. [As a quick aside: YFB is thriving on that formula, and at a recent visit our pediatrician told Mrs Yeoman Farmer “Whatever you’ve been doing — keep doing it.”] Anyway, we placed a special order for a case of the stuff, which entitled us to an excellent discount.
As I was waiting for the clerk to bring my case of formula out from the stockroom, a woman entered the store and went straight to the customer service desk. She explained to the manager that she wanted to make a donation to Haitian earthquake relief, but that the Red Cross had told her it would take weeks for them to process all the online donations they’ve been receiving. She’d heard that Whole Foods had a program where you could donate money for Haiti right at the register, upon checkout, by adding some amount to your total bill. Her question: was it possible to simply make a donation, without making a purchase? And would that donation be processed immediately?
“Absolutely,” the manager replied, and rang her $25 donation up as a “sale” right there on the same register she used to collect payment on my case of baby formula. She explained to the woman that donations in this region go to an excellent organization called AmeriCares, and that the money would be available to them the next day. After making payment, the woman thanked the manager and left the store.
I didn’t say anything to the manager or to the woman who made the donation, but I called Mrs Yeoman Farmer as soon as I got back to the car. Both of us were nearly in tears, and only partly because of the depth of this particular woman’s generosity (and the fact that she’d made a special trip to Whole Foods just to make a donation). It was something much more than that: the fact that Americans are such a generous people, and so quick to help, that even in the depths of a severe economic recession…the Red Cross needs weeks to process all the donations they are receiving. What an amazing country this is! Is there any other place in the world where people open their hearts (and their wallets) so spontaneously in the wake of tragedy?
I couldn’t help remembering the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when it seemed that half the country was lining up to donate blood. If memory serves, the Red Cross and other organizations received so much donated blood, and there were (unfortunately) so few survivors in NYC who could use it, they actually put out a statement discouraging additional blood donations; they simply couldn’t use all they’d received before it would go bad.
Anyway, I mention this because I may have some readers out there who are still wondering what they can do to help (and have been discouraged by reported backlogs at the Red Cross). Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I would like to suggest two outstanding charities, to whom we have contributed in the past:
Food for the Poor, Inc is an absolutely terrific organization. Their primary focus is on providing “goods in kind” to those in third world nations. We especially like them because they provide the means that impoverished people can use to support themselves, rather than just giving food that is consumed once. (Think “teaching a man to fish” rather than just giving him a fish; these folks supply the fishing poles.) Their Gift Catalog is lots of fun to browse; you can donate $90 to provide a goat to a family, or $205 to provide a water pump…or any number of other amounts, to supply any number of other things a family could use to climb out of poverty. I’m not sure exactly how the funds from their Haitian special appeal will be deployed (how many goats and how many water pumps, or whatever), but we trust that the contribution we made to that appeal earlier this week will be put to the best possible use. And, interestingly, Food for the Poor is the charity to which Whole Foods will be forwarding customer contributions made in certain other regions.
The Catholic Medical Mission Board is another organization we have helped for many years. Their mission is to “work collaboratively to provide quality healthcare programs and services, without discrimination, to people in need around the world.” The only reason we didn’t respond to their Haitian appeal is that Food for the Poor contacted us first and we’d already given all we could give. But if you’d like to make a donation that you know will go directly toward treating those injured in the quake, you cannot go wrong with this organization. And, according to their website, a generous donor has agreed to match any donation up to a total of $50,000. So, donate to them and your money will go twice as far.
This afternoon, as we were watching news footage from Haiti, Homeschooled Farm Girl was waxing philosophical. “I sort of wish I was there,” she said. “And I’m sort of glad that I’m here. Do you know what I mean?”
“No,” I replied. “Tell me about it.”
“I mean,” she continued, “If I was there I could help all those people.”
I explained that ten year old girls couldn’t do much to help. They needed big strong men to clear rubble. And she would probably get sick if she went to Haiti.
“But I’m strong!” she reminded me. “I can milk a goat! And I could probably milk a cow.”
“Yes, you are strong,” I smiled, and decided to play along. “Maybe you could go to Haiti, and take some of our goats with you? And milk them for the people down there?”
“Oh, yes!” she replied, her face lighting up. “I could take Button, and Marigold [two of our milking does]. And maybe I could take Calico [a barn cat] and Peaches [a kitten living in the basement of our house] with me, too.”
“The goats would be good,” I told her, “But why take cats with you? They wouldn’t do much, would they?”
“No,” she admitted, but then explained her thinking: “But some people down there might like cats.”
Yes, indeed. I bet a lot of people down there in Haiti like cats, and are sad that their cats have been crushed by falling buildings.
Too bad my little Cat Girl can’t go and comfort them all…

Farewell to Mean

Homeschooled Farm Girl is the consummate cat lover. She has named pretty much all of our barn cats, plays with the barn cats, draws sketches of our barn cats in her spare time, and has been put in charge of feeding and tending the litter box of the two kittens that dwell in the basement (and which I tolerate for the sole reason that they catch field mice before those mice make their way into the pantry). By contrast, I am a dog person and enjoy having both dogs in my office all day long as I work. I tolerate felines to the extent they provide a useful service (e.g. catching mice), but otherwise cannot be bothered with them. 

HFG is our early warning radar, alerting us if anything goes wrong with any of the half-dozen or cats. She is the first to notice when any feline goes missing, or when any of them is acting sick. Predictably, she was the one who came to us yesterday afternoon with a concern about a barn cat named Mean (who, yes, had a littermate named “Nice”…but, just to confuse things, as they grew up “Nice” became mean and “Mean” became nice. I suggested they swap names, but HFG would have none of it). Anyway, it seemed that Mean had recently gotten injured in some way. HFG brought Mean to my office, and I took a look at the injury. I couldn’t tell exactly what was wrong, but the cat was definitely having problems. She smelled especially awful, was meowing like she was in pain, and she had something weird sticking out of her rear end. It looked almost like what happened to one of our geese, several years back, when the goose laid her first egg and the whole oviduct came out with the egg. (I had to butcher that goose.) But Mean had been fixed, so I knew it had nothing to do with reproduction.

Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I had a quick conference. I contended that the barn cat wasn’t worth anything, and that we shouldn’t expend any resources on saving her. MYF insisted that we need to be good stewards of all our animals, and sometimes that means doing things that don’t make economic sense. With doe-eyed HFG looking on, and me wrapped tightly around HFG’s little finger, I caved quickly.

The nearest veterinary clinic has evening office hours, so MYF offered to take the cat in at 6pm. She obviously had to take Yeoman Farm Baby with her, and I was grateful that Homeschooled Farm Boy offered to go as well, to help hold the cat (allowing HFG to remain at home with me and Little Brother, rather than at the vet clinic to hear what I assumed would be a bad prognosis). Around 7pm or so, I got The Call from MYF. When her first words were, “Is [HFG] with you?”, I knew the news couldn’t be good.

Turns out, it wasn’t. The cat had a prolapsed rectum — indeed, not unlike the prolapsed oviduct that our goose experienced. The condition could theoretically be repaired with (expensive) surgery, but even then the vet said she couldn’t make any promises about Mean’s prospects. MYF was inclined to have the cat euthanized, and I quickly seconded the suggestion. MYF then explained that the cost would be $15 if we simply had her put to sleep and took the body home for disposal — and another twenty bucks if the vet clinic had the body incinerated for us. (Long-time readers will recall that in Illinois, we were quoted $35 for incinerating the 90# body of a dog that got hit by a car.)

Naturally, my first question to MYF was: “Can’t you just bring the cat home so I can shoot her myself?”  I had to put an injured cat down about three years ago; it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but a bullet only costs twenty cents. MYF gave a half-chuckle, and explained that a few minutes earlier, when the vet had come in to explain the options, Homeschooled Farm Boy’s first question was: “Or, can’t we just take her home and have Daddy put her down?” To which I replied, proudly, “That’s my boy!” MYF muttered something like “No kidding,” but then raised her objection to the plan: she was concerned about the potential trauma for HFG of bringing the cat home alive, seeing the cat, seeing me take the cat behind the barn, hearing a gunshot, seeing me carrying a dead cat back from behind the barn, etc. MYF feared that this experience might drive a wedge between me and HFG, especially given that my dislike of cats is well known in the family. The bottom line: MYF didn’t want me to be established in my daughter’s mind as “Cat Killer.”

Fair enough, I replied. But why not just bring the cat home and let me “take care of it” that very night, in the dark, without telling HFG anything about it? What would we owe the vet if we did that?

MYF put the phone down and asked a few questions. As it turned out, if we had the cat euthanized the total charge for the night would be fifteen bucks. But if we took a live cat home, we would be charged twenty bucks for the office visit and evaluation. Go figure! “That’s a total no-brainer. Have the vet put the cat to sleep and bring the body home,” I told her. MYF agreed, and said she’d have it taken care of.

Our children have grown accustomed to animals being born and animals dying, but it’s always much harder on them to lose a dog or cat than it is to lose a chicken or duck. As we waited for MYF to come home from the vet, HFG disappeared. My “daddy” instinct kicked in, and I told Little Brother to entertain himself downstairs while I went up and looked for HFG. Sure enough, I found her in her bedroom, looking very sad. I sat down, had her sit in my lap, held her tight, and told her it was okay to cry if she wanted. And when the tears did come, I kissed them and told her everything would be okay, and that we should all be thankful for having had such a wonderful barn cat as Mean.

MYF’s instincts also kicked in. She stopped on the way home from the vet at the video rental store and picked up three movies (one that each child especially likes) to watch over the next couple of days. That preemptive gesture seems to have helped, because all three kids did surprisingly well yesterday evening — and woke up in surprisingly good spirits.

And, no doubt, when I go out this afternoon to butcher some old laying hens…HFG will be the first to ask if she can help cut their throats and pluck their feathers.

That’s my girl.

The Return of Yeomanry

Phillip Longman is up with an excellent piece at MercatorNet, discussing underlying reasons for the comeback of small scale farming and manufacturing…and where these trends may take us in the future. Longman touches on many themes near and dear to this Yeoman Farmer, including:

This word “yeomanry” is now obscure in English, and may be impossible to translate into many other languages. But particularly in America during the 18th and 19th century, it stood for a clear ideal of human organization, which was small-scale production centered on a self-sufficient family unit.

One of America’s most prominent founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, for example, wrote frequently the superior virtue of the country’s then substantial yeomanry, which mostly comprised family farmers who owned their own land and small family business owners. Jefferson’s vision of America’s future was that widespread family ownership of small scale productive would remain the dominant form of social and economic organization, and that the influence of both Big Business and Big Government would be held in check.

Since then all manner of social philosophers in many different traditions and different generations, have articulated and defended this vision. It was the dream for example, of Pope Leo XIII. It was also the dream Bulgaria’s Alexander Stamboliski and the other leaders of Eastern Europe’s mostly forgotten democratic “Green” movement, who in the aftermath of World War I reconfigured the former Austro-Hungarian Empire by redistributing royal lands and converting tenant farmers into self-sufficient freeholders.

But until recently, real-life yeomen could be and were dismissed–often violently. Joseph Stalin, for example, made short work of Eastern Europe’s land-holding peasant class. During the 20th century, both capitalists and communists, for different reasons, were hostile to the idea of a property owning, prosperous peasantry. Capitalists wanted agriculture to be industrialized, while Communists wanted it collectivized, with both opposed to any possible third way. For both Capitalists and Communists, the future would be one of ever greater division of labor and increasing economies of scale, with the family stripped of nearly all productive function.

Yet today there are signs that the yeoman ideal of small-scale ownership and production, having already out-survived communism, maybe be poised for a big comeback around the world. This is not to predict the end of globalism, if by that we mean simply high levels of interconnectivity. But it is to suggest that for reasons of technology, demography, culture, and efficiency, big is no longer necessarily better and the yeoman has a chance.

Later in the article, Longman talks more about agriculture in particular. The whole piece is definitely worth a read.

H/T: Zach Frey.

Back in Gen Pop

For those who have been following the saga of Henny Penny, our intrepid Buff Orpington who made up her mind to hatch a brood of chicks out of season, yesterday brought a new development: I decided to move her back to Gen Pop from Ad Seg (that’s prison lingo for “general population” and “administrative segregation.”). She’d been in the upstairs (hay loft / basketball court) portion of the barn, confined to a 4′ x 8′ chicken tractor with her brood since mid-November. The chicks are now seven or eight weeks old, fully feathered, and no longer need her body heat to stay warm even on the bitterly cold (single digit temp) nights we’ve been having here in Michigan. And even if they did need her body heat, they’re now much too large to fit under her wings. She liked playing mother hen, and clucking the brood around the pen, but I could tell she was getting cabin fever with the confinement. Once I dropped her through the trap door and into the main portion of the barn, she went running off without so much as a backward glance.

The chicks, however, are going to remain upstairs for awhile. The big issue is water: they aren’t big enough or coordinated enough to jump onto the edge of a bucket or 40 gallon water trough and get themselves a drink. In the past, we’ve had many chicks their size plop right into the bucket or trough and drown. At this age, they really ought to be taking their water from a ground-level dispenser, and the big ones freeze solid within hours of being filled up. The six of them don’t seem to mind hanging out together in the upstairs pen, and I can easily keep them supplied with a quart jar of warm water each morning. Even though their jar freezes each night, it’s a simple matter to take it in the house, thaw it in the sink, and refill it for them.

Water is definitely the biggest struggle on a farm in the winter. We’ve never been comfortable with the electric water heater units that can be placed in big troughs of water; it may be an irrational fear, but there’s something about placing an electrical appliance directly into water that makes us nervous. And at least in the sheep area (which the ducks and geese and chickens also have access to), we can go through 40 gallons of water before it freezes. The big problem is getting the faucet and hose unfrozen, so we can fill the trough back up. It is critical to disconnect the hose as soon as you finish using it, and drain all the water out before winding it up; otherwise, the water freezes in the hose and the whole thing has to be taken to the basement of the house to thaw. The faucet, on the other hand, always freezes solid. Fortunately, it’s very close to the ground, so only a small portion is sticking up and needing to be thawed. About every other day or every third day, I take a quart of very hot water out to the barn and pour it over the faucet until enough internal ice melts and it can be opened. Sometimes it requires a bit of shaking to dislodge the rest of the ice, so the water can flow freely, but we’ve always been able to get water eventually.

Simply having a barn with water is a huge blessing, and if you’re looking for a farm of your own this is definitely a feature you should check on. Our old farm did not have water in the barn, meaning we had to carry five gallon buckets from the house; needless to say, this got real old real fast in the dead of winter. (We had a rainwater collection system to supply the animals with water in the summer, but had to drag a hose from the basement if the rainwater ever ran out.) If, for some reason, we ever had to move to a different farm…I’m not sure I could go back to having a barn without running water.

With weather reports indicating another arctic blast is coming in tonight, I’d better stop typing and get started actually filling water troughs and battening down the hatches in the barn…