Free Feed

One fun part about having livestock is discovering the various ways you can put to use the various produce that others might simply discard. Goats, chickens, and even sheep are not terribly picky about what they eat. (I’d add that pigs in particular will eat virtually anything, but we have no personal experience raising them.) Especially in the dead of winter, the animals seem to appreciate getting an unexpected bit of variety in their diet. We’ve found a few ways to do this without much — if any — additional cost.

For example, this morning we stopped at Walmart to take advantage of 50% off wrapping paper and Christmas decorations. We discovered an even better deal, however: their leftover, fresh-cut trees were … absolutely free! Most people would scratch their heads and wonder what they could do with an extra tree now that Christmas is past. (Heck, I’m sure a lot of people are already taking their Christmas trees down today.) We didn’t have to wonder for an instant. The three oldest Yeoman Farm Children were with me, and our first thought was: the goats will love feasting on those pine trees. Every year, when the Christmas season is over, we dispose of our tree by tossing it into the goat pen; the animals go right at it, and before long nothing is left but the trunk and larger branches.

Fortunately, we’d taken our full-size van this morning. (It’s an extended Ford E-350, with the rear bench seat removed to give a huge cargo area.) Christmas would be coming early for the goat herd.

The store manager opened up the gate to the tree cage, we backed up the van, and then we loaded as many trees as we could fit. The manager was happy to see them go (he said they’d otherwise have to find a place to dispose of them), we were happy to get some feed for the goats (saving some hay in the process), and I’m sure the goats will be happy for some variety in their monotonous winter diet. A true win-win-win.

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Over the years, we’ve become alert to this kind of deal. Another example that almost always becomes available: surplus pumpkins immediately after Halloween. There’s a big producer about five miles up the road from us, and virtually every year they have a lot of pumpkins go unsold. It’s mostly the blemished and odd-shaped ones, but that doesn’t matter to us. They pile the things up in huge bins by the road, and charge $10 per bin. One bin basically fills the back of a pickup truck. Or, if you don’t have a pickup truck handy, it’ll basically fill the interior of a Dodge Caravan.

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The picture above is from a few years ago; I was so busy with election prep this year, I wasn’t able to get over there for surplus pumpkins. But when we can get them, we stockpile them in the upstairs part of the barn, along with the hay. Over the course of November and mid-December (until it gets so cold that the pumpkins freeze solid), we toss them to the sheep and goats a few at a time. (The Yeoman Farm Children actually have a blast smashing the pumpkins open for the animals.) As a bonus, the pumpkin seeds are a natural anti-wormer for the livestock. And the chickens clean up any scraps the sheep and goats miss.

If you keep your eyes open and learn what to look for, smaller-scale opportunities for free feed abound. For example, my oldest son and I are members of our parish’s Knights of Columbus council, and our whole family volunteers at the fish fry events held every Friday in Lent. As the evening progresses, there’s a fair amount of food waste generated in the kitchen that would otherwise have to be thrown out. Pieces of fish get dropped accidentally, potatoes and green beans get cold and can’t be served, and there’s always a lot of extra breading that doesn’t get used up. My brother Knights collect toss all of these scraps in a large box for me, and then I take that box home. It saves them some space in the dumpster, but above all it’s a nice treat for our chickens — and saves some perfectly good stuff from being wasted. We mix it in with their grain ration, a coffee can or so per day, and “recycle” those scraps into eggs.

And that’s really what all these exercises in frugality are about. The actual dollar savings to us are fairly minimal. The most meaningful, and satisfying, benefit is knowing that you’ve made good use of something that would otherwise have been wasted.

We may have to go back to town later today, to run another errand. I just hope Walmart still has some trees left. Just in case, I think I’ll take the old minivan that’s had all five rear passenger seats removed. We use it mostly for hauling animals and grain (and pumpkins!), but today it will hopefully be hauling Christmas trees.

One More Pearl Harbor Story

With today being the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, you’re no doubt reaching overload on stories commemorating the event. I’m hoping you can indulge me for a few minutes while I share just one more: our family’s.

My grandfather, Philip Gerhing, was a career Navy man. He enlisted in 1931, shortly after graduating from high school, remained on active duty until 1952, and then worked for the Navy as a civilian until his eventual retirement in the early 1970s. Growing up, my grandparents’ house was a trove of artwork and knickknacks that he’d brought home from all over the world (especially the far East).

In December of 1941, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor and serving as a “pharmacist’s mate.” My understanding is that he worked in the base hospital, assisting those who ran the pharmacy. He and my grandmother had three kids at the time: my mother (a few months shy of her fourth birthday), and her two brothers (aged five and two-and-a-half). My grandmother and the kids were living on the base with him, having come out to Hawaii on a civilian passenger ship to join him in early July.

Shortly before 8 am, seventy-five years ago, my grandfather had just finished an overnight shift at the base hospital. He was waiting for a shuttle to take him home, when he heard the drone of a large number of low-flying aircraft. He looked up, and said his first thought was: “Somebody sure did a sloppy job of painting those planes!” Of course, a moment later, when the bombs began dropping, he realized that the “sloppy paint” patterns were Japanese rising sun emblems.

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Given that he was on his way home, and home wasn’t far, he continued on. He stayed at the house for just long enough to make sure his family was alright — and then went straight back to work. He seldom talked about what he did the rest of that day, but it generally involved assisting the medical staff in treating the wounded. My mother recalls him talking about being inside, and looking up, and noticing that large chunks of the building were missing.

Meanwhile, back home, my grandmother had three small kids to protect — plus some neighbor kids, who happened to be over. She pushed a large sofa in front of the window, and tried to keep the children entertained in the midst of the attack. Bombs were falling all over the neighborhood, as the family housing units were literally right on the base. Had so many of the bombs not been duds, the civilian death toll would have been much higher. One bomb in particular landed on the house next door to my grandparents’ house; had it gone off, there was apparently enough ordinance to level the block.

One thing that both of my grandparents told me: the Japanese planes were coming in so low, they could see the faces of the pilots. By far the most disconcerting part is that many of the pilots were looking down at them and smiling as they dropped their deadly payloads.

My mother, being just three years old at the time, has only hazy memories from that day — and my grandparents didn’t talk a lot about it. But for me, while growing up, having had family at Pearl Harbor personalized the event in a way that a history book could never do. And what’s really cool is that when the attack was over, my grandparents gathered up a collection of small artifacts (mostly shrapnel and parachute fragments). My mother had a small box with these historical souvenirs, and as a kid I remember being in awe every time she would bring it out. I became a junior Pearl Harbor buff, and read everything I could about the event.

There’s another chapter to the Pearl Harbor story, which is seldom discussed: what happened to the servicemen’s families afterwards. With a war now underway, and with the assumption that Hawaii itself would be a battleground, the Navy wanted to minimize the number of civilians in the area. In the weeks after the “day which will live in infamy,” the women and children  were loaded on passenger ships and evacuated to the mainland. The journey took upwards of a week, and for my grandmother it was a nightmare. Their ship was packed with women and small children, beyond its typical carrying capacity. The kids had very little to do, and the mothers were afraid to let them simply run around; it would be too easy to get lost or fall overboard. My grandmother ended up tethering her three kids together, so she could keep better track of them.

I never got all the details from her, but by all accounts it was an absolute nightmare of a trip. What made it even worse was the sense that they were sitting ducks, alone on this boat out in the middle of the ocean, days from anywhere. There were no naval escort ships. There were no patrol aircraft. The passenger ship of course had no anti-aircraft guns or other defenses. Everyone was fully expecting Japanese forces to materialize on the horizon, and send them to the bottom of the ocean.

This article has a nice summary of the civilian evacuation. What’s interesting is that the ship mentioned in the article, the S.S. Lurline, was the one my grandmother and her kids sailed on to get to Hawaii six months earlier. (I know they weren’t on it with the subject of this article, going back to the mainland, because they had no destroyer escort like is mentioned in the article.)

As a palate cleanser, I’ll leave you with this wonderful human interest story, about the oldest known Pearl Harbor survivor who was on active duty that day. He’s 104, and a couple of years ago resolved to keep himself in good enough shape to not only live to see the 75th anniversary, but to be strong enough to make the trip to Hawaii for today’s ceremonies:
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He’s two years younger than my grandfather. Grandpa kept himself in incredible shape, and didn’t pass away until a few months short of his 95th birthday, but to my knowledge never went back to Hawaii for any of the commemorations. However, I’m sure my grandfather will be there in spirit with everyone today.