Passages

Spring is always a time of new beginnings on the farm, and that’s certainly been true this year. In early March, before Spring even officially got here, we had over a dozen goat kids born. It’d actually been a long drought; the kids were way overdue. We woke up the morning of March 6th, still with zero kids. By the evening of March 7th, we had SEVEN. Two sets of twins, and our first-ever set of triplets. Over the course of the next week, the rest of our goats delivered. They ended on the evening of March 13th, with another set of triplets. Here they were, trying to warm up in my office, the morning of March 14th:

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One of the males was very strong and went right back out to his mother. The female unfortunately had been born in very poor shape, and she didn’t make it past the first day. The other male was in-between; he was in poor shape, but just strong enough to pull himself to his feet, stand, and take a few steps at a time. He stayed in my office for several days, hanging out with the dogs. I actually grew adept at bottle-feeding him at my desk, while checking email. (The Yeoman Farm Children were bottle-feeding a couple of others, out in the barn.)

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To say we had our hands full was an understatement. We certainly didn’t need a dozen goat kids; what we really wanted was the milk, and a few females to keep as replacement milkers. One of our goats in particular, Button, was getting really old (she was our last surviving goat to have made the move from Illinois nine years ago), and had been looking especially worn out after this most recent kidding.

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer got in contact with the woman who serves as the goat coordinator for our county’s 4-H program, to see if they had any interest in our males. (The Yeoman Farm Children themselves haven’t participated in 4-H; we think it’s a fine organization, but we’ve simply had too many other things going on.) The goat coordinator was delighted and relieved to hear from us. As it turns out, they’d been unable to get kids this year from the large goat producer who usually supplies them. With the weird weather last fall, it seems everyone’s goats had gone into heat late. That meant kids were late this year. She had a long list of 4-H children who were wanting goat kids to raise; MYF’s call had come just in time.

All our goat kids are mixed dairy breeds, which is fine for our purposes, but it means the males don’t get especially large – and they’re not especially valuable as breeders. So, we let seven of the males go for ten bucks each. We gave away the frail one for free. And we even threw in what was left of the milk replacer that we’d bought.

All told, financially, we barely broke even (the 22# bag of milk replacer alone cost over $50) — but that wasn’t our goal. We wanted those bucklings gone, and we wanted to help out some local children. Above all, we wanted the milk. And are we ever getting milk: at least six quarts at each milking. That’s twelve or thirteen quarts a day. (Yes, that’s more than three gallons.)

Our eldest daughter, who’s taking a year off after graduating a year early from high school, has basically turned the kitchen into a cheese factory. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer has been assisting, especially with the hard cheeses; her press has been running more or less non-stop.

As if that weren’t enough, March decided to truly go out as a lamb: on the very last day of the month, we had our very first ones of the year born. FletcherBelle delivered a healthy set of twins (a male and a female), and has been doing an excellent job raising them.

FletcherBelle Lambs 2017

We had another set of twins born two days ago; in fact, they arrived while I was out in the barn taking care of early-morning chores. The female was very strong, and immediately thriving. The male was barely alive, and looked like he hadn’t fully developed in utero (his eyes, in particular, were badly deformed). I wrapped that one in a towel, took him to my office, and made him comfortable in a box near the furnace. I also held him in my lap from time to time. We knew he wasn’t going to make it, but got some satisfaction from knowing his few hours with us weren’t spent abandoned on the floor of the barn.

It hasn’t all been joy and rebirth. Life is a cycle, and we’ve had some sad reminders of it lately (much sadder than the loss of a couple of newborns). A week ago Sunday (March 26th), we lost our very oldest animal, a sheep named Conundrum. She was nearly thirteen years old, and the last couple of winters had been difficult for her. She hadn’t produced a lamb in a while. In recent weeks, she was getting more unsteady on her feet. We really should’ve butchered her last fall, but none of us had the heart to do it — she’d just been with us so long, and was such a fixture in the flock.

Conundrum had the distinction of being our first lamb born to a ewe that’d been born on our property. She arrived on a Saturday morning: April 17, 2004. I was in California, on a business trip, when I got the call from Mrs Yeoman Farmer. I remember being so happy, and so proud, I wanted to pass out cigars to my clients at our meeting. I can’t find any pictures of her as a lamb, but this was her as a yearling:

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And this was her in the Spring of 2014, at the age of ten, with the last two lambs she produced (she had a premature stillbirth the next year, and did not lamb last year).

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She’d been especially unsteady on Saturday, despite the extra attention we’d been giving her. I checked on the flock late Saturday, before going to bed, and she’d seemed alright. Then, when I came out the next morning, I found that she’d left us sometime overnight. Hauling her body out of the barn was terribly sad, but I was grateful she hadn’t lingered in pain. And I did give thanks for all that she’d provided us over her nearly thirteen years.

We closed out that week by losing Button, our oldest goat. As I mentioned above, she’d been tired – and having twins had taken a lot out of her. She was still nursing her female, and we weren’t taking any additional milk from her; our idea was to keep this female as Button’s replacement, and build her as strong as we could by letting her take as much milk as she wanted. Button had seemed to be holding her own, despite being tired, but sometime in the early hours of Saturday … she wasn’t able to keep going.

I found her when I came to do chores that morning, and quickly moved her body from the barn. Our eldest daughter was very fond of Button, and I knew she wouldn’t want to find her like this. She’d want to remember her the way she was, like in this photo from nearly seven years ago (note the lopsided horns – Button was always getting herself stuck in fences, so we trimmed the right horn back to make it easier to free her):

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Disposing of the bodies of dead animals on the farm is always a challenge. Digging graves for mature sheep and goats is tough without a backhoe, so we prefer to give them a “Viking Sendoff” (minus the boat). Early last week, one of the Yeoman Farm Children and I built a large pile of logs and tree branches, and placed Conundrum atop it to incinerate her remains. This past Saturday, we did the same for Button.

It’s a bit sad: we’re down to exactly two animals, both of them sheep, which made the move with us from Illinois at the end of 2007. Soon there will be none. But that’s all part of the cycle of life on a farm, I suppose.

And it’s certainly something to contemplate as we bottle-feed Button’s beautiful little orphaned doe kid, and think ahead to when she’ll be producing kids — and milk — of her own.

Easter Sunday Surprise

Hope all of you had as nice of an Easter as our family did. We enjoyed spectacular 68-degree weather over at my father in law’s house; Homeschooled Farm Girl and I took full advantage of it and got out on our bikes for a 26-mile ride. Most of all, we had a great time hanging out with family and soaking in the sunshine.

We got home around 7:30pm or so, and I went more or less straight to the barn. Several of our sheep have been looking painfully pregnant and wanting to deliver, as was one of our goats. There were still no lambs, but the goat (Thistle) was lying down like she was in labor. She wasn’t yet actively pushing, so I did the rest of my chores and made a mental note to check her again later.

“Later” didn’t take long. After about 30 minutes of trying to relax with an NCAA tournament basketball game, I was interrupted with news from HFG: Thistle had the head of a goat kid sticking out of her, and the delivery wasn’t making any progress.

I hustled to the barn. HFG and I took a closer look at Thistle’s rear end, and quickly discovered the problem. In a normal delivery, the kid’s forefeet come out with the head. This kid’s little hooves were nowhere to be found. It was just his head. I tried gently tugging on his head, but he was clearly stuck. With his feet not leading the way, his shoulders were too big to make it into the birth canal. Fortunately, the kid was moving his head, so we knew he was still alive.

There’s only one way to fix this problem: reach in and find his front feet. I rolled up my sleeve, slipped my hand into the birth canal, and worked my way down the kid’s chest. Thistle was extremely unhappy, but I told her she could thank me later. Finally, I found what I was feeling around for: a leg. I pulled it up, and worked the hoof into the birth canal with the head. Then I put my hand back in and did the same with his other leg. HFG and I tugged on this package of head-and-feet, and an instant later the whole kid was out. While I was at it, I pulled the afterbirth out as well.

Thankfully, the kid was alive. I put him near Thistle’s head, but she wasn’t interested in licking him off. Way too tired. HFG and I took him in the house, and washed off all the barn gunk (and slimy amniotic residue) that we could. He was still kind of slimy, but reasonably clean. I wrapped him up in a raggedy old bath towel, and started drying him off.

We took him out to my office building, still wrapped in the towel. As we watched more NCAA basketball, I continued drying him off. He was pretty tired, but seemed healthy. No broken or twisted limbs. Good size. Responsive.

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The yellowish amniotic gunk was proving to be pretty stubborn, and wouldn’t come off with a simple toweling. Normally, the mother goat would do this job. Figuring that “a tongue is a tongue,” I set him down on my office floor to see what the dogs would do. Floyd, the border collie, immediately sprang into action (the livestock care / herding instincts these dogs have is unbelievable). Floyd began licking the little kid all over. Aggressively. From every angle.

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After a while, I was able to stand the kid up. His legs were steady enough so he could remain standing for Floyd’s clean-job:

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Floyd was especially interested in getting at the bloody umbilical cord stump:

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While Floyd continued working, HFG and I went back to the barn to check on Thistle. She hadn’t gotten up, so we helped her to her feet. She stood just fine, but didn’t seem interested in walking around or eating. I brought a bucket of clean water to her. She drank some, but not much. From her size and lethargy, it was pretty clear there was another goat kid still to come — but she wasn’t acting like she was in a hurry to push it out. I gave her 10cc of Bovi Sera, and 12cc of B-complex. I then went back to the office, and gave a couple of cc’s of Bovi Sera to the kid. (Bovi Sera is an OTC, injectable immune system booster that we keep on hand for these kinds of situations. It’s a cheaper alternative to goat serum.)

HFG milked as much colostrum as she could out of Thistle. We ended up getting about a cup, which wasn’t bad. I found an old 2.75oz feeding bottle and nipple that Little Miss Sweetness had used as an infant. We filled it with colostrum, I wrapped the kid in a fresh towel, and then I got comfortable on the couch in my office. He sucked down the whole bottle in short order. I refilled it, and he took some more — about 4oz, or half a cup, altogether. I was very pleased.

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As a brief aside: I bought that sweatshirt in December of 1986, the day I got my acceptance letter from Northwestern. It was the only one I could find in Seattle. If you’d told me then that, nearly 30 years later, I would (1) still own that sweatshirt, (2) live on a farm, and (3) be wearing that sweatshirt while I bottle-fed a goat … I’m sure I would’ve laughed until I passed out.

Okay, back to the story. Floyd eventually finished with the goat kid, and the kid got sleepy. I made him comfortable in a large box in my office. Sometime after 11pm, I checked on Thistle again. Still no sign of another kid, and she still wasn’t getting up and standing on her own. I tried leading her to a separating pen, but she refused to go. I was concerned about her, but there wasn’t much else I could do. I couldn’t sit in the barn with her all night. I made her comfortable in a corner of the main goat area, and then called it a night.

Early this morning, when I came out to do chores, I checked on her first. She’d indeed delivered another kid, but it was stillborn. I helped her up, and she was getting around significantly better. She even went to the closest feeder, and began nibbling on some hay. I disposed of the dead kid, and then took care of the rest of the animals. No lambs yet, but they should start dropping soon. The ewes sure look ready.

Back in my office, I took the kid from the box and stood him up. He urinated, which was a very welcome sign. I then left him alone on the carpet and just watched him for awhile. He struggled several times to get to his feet by himself, and kept toppling over. I resisted the urge to intervene; he had to figure out how to do this. And, eventually, he did. He would try a few tentative steps, and then topple over. He’d cry, struggle, and then get up and try again. All of this was excellent, and very heartening.

What wasn’t heartening was his disinterest in more colostrum. I tried several times to get the nipple in his mouth, but he wouldn’t take more than a swallow or two. I turned him over to Homeschooled Farm Girl. She’d moved Thistle to a separating pen, with her own feed and water. She put the goat kid in with him, making sure to physically latch him on to an nipple. He’s still getting the hang of it. HFG will continue going out until we know he’s got it figured out. In the meantime, she’s also milking some colostrum from Thistle.

There’s nothing quite like Easter on the farm…

StoKid Riding High

With Spring weather here at last, Homeschooled Farm Girl (age almost 17) and I have been logging big miles on our bikes. We’re preparing for the Calvin’s Challenge 12-Hour race, approximately one month from now, and hoping to beat the 188.5 miles we managed to do last year.

The younger kids want to get in on the fun, but of course can’t keep up. The 13 year old is probably going to inherit HFG’s old Trek road bike; he’s taken it out a few times, and really likes it, even though he’s not in good enough shape to keep up with HFG (who got a new road bike over the winter). Little Brother (age 6) keeps begging to ride with us as well. What’s a dad to do?

The sixteen year old and I got out for 38+ miles early this afternoon. We thoroughly enjoyed the sunny, 50 degree March weather, especially given that most of our route was on quiet rural roads. Would a few more degrees have been nicer? Sure. But we had plenty enough clothing to be comfortable. I took my vintage Basso Gap road bike, as a fun change of pace, and was barely able to keep up HFG.

We got home, and then it was the boys’ turn to join us for an additional six miles. Big Brother is still getting the hang of his sister’s old road bike, so that’s plenty of miles for him for now. And as far as Little Brother goes … I don’t want to take him on too long of a ride too soon, and have him get discouraged. So, six miles is plenty for him as well.

How does a cyclist dad take a six-year-old on a six mile ride? In a such a way that the six-year-old can be a full participant, and not just a passenger?

Behold, our Co-Motion tandem bike:

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I’ve zoomed in on the drivetrain, so you can get a better idea as to how it works. Each rider has a set of cranks. Mine (the “captain”), up front, are connected to the “stoker” cranks in the rear via a long chain on the left side of the bike. There is a regular set of chainrings and sprokets on the right side, just like any other bike would have.

If Big Brother were riding stoker, that would be the end of the story. However, Little Brother’s legs are way too short to reach the pedals at the bottom. That’s where the child conversion kit comes in. Notice that I’ve bolted an additional set of cranks to the tandem frame, just under the stoker’s seat. These are connected by the vertical chain to a second chainring on the lower left cranks.

Child Kit 2016

This whole kit can be attached, or removed, in about five minutes. The upper cranks are held in place by four hex bolts. All I have to do is remove them, remove the cranks, and the vertical chain simply slips off. Add a set of pedals to the main cranks at the bottom, adjust the seat height, and we’re in business for a new stoker. (The second chainring just stays in place; it isn’t interfering with anything, so it doesn’t need to be removed.)

Did Little Brother enjoy his first ride today? Oh, yeah! He had an absolute blast, cranking his pedals, as we flew along country roads. Yes, the captain supplies a huge proportion of the power. But that’s okay. StoKid is giving it everything he can. Best of all, he doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with Dad. And he’s close enough to carry on a conversation.

Our speed was naturally slower than what HFG and I rode earlier in the afternoon. And that’s fine. I still got a plenty-good workout, pedaling this beast. I sure enjoyed the change of pace. And the enthusiastic waves we got from other little kids as we cruised past them. And, above all, the smiles my StoKid gave.

Here’s hoping we have many more in the months to come.

A Modest Proposal

The next time you buy or rent a DVD, check the “special features.” Along with the Director’s commentary and deleted scenes, it’s often possible to select an alternate language to hear the movie in. Spanish. French. Portuguese. Italian. Whatever. It must not be too terribly difficult or disc-space-consuming to include an alternate audio track, because so many DVD movies now include that feature.

So, here’s my question and proposal: Why not include the cleaned-up version of the dialogue that is used for television broadcasts of the same movie? It could be another language option, alongside Spanish and French or whatever else. And for any movie that’s been cleaned-up with dubbing for television, that audio already exists. It shouldn’t be hard to do. Yet, in all the movies we’ve rented from Netflix, I’ve never seen a disc that offers this option.

I’m not talking about the “bad scenes” that are cut for television; I know some Christian groups have tried to produce and sell or rent versions of movies that cut these objectionable scenes, and have been sued. That’s not so critical for me; if I know there’s a bad scene in a movie, I can skip through it, mute it, or make my kids face away. But I can’t press the mute button every time Bruce Willis says the F-word. Sure, “melon farmer” is a silly substitute. But I’d rather my kids hear that than the original words.

What prompted this thought was recently renting Rain Man. It’s a wonderful movie, with absolutely superb acting from Tom Cruise and (especially) Dustin Hoffman. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of a movie with a better-acted lead than what Hoffman did in Rain Man. And the story itself, with Cruise growing to appreciate his brother for who he is, is powerful and moving. I really wanted to have the whole family watch it.

But it was rated R, and because I hadn’t seen it in many years I couldn’t remember exactly why. I knew there was at least one sex scene, but if that was the only problem…well, I could skip through that. But I had to know where it was, so I sat down to preview the movie by myself.

I found the sex scene, and it was pretty mild. Really mild, in fact, by Hollywood standards. The much larger problem was Tom Cruise’s mouth: the profanity never stopped flowing. The longer I watched, the more dismayed I grew. I loved the story and Hoffman’s acting as much as I remembered, but I knew I couldn’t share this film with the Yeoman Farm Children. If it’d just been that one sex scene, I easily could’ve skipped it. But the foul language was far too pervasive.

And you know what’s most frustrating? How completely unnecessary the rough language is. Yes, it fits Cruise’s character as a rough and profane guy who thinks only about himself. But an actor as good as Cruise could sell that role without dropping F-bombs.

In a similar vein, the first time I saw Coming to America was on an airplane. I was delighted. What a wonderful romantic comedy, I thought. And Eddie Murphy played such a refreshingly clean role! And then I rented it at home, and saw everything that’d been cut out. The language and short clips they’d cut weren’t just crude. They were totally unnecessary for the story — I’d loved it just as I’d seen it. The rough language and innuendo ruined it for me.

So, getting back to my proposal, why not offer cleaned-up dialogue as an alternate DVD audio track? If the film producers think it’s important not to exclude potential customers whose primary language is not English, why not show the same attention and concern to those of us who’d like to watch a movie with our kids and without all the four letter words?

On Wheels

Homeschooling families are often asked “What do you do about sports?” It seems that this is the question we are asked second-most to all others. (Number One, of course, is “How are your kids learning to socialize with others?”)

We’ve consciously decided to avoid the typical team sports that involve shuttling kids all over creation to attend practices, games, and tournaments. Sure, baseball, hockey, football and soccer have value and can be quite healthy. But the schedules can consume enormous amounts of time that could be better spent with family; we’ve seen this happen to a number of our friends.

Just living on a farm, our kids get plenty of exercise. But they also participate in a relatively unusual sport. What this is, and how it came to be, is the focus of a fun article I just had published on MercatorNet. It begins like this:

If it’s true that an addict is the last to recognize his own addiction, that may be especially so when the compulsion is ostensibly healthy. But rock bottom is rock bottom, and mine came on November 20, 1999 — appropriately enough, near the lowest geographic point in North America, on one of the country’s most isolated roads.

You can read the rest of the piece here.

And for those who have been asking about my plans for a second novel, I do have a story in the works. The general plotline is inspired by the events recounted in this MercatorNet piece. I’ve finished a complete first draft, and the editor (and other initial readers) have sent me suggested changes. I am in the process of incorporating those edits now; I am hoping to have a final version for publication sometime next year.

In related news, my first novel, Passport, is now available in e-book format through the Amazon Kindle Store(for just $2.99). Also, Amazon has temporarily reduced the price for the print edition to $13.45; it can be found by clicking on the image below.

Our Pet Goat

The goat kid we revived from “mostly dead” continues to thrive…but, unfortunately, only in the house.

We did our best to reintroduce her to Thistle, the mother goat. The Yeoman Farm Children put Thistle in the stanchion, got some milk flowing from her teats, and tried to get the kid to suckle. She just stood there and let the nipple fall from her mouth. They tried again. And again. And again. No luck.

The YFCs milked Thistle out, and then returned her to the kidding pen. We tried leaving the kid out in the pen with her, hoping something might click, but she just sat there all afternoon. And Thistle didn’t express the slightest interest in this “thing” sharing the pen with her.

So…the kid (who remains nameless, BTW) came back into the house. Where she sleeps in a box in front of the fire, and gladly takes milk when given to her from a dropper. She’s put on noticeable weight. Her tendons are doing a lot better, and she’s walking steadily all over the living room and kitchen when we let her out of the box. She doesn’t gallop around like a typical kid, but she’s making remarkable progress and I think her prognosis is excellent.

Except for the whole “bonding with other goats instead of humans” thing. I’m honestly not sure how we’re going to work this, or how long she’s going to be a “house goat.” It’s okay for now, but goats are notorious climbers. It’s only a matter of time before she’ll be climbing out of her box, messing all over the floor, climbing the stairs, and climbing onto the dining room table.

We took her out to my office last night, while we watched college basketball. The office has a vinyl floor, so it didn’t matter if she piddled (and she did). Her footing was a bit unsteady, because vinyl is slick, but she got the hang of it soon enough. Before long, she was wandering all over my office like any other house pet. It was kind of fun, actually.

Wilbur was all over her, trying to figure out what this new little creature was. For her safety, we thought it best to move Wilbur outside (which was fine with him).

What happens next? We’re not really sure. This is uncharted territory. She’s a very nice goat kid. I’m just not sure how long we can continue keeping her as a house pet.

Stay tuned. There’s never a dull moment on a farm.

Greener Cereal

What do you do for breakfast? Me, I’ve always enjoyed raisin bran cereal. I have it nearly every day. When I was a kid, I often even had a bowl as a bedtime snack. (Heck, I still do that on occasion.)

Cereal is not such an easy matter for the Yeoman Farm Children, however. With their Celiac disease, most grains are off limits. Rice is pretty much the only grain they can eat, and we practically buy it by the truckload from our food co-op. Plus, given all the additives and other ingredients that go into commercial cereal (even rice-based cereal), the YFCs’ other food allergies mean they’ve never been able to just sit down and pour themselves bowls of anything off-the-shelf for breakfast.

Each morning, we must grind a few cups of organic long grain brown rice in a grain mill, add it to some water in a pot, bring it to a boil, and simmer it for about 20 minutes (stirring constantly) on the stovetop. It then must sit and “set up” for some time before it can be dished into bowls. Think “very slowly cooked Cream of Wheat,” except made from scratch with rice flour.

The YFCs are now old enough to be able to take turns cooking cereal themselves, but when they were younger Mrs Yeoman Farmer had to do it every morning. To this day, we still talk about the time we had some friends visiting overnight; they slid bowls of off-the-shelf cereal in front of their kids, who proceeded to finish eating by the time MYF was still grinding our rice into flour.

Anyway, as much as we tell them how incredibly healthy their diets are, the YFCs have naturally long wondered what it would be like to “eat normally.” This Christmas, after having done extensive research, Homeschooled Farm Girl found a way to give her brothers the gift of eating breakfast like typical kids for a day: at the natural food store, she discovered a certain brand of puffed rice cereal that had no problematic ingredients. She bought it, wrapped it up, and put it under the tree for her siblings.

Needless to say, they were very excited. And this morning, thoroughly enjoying having been liberated from cooking their cream-of-rice, they poured themselves their first bowls of the stuff. They added some of our goat milk yogurt, grabbed some spoons, and sat down to try eating breakfast like other kids do.

The verdict? To my surprise, they quickly decided that commercial cereal is terribly overrated. “I don’t like the texture,” Homeschooled Farm Boy said. HFG, taking no offense that her gift hadn’t gone over so well, heartily agreed. Big Little Brother wasn’t crazy about it, either. They ate as much as they could, but the three of them left quite a bit for the chickens.

It was a very thoughtful gift on HFG’s part, and her brothers did appreciate the effort she put into finding a commercial cereal they could try. I don’t think the three of them quite realize it yet, but they actually ended up getting a gift that no amount of money or research could buy: a real-life lesson that the grass really isn’t greener on other people’s lawns (or breakfast tables, as it were). And that when it comes to food, they’re pretty darn lucky they get to eat the way they do.