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Archive for December, 2012

Friday, December 21:

A slow month is December; paddocks are bigger, the animals are moved less frequently, the garden is thinned for salad greens and the bigger carrots; cold sloppy rain or warm sloppy snow mean no one really wants to go outside.  The cows’ production is dropping off, not to rise again until they freshen in April.  Short days and long nights make us sleepy.  Still, another steer was shot and hung last Tuesday with the help of our third son, returned from four months overseas.

The fences around the monastery garden had to be pulled up and stored away until spring; the monastery garden is pigless now, they having been moved down to warm pig pens in the barn after all the forage in the garden was eaten.  Beans, beets, turnips, and late corn, with daily rations of skim milk and whey, reduced the pigs’ grain consumption to almost nothing for the months of October and November and into the first week of December.  The garden pigs, be it noted, are nowhere near as big as the conventionally raised pigs we keep with our neighbor B.  Those receive commercial pig rations in a hopper feeder, and they are perhaps fifty pounds heavier than the home pigs, but they are up to two sacks of feed a week and more, while the home pigs have eaten maybe four or five sacks of grain total:  this, although there are twice as many home pigs.  Still, it remains to be seen whether it is more economical to grow a pig slowly on home-grown feed, or quickly on purchased pellets.

I wonder which is better for the pig.

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Friday, December 21:

Last Saturday we visited the Streit Double-J herd share dairy in southwestern Ohio.  It was a fact-finding mission, an opportunity to see someone else’s micro-dairy and ponder their methods.  It gave us much food for thought.  Mr. and Mrs. Streit were very gracious and gave us a long two hours of advice, information, and encouragement.

When did the American farmer so lose sympathy with his animals that confinement operations became possible?  How did we come to believe that a cow confined to a concrete-floored stall and fed machine-harvested forage, grain, and even processed chicken-house litter, was as good as a cow loose in a grass pasture?  How could anyone convince us that milk from the former animal was identical with milk from the latter?

The fact is, most people don’t image their food alive and growing; for them food is a processed product that comes into being in its packaging.  And the methods for producing it, which the consumer knows nothing of and seldom tries to imagine, are determined wholly by considerations of enormous scale and unlimited profitability.

If they can figure out how to process the contents of stadium wastebaskets into something that looks and smells like food, they will begin to make it, and the American omnivore will buy it and eat it.

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Friday, December 14:

Easy come, easy go.

Not so easy come.  Seven driving hours and one thousand dollars in cash.  Two cows inspected, one bought.  Home, settled in, milking well.  Six days.

This morning after a normal milking, while eating her breakfast, without warning she dropped dead.

Easy go.

As one astute gentleman on an internet forum said, “If you’re going to have livestock, you’re going to have dead stock.”  Nicely put.

This is one of the hard things about the swing from the mechanistic, electronic, digital modern world to the farming world.  When your car dies you take it to the mechanic.  When your cow dies no one can fix it.  When your car dies it’s nobody’s fault.  When an animal dies you think, “what did I do wrong?”  The question carries with it a suggestion of guilt and a weight of implied incompetence:  this, although while the animal lives we don’t take credit for its life, as though we sustained it in being.  Only on its death do we feel suddenly that there must have been some gross oversight on our part.

Animals die of lots of things.  A single sprig of Japanese yew, a common ornamental shrub, will kill a full grown cow.  A wilted wild cherry branch is deadly to the browsing cow – or goat.  Or horse.  Even hay can be poisonous, if the growing conditions have caused the grass to store excessive nitrates.  A piece of forage lodged in an animal’s throat can choke it to death in only a few minutes.  Cows can have heart attacks; and strokes.

Animals die.

The only thing to do is bury the body and move on.  Or, as in the case of this animal, hang draw and quarter.   Hung at 42 degrees for two weeks she should make beautiful ground beef.  Four dollars a pound; you couldn’t do better at WalMart.

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