Archive for November, 2017

Pigs are how a farm stores surplus nutrients, and how non-human-grade nutrients are converted to forms of more value to the farm.  In plain language, farms need pigs to eat the garbage and turn it into bacon and piglets.  For us, this means we need at least one or two pigs all year ’round, and usually we have at least four going.  We feed them out until they get big — sometimes really big — or until we have a new set started — and then we butcher.  Summer and fall, of course, generate the most surplus, dropping off as winter closes in, but never really drying up; there are always whey and buttermilk, rinds and hulls and seeds of things, carrot tops and potato water and so on.  The summer hogs went into freezers — ours and the monastery’s — in September/October.  Four little guys are bunking in the sty in the big barn now.  With the late calves weaning and the consequent cheese and butter making, they are having a hard time keeping up with all the buttermilk and whey.  The garden is still furnishing us with some bean haulms and perennial weeds to add greens to the pigs’ diet, and the poorer-grade hay we toss down to them is acceptable food before they turn it into bedding.

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why? part two

Where do we want to see differences in our lives?  Another way to ask this is to consider:  what are the aspects of the received culture that we find the least tolerable, or the most threatening?  Nutritionally vacuous and toxic food may be at the top of some lists; endless, mindless, soulless media streaming for others.  The replacement of infancy and childhood with cradle-to-maturity (sic) incarceration and indoctrination, prefabricated, dictated, every encounter preordained, every experience pre-digested, every impression predetermined; the replacement of adulthood with impermanency,  virtual reality and wage slavery.  Are these inflictions going to be thrown off, are we going to replace them with a rich sensual experience of the world, unfiltered, direct; with choices open for our making, with action and reaction, real encounter in a world of which we are an organic part, that responds to us organically; with the right, becoming imperative, to decide what is worth living and dying for and then to do our level best to live – and perhaps die – for it?

Because if we are, it’s not going to be by making little breaks with the techno-digital-military-industrial-brainwashing behemoth.  We won’t fulfill our parental obligations by putting our kids in charter schools and making sure they go to church on Sundays; we won’t wrest our souls from the slough of self-indulgence, nor our bodies from a chemically-depressed adulthood and a pharmaceutically-dependent old age, by putting organic blueberries on our industrial-imitation greek yogurt in the mornings and doing yoga over the lunch hour.  Bosh, tish and piffle.

A fig for your organic blueberries.  Are we human beings?  Have we immortal souls?  Do we belong to the same race as Dante, St. Francis and the meanest serf who ever drove Boss and Crumbocke out to graze on the village commons?  Our universe is the same one which for them teemed, surged, fulminated with power, mystery and fruitfulness, even if by a unanimity of unawareness and indifference civilization has for centuries been drawing a thick shroud over that mystical body and calling it a corpse.  It hasn’t gone anywhere; when we lift our eyes from our screens, open the doors and windows of our ugly, flimsy dwellings, whenever we step outside, it surges in at our ears, noses, eyes in a welcome as boisterous, and perhaps as sloppy and even (initially) frightening, as that of a large, exuberant  dog.  We don’t need permission to go looking for it; we don’t even need, in many cases, to go anywhere at all.  Any dirt, sunlight, water are pregnant with incipient life, life that accepts our absence with complete indifference, but which, the moment we show a disposition to play, makes room for us in the scuffle and tosses us the ball. Let’s step outside and get in the game.

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Options.  We’re a culture that worships options, that considers an increase of options as a de facto good, and any stricture upon our options as (probably) a violation of an inalienable right.  The world should be so ordered that everyone has the possibility of choosing any future for him-or her- (or some combination or negation of the two)-self.  All food possibilities should be available to all people.  Every education option open to every child.  One’s marriage (or any other kind of) partner should be disposable, ditto babies, old people and people condemned by the ‘justice’ system.  By contrast our own lifestyle, which every morning finds us going out to milk cows which must be milked, no exception, seems to eliminate every option except perhaps who milks which cow.

People sometimes ask us, only partly joking, why we bother to work so hard.  Leaving aside the first answer that springs to our minds — ‘we like what we do’ — and the second and third and fourth, having to do with the fascinations of being part of a place and a community of living things and the endless possibilities for creativity, there are reasons of another sort, reasons that might be called anti-reasons:  for every positive reason we love farming, there seems to be a negative in the culture to which our farming is the antidote.

True story:  Parents with two children under ten told us recently that they’d given all the children’s toys to Goodwill.  Reason?  The toys were never getting played with because both children preferred just to ‘play’ on their tablets.  Note:  the discussion began with the observation that the children never played outside.  Ever.  Were the parents happy about this situation, did they consider it a good thing for their children?  On the contrary, they were distressed at circumstances they knew, at least on some level, to be unhealthy, but they didn’t know what to do about it.

We don’t even know where to start with this.  Who bought Googlechrome for a couple of kids barely into grade school, anyway?  And what’s to get the kids away from the tablets and take them outside — the sandbox and swing set (if there are any)?  Where do Mom and Dad take their relaxation?  Are these real problems, or just bad judgement calls?

And where are we going with this train of thought?

Just here:  The tidal surge of modern civilization has been setting in a particular direction for (humanly speaking) a long time now.  Whether you put a name to it or not, you have only to keep your eyes half-open to note some characteristics:  We’re moving further into the mechanized, computerized and man-made.  Our food systems are inclining, some small resistance notwithstanding, toward the processed, the synthetic, the artificial, and the chemically-enhanced (Coca-cola now markets a bottled ‘super-milk’; the stuff mammals make apparently needed improvement).  ‘Work’ means tapping computer keys and either eliminating actual physical exertion altogether or passing it on to the inferior classes (anyone who makes less per hour than we do).  Beauty means new from Walmart.  In every aspect of our lives what is natural and free and utterly simple (like breast milk) has been replaced with what is artificial, expensive and multiplex (like baby formula, and then specialized baby formula, and then hypoallergenic specialized baby formula, and then colic medicine and eighty-seven different immunizations).  Hence our friends with no idea what to do about their avatar-bound tablet-enslaved children.  Like it or not, along these lines lies the trajectory being mapped out for the collective ‘we’ by our powerful technocracies.

We are beginning to wonder if it’s not kind of late in the day to express one’s objections by buying organic.  Any small act of defiance is meaningful, but will it serve?  Do we want freedom?  — want beauty, simplicity, community?  Do we think it’s to be had in small coin, or picked up along with some chips and a soda at the gas station?  What seems to be needed is some radical deviation.  Let’s consider whether life isn’t short enough, and beauty worthy enough, to demand our complete commitment.  This will take different forms for different people.

Let’s think about what we really think is worthy, what is good, or true, or beautiful.  Think beyond what we already know to things we think may be unattainable.  Let’s concentrate on these; study these.  At the same time, make time in your day or week to do something that is 1) free, 2) unselfish, and 3) that makes you uncomfortable.  Make friends with a neighbor.  Volunteer at the Children’s Hospital.  Join the old crocks making homebrew at the senior center.  Go to church.  Then, go to work and talk about these things and see who pays attention.  Refuse to be normal; it gets easier with practice.

It isn’t going to be enough just to criticize the culture as we watch it crash and burn.  (TBC)





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Poultry serve multiple purposes on our farm, moving over pastures and gardens in (at the moment) four different flocks of from ten to thirty layers and a couple of roosters.  Some of the birds clean up after the grazing animals, but about half of them are pastured in garden areas where we want to apply some high-nitrogen fertilizer, clean up insect pests, scrap out weed seedlings, or flatten a grown-in-place mulch.  In the fall, though, when laying slows down, we cull non-layers so we don’t carry so many birds through the winter.  This isn’t done on the basis of age, at least not solely — some twenty of our birds are in their fifth year and still productive — but according to a physical examination that considers the space between their pelvic bones, the space between the pelvic bones and the keel bone, the color of their feet and legs, and the condition of their vent.

Two fingers or more space between the pelvic bones, four between pelvis and keel, bleached legs (not yellow), and a moist, open vent are what we are looking for, and three out of four of these will usually win that hen a reprieve from the hatchet.  Last week we went over all the birds; seventeen didn’t make the cut.  A very busy morning for three of us, and (for one) an afternoon with a couple of canners.  Only two birds had eggs in them, which we would consider a good score; the older birds we kept seem to be laying at about sixty percent, not bad for November.  We’ve had a lower rate of lay, but much better luck with longevity in our layers since we switched from commercial laying mash to fermented whole grains with no GM or soy; and our mix of whole grains, supplemented three or four times a week with milk or meat scraps, is much cheaper per pound than commercial feed.

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stockpiling pasture

setting up fenceEarly November has us calculating and recalculating our winter pasture reserves, or ‘stockpiled’ pasture, that is, the half or so of our grasslands that have been set aside starting in late July/early August to grow and mature grass for winter grazing.  In a perfect world, if we do it right, we only have to feed hay if we get a hard ice crust over snow; all the rest of the winter our animals are in the pasture grazing.  Grass that has been stored like this is demonstrably better feed than ‘made’ hay, and we’ve got a lot less work in it, too.  Plus, animals that spend the winter in the field drop their manure and urine in the field, too, and if you’ve never cleaned out a lounging shed with a winter’s deep bedding in it you probably can’t appreciate what a big job it is without heavy equipment.


But in this our less-than-perfect world, we can plan and think and plan and think some more, and still we won’t know until it happens if we’ve set aside enough grass for the winter.  One reason is the weather, both right now, and in January, February and March.  Right now (and for the past two months) the question mostly had to do with getting enough rain to start the grass growing after the hot season (it came, but it was late) and how long the really cold weather hods off and lets the grass go on growing, albeit slowly.  Later in the winter, if it’s very cold or very wet or very icy, the cow’s may need more grass than we have set aside.  And finally, if we don’t cull enough animals now — sell them or butcher them — instead of coming through the winter with a certain number of well-fed animals and little money spent on hay, we may have a few too many scrawny animals and a big hay bill.

So — two steers are boarding with our friend Dale, who raises Navajo Churros and has some extra room, and two steers were butchered.  One lactating cow and her calf were downgraded to the dry cows’ pasture, where, since she is no longer in the milking string, the cow’s nutritional needs will be less, and will be satisfied with our less-nutritious forage.  Two heifers are staying for replacement stock, but two others will be culled if the vet says they haven’t settled to breeding.  The current year’s calves all stay — the steers and bulls are next year’s steaks, and heifer calves constitute our hope that with time we’ll develop a strain of dairy cows particularly suited to our farm — what is called a ‘landrace’.

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