The Great Fence-capade

My father is gone for the month to our other farm on the opposite side of the state. My brother and I are picking up the slack while he’s away. First order of business was to find and “repair” the hole in the fence that the cows were getting out of. Easier said than done: there is about 2 miles of fence to check. So, out we go, brother and I, to check the fence and mark that item off our list.

RIGHT. Two days in and we’re in a bigger mess than we started with. Well, that’s not really true. It would be more fair to say that we just didn’t know the size of the mess to begin with.

Technically, my father runs the farm, but it’s never that simple. My grandfather (who is a practicing lawyer at nearly 80) is a bit of a busybody and likes to think he’s still in charge of everything. My uncle has been in politics for 10 years, but likes to be a weekend farmer. Myy brother is a jack-of-most-trades farm hand and I run my own little poultry business. It’s a bit crazy.

You’d think that will all these people “working” on the farm, things would get done in a timely manner and everything would be in tip-top shape. You’d be sadly mistaken. That saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” always springs to mind when I think about our situation. And it’s really true: it seems to take a committee to get a fence fixed.

That stupid fence has been patched together so much that it’s laughable. Too many MEN thinking “I’ll just fix this section right here with this bit of wire I have handy and then I’ll come back and fix it correctly later.” But later never comes.

There was one stretch of fence about 50 yards long that had at least 6 crimps in it (a crimp sleeve is used to connect 2 pieces of fence wire). And each of those crimps is a potential weak spot. Now, you can’t really build a seriously long fence without using crimps, but they should be used judiciously so that your fence stays nice and strong. When you use them to patch the fence over and over and over, you end up with a fence that snaps whenever an unruly cow decides to run into it, which is exactly what’s been happening here.

There was gate where someone had obviously cut the wire a bit too short. Instead of fixing it correctly, they had used two fence handles, connected together, to bridge the gap. Which was really not sufficient. There was one place where a tree had grown into the fence, basically grounding out the electric current.

When I see a problem I want to fix it correctly and attractively and right then. And the guys roll their eyes at me and groan and wander off to tinker with something else. But then they are back patching that same stupid fence a month later. If, instead, they would just fix the problem correctly instead of making it “good enough for now” then it’s taken care of and you don’t have to think about it again for a good long while.

So, what are we doing for the next few days? We’re fixing the fences correctly. And what does that entail? Just cutting down a few trees that are threatening to fall, restranding an entire section, putting in about 15 new posts, checking every fence insulator, fixing two gates that are broken, adding fence strainers to tighten existing wire, and buying a new fence energizer because the old one WASN’T EVEN WORKING.

I started thinking that all those problems were really generational, that my brother was a bit more like me in just wanting to fix what needs fixing. But, alas, he’s got a lot of man ideas too. He got all stroppy with me this afternoon because I asked him to cut down a thick sapling that had grown up through a gate. He argued with me for at least 15 minutes, saying that gate was never opened so we shouldn’t bother. He’s mostly right, the gate never does get opened, but that’s no reason to let a tree grow through it when you can cut it down in one minute with the chainsaw. Especially when you are standing right there with the chainsaw…

At the end of the work day today, we had a completely ridiculous argument about our fencing equipment, which was all in the bed of his truck. It went something like this:

Brother: Help me clean all this stuff out of my truck.

Me: But we’re going to need it all tomorrow morning.

Brother: But I don’t want my truck to be messy. I’m taking my fiance out tonight.

Me: Fine, whatever. [Helps him drag everything into the garage. He goes in to get a drink. I find a handy 5-gallon bucket and neatly arrange all our fencing odds and ends so they aren’t just strewn about the truck tomorrow. I go to put it in the bed of his truck.]

Brother: [coming out of the house] What are you doing with that bucket?

Me: I arranged all our fencing stuff so we can just grab this bucket and have everything at our fingertips! It’s great. And now it won’t make your truck look messy. [huge grin, thinking I’m a genius.]

Brother: Brilliant. So now I’ve got to keep a bucket of junk in the truck.

Me: But it’s so handy…

Brother: Just leave it in the garage.

So off I go, muttering something like “Thanks Sis! That’s a great idea. It will make life so much easier. We’ll be fencing at great speeds because of your wonderful ingenuity.” And then I found out he was the one with the brilliant idea to hook the two fence handles together!

I don’t mean to make all the men in my family sound like lazy idiots. I know that they have a lot of things to do other than worry about one fence being perfect. They do lots and lots of things I can’t do, like fix the tractor. And I appreciate a fixed tractor, I really do. But there are things that I think I might be much better suited to than they are and fence management might just be one of those things.

Advertisements

Piggy, Piggy, Please don’t kill me: The REAL MEAT™ Story

There are massive discrepancies in nutritional studies, especially those that are looking for correlations between what we eat and the risk of cancer and heart disease. An NPR report today talks about the fact that processed meats may be more to blame for health problems than what they are calling “fresh cuts.” What’s the major problem here? They aren’t looking at the right factors.

To be clear, there’s nothing especially fresh about store-bought meat: it’s been raised in the Mid-West or overseas, shipped off to slaughter houses usually a few states away, packaged, shipped again (1,000s of miles) to the store, where it waits to be purchased. And even then, once it’s purchased, consumers could feasibly pop it in the freezer for a good long rest. How is that fresh?

I’d have to agree with their assessment that those processed meats are worse than those cuts: processed meats contain a lot more of the additives (preservatives, flavorings, colorings), as well as a lot of salt and nitrates. It’s not a nice list when you really start looking at it.

But I believe it’s naive and misleading to give foods such as bacon and sausages a bad rap and to say that cuts of meat are “healthy.” It’s just not good science. Where, in these studies, are they actually getting down to the nitty-gritty of the issue and uncovering what so many people (and history) have been trying to tell us? It’s not about sausage vs steak, it’s about where it comes from and what goes into it.

The problem:

When you are comparing store-bought meats, maybe the issue is clear. Store-bought meats are almost always from industrial farming. That means

  • cattle who are virtually stationary and subsist on corn (which their bodies aren’t actually designed to digest), hormones, and antibiotics to fatten them up faster and keep them alive until slaughter;
  • pigs raised by the thousands in hog barns where they spend their entire life never being able to turn around (Ever wonder why pigs get their tails docked? It’s because they chew their neighbor’s off in CAFOs);
  • and poultry that has been selectively bred to reach processing weight at 9 weeks of age (chickens) or 18 weeks of age (turkeys), which means that they put on weight so fast that their organs and bones can’t keep up and they drop dead if not slaughtered on time (chickens can live naturally 5-10 years)

I’m not sharing this information as an animal rights argument (although I do believe that argument to a certain extent), but rather as a factor nutritional studies seem to be ignoring. How can one even begin to study the effects that meat has on health and not take these things into account? Why is data being skewed to make meat the culprit when humans have been eating it for millions of years? Yes, your typical person consumes more meat than is probably good for them, but you can’t lay the blame for every health problem on the meat itself- that is, if it’s “real” meat.

We need to define “real” meat then. I would argue that industrial meat is NOT real meat- the animals don’t live real lives or eat real food (meaning what they are biologically designed to eat) or even END UP as real food. Therefore, REAL MEAT™* is natural meat: animals that live natural lives and eat the good, healthy food that they are meant to eat, and then end up nourishing our bodies in natural ways.

The key word there is nourishing. An industrial hot dog doesn’t nourish your body- it fills your tummy and maybe pacifies your inner child. Animals that live non-natural lives do not develop into the same kind of meat. Corn is processed differently in cows than grass, their correct feed, would be, which can only change the nutritional profile of their meat.

An easily demonstrated example is the nutritional profile of eggs. Industrial, cage-raised laying hens are fed mostly corn, soy, and a mixture of other grains. They will never eat fresh grass or munch on bugs (which chickens LOVE). They also will never need grit- small stones that chickens use to grind up natural food since they don’t have teeth- which is believed to contribute healthy minerals to the chickens diet.

Pastured laying hens will spend 90% of daylight hours outside, eating grass and bugs, picking up those healthy minerals from grit, generating lots of Vitamin D, and being happy, healthy chickens. Their eggs will have

  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids (which are good for you)
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D

Coincidence? Hardly. Now if we expand that kind of good nutritional science to include the animal itself we find similar results. Grass-fed beef is

  • Lower in total fat
  • Higher in beta-carotene
  • Higher in vitamin E
  • Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
  • Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  • Higher in total omega-3s
  • A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
  • Higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a potential cancer fighter
  • Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
  • Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease

Here are some graphs to peruse, taken from EatWild.com.

chicken with more fat than beef? seriously.

The solution:

So, to get back to the original argument, what about sausages and bacon? Well, it’s all in the details. I’m willing to bet that if you start with REAL MEAT™, stick with traditional seasonings, and don’t overload on the salt, that you’d come up with some pretty healthy and TASTY “processed meats.” Of course, adding seasonings and salt is going to change the nutrition a bit, but surely not SO drastically that it would come even close to the unhealthiness of industrial processed meats.

Buy REAL MEAT™ from small, local farmers with whom you can develop a relationship. This means that you will know exactly how your meats are raised. Local farmers are usually very excited to talk to interested customers. Ask if you can tour the farm. Ask what their feed program is. Ask if they medicate and, if so, how they manage that program. And be a loyal customer- it keeps the good guys in business.

We also need to demand better, more honest nutritional studies. Don’t be swayed by hot new fads in food. Read as much as you can about the real issues and ignore hype. Your body will let you know when you get it right.

Oh, and enjoy the bacon!

*REAL MEAT™ is “trademarked” only to me. It is in no way meant to represent an existing business, organization, or idea. It’s just catchy, ok? 😉

Today on the farm

Today started out good. I got to keep my niece overnight and most of the morning, which is always delightful. We played and napped and had a generally nice day.

And then the real fun began. Today was manure day! Now, that might not sound so fun to most people, but it’s music to a gardener’s ears. I talked my dad and brother into loading the dump truck with composted horse manure and bringing it down to the garden. As soon as the tractor scoop hit the manure pile, I was all smiles. It was BEAUTIFUL compost- rich, dark black, just the right amount of sponginess. It smelled like gardening success and money! It was the kind of manure that you know will grow great veggies. And, it was completely free! I knew I’d find a way for all those horses to be sustainable!

It seemed like so much compost when it filled the dump truck completely. But once it was dumped next to the garden, the pile looked so insignificant compared to the huge clay pit the garden has become. And it was pretty paltry- it spread over about 1/2 the 65 x 165 ft garden. On a positive note, the soil looked amazing where we did get to till the manure in, a great blend of the black manure and the orangey-brown clay. It’s going to shed water a lot better and be so much richer for growing in.

We were about to go get another full load, when my grandfather arrived. This is where the day took a decided downturn. In the past few years, my grandfather has started forgetting things. The man has always had a sharp mind- he’s still practicing law at 78 years old- but he doesn’t remember a lot of things anymore. He makes copious notes for work so it’s not as noticeable or problematic, but it makes dealing with him on the farm nearly impossible.

Take the garden as an example. I’ve been talking to him since December about wanting to plant a garden of my own this year. He was more than happy for me to do that as he’s only planted tomatoes, peppers, and okra the last couple of seasons. He just wanted me to let him know what my plans were, as he always needs to feel like he’s in charge even if he isn’t. I was fine with that- it’s his garden space after all.

So I tried to talk to him about it several times. I took him the seed catalogs I was looking at. I made a list of the varieties I was interested in. I asked his opinion. I asked if there were things he wanted me to order for him. Every time he would say “That sounds good but we’ll talk more about it later.” After months of this, I just went ahead and ordered what I wanted to. I knew he had already planted tomatoes, peppers, and okra (shocker) but they weren’t heirloom, which is what I was interested in. He had planted in the southern garden, so I planned my garden for the northern one.

Anyway, today he pulled up just as we were tilling in the manure. I could tell that he was upset about something and I had a feeling it was going to be my fault. He cornered my dad where he thought I couldn’t hear him and started saying that I hadn’t talked to him about any of this other than to say that I wanted to plant a garden, how I was just doing whatever I wanted without consulting him first, and how he needed the garden space. So my dad called me over to explain the situation.

As I said, the northern garden is 65 x 165 feet, in addition to the 50 x 130 feet in the southern garden. He’s only planted about 1/3 of the southern garden and I can’t use up all of the northern one. I told him that I wasn’t planning on using all of the northern garden so he was more than welcome to use what he needed. I told him some of what I was planting. We got into this tangled argument about gardening styles (he doesn’t understand why I would want to plant  in blocks instead of long rows), what to plant (he’s upset that I’m planting onions and eggplant because he doesn’t think we need them), and just how much space each of us actually needs. I’m trying to be as concessionary as possible since it’s his garden, but I’m finding myself more and more frustrated by the whole situation. It’s no one’s fault he can’t remember the numerous conversations we’ve had, but he won’t admit that he might have forgotten something and I can’t wait forever for him to make a decision.

So, for now, unfortunately, everything is put on hold- again. He wants to see my garden plan and I’m sure I’m going to have to change everything to suit him. Is it SUCH a big deal to change things around to make him happy? No. But it will take time that I don’t really have. So many things should be in the ground already and now there is another roadblock. Sheesh.

Then, to cap the day off nicely, one of the 2-year-old cows delivered prematurely and the calf was stillborn. I’ve been watching some of the others so closely because they seem like they are ready to explode, but I wasn’t worried about this one. It was her first calf and I feel so bad for her. She was just standing there in the field looking lost. She kept licking him to wake him up. We moved him out of the field to encourage her to go get some water (she wouldn’t leave him) and so the coyotes wouldn’t be in the field around the other calves, but she keeps going back to look for him and calling out. It’s so sad.

And that’s the nature of farming, the constant ups and downs. More calves will be born and this one will soon be forgotten. The garden will get planted one way or another. But for today, it’s been a bit of  a headache with a dash of sadness.

Attack of the killer cows

So, we put the chicken fence back up yesterday because we didn’t have a plan B figured out yet. We had to beat the brackets back into shape. I was not pleased with this solution, but it would have to do for now.

Naturally, when I went up to let the chickens out this morning, the damn cows had done it again. This time I had proof- they were still standing in the yard, on top of one of the panels- but at least the chickens weren’t out there when it happened. As I was in a rush to get to Field Day, I had to just leave the chickens in the coop and dash, but not before I called my Dad to whine a little.

Looks like the cows are dead set on getting at the chicken feed and the 1/2 bale of hay that they have as a sofa. Even though they have acres and acres and ACRES of beautiful, fresh green grass, they want chicken feed and hay. It’s ridiculous and terribly frustrating. Plan B better come along, pronto!

**UPDATE**

We moved the chicken wagon over into one of the hay fields. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s working for now. The chickens are in paradise- some tall grass to hide in, TONS of clover to eat, and no more cows running through their yard. I’m concerned that chicken paradise might turn into chicken heaven because they are now directly between the forest and a thicket, prime fox territory. So far, so good. But I’m still nervous.

Terror in the Barnyard

We had a full on Chicken Run incident here on the farm yesterday. The birds give the full details over on their blog.

It was a genuinely terrifying moment when I first pulled up. I was sure some of them had been crushed by the falling panels or had been gobbled up before I could get there. I was extremely relieved to see that everyone was fine. As I pulled into the field, Lilli and the other Orpington girls, as well as Pippi, were making a beeline for the field gate. I don’t know if they just came running because they saw the “treat car” or if they had decided to vacate the field altogether. Even in my fear for their safety, it was a hilarious sight. They were seriously booking it down that hill. I really wished I had a camera with me at that moment!

Seeing the fence made my stomach wobble. If one of the birds hadn’t been fast enough to get out of the way of the panels falling, I’m pretty sure they would have been killed- especially when the cows started trampling the panels! Thank god Madeline wasn’t out there! Both feed pans were bent all to crap by cows stepping on the edges. Luckily my big, expensive waterer was just knocked over. The braces that hold the panels to each other were completely bent and useless.

I had grabbed some turkey and bread on my way out the door to lure everyone back to the yard. That did the trick! I threw it all out in the yard while we were trying to fix the fence and they were all back in the pen by the time the last panel was in place. I was very impressed with Ernest, Gulliver, and the rooster-still-known-as Amelia. They were doing such a great job keeping the girls together (for the most part) and I think they had a lot to do with ushering everyone back into the yard. I actually felt a little sorry to have to put them up. They seemed to be having such a great time on their little adventure.

When my sister came up to tell me they were out again, I was really, really annoyed. I can’t particularly afford to replace the fence right now and I can’t keep them cooped up for very long. But the only option for the moment was to pop them in the coop and take the fence down. It was just a matter of time before someone- chicken or cow- was seriously injured. Seeing as how the cows are Texas Longhorns, I was having terrible visions of a cow getting it’s horns stuck in the fence panel and breaking a neck.

Which brings me to the baffling part of the story: why exactly did the cows run through the fence? Ok, no one actually SAW them run through it, but they had to have played a part. The wind couldn’t have knocked the panels down- especially since the braces were BENT by the force. And the cows were most definitely stomping on the fences and feed pans. The cows have always been interested in the chickens and spend a lot of time checking them out, but the worst they’ve done previously was lean against the fence. I really don’t know what could have caused it all.

Not that I don’t believe the chickens’ story or anything…. 😉