Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Tell-Tale Calf

 There was just no good way to do it, so I'd been putting it off.  Maintaining one herd on pasture is difficult enough, and I never really designed our farm to maintain separate herds.  We have four calves, aged 3 to 13 months, and they were all actively nursing as a result.  9 weeks is the standard weaning age.  On the plus side, everyone is fat and happy, but on the downside... we were averaging just over a gallon of milk per cow each day.   Some of that is the fact that we're feeding only grass (that's about a 40% drop compared to the usual grain diet), part of it is the fact that we milk once a day (about a 20% drop) as well.   But the four biggest problems with our production were merrily bouncing and jiggling around the pasture betweeen frothy mouthfuls of milk.

Even though we sequestered the calves at night, we weren't getting half of our cows' production.   Some of the cows were better than others, but a few of them would hold back their milk.   Their teats would go dry while the udder was still bulgingly full.    Hmmmmmm...

With our ever-growing herdshare requirements, something had to give, so one morning I shooed the cows back out of the barn after milking and moved the calves to a newly fenced off part of our yard.  The mooing ensued.  Momma cows were angry.   Kids were angry.   I just felt like a jerk.

The bellowing followed me back into the house when I sat down for my other job (the one that actually makes money).   Despite the heat, I had to close the windows.   The bellowing came through the walls -- a constant reminder of my cruel and abusive actions.  It really didn't stop until about the third day.  I'm sure the neighbors loved it even more than I did.


The new combine worked beautifully on our oats, which we forked from the hay wagon into the combine, essentially just using it as a threshing unit.   We discovered, however, that the hull-less oats have small hairs around the seed which the fan on the combine sprays all over.   Think itchy fiberglass-dust.   Even after putting everything through the wash, we could all tell when we put on the same clothes we were wearing on threshing day.

Though this is still a small-scale operation, it's much bigger than most anything we've done before.    "Real" farmers use massive propane or natural gas grain dryers to get their grain down to a suitable moisture content for storage.   In our case, I had to cycle it through the oven in small batches, which took nearly a week.   Not sure how they did it before the advent of grain dryers.   Corn is easy -- just put it in the corn crib while it's still on the ear, but with oats.....?   Maybe leaving it in the shocks a while longer was the trick.

Earlier in my life, I joked about writing a "cookbook" which would contain only meals that could be prepared and consumed in under 5 minutes.   I didn't see a whole lot of point in spending time on anything related to food.   Food was fuel, and who would want their life to revolve around gas stations? 

Now every day of my life is devoted to food in one way or another.  This is exactly what our ancestors have done for centuries, though most of us born in the 20th century have been lead to believe that it's below our dignity to grow or process our own food in the age of machinery and cheap labor from illegal immigrants.  I think that this is what people should be doing instead of looking in vain for some sort of fulfillment from watching TV, or having a "hobby".  I think we're all programmed to focus on food, whether we realize it or not.  I think it's why fishing and hunting are so popular.  While I was growing up, my stepmother would use up her vacation time by picking berries.   At the time I thought she was wasting her precious vacation.   Now I think she's on to something.

Our khaki-campbell duck, quack-quack, went broody this summer and stayed with a clutch of eggs for several weeks until she finally hatched two of them.   Rachel summoned us all to the barnyard when she took both of them down to the puddle for their first swim, which was really neat to see.   Peeper (the ducks' father) was swimming in the puddle as well, and immediately ran over to the chicks and tried to kill both of them as we watched in horror.  He suceeded with one before we could intervene, but we managed to save the second.   Animals don't always see the world as we do, I suppose.


I've felt a bit frustrated as of late with my own inability to ditch my pickup truck for good.  I know full well that we're teetering on the edge of human extinction if we haven't already committed ourselves to it.   I also know that most of the gasoline I'm burning here in Michigan is probably coming from tar-sands, making it *extremely* carbon intensive and damaging -- much more so than the gasoline from conventional oil that was running my car just a few short years ago.   Reading articles like this makes me all the more determined to do something, but then I start to think about trying to haul lumber home, or feed, or fencing, or....

The truth is that 99.9% of my ancestors had none of these "needs" that I claim to have.   I really shouldn't have them either, but I doubt that I could live like my ancestors in the society that we've built for ourselves.   There's no doubt about it -- our lives in most countries are fully dependent on fossil fuels in hundreds of different ways.  Choosing the low carbon option at this point -- as we should -- will mean the death of *billions* of people on this planet.   The other option -- and the one which we look to be following -- will mean the death of all 7 billion of us along with most other life on the planet.  We don't have good choices at this late stage in the game. 

Next time you're wondering why no politician is capable of doing anything substantial to combat global warming, just ask yourself how long you think they would live if they actually did do something substantial, such as phasing out all fossil fuel use over the next year or two.  They'd be hanging from a light pole in a matter of minutes, I suspect.  This sort of change has to come from the grass roots, or it will never come at all. 

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Re: getting away from oil-based fuels-- I read a Wendell Barry essay that seemed to cover a swath of topics. One point that aggravated him was how he could not figure a way to live without needing a vehicle. Even the Amish take rides from the "English" to visit stores. I think economics will force a change. Once oil is rare enough to be unaffordable, towns will contract (like they once expanded) and alternative fuels will improve and expand by need. Most people are not prone to doing "right things" because they are right. You are one of the rare good souls who does.