Saturday, March 6, 2010

Herb and Herb

After the little glitch with the purchase of Lillian the Morphadite, and acknowledging that she/he would not and could not not live up to my expectations for stocking the farm with my very own herd I went shopping again.

Unwilling to put my trust in an organization that hadn't been sharp enough to notice Lillian's little problem, I chose another sale barn and began buying an occasional black Angus or "baldy" heifer whenever I could scrimp out the money. A baldy is a cross between a Black Angus and a White Face Hereford. I built up a herd of eight scrubby looking heifers and rented a bull. Yes, you can rent a bull. A year later I had calves. The bull I rented looked better than the sale barn heifers so the calves were very nice if I do say so. It's all in the genes.

I decided to buy a steer for meat and the disposition of the Holstein breed appealed to me, so one Saturday when two little black and white spotted steers gamboled into the sale ring I bid on them..paid too much.. and brought them home.

The thing you have to remember about sale barn buying is that everything looks smaller from up in the bleachers. In my excitement I had not kept that in mind and when I backed the Ford Ranger with the rattly old cattle-panel cage up to the loading dock the loader looked at me very strangely. The two leggy "calves", so endearingly small in the ring, ambled out and walked calmly onto the swaying truck. They were very tall. They had no trouble seeing over the cab. When they moved the truck bed swayed alarmingly.

"Are you sure about this, Laura?" the guy asked.

"It's not very far. We'll be fine." We were in Gallatin. We had a twenty mile drive more or less on a fourlane highway and eight miles of winding, hilly blacktop road to the farm.

At the sound of my voice two long identical black and white faces turned, as if on the same hinge, to stare at me. It was a little disconcerting. But even with all that size it was baby eyes that looked at me and babies they were. They probably had never been around any women and certainly never asked to ride in such a flimsy vehicle but their's was an attitude of total trust and calm. Obviously they had never been abused and were not frightened and that was a good sign.

We started off. They stood quietly, only occasionally bending their twin heads to peer into the rear window of the pickup. I think they were checking to make sure I was still there. To tell the truth I was terrified. We went very slowly with me praying mightily that they would not get in a tussle or shift too suddenly. I knew that if they tired of looking forward and decided to turn to look out the rear their own momentum would send them over the side.

We attracted a lot of attention. Evidently the sight was so intriguing it inhibited any trend toward road rage from people wanting to get somewhere faster than 30 miles an hour. People drew up beside was a four-lane thank heaven..children pointed and laughed..old men grinned..women stared .. It was a little embarrassing. I waved nonchalantly with my best two-finger farmer wave.

I reached out and tilted the side mirror so I could barely see the side face of the steer right behind me. I swear, he was enjoying the ride.

We made it home alright. I opened the gate to the pen by the barn and backed the truck on in. After the gate was shut I lowered the tail gate and swung the back cattle panel open so they could jump down. They didn't seem to be in much of a hurry to leave their own personal limousine and only came down when I started to walk away. I guess they figured it was no fun without the chauffeur because they finally came down.

They were totally and absolutely identical and I could never tell them apart so I named them Herb and Herb.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Inexact Science

As any third grader who has ever planted a bean seed or tried to hatch a chicken egg under a light bulb can tell you, farming is not an exact science.

But as a retired female farmer I can honestly say that farming can be very rewarding. I actually made money and managed to pay off a fifteen-year mortgage on my very own tiny thirty-four acre farm seven years ahead of time.

I managed this by working like a dog, eating like a bird, dressing like the county rag-picker and in the early years, drinking like a sailor. Actually, I have to admit that even if I hadn’t spent the better part of my adult life farming I would still have worked like a dog, ate like a bird and dressed like the county rag-picker. And I remember the days of drinking like a sailor with nostalgia. It’s got to be in the genes.

But like I say, my choice of lifestyle was not an exact science and the learning curve was more like a roller coaster. On the up-swing and in the down swoop, I met some of the most awesome and interesting people, feathered, bristly and hairy, and on that wild ride they taught me all I know about myself and the part of the world we shared.

I did not come to farming by accident but with intent, forethought and resolve. It was my intention to exert a pragmatic discipline and control of all in my domain. The grass would grow, the weeds would die, the water would run, the stock would be docile and multiply with little help from me and I would prosper.

I named the place “Faith Farm” and the gully at the bottom of the East slope, formerly used as a neighborhood dump site, was renamed “Red Hawk Canyon” for the many red-tailed hawks that swooped and sailed so gracefully across the woods and pastures. After the graceful hawks picked off enough of my ducks, guineas and best laying hens I quit calling the gully Red Hawk Canyon and just called it “The Dump”.

The day of my first livestock purchase was an exciting one. Livestock sale barns are like nothing more than large, seedy, hotels in the bad part of town temporarily populated by the agricultural world’s misfits; the unwanted, the castoffs and the disabled. The tragedy of families, tribes and life-time social groups torn asunder and disbursed at the mercy of the Gods in coveralls is enacted over and over.

From this worthy offering I chose a small heifer..entered the bidding,…paid too much…was proud to get her…and brought her home. She was gentle, ate well, loved the barn and was weaned so I spent a lot of time the next day just looking at her and trying to calculate how many years it would take me to build up a herd from this leggy creature chowing down in the corner of the barn. I named her Lillian.

Unfortunately the heifer part was right but she also had other equipment not visible unless you actually witnessed the urine stream cascading from her/his sheath beneath her/his belly. Lillian was a hermaphrodite. News travels fast in rural areas and for years, every time I called the vet the receptionist would holler, “Hey, Doc. It’s the lady that bought the morhadite!.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Eating To Kill

Are We Eating Ourselves to Death?

Our diets serve two purposes. The first and obviously the most important though short term goal, is to keep the body alive and functioning.

Secondly, and just as important, is to support and strongly sustain our immune systems for a lifetime.

In the past we necessarily focused on the first goal of getting enough food and how to keep it “safe” from disease carrying pathogens.

We have done a wonderful job in meeting these goals. Our food is safer and more plentiful than in any other part of the world and at any time in history.

But it has come with the cost of sacrificing the second goal of sustaining for a lifetime!

Why? How can that be? Cancer rates remain high and auto-immune, circulatory and respiratory disease are increasing?. Perhaps the answer lies not in what we eat but in how our food source is managed.

We now know that livestock and their produce, raised for food, cannot be forced to subsist and produce in conditions, and with diets, foreign and unrelated to conditions and diets developed as they evolved, and still become or produce healthy, immune-supportive food for human consumption.

In simple terms this means that animals with access to pasture and freedom of mobility to “pick and choose” for their own needs, as opposed to animals confined and force-fed grains and reprocessed animal by-products, provide vitally superior food for humans.

It is not that the meat or milk or eggs or cheese is inherently harmful. It is that these foods, through rigid and confining production methods, have been robbed of much, if not all of their immunity-producing characteristics.

Omega-3 fatty acids and CLAs: Now there is a mouthful! But Omega-3 fatty acids and CLAs (conjugated linoleic acid) are “good fat”. Yes, there IS such a thing as good fat and we cannot live without it. Every cell and system in the human body relies on this good fat. We cannot manufacture it so it must be in our diet.

For instance, Omega-3 is the most important fat in the brain, which largely consists of several fats. Lack of Omega-3 increases the risk of depression, aggressive behavior, ADD and dementia.

People with diets abundant in Omega-3 are half as likely to die from heart attacks or stroke.

A ruminant animal, (that is, animals that eat grass etc.) gets its ability to manufacture Omega-3s from green grass. Every day an animal spends in a feedlot being fed grain the Omega-3s diminish. By the time it is slaughtered and ready for consumption it has virtually undetectable amounts of Omega-3s.

Eggs produced from pastured poultry have 400 times the Omega-3 fatty acid that confinement eggs contain. Surprisingly they also have 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A and 34% less cholesterol!

The next time you crack an egg from your local super market check out the flatness and paleness of the yolk. Strangely enough, the paler the yolk the lower the Omega-3 count and the higher the fat and cholesterol present. A good pasture-run hen will produce an egg with a bright orange yolk that “stands up” well. That is, it does not lie flat but mounds up within the white.

CLA is made in the rumen of grazing animals. It is very similar to LA,(linoleic acid). One important difference in the molecular structure of CLAs and LAs is their effect on a living body.

LAs promote tumor growth.

CLAs block tumor growth.

LAs are linked with diabetes and obesity.

CLAs block the enzymes that move fats from the blood into storage in the body's fat cells.

The milk from cows fed grass and little or no grain had 500% more CLA than did milk from cows fed grain. Yes, it is possible to produce good, sweet tasting milk without grain and a small, but growing, segment of the dairy industry is beginning to do just that.

It is also possible to produce good, lean, reasonably tender and wonderfully flavorsome beef with carefully orchestrated grazing and little or no grain input. It is being done.

Old mindsets die hard, however, and the negative connotations of “grassfed” in the cattle business is an easy one for confinement producers to exploit.

In the past beef sold as grassfed was almost always the result of livestock that had been on open range, generally the poorest of pasture, and HAD to be slaughtered due to some unforeseen circumstances such as drought, family death, economic emergency and in too many instances, sickness in the animal itself.

That is no longer the case. Much research and experimentation has been and is being done on developing and maintaining correct pastures for this type of production.

Our vegetable and fruit production is also in question. Large acreages, farmed for decades by large conglomerates, have long since been bled of the balance of elements necessary to really sustain our health and natural immunity. All the efforts of these conglomerate companies are focused on production of large vegetables of abnormally perfect physical appearance with as long a storage life as possible. Flavor is secondary and actual nutritional value is a myth.

In short, the overused land is replenished only with the nutrients necessary to grow economically advantageous crops, that is large, low-perishable products that taste nothing like their progenitors and contain far less real nutritional value.

Isn't it time for us to take another look at how our food is grown?

Ref: Grass Fed is Best/Jo Robinson


Monday, March 1, 2010

Olympics of Earthquakes

Recently we have seen the unparalled devastation from two record-setting natural disasters and the response of two populations that could not be more paradoxical.

In Haiti, we see a poverty-stricken nation, barely educated, with a travesty of government, no humanitarian services or competent leadership, it's infrastructure totally devastated with a final death toll of 200,000.

Chili, a truly remarkable multicultural nation of Native American and European peoples with strong governmental leadership, highly educated, economically thriving, well-prepared for just such an occurance by advanced architecture and building standards, has a reported death toll of less than 1000.

Yet Haiti showed us, in image after horrible image, the remarkable beauty, patience and stability of its population.

Those first seventy-two hours showed terrible tragedy and sorrow. Grown men walking miles with injured women or children in their arms thinking to reach medical help that wasn't there. Silent women, surrounded by equally silent children, huddled in the dirt clutching each other, waiting for help that did not come. Grown men with tears streaming, fighting furiously, begging for help of any passer by to extricate a loved one. A child gripping the shoulder of a younger child and embracing two even smaller ones searching the moving crowd desperately, probably for a mother or a father whom he would never see again.

The media made much over the sporadic riots and vandalism for food and supplies after only EIGHT DAYS in 90 degree weather with no food supplies, no water, no homes, no protection for their women and children, living under cloths stretched across poles in the remaining open spaces, their injured loved ones dying on the bare ground beside them. Surviving families, doubled by traumatized orphans whom they accepted within the circle of what little care and protection they could provide, stood in line patiently for the few supplies available and the meager and inadequate emergency medical care . Of course the point was finally reached where only the strong could reach supplies and bad things did begin to happen but sporadically.

By weeks end these people, instead of striking out, stealing or destroying, amazed the world by weaving through the sad mutilated streets of their home city, Port Au Prince singing their gratitude, praising in song, in the manner of their community culture, for the lives that remained.

Chili, after only 36 hours of terror and multiple aftershocks, in both anticipation of shortages and plain old thievery and opportunism, is already having to send out troops in an effort to hold back rioting looters. Already we see scenes of the grown men and youths of Chili stripping the stores and homes.

Haiti, I salute you.

Chili, you have my deepest sympathy in this sad hour.