Thursday, March 29, 2007

Small World; Who’s a farmer?

Quite a few years ago now I came across a title in a bin full of marked down hardback books at a chain bookstore outlet near where I lived. I had never heard of the author but the subject matter had to do with farming so I picked it up.

It told the story of a young California farmer trying to continue and grow a family farm that had already been in place for several generations.

That plot line by itself would be enough to interest me, but the author, aside from being a farm kid was an academic, specifically an authority on classical civilizations (Greece, Rome, etc) in the California University system.

The book contained some interesting information about the ancient Greek Yeoman farmer and comparisons to the modern family farmer that has become more and more stressed these past few decades.

Anything that portrays individualism in a positive light is sure to get my approval. I very much enjoyed the book.

I have a good friend who I lent the book to after it came up in conversation. He took it home and read it. His wife pointed out that the author had been published lately in the National Review magazine. The author is, for those who haven’t figured it out already, Victor Davis Hanson. The book was “Fields without Dreams”.

He still writes prolifically, here: and other places. Most of what I see out there is political. I often agree with him, I often disagree. I always admire his well-reasoned logic.

I think he sees himself as a farmer more than an author or an academic. I think he would give the title of farmer a loftier status than the others. I have not seen him say that in so many words, but that’s how I read him.

He did a blog entry the other day that touched one the subject of “Mad Farmers” that gave me a chuckle.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Was it really Raining?

I'm fairly sure it rained around here once, long ago.

In the last post I said we got nearly half and inch. Guess how much we have had since then. That dry dusty cough was the answer.

I just looked at the ten day forecast. A 10% chance of rain was the biggest number in the whole forecast.

I read on the other farm blogs that everyone is struggling through mud season. If you are in that situation, please feel free to send some of that moisture down here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

It's Raining!

Rain and just in the nick of time. We have had about one half inch of rain since last night.

If I listen close I swear I can hear the grass grow.

I have a load of supplemental feed coming today for the ewes to get them through lambing and lactation.

But there should be no need to supply forage, and a good thing to, since one thing I have in common with everyone else around here is that I am out of hay.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How to buy a bull

Anyone who has attempted to raise livestock for any length of time is all too aware that even though we do all we can as far as animal husbandry goes, some times the beastie just insists on dying.

Sometimes this is caused by some mistake, but that is a different matter. We can and do expend great amounts of effort to create an environment where our stock can be healthy and productive. Past that, their survival is just not up to us as farmers.

A friend’s bad time with kidding got me thinking about this. This person keeps goats primarly for livestock shows.

I was at a place last weekend where folks were discussing livestock for show, like the 4H kids do. I know nothing about show stock. I’ve never done it, never been around it.

The notion of looking at a group of animals and by that contact alone passing judgment on which is best always struck me as odd.

Show stock seems to have the same relationship to production stock that theology has to religion; that is, none that's obvious. *

Judging stock by its looks seems odd to me because my dad used to tell a story about how to buy a bull. To be honest I though this was a long dull story when I was growing up. He told the story many times.

It went like this; there was this farmer who had a reputation all over the area for being able to find and buy the best bulls. He had done this for many years and as far as anyone could remember he never got a bad one.

He was present at a sale where several bulls were on offer and was asked by a group of prospective buyers how they could tell which was best. They asked about size, top line, muscling, color, and stance, any and all the physical attributes of a bull.

They asked the old farmer all sorts of questions about bulls but they couldn’t seem to keep him on topic. He had all sorts of unrelated questions he wanted answered.

Who is the seller? Have you been to his place? Is it extravagant and showy or simple and functional? Have you met his family? Have you gone to the town where he does business and asked about him?

What do the production records tell you about the animal? Does he through good calves? Has he been bred to heifers and if so how did they do?

My dad would go on and on about the things that needed answering before even looking at the bull, no doubt that’s why I though the story was so dull.

At every point, with each new fact learned, if the result was negative, the old farmer’s advice was to give up on the bull and look for a different one. No need to even look at the beast unless all the background checked out well.

The punch line of the story was that when the prospective buyer finally did look at the bull, the advice was "If you like it you buy it".

The fact that I listened to this story many times growing up does not make me an expert on show stock of course.

I can’t help but suspect that what was selected for in breeding these animals has not been the sorts of pro-survival traits that are used for production stock.

* I came up with this line, something shamelessly stolen from R. Heinlein on a different subject, when I was composing this post in the shower the other day. When I wrote it down I forgot the line. I do shower regularly, so I remembered it this morning.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Maintenance Mode

We have been in sort of a maintenance mode for the past several months here at the A3 farm.

The cattle have been next door with my neighbor’s herd all winter. Each day we feed horse, dogs, cats and sheep.

We collect eggs. We feed the laying hens when they need it. Since Mid January we’ve had broiler chickens to feed water and move each day.

Some of the equipment has been serviced and some fencing work done. Mostly farm work has been as minimal as farm work ever gets.

I’ve done two business trips related to my day job. One trip was to Arizona, which was pretty, and one to the DC suburbs, which was not. OK, Montgomery County Maryland is fine for those who like that sort of thing, but traffic and snow are two things I would be happy to do without.

Things here on the farm are about to change from maintenance mode to the more usual state of affairs, which is “way too much to do and not enough time to do it”.

The laying hens have been moved away from their winter quarters, that spot is ready to disk.

I started processing the broilers yesterday and will finish, I hope, next weekend.

It’s time to get more feed into the ewes, lambing is just a month off.

The grass will start to grow if we ever get rain.

All the hay we put up last summer is gone.

I bought two rolls of peanut hay, not perennial peanut, regular peanut. We have one lonesome roll of it left.

If we get rain any time soon it will be enough. If we don’t get rain I think I’ll take the ewes down to the welfare office and sign them up for food stamps :-).

One great thing about farm living is that the seasons have meaning beyond switching the thermostat from heat to AC and back. Even down here where we have fewer seasons than some places.

Just to get everyone in the mood for lambing, a new calf was born Saturday across the fence on the neighbor’s place.