Farm report

April 21, 2018

Well, it’s the first day of gardening. And the day I find out what sitting in a chair all day for the past 6 months has done to me. No endurance at all. Cardio all over the place. At least my wife cut my hair during one of the breaks.  But the chicken coop light is fixed,4 of 5 fruit frees are planted, and a short double row of onions. The garlic is hoed, and and the strawberries are much cleaner. So now I’m going to bathe, and plan my summer.


The chick thing

June 27, 2014

On Facebook, I keep encountering outrage about the fate of poor male baby chicks. The ladies really don’t like it that they’re ground alive, but when asked for alternatives, they never present one. The last time this happened, I got unfriended. So I thought I’d gather all my information in one place, so that I can just link to it. If I’m going to piss people off, I might as well be efficient about it.

First, a disclaimer: we keep chickens. When I was growing up, the Mennonites across from my grandparents had an egg factory. If we wanted to play with them, we had to help them do chores, mostly picking up eggs. And I was distressed by all those chickens in cages, A major reason I raise chickens is so that I can eat eggs without contributing to that. (Note that there are humane arguments to be made for cage culture too, involving sanitation and predation.) So obviously it’s not the case that I don’t give a shit. And we get chicks from the hatchery, and baby chicks are SO CUTE!!!! So I’m not obvious to the emotional impulse either.

So why are baby chicks being ground alive? Because they have to die. Why do they have to die? Because they’re an economic liability.What?? How can that be?

Commercial chicken farming is a bifurcated enterprise. There are two breeds of birds used, one for eggs, one for meat. The meat bird is the Cornish Cross. This is a hybrid of Cornish and Plymouth Rock chickens , with other genetics now introduced as well. (The “Cornish game hens” sold in supermarkets are simply immature Cornish Cross broilers.) These birds are very efficient, with a feed conversion ration of 1.91 pounds of feed per pound of live weight (it was 4.7 in 1925). This efficiency can itself be construed as a form of cruelty, because broiler birds grow faster than their bones can support. That’s a discussion for another day. What we need to know about these birds, for this discussion, is that males and females are both efficient (males more so), and both are raised to slaughter weight.

The egg bird is the White Leghorn.  These lay an average of 280 eggs per year. Since it takes an egg about 30 hours to complete its trip down the oviduct, this is pretty much full capacity, about as good as it gets. And this is the side of the chicken bifurcation that leads to problems. Cocks don’t lay eggs. Nor are they necessary for egg production, any more than you ladies need a man in your life in order to have a period.  So the excess cockerels are raised for meat, right?

Uh, no. Leghorns are a light breed. If males are raised for meat, it takes twice as long as a Cornish Cross, much more feed, and the product is a tough scrawny bird that nobody wants to buy.  So they get killed.

Do they have to be killed? It depends on the meaning of “have to”.  It’s possible to grow dual purpose breeds, with acceptable body weight and laying capacity. You’ll get tougher meat and fewer eggs, and both will cost more. But people do that. I do. Most back years growers do. It’s popular among organic producers. If your conscience is worth your money, you’ll buy from them.  But the poor can’t afford a conscience.

So in our efficient industrial poultry system, cockerels have to die. Even at dual-breed hatcheries, this is a problem, even though pullets (girls) cost more. You can often get cockerels cheap in bulk. But nobody wants Leghorn boys. So the question is: how are they to die? The industry standard currently is maceration, i.e., grinding alive.  Now, I want you to think the unthinkable: imagine yourself dropped into a group of close-together high-speed blades. You may feel something unpleasant on impact. After that, between the shredding of your brain and of all nerve pathways leading to it, there’s nowhere for pain to go. Yes, I know, that’s gross. Imagine the alternatives: suffocation , having your neck broken, electrocution. Can you really say that any of these is more humane than the Guillotine of Forty Blades?

Meat is suffering. If you don’t want to be part of that, I fully understand, as long as you give me the same respect.  I’ll disagree with you, because a carnivore’s short gut is the tradeoff evolution has made for our big brains.  But it’s your life and body.

Oh, and the thing that inspired this? This campaign, which implies that the eggs used in Hellman’s have a different cruelty profile than those used in other mayonnaise, or other eggs. I’d love to look at the stock buys of the people behind this.

Another quiet unfriending

June 12, 2014

I knew that was going to happen. When a flock of hens discusses poor lil’ chickies being tossed into a grinder, and some evil heartless man explains to them why that has to happen, and argues that the method under discussion might be the least bad option, the evil heartless man must be made to go away, lest the page owner lose face. Arguing is no use, as it just means accepting EHM’s premise that life has a value. And in my experience, even fewer women than men can carry on a clean intellectual argument; they’ll go to emotion, ad hominem, red herrings and the rest of the weasel games, in a heartbeat. My wife is at least honest about this: “If they don’t accept my argument, my next argument is ‘Fuck you!” So it had to be. And silently of course, because men and rape culture and confrontation.

The irony is that I’m the guy raising chickens because I hate the thought of caged hens. I saw that at a young age, and didn’t like it. I can make an anti-cruelty case for caged hens (I’ve seen what happens when dogs are part of the free range), but I’m a libertarian; I’d rather be free in a dangerous world than safely caged.

I rather wish I didn’t have such an addiction to the truth. When I see see people wringing their hands over something they know sod all about, I reflexively put them some knowledge, as politely as I can. And if there’s anything that we Americans are pig ignorant about, it’s agriculture. If there’s anything I’ve learned on Black Water Farm, it’s how little I know… and knowledge of my own ignorance puts me miles ahead of most. Truth exists. I always knew that. Back in my pagan days, I would insist that there were moral absolutes, and the response was generally, “How Christian of you!” It was not meant as a compliment.

There really needs to be a setting on Facebook where you can block yourself from responding to certain friends. You could still do it, if you changed that setting back, but it would be a pain.  Oh well, there are more mezzos on the mezzo tree.

Music, rape, and Boujemaa Razgui

January 3, 2014

Just about every musician I know has posted on Facebook about the Boujemaa Razgui story.  Now Customs has issued a statement and doubled down on their disaster, instead of throwing the officers involved under the bus. The gifted expatriate sackbut player and maker (and unapologetic socialist) Nathaniel Wood asked, “Who do these people think they are? ::weeps::” I’d been productive and good all day, so I fell into the temptation of trollery and replied, “They think they are protecting the citizens of the United States from agricultural disasters. Do you understand now why I am a minarchist?” The problem with this was that several people took it as a challenge to their belief in the benevolent state (ok, maybe it was!) and started blaming RAZGUI for his misfortune because, you know, a guy who travels all over and has presumably checked his instruments with luggage before should have known that someday some Customs guys would get a hardon, and should have made them carry-ons…where he would have had to deal with Customs anyway, argue with them, and get turned away from his home (he’s a Canadian citizen, orsiginally from Morocco, currently living in NYC).

Well, all this seemed to be a bit much like blaming the victim, so I asked one fellow his opinion of the classic case of Blaming the Victim. “Does a woman also have a responsibility to protect her body from rape?”  Nate yelped foul, the guy I was addressing said “I have absolutely no idea how you can even think to draw that comparison …….” and we were off to the races. My reply:

How can I draw that comparison? I’m a musician. My instruments are part of my identity, an extension of my body. It’s as intimate as the connection with one’s genitals, and as such, the psychological violation is as bad. The physical violation is WORSE, because the body heals, but instruments don’t replace themselves (and when replaced, are never exact replacements). Now, if I were to tell a woman to be sensible about what she exposes to whom, I’d be accused of “blaming the victim”. Isn’t that what you’ve just done with Razgui? (That’s my explanation, Nate, and you’ll have to decide if it applies, or is an extension of tastelessness.)

All of my musician friends are wringing hands about this, and rightly so. It’s horrible beyond belief. Yet hundreds of people are violated by the State each day, and have their lives ruined. They aren’t One of Us, though, so they don’t matter, as long as the Greater Good is served. So I appreciate the honesty of the folks who say, “It’s his fault.” But then you don’t get to be all emotional about it. If a moral crime was committed (and I think there was), we have an obligation to decide why and how, and how to stop it from happening again. That may well involve doing less. If we give average people the power to destroy without the responsibility to restitute, we’re asking for incidents like this.

Now to be fair to Nate, he very clearly saw that, on physics, biology and the law, this was clearly a case of Customs overreach. He didn’t address my original point, but since I’d offended him, I didn’t feel like pursuing the point on his Facebook page. Here, however, I’m under no such limitations.

I’d like to fill in the rape analogy. The instruments were self-made, somewhat as a woman’s body is. And the act of playing music with others can be unbearably intimate. You’re trusting the others not to mess up, as they trust you. You are constantly adapting to others’ musical ideas, as they adapt to yours. The New Musicology doubtless has much to say about this. And I wonder what the Goddess of New Musicology, Susan McClary, would say… but I don’t necessarily wonder enough to ask her when the semester begins (I’m controversial on Facebook so I don’t have to be at work.)

Was this violation necessary?  Nobody argues that rape is necessary. I can only think of one context where one could argue that, and since humanity is in no danger of dying out, it’s not applicable to reality, so why bother? And not many argue that agricultural import controls are UNnecessary. One could make the case that, in this small world, it would be best to get it over with, let everything go everywhere and duke it out for their own ecological niche. I’m not making that case, because we really don’t know enough to foresee all the dangers. And we like to pick the winners. But certainly government has done almost as much harm as good with invasive species, introducing such problems as kudzu, and the bane of my existence, multiflora rose.

This is a place where the Big Government folks need to read the Founding Fathers, and apply their principles to their own policy positions. If you’re going to give some high school grads power to make or break somebody’s livelihood (as they do with the vote), you need to hedge that power about with fearsome restrictions. You need rules under which they can do no irreparable harm. Agricultural materials? Sure, quarantine them until we’re sure they’re fine, especially if they’re obviously made into something. The opinion of the bottom rung worker has to be appealable, all the way up, and if they act on their own to make appeal impossible, they get the boot. Because oboe reeds are agricultural. Stradivarius violins are agricultural.

Ag report: suck in 47 languages.

June 9, 2011

Planting began last Sat., about when I’d usually be finishing for spring. It was the first time all spring that the soil was dry enough to work, so everything was a sod patch. I hadn’t tilled in the fall, and let the fall weeds be a sort of self-sowing cover crop. If I could have tilled in early May, that might have worked. By the end of the weekend I’d gotten the middle patch done (brassicas and nightshades, incl. potatoes) and the front of the front patch (sweet corn, vine crops). We’d gotten 3/4″ of rain Tues. morning, but the ground was fine to work Weds. afternoon. One small problem: the tiller had been acting strangely. Finally I decided to check the oil…whoop, what oil? filled it up, she’d turn, but no power. [F-word deleted]. Loaded it into the truck, and down to repair. diagnosis: toast. Probably catastrophic ring failure: no compression, oil in the filter, gas in the oil It’s a 12-year old Craftsman/ Replacement would be about as much as repair. Repair guy didn’t have any in stock. So I went off to the Niles mall, and in 3 stores (Sears/Despot/Lowes) there was ONE front tine tiller, a funky Bolens with 1 wheel and a non-adjustable depth bar. Do-cut also had none, but could get from another store by Friday, so I’m doing that. Meanwhile, I’m scrod. I can probably make a seedbed of what I tilled yesterday, though I usually like to make 2 passes. But the back plot is untouched. I’d had fantasies of spring wheat (Ha!) or potatoes in there. I can still do beans or buckwheat this month, and winter wheat after. Tiller rental is $45/day. Hand-digging is impractical. Here’s the deal: I have maybe an hour the rest of the week, and the weekend to get the full-season stuff in…Mon. AM I leave for Pittsburgh for a week. Before 2 weeks from tomorrow, I have to get the Hiram Band music ready, which means scanning and transposing Eb horn parts into F, emptying and refilling folders, and oh, finding some easy old stuff to pad the program with.

So that’s the garden. Then there are matters orchardy.  1 walnut and the pawpaw I ordered didn’t grow.  The 4 raspberries I put in next to the strawberries croaked as soon as the rain stopped.  A lot of the strawbs did too, and they generally taste kind of shitty.  No fruit on the honeyberries, hardly any on the asian pear, spotty on the backyard apple (and very nasty-looking leaves. On the plus side: pear is OK (not as good as last year), 2 cherries are as loaded as trees that young can be, and blueberries look excellent. Grapes made it through the winter, but it will be several years yet before fruit. I’m not seeing honeybees, though there are lots of bumblebees making their home in the barn — in the way, but I don’t dare remove them.

Critters: 1 litter of 5 rabbits, another litter lost because Daddy didn’t do short-arm inspection after sex and put the nest box in with the male. None of the incubated eggs hatched; they were set without reading the book, at one point were at 103 and may have been cooked.  We’ll try again, but since the coops have been integrated, we’ll have mongrels instead of New Hampshires. Precious’ kids were lost, but Sissy had 2 boys. Their dehorning didn’t take, but their elastrator treatment seems to have. Thursday was hurt in an accident (neck firmly wedged in a feeder). He’s hanging in there, but not improving…and it’s too hot for a mercy killing. Then there’s William E., our new buck.  Some drunk buddy of Jeff Wells wanted to give him up, and Rusty didn’t say no firmly…so he showed up one day while she was gone. About 8 years old, short legs and stocky (Boer?), solid black, horns. Yes, she’s going to breed with him before we kill him…poke holes in the chocolates to see what you’re getting, I guess. We’re getting about a gallon of milk a day between the two. Rusty has just built a cheese press. Buddy continues to be better eating than we’d thought, thanks to riusty’s skill with moist heat cooking methods.

I’ll try to keep this blog up at the CMAA Colloquium, but we’re pretty scheduled, and there’s no Internet in the dorms (most everywhere else though).

The doings at Black Water Farm

March 12, 2011

Sorry all that I haven’t written. There hasn’t been much to say; politics continues its usual disgusting course.

We’ve been a bit in survivalist mode at BWF, with a lot of money going out.  The dishwasher, which has been dead for quite some time, began leaking water on the floor, which necessitated the dread repair call. The leak is fixed, but the dishwasher is indeed terminal. and may or may not be replaced. Then on Ash Wednesday, I dropped $1000 on the family vehicles (mostly Rusty’s).  Rusty’s computer is down, and maybe terminal, but she’s got money from elsewhere to fix it, we hope. I’d also dropped money, slightly earlier, on chore boots and a Henry Milker for her and a double keyboard stand for me.

The Henry was invented by a guy in Alaska, and it’s a wonderful piece of appropriate technology. It’s a single-teat milker made of a hypodermic syringe body, milk hose, a wide-mouth quart Mason jar, and a brake bleeder. The bleeder creates enough suction to keep the syringe stuck to the goat and to draw milk from the teat into the jar, which can then be capped with a normal lid if desired and stuck in the fridge. Precious seems happier with it than with Rusty’s hand (though still wanting to kick it away), it’s easier on Rusty’s arthritis, and the milk is cleaner…no more lost milk from her getting a hoof in the bucket. We seem to be getting more too, about 3 cups per milking. I got cross-trained in milking this morning; she’s been doing it all.

She finally had enough milk today to assay cheesemaking. She made mozzarella, a fussy recipe with a need to maintain precise temperatures for a long time. She used culture, which she had, instead of the citric acid recipe, as she didn’t have that. The mozzarella was a failure; what she ended up with was a sort of plain curd, tasty and nutritious enough. She made ricotta from the whey, which was good and much easier, though I think she oversalted it.,,,though that will be fine for lasagna. Meanwhile I did various honeydo jobs, paid bills, planted seeds for veggie starts (the bunching onions and sweet potatoes I had done earlier got to play in the greenhouse today.)Tonight while she was gone I tried oven-fried veggie chips (not a success) and canned 8 pints of zanahorias en escabeche (way too many carrots in the garden yet). I got the 2-keyboard rig up.  It’s not entirely satisfactory; they keyboards are too distant from each other (I know a way to rectify that) and the SY77 has ciphering Bb and C# around middle C. I don’t know yet whether repair will be cost-effective, or if I’m better off getting a cheap MIDI keyboard from craigslist or somewhere. But now I can play my Hauptwerk organs with both great and swell (no plans for pedals; an AGO pedalboard would take up too much real estate in this tiny office.). All in all, not bad for a day with a cold (aggravated by the jalapenos in the carrots).

So yes, we’re gearing up for productivity here. But on one level, it’s kind of pointless. If TSHTF, the same folks who have been mobbing state capitols will be after our stuff, because they “need” it. And some things just can’t be prepped for: witness the Japanese tsunami. And if those nukes blow, what will that do to the supply chain for so many things?


Life is wonderful

August 12, 2010

I came home to a fabulous chicken/purslane/meatball soup, with lots of cilantro in the meatballs. Rusty’s really developing her cooking skills these days.

I also got clippings of the two write-ups of my award, in the Michigan papers. My father had dissed the Port Huron Times Herald writeup, but it’s actually marginally the better-written of the two. Garcia got extra points for calling the Archdiocese of Detroit for info on the new translation. I suspect that (contrary to what you might expect from the Hispanic surname) she’s not a Catholic, as her questions on the phone showed that she didn’t quite get what I had done, so it’s good that she did her homework. The Jeffersonian piece doesn’t quote any independent sources. (I could have been blowing smoke up their ass, though I did include the Foundation’s website in the press release…but then, maybe I should start my own foundation and give myself awards. What would Richard Nanes do?). It relied heavily on my mom (with the results you’d predict) and on my personal web page. The Weekly Villager pretty much just printed the press release.

After dinner, I picked everything but the beans (that’s tonight) and ran electric wire around the chicken yard, as the new kids have developed the bad habit of roosting on the fence (and then jumping off the wrong side). Then, as we went to bed, it started to rain, and then stopped. “Oh well, same old same old.” Uh-UH! We awoke to about 2.6 inches!  I didn’t believe the rain gauge until I walked to the garden and saw a bit of standing water. Maybe a little too much at once, and I’ll come home Sunday to burst tomatoes and other mischief, but it was very badly needed.

I got an email from Bob Cronin, and the new alto shawm is about done. I briefly considered having him wait for his money for as long as I waited overtime for the instrument, but there was nothing to be gained by that, and I want the instrument…though I’ve been toying with the idea of giving up playing. I seem to gone directly from asking “What do I want to be when I grow up?” to “What do I need to get done before I die?”  Isn’t there supposed to be an intermediate state in there?  The axe should hold value, and I won’t be able to afford it after I retire (and Bob IS retiring; this is his last batch). So I will soon have an A460 alto. I’ll have my cell on, waiting for the calls…don’t worry, I’m a euphonium player, I’m used to it.

Tomorrow: off to glory! Or at least, off to Mordor on the Potomac.