Monday, October 21, 2019

fox and chickens

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture and chicken magnate, has allowed the pork slaughter industry to begin taking over pork inspections from the federal inspection services.  This is one more indication that our government and civil society have gone off the rails.  This is not a new idea; it has been talked about for several decades now and pilot programs have been run.  The impetus here with industry is to speed up the slaughter.

Since our pork sales business started in 2000, we have depended upon the quality of the product and the predisposition of some people to support farms like ours and related businesses.  We still do.  But it has become necessary to state certain facts that we never formerly thought we had to, in view of the crippled state of our government.  To wit:

1) Animal welfare is a central concern for us, an ongoing and important effort.  Animal welfare on the farm is central.  Transportation of the animals and slaughter are other important aspects.  We make a constant effort in all these facets of pork production and supply.  Our animals are slaughtered under state inspection, and the inspector has no qualms about stopping slaughter or throwing out substandard product.  Sonny Perdue has no intention of cancelling this inspection and we would not agree if he did.

2) We use processing businesses that pay the kind of wage that employees can live on and that provide safe and clean working conditions.

3) And we expect the kind of return in our business that allows us to be adequately compensated for our work on the farm and in the business.

These three statements could serve as a guideline for a conscientous buyer of pork in making purchases.  None of these are honored by the mainstream meat industry, from farm through retail.


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

And again

Six tenths an inch last night.  Put together with the totals for the last eight or nine days, that would be six inches.  And we are not the hardest hit.  Today's broadcast news weather cutie (male this time) expects Houston to hit eighteen inches. 
Amazing how these television millionaires can prattle on about astonishing weather events without ever dropping the word "climate" into the monologue.  Their billionaire corporate overlords don't want climate talked about.  It makes them uncomfortable.  Ostriches.
Here, with the rains of the last week in mid September, we are headed for another fall of mud, the farm full of places the tractors can't go, and increasingly, even the cattle. Third straight year now and as I said yesterday, in hindsight it is pretty clear that the trend since I started ridge til in the early nineties through to today is toward wetter.  That is why the difficulty with small grain seedings and the increasing impossibility of putting the cattle on the crop acres. 
Another healthy dose of rain headed our way on Friday night.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019


I woke last night at four o'clock to the sound of rain on the roof.  I cannot sleep while it rains.  This has been going on for some time, since the early nineties, I think.  That is when rain started seriously interfering with my farming plans. I had started a project of ridge til then and pretty immediately became aware that it was not a good fit for my poorly drained and low lying soils.  Ridge til lasted perhaps five years for me.

Looking back at my forty plus years of farming I now see that I was only successful at any kind of small grain in two of them, both years immediately following drought years:  1977, my first year, and then again in 1989.  These two years, and these years only, I was able to be early enough with seeding and was rewarded with a respectable crop.

One way of understanding my farming years would be to call it an ongoing search for a crop rotation that could be built around corn, the only crop generally successful here.  After a few moves at peas and one or two years of fall seeded grains, soybeans were given the boost out of the rotation-they never grew well on this farm-and we began to take a serious look at fall seeded small grains again.

But the most success has come with a major move toward forage and grazing. Forty per cent of our crop acreage in any given year is in hay. Often the need to bring stock off the pastures in late summer benefited the crop rotation. The cattle could take a cover crop mix by grazing, thus resting the pastures. The trouble is that for the last three years, and it looks to continue this year, this practice is not available either.  The cattle have waded around in mud tromping down most of what they should have eaten.  This year we have them on oats that were seeded on prevented planting acres and they have the entire sward covered in mud, shortening the feed supply by perhaps a week.

The rain that woke me up last night was an inch and three tenths.  This followed two and a half inches four days earlier and three quarters of an inch twice in the week before that.  And as usual, we didn't get the worst of it.  I don't know where the cattle should go when we have to pull them off. They will be destructive wherever.  Rain chance tonight 70%.  One more ruined night's sleep.

And the urban people, our customers, think the rain problem is only serious if it ruins the weekend.  Few know how close we are to a serious food issue.

Monday, September 9, 2019

My grandfather's hands

Today we weaned and moved pigs, my grandson and I, and I powerwashed the feeders we would use later.  As I pulled my hand out from the feeder holes I knocked it against the side.  I felt it without really noticing it.  A minute or two later I looked down to see blood streaming down the backs of my fingers from a quarter inch chunk of loose skin on the back of my hand.

Then I remembered my grandfather's hands when he came out to help my Dad years ago.  His hands too were hard in the palm from years and years of callous upon callous.  His fingernails were thick, some were bent and twisted and needed to be trimmed with a sharp pocketknife.  But the skin on the backs of his hands was paper thin and could be knocked open by the slightest blow.  I have gotten to where my grandfather was in the 1950's seventy years ago.

I was rueful, but not terrified at the thought.  There is after all a certain rightness to it.  I come from a line of peasants, people of the land, back through my Dad and then both my grandfathers and as far back as I know;  poor and destitute sometimes, some were orphans, some manic depressive.  There must have been a few liars, though I know nothing of that.  For generations on the male side we have understood the pressing need to somehow make it go, to provide for children, to farm the land and to keep and protect wives.  If that meant damage to hands or other body parts, so be it.  If it meant risk and loss and too much work and no sleep, we would put up with it.

But I am terrified.  Because for generations now, we have been taught to scorn and make fun of men like me, like my father and grandfather.  Feminists have done it, and I suppose they have their good reasons, but so has everyone else.  I mean no disrespect for the female side of my ancestry for they may well have suffered more and worked harder for the family, the community and the land than we males did.  But I understand it as a man.  And I pop awake sometimes at two in the morning, terrified at the prospects for my children and grandchildren and as yet unborn great grandchildren.  And I fear especially for my grandsons and their sons.  For we have chosen instead of respect, love, and a place for young working class men, scorn and rejection and the result all too often is a young white male full of blinding rage emptying a military weapon into a crowd of people.          

Friday, August 30, 2019


It would not likely occur to those born after 1990, but any who share an on farm history that, like mine, goes back to the 1950's know that haymaking faces different challenges today.  Chief among those is the fact that the weather has changed markedly.
We succeeded in making hay in part because the second half of the summer would feature a significant number of mornings with no dew on the grass at all, given the low humidity and the overnight breeze.  Remember too that we were dealing with small square bale balers that were very unforgiving in wet hay.  But where we often could start the day by ten in the morning then, now we must wait as late as three in the afternoon to make a start, even with the big round balers.
Our water cycle is broken.   Our humidity is too high.  We have too much rain and too much runoff because our soil is too hard.  The soil is too hard because of the steady decrease in organic matter.  The hard soil and runoff, along with a surplus of both rain and rainy days means the plants do not put out extensive root systems.  This leads to less carbon sequestered and thus less organic matter. It is a vicious circle.
This is our climate change issue to deal with here on the farms.  And we must start with the realization that the way we farm creates our own weather in a significant sense.  Climate change is largely not what someone else is doing to us.  We are going to need to look in the mirror and start thinking about a different farming system.

Friday, August 16, 2019


A person is about as free as she is capable.  Aside from the obvious, that citizens preserve their freedom by keeping control of their government, freedom is hedged around by a patch of tough caveats, all alleles of capability:  responsibility, willingness, tolerance, vision, cooperation, practicality, level footedness.

A man cannot make himself available to help others in need if he has not his own house and household in order. 


I have thought for some time that the conventional view of political belief as a straight line from left to right with everyone located somewhere on it is wrong.  This thought tends to come to the top when I am discouraged by the seeming impossibility of a real discussion among acquantances, friends, neighbors and so on.  And the thought is durable and recurring because it jibes with my life lived as a farmer which has taught me that all things on the land operate in a cycle.

Then I visualize the political spectrum as more a circle, with certain points of at least tentative agreement.  For instance, today it became evident to me that right and left share a similar horror of centralized power, perhaps for somewhat different reasons.  The left recoils from the thought of a central authority with power enough to stifle thought and belief and imprison those thinkers authority objects to.  Authoritarianism and surveilance is anathema on the left.

The right, meanwhile, goes into fits of terror and rage over the United Nations, thinking of it as a coming world government.  The individual, for the right, should reign supreme. 

There is here some shared ground, the chance to talk and explore feelings and deeply held beliefs.  It is an opportunity to see the humanity of the other, precious because it is so rare.

Meanwhile the land continues in its cycle of growth, harvest, death, decay and new life.  Desired and undesirable plants blend by decay in propelling the cycle forward.   I cannot think of a better metaphor on which to build a sane political system.