Category Archives: Animals

Sipping Tea on a Fall Afternoon

15.10.25a

October 22, 2015

The last sun tea is on the porch. If there was any doubt last week, there is not this week, it is autumn. Cool morning temperatures and the leaves are changing color. Two trees are already bare—looking naked next to those full of leaf—and irrigation ditches are dry.

Fall speaks to the sun tea’s seasonableness. There is something fitting about how slow seeping tea over ice suits a summer afternoon. Much like how boiling water over a tea bag fits a winter evening. There is a sadness though, as I walk by the mason jar on a fall day and notice there is hardly enough sunlight-heat to change water’s color. A reminder the heavy warmth of sun that buries self into soil and ripens summer tomatoes is again a wait until spring reality.

There is a comfort in knowing the change the landscape is experiencing. Insight gifts a time of preparation before freezing makes the soil impossible to dig. However, there is also something about the naiveté that comes with having not yet lived a winter. Sage, a five-month-old, red, something or other dog, is now a farm companion. Neighbors who live next to a busy hop season road found a throw away litter of pups five months ago. A too busy road led to Sage coming to the farm to live out her life.

Fall is a furiousness time. Different from the constant movement of summer, fall has this is the last chance to get chores done before the first hard freeze or snow that covers that one item your looking for.

As I rebuilt the temporary winter fence that allows cattle and goats to graze the stockpiled hay field, Sage ran from one end to the other and back, repeatedly. While I spliced two ends of fencing wire, she ran back flopping down into the alfalfa. Not breathing heavy, like any self-respecting fifty-something would after a full out eighth mile run (well, okay, this guy ain’t running nothing full out…), she sat in the green of full afternoon fall sun acting as if this is the best day ever. Clearly, she has no concept of cold of winter lying just round the corner!

15.10.25b Continue reading

Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life

15.09.20

September 20, 2015

Wide shadows fell off the windrows in the early morning. The morning after the season’s last cutting of hay, I walked the field. A heavier dew than I like gathered across my boots and the pant leg that gathered at the laces. As I wondered how long it would take the cutting to dry, a coyote limped down a windrow along the eastern edge. With the right hind leg in the air, the coyote hunted one windrow after another hoping to rouse an unobservant vole or a slow gopher pushing up dirt. I wondered how the leg got hurt. The coyote looked young, so maybe he had made one of those teenage moves that twist an ankle. Then again, he may have wondered into the wrong field at the wrong time and ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun shell. Whatever the case, I went on about my business.

Two days later, one of the chickens thought little of my decision. In fifteen years we have lost only one chicken and one lamb to predation, that is, until that day. Losing another on the backend of seeing a limping coyote is normal enough. If we are going to manage the farm with an eye toward maintaining balance between wild and domestic animals, it is inevitable something is going to lean the scale to one side or another eventually (Like a hurt leg.). I don’t imagine the missing chicken nor the non-missing chickens agree with such an analytical assessment. When another hen went missing a week later, I also questioned my management practices.

A few days after losing the second hen, I was driving across the field in the balewagon and picking up hay bales. As I round the southwest corner, the coyote came out of the brush. No longer limping, he watched as I drove by. I wondered if I should pick up the rifle when I got to the end of the field nearest the house. Call it laziness or cutting the coyote slack one more time, I left the gun in the house and continued clearing the field of bales. A week later, the 22 rifle leaned against the wall near the back door. A third chicken was missing.

The decision to kill an animal is always difficult, more so when the kill is not for food. You might say killing the coyote is a food kill when the third hen is lost. After all the hens provide daily eggs (food), and when they stop laying eggs they provide for a wonderful winter chicken stew (food). Nevertheless, the killing of the coyote, itself, is not going to provide an evening meal. Since I also have no desire to skin the coyote, tan the hide, and use it for something or another, the killing of the coyote is only to try to reestablish balance and end the loss of chickens. Continue reading

Considering the Purple Cow Pill

15.08.09b

August 09, 2015

Soon there may be a new solution for problematic burping. A Purple Pill, of sorts, except for cows rather than humans. Folk might have heard it said that cow farting contributes to high methane levels, which depletes ozone. However, the cow methane problem comes from cow belching rather than their farting.

Being a ruminate, cows have a four stomach digestive system (actually a four compartment stomach). Ideally suited to grazers (cows) and browsers (goats), the rumen (the first stomach) allows cows to eat a lot of grass at once, not chew it, and store it. Later, when they are relaxing, they cough/burp up a cud (a mouthful of that non-chewed stomach stuff) and properly chew it. Thus, a cow does a lot of cud chewing and burping.

Figuring the United States alone has roughly 40 million cows, about 30 million beef cattle and 10 million dairy cows; there is a whole lot of burping going on. Like humans, cows digestive system have a complex community of microbes in their stomach helping break down food. One of those beneficial microbes creates methane in the process. To counter this methane development, some folk are proposing an additive to cattle feed to reduce the microbe’s ability to produce methane.

Hmm, it isn’t enough that pharmaceutical companies have convinced us humans to take a pill so we can ignore our bodies normal warning sign of when to lay off some foods. Now we are going to give cattle a little purple pill as well.

Contrary the popular stance, the methane burping problem is not a cattle digestive problem, but a human digestive problem. Consider the 30 million beef cattle. The 30 MILLION CATTLE who exist on American soil exist because the U.S. population is having a problem eating meat sensibly. All it takes to eliminate the methane problem is for U.S. folk to eat less beef. An easy solution if it were not centered on changing people’s gastronomic normal.

Life is much easier for humans if they place blame on creation other than themselves. Cattle, after all, are doing no more than being cattle. Humans, though, have to go a long way to justify eating double and triple decker hamburgers rather than single patty burgers or eating16-ounce steaks rather than 4-ounce steaks. The production of 30 million cattle is not a cattle problem, but one of human over consumption. Continue reading

Generational Food Justice

15.08.02

 August 02, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

This is supposed to be humane? I thought to myself when David Bell took me to the cattle auction for the first time. He wanted to take me the first week I arrived so I could handle it better once we brought workgroups. I’m glad he did so too because I was on the point of tears.

Cows, bulls, steers, heifers, all corralled into small spaces, running into each other, stumbling over one another. The cowboys and girls on their horses chased after them with paddles, flags, and whips to move the animals along. One cowboy even yelled, “Hey! You son of a bitch. Hey!” over the desperate mooing as he tried to force an extremely frightened steer into a corral.

One beautiful, brown steer with a white face met my gaze with tired eyes as he struggled to maintain his footing against the many other, larger cattle around him. He didn’t fight back or try to escape. He had clearly been there all day and gotten used to the circumstances. Perhaps he had even been there before. His calmness told me it was indeed humane.

The paddles, whips, or flags weren’t hitting them; instead, they were only surprised by the sound made by the instruments. They had some space to move. They were fed and kept healthy until they were sold. The animals freaking out the most were the ones who probably hadn’t had a day of stress in their lives, who were raised on pastures with their families. Plus, it’s understandable for the cowboys and girls to get frustrated every once in a while, but most of them were patient with the animals. The place really could have been a lot worse. In fact, many of cattle would later go to worse places, to factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) where they would spend the rest of their lives standing in a pile of their own shit. They would get even less exercise, they would get fatter, and they would sell for more.

Suddenly, I cried the tears I had been fighting, feeling helpless. As a vegetarian, I know I don’t support the CAFOs or factory farms, but people who do surround me. Plus it’s more than just cows, or even pigs and chickens. It’s all food. Continue reading

God is in the Flies

15.07.19

July 19, 2015
[Post By Selys Rivera: Yakama Christian Mission Intern 2015]

When I first arrived at JustLiving Farm/Yakama Christian Mission this summer, I was determined to prove I was more than just a city girl. So to detox from city life, I sat down on a bench and willed myself to connect with nature.

There were stunning mountain ridges that sat patiently for my acknowledgement. The wind danced with the grass, the tree branches, and the flowers, expecting a high score from me for the performance. The crickets chirped, the sprinklers sang, and the cows mooed in a well-rehearsed musical composition. Together, shades of blue met green, spurts of red, and pink, creating a canvas unlike any I had ever seen. As I watched, the fresh scent of grass kissing flowers introduced itself to my nose. The wind danced with my hair then and I suddenly realized that everything I experienced expected me to sigh one word: “breathtaking.”

But I couldn’t and here’s why.

Butterflies waved as they passed by, merely implying their greeting, but not the flies. The ants continued their workday below me, too busy to chat, but not the flies. Unlike the butterflies, simply gliding to their destination didn’t satisfy the flies. Instead, they anxiously zipped here and there, unaware of how to fill the extra time. They weren’t as busy as the ants either, so they constantly buzzed their anxiety to each other, their choices in conversation local always near my ears.

As a result, the more I tried to enjoy time away from my iPhone, laptop, Netflix, and kindle, the more I struggled against one fly in particular. It must have realized what I was trying to do and found it hilarious. It didn’t think I could truly unplug from my gadgets and connect to nature. It laughed at even the thought of it – buzz, ha, buzz, ha! Continue reading

When Cows Garden

15.07.05a

July 5, 2015

We rotate cattle from pasture to pasture. As long as their numbers are balanced to land, rotational pasturing allows for healthier pasture, abundant grass, and more cattle per acre.

After five weeks, we began our second pass through the pastures a week ago. A week later we moved the cattle to the next pasture. With the grass and weeds eaten down, we found a zucchini squash plant blossoming in the middle of the eaten pasture. Standing by itself, green leaves, yellow flowers, and a couple zucchini, the cattle had eaten around the plant without a bite taken. Given who cows are and given the zucchini plant’s poky nature, perhaps it isn’t too surprising the cows left it alone.

My reaction to finding the zucchini in the middle of the pasture was one of surprise. When I told Belinda later she thought I was trying to get something past her. But there the plant grows, out of place, a good eighth mile from our garden.

Each summer, we cut up leftover squash and throw it out to the chickens. They do a fair job of eating all the meat, leaving only the skins on the ground. I imagine a chicken walked out into the pasture last summer and while turning over cow pies looking for bugs pooped out a seed or two. With water, a bit of soil, and natural fertilizer, the seed obviously found a home suited to its growth.

The unrelenting need to reproduce is amazing. Whether it humans, animals, or plants, life does not give up until it recreates itself.

The cattle may have left the zucchini plant alone because of the sticker-ness of the plant. It just might be though, they too are amazed to find a zucchini plant in the middle of their pasture. Or maybe they also find it a simple gift to have yellow flowers in their midst. Perhaps I give the cattle too much credit, yet I’d rather than not live with the idea the world is better off believing cattle are as wanting as ourselves to have a bit of unusual beauty in their midst.

 

Meating Reverence At the Intersection of Life and Death

15.04.26

April 26, 2015

Most calves arrive on the farm arrive in the fall. Many of our neighbor’s spring calves sell at that time, so fall is a good time to buy. Fall, a year later, is butchering time.

During the year I walk the pastures and slowly develop a relationship with the steers. Each walk gives me a chance to see if anyone is off their feed, has a runny eye, or a dry nose—better to find a problem at the start than after it has settled in. These walks lead to a comfortableness between us. Comfortableness matters on butcher day.

Our goal at the farm is that none of our calves’ dies of natural causes. (At least not natural from a steer’s point of view.) Growing up, I never gave much thought to steers raised on the family place, but my folks did. They did not name steers, though they didn’t stop us kids. It was their way of having some distance in the human /steer relationship. They knew the steers were not going to die of natural causes and a no-name steer is easier to kill on butcher day. Good idea, but none of that ever worked out. It seems that if you live with an animal for eighteen months, more or less, relationships develop, whether you like it or not.

Daddy never liked butcher day, mostly because of the relationship gained whether you like it or not. Daddy never killed a steer. Instead our neighbor, Mr. Riggins, dropped by early morning to handle the killing. Once done, daddy, Mr. Riggins, and us boys would skin and quarter the beef.

Today I understand Mr. Riggins and daddy’s butchering relationship was based in the human/animal relationship. Mr. Riggins didn’t have the relationship daddy had with the steers. This separation made killing much easier for Mr. Riggins than daddy. Many folk raising animals for meat need a Mr. Riggins and mine is Johan. Continue reading

An Old Word to Honor and A Modern Word “That’s For the Birds”

15.02.08

February 8, 2015

“That’s for the birds,” has an interesting undertones these days. The avian influenza, a highly contagious and deadly virus is ramping up across the countryside. Who knew that when the flu rolled out this year, we’d be talking bird flu rather than should we have gotten our flu shot or not. For a chicken though, getting the flu and getting shot is a bit different than for us. Today, the government is dispatching birds right and left.

Bird flu fear is so great, China, the European Union, and many more countries have banned US poultry and eggs. Other nations, like Canada, have placed trade restrictions on exports from Washington and Oregon. These actions have folk wondering the economic impact of the flu. Fear has also led chicken folk, industrial, and small farm alike, to take precautions like requiring farm visitors to walk through bleach tubs before entering the farm. This is what the government, the agricultural industry, and media has termed as best biosecurity practices.

The bird flu is clearing muddy agricultural industry waters and three problematic areas come into focus: dispatching birds, economic impact, and biosecurity. While not spending much time on the first two, I will say, using the word dispatching other than “kill” is a tell of an industry who fears public knowledge that animals are killed at unimaginable numbers today, healthy or not. When it comes to an economic impact because of export restrictions, one has to wonder why chickens, chicken meat, and eggs are exported in the first place? Chickens and eggs are so easy to raise, very few communities need US farm poultry and eggs. What has my goat though is the idea of biosecurity. Continue reading

Beefing Up Justice

14.11.02

November 02, 2014

Two questions often asked: “Do you have cows? And, do you raise your beef from babies?” My answer: “No, I don’t have cows. And, no I don’t raise our steers from babies.” Inevitably the next question is, “Why?”

Good question. “Why,” teases out a little more information that often gets to the core of what the original question hoped for. The “why” answer is, Belinda and I buy, raise, and sell our calves because of our sense of justice.

Our neighbors work cow-calf ranches/farms. A cow-calf ranch is one that has a number of cows which are kept year-round. These cows are breed to a bull(s) who, often, is also kept year-round. Calves are born in the spring (some ranches also have calves in the fall). They are raised on mamma’s milk throughout the spring and summer. Come late summer calves begin eating range or pasture grass alongside mamma. Early fall sees the calves weaned from their mothers. Then in late fall the calves are taken to the auction house and sold. That is where we come in.

Each fall we visit our neighbors looking for calves to bring to the farm. Our favorite way of having calves come to the farm is to say to our neighbor, “We’ll take the two black claves and the baldy. Whatever price you get at the sale yard, we’ll give you the same.” Continue reading

Sacred Cows

14.03.31a

March 31, 2014

As March closes out, I am thinking about the days leading into March. We’d had a fair amount of snow. It was nothing like the snow of our neighbors across the American landscape, but for the farm, plenty enough.

Low temperatures and snow come hand in hand and like the snow, it has been plenty cold enough. Cold weather though calls for more feed, which of course, means more work. More work, however, isn’t all that bad. Each winter we fence the hay fields, turn the cattle out, and let them forage open range. The hay fields provide plenty of feed all winter long. So, when the bottom drops out of the thermometer, and we begin feeding hay cut from last summer’s hay fields, life is just fine. And after all, we figure a little extra food enhances the physical and spiritual wellbeing of cattle.

Though we’re a long way from the ideal, society is slowly beginning to grasp the physical wellbeing of their food animal matters. However, when it comes to thinking about a food animal’s spiritual wellbeing, society remains out on the back forty. Our current blindness around animal spirituality has not always been the case. Christians at one time, e.g., Thomas Aquinas and Francis Assisi, believed the Creator imbued plants and animals with soul. That is crazy talk though today. Sure, we might allow for an animal soul possibility when we have Annabelle the cat or Hank the dog put-to-sleep—due to our deep sense of loss, but the idea of our food having soul? Well, you’re hard pressed to find that on anyone’s Top Ten List.

There are a number of reasons why animals have lost their soul. The industrialization of society, the exile of rural people to urban centers, and the mechanization of food have all led to separating people from their food animals. And unlike plants where most anyone can have a little garden, it’s a bit difficult to raise a meat cow in the suburban back yard. Yet, there are two big reasons for animal soullessness: enhanced business profits and low consumer meat cost. The latter is the ring-in-the-human community nose. Attaining absurdly low meat prices at the local market has become so important; folk would rather not question the possibility of their pound of burger or bag of chicken breasts ever having a soul if it means paying a single dime more. Continue reading