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 “Resurrected Hen Gives Limping Coyote Life”

Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment

15.08.23

August 23, 2015

Last week federal Judge Lynn Winmill ruled the Idaho Ag Security Act law unconstitutional. The “ag gag” law made it a crime to make undercover recordings or gain employment at a farm under false pretenses. Idaho legislators developed the law after an activist filmed and posted a video online showing cow mistreatment at an Idaho dairy, which led to death threats toward the farmer.

In his ruling, Winmill considered Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle. Winmill noted, “Sinclair, in order to gather material for his novel, ‘The Jungle,’ misrepresented his identity so he could get a job at a meat-packing plant in Chicago.” While focusing on immigrant exploitation, the novel heavily dealt with the treatment and conditions of livestock found in early 20th century packinghouses. The Jungle so impacted American society it lead to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. The kicker for Winmill is, “Today, however, Upton Sinclair’s conduct would expose him to criminal prosecution under” the Idaho law.

The Winmill decision does not enhance the existing lives of animals, humans, or plants within today’s agricultural industry as much as it maintains a modicum of animal wellbeing. Enhanced wellbeing may come, but not before people begin to learn their own wellbeing is tied to that of animals, plants, soil, and water. For that to occur, grandparents, parents, and children must begin to understand where their food comes from and how it gets to their table.

The public’s engagement in understanding food is critical because the Winmill decision can also have a down side. Today, the disengagement of people from their food is so great they cannot distinguish between good animal treatment and bad. Awful or horrendous is easy enough to differentiate, but because of the gulf between people and their food, too many folk experience good animal treatment as bad. Lack of knowledge on the public’s part can only lead to mistreatment of farmers and ranchers who are treating their animals well.

Thirty some years ago we had the county veterinarian come by our place. Someone had driven by and reported one of our horses as mistreated. We took the vet out to the horses and introduced him to Barney, a 27 year-old quarter horse. Barney was as skinny as an old horse gets, ribby and hippy. After a bit we all headed up to the house, sat down, and had a cup of coffee. The Vet observed horses are no longer a part of peoples live. Continue reading “Removing Upton Sinclair’s Gag and Re-Learning Good Food Treatment”

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 “Considering the Purple Cow Pill”

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 “Generational Food Justice”

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 “God is in the Flies”

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.

 

A Summer of Conversation and Theology

15.06.14

June 14, 2015

For fifteen summers there’s been an intern(s) at the Mission (before I arrived as well…however, I have found no records to who and when. So, if you were or you know someone who was an intern at the Mission, please send me contact information!) This summer, Selys Rivera, a senior at Florida Southern College, is interning at the Mission and living at the Farm. Selys arrives having nearly finished and a bachelor’s degree in English—with a writing concentration, and a minor in Spanish. She finishes her undergraduate degree this December! Though living in Florida, Selys’ landscape of birth is Puerto Rico and Massachusetts is the landscape of her childhood and youth

Today, Selys is a reader, writer, and dancer. She arrived at the Farm wondering about what God’s plan might be for her—wondering through the lenses of reading, dancing, and writing. Which brings an interesting insight to the Mission, for while I enjoy reading and writing myself, the lenses of dancing in the context of the Farm and theology bring a focus I often miss.

This is why I enjoy summers and what makes my work rich. Hanging with young adults each year gives me the opportunity to revisit conversations of faith about God, Jesus, Hope, Redemption, Evil, Good, Forgiveness, Retribution, Love, Spirit (to name a few) in light of the Landscape. Such conversations with young adults from backgrounds different from my own push my edges as it pushes theirs. That, I find, is cool!

So, the theological summer of 2015 has begun. What it holds is to be seen and known. In the meantime, our community will have a young adult who knows herself for the theologian she is, with a voice that will benefit our listening ears.

(By the way…Selys comes to the Mission by way of Disciples Volunteering. She has a small stipend for the summer. If you would like to contribute a few dollars that might allow her a trip to Seattle, backpacking in the Cascades, or hiking the Columbia Gorge, feel free to send the gift to Yakama Christian Mission, PO Box 547, White Swan, WA 98952.)

GMO And Cardboard Food

15.05.24

May 24, 2015

Folks in Jackson County, Oregon are having a fit. The people of Jackson County voted last fall to ban GMO (genetically modified organism) crops. Alfalfa growers are ticked off. Lawsuits are filed. Having planted “Roundup Ready” alfalfa, a perennial plant that is productive for years, GMO farmers claim a potential devastating income loss.

Roundup Ready crops like alfalfa allow farmers to spray their entire field with Roundup (imagine a crop-duster plane), killing the weeds while leaving the resistant crop alone. Some folk argue there are problems with the GMO plant itself and they don’t want it fed to the livestock of they eat or provide their milk. Others question what widespread, non-specific spraying (of any type really) is doing to the soil, water, and air. Interesting enough though, is in time the arguments may mean little because weeds are developing an immunity to Roundup. Which might mean that about the time GMO alfalfa is normalized, Roundup will not be effective, and chemical companies will have developed a new herbicide.

There are alternatives though and I hope folk begin to recognize them. I’m not wholly against herbicides, however I am against wholesale use with little regard for tomorrows folk who must use this same land. Farmers could decide to quit large-scale herbicide use and accept a few more weeds and a little more work, and the consumer could pay a little more for their food. However, this would call farmers and consumers alike to change their practices. Alfalfa wise, farmers would have to learn old practices of allowing weeds to go as far as developing a seed head and then cutting their crop before the seed ripens. Done well, the plant (often) thinks it has reproduced and does not therefore put another seed head on. Continue reading “GMO And Cardboard Food”

A Practice Of Reverence, Honor, And Spirit

15.05.17

May 17, 2015

Knowing food is a spiritual practice. Paying close attention to food is living a practice of knowing creation.

To know food is to move beyond myopic buying of food with little thought of its origin: the people involved in its growing, the weather that supports its growth, the community of production, or the sources of its growth—soil, water. To know food is to step beyond a big-box grocery store existence to life of creation.

This desecration eliminates harmony within the landscape. In part, the dearth of harmony comes from a food system that says there is a “right” way of eating. The system cares little if one is a meateater, vegan, or vegetarian, what matters most is that folk believe their way of eating is correct. Such thinking keeps a food conversation of justice at bay, and folk looking at one another believing they could do better. When a friend posted Beefing Up Justice on their Facebook page they commented, “Thank you…for the sacred work you do. And for providing ‘happy meat’ for those of us who just can’t quite commit 100% to the vegetarian way of life.” Obviously, the response made my day. Here is a meateater giving serious thought to becoming vegetarian, who has not fully embrace that way of eating, but is trying to live well in the transformation. Soon thereafter, someone responded to my friends posting saying, “I believe you will be able to give up killing to eat one day. I have faith in you!”

Both my friend and the responder gave faithful responses. Yet, I’d like to ponder the latter response.

I understand the want to give up killing. I figure few of us want to kill. However, only in our modern non-agriculture society might one convince themselves they can eat without killing. Continue reading “A Practice Of Reverence, Honor, And Spirit”

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 “Meating Reverence At the Intersection of Life and Death”