February 17, 2009

22nd Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

I think I've spent more time plowing out my driveway this winter than any time in the past 45 years. Hopefully this means there will be a good runoff this spring. Our main dugout is as close to empty as I've ever seen it. The way things are going, water is becoming more scarce every year. I had my septic tank pumped out and flushed clean this winter and put in a composting toilet for solid waste. Now only gray water goes into the septic tank. From now on all our waste water will be utilized for watering lawns and gardens.

Current Rant:

After 80+ years on this earth one would expect to understand a thing or two but I find there's an awful lot that I'll never understand.

I don't understand why the leaders of our banking system were allowed to screw things up so badly over such a long period of time without our elected officials knowing what was going on. I don't understand how the chief officers of some companies figure their time is worth several hundred times more than their average employee's. I don't understand why so few politicians have sons and daughters in the military. And...I don't understand why we ordinary citizens put up with this crap.

But there are a few things that I do understand: Common sense trumps a university degree. Good luck is more valuable than brains. It's not necessary to be a liar to be a politician...but it seems to help.

22nd Excerpt from “Farmageddon”
(My latest unfinished book)


Within the framework of the broad plan outlined in the previous chapter, we will now flesh out the overall plans with a bit more detail. I will attempt to explain the “why’s” as well as the “what’s and when’s” as we go along. In doing so, I will deal simultaneously with two potential scenarios: One scenario focuses on individual survival only. The other deals with agricultural survival as well. The success or failure of both scenarios depend, in large measure, on whether or not our politicians wake up in time to mitigate the severity of the coming crisis. That, of course, assumes that when they do pull their heads out of the sand…or their behinds, as the case may be… they will react in a beneficial rather than a harmful way.

One of the first things we intend to do is downsize our cattle herd. There are a number of reasons for doing this. For one thing, our present herd size is pushing the carrying capacity of our farm almost to the limit, even under present conditions. Under normal conditions we can raise enough feed for our present herd. But under adverse conditions, bad weather or whatever, if there isn’t enough feed we either have to reduce the herd size or buy additional feed. In view of the fact that we are actually planning for “adverse conditions” it makes sense to reduce the herd sooner rather than later.

By reducing the herd immediately we expect to get better prices than if we wait until many farmers are forced to do the same. As pointed out before, the extra income will be helpful for buying the extra things that will be needed to carry out our over-all plan. A second benefit from downsizing the herd could be that, in favorable years when we have a surplus of feed, we might be able to stockpile the surplus for “tough times”.

Another positive thing about downsizing the herd right away is that it is a step toward
the ultimate goal of preparing for Drywell Farming. As well, jumping ahead of my story a bit, we do not plan to raise beef cattle much longer anyway, regardless of circumstances. Beef cattle are our “retirement fund”. Although we want to farm for as long as possible, we realize that the day will come when we will no longer be able to. Being self employed, there will be no gold watch, severance pay or cushy retirement pension for our sunset days and government pensions are not only minuscule but uncertain.

And finally, beef cattle will ultimately yield to dairy cattle because they have no place in an oil-less economy. Although I would much prefer to be surrounded by cattle than people, and they have provided me a good living for many years, the fact remains that there is no justification for their existence either now or in the future. They are not good feed converters. They only reproduce one thing…meat. They require enormous amounts of space. They are environmentally unfriendly…produce lots of methane. They consume prodigious amounts of water…directly by drinking and indirectly in the production of their feed. So, as far as I can see, it’s goodbye Bossy and all the McInfrastructure associated with you.

Looking at both the BS and SALT aspects of farm animals, some radical changes will have to be made. The main changes will be centered around drastically reducing the numbers of grain-fed animals.

In the BS mode we plan to switch to goats for both milk and meat. Their hides will also be very handy. In the SALT mode, dairy cattle will likely resume their place as the primary source of milk and its by-products. They will probably take the place of beef cattle altogether because they fit very well into diversified farming and they provide protein in a variety of forms. Many small herds of milk cows scattered uniformly across the land will supply the needs of local communities. Home delivery of milk products will likely result…including a return to reusable glass bottles and horse-drawn wagons.

Under both BS and SALT conditions, horses will resume much of their former importance as a major source of power. During BS they will replace internal combustion engines for farm work and transportation. In the SALT period they will, at the very least, supplement those needs.

Pigs and poultry will have their place in both the BS and SALT scenarios. In the BS state pigs will serve primarily as garbage disposals and providers of meat and lard, but their diet will have to be supplemented with grain and/or high protein fodder. Chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, etc. will be free-ranged as much as possible but grain fed as well. If a choice between poultry and pigs must be made, poultry will win out because they are much better food converters. Their housing requirements are much simpler and they provide high quality protein products as well.

Rabbits are another animal that will have a place in both lifestyles. They require very little grain, if any, and thrive on good quality fodder. They will convert garden scraps…pea vines and pods, potato peelings, weeds, etc…to high quality protein and fur. They can co-habit with chickens and are relatively labour-free. They also make excellent pets for the kids.

Bees are another animal that we plan to use in the BS phase. Sugar will be scarce and expensive. Bees provide both sugar and wax for candles etc. They are basically self-sufficient and require relatively little labour. In the post-oil era bees will assume a much more vital role than they presently have.

Aside from the animals mentioned, the only other animals that might end up as part of our menagerie are cats and dogs, both of which are hard to justify on the basis of need. Cats, of course, do catch mice and could be of some value in that regard. For that matter, in a survival situation they would just about be forced to solve their own nutritional needs. Dogs are in the same category as far as justification goes. They do make nice pets and are good company but they have to be fed. In any case, there will likely be stray dogs and feral cats all over the place because of mass abandonment.

Again I remind the reader to keep in mind that these ideas and plans are designed for our specific farm situation. Farms in warmer climates with more options will handle things much differently than we will. For example, in climates where year-around pasturing is possible there will likely be more emphasis placed on the need for cattle and less concern for shelter and water. All farmers will design their specific plans for their specific circumstances.

With that brief introduction to the livestock aspect of our plans, I’ll get into a bit more detail about the requirements of each species of animal, beginning with horses.

Horses obviously have to be trained before they are of much use. Although we have a limited amount of hands-on experience with horses, there is much we will have to learn. Assuming there will be nobody around to answer our questions, we will rely on books as instruction manuals and common sense as a principle. Horses make great pets. Like most animals they respond to kindness and patience. They can be trained by “breaking”, as in the wild west days, and they also can be trained in a more gentle and humane manner. Ours will be trained gently and humanely using repetitious and progressive teaching methods. Progress in training of the horse will likely be geared closely to the progress in learning by the instructor.

A certain amount of equipment will be required during the training process…lounge lines, halters, ropes, etc. but before they can do any useful work they will have to be fitted with harness and saddles. Making such things is not only beyond our capability, it doesn’t make sense. So, once the training period is underway, we will buy everything else that is needed.

We already have suitable shelter, corrals, etc. for horses, as well as all the other animals mentioned, but we have no horse drawn equipment. So, that bring up the next order of business…making horse-drawn equipment. Here again we will have to rely on books for the knowledge we lack but we are already well equipped with tools and shop equipment. One of the first projects will probably be a cart of some sort and it will likely be constructed from the running gear of a small car. We will need a plow and other horse-drawn field equipment. If we can find suitable equipment at auction sales or other sources, we will purchase them. Otherwise we will make our own from salvaged parts.

Unless an animal has work to do, once it is trained, whether it be a horse or a dog, it will likely need a refresher course. We plan to use our horses as much as possible, even though we have more efficient means of doing the work. Garden work is one option. Dragging logs out of the bush is another. Driving to town to get the mail is a third option. Though these may all be “make work” jobs in one sense, they will serve to keep the horses better trained until such time as they may be needed as our sole means of mobile farm power.

The remainder of the livestock, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and bees, wont be purchased right away. Housing and other facilities are either already present or can be constructed as needed well before the real emergency arises. Bees, however, may be the an exception, although there are so many beekeepers in our area that there should not be a problem finding the necessary facilities when the time comes. For that matter, all of the animals on our list are available locally, primarily because they are all well suited to local conditions.

To be continued next time…

22nd Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”
(Available from http://www.publishamerica.com)


After a fruitless week or so of looking for a farm close by, we learned that the Canadian National Railway still maintained an office in Edmonton, to assist potential farmers in finding land—a carryover from the land settlement days of the past. Upon phoning the man in charge, I was surprised by his eagerness to talk to us at our earliest convenience.

As we entered the CNR building the next morning, we enquired at the receptionist's desk as to the whereabouts of the man we wished to see. Following her detailed instructions, we made our way up the stairway and down the corridors until we at last came to a small office tucked away in a far corner. Our man was sitting on his desk, apparently in the midst of his coffee break…a mighty long one from appearances. He greeted us enthusiastically as we entered.

Upon hearing our story, he said he might be able to help us. Up north, in the county of Athabasca, he had heard there were lots of farms for sale. There was also a District Agriculturist, a Mr. Godel, that had the reputation of being one of the best in the province. He suggested that we contact Mr. Godel and offered to make an appointment for us. We thanked him and he immediately picked up the phone and called Mr. Godel. After making an appointment for the following morning, he offered to drive us there personally. I wasn't sure whether we were witnessing an example of Canadian hospitality or a guy that desperately needed to get out of his office.

Thanking him for his offer, we explained that we would prefer to drive our own car because we might want to stay there for a few days. So, it was agreed that we would meet at his home the next morning and follow him to Athabasca .

The next morning we were headed north again, in the wake of a man that proved to have a rather heavy foot. For the first fifty miles, or so, the road was paved and we had little trouble keeping him within sight. But about fifty miles from Edmonton, the pavement ended abruptly and we suddenly found ourselves in a hail of gravel behind a car that was rapidly disappearing in the dust cloud up ahead. Finding a point far enough behind so that we could actually see the road, but near enough to not totally loose sight of him, the next couple of hours on this dusty gravel road ultimately brought us to the town of Athabasca.

Catching up with him at the corporate limits of the town, we followed his car to the office of the District Agriculturist. After introducing us to the Mr. Godel, our man promptly departed—never to cross paths with us again.

Mr. Godel introduced us to Ron, his assistant. After listening to my story—no farming experience, no money, no job, a thousand miles from home and a family of seven to feed—they appeared unsure as to whether to giggle or weep. But, for reasons known only to them, they decided to take this naïve kid—with more guts than brains—seriously.

(Years later, when we were well established as farmers, Ron told me that as soon as Dad and I had left their office that morning, they had wagered between themselves as to the odds of our surviving even a single year of farming. Their conclusion was that the odds lay somewhere between slim and none.)

Leaving their office…armed with their best wishes, a packet of pictures and a list of farms for sale…we set out to locate the farms. After looking at two or three over the next few days, we finally got around to the last one—the one that Mr. Godel had hesitated to even tell us about. He said that the farm was in a poor location, the soil was rocky and infertile and only marginally suitable for cultivation. The only positive comment he offered was that it was cheap and it came with a full line of machinery.

Being the only farm on the list that we had not seen, we decided to have a look, in spite of Mr. Godels misgivings. Marvin Fertig, the owner of the farm, had recently suffered a heart attack and could not continue farming. He had homesteaded the original quarter section of his farm in 1927 and had lived there ever since. With the help of his wife and three sons, he had built a farm from raw land, while holding down a full time teaching job.

Over a period of thirty five years, they had purchased four additional quarters of land, cleared fields, constructed numerous log outbuildings and accumulated a full line of grain farming machinery. Now, after all those years of hard work and tough times, they were faced with the prospect of trading it all for a house and lot in town.

We spent the remainder of the day looking around the farm, checking out the buildings and machinery and walking the snow covered fields. The more we saw, and the more we discussed the farm's potential, the better it looked. Before leaving for the hotel that evening, we arranged to come back the following day to talk some more.

I felt sorry for the Fertigs because they really had their backs to the wall. But, on the other hand, I fully intended to negotiate the best possible deal for myself. There's no grounds for sentiment in business deals, especially when you have as little money as we had. Their asking price for the farm, complete with machinery, was seventeen thousand dollars—the machinery being valued at five thousand.

A long afternoon of dealing, over cups of coffee, as well as a good supper, ended with agreement on a price of fourteen thousand five hundred for everything. An earnest money deposit of two thousand dollars, to be held in trust by the local notary public, would make the deal binding. I felt that both the buyer and seller thought they had done as well as possible.

Back at the hotel that evening, Dad and I talked late into the night, studying and discussing the long list of machinery that Mr. Fertig had prepared for us. I still have that list. There were two tractors, a threshing machine, a binder, tillers, cultivators, harrows—a full line of grain farming machinery. There was also a long list of smaller items, hand tools, blacksmith equipment and the like—everything needed to start farming.

Estimating the total value of all the machinery and small equipment at five thousand dollars, placed the cost of the land and buildings at nine thousand five hundred. Putting that in a different light, if the value of all the buildings and the four hundred and fifteen acres of bush land were totally discounted, the remaining two hundred and twenty five acres of cultivated land was costing just a bit over forty two dollars per acre. I fell asleep barely believing it could be true.

The next day, when the deal was finalized, it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I not only had a lifetime job, I was the proudest, least experienced, most eager 'FARMER ' in North America.

Later on, with the waning of the initial euphoria, came the sobering reality of our situation. We had to be ready to put in our first crop by the end of April and it was already mid February. In the meantime as many of our portable possessions as possible had to be moved to our new home. There was no money for moving vans. The job would have to be done with the only vehicles available: a 1947 Dodge half ton pickup; a two wheeled home made trailer; and our 1958 Plymouth station wagon.

To be continued next time…

22nd Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?
(Available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

Factory Farming:

Factory farming, a term usually associated with confined animal production, is primarily concerned with maximizing yield and profit—with little concern for the system's effect on the animal's welfare. Animals raised on such farms are regarded simply as units of production, to be exploited as efficiently as possible, rather than as living beings. Typically, the animals are kept indoors for their entire lives, crammed into dreary overcrowded pens or cages which are often so small that they cannot even turn round.

Using a combination of selective breeding, rich diets and growth-promoting drugs the animals are pushed to ever higher yields. This often results in high degrees of stress, especially if the animals are prevented from engaging in the social behavior that is natural to their species.
(I wonder where the boiling-alive of shell fish fits into this humane-treatment-of-animals concern that we profess.)

While there is some truth in the claim that factory farming reduces labor costs and feed and capital investment per animal unit, some studies show that these direct input costs are rather insignificant in the long run. It is, however, not just a question of the direct input production costs. Factory farming involves high hidden costs, such as pollution and other harm to the environment.

Although these hidden costs are not included in the price paid by the consumer at the grocery store, they will eventually have to be paid in the form of taxes to clean up the environment and the extra cost of health care for human victims of environmental contamination.

It should be pointed out that if we were to return to free-range systems, from factory farming, the relatively small price increases per unit of production that might result would come at a time when our food costs us less, as a percentage of our overall living expenditure, than ever before. At a time when our food is so cheap, in real terms, it could be argued that as a moral society we can afford to pay the relatively small extra costs needed to ensure that animals are reared humanely.

One thing is for dang sure … the giant corporate farms will not spend a dime on environmental protection if there is no profit in it. The first duty of any corporation is to make a profit for its stockholders. Even if legislation was passed which directed them to take steps to protect the environment, their lawyers will do their best to find loopholes in the laws and their powerful lobbyists will bribe the governments to change the laws.

To be continued next time…

I would like very much to hear from you! You may send your comments by clicking either the Comments or the Letter icon below. Thank you…Have a warm day…

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