January 16, 2009

19th Book Excerpts

Another Day on the Farm:

Now that my life is getting back to normal after the death of my second wife, I intend to bring my blog up to date and make more frequent posts. Living alone after so many years of sharing life with a partner is a difficult adjustment. The memories will always be with me.

Current Rant:

As I understand it, the experts see no other reason for crude oil price rocketing up to $140+ dollars per barrel than speculation by stock market parasites. My research indicates that during this period of rapidly rising oil and gasoline prices there was no shortages to justify the price increases. That being the case, it would seem that the Federal Government would act to prevent a re-occurrence of such price manipulation by the stock market parasites. There is no justification for the rich and powerful being able to arbitrarily manipulate prices of any commodity for their benefit at the expense of the general public. Surely it is just as important to regulate the stock market as it is to regulate the banks. President Obama please take note.

19th Excerpt from “Farmageddon”:
(My latest unfinished book)

Animal Power:

Another important thing on our list is something to take the place of tractors and provide transportation when and if it should ever become necessary. The most obvious option would be horses. Another option would be oxen. We have no horses at the present time but we do have dozens of would-be oxen. But oxen seem to be more suited to a BS lifestyle whereas horses would be better in a SALT situation. All things considered, personal preference in particular, we have opted to go with horses but have not ruled out oxen in a worst case scenario.

Horses obviously have to be trained before they are of any use other than pets. Since our experience with horses is rather limited we have decided to purchase a couple of weaned fillies and raise them as pets. We estimate the lead time required to have work-trained horses is about four years. They would be trained both as draft animals and for riding.

In the event that it’s not necessary to go all the way back to the “horse and buggy” days, the time and money spent on getting prepared will not have been totally wasted. We like horses and have been looking for an excuse to get some. They are not only nice to have around, they can also become the basis of a great hobby and/or a source of recreation. In addition, having horses opens up a whole new set of options. For example, we enjoy building things in our well equipped shop. Building horse drawn equipment, such as carts or buggies, would be an interesting and potentially useful hobby/business.

I understand that on some farms in England they use horse drawn implements that they call “Hitch Carts” in place of a tractor for pulling small field implements. The hitch carts are essentially two wheeled carts on which the driver rides and other implements, such as plows, harrows, hay rakes, etc., are pulled behind. The carts can also be used alone as a means of transportation or for hauling small loads. These appear to be very practical implements for small scale farms and might prove their worth in either a BS or SALT situation here in north America.

Horses without harnesses would be of little use. Although my son has considerable skill and experience in tanning leather and making leather products…his most ambitious project was making a riding saddle from leather that he had tanned…we will initially purchase a complete set of harnesses. One reason for purchasing is that neither of us know much about harness making. Another reason is the lack of time. A third reason is that we wouldn’t want to risk finding ourselves in a situation where we might be dependent upon poorly made equipment. So…we plan to buy all of the necessary horse paraphernalia to start with and possibly learn to make and repair them later on.

Revisiting the idea of using oxen, it’s really not as farfetched as it might seem when viewed from a purely survival perspective. Any kid who has raised a steer for a 4H project knows how easily they can be trained to lead and what nice pets they make. If you have a cow or two around for milk production, about half of your calves will be males which normally would be slaughtered for meat. Raising one of them to be a draft animal might be a sensible thing to do. A ring in the nose makes them easier to handle and a simple neck yoke and chain would make them useful for pulling a number of things.

Oxen were the second step in the evolution of agricultural power. Man-power was first replaced by ox-power and then ox-power by horse-power. The oxen were not harnessed like horses but merely had a rope or chain attached to a strong wooden neck yoke spanning their necks. This yoke, or ox-bow, not only served to pull their burdens it also kept the animals more or less locked together. They were used for plowing, logging, and heavy hauling that might have ruined a horse. They cost much less than horses, ate much less, and could live off the land on long pioneering treks. They required minimum rest. When they grew old, they were slaughtered for meat. Their main disadvantage was their slowness, being almost incapable of bursts of speed or energy. They are not known for their intelligence either, hence the metaphor, "as dumb as an ox."

One thing that I’ve become aware of while researching for this book is that we north Americans tend to forget that millions upon millions of people on this planet still farm with horses or oxen. We also tend to overlook the fact that those people might hardly notice a change in their lifestyle when gas and oil wells run dry. We may look down on them now as backward peasants but it could well be that we will have to turn to them and their methods when our system folds up.

When I was in Korea with the U.S. Army in 1946, there were a good many oxen still being used as draft animals, as I suspect they still are in rural areas. At that time, even the streets of Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, with a population of over two million, were active with teams of oxen pulling every kind of conveyance imaginable, particularly the so-called “Honey Wagons” filled with human excrement. Many of those wagons received their cargo from septic tanks beneath the capital building its self.

All things considered, I believe that in a BS situation the ox would be the wisest choice for subsistence farming draft power, with horses running a close second. In a SALT situation I believe horses will re-establish themselves as a significant source of farm power.

To be continued next time…

19th Excerpt from “Defying the Odds”:
(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

Backing Out…

About this time it started to become more apparent why Mr. Letterman had been transferred to the Vancouver works. Two things were going on that we had recently been informed of: The company would soon start 'down-sizing' the number of employees on the payroll, and, a new plant was to be built in Australia. Anyone interested in transferring to Australia was to notify the Personnel Department for interviews. The down sizing started almost immediately and it became my unpleasant duty to inform many good men that they would be laid off.

I lost a lot of enthusiasm for my job after that, even though I became involved in some very interesting assignments. Later on, as the down-sizing continued, my own job was also put on the line. The whole foreman structure was being overhauled and I was eventually informed that I, being the least senior of the general foremen, had been assigned the job of Machine Shop Foreman…the job that I had 'jumped' previously.

It was just before quitting time one day in the middle of January, 1962, when Mr. Danner called me into his office and told me that, "Tough times are upon us again…we must lay off more people…we want you to take a temporary demotion to foreman…bla, bla, bla." I told him I'd think about it and went home.

That evening Betty and I decided that it was time to move on to something different. ALCOA would just have to manage without me. I had worked for them for over fifteen years, moving up through the ranks from office flunky to general foreman. Although it was an interesting and well‑paying job, I knew I would never be happy there anymore and transferring to Australia, though appealing as an adventure, did not seem wise.

I went back to the plant that evening and wrote a letter of resignation. After packing up my personal belongings, I put the letter on Mr. Danners desk and left the plant for the last time…never to see him or even hear from him again.

In retrospect, the experience gained at ALCOA has been a great help to me ever since. Not only being a qualified machinist but also because of the knowledge gained during all those years of working with and around engineers, accountants and management people of all levels. Having had a number of supervisory positions gave me invaluable experience in planning and decision making as well as overseeing other people's work. I had also received extensive training, and have a certificate, in the field of Efficiency Expertise. To some degree, all of these skills and experiences have helped in the successful management of our farm.

It should be noted, in all due modesty, that had I known how devastating my departure from ALCOA would be to the future of the company, I might have had second thoughts about leaving them. Things apparently started going down hill shortly after I left. I can only imagine the chaos and confusion that ultimately led to the total liquidation and sale of the Vancouver works. I often think of my old friends and work mates who were so devastated by my departure that they could not even bear the pain of saying goodbye.

To be continued next time…

19th Excerpt from “But…What About Tomorrow?”:

(The book is available from http://www.publishamerica.com)

Diversified Farming:

Diversified farms are often more economically and ecologically stable than those that specialize in growing only one type of crop. While monoculture farms tend to be more efficient and less complicated to manage, the loss of a single crop could put such a farm out of business. By growing a variety of crops and livestock, farmers spread the economic risks over a broader base and are less susceptible to the price fluctuations associated with changes in supply and demand for a single commodity.

Diversity is also beneficial in other ways. If crop rotation—the practice of growing a sequence of different crops on the same ground—is included in a diversification plan, it may help to suppress weeds, pathogens and insect pests. Also, cover crops—a crop grown between main crops for soil conservation purposes—can have stabilizing effects by holding soil and nutrients in place, conserving soil moisture and improving both the water infiltration rate and soil water holding capacity.

Mixed crop/livestock operations have several advantages. They often allow farmers to make better use of their land … for example, by growing grain or row crops only on the more level land and pasture or forages on steeper slopes to reduce soil erosion. Also, if there are rocky areas, or areas otherwise unsuitable for cultivation, these areas can be used as permanent pastures. Pasture and forage crops in rotation on the tillable land will improve soil quality and reduce erosion.

There is also the symbiotic aspect of plant and animal diversification, in that the livestock can make use of some of the straw and residues of grain or row crops, while manure from the livestock enterprises will contribute to soil fertility. In may cases, animal and plant diversification also make more efficient use of farm labor.

To be continued next time…

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Have a warm day…