Just A Big Ol’ Data Dump

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The night of my last post we had a snowstorm blow in. Somewhere between 12 and 16 inches depending on how you measure I guess. I measured 12, my coworker who lives two miles away measured 16. He measured 5 inches that evening then wiped it away and measured 12 more the next morning. I just let the snow pack down. Potato, potahto.

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I know it’s not much to those of you who live further north or in the northeast but for this Texas boy it was quite the show. This was the scene Monday morning so we had a day-in. (Does “in” count as a preposition if I hyphenate it with day?) Luckily, or unluckily depending on your perspective, it started raining and the snow was gone by Wednesday morning. Unfortunately the snow and the continuing rain have added up to a new precipitation record. On Thursday we were 1.5 inches away from doubling the normal precipitation for February… and it’s on the 18th. Still it was beautiful while it was here. The snow looked like nothing so much as the top of a frosty white cobbler and every footprint was the first footprint.

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Even the pig pen was somewhat romantic. Somewhat. The poor guys were literally knee deep in mud by the time I could move them. I don’t think they would’ve minded but the water and feeder are attached to the sides and as the pigs sank reaching sustenance became quite the chore. Speaking of the pigs, I’m not sure if I mentioned it but one of them got sick two weeks ago. We had to call the vet – a GREAT guy by the way and someone we will stick with – who prescribed some antibiotics and wormer to cover all bases. The change in the pig was nothing short of miraculous. I hope that the warranted concern over antibiotic abuse does not overshadow the legitimate good they do when used properly.

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I went out today and measured these guys and if my calculations are not too far off they weigh about 195 pounds. They always look so much smaller in pictures than in real life. How come the camera is never that kind to me?

They will be headed to the butcher on the 20th of next month so I’m guessing they will be around 210 pounds or so. We’re going to keep one, one half of the other is promised to my friend and coworker for all his help over this past year, and I’ve been trying to sell the remaining half. Thought I had it sold yesterday but the buyer flaked out today. I haven’t told Don yet but I’m thinking about trying to trade it for some geese. I’ve always wanted geese. Don’t know why. I guess if worse comes to worse we’ll eat a lot of pork. First world problems.

We put a second roof on the machine shed. Some people might call it another tarp. 🙂 It’s working though and it’s cheap and instant, which as I’ve mentioned, our current weather situation demands. We also completely embraced our white-trashiness and ran plastic down the back of said shed to divert water away from the walls. It looks like hell but for the first time since summer the floor is completely dry. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me!

The rabbits are growing and will have to be separated by sex tomorrow. They’ll soon be 10 weeks old and are capable of breeding around that age. In the span of a month we went from three rabbits to 16 so we definitely want to prevent any more if possible.

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This little guy joined the farm the day before yesterday when he just showed up. I went out to feed in the evening and he was standing in the breezeway. At first I thought one of our does was loose. Then I thought he might be wild but he didn’t scram as I got closer and he’s a pet breed, lion head I think. I keep saying he but it may be a doe, I haven’t checked. I put out ads on local Facebook pages and asked all the neighbors but no claims so far. He loves to have his head rubbed. I have a bad feeling that someone dumped him.

John Henry, our rooster, is still separated from the hens. Maybe not for much longer though. The hens’ feathers are growing back and we will need to start a new batch of layers soon. Our current flock will go through their first molt in a few months and then their laying will begin to slow. I’m thinking of trying a batch of Cornish Crosses this year for the freezer as well.

I ordered two more packages of bees today. They will be here April 15 and their Langstroth hives are waiting. I’m looking forward to trying again, this time with more standardized equipment.

That, my friends, is all the news fit to print here at Creating a Home(Stead).

 

Tough

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Neither of my colonies made it through the extreme low temps and sogginess we had a few weeks ago. When I finally convinced myself that they were gone I went out and took apart the final hive. I found what I think is evidence of foul-brood. I can’t prove that it is foul-brood but more importantly, I can’t prove that it’s not.

Foul-brood is a fungus. The spores are almost impossible to destroy and it’s extremely contagious. Basically your bees just rot. Not enjoyable.

I set the hive boxes in the barn for awhile until yesterday when I finally convinced myself that they had to go on the burn pile. A part of me feels despair. I built those boxes. I built them out of scrap wood that would have gone to the landfill. It was my determination alone that brought them into being. Now I have to burn them.

I have a William James quote taped up in my cubicle at work:

Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.

I moved the boxes to the barn because I was not yet willing to have it so. I was still telling myself that it might not be foul-brood or that I might still be able to salvage my effort. But that was not true. And by refusing to acknowledge this reality I was blocking any chance of recovery. Now that I have settled into reality I can take action. I will burn the boxes and remove the main infection. I will use my weed burner to disinfect the hive stand. And I’ve already bought one Langstroth hive in preparation for the upcoming season.

Recovery is not without discomfort but it sure feels better than denial.

 

 

Consequences

  
John Henry was a steel driving man and now he’s in sexual harassment jail. We are right at the bottom end of the rooster to hen ratio and we have a young, very game rooster. I am looking for more hens but until they show up JH must live a cloistered life. 

My Banana

I’m listening to a very interesting audio book How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow. It’s a popular science book, meaning it’s a science book for the masses not that it’s a science book that is popular. It’s the usual compendium of science tidbits, study summaries, and other interesting stuff.

For example. There was a man who suffered a stroke. The stroke destroyed a specific part of his brain that interprets what the eyes see. He was not just effectively blind but truly blind – no light/dark comprehension, no shape recognition, total darkness as far as he could perceive. But your eyes don’t just connect to this one brain region. They also connect to an older part of the brain that we are not consciously aware of. (Ugh, prepositions have always been my bane.)

When asked to identify two different shapes, say a circle and a square, his success rate was 50%, the same as flipping a coin and what the researchers expected. But when he was asked to identify emotions in photographs – that he couldn’t consciously realize he was seeing even – he was correct 60% of the time. Statistically very significant.

He was also able to navigate a cluttered hall without his cane. Not by feeling his way through but just by walking. Something in his brain that was still wired to his eyes directed him around obstacles. When the researchers asked him how he did it he couldn’t tell them.

Some of the information is rote: Women dress sexier when they are ovulating, the Pepsi paradox (branding affects taste results), a slight touch during conversation improves outcome, stuff like that. One thing that I found fascinating and can’t quite get out of my head is his tangential example of Theory of Mind. I don’t know who originated it or even if I quite understand it yet but it goes something like this:

I think I want a banana.

I think that you want my banana.

I think that you think that I want a banana.

I think that you think that I think you want my banana.

I think that you think that I think that you think that I want a banana.

I think that you think that I think that you think that I think that you want my banana.

Theory of Mind is the ability to ascribe mental states to oneself and others. It’s the recognition that “I think” but also that “you think” and that I can think about you thinking AND that I can think about you thinking about me thinking, and so on. Supposedly, we (humans) are able to do this to six degrees while other vertebrates can do it to two or three degrees. I kinda lose track around the Kevin Bacon level. (See what I did there?)

Of course my description is just a really sketchy sketch of a complicated thing. Theory of Mind also encompasses emotions, what drives decisions and actions, beliefs, and false beliefs. And more of course.

 

Honestly, I think the Matrix would be easier.

Well Poo!

Some things I don’t like to leave to chance so I called some slaughter services for the pigs, just to see how far in advance I need to make an appointment. D-day won’t be until the last of April or first of May but it’s never too soon to prepare ya know.

I went ahead and asked some questions and found out that neither one will scald a hog instead of skinning. Very disappointing.

I guess we’ll just have to deal.

UGH!

This whole pitch black by 5pm just IS NOT WORKING FOR ME!!! Hahaha.

I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of farming and to realize that while I can do things out of season it’s MUCH easier to do them in season.

So educationally frustrating!

Home Again, Home Again

What a time we have had since I last posted. We made a whirlwind trip home to Texas and Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. Normally I wouldn’t consider eight days a whirlwind trip but we get home so rarely that we always try to cram a years worth of visits into one trip. Between friends and family we wound up putting 1200 miles on the rental car. That’s just “visiting” miles, we flew from Seattle to Dallas. I don’t regret a single one! 🙂

It was a little tough coming back to the overcast skies of the Pacific Northwest even though I love the green. I was born and raised in wide open spaces and sometimes I need to be able to see farther than a thousand feet. I remember as a kid standing on my aunt’s back porch in the Oklahoma Panhandle and seeing the grain elevators at Hardesty eleven miles away. Sometimes I need that distance to feel like I can breathe freely.

We are very lucky to have places to go and a place to come back to and friends that watch out for us. My coworker who lives a couple of miles down the road took care of our little farm while we were gone. We came back to a peaceful resumption of chores and whatnot.

We bred the rabbits the weekend before we left so we’ll be building nest boxes in the very near future. The pigs are growing like mad. I’m supposed to call the butcher in January to make them an appointment in April or May… probably April. And today I culled our first hen.

It was interesting doing that totally alone. I didn’t realize until I was finished that anytime I’ve cleaned fish or butchered a chicken or anything along those lines it was always with someone else. Plus, it’s been so long that it might as well have been the first time. It wasn’t a bad or emotional thing just different. And I have to admit that I’m kinda proud that I just did it cause it needed to be done.

Anyway, enough. I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it. If you don’t, I hope you had a happy Thursday.

The Cat That Made Me Question

Let me preface this by saying that all I have is questions, no answers.

My father has a real farm, 300+ acres, cows, big tractors, and lots of haying equipment. It’s not at all like my dinky 10 acres, two pigs, chickens, and bees. On this real farm he has a barn with stacks of feed. Stacks of feed always equals lots of mice. So my dad always has barn cats. Their population waxes and wanes in direct proportion to the hunting adeptness of the local coyote population. This is unremarkable.

One day though, my dad went out to feed his feline warriors after an especially fecund period and found every single kitten dead, not eaten, just dead, and a new tomcat on the premises. What happened to the old tomcat we never knew. He was either killed or exiled by the new tom, or became coyote food.

What we did know was that the new tom, however he came to be cock of the walk, had killed all those kittens. That’s what happens when a new feline male takes over a pride with young. The death of the kittens causes the females to come back into estrus and the new tom gets to pass on his DNA. This is unremarkable in the natural world as well.

Fast forward to my Introduction to Moral Philosophy class. That class, of course, just happened to include a section on Utilitarianism which of course led to an exploration of Peter Singer and his animal liberation movement and his self-made “speciesism”. Suddenly, the cat that was so unremarkable made me question everything I was being taught.

It is no understatement that a major reason Peter Singer is so important is because he is so divisive and provocative. If he weren’t, he would probably exist in obscurity like the other 99.9% of current philosophers. But the fact is he is well known. His arguments often seem to  make sense despite his monstrous conclusions and millions of people around the world are forming their ethical frame on his ideas. Another fact is that being exposed to him has caused me to constantly reexamine my relationship to, well, I was going to say the natural world but that’s just the world.

Back to the cat.

We define morality as knowing the difference between right action and wrong action. We define ethics as a system of moral principles. A moral agent has the power to cause intentional harm to another. A subject of moral worth is anything that can be harmed.

I began to question, was the tomcat a moral agent?(I think not.) Or was he just a cat?(I think so.) If he was just a cat then does that mean that morality does not apply to him? If he is just a cat and we can’t hold him to the same moral standards as ourselves then doesn’t that make morality a purely human concept? If I see a cat bring a mouse to its injured mate and I call it kindness then don’t I also have to call the killing of these kittens murder? If I am not allowed to anthropomorphize one shouldn’t I also not anthropomorphize the other?

I seriously think these are important questions because if it does turn out that morality (knowing right action from wrong action vs. instinct or natural behavior) is purely human (even if it grew out of our evolutionary path) then it affects the way we apply it to the world outside our species. I’m not talking about whether we eat meat or not, or if factory farming is ethical. I’m talking about the view we have of our actual planet and ecology.

Michael Pollan in his article “An Animal’s Place” quotes Peter Singer thusly, “It must be admitted,” Singer writes, “that the existence of carnivorous animals does pose one problem for the ethics of Animal Liberation, and that is whether we should do anything about it.”  And Matthew Scully as saying predation is “the intrinsic evil in nature’s design . . . among the hardest of all things to fathom.”

I would posit that Mr. Singer and Mr. Scully have decided that morality is innate and universal. I would also posit that pursuing action to support their decision would lead to catastrophic consequences not just for us but for all life on this planet.

Anyway, it’s almost 10 o’clock and I have to work tomorrow so I’ll sign off now. I truly look forward to your thoughts!