animals

Sometimes…

bob the rooster

In Memory of “Bob” the rooster and one of his girls.

This last week we have lost a beautiful rooster and hen; one to a hawk, and the rooster to  (what I believe) to be a fox.  These losses were unfortunate, but the fact remains: this is what those animals do.  They are predators and they were acting naturally.  As a farmer, my natural reaction is and was anger: something must pay, and the hawk and fox were prime possible recipients.  As an intelligent person, however, I am capable of understanding justice.

Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions and in these situations we must make a choice: to react or act.  I could shoot hawks and hunt fox but for what reason?  There is only one answer to this: revenge.  Perhaps killing the fox is necessary for it will return, but the hawk…and at best such a decision is only partially reasonable.

This led me to consider reason.  As humans we are emotional creatures with the capacity, with the freedom, to act intelligently.  Unfortunately often enough we do not act accordingly.  The loss of my rooster and hen presented a situation in which I was presented a choice: to act reasonably or emotionally.  But I had left out another choice: the middle ground: to act both reasonably and emotionally.

I was saddened to lose my rooster and hen, but I could not get myself to simply kill animals for what they do naturally: they cannot be held accountable and so it would be immoral of me to kill them for acting the way they act.  However, I did not want them to return and kill more livestock.  The logical conclusion, was to accept the losses and try to lessen the chances of the predator’s capability of doing what comes naturally: to give them a chance to learn.

Many farmers would tell me that it is not worth the trouble: to kill the animals, and sometimes they would be correct.  However, I value my farm animals and other animals and their lives in a different way: as living things.  So, according to my values it is “worth” my trouble to find a compromise.  Sometimes a little emotion goes a long way, and sometimes (in order to remain moral creatures) we must learn to value all life rather than simply the life we deem worthwhile.

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A Good Day to Die

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Farming sounds romantic: the bucolic environment, the clucking of chickens and the smell of manure and soil.  Certainly, there are aspects of farming that are romantic.  There is the peace and quiet, the honesty of the work, the freedom of the day as well as the rituals of the chores.  But farming, especially when the farm includes animals, is a reality that soon makes itself clear.

This week I will be slaughtering the first set of chickens as well as some roosters.  And while I’ve done this before the act is never comfortable.  Most of us eat meat, but most of us do not slaughter our own meat.  This disconnect is clear for the farmer, and the disconnect soon becomes a cohesive whole as the day for the killing nears.

Killing an animal should never be easy, for any reason, even for food.  But when one sets off to the country to be self-sufficient, killing to eat becomes a reality.  Most hunters make this argument but I doubt that many of them kill simply to eat.  Perhaps the hunt becomes separated from the killing;  I’m not a hunter, and don’t see the point in it with few exceptions.  But I eat meat, and that necessitates the act that I will soon partake in: killing animals.

I believe that there is an honesty in killing your own food, but that honesty comes at a price: we must look our meals in the eye while we put knife to throat.  There is no easy way around this, at least any way that is honest.  But the fact remains: if I cannot kill the animals that I have raised, I should not be eating meat.  Peter Singer goes further with his concept of speciesism.

To raise animals for food is really a balancing act between morality and need, or perhaps desire: that I’ve not figured out yet.  However, if we decide that we cannot kill our food but expect others to do it for us, we really should not be eating meat.  I like bacon, and barbecued chicken and for those reasons I must do the deed and pay the price.  Moral food has a price.

Playing God

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There is no better way to get a perspective on one’s life than to start raising the very food that you eat.  Life is a cycle that is often times invisible to us both mentally and physically but on a farm, a self-sufficient farm where nature is allowed to take its course, that cycle is clear.  We raise chicks here on the farm and we start them in an enclosure complete with clean sawdust, clean water and ample food.  They enjoy the digs, they eat and drink.  Their fate is sealed: they will be dinner.  But, they are oblivious to this and most other things, as long as they have their food and water.

As I look down into the box at the chicks as they create their world, I think to myself that their world is not much different than most of ours: we eat, we drink, we sleep and do not question much as long as we are comfortable: our fate is sealed, as long as we have our comfort.  At the end of the day there is not much of a difference.

Of course, we have more potential, but what is potential and how many of us actualize that potential?  What is potential to the chicks?  They are potential food, potential compost makers, they give back what they receive, probably more, but in the end their lives will end on the sharp edge of a knife wielded by me.  They will end up in my freezer and will supply me with the comfort of knowing that I will have food.  They will supply my compost pile and then my garden.

Their potential is in effect endless.  I wonder, then, who is god: us or them?  They fulfill their potential without ever knowing it while we struggle to even know ours.  They are efficient users of resources and effective suppliers of the very thing that sustains life; we are consumers without understanding what we consume.  This is all not to judge, but simply to ponder the fate of god, the fate of us all, which is to supply life in all its confounded mystery and magnificence.

Mothers

mothers

I am reminded, on Mother’s Day, of those mothers that do not have a voice, but love nevertheless.  I am reminded that all of life has a mother; one who loves in their own way, even if it is not ours.  I am, of course, referring to the mothers that we all often forget.  I am reminded of them when I walk out my door.

I hear them in my yard and see them scamper up trees and into the wood pile out back.  In the mornings I see them walking slowly through the forest on our property.  And sometimes I hear them in the back and have seen their black flash run through the woods.  I read about them and see pictures of them lovingly licking their young children or sleeping.

I must admit that I have disturbed a few when I lifted some wood or mixed the compost pile.  They look up at me and I feel a shutter run through me.  I quickly replace the wood, or cover them back up; them and their young.  I hear them chatter angrily when I let the cat out, and I hurriedly pack poor old Fimp back inside.  I know there are mothers that are afraid, that are hunted by the heartless among us and they too have mothers.  I cannot seem to get myself to read or watch about these things.

I would ask all of you to give a thought to all the mothers of the world and consider that they all, in their own way, love their children.  I think, especially in this age of inconsideration, that it is time that we consider those that deserve much more than just a passing thought.  I love my mother, and she loves me.  I also know that there are others do the same.

New-Old Lifestyles

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When talking to people, especially older people who sometimes don’t understand why anyone would want to “go back” to raising and slaughtering your own meat, growing your own food and working your own land, they often point out that they are “fine” eating the modern products and processed foods of our current world.  They are right, of course; at least sometimes, or partially.

But the real point is lost on them; the point is not just the healthy aspect, but also the moral aspect.  We humans have somehow lost the necessary respect that life deserves and demands.  It is not just for health reasons that we till our own gardens and raise and slaughter our own meat.  It is healthier and better (lacking the additives and antibiotics) but is most certainly a more moral choice (respect for life and the living): a better choice.

A respect for life is the cornerstone of the agrarian lifestyle.  This does not preclude, but does not necessarily include, a religious adoration of life, but it is a necessary moral choice that does much to define who we are at the end of the day.  People that were raised on farms eighty years ago seem to remember the drudgery and forget the community.  They seem to remember the hardships and forget the rewards.  I’m not sure why and perhaps I will too at some point, but I hope not.

The irony of talking to older people who have had such “lifestyles” is that they seem to look upon the new crop of self-sufficient people as being a bit spoiled, but I would argue that the new farmers of old ideas are not spoiled, but curious and willing to do the work.  Although many people will fail at these new old endeavors (because the physicality and harshness of the work have not changed) there are many who have found solace and education in pursuing  “non-progressive” ways of life.

I think that when an honest lifestyle is dismissed so easily by others that it is because those that dismiss it have never really thought about their own life.  To do so, like the new agrarians will find, is physically and morally demanding; no less than the new- life that they have chosen to lead.

The Choices We Make

 

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When I chose to get a dog from the pound about five years ago, little did I know of the ritual that would soon become my life. Every morning up at 5:30 and after the coffee cup hits the coffee table for the final time, a nudge (toy in mouth) and off we go for our morning walk. In the afternoon after work another walk, work in the woodshop or in the garden, and some playing in the yard until it is time to eat. Then, off to the favorite bed she goes watching the house from her favorite perch.

The choice to get a dog from the pound has obvious implications. My life has changed, but so has hers. I made a choice, and that choice has brought me as well as my dog a great deal of happiness. These are the choices we make, and we continually make. Other choices that we make do not always have obvious implications.

When I choose to go to the grocery store (the walk of shame as I call it), or to buy something at the local hardware store the choices we make there also have implications. However, those implications are not always as clear as bringing a dog into your life. There are animals that pay a high price for the choices we make. We make choices for many reasons, but those reasons should always be clear to us as well as the consequences of the choices we make.

An easy choice is not always the right choice, and those choices that we deem as difficult should not always be difficult. We can choose to do the right thing, but to simply do the right thing takes time, it is a habit that we must acquire. I believe that most of us know what the right choice is but are often tempted by the easy and swayed by the convenient. Our choices become others and not our own.

Perhaps it’s time to take our choices back, but this too is a choice; at least for now.

Where There’s Honey, There’s Bees

courteous

I have bees and in having bees I believe that I owe them a “common” courtesy. I must supply them with a safe place to live and to food and water. I must consider their needs during different times of the year and I must do my best to assure their health. I’m not sure that many would disagree with these responsibilities, but perhaps with the use of the word “courtesy”.

In the beekeeping world the question of what to do with a weak hive is ubiquitous. Some recommend doing nothing and letting them die out. This method is, after all, the most natural of methods. However, I would consider this to be somewhat discourteous. The Europeans did bring the honeybee to this continent and so we seem to at least partially responsible for their well-being.

Does courtesy, especially to animals such as bees, actually apply? I think it does. I don’t open the hive up unless absolutely necessary. I consider that hive their home and I a guest (when I do open it up). Of course, I want my bees to survive, but my own desires for their well-being aside, the idea of being courteous seems to be a much nicer way of going about keeping animals of any kind. Just think of the changes in attitudes towards pets such as dogs if we were only to be courteous to them.

This brings up an interesting issue: being courteous to one species is not necessarily being courteous to another. A dog needs exercise on a daily basis. To not allow the dog to exercise is in a sense being discourteous.   To expect the dog to be “good” and not allow it the needed exercise is irresponsible. Bees need a certain environment in which they can thrive in the same way that a dog needs a certain environment in order to thrive.

But does this concept apply to all creatures? Again, I think it does; and to the environment as a whole. What if we were all to think of ourselves as guests on this beautiful planet! As a guest, I must be courteous to the host, not overstay my welcome, and respect the boundaries that define…being courteous.

This concept of courteousness seems to be in line with the old analogy of the sandbox: the rules that apply in a sandbox full of children, apply to all adults in the world. I would only broaden that analogy to all creatures and to the earth itself. The old adage rings true not matter: we can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. But to get honey, it would help to consider the bees!

Lessons From My Dog

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About five years ago I got a dog, Maggie. Now understand: a dog was not part of the plan. However, in the five years that Maggie has been with me she has become part of the plan. When I hike, she goes with me. When I camp, she sleeps in the tent often under my sleeping bag. She is not so much needy as demanding. I understand that people with dogs often get a bit “crazy” (“doggy” as I’ve heard it put), but there is a difference between crazy and caring. Crazy comes from the need to fill a void; care comes from a conscious decision to change. I have found that I truly care for Maggie because I am more than willing to change for her.

The first change I have had to make because of my dog is to understand that anger is not the answer no matter what the occasion. Maggie’s face give me solace and I am reminded that she does not understand anger and because of her naivety my anger must be “redirected”. At first, this angered me… But now the energy wasted and my talent for profanity in two languages must find respite and so I tried silence. However, as any good dog owner will tell you: they know. I continue to be a student, if not a very good one, but Maggie is a good teacher.

The second change I have had to make because of my dog is to understand that Listening is essential for any good relationship. The ability to communicate with another human is difficult enough, but I have since found that communication with your dog (and with most other animals) is not only possible, but indispensable. Maggie reminds me that communication is in fact a two-way street. To communication we must listen. I will repeat Maggie’s lesson: we…must…listen.

The third change that I have made because of my dog is to understand that while sincerity may not be comforting, it is never out of place. Like the anger, Maggie can sense sincerity. It is not enough to feign the truth as it is not enough to feign peace. However, being truthful is always worth it, but only if it is sincere.

The fourth change that I have made because of my dog is to understand that lying doesn’t count. Maggie does not put up with lies, even small ones. She is truly, well, hurt. If I say we are going to “go”, then we must “go”! It is often easy to lie to each other as human beings and sometimes we do it for good reason, but Maggie reminds me that lying does not hurt any less no matter the reasons that we have.

I am aware that these lessons are nothing new, but I was never aware that I could actually become a student of my dog. When we first picked her up at the pound, we took her to dog training classes. However, a few lessons in and we dropped the class because the teacher was teaching the wrong student. Maggie has taught me something that I think we all need to be reminded of, at least once a day: don’t lie and don’t get angry when others do it. Always communicate as clearly and sincerely as possible. Oh, and if you’re going to kiss someone, do it like you mean it!

Rant #1

extinction

“Our global society has started to destroy species of other organisms at an accelerating rate, initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.”     -http://sciencemag.org

When will we remember that we are not the only species on this planet, nor are we the only one that matters?  The time for most creatures on this planet is nearing an end, because of us.

We are arrogant.  We are selfish, and we are violent.  We do not deserve, nor will we inherit this planet.  The weak will not inherit anything except pain and misery before they die.  They will welcome death long before it comes.  The strong will win nothing.  They will live to see their children die and the things they’ve cherished so much go to ruin and realize in the end that it was not worth the price they paid.

Human beings are capable of so much, including choice, but we tend to choose the easiest, the shiniest, the quickest, and the most at the cost of the best, the right, the quality, the moral, the many,  and the few.  We create amazing ideas and horrible monsters.  We are capable of love and torture, of empathy and psychopathy.  We are our own saviors and our own destroyers.  We are capable of intellect and kindness and act stupidly and mean.  We understand how to understand the universe we live in and dismiss the the only method that will give us Truth for superstitious mysteries that will lead to our demise.

We dishonest with ourselves, even when it comes to saving our selves.  This is on us, our parents, and our grandparents and it will be our children that will bear the brunt.  We know this and yet we soldier on.  We talk about problems rather than solve them because we do not face them and hence cannot find solutions; solutions that are often right in front of us.

Mother nature is the ultimate assassin; she takes no prisoners and we will not be an exception.  We can pretend and we can lie, but we cannot change that truth.  We can argue, we can choose not to confront, but like us truth will also soldier on…blindly.  Mother nature will win; there is no contest no matter how much we believe that there is.

There is only one thing left to do, and that is the right thing.  We know what it is, and we know how to do it.  It is only left to us to humble ourselves, to realize that we share this planet, and must work together and within the parameters that it holds us to.  We must earn the respect that we believe we are entitled.  We must make the most of our capacities and act like the intelligent human beings that we are capable of being in order to save the animals that we are.

Life, Death, Life, Death…Life.

bees

As I stated in the last blog about bees, my bees had been plentiful throughout the summer, filling three boxes. However, I noticed a problem (varroa mites) and treated them dutifully. I saw the results and the results looked good. I was hopeful but eventually was horrified to find that most of the hive was empty. Rather than 30-40,000 bees I was met with 2-3000 bees!

The decision to leave the small remainder of bees to their fate was hard. However, nature rarely gives us a choice and remembering that gave me some solace, if not peace. The bees died shortly afterwards and it took me a few months before I could muster the heart take the hive apart. I eventually did, and cleaned it up even going so far as cleaning the foundation of most of the remnants of my little hive. I was left with some beautiful comb and even some honey stores. Not much, but then I was ahead of the game because my beehive had given its life to do what it had no choice in doing.

I think this is important to remember about death; that there is no choice. Life and death is not a choice and bees are no different. During the last few days the hive was robbed, the queen and her small entourage died and the hive was left empty. It sat as a reminder that it is often a mistake to expect nature to act differently simply because we have a vested interest in it doing so. Nature offers us no choices and that thought reminded me that my dead colony left me with yet another gift: philosophy.

And so I ordered more bees from my local supplier (the bees are local bees with semi-local queens). It was actually a hard decision because as a beekeeper I must accept at least partial responsibility for the death of the hive that I chose to take responsibility for. Mismanagement was almost certainly a culprit in the loss of my hive, but in more ways than one. Varroa mites were also to blame. However, even the mites that were eventually the cause of death were simply following the hallowed and harsh laws of nature. They were doing what they do best: survive. With this in mind I look forward to my new bees arriving in April.

With the arrival of the new bees I will become explicitly involved in the most natural of cycles: life and death, and I hope that my explicit involvement will somehow sway the likelihood of survival for my bees instead of the other way around. I have read that because of the varroa destructor problem that human involvement is now necessary for the survival of honey bees. I’m not sure that I agree with the argument entirely as it was human involvement that created the problem in the first place. I will certainly try to do my best and the bees will do what the bees will do. Life and death to them is simply the law of nature, but I will continue to try to be the best beekeeper that I am capable of being by continually trying to understand the nature of that law.