Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Social Networking...

For those who read my previous post about phones and how much I hate them, it might come as something of a surprise to note that I am a relatively avid social networker.

The difference, I think is the difference between passive and active control. One doesn't control a telephone. When it rings, a phone demands attention right now. On some level, I think most of us find a ringing telephone at least a little inconvenient much of the time. But I can check and update my Facebook page totally at my convenience. Because I think it's convenient and because I actively control when I use it (and also because I'm kind of curious as to what other people are doing), I actually check in on a fairly regular basis.

I got started on Facebook a couple of years ago. I probably wouldn't have jumped on the bandwagon nearly as quickly if I still lived in the area where I grew up simply because I would have been in regular contact with most of my friends and family. As Melissa will attest, I am kind of absent minded a good deal of the time. I originally started my personal page as a way to avoid having to endlessly re-email pictures and updates to family and friends who didn't get included on emails they should have been in on because yours truly forgot to include them in the first place. It worked a treat and it saved me a lot of awkward embarrassment in the process. Even more convenient ! I've also enjoyed getting re-acquainted with a whole bunch of people with whom I'd long ago lost touch.

About a year ago, we designed a Paradigm Farms FB page for our horse business as another (convenient) way of maintaining contact with our clients, many of whom were already on FB. Much to our surprise, our page seems to have attracted a broad following that stretches far beyond our friends and clients and as an added bonus, by cross referencing our blog to our FB page we've gleaned a considerable blog following as well. At the end of the day, getting and keeping the word out there is what it's all about, and doubly so if it can be done in a convenient manner !

Sunday, December 26, 2010


I'm sitting at my desk right now, typing away on my computer while eating a Cadbury Caramilk bar; a much missed Canadian treat of which Melissa ordered me a case as part of my Christmas present. Less than an hour ago, we arose from the table at my in-laws after our third turkey dinner complete with all the fixin's. I was so stuffed I swore up and down that no more food would pass my lips until at least tomorrow noon. So much for that.

When I look back on my childhood, one of the things that amazes me is the plentitude of food that graced our kitchen and pantry at all times of the year. It's a wonder all of us didn't founder on all that food !

Don't get me wrong, Melissa and I set a generous table, and if we know you're coming we'll make sure there is plenty in the larder. If you get up from my table and you're not full, I promise it'll be your fault, not mine. But how many households could accomodate several extra with no notice at virtually any meal like we could do back then ? I know we sure couldn't.

I hope Christmas was a good one for all of you. We're getting ready to feast again to mark the New Year. All I can say right now is ugh, and when you get a minute could you pass the chips ? :)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When I think about Christmas...

When I think about Christmas, I think about the sort of unconditional love and laughter that the very best marriages bring with them.

I think about family and friends who are genuinely happy to be together, even if they saw one another yesterday, and who enjoy one another's company each and every day.

I think about feasting and parties and naps in easy chairs and presents.....yes, presents.....the more with my name on them under the tree, the better (!).

I think about excited little ones and snow and frosty air that lends itself to Christmas stories from grandparents and Santa's visit early on Christmas morning.

I think about little white country churches in the snow and Christmas pudding and happy people singing Christmas songs at the top of their voices and joy and giving and goodwill towards men.

I think about country farm houses with candles in the windows and wreaths and sleigh rides and cook stoves and the smell of wet wool mitts and hats with ear flaps and skating under the stars.

I think about what a blessing of a life I've lived to have experienced every one of the good things I mentioned about Christmas.

Whatever your traditions and wherever Christmas finds you, all the best and Merry Christmas from us to you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Time's a Comin' !

Said my grandad to my grandma. Christmas 1986.

"Is everybody who ought to be here, here ? "


"Reckon we're good to eat."

Everybody meant just that. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, neighbours and literally anyone who was at loose ends in our little community on Christmas Day was welcome to come break bread with us. In those days, before my generation scattered, there were so many of us that nobody's house would hold us all, so we had our Christmas meal each year on Christmas Day at the community hall, just down the street from my grandparent's house, and we filled it up with our presence and our laughter. Grandma would usually wind up at the piano, and we'd play, sing and eat all day long.

I couldn't imagine our Christmas tradition ever being any different then, but 1986 was the last in a long line of Christmases that my grandad would be able to say those words to grandma. From that day to this one has been a slow playing out of that family tradition as new families began their own Christmas rituals. Lest I sound sad about this, I believe that's as it should be, although I admit to some nostalgia for those days each year as I get older. If I knew then what I know now, I'd have tried to cram in even more fun that I had back then, and that is saying something !

Fast forward twenty four years and, except for chores and barring equine or livestock emergencies, I'll be looking forward to participating in Christmas dinner with my in-laws and their families, including Melissa's grandaddy who, at 94 will be making the trip up from Memphis in a few days. Christmas and the days surrounding it are part of the hand full of days that we completely close the farm to visiting clients; I admit to looking forward to a few day's grace on that front, too !

What are you doing for Christmas this year ? What are your family traditions ?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Stall Floor Design - For Laura

In the comment section of my last post, Laura asked a question about how we designed our stall floors in the barn at our new farm. Given my background, it ought to come as no surprise that I absolutely detest poorly designed animal facilities of all types and my biggest bugaboos are poor drainage and inadequate ventilation. (Some people call me eccentric. Just sayin' ! :)) As such, we gave this matter a lot more thought than it might seem to warrant.

Everybody has their own idea about what makes a good stall floor. From a horse's perspective on achieving maximum comfort in a stall, I believe the flooring needs to provide a surface that's clean, dry and soft. There are a whole buncha real good ways of achieving this; additonally we were looking for solutions that were more labour efficient and economical than forking out ten inches of shavings from every wet spot in every stall each day, which is more or less what we do now. Rather than detail everything in writing, I've included a schematic that (I think) is pretty easy to follow.

If anybody has any questions, please feel free to shout 'em out. Obviously, my schematic is not done to scale. The top of the tile drain is roughly 15 inches below the bedding surface in the middle of the stall. The bedding is 6 inches deep all across the stall with the 3/4 stone making up the difference. If I had to guess, I'd say there is roughly 2 inches of 3/4 stone at the walls and (obviously) roughly 9 inches in the middle of the stall.
So far, these stalls have only been used intermittently but I can say with certainty that they drain like nobody's business ! :)
Hope this helps !

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Happiness is....

A lot of folks get the weary dismals this time of year, so I thought I'd start a list of things that make me happy about winter.

1. A steaming hot cup of coffee and some good conversation around the kitchen table after coming in the house for breakfast or dinner on a cold winter day.

2. Running with the goats. Every morning we reposition the fainters from their stall to the goat pen while we feed horses. And every morning, no matter what's come the night before, they hit the door with enthusiasm, running full tilt. Anything that can start the day with that much enthusiasm deserves more than a smile and a moment, so Melissa and I run with them. Honest to goodness we do. Every morning God sends. Never fails to make us smile !

3. Feeling warm sunshine and cold wind on my face while working outside on a crisp, clear day.

4. Being able to work really, really hard and not work up a sweat !

I hope you'll add to my list. What makes you happy about winter ?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Warm or Cold ?

Cool, cold, warm or hot ?

Melissa and I are complete opposites on this topic.

You see, Melissa loves heat, and by this I don't mean Melissa likes it kind of warm. Melissa likes it HOT. She is just beginning to get comfortable when the outside temperature is 80 degrees. Ninety degrees is a comfortable summer day in Melissa's world. Over the course of several years, I have watched her ride, put up hay, build fence, and do all sorts of strenuous tasks with the mercury at or above 100 (very humid) degrees, and I have never heard her complain that it was too hot to complete any task. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that Melissa works outside all summer long wearing jeans and boots and often she's wearing a long sleeved shirt.

Seventy degrees is two shirts and a sweater in Melissa's world. If she's sleeping, it's also a pair of jogging pants over top of a pair of long underwear. I am only moderately surprised by how cold her extremities can get while sitting in a 70 degree house, but it amazes me that her torso can also be seriously cold. Melissa gets all of this honestly enough. Neither of her parents function at all in cold weather, and (so they tell me) they both exhibit all the same symptoms as Melissa !

Frankly I find all of this unbelievable. When it's hot outside (anything over 80 degrees) I want to be wearing the least amount of clothing that is decently possible. If I am working while it's hot and I'm not near any sort of public venue, my normal attire is shorts, socks and work boots. If I have a shirt with me at all, it's usually soaked in water (or my own putrid sweat) and tied around my head. In spite of this, if I'm working strenuously I still look like I am going to have a stroke.

That I live in a place where it's over 80 degrees consistently for five months of the year and part of the time for two months more is a true test of my love to Melissa. If I had my druthers, I prefer cool over hot weather and I always prefer cool nights (say 45 degrees) for sleeping. I set posts and built fence all day today while working in my shirtsleeves (and unlined Carthartt bib overalls) in bright 35 degree sunshine. A little cool, but if I had to choose that or 90, it'd be an easy choice !

Cool, cold or warm ? Which do you prefer ? How about your SO ?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Taste of the North

Well kiddies, we're fixin' to get our first little taste of sustained cold weather (aka winter) this week. As you might imagine given my Canadian heritage and given that I work outside in whatever mother nature throws at us, I've spent some time studying winter.

Winters in southern Middle Tennessee show much wider fluctuation in temperature than one might at first anticipate. Given our relatively low latitude, it's no surprise that we get some very warm winter days, but it can also get surprisingly cold, albeit for short periods of time. Because we retain the right to real warmth all winter long, our severe weather season never really shuts down; we can get severe thunderstorms every month of the year.

Day to day, we seem to spend precious little time at or near "average" conditions here in the winter. We *should* average around 50 degrees in the daytime and a little below freezing at night. More often than not, we seem to arrive at our averages by combining long stretches of weather in the 60's and 70's with periods spent in the 30's and low 40's (which is what we're headed for this week).

It snows here a few times every winter, although the amount of time we spend with any snow cover at all on the ground is measured in hours. Days completely below freezing are relatively rare but they do happen a handful of times each winter. Below zero cold is truly rare....I haven't seen it in my six years here....but it can happen. Same thing with truly heavy snow.

For those of us who work outside all day every day, I think the worst winter weather in Dixie is the sort of day-long sluicing rain and wind combined with a temperature at or below 40 degrees that we seem to get with some regularity in Dec, Jan and Feb. From a comfort perspective, I would personally take 10 degrees and sunny over 38 degrees and pouring rain any day of the week.

I spent the morning putting tank heaters in all our water troughs and making Melissa feel better about herself by blanketing every horse on this farm. I'm off to Home Depot to buy a couple of heavy duty extension cords, a new hose, as well as a bag of grit so I will be fully and totally prepared for winter ! :)

I'm looking forward to lots of long winter evenings spent dozing in my favourite chair, right next to the space heater !

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

FDA = No More Rotten Eggs

Remember the huge egg recall that I talked about earlier this summer on this blog ?

Remember I said at the time that this would likely lead to significantly more oversight by some governmental organization ?

Looks like that chicken has come home to roost, no pun intended. The FDA will be the new food regulatory agency of choice, so it seems. Violators will be subjected to a whole host of new and unpleasant punishments, so they say. Reckon we'll see. It seems to me that we have more laws on the books than we can currently enforce as it is. Adding more laws that we aren't going to enforce isn't likely to solve the problem. At least nobody is talking about food irradiation (as I predicted they would), but it's early days yet.

Will the FDA be able to prevent new outbreaks of food borne illness ? Who knows ? I will say that it seems to me that the government is stuck in a very reactive mindset on an issue that requires a proactive approach to actually address the issues at hand. It ought to be interesting to watch it all evolve, that is for sure.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Honey ? Can you get the phone ?

About once every three or four months some member of my family or one of my friends will decide to phone us and they always call our home phone. Invariably we are out when they phone; they never get us directly so they leave us peevish (but usually funny) messages enquiring as to the state of our mental and physical health . If they are very lucky, we'll remember to listen to our home phone messages that week (not kidding) and at some time in the next six months we might respond with a call of our own. The problem with our home phone is that we're never inside the house to answer it and when we *are* in the house we never think to pick up the receiver to check for messages. I have wondered out loud several times why we continue with the bother and expense of having a home phone.

We do a little better than this with our cell phones, but only a little. It's hard to answer the phone or have a conversation when one is engaged in farm work or feeding horses, so we usually set our phones down somewhere and then spend the remainder of the day trying to remember where we set the damn things. I've thought about getting a blue tooth to wear around the farm so I could just keep my cell phone in my pocket (set to vibrate rather than ring), but in addition to being a hazard I think they just look dorky, and I KNOW I'd forget to take it off when I went to the store, etc. Melissa won't entertain the bluetooth at all !

One of the greatest things about living in 2010 as opposed to say 1987 (which was also pretty great for a whole variety of reasons) is the technological revolution that has resulted in internet/email and text messaging communications and devices. While I absolutely abhor the poor spelling and grammatical short forms that text messaging has brought about, I LOVE the medium itself !

In 1987 we had just moved from a party line (our ring was one long and one short) to a private telephone line, which cut down on our phone ringing by half (which my parents..who weren't phone people either...thought was great) ! We had one black, bakelite rotary dial phone in our house and it was located on the wall in the middle of the kitchen....not exactly designed for privacy so conversations were kept to a minimum.

Fast forward twenty-three years and who hears the phone ring any more even if there's twelve of them in the house ?

Need to communicate with the Webbs ? If you want an short and to the point answer immediately, text us. If it can wait a few hours and/or you need more detail, email us. If you aren't in a hurry for a return call and/or want to chat, call our cell phones and pray a lot. If you never want to hear from us again, call our home phone and leave a message.

Hope you are all having a good day !

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Freedom to choose

I've been doing considerable thinking these past few days about the ways that various forms of democratically elected governments manage to (often rudely) interject themselves in to our respective lives. While I understand that some laws are necessary to maintain a modicum of societal control, and while I also understand and respect the need for police and court systems to enforce necessary laws, I think it's fair to say that as a society we've gone way, way beyond what was originally intended on nearly every front.

I'd like to cite an example from my past to illustrate my point. As all my longtime readers know, I and my first wife bought our family farm which is located in a rural part of Ontario. As part of our purchase and sales agreement with my mother, we agreed to sever her house and about an acre off of the farm so that she would still own our family home place outright in the (we thought then) unlikely event that something happened which would force me to liquidate the farm. Since this transaction was between consenting family members on land that our family had owned since well before Canada became a country, we naively assumed this would be easy to achieve. How wrong we were.

Thanks to overzealous township and county level municipal by-laws and provincial regulations governing land transfer and severely restricting (with the intent of eliminating) rural severances of all types, our simple land transaction nearly never happened. As it was, I hired a farm land lawyer and paid him thousands of dollars to attend multiple on-going meetings with county and provincial officials of all types which went on for over eighteen months before we were granted our severance. Thank God I got it done when I did because a few years later our farm was added to the Ministry of the Environments protection plan for the Oak Ridges Moraine which made what I wanted to accomplish virtually impossible to do.

Shortly after the sale was completed, I foolishly decided I wanted to build a home on my land. I say foolishly because by then I had come to realize that our local township/municipality and county municipality planning commission had absolutely draconian regulations on building *anything*, even relative to the counties immediately adjacent to it. By the time we got done with engineered drawings, site plans, square footage regulations, electrical inspections, well inspections, septic tank inspections, etc., etc., etc., plus the nearly $ 15,000 in fees, another eighteen months had gone by. It would have literally been smarter, easier and cheaper to buy a piece of land a mile down the road in the neighbouring county and build my house there. I swore up, down and sideways that I would never, ever repeat that experience again.

I won't even mention what it would have taken to build out or enlarge a livestock facility, except to say that I have grave doubts that it could be done at all in that particular place today.

Fast forward ten years.

Our new farm is located in an unincorporated portion of Giles County, TN, and as such, there is no planning commission to fool with and no zoning restrictions on us at all. For the time being, we could literally build our home and buildings out of papier mache if we chose to do so, provided we could pass the wiring inspection and a perk test. Given the level of regulation where I came from, this entire experience has been heaven to me. Of course as we speak Giles County is considering adopting a building code and they are looking for public input. Sisters and brothers, they are fixin' to get some ! That is one county commission meeting that I will definitely be attending. And this leads me to my last thought.

On the eve of Thanksgiving what I am most thankful for is the freedom to choose my own way.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the gist of my post, I hope you'll agree that the time to speak up when someone threatens to take any of our freedoms away is *right now*, and the time to become complacent about this is *never*.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Short Night's Sleep

I don't know how they do it, but most of our recommended transporters manage more often than not to arrive at both our client's farm AND our farm at a reasonably convenient time, at least if any hour between 5 am and 10 pm can be considered convenient. In my talks with commercial stables of various types, it seems that we are kind of blessed in this regard. At some places arrivals between 1 am and 4 am are de rigeur. It would be the understatement of the century to say that I am not at my best during the wee hours of the morning, and I'm even more of a mess the following day. A normal night's sleep for me is *at least* eight hours between the sheets, more if I can wangle it. Melissa jokes that I sleep more in a night than she does in a week. At least I think she's joking.

I'd say that either of us fulfilling our sleep quota is unlikely to happen tonight. We've got a 2 am arrival on the schedule, so I'm thinking it's going to be a big coffee day for me tomorrow. On a positive note (and there aren't many positives with 2 am arrivals, so please humour me), so far nobody from the transport company has asked us to meet them at a truck stop thirty miles away to stage the transfer ! :)

Hope everybody enjoys a good night's rest tonight.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Post of Thanksgiving....

Although Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on Columbus Day, and although Pilgrims, tea parties and vigourous independence didn't really figure in Canadian history, Canadian children of my generation were required to compose essays of Thanksgiving every year in public school. Thematically, this often got old pretty quickly because, with some exceptions, Canadian history is often kind of bleak. During settlement times, in much of the country for much of the year it often seemed to me that there was precious little to be thankful for.

For those who are interested, pioneer author Susanna Moodie's book "Roughing it in the Bush" makes an excellent case for just how tough life was in my part of Ontario in the early 1800's. Given that my family emigrated shortly before this book was written, and given that they stayed, and, evidently, prospered, gives me a lot of respect for their mental and physical health and stamina. Compared to most people today I work pretty hard at an unending and very physical occupation. In spite of that, I very quickly came to the conclusion that our pioneers were an awful lot tougher than me ! That these folks could find things to be thankful for in spite of their often intolerable living conditions leaves me in slack jawed amazement.

Fast forward two centuries and relative to our pioneers, my list of things to be thankful for is literally endless. However, like most Americans, more often than not I'm guilty of finding things to bitch about rather than spending any of my time looking for things to be thankful for. Rather than further testing your patience, dear reader, by making you read through my endlessly mundane list, I'd encourage you to take a few moments to discard the mistrustful detritus that clogs the arteries of your brain and think thankful thoughts about the many good things that have come your way, often, I daresay, in spite of yourself.

If, despite of my good thoughts, you still find yourself struggling with this concept, take heart....you are not alone.

In spite of my meditative mood and generally happy demeanor while thinking positive and thankful thoughts, earlier today I found myself fervently wishing for a pair of machine guns mounted on the hood of my truck so that I could take out the slow SOB in a big black sedan who was happily tooling along at 45 in the fast lane on the interstate while slowly accumulating a mile long train of traffic behind him.

Given the looks on some of my fellow motorist's faces, I'd say I wasn't alone in my thoughts. I take heart in that. If you can't be thankful, aim for frustrated and see where it takes you. It's been pretty good to me !

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Three Musketeers...

Sixteen years after graduating from college is a long time. I know this because I spent most of my weekend trying (and, perhaps sadly, mostly succeeding) at reliving various types of college experiences and creating a whole set of new memories in the process with two of my oldest and best college friends. I don't think it's overstating things to say that we got up to a lot of fun during our tenure at Guelph. More often than not, I was the ringleader of "operations", Dave acted as the grunt man, while Mike was the conscientious bookkeeper.

It's hard (but not impossible) to pass a class based on lectures when one doesn't attend, and I always considered lecture attendance optional rather than a necessity. Thankfully, Mike and I were working toward the same major, which meant that we mostly had the same set of classes, for which I will be forever grateful, thank-you-Jesus. Mike's fastidious note taking and overall record keeping ensured our eventual success, but it really got under his skin when I would use his notes and then beat him on tests ! :)

None of us had ever had any experience with town living before we moved into our townhouse in Guelph. As you might suspect, this created some interesting problems with some of our neighbours, especially those who didn't like listening to classic country like Buck Owens, George Jones, Tom T. Hall or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band at full volume at four in the morning. As you might suspect, the local police ALL knew their way to our house; they were relatively frequent visitors during our residency, and I think it was particularly instructive for Melissa to hear that the most common refrain from them was in addition to turning the volume down, could we please get most of the people to pee inside rather than outside our house, and especially could we keep them out of the front yard. I'm not sure of very much, but I am 100 % sure that Guelph's finest threw one hell of a party the day we left town for good.

Today Dave runs his family dairy a few miles down the road from where I grew up while Mike works as an AI rep for a large dairy and beef genetics company in Eastern Ontario. I was proud to see them this weekend and if they had half as much fun as I did, I don't think we'll be waiting five years for the sequel ! :)

The three musketeers in our front yard this afternoon ! From left, Mike, me, Dave

At the rocket-ship ! Huntsville, Alabama

Travis Tritt sings a song with the title T-R-O-U-B-L-E ! I thought that was an instructive title for the evening ! :)

Some of the Animal Science Majors, Class of OAC 1994. Photo taken March 1991. Mike is at the bottom left while I am on the steps one row above him and to his left. Shawn was a fourth musketeer, and he is the fellow in the kilt (in keeping with good Scottish tradition, still prevalent in Glengarry County, Ontario to this day) !
OAC Aggies Square Dance Team ! Back row: Mike, me, Shawn and Kevin . The girls from left were Michelle, Karen, Anik, Barb and Jen. Our coach in the overalls and straw hat was the inimitable and much missed Doug Lawson.
Dave and I at the Opryland Hotel, Crops and Soils Club Pilgrimage to Nashville, Feb 1993
Me, Mike and Dave in residence, U of Guelph, Fall 1990. Goodness but we had a lot of hair between us ! :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Wrench Fetish, Totally Whupped and Tractor Fixes

Betcha I got your attention now ! :)

It's a little known fact, but I have something I need to admit to you all.

I have a wrench fetish, and I'm very sorry about it.

After asking my friends about it, turns out that most farmers have something of a wrench fetish, so I was pretty proud to realize I'm not alone. Farmers need to know how to use a lot of tools, and particularly wrenches.

Speaking of wrenches, my sets got a pretty good working over the weekend. In preparation for cool weather, I changed out all the filters on the big tractor on Saturday morning. Surprisingly, after I changed the fuel filter, I couldn't get the ruddy thing to start again for love nor money. It wasn't clogged and in fact it looked clean; I was only at 67 hours since the last change when I pulled it and I'm usually pretty liberal about changing filters and fluids.

My first thought was fuel pump/injector malfunction, but I find that hard to believe in this case, especially since the tractor had been running perfectly earlier that morning. The next step involved bleeding the fuel system which I did for *6* hours to no avail. Finally, in frustration I took apart the entire system of lines and filters and thoroughly cleaned each individual piece. When I rebuilt it, I bled the system again, used a little Ether to prime the system, and lo and behold the tractor finally started. But only until the fuel in the filter drained out.

After several more fixes, I finally got the thing to run enough to feed hay on Sunday afternoon, but it's still not drawing enough fuel through the system and it is prone to stalling at the drop of a hat. After two weekend days of fiddling with it I think I've earned the right to say I've had about enough of it !

Because we are running two farms and are in the middle of an expansion, I didn't feel guilty about calling my friend Tim the tractor mechanic to come over here and have a look at it. Reckon we'll see what the verdict is tomorrow.

One of these days when I am rich and famous, and/or when I'm smart enough to quit buying farms for awhile, I am GOING to own a bunch of farm equipment I don't have to constantly work on, whether or not it makes complete financial sense to do so.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Good News, Frosty Morning, and Blessed Routine !

I HAVE to start this off with some EXCELLENT news ! After a tense few days, Melissa's mom is home from the hospital and is moving well along the road to recovery ! We are all pretty proud to see her back home again, and we hope this is the last trip to the hospital for anyone via the ER for a very long while !

Of course, the farm routine continued throughout the ordeal, and with the exception of our respective blogs which have been a little reduced in volume of late, nothing missed a beat. That said, it's sure nice to be able to get back to the day to day worries of running a business.

We woke up this morning to our first real freeze of the season. Some of the low spots had a little white frost on the grass on the morning of Oct 30, but we never officially recorded a 32 degree temperature until earlier today. The trees that didn't drop their leaves due to the drought are beginning to show some good colour and after a cool day today we are looking forward to a week in the upper 60's and low 70's which is pretty easy weather to take in the middle of November !

Hope all of you are enjoying an excellent weekend !

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

We sure could use a little good news....

It seems like most people I know, both male and female, seem to be able to tell story after eyebrow raising story about their in-laws. In some cases, their stories are so entertaining that I egg them on whenever possible and I eagerly await the next episode.

Call me lucky, but in my marriage to Melissa I have been blessed with great in-laws, and I include my sister-in-law and her family in my commendations as well as my mother and father-in-law. Of course, a parent's role changes as they and their children age, but one of the things that I admire most about Melissa's parents is that they have never stopped being parents and role models for their children and grandchildren. In their own quiet way, they continue to make a big difference in a variety of ways in the little community where we all live.

Astute "Paradigm Farms" blog readers will notice that over time there have been a fair number of photos of my father-in-law and I working together. Men bond best while working and it's been a treat to get to know him as we've worked through various projects over time. I hold him in high enough regard that I don't feel entirely comfortable calling him by his first name despite the fact that I'm no longer in early adulthood myself. Fortunately, southern grammar provides a remedy for this; one which I employ faithfully. Instead of Tom or Mr. N., I call him Mr. Tom and that suits us both. I do the same thing with my mother-in-law.

After becoming quickly and extremely ill overnight, this morning, Melissa and Mr. Tom carried my mother-in-law to the emergency room where she was quickly admitted to hospital, condition unknown. Melissa and her dad spent most of the day with her while I held the fort here and in Lynnville. Since her condition, whatever it may be, has not yet stabilized or been fully diagnosed, Melissa and her dad are going back to spend the night with her tonight. After a week of dealing with me on semi-bedrest, I think Melissa is about due for a break. It is my sincere hope that things improve for everyone tomorrow, not least for my mother-in-law. As Anne Murray sang a long time ago, we sure could use a little good news, today.

Please keep Melissa and her family in your thoughts and prayers today.

Hope everyone is having an excellent week ! Hopefully I'll be back to dosing everyone with boring, useless factoids, anecdotes and stories again shortly ! :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Weekend and Voting !

For as sucky as last week finished, we sure had a nice weekend to make up for it. This includes both perfect weather (sunny 75) and great company as we had several clients in town to visit their respective charges (and us), as well as a new horse on Saturday evening/Sunday morning. I think the best part is that there was exactly no drama while unloading this horse; he came off the trailer about 10 feet away from the barn which is perfect, IMO !

In other news, I've dusted off my voter registration card and DL in preparation for my inaugural first vote as a new American tomorrow !

The rule in my house growing up was that you couldn't complain about politics if you didn't exercise your right to vote, so I'm pretty excited about tomorrow because for the first time in six years, I'll be able to attack actual people and their policies again ! :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poor Melissa

She has had one hell of a week, and it's still got a couple of days to go. So far this week;

1. The truck died on her way home from Lynnville, and she had a heck of a time getting AAA to send her a tow truck, which is ridiculous.

2. We had a lot of drama with a commercial shipper who insisted that we meet him at a truck stop 30 miles away from home to transfer a horse from their trailer to ours...at midnight...when the owner had paid for door to door service.

Being married to me is often a trial (and yes, I'm admitting it !), but this week has been particularly so thanks to an ongoing bit of drama with my back that has left me at about 10 % capacity regarding sitting (which you have to do when driving) and walking (necessary when feeding horses). So in addition to everything else, her workload has doubled.

To top it all off, about the time my back went out I seem to have contracted some sort of stomach virus that makes my insides sound like I swallowed a set of drums and which in my enfeebled state means I had better be within eyesight of a toilet.

Blech !

I know factually that it could be plenty worse, but I'm about ready for some better days !

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TV Weather Drama

I don't know when weather forecasts changed in this country. What I mean by that is that when I was a child, weather forecasts (even American ones) didn't seem to be full of the sort of campy high drama one might expect to find on afternoon soap operas. But they sure are in 2010, on every channel you'd care to name, including especially the Weather Channel !

Given the number of clients who called and emailed to check up on our well being this afternoon, I'd say the national weather folk had middle TN in their cross hairs and were probably forecasting imminent death and massive destruction. I know all the local stations were because I was listening to some of them as I drove into Franklin early this afternoon ! While it was plenty entertaining, all the media attention kind of lends itself to more drama than the situation calls for most of the time and certainly more than it called for today.

The problem is that even if you live here and are looking out your window, eventually you begin to believe what you hear over what you see. Even I thought for awhile about heading for home and battening the hatches, but I'm kind of glad I didn't. As is often the case, it wasn't half as bad as all that. It got a bit windy for awhile this morning. Not death and destruction kind of windy, just breezy, like it gets right before a front's going to go through. About noon the wind died down and it rained for an hour, dropping the temperature from 85 to 65. And then the sun came out and it was over with. No lightening. No thunder. And no death and destruction raining down from the sky. Once again, we came through completely unscathed ! But I'm thinkin' that sort of weather non-event doesn't sell many commercials !

Hope everyone else had the same sort of drama free day that existed here in middle TN !

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rain !

After nearly two months with no real rainfall, last night the spigot finally got turned on and we accumulated a hair over three inches of rain. It's too late for the warm season grasses, and the trees are pretty well fried for the year too, but I noticed a whole bunch of green cool season grass shoots all over every pasture this morning. It won't take very long for it to grow if it keeps raining ! Our 4 inch soil temperatures are running in the low to mid 70's; perfect for germinating grass seed ! I think the best part is that more rain is predicted the next couple of days !

I was going to spend today applying and harrowing in manure, but it's too wet to do that and I will happily find another task if it means MORE RAIN !

In other news....

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Boy, it'd sure be nice to just lay down for a day or two and let everything sort itself out."

Well, I can now tell you from experience that it isn't nearly as much fun as it might at first appear. Somehow, I managed to twang my back out of alignment on Saturday morning and over the course of working through the day everything got tighter and tighter to where I could hardly move. Turns out the only halfway comfortable position I could find was flat on my back, so that's how I stayed from Saturday afternoon until this morning. After a little medical aid and chiropractic stuff, I'm happy to report I can move again, but I don't think I'm going to be running any marathons or lifting anything extraordinarily heavy the next couple of days.

Hope everyone has a great Monday !

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unreasonable Requests

Melissa and I do a lot of checking before a horse gets to step off the trailer at our farm, and our "pre-vetting" helps assure us that both the client and the horse are a good fit for our way of doing things. Because we are pretty fussy on the front end, we usually deal with nothing but great clients and great horses.

That said, we have dealt with our share of unreasonable requests during the "get to know you" phase with potential clients. Here are few examples !

1. I'd really like to send my horse but your rates are too high. Your farm is very elitist, and I don't see how you sleep at night charging as much as you do (no bull...someone really said this to Melissa on the phone).

Our emailed response went something like this.

Unfortunately we don't have a money tree in the backyard. We charge what we charge in order to make a fair living and pay for our overhead and (large) capital investments. We're full with a waiting list (this blew the caller away). There are lots and lots of cheaper options out there and you probably ought to check some of them out (we even recommended a couple).

Unbelievably, the SAME caller called back six months later, and this time she condescended to paying our asking price, minus ten percent.

Let's review.


End of review.

Sorry. Still full. For you, honey, we're ALWAYS going to be full !

2. When we come visit for four or five days, we'll bring the kids, our camping stuff, their dirtbikes, and all our pets and extended family. You won't mind, will you ?

Hell NO ! C'mon over ! Would YOU mind if I boarded my [insert animal of choice] at your house and I showed up in your backyard for a long weekend unannounced with twenty of my closest friends and family, a keg of beer and my 4-wheelers ? Get a life, get a new brain, and find yourself another boarding facility !

Well, honestly.

Hope ya'll have a great weekend !

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ethanol Production

The main headline in this week's edition of Feedstuffs magazine claims/cautions that the EPA has partially approved E15 ethanol blends for 2007 and newer model cars. Why this headline trumped a whole lot of other interesting feed industry news is that the whole ethanol situation has huge implications in animal agriculture if we choose to maintain the status quo.

Although using corn to create motor vehicle fuel is fantastically inefficient, we aren't literally on the verge of taking food out of someones mouth because we choose to use corn to produce ethanol. I think a more accurate assessment is that we are using some of our "cheap" grain supply to feed cars instead of cattle, and BOTH are fantastically inefficient uses of corn.

Given that ethanol production AND feed corn production are heavily subsidized by the federal government, we are currently in a situation where thanks to government intervention the market for corn has been severely and artificially manipulated. Since the acreage dedicated to corn is maxed out and pretty static from year to year, I'd say the price of corn is likely to stay high, at least relative to the long term average, until one or both of these industries lose their federal corn subsidies.

Unlike hogs and chickens, beef cattle aren't designed by nature to eat corn. At the end of the day, beef cattle always make sense in places that can't grow much grain. Unless it is fantastically cheap because it has been massively overproduced (as it has been my entire life), it makes no economic sense to feed corn to beef cattle. To grow a pound of beef requires 6 to 10 lbs of corn at a minimum.

As we move toward an election and a new farm bill, keep your ears and eyes on beef subsidies. I'd wager that somewhere in Washington, lobbyists for the cattle industry are proposing a series of subsidies for beef producers to counteract and overcome the current massive federal subsidies on corn.

Didn't we used to call government manipulation of free markets socialism ?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Canadian Words....

I am told that when I came south I had a "cute" but fairly thick eastern Ontario speech pattern ...so says my spouse anyway. I hesitate to identify what I had as an accent....as far as I am concerned I had no accent then and I still don't, but others around me seem to disagree with that, sometimes vehemently. However, there is no doubt I use differing pronunciations and inflections than folks do down here. In some cases, I use different words to describe the same item or situation than would be normal in the south.

A (totally made up) example of this, " I sat down on the chesterfield to pull on my toque and mukluks before braving the trip across the frozen muskeg. Eh, while you're up, can you bring me a double double ?"

In spite of my sentence, I'm (mostly) a pretty easy guy to understand. About the only word that HAS led me astray way down here in Dixie is, "hydro". In Ontario, the provincial electricity provider before deregulation (ie. for most of my life) was Ontario Hydro. Given this bit of background, it's a fairly easy leap to understanding why over the last hundred years or so everyone in my part of Ontario uses "hydro" in place of "electric" (ie. hydro bill, hydro pole, hydro line, and, all by itself "hydro" or "the hydro").

Hydro is a versatile kind of word, and it continues to slip into my everyday usage without any thought on my part. If you add swear words to it, it becomes even more versatile ! :) The problem is that without the bit of background I gave, nobody down here has the faintest idea what I'm talking about when I use it in conversation which can lead to some interesting impasses during lulls. At various times, I've been asked whether hydro meant pole dancing (?), operating a space ship (??), losing control of one's car on water (at least this makes some sense...ie. hydroplaning...though why I'd leave planing out is beyond me) or poling a canoe through a dam (???). Some folks at a party even thought I was referring to myself when I said that the hydro had been out ! :/

At any rate, one word seldom matters all that much, unless it's referring to something I got up to in my youth with someones daughter when her father burst into the room, and then it matters a very great deal, but that, my friends, is another story. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tennessee Travails

Before coming home to "go farming" full time the first of June of this year, I spent several years as the Tennessee state rep for an animal health company of note headquartered not too far away from here.

My primary motivation for taking the position was not financial, although I made a pretty handsome living doing what I did. Instead, what I was most interested in doing was getting to know every key person involved in agriculture in TN and the surrounding states, as well as getting to know every back road, short cut and good place to eat ! I pretty well did it, too, and in so doing I accumulated a lifetime's stories about the colourful people and places in the hills and hollers across this state.

I think one of the strangest (and potentially scariest) stories involved a trip to some of the mountain counties north and east of Knoxville early on in my career. I'm talking here about the OTHER mountain counties; the ones that might as well be on a different planet than the ticky-tacky tourist parade in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. Anyway, I got a call from a fellow who was interested in one of our products, and he asked me to come out to his farm to see whether or not I thought the product might help him out. My very first clue that all wasn't right ought to have been that none of the local agricultural sales reps wanted to ride over there with me that day, but I was new to the job at the time and didn't know any better !

I turned off the paved road about 50 miles northeast of Knoxville, and I proceeded for what seemed like forever down an ever grimmer selection of side roads; first gravel, then dirt, and finally two muddy tire tracks with grass growing in the middle and junk littering the verges. The last several miles took me up and over a mountain, and in addition to the junk the road was lined on both sides with tar paper shacks and old trailers that ought to have been abandoned but clearly weren't. Worse yet, the mostly toothless and very scary inhabitants ALL came outside to watch the stranger pass. It was a scene straight out of my worst Appalachian nightmare. I was really wondering whether or not I'd have to squeal like a pig before the day was over.

Much to my surprise and wonderment, I came down off the mountain into an open valley and onto a truly pretty farm; everything brand new and all well done. It's never wise to get out of the car in those parts without hailing the house first, and that's what I did. After awhile, the "farmer" came out and we had a nice visit about our products, although I was never invited to leave the confines of my car; again, very odd in a place still known for it's hospitality. Some while later, I asked the "farmer" about my drive over the mountain. I was assured by the "farmer" that my safety was never in question as he was related to every one of the occupants of the dwellings and that he had known my whereabouts from the time I turned off the paved road quite a few miles back. I don't know what he did to make his money, or who's safety he was concerned about...his or mine....but I know his comment made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up and I made some haste getting the hell off his mountain.

After I got back on the paved road, got something to eat, and got my nerves calmed down, I proceeded on toward my motel, located in another little mountain town some ways away. It was well on into the fall and dark by the time I left my supper, so when I saw a big set of floodlights off the highway a little ways I immediately thought "high school football game". What better way to relax and calm down after such a fretful day ? As I turned off the highway, I first realized I might be somewhat mistaken when I noticed all the razor wire and guards at the entrance...not normal precautions at most rural high school games in my limited experience. Of course, there was nowhere and no way to turn around, so I proceeded up toward the guard shacks. When I got there I tried to explain my predicament to them but they cut me off with a very curt, "Ain't no football bein' played up here tonight." For the second time that day, I made some haste in taking my leave. After all that excitement, I pretty much went straight to my motel and went to bed ! A couple of weeks later I read about the arrest of thousands of people at the state's largest outdoor cock fighting arena.....at the same address where my "football game" was being played !

Moral of the story ? When one is poking around in deeply unfamiliar mountainous territory, it's often wise to have some local knowledge in the passenger seat with you, especially if your name is Jason Webb ! :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Short Picture Update, New Farm

As most of you know, I have been spending most of my spare time lately working away at finishing the interior of the barn. I got a little sidetracked with some other farm duties for the better part of a week, but things are beginning to move forward again. While the pictures might not show it, at this point all the stalls are fully functional, and most of them have been used at one time or another. The wash rack is fully ready except for hot water, which ought to be fixed before the end of the week. The storage area/ crosstie area beside the wash rack is fully ready and the feed room/office/whatever is framed in and is still waiting for an electrician to install a service so I can insulate it and be DONE with the inside of the barn ! At any rate, here are a few recent photos to show where we're at !

Looking toward the front of the barn from the rearmost stall. Please ignore the junk in the storage area/crosstie. It has to go somewhere.
Looking at the wash rack (left) and crosstie/storage area on the

Inside the feedroom...awaiting electricity and insulation !

Looking toward the rear of the barn from the front. I will be covering the plywood with upright 1x6, just like the rest of the barn. Unfortunately, 1x6's aren't nearly as airtight or insulation friendly as plywood is. The feed room door is sitting in the front end loader of the tractor, which is parked outside, awaiting my arrival tomorrow ! I don't know why the alley looks narrow in this picture; it is actually a full 12 feet wide.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Joys of Commerce....

First of all, before I tell this story I have to say that I enjoy doing business with my chiropractor. In a lot of ways, he makes it easy for me to do business with him. Most of the time when I show up at his office, even sans appointment, he is there; willing and able to crack my back. But sometimes, inexplicably, he isn't. Until yesterday, I shrugged my shoulders about this, but when I showed up during scheduled office hours and he wasn't there, and the receptionist gave me kind of a funny look, I asked about it. Turns out his actual hours are markedly different from the hours posted on either his front door or on his cards. The receptionist and I had a good laugh over his secret hours, and after crossing out his posted hours, she handed me a card with his actual hours on it. I guess everyone in the world who deals with him but me already knew this, but I sure didn't !

There is one local farm equipment and supply store I absolutely detest going in, although sometimes out of necessity I am forced to darken their door. The reason for my revulsion is that there is absolutely nobody inside who knows (or is capable of finding out) any information about anything whatsoever. Sadly, I'm told this includes the owner. I once spent the better part of an hour waiting on a clerk trying to pay for a generic oil filter for one of our tractors. It was on the shelf and priced, but the fellow at the till thought the price was incorrect and apparantly he went to look it up. What he actually did (and I still can't believe it) was go to lunch while I waited in the store for him to come back. And he took his own sweet time to eat, too, let me tell ya what ! In that instance, I'm not sure who was dumber, me for waiting on him or him for telling me where he went.

I'm hoping some of you folks will share some colourful stories of your own with me ! Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Tractor Envy

I've got a confession to make.

I'm not a normal guy.

I never had car envy. Ever. As far as I am concerned a car or truck is four (or more) wheels and a (comfortable) seat. Whether it's a 10 year old rustbucket with 300,000 on the odometer or a brand new megacomfortmobile really doesn't make much difference to me. Even as a I approach the age when a zippy little red sports car is supposed to be in my immediate future....nada...ain't happening.

I've never had tractor envy either. Until today. When one of THESE went by the farm all blinged out like a fancy lady's Christmas tree, and with a front end loader to boot.

Oh, the work I could do with one of these, especially when fully accessorized with appropriately sized implements. With all those lights, I could work all night (Sigh!).

I fear the cabless, practical, economical high hour machines I've favoured my whole life long will never be the same again.

If only I had a hundred thousand spare dollars......

Monday, October 11, 2010

What is "large scale industrial" agriculture ?

Given that some of my blog readers may not have first hand farm backgrounds, and given that some of those that do may be reading this from another country where the situation is very different, I think I need to clarify the size and scope of what quantifies large scale, industrial agriculture in 2010 here in the US. As you'll quickly see, I'm not talking here about someone milking 200 cows.

Locally, we have one hog "farmer" and three chicken "farmers".

The hog "farmer" is a mini-integrartor. His contract growers will finish upward of 600,000 market hogs for him this year. Put another way, this farm is sending 12,000 hogs a WEEK to market ! This pales in comparison when compared to the real integators in the midwest and VA/NC. They might market 100,000 hogs a week.

To put this in perspective, a good sized independent Ontario hog farm in the area I grew up might market somewhere between 50 and 200 hogs a week.

I don't know how many chickens the chicken integrators have locally, beyond saying a hell of a lot. I do know that each complex has a feed mill and a good feed mill at a working complex will put out upward of 10,000 ton of feed a week, solely for their own birds. I think it'd be a reasonable extrapolation to say that our three local integrators are putting 30,000 ton of feed a week through their own birds. Put another way, 30,000 ton is 60 million pounds of feed. A week.

A good sized family dairy in this part of the world might milk somewhere between 200 and 400 cows. In Ontario, thanks to quota, the average dairy farm might be milking nearer to 50 cows. Here in TN, neither our topography nor climate are suited to industrial dairies, but in parts of the southern midwest not too far away from here, dairies in excess of 5000 milk cows are becoming routine, with the largest approaching 30,000 cows at this writing.

Agriculture practiced on this scale requires legions of employees, strict protocols, etc. It truly is industrial in it's mindset and outlook. When I talk about industrial agriculture and compare it to what Melissa and I do, this is the scale to which I am comparing it. There are lots of smaller farms that share the industrial mindset, but this is where it comes from. I'm not condemning it, but I'm not interested in farming this way, either.

Can you imagine the owner of any of the aforementioned entities passing his workday all day by himself in a pair of cutoff shorts building himself an office ? If you CAN picture an agribusiness CEO out hammering nails while attired in "business casual" in 90 degree heat, do you picture someone who is happy about what he's doing ? :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Way of Life

In other posts, I have talked about some of the precipitating factors that led me to want to make my living farming, but I don't know that I have spent very much time addressing why this is important to me. We all do what we do and live how we live for a whole variety of reasons, some of which we may not have much of an actual handle on. Or maybe ya'll do, and I'm the only one that doesn't ! :)

Anyway, I find farming attractive because if it's set up right, it's something that a husband and wife (and kids, too, should we be blessed that way) can work at together. There are lots and lots of reasons why this sort of thing may not work out as you had planned. I'll be the first one to tell you that this sort of dream can turn into a nightmare pretty quickly if one's spouse is not 100 % behind it, or if you and your spouse just flat out can't work together. There are legions of pitfalls, some of which I have described in other posts. But....if you *can* work with your spouse, and if you *desire* to work and live closely with your immediate family, if it's set up right, farming can offer a very attractive lifestyle and a good living, too. I hasten to add that so, too, can a lot of other businesses, but farming is that with which I am familiar, so that's the path I chose.

Although the type of farming we do is a business like any other, it is also very much a lifestyle; so much so that if you removed the elements I find enjoyable about the lifestyle I can't think of one good reason why farming the way we do for a living would be attractive. Our patrons and clients know (and are reassured by the fact) that I have no desire to become the Wal-Mart of retired horses or freezer beef. At some point, I think it's very possible to grow too big, although I don't exactly know where that is for our operation. I know for sure that I'm just not interested in hiring (and managing) a group of managers to direct employees toward tasks that I'd really rather complete myself !

In many respects, farming the way we do it is a 24 hour a day job, and since we live in the middle of our work space, it's difficult to differentiate between work and leisure a lot of the time. This drives a lot of folks nuts. I wrote a post about what we do for down time and I can't stress enough that engineering some down time is extremely necessary if one is to maintain one's sanity. Down time in this occupation has to be planned for; often well ahead of time. Our sort of farming would be a bad job for someone who enjoyed spending a lot of time away from home or for someone who really likes spontaneous travel and outings, as did my ex-wife.

Most of the time, Melissa and I are pretty content to be here, working at separate tasks but within earshot of one another every day. I love what I do and I am blessed in my choice of partner to help me. Ours truly is a great life.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family in Canada !

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Immigration Debate Continued

As an immigrant American myself, I tend to follow news about the border, and indeed about immigration generally, pretty closely. I've been paying particular attention of late because since just before the Iowa egg fiasco, USCIS has been conducting pretty frequent raids on many large scale industrial agribusinesses, and (surprise, surprise) finding hordes of illegal immigrants doing the work, often in conditions and at wages bordering on inhumane. Given the generally poor care that animals receive in such facilities, it probably should come as no surprise that the human employees who work with the animals every day aren't treated well either.

Like most else about industrial agriculture, the arguments they present AGAINST changing our current policies on illegal immigration are old and tired. Even if there is a grain of truth in their arguments, believe me when I say it's the kind of truth that's polished until it shines. Also keep in mind that these self same companies often portray themselves in terms of how "all American" they are. They also like to talk about their "down home" values !

Let's start with the biggie:

1. There are no Americans willing to do the work. In my mind, this is kind of like saying there ain't no money in farming. If there are no Americans willing to do the work, I'm guessing there is a reason why this is so. It is irrefutably true that illegals will work harder at nasty tasks for far less money than will most American workers. Personally, I think it's a shame that instead of cleaning these places up so that they are fit places for anyone to work, it's easier and cheaper to simply hire illegals and carry on. I really don't think I like what this has to say about our society today. On this farm we never ask our employees to do any task we won't do ourselves, and most usually we are right there working with them. Everyone has the right (and indeed is encouraged) to refuse any task which they don't feel comfortable (or safe) completing. We pay wages on a scale well above the local average (and have expectations to match the pay scale) and we make our pay scale (and expectations) public knowledge. Guess what....we don't ever seem to have problems getting folks (Americans...every one of 'em !) to come out here and work !

2. There is no way to keep illegals out of the workforce. It may not be politically correct, but random audits and an enforced $ 10,000 penalty to the employer for every worker with false or incorrect paperwork would go a long way to fixing the problem in my book. It might also help restore a living wage to labourers and most trades in this country and I think that would be a good thing for everyone. Punishing illegals for trying to better themselves economically is probably not going to work unless it's combined with a strong, enforceable disincentive for employers not to hire them in the first place.

3. If we lose illegal workers, your grocery bill will go up ! I'm not even going to waste time commenting on this argument. They're here illegally. If our grocery bill goes up because we are replacing illegal workers with legal ones, tough tittie I say.

4. Our immigration procedures are so difficult, they are an impediment to legal immigration. We need to make it easier for folks to come here legally. This argument is one that I hear all the time, and it's the reason I wrote my last post. It's ALREADY relatively straight forward for most people to immigrate legally. As I understand it, there are already guest worker programs that would allow those without professional degrees to come here and work. Once they are here, there are clear pathways for them to work toward legally gaining a green card and/or citizenship if they choose to do so. Because I married an American, and indeed because I was a Canadian eligible for a TN Visa, my entrance into the US was easier than most. I recognize the immigration process may take considerably longer than it did for me depending on the nuances of one's individual case. Immigrating CAN be difficult/impossible for some people. Not having good English comprehension skills would make the process more difficult. A few things (like serious criminal convictions) will stop the process outright, as it probably should. But for most folks who want to come here, there is probably a pathway by which they can do so. Sussing out the correct path is the hard part.

Illegal immigration is a huge problem in the US. While I don't pretend to have any answers necessary to eliminate it, my hope is that this post may stir some thought and debate about this contentious issue.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Emigrating to the US

I want to talk today a little about the details of the process of emigrating from Canada to the United States in preparation for another blog post I am going to do at a later date.

As anyone who is a regular on this blog already knows, I and my family have a long history of emigrating to the US either temporarily, or in some cases, permanently. We vacationed here as a family every year and we spent considerable time with my grandparents at their home in Elmira, NY. Before I emigrated, I had already spent an aggregate of three years of my life in the US, so I was already much more familiar with the nuances of the country (and the nuances of crossing the border) than are 99 percent of those who immigrate (including others from Canada).

Crossing into the US as a temporary visitor from Canada is easy to do. Unknown to most travellers, Canadians are issued a "paperless" B1 (tourist) or B2 (business tourist) visa good for up to 180 days based on the answers one gives to the border patrol guards. I never had any hassle whatsoever entering the US temporarily as a Canadian citizen and I have crossed the US border in this capacity a whole bunch of times.

When I applied for and got my position with Blue Seal Feeds in Vermont, I entered the US nearly hassle free to work with a professional agricultural degree on a Trade NAFTA visa; by far the easiest way for a Canuck to move south more permanently. I literally showed up at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo one afternoon with no appointment and all my paperwork in order and was processed in less than an hour. This is NOT what you hear in any media report talking about illegal immigration.

When Melissa and I were married the following year, we decided I would emigrate to the US permanently with the goal of becoming a US citizen. As such, we applied for an adjustment of status while I was still living and working in the US on my TN visa. About six months later, after much paperwork, background checks, and fingerprinting, I became a temporary green card holder. After a year, I applied to become a permanent green card holder, and after another two years, I applied for American citizenship and was sworn in as a US Citizen at the Davidson County Courthouse in Nashville in March of 2009.

Although the paperwork, fingerprinting and background checks were repetitive (and very thorough in nature), as long as one took care to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's", there was nothing difficult about gaining US citizenship except that it took fair amount of time and cost a little bit of money in fees. From the time I decided to adjust my status while still in the US until I became a US citizen, there were periods that it was more difficult and more of a hassle (from a processing standpoint) to cross the border and there were a few short periods when it was just easier not to even try. Again, the paperwork spells all of this out very clearly and it's easy to comply if one is thorough about going over the paperwork.

If this entire endeavour sounds kind of complicated, it is, but the entire point of the post is that it is often not HARD to immigrate to the US legally, provided one does one's homework first.

Some of you may find this background info kind of interesting, but I think ALL of you will find the follow up post I am going to do interesting !! :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fall in the South

After a long summer that started early and finished late, we are enjoying the beginning of an extended period of pleasant sleeping weather and bright, warm days that, with only a few exceptions, will last till Christmas or beyond. In this climate, autumn is my favourite time of year. The heat of summer is mostly a fading, if recent memory, and we have months of cooler but still pleasant weather ahead of us.

It's hard to believe it, but I never liked autumn when I lived in Ontario, probably because it was followed by winter; by far the hardest, longest season when one works out of doors in the north. Fall usually came in a rush in Ontario. Except for the harbinger species which started to show colour in August, most things retained their green through September, until one day toward the end of the month when everything seemingly changed colour at once. This lasted a week or two and often the colour would be exceptionally pretty until the next good front came through and then whammo everything was winter bare.

Autumn in the south is more subtle and progresses much more slowly than I remember it in Ontario. Our harbinger species down here are the nut trees (pecan, hickory, walnut and butternut) which lose their leaves and begin dropping nuts in early September, followed by the bois d'arc (bodark or osage orange) trees which begin shedding large, inedible fruit in mid September. Unless it's dry (like it is right now), most of the rest of the trees remain fully green through mid October and then slowly begin changing. "Peak" colour (which is kind of a misnomer because usually we change colour one species at a time rather than all at once), ususally happens the first week in November. The Bradford Pears are the last trees in the landscape to turn colour down here. Usually they put on a bright red show from Thanksgiving into early December.

Dry years mean poor to non-existant colour; many trees lose their leaves early with no colour change at all. Despite a wet start, this will be such a year. We haven't had a drop of rain since mid August.

Bermuda grass, big and little bluestem, johnsongrass, dallisgrass, and zoysiagrass all slowly senesce and give way to fescues, clovers, and bluegrasses as nightime temperatures begin to get under 50 degrees with some regularity. We've had two or three cool nights lately and we're in the middle of this process right now. Often the pastures look deader here on an 80 degree October afternoon than they do in January; definitely not like that where I come from ! I'm waiting a few more days for the warm season grasses to fully senesce before I give the pastures their final mowing of the season. Depending on the rain situation we may still get considerable cool season grass growth, but probably not more than the horses will be able to keep up with from now until next March.

Along toward the end of the month or early in November, we can expect to wake to a white frost on the ground although a serious freeze (mid 20's or below) usually has the decency to wait until after Thanksgiving. The horses are beginning to thicken their coats for cooler weather and Canadian man has stopped sweating like a horse at the slightest exertion.

Hope everyone else is enjoying fall right now too !

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ambivalent Thoughts on Hunting

As we head toward autumn in the mid-South, cooler weather is bringing lots of thoughts about deer hunting and as bow hunting season opened in Tennessee yesterday I thought this might be an appropriate time to share some of my personal thoughts and feelings about hunting.

I grew up in a place rural enough that nearly everyone in it took deer hunting very, very seriously, as they do in parts of rural Middle Tennessee. In my youth it wasn't uncommon for the classroom to be half empty on opening day and I assume it is still that way. It wouldn't be to strong a statement to say that deer hunting is a part of the culture where I grew up.

I know there are a variety of valid reasons that people choose to hunt. For low wage earners, deer season represents perhaps the best chance at putting a surplus of meat in the freezer. A lot of hard working folks rely on deer to supplement their larder and lower their grocery bill and it's hard to argue with that.

I don't row crop farm any more but when I did it was easy to ascertain by the level of crop damage in my fields how the local resident deer population was faring. Some years damage was sparse but most of the time crop damage was extensive and in those years it was hard to argue with anyone that there weren't too many deer. In Ontario, some of my large extended family used to partake of deer hunting on my land with my permission, and I enjoyed being a part of the camaraderie that ensued before and after the day's hunt. As a part of the unspoken "fee" for hunting my land, my cousins would bring me a part of their harvest and I enjoyed having a meal with them too.

In spite of all that, I'm not much of a deer hunter myself and I never have been. There are a variety of reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for hunting and these include reasons like not really having time to not really enjoying spending my leisure time freezing my butt off in a stand on a cold Ontario November morning. But the real reason...the one that I mostly leave unspoken, is that I don't personally find much fun or sport in shooting to death an animal that really hasn't done me any personal harm and that I really don't need for food. I always feel kind of sad even when necessity calls for me to put to death a member of a verminous species, and I'm just not very interested in taking a life and calling it fun.

I'll be interested to read the comments on this post !

Friday, October 1, 2010

Us vs. Them

There very much exists in rural North America today a culture of us versus them, with farmers standing alone on one side (along with all the "pro-ag" agribusiness professionals and integrators, most of whom haven't had a dirty shoe since Nixon left office) and everyone else on the other. It wouldn't be an oversimplification to say that farmers (often not unjustifiably) think everyone is out to get them and wants to change their way of life (with change being the operant word in this sentence). Because I am a full time farmer who very much looks and acts the part, I am more or less immediately welcome on the "farmer" side of the fence wherever I may be. This can lead to some interesting situations, especially when I think out loud about what I really believe, which is often very much at odds with the generally accepted "rural reactive" mentality of 2010. Here are a few examples, followed briefly by my thoughts in italics.

1. "One of these days, folks in this country are going to be hungry again if we're forced to abandon "x" way of doing things. And maybe if that happens prices in commodity agriculture will finally go up enough that for the first time in your life you might be able to make a decent living farming, but I'm sure if you work at it you'll come up with a way to screw it up and then complain about it. Or more likely we'll find a better and more sustainable way of doing things that will lead to even bigger surpluses and lower prices than we're already dealing with.

2. America has the cleanest, safest and most abundant food supply on earth. Okay, I'll bite. But at what cost to farmers, animals and the environment ? I also think a lot of folks in Canada, Europe and Australia would raise their eyebrow at that statement, especially regarding food safety. And if you ever entered a grocery store with the intent to purchase in any of these places, the price and quality of the food on offer in those "foreign" places would almost certainly surprise you.

3 There ain't no money in farming.....And if you continue to do what you're doing right now there ain't never gonna be, except nobody ever says that part out loud for some reason.

4. I don't understand all these damn people that spend money on animals when there are people suffering. It's seldom that simple. Often those who have compassion for animals put their money where their mouth is and help a lot of people too.

I find the older I get the less patience I have for stupid, reactive people who are stuck in thought processes like those listed above. Maybe eventually we'll collectively stop talking this sort of nonsense and hunt a different way out of the mess these speakers find themselves in today.

What would you think if someone started spouting these sorts of thoughts in your presence ?

Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Paying attention to animals

Animals don't think and process information just exactly like we do, nor do they react like we do to various sorts of stimuli. This may seem self evident to many of my readers but it gets us into trouble with farm animals in two different ways.

The first happens when we attribute human reactions to animals. We ALL do this at least to some degree and enough of us do it often enough that there is a term for it...anthropomorphism. Maybe we urge our dog in because it's cold or wet or both outside, and we get frustrated because Fido doesn't want to listen to us. He's comfortable under the conditions at hand and maybe he's enjoying playing in the mud. The same thing befalls us when we deal with farm animals and horses. Melissa and I joke that we've spent a hundred thousand dollars on run in sheds to appease horse owners. This must be correct because the only time we ever see the (damn!) horses in them is on perfect days like today....75 degrees and partly sunny. With a very few exceptions, when it's raining and 35 it seems to us that they are ALL outside grazing, whether or not they have blankets or rainsheets on.

The second happens when we fail to adequately take into account an animals reaction to certain situations. I'll pick on myself and my family and use the example of loading cattle onto an enclosed truck or trailer for reasons of transport. For years the accustomed way to do this was to pen cattle up tight (often difficult to achieve on short notice) in a corral or catch pen they had rarely if ever been before, back the truck up, open the truck/trailer door and force the whole bunch on with raised voices and sticks. We never did use prods, but they are liberally used on some farms. At best this method led to terrified and irrational animals which led to frayed human nerves and short human tempers. It also leads to severely damaged catch pens, cattle and loading facilites because stressed cows sometimes go bonkers and when a creature weighing 1500 lbs goes bonkers, mister you've got trouble on your hands.

At some point, somebody in the family got angry and frustrated enough with this methodology to come up with a better way to get this job done. With a little foresight and planning, it's very possible to eliminate 95 percent of the trouble from moving cows. Today, I feed every cow destined to leave this place some sort of treat in the nearest corral every day for months before the anticpated departure. We make very clear to our human help that anyone who raises their voice or tries to move cows with force gets a one way trip home and will never work on this place again. We park the trailer (with the door wired open) in the loading chute weeks before we move cattle to get them used to it AND we feed the cattle IN the loading chute as well as in the trailer to get them comfortable with it. Guess what ? By paying attention to, acknowledging and overcoming their fears, today I can pen up and load a trailer full of calves by myself in a few minutes. Nobody gets hurt and the animals aren't stressed. My goal is to have half the cattle on the trailer chewing their cud, and while I don't always achieve this result, I've managed to achieve this level of comfort before.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Barn Interior, Tool Revelation

I've spent this week working away at finishing out the interior of the new barn down in Lynnville. I took the picture below about an hour ago, There is a fifth stall to the right of the picture that isn't visible but it's at the same stage as the rest of them.

Early next week I hope to get concrete poured in the storage area, the wash rack and the (large) feed room so I can frame in the walls and get them insulated well before cool weather arrives. I hope the electric co-op will be ready to string poles etc. so we can have some lights, plugs, and maybe an internet connection so that Melissa isn't solely responsible for communicating with clients each and every day.

I've built, fixed and renovated a lot of stuff in my life including multiple large buildings and multiple thousands of feet of board fence. Until last week, I drove each and every nail in every building project I've ever done with a hammer and an awful lot of muscle power. About a week ago, my father-in-law (bless him) went to Home Depot and when he came home he presented me with a Paslode nail gun and a couple of thousand nails. My infatuation was instant, deep and prolonged. I'd sleep with the thing if I could figure out how. Yes, seriously. I will never be without one again.

Off the top of my head, other shop tools I very much like include:

BIG air compressors that have the capacity to handle any air tool
Every air tool ever made, but especially air sockets and wrenches. Seriously.
Plasma welders
Stihl chain saws. I have a collection. Love 'em, every one.
Chop saws and grinders - They beat hacksaws and files all day long
Really good miter saw, table saw and Skil-saw.
Pipe wrenches - in a pinch, I can undo nearly anything with a pipe wrench
A really good, sharp little hand saw
Floor jacks with high tonnage capacity. I own three right now and I use them constantly

I'm missing a lot of stuff, but this is a pretty good start.

What tools do you consider absolutely essential in your life ?

If I can select some Melissa approved hinges tomorrow morning, we'll have five fully functional stalls at the new farm (one is out of the picture). Considering the barn interior was a bare dirt floor on Monday morning, and considering that I am the carpenter, I'd say this is progress.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Organic Animal Agriculture

A few years ago Melissa and I looked very seriously at going down the organic road with our beef operation. Ultimately, we didn't do it, and in the remainder of this post, I'll attempt to explain why we didn't.

However, before I get to that, maybe first I need to back up a step and explain *why* we were looking at it in the first place. Obviously, the most important step in thinking organic is having a core of fundamental beliefs that is congruent with what the organic agriculture movement is trying to achieve. On the surface at least, so far, so good. I am fully with them on long term, proactive controls, soil building, happy animals, and cyclical production models and methodologies. In many respects, organic agriculture is not incongruent with what we're doing with our beef animals right now. The thought was that if we could get certified it might give us another story to tell and the additional oversight might be be a selling point for some of our customers.

Unfortunately, when I started digging deeper there began to accrue some negatives to offset the positives. Here is a short list, along with some of my thoughts.

Farming is my business and my living rather than my hobby, so going organic is, for me, primarily a business decision. It's been my experience that it's seldom a good idea to knowingly make a business decision that takes you backwards financially, because if you're like me you will unknowingly make enough bad business decisions to sink a battleship all by yourself ! We ran a lot of math on going organic and we found that it was a wash with what we were currently doing from a financial standpoint. In this case, what I saw was a whole bunch of work and time to go through the certification process to win the use of a sales tool that would accrue this farm (at best) limited financial gain.

About this time, I began to look closely at some of the practices that were encouraged and discouraged by the certifying agencies with regards to stockmanship. It didn't take very long to find things that were massively incongruent with my beliefs; enough so that even if the money had been really right I couldn't have gone forward with with the certification process.

I guess I'm kind of wierd but I actually *like* the animals that live with me here on this farm. I want to give them every chance to live their lives as healthy and happy as possible, and if they get sick I want to treat them with the best and most efficacious treatment to get them back to a state of wellness as quickly as possible. Sometimes, the best treatment for sick animals involves using antibiotics. When it does it's my opinion that dosing them correctly and treating disease early is a lot more effective for the individual (and for the herd) than waiting and using them as a treatment of last resort.

Treating sick animals is no fun, either for the animals in question or for us. We take a lot of preventative steps to avoid the need to treat sick animals in the first place, either with or without antibiotics. One of the most important steps we take involves administering regular vaccinations against endemic diseases.

Both vaccinations and using antibiotics as first line controls in certain disease situations fly in the face of organic agriculture standards today. That's okay. It takes all kinds to make the world go around and if everybody were like me it'd be a pretty boring place. That said, I believe my protocols do as right as possible by the animals on this farm, and at the end of the day the most important thing has to be liking the face that looks at you in the mirror every morning.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Deserve it

It's this writers opinion that the three words that make up the title of this post have got more people in more trouble over time than any other three word combination except maybe, "Hey, watch this !"

Of course there are different kinds of trouble; what I'm going to talk about for the remainder of this post is the financial kind. Readily available credit, rent to own, interest only mortgages and "easy" payment plans have seemingly subsumed the idea that except in rare instances, one may better put off until tomorrow that which could be financed today. Most of the things one can buy and finance today are depreciating assets. As many people have learned during this recession, even home values can depreciate. For this reason, home equity lines of credit aren't usually a good idea, because where are you going to live when real estate prices drop (!) and you suddenly owe more than your home is worth.

Even famous financial analysts talk today about "good" debt vs. "bad" debt; the idea being that good debt will either appreciate in value and/or earn more money than it costs to finance it whereas bad debt just accrues costs with no hope of salvation. The truth is that *any* kind of debt is a gamble; even the safest forms of debt can backfire on occasion.

I'm guilty of thinking, "I deserve it" myself. As most of you know, Melissa and I are building out our new farm right now. With the exception of a little bit of mortgage debt, we owe no money on any of the improvements we've made, and we have no plans to accrue more debt by making improvements before we can do it with cash. Of course, having animals on two farms with one of them under near continual construction, combined with running old, fully depreciated equipment and vehicles adds a whole other level of inconvenience to our daily lives, and I've thought many times about how "convenient" it would be to just go ahead and borrow enough to finish it out, with maybe enough for a cab tractor, some new equipment, and a nice new car to spare. It'd work too. I'd look like a genius so long as our growth curve remained in it's current allometric state and nothing went seriously wrong in the interim. Unfortunately, I know very well that growth curves seldom remain allometric for very long. I also know that having things go wrong is very much a part of life.

This post was spurred on by a friends' untimely and very surprising farm auction notice, which was waiting for me in the mailbox today. It hit me pretty hard when I got it, and when I saw who'se equipment and real estate was for sale, I knew I needed to drive over pretty quick and have a visit with him. I did just that shortly before supper time tonight. It's not my business to know the circumstances behind his sale, and I didn't ask, but I do know that whatever happened, I'm sad about it. I hope I'll see him on a tractor again soon; next time in better circumstances than he currently finds himself in right now. Years ago, my grandad said that he'd rather have good neighbours than more land. Amen to that.