Thursday, September 18, 2014

Around the World in 80 Blogs and a Raw Milk Update


Geez. I'm so embarrassed. One of my bestest blog buddies, Lorna Sixsmith of Carlow, Ireland just did this wonderful post about yours fooly and it very nicely refers back to my blog (you hyperlink my back and I'll hyperlink yours) but then I follow my own link, some days its the only way I find my way home, and I realize I have not posted in 12 days!

Yeah, I'm quite the blogger all right. When the Nobel Prize extends it's reach into the blogosphere I'll be right up the top 10,000 or so. Enough excuses, time to get to work but before I do; thanks again Lorna, you and your blog Irish  Farmerette really rock !!

So what have I been up to?
A large amount of reading and writing and over-reaching government fighting, that's what. I've been back in school full time at UIUC for 4 weeks now and let me tell you this, I am totally scr**ed if I don't learn how to read about 10 times faster!

But I'll come back to that another day. We need to talk raw milk.

On September 5th, as threatened, the Illinois Department of Public Health posted their pages and pages and pages of proposed rules for raw milk production, sales and consumption in the Illinois Federal Register. We now have 45 days to comment. We had until today September 18 to request a hearing. After the 45 days the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules better known as JCAR will review these rules in the second 45 day comment period. They then have the power to reject them.

 As I have talked for over two years now, these rules are unnecessary, illogical, based on myth, punitive in nature and unaffordable when it comes to enforcing being as Illinois can't manage their money now and could never afford to hire the inspectors required to ensure compliance. They also will likely prove unconstitutional because they reach across so many rights of the private citizen. Example #1 the raw milk farmer will be required to submit names addresses and phone numbers of customers to IDPH whenever asked for them.

Fortunately we've had great support from organizations like The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund who published an amazing Call to Action today which well outlines the issue and gives clear direction on steps each of us can take to stop these ridiculous rules. You can read that Call to Action Right Here

There has also been decent media coverage. The Chicago Tribune( and WBEZ radio)  put in their two cents, interviewing both sides of the debate Here and The Pantagraph, a Bloomington, Illinois Newspaper, tracked me down while I was in class to get my side as well. Yes, I waited until the lecture on Gothic Imagery in Poe's Novel Arthur Gordon Pym was complete. If you'd like you can read that article Here

So as the Irish might say if this issue was happening in Lorna's land, The Shite has Hit the Fan. Through the power of social media as well as perhaps a few of my more recent anti-social comments to reporters; "Really, now they want to make it illegal to sell raw milk of your farm is located closer than 1.5 miles to a municipality? How NUTS are these people!?!" I do believe we have gotten the message out to those in our state who still believe that we the people have the right to eat and drink what we chose.

So now we keep writing letters to JCAR, we keep spreading the news, we keep sharing posts on Facebook and blogs and I personally will keep drinking raw milk ( and serving it to my family and friends) until they pry it out of my cold dead hand.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cow Does Not A Pet Make



How now guard cow?

In our 20 plus years of farming together (and he did it for 10 years before he met me) Keith and I have run across all kinds as they have run across us. We have met the coolest Jane and John Does who have the deepest and most sincere desire to run a simple (they hope) and somewhat sustainable small farm. We often have young and not so young folk who come to us for advice (we have lots of that ) or wisdom (this supply runs short) or just to chew the Red Wattle fat about farm life in general.

We learn from them they learn from us and sometimes in appreciation we get cool stuff from our followees like poetry books by Wendell Barry! Thanks again Ben. I did love the one in "The Mad Farmer" titled Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.

Enough off topic verbals, back to the cow.

Another cow
If there was one piece of advice I would give new homesteaders it would be this. Do not make a pet of your cow. Do not think of her as a pet. Do not treat her as a pet. Do not take her with you to school on Bring Your Pet to School Days.

Cows are not pets.

I understand it is easy to make that mistake especially if you come by them when they are calves. Calves are quite stunning with their doe eyes, quivering ears and graceful necks. Once you begin to bottle feed them they will indeed follow you to the ends of the earth and quite possible up the stairs into your master suite.

Milk on tractor wheel. Not your ideal storage place
just a photo op.

But they are not pets, they are...get ready as this next word may be hard to take...livestock. They were made for two key purposes; to produce milk and to produce more bovines. And when they get to that point when they can no longer successfully do either of those tasks they have one last purpose, to produce several hundred pounds of yummy ground beef.

What we have seen happen too often is folks mistake their cow or maybe their two cows for dogs. It's easy to make that mistake. They both have four legs, they both speak no English (Italian, French or Gaelic for that matter) they both enjoy defecating wherever they please, they both enjoy scratches behind the ear but when an intruder pins you against your barn wall demanding all your raw milk be poured out on the ground for a trumped up rule breakage which "pet" will most likely buy that bad guy/gal in the leg?

That's right, it will be Fido, whereas Betsy will merely walk away in search of the proverbial greener pasture. Seriously though, making a pet of your cow can be dangerous to you directly as well. My husband warned me in the earlier years about not rubbing a cows head to hard or for too long. The occasional rub behind the ears and nice pat on the flanks for a milking job well done is one thing but over doing your physical demonstrations can lead a cow into thinking you are her equal and you might very well find yourself on the wrong end of a strong head but, the kind that can land you on your back.

Cows with attitude problems are the cheap ones often up for sale. Women especially love to buy cows based on their looks, their carmel coloring, their big expressive eyes. But after they get then home they realize the animal won't stand to be milked, kicks off her milker or worse yet kicks at YOU or your child.

Folks have tendency to make this pet/livestock mistake with their horses as well. Letting them into your space without your permission, allowing them to be aggressive at feeding time,  rubbing hard against you to get a bridle off. These are not friendly gestures and allowing them can cause you harm.

Other potential issues with Miss Bossy relate to diet and health care. Too often we see folks not taking the time to do real research when they buy their first cow. What is the best diet ? (we think grass and no grain but that's just us) How will you get feed? How will you know the feed is good quality? How will you store all this feed? And remember grass is not grass is not grass. Different types of grasses, hays have different nutritional values.

Have you considered the equipment needed? Too often people have this very romantic idea that they will milk their cow by hand. This takes a long time. If you do get a milking set up do you know how to use it? To trouble shoot it when it fails to work? Do you know how to thoroughly clean it?

Think about vet care. Do you have a vet? Does he/she know cows or just dogs and cats? Fewer and fewer vets want to troubled with actual livestock care especially on those farms with very few animals. Will your vet come to you or will he expect you to bring the animal to him? Some do. Yes, even if it is a 1000 pound cow. Will they come out in the middle of the night if your cow now has milk fever after calving? Do you know how to treat milk fever if he/she won't or can't? What about mastitis? What about bloat? What about hardware disease?

Yeah, cows will eat nails and screws accidentally. Mechanical accidents happen.

Finally there is the milk itself. Cows produce a LOT of milk, anywhere from 3-6 gallons a day depending on breed and feed. That could add up to over 40 gallons of milk a week! Will you sell the extra? Give it away? Feed pigs with it like we do? Do you know how to strain the milk of any impurities, how to cool it, how to store it?

Keith and our youngest GK, Wesley

I am not saying all small homesteaders who want to produce their own milk for cheese, yogurt, long milk baths, etc...must be experts in care of bovines, even Keith and I are still after many decades learning new ways to care for our animals,  but PLEASE I am begging you, do your homework!!  Learn from someone whose been doing it for many years. Volunteer to help a dairy farmer with his chores in exchange for picking his brain or watching him milk.  Purchase the books you need. The Internet is full of them. Mother Earth News is a great place to start. Read all you can, learn all you can  first before you buy the cow and get into real trouble. Have a good conversation with your vet. Farm calls can range from $100 and up. Volunteer to go with your vet on a day he is treating cows. Help a friend who has a cow by taking are of it for an entire week (dairy farmers rarely get vacations.) Eat, sleep and be the cow.

In other words do the work BEFORE you get your four legged dream ice cream machine.

Just another public service announcement from your local Midlife Farmwife. You may now resume regular programming.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Skool is Hard

The Quad at UIUC

I apologize for not blogging recently but you dog ate it.

Not really, he's not that into computers, he'd rather chase piglets and sniff his friend's back end, but I'm working on my excuses for not completing my homework. And boy, do I have homework.

It's funny, not really, how when I first made the decision to go back to college for my degree in creative writing I had this magical mystery tour sort of image in my chunky head. I would be sitting in class (the WISE one they would call me, giving validity to my waist long grey hair and crumbled up face) and I would be just absorbing through osmosis alone, all the knowledge I would need to rewrite my one routinely rejected novel and create thousands more.

I would hang out in smoke filled ultra hipster cool coffee houses where live music played in the alcoves-no dead music please-while I curled up into a decades old leather chair soaking up the creative genius ( and a small amount of residual body oils) left behind by the now famous authors who sat there in the last century.

I would learn and grow and improve as a writer merely though the art of BEING.


It has come to my attention that even though many things have changed since I last plodded along the Quad 38 years ago at UIUC, formally U of I, formally nicknamed U of High, one thing has not changed...the professors expect you to work, as in homework, as in lots of homework.

The biggest challenge for my atrophied brain is finding all the digital and non-digital places where homework assignments may or may not lurk. I have five classes. Creative Composition, Narrative Writing, Intro to Poetry Writing, The American Novel prior to 1914 and then Italian for Remedial Eejits. Italian for Brain Dead Eejits was the prerequisite. This is not a mocking of the course content but a reality check for the quinquagenarian who enrolled in it.

Each of these instructors share their homework assignments differently. Three use an online site called Compass 2g. One uses the universities site and one sort of goes by her syllabus only. Of those 5 folk, one puts all her assignments online and meticulously checks and grades all of them, one puts them all online but doesn't get to all the reading she assigned so class time is quite the gamble, one lists assignments online and then adds more in class and then removes some from the online list after you have already completed it, one only gives you assignments in class (works for me!) and the last one assigns online homework that has to be completed by midnight on Sunday.

Midnight. Sunday. Whatever happened to being able to stay up all night if you wanted and then just turn in your homework the next morning? No wonder the No-Doz company is reporting decreased sales.

I have in the last 10 days of school I've changed my method of tracking my homework at least 5 times. It might has been 6 but I recorded that method online and now cannot find it. I have tried writing out all the assignments in long hand, short hand, on the back of my hand and while watching Cool Hand Luke. I have set timers in the house to go off every 10 minutes so I can check what an instructor may have added or subtracted from her internet site of choice.

I have written them in notebooks, assignment books and address books. I have listed them on flash cards, greeting cards and now defunct library cards. But still I managed to turn in one assignment over 10 hours late, (she wrote "noon" and I read "midnight" because the other instructor said midnight that's why) and another incomplete when I accidently hit the "submit" button as I feel asleep my head crashing into the keyboard. Overall though it's a bit improved this week. Instead of lounging up in the trees swinging from a hammock like so many of my non-gray haired peers, I am doing my homework as it is assigned. Or trying to. I am staying later at school studying in the awesome --I can say awesome now, I'm a college student--library where the International Sciences Section on third floor has a very quiet and secluded group of tables. Last week I was rushing home so I could catch up with farm work. This week my farm work will have to wait until the weekend, when my husband will certainly need a break as he has been picking up all my farm chore slack.

So enough. It's time to summarize because I learned how to do that earlier today in CW 243
Homework is hard and so am I.