Here Comes The Sun

There’s anticipation in the air and it’s not because fall weather makes me nervous that it will frost and finish off the garden. Actually there should be a giant drum role because when we created the first 10 year plan for Blue Rock Station in 1996 we put renewable energy (I barely understood this term) at the end of the goals because it wasn’t an efficient use of money or resources in those days). BUT…In three weeks we will install the solar array that will provide most of the power we will need for the entire farm.

The system we’ve designed is going to be installed in three segments – one the first week of October, and then we’ll add another array in a year, and then, if we need it, another array in 2016. This approach allows us to practice more conservation and also to learn more how we use energy, and how not to go hog wild since it is technically free.

Jay likes to say that when solar energy is readily available (and cheap) people will go crazy using it – “like a bunch of fraternity boys at a party with free booze”. I don’t want to think about energy as “free” because it is not. Many resources (some that are very limited) go in to making the solar array system. Rare minerals are required to create solar panels and those minerals are growing more and more scarce. That’s the reason that the US (and other countries) are exporting used electronics to China – little children are used to extract these rare minerals so they can be re-used. The rare minerals have some very serious side effects when touched by humans. I will leave you to figure out why this isn’t good.

My hope is that this new way of generating electricity will provide us with ways to “think” more honestly about how we live on this land, and how we can learn more about ourselves in our quest to not take away from the future.

The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #5

DISBUDDING GOATS

According to Genesis 1:26, “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth (King James Bible).” The United States, being founded on Christian ideals, has shown to have taken the biblical directive of dominion over all to heart by consuming 20% of the world’s resources despite making up only 5% of world’s population. Additionally, this concept has created a worldview that has reduced many of the farm livestock and the pets in the US to dollars signs in the pasture, and ornaments in the apartment.

The reality is that when one views their livestock or pets as an object that they own, and not as a sentient being that also provides service for the human beings, it completely changes the dynamics of that relationship. For many Americans farmers, any kind of sacrifice, or inconvenience brought on from the animal’s anatomy (e.g. horns, claws, etc.) is often too difficult to learn to work with. Rather, the American farmer’s most preferred management style is to maim or strike fear into the animal for the sake of convenience (or because that is how it has always been done). The focus of this article will be on the prevalent practice of disbudding goats in the United States.

Yikes!

The process of disbudding a goat is an extremely painful procedure. A 1000º iron is pressed against the top of the skull of a baby goat (typically less than two weeks old), leaving large wounds in the place of the horns. In the best case scenario the animal screams, goes into shock, and is scarred for life. However, it is not uncommon for the animal to run a temperature for several days, and can become lethargic accompanied with depression. The eyes can also be affected if the heated iron touches soft tissue, causing blindness or a disfiguring of the face. Unfortunately, some animals experience personality changes and even stunted growth after disbudding.

The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) currently does not allow dairy goats to be shown if they have horns.* It seems odd that a surgically altered goat would be deemed the breed standard. The official response from the ADGA is, “for the safety of other animals, as well as exhibitors, horned animals are not allowed at ADGA sanctioned shows.” This is the most common justification for disbudding. Having a goat with horns is just far too dangerous to have around humans or other goats. Horns do have the potential to be dangerous, but the danger is an exception and not the norm when the proper precautions are taken to ensure everyone’s safety around the animals.**

Fern-bunny believes that she is the standard of perfection.

At Blue Rock Rock Station, the philosophy of livestock management focuses on ‘peaceagree’ (i.e. the ability to get along with the herd) rather than pedigree. Annie Warmke has been a goat herder off and on since she was 19 years old. She says that, “goats will ram with or without horns; it is part of who they are, but their horns are an important part of natural health for these livestock. They provide protection when giving and receiving blows. Constant maliciously intended rams to a goat’s side or udder could seriously injure it, but that goes back to ‘peaceagree’. The question we ask ourselves with any animal in our herd is, ‘Would I want a person with that attitude living with me in my home?’ and the answer to that question should help a farmer decide whether an unruly goat living amongst the herd is worth the risk.”

It is, of course, the job of the farmer to teach their livestock that it is not okay to ram humans. With or without horns, the farmer must always be aware of where their bodies are in relation to the goat’s head. Additionally, it is imperative that the farmer be attentive to places where a goat could potentially get its horns stuck (e.g. housing, fencing, etc.). Likewise, it does not mean that it is time to disbud if the farmer is unable to do their job adequately. It means that it is time for the farmer to reevaluate whether or not they should continue having a partnership with goats.

Franklin scratching his side.

Horns provide great utility to the goats. Goats scratching themselves in hard to reach places while the disbudded ones are forced to rub up against fences, fence posts, buildings, trees, humans, large rocks, doors, etc. They are also handy when browsing for food. More importantly, the horns are chocked full of blood vessels that help to regulate the goat’s temperature.*** Losing horns is akin to a human losing the ability to sweat. It seems unkind to do this to an animal that spends most of its life outdoors.

The goat is the most widely domesticated livestock in the world, and in most countries the goats get to keep their horns. However, in the United States (i.e. cattle country) the inhumane practice of disbudding has been normalized; all in the name of safety. But life on a farm is full of potential hazards, many of which are exclusive to certain animals (e.g. horses’ hind legs, dogs’ teeth, cats’ claws, etc.). Part of being a farmer is learning to mitigate these hazards in a way that promote health in addition to prosperity to the land. This is a situation in which bending nature to human will is causing unnecessary suffering to sentient beings. It is not the goat’s horns that are truly dangerous, but human’s lack of desire to learn from these beautiful animals.

Floyd is happy to be able to grow out his horns!

*ADGA Ruling, pg. 80
**Our Mountain Hearth, “Why We Don’t Dehorn Our Goats”
***Johnson, Robert L., “Why Horns”

Day #3 Thanks for Nothing Month

Day #3 THANKS FOR NOTHING Month            Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will cross off one thing from my to do list, and think about how good it feels to do nothing about it.”

Earthship in Winter
The sun was bright all day – such a gift on a bitterly cold day.  The house was warm even though we let the wood stove get down to only hot coals.  The beauty of a home that uses thermal mass coupled with passive solar for the basis of heating is that sunshine bumps up the warmth inside.

We spent the day with an Amish farmer and one of the “English” he works with – his goal in coming to us for consulting was to learn more about our building methods so he can utilize some of our ideas in a new retail shop he wants to build for his poultry business, plus he and his English partner want to create new Websites for their businesses.

They were looking for marketing advice, and we had a grand day of sharing ideas and “pushing the envelope” with how to use the Internet more efficiently.  After six hours we had shared stories, laughed more then we

in an “ordinary” business meeting, eaten a simple meal warmed on the wood stove while we met, and given both of them a push forward with their own ideas.  This is our idea of doing business – making friends, giving everything we have to the moment, and then staying in touch to see how it all unfolds.  I believe this is the new business model for our culture.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

During evening chores a young guy I had talked to about re-homing the chickens I’d taken in from Capital City Animal Shelter drove up at the barn to “adopt” one of the beautiful roosters that I’d decided were too healthy to butcher.  He was worried about how to introduce the rooster to his small flock of hens.  We discussed how a new rooster with hens wasn’t a problem – all he needed to do was put the rooster in with the flock after dark, and the next morning all of them will be excited and happy to get acquainted.  It doesn’t work so smoothly when introducing a new hen, and that’s what he was worried about.

When I returned to the house Jay was waiting with the oil lamp lit on the kitchen table.  It’s really nice to open the door and see the glow from the lamp.  The US weather service says sun down is at 5:15 PM in this part of Ohio so we abide by that if we’re using the computer – turning it off like clockwork…No technology whether powered by renewable energy or not after dark.

The evening was spent returning fun phone calls to friends.  Sometimes I feel like I have forgotten the art of talking on the phone for fun, but last night those women on the other end of “the line” reminded me of how much joy comes from reconnecting with just our voices.During evening chores a young guy I had talked to about re-homing the chickens I’d taken in from Capital City Animal Shelter drove up at the barn to “adopt” one of the beautiful roosters that I’d decided were too healthy to butcher.  He was worried about how to introduce the rooster to his small flock of hens.  We discussed how a new rooster with hens wasn’t a problem – all he needed to do was put the rooster in with the flock after dark, and the next morning all of them will be excited and happy to get acquainted.  It doesn’t work so smoothly when introducing a new hen, and that’s what he was worried about.might have in an “ordinary” business meeting, eaten a simple meal warmed on the wood stove while we met, and given both of them a push forward with their own ideas.  This is our idea of doing business – making friends, giving everything we have to the moment, and then staying in touch to see how it all unfolds.  I believe this is the new business model for our culture.

????????????

When I returned to the house Jay was waiting with the oil lamp lit on the kitchen table.  It’s really nice to open the door and see the glow from the lamp.  The US weather service says sun down is at 5:15 PM in this part of Ohio so we abide by that if we’re using the computer – turning it off like clockwork…No technology whether powered by renewable energy or not after dark.

The rest of the evening was spent eating stew warmed on the wood stove, and watching a DVD on the charged laptop.  Bedtime is usually around 9:30 PM but we watched the film longer then usual.  The living room was warm and I was working up my courage to get into bed under the cold covers in the cold bedroom.

Menu

Breakfast:  Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

Day #2 THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH

Day #2     THANKS FOR NOTHING Month                               Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will touch the arm of every person I speak to face-to-face.  This one act has the power to create a connection between us.”
????????????????????? Mornings during THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH are a challenge during these beginning days of the month.  Each year we forget how much thought goes into the process of having hot water.  And hot water is the first thing needed in the morning, and nearly the last thing required in the evening.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

The wood stove in the living room is the only active source of heat for our home, an “Earthship” designed by the architect Michael Reynolds.  The home is constructed with rammed-earth tires, cans, bottles and lots of other re-purposed items.  Because the basic premise of the home is to use the concept of thermal mass for heating and cooling, the house naturally never falls below 55 degrees F, even with no heat source.

The only sources of hot water include a large old-fashioned enamel water kettle, and a small modern metal tea pot which are heated on of the top of the wood stove.  This hot water is used for washing dishes, filling up the solar shower bag that’s used for an evening shower, and, most importantly, for hot tea and coffee.  It takes a bit of planning to not run out of hot water, and that’s where our month of no electricity and money gets off to a rocky start.

For example:  Unless someone gets up in the night to put wood into the stove, in the morning the water in the tea kettles is only lukewarm.  The room is still plenty warm, and the stove is still hot, but the tea kettles loose their heat rather quickly.  Since Jay loves his morning cup of coffee, and I crave a proper cup of morning tea, this causes us to huddle around the stove, waiting for the smaller tea kettle to begin to “sing” that it’s finally hot enough.

After the first night, I’ve decided that if I wake up, no matter how much I hate to get up, I’m going to refill the wood stove.  Last night I did wake, and I tried telling myself that it didn’t matter, we could wait for our tea.  But then I remembered that there would be people joining us for a consulting visit and we would not have the luxury of hanging out until we’re good and ready to begin the day.

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With my head lamp shining brightly, I wandered down the hallway like a coal miner and filled up the stove.  Unlike a coal miner, I had the added hazard of avoiding stepping on any of the cats that sleep wherever they find a bit of warmth.  Then back to bed, to dream of warmer days.

Last year I tried hoarding hot water by filling up insulated water carafes.  It didn’t really work.  Lukewarm water just doesn’t make a great cup of coffee or tea.

I’d love to hear an idea or two about how I might keep the water hot enough over night to have a nice hot cup of tea, and not have to wait around for 30 minutes to get the day in high gear.  I’m considering putting some clay bricks on top of the stove (slight thermal mass) and putting the tea kettle on top.  My hope is that the bricks will hold more heat then the top of the stove.

The saga of how to keep the water hot over night continues.  I hope to hear from folks about possible solutions.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

Blue Rock Station Diaries

Jay, the writer

Blue Rock Station Diary                                                                March 1, 2012

62 F indoors                 44 F outdoors

The sun is shining again this morning.  What’s the world coming to – it’s Ohio, after all?  Even though it’s a little chilly in the house, that bright light in the window is going to heat the walls of the living room for an afternoon temperature indoors in the ‘70’s.  It must be April.

Last night when I went up to shut up the chickens the bull frogs were singing in the pond that refuses to hold water for more than five minutes.  They sounded so happy.  I could just picture them forming a little circle (this is what they do) and then calling out to each other. After lots of vocalizing one swims towards the center, then the singing stops for a second of two.  Who knows what it all means because the frog then swims back to his place and the singing resumes.

Yesterday (the leap year day) I finally went over to the east field to start cutting down saplings so I can create a willow field.  It was so warm that I had to strip down to my t-shirt and bib overalls.  The wind was fierce but it was a wonderful afternoon of working physically hard, with the dogs and I enjoying the work.  Today I hope to plant all of the curly willows Bill Johnson gave me.  After that there are more pussy willows to plant, and then the paw paws I ordered will arrive.  I think this year will be a record for planting trees – around 200 or more if I don’t wear out before I finish my task.

There’s a lot to think about in spring.  The buildings always look so ratty and in need of little repairs – that’s on the list of first tasks to complete when it dries up a bit.  First I worry if the goats are pregnant – it’s impossible to know until they start showing.  Then I worry that they are pregnant.

Getting the raised beds weeded is next on the list, and where to plant everything.  Jay didn’t want me to raise turkeys this year so now I am thinking about how to keep pigs down in the woods, and the design for all of the fencing that will be built this spring.  Where we will get all of the time to do these things, plus finish the book?

Part of the reason (this is my excuse anyway) that I feel a bit anxious about the long list of things to do is that I believe we have to get them down now.  MY PREDICTION:  the summer is going to be so darn hot we’ll have to get up at dawn to work, and then rest until dusk.  We’ll be like the factory farmers at night mowing hay with their spotlights in the field, trying to work in the dark to escape the heat.

Please don’t think this is about complaining (except in regards to the prediction of excessive summer heat).  As a dedicated goal setter, there could be nothing more encouraging then to create a long list of activities month-by-month.

But at the end of the day, when I look around to see who is going to help complete this ever-growing list I have to be realistic that the main assister is sitting across the room from me, writing his little heart out.  He gets religiously gets up at 5 AM every morning to write about all those thoughts that run through his head.  After WHEN THE BIOMAS HITS THE WIND TURBINE is completed (end of March), there will be the revision for the GREEN TECHNOLOGY book.  And then the GIVIING THANKS FOR NOTHING book to be ready by December.  All of this requires either that he writes and I edit, or I write and he edits.

The solution?  It will all come down to whatever makes the most noise to be completed…the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  The loud voices of producing food (there’s only so many months of warmth), visitors, family obligations, friend time, caring for livestock, repairing buildings, teaching, and writing make for a full life.  It will be rewarding to look back over 2012 to see how it all shook down.

Blue Rock Station Diaries February 9, 2012

23 F outdoors          65 F indoors

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  6 out of 10

Image

 

Samuel Sheets.  I will never forget the first time I heard those words.  How could I know that the person that belonged to that name would walk into my life and steal my heart?

There’s a history with this guy – he’s young, handsome and smart.  He also has had some challenges in this life, but when he was with us those things were off in the distance and he belonged.

Sam is good hearted.  He is a joy to work with because he can take any situation and make something good out of it. 

I hesitate to re-tell some of the stories that involve his life at Blue Rock Station because he’s in the Army now, and apparently at the ripe old age of 19 there is a lot to make fun of if you’re from Ohio, particularly farmland Ohio.

His one mistake in life, as far as I can see, is that he decided he was in love with our granddaughter.  Since there can be no choosing anyone over her, Sam’s days with us eventually became measured by when Miss America was off on a trip, or doing something away from the farm.

Since his birthday is two days apart from Jay’s we had some wonderful birthdays together – sometimes taking a little trip, or holding a party, or just doting on him.  Sam loves a party.  He really truly enjoys bringing people together to talk, to play music, to have fun.  I really like that about him.

Even at Christmas he would join us after Miss America went off to her mom’s house.  He also really loves holidays.

So when I saw him in the library two years ago I wasn’t surprised to see him wearing a stocking cap with the word “ARMY” on it.  He waltzed right up to me to tell me he had enlisted, and I promptly burst out crying, right in the middle of everybody.

Last spring, after he graduated from high school, he spent quite a bit of time with us.  He worked on some projects to help out, and we shopped for the things he needed to take with him to basic training at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

I confess that the day I returned his Army-issued backpack (the one I had to take apart and re-sew because it was already falling apart) I planned that I would not be officially saying “goodbye”.  He was leaving in two days at that point, and I hate goodbyes.

That was the last time I saw him until I arrived at graduation at Ft. Benning.   While I waited in the cold morning air just for a glimpse of him I was surrounded by hundreds of parents and grandparents.  There were also wives and girlfriends.  We sang “God Bless America” and recited the pledge of allegiance.  I felt really traditionally American sitting on those hard seats waiting to see this person I hold dear to me.

When he marched out with his battalion unit I spotted him immediately in the sea of gray camo.  His Army-issued glasses changed his face, but it was still Sam.  The sign I’d made the night before “Sam Sheets – our hero” signaled to him where I was standing (actually on top of a chair – I’m short).  He never broke that serious expression, but later he said that he saw me right off.

ImageFt. Benning graduation – Sam and Annie

 

When they finally broke rank and he came to give me a hug I could hardly believe how strong those muscles felt.  But some things never change – he wanted a new pair of boots and to eat something.

Off we went to the military store where he did find a pair of more comfortable light- weight Army-issue boots.  We also managed to find a pizza buffet where he ate every type of pizza twice.

I spent those two days just drinking in Sam – the boy I first met because Miss America drug him home; The young man who tried to find his way through fishing and teaching kindergartners; The guy who was trying to figure out what it means to grow up in a world with so many mixed messages.

 

Image  Home for the holidays – Miss America, Annie and Sam re-creating the Georgia pizza experience

 

After a stint at Ft. Gordon for more training, and home for the holidays (recreating each pizza style we ate in Ft. Benning) Sam is in Hawaii.  He reports that the Army says he will be there for 18 months.  He can’t believe his good luck. 

From the moment he left until the moment he returns I am dreaming of his future.  I can see him coming back here – to Blue Rock Station to be a part of our work.  He can contribute to our conservation efforts by teaching fishing and hunting.  And, he’ll know a lot more about the mechanics of things – plus bring all of that charm.  In his heart he is a country boy.

Maybe he won’t stay, but I also keep reminding him that he has a place to come back to when the time is right.  There’s a lot to be said about having a bunker for security, and we want to provide that for him.

In the meantime he’s busy making, as many mistakes as possible so that he gets all of it out of the way for when he faces even more serious challenges in life – like building a house, finding the right mate, and living an everyday life.  I can’t wait to see how he’s going to pull all of this off, but I am hoping I get to watch from a ringside seat.

 

New Year Begins

January 1, 2012

TODAY’S Happiness factor:  9 out of 10 (we both have a slight case of the flu)

68.3 F in the house  41.2 F outdoors  8:29 AM

 

Today’s Menu

Breakfast

Omelettes with toast

Lunch

Baked potato with toppings

Salad from the greenhouse

Supper

Curry Soup

Roles

 

After a restful night’s sleep (we stayed up until 10 PM watching Dr. Finley videos, which is quite late for us), I stayed in bed until 8 AM because I wanted it to be light outside when I got up.  It’s unusual to stay in bed for so long but I was savoring the comfort and warmth of the bed.  The dogs were anxiously waiting for me at the bedroom door since I had disturbed their routine.

For the moment I don’t think anything is out of the ordinary.  Jay got up at 5 AM to write and drink coffee.  The woodstove was blazing by 8 AM, and there was hot water for a proper cut of tea.

Yesterday Ryan Evans sent a post to say he’s visiting with his great friend Chad the glass blower this next weekend.  And Mike Voellmeke confirmed he’s visiting the next weekend to work on the rocket stove book so we can get it completed and printed.  Some friends are joining me here for lunch on Wednesday, and others on Thursday.  My social calendar runneth over with those who bring intellectual stimulation and great joy to my life – at least for next week (let’s hope the great weather holds).  The only thing missing will be Sam, who goes back to Ft. Gordon and the Army this week.  It’s clear to me that his leaving will temporarily bring down my happiness factor, but I am dreaming of traveling to Hawaii to have time with him, fishing, snorkeling, couch surfing and just generally enjoying his company.

This sounds a little selfish to me, but today I plan to telephone some old friends I haven’t talked to in ages, and read cookbooks, plus maybe finish my Marlene Dietrick biography, if my eyes will read that long.  Oh, and I’ll cook two meals (Jay will make the big breakfast since he really enjoys that).  I’m hoping Catlyn will be here with her fella, Devyn Kennedy, and, of course, Sam.

At breakfast we’ll drink a toast with a little hard cider, watered down with spiced cider (a gift from my adorable cousin Vicki Perkins).  We’ll tell jokes, share gossip from what went on last night at New Year’s and we’ll talk about the WHIZ TV interview.  This is the stuff that makes life complete.