Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thoughts From Catching Up With An Old Friend

I just got off the phone with a close friend of mine from the end of high school and the first few years of college. We haven't spoken in some time, he's been married and is now divorced with a young daughter, but his is one of those voices that I think will always make me smile and bring back fond memories. But speaking with him also reminded me of how far I have drifted from the "expected" path, from the fairly typical path taken by someone of my generation in my location in the world. And it reminded me of how crazy I think that "expected" path is making people.

The lyrics of the song "Suspicious Minds" keep coming to mind, voiced by Dwight Yoakam in my head, "Caught in a trap, Can't walk out...".

Nearly all of my closest friends have succumbed to the modern western trap. I guess it should not even be called western anymore, since our style of insider capitalism has spread throughout most of the world. But I digress.

It pains me to see so many of those who have been close to me, so deeply attached to an unnatural corporate/industrial existence. They are programmed by their televisions and the billboards that are nearly unavoidable. They are jaded parents, passing on their habits (usually concentrated) to their children, guiding them right into their own little cages (complete with exercise wheel!). They mean well for the most part, yet it is too easy to remain asleep, to ignore the fact that they are constantly driven to commodify every aspect of life, down to the very basic needs.

And then there is the fact that "the system" is set up to punish those who refuse to take the bait, who refuse to stay in their cage. Certainly anti-social behavior, especially that which is inherently harmful or destructive, should be dealt with but we have obviously reached the point of ridiculousness. Anyone following the tribulations of the Ontario farmer who makes raw milk available to those who want it must surely agree that this point has been reached.

And if we have reached that point, perhaps we have already begun the long slow swing back towards common sense and balance. People ARE returning the land, perhaps at a more sustainable pace than was seen during the 70's. It is my hope that this will continue and even increase; that we will explore ways to use permacultural type techniques in order to allow a higher density rural population all the while managing impact on nature.

I sure hope that some of these dear friends of mine are able to find the strength make some of these priority shifts. I wonder if that is overly selfish of me.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Owl Massacre

Now that the dust has settled, so to speak, and because visitors here have been surprised at the carnage caused by one owl, I thought I should write a bit further on what may come to be remembered as the Owl Massacre of '10.

This kind of situation is rather rare for a few reasons, one of the biggest reasons being the sheer amount of deaths. Owls don't usually get much opportunity for mass kills in one location at the same time unlike, say, a weasel which might often get to corner several mice. So let's look at the thing from a few steps back, both at what has been observed and from there to what likely happened.

Our farm is out in the open, the nearest tree stands being at least a half mile off, so owls have not usually been a problem. We see them fairly often but when they are around they tend to avoid the building cluster and hunt in the fields or down on the lake. Lately, however, a small flock of pigeons (cursed rats of the sky) has taken up residence in our barnyard, often hanging out in an old barn (that is no longer used other than storing some hay) or in our "chop" bin ( an old central building used for ground or rolled feed storage). A couple months back I found one dead pigeon in the chop bin, laid out in as a fine finished feast just inside the door. At the time I marked it up to a stray cat, but I have since changed my mind.

Yesterday I noticed that I could only see one pigeon nearby. So, I am thinking that all the coyote activity nearby is starting to knock down the local mouse population and this owl has been drawn closer to the buildings, to get at these fat, dumb pigeons. Then, having decimated their population, it took notice of the loud clucking sounds and the yummy chicken smells emanating from that small window glowing bright in the darkness of winter evening.

I had been told that the owl had pulled the screen off of the window in order to get into the building, which I found somewhat amazing even though it was a tad lightly secured. But when I got there yesterday I saw that the screen was torn from its frame up in one corner...the owl had torn its way through and just knocked the frame loose as it scrambled in.

Now when I was first told that 61 hens had been killed my first thought was back to years ago when a mink got into our coop one winter, and proceeded to slaughter most of them. I knew that owls tend to be a snatch and fly off sort of predator, poorly designed for multiple kills, but I still envisioned some kind of slaughter. Then dad mention the owl's wingspan and I got to wondering how many necks might have got snapped just in a couple of blows. Sure enough, when I got to the farm, I didn't see one bird that looked to have been killed with beak or talon...although I must admit that it was a big pile and I didn't see all of the birds. What likely killed most of them was actually being smothered. The sound of the owl tearing through the screen and then suddenly scrambling through will have sent the flock into a panic, which results in crowding into corners. As a matter of fact, when dad got there the first time, the owl was actually just sitting up on one of the roosts. He hit it with something, I can't remember what he said, and went to get a shovel to finish it off. When he came back in, it was back up on the roost. So apparently it was not in any kind of killing frenzy...it just didn't know how to get out or it would have grabbed a bird and been gone.

This was a real shame but it was not as devastating as it could have been or even as it first seemed. I wonder if we shouldn't have processed another 25-30 birds for meat, as the building was filled about to the maximum, if not slightly over. It is now no longer an issue at all, and, thankfully, most of the girls have already started laying again. At this point, Mom feels she should be able to continue to service her existing client base although any real cold spells might knock their production down...since their numbers are down and the room will be slightly colder. So I guess later this year we can learn how to add pullets to a mature flock without them all getting killed. I'll have to get on adding the straw bale addition to the north end, so there is more room inside next winter.

That's about all I guess.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Final Straw?

My family doesn't tend to fare well in the luck aspect of life. Considering the devastation in Haiti and other parts of the world we should not feel too bad for ourselves, but man oh man does that get hard sometimes.

I just got off the phone with a rather upset mother. It seems that an owl pried the precariously mounted screen off the window that I put on the chicken coop, and got in. By the time my dad went to shut them in for the night, the owl had killed 61 of our hens. Sadly, the bird lost its life instead of getting to enjoy the free buffet it thought it had found. It had to die though, or it would have been back over and over.

I'm sure as hell not looking forward to the trip out there tomorrow, and learning which of my favorite hens are gone...

So this sets the fresh egg business back by over 1/3, at least, until no sooner than next fall. It might actually put the operation back longer than that, since it is likely to mean the need for a new building and pen. Money is beginning to grow very tight, so this may not be possible. It might turn out to be the straw that broke the camel's back too, if it puts my dad into a negative outlook as is very possible.

I guess we'll have to see...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

First Offering of 2010

Welly, welly, well, my little droogies. Here we are 14 days into a "new" year and barely a peep from your friendly neighborhood SoapBoxTech. I hope I will be forgiven for the stolen lines but part of the reason things have been so quiet here is a bit of a lack of inspiration to write. I do feel a bit of "groove" returning however, so we'll see how things go.

I recently finished reading a book that I received for Christmas from my excellent-gifting little sister, which presented some reality which can be a tad discouraging to some of us who are trying to return to an agrarian kind of life. "The War in the Country", by Canadian author and journalism professor Thomas Pawlick (writer of "The End of Food" as well) lays out some compelling evidence of government support for large-scale industrial agriculture operations, as opposed to smaller local operations, in Ontario and by extension, the world in general. I am not interested in trying to review this book, but I do suggest that people try to give it a read and pass it along to their perhaps less aware friends.

From my perspective, I think the situation might even be worse here in Alberta. With a significantly lower population there is less opportunity for local producers to build alternative local markets, and it seems to me that agricultural evolution here has led to the development of some massive and influential industrial grain and livestock operations here yet which remain family run and "local". This means that the strong rural vote here in Alberta still tends to side with what more and more people seem to finally be recognizing as very harmful practices; morally, ecologically, and nutritionally. In these cases, the "we're just trying to feed our family" defense is repeated ad nauseam. But as long as urban consumption and political power support this situation, intentionally or otherwise, it will remain the case.

On the upside, my mother's egg business is introducing us to more and more local people who are concerned about this stuff, and who are trying to make their own change. But then you meet the sort of fellow who suggested we get into the sheep business as he felt confidant that he could offer a market of 300 or 400 lambs per year...for sacrificial purposes. I try not to judge but I'm not even fond of eating such young flesh, never mind sacrificing it. It's hard to imagine a God demanding such waste in times like this, but what do I know.

Anyway, that's all for now I guess. Ciao for now, bellas.

PS: I meant to share this on New Years Day....well, Night I guess: