Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Movie review: Farmageddon

It sounds so absurd that everyone who hears about it assumes there must be more to the story. A family in Ohio is held at gunpoint for hours because they run a natural food buying club. After three raids, a California goat farmer sells all of her goats for fear of losing them. After a year of quarantine, a Vermont dairy loses all of its sheep -- not to a disease or a bear or a common thief, but to the same bully that held the Ohio family at gunpoint and harassed the California farmer -- the U. S. government. No, there were no illegal drugs. There were no illegal guns. There was nothing illicit, yet these law-abiding citizens were treated exactly as if they were producing and selling deadly street drugs to children. What were these people doing that caused SWAT teams to descend upon their farms and point loaded weapons at their children? They were selling raw milk. Yes, raw milk.

Saturday, Mike, Margaret, and I went to Chicago to see the documentary Farmageddon, which is about the government's harassment of farmers who sell raw milk. I had heard most of the stories before, but I always had a few lingering questions in the back of my head, and this movie answered them and gave me lots more information. Throughout the movie we meet farmers who are intelligent, articulate, and educated -- two of them have PhDs -- and we learn over and over again that the FDA and USDA harassed them without cause. No one died. No one even got sick. There were no lab test results indicating that someone might get sick. There was simply a bureaucrat who decided that another small farm needed to be shut down. Since 1970, 88 percent of America's dairy farms have disappeared, and they have been replaced by corporate-owned factory farms.

Since this harassment started, farmers have been getting smarter and started connecting over the Internet to share their experiences and advice. Unlike the sheep farmers who naively complied with the USDA's demands a decade ago, thinking that they could work through the system -- only to have the USDA take their sheep and kill them ten days before their hearing in a court of law -- today's farmers are fighting back, taking videos and pictures of the raids and calling friends and customers to serve as witnesses to the raids. Filmmaker Kristin Canty used a lot of this footage in the movie so that we could see exactly what is happening. It is scary and shocking and infuriating.

It is scary to me as a person with milk goats who sells a small amount of milk legally in my state. It is shocking to me as a person who believes that justice will prevail. And it is infuriating to me as a tax-paying citizen that literally millions of dollars has been spent on surveillance of innocent farmers who are merely trying to make a living doing what they love and what they believe in.

No one is saying that all milk should be raw or that pasteurization should be abandoned. They are merely saying that as free people, we should be allowed to choose. As one woman says in the movie, she could have legally smoked cigarettes every day when she pregnant and no one would have tried to stop her, but she can't buy raw milk in her state. Why do some states make raw milk illegal when it is perfectly legal for corporations to sell us edible food-like substances with ingredient lists that read like chemical formulas rather than recipes? They say it is because raw milk can make people sick, but that's like saying the sky is blue. ANY food can make you sick if it is improperly handled, including pasteurized milk. In the last few years, people have died from eating tainted spinach, green onions, peanuts, and most recently, strawberries! And no one was arrested in those cases. The reality is that milk produced in a factory farm needs to be pasteurized, but that's a discussion for another day.

Yours truly (left) with filmmaker Kristin Canty (right)
We attended a special showing of the film at the Gene Siskel Center in Chicago that started with a meet-n-greet prior to the film screening. We were lucky enough to meet Canty and talk to her about why she decided to make the movie. I knew this was her debut film, but the amazing thing is that she had no experience or education in film making. She was "just a mom" of four children, one who had very bad allergies, and when she started buying raw milk, her son's allergies disappeared. When she learned about the harassment of raw milk farmers, she told friends about it, but no one believed her. Everyone said there must be drugs or guns involved or something besides milk. Then she started writing letters to film makers, telling them they should make a movie, but this was when Food, Inc had just come out, and everyone was telling her that the world wasn't ready for another food movie. So, Canty decided to make the film herself because it was a story that had to be told.

In the Q&A after the movie, Canty said that although the movie is in limited release, some key people are seeing it, and it looks like it will be showing on Capitol Hill soon. She also heard through the grapevine that Big Ag is planning to start spending millions to fight the negative images presented about factory farming in movies like Food, Inc and Farmageddon. So this is what it's all about -- money. Rather than improving their practices and their own farms, which would result in a healthier planet, healthier animals, healthier food, and healthier people, they are planning to throw a few million at marketing in an attempt to convince consumers to continue buying their products.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jaxon and Bridget's BIG adventure!

From the moment the neighbor called to say that our cattle were on his property around the corner, I knew I did not have a good plan for getting them home. They were apparently in his orchard, which is probably only a quarter mile as the crow flies (over the creek and through the woods), but traveling on the roads, it is a mile away. After we arrived at his place, he showed us where they were. Jaxon wears a collar, and I had brought a lead rope to attach. For Bridget, I had brought a two-gallon stainless steel pot with alfalfa cubes in it to lure her back. The pot was demoted to barnware after it sprang a leak during maple syrup season.

It became obvious fairly quickly that this was going to be a long ordeal. Jaxon didn't want to walk on the lead rope, and Bridget was only somewhat interested in the alfalfa cubes. And did I mention that her calf was also with them? I assumed he would follow the grown-ups. The neighbor said that his tenant had told him there was also a brown cow, but we couldn't see her anywhere.

Bridget is the cow with the big horns, and the whole time I was walking backwards down the neighbor's quarter mile driveway with an alfalfa cube in my hand, I kept hearing blogpal Miss Effie saying, "Girlfriend, did you see those horns?" I hear ya, Miss Eff, I see those horns, and I am so happy that the stainless steel pot was demoted to the barn because I think it is about as wide as Bridget's horns are long. Mind you, Bridget is as sweet as a cow can be, but if she were to get overly excited and come running and not be able to stop quickly enough . . . well, then I start hearing the voice of that hen in the animated movie, Chicken Run. "I saw me life flash before me eyes!" So, I made sure the pot was always between me and Bridget, just to be safe.

When we finally got to the road, I ran back up the driveway to get my car and drive it out to the road. It had become obvious that it would take both Jonathan and me to get everyone home. I drove the car a little past Jonathan and the cattle and pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car, and got out to help him move everyone a little farther down the road. When Bridget saw her reflection in my car, she didn't want to walk past it, but I finally coaxed her around it. And Jaxon kept stopping, so I would get behind him and push his back end while Jonathan pulled on the lead rope.

Things went fairly well until we got to the neighbor's house on the corner. I don't know what was so enticing about their yard, but Bridget kept trying to go into their backyard. Although I managed to stop her from doing that, we did wind up cutting through their front yard. As we began heading down our road towards home, I suggested Jonathan go get my car. I took Jaxon's lead rope, and Jonathan took off running. I turned my back towards Jaxon, and leaned foward, putting all my weight into dragging him down the road. It went well. It's going too well, I thought. No, no, I argued with myself. Jaxon is just getting better at walking on lead. But with me focusing on Jaxon, Bridget started to wander off into the ditch and then behind weeds that were taller than she was. I called her name several times, but she was nowhere to be seen. Jaxon was trucking along at the best speed of our entire jaunt, so I did not want to stop. But I didn't feel like I had much choice. I had to find Bridget and get her back on track. I tied Jaxon's lead rope to a fence post on the side of the road and went running into the weeds to find Bridget just as Jonathan showed up. Then I realized that Bridget was going to a pond. Who knew when she last had a drink of water, so she was obviously thirsty. I told Jonathan to take Jaxon and head down the road with him.

Everything gets a little fuzzy at this point. There was lots of running, and I kept hearing that hen from Chicken Run! "I saw me life flash before me eyes!" I saw Jaxon come bolting out of the woods a few hundreds yards from where he was supposed to be. Then I see Jonathan still hanging on to the other end of the lead rope, running behind Jaxon. I started making that horrible noise -- you know the one that makes bystanders ask, "Are you laughing or crying?" Amazingly Jonathan got Jaxon under control again, but a few minutes later, the whole scene was repeated in reverse. Jaxon ran into the woods with Jonathan behind him. I realized that I didn't have my cell phone to call for help, and I would never be able to get Jonathan out of the woods if he got injured. Then I saw Jaxon come running out of the woods again with Jonathan still in tow. By the time Jonathan got Jaxon under control, we were so far from the road, it would have been a huge waste of time to go back the way we came. Jonathan, who had just been dragged through the woods three times, said that there was a four-wheeler trail that led straight to the road, so we agreed that he'd take the cows through there, and I'd go back to the car and drive it forward a bit more.

After driving the car past the other end of the trail, I walked back to the opening in the trees and waited for Jonathan and the cattle. After a few minutes, I called his name, and he yelled back, "I'm coming." I knew we had to come up with a new plan. Bridget was stuffed with alfalfa cubes, so they weren't working any longer, and she was only mildly interested in following Jaxon. I told Jonathan that next time we walked past the car, I would get in and drive very slowly behind him and hopefully that would push the cows to continue walking. We were within spitting distance of our western property line, but we were still about a tenth of a mile from the nearest gate, and across the road was a field full of soybeans and then corn. How would we ever get Bridget out of there? Then I realized that she has never had grain, and it is an acquired taste. So, if we're lucky, she'll just keep walking, I thought. Although Bridget kept walking, Jaxon stopped twice, so I had to get out of the car and push him to get him going again.

Finally, we could see our driveway ahead. I pushed the button to open the gate, and Jonathan led Jaxon through, and then after briefly hesitating, Bridget went through, and her calf followed. I pulled my car into the driveway and stopped as I waited for the gate to close -- just in case anyone had any second thoughts and turned around to head back out onto the road.

We still had to get everyone into a secure pasture, and I suddenly got the brilliant idea to use fly spray to make them move. It's just soapy water, but I think the cows hate the "psht" sound it makes when I spray. So I went and got my spray bottle and stood behind Jaxon. When Jonathan pulled on the lead rope, I started spraying, and Jaxon started walking. It worked brilliantly. We had to get them through the barn to get to the pasture, and as we were taking Jaxon through, Bridget came into the front of the barn. I went back and slipped behind her and started spraying and she started trotting through the barn. Worked like a charm.

The whole time we were heading towards home, we kept thinking about Molly. Where was she, and how would we find her, and how would we get her home? As soon as we had Jaxon, Bridget, and the calf in the pasture, we heard a moo coming from across the creek. It sounded close so Jonathan went to check it out, and it was Molly with her calf.

So, I can now say that the whole thing ended with no injuries to human or cattle, and we got an hour and a half of good exercise. I have no idea how they escaped because Mike just walked the fenceline yesterday and pronounced it perfectly sound. One thing that kept going through my head again and again was, what would I have done if I had been home alone?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

 I knew it was going to happen. It had to happen. We had to split up James and Julia after she had her piglets because we don't want her to get pregnant again too soon. James was being the most awesome father. When you looked out there, you were as likely to see the piglets with him as with Julia. But then a couple days ago, I looked out there and saw James with his nose to Julia's back end following her wherever she went. Not good. My original thought was that we would move James to the sheep pasture, but then I realized that no one was in the pasture next to Julia and the piglets, so I thought it might be nicer for him to be next door, so to speak. And if the piglets really want to visit, they can.

Piglets, already getting muddy like mama!

Katherine took a bucket of whey out to the pasture, and as soon as James saw the bucket, he came running because he loves whey. He followed her through the gate into the neighboring pasture. She put down the bucket, and he was happily slurping up the whey as she left the pasture and closed the gate behind her. That was two days ago.

You can see the path James has worn next to the fence.

Yesterday, I seriously thought James was going to kill all of the grass along the fence in his pasture as he paced back and forth all day long -- and I was right. He wouldn't even go to the water trough, and by early afternoon, he was pacing with his mouth hanging open. So, Katherine went out there and convinced him to go to the water trough and have a drink. But he is still spending most of his day next to the fence looking longingly at Julia and the piglets. At chore time last night, the babies all jumped up as if on cue and ran over to the fence where James was laying, and I swear I could hear little voices saying, "Come on, Daddy, let's play!"

Julia, covered in mud, as usual

So, as sad as it is to break up this happy little family, I really don't want piglets born in December or January or February, so James will simply have to accept this new living arrangement. I just hope my fencing is up to the challenge!

Friday, August 12, 2011


This morning, I am taking our summer intern to the airport. Michael has been here for the past nine weeks, and it's hard to believe how fast the summer has flown! It seems like yesterday when he arrived. He has been helping out with a variety of things around the farm, but his favorite activity has been milking the la mancha dairy goats. He arrived already knowing how to milk because he spent last summer on a farm milking sheep. His daily chores included taking care of the goats -- filling hay feeders and water buckets, mucking out stalls, and whatever else the goats needed. He also washed the sheep and llama fleeces and helped out in the garden from time to time.

When Margaret decided she wanted backyard chickens, he helped her build a movable chicken coop that I blogged about in Homegrown & Handmade, and he helped Mike build our newest turkey tractor, which I still need to blog about.

Talking to Michael gives me hope for the future as he is an agricultural student who is interested in organics! While he was here, I introduced him to the documentaries Fresh and Food Inc, as well as Michael Pollan books, The Stockman Grass Farmer, and Joel Salatin's farming philosophy. It has been a great nine weeks, and we are all sad to say good bye!

This is an especially challenging post to write because I'm trying to avoid turning it into my annual "freak out" post -- you know the one where I panic about how it's crunch time because we have so much left to do, and there is so little time left to do it before winter. You'll probably be reading that post in a week or two though. On Monday, the other Michael (my husband) goes back to work, and the following Monday, classes start for Jonathan and Katherine at the junior college.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

All-you-can-eat goat buffet

We moved the does into a new browsing area today. Technically, goats are not grazers. If given the choice, they prefer to browse, which means to eat leaves, bushes, and young trees. So this hillside is their idea of a five-star gourmet restaurant!

Amelia Earhart, a polled, blue-eyed doeling born this spring
It is easy to see why goats are rented to clear hillsides that are overgrown. They love this stuff!

Girlfriend, a mini mancha doeling
The more experience we get with rotational grazing, the more brave we get. We used to only put the goats on flat land. But now we put them in a lot of places overgrown with brush.

Miss Kitty, named after the Gunsmoke character,
is developing the sassy personality of her namesake.
One reason goats are not as resilient against internal parasites as sheep and cattle is because they didn't evolve eating grass off the ground where the parasite larvae can be ingested. They've gone through history eating from trees. As one person said, goats should never eat below their knees.

Sherri, eight years old and our most valued brood doe

Skippy, the other earless wonder (mini mancha)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


As I was laying in bed last night around 8:30, trying to convince myself that no one's head ever really exploded from a migraine, my son Jonathan burst into the bedroom panting and blurted out, "Piglets! In the chicken house! Four or five are already nursing, and I think I saw another one pop out!" He said something about getting a towel to wipe off a couple that seemed especially dirty, and he was gone again.

Of all the hours she could have given birth, she waited until I was incapable of being there. Talk about rotten luck! A bit later I got reports from daughter Katherine, who couldn't stop squealing about how cute they were, and husband Mike, who told me he tried to take a video but it was too dark in the chicken house at sundown. Both asked if it was okay that some of the piglets had a white foot or two -- and it is. Being one of the oldest and rarest hog breeds in the U.S., guinea hogs don't have a lot of strict rules about appearance, although the majority of guinea hogs are solid black today.

This morning, in spite of a lingering headache, I got myself out there to check out the new additions. Julia had followed Mike to her own little house when he went into the chicken house this morning. None of the babies followed, so Mike put them all in a box and took them to the pig's area. Piglets remind me more of human babies than any other livestock the way that they nurse until they fall asleep, and then if they accidentally fall off the teat, they wake up immediately and start looking for it again!

The final count was nine babies -- four girls and five boys. Unfortunately, two of the girls (gilts) were dead this morning, just laying there peacefully near their mama without a sign of anything wrong. One of the other little girls is not the most clued-in about nursing, so I'm wondering if her sisters had a little trouble also getting the hang of it. While six of the piglets were nursing this morning, she was hanging out in the little house, so we took her out several times and kept putting her back on the teat. Although the nine piglets were in a variety of sizes, there wasn't a real runt in the litter, so that's a good thing.

Because the guinea hogs are an endangered breed, we'll be keeping the girls for breeding as long as they don't show any undesirable traits. Some of the boys will wind up as pork, but a couple of the nicer ones will probably be sold for breeding.

About the piglet prognostication give-away -- not a single person chose August 2! But two people guessed August 3, and that was Penny and Miss Effie. Penny said ten piglets, and Miss Effie said six, so Penny is the winner of the goat milk soap. Drop me an email Penny (deborah at antiquity oaks), and I'll get your soap in the mail right away! Thanks to everyone for your guesses!


Related Posts with Thumbnails