Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday Flora can't wait to leave the nest edition

We have a teasel problem.  They are an invasive weed without even the redeeming qualities of blackberries.  They are kind of pretty, though.
But invasive.  The seeds often sprout before they've left the seed head. They remind me of aphids, born pregnant. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday Tool Keepin' it cool edition

The Tuesday Tool is...

the 35-liter Dewar flask of liquid nitrogen, full of freshly-collected and processed goat semen.  The Monday Tool would be unmentionable on a family blog.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday Wordage Just Say It, Dammit, Edition--a rant you don't have to read but that I have to rant.

Begin rant:

A long time ago, I was on a bike tour that passed through some lovely scenery in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota.  I was not supposed to be naive--I had a college education from a prestigious institution under my belt--but, I was.  Maybe it was because I missed some classes in High School, or because I slept through something, or maybe because it just wasn't taught.  Whatever the reason, I was almost completely unaware of the history of the relationship between my country and the First Nations who originally lived in the area.   Every day we passed historical markers and parks and battlefields, I got a good eye-opening about just how rotten one's government can be, and how enthusiastically a democratic majority can support that rottenness.  And, of course, if you pay attention, you can hear that lesson again and again and again.

So I found myself listening to the radio today as I drove to the vet.  I had tuned in while the show was in progress, and heard somebody vigorously defending the use of "EITs".  I eventually figured out that an EIT was an "Enhanced Interrogation Technique."  As I listened on, it became very, very clear that EIT was torture, given legal blessing by compliant lawyers and paranoid, fearful agents.  It was clear that the things being legally purified were, when practiced by Khmer Rouge or North Vietnamese or Maoist or Imperial Japanese or Nazi or Stalinist agents, torture.  It was clear, as I was driving to the vet, that if I did the things blandly described as EITs to the goats in the back of my truck, I would be arrested and prosecuted.  It made me kind of sick, and gave me a bit more of that feeling I had while reading yet another sign describing United States soldiers killing native women and children in some beautiful valley in Montana.

And now, I am sicker.  Apparently, over 50% of people who identify with one of our major political parties reckon that EITs are a genuinely good thing.  Not tolerable, but right and just. 

Carlin and Orwell, a couple of Georges who were keen observers of the abuse of language, talked about how you can hide the most awful things behind bland, meaningless words.  Torture becomes Enhanced Interrogation becomes EIT, and heck, EIT's don't sound so bad.  Torture doesn't magically become something else when the same thing is done by the CIA rather than Pol Pot, no matter how scared you are, no matter how many lawyers bless it, and no matter what name you disguise it with.

I want never to hear the terms "EIT" or Enhanced Interrogation used by any news organization to describe the torture that agents of my country performed.  It was torture.  Just say it, dammit.  And if you're one of those people who thinks that EITs are tolerable, just own the fact that you endorse torture. 

Oh, and what I was saying earlier about epithets and chyrons...there are a lot of people who, whenever they make any public pronouncement about anything, should have a label saying "...supports torturing people..."

End of Rant. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday Musical Note--Opera and the Bechdel Test, updated

A while ago, I wondered about operas that would pass the Bechdel Test.  I found another yesterday--Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.  In a brief section of the "Opera" portion of the opera, Naiad, Dryad, and Echo sing to each other about how miserable Ariadne is.  No male (human or god) is mentioned.  And it's really quite pretty, too. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Wednesday Wordage--the spirit of Bob and Ray lives...

...and is working the cash register at the Co-op.  I bought a sack of kibble for Eleanor the Akbash there.  It was a different brand than her usual, because it was on sale (a hundred pound dog that can run the hundred meters in 7 seconds can put away a fifty pound bag of kibble in no time).  So, I got home, and as I was filing the receipt in the "co-op receipts" folder, this item caught my eye:

"Prairie Dog Food 50#"

We have lots of animals, but no prairie dogs.  I finally figured that the Eleanor's food was sold as  "High Prairie Bison Blend" or some such. 

Anyway, it's ground already trod upon by the two and only Bob and Ray.  I can't find the audio, but here's the text; imagine these announcements, in the blandest possible voice, interrupting the radio show.

At this time, as a public service, we are glad to post the following bulletin from the Office of Fluctuation Control, Bureau of Edible Condiments, Soluble, Insoluble, and Indigestible Fats and Glutinous Derivatives, Washington, D.C.:

Directive 943456201: As of February 1, 2009, the price of groundhog meat will be fixed at a level higher than the price of groundhog meat on October 15, 2008, with the exception of the low-level water route outlined in the Bureau’s directive 20066 of finding the Kansas City stockyards. Note: slightly higher west of the Rockies.

At this time, as a public service, we are glad to post the following supplementary bulletin from the Office of Fluctuation Control, Bureau of Edible Condiments, Soluble, Insoluble, and Indigestible Fats and Glutinous Derivatives, Washington, D.C.:

Correction of Directive 943456201, issued earlier today, February 1, 2009, concerning the fixed price of groundhog meat. In the Directive above-named, the price-fixed low-water-level quotation on groundhog meat should read “ground hogmeat.”

At this time, as a public service, we are glad to post the following additional supplementary bulletin from the Office of Fluctuation Control, Bureau of Edible Condiments, Soluble, Insoluble, and Indigestible Fats and Glutinous Derivatives, Washington, D.C.:

Correction of the Correction of Directive 943456201, issued yesterday afternoon, February 1, 2009, which noted said Directive should read “ground hogmeat” instead of “groundhog meat.” Note that “ground hogmeat” should now read “chopped hogmeat.”
At this time, as a public service, we are glad to post the following superseding additional supplementary bulletin from the Office of Fluctuation Control, Bureau of Edible Condiments, Soluble, Insoluble, and Indigestible Fats and Glutinous Derivatives, Washington, D.C.:

Correction of the Correction of the Correction of Directive 943456201, issued earlier, February 2, 2009. First correction: that number is now 943456202. The second correction: please note that said Directive reading “chopped hogmeat” formerly reading “ground hogmeat” formerly reading “groundhog meat” should now read “sausage.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wednesday Wordage What Word Do You Live In Edition

I live in Roseburg, according to the cartographer--on Oak Creek Road, if you're the county, Oak Creek Drive if you're the IRS. If you're the Postal Service, I live in 97470.  This area, until maybe forty years ago, was known as ORchard.  So, who called it ORchard (not Orchard or ORCHARD)?


Highlight for answer:  Ma Bell.  We live in the "67X" telephone exchange, and when direct dialing was introduced, mnemonics were used by the telephone company to get people to remember the extra two numbers they'd have to add to their number.  A phone number around here would have been given as "ORchard 3-4567.  
What was your area known as?  There's a website (of course) that can tell you. 

Monday, November 24, 2014


I forget which philosopher tells us that true happiness is found at the concordance between what one  wants to do, what one ought to do, and what one is able to do.  If that is the case--and if the intensity of desire is a significant coefficient--then Cernunnos and Go Daddy, the bucks who are the sires in most of this year’s breedings, are the happiest creatures on the planet. 


There are a lot of incidents that launch themselves on a trajectory that can lead either to farce or to tragedy, and until they play out, there's no knowing whether to laugh or cry.  One such incident happened last Friday. 

We "leash breed" our goats, so we can be absolutely sure that breeding has taken place and we know exactly who is the daddy.   It means leashing up a specific doe and a specific buck individually and leading each to some place where we can watch them mate.  What ensues has nothing that a human would recognize as romance; the deed takes a few seconds, and then the animals get led back home.  Being able to provide certainty about our pedigrees enhances the value of our stock, and is reflected in the breeding page of our farm website.  

 Practically, leash breeding is a bit of work.  Our happy, happy bucks live at one corner of the big pasture, where they pass their days grazing, peeing on their beards, making grotesque noises, and trying to relieve their sexual tensions with each other.  Our does live in a pasture on the other side of the big pasture, over a hundred yards away, and pass their time with grazing and meditating--except for when they are in heat.  Then, they stand up on the junked workbench that I put in their pasture for their amusement, orient themselves towards the distant bucks, and sing a loud song of lust and desire.  

Two of our does, Opera and Mizuki, were in heat last Friday.  It was far from a beautiful day for romance--it was pouring, and Nigerian Dwarf goats hate rain.  But, omnia vincit amor, so Opera didn't complain when I tied her up under the barn's awning.  Cernunnos was not too enthusiastic about being rousted out of his dry shelter, but once he figured out what was up, he picked up his pace.  The deed done, each went back through the downpour and into their shelters.  Then it was Mizuki's turn; she knew what was up, and was willing to be tied up under the barn's eaves to await her mate, Go Daddy.  

What happened next was all a wet, furry, stinky blur.  I went to fetch Go Daddy, who had figured out what was going on, and was defying the downpour to wait at the gate of his pasture.  Cernunnos had the same thought, and the other bucks--Guy, Cherubino, Mustafa, and Caliban, who are less experienced--were curious as to what was going on, so they were at the gate too.  I slipped through the gate, attached the lead to Go Daddy's collar, and shooed all the other bucks away from the gate.  Go Daddy, I should mention, is the strongest and most eager of our bucks, and it is a genuine struggle to hold onto him.  So, perhaps it’s understandable that my attention was focused on restraining him as I fumbled in the pouring rain to close the balky latch on the gate.  I failed to notice Cernunnos charging the gate.  I did notice him when he barged past me and Go Daddy and was moving at an urgent, waddling trot towards the barn.  

And here is where we were suspended between farce and frustration.  Rain pouring down, Mizuki tied up at the barn singing of her desire, Cernunnos eagerly galloping across the field towards a doe he should definitely not mate, me getting forcibly dragged away from an open gate by Go Daddy, who is trying to beat Cernunnos, and four naive but intrigued bucks looking intently at the open gate and their buddies who seemed quite keen on...something.  I didn't hesitate: the most important thing was to intercept Cernunos--if it were necessary, I could simply pick Mizuki up and throw her over the electric fence, provided I got to her before Cernunos.  So, I charged across the field in the pouring rain, accompanied by the lusty Go Daddy, and trailing a train of confused bucklings who didn't know anything about what was going on but that it looked like fun. 

Fortunately for the resolution of the affair, Go Daddy and I are faster than Cernunnos.  Despite my attempt at sprinting, Go Daddy still towed me most of the way (from the strain he puts on his collar, I have come to the conclusion that his kink is erotic asphyxiation).  We got to Mizuki, who was urging her suitors onward, just before Cernunnos.  I let go of Go Daddy’s leash, figuring that he would know what to do, and grabbed a hold of Cernunnos’ collar.  The other bucks were strung out in a line, halfway between their pasture and the barn, reconsidering the wisdom of going out in the heavy rain for an uncertain reward.  Once he was finished, I grabbed Go Daddy's lead, and held onto it with the same hand that was restraining Cernunnos; with the other hand, I hustled Mizuki back through her gate.  Temporarily sated, Go Daddy was not too difficult to lead back to his pasture, and Cernunnos also seemed to realize that his date had left him standing in the rain.  We shuffled back across the field, and were joined by the other bucks, who seemed confused by the whole business, but content to fall in line and follow the big boys back into the pen.  I closed the gate behind everybody, and let out a deep sigh of relief, and some laughter.

So, if you look at our farm’s web page, you will see our breeding list.  I can assure you that it is accurate. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Flora Didn't Get the Memo Edition

Our evening primrose didn't get the memo about it being winter here.  Or, for that matter, that it's morning, not evening. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wednesday Wordage: Chiron, son of Chronos, god-like beast...

One of the many things that vexes me about the state of civil discourse these days has to do with qualifications, or more precisely, disqualifications.  We have too many news and opinion shows on too many channels and blogs and twitters, all going 24/7.  All of these outlets need people to voice opinions--otherwise, no show, and no ad revenue. But what does it take to be one of these opinion-spinners?

The qualifications are minimal.  One can earn an advanced degree in seemingly any field, or you can be at a think-tank, or you can be an elected official, or you can have an obsessive blog about a particular subject, or be eloquent, or telegenic, or family of someone relevant, or any of a number of other things.  All of these things, whatever their true worth at forming an educated opinion, apparently qualify you to share your opinion with lots of people, and try to sway their opinions.

What distresses me is not how easy it is to gain qualification as an opinion-maker.  It is, rather, how it is nearly impossible to be disqualified as an opinioneer.  There are too many people whose opinions are given far too much weight, based on how their previous opinions or policies have played out in the real world.  They should, one thinks, be disqualified from having publicly broadcast opinions on these matters.  We really should never have to listen to a news or opinion piece on human rights from Henry Kissinger, on middle-eastern policy from Dick Cheney, on defence policy from Don Rumsfeld, on presidential powers from John Yoo, on appropriate workplace behavior from Bill Clinton, and so on--except, perhaps to hear them say, "whatever you do, make it the opposite of what I did".  But banning people is not the solution, or consistent with our constitution. 

So, I argue for the return of the epithet.  You may remember epithets from Homer and his ilk:  swift-footed Achilles, Eos of the rosy fingers.  In documented history, you have kings such as Ethelred the Unready or Ivan the Terrible.  These adjectival phrases become part of the character's name.   Epithets help us to grasp the essential nature of the person, and they're not always flattering.

There are certain positions or clearly stated opinions--not off-the-cuff remarks, but publicly declared views--that have been tested by time, and found stupid or odious.  They become less like opinions and more like falsified hypotheses that are still, despite evidence, clung to.  I propose that these should become epithets.  However, it doesn't really advance public discourse when you reduce a talking head's world-view to a single adjective like "unready" or "terrible."  A more useful and informative epithet, one that would help the audience to weigh an opinion, would be something such as "who thought Sarah Palin would be a good president" or "who reckons that bombing Iran would be constructive," to suggest a few that would apply to the Honorable Senator John McCain.

How does one deal with a bulky and cumbersome epithet such as this?  A solution is provided by repurposing yet another scourge of public discourse, the Chyron.  Chyrons (the name is apparently a trademark and has nothing to do with the centaur who taught Achilles; they are also called crawls or "the bottom third") are those lines of text that pollute the bottom of a TV screen whenever there is a talking head spouting opinions.  They are generally full of garbage, or take the talking head's opinion an reduce it to one phrase of mush.  Either way, they do nothing useful.  I suggest taking the Chyron and using it to show the talking head's epithet.

Here's an example: nowadays, we see James Inhofe's head talking above lines of text saying "Sen (R) Okla / Jets 14 Ravens 3 (final) / Dow up 13 3/8 / Did Rhianna cheat on Ussher? / Volcanic eruption in Hawaii threatens golf course..." and so on.  Instead, we should see James Inhofe talking above lines of text saying "despite a century of accumulated scientific evidence and the assurances of pretty much everybody who has studied them, he refuses to place any credence in biological evolution or anthropogenic climate change.  Also gets lots of money from fossil fuel business."  That way the viewer would know the talking head is venal and committed to ignorance on not just one, but two, and probably lots of issues.

It might be argued that this would stifle free discussion of important issues.  But, if you consistently have opinions that the passage of time have shown to be clearly dumb and harmful, it seems that your views should be branded.  If you're stupid on one topic, fine, opine on others--and if you trip on those, you will accumulate more tar and more feathers, for all to see.  It's been noted that, in the internet age, that a PhD does not automatically confer wisdom, and that formal qualifications have become less important.  Right now, civil discourse has an urgent need for disqualifications. 

(signed) J. A. Appleman...for a while, thought corn-based ethanol was a reasonable alternative energy source... 

 I'll put a few possibilities in the comments...please add your own.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tuesday Tool Early Winter Edition

The tool of the day was going to be the 20-foot trailer used to schlep the two tons of hay which I unloaded this afternoon.  But no, the honor of being the tool of the day goes to...
...the cat warmer.

Seriously, he hasn't moved for the last four hours.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Interesting mail

This was in the mail; I opened it before I realized it was addressed to a long-ago resident of our place.  I feel there's no harm in posting it, with a few redactions and the boring stuff at the end omitted.

“DREAMCATCHER” MODELS #4582BR-C, -D, -E, #4582BS-A, -B.

Dear [redacted]

You are receiving this letter because our records indicate that you may have purchased a defective and possibly dangerous item from one of our MegaCo stores.  We are voluntarily recalling Zhinghui Novelty Trading Company “Dreamcatcher” Models #4582BR-C, -D, -E, and #4582BS-A, -B sold in our stores between November 2013 and March 2014.  These models can be distinguished from previous and subsequent models of dreamcatchers sold in our stores by having only three feathers, located at positions corresponding to 3-, 6-, and 9-o’clock.  We recommend IMMEDIATE removal of these products from cribs, bedrooms, or any areas where sleeping may occur.

It has come to our notice that there are several manufacturing issues with the product.  The number of feathers is not sufficient to catch most bad dreams.  The feathers, despite assurances from Zhinghui Novelty Trading Company, are sourced from domesticated chickens and ducks, rather than free-living hawks and falcons.  Moreover, the persons manufacturing these objects were observed by our inspectors to have been in a negative frame of mind, often under intense stress from production quotas, and ill from glue-induced headaches.  The inspectors also noted the factory was polluted by a sense of guilt caused by the misappropriation and frankly crass commercialization of Native American sacred culture.

These manufacturing defects render these objects 45% less effective than placebo at preventing bad dreams or retaining good dreams.  The dreamcatchers subject to this recall are 93% ineffective at stopping dreams induced by eating Welsh Rarebit before bed.  Users have also reported dreams involving speeches before large audiences while wearing nothing but underwear, endless falling, unpleasant incidents in high school, and “that one with the giant spider, but it’s actually your boss, and she, you know, like, has you in a web, and you sorta wake up and your sheets are all tangled up, but you’re sorta asleep too, and then she turns into an evil clown-slash-Newt Gingrich, and he’s trying to sell you some Amway stuff…”  While there have been no fatalities associated with these products, we have reports of numerous bad dreams that have left a sort of “off” feeling for most of the day and a lingering jumpiness that can last for up to three days.

Due to the psychohazardous nature of this product, it is unlawful to dispose of it in municipal waste.  Defective products should be wrapped in three layers of heavy aluminum foil or contained in a leaden box and returned to the MegaCo store of purchase for a full refund and a voucher good for two sessions of either Freudian or Jungian psychotherapy at one of our convenient in-store clinics. 

The management of MegaCo sincerely apologizes for any adverse results of the use of this product.  However, due to malfeasance on the part of the Zhinghui Novelty Trading Company, MegaCo does not accept legal responsibility for any damage done by this product.  For further information, contact MegaCo legal departme…
...and so on.  I haven't forwarded it; at this time, the addressee's sleep is eternal, and, I hope, peaceful.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wednesday words, avoiding embarassment with the neighbors edition

I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep.
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep.
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep.  
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep. 
I will not use the word "herd" to describe a group of sheep.            

Monday, November 10, 2014

subliminal influences of TV programming?

We don't have a TV.  Perhaps because of that, I notice them in public spaces and have a harder time ignoring them than other folks.  They're over the checkout stands at a local grocery, and over some gas pumps. 

Today I went to the local branch of a bank whose name rhymes with "Smells Cargo."  I have to do business there every month or so.  The previous time I was there, I noticed that they had installed a TV above the line of tellers, so the folks waiting in line would have something to pass the time.  When a TV is set up in a public space such as a bank or airport terminal, it has to be set to something anodyne, so the set was tuned to some sort of vintage-1950's -60's TV station. 

The last time I was there at the bank, there was an episode of some cowboy drama, featuring an armed bank robbery.

This time, it was an episode of the Lone Ranger, featuring an armed bank robbery. 

It could be taken as evidence that violent TV programming does not have any effect on behavior, as everybody else in the considerable line was ignoring it, and I was unarmed.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Sunday Slime

That brilliant orange slime mold I posted on Friday?  I forgot the follow-up.  In the space of six hours, it turns into something like this:

and in a day, those little pellets crumble into dust.  Pretty impressive.  Just think of the metabolism involved in converting all that orange pigment into purple-black. 

Here's a couple more slimes for your delectation:
 I just love the little stalks.  Each mushroom is about 1mm.
Kind of impressionistic, the larger blobs are a couple of mm.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Friday Flora...well, not truly flora, but still...

Rainy season is here.  The fungi have awoken from their summer slumber, and are spreading their umbrellas all over the place.  But they're not really flora. 

Wandering further, phylogenetically, each rain brings forth a bloom of slime molds--not flora, not even fungi--more closely related to us, actually.  They are mostly inconspicuous.  But one of them really jumps out after every rain: 
It's not Fuligo, who has strutted across this stage before.  I'm guessing it's one of the Plasmodial slime molds, but beyond that, I don't know.  Anybody know? 

More slimeys later--it's no longer flower season, it's the season of fungi and their allies. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wednesday Wordage Nobody's business but the Turks edition

Inspired by some recent news about a coup d'etat. Soundtrack for this week's offering:

What are they known as now?

a) Formosa
b) Fort Duquesne
c) Stalingrad
d) Upper Volta
e) Batavia
f) Danzig, East Prussia

Highlight for answers
a) Taiwan
b) Pittsburgh
c) Volgograd
d) Burkina Faso
e) Djakarta
f) Gdansk, Poland

Lots of other possibilities.  Suggestions welcome in comments.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday Tool Early November Edition (Updated)

Well, it's the ballot, of course.  Vote responsibly.

I am not exactly on the same political wavelength as most of my neighbors.  I assiduously avoid politics in conversation, and have cultivated the obscure answer, the faint smile and imperceptible nod.  I rarely try to correct someone when they regurgitate one of the more outlandish whoppers put forth by talk radio*.  So, I could probably introduce myself to any random stranger, and say that my ballot cancels his or hers.  Such is democracy.  I refrain from doing so--such is politeness.

However, it is inevitable that if somebody says something to you that they earnestly believe--something that goes against all facts, and that you know is 100% stupid, it will inevitably change how you regard them.  Still, ya gotta do business with them.  I console myself with the knowledge that they are good at whatever it is that I'm working with them on, and that they would consider me 100% stupid if they knew my views. 

 It is useful to have your opinions challenged, from right and left, and it is dangerous to listen only to those who agree with you.  What worries me particularly about the current scene is that we (as a country) can't even seem to agree on what is reality.  Facts have been replaced with tribal identity and heaps of lies and fear,  whipped up by "dark money."  

So I'm not tuning in to the election returns, because I know that they won't make me happy.  But, having voted, I will at least be entitled to complain.

UPDATE, POST-ELECTION:  I see from the local paper that two thirds of the folks in my county think rather differently than I do about almost every issue.  Most of them even voted for a congressional candidate who earned a few seconds of fame for a mass-mailing soliciting urine samples for his biochemistry research.  A very large majority voted for the state lege candidate who passed on any public debate because he was too busy, was not really clear about the whole three branches of government thing, and made sure that his first order of business was to publicly thank his personal deity and savior.  

*Rarely enough that I can remember only three such claims, and I responded only because I was specifically asked: Obama is the most anti-Israel president ever, global warming (if it exists, which it doesn't) is due to H-bomb testing, and there is an actual movement afoot to introduce Sharia law in the U.S..  Each claim was given with complete seriousness.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Monday Musical Opinion: Opera and the Bechdel Test

Here's the names of this year's lambs:  Uberto, Tristan, Marthe, La Castafiore, Gerhilde, Heliane, Ortlinde, Vixen Sharp-ears, Elvira, Ernani, Carmen, and Linda di Chamounix.  (There were a bunch of other ram lambs, who are unnamed and are destined to become either other peoples' pets, or meat).  Like a lot of breeders, we have a theme for naming our sheep; we use opera characters. 

I was looking at who we bred this year, and thinking about what names would be appropriate.  I strive to have some sort of continuity in naming.  So, for example, Truffles is a bit nutso, so her daughters are Lucia di Lamb-ermoor and Linda di Chamounix--both of whom have "mad scenes."  Tristan is out of Isolde.  Some are a bit more of a stretch.  La Castafiore, for example, will be recognized by fans of Tintin...

as the diva who always bursts forth with the "Jewel Song" from Faust; the song is sung by a character who sometimes is called Gretchen--and Gretchen is the name of the ewe who gave us La Castafiore.  Kinda torturous, but it helps me to remember who is who. 

It's not as though there are a shortage of opera characters.  Naming the rams is easy, because there is definitely no shortage of randy, testosterone-driven, brutish male characters.  Female characters?  They are there, but they are often a lot less interesting.  As often as not, the Soprano is a fairly passive object of dispute between two tenors or a tenor and a baritone, and the Alto is either the Soprano's mother or maid.  Sure, there are lots of exceptions, but they are exceptions nonetheless.

Mulling on this (I was driving from San Francisco to Roseburg, listening to the opera station on the satellite radio, so plenty of time for mulling), I got to wondering if there were any operas which pass the Bechdel Test.  The Bechdel Test (named after the woman who committed it to ink) asks if a movie has a) at least two named female characters who b) talk to each other about c) something other than a man.  Given that operas generally have few named characters, are often composed in (and about) times when men were the only acknowledged movers and shakers, and are almost always about complicated heterosexual interpersonal relationships, it's hard to think of many that pass the test. 

"Dialogues of the Carmelites" is an easy one.  "Suor Angelica" also passes easily.  It gets harder to find operas that pass the Bechdel Test outside the walls of the convent:  "Lakme" has the famous flower song, which is a nice duet about flowers (completely free of innuendo).  The barcarolle from "Tales of Hoffman" is about night and love, generally--but the mezzo is a trouser role, Nicklausse.  Really, I'm drawing a blank on this--if you can think of any, please let me know. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Wordage Elementary Edition

A knowledge of chemistry is not required to find the odd one out:

a) Ytterbium
b) Gold
c) Ruthenium
d) Copper
e) Lutetium

Hint: An atlas will serve you better than a chemistry textbook. 
Highlight for answer:  b) Gold.  All the others are named after towns or regions--Ytterby, Sweden (also a source of Yttrium, Terbium, Erbium, Thulium (after Thule, the northernmost land in myth), Holmium (after Stockholm), Scandium (after Scandinavia); Ruthenium after the demographic area (never quite a nation) uncomfortably squeezed between Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and the Ukraine; Copper after Cyprus (it may be the other way 'round); and Lutetium after Lutetia, the Latin name for Paris.  Other goodies include Strontium, named after a town in Scotland; Rhenium, after the Rhine; Hafnium, after the Latin for Copenhagen; Dubnium, after Dubna in Russia; and gimmes like Americium, Germanium, Europium, Polonium, Francium, Berkelium, Californium, Darmstadtium, and Livermorium.  
I just noticed that last week's wordage was more or less a repeat of a much earlier one.  My bad.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Wordage Odd Man Out Edition

Busy as heck today. 

Which one is the odd one out?
a) shampoo
b) khaki
c) juggernaut
d) panjandrum
e) pundit

Highlight for the answer:  It's d, Panjandrum.  The others entered the English language through the Raj--"shampoo" is from a Hindi word meaning "to press," which became part of a massage and bath; "khaki" is an Urdu word for "dust colored"; "Juggernaut" is from a word for a float in Hindu religious parades, under the wheels of which devotees were (allegedly) ready to throw themselves, and "pundit" is derived from "pandit," an honorific for teachers or masters of a craft.  "Panjandrum" was apparently made up from whole cloth by a guy named Samuel Foote in the middle of the 18th century.  
 Back to work. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Wordage appropriate nickname edition.

Today is Wednesday, nicknamed "hump day." 

It is also the day we are doing all of our goat and sheep matings. Pure coincidence. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Wordage odd man out edition

This week's puzzle is inspired by a road sign, and presented a la "Says You."

In each group, which is the odd man out?
1) ount, aint, oint, aunt, arat
2) enior, unior, onior, octor, ister
3) ood, ard, eriod, oad, ord
4) iss, oss, sland, ersus, insteinium

Highlight for a clue:The inspiring road sign was exit on Hwy 5 north of Salem for "St Paul   Mt Angel"
Highlight for the answers:
1) aunt.  The others are abbreviated by the letter "t"--Mt., St., Pt., Kt.
2) onior.  The others are abbreviated by the letter "r"--Sr., Jr., Dr., Mr.
3) ood.  The others are abbreviated by the letter "d"--Yd., Pd., Rd., Ld.
4) oss.  The others are abbreviated by the letter "s"--Ms., Is., Vs., Es.
Any other goodies? 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday Tool wise use edition

The tool of the week--of the last several weeks, on a twice-daily basis--is Oxypol veterinary ophthalmic antibiotic ointment.  It is a mixture of oxytetracycline and polymixin, in a vaseline carrier.

There is a lot of well-placed concern about the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in agriculture.  Our culture's excessive dependence on these drugs is likely to bite us in the butt in the near future.  We--that is, anybody who eats a burger at Mickey D's or buys meat at the grocery, or is not particularly fastidious about antibiotic free meat and eggs--all are participants in a system that uses tons of antibiotics every year.  These drugs are used as an entirely routine part of the diet of almost all livestock and poultry, partly prophylactically to prevent the spread of disease in crowded settings, and partly because, for reasons not well understood, they promote rapid weight gain.  Recently, the FDA came out with a set of (easily ignored) guidelines to get the food industry to reduce its dependence on antibiotics.  I don't think much will happen to change the status quo.  In our society, the contest between short term profit and long-term public health goods is not a fair fight. 

That said, on our farm, we use antibiotics.  Our medicine cart and freezer contains a variety of antibiotics, injectable, oral, and topical, and all are hardly ever used.  They only come out when there is some specific, treatable disorder.


(Squeam alert--if you're turned off by graphic descriptions of eyes, injuries, or the opening of Un Chien Andalou, probably time to close the page)


Bucks are good at cleaning up blackberry brambles.  They are, however, not especially bright, or sensitive to pain (as befits an animal whose primary means of delivering a message is to whack his head as hard as possible against the message's recipient).  I have seen a buck, quite contented and happy, with a thorny blackberry stem jammed an inch up his nostril.

Cherubino is one of our many bucks, and one of the dumber ones.  Over a month ago, while enthusiastically eating brambles, he jammed a thorn in his right eye, smack in the pupil.  The result was a wound which, when I saw him at the end of the day, had punctured the cornea, damaged the iris, and caused massive vascularization of the eye.  There looked to be a hole or pit in the surface of his eye, about a millimeter across.  It looked like hell, all red and inflamed and swollen.

The Real Doctor, with her expertise in this field (at least with human eyes), prescribed antibiotics right away, and her prognosis was grim: messing with the iris was, for her, the first step to a dead eye.  However, as our vet told us, goat eyes are a bit tougher.  He agreed with the use of antibiotics, and suggested that the eye would look worse for a couple of weeks, but heal to have a lump of white scar tissue in the pupil, and a deformed but functional iris.

Our vet's prediction is bearing out.  The wound initially got black and mounded up, with inflammation and scar tissue creating a bump over a millimeter high, focused on a crater a millimeter across.  This blackened ocular landscape was surrounded by intense red vascularization and inflammation of the iris and sclera, so the whole eye looked like an angry volcano that had just erupted.  It was the nastiest looking thing on the farm (and there are some nasty things on a farm), and made our eight-year-old niece, who normally has an unconditional and all-encompassing love of goats, scream and run away.  Cherubino looked like the hell-goat, at least from the right; from the left, he was totally unconcerned and hungry for more brambles.

Most of Cherubino's eye looks OK now, except for a lump of white scar tissue right in the center.   A lot of this healing has been helped by twice-daily applications of Oxypol.  Of course, Cherubino does not agree with this regime, and vigorously contests with my applications of the drug.  So, twice a day, I have to catch him, lift his forelegs off the ground and tightly grip his neck with my thighs, wrap my left arm all the way around his head and force his right eye open, and oh-so-carefully squeeze a 1-cm-long ribbon of goo into his eye.

I should mention that it is the rut--so Cherubino, like all our bucks, is extra stinky.  Like, paralyzingly stinky, a stinky that makes the air gelatinous, a stinky so thick that it is almost audible, a stinky like a lump of Bulgarian feta that has been sent by ship to Borneo and back, a stinky that is repulsive from a hundred feet away.  His glands are going full blast, and like all our bucks, he spends a lot of time peeing on his head and beard.  So, this is what I have to squeeze between my thighs and wrap my arm around--and about half the time, I notice that he's wet, and it hasn't been raining.  So, I have a special pair of "buck pants" and a "buck jacket" that I wear, twice a day, to deal with this.  I have about two more weeks left of this treatment.

If I were smarter, there might be a different tool of the week; I have a friend who has a tyvek bunny-suit, just for dealing with bucks. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Flora Fuming Fewments Edition

This week's flora are an anonymous consortium of thermophilic anaerobic microbes.  They are not much to look at, so no picture, and until such time as the internet can transmit odor, I can't really convey their impact.

In the African nation of Gabon, there is a town called Oklo that stands atop some rich deposits of uranium.  Time and the geology of the area created a circumstance that has been observed only once.  Some billions of years ago, the concentration of fissionable uranium in these deposits was high enough that they could form a natural nuclear reactor.  By itself, though, the uranium was not sufficient.  The spontaneous fission of a U235 nucleus releases a neutron too energetic to trigger the fission of another U235 nucleus.  As in any human-made reactor, a "moderator" is required to slow the neutrons, and as in many human-made reactors, water served this role.  At Oklo--and as far as we know, only at Oklo--groundwater flowed through the uranium deposits, slowing the neutrons, allowing a chain reaction, which then released energy.

However, this release of energy, as heat, caused the groundwater to boil.  The reactor effectively killed itself--until it could cool down, and water flowed into it, bringing it back to life.  Some modeling and experimentation suggests that the reactor would be "on" for about a half hour, and "off" for two and a half, and that this cycle lasted for thousands of years.


Today, tucked away in a corner of our main pasture, there stands a majestic compost pile.  I'm kind of embarrassed by it; it is in a poor location, on soil rather than concrete, and it is not covered.  It reminds me of the Oklo reactor because of its relationship to water.  It has been accumulating raw material all summer, and with each new dose--which carried with it a deal of moisture--it would ferment, steam, fume and stink for a few days.  It would cook off all the freshly added water, and the reactions would slow down and stop.  After a light rain earlier this summer, it again seethed for a bit, and died.

The reactions, of course, are not nuclear.  There's a lot of fermentation, to be sure--the sheep's manure and used bedding contains lots of reduced carbon.  Where there's fermentation and anaerobiosis, there's going to be methanogenesis and acetogenesis, forms of respiration using carbon dioxide in the place of oxygen.  There's also respiration going on using sulfate in place of oxygen; the stink of hydrogen sulfide attests to that fact.  All these reactions produce energy for the microbes carrying them out.  The second law of thermodynamics tells us that the universe can't allow any reaction to happen without a tax being paid to entropy, so a sizeable chunk of the energy from these reactions is lost as heat--heat that makes the compost warm to the touch, and that has dried the pile out every time it has been wetted.

Now we've just had a good rainfall, thoroughly soaking the pile.  Hoooo-weee!  It is reacting like mad, smelling and steaming.  And so the cycle repeats, a natural reactor getting drenched with water and generating heat to turn itself off, then cooling down and starting over--though probably not for thousands of years, and while the stink might be annoying, it's not producing anything as bad as plutonium. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014


L'shana Tova to all those who keep time thusly; happy equinox to those who mark it.  (It doesn't quite rise to the level of Wednesday Word, but I recently heard the fall equinox described as the time when the Earth is three quarters of the way around the sun.)

Either way you mark it, fall is here.  It arrived with a good solid rainstorm, bringing about an inch of rain.  As I made the rounds yesterday morning, I would open the gate to each herd's enclosure.  A few noses would poke out, and then retreat back into the shelter.  Rams, bucks, ewes, does, all spent the day under cover, dryly watching me trudge around.  The fields are still brown and will be for a long time, but I could sort of hear the underlayer of moss that fills our fields sighing with relief.  It's been a long, exceedingly hot summer.  It's time for fall.

I mentioned earlier this week how, in the short term, time gets vague for me.  I got reminded again how short term planning is futile here.  I had planned, yesterday, to do a bunch of drywall work on the addition to the house.  However, while I was in town, I received a call from brother H. that the roof had blown off of the rams' shelter ("It just flew off, like a kite!").  Also, I noticed that the roof on the bucks' shelter (a rather old tarp) was on the verge of failure, and that action needed to be taken.  Plans?  Hah.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday wordage did you think before you wrote that edition

We all get lazy.  Homer nods--and I am being just as lazy as the old man by using that trite phrase to say that we all resort to cliche rather than putting in some honest work and coming up with an original way to say something.  So it should not surprise that the folks who write advertisements--no Homers they--don't just nod, they slip on banana peels while carrying wedding cakes.

It's lazy to say that you're having a BLOWOUT SALE.

It's beyond lazy to have a big sign saying BLOWOUT SALE on your vacuum cleaner store (seen in Madison, WI, years ago).

It's epic to have a marquee bellowing BLOWOUT SALE in front of your tire store as I saw downtown just a couple of days ago.

Any other good sightings?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday Tool, looking back and looking forwards edition

It's been a busy few weeks here at the farm.  There has been a lot of tool use going on...which has precluded sitting down to blog about tool use.  I have an hour of breathing room, now, so here we go:

Two weeks ago, the Tuesday Tool was the Makita 18V cordless 6 1/2" Circular Saw. 

This tool saw extensive use making a new shelter for our goat does.  Their old shelter was falling apart, difficult to clean, and way too crowded.  They now have plenty of room and protection from the coming rain, not to mention access to a pasture full of brambles yum yum. 

Last week it was the drywall lift. 

The addition to the house is finally getting some work done--it was left more or less as a shell, with the siding and trim and windows all done and some insulation in the walls, but no drywall or ceiling or floor.  Thus it stood for over a year, with the only changes being that some of the insulation was removed by our cats, who found it enjoyable to claw at.  Now, with much help, insulation has been topped up, a vapor barrier installed, and the walls and ceiling drywalled.  And, if you want to put  twelve-foot panels of 5/8" drywall up on a ceiling, you will need a lift.  Roseburg Rentals has them, along with scaffolding. 

Which brings us to today's tool, the CIDR and its applicator.

The CIDR (pronounced like the tree) is a little widget of plastic impregnated (pun intended) with progestin.  The applicator is used to insert it into a doe that you wish to breed, and the hormones diffuse out of the plastic and into the doe, swamping out all other hormonal signals and effectively resetting the doe's cycle.  After a dozen or so days, it is removed, the doe gets a shot of another hormone, and comes into heat like a ton of bricks.

The farm imposes on us an odd relationship to scheduling.  Day to day, there is very little in the way of a schedule.  It does not matter if it's Tuesday or Saturday, the chores need doing, and there is always the miscellaneous backlog of work to be done as soon as possible.  Most of the time I am unaware of the day of the week.  I become aware of weekends only because the Real Doctor is home, and if she's home on a weekday or away on a weekend, I'm utterly lost in time.

The flip side of this is that we do make some plans, set in stone, about a year in advance.  There are some events--fairs, shows, the violin workshop, and conventions for the Real Doctor--that occur on specified dates known years into the future.  These events dictate our schedule--we want our lambs to be of a certain age by the Black Sheep Gathering; it would be nice to have some does in milk by the RDGA nationals; it would be nice not to have to milk during the violin workshop; it would be nice to have some kids weaned by county fair; and so on.  So, sometime in the summer each year, we sit down with a calendar, decide what we want to do and attend, figure out the gestation period for our animals, work backwards, and say that we want them conceived right then.  The CIDRs allow us to make it so that the does and ewes are very willing and able to be bred on that date--and so, in a couple of weeks, there will be a frenzy of mating going on, and five and a half months from now, we will have a long, sleepless week of lambing and kidding. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wednesday Wordage falling from respectability edition

I guess if you stand too close to somebody for too long, you might be mistaken for them, despite being completely unrelated.  Some words have actually gotten people--politicians, teachers, etc--into trouble or fired, simply because the words stood to close to bad words in the dictionary. 

Here's some pairs of definitions--one innocent, one less savory.  Guess the troublesome words.

1.  Stingy, derived from OE word for "miser"/ socially unacceptable word for person of African ancestry.

2.  Educational / prone to molesting children

3.  A word that sounds similar to another word / a person attracted to members of the same sex

4.  A problem that gets worse, and more inescapable the more you try to deal with it, derived from elements in African and/or Native American folklore / socially unacceptable word for person of African ancestry.

Highlight for answers, with references:
1.  Niggardly(a wikipedia list)
2.  Pedagogical.  (possibly an urban legend...)
3.  Homophone(a newspaper report)
4.  Tar baby. (an editorial)

It's sad to see a word, through no fault of its own, fall into disrepute and disfavor.  Ultimately, though, I have to own that the language is not what I want, or what is in the dictionary, but what people speak.  As always, I'd be amused to see any of your contributions

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Some scattered observations from the county fair

Uniforms (1)

A sight which pretty much perfectly summed up the fair:  a pair of FFA boys, in their early teens, walking away from the food court, perfectly done up in their regulation black pants, white shirt, tie, heavy blue blazer, ruddy scrubbed faces and slicked back hair.  Each was working on a "scone" bigger than his head, smiling the biggest damn smiles I've seen in a long time. 

Uniforms (2)

4H-ers are not required to wear a uniform.  Nonetheless, every single 4H girl was wearing exactly the same thing, to the point where a code could be drawn up:  "Cowboy-style boots, with patterned stitching and at least two colors of leather, must be worn at all times.  Jeans shall be boot cut, tight in the rear, and moderately low cut; they shall have patterned stitching on the rear pockets, preferably with rhinestones.  Leather belts with large, bling-y buckles are encouraged.  Shirts shall be long-sleeve, snap-buttoned, plaid with some metallic threads woven in.  Hair shall be pulled back in a pony tail."  Really, just about every 4H girl had that look, and plenty of the moms too. 

All hat, no cattle

Some of the girls who wore the 4H uniform were not quite as farm-y as their look suggested.  A couple of them, whose animal experience I guess was limited to horses,  visited the sheep and goat barn.  I was walking one of my Shetland lambs around, and they were impressed by "what a cute goat" I had.

Small Town

Our truck fell ill before the fair; it had some issues with its turbocharger, so couldn't generate enough power to pull a trailer, which made life very complicated.  We couldn't get it fixed until after the fair; so, a week later I found myself in the Ford dealership's "courtesy shuttle," making conversation with the driver.  I asked him about the fair, if he'd gone, and what he thought.  He thought it was okay, but seemed a little smaller this year.  I told him about our goats, and how they did, and it turned out that his sister-in-law had the Nubians in the stall next-door to ours.  

You can take the professor out of the university, but...

When I'm with my animals at the fair, I try to talk with any passerby who looks even a little interested--I act as an ambassador for the brand.  One lady was interested in what the sheep ate, and how it was neat that an animal could transform hay into wool.  So, we started talking about nutrition and feeding for the sheep, and that led to a discussion about what's going on in the rumen, which led to the microbes therein, which led to...and so on.  She was pretty interested, and had a lot of interesting questions, which I was mostly able to answer.  One question, towards the end of our discussion, was "are you a teacher or something?  You sound like you teach this stuff."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday flora--annoying Armenian rubes

There are folks who are just annoying.  They seem to always be present, and loud, and in your way, clingy and hard to escape.  They do exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and can’t help but be unhelpful.  They make it hard to get work done, and hinder your friends.  They are not necessarily evil, indeed, their actions are not personal at all.  It’s just that they are a pain through and through. 

Imagine such a person, a total jerk 364 days of the year.  Then one day, that person drops a really lovely, absolutely exquisite gift on you: a gift that is much appreciated, that makes your life better for a long time, and actually improves your social standing. 

This week’s flora is the vegetal embodiment of that person—the Himalayan Blackberry, aka the Armenian Blackberry, aka Rubus armeniacus aka Rubus discolor.  We are at war with this plant; when we purchased this place, it had a blackberry problem that was visible from space, or at least on Google maps.  We have been mowing it and siccing our goats on it and spraying it ever since, and we will be continuing to do so for as long as we are here. 

However, once a year, the plants are less odious.  For a few days, even in a droughty year such as this, they are covered with shiny black, plump berries.  They are luscious, inviting, compelling, tart, and other adjectives one might apply to something suggesting moral laxity.  So, one goes out with a bucket and a sun hat and shears and starts gathering berries, one for me, one for the bucket, one for me, one for the bucket…until one has enough to make some jam or sorbet or pie.  Brother M happened to be here with his sweetie for a day, and they came, picked, jammed, and left.  I spent an afternoon last week doing the same. 

For the record, an hour and a half of picking converts to five liters of berries, which converts to two and a half liters of juice and six hundred grams of seeds and pulp.  Add pectin and eleven cups of sugar (interestingly, blackberry seeds sink in blackberry juice, but the addition of sugar increases the specific gravity enough that the seeds will float), cook and can, and you’ll end up with just shy of four liters of jam. 

So, now we have a lot of jam, and it is delicious.  It is a universally fungible as a bribe or lagniappe.  It will be bringing a dose of summer’s sunshine and warmth to a chilly, rainy March. 

But I still hate blackberry plants. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

That was the fair that was

--> Tuesday morning, I noted a certain spring in my step that had been lacking the last couple of weeks.  As I made the rounds, I did not feel sore of joint, tired of limb, or generally exhausted.  I attributed this renewed pep to taking Monday “off”, or as off as I can while still keeping animals fed and watered and milk from going sour and laundry from piling too high.  What had me so tired, enough to need a day off, was the Douglas County Fair. 

The fair presents an interesting view of life here in Douglas County.  It’s taken me, a city boy, a long time to get used to life here, but I’m learning to appreciate it.  It’s no longer a surprise when somebody talks about their newborn lamb that’s been rejected by its mother, and how they had to take it to work for bottle feeding for a week, and it wasn’t a problem.  It seems that most people either did 4H or FFA as kids, or have children raising a lamb or hog for one of those programs.  The loudest noise I heard at the fair (outside of the rock concerts every night) was the excited cheer from a hundreds of teenagers at the selection of the winner of the hog showmanship competition.  The local newspaper ran pictures of the champion steer and hog and the kids who raised them, above the fold, on the front page.  

Other facets of Douglas County show themselves at the fair, besides the 4H and FFA livestock.  The timber industry has its own big tent, and the local firms all have displays celebrating their stewardship and their ability to employ locals.  The exhibit hall had booths for the NRA, a concealed carry class, a couple of booths that were raffling off guns, various branches of the military, Oregon Right to Life (really, there is no contradiction, is there?), a handful of churches with quizzes to determine whether you were heading to heaven or hell, and vendors of bumper stickers and t-shirts urging us to remember Benghazi and impeach the dictator.  The county Democratic Party had a booth too, though they admitted that they did feel a bit like a minority.  The lady working the Douglas County Republicans booth lives a couple miles down the road from me; the fellow at the Democrats booth just over the hill.  A certain politeness is useful in small communities, when everybody is your neighbor. 

There were the usual fairground rides, run by the gypsies that travel from fair to fair, ensuring a certain uniformity in all these events.  The rides—the whirl-a-meal, the rising gorge, the hurling dervish—were all there, working to separate riders from their lunch and any loose items in their pockets.  The food stalls were similarly free of regional context—giant mounds of curly fries and deep-fried anything—with one exception.  I grew up going to the fair and eating fry bread, or the less-politically-correct “Indian fry bread”; here, the booths sold “scones,” which are the same thing, but served with honey and cinnamon sugar.  I had two, over the four days of the fair, and that will hold me till next year. 

All these sights and sounds and gastric experiences were ancillary to my experience of the fair.  We were at the fair for the open-class (that is, not 4H or FFA) livestock competition, with our fine goats and sheep.  For us, the fair is an opportunity to have our animals seen by prospective buyers; for us to advertise our farm; for our animals to be professionally evaluated and ranked with those from other farms; and to interact with other breeders and growers and trade insights with them.  It’s a big deal.  So, in the week before fair, we spent a lot of time grooming our animals, picking burrs from fleece, trimming nails, clipping hair, and so on.  The fairgrounds provided pens, but these needed to be filled with sawdust and straw and set up with feeders and buckets and salters, and we also needed hay and grain and all the other requirements for a healthy and happy animal.  Some folks bring in whole outdoor living-room suites, with tables and chairs and cupboards and rugs, but we just made do with folding chairs and a folding table; and, though it wasn’t as elaborate as many of our neighbor’s displays, we did manage to get a laminated banner with our farm name and logo on it. 

We brought the animals in on Tuesday, before the official start of the fair, and after a cursory check by the vet, they were led to their pens.  Wednesday was spent on getting things a little better set up, and picking fleeces clean.  We brought seven of our Shetland sheep: two ram lambs, three ewe lambs, and two yearling ewes.  That’s a lot of fleece to pick, especially after they’ve had free run of a pasture full of queen anne’s lace.  One of our goals over the next five years is to have fewer weeds in our pastures, but for now—owing to years of neglect—we have lots of weeds, and lots of burrs in our fleece.  At least we have better feeders than last year, when the simple act of eating would fill our sheeps’ fleeces with bits of hay.  We envied our neighbors at the fair, who had a troupe of grandchildren with their nimble fingers picking fleeces. 

The sheep competition was on Thursday, and the Shetlands were the largest class (there were also Dorsets, St. Croix, East Down, and Liecester sheep in the competition).  The judge was more familiar with the meat breeds, and even then didn’t have a lot of experience with the comparatively rare St. Croix and Blue-Faced Liecester.  As breeder of Shetlands, one gets used to having this sort of judging—the fleeces got a cursory look, and there was a bias towards larger, more “built” animals.  However, our sheep did well.  Our ram lambs finished first and second in their group; the yearlings were second and third; and our ewe lambs took top spots, with one winning reserve champion Shetland.  We also scored a brace of the group titles, such as best young herd.   

Friday was supposed to be a rest day, but most of the day was spent helping other sheep folks and goat breeders with their animals.  One of the things I’ve come to like about the fair is the fact that, despite our all being in competition with each other, everybody helps everyone else.  For example, after the show, all the Shetland breeders spent a long evening critiquing and admiring each other’s animals.  This cooperative attitude extends to working as night watch—the sheep barn is right next to the amphitheater where, every evening of the fair, there is an extremely loud rock concert, and there are extremely hammered people staggering through the barn, picking fights with the rams and doing other similar acts of stupidity. 

Saturday was the goat show.  As a show sanctioned by the American Dairy Goat Association, exhibitors were encouraged to dress in white.  So after doing the morning chores, I changed into my milkman outfit and headed to the ring with Java, Zarzuela, and Snegurochka, our three junior does. It might be because they’re small, so it’s easy to get a lot of them; or it might be that they’re cute and trendy, but there were a lot of Nigerian Dwarf Goats in the competition.  Despite being in a large class, our does did great, with each being the top of her age class, and Java winning best junior doe.  Of course, once our goats were done, there were the adult Nigerian Dwarves, the Nubians, the La Manchas, and all the other breeds, and so I spent most of the day helping to wrangle much larger goats than I’m used to.  It was interesting to see the variety, and having been dragged around the ring by an upset Nubian, it reinforced my desire not to deal with the larger breeds. 

The fair officially was over on Sunday.  Some folks were there a soon as the gates opened at 6 AM, spiriting their animals back to the farm and taking down their displays.  Others hadn’t really done any deconstruction by noon, by which time we had made two round trips to the fairgrounds and back.  There was one bit of fair business left, before we quit the fairgrounds for good—there are cash awards for placing in the livestock show, and we collected enough to pay for a few days’ hay for our herd.  Then, home, unpacking, and R&R.  As I mentioned, it’s exhausting to prep for fair, then take care of animals at home and at two locations in the fairgrounds, show animals, and then pack everything up.  There was a lot of laundry and housecleaning to do, not to mention sleep to catch up on.  An exchange with a cashier at the co-op sums it up:

Cashier:  How’d the fair go for you?

Me:  Great—all our animals did really well, best junior doe, champion ewe.

C:  You look tired. Glad it’s over?

Me:  Oh, yeah.

C:  Everybody’s seems so glad when it’s done.  Looking forward to next year?

Me:  Oh, yeah.