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.