Friday, June 29, 2007

Baby Turkeys and Fat Chickens

We now have 17 baby turkeys! YUM, get ready for Thanksgiving! Aren't these guys cute? and SOOO little!

And our Broilers are getting FATTER by the day! Look at those pigs hogging all the food from the Reds! Dinner time is 5 weeks from now, and tomorrow they are going out to pasture! They can't wait to get out in the sunshine!
The reds are starting to perch on the ladder. And they are scratching a LOT. it'll be a bit before they start laying eggs, but they are prepping for it now.
This is Blondie. I named her that because her head is lighter than the others. Still trying to get a picture of Stripey and Skunkie... but those reds hardly sit still!

Monday, June 25, 2007

2 Week Old Chickens!

Larry the Chicken Farmer!

So this is what the chickens look like at about 2 weeks. They are growing SO fast! Below is a picture of them the day we got them, when they were only one DAY old. Look at how much they have changed! You will notice that the white chickens have grown SO much larger than the red hens. But that's to be expected.


So, Larry keeps telling me that these aren't pets and they aren't stuffed animals. FINE, I know... And while I know the white chickens will be dinner on a plate in a month or so, the red hens are egg layers and they may be around for a while. So while I'm not supposed to get attached, I can't help it. I spend time with these guys every day, and they are making me some of the best compost I could ever want. Can't I show them some love and appreciation? I have named 4 of the red hens so far. Stripey, Skunky and Blondie are so named by their heads. Stripey has a big black stripe. Skunky has a lesser black stripe. Blondie has a really pale yellow head. These three may get lost when they grow their feathers and I can't see the markings anymore. But SUSIE - now she's a bird I can always find. Susie is in the picture above. I can find her because she is VERY small compared to ALL of the chickens. The white chickens above are just towering over her. SO maybe I know how she feels. Anyhow, she's real sweet, even perched on my shoulder one day. So I always watch out for Susie when I am in the pen.

This is Tweety. I'm not supposed to name the white ones, but Tweety is an exception. See, we thought Tweety might die a few nights back. Margaret and I noticed she didn't look so good, so I took her out of the pen to find a nice box to put her in. I didn't want her to die in the brooder and get trampled by the rest of the chickens. While I was walking her to the house, she started to speak up. She was making little noises and looking at me. SO I named her Tweety and gave her some sugar water to drink. She perked right up (and drank a lot of water!) I convinced Larry to give her a chance - that she needed some food and water and a chance to rest up. She seemed to have damaged her neck, and she couldn't compete for food and water with 99 other chickens. SO Larry made her a hospital pen with her own food and water. The next morning she was on her feet and making quite a ruckus! It seems little Tweety was that ONE white chicken that made all the noise! So she's been in the hospital pen for a few days now, healing up. She's not 100% and her head seems a bit crooked, but Larry told me he put her back with the rest of the chickens. I know she's just going to be dinner someday, but I am glad we gave her a chance. Yay for Tweety!

Friday, June 22, 2007

People are the Problem

I'm fond of saying to my wife, "If we could do X, Y, and Z we could solve everything and live happily ever after." To which she replies, "no one would want to do that". My reply to her reply is always, "yeah, People are the Problem."

If you do not believe the earth is a few billion years old, if you do not believe in evolution, if you basically take it upon yourself to argue with scientists who have spend 10-12 long years earning a fairly difficult piece of paper because the Pope, Pat Robertson, or some Imman told you so, go skip this post.... its only going to piss you off. But hey, before you go, could you turn in everything that any physicist created for you? That would be EVERY single bit of electronics you own. The irony of debating science on the internet with religious fundamentalists who couldn't draw a P-N-P junction but want to argue truely complex issues like genetic drift probably keeps Jesus up at night laughing. Or crying.... he always did have more compassion than I do.

So anyway....we are headed towards a cliff, backwords, with a hood over our head (some of the time). What do we do? We worry about the pothole in front of the cliff. Seriously. WHY??!?!?!?! Well..... humans have 3 distinct areas of the brain, they stem from different evolutionary spurts. There is reptilian hind brain, the mammilian mid-brain, and the ape/chimp forebrain. (You have more DNA in common with a chimpanzee than a blue jay does with a sparrow) The hind brain controls organs (heart, lungs, muscles), the mid brain manages sensory input and the fore brain thinks. In theory the forebrain should decide, and the mid and hind execute. In reality researchers (using MRIs) have found that decisions are often made in the mid and hind brain, action taken, and when asked WHY the subject did that action the forebrain activity goes nuts trying to justify the action. Act first, think later. Why would we do that?

It wasn't that long ago that Ogg was out hunting bison with a spear. Ogg and Goog and Lother were good hunters. However, Princess the Sabretooth Tiger was pretty much better than Ogg at everything physical. Sure Ogg could think circles around Princess, but if Ogg STOPPED to think when he saw Princess, Ogg was dinner. Act first (run!!!), think later. Eventually Ogg figured out things like spear throwers and bows and arrows. Fire was another big win. Ogg figured out that Princess hated fire, so if he made a fire after killing his buffalo, Princess wouldn't try to eat Ogg anymore. Winner is Ogg. The key is Ogg didn't do this thinking in the field. He thought about it at night when he was cuddleing with Mrs. Ogg. In evolutionary terms... If you think before you act, you get eaten and don't get to breed. So we are evolutionarily conditioned to solve the IMMEDEATE problem..... tomorrow's problem can be dealt with tomorrow. Solve the one that will kill you 1st.

So Ogg doesn't worry about the drought in his area when Princess shows up trying to eat him. Forget that fact that if it wasn't for the drought, Princess would be off eating a Wooly Mammoth, instead of trying to eat him. Ogg must deal with problem #1 NOW, he can worry about the drought later.... if he survives problem #1. In economics we call this a "discount rate". Ogg has a HUGE discount rate. He is a primitive, immediate survival is paramount. Now, as Ogg moves up the civilization chain and his great great great grandson becomes Centurian Oggus Maximus he doesn't have to worry about immediate survival. Oggus Maximus has a farm, a olive grove, and Princess has been driven off the land. (in fact, made extinct). So Oggus Maximus can take a longer view. The problem is that massive discount rate isn't a recent adaptation..... its coded into the hindbrain. Princess had that discount rate. The fish that Princess and Ogg both evolved from had that discount rate. The hindbrain is OLD. Sadly, its in control a lot of the makes a lot of decisions for us and then asks the forebrain to justify them. This isn't to say humans aren't capable of taking a long view..... we are. We call those people Statesmen. (Praetor Oggus!) Statesmen are rare, politicians (hindbrain ruled) are more common.....sadly.

You can argue this, but how often do you see your company make short sighted decisions that look good right now, but in the long run cause problems? Does your company lurch from one emergency to the next with no coherent plan? Maybe yours doesn't, but most do. If they didn't Dilbert wouldn't be so popular. Most software fails....... I wonder why?

Anyone who has trained for emergency situations (War, Life saving, Fire fighting, Cops) pretty much knows this. I made 11 saves in one year working at the Herndon Community Center pool. I assure you, my brain was 100% off during each one of those saves. I was running on "automatic". Which is why you practice the heck out of making saves. You burn the routine into "muscle memory". I don't know where "muscle memory" exists, but I bet its not the cerebral cortex. You don't have time to think... you MUST act. This is good and proper for emergencies. Because emergencies kill us and calm times do not, the human animal is optimized for performance in emergencies, at the expense of rational behavior during calm times.

Back to the main point! (at last you say!) Even if you could show other humans that there is a problem, unless it is today's problem they will be inclined to ignore you.... EVEN IF THEY AGREE WITH YOU! They can't help it. They are genetically programed to ignore any problem that isn't immediate. Only if you can get people to think before deciding do you have a chance. This is why its almost impossible to talk to someone and convince them of a viewpoint they don't have or choose not to believe, but if you can get them to read a book on it you will have a much greater success rate. Reading activates the forebrain, the forebrain is in charge while you are reading...... you are already thinking. (If Hitler had been restricted to writing and not speech making, there might never have been a 3rd Reich)

Folk wisdom says, "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Modern medicine vs public health shows its way more than that. Maybe 100-1. So why aren't long term problems solved early when its cheap to do so? Discount rate!!!! Long term problems are invisible to humans. Global warming will be addressed when New York, London, and LA are under water, not before. Look at the how much debate there still about global warming even though 99 out of 100 climate scientists are saying the same thing. Its hindbrain saying, "I don't WANT to change" and the forebrain justifying.

So add this to last post..... We have an economic system that speeds along. We have a control system (us) that reacts best in emergencies and often in non-logical manner at other times. This is a positive feedback machine that is just asking for disaster. (the faster we go, the more emergencies, why do you think stock traders all have ulcers?) Market Crashes don't surprise me, what shocks me is that they don't happen more often! With a huge discount rate, it makes sense to cut down the entire forest and sell it off. Forget the fact that this is going to cause erosion and degrade the farm land below it eventually starving you.... that is TOMORROWS problem, today's problem is that CEO Ogg isn't rich.


People are the problem.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Ditka's Birthday and chickens again

He's 15 today!

On a different subject... here's a look at our chickens at one week old. They already look so different from this, I'll post more pictures at 2 weeks.

Don't worry, they aren't dead. They are just sleeping! The little Red Hen is Susie. She's the smallest of them all, and I named her Susie. She's nice and sits on my shoulder. The white ones just make a general fuss, so I don't bother them. But I like the Red hens. And Susie is my favorite.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Economic Systems

"People who don't read science fiction are the most gullible people on earth"-- A character in Spider Robinson's short stories.

I pretty much agree with Spider. I'd extend it to people that haven't played simulation type war games/board games/computer games are REALLY unaware of the world that they live in. There are so many assumptions underlying the cultural-economic environment we live in, unless you've played some games that let you fiddle with them, you are probably unaware that "some of the great truths of life depend greatly on your point of view". Some of these games are complex (Civilization, 1840, etc) some are supposed to be fun (Civ, Rail Barons, Industry Tycoon ) there is on that I know of that is simply a spread sheet that simulates the 5 year plans under Stalin's regime. It was written by a PhD economist and you can get amazingly surprising results. (Historically during one 5 year plan Stalin put out a call for copper so that he could jump start collective industry..... all across the country infrastructure was destroyed as copper wire was stolen to be handed in to build factories that would generate more copper wire............. errr.... ooops) Its not much of a "fun" game, it is more of a "real" game. The military is getting into "real" games to simulate things and train soldiers.

Anyway.... my point here is these games stimulated my interest in how different economies work so I went and did a lot of learning about them. I'm going to write about to as a way at getting around to the "Why are we trying to be farmers" bit. Until we are all on the same page though, its pointless. This is going to be a 3 part series of essays to attempt to: explain to my friends why it seems like I did a major gear change without using the clutch and explain to my wife's friends that I am really not a "holed up with guns writing manifestos" kind of lunatic. I suspect I'll have a 50% success rate. :)

So, lets discuss some of the quirks of capitalism. Capitalism is, in my opinion, the most powerful economic form possible. That doesn't mean its good, it means it is powerful. It can get things done faster than any other economic system, all you have to do is make the activity you want done profitable. Once someone can make money doing it, it WILL get done. There doesn't need to be any top down authority "forcing" the system. Power is great, when you need it. Do you plant a vegetable garden with a 250HP John Deer 8 wheel tractor? No, because all that power would do is wreck things. That is capitalism's greatest failing.... because all the power is distributed to the individual actors (people) it is difficult to control. The guidance system is known as "The Market". So when the market tells farmers to plant corn (like it is now), they go out and do it. This results in corn getting planted without the government having to say, "OK, now you guys in IA need to plant X hectares, you guys in CO, plant Z hectaces, and you guys in AK just sit there and look really cold ok?" I think we ALL agree that letting the government manage something is going to end up as a disaster..... letting them manage food production is going to result in mass starvation. (Just ask the Chinese about that Great Leap Forward)

So this "Market" thing....... is it a good control system? Well.... I will argue that there is 1 systemic problem with the Market and a few manufactured problems. The biggest problem I see with the market is that it ALWAYS assumes the future will be exactly like today, only cheaper (more on that later). Major Paradigm shifts are invisible to the market. Think about it, if you went to bank in 1910 and said, "I'd like a loan to start a company that will transport people around the world in tubes of metal that stay aloft in air by exploding a liquid fuel and pushing that out the back of a smaller metal tube" you would have been laughed out of the bank, or locked up as a loony. Steam ships were CLEARLY how people traveled and how they would ALWAYS travel. I'm not saying the market stiffles innovation. In fact, the market is good for innovation because there is a chance you will get rich for taking a risk. The factors that the market uses to assess that risk though (and the chance of getting your loan) is that tomorrow will be like today. "Black Swan" events always catch the market by suprise. If they didn't, we would never have crashes, only gentle corrections. Ok, I can live with that problem, as long as we ALL ADMIT IT EXISTS... we can plan around that. As a group we (the government) can say, "The Market Forces say this, but we foresee this outcome if we allow that so we will moderate the effect of the market in this manner." This is completely logical and good. It is putting brakes or a steering wheel on that John Deer tractor in hopes that you won't take out the barn once you plow up the garden! We in fact already do this. The "Ever Normal Grainery" during the New Deal or farm subsidies currently are all attempts to do this. (Whether they are GOOD plans or not is not my point....) Sin Taxes, hybrid car tax credits, small business loans, all of these are attempts to moderate or steer pure market forces. Usually I find they don't work they way the group that proposed them intended because as a whole, I find the people in our government are too ignorant of knock-on side effects, and corporate lobbyists always seem to get seemingly innocent lines entered into the laws that have subtle but HUGE effects.... and those effects are rarely good for you and me.

So that is the systemic flaw of the system, what about the problems we have manufactured? Well.... I started to get at them above. The attempts to "steer" the market are usually pretty bad. The biggest problem I have with the "free market" is that all profit is internalized and as many expenses are externalized. Case in point is a power plant. They can burn whatever fuel is cheapest. (well ok, when they design the plant, they have to pick one... but they are free to pick whatever they want) If a power plant can find a way to make money burning chicken feathers, and a good supply of chicken feathers, rock on, they will sell you power and make money. Now, who is paying for what comes out the top of the stack? Errr..... Not the power plant, at least not in America. Sure there is a Clean Air Act, and they have to conform.... sort of... but plently of stuff isn't regulated (like CO2) That is the problem with attempting to steer the system with legislation. Legislation is so slow compared to free market activity that its like plowing that vegetable garden with the 250HP John Deer by only being allowed to look BEHIND you. You are going to go in a few directions you didn't mean to. If you have the pedal pressed all the way to the floor you are going to go a long way in that direction before you realize you are going the wrong way. ANYTHING that a corporation can externalize: pollution, health care, Infrastucture, ect,ect... It will. The more costs it can push off onto the public, the greater its profit margin, thus the "better" it is doing. We can't measure "quality of life" as easily as we can $ we don't. The only control we then have over bad behaviour in pursuit of money is legislative control (SEC, Sarbanes-Oxley, Sherman Anti-trust, ect) but as I pointed out, the speed of legislation is slow compared to the nimble free market.

The other big problem with the free market as a steering system, is that it isn't free. Now, bafflingly, I argue for control of the market in the above paragraph and now I say the control is a problem. Well, yeah. the problem is that the controls that ARE in place are not good ones. The people that are writing legislation no longer represent you and me. They are whores to their corporate overloads. (Repuglican and Dumbocrat both) So now, we have a 250 HP John Deer being steered via the rear view mirror, but the guy driving is AIMING for your house. Most of the time he misses, but he wrecks your front lawn often enough for it to be really annoying. When he does manage to run your house over, the corporate vultures swoop down and pick through the rubble.

Anyone who has passed Econ 101 in college ought to be able to explain that for the market to send the correct signals, every actor needs perfect information. Pretty much, this means not only do people have to behave in a RATIONAL manner (hah!) they also have to know about all the consequences of their economic actions. In a free market, every action is an economic action so you pretty much have to be knowledgeable about 100% of your actions 100% of the time. Yeah Right. The nice thing about the free market is that it is a very robust very decentralized system (also one of its problems) so it still works with 90% information or even 30%. It just isn't right as often. So now..... we are driving on a John Deer, steering by looking in the rear view, and every now and then someone covers our eyes. (or worse, hold up a painting that looks like what we expect to see but is just a little bit wrong...)

OK, you don't have to believe me. I wish I was wrong but I've seen enough to be so sure I'm right that I totally changed the future course of my life. The next 2 essays will disscuss why people refuse to see the cliff that the free market has aimed our tractor at and what that cliff is. Here is a parting quote from our current president....... makes you think...

"I strongly support your vision, Mr. President, of encouraging your country to become a nation of consumers and not savers, which will inure to the benefit of our manufacturers, both large and small, and our farmers, as well." -George W. Bush speaking to China's President

PS: I'm really proud of my tractor analogy.... I don't care if you don't like it! :)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

We have Chickens

We have chickens. 100 Chickens. Larry will tell you more.
Larry = yellow. So the big red spot is the heat lamp. I've rigged that up so that it hangs from a wire from one of the ceiling rafters. Easy to turn on and off with a light switch in the barn, and you can raise and lower the lamp using the wire. Its a pretty nice setup and only took me all day on saturday to wire up. I've since put a second heat lamp in, but since I didn't have time to properly wire that one, it is hanging off the romex that is wrapped around a ladder that is leaning over the brooder. Highly Ghetto, but I'll fix it once this set goes out to pasture.... or maybe this weekend. They don't need 2 lights during the day really... but I'd hate to be working above the brooder on the rafters and drop a pair of pliers. Ooppps... 3 dead chickens!

Chickens are actually pretty tough for 24-48 hours... they don't need any food or water. So the Hatchery just puts them in a box and mails them. Then the post office calls you and says, "Ummmm sir, your box is 'cheeping' at us, would you please come get it?". Normal wait is 2 days, but KB works right next to the Northern-Central CO sorting facility so it DIDN'T go to Berthoud. They called me from Longmont. Which was nice as I got the chicks after only 24 hours in the Postal Service system. Only 1 dead chick out of 100. Nice! My "Standard" book says 10% mortality is acceptable. My "Wholistic" book says that they shoot for 1% and .5% is attainable if you worry about nutrition and cleanliness instead of treating the birds like parts in an engine. So these guys show up and I point them at the water and food and they go nuts! You can see them swarming the waterer in the picture.

Red ones are our egg laying chickens.
These are known as "Production Reds". They are a cross of Rhode Island Reds and something. Privett Hatchery's web page is actually pretty freaking terrible. If you know what you want, you can get to where you need to go, but if you want to compare different breeds its aweful. Oh well. I will probably add a batch of straight Rhode Island Reds and compare feeds costs. I've heard that RIR are SUPER aggresive foragers. (meaning they eat bugs and grass instead of expensive chicken feed) We shall see. I'll post some graphs of feed usage and conversion ratios. What really matters in the end though is $in/$out. So it might be that RIR use less feed, but if they make less eggs, I might get owned on the increased labor overhead of managing a larger flock that eats less feed to make the same number of eggs. Like everything on our farm, we are going to manage it for OUR farm. It doesn't matter if Production Reds beat RIR under ideal conditions in a confienment factory farm, what matters is how well they do on our farm under conditions that we find moral. I'm looking forward to it actually (the graphs), I don't get to do much graphing and analysis at my job. I'd like to use that physics degree for SOMETHING.

Yellow ones are the ones we will eat.
These are Cornish-Rock Crosses. This is what people raise to eat. Period. Well ok, backyard folks can raise whatever the heck they want as cost isn't a factor. If you are trying to make money, you raise this bird or you lose to the guy that is. These birds are ready to eat in 8-12 weeks. This is pretty much unnatural and causes the birds LOTS of problems. They simply grow too fast! You have to feed them "magic feed", if you just let them try to eat grass and bugs and stuff in the back yard, you would have dead chicks. You must stay all over the nutrition issues or they will cripple themselves. (bones try to outrace the calcium uptake) That being said, our model does a BETTER job of feeding these suckers than a factory farm. Fresh grass == green salad. Salad is good for you, its good for chickens too! Our model lets them eat as many bugs as they can find on the pasture. Bugs==protien == strong chickens. The key is to make sure they don't eat so much grass they starve. They can starve with a stomach full of grass because the volume/energy ratio of grass is so low compared to grain. In factory farms they are feeding these poor guys the guts from the previous batch of chickens for animal protien. Now don't get me wrong, chickens are omnivores. I have NO problem feeding my chickens animal parts. In fact if you do get 'crippleing' showing up, one the the best ways to cure it is to feed beef liver. (this is not very economical so you try to avoid it, but I feel you owe it to you animals to keep them healthy. If you have to lose your profit on one batch, well, suck it up and feed the beef liver) I will NEVER condone cannibalism though. Its not a moral issue with me, its a disease issue. You don't feed an animal itself unless you want massive disease issues. It no wonder factory farms have so much food poisoning and disease issues.... their practices are shocking. Anyway, our CRs are zipping around, eating the feed, scratching the wood chips, eating the grass and seeds I gave them then crashing out and sleeping for 2 minutes. Its pretty funny, they are like puppies on speed.

These guys will end up white after they molt, the PRs will turn a darker red.

I took a nice walk across the pasture this morning with the dogs and bucket. Each time I found grass that had seed heads on it, I mowed it down and put it in my bucket. 1 gallon of greens every day it a better mineral and vitamin source than whatever ConAgra is trying to sell me. Eat Healthy and you don't NEED drugs. I'm looking forward to the 1st slaughter when I can finally state what my mortality rate is. That way when some confinement farmer starts telling me my model is insane and won't work since chickens will all get sick and die without medicated feed and I can go, "O-RLY? I lost 1%, how many did you have die? 10-20%?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Here's Your Chance to VOTE! Help me choose!

OK, I got some bad news last week... I have a cavity. OK, some of you are thinking - so what? Well, I've never had one before. And if you know me, you know I am terrified of needles. Due to my propensity for seizures, I have always told dentists that if they had to do work, they had to gas me. The three times I had teeth removed when I was younger, they gave me gas to do it. Well, my new dentist doesn't have gas, so I have three options - and I'm going to let you vote on which I should choose!!

Option 1: Oral sedatives - I take a pill that knocks me out, they do their dealio, I wake up who knows when, with a filling in my mouth.

Option 2: Intravenous General Anesthesia - they stick a needle in my arm, I go sleepy sleepy, I wake up some time later with a filling in my mouth.

Option 3: Do it like everyone else does... get a needle stuck into my gums for a local anesthesia. I can't feel my mouth, but I am awake, and watching what is going on. (This is the least expensive, as our dental coverage doesn't cover the cost of the extra anesthesia, suckers!)

So what do you think? I did get hypno-therapy to get over my fear of needles, but I never thought I'd have a cavity in my whole life! Which option should I choose? Place your votes now!!