The Farm Report: Fairs, Fowl And Fertilizer

Autumn doesn’t officially begin until September 23rd, but to us, it feels like summer ends on the last day of the Williamson County Fair. The nine-day event takes place at the county agricultural center and includes the 4-H sponsored farm and livestock shows. There are the usual farm and ranch animals …

… and some not-so usual farm and ranch animals:

If memory serves, that’s a llama in front and an alpaca behind it.

At last year’s show, Sara got to show her goats, walking them around as part of the competition. One of the goats won first place in its division, and Sara ended up with some nice prize money. This year Alana showed five of the chickens she raised (with a LOT of help from her mom). It was an easier job than showing goats; all she had to do was put them on display in a cage.

The chickens all receive a first-place, second-place, or participation ribbon. The participation ribbon, of course, means “thanks for taking part.” Alana’s chickens received a first-place ribbon, so they fetched a higher price at the auction: $23 each.

Alana also entered a country ham in the show. To be honest, I didn’t know what a country ham was. I figured if we buy a ham downtown and drive it out to our place, it’s now a country ham. Turns out a country ham is one that’s cured by being packed in salt and hanging for several months. Alana’s ham received a “thanks for taking part” ribbon. Oh well. She didn’t seem bothered by it, and I expect we’ll enjoy the ham just as much either way.

On the way into the fair, I spotted some animal-rights protesters carrying signs:

I was snapping pictures while driving, so I didn’t plan the shot above, but it’s a nice accident.  Animals Are Not Entertainment, and right above that, Business Entrance.  No, goofball, these animals are not entertainment; they’re food, and for many of the people who raise them, a business.

The other signs featured tigers, so I’m guessing the protesters don’t know much about livestock shows. I’m not an animal-rights sort, but if one of my neighbors were raising tigers, I’d be a wee bit upset.

“Uh, Joe, about those tigers you’re keeping. Are you sure that’s safe? You know, there are kids and dogs and lots of farm animals around here, so—“

“Of course it’s safe. I keep them right over there in that … all right, which one of you kids left the cage door open?!”

We’re not cruel to our animals, of course.  As far as their only crime was being born … well, here’s the thing:  when it comes to livestock animals, the only reason they’re born in the first place is that they’re useful to human beings.  If you freed most farm animals, they’d become food for predators.  Then they’d go extinct.  If you want to raise your vegan-approved crops without a ton of chemicals and fossil-fuel fertilizers, you’d better hope people continue keeping livestock.

I just finished listening to Conquests and Cultures, by the always-awesome Thomas Sowell – same professor of economics who wrote The Vision of The Anointed. In Conquests and Cultures, he explains that some North and South American Indians were farmers long before Europeans arrived, but there was a major difference. The Indians didn’t have horses or oxen to pull plows, which of course made farming more labor-intensive. But more importantly, without domesticated animals living on the land, there was no manure to enrich the soil. Consequently, each field could only produce maize or other crops for a few years before becoming depleted. Then the farming Indians had to move and find fresh fields.

I can attest to how well domesticated animals enrich the soil. When we moved our older chickens to the back of the property in the spring, their chicken-yard in the front pasture was bare. They’d pecked the grass and other vegetation down to the dirt.

I didn’t expect anything to grow there for a long time.  Boy, was I wrong. Mere months later, it looked like this:

The stuff was amazingly dense. Chicken poop must be excellent fertilizer indeed.

If you look carefully at the picture above, you can see Chareva trying not to get lost in the jungle. She’s facing the area that was completely bare.

You might also notice the net had sagged and weeds were growing up through it. I found that part of the overgrowth particularly annoying, because my errant disc-golf shots were getting trapped instead of sliding off the net. Walking into that bug-infested jungle to bounce a disc off the net wasn’t my idea of a good time.

So this weekend, we decided to tackle the chicken-yard. I tried running the brush mower we nicknamed The Beast in there, which worked for a while. Then the blade stopped turning and smoke poured out from the side. The overgrowth was so thick, it managed to jam up the blade and (I believe) either snap a belt or shove it off track. It takes some mean weeds to defeat The Beast.

I was more interested in tackling the chicken-yard than doing repair work, so I grabbed my Weed-Eater with the brush blade and hacked my way through the growth. Chareva stood behind me with a broom and tried to keep the net from grabbing my helmet and knocking it off. That almost worked now and then.

I plan to fix The Beast, then give it another go around the chicken-yard. Then I’ll let the weeds dry out for a week before taking a lawn mower in there to see if I can mulch the stuff. I sure as shootin’ don’t want a low-hanging net yanking at my head when I go in there again, so we spent part of Sunday raising it. This time, instead of spindly wood with a crossbeam on top, I went with the galvanized pipes and PVC junctions that worked so well in our chicken yards out back.

When we were done, Chareva surveyed the situation: enclosed space, a high net to discourage deer or birds from eating whatever is in there, and amazingly fertile soil. She hasn’t decided what, but she’ll definitely plant something there in the spring. I’m voting for tiger nuts.

Meanwhile, we have 63 chickens out back supplying us with eggs and fertilizer.


53 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Fairs, Fowl And Fertilizer

  1. David

    Lol Tom! Yes, chicken crap is very effective. You should have seen what planting our cucumbers in the old chicken coop produced! It was nuts! Or, cucumbers anyway. Lol! It just came to my mind that vegans can never go organic and be consistent! Meat eater forever!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Chareva is saving that highly-effective chicken poop for next year’s garden.

      As Lierre Keith points out in “The Vegetarian Myth,” if you want your vegan crops to grow, you can either apply manure (a produce of animals raised for food) or fertilizer made from fossil fuels (dead animals).

  2. Maria J

    Great post, Tom. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and did not attend a county fair until well into adulthood. I believe the first was in Montana. Have grown to love them, mostly the animals and the kids who take their job of raising them seriously. My favorite is to visit the barns early on opening day before the crowds arrive. Love the atmosphere, even the aromas. Fair food, not so much.

  3. Mark

    “If you freed most farm animals, they’d become food for predators.  Then they’d go extinct.” Hmm, I dunno, before we domesticated animals, they were wild and in no danger of going extinct at that time. Ditto all the herbivores on the African Tundra in today’s day and age. They don’t seem in any danger of disappearing off the face of the earth. I’ve been in the company of semi-domesticated cows and let me tell you, 500 kgs of muscles and horns can take pretty good care of itself. Yet to come across any killer chickens though :-p

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Wild animals are adapted to the wild. Modern domesticated farm animals aren’t. Chickens wouldn’t last a season without protection from humans. Cattle … maybe Texas longhorns, but I wouldn’t bet on dairy cattle surviving in the wild.

  4. Michael Steadman

    I happened to be talking with a 4-H parent in my neck of the woods last week and she told me it was not uncommon for “vegan spies” to come and interview the 4-H children about their animals under the guise of a media-type of context, then turn around and claim animal abuse. These people need to get more real food in their diets and leave the hard-working 4-H kids alone!

  5. deb p

    “If you want to raise your vegan-approved crops without a ton of chemicals and fossil-fuel fertilizers, you’d better hope people continue keeping livestock”

    why have i never thought of it that way??!!

    what a great comeback in an animal rights debate that im sure will leave some red in the face trying to think of what to say to that one!

    NY state has banned all fowl from our state fair and all county fairs this year. Not a cluck or quack to be heard….kind a of a crappy deal for the 4H kids who put a lot of effort into it.

      1. deb p

        Yes, that was the reason. Im sorry I should have said that in my comment in the first place. 30 lashes with a wet noodle for me!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Ahh, now it makes sense. I looked at the list of attractions online and didn’t see that one.

  6. Anne Robertson

    I’ve been saying for over 30 years that vegetarianism and veganism are bad ecology. We don’t meet many of either here in France.

  7. Tammy

    I got a chuckle out of the first protester picture also – “Animals are not entertainment” – I thought the same thing – “No, they are food”. But you know, I could classify both my dog and cat as “entertainment”. They are both a piece of work by themselves and together they can be pure entertainment. 🙂

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Rascal (the cat) considers himself my sparring partner, which I guess qualifies as entertainment.

  8. Nads

    Would the goats be helpful with trimming down all those weeds? Or am I showing my lack of farm animal knowledge?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Goats would indeed be excellent weed-eaters. We’re just not ready to take on goats again at this point.

      1. Jim from Florida (used to be Maine)


        There were lots of folks in New England that would gladly come stake a goat in an area that needed clearing… 🙂

  9. The Older Brother

    “but she’ll definitely plant something there in the spring. I’m voting for tiger nuts.”

    So then, you ARE going to be raising tigers?! I’ve seen tiger nuts, and I’d have to go with the activists on this one. That’s a pretty mean thing to do to a tiger, especially when they’re so young. (BTW, If you can only order straight runs, what do you do with the females?)


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      We’re raising genetically modified tigers that grow huge nuts but have the personalities of cats who’ve been “fixed.”

  10. Jennifer Snow

    Not to disagree with Dr. Sowell, exactly, but I remember learning in school that the Indians used to use fish offal for fertilizer in their fields. Granted, obtaining the same is a lot more complex than letting a goat poop all over the place.

  11. Celeste

    I am vegan sympathetic and a former off again-on again vegetarian, because I do find the modern CAFO paradigm to be unutterably cruel. Some of my best friends are vegetarians (ha!) and I really wish we could find a common ground. A common ground where livestock are raised in relatively humane conditions is good for people, the livestock, and the ecological future of the earth upon which we all rely for food. I am not so bothered by the killing of animals for food, rather the conditions in which the animal lived.

    “If you want to raise your vegan-approved crops without a ton of chemicals and fossil-fuel fertilizers, you’d better hope people continue keeping livestock.” This is such an important point.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      That’s why we’re raising more of our own food now. The hundreds of pounds of pork in my freezer came from hogs we raised outdoors in humane, drug-free conditions.

  12. Dianne

    Some animals, at least, are definitely entertainment. Just ask my extremely spoiled Maine coon cat, Emmylou Hairiest, who keeps me laughing all the time. She herself is often entertained by the squirrel who visits our windowsill almost daily for the sunflower seeds and almonds I scatter there, and who entertains himself by sitting four inches (and two panes of glass) from Emmy’s nose, watching her have hysterics. Mr. Squirrel is in no danger, as Emmylou is strictly an indoor kitty — outdoors, she’d be coyote bait or snack food for the bobcat we occasionally see, even in this Dallas suburb.

    I just wish I could convince Emmylou that she’s an obligate carnivore. Having been raised from earliest kittenhood on commercial dry and moist foods, she believes that a proper feline diet includes grains and starches, and she won’t touch straight meat, whether in the form of cat food or people food. Her figure shows it, too. We’re still trying to work that out, and I may have to apply a little tough love and not give her the preferred carbohydrates at all in the hope that she will eventually get hungry enough to eat what’s good for her. After all, theoretically, I am in charge here!

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Put out the meat and skip the grain-based dry stuff. When she’s hungry enough, she’ll eat. That’s what our cat did.

  13. Elenor

    My 11-yr-old neighbor girl is terribly worried about the polar bears.

    I pointed out their numbers have increased, so it’s not the worry she is being taught — AND, that if we truly wanted to “do something to save the polar bears” (and not just make Al Gore richer {frown}), we’d fly a bunch of big-ol’ hogs up there and drop ’em on the ice for the bears!

    I don’t remember where I read it or who wrote it — but someone suggested if we want to preserve a species, just turn it into a food animal and we’d be swimming in them! (Polar bear steaks? Prob’ly taste fishier than black bear steaks… And those tigers? Prob’ly tough muscle meat, not at least it’s not grain-fed!)

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Several economists, including Thomas Sowell, have pointed out that it’s the animals humans eat that are thriving — because we make sure they’re thriving.

  14. Dianne

    Tom, I’ve tried several times this afternoon to make a comment on your August 27 post, and each time I get the message “This page can’t be displayed.” I’ve tried everything I can think of to fix it from this end — is there a problem with that page at your site? Thanks much.

      1. Dianne

        I’ve tried leaving comments to your subsequent posts several times since leaving the message above, and each time I get the “this page can’t be displayed” message. Am beginning to wonder if I’m being blocked for some reason, though I can’t think why I would be. Was it something I said?

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          No, it’s not you. The IP was having an issue with traffic and CPU usage, but they told me last week they had it fixed. Guess I need to nudge them again.

          1. Dianne

            It’s odd that I can get through on this thread, but not on any of the ones that follow. But then, I don’t know nuttin’ about computers.

            1. Dianne

              Well, I got one comment through, but with I tried to follow it with the one I’d been trying to post for days, I got the same message. I even tried re-typing the message, rather than pasting it in from where I’d stored it in Word, but no go. The message had to do with a study mentioned in a recent magazine.

            2. Dianne

              So since the message immediately above got through, I tried pasting in my comment about the study here, and got the same “page can’t be displayed” message. The magazine was the RD, and the study on page 59 compared the effects of sugar and a certain artificial sweetener on stress hormones. Would naming the magazine, the medical journal from which the information came, or the name of the sweetener cause problems?

            3. Tom Naughton Post author

              No, links shouldn’t cause the comment to fail. Which post are you trying to comment on? Maybe that will help the IT guys track down the issue.

            4. Dianne

              I started out trying to comment on the August 27 post about items from the news, but when that failed repeatedly I waited and tried to comment on the current post, the farm report. My first comment today, about the ticks, went through, so I tried to send the off-topic comment about the study, and it wouldn’t go. I did type in the entire paragraph about the study, but I think I’ve seen others do the same.

              I just tried to describe the study in my own words, and state why I think it’s sloppy, and got the same frustrating message. So I deleted that part — let’s see if this comes through.

  15. Jim from Florida (used to be Maine)

    Read this note on Jo Nova’s site this morning, regarding medical research/peer review. Found it interesting. In short, in 2000, companies were required to register their “hypothesis” and then their results. Positive incomes from research fell from almost 60% down to 8%.
    This line caught my eye:
    ” At this point I am going to try and join two thoughts together. Almost every study done on blood pressure lowering, blood sugar lowering and cholesterol lowering was done before the year 2005. I only choose these three areas as they are the three area of maximum drug prescribing in the world. Billions upon billions are spent in these areas, hundreds of millions are ‘treated’.

    The evidence used for this mass medication of the Western World is demonstrably, horribly, biased. Had companies been forced to register their trials prior to publication, positive results would have been reduced by at least 49%. Almost certainly far more. You could put this another way around and say that it very likely that only 8% of studies would have been positive.”



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