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.