After I went from a mostly vegetarian diet to a meat-based low-carb diet and saw my health improve, I swore I’d never swear off red meat. But … uh … (say it ain’t so, Joe) … a run-in with the wrong insect could apparently change all that:

A bug can turn you into a vegetarian, or at least make you swear off red meat. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in people bitten by a certain kind of tick.

A tick? You mean those nasty little critters who crawl up my legs while I’m playing disc golf or working around the property? Oh, no …

This bizarre problem was only discovered a few years ago but is growing as the ticks spread from the Southwest and the East to more parts of the United States. In some cases, eating a burger or a steak has landed people in the hospital with severe allergic reactions.

The culprit is the Lone Star tick, named for Texas, a state famous for meaty barbecues. The tick is now found throughout the South and the eastern half of the United States.

Well, maybe the anti-meat ticks are farther south and east than where I live. So if I just stay in my part of Tennessee …

In Mount Juliet near Nashville, Tennessee, 71-year-old Georgette Simmons went to a steakhouse on June 1 for a friend’s birthday and had a steak.

“About 4:30 in the morning I woke up and my body was on fire. I was itching all over and I broke out in hives. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before,” she said.

A few weeks later, for a brother’s birthday, she ordered another steak. Hours later she woke “almost hysterical” with a constricted throat in addition to hives and a burning sensation. She, too, recalled tick bites.

Mount Juliet?! Holy @#$%, that’s not only near Nashville, it’s north of where we live. So the demon ticks are already in our area.

At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “I see two to three new cases every week,” said Dr. Scott Commins, who with a colleague, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, published the first paper tying the tick to the illness in 2011.

One of the first cases they saw was a bow hunter who had eaten meat all his life but landed in the emergency department several times with allergic reactions after eating meat. More cases kept turning up in people who were outdoors a lot.

People who were outdoors a lot … gulp.

Here’s how it happens: The bugs harbor a sugar that humans don’t have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also is found in red meat — beef, pork, venison, rabbit — and even some dairy products. It’s usually fine when people encounter it through food that gets digested.

But a tick bite triggers an immune system response, and in that high-alert state, the body perceives the sugar the tick transmitted to the victim’s bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance, and makes antibodies to it. That sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

A reader recently sent me a link to an article about a professor of bioethics who proposed making people allergic to meat to save the planet from climate change. Somebody should investigate and see if this little screwball has been messing around with ticks in his lab.

Doctors don’t know if the allergy is permanent.

Please, God, don’t let it be permanent.

Some patients show signs of declining antibodies over time, although those with severe reactions are understandably reluctant to risk eating meat again. Even poultry products such as turkey sausage sometimes contain meat byproducts and can trigger the allergy.

Michael Abley, who is 74 and lives in Surry, Virginia, near Williamsburg, comes from a family of cattle ranchers and grew up eating meat. He developed the meat allergy more than a decade ago, although it was only tied to the tick in more recent years.

“Normally I can eat a little bit of dairy,” he said, but some ice cream landed him in an emergency room about a month ago.

Okay, so if I get bit by one these little demons, all I’d have to do is give up beef, pork, dairy products, and perhaps poultry products. If you hear a scream loud enough to break windows in Georgia coming from Tennessee, you’ll know I got bit by a Lone Star tick.

Up to this point, I’ve been trying to be judicious in my use of Deep Woods Off before working outside. I believe I’ll start soaking myself with it. And washing my clothes in it. And using it for shampoo.

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I wasn’t around last night to write a post.  Sara took her goats to the 4-H livestock show at the county fair early in the morning, and in the middle of the afternoon, Chareva called to tell me one of the goats won his class, then his division.  That meant Sara would be competing for the grand prize in the evening.

So I wrapped up work for the day around 5:00 and took Alana to the fairgrounds to watch.  Here are some short video clips of the day:

Alana and I left around 8:30 PM, but Sara and Chareva had to stick around for the auction.  We’ll make a bit of profit on the goats (although I wouldn’t want to live on it), and Sara took home some nice prize money to put in her “I want a car when I’m 16″ savings account.

So that’s it.  The goats are gone. It was a great summertime experience for Sara, but with school starting up again, plus piano lessons and eventually band-instrument practice, I think she has enough to keep her busy for awhile.

In few more days, she’ll auction off five of her chickens at the fair.  Meanwhile, we’re starting to get small eggs from her flock.  When her 15 remaining chickens start laying full-sized eggs, it will be time to open that egg stand by the side of the road.

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This article about cigar smokers showed up in yesterday’s online edition of  MedPage Today:

Most cigar smokers in America are smoking cheaper, unfiltered versions cigarillos and mass market cigars, a government report showed.

Among the 7% of American adults reporting smoking cigars at least sometimes, 62% said they usually smoked cigarillos or mass market cigars, Catherine G. Corey, MSPH, of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues found.

“These findings underscore the importance of public health interventions to reduce cigar smoking among U.S. adults,” Corey and colleagues argued. “Evidence-based tobacco control interventions such as increased taxes, smoke-free policies, and public education campaigns should also address non-cigarette tobacco products.”

“Regular cigar use is estimated to be responsible for approximately 9,000 premature deaths and almost 140,000 years of potential life lost annually,” according to a conservative estimate, Corey’s group noted.

Cigarillos are little cigars (think Swisher Sweets) made with tobacco filler, and from what I’ve seen, people tend to smoke them like cigarettes – one after another, sometimes even inhaling.  Bad idea. Premium cigars, on the other hand, are larger and made from rolled tobacco leaves.  Try inhaling one of those, you’d probably pass out.

When we lived in suburban neighborhoods with streets and sidewalks, I used to take long walks three or four nights per week and smoke a premium cigar while listening to a podcast or audiobook.  Now that we live in the sticks, I don’t take those late-night walks.  So I smoke maybe a couple of cigars per month, usually sitting outside at night after Chareva and the girls have gone to bed.  I’ve never smoked them indoors.

By pure coincidence, I happened to stop at a cigar shop the day before the MedPage Today article ran.  Even though this particular shop only sells premium cigars, there was a big sign (no doubt mandated by law) on the door to the humidor, warning me that according to the Surgeon General, cigars cause cancer.

Hmmm … I’ve been hearing that one for years.  I’ve had people inform me that smoking cigars doubles my risk of mouth and throat cancer.  So a couple of years ago, I looked up the actual data.  In honor of the MedPage Today article, I thought I’d dig up the data and share it.  This isn’t exactly diet-related, of course, but it illustrates how government officials have no qualms about exaggerating risks when they want to discourage us from a habit they don’t find acceptable.

The data I’m quoting here comes from something called the Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph.  I have a PDF that doesn’t specify the publisher, but from what I can find online, it was apparently produced by the National Cancer Institute.  The paper is a meta-analysis of multiple observational studies on smoking, mortality and disease.   So let’s dig in.

The risks of smoking in the paper are expressed as risk ratios.  In case you’re not familiar with what those mean, here’s the lowdown:  Suppose in a control population of non-smokers we want to use for comparison, 10% of all people end up with heart disease.  That’s what we’d consider normal, so we assign that a risk of 1.0.  Now suppose that among cigar smokers, 12% of them eventually end up with heart disease.  That’s 20% higher, so we’d say their risk ratio is 1.2.  Or we could say for every 1,000 non-smokers, 100 will end up with heart disease, while for every 1,000 cigar smokers, 120 will end up with heart disease — 20 additional cases per 1,000 cigar smokers.

Got the idea?  Good.  On to the data.

We’ll start with the big one: all-cause mortality.  Everyone dies, so I assume they’re talking about premature death.  Cigar smokers as a group have a risk ratio of 1.12.  So that looks kind of bad, doesn’t it?  (Among cigarette smokers, it’s far worse.  The premature-death risk ratio for them is 1.66.)

But who are these cigar smokers?  If it’s the people puffing away on a dozen cigarillos per day, I’d say we can partly blame the cigars, but we might also be looking at people with bad health habits in general.  Not a lot of health-conscious people make a habit of smoking Swisher Sweets.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people like me out there too — health-conscious people who smoke a premium cigar now and then.  In fact, based on the fellow cigar smokers I’ve known, I’d say most people who smoke premium cigars smoke one per day, if that.  After all, we’re talking about a $10 cigar.  Unless you have money to burn (literally), you’re not going to smoke your way through five or 10 of those per day.

The paper doesn’t distinguish between good cigars and cheap cigars, but fortunately it does split out the data by the number of cigars smoked per day, and also by age group.  And that’s where it gets interesting.

For all-cause mortality, here are the risk ratios by age group for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day:

35-49: 0.70
50-64: 1.10
65-79: 1.02
80+: 0.97

Holy smokes, Batman, look at that low risk ratio among the 35-49 age bracket!  If we saw that result in a study of whole grains, there would be headlines splashed all over the media telling us that A DAILY SERVING OF WHOLE GRAINS REDUCES RISK OF DEATH IN MIDDLE AGE BY 30%!

But we’re talking about cigars, and the Surgeon General doesn’t want us to smoke cigars, so this interesting bit of data remains in the research closet, so to speak.

I’m not suggesting cigars prevent early death, of course – and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who doesn’t already smoke cigars to start.  My guess is that people in the 35-49 age bracket who smoke a cigar or two per day are more well-to-do, and people with higher incomes tend to have better health outcomes for all kinds of reasons.  But I think we can safely say that smoking a cigar now and then isn’t killing people in that age bracket – and probably not in any age bracket.

Here are the risk ratios for lung cancer among men who smoke one or two cigars per day, divided by the age brackets available in the data tables:

50-64: 0.83
65-79: 1.27
80+: 0.66

CIGARS PREVENT LUNG CANCER IN MIDDLE AGE, OLD AGE, STUDY SHOWS

Okay, just kidding.  That spike in the 65-79 group is interesting, but again, given that cigar smokers in the other two groups have lower rates of lung cancer than non-smokers, I think we can safely say smoking a cigar per day doesn’t cause lung cancer.  The combined risk ratio for all groups, by the way, was 0.90, which means we could say that smoking cigars lowers your risk of lung cancer by 10% — which again is what we’d see in the media if we were talking about whole grains or soy milk.

Here are the risk ratios for coronary heart disease – once again, these are only for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, not people who puff away on a dozen cigarillos.

50-64: 0.72
65-79: 0.97
80+: 0.99

Another media headline you’ll never see:  A CIGAR PER DAY PREVENTS HEART DISEASE IN MIDDLE AGE

You get the idea.  But let’s look at the big one, the disease several people (including my mom) warned me about after learning I smoke an occasional cigar: cancer of the esophagus.  We’re talking about men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, and I smoke maybe two per month now, but for the sake of argument I’ll assume these risk ratios apply to me:

50-64: 1.86
65-79: 2.62

So that’s why I’ve been warned that those Macanudos are doubling my risk of throat cancer.  But as I pointed out in my Science For Smart People speech, whenever you’re presented with a relative risk, the question you want to ask yourself is: What’s the absolute difference?  In other words, how many actual extra cases of esophageal cancer are we talking about?

I found some data on esophageal cancer in another paper put out by the National Cancer Institute.  In the U.S., the incidence rate of esophageal cancer for white males is 8 per 100,000 per year. That number, of course, includes smokers of all kinds, including heavy cigarette smokers.  The NCI didn’t list the rate among non-smokers, but from what I can find elsewhere online, it appears to be around 1.5 per 100,000 per year.  Smoking 1-2 cigars per day more or less doubles that risk.

So here’s the absolute difference:  Among non-smokers, 3 in every 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  Among men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, 6 in 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  That’s one extra case of cancer per year for every 67,000 men who smoke a cigar or two per day.

I think I can live with those odds … no matter how many signs the Surgeon General tries to make me read as I walk into the humidor.

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Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Thought I’d go ahead and get that out of the way before proceeding.  You may want to do likewise.  Go ahead and bang your head on your desk (or any nearby hard surface if you’re reading this on a tablet) while you’re calm and can control the momentum.

Okay, good.

Now, let me begin this post by quickly reviewing how The Anointed react when one of their Grand Plans fails:  they never, ever blame the plan.  The plan was, of course, brilliant and should have worked … after all, it was designed by The Anointed.  So if the plan fails, it can only mean that:

  • People didn’t implement the plan correctly because they’re stupid
  • People undermined the plan because they’re evil
  • The plan didn’t go far enough

The USDA’s Grand Plan to improve the nation’s health by telling us what to eat began with the Food Pyramid – you know, base your diet on 6-11 servings per day of grains, cut way back on fats, switch to vegetable oils, etc.  Strangely, the launching of the Grand Plan coincided with a decades-long rise in rates of obesity and diabetes.  So the USDA reached the only logical conclusion:  the Food Pyramid must be too complicated.  In other words, people didn’t follow it correctly because they’re stupid.

So the USDA took pretty much exactly the same dietary advice and repackaged it as MyPlate.  Much simpler, you see, because it’s shaped like a plate.  All the stupid people have to do is put grains on the brown section of the plate marked “grains,” vegetables on the green section marked “vegetables,” etc.

The “protein” section of MyPlate is purple, which I admit might be a problem.  Stupid people could end up wandering all over the store looking for purple foods, then end up eating unpeeled eggplants for protein.  In fact, the USDA appears to have zeroed in on grocery-shopping as the weak link in the whole plan.  After all, how are you supposed to properly fill all the sections of your MyPlate at home if you didn’t buy the correct foods in the first place?

Never fear … The Anointed at the USDA have a new plan to help the stupid people fill their shopping carts with MyPlate-approved foods.  Here are some quotes from an article in the U.K. Daily Mail:

Talking shopping carts, free movie tickets and supermarket cooking classes are just a few of the latest recommendations the government is proposing to trim America’s waistband.

The new proposals were detailed in an 80-page report released this month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is focused on the 42 million Americans receiving food stamps.

The problem isn’t that 42 million Americans are receiving food stamps, you see.  Nope, the problem is that they’re buying the wrong foods.  So we need talking shopping carts to tell them what to buy while they’re buying.  Can’t trust them to remember all that good USDA advice once they get past the greeter in the big-box store.

The new recommendations are designed to reward healthy eating and change supermarket layouts and programs to highlight more nutritional foods.

A shopping cart telling you what to buy and a reward if you comply … if you didn’t already believe The Anointed in government view people who don’t follow their advice as ignorant children, this should convince you.

‘Most Americans, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, do not purchase enough whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, and legumes, and purchase too many items with excess calories from fats and added sugars,’ the report said.

The USDA first recommends that SNAP shoppers be rewarded for their healthy food choices with movie tickets or discounts.

And if that doesn’t work, we’ll threaten them with a spanking.

So let’s see … first we have the taxpayers pony up for food stamps, then we have them pony up for movie tickets if the people on food stamps buy foods approved by The Anointed.  Meanwhile, we’re $17 trillion in debt.  Is this a great country or what?

At least by offering bribes, The Anointed have indicated that they don’t believe everyone buying the (ahem) wrong foods is stupid.  Some of them are just mildly evil — gluttonous, undisciplined, whatever you want to call it — and are therefore willing to buy vegetables and whole grains if there’s a reward in it.  So let’s give them free tickets to a movie theater.  It’s not as if they’d buy a big tub of popcorn and a Coke or anything.

These so-called ‘MyCarts’ will be color-coded and physically divided by differently healthy food groups and notify when the shopper has enough to qualify for a reward.

‘You achieved a MyCart healthy shopping basket!’ it will say.

Well, that is inspiring.  Perhaps the cart can also print out little smiley-face stickers for the shoppers to stick on their report cards.

Other recommendations detailed in the report cooking classes held in grocery stores and employees who would act as ‘ambassadors’ to explain the different rewards programs.

‘In this role, floor staff has the ability to re-direct consumer purchase towards more healthful choices by explaining the incentive or the nutrition labeling system,’ the report said.

I see.  So if an electronic nanny doesn’t convince people to buy more whole grains, we’ll go with the human touch.

The USDA hopes to implement these programs in order to ‘change the choice architecture of the food retail environment’.

Allow me to interpret that:  The Anointed don’t like the choices people are making, so now they’re considering a big, stupid, expensive program to change the “choice architecture.”

How expensive?  Glad you asked.  Here’s the headline for article:

Will grocery stores be forced to install $30,000 talking carts that help shoppers make better food choices?

Forced?  Nawww, The Anointed would never use force to implement a new “choice architecture.”  All those Americans over age 50 who are now buying expensive insurance policies that cover infertility and maternity really wanted that extra coverage.

The headline gives the impression that the MyCart carts would cost $30,000 each.  That’s not true.  The report estimates that as the average cost to each grocery store.  (And we all know how accurate government cost estimates are.)  I know that because I read some of the USDA report.  I read some of the USDA report because this Grand Plan is so absurd – even for The Anointed – I thought the article must be a joke.

Nope.  It’s real.  Like I’ve said before, it’s difficult to separate comedy from reality when The Anointed in government start cooking up Grand Plans.

Now if you’ll excuse me, one head-bang on my desk wasn’t enough.

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Yup, and I can prove it:  Ancel Keys had a tiny dataset — but that didn’t stop him from leaping to big conclusions.  Nina Teicholz wrote about Keys’ problematic data in the terrific book The Big Fat Surprise, and I just came across an old paper that backs her up.

The paper appeared in a 1989 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was (of course) based on Keys’ famous Seven Countries study.  You’ll recall that Keys supposedly recorded what people in seven countries ate and then followed their health outcomes for several years.

Here’s a description of the study’s design from the paper:

During the base-line survey 13,000 men, aged 40- 59 y, were medically examined. Information on diet was collected in random samples from each cohort by use of the record method.  Detailed data on food consumption patterns have been published only for 9 of the 16 cohorts. Therefore, the food intake data were coded once again into a standardized form by one person. Then the foods were summarized in a limited number of food groups. The average daily consumption per person of these food groups was calculated for each cohort.

So Keys had food records, although that coding and summarizing part sounds a little fishy.  Then he followed the health of 13,000 men so he could find associations between diet and heart disease.  So we can assume he had dietary records for all 13,000 of them, right?

Uh … no.  That wouldn’t be the case.

The poster-boys for his hypothesis about dietary fat and heart disease were the men from the Greek island of Crete.  They supposedly ate the diet Keys recommended:  low-fat, olive oil instead of saturated animal fats and all that, you see.  Keys tracked more than 300 middle-aged men from Crete as part of his study population, and lo and behold, few of them suffered heart attacks.  Hypothesis supported, case closed.

So guess how many of those 300-plus men were actually surveyed about their eating habits?  Go on, guess.  I’ll wait …

And the answer is:  31.

Yup, 31.  And that’s about the size of the dataset from each of the seven countries:  somewhere between 25 and 50 men.  It’s right there in the paper’s data tables. That’s a ridiculously small number of men to survey if the goal is to accurately compare diets and heart disease in seven countries.

But wait … so far we’re assuming the dietary records were accurate.  As Teicholz pointed out, Keys took one of his food-recall surveys in Greece during Lent, when religious Greeks abstain from animal foods.  I’d call that a bit of a confounding variable.  And then there’s this, directly from the paper:

In Crete the villages involved were Agies, Paraskies, Thrapsano, and Kastelli. In Corfu the villages were Ano Korakiana, Skriperon, and San Marco. About 30 men were involved in each dietary survey. However, the original 7-day records were no longer available.

No original records?!  So you dumped the study, right?

It was therefore decided to reconstruct the diets of these cohorts on the basis of results of the dietary surveys mentioned in a publication by Keys et al.

Uh … so you swapped in the results from an earlier paper.  Okay, got it.  But tell me we’re at least talking about a genuine dietary survey here.

When no information about the consumption of certain foods, eg, fruits and vegetables, was available food balance sheet data from Greece in 1961-65 were used as a substitute.

Head.  Bang.  On.  Desk.

Getting the picture?  Keys followed the health of more than 300 men from Crete.  But he only surveyed 31 of them, with one of those surveys taken during the meat-abstinence month of Lent.  Oh, and the original seven-day food-recall records weren’t available later, so he swapped in data from an earlier paper.  Then to determine fruit and vegetable intake, he used data sheets about food availability in Greece during a four-year period.

And from this mess, he concluded that high-fat diets cause heart attacks and low-fat diets prevent them.

Keep in mind, this is one of the most-cited studies in all of medical science.  It’s one of the pillars of the Diet-Heart hypothesis.  It helped to convince the USDA, the AHA, doctors, nutritionists, media health writers, your parents, etc., that saturated fat clogs our arteries and kills us, so we all need to be on low-fat diets – even kids.

Yup, Ancel Keys had a tiny one … but he sure managed to screw a lot of people with it.

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Random thoughts that don’t belong in a From The News post:

Safe Starches Didn’t Cause Weight Gain

When I wrote a series of posts explaining why I was moving more towards a Perfect Health Diet, I said I’d report back if I gained or lost weight as a result.  I haven’t gained or lost, so I’ll report that instead.

I was at 198 lbs. when I started adding some safe starches back into my diet some months ago.  I was at 198 lbs. when I went to the gym last week.  So while I know from experience that keeping my carb intake at or below 100 grams per day level prevents me from gaining weight and makes it easier to lose weight, it’s simply not true (at least in my case) that the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.  Below a certain level, there are no additional benefits for me that I can see or feel.

I don’t consume 100 grams of safe starches every day, by the way.  Some days are almost zero-carb because I just happen to have a taste for meats and vegetables.  Sometimes I have a potato with breakfast or dinner, sometimes I don’t.  Other days I’ll end up having a potato with lunch and another one with dinner.

Tonight’s dinner was two cheeseburger patties (from a grass-fed cow), broccoli with butter, and a medium potato with butter and sour cream.  My glucose peaked at 130.  Not bad.  Potatoes are on my menu, but rice isn’t.  I’ve found that it doesn’t take much rice to push my glucose over 200. Since I find rice basically tasteless, that’s not a good tradeoff.

Exercise Didn’t Cause Weight Loss

When Dr. Mike Eades told me during the making of Fat Head that exercises like walking, aerobic dancing, etc., don’t induce weight loss, I couldn’t believe it.  He sent me links to some research to overcome my resistance.  I’ve since read quite a bit more on the subject.  Yes, we’d all like to believe an hour on the treadmill helps burn away the fat – because by gosh, it just feels like that kind of effort should be rewarded – but it simply isn’t the case.

Here’s a recent example: when I weighed myself at the gym before Jimmy Moore’s recent visit, I was at (surprise) 198 lbs.  During his visit, we walked 27 miles in six days.  (I consumed my normal diet that week, by the way.)  I went to the gym the Sunday after he left and found that I weighed … wait for it … 198 lbs.   All that walking, no change whatsoever.

I still can’t believe all the hours I wasted on a treadmill back in the day …

Comedians With Asperger’s

Since I’ve been both a comedian and an indie filmmaker, some young comedians sent me information about a documentary they’re producing – which I found intriguing because all four of them have Asperger’s.  Here’s the trailer:

They’re asking for donations to cover post-production costs.  (Yeah, I know all about those costs.)  I just made a donation.  Please consider doing likewise by visiting their IndieGoGo page.

Wow, that’s a lot of eyeballs

Speaking of indie films, when Fat Head was released in 2009, one of the clips I put on YouTube was an edited version of the section titled Why You Got Fat.  I haven’t checked the stats in a long time.  Take a look:

Nice.  Very nice.

Chicken-Killer Stew Part Duex?

What was once Sara’s flock of 25 chickens is now a flock of 20.  The raccoon that ended up in our stew pot killed four of them.  Something else nabbed another one last night.  Chareva noticed the tarp over the top of the hoop-house had been ripped open, apparently so some critter (most likely another raccoon) could grab a chicken and pull it out between the bars.

So she spent a good chunk of the afternoon covering the hoop-house with wire mesh.  I did my part by re-baiting my raccoon trap.

Come on, Rocky Raccoon, I double-dog dare you …

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