Bear Proof


Hubby is 6 feet, 220 Lbs – gives you an idea of the bear’s size…

Some people who live in the country only deal with the small predators like foxes, or the aerial predators like hawks. Of course, we have those, but we also have the fun (she said with tongue firmly in cheek) of dealing with the big ones. In addition to coyotes and bobcats, we now have at least one wolf in the neighborhood. Then there are the cougars – one of which has been snacking on the neighbor’s goats for the last few weeks. Finally, there are the bears.

Mr. Bobcat made the mistake of coming to call on the chickens during the morning hours.

In 2013, California politicians passed a law that bears (and other predators like cougars) cannot be hunted with dogs. In essence, that means the bear population has no curb. My husband predicted that within about three years, the bear population would explode, and that’s exactly what happened. Five years later, we have bears bloody everywhere. Rumor has it that one guy who lives across the valley shot more than a dozen bears that invaded his front yard in one year. Even allowing for a certain amount of exaggeration, that’s a lot of bears. This is the kind of thing that happens when those who make the laws don’t have a clue about what goes on outside their city streets. Cougars have also proliferated and are regularly seen in a nearby town of 100,000 – in backyards and on a popular hiking trail.

Chicken tractor after bear attack.

Bears tend to be more of a pain than the others for several reasons. First, they are attracted to garbage, while the other critters mostly go after live animals like chickens, sheep or the family pets. Cougars will also attack calves and colts, which is one reason we try to ensure our cows calve after the deer drop their fawns. Bears like the kind of stuff that you have around your house – like the aforementioned garbage or the scrap buckets that come home from the school. And bears have no problem at all tearing apart buckets, grain bags or even chicken coops to get at the contents. Finally, bears get habituated to humans pretty quickly and lose their fear, which can make them dangerous, as some Yellowstone tourists have discovered to their cost.

That’s not snow on the ground!

Since I don’t have pigs right now and won’t until we finish several major building projects – including the new pigpen – we aren’t getting grain screenings from the local mill. But our old stallion, at age 31, needs extra calories in the form of sweet feed and alfalfa pellets. Bears love both, especially the sweet feed, which is a mixture of rolled corn, oats, barley and molasses. It irritates me to walk out the door and find sweet feed scattered all over from a torn sack. Not to mention that I’d just as soon not walk out and be face to face with a bear, as happened once. So we’ve been locking the sacks in the wash-house, which makes for pretty tight quarters. Then hubby discovered these barrels. They hold three 50-pound sacks of feed. The lids screw on. Short of dynamite or dropping the backhoe bucket on one of them, they won’t break. They’re a little deep for reaching into, but hubby fixed that with a long-handled can scoop.

Bear proof and proud of it!

Nice to have a handy hubby.

Take that, bears.

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My Daily Round


Radar the BatCat helping Mom write.

We all have our little routines. Mine vary a bit depending on the time of the year. They also vary according to which hat I’m wearing. When I have a major consulting project going, there’s a lot less weeding getting done (and of course, the housework can always wait!). I tend to do more writing in the winter, because there’s less daylight for outside work – not to mention lots more rain, hail and occasionally, snow. Here’s a bit about my usual round.
I nearly always wake up before the sun does, no matter what time of year it is. That could mean as early as 3:30 or as late as 6:30, but generally I’m up between 4 and 5 AM. In the winter, I sip coffee and hit the keyboard to get my writing done. It might be a blog post or some freelance articles, or I could be working on a book. In the summer, I gulp the coffee and head outside to do as much as I can before Old Sol makes things too bloody hot.

Sun’s up, and so am I.

Morning chores always include letting the chickens out of their coops and feeding them; I check and refill waterers as needed. I gather eggs and take them to the house, then head down to take care of the larger livestock. Turn the sheep out of their night-time pen, take a run down to the farthest pasture — which is about a mile from the house — to check on any livestock there. I also refill salt, kelp and minerals. Morning rounds are also the time to just stand and watch the animals for a few minutes to make sure no one is hurt or sick. As the various females get closer to birthing, I check udders and rear ends for signs that the delivery date is nearing. When the cow is in milk, I usually do the milking in the morning (I typically milk once a day). When I get back to the house, I strain the milk into gallon glass jars and then wash the milker.

Morning eggs.

Depending on the time of the year and what else is going on, we might take a protein supplement tub down with the backhoe (can’t muscle those things on the 4-wheeler, they weigh about 250 pounds). In the late spring I hang the heavy winter blanket we use on the old stallion over a gate; once it’s dry, I fold it and put it away. Other miscellaneous tasks might include hauling a bale of fresh straw up to the sheep pen or cleaning out the chicken coop to put litter on the garden. Some days, we might build or fix fence, plow the garden or prune the fruit trees.
Activities for the rest of the day vary by the season. Like everyone else, I cook and do dishes and laundry; on dry winter days and in the summer, washing goes on the clothesline. If it’s hot, I bake or cook a roast first thing in the morning. In the summer, I water and weed and harvest, freeze and can and dry produce, irrigate the pastures and haul water to animals in the farthest pasture. When we butcher, I render lard and tallow and make chicken balls from the meat scraps. Milk and cream become butter, cheese and yogurt. I make bread and fermented vegetables, apple juice, grape juice and vinegar. As the various herbs (wild and cultivated) flower or set seed, I harvest those, too.

Food preservation is a year-round activity.

Evening is feeding time. Hay (in winter) and grain for horses and cows, grain screenings and food scraps for the pigs. I repeat the checks for illness and pregnancy. The sheep are shut into their pens and the chickens into their coops. I check to make sure things are covered (hay, screenings, supplements) if there’s any risk of rain, get dry clothes off the line, lock up the shop, wash house and pickup, and take the four-wheeler keys in the house. I may do some more writing once it’s too dark to work outside.
I never watch TV, so once the day’s work is done, I may settle with a book for an hour or so. Sometimes I do needlework, but whatever I’m doing in the evening, I’m yawning hard enough to crack my jaw by 8:30, and so – to bed.
That’s my daily round – what’s yours?

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IANS – Wheat or Chaff?


Science lesson – with a live subject.

IANS – It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. ~ Mark Twain

When George Gershwin composed the song It Ain’t Necessarily So, he was onto something. I’d love to have a nickel for everything I was taught or told or just accepted as fact in the course of my life. From food preservation to gardening to animal husbandry to medicine to finance, there have been a lot more ‘not-so’ things than ‘so’ things. A while back I did a post on not needing to waterbath jams and jellies; I got more than 100 comments corroborating my “not-so” position. At which point it occurred to me there are lots of other not-so things out there, and shazaam, I had an ongoing blog topic. Here’s the latest “it ain’t necessarily so” (IANS).

Sorting the Wheat From the Chaff
So, how do you sort out all this confusion? Well, here’s what I do.
1. Take nothing on faith. If it’s a “but we’ve always done it this way,” keep asking why until you find out. Remember the joke about the woman who always cut off the end of the ham because that’s what mama did? The woman kept climbing her family tree and asking “Why?” until she got to her great-grandmother. Great-grandma had to do it that way because her pan was too short. She passed the maxim about shortening the ham down to the fourth generation.
2. If your experience is different from accepted wisdom, don’t just shrug it off, think about it. Again, why is it different? Maybe it’s because accepted wisdom is wrong.
3. Read everything you can get your hands on, about all sorts of things. Sometimes you’ll find the answer to a gardening question in a cookbook, a historical novel or a medical journal. The more you know about a wide variety of subjects, the more likely you’ll be able to take a broad view and sort out various conflicting viewpoints.

Now, about research. First, try to find the original article. Look to see who funded the study — it’s usually down at the end, just before the references, in small print. Funders always, always, ALWAYS have an agenda, and researchers know that if their results don’t support the agenda, they aren’t likely to get funded in the future. Second, look to see what conflicts of interest were reported; it’s generally in the same place. If you see a study that was funded by a pharma giant or a farma giant, take the findings with a very large grain of salt. If any of the authors received personal funding (fees, honorariums, etc.) from the giants, or hold stock in the giant’s company, use the whole salt shaker. If the study was funded by a giant and the researchers also were paid by the giant, toss it in the trash.
For agricultural or food-related studies, it’s a little harder to dig out because the study may be done by a university or professional organization that has ties to big farma through grants, endowments, and so on. For example, the American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (two professional organizations for dietitians) have partnered with Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Hershey’s, all of which manufacture or sell various unhealthy food products, many laden with high-fructose corn syrup. The Coca Cola Company actually paid dietitians to tell patients that Coke was a healthy snack (personally, I think those dietitians should have lost their licenses to practice).
Once you have the original study, the scientific jargon can be pretty intimidating. Having looked at research over the course of many years and having read studies published over at least the last 100 years, one of the things I find fascinating is how language in current studies is used to create such tortuous obfuscations of ‘scientific findings’ that you need three translators to make sense of it. Research from many years ago is much easier to read, on the whole. Take a look at this example from 1928 (which also has some fascinating information about healing cavities with diet). There are exceptions; highly technical biochemical research is one example. But some of these studies are pretty obviously spinning their data with fancy words. Look at the ‘discussion’ section in the paper. If you can’t read and understand what you find in that section, I would be very cautious about the findings.
Has anyone raised concerns about the study findings? If so, who were the folks raising concerns? If it’s big pharma or big farma raising the concerns, or one of the establishment professional organizations, you should always remember they have a (large) ax to grind and an agenda that includes suppressing research that could put them in an ‘Emperor-has-no-clothes’ situation.
What do the regulatory agencies say about it? Has something been passed by the US Food and Drug Administration as GRAS — generally regarded as safe? GRAS often translates either as “We haven’t done the research but this stuff has been around for a while and we don’t personally believe there’s anything wrong with it, so it must be OK” or as “We have a vested interest in this issue and it makes money for us, so we don’t care about the facts as we could lose money, influence or power.” The FDA actively suppressed its own scientists who said they were concerned about genetically modified organisms and even broke the law by exempting GMO foods from testing, according to Steven Druker in his book Altered Genes, Twisted Truth. Now the FDA actually has a $3 million dollar budget to counter “misinformation” and “educate the public” (AKA counter anything that goes against the party line) about GMOs. As of this writing, 39 percent of American adults believe GMO foods are harmful to health (smart folks!).
Can you find any evidence that the study has been replicated? When molecules or experimental animals or chemicals act one way for person A and nobody else can get them to do the same thing, it could be magic. Or it could be person A faked something, spun the data or left out a few important findings. One of the really cool things about the new Study 329 findings on Paxil is that this was a truly independent look at a study that put teens at risk. When you’re looking for evidence that the study has been replicated, you must remember some of the caveats I’ve mentioned previously about soil and produce tests that compared organic and conventional systems. All the variables should be the same when the study is replicated. If the first study on calcium in cows’ milk was performed on raw milk from cows fed only grass, the second study shouldn’t use pasteurized milk from a commercial dairy. Even then you may have some natural variations. Central Kentucky is famed for its race horses, which eat grass and drink water that is full of bone-building minerals from the soil and water. If you’re comparing the mineral components of horses’ bones, and the horses in the first study came from Kentucky while the second batch came from Nebraska, there may be variations in the results. Those variations are not necessarily because someone fudged the data. They could be because you didn’t start out with equal variables. But assuming the variables are equal, Scientist A should be able to perform Scientist B’s study, and get the same results. If no one can replicate the study results, odds are there’s a problem.

Take a Missouri Approach
Missouri is the “show me” state. The mental attitude of “you’ll have to prove it to me” is a good one. Use your common sense. When your experience or that of people you trust is contrary to accepted scientific wisdom or expert recommendations, odds are very high the scientific wisdom and the experts are out to lunch. Ask the old homicide lawyer’s question, “Cui bono?” Loosely translated as “Who benefits?” what it actually means is “To whose profit?” When big bucks, company survival or professional reputations are on the line, ethics quite often take a back seat. Circus entrepreneur PT Barnum was the one who coined the sucker-born-every-minute rule. Don’t be a sucker and remember: it ain’t necessarily so.

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