From GENE LOGSDON
The Contrary Farmer
After food, sex is the most important factor in keeping life going but it causes almost as much sorrow and pain as it does joy and pleasure. I have often joked about how much easier it would be if we could mail order babies like we do baby chicks and I am not entirely sure that won’t come to pass some day. In the meantime, in the world of animal agriculture, we are very much headed that way and in no sector more so than small scale husbandry.
Sex really is a pain for small and mid-sized farms— for all farms actually. Bulls and rams and billy goats can be downright dangerous and hardly worth the risk and effort for only a few ewes or cows. Part of the time they have to be segregated from the females unless you don’t care when the calves, lambs or pigs come. Artificial insemination (AI) has therefore become the standard practice even with many larger farms. Operations that keep male farm animals for AI will most likely become even more lucrative in the future as a side effect of the new interest in small scale husbandry. AI is a botheration too and not as sure as physical mating, since you have to catch the females in heat at just the right time, a skill that takes time to acquire. But the advantages are many. You not only don’t have to worry about getting gored by a bull, but you can use semen from the top bulls in the nation and so improve your herd quicker.
When I kept a couple of cows, I used AI all the time, but watching when the cows came into heat and then getting the inseminator right away was always a botheration. The answer was to learn how to do AI myself but I was too lazy for just two cows. With my sheep, for years I took advantage of a very kind-hearted neighbor who raised sheep commercially and rented rams to me. He wasn’t really set up to do that, so eventually I bought rams from him and had exciting adventures dodging their attacks. I think that the world of small-scale husbandry that I keep imagining is coming will foster rather profitable farm operations that specialize in renting bulls and rams for small livestock operations. There are already farms raising calves and pigs to sell to very small operations. This is the intriguing part of the new farming development. It is not meant to be a way to get rich but opportunities arise that we can’t see clearly now and they generate more profit than expected. Think of the horse farmer who has been told that horses are obsolete but who in recent years found that draft horse breeders will sometimes pay him more for a colt than he makes all year from his crops.
We first noticed the botheration that sex brings with it from the rooster who ruled over our little flock of hens. Some egg producers seem to believe that hens are happier and lay more eggs if there is a rooster around but we found the opposite to be true. This particular rooster was so oversexed that I don’t know when he found time to eat. Yes, on occasion, a hen would squat to make it easier for him, but most of the time he hassled them to such distraction that they seemed nervous and rattled all the time. We got rid of him, mostly because he was starting to attack us. A noticeable change came over the hens. They were more restful, sang more, laid just as many eggs if not more, and in general seemed a lot tamer. So now we buy all female chicks. Incidentally, the owner of the hatchery where we deal says business is booming, another example of how the new interest in “non-profit” small scale farming is good for the economy. There is also a lively trade in small backyard chicken coops and in selling straw for bedding and grain for feed at very high prices compared to what commercial farmers can afford to pay. Nothing too good for backyard chickens— more examples of how seemingly non-profit hobby farming can generate quite a bit of profit. In the same way, small livestock producers who want to raise only a couple of animals go to commercial farm auctions to buy calves and pigs. Or as our son is doing now, buy young stock from farms that specialize in supplying small scale beef and pork producers. There is a thriving business now between these two kinds of farming and local butcher shops that process the meat— all going on outside the realm of industrial, factory husbandry.
I can’t resist adding to this process of sexless agriculture that as an old man, I sort of appreciate the freedom from sexual botheration that has occurred in my own body. When you no longer have much sex drive it’s no big deal. If you don’t desire something much, you don’t miss it much. The mind is cleared of a whole lot of distraction and it can concentrate on other pleasures and intriguing, fruitful ideas. I doubt that Einstein was thinking about sex when he came up with the theory of relativity.