Saturday, December 6, 2014

The girls spent the night in a tent in our backyard a couple of weeks go. It was 30 degrees and they sat up all night long in that tent---without hats. They wrote a pop country rap album and recorded it all in the same night. Last week they filmed a video to go with their hit single: Shiver Me Timbers.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Notes from the dairy stock-man-ship training seminar:
First two points he made:
"Scientific fact: 30% of what any given expert says will be wrong."
"Science has proven that multi-tasking is inefficient. Do one thing at a time."
He covered three important overviews.
  • He said our language should be based on neuroscience rather than vague undefinable terms. (He noted that "stock-man-ship" is undefined. They are working on defining it.) We can not define stress, the emotional state of any animal, nor what animals are thinking. We can only measure biological certainties. We should always speak to the public in terms of the measurable known biology of cows. We will never know if cows are happy. We hope they are happy. We sincerely try to make them happy, but all we can know for sure is if they are eating well, resting well, giving expected amounts of milk, are fertile, have stable temps and rumen sounds, etc.
  • He said, when handling cattle, everyone on the farm should use the same techniques. Low stress techniques result in cows who give the most milk. Anything that induces an adrenaline response in dairy cattle will result in lowered milk production---and the amount production is lowered is a lot more than you would think. And lowered production can persist for several days after an adrenaline event. Things that induce adrenaline in cows:  looking them in the eye, speaking too loudly, waving your arms, moving at them with an aggressive attitude, escalating "the energy" of any given situation, tail jacking, pushing, and obviously hitting. He said shouting around a cow is equal to hitting them. He said no one should come out of the pit when working dairy cattle: don't chase them out, train them to go in calmly from a very early age, and be quiet in the pit.  He said to calm and slow everything down on the farm. He literally said to "calm the energy" and "back away from energy." He said that when there are problems you should reduce stimuli and reduce pressure. He said to learn to work cows with the least amount of stimulation.
  • Lastly, he discussed and demonstrated a lot of subtle techniques, based on cow biology, for training them and moving them with the lowest possible stress. He pretty much said you don't ever want to see a cow running anywhere, ever. He said you want to stop moving them quickly and start moving them at the cow's pace, which is slower than humans (and bosses) want to go. He said, "The slow way is the fast way." He said that once you get movement, you should stand still. The whole theory is basically teaching calves that have been bottle fed to move like a herd. Calves should have positive novel experiences and get moved around and trained through the parlor (or a fake parlor) from the time they are older than 2 months. Before they are two months old, they see double. Move individuals and herds from behind or on the oblique and always stand on the inside curve of any arc they are traveling--so they can see you. When you walk behind them you should zig zag from one eye to the other. He said working calves once a month, for 15 minutes each, for three days in a row was plenty. He said it doesn't take much time and the payoff is heifers who walk calmly through the parlor and give a lot more milk. 
We got to practice with calves and cows and that was really fascinating. He said a lot more than I can cover here. But he certainly turned my head. I'll be studying low stress handling for the rest of my life working with cattle. He stressed, many times, that no one should ever have their hands in their pants pockets. Coat pockets are fine, pants pockets are very dangerous. He said to hook your thumbs, if you must--especially to keep from waving your arms. He also mentioned to always use a proper 5/8 inch rope with calves, that the thin ropes are not safe for them. The whole point is that dairy stock-man-ship is calmer and more elegant, more cow-centric, than is currently standard in the industry.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Daughter and I were riding the car last week, alone. I was whinging about something---can't even remember what. It doesn't matter. An annoying thing happened that was probably my fault. So I did what I always do in an effort to model excellent life skilz for my kids. I blamed Daughter. We were laughing and joking around. I said, "Ugh, so annoying! I blame you!" And as I said that, as we were laughing, I slapped the air over her thigh. At the same time I said, "And I spank you!" We laughed and then stopped laughing. There were about 3 seconds of silence.

My children have never been spanked. Oh, that is not true. When Daughter was two years old Brother was three. Anyone who has worked with toddlers understands that biting is the worst thing a toddler can do, because biting has SO much power, is so hideously self reinforcing and affective. You simply can not allow such a powerful and unthinking force loose in the world because it guarantees a life of escalating chaos and pain. The first time Daughter bit, I grabbed her tender fat little hand and popped it hard enough to sting---very much on purpose. I looked her straight in her eyes and sternly said, "We do not bite." She never bit again. That is the one and only true punishment of either child's life, as far as I can remember. Its the exception to the rule. We do not spank. We do not believe in punishment. We don't even yell around here. We don't participate in manipulative bullshit. We are a fifth level vegan pacifist family, or we aim to be anyway. We tell the truth. We communicate.

Maybe that's why the humor evaporated and silence settled over us after fake-spanking. It felt very wrong. Even though we were both clear that I was joking. I said, "That felt wrong." And Daughter said, "It did. I flinched and I felt spanked." Then I scooped up and cupped the air over her thigh with both hands. Yes, I was driving, but this was an emergency. And I kissed the air in my hands a thousand times and said, "I'm so sorry! I don't mean it. It is not your fault and you are not punished." And we laughed again and got on down the road. But from that moment to this one, I've thought about it.

Parenting matters. Violence is real and it doesn't take much.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our not so Silent Night. May your season brim with laughter.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
I think that might have been the nicest Thanksgiving I've ever had. We ate, we drank, we recorded Christmas Carols with jingle bells in hand. The girls wrote and recorded a Thanksgiving Anthem. Uncle Stuart taught the kids how to safely open champagne; the kids had their first glass; they hated it. The food was average. The company was superior. We played password. Fortune cookie poems were a hit. The day was simply lovely and the weekend offers more of the same.


Last night we set the clocks back,
gaining an extra hour to sleep
or drink or read, and I walked
through the house changing the time
in the coffee maker, the stove,
the VCR, the thermostat,

then I went into the bathroom
to twist the dial of the scale
a few pounds lighter
and I moved the numbers down
on the blood pressure machine
so my wife won’t need as many pills,
then to the children’s rooms,
to erase the doorframe marks
and repencil them slightly lower,
not to the point we again would need
strollers or slings, just an inch or two,
to make these days last longer.

 ~Joe Mills "The Miraculous Turning"