Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rent Seeking

The Louisiana Casket lawsuit is analogous to the ridiculous requirements for selling milk.  A powerful lobby doesn't want to compete with the little guys.

The Institute for Justice writes:

Saint Joseph Abbey, et al. v. Castille, et al.
Challenging Louisiana's Casket Cartel

Can the government restrict economic liberty just to enrich a group of politically favored insiders?

That’s the question the Institute for Justice and its client, Saint Joseph Abbey of St. Benedict, La., have taken to federal court in challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s outrageous requirement that the monks of the Abbey must be licensed as funeral directors and convert their monastery into a licensed funeral home in order to sell their handmade wooden casket.

Under Louisiana law, it is a crime for anyone but a licensed funeral director to sell “funeral merchandise,” which includes caskets. To sell caskets legally, the monks would have to abandon their calling for one full year to apprentice at a licensed funeral home, learn unnecessary skills and take a funeral industry test. They would also have to convert their monastery into a “funeral establishment” by, among other things, installing equipment for embalming human remains.

On August 12, 2010, the Institute for Justice teamed up with the monks of Saint Joseph Abbey to file a federal constitutional lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to vindicate their right to earn an honest living. In a time of 10 percent unemployment and widespread economic pessimism, this case raises one of today’s most important constitutional questions: May the government restrict economic liberty just to enrich a group of politically favored insiders such as licensed funeral directors?

One of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans is the right to earn an honest living in the occupation of our choice without arbitrary government interference. Louisiana’s casket licensing law violates that right.

Click this link for the original and a video.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I Am The Rainmaker

If I even think of cutting hay, the storm clouds start to build.

I'm thinking of selling my services to drought stricken communities.

I Beg To Disagree (Though Perhaps I'm Biased)

A recent article in the Washington Post has me scratching my head.

A staffer conducted a (albeit unscientific) taste test and writes that supermarket eggs were just as tasty as backyard chicken eggs

I can definitely taste the difference and am so snobby with my eggs that I can no longer order eggs at a restaurant. Everyone who has had our eggs has raved about them. They only thing I can think to explain the results is that the author has penned chickens who eat only conventional feed. Once you let the chickens harvest grass and insects, the eggs get awesome. Several comments on the article make the same point.

I'm An Unapologetic Carnivore

Friday, May 28, 2010


Pictures (and video) of our newest addition.

Box Turtles

When we see turtles crossing the road, we always stop and help them across if we can do it safely.

Box turtles are pretty common locally and I see them all the time in the spring. I had noticed that I rarely saw young turtles and I ran into a herpatologist at a party who explained why.

Box turtles are in big trouble. They are very long lived (a century!), but few young are hatching. We haven't noticed the decline because the adults are still around, but as the older turtles die off, there will not be replacements. The culprits in this tragedy are possums and raccoons. As humans have altered the environment, we have favored animals that can piggyback on our settlements. Raccoons and possums like to dig up and eat clutches of turtle eggs. As the vermin population expands, fewer box turtle clutches are left undiscovered.

You can read more here and here.

The baby box turtle we found was a female. You can easily sex box turtles. Females have yellow eyes and males have red eyes.

Studio Farm

We are now grazing a new farm. The landowners are committed to sustainable agriculture and the fencing and watering system they put in are amazing - this is a showplace of environmentally sound farming. Here are some pics.

The entrance and first long field. There are four existing fields that I will further subdivide over the next year.
Jack spreading manure patties.
A beautiful view.
Looking back towards the entrance at some happy cows. I don't have enough girls to eat down thirty acres of grass, so I'll probably end up cutting a large part of it - Studio Farm is between two of my haying fields so I'll swing by in transit.
Cows from left to right: Orange Juice Snow White (Charlais), Cleo (Smoke - first generation Angus/Charlais cross), Charlotte (Angus/Holstein cross), Princess Mel (3/4 Angus, 1/4 Charlais), and Connie (Ayrshire/Angus cross). You can see four calves in the background. Just to be clear, my kids are responsible for the naming process.

The fields are absolutely overrun with poison ivy. I will be adding a goat to the herd and she will start making a dent in the stuff. I won't bring Benji over - he has gotten quite arthritic in his old age. He did a great job at my place - the only poison ivy I have left is in the areas the goat doesn't graze.
With as much poison ivy as there is in this field, it will take a couple years to bring it under control no spraying and no animal pressure. You can also see that the grass is in pretty weak shape. I look forward to seeing the impact of rotational grazing on pasture biodiversity and plant density.
Heading toward the lower field. You can see the water line on the right side - there are hydrants at periodic intervals so that I can subdivide the fields and have water nearby.
The opening to the lower field. You can see one of the hydrants in front of Emilie and Jack.
View of the western field.
Emilie and Jack check out a wolf tree in the pasture. I wouldn't let them get any closer because the whole area underneath is a great mass of poison ivy. We have to wash our hands after petting the cows. The cows aren't bothered by the stuff, but the ivy juice will linger on their coats.
Frost free automatic waterer with pasture gates. The stone area is laid over a fabric base to prevent the area around the waterer from becoming a mud hole.
Leaving one of the waterer sites.

Another herd pic.

Harvard Cow

I'm not the only loon who walks around with a cow.

When the Hollis Professorship was endowed at Harvard in 1721, one benefit of the position was the right to graze a cow on the college green. A retiring professor thought he should exercise his prerogative.

Article here

If I had that chair, it wouldn't be a one-time stunt. I'd walk Bonnie to campus every morning and turn her loose while I taught.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fishing With Ben

One of our rented pastures has an awesome little bluegill pond just right for introducing kids to fishing. Here are some pics from Ben's first outing. In the first picture, Ben is holding my Uncle John's tacklebox that he used to carry when he took me fishing in farm ponds around Elkhorn, Wisconsin.

Here's a video of Ben reeling in a bluegill:

Hatched Eggs

We have a bird family on the front porch. The kids eagerly checked the eggs everyday. Here is a picture from the day of the hatch.

Family Labor

People often ask how we manage to keep up with everything on the farm.

Short answer: We don't always.

Better answer: With a little help from family. Dad does yeoman's work, especially when we are haying. Mom has been great at watching the kids when we are working outside.

Bonnie is Famous!

She's in the Crozet Gazette:

Mark Tueting escorted his eight-year-old Ayrshire cow Bonnie at the head of the parade through the village of Batesville on Batesville Day May 1, marking the first time a cow has ever made a parade appearance—at least as far as anyone can remember.

Bonnie showed some reluctance to pass between the 400 to 500 people standing on either side of the road, but Tueting reassured her with strokes to her cheeks and with a strong stride kept up forward momentum. Tueting, who owns Sweet Season Farm south of Batesville, said that Bonnie likes to be rubbed under her chin and is now drying up after having raised three calves this spring.

Here's the picture accompanying the story:

Batesville Day

We took part in the annual Batesville Day parade and set up a petting area for kids again this year (previous Batesville Day post here). Bonnie and I followed the kids' bicycle patrol at the head of the parade. Here are some pics:

Milk Monopsony Followup

Dean Foods controls 70% of the milk market in the Northeast.

Spring Babies

One benefit of farming organically is that we can coexist with the wildlife. While inspecting the grass in the side yard pasture, Emilie found a nest of baby rabbits.

Here is a video:

Grass, Glorious Grass

Pictures from when the grass started exploding. Huzzah! I love the spring!

Raw Milk

Virginia's requirement that milk be pasteurized prior to sale has little to do with health concerns. Two million people drink raw milk on a daily basis and we don't seem to have an epidemic of raw milk salmonella on our hands.

Raw milk bans may have made sense at the turn of the last century when Progressives, living in an era before refrigeration, tried to deal with the unsanitary conditions of urban dairies - sometimes cows were kept in tenement basements to serve the surrounding block of proletarians. These basements, in an era before flush toilets, were often unsanitary indeed. Milk could and did transmit nasty things like tuberculosis.

A grass-fed non-confinement operation that is regularly tested does not pose a health risk if the milk is properly handled.

So why the mania for pasteurization? Because the milk processors make a huge profit on the backs of dairy farmers. By blocking dairymen from selling directly to the consumer, the large processing corporations (who can afford to hire lobbyists in state legislatures) eliminate competition.

Classic rent-seeking behavior. Perverting Adam Smith's munificent invisible hand, rent-seekers look for profits by manipulating the system rather than producing quality products and winning the loyalty of customers in the competitive marketplace. One good way to manipulate the system is to use laws to create a coercive monopoly - government power blocks the entrance of competitors so you can keep prices high. Consumers suffer. Producers too - when farmers can't sell the products they produce, they become price takers rather than price makers. As the processing companies have gotten larger and their numbers have declined, the small number of purchasers creates a monopsony - in which they are able to drive down the prices who have to take lowball offers or nothing at all.

George Will explains how interior designers exploited the legislative process in a similar way here.

But consumers are starting to challenge the safety claims of milk processor lobbyists. The new breed of wholesome food enthusiasts is educated enough to make an impact.

From the Huffington Post:

...Massachusetts has long allowed sales from dairy farms, and delivery to consumers by any of a half dozen or more buying clubs.

Everything was working fine in Massachusetts -- more dairy farmers producing ever more raw milk and in the process creating a revival for the state's moribund dairy industry. No illnesses in over a decade.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources seemed to be doing its job of supporting state agriculture by encouraging raw-milk-producing dairy farmers rather than harassing them, like the regulators do in New York state. Late last year, MDAR publicly supported a suburban Boston dairy farmer in his fight with state and local public health authorities and helped him gain approval to sell raw milk from his dairy.

But then something happened early this year to change MDAR's approach. The agency sent cease-and-desist letters to four buying clubs that had been quietly and efficiently delivering raw milk to consumers who didn't want to burn the gasoline or were unable because they don't have cars or even are disabled, to travel the hour or two hours to a dairy farm in central Massachusetts and pick up their milk. (Buying clubs are private businesses that deliver milk from raw dairies on a contractual basis for consumers.) The letters weren't well received by the owners of the buying clubs, and they began mobilizing support from their customers and legislators to challenge MDAR. They argued that Massachusetts laws and regulations don't specifically prohibit the buying clubs, making the cease-and-desist letters so much paper.

MDAR seems to have agreed, because two weeks ago, it proposed a new regulation to explicitly prohibit the buying clubs. The regulation would make Massachusetts the first state in the country to explicitly ban raw milk buying clubs.

In advance of a hearing May 10 on the proposed regulation, a Massachusetts legislator friendly with Soares set up a meeting on Monday for the regulator to discuss with a few consumers his reasons for going after the buying clubs.

Surprise -- 15 consumers and farmers showed up for the meeting, and started peppering the startled Soares with questions about why he was taking an action that will inevitably reduce consumers' access to raw milk, and quite possibly put at least a few of the more than twenty dairy farms selling raw milk out of business.

These 15 consumers weren't just a few people off the street. They included some prominent local citizens who know how the system works -- Boston employment lawyer Harvey Schwartz, Cambridge business owner Abby Rockefeller, and EPA whistleblower Hugh Kaufman. The latter has served as Chief Investigator with the Environmental Protection Agency's Ombudsman Office, among other high-level positions over a forty-year period.

Kaufman put Soares on the spot during the Monday meeting when Soares said at one point that there was as much passion from anti-raw-milk people as from pro-raw-milk people. Who were these anti-raw-milk people, Kaufman inquired.

"He said that large dairy producers had communicated to him," recalls Kaufman. "I asked him who they were. He said he couldn't tell me."

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thin to Fat

Sally objects to calling Bonnie fat. She is pregnant, Sally argues, so I should just cut her a break.

The Cows Move Out On Grass In April

The girls were still getting hay when I took these pictures; the grass is just starting to green up. You don't want to turn cows used to dry hay out onto lush fields suddenly - you have to gradually introduce them to avoid digestive upset - what farmers bluntly call the "Jersey squirts."

You can see that Bonnie has gotten pretty thin raising three calves with no grain. I was going to let her keep making milk until summer, but Dad convinced me to wean them. She has since put on a fair amount of weight.

New Farm Dog

We mourned the passing of Kermit. He was a great dog even if he never lived up to the rat terrier breed's reputation as an excellent farm dog choice. My family has had rat terriers going back to my grandfather Carl. Kermit was named after Teddy Roosevelt's son, not the frog. T.R. popularized these little working dogs and at one time they were the most common breed in the Midwest (growing prosperity after WW II led to a bourgeois trend towards attractive dogs over working dogs).

Another popular image of the rat terrier comes from the RCA advertising:

I had to take Ben to town for a birthday party and had to kill an hour with the other kids, so we stopped at the SPCA. I had no intention of adopting a new dog, but they had a rat terrier who was very gentle with the kids. So we have a new addition to the family: Laika.

She's not trained, but she is very good with the kids and does having the ratting instinct.

We named her after the rat terrier mutnik who opened the space race with Sputnik.

Easter on the Farm