Risk, Rage, Power and Farming - Grazing Against The Machine
Risk. It makes me feel chaotic, disorderly, wild, vibrant. Risk makes me feel alive when I take it. And yet, through my work as a farmer risk is not something I take, it is given.
So this month I am ready to TAKE a risk, go to the Rage Against The Machine concert in Raleigh, North Carolina despite the resurgence of the disease.
I’m sure you’re thinking “that doesn’t sound risky”. Let me explain why it is.
My wife Sue and I are responsible for everything on the farm and although we can do the usual chores required of us despite illness, unexpected issues occur and can be challenging to get done even when we’re healthy.
This month has been particularly challenging. One of our Pineywoods cows was bitten by a predator. She is skittish at the best of times and getting her into the squeeze chute to let the vet take a look at her is near impossible. But we managed.
We also had a few calves show symptoms of pinkeye and we had to round them up to give them some preventative treatment. We got them into the corral but one escaped before we could treat her so we had to round her up next day. It’s always harder to get the Pineywoods in the coral when they know what’s coming and day two took much longer. Because of the bite and the pinkeye, we’ve been spending extra time checking on Pineywoods herd, observing them closely to ensure they recover and don't take a turn for the worse.
And there has been death on the farm. About a week ago, we saw many of the chickens and the geese standing around the front of the farmhouse. That’s not normal. We ran out and found casualties. Another predator had killed a turkey, 3 chickens and a guinea. fowl. We also found our rooster Muhammad lying on his side in the pasture, blinking but unmoving. I found blood on his side and his neck was stripped of feathers. When I lifted him he was limp and did not utter a sound. This is unusual, the birds always flap and squawk in protest. I figured the predator had broken his neck. As I carried him back to the gate out of the pasture, I thought he was probably suffering and the best thing to do was to reduce that suffering. I placed him on the ground when I got back and talked to Sue about it, she agreed. I walked off to get an axe. I had taken 10 or 15 steps, turned around to say something to Sue and Muhammad got up. Then he surprised us again by walking off slowly. By the end of the day he was still standing, but his head was drooping on the ground, his neck limp. Never a good sign.
We spent the better part of a week caring for him, including hand-feeding him syringes of molasses and apple cider vinegar to help him recover. This morning Muhammad crowed for the first time in a week. His usual clear and succinct crow is very raspy, he sounds like he has been drinking whiskey and smoking 2 packs of unfiltered Gauloises cigarettes every day his entire life. He’s on the mend. The picture below was taken today, 8 days following the attack.
Since that sad day, we have shored up some predator defenses to make it harder for them to ambush the birds. So far we have not lost any more birds.
These extra duties have led to some very long days and a few sleepless nights. Adding to that temperatures in the 90’s and high humidity, it’s been like working in a bowl of soup. All of these unexpected dilemmas have happened before, but never in the same month let alone the same year. The last time a cow was bitten by a predator was in 2016, the last time an animal had pinkeye symptoms was 2017 and the last time a predator took multiple birds on one day was in 2015.
So hopefully you can see why going to a concert is risky. When every day is an unknown quantity, getting infected with the disease can seriously affect our ability to care for the animals and plants at Ozark Akerz Regenerative Farm.
In spite of this, my wife and I have had long discussions about going to the RATM concert, even if the last tickets are behind the stage. This may be their last tour I have been a huge fan since their first album was released in 1992. We have not been away from the farm for anything other than running errands and a few parties since October 2019. The concert is only 60 miles away and we can drive out and back the same night. Our neighbor can close up the birds at sunset.
After much discussion, including the idea of just me going, my wife and I decided it was not worth the risk. There is no one to care for the animals if we both get sick and seeing how hard the disease affected some of my neighbors recently and how long it took them to recover, we decided it was not worth the risk. Instead I listened to RATM very loudly and let the music filter through me, and I felt the power of their lyrics lift me, again.
"The rage is relentless
Our regenerative farming journey has helped us, in the words of RATM, “take the power back”, defining regenerative farming in our own terms, resisting the influence from Big Ag or corporations that would have us believe that the only way to farm is to buy their products, products that combat nature. Our motto, Graze Against The Machine, describes our journey, fuck you I won’t farm like you tell me! We’ve instinctively known there is a better way to farm in harmony with nature and have received much inspiration from indigenous communities and how they care for land, plants and animals.
But it’s not only about taking power back, We're working on Adopt-A-Farm-For-The-Future (working title, more info to come) that will hopefully garner enough interest from the public to allow us to “give the power back” by returning all or some of the stolen Lumbee, Occaneechi and Skarureh/Tuscarora land on which we are privileged to live and work to local indigenous Tribes and/or Nations. We will need your support to make this happen.
This is a legacy that we cannot risk. Nor can we risk the care of the animals and plants that share this land with us. -Mike
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