Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Agrarian Dog

Last night my wife an I drove 20 miles north to an Amish Dairy farm, and brought home a Rat Terrier puppy. My wife and I considered the matter carefully following the death of our beloved German Shepherd. We both like having a watchdog-not an attack dog; just a dog that lets us know that someone is in the driveway. A watchdog gives us time to see whether putting on an extra supper plate, or grabbing a shotgun is in order. My cowdog is too old and set in her routine to live indoors. We decided a smaller dog would be a nice change for our small house. We were looking for a Feist or rat terrier, which are really two strains of the same dog.

I believe the pup is the 23rd dog I have owned in my life. When I was a little agrarian kid, we always had at least a couple of rat terriers around, often with a touch of beagle blood. Unlike Jack Russell Terriers, the Rat Terriers always seem to be more calm and biddable. Yet they still have courage to spare. My childhood dogs would flush the pheasants that were plentiful then and push rabbits from the brush piles. Unlike a beagle,they would come home when I was ready to quit hunting for the day. We seldom had cats, but the dogs would chase mice and rats with glee. Nobody pulled in the driveway without their yapping, and they were clean house dogs. These dogs were a multi generational part of life here. The oldest picture I have of my father shows him at about age five with a litter of terrier pups. I have an older picture of my grandfather and my oldest uncle, probably about 1915, with a little feist type dog in the picture.

In reading the history of these little dogs, I learned that my family was not exceptional in keeping them. They were an integral part of traditional American small farms across the country. Their heyday lasted until the 1940's and 1950's when chemical rat poisons began to replace terriers on farms.

So what to name an agrarian dog? there seemed to be one obvious choice---Wendell.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tractor trouble

Recently the larger of our two tractors failed to start after loading wood. It is a JD 990 that has performed flawlessly for the past 6 years or so. My first guess was the 15 amp fuse, but it seemed to be more of a battery problem. I took the battery to a local chain store, and they tested it and said a cell was dead. I bought a new battery, went home and installed it and the tractor still would not turn over. I then became worried. When I was a little agrarian kid, we always had old tractors and lots of mechanical problems. Some of my earliest memories are serving as a human work light for my Dad, holding the flashlight while he cursed at a stubborn part or broken bolt. Repairs cost money; even if you or a friend to provide the labor, tractor parts are frightfully expensive.

I called a more knowledgeable friend, and we proceeded to analyze the alternator, wiring and fuses. Two hours later, he came to the last possibility; the new battery was not working. After two more trips to the battery store, I finally ended up with a battery that would start my tractor.

While this time and trouble was upsetting, it was less so because we have two tractors. Our second machine is a little New Holland TZ18 we bought earlier this year. While messing around with the battery store, I could still haul wood and do basic chores. My lovely wife and I both agree we would give up the second car before the second tractor. With a wife like that, I am a lucky man.

The TZ18 mows the lawn, and the loader moves manure and other loose materials.

The 990 plows, disks, brush hogs, does hay work,spreads manure, and moves most of the firewood. Here are some "plow cam" views I took back in September.

Here is the 990 plowing the garden last spring.

Many small farmers like animal power. I have a cousin that prefers draft horses and mules to tractors. Others like the older gas tractors, such as the Farmall, Allis Chalmers, and Ford models from the 1940's and 1950's. I am not a generally a believer in progress, but I like modern diesel tractors.compared to a horse, my tractors have never kicked me, bit me, jumped a fence and tramped through the neighbors yard, or taken off in terror upon seeing a bird. My nostalgia for the old gasoline tractors of my youth vanished after the third time we replaced the same parts on our old Ford NAA.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Saturday, my wife and I ran over to the local dairy where we buy our raw milk. We drink about two gallons of milk a week, unless we are making cheese or cooking a lot. The dairy is a nice 15 minute country drive, and the milk is $4.00 per gallon. Over the past few weeks, I have been noticing more cars with Ohio plates, and more people buying LOTS of milk. Last Saturday, this culminated in a woman buying somewhere around 40 gallons of raw milk to take back home to Cleveland. We, and two other local people waited patiently while this lady filled her 40+ jugs one at a time from the bulk tank. She will drive the 90 miles home and fill her freezer, then thaw the milk as she needs it.

The State of Ohio, in its infinite wisdom has deemed raw milk too dangerous a substance to be sold to the general public. Our local licensed raw milk dairy is the nearest place these poor people can come to legally get milk that has not been pasturized and homogenized so it can taste like swill and probably lose its nutrients. I keep telling the dairy to send a Christmas card to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. ODA might miss the card, because they seem to be busy conducting undercover stings against anyone who would sell raw milk.

I have a strong taste preference for raw milk. I also like that I can look inside the dairy and see how the cattle who are giving me their milk are treated. I like seeing that the milking parlor and milk house are clean. I like not having to milk a goat twice a day (Which we used to do) and still having decent milk. However, I can only enjoy this because of my good fortune at being born a few miles east of the Pennsylvania-Ohio line.

I have been to Youngstown, Ohio. It is a heartbreaking place. The main businesses seem to be selling illegal drugs, drug addict women selling their bodies,auto lots with cheap cars to leave town. and bars to drown out the reality of living in Youngstown. I would think that the law enforcement resources of the state of Ohio might be better put to a place like that than undercover sting operations against dairy farmers. However, I suspect ODA's undercover goons are too cowardly to go up against real criminals.

As the lady pulled away, I remembered the old time moonshiners, running cars full of whiskey. I like to think of her as a "Cowshiner" a kind of 21st Century suburban moonshiner. I hope the ODA doesn't pull her over, dump the milk and Taser her. I hope that mini van can go fast enough to outrun them. Good luck cowshiner lady.

Some of the girls who keep us in milk.