Gene Logsdon and Friends

Archive for 2014|Yearly archive page

Easter Lambs

In Gene Logsdon Blog on April 23, 2014 at 8:13 am


The black lamb in the photo is a single. The white lamb is one from a quintuplet birth, a rare event in a shepherd’s life. The guy is Brad, my brother-in-law, the shepherd involved. Note the much larger size of the single lamb which underscores the opinion of many shepherds that singles are really preferable, all things considered, than multiple births, especially in this case since two of the quints died after their mother laid on them. Many shepherds, including myself, prefer singles even to triplets and don’t mind singles rather than twins because invariably a single lamb will grow faster without any problems. And, as shepherds rarely admit, if everyone got lots of triplets every year, the price would just go down.


Brad and my sister Berny are super-shepherds and this year have an excellent lambing survival rate of 69 lambs from 35 ewes. The other photo of Brad and Berny watching a pasture birth unfold, was taken by Dennis Barnes who, in addition to being a professional photographer, just happens to be another brother-in-law and owner of part of the pasture Brad and Berny use along with their own part. That pasture with its hills for sledding, creek for wading, trees for climbing, and sheep paths over which we, as children, galloped our make-believe horses, has been the playground for our family for four generations now if I count Mom riding her real horse over it in the 1940s. It has actually been a sheep pasture for over a century. With sisters, Berny and Marilyn, going over it constantly with hoes, and Brad and Dennis with mowers, and the sheep roaming over it with their teeth, I bet five bucks you will never see a weed go to seed on it. More…

Hemp Is Coming Back As A Farm Crop

In Gene Logsdon Blog on April 16, 2014 at 8:02 am



One bit of news lately has not received much fanfare but probably should. State by state, hemp farming is becoming legal. The latest state, I think, is Ohio, which is a surprise to those who think the Buckeye State leans heavily toward the conservative side which generally takes a dim view of anything that looks like approval of drugs. But one of the first states to legalize industrial hemp was Kentucky, certainly several shades redder than Ohio. Now some ten states have some form of permit for growing the crop. And the Federal Government has removed pyschoactively-inert hemp from the purview of the federal Controlled Substance Act, so university researchers can now grow the stuff experimentally, the first step in legalizing it everywhere. So what is going on here?

Common sense is winning out once more, that’s what. Farm hemp or more officially “industrial hemp,” is a type of cannabis and a relative to marijuana, but does not produce the drug THC in amounts that you can get high on. There’s tons of proof but I sort of know from observation. Many years ago, I watched a group of young men try their smoking best to get high— and failing— on the industrial hemp that was growing wild, as it does many places in the Midwest. A good new book on all aspects of industrial hemp is just out—Hemp Bound by Doug Fine from Chelsea Green Publishing. Not only does farm hemp not cause the results that marijuana can, but it will cross-pollinate with the latter growing nearby and ruin the subsequent plants for drugging purposes.

But human beings, being human beings, always go overboard on everything, and those with a cultural horror of hallucinogenic drugs did not take time to get their facts straight and over the past eighty years or so made no distinction between the two. More…

Home Places

In Gene Logsdon Blog on April 9, 2014 at 8:10 am


The word, home, has the most comforting sound to it for me, probably because I am a confirmed homebody after living an earlier part of my life in seventeen different places in six different states. Even then, I tried to make a home out of every place I lived. As I like to tell, I surreptitiously planted onions and radishes in the landscaping around my college dorm. But as soon as I could manage it, I came back to the scenes of my childhood. That meant that my wife could not go back to her childhood home and I am forever grateful that she went along with my yearning.

Unlike Carol’s home farm which disappeared under a subdivison, mine remains miraculously somewhat the same as it was a hundred years ago. Carol and I returned to this home area forty years ago, and, except for the fences that had disappeared as small fields of yesterday were turned into the bigger fields of today, the lay of the land was about the same and still is. The fields are occupied and farmed by my siblings and we were able to go together and buy the woodlots and some fields around the farm. So I can go to the place east of the barn where I was disking ground at age 16 and see almost the same landscape of field, stream, pasture, and woodland that so pleasured me that long ago June day. I was singing “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” (still about my favorite song) and thought that I was the luckiest person in the world. I have theorized that maybe I was high on exhaust gases from the tractor muffler that stuck up in my face. But whatever, no view of ocean, mountain, plain or canyon in the whole United States has ever filled me with that much joy. Good old home.

I suppose it can be true of urban places too, but when home is a farm and you are there every day as a child More…

Human Society Is Losing Touch With Wild Nature

In Gene Logsdon Blog on April 2, 2014 at 9:21 am


A major issue of the future will be how we resolve the conflict between people who want to protect the lives of every raccoon in Christendom and those who want to kill at least half of them. From the responses to this blog’s posts, I know that many of you are aware of this widening gulf between purely human affairs and the natural world and wonder, as I do, what will come of it. So many people today live in high rises and along crowded, wall to wall streets where about the only contact they have with nature is what they experience from their balconies and decks. A popular cartoon says it all: children walking through beautiful natural scenery but never once looking up from their cell phones.

The majority of Americans today have never butchered a chicken, been sprayed by a skunk, listened to mice bowling hickory nuts across the attic floor, watched squirrels chew holes in house walls, baited a fish hook, seen the friendly neighborhood bowwow attack and tear the guts out of my still-alive ewe, milked a cow, hoed weeds, been butted by a ram, witnessed blacksnakes eating chicks, tried to stop a runaway horse, lived without electricity, found their chicken coop full of dead hens killed by wildlife, pulled a birthing calf, heard a meadowlark sing, observed cute little kitty tear a bluebird apart, etc. Without any experience in husbandry, let along wildlife management, such people develop a different attitude toward nature than those of us who have to deal firsthand with natural adversity. For example, the high rise society tends to believe that animals, or at least certain animals, have rights not unlike humans. They may agree that rat populations need to be controlled but that wild mustangs should be allowed to overrun rangeland no matter how great the expense or environmental damage. More…

Why Will Livestock Eat “Bad” Hay?

In Gene Logsdon Blog on March 26, 2014 at 8:48 am



One of the mysteries of husbandry that baffles me is how cows will sometimes take a notion to eat stuff that I wouldn’t think a starving goat would touch. I don’t know how often I have observed livestock forsake good, green clover hay and start gnawing on straw bedding. My son told me recently that his steers will occasionally abandon good hay in the barn and wander out on dead winter pasture and gobble away. Once when I was young and inexperienced, I decided to make some red clover hay in October because, well, because it was there and we needed hay and at that time I did not know about the possibilities of winter grazing. My father warned me not to, but being contrary….

The hay wouldn’t dry. Just laid there and glared at me. Finally after five days I raked it up, waited another day and baled it although it still was not really dry. In the mow, the bales turned chocolate brown with a whitish mold on them. A total loss, I thought, but I threw one down to see what the cows would think. To my amazement, they went after it like kids after candy. I still don’t know why.

Recently, I got an email from Ralph Rice, one of the most energetic small farmers I have ever met. He had a tale about “bad” hay that was even more unbelievable. In his part of Ohio last year, he experienced a very wet spring and summer. He had some weed-choked oats that he decided to cut for hay. The oat and weed foliage lay flat on the ground for six days, still not drying very much but with rain threatening again, he raked and baled it on the seventh day. He just wanted to get it off the field and thought it so worthless that he didn’t even use twine to tie the big round bales. When they came out of the baler More…

More Evidence of Nature’s Resilience

In Gene Logsdon Blog on March 19, 2014 at 7:57 am



I’m always amazed at how I continually gain new information from land that I have walked over for three-fourths of a century now. On the first warmish March day of this beastly cold year, I strolled out over the pasture field by the pond. The ground was still frozen hard to the very surface but there was no snow on most of it. The pond was still frozen too. In fact just three nights previously, the temperature had been below zero. A flock of robins was hopping around on the frozen ground— I am tempted to call it tundra— and I was wondering if they were starving to death looking for worms. I walked towards them and to my amazement I discovered that the pasture surface was alive with little spider-like insects. The robins were darting about, gobbling them up. They weren’t starving; they were joyfully committing gluttony!

I am hoping some of you might be able to tell me the name of these bugs. They varied from pea size to a bit larger, brownish-black, an arachnid I am almost sure, but so fast it was hard to get a good look at them. They would scurry up over the dead grass as I shuffled along and then disappear into the turf again. I thought about snow fleas but these bugs were quite different. They were much too nondescript to identify from any of my bug books.

I did learn, as I tried to identify this mystery, that snow fleas, a form of springtail, contain an antifreeze protein that enables them to operate in sub-zero temperatures. How about that? I wonder if the mystery spiders were so endowed and had wintered under the nearby woodland leaves or under logs or bark or even under the dead pasture grass and needed only a sudden increase in air temperature to become active.

I sometimes get criticized for over-emphasizing the amazing resilience of nature More…

A Conversation with Gene Logsdon

In Around The Web on March 18, 2014 at 8:56 am

Chelsea Green

Author Gene Logsdon appears to be picking up steam as he rolls into his ninth decade. He has developed a prolific body of work as a writer, novelist, and journalist on topics ranging from a philosophical look at woodlands (A Sanctuary of Trees) to the higher calling of manure (Holy Shit), and his ever-popular contrarian look at life and farming (The Contrary Farmer).

In his latest book, Gene Everlasting: A Contrary Farmer’s Thoughts on Living Forever, we find Logsdon at the top of his game as he reflects on nature, death, and eternity, always with an eye toward the lessons that farming taught him about life and its mysteries.

We asked Logsdon some questions about his latest book, recurrent themes in the book and whether or not immortality is overrated. Enjoy.

Q1: The subtitle of your book is “thoughts on living forever.” So, after writing the book and thinking about it: Is immortality worth it? Is it overrated?

I wanted to come up with a book sort of making fun of the concept of immortality, one that would be critical of conventional religious views but not showing the kind of atheistic righteousness you see in books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens on this topic. I more or less agree with them More…

Hot Opportunities For Innovative Farmers

In Gene Logsdon Blog on March 12, 2014 at 7:25 am



Unless you’ve seen the ad yourself, you will think I am making this up. Not only is a ten ounce bag of timothy hay selling for $4.50 for pet food as I wrote about recently, but dried lawn grass is going for three dollars an ounce for Easter basket lining. I kid you not. A four ounce bag goes for $12.95. It’s called Tim’s Real Easter Basket Grass, and is advertised as “naturally beautiful and grown right here in Vermont.” This grass, says the ad, is “wondrously fragrant and dried naturally in the sun” and “reduces plastic consumption, is fully compostable, and contains no chemicals or dyes.” I can’t help laughing but this is what I call imaginative marketing and whoever Tim is, he is a genius in my book. Those of us brought up in agriculture would hardly ever think of potential products like this from our farms. We just don’t fully appreciate our modern culture that has too much money and too few brains.

Actually that’s too harsh. Today’s customers who want genuine three dollar an ounce Vermont grass for their Easter baskets or four dollar an ounce timothy for their gerbils are not brainless at all. I imagine a ten ounce bag of timothy would last a gerbil a month anyway, fairly cheap victuals for a pet. And if you live in an apartment far removed from the real world, having your Easter basket lined with fragrant dried organic grass might be a champion one-upper in, say, Manhattan. Maybe you could feed your basket lining to your gerbil at the end of the Easter season and really save money.

Point is, in a society where pets now live better than many humans, the cost of living is not reckoned the way those of us brought up on hardscrabble farms do the arithmetic. More…

Wendell Berry: A Strong Voice For Local Farming and the Land…

In Around The Web on March 11, 2014 at 6:45 am

From Yale Environment 360

For six decades, writer Wendell Berry has spoken out in defense of local agriculture, rural communities, and the importance of caring for the land. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about his Kentucky farm, his activism, and why he remains hopeful for the future.

Wendell Berry wrote about and practiced “sustainable agriculture” long before the term was widely used. His 1977 book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, in which he argued against industrial agriculture and for small-scale, local-based farming, had a strong influence

Berry has long balanced the diverse roles of writer, activist, teacher, and farmer. At age 79, he still lives on the farm near Port Royal, Kentucky, where he grew up, and uses traditional methods to work the land there. And he still speaks eloquently about the importance of local communities and of caring for the land, while warning of the destructive potential of industrialization and technology.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 editor Roger Cohn, Berry talked about his Kentucky farm and why he has remained there, why he would risk arrest to protest mountaintop removal mining, why the sustainable agriculture movement faces an uphill battle, and why strong rural communities are important. “A deep familiarity between a local community and a local landscape is a dear thing, just in human terms,” Berry said. “It’s also, down the line, money in the bank, because it helps you to preserve the working capital of the place.” More…

Nothing New About Robot Tractors

In Gene Logsdon Blog on March 5, 2014 at 7:21 am



With all the talk about robotic farming and robotic everything else, I like to tell how one of my many uncles, on my mother’s (Rall) side of the family, invented a self-driving tractor back in the 1940s. Uncle Lawrence was plowing with his tractor, a Ford 8N, I think, that had a wide front end. He noticed that with one front wheel and one back wheel in the furrow, the plow sort of held the tractor against the side of the furrow and he did not have to do much guiding except to turn around when he came to the end of the field. He thought about how nice it would be to have a field with no ends. Well, riddle me a riddle, how could you manage that? With a round field, of course. Those were the days well before western plains farmers resorted to circle irrigators and planting rigs but since the field where my uncle was plowing was quite a large, fenceless area for those times, he decided to see what would happen. He struck a circle with the plow in the center of the field and round and round he went. Moving along that way, the plow held the tractor in the furrow even more firmly. Finally, Uncle worked up enough nerve to get off the tractor completely, stand by his pickup in case something went awry, and whoop with laughter. Though but a child, I remember that awesome sight of a Ford tractor doing what Mr. Ford never intended it to do. Plowing this way, of course, resulted in quite a mess. The outer corners of the field and the center had to be plowed or disked separately.

Grandfather Rall was still in charge if I remember correctly and he put an end to robot farming for the time being.

After I told that story in my local newspaper column More…