Sunday, December 28, 2014

Time's Up for Timeout 
by Rodger Thompson

Here's the thing, adversarial parenting is over. Just like adversarial education, it produces dysfunctional humans. Its unskillful, outdated, mean, and its over. Attachment Parenting-ish unschoolers have been working on this for the last 30 years. The results are love and freedom.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

I drove to work one morning a couple of months ago knowing that Dakota was very sick and I expected to find her, separate from the other milk cows, in the pole barn. Allison had sent me an email about that. Twice my phone rang that previous night and both times, my heart sort of sank. Dakota is older. Allison owns her and she is dearly loved, a favorite, a pet. I was very happy to hear from telemarketers that night. A phone call about Dakota would have been bad. Upon arrival I fed the milk cows, counted them, put Grenadine--a young heifer who'd slipped out, under hot wire, to graze hay with the milk cows in the lane--back up in her paddock. Then I walked to the pole barn and flipped on the light.

I expected to find Dakota. And she was there. I didn't expect to find her wrapped up. She was swaddled in a quilt, handmade in deep blues with very tiny flowers scattered over the patchwork. Clearly, Allison had taken the quilt off her bed and had been down in the middle of the night to make sure Dakota wasn't cold. And that's exactly as she was now. I don't think she'd moved, except to lay down, since being covered. The house lights were off and I knew Allison was sound asleep, or else she'd be standing next to me. So I was pretty sure Dakota had been snuggled under Allison's quilt for quite awhile, staying still and keeping warm. The quilt was so dear and unexpected, but the fact that she hadn't moved enough to throw off a blanket struck me as a bit ominous. Tears stung my eyes but I blinked them back and kept moving. There was a lot of work to get done.

When Allison showed up in the milking parlor, two hours later, I could hardly meet her eyes. But we were going to have to acknowledge the situation and we're both professionals. So I asked how she was doing and told her I could hardly keep from crying, just to ask. She said she cried all night long. Dakota is old for a working dairy cow. Two of her herd mates were scheduled to be culled later this week. No one was speaking the c-word.

Allison said, "The thing you have to understand about Dakota is that ever since she was about six months old she's held her head up with her ears up and her bright eyes following me all over the farm saying, 'Aren't you going to spend some more time with me?!' She's the only cow on this farm that ever cared about me, personally. And we grew up together here, just like that. We've always had a connection."

This all happened a couple of months ago. Dakota recovered from all that---ugly mastitis with a lick of pneumonia on top. But the writing was on the wall and we all knew it. When she started kicking badly a couple of weeks ago, it was time. Though no one wanted to say it out loud. And, bravely, it was Allison who made the call. She's said almost from the time I started working on the farm, "Dakota is going to have to go and I don't want her to go suffering. I want her to go well." People say these kinds of things about their pets: We'll know when its time. We don't want him/her to suffer. We'll do the right thing. But few ever follow through with that promise. Allison, though, her integrity runs deep. She is cold steel serious about loving these cows. Even when love asks the hardest thing.

Allison cried everyday for a week before Dakota left. She had to leave the farm, her home, and even our town entirely the day Dakota was loaded for the abattoir. In preparation Allison told us that she understands she is loved and everyone cares, but no one is to mention Dakota's name for awhile because she can't stop crying. It hurts too much. On Dakota's last Friday we pulled her, her daughers, and her granddaughters out for a family portrait. That is what Allison wanted. That's what we did.
 After that, though? No one has said much else. Life is moving along on the farm. True winter is about to set in with ice and the carrying of buckets of warm water and the other extra chores winter brings. No one says much but you can see it in Allison's eyes: "That cow is only one of them who ever loved me."

Friday, December 26, 2014

Over Christmas, I only crawled out of my sneezing cave a couple of times. Once for the Santa festivities. And again, later, for a Christmas hike in the sunshine. What a simple lovely day.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The shot of Jackson courtesy of Ry. And a quick snap from the morning IT SNOWED. in December. Now that is super rare down here. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This was the first holiday season, out of the last 8, where I've been truly excited and enthusiastic about celebrating. We've hosted family for Thanksgiving, decorated to the gills, hosted a holiday party for our wonderful homeschooling community, and more. Its been great. The spirit of Fezziwig has been an inspiration. Gratitude has been an inspiration. And my crazy-awesome family is a constant inspiration.

There have been challenges too. We moved Dad into a retirement home. I stepped up my hours at work and the physical challenge is not small for me. I also got kicked in the head at work and fell and, while I'm happy to report soundness of mind and body, I am tired. And now, sick. On the upside, sitting in bed with a sore throat gives me time, finally, to catch up here a bit.

Ry has snagged the best images of the season. When she finds time to post some of them, I plan to steal and repost them here. Especially the one of Jackson swaddled in Christmas light. Until then, here are few from the last couple of weeks. Cheers and love, y'all!

 Christmas Playmobil, a tradition!
And there has been one other Top Secret Project. We got to foster some kittens for a little while. We are so sad to see them go: Quitea and Fighta, long may you purr, boys.

Those Smileys are at it again. This time with a Campy Christmas Carol. Merry Silliness! 

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.