Monday, September 28, 2009

Husbanding Lunch

Today I had lunch with veterinary columnist, Dr. Dianne Hellwig. Dianne and I have been friends for a few years, and we've even spent holidays together. She raises Rambouillet sheep, Spanish goats and horses. I can't remember the last time I actually had a 2 1/2-hour lunch with someone and didn't want it to end. I had time to have a leisurely lunch! In some ways she and I are in similar places in our lives. She has just emerged from the so-called hallowed ground of academia, while I've just come out of the rat race of corporate America. What did we learn from our experiences?

1. You're never too old to reinvent yourself
2. Your work stands on its own
3. Don't define yourself by your "job"
4. There are a lot of people out there who just don't care, but we can't dwell on that

Dianne spoke about while she was in school in the 1980s, the poultry experts were trying to figure out what magic formula they could feed chickens so they wouldn't develop aneurisms and die (from growing so fast). At the time she spoke up and said, "how about we don't engineer chickens to grow so fast?" That wasn't too popular, because common sense doesn't reign supreme in American agriculture. Profit does. Instead of a common sense solution to a problem, the current rationale is that we must invent a technological one.

I'm reading Gene Logsdon's novel The Last of the Husbandmen . It begins in 1940 and ends in 1985 and chronicles the "get big or get out" model of agriculture. When I told Dianne about the book, she remarked that when she was getting her degree, it was called "Animal Husbandry." Just after she graduated, it changed to "Animal Science." It echoes the fact that during that time, animals stopped being individuals for which we needed to husband--to care for--but merely science projects to be engineered to most efficiently feed the masses. It's a good read, and an entertaining way to learn about that period in our agricultural history. I certainly hope the pendulum is swinging back toward smaller, diversified family farms.


  1. Animal Science=Yet another example of "Capitalism At Its Finest". I've admired Gene Logsdons work and outlook for 30 years or more. He lives near me, but I've never listened to him speak. As a Hobby Farmer I strongly agree with you and Diane (and Gene) yet I don't see a way for small farms to compete in some areas. In My Humble Opinion the pendulum can't swing back fast enough.

  2. Gene's new book on Growing Small-Scale Grain is really good too if you're interested in that sort of thing. We are going to try it on a small plot and make our own flour next year.

  3. This summer I was surprised to find a small ~5 acre farm in Springfield, KY growing wheat. It was so cool!

    I never found out what they were going to do with it...

  4. Good job on the Blog Karen. You continue to come up with interesting things to write about and introducing us to other that share our passions. Bigger is rarely better and I feel bad for farm animals that are sqeezed into small jail cells and pumped full of growth hormones until ready for slaughter. My heart also goes out to the farmer/rancher that is trying to make a go of it on a small acreage farms. I can't wait to retire and move back to the country and start my own hobbyfarm.