Imagine That. Don’t Think I’ve Ever Said THIS Before.

It Wasn’t the Cows After All

While the cattle industry is repeatedly accused of being the main culprit for increased global methane emissions (and a leading cause for climate change), a new study shows that the fertilizer industry is the root cause.

The report by researchers from Cornell and the Environmental Defense Fund, published in Elementa, shows that emissions of methane from the industrial fertilizer industry have been ridiculously underestimated (and, it turns out, based on self-reporting) and the production of ammonia for fertilizer may result in up to 100 times more emissions than previously estimated for this sector. What’s worse is that these newly calculated emission amounts from the industrial fertilizer industry are actually more than the total amount the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated for all industries to emit across the U.S.

Researchers used a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor to measure the emissions of six fertilizer plants for this study. They drove the car on public roads, downwind from the facilities to record the methane levels in the air. The study reveals an enormous disparity between EPA estimates and actual emissions levels. The team discovered that on average 0.34 percent of the gas used in the plants is emitted to the atmosphere. Scaling this emission rate from the six plants to the entire industry suggests total annual methane emissions of 28 gigagrams, which is 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate of 0.2 gigagrams per year. In addition, this figure far exceeds the EPA’s estimate that all industrial processes in the United States produce only 8 gigagrams of methane emissions per year.

The fertilizer industry uses natural gas both as the fuel for its operations and as one of the main ingredients for ammonia and urea products (aka the world’s most commonly used nitrogen fertilizers). Since natural gas is largely methane, it has serious potential to be a significant contributor to climate change, and the fact that use of natural gas has grown in recent years has previously raised questions on who’s to blame for rising methane emissions. If it’s been no surprise that natural gas can contribute to climate change, and these facilities rely so heavily on natural gas for production, how could these numbers have been so egregiously underestimated in the first place? It seems this billion-dollar industry made it a point to direct the finger of blame elsewhere.

Now that the fertilizer industry numbers are in, and there is further evidence disproving the widely held assumption that cattle are solely to blame for the spike in global methane emissions, will we stop blaming the product and instead blame the system? If we only move from condemning one product to another, we’ll never make meaningful change. Instead, if we think systemically, there are solutions that can start making a change right now. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: When it comes to livestock production, well-managed grazing animals will not only help feed the world sustainably by using pasture, rain and sunshine to make high-quality food, but can even help to mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration. This is a system that works, positively benefitting us and the earth.

It is abundantly clear that agriculture as a whole is still a major contributor to global GHG emissions, and many of its climate change-contributing factors need to come to an immediate end. But suggesting that people go vegan, or limit consumption to a single forkful of meat per day, will not stop global warming. Plants are not the be-all and end-all of a sustainable diet. As it turns out, the chemical fertilizer being used for large-scale vegetable production (or even your backyard garden) has more serious consequences than we ever thought. Choosing products from pasture-based systems can truly impact our world for the better, and with eyes wide open to the facts in front of us, demanding a change to the system itself is the only way forward.

Those of you know me will recognize my constant refrain around “unintended consequences.” We are now in a scenario where advocates have been pushing chicken and veganism to save the world, and have just learned that all the “data” behind this push is wrong. All of the environmental footprint studies need a re-do. Once cattle — raised on grass without synthetic fertilizer — are accurately assessed, I predict we will be left with chicken and some plant products as top line polluters. As we always say, it’s complicated. But we have to get it right.

And, Of Course, This Happened

I have been pretty pre-occupied with getting the power restored to the house.  I am happy to say that when you network locally, people will respond.  I can’t thank Bob, Lane and Zeb enough for coming to our rescue.  They pretty much dropped what they were doing and got this thing done.  The skid steer came yesterday and we got the line dug up. The electrician came out today in snow and temperatures in the mid-teens and spliced the line (He’ll even be sending a guy out to do some general electrical repair I’ve wanted to have done).  I am so happy to have the house warmed up.  Have you ever had that feeling when you have been cold for quite awhile and when you are in the warmth again your face feels flushed and warm?  That is where I am now.  Because of the winter cloudy weather I had the furnace cranked way down so it wouldn’t completely drain the batteries.  I also hadn’t had a shower in 3 days for the same reason.  The well pump is a huge draw on the solar system and with the sun in absentia I couldn’t bring up the charge enough to keep everything going.

But all is well now.  The batteries are back to full (This system is remarkable). The furnace is running, I took a long hot shower, got the outdoor electric needs for the animals fired back up and we are back in business for a night that is going down to zero.

Of course, because this is how we roll around here, I went out this morning to the barn to feed (probably 10 degrees).  I brushed the snow off of the solar panels and then proceeded into the barn where we have everyone sequestered from the cold, and as predicted I came in to some new, very tiny, goat voices.  Yep, momma Cumin had her twins last night in the midst of all of this hooplah.  They are doing very well, although a bit chilly.  Now with the heat lamp back up and running, they will be just fine.  Animals are remarkable creatures when it comes to tolerating weather.  After all, these are Nigerian Dwarf Goats, as in African, as in don’t come from winter climates.  Momma is being very attentive.

Now here is the farm stuff.  We cannot have anymore bucks on the farm.  Two is plenty.  They are sweet as the dickens but they smell and carry on and are like they are a different species from the females.  Some ranchers simply drown the bucklings at birth.  I would never be able to do that.  My remedy is a little more “ballistic” in a .22 LR sort of sense.  It appears, although we will need to check again now that the other distractions have been resolved, that Cumin gave birth to two doelings.  That is great news this time because they will be available as an addition to the dairy flock, and I don’t have to be farmer and executioner.

So as usual, if something goes wrong on the farm, you can bet there will be other issues because they always seem to come in clusters.  Thanks again to my contractors that rescued us and thank the genetic random chance that we had two girls this time.  Nothing cuter than baby goats.  They gots baby humans beat hands down.

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Kremmling Revisited

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When I was still working, even my housing while I was traveling was pretty much off the grid.  I had an office in Boulder, but my main office was up in Frisco near the big Colorado ski resorts.  The office itself was at 9200 feet above sea level.  If you are familiar with Breckenridge, A-Basin, Keystone and Copper Mountain, that’s where it was (About 20 minutes east of Vail).  For many years when I was up there I stayed overnight in my “Hotel Room”.  My hotel room was my 24 foot fifth wheel camper.  I kept it parked full time about 40 minutes north of there in a small hunting town called Kremmling.  During the summer, things were fine.  I had the usual full hook ups of electricity and sewer and could use the shower in the trailer.  Winter, however, was a different sort of duck.  As Kremmling was about 7500 feet above sea level instead of Frisco’s 9200, the coldest air from the high country would come rushing down and settle in that basin.  This rendered water hook ups impossible.  It is February 2nd 2020 right now as I write this, back then during a February in the mid-2000’s, I ran out of propane in the middle of the night up at the trailer.  I got schooled right quick about what it must be like to live in a deep freeze.  I piled every sleeping bag and blanket I could find on top of me along with my sweat pants and sweat shirt.  That morning, as with every morning, I had to get up and head over to the showering facilities to get ready for work.  The thermometer at the main building showed 35 below zero F.  I took my shower and after the 50 yard walk back to the camper, my hair was frozen.  The memories of my life would scare most people.  It has certainly not been ordinary.

Which leads me to this current SHTF fiasco (When the Excrement Hits The Revolving Oscillator).  I would have never dreamed this scenario up if I was playing for money.  Ok, so I’m not the first person to attempt suicide via digging into a cable or gas line.  It’s getting fixed, and all will be well.  In fact, I just got a call from the electrician and he will be coming out tomorrow!  Something about a “Butt Joint” – an unfortunate name in any case.  Anyway, this whole episode reminded me of living in my trailer in Kremmling during that cold February.  This cable severing couldn’t have happened at a worse time.  I was out working in 70 degree weather when it happened.  That night the temperatures plunged into the 20’s and tonight will go into the single digits.  As I have described before, the power grid is our back up.  Should the solar not produce enough because it is CLOUDY! The grid fills in the gaps.  The next day (today) the forecast is 5 inches of snow, single digits, and no sun!  I have been playing the power conservation game all day!  Because it is cloudy and everything is covered with ice, the solar panels aren’t charging the batteries like they should.  So to combat the problem, I’ve shut down the water pump, turned off any and all vampires, turned the thermostat down to 55, put on layers of clothes, am proud that this winter’s weaving project has been blankets, got a propane heater for the basement to keep the water pipes from freezing, hooked my sleep machine to a separate deep cycle battery, cooked on a propane stove and hunkered down.  It might not be 35 below like Kremmling, but the years up there taught me a lot of tricks.  Hopefully, it is only one more night if this guy shows up.  Otherwise, Tuesday night will be down to 1 degree F and I will NOT have the battery power for that.  “Well, Jon, why don’t you use a generator as a bridge??  &*^%$#$%^&%$#@$%^%$!!!  I DO have a generator!  When I realized what I was up against I tried to fire it up and found out that the carburetor is gunked up!  It might be time to replace it.  The generator WAS supposed to be a redundant back up (The one we have is more powerful than the panels and is supposed to run on gas or propane.). Doesn’t anyone make anything reliable anymore?  So as with the food challenge I took in November, this has exposed some big gaps in the farm’s sustainability and self-reliance capabilities.  Namely, if the grid is down (In this case it is because of a severed cable) and it is winter and snow-storming, we have some serious adjustments to make.  My first take is that we MUST have a non-electricity dependent source of heat.  If I didn’t have to worry about running the furnace turbine on the batteries and we had a pellet or wood stove, this would have been a piece of cake.

So the moral of this story is that you can find yourself stranded for any number of ridiculous reasons – especially this one that we shall call, “Head Up Your Ass-itis.”  Prepare to improvise.  There WILL be things you can’t imagine.  Now if we can just keep our goat from kidding until AFTER the power is restored that would be fabulous.  Stay lucid ya’ll.  Dementia comes in all forms!

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Emergencies and Setbacks. 2020 starts with a ….. bang?

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I guess being prepared for the unforeseen also means those things you do to yourself.  We are expecting very cold temperatures on Monday and Tuesday, then returning to the forties thereafter.  At the same time, however, it is forecast to be in the high sixties, perhaps even hitting seventy today.  When the temperatures drop tomorrow, they are saying to expect a few inches of snow as well.  This would be about right as we have a goat expecting to kid around Tuesday, and Tuesday night is expected to go down to zero.

Now, of course, that alone would present its challenges, but it couldn’t stay that  simple.  Noooooo, Jon has to up the challenge ante because, well, I don’t know why, I just do.  We are putting up a permanent fence around our gardens.  The last 3 long beds for potatoes and Asparagus are going in (6 feet wide x 48 feet long) and then it gets buttoned up to keep out rabbits, dogs, the neighbor’s goats, etc., and be able to graze our own goats and chickens in there during the fall to provide fertilizer and weed control.

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So I decided, during the nice weather, to get the holes drilled for the wooden posts.  Makes sense.  Do the outdoor construction stuff when the weather is good.  Of course, though,  I needed a near brush with death to go along with it all.   It didn’t even cross my mind that there might be an issue. At the main corner I dropped the auger to drill the hole and put it right through the main power line to the house! Evidently I was well insulated on the tractor. It could have gone badly right quick. I’m still alive, the solar and batteries kicked in so we still have power where we need it except for the water troughs and if we need a heat lamp should our goat kid in the next day or two. I can move the generator out to the barn to supply the critters should the need arise. All I wanted to do is put in the posts today. Emergencies and mental shocks suck. Fortunately, it wasn’t another kind of shock. Looks like we might have a guy that will fix it. The question, of course, is when?

Ok, yes I feel pretty stupid.  He who is without sin and all that. This is why farmers have a high rate of injury. We’ve discovered that potential mis-haps increase proportionately to the amount of work being done.  7 years of projects increases the rate of trips and falls, cuts, bruises, broken things, sick animals, versus having done no projects at all.  When we had our barn and greenhouse hydrants installed, the contractor put an auger through our main waterline.  Yesterday, I drilled through the power cable.  There aren’t any others, so I guess it’s out of our system now.  Although, I did go through a pretty good panic attack later when the realization struck that I could have gotten myself pretty dead.

So now we are waiting for a guy to come and dig up and splice the cable.  It is Super-bowl Sunday, so no one is coming for awhile.  Snow and cold is coming for the next two days, so no one will come then either.  As a result of my remarkable post hole placement, we are now completely off grid and will be relying on the solar system and batteries to get us through.  Instead of putting in posts, I will now be changing the generator oil and making sure it runs so we have an additional electricity source (After all, solar panels don’t produce if they are covered with snow, or if it’s really cloudy).  We are going into town to see if Tractor Supply still has kerosene heaters.  If the batteries don’t get charged up for some reason, the furnace won’t come on and then we risk frozen waterlines.  The generator can power space heaters as well.

Of course, while all this is going on, it is likely that one of our dairy goats will give birth as well.  We also will be hauling water because the trough heaters won’t have power.  All this, because the invisible gremlins on the farm decided that Farmer Juan needed to be screwed with yet again.  Like there isn’t enough going on right now.

So an SHTF or grid-down situation can come in many forms.  Never thought it would be one that was self-inflicted.  Oh well, now I get to play with all the secondary outdoor kitchen toys.  It’s always something.

Happy 7th Anniversary JAZ Farm!

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December 4th, 2012…… a date that will live in infamy!  After years of searching for land and over a year of negotiating, losing one bid on another place and the stress and strain of dealing with a bank trying to buy a foreclosure, we got the keys to a dilapidated house and garage and set work to putting it all together.  This blog has been a journaling of all that has transpired in it’s transition.  This was a broken down house in the middle of a massive, 40 acre grass field.  7 years later, it is a comfortable home and a fully functional farm with barns and coops, pastures, vegetable gardens, dairy goats, chickens, pigs, donkeys and turkeys.  This was a huge, all encompassing, project that has consumed us since before we were even given the keys.  You can see all of it here and scroll over the years to see just what went into building a life of Thoreauian self-reliance.  This is, and was then, the most all consuming project of our lives.  Between the sacrifices, the enormous amount of physical work and the vision of what it could be, we are so proud of ourselves and are unapologetic for saying so.  Not many have embarked on such a mission.  Even less so at our age.  JAZ Farm, we hope, is a beacon for others to follow.  It was a life changer for us.  We have loved it and hated it….. many times during the course of just one day!  We went to the plains to live deliberately.  We live the old fashioned ways on purpose – and that has made all the difference.

So instead of going over what we did to build the place (which has been more than compiled on this blog) I thought it more important, now that the build out is completed (except for projects that will help embellish and aren’t necessarily needed for core operations) to go over more of the mental challenges that one goes through when deciding to make a pretty decisive break from modern society.  Many come to the homesteading gig through a desire to get out of the rat race, or grow one’s own food, or have a place for animals.  All are valid reasons; unfortunately, many bite off this quest with inadequate financing and pie in the sky fantasies of it being a virtually utopian existence.  As a result,  plans are made, jobs are quit, animals are acquired and fences built.  After which, the funds run out, the animals escape and the makeshift infrastructure fails.  Also, even when it all does hold up, it is discovered that everything that has been built and all the animals are acquired, require feeding and maintenance.  You are awakened before the sun to the donkeys honking, the chickens crowing, the goats baying and and and…. eyes staring at you…. everywhere, hungry eyes.  Many folks leave.  Many go broke.  Many deal with the depression of feeling like failures when the ideal of making a living from their own land, fall flat.  This is a very rewarding way of life… but it ain’t for the faint of heart, and that is where I’d like to go with this anniversary celebration.  After all, it is a Phoenix and we are still standing, when at several points that was definitely in question.

There are many philosophical and psychological  issues that cause people to seek out a homesteading life.  Ours was trying to find some sense of security and mental health in a world that is decidedly losing it’s mind.  We discovered issues like Peak Oil (peak everything for that matter), Financial fraud after having worked in the industry through the crash of 87,  the dot com crash, the 2008 financial collapse, climate change issues, the perverted food system poisoning the population, not to mention, just the idea of being enslaved to the abusive world of corporate capitalism and the never ending treadmill of running east looking for a sunset.  We made the conscious decision to use our resources to attempt to escape to the maximum degree possible.  We honestly think that the future looks bleak.  Some may call us preppers, we call it being pre-emptive.  After all, just a few generations ago, this was just how one lived.  So many issues seem to be stacking up in front of us that could cause serious survivability issues that it made sense to remove ourselves to a safe distance.  Now we can work in the city (where most live), but use those resources to create and maintain a lifestyle that is more recession, depression and collapse resilient.  Not to mention the fact that the food is sooooooo much better tasting than the grocery store or restaurants.  We didn’t think it made sense, once the realities of our supply systems were exposed for the tissue paper strength that they are, to sit around when we knew we could do something about it.  So we dropped out of the rat race.  We built a farm, we grow virtually all of our own food, we are mostly off grid, and have an extremely quiet existence out on the high eastern Colorado plains.

Despite the hardships along the way (which are enumerable but we’ve decided to keep a lot of those to ourselves so as not to hurt others) lessons about living in a pretty inhospitable part of the world, and trying to keep one foot in the urban rat race while decompressing out here, I’m not so sure we would ever trade this.  I can’t imagine sitting in a suburban home anymore.  What do they do other than work and shop?  This place gives us purpose.  It gives us security.  It makes us feel somewhat unique and that we are living deliberately without depending on the fragility of the momma birds importing resources to the city.  7 years in the making…. what a long strange trip it has been.  I hope that passers by to the blog here may gain some inspiration and move toward their goals.  It takes a spine.  It takes a sacrificed spine….. BUT, there is nothing more satisfying than looking out your window and seeing all of these structures and functionalities and that they all work….. and you built all of them.  7 more years?  What a trip that might be.  JAZ Farm… it’s our own act of rebellion and freedom.  Whoda thunk?  I was supposed to be nothing but the family scapegoat.  This world doesn’t belong to the masters of business and AI and corporate fascism.  It belongs to the like minded who go back to the old ways while the former collapses around them.  Mark my words, it isn’t far away.  Happy 7th anniversary JAZ Farm.  Thank you for your existence.

 

 

 

Pig Farmers Yet Again.

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We sent our two pigs off to freezer camp a week or so ago.  We estimated them at roughly 350 lbs. each.  As in the past, they will fill our bigger freezer with about 400 lbs of meat.  At that stage of the game we are usually ready to see them go.  While pigs are friendly, they are very strong and become a potential hazard to their handlers.  I was having Zina take out a cattle prod with her to zap them away if they took to rubbing on her too hard.

We thought we would be done with pigs for the winter, anticipating more arrivals next spring.  That would make WAY too much sense and be WAY too logical for us!  A break?  We don’t need no stinkin’ break!!

We had done some searching for information on pigs that don’t grow to be such massive bull dozers.  There are Kunekune’s, Potbellies, miniatures, etc.  On a random  You Tube video we ran across American Guinea Hogs.  I did some research and discovered that they were once the most common homestead pig in the South East but due to agricultural changes, moving to large scale production, they had gone almost extinct.  In recent decades they have made something of a come back.  They are slower growing than conventional breeds and have a bit more marbled meat.  Our traditional hogs were always very lean, and in this climate made the meat a bit dry.  They also don’t get as big as a typical pig.  They are very docile and make very good parents.  Even the boars are easier to be around.  They are unique in that they aren’t big grain eaters.  They like grass, alfalfa and all the table scraps one can muster.  For minerals, they get a little bit of pig feed, but mostly they will roam around grazing.

So last weekend I checked into the American Guinea Hog Association and actually found a breeder here in Colorado.  She indicated that she had some piglets so we decided to take the plunge.  It was one of the more unusual trips to pick up livestock. They are a retired military couple living at 9000 feet way back in the hills west of Colorado Springs (About a three hour drive).

We picked up a registered female (Who we have named Petunia) and two little boys.  They are 6 weeks old and are about 5 lbs a piece.  They will reach breeding age at around 6 months.  Gestation is 3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days.  So it will be about a year before we have actual bacon seeds from Petunia.

So once more into the abyss.  Our thinking was that if we bred our own, we could eliminate the roughly $300.00 a year just to acquire new piglets, save some money on the ton of organic feed we had to buy every year, and have a breeding pair should the African Swine Fever that is currently decimating the Asian hog population find it’s way to the U.S., which seems inevitable.

New pets, new pigs, crazy farmers, wouldn’t trade it.  In fact, the trip out there to pick them up, which took me through rush hour and the city, reminded me of how high my constant base line stress levels were when I was still working. No wonder my blood pressure has come down.  I was so happy to get back home.  At least with farm animals you know where you stand. People, I find, not so much.  Donovan is honking as I finish writing this:  “Get off your butt and come feed us!”  Predictable, and peaceful.  Gotta go milk as well.