Goat and Farm Update – More Chicks on The Way

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Posted by Jennifer on Fri,12-10-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

Patches, the Cheesy Gland faced goat, visited the vet in Lexington a couple weeks ago.  According to the vet Caseous Lymphadenitis, the official but not as descriptive name for Cheesy Gland, is quite common and not my fault.  Bacterium that causes CG lives all around us and even on the skin of goats.  When there is a break in the skin the bacteria gets in and creates a zit like abscess.  In the future, I will remove the infected goat from the pen, lance the abscess early, and flush out the wound with iodine.  In this case the tissue over the abscess was dead, so the vet removed it with scalpel, flushed out the wound and sent Patches on her way. Besides a fast healing hole on the side of her face, Patches is doing great, eating anything she can, and testing the bounds of electric fences. The other two goats that were exposed to these highly contagious bacteria have yet to develop any abscesses and Patches hasn’t developed any others.

Guilt over my poor goat management spurred me to set up a luxurious temporary pen for the girls so they could browse in the tree line.  Life in the ultimate goat habitat was brief though because the temptation of breaking out to eat acorns outside of their fence’s perimeter proved to be just too tempting.  For now, the goats have been returned to their original pen but we are working on fencing.  Last week Harry and I picked up 392 cedar posts and we are almost ready to start installing fence.  The fence dream is to have two no-climb wire cross fences and approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the perimeter fence (all the way to the furthest cross fence) replaced with no-climb wire. Within the second cross fence and the north fence line of our property we will build 12 small rotational pastures for the sheep, cows, horses, and chickens.  Between the two cross fences we will clear enough trees/brush to install electric fence so that there will be 4 to 6 pastures within the heavily wooded part of our property for the goats and pigs.  The remainder of our pasture (the area between the south property border and the other cross fence) will be used for hay and a relief pasture or two for the cows and horses.

We are ready to try our hand at raising broilers too and have ordered 34 from Welp Hatchery.  The new birds should arrive on December 14th.  One of the benefits of the broiler is that they are happy to live within the confines of a hoop house.  Our heritage breed birds are enjoying pasture life and refuse to be cooped, but a hawk has recently discovered them.  If I’m not home to run off the overgrown sparrow, he takes/kills at least one chick a day.  On Tuesday he killed two and didn’t even completely finish eating either one.  The dogs were thrilled with the fresh chicken they got for dinner but I was extremely annoyed at the hawk’s wastefulness.

Well, I have a lot more to report on, but I literally have hawk duty this morning. I must get outside and make my presence known so the hawk will quit killing my chicks.

New Ideas, Progress, & A Set Back

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Posted by Jennifer on Fri,11-19-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

Harry and I have been on a whirlwind tour of farm visits and research, which prompted some newsletter revisions – I promise though it is coming very soon.  We started our tour of farms a couple months back with a field day visit to Fresh Pastures in Taylor where John and Brie Rabon are making a go at sustainable farming with a variety of meat chickens, a handful of layers, rabbits, Heritage breed pigs, and cattle.  Recently though we were recruited (happily) to feed, water, and check on all their critters for a morning.  That was farm tour number one – lots of good information and inspiration was gathered from hands on feeding of so many different ages and types of animals.

Next we visited Kim and Garth Travis at The Rose Colored Forest in Bedias, Texas.  Their farm focuses on producing vegetables for a small CSA and they have Gulf Coast Sheep and mixed breed bunnies in the best set up ever.  The Travis’ are also extremely interested in and practicing a variety of green building practices.  I had felt so proud of Harry and myself for recycling and composting, but now realize how much more we could be doing.  Produce will probably never be our main thing, but we got a wealth of good information from the Travis’ on that front and can’t wait to put in a no-till garden to feed ourselves with.  I liked the size, fiber, and demeanor of the sheep too and am happy to report I have reserved four ewes from the Kim and Garth.  The new girls should arrive around May.  I plan to copy the Travis’ rabbitry (sorry, no idea how to spell rabbitry correctly) to a tee too and be producing rabbits by early spring.

After the Bedias trip, we headed to Dewberry Hill Farm, a pasture broiler farm ,that is just a few minutes up the road from us.  I’m glad we didn’t say “never” in regard to the broilers because Terry and Jane Levan’s set up made me think we could raise broilers in a guilt free way.  Heritage breed birds for meat are still high on the priority list, but Harry and I agree we could see raising broilers in conjunction with the non-conventional meat birds to produce a more affordable product more consistently.  Terry and Jane were kind enough to let us tag along for morning feed and water and then, after a great breakfast, they even let us help process nearly 100 birds.  It was a wonderful experience and helped us pare down some of our plans to those that would be more reasonable.  The Levans were also a great source of information on what we actually need in a meat processing shed and current USDA regulations for small farm processing facilities.  I just love that all these other people did so much research, paid so much sweat equity for what they have, and are willing to share their knowledge with us.  Hopefully we’ll be in a position to pay that forward one day.

We should have another farm tour at a Rockdale, Texas farm soon and, until then, we will continue our research on-line and by reading Joel Salatin’s books.

One more word on progress before I get to the set back – I have also been emailing back and forth with a Mulefoot pig breeder in Missouri. Once her sow, Petunia (great pig name!), farrows in February, and we confirm two girl piglets are on the ground, we will be finishing up the reservation process for two little Mulefoot  sow piglets.  Who knew getting farm animals would require so much planning and reserving?

As for the set back . . . this may not be as big a deal as I think it is, but I get a little dramatic and very worried when anything is wrong with my one of animals.  Patches, our non-milking, milk breed goat developed an abscess on her salivary gland earlier this month.  I assumed it was probably the result of a thorn or splinter that got imbedded, or that something had bit her.  As with most things, I decided to keep an eye on it and see what happened.  What happened, you ask?  Well, yesterday evening it had burst and some white, non-smelly “pus” was showing.  So I did the only natural thing and pushed on it. A milk like substance shot out of it and on to the ground; Patches and another goat immediately started eating the white goo. Gross to say the least.

Baffled by what I had seen, I did the only logical thing – I Googled “goat abscess.”  That’s when the worry started.  What Patches has sounds like something called Cheesy Gland which is chronic and contagious, especially if other goats come in contact with the pus or ingest it (I guess eating the goo is common?).  The pus is riddled with a nasty bacteria that contaminates the soil and can cause future infections.  Basically, I did the ONE thing I absolutely was not supposed to do by squeezing the pus out into the pen where the goats live.  I’ll be calling the vet in the morning and making an appointment to, one, confirm what Patches actually has/had, and, two, find out how to manage it from here.  After reading several websites I was really concerned that Patches may have to be put down, but other sites touted Cheesy Gland as less serious. Not entirely consoling though, as I’m actually typing this blog at 3:14am because I can’t sleep.  Not only is the anxiety over my existing goat keeping me up, but I am worried about the lambs we’ll be getting in the spring that aren’t even born yet.  As if one spot of pus in a pasture the ewes will never go in will contaminate my whole place.  Patches.jpg

FREEDOM!!!

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Posted by Jennifer on Fri,11-12-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

We let the chicks out for a short and supervised frolic last Saturday evening.  Imagine Mel Gibson in Braveheart yelling “FREEDOM!”  That was the cry of the chicks. Harry with a beer and me with wine, we sat in lawn chairs and watched our little feathered flock forage and free range.  We then moved their coop and caught each chick individually for a health and inventory check.  These birds are free rangers to their little cores and had no desire to be caught and re-cooped.  It’s really too bad no one was around with a video camera – chick corralling makes cat herding sound easy.

This morning, the chicks were allowed out for a second time and they really made use of it.  Within several minutes at least six huge grasshoppers were caught and consumed.  Occasionally we throw a grasshopper into the coop, but nothing compares to eating wild grasshoppers.  There is something scrumptious about food one catches by himself.  Attached is a three picture series of a black minorca chick downing a fresh hopper – her jaw actually appears to be unhinged in one of the pics.

The birds are growing quickly and it is feasible the Dark Cornish will be ready to process within the next 11 weeks.  Hopefully that makes your mouth water like it does mine.  We are feeding and raising these birds on faith that someone besides us will want to eat them and be willing to buy some for the freezer.

The first ever Slow Food Farm newsletter is almost done and should be sent out this weekend.  If you are reading this blog and don’t receive the newsletter, let me know and I’ll email it right over.  I have also been researching,  plotting and scheming what kind of birds to order in the spring.  Turkeys are on the list so that anyone wanting a true pasture raised turkey for Thanksgiving next year will be able to order them – let me know if you’re one of those people so I can be sure to get enough birds.

Well, that’s all the Blog time I have for today, but I’ll post again soon.  CIMG2811.jpg CIMG2813.jpg CIMG2814.jpg

Hen Pelvic Exams & Processing

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Posted by Jennifer on Sun,11-07-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

Sorry for the length of this blog.  The last couple of days have been busy, otherwise this would have been spread over two posts…

I procrastinated for as long as I could, but on Friday morning it was time to suck it up decide which hens were going to processing and which would stay at home.  The girls I was inspecting had been roaming the pasture closest to my house for nearly three years and knowing them all personally made the thought of killing even those without names a bit difficult. Alas, a bag of feed is nearly $30 and I can’t have a bunch of non-laying girls eating it all.

The plan was to get up while the birds were still sleeping, pick them up off the roost one by one, measure the space between their pelvic bones (nothing invasive here – I just have to feel for the tips of their pelvis’ through the abdomen and measure the distance between the bones), and then tag the narrow birds with a colorful zip tie bracelet.  Depending on other less exact factors, we would then decide which of the tagged birds would definitely go or not.

That was the plan.  Here is what actually happened:  I didn’t want to get out of bed, so I didn’t get out to the coop until just after first light.  Chickens are avid morning animals thus they were up and about already.  I separated out a small group of hens by shutting some in the other side of the coop (there’s a dividing wall with a door) and then I tried to usher any young birds out the door.  That mostly worked.  Next I had to catch the birds I wanted to examine.  Not so easy.  It’s amazing that chickens are on the bottom of the food chain because they can duck, dive, flap, peck, claw and in general put up one hell of fight.  In an attempt to keep the stress level low, I did my best to quietly push the bird I was after into a corner and then decisively nab her.  This actually went pretty well, especially considering my back is out right now and I’m not moving as good as usual.  Once the bird was caught I cradled her in my arms like a baby, found her pelvic bones and measured the distance.  If she was two fingers or less wide I loosely zip tied on a bracelet and sent her out the door, three fingers wide and out the door she went without a bracelet.

Jean, a large Gray Brahma that looks like she is wearing a pant suit, passed the width test and I gave a sigh of relief.  Eden’s Cove’s new chicken plucker probably did too because this girl may have clogged it up.  Flannery, an unknown breed of chicken with a flannel shirt feather pattern, a masculine look and a face that resembles that of Flannery O’Connor, did not pass the test.  She was also the hardest to catch.  A sleek little bird, Flannery gave me a run for my money and when I finally had her in a corner she ran at me, flew up in the air and, recognizing my vainness, aimed at my face.  She escaped that corner.  I did eventually catch her and, true to her usual dramatic self, she called and clucked and didn’t want to settle.  When I finally got her calmed and was holding her like a baby, the guilt crept in.  I marked her with a zip tie but she didn’t get put in the crate the next morning.  Laying or not, a chicken with so much gumption and fight deserves to live on.  I’m a sucker for the underdog.

Harry and I did get up before first light Saturday morning and took six sleeping chickens from the coop for the drive to Eden’s Cove.  We ended up taking three unnamed Araucanas, Nicole the Buff Orpington, Miffy the picked on Barred Rock, and General, a banti rooster that escaped a past rooster processing day.  Eden’s Cove had everything all set up and, after a tour of the farm to meet their beautiful turkeys and Large Black pigs, we got down to business.  All went well and Eden’s Cove’s plucker was fantastic, but there was a flaw in my culling.  Miffy, the Barred Rock, not only had a ready to lay egg inside her, she had a bunch of undeveloped ones.  She would have still been laying an egg a day (opps)!  Nicole produced the best carcass and I’ll be ordering more Buff’s for that reason.  It was nice to process with other people around and JoAnn and Kevin were great processing day hosts.

Well, the freezer is stocked and I have plans to make tamotillo and chicken tamales next week.

Escapees, Grasshoppers, Feathers and Sad News

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Posted by Jennifer on Fri,10-29-2010 | 2 Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

Well, I need to be careful what I wish for.  I wanted chicks that would grow up to be good foraging/free-ranging birds, as a result I got chicks that are good at foraging/free-ranging.  Sounds great, right?  It would be except their coop isn’t even big enough to hold them.  I went out this afternoon and, SURPRISE, there were chicks running around the yard.  Fortunately they are pretty friendly so it only took about 15 minutes to catch and re-coop the 20 pint size escapees.  I quickly found their tunnel and filled it with dirt, but I’ll go out to check on them again soon.

As of a couple days ago the chicks decided they were big enough to handle eating grasshoppers.  When a slow thinking grasshopper accidentally finds itself in the coop, or when a slow moving grasshopper gets caught and thrown in (there is no love lost between myself and grasshoppers), the chicks go crazy.  Mob mentality overtakes the group and they fight over the grasshopper, tearing it to pieces.  The action is so fast pace I can’t get a good picture, but I’ve posted the best one I was able to snap.  In the picture, the little yellow dark cornish that is running onto the scene with a wild look in his eye and his beak open in full peep, really captures the emotion of grasshopper slaughter.  Chicks are cute, but this kind of behavior does help make me feel less guilty about having to eat them later on.

The feathers just keep coming.  I know the feathering process happens fast and that the birds will be nearly fully feathered by week three, but it makes me sad that they’re growing up so quick.  Their wings have even more feathers now and the down on their shoulders is starting to be replaced with feathers too.

All in all things are going well, but we did loss a couple of birds to mysterious deaths early on.  Not much of a surprise since young peeps are fragile creatures.  Last night though I found two sick birds, which I immediately removed from the coop and brought in.  Harry set them up in a box under a heat lamp and we got them to drink some water and administered each some raw egg in a syringe – no luck though.  They both passed last night.  Their symptoms were that of something called crookneck or limberneck.  It has many causes so I’m still unclear what happened to these two birds. It’s sad but 146 out of 150 chicks left by day nine isn’t terrible.  Hopefully everyone else will remain healthy.

Grasshopper Slaughter

Culling Hens, Visiting Farms, and Chick Progress

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Posted by Jennifer on Tue,10-26-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

At the prompting of a friend I recently joined a Yahoo! Group for chicken owners and lovers in the Austin area.  The group has been very informative and I was excited to see that Eden’s Cove Farm in Cedar Creek is hosting a community processing day in November.  Harry and I are going to attend so that we can meet other chicken people, check out Eden’s Cove’s processing facility, and cull a few of our unproductive laying hens.  We have nearly 40 hens running about right now, but we are only get roughly eight eggs per day.  Some of the girls are too young and won’t start laying regularly for another week or two, and there are about 20 hens that are nearing their third birthday.  A few of these “older” girls are not productive enough to justify feeding food that’s nearly $30/bag.  As a result, I set out to answer the question “which hens are still laying?”

Members of the Yahoo! Group I had joined offered up some advice and Eden’s Cove had a link to a great article on culling hens. Essentially, we will first visually inspect our more mature girls to see who has more pigmented beaks and legs (turns out actively laying hens pull contribute pigmentation from their beaks and legs to the yellow of the yolks).  Next the birds’ vents are inspected; I’ll spare everyone the details of this step, and then the distance between their pelvic bones are measured.  Birds with a width of at least 2 or 3 fingers between the bones are likely laying (I’ve seen two different recommendations on the width desired; maybe it depends on if a man or woman is doing the measuring?). Some early morning a few days before November 6th, aka processing day, I’ll be giving pelvic exams to chickens, so that we can put a few birds in the freezer for the stew pot without reducing the number of eggs we’re getting.  Stew birds are turning out to be my favorites anyway since they’re tastier from living a longer life.  And stew birds aren’t just for stew anymore; we use them for pot pie (delicious!), chicken tacos, chicken salad, pulled chicken sandwiches, tamales, fajitas, etc.

Joining one Yahoo! Group encouraged me to seek out others and I found a Gulf Coast Sheep group.  From there I discovered “The Rose Colored Forest,” a sustainable farm in Bedias, Texas with Gulf Coast Sheep.  I visit Bedias at least once a month to trim a friend’s horses, so I invited myself to the farm and the farm owners, Kim and Garth, graciously accepted my invitation.  On November 10th I’ll get to meet the sheep and learn about their farm.  Very exciting.

The chicks are all growing nicely and their little wing feathers are turning into beautiful patterns.  One of my nephews is coming to visit them this afternoon so they’ll get some petting time in.  I’ll take more pictures then too.  The weather is a little cooler, but it’s not slowing these chicks down.  They roam around their oversized home, scratching and foraging away.  Individual personalties are starting to show themselves now too.  Last night I picked up a little black minorca and she peeped angrily at me for a minute (it really sounded like scolding).  She calmed down quickly and decided petting was a good thing, but when I sat her down she ran towards me and pecked my hand.  I imagine she’ll be a fun one to collect eggs from under when she’s feeling broody.

I also found a farm in Texas, albeit way West Texas, that has Mule Foot Pigs.  This farm either gets even worse Internet service than us or the farm’s owners prefer to stay off-line, because they only way to contact them was by snail mailing a request.  That request should have been sent off today, so maybe I’ll have someone in Texas to talk pigs with soon.  I’m not even sure why I’m set on the Mule Foots other than maybe because of my love of all things equine.  Heritage breed pigs are definitely better than conventional ones, but I imagine the pork from all healthy pasture raised heritage pigs is pretty similar.  I just have my heart set on these.

Does anyone have fencing recommendations?  We need the best fence possible between us and our crazy neighbors (aka “The Crazies”), so any suggestions of what to put up to ensure all animals stay this side of the fence would be appreciated.  Price is an issue, but we figure half of our fence budget is earmarked for this one fence.  At some point we are just going to have to pull the trigger and put up something. If a critter gets out we’ll have to call the sheriff, as we do now, to facilitate its return.  Kind of stupid.

Chick Update

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Posted by Jennifer on Sat,10-23-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

It is day 3 of the coop trial and we’ve only lost one chick so far (appears to have been smashed at the bottom of the napping pile).  The coop situation has allowed the chicks lots of fresh bugs and some grass seed, so they’re eating less of the chick starter than expected.  To spice things up a little I toss out a little red quinoa for them to find too, and yesterday they were given small pieces of carrot peel, zucchini squash, and apple.

Each day Harry and I have spent a little time in the coop so the chicks are getting really comfortable with us.  Their antics are too cute and it’s hard to tear ourselves away- I wish I had a camcorder.  One chick, for example, will find some treasured piece of food and run around the coop with the prize possession in her beak until other chicks have noticed.  A high speed chase then ensues and several chicks will run after the prize carrying chick until the loot is stolen from the original chick and the new bounty carrier is chased.  All the while, chicks run straight over sleeping chicks, the water drops at the end of the nipple is feverishly attacked and the little chicks scratch around just like real chickens.

All chicks are growing quick and a size difference from day one is already noticeable, plus most all of the peeps now have feathers on their wings.  The coop has stayed clean but we’re going to try moving it over a few feet tomorrow to give the chicks more access to grass and new bugs.  I’m a little worried about how to move the coop without running over chicks but we’ll get it figured out tomorrow.  I have a special talent for cat wrangling; maybe those same skills will help with chick corralling. Buff Orpington Chick – Check Out the Feathers Dark Cornish

Chicks Have Arrived

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Posted by Jennifer on Thu,10-21-2010 | 2 Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

I made the short drive to Cameron yesterday to pick up the new chicks from Ideal Hatchery.  All 150 chicks were divided between two reasonably sized and airy boxes.  They were are a lively and vibrant bunch who serenaded me on the drive home with a chorus of peeps, tweets, and chirps.  Harry had finished their portable coop complete with a poop free waterer, a nice long feeder and heat lamp. I was so excited about the new peeps and feeling very smug because this was the most prepared we had ever been. Feeling smug is usually followed by feeling stupid and this turned out no different.

Once home, I filled the chicks’ feeder with their Organic Chick Starter from Coyote Creek Feed, placed the boxes holding the chicks in the coop and proceeded to free the little guys and gals into their new and spacious home.  They hit the ground pecking and foraging. All went well for about five minutes and then the little birds started popping through the chicken wire – in the past we had kept chicks in a big cardboard box in the shed for several days.  I had no idea they were small enough to fit through chicken wire.  These little balls of fluff though wanted to forage and free range so bad even this coop couldn’t hold them.  The ones that felt the wire was too tight to squeeze through elected to get a running start and launch themselves through it.  Chicks were literally popping out everywhere and I was scooping up handfuls of them as quick as I could and returning them to the coop.  All the while I swear they were peeping “Don’t Fence Me In.”

While I admired the chicks’ free ranging spirit, they obviously couldn’t have free run of 50 acres at one day old.  I stopped scooping and corralling chicks long enough to grab the utility knife, staple gun, and screen we had bought for the garden.  I get along poorly with most tools, but I can wield a utility knife and staple gun like no body’s business.  Quickly I cut the screen and started stapling.  Staple, staple, scoop and coop, staple, staple, peel chick out of wire, staple, staple, scoop and coop…on and on it went until the entire coop was screened.

On the plus side, I had been concerned about teaching the little peeps how to use the chicken nipples (I still can’t say chicken nipple without giggling), but the chicks that stayed in the coop had it figured out by the time I had the screen in place.  I plugged in the heat lamp and sat back to watch a great show.

Night one was a success in the coop and I spent some time today in the coop with the chicks just reading a book.  Just to be clear, I was reading, the chicks were scratching, pecking, napping, eating and drinking.  They are an even more lively bunch today after a night of high quality feed and it is entertaining to watch them running around expressing their chickenness until exhausted, at which point they just flop over where ever they happen to stop and nap briefly. Chick Pics Another Chick Pic

And We’re Off…

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Posted by Jennifer on Fri,10-15-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

After countless hours of frustration I may have finally mastered at least some parts of this @#$% website thing.  Now, onto the next problem: creating content for the website.  I have managed to get a couple of pages up and, once my creative juices start flowing, more will follow.  Harry or I will add a page for our mission statement, goals, to-do lists, important dates, etc.  This blog though will serve as our customers’  and supporters’ main portal for current events and status’.  Harry and I will both post information and, in the future, one of our matriarch hens, a cow or Hillary, the world’s most popular mini-horse, may contribute with a post of their own.

This weekend Harry and I are building an A-Frame chicken tractor for the chicks that I will pick up from Ideal Hatchery on Wednesday.  Hopefully our chicken nipples (these are for drinking – it’s not some raunchy chicken body part no one is aware of) will arrive today too so we can also rig up our poop-free watering system this weekend.  To help keep predators at bay, we are going to create a “yard” around the tractor with electro-net hot wire fencing (picture field fence electrified), but the chicks will have to live within the tractor until they are feathered.  To allow the chicks new grass and bugs in the meantime though, the tractor will be moved often.

There is a huge learning curve involved in this farming process so we should have plenty to tell about along the way.  I’ll keep y’all posted.  Oh, and if anyone is actually reading this, please let me know so I don’t feel like I’m typing to myself.

Slow Food Farm’s website is coming soon!

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Posted by Jennifer on Sat,10-09-2010 | No Comments »
Posted in Past Posts 2010

Slow Food Farm is a small farm outside of Austin, Texas producing Heritage meat chickens (Dark Cornish mainly) through sustainable, humane and natural practices.

Please bear with us as we get our website constructed – we’re better farmers than computer users.