Irish Lore

Want to seem full of Irisirelandmaph knowledge this St. Patrick’s Day? This article may not help much, but it can’t hurt!

Ireland’s population has not yet rebounded from losses during the Great Potato Famine. The famine was responsible for much of Ireland’s emigration. While the population of Ireland was roughly 6.8 million in 2012, there are nearly 35 million U.S. citizens of Irish descent. This may explain the Americanization of St. Patrick’s Day. Much like St Nicholas and Christmas, we have gradually separated the reason from the season. Let’s look at some facts that may not fit with your understanding of Irish lore.

St. Patrick was NOT a leprechaun, nor is St. Patrick a myth. Saints are real people. Whether or not you choose to believe they performed miracles is up to you, but the person is real. Did St Patrick drive the serpents from Ireland and into the sea? According to scientists, there is no evidence of any serpents in post-glacier Ireland. So, if you are a realist, the answer is no. If you believe scientists are a bunch of know-it-alls trying to ruin a good story, then yes… yes he did.

leprechaunThe leprechaun has become a symbol for St. Patrick’s Day, but we have even warped the perception of these little troublemakers. In Irish folklore, Leprechauns wear red. What? You read that right. Our stories often involve the granting of wishes and pots of gold.  This may glamorize the little buggers as friendly and mischievous. The first fables of leprechauns involved the kidnapping and ransoming of a king by dragging his royal highness into the ocean. That’s not very friendly!

If you happen upon a leprechaun, you may notice he has a short cane. Stay back! This is actually a Gaelic weapon known as a shelale. Depictions often make the stick look like a cane, but it has a heavy, bulbous end used to whoop knots on your head. Keep that in mind if you try to capture a leprechaun. Why would you attempt capture? When captured, a leprechaun will offer his treasure in trade for his freedom. Beware the single gold coin he carries. It will disappear as soon as he does. Hold out for the good stuff. I am not BlarneyCastleBlarneyStonea leprechaun hunter, but if you would like to try, I offer this advice… The only leprechauns I have ever chanced to witness myself were behind pubs and bars in mid-spring, at around 2 A.M.

If you are leaving a bar at 2 A.M., I would advise kissing the blarney stone before driving. Kissing the Blarney stone is said to give one the gift of eloquent speech. Don’t fall victim to someone wearing a “Kiss My Blarney Stone” tee shirt. The actual stone is mounted permanently in Blarney Castle 5 miles from Cork, Ireland. Over 300,000 people a year make the trek to kiss this stone. Just remember, you are not just kissing the Blarney stone, but everyone else who has kissed it as well.

guinnessLet’s see… What have I forgotten? Shamrocks have 3 leaves. Corned beef is actually salt cured beef. Before an individual piece of salt was called a grain it was a kernel, before that a corn. Lucky Charms were created in 1963 as a way to sell more Cheerio ingredients. Originally, the cereal had 3 marshmallow shapes, but now has 8. Guinness is brewed in several countries, including Nigeria, Canada, The Bahamas, and Indonesia.

That should about cover it for this year. By no means all of the information about St. Patrick’s Day, but enough to keep you ahead in a water cooler conversation. Remember not to pinch anyone larger than yourself. I leave you with an old Irish saying.  Drink is the curse of the land. It makes you fight with your neighbor. It makes you shoot at your landlord, and it makes you miss him.”

Celtic Woman - Amazing Grace

Frozen Pipes on the Farm

frozenpipes2Have you ever been on vacation, and encountered hard water? Depending on where you live, you may have hard water at home. The kind of water that leaves towels stiff and won’t let soap build suds? We have been experiencing extremely hard water for the last week. Our water has gotten so hard that, at times, it has refused to flow through pipes or into cattle waterers. I am pretty sure the change in our water’s viscosity is due to the negative temperatures, and not mineral contaminants.

If you have a modern, well-thought-out structure, chances are low that your water lines will freeze.The chance is there though. Any cracks or gaps where cold air can infiltrate your house can result in a frozen pipe. Despite my efforts, we have frozen up twice at our house, once at my mother’s, and had one block of ice previously known as a cattle waterer.  It would seem that my poor record would disqualify me from giving advice on keeping water pipes thawed and running. Not so, my friends. Any experience you can walk away from is a chance to learn. Here is what I have learned so far.

Start looking for trouble areas when temps drop to the thirties and forties. Stick your hand into your livestock waterers.Is the water really cold? The heater may have burned out since last winter. Replacing it before a hard freeze will save you a broken water pipe later. Ice sculptures are beautiful. Unless your want to install some free-form, modern ice art in your feeding pen, I would suggest you check the heaters in your cattle waterers.frozenpipes1

Well and pump houses can be above or below ground. This is where your water gets pumped to and directed from. If you don’t have heat in a well house, at least add a heat lamp. One of our old water systems has a pressure tank and water valves below ground under a large trap door. After adding a heat lamp I layer old carpet on top of the door to stop cold air from flowing down. Make sure nothing flammable is close to the hot lamp.

Water pipes have frozen at my house where the new addition connects to the old structure.The problem did not come from cold air seeping through the walls. The cold air sneaked in from above. A little under-sight on my part caused the problem.When I connected the addition, I left the insulation in the connecting wall to act as a sound barrier. At the top of the wall are my pipes. This left them well insulated from much of the heat from the interior rooms, but inadequately insulated above. I have blown in 3 feet of insulation in my attic, making it look like a winter wonderland. This did not stop cold air from seeping down the old roof line and into the wall. I added a vent to the interior wall to allow warm air into the cavity, and stuffed more insulation into gaps above the pipes.

frozenpipes3If you are unsure whether or not your pipes can stand the cold, you can use an old standby. Leaving faucets dripping or dribbling, will keep the water flowing. Yes, it is wasteful, but how wasteful is it when a water pipe bursts and sends a few thousand gallons of water into your house? When the crew from “This Old House” is knocking on your door with crowbars in hand, a few nights of faucet dripping will seem cheap. As soon as possible, the cold areas around your pipes should be insulated to ward off problems in the future. As long as we are on the subject of house damage, let me give you a little tip many don’t think of. Take your family around the house and show them where utilities shutoffs are located, and how to operate them. When you are an hour from the house and get the kitchen-floor-is-covered-with-water call, you will thank me for that little piece of advice!

Do hot water pipes freeze first? Only if they get below 32 degrees before the cold water pipes. I believe this theory comes from the wastefulness I mentioned above. I grew up in a farm house with wood heat. Straw bales were stacked around the foundation on the North facing walls during the winter month to ward off air infiltration. Drip, drip, drip was heard all night long in an attempt to stave off freezing pipes. To let the hot water drip was more expensive than the cold water. The water heater would have to heat more water. This is why the belief still exists that hot water pipes freeze more often than cold water pipes.

frozenpipes4Before I get into the art of thawing frozen pipes, let me say one thing… Don’t burn your house down! There are commercial (aka “salamander”) heaters that can melt the insulation off of your wiring. Often, there are flammables where you wouldn’t expect them to be. Pay close attention to your surroundings, and don’t rush it. If you can determine where the pipe is frozen, a hair dryer is all that is needed to thaw things out (please note that a hair dryer can be hot enough to ignite flammables). If you cannot access the area, or cannot locate the frozen section, a larger heating unit, and possibly professional help, is needed.

For frozen livestock tanks and outdoor piping, you can turn up the heat. The kerosene and diesel “salamander” area heaters work well.There is still danger of too much heat. Of the 6 frozenpipes5older metal cattle waterers left on the farm, only one has all of its thermal and wiring insulation.The others have all been scarred by heaters placed to close in an effort to speed thawing. I still have a large kerosene, blower-type heater, but I prefer to use a smaller LP version when possible. A ten pound tank and an inverter in my truck make this a much more feasible option for one person than the heavy kerosene model.

In extreme temperatures, remember to use your noggin (that’s your head, for the younger readers). Your safety and well-being is more important than any equipment. Don’t leave open flame heaters unattended. Don’t place heaters to close to materials that can melt, or catch fire. Above all, don’t risk your safety in extremely cold temperatures.  

Black Friday… Bah Humbug!

ChristmasTree2December! Where did the year go? To make matters worse, the calendar has imposed a shortened shopping season on the retail trade. The distance between Black Friday and Christmas has never been closer. Let me rephrase that. The day after Thanksgiving has been this close to Christmas, but not since Black Friday was deployed in 2004. Yes, Black Friday was developed by the retail industry. Businesses claimed that Black Friday would be the busiest shopping day of the year, and so it has become. The Black Friday concept has been very lucrative, but years like this one, when Thanksgiving and Christmas are only a few weeks apart, actually limit shopping. That doesn’t bother me as a consumer, but my tradition of supplying Holiday fun for readers is now compressed. (thanks retail industry)

I still have time for my annual Christmas audio, but we need to move things along. So, let’s get to my other December tradition… Helping you find gift ideas. I have issues with Christmas gifts these days.  Black Friday has lost its zeal. Take for example a little retailer that rhymes with “wall art”. Most of the population shops there every week. Even more see the weekly flyers. Do you remember what was in the flyer every week this year? TV’s, tablets, PCs, and phones. Black Friday ads? TV’s, tablets, PCs, and phones. Cyber Monday? TV’s, tablets, PCs, and phones. “Shop now! Cyber Monday week continues!” I have actually become a promoter for any store that uses the word Christmas instead of Black Friday, or Cyber Monday, but that’s just me. Here is some outside the box store advice for Christmas this year.

Unless you are led by the hand, and have the item carried to the checkout counter by the gift recipient, do not buy anything “computer” related for kids. This is not meant to offend a generation of well-meaning gift buyers. I am in my 40’s and make no attempt to understand the electronic needs of anyone less than 30 years old. There is no such thing as being “hip” anymore. If there were, it would not include buying obsolete or unusable gifts. Kids have more expensive computer gear than you can afford. The young adult mind now recognizes any software worth having is free on the internet. An important note… you cannot compete with the internet. Computer and internet usage is too personalized these days. How many USB ports do you need? Umm… USB 2 or 3? Would a solid state drive in addition to the SATA improve performance? Is your printer on a wireless network? Wait… You have an IPhone that accesses the printer with your Windows 8 PC? Is that a 32 or 64 bit operating system? I didn’t know it was touchscreen. These are just examples of why you should run screaming like a banshee from computer related gifts for the young’uns.

“Gee thanks Paul. You have destroyed every gift giving idea in the “wall art” flyer. What am I supposed to do now?” Don’t worry. We are gonna turn this nemesis, known as modern technology, into our ally.  Let’s look at this as a scammer, or identity thief would (in a slightly less threatening manner). Your potential target leaves tracks all over the internet. Follow them! There are plenty of gift ideas to be had from Facebook photos and posts. I just took a look at my Facebook account and saw 3 kids who need some soap, 5 parents who needs a dictionary, and 2 grandparents that would benefit from a bottle of whiskey.

Pinterest. Now we are getting somewhere. Pinterest users spend much of the year posting photos of things they want.  It only makes sense to pay attention once a year when gift giving time comes around.  I reviewed my wife’s Pinterest account. There is a picture of a shirtless guy in a barn, a shirtless guy leaning on a pitchfork, and a shirtless guy riding a horse on the beach. It is obvious that she wants a horse. See?  Simple. If you are strong of heart, check your better-half’s Pinterest page, and SHAZAM, instant gift ideas.

Let’s get more seriouser. If you are having a tough time finding a gift for that hard to buy for relative, here is my web find of the year… Woot! That’s not an exclamation. The name of the site is Woot.  The best I can gather is they are a subsidiary of Amazon. Don’t go to Woot expecting a hard sell. The ads are funny, entertaining, and yes, I have ordered from them. Definitely worth a look if only to see what comes next in their “12 Days of Crapmas”. As of day 3, I have seen 3 wrench pens, 2 turtle gloves, and a Partridge Family DVD. My other picks include Onestepahead for the kiddies, and Spilsbury for off-the-wall gifts and puzzles.

Time is short my friends, but fear not. The unsolicited and non-income generating ideas above will give your gift buying spree a well-deserved kick in the pants.     

Beef Cattle Options During Drought Conditions

010It has happened again.  We are moving into serious drought conditions here for the second year in a row.  Corn has dried up early, and even the soybean fields are showing signs of giving up with large areas of wilt and dead leaves dropping.  Last year the rains stopped in February, but an additional kick of 5 inches in July helped beans and forage.  This year early rains delayed planting until late May, but that is where the precipitation ended.  The experts call our current condition a “flash drought”.  High temps, a lack of cloud cover, and low humidity takes a toll on vegetation.  This includes livestock forage.  Options for plant life are irrigation or death in these circumstances.  Cattle face direct health issues when droughts occur.  Handling drought conditions is paramount to cattle health, and a beef farmer’s bottom line.

In this age of large scale farming, there were a few issues that came to my attention last year.  Cattle growers were pushing pastures to the limit, while relying on distiller’s grain and other feedstuffs to take the place of good forage.  Operators calculated feed, gains, losses… and then ran out of water.  I was literally surprised by the number of larger cattle operations who had rented more ground year after year, yet failed to consider what would happen if the cattle had nothing to drink.  Granted, it is rarely a problem in my location, but hydration is a pretty important issue to ignore.  Even if your breeding program falls apart, there are 3 important issues when raising cattle: Fencing to keep them in, forage, and water.  Even spring fed creeks are turning into dusty ditches this year.  We have once again fallen back on stock tanks placed behind larger ponds to ensure the cattle stay hydrated.

rbales2Forage is a less dramatic, yet almost as important issue.  Depending on what is available in your area, cattle can be fed distiller by-products, soybean or peanut hulls, grains, and even citrus rinds.  The important thing to remember is cattle require roughage.  A pound of corn will replace 3 pounds of alfalfa hay as far as nutrition goes, but the threat of acidosis increases.  Grain should never replace more than around 10 percent of a cow’s diet.  If you have plenty of hay… feed it.  Cattle are built to handle many types of feed, but there is little that will replace good quality hay as a majority of a bovine’s diet.  In a drought situation hay can become scarce.  It is a good idea to conserve as much as possible. 

Hay volume can be lost quickly due to poor storage and improper feeding.  Net wrapped bales conserve hay compared to string tied, but there are few options that save hay as much as storing it in a shed, or covering the bales with tarps or plastic.  The tighter the bale, the less oxidation and moisture can permeate the stored forage.  Crunch some numbers.  Bale rings become a must, but those high dollar, hay saver types may be worth the extra bucks during a shortage.  Monitor hay consumption for a couple of weeks.  Calculate the amount of hay you would need to survive the winter.  If you are feeding hay early, and there is a possibility of running out before spring pastures rejuvenate, it is time to consider serious action.

feedcalvesFill up the creep feeders.  Supplying calves with extra nutrition removes stress from the cows.  Wean calves early.  With the right balance of feed and care, calves can be weaned as early as 3 months.  The cost may seem high, but calves convert feed almost twice as efficiently as older cows.  Cull heavily.  An unproductive cow is costly.  Older cows that don’t reproduce need to go.  Move cattle off-site.  Replacement heifers can be housed at feedlots that have feed available.  As long as they are restricted to silage, and gain is limited, it is a viable option.  When all else fails, it is time to send some cattle off to market.  There is always sentimentality when it comes to animals.  It is better to sell cattle to ranchers who have feed and water than to watch cattle lose weight and have to sell later.  The better condition a cow is in the more she will bring at the sale barn.  Cattle production is a business.  Selling a slaughter cow for $.75 a pound while she weighs 1100 pounds is a much better decision than getting $.50 after she has stressed down to 900.

Once you have your herd down to manageable size, you can consider options to improve your odds in the spring.  Re-seeding, fertilizing, and rotational issues can be decided during the fall and winter months.  Droughts stress both livestock, and the grower.  With a plan you can reduce anxieties, and focus on the future.