Moo News

It’s no secret that here at the farm, cows are our favorite critters. And I think it’s a no-brainer to those of us who have spent time with our bovine friends that cows regularly talk to each other. With worldwide cattle populations at around 1.3 billion, these ordinary “conversations” are beginning to get noticed, and this has compelled researchers to take a good look at what it means when cows moo.

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According to the Huffington Post, Scientists at Queen Mary University in London, England, have been listening to the dialogue between cows and their calves. Teams spent 10 months recording call sounds from two herds of free-range cattle and then another few months analyzing them. The results of the study, recently published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science, showed that cows give two types of contact calls to their calves. The first is a quiet, low-frequency call when a calf is safely nearby, whereas the second is a louder, high-frequency call, mostly indicating stress that the calf is too far away. And the recordings have proven that cattle calls between a mother and her offspring are individualized … that is, each cow and calf have characteristic, exclusive calls.

And despite rumors I’ve heard to the contrary, it appears that cows in different parts of the world do not, in fact, moo with a different accent, although what an absolutely lovely thought! Continue reading

Thank you, Blossom

Did you know that a milkmaid, a cow, and an observant doctor are to thank for the eradication of smallpox from the developed world?

In 1796, English physician and scientist Edward Jenner developed our first modern-day vaccine after treating a milkmaid for blisters on her hands. The blisters were from a mild disease called cowpox, which was often transmitted from cows to milkmaids. During treatment, Jenner noticed that milkmaids who recovered from cowpox never contracted smallpox, the most virulent and deadly disease of the time, killing 400,000 people a year in Europe alone during the 1700s and an estimated 300–500 million people worldwide during the 20th century (smallpox was only declared eradicated in 1979).

From that astute observation, Jenner went on to develop the world’s first vaccine, and his discovery is said to have saved more lives than the work of any other person in history.

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The milkmaid had contracted cowpox from a cow named Blossom, and Jenner used fluids from that cow’s blisters to develop his vaccine. Blossom’s hide now hangs in a place of honor at St George’s medical school library in Tooting, England. Continue reading

Tu Tulip Vases

Who doesn’t love a tulip in bloom this time of year? And a pink one at that?!

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Right by the front door at my local Walgreens, I spied these pink beauties in the beginning stages of their spring sprout, so I brought two of them home for $7.99 each. All you do to continue forcing their bloom is to add a titch of water to the bottom compartment of their oh-so-clever glass vase that has a plastic screen just beneath the bulbs.

The roots seek the water, the tulips start to grow, and then, voilà … tulips! What I like about this idea is the fact that I also purchased a container for forcing blooms again this time next year and five pink tulips bulbs that I’ll plant in my garden (x2). The company that thought up this brilliant idea is Bloomaker.com. Continue reading

“Accidental” Furs

When it comes to winter fashion in the lower 48, fur went faux a long time ago.

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Promotion photo for the film You’re My Everything (1949) featuring Anne Baxter via Wikimedia Commons

Given the overwhelmingly negative vibe surrounding the issue of fur anything, it was a real eyebrow-raiser for me to learn that fur—yes, real fur—may be trending toward chic once again.

What?!

Got his attention …

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Photo by Mariomassone via Wikimedia Commons

Now before you get your knickers in a bunch, you must understand that this new fur industry ain’t what it used to be. In fact, it’s taking the “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra to a whole new level of, well … resourcefulness.

So, tell me, darling—how do you feel about wearing (gulp) roadkill fur?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Come back here and listen to the whole story. I mean, heck, it’s not like I’m asking you to eat bugs or anything. And, just look how pretty:

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Photo of woman in fur hat and muff courtesy of Petite Mort Fur

The woman in the photo above is wearing fur reclaimed from animals that were killed on a roadway. She really is. This artistic handling of such unsavory, ah, “media” is the genius of Pamela Paquin, founder of Petite Mort Fur, an elite fashion design company. Thirty-nine-year-old Paquin salvages what she calls “accidental furs” from road-killed animals in the United States in order to craft haute hand muffs, leg warmers, hats, and wraps.

Giving a whole new meaning to “abs of steel,” Paquin harvested her first roadkill last year. “I got this crazy knife that was completely wrong for the task, got my hazmat suit on, took a shot of whiskey, and just started doing it,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Equipped with better tools and talent refined by trial-and-error, Paquin is carving out a place for her company in the eco-fashion industry.

“Accidental furs are loving resurrections of our fuzzy wild neighbors who have met with an untimely or natural death,” she explains. “Each luxurious piece is handmade, individually numbered, custom tailored to each owner’s specifications, befitting an heirloom investment.”

Not even the most passionate animal activist could find fault with her mantra: “Good taste is never at the expense of an other.”

Petite Mort also gives a percentage of each purchase to support Building Corridors and Critical Paths for Vermont Wildlife.

If you’re ready to jump on this trend at ground-level, Paquin says, “As with all things precious, our 2014-15 winter season is limited. Contact us at info@petitemortfur.com to inquire about your custom-designed piece.” Continue reading

For the love of farming …

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The Irene Dairy Farm’s unique Barn, fountain and farmyard, by Monxdavies via Wikimedia Commons

Wendell Berry said, “Why do farmers farm, given their economic adversities on top of the many frustrations and difficulties normal to farming? And always the answer is: ‘Love. They must do it for love.’ Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children. They love the measure of independence that farm life can still provide. I have an idea that a lot of farmers have gone to a lot of trouble merely to be self-employed to live at least a part of their lives without a boss.”

That just about says it all. We all know about famous farmers like Wendell Berry, Jimmy Carter, and Barbara Kingsolver. But it might surprise you that some people who have become very successful in other areas just can’t resist the urge to farm. They don’t need the money; they don’t need the bounty; and they certainly don’t need the headaches. Why do they do it? They must do it for love!

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Laurits Andersen Ring – National Gallery of Norway via Wikimedia Commons

Here are a few of the famous farmers among us that just might surprise you …

Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, has been a passionate advocate of organic farming since the 1980s, and is now an outspoken opponent of GMOs. “It is now 14 years since I first suggested that organic farming might have some benefits and ought to be taken seriously. I shall never forget the vehemence of the reaction … much of it coming from the sort of people who regard agriculture as an industrial process, with production as the sole yardstick of success.”

Comedian Roseanne Barr lives on an organic macadamia nut farm in Hawaii. “I’m a farmer now, and it’s fantastic. My goal is to be totally self-sufficient and grow everything that I eat. There’s something about earning your dinner that’s cool. I got the fame and the fortune that I always wanted. But I have to say what I have now, it’s even better.”

Actor Russell Crowe owns a 1,400-acre ranch in Australia where he raises over 700 head of Black Angus cattle. “It’s a total oasis. You go to the farm, and if you let the rhythm of the farm be your rhythm and dominate, whatever’s going on in your mind, you can settle it down and sort it out,”

Actress Nicole Kidman and her husband, singer Keith Urban, have both a cattle ranch in Australia and a farm in Nashville, where they raise alpacas and vegetables.

Actress Reese Witherspoon has a farm in Ojai, California, where she raises goats, pigs, and miniature donkeys. “It’s so good for the kids to learn about animals and kindness and compassion. I make them clean the stalls.”

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Peter Andreas Blix – Oslo Museum via Wikimedia Commons

Actor Tom Selleck grows 63 acres of avocados on his ranch in California; actor Jamie Foxx grows avocados right next door. Singer Jason Mraz also grows avocados near San Diego, where he harvests 30,000 pounds of the fruit a year!

Actress Elizabeth Hurley has a 400-acre organic farm in Gloucester, England, and recently launched a line of all-natural snack bars from food produced on her farm.

Actor Mark Ruffalo lives on a 50-acre former dairy farm in New York, where he grows strawberries and hay and plans to raise sheep. Continue reading

lithops

Go ahead, take a guess:

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Photo by Yellow Cloud via Wikimedia Commons

Animal, vegetable, mineral … or alien?

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Photo by Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons

Leaning toward alien, aren’t you?

Here’s a hint:

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Photo by Amada44 via Wikimedia Commons

Note the pot in which they’re planted.

These little curiosities are, indeed, vegetable. Formally known as lithops (a genus that contains several species), they are succulent plants commonly called “living stones” or “pebble plants.” You can see why.

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Photo by Anselm Bradford via Wikimedia Commons

“Lithops are true mimicry plants: their shape, size, and color causes them to resemble small stones in their natural surroundings. The plants blend in among the stones as a means of protection. Grazing animals, which would otherwise eat them during periods of drought to obtain moisture, usually overlook them. Even experts in the field sometimes have difficulty locating plants for study because of this unusual deceptive camouflage,” explains enthusiast Nick Rowlette. “In the wild, lithops inhabit vast dry regions of southern Africa. Several areas in which these plants grow receive less than two inches of rainfall per month throughout the entire year.”

And, here’s the really cool part: Lithops do this:

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Photo by Michael Wolf via Wikimedia Commons

You want some now, don’t you?

Well, then, awaken your inner dormant gardener from her winter sleep and indulge your newfound lithop love! It’s easy:

Order live lithops from a U.S. Etsy shop like San Pedro Cactus or try your hand at starting seeds from Whatcom Seeds Company. The seeds germinate within 14 days and, once started, need no water from fall until spring. Continue reading

The Countdown Begins

Fireworks, dancing, kissing at midnight … who doesn’t love the revelry of ringing in the New Year?

But what’s the deal with people dropping things on New Year’s Eve? We had to know. It turns out that the Times Square Ball was, indeed, the first celebratory ball to drop (on New Year’s Eve, 1907), but now there are all sorts of other crazy things descending from the heavens on the last night of the year. Where did it all begin?

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Photo by Hunter Kahn via Wikimedia Commons

Apparently, at sea. Before the convenience of modern navigational tools on ships, sailors relied on “time balls,” usually stationed onshore at observatories because the clocks were set according to the positions of the sun and stars. The large wooden or metal spheres were dropped once a day at 1 p.m., and ships could observe and reset their time when the ball started dropping. One time ball—installed at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, in 1833 (below)—has dropped at 1 p.m. every day since then.

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Photo by Rept0n1x via Wikimedia Commons

The dropping tradition has since been adopted by countless cities around the country—with certain regional eccentricities, that is. Take a look …

The Annual Peach Drop in Atlanta, Georgia, is celebrated by dropping an 8′ peach, crafted of painted fiberglass and foam, from a whopping 138′.

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Peach Drop Tower, photo by Rjluna2 via Wikimedia Commons

In Mt. Olive, North Carolina, you’ll find the New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop, but don’t wait until midnight to catch a glimpse of the giant glowing pickle’s descent, which is scheduled to coincide with midnight Greenwich Mean Time (7 p.m. North Carolina time).

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Photo by RadioFan via Wikimedia Commons

It would seem that North Carolina is keen on the New Year’s Eve drop because, in addition to the pickle, it also hosts the Raleigh Acorn Drop in “The City of Oaks.” The giant copper acorn weighs 1,250 lbs, and unlike the premature pickle drop, the acorn is ceremoniously lowered at the stroke of midnight. And at the Flea Drop in Eastover (known as Flea Hill until the 1920s), a 30-lb, 3′-tall flea made of fabric, foam, wire, and wood is dropped at midnight.

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Photo by Ke4roh via Wikimedia Commons

In Vincennes, Indiana, an 18′, 500-lb watermelon ball made of steel and foam is raised 100′ in the air during the countdown to midnight. On the hour, the watermelon opens and drops 11 real locally-grown watermelons amid a flurry of fireworks.

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Photo via VisitIndiana.com

Panama City, Florida, drops 10,000 inflated beach balls along Pier Park’s beachfront boardwalk at the nation’s only family beach-ball drop. Elsewhere in Florida, Key West drops a 6′ queen conch shell, Miami drops a 35′ orange from a 400′ perch, and Sarasota drops an 8′-tall glowing pineapple.

So this New Year’s Eve, look up … you never know what you might see dropping from the midnight sky. Continue reading

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a magical visitor

Ah, the magic of winter on a farm.

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Photo by AwesomeMachine via Wikimedia Commons

There are trees draped in garlands of snow, gentle Jerseys warming the milk barn, and tracks of critters etched here and there upon the frozen ground.

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Photo by John Good via Wikimedia Commons

Look a bit closer … what kind of critter do you suppose left those tiny tracks?

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Photo courtesy of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve via Wikimedia Commons

Oh, maybe.

But if we were on a farm in Sweden, we might sooner say that the passing critter had been …

a tomten.

A who-ten?

A tomten! In fact, here’s one now—not the rabbit, mind you, but the mysterious little fellow traipsing around the farm buildings …

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Image courtesy of Pamsik.livejournal.com

The tomten is a legendary gnome-ish sort of figure from Swedish folklore. He was said to resemble a miniature, bearded old man wearing drab woolen clothing and a red stocking cap (much like another legendary character we all know).

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Image courtesy of Pamsik.livejournal.com

In stories of old, a solitary tomten generally lived on a farm and cared for its animal inhabitants by night. He was never seen by humans, though, and left little trace of his presence except for occasional tiny tracks in the snow. The farm people had an abiding respect for the tomten, despite his lack of visibility, and they would leave sweet rice porridge with butter outside for him on frigid winter nights—particularly on Christmas Eve.

Here, a wily fox is eyeing the tomten’s bowl of porridge …

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Image courtesy of Pamsik.livejournal.com

Speaking of tomtens and wily foxes, I found a video I had to share with you about these curious Christmastime creatures. It is a clip from an animated German film called Tomte Tummetott und der Fuchs (Tomten Tummetott and the Fox), and a bit of poking around revealed that the film is based on a (perhaps even lovelier) children’s book by beloved Swedish author Astrid Lindgren of Pippy Longstocking fame.

So, watch this tidbit of winter wonder:

And then check out this beautiful book, which can be read time and again until the spring thaw:

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And, if you want to include a bowl of tomten porridge alongside the cookies and milk you leave for Santa this Christmas Eve, you can find a tummy-warming recipe here. Continue reading

arm yourself

My book designer, Karina, discovered a new way of knitting at her last craft party. If you haven’t heard of this latest craze, it’s easy, it’s fun, and it’s fast … necessarily so, since you’re all tied up … literally … in yarn, using your arms instead of needles. And as you can imagine, there are a number of reasons why you can’t be tied up for too long.

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Photo, flaxandtwine.com

Because of the size of the stitches your “needles” produce, you can make an infinity scarf in about a half hour, even if you’re a beginner.

Find a step-by-step written tutorial with photos for the scarf pictured above at a wonderful blog called Flax & Twine: A Happy Handmade Life.

Or knit a blanket in just 45 minutes with a great video tutorial from SimplyMaggie.com.

An added bonus? It’s a workout for your arms … we’re talking toning, big time. Continue reading