Cat Person

I’ve had dogs all my life. They catch my eye wherever I see them out in the world, and my husband always knows where my attention will go when we’re out on the street. It’s a little inside joke between us because I am so predictable. I think I am more attuned to dogs than to people, sometimes.

At home, my own dogs are closely connected to my awareness and I can sense what they are feeling and what they want me to know about their needs. It’s just natural, and its often a two-way street.

Cats, on the other hand, are foreigners. I don’t “get” an animal who doesn’t care much about my attention unless it is to accomplish their own aims. Some of my best friends are cat lovers and the fact that they can appreciate an animal that doesn’t adore them back seems to point out my own flawed character.

Perhaps I am going to change that, starting today. As I suspected, now that there is animal feed stored in the barn, we have developed quite a mouse population. My husband cleaned the barn last week and was grossed out by mouse nests, droppings, and live creatures scattering every time he went to clean out a new drawer or shelf. Time for a working barn cat.

20170616_164023Meet Emerald, the new hire. I picked her out of the lineup at the local shelter. I wanted a mouser who did not have a great need for human interaction, and they suggested she might fit the bill. Her huge green eyes suggested the name to me.

“Emmie” came home in a cardboard cat box and I closed up the barn before setting her free. I planned to play with her for a while and get some nice pictures for the blog, but she immediately shot under the shelves and hid so I may never see her again. Good thing I took one photo before leaving the shelter.

My aim is to make Emmie the queen of the barn to patrol all night and sleep during the day. That means she needs to learn that this is her new home. I set up a nice food/water station and a cat climbing tower so she could hop up and look out the window. I bought her a cat litter box but eventually I’d like to open the barn overhead door just a crack so she can go do her business outside.

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That’s once she feels like the barn is her home, so I plan to keep her closed up inside for a few days.

For now, here is my view of Emerald. Don’t see her? Neither do I but I know she is somewhere in the dark spidery recesses under the bottom shelf. Maybe one day she’ll trust me enough to come out and visit when I enter the barn.

Will I ever relate to cats?

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A Moment With the Pond Folk

20170601_131856I had a nice hour or two out at our farm pond, fishing for bluegills. I love sitting quietly, listening the the birds and frogs and watching that bobber for the faint wiggle that means a fish is considering the bait on my hook. I caught a good number of fish, although I liberated each one and tossed it back to try and outsmart me again another day. Two of them were the biggest I’ve ever caught. These would be the ones who have survived four winters since they moved to the farm and are fat and happy in their underwater paradise. Here’s a blurry photo I took while balancing the fish on my tackle box and holding my phone with two fingers while touching the button with a third. It’s a miracle I snapped a shot at all before he flipped off the bench.

BullfrogI heard a noise and glanced down at my feet. There was a shiny green bullfrog sitting in the water right next to me. He sat perfectly still in spite of my conversation with him and my attempt at a photo shoot. It seems he had me square in his sights, boldly unafraid of my reach. It was not until I shifted my weight that he did a quick backflip and disappeared with a flashing plop into the pond.

For me, it is a real luxury to break free from chores and spend an hour at the pond, just me and the fishies. Time stands still and my mind can wander wherever it wants. I often find myself thinking of my father and how his most blissful escape was to go out to the lake in his rowboat to fish for bluegills in the evening. I feel like he’s out there with me when I am at my little pond.

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Barnyard Breakfast

20170602_082124My favorite time of day is the morning meet-and-greet out at the barn. I feel like a major celebrity. On the walk out, the first thing I hear is the crowing and clucking of the chickens sounding the fanfare that, “Mommy’s coming!” They crane their feathery necks to see around the corner as the gravel crunches under my approaching feet.

When the barn garage door goes up, the goats jump off their lounging perches and begin “Baaa-ing” at the place where I always appear with their big scoop of pellets. I open the door into the chicken run and there they all are, clustered in front and looking up expectantly. I say, “Good morning, Girls!” (Internally, I tell myself I need to change up the script.)  I open their run so they can spread out into the barnyard and they head right to their favorite spots for the morning bug hunt.

The goats crowd me as I step into their yard to pat their chins and push them out of my way to head for their shelter. They bounce around my legs, wagging their tails and feigning innocence as they bump me with the sides of their horns on the way to the food trough. I have to use those horns as levers to hold them out of the way so I can dump the pellets. Their greatest triumph is if they can bump the scooper so it spills all over the floor.

Next, I head back to the barn and get a scoop of cracked corn to scatter into the chicken run. I am training them to come running when I say the traditional, “Here chick-chick-chick!” They like the corn, but out of the corners of their beady little eyes they are watching for the bag of dried meal worms for dessert. This is like Christmas every day.

20170602_082047As I close up the barn doors to leave them all to it for the day, I notice that the massive bag of peanuts we bought for goat treats has been chewed open by the barn mice and is leaking onto the floor. One more task to tackle, later. The chickens are delighted to find this cache of extra treats.

Last, I pick up the morning eggs, snap off a handful of fresh asparagus, and head back to the house for my own breakfast. On a sunny spring morning, I feel a warm glow of satisfaction with my farm.  Who knew that I would become a farmer at this point in my life? What an unexpected pleasure.

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How to Feed Goats

I am a trial-and-error farmer who reads up on the wisdom of the internet and takes my best guess on which advice to heed. When we prepared to adopt our two angora goat last fall, we set aside a nice fenced pasture and worried that it might not be enough to keep them fed.  It is turning out that just the opposite is true.

Last fall, I made a point of leaving all the scrubby grasses and weeds because I had read that goats love the interesting stuff. They showed little interest in going out into their field unless I went out with them. So finally, we mowed it all down and planted a pasture mix in the hope that this spring they’d glory in all that fresh fodder.

Now it is spring and the field has grown lush and tall, but the goats don’t like to walk through it and instead spend all day lying around on the bare spots. I quit giving them hay to encourage them to eat their pasture, but even that wasn’t working.

20170531_193735Today, we surrendered and mowed their field down. Suddenly it is much more interesting to them. They especially like the criss-crossed tractor tire tracks that are just like a matrix of goat paths.

So, what’s the moral of this story? I guess that trial-and-error is not such a bad method to learn a new skill as long as you keep trying things.  If my goats could speak English they could explain to me what they had in mind, but since they don’t I have to be observant and pick up on all their little signals.

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Sunny Spring Day on the Farm

20170515_122042We had such a nice day this week with warm weather and sunshine. The animals were all feeling frisky and friendly to “the staff.” Cooper, my rooster, kept following me around and clucking for my attention wherever I was doing my chores. I’m not sure what he wanted because he doesn’t really relish being petted but he did not want to be ignored.

The goats were bouncing around and wrestling each other by the horns. You can tell when they are happy because they crack their heads together and twist those horns to see who can push the other one out of the way. I love my goats.20170518_134744

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Ready For an Orchard?

20170508_134506Last week, we added the next big thing to the farm. We ordered fruit trees to begin our little orchard – 4 apples, 2 peaches, and a cherry tree, all dwarfs. These are from a local orchard, as we are lucky enough to live in the midst of the Michigan fruit belt. They were “bare root” seedlings, so no pots to lug home, and they just nestled into the soil in our designated orchard row. Now their only job is to make themselves at home.

I carefully read the directions on how to prune them on their first day. It was painful to chop off so much, but they insisted the trees would do better if they were topped off at 36 inches and all branches cut to half their length. Ouch. My husband feared that I’d murdered them.

However, a week later, little leaf buds are popping out and I think everything is going to be alright. I am being diligent about giving them lots of water, and we made little dams around the base to hold in a gallon or so at a time until it seeps down to the roots. Those darn chickens get really excited about fresh mud and come running behind me to peck and scratch and look for worms. Each time I go to water again, the dams have been broken down and scattered.

It will be four or five years before we will actually see fruit off these trees, but I am pleased to have taken the first step to adding this new component to Bluestem Pond Farm.

 

 

 

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Spring Colors

20170505_131154I’m really appreciating the spring renewal around here. This was a bumper crop year for the fluorescent yellow “Wintercress” that we last saw in such glory back in 2010. Since then, we added the maple trees, the chickens and goats, the vineyard, and the pond, not to mention the house. So, this place has really progressed.

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Redbud

We’ve got color from the flowering trees as well, and it is fleeting so you have to stop and drink it in before it fades to green.

Still to come is our dogwood and the big pink blossoms forming on our little horse chestnut tree. I love looking forward to each new display taking its turn.

 

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Service berry bushes

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Carding Ely’s Mohair

This business of processing all that hair that was sheared off my goats has proven to be very time-consuming. I decided to work on Ely’s black/gray hair first, and still haven’t gotten all the locks teased apart. I like to do it when I can sit outside in the sunshine and we have had a lot of rain.20170507_173058

However, my fancy new drum carding machine arrived this week and I jumped ahead to see how it will work. It is really a clever invention. The fiber feeds into a small cylinder with teeth that pulls it under and then brushes up against a big cylinder with fine teeth that collect the fibers all laid out in the same direction and combed out beautifully.

As you turn the crank and feed the mohair into the hopper, it begins to accumulate on the small drum because the big one is too full to grab any more. Then, you use a tool to pull the hair loose from the drum and roll it carefully up into a cloud-soft “batt” of combed fibers.

I have done about a third of Ely’s hair and the batts have already filled a big cardboard carton. I have no idea how  much yarn this will make but it is sure to keep me spinning for the whole winter.

Now that I’m realizing how much of this silvery gray fiber I’ll have, I am beginning to think about whether I could dye it to have a bit of variety in my yarn. I haven’t figured out yet at what point I would do the dying – in the batt or after I’ve spun the yarn. On top of that, how will dying work on a dark color to start with? So much still to figure out, and I haven’t even begun with Eddy’s white hair!

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Say hi to Ely

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Mohair Harvest

So, a few days after the goats were sheared, I am deep into the mohair processing. A combination of the boys having grown and a much more thorough shearing generated easily twice as much fleece as I was able to harvest last year.  I am more experienced as well, and am working through it with a lot more confidence this time.

20170415_094815I have already cleaned it all, a five- or six-step process, and air dried it in the sunshine and overnight in a warm room. Last night, I began pulling the locks apart and teasing out the bits of embedded hay and pine shavings. It was rather comical because there was so much static electricity that I’d collect a handful of loose hair and vegetable matter and try to drop it on the ground but it would stick to my fingers even as I shook it and transferred it from hand to hand.  The most effective solution was to wipe it onto my jeans where it stuck to me like a fuzzy halo. I am less than a quarter of the way through it after a couple hours of work.

Before I can spin the mohair, it must be “carded”.  I accomplished this using two pin-style dog brushes and I learned through trial and error that taking time for this step made spinning so much easier. My husband watched me spend hours and hours manually picking through the piles last fall and vowed that he would buy me a carding machine the next time. This is a bit of an extravagance, but it is now on order and I think I will sing his praises for being so kind to me, by the time I  am done.

20170411_085125I have taken my beginning knitter lessons now, and have really been enjoying it. I am using up the last of my store of hand-spun yarn so that I can start fresh this fall. I took a break from this to knit a little outfit for my tiny granddaughter, Eleanor, who was born on Sunday. (Whoopee!) Is this cute, or what? I bought washable yarn since it will surely need laundering every hour it is worn. My mohair creations won’t be as forgiving so I don’t think I’ll make children’s clothes with it.

I have found that I really like knitting. I have trouble putting it down once I get started because I want to see what the next row will look like. We’re going on a short trip into Chicago today and I will take my latest project on the train with me to keep my hands busy. It’s nice to have a portable project.

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First Professional Shearing

So much new here, where do I start? Last week, we took Eddy and Ely to an alpaca farm to share the services of a professional shearer. They are now so skinny and small!

Here are somIMG_3312.Angora Goate pictures from that day.IMG_3324.Angora Goat

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Garlic

20170316_125346We purchased a big bag of garlic at Costco last month. It was way too much but you can’t buy a little of anything at that place. So, I tucked the bag away in the pantry and have been pulling out one bulb at a time.

So, look at this charming spring garlic plant. I’ve never seen such a thing! It is kind of pretty but not very useful for cooking.

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The Pond Awakens

20170316_154408(Enough of sadness, lets get back to wonder.)

Our farm pond has been sleeping through the long winter. The fish and frogs have gone down deep to sleep through the cold season, and the only movement is from the dried cattails rustling quietly in the rippling surface.

Pairs of geese have begun to arrive every day or so, checking out the environs for a good place to settle in and raise their babies. We chase them off and watch their indignant honking retreat as they look for someplace they won’t  be disturbed.

Funny, but the first sign of life in the pond is algae and plant life under the surface of the water. I’d have thought that it was too cold, but perhaps the reappearance of the sun is just enough to encourage growth.  I found a virtual forest of seaweed blooming on the pond floor the other day. Closer to the shore, long strings of slimy algae are beginning to form and reach out in hairy tails that wave in the currents.

A few more warm days and we’ll be hearing that welcome drone of the frogs calling to each other. Then we’ll see tadpoles in wiggling clumps along the shore and telltale beds where the bluegills lay their eggs. I love the spring renewal.

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Farm Disaster Month

20170308_130132We’ve had more excitement than I’d like this month. The big March winds last week flipped the goat shed over onto its roof. Nobody was hurt, thankfully, but we had to do some crazy maneuvering with the jeep to pull it back over. A few minutes later it flipped right over again. This motivated us  to move it further behind the barn and stake it down on two corners so hopefully we’ve eliminated that problem for the future.

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Old Silver

I’ve been sadly watching one of the old hens gradually decline. I’m assuming this was just a natural function of old age because nobody else was affected. Silver was moving slower all the time and finally spent her days sitting alone in quiet corners with her head tucked between her shoulders. My heart ached for her but I did not want to figure out how to hasten the process so I just checked on her every day, expecting one day to find her still and expired.

Here is where the sadder part of the story comes in. Yesterday I let the dogs out for an hour of fresh air after being cooped up all morning while we were away at church. I thought I heard a faint beeping behind the music I was listening to. I finally roused myself to check on it and I  discovered that Fionn had exceeded the perimeter of his wireless fence and was a good hundred feet beyond it, somewhere.

I bundled up and hurried outside to find him and went first to the goats to make sure he wasn’t bothering them. I opened the door to peek into the chicken coop and there he was, cornered and guilty, standing over a bloody chicken! I chased him home and locked him up in his crate after screaming at him furiously.

I returned to the chickens and found Silver dead and Goldy mortally injured. The rest of the chickens were huddled in fear out in the goat shed. There were feathers everywhere. I put Goldy out of her misery and buried them both out in the field.

This is really hard for me. As horrified as I was, I can’t really blame Fionn for following his instincts when he discovered he could somehow reach those chickens. I was sure that if I kept the batteries fresh in the radio collars I wouldn’t have to worry about the dogs getting out to the barn. I don’t know what went wrong, and we aren’t sure how he got past the electric fence as well. If the dog could do it, so could coyotes or foxes.

My idyllic farm life has suddenly been disrupted by the realities of danger and risk, and it is really upsetting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Time Between

20170303_134221This is that dull time between seasons, when the winter has become boring and routine and the spring’s repeated teasing and retreating is already getting old. My animals are feeling the same way, I think. The goats are impatient for whatever new excitement spring holds. Most of the time they curl their front legs under them and sleep in the yard. When I go to visit with a handful of peanuts, they show off for me, playing king of the mountain on their spools.

The chickens fan out into the field every morning looking for fresh new morsels but by late afternoon the old girls are already huddled on the roost in the coop ready to call it a day.  20170303_133949I have found that these old hens have adopted the goat shed as their daytime roost, where they can bask in the sun when it actually shines, coming through the hole the goats chewed in the tarp that was supposed to block the wind and rain. The young whipper-snappers wander freely around the barnyard but the old ones no longer share their curiosity.

I am occupying my own time trying to learn some new tricks. I took knitting lessons to find ways to use my thousand yards of mohair yarn from the goats. I’ve already made two hats and am now working on a scarf pattern I found in a spinning manual. My fingers are sore from pressing against the needle tips for hours.

What I have found is that my natural tendency to want to finish things is working against me. I find it really hard to put the knitting down until it is done and it has kept me up late at night or through long afternoons listening to the TV. Killing time usually makes me feel guilty but this time waster is creating actual tangible products so I have mixed feelings.

A fun development here in my part of the world is that there is a new yarn shop in town that is building up clientele by offering classes and an open knitting night for people to gather in the back of the store and chat while they work their magic. I went for the first time last week and really enjoyed the company of six or seven friendly women. I was flattered that the owner posted a photo of my first creation on her facebook page. I still don’t “do” facebook, but I discovered you can still see commercial pages without an id.

20170302_101235So, last, here is a parting shot of my dog, Fionny, watching longingly out the window for something to bark at.

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Signs of Spring 2017

20170218_074454We are having an early thaw and it’s fun to see all the harbingers of spring around the farm. We met this little guy in the driveway this morning and the dogs were thrilled. He “played possum” and waddled away as soon as the coast was clear. Possums have kind of charming little faces until they show their teeth.

I recently met a major milestone, in that I finished spinning all the mohair from my two angora goats. Since this was my first experience with it, I am sure it took a lot longer than it will in the future. I ended up with (literally) about a thousand yards of home-spun yarn. Now, I am in the middle of knitting lessons so I become capable of making things with what I have created.

20170217_160907Now that I have finished the whole mohair cycle, the goats have regenerated that long curly hair and next month I’ll have to shear them again. I would really prefer to pay someone to do the shearing because it was hard! I felt very inept and frustrated and vowed to farm out the work next year. I haven’t yet been able to find someone to do it and after six months, I can’t help thinking, “How hard could it really be for just two goats?” I was not yet that comfortable with handling them in September but we are more familiar now. Let’s see what happens.20170217_161013

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My Poor Ely

20170127_093549Yesterday, I was mystified when I checked on the goats for the night because Ely kept his head down even when I reached out to scratch his head. It was raining and cold and I had things to do so I left him alone to work it out. I laid in bed this morning, considering what I’d do if he were still in that state at breakfast time. I imagined a sprained muscle in his neck, maybe an ear infection, or who knows what.

When I went out to feed them this morning, I managed to get ahold of his head and try to tip it up. It turns out his beard had managed to freeze and mat up with the hair on his chest and he was effectively reined into that position. Poor guy! I went in for a scissors and after some chasing, managed to get him by the hair and hold him long enough to snip the connection and cut off some of the matting.20170127_093639

It seems like his brother, Eddy, could have helped out but while they are playmates they do not team up to help each other. In his constrained state, Ely could not eat out of the trough, pull hay from the rack, or perhaps even drink from the water bucket. The chickens were taking advantage of the situation and were all over the empty space at the goat food trough.

After I’d fixed him up, Ely hurried to the shed and began to chow down. I’m hoping he will also chase the chickens back to their own territory but it seems they have come to tolerate one another’s company pretty well. The goats are close to 100 pounds so I suspect they can stand up for themselves if20170127_093648 necessary.

I am learning how to be a goat mom by trial and error and this is just one more lesson for me. Some things that make me want to step in are really not my business. For other problems, though, I am really the savior of the flocks. I think only first hand experience will teach me the difference.

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Cozy Nest

20170117_113758I was looking for something in the barn yesterday and went to check inside a cabinet. See who was looking back out at me from a nest of insulation gathered from the walls. I should really have scooped it all out and scattered them but I did not have the heart to disturb these babies. I abandoned my plan to get a barn cat last fall in favor of traps but clearly they aren’t working. Maybe next year.

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Frozen Drips

20170113_092619There is a sheen of ice on everything, with drips off the trees and the fence caught in suspended animation as the temperature fluctuates between 32 and 30 all day long. The electric fence stopped its warning “tick” which probably indicates the ice is rendering it useless. At the same time, I don’t trust it not to shock me because when the frozen water thaws enough to conduct electricity it could travel through normally safe surfaces.

This was not one of those ice storms that weighs down branches and splinters the trees. It is just deceptively hazardous. I don’t like that condition on the road so I stayed home all day yesterday. The door to into the chicken coop is stuck tight.  I am waiting for the sun to come out to break the spell and let those frozen drips loosen and fall so we can get on with things.

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Spring Teaser

20170111_155551We are in a temporary thaw, with furious winds last night shaking the house and helping to evaporate off some of the excess moisture. The animals are taking this as a sign of spring and everyone is frisky. I opened the door to the chickens and they quickly spread out into the field to stretch their spindly little legs. The goats were delighted with the company and thundered at a gallop from one end of the pasture to the other, wagging their tails all the way.

I am not going to tell them the truth…that in a few days we’ll be back to winter and being cooped up and squeezed back into the narrow snowy path between the hay rack and the shed. I dread going out to put the chickens to bed because they were spread all the way out to the tree line and I don’t want to have to chase them all over with a stick. Hopefully, they will recognize bedtime and come in on their own. Last night I had to wade out to the goat shed because the gang of six decided to have a sleepover. I said no.

20170111_155905I strolled over to the pond and enjoyed the play of light over the melting ice. The temperature changed so fast that it is melting from the top down rather than the center out, if you know what I mean.

Now it has started raining and the sun has disappeared so I guess I’d better get booted back up and go rustle myself some chickens.

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The Babies Are Grown

Back in July I invested a small amount of cash in six baby chicks. I purchased Isa Browns because my “Isa” was a consistent daily layer of one jumbo brown egg. I watched them grow from sweet fuzzies to gawky dinosaurs running in a pack from corner to corner, avoiding the pecking beaks of the adults. I protected them with their own fenced area that the big birds couldn’t squeeze into until it seemed they had crossed the threshold of adulthood and needed to enter the coop to keep warm at night. I worried over them as they resisted that transition and tried to encourage them with no success.

20170109_111029Well, I am happy to report that the transition has completed, at five months of age. While we were away on a little vacation, the chicks began laying little brown eggs and sleeping up on the roost with the rest of the flock. They no longer seem to be getting bullied by the big girls and here they are clustered around the rooster like devoted groupies. The only way I can tell them apart from Isa, herself, is the smaller immature combs on their heads.

I wasn’t expecting eggs from this younger generation until spring, but they are suddenly producing four or five a day. They have very hard shells as my other chickens did at first, and they are decidedly “medium” eggs. I have gotten accustomed to the large to jumbo eggs from my big girls and this abundance of little almost-round eggs is interesting. See the difference between Isa’s jumbo egg over on the right and the large blue ones from my Araucanas.20170109_111532

This is fun to observe. The babies grew up running freely about the barnyard all day, and being cooped up by the snow is something new for them. They still stick together in a pack and my farm-sitter said they fought back with their beaks when he tried to herd them into the coop. Life in the flock will be changed forever by their influence. Hopefully for the better – I am not looking for an “Animal Farm” revolution.

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