Just about every week I shake open the pages of the newspaper to find that some routine chore I have been performing since childhood has suddenly become illegal.
Dragging trash to the road for the garbage truck used to be a sign of responsible citizenship. The progressives among us cheerfully said farewell to the oil drum fires 20 years ago when the garbage trucks started coming around. We even bought blue bins and submitted to recycling seminars from our preteen children.
Then the county imposed a one-bag limit, a weight limit on that one bag and a directive to use clear plastic so the authorities could see what we put in the trash.
The clear plastic thing turned into a torches and pitchforks parade and the County abandoned the idea. But they were right back last year with a warning that if we didn’t set out an organic bin every week they wouldn’t pick up our garbage at all. Out came the torches and pitchforks again. Once we had explained the concept of home composting to the garbage police, they went back to their offices to plot a spring offensive. We should hear from them any time now.
My insurance company gave me 60 days to have my furnace tank replaced because it was three inches too close to the furnace. When they came out to inspect the new tank, they were appalled to find out they were insuring a farm and gave me 30 days to find another insurer. The new company sent another inspector who told me they were okay with the farm but I had to get rid of the kids’ dirt bikes.
In the barn, it’s worse. In many jurisdictions, animal rights groups have won a ban on just about every procedure that requires you to put a hole in an animal. Tail docking, castration, ear tagging, tooth removal, de-horning — all are in peril and all will go the way of the farm dump. You can still drive nails into a horse, though. For some reason, everyone thinks that’s a reasonable thing to do.
I’ll be happy to see the ear tags go, if they do. Every spring I buy two steers to fatten for the freezer and every fall just before they go to the abattoir, they shake their tags off somewhere in the pasture. The first time this happened, I got all lathered up about the $1,500 fine for shipping an untagged animal and dashed off to get new tags from the guy who sold me the cows. Then I went next door to ask my neighbour Jim if I could borrow his ear tagger. (You need a different set of very expensive tagging pliers for each species of animal.)
“You don’t have a head gate or a squeeze, do you?” said Jim.
“No,” I said. “But these guys are pretty quiet and the holes are still in the ears.”
He nodded. “Take an old man’s advice and don’t try to hold on to the pliers.”
Since these steers were untagged illegals, I named them Frank and Jesse. On Shipping Day Minus Five, I went to the barn with the taggers and poured a pail of grain into the trough. I picked Jesse, because he was the spookier of the two, worked my way down to his ear, gently eased the spike into the hole and squeezed. Jesse exploded like a barrel full of homemade champagne and went romping out into the barnyard with the taggers hanging from his ear. They eventually dropped out and I retrieved them.
On Moving Day Minus Two, it was Frank’s turn. When I reached his ear, he stopped chewing for a brief moment, as though he remembered something, but then he sighed and went back to eating. I squeezed and Frank took off like a winged Pegasus. He fishtailed and bucked and the taggers flew up in a high arc, landed on the barn roof, then clattered down into the eavestrough.
Jim also had a 20-foot ladder. But steel ladders do not grip very well on steel eavestroughs. This is a lesson that registers very strongly when you are dangling 18-feet in the air, screaming for your wife. I was still young and the manure pile was soft, so that story came to a happy ending.
But my wife told a meeting of the federation that if farmers are going to live by the rules, practise animal welfare and serve on the front line of food security, their widows and orphans should be given generous pensions by the state.
Dan Needles is a writer and the author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays. He lives on a small farm near Collingwood, Ont. His website is www.danneedles.ca.