Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy Christmas, Happy New Year!

Season's Greetings from Harrison Farm! As the New Year approaches -- and I have finally finished my Christmas cards! -- I want to extend all my best wishes to those of you who support my efforts on the farm!

During the Christmas Season, we've had many new faces join us on the Farm, including the beautiful horse pictured with me! I am very grateful for the good friends who brought me Flirt the Horse on Christmas Eve! For the last several years, I had cared for Lassy the Horse and Abe the Mule. I grew up with these two equine, who had belonged to my mother. Lassy passed away in the fall of 2010, and Abraham passed just a few months later in the winter of 2011. Since losing these wonderful animals to old age, my friends Angie & Elliott had offered to help me find a new horse. I told them that I was only willing to spend up to double what I had given for the last horse I bought: Tewanna, who was nick-named "Old Dollar" for her purchase price! Despite that low price, Tewanna was the best horse I ever had. We had many wonderful adventures together when I was young!

Things happen in a special way on the farm. Shortly before I left for Germany, Angie & Elliott told me of friends who were looking to find a loving home for Flirt. She was raised at Honey Bear farm, had been a novice reining champion, and was the mother of a World Champion Paint Horse. Unfortunately, Flirt had developed uterine cysts and could no longer be bred. Her owners at Honey Bear Farm loved her very much and did not want to sell her, but they were willing to give her to individual who would take good care of her. After meeting Flirt, I could tell she was a very special horse. Angie & Elliott agreed to be the delivery service, and Flirt arrived on Christmas Eve. She is extraordinarily beautiful and very, very smart! I feel incredibly blessed to have this fantastic mare, and even more blessed that I have good friends who would make this possible for me!

Christmas weekend was very busy for us, with travels to Fairborn and multiple family gatherings. I got to see many members of my family -- family through blood, through marriage, and through adoption. It was a very hectic weekend, but well worth it. On Christmas Eve, I attended Mass with friends at my home parish, Holy Family. The first time I ever attended Mass there was on Christmas Eve in 2003, and then I made my confirmation there at Easter 2006. My confirmation name is Joseph, which was also my father's. It is a special name to me, since Joseph is the patron saint of workers and the model of a good family leader. Saint Joseph shows me the importance of loving the family that is sent to us . . . which may or may not be related to us by blood. During all the hectic travels over Christmas -- and the many events and places I wanted to go to -- I reminded myself how extraordinarily blessed I am to have so many family members that God has sent into my life!

My gift this year, from my step-father & his wife, was two sheep! I am very excited to have these lovely ewes joining the menagerie at Harrison Farm! Since Gabe passed away and I butchered Thunder, I have missed having sheep of my very own. A couple of times I have made inquiries about purchasing ewes, but nothing ever came together right. My new sheep are a blessing, and a happy reminder of all the wonderful memories I made working with my grandfather's and my mother's flocks of sheep. The older I get, the more I understand those two remarkable individuals. I am extremely grateful to have had them in my life, and I appreciate this gift that is making it possible for me to carry on the traditions they handed me. Family is a marvelous blessing!

The holidays have not been without sadness and struggles. Most vivid, of course, is the loss of my beloved Captain. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her and miss her. I detest waste, and one of my deepest fears was that her death was a total loss. A miserable accident that wasted a precious life. What I was given by The Captain, however, lingers large even after her passing. She was an animal of great spirit, full of affection & curiosity. What has truly amazed me, though, is the number of people she touched without even realizing. When I wrote my blog post about The Captain, it was with a heavy heart and with an unsure mind. I did not know whether to share those details, but I felt I was untrue to The Captain if I did not speak honestly. I was amazed by the way The Captain touched people: within 48 hours of me posting about her loss, 146 people had viewed that piece! Now, those are small numbers for many bloggers, but for Harrison Farm that was huge! The link to this piece was shared on Facebook by people I did not even know, and my hope is that people learned through reading about my beloved pup. In addition, a friend of mine contacted her cousin -- a vet -- who was able to offer some closure on what happened to The Captain. As best we can tell, it was still a terrible freak incident, but it helped me to say goodbye to my darling girl.

Augustus turned one year old on December 19th, and celebrated with a delicious hotdog! He was, however, very down after his sister died. It was a full week after The Captain passed before Gus acted at all like normal. Animals are creatures of instinct & sense, and Gus knew things were not right. As he mourned his companion, we debated how soon to get another dog. The loneliness I observed in Augustus and the loud howls of coyotes at night were signs that we should go ahead. Through friends, I learned about a litter of pups near Gambier. After speaking with the farmer, it turned out that I knew his wife and his father! On Boxing Day, we drove to see these Pyrenees dogs, and ended up coming home with a new pup! The farm where she grew up is in Harrison Township in Knox County, and just a few miles down the road from the cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried. I think it was meant to be!

The new pup is doing quite well! We are getting to know her and she is getting to know her new home. I was immediately struck by two things: she is very attuned to the livestock and she wants to please me. It is turning out to be MUCH easier to train one puppy than two! Augustus is a good role model for her. It took him a couple days of being afraid of this little dog -- only half his size! -- to overcome his anxiety. Now they are fast friends! The puppy is gradually getting more freedom and is responding well to training. While there is no replacing The Captain, I am grateful that God provided another dog that is fitting in so well to the farm. It is hard to lose the ones that we love, but life is about changes.

A new year is about new hopes, new expectations. If we live with regrets and sorrow, we will darken our own souls. On New Year's Day 2011, I watched the movie "Invictus". I was profoundly struck by the ability of Nelson Mandela to overcome the anger that must have been in his heart from the struggles he faced during Apartheid. As Mandela, actor Morgan Freedom explained this with the quote, "Forgiveness liberates." Everything in life is affected by how we choose to view it. The same thing, the same situation can be viewed by different individuals in radically different ways. Life has taught me that we must look forward, that we must learn lessons, and that we can choose our attitude toward what happens to us. I am excited for the new year, I am appreciative of those that support me, and I wish many blessings on you in 2012!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Captain

Rarely do I remember the farm as quiet as it was while I buried The Captain. No goats cried, no roosters crowed, no dogs barked. Even the cow and the horse stopped bickering. It was as though all creatures on the farm realized my heart was far too full of sorrow to give any attention to them. This is not a happy story. It is traumatic and painful. I tell you not to extend my own sorrow, but rather to try to convey in some manner the relationship between farmers and our animals.

The amount of joy that The Captain brought into my life was profound. She was one of the most beautiful dogs I have ever seen. Her tail was constantly in the air, waving as she anticipated new adventures. Captain was my farm companion, following me everywhere. She was also a dog full of mischief: for the first 8 months of her life, I thought she was a boy! As she approached her first birthday, I was anxious to get Captain spayed. Augustus -- her brother -- had been neutered, but I did not want to risk any puppies from unknown fathers. Captain & Gus were absolutely inseparable. They were the last pups from my mother's Pyrenees bitch Dolly, thus they were truly special to me in so many ways!

The Captain was spayed on December 5th, and surgery went relatively well. She did have excessive bleeding, and required IV fluids, but this is not uncommon with large breeds. During her recovery period, Captain appeared to be doing exactly as expected. I had her on a chain in the barn, where she had access to the outside, but could sleep curled up with her brother in a bed of hay. Often if I was away from the farm for the day, I would tether either Captain or Gus. This helped to prevent any misadventures! On December 15th, I called my vet's office to let them know that I would cancel Captain's appointment for the next day. She was healing as expected, and I planned to take her stitches out myself. (Stitch removal is something I have done many times on the farm -- to animals and people!)

I awoke mid-morning on December 16th and fixed myself some oatmeal. I observed Gus standing outside the barn barking, but this was not highly unusual. He was looking toward our neighbors' home, and Gus does love to bark at their dogs! After pouring myself some coffee, I realized that Gus was continuing to bark and my other dog Jolie was now barking as well. Still in my pajamas, I left my coffee to stroll down to the barn and reassure Augustus. After petting him, I walked over to the corner where The Captain was tethered. I was excited to let her know that today was the day: stitch removal and release from the chain for a good run!

From a psychological perspective, there are times when the mind cannot process what the brain visually sees. In our human schemata, we can understand two separate concepts, but not when they are put together. "Green sky." "Summer snow." "Purple grass." Walking into the barn that morning, my brain could not immediately process what I saw. "Dog slaughterhouse." Captain was leaning against a bale of hay, and she raised her head & wagged her tail at me. This was perfectly normal. The pile of intestines laying in front of me and the blood all around was also normal -- but a normal from my past work at the slaughterhouse. I tried to think. Did Gus get intestines from something and bring them in here? Then my brain processed the blood that was covering the abdomen and legs of my beloved dog. I ran to her and fell on my knees in my pajamas. Captain was coherent. She knew me. She welcomed affection, but she was incredibly weak.

I turned and fled to the house. I threw off my fluffy white bathroom, and hurried to put my Carhartt overalls on to cover my pajamas and transfer to my muck boots instead of my slippers. I ran back to the barn again, still trying to understand what was happening. I gave the Captain some comfort and then gingerly lifted one of her rear legs to see what was going on. The intestines I saw told me that this was a very, very bad situation. In times of terrible trouble, we turn to those with whom we have travelled difficult roads before. I give all due credit to my step-father Joe that he managed to understand the incomprehensible goatherd who was crying on the phone telling him that she needed him to come NOW because something terrible had happened to her dog.

From across the farm, I could hear Joe fire up his Dodge truck almost immediately. I told Captain that I was there and Joe would be there momentarily. When he arrived, I held Captain's head as Joe positioned her to get a better look at her abdomen. With a clear view, it was much worse than I had realized. Captain's entire abdomen was opened up, with intestines gaping out. The complication was that she had been laying in a barn. Yes, doctors expose internal organs all the time during surgery -- but that is in a sterile, controlled environment. Captain was in a barn. Dirt, hay, manure . . . this is exactly why sheep producers fear prolapses in animals so much. It isn't that the internal items leave the body; it is that they are exposed to so many things that are dangerous for the inside of the body.

Having another human there helped my brain to comprehend the enormity of this tragedy: my beloved dog had to be put down, and soon. I asked Joe if he would do it for me. As I held The Captain's head, I knew exactly what our timeline was. Joe would drive down Berger Road, turn onto Oregon Road, proceed up his driveway, enter the house, go to the guncase, pull out the needed bullets, pick up the gun, return to his truck, and drive back to my barn. I told The Captain how much I loved her, how much joy she had brought to my life, how grateful I was for her. I wanted Joe to hurry so her pain would end. I never wanted him to arrive so I would lose her. Again, I heard his truck fire up in the distance as he headed our way.

I am a farm kid. Too often as a child did I see my grandfather pick up a gun and place it in the crook of his arm, knowing he was headed to put down an animal. It was always the right decision, but it was never an easy choice. The thing you have to understand about farm kids is that we eat our pets. Every child must go through that first experience of loving a sheep or a lamb or a cow -- and then realizing that animal ends up on the dinner table. Every child on a farm must learn that there is a circle of life . . . which includes animals and humans. We are farmers and we must be responsible enough to make the humane choices for all creatures. We learn which creatures are safer to love, and which are meant for human consumption. It is not desensitization. Rather, it is because we are so sensitive that we accept the profound nature of God's creation. We accept our role in the circle of life, and we learn to make the tough decisions. But it never makes them easier.

The memory of my grandfather might have toughened me for the reality of being a human that loves an animal that must be put down, but it has never made it easier. As Joe walked up with his gun in the crook of his arm, I looked straight into Captain's eyes and allowed my tears to cascade freely on her face. I kissed her, stood up, and walked outside. I threw my arms around Gus, and waited for the sound of a gun firing. The sound that meant I would never see Captain & Gus run together again, the sound that meant I would never hold my dog again, the sound that meant we were being cruelly denied a future together.

I am a butcher. I know how long it takes an animal to die. I know this because I have held my knife to slaughter hundreds of animals. I returned to the barn when I knew Captain would have bled out. It did not take long; she had lost a great deal of blood all ready. Joe opened his arms, and I went into his hug, crying freely for my beautiful girl. An hour before, I was fixing my breakfast, looking forward to a relaxing morning before a big catering job. Now I was standing before my dead dog, with her blood on me, barely understanding what had transpired.

Joe & I began searching the barn. Every possible scenario went through my head. The Captain had been fine when I checked her at 9:30pm the previous night. I called my vet. None of us could come up with a good answer. She knew this barn. There was nothing we could find that would have caused massive trauma if she impaled herself. Gus was clean; it was not a dog fight. It was unlikely a wild animal would come in the barn. Captain wasn't anywhere near the cows or horse or goats. Did something happen internally and she began pulling at her stitches? Did she catch a stitch on something and she began tearing at them? Her abdomen was completely opened. There were two separate piles of intestines in different areas of the barn. There was no clear answer. Which really didn't matter in the long run, because it would not bring her back.

Joe offered to help me dig her grave before he departed, but I knew I needed to do this for The Captain. I chose a spot next to the wood fence, by the goats. Never have I dug a grave in my life that I haven't had some difficulty. That day it was tree roots, and a large metal object that I ended up pulling out of the ground. Grandmother wanted to help, and she bravely made a solid effort on a corner of the grave. I had shut up the barn so Gus would not go in, and was glad this prevented Grandmother from seeing the body. I did not want her left with that memory, nor did I elaborate beyond the fact that something terrible happened and Captain was dead.

After the grave was dug, I walked Grandmother back to the house. I made her promise to stay inside, and then I hunted down some fabric with which to wrap Captain. After my grandfather passed away, I often wore his pajamas. They were big and baggy on me, but comfortable and comforting. I found two pajama bottoms of his that I had worn out with years of use. I carried the blue & white striped fabric to the barn. There, I wrapped Captain's abdomen with one pair to prevent her intestines from falling out as I carried her. I laid her body in the grave and wrapped it with more fabric. I said goodbye to my forever friend, and began shoveling the dirt back onto the grave.

It seems as though moments are sharply clear from that day, and yet everything runs together. I remember the complete silence as I threw the dirt onto the grave. I remember the blood that soaked through my Carhartts and covered my baby blue pajamas. I remember that Gus wouldn't come near the barn. I remember the pain of the blister that was forming on my hand. I remember trying to see clearly through the tears that flooded my eyes. My girl was gone. I didn't know why. And this didn't stop the world. I still had to feed the goats. I still had to go to work. And the worst part was that I had to tell Christopher.

Farmers aren't like other people. We choose lives that are difficult, because we believe they are better. We delight in work that most Americans couldn't endure. We may disagree, we may aggravate each other, but we support our farm community in ways that are unique. And we are a deeply religious bunch. I don't know a single farmer that claims to be an atheist or an agnostic. It would certainly be easy for some to say we are a simple bunch, and thus follow religion blindly like sheep. But sheep know their Master's voice, and we have cared for the earth & God's creatures for far too long to be oblivious to His hand. Perhaps this is why we adapt to the realities of life and death in ways that others cannot comprehend. We rejoice at every animal born, we cry at losses, and yet we raise animals specifically for the purpose of meat. There is a greater power that teaches us the lessons of the circle of life, and allows us to do our work.

My Christopher has adapted admirably to dating a farm girl, but he was not born to this life. His family had one dog as a pet during his childhood, and that was the sum of his animal experience prior to knowing me. Losing Captain was further painful to have to tell Christopher about what happened. He has no reference for dealing with the painful losses that are a part of farming. After all, this was not a goat raised for food . . . this was our puppy that we expected to love and work with for at least a decade. As cruel as life can be, Chris did not get my messages to call me before he went to the farm. He discovered an empty chain, blood still soaked into hay bales in the barn, and a new grave. And when he called me for an answer, I was already at work trying to set up for a holiday party. As traumatic as my day was, I did get to go through the journey of discovery, death, and burial -- Chris did not have this.

If any part of me would have thought it was humane in any way, I would have kept The Captain alive for Chris to say goodbye. I am a farmer; I know animals. She needed to be put down. As much as I hate the memory of that day, I know I made the choices that I had to make. If I had tried to take Captain to the vet, it would have been the wrong choice. I would have loaded up a dying dog, driven her a long distance to an emergency clinic, spent thousands on an unlikely surgery which would have risked massive infection, and even if she survived she would never have been the same. And I doubt any dog could have survived that. It was the choice I had to make, but it was not easy.

This is a terrible story. I cried many, many times just trying to put down the words. Words save memory and convey understanding. And I want you to understand. I want you to understand why I love animals. I want you to understand why I can love something that I raise for food. I want you to understand why the same hands that deliver babies can also raise a knife to slaughter. I want you to understand why I hate coyotes so much for eating my goats, when I intend to do the same thing. I want you to understand how I can calmly make life & death decisions, and yet angrily condemn the animal "rights" organizations that claim farms desensitize children to death. I want you to understand why I could cry while I butchered Thunder the Sheep, and then feed him to my dogs. I want you to understand why we Harrisons love our dogs so much, and then put them down ourselves. Because maybe if I tell you, and you understand, then I have some hope of other people beyond you understanding. Then we farmers can farm without constant fear of being misunderstood by the public. And then The Captain will not have given her life in vain.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Big News! The Goatherd Wins the Election!

The picture at the left was taken on Friday 2 December 2011, when the newly elected state trustees for Ohio Farm Bureau were sworn in. That is me, standing on the far right. I am very, very excited to represent Delaware, Franklin, Madison, and Union counties on the state board for Ohio Farm Bureau! Of note, I am the first woman to hold this position. This picture was taken at one of the most exciting moments of my life, as the state president swore us in and the executive vice president gave us our official state trustee pins! The official press release from Ohio Farm Bureau follows. I owe a note of thanks to Mr. Bill Lowe, who previously held this seat. He is a most gracious and supportive gentleman, and I sincerely appreciated his kind sentiments when introducing me to the current board. I look forward to working with all four counties in my district!

Harrison Elected to Ohio Farm Bureau Board

COLUMBUS, Ohio (OFBF) – Katherine Harrison of Canal Winchester has been elected to the board of trustees for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF). She will represent Farm Bureau members from District 11, which consists of Delaware, Franklin, Madison and Union counties. As trustee she will help govern the state’s largest general farm organization.

Harrison fills the seat formerly held by Bill Lowe, who has retired from the board. Harrison produces commercial meat goats and raises other livestock. She is a 10-year member of the Franklin County Farm Bureau and is its current president. She also has been active in its public policy work. She is a graduate of OFBF’s AgriPOWER leadership development program. Harrison received a bachelor’s degree in history and world religions from the University of Richmond.

Ohio Farm Bureau’s mission is to forge a partnership between producers and consumers. To learn more visit

The American Embassy in Berlin

27 September 2011

While in Berlin, we had the pleasure of meeting with Frau Sabine Lieberz and Mr. Paul Spencer of the Foreign Agriculture Service at the American Embassy. There was extremely high security at this location. Our passports were checked twice, we went through a metal detector, and we had to surrender our cameras, phones, and passports before entering. The building itself was constructed between 2004 and 2008. It is in an excellent location on the Pariser Platz, nearly next to the Brandenburg Gate. The Embassy was dedicated by President George H.W. Bush in 2008.

Mr. Spencer explained that the primary role of the Foreign Ag Service in Germany is to handle trade issues. Germans have concerns over many scientific advances in agriculture. Biotechnology which is commonly used in the United States can be quite controversial with Germans. It is not popular to discuss things which make people "uncomfortable", so there is no open discussion on benefits or drawbacks to genetically modified organisms, cloning, etc -- there is simply no discussion at all on these topics. The European Union tends to approach trade issues from a mindset of "social concerns".

There are, however, many nuances to European concerns over biotechnology. For example, in the EU, scientists are conducting research using biotechnology on crops -- but the EU will not allow these crops to be planted as part of commercial production. An entire generation of Germans has grown up simply accepting that "biotech is bad", without having any open discussion of the merits or the concerns. This restrictive view, combined with a shrinking German population, is impacting Germany's prominence as a trade partner with the United States. China is rapidly consuming resources -- both commodities & Foreign Ag Service man hours -- that the European Union once dominated.

Energy issues continue to dominate German trade concerns. 1/3 of the corn raised in Germany goes to biofuel production -- but this creates only 3% of the energy that Germans use! To obtain more organic materials for increased biofuel production, Germans are looking toward South American trade partners . . . countries such as Brazil that utilize GMOs aggressively. So there is the conundrum: in trying to encourage green fuels, Germans are raising corn for biofuel, but cannot get enough crop yield since they are banned from utilizing GMO crops, thus they buy product that must be shipped from far away -- which is a GMO product that they were seeking to prohibit in the first place!

Mr. Spencer shared with us that he observes that German farmers face many of the same challenges that American farmers do. Education of consumers is a challenge, just as it is in America. There is a popular chocolate sold in Germany called "Milka" -- one of my personal favorites! It has a purple wrapper and includes an image of a "Holstein" cow with purple spots. Milka has been so popular with German children for so long that their is now a misperception amongst these children that cows actually are purple & white!

As we departed the Embassy, Mr. Spencer accompanied us to retrieve our personal items. Bidding us farewell, he wished us a good trip and reminded us that if we were arrested, we would be visited by a representative of our Embassy . . . I'm not sure if this was reassuring or terrifying!