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Baxter Black

Baxter Black tackles ag issues with a strong funny bone. Black is an American cowboy, poet, philosopher and former veterinarian.

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To: Directors of HSUS, PETA and the Farm Sanctuary

The first step in engaging an issue is to have the ability to understand your ‘opponents’ point of view. I have watched your criticisms as we in animal agriculture have become more productive.

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The Horse Clinician

“Are you teachin’ him a lesson?” she asked, eager to please,

As I tried to keep from barfing, my head between my knees.

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Dog fighting is a touchy subject. Yet an NFL football player has been accused of fighting dogs. It’s in the news.

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A big debate rages about the five-year $286 billion Farm Bill being considered by Congress. Its supporters on congressional ag committees are mostly from farm states, which is to be expected.

At the same time:

• The percent of unionized laborers in the workforce continues its decade-long plunge.

• America continues to lose manufacturing industries: steel, automobile, shoes, oil, mining, lumber, tools, electronics and publishing.

• The economic well-being for workers stagnates despite increasing minimum wage and a booming Wall Street.

• Illegal Mexican immigrants contribute mightily to the U.S. economy, yet they still have enough to send money home to their family in Mexico.

• China, India, Philippines and east Asian and South American manufacturing and natural resource economies prosper.

All of these tectonic forces are related.

The Farm Bill is all about subsidizing farmers to ensure an abundant, cheap food supply for consumers. Over the years, we producers in agriculture have considered banding together, negotiating with a common voice. Dairymen and grain growers, among others, have made visible protests, all to naught.

What if 50 years ago farmers had been able to organize and barter for higher prices for their lamb, corn, beef, soybeans, wheat, poultry, avocados, oranges, pork and milk? It would have been the equivalent of “unionizing” farmers. The resulting higher food prices would have required more protectionist legislation for Australian lamb, Canadian wheat, Dominican Republican sugar, Chinese cotton, Argentinean beef, Mexican vegetables and dairy products and Brazilian soybeans.

But, in response to consumer demand for cheaper food, I think politicians would have been forced to remove restrictions on imports, just as they have done for industries like energy, steel, clothing, timber, fishing, mining and automobiles. This would have resulted in an increasing dependence on politically shaky Third World countries for our daily bread. Today we would be at their mercy. To put it in perspective, consider our present perilous dependence on the Middle East for oil.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 25,000 people die each day from hunger.

So, to those senators and representatives from urban districts who think subsidized farming is extravagant, I say, “It is. . . think of it as famine insurance.” PD

As we pulled off of California Highway 101 into Gilroy, I was assailed by the pungent odor of garlic. When I rolled down the window my eyes began to water and my nose tingled. A blind man driving down the road wouldn’t need a sign to tell him he had arrived at the Annual Garlic Festival!

If there were any secular or religious worshipers of garlic, Gilroy would serve as their Mecca. Yet it is not alone in its oleic appeal.

I flew into Wenatchee, Washington, one summer. As we deboarded the airplane, the pleasant aroma of the apple orchards filled the air. I began to salivate.

Another time I saw a bumper sticker on a fertilizer salesman’s truck in the agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, California. It read, “I © Ammonia.” To each his own.

Certain smells can bring back vivid memories. I spent a lot of my working life in the feedlots. When I drive through towns like Hereford, Texas, or Dodge City, Kansas, my mind fills my nostrils with scents of front-end loaders cleaning pens, moldy hay, fermenting grain, Terramycin on my fingers, rumen contents and feedyard dust. It’s an olfactory bouquet that still gives me a warm feeling. On the other hand, when I smell freshly mown hay or a farmer out cutting his 5-acre lawn, I roll up the window and grab my allergy pills!

We spent a day at the garlic festival and ate or tasted a panoply of garlic concoctions: sausage, chicken, bread, pork, prawns, artichokes, rattlesnake, ice cream, squid, potatoes, corn on the cob, candy, oysters, honey, caulking, house paint, deodorant, fly spray, time-release suppositories and mouthwash.

It has qualities that are touted, particularly as being “good for the heart.” Although that is disputed, it is certainly a good excuse should the ‘patient’ be shunned by friends and family for having halitosis strong enough to drive a hyena off a bucket of baboon livers.

“Whoops, sorry darlin’. I chew this clove of garlic to prevent artistic fibrillation. I think your bangs will grow back!”

Next morning as we were leaving Gilroy we remarked that we could no longer smell that deep, penetrating garlic odor. Then an oncoming vehicle swerved wildly, and I saw the driver grabbing at his nose.

Maybe, we observed, we had become used to it.

Moral: One man’s hog farm is another man’s garlic shampoo. PD

I don’t think of myself as a dairyman, though my first cow was an Ayrshire milk cow complete with long horns. Goldie was her name. My father milked her in the morning and it was my chore to do the evening milking. I was in the third grade when I began.

My younger brother’s job was to feed the chickens. His nemesis was a big red rooster named Oscar. Brother would have been 6 years old then, and he was no match for Oscar. So we made a deal. I’d carry a stick and keep Oscar at bay while Brother gathered eggs and scattered chicken feed. This was in trade for him holding Goldie’s tail while I milked. In the warm months, he’d slap my bare back with a wet rag to keep the flies off of me. Mother made butter. I recall we had a small electric churn. Brother No. 3 was born, and Goldie kept our family supplied with dairy products.

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