The farm feels like the world in microcosm. The world has Vladimir Putin. The barn has a half-castrated ram (the result of poor testicle-banding on my part) who I’ve now named Vlad. In general it is inadvisable to name animals you’re going to have slaughtered, lest you develop affection for them, but in this case I don’t think I’ll have any qualms when he goes to market.
Vladimir and Vlad share several characteristics. Both are instinctively aggressive. Both look for their chances and seize their opportunities.
Both of these namesakes also hog resources. For Vladimir, it’s the commodity wealth produced by the Russian nation. He is thought to have amassed personal holdings, held through surrogates, in excess of $200 billion, while much of Russia’s middle and lower classes struggle. For Vlad the ram, it’s hay. Always first at the manger, and brooking no competition for it.
And like Vladimir, Vlad preens. He knows in his heart that he’s beautiful. The only difference here is, in the ram’s case it’s no delusion.
But as revealed in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this week, what Vladimir is really most focused on is asserting dominance. And Vlad is no different. While all rams have such a trait to some degree, many manage to behave in a perfectly civilized way. It is hard to know what in nature or nurture makes the occasional creature distort a natural trait to a sociopathic extreme. Is it an effort to overcome feelings of inadequacy (Vlad’s half-testicled state, Vladimir’s short stature)? Or in Putin’s case, is it having so isolated himself during the COVID pandemic that he had nothing to keep him from stewing in his own grievances?
However the pathology develops, it was clear to me three or four months ago that Vlad the ram was growing into something of a danger. Having been down this road before, I could tell from the way he eyed me, and looked ready to challenge me, that he was going to be trouble. And having learned lessons from past rams, I made a decided effort to counteract that development.
I’ve always been the sort to think that reasonable, friendly persuasion works best, and therefore when I started farming my instinct was to treat all the animals as pets. Be sweet, pet them, give them extra grain and they’ll like you and defer to you. I soon learned that in the case of aggressive rams, such behavior on my part was read as submissiveness, and seemed to encourage them making moves to confirm my lower status. They would not be kept in line by positive rewards of the sort I offered, since the positive reward they were most after was being king of the heap. They assert dominance through charging, and I have no desire to test my mettle against an animal that weighs nearly as much as I do, with incredibly hard skull and horns.
I learned, therefore, to train such animals to fear me. This year, I started by clapping my hands loudly and yelling “out” upon entering the barn, to move them where I could fence them away from myself. I aimed the loud clapping particularly at Vlad. If he hesitated, I would charge him, grabbing him by the horns and turning him around to kick him out into the vestibule. For the most part, it has worked. He sometimes hesitates and I have to resort to charging him, but usually upon my entry he’s out of the gate at the first clap. I ignore him if he begs for extra grain. By and large, we warily eye each other and pretend to ignore each other.
To be effective, such a strategy must start early and be unvarying. Maybe that is the problem with Putin. Perhaps yielding him minor victories in Georgia and Crimea, treating him as a rational, calculating actor who would take small advantage but never upend the world order, encouraged him. This could be the lesson the world should have learned indelibly from appeasing Hitler in Czechoslovakia. Or maybe the trigger was Donald Trump playing Putin’s lapdog in Helsinki. If you play the “sub” it just excites the “dom”.
Though considering how we could have prevented Putin’s empowerment is an important question for the future, surely that can wait until we’ve resolved what to do with the untethered monster we’ve got on our hands right now. I’m thankful that so many of the world’s governments have taken steps to isolate Russia and to support the resolute resistance of the Ukrainian people.
But I think it’s also important for all of us, as individuals, to do something meaningful in solidarity. As I thought this week about what I personally could do, I took into account another lesson I’ve learned from the farm: that small steps can matter. For every horse nettle plant I pull out of the pasture in the fall, I prevent hundreds more from being seeded the following year and poisoning the sheep. Little things can add up.
So Thursday, I turned down the thermostat in the house by one degree – from 64 to 63. I figured that no matter what anyone’s ideal temperature is they can adjust to a one degree shift from their regular comfort zone and hardly even notice it. It’s a tiny sacrifice that, if performed on a mass scale, could help counteract the energy price inflation that will result from the war, and that might erode public willingness to stick with the Ukrainian resistance to Putin. I rely on my tiny readership and listenership to be the “influencers” here, and to spread this suggestion to others if you’re so inclined.
Of course, if events continue to spiral out of control into some kind of Third World War, this step is nothing in relation to the sacrifices that will lie ahead. But maybe getting used to the idea of shared sacrifice, an idea which struggled to maintain hold during two years of pandemic, would also be a good, small step. Just one degree, why the hell not?
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
EGGS: $5/doz Plentiful, spring light has arrived, if not spring.
LAMB COMING: Finally a date at the slaughterhouse. They go to market March 8. If you’ve expressed an interest in lamb, it will be ready frozen the second to third week in March, and I’ll be sending you a cut sheet. For you others, there will be cuts of lamb available then.
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.