Skip to content

Are you smart enough to be a sheep?

September 20, 2015


I have been approached several times with comments like “aren’t sheep stupid?” or “I couldn’t work with sheep. They are too dumb”. My reply is “It depends on what you are raising them for.” If you want them to do cognitive analysis they do not excel at that. However, with their instinctual behavior they have no use for analytics. They work fine in their social organization without control task or strategical analysis.
It reminds me of a story where the farmer in Africa was raising cattle. He bragged that his cattle were the smartest cattle in the country. When asked how he knew that, he explained that his cattle grazed on the fields during the day and were put in secure pens at night. His cattle never figured out how to get out of the evening pens, and therefore were not eaten by lions. Then there is the horseman who described a horse as smart because it discovered the secret of opening its own pen, got out, got hit by a car and died. “Too smart for his own good.”
We anthropomorphize intelligence, deciding an intelligent animal is the one most like a human?
Our situations are not the same. My ewes give birth on pasture and I just show up one morning and there is a new lamb, all cleaned and nursing with the placenta, a predator attractor, nowhere to be seen.
Some plants are poisonous at one stage of life and edible at another and the grazing animal instinctually knows this. He does not learn it from watching another sheep keel over after munching on a nightshade plant.
The herding instinct, which I have to acknowledge people, especially teenagers, share, helps to protect the individual. However, when adversity happens, like a predator’s smell, they pull together, and do not turn on one another. Individualism is not a smart thing for a sheep. So when I have a sheep that has figured she can jump the fencing and go away from the herd, like Lefty used to do, and eat fresher grass, she becomes vulnerable and I say “Get back in there you stupid ewe”.
They are smart enough to know that when it is 100˚ you should sleep in the shade, grazing in the morning and evening. As Noel Coward penned, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen stay out in the midday sun”. However, I see road crews on asphalt, landscapers mowing, and roofers working on the sunny side of the roof, not to mention the joggers on Memorial Park trails in the hottest part of the day, and they are not Englishmen nor mad dogs.
Sheep are smart enough to adjust their “work” schedule.
Gulf coast native sheep have evolved over centuries and are able to thrive in their environment, both socially and ecologically .
Meanwhile, my sheep are not planting a garden, digging a trench, or listening to presidential candidates.
They just breed and eat.

Jimmy Carter, Habitat for Humanity and Me

August 15, 2015

IMG_3744I met Jimmy Carter in 1998 when he came to Houston to help Habitat for Humanity build 100 houses in one week. Saint Paul’s Methodist Church quickly raised the donations to sponsor one of the houses, but, while recruiting volunteers, we found ourselves lacking in construction expertise. It seemed there were no professional builders or carpenters at the church. If we had needed lawyers or doctors we would have been ok.
I volunteered to be on the crew, acknowledging that I was a pretty good handyman, but no builder.
Never-the-less I was anointed the “house head”, a position way above my head. But with the help of an interior designer, an engineer and an insurance agent as the rest of the supervisory crew, and a great education program that Habitat offered us, 50+ of us met at 7:00 am one Monday morning in June and started building. We worked rotating crews for 16 hours a day and certified professionals (electricians, plumbers and hvac) worked during the night shift.
President Carter came by the site almost every day, accompanied by secret service agents wearing fishing vests instead of suit coats to accentuate the casualness of the situation. Every day that week it got over 100˚.
Volunteers came around every few hours to thank us for being there and make sure we were hydrated and fed, but Jimmy Carter came by to get the job done. After a quick introduction and a handshake, his first comment to me was something like “Do you have everything you need? It looks like you are a few hours behind on window installation, do you need help? Will the interior doors be installed today?” the next day “The sheetrock ceilings need to be hung today. Can you assure me you will get this done?”. He pushed us, encouraged us and motivated us.
We finished our Habitat house on Saturday morning and the doorbell did not work due to an electrical problem. The family was delayed 8 days before they could move in because of a doorbell that I could have fixed, but not legally.
President Carter moved on to his next project and I went back to painting decorative art and watering my 100 square foot garden near the University of Houston.
Two years later I used much of what I learned there and built another house, the one I am sitting in now.
I wish President Jimmy Carter the best of luck in his struggle against cancer. He is my model for outreach, religious values and helping make this world better. I wish there were more like him.

What I know about farming

August 13, 2015

• It is always too wet or too dry.
• Roosters have egos bigger than Donald Trump’s.
• Livestock is only born during sleet, rain or hail.
• Heat and cold are not excuses, but siestas are a reasonable summer escape. You still have time to get your 14 hour work day in.
• Never bend over in front of a ram.
• Daylight savings is a scam. There is no way you can cash in on those 16 hour summer days during those 10 hour winter days. It does, however, make you learn how to program the clock in your truck twice a year.
• Every brilliant solution is a birthplace for a new problem.
• Emergencies are like wild hogs, you never see just one at a time.
• In the first years cash flow is not a circle graph, but an outgoing spout.
• Raising livestock always includes some heartbreak.
• Horses are not agricultural unless they plow. Otherwise they fit in that area with things we haven’t done since we became farmers.
• Never keep track of the hours you have worked. Just figure out how to get enough sleep.
• Promising a certain number of eggs is like promising your weird in-law will finish a construction project — unless you personally can lay eggs.
• Failures are inevitable.
• Going to work is my favorite thing to do.
• What we do is important.
• Sit down, have a beer, watch the sheep and dance in the pasture.

Who are these illegal immigrants and why does Donald Trump need them ?

July 14, 2015

One day in the mid nineties I was working on a painted design in a new high dollar Houston house while about 50 workers were painting, cleaning and arranging, getting ready for the new owner to move in. I heard a man come to the door asking for Glen Miracle (me). The guy near the door said, “Oh, that’s the old white guy”. My colleague Scott and I were the only white guys on the job that day and, then, in my mid forties, I was probably the oldest person there. Hispanic workers dominate the home building businesses in Texas.
I have been working 40 years in construction and agriculture and this is what I have seen in the labor market.
Large employers of temporary workers, such as painters, landscapers, cleaners, and agricultural employees, donate money to the campaigns of politicians, with the understanding that these immigrants remain illegal, and that they remain in the work force in plentiful supply. This arrangement keeps wages low and insures that these employees will not call OSHA, will not sue, and cannot demand decent working conditions.
I knew a young Honduran man who fell off a roof while working for a roofing company. The supervisor called 911 and told the ambulance drivers that he didn’t know who this injured man was. The man spoke no English, was illegal, and was powerless to object. He was not paid, charity paid for his hospital stay, and he was on his own with a bad back. They did not need workers compensation insurance, they had fraud and you paid for it. This is the system we support by keeping workers labeled “illegal”.
Commercial buildings hire management companies to hire the cleaning crews, who often work night shifts. If those employees happen to be illegal, it is two degrees of separation before the claim of “we did not know”. I met a landscaper who hired workers by the day and paid cash, claiming “I assume they are legal and will pay their own taxes”.
The end result of this accepted practice is lower costs to businesses, cheaper houses, a large pool of affordable housekeepers, cheap produce and well mown lawns.
It becomes difficult for American citizens working in these job markets to make a decent salary.
I have actively been a capitalist entrepreneur for over 40 years and I understand that getting the most for your labor dollar is important, and that improving efficiency and delivering a quality product to the customer is part of the reason capitalism works–when it works. However, a constant downward pressure on wages has caused many of us in the middle class to suffer. Not all this work is done by illegal immigrants, but they affect the wages of those who do the rest. In places like Texas, where the political establishment has protected employers of illegal workers, the income from manual labor jobs is below a decent living standard.
Giving guest workers some path to work in this country within a legal structure would benefit that worker and all the American citizens that compete in the same job market. Keeping the worker in a shadow economy benefits nobody but the people who exploit them.
It is not the immigrant that comes and sucks vitality out of the economy, they are a potent source of energy for our country. However, the unscrupulous employer who hires the immigrant at unreasonably low wages or the corporation that pretends it did not know that subcontractors were hiring illegal workers, they are hurting the American worker.
Should the buyer/consumer who knowingly purchases a product produced by that labor bear responsibility? What about the politician that makes sure this system of exploiting labor keeps him in office by demonizing the “illegal immigrant” and accepting donations from businesses that depend on them?
I do not suggest that we hand out citizenship to visiting workers, but I think we need to develop a guest worker system that ensures non-citizen employees are not living in a shadow economy that gives employers the ability to exploit them at the cost of their health and dignity and harms our unemployed and underemployed American citizens.
Most of the hundreds of illegal workers that I have worked along side of were hard working, honest people who sent much of their money back to their home country to support the mothers, children and siblings left behind. They had family values and a work ethic. I would never direct my anger at the people who come here to better their lives.
Of course, some of the illegal immigrants are criminals, and they should be dealt with like we deal with our home grown criminals.
America’s support of the dictators in Central America and our demand for illegal drugs has made living conditions in many countries untenable for the law abiding and very profitable for the criminal. So called “free trade” agreements have destroyed the small farms and family businesses in much of Central America.
If we need the energy and labor of visiting workers, let’s welcome them to work along side us and give them decent living conditions and a living wage, with an understanding that they are here under some sort of a legal, taxable agreement. The system we have right now is illegal under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
I support people who work hard, those who pay them well and those who treat them with dignity. This is not what we are getting in the present American labor market.
I can stand in line at the department store and hear condemnation of these immigrants from people who are buying the products they produce.  One cannot pay and employ someone under decent conditions and sell green beans or chicken for $1.59 a pound. When we buy many cheap products we are supporting some type of exploitation, usually of the worker and the environment, and we should not blame the exploited worker, illegal or legal, but blame ourselves.
I am wondering if Donald Trump and his companies aren’t one of the largest employers of illegal immigrants in America? He would be lost without the housekeepers veiled under two or three degrees of separation.
Who built your house and who harvested your dinner?
I respect those who did, and hope we will rebuild respect for people who do manual labor in America–legally. After all, I am one of them.

Chicken bone broth – eat your leftovers

July 13, 2015

Bones from one chicken
Add chicken feet if available
One tablespoon of tomato paste
Two tablespoons of vinegar
One large onion
Two carrots
Two stalks of celery
one bay leaf
5 – 6 peppercorns
Handful of parsley and/or cilantro
Any other vegetables you want to get out of the fridge

Pull the bones apart, brush the bones with tomato paste, add vinegar and vegetables and cover them with water in a stock pot. I add any scraps of meat, skin or fat to the pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for four to 24 hours on low.
Strain the bones and vegetables out and use the broth for a very healthy soup.

Baked whole heritage chicken with vegetables

July 13, 2015

1 frozen whole chicken – We sell the best free range, pastured and organically fed chicken.
1/2 cup salt
Fresh ground pepper
one garlic bulb
Vegetables: I use onions, potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes beets, carrots, squash, peppers, whatever is in season
Take a five quart pan, add two quarts of water and dissolve 1/2 cup of salt. Add the frozen chicken, add water to cover and set in the refrigerator to thaw overnight.
Pat the chicken dry, rub with olive oil and pepper.
Put cut vegetables in a bowl and coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add one garlic bulb, peeled and sliced. Use as many vegetables as your pan will allow. Put the chicken in the middle of a roasting pan, arrange the vegetables around the chicken, and bake at 350˚ for about one hour to one and a half, depending on size. Stir the vegetables occasionally.
I cook it until it reaches 160˚. Remove from the oven and let it stand for 15 minutes before carving.
This usually gives the two of us three or four meals before we boil the chicken to make broth and the last meal.

Cornbread with vegetables

July 4, 2015

1 1/4 cups of cornmeal
1 cup wheat flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter
1 cup chopped mustard greens, kale, collards etc.
1 cup corn kernels
1 chopped red bell pepper

Preheat oven to 350˚. Mix the dry ingredients and beat the eggs with the milk in separate bowls. Melt the butter in an iron skillet. Then stir the milk/eggs and the butter in with the dry ingredients. Mix in the vegetables, pour into the buttered skillet and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
Of course you do not have to use an iron skillet, but it is what I use. If you do not melt the butter in the baking dish you will have to grease the baking dish. Experiment with different vegetables.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 690 other followers