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 December 20, 2020  Posted by at 2:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Paulus Potter De stier 1625



Dr. D today from an entirely unexpected angle: cattle farming from a engineer’s point of view. His interest here stems from the increasing numbers of people wanting to move “back to the land” in COVID time, who have very little idea what that entails. Well, here it is, here’s your manual:



Dr. D: Since the idea of 1840 has come up, let’s do something useful and work out math on 1840’s factory-food system. That is to say, cows.

In 1840 the Victorian age had started, and the world was moving away from the post-medieval 18th century in important ways. Far from the millennia-long tradition of shepherds and commons punctuated by manor houses, life was moving towards distributed farmsteads integrated with modest small businesses in the nearest town. From centuries-old regional breeds, active breeding had developed powerful new plants and animals with new niche purposes overnight. And likewise, active management of pastures led to a revolution in hay and fodder unimagined a few years previously.

Although railroads and canals radically transformed nations overnight, permitting that specialization of labor and radically reduced costs that expertise and infrastructure bring – that is to say, “Capital” – nevertheless, life remained solidly local by our standards. A farm might have been cleared last year or 200 years previous. It might be attached to a railroad or be in the Alps. It might be under the eye of the Feudal Lord or might be a colony of Anabaptists. But the general structure was now one of single family ownership, large or small, with a central house and barn, with fields moving back from the house and road into ever-wilder, less human territory, eventually becoming impassible forest in the great beyond.

While there was a human transformation happening, daily items were more historic than we might credit: a farm might have few iron nails and hinges, few window panes, with turf cellars and wood box granaries that a Viking would recognize. Spinning and weaving existed on site or in the cots nearby. Although an explosion in factory goods was beginning, there was still little to buy, and few stores to buy things from. At the same time, the new availability of iron, of steel for blacksmiths, but also for saws and new wood mills made materials unimaginably cheap, as material science opened the world to new inventions. The revolution of Jethro Wood’s steel plow opened up soil to production unimaginable a few years before, and Jethro Tull’s grain drill was finally becoming common instead of simply tossing seeds by the handful for the birds on ox-harrowed ground.


American corn, maize, was transforming from Indian-flint grown in hills and hung on poles to endless fields of food, cattle feed even for cities and feedlots far away. And with it, the opening of the north, of feeding chickens, pigs, and horses in a newly-sawn Dutch barns all winter. And cows. Cows have a different place in human life. Unlike sheep, who need little and can stay faraway much of the year, or chickens which require daily tending, cows live in the middle place. They can stay in the field, but essentially must be fenced. They may not need humans, but when used for milk they require human attention twice daily all year.

They can be an expensive breakeven, but with the right support and infrastructure, they are highly profitable in diverse ways: Milk, butter, cheese, which may be too much for one farm without a nearby market. Meat, leather, bones, which again tie into the butchers, markets, prices, tanners and railroads. And oxen, the slow tractor of the small, as well as calves for sale, and the milk they cause, starting the year over again. So a cow is not a cow: it’s a system. The system has parts, and the parts are not only breeds, traditions, methods, but expensive standing infrastructure – barns, fences, wells, dairies, markets — Capital — or else they are put afield, Roman-style, and wild, near-subsistence living returns again.

Of course all methods, all areas, all answers are local, but let’s take your British/French/U.S. areas as an example. In these wet, temperate areas, land requirements are ~1 acre/cow. In addition, in the north, but also in the new scientific methods of Victorian Britain, they were no longer leaving cows to destroy winter pasture in the cold and rain, but haying and sheltering them in barns at the expense of a building, the fields…and the enormous time of mucking and haying. But still it was a well-paying improvement.


A 1,200lb cow eats 10,000lbs a year. At this time, the high-tech cow would be left to field 9 months of the year. So let’s say 3 months or 3,300lbs of hay per cow. You need more rare and expensive Capital of troughs, sheds, and stanchions to feed carefully at this time, so much is wasted. Estimate 5,000lbs dry hay per cow. Cows are not “cows”; they live in herds. To milk, you need calves. To calve you need bulls. Bulls are generally overhead as they are quickly too tough for the butcher, and too tough for the farmer without a very strong fence and strong britches.

You can’t have a herd of 500 cows either: they are too many and will trample the soil to powder anywhere within walk of the house and barn. So you’re set with 5, 10, 20 cows for a family stead, and not many more on a manor, when for the same reasons they will break off and sublet to a new barn and pasture. 10 cows x 5,000lbs = 50,000lbs of hay. 25 tons. They used the new haystacks, cranes, hay elevators, but let’s visualize in hay bales, a technology common 70 years later. At 50lbs/bale, it’s 1,000 bales. 10 high, 10 deep, 10 wide. That’s 30ft x 16 feet x 14 feet.

A modest 1-story house. Picture 2 semis packed tight, +4 semis loose hay. For only three months. Weather and yield vary wildly by area and year but let’s say hay fields produce 3 tons per acre, so10 acres guarded hay in addition to 10 acres fenced summer pasture. What do we get for it? Hard to figure exactly but +2 gal/day/cow for these hardier breeds which varies wildly with shelter, season, and diet. 2 gallons milk = 2 pounds of cheese. It takes 1 year to raise beef, so 7,500lbs of hay = 1,200lb cow = 750lb beef.

While you need 20 acres for the feed alone, you’ll also need crop rotation, a barn, a springhouse, a dairy, an implement shed, a repair garage, a human house and cellar, and because of humans on site to support the cows: a chicken coop, pigs to eat the leftover dairy, a smokehouse, a garden and orchard, as well as wood for heat. That’s 1 acre / face cord, so let’s say 20 acres for cows, 10 acres for crop rotation, 10 acres for wood, and 10 acres for the homestead, garden, and buildings. What is the common size of American farms from Cape Cod to Iowa? 50 acres. 20 hectares. How many people? 4-10/farm. 1-2 humans/acre.

Why do I bring this up? It gives you a rough sense of transforming a suburban housing development back into the farm it came from. First: there’s no longer any forest. That means no boards, no firewood. We have new materials and oil too, so let’s not dwell on this. There is an enormous surplus of existing buildings. How many acres per house? Presently, it’s 1/5 acre. How many people per house? There are unimaginable difficulties answering this, but let’s say 2 people/house. That’s 10 people per acre.


Pablo Picasso Bull – Plate 4 1945


Starting to see the problem? At merely the cow-size, even ignoring the existing buildings, using McMansions for hay, ignoring firewood, even using solar or (insert fantasy here) you have to displace 20 acres, or 200 people. But you only have 10 cows feeding those 200 people, or 1/20th of 20 gallons = 1 gal, or 1 quart of milk + 12 oz of cheese per day. No grains, no veg. You could halve the population density and it’s not much better. This is your 1840s reality.

They might say this explains why we must have no cows and become vegetarians. But aside from land that cannot be gardened – the entire U.S. cattle plains, for instance, or the Swiss Alps – this is just more false science. Howso? There are 30 calories per cup of kale, 200 calories/pound. There are 1,500 calories per beef pound – 1,900cal/lb dry (jerky). So you need to eat 7x more kale than meat. All you’re doing is concentrating vegetables into meat with a small efficiency loss. So you can EAT more as a vegetarian, but you also HAVE to eat much more to break even. So when they say they can create more food by outlawing meat, be careful of what they’re saying. They’re not creating more calories, more life stuff. They will also calculate the maintenance of a cow from birth on corn feed, which is foolhardy. High-cost, high-input corn or grain feed is only used – or should be – in the last weeks if at all.

Comparing your 1840 yields (i.e. without petroleum fertilizer), that’s 800lbs field corn/acre – a very productive crop. But we just said we have 750lbs/acre in grass-fed beef. The calories are 1,600cal dry corn vs 1,900cal dry beef. Where’s the savings? Where’s the rennet, the suet, the soap, the fertilizer, the leather that could greatly increase the use, the “profit”, the value? Where’s the diversity? Where’s the life?


Here’s the engineering reality: only 442BTUs of sunlight fall per square foot. It may fall evenly or more in summer and less in winter. It may fall on trees, grass, or houses. You can eat it as beef, sugar or kale. You can burn it in the stove. But that’s the energy input of a non-carbon world. And since photovoltaic is at 12% efficiency, solar may be the single least efficient way to capture and store these BTUs – and that’s beyond the rare-earths, glass smelting, world-wide transportation, back-end space-age infrastructure, transmission loss, and replacement problems. Trees, grass, and cows may be the best way. It depends on your goal.

Now can I increase yields from 1840 levels? Yes. A lot. And they did too – I’m describing only one food stream of many overlapping. And although the soil is ruined and the present structures are practically useless in what Kunstler calls “the largest misallocation of resources in world history,” we can still leverage perfect roads, electric, ditches, water lines and structures. But to do so we would need to un-misallocate them, completely convert them out of centralization and suburbia, out of consumption and back into production, and all that takes time, energy, and materials.

And to think I started this discussion calculating how many people and how many scythes to take in those 10 acres of hay. 2 acres per man per day x 5 men, 2 pounds of steel per scythe per man. 10 pounds of finest steel per hay barn. 9 million barns, 90 million pounds of fine scythe steel for this one tool alone. 35 million blades, 1 blade smithed per man per day, 35 million days…on and on and on.

So if you plan to adjust to a new rural world, might want to start early and beat the rush.


Albert Cuyp Cows in a river 1650





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Home Forums Cows and Acres and 1840

Viewing 36 posts - 1 through 36 (of 36 total)
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    Paulus Potter De stier 1625     Dr. D today from an entirely unexpected angle: cattle farming from a engineer’s point of view. His interest
    [See the full post at: Cows and Acres and 1840]

    madamski cafone

    Bravo, Dr. D. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

    A note on solar energy: some energy needn’t be converted into anything but ambient warmth as stored in crude matter like water, rocks, contained air space… point being that the concepts of “alternative energy” have been so hijacked by our culture of electricity and (mostly) internal combusion, that simple words like ‘solar’, applied to the idea of human utility, have been reduced to ‘makes electricity and cars go vroom’.

    Likewise, wind power is GREAT: at pumping water, or heavy grinding, or very small DC electric conversion via very simple machines that don’t necessarily involve circular motion but oscillation: a semi-taut membrane flapping in the wind in a way that pulls magnets back and forth. But mostly: pumping water.

    Let’s remove electricity or fuel generation from the alt energy concept. THe 20th century obsession with electrons is understandable but infortunate.

    If anyone responds to me, I’ll put a hex on them. I’m not here to challenge or be challenged EXCEPT on matters of data hygiene or glaring mistakes of discursive rigor. Too many people here feel the need to fight, to prove themselves right, for me to want to engage the group. Sorry.

    madamski cafone

    A Sign of the Ages

    It’s a sign of the ages, markings on my mind
    Man at the crossroads at odds with an angry sky
    There can be no salvation, there can be no rest
    Until all old customs are put to the test

    The gods are all angry
    You hear from the breeze
    As night slams like a hammer
    Yeah, and you drop to your knees
    The questions can’t be answered
    You’re always haunted by the past
    The world’s full of children
    Who grew up too fast

    Yeah, but where can you run?
    Since there ain’t no world of your own
    And you know that no one will ever miss you, yeah, yeah
    Yeah, when you’re finally gone
    So you cry like a baby, a baby
    Or you go out and get high
    But there ain’t no peace on Earth, man
    Maybe peace when you die, yeah



    Hahahahaha! Oh yes Ma’am!

    Gil Scott-Heron! Sooooo good!

    Thanky. Thanks for the morning smile.


    There are words and then there are feels:


    The post on cows was a surprise and it doesn’t take an engineer to make those observations. I am a farmer with a small inholding and a variety of livestock including Jersey Dairy cattle. The “greatest misallocation of resources” is indeed true and will be a roadblock to changing how and what we feed ourselves. The industrialization of farming is also a misallocation of oil energy with 9 cal of oil energy as the input and 1 cal of food energy as the output. Thus oil energy not only powers our tractors and trucks but the cells in our body and our livestock’s bodies. Ruminant livestock managed properly are a win-win for the environment, improving the soil under proper conditions and consuming cellulose based plants which are indigestible to humans. The yards deep rich soil of the great plains came about as a result of unmanaged ruminants. The factory farming model reliant upon oil input and oil machines will disappear without fossil energy inputs and feeding 8 billion mouths will be impossible.. The result will be overshoot,collapse, and dieoff. People know this in their heart of hearts which is why they will be on the move out of urban/suburban food deserts. Building a new infrastructure will be slow, problematic, and difficult as this post indicates. Food security outside of an industrial model will require resourceful people realizing that the world is entering a YOYO(you’re on your own) economy and small farming with a few cows, pigs and chickens is an excellent way to ensure that security. Now is a good time to learn. One disclaimer: It is work.


    I cannot see a man being able to feed himself with more calories than he will burn.
    A man will also need to produce enough calories to keep his wife and children from starving.


    A great essay and comments, perhaps pertinent to the discussion?

    Vivek Iyer’s comment led me to this:

    Which led me all the way back around to @Huskynut’ succinct comment from the other night.

    Surfer always be surfin’ something.

    Hope you find your peace

    madamski cafone

    This seems fitting to the topic du jour:

    Medieval music to drive the cold Winter away…

    Mr. House

    What is more likely, that society and everything with it collapses and you’ll need your own farm like Dr. D says or that the grip of those addicted to power is tightened. And you’ll have to get a shot six times a year to have a job, go shopping, be allowed to spend “your” money, go on dates, essentially not be completely ostracized by society. Option number one seems to be what Dr. D see’s coming, as long as he can support himself and his own he’ll be fine and left alone. Chris Marteseson seems to be of the same mind.

    I don’t think that’s going to be the case. I say it will be option number 2, and under option number 2 you will not be allowed to provide society an alternative to how those addicted to power say society should be. Build that farm up, they’re just gonna come and take it from you. What’s that? You aren’t bothering anyone and just supporting your own family? Well your farm isn’t inclusive to the rest of society and must be taken from you so that all of society can be involved.

    John Day

    I include the Lavaca County Soil Report of 1905. (Yeah, “the cow” county). This is the county which contains my modest garden-homestead project. Yoakum is mentioned on the second page.
    It took about 3 acres per cow or horse for grazing/haying on the GOOD soil, which is very good soil, and the rain was even better back then. There is a broad meme that only people raised farming can handle the rigors. That would be the immigrants from rural areas south of the Texas border.
    I’m an R&D guy. I’m doing R&D. I get paid in Austin to take care of poor people, a short-lived-niche in this current historical moment. I’ll die when the machine breaks, but maybe not right away.
    The soil report talks all about who farms where and who the sharecroppers are, and really illuminates the economy. It was never a slave economy in this part of Texas, but freedmen and recent immigrants were sharecropping and farming the poorer land in 1905.

    John Day

    Really read the chilling details, not just the headline:
    Accomplished pharma prof thrown in psych hospital after questioning official COVID narrative
    Early on December 10, Jean-Bernard Fourtillan was taken from his home by a team of French law enforcement officers and forcibly placed in solitary confinement at the psychiatric hospital of Uzès.

    Please do read the first link, early in the essay, about “the face of the machine”.
    Tessa Fights Robots: A Proud Intellectual: A Tale of Strange Conformism
    Conformism is a weird and tragic beast.

    Mr. House


    Tessa married a monster. I think it is only us, who have had people like that in our lives, that understand the BS that is going on with .gov right now. We know all the false words said, to show love, when all that is really coming is a nightmare.


    This is what I try to explain to my urban vegan friends and it falls on deaf ears. Eating meat is actually more sustainable in temperate and colder climates due to the inputs required for grain crops and the complete reset of the ecological succession that occurs each year with grain and vegetable farming. You are basically stripping the production of the paddock every year and shipping it elswhere, while by eating the cattle and sheep you are merely scraping the nutrient cyclers off the top, while also getting more concentrated nutrition.
    If you want to be a sustainable vegan or vegetarian, move to the tropics or subtropics where you can grow things year round in your own garden. Note the the great vegetarian civilizations like india and to a lesser extent mexico are located in these climates.

    I’m an organic farmer in Australia, and although we have our own challenges, mainly the utter infertility of most of the soil and therefore terrifying dependence on fossil fuel fertilizers for grain production in a mostly dry climate, we do have some advantages regarding meat eating for the tough times ahead. Our winter is very mild so no need to house animals, we have enormous areas where livesrock can roam and be mustered if need be on horseback annually, and we also have large wild populations of kangaroo, deer, pig, camel and water buffalo that if need be can also be harvested by the millions to feed humans. We also have large feral inland fish stocks that could fulfill a similar role. Finally our extremely flammable and abundant native eucalypt flora which is dangerous if you live in amongst it in very infertile areas such as mountains and coasts is actually a godsend on the more fertile agricultural plains as you can use wood to power a lot of things including combustion vehicles if you have the know how. This would never work in the city due to pollution and amount of wood required but for a small rural community is a useful method.

    After driving across the USA in 2017 I marveled at the amount of water in the eastern half of the country and was jealous of the fertility of the soils. I think there are potential mid to large scale food solutions to be found there, especially amongst the highly productive river valleys of the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio. Although the population of the country is undoubtedly too big, I think once everything gets shaken out parts of the country will bounce back on a local scale and I wouldnt be surprised if the population density and large scale human enterprise is focused along these river valleys like it was before European colonization (although I will be long dead).

    Mr. House

    an excellent listen


    Brilliant! Thank you.


    @John Day re: meme

    There is a broad meme that only people raised farming can handle the rigors.

    I once had an acquaintance (1/4 Hoopa, from near Hayfork) tell me he wouldn’t date a girl unless said girl was the kind that wouldn’t shy away from going elbow-deep in deer guts. He also said he drank regularly from the bottom of his pasture, to keep the gut biome up to date.


    My Grandfather had a farm. He immigrated with the knowledge and culture of the Swedish family farm. It got the family through the Great Depression with no income until the Naval Shipyard started hiring carpenters again. He sold it in the early 1950s when he could fulltime work in Seattle. This knowledge and culture are gone except for one great granddaughter that lives on a goat farm but is trained as a Pediatrician.

    I was raised with the tradition that the eldest son gets the farm. But that has disappeared along with the knowledge how to live without money. When civilizations crash and cash disappears, prepping is futile unless you are already off the grid.

    The fraying at the edges is impossible to ignore. My mailed Neflix DVDs are held up somewhere in the postal system. Operation Warp Speed apparently did not do any trial runs. We shall see if ZeroHedge’s CDC report of 3150 health impact events in 112,807 injections (2.7%) is real.

    A worthwhile plan is to survive the next five years by any means possible in the hope that democracy and a functional government are restored like the New Deal was in 1932.

    Mr. House

    For 6% of the deaths, COVID-19 was the only cause mentioned. For deaths with conditions or causes in addition to COVID-19, on average, there were 2.9 additional conditions or causes per death

    Doesn’t strike me as something you need to vaccinate an entire world for.


    Great post. I’m thinking some vegetarians are more motivated by concerns over the way animals are treated, as opposed to the energy issue.
    Yes, too much unnecessary reliance on high tech gadgetry in renewables. Our house is passive solar – wide roof overhang allows the sun into the house in winter but not in summer. Concrete floor captures heat. No batteries or solar panels and very little firewood required for heating.
    Local neighboring organic livestock farmers nearby comment on the positive impacts of the animals (goats, chickens, cows, sheep) on their soil.
    Changing our way of being from mostly urban to more back to the land, in addition to all the infrastructure changes, will of course entail a huge learning curve and a lot of physical effort people are not accustomed to. After neing at organic fruit farming for about 10 years, we still make many mistakes along the way, in spite of doing a lot of research.


    I should add that none of the livestock folks have had success on the fruit department -the learning curve and effort raising livestock was all they could handle.


    Thanks, madamski and sumac.carol for highlighting mechanical means of energy storage.

    It reminded me of the Helms Pumped Storage Plant in the Sierra Nevada, at Courtwright and Wishon Reservoirs. It’s only of limited/temporal utility in terms of power generation, being but a tiny side-store in the scope of the whole Grid. This, however, is where something like wind/solar could shine. Just leave the panels and turbines on all the time, and they just keep pumping water into an upper reservoir.

    When I was a kid, family took a trip to AZ primarily to see Grand Canyon. The sub-plot of the trip was to visit various hydro and ‘civil engineering’ sites. Among the famous dams (Boulder, Roosevelt, some others) and natural/historic sites, we also visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West and Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti. The former, Wright, struck me as a beautiful low-footprint retreat, but in the end just a house. The latter, Soleri, impressed me very much as an attempt at a resilient community.

    It was soon after this trip that I started to read stuff about ‘passive houses’ with thermal jacket construction, proper orientation based on local season, natural materials (yes, beds of rocks under your house as part of the thermal jacket, etc). Bucky Ball houses started to crop up on the outskirts of town.

    Anyway, no real direction with this, just a random pile of what-ifs to put on the shelf next to my copy of The High Frontier.


    Firestone Union Jack IPA is soooo good! ‘course you’d prob have to live in the @#$thole Congo of California to get it…but hey! Whatever. A little indifference goes a long way….a kind of transcendental meditation.

    Hey!….. while you guys were trying to figure out how to make chicken salad from chicken@#$t (by the way, I consult on that for a reasonable fee) I was out surfing some dirt. Howling offshore winds..atmosphere moving ….very dynamic. Exhilarating. Came home got the pooch and went up to the point way up high to watch the sunset….love it when it lingers on the limb like it did tonight. Took what seemed like forever to sink into the great Pacific ocean. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll set the big telescope up and invite the kids up to see the *event*.

    Do you think that the alignment of those two massive planets might affect the solar cycle? Large tidal forces?……might even affect the things we are thinking about? I was gonna say ‘I don’t know’…but just then a little voice waaaaaaaaay down in the base of my being said…” of course it does dumbass!”

    Hahaha! Happy Sunday kids!


    Mr. House
    ” Build that farm up, they’re just gonna come and take it from you. What’s that? You aren’t bothering anyone and just supporting your own family? Well your farm isn’t inclusive to the rest of society and must be taken from you so that all of society can be involved.”
    Unfortunately all too true. My wife grew up in an Eastern bloc country. That is exactly what happened to her family farm, and all others too. Taken by people who had no idea about how to farm, only to bully, steal, imprison.
    And, we’ve been off-grid and growing our own food for about 10 years. It ain’t easy, and there is a lot that cannot be grown in this climate and location. No illusions here about being able to do this indefinitely without external inputs, and we have a lot of first-hand experience. “Sustainable” in the greenie terminology is total B.S.

    Doc Robinson

    VietnamVet: “CDC report of 3150 health impact events in 112,807 injections (2.7%)”

    From the CDC site:
    as of Dec 18,
    112,807 registrants with recorded first dose,
    with 3,150 health impact events (unable to perform normal daily activities, unable to work, required care from doctor or health care professional.)

    That’s about 3% of those who got the first shot.
    This percentage has been increasing every day since the shots began.
    The second shot is supposedly going to be worse.

    From page 6 of this CDC presentation:

    John Day

    Thanks all. Great commentarians again. Jenny and I pulled over at t dark(ish) hill on the road, driving back to Austin from Yoakum tonight, and saw Jupiter and Saturn kissing-close. This is supposed to mean everything in the social order changes. Age of Aquarius with birth pains, whatever we were already thinking and working on. “Good if you work really hard with it”, and so on. Nobody reading horoscopes seems to want to say “shit-buries-fan”.
    Anyway, were all comfortable with our mortality, and are swimming with our eyes open.
    I do have a winter garden and winter crops and over-wintering crop seasons here, and better soil than most of Australia.


    John Day wrote, “better soil than most of Australia.” Sadly true, although we do have large areas of amazingly good, productive soil — which our fossil-fuel obsessed state and local governments are happy to damage with open-cut coal mines. Good soils are irrelevant to development.

    Prior to the European invasion — it WAS an invasion and the general public increasingly is seeing it as such — the indigenous peoples had been maintaining the entire continent almost as the world’s largest estate. In some areas the tilth came up to the chests of the Europeans’ horses. And then it was destroyed by sheep and wheat. So sad.

    Ian Graham

    So who is Dr D and where does s/he hang out?
    There is huge case for downshifting while we have the chance to energy-scant lifestyles, before all hell breaks loose. See

    V. Arnold

    So who is Dr D and where does s/he hang out?

    Nobody knows…

    Thanks for that view into the reality of 1840…
    Thank the gods industrialization hasn’t quite taken over the entire world…yet…

    Dr. D

    Mr. House, yes, the problem I describe is surmountable. The real problem is this: a farm can’t be hidden, it can’t be moved. Therefore it will be taxed until the laborers are reduced to total poverty and death, while the tax authorities eat 20 sheep at a meal. Anything you have, own, do, try, is under their rapacious eye, and their well-fed soldiers will come down and keep themselves well-fed. Look at the movie “Defiance.” They had a farm. Did it help them? Were their fellow farmers helped?

    THEY are the one who will make everyone starve – even themselves in their ignorance and arrogance. Like in Russia, Ireland, and everywhere else.

    So in theory, you need a food-farm Bitcoin wallet. Tiny, invisible, mobile, international. Newsflash: There’s no such thing.

    You are NOT going to be left alone. Ever. Good men will join together or perishfor 1,000 years. If you want cows and food YOU will have to defend it. Either personally, or by alliance with people who grow them.

    John Day: Yes, certainly the problem, 3 acres/cow, and that’s not even bad in Texas terms. AND you need water. AND the soil is often impacted clay and can’t be hoof-hammered. They need the wandering, large-herd system the buffalo had, even if it’s with different breed. Should it be larger, like the buffalo? Or smaller, like an Irish Dexter? And then how? There are still places like the Highlands that simply allow their animals to roam. That’s a very different life. A fun one, maybe, but also dangerous. Don’t want to drive a car 75mph with jet-black 700lb obstacles walking around.

    And the other part, yes, not only does your farm strength start from birth, but your judgement. Cow is a little sick. Do you call the Doc? Put it down? Take it in? There’s no Windows Diagnostics disk to run: just you, a ticking clock, blank experience, and no clues. This is a major reason why every Socialist central-planner starved. A college professor, party official just can’t tell, doesn’t know, then safely from his leather chair second guesses the farmer, the worker. And the farmer doesn’t know either, but over time his odds are constantly better, and the experts are no help at all. Not veterinarians? No. They can save the animal but don’t account for their “success” being so expensive that it’s a ruinous energy-input failure. A net loss. Kind of like medical experts right now. There are worse things than death, on the farm, or in life.

    For bad soils, I learned something important. In 1890 Paris market-growing, they didn’t look for good soils nor care. THEY brought in the soil themselves, that is, mountains of horse manure and put it atop the ground in cold-frames, that is raised beds. They outdoor-greenhoused every inch, and all of it was “artificial.” So whether in Australia or Texas, or parking lots in Detroit, it’s all the same then. The soil being ruined still matters, but matters a lot less if you drop two feet of compost on it. Made me feel like we weren’t cheating by doing what seemed like modern, space-ship measures. In fact, this has always been true: the natives growing “corn, beans, squash” clear-cut the forest and burnt out a stump, and raked all the good soil into a pile. Raised bed. Totally artificial. With artificial seeds, and artificial waterings with a gourd or a bison-stomach bag.
    Yet they’re ecological an we’re not? Or maybe we are, as we’re still an animal and an unbroken subset of “Nature.” As we’re about to find out, thinking ourselves too good to be married to a round frumpy called “soil” when there are hot new hot-mess starships exploding daily.

    Valiant Johnson

    The process of re-ruralizing is taking place in real time.
    Mostly in developing countries that have had a high reliance on tourism income supplementing rural incomes.
    In Bali (where I lived most of my life) somewhere between one and two thirds of the cash economy comes from visitors from off island.
    Enter the virus.
    Everybody’s going home to the villages.
    Money from off island, gone.
    Tiny farms, big families.
    What could go wrong ?


    There is a lot to learn in this issue from the rearrangement and partition of land in South Africa. The Xhosa were assigned fertile land best thought of as a potential Hamptons. The new owners converted it to cattle farming, and destroyed the environment. .
    A general history of this time is at


    Great post from Dr. D.

    Being in Switzerland, and insofar as I could get my mind around the non-metric measures, about cows this is all spot on. Home-grown beef in CH (as well as imports from Uruguay, Ireland, some from France ‘zone’ – proximal) is horribly expensive because inputs— I could go on… stop.. heh..


    Growing up poor our summer vacations during my childhood were on a farm where we helped out, owned by richer family members. Another caution about ‘back to the land,’ a USA popular fantasy.

    Describing history from 1950s – as it was told to me – to about the 80s, of course the changes were considerable over time, her the gist.

    The farm, in the S. of France, supported between 15 and 20, 25 counting kiddos, ppl (seasonal), with a few ppl (3—4…and then more thru time) bringing in pay checks for ‘ordinary’ work, local teacher, secretary, house painter, truck driver.

    Growing vegetables and fruit in abundance, enough for all with surplus, was always OK, as well as olives for oil (sold but not very profitable, many others do it too), grapes for wine (personal consumption, traded informally), oranges (also turned into wine), and nuts. All this requires steady water which was always available from the stream down from the mountains, managed and shared by the community. Very complicated to do, but it worked, thru ‘neccessary cooperation’ I suppose. Fossil fuels for some transport, digging, repairs, pipes, building and maintaining houses, etc. were available.

    Animal products: chickens, rabbits, and a few goats. Other meat had to be bought with money.

    It sounds rather wonderful, it was possible only because:

    -> A cash crop was grown and sold at high price. Flowers, jasmine mostly but some others too (roses), to the perfume industry. (No longer exists today because of ‘synthetics.’) This was the money-maker that kept the farm alive.

    -> Subisidies from the F. Gvmt and later the EU to keep small farmers afloat, with various types of ‘compensation.’ Including paying for unused ground.


    I really enjoyed that clip: Everything is Everything. Six minutes of that beat and I’m ready to go. A different kind of food.
    Excellent discussion today. Thanks all.

    Ian Graham

    I wonder how you can say, @v arnold, industrialization hasn’t taken over the whole world; maybe not in area but surely in hegemony, economic dominance, extraction industries reach far into the hinterlands.
    William Catton crafted a plausible explanation in his last book Bottle: Humanity’s Impending Impasse, 2009. (Available as ebook from googlebooks)_
    Division of labour and commodification of relationships are his big two reasons why we have run the course of modern history the way we have. He’s doubtful many of us will survive the bottleneck.


    It’s fascinating to really think things through as Dr D has done. However, some caveats from a permaculturist: Even post-collapse without fossil fuels I don’t think we need revert to 1840 methods. We know more now. Our mindset is larger. Back then the mindset was narrowly exploitive. For me now just the word “farming” is slightly repugnant, implying as it does growing as much per acre as possible with no other factors considered, such as long term fertility, biological diversity, or the water cycle. It was a big planet back then. They mined soil and then moved on once an area got exhausted. (See North Africa and the Middle East.)

    But we’re a learning species. Now we know how to grow fertility along with our crops, both at the same time and without fossil fuels. An example of how we’ve learned to do better: we know now that cattle need to be mobbed and moved as a herd every day to stimulate the health of grasslands, enhancing fertility, forage diversity, and rainwater holding capacity. If just fenced and left alone, cattle over time ruin forage, soil, springs and creeks. Grazing animals evolved along with their grasslands and predators. The predators kept them mobbed and always on the move so forage plants could grow back stronger each time while soils deepened and waterways flowed clean and full. We’ve only recently learned we can take the place of those predators and enjoy the benefits of that whole system. (See Alan Savory) No costs, the only inputs intelligence and labor, with no degradation. Just abundance.

    I always wonder, when I see someone trying to figure out how many people a given area can support, are we always assuming more people is better? Or is quality of life a factor? For the few or the many? How many people do we need? Are we to consider long-term sustainability? Effects on wildlife? Aesthetics? Labor-intensity required? Is least-labor the highest value? As it is in the capitalist system, where, ironically, human labor is considered prohibitively expensive when in the end aren’t humans what it is all for? Can we envision an agrarian life that is a labor of love? Or do we prefer working out in gyms? We know the hunter/gatherer lifestyle was labor efficient. It only took a few hours a day, not 40 hours/week or more (plus workout time and childcare). How far above subsistence living do we need? Do we want to support a fabulously wealthy elite? Or is relatively cost-effective education for all the priority?

    I agree it’s all about your goal. Without a human context, Nature goes right to wilderness. We are learning to utilize the ecological flows in wild nature to make things easy for our species while enhancing not destroying ecosystems. I don’t think survival is going to necessarily require a rural life. I think we can work with the suburbs. They are excellent resources, vast areas with good soils and rainfall, along with metals, stone, brick, glass and asphalt conveniently spread out across the landscape for repurposing. There’s plenty of grass, shrubs and trees to start with rather than the trackless wilderness our ancestors confronted. Within 50 years, forests will be back. Cities will shrink to their earlier riverfront downtowns and provide good markets for their suburbs. So long as some of us are healthy, and we don’t lose the entire social inheritance, a collapse can be a chance to start over with broader knowledge and more mature good will than we had before.

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