Farm Journal 9/11/22

Sept 14 is  the start of Week 15 of our CSA.  If you missed this last week’s CSA pick up at the markets, please don’t use the following week as a make-up week without getting an OK from us first. We don’t want to run short on shares at market.

Click here to shop our web-store – our freezers are re-stocked! Bacon and Bok Choy in stock!

Fall Farm Party September 24

Come out for a day of fun on the farm! Save the date – Saturday September 24th! We’re hosting our farm picnic from 4 – 9 pm. We’ll have HAMburgers, Hotdogs and s’mores. Feel free to bring sides, desserts and/or drinks to share. We’ll have dishes and cutlery available, but you may want to bring your own picnic blanket or chairs, lawn games, and bug spray. Farm tour starts promptly at 4:30 and campfire later in the evening. There’s a good chance that Greg’s going to want to get the ol’ cider press out – so be prepared to help with that too (it’s messy)! Feel free to bring along extra apples (and containers) and you can press your apples for cider   too! RSVPs are appreciated.

Where to find us and pick up your online orders, csa, and a sammie.

The Farm – Wednesday (11 – 7).

Northside – (Allegheny Commons) Friday 3 – 7 PM

Mt. Lebanon ,Uptown, – Saturday 9-12

Squirrel hill Market (beacon and Bartlet)- Sunday 9-1

East Liberty -(Liberty Green Park) Monday 3:30-6:30

Life on the farm Part 2 – When pigs play video games – by Tim Time

One way to evaluate the capacity for intelligence in a creature is to measure the number of neurons they have. Neurons transmit information through an animal’s nervous system to its brain. On a macro level, the Roman Empire was a neural network where all roads led back to Rome bringing news of distant parts of the empire to Caesar.  In humans, your nervous system is the road network, your brain is Rome and you are Caesar. Neurons pack together to form the brain, receiving news from the body to allow you to navigate the outside world. While you are aware your foot hurts, you are not aware of your neurons firing. It is interesting to compare the number of neurons in various animals.

Animal # of neurons is the brain and whole nervous system

Sponge 0
Lobster 100,000
Ant 250,000
Honey Bee 960,000
Frog 16,000,000
House mouse 71,000,000
Pigeon 310,000,000
Octopus 500,000,000
Human 86,000,000,000
African Elephant. 257,000,000,000

Ham is an orange and white farm cat here. He has about 300,000,000 neurons. He is a young, and the master of all. He lives in harmony with everyone else; he has lots of little critters to, two dogs to tease and a couple of little girls to play with. For Ham, life is good. Cats are considered up the sentience ladder and are clearly pretty smart. While they can survive in the wild, they are smart enough to endear themselves to people. Ham’s casual feline demeanor would make you think he has no problems. But about a month ago, Evelyn, who is soon to be eleve-lyn, heard a cat in distress. She ran off to find the source of the wailing and returned shortly, running up the hill shouting “Ham! He is stuck in a tree!” Sure enough, a neighboring cat had chased him there. Thirty feet up, he was me-yowling like a baby. Clearly, he was aware of his predicament and as such, conscious of his existence. In spite of pleas from Evelyn to rescue him, neither Greg nor I was willing to climb the tree to save the cat. “He got up there by himself, he’ll get down by himself,” we both assured her. It turns out Ham spent the entire night stuck in the tree, me-yowling. It ain’t easy being sentient.

But not all members of the animal world have the same degree of self-awareness. In the 1920s, biologist Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe established that chickens have a dominance system, which he named the “pecking order”. Of course, Schjelderup-Ebbe was only formalizing what famers have known for centuries. More recent research has identified that chickens have a language of at least 24 separate sounds to warn others of danger, talk to their chicks, attract mates and more. Although people consider them tasty, feathered dinosaurs, chickens are an important component of the barnyard family and like many animals, our ignorance of their world leads us to underestimate their intellegence. Certainly there is something going on in that birdbrain, but do they contemplate their selves. Dunno.

Alice and August are the farm dogs. They each have about 530,000,000 neurons. As such they have a great life. They run and roam freely, encountering a wide range of creatures and visitors, who all recognize their status as alpha dogs. (Although, I think Alice is the boss.) Dogs are pretty smart. Some have a hard life, but many are pampered, adored, fed, brushed and have a house with their name on it. It is estimated that some dogs have an IQ of 100 or more. When I was in college, a dog named Space Dog roamed the campus, eventually becoming a legend. Part of the legend was that someone slipped him a lot of doses of LSD. Sometimes he would walk right into a parked car or bark at a rock. Thus, the name. He didn’t want for much as everyone fed him, petted him and he had more friends than most of us do. Today he would be an internet star. Sentient is as sentient does. What does that mean? Dunno. Am I aware of the stuff I write? Most of it.

Pigs are transparent; they want food, mud, food, sex, food and some more food. And they are highly effective at getting it. Greg uses them to do farm work, though they don’t see it as such. They will stay in a single pasture and uproot all the vegetation preparing the field for future use. My first job on the farm was to muck out the barn. As I stood ankle deep in pig poop, pee and eye-watering stench, the pigs would wander over, rooting through the stuff, looking for nuggets to eat. At that moment, it was hard for me to imagine a more single minded, less inquisitive, more oblivious creature than a farm pig. Yet science and pig advocates tell us otherwise. One 2020 study in particular showed that the porkers can successfully play video games for food. Leave it to Penn State. Four pigs, Hamlet, Omelet, Ebony and Ivory, were positioned in front of feeding stations equipped with a video screen and a joystick. The pigs’ eyesight was tested and the video screens were adjusted for farsightedness. (Although pigs wearing glasses playing video games would have made the test a lot cooler.) The pigs were immediately rewarded with food for looking at the computer screen when told “Watch the screen” and for manipulating a joystick upon the vocal command “Joystick.” Having mastered those skills, the real test began.

The test
A blue border around the inside edges of the computer screen created a box with four target walls. A white dot appeared in the center of the screen. Movement of the joystick in any direction caused the cursor to move in that direction. When the pigs moved the joystick and the dot contacted one of the walls, they received a food reward. When the pigs successfully completed a number of trials with four walls, the number of walls was decreased to three, to two, and finally to one wall. At each level the pigs were able to rise to the challenge successfully hitting the target wall far above the range of chance. According to the authors: “Overall, all pigs performed significantly above chance on one-walled targets, which indicates that, to some extent, they acquired the association between the joystick and cursor movement. That the pigs achieved the level of success they did on a task that was significantly outside their normal frame of reference is remarkable, and indicative of their behavioral and cognitive flexibility.” Unsurprisingly, after 12 weeks of training, Hamlet and Omelet were terminated from the experiment because they had grown too large to fit within the constraints of the test pen. LOL. Did Hamlet and Omelet know they were gamers? Dunno, but they did it. For more on this study click on the link below to go to the Frontiers in Psychology website.

In Parts 3 and 4 we will explore the two strangest life forms on the farm: insects and people.

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