Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Revenge - A ballad of the fleet by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 Long narrative poems appeal to me for some strange reason. Noyes' The Highwayman, Kipling's Ballad of East and West, Macauley's Horatius at the Bridge, Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum, Service's Cremation of Sam McGee, and on and on. I usually manage to memorize a few lines of each and sometimes in the night reach for lines I cannot recall so I wake up and re read the poem. And so it was with The Revenge. 

Spanish Galleon
In the 16th century, the galleon was the standard ocean going battleship of the western European nations. The Spanish Galleons, as well as being armed with cannon, had high fore and aft castles which suited their battle tactic of boarding. The English Race-built Galleons had low fore and aft castles and depended on superior speed and maneuverability as well as superior gunnery to keep the Spanish at a distance. The most famous of these was The Revenge (of which some 13 ships were to carry the name eventually). 

The Revenge
The revenge was Sir Francis Drake's flagship in 1588 when the British defeated the Spanish Armada with help from the weather. In 1590, The Revenge, under Captain Martin Frobisher plied the Spanish Main to intercept bullion laden treasure vessels bound for Spain. In 1591, the British fleet, under Lord Thomas Howard was charged with patrolling the Spanish coastal area to blockage Spanish ships and prevent Spain from rearming as Phillip II did not give up easily. The Revenge was part of Howards patrol and captained by Sir Richard Grenville.

The Spanish set out with 53 ships to put an end to Howard's blockade when his small flotilla was harboured in the Azores with many sick and the ships in need of resupply. Tennyson says The Revenge had only a hundred seamen, while other sources say 250. Two hundred fifty was the standard crew size so I will go with Tennyson. So our story begins. 

The Revenge, a ballad of the fleet by Alfred Lord Tennyson

At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,

And a pinnace, like a flutter’d bird, came flying from far away;

“Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty-three!”

Then sware Lord Thomas Howard: “’Fore God I am no coward;

But I cannot meet them here, for my ships are out of gear,

And the half my men are sick. I must fly, but follow quick.

We are six ships of the line; can we fight with fifty-three?”


Then spake Sir Richard Grenville: “I know you are no coward;

You fly them for a moment to fight with them again.

But I’ve ninety men and more that are lying sick ashore.

I should count myself the coward if I left them, my Lord Howard,

To these Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain.”


So Lord Howard past away with five ships of war that day,

Till he melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven;

But Sir Richard bore in hand all his sick men from the land

Very carefully and slow,

Men of Bideford in Devon,

And we laid them on the ballast down below:

For we brought them all aboard,

And they blest him in their pain, that they were not left to Spain,

To the thumb-screw and the stake, for the glory of the Lord.


He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight,

And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight,

With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.

“Shall we fight or shall we fly?

Good Sir Richard, tell us now,

For to fight is but to die!

There’ll be little of us left by the time this sun be set.”

And Sir Richard said again: “We be all good Englishmen.

Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil,

For I never turn’d my back upon Don or devil yet.”


Sir Richard spoke and he laugh’d, and we roar’d a hurrah and so

The little Revenge ran on sheer into the heart of the foe,

With her hundred fighters on deck, and her ninety sick below;

For half of their fleet to the right and half to the left were seen,

And the little Revenge ran on thro’ the long sea-lane between.


Thousands of their soldiers look’d down from their decks and laugh’d,

Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft

Running on and on, till delay’d

By their mountain-like San Philip that, of fifteen hundred tons,

And up-shadowing high above us with her yawning tiers of guns,

Took the breath from our sails, and we stay’d.


And while now the great San Philip hung above us like a cloud

Whence the thunderbolt will fall

Long and loud,

Four galleons drew away

From the Spanish fleet that day.

And two upon the larboard and two upon the starboard lay,

And the battle-thunder broke from them all.


But anon the great San Philip, she bethought herself and went,

Having that within her womb that had left her ill content;

And the rest they came aboard us, and they fought us hand to hand,

For a dozen times they came with their pikes and musqueteers,

And a dozen times we shook ’em off as a dog that shakes his ears

When he leaps from the water to the land.


And the sun went down, and the stars came out far over the summer sea,

But never a moment ceased the fight of the one and the fifty-three.

Ship after ship, the whole night long, their high-built galleons came,

Ship after ship, the whole night long, with her battle-thunder and flame;

Ship after ship, the whole night long, drew back with her dead and her shame.

For some were sunk and many were shatter’d and so could fight us no more—

God of battles, was ever a battle like this in the world before?


For he said, “Fight on! fight on!”

Tho’ his vessel was all but a wreck;

And it chanced that, when half of the short summer night was gone,

With a grisly wound to be drest he had left the deck,

But a bullet struck him that was dressing it suddenly dead,

And himself he was wounded again in the side and the head,

And he said, “Fight on! fight on!”


And the night went down, and the sun smiled out far over the summer sea,

And the Spanish fleet with broken sides lay round us all in a ring;

But they dared not touch us again, for they fear’d that we still could sting,

So they watch’d what the end would be.

And we had not fought them in vain,

But in perilous plight were we,

Seeing forty of our poor hundred were slain,

And half of the rest of us maim’d for life

In the crash of the cannonades and the desperate strife;

And the sick men down in the hold were most of them stark and cold,

And the pikes were all broken or bent, and the powder was all of it spent;

And the masts and the rigging were lying over the side;

But Sir Richard cried in his English pride:

“We have fought such a fight for a day and a night

As may never be fought again!

We have won great glory, my men!

And a day less or more

At sea or ashore,

We die—does it matter when?

Sink me the ship, Master Gunner—sink her, split her in twain!

Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!”


And the gunner said, “Ay, ay,” but the seamen made reply:

“We have children, we have wives,

And the Lord hath spared our lives.

We will make the Spaniard promise, if we yield, to let us go;

We shall live to fight again and to strike another blow.”

And the lion there lay dying, and they yielded to the foe.



And the stately Spanish men to their flagship bore him then,

Where they laid him by the mast, old Sir Richard caught at last,

And they praised him to his face with their courtly foreign grace;

But he rose upon their decks, and he cried:

“I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;

I have only done my duty as a man is bound to do.

With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Grenville die!”

And he fell upon their decks, and he died.



And they stared at the dead that had been so valiant and true,

And had holden the power and glory of Spain so cheap

That he dared her with one little ship and his English few;

Was he devil or man? He was devil for aught they knew,

But they sank his body with honor down into the deep.

And they mann’d the Revenge with a swarthier alien crew,

And away she sail’d with her loss and long’d for her own;

When a wind from the lands they had ruin’d awoke from sleep,

And the water began to heave and the weather to moan,

And or ever that evening ended a great gale blew,

And a wave like the wave that is raised by an earthquake grew,

Till it smote on their hulls and their sails and their masts and their flags,

And the whole sea plunged and fell on the shot-shatter’d navy of Spain,

And the little Revenge herself went down by the island crags

To be lost evermore in the main.

And away she sail’d with her loss and long’d for her own;...
...To be lost evermore in the main.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Dr. Peter J Van Soest 1929-2021 Legendary Ruminant Nutritionist

 This blog could also be entitled "I know you don't care but..." I do care so I will write it for me.

Dr. PJ Van Soest
When I was a kid, skipping school to go to Agricultural Short Courses organized by Alan Rugg, the local Ag Rep, beef cattle were the simplest farm animals to feed. What ever you fed them was torn apart in the rumen by the bacteria and protozoa, recombined by them to suit their needs and the cow digested their by products and the bugs themselves. Nutrition was pretty crude, all done by wet analysis ; crude protein (N x 6.25), crude fat (ether extract), nitrogen free extract (not crude protein, fibre, fat or ash) and crude fibre, all added together (fat x 2.5) produced TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) which was a crude estimate of useful feed value in use since 1860s . 

We knew the basic requirements for different classes of animals and fed to those. Dairy cattle were a bit different as there was as much art as science because things worked but at the time people didn't know why. Reading Hoard's Dairyman from the last 135 years is an education in its own right. But beef cattle were my main interest, so that is how I ended up in the University of Saskatchewan, College of Agriculture studying Animal Science.

Dr. Dave Christensen graduated from UofS in 1958 and started as Associate Professor at Animal Science the same year I started as a student. He was a Ruminant Nutritionist, specializing in dairy nutrition but taught the general ruminant nutrition courses. We learned that TDN tended to over estimate the feed value of forage because it underestimated the cell walls. The contents of a cell are highly digestible and the cell walls are quite variable. 

We also learned that Dr PJ Van Soest, a brilliant scientist from the USDA Research Centre at Beltsville Maryland, had come up with a superior method of estimating feed value, including TDN. Instead of Crude Fibre he developed two analyses ADF (Acid Detergent Fibre) and NDF (Neutral Detergent Fibre). ADF is used to estimate energy eg TDN, and NDF is used to estimate animal intake (rumen fill).  Van Soest’s detergent analysis gave researchers a way to precisely separate the chemical components of feeds into three categories: parts that were digestible to all animals; indigestible without fermentation; and completely indigestible. Those two analyses today form the basis of estimating feed quality ruminant nutrition and permanently changed animal science.

In Fourth Year, we had to write a thesis which was basically a heavy duty term paper. Dr. Christensen was my supervisor and my topic was Estimating forage Quality as I recall. It was anticipated that I would focus on Van Soest's work. However in May 1968, Lofgreen and Garrett had just published their seminal work A System for Expressing Net Energy Requirements and Feed Values for Growing and Finishing Beef Cattle.

Well! This was mind blowing and right up my ally. I paid lip service to the original intent and then poured the coals to net energy. Besides the Lofgreen and Garrett's formulae were based to a great degree on Van Soest's Analyses. Dr. Christensen was not overly pleased and gave me a B. He said it deserved an A but he had to nag me constantly to get it finished (by end April 1969 after all the other students had gone home).

In 1968, Dr Van Soest moved from Beltsville to Cornell University in Ithica NY, where he spent the rest of his career. At Cornell he was as a co-inventor of the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System, a cattle nutrition model currently used to formulate diets for over 70% of dairy cattle in North America and used in over forty other countries. 

Net energy estimates and net carbohydrate and protein system revolutionized ruminant nutrition all based on detergent fibre analysis. Dr Van Soest once said, “I participated in something that was very remote, a backwater in science, and then it became very important.”

Dr Van Soest died in March 2021. I ran across his obituary while searching for information for a Saskatchewan rancher. He should have lived forever. After retirement he continued teaching and research, publishing hundreds of papers over his life time, the last at age 90 in 2020. He was the kind of researcher that should have been sent funding, no questions asked.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Remembering the Farm: Barbed Wire Fences

 When my grandparents bought our farm in 1914, the closest firewood was 30 miles away. That was likely the closest willow pickets for fences too. They bought two quarter sections (160 acres, measuring 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile) and leased two others which were mostly prairie short grass (likely Stipa comata or needle grass). That worked out to 7.5 miles (15 half mile) of perimeter fences and likely another 1.5 miles of cross fences. 

By the time I was old enough to help fix or build fence, it was all fenced using willow pickets and two strands of barbed wire with split cedar posts or used railway ties for corner posts as needed. Willow was tough and durable, not rotting easily. Dad could now cut pickets on our own land as poplar and willow grew in the low areas once the prairie fires were under control. Poplar made terrible fence pickets as it would rot out in under 5 years. Soaking it in Bluestone (copper sulphate) would maybe give you 10 to 15 years but it was a slow process. 

A willow picket would be maybe 4' to 4.5' long and 2" to 2.5" in diameter, flat on top and sharpened with an axe at the bottom. A hole was punched with a crowbar as deep as possible and the picket driven in with the flat of an axe. We had a maul but the willow would not take heavy pounding too well. The barbed wire was fastened to the picket with a staple or in many cases especially on old pickets with baling wire (#12). Pickets or posts were spaced 1 rod (4 paces, 5 meters, 16.5 feet) apart, 181 to the half mile.

Posts were needed on corners and in low spots. Post holes had to be hand dug which was hard work in baked dry soil. We had a hand auger for digging and another for removing the dirt from the hole. Usually the hole needed widening with a spade to handle a used railway tie. Then there was a tamping bar to firm the dirt around the post. At the estate sale, all I wanted for souvenirs were the two post augers and the tamping bar. Funny that but I had a soft spot in my head for them. They were in the machine shed when my brother managed to burn it down so the metal parts went in the scrap.

As we rebuilt and repaired perimeter fences we gradually added a third wire. Dad did buy a few spools of new wire (80 rods to a spool and two spools to the half mile) but most of the wire was stuff he bought at auctions. Not always in the best condition and constantly needing mending. Working with barbed wire was somewhat hazardous. I always wore jeans, a long sleeve heavy work shirt, and leather gloves. My tan stopped at my collar.

In the early 60s dad cut the top off a 53 Chev sedan, took the back seat out and made it into our fence mending truck. It got about 15 miles to the quart of used oil and you could not turn it off or it would not start for a few hours. After idling for 30 minutes while I repaired a stretch of fence, it would blow a smoke screen that would hide the Queen Mary. The dog used to swim in a slough while I fixed fence and when I would rev the motor he would come running, up through the back and over the seat into the front, then lie on my lap. 

Willow pickets were getting hard to come by and times must have been better as dad bought a post pounder that mounted on the front of the tractor. Then we bought commercial pressure treated 3" to 4" pickets and 6" posts from Glaslyn and our fences started to look professional. I drove the tractor and dad sighted in and pounded the posts. The post had to be held to keep it straight while it was being driven into the ground. One day dad absently minded held the post too near the top and the driver took a nice bite out of his glove and some of his finger and thumb. He got it stitched up and it was not too bad. I did the same thing at Cumberland House many years later but I got really lucky. It just wrecked the glove and missed my hand. Farm accidents are caused by carelessness!!!

In the early 60s dad rented and eventually bought another 3 quarter sections: 2 cultivated and 1 prairie, adding another 5 miles of perimeter fencing. 

A word about barbed wire gates. The wires were always loose, no matter how often they were rebuilt. From one of our cultivated quarters there was a 1 mile trail through the pasture with a wire gate at each end. Dad had bought a used 1 ton at an auction that had no brakes. Coming through the pasture meant he could avoid the roads. One fall, I had JUST fixed both wire gates and dad decided to drive the grey truck home with a load of wheat. He forgot to slow down so he could stop and drove through the first gate. By the time he got to the second gate, he forgot to slow down again and drove through it too. MURDER was too good for him. 

Dad sold the cattle in the fall of 1982. He was 60 years old, it had snowed in late September, he had no winter feed ready and he was tired. Since that time, the fences have fallen into disrepair except for those around the pasture area which was rented out for grazing. The unused fences desperately need to be torn down and the wire rolled up and scrapped. There is nothing worse than old barbed wire lying around to catch and injure animals. We had a horse get wrapped in old wire and  though she was stitched up and doctored, she never healed and was no longer rideable.

Three strand wire fence, showing proper wire spacing

Three strand wire with good posts.

A barbed wire gate in the usual disrepair

Typical wire gate, closed with a rope tie

Corner post, built right but a bit worse for wear

This abandoned fence needs to be torn down and cleaned up

Front mounted driver. The heavy steel weight is raised by hydraulic
and then suddenly dropped onto the sharpened post

Sorry for not using metric units but once you are off the highways it is Imperial Units all the way. Land was surveyed in Imperial units of rods and miles. It is bought and sold by the 160 acre parcel called a quarter section (1/2 mile by 1/2 mile, with 4 quarters making up a section. Grains and oilseeds are harvested and stored in bushels even though they are sold in tonnes.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Singing Myself to Sleep

 When a song gets stuck in your head and goes round and round and will not go away, it is called an Earworm. Some people hate them. I love them because I can pick and choose. 

There is always something going on inside my head. I'm either arguing with myself about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or how I can dissuade people from their fantasies and conspiracies, or who can I annoy on Facebook. If none of the above then it is music fills my soul and the empty void. Songs with simple words and melodies that I enjoy and have played enough to learn the lyrics are sung silently in my mind. The acoustics are good, like a high vaulted ceiling in a cathedral and no discernable echo. 

While I enjoy Tchaikovsky, I couldn't hum the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies to save my soul. I need words to the music. So over the years I have built a playlist of which at any given time may consist of four or more songs which I sing to myself. They are added to or subtracted from for no good reason. Something will remind me of one I used to sing to myself and I'll add it back in. 

So here area  few of the songs that play in my mind and often play until I go to sleep. In no particular order.