The academic year has come to an end, and an exciting summer of research is just around the corner!
Last month we went to Mangaiti Station, the North Island’s only merino stud breeder. It was the end of lambing season and, as you can see below, the weather was still a bit cold and some of the new lambs had been given felted jumpers for added warmth. As the Kiwis say, “Cute as!”
Luckily, we were just in time to help with tagging the stud lambs, which basically involves three simple steps:
1) identify which lambs belong to which RFID-tagged ewes;
2) use a handheld RFID reader to identify the ewes;
and 3) put a temporary visual ID tag in the lamb’s ear, using an applicator not unlike the one that pierced my ears.
Later, each sheep will be given an EID tag as well as a more permanent, and non-reactive, brass ID tag.
Sometimes the electronic ID tags are lost and, occasionally, the tags cause infection and need to be removed. When we were there, the old-fashioned metal shears above were used to cut the pin holding the tag in one ewe’s ear, leaving a circular, tag-shaped hole where the infected flesh had rotted away. The ewe gave no indication she was in pain, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this scenario could be easily avoided with the use of different materials or through better tag design.
One thing that’s been made abundantly clear to us–and especially so during lambing season–is that merino breeders and growers are heavily invested in doing whatever they reasonably can to ensure that their animals don’t only survive, but actually thrive.
I’m currently writing up some of my observations for a paper I’ll be giving at the CSAA conference next month in Sydney, and I’ve found the concept of tinkering (via Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms) to be particularly useful in thinking about what it means to be bound to livestock in unsentimental ways and still genuinely care for them.
Now, what else is happening?
Well, next week Catherine and I are heading down to the South Island to visit Glenaan Station, Mt Hay Station and Beckford Farm, which is home to some gorgeous coloured merino, and we hope to visit a few more stations in Otago before the end of the month as well.
I’m also busy preparing for a seminar on fantastic ethnographies that I’ll be giving at RMIT at the end of the month–inspired, in part, by Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Author of the Acacia Seeds” and based on a paper I’ll be giving at the ASAANZ conference in December.
And as if that’s not enough, we’ve got five incredibly cool design projects happening this summer so be sure to stay tuned for updates on what we’re doing and making!
Update 16 November
I broke my ankle last week and am not going anywhere until the new year. (Boo! Hiss!) On the upside, we’ll still be doing some awesome design work over the summer, so please stay tuned for updates from me and some awesome research assistants!
Frédéric Houssay’s 1893 The Industries of Animals is a classic example of 19th century categorisation practices, and the table of contents is a rather lovely list to read. Imagine how different animals would be if we understood them in these ways:
INTRODUCTION. The naturalists of yesterday and the naturalists of to-day–Natural history and the natural sciences–The theory of Evolution–The chief industries of Man–The chief industries of Animals–Intelligence and instinct–Instinctive actions originate in reflective actions–The plan of study of the various industries.
HUNTING–FISHING–WARS AND EXPEDITIONS. The Carnivora more skilful hunters than the Herbivora–Different methods of hunting–Hunting in ambush–The baited ambush–Hunting in the dwelling or in the burrow–Coursing–Struggles that terminate the hunt–Hunting with projectiles–Particular circumstances put to profit–Methods for utilising the captured game–War and brigandage–Expeditions to acquire slaves–Wars of the ants.
METHODS OF DEFENCE. Flight–Feint–Resistance in common by social animals–Sentinels.
PROVISIONS AND DOMESTIC ANIMALS. Provisions laid up for a short period–Provisions laid up for a long period–Animals who construct barns–Physiological reserves–Stages between physiological reserves and provisions–Animals who submit food to special treatment in order to facilitate transport–Care bestowed on harvested provisions–Agricultural ants–Gardening ants–Domestic animals of ants–Degrees of civilisation in the same species of ants–Aphis-pens and paddocks–Slavery among ants.
PROVISION FOR REARING THE YOUNG. The preservation of the individual and the preservation of the species–Foods manufactured by the parents for their young–Species which obtain for their larvæ foods manufactured by others–Carcasses of animals stored up–Provision of paralysed living animals–The cause of the paralysis–The sureness of instinct–Similar cases in which the specific instinct is less powerful and individual initiative greater–Genera less skilful in the art of paralysing victims.
DWELLINGS. Animals naturally provided with dwellings–Animals who increase their natural protection by the addition of foreign bodies–Animals who establish their home in the natural or artificial dwellings of others–Classification of artificial shelters–Hollowed dwellings–Rudimentary burrows–Carefully-disposed burrows–Burrows with barns adjoined–Dwellings hollowed out in wood–Woven dwellings–Rudiments of this industry–Dwellings formed of coarsely-entangled materials–Dwellings woven of flexible substances–Dwellings woven with greater art–The art of sewing among birds–Modifications of dwellings according to season and climate–Built dwellings–Paper nests–Gelatine nests–Constructions built of
earth–Solitary masons–Masons working in association–Individual skill and reflection–Dwellings built of hard materials united by mortar–The dams of beavers.
THE DEFENCE AND SANITATION OF DWELLINGS. General precautions against possible danger–Separation of females while brooding–Hygienic measures of Bees–Prudence of Bees–Fortifications of Bees–Precautions against inquisitiveness–Lighting up the nests.
CONCLUSION. Degree of perfection in industry independent of zoological superiority–Mental faculties of the lower animals of like nature to Man’s.
Mostly social and cultural perspectives, with a little geography, media, art, biology and philosophy thrown in.
Alger and Alger, Cat Culture: The Social World of a Cat Shelter
Arluke, Just a Dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves
Arluke and Sanders, Regarding Animals
Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals
Bekoff and Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals
Broglio, Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art
Brower, Developing Animals: Wildlife and Early American Photography
Chris, Watching Wildlife
Daston and Mitman (eds.), Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism
DeMello (ed.), Teaching the Animal: Human-Animal Studies across the Disciplines (plus bibliography)
DeMello, Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Flynn (ed.), Social Creatures: A Human and Animal Studies Reader
Goode, Playing with My Dog Katie: An Ethno-Methodological Study of Canine/Human Interaction
Gross and Vallely (eds.), Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies
Haraway, When Species Meet
Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness
Kalof and Fitzgerald (eds.), The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings
Manning and Serpell (eds.), Animals and Human Society: Changing Perspectives
McHugh, Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines
Mol, Moser and Pols (eds.), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms
Philo and Wilbert (eds.), Animal Spaces, Beastly Places
Rothfels (ed.), Representing Animals
Rudy, Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy
Serpell, In the Company of Animals: A Study of Human-Animal Relationships
Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times
Urbanik, Placing Animals: An Introduction to the Geography of Human-Animal Relations
Vint, Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal
Weil, Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now?
Wilkie, Livestock/Deadstock: Working with Farm Animals from Birth to Slaughter
Wilkie and Inglis (eds.), Animals and Society: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences
Wolfe, Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory
The scan above is from Sarah Franklin’s excellent 2007 book, Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy.
I don’t know if her interpretation of the ASL sign for “sheep” makes sense to people who speak ASL (I have to assume she checked!) but I’m completely fascinated by the idea that it performs a hybrid: simultaneously human (the shearer), animal (the sheep) and technological (the shears).
So I decided to check if all English sign languages are the same and, as with all interesting research, found that I now have more questions than answers.
For example, the sign for “sheep” is the same in British Sign Language, Auslan and NZ Sign Language – it involves using the fingers to indicate curly horns on the sides of the head, like a ram – and is used to refer to both a wool-producing animal (sheep) and its meat (lamb/mutton).
First, I find it interesting that the sign performs the appearance of a ram and not a ewe, although they certainly are more visually distinctive. Are all animal signs based on appearance rather than behaviour, use, etc.?
Second, I have no idea why it is completely different from ASL for “sheep” — giving no indication of how people interact with the animal — but since all three sign languages also have separate signs for shearing/shearer, one possibility that comes to mind is that sheep in the UK, Australia and NZ are more “multi-purpose” animals and shearing is considered a culturally distinct activity and identity.
Third, Auslan has two additional signs for sheep, one regionally-specific, and NZSL has another two for lamb as well, although it is unclear if they’re referring to the animal or the meat. In any case, does this more extensive vocabulary indicate greater cultural significance?
Fourth, I was enjoying the (rather wishful) thought that one of the NZSL signs for lamb might be performing their notoriously cute “sproinging” action, but then I found out it’s very similar to the Auslan sign for “woolen” and wondered why would a lamb be more closely associated with wool than with meat?
Okay, okay. It’s clearly time to stop speculating and speak with the experts! I’ll update this with what I learn.
I’m writing a journal article on research methodologies right now and won’t be able to use all the bits of Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay “The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists” that I think are brilliant. The whole essay is worth reading, of course, and if I could include a ridiculously long quote this would be it:
“But I will defend fantasy’s green country.
Tolkien’s Middle Earth is not just pre-industrial. It is also pre-human and non-human. It can be seen as a late and tragic European parallel to the American myth-world where Coyote and Raven and the rest of them are getting ready for ‘the people who are coming’ – human beings.
The fields and forests, the villages and byroads, once did belong to us, when we belonged to them. That is the truth of the non-industrial setting of so much fantasy. It reminds us of what we have denied, and we have exiled ourselves from.
Animals were once more to us than meat, pests, or pets: they were fellow-creatures, colleagues, dangerous equals. We might eat them; but then, they might eat us. That is at least part of the truth of my dragons. They remind us that the human is not the universal.
What fantasy often does that the realistic novel generally cannot do is include the nonhuman as essential . . . To include anything on equal footing with the human, as equal in importance, is to abandon realism.
I venture a non-defining statement: realistic fiction is drawn towards anthropocentrism, fantasy away from it. Although the green country of fantasy seems to be entirely the invention of human imaginations, it verges on and partakes of actual realms in which humanity is not lord and master, is not central, is not even important. In this, fantasy may come much closer to the immense overview of the exact sciences than does science fiction, which is very largely obsessed by a kind of imperialism of human knowledge and control, a colonial attitude towards the universe.
It is a fact that we as a species have lived for most of our time on earth as animals among animals, as tribes in the wilderness, as farmers, villagers, and citizens in a closely known region of farmland and forests. Beyond the exact and intricately detailed map of local knowledge, beyond the homelands, in the blank parts of the map, lived the others, the dangerous strangers, those not in the family, those not (yet) known. Even before they learn (if they are taught) about this small world of the long human past, most children seem to still feel at home in it; and many keep an affinity for it, are drawn to it. They make maps of bits of it — islands, valleys among the mountains, dream-towns with wonderful names, dream-roads that do not lead to Rome — with blank spaces all around.
In reinventing the world of intense, unreproducible, local knowledge, seemingly by a denial or evasion of current reality, fantasists are perhaps trying to assert and explore a larger reality than we now allow ourselves. They are trying to restore the sense — to regain the knowledge — that there is somewhere else, anywhere else, where other people may live another kind of life.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin, Cheek By Jowl, 2009
Wow. Just wow.
Everyone’s been talking about the London Olympics, but I’m pretty thrilled with Central Australia’s Bush Olympics:
“More than 50 students from cattle stations and remote communities across Central Australia are currently competing in the final rounds of the Alice Springs School of the Air Bush Olympics. The students log in from computers in their schoolrooms hundreds of kilometres apart, to participate in warm-up activities via web cam. They then head outside, into the dustiest of playgrounds to complete half an hour of whatever Olympic sport is on the London schedule that morning. So far that’s included weightlifting, equestrian events (featuring real hobby horses at some stations), athletics, and hockey. Their trainer, Jo Black from the YMCA says there’s some real talent among the School of the Air’s students, who live in an area covering 1.3 million square kilometres.
But it’s not all about exercise: Mrs Pearson says the highlight of the Bush Olympics was the opening ceremony. ‘Student and parents logged in from 62 sites across Central Australia. It was important for us to light the Olympic flame here in the studio. A flickering flame is made from red and yellow and orange, so we had lots of helium balloons, concealed under a veil. And when our student William Weir lit the cauldron, the veil was pulled off and the balloons reached skywards. It was a beautiful representation. Also, every team from each station or community made their own flag [and] mascot’.”
Plus, Alice Springs School of the Air is pretty amazing. It “offers a wide range of educational services and activities to isolated primary children” in the southern half of the Northern Territory, the extreme north of South Australia and the south-east of Western Australia. Originally relying on radio communication, “the first broadcasts were made from the Royal Flying Doctor Base in Alice Springs, Northern Territory (NT), in 1951.” Today they run their own ISP, making “extensive use of satellite technology” because only 5% of the Outback has mobile coverage and their landlines (upgraded in the 90s) cannot support broadband.