Mrs Ed and I left the big city to seek our fortune on the Iron Range in 1981. The economy was in a free fall, unemployment on the Range rapidly rising with the downsizing of the steel industry. Our Twin Cities friends questioned our sanity for “heading up north.”
In 1985, we purchased the farm, in the midst of the national farm crisis. Coming from a family with many members in the farming business, I wondered what they meant when they said “So you bought the farm? Good luck with that…”
Shortly after taking the agricultural leap, I had what could have been a destiny-changing conversation with my brother Bill. A couple of years older than me, I always considered him a pretty smart guy. That was confirmed by some of my teachers who had had Bill in their class.
“Interesting,” they said — about me. “His brother was smart.”
Bill had gone to graduate school to become a “futurist,” so I listened to his ideas on achieving success with keen interest.
Bill said, “So you bought a farm on the Iron Range, and you are planning on raising sheep. Have you considered grazing the sheep on the mine dumps and raising steel wool?”
I thought to myself,”I bet no one has ever thought of that.”
There is a saying “You are what you eat.” Sheep are already bred to raise wool. By simply changing their diet, I could be on my way to a profitable farming operation.
Mrs Ed was a little less optimistic. “You need to make a list of the pros and cons.” So I did.
On the positive side:
1. There are lots more uses for steel wool than plain old wool for clothing.
2. Coyote predation would be curtailed. Just thinking about sinking teeth into steel wool sends chills down my back.
3. Expensive wolven wire fences could be replaced with cheap electric ones. Real wool is an insulator and sheep don’t even know the fence is hot. A little steel on steel would get their respect.
4. A normal shepherd catches a sheep with a shepherds hook. A 200-pound sheep running at full tilt can give you quite a ride. Catching could be made easy with a strong magnet on the end of a winch suspended from the rafters. Simply put some grain under the magnet, when the sheep comes to eat, haul her up!
Mrs. Ed helped with the con side.
1. “How are you going to keep them from getting rusty?” “Dip them in cider vinegar.” I replied. “That’s a lot of vinegar,” she said.
2. How are you going to shear them? “Use a tin snips.” “Pretty slow, don’t you think”?
3. “Use a shear for cutting metal.” “What about sparks catching the straw on fire?”
4. ” I know,” I said, recalling an episode of my mentor, public television’s renowned handyman Red Green, “I’ll use an acetylene torch!” At that point, she just rolled her eyes and walked away.
True, sheep are not the brightest barnyard animal but I suppose even they might get more than a little nervous when when you light up the torch and put on the goggles. With the tipping of the scales toward the con side, I was forced to forgo this chance at prosperity and slid the idea to the back burner.
For some reason I was reminded of this today when I stopped at Lowes Hardware Store. Have you seen the price of steel wool lately? Maybe if I got some investors…