There are cats?and then ‘other’ cats

Our cat population on the farm currently stands at two, down sharply from a baker's dozen since two years ago. The short haired female?s name is Baby, a distant descendant of a female we received from some neighbors back in the ?80s.

At more than eight years of age, Baby is entering the geriatric stage of life. Though not attractive to look at, she makes up her shortcomings by her generally friendly personality and an uncanny ability to survive in a harsh environment. When coyotes, neighbors? dogs, owls or bobcats are on the prowl, Baby senses danger before the others have a clue that any danger exists.

This feline is a product of what I call the ?ugly cat? syndrome. It?s a version of Murphy?s Law for pets. If anything can go wrong, it will, but not in the way one might expect.

For instance, if you have two pets, one may be tame but the other has a wild, ornery streak. The tame pet is well behaved, has a great personality, looks fabulous and enjoys the company of people. You spend time and money on this pet in an attempt to ensure its survival and happiness.

The ?other? pet is cranky, somewhat devious and seems to enjoy making trouble with the other cats. It may not let you intervene in any of its private affairs, let alone allow you to place it in a pet carrier for that mysterious trip to the veterinarian. You may even admire its dogged determination (no pun intended) for self-determination (pun intended).

This pet may not be a raving beauty by any stretch of the imagination. You may not wish it would come to any harm, yet the animal survives numerous attempts on its life.

Murphy?s Law for pets comes into play. Odds are good that the tame pet will come to an untimely end. It?s as if nature?s gremlins have painted an invisible target on the pet?s backside, inviting every predator, plague or disease to ?have at it.? Odds are even better that the other cat will enjoy a long, productive life.

And then, there was one. Welcome to the ugly cat syndrome.

* * *

Life on the farm has not always been as glamorous as it seems to be right now. Perhaps the word ?glamorous? overstates thinking of the public and the media, given the current focus on high energy and higher food prices.

Though one may argue for a plausible connection between higher corn prices and demand for more alternative fuels, most news stories in public media connecting food costs with high grain prices are dubious, at best.

For instance, declining wheat stocks nationwide have been on a downward trend for over seven years, due primarily to decreasing acres in wheat production and secondarily due to increases in demand from rising third world incomes and improved diets.

Prior to the dramatic rise in wheat prices in 2007, the cost of wheat in a loaf of bread hovered around three and one-half to four cents in 2006. Today?s share, based on local prices, is barely under a dime, based on a flour yield from a bushel of wheat that will make ninety, one pound loaves of bread.

The largest share of the increase in food costs comes from higher shipping costs of food items, due to higher fuel prices, plus an increase in margins of processors and brokers within the food chain.

In addition, the rumor mill within the milling and baking industry is making predictions that average retail bread prices may move sharply higher, while calling on Congress for a complete halt in exports to satisfy their demands for lower prices of wheat. Of the alleged, threatened double digit increase over previous prices, a mere six cents a loaf reflects the true increased cost of wheat.

Though the consumer may not care who or what is responsible for the decline in his or her purchasing power at the grocery store, this explanation bears repeating whenever food costs jump dramatically. This serves as a reminder to consumers and food retailers alike that farmers are working hard to satisfy consumer demand.

Rebuilding wheat stocks takes time. Even though this year?s production is projected to exceed last year?s disappointing crop, preliminary estimates peg Kansas? production at below average, due to returning drought patterns in parts of the western region and spotty stands in central areas.

Nationwide, the outlook is promising; yet, projected yields may not do much to counter increased demand in addition to rebuilding depleted stocks.

So, the next time a news reporter releases a story suggesting farmers are primarily to blame for rising food and energy costs, readers must ask one basic question: Where?s the data supporting that assumption?

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