Country Moon

Wild Horses...Wilder Controversy

Country Moon 

Horses. There is a fascination with them that captivates us, more so than with many other animals. When you add in the wild horse factor, then there is even more of an air of mystique. Sometimes it is unfathomable to even imagine that masses of these wild horses still exist in the Western United States, given the widespread population and industrial expansion of today. But they do.

Wild horses are descendants of the horses brought by the Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century. They are generally referred to as mustangs, stemming from the Spanish word mustengo meaning “ownerless beast.” Because they are descendants of escaped domestic horses, wildlife management considers them feral (meaning escaped and becoming wild) instead of wild. However, wild horses are still wild in the sense that they live on their own in the wild and are untamed.

They can be found in California, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona and Texas although Nevada lays claim to home for more than half of them. The fact that they still run free after so many years is a hopeful sign in this complicated world of rules and constrictions. However, freedom never comes without a price as is indicated by the fact that it is estimated that there are more than 70,000 living on Western rangelands that can only support 27,000.  

This overpopulation is partially due to how they live and that they have no natural predators. They scavenge the more than 34 million acres of public land that they run on, eating grass and brush. On a typical day, each mustang will eat 5 to 6 pounds of food when it is available. They run in large herds, which usually consist of one stallion, eight females and the young. The herd is led by one mare and a stallion that is over 6 years old. When faced with danger, the mare leads the herd to safety while the stallion stays and fights. They can double the size of the herd every four years without intervention and have a lifespan of about 40 years.

Overpopulation is a huge concern. The Bureau of Land Management has the undaunting job of managing the United States mustang population and the bureau has a mandate to keep the number at 23,622. This is easier said than done since there are different views on this problem. With the numbers growing, the rangeland could be stripped bare if the problem isn’t kept in check. On the other hand, the Humane Society estimates that 100 years ago the wild horse population was at two million and now there are fewer than 25,000. The numbers clearly don’t match and neither do the solutions.

Mustang populations that are out of control can’t be handled like wild pigs or deer when their numbers increase too much. Special hunts are allowed and the pork and venison are consumed whereas eating horse meat is taboo in the United States, unlike France, Sweden and Japan where it is part of their diet.

The United States Department of Agriculture has no inspectors to deal with horses to cull the population. Government officials would have to sign off on shipping thousands to slaughter houses in Mexico. There is a movement to re-open a small number of strictly regulated processing plants in the United States, however this is a very tricky and heated solution.

The mustangs can be adopted but this takes money and land. The government has the option to round them up and send them to private ranches. However, according to the Washington Post, this cost the government 74.9 million in 2012 and by 2030 the same study estimates that the government will have spent 1.1 billion dollars on food and shelter. About 450,000 mustangs are kept at these “retirement” ranches and the rounding up, vaccinating and tracking programs are a daunting task.

UNBRANDED was a documentary that brought attention to the problem of mustang overpopulation. In 2013, inspired by Ben Masters, four young men adopted mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management, trained them and proceeded to ride 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada in five months and six days. They rode on public lands in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and saw the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park like no one else has. They launched a campaign, gathered money and attracted an all-star film team to promote the adoption of wild horses with all proceeds going to the Mustang Heritage Foundation that assists in the adoption of these horses. All in all, they raised $100,000 and inspired hundreds of people to adopt these wild beasts of beauty.

UNBRANDED and Masters’ driving force behind the movement was a good start to raise awareness but it still did not come close to a solution. As of March 2016, 67,000 horses and burros were known to still roam on public lands and 45,000 were in government holding pens.

Ecologists, rangeland managers and ranchers agree that the mustang overpopulation has caused irreversible damage to the delicate desert ecosystem. What they don’t agree on is what to do about the problem. Wild horse advocates say that sheep and cattle numbers should be reduced to leave more forage area for the horses. Naturally, ranchers disagree since sheep and cattle are their bread and butter.

Wildlife conservationists advocate that bison, long horn mule deer, prong horns and other wildlife should take precedence over livestock and wild horses. Animal activists say all animals should be allowed to roam the public lands. The problem is that there is only so much land and, as Will Rogers said “Land, that ain’t making any more of the stuff.”

To put it all in perspective, in March of 2016, 15,500 wild horses and burros were living in feedlots and short term holding pens and another 31,500 were living in long term pastures. All of these were gathered off the range, were segregated by sex, castrated, branded, given shots and were doomed to sit in feedlots for about five years. They have been or will be released into foreign pastures to them, bearing no resemblance to their former wild lifestyle. Is this any way for these spirited animals to live?

Certainly, there is a problem. Between all the groups involved, no one can decide on what the best solution should be. What they do agree on is that doing nothing will result in harder decisions in the future. These are spirited mustangs, wild horses that are creating even wilder controversy.


Fabrics of Our Lives

Country Moon 

Sometimes we take for granted the very things that shape our everyday lives. The other day I noticed an intriguing pattern in a blouse that a friend was wearing. We see patterns in fabric all of the time in the clothes that each of us wear. Many times, those clothes define who we are. As I soon discovered, the simple process of weaving simple threads into fabrics with many variations in patterns is not so simple after all.

The entire textile industry is based on the conversion of fiber into yarn, yarn into dyed or printed fabric, and then fabric into clothes. It is the most basic of principles, and yet the process can become quite complicated. Whether done small scale at home or in a factory, the weaving process uses a loom, a device that intertwines length threads, called warps, and cross threads, referred to as wefts. The whole process passes back and forth in a shuttle that carries the yarn, which is the fibers that are twisted into threads used in weaving or knitting. Weaving is the oldest method of making yarn into fabric.

On the loom, the warp forms the skeleton of the fabric and requires a higher degree of twist than the filling yarns that are interlaced widthwise. Cloth is formed by the wooden shuttle that moves horizontally back and forth across the loom, interlacing the filling yarn with the horizontal lengthwise warp yarn. Modern mills use shutterless machines, which produce endless varieties of fabric. Some carry filling yarns across the loom as fast as 2,000 meters per minute and is pretty silent in so doing.

Cotton is the most important and most widely used material for fiber. Textile mills purchase cotton and receive bales from cotton warehouses. The factories start with the raw material and process it in stages until it becomes yarn or cloth, which is fabric or material that is constructed from weaving or knitting. Incidentally, there is a distinct difference between woven or knitted fabric. In knitted fabric, one continuous yarn is looped repeatedly to create what looks like tiny rows of braids, whereas in woven fabric, multiple yarns cross each other at right angles to form the grain, much like in a basket.

There are three basic types of weave. In plain weave, thread is alternately passed over one warp yarn and under the next, pretty basic and simple. This method is used for ginghams, percales, chambrays and other similar fabrics. The twill weave interlaces yarns to form diagonal ridges across fabric. This method produces sturdier fabrics like denim, gabardine, herringbone and ticking. The most common of the three weaves is the satin weave. It produces a smooth fabric with high sheen. It has fewer yarn interlacings  and neither the warp or filling yarn dominates the “face” of the cloth. It is used for cotton sateen.

Still, I wondered how the numerous patterns were woven into the fabrics. Basically, color and the different ornamentation is accomplished in woven fabrics by imparting pre-determined placement and interlacing of particular sequences of yarns.

Solid colors are produced by using the same color yarn for the warp and weft. Different colors may be combined to produce either a mixed or intermingled color effect in which the composite hue appears as a solid color.

Figured and patterned material is created by selecting different groups of colored yarns and placing them in certain ways in the warp and weft. In certain patterns, textural effects may be created entirely through the use of different values and closely associated hues of certain colors.

Various fabrics are often defined by thread count, which is a measure of coarseness or fineness of fabric, which is determined by counting the number of threads contained in 1 square inch of fabric and includes the warp and weft threads. Thread count usually refers to sheets and the higher the thread count, the softer the sheet. Thread counts usually range from 200 to 800.

It amazes me that there are such numerous types of fabric and what distinguishes each type is how it is woven or knit and what type of yarn is used. Some of the more basic types are:

1. Barkcloth: This was popular from the 1930s through the 1950s. It was used for interiors fabrics and was characterized by patterns of large vines, leaves and florals.

2. Basket Weave: Like its name, it resembles a basket with fibers common in home décor.

3. Boucle: This type can be either knit or woven with small curls or loops that create a nubby surface. It is mainly used for sweaters, vests and coats.

4. Broadcloth: This is a plain weave, tightly woven fabric, usually made of cotton or cotton blends and used for quilting and shirts.

5. Burlap: This is a plain weave pattern with a rough hand and is loosely constructed and has a heavy weight. Used mostly for draperies, decorations and crafts.

6. Canvas: This is a strong, durable and closely-woven cotton fabric.

7. Chambray: This is a plain woven fabric with a colored warp (usually blue) and white filling yarns. It is made with cotton, silk or manufactured fabrics.

8. Chenille: The name is French meaning “caterpillar.” It is created with fuzzy chenille yarns and is characterized by raised cords and channels.

9.Chantilly Lace: This is a netted background created by embroidery with thread and ribbon to create floral designs.

10. Corduroy: This uses a cut pile weave construction. The number of wales indicates the number of cords in an inch.

11. Denim: A twill weave cotton fabric with different colored yarns in the warp and weft.

12. Eyelet: This fabric has patterned cut-outs with stitching or embroidery around the cutouts for appeal and to minimize fraying.

13. Flannel: Usually made of 100 percent cotton that is brushed on one or both sides for softness.

14. Gabardine: A worsted twill weave that is wrinkle-resistant.

15. Gingham: A plain weave with a plaid or check pattern that is created with dyed yarn.

16. Muslin: A plain weave, low-count cotton sheeting.

17. Nylon: Developed in 1938, nylon was the first completely synthetic fiber developed. It is known for its strength.

18. Satin: Has a lustrous, shiny surface.

19. Terry Cloth: Made of uncycled, looped pile. It is highly absorbent, which makes it the first choice for toweling.

20. Velvet: This is the most luxuriant type of fabric.

Of all the types of fabric, there is one type that is not made in the traditional way. Silk is probably the most natural fabric of all. It is produced by silkworms, which are the offspring of moths. They spew out thread from tiny holes in their jaws which they use to spin into their egg-bearing cocoons. This entire process takes only 72 hours, during which they produce between 500 and 1,200 silken threads. Amazing!

I probably will never look at clothes the same again. Just like most things in the world, the art of creating fabric is an artful, intricate and yet simple process.