A few feathered friends have made life more enjoyable for Ron Hendrickson and his family during the coronavirus pandemic.
When Ron’s place of employment, the Mall of America Dairy Queen, shut down temporarily, he knew he needed to conquer his boredom. He also thought his 9-year-old son, Landen, could use a companion during spring school closures. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to buy a goose. And two ducks and two turkeys.
“We got [the ducks and turkeys] afterward, so now it’s kind of a funny farm we have,” Ron said with a laugh.
Of all the birds they own, Ron said Peeps, the goose, is the Faribault family’s favorite and “one in 100,000.”
Ron bought Peeps as a three-day-old goose from a friend in May. Although he had geese as a child, raising a goose was a first time experience for his wife, Jolene, and stepdaughter, Lana. Peeps loves Jolene the most, said Ron, and Lana trained their yellow lab, Lola, not to chase him.
The family’s dog, George, a daschund, who has a history of hunting geese, even lies on the patio next to Peeps. According to Ron, Peeps is “100% the boss.”
Raising Peeps in the house kept Ron and his family busy.
“Expect them to make a disaster,” Ron advises anyone who wants to raise a goose. “My little boy said we should change his name to ‘Poops.’”
Despite the mess, Ron said Peeps has become Landen’s best friend in the past couple months. Peeps accompanies Landen when he paddle boards, and he now flies along when Ron jet skis, water skis or drives a four-wheeler.
“We set a goal of trying to water ski with [Peeps] by the end of August and instead he did it on July 21 or so, more than a month early,” Ron said.
When he isn’t busy flying around, Peeps likes to eat lettuce from the garden, carry flip flops around the yard with his beak, relax on the patio with the turkeys and ducks, and watch other geese fly by. Ron said Peeps knows not to fly away with the flock.
Sometimes, Peeps seems more like a dog than a goose. He learned to unroll the sod Ron laid because he discovered night crawlers underneath, and he also digs them out of tree holes. Peeps also acts like a guard dog when he sees deer near the pond in Ron’s backyard and chases them away.
Ron made the pond over Memorial Day weekend in 2019 and named it Travis Pineur Pond, after a former neighbor and “the best hunter [Ron] ever met.” Pineur died in a accident in Morristown on Feb. 24, 2019 — Ron’s birthday. This year, Ron planted over 200 trees near the pond, adding to the tribute to Pineur.
Travis Pineur Pond has attracted all sorts of creatures, including red-bellied snakes about the size of night crawlers, a couple lizards, sandhill cranes and a Blanding’s turtle. Ron spotted a 180-class whitetail buck one day, and said it was as if Pineur sent it.
“That was the biggest, biggest buck I ever saw,” Ron said. “I swear [Travis] was playing tricks on me because I love to hunt.”
Thanks to a partnership between the Rice County and Le Sueur County Sheriff’s offices, a new drone program could use cutting-edge technology to enhance public safety for years into the future.
In January 2020, the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Office announced that the department had joined together with Rice County to purchase a drone to aid with police work. Even as COVID brought so much to a halt, the drone program proceeded.
While the Le Sueur County Sheriff’s Department hasn’t yet flown its drone in a “eal life situation, Rice County has already done so. It’s not the first drone dispatched by a Rice County public safety agency — Northfield’s Fire Department has had a drone of their own.
Last summer, Northfield Fire and Rescue used a drone for the first time in an emergency situation. Prior to that, it had been used to track down criminal suspects. Fire Chief Gerry Franek said that the department has no particular guidelines on its use.
With drone technology seeing more and more use by police departments across the country, some civil liberties advocates are increasingly concerned that the devices could be used to erode the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, “unreasonable searches and seizures” are prohibited. Earlier this year, Minnesota’s legislature passed a first in its nation reform to limit the use of drones and safeguard that central constitutional right. The list of exceptions to the law is long and broad. They include usage during, or in the aftermath of a public emergency, for officer training or public relations purposes, or to collect information over a public area if a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity exists.
Still, the bill enjoyed support from police groups, civil liberties advocates and nearly all legislators. The American Civil Liberties of Minnesota said that while it allows for drone use in more cases than they would have liked, it boosts transparency.
Even with today’s technology, there’s certainly no shortage of ways the instruments can be used. The DJI Matrice 210 model drone purchased by the department is particularly cutting edge, and specifically designed with a number of public safety tasks in mind.
Among its potential uses include assistance with search and rescue operations, monitoring traffic collisions, collision reconstruction, analyzing crime scenes, finding drugs and illegal items, and investigating and locating potential threats and suspects.
The DJI Matrice 210, a large drone with 17-inch propellers capable of flying in strong winds, sub-zero temperatures and designed to resist water and difficult weather conditions, is particularly well suited to Minnesota’s wide range of weather conditions,
“It’s another great tool to have,” said Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn. “It’s certainly cheaper than calling a helicopter or plane down from a neighboring jurisdiction or the state.”
The drone comes equipped with a daytime camera and a thermal-imaging camera which can view the ground from 400 feet in the air. Officers can pilot the drone from a maximum distance of 5 miles away with a remote control that can display the drone’s video feed.
With a battery, the drone can remain in the air for nearly 40 minutes. The sheriff’s offices have multiple batteries on hand for longer missions and a 200-foot tether which can power the drone indefinitely.
While in the sky, the drone has a full range of movement — it’s able to ascend, descend, move in all directions and rotate. Able to ascend at a max speed of 16 feet per second, the drone can be deployed quickly.
The drone can be flown at a maximum distance of 400 feet above the ground and 400 feet above any structure. While the drone is capable of flying higher, it must remain in that airspace so that it does not obstruct the flight paths of birds and helicopters.
Funds for the drone came from money and assets seized by the Le Sueur/Rice County Drug Task Force. Dunn said that thermal imaging and high-tech zooming capabilities, the drone makes it easy to find a suspect even if they’re hidden or it’s dark outside.
The thermal-imaging camera capability is also highly useful for fighting fires. By flying the drone over a fire, firefighters can get an overview of the area and see which places have the hottest temperatures.
Earlier this spring, the drones proved their use in multiple criminal cases, helping to track down suspects accused of ATV theft, domestic assault and a shooting at Faribault’s Days Inn. Dunn said that the flexible device is proving its worth in many ways.
“The drones give us a different vantage point,” he noted. “That allows us to be able to do things we couldn’t normally do.”
A report from the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture highlights just how difficult it is for many small- and medium-sized livestock producers to access the meat processing they need.
The University’s Livestock Processing Survey was sent out in May, so as to capture some of the effects of COVID-19 on the market. At that time, COVID outbreaks in some parts of the state had hit local processing plants particularly hard, limiting capacity.
The results, finally released last week, paint a dire picture of a market that was overtaxed even before COVID. Out of 11 farmers who responded to the survey, 64% said that processing capacity was already inadequate for their business.
Now, just 17% of farmers report they have adequate access to processing facilities, with the majority of respondents saying that processors of all types are booked out for months. Astoundingly, one processor reported they are booked out through fall of 2021.
The lack of access to processing comes at a time when consumer demand for locally raised meats from small producers is growing — and could grow even larger. According to the survey, 65% of respondents have seen increased demand.
A majority of the survey’s respondents told the University of Minnesota that if processing was available, they would definitely expand their operations. However, with capacity as limited as it has become, many farmers have instead been forced to cull their herds.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said that the state needs to encourage facilities to stay open and keep employees working. Drazkowski said that the best way to do that would be to work with each individual facility on a customer plan.
“I think that will see better results than a dictatorial approach,” he said.
State Rep. Jeff Brand, who serves as vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said that he and the committee had heard extensively about the issue even before the pandemic hit. That shortage of capacity hurts small farmers the most.
“A lot of our farmers couldn’t sell the hogs for free, because they were having such a hard time getting people to process them,” Brand shared.
Brand said that in rural areas throughout the state, the number of small processors used to be much higher but declined along with the number of small farmers. While the number of small, family-owned farms has again begun to increase, processing capacity hasn’t yet returned.
The issue has only been exacerbated by COVID due to the series of outbreaks at processing facilities. While reports of outbreaks have slowed in recent weeks, he said that’s largely because they are now operating at reduced capacity.
When it comes to the state’s meatpacking plants, Brand said much more needs to be done to protect the safety of workers. He attributed the early outbreaks to a failure on the part of many plant owners to ensure adequate protections.
“We have to do better on making sure employees are safe,” he said.
In next year’s legislative session, Brand said that he hoped an agreement could come about to support smaller producers. That’s a top priority for Stu Lourey, director of government affairs for the Minnesota Farmers Union.
Lourey touted the federal Requiring Assistance to Meat Processors for Upgrading Plants (RAMP-UP) Act, introduced by House Agriculture Committee Chair Collin Peterson, D-MN, and co-sponsored by local Rep. Angie Craig, D-Eagan, as a potential model.
Under that bill, introduced in Congress last month, a new federal program would be created to provide funding for existing plants to make facility upgrades and as well as planning grants to help plants meet federal guidelines, so they can sell their meat across state lines.
“Amidst disruptions in the food supply chain due to COVID-19, our farmers and local processors have continued to innovate to get safe food on the table for millions of Americans,” Craig said in a prepared statement. “By continuing to support our local meat processors, we are safeguarding our food supply and stimulating rural economies.”
Lourey said that for the system to work efficiently for farmers across the state, a different processing model is needed. He said the consolidation toward larger plants has badly hindered the system’s ability to cope with the stress of COVID.
However, he noted that a major challenge for meat processors is that the capital costs associated with getting into the business are so high. As a result, he says that public investment is needed to avoid market distortions.
“What we’ve seen, and what Farmers Union has known for awhile, is that when the processing system is too consolidated it becomes brittle and vulnerable to disruption,” he said. ““We need a strong and sustained investment in local meat processing.”
Rice County Farmers Union President Steven Read said that in addition to providing additional funding, difficulties with the licensing and regulatory system also need to be dealt with. He also said the industry is dealing with a major labor shortage.
“The last meat processing program in Minnesota closed down years ago, and now there’s not a vocational program dedicated to meat processing,” he said. “So it’s very difficult to find the skilled labor you need for those facilities.”
When farmers can’t get an animal processed within a certain period of time, Read said that the meat can quickly lose its quality. As a result, small- and medium-sized farmers can have a hard time bringing their best quality product to market.
“There’s a sweet spot for when an animal should be processed for its best result,” he said. “If you can’t have those animal processed during that period, it isn’t as good.”