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Heidrun

Agriculture & Industry

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One thing that has been in the back of my mind while reading these books and watching the show is how agriculture is affected by the long seasons and some questions about the textile industry.



For one thing, a number of livestock are seasonal breeders. While horses and cattle can come into an estrus cycle any time of year, sheep and goats do not. The latter are seasonal breeders, coming into their breeding season at the end of summer and coming out of it in mid-winter to better facilitate spring babies. I'm just wondering how the goats and sheep could go years without breeding unless they've adapted to the Westeros cycles and birth during the winter. A similar thing with chickens as many chickens, esp. older ones will not lay in winter. A farmer would have to have a sizable flock of pullets and breeding cockerels to make it through a 5 year winter, meanwhile feeding unproductive animals for years and hoping that they would all last until spring. Now while a calf, foal, kid or lamb is born with fur and can survive even extreme cold as long as they are out of drafts and dry (I had kids born a few weeks ago during -18 temps and now that they are 3 weeks old, it was hovering around zero the other day and instead of huddling under the heat lamp, they were cavorting in the snow), chicks cannot. A chick needs to be kept at roughly body temperature heat for the first few weeks. I've had hens hatch some chicks in the fall that have survived winter, but they were fully feathered by the time the snows came. Geese and ducks as adults are cold hardier than chickens, but the heat requirement in early life is similar.



Also, the textile industry. There is very little mention of the noble and royal women spending time on spinning and weaving. GRRM mentions some embroidery or sewing (usually in reference to what Sansa likes). But spinning and weaving is extremely time consuming as much of a woman's time in the Middle Ages was taken up by these tasks. I do some hand-spinning with a drop spindle and weave and crochet, and I can never keep up with my wool and mohair. Seems like it's time to shear again before I can get all the fiber spun. I can only surmise that Westeros has an amazing textile industry to save women the labor. Although I wonder how much time Cersei would have to devote to politics if she had to spin and weave for her family. And even royal women throughout history have not been able to escape this task!


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Hadn't thought about these things before but you make good points. My guess is that GRRM never thought about it or decided to ignore it in favor of telling his story.


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The truth is that GRRM didn't really consider the full effect that a multi-year winter would have on the very fabric of a medieval society. There shouldn't be any livestock at all after a northern winter, there should be glaciers in the Mts. of the Moon, crocodiles/aligators in the Neck during winter, the Greenblood should dry out during the summer(it starts in middle of the desert), farming in the north half of the Reach should have irrigation problems, the west has a very low number of rivers/streams for a hilly region, the riverlands have very few mills, how can the ironborn fish that much to support such a population, etc. It's fantasy logistics.


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An army of frost zombies, Dragons, witches killing with shadow babies, I think we're past the point of objecting to the realism of the early life needs of poultry.



GRRM gets pretty good grades in my book for overall historical parallel, military tactics, and characterization. I can give him a pass overall even if he fails fifth grade earth science, home ec, and a 4H project.



Besides. . . Dragons.


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I do understand that this was something that he glossed over in favor of the story and I forgive him for not knowing the intricacies of ewe estrus cycles and behavior of broody hens. Just for me, living in the upper midwest where our winters can be 7 months long and it is not unheard of for us to have snow in May or freezing temps in June, the challenges that I face with gardening and husbandry, I can only imagine the effect of a 2 year winter, let alone a 5-7 year winter. Mainly speculation on my part.



And Mists of Avalon is a favorite of mine and actually sparked my interest in fiber crafts. It seemed like every time a woman sat down she was spinning or weaving or sewing and now that I am actually trying to make my own clothing from scratch, I understand why! It's incredibly time consuming.



I suppose it is really hat's off to GRRM's world-building that I brought it up. He does try to figure out the logistics, as you mentioned, for military strategy and economics. I only thought it natural that he would figure this out too. I know there was a real life case of European reindeer taken down to some islands off the coast of Antarctica and while their cycles were messed up for a few years, eventually they adapted to another hemisphere and opposite seasons.



But, Littlefinger's Dagger, please don't assume that farming only requires a 5th grade education. Nearly all of the large dairy farmers in my area have college degrees in Ag-Management or Ag-Science and quite a few of them have taken college level business courses as well. I have a B.A. and taught middle and high school Spanish for years before being laid off. And the woman who taught me how to singe chickens with a propane torch is a pediatrician.


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No slight to the farmers there, my point was that for a city boy like GRRM (Bayonne, NJ) fifth grade earth science is where things like what seasons are and how they work is one of the few points of awareness about the interplay between seasons and other natural rhythms. It's not really part of his frame of reference, so it's unsurprising when it comes across as fishy. With all the legal and biotech implications these days, a farmer with a BS in Ag and an MBA makes total sense to me.



Winter with a capital W on this world isn't seeming to me to be so much a season as a short and miniature Ice Age, lasting from 3-12 years or so and arriving every 10-20 years. What processes could cause that I can only guess at, I'd have to ask a geologist. I studied English and Computer Science.


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I did see something about a theory that the wacky seasons were more due to Ice Age than a weird planetary orbit, which--at least to me--makes more sense. There were several recorded "years without summers" in the northern US and Europe and the whole little Ice Age shifted the ag base from grains to root crops. I know radishes, turnips, carrots, potatoes, parsnips and the like are very cold hardy and actually do well in cooler summers. One of my gardening books recommends keeping carrots in the ground even into winter and pulling them out as needed to eat. So a root based agricultural system could in theory sustain them even through poor growing seasons. Pigs also fatten quite well on acorns and root crops.



We just had to buy hay the other day for my 12 adult goats, 2 horses, 1 sheep and incoming kids. Even several months worth of hay takes up quite a bit of space. I can only imagine have to stock YEARS worth of feed at a time, although goats do well on browse (tree limbs, saplings, brush).



Back when I was teaching, during parent-teacher conferences, I recall talking to a parent and her son my student. He was a very bright young man and his family owned one of the largest dairy farms in the area. He had a knack for learning language and I encouraged him to keep up with it into college. He said he planned on it and he was trying to get in to Michigan State Univ. I did the obvious and asked, "Are you planning on the ag-science program?" He said no, business. Farming is no longer a man in overalls hand milking. I've been to a few hi-tech milking parlors and was floored by the cleanliness and efficiency, that they could milk 400 cows in a little over 2 hours and that the milking parlor and building were cleaner than most hospitals I've been in.



And I'm a horse person. You can always tell when the writers of books and movies are horse people or not. JRR Tolkien, yes. GRR Martin, no. Which is fine, I'd rather have him make passing references to horses than pretend he knows something only to get it wrong (Sara Gruen of Water for Elephants is one)

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I'm more concerned about wild animals than livestock; there just won't be enough foliage to sustain any kind of population 2-3 years into a winter. Everything will have adapted to those cycles, or there wouldn't be any wildlife.



Good point about feeding sheep and stuff, though I imagine most of those will get eaten part way through the winter if it's long enough.


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