Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Rancher's Signs of Spring

Spring has sprung, that thought crossed my mind as I typed April on this week’s column. Wow, we are finally loosening winter’s cold grip and walking into the warm sunlight of spring. The world is aglow in the green carpet covering the hills, flowers are starting to emerge from the soil and the trees are full of blossoms. All is new and good.
For several weeks I have watched for the signs of spring and finally I have started to see them. Was it the return of the robins that told me spring was near? No, not really. How about the buds on the fruit trees? No, in fact, I am pretty sure that brings on a freeze. Maybe it was the geese flying south. Wrong again, I live by a lake and they fly back and forth all the time. OK, what about the greening of the grass? Nope, but it is a reminder that I need to get my lawn mower fixed.
I know all of those are classical signs that spring has sprung, but the signs I am looking for are much closer to home. For instance, I know that spring is in the air when I drive by a neighbor’s house and I see their chore clothes hung out on the line to dry. No self-respecting livestock owner would dare wash their chore clothes until winter and calving season are truly over. What would happen if you washed your coveralls, they had not dried and say a winter storm blew in while a heifer was calving? Coveralls on the clothes line is the most solid sign of spring one can find in rural America.
Another sure sign of springtime in cattle country is the absence of shaving cream on grocery store shelves. Yes, warmer weather means itchy calving season beards. Haircuts and shaving is now again in vogue. As the teens would say, the shaggy, haggard, disheveled look of calving season is so last winter. This also coincides with clogged sink drains, hair on the counter and dirty looks from your wife. Shaving a beard off is tough and there is collateral damage.
Finally, the best indicator of spring in the Flint Hills is the orange glow in the evening sky and the faint (or more than faint) smell of smoke on the evening air. Nothing says spring like a good pasture burning. Evidence of this can be seen in the black landscape or the sooty four wheeler with a water tank in the back of any rancher’s pickup on main street. Seeing big cedar trees going up in flames like giant torches is one of the best signs of spring I know.
So let’s say you are in a small town in the Flint Hills and you are talking to a passing traveler at the local cafĂ©. You make mention that all the signs point to the fact that winter is finally behind us and spring is surely here. They will probably guess that your statement was made because of your keen awareness of the natural world around you and the observations you have made came while communing with nature each day.
They will wonder if it is the distant gobble of the turkey, the daffodils peaking through the warm, moist soil or the robin hunting for a meal of earth worms. They might even suspect that you know this because of the sun’s position in the sky or the length of sunlight during the day. The unsuspecting city slicker might even say it is just a feeling that every farmer and rancher gets deep down in their bones and is passed along generation to generation.
Just smile and look at them sagely with a nod and a wink. After all, you know something they don’t; you are one step ahead of the game. We all know that country folks don’t rely on birds, plants or even the sun to announce the changing of the seasons. We are much savvier than that.  Little do they know that the surest sign of spring is closer than they might think.
The sign that the long cold winter is finally past and spring has arrived is closer than they might think. The surest sign of spring is a mere two tables down. It would be the farmer or rancher enjoying his ice tea, eating lunch sporting clean chore clothes, a fresh shave, and a new haircut and smelling faintly of smoke. That, is the best sign of spring I know.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In Search of the Lost Civility

I have to admit that I really don’t spend that much time watching TV. Sure it is on but usually it is just background noise while I am doing other things. I know, that is a horrible waste of electricity and I can just hear my mother reminding me to shut it off if I am not watching it. She probably would be telling me to go outside too.
I have pondered turning off the cable and trying to save some money. I would bet that after a short, painful adjustment period we would really not miss it and we probably would be more productive. There would be a couple of things I would miss and they are the reason I keep the cable on. I really enjoy old TV shows, Andy Griffith, I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke; The Honeymooners even The Three Stooges. All of these shows take me back to a time when we were more civil and compassionate. All things I dearly miss today.
My main problem with the cable is also some of the programming available. I watch series after series where confrontation and getting what is coming to me are the themes of the day. It seems as though if you are not in someone’s face, screaming at them and trying to get your way no matter what is the thing to do. I am not sure if this is entertainment mirroring life or life mirroring entertainment. In any case it seems as though we have lost our civility and compassion and I believe it is getting worse.
Every part of our everyday life has to be contentious. It seems as though every opinion that does not agree with ours is a reason to cry foul. We seem to think the only way to get our ideas across is to our yell the other person. This way of thinking has permeated every part of our lives from schools to youth activities to even our own churches.
We have lost our sense of civility when it comes to discussing and debating issues. If someone’s opinion differs from our own we must shout them down. Calm reasoning and discussion are rare and I suspect viewed as a sign of weakness. We see this at every level from our national politics to school activities, I am right and if you don’t agree I will impose my ideas on you. This loss of civility is troubling and I think it is a by-product of communicating via e-mail or text. You cannot hear or see the other person or their reaction and it deadens our ability to be civil.
While the loss of civility is troubling I am even more concerned over the loss of compassion in our everyday lives. We have become a society of me-first. Instead of putting the greater good of society and our fellow man first, we only worry about how it affects us directly and lobby accordingly. If there is a problem it is someone else’s problem. We blame the coach, the teacher and even our own pastors when most of the time we should look inward.
We rarely worry about the other person and ask about what is going on in their lives. Failure to perform at the level we demand is grounds for immediate termination. In some cases we might have been wronged, our sandwich might have taken too long to get to our table or the teacher might have made a mistake. Those things happen, mistakes are made. It might have been a bad day or there might be a bigger underlying reason. Seldom do we take time to ask if there is a bigger more serious reason that is the compassion I think society is missing.
I know, I am being a downer, a grump and a pessimist and don’t think I am exempting myself from this at all. I may be one of the worst offenders. However, I do think we can change the course of society and it comes back to each of us individually. Each of us can choose to live our lives and conduct ourselves with compassion and civility. We can make that choice to accentuate the positive and try to lift up those around us.
We all know people who live their lives this way. I would bet they are the type of people you want to be around. Those are the role models we need to hold up and model our lives after.  Just like the main characters in many of my favorite old TV series. Maybe this world would be a better place if we would all spend just a little more time watching TV in black and white.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Spring Clean Chore Clothes, or Not!!!!!

It happens this time every year; I just can’t seem to help myself. About this time we experience a warm up that feels like spring has finally sprung and it is one of the best times of the year. You know what I mean, that first time the temperatures reach 70 degrees after a long stretch of really cold weather. The first real stretch of weather when the morning temperatures are warm enough you don’t have to worry about ice on the water tanks or frozen hoses.
This is the week when you start hearing the turkey’s gobble, the birds sing and the grass starts to get that green tinge. We all get spring fever and think that maybe, just maybe winter’s grip as loosened. Any of us who have lived in Kansas for any length of time know that this is a mean trick the weather plays on us each year. I am sure that we will have another stretch of cold, freezing weather with most likely some snow. That is why the thoughts I had this week are so bad.
Yes, I admit it; I nearly washed my chore clothes this week. I mean the weather was warm enough that I could hang them out on the clothes line and they would smell incredibly fresh. More importantly the weather was warm enough I could go about my chores and work without freezing to death while waiting on them to dry. The thought of clean chore clothes that are not crusty and did not curl paint was almost too much to bear.
The consequences would have be dire. We are just a little over half done calving and I still have four more ewes to lamb. Things have gone reasonably well and this is certainly no time to tempt fate because it is a well known fact that if you wash your chore clothes during calving or lambing season bad things happens. I don’t care how bad your chore clothes smell or how many layers of organic matter they have on them, resist the temptation.
Calamities will befall you immediately, probably while your coveralls are still on the line drying. A cow will have trouble calving or a calf will fall in the creek. You will put your shiny clean, fresh smelling coveralls and chore coat on and, boom, it will happen. In no time at all, the grossest, nastiest, most foul situation of the calving and/or lambing season will happen with no warning and then where will you be?
You will have a new layer or layers of blood, afterbirth, manure, dirt and slime all over those fresh clean coveralls. It will run down the cracks and fill the pockets of your recently laundered chore coat. It will go from the freshest, spring breeze smell to the depths of the cow lot. I truly believe it is better to keep the grunge and grime that you know rather than risk new, extreme levels of gunk. After all, you probably have grown used to the smell.
This will get harder and harder to resist as the weather continues to get better and better. We will all fall to the siren call of clean chore clothes and make that horrible mistake. Sure there will be that fleeting moment of sheer joy when you put your clean chore clothes on. You will inhale deeply and smell nothing, but we all know the worst is coming.
Think about it, when was the last time you washed your chore clothes and they staid clean? That is what I thought; I bet they needed washed in just a week or maybe just a couple of days. Think of all the time, detergent and water wasted so needlessly. It is better not to risk it, save the clothes pin for your nose and save a couple more for friends, family and neighbors you encounter.
I had better finish this up and go back outside before the siren call of the washing machine is more than I can stand. Before I start to thinking of my bibs hanging on the clothes line, softly rustling in the breeze and the warm sun slowly drying them out. I just can’t take it anymore. Where is the Tide? Oh well, I guess the ensuing calamities and misadventures will give me something to write about.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Antibiotic Resistance and a Biology Textbook

I don’t mind a debate. In fact, I somewhat enjoy a good debate at times, but only if the people I am having a discussion or a debate with play fair and stick to the truth. We all have different opinions and our right to those different opinions are what makes this country great. However, lately it seems that you don’t have to have proof, the truth or sound science on your side and you don’t have to have an honest even debate. That is a problem, especially when we are talking about food.
Bad information about food is right around every corner. Today I was at a restaurant when I noticed the sign telling about their upcoming happy hour. It proudly proclaimed that all of their beers were gluten free. Really, you are worried about your beer being gluten free? We see a lot of marketing ploys when it comes to food that are based on bad science, misinformation or hysteria.
I guess I have come to expect this type of fear mongering when it comes to the internet, daytime TV or social media. It still makes my blood boil and I will do everything in my power to combat it, but I have come to expect it. However, I am continually amazed at where bad science or misinformation about food and the way we raise food shows up.
This past week my daughter came home from school and said she had something to show me. She then proceeded to open up her biology text book and read an excerpt for me. It was a section about antibiotics and their use or misuse. To make sure that you don’t think I am misquoting the book I will give you the exact quote.
“Misuse: A large portion of the antibiotics distributed in the United States are fed to livestock. Antibiotics are often misused in agriculture to increase the animal’s rate of growth. However, when antibiotics are added to the food of healthy animals, bacteria within the food- including pathogens- can become resistant to multiple antibiotics.”
OK, so they kind of have one thing right. Most of the antibiotics in the world are used in the production of livestock. That is a fact but it has nothing to do with any of the antibiotic resistance we are seeing in humans. Antibiotics fed to animals are targeted to be taken out of our hands by government regulation. This ban is not based on any science but because of suspicion generated by special interest groups. There is no credible, scientific evidence of livestock feed additives causing antibiotic “super-bugs” in humans, none. But that is not the issue (at least for today).
The part I am taking the most issue with is the statement that antibiotics are often “misused” in livestock feed. We all know that is a bold faced lie (yes, I do feel that strongly). The absolute greatest majority of farmers and ranchers feeding antibiotics to their livestock carefully follow the directions including dosage and withdrawal times. Therefore, the antibiotic feed additives are not misused.
Secondly, because they are used in the proper way, they do not cause resistance. Again, there is no credible evidence that our feeding antibiotics to livestock and the meat going into the food chain have anything to do with antibiotic resistance in humans. None, nada, zip, zero, it just doesn’t happen. This is the type of hysteria and bad information that will result in a very valuable tool being taken away from farmers and rancher.
What makes it even worse is that this is being printed in a high school biology text book. That is inexcusable. Most of the students that take this class (and even many of the teachers) do not have the solid foundation in agriculture to understand how misleading that paragraph is. Most take any and all statements in textbooks to be proven facts and this statement could not be farther from a proven fact.
That is why it is so important for us to reach out to everyone in our community and show them that we do care about food safety and that we do have sound science behind the practices we implement on our farms and ranches. I am so proud of my daughter for understanding how wrong this statement was and for being willing to stand up and tell the truth.
Make no bones about it, there is a concerted effort to take antibiotics away from farmers and ranchers. This will make it more difficult for us to produce the food needed by a growing world population that is true. It also will allow for the needless suffering of many animals to ailments that could easily be prevented or cured with the necessary antibiotics. Antibiotics are used properly, safe and absolutely necessary for agriculture. That is the truth that should be written in every biology text book.

Trucks and Kids

It was a Friday and we were all hustling around to make the basketball game that night. I was in Manhattan with Tatum for her physical therapy, we had made the appointment with the idea that she would be done at just the right time to arrive at the school before the games started. Jennifer was going to meet us there from work and Isaac was going home after school, do chores and return back to the school in time to work the FFA food stand that night. A busy chaotic night but, to be honest, nothing out of the ordinary.
I was driving in Manhattan when I got the call. The caller id on my cell phone told me the call was from home. Knowing that Isaac was doing chores and we could have new lambs or calves, I knew the call probably meant trouble of some kind. However, we all know the penalty for answering a phone call in Manhattan is $150 so I debated on what to do. However, at the last second I decided to veer off into a nearby parking lot at take the call.
Isaac’s first words to me were the words every parent fears the most. “Dad, I had a pretty bad wreck.” The first thing I asked was if he was OK. A little shaken but he did seem to have all of his wits about him and did not think he had anything more than bumps and maybe bruises. Then I asked if he had anyone with him. Often he will bring friends home to “help” with chores (much in the same manner Huck Finn had friends “help” him paint). Again the answer was no. Immediately a rush of relief came over me.
“But Dad,” Isaac said in a cautious voice, “the truck is upside down in the creek and totaled.” We have a number of bridges close to the house and so I quizzed him about which one it was. We have a bridge right at the corner of our driveway and quickly I found out that it was the one. “I hit an ice patch and there was nothing I could do, are you mad?” Isaac asked.
Without hesitation, I assured him that I was not mad, no matter the circumstances and that I was relieved he was alone and OK. Trucks can be replaced (although I was not letting him in on that secret for a while) but kids cannot. Immediately a friend called to talk about something else and when I found out he was close I asked him to check on Isaac. Then I called Dad, he had just finished feeding cows and soon help was on the way.
The next call was from Jennifer, she too had spoken to Isaac and was relieved that he was OK, but a bit frantic and terribly worried. We decided that I would head for home, she would pick Tatum. Just as I started home, my friend called and said Isaac seemed to be fine but the pickup was a goner.
I arrived home and the first thing I saw was Grandpa and Isaac sitting on the tailgate of Grandpa’s truck. I stopped on the bridge and they came over, and we all stared at the four tires in the air. Until that point I guess I had been in crisis mode and had not really thought about the severity of what had happened. I am glad we had made seatbelts a routine and doubly glad that Isaac had paid attention to that lesson. Without a doubt the seatbelt saved him from great harm or worse.
That evening after a chat with a great, understanding sheriff’s deputy and a call to the wrecker service we started into the basketball game. I thought a distraction would be good for all of us. I asked Isaac if he had learned any lessons, we talked about the wreck and those lessons. He has always been a fairly cautious driver and my hope is that this wreck has taught him to be even more cautious and aware of the situation at hand, time will tell.
We finished our talk that night as we pulled into the high school parking lot. Isaac thinking that he was riding the school bus for the foreseeable future and me pondering a vehicle purchase I had not planned on but both of us knowing that everything could have been a whole lot different. I do not have a good answer as to why Isaac’s wreck was just a scare and nothing more. But I am eternally grateful that it was just that, a scare. Again I will say it, pickups can easily be replaced, and people cannot.