Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Animal Crackers Uncaged

There are some things in this world that just defy logic and give further evidence that we are on a downward spiral as a society. That was the case this week when I saw that Nabisco had redesigned the box animal crackers come in to take away the bars in the picture and “free” the animals. This because of pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This just further proves the degradation of our common sense when it comes to animals.

This comes on the heals of PETA being one of the groups that helped drive the Barnum and Bailey Circus out of business because of concerns about how the animals were cared for. Personally, I think it is a shame that something as iconic as the circus is under attack by a small group of radicals who don’t share the same view as most of the society. We can debate the merits of animal care of circuses; however, the animal cracker debate is one of the dumbest I have ever seen.

Folks, this is a cardboard box full of cookies that are barely more edible than the box. The fact that a group of radical animal rights activists can protest something like the picture on a box of cookies and get a response from a multi-national corporation is astounding, really it is mind-blowing. When we are losing battles like this to the animal rights activists we are close to sliding down that slippery slope.

I would guess that the next step in this mind-numbing saga is that they will be upset that the crackers are confined by the box itself. I can see it now a “free the crackers” campaign complete with celebrities who are bemoaning the fact that the animals are cooped up in the at box. They will probably show horrible pictures of broken crackers caused by being confined in a space too small. I say all of this in jest, but it is just as plausible as worrying about the bars on a picture on the outside of the box.

The problem is that these groups have worked their way into the fabric of our everyday lives. Once they were fringe, radicals who did not garner any attention. I am not mincing any words when I tell you that their main objective is to destroy animal agriculture and elevate animals to the same level as humans. As crazy as it sounds, this is another step in that direction.

Groups like HSUS and PETA are chipping away at our ideas of animals and humans and removing the separation between us. Each small victory is another chink in our armor and puts us closer to being out of business. They find the weakest link and like circuses and go after it. As farmers and ranchers, we think it doesn’t matter and allow them to go out of business.  The public, who has no real connection to animals other than maybe a cat or a dog, see this as proof that there was poor treatment of animals.

Then the story about removing the bars on a box of cookies comes up and, again, further re-enforces the idea that the animals were mistreated, and this group of radicals is out for the best interest of animals. We know this is not right, but it is easier to ignore and roll our eyes at than to fight. This is the same tactic they are using against us in agriculture too.

HSUS went after swine farms in Florida and Arizona because they were few in numbers and without much notice banned gestation crates in those two states. Only a handful of producers were affected and the whole thing barely made the news. Another chip was knocked out of our base. Then they set their sights at bigger states with larger populations that know nothing about modern ag.  Don’t believe me, find a chicken producer in California. Better yet, buy a dozen eggs in California and tell me what they cost. Another chip, a little bigger one, with each victory the anti-ag groups get a little bolder and look for bigger targets.

So, if you think that a box of animal crackers is no big deal and roll your eyes at the stupidity of it all, I think you are missing a bigger issue and one that has huge implications for all of us that raise animals for food. If we continue to allow these groups to blur the lines between humans and animals, if we allow them to chip away at our livelihoods soon we will look around and we will be out on an island by ourselves with no one to help us. That is their goal. As ridiculous as the printed bars on a box of cookies are, it is still important and a chip no matter how small.

It does make me wonder what is next. Will PETA emboldened by their clear victory in removing the bars from the box of animal crackers go after another target. I wonder if Goldfish crackers will be next. After all those poor fish are forced to smile no matter what, even when they are being eaten. I write this only partly in jest.

Sweet Corn Disaster

I really enjoy sweet corn; it and home-grown tomatoes are some of my favorite things to eat. If you know me, or even if you have just seen me, you know that eating is very high on my priority list. Nothing beats a good ear of sweet corn. That is why two years ago I decided to turn one of our smallest fields into my sweet corn patch. That is when this tale of tragedy started.

The field is just a little over an acre with a steep field entrance off a very busy road. It was hard to get the equipment into the field, especially the combine. Two years ago, the field was to be planted to corn as part of our normal crop rotation. That was when I hatched my sweet corn idea. Just the thought of an acre of sweet corn made my mouth water, I would have enough for myself and all my friends and neighbors.

The field was prepared just like the rest of the corn ground, except for the fact that I put down dry fertilizer myself instead of the anhydrous (remember this field was going to be sweet corn because it was too small to get equipment in). My first surprise was the sticker shock when I found out how much seed for gmo sweet corn was. Oh well, I could sell a little at the local farmer’s market to recoup my cost.

My next surprise was to find out that with the drums that we had for our air planter I could not plant the right seed population. We did the best we could, and the population was a little thick but not bad. The corn emerged and initially the project looked like it was going to be a success. Then life happened.

We decided to buy a new house. The house move did not affect the sweet corn patch, but it did affect my time. More specifically, the sweet corn was ready the week we needed to move. We had a couple of meals off the sweet corn patch and a couple of my neighbors picked a little bit of it. However, the greatest majority went to feeding the deer and racoons in the neighborhood. I contemplated sending Wildlife and Parks a bill but decided my crisis was not their problem.

Fast forward to this year. I decided that my sweet corn experiment would work if I gave the field a little more attention. I borrowed a small disc from a neighbor and worked the ground properly. Remember the whole move thing last year? Well that affected my ability to keep the patch clean and left too many dead weeds to plant into. In any case, I prepared the field and purchased the seed. Then planting season happened.

We started in on the corn and corn planting was strung out enough that we went straight into soybean planting. I had a really hard time justifying the time it would take to switch everything over to the settings I needed for my sweet corn experiment. Because of this and a couple other unforeseen scheduling conflicts I did not get to plant my sweet corn until the middle of June. Some years that might work but if you look back on the end of June and much of July you will remember it was hotter than normal and much drier.

Speaking of drier, remember how I worked the patch down so well. I was reminded of why I am such a big fan of no-till. That ground was much drier and much fluffier than our untilled ground. Remember how I had a problem with the population the year before. The seed I had this year was much lighter and smaller and I went from too many seeds per acre to not nearly enough. However, in retrospect, population was not my worst problem.

The seed sat in the ground for weeks until we had enough moisture to sprout it sometime in July. Then the one hundred plus temperatures cooked it. Finally, the rains and cool temperatures came, and the corn started growing. Then two days later it started tasseling at a grand total of three feet tall. Even then I had hope, after all the weather for pollinating and filling out ears was the best we had all summer.

That was when the wildlife found my sweet corn patch. Each night I would look at the patch and think that in a day or two I would have some sweet corn to pick. The next morning I would come back to find that plant mangled. It looks like my sweet corn experiment was even worse the second year.

It’s a good thing I am so bull headed, or I might never get to eat sweet corn. Yeah, I could buy it but that costs too much, and it is more fun to grow your own. Besides, I am being encouraged by the deer and racoons to keep trying too. A few tweaks here and there and next year will be my year, you can count on that.


From Jethro to Captain

It all started with Jethro, the champion bucket calf, and last week it ended with Captain, the champion market beef. A span of sixteen years that covered many heartbreaks, experiences, opportunities, countless friends and even a few successes. The 4-H livestock experience was bookended by two calves that could not have been more different and were a good analogy of the whole experience.

Jethro and Captain were both black steers, and that was all they had in common. Jethro was a bucket calf we bought from a friend. Go figure, the first year I needed a bucket calf we had none, so I had to buy a bucket calf. Little did I know that Jethro would be about the cheapest purchase I would make over the next sixteen years.

Isaac named him Jethro after attending the Peace Treaty Pageant at Medicine Lodge. Jethro was the cattle rustler the cowboys hung from a tree and it is beyond me why Isaac was so enamored with that scene that he had to name his calf Jethro. Jethro was a pretty good bucket calf and Isaac gave him a whole lot of attention. Of course, at the tender age of four, Isaac needed our help with him every step of the way.  Everywhere we went that summer we quizzed Isaac about the parts of the bucket calf and other questions the judge might ask.

When the time came, we helped Isaac wash the calf and shine him up. Isaac marched him into the ring and gave the best performance of his career. Jethro was chosen Champion Open Class Bucket Calf that year and we worried it was a mark that we would never hit that mark again. Tatum and Isaac went on to both win the 4-H bucket calf award but after that our family hit a long drought when it came to beef awards.

We bumped along and showed the best calves we had in our herd for several years after that. There were a few successes along the way, a class winner or two but for the most part we spent our time in the middle to lower half of the class. It was frustrating but now looking back the lessons learned with those calves were probably the most valuable ones we could have had.

Fast forward to this year and Captain. Captain came to us from Kentucky and was a show calf through and through. I wish I had a good story as to why Tatum named him Captain, but I don’t. She pronounced him Captain the day he stepped off the trailer and, to be honest, the name fit him to a t. He was a stately steer who commanded your attention. He was also a big teddy bear that never offered any trouble or caused any grief. All in all, he was the easiest steer we ever had when it came to handling and he loved to have his neck scratched.

Tatum put an incredible amount of work into Captain. Each morning she rinsed him off, brushed his hair and fed him all before heading off to work. Captain spent the day with his sidekick in his pen in the barn under fans where it was cool. Then at night she repeated the routine before leading him back to his pen for the night. The work was all Tatum’s with Jennifer and I doing very little. In fact, if we did anything it was under Tatum’s strict supervision. She also spent countless hours working on showing him and by the time the fair came around he was nearly automatic in the showring.

Jethro made one appearance in the showring, at the county fair. Captain made the spring show circuit and the county fair was his eighth trip into the showring. Along the lines of “I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to” was that he moved up one place at each show. Starting out third out of five in class at his first show in Marysville to Reserve Overall Market Beef at the last show before the county fair in Seneca. We joked about how that was a good sign for the county fair hoping that the form held true.

We knew the competition would be tough at the county fair and it was. Captain peaked at the right time and he came into the fair weighing the right amount and looking like we had hoped he would. That night in the showring he looked the best he ever had and showed perfectly. One of the biggest thrills of our families entire 4-H career was when the judge slapped Captain and brought everything full circle.

I won’t lie, two short days later when I walked by Captain on the truck to the processing plant there were tears in my eyes. I like to think I am tough, but Captain tested me.  I scratched him under the neck one last time and thanked him for the experience he had given Tatum, but everything has its time. Words cannot express how blessed we were to have our 4-H career bookended by two champion beef like Jethro and Captain. Its funny how life works out sometimes.



The Eve of the Last Fair

This is the eve of fair for us, more specifically it is the eve of the last fair as a 4-H family for us. I must admit that this last is probably the toughest one for me. To say 4-H has been a large part of our life is the biggest understatement I can make and to say the last fair is tough is also not the whole truth. Next year and next summer are going to be different.

My kids were involved and active in the fair probably earlier than most. When Dad is the Extension Agent life stops for the rest of the family and the fair consumes all the time for that week. Jennifer always told everyone that she was an Extension widow and that statement was completely honest and true.

Our fair involvement started with Jethro, the bucket calf, and will end with Captain, the steer. Both were black cattle but miles apart in type. Jethro was a half Holstein bottle calf and Captain is a show steer and that is fitting because the difference in the two calves represents the distance we have traveled as a 4-H family.

4-H has taken our family places we never dreamed it would have. Ten years ago, we started the sheep project with two lambs (I should remember their names, but I don’t) and this coming year we will lamb nearly a hundred ewes all because of the experience we had with the 4-H sheep project. Isaac’s Southdown flock is paying his way through college and vet school and it started with one whether named Rambo (the story of how he got the name is a good one, but one I don’t have space for).

The transformation that 4-H has had on all of us is incredible. Both Isaac and Tatum are planning careers in agriculture and both can attribute their future career plans back to skills learned and experiences they have had through 4-H. The leadership, work ethic and knowledge they gained working on their projects cannot be matched through any other channel. More importantly, 4-H has ignited a passion in both of my kids for agriculture that I am eternally grateful for.

Most important in our 4-H experience are the people we have met and the friends we have made. At the fair each year we have a tradition of meeting at the campers and sitting in a circle talking about the days events, life in general and, most importantly, decompressing for a bit. This gathering has become known to us as the circle of friends. The name may be a bit tongue in cheek but not really.

I remember as a young agent with a young family how we felt so included when we were invited into the group. That was when I started to realize just how important and how big of an impact the fair and 4-H can have. It was hard each year to see the families on their last fair and that seemed so far away and suddenly that family is my family. It happened in the blink of an eye and I am not sure I am ready for it.

I have hope because as the agent I saw many families graduate and move on but almost all of them came back. That is good because the hardest thing for me to imagine is life without the circle of friends. The experiences, skills, opportunities and lessons learned through 4-H are important, but the most valuable thing gained are the relationships.

So as Tatum sprints down this last straight away of the marathon that has been our family’s involvement in 4-H I am sure there will be many “dark glasses” moments in the next couple of days. I say family because 4-H is truly a family experience, all of us, Isaac, Tatum, Jennifer and I have been truly moved and affected by the program. It is time to move on and view life from a different angle, but it is also sad know in that we are moving on past something that has truly been so important to us.

So, I sit here reflecting on the rockets, the pies, skirts and benches that have been exhibited with varying degrees of success. I think about the sheep; Toots, Twinkle Toes, Fuzzy and Wuzzy, Poppy the Shroppy, and Rambo. I remember the cattle; Jethro, Blaze, Glory, T-Bone and of course, Captain and it is hard to think of a summer without 4-H critters and projects. I assure you that the last weekend in July will be a whole lot calmer and less stressful, but it will also be a little less fulfilling next year.

In the end, the next five days will be both tough and happy. I am so grateful that we were blessed to experience the wonders of 4-H and the county fair. It was an experience I wish more families could have and one that I will never forget or regret. I hope this year I will have a bit of time to sit back, reflect and soak up the experience. This will truly be a fair to remember.

My Bad Skills and Other Things I Didn't Learn

Over the years I have attended many leadership classes and read copious amounts of self-help articles and books. Many of these focus on one’s self esteem. Often when they talk about self-esteem they say to focus on things you are good at. Being humble myself, I decided to poll my family to find out just what I am good at. It appears everyone has hidden talents, things that they are just naturally good at. Here are the things I am good at as identified by my family.

First, it appears I am good at tying bad knots, this is nothing new, it is a talent that I perfected back when I was in 4-H. This allows the cattle, sheep or horses to better utilize the grass in the yard and various other places that don’t get grazed very often. After all, anyone can tie a good knot (including many young children as my wife often points out) but only a truly “special” person cannot grasp the simple art of knot tying after forty plus years of practice.

I am spectacularly bad at measuring things. If it were not for his Grandfather, Isaac would never have gotten better than a white, sympathy ribbon at the county fair on his woodworking. Which, by the way, is the ribbon I most often got in my woodworking career. The adage, measure twice, cut once may be good for most but I could measure ten times and still cut three or four times. Something changes between when I measure, mark and cut anything. I can safely say that everything I have ever built was unique in its measurements.

My forecasting and predicting skills are uncanny. Whether it is the markets, weather or who is going to win the world series, I have the amazing ability to be completely wrong. If you want a sure bet, pick the other side. Of course, when I do that, my prediction is right. If I mow hay thinking it won’t rain it does, if I sell grain thinking the market won’t go higher it takes off to new highs and if I think my favorite sports team will do well, they are doomed. My ability to be wrong is second to none.

Another one of my hidden talents is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If we are working cattle I am never where I need to be. When I go to the grocery store and I have the choice between two lines, I will pick the slower line in every case. Even if there are ten people in one line and two in the other, the line I wait in will take forever. If I have can take two different routes to the same destination, I will always find the one with road construction.

The talent of being in the wrong place seems to go right along with my talent for being late. No matter how early I leave or when I start to get ready, I am always in a time crunch. It must be my unerring sense of timing, which is also a talent of mine, but I can leave two hours early and due to things like mechanical issues, bad planning or other unforeseen circumstances I will be fifteen minutes late. My being late talent borders on a superpower.

Those talents were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to things my family identified as what I am good at. Some were simple things like not being able to drive a nail straight or always leaving a gate unlatched. Then there were the simple, fundamental things I was good at. Things like forgetting to change the setting on the washer, not mailing things left on the counter and not checking my phone for messages.

Come to think of it I am darned talented when it comes to forgetting too. I forget things daily like turning the water off when filling tanks and forgetting things on an annually like my anniversary. Anyone can forget they had water on, but it takes a “special” talent to forget which day you got married.

My family also says I am good at being grumpy. But then again, they say I ought to be because I practice it daily. I am not sure this is my talent completely, after all, they are talented when it comes to making me grumpy. Which prompted them to tell me that I am also very good at making up lame excuses.

Apparently, my talent is unlimited. Especially when it comes to being bad at something. I am a master of disaster but at least I have my family to keep me grounded. My theory is if you are going to do something be the best at it. Only my exceptional ability to be delusional keeps my self-esteem at a high level and I must find something to take solace in. I am living, breathing proof that some of us are put on earth for no other reason than to serve as a bad example to others and that is my most “special” talent.


4-H KIds Say the Darnedst Things

This week I am kicking off one of my favorite times of the year, county fair season. I know some of you have already had your fairs buy most will be happening in the next three weeks.  There is nothing more refreshing and wholesome than a county fair. I must admit that I am somewhat addicted to going to county fairs and maybe that explains why I look forward to judging them each year.

Yes, I have been judging county fairs now since I graduated from college and that would be…. Well, let’s just say its more than I have fingers and toes. It can be hot, sometimes you leave really, early in the morning and other times you get back really, late at night, but it is always worth the time and effort. Each fair I judge I am reminded of why I do it and often come away with a good story. I thought I would share a couple of my favorite memories.

Often, it’s the little moments. I remember one fair I was judging the swine show and specifically junior showmanship. I like to pull the kids aside and ask them questions about their project like what they are feeding their hogs. I asked one young man that question and he told me to wait right there. He then ran over to the fence and yelled to his dad to bring a bag of feed over to him because the judge wanted some feed.

One time while judging a bucket calf show I asked one young man if there was anything else he wanted to tell me about his project. Keep in mind this was over the microphone so the whole crowd could hear it. He looked kind of sheepish and said that since this was in public it might be a good time for a confession. That got the crowd’s attention.

He went on to tell us about how he was practicing with his calf and his dad was helping. Somehow, they got a little close to his mother’s new car and the calf kicked it making a small dent in the fender. His dad told him not to tell anyone and his mother would never know. However, it had bothered him, and he needed to confess. He thought since it was in front of everyone his mother would not be as mad.

For many years I was an Extension Agent and I was sympathetic toward the plight of my fellow agents and the number of judges they had to find and for some of the most unusual projects. I was judging other projects when the agent asked me to judge the emu show. Yes, the big flightless bird kind of emu show. I told her I was not qualified but she insisted that I would be and said it was a brother, sister and cousin showing.

I went to the pens, looked the birds up and down and acted like I knew what I was doing. My FFA poultry judging was coming in handy but on a much bigger scale. After serious contemplation I could not decide which bird was the best, so I called the three together for a conference. The brother and sister told me that they had been champion the last two years and it was their cousin’s turn. I made the cousin’s bird champion emu (although I did not walk into the pen and slap it). I have often thought that was the only show I have ever judged where everyone showing walked away completely happy with my decision, that is why I am officially retired from judging emus.

There are times when the memory is funnier later than it is immediately following the show. One time while judging a beef show I walked up to a steer to feel if it had adequate finish on its ribs. It seemed a little jumpy, so I asked the young man on the halter if his steer kicked. He said no, so I went in to handle it and the steer immediately kicked me in the knee. Not wanting to show pain or cry in front of the packed grandstands I gritted my teeth and stood there for a second until the pain subsided. I then looked at the showman mentioned that he said the steer didn’t kick. That was when he explained that his steer did not kick, and this was his cousin’s and he was showing it because it was ornery.

My favorite moments judging fairs are not slapping the champion although that can be a great moment when you know the youth has spent a lot of time and effort on their entry and it means a lot to them. My favorite moments and the reason I still judge shows are the kids and parents who come up afterward to tell me more about their projects. The people are the reason I love judging shows and I am sure this year’s fairs will give me more memories and probably more great stories so stay tuned in.

Making Hay and Rain

I don’t know if you have noticed but it is hot and dry outside. It seems like every chance of rain we have builds up and comes our way and just as it gets close enough to hear the thunder and smell the rain, it evaporates.  I read that my immediate area is over eleven inches of rain behind the average for the twelve-month period and that is the third driest ever ranking ahead of all the “Dirty Thirty” years. That, folks, is historically dry and is officially a drought.

I have been amazed at how long the crops have hung on, it has just been this week when some of the fields have past the point of no return, but for the most part, the crops have hung on. All in all, the fact that we have not had another Dust Bowl is a testament to the technology we have in agriculture and points toward how we care for the soil and environment around us. Without advances like no-till, gmo crops and soil conservation, we would be seeing large clouds of dust and enduring a year with no crops.

If you want to know just how bad this drought is I can give you a personal example. Last Thursday, the weatherman had predicted a “good” chance of rain. We had baled up all the hay we had mowed down and were trying to decide what to do next. Normally, mowing hay with a “good” chance of rain would not be something we would even think about, but this is not a normal year.

While we pondered what to do, I went about changing a few sections on the sickle mower. It was a, most unbearably hot when I started, the sun was beating down on my back (why I did not think about moving it to the shade defies all logic), and soon I was covered in sweat. Suddenly I noticed a cool breeze and then I heard the faint rumblings of thunder. When I turned around I saw big black clouds all around me. A quick check of the radar showed a good area of thunderstorms on three sides and closing in fast and more storms lined up in the same path. I picked up the pace and felt a few stray drops hit the back of my neck.

Soon the new sections were installed and the mower was in working order. That was when I noticed that; first, it was not raining and second, the horizon was starting to lighten up. Honestly, after this year, I am not sure why I expected anything different. It was then and there something snapped in me and I decided I was not going to care about what the weatherman had forecasted or what the radar said was coming. I was going to do what I wanted to do.

I needed the stock trailer for the next day and it was parked at the bottom of a hill in a grassy area that gets muddy with even the littlest of sprinkles. I had planned on running home and hooking up to the trailer and pulling it up on the grass to make sure I could get to it the next morning. Instead I took off with the tractor and mower, leaving my pickup with both windows down and feed on the back. The radio crackled with lightening and black clouds could still be seen on the horizon.

I was not going to roll my windows up, put the feed under cover or do the smart thing by getting the trailer and not mowing hay. Rain be darned, I was going to mow hay no matter what. No amount of rain, lightening or even hail would deter me from doing what I had planned on doing. I mowed without even looking at the western horizon. I made round after round and soon I noticed that the crackles on the radio got fewer and fewer, then the sun popped out through the clouds. That was when I realized just how bad this drought had gotten.

I had never seen a drought that could not be broken by challenging it with newly mowed hay, windows that were down and most of all exposed feed. I must admit that this has sent me in a tail spin, I am not sure what to do, I have tried all my best tricks and gone for broke. Which, by the way, is where we are headed without some rain. I guess we are down to rain dances and paying some snake oil salesman to make it rain.

I know some of you reading this have had enough rain and for that I am sure you are counting your blessings. However, for the rest of us time is of the essence and we must do everything in our power this is not time for humility. So, I will take one for the team and I will go outside right away and start a rain dance immediately. Will it work? Probably not, but all I am risking is my dignity and I lost that a long time ago.