Saturday, April 14, 2018

Designer Pet Food

A couple of weeks ago one of my rams and I had a slight misunderstanding that resulted in him charging me. He didn’t really hit me that hard and didn’t stick around to finish me off. To be honest it was my fault for not paying enough attention and doing too many things at once and that is not the point of this column

When I went down I landed on my left arm wrong and did something to my shoulder. It really hurt and continues to really hurt. I need to see a doctor, but our lovely health insurance has made our deductible so high I hate to think about what it might cost. I also do not have time to be laid up, so I am being the typical farmer and dealing with the pain and limitations. If it still hurts when I get caught up I might go, see the doctor.

The worst part is at night. A couple of times each night I roll over on it and it really hurts. The only way to deal with it is to go sit in the living room for a half an hour or so until the pain goes away. While I am doing that I watch a little late-night television and sometimes that is even more painful than the shoulder.

I am just amazed at the advertising and the claims that are made. I guess consumers are a little like lemmings and really don’t take time to think things through and some of the claims made by these products. Last night I saw an ad for dog food that advertising it was made with farm raised chicken. Any ideas of where else you might raise chicken. Wild or backyard where two options that came to mind right away. The obvious insinuation was that most chicken was somehow modified by evil corporations who probably developed it in a laboratory and either manufacture it there or on an even more sinister factory farm,

This dog food had pumpkin, blueberries, spinach and, of course, farm raised chicken. I am not sure how much time these people have spent watching their dogs, but gourmet food with delicate flavors are probably not what dogs really want. They should follow my dogs around for a while and see what they pick out on their own to eat. Then we would be seeing ads for dog food made with three-day old road kill that is unidentifiable in its origin with hints of fescue grass and calf feed.  Dogs really don’t care how the meat was raised, where it came from or even how it was “harvested”.

While this may make us chuckle it is a sign of how far we have come in terms of the disconnect between farmers and consumers. All meat is farm raised. Some is raised on bigger farms, some on smaller but no matter the configuration all meat is raised on a farm. For that matter, all meat is antibiotic free too. That is another popular claim I see on tv ads. All meat that is USDA inspected is free of antibiotics but if you have never been on a farm or ranch, it is an easy trap to fall into. I would say shame on the company that makes a buck advertising these claims but it is possible that they don’t even understand the differences.

The most outlandish ad I have seen lately was for vitamins. These vitamins would cure any malady, make you live forever and improve the lives of your descendants. OK, maybe I am embellishing it a bit, but this product made claims that if you had even the most rudimentary nutrition knowledge you would know it was not true. However, the last claim made me fall out of my chair. The vitamins were advertised as GMO free. I guess it is an accurate claim since vitamins don’t have DNA, so they cannot be genetically modified. However, that makes the claim one of the dumbest, most outlandish I have ever seen.

Well, most ridiculous GMO-free claim I have seen this side of the paper plates I ate off at a motel a couple of months ago. It demonstrates the total lack of understanding of basic science and the total disregard some companies have for honesty in marketing. Anything to attract attention and sell more product. Tap into the consumers lack of knowledge and exploit it for more sales regardless of what is right.

This will continue to happen until we make a better effort to educate our consumers and show them what we are doing. Present the sound science and exhaustive studies that our products go through to prove their safety. Companies marketing products will continue to make these claims until the consumer understands the farce. Who knows maybe there is a GMO free pain killer out there that will help me sleep through these ads.

Christmas is Coming

The tree is decorated, the lights are up (and work) and there are even a couple of stations on the radio dedicated to the season. It must be Christmas. Yes, everywhere you look the signs are undeniable the Christmas Season is upon us. Of course, Wal-Mart has probably already switched over and has Valentine’s Day stuff out but everywhere else it is Christmas and I love it.

Each year I say I am going to slow down and enjoy it and each year the season goes flying past and I find myself wanting more. We get so caught up in all the hustle and bustle and everything we think we must do and we rarely stop and just enjoy the season. We race from one event to the next and the Christmas shopping never seems to be done. I think we should all slow down and simplify our lives.

Am I saying to clear your calendar and not do any Christmas shopping? No, especially if I am on your Christmas shopping list. OK, all kidding aside, no the Christmas parties, shopping and various other associated events are all important and part of what makes this year special, we just need to remember to take time to stop and take a deep breath.

One of my favorite things to do this time of the year is to brew a cup of coffee, turn the lights on the Christmas tree, sit down in my easy chair and just enjoy a few minutes of solitude. It is amazing how just a few minutes of staring at the white lights on the tree is soothing and relaxing. No music, no sound just me and the lights, that is my one of my favorite thing about the season.

I guess I am just getting old but my favorite things about the Christmas Season are the simple, uncomplicated parts of the season. I like the smell of cedar (I still cut a couple of Christmas trees out in the pasture each year, even though we have an artificial tree), Christmas sugar cookies are high on my list, I really enjoy Christmas cards from my friends, and just quiet time reflecting on why it is that we celebrate the Christmas Season.

My most cherished of all my Christmas decorations is the nativity set my mother made for Jennifer and me when we got married. My mother was an artist and specialized in clay sculpture and nativity sets were one of her most popular items and something she often gave as a wedding gift. She would let you customize the set and you could pick either painted or glazed white. Her original set, the one I grew up with, was glazed white so that is what I picked.

It is simple and understated, but it is also something I hold very close to my heart. Mom even customized our set to include our original blue healer, Cisco. Now I know that there probably were no blue healers at the nativity, but I find something comforting with her presence in my nativity set. It brings back many good memories and serves as a reminder of just why we celebrate the season.

Most of all I enjoy this time of the year because we take the time to renew old friendships, we are more likely to think of our friends and neighbors and spend time with them. I often wonder why it takes special holidays like Christmas for us to set aside time for friends and families. Maybe that ought to be something we vow to do for the next year. However, we need to take the time to enjoy our time with friends, family and neighbors, no matter what the reason.

Without a doubt my favorite part of Christmas is the Christmas Eve church service. It still gives me goose bumps to be in the Church and participate. I love the simple message of the nativity and the Christmas story. It has always been one that resonates with me. The pinnacle of the Christmas Eve service and the Christmas Season is the singing of Silent Night. Our church is like many and dims the lights, we all light candles and sing. Christmas is not complete unless I attend Christmas Eve service and sing Silent Night.

I would guess if most of us were completely honest we would all agree it is the simple, noncommercial things that mean the most to us this Christmas Season. Often all the commercial glitz, glamor with all the rush and hustle steal our attention. I wonder how much happier we would all be if we pared it back to only the simplest of traditions. My wish for each of you this Christmas is for a few moments of simple, uncluttered Christmas. So, take time to unplug, relax and enjoy the Season.



Kind of and Sort of Caught Up

It’s the middle of December, Christmas is nearly here, and I finally feel like I am sort of, kind of, caught up. I have decided in agriculture, at least my version of agriculture, sort of, kind of, caught up is about as good as it gets. I am never truly caught up, there are always projects and things that should be done, but for right now I have all the “have to” things checked off my list and that is a huge relief.

This fall was made extra challenging because we moved in August. We are finally settled and settling into our new routines at the new place and it is as good as I had hoped for. Life is so much easier without a commute between farms. Do I get more done in a day? I would like to believe so, but the truth probably is that I do not, I am just not spending as much time on the road each day and that makes my time feel more productive.

Yes, we are moved and most of the boxes are unpacked and if we were going to be totally honest we would probably get rid of the boxes that are not unpacked. If we have not used it up to this point, it is probably not important, and we probably won’t miss it. However, it is that probably that keeps me from having a mass purge. There are still several things I have not found yet. What worries me more is the possibility of several more things I am missing that I have not realized yet that I am missing. And to think that my family accuses me of being a packrat and a hoarder.

Coupled with the move was the fact that this fall seemed to be the never-ending harvest. Don’t get me wrong this was the most problem free harvest from and equipment standpoint that I have ever went through. The problem was with crops that would not dry down and weather that would not allow us to get good long days in. The day we could start before noon was rare, most of harvest was spent waiting on the dew to dry and the fog to clear.

Eventually we did push through and get everything harvested. Then it was time to bring the cows home but before we could do that I had to get my sheep pens built at the new place. I had “temporarily” moved the sheep into our cattle lots. Then came harvest and soon I realized that if I was going to bring the cows home from pasture I had to move the sheep out of their pens. Sheep pen building and cattle moving happened simultaneously. I would like to say that we coordinated things like a well-oiled machine. The reality was that it all happened despite my lack of focus and organization.

Eventually the cows all came home, and the sheep were settled into their new, shiny, better than ever pens, maybe a couple of weeks later than I would have liked, but in the end, it all got done. The next thing up was weaning calves and that was a lot closer to Thanksgiving than I would like to have admitted. Again, I guess this is one of those years I was not going for style points because in the end it got done. Not the way I would have liked it too, but it is another on the long list that was checked off.

The final barrier between being behind and sort of, kind of caught up was to get the cows out on the cornstalks. We were only a month away from “ideal” but let’s face it, ideal is one of those concepts that look better on paper and seldom happens in the real world. However, this past weekend, we opened the gate and let the cows out on the cornstalks and declared ourselves sort of, kind of caught up.

The temptation, and I often fall victim to temptation, is to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy not being behind. I have a long list of things that need to be done this winter and another long list of things I would like to get done this winter. The top of that list is to finish the sheep facility construction ahead of the impending lambing season. No sweat, I have a whole month, no wait make that two weeks, what do you mean we have lambs. Yes, this week I had my first set of lambs so after a grand total of three days of being sort of, kind of caught up, I am once again behind.

Two things occurred to me. One is that I work much more efficiently when under stress. However, the most important realization I came to about not being caught up or, heaven forbid, ahead of things, was simple. I will live forever because I don’t have time to die until I am caught up on all my work. I guess that is why farmers live forever our work is never done.

2017 a Moving Year

By the time you read this 2017 will nearly be in the books and 2018 looms on the near horizon. That does not even seem possible, it wasn’t that long ago that 2018 seemed like a lifetime away and now it is this year. It is true that the older you get the faster time goes by, that is kind of scary. In any case, 2017 is nearly in the rearview mirror.

Personally speaking, 2017 was one heck of a year. Last year I could never have imagined what kind of wild ride 2017 was going to take us on. We were comfortably settled in our “forever” house, the one the kids were going to have to move me out of when I went into the home or “home”. One thing 2017 did was to teach me to never say never. Less than a month before we bought the new place, I made fun of a friend who was moving and said I would never do that again. In less than a month I was negotiating on our house and eating crow.

It is funny how moving can change your perspective on things. Maybe it was going through everything and all the memories that stirred up. At some point this year I came to the realization that my kids were no longer children buy young adults and contributing members of society. Despite my parenting blunders they seem to have turned out just fine. I suppose there is some comfort in that, but it is disconcerting to suddenly realize that their childhood is behind them. Much like Christmas coming and going each year, I have the unsettling feeling of having missed something.

I am not sure if it is a good thing, but it is bittersweet to walk out of a house leaving it just as empty as the day you bought it and moved in. In that last pass through of the house you see all the scars on the walls evidence that life was lived, and memories were made there. The last time I was in the house I was there by myself and I swear I could hear the kids echoing through the rooms. I admit I am sentimental and this whole year has been one of difficult transitions for me. The week before the closing on the old house Tatum wanted to go back one last time for some closure. I couldn’t admit it to her at the time, but I just could not go back.

Don’t get me wrong, this year has been one of the best of my life also. Yes, moving was hard and traumatic but it was also exciting and one of the best things I have ever done. The new house feels more like home and my life is dramatically easier. There are times I miss the “alone time” I had when I commuted back and forth, but those times are very few and I enjoy the extra hour I have much more. This past week I finally got my pens done, animals situated, and I could take a deep breath, reflect and give thanks.

Yes, 2017 was one heck of a ride. We had our successes and our setbacks and, in the end, lived to tell about them. Survive and move on, that seems to be my goal each year. This was a year of the highest highs and the lowest lows but one that we will, undoubtedly remember forever. Events beyond my own farm, community and little piece of the world were exciting, entertaining, troubling, unsettling and unpredictable. The only thing I am sure of is that I am unsure of what might happen.

I do know this. Last night I walked out of the house to check the ewes and as I leaned up against the fence and observed something. I felt a comfort, a peace and a satisfaction that I had never felt before. Maybe it is just getting older and coming to the realization that I should be satisfied with my life. Could it be that I have finally learned that no matter what you have, life goes by too quick and instead of worrying about what we don’t have we should appreciate what we have been given. Life and all the things we hold near and dear are gifts and we should treat them as such, enjoying them, savoring each moment and spending less time fretting.

No, I have no idea what 2018 will bring. I really hope it is not as exciting or challenging as this past year, but I suspect it will hold its own surprises. It is probably a good thing we cannot see into the future and know what is coming. I am just glad that I had a moment of time to step back and reflect on this crazy past year before I buckled my seatbelt in anticipation of the rollercoaster up ahead. Bring on the new year, I am as ready as I will ever be.




2018 Predictions

Happy New Year! Yes, I have reached the point in my life when in all likelihood if I am awake at midnight on New Year’s Eve it is because I woke up. Time marches on and not that long ago 2018 sounded like a long time off in the future. As much as it feels like I was transported into 2018 and dropped off, skipping several years, I know for a fact time has just passed by that quickly.

Along with writing the wrong date on my checks (which will happen into April), putting up a new sale barn calendar and cleaning out my files the coming of the new year means one thing. It is time for my prognostications for the year. I will put my Swami hat on, channel my inner Johnny Carson and predict what 2018 will bring us. If you will remember my predictions from the past year you will recall that I had about the same accuracy as weatherman or commodity market expert. So here goes nothing (which is about my success level).

2018 is a big political year so we will start there. There will be much scandal, finger pointing, fighting and downright dirty politics this year. That will be the primaries with even more and worse scandals, finger pointing, fighting and dirty politics to follow in the general election. I am not sure what the elections will bring but I do know it will be ugly. As far as what will get done? Probably not much outside of making good material for political pundits and late-night talk show hosts.

Now on to an area that is a lot less murky and devise, the commodity markets. At times the markets will rise to the level of just being depressing and other times they will fall to the level “hide the sharp objects”. Fluctuations in the market will be caused by foreign countries, our own government (both sides), leap year, high tide, predictions made by Nostradamus or a poll of second graders. The one thing you can bank on is that none of it will make sense.

 We can’t go without making predictions about the weather in this upcoming year either. We will have record highs and usher in talk of global warming, they will be followed by record lows and discussions of the next ice age. We will have periods of extended dryness or drought followed almost immediately by monsoons and too much moisture. Neither of these periods will come at the right time and every farmer and rancher will complain about the current state of the weather. You can believe that the weather in Kansas will continue to be wild and unpredictable, that is a prediction I will take to the bank.

Now for my favorite area to predict, sports. Kansas State football will be in the playoffs next year and everyone will wonder if Coach Snyder is coming back. He will deflect all questions and decide at the end of the season. Kansas State basketball will beat Kansas for the Big 12 title or at least finish in the top 12 in the league (how is that for being a homer and stirring things up). The Kansas City Chiefs will finally win a Super Bowl. Chief’s head coach Andy Reid will continue to dress like Santa Claus because the chances of both Santa being real and this prediction coming true are about equal. The Kansas City Royals have just as much chance of winning the World Series as the KC professional basketball team has of winning the NBA title. No matter how any of our teams do, we will put far too of our own happiness into the outcome of something meant as simple entertainment.

Politics, markets, weather and sports, I think I have touched on every popular area to predict. I have spent a whopping thirty minutes or so thinking about these predictions and I will put them up against any “expert” out there. Keep track of them and let me know how I do next year, I will bet that my success rate is somewhere between zero and five percent. Or better than the average prognosticator.

In any case I want to wish each and everyone of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year. I hope this will be a year of happiness filled with family and friends. Success and prosperity are all fleeting completely subjective, while I hope those things for you also, happiness, friendship and love are far more important in the grand scheme. The truth is that I have no idea what the coming year will bring but it will be exciting. May 2018 be filled with health and happiness.

Cold and Old

I am old, yes, I have decided to go ahead and admit it, own it and not try to deny the fact that I am becoming old. This past week the bitter cold only confirmed that I am old. I think the air is colder these days than it used to be. In any case I sure seem to get colder faster and take longer to thaw out.

During the artic blast I watched as non-livestock owning friends posted on Facebook about hiding under a thick blanket, sleeping in, watching football all weekend and generally avoiding the outdoors. The thought that I was indeed crazy went through my head as I bundled up in several layers to face the frozen tundra all the while praying that we did not have any new lambs.

We are lambing, someone in management made the decision to move lambing up this year. The past couple of years late December, early January have been warm and looked like ideal lambing weather. We also have a need for earlier lamb, so the decision seemed to be an easy one to oblige the rams and kick them out a couple of weeks early. I have I ever told you about my unerring sense of timing?

To compound the situation, I had the chance to buy some heavy bred ewes that would start lambing in December. This all seemed to be a great plan early in December when the weather was unusually warm and dry. The ewes were really springing, and it looked like maybe we had predicted this whole thing right. I was smug in my management decision making.

This smug feeling came to a crashing halt when the forecasters predicted a major artic blast for the week of Christmas and New Year’s. Words like the coldest temperatures in twenty or thirty years were thrown around along with warnings about being out in the cold. I find it funny that they cannot predict precipitation with any accuracy, but they are seldom wrong about the temperature. We were told to bring our animals indoors. The new house is bigger but not that much bigger and Jennifer seemed to frown upon the idea. Even bringing them into the garage didn’t seem to be an option.

That prompted an all-out, all hands-on deck offensive to shore things up and get ready for this bitter stretch of weather. The kids just loved spending their first few days of Christmas break getting ready for the deep freeze. In any case, the barns were lined with straw and we hung every heat lamp we owned in anticipation of lots and lots of new lambs.

The ewes were sorted and resorted so those closest to lambing could be stashed away in the lambing barn where it was insulated and warmish (we managed to keep it about thirty degrees even in the coldest night). The other ewes that might lamb were placed in the open sided barn and those who were not close were given bedding and told to hunker down. It was a fast and furious week of preparation but in the end, we were well prepared or as prepared as you can be for negative twenty below.

Each time I trudged out in my many layers I asked myself how it could get so cold and why exactly I was out in it. The most perplexing thing was that the sheep did not seem to be cold at all and even seemed to enjoy watching me suffer. The worst of the whole ordeal was the afternoon Tatum and I spent chopping enough space out in the water troughs to be able to run enough water to give everything a drink. The one major flaw to my new pens were the water troughs. Frost free waters are in the next phase of the construction and not planned for this winter and running extension cords was not an option. Chopping ice is probably a pretty good post-holiday exercise program but it sure did not seem that way on that afternoon.

We managed to get through the coldest of the weather with only one set of hardy twin lambs born. They were born in the lambing barn and oblivious to the bone chilling cold outside. Mercifully all the other ewes decided to hold off (probably waiting on worse weather to come if my luck holds true). We had a couple of hydrants freeze but other than that nothing worse than my whining about being cold.

I also realize that by writing this and complaining about being old and cold I have probably just jinxed us into the coldest, worst winter in recent memory. Therefore, I am putting myself into the witness relocation program at an undisclosed tropical location. Who am I kidding, with the farm economy I can’t afford to travel to southern Kansas let alone somewhere warm. I guess I will just buy a thicker pair of gloves, more wool socks and dream of spring.

Mr. President

I have been blessed to be fortunate enough to get to do many cool things in my life. I have been given the chance and the opportunity to travel to places, attend events and meet people that I could never have imagined I would get the chance too. It is not due to any special talent I have but simply because I am lucky, and I have been in the right place at the right time. This past week I got to do something that ranks right up at the top of that list.

I had the opportunity to attend the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee. If you have never been to Nashville I would highly recommend it. If you do make the trip you have to venture down to Music Row and take in the live music. I am a country music fan, so I really enjoyed the sights and sounds but that was not what made this trip exceptional. We stayed in the Opryland Hotel and that was an experience. Any hotel that has its own cell phone app to help guide you around is amazing, but that was certainly not the highlight.

We got a lot of important work done for the American Farm Bureau and there were a lot of great workshops and general sessions, but they also paled in comparison to, what I deemed, as the highlight of the convention. We were lucky enough to have the President of the United States, President Donald Trump address us.  It was an experience I will never forget.

When it was announced that President Trump would be coming to the Convention I had several acquaintances tell me that they would not attend if they were given the chance. The main reason most gave me for not wanting to attend was their disagreement with his policies or with how he approached his job as president. Let me make this clear, my decision to attend this event was not at all based on politics. It is not a statement of whether I agree or disagree with the President on policy or how he goes about doing his job. There is no elected official that I agree with totally and very few I disagree with completely.

The President was to address the Convention at around 2:30 and the session started at noon. Seating was limited so we got in line at 9:00 and waited and waited and waited. When we got in line we could not see the end of the line in either direction. Then it started moving at a snail’s pace. After about three hours the end was finally in sight. We had to pass through metal detectors and were scrutinized by the TSA. We were herded to the seats and there were no picking seats, saving places but fortunately for me we ended up close to the front and I could see the podium without the aid of the glasses I had forgotten back in my room.

The planned portion of the General Session started at noon and the highlight of that session was Reba McEntire. I must admit that she was worth all the hassle of getting into the meeting and I will never forget her talk but there was the hint of anticipation hanging in the air. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue talked to us and normally he might have been the highlight, but we knew the best was yet to come.

An intermission followed and probably the greatest challenge happened during this period. There was only one area of restrooms available for 4500 people. It was the one and only time I have ever lamented my coffee habit. However, everyone was patient, and this too was resolved. The announcer asked us to return to our seats and the air buzzed with conversation. The big moment finally happened, and President Trump appeared. To be honest he didn’t say anything earth shaking but it was nice for a sitting President to acknowledge the importance of agriculture and talk about issues important to us.

I thought back to my friends who said they would not have attended the speech and I really think they missed the boat. The idea of skipping this opportunity was a bit baffling to me. I was not necessarily attending as an endorsement of President Trump but rather as an acknowledgement of the Office of President of the United States. No matter how you feel about the President’s politics there should be a certain amount of respect and admiration for the office. I would have jumped at this chance no matter who the President was.

Would I go through all the hassle, waiting and security to see a Presidential address again? The answer is a resounding yes, no matter who might be making it. I was within eyesight of the person who leads the most powerful nation in the world and that is something I will never forget or take for granted. A chance of a lifetime that I hope everyone will have someday.