Friday, April 7, 2017

Cool Sheep Karma

Occasionally, you have something happen to you that makes you stop and think, “Wow that was cool”. Something that comes out of the blue and could not have been predicted or a story that is so good you could not have made it up. That very thing happened to us, most specifically Isaac this past week.

Let me set the stage. We decided after nine years of sheep production that we finally had enough lambs and more importantly, enough good lambs to host an open house at our farm and sell a selection of this year’s lamb crop. It was kind of a nerve racking ordeal because you are not sure how many people (if any) will show up. I decided we would keep this year’s affair a low budget operation and see how it went. The only money we spent was for a new white board to keep track of bids and sales and a batch of Jennifer’s soon-to-be famous monster cookies.

No, I did not spend a dime advertising the sale opting for relying on free social media. I started a Facebook page for our farm and posted on several other pages and Craig’s List. I went cheap (a strategy that will be reviewed next year). Keep all of this in mind as the story unfolds.

Even with my frugal approach to advertisement we did get some interest in the lambs including one gentleman from Oklahoma who was interested in Isaac’s Southdowns. He contacted me via Facebook and we exchanged communications for the better part of two weeks. I told him about the genetics behind Isaac’s flock and we planned for transportation if purchases were made. All along I thought it was kind of neat that we had attracted the attention of someone from Oklahoma.

The night before the sale we were making final arrangements and I sent him some more pictures including more information about the bloodlines of the ewe lambs he was interested in. Let me mention a detail about Isaac’s Southdowns I had forgotten to include up to this point. Isaac had developed an affinity for Southdown sheep after buying a Southdown whether to show. At the same time the Kansas Sheep Association started its Starter Flock Loan program.

The program allowed for a three-year loan in which the youth interested in sheep production. KSA would  purchase the ewes and give them to the youth. Since then (and probably because of Isaac) the loan is limited to commercial ewes but Isaac indicated on the application that he wanted Southdowns. KSA purchased the ewes for Isaac and I know Jeff Ebert spent a good bit of time finding those pesky Southdown ewes. I still remember the day when Jeff called to tell Isaac that he had found five ewes in Oklahoma and would be bringing them to us later that week (it was a full-service loan).

Isaac got his ewes and in a few weeks the registration papers came. I remember looking at them but not really knowing much about Southdown breeders. OK, now that I have added that to the story, fast forward to the night before our first annual open house. I looked through the papers of Isaac’s ewes and looked at the two original ewes he still had (after four years) and noticed that the name on the registrations matched the name of the gentleman from Oklahoma inquiring about Isaac’s ewe lambs. I am kind of slow but a light came on in my little brain and I made a connection.

The morning of the sale I shared my theory with Isaac and he started communicating with our Oklahoma friend directly. Sure, enough the original ewes had come from him. He knew that they were for a youth in Kansas to start their flock but he had not made the connection. After all he did have Isaac’s name for the papers but KSA had paid him directly for the sheep.

Our new friend and customer from Oklahoma ended up purchasing two ewe lambs through our sale. He and Isaac also decided for him to come look at other ewe lambs and potentially some mature ewes too. He had sold all his Southdown ewes but was now looking to get back into raising them and had randomly come across our sale flyer.

That night I sat down and reflected about what happened. We had a pretty good sale, especially for the first one. However, my mind kept coming back to the set of random circumstances that led to Isaac selling lambs back to the same breeder he had gotten his start from and neither one of them knowing the other until after the sale was complete. Talk about going full circle. I tell you, sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up because the truth is way cooler than fiction.

Plotting Cows

Spring has sprung and so have my cows. The grass has started to green up and the temptation was just too much for my old cows and they finally broke through the electric fence separating them from the brome. I suspect they got some of their calves to do the dirty work and that says a lot about the character of my cows. They fear the electric fence and the ensuing shock but they have no problem sending junior into the fence. The calf then gets caught up in the fence, breaking the wire and allowing mama to waltz right through the opening and onto the brome.

I must admit that I find this morally reprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, my cows are perfectly fine mothers with this one exception. I guess they are going with the idea that the calves won’t be around next year and therefore they will not get culled for being fence jumpers. Maybe they know that if I culled every cow that got out I would put myself out of the cattle business.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not the end of the world either. When they get out on the brome they are not off my place, they are just not where I want them. Every night I go out with a bale of hay and unroll it in the pasture I want them in. Every night they file back through the hole in the fence that they have had one of their unsuspecting calves create. Once inside the confines of the pasture, I mend the fence while they munch their hay. The next day, someone nudges their calf through the fence and we are at it all over again.

Yes, I have tested the fence and it has plenty of spark. I am also aware that if I built a permanent fence I would not have this problem. I have, however, decided that my cows are evil and they would find some other way to get under my skin. I have also entertained the idea that maybe the calves know what they are doing and the evil in them is genetic. Sometimes I even wonder if instead of sending their calves through the fence that maybe the cows have gotten a hold of one of the many pairs of fencing pliers that have disappeared from my truck over the years and are cutting their own way through the fence. I know cloven hooves and working pliers kind of shoots holes in that theory but I would not put it past them.

They have made me mad enough that I have finally started work on building that permanent fence. It is a long arduous process. All of you who have tried to dig postholes in the Flint Hills know what I mean. In any case I have started the process of building a better fence. This has led to the cows coming up and watching me put the fence in. I have decided that they are doing one of two things. First I am sure they are mocking me. I am not exactly sure what they are saying about me, but I know for sure that they are making fun of me. I am also certain that they are passing this lack of respect on to the juvenile delinquent offspring, thus perpetuating the cycle of disobedience. I know they may look like they are chewing their cuds and watching the fence building progress but I also know it is much more.

I suspect they are also looking for weak spots in the construction of the fence. They are probably already plotting where they can make an escape from the new reinforced fencing. I am sure they are taking notes and holding strategy meetings on how to break back out into the green brome grass.

As mad as they make me I have tried hard to appease them by feeding them only the best hay. I make sure they feeders are full and I even roll some hay out for them to lounge on in the sun. Yet they insist on ignoring my good faith efforts and continue to trample my fence and eat my brome.  Mocking me the whole time.

I have concluded that as much as I love my job and I really enjoy running cows, they do not reciprocate the feelings and are very self-centered. The only real satisfaction I have is the fact that I know that no matter what they may do, in the end I will win. Because no matter how many times they foil my well-made plans and circumvent my authority, they might win the battle. However, I smile with satisfaction each night as I look at my hamburger on my plate because I have won the war.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Hate Daylight Savings

There are three events that are noted on almost any calendar that drive me nuts and get under my skin. Those three days are Ground Hog Day and the 2 days we either move our clocks ahead or backward an hour. The absurdity of those events raises my blood pressure and sends me off on a rant.

I won’t spend much time on Ground Hog Day but it has always amused me that we would spend good time on the national news covering a rodent predicting the weather. I guess they are just as good as any meteorologist at predicting it but give me a break. The idea of grown men, dressed in tuxedos pulling an overgrown rat out of his den to check to see if he sees his shadow to see how much winter we have left? We have lost our minds but that day amuses me more than irritates me.

On the other hand, the two days we change our clocks infuriate me. Only our government could come up with the hair brained idea that changing the clock forward or backward would be beneficial in any manner. Sure, in the fall I am OK with the idea of gaining an hour of sleep. OK with it until I realize how much it will screw up my schedule for weeks to come. However, the time change in the fall pales in comparison to the time change in the spring. I lose an hour of sleep and my routine is messed up.

Then when I hear some news person refer to the time change as a benefit to farmers, I want to throw something at the TV screen. I have never, ever talked to a farmer who thinks the time change benefits them in any way. If the truth was to be told, most of us probably loath the time change because it makes it dark longer in the morning. There are very few things in this world I hate more than doing chores in the dark (and one of them is losing sleep).

Then in their infinite wisdom the powers that be decided to move the time changes up several years ago, this made it darker longer in the morning and made my blood pressure rise even more each year. I would like to have a few minutes with the people in charge of deciding this (I wonder just who is responsible for determining the time changes). Here is the cold hard fact, no matter when we determine what time it is, there are only so many hours of daylight in a day. We cannot make it daylight any longer simply by changing the clock. So, if you want more hours outside in the daylight, here is an idea for you. Get up earlier and go outside in the morning.

While many blame daylight savings time on farmers, the real ugly truth is that the time change is for the rest of the world. Farmers and ranchers will adjust their schedule for the days getting longer without adjusting their clocks. It’s funny how that works. The sun comes up earlier, you walk out your door earlier and you have more time outside in the daylight.

OK, I know I am not totally being rational either. There are still 24 hours in a day and I could adjust my schedule accordingly. For instance, the night of the time change I could go to bed an hour earlier. The problem with that theory is that the ten o’clock news is still on at ten and if I miss the weather bad things might happen. I am also aware that there is nine o’clock news but watching the news at nine is just not right. I also understand that I could sleep in and go out an hour later to do chores. While intriguing that is not an option either. I am a creature of habit and I do not like change, period. If I go out later in the morning to do chores, then half the day is gone.

I guess I really don’t have a choice about the time change, just like death and taxes it is something none of us like but is inevitable. I still don’t like it, I guess I could move somewhere like Arizona that does not make the time change. While I applaud the wisdom of those folks for making the right decision I probably won’t move there anytime soon. I dislike moving even more than the time change.

I also recognize there are probably people out there who do like the time change and to them all I can say is that I hope you are happy. It is probably a conspiracy perpetuated by alarm clock manufactures and coffee companies to make us buy alarm clocks and need more coffee. In any case, I assure you that it is not something advocated for by the agriculture community so don’t blame us





Wildfires and Ag Family

I am proud to be a part of the framework and fabric of people who provide food and fiber to our world. I am proud to be a part for many reasons but one of the best reasons is because we are one giant family. When one of us hurts, we all rally around and support them and try to help. I guess it is because we can easily put ourselves in their shoes and have a deep empathy for them. This week was one of those times when I hurt for my fellow farmers and ranchers.

Last year we saw what a huge, horrible wildfire could do when a large part of Barber County and some of the surrounding counties experienced a fire like we had not seen. The devastation to the fences, hay and grass were horrible but the injury to livestock was almost unbearable. As a community, we stepped up and provided hay, feed and fencing supplies. It did not fix everything but it did help tremendously. Who knew it would only be beginning of what we would see this year.

I have been watching with horror and sadness as the stories and pictures have come in from western Kansas. I cannot imagine the devastation and the heart break my fellow producers are going through. My heart also goes out to the rural communities who have had to evacuate and those who have lost property. Our rural communities are not only about the ag producers but also our neighbors who help support us and provide the goods and services we need to keep going. We are all in this together.

Time will tell but it seems that there are more fires and much more property lost this year. I also know it does not matter if the fire burned 300,000 acres or 3 acres if your house and property were in the middle. The property and livestock lost represent many years and in many cases multiple generations of hard work. Houses can be rebuilt, cows can be replaced but the scars will never be healed.

I have also read the stories of the lives lost during these wildfires by people just doing their jobs and in a couple of cases trying to save their livestock. I am not sure what I would do in that case, it is easy to say that cows are not worth a human life. I know I would beside myself it my livestock was in danger and I did not try to help them. We do not know what we would do or in what peril we would put ourselves until we are in the moment. It does show the dedication and care that farmers and ranchers have for their animals.

What I am most worried about is that this is only the beginning of a long stretch of dangerous fires. A wet summer and lots of grass created a tremendous fuel load and a dry, warm winter has made it only more dangerous. Now we have winds that never seem to let up and each puff of smoke on the horizon is a signal that no one is safe. I also worry about the brave men and women out fighting those fires. Most of them are volunteers and all of them are putting their lives on the line for us. I know they are stretched thin and fatigue often causes mistakes and in this case, mistakes can be fatal. I pray for rest and relief for the first responders and fire fighters also.

There are no mincing words, it is a bad situation. I hope that by the time this column is published the situation will be better, but I fear it will not be. It is a helpless feeling to talk to friends affected and read the accounts of the damage. I know many of you have already pitched in to help by sending hay, supplies or donating money. I also know that the donations are greatly appreciated and I suspect the knowledge that fellow farmers and ranchers are supporting them is just as important.

If you are want to help, I urge you to go through channels such as KLA to make sure the aid gets to where it needs to go. I also urge you to go through those sources because they know what is needed and are coordinating the efforts. A call into your local Extension Office, KLA or Kansas Farm Bureau will help insure that your donation will have the greatest impact and relief.

I also urge you to pray for relief for the affected areas and protection for the rest of us. Hopefully this dry, windy weather pattern will break and we can step back and assess the damage. If you are affected know that you have the support and empathy of your fellow farmers and ranchers behind you. We are a community and we will recover. That I know for sure and because of that I am proud.

Sick and Tired

I have a cold. Normally this would just be miserable but we have started calving heavy and this is a real problem, I simply don’t have time to be sick. I noticed the tickle in my throat yesterday, then came the headache followed by the stuffy nose. Luckily there were no ewes close to lambing so I took some cold medicine and went to bed.

When I woke up the tickle had gone to a full-blown irritation and my nose and sinus were completely clogged. I want to blame it on my daughter, she has been fighting the crud for better than a week and I am sure she is the one who infected me. After all there is no one else sick around that I could have caught it from. Really it is probably Dad’s fault since he mentioned yesterday with all the sickness going around that neither of us has time to be sick.

Am I telling you this to get sympathy? Maybe, but I suspect that I will get about as much sympathy from any of you reading this as I did from my family. Basically, the message was “suck it up buttercup”. Why would they be so unfeeling? I am not sure, after all, I am sure that I catered to their every need when they were under the weather, despite what any of them might say.

After failing to get any sympathy or care from my family I decided to do the only thing I could do. I called in sick. I am rarely sick and can’t remember the last time I used a sick day, so I called my boss. When the phone started ringing I remembered that I had made that fateful decision to be my own boss and I had cut sick days from the benefit package. I guess that makes me my own replacement.

Without the prospect of sympathy or help I decided to make the sacrifice and drag myself out to do chores, maybe the animals will be more caring. Boy was I wrong. The bottle lambs didn’t seem to care if I was sniffling and coughing and the ewes were even worse. They took advantage of my weakened state and tried to knock the buckets of grain out of my hands. The dogs did seem to care, or was that hunger? It must have been hunger, because as soon as the food was dumped in their bowl they focused on eating not on my obvious affliction. I didn’t even look to the cat for support and the cows were relatively unmoved.

The cool fresh morning air did seem to help and proved to me just how supportive and caring I had been to the rest of my family. I often tell them if you just get to moving and get a little fresh air you will feel better. Don’t get me wrong, all I could think about was collapsing in my easy chair with a hot cup of coffee, but I did feel a little better.

While resting, and drinking my coffee I did have a little time to reflect upon the recent state of my health. I guess I am lucky that it is me that is sick and not one of my animals. The way the weather has been so extreme and the temperature has been up and down, it is a wonder that every one of us and every animal is not sick. I know it is late winter in Kansas and this manic weather is to be expected but it does not make it any easier physically or mentally.

Of course, my sniffles could also be due to the crazy schedule I am keeping, a lack of rest and an even bigger lack of good nutrition.  I have learned over the years that eventually all of that does catch up to you. What I have not seemed to learn is not to put myself in that position to begin with. Nobody has ever accused me of being a quick study.

What I am quite sure of is that this is karma, payback or whatever you want to call it. My daughter has had a terrible cold for the past week and I insisted that she continue to do her chores and keep up with her homework. She told me this was a lot to expect out of someone who could not breath. Then throw in FFA week and the start of softball practice and I guess she was having trouble feeling sorry for my sniffles.

Then I started thinking of friends of mine who are dealing with health conditions much worse and more serious than a little cold and they don’t ask for sympathy or help. Maybe this runny nose isn’t so bad and I guess if I keep moving I do feel better. I might live until everyone gets home tonight and maybe then I will get a little sympathy and care. Oh great, now I am delirious.

What FFA Means

Once again, I am a day late and a dollar behind. OK, so I am way more than a dollar behind and probably a couple of weeks late. Make that at least one week late in this case. Yes, in my planning columns and writing them I often don’t factor in what the next week might be. I guess it is because often I am in survival mode and can’t think past a day or two ahead. In any case, I missed writing about FFA week.

Does that mean FFA is not important to me, absolutely not. FFA has played a huge role in my life and I have seen it become very important in the life of my kids. I know official dress is really uncomfortable because the coat is too warm on some occasions and not nearly warm enough to be called a coat on others. However, I think it is one of the most recognizable and inspiring uniform a high school student can wear. There is just something about the blue and gold that make you feel important and give a sense of pride.

I admit it, when it was decided that FFA no longer stood for Future Farmers of America it bothered me. After all, what is the foundation of the organization and what does that make the letters stand for? Well, over the years I have come to understand the wisdom behind the move. The practical side of it says that the clear majority of the youth going through FFA will never be involved in production agriculture. We know how those numbers are shrinking and they will only continue to get smaller. We also know that agriculture is much more than the production side.

If you look at the rosters of any of our agricultural businesses, you will see FFA alumni after FFA alumni including those in the top positions. The skills and leadership our FFA members are learning and developing make them the best source of corporate and industry leadership available. I don’t know how many employers I have had tell me over the years that they look for the former FFA and 4-H members first and that they have an edge over all other applicants because of the skills they have gained through their experience.

While the need for young people going into production agriculture maybe limited (those opportunities are still there and will always be there) there is a huge demand for skilled and trained professionals in ag related jobs. In changing the name and going away from the label farmers the organization is recognizing and appreciating the need for and the contributions made by all professionals in all levels of agriculture. We are all in this together.

Even beyond farming and beyond agriculture, FFA has so much to offer. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have spent most of my life working with FFA and 4-H and know very little about other similar organizations that high school youth can participate in. I know, without a doubt, that FFA gives youth the skills that will serve them well in the working world and lets them develop and practice those skills.

Skills like public speaking, record keeping, decision making, and all the technical knowledge in any given area of agriculture. However, in my humble opinion, the best and most important skill that is taught and practiced in FFA is leadership. That is the one special skill that makes FFA members stand out in a crowd. You can first see it in college. FFA members have the confidence and drive that send them to the front of the class. Again, look at the leadership of most of the student organizations in the college of agriculture and the leaders will often be 4-H and FFA alumni. Even beyond that a great percentage of the student body presidents at Kansas State have been former members. I promise it is no coincidence.

FFA has been such an important part of my life that during FFA week I reflect on those experiences and my wish is that every youth could have a similar experience. Each year I marvel how many vocational ag programs are added to our high schools. While it is encouraging that we are adding it still highlights how many high schools do not offer such a great opportunity for their students. Oh, I understand budgets and funding but I will ask just one question of those districts. Do you still have sports?

Again, don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in sports and the lessons that students learn in them also, but I am a bigger believer in FFA and the lifelong skills those students acquire. FFA is something everyone can participate in and excel. It is my hope that more districts will explore adding the programs and that those of us who have benefitted from the program will continue to advocate for it. We need more blue and gold corduroy.

My Lucky Wife

Last week was Valentine’s Day. I am sure it was a day secretly started by the flower, candy and card cartels to push more of their products. Sure, it is a great time to prove your love and I guess that is a good thing. As you can tell Jennifer must be the luckiest woman in the world to be married to such a romantic like me. However, after sharing notes with many of my peer’s I am sure that I am in the majority especially among fellow farmers and ranchers.

Being the unrepentant romantic that I am I had the perfect Valentine’s Day planned for Jennifer. The alarm clock rang at 5:30 am. One wouldn’t want to sleep too late on this special day and miss anything. The very first thing I did was look deep into Jennifer’s eyes and I said; “Happy Valentine’s Day, we better get up and check the ewes and feed bottle lambs.”

This just proves what a romantic sap I am. After all, what is cuter and more romantic that a little lamb and Jennifer is so lucky, she has seven of them. Seven fuzzy little faces eagerly awaiting her and so excited to see her. How could the day start off any better?

Well it did, we found a new set of twins. Wow, first lambs born on her birthday and now lambs born on Valentine’ Day. No need for gifts, how could you top newborn lambs. Especially when you get to snuggle with them while carrying them into the lambing barn. It was barely 6:00 and already so much packed into the day.

Back in the house I made breakfast just for my Valentine. Sure, it was yogurt with granola and she ate it while getting ready to go to work but it is the thought that counts. More than once she mentioned just how lucky she was to have such a great husband who pampers and takes such good care of her. What makes it even better is that she likes to tease me and make her compliments sound sarcastic but I know what she really means. I am more sensitive than most and pick up on subtle hints like silence when she is so moved that she cannot find the words to express her joy.

During the day, I sent Jennifer little reminders to let her know I was thinking of her. Things like; don’t forget to pick up paper towels or did you see 508’s lamb nurse and I wish you were here to help feed all these cute little bottle lambs. Sure, they were everyday thoughts but I like to make sure she knows she is never out of my mind. Of course, later that afternoon I texted to see when she would be home. It may have been under the pretense that I wanted help with chores but I am sure she knew it was because I missed her so much.

I know many of you are thinking how could this night get any more romantic or any better. Just hang on a second because the best is yet to come. I took her out to a fine dining establishment, one that would add a little spice to the night, Buffalo Wild Wings. We were seated us at a table for two right next to the bar and beside the window with a view of the street. It was an intimate setting with forty or fifty other people enjoying romantic dinners. The best part was that Jennifer used the gift certificate she had. Romantic and cheap, she sure knows the way to my heart. Next was a quick trip to Dillons where I bought her not one, but two boxes of candy. Who knew if you waited until Valentine Day night you could get two for the price of one.

Finally, when we got back home we went on a moonlit walk, just the two of us down to the barn. She started the day off feeding cute little lambs and finished the day feeding the same, cute little lambs. Over and over, she mentioned just how lucky she was to have such a great husband in that same endearing, fake sarcasm. Exhausted by a day full of tokens of my affection and pampering Jennifer fell asleep almost instantly. Just before she drifted off she mentioned that she was glad Valentine’s Day was once a year.

OK, before I get hate mail from my female readers, I should also disclose that I arranged to have a singing valentine delivered with a rose, candy and a card. I do have my moments, they are by far too few. Like nearly every other farm or ranch wife Jennifer deserves so much more for all she does, all she goes without and more importantly all she puts up with. She is a saint and I am one lucky guy.