Monday, May 14, 2018

The First Hardest Acre

We are finally planting corn. Or at least we were until the rains came along last night and stopped us. Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I complaining about the rain, yet. It was nice to see that it can rain and to start to see water in some of the ponds. For those of you who did not get the heavy rains, I am sorry, and I am not trying to rub it in. Corn planting season 2018 has not been a seamless, effortless process.

For quite a while I felt like Goldie Locks when it came to getting the corn in the ground. At first it was too dry, then it was too cold, and it was never just right. For some reason I kept waiting for just right and now it is too wet. Further proof that we farmers are never happy, and the conditions are never right. In any case, this messed up spring weather had me days behind where I really wanted to be when it came to planting corn.

Finally, everything came together this week and Dad and I decided it was time to start planting. We had gotten the planter in the shop a week before that and had fixed what we knew to be broken from the season before. We checked out all the hoses, tubes, disks and chains and made the necessary replacements. The seeding rate and depth were set, and I thought we were ready to hit the ground running. I don’t know why I kid myself like that, maybe I am delusional.

Monday was the anointed day to start corn planting 2018 and I was ready. That morning I got out and started chores early with the anticipation of finally being in the field. It felt good. Finally, we were going to start on that long list of springtime tasks.

We finished chores and I started to load the seed while Dad serviced the tractor and got ready to go. Nothing was going to stop us, the birds were singing, the sun was shining, it was warm, and life was good. Right up to when my phone rang. Dad was on the other end and told me not to load seed and to come over, we had a problem with the planter. My mood went from bright and sunny to dark and stormy in an instant. This was not in the plans.

When I got over to Dad’s the problem was obvious. So obvious that I kicked myself over and over and over for not seeing it.  The frame on one of the row units was cracked and the metal was too thin weld. The only solution was to completely change the unit out, hopefully the salvage place had something. A quick look over revealed that the dismantling would not be too hard, four bolts, a bearing, the planter tube and row monitor wiring and it would be off.  It was too hard for one man to hold up while the bolts came off, so we used the loader and went to work on the bolts.

They still had the factory paint on them and took a lot of cussing, grunting and a layer of knuckle to come off, but the did come off. After that the dismantling was a breeze and we soon had the unit off and were headed to the salvage yard. That is when our luck turned back to the good. A unit was available, already torn off and ready to go. Within a few minutes we were headed for home with the new unit. It was decided to go with new bolts and spacers since the unit was already off. One of our neighbors stopped by at either the right time or the wrong time depending on your point of view and three hands made for an easy attachment.

What I had planned on taking at least a day had only taken about four hours and that was with an hour or more on the road. By mid afternoon we were back in the field and the planter was working almost perfectly. Life was good, the birds were once again singing, and the sun was shining. All was right with the world. We didn’t get nearly as much done on the first day as I would have liked but at least we got something planted and that felt like progress.

That evening I was chatting with a friend about the progress of our corn planting. I mentioned our trouble and we both agreed the first acre you plant or harvest is the hardest. Usually after that first acre things kind of fall into a routine and life gets a lot easier. That was the case right up to the rain and once again the weather has sidelined corn planting 2018. I guess that means it is time for cattle working 2018. That first cow is a whole lot like that first acre.

Transistions In Life

Its amazing how time marches on and I often wonder why instead of a slow steady march, time seems to have decided to pick it up to double time. It seems as though we just started April and it is already May. Part of this might be because we were stuck in February or March for the past three months. In any case we are into May and I am not at all ready. Time, however, does not seem to care about my feelings and is moving on at a rapid pace.

Because of the rotten weather I am so far behind on my farm work that I might not ever catch up. The corn should be in the ground., fences should be fixed, and the pastures should eagerly be waiting on the cows. None of that is anywhere near done. I had my time completely scheduled and I don’t have time or room in that schedule for changes. It is like time does not know this is Tatum’s senior year.

Ah yes, Tatum’s senior year. Another example of how time does not work on my schedule. My kids should not be old enough to be in college, I wasn’t done enjoying their time in sports, 4-H and FFA, again it seems like my schedule and my sense of time were not consulted. At very least we should not be looking at the last couple of weeks of Tatum’s high school career. This is all going by way too fast, I just wish I could stick a foot out and slow the merry-go-round of life down just a little bit.

It’s funny how our perspective on life changes as time goes by. I remember Isaac’s senior year and I don’t remember being quite this melancholy and I feel bad about that. I guess it was because I knew I still had a kid in high school and all the last moments were not the total last moments. Down deep inside I knew that I still had a couple of years of transition left. Then I blinked and all the sudden we are looking at the last few moments as parents of a high school student.

I guess life is about transition. I barely remember the transition of graduating high school and becoming a college student. Then graduating college and moving out into the real world. The next big transition was from being single to married. Along came kids and another transition, then the kids were in school and now we are staring at the transition to being empty nesters. During each of these monumental life changes I promised myself to enjoy the moment and the transition, so I could remember what that point in my life felt like.

I must admit that I am a pretty conflicted person right now. The farmer in me is screaming that I have no time for anything but trying to catch up with the never-ending list of what needs to be done. Crops must be planted, cows must go to pasture and the sheep need to be worked. Those tasks can’t be ignored and really shouldn’t be put off. I need to keep my nose to the grindstone and stay home.

Then the Dad part kicks in. Last night we attended Tatum’s last District FFA Banquet and watched her retire as a District FFA officer. I rode with her on the way home and she mentioned to me that the only current leadership position she held was student body president and that election was next week. Only a handful of softball games, a couple of state FFA contests, a few spring livestock shows, and graduation remained on the calendar. Suddenly the pull of work did not seem so important.

I look at my calendar and I realize that the final home stretch of high school is right here. Sure, it has been a long, tiring race but who wants to walk across the line? A couple of weeks and it will all be over. I want to go to each event, savor the moment and enjoy the last couple of hours of being the parent of a high school student. I know the work I need to get done is important, but I am also just as sure that it will get done in time and, God willing, I will have plenty more crops to plant and springs to get cows worked and out to grass.

Right now, it seems like it is more important to be there for all the last times and soak up all the memories. I don’t want to look back in a couple of months and wish I had not missed those moments. That is the struggle. After all, I keep telling myself, there will be plenty of time to rest next year when we transition into empty nesters. Right?


Warren Carnahan

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I am not sure if I believe that or not, I do know that there are a lot of people who have influenced my life. While I am not sure if it really takes a village to raise a child, I am equally sure it takes an entire church to guide the same child through life. I know this because I am quite sure that I was guided by many in my church. Some of those people passed through quickly and I am reminded of them by different events. However, there was a core group I can say had an immense impact on my life.

I can’t remember a time in my life that I did not attend the First Presbyterian Church in Wamego, I was there pretty much every Sunday from birth until I moved away to college. Church attendance in our house was not an option and not something to be questioned. Unless you were sick, or the cows were out, you went to church. Just as much as I never questioned going to church, I never thought about life without that core group of adults that I saw every Sunday.

Without at doubt one of those people was Warren Carnahan. I really cannot remember life without Warren, he was always there every Sunday. This past week Warren left us and left me to ponder just how big of an impact he had on my life. I know that Warren was around my entire life because he constantly reminded me that he had seen many of my finer moments.

Moments like the time the pastor asked us if we knew who was coming on Christmas Eve. I did, I had seen it on the radar on the evening weather. Santa Claus was apparently not the answer the pastor was looking for, but it did draw a lot of laughter from everyone except my parents. Warren saw the humor in that moment and the value in reminding me of it on a regular basis, especially when my kids reached that same age.

That was Warren’s signature trademark, at least when it came to me and I suspect when it came to a lot of people. Good natured teasing and ribbing, he would always come up to you with a twinkle in his eye and I always knew that the glint meant he had something in mind to tease me about. Oh, it was never meant as anything more than good natured fun and that teasing is something I will really miss. In a way the ribbing and poking always kept me grounded and I suspect that was part of its purpose.

Warren was also someone I very much held up as a mentor and someone I aspired to be like. He was always ready to talk farming, politics and especially K-State sports. I remember when I realized that we were having conversations about those very subjects. I had listened in on them when I was a kid but the day I realized that he wanted to discuss them with me was the day I realized maybe I was creeping toward adulthood.

I was also lucky enough to have worked for Warren in high school. Summer mornings I would go to his farm early in the morning and help he and his son Scott move irrigation pipe. I know some of you chuckle at the thought of someone thinking they were lucky to get to move irrigation pipe. No, the sand, mud and occasional skunk were not a lot of fun but the lessons I learned while doing it was where the lucky part came in.

I learned what it was like to do real work and I learned a lot about leadership along the way. Warren and Scott expected hard work and I learned very quickly that the expectation was a two-way street. They were there shoulder to shoulder with me showing me how to work hard and not expecting more than they put in themselves. I learned what it was like to lead by example and I would not trade those hours in the corn fields for anything.

Most importantly I learned by the example Warren set for me about how to be a Christian, a leader, a husband, a father and a good man. I realized this week that I am about the same age as Warren was when I first came to understand how important he was in my life. I hope that I have learned from his example and that I can help guide the youngsters in our church.

Tomorrow I will attend his funeral at the same church that he helped raise me in. I am sure there will be a twinge of sadness because I will not get that teasing that I so richly deserve and need. I will never forget that mischievous twinkle in his eye or the care I saw on his face each week. Yes, I am not sure about that village, but I know it takes a church to raise a child and I know that my church included Warren Carnahan and for that I was incredibly blessed.

God Speed Dr. Drake

Kansas State University’s Animal Science Department lost one of its all-time greats recently. Dr. Calvin Drake passed away leaving an awfully big hole for those of us lucky enough to have known him. Dr. Drake left all of us with the legacy of making the world around him a much kinder, gentler place and that is the greatest thing anyone can do with their life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I am a much better person because of the time I spent with him.

The best way I can describe Dr. Drake is a big personality with a little bitty cowboy hat. He was a whirling ball of endless energy, optimism and cheer. I looked forward to seeing Dr. Drake each day because he had the rare ability to make you feel better about yourself no matter what else was going on with your life. I wish the world had more of those people. Upon hearing of his passing, I told a friend that you had to be a hard-hearted person for the mere thought of him not to put a smile on your face.

I transferred to Kansas State from junior college and they let me hang out in Webber Hall despite the fact I was an Ag Econ major. I decided to try out for the livestock judging team and Dr. Drake coached us fall semester of my junior year until Dr. Schaake arrived in December. While I did not have him as a coach as long as many of my friends, I was lucky enough to have him long enough to see what kind of a man of character he was.

Because I hung out in Weber and posed as an animal science student and a livestock judger, Dr. Drake took a deep interest in my life and development just like he did for thousands of other Kansas State students over his long career. I suppose because of my involvement on the judging team I was drawn into many non-ag things with Dr. Drake.

I had the opportunity to play basketball and softball with him. He approached those activities with a frantic, full-steam ahead, high gear only pace that made it both entertaining and dangerous to participate. I also had the misfortune to be roped into being a fourth in one of the faculty card games. I say misfortune because as an it was really a no-win proposition. I can remember playing with Dr. Drake, Dr. Hines, Dr. Spaeth, Dr. Good, and Dr. McKee to name just a few. As a student you didn’t want to win but you didn’t want to make a mistake and get called out either. Those games were hard fought and not for the faint of heart but also experiences I would not trade for any amount of money.

My fondest memories of Dr. Drake was something I will never forget. He found out that I had a bird dog and some good quail hunting. What I failed to mention was that my dog had survived parvo as a pup and had lost her hearing. The couple of times we hunted she was on her best behavior and did a good job leaving Dr. Drake to marvel at my “deef” dog (his own unique pronunciation of the word deaf).  After that every time I saw him he would first ask about my “deef” dog.

After I graduated I always made sure to see Dr. Drake anytime I was back to Kansas State or at an Animal Science gathering. Dr. Drake was just one of those people who you wanted to be around and who made you a better person because you knew him. I cannot think of anyone who served as a better role model of how to be a man and a leader. He was without a doubt one of the most kind, caring individuals I have ever been around.

I think and I hope that I appreciated Dr. Drake as much as I should have during my time at Kansas State. However, I do know that I developed an even greater appreciation of what he did for me as my kids grew up and as Isaac attended Kansas State. We are all products of the world around us and of our experiences. All of this is made better by role models and great men who dedicate their lives to teaching and mentoring students like Dr. Drake. That is something I understand better as I get older and something I am very thankful for.

I am sure I am just like every other former student and livestock judger when I say I wish I could see and talk to Dr. Drake one more time. The shot of enthusiasm and encouragement is something everyone needs, and few people could pass on like he could. Dr. Calvin Drake, Godspeed, because “jiminy frost” I am a better man for knowing you.

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.