Thursday, March 19, 2015

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



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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Antibiotic Resistance and a Biology Textbook



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

Trucks and Kids



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

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tough Lessons in Animal Care



Today was one of those bitter cold, two pairs of wool socks type of mornings. I really did not want to go outside. The weatherman kept reminding us of the cold and letting those who have to go outside know that exposure of more than five minutes can lead to frostbite. Great advice but awfully hard to follow if you are a farmer or rancher and have animals to care for.
I bundled up and made my way out to the barn. The second and last set of ewes could start lambing and I was hoping against all hope that they had not. Holding my breath I opened the door and peered in. Sure the ewes had chosen that very morning to start round two. Thankfully the ewe seemed to be a good mama and was busily working to clean them off and get them up.
I fed the group of ewes she was with to get them away from her and went in to check. One of the lambs was getting up and seemed to be pretty strong. The other twin probably was the second lamb born, and had not yet gotten up. I quickly haltered the ewe, scooped both lambs up and headed to the warmer barn with the lambing jugs.
The ewe kept up with me and the mama and babies talked to each other the entire trip. That usually is a good sign. Once in the barn I got some straw, started the heat lamp, made sure the ewe had milk and left her to do her thing while I fed and checked the rest of the sheep. To my relief all of the other lambs and ewes seemed to be handling the extreme cold pretty well.
When I had finished, I cautiously opened the door and checked on the new set of twins. The bigger stronger lamb was up and making his way back to the proper place. His twin brother was not as ambitious. He was still curled up under the heat lamb but seemed to be OK and not too cold. The ewe was still being very motherly to both and I decided to go check the cows. Hoping while I was driving out to the pasture that we had not had any calves during the night.
A careful drive through the cows and an even closer inspection of all of the usual, out of the wind, calving spots revealed no new calves. I quickly went on down the road, fed the bulls and broke the ice on their water tank. All the time that little voice in the back of my head was telling me I needed to get back to the ewe and her lambs.
Upon returning to the house, I again went to the lambing barn. The bigger twin was now perched on the pile of hay under the heat lamp. He was dry and appeared to have nursed. However, his twin did not look so good. He was still under the heat lamp but his head and ears were down. This is the universal sign of a sick lamb and that is not good.
I scooped the lamb up, wrapped it in an old towel and made my way to the house and the wood stove. I noticed on the way the lamb was laboring to breath and I immediately kicked myself for not taking it in earlier. Once in the house, I put the lamb on the dog bed we use for cold, sick lambs, plugged the heater in and made up some milk. I drenched the lamb but it seemed to be getting weaker and weaker and laboring more and more to breathe. I knew it was not good.
I kept watch over the lamb, but soon I noticed it had stopped moving. A more thorough check revealed that it had stopped breathing and had died. The regret of what I might have done started to kick in. I knew it was bitter cold and probably some of the hardest weather anyone could lamb in. I also knew the lamb was small and weak, maybe premature. However, that did not stop me from wondering if I could have done more.
It is the question that haunts all of us with livestock. I have only lost a handful of lambs this year, yet I still think back to each one and wonder what I could have done differently. I guess that is what bothers me when I hear the detractors of animal agriculture. They think we view our animals only through the lens of money. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The idea that I could have done more for this lamb will stay with me for the rest of the day, week and probably month.
However, on a day like this one must shove those painful thoughts to the back of your mind and continue to care for the other animals. I know it will re-enter my thoughts tonight when the excitement of the day quiets down. I also know that the memory and the regret of not doing more will drive me to go out earlier, take action quicker next time. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Neighbora, Snow and the Superbowl



I really like watching the Superbowl; it is almost a holiday to me. I know it is not anywhere near as important as Christmas or Easter. The big game doesn’t even have the meaning that the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving have to our nation. However, after those official holidays, it is one of the days of the year that I most look forward too.
I admit that I am a football junky. I really like to watch football, even when I don’t really have a rooting interest in either team. To be honest, most often it is even more fun if you don’t really care who wins. Combine that with my affinity for food and eating and sprinkle in some good commercials, it all makes for a good evening. We carefully plan our menu and rearrange the chore schedule so we can be settled down with a plate of food at kickoff.
This year was even better (at least for my family) because Jennifer’s parents had come to visit and had gotten snowed in (as I say good for my family, I am not sure they would agree). The minor snowstorm had turned into a major storm and we spent most of the afternoon moving animals around, scooping snow and feeding critters. It was a whirlwind but we managed to make it in before the start of the game, get the food prepared, add wood to the fire and life was good.
The food was good, the game was a little boring and the commercials weren’t as funny as we had expected. At least that was the consensus after the first half. Maybe the game would pick up after halftime and maybe our expectations for the commercials were a little too high. In any case, the second half kicked off with optimism. Sure enough the both teams started moving the ball; it was going to be a game.  Then it happened.
The phone rang. On the other end was a neighbor (keep in mind I count anyone in a three or four mile radius as a neighbor), he had gotten stuck trying to help someone out of a snowdrift. Let’s set the scene, the wind was howling, it was cold and the roads were drifted. Did I want to go out? Not really, but I did not hesitate. I left after putting on the layers required for being out in the conditions that night. The tractor was plugged in and fired right up. Soon I was headed off into the snowy night.
I listened to the game as I drove along and over the noise of the tractor it seemed to be getting more and more exciting. One hill away from the house I found my neighbor, pulled up behind his pickup and jumped off into a thigh high snow drift. We hooked up his chain and made the 200 yard pull without too much trouble. At the top of the hill, clear of the drifts, we stopped.
We talked for just a few minutes. The bitter cold wind had a numbing effect even on someone as chatty as I am. He thanked me and I reminded him that next time it would probably be my turn to ask him for a favor. I have lost count over the years of all the times one of our neighbors have come to my rescue. Often these crises occur at rather inopportune times and usually in inclement weather.
I guess that is what I most like about where I live. You know you can call on your neighbor, no matter what time, in any situation and they will always come lend you a hand. That is what we do. Why? Because it is the right thing to do, if they didn’t need your help they would not have asked for it. You can also be sure that when you need a hand they will drop everything to help.
I pulled into the shed that night plugged the tractor in and went to the lambing barn to check the ewes. We had a ewe lamb earlier in the night with what we thought was a single lamb. However, when I opened the barn door that night she stood there proudly with two lambs. It was a good night.
I got back into the house just in time to see the last play and to get a recap from my family on how exciting the game was. Would I have liked to have seen the game? You bet. But I also know that given the same opportunity I would do the same thing every time. I can always watch the Superbowl again next year, who knows maybe the Chiefs, will be in it.