Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Thursday will be Thanksgiving and it is a day that we should all take to remember the blessings in our lives and all that we are thankful for. I find it difficult to put into words all that I am thankful for, but I also find it necessary to try.

I am so thankful to be a producer of the food and fiber that fuel this great nation. I am humbled in the presence of other farmers and ranchers. They are such great agriculturalists and I find it hard to measure up. Agriculture is the foundation of this great nation and because of our agricultural roots we are able to pursue industry. I find it no coincidence that we celebrate our thankfulness with a great feast.

I am also thankful to live in the heartland of our nation. In a place where family, morals and friends are the bedrock of our everyday lives. I am thankful to be a citizen of the greatest, most powerful nation on earth. I am thankful that even though I don't agree with everything going on in this great nation, I have the ability to discuss it and the ability to try to change what I don't agree with.

I am thankful for my family. I thank the Lord everyday for my wife and kids. I am truly blessed to have a them and often I don't know what I did to deserve that blessing. I am thankful to my parents for the beginning the gave me, the example my mother gave me and the guidance my father continues to give me.

Most of all, I am thankful to serve such a great God. I do not deserve his Grace and blessings, but he continues to love me and forgive my shortcomings. Without the Grace of God, none of this is possible and for that I am ultimately most thankful.

So as we go through this time to remember and give thanks, take the time to count your blessings. Every citizen of this great nation is blessed and should be thankful for that blessing. Take this day to share the things you are thankful with others.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What is a Factory Farm, and Who is Sustainable?

Last night I was watching Saturday Night and low and behold they had Al Gore on proclaiming the benefits of "going green". Don't get me wrong I am all for renewable energy and saving the environment, but I am also for surviving and farming tomorrow. But that is not what I writing about.

In one skit Al Gore proclaimed the evils of factory farming and announced he was in favor of sustainable agriculture. This hit two of my pet peeves. The first is factory farming. Just what exactly is factory farming? I have many friends in the swine and poultry business and their farms are the farthest thing from a factory.

Their barns are climate controlled through all types of weather and temperatures. They receive a balanced diet, formulated for them by their very own nutritionist. They are in a disease free living area, receive the best in veterinary care and are free from the natural competition from predators and even their own kind.

As far as sustainable agriculture, every farmer and rancher I know practices sustainable agriculture. If we do not sustain the land and animals we care for we will not be around, and last I knew staying around is the definition of sustainable. The bottom line is we all employ practices like good soil and water conservation and proper animal care. If a farmer or rancher is not sustainable they will not be in business and many of us are the fourth or fifth generation on the farm or ranch. That is my definition of sustainable.

I would suggest that Mr. Gore try to educate himself on terms such as factory farm and sustainable. Farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists and I would guess that many in the Green Revolution could learn a lot about conserving resources from us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Today is my wedding anniversary. How did we celebrate? Well actually we started out by doing chores this morning and ended by doing chores tonight. So goes the anniversary of most farm or ranch wives. My wife is a saint and I feel very blessed that she picked me.

Farm and ranch wives are partners in the operation in the truest sense of the word. Jennifer is out with me everyday, knee deep in the mud, choking in the dust and working long-hard hours. She has a degree in animal science and is integral in any decision we make. She is my partner in every way.

Being a farm or ranch wife also means sacrificing and many times doing without. I am sure there are many things Jennifer would like to have, but she understands the economics of agriculture and somehow makes due with what we have. She deserves much more than she has but understands the dedication it takes to survive in agriculture.

Each year I count this day as the anniversary of the best day of my life. This is the day I married my best friend, my biggest supporter and my partner. Like most men in agriculture, I am pretty sure I am not very good at expressing that to her and I could not do this on my own. Beside every man in agriculture is a woman who supports, guides and loves them and I am no different.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The First Snow

Today we received our first snow of the season. I don't know what it is but it seems like the first snow of the winter always catches us off guard and seems really cold. In any case we woke up to a cold, wet snow this morning and here on the ranch that puts several things into gear.

First, we know that our animals are using more energy keeping themselves warm. That means we need to increase their energy intake. This morning the calves received more grain, the cows got a good bale of brome grass hay (it is higher in energy and protein than our native prairie hay) and the sheep got an alfalfa bale (alfalfa is even higher in protein and energy than brome grass).

Next we made sure they had plenty of clean, fresh water. Even though it is cold, animals need to keep up their water consumption so they don't get dehydrated. Plenty of water keeps them warmer and also keeps them healthier.

Finally we spend much more time walking through our animals and watch them much more closely. We look for the early signs of illness and distress. When we do notice the signs of illness we treat them with the appropriate medicine. Our modern veterinary medicine is completely safe for both the animals and the people who eat their meat. The drugs are tested and re-tested, all label restrictions are followed and we only use them when they are absolutely needed to save the animal's life.

Keep in mind that all of this is done in cold, wet conditions. It would be much easier to stay inside next to the wood stove, warm dry and comfortable. However, we know that it is our calling in life to watch over these animals and provide for them, keeping them healthy and comfortable while they are with us. That is the story of the protein on your table tonight.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Step One for Your Steak

Yesterday we sold calves at the local livestock sale. It may seem like a mundane, everyday event but to a rancher it is a pretty monumental event. The calves in the sale-ring represents not only one year's worth of work but a lifetime's worth of work and planning.

My father has spent his entire life picking the genetics that have went into our cowherd. Jennifer and I have helped advance the genetics in the herd to include sires with better carcass traits (this is so the beef you buy is better every time you buy our meat). Each and every bull we buy is the culmination of a lot of thought and planning about what genetic traits our herd needs.

We then work with our veterinarian to plan a herd health program. Our veterinarian is a long-time friend who has worked with our operation for over 30 years. Many hours of hard work go into the herd health plan we implement. This is to insure the beef you eat is from the healthiest, most stress-free cattle possible.

We also spend many hours on the nutrition of our cows and calves. Computers programs and the latest in research from our local land-grant universities are used to insure that our cattle have their nutritional needs met. This also helps provide you with the best tasting, most nutritious beef possible.

Our ranch has also started to employ new technology to meet the requests of our customers. We tag each calf with a radio frequency identification tag (RFID). We do this so we can verify the age and that our calves were produced on our ranch (the source). I feel this is important because the consumer says they want to know where their beef comes from. I am proud of the beef I produce and I want them to know where it comes from.

This is just a brief account of one step in the process that brings you the beef on your table. There are two or three more producers who put as much time, technology and hard work into growing the beef you enjoy on your table and that you feed to your family.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanks Vets

Veteran's Day has special meaning to me. My Great Grandpa served in the army during World War 1, Grandpa served in the Navy in World War 2 and Dad served in the Air Force in Vietnam. All were greater men than I am and all made more sacrifices for our country, I am humbled by their service.

The United States is the greatest nation of all time this is entirely due to the great men and women who served us in the armed forces. While I believe the foundation of our nation is our farms and ranches, this foundation is built upon the sweat and ultimately the blood of those who sacrificed to provide us our rights and freedoms.

I am able to pursue farming and ranching because of the veterans who fought for this freedom and I am able to keep farming because of our brave soldiers who continue to protect these freedoms. When I think of the harm they face on my behalf I feel very humbled and unworthy.

Thank you does not seem at all adequate but it is all that I have. So I would like to thank all the veterans who served and sacrificed to protect our nation and our freedoms and I would like to thank all those currently serving for keeping us from harm. May God Bless you and keep you safe.

Monday, November 9, 2009

4-H and Animals

Today I received notice about an editorial piece that showed up in the Chicago Tribune titled "4-H: Cruel to Animals and Kids" by Jennifer O'Connor. This is a horribly slanted op-ed piece and it should be pointed out that Ms. O'Connor is an employee for PETA. It detailed Ms. O'Connor's daughter's experience in the 4-H dairy project. Ms. O'Connor expressed dismay and shock that the cow used for her daughter's project was eventually harvested for meat. She went as far as to say it made her daughter turn away from meat forever.

I shared this story with my children (who are both in 4-H) and they immediately had the same response. We raise cows for beef, they are not pets. My kids understand the order of life, some animals were put on this earth to serve as food. That does not mean they will not take the absolute best care of them that we can while they are in our control, but they understand the eventual reason we have cattle.

It is unfortunate that the writer's daughter had a bad experience but that in part is due to poor communications on her part as a parent. Before their projects ever started we discussed the cycle of production with the kids and throughout the project we reinforced this. In short, there were no surprises, they were prepared.

Make no mistake that Ms. O'Connor was not your average 4-H parent but an employee of the radical anti-animal agriculture group PETA. This group is known for their outrageous stunts to draw attention to themselves. If you are a 4-H supporter you need to go to the Chicago Tribune and write a response to this terrible editorial. We must stand up for 4-H and the educational opportunities it provides. Please, take the time to let your opinion be known, PETA sees a lack of response as an endorsement of their position.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shrinking Paycheck

Today we started with the prospect of finishing harvest. We just had a little over 60 acres of soybeans to harvest. Not a daunting task, but it would take a good, problem free day.

That is not how today went. The morning started with the transmission going out on our good truck (a 1983 model, so good is a relative term). This little break down probably will cost us several thousand dollars. Later in the morning the starter went out on our other truck.While this was not as tramatic as the transmission, it was another couple hundred bucks. So we were down to one truck and off to a start two hours later than we planned.

So we had not harvested an acre and we were already down several thousand dollars. Why is this a big issue. Well our paycheck is the harvest each fall and all of these breakdowns chip away at our paycheck. Unlike many other businesses, farmers and ranchers are price takers.

In many other businesses, if your cost of producing a product goes up, the price goes up. Agriculture is not that way. While our cost of producing soybeans went up this morning the price we received went down 30 cents a bushel. Why the price went down I am not sure, but it all equates in a smaller paycheck.

I am not telling you this to complain, I am the one who chose to farm and ranch. But I do think that there is a perception that we are getting rich in agriculture and that is simply not the fact. None of us would trade our chosen lifestyle for another profession, but we do not do this for the money. We do this out of a love for the land and a pride in feeding the world.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Modern, Everyday Miracle

This Sunday our pastor delivered a sermon about the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. That has always been one of my favorite parables and one that gives me a great deal of comfort. I guess knowing that Jesus will provide what we need makes me feel safe.

I often wonder what it would be like to witness a miracle like that. Then this Sunday, I realized that I have. OK, so it wasn't as dramatic as Jesus breaking the bread and it feeding over 5,000, but the fact that we can feed the world is an everyday miracle.

Think about it, our acres of farmland keep diminishing but we can provide the food and fiber that is needed to make the world go. Yes, I know there is hunger in this world, but it is not because we do not produce enough food.

So as the population grows and the number of farmers and ranchers decrease, it is nothing short of a miracle that enough food is produced. We have been given the tools as farmers and ranchers to produce this food. Tools such as genetically modified organisms such as crops that use less fertilizer and water to produce more grain, modern animal medicines that allow our animals to grow faster on less grain and modern livestock production systems that allow animals to grow in a climate controlled, disease-free environment. Yes, God has given us these tools to feed and clothe a hungry world.

So as you pass a field of round-up ready soybeans or hear a rancher talk about using modern anti-biotics realize that you are witnessing a miracle. Because I promise you that man could not figure out a way to feed 98% of humanity with the hand s of only 2 % of the population. That is nothing short of a miracle.