Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hope for 2010

Tonight we say goodbye to 2009. As years go, 2009 wasn't so bad on our farm, in fact it was really pretty good. We had plenty of rain, good crops, great grass in our pastures and the cattle grew very well. We stayed healthy and the kids had a good year. All in all, 2009 was a good year for us. Now as we head to 2010 we wonder what it will bring.

Most farmers and ranchers tend to be optimists. So as we go into a new year, we assume the best. I think all farmers and ranchers start January 1 sure that this will be the year that we have ample rains and produce lots of grain and many pounds of beef/pork/lamb etc... I think all of us also think this will be the year that the stars will line up and not only will we have a great crop but the price we receive for those crops will be great also.

That is what I love about my fellow farmers and ranchers. I think it takes optimism to take a small seed and place it into the ground not knowing what will happen in the ensuing months. Waiting long hours on a cow to calve or a ewe to lamb, all the while, knowing it will be months before that animal is ready to sell.

What will 2010 hold for my ranch? I know there will be ups and downs, successes and failures but I can tell you right now there is nothing I would rather be doing. Who knows what the year will bring, but right now I have great hopes and dreams for 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Response to a Suburban Mom

The following is a response to a suburban mother that I have as a friend on Facebook. She is very much into locally grown, organic food. I have absolutely not problem with this, but the idea that it is healthier is far over-done and in many cases false. We need modern agriculture to produce the food needed for our growing world population. We simply cannot produce the affordable food needed in large quantities in a local food system. She also is a proponent of grass-fed beef. Again, I have no problem with this but the benefits are over sensationalized. My response to her follows:

I commend you for supporting local farmers. I am selling some of my beef locally and it has really re-connected me with my customers. Locally grown meat and produce is fresher and in most cases better than those bought in the store. However, I still contend that locally grown may not be a good option for those in large metro areas, especially those on lower incomes.

As for grass-fed beef, it is a good product and a good option for some. Let me preface my comments by saying I am a rancher and I recently completed my masters degree in range management. The health benefits of grass-fed beef are real. However, the amount of omega-3 is misleading. There really isn't that much difference. The leanness is just a matter of how the animals are fed and my grain fed beef is probably just as lean.

The real issue is the acres. It takes many more acres to finish a grass-fed beef. It also takes longer to get them to market. Agriculture is a very competitive business, especially for land. I simply cannot find enough land to finish my beef on grass. I also feel I am contributing far more food to our world by raising crops on my tillable acres.

On our farm we have went to no-till crop production. This allows for rain infiltration similar to that described by the author in your article. It also saves soil and in the end we use fewer herbicides and less fuel. Most of the farmers in our area have also gone to no-till.

The e-coli issue more of an issue of proper handling and cooking of the meat. There is no more e-coli now than there was fifty years ago. If utensils are properly washed and meat cooked to proper temperatures, e-coli is not an issue.

Again, I am not criticizing you. I enjoy your posts and I commend you for buying local. I think it is a better experience for farmers and consumers alike. But also know you are only getting part of the story. We need modern agriculture to feed our world. Farmers and ranchers and all those involved in agriculture have the best interest of consumers in mind.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Christmas to Remember

This Christmas was one to remember. We got somewhere between 8 and 10 inches of snow with 40 t0 50 mile an hour winds. In short, we missed Christmas Eve services and our family dinner on Christmas Day. It was one of the worst storms I ever remember.

In spite of the weather we had one of the best Christmas Days ever. We opened presents and had a lunch together and watched Christmas movies. It was relaxed and low-key, one that I am sure we will never forget. But that is not what this blog is about.

Christmas morning dawned with gale force winds and lots of snow. Most were snuggled in their beds, unwrapping Christmas presents and generally enjoying a leisurely day. My family enjoyed the presents but our day was far from leisurely. In fact, we worked harder this Christmas than ever before.

Livestock know no holidays. The fact that it is Christmas means nothing to my cows, horses and sheep. They still need fed, watered and looked after. The wind, snow and cold temperatures just made it more difficult. So as most people lounged in their Christmas pjs, we put on our coveralls, winter coats and hats and braved the storm.

Why did we do this? Because we put our livestock first and no matter the day, or the conditions they need to be taken care of. This is what the men and women of our family farms and ranches do every day (holiday or not) to bring you the food on your holiday table. So the next time you sit down to a meal (holiday or not) remember the family farmers and ranchers who brought it to you taking care of their livestock in all types of weather, everyday.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Wishes from the Farm

While many of you are asleep in your bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in your heads. I will be out among my cattle and sheep instead making sure they are watered and fed. I love Christmas for many reasons but one of them is because of chores on Christmas morning.

I know, work on a holiday doesn't sound appealing or at very least it sounds lucrative (double pay), but that is not how it is on the farm. I cannot explain it but there is something about taking care of animals on Christmas morning.

Maybe it is my imagination but there is something special on Christmas morning. I love breathing in the cold, crisp air as my boots crunch across the snow. The dogs seem to have an extra bounce as the bound around me while I carry grain to the calves and sheep. The cows waiting with frost on their hair, breathing steam while I cut the twine off the hay. There is just something indescribable and great about this morning.

But my favorite part is walking into the house after the chores are done. The warmth of the wood stove and the light of the house. The smell of breakfast and coffee and the sound of the kids still buzzing about their presents. Christmas on the farm is a very special day, I wish I could share it with each of you. During this time though, let's all take the time to remember Jesus and his birth, for He truly is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas friends.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Still, Small Voice

I love Christmas. First and foremost, I love Christmas because it celebrates the birth of Jesus, God come to earth. I cherish the Christmas Story and all the wonder it brings. My favorite memories of Christmas center around Church. The singing of Silent Night in candlelight still sends shivers up my back. I cannot explain it but there is something about the Christmas Eve Service that is like nothing else I have ever experienced.

I also love the Christmas Season because of the time spent with family. I love to give presents and to eat the food we save for Christmas time. The winter season, new fallen snow, Christmas lights, the smell of evergreen trees are all things about this season that I love. I love the music, the charity and the feel of the season.

So this year as Christmas approached I told myself I would immerse myself in this season like no other Christmas before. i would not get caught up in the hustle and bustle, the gift buying and the commercialization of the season. I yearned for the awe and complete joy of the season I found as a child and I desperately wanted to connect with that feeling this Christmas. You see, as I have become an adult it seems Christmas flies by faster and faster each year.

It seems like I spend more and more time buying gifts, running from one party to another and that life and work do not slow down during this season. Then suddenly on the 26th it is all gone and I am yearning for it for another year. I feel regret for not spending time revering the season, for not singing hymns and for not sharing all of this with my children.

Today, I realized that is all my fault. I am the one to blame for not making time to worship Jesus and his birth. I am the one who is not slowing my life down to make time for my kids and my wife. I suspect they are more hungry for this time with me than they are for presents. This season we all need to remember why this is the greatest time of the year, why Christmas is so special and to savor that love and warmth that we feel at no other time.

So take this time, these last five days to stop and smell the evergreen, the sugar cookies baking and the new snow. Take time to feel the warmth of the love of family, the fire in the hearth and the glow of the season. Most importantly take time to remember why we celebrate this season, the birth of Jesus at the Nativity, the great gift of God coming to earth to save us. Take time to hear that sill, small voice.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Save Earth (from Paul McCartney)

The past few days I have watched the debacle at Copenhagen and all the talk of global warming. It seems like everyone, including Sir Paul McCartney, wants to save the planet. I fear this has the potential to be very devastating to my way of life, agriculture and ultimately to our country and to our freedom.

Let's forget that the "facts" that are being thrown around are just theories and there are plenty of other theories that are in opposition that are being ignored. Global warming (or climate change as it has been changed to) is a shaky theory at best. But let's ignore that for right now.

The changes being discussed are putting a bulls-eye right on agriculture and that could have catastrophic results. First, the prices of our inputs such as fuel and fertilizer are subject to huge increases. This puts already razor thing profit margins in great peril. Our profit margins are what the hard-working family farmers and ranchers are living on and it will put many out of business. This will also force cutbacks in the way we grow crops. We will no longer be able to be as efficient and produce as much food of the ever dwindling acres of farmland. Feeding our ever-growing population requires us to operate at full speed.

Another danger coming to us from Copenhagen, is the push to get meat out of our diets. Ideas like Meatless Monday and Less Meat= Less Heat are being touted at this meeting. The bottom line is meat is an important staple of our diet. It contributes valuable nutrients and protein while actually working to sustain our environment. The idea that "greenhouse gases" produced by livestock contribute to "global warming" are at best missleading and at worst absolute fiction. The raising of livestock on modern farms and ranches is absolutely critical to feeding our ever growing populations.

In fact, it has been suggested that developing nations need to look toward the agricultural system in the United States as a model. More efficient production would actually lessen the impact we have on the environment, while at the same time, increase the world's food supply

All of this will lead to an increase in food prices and a shortage of the food we all take for granted. So I encourage everyone reading this to become an advocate for agriculture, that is how you save the planet.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Getting to Know My Customer

This year we started marketing our own beef. We had thought about this for years but this year we finally made the plunge. Eight calves were saved back and processed at a local locker plant. In marketing the beef I discovered something I had been missing.

Part of our marketing is that we make deliveries and in doing so I got to know my customers better. I found that connecting with the people who are buying my beef is very rewarding and something all of us in agriculture should do.

This gave me the chance to talk to my customers about how we raise our cattle. I had the opportunity to tell them that we use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and only in the prescribed amount. I assured them that we followed all withdrawal times and they believed me because they got to know me.

I discussed our low-stress livestock handling techniques with them. I told them about the vaccination and nutrition programs we have for our cattle. I want my customers (and everyone else) to know that we do all we can for our cattle to keep them healthy, stress-free and comfortable.

This made me realize that as a rancher it is my responsibility to get to know my customer. As I get to know my customer, they also get to know me. As we communicate it gives them a chance to understand why we do what we do. Communication gives me a chance counter-act misconceptions and provide my customer the true picture of where their beef comes from.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Role Model

Role models seem to be in short supply these days. Celebrities that we thought were wholesome, good people suddenly have skeletons in their closets and are not necessarily good examples for our kids. Sadly this even happens on the local level, everyday it seems coaches, civic leaders or others who have disappointed us time and time again. Who are our kids to look up to?

Let me tell you about my role model. He has spent his whole life serving others, I do not think he has ever put himself first. My role model works with his hands and his heart. He cares deeply about the world we live in and spends everyday working hard to leave it in better shape than he found it. His bed-rock is his faith in God and each day he is an example of how a Godly man lives.

He is part of the very land he lives on. He nurtures the animals and crops in his care and they in-turn produce the food and fiber that feeds all of us. My role model cares for the land, keeps the water clean and the air fresh, he is the best environmentalist I know and the most genuine.

You will never find anyone who works longer or harder. He does not do his job to become rich but out of a sense of duty, pride in his work and a love for the people he feeds. His mind is sharp, his hands calloused and his heart is warm, a greater role model you could not imagine.

I have had the honor and the privilege of knowing this man for 39 years and calling him Dad. He is an incredible role model and I have spent my entire life emulating him. I think he is special, but he is like many of his fellow farmers and ranchers, good, God-fearing, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth men and women. Seems to me, they would be much better role models than the celebrities that society often puts up on a pedestal.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Why I Hunt

Tomorrow is one of the mornings I wait for all year. It is the start of deer season. I know many of the animal rights groups have started aggressive anti-hunting campaigns and that is why I want to tell you why I hunt.

I do not look forward to this morning all year because of a need to kill something, in fact the killing is not something I enjoy. I would guess that I am not alone among my fellow hunters. However, it is part of hunting and necessary.

So, if I don't hunt out of a need to kill, why do I hunt? I enjoy being out in nature and watching the animals, you never know what you will see on any given day. I enjoy trying to understand the patterns and habits of the deer and trying to be one step ahead of them. My time in the field gives me a chance to relax, a time to think and time to take a deep breath. This year it gives me a chance to connect with my son and to pass on my love for the outdoors.

OK, so you get all of that, why is it necessary to harvest deer? Deer need to have their numbers thinned out. Left unharvested, deer will overpopulate and this will lead to an increase in disease and can lead to destruction of food sources (crops) and starvation for deer. I guess I see a quick death as a better alternative to a slow death due to starvation or disease. Furthermore, the venison provides my family with a great source of meat.

Deer are put on earth to serve as food. Whether it be a predator like man or one like coyotes, deer have a definite place on the food chain. I wish I could share my day tomorrow with you, watching the sun come up, listening to the coyotes and the turkeys, smelling the fresh air and, hopefully, harvesting a big buck.