Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Food Inc,, the Truth

I am slow to anger but some things really get under my skin. The movie Food Inc. is one of those things. I don't know if you are familiar with this very pointed piece of propaganda that is a direct attack on the proud family farmers and ranchers who feed and clothe all of us.

This film uses sensationalized statistics from dubious sources to make claims that are downright false. Claims such as farmers and ranchers are responsible for a rise in childhood obesity and adult diabetes. Farmers and ranchers only grow the food, we as a nation must take responsibility for what we eat and what we feed our kids.

E-coli is another subject of this work of fiction. The truth about e-coli is that if we properly wash and prepare our foods, it is not a problem. E-coli is all around us and the risk of this terrible illness is not increased due to our modern agricultural production methods.

The film takes shots at our crops, herbicides and other modern advances that allow the farmers and ranchers of our great nation to feed a growing world population. This horrible, slanted film makes the assertion that farmers and ranchers are pushed out by giant corporations, that everyone in agriculture is worried about making money and not about the people who eat the food we grow and that our food is not safe.

The truth is that most of our farms and ranches are owned by families who have made their living on them for many generations. The truth is that farmers and ranchers don't get rich but rather value the life living on the farm and ranch affords them. They are rich, but not in monetary terms. Most of all is the truth is that we feed our families the same food everyone eats. Our food supply is safe and healthy.

So yes, this movie makes me really angry. I would encourage each of you to spread the word that the movie Food Inc. is a twisted piece of propaganda full of half-truths and lies meant to cripple the very farmers and ranchers who feed and clothe all of us. Please, avoid this movie and advise your friend to do the same. The ultimate truth is that farmers and ranchers of this great nation provide all of us with the safest, healthiest most abundant food supply in the world.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Gift of the First Day of Spring

This forecast this week seems to say the long, cold, dreary winter is behind us and spring has sprung. The changing of seasons is one of the things I love about being in agriculture, every season has its reason and something good about it. However, each season has its challenges and this winter certainly had many challenges. I guess that is why I am so excited to see spring here, and today is a shining (pun intended) example of why.

The green of the grass is starting to push through the brown haze of the mud. The hillsides are changing from brown to a tint of green and soon they will be completely green. The wind has that smell of clean, new, the rebirth of the prairie after the dormancy of winter. The timber is alive with the gobbling of turkeys and the chirping of birds. Everything seems fresh and new.

My favorite thing about spring is the new calves and lambs. They run, buck and play, just enjoying the energizing warmth of the yellow sunlight. Soon they will be stretched out on the hillsides just soaking up that energy, dozing in the soft, warmth of spring. This afternoon all the cows, calves, ewes and lambs will be content to just relax in the beauty of the first, true spring day of the year.

This is one of those days I wish I could bottle and send to all of my friends who don't get to share in this incredible blessing that God has chosen me to be a part of. This is the day that you realize that the rebirth of life in spring is both a miracle and a blessing imparted on us by our God. Farmers and ranchers have the gift of being close to life and enjoying its beauty on glorious spring days like today. I think this is why we understand dignity of the lives we are charged with, the grandeur of the land we live on and the purity of our environment. For those gifts I am eternally grateful.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anti-biotics in Agriculture

Today we had a sick calf. This was to be expected as the weather has changed from warm and sunny to cold and wet. Dad went out this morning and found the calf, sick and very close to death. He called our vet and got a prescription for a powerful anti-biotic. He then gave the anti-biotic at the prescribed dose along with some vitamins.

I am not sure how the calf is doing, as of tonight it was still alive but barely. I am sure without the benefit of the powerful anti-biotic he would not be alive. This anti-biotic is very important to us as ranchers to help protect the health of our baby calves. As a rancher we feel the responsibility to our cattle to do everything in our power to take care of them.

Recently CBS news and Katie Couric did an expose` on the use of anti-biotics in agriculture and she came to the conclusion that our use of them aid in the resistance of viruses to them in humans. First of all, that conclusion is false. There is no evidence what-so-ever that this is the case. However, there are those who would take away these powerful tools from the farmers and ranchers who raise your food.

The use of anti-biotics are critical to all farmers and ranchers who use them and the animals who need them. Just as in our case this morning, they are used under the guidance of a veterinarian and doses and withdrawal dates are closely monitored. You see these powerful tools are only powerful tools because they are only used when absolutely needed, for the length of time needed and in the dose recommended. The use of anti-biotics in livestock insure that many do not suffer needlessly from curable ailments. The loss of an animal is very painful to any of us who make a living raising them. At the same time, we are also aware that we are raising food for not only consumers but for our own family, and we would never do anything to jeopardize their health.

The bottom line is that we absolutely must have anti-biotics to raise the safe, healthy, nutritious food that we all consume while insuring the health and well-being of the animals that provide us with that food. Tomorrow morning we will check on our calf and I hope that it's health will be improving. I also hope that the powerful medicine we used will be available for other animals on my ranch in the future.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Bad Day at the

I love raising cattle and sheep and producing the food we all eat, but just like everyone else I have bad days at the office.This morning was one of those days, so let me tell you about my bad day at the office.

This morning started off rainy and miserable. The weatherman had said it wouldn't rain until noon. Because of that forecast I decided not to fill hay feeders for the cows until this morning. That was my first bad decision, the first of many.

I slogged through the mud and muck, getting wet, to feed the calves and sheep in the pens. While these chores went relatively, well they did take longer than usual. Like many of my fellow farmers and ranchers, I have an off farm job and that usually puts me in a time crunch each morning. That led to my second bad decision.

I decided to feed the cows with the pick-up truck. Normally in muddy conditions I use the tractor to haul the 1100 pound big round bales of hay out to the cows, but tractors move slowly and I can feed much faster with the pick-up. Shortly after entering the pasture I got hung-up in one of the many deep ruts made by the tractor this winter. That meant there was nothing else to do but make the long, cold, wet walk of shame back to the barn to get the tractor.

The tractor easily made it through the mud and ruts and soon I had the pick-up pulled out (after laying in the mud and who knows what else to hook the chain up under the pick-up). To my surprise when I went to unhook the truck I found that the doors had locked on the pick-up (with it started, running and using expensive gas). Also in the pick-up was my cell phone (which really made no difference because it was dead, so I guess not plugging it in last night was my first mistake). So again I made the long, cold, wet walk of shame back to the house to call my dear wife (and boss) for help.

Jennifer also works an off-farm job and I did not look forward to making her leave work to rescue me from my bad decisions. However, during our phone conversation she reminded me that both sets of keys were now locked in the truck which was running and burning expensive gas out in the muddy pasture. For some unexplainable reason I decided it was her fault that I had chose to drive the truck instead of the tractor and locked my keys inside. That was my last bad decision of this sad string of events. I angrily told her I had decided to break the window out and hung up, only to see the emergency set of keys hanging above the phone.

I made the final, wet, cold walk of shame back out to the pasture and unlocked the pick-up door. The 1 and a half hours later I finished feeding the cattle with the same tractor I should have started the whole sad thing with in the first place. Interrupted by the helpful neighbor my wife had sent to rescue me from breaking an expensive window. The morning ended with me finding a new calf (healthy and happy) and arriving at work one hour late while apologizing to my wife on the phone.

What is the moral to this story? I guess it would be that one bad decision should not be compounded by another and never, ever yell at the boss. However, for all the heart-burn and grief that the morning caused me I also realized that even on the worst day, I still love ranching and raising the food we all will enjoy on a wet, cold night like this. So if you will excuse me I have some serious groveling to do with the boss.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy National Ag Day

Today is National Agriculture Day and let me tell you how we celebrated the day. Today dawned cold and snowy, it was one of those mornings that you just wanted to stay in bed. That was not an option, even on National Ag Day.

Jennifer and I went out and fought the mud and snow to feed the cattle, sheep and horses this morning. I have to admit that my toes and fingers were really cold but we had a lot of work to do so there was no complaining. Each pen of calves and the lambs got extra feed this morning to give them the energy to fight off the cold, wet day.

We took extra time to walk through the new lambs and calves and make sure they all looked healthy. Finally we hauled hay out to the cattle, a chore that was made much more difficult by the mud underneath the snow. Late in the morning with all the chores done we retired back to the house to celebrate National Ag Day with a hot cup of coffee. Within the hour we will again put our chore clothes on and brave the cold, snow and mud and do it all over again.

The reason I mention all of this is that today is no different than most days for myself and my fellow farmers and ranchers. You see our "office" is in the great outdoors with all kinds of conditions. We don't do this to get rich, but rather we raise the food you eat and the fiber you wear out of a sense of pride for what we do and service to our fellow citizens.

I suspect many of you will finish celebrating National Ag Day the same way I will, with a good meal. Tonight as you eat that meal, celebrate the incredible network of farms and ranches that make up agriculture in the United States. We are blessed in this great nation to have the safest, most abundant supply of healthy, wholesome food in the world, that is something worth celebrating.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Agriculture, America's Bed-Rock

I am a proud producer of the food America eats and this is National Agriculture Week. This week ought to be a celebration on the same order of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. OK, so you say that sounds a little extreme. Well, maybe it is not and let me tell you why.

Both of the afore-mentioned holidays are patriotic in nature and there is nothing more patriotic than agriculture in the United States. Our whole economy is built around a safe, stable supply of food and fiber. This food security allows us to excel in other areas and be the leader of the world and all because we have do not have to worry about where our next meal comes from. The United States is a world power because of the incredible work of the farmers and ranchers of our great nation.

So let me tell you about my friends and neighbors who put blood, sweat and tears into feeding and leading our great nation. Many of us have been in agriculture for many, many generations, all we know is growing the food and fiber. We value the ability to farm and ranch with our grandparents, parents and children, we love the communities we live in and we feel we are incredibly blessed to live in this great nation.

Farmers and ranchers have a great attachment to the land they live on, the water they drink and the air they breathe. Everything we do is meant to preserve these precious resources for our future generations. We love living close to nature, spending time outdoors and being our own bosses.

The men and women who spend their lives growing the plants and animals that provide us nourishment have a great sense of pride and love for those same plants and animals. We revel in the birth of new animals and the sprouting of new plants. We also feel a sense of honor and pride when we harvest these same plants and animals and feed our fellow humans. We care for them while we have them but we also know their ultimate purpose on this earth is as food for the human race.

So this week please take time to honor the men and women who choose to be the farmers and ranchers providing you with the food and fiber you need each day. Those same farmers and ranchers are the bed-rock of our American society and the engine that powers this great nation.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What My Wife Does on Spring Break

Yesterday was the first day of spring break for my wife, Jennifer, and our kids. It was not a very nice day. The day started off wet, drizzly and cold then went down-hill from there. We are still calving and the mud and rain have added to the difficulty. Each morning and night we walk out and check the cows for new calves, a process that usually takes 30 minutes at the most.

So back to yesterday, I had a meeting and this left Jennifer alone to do all the chores and check the calves by herself. She put her coveralls, mud boots and heavy coat on and made her way out to insure the safety of all our cows and calves.

The day before cow number 37 had a big bull calf and we always like to make sure the newest calves are doing OK. As Jennifer made her way through the herd, she noticed that 37 was walking around bawling for her calf. I am sure that searching for a missing calf in the rain was about the last thing my wife wanted to do on her first day of spring break. However, in ranching it is not about what we want when it comes to the care of our cattle.

For the next 30 minutes she searched the pasture, getting wetter and colder with each passing moment. Finally she located the calf about 20 feet on the wrong side of the fence. Moving in carefully and making sure not to scare the calf and have it run in the wrong direction Jennifer caught the calf. Then she eased the calf through the fence and then followed it until it made a happy reunion with its mother.

Jennifer then headed back to the house about an hour and a half later, wet, cold and sure that she had just saved a calf. This is nothing extraordinary in the life of a rancher, it is just something we do. Farmers and ranchers are caretakers of the animals they raise. Our animals safety and care come first no matter what our other plans are. The animals come before vacations, house work, and even personal comfort, its just what we do.

Times like this is when I wonder where the supposed animal rights groups are. They claim to have the best interest of animals at heart, but the truth is something else. They have the best interest of their bank accounts in mind. The real animal caretakers are ranchers like my wife, who spend most of their days taking care of them.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Calving Season with Dad

Why do farmers farm? Why do ranchers ranch? Well its not for the money, none of us are getting rich, we do not do it for fame or fortune. So why do we chose a profession that pays poorly, is one of the most dangerous and has long hours. There are many reasons but this calving season has magnified one of them for me.

Each day Dad and I catch, tag and vaccinate each calf as they are born. This takes anywhere from one to three or four hours each day and I grow to appreciate this time together more and more each day. I guess appreciation of your parents is something that most of us grow into, something that comes with age, experience and growth.

Like most teens I did not appreciate my parents nearly as much as I should have. Oh we had a pretty good relationship, but I did not give them the credit I should have. I did not appreciate the wisdom they tried to impart on me. Thankfully I had the opportunity to move back to the family farm and spend time with them.

It made me appreciate the ability I have to spend time with family. Growing up, we ate meals as a family, both parents were very active in my life and Grandma and Grandpa were right down the road. Farm families are blessed because they spend that time as a family and that is one of the main reasons Jennifer and I chose to come home to the farm.

Each day Dad and I bump through the pasture looking for new calves and we discuss the farm, family, faith and other issues. That is when I am sure I picked the right profession. I suspect that I am no different than most other children involved in the family farm and I guess that is why so many of us chose to come back to the farm. Most of the farms in this great nation are centered on the family from the smallest to the largest corporation and that is what is at the heart of our agriculture.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Well-Fed, Well-Cared For and Content

Today was one of those days in the Flint Hills that I wish I could share with you. It was the first sunny, warm day in a long, hard winter, and it felt good. I have to admit that I didn't get much done. I spent most of the afternoon watching the calves and lambs run and play, the horses lay out sunning themselves and all the livestock generally enjoying the new sunny warmth.

This is one of the days that I remember why I chose to spend my life taking care of livestock. This winter has been one of the worst in recent memory, and those of us on farms and ranches with livestock have worked ourselves to the bone taking care of the needs of our animals.

I can't tell you of the many nights I spent bundling up and slowly picking my way across the frozen barnyard in bitter windchill to check on new lambs. Then there were the snowy, bitingly cold mornings that we faced the knifing wind to look for new calves. None of that was very pleasant at the time but today it all seemed worth the discomfort.

Farmers and ranchers go the extra mile to make sure their animals are cared for in all weather. We make sure their every need is taken care of before we ever worry about our own needs, in short, our livestock always come first. We are animal caretakers first and foremost. Yes, we realize that the livestock we care for will become the meat on your table. However, while they are in our care, their well-being is our first priority.

I encourage you to get to know a farmer or rancher, spend time with them and I am sure you will find that we do truly have the best interest of our animals in our heart. I hope you will get to spend an afternoon like mine just watching animals on any farm or ranch resting, well-cared for, well-fed and content.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It's Easy Being Green (At Least Tomorrow)

Tomorrow I am wearing green. No, I know it is not St. Patty's Day. Tomorrow is Supporting Agriculture Day and I am wearing green in honor of agriculture. Who else should wear green? Everyone who eats or wears clothes should wear green. In other words, everywhere we go tomorrow should be a sea of green.

Farmers and ranchers only account for 2% of the population of this great nation. Think about it, 2% feed and clothe the other 98%. That alone is a miracle. However, take in account that the numbers of farms and the acres in farm ground continue to shrink and the miracle grows in magnitude.

Farmers and ranchers utilize the latest in modern technology to increase their production to meet the needs of a growing population. All the while, these same farmers and ranchers maintain the same work ethic and family values that made them the core of our rural communities and our nation.

Tomorrow is the day that we celebrate the safe, abundant food supply that allows this great nation to develop new technology, create new business and continue to be the leader of the world. We are so lucky and blessed to be in this nation with our food security. We live in a society with full grocery store shelves and plenty of clothes to wear.

So tomorrow I will proudly be wearing the green. Oh, I know what Kermit the Frog says about being green, but tomorrow it will be easy. I ask you to also be proud of the safest, most abundant food supply and don the green yourself.