Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Forward to 2011

We are in the waning hours of 2010 so I guess I am like everyone else and looking back on the year. It was a successful year in agriculture. Did we make money? Some of us did, I suppose, but that is not how we measure success. In agriculture, the measure of success is getting to farm or ranch for another year. So for those of us who know we will get another shot at farming and ranching in 2011, 2010 was a good year.

The pressure on our family farms and ranches gets increasingly greater each year and it comes from many different directions. Government oversight continues to increase. From decreasing the necessary medicines available to us to treat our livestock to determining arbitrary measures of how good our air and water are. Many times these standards are higher than what the elements would be if humans had never arrived here. The bottom line is that the standards we are held to are determined by bureaucrats who have never set foot on our land.

However, the greatest challenge to farmers and ranchers are the special interest groups. HSUS, PETA, the Sierra Club, etc... are nothing more than fund raising machines that line the pockets of their wealthy top executives. They masquerade as organizations that care about animals or the environment but in reality they have very little need for facts, truth or the subject they claim to care about. That doesn't stop them from lobbying to pass legislation or use false accusations to change public opinion against family farmers and ranchers.

Then there is always the weather and markets that we cannot control but have a lot to say about how profitable we are. The fall out from the financial meltdown has reached agriculture and made it tougher for us to secure the funding we need. So why do we even bother if the game is seemingly stacked against us?

We farm and ranch because it is in our blood, because it is who we are. We feel the connection to our animals and our land that the bureaucrats and activists could never fathom. Farmers and ranchers toil in a relatively low paying occupation because we are proud producers of the food and fiber we all need. We are eternal optimists who know that 2011 will bring plenty of rain, good markets and a sudden epiphany of understanding to those who oppose us. So I will close with a hope that 2011 will bring you happiness and peace.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Injured Reserve

This week I had to put myself on the injured reserve list. A ruptured Achilles tendon is pretty hard to deal with on the ranch and it is even harder for the rancher to deal with. Why? When you get an excuse to not go out into the terrible weather and harsh working conditions are you disappointed? Well, it all goes back to finding that one thing that is your passion and mine is agriculture.

I worry and feel guilty that I can't help my family as they care for our animals during this difficult time. It is hard enough work when all of us are available but subtract one and it is even more arduous. The winter can be a really tough time of the year. The weather is tough The landscape is either snow and ice covered or knee deep mud or both. Physically, this time of the year is demanding.

Mentally it is also demanding. In a couple of weeks, we will start to have baby lambs and a couple of weeks after that baby calves. This calls for long hours and that often strains both body and mind to the limit. We put ourselves through this because we love what we do, it is part of us.

So I am worried about my family as they take up extra work in my absence. Like most farms and ranches we are a family operation with three generations involved. But like other farms and ranches our neighbors have stepped up and lent a helping hand. But I must say I am also very disappointed.

Yes, I am disappointed. Lambing and calving seasons make this one of my favorite times of the year. I wish I could give each one of you the experience of finding new lambs or calves and making sure they get the care they need right after birth. It is an incredible experience. I am also disappointed that I will not be able to feed or care for my livestock for an extended period.

Like most farmers and ranchers I will probably push the limit of what I can do sooner than I should. However, at least for the moment, I am determined to follow doctor's orders. When what you do is a passion you will work hard to get back to it. That is the dedication to agriculture that I share with my fellow farmers and ranchers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Christmas Wish List

Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It always has been, I remember as a kid impatiently waiting each year. It seemed that the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas lasted for months. Now that same period of time passes in a moment. One of the things I did each year as a kid was to make my wish list. Since then I have realized Christmas is more about giving and there is only one Christmas gift that really matters. That is why I have written a Christmas wish list of things I want each of you to find.

1. Passion for your job. As many of you know farming and ranching is my passion. I love growing the food that feeds each of you, my hope is that you find that all-consuming meaning in your work.

2. Love for your family. If there is anything coming between you and any member of your family, please take this time of the year to fix it. Life is but a fleeting moment and you may not have that chance. Never leave anything unsaid. I cannot imagine my life without my family.

3. Time for friends. I hope each of you are blessed with a wonderful collection of friends like I am. Each friend gives us a different gift and we need to remember not to be too busy to stop and take time to enjoy their gift of friendship. It takes only a moment and nothing you have to do is more important than our relationships.

4. Blessing of our birth. We are so blessed to be born in a nation of freedom, a place where opportunity is our right and we can pursue our passions. I am reminded of this each time I spend a day in the Flint Hills in my United States.

5. Cherish your spouse. I believe we each have a soul mate and once you find that person make sure they know how important they are. Make sure to let them know this each day. They are the ones that give your life meaning and fulfillment. I am nothing without my wife.

6. Celebrate Christ's Birth. Most of all, my wish for you is to truly appreciate that most important of all gifts we each have been given. God sent his only Son to earth so that each of us can be saved. It is your choice to accept and unwrap this gift. Once you do, you will appreciate the awesomeness of Christmas. Gone will be the commercialism, emptiness and the hollowness of possessions that often haunt Christmas for many people. In its place you will find joy, peace and hope.

That is my wish list for you, my friend. Christmas joy is not found in wrapping paper, lights, movies or any other material thing. Real Christmas joy is in knowing why we celebrate this day and learning to appreciate the blessing each of us have in our lives. Please, know that I pray that you will have a happy, blessed, truly meaningful Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Season of Anticipation

Christmas break starts for my family today. Yes, it means time celebrating Jesus's birth, time with family and other Christmas traditions, but it also means hard-work. While Christmas means the end of one time of anticipation, that of Christ's birth, for us it starts a new time of pending excitement. Lambing and calving season are right around the corner at our ranch.

While the impending birth of many lambs and calves is cause for excitement, it is also the cause for a whole lot of work. First, the barns must be turned into maternity wards. The area needs to be cleaned, pens built, heat lamps must be hung, water and feed pans must be readied. Equipment such as syringes, gloves, birthing aids and towels must be found and placed where they can be accessed when needed. Keeping in mind that they will often be needed in a hurry and in a time of great stress.

Next, bedding will need to be moved into a holding area where it can easily be spread out. We lamb our ewes on wheat straw we buy from our neighbors. Sometime next week we will go buy a truckload and stack it next to our lambing jugs (oh yeah, the pens we build to lamb our ewes are called jugs). Each time a ewe and her babies are moved to the lamb pen, we will clean the jug and put new, fresh straw in it.

Finally, we will go through all of the various medicines we will need for both lambing and calving. Lambs receive a supplement in the first couple of hours after birth. It will give them a boost of energy. Our calves we give two shots that help prevent life-threatening illness. We also need to make sure we have the proper medicines to treat common ailments such as pneumonia and diarrhea. We will also make sure that we have ear tags for both the lambs and the calves. The ear tag will match their mother's and allow for us to know which lamb/calf goes with which ewe/cow.

This time of new lambs/calves on our ranch is both exciting and exhausting, and it is also my favorite. However, we have learned that prior preparation makes it much easier both on the sheep and the shepard (or the cow and the rancher). Our goal is to provide the safest, healthiest environment for our lambs and calves to be born in. Like all of my fellow farmers and ranchers, the health and well-being of my animals is always first and foremost in my thoughts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Truth About Meat

Yesterday HSUS came out with another one of their "undercover" video creations. This is a trap that they use to lure in many naive and unsuspecting people who know nothing about agriculture or modern farming practices. While they claim to be interested in the welfare of the animals, really they are just interested in the welfare of their own bank accounts.

Does it sound like I am mad? Yes, you better believe I am mad, fighting mad. What they fail to tell you is that the video they show is shot over many months (for several seconds), taken out of context and edited for peak dramatic effect. By no means, does it represent the truth about modern agriculture or the hard-working families who operate the farms producing the food.

If you want a glimpse into the truth about how pork is produced whatch this You-Tube video produced by my friend and family hog farmer Chris Chinn.

Yes, hogs grown in modern hog farms live in climate controlled barns (for all of us in winter's clutches, wouldn't a constant warm temperature be nice), they have all the advances in modern veterinary medicine to insure their health and they are fed a balanced diet formulated by PhD level nutritionists. To top that off, each hog farmer and employee must be certified in Pork Quality Assurance.

This certification insures that each person coming in contact with the hogs understands the right way to treat them. They understand how to administer medicine in a way that protects both the health of the pig and those who will later eat the meat it produces. They also understand how to handle medicines to insure that there is no cross-contamination to other swine. They understand how to move pigs in a low-stress manner and how to euthanize them ethically. Then a certification of the farm and the facilities is conducted to further guarantee compliance with industry standards that have been developed through university research. I know this because I am a certified PQA instructor.

That is why I get so upset when I see HSUS or another one of the anti-animal agriculture groups take shots at farming and ranching. These people are highly paid, political activists who don't care about you or the animals. The only thing they care about is the money they make. Take time to learn the truth, meet the men and women who work on the farms, dedicated to the production of food and the caring of animals. Then and only then will you know the complete truth about where your food comes from.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter Chores

Winter has arrived on the ranch and that means work. It doesn't mean more work because each season brings a different kind of task. I guess that is what I like about being in agriculture. It changes with the seasons and the work is never quite the same. Just about the time you get tired of doing something the season changes and the daily tasks change.

Winter brings its own set of chores and tasks. One of those chores is feeding the cows and ewes. This means knowing the nutritional value of the hay and grain I plan to feed. I need to know the energy, protein, feed value, etc... so I can develop a ration that will provide the proper nutrition for that animal given their biological needs. This takes both education and experience to blend the available feed ingredients in the right amount.

After the ration is formulated it must be fed to the cattle or sheep so that even the meekest most timid animal gets the amount they need. I unroll hay for my cows. I take an 1100 pound round bale of hay and unroll it in the pasture using hydraulic arms on my pickup bed. This spreads the hay out allowing the cows to have space. I provide plenty of bunk space for my ewes allowing them enough space to each eat the grain they require.

Feeding the animals does not just mean dumping it and leaving. I take the time to observe each animal and make sure they are not injured or sick. If one of the animals would happen to be in need of care, I would consult with our Vet and get it the necessary treatment. The health of my animals is of the utmost concern to me. I utilize the best in modern veterinary medicine, administered in a manner consistent with prescribed quality assurance programs and in the approved dose. Any animal treated will be monitored closely until they are fully healthy.

Winter chores are about being caretakers of our animals. Most of the day is spent looking after their needs. Like most of my fellow ranchers I enjoy working with animals and view it as my life's work. Winter work is not easy on the ranch, but it is just one opportunity for my fellow ranchers and myself to display our passion for animals and ulitimately for feeding the world through our hard work.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shepards and Faith

Today I thought about shepards. It was the children's Christmas program at our church and they told the story of Christmas as only children can. I love Christmas and I love the Christmas story. The story and the nativity are an important part of the season and there is one part that continually speaks to me and that is the shepard's role.

Maybe it is because I feel a connection with them, fellow ranchers. I have often wondered why God chose the shepards as the first he told about the earthly birth of his son. I can only imagine the scene. I would imagine the shepards were worried about the health and well-being of their sheep, thinking about the next pasture they were going to graze. Then all of the sudden, a bright light and angels were upon them.

But why did God chose them first? I think it is because most of us in agriculture understand that there is a God. We serve God as a care-taker here on earth. Each day we work in a world God created for us. We plant seeds and watch them grow into plants and eventually harvest them for food. We help animals come into this world, we feed them, watch them grow and eventually become the meat that provides us with protein. We do not know why plants and animals grow, why the sun shines or why rain is provided for us. We accept God's gifts and care for them.

Maybe it is because in agriculture we operate on faith. We know that God will provide for us. He will provide the rain, nutrients and sunshine to make our crops and livestock grow. That faith might be why he told the shepards first. I suppose that the shepards would accept the news of our Savior's birth on faith and not question that news. They accepted it, rejoiced in it and went to see the baby Jesus.

I am a proud producer of the food we all eat and a humble caretaker of all that has been trusted to me. I look upon the shepards in the nativity with awe and admiration, they represented agriculture in that most Holy of all events, for that I am grateful. I will go into this Christmas season with the faith borne in Christ and nourished in agriculture. For that I am thankful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Face of Modern Agriculture

This past week I read a couple of articles that blasted "big corporate" agriculture. It really hit a nerve with me. I guess a lot of it had to with the events of the past week. You see this past week I went to the funeral of a man I really admired.

Don started his journey in agriculture with six sows and a boar. He built that into one of the largest agriculture operations in our county. Yes, it is one of those "corporate" farms so heavily criticized by those who don't really understand and he was the President of that corporation. But Don was truly a great man and I really think those who rail against "corporate" agriculture should know more about his life.

First and foremost, Don was a family man. He married his high school sweetheart and they remained sweethearts for over 50 years (they celebrated that milestone this summer). The fact that he was completely devoted to her was obvious to anyone who knew them.

Then there was his children and grandchildren. All three of his kids are involved in their "corporate" farm. Yes, I guess that would make it a family "corporate" farm. I am confident that one of his greatest sources of pride was the fact that his kids farmed and ranched with him. All three are accomplished, confident professionals playing critical roles in the family business. Most importantly they shared his passion of agriculture. The grandkids were his pride and joy. The slide show at the funeral was mainly pictures of him with them. To spend time with Don was to learn more about what the grandkids were doing.

Final bit of information you should know about Don was his community involvement. He served as a state legislator, school board member and a long time member of the conservation district board of directors. That is right, the president of a "corporate" farm serving on the county conservation district board. Don took great pride in conserving the natural resources on his acres and protecting the environment.

Yes, he was a great man, a pillar in the community and most importantly a family man and yes the president of a "corporate" farm. That is why it upsets me when I hear the media, activists and others use the term corporate farm in a negative sense. The corporate farms I know of are family farms, good neighbors and most importantly, integral parts in the feeding of the world. That is why when I think of modern, corporate agriculture, I think good thoughts and see Don's face.