Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blessed and Grumpy

My family tells me I have been a bit grumpy lately. At first I denied it, and I admit, rather loudly denied it. I wasn’t grumpy, maybe annoyed, maybe testy but definitely grumpy. Then I admitted it. OK, so the fact that the dogs wouldn’t look at me, the cats avoided me and I found myself alone was a clue. Yes, the first thing to do when you have a problem is to admit it. I was grumpy.
Why would a guy with as a life as great as mine be grumpy? Well, I do get a little testy around this time of the year. You may wonder how anybody could get grumpy this time of the year, with spring springing into action. That is all part of the problem. Spring has sprung and along with it a growing list of things that need to be done and done right now. The days may be growing longer but the time is getting shorter.
The fences need mended, cows need vaccinated, lambs need weaned, crops need planted and hay needs to be baled and all need to be done in a timely manner. Most of it needs to be done by tomorrow or before. So I guess I have had a little on my mind. Now, I know this is not a good reason to be grumpy, but I guess I couldn’t help myself.
That was all before today. We started planting corn today and my stress level started going down. Sounds kind of wrong, doesn’t it. I am not sure if I can explain it but, the smell of the newly planted fields and the feel of the earth beneath my feet as I walked across it suddenly put everything into perspective. I guess there is something therapeutically appealing about pouring seed into the planter.
Today, while I watched the tractor and planter roll through the fields, I realized that I am a lucky man. The hills and prairie around me is incredibly beautiful. Newly burned pastures are transforming from black to a fuzzy green. The trees are in different stages of leafing out. Some are in full foliage and others have a green haze to them. The dogwood, redbud and plum bushes add color to the draws. The creeks are gurgling with water and warm winds carry spring across the landscape.
The farmland is a patchwork of newly tilled fields, last year’s brown crop stubble and the lush green growth wheat fields. The air is filled with calls of birds from bobwhites to the rumbling gobble of turkeys. Blooms of all kinds fill the breezes with a heavy perfume. All of this is almost too much to take in.
That was when I realized just how good I have it. All of my life I wanted to farm and ranch and here I am. My office has no walls, my office chair is the well-worn seat of my pickup and the d├ęcor on the walls is incredible. I work with my family each day on land that we have owned for over 100 years. I get to see new calves and lambs born and crops grow. Sure, life is a bit hectic right now but that is all part of the life I have chosen.
I know we all have those times in our lives where we are stressed and growl and snarl at those around us. I am equally as sure that during those times we should take a step back, inhale deeply and think about our lives. We need to take stock in all the good things around us. We need to count the many blessings in our lives.
Yes, I am a blessed man and certainly should not be grumpy. After all, I live in the greatest nation on this earth, I have the freedom to pursue the life of my choice and I get to help feed the world. More importantly than all of that I have a family who loves me, no matter how grumpy I might get.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Cow's Names

It was truly “one of those days”. Oh the day started out pretty good, but early that afternoon it deteriorated rather quickly. Jennifer and I love to share our ranch with kids and we had a Girl Scout troop arriving at 6:30 that evening. No problem, I had plenty of time to get ready for them, or so I thought.

As I made my way home, the brakes on my pickup started to squeal. Did I mention that they were newly fixed brakes? I was lucky in the fact the brake malfunction happened in Westmoreland. I limped my way into the school parking lot and caught a ride home with Jennifer. It was still not a bad day, I was sure the dealership would stand the cost of the repair and I was going to get to show the ranch off.

However, as we turned the corner to the homestead, my blood pressure started to rise. The bull pen was empty and there was a large, flattened stretch of fence signaling that they were out. Immediately I renamed both of them and started to blame the ewes (who were also out) for shorting out the fence.

I still had two hours before the Girl Scouts arrived, so I set out to bring home the wayward bovine. They weren’t too hard to find, since they were with the cows. I sorted one off and tried to drive him home. Of course he would have none of that. After two times, I decided to drive the whole herd in. That idea worked really well for about half the trip.

Notice I said half the trip. As we got closer to the pens more and more cows and their calves dropped out. I tried to keep the main herd together but it they soon dispersed faster than I could gather them. Once again the bulls and the cows got new names. It was less than a half an hour before the Girl Scouts arrived and I was really glad they weren’t early. They probably didn’t need to learn the names I had given my cattle.

On the way back to the barn I came across two mamma cows with two new calves. One of the old cows took one look at me and headed for the timber with her calf in tow. She got a new, even more special name. The other cow was one that Isaac had shown and just looked at me for approval. Instead of admiring her new calf I thought “Oh great two new calves and the Girl Scouts will be here in 20 minutes.

I got back to the house and Jennifer and Tatum were saddling the horses. I pointed out that we did not have time to go round up the bulls. Jennifer told me that she was not saddling the horses for me, but for the cute, appreciative Girl Scouts who would be arriving in just a few minutes. Not the grumpy, scowling old man who had falsely blamed the innocent ewes.

Jennifer had to go pick Isaac up from track practice and Tatum and I went to tag Belle’s calf (yes, she was the only cow that had a polite name). The heifer calf was easily tagged while Belle licked my arm. We paused ever so briefly to admire the new little calf. Tatum and I went back to the house to wait on our visitors, ten minutes and the caravan would arrive. In my head I mulled the wisdom of my recent career decision.

Soon the Girl Scouts arrived, buzzing with excitement and eagerly looked at the animals. Killer and Jack got more attention in five minutes than they had gotten in the past six months. The girls fawned over the baby lambs and giggled when Jr., the bucket calf, chewed on their fingers. But they really squealed when we told them they were going to get to ride Ace and Yeller. During the wait to ride the horses I got to talk to the girls about ranching, farming and where their food came from.

I once read some research that said farmers and ranchers are among the most trusted professions. We need to use this trust to reach out to our consumers and tell them what we do and why we do it. People need to understand where their food comes from, especially our youth. Groups who would like to end our way of life are reaching out to school age kids and that means we must make the same effort. That is why Jennifer and I like to have kids out to our farm. I also find sharing agriculture helps me remember why I chose it as a profession. This day was no different.

Soon all of the stress from just a couple of hours earlier started to melt away. My blood pressure started to return to normal and it was apparent that all was not lost. Tomorrow, the sun would come up and everything would be fine. Meanwhile, the girls pelted me with questions; I tried to answer each of their questions. What did we feed the lambs, when were the calves born and how old were our horses. The question that really got me was when one of the Girl Scouts asked me if my cows had names.” Yes”, I said, “but I right now I can’t remember what they are.”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Responsible Farmning

I am fairly slow to anger, and it takes quite a bit to light my fuse. But an ad on the radio really lit it earlier this week. The ad was for a local grocery store that specializes in organic foods. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with my fellow producers who chose to produce organic crops. It is an excellent business model, a good way to add value and a lot of work. However, this grocery store ad stated that their food was grown in a responsible manner.

The use of the word responsible is what got under my skin. I was hot, dirty and tired from walking pasture fence all day. I have to admit, I felt like a very responsible rancher. However, the rest of the drive home I started thinking about all the responsibilities I have as a producer of the food we all eat.

First, I am responsible to the animals I raise. Do not misunderstand me, the animals I raise are for food, but that does not limit my responsibility to them. I provide my animals the highest quality feeds in the right amounts. This is done through a combination of the education I received and experience. All of my animals are proved a well balanced diet and in the right proportions. Yes, my animals are fed gmo crops raised with modern, safe agriculture herbicides. These crops provide a safe, abundant food supply for my animals and I am proud to use it.

I also have a responsibility to provide them with the best care I possibly can. This means I spend many hours caring for them, in all weather conditions. If they require treatment for a medical condition I provide it. If they require more care than I can provide, I call my veterinarian. Because I feel a responsibility to my animals, I do not hesitate to utilize the best in modern anti-biotics. I cannot stand to watch my animals suffer needlessly if the proper medicine is available.

However, those anti-biotics are seldom used on our farm. We pay close attention to preventative measures and rarely have to treat sick animals. Often the anti-biotics we stock expire and we have to dispose of them rather than use them. Proper animal husbandry prevents many ailments, but if like humans, they do get sick in spite of the best care. In those rare cases I will do what it takes to help heal them.

The next responsibility I have is to the consumers of the food I produce. I am responsible to produce a safe, wholesome product and that is exactly what I do. I feed my family the same food I sell to your family. I would never even consider raising a crop or animal that I had any doubts about being safe to eat.

I also feel a sense of responsibility to produce as much food as I can with the land and livestock I have been blessed to oversee. Farmers and ranchers are dwindling population charged with producing more food with fewer acres for a rapidly growing world population. To do this we must utilize the best in innovations in agricultural science, tools like gmo crops, herbicides and fertilizers allow us to produce more food on those decreasing acres of farmland.

Finally, I feel a sense of responsibility to my family. I am responsible to the generations who have farmed the land before I came along. They weathered tough times and passed the land and the love of agriculture to me. They did the best they could with the technology they had to take care of the land. It is now my duty, my responsibility to utilize the advantages I have been given.

We have learned how to use methods such as no-till to save the top soil. We couldn’t plant our crops no-till without gmo crops and herbicides. We continue make strides toward using less herbicide and fertilizer while producing more grain each year. This will leave the land in better shape for another group I am responsible too, future generations of Ag producers.

This is a very short list of the things and people I am responsible too as an Ag producer. I know my fellow farmers and ranchers feel the same way. The idea that, because we utilize the best in modern technology available to us does not make us responsible producers of food is not right. I believe that most of the farmers and ranchers I know are producing food in a manner that is responsible to the consumer, the livestock they own and the land they utilize. So go to Dillons, Hy-Vee or any other supermarket and rest assure, the food you buy was raised in a responsible manner.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Thank You Dr. Good

Dr. Don Good, Kansas State University Animal Science Professor Emeritus, passed away not long ago. I must admit that the week of his passing I sat down to dedicate a column to him. Try as hard as I might, I could not make the right ideas come through my keyboard. I had many thoughts but struggled to put them in any order. Then this week they became clear.

We often hold up celebrities and glorify those who entertain us without spending much time reflecting on those who made a real difference in the world around them. Dr. Good spent a lifetime improving our lives and touching all of those he came in contact with. He truly was a legend in the livestock business and all of us who had the opportunity to meet him experienced something special.

Everyone who has come into the livestock industry in the past half century has been touched by Dr. Good’s influence and teachings. Many of the leaders in the production of animal proteins came through the halls of Kansas State University and most sat in his classroom. If you ate a steak at a high end steakhouse or consumed a burger at the burger shack down the road, you were touched by Dr. Good’s work.

Dr. Good was a retired when I entered Weber Hall. However, he was in his office nearly every day. At a time in his life that he could have chosen to ride off into the sunset, he instead, chose to come to work. I remember him walking down the hall and taking the time to talk to each student along the way. He remembered each of us by name and took time to say something positive each time we passed. If Dr. Good couldn’t make you feel good about yourself, no one else could. He was a Grandfatherly figure with kind eyes, a warm smile and time for everyone.

I remember the first day of livestock judging practice. Dr. Calvin Drake led us up and down the halls of Weber showing us the livestock judging teams of the past, many of whom were coached by Dr. Good. Many of the leaders in the livestock industry were in those pictures. The tour ended in front of the picture of Conoco, the first crossbred steer to win a national show. Dr. Good made that earth shaking decision. When Dr. Drake finished, I am quite sure we all aspired to be just like Dr. Good.

For us to live our life like Dr. Good is a great goal. If we all set our sights to be more like Dr. Good this world would be a much better one. In addition to being one of the great leaders in his chosen field, Dr. Good was a truly good man with a great passion for teaching and serving others. We all hope to leave this world a better place, and Dr. Good certainly did that.

My favorite memory of Dr. Good came when I was an Extension Agent. The Pottawatomie County Livestock Judging Team earned the honor of representing Kansas at the Denver Stock Show. In the months leading up to the contest, I arranged practices for the team. I contacted Craig Good about coming to Good Farms. Craig graciously agreed to host us and asked if it was OK if his Dad was there.

Let me set the stage for those of you not familiar with the world of livestock judging. This would be something along the line of Dean Smith attending your basketball practice or Albert Einstein helping you prepare for the science fair. I am not sure if Craig even finished his sentence before I fell all over myself accepting his offer.

The day of the practice I spent the van ride explaining the significance of Dr. Good’s presence to the kids. I gave them a version of the talk Dr. Drake had given us at K-State. While I am not completely sure of what I told the team, I do remember one statement. I stated that this opportunity may not mean much to them right at that moment, but some day it would. Don’t get me wrong, the five 4-Hers on that team were tremendous young people but I wasn’t sure the importance of the impending practice had occurred to them.

The practice was great and we got an incredible amount of work done, but that wasn’t the best part of the day. After practice, Craig and Amy invited us into their house for snacks. During that time Dr. Good spoke to the kids about the livestock and life. It was one of the most meaningful and memorable hours of my life, and I can only hope it touched the kids as much as it did me.

When I heard of Dr. Good’s passing my thoughts went back to that day. What I wouldn’t give to spend another hour sitting and taking in his observations on life and livestock. He was a truly great man, an example of a life well spent and how to make a difference with the one life we are each given. For that I am very thankful.