Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Version of a Rain Dance

We need rain, and I am worried that we are in the beginning of a drought. Why, you ask? Well last weekend I saw a turtle crossing the road, the cows were bunched up in the corner of the pasture and my daughter had a softball tournament and it didn’t rain. Each of those signs usually mean rain and all together they should add up to a gully washer, and we got nothing.
Things are starting to get desperate, and desperate times call for desperate measures. We need some rain and we need it now. But never fear, I have a plan to make it rain. However, I am going to need your help in making the precipitation come our way.
First of all, I want everyone to go out and wash your car(s) and let’s not just stop with washing them, let’s give them a wax job too. Then come home and leave the windows down, all the windows. If you own a pick-up make sure and leave either feed or seed in the back.
Leave all the windows in your house open. Better yet, make sure you leave them open and something that you cannot get wet next to them. Shampoo the carpets and mop the linoleum. Next, wash every bit of clothes you can and hang it all out on the clothes line to dry. Then we all need to leave for the day with no way to get home in a hurry.
Mow all the hay you can down, more than you possibly could bale in one day. Make sure you fix every flood gap you own or rent. Schedule the custom cutter to start on your wheat and plan to move cattle or gather them on the worst mud road you know of. The day before drive every piece of machinery you own and leave it out in the field, or at very least pull it out of the shed and leave it sitting outside.
For good measure schedule several outdoor weddings, ball tournaments and a couple of track meets on the same day. All of these events need to have no back-up plans, non-refundable deposits and no rain dates. Be sure to pre-order the food and set up the day before, for good measure.
Will this work? You know what they say about the success of a rain dance. It is all dependant on timing. Dad is always reminding me that you plant your crops and hope for the best. There are many things you can’t control in agriculture and the weather is number 1 on that list. But that does not stop any of us from worrying about it.
I know this will be hard to coordinate, but I also know that all farmers and rancher religiously watch the weather. In fact, I make it a point to watch two different weather forecasts on TV, listen to one on the radio and check three different sites on the internet and average the information. This gives me the right forecast about 10% of the time. Just last week, I drained the battery on my phone watching the rain miss us on the radar.
I also know that very soon we will be complaining about the rain. Mud will be everywhere and we will not be able to get anything done (I can’t wait). The flood gaps will be placed and replaced twice each week and the hay will get moldy. We farmers and ranchers are fickle people who are hard to please. We seem to always be complaining about too much or too little rain.
However, right now we are complaining about too little rain and, honestly, things are getting desperate. But if you follow my lead it will start raining. After all, I have an ace up my sleeve. What is it? Well, I write these columns a week ahead, so I figure by the time you read this we will all have had 3 or 4 inches of rain. If not, maybe we need to buy some camels and plant some cactus.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Last Field Trip

Did you ever have a tiger laugh at you or a chimp mock you? That is how I felt last week, as I went through the Manhattan Zoo. I think the animals were glad they were safely behind the glass and enclosures rather than out in the open with the dangerous animals like I was. This week I went with my daughter on her last field trip of her elementary school career. We had a little rain a couple of days earlier that made the decision a little more guilt free but the reality was that we had plenty of things that could be done. However, I decided I wanted to soak up one last field trip as a parent.
Why the sudden interest in field trips? Every once in a while I get a jolt that reminds me of what is important. What was that trigger? Maybe it was the events of the week or all the graduation announcements and wedding invitations we received in the mail. In any case, it was a reminder that nothing ever stays the same and that we need to cherish the time we have right now.
It seems like just last week we were packing a diaper bag and loading car seats into the car. Only yesterday I was coaching t-ball and helping the kids with their bucket calves. Suddenly my oldest is a licensed driver and my youngest is done with field trips. I can only imagine how fast the next few years will go, and I don’t want to miss anything. Soon I will be the one mailing out graduation announcements and wedding invitations.
When my children were born I promised them and I promised myself that I wouldn’t let life make me miss their events. Well, it was a nice thought, but probably not very realistic. Being an adult involves tough decisions and the reality that you can’t be everywhere or do everything. The kids understand that Dad is a farmer and that there are times I just cannot attend their events no matter how bad I might want to.
Crops need planted, cows need calved and hay needs baled at a certain time and those deadlines are not flexible. However, there are a lot of things that do allow me the flexibility to attend games, recitals, school programs and, up until last week, field trips. Too often we fall into the trap of being “too busy” when often the things we are too busy for will wait until later.
Often I find myself feeling comfortable with my life.  I trick myself into thinking my children will remain the same age and the people in my life will always be around. I fall into the trap that the “here and now” will be the “here forever”. The fact of the matter, is that the time we are living in right now will be past us in a blink of an eye. Nothing is constant in this life, except for change.
Times like this make me realize how lucky I am. Oh sure I whine about being busy and complain about how hectic it all is. But in the final analysis, I am so lucky to be involved in a family business where I work with my family every day, a business where I have freedom to make my own decisions. I am lucky to live in a community where we all care for each other, know our neighbors and have the opportunity to spend time with my kids and their friends.
I have talked to my friends who have older kids and I know this time will be gone in a flash and the extra time will leave me wondering how the years went by so fast. I also know that life can change in a flash, and I don’t want to regret anything I might not have done. Every day, every event and every moment is a blessing and one that we need to stop and enjoy. I am sorry if this column is too sappy, but once in a while we need to be reminded who good our life is, how fast it flies by and how lucky we are for each day.
The afore mentioned events and notices of last week made me realize that we need to take advantage of each day we are given. Even if that day includes driving three loud, foul-smelling boys home from baseball practice with the radio blaring. We need to go on field trips with three rowdy girls who insist on screaming and running through the zoo, disturbing the peace of the residents. So Mr. Tiger laugh all you want to, mock me if you want Ms. Chimp, I will take my chances with the dangerous animals on the outside of the glass. I wouldn’t trade these moments for anything.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day Farm Style

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day and if I had the timing down on this column I would have written it last week. But anyone who knows me also knows that timing is not one of my strengths. It is yet another cross my poor wife must bear. Jennifer should get to celebrate Mother’s Day quarterly instead of annually.
Like many farm and ranch wives, Jennifer’s day starts early. Our alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, breakfast is made, kids are awakened and we are out the door around 6:30 to do chores. After chores, Jennifer goes back into the house and gets ready for work. She and the kids are out the door by 7:30 and headed for the school.
During the day, Jennifer works at our local school. As with most farm families, we rely on her off-farm job for our health insurance. Then after a long day of work, she comes home to help on the farm, do more chores, take the kids places, prepare meals, do the laundry and clean house. The weekends only bring more places to go, farm tasks to complete and very little rest and relaxation. Top that off she has to deal with two teenagers and a grumpy husband, it’s a life I suspect many of you can identify with
Farm and ranch wives are a special class of people and my wife is one of the most special I know. She works at two jobs and makes too many sacrifices for our family. Her sacrifice is best summed up in her Mother’s Day gift request. She asked for a metal gate.
How many women ask for a metal gate for Mother’s Day? Actually her request was for several metal gates and the corresponding new fence that would go with them. She made this request this past Sunday as we fixed fence to allow the ewes to graze. The metal gate in question would replace the “temporary” wire gate to the calving pasture.
Her other request was for a crock pot with a timer. Our Saturdays are often very busy with farm related tasks. Many of these days Jennifer puts something in the crock pot so we can have a warm meal at noon. Crock pot meals are also very frequent attractions in the evening. A sit-down supper is something we try to adhere to as a family most nights.
Like most farmers and ranchers I suspect I take everything she does too much for granted. Often I am in too big of a rush to get things done. I get too wrapped up in my work and often have tunnel vision. We spend our lives rushing from one point to another.
I am sure there are a million gifts Jennifer would rather receive for Mother’s Day. Heaven knows, there are more extravagant gifts she so much deserves. Like her fellow farm and ranch wives, she makes daily sacrifices for our children and she makes daily sacrifices for me.
Mother’s Day is a pittance compared to the rewards my wife deserves. One day of relaxation and pampering is not nearly enough, and often gets put on the back burner if a crisis arises on the farm. I know it is the life she agreed to when she married me, and the sacrifices are part of our way of life. A way of life I am also very sure she wouldn’t trade for anything.
So maybe this year Jennifer will have the perfect Mother’s Day. The cows and sheep will behave themselves, she can sleep while the kids and I do chores, we can make it to church with very little stress and the perfect restaurant can be found with no waiting. A quiet afternoon, maybe with a nap can be found. Well that, and the shiny red metal gate with a bow. None of it will be enough for all she does.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cows to Pasture, Pure Relief

I should have written this column last night, but the honest truth was that I was too tired and beaten up to think. One would assume that I had a bad day. Quite the contrary, I sat in my easy chair admiring all my new bruises and feeling tired, but it was a good tired. Dad and I had successfully vaccinated and delivered the last of the cows and calves to their summer pastures.
The last week of April is one of the most hectic and stressful weeks of the year. There is just no way around it. The grass is greening up; the cows realize it and they are no longer happy to occupy their formerly comfortable winter pastures with a plentiful supply of hay. They are lured by the tantalizing green, lush grass across the fence. The rancher, on the other hand, is tired of delivering the now unappetizing hay to the ungrateful bovine who long for the lush, green grass across the meager fences. It becomes a battle of wills.
We started working the cows last week, beginning with the replacement heifers. There are few things in this world as goofy as yearling heifers. They are eager to go somewhere, but they have no idea where that somewhere is. It takes forever to work them; they each get a new ear tag and freeze brand, as well as, the obligatory vaccinations. Then it’s off to their own little corner of the ranch, until fall and their assimilation into the rest of the cowherd.
After that we start in on the older cows. They are also, sorted by age. The younger cows were the first bunch we worked. I have to admit that they were not too hard to get in and run through the chutes. I guess it was ignorant bliss about what was to come. They got to stay where we worked them, so getting them to pasture was no more than opening a gate. Few things in life are as satisfying as watching the cows and calves walk through that gate into the green grass.
The old cows were next. While most of them did not put up any kind of a fight, several were hard to catch. They were wary and cautious but eventually the lure of the alfalfa we used to bait them into the pen was too much and they gave in. I like to think they knew what was coming (the green grass, not the shots). That changed when we unloaded them and tried to get them to go into the squeeze chute. They were just jaded enough to know they didn’t want to stick their heads into the head catch but just tame enough to not move. Eventually they were persuaded to give in (after much tail twisting and name calling). Loading them on the trailer to go to pasture was much easier, I am convinced they knew where they were going then.
Finally we came to the herd of our 5 to 8 year old cows, cows in their prime. They were full of sass and vinegar and their calves were too. While they didn’t give us too much trouble, they couldn’t make things too easy either. Their calves were full of energy too; the bruises on my legs match most of their hoof prints. As the day wore on we reached a mutual agreement and they made their way onto the trailer and through the chute. Then back onto the trailer and out to pasture.
All of the sudden we were done. As Dad and I picked up the debris from the week’s work I noticed how quiet it was. All week the working facility was enveloped in a deafening din of cows checking on their calves and calves letting their mammas know where they were. Now you could hear the birds chirp and the wind rustle across the trees. The winter pasture was suddenly empty and quiet, bale feeders sat hollow and the pen once bustling with cows eager to escape seemed to be asleep.
Two times each year bring a big sense of relief and this was one of them. There are few things in this life more satisfying to me than to see my cows on pasture. Nothing is better than to open the trailer door and let them out on the new spring pasture. Some of the cows immediately duck their heads down and munch on the new grass while others hurriedly find their calves then turn to eating.
The only other feeling that is just as satisfying is in the fall when we bring them back home. That week is just as hectic and just as demanding but it is every bit as satisfying. However, I think I will just sit back and enjoy the silence and let my bruises heal for a couple of days. On second thought maybe I ought to go check them and start baling the alfalfa for next fall. Always something to do, but then again, I guess that is job security.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beef it's What's On My Table

Last week the story about a cow with BSE in California jumped into the headlines. We all know that the price of cattle went limit down and the stocks of packers went into the tank. This of course followed the controversy about “pink slime”. It seems lately that beef has been in the headlines and none of them good.
You know what my response was? I thawed steaks out and grilled them for my family. The next day we had hamburgers. Was I worried that I was feeding my family something that was not safe. Absolutely not, I know that the meat, and for that matter, all the food I feed my family is completely safe. We are so blessed to live in a nation with the safest food supply in the world, regardless of what the mainstream media would have you believe.
The local news station proclaimed that a case of “mad cow disease” was found in a dairy cow in California and that BSE “may” be linked to a similar disease in humans. They did at least go on to say that the cow never made it close to the food supply and that milk posed no threat. However, they did not go on to tell more of the facts that would have relieved more fears.
We are blessed in this country to have the best meat inspection system in the world. This cow was never close to being in the food supply. Literally, she was a needle in the haystack and the system worked, it found her. In addition to that, the meat processers have taken greater measures to make sure that none of the nervous system tissues ever make it into the product that might end up on consumer’s tables.
Am I worried about an outbreak of BSE? Again, I am sure measures have been taken to isolate the herd the cow came from and track any other cows that may have left the farm. However, this was an isolated case and the disease does appear spontaneously in some individuals (i.e. this cow). The only way the disease could be transmitted between the cows is if they ate nervous system tissues from infected cattle. Again measures have been taken to insure that no animal proteins are fed to cattle.
I know I am preaching to the choir, but this is an instance that the choir needs to be singing. World-wide, BSE has decreased to the point it is almost non-existence and in the U.S. it is extremely rare. Because it can happen spontaneously, we can never completely eliminate it. BSE is thought to be connected to a human disease but that is not proven. Our meat inspection and processing systems insure that even if BSE might be connected, it never comes close to ending up on consumer’s tables.
Then there is the issue of “pink slime”, a completely safe ground beef product that the media took exception to and shamed companies into not producing. This product was an affordable option for consumers. Never at any point was it proven to be any kind of a risk and no illnesses arose from anyone eating this product. The truth is that all hamburger is safe, no matter how it was processed.
So let’s go back to me feeding my family beef. I am very protective of my family’s health and I would never do anything that might include any kind of a health risk. The bottom line is that our food supply is the most inspected, tested and ultimately safe, food supply in the world. No if ands or buts, the food on the grocery store shelves is completely safe for your family to eat.
As a rancher, I am very proud of the meat I produce and I am no different than any of my fellow producers. We work diligently to raise healthy animals, caring for the nutritional, health and environmental needs each day for every animal. We would never put an animal of questionable health into the food supply, ever, period.
That is the message that should be carried by each of us who raise cattle. Farmers and ranchers are among the most trusted professionals and we are the perfect people to carry the banner of food safety for beef. I believe in the safety of the meat I place on the table for my family because I am a proud producer of the food we all eat.