Thursday, December 26, 2013

Thinking of the Nativity

Well, once again time has seemed to move at warp speed between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I mentioned this last week when I stopped to see my wife at the school she works at. The high school student helping her responded that she thought Christmas was earlier this year. At first I giggled and reminded her that Christmas is always on December 25th but then it occurred to me that maybe she was on to something. I bet if we take a closer look December 5th through the 12th were eliminated from this year’s calendar.
I admit it, I love Christmas. I listen to Christmas music constantly, enjoy looking at lights, relish sitting by the fire in front of our Christmas tree, but my most cherished Christmas item is my nativity set. The nativity set is one my mother made; she was an artist and specialized in hand carved, clay nativity sets. She gave them out as wedding presents and it gives me great joy and comfort to see them in my friend’s homes this time of the year.
My affinity for nativity scenes goes even deeper than fond memories of my mother. My greatest joy during this time of the year is to hear the Christmas story. Each year, when I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the commercial Christmas season I take time to read or listen to the original Christmas story and it gives me a deeper sense of calm. It reminds me that there is a deeper more spiritual meaning to Christmas.
Maybe it was all those years of being in our church’s Christmas program and actually being part of that nativity scene but I often think about what it would be like to be right there in the stable. Often when I do this I see myself as a shepherd (I know what a big stretch). I can place myself right there in their camp the evening the angel appeared.
 I picture them sitting around the campfire talking about wolves they had seen, lame sheep that needed doctoring, where the grass was the best.  They were probably making plans for what needed to be done the next day and who would do it. In my mind they are relaxing in camp, enjoying their evening meal and maybe even giving each other a hard time. Then suddenly it all changed.
A bright light appeared and an angel was in the midst of the bright light. That would certainly get your attention. I would guess that they were overwhelmed, shocked and scared. Then the angel spoke and told them of the birth of Jesus and where they could find him.
Upon hearing this they immediately gathered themselves up and left for Bethlehem. Now this was no small undertaking. Any of us involved in animal agriculture know that to leave your animals for any amount of time takes a lot of work and planning, but I think they just got up and left. This was also a huge act of faith on their part. Those sheep were all they had in the world and they left them susecptible to predators both four and two legged.
They made their way in to see the new King. They didn’t bring the lavish gifts that we are told the Magi brought Jesus. However, they also did not tip off Herrod by asking directions either. The sheepherders knew exactly where to go to find this newborn King. I know that their simple presence of my fellow sheep producers was just as appreciated as the grand entrance of the wealthy and learned wise men. I think the fact that the nativity scene contains both groups is something we can all learn from.
I am proud to be associated with the shepherds in the Christmas story. I am comforted by the idea that some of the farmers and ranchers of that day were among the very first God invited to meet his son. This Christmas Eve as I check my own flock of sheep I will look at the night sky and think of my fellow sheepherders standing over that manger in Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Then and only then, will I understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

All I Really Want for Christmas

It was a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting, well almost. Jennifer and I were sitting in the living room, Christmas tree in full light, Christmas decorations strategically displayed, outside Christmas lights on and the smell of sugar cookies wafting through the living room. I say almost like old Norm’s paintings because we were both on our laptops and the TV was on.  Lap tops and TVs two details that I don’t remember in any of his scenes and maybe that ought to tell us something.
In any case, Jennifer and I were discussing our Christmas shopping lists. We went through our kids, nieces and nephew, siblings and parents carefully deciding what gifts we should purchase. Finally, Jennifer said, “and what do you want for Christmas?” I am not sure when it happened, I said I would never be like my parents, but it happened. I honestly could not think of anything I wanted for Christmas. 
However, I was informed that I had to come up with a list, so I put my thinking cap on and compiled a list. “Tell us what you really want,” my dear, sweet bride said. After a moment, I replied, “What I really want is a few more hours in the day. Things seem to have gotten so hectic around here; I never seem to get anything done.”
“OK,” replied my better half. “I will tell the kids to get you a book on how to be more organized, maybe we could buy you a day planner and a new wall calendar so you can plan your days and hours better, then it would seem like there were more of them.” 
“Well, that wasn’t what I really meant, so let’s try something else. This will be a little less abstract and a little more concrete. You know how bitter cold it has gotten and how I spend a great deal of time chopping ice and carrying water, how about a new frost free livestock watering system?” I said with a hopeful tone in my voice.
Jennifer thought for a second, “We could buy you a top of the line automatic, frost free water system. One that would assure that you wouldn’t have to chop ice or carry water again, but I worry about you. You know you have put on quite a bit of weight and you really need to be working out more. I tell you what the kids and I will buy you two new water buckets and a new ax. How would that be?”
“Wow, do you guys really love me,” I said dripping with sarcasm, knowing she was right. “OK, I have had trouble starting the feed pickup the past couple of mornings. How about a new feed pickup? I want one with remote start, a cd player, heated seats and automatic four wheel drive.”
“You know what happened last time I bought you a nice feed truck.” My darling wife said sweetly, “that nice new, top of the line pick up is now parked in our yard, dripping oil, bumper sagging, and not wanting to start in cold weather. And do I need to remind you what the interior looks like? I buy you nice things but you and the cows just tear them up!”
Yes, dear, you are right, dear was all I could manage on that one. So there I was my Christmas list now in shambles. What was I going to do? Then it came to me like a brilliant light. “You know dear, sweetie pie, honey bunch; all I really need for Christmas is you and some mistle toe.” I said in my most endearing tone.
“Good try, but that only worked once, and that was 18 years ago and look where that got me. How about we just get you underwear and socks and forget the rest of this nonsense. Does that work for you.” The love of my life said with just a hint of sarcasm.
The truth of the matter is that you know you are old when everything you need is either impossible to buy or way outside Santa’s budget. Really, you know you have matured when what you give becomes more important to you than what you get and you enjoy watching others unwrap presents more than unwrapping them yourself. But I really would have liked more hours in the day.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gray Thursday, Black Friday.... No It's Thanksgiving!

Once in a while something sticks in my craw and annoys me to no end and that is this Christmas Shopping season. I love the Christmas Season and it seems to go by way to quickly, but sometimes I think we kind of forget what it is all about. Black Friday seems to have become somewhat of a tradition, shopping at the wee hours of the morning for those can’t miss bargains. I have to say it is not my cup of tea, I prefer to go hunting on the morning after Thanksgiving and do my Christmas shopping when the crowds thin out a bit.
I have always felt a little sorry for those who had to go in to work in the early morning hours on Black Friday. It seemed a little unfair to me that while I was in a turkey induced coma, others had to roust themselves out and go to work. Each year it seemed that one store or another would try to beat the others to the punch and open just a little earlier. Eight a.m. became six a.m. and that turned into two in the morning. Eventually we all knew what was coming next.
I think a couple of stores opened on Thanksgiving last year, however, this year it seemed like almost every store opened. The media even started to call it “Gray Thursday” and that is when they stepped on my last nerve. Listen to me close; it is not “Gray Thursday” it is Thanksgiving and it is a national holiday. You know the day we are all supposed to give thanks for the blessings in our lives, such as the families we are all supposed to spend the day with.
If I thought early morning or late night openings were a little unfair, I think making anyone work on Thanksgiving is horrendous. Of course I feel I can address this issue since I have to work on Thanksgiving most years as do others, but that is because livestock need fed, emergencies need attended to, but shopping is entirely another issue.
 I treasure Thanksgiving as a day to spend with my family, a day free of work conflicts and busy schedules. It is one of those precious few days when the world stops to take a deep breath, well, it used to be. It is like the whole Christmas shopping season has superseded the real holidays and I think that is a bad omen for our society. Truthfully, we probably started down this slippery slope several years ago and I am just a guilty as anyone.
I remember when Sundays were a day of rest and no businesses opened. Now nearly every business is open, with the exception of Hobby Lobby. While I would rather be beaten than go in that store, I do admire them for their stance. Sunday should be a family day and we have gotten away from that, and I truly believe our families are suffering because of it. Like I said, I am as guilty of shopping on Sunday as anyone.
That is why I feel the need to put my foot down on holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. All of these are days with special deeper meaning, and days meant to be spent as a family. I realize that this time of the year is important to retailers; a big portion of their annual sales comes during this time period. However, do they really need “Gray Thursday” aka Thanksgiving too? Have we all become so engrossed in the spend, spend, spend gift buying frenzy that we have forgotten why we celebrate Christmas?
I know, I am just one person and no one really cares what I think. Surely I am not alone? Don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning everyone who went shopping on Thanksgiving. I know many of my friends and family partook of the madness. But soon the six pm opening will become a noon opening and we will start shopping before the bird hits the oven. I am asking that we all hit the pause button on the madness and just take a moment or two to reflect.
If we knew this was going to be our last Thanksgiving, would we have been so eager to leave the family dinner? If we thought this might be the final holiday for a family member, would we worry so much about our shopping list? I pray that this is not the case for any of you and maybe I am being melodramatic, but I just want us to think about our priorities. Just ask yourself this one question. Is it the gifts and the material stuff or is it something else that is important during this Christmas Season?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Winter Routine

I admit it; I am a creature of habit. I like my life to have a routine, a schedule. That is why this fall has been so tough; it seems that I have spent the last three months trying to catch up to where I am normally on the calendar. However, after this week we should just about have all of the cows and calves where they go for the winter and my winter “routine” will start.
Normally, (OK so I have come to realize there is no normal in my life) harvest is done somewhere around the middle of October. That gives us a couple of weeks to prepare ourselves to bring the cows home from summer pasture. You know the usual fixing of pens and putting fence up around corn and soybean fields. Then the last week of October or the first week of November we bring the cows home and sell calves on the first Friday in November.
This year, due to the unusual growing season, we did not finish harvest until the end of October. This delayed everything else about two weeks.  Last week we sold the last of our calves about two weeks later than usual. I know we are in the same boat as everyone else and believe me I am not complaining, it has been a good year and I have appreciated the change in the weather pattern. But, I am a creature of habit.
I am sure that it will feel good to open the gate and usher the last cows out to stocks. To be honest I thing they are as anxious to get back into the winter “routine” as I am. As much as I am a creature of habit, I am sure that my cows are even more so. One morning of being a little late with their hay will bring a bovine chorus and a welcoming committee at the pasture gate.
I know I am not the only farmer or rancher type tied to a routine. I know this because I am used to meeting the neighbor’s tractor and hay processor in the road each morning. I meet the same people at the same place in the road. That is why I laugh when I hear that Daylight Savings was put in place for farmers. I don’t know of another group (except our livestock) that thinks Daylight Savings is worse idea.
That is why it will feel so good to finally get to that winter routine this week. My family tells me that I have been out of sorts the past couple of weeks, I am sure that it is because my schedule was just not normal. Although this is where I must confess that with two teenagers and their schedules, I am just not sure what a” normal” schedule and a “normal” week is supposed to be anymore.
This routine will last about a month and then lambing season will start and I will have to settle into a new routine, then calving season begins and yet another routine will need to be established. I guess the change in our daily schedules is a good thing because it keeps our lives from getting so mundane. Knowing that we will change our routines every couple of months gives us something to look forward too.
Then the added challenge of not knowing what the weather will do or how it will affect our plans ads to the intrigue of our jobs. One thing I will say is that my job is ever changing and my work conditions are never the same. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I must admit that there are days that a climate controlled office seems pretty tempting, but I have been there and I can tell you that there are more days when the pull to be outdoors is much stronger.
As much as I am looking forward to getting on with the winter feeding routine, I am just as sure I will be ready to open the pasture gate up in the spring and start that routine also. There truly is a place for each season and I enjoy each one. Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to put my coveralls on, start the feed pickup and feed my creatures of habit.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ethanol is Good

I am proud to be a farmer for many reasons; one of those reasons is because the corn I grow goes into ethanol. I have used gas blended with ethanol for many years in my vehicles and have never experienced any problems with them because of my choice of fuel. I also believe one of the greatest threats to our national security is our dependence on fuel from abroad.  I truly think we need to be developing other fuel sources so we can someday move on to a renewable fuel source, I also recognize such technology is many, many years away.
That means we will be reliant on fossil fuels for the majority of our supply, so I also think it is good that we do support ethanol.  It lessens our dependence on something we cannot control and supports our farmers at the same time, to me that is a win/ win. That is why I bristled last week when I saw a report from the AP on the dangers ethanol posed to the environment. The contention was that run off and fertilizer from increased corn production had found its way into the Gulf of Mexico and was now affecting the fisheries. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big seafood fan and anything that affects the shrimp population is a problem in my mind.
Fertilizer run off is a problem, but I really don’t think the finger should be pointed at farmers growing corn for ethanol. Those of us that grow corn value fertilizer like gold (which also seems to be the standard it is priced on) and we work very hard to minimize the amount that does leave the field. Because fertilizer is valued like gold we also soil test and only apply the amounts needed. Those who are sloppy with their fertilizer and lose most of it are soon out of business.
We have also worked very diligently on soil conservation putting in terraces, waterways and buffer strips to keep run off out of our streams and rivers. The amount of sediment leaving most fields is very, very small. Conservation measures are often mandated especially when land leaves a conservation program like CRP. That was the reporter’s next point against ethanol. Too many acres of conservation lands have been plowed under and planted to corn.
We all know that the Conservation Reserve Program was very successful in removing marginal (and some not so marginal acres from production). We also all know that this program was one that suffered greatly due to budget cuts. Many acres were not accepted back into the program or if they were it was at lower rates that made farming them more attractive.
I am a big proponent of grasslands and I must admit I cringe every time I see one of these CRP fields plowed up. I am also a proponent of making a living and if those acres are more profitable as fields of corn then so be it. If your argument against ethanol is the conversion of CRP into farmland then your real problem is with where we spend the money, i.e. conservation programs versus ethanol subsidies. On a related note, any CRP acres have had conservation measures already applied to them and therefore have lessened any run off or erosion.
We can debate the subsidies on ethanol all day. However, I really do not think ethanol or the corn used to produce it should be blamed for the problems in the Gulf. If we do have a problem with fertilizer run off in the Gulf I would probably start with looking at run off in urban areas. Many times I drive through towns and housing developments and see water running down the street and into the gutters. This run off is coming off of very green and highly fertilized lawns. My guess is that they are fertilized at a much higher level than our corn fields.
I am convinced that ethanol is both good for our environment and for our national security. I do think we need to look into the problems in the Gulf and work toward finding a solution. But let’s make sure we know where the problem is. In my mind our support of ethanol comes down to choice to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and supporting our farmers. To me that is an easy choice.