Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lambing the Right Way

My overalls and coat are hung by the door, the barn is illuminated with heat lamps and a warm bed of straw is spread out. It must be lambing season. The time of the year that begins with a check at 5:30 am and ends with another at 10:00 pm (or midnight depending on the maternity ward). It is a hectic time of the year and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Well, that is as long as everything is going OK.
As much as I like lambing season I also know that at some point things will become stressful. I really don’t like stress.  Stress during this time of the year comes in many forms, but most often it is due an animal health related crisis. Yes, even with the utmost precautions and preparations, animal illness will still occur. That is why I am glad I have all of the best medicine that veterinary science can provide me.
That is also why the recent arguments over the use of antibiotics in livestock have made me so mad. I cannot imagine going into a lambing or calving season without antibiotics in my arsenal. I cannot imagine how helpless it would feel to watch a calf or a lamb die because I could not treat it, especially knowing that the medicine to treat it does exist.
Like many of my fellow farmers and ranchers I believe that I have a duty to provide the best care possible to the livestock in my care. I believe that it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to keep them healthy and to nurse them back to health when they become ill. Don’t get me wrong, we do our best to make sure they do not become sick. However, when they do, I want to know I have done all I can do.
We have also heard all of the concerns of the public about antibiotics in livestock and whether they create resistance issues in human medicine. First of all, I am just as concerned about the safety of the food I produce as anyone. The food I produce is the same food I feed my family and I would never do anything to jeopardize their safety. Second, I follow all of the withdrawal periods and other precautions when using antibiotics. I have the utmost confidence that the meat I produce does not contribute to the antibiotic resistant viruses that we are seeing.
I also find it quite interesting that in this time of focusing on the well-being of animals that we are even considering limiting or eliminating the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. To eliminate the use of these safe and effective medicines would only lead to needless suffering of animals that would otherwise be saved. As a rancher I cannot stand for anything that leads to an increase in suffering.
Is there abuse? Are there producers who don’t follow the rules and overuse antibiotics? I am sure there are, but I assure you that they are a very, very small minority. I am as mad about their abuse as anyone. We must find ways to make them accountable, but I am also just as sure that removing safe, necessary antibiotics is not the answer.
As producers what should we do? We need to tell our story to everyone who will listen. We also need to open our operations to the public and allow them to see that we do care about our animals and we care just as much about producing a safe product for our consumers.  We need to help eliminate the disconnect between Ag producers and consumers. I truly believe that most of the public want to trust us and will trust us when we do a better job of communicating with them. We are doing things right and we produce a wholesome, safe product.
I am going into this lambing season with the hope that my animals will continue to be healthy. I will continue to maintain sanitation and nutritional standards to insure that my animals will be in the best health they can be in. I will carry on a constant vigilance watching for any changes in their health. However, I will also be confident that if they become ill I will provide the best care with the best medicine possible. That is why I am a proud producer of the food we all eat.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Global Warming Leaves Me Cold

Each morning one of the first things I do is to start the coffee pot. I admit it; I am addicted to my coffee first thing in the morning. I find few things as satisfying as that first cup of coffee, watching the morning news while next to the woodstove. Well, unless it is my third cup of coffee next to the woodstove after morning chores. In any case, here lately I have found it hard to pull myself away from the woodstove and coffee to go outside into the cold air.

That is why I scratch my head when I hear people talk about global warming, I mean climate change. I understand that last year was one of, if not the warmest (depending on who you read) year on record. I really don’t doubt that, facts and figures don’t lie. I know last summer was beastly hot and last winter was unusually warm. However, I am not sure I really believe that, we humans can really change the climate of our planet. I know that temperatures and precipitation patterns have changed and fluxuated as long as we have records.

I will not get into an argument about climate change; my opinion really will not do anything to add to the conversation. Although from my earlier comments, you probably know where I stand. All I know for sure is that this past month when I step out into the sharp winter wind, it is really hard to believe that our planet is warming. People with PhDs may tell us we are getting warmer but my toes beg to differ.

I have heard “environmental groups” pontificate about the evils of cows. They make claims that the methane gas produced by my bovine in the process of turning grass into beef adds to the greenhouse gases. Again, I doubt that it really has any effect global temperature, but I am pretty sure my cows were hoping it was true while they stand huddled against the wind. On a related note, they have requested beans and broccoli instead of hay.

I don’t know anything about the polar ice cap, but the reduction of the ice bergs in my stock tanks would be a welcome sight. I hear the ice caps are retreating, well, I found out where they retreated to. The ice in the horse tank alone would sink the Titanic. I know tank heaters would take care of the problem. However, that would take electricity and my electricity is coal powered, so by not using tank heaters I am both reducing emissions and cooling the environment on two fronts.

OK, I know this cold front will pass also and soon it will be the dog days of summer. Temperatures will hit the triple digits and talk about climate change will hit high gear again. To be honest, I really have no idea what will happen with temperatures next week, let alone in the next ten years. While I do not know how warm it may get, I do know that we, farmers and ranchers, will adapt to the changing conditions to produce the food and fiber we all need.

New technology will be developed to help us produce more food, no matter what the conditions. We will adapt our production methods to utilize the climate we are given. We will work to conserve the water and soil we depend on. There are many highly educated intellectual types researching and discussing climate change, but there are just as many brilliant people developing new production methods.  We, farmers and ranchers, will take those developments and they will help us adapt to an ever changing climate whether natural or human-aided.

While I do not know much about climate change and the reasons for the previously mentioned changes, I do know one thing. As farmers and ranchers we have continually adapted and changed to steadily produce more food for an ever growing population. However, just in case the predictions of continued increases in temperatures are right and the polar ice caps do melt and the ocean levels do rise, I am prepared to make you a great deal on some future ocean front property just outside of Westmoreland, Kansas.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Winter Chores

I guess it is official, the holiday season is over. How do I know? Well, the Christmas tree is packed up, my calendar is new and my clothes seem to have shrunk. I don’t know what happens in November and December but somehow those two months make my clothes shrink. There couldn’t be any other explanation for it.
So now the holidays are over and winter has set in. I have heard that this is the time of the year causes a spike in depression. It makes sense, you mix in a letdown after the holidays, less sunshine and the winter blahs and it can get a person down. That may be true for some but not me, I love the routine of winter chores. Do you think I am crazy? Well, probably so, but I do have sound reasoning (at least in my mind).
I admit it is a little hard to pull myself away from my morning coffee, put on the coveralls and take that first step out into the sharp winter air. However, after the initial jolt, the cold air is really refreshing; it clears your head and gets the blood moving. Winter mornings have a special stillness that makes the world seem more at peace. The stillness is permeated with the crunch, crunch of your footsteps in the snow.
Those crunching footsteps bring the barnyard to life and soon the livestock are breaking the stillness with their anticipation of feed to come. Animals wait, steam coming off of their coats and out of their mouths.  There is something therapeutic about feeding livestock in the winter. I am not sure if it is the satisfaction of knowing the livestock in your care are well cared for and fed or just the relief of having all the feeders full, but it is something I enjoy.
Finally, there are few feelings as good as walking into the house, after a long morning of winter chores, only to step up next to the wood stove with a hot cup of coffee. Nothing feels better than wood heat on a frosty morning. That is why I enjoy my chosen profession. Of course, the other reason I enjoy my chosen profession is because in due time I know this will all change.
Soon the awe of winter will turn into the *^$(*%# of winter. Give me a couple of dead batteries, a tractor that won’t start and a couple of inches of mud and the winter wonderland won’t be so wondrous. The tickle of the sharp winter air will turn into a slap and the still mornings will give way to a howling wind. My livestock that seemed so grateful will soon turn to needy beggars with insatiable appetites. Those feeders will never be full.
I guess what I am trying to say (in my round-about, wordy way) is that the changing of seasons is one of the things I really enjoy about agriculture. We are either enjoying a new season of the year or anticipating the next season to come. We know each season has good and bad. Winter brings snow, crisp air and a slower pace, but it also has frozen pipes, balky equipment and frozen feet. Summer has growing crops, cool evenings and window down driving but along with that are scorching days, dusty winds and hot steering wheels.
I would guess the diversity of working conditions and the challenges each season brings is one of the things that attract most of us to farming and ranching. We could work in a climate controlled office, but that is not who we are. We find something satisfying about facing the elements each day to do a job that demands our attention each day, regardless of the conditions.
I look forward to each season and winter is no different. Well, as long as I have a supply of wood for my stove, coffee and insulated boots, winter will continue to be a great season. At least it will be for another week or two. I will enjoy winter chores (for now) and look forward to lambing and calving season with anticipation. Then it will be time for the warm winds of spring.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 Was Good, 2013 Will Be Better!

Wow, 2013 already, guess I am going to have to break out the new calendar. I am not sure I am ready for the New Year yet. Although I am sure that I will hang on to 2012 a little while longer, at least that is what my checks will say. I have to admit, 2012 was kind of a rough year in some ways, but it will always go down as one of the best years of my life.
OK, so how could a year that was over 11 inches short of rainfall go down as one of the best in my life? How could a year with no snow, dry ponds, short pastures and a blistering summer go down as a good year? Well, I guess it is all according to your perspective. I know this was not a great year for crops or livestock alike, and the drought shows no sign of breaking, things might look kind of bleak. Not where I am standing.
One thing that I have noticed about us “ag types” is that we live with the undying confidence that no matter how bad this year was next year will be better. I look into next year knowing that the weather I am facing is no different than some of the years my father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great, great-grandfather have faced. It gives me hope to know that they made it through those years and the weather eventually changed. Maybe 2013 will be that year.
I also go forth into the New Year with the knowledge that because of the improved crop genetics and improved farming methods, we will most likely raise a crop. It was not that many years ago that we would not have harvested any crops in a year like 2012. We go into 2013 knowing that crop genetics are even better and we can raise more grain with less water.
Most of all I go into 2013 knowing that I will be doing what I have always wanted to do and that knowledge is what made 2012 one of the best years of my life. I was blessed enough to be able to farm and ranch full-time. Each morning I woke up knowing that I was following my dream. I left the house each day to take part in my chosen occupation, one that really a way of life.
I went to work each morning breathing clean air, looking out on the Flint Hills and working with my family.  I was farming land that my family had farmed for over 100 years. From calving, lambing and planting in the spring, to haying in the summer and weaning and harvest in the fall, each day was a great one. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a year of my life.
So here I am looking at 2013 with the knowledge that I will get to be employed doing something I have a passion for. My wish for each of you would be to find your passion and make that what you do to earn a living. If you do that, your life will be more rewarding, I speak from experience. Life is too short to not be happy.
What does 2013 bring? Who knows? Will it rain? The professionals say we have equal chances of floods or droughts. However, in the words of a wise old man, “there is nothing we can do about it so why worry”. I do know that there will be many challenges, some really good days and a few not so good days. I know there will be plans that come together and things that work right, I also know that other things will not go as planned.
I truly hope 2013 brings rain, great yields, high prices, big calves and tall grass, but if it doesn’t that will be OK too. I know that next December I will still be here and still have the hope that the next year will be better.  Those of us in agriculture live with an eternal optimism that keeps us planting crops and raising livestock each year.
I hope that 2013 will be a good year for each of you. I hope you find peace and happiness. I hope you are surrounded by family and friends. I was blessed enough to find all of these this past year.  That, my friends, was why 2012 was one of the best years of my life and why I am so hopeful for 2013.