Monday, October 28, 2013

Make Mine Turkey

This week I saw the trailer for the movie “Free Birds”. At first it seemed fairly harmless, just a buddy film featuring Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson as animated turkeys trying to rescue fellow turkeys from Thanksgiving dinner. The clips showed plenty of great slap stick humor. I am sure the right amount of crude body function kid pleasing humor mixed in with just enough adult innuendo for the older crowd.  It is billed as a great family film, so why does it have me concerned?
In the trailer you have very smart, humanized, time traveling, talking turkeys plotting against very evil/dumb pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. Their goal is not just to save a few turkeys but to save all turkeys from the horror of Thanksgiving. There are also segments of the trailer where the turkeys are fighting humans in some sort of space suit in a giant factory.
Normally I am not the conspiracy theory type, but something about this trailer tripped my alarms. There were many stories about the movie’s upcoming release. A couple of the actors in the movie said it would be hard to eat turkey this Thanksgiving. Amy Poehler, the actress who voices the female lead, said that she learned a lot more about turkeys because of this film (let’s be clear, this is an animated film about time traveling, talking turkeys). Two of the lead actors are avowed vegetarians. The film’s director said it was not about vegetarianism but simple wanted us to re-think holidays.
I am not some sort of stick in the mud, kill joy but films like this one more and more blur the lines between animals and humans. Films like this portray farm animals as human like heroes who fight the evil, backwards, dirty, dumb and/ or greedy farmer. I know it is just a kid’s movie, don’t over react.
Just a generation or two ago I would have been over reacting. Most of the population would have had immediate family who made a living farming or ranching and they would have had contact with farm animals. However, that has changed and the only contact with animals that many people have are with their pets and that line is already very blurry. It is easy for them to transfer their human emotions and thinking to their pets and watching a movie like this is just the next step down the road to making animals equal to humans.
Those of us who have been around turkeys know that they are very much different from the humanized cartoon creatures featured in this movie. They are simple prey animals at the bottom of the food chain. Modern turkey farms provide their birds with comfortable climate controlled barns, with a balanced nutritional diet, free from disease and predators. They do not sit around and discuss how they might travel back in time to escape the horrors of being the main course at our Thanksgiving meal.
One blogger I read hoped that this movie would cause children to break down in tears at the sight of their family’s Thanksgiving turkey. One movie reviewer speculated that tofu would replace turkey in many homes. I fear that there might be many adults also influenced by this movie because they have no real concept about turkeys or livestock. The idea that animals and humans are on the same level is slowly permeating all levels of our society.
I know at times I sound like a broken record but I will say it again. This is why we, farmers and ranchers, need to make our farms and ranches open. We need to invite the public out or at very least tell about how we care for our animals. We need to show the public what real farm animals are like. Animals are not the smarter than human characters they have seen in movies. You scoff at the idea, but yesterday I listened to two adults have a conversation about their “kids” and it was not until one lady mentioned one of her “kids” was a terrier that I realized they were talking about dogs.
Farmers and ranchers, who make our living raising animals for meat, need to do a better job of educating the public about animals and their behaviors. I believe that animals were put on this earth for our use, but I also believe that they should be cared for, treated well and protected until they are ready for us to use. I would encourage you to watch the trailer, then have a conversation with the people around you about animal agriculture and encourage them to pass the word about how real farmers and ranchers treat their animals.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ranchers, Blizzard and Prayers

Harvest is going full bore at our farm. In fact, this column is coming to you straight from seat of the grain truck in between loads. This year I can only write a column in between loads and not a whole book like last year. It is funny just what a little rain will do; it sure makes harvest more fun.
Today was perfect, blue sky, temperatures in the 70’s and a wind blowing the dust away from me. Harvest is one of the best times of the year, that is, when things are going right. In between rains and heavy dews each morning we are making slow and steady progress each day and hopefully we will be done in time to bring the cows home in November.
Even though things are going very well for us, I can’t help but think of my fellow farmers and ranchers in South Dakota and Wyoming.  A former pastor of my church lives in Sturgis and I followed the blizzard on his Facebook page. All the time I was thinking what a horrible mess it was making of their trees and how much of a hassle and a danger it would be to get around.
It wasn’t until later in the week that I started to hear about the horrific death losses the ranchers had received because of the storm. Then I started to see the pictures and it made me sick to my stomach. I suspect most of the cattle were still on summer range far from shelter and feed. I saw pictures of animals piled up in ditches, dead along fences and heard about other wandering miles from home.
Instantly my heart went out to my fellow ranchers, I tried to put myself in their shoes and it was not a good feeling. I cannot imagine how helpless and sad they must have felt. There is nothing worse than knowing your animals are lost or suffering and then to pile on the inability to do anything about it, would be terrible.
I am also sure that just as soon as they could safely (and probably long before it was safe) travel they spent hours trying to account for, feed and save as many animals as they could. I am sure they did so without thought for their own health and safety. It must have been exhausting and awful. No one could have been prepared for such a disaster.
My thoughts then went to our detractors, groups like HSUS and PETA. These people claim to care for animals and spend a great amount of time and money advocating on behalf of animals. I wonder how many of them assisted in the searches, hauled feed through clogged roads and drifts. I am sure many sat in warm, comfortable climate controlled houses, offices and apartments and continued to pass judgment on those of us who care for animals each day.
The idea that ranchers care for their animals and feel a deep sense of loss and pain is something the “advocates” cannot fathom. They think we see our stock only as merchandise and not as living creatures under our care. I promise you this, each of those ranchers spent helpless hours and sleepless nights pacing and looking out the window at the storm.
Sure some of the pain was financial. We depend on selling beef to care for our families; there is no way around it. The wholesale losses that were seen by many ranchers will take a terrible toll on their livelihoods. In addition, years spent refining genetics and building herds were wiped out in just a few hours. That is a financial loss that is tough to take.
However, the greatest pain will be the loss of those cattle, sheep and horses. The thought that the animals lost were in their care and they could do nothing. Yes, I am sure they prepared as well as they could and I am equally as sure that they made a heroic effort after the storm. That does not ease their pain and grief.
Each of us who spend a lifetime caring for livestock feel a great sense of responsibility for them, even when we know events our out of our hands. While their end purpose may be food, we work hard to insure their comfort and safety while we have them. Please, join with me a keep the farmers and ranchers affected by this storm in your thoughts and prayers.

Friday, October 11, 2013

God Watches Over Farmers and Fools (at least this one)

I have always thought that God watches over fools and farmers. Why do I think this? Well, mainly because I am both and the Good Lord certainly watches over me. I am often reminded of it and this past Monday was a great, shining example.
Mondays are always a little rough, but this past one was a doozy. Oh it all started innocently enough. I left home ready to meet the world and dive head long into a busy week of harvest. Life was good and about to get better. I was about half way between my house and Dad’s when I realized I had left the mail on the table.
You see the last thing I heard as my wife left for work was “Don’t forget to put the bills in the mail.” What me forget? How dare you suggest I would forget something that important? So there I was making a u-turn and back tracking my way home. First I thought I ought to call Dad to tell him I was going to be just a little bit later than I had originally planned.
That was about the time the whole day went downhill. Dad informed me to hurry up because I had a flat tire to change on one of the trucks. It just so happened to be the truck that was full of grain. We had filled the truck up with grain and parked it in the shed Friday night. Saturday it rained, harvest was delayed and I decided to wait until Monday to take the load into Wamego.
It must be noted that this would be the same Wamego that was hosting Oztoberfest. Don’t get me wrong, I think Oztoberfest is a wonderful event. It brings many people and dollars to Wamego but it is a great celebration complete with a closed main street, yard sales and crowds. All good things, unless, you are trying to navigate a grain truck across said town.
That leads us back to that fateful Monday morning. I dropped the mail safely into the receptacle in town and on to the flat tire. We wrestled the tire off and delivered it to COOP. Much to our consternation and disbelief a hole could not be found in said tire. It was decided to put a new valve core in it and return it to its rightful place on the left front of our fully loaded GMC grain truck.
Tightening the lug nuts involved starting the truck and applying the brake. During this process we heard a mysterious pop and soon noticed fluid dripping from many places and forming puddles under the truck. A quick check and the offending power steering/ brake line was indentified. This discovery and turn of events rendered the truck out of commission and the day that started so promising had turned into a disappointment.
Much grumbling and kicking of the dirt ensued. More than once my decision not to take the load in on Saturday was discussed. Our luck seemed to be running low. That was until we thought the situation through. Had I taken the load in, I would have driven through the middle of the Oztoberfest crowd. Would the tire have gone flat or would the brake line have ruptured? Who knows, but they might have.
In retrospect maybe my Monday wasn’t so bad. The best place to have a flat tire on the left front of your fully loaded grain truck is in the shed as is the best place to have a brake line rupture.  The tire has stayed inflated, a new brake line was found and harvest carried on. I guess maybe it was a good day after all.
Finally, on a related note to the person who followed me up that steep hill so closely that I could only see your driver’s side mirror. I appreciate it but you do not need to stop me if the transmission should fail and I would start to roll back down the hill. I am both a fool and a farmer and God will make sure I am safe on both counts.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts From My Birthday

Today is my birthday. Not too many years ago that would have been written with an exclamation point. Isn’t it funny how when we were young our birthdays were second only to Christmas, then as we get older it fades away into just another day. Oh sure, there are important birthdays like 16 (well now 17) when you get your driver’s license, 18 and adulthood, 21 even more adult privileges, 30 and the last of your insurance breaks. I suppose all of those birthdays that end in a zero are also important milestones but really all of the important birthdays end at 30.
I remember what birthdays were like as a kid. All of the anticipation of what you might get for a present, what kind of cake you wanted and most importantly what treat you were going to take to school. Yes, I grew up in the days of taking candy or some other sugary treat for your birthday. That practice that is now frowned upon in some schools and classrooms because of the health implications and the policy in those places is strictly enforced by the fun police. For the record, my candy of choice was M&Ms, they were plain because I think I pre-date the peanut variety.
The cake was another difficult decision. There were so many choices and only one time that I got to pick. I think I almost always went with the chocolate variety.  Mom wasn’t much on decorating or frosting cakes, but for this special occasion she made frosting and decorated. OK, so the decorations on every birthday cake at our house were the same plastic circus train, I am not sure where it came from but it made two appearances a year at our house.
We also got to pick our birthday dinner and that was not nearly such a hard choice. In my early childhood it was my Mom’s homemade pizza. She made pizza with square corners long before Little Caesars. It was out of necessity because Mom made her pizza on a cookie sheet. As I got older, I got worldlier and changed my request to steak. By the way, my standing birthday dinner order remains steak to this day.
Birthday parties weren’t an expectation at our house when I was growing up. My birthday is the end of September and my sister’s is the middle of October. You learn early as a farm kid that the farm always has the priority. I only had one party and it came to a screeching halt (pun intended) when I ran over my friend Gus with my bicycle (no brakes and a game of tag is not a good idea). Later on Mom admitted that she was not too keen on the idea of a birthday party and the bicycle incident only re-enforced that idea (a concept I fully understood after hosting birthday parties for my kids). Our birthday celebrations were usually quick dinners wedged in during harvest or wheat drilling.
I left the whole birthday present thing until last. Honestly, I can’t remember a single thing that I got for my birthday. Don’t worry, we always got a present and it was usually something fun that we had asked for, but I really don’t recall exactly what any of the presents were. All I remember was that it was my day and I was the only one who got presents. I do know that we only got one present from Mom and Dad and we appreciated it.
Fast forward to the present day, my birthday is still a really good day. My daughter got up early to cook breakfast for me and plans on baking a birthday cake for me later on. I am sure my wife is planning a steak dinner for this evening and I got a couple of great meaningful gifts. But to be honest, the best gift I could get today would be to start harvest. Sometimes I hate being an adult.
Maybe it is sad that our birthday goes from being one of the two or three best days of the year to just another day. Sure, every ten years is that “special” birthday when everyone pokes fun at your age and make sure the whole world knows how old you are. I guess in retrospect while birthdays may not be such a big deal when you get to be an adult, they are still important. After all it is a day to reflect on all the good memories and blessings in our lives that came in the past year. It is also a day to look forward and wonder what the next 364 days might hold.