Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jim Hildebrand, DVM and Great Man

This week marked a monumental, life changing event for me. No, I didn’t have a birthday, neither of my kids graduated and I did not change jobs. Dr. Jim Hildebrand, DVM, retired. Dr. Hildebrand was my vet, or more specifically my animals’ vet. Oh sure, we had used other vets, when Doc was fishing or otherwise detained, but that was a very, very rare event.  He is right at the top of my speed dial list.
To say that I had a long standing doctor/client relationship with Dr. Hildebrand would be an understatement. Jim and Callie moved to Wamego when I was two or three and my parents quickly became friends with the Hildebrands. Their son Gus and I were the same age and he was one of my oldest and best friends. We also went to church together, and  I am absolutely certain some of the older members of our church went to their graves not knowing for sure which one of us was which.
Many of my earliest 4-H memories include Jim. He had a gentle, comforting way of breaking the worst news in the kindest way. Little things like don’t give your Grand Champion rabbit penicillin because rabbits are deathly allergic (advise we should have sought out before the shot). Over the years he helped my 4-H projects overcome everything from warts to chronic bloating. I learned a lot about animal health and husbandry from him.
He, Gus, Dad and I spent many afternoons hunting or fishing and those were some of my greatest outdoor memories. Did I mention how patient Doc is? When Gus and I were in our early teens he decided to teach us how to fly fish. Teaching a teenage boy anything is difficult and teaching them how to fly fish should get you sainted. His success rate was 50% on that endeavor, Gus ended up being an avid fly fisherman and I got good at untangling knots.
My junior year of high school I acquired a bird dog. I was so proud of Dot that I took her everywhere with me. Then, suddenly she got sick. I made a frantic call to Dr. Hildebrand and took the comatose body of my puppy to him. He reassured me that he would do all he could and kept her at the clinic. The next morning he called me to tell me that she had made it through the night and might survive. She did survive and lived to the ripe old age of thirteen. Dr. Hildebrand was my hero.
Remember how I said he had a way of reassuring you and making everything seem OK. Well, there was one phone call that was different. The night he called me to tell me Gus had passed away and asked me to be a pallbearer was hard on both of us. Even then he and Callie helped all of us close to Gus deal with a loss like we had never experienced and move on with grace and dignity.
As a young rancher Jim helped me understand how to take care of my animals. No matter how frantic or stupid (most often both at the same time) my questions were, he gave me the answer using the wisdom of a country vet who had seen it all. Jim knew when to keep trying with a sick animal and when to show them mercy.
In recent years, my kids have leaned on Dr. Hildebrand for their 4-H projects and corresponding emergencies. He has guided them through broken legs, prolapses, nutritional issues and various other maladies that befall pampered 4-H show animals. He passed along bad news and good news in the same calm, soothing manner.
He has even inspired my son, Isaac, to want to be a vet. Isaac has spent many hours over the years working on vet science projects for 4-H with Dr. Hildebrand. Dr. Hildebrand always took just a little extra time to show Isaac what he was doing and how to do it. I am sure Isaac will be a big animal vet just like Jim; however, we are probably still 10 years or so away from that day.
Dr. Hildebrand has more than earned the right to spend his days doing anything but roping cows out of the back of pickups and delivering their calves out in the pasture. Maybe he will even have the time to re-teach a 40 something the fine art of fly fishing. I am sure the patient is still there and I am also sure the kind, down-to-earth advice is still there when I need it.  However, in the meantime I just have to figure out what I am going to do for veterinary emergencies between now and Isaac’s graduation.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Short Sheep and Teenagers

Today was the kiddy barnyard for our local FFA chapter and my son had volunteered to bring some of his sheep in for the day. He has an ever growing flock of Southdown ewes and is very proud of them and enjoys showing them off anytime he can. Isaac also likes to share his love of agriculture with anyone who will listen, for that I am very proud of him. Therefore I did not mind taking time out of what is a very busy spring schedule to haul his sheep in.
Fortunately his baseball season had ended Monday meaning no practice Tuesday night. That morning I informed him that after school he was to come home and get everything ready. My mistaken notion was that an evening of preparation would make the morning of the event much less painful. I have been a parent of a teenager for six plus years now; you would have thought I would have known better.
First thing on the agenda Tuesday evening was to agonize over which ewe and which lambs to take the next morning. Careful planning was put into finding the tamest most kid and crowd friendly sheep to take. Finally, after much discussion the choice was made to take one of his older ewes and the two ewe lambs that he was showing this summer. Next on the list was to round up enough panels to make a suitable display pen.
Isaac had put some thought into this and showed me the panels he planned to load up. The panels were some that we had used for a temporary lamb fence and were now neatly piled up, thus making them easy to locate and load. A great plan except for the fact that they were extra short panels, granted his Southdowns are extra short sheep, but even a properly motivated Southdown could jump over them. I explained that I had envisioned him using some of the panels we used during lambing season on our lambing jugs.
The panels I had in mind were still securely wired into the lambing barn and required both disassembly and being moved out of the barn. Isaac was picturing a lot of work and questioned my idea. I then shared with him my vision of a properly motivated Southdown sheep leaping the fence and charging through a crowd of highly excitable fourth graders. He grudgingly admitted that my vision was a scary one and headed into the lambing barn armed with pliers.
After that task was completed it was time for supper and following supper it was time to hit the books for homework. Later that evening I reminded Isaac that we would be on a tight time schedule the following morning and I needed him to a) get out of bed when called upon and b) help me load his sheep and supplies for the day. I was assured he would be energized and motivated in the morning.
The 6:00 wakeup call went largely unheeded and I was forced to use my “Dad” voice at 6:15. Slowly clothes were put on, breakfast was eaten and we walked out the door. Surprisingly enough we were almost right on schedule. Isaac quickly caught his sheep and had them loaded on the trailer, we were even slightly ahead of schedule. As he loaded the panels on the trailer it suddenly occurred to him that he might need feed and water during the day. I pointed out to him that I had brought the subject up the night before, but I don’t think he appreciated my foresight. That was when he remembered he was supposed to bring a side dish for lunch that day.
Once I finished growling and grumbling I suggested that a nice bag of chips made the perfect side dish. Excited by that idea, Isaac jumped into his pickup and left to go select a proper flavor. Did I mention that this hasty exit left me with the rest of the chores to do, this brought on more grumbling. However, without too much more delay I was making my way to the school with three, bewildered Southdowns in tow.
Upon arrival at the school I picked out the spot that I thought made the most sense for the display and waited, and waited and waited. Finally, Isaac appeared and told me to go to another spot where across the parking lot. I drove across the parking lot, braving wave after wave of teenage driver only to find out that my original place was the right spot, requiring another dangerous trip across the parking lot. Upon arrival I took one look at Isaac and his team of fellow FFA members, wished them good luck and unhooked the trailer fast enough to make a NASCAR pit crew jealous and left.
Now for the confession, even though I had spent most of my time grousing and grumbling (because that is what Dad’s do) I was quite proud of Isaac for wanting to share his sheep. It is that kind of pride and openness that all of us in agriculture should adopt. Maybe there is hope after all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Navigate Common Sense and Ditch the Rule

A couple of weeks ago the rain started early one Sunday morning and did not let up until almost noon. It was a rain like we had not had in a long time (I am sorry for my drought stricken friends this may be a little hard to read). It was a great rain, it came steady and the dry ground really soaked it up. I believe (and it is only a guess since yours truly did not remember to take in his rain gauge last fall), that we received about three inches of rain.
Even though the rain came fairly slowly it still saturated the soil and because of that water started to run off. Soon there was a nice little stream running down the hillside by my house and down the road. The inner child in me wanted to put my boots on, grab a toy boat and float it down the very temporary stream. Then I realized that would be a very bad idea.
Why would that be a bad idea? It would only prove that my little temporary stream was navigable on some level. The next logical question would be who cares? Well apparently the EPA and the Corp of Engineers in all of their glorious wisdom and endless red tape cares. Under a new rule through the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the Corp of Engineers would like to declare my little raging river of fifteen minutes part of the “Waters of the U.S.”.
Why is this problem? This proposed new rule would declare almost every puddle, temporary stream, ditch, diversion or any other water hole part of the “Waters of the U.S.” and there is the problem. As part of the “Waters of the U.S.” almost every piece of land we farm or ranch would come under the regulation of the EPA and Corp of Engineers. Normal farming activities such as fence building, spraying and tillage could need a permit before they could be completed.
I don’t know about you, but I can only imagine the red tape and the waiting period that would come with any EPA or Corp of Engineers permit (not to mention cost). We all know what kind of time we have to wait around during the spring, the weather is usually nice and we have plenty of time to get things done. No, we are usually on a tight time frame in between weather systems and we cannot be delayed. Don’t overlook the fact that if we have to apply for a permit, it gives these two governmental agencies the ability to control how we farm and ranch.
In fairness, the EPA says that it will not bother us and that this rule is only meant to cover just a very few acres. Maybe they are telling the truth, but is this a chance you want to take? We live in a time when the increasing weight of federal government oversight makes it harder and harder to do our jobs and grow the food that even bureaucrats need. Another side of this issue that makes me just as nervous is the fact that the proposed new rule did not come down from congress. This is something the EPA and the Corp of Engineers created to take more control away from local and state agencies. Our elected officials are almost powerless to change this rule. I don’t think this is how it is supposed to work.
We do have a chance to voice our opinions on this proposed new rule but the time is getting short. We have until July 21 to go to the EPA and comment. Please before you do this do some research and make sure you have all the facts, don’t take my word, read the information and make up your own mind. Information is easy to find, and I am sure you have already heard and read quite a bit about this. Folks, if there was ever a time to take action, it is now.
I fear the noose of regulation will keep getting tighter and tighter and all of this in a time when we need to be more productive than we have ever been in agriculture. We know how to best care for the land and water we depend on and we need to be able to make those decisions on our own farms and in a timely manner. Let’s all let the EPA and Corps know that their boat just won’t float and to ditch the rule.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Operation Feed the Ewes

Today was a damp and dreary, chilly, rainy morning. It was one of those days when everything needed attention and all I wanted to do was get back in the house. Everything in the lots needed hay and that included the ewes (I know they should be out on pasture, but I have to get fence built first). Feeding the ewes requires a great deal of timing a precision if you are by yourself.
First, I have to have the tractor and bale positioned at the gate into the pen. Then I feed the ewes alfalfa at the far end, this is followed by a dead sprint for me (more of a jog for most people) back to the gate. After the gate is opened, I hop into the tractor drive as fast as I can into the pen, dump the bale off and back out the gate, get out of the tractor and shut the gate. All of this has to be done in less than five minutes.
I really ought to have someone film this whole process and maybe farming would finely be profitable. In any case, any hiccup and the ewes escape. There is no sneaking past more than eighty ears and eighty beady eyes.  So back to this morning, I had the tractor and bale strategically parked by the gate and started lobbing my bales of distracting alfalfa over the fence. That is when I noticed the hapless ewe stuck in the fence.
The yearling bull had apparently pushed his feed pan too close to the ewe pen. This action drew the attention of the entire flock of ewes. The speckle faced boss ewe had stuck her head just a little too far through the cattle panel and turned it just enough and became hopelessly stuck. The bull, not appreciating the wooly feed thief decided to butt her in retaliation.
This left me with the dilemma of what to do. Do I go about my feeding plan and let the ewe get pummeled by the bull? Or do I rescue her and risk the whole plan? Even though she deserved every head butt for being greedy I knew I must intervene. I quickly worked her head out at the greater risk of getting my hand smashed. Do you think she even acknowledged my feat of heroism? Nope, she turned and made a dash to the alfalfa.
With precious minutes lost I returned to plan A. About half way to the tractor I noticed the water tank to the 4-H steers running over. The lots are already a muddy mess (I am really sorry for mentioning this if you are one of my friends in the middle of drought) and could ill afford more water, especially water not falling from the sky.  I dodged right to the hydrant, shut it off and gave the hose a good yank. Mission accomplished but I had lost even more time off of a precisely timed operation. Swat teams and Navy SEALs have nothing on my hay bombing raids into the ewe pen.
I finally make it to the gate and fling it open just as the first ewes look up from the remains of the alfalfa and noticed the fat guy at the gate. I reached the tractor cab just as they took aim at the gate. I released the clutch only to find the tractor had slipped out of gear. As I ground it back into first gear the ewes launched and we seemed to be on a collision course. I forgot to mention that I had a meeting mid morning and did not have time to convince the ewes to leave the green pasture and come back to the pen.
All seemed lost, the day had just taken a turn for the worst, and the entire flock of ewes got renamed in a flash. Then the most brilliant thought hit me. I honked the horn on the tractor. The sound of the horn hit the ewes like a brick wall sending them peeling and reeling back in the opposite direction. I throttled the tractor sending a huge black cloud of smoke into the air. The ewes regrouped in the far corner, unsure of the loud, red monster making funny noises and spewing foul smelling smoke.
I drove just far enough in the pen, dropped the bale, turned the wheel sharply, mashed down the inside brake pedal and sent a rooster tale of mud into the air. Once outside of the gate, I slammed the tractor into park, jumped out of the cab (narrowly missing the electric fence on the backside with my backside) and sprinted to the gate. The ewes were now distracted with the new bale and I closed the gate with relative ease. Suddenly the day just got brighter and better, isn’t it funny how quickly one’s perspective can change.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kids and Agriculture

Spring has sprung, the grass is getting greener, winter is dead and all the farmers and ranchers sang Hallelujah! It was a long hard winter but the calendar and the ever increasing temperatures tell us that all seasons eventually fade into the next. But I must say this one isn’t fading fast enough.
Earth Day is another sign that spring is finally here. Earth Day is a time for all of us to celebrate this planet we rely on and a time to reflect on how we can take better care of it. I admit that I like the idea of Earth Day and I like it even more that many of our farm organizations have embraced the idea. After all, farmers and ranchers are the original and the best environmentalists.
Our county has chosen to host our annual Day on the Farm on the Wednesday closest to Earth Day. The Eugene Berges family graciously allows us to use their farmstead and Pottawatomie County farmers and ranchers provide informational stops for each group. All of the fourth graders in our county are invited and most of the schools attend. I know many other counties have similar programs and I think they are the key to educating consumers about agriculture.
Each year I provide a stop where I talk about our native prairie and talk about the different kinds of grasses. I know, what kind of an ag geek talks to kids about warm season grasses. Well, that would be me. I have to say I am always impressed with how much the kids know about the prairie but I am also constantly surprised by how little they know about agriculture.
Pottawatomie County is still a relatively rural county and much of the county’s income is based on agriculture. The kids grow up with fields and pastures all around them and yet many of them do not know very much about where their food comes from. I am also surprised at how few have ties to the farm. Often each class does have one or two kids that have parents or grandparents who farm, but many of the kids do not have any close relatives involved in agriculture. This event, many times, is their first real exposure to farming and ranching.
Just why this is important really hit home last week. My daughter came home from school and told us about a video they had watched as part of one of her classes. The video was about the benefits of organic food and organic farming. Please, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against organic farming and ranching or my fellow farmers or ranchers who choose to do so. I do have a problem with using organic food production as a way to vilify the rest of us who choose conventional agriculture.
My daughter told me that the video said that organic food was safer, healthier and better for the environment. My daughter knew that this was not true and that the crops and livestock we produced were just as safe, healthy and environmentally friendly as their organic counterparts. Her fear was that her classmates would not know the difference. She went on to say that in that particular class that she was the only one who’s family farmed or ranched.
This is not the first time one of my kids have come home from school and told about incorrect or one sided information being presented at school. My problem with this was not that the kids were taught about organic food production, I have no problem with them learning about it. What I do have a problem with is the idea that the rest of us are producing an unhealthy product that is bad for the environment. That is completely untrue. GMO crops, modern herbicides, modern veterinary medicine have made it possible for us to produce a safer product, with fewer inputs, produce more of it while protecting the world around us. All of this has been proven time and time again, but we must be granted access to present a fair and balanced view of real world agriculture.
That is why our Earth Day celebrations and Day on the Farm events are so important. It is an opportunity for us to tell our story, let the consumers meet us and to explain how we grow their food and why. We are faced with a daunting task over the next couple of decades. To grow more food, with less acres and continue to make the air, land and water around us better, but we have to have the support of our consumers. We are the original environmentalists, we know it, but it is up to us to tell the rest of the world.