Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Neighbora, Snow and the Superbowl

I really like watching the Superbowl; it is almost a holiday to me. I know it is not anywhere near as important as Christmas or Easter. The big game doesn’t even have the meaning that the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving have to our nation. However, after those official holidays, it is one of the days of the year that I most look forward too.
I admit that I am a football junky. I really like to watch football, even when I don’t really have a rooting interest in either team. To be honest, most often it is even more fun if you don’t really care who wins. Combine that with my affinity for food and eating and sprinkle in some good commercials, it all makes for a good evening. We carefully plan our menu and rearrange the chore schedule so we can be settled down with a plate of food at kickoff.
This year was even better (at least for my family) because Jennifer’s parents had come to visit and had gotten snowed in (as I say good for my family, I am not sure they would agree). The minor snowstorm had turned into a major storm and we spent most of the afternoon moving animals around, scooping snow and feeding critters. It was a whirlwind but we managed to make it in before the start of the game, get the food prepared, add wood to the fire and life was good.
The food was good, the game was a little boring and the commercials weren’t as funny as we had expected. At least that was the consensus after the first half. Maybe the game would pick up after halftime and maybe our expectations for the commercials were a little too high. In any case, the second half kicked off with optimism. Sure enough the both teams started moving the ball; it was going to be a game.  Then it happened.
The phone rang. On the other end was a neighbor (keep in mind I count anyone in a three or four mile radius as a neighbor), he had gotten stuck trying to help someone out of a snowdrift. Let’s set the scene, the wind was howling, it was cold and the roads were drifted. Did I want to go out? Not really, but I did not hesitate. I left after putting on the layers required for being out in the conditions that night. The tractor was plugged in and fired right up. Soon I was headed off into the snowy night.
I listened to the game as I drove along and over the noise of the tractor it seemed to be getting more and more exciting. One hill away from the house I found my neighbor, pulled up behind his pickup and jumped off into a thigh high snow drift. We hooked up his chain and made the 200 yard pull without too much trouble. At the top of the hill, clear of the drifts, we stopped.
We talked for just a few minutes. The bitter cold wind had a numbing effect even on someone as chatty as I am. He thanked me and I reminded him that next time it would probably be my turn to ask him for a favor. I have lost count over the years of all the times one of our neighbors have come to my rescue. Often these crises occur at rather inopportune times and usually in inclement weather.
I guess that is what I most like about where I live. You know you can call on your neighbor, no matter what time, in any situation and they will always come lend you a hand. That is what we do. Why? Because it is the right thing to do, if they didn’t need your help they would not have asked for it. You can also be sure that when you need a hand they will drop everything to help.
I pulled into the shed that night plugged the tractor in and went to the lambing barn to check the ewes. We had a ewe lamb earlier in the night with what we thought was a single lamb. However, when I opened the barn door that night she stood there proudly with two lambs. It was a good night.
I got back into the house just in time to see the last play and to get a recap from my family on how exciting the game was. Would I have liked to have seen the game? You bet. But I also know that given the same opportunity I would do the same thing every time. I can always watch the Superbowl again next year, who knows maybe the Chiefs, will be in it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Maybe I Need More Practice

Lambing season is at full steam! We seem to have more of the little buggers than we know what to do with and that is a good problem to have. Each trip to the barn reveals new lambs. The most amazing thing is that, as I write this column, the weather is spectacularly good. It kind of makes me wonder if the ewes didn’t make a mistake this year. I know, don’t talk too loudly because weather always seems to have a way of evening things out.
At the beginning of each lambing season we sort the ewes into three groups. We make a pen of ewes that look like lambing is eminent in the next week. The next group is ewes who are showing signs of being close to lambing but are a few weeks off (or so we think). Both of these groups get a place in the barn. The final group is reserved for the ewes that are not showing any signs that they may lamb in the next month. This is a very inexact science.
This week we had an unbelievable flurry of ewes having lambs Sunday night and Monday morning. This was a good thing since Jennifer was going back to work, the kids back to school and I had two meetings during the day. That meant we needed to lean on Dad to check the maternity ward during the day. I am beginning to learn that you never know what your kids are going to get you into, which is what Dad says to me each time I ask him to check the ewes.
Monday morning I called Dad as I left to give him the update and let him know what I did, and more importantly, what I didn’t do. I told him about our flurry of activity and also shared with him my theory that he probably would have a slow day because of all the activity that night. He reminded me about how accurate I had been with my predictions on such matters in the past. I reassured him that with more experience in this sheep endeavor came more accuracy. I don’t think he entirely believed me.
So I left home with every jug in the lambing barn full of new lambs and their proud mothers. I was feeling pretty good about myself; I finally had this sheep thing figured out. My meeting went along quietly and smoothly that morning and at noon we went to lunch. Somewhere about the end of lunch my cell phone rang, it was Dad’s number.
He was calling to tell me that I had new lambs. OK so I missed that prediction. “Which pens are they in?” I asked. Dad told me that I had a ewe with a lamb in the North pen. That didn’t surprise me, the North pen was my pen of ewes I deemed to be the closest. The next ewe and lamb were in the South pen. Boy did I miss the whole no new lamb thing. That would be the next closest pen of ewes to lamb. A little surprising that one of those ewes had lambs but not too much of a shock. I probably should have seen that coming since there were fewer ewes in that pen than the close pen and they had started out with even numbers.
“And the last ewe with a new lamb is out in the big pen,” Dad said. The big pen is the pen where the ewes that were not at all close are housed. I guess I missed that one, just like the other three I missed in that pen. Dad also told me that I had a couple of other ewes in that pen that he thought would lamb in the near future (like that night). Sure enough, the next morning I found a ewe with twin lambs in the big pen.
I am happy and probably pretty lucky to report that all of those lambs are doing well. Dad and Jennifer moved lambs and ewes that night and by the time I got home from my second meeting everything was bedded down and good for the night. I am not sure I deserve all of the good help I have been blessed to have.
The next evening Isaac and I, acting on Dad’s tip, moved four ewes directly from the big pen to the North pen. This prompted Isaac to make the comment that we probably ought to either put marking harnesses on the rams next year or get Grandpa to help sort ewes from the beginning. It was kind of hard for the “veteran” sheep man to hear, but it was most likely true. So now that I have eaten my humble pie, I had probably better go check the ewes and that includes all three pens.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chipotle Doesn't Know Pigs (Like A Farmer)

This past week I was happy to be home on my own farm, feeding my animals and living the life of a farmer who is proud to be producing the food we all need. I am so proud to be part of the larger Ag community and proud of the way we go about producing food. Just as technology and science have advanced our quality of life, agriculture has seen the same advancements. That is why it is so disturbing to me to see others demanding that we push those advancements back.
Chipotle restaurants came out this past week and said that they would no longer have pork carnitas on the menu. Their reason? According to Chipotle, they could not find enough pork produced in the manner they require. Chipotle says they are focused on doing the right thing ethically and sustainably. In the case of their pork they want the pigs to have access to the outdoors and not be fed antibiotics.
Don’t get me wrong, Chipotle is a business and they are free to operate in any manner they see fit. If they want to source their pork in that manner with those requirements, fine, it is a free country. Obviously I do not agree with them or their ideas about how pigs should be raised, but if that is how they want to run their business then so be it. I have vowed not to patronize Chipotle because of how they characterize most of us in the ag community, but if you enjoy their food or agree with their stance on agriculture then that is OK too. We live in a free country and it is your prerogative.
However, I take great offense when anyone bashes my fellow farmers and criticizes how they run their business. I have many friends who earn their living raising pigs; most of them are involved in family operations that have been in place for generations. Again, you know my idea of sustainable and if your family has been raising pigs for generations, then you are sustainable.
What really gets my goat (or pig in this case) is the notion that modern pork producers do not have the best interest of their animals, or those who eat their pork, in mind. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have been in modern swine facilities and I have found the pigs to be comfortable and very healthy. The comfort factor is magnified even more in times of extreme temperatures. Pigs raised inside spend their lives in a constant, regulated environment with plenty of fresh air and room to move.
I know Chipotle would have the public believe otherwise, but those of us who raise livestock for a living know better. We know that if you keep the environment around your animals constant they are more content. Need an example? When we achieve financial success as humans what is one thing most people do? They move to a place with a more temperate environment. Whether that is Arizona in the winter or Colorado in the summer, we escape the extremes. Well, that is what my fellow hog farmers are doing, they are creating a more temperate environment for their pigs. That, in turn, makes their pigs more comfortable.
Am I saying that animals raised outside are treated unethically? Absolutely not, animals have been raised outdoors since the start of time and can be made comfortable in that environment also. Farmers and ranchers utilize their experience and knowledge to treat their animals right, no matter what method they choose.
As for the point that Chipotle wants their pork raised without antibiotics. Let me just say that I would not hesitate to feed my family pork raised by one of my friends in a modern facility. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that all of the withdrawal times have been met and the meat is absolutely safe to eat. There is good science behind the feeding of antibiotics and even better behind the withdrawal dates that insure food safety.
The bottom line is that I understand that we are a consumer driven business and we must produce what our customers want. However, it pains me greatly when others capitalize on bad science and hysteria to line their own pockets. Whether food producer, food supplier or consumer; we are all in this together and it is our responsibility to make sure that we educate ourselves and those around us so that we can all make informed decisions based on the truth and not hype. Rest assured that there is plenty of ethically raised, sustainable pork, despite what Chipotle says.