Monday, August 24, 2015

Hardees With a Social Conscience, Hardly!!!!

I have to give Hardees credit; they have pulled off some pretty good promotions in the last few years. It seems like they are willing to do anything to gain more market share in the world of fast food. Just a couple of years ago it was a racy ad campaign featuring pseudo celebrity Paris Hilton washing her car. That caused more internet and media buzz than if they had served good food.
Lately they have featured hamburgers and chicken sandwiches like we have never seen before. Gooey, cheesy behemoth creations that seem to be a heart attack between buns. The grilled cheese burger and the pork chop breakfast biscuit come to mind. They would seem to be the last place that would appeal to socially consciences hipster foodies and soccer moms. But it seems they are taking a swing at that market share too.
Imagine my surprise when I was watching the ten o’clock news, waiting for the weather to come on and a Hardees ad appears. Instead of the artery clogging, towering monster with five slices of cheese, brisket, ham, bacon all slathered with ranch dressing burger that we have become accustomed to them touting it was a much different beast.
They proclaimed their new burger to be grass-fed, free of added hormones (I did note that they are the first ones to say free of added hormones instead of the more erroneous hormone-free), anti-biotic free and no steroids (that claim seems a bit redundant when also making the hormone claim, but most consumers don’t know the difference so they might as well get all the bang out of their buck). They called this brand-new sandwich the “Natural Burger”. As soon as I had watched the ad, I knew I had seen it all.
First of all, Hardees is pandering to the health conscience consumer? Really, what is next, the five pound chef’s salad with onion rings, a pound of bacon and fried green tomatoes? No one goes to Hardees to eat because they are worried about how healthy their food is. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hardees and eat there occasionally, but if I was truly worried about what I ate, Hardees is the last place I would eat.
Secondly and more importantly, talk about catering to those who cave into unfounded claims of health benefits and food fears. Maybe it makes good business sense for Hardees and they are tapping into a new market. To me it sounds an alarm that some of the hot, trendy  (scary) food issues that affect the agriculture community are becoming more mainstream.
I am not going to get into the grass-fed versus grain-fed thing that is a choice each consumer can make depending on taste preference. As a producer, if you can make grass-fed beef work, then more power to you. I still do not think we can realistically produce enough beef without feeding grain or produce a product that most of the consuming public prefers. What worries me more is the touting of free of added hormones, antibiotics and (gasp) steroids.
A little bit later I saw a promo for Dr. Oz and he was going to explore the horrors of antibiotics in your meat and how to avoid them. I wonder if he was going to promote going to Hardees.  Fear mongering about your food at its best (or worst). The idea that farmers and ranchers are pumping their animals full of hormones, antibiotics and steroids makes for good shock TV and burger ad campaigns and it really could affect how we do our business.
We have taken the off ramp onto the limiting or eliminating the use of antibiotics in animals and we are barreling down that road at an ever increasing speed. I cannot imagine, nor do I want to live in a world where I cannot use antibiotics on my cattle or sheep. It would be cruel and cause many unnecessary deaths. Proper use of antibiotics has never caused any resistance to antibiotics in humans, none and there are plenty of studies out there to prove it. Sadly, the bad science of social media and activists are gaining ground with unfounded claims and bad science.
That is why it is more important than ever for those of us who farm and ranch for a living to promote how and why we use antibiotics. We need to tell the consuming public about why we use them, the precautions we take and the lengths we go to insure that the meat on their table is safe to eat. When we do this maybe things will return to normal and Hardees will go back to promoting gut busting, greasy burgers with scantily clad b-list celebrities, just like the good ol’ days.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The True Fair Trophy

There are few things I find more relaxing or comforting than the cab of my tractor after the county fair. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the county fair but all the hustle and bustle of the week leading up to it and the constant go, go , go of the fair makes me appreciate the relative calm and quiet of the hay field. That and the need to be alone in a quiet place for a while, I am a people person but you know what they say about too much of a good thing.
This year’s fair was a very good fair. It was complete with the usual array of highlights and disappointments.  The fair this year even had the added excitement of a real life fire in one of the vendor’s food trailers, not once but twice. All I will say is there is nothing better than a fire truck arriving during the beef show. Most of all this year’s fair featured a time to reacquaint with old friends and the opportunity to meet new friends.
The county fair is the pinnacle event that all 4-Hers and FFA members work up to each year and their hard work was on display. I always find it tough when a whole summer’s worth of work comes down to one person’s opinion in a few short minutes. When you or your child is picked as the winner nothing compares to the rush, but when you are at the other end of the lineup it can also be very frustrating.
I know I can get too focused on the ranking of my children’s projects and it is easy to lose focus on what it is all about. I promise you that in five years and often much sooner than that, no one will remember who finished where or what ribbon they received. I know this because I asked several young people this year. They could tell you about the animal they exhibited and what happened during the fair and often they had a vague idea of what ribbon they received but not the exact placing.
What I saw, when I took a moment to observe, was groups of kids and adults gathered round the show box or leaning on the show ring fence. Some of the discussions were serious in nature but most often they involved laughter, good natured ribbing and smiles. That is what the county fair is all about. We have to evaluate the projects because it is part of the process but we also need to keep that part in perspective.
Ribbon color really is not that important (this is from a highly competitive person). However, I will say because of the pressure we put on ourselves and our kids, we have watered the whole system down. Somehow we have made red ribbons a failure and white ribbons an insult and that is not right. As a judge I will say that we have succumbed to peer pressure and often give out too many blue ribbons. Remember the ribbon color is not a statement about the child or the amount of work they have done, it is just that judge’s opinion at that time. We will revisit this some other time.
My point is that we get too hung up on how the project placed and often let that override the more important things going on at the fair. My moment this fair was when, near the end, I realized that during the entire fair I had fed the sheep once and that was only after being handed the bucket because the child feeding sheep had been summoned for something else. I was relegated to a little used technical advisor and more often a runner for things out of the show box. After much of the pre-fair angst, I discovered my kids were really growing up and capable of doing things on their own without my prodding or nagging.
More importantly I watched as my kids spent time with their friends or worked with younger members and I thought back to my 4-H days and the most important part of fair became crystal clear. I do not remember anything about how any of my projects placed but I still have friends I made during the fair. People and experiences are the most valuable part of any fair not the ribbons or trophies. I guess it is the clarity that the tractor seat brings and the solitude makes you appreciate the true value of the fair. It is a great event, one with much stress and even greater rewards; you just have to take time to realize it.

Fair Chaos

Things at our house this week are a bit stressful. OK, maybe that is a little bit of an understatement. We are in full blown fair chaos this week and everyone’s blood pressure is on the upper end. Each year we say we are going to be more prepared but this year marks our tenth year of fair week chaos. I think being unprepared is terminal.
Fair week is like nothing else at our place, each year it seems like we have some calamity befall us this week. My favorite was the year we had no water. Yes, we had been going through a dry spell and the day before the fair our well gave out. There may be a few of you out there that have not experienced fair week so I assure you that water is a critical element of preparation for the fair. Between washing animals and cooking it is absolutely necessary to have water to avoid a fair meltdown.
Last year it was the pickup. I thought we were on our way to being somewhat organized and ready for the fair. So organized that I thought ahead and decided to get more sheep feed so we would not run out mid-fair. Upon arriving at the feed store I noticed a black film around the bottom of my pickup. The rear main seal had gone out and the pickup was down for the count (or at least the fair). Yes, the pickup is a critical piece of fair equipment. Luckily, this crisis was averted by having spare worn out pickups around.
This year our crisis (so far) seems to be too many tasks and too few hours. I compared notes with my friends and this seems to be a common crisis among families with older teens. For weeks maybe even months Mom and Dad encouraged (nagged) and reminded that the fair seems to sneak up on us and maybe it would be easier if we completed things earlier. We have plenty of time was the most common response.
Now it is fair week and suddenly all those projects must be completed by the end of the week. Suddenly we are counting days, hours and minutes and they are not adding up to enough time. Work reaches a frantic pace and fuses get shorter and shorter.  We have officially reached crisis level. In the middle of all the chaos Jennifer expressed frustration (to put it mildly) and I reminded her that we only have three more fairs as 4-H parents after this one.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were washing Jethro, the bucket calf, and the crisis that year was the unknown of being a first year 4-H family. That year there were several of us with new 4-H families and we all talked about how we were going to be in 4-H forever. I am not sure but I would guess that the grizzled veteran 4-H parents were shaking their heads at our naivety. Even with the annual crisis the years have flown by and we have made it through all of them with the scars to prove it.
Dealing with those fair week crisis situations is part of the learning experience. I also suspect that years from now we will look back and laugh about each year’s disaster.  My guess is that how we dealt with the crisis will be what we remember and not how well the projects placed that year. We will survive and the fair will have gone on in spite of the frantic preparations in the days before.
I also know that next week in the wake this year’s fair we will make plans to be more organized next year. If I was a betting man, I would say that in spite of all the best of intentions next year will be just as frantic. I would also bet that something unexpected will happen that will throw a giant monkey wrench into those frantic, last minute preparations. I would also be that we will survive the chaos and the crisis and complete yet another year.
I am not sure what the crisis will be in each of the next three years. However, I think I have an idea what the crisis will be four years from now. My guess is that Jennifer and I will realize that it is the week before the fair and we have no kids in 4-H and no projects to frantically get ready at the last minute. I am not sure, but I think that may be the greatest crisis of all.

County Fair Memories and Comfort

It seems lately, that our society is in a state of decline. Each night the news brings us terrible acts of violence whether local, national or somewhere in the world. Watching TV isn’t much better, it seems as though the fabric of our society is being ripped up. It is easy to wonder what this world is coming too. All of this is not a very comforting thought and this is why most of us seek a place of comfort where all seems right.
To me that place is a county fair. I judge several county fairs each year even though they come at a very hectic time of the year for me and I really do not have time to be gone I cannot turn them down. Each year my poor father asks me how many fairs I have signed up to judge and I can see him calculating how many hours I will be gone from the hayfield. I know that I will feel a twinge of guilt when I leave early to get on the road and if something is going to break it will be right before or right after I leave. However, I also know that something will happen at each show to remind me of why I enjoy judging them so much.
I am reminded of bucket calves named Tug Boat because they resemble their namesake. One of my favorite stories is a young man who when I asked him if he had anything else to tell me about his bucket calf (over the microphone and to the entire crowd) proceeded to confess a secret. He and his Dad were working with his calf, a calf that was especially spirited and the calf swung around a kicked, putting a dent in his mother’s new car. When I asked why he told me the story over the microphone and in front of the crowd, he told me it was so there were more witnesses.
I enjoy judging bucket calves because most of the time that is where the best stories are but not always. Once during swine showmanship I asked a junior showman what feed he fed his pig. He immediately ran to the fence and called for his father. When Dad rushed to the fence to see what was wrong, junior told him to get a bag of feed because the judge was wanted to know what kind they were using.
There were other times when it took a little longer to see the humor in a situation. One beef show I was judging a steer class and I went in to handle the fat cover of one particular steer. He acted a little fidgety and I asked the young man holding the lead rope if his steer kicked. He told me no, I handled the steer and was immediately kicked in the knee cap. As I looked at the young man though pain-filled eyes he simply said, “This is not my steer, my steer does not kick.” He did not lie; I had not asked the right question.
My favorite part of any show is afterward. I know that seems a little backward. Most judges want to get on the road right after the show so they cannot be chewed out. Maybe it is experience and maybe it is because I am not fast enough to out run anyone, but I most enjoy talking with the kids and parents about their projects. After the show is when you find out about their market lamb being out of last year’s ewe.  The pride of seeing a project from birth to completion is what it is all about.
Sometimes it is the winners that stay and chat but often it is the kids who had animals that placed a little farther down the line. They just want to know what they could do better next year. I try to help as much as I can, but often I just listen. It’s those interactions with parents and kids that I find most rewarding.
Yes, it is easy to spend a great deal of time worrying about what our society has sunk too and worry about the future. It is easy, if you don’t take time to find the good and I guess that is why I cannot make myself retire from judging county fairs. I know I get as much or more than the kids do from those shows. If you don’t believe me, just go spend some time at a county fair and I bet you will feel better.

Never Complain About Rain in July

This morning’s rain could not have been timed any better. Normally I make time on Wednesday morning to write my column right after chores, today the rain made it easy on me. Actually I want to take credit for the rain, yesterday we mowed the last big field of brome hay down and started on the prairie hay. That is what caused the rain this morning.
The field of brome was fairly heavy and would take at least a full day or more to cure. Dad and I looked at the forecast and the radar. All the weather outlets were predicting between a twenty and forty percent chance of rain so Dad and I extrapolated that out to a thirty percent chance of rain and a seventy percent chance that nothing would happen. The odds for haying  sounded pretty good.
The day started with Dad mowing hay and I was hauling the hay in off of the fields. Hauling hay is one of those funny tasks that changes depending on your perspective. When I was a teen, hauling hay was one of those never-ending jobs that stood between me and freedom. Now a field full of hay bales is an accomplishment and assurance that we won’t have to buy hay for the cows this winter. I find hauling hay to be much more enjoyable now.
In any case, I was hauling hay; it was a blistering hot day with clouds building on the Western horizon. Once again I was very happy we wrapped all of our hay up in big round bales that can be handled from the cushioned seat in an air conditioned cab. Dad called to tell me he was done with the brome and what did I think about starting on the prairie hay. Another check of the weather app on my phone and I learned that the thirty percent chance had now become a forty percent chance. How did we manage in the good old days when all we had was the ten o’clock news and weather on the radio. We decided it was still a sixty percent chance of nothing and to keep mowing.
During this conversation I told Dad that if mowing hay down was what caused it to rain, maybe we could sacrifice some hay. The corn was tassleing and a good drink of water would far outweigh any lost hay. We both chuckled at this because we knew it was not going to rain just because we mowed hay down. The odds were still better than fifty percent that it was going to stay dry and we would be baling hay the next day.
I finished hauling hay and decided to make a run for more feed. I was a couple of days from needing more and it looked like we would be baling hay the rest of the week. This would probably be the most convenient time all week. Dad called to say he thought he had enough hay mowed down and the hay he had mowed that morning was nearly dry enough to bale. It’s funny what blistering heat and sun will do. We decided I would check with him when I got back from my feed run.
A quick check of the internet showed that rain was building in Western Kansas and our chances had been pushed up to fifty percent. I looked out at the corn and soybeans with heat waves shimmering above them and once again weighed the cost of losing hay versus the benefit of a valuable drink for my crops. We debated the pros and cons of raking and baling the hay mowed that morning. We would wish we had if it rained but another couple of hours of curing would make for better hay. We had gone from a pretty sure chance of not getting the hay wet to even chances. The decision was made to stick with the original plan and start baling as soon as the dew was off in the morning. It would be a long day of raking and baling tomorrow.
I am a creature of habit and one of those habits is to watch the weather at night. The ten o’clock news had an even greater chance of rain, it was almost certain with another good chance to follow in the afternoon. Sure enough when I woke up the next morning lightening was flashing in the Western sky. This is why I do not gamble, no odds are good enough to overcome my luck. But on the bright side, this morning I suddenly have time to write my column and my fall crops are much happier, my hay is wet but I will never, ever complain about rain.