Friday, April 7, 2017

Cool Sheep Karma

Occasionally, you have something happen to you that makes you stop and think, “Wow that was cool”. Something that comes out of the blue and could not have been predicted or a story that is so good you could not have made it up. That very thing happened to us, most specifically Isaac this past week.

Let me set the stage. We decided after nine years of sheep production that we finally had enough lambs and more importantly, enough good lambs to host an open house at our farm and sell a selection of this year’s lamb crop. It was kind of a nerve racking ordeal because you are not sure how many people (if any) will show up. I decided we would keep this year’s affair a low budget operation and see how it went. The only money we spent was for a new white board to keep track of bids and sales and a batch of Jennifer’s soon-to-be famous monster cookies.

No, I did not spend a dime advertising the sale opting for relying on free social media. I started a Facebook page for our farm and posted on several other pages and Craig’s List. I went cheap (a strategy that will be reviewed next year). Keep all of this in mind as the story unfolds.

Even with my frugal approach to advertisement we did get some interest in the lambs including one gentleman from Oklahoma who was interested in Isaac’s Southdowns. He contacted me via Facebook and we exchanged communications for the better part of two weeks. I told him about the genetics behind Isaac’s flock and we planned for transportation if purchases were made. All along I thought it was kind of neat that we had attracted the attention of someone from Oklahoma.

The night before the sale we were making final arrangements and I sent him some more pictures including more information about the bloodlines of the ewe lambs he was interested in. Let me mention a detail about Isaac’s Southdowns I had forgotten to include up to this point. Isaac had developed an affinity for Southdown sheep after buying a Southdown whether to show. At the same time the Kansas Sheep Association started its Starter Flock Loan program.

The program allowed for a three-year loan in which the youth interested in sheep production. KSA would  purchase the ewes and give them to the youth. Since then (and probably because of Isaac) the loan is limited to commercial ewes but Isaac indicated on the application that he wanted Southdowns. KSA purchased the ewes for Isaac and I know Jeff Ebert spent a good bit of time finding those pesky Southdown ewes. I still remember the day when Jeff called to tell Isaac that he had found five ewes in Oklahoma and would be bringing them to us later that week (it was a full-service loan).

Isaac got his ewes and in a few weeks the registration papers came. I remember looking at them but not really knowing much about Southdown breeders. OK, now that I have added that to the story, fast forward to the night before our first annual open house. I looked through the papers of Isaac’s ewes and looked at the two original ewes he still had (after four years) and noticed that the name on the registrations matched the name of the gentleman from Oklahoma inquiring about Isaac’s ewe lambs. I am kind of slow but a light came on in my little brain and I made a connection.

The morning of the sale I shared my theory with Isaac and he started communicating with our Oklahoma friend directly. Sure, enough the original ewes had come from him. He knew that they were for a youth in Kansas to start their flock but he had not made the connection. After all he did have Isaac’s name for the papers but KSA had paid him directly for the sheep.

Our new friend and customer from Oklahoma ended up purchasing two ewe lambs through our sale. He and Isaac also decided for him to come look at other ewe lambs and potentially some mature ewes too. He had sold all his Southdown ewes but was now looking to get back into raising them and had randomly come across our sale flyer.

That night I sat down and reflected about what happened. We had a pretty good sale, especially for the first one. However, my mind kept coming back to the set of random circumstances that led to Isaac selling lambs back to the same breeder he had gotten his start from and neither one of them knowing the other until after the sale was complete. Talk about going full circle. I tell you, sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up because the truth is way cooler than fiction.

Plotting Cows

Spring has sprung and so have my cows. The grass has started to green up and the temptation was just too much for my old cows and they finally broke through the electric fence separating them from the brome. I suspect they got some of their calves to do the dirty work and that says a lot about the character of my cows. They fear the electric fence and the ensuing shock but they have no problem sending junior into the fence. The calf then gets caught up in the fence, breaking the wire and allowing mama to waltz right through the opening and onto the brome.

I must admit that I find this morally reprehensive. Don’t get me wrong, my cows are perfectly fine mothers with this one exception. I guess they are going with the idea that the calves won’t be around next year and therefore they will not get culled for being fence jumpers. Maybe they know that if I culled every cow that got out I would put myself out of the cattle business.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not the end of the world either. When they get out on the brome they are not off my place, they are just not where I want them. Every night I go out with a bale of hay and unroll it in the pasture I want them in. Every night they file back through the hole in the fence that they have had one of their unsuspecting calves create. Once inside the confines of the pasture, I mend the fence while they munch their hay. The next day, someone nudges their calf through the fence and we are at it all over again.

Yes, I have tested the fence and it has plenty of spark. I am also aware that if I built a permanent fence I would not have this problem. I have, however, decided that my cows are evil and they would find some other way to get under my skin. I have also entertained the idea that maybe the calves know what they are doing and the evil in them is genetic. Sometimes I even wonder if instead of sending their calves through the fence that maybe the cows have gotten a hold of one of the many pairs of fencing pliers that have disappeared from my truck over the years and are cutting their own way through the fence. I know cloven hooves and working pliers kind of shoots holes in that theory but I would not put it past them.

They have made me mad enough that I have finally started work on building that permanent fence. It is a long arduous process. All of you who have tried to dig postholes in the Flint Hills know what I mean. In any case I have started the process of building a better fence. This has led to the cows coming up and watching me put the fence in. I have decided that they are doing one of two things. First I am sure they are mocking me. I am not exactly sure what they are saying about me, but I know for sure that they are making fun of me. I am also certain that they are passing this lack of respect on to the juvenile delinquent offspring, thus perpetuating the cycle of disobedience. I know they may look like they are chewing their cuds and watching the fence building progress but I also know it is much more.

I suspect they are also looking for weak spots in the construction of the fence. They are probably already plotting where they can make an escape from the new reinforced fencing. I am sure they are taking notes and holding strategy meetings on how to break back out into the green brome grass.

As mad as they make me I have tried hard to appease them by feeding them only the best hay. I make sure they feeders are full and I even roll some hay out for them to lounge on in the sun. Yet they insist on ignoring my good faith efforts and continue to trample my fence and eat my brome.  Mocking me the whole time.

I have concluded that as much as I love my job and I really enjoy running cows, they do not reciprocate the feelings and are very self-centered. The only real satisfaction I have is the fact that I know that no matter what they may do, in the end I will win. Because no matter how many times they foil my well-made plans and circumvent my authority, they might win the battle. However, I smile with satisfaction each night as I look at my hamburger on my plate because I have won the war.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Hate Daylight Savings

There are three events that are noted on almost any calendar that drive me nuts and get under my skin. Those three days are Ground Hog Day and the 2 days we either move our clocks ahead or backward an hour. The absurdity of those events raises my blood pressure and sends me off on a rant.

I won’t spend much time on Ground Hog Day but it has always amused me that we would spend good time on the national news covering a rodent predicting the weather. I guess they are just as good as any meteorologist at predicting it but give me a break. The idea of grown men, dressed in tuxedos pulling an overgrown rat out of his den to check to see if he sees his shadow to see how much winter we have left? We have lost our minds but that day amuses me more than irritates me.

On the other hand, the two days we change our clocks infuriate me. Only our government could come up with the hair brained idea that changing the clock forward or backward would be beneficial in any manner. Sure, in the fall I am OK with the idea of gaining an hour of sleep. OK with it until I realize how much it will screw up my schedule for weeks to come. However, the time change in the fall pales in comparison to the time change in the spring. I lose an hour of sleep and my routine is messed up.

Then when I hear some news person refer to the time change as a benefit to farmers, I want to throw something at the TV screen. I have never, ever talked to a farmer who thinks the time change benefits them in any way. If the truth was to be told, most of us probably loath the time change because it makes it dark longer in the morning. There are very few things in this world I hate more than doing chores in the dark (and one of them is losing sleep).

Then in their infinite wisdom the powers that be decided to move the time changes up several years ago, this made it darker longer in the morning and made my blood pressure rise even more each year. I would like to have a few minutes with the people in charge of deciding this (I wonder just who is responsible for determining the time changes). Here is the cold hard fact, no matter when we determine what time it is, there are only so many hours of daylight in a day. We cannot make it daylight any longer simply by changing the clock. So, if you want more hours outside in the daylight, here is an idea for you. Get up earlier and go outside in the morning.

While many blame daylight savings time on farmers, the real ugly truth is that the time change is for the rest of the world. Farmers and ranchers will adjust their schedule for the days getting longer without adjusting their clocks. It’s funny how that works. The sun comes up earlier, you walk out your door earlier and you have more time outside in the daylight.

OK, I know I am not totally being rational either. There are still 24 hours in a day and I could adjust my schedule accordingly. For instance, the night of the time change I could go to bed an hour earlier. The problem with that theory is that the ten o’clock news is still on at ten and if I miss the weather bad things might happen. I am also aware that there is nine o’clock news but watching the news at nine is just not right. I also understand that I could sleep in and go out an hour later to do chores. While intriguing that is not an option either. I am a creature of habit and I do not like change, period. If I go out later in the morning to do chores, then half the day is gone.

I guess I really don’t have a choice about the time change, just like death and taxes it is something none of us like but is inevitable. I still don’t like it, I guess I could move somewhere like Arizona that does not make the time change. While I applaud the wisdom of those folks for making the right decision I probably won’t move there anytime soon. I dislike moving even more than the time change.

I also recognize there are probably people out there who do like the time change and to them all I can say is that I hope you are happy. It is probably a conspiracy perpetuated by alarm clock manufactures and coffee companies to make us buy alarm clocks and need more coffee. In any case, I assure you that it is not something advocated for by the agriculture community so don’t blame us





Wildfires and Ag Family

I am proud to be a part of the framework and fabric of people who provide food and fiber to our world. I am proud to be a part for many reasons but one of the best reasons is because we are one giant family. When one of us hurts, we all rally around and support them and try to help. I guess it is because we can easily put ourselves in their shoes and have a deep empathy for them. This week was one of those times when I hurt for my fellow farmers and ranchers.

Last year we saw what a huge, horrible wildfire could do when a large part of Barber County and some of the surrounding counties experienced a fire like we had not seen. The devastation to the fences, hay and grass were horrible but the injury to livestock was almost unbearable. As a community, we stepped up and provided hay, feed and fencing supplies. It did not fix everything but it did help tremendously. Who knew it would only be beginning of what we would see this year.

I have been watching with horror and sadness as the stories and pictures have come in from western Kansas. I cannot imagine the devastation and the heart break my fellow producers are going through. My heart also goes out to the rural communities who have had to evacuate and those who have lost property. Our rural communities are not only about the ag producers but also our neighbors who help support us and provide the goods and services we need to keep going. We are all in this together.

Time will tell but it seems that there are more fires and much more property lost this year. I also know it does not matter if the fire burned 300,000 acres or 3 acres if your house and property were in the middle. The property and livestock lost represent many years and in many cases multiple generations of hard work. Houses can be rebuilt, cows can be replaced but the scars will never be healed.

I have also read the stories of the lives lost during these wildfires by people just doing their jobs and in a couple of cases trying to save their livestock. I am not sure what I would do in that case, it is easy to say that cows are not worth a human life. I know I would beside myself it my livestock was in danger and I did not try to help them. We do not know what we would do or in what peril we would put ourselves until we are in the moment. It does show the dedication and care that farmers and ranchers have for their animals.

What I am most worried about is that this is only the beginning of a long stretch of dangerous fires. A wet summer and lots of grass created a tremendous fuel load and a dry, warm winter has made it only more dangerous. Now we have winds that never seem to let up and each puff of smoke on the horizon is a signal that no one is safe. I also worry about the brave men and women out fighting those fires. Most of them are volunteers and all of them are putting their lives on the line for us. I know they are stretched thin and fatigue often causes mistakes and in this case, mistakes can be fatal. I pray for rest and relief for the first responders and fire fighters also.

There are no mincing words, it is a bad situation. I hope that by the time this column is published the situation will be better, but I fear it will not be. It is a helpless feeling to talk to friends affected and read the accounts of the damage. I know many of you have already pitched in to help by sending hay, supplies or donating money. I also know that the donations are greatly appreciated and I suspect the knowledge that fellow farmers and ranchers are supporting them is just as important.

If you are want to help, I urge you to go through channels such as KLA to make sure the aid gets to where it needs to go. I also urge you to go through those sources because they know what is needed and are coordinating the efforts. A call into your local Extension Office, KLA or Kansas Farm Bureau will help insure that your donation will have the greatest impact and relief.

I also urge you to pray for relief for the affected areas and protection for the rest of us. Hopefully this dry, windy weather pattern will break and we can step back and assess the damage. If you are affected know that you have the support and empathy of your fellow farmers and ranchers behind you. We are a community and we will recover. That I know for sure and because of that I am proud.

Sick and Tired

I have a cold. Normally this would just be miserable but we have started calving heavy and this is a real problem, I simply don’t have time to be sick. I noticed the tickle in my throat yesterday, then came the headache followed by the stuffy nose. Luckily there were no ewes close to lambing so I took some cold medicine and went to bed.

When I woke up the tickle had gone to a full-blown irritation and my nose and sinus were completely clogged. I want to blame it on my daughter, she has been fighting the crud for better than a week and I am sure she is the one who infected me. After all there is no one else sick around that I could have caught it from. Really it is probably Dad’s fault since he mentioned yesterday with all the sickness going around that neither of us has time to be sick.

Am I telling you this to get sympathy? Maybe, but I suspect that I will get about as much sympathy from any of you reading this as I did from my family. Basically, the message was “suck it up buttercup”. Why would they be so unfeeling? I am not sure, after all, I am sure that I catered to their every need when they were under the weather, despite what any of them might say.

After failing to get any sympathy or care from my family I decided to do the only thing I could do. I called in sick. I am rarely sick and can’t remember the last time I used a sick day, so I called my boss. When the phone started ringing I remembered that I had made that fateful decision to be my own boss and I had cut sick days from the benefit package. I guess that makes me my own replacement.

Without the prospect of sympathy or help I decided to make the sacrifice and drag myself out to do chores, maybe the animals will be more caring. Boy was I wrong. The bottle lambs didn’t seem to care if I was sniffling and coughing and the ewes were even worse. They took advantage of my weakened state and tried to knock the buckets of grain out of my hands. The dogs did seem to care, or was that hunger? It must have been hunger, because as soon as the food was dumped in their bowl they focused on eating not on my obvious affliction. I didn’t even look to the cat for support and the cows were relatively unmoved.

The cool fresh morning air did seem to help and proved to me just how supportive and caring I had been to the rest of my family. I often tell them if you just get to moving and get a little fresh air you will feel better. Don’t get me wrong, all I could think about was collapsing in my easy chair with a hot cup of coffee, but I did feel a little better.

While resting, and drinking my coffee I did have a little time to reflect upon the recent state of my health. I guess I am lucky that it is me that is sick and not one of my animals. The way the weather has been so extreme and the temperature has been up and down, it is a wonder that every one of us and every animal is not sick. I know it is late winter in Kansas and this manic weather is to be expected but it does not make it any easier physically or mentally.

Of course, my sniffles could also be due to the crazy schedule I am keeping, a lack of rest and an even bigger lack of good nutrition.  I have learned over the years that eventually all of that does catch up to you. What I have not seemed to learn is not to put myself in that position to begin with. Nobody has ever accused me of being a quick study.

What I am quite sure of is that this is karma, payback or whatever you want to call it. My daughter has had a terrible cold for the past week and I insisted that she continue to do her chores and keep up with her homework. She told me this was a lot to expect out of someone who could not breath. Then throw in FFA week and the start of softball practice and I guess she was having trouble feeling sorry for my sniffles.

Then I started thinking of friends of mine who are dealing with health conditions much worse and more serious than a little cold and they don’t ask for sympathy or help. Maybe this runny nose isn’t so bad and I guess if I keep moving I do feel better. I might live until everyone gets home tonight and maybe then I will get a little sympathy and care. Oh great, now I am delirious.

What FFA Means

Once again, I am a day late and a dollar behind. OK, so I am way more than a dollar behind and probably a couple of weeks late. Make that at least one week late in this case. Yes, in my planning columns and writing them I often don’t factor in what the next week might be. I guess it is because often I am in survival mode and can’t think past a day or two ahead. In any case, I missed writing about FFA week.

Does that mean FFA is not important to me, absolutely not. FFA has played a huge role in my life and I have seen it become very important in the life of my kids. I know official dress is really uncomfortable because the coat is too warm on some occasions and not nearly warm enough to be called a coat on others. However, I think it is one of the most recognizable and inspiring uniform a high school student can wear. There is just something about the blue and gold that make you feel important and give a sense of pride.

I admit it, when it was decided that FFA no longer stood for Future Farmers of America it bothered me. After all, what is the foundation of the organization and what does that make the letters stand for? Well, over the years I have come to understand the wisdom behind the move. The practical side of it says that the clear majority of the youth going through FFA will never be involved in production agriculture. We know how those numbers are shrinking and they will only continue to get smaller. We also know that agriculture is much more than the production side.

If you look at the rosters of any of our agricultural businesses, you will see FFA alumni after FFA alumni including those in the top positions. The skills and leadership our FFA members are learning and developing make them the best source of corporate and industry leadership available. I don’t know how many employers I have had tell me over the years that they look for the former FFA and 4-H members first and that they have an edge over all other applicants because of the skills they have gained through their experience.

While the need for young people going into production agriculture maybe limited (those opportunities are still there and will always be there) there is a huge demand for skilled and trained professionals in ag related jobs. In changing the name and going away from the label farmers the organization is recognizing and appreciating the need for and the contributions made by all professionals in all levels of agriculture. We are all in this together.

Even beyond farming and beyond agriculture, FFA has so much to offer. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I have spent most of my life working with FFA and 4-H and know very little about other similar organizations that high school youth can participate in. I know, without a doubt, that FFA gives youth the skills that will serve them well in the working world and lets them develop and practice those skills.

Skills like public speaking, record keeping, decision making, and all the technical knowledge in any given area of agriculture. However, in my humble opinion, the best and most important skill that is taught and practiced in FFA is leadership. That is the one special skill that makes FFA members stand out in a crowd. You can first see it in college. FFA members have the confidence and drive that send them to the front of the class. Again, look at the leadership of most of the student organizations in the college of agriculture and the leaders will often be 4-H and FFA alumni. Even beyond that a great percentage of the student body presidents at Kansas State have been former members. I promise it is no coincidence.

FFA has been such an important part of my life that during FFA week I reflect on those experiences and my wish is that every youth could have a similar experience. Each year I marvel how many vocational ag programs are added to our high schools. While it is encouraging that we are adding it still highlights how many high schools do not offer such a great opportunity for their students. Oh, I understand budgets and funding but I will ask just one question of those districts. Do you still have sports?

Again, don’t get me wrong, I am a believer in sports and the lessons that students learn in them also, but I am a bigger believer in FFA and the lifelong skills those students acquire. FFA is something everyone can participate in and excel. It is my hope that more districts will explore adding the programs and that those of us who have benefitted from the program will continue to advocate for it. We need more blue and gold corduroy.

My Lucky Wife

Last week was Valentine’s Day. I am sure it was a day secretly started by the flower, candy and card cartels to push more of their products. Sure, it is a great time to prove your love and I guess that is a good thing. As you can tell Jennifer must be the luckiest woman in the world to be married to such a romantic like me. However, after sharing notes with many of my peer’s I am sure that I am in the majority especially among fellow farmers and ranchers.

Being the unrepentant romantic that I am I had the perfect Valentine’s Day planned for Jennifer. The alarm clock rang at 5:30 am. One wouldn’t want to sleep too late on this special day and miss anything. The very first thing I did was look deep into Jennifer’s eyes and I said; “Happy Valentine’s Day, we better get up and check the ewes and feed bottle lambs.”

This just proves what a romantic sap I am. After all, what is cuter and more romantic that a little lamb and Jennifer is so lucky, she has seven of them. Seven fuzzy little faces eagerly awaiting her and so excited to see her. How could the day start off any better?

Well it did, we found a new set of twins. Wow, first lambs born on her birthday and now lambs born on Valentine’ Day. No need for gifts, how could you top newborn lambs. Especially when you get to snuggle with them while carrying them into the lambing barn. It was barely 6:00 and already so much packed into the day.

Back in the house I made breakfast just for my Valentine. Sure, it was yogurt with granola and she ate it while getting ready to go to work but it is the thought that counts. More than once she mentioned just how lucky she was to have such a great husband who pampers and takes such good care of her. What makes it even better is that she likes to tease me and make her compliments sound sarcastic but I know what she really means. I am more sensitive than most and pick up on subtle hints like silence when she is so moved that she cannot find the words to express her joy.

During the day, I sent Jennifer little reminders to let her know I was thinking of her. Things like; don’t forget to pick up paper towels or did you see 508’s lamb nurse and I wish you were here to help feed all these cute little bottle lambs. Sure, they were everyday thoughts but I like to make sure she knows she is never out of my mind. Of course, later that afternoon I texted to see when she would be home. It may have been under the pretense that I wanted help with chores but I am sure she knew it was because I missed her so much.

I know many of you are thinking how could this night get any more romantic or any better. Just hang on a second because the best is yet to come. I took her out to a fine dining establishment, one that would add a little spice to the night, Buffalo Wild Wings. We were seated us at a table for two right next to the bar and beside the window with a view of the street. It was an intimate setting with forty or fifty other people enjoying romantic dinners. The best part was that Jennifer used the gift certificate she had. Romantic and cheap, she sure knows the way to my heart. Next was a quick trip to Dillons where I bought her not one, but two boxes of candy. Who knew if you waited until Valentine Day night you could get two for the price of one.

Finally, when we got back home we went on a moonlit walk, just the two of us down to the barn. She started the day off feeding cute little lambs and finished the day feeding the same, cute little lambs. Over and over, she mentioned just how lucky she was to have such a great husband in that same endearing, fake sarcasm. Exhausted by a day full of tokens of my affection and pampering Jennifer fell asleep almost instantly. Just before she drifted off she mentioned that she was glad Valentine’s Day was once a year.

OK, before I get hate mail from my female readers, I should also disclose that I arranged to have a singing valentine delivered with a rose, candy and a card. I do have my moments, they are by far too few. Like nearly every other farm or ranch wife Jennifer deserves so much more for all she does, all she goes without and more importantly all she puts up with. She is a saint and I am one lucky guy.






Coverall Code

I would like to think that I am not superstitious. Most superstitions seem petty and silly but if I am honest I would admit to having a few myself. Things like if wearing the same exact clothes from one ballgame to the next when I was playing and (if I am going to be totally honest) when I was coaching youth sports. Silly things like not stepping on the baseline when walking onto the field in a baseball game. Even now, if my favorite team is winning when I start watching the game and start to do poorly I will stop watching because, obviously, it was my turning the game on that made things go badly.

Sports are one thing but real life is another and even then, I must admit that I have superstitions when it comes to my daily life. If things are going good I try not to talk about them because when I do my fortune seems to change. If I have had a string of bad luck I will change my routine up to help change my luck up and when it does I stay with that routine until I talk about it too much and have to change again. Remember I said superstitions are petty, silly and don’t make sense.

My main, number one superstition is with my chore clothes. During lambing and calving I do not wash my coveralls. This is both rooted in superstition and practicality. Practicality from the stand point that every time you wash chore clothes sort of accident will happen and you will end up just as dirty as before you washed them and this usually happens the first time you wear them.

I guess that also works into the superstition part of the equation. If you wash your coveralls something bad will happen (and get them dirty again). So, I only wash my coveralls sparingly during this time of the year and only after the rest of my family has had an intervention (or Jennifer has just thrown them into the washer daring fate). I cringe as I put on freshly laundered coveralls, knowing that some calamity is about to rear its ugly head.

That is what is making my current dilemma maddening. The ice storm that didn’t happen really did a number on my coveralls. OK, so it was me tripping over the wagon I left out and falling into the mud that caused most of the damage. I would put my coveralls on and they would seem like they weighed twenty extra pounds because of all the wet mud on the legs. However, as the mud dried up in the lots, the legs of my coveralls dried up and just became stiff and crusty.

Lambing season is hard on my cleanliness too. Carrying fresh lambs from one barn to the next and wiping my hands off on the legs adds to the coating of grime and gunk. Pulling lambs, wrestling with the ewes and cleaning pens all take the toll on the sanitary state of my coveralls. I try not to wear them into public this time of the year but when I do I notice the stares of the people around me. Apparently, they do not know or care about the horrible fate that I am saving staving off by making the sacrifice.

To make matters worse this week, I was carrying a lamb from one pen to another. I take the utmost care to make sure the lambs are safe. As I was transporting the lamb, it made a deposit right on and in the front pocket of my bibs. It just so happened to be the pocket I carry my phone in. I was completely oblivious to this until my daughter pointed it out to me. The phone was easily cleaned off and I have almost forgot about it each time I put it up to my face to make a call.

I scrapped the excess gooey excrement off the front of my coveralls and soon it dried leaving only a tell-tale yellowish stain. It was the part that went into the pocket and mixed with the alfalfa leaves, feed and other dirt that caused the biggest problem. I scraped it out the best I could with my pocket knife but the odor lingered. What should I do?

Luckily the weather was nice the next two days following this incident insuring that everything dried nicely. Sure, the coveralls were a little stiff but my good luck remained and I decided not to wash them and tempt fate. With only eight more weeks of lambing and calving to go it will be nip and tuck as to whether I can make it the remainder of the season without breaking down and give into the growing mob demanding a washing. But if I do weaken and give in, it should make for a good story. Of course, maybe by talking about it I will scare off the bad luck.

My Phone Addiction

Not long ago I read an article that use of electronic devices, specifically cell phones mimic addiction to drugs in some people. I am sure I read this article on my cell phone and I am here to admit that I am a compulsive cell phone user. I haven’t gone cold turkey for a day to see if I develop the shakes, but this article said it was possible and I would not be surprised if I did. My cell phone is a tremendous tool and one that I could never have envisioned becoming as big a part of my daily life as it has.

When I am not wrapped up on something on my phone I do like to people watch and I can confirm that not only am I not alone in this affliction but I am probably closer to being in the majority. Everywhere I look I see people with their heads down looking at an electronic device attached to their hand. I wonder just how much we miss of the world around us while we are staring intently at that screen.

A couple of recent examples come to mind for me personally. First was the Kansas State versus West Virginia basketball game. So far, this year it is K-State’s best game and it was a great game no matter who you were rooting for. The game was back and forth with many lead changes, I had great seats for the game and was enjoying it greatly. Then came a controversial call and immediately I found myself checking Twitter to see what others, especially the “experts” were saying about it.

In the middle of my reading the numerous opinions that were tweeted, my loving wife asked why I had my phone out and why I was not paying attention to the game in front of me. Shamed and without a good answer I put the phone down, for the moment. I promise you I went back and checked numerous times.

A week later we had similar great tickets for the K-State versus Baylor women’s basketball game. If you follow K-State women’s basketball you will know this game was not a shining moment in K-State’s season but I enjoy watching good teams and Baylor is a very good team. This night I did not have my phone because I had used it too much during the day and my battery was dead forcing me to leave it in the car. It was amazing just how much more of the game I watched and how many more details about the game I noticed. The thought went through my mind that maybe I should leave my phone in the car every time, that is when the shakes started.

Then just this past week the kids and I took Jennifer out to supper to celebrate her birthday. The service was not exactly speedy but that was OK it gave us time for some good conversations. Well, that is partially correct. I looked up from my device to see my other three family members looking at their phones, conversing with someone not at our table. Then I looked around the restaurant and realized that we were not unusual.

Don’t get me wrong, cell phones are a great tool and it is hard to remember life without it. Although I often wonder if we would be better off going back to a time without instant communication. Just how much do we miss because we cannot be without our devices and we cannot bear to go a minute without checking to see if we have new messages.

I know I have a problem and I have tried to compensate for my lack of will power, there are places and times I choose to leave my phone in the car. Church has always been one of those places, that is the one time of the week that I cannot afford distractions. One of the things I am trying to work on this year is to be more focused on the here and now and less on what notification my phone thinks I should pay attention too. Maybe we should all choose times when our lives would benefit from fewer distractions and shut the phone off.

Instant communication is a two-edged sword and one that we need to take a long hard look at. Are we so focused on not missing a social media post, an e-mail or a text that we miss the world right in front of our noses and beyond our screen. I think the answer is probably yes and I am also certain that our quality of life will improve vastly when we shift our focus beyond that screen.

Lambing and the Doughnut Man

Lambing season is officially in high gear at our place. It is a time of the greatest highs and the lowest lows and sometimes they happen in the same day. It is also the time of the year when I can fully relate to the old Duncan Doughnuts commercial. You know, the commercial where the doughnut shop owner greets himself at the door, coming and going. All the while, he is muttering, “got to make the doughnuts.”  That how I felt this morning when the alarm rang, I got dressed and stumbled out to the barn fully expecting to see myself at the basement door.

Last night we had an ewe start showing signs of labor at about nine o’clock and I moved her to the lambing jugs. Jennifer and I went out on our normal ten o’clock check to see how much progress she had made, hoping to walk in to newborn lamb or lambs. Instead we found a restless ewe with no outward signs of progress. Not what we wanted to see. It meant a longer wait and, more importantly, less sleep.

We watched the news and started watching the Jimmie Fallon. The minutes slowly ticked off the clock and both of us fought to stay awake until the predetermined eleven o’clock check. I have often marveled at how hard it is to stay awake until ten during lambing season. Most often during the year I stay up and watch the late news before going to sleep. However, there is something about needing to stay up that makes it that much harder. Luckily, I have never been one who falls asleep very easily sitting up.

At the appointed hour of eleven o’clock Jennifer and I once again put on our chore clothes and made our way out in what was becoming a much cooler night. Again, we opened the door with anticipation that the ewe would be cleaning off new lambs and after a few checks we could retire to a peaceful slumber. Once again, we were disappointed. You would think we would have learned by now. No more progress had been made. The ewe was alternating between nervous pawing of the straw and floor, pacing and laying down.

The decision was made to wait it out. Jennifer had a feeling that something was just not right and I have learned to recognize those premonitions and act accordingly. I am not sure just how long we watched and discussed what to do, but it seemed like an awfully long time. Of course, I am impatient when it comes to things like that so I am sure it was not much time as I thought it was.

Suddenly Jennifer moved to a vantage point where she could see better and motioned for me to come help. Apparently, progress was now being made rather rapidly. I held the ewe’s head while Jennifer worked on the other end. First a couple of feet, thankfully pointed the right direction, then a nose and finally a whole lamb. He was kind of a big fella so we assumed he was the sole occupant. Jennifer worked at drying him off and I went to work making sure the ewe had milk.

That was the point when we found out that only half of her plumbing worked. That was a disappointment but not a terrible turn of events. One spigot, one lamb, it should all work out ok. At least it wasn’t twins. No sooner had I voiced that opinion and the ewe grunted and out shot lamb number one’s little brother. This was a problem.

Lamb number two was dried off, stood up and both lambs took turns at the limited space at the lunch counter as the realization of a probable bottle lamb sunk in. The lambing jug was cleaned up and mother and twins settled in for what was left of the night. We finished up just in time for the midnight check.

We made our way cautiously through the ewes and thankfully did not find any other ewes in labor. I guess on the bright side it made the midnight check much easier. It did not, however, make getting up the next morning easier. It was one of those nights that it seemed like the alarm went off at the same time my head hit the pillow.

The next morning the fog of a short night’s rest was cut away by a sharp wind out of the North. The twins from the night before were doing relatively well. The big lamb seemed to have gotten enough to eat and the little brother was grateful for his bottle. We were even greeted by a new set of twins and a mother capable of feeding them. All in all, a relatively successful night in the lambing barn. Only four or five more weeks to go. I guess it could be worse, the doughnut man has to do this year-round.



Elephants and Ag

This week Barnum/Baily Ringling Brothers Circus announced that they would be calling it quits. Why is that newsworthy? It is a sad end of a long-time piece of our American history. I don’t know too many of us who did not see the circus as kids. I went to see the circus in Topeka when I was a second grader and it was one of the best experiences. I suspect many of us as adults would still jump at going to the circus if we had the opportunity.

However, more than a bit of nostalgia this news should scare those of us who raise livestock for a living. PETA has long targeted the circus as a place where animals were used and abused. It has long been one of the groups biggest campaigns. This past year they finally intimidated the Barnum/ Bailey Ringling Brothers Circus into retiring their elephants to a preserve. The officials with the circus sighted declining ticket sales as the reason for closing, especially in the months following the retirement of the elephants.

Some of you are probably wondering why those of us in animal agriculture should be so worried about PETA convincing the circus to stop using elephants. PETA for many years has been known for flamboyant campaigns against circuses, rodeos, fur and of course animal agriculture. However, many times the organization was deemed not effective because of their tactics that often were hard to take serious. Often their actions came off as cartoonish or childish.

HSUS was the organization to fear. They were better funded, more polished and better connected. Yes, they still are the most dangerous of the animal rights activists but the recent success PETA has had with the circus elephants should have us reconsidering them too. This success will only embolden them and make it easier for them to raise money and possibly have more success.

I must admit that I do not know much about how the circus elephants were treated or the circumstances surrounding their retirement. What I do know is that PETA and HSUS use misinformation and dirty tricks to harm animal agriculture and I would imagine they employed the same tactics against the circus. We should all be scared and worried that they had any success at all.

When it comes to anti agriculture activism success is often not measured with sudden stunning victories but with a gradual erosion and a shift in public opinion. I remember seeing the story about Ringling Brothers retiring their elephants and thinking it was a shame and that the circus should not have given in so easily but it hardly registered on my radar. Fast forward to this week and the circus closing was a major news story and the absence of the elephants was listed as the biggest reason and PETA’s campaign against them was given credit for causing the change. While the retirement of the elephants was a somewhat sudden change in public opinion was gradual.

I am sure that a change in our lifestyles and a change in the entertainment tastes of kids had a lot to do with the downfall of the circus but the elephant issue was the straw that broke the camel’s (maybe the elephant’s) back and brought the big top down. Still many of you involved with animal agriculture may not see what this has to do with your livelihood. Each one of us who are targeted by PETA and HSUS must stand united to dispel the untruths and downright lies put forth by these organizations.

Each time they have a victory they gain more of a foothold and push us just a little closer to extinction. Have no misunderstanding, the elimination of all animal use is their end game and they don’t care what they have to do to get it done. Ethics, fairness and even the law mean nothing to these anti agriculture extrememists all they care about is furthering their “cause”. The scary part is the erosion of public sentiment toward livestock, it is gradual and the absence of elephants in the circus is just the tip of the iceberg.

What do we do now? There is not much we can do for the circus especially Ringling Brothers except recognize the warning it brings to those of us involved in farming and ranching. PETA is a dangerous enemy to our way of life and a force that we must reckon with. We must remain vigilant and work to win the hearts and minds of our consumer. We must continue to be vigilant and tell our story and make sure the truth about animal agriculture is told. It is a cautionary tale that we can include when we tell our grandkids about going to the circus.

Future of the Farm Bill

This week I am going to Phoenix, Arizona to the American Farm Bureau Annual meeting. I am really looking forward to this trip. Yes, partially because it is currently over seventy degrees in Phoenix versus the current below zero here. It is also because I enjoy seeing friends from all over the United States that I only see once a year. However, the main reason I am excited to take part in this meeting is not because of the location or the comradery, it is because I can help influence issues that will shape agriculture.

One of the biggest topics for discussion is the Farm Bill. Each of us know just how important the Farm Bill is and I suspect each of us have different ideas about what should or should not be in it, or even if there should be a Farm Bill. Believe me when I say that this week in Phoenix I will see every angle, every idea and hear much discussion pertaining to the cornucopia of opinions among the many facets of agriculture. I find this discussion fascinating and thought provoking.

We all know the Farm Bill is a massive undertaking and one that is getting harder and harder for agriculture each year. As the number of agriculture savvy representatives and senators get fewer each year we must worker harder to show them the importance of the Farm Bill. In my humble opinion, it is just as important to our national security as any defense spending. I hope I never see the day when we are dependent on foreign food.

That is why it is so important for each one of us who are part of the great network of farmers and ranchers who do feed the nation to get involved and make our voices heard. While I am very active in Farm Bureau and proud of it, it is not the only ag related organization. I think it is very important that we all find an organization that fits our viewpoints and ideas and become involved. Whether it is a general farm group like Farm Bureau or one of the commodity groups joining together with like-minded producers is critical to make sure our voices are heard.

We all know that the percentage of our population who make our livings directly from agriculture is less than 2%, but is really is frightening to me is the growing majority of our population who has no connection to the farm or any idea of where their food comes from. To them the Farm Bill easily can seem like handouts to just a few. That is the idea that is spread by many other organizations with an agenda that is not friendly to agriculture.

What will the Farm Bill look like? That is a good question and one that is hard to answer with so many unknowns now. Each part of agriculture has hot button issues and priorities that must be melded into this comprehensive piece of legislation. It is easy for us to think only of the commodities we grow and not put ourselves in the shoes of other farmers and ranchers in other regions. That is what I really enjoy about being part of Farm Bureau, there is a seat at the table for all producers and all commodities.

As with many things in life, you have a different take on the Farm Bill when you put yourself in the shoes of another producer who is growing a different commodity somewhere else in this great nation. In the end, we are all in this together and we must work out some sort of a Farm Bill that will insure that we have a safety net that will protect the food and fiber that power the rest of our population and that is not easy to do. That is why discussions about the next Farm Bill start almost immediately following the formulation of the current one.

We must all start doing our homework, thinking about what would make the most sense and discussing it with our fellow producers. We must also open discussions with our legislators and start educating those who are not familiar with agriculture. That is the very thing that will happen in Phoenix this week and something I am excited to be a part of.

It is easy to focus on the day to day survival of our farms and ranches and put things like the Farm Bill out of our thoughts. I would also say that this Farm Bill and various other legislation coming at us in the next year or two will have as much to do with the survival of your operation as what you do physically. That is why it is so important to get involved with any of the farm or commodity groups out there. Alone we may not have much of a voice but together we can make a difference and why I am excited about Phoenix.

Dressed for Success (and cold)

This morning was cold, not just cold but ice in my mustache cold. I know, it is January and it is supposed to be cold, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Don’t get me wrong, I would never want to move to somewhere where it is not cold, I think variety is the spice of life and warm all the time would just be boring. That doesn’t mean I still can’t whine about it being cold.

My main complaint about the cold, aside from the fact that it is uncomfortable, is that cold weather makes everything take about twice as long as it should. This all starts with the rigors of getting dressed to battle the artic chill. Often, I am reminded of my very early years when my mother would bundle me up so I could go play outside. Now I get all the unpleasantness of dressing in cold weather gear without any help to put it on.

There is a certain order that must be maintained when dressing for the cold. Each layer needs to be put on in a certain way to accommodate the next layer. Any deviation from the process and uncomfortable bunching will occur. Shoes or boots must go on first. We have all experienced the pain of trying to put them on in full coveralls and heavy winter coat. I have enough trouble bending over to tie my shoes without another layer or two. OK, maybe this is a special problem of mine and if I lost a couple of my own layers it would be easier.

When the foot wear, coveralls and coats are on then it is time for the hat and gloves. Neither of which are hard to put on, but can be hard to locate. This is critical because you only have so long indoors before your outdoor clothing makes you start to sweat. It is amazing how hats and gloves can move over night. Once they are located you are ready to open the door and face the elements. After a long period of preparation.

There is nothing like that first hard slap of cold air. Hopefully you aren’t reminded of how many cups of coffee you drank earlier. I don’t care how hard you try, it is hard to walk fast in winter clothes. For that matter, it is hard to do anything quickly in winter clothes. The next hurdle is to open latches with heavy gloves on. Gripping anything with thick gloves is hard to do and but it beats cold fingers.

Then comes breaking ice. I am convinced that the simple act of breaking ice accounts for most of my lost time in cold weather. Before I am flooded with suggestions let me clear a couple of things up.  Yes, automatic waterers are a great invention. However, we are a low budget operation and while I dream of no freeze automatic waterers I cannot afford them. I also know they make tank heaters but I have this phobia about electricity, water and metal tanks. I didn’t say it was logical but I have a phobia, therefore I chop ice.

That act alone brings up many dilemmas, the most pressing of which is do you carry the ax around while carrying around feed buckets? That can be awkward and dangerous. Or do you go back around after feeding? That takes twice as long and results in wasted steps (I am also painfully aware that no extra exercise is wasted on me). In any case, the water must be opened up and that takes a lot of time.

Then comes the warming up of vehicles. If one is smart and organized (neither of which fit me) this can be done while one is feeding and chopping ice. However, in my case I sit in the pickup waiting for it to warm up or I scrape frost from the windshield. Yes, I know it is easier if the pickup is parked under a shed, but that would take cleaning the space out and that is the subject for another day. Once the pickup is warmed up comes the uncomfortable task of fastening the seatbelt. Once again, I am painfully aware that this may just be my problem and if I did not start with so many layers before I added bulky winter clothes that this might not be a problem.

This is all before I leave the barnyard and it only goes downhill from there. We haven’t even gotten to the tractor or climbing in and out of it. Or the task of removing twine from big round bales with gloves on. In the end a little cold weather is probably  good for all of us. Especially those of us insulated for the cold. After all, if I moved to a warmer climate what excuse would I have for taking so long to get things done each morning.

Farm Kids Christmas Break

I am writing this column during the heart of Christmas break. Christmas break is that much highly anticipated period around Christmas and New Year’s when visions of sleeping dance in the heads of high school and college students. After a grueling round of finals all they want to do is rest, relax and recuperate. They take the break part quite literally.

Parents, on the other hand, especially those of us who farm and ranch, have a much different idea of what Christmas break should look like. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand the pressure on kids in high school and college and I also understand the need for rest and relaxation. All of that in moderation and after chores are done.

Farm and ranch parents view Christmas break as a time when you finally have that extra help at home. I wish I had a dollar for each time I heard about how one of my kid’s non-farm kids got to sleep in and had no other obligations during break. I am sure that is not really the case, but being the cold-hearted Dad that I am, I don’t really care. I lost that nomination for Dad of the Year a long time ago.

What I do see is that lambing and calving season are rapidly approaching and we are not fully prepared. I also notice that there is a long stretch of nice weather that should be taken advantage of to prepare for said calving and lambing seasons. The fact that I have all hands-on deck for this stretch run is just a bonus.

I must also admit that each year I have these lofty expectations for what we will get done during Christmas break and each year those lofty expectations crash and burn. This year was no different and that is what made today extraordinary. We knocked several things off my to do list and even made it possible to get more done tomorrow. Along the way, we got some Dad and daughter bonding too.

Child number one had to go to his “paying” job, his words not mine and that left child number two with dear old Dad and his lengthy Christmas break to-do list. We discussed my plans for us for the day the night before and she gamely agreed to help. The morning started relatively bright and somewhat shiny as we again discussed our game plan for the day. We would start off by moving some portable panels down at Dad’s in anticipation of working replacement heifers the next day and finally bringing the second 4-H steer home. You must understand that our portable panels are only portable in name only and not much fun to move. Only a true farm girl would be able to lift, shove and coax them into place and only a true farm girl would be so excited about bringing her 4-H steer home to go through such an ordeal.

We then ran some errands in town with Grandpa. Errands in town around the middle of the day is code for going into town for lunch. OK, that part of the day probably wasn’t so awful even for a teenager, it beat the alternative of leftovers. However, the list was still long and the day was far from over.

No mid-afternoon nap followed lunch. Instead we built a pen for the bulls that were long overdue to be moved to their winter quarters. This involved driving many fence posts into semi frozen, rock laden ground. Again, not something most teens enjoy, especially on Christmas break. I must admit that the work was done and the attitude of my help was quite pleasant. It was almost fun, almost.

When the fence was finished, the water tank and the bale feeder were filled another line on Dad’s to-do list was crossed off. My assistant wouldn’t admit it but I think there was a sense of accomplishment. The next task on the list was as much for her as it was for me. We had one 4-H steer at home but we had no way to start the halter breaking process. To do this we need to move more portable corral panels, (these panels were much more portable) and set up a smaller, more secure place to slip a halter on the calf and tie him up. Again, this is one of those things only a farm kid understands because number 2 or 3 on her list for Christmas break was breaking steers to lead.

Finally finished for the day, we rested while waiting on supper to be finished. I didn’t dare bring up the to-do list for the next day, I decided to enjoy today’s accomplishments. It’s funny how satisfying a day of productivity can be, even if it is not so restful or relaxing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2016 in Review

This is my last column for 2016. What a year it was, I am quite confident that there are many fortune tellers and others who predict the future that are scratching their heads and saying, “I didn’t see that coming.” I suppose every year is like that but this year seems even more surprising and unforeseen. But you must admit it was kind of fun, like a roller coaster or a movie with a great plot twist.

I know depending on your point of view it was entertaining or horrifying but just for one second remove your personal feelings and interests and look at what happened. TV writers couldn’t have come up with a better script to keep you on the edge of your seat. Again, you may have had your hands over your eyes or been pumping your fist. I am almost certain that no matter what your viewpoint you did both this year.

Yes, it was entertaining but I hope the events of this year are not a pattern or a sign of things to come. It seemed like everything was taken to the extreme. In the elections (let’s face it, the elections were the biggest, strangest, most entertaining event of the year) we had a choice between the two extremes. I guess the middle has become boring so we are attracted to the far end of the spectrum. Was it exhilarating for horrifying. I guess that depends on your own personal views and I prefer to keep mine to myself.

The work of our government also followed this pattern of extreme. Seemingly gone are the days of compromise and civil discussions. It appears you are a winner or a loser and the only way to get your point across is to shout down your opponent. Heaven help us if you lose, then pouting and protesting seems to be the order of the day. I certainly miss the days of civility and grace.

The markets also seem to have followed this trend of extremism too. Whether it is the stock market or the commodity markets, I do not ever recall such big shifts at one time. I remember the good old days when there were patterns to the market and you kind of knew what was coming. Now a gain one minute can be followed by a big loss in just a blink of an eye. I suspect there is a pattern to all of this but I have trouble seeing it.

Even the weather is marked more by extremes than I ever remember. Just look at last week. We are just coming off one of the nicest fall weather patterns in recent memory and boom, we go right to the coldest weather in many, many years. Then all the sudden we are right back into a nice, mild pattern in just the span of a couple of days. I know this is Kansas but give me a break.

I suppose most years are like this if you take the time to look at them in the rear-view mirror, but this year seems pretty wild. I remember when I used to watch TV dramas with outlandish plot twists because they were entertaining and thought provoking. Now I watch even the most far out show with the most outrageous script and that little voice in the back of my head says, “you know that it could happen.”

The one thing I will say about 2016 is that it was not boring. Years from now we will look back on this year with more clarity and know exactly what kind of year it was. Will 2016 be an outlier, one marked with extremes and once in a lifetime events or will it be just a marker on a trend line. I suspect the answer will be yes. Some of the events will be extreme and “once in a lifetime” happenings while others will be an indication of the future. Only time will tell.

Will any of this be an indication for what 2017 will be like? Maybe, all I really know is that I have no idea what will happen next year. I know, just like 2016, some of next year will be good, some will be not so good but all of it will happen no matter what I think of it.

However, as we bring 2016 to a close all I can say is that it was one of the wildest years I ever remember. In fact, it was so intriguing that I am anxious to see what plot twists and unexpected surprises the next year will bring us. All I can say is, take a deep breath, buckle up and hang on for dear life, here comes 2017.

My Christmas Wish

Judging by the music in the malls and the decorations that line the streets I would say that Christmas is near. OK, that really isn’t a good way to judge the time of year because the decorations have been up and the Christmas music has been playing since sometime early in September. However, the temperature and, more importantly, the calendar, tell me that Christmas is near. Maybe I ought to start my shopping this week. Awe, what is the rush, I still have five days.

Honestly, I haven’t even really had time to think about Christmas or even enjoy the season. It seems like every year the hustle and bustle of the season gets to be more and more, drowning out what are the best and simplest joys of the season. We all have commitments and obligations that spring up this time of the year and distract us from the real meaning of Christmas.

My wish for you in the next few days is to put aside the rush of the season and take a few moments to relax and reflect on what Christmas really means. One of my favorite things to do this holiday season is to plug the lights in on the Christmas tree, turn off the lights and the TV and sit in the quiet. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and focus on what really matters.

Maybe it is a side effect of getting older, but the highlights of Christmas are far different now than they used to be. Christmas is a time of renewal and anticipation, it’s not about presents, lights and noise. Christmas is the joy of Christ’s birth and the promise of a new life. I often think about the shepherds (I guess they are the group from the nativity that I identify with the best) and wonder what that experience was like for them. The faith and courage it took to seek out the stable is beyond my comprehension.

Christmas is also a time we spend with family and friends. This year more than any other I am looking forward to Christmas being a time with family. I suppose Ike being in college and coming home for the break might have something to do with that and I suspect as the years go on it will be even more of a highlight. I hope that you will not allow the preparations for those family events and homecomings get in the way of enjoying time together.

Another thing I have noticed is the greetings as Christmas gets closer and closer. People seem to be happier this time of the year and more often than not we wish each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as we part ways. Did you ever wonder why we are more likely to wish people well this time of the year as opposed to other times? I think we might all be better off if we greeted and departed with the same attitude year-round that we do at Christmas time.

I want to share my Christmas wishes for each of you. They are simple but if we each find time for them I think it will lead for a much better and more meaningful Christmas.

My wish for each of you with these last few days of Christmas is to find that time to unplug, find that quiet place and reflect for just a moment. It might be in your easy chair in front of the tree, maybe with Christmas music, a hot cup of coffee and a cookie (that is the method I recommend) but take just a few moments and let the season soak in.

When you are with family and friends allow yourself to be there and enjoy the time together. Don’t let your mind get cluttered with the things you need to do, the obligations you may have or any other distraction. You can let your mind stew over those things later, but for right now focus on the people around you. For a little while let your worries and stress go.

Finally, I hope you find time to spend focused on what Christmas is truly about. I know Christmas Eve services and the services during Advent are some of the most meaningful for me. My favorite part of Christmas is a darkened church, lighted only with candles as Silent Night is sung. That is when I truly feel the Christmas spirit.

I hope that during these final days of Christmas you find time to unburden from the daily grind of life, and take time to remember why we celebrate Christmas. My wish for you is to be able to spend time with the people most important in your life and truly focus on that time together. Most of all I wish each and every one of you a Merry and Blessed Christmas.

Winter Preparedness

It looks like winter is finally upon us with the most bitter cold snap of the year. Just like last year, and the year before and the year before that, I am completely unprepared. Each year this first real arctic blast seems to catch me off guard and not ready. Never mind that it is well into the first week of December before we got really cold weather or that we have had a couple months of unseasonably nice temperatures. I am simply not ready.

Jennifer tells me that my unpreparedness is a chronic condition of my own doing caused by my tendency to procrastinate. OK, she didn’t put it to me that nicely and she may have said it when she mentioned that we should power wash the lambing barn on one of those nice sunny, seventy degree late October days. I think my reply to her was that it was too nice and I wanted to do something else that was of equal importance in my mind, I would do the power washing later when I had more time.

Despite the theory of my wife, I am sure that my unpreparedness is a result of an early winter and global climate change or something along that line. I just assumed that the seventy degree sunny days would last until at least Christmas. It is not my fault that the polar air couldn’t wait to make an appearance, who would have thought it would be here this early?

Last week we had our first little taste of cold weather when the morning lows dipped down into the twenties. That was when I made the shocking discovery that I did not have any insulated bibs. It did eventually come back to me that at the end of calving season my bibs were in such bad shape and so dirty that Jennifer strongly suggested I burn them rather that subject our washing machine to the terror of trying to clean them. I believe it came with the statement that the settings only went to heavily soiled and not gross. It was probably for the best, without all the grime holding them together they would have disintegrated anyway.

So, I had no insulated bibs and could not find any gloves. Did you ever wonder just where the gloves go? Each year I buy the biggest bundle of cotton gloves I can find and each year I am scrambling to find two gloves by March. As for my insulated hat with ear flaps, who knows where it might be. I am sure it will show up later (probably about April).

The prediction is for the bitter cold to be here tomorrow morning. I sure hope there are a pair of overalls that will fit me somewhere in Manhattan. Finding my size is not easy. I know if I lost weight clothes would be much easier to find and I will get right on that, later. I really don’t think I procrastinate, I don’t have time for it. Besides, without my insulated coveralls I might freeze to death if I wasn’t a little chubby.

Aside from my personal comfort, I am woefully unprepared for cold weather. I probably ought to have the tank heaters ready to go, barns bedded down and water hoses drained. I am sure that will all get done in the next few hours. I might even have time to get the chimney cleaned so I can fire up the wood stove and have a place to thaw my cold hands out. That really only matters if I find a little time to get some firewood cut. I guess these are all things that could have been done earlier, but what was the hurry.

The sad truth is that I do often fly by the seat of my pants. That would be an uninsulated, cold, hopefully not frost bitten seat of my pants. I have heard that preparation and planning do make life easier but what is the fun in that and where is the challenge? I think the thrill of the deadline and the exhilaration of the near disaster are much more exciting.

It is very difficult to plan for everything and who has the time to get all of that done ahead of time. I am sure the days are shorter and minutes go by faster these days. The weather should have given me more warning than the seven to ten days I got from the long-term forecast. These are all the excuses that will be going through my head as I am power washing the lambing barn on a day that is below freezing. Oh well, at least I will be warmer in my new insulated bibs and gloves.

Dad's Christmas List

The Christmas Season has officially started on my calendar. I know everyone was waiting with much anticipation for my signal to start the Christmas Season. Now I will acknowledge Christmas decorations, go Christmas shopping and listen to Christmas music. I guess one might say, “Tis the Season.”

This is also the time of the year when my family asks for a Christmas list. I must admit that making that Christmas list is not nearly as much fun as it was forty years ago, Then the formulation of such a list required many hours of study using advertisements and catalogs. Yes, forty years ago, was back in the dark ages back before the internet. Kids have it so easy these days.

In any case, it is much harder to come up with a wish list at my age because, let’s face it, if I need something I usually go out and buy it when I need it. Couple that with the fact that I am old and boring and really don’t require much to make me happy. I have settled into being “Dad” and making it both easy and hard to buy Christmas presents for me. So, I thought I would help with a handy guide to buying gifts for the ag dad.

Tools are always a great idea. Tool supplies seem to dwindle as the months go along with spikes in disappearances coming during planting and harvest. Often wrenches are missing from sets, usually the 9/16 and ½ inch wrenches but if you need an 11/32 I can almost promise it will be gone too. Buying the whole set often just leads to the surplus of 11/32 wrenches and sockets (of course, until one is needed). One novel idea is just to go to the various tractors and trucks and simply collect the misplaced tools, wrap them up and save some money.

Shirts are always the go-to present for any dad but especially the ag dad. It doesn’t mean we will wear the shirt. Often, they languish in our closet as we wear the same shirts day after day because they are our favorite. That is until we are either publicly shamed into wearing other shirts or our favorite, thread-bare shirts just disappear and we are forced to start wearing and breaking in new shirts.

Coffee mugs and travel mugs are nice gift ideas but I also suspect you could use the same tactic as I mentioned in the tool section and simply retrieve the mugs left in our trucks and tractors. This method will require much cleaning and often a strong stomach. Gloves are also another much needed and very appreciated gift and you can also recycle those found in the pickup, however, good luck finding a matching set, one without a hole and a right had glove of any kind.

Hats are tricky. While they may be appreciated by ag dad, they probably will be viewed with a great deal of disdain by ag mom and may suffer the same fate as the gift shirt and spend years of gathering dust while the favorite hat is worn into oblivion. Socks are a great gift because none of us have too many socks, this is in stark contrast from the wish list of the six-year-old me. I guess it is just lowered expectations and greater appreciation for the little things in life like not having holes in your socks.

On our farm, gifts often reflect the passing of various tools such as axes, hammers, fencing pliers, etc.… throughout the year. Sometimes the tool is broken and this is the best way to replace it. Most often, the tool has gone missing and in many cases, the person giving the gift is most responsible for the disappearance. On a side note, many times I get the idea that my Dad’s gift to me is often a message to quit borrowing that tool. I probably need to be much more strategic in what I “borrow” during the year.

If your ag dad tells you all he wants for Christmas is world peace, a million dollars or everyone to just be happy it is a stall tactic. It is not that he doesn’t really want those things because they would be great. However, it is more likely that he really cannot think of anything and it is the buying him time.  Before he gives up and gives you his old stand-by answer, a new shirt.

As I get older most, if not all, of my satisfaction from Christmas is derived from watching others receive their gifts. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate and like the gifts I get, but my perspective has changed. The bottom line, at least for myself, is that we ag dads are basically very simple guys and we really like what you give us, it is really the thought that counts and the clean pickup.