Thank you!

I know everybody has to post something about the Holidays this time of year. Well, guess what? I’m going to be talking about Thanksgiving just like thousands of other people. Is my post going to be paradigm shifting? Am I going to inspire world changing  actions? That is not necessarily my goal. Sure, I’d love it if my words changed someone’s life for the better by inspiring them to get out there and love the many, many people so desperately in need this time of year.6397845509_1f1a4e14f4_o

My main goal today is just to make people think. I want people to actually take some time and THINK about their lives and the things that have and haven’t happened. Believe me! Making people think is not an easy thing to do. Many of us, and I include myself in “US”, go through our day putting out the next fire or going through the rote activities of daily life. We take all day trying to either catch up or not get caught up. Please, sit down for just a minute and take stock.

Thanksgiving is just another day on the farm. Farmers don’t get paid days off work. Livestock don’t take the day off from needing to eat or drink.  Cows need to be milked every day. They need to be milked two or three times a day, every day. Routine farm jobs that have to be done, have to be done whether the day is a Holiday or not. Critical machinery like water lines or feed augers break down and have to be fixed, now. The job is only made harder because all the stores are closed. The job is made harder because you are supposed to be at your Mother’s house by noon. The job is made harder because the weather is cold and frozen outside. The job still has to be done because livestock don’t care that you have places to be. They only know that they are hungry and needy and you are responsible to take care of them.

Thanksgiving is, however, not just another day on the farm. Thanksgiving’s very roots are as a harvest festival celebrating the probability of actually having a chance to live throughout the coming winter. This was a big deal. The first settlements of Europeans in the Americas either starved to death or starved almost to death many times before establishing an Agricultural base that could reliably support life over winter. This is a fact. I am not talking about a harvest making the difference between eating well or eating poorly. This harvest meant the difference between life and death for many of these settlers.

“Yeah, yeah, I know all that” you say. Stop and think. Many of my neighbors (i.e. people living within several miles of my house) do not have enough to eat this winter. Hopefully, they won’t starve like the first Jamestown colony but not enough food is not enough food. Food banks are doing booming business and that business “booms” more pretty well every year. People still worry about having enough resources to last through the winter just like they did 300 to 400 years ago.

Where does that food come from? “Captain Obvious” says that the food this country eats is produced by America’s farmers. Each farmer out there is proud of her or his part in the food chain that supplies this country with a reliable supply of turkey’s, potatoes, pumpkins and cranberries. Each farmer out there is proud that the milk, lettuce, tomatoes, wheat, or pecans that they produce ends up celebrated on this most Agricultural of America’s Holidays.

I am very thankful this year. I have been blessed in my family. I have a job to go to every day. I have a roof over my head. I recently had a co-worker who was involved in a serious accident that could easily have been fatal and she walked away with a few scratches. Thank You, God!DSC01670 Eating time!

I know that many other people live hard lives. Many people around me are struggling and I realize that I can always do more to help them in this season of Holiday and throughout the year. We can all be thankful that we live in a country that produces enough food. Our economic system may struggle to get that food where it is needed most. That is not the fault of the Farmers who struggle every day, even on Thanksgiving day, to produce safe and nutritious food in reliable ways for the world to eat. Take a few minutes, or a minute, even a few seconds next Thursday and give some thanks to everybody who has labored to give you the opportunity to be Thankful in the first place. I will be including America’s Farmers.

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A Typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer

I’m going to introduce you to someone today. A typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer; not to be confused with an “atypical” Wisconsin Dairy Farmer. This typical farmer is “Dairy Carrie”.

Dairy Carrie is a dairy farmer on a family owned farm in Wisconsin. She didn’t start out that way. Carrie started out just like the overwhelming majority of people start out. She started as a non-farmer. Then, she became the first young woman to take an Ag class at her High School! I think that is a great part of her story. Apparently, she had a great experience because she eventually married into a multi-generational farm family. I am not going to go on at length about family working together but I will say that it is great when it works. It doesn’t always work. That is a topic for another day.

Carrie blogs about her experience as a dairy farmer at “The Adventures of Dairy Carrie…I think I Need a Drink!“. She farms with her husband and his parents on a typical Wisconsin dairy of about 300 acres and about 100 cows. She has been posting a lot of new-born calf pictures lately because it is calving season. I was raised on a dairy so I personally think calves are very appealing.Image (I’d call them cute and adorable but that is not a very manly thing to say.) She covers a lot of different topics on her blog about life in Wisconsin but she became Nationally recognized through her Agvocacy. “Agvocacy” means that when Carrie sees an issue relating to Agriculture that needs to be addressed, she takes action!

Her first big action was in response to the historic drought conditions a few years ago. She started an on-line hay drive to donate hay from farmers in Wisconsin to farmers trying to feed their cattle in the extreme dry areas of Texas and Oklahoma. She originally intended to get one semi-trailer of hay. The drive achieved “viral” status on-line and she ended up sending 7 truck loads of hay! That is making a difference!

Carrie attended an AgChat conference a couple of years ago and that just spurred her interest in Agvocacy to a higher level.  Panera Bread Company put out an Ad campaign in-accurately portraying Poultry producers using antibiotics in a lazy attempt to raise un-healthy chicken a few years ago and Carrie spoke out. Her promotion of the truth about Poultry producers caught Panera’s attention and they ended up retracting their whole Ad campaign!

Carrie speaks genuinely and from the heart. She blogs. She uses Twitter. She has a Facebook page. She was picked up by the Huffington Post when she talked about being a Farmer and not a “Farm Wife”. She tells the story of her family and her farm and her life in Wisconsin and her Agvocacy in a transparent fashion that reaches people. All kinds of people are following Carrie. That is the way to tell the story of Agriculture. A thousand farmers may read her but that is “singing to the choir”. The “overwhelming majority of people” who are just like Carrie before she took that first Ag class in High School are hearing and experiencing parts of her life. They are becoming engaged in farming and experiencing the truth about farming as told by someone living the life, not a Restaurant chain bashing modern Agriculture practices to sell burritos. People are being inspired out there right now to start something like a hay drive because they now know it can be done and it has been done. I recommend taking a look at Dairy Carrie and trying some of her brand of inspiration on for size. It might change your life!

Denial

Today’s post is a hard one. That is actually a large part of what this post is about. I am going to be talking about loss; very personal loss. I’m talking worse than your alma mater losing a football game or losing your wallet. I want to talk about death loss. This is something EVERY farmer knows personally.

I just watched an episode of “The Blacklist” on NBC. There was a scene where the main character is talking to her father on the phone. She has just found out her father is in the hospital having some tests because he has a history of cancer and is concerned about relapse. She tells her father “I know you will be OK!”. That phrase is the point. Sometimes, your loved ones will NOT be ok.

Before you get upset with me, take a deep breath and read on. I fully understand that saying “I know you will be OK!” is what everyone does. That phrase is a statement of hope and love and faith. That phrase is often the best possible encouragement in times when people are desperately in need of just ANY kind of moral and emotional boost. It can be the prayer that brings emotional support right when and where it is needed. The problem is blind, un-reasoning, and un-ending belief in that statement in total denial of facts. That only leads to a train wreck where the express train of denial runs headlong into the road block of reality.

Farmers, all farmers, have personal knowledge of loss and death. I have mentioned the biological nature of Agriculture in other posts. “Biologic” literally means LIFE science. “Life” implies death in it’s very essence. What lives, eventually dies. Crops must be harvested before they die in whatever length of growth cycle they may have. The “harvesting” of live animals eventually requires death for the most part. Live animals can be productive without dying by laying eggs or giving milk among other things. Trees and some other plants can produce fruit and nuts for years without dying. Eventually those egg layers, milk givers, and perennial crops will die out. If they can be productive by supplying meat, or leather, or lumber, that death is also productive and a part of the production cycle. But sometimes crops die out of season. Sometimes livestock die from natural disaster or disease or lightning strikes or just plain stupidity.

THIS IS A FACT OF FARMING! Death happens! It happens all the time. We are generally pretty much isolated from the reality of death in our culture. Funeral homes take care of the messy part of the death of loved ones. It often, though certainly not always, occurs at a ripe old age in the antiseptic environment of a hospital or other type of care facility. We can often, but certainly not always, distance ourselves from some of the harsh reality of the ugliness of death. This can allow us to use phrases like “I know you will be OK!” without having to be slapped in the face with the reality that it will not be ok. Again, I want to be VERY clear here. I am NOT comparing the death of a loved one to the death of livestock. I am just saying that farmers have a more frequent and closer relationship to death and loss than many others in our culture.

Farmers see death and loss right up close and personal. ANY farmer that raises livestock of any type will have death loss. “You can only lose ’em if you have ’em.” is a phrase that farmers have to live with. I am going to spell out what that phrase means because it is a vital point. The only way to lose assets like livestock to death is if you have that asset in the first place. Owning livestock carries an implicit understanding that death loss is possible and very probable but the only way to make a living farming is to have that asset in the first place! Farmers CANNOT be in denial of this because IT IS A FACT. Farmers can and do utilize every management technique possible to minimize that loss but it will happen. Livestock get hit by lightning all the time. Stormy WeatherThere is NO AVOIDING THIS. Animals get sick and die whether or not they have received all of the appropriate anti-biotics. My dad had a steer wedge it’s head in a fork in a tree and strangle itself. My wife’s Uncles had a BEAUTIFUL field of river bottom corn that got flooded and totally ruined. That field was a total loss and there was nothing they could do about it. Crops get ruined somewhere every year due to drought or disease or insects. Some of this can be avoided but some of it cannot! Death loss of livestock and ruined crops is a huge financial, personal, and emotional loss that farmers face as a fact of daily life. Farmers are no less prone to trying to deny this fact than anyone else but they are directly faced by it.

“I know you will be ok” is a beautiful phrase. I believe personally in God and I believe that death is not neccessarily a terrible thing. I have worked in health care for over twenty years. Death can be a blessing. Death happens.  My prayers go out to anyone out there experiencing the pain of death and loss. Denying death and the pain and loss that goes with it is pointless. Sometimes you have to be a grown-up and just Farm on. It doesn’t make the pain less. But the only way through is forward.

LOVE!

Water

It has been a rainy morning today. I had about 1 3/4 inches of rain in my rain gauge this morning. I realize that many people might think that statement almost bereft of any important meaning. Those who are not engaged in Agriculture, do not have a garden, and have no yard to mow, may very well find rain nothing but an inconvenience or even a hated problem. We’re going back to the basics for this post.

Farm ponds and creeks are very important water sources for plants and animals. They are also great for fishing and playing! I have spent Many an hour fishing in farm ponds and enjoyed many a meal of bluegill and bass that I caught and cleaned myself. A historic drought in the early 1950’s was the incentive for many ponds being built across Southwest Missouri. Most of the elm trees on my boyhood farm were cut down so the cattle could eat the leaves since there was no grass. Ponds don’t help the pasture that much but they at least are places for livestock to drink.

Livestock drinking brings up another aspect of water availability. Winter cold means that water sources can freeze over unless it is a sufficiently large creek or other moving body of water. Cows and calves can’t break the ice by themselves if it is thick. I remember many times taking an old axe out to the pond and chopping through the ice to create a hole where the cattle could get a drink of water. That is cold, wet, hard work. There has to be Enough water underneath that ice for the cattle to get a drink. That is one place where that 1 3/4 inches of rain I got today becomes VERY important.

Rain this morning!

Rain this morning!

Rain is very important to Agriculture. Water availability may very well be THE MOST IMPORTANT factor across all of Agriculture. Crops need rain, livestock need water. Animals depend on crops to eat that depend on water to grow. Water is the basis for cleaning pretty well everything relating to farm production. The biologic nature of Agriculture means that everything has a time limit. Everything either goes bad after a certain amount of time (think of rot, mold, and decay), or starts off bad as in manure, contaminants like ag chemicals, and waste  animal parts in meat processing.

I grew up on a dairy farm where the equipment had to be carefully cleaned and dis-infected after every milking twice a day every day. Think about how quickly milk goes bad when left out. My brother had a gallon of milk spill in his car once and it stank that car up for the rest of its life! Water is the basis for cleaning in almost every part of life. Guess what? Animals poop! (Poop is such a silly sounding word. It makes 6 year olds out of everybody. I always want to giggle when I hear “poop….. poop, poop, poop”.) Manure is a much more civilized term. Milk cows produce manure and they really don’t care where they let it fly. You haven’t lived until you have had a cow swish a manure filled tail around while you are attaching the milker and it wraps around the back of your head and slaps you in the face and mouth! Take my dad’s word for it! Milk barns have to be cleaned of all that manure during and after every milking. Manure is right there at the production point of milk. The two have to be separated. Water is the key.

Water is used for mechanical advantage in processing a lot of produce. Apples,  cucumbers, and many other types of fruits and vegetables are examples where sluices are used to convey produce from one place to another without bruising it.  The product gets washed and safely moved at the same time. Water is safer, cheaper, easier, and more energy efficient at moving things than belts or rollers.

The next time the weather forecast calls for rain, think about all the benefits that water brings with it. I happen to enjoy water quite a bit. I enjoy drinking it alot. Here is a link to an article discussing the value of water as a vital commodity to be invested in for the 21st century. Just a head’s – up, water availability is going to become very critical to everyone in the next 50 years. That rain may be a nuisance, but you better keep praying for it.

Seasonality

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

Evening light

Evening light

All you have to do is look out the window in the evening and you can tell that this season’s change is coming faster every day. The sun is setting much earlier than it was a month ago. The work is no less hard and, with harvest upon us, it may be harder for a while. Farm life is very affected by seasonality. Cows and sheep calve in the spring (generally, this is not a given), crops are planted in the spring, hay is cut in the summer, harvesting can occur at various time based on the type of crop in mind, and winter is the time to catch up on other things.

The biological nature of Farming leads to great seasonality. I work in a hospital. I see a little bit of seasonality in my work because people are more active in the summer and allergies are more active in spring and fall but for the most part illness is  an “equal opportunity employer”.  My work varies day to day but I do the same type of things regardless of the time of year. Farmers don’t cut the ice on the pond for the cattle to drink in the summer because the water isn’t frozen! (Captain Obvious.) They don’t plant corn in the fall but they may plant cover crops like winter wheat or rye. Livestock have to be milked year round but they generally get fed a lot more and a lot differently in the winter due to no available pasture. I could go on and on.

I know these things are very obvious to people who grew up with them. Not everybody has. Most people these days get up and go to work Monday through Friday exactly the same way all year long. A lot of people get in the car in the garage and get out of it in a parking garage and never get out in the rain, sleet, or snow. They don’t even necessarily put on a coat or hat. Try feeding the cows for an hour and a half in a minus 20 degree wind chill without a coat. Farmers are much more tied to these biological life factors then most people.

Fall is a great time for cookie baking and football games, feeding wildlife and enjoying the last rose of summer. Fall trips to check out the foliage and visit the relatives are a great idea. Enjoy it while you can. Winter is coming. Spring will be on the way in a few months after that.IMG_0433IMG_0276IMG_0108IMG_0485IMG_0416IMG_0808

See – N – Say

One of my previous posts referred to the sounds that you can hear out in the country when you are a little farther from the hubbub of modern cities. Today, I am going to go more in-depth on that topic. Listen up.

The last information I have states that the “Farm sector” of the economy is responsible for 16% of American GDP (Gross Domestic Product). That means that Ag is responsible for 16% of the market value of all goods produced in the US in one year. Here is a link to more than you ever wanted to know about the US GDP. Agriculture is important to our economy. It is MORE important to our collective Psyche. What is Thanksgiving all about? THINK about that question!

“Play” is vastly important to the mental and physical growth of children. Playtime helps children to develop their imagination and learn about the world around them. Most of us grew up playing with toys of some type. We made them out of our imagination if we didn’t have actual toys. A number of my toys were farm animals, farm models like barns, fences, and equipment.  I made fences and corrals out of blocks and Lincoln Logs (a great toy). I am sure that kids who did not grow up on farms probably did not have as

Lincoln Logs!

Lincoln Logs!

many of these types of toys as I did but I am also sure that they either had a few of them or they had access to them at other places like daycare or Grandparents houses. They have been basic to childplay  since kids have had toys. Some electronic toys and games are also farm related. You can find farm related games all over the “APP Store”. There are 2,566 farm games on the Apple App Store this morning.

“Farm Play” has been essential to the American ethos. Children learn at an early age about farm animals. They learn that basic livestock are cows, pigs, and chickens. They learn about dogs and cats and horses, too. They learn that these animals are on farms. They probably DON”T all learn the difference between meat animals and pets. This is a huge difference!

The first Christmas toy I bought for my beautiful granddaughter last year was a See-N-Say by Fisher-Price. She loves it according to her Mom and Dad. My Granddaughter is starting to talk and the process of that is imitation. She is also learning to imitate farm animals.

See n Say

See n Say!

“What does a cow say?” is a question little kids get early in my family. (Christmas Spoiler for my family, here. My second granddaughter is getting the same thing for her first Christmas.) I will, eventually, make sure they learn the REAL sounds that cows and pigs and chickens make.

I want my family to learn at an early age about the importance of farm animals. I want them to learn about the difference between production animals and pets. There is an ENORMOUS difference! I want them to know where their milk and their meat and their vegetables come from. I want my grandkids to mentally connect farm life and the animals they find there to positive feelings and FUN! I want them to connect farm Work and Production with positive thoughts and feelings.  “MOOOOOOOOOO!”

Waiter, I have a fly in my soup!

The old joke responds ” Please, not so loud! Everyone will want one!” I started to make a pot of the “Elixir of Life”, a.k.a. “coffee”, this morning when what to my wondering eyes should appear but A FLY floating around in my coffee pot! I was not amused. How in the world could a fly get into my empty coffee pot in the first place? The pot has a lid on it with only two TINY little openings And it was sitting in the drip coffee maker where you could BARELY slide a piece of paper between the pot lid and the bay of the coffee maker. FLIES! AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!! (Coffee is another post subject we’ll get to in time)

I grew up on a farm and flies are just a fact of life on a farm. I will never forget when some cousins of mine were visiting from Philadelphia, PA and went with me to bucket feed the

Disgusting!

Disgusting!

calves.  They had never SEEN a farm, much less visited one. They were amazed and appalled at the number of flies in the shed where we fed the calves. The flies were all over the calves and trying to get into the milk buckets. My cousins were constantly waving their arms and swatting at the flies like me fighting cobwebs while I just fed the calves. It was just flies, after all.

Flies are a fact of life in nature. They serve a purpose, just not a purpose we tend to appreciate very much. Here is an article that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about various types of flies. ‘Mother nature”( a euphemism for the forces of nature in my book) fills every niche of life possible and there is a niche for flies. Fly larvae, maggots, eat refuse. (“Refuse” is a nice word for manure and other things that come out of animals and vegetables isn’t it?) They can serve a very useful purpose in Healthcare wound management of all things! The thought of having maggots on your flesh is counter-intuitive to almost everybody, but it does work and has for millennia! One of the reasons we don’t like flies is they tend to do their thing on the refuse and then come straight to us and sit on our food.

Just so you know, I hate flies. I hate it when they fly around the house. I hate it when they sit on my beverage of choice.I REALLY hate it when they land on my hot dog, hamburger, steak, and on and on. I do not want to find another fly in my coffee pot. I REALLY do not want to find one in my coffee.

Heifers versus Herefords?

Grab a seat. Get some chips and a beverage. Here’s another cautionary tale. Go ahead, I’ll wait here until you get back.

imagesOnce upon a time, I was actually much younger. This was before I got married so it really was some time back. ( I have been married over 30 years.) My parents were great friends with a family from a large city in Nebraska where I was actually born. These people were bred, born, and raised city folk. Nothing wrong with that. I just didn’t realize how much of a difference that really was (and is). This family came to visit our farm every year. This was huge. They had a son just a little older than myself and we would spend the whole week fishing. This went on for years.

This family also had two younger daughters and, logically enough, there came a time when that started to register in my fishing beclouded mind. (Fishing tends to overwhelm rationality at times. That is a story for another day.) I was talking to one of these young ladies one day about cattle and happened to mention Hereford heifers. Ok. Put the chips down for a second.  Here is the point of this story. The young lady replied ” What is the difference between a “heifer” and a “Hereford”?

I literally stood there a minute looking like one of the largemouth bass her brother and I had been catching out of our farm ponds for the last umpteen years: my mouth hanging wide open and a dazed look in my eyes. She was a more or less adult young woman who had been visiting our farm most of her life. She was reasonably intelligent and well spoken. She was a High School graduate. My mind struggled with the concept that she did not understand what a “heifer” was and what a “Hereford” was! The kicker, here, is that I tried to explain that a “heifer” was an immature female bovine and a “Hereford” was a bovine breed. I couldn’t get the point across.

I got the point very well. Fundamental information that is basic to life on a farm may be, and probably will be, incomprehensible to someone whose life has had little common frame of reference. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The whole raison d’être (look it up) behind this blog is that I feel the need to help expose people to a frame of life reference that is shrinking exponentially. I must always keep in mind that some of the references I make have to be explained in language that people who don’t share my background can understand. That is what Communication is! True communication is not just vomiting out reams of information. True communication is imparting information to others in such a fashion that they can absorb it, understand it, and implement it in their life. My “story”, and your story, and anybody’s story deserves to be told in the most comprehensible fashion possible. I may have to get out my iPad and my stylus and diagram that story with stick figures. Agriculture, rural Ag culture, deserves the best treatment I can give it.

Let me know if I get to spouting Agspeak “gobbledygook”. I work in Healthcare. I know how frustrated people can get when they don’t understand. Do you know what is worse? Worse is when people THINK they understand but they don’t. Being afraid to speak up and ask for clarification is even worse than that! Communicate with me so I can more effectively communicate with you! Let’s all try to learn a little bit.

Fall is already falling

People who live outside of the city centers know that the seasons are starting to change. Fall is starting to fall all over my yard. This is mainly in the form of walnut leaves and walnuts. The three walnut trees in my back yard are dropping spotted yellow leaves and green and black nuts everywhere.  I can sit on my back deck and hear the “thump” of a walnut hitting the ground about every 15 minutes or so. I highly recommend to myself that I wear a hard hat on any foray out there mowing grass or heading to the garden. Walnuts are always one of the first trees to lose their leaves as the daylight starts to get shorter. It was about 98 degrees yesterday so this change is certainly not caused by cooling temperatures.

DSC03010

Southwest Missouri is home to the “Premiere” black walnut company in the United States. Hammons Products. Hammons Products shelling stations are a staple sight to rural Missourians every fall. Loaded down pick-up trucks line up to unload their fragrant mounds of walnuts. This is a popular money making enterprise for lots of families. A word to the wise is to wear gloves if you plan on picking up a bunch of walnuts. The hulls stain your hands quite a bit and that stain does not want to wash off very easily. Here is a factoid for anyone wanting to make some quick cash. That price is for the HULLED weight not the weight with all that green and black stuff on it. Shelling stations open October 1st at an initial price of $13.00 per hundred pounds according to the Hammons website. http://www.black-walnuts.com .