Pasture Visitors

Pasture Visitors

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Just A Box of Crayons: Ag Month 2020

I gave a memorial service earlier this month for the Kansas Master Farm Homemakers Guild annual meeting. I used some missing crayons to illustrate the "holes" left behind by the unique members who've joined Chapter Eternal during this past year. Just like all the crayons in the box, each one had his or her own job to do. They leave a little less "color" in our world in their absence.

Anyway, our gathering in Manhattan happened just as the U.S. response to Covid-19 - or the coronavirus - was beginning. There was some talk of postponing the meeting, but several of our members were already on the road driving to Manhattan about the time the Big 12 canceled the rest of its tournament. While there, the NCAA sidelined the Big Dance. Governor Laura Kelly's request to limit group gatherings to 50 or less didn't come until after we'd all packed our bags to come home. And the 10-person limit was a week-and-a-half down the road at that point. The crowd was a little fewer than planned, but, for the most part, the Kansas Master Farmers/Farm Homemakers showed up to honor the six new couples who joined our ranks.

Since the 1920s, Kansas Farmer magazine began to publicly recognize excellence in farming, homemaking, farm living and rural citizenship. In 1953, K-State Extension got involved, handling the details of selecting Master Farm couples and planning the March recognition banquet. Local extension councils and districts submit nominations, and a committee picks one couple from each extension area, plus two couples at large. 

The farm families are all different. Some have a lot of acres. Some don't. Some are primarily livestock operations. Others focus more on grain production. But all have figured out how to combine their livelihood with community service - though that looks different from couple to couple and from community to community, too.
The month of March has been proclaimed Kansas Agriculture Month, and today - March 24 - has been declared Kansas Agriculture Day. Farmers and ranchers make up less than 2 percent of the population, and that number drops each year.  We also run businesses that are highly technical, are not very well understood and operate on razor-thin margins.
Not terribly long ago, a new acquaintance asked what I did. I explained that my husband and I are both fifth-generation farmers in our respective families. His response floored me when he said, we had "quite a racket sitting back and collecting government payments."
I was so stunned that I didn't respond quickly enough and the moment passed. It bothered me for two weeks before I wrote an old-fashioned letter to him to try and explain why he had the wrong idea about farmers and farming. He has since apologized, and I hope I made a difference by opening one person's eyes.
It's what I try to do all the time. Every day is Ag Day for me, whether I'm helping with cattle tasks (like Saturday and yesterday) ...
... or delivering meals to the field during busy times ...
 ... or visiting the Case parts counter ...
... or writing some children's books about farm life ...
... or contributing to my rural community.

It could be via  my KFRM Central Kansas reports and through blog posts via Kim's County Line, where I offer a glimpse at one Kansas farm family by featuring farming, family, faith, food and photography.
Every day is Ag Day for Randy, who works to provide food, fuel and fiber through crops and livestock.
As our society moves away from its agrarian roots, fewer people seem to recognize the value. As organizers of Ag Day say:
We know that food and fiber doesn't just arrive at the grocery or clothing store or magically appear on the dinner table or in our closet. There's an entire industry dedicated to providing plentiful and safe food for consumption.
  • Each American farmer feeds about 165 people. Agriculture is America's No. 1 export.
  • New technology means farmers are more environmentally friendly than ever before. 
With the coronavirus outbreak, the Department of Homeland Security has labeled agriculture a critical industry, allowing businesses to continue operating as usual amid current and potential restrictions created to stem the spread of the virus. Farm groups had been concerned about the potential for movement restrictions put in place to limit exposure of the virus, including the potential for halted shipment of inputs needed for the upcoming planting season.

Still, farm businesses are doing their part to prevent the spread, too. At our local co-op, visitors need to go through the office to arrange for services. Some of the extraneous interactions have been curtailed for the time being - whether that's getting together for a cup of coffee to talk rainfall or commodity prices while they wait for a tire repair or that bunch of retired farmers playing dominoes in the farm store.
At the Master Farm Homemakers Guild meeting, we sang "The Sunflower Song," penned by one of our Kansas members, Rachel Imthurn. The words of the second verse seemed meant for the moment:

We celebrate this nation with roots deep in the sod.
Our hearts are with our children.
Our souls reach up to God.
Our joys grow in sharing the sunshine and the rain.
And when those hard times come along 
Friends help to ease the pain.

Farmers will still plant their spring crops, as long as they can get the inputs needed. Farmers and ranchers like us will continue to sort and work baby calves like we've done since our families settled as Kansas pioneers - and just like we did on Saturday and again on Monday. (More on that later.)

Just like other industries right now, there are plenty of "what ifs" and "what about that?s" that are being contemplated, whether that's supply and demand, the tottering economy and seasonal labor concerns.

The world is different today than it was a month ago. But we all need to figure out how to work together and live in the "same box."
And, by the way, I didn't mention it in my memorial service, but some crayons have a farm connection. Soybean oil can be substituted for paraffin wax in some brands of crayons. In fact, the Wisconsin Soybean Association estimates that one acre of soybeans can produce about 82,368 crayons. Prang Crayons are made with 85 percent soybean oil.

Happy Agriculture Day!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Weathering A Storm: Covid-19

4th Street cottonwoods - File photo from Kim's County Line
On Sunday, Pastor Kim talked about storms during children's time. As is often the case during the "young disciples" time, we older disciples were paying attention, too. That's probably the point.

She talked about her dad driving through high water following a rain storm. Even though they made it through without incident, she can still "hear" the rush of the water in the wheel wells as they drove through the water covering the road and feel her stomach caught in her throat as her grade-school-aged self worried about being swept away.

I imagine all of us can remember storms and how they made us feel. When I was a little kid, we watched as the Iuka tornado skipped across the horizon. It was several miles to the east of us, and we were never in any danger ourselves, though it wrecked havoc on that day in 1965 in the tiny town where we hauled our grain each harvest. For weeks afterward, my sisters and I would race to the basement if we were outside and a cloud drifted over the sun and dimmed the day - even for a fraction of a minute.
No Kansan who is old enough to remember will forget the 2007 Greensburg tornado and the tornadoes that raced across Kansas that night and the next.

When I was a freshman in college, I drove home for Thanksgiving during a snowstorm. I had other passengers to transport along the way. I remember finally turning my white-knuckled hands into the farmstead driveway and bursting into tears. I was so relieved to be there.
It feels a little like we're caught in a whirlwind or blinded by snow at the moment. This is uncharted territory. "Social distancing" is a new phrase never uttered before in my 60-plus years. Closing school buildings is unprecedented. Church services may be called off due to ice or snow on occasion, but those cancellations have expiration dates.

Now, I don't know the next time we'll go through the Stafford United Methodist Church's doors for a worship service. We weren't supposed to be there last week. We thought we'd be at Jill's and Eric's church instead. We had plans to go to Topeka for the weekend after the Kansas Master Farmers/Master Farm Homemaker meeting and banquet in Manhattan on Thursday and Friday. (More on that another day, but it was before the announcement recommending gatherings of 50 people or fewer . It was way before than number went down to 10 people.)
But then the dominoes started to fall as the U.S. began trying to get ahead of the Covid-19 virus outbreak. The Big 12 basketball tournament was abruptly canceled. The entire NCAA Big Dance became a wallflower. It was just the beginning of an avalanche of uncharted territory.

Jill texted on Friday and said she was going to have to work the whole weekend. As a dietitian and an assistant director with the Kansas Department of Education Child Nutrition program, she is on the front lines in figuring out how to feed Kansas school children who rely on school lunches and breakfasts. For some, those two meals at school are the only ones they can count on each day. She's been working 12-plus hours a day ever since. I know health care professionals, grocery store workers and many other people have been working hard, too, doing their part.

At any rate, we came home directly from Manhattan.
Even so, it wasn't hard to practice social distancing in our small church. The hard part was remembering to do things differently than our habitual routine.
My friend, Brenda, knew we were going to be gone. She chooses the music for our church's service each week, so she chose the hymn, "How Great Thou Art."

Yes, she specifically chose it in my absence. I don't think I've ever been brave enough to say it here on the blog, but I'm not a fan of "How Great Thou Art." For many, I know it's a favorite hymn. Maybe it was sung at a loved one's funeral. I've sung it at a lot of funerals myself. Maybe it provided comfort to you during one of life's other storms, and I respect that.
From Byers UMC
But, for me, I think I absorbed my lifetime quota as a youngster at Byers UMC. Our church was part of a three-point charge. We invariably waited on the preacher to arrive from Iuka UMC. To pass the time, congregants would shout out hymns they'd like to sing while we waited. "How Great Thou Art" was definitely on the congregation's Top 10 list. (Who needs Casey Kasem?)
Afterwards, Brenda apologized and reminded me, "But you weren't supposed to be here!" But there was really no need. You see, on that particular Sunday, "How Great Thou Art," tied me to that spiritual foundation laid so many years ago at the Byers UMC. I could picture my Grandma and Grandpa Neelly in the pews, my Grandma doling out lifesavers or handing us a cloth hanky to create babies in a cradle. I could picture my spot on a yellow wooden chair in the church basement during Sunday School gathering time, learning songs like "Deep and Wide" and doing the actions to "Zaccheus." I remembered the faces of the ladies who poured the Kool-Aid at Vacation Bible School or taught my Sunday School classes.

The closing hymn last Sunday was "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again." It was another message from my childhood and especially meaningful as we contemplated that it was likely the last time we'd gather together for awhile.

And in the middle hymn slot was "Seek Ye First." That particular song wasn't from my childhood, but the words of Scripture it is based upon have been a litany for the past few months - long before this coronavirus hit.

Pastor Kim's sermon was equally compelling. She urged us to cultivate our relationship with God. There's no March basketball to watch. Life looks markedly different than it did just two weeks ago. And while those things make us sad and somewhat anxious, we could - and should - find refuge in praying and reading the Bible and finding ways to be the church outside the walls of the building itself.

Those spiritual practices give us strength for the journey - whether we can see through the storm or not.

Music speaks to me. Every week, we sing "Go Now in Peace" as our benediction. And though those things we do week after week can become rote, the words hit home last Sunday. (A YouTube version is at the bottom of the page, if you'd like to listen.)

Go now in peace. Never be afraid.
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith. Steadfast, strong and true.
Know He will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love and show you believe.
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there, watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith and in love.

Yesterday, there were two babies born to our little church family. That is the extent of our population boom, so it was unusual to have both little ones arrive the same day.

But seeing the beautiful faces of these tiny little girls on Facebook was just the antidote needed to provide some sunshiny good news in a cloudy day - both literally and figuratively.
 And these daffodils outside my front door didn't hurt either.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Leave It To Beaver

Leave It To Beaver.

Seeing an actual beaver may be as elusive as finding re-runs of that favorite '60s and '70s TV show (1957-1963), since we don't have Nick at Night or TV Land on our satellite television subscription.

If I could find my local beaver, he wouldn't look a thing like Jerry Mathers. Instead, he might look something like this:
Photo from Wilderness Classroom
We do, however, see evidence that the Beav and maybe a friend or two are at our Peace Creek pasture. Just like the TV character, our local Beaver is leaving a trail of mischief behind him.
The beavers have built up a dam at our Peace Creek pasture. It's a little hard to tell from a 2-D photo, but the conglomeration of sticks, cattails and other "treasures" has backed up one portion of the creek, making it about 2 feet higher on the left-hand side of the dam than on the right-hand side.
I asked my resident wildlife expert about why they would do that. He's not exactly sure either, though his best guess was that the beavers like the deeper water the dam provides.
Even though we don't see the beavers, they leave plenty of evidence that they are in the area.
They do have a pretty place to hang out.
I've always said the working conditions are beautiful on The County Line. It appears they agree.

NOTE - These are crazy times we are living in as the U.S. practices "social distancing" to try and combat the spread of the Covid-19 virus. I'll have some thoughts on that and on March as Ag Month. But, before the edict against gatherings of 50+ came down, Randy & I attended the Kansas Master Farmer/Farm Homemaker meetings and banquet. Since I was last year's secretary, I've been working on those minutes instead of blog posts. I wrote this post before we left for Manhattan. More to come ...

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Free Lunch? That's a Bunch of Bull

There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Oh, we didn't shell out any money as we went through the line and picked up our BBQ beef sandwich, chips and cookie at the Poland Angus Farm bull sale. (It was very tasty, by the way.)

And they wouldn't have made us pay if we hadn't purchased a bull at the sale.

But we did. So it was not a free lunch.

In these days of Google, I wondered where the idiom "free lunch" had originated. Who knew TANSTAAFL was an actual acronym.
The concept of TANSTAAFL is thought to have originated in 19th-century American saloons where customers were given free lunches with the purchase of drinks. ... So the saloons purposely offered free lunches with the expectation that they would generate enough revenue in additional drinks to offset the cost of the lunch. 
I think the concept works out OK for bull sales, too.
No. 45 came home with us.

Here's what the sale book said about No. 45:
Another Peyton son that will work on heifers that hits all the numbers.
The verbiage wasn't as effusive as some of the other descriptions, so I guess that's why we didn't pay top dollar. (If our notes are right, the top amount paid that day was $10,000.)
The free lunch wasn't the only fringe benefit. There was an awfully cute greeter as we pulled into the Barber County farmstead.
There were no parking valets, but there was plenty of room in the "parking lot."
When we arrived, we took a sashay through the honored guests.
Based on numbers listed in the sale book, Randy had marked several bulls he was interested in.
He was not alone in his perusal of his sale book or in looking at them in person. It's not just a beauty contest, though looking for correct conformation for each breed is one factor in the decision-making process. While Randy looks for bulls that produce smaller birth weight calves, he's also looking for those whose progeny have higher 205-day weaning weights and yearling weights. He will use this new bull with heifers, so the birth weight is important for first-time mothers.

The weaning weight EPD - or expected progeny difference - on this bull is 72 pounds above the breed's average weight. The yearling weight EPD is 122 pounds above the breed's average weight. So, theoretically, the bull produces offspring that gain well in the first year. He had good milk EPDs, which should make the females he sires good replacement mamas who will make plenty of milk for their calves.

I always take several photos in the bull pens, hoping that I'll end up with a photo of the guy we end up with. But Randy had quite a few marked this time, so my pen photos of No. 45 were not glamour shots, though I did catch his profile in a frame or two.
After our "free lunch," Randy continued to look at the updates and read the sales book. I read my mystery.

And then it was time. At this sale, the bulls don't come into the arena. Instead, they are shown on a video screen. Three bid takers gave attention to the crowd while the auctioneer chanted his spiel. 
Here was No. 45's brief appearance as a TV star. 
After the auction, we were first in line to retrieve our purchase. If you haul it yourself, there's a small discount. Buyers also got a discount if they were repeat customers. We were.
Once home, the other bulls checked out their new pen mate. Since there are no ladies to impress at the moment, there were no fights - just curiosity.
We don't plan to sell any bulls this year unless they don't pass their "job interview" with Dr. Bruce, our veterinarian, later this spring.

On our way to the bull sale, we made a slight detour and took four heifers who'd lost calves to the Pratt sale barn. 
That required sorting them from the mamas and babies. Randy insists we don't have a Mickey Mouse operation, even though he used stationary that might dispute that. (He knows that I have no memory for numbers, so he makes me a list before we ever start. It keeps everyone happier.)
As we waited to unload, Randy queried, "I wonder if we'll make enough money selling the heifers to pay for the bull?"
I told him there was a flaw in his theory, since we had been raising and feeding those heifers since they were born in the winter of 2018.
We bid $3,750 for the bull, but ended up paying closer to $3,512 after the discounts for hauling and as repeat customers. The heifers ended up bringing $3,585 at the sale barn the next day - $930/head.
Now, if you don't figure pesky things like feed costs, transportation, labor, etc., Randy can feel good. Shhh! Don't burst his bubble.