Up Close and Personal

Up Close and Personal

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Class Photos

4th grade school photo
Remember picture day at school? Back in the 1960s, you wore your favorite dress, which your mom probably made at home. Your mom rolled your hair in rollers the night before so that you had those tight rolls of curls right next to your head. Your bangs threatened to crawl right up into the crown of your head.

I seem to recall an elementary school photo of me where my hair is a bit cattywampus. I'm sure it's in a cabinet at my folks' house, but I couldn't find it to share here. (What a pity, right?!)

I am sure that my hair was in place when I left home. However, the school photographers used to pass out these little combs before it was our turn to climb up into the portrait chair. Being the little rule follower I was, I probably tried to use that comb to "fix" my hair. I "fixed it" all right.

Experience is a good teacher:  I seem to recall telling Jill not to use the comb so conveniently provided before Lifetouch photos at school. 

As I was wandering around in the corral the other day, I couldn't help but think about taking class photos. So, here are some from the County Line Class of 2017.
This was our first little enrollee in the class. No. 700 always seems to catch my eye, and this time, he was being incognito up in the straw. There's always a Miss Photogenic in the bunch. (It was never me!)
Some kids never sit still for a photo. (I know a couple of granddaughters like that, too.)
No. 742 got a little carried away with the "eye shadow." You know those people who end up with raccoon eyes. Tragic!
Isn't this a sweet little face?
No. 704 glistened during the golden hour. We all like good lighting in our photos.
As an amateur photographer, I always like the little hams in the bunch ...like 703, who stood so still ...
... and its corral mate, No. 713, who jauntily leaned her head "just so," like the old-time photographers used to do. 
With a corral full of black calves in the heifer lot, No. 708 wins the award for uniqueness. I always love the little black baldies and their sweet white faces. 
There are more white faces in the pasture though. This one has such a sweet expression.
Accessories always make a picture pop. That red feed bunk is just the right one.
Some do all they can to hide from the camera. I can relate!

Monday, February 20, 2017


We chomp through our share of leftovers around here. I know there are husbands who don't want to eat them. Thankfully, mine is not one of them. As long as there's something to eat, he isn't picky about whether it's a re-run. Oftentimes, I prefer the term "planned overs." I take leftover taco meat, for instance, and turn it into something else the second time around - like a taco pizza.

But last week, the loader tractor bucket also bit into a few leftovers. In January, an ice storm affected much of Central and Western Kansas. While it created a lot of beauty, it also brought some damage, including to the big high-line poles that run through one of our fields. Crews spent a day repairing it, and they put the "leftovers" in the ditch.

Some people might see trash. (True confessions: I was one of those people who didn't appreciate the boxes, buckets and even fast food wrappers left behind. That was especially true after someone came and destroyed the insulators - apparently just because they thought it would be fun. Besides the needless destruction, I see dollar signs rolling upwards as the broken pieces end up piercing our tires as we drive in and out of the field.
But Randy didn't just see trash. He also saw opportunity. Much like I see another meal in the leftover pot roast that becomes beef and noodles the next day, he saw replacement fence posts amidst the trash.
When the company called to talk about damages to the wheat field, Randy asked whether we could take some of the poles.
So after the semi got done hauling the 12 loads of hay we'd sold, it was ready for a new payload. Randy and Ricky hauled a couple of loads of leftover poles to our fencing piles. 
We can use the sturdy poles to replace rotted out posts in a corral or they could become corner posts in a new fence-building project.
Best of all: They were free. (Well, except for the labor and a little gas to haul them away.) And Randy called a couple of neighbors to share the bonanza. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Little Boost

Traffic jam - County Line style as Randy stops while feeding cows to talk to the Kanza Co-op spray rig workers.
Goldilocks had a hard time getting everything "just right." Papa Bear's porridge was too hot. Mama Bear's porridge was too cold. But Baby Bear's porridge was just right.

Getting things "just right" is best left for fairytales, though we'd all like to have a good dose of "happily ever after." That's easier said than done on a farm. Weather is always an uncontrollable factor in crop production. And these, days, with commodity prices low, it's a balancing act to try and keep input costs under control and still produce a good yield on a quality crop.
The Kanza Co-op recently used their ground rig to apply a couple of different inputs to part of our 2017 wheat crop - nitrogen fertilizer and Finesse herbicide.
This year, Randy decided to apply 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Last year, he had them apply 30 pounds per acre. He used the results from soil samples to determine the nitrogen application level. With each unit of nitrogen added to the field, there's a "diminishing return on investment." In other words, the cost outweighs the potential yield bump.

I'll admit that my eyes were starting to glaze over when Randy started explaining about "diminishing return on investment." So he pulled out his old textbook, "Economics for Agriculturalists: A Beginning Text in Agricultural Economics" and showed me a chart. Who knew those textbooks would still come in handy?

According to current research, if you put on 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre, there's a 2 bushel per acre boost in yield. If you put on an additional 10 pounds per acre, there's only a half bushel per acre increase in yield. The nitrogen costs $3.50 per acre.
 A "nurse" truck came to the field to replenish the rig.
During the applicator's same trip over the field, Randy also had them apply Finesse, an herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds, including kochia, henbit and wild mustard. Finesse needs to be sprayed before the wheat breaks its dormancy. Moisture will incorporate it into the soil. We hope to get some rain soon.

This year, it costs $2.50 per acre for the Finesse. This is 20 percent less than it was last year, a financial advantage that Randy says comes from the merger of the Kanza Co-op with some other co-ops, giving it better buying power.

Since we don't have our own spraying rig, we pay $5.00 per acre for the application. If you're adding that all up, it costs $11 per acre, an input expense that we'll add to the bottom line of producing our 2017 wheat crop. 

Later, Randy will have additional 2017 wheat acres sprayed with a different herbicide. That herbicide has less carryover. In other words, Randy will be able to plant sudan hay on those acres after we harvest the wheat in June. That's not an option for the acres sprayed with Finesse. However, Finesse is less expensive and has longer lasting control. Again, it's a consideration of what's "just right" for our farm - or as close as we can get it.
The plot thickens. Just like Goldilocks, we are hoping for a happy ending. We'll see what Mother Nature has up her sleeve as we continue the march toward the 2017 wheat harvest. The thermometer climbing into the 70s in February may delight golfers, but if the wheat breaks dormancy and starts growing, there is the potential for a damaging freeze if the temperature then goes back to more seasonal levels.
Just like in a fairytale, there are a lot of pages between "Once upon a time" and "They lived happily ever after." (For a complete look at the life cycle of wheat on our Kansas farm, check out "Aggie Visits the Wheat State," a blog I wrote a few years ago when we had Flat Aggie visit from a California elementary school.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Double Trouble?

Two for the price of one?
Double the fun?
Double trouble?

Even though you'd think that twins would be a good thing, it isn't always in the calving world. Sometimes, the cow doesn't have enough milk for two babies. She may not claim both offspring. Also, if one calf is a boy and one is a girl, the female is more likely to be infertile, a condition called "freemartinism."

Cow R47 gave birth to two bouncing boys.  (Forgive the poor photo at the top of this post. Randy got in a hurry to give eartags to the calves. What was he thinking? Work got in the way of my photo op - ha!)

The calf who was up and around with its mom ended up with tag No. 741.
The mom moved it away from we pesky humans.
Its brother, No. 740, stayed behind, hunkered down into the dried grasses.
Then, the next day, we had a heifer - No. 556 - lose a calf.
So Randy brought one of the twins - No. 740 - to the calving shed to try to get the heifer to claim the calf. Even though the white-faced heifer had been bawling for its lost calf, it didn't claim the new baby right away.
However, after a couple of days, it appeared that the heifer and the twin calf were getting along. Little 740 calf looked healthy, so Randy turned them both out with the other heifers and their offspring.
Once out of the pen, the mama wasn't as generous. It was back to pushing the baby away when it tried to nurse. But another mama allowed the baby to steal a drink while its baby stood patiently aside. (See photo below.)
That earned heifer No. 556 another trip to a smaller pen to see if she would have "an attitude adjustment." Sometimes it works for toddlers and teenagers, right?!

The conclusion?  No. 556 is not going to win the Mother of the Year Award. But several other heifers seem to have "adopted" the calf and don't mind sharing the wealth - in this case, the mother's milk - with an interloper.

You've heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." In this case, it's taking a corral of heifers to raise No. 740. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lessons from a Valentine Box

I feel a little like a Valentine's slacker. Last year, Kinley and Brooke were here at the farm shortly before Valentine's Day, and Kinley needed a Valentine box for school. I spent some time perusing the internet for ideas and finally settled on helping her construct a kitty box.
I declared success when one of her friends told her that she liked her "kitty." I'm not known for my crafting ability, so it was a proud Grandma moment when Jill reported the conversation!

A few weeks ago, I had the girls for the week, and I decided I'd take "Valentine's box" off Jill's already full "to-do" list. But I went an easier route this time. I bought a bunch of foam stickers at Hobby Lobby and let the girls peel and stick to their hearts' content on hot pink boxes I also took off the shelf at the craft store. (We also used the foam stickers to decorate foam frames.)
They both had a great time arranging the stickers on their boxes. The glittery stickers were Kinley's favorite. (I'm sure Jill and Eric found glitter on and under their kitchen table for days afterward, and Eric is not a lover of glitter.)
But mission accomplished: They were happy to show them off to Mommy and Daddy. (Jill had to do the hard part and supervise the painstaking writing of classmates' names this weekend. I would have done it, but they didn't have the Valentines or the classmate list at the time.)
Just like the "olden days," kids are supposed to give a Valentine to each member of their class.

At tiny Byers Grade School - my alma mater - Valentine's Day provided a lesson in how we'd all like to be treated: We had to give a Valentine to each classmate. No leaving out any pesky boy who teased me about my red tights.
(I'm second from the left, and it appears I'm wearing the red tights!)

Before Valentine's Day, we carefully cut out pink and red paper hearts and used our Elmer's Glue bottles to adhere them to shoeboxes. Mrs. Bond cut a slot in the top of the lid to make a Valentine's mailbox, which we perched on our desks. Other years, the teacher might give us a white paper sack, and we'd liberally decorate with crayon hearts and cutout cupids. We'd hang them with a piece of tape from the edge of our desks and wait anxiously for holiday greetings from our classmates. If we were lucky, someone might include a heart-shaped sucker along with the holiday card.

My Mom let each of us choose our box of Valentines from the store. I'm sure I very deliberately considered my options in an effort to choose just the right box. I also contemplated which Valentine to give to each classmate. That pesky boy needed a generic greeting, and I wanted to give just the right one to each of my female friends.

Each Valentine's Day, Jill and Brent chose their box of cards, too. A few are still in a box in the cabinet, and I use some each year for this and that. It's fun to look back and think about the choices they made at the time - a football theme for Brent or Barbies for Jill.  We had the same rule at our house. Every class member had to get a Valentine - no matter what.

And wouldn't the world be a better place if we treated each other with a little unconditional friendship? And not only on Valentine's Day, but every day.

Maybe Valentine's Day would be a good day to dust off the New York Times bestselling book from 20-some years ago, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

In it, author Robert Fulghum explains how the world would be a better place if adults adhered to the same basic rules as kindergarten-aged children, like sharing and being kind to one another.

For the record, I didn't go to kindergarten. It wasn't an option at Byers Grade School. But the lessons are still valid - and maybe even more so in this contentious world. 
As Robert Fulghum would say:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Way to a Man's Heart

My Valentine doesn't care much about cards. Unlike me, a sappy card doesn't seem to pull at his heartstrings.

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Yep, that sounds about right, at least around these parts. (I realize that's probably a sexist thing to say. Goodness knows, there's plenty of talk about such matters in my news feed these days, so I really am not looking to start a war.)

Truly, Randy would much prefer a blueberry pie instead of a $7.95 card. (I couldn't believe how much Valentine's cards are. He added the card to my Wal-Mart cart the other day, so the $7.95 card went on my credit card bill with our medicines. Ah, true love! At least the cashier carefully pulled it out of the envelope to scan it so that I couldn't see the front!)

If he's lucky, he'll probably get a pie.  I'm not sure whether it will be a double-crust blueberry pie ...

... or a crumb-topped blueberry pie. (It depends on whether I use the frozen pie crust already in the freezer or I whip up another recipe of dough).
But before the Super Bowl game last weekend, I made Caramel Puffed Corn. It's a recipe I've had in a "to try" pile for awhile now.
It uses "puff corn." Though it's the same name, it's not found in the cereal aisle. It's not popcorn. Find puff corn in the chip aisle. (I used Chester's Puff Corn, which is a Frito-Lay product.) And the caramel mixture is very similar to what I use for caramel popcorn, minus the salt.

One advantage of these giant corn puffs is that there are no hulls like you find in popcorn. When I make caramel popcorn, I try to keep the unpopped kernels out of the final product. Breaking teeth is not a romantic thought. But, no matter how careful I am, there inevitably seems to be a stray unpopped kernel or two in the finished product.

True confessions:  Randy says he didn't like the Caramel Puffed Corn quite as much as traditional caramel popcorn. But it was still good. If you want to jazz it up, add M&Ms in holiday colors - like for Valentine's Day. Or before a big game like the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tourney coming up next month, add M&Ms in team colors.

Enjoy! (See more Valentine treats below this recipe!)
Caramel Puffed Corn
3 3.5-oz. bags puff corn (not cereal - it's in the chip aisle. I used Chester's)
1 cup butter (no substitutes)
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Spray roaster(s) with cooking spray. Put 2 bags of the puff corn into 1 extra-large or two smaller roasters. Set aside. In a large saucepan, melt butter; stir in brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and vanilla. (It will bubble up; that's why you need a large saucepan.) Gradually pour hot caramel mixture over the puffed corn, stirring to coat. Mix in the additional bag of puff corn until pieces are well coated. (I like to do it in two parts because I think it's easier to mix and stir.)

Bake in 250-degree oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn out onto waxed paper or parchment paper to cool. If desired, mix in M&Ms in holiday or team colors. Store in tightly-sealed containers or plastic storage bags.

Here are some other ideas for Valentine treats:

Homemade Pretzels 

Blonde Brownies (add Valentine sprinkles instead of flowers)
If you're looking for cake, pie, cookies, coffee cake, etc., just type a key word into the search bar on the blog. It will give you lots of tried-and-true options from the County Line.