Spring Sky

Spring Sky

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Crying Over Missed Milk - And Broken Cameras

There was a lot of bawling going on. Believe me, I felt like crying, right along with the mama cows.
The mamas were bawling because they were momentarily separated from their babies. I was sad because my camera flew out of my hand and met a quick demise during the first of four days of working baby calves. I should know better than to try to drive a 4-wheeler and take photos with the same hand that works the gas.

I was chasing cattle who were enticed by the green wheat that flanked the dusty road. As I came up out of the ditch, the camera flew out of my hand. I didn't run over it, but its wounds left it in critical condition. I didn't have time to worry about it. I stuck it in my sweatshirt pocket and commenced with the job at hand - getting the mamas and baby calves up to the corral.

Sadly, resuscitation efforts on the camera were unsuccessful. 
Back when Jill was in 4-H, one of her projects was clothing buymanship. One of the factors to consider was "cost per wear." As I tried to resurrect my camera afterwards, I thought about getting my money's worth with my camera. I use it almost every day. So my "cost per use" is pretty low. I wanted that to make me feel better. Who am I kidding? It didn't.

After we got the cows and calves in the corral, I made a detour back to our house to get an old camera so I could continue taking photos of the process. After using it for the rest of the week and viewing the photos, I remembered why I'd replaced it. It doesn't focus well, especially at a distance. And the zoom doesn't work 75 percent of the time. (But it is better than nothing.)
Randy says, as the price of farm equipment goes, my camera is a mere drop in the bucket. However, I'm still mad at myself. We took a detour to Best Buy Tuesday night before going to the musical, "Once" at Wichita's Century II. That was a nice diversion.
They didn't have what I wanted in stock, so a new camera is supposed to arrive at my door, maybe as soon as tomorrow. One of the young salesmen didn't like my choice, but, as I told him, I needed a camera that will fit in my pocket. Now, if I would have just left it in my pocket while driving a 4-wheeler, I wouldn't have had an accident and I wouldn't have been irritated with the young upstart questioning my decision.

Reunited from Kim Fritzemeier on Vimeo.

The mamas and babies had a happy ending. After the babies were done with their "appointments," they were reunited.

I'm hoping for my own happy ending soon - even if my checkbook is a little lighter.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Story To Tell: Ag Day 2017

I sometimes wonder about the people who settled the Kansas prairie. Did they marvel at the sky? Did the call of birds wake them to see the hint of color painting the eastern horizon? As their covered wagons rumbled toward the west, did they marvel at the sunsets?
I imagine the temperaments that marked the people who set off from established homes in the eastern part of the U.S. and decided on adventure, traveling westward to a new kind of life.

That pioneer spirit brought people to Kansas. And some of the heartiness remains generations later. Today is the 2017 National and Kansas Ag Day.
Four days last week, we worked baby calves. Last Friday, we temporarily separated another group of babies from their mamas. We loaded the babies into the cattle trailer through a fog of dust generated by dozens of hooves stirring up the dirt floor of a 75-year-old-plus barn.
I was tired after four days of it. But as I looked through the dusty haze, I realized how fortunate we were. We were doing our normal springtime cattle tasks. We temporarily separated mamas and babies and sent the babies through the working chute for their well-baby "appointments" and vaccinations.

And at the same time, cattlemen and women in southern Kansas had the grim task of burying thousands of cattle and calves that perished in the largest wildfire in Kansas history. Some of our farm and ranch neighbors in Oklahoma and Texas face the same seemingly insurmountable task. In Texas, some even lost their lives trying to move cattle to safety.
For those in the wildfire's path, lives won't go back to normal anytime soon. They are still burying their livelihoods in big mass graves in the burned ground. They are tending to injured cattle, bottle feeding babies whose mothers died, rebuilding thousands of miles of fence. And some of them no longer have a home where they can lay their weary heads come nighttime, after days of physical labor and emotional heartache.
It's going to take a new pioneer spirit for them to rebuild. Just like us, their families have been on Kansas soil for five generations, and, for a few, even six generations. That pioneer spirit is part of their DNA.

I don't watch a lot of national news. But, if my Facebook feed is right, there has been very little coverage of this emergency on the national level. The local TV stations, radio and newspapers have done a credible job of telling the stories. Yesterday, The New York Times featured an article, in which one rancher called the wildfires, "Our Hurricane Katrina."

I read the article, and then came back later in the day so I could link it to this blog post. I was dismayed by the comments from the majority of readers (up to 422 comments this morning). It again demonstrates how deeply the country is divided, as if we needed any reminders these days. (For the record, I didn't vote for President Trump, though most commenters assume I did - just because of where I live and what I do for a living.) After reading those comments, maybe it's better that the national media largely ignored this story. 

However, I know that many farmers and ranchers from across the country have responded with truckloads of hay and semis packed with fencing supplies. Some 4-H groups have volunteered to foster baby calves until the ranches have time to build fence and reintroduce the babies back into their herds. There have been funds set up so regular people like you and me can contribute to the rebuilding, including at Kansas Farm Bureau and at Kansas Livestock Association.

(FYI: I would recommend Amy Bickel's article in The Hutchinson News, plus sidebars and follow-up stories, as well as the accompanying photojournalism by News photographer Lindsey Bauman. The Wichita Eagle also provided in-depth coverage of the wildfire.)
This year's theme for National Ag Day is Agriculture: Food for Life. But the majority of the world would rather learn about food from people other than the producers. A couple of years ago,  I Am Agriculture Proud, posed this observation on their Facebook page:
Journalists, TV personalities, TV chefs and CEOs were all perceived as more influential on food than farmers, who come in at No. 50 on a list generated of The 50 Most Powerful People in Food on The Daily Meal.com.  And that was likely an arbitrary inclusion as a collective group. What's it gonna take for farmers to move up that list?
It's up to us - farmers and ranchers - to tell the story. As I've said before, I don't want to leave it to PETA or HSUS to tell the story of farming today. It's one of the reasons I began Kim's County Line seven years ago.

The Gardiner Angus Ranch has been in the news because of their losses. Two of the brothers - Mark & Greg - were in FarmHouse fraternity at K-State at the same time as Randy. The Gardiner Angus Ranch's annual production sale is still scheduled for March 31, though things will be somewhat different this year after losing more than 500 of their cows, hundreds of miles of fencing and even Mark's & Eva's home. But I was amazed at some of what Mark Gardiner had to say. I've put the link to the whole video clip below, but I wanted to highlight these quotes from Mark, just in case you don't take time to listen to the whole thing:

I want you all to know how truly fortunate we are to have so many friends and customers and family. When we had a bit of a challenge, our customers actually were some of the first ones who came running to help us. … 

The sale is on. It is on because it’s what we do. You know, we learn a lot in these situations about who we are as people. And people are good, especially people in agriculture and especially our customers, neighbors and friends. We’ve had some losses; we’ve had some challenges. …

We've had help from almost every state in the union. ... That’s what America is. That’s what rural America is. That’s what agriculture is. That’s what the cattle business is. We actually have no problems. We have worlds of opportunity. We have the greatest friends and the greatest nation … We’re excited about this sale. We’re excited about the things that matter with people, with family, with friends.

We need to celebrate this way of life. Even more importantly than the cattle, we need to celebrate the people who make this business so great.
If we listen to the detractors commenting on the wildfire story, it's clear that we're not doing a good job of sharing agriculture's story. With this post, I'll likely be "preaching to the choir." I can't seem to reach those people who really believe that we modern farmers are ignorant puppets who "are only looking for handouts."

The true story of agriculture is being written each and every day by the people who are living it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

An Irish Blessing

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Here's hoping you planned ahead and wore green PJs to bed last night. Randy says we won't have to wear green clothes. We have another day of sorting mamas and babies, then treating the calves to their well-baby checks. Our "green" even comes with a lovely aroma.

When I was growing up, not wearing green on St. Patty's Day meant you got pinched. My sisters and brother were especially happy to remind me if I forgot. I couldn't even eat my Frosted Flakes in peace. (I was, of course, angelic and didn't return the favor. You believe me, right?)

We  weren't immune at school either. But sneaky people could get you in trouble there. What if you pinched someone, and they said, "I've got on green underwear!"? Well, it's not as if you could make them prove it. Teachers were usually quick to help out any forgetful student by supplying a green shamrock to pin to your shirt. I mailed shamrock pins and stickers to Kinley and Brooke this week, hoping to help them avoid any mishaps at school.

I'm not Irish, but I love Irish blessings. So I've illustrated sayings from the Emerald Isle with photos from Kansas. I've heard several of the blessing ones before, but I had to laugh at some of the funny ones. You have to appreciate a sense of humor - Irish or not!


May your feet never sweat, your neighbor give you ne're a treat. 
When flowers bloom, I hope you'll not sneeze. 
And may you always have someone to squeeze!
This is a lousy photo, which I took by accident this week when we were working baby calves. Believe me, there were times when my feet were sweating as we tried to push calves into the trailer.
May those who love us love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.
(I hope none of us come up limping today with Round 4 of working baby calves!)


May the hinges of our friendship never grow rusty.

May your troubles be less and your blessings be more
And nothing but happiness come through your door.


May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face.

The rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.


Happy St. Patrick's Day! If you're looking for a little "luck of the Irish" on your dinner table today, try this Reuben Casserole:

Or, if you want some themed snack mix to watch K-State, KU and Wichita State play in the NCAA tournament tonight, here's one that's appropriate for your green theme. (And it shows no team favoritism. I'm the one to show favoritism - Go 'Cats!)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Good things come to those who wait.

Sometimes, when I use tired phrases like that, I try to make myself feel better by doing cursory research on the origins. So, I used another modern-day cliche: I Googled it:

Good things come to those who wait is an English phrase extolling the virtue of patience. The related phrase, "All things come to those who wait," was used by Violet Fane in 1892. It has been used as the basis for several pieces of popular culture:
  • "Good things come to those who wait", a 1984 song by the Freestylist Nayobe.
  • "Good things come to those who wait,"  a UK advertising campaign for Guinness stout in the 1990s and 2000s.
  • "Good things come to those who wait," a US advertising campaign for Heinz ketchup in the 1980s
From Wikipedia (the lazy man - or woman's - current encyclopedia)
Sometimes, you don't have to wait long. Kinley barely got her snow boots wet on Saturday as a light dusting of snow fell in Manhattan. I'm not sure whether she was cold ... or she just wanted the hot cocoa that came afterwards.

As I was looking up the phrase, I came across a related one attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

Things may come to those who wait, 
but only the things left by those who hustle.

Kinley may have hustled inside for hot chocolate. But, she didn't leave her little sister behind. Like good sisters everywhere, Kinley let Brooke know what she was missing. Brooke's marshmallow beard shows how much she welcomed the news of a mid-morning cocoa break.
We didn't have to wait to see the girls two weekends in a row. Playing outside this past weekend was a lot different than the week before when more springlike temperatures prevailed. We didn't have to find the coats and boots then.
Instead, we had to go inside for some water after all the running - including a foot race with Grandpa. I should have taken a photo of that for posterity!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sowing Oats - But Not the Wild Kind!

We sowed oats around here last week. But don't you get the wrong idea. There were no wild oats being sown.
Instead, Randy planted oats in an old alfalfa field. He used the disc to lightly break up the soil and to kill volunteer cheat and other weeds. Then, he planted the oats, using the same drill we use to plant wheat. Disking up the alfalfa wouldn't be a "normal" thing to do. But it's an old field, and this is its last "hurrah." It will be disked up after we harvest the oats/alfalfa combination.

It should provide a mixture of alfalfa and oats that we can bale up for cattle feed this summer.
We planted 2 bushels of oats per acre. A bushel of oats only weighs 32 pounds, compared to 60 pounds per bushel of wheat.
We hadn't planted any oats for quite some time. There's not a big market for oats in our area. We can't haul them to the grain elevator. But they will provide good feed for our cattle.
These are "haying" oats vs. "grain" oats. These will get taller than other varieties.
It will take a rain to get the oats started. (Of course, we need a rain on everything!)
Randy didn't apply any fertilizer as he drilled the oats. He wasn't concerned with grain yield, and it would have been an added expense.

A couple of cattle got a "head start" on the feed value of the oats. When the guys cleaned out the planter after planting, the cattle we plan to harvest for meat for our freezer got the "leftovers."
As much as we'd like a rain now, you don't want a rain after the oats are swathed. The oats are even more temperamental than alfalfa or sudan for spoilage.

Just like with every other crop, it seems, time will tell. (I like that tired cliche better than the wild oats one - ha!)

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Noisy Neighbors


When Jill & Eric lived in Omaha, their downstairs neighbors complained that they were loud. At the time, they were at work during the day. They didn't have a  5 year old or 2 year old running or jumping or dancing. I guess they walked too loudly. (I think that downstairs neighbor had an unrealistic view of apartment living, but it's not like I'm an expert on that particular subject.)

We, on the other hand, have had some really noisy neighbors this winter. The shrieking and racket were enough to give anyone a headache. (Watching the video may give you motion sickness, too. I've never claimed to be a videographer.)
Several weeks ago, we got multiple phone calls a day from hunters who wanted to invite themselves to the geese's party. Our land is leased to hunters already. And, at that time, the snow geese were feeding on a neighbor's milo stalks, so they weren't on our ground anyway. On the day I recorded the video, an out-of-state pickup was also watching the ballet of the swirling, twirling cloud of geese.

For the past week, we've again had geese on some wheat ground, both morning and night.
Every time I go by, I honk and shout to send them on their way. Hungry geese can decimate a wheat field fairly quickly. No Kansas wheat farmer wants to provide a never-ending buffet for tens of thousands of geese.
Some of the trespassers weren't phased by my attempts to shoo them away.
Last evening, Randy started running toward them, clapping his hands to try to get them to move.
They listened just about like stubborn 2-year-old toddlers, but they finally took off with a little encouragement from the farmer.
Every time I run them off, I figure they are laughing at me. They probably circle back the minute I drive on down the road, but I still do my farm wife duty in the moment.
This past week, the geese have been joined by bigger "cousins," sandhill cranes. They have been using our neighbor's milo stalks as a feeding ground. 

These itinerant neighbors are even noisier than the geese!
(I don't have a fancy camera, so the photos aren't great, but I still thought the story was worth sharing.)

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sale Day 2017: Years in the Making

The road to the cattle sale isn't covered just in the distance the semi travels as it leaves the farmstead and arrives at the sale barn.
No. 601 would have been the 2nd baby born to the Class of 2016.
For us, the road to the sale of our feeder cattle started more than a year ago, when the 2016 calf crop was being born on the County Line in January,  February and March. We have been caring for them ever since.

But, in reality, the story started long before that. The feeder calves' mothers are part of our County Line cow-calf herd. Randy began building the herd back in 1970, when he was a freshmen in high school.
Randy and his first 4-H heifer.
So, in many ways, the story stretches back to a young boy who grew up on a farm and knew he wanted to continue the family business. 
Last week, we sold 75 feeder calves at Pratt Livestock. Ours were among the more than 6,000 head sold last Thursday (March 2).

As I watched the video from the sale, I tried to pick out eartags I could identify. Then, I looked in my photo files from last winter to see if I could see some of them as babies. I saw both 605 and 606 in the March 2016 photos, as well as the sale barn video.
They looked a whole lot smaller when we let them back with their mothers after we worked them last March.
Then, this past summer, they were in our pastures - along with their mamas.
With winter about to arrive, we pulled them off the pastures in November. Dr. David Harder came and helped us work the calves.
Here was No. 601 when it went through the chute in November. After their doctor's appointments, we weaned them from their mamas, and they became our feeder calves.
 The guys fed them silage and hay this winter. Last Tuesday, we sorted off 25 heifers to join our cow-calf herd. They will become County Line mothers for the first time in 2018.

On Thursday, Randy and I joined the crowd at the sale barn. From cowboy hats to ballcaps, buyers and sellers mingle in seats reminiscent of an old school gym. Cattle buyers are identified by their cell phones pressed close to their ears, as they talked with clients who needed cattle. They were on their phones as much as teenage girls.
Buyers nervously watched the board to see how much each particular pen of cattle brought, as the auctioneer sang his tune about "fussy and fancy heifers" and "green steers."

"You like 'em now," the auctioneer warbled. "Look at the length on them, and their bigger sisters are coming right behind them."

The commentary rarely changes from year to year. Neither does a rather archaic tradition in which only the farmer/rancher is identified as the owner. Randy made it a point this year to show me the notes he was turning into the sale barn. It included both our names, along with vaccinations and paternal heritage of the calves. It probably bothers me more than it should!

Our heifers averaged 693 pounds and sold for an average of $1.22 per pound. The steers, which averaged 808 pounds, sold for an average of $1.29 a pound. (A little price comparison: In 2016, our steers averaged exactly the same - 808 pounds, but sold for an average of $1.58 per pound. Our 2016 heifers, which weighed an average of 678, sold for an average of $1.54 a pound. So, the price went down. In 2015, cattle prices were above the $2 per pound mark. Can you think of anything besides farm commodity prices that go down rather than up? Yeah, me neither.)

Randy was pleased with the 2-pound-plus-a-day rate of gain since they were weaned from their mothers last November. 
It was a long enough day that I almost finished my library book. (I did on the way home.) We got to the sale barn just after 10 AM. It was around 4:30 before our last group of steers were sold, and there was a lot of sale still to come as we drove away. 
The sale ends one chapter on the County Line,  but the next one has already begun with a new crop of 2017 calves. Some of the girls will become our 2019 mothers. And so it continues ...

While at the sale barn for hours, you find your amusements where you can. Both Randy and I laughed at this flier:
Regardless of your political leanings, that is creative marketing, don't you think?