Monday, October 31, 2011

Lessons from Halloween

(Photo taken June 26, 2011, at the closing of Byers UMC)

At first glance, it may seem sacrilegious to mention Halloween and church in the same breath. I know some people believe Halloween is devil worship, but at the little country church of my childhood, Halloween meant a time to trick or treat for UNICEF.

We ghosts and goblins at Byers United Methodist Church had small milk cartons decorated with the UNICEF logo. As we collected our sweet treats, people would drop coins for UNICEF through the crudely-cut slots at the top of the milk carton.

Some of us would stay in Byers and go door-to-door. I always wanted to go on the northwesterly country route by car so I could have one of my Grandma Neelly's homemade popcorn balls in my goodie sack.

I learned a lot about myself at Halloween. As a chubby princess, I declared I would never wear high heels again. My Dad proclaimed that he wanted a recording of that bold statement. But as it has turned out, I do prefer flats.

Another year, I learned that a computer made from a large box is tough to cram into the back seat of a car, especially when you're wearing it. I was apparently ahead of my time. I didn't really work on a computer until journalism classes at K-State. But they were evidently in the news, since I decided to craft my own from a cardboard box that year. In hindsight, it would have been a better costume for walking the streets of Byers. But then I wouldn't have had the tale to tell, I suppose.

While trick-or-treating at country homes was a tradition in my childhood community, I soon learned that it's not the norm in the Stafford area. The first year we were married, I had my basket of goodies ready and the porch light on. Not a single trick-or-treater rang the doorbell. It was definitely a "trick" and not a treat for this Halloween-loving farm girl.

So when my own goblins got old enough, we always started our Halloween trek in the country at neighbor's houses and at Grandma and Grandpa Fritzemeier's, where Jill and Brent were tricked along with being treated.

We spent last weekend in Manhattan. Brent flew in from South Carolina for the game. Jill and Eric came over on Sunday to celebrate Randy's birthday.

During the weekend, we saw plenty of little ones who were getting a jump on the holiday by wearing their costumes early. And since we'll have a little trick-or-treater in our family next year, it made me remember Jill and Brent's early costumes.

Jill, at 13 1/2 months, was an angel for her first trick or treating experience in 1986.

It's a little hard to tell from the photos, but I think Brent, at 5 1/2 months, was supposed to be a kitty for his first Halloween in 1988. He was much less excited than his sister about the whole affair.

But, as the years went by, Brent definitely relished the chance to dress up and pose for the requisite photo before going to collect treats.

This year, Jill is ready for trick-or-treat guests in their Topeka neighborhood, and Brent wanted to know if people would knock on the door in his South Carolina apartment complex. They'll be ready and waiting. I will be, too, but I've learned not to get my hopes up.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Treat not Trick - Homemade Twix Bars

It's nearly Halloween, and the store aisles have been filled with tempting bags of candy, practically since the 4th of July. Since we rarely have trick or treaters visit, I can't justify buying those sweet treats. But I guess I can justify making a facsimile thereof. So I did.

I found these Twix Bars at This Farm Family's Life blog (click on the link if you want step-by-step photos). I thought that Halloween was the perfect time to try them. While I don't think they taste just like Twix Bars, they are a quick and handy treat to stick in lunches for the field or for your next tailgate party. (Eat 'em up! Eat 'em up! K-S-U!)

If you know your trick-or-treaters and they know you, it would be fun to package them in small plastic bags decorated with holiday stickers (and your name.) Give them to the ghosts and goblins who stop by. No tricks ... just treats! (I know it doesn't work to give homemade treats most of the time. But when you have a maximum of five trick-or-treaters - and that's a good year - you know the little goblins behind the mask and they know you.)


Twix Bars
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1 cup crushed graham crackers
1 1/4 packets club crackers
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup butterscotch chips

Line a greased 9- by 13-inch pan with a layer of club crackers, fit tightly together.

Simmer brown sugar, white sugar, butter and milk for 5 minutes. Add graham crumbs and spread immediately over crackers. Quickly add another layer of crackers.

Melt the remaining ingredients over low heat and spread over the top layer of crackers. Cool and cut into squares.

Note: The crackers didn't fit exactly into the pan. I just did the best I could. We aren't running a factory around here, so I guess every piece didn't need to look uniform!

I stored them in the refrigerator so the chocolate layer would stay firm, but it's not required.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Morning Gilds the Skies

There was never a night or a problem
that could defeat sunrise or hope.

- Bern Williams

My daily devotional yesterday said:

We don't need more to be thankful for,
we need to be more thankful.
- Source Unknown

Enough said.

Farmchicks Farm Photo Friday

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day, But ...

Rome wasn't built in a day. But our milo harvest was. Well, it actually took a little longer than that, but not much.

Milo harvest never has the urgency of wheat harvest around here, since wheat is our primary crop and the majority of our farm's acres are planted to it. Still, there's usually a kind of positive energy surrounding a harvest season. It's the culmination of a journey that began with seeds planted at the end of May. Harvest is usually Randy's favorite time of the year.

But it's a little different with the Drought of 2011 (Yes, I meant to put Drought in capital letters.) Randy's attitude was more, "Let's get this over with."

We had 270 acres planted to milo. He cut 85 acres of it in an hour. Typically, it would take 8-10 hours to harvest a field that size. However, that field yielded a whopping 1/2 bushel per acre. The overall yield average for our 2011 crop was 6.74 bushels per acre.

One 17-acre field brought in 21 bushels an acre. That was like a jackpot when compared to the day before. But an average yield for milo would be in the neighborhood of 65 bushels per acre. (That can have your emotions dipping back down like a roller coaster.)

Thankfully, we have insurance to partially cover the poor harvest. But we still had to invest some time and some diesel to harvest the milo that was in the fields.

Milo harvest required only one meal to the field. That's another indicator of a less-than-ideal harvest from this farm wife's perspective.

So we continue to pray for rain. Heck, I'd even take a wet snow right about now.

(The photo at the top of the post was taken in the field that made 21 bushels/acre yield. I'm pretty confident there won't be any piles of unbinned milo sitting around the co-op this year. What a difference a year makes!)

October 2010

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Matter of Semantics

I'm a fan of "planned overs." It sounds so much better than leftovers, don't you think?

If I'm getting a skillet dirty by browning hamburger, I usually brown more than I need for one meal. I then stick it in the refrigerator, where it can become something entirely different the next day.

But I recently had taco meat leftover from a PEO luncheon. We made taco salads for the ladies luncheon, and then I made them for Randy & myself the next day. But with some of the remaining taco meat, I tried a new recipe, Taco Burgers from

They will definitely be on the menu again for supper or for a hot meal to take to the field.

Taco Burgers
1 lb. hamburger
1 medium onion, minced
1 envelope taco seasoning
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 large tomato
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Taco sauce (not picante, but the smooth sauce)
6 hamburger buns

Brown hamburger and onions in a skillet on medium high heat until meat is no longer pink. Drain well. Add taco seasoning (don't add water to the mix). Toss with the meat to coat, cooking for about 5 minutes longer.

Lightly butter the inside of the buns and toast in skillet or under broiler until nicely browned. (I also sprinkled grated cheese on the buttered buns before broiling.) Top each hamburger bun with taco meat, shredded lettuce and tomato and drizzle with taco sauce.

A recipe note: I already had my taco meat prepared from earlier. I usually get taco seasoning from Glenn's Bulk Food store near Hutchinson, but any packaged mix will do or you can make your own taco seasoning with spices in your cabinet.

If you're looking for another way to use leftover/planned over taco meat, try Taco Pizza. It's another favorite around here.

Or use planned-over taco meat in this Chuckwagon Tortilla Stack. It's a recipe from our daughter Jill's kitchen.



I'm linked today to Farm Chick's Kitchen. Check it out!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Real Farmers, Real Food

Today is Food Day. You mean you didn't get the day off? Me neither. In fact, we'll likely try to gather up those heifers that didn't cooperate last week.

Food Day was organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. However, I'm not so sure that the Center for Science in the Public Interest is interested in me and my family, a real Kansas farm family.

Some of Food Day's founding principles downplay the importance of modern agriculture and criticize the way of life of many food producers who don’t fit the “local” or “niche” mold. For example, two of Food Day's goals include “limiting big agribusiness” and “reforming factory farms” – terms that conjure up negative and misleading stereotypes about today’s agriculture industry. Here's the truth: 99 percent of American farms are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. And in 2011, there are only 210,000 of us left.

By definition, I suppose our methods of food production here on the County Line aren't "local." We sell our grain to the local elevator, which sells it to bigger elevators for export, to flour mills in the region or to feedlots for feed grain. I'm not taking the wheat we raise and grinding it into flour myself. And, yes, we used fertilizer and herbicides on the crop. It's not "organic" by definition.

We sometimes sell half a beef to someone local. But it isn't organic or exclusively "grass-fed," two attributes that seem to be buzz words for "healthy" products these days.

I'm all for the producers who are making a living by selling organic foods or who have found a niche by selling locally. I love the Farmers' Market in the summertime, too. But it's not how we are going to feed our nation and the world.

I think that many of our most vocal critics would prefer that our farms still look like this. It's a photo from my husband's family from a hundred years ago or more. A similar photo was hung in my Grandpa Leonard's office. These images are part of both Randy and my history. We both come from families who have been farming for generations.

However, the same people who want us to farm with horses and mules still want to drive the latest cars. They spread the news about how unethical modern farming is by using the latest in phones and technology. I'm kind of guessing that they - like me - enjoy having grapes in the produce aisle all year long and an array of foods to fill the grocery cart.

I'm guessing they don't want to move back to middle America and take up farming themselves. Farmers and ranchers make up less than 2 percent of the population. If we go back to the horse and buggy days, it's going to take a bunch more of us to create the food and fiber necessary to feed and clothe America, much less have enough to share with hungry people around the world.

Modern food production relies on a mix of tradition and technology. And here's a news flash: Efficient cattlemen and women are a boon for the environment. Efficient grain farmers are a boon for the environment. Washington State University animal scientist Jude Capper says:
"In every part of the world, we're going to face the issues of feeding more people on less land with fewer resources."
She cited estimates that, by 2050, worldwide population will increase by 50 percent and we'll need 70 percent more food to support the people.

Just this weekend, I heard the population of the world topped 7 billion. We can't feed all those people solely with teams of horses and mules. It can't be done.

In 1977, it took five animals to produce the same number of pounds of beef that it takes four animals to produce today. Capper says the efficiency gains from 1977 to 2010 amount to a 19 percent point reduction in feed use, a 12-point decrease in water needed and a 33-point drop in land required per pounds of beef.

While our industry may not be perfect, American agriculture has shown a commitment to continuous improvement- be it for food safety, animal well-being, or environmental stewardship.

I clipped an article out of my regional newspaper last week. The headline was:
"Consumers paid more for food, gas last month."

When you read beyond the headline, the article says: "Food prices rose 0.4 percent in September, pushed up by big increases in the dairy, cereals, and fruits and vegetables categories. Gas prices rose 2.9 percent."

Nobody likes it when prices go up. I don't know many farmers who are raising everything they need for their own family's tables right on their own farms. We shop at the grocery stores, too. I don't like it when gas prices go up. I don't like it that it costs $300,000-plus to buy a new tractor (That's why we don't buy new. Used is expensive enough!)

But the truth is that U.S. citizens spend the lowest percentage of their disposable income on food.

And lest you think farmers are lining their pockets with all the extra dough we get from the 0.4 percent increase in food prices last month, here's another graphic about how the food dollar is divvied up.

(Click on the picture to read the small print in the graphic.)

What it boils down to is that the farmer is getting about 19 cents of every retail dollar spent on food. Off-farm costs (marketing expenses, processing, wholesaling, distributing and retailing of food products) accounts for 81 cents of every retail dollar spent on food.

In 1980, farmers received 31 cents out of every retail dollar spent on food in America. (Remember, today it's 19 cents!) Today, each U.S. farmer provides food and fiber for 155 people in the U.S. and abroad. In 1980, when we were getting 31 cents out of each dollar, we were only providing food and fiber for 115 people. How's that for efficiency?

Want to learn more? Check out Real Farmers, Real Food. One section dispels myths about food production. You can even hear a message from our current Miss America Teresa Scalan about the importance of agriculture.

As she says, "Not everyone farms, but everyone has to eat."

So, Happy Food Day! I'll be the one out on the 4-wheeler hoping that the heifers cooperate this time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Linger Longer

Perhaps the heifers were reluctant to leave their summer home. It's often hard to depart from a picturesque view (even if it's a little run down from lack of rain these days).

But our first attempt to gather the heifers from the Peace Creek pasture was unsuccessful. We tried enticing them with a bale of hay.

But they stubbornly refused to cross the reeds, even with the promise of a mid-morning snack.

Maybe they were dreading their upcoming doctor's appointment (even though they don't have the added trauma of stepping on the scales the moment they arrive for their doctor's visit.) We had to postpone their appointment with the veterinarian for the next day.

The heifers' lack of cooperation surely couldn't have been the exceptional help.

That's right: I was promoted to 4-wheeler driver. If only the job promotion came with a pay raise. Jake honked the horn from the tractor.

On the day of the silage harvest, the heifers came across the creek for a peek at the action. Maybe they can remember their way when we try the round-up again next week. Hopefully, the cows haven't spread the word to the inexperienced heifers that the doctor's appointment is one of those kind of doctor visits. You know we ladies drag our feet when it comes to the OB/GYN.

Have a good weekend!

I'm linked today to Farm Photo Friday.

Farmchicks Farm Photo Friday

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Super Cow

(Photo illustration from Google Images)

More powerful than a locomotive.
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

It's Super Cow!

The ability to high jump is not a characteristic for which you select when it comes to beef breeding. However, it appeared that several of our herd were trying out for the Olympic high jump team during last week's session with the veterinarian.

I do not, however, have photographic proof of their athletic acumen. When cattle are jumping over fences and panels, you don't usually have time to grab the camera.

I don't understand how people can jump high jump. (I was certainly not genetically predispositioned for leaping, so is it any wonder that I revel at people sailing over a 6-foot-plus little bar?) So I certainly don't understand how 1,200-pound mama cows can hurdle a fence. We don't know why working cows turned into Olympic sport this year.

There were an abundance of theories proposed by the County Line participants:

The vet's theory: He was too polite to say.

Jake's theory: We brought the cows and calves home from the pasture a month early. The cows were staging a protest that they were yanked from their vacation home a little prematurely. (Their protest was shortsighted, however, since we brought them home because of declining grass conditions in the pasture.) A related theory: Perhaps they were feeling frisky in the warmer temperatures last week.

Randy's theory: The wind was blowing 20 mph. It didn't help the people's mood. So it probably wasn't ideal for the cattle either.

My theory: With apologies to all the OB/GYNs out there, that annual doctor's appointment is not any female's idea of fun. Dr. Harder does a manual exam to see if each cow is pregnant, and, if so, how far along she is. Yes, the doctor's hand really is where you think it is. (It's probably not an abundance of fun for Dr. David Harder either to be on the business end of the cow. As Randy pointed out, he needed a wardrobe change before making his way back to the clinic in Hutchinson.)

My theory, Part II: Even if it wasn't one of "those" doctor appointments, maybe they weren't fans of the whole shot business. Goodness knows I've been avoiding getting the flu shot. (But I'll have you know that I did finally get a flu shot yesterday when I was in Hutchinson.)

Like a flu shot is good for my health, the shots we have the veterinarian give benefit the cows. Just like we gave recommended vaccinations to our own children, we believe it's important to give our cattle every medical advantage to have a healthy life.

Dr. Harder keeps the syringes in a cooler and the medicines in thermal carriers
that hang from the top of the working chute. This keeps them at the right temperature. Pretty ingenious set up!

Dr. Harder gave the cows a booster shot to prevent blackleg, a highly fatal disease of the skeletal and heart muscle of cattle. We also give a combination shot that prevents leptospiriosis and BVD. Lepto is a bacterial infection that may cause abortion or stillbirth. BVD stands for Bovine Viral Diarrhea.

Dr. Harder also gave a shot as a dewormer to control parasites like worms, lice and liver flukes.

But, despite escapes and near escapes, we eventually got the job done (and I was only a little late to church choir.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blowin' In the Wind

"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind."

The answer to some of our cattle feed needs for the winter was indeed blowin' in the wind yesterday. As the big-teethed cutter took great gulps of our forage sorghum and "chewed" it into silage, it seemed the wind was trying to take away what the drought hadn't already robbed from our silage yield. (After all, that Peter, Paul & Mary tune, Blowin' in the Wind, was a 1960s protest song. Still, it doesn't do a lot of good to protest against Mother Nature's stinginess with the rainfall this year. We just have to make the best of the situation.)

Even though it wasn't an ideal day for silage harvest because of the wind, Randy was glad to have the cutters come before the forecasted frost. A frost can increase the amount of nitrates in the feed, already a concern during a drought year.

Like last year, we had about 25 acres of forage sorghum planted to be cut into silage and put in the trench silo. Last year's fields filled the silo to overflowing, and we sold the excess to a neighbor. The drought impacted this crop just like it has every other crop this summer. The silo's 500-ton storage capacity was only about half filled at the end of the day.

After loading "on the go" by driving alongside the silage cutter, the truck drivers made the short trek to the trench silo. There, they backed their trucks into the silo and dumped the load.

Then the tractor driver packed the silage down, where it was left to ferment. Once in the silo, the silage goes through an "ensiling" process. It goes through chemical changes, and the heat builds up. It raises the pH of the silage so that it doesn't spoil or ferment any longer. The top 6 inches of it will rot, then it forms an airtight seal, protecting the silage underneath.

"It's better than a snowbank," my husband intoned when I asked him about this year's silage harvest.

Don't worry. I didn't know what that meant either. So I asked. He said that's what the oldtimers would say when talking about rotten hay. I guess the point is, "Something to eat is better than nothing."

I'm guessing the cattle will concur this winter.

February 2011 (For more feeding photos, click here.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Apple Toffee Blondies

Apples and caramel frosting? You can't get much more fall-like than that. KJIL Radio's Facebook page has been linking to fall-themed desserts this month. The picture of Apple Toffee Blondies seemed to be calling out, "Make me! Make me!"

It was perfect timing, too. I needed cookies to take to a club meeting. I love bar cookies because they're so easy. And these had the added benefit of being dressed up with frosting and ready for a party.

Randy gave them the taste test before they went out the door. He wasn't quite sure that they would pass the critique, so he tried another one.

I am wise to him, so I wrestled away the remaining bars and took them to share with my friends. They took pity on him and didn't eat them all, so Randy gladly consumed the leftovers. Don't you just love happy endings?

Apple Toffee Blondies
2/3 cup butter at room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup peeled, chopped tart apple (about 1 large)
1/2 cup toffee chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9- by 13-inch baking pan lightly with cooking spray. Cream butter and sugar in mixer until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla; beat on medium speed until combined. On low, add flour, baking powder and salt, mixing just until combined. Stir in the chopped apples and toffee bits until evenly distributed. Spread in prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the center is set. Let cool completely before slicing or frosting.

Brown Sugar Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 cups powdered sugar

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add brown sugar and milk; bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Let cool for 5 minutes. Add to powdered sugar. Let cool until it thickens enough to spread. Stir before spreading on top of the bar cookies. Let frosting set for 30 minutes, then cut into bars.


I'm also linked today to the Farm Chick's Kitchen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Going, Going, Gone

I'm always a little self-conscious at the sale barn. Yes, I'm in the minority among the male-dominated room. But that's not it.

I've got this fear that the auctioneer will mistake my hand actions for a bid. I wouldn't want to scratch my nose or flick a fly and end up with cattle to take home.

That's what a Daddy told a little boy sitting by me last Thursday. Between taking bites of a chocolate cookie, the little guy was pointing out cattle as they entered the ring. I was impressed when he turned to his dad and said, "See that Charolais?" But his Dad told him to keep the hand gestures to a minimum.

Do I really think the auctioneer would consider that a capri-jeans-wearing farm wife is bidding? Did the auctioneer really think a 4-year-old with a chocolate grin would be picking up a load of cattle? No, to both questions. But neither of us wanted to get in a bidding war with the cowboy-hatted and booted cattle buyers.

Besides, I was there to sell cattle, not buy them. We brought 105 calves to be auctioned at the Pratt Livestock sale barn. We don't usually sell calves until March, but the drought forced Randy to sell early. We don't have enough hay or silage to feed cows and calves all winter long.

This is the first time in Randy's 37 years of farming that he's sold calves in the fall. But we'll use what feed we have to keep our cows fed this winter. They will produce the next calf crop in February.

Usually, we keep some replacement heifers from the year's calf crop to replace cows that we cull because of their age or because they've lost a calf. This year, we didn't keep any of the heifers, so in 2013, we won't have heifers to calve out in January (unless Randy buys some between now and then.)

Even though it's not an ideal situation, Randy was pleased with the sale. The calves averaged 518 pounds each, better than he anticipated after a summer short of quality grass in pastures. The heifers brought $1.30 a pound and the steers brought $1.40.

Some Oklahoma and Texas cattle producers had to sell their whole herds this summer due to the drought. So we are fortunate we still have cows at home.

And I'm fortunate that my flicking of pesky flies did not result in hauling any unwanted cattle home. As far as I know, my chocolate-eating friend also escaped the sale ring without having to write a check.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Make-Believe Cowgirl

I call this photo, "Cowgirl: A Self Portrait." OK, here's the truth: I'm not much of a cowgirl. A sorting stick does not a cowgirl make. But I am worth my weight in free labor ... whatever that's worth.

This portrait in light and shadow was less objectionable than the one in which I was trying out as the lead actress in a stain removal commercial. Though this session of cattle sorting did not end in a broken toe, it did include ungracefully tripping over a weed in the corral and landing in a pile of manure. It did require some adept work with stain remover.

(You can see the weeds that reached out and "grabbed" me.)

I don't understand how the weeds can flourish despite drought conditions. We were doing the cattle job about a month early because the cows and calves were running short on grass in the pasture. So how can weeds survive in the face of exceptional drought? I guess it's just in their stubborn nature.

This pseudo-cowgirl is stubborn, too. After falling unceremoniously on my rear end, I got up and continued the job. (I may have said something to the boss about weed removal in the corral and I may have pulled a few and flung them over the fence. But I did continue the job.)

This is the first time in Randy's farming career that he has had to sell calves in the fall. Because of this year's drought, we didn't raise enough hay or silage to feed both the cows and calves all winter long.

So we are keeping the cows, which will have the next calf crop in February. On sorting day, Darrel Harner with Harner Trucking out of Sylvia came to haul the calves to Pratt Livestock for the Thursday sale.

There was great debate about the correct number of calves.

Randy thought there were 103. I counted 104. After doing some math on the side of his semi, Darrel said 105. He was the one opening different compartments in the semi like a giant puzzle and getting the calves situated for their ride to Pratt.

Turns out, Darrel was right. Even though both Randy and I were wrong, we were glad for the "extra" calf.

Up next: Our day at Pratt Livestock

Farmchicks Farm Photo Friday