Monday, September 30, 2013

Peace: Now There's a Label I Can Embrace

I don't usually like labels. Even when reading Kinley a favorite book, I cringe a little when the little dog identifies "fat, thin, short and tall" as some of the words he knows.

But, sometimes, the labels just fit.
Peace Creek? Yes indeed.
I zoomed over the bridge on 4th Street near our home at 55 MPH. (Really, officer.) And I noticed the yellow wildflowers dressed for fall and nestled against the meandering creek banks.
So I went back the next day for a longer look.
Sometimes, it pays to slow down.
However, there's no slowing down scheduled for some weeks in life, and this is one of those. After a weekend of helping to wrangle 21-month-old and 20-month-old flower girls, it's a week packed full to the brim. (There will definitely be more of Kinley's and Hannah's debut as flower girls, but here's a quick preview. Such a fun weekend!)
Cousins Hannah & Kinley - Rehearsal for Uncle Drew & Aunt Kate's wedding
This morning, I have to pick up Randy at Miller Seed Farms at 8 AM. I have a noon meeting in Pratt for South Central Community Foundation. I have oodles to do before I serve a noon PEO luncheon tomorrow. And I have to take Randy back to Miller Seed Farms to pick up the truck filled with seed wheat. There will probably be some other trips to the field thrown into the mix for good measure.

Whew! I will try to keep "Peace" in my mind, even in the craziness.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Royal Sighting

Adopt the pace of nature: 
her secret is patience.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Patience is not my best virtue. Just ask my parents. Or Randy. Or my kids. On second thought, let's not.

After unsuccessful attempts to photograph Monarch butterflies around my house, I got my chance at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge's Monarch Mania last Saturday morning. 
The night before, I'd driven to the refuge's headquarters to see if the Monarchs were nesting in the trees there. When I saw the photo of the clusters of Monarchs on my Facebook page that morning, I hoped they'd be ready for their "closeups" as evening approached and temperatures again cooled.
Photo: Stick around for awhile:  migrating Monarch butterflies were seen in groups like this in the trees around Headquarters this morning - just in time for our annual Monarch Mania event!  It will be held from 9:00 am to noon tomorrow (21 September) at Quivira's Environmental Education Classroom.  As with all of our events, it's free - and fun!  Come by and see.
Photo from Quivira National Wildlife Refuge's Facebook page - September 20, 2013
But, while there were a few stragglers circling the treetops, most had moved south with the blowing winds.  No longer grouped like farmers at the coffee shop, the butterflies that remained at Quivira were loners.

But the 104 people who came for Monarch Mania were undeterred. After we watched the net demonstration, we took off like mighty hunters, toting nets and cameras.
I was intrigued by a preteen girl who seemed to be a walking encyclopedia about butterflies.  She captured a Monarch and raced off toward an orange-vested Quivira staff member, who tagged it with a small sticker, recording the number on a clipboard log.
Photo: Wing bling:  here is a tagged Monarch from Saturday's event.  The tag is a small sticker that is applied to the wing.  It is so light-weight the butterfly would scarcely notice.  Each tag has a unique code number that can be tracked online.
Photo from the Quvira Facebook page. All other photos are mine, unless marked otherwise.
The girl then set the butterfly free, and it made a beeline for some nearby goldenrod. I guess it was a good thing it was hungry because that was the closest I got to a Monarch during this season's migration.
In all, 50 Monarchs were tagged and released during the event. The tagging is monitored by Monarch Watch based at Lawrence, KS.

While the Monarchs were the headliners, this Clouded Sulphur butterfly also liked the goldenrod nectar. (Identified with my new handy-dandy Pocket Guide to Common Kansas Butterflies by Jim Mason, which I got at Monarch Mania. I hope my detection skills are correct!)
This caterpillar played hide and seek among the blooms.
You don't have to be the star attraction to be beautiful in your own way. I think there's a lesson there somewhere.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Look Up!

I started my walk with my eyes up. I was in search of Monarchs, the "Queen" of butterflies. It's time for their annual migration, a journey that takes them from northern climes to the warmth of southern California and Mexico for the winter months. The Kansas Wetlands Education Center near Great Bend hosted a Monarch Mania event the second weekend in September, and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge's comparable event was last weekend.

Just that morning, I had seen a photo of Monarchs on Quivira's Facebook page.
Photo: Stick around for awhile:  migrating Monarch butterflies were seen in groups like this in the trees around Headquarters this morning - just in time for our annual Monarch Mania event!  It will be held from 9:00 am to noon tomorrow (21 September) at Quivira's Environmental Education Classroom.  As with all of our events, it's free - and fun!  Come by and see.
Photo from Quivira National Wildlife Refuge's Facebook Page - September 20, 2013
I'm just a few miles from the refuge, so I hoped I would find a similar scene nestled in the trees on the County Line.  As I gazed upwards, I glimpsed a few Monarchs, flitting in and out of the canopy of trees just down the road from our house. They would dart into my line of vision, gracefully catch the air currents and drift away from view into the maze of green leaves. Kind of like a busy toddler I know, they didn't pause for a formal portrait by an amateur photographer.

A walk awaited - whether the butterflies cooperated or not. And I was again reminded that sometimes we overlook the small gifts of everyday in our peering for the next big thing. All week, Randy had mentioned the thousands of yellow butterflies that seemed to have become "squatters" in our alfalfa fields.

My internet search to positively identify them came up empty. There are plenty of websites focused on the majestic Monarch, but I didn't find one where a little yellow butterfly was the star of the show.

But as I took a detour from the dirt road into the alfalfa field, the little yellow "flying machines" came in for landings on colorful alfalfa blossoms, drinking in their nectar.
Were they dramatic Monarchs, with their brilliant orange and black, stained-glass-like markings?

Did they have a beauty all their own as the sunlight seemed to illuminate their paper-thin wings?
Most assuredly.
As I returned to the road, I saw even smaller moths, hardly bigger than the fingernail on my pinky finger. If I hadn't been looking up, I'd never have seen them.
Sometimes, I'm guilty of just plodding along, staring at my feet, lost in my own thoughts. It can happen on a morning walk. It can happen metaphorically, too, as I get lost in the minutia of a to-do list and don't pause to appreciate my everyday blessings.
Blessings don't just come on the wings of Monarchs. They can come from lowly moths and dried up corn stalks. We just have to look up.

A Time to Think

To pray is to listen, to move through my own chattering to God, to that place where I can be silent and listen to what God may have to say. –Madeleine L'Engle, author

A Time to Act

Use today as an opportunity to listen to God's voice.

A Time to Pray

God, thank You for the moments that wake me up to this perfectly beautiful world.
(Wisdom from a Guideposts daily email devotional)
Today I'm linked to Jennifer Dukes Lee's Tell His Story.  Click on the link to read more!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hot Brakes, Cool Heads

"It's not just a job, it's an adventure."

The slogan was first used for a Navy commercial, but it was an apt response from a fellow farm wife to this post on my Facebook page last Friday afternoon:
It's not a good thing when your trip to the elevator involves a fire extinguisher. However, cool heads prevail over hot brakes.
People will sometimes say they are "putting out fires" at work. I don't think there are supposed to be actual flames. We seem to be the exception to that rule. 
It started as an attempt to document another aspect of corn harvest. Earlier, I'd ridden along as we took a load of high-moisture corn to the Haw Ranch Feedlot near Turon.  We haul the majority of our grain to the Zenith and Stafford branches of the Kanza Co-op, so I wanted to give some equal time to our friends there. 

It started innocently enough. I rode along on the combine as Randy cut corn. When the truck was full, we took off for Zenith. On the way, we heard an unusual squeak, but we couldn't figure out the source of the noise, even after peering into the rearview mirrors.

But, when we turned the corner into the Zenith Co-op's drive, a billow of smoke came up. The smoke and the smell followed us all the way to the office, where we parked to have the grain tested and the truck weighed.
In the excitement of Randy grabbing the fire extinguisher from the cab, I missed getting a photo of the smoke billowing out from the right side of the truck, where were actual flames (though small) or of Randy as firefighter. Thankfully, the fire extinguisher did the job. So much for my play-by-play captions of dumping grain at the elevator!

You can see the orange probe hovering over the truck. The operator inside the office uses the probe to get a sample of the corn. One of the tests is for moisture. While the feedlot wanted the grain between 24 to 35 percent moisture for grinding, the co-op prefers it at 16 or under. The load is docked if it is above 16 because the co-op then has to dry the grain.
The corn is also tested for foreign material and bugs. If the grain has too much of either of those things, there's also a dockage charge.

Since we have a smaller truck, we many times dump inside the elevator. However, when we rolled onto the scales with flames, the executive decision was made for us to dump into the pit outside the elevator. Good idea, guys!
A co-op worker opens the slides on the back of the truck, then signals Randy to begin raising the truck bed. As the driver, you watch in your rearview mirror and watch for hand signals from the co-op worker. Sometimes, they want you to pause so the grain doesn't pile up.
The bed is fully raised in the photo below. Once the truck is empty, Randy put down the truck bed and we went back to weigh onto the scale empty.
This particular load was 14.0 moisture, with a test weight of 60 and a No. 1 grade. We dumped 31,500 pounds or 562.50 bushels with that load. The corn is stored at the co-op until we are ready to sell it. (Usually, the price goes up after we sell. It's the law of grain marketing. Just kidding!)

The farmer or landlord pays a storage fee based on the amount of time the grain was stored before being sold. Then, it belongs to the co-op. They sell it to entities like feedlots or ethanol plants. Most of it is trucked out of the elevator to the buyer. (In the past, rail travel helped move a lot of grain, too, but most of it is trucked these days, at least in this area.)

Now, back to the brake issue: We parked the truck at the co-op and Jake came and rescued us. Naturally, things like this always seem to happen at inconvenient times. It was late Friday afternoon, and we couldn't get ahold of a mechanic until Monday morning.
I followed Randy to town yesterday morning. Best news? We made it to town without using a fire extinguisher, though it definitely smelled hot as he parked it at the mechanic's shop.

We don't know the verdict yet. Thankfully, we are now done cutting corn, but this is the truck we use for holding seed wheat, and we are starting to drill wheat today. We have an auger that attaches to the truck, making it easier to get the wheat from the truck to the drill. 
Wheat drilling - 2011
We have another truck we can use to hold seed wheat, but the auger doesn't fit onto it. Until we get the bigger truck back, the guys will have to go "old-school" when transferring the wheat to the drill. They'll have to use a scoop. They (and their backs!) are hoping there's a quick solution for the other truck.

More on corn harvest and wheat drilling to come!

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Bit Long in the Tooth

It's a good thing farm wives "of a certain age" are not assessed to the same standard as a few other females at the old homestead.

I would be in trouble.

Last week, we rounded up five old cows and took them to the sale at Pratt Livestock. Last fall, as the veterinarian and the guys ran the cow herd through the working chute for a pregnancy check and vaccines, they noted which of the cows were getting to be a bit "long in the tooth." Actually, they were a little "short in tooth," in that they may have lost the majority of their chompers.

Thankfully, I still have the majority of my teeth. But I unexpectedly had another tooth pulled two weeks ago. Besides being painful, it's a bit disconcerting to have yet another reminder of my advancing age and mouth maladies. (Yes, I know there are much worse things.)

I teased Randy that he should have probably reconsidered on the honeymoon, when I had a monster toothache one evening. I came home from our trip to Colorado and promptly had my first root canal. Unfortunately, I've lost count of how many I've had since. And this latest tooth extraction will eventually lead to my second implant. It's not cheap, people!

But I will have to say that the hole in my own mouth may have made me a tad more sympathetic for these grand old "ladies" who've served our farm well. After all, they've likely had eight or 10 baby calves. (They've got me beat for sure.) 

As the cows lose their teeth, it makes it harder for them to eat, which may affect both their health and the health of their babies, both before birth and after. 

Last fall as these "grand dames" went through the squeeze chute, Randy recorded their ear tag numbers on a sheet of paper. When they had their calves this winter, he added each of their calves' ear tag numbers to the list. As we took cows and calves to summer pasture, we separated these older cows and their offspring. They spent the summer in a pasture south of Jake's house.

Now, with their babies no longer needing their personal "milk machines," Randy weaned the calves early in the week. He kept the calves in one pen and their moms in a neighboring pen. Researchers have found that the calves have less stress when they can see their mamas through the weaning process. Less stress equates to fewer illnesses for the calves.
Last Thursday, we hauled the mamas to the sale barn. We weren't the only ones delivering cattle to the sale, and we had to wait our turn.
Randy pulled into the unloading area, and they shut the gate behind him.
The sale barn staff then opens the trailer and sends the cows down an alleyway.
They are then placed in a numbered pen until sale time.
Another worker records the number of animals we brought to the sale.
The five cows were sold at the Thursday sale, where they averaged 78 cents a pound or $943 a head. Their babies don't look much like infants anymore after a summer of milk on demand. They will join the rest of the herd as we move cow-calf pairs home from pasture within the next month or so.
And, despite the declining number of teeth in my mouth, my husband has decided to keep me.

(Please know that this was written with tongue firmly planted in cheek. I can even do that through the hole in my teeth. Just kidding!)

Friday, September 20, 2013

So Long Windmill, Hello Solar

Since the 1880s, windmills have dotted the Kansas Plains, providing wind-driven power to pump water for farms and ranches. These familiar sentinels seem to stand at attention at old farmsteads, their familiar squeak-squeak-squeaking providing a melody that connected one generation to the next.

Often, windmills are the silhouette between me and a sunrise or a sunset. Their simple shadows provide the stick-figure image that accents a color-streaked sky. And while the windmill at the Palmer Place will continue to stand, it's no longer doing the yeoman's work it was designed to do.

The well by the old barn gave out two summers ago, and the guys have been hauling water to that pasture. It was time for a new well. Instead of drilling a new well at the same location, we moved it down a lane and opted to install a solar pump.

First, Randy and Jake placed a new stock tank there. They hauled in rock to place around the tank to give the cattle more solid footing and to keep the dirt from eroding. 
In August,  Darling Drilling from Hutchinson drilled a new well. It looked a little like a miniature oil rig.
They set up their rig just across the fence from the new stock tank. Randy decided to put the well and solar pump outside the pasture fence. Since it's at the edge of farm ground and not in the pasture, cattle can't rub against the pump and potentially cause damage.
 The drillers kept adding length to their drill bit to reach the water table.

As they got deeper into the ground, the sediment changed. At first, it was more claylike (see the photo in the upper righthand corner below). Then, as they neared the water table, it became more gravel-like.
They drilled to 46 feet, where they found a clay layer under the gravel. The gravel is where the ground water flows. They didn't want to drill through the next clay layer because they were afraid they would find water with a higher salt content, which is common in this area near Quivira National Wildlife Refuge's salt marshes.

Below, a crew member unloads pipe for the well casing. 
Randy points out the small slits in the PVC pipe that allow water to flow into the well casing. 
Just this week, they came back and erected the solar pump. Sunlight powers the solar panel and the pump brings the water to the surface, where it flows into the tank. There's a float on the tank so that the water turns off before it overflows.

Control box for the solar pump
Right now, our 25 heifers are enjoying the new water source at the Palmer Pasture. And the guys are enjoying the fact that they no longer have to haul water there.
Cattle are curious. They came to check us out as we looked at the new solar panel.
And the windmill is retired for anything other than sunset portraits.