Wednesday, November 27, 2013

86,400 Seconds

As I slipped my mug under the coffee maker's spout, the clouds caught my eye. The sun had not yet risen above the horizon. But the tops of the clouds were already catching the promise of the sun.
Sunrise, November 20, 2013
Isn't it ironic that a sky filled with clouds makes for the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets?
You'd think that the clouds would mar the scene. Instead, they are like diamonds, catching the varied facets of light from the different angles.
When life doesn't go as you'd hoped, it can be hard to see the light through the clouds.
But, a morning like this reminds me to keep looking for the wonder, even in disappointment.
The geese's call punctuates the cold air and they make commas in the sky near the barn's cupola. Another day has begun ... another day to look for Light despite the clouds.

Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. Psalm 95:2

We will spend Thanksgiving in Kentucky with Brent. More on our trip when we get back to the County Line.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Frost on the Pumpkin

The leaves fall, the wind blows,
and the farm country slowly changes
 from the summer cotton into its winter wools.
Henry Beston, Northern Farm
Friday's sleet and dusting of snow wasn't our first foray into winter this year. In fact, it was more than a month ago that we had snow fall while the leaves were still green and the summer annuals were still in bloom.
October 18, 2013 - The first snow this fall/winter
This time, the temperature felt more like winter.

If you stand still outside you can hear it... Winter's footsteps.
From Animal Crossing: Wild World

Like the flag on the mailbox signals a delivery, the snow heralds the season to come.
Ready or not!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nature Lesson

The sun touched the leaves, making them shimmer like gold against a blue sky. It was almost as if God was decorating his Creation for worship on that November 10 Sunday dawn. 
Like a real-life Thomas Kincaid painting, the scene seemed to glow from inside out.
And, yet, just 10 days later, the leaves have lost their luster. A hard freeze stole the gold from the trees just as assuredly as a thief robs a bank of its treasure.

The wind was its accomplice. Only a few hardy leaves hold on for dear life, gripping the barren limbs like a screaming teenage girl grips the armrest on a roller coaster ride.
This fall has been an oasis of autumn color after two years of drought.  It's amazing what a little rain can do to the fall foliage show, not to mention farm crops.
But maybe the leaves that crunch underneath my feet and flutter down from the canopy of cottonwoods that welcome me home are a reminder. Sometimes, we have to let the old fall away so that we can be ready for something new.
November 6, 2013

November 18, 2013
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. ... Remain in me, as I also remain in You. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing. ... If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples."

Selected verses from John 15: 1-8

I will seek beauty in the barrenness as the winter wind howls and snow decorates brown branches. And then I'll celebrate the spring and return to green. Thank you, God, for the four seasons and the reminders they bring!
February 2013
It's not what we say about our blessings, 
but how we use them,
 that is the true measure of our thanksgiving.
 –W.T. Purkiser, preacher and author

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Frosted Shortbread Bars

We all know that there are people who are pretty on the outside and not so pretty on the inside. But isn't it a pleasure to find someone who is equally beautiful, inside and out?

Meet Frosted Shortbread Bars. They can be dressed up to "fancy up" any holiday cookie tray. But they aren't just a pretty face. They are as tasty as they are pretty.

The bottom is a buttery shortbread layer. It's topped with a thin layer of chocolate. Then, just like a girl getting ready for the prom and putting on some fancy jewelry, nuts and holiday sprinkles give them just the right adornment. I made these cookies for cookie trays for the UMW bazaar and will make them again this week for the Stafford Ministerial Alliance Thanksgiving service we're hosting at our church this Sunday.

Every cookie tray needs a little pizazz, don't you think? I'll either decorate the tops with this pumpkin mix or a sprinkle of tiny candy fall leaves. Switch up the holiday sprinkles, and these little treats will be the perfect accessory for Christmas, too. (In fact, now that I think about it, this makes a big pan, so I may top half the bars with Christmas sprinkles and stash them in the freezer for next month's festivities.)

The recipe came from the Stafford County Hospital Cookbook: Working Hands, Caring Hearts published last year. As I thumb through the pages, it's like a letter of endorsement to try recipes from my friends and community people I know are good cooks. Don't you love community-based cookbooks? Yep, me too!

Frosted Shortbread
Recipe from Jo Duvall
Stafford County Hospital Cookbook
Working Hands, Caring Hearts
1 cup butter (no substitutes), softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
10 oz. chocolate chips or chocolate bars
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Holiday sprinkles (opt.)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla. Mix well. Combine flour and salt; add to creamed mixture. Press into a greased 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately place chocolate over crust. Let stand for 1 minute or until softened. Spread chocolate evenly with an offset spatula or knife. Sprinkle with walnuts and holiday sprinkles appropriate for the occasion, if desired. Cool. Cut into squares. Yield: 3 dozen.

  • The original recipe called for 4 milk chocolate candy bars, broken into rectangles. I didn't have chocolate bars, so I substituted chocolate chips. You may use semi-sweet or milk chocolate, depending upon your preferences. I'm a semi-sweet chocolate kind of girl!
  • If you like a different kind of nuts, substitute your preference.
Today, I'm linked to Wake Up Wednesdays, a recipe link-up. Click on the link for more recipes to try.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Fair to Middlin'

I took this on an overcast day when my "model" met me on the road while I was walking. The other pictures with a pretty blue sky were taken a different day.
My personal County Line crop consultant thinks the wheat crop looks "fair to middlin'." I'll bet you didn't get that analysis from your ServiTech consultant.

Randy would like for the wheat to be a little taller with more tillers as we approach the wheat's dormant stage. But, at least it has emerged from the ground and should be hearty enough to make it through the winter.
It also depends on when it was planted. Some of the earlier-planted crop is a little bigger, which you would expect, including this field behind the house with its picturesque silo in the background.

As you might remember from earlier photos, this field had corn on it this summer.
Photo from May 2013

Corn & silo - July 5, 2013
We use crop rotation on the County Line to help control weeds and pests. You can still see some remnants of the earlier crop - cobs and husks from the corn - among the green of the wheat. The crop residue is also good ground cover, especially when the winter winds howl.
The latest government snapshot of Kansas crops shows 92 percent of the winter wheat has now emerged. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that about 64 percent of the wheat is in excellent to good condition. About 33 percent is rated as fair, with just 3 percent rated in poor condition.
We've had nearly 3 inches of moisture on the crop, which is certainly better than the last two years when we planted the wheat crop during exceptional drought. 
My analysis?
1) The green wheat sure looked pretty against a blue sky last week.
2) It's a long time until harvest!

Monday, November 18, 2013

I'll Take the Works!

Sometimes, ladies just need a spa day.
"You go first."
"No, you go first. I insist."
 Maybe she's lost her "earring" and needs a new splash of yellow to go with her black coat.
Or maybe she needs a generous spray of "perfume."

While this post about the veterinarian's visits to the County Line may have started out with tongue planted firmly in cheek, this appointment is important to our operation. It's one way to keep our cattle herd healthy and profitable.

Dr. Dayul Dick from Prairie Vista Veterinary Clinic in South Hutchinson has been at the County Line for three separate visits this fall as we've put different groups of cattle through the working chute. Last Thursday, he preg-checked 25 heifers and found one open one. In other words, one of these first-time mamas did not get pregnant. We will keep the open heifer and will feed her until she's about 1,200 pounds. Then, we'll take her to Ellinwood Packing, where she will become meat for our freezer.

One other heifer thought she was at a rodeo instead of a doctor's appointment and jumped several gates and fences. So, she made a one-way trip to the sale barn. We try to cull females with a "less-than-pleasant disposition. (It's a good thing the same doesn't apply to farm wives on an occasional bad day, but I guarantee you I won't be jumping fences.)

Thursday's visit was Dr. Dick's third and final trip to the County Line for working cattle this fall. He came a couple of weeks ago, and we "worked" the calves born this past January and February. We gathered them off of the Ninnescah pasture on October 19. They now weigh an average of 613 pounds each, and we will keep them as feeder calves through the winter, before selling them at the sale barn in the spring. The past two years, due to drought, we've sold the calves in the fall. This year, with more plentiful rains, we have the feedstuffs to nourish the calves and the mamas all winter, so we'll help the calves "pack on the pounds" before their trip to the sale barn next spring.

On November 4, we brought their mothers back to the farm, and they had their own appointment with the vet later that week.

For both the heifers and the cows, Dr. Dick does a manual exam to see if each is pregnant, and, if so, how far along she is. Yes, the doctor's hand really is where you think it is. He does wear an oversized plastic glove.  The vet assistant records the animal's tag number and the estimated gestation for the calf she is carrying. Sometimes, they've inputted it directly into a laptop computer, but this time, they used an old-fashioned pen and paper list.
While in the squeeze chute, the vet assistant gave a couple of shots to each cow and to the feeder calves. 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. Dick 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.

Remember that dose of "perfume" from the photos above? It's actually a pour-on solution to control internal and external parasites, like lice, worms and liver flukes.
While the vet is on the "business end," Randy is at the other end. Remember those "earrings" I talked about earlier? We use yellow ear tags on our cattle. Sometimes, just like the rest of we girls, someone loses an ear "adornment." Then, Randy puts in another tag for identification. Initially, the ear tag number reveals the age of the cow. (For example, the calves born this year have an ear tag that begins with a 3 for 2013. Next year's calves will have ear tags beginning with a 4.) But, when we have to use a replacement tag, the birth year is no longer part of the ID. One he used as a replacement this year was "R19," with the "R" designating "Randy." (I may need to request equal time and ask for some "K" tags next year.)

If the cow doesn't have its original ear tag, Randy tries to determine her age by checking her teeth. 
He feels along the bottom gum to see how long the teeth are or if they are missing teeth. (Cattle only have teeth along the bottom.)
If the cow has shorter teeth or is missing teeth, it's a sign of aging, and we will likely cull her from the herd after her baby is born. He told the vet assistant his estimate, which she recorded on her inventory list.
(I'm thinking I should have taken a video of this process instead of still shots. Sometimes they are "shy" about revealing their teeth. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well about this teeth business!)

Now that the doctor appointments are over, our "girls" are now ladies in waiting, eating and drinking to maintain their body condition so they are ready to deliver their little 80-pound bundles of joy this winter. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hit Rewind

Sometimes, it feels like we're hitting the rewind button.

It doesn't seem all that long ago that we took cattle to summer pastures. We've spent the past month or so bringing them back home, where we'll feed them during the cold winter months. Such is life in the Great Plains.
As the leaves turn yellow and the days grow shorter, the grass on Kansas pastures will no longer sustain cattle. I know some consumers would like their beef roaming the open prairie all year 'round. But Old Man Winter has different ideas in Kansas. We bring the cattle back closer to home, where we feed them hay and silage each day.

But even though there's a familiar pattern to the fall cattle round-up, the process is never exactly the same. This fall, I was promoted to 4-wheeler driver, when Jake ended up with a cracked right wrist sustained during the first phase of the cattle round-up on the Rattlesnake Creek. It's a little hard to operate the 4-wheeler with a right wrist that's out of commission.

I'm definitely not complaining. I'm usually left in the corral, frantically honking the horn and throwing hay up in the air in an effort to entice the cattle to "come on down," so to speak. I can't complain about two days of riding 4-wheelers and rounding up cattle at the Ninnescah Pasture. There are less aesthetically-pleasing workplaces, that's for sure.
Still, I'm a Type A personality who likes to have a plan. When you're working with cattle in a 320-acre pasture, the plan often goes out the window. Or into the river, as the case may be.
Let's just say the October 19 round-up did not go according to the blueprint. We were attempting to gather all the cow-calf pairs at the pasture. We planned to drive them into the corral, then sort the baby calves from the mamas for weaning.

We had one group in one place. We had another group in another. About the time we'd get one group where we wanted, another would take off for points unknown.
I did my best to do what our fearless leader directed. But it wasn't always discernible when said leader is halfway across the pasture and your cell phone doesn't work in the remote area. My motto? Watch for hand signals and hope for the best.
And maybe take a few photos while waiting.
The cattle sometimes went where no 4-wheeler could go.
But eventually, we got most of them gathered and headed in the right direction. We never did three pairs gathered that day.
But the rest, we got into the corral, where we sorted off the babies and loaded them into trailers to take them back home.
We sent the mamas back into the pasture for two weeks.
The mamas weren't so sure about the trailers taking their babies away.
We made a quick stop at the Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op to weigh the trailers. The calves weighed an average of 613 pounds each. Randy was pleased with the rate of gain with grass in good supply this summer,
The calves arrived at the old homestead ...
... where they will dine on hay and silage for the winter until we sell them this spring at the sale barn.
We went back a couple of weeks later for their mamas (and for the three calf stragglers that didn't cooperate the first time.)
This time it didn't take us 2 1/2 hours to round 'em up.
We loaded them up and took them home for their appointment with the veterinarian. (More on that next week.)
Rewind complete.