Thursday, April 30, 2015

Like a Flock of Dandelions

Who needs "Swan Lake" when you can experience Blackbird Ballet?

With a call that's been described as sounding "like a rusty farm gate," the symphony of my Blackbird Ballet may not have Tschaikovsky's staying power in the classical music world. But it is certainly a colorful dance and fortissimo musical rendition.

The past few mornings, the treetops in my front yard have been filled with yellow-headed blackbirds. I was a little afraid I'd landed in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." I saw that movie when I was in elementary school. It may be why I've never liked horror films. Thankfully, they weren't dive-bombing me like in the movie. But they sure raised a racket. 
Randy had seen a bunch around the cattle corrals earlier in the week, and he called from Jake's house to say there were more there. I was headed to the car to drive down there to see them. But I decided I didn't need to leave my yard to experience the yellow-headed blackbird invasion.

They are evidently camera shy like me. They kept to the tippy-top of the trees, singing their little hearts out in a cacophony of noise. They swooped from one branch to branch and tree to tree in a bird-like ballet. 
My friend, Pam Martin, who works as an educator at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms, said they migrate to Kansas in mid-April and leave for the winter in September. Before pairing off and rearing young, they gather in big flocks and often feed at cattle yards. They nest in the cattails at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms.
"We have great flocks of them here at the Bottoms, so many they look like dandelions in the fields."
Pam Martin
I wish I'd thought of that poetic description!

As I've said before, I don't have a fancy camera, so it's hard to get portraits of my winged friends. While I was pointing my camera up to the treetops, I noticed another visitor on a line nearer to the ground. I snapped a photo and also sent it to Pam for identification
She says this guy is a barn swallow - not exactly an exotic visitor. Who knew they were so pretty! They usually dart around so quickly, catching insects mid-air, that I've never seen their pretty plumage. When I'm at the barn, maybe I'm too busy dodging cows to notice the bird's feathers as they swoop over my head.

Pam says, "In Ohio, it was considered good luck to have them next to your barn!"

As good educators do, Pam prompted me to do a little research on my own.
"If swallows nested in farm buildings, it meant well-being and good fortune for the owners. People believed that the presence of these birds protected farm animals from diseases and curses and buildings from fires." 
This barn swallow was on a wire near the barn. Yay for good luck!
I can always use a little bit of luck, well-being and good fortune, especially as we begin three days of working with cattle this afternoon!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Start and Stop

Corn planting for 2015 has been start and stop because of the weather. What else is new about life on the farm?

Randy initially started planting April 11, but we got rain that night and the next day, totaling 1.50 inches. Then, we got another 3.10 inches here at home on April 16 and 17. A week later, April 23, a couple of fields had dried out enough to plant more. But when Randy about got the tractor and planter stuck after moving to another field, he took another hiatus. He started again yesterday (April 28). And, just so there is no question, I'm definitely not complaining about getting rain. I know some parts of the state got little to none.
Wheat is still our primary crop at the County Line. Corn was a primary crop in this area when it was settled. The 6th Biennial Report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture of 1888 reported that corn was the main crop for Stafford County, covering 48,030 acres. Oats were grown on 10,849 acres, while the winter wheat crop totaled 8,717 acres. Pasture ground was tallied at 13,446 acres. Other crops in 1888 were millet, spring wheat, rye, Irish and sweet potatoes, sorghum, castor beans, cotton, flax, hemp, tobacco and broom corn. Swine outnumbered cattle in livestock. (Information taken from Stafford County History: 1870-1990.)
Randy applies fertilizer to give the seed a boost of energy for germination and early growth.
In some ways, I guess we are returning to Randy's Stafford County farming ancestors' roots by planting corn. However, the corn planted today is much different than the varieties planted 125 years ago.
Today, many farmers plant RIB corn (refuge in a bag) - whether it's irrigated or dryland.

The green-colored seeds have a different genetic make-up and are treated with a different insecticide than the pink-colored seeds. The pink seeds are a refuge for several different insects in a field, giving them a habitat to satisfy EPA rules. Before RIB technology was available, farmers had to plant so many acres in a field to a corn that wasn't resistant to the bugs and the rest of the field could be resistant. With RIB technology, farmers can plant it all at the same time, without changing seed and figuring acreage requirements.
Our planter was set at 18,800 corn seeds per acre. Each $260 bag had 80,000 seeds and plants 4.3 acres. One bag of certified wheat seed costs $15 and plants a little more than 1/2 an acre. A bag of milo seed costs $100 and plants 14 acres.

Before switching to corn three years ago, we planted milo as our row crop. Corn offers a potential for higher yields. There is more drought tolerance built into dryland corn seeds than previously available.
Additionally, corn is Round-Up ready, and milo is not. We have been having trouble controlling weeds in milo. If there are weeds and grasses in the corn, we can spray with Round-Up without harming the growing plants.
We only have 200 acres of corn to plant. Who would have thought it would take 3 weeks to accomplish? (And I'd better not get ahead of myself. We're not done yet!)

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Early Departure

When cattle start getting out, it's time to move them to another location. So that's what we did last week, even though conditions weren't exactly ideal for sorting cattle - or walking through lots without losing shoes in the mud.

Thankfully, my favorite farmer assigned me the job where I didn't need a flotation device. I do need to invest in a pair of waterproof boots. (On second thought, maybe the lack thereof led to my plum post. So maybe I'll just keep my ruined tennis shoes handy.)
The heifers got their feet wet, too, as we sorted them from their babies for the ride to the Ninnescah pasture.
Eventually, we got them divided - the babies behind one fence and their mamas behind the other. If ever you need a hearing test, the bawling will clean out your ears.
We take the mamas in one trailer ...
... and the babies in another. This protects the babies from getting stepped on during their chauffeured ride to the pasture.
After they were loaded, Randy sprayed them with an insecticide to keep the flies at bay.
It was a beautiful spring day for a drive.
The old cottonwood tree waved hello at the pasture gate.
Once at the pasture, the mamas and babies were reunited.
The 15 pairs arrived to the party early. They will have the buffet all to themselves until late this week, when we'll take another 55 pair and bulls to the Ninnescah pasture.
Stay tuned ...

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Sky's the Limit

Whether it's sunrise or sunset or the blue expanse dotted with the marshmallow puff clouds of spring, I love sky watching. 
Sunset, April 19, 2015
Friday night, as I was driving home from a birthday party in Stafford, I stopped several times to take photos of the stormy sky. If I would have driven straight home, I wouldn't have gotten wet. But I also wouldn't have witnessed the ever-shifting majesty of the Kansas sky.
Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op (HDR photo treatment), April 24, 2015
Even though I didn't get any lightning photos, I marveled at the beauty and the power of God's creation. I'm thankful we missed the hail and tornadoes and just got the beauty shots.

I saved a devotional that arrived in my in-box last week from Guideposts. These photos seemed made to illustrate it. 
April 24, 2015, Stafford/Reno County line, looking east
God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.  Genesis 1:31

A Time to Think

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth
find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature–
the assurance that dawn comes after night,
and spring after winter.
 Rachel Carson
April 24, 2015, Stafford/Reno County line, looking northwest

A Time to Act

Look at the world with a vision magnified by the power of faith deep within you.
Sunset, April 19, 2015

A Time to Pray

Father, today I resolve to be a good steward of our world.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Fresh Brussels Sprouts Salad

I have never been accused of being trendy. I just don't think it's part of my DNA.

So imagine my surprise when I saw an article about food trends in The Wall Street Journal. Using Brussels sprouts raw in a salad was one of the food trends pictured in a photo accompanying Sarah Nassauer's article, Here Today, Kale Tomorrow: The Arc of a Food Fad.

And, lo and behold, I had Brussels sprouts in the fridge, ready to use raw in a salad recipe I found on Iowa Girl Eats.

Nassauer writes:
Food trends typically advance in predictable stages. New culinary fashions often appear first in a creative chef's kitchen, at an ethnic restaurant or are invented by the eccentric owner of a small food company. ... Foods like acai, kimchi, kale, coconut sugar, sprouted grains and fancy burgers first became popular this way. In the early stage, almost anything can get a day in the sun. Cricket flour is now being pitched by a handful of small companies as cheap protein. ...
OK, let's not get crazy now. There will be no cricket flour in the County Line kitchen. But Brussels sprouts? I can get trendy for those! 

The fresh taste of the Brussels sprouts is enhanced with salty crumbled bacon and almonds. Red apple and dried cranberries add just the right hint of sweetness. And a homemade warm bacon vinaigrette dressing brings it all together.

This time, I served it with teriyaki-glazed salmon and cheese grits. Yummy! The fresh salad was definitely better than the leftovers, so if you can, just make enough for one meal.
Fresh Brussels Sprouts Salad
(with apples, almonds & bacon)
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats
4 slices bacon, reserving fat
Olive oil, if needed
1 tbsp. shallots(or substitute sweet onions)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or white balsamic)
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed
1/4 cup whole salted almonds, roughly chopped
1 red, tart apple (like Jonathan, McIntosh or Pink Lady)
2-3 tbsp. dried cranberries

Cook bacon until crisp in large skillet over medium heat. Remove to paper towel to drain. Reserve 3 tablespoons bacon grease in skillet, adding extra virgin olive oil if there's not enough. To the bacon grease over medium heat, add shallots and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and whisk in vinegar, honey, mustard, salt and pepper. Return skillet to heat and whisk until ingredients are combined, about 30 seconds. Again, remove from heat.

Using a grating blade attachment on a food processor, slice trimmed Brussels sprouts very thin. Put in a large bowl. Crumble cooled bacon. Add to Brussels sprouts, along with chopped almonds, apple and dried cranberries. Pour dressing over the salad. Mix and serve immediately.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Synchronized Isn't Just for Swimming

I have always been a little in awe of synchronized swimming. I personally am "dance challenged" standing upright on a dance floor. How can these swimmers coordinate every movement of their perfectly stretched toes and fingertips - all while trying not to drown? (I might mention I'm not much of a swimmer either, despite my mom and the neighbor ladies taking turns driving us to the pool 15 miles away to take lessons every summer.)

But synchronization isn't just for bathing-capped swimmers. It's also for our heifers. Tuesday, these ladies were on their way toward being synchronized. However, they don't have many dance moves either - though Jake did comment about some coordinated raised tails as they ran through the puddle on the way to the corral.
This kind of synchronization is so the heifers will come into estrus (or heat) at the same time.

In March, Randy and Jake mixed MGA into the feed given to 21 heifers. MGA stands for melengestrol acetate, which suppresses the ovulation cycle for the heifers. For 14 days, the guys added the MGA to the grain in the feed truck and fed the equivalent of 1/2 a pound per head per day.
On Tuesday, we gathered the heifers and ran them through the working chute for the next phase of their OB-GYN appointment.
Randy gave each heifer a shot of Lutalyse, which makes the heifers come into estrus (or heat).
He also gave each of the 25 heifers a shot of vaccine to prevent respiratory issues and diarrhea. 
So why do we try to synchronize the heifers' cycles? We do it to shorten the calving season for the heifers, which saves labor at calving time. (Well, it saves some labor for the humans - not the mama cows.) Because heifers are first-time mamas, we check them frequently in case they are having trouble calving.

The same day the Lutalyse shot was given, four bulls came a callin'. The bulls were chosen for the "job" because they are bulls whose offspring are expected to have lower birth weight, making it easier for the first-time mothers to deliver their calves.

Then 283 days later, the babies are supposed to arrive. So we will expect to get our first 80-pound bundles of joy next January 28 or so.
The four bulls will stay with the heifers for 10 days. Then one will remain with the heifers, while the others will go to different pastures with mature cows. Our cow herd should begin calving around February 7.

The photo below was taken before the heifers went through the working chute, while the heifers were on the west side of the fence and the bulls were on the right. It appeared the bulls were "checking out the ladies."
Let's hope they like what they see so there will be lots of babies in late January and early February next year!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Right Place, Right Time

Are you ready for your closeup, little guy? This belted kingfisher appeared to be.

On our excursion Saturday morning to check rain gauges and pasture ground, we went through part of Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Initially, I didn't see the handsome fellow perching on the fence post, but my sharp-eyed husband did.

Randy backed up the pickup, and the bird miraculously stayed put. I rarely get a chance to photograph birds, so I couldn't believe my luck.
We wondered if he might have been hurt, since he didn't make an attempt to fly away. I sent a photo and asked for information from my friend and fellow photography enthusiast Pam Martin, who works as an educator at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at Cheyenne Bottoms. She said: "He looks a little rumpled up. He might have gotten in a tussle with a larger bird or some predator. They are a really cool bird. They nest in earthen burrows made in steep sides along waterways."

So, he had good reason for hanging out near Quivira. 
He even showed us both profiles. Does he have a "better side?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Being Short Is No Joke

Being short is no joke. Our 2015 wheat crop is "height-challenged," due to lack of moisture through the fall and winter.

And while we benefited from 3 inches to more than 8 inches of rain during the past few days, depending upon the location, the moisture likely won't make the crop a whole lot taller. The shorter crop means the combine header will have to stay closer to the ground, making it a little more difficult to harvest the crop when the time comes.

The rain came with some hail at one of our fields north of Stafford. Hail stripped part of the stalk, revealing the wheat heads in boot stage.
We must not have gotten hail on the west end of the same mile-long field. At that end, the head was still in the "boot," where Randy is pointing in the photo below.
Below, he used his fingernail to break the stalk and reveal the head. It won't be long before all the wheat will be heading out. 
The rains brought some relief to the state of Kansas, 93 percent of which has been classified in some form of drought. Some 70 percent of the state is listed in moderate to extreme drought.
As with most farmers in the South Central part of the state, we had enough moisture to get the wheat up after it was planted last fall.
Planting the 2015 wheat crop, September 2014
In fact, we had a nice 3.20 inch rain soon after planting, giving the crop a good beginning boost.
Early October 2014
However, we had very little snow or other moisture this winter, and the spring had been dry before the rains that fell, starting last Thursday.
“It’s definitely a million-dollar rain. Unfortunately, not everyone got it. One rain isn’t going to save the wheat crop. It is sure welcome, but this crop isn’t made yet.”
Kansas State University agronomist John Holman
in The Hutchinson News
The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service reported last week that 28 percent of the state's wheat is in poor to very poor condition. The agency rates another 46 percent as fair and just 28 percent as good or excellent.

Time will tell.
We shall see.

Choose whichever worn-out axiom you'd like. But for now, we're thankful for the rain.