Monday, January 30, 2017

The Hard Stuff

Everyone loves a happy ending.

We go to romantic comedies, knowing that the boy and girl eventually will find true love after a series of comical mishaps. We root for the hero during action movies. We hold our breath as we turn pages of an engrossing book, anticipating an ending that ties up all the loose ends.

But sometimes, no matter our best efforts, the ending isn't one you'd choose. People die too young. A potential job falls through. An accident happens and changes life forever.

And, sometimes, a baby calf dies.

Such was the case with the seventh calf of our Class of 2017.  Heifer No. 581 gave birth in a mud puddle. The mama didn't take advantage of a generous amount of straw spread out in the corrals.
The calf couldn't have been there all that long, probably less than an hour. But, by the time, Randy was back out in the lots, he found a shivering black calf. He and Ricky hauled it into the calving shed and tried to warm it up. Then, they left it alone with the mama for awhile, hoping she'd get it up and nursing.
But, after checking it again, Randy decided to milk out the mama. Baby calves can't nurse if they don't stand up, and this little calf wasn't strong enough.
Just like with humans, a mama's first milk is full of important colostrum for its offspring. We got the heifer in the head gate and Randy milked her.
We use an esophageal feeder to feed the calf.
It uses a tube and gravity to get the milk into the calf's stomach.
Some gentle rubs from a farmer were part of the after-feeding ritual.
But, a few hours later, the calf died. No one ever likes losing calves. We do our very best to be good stewards of the animals in our care. But, despite our best efforts, Old Man Winter can be a hard opponent to battle. Death is a fact of life. It's hard on the emotions and the pocketbook. (New calves would sell for about $200 in the sale barn this year.) And it's not a fun thing to share on a blog about a farm. But it is truth.

We celebrate when Cinderella's foot slips effortlessly into the glass slipper and she gets her prince. We cheer loudly when the underdog triumphs over the bigger, stronger opponent. And we mourn when things don't have a fairytale ending.
Our first calf of the season is doing great.
But the journey continues. We have a total of 113 heifers and cows to calve out. Here's hoping for more happy endings.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Power to the People

From outward appearances, the tall and mighty power poles that stretch across our wheat field looked unharmed after the ice storm two weekends ago.
Harvest, June 2013

The poles often play starring roles in my sunset photos as silhouettes to mark the departure of another Kansas day. They are part of our western landscape, a line marching steadily toward the horizon. However, like most people, I don't think a lot about electricity until I don't have it. During this ice storm, we were fortunate. We were only without power for a few hours, and we were sleeping during most of that time. Many others were without electricity for several days.
We know how that is.  After a 2007 ice storm, we were without power for 12 days. The only good thing that came out of that 2007 ice storm was a photo of the sun coming up after a week of gray days and sub-freezing temperatures. I put that photo on canvas and it decorates my living room, part of my "There is a time for every season ..." Ecclesiastes grouping.
On our way to church last Sunday, we saw a parade of vehicles in the field. Evidently, outward appearances didn't tell the whole story. (There's another lesson there, isn't there?)
The ice that had draped fences and coated trees and made art out of weeds had also clung to the cross bars of the power poles.
A subcontractor, PAR, worked all day last Sunday to repair the damage on the poles, which are owned by Midwest Energy.
Wet fields and heavy equipment don't mix. The company had to use bulldozers to pull their trucks through the muck. (We know a little about that after a combine was buried in mud during our last wheat harvest!)
One of the supervisors came to the house to get a phone number and contact information so the company could settle any damages to the ground and crops. He also shared both a company phone number and his personal cell phone, just in case we didn't hear from the company.  What a nice guy!
Less than a week later, the company has already called to make reparations for the damage done. Some of the money will go to the landlord. (We don't own the ground.) And some will come to us.
We are thankful that the company is trying to "make it right." But we're even more thankful for electricity and for the workers who do all they can to get power up and running after a storm.

My Grandpa Shelby Neelly was was one of the people who helped develop the rural electric cooperative in Pratt County back in the 1940s. He served on the Ninnescah Rural Electric Board and also the Kansas Rural Electric Cooperative board. My dad later served on both boards as well.
We rural residents owe a lot to our ancestors who worked so hard to bring the convenience of electricity to our rural communities.

The first electric light bulb twinkled into history in 1879, when scientists in Thomas Alva Edison’s laboratory corralled this new form of power.  By 1930, nearly 70 percent of city dwellers were hooked up to the electrical lines and poles that dotted U.S. cities.  At the same time, however, only 10 percent of farm families had access to electricity. 

In 1932, presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “New Deal” to help combat the Great Depression.  One of his New Deal programs was the formation of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935. 
First rural electric line in Kansas, Brown County, 1938. Photo from Kansas State Historical Society.
In 1935, with the passage of the Emergency Appropriations Act, a zero-interest loan program was established for building electric transmission distribution lines into rural America.  However, existing investor-owned companies still weren’t interested in providing electricity to farms because they didn’t believe it was profitable.  In 1936, with the passage of the Electrification Act, not-for-profit cooperatives were encouraged to apply for the loans.  Neighbors joined together to create and control the future of their electric companies.
Grandpa Neelly and me, 1957
 Shelby Neelly had been living in the central Kansas community of Greensburg.  The teacher and coach enjoyed the electricity available to city dwellers.  But, in 1942, when Neelly moved back to Pratt County to farm, he and his family were again without the modern convenience of electricity. 

When the Ninnescah Rural Electric had first approached his neighbors, they didn’t see the need for electric power.  Only a couple of families along the road had signed up in the cooperative’s initial recruitment effort.  Then, World War II curtailed the use of wire and other supplies necessary for building miles of electric line. 

“My kin, Ray Denton, drove up and down the roads in two or three townships out here trying to get people to sign up,” recalled the 99-year-old Neelly in a January 2004 interview.  “It was $5 to sign up, and a lot of people didn’t think they had the $5. At that time, people couldn’t even imagine all the electrical appliances we have today.”

From from Kansas State Historical Society, Brown County, KS
Getting the monetary commitment from farm families was just the beginning.  The cooperative boards spent hours mapping out the best locations for electric lines with engineers.  They again made the rounds to neighbors to purchase land easements for placing the lines.  They also had to apply for the loans to the REA.
Photo from Energy for Generations archive
By 1945, the Neelly family had electricity in their farm home, just like many other farm families in Kansas.  At first, only the kitchen, living room and dining room had the single bulb in the middle of the ceiling.  It was a far cry from the outlets located on every wall in today’s country homes, but it was miraculous at the time to have indoor plumbing.  Farm families were able to replace their ice boxes with electric refrigerators, no more lugging 25-pound chunks of ice into the kitchen.  Farm wives and children no longer hauled pail after pail of water into the home for washing dishes or taking baths.  Families could sit around their living rooms at night listening to the radio and reading by the light of their electric light bulbs rather than the muted glow from kerosene lanterns.

All across the country, farmers and ranchers began to realize the potential for electricity in their daily work.  Electricity could grind feed, shell corn, pump water and saw wood. It powered milking machines and lifted hay into the barn.  Farmyards were often lit with lights, adding extra hours to accomplish work.  

The importance of electricity in the lives of rural residents continues today.  It’s hard to predict what the future will hold. 

“As technology evolves, almost all of it is powered by electricity,” Bob Moore said in a 2004 interview.  “Today we have more technology available than we could ever have dreamed of when I was a boy. It’s amazing that we have computers and television that connect us to the whole world.  The future is not that different from the past.  All kinds of new innovations will require electrical power. We just can’t imagine what all of them will be.”

On Sunday, we'll celebrate Kansas Day. It's been 156 years since Kansas joined the Union. I'm thankful for the pioneers who established this land and for those innovators who came along later - from the people who brought electricity to the plains to those today bringing high-speed internet connections. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Newest Residents of the County Line

Meet the newest residents of the County Line. This little gal got the distinction of getting the first "earring," noting her arrival. The calves born this year will get eartags beginning in "7," designating they were born in 2017. That's particularly important for the heifers which will eventually join our herd. As they come through the working chute in subsequent years, we'll be able to tell at a glance how old they are.
Randy saw this calf before we went to church. But by the time we got back home and had lunch, it was no longer a sleepy, wobbly newborn. It took both of us to corral her so we could give her the first eartag.
By that time, Calf No. 2 had arrived, too. That calf was considerably easier to catch. The mama eventually nudged it up.
But it didn't take long until it decided to take another snooze.

No. 3 (No. 702) arrived Monday night, so the 2017 maternity ward is officially off and running. (We now are up to 5 calves after another was born overnight.) All the calves being born now are coming from our heifers. These are 25 first-time moms. They were born on the County Line two years ago in 2015. So far, they are handling this parenthood thing rather well. They have all accepted their calves and are providing personal "milk machines" for their babies.

The projected due date was January 28. But, just like with human babies, they come when they are ready. We keep the heifers in a lot closer to the house so we can check on them more often.
The corrals are still sloppy after last week's ice storm. (I about lost a boot, and Randy had to come and rescue me when I tried to get photos Monday afternoon. I finally just used the zoom to get most of the photos.) There is plenty of straw spread out, but so far, the calves haven't taken advantage of the drier accommodations. 
Our first calf did find a windbreak in some tree branches. 
The calving shed is also ready for "customers." Sometimes, first-time moms have trouble with the birth and need some assistance. We can usher a heifer having problems into the calving shed and use a head gate to help keep her and us safe while we pull the calf. With temperatures falling overnight, we will likely run a few heifers who look close to calving into the shed the next few nights. 
In 2012, I wrote "The Miracle of Birth," which showed photos of the guys pulling a baby calf. Click here to read that post and see the photos. With the heifers, Randy uses a bull for "calving ease" - a bull whose progeny is lower birth weight but which gains well after birth. It would be great if we didn't have to pull any calves this winter. So far, so good, but time will tell.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Seven-Year Itch: A Blogiversary Post

Today, I am celebrating my seventh "blogiversary." My first blog post was January 24, 2010. In seven years, I've published 1,567 posts, and there have been more than 1.6 million "page hits" on Kim's County Line.

I may be suffering from the so-called "seven-year itch," a psychological term that suggests that happiness in a relationship declines after year seven. Originally, the phrase was coined in conjunction with marriage. (Thankfully, that didn't happen to me.)

However, the phrase has since expanded to indicate cycles not only in interpersonal relationships but in any situation such as working a full-time job or buying a house, where a decrease in happiness and satisfaction is often seen over long periods of time. (This is according to Wikipedia, so it must be right, right?!)
During the past year, the frequency of my posts has slowed. Early in the process, I was blogging six days a week. That slowed to five days a week. This past year, I've blogged two or three days a week. Let's get real:  Nobody besides my parents and my Aunt Opal want to read me every day. Plus, it's stressful to feel like I "have" to do it. (I published 265 posts in 2010, 250 in 2012, 206 in 2015 and only 142 in 2016.)

Still, I'm not ready to give it up completely. Kim's County Line gives me a venue to tell stories about the farm, family, faith and food, as well as share my photography.
My latest blog book arrived last week. Each quarter, I publish a hard-copy version of the blog. I am running out of storage space. But I also know it's a comprehensive history of our life on a Kansas farm. I often say that it's a pity that blogging and digital photography weren't available when Jill and Brent were little. Maybe their life stories would be better organized and exist outside of plastic tubs!

I am certainly no Pioneer Woman or Ann Voskamp in terms of blog followers or page hits. It can be frustrating if I play the comparison game. Comparison is never healthy, though it's human (at least this version of human struggles mightily with it).
However, I believe the positives outweigh the negatives. Writing has made me more aware. For some of the posts about farming, I've approached the task like the reporter I am. I've "interviewed" my farmer and written down his answers. I've asked the questions and listened carefully, instead of halfheartedly, so I could answer the "whys" and "wherefores" of a modern farming operation.
I've noticed the beauty all around me, and I've taken thousands of photographs to document the magnificence of simple things - of rainbows and ice on fences and sunflowers along ditches and baby calves nestled against their mamas. And I've come to realize how precious these little glimpses of time are.

Developing friendships with people you only know from their blogs is one of the fringe benefits. I've developed long-distance friendships with other bloggers from across the U.S., from Canada and even from Australia. 

I look at Kim's County Line a little like a journal or diary. Maybe, someday, I'll have a great-grandchild or even a stranger know a little about life in the early 21st century on a Kansas farm. But instead of finding it written in cursive on a paper page, it will be documented in the photos and words captured in one little piece of the internet.

I do thank those of you who visit my little spot on the internet - whether it's every time I post or just on occasion. Thanks for joining me on the journey.

Want to know why it's called Kim's County Line? Click here for my very first post to find out.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Ice Breaker

"Now it's time for an ice breaker!" Usually the words are uttered by a perky individual at the front of a meeting room. About that time, my heart starts beating a little faster, my throat gets dry and I surreptitiously scan the room for the closest exit.

I'm not wild about playing games among family and friends. Put me in a room full of strangers, and "ice breaker" is akin to torture.
This photo was taken on Sunday. The bulk of them were taken on Monday.
This week, "ice breaker" took on a whole different meaning. After our weekend ice storm, the temperatures started warming. As the thermometer went up, the ice on the trees around the house started falling down onto the roof, sounding like artillery rounds. After reading about a massive tree limb going through a roof in Hutchinson, I figured we were in the middle of a combat zone.

The ice caused cancellations and reshuffled schedules. It made feeding cattle a more time-consuming job. It did a lousy job trimming trees. And it is still causing power outages across the state, though we were fortunate this time around. This "ice breaker" was about as fun as one of those meeting types I dread.
But it also created undeniable beauty. When I saw this ice-coated "3" in the weeds, I thought about the Count on Sesame Street.
Use a little imagination, and this icy weed looks ready for Valentine's Day. 
The red berries looked like holdovers from Christmas decorations. 
 This one looked like it could form lace on a dress or a necklace dripping with diamonds. 
The ice and the overcast day made everything monochromatic (though I helped this one along by making it black and white.)
After checking the bulls, I asked Randy if we could stop at the Peace Creek Cemetery to wrap up my morning-long photo foray.
I had been seeing ice-encased farm fences all morning, but this one was unique - the delicate ice contrasted against the rough brick wall. 
One of the finials on a gravestone had a little extra decoration.
These little angels provided a fitting reminder to the morning: It's good to find the joy, even when conditions are less than perfect.
That's an ice breaker that always applies.