Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Birds and the Bees: Farm Style

I saw this graphic from Faith, Family and Beef while scrolling Facebook last week. It made me laugh. I agree with most of the bullet points, though at the County Line, we do "fire" bulls for being obnoxious and destructive - especially if that "insubordination" is directed toward humans.

But think about the rest of it: Wouldn't it be a sweet job to have room and board, health care and food provided for only a few months of work?

For all those fringe benefits, we do expect our herd bulls to do their job. That's why four of our bulls again went through a "job interview" last week with Dr. Dayul Dick from Prairie Vista Veterinary Hospital and Supply. (The fifth bull was the one we just purchased at Sandhill Farms production sale, so it had already been tested.)

Quality bulls are a big part of the beef business. It's a good management practice to test bulls before you turn them out into the pasture with the heifers and cows each spring. Bulls have no value if they can't perform. So Dr. Dick came to perform bull breeding soundness examinations.

First, Dr. Dick measured each bull's scrotum and examined it for defects.
He then needed to collect a semen sample using this contraption.
He set up a mobile laboratory on the hood of a pickup, smearing a sample on a slide and looking through the microscope.
With the first look, he was testing the semen for motility, its "swimming" ability to travel to the cow's egg.
Then he smeared the slide with a dye, which killed the sperm. He could then look at morphology, the shape of the sperm. He was looking for abnormalities in the shape, which could indicate a problem with the ability to breed.
After the fertility tests, the bulls were each given vaccinations to keep them healthy during their summer in the pasture. It's similar to giving our children vaccinations for their optimal health.
Vet assistant Liz also applied a pour-on dewormer.
While all the bulls passed the fertility test, there was a slight problem. Only one fit properly in the squeeze chute.
That called for some creative acrobatics by both Liz and Dr. Dick to get the samples they needed, as well as a strategically-placed steel pipe to keep the bull in position.
The bulls aren't the only factor in the "birds and bees" of a Kansas cattleman.

The heifers who will become first-time mothers next winter also have been getting some extra care.
Beginning in March, our 25 yearling heifers had their silage topped with MGA. MGA is melengestrol acetate, which suppresses the ovulation cycle for the heifers. For 14 days, Randy added the MGA to the silage and fed the equivalent of 1/2 a pound per head per day.

This is the first step in getting the heifers to come into estrus (or heat) at the same time. These young ladies were born in early 2017. In 2019, they will become mothers for the first time.
On Monday, we sent the heifers through the working chute for the next phase of their OB-GYN appointments.
There, they each got a shot of Lutalyse, which makes the heifers come into heat.
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.

Randy also gave each heifer a vaccination to prevent respiratory issues and diarrhea. 
Then it was time for the "birds and bees" to happen. The heifers were put in a pen with the bulls.
Some 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 bulls are ready. The heifers are ready. And if all goes as planned,  the miracle of life begins yet again on the County Line.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Rain, Rain, Come Again Another Day!

Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day.


Farmers much prefer:

Rain, rain, come and stay
And keep coming for another day!

It may not have the same "ring" to it, but it's accurate. 

The rain on Saturday was not the perfect atmosphere for K-State's spring football game. But it sure made two little girls happy.
The tags got removed from Kinley's new butterfly rain boots. Umbrellas were unfurled.
And Brooke was so excited to wear her new raincoat from Grandma Christy and walk through the puddles with her rain boots.

The rain made Grandpas and Grandmas happy, too ... especially those who needed some rain to give the 2018 wheat crop a fighting chance.

Last week's drought monitor put even more of the state in either extreme or exceptional drought. Two tiny corners of the state were the only areas not classified as dry. While the 0.90" of rain we received here on the Stafford/Reno County line won't put much of a dent in the extreme drought, we are thankful for what we did receive.

Before moving some pairs of cattle to pasture Monday afternoon, Randy and I stopped for a look at a wheat field.
There was some concern that freezing temperatures during the first two weekends of April could have caused damage. The first week of April not only brought the season’s first snowfall to much of Kansas, but some of the coldest weather of the year as well, with nighttime lows falling into the teens and daytime highs barely above freezing.

However, that cover of snow on April 7 helped blanket the wheat. But on April 14, there was no snow cover. 

A chart from K-State had shown there was high risk in our area for freeze damage to wheat after our sub-freezing temperatures that second weekend.
The top of the wheat plant shows some freeze damage, seen here in the brown and yellow on the leaves.
However, the Kansas wheat crop is well behind the five-year average for maturation at this time. So, the growing point wasn't too far out of the ground. Having only a small fraction of the crop as far along as jointing meant less chance of massive freeze damage as a result of those adverse events.

In the photo above, Randy uses a knife to point to the growing point - or joint.
He then used the knife to slice open the stalk at the growing point. Good news: It revealed a green head! If there had been freeze damage, it would have been more white. It looks like we dodged a bullet.

This year's Kansas winter wheat crop definitely didn't need another challenge. Kansas has had  one of the driest winters on record: Much of the state - including our farm - got virtually no moisture from early October to mid-March. So the adverse conditions had already taken a toll on harvest prospects.

The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service found only 13 percent of the crop in good or excellent condition (just 1 percent excellent) in the first week of April's Crop Progress report. A whopping 74 percent of the crop is considered fair to poor, with 13 percent very poor.

Wheat is said to have "nine lives." This will be another year when that theory is again tested. My resident optimist still says that Kansas could still have an average or close-to-average crop in many areas. We just need more timely rains and moderate temperatures during the next several weeks.

There's some rain in the forecast again today, so I'll try my modified rhyme:

Rain, rain, come and stay
And keep coming for another day!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Song That Nature Sings

On Palm Sunday, a foreign exchange student who's attending school at Stafford High School sang a song at a community worship service. Even though I accompanied soloists at the middle school for many years, it wasn't a song I'd heard before. But I loved it and have listened to several versions on YouTube since that night. Here is "The Song That Nature Sings," with photos I've taken this spring around The County Line.

"The Song That Nature Sings"
Words and music by Ruth Elaine Schram
Copyright 1997 BriLee Music Publishing Co.

In everything there is beauty
A hint of love
A form of grace
Though it may be hard to see
Even harder to believe
Everything in nature has its place.

And in everything, there is wonder
A mystery to be undone
New discoveries to find
Simple pleasures redesigned
All things old and new beneath the sun.
Have you ever chased the wind
Can you tell where it will go or where it's been?
If you could see the earth through its eyes
Do you think that it would come as a surprise
That in everything there is music
A melody, a bit of song

Though it may not meet your ear
If you tune your heart to hear
You will recognize and sing along
The song that nature sings.
The song that nature sings.

Here's one version of the song. There are others on YouTube.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

An Adventure in Rhyme

Grandma and Grandpa got a chance to spend some time with Kinley and Brooke while their parents were away earlier this month. Here's a round-up of some of our fun - better late than never!

Manhattan, Kansas was the place
To put a smile upon our face
K-State planned an Open House
"We'll have fun!" We did espouse.
A bouncy house was first on tap.
We entered it right through a flap.
Up, up, up! We had to climb.
Then slide on down! It was sublime!
Kinley had to help her sister.
She was such a great assister!
And though it was a big old stretch
Brooke made it through without a catch.
The College of Business knows what's fun!
A bouncy house through which to run!
Uncle Brent worked at that place
It was two girls' favorite space!
Besides the house, there were lots of games.
Uncle Brent helped with their aims.
The two girls used some fishing rods
While Grandpa tried to play the odds
He sure wanted to win a raffle
A purple golf cart would surely baffle!
Alas, we've gotten not a call.
I guess he didn't win at all!
Two girls came to photo booth.
They were disguised: Can you sleuth?
One dropped her mask. Now can you see?
That it was Brooke! Perhaps Kinley?
Though it was just a fancy barrier.
A lipstick tube seemed a whole lot merrier.
Imagining expands our minds.
If only we look for childlike finds!
Then in Shellenberger Hall
We shaped some treats - not hard at all!
They weren't for kids. They were for dogs.
Shaped like hearts and bones - not logs!
Then we shaped some pretzel dough.
We watched the girl to help us go.
Twist it this way, twist it that! 
This time, we'd be a copycat!
The pretzel dough was made with flour.
It makes it tasty to devour.
 Grandpa grows the wheat it takes
A flour mill, the flour makes!
 Then flour is used to make some bread
Or cookies, cakes or pies instead! 
Brooke - she likes to stir things up
She puts in tablespoons and cups.
She helped Grandma bake a treat.
It was surely good to eat!
Waters Hall was our next stop.
Students gave us this cute prop!
The Ag College was the place
Grandpa Randy set his pace.
As a student, there he'd learned
A bachelor's degree he'd earned
Will we study there some day?
Time will tell! Come what may!
We may not know our college plan.
But we are pretty sure we can
Join 4-H as soon as ready.
It'll help us grow up steady!

Our Grandpas, Grandmas, mom and dad
Would all be thrilled and oh so glad!
They like 4-H and they've been part
Of 4-H heads and hands and heart.

Crafts at home were next on tap.
Stickers down without a gap.
Unicorns we did devise. 
They were pretty, in our eyes!
Beads in springtime colors strung
Around our necks, they then were hung.

One day outside with chalk we drew
Red, yellow, orange, pink and blue!

The library is a place to go
To learn and think and then to grow.
We read some books, we played with dolls.
Playing dress up was a ball! 

It was time for mom and dad
To come home and we were glad!
Until next time, and now we're done!
With Gramps and Gran, we sure had fun!