Thursday, March 28, 2019

Walking Through Life Together

Today, the footwear will be just a tad more utilitarian than it was 38 years ago.
Wedding photos by Stan Reimer
It was on March 28, 1981, that we walked out of the sanctuary at the Pratt United Methodist Church and into a life together. That day, I was wearing uncustomary-for-me white heels and Randy was wearing rented white dress shoes. We were just a couple of farm kids, walking into a new life as husband and wife.

And, 38 years later, we're still walking through life together.
Life hasn't been without its share of muck and mire (and droughts, too). But it certainly helps to have someone there to help you get unstuck from the places and things that bog you down or parch your soul.

Today, we'll spend a lot of the day like we've spent the last two days - rounding up baby calves and their mamas, sorting them, then running the babies through the working chute.

Instead of a fancy dress and veil, I will wear jeans with fragrant "adornments" ... and I don't mean spring flowers. The only tie involved for Randy will be the rope used to hold the bull calves' legs in place for a quick bit of life-changing surgery. 
Instead of wearing my own pearl earrings, the calves will get their ear "jewelry" in the form of an ear tag.
I think I'll always have a special fondness for Calf No. 938.

It took Randy a little while to figure it out. Finally, I covered up the "9" and asked, "Do you get it now?"

To be fair, he was a little bit busy at the time. His jobs during calf-working time are certainly more labor intensive (and numerous) than my roles.
The ear tag got used on Tuesday, so I'm sure our anniversary wasn't uppermost in his mind at the time. But as I spy No. 938 in the pasture, it will remind me of a long-ago day when this farm daughter became a farm wife.
I'm sure glad I traded my old address for one on the County Line. 

If we get done in time, we may go look for a new refrigerator before we go out to eat. Oh, the excitement!
 I wouldn't trade it for anything. And, to Randy, I Choose You - every day.

There will be more on this spring ritual at another time - when I'm not so busy helping to separate mamas from babies and then slapping syringes into the "health care provider's" hand.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Mares Eat Oats ... And So Do Cows

When I was a kid, one set of grandparents lived in Haskell County. To a child, it seemed like it took FOREVER to get to western Kansas from the south central part of the state. One of my memories of those long car rides was of my dad singing nonsense songs. One of them went like this:
Mares eat oats
And does eat oats
And little lambs eat ivy
A kid'll eat ivy, too,
Wouldn't you?
When sung quickly, it ends up sounding more like this:

and doezedotes
and littlelambszedivy
Wouldn't you?

Other songs in my dad's car repertoire included "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "I'm An Old Cowhand from the Rio Grande."

I must admit the old song formed an ear worm as Randy planted oats last week. Horses and deer eat oats, but we're hoping to have some to feed our cattle, too.

Randy planted the oats in an old alfalfa field. He used the disc to lightly break up the soil and to kill volunteer cheat and other weeds. Then, he planted the oats, using the same drill we use to plant wheat.
 Disking up the alfalfa wouldn't be a "normal" thing to do. But it's an old field, and this is its last "hurrah." After we harvest the oats/alfalfa combination, Randy will disc up the field. But this final cutting should provide a mixture of alfalfa and oats that we can bale up for cattle feed. An alfalfa field is productive about 7 to 8 years.
He planted 2 bushels of oats per acre.
A bushel of oats only weighs 32 pounds, compared to 60 pounds per bushel of wheat.
There's not a big market for oats in our area. We can't haul them to the grain elevator. But they will provide good feed for our cattle.
These are "haying" oats vs. "grain" oats. These will get taller than other varieties.
The oats are also a good source of nutrition for our cattle herd. At the end of May or the first part of June, he will swath the field and then bale it.
Randy had the co-op apply a fertilizer with nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur and zinc. Even though he wasn't concerned with grain yield, he thought the ground was low in nutrients.
It costs about $57.00 per acre to plant the oats, figuring cost of seed, fertilizer and use of the machinery. The cost of oats had gone up considerably since the last time we'd planted them two years ago. But it should yield a couple of tons of oats and alfalfa for that last cutting. That will increase the value of the last cutting of the hay and provide good feed for feeder cattle.

And there you have it: The song may be nonsense, but we're hoping the oat planting makes perfect sense.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring!

Winter left quietly on Tuesday night. The sky was not a vibrant kaleidoscope of color. Though at times, our winter season roared with wind, snow and rain, winter bid adieu unobtrusively. There was a slight, biting breeze, but it was more a wave goodbye than a hearty shout as it departed for another year.
Our roads still bear the mark of a wet fall and winter, and the waning rays of sunshine reflected in the stagnant water in the road by my sunrise tree. This time, I traveled beyond the tree and gazed toward the west. The sunrise tree witnessed the daylight's end and winter's surrender.
Toward the east, a moon rose above wispy clouds. I wish my camera could have captured its size and brilliance, even in the light of dusk.
Thirty minutes later, the light was bleeding from the sky, like a patient on one of the TV medical shows I like to watch. Winter was taking its last gasp. The power poles seemingly marched their way to the horizon as the sun gave up its hold for another day.

Goodbye, winter!

And, 12 hours later, it was hello spring!
 On Wednesday, the sunrise tree again stood vigil as pink tinged the blue of night.
At the silo, the calves and their mamas said hello to the first day of spring.
Without full sunshine and the warmth of the day, the calves weren't yet ready to romp and play. They were more curious about a pajama-clad human standing by the fence, I suppose.
At first, I thought the low-riding clouds would obscure our first spring sunrise. But the sun broke through, bringing a promise of a new day ... and a new season.
Gardeners and farmers alike turn the page from winter and spring with great anticipation. Their fingers practically itch to touch the soil and begin planting seeds. And that's what my farmer did on Wednesday. He planted oats. (More on that later.)

Despite the calendar, will winter have a final hurrah? Like that patient on the TV medical show, will it refuse to take its last breath and make a recovery, sending another snow or plummeting temperatures? Time will tell. For now, we celebrate spring's homecoming.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Streusel-Topped Banana Bread

I probably don't need another banana bread recipe. I've tried plenty of versions over the years. But I most often end up using the one I know practically by heart from my well-used Byers United Methodist Church cookbook.  (Click here for that recipe and the variations.)
It  probably wins the prize for the most battered and stained cookbook in my whole cookbook collection (and I have an impressive collection). Banana bread likely has something to do with that.

But when I saw the words "streusel-topped," I couldn't resist. And then, caramel icing? Well, that was enough to send me to the counter for my overripe bananas.

It didn't disappoint.

I usually double the recipe when making banana bread and then freeze part of loaves. A caveat: If you've frosted the loaves, the frosting is still tasty after freezing ... but the drizzle gets messed up and the loaves aren't as pretty.
Streusel-Topped Banana Bread
Adapted from Butter with A Side of Bread blog
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Streusel Topping
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. cold butter
1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Caramel Icing (Optional)
5 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. caramel ice cream topping
Dash of salt
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray bread pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

Whisk together dry ingredients; set aside. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and butter until creamed. Add eggs, mixing well. Add banana, mixing well. Add combined dry ingredients to the banana batter. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour batter into prepared pans.

To make streusel topping: Mash the brown sugar and flour together. Add in cold butter with a fork until uniformly crumbly. Stir in nuts. Sprinkle mixture over the bread batter.

For a large pan, bake 50 to 55 minutes until bread tests done (or bread reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees.) Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. I prefer using small loaf pans. Depending on your oven, it will take 25-30 minutes for the smaller loaves to bake. Bake until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Or use the internal temperature given above.

If desired, frost with caramel glaze after the bread has cooled. To make glaze, combine butter and caramel topping in a bowl and microwave 1 minute. Whisk in salt and powdered sugar. Let cool slightly. Drizzle over cooled banana bread. Top with additional chopped nuts, if desired. I used a decorators tube to drizzle the icing.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ag Day 2019: Working Together

Today is Ag Day 2019. It's a day set aside to celebrate agriculture's role in American life.
Most of my blog posts tell about our efforts on The County Line to provide food, fuel and fiber for American families and consumers throughout the world. As I've said before, it's Ag Day every day around here.
Of course, we believe agriculture is important. We wouldn't be the fifth generation of farmers in our respective families if we didn't believe in agriculture.
As our society moves away from its agrarian roots, fewer people seem to recognize the value. Sadly, one of the members of a Facebook Farmers Wives group posted this message on Tuesday:
People never cease to amaze me! I was told today that we didn't need farmers!! So I am guessing that person doesn't need to eat either.
As organizers of Ag Day say:
We know that food and fiber doesn't just arrive at the grocery or clothing store or magically appear on the dinner table or in our closet. There's an entire industry dedicated to providing plentiful and safe food for consumption.
  • Each American farmer feeds about 165 people. Agriculture is America's No. 1 export.
  • New technology means farmers are more environmentally friendly than ever before. 
As the Ag Week hashtags and Facebook posts have been showing up on my social media feed this week, I've been thinking more about the importance of rural communities - actually being a community.

This week, a community matriarch and business owner in our small town died after a long illness. One of her grandsons posted a thank you for the expressions of sympathy given to their family - everything from cards to prayers to meals.

And, on the other end of the spectrum, two of our community's veterinarians had their first baby. He lived only two hours. A Meal Train is filling up quickly, and a fund to help them pay for medical and funeral expenses has already exceeded the original goal.

Helping out a neighbor is second nature to rural communities. It's demonstrated over and over and over again. Those are just two of latest examples. It wouldn't take me long to come up with a dozen.
For more than 100 years, each of our families has had pasture lands as part of our farming operations.We are caretakers for other pastures that have had a similar legacy in our landlords' families.
For grazing to be abundant, a pasture requires several different species of grass - from big bluestem to little bluestem to Indian grass to brome to Forbes (just to name a few).
These grasses all have different heights. Some mature early; others later. Those different species end up working together to keep the soil in place, reduce erosion and provide nourishment for grazing animals.
It's like that in a community, too. We're all different. We all have different abilities and interests and God-given talents. But it's that "hanging together" that makes a healthy environment.
That symbiosis is demonstrated day after day, week after week, year after year in a rural community: It may be helping an ailing neighbor harvest a crop. It might be baking a pan of cheesy potatoes for a funeral dinner. It could be working at the Food Bank. It might be serving on a church or community board.
That's not to say that rural life is idyllic. It can be just as stressful as that job in the downtown skyscraper - and probably not as profitable most years. Challenges come - no matter your address. As I've written this the past two days, the wind has been howling with 50-mile-per-hour-plus gusts, and we've had another 1.10 of rain we don't need. Believe me, there are challenges.

But those trials can strengthen us and our resolve, too. It's kind of like a Flint Hills pasture in the spring. It won't be long before "smoke signals" will drift into the Kansas skies from controlled burns on Kansas pasture lands, especially in the Flint Hills.

We think of fire as a destructive thing, and it certainly can be. But it can also be a vehicle of rebirth. One spring, I stopped at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve south of Council Grove - a detour as I came home from a convention. I could see the remnants of a prairie fire in the charred grasses and scorched branches.
But from the charred earth was green regrowth and vibrant prairie flowers lifting toward a vibrant blue sky.
It seems counter intuitive. Why would fire - which seems such a destructive force - bring this new life?
Yet as ranchers light fires to clear the dead grass and small brush, it makes way for a new carpet of green just weeks later.
And the cycle of life begins again. The Flint Hills are part of the tallgrass prairie, which stretches from Canada to Texas. Ranchers have a saying: Take care of the grass and it will take care of you. Burning pastures has been part of caring for the prairie even back to the days of the Indians. It's an age-old partnership with cattle, birds, wildflowers and the grasslands.
The same can be said of our rural communities. There are challenges and tragedies and things we must overcome.
But figuring out how to survive those things and come out on the other side stronger together is the true mark of community. And, in my experience, the ag community does that as well - or better - than any.
Happy Ag Day!