Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Mud and the Blue Iris: Thanksgiving Ponderings


This image on a friend's Facebook page was one of the first things I saw when I unplugged my phone from the charger Monday morning. Irises are a favorite, so even though it's a flower more associated with May than November, it caught my eye. 

And then there was the poem:

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris,
it could be weeds in a vacant lot,
or a few small stones;
just pay attention
then patch a few words together
and don't try to make them elaborate,
this isn't a contest but the doorway into thanks,
and a silence in which another voice may speak.
From Mary Oliver's book of poems, Thirst

It was a dreary, overcast, chilly morning to begin this week of Thanksgiving. And for many of us, Thanksgiving will look much different this year. 

November 2018
From two years ago

Instead of gathering with family, I'll be making turkey and dressing for two. We canceled a trip to Topeka and Kansas City. The last few years, we've celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday at Jill's and then have done a little Black Friday shopping in the afternoon - long after the die-hard early bird fans were back home for an afternoon nap after being up at dark o'thirty.

The extended family Christmas Eve get-together at my parents has already been canceled for this year. And while it was definitely the thing to do, I am already dreading its absence. In my 63 years on earth, this will be my first time to miss this traditional family gathering that also celebrates my mom's birthday. 

I've been furiously looking for silver linings.

"Well, I guess I'll get to go to my church's Christmas Eve service," I originally told myself in a pep talk. (For 40 years, it's been a challenge to gracefully decline participation in this special event - especially when Randy and I say "yes" to pretty much any church task.)

But then came the letter from the Great Plains UMC Bishop, recommending a move back to online worship services. Reading between the lines, it seemed the Bishop was recommending we celebrate Advent and Christmas at home - just like we did Lent and Easter eight months ago. 

Last weekend, as worship chair, I canceled our annual Hanging of the Greens to decorate the church for the holidays.

I texted another faithful family to make sure they saw the email cancellation notice. And the "little girl" I used to direct in the Joyful Noise Choir who is now a mom with children of her own texted, "I understand, but it makes me sad."

I texted back an emphatic, "Me too!!" complete with too many exclamation points.

So for Thanksgiving Sunday, I wrapped Christmas presents and listened to the fabulous organist at Wichita's First UMC play "Now Thank We All Our God" and "We Gather Together" instead of playing them on piano myself. Now that I'm the regular pianist at our church, I'd ordered a seasonal book and was practicing solo arrangements for our Stafford UMC service. 

Oh well, I sighed.

The Mary Oliver poem was just another "nudge" in my quest for silver linings. The night before, I'd finished the book Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss by Jenna Bush Hager. I told both Jill and my sister that it was the right read for this week of Thanksgiving. 

I must admit I'm a little jealous of celebrities who seem to have a Willy-Wonka-like "golden ticket" to publishing books. I'm sure her celebrity got her foot in the door of William Morrow Publishing, but if I'm honest, she writes well, and I enjoyed the book. In fact, I'd recommend it.

The impetus for the book was losing three grandparents in just a year's span. That grief is different from what most of us are feeling right now. But the loss of these hallmarks of our family life - like Thanksgivings around a family table or Christmas in a farm shed - are grief, too. 

In the book, Jenna Bush Hager detailed some of her grandparents' "rules for living." These are just a few from her grandpa, former President George H.W. Bush:

  • Don't get down when your life takes a bad turn.
  • Don't blame others for your setbacks.
  • When things go well, always give credit to others.
  • Don't be afraid to shed a tear when your heart is broken or because a friend is hurting.

And from her non-famous grandparents - her mom's parents Jenna and Harold Welch - this one stood out to me:

  • Get out of bed to go look at the stars - and always, always wish upon the first star you see.

So the poem about the blue iris - and most especially the weeds and the small stones - seemed to just continue to reiterate the message. It was a "God wink," as another friend calls it.


Even though I'd consciously thought about the words I was reading, it sometimes seems my perspective is as hazy as the view on an overcast day, with the drab days of fall reflected through a dirty feed truck window and fractured by a broken rearview mirror.

The way out of the pessimistic point of view can be as helter-skelter as a country road after a rainy weekend.
But it's all about perspective. That rainy, overcast sky dropped nearly 3/4-inch of rain over the weekend. 

It gave the young wheat crop a small shot in the arm even if it made for a few mud puddles while feeding. 

It's a lot easier to find the silver lining in migrating whooping cranes  ...

... who "breakfasted" for a couple of weeks in a field not far from our house ...
... or in sunset skies 
But in this week of Thanksgiving, I hope to notice them all - blue irises, mud and all. 

 Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. 
Handiwork by my late mother-in-law, Marie
For another look at how cloudy skies produce the best silver linings and sunrise skies, check out this Thanksgiving post from 2013.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

If Only It Worked for Us

 "Here's a timely blog topic," Dr. Bruce said, as he put a medicine bottle down on the table.

And there it was: Coronavirus Vaccine.

No, Dr. Bruce didn't pirate a shipment of human coronavirus vaccine. 

This was the bovine version. The entire label said "Bovine Rotovirus-Coronavirus Vaccine." Coronavirus in cattle causes diarrhea. Of course, that symptom appears on the ubiquitous internet Covid-19 charts for humans. (But let's get real: What symptoms aren't present on those charts?)

But this vaccine was administered to calves born last winter here on the County Line. The visit from Dr. Bruce was the cattleman's version of a "well-child check," during which the calves were vaccinated in a similar fashion as taking your infants to the pediatrician.

Early on in the pandemic, some enterprising(?) person posted a photo meme of a similar bottle. It suggested that news providers were being dishonest about the coronavirus being new, in order to cause alarm and make the public purchase protective equipment. 

A coronavirus vaccine, you say?

In truth, the bovine coronavirus, which has existed for years, is not the same as the new strain of coronavirus behind this year's global outbreak in humans. The strain of the human coronavirus causing our human world to change so dramatically is called SARS-CoV-2. 

I couldn't find when the bovine vaccine was first available, but even back in a 2003 report, the bovine version was being used in cattle operations.

(It kind of looks like this calf could use a vaccine for its runny nose, but, hopefully, that got covered, too, in all the shots given to each calf and cow that went through the working chute.) 

So, no, I don't have breaking news on the human vaccine front here on the Stafford/Reno County line in rural Kansas. But after three separate visits from Dr. Bruce, our cattle herd is protected with a vaccine for their version of coronavirus. 

Dr. Bruce did go high-tech with some of the preg-checks he did on our cows. The fall visit from the vet includes Dr. Bruce determining whether or not our cows will deliver 80-pound "bundles of joy" this coming winter.

During one of the visits, Dr. Bruce was testing out an ultrasound machine for bovines. Normally, he uses a manual exam to determine whether or not the cow is pregnant and estimate how "far along" she is. 

At one visit, he used his newfangled machine, which he was testing to see if he wanted to purchase it for his veterinary practice.

He knows I'm interested in seeing things for myself. (I wasn't the only one: Randy wanted to look at the screen, too.)

Unfortunately, I didn't discover until later that my photo attempt of the screen instead revealed my windswept profile.

Blog fail! So, of course, I Googled to find an image.
Image from https://www.yourvet.co.nz

And just like the human version, I need labels to explain what I'm looking at. But Dr. Bruce knows what he's doing. He would tell me how "far along" the mama cow was - usually between 4 to 6 months - and I'd write it down on the chart. 

For a couple of cows, he thought the ultrasound was inconclusive, so he reverted to the tried-and-true palpation method. That particular day, the manual exam revealed that they were all pregnant: The fetuses were just in a position making it difficult to see on the ultrasound screen.

So why is determining pregnancy in our beef cattle a management tool for the County Line and other beef producers?

The identification of non-pregnant animals is essential if you wish to decrease numbers and remove these animals from your herd. We took the open (non-pregnant) cows to the Pratt sale barn. That way, we're not spending money to feed and care for cows who are not building our herd. 

Having Dr. Bruce estimate how far along each mother is in her pregnancy is also important. For first-time mothers (heifers), we try to synchronize their reproductive cycles so that calving of this group happens in a "condensed" time. When it's calving time, we check the heifers much more frequently, since they are more likely to have difficulty during labor. 

One of the cows wasn't bred during her first cycle, so she was only 2 months along, rather than the 4-6 months we'd expect. That may mean the cow would calve after we move cattle back to summer pasture. Many times, Randy also culls those cows from the herd, too, preferring to have all the mothers calve in a similar time frame. 

After the vet visits, we hauled the pregnant cows to stalks, where they will graze this fall. We'll move them closer to home after they eat "the leftovers" and as they approach calving time.

While the mamas have to dine on their own, we provide meal delivery of "take out" to the feeder calves, the babies who were born last winter.

I hear meal delivery is a big thing during the pandemic.

Out here in the boondocks, that only works if you're bovine or feline.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

All in the Family

Anyone who knows me can tell you that math is not my subject. But these two guys have been gathering cows and calves off the Rattlesnake Pasture since they were junior high age. 

That takes more fingers and toes than I've got. (It's been at least 50 years - whew!)

Randy and his cousin, Don Fritzemeier, are now the owners of the pasture, which has been in their extended family since 1900. They've always called it "the big pasture." The ground was purchased for $4 an acre by a great-great-uncle, August Brinkman. Originally in a tract of 1,040 acres, today 560 acres of it remain in the Fritzemeier family.
It is a Farm Bureau Century Farm. Back when Randy was a child, the pasture located along the Rattlesnake Creek was owned by his grandpa Clarence, Don's dad Ed and their brother, Harve.

The three brothers on the back row owned the pasture. Clarence was Randy's Grandpa; Ed was Don's dad. They are pictured with their two sisters, Minnie & Edna.

 Today, Randy and Don are the remaining owners.

L to R: Clarence Fritzemeier (Randy's Grandpa) Milton Giedinghagen, Ben Fritzemeyer, Melvin Fritzemeier (my father-in-law) & Harve Fritzemeier. Yes there are two different spellings on Fritzemeier - it's not a typo! 

Years ago, the extended family would gather in the spring to take the cattle to pasture and then round them up in the fall. I think this undated photo would have been taken in the 1950s.

While the guys were rounding up and sorting the cattle, the women got together to make a big meal.

My mother-in-law Marie, Jean Newell Fritzemeyer & Marjorie Giedinghagen on a cattle working day back in the 1950s.

I helped with the round-up there for the first time in 2019. To our knowledge, I was the first woman to help with the actual cattle work. I guess I passed: I was invited back for the 2020 round-up.

While we waited on the semi to return from a trip to one of the farms, I listened to Randy and Don share tales from their youth. Back when Randy and Don were young, the brothers and families hauled all the cattle back home in small trailers. As they drove through Stafford, Randy remembers his dad telling him to "duck down." School was in session, and Randy was absent for the day. (Knowing Melvin, it was probably more joking around. It wasn't unusual for kids to be excused for a day of work back then.)

Undated photo - Clarence and Melvin
As we ate our ham sandwiches, I thought about the previous generations who'd done the very same thing. 
Who knows? Maybe this Hereford pictured with Melvin was on the big pasture at some point. At that time, the Fritzemeiers raised horned Herefords.
Now, Randy and I also have Hereford bulls as well as Angus bulls for our crossbred herd. But we have opted for polled Herefords. 
My first cattle-related duty of the day was honking the horn to attract the cattle to the hay in the back of the pickup. (If I want to get technical, I guess my first task was making and packing the lunches to take with us. The woman still gets that job.)
I became the Stafford County version of the Pied Piper, but I had a horn - not a flute.

It was a bouncy ride across the pasture toward the corrals.

Four guys on 4-wheelers had to go back to find additional cattle, and I watched the action in my rearview mirror, hoping we didn't lose any of the ones we already had gathered.


Once they were gathered, it was time to set up panels, the loading lane and loading chute so we could get the cattle from the pens to Don's semi. Don built the lane and chute one winter. 



Just like their ancestors before them, they used plenty of wire to keep everything together. (It's a farmer thing!)

The two cousins (along with a couple of other helpers) sorted while I ran the gate. The guys have been doing this a long time, and they seem to know instinctively what the other is going to do. It took four semi trailer loads - two with cows and two with calves - but the job was finally done.

And, of course, there was more time for sharing stories.

But some of that visiting was interrupted with trying to corral a bull who had taken his sweet time to arrive at the sorting corrals, along with a calf who'd escaped.

The semi blew a tire, so Randy and I took a 4-wheeler ride to pick up the electric fence charger and battery.

The Rattlesnake looked a little different dressed for fall, rather than in its summer wardrobe.

August 2020

Even though it would have been nice to finish sooner, the colors of sunset were a fitting end to the day. 

Until next spring, Rattlesnake Pasture ...
Of course, the work wasn't done. We still had a vet visit on the horizon and feeding chores. More to come ...