Friday, February 26, 2010

The Calving Game

Two years ago, when the weather was turning to spring and the promise of spring jackets and green grass was upon us, we had a birthday party for Anna at our house. Now, while the warmer temps lifted up everyone's spirits, and the festive atmosphere of a 3 year old's birthday made for a good day, Joe was wading in the muck. He had just taken over the cattle operation that spring, and was to deliver his first calves in a few weeks. However, on this day, when roughly 30 people were to come to our house for our party, one heifer decided to deliver early. . . in the mud. . . and the muck.

Did I mention ALL of our family was en route to our house??? And then his truck got stuck.

Thank heavens it was our oldest daughter's birthday. . . we all were happy and had our company smiles on when Joe finally came in covered head to toe in mud and manure. Thank heavens everyone there was either a farmer, farm wife or farm kid-- so nobody cared. And thank heavens the Webels are prepared folks, as his grandpa and dad pulled their Northerner boots out of their car trunks and helped out. That's what they have in their trunks. . . I have a stroller and a rubber mat to protect my trunk from aforementioned boots.

Anyway, calving is upon us, and it is seems to be like one of those shell games at a carnival. Joe has a good idea of which cow or heifer or bred heifer (There is a difference, they're not all just "cows" until they have more than one calf. . .thus, I was referred to as a "bred heifer" when I was expecting our first child, and then just a "cow" when I was expecting our second and third children. Isn't that lovely?) is getting about ready to calve, and tries to shut them in a smaller, "strawed down" area so he can check them all day and night, but some of them are unpredictable. And to my "type A" husband, that is enough to drive him to insanity. He walked over snow drifts last night after judging the FFA speech contest in his dress pants and tall boots to look after one expecting mama that was acting "calvey" (whatever that means) only to find, well, nothing. Until a set of feet or a water bag is hanging out, it's hard telling who's going to go and when. Sorry for the graphic description, but try to explain that to a three year old as she watches out the window!

Cattle work is hard, unpredictable, expensive, cold/hot (depending on the season), yet so rewarding for Joe, educational for our daughters, and an exercise in patience for me. Joe is so proud of his herd, and I am proud of his work ethic and the results he gets. He is in tune with the majority of his new mamas, and works hard to make them all comfortable. I am learning more and more about what to expect when the cattle are expecting, and now that another large birthday party is upon us, I am braced for unpredictability and a muddy husband!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Side Note

The kitchen blind mentioned in the previous post was installed last night, as I finished typing!! Now, in what post can I mention the handles for the bathroom cabinets?? Seems to get results!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Extremist Agriculture

Grrrr...Katie Couric.

We stopped in our tracks, literally, amidst tinkertoy tinkering and babies crying and listened in silence as the teaser for the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric came across the screen. She was reporting on the (supposed) health affects on humans when antibiotics were used in livestock.

Joe and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Seriously, it seems like the logic of good livestock management and the media clash nearly every other day. I have a friend who is a large animal vet, and he said if you ever want to see the difference and understand the benefit of the use of antibiotics on animals, visit a farm where they are not used. That will make you sick just from being around sick animals. Luckily, as I read the FarmWeek (yes, I'm trying to become agriculturally educated. . .thank you very much!) there are those who are defending the use of antibiotics, and they are making their voices heard, but it just seems to be scraping the surface.

Case in point: I was talking to a friend who didn't know we raised livestock. She was excited for me and thought we were cute and cuddly and had like goats and chickens roaming around. Now, although our new calves are pretty cute, they are part of the business we run. Period. That sounds harsh, and Joe takes great care of his animals, but they are our livelihood. There are no cute little ducks waddling through my yard or goats acting as natural lawnmowers, because as a farmer and a farm wife, we don't have time for that! More types of animals means more work, and I can't even get my husband to put up the one blind I bought three weeks ago! Seriously. . . twenty minutes, that's what the instructions say!

But I digress. . . I know I am more sensitive to farm related bad press, but it has been abundantly clear what the media's stand upon farming is, and it isn't pretty. Even on my daughter's Sesame Street show, farming is portrayed as a "Hee Haw Hobby," and not a science. The men in our operation study their yields from the previous year, soil test their fields to see if more/less fertilizer is necessary, and Joe works and works with his cattle to make sure their feed/stalk/grass consumption is a correct ratio. This afternoon I read an expert's take on the concept. His belief that the greater media had obviously researched little and speculated a lot helped me realize why Joe and I cannot stomach news reports like Katie's last week.

So, what's with the organic vs. non-organic debate? What about grass fed beef? What about free range chickens? Do I have to take a stand? I don't know the answer, and thus, don't want to be known as one of those crazy extreme farm ladies. I guess I am a little in the middle. I have loyalties to my freezer beef that, although technically is not organic, but has been cared for lovingly. I love Amelia's Yo-Baby Organic yogurt because of its high fat content, and, let's face it, cute packaging. However, there are evils to both sides. There are farmers around here who have very poor cattle management skills, and I am sure there are organic farmers who are not following the creed of organics. However, my take on it all is to be respectful and educated when making a stand. I understand my family's farming practices and would hope that instead of attacking me, a person who questions our livelihood would try to ask me questions. My hope is that in grocery stores, people would make decisions on what they eat based on what they know and understand to be best for their families. Families should choose what they want based on their own priorities, beliefs, and health needs, not Katie Couric's.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A House of Cards

There is a billboard on the way to the Par-a-Dice in Peoria that sports a number for "Gambler's Anonymous." Ironic, eh? I think, however, this billboard should also be placed on various gravel roads along the countryside. Gambling is legal in Illinois, but did you know that it is part of the actual farming profession?

Seriously, as a farmer, you have to also be a gambler. Now, my husband enjoys a game of cards once in awhile, likes to go to Vegas now and again, but doesn't have an "issue" with gambling from a card or gaming perspective. In farming world, however, there are times that I think he needs to put the cards down and walk away from the table. We gamble every night with the weather man. Listening to the precipitation percentages, trying to beat the odds by saying, "it's not that bad" with the wind chill factors, and playing with fire during wind speed updates when the corn is just about ready to blow over are just a few of the gambles we take as farm folks. We waited each night with bated breath during a particularly wet fall (that shall remain "year-less"), hoping that the weather man's 75% chance of rain would be wrong, and we could roll the dice and take the combine out into the field that was most fit for cutting beans. There's another gamble: which field to work on and when. No matter what season, this is truly a crap shoot. Even a masters and bachelors degrees in ag education cannot get you away from gambling in this situation. Holy smokes! Last Mother's Day, my very intellegent, savvy, and somewhat excitable husband went "all in" and spent this particular spring day with himself, my uncle, uncle's friend, and a bulldozer, trying to pry the Turbo Chopper 3000 out of the muck. Not a winning hand at all that day.

Other potential gambles: equipment- red or green- no question in our house, seed varieties, nitrogen application or not, livestock or none, new bin or rent storage. . .the list goes on. Then, there's the gamble with taxes. The rush to the tax man at the end of the year and the hurried spending before January 1st would leave a shopper like me in a flushed, excited state. However, to my tight fisted, poker faced hubby, this is torture! It's like cashing in your chips when you're on a roll, or so I have been told.

I am having a hard time with this gamble, especially during the bleak winter days where the fields are- although pretty and white-- bleak and far from the promise of the tiny corn plants lining them, which, in turn means hope for a college education for our daughters, and maybe some new running shoes for my spring races. However, I need to remember that unlike gambling, the quick rush of excitement that comes with winning is not what farming is about. We are steady, patient, excited, and hopeful with each season. As farmers, no matter what, our profession is a good hand, no matter what.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Woman in the Country with No Country

If you were to ask Anna, our four year old, where she's from, she might answer, "The United States," or "Illinois," or even, "the country." Although all of these answers are correct, she will soon begin to identify herself with the town of Farmington, which is where she will go to school. Technically speaking, it is the city on our mailing address. Ironically enough, if you were to ask my uncles, aunt, or even my dad where they are from, even though we live in the EXACT same house, they would all answer Yates City. How weird is that? Evidently, this is very common in farm country, so I have been told. Because we live so close to three county lines, it makes this identity crisis even more apparent.

Until becoming a farm wife, I didn't realize how strange it would be to not grow up with a clear "town" that we would identify ourselves with. For example, our mailing address is Farmington, but our telephone number (if we had one- the service is seriously like a tin can and a string...ugh) would be a Yates City number. We go to church in Elmwood, but the kids go to school in Farmington. Our house itself sits in Knox County, but the town of Farmington is actually in Fulton County, but the school building itself is in Peoria County. Did I mention this is all within roughly a 5 mile radius? Most of the aforementioned "issues" only cause discontent in our non-farm life when one is concerned about whether or not we can receive Fox Sports Midwest for the Cardinals for free because we are considered a "southern county," or when changing a teaching certificate to be in the county where you wish to work, and where Anna will attend Cloverbuds in the fall.

All very earth shattering issues, wouldn't you say? However, when it comes to the actual farming aspect of our life, it is important to label one's farm with the correct county. Farm Bureau membership (love those discounts!), NRCS applications and funding. . . pray for our Conservation Stewardship Program acceptance. . . and the ever important 4-H membership (Joe and Anna are working with the calves now as I write!) are all aspects of the farm life that need correct county identification. We even have to be careful out here if there's ever a 911 call, as we must be specific which township/county/town we are closest to in order to receive services! Who can remember his or her name, let alone what county he or she lives in during a fire????

Good grief.

I guess because as I was growing up, I could clearly answer, "Oneida" when someone asked where I was from, I found it to be a part of my identity. Now that I don't have that clear of an answer, it makes me feel a little lost. I am in the country, but I have no country. However, I think I'll just take up answering Anna's simple, "the country" when I'm asked where I'm from. I'd probably get a lot more interesting questions about life on the farm. Then I wouldn't have to field answers about the ridiculous hillbilly used for the Farmington Farmers mascot.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Legend of the Farm Wife

Long ago, outside a tiny town lived a sweet farm family. The mother of this brood was a perfectly charming, efficient, helpful and handy woman. She was a master at frying chicken, packing it fresh for lunch during planting season. She ran the grain cart during harvest season, assisted with the livestock chores in the dead of winter, all the while making sure the children were on the bus on time in the morning in their coordinating home-made outfits.

Think this sounds like a myth? I'm hoping it is, because my picture of a farm wife is a little less cute and a little more crazy. While my life as a farm wife has only spanned two farming seasons, I feel like my baptism by fire into this lifestyle has created a need for a definition. From what I have found, there isn't one. Farm wives come from all different backgrounds, professions, even generations. I have come across teachers, nurses, retirees, piano teachers, bank associates, insurance saleswomen, even business owners, who claim to also be "farm wives." I am from the group of farm wives who are at home raising the kids, which I think is JOB ENOUGH! However, I was SHOCKED to find out that there's another group. . . a group of farm wives who actually FARM! They run the grain cart, cut beans in the combine, and some even manage the marketing! As I am not even allowed to TOUCH the lawnmower (due to an unfortunate run in with a culvert in the fourth grade), I didn't know such a thing existed!

What a revolution we have upon our hands! Gone are the days when farm wives would meet at each other's homes for sewing bees and cookie exchanges. Here come the days of women who lead their county's Young Farmer Committees, work 60 hours a week, and ---pause for affect--- BLOG about their experiences!

I myself am a study in farm wife-ology. I am a town girl. Although I grew up in a farming community, and my dad taught agriculture, I never lived a "true" farm life, according to Joe. Thus, upon moving out here, I tried to adopt this lifestyle. We only had our first child then, and Joe was merely helping out my dad and uncle, still working a 9-5ish job with a regular paycheck. Therefore, I was happy to run to town with my one child and get parts and food and what not. Once we had more kids, one needing to go to preschool, and, as an operation, we gained more ground, being the "fried chicken farm wife" was more difficult. I found myself frustrated and trying to be the perfect farm wife, but wasn't sure who that was. Joe was very understanding, although hungry most of the busy seasons, as I became less of a "run food to the field wife" as I continued to have more children!

I'm still trying to figure out what type of farm wife I should be, or would like to be for that matter. Am I one who will run the grain cart? Probably not, I would rather run a marathon. Am I one who will study the commodities report? Probably not, I would rather study the Pottery Barn catalogue. Would I be caught in the pasture with my Northerners? Probably not, I'll wear my "fashion boots" (as my three year old says) and stay in the car, thank you very much!

Although farm wives are all different types, most of us speak the same lingo: we wish the season would end, but don't want our husbands to hurry and get hurt. We hope for no break downs- mechanical or mental- during trying seasons. We pray for more rain or less, depending upon the year. As each farming season varies, so does the farm wife, and I will continue my study on this interesting breed!