Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vacation- All I Ever Wanted

I'm a planner, and there are a mere 36 hours until we go on our little getaway, a very little getaway, but time away together, no less. I still have a list of things to accomplish before we head out, but my idea of preparing for a vacation and a farmer's are as different as the amount rain in the beginning of this summer and now the lack thereof.

It's that time of the summer when everyone and their brother are going somewhere on vacation, even farmers. Those who are grain farmers have a window of time during these dog days of summer to get away. The crops are in; the grain has been hauled (for the most part); and mowing is not imperative. Life is good.

Vacations for livestock farmers are a bit more of a trick. Once we started having cattle, I learned that even a simple day trip takes major planning and preparation to pull off. As a control freak and planner, I thrive on this. However, it's not just the basic reservations, destinations, and financing that make taking a trip possible. As a livestock farmer, we basically need babysitters for our cattle. Luckily, cattle are less labor intensive at this time of year, thanks to our spring calving season and good pasture for them to graze upon. However, Joe still has to line up the hired man to come out--often times on his day off-- to do the chores and look after our dog. There are basic chores to do but for the most part, Joe can leave without much hassle. However, there's a small piece of home that always gets packed with us whenever we leave: worry.

Fretting about what may or may not happen on the farm while we're away makes relaxing while on a vacation a trick. The farmers around here, and I'm sure more out in the rest of the rural world, never truly leave the "office at the office." There's no way to do so when your profession depends on the amount of rain in the gauge and sun in the sky. How does one ignore the weather? Thanks to the blessing (and curse) of technology, when we're away from our local news weather forecast, Joe's Blackberry radar screen is up and checked on a regular basis. Even though there's no way we can control any situation from hours away, the farmers around here can still worry and fret about the threat of rain or wind or even lightning. We learned the lesson that disaster strikes just as easily when you're sitting at a wedding, hours away, thanks to an unfortunate lightning strike. Said lightning hit a tree and then, consequently, 4 out of the 5 purebred cattle in our Simmental herd. Lucky Strike, the lone survivor lives on, as does the memory of the phone call, calling us out of a fun night with friends.

Anyway, I feel as if I am a kindred spirit to my farmers around here when any of us are getting ready to leave. They too are control freaks. Joe would much rather be there if a cow gets out to race across the road and get the cow in and repair the fence himself, rather than have the hired man, a mere 5 minutes away, take care of it. My dad would much rather be watching the torrential downpour and straight line winds from the comfort of his own living room, rather than hearing about it on his trip. In my short time researching this, I have found that puttering around home, really not doing a lot of time sensitive activities is much more relaxing for the farmers than hanging out at some silly, albeit beautiful beach, hours and miles away.

Maybe some day, when this farming thing gets easier and more second nature, we'll take our big family vacation and not have to check the Blackberry time and again. Instead, we'll bury our feet in the sand and note that it feels good to just relax.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Radio Spot

If you live in farm country, you may listen to a few radio stations that give the market prices during the noon news report or play commercials sponsored by the county/state Farm Bureau.

Ever wonder who voices those???

Well, wonder no more!! Two of the voices on this commercial are people who have blogged or been blogged about.

Give up?

Even if you haven't given up, I'll give you the answer: it's my dad and me! We were given the opportunity to be a part of this, thanks primarily to who we know, as well as what we know!

However, my quest to learn more about all things agricultural has lead me to read more and more about this farming biz. I have come to realize that there are a lot of folks out there who are doing great things for agriculture. They write, speak, present, and just do a great job advocating for agriculture. Those in leadership positions, as well as those with loud voices (ha, ha) tell all "ag-vocates," new and old, to get their voices heard. Tell the story of farm life as you live it. Let people know that if they eat, they are involved in agriculture (thanks for that phrase, my dear DeAnna).

I am hopeful the experiences I write about can be somewhat entertaining, while also educating myself and others about agriculture. There have to be more people than me who need more information on this seemingly and stereotypically "simple" farming lifestyle!!

Thanks for reading, and enjoy my commercial debut!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Circle of Life

My daughter is five, just a few weeks shy of entering kindergarten. Although I do not consider her "worldly" (i.e., she still believes in Santa, still thinks maybe she'll marry her daddy, etc.), she has experienced a lot about the cyclical way life is, thanks to her upbringing on this farm.

So, for everyone who is dreading having discussions with his or her children regarding the birds and the bees or life and death, bring 'em out to the farm! A few days with cattle, an experience (or two) with the results fast traffic has on a gravel road, and my matter of fact husband will make those questions go away!!

In all seriousness, however, life on a livestock farm does lend itself to understanding the basic concepts of this short life we lead. Now, does it put it in a way that I necessarily would have chosen? Probably not. My town girl attitude about discussing sex with my daughter did not include a graphic explanation of a bull atop a heifer at Pappy's farm. As my wide eyed five year old was explaining what the bull was DOING to the heifer, at the dinner table, no less (!!), my mind was racing on how to make this more like an after school special and less like Animal Planet. I was searching for a second in the conversation where I could add in that that particular heifer had waited for the right bull to come along, committed to him for life (in a ceremony in the pasture), and they were living happily ever after. Nowhere was this moment!! Instead, Joe interjected with a discussion on how our cows are bred the same way so that we can have good calves in the early spring. Discussion over. Now, we didn't relate it to men and women, but Anna now has a set of information that I never had. She's going to understand reproduction as, well, a means of reproduction, not a Lady Gaga music video. Whew for that, I guess.

As for life and death, my girls also have very concrete understanding of this cycle. We watch calves being born out our family room window, on a nightly basis in the spring. Joe usually is giving the play-by-play. . . "Oh! There's the feet!" or "Well, she's ready, her water bag is out." As I am trying to find the remote to turn up the volume on the TV, completely grossed out by this, the girls are eating it up! Anna has been in the calving barn when a calf was just born, learning to walk. How amazing! She's not grossed out by this miracle. They understand that birth is amazing, and happens every day to nearly every being.

In a similar, matter of fact way, the farm, particularly a livestock farm, is a place to get a very matter of fact understanding of the inevitable. The girls have had to bury two dogs and even a cat, thanks to the bizarrely fast traffic on our gravel road and coyotes. But their skill set is not just limited to pets. They, at 5 and 3, understand that our cattle are being raised to help feed people, and that in order to do that, they must die. It's very blunt, but why beat around the bush and make up a goofy story about the beef fairy or something. Now, I'm not saying you need to take your kids to the locker plant and watch a butchering. . .I don't even do that, but as humans we need protein (sorry vegetarians. .. tune out for a minute, or tune in and be informed!), and a great source of this is beef. We take great care of our animals, and Joe even breeds his stock to be perfect, but perfect for good, quality meat. A grade "A" product, if you will. The girls understand that Daddy's livelihood is to grow good crops, raise good cows, and then harvest them both. End of story.

I am sure we'll still have long conversations about really tough topics, and I know I will have my after school special moments with my girls. But for now, as it should be, they are learning from their environment, taking in every excited bull they can see!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Purposeful Mower

It's July, hot, and we're currently enjoying the in between phase of farm life. There's not a lot of haste in the farmer's steps, except when hay is down and the rain is coming. This new pace is refreshing, but idle hands drive the farmers in our operation crazy.

Thus, the mowing begins.

At first, I didn't understand what the whole deal was with mowing roadsides. Sure, cosmetically, the edge of the fields look better, and there's that whole weed control aspect of it, but seriously? Do we need to have three mowers going at once.

Answer: yes.

As a newbie field observer in all things farming, it has taken the crossing of my love of running, the fact that I live on a farm, a treadmill on the fritz, and an unfortunate run-in with a dead skunk this morning to make me realize the multifaceted resoning behind mowing roadsides.

Reason #1: Weed control. This is somewhat obvious, probably. Just like mowing our own lawn and completing the string trimming, it helps keep the weeds out of the edge of the fields. Weedy soybean fields are not only unsightly to a farmer's keen eye, but are also not great for production. I wish we would have followed this set of rules with our garden, but there's always next year!

Reason #2: Cosmetic appeal. Farmers may have the stereotype of "gettin' down and dirty," but the farmers around here not only wear collared shirts as they grease the zerts (seriously, that's a part of the combine. . .I think), but pride themselves on keeping the fields well groomed. I guess coffee shop talk about who has the nicest looking place is like junior high peer pressure.

Reason #3: Safety. This is where I come in. This morning, as I enjoyed my five miler (if that is really possible in July) on our gravel road and the blacktop, I met up with an early morning "commuter." I eased over to the side of the blacktop, but only as far as the waist high weeds would let me. Not wanting to fall into the camoflauged ditch or get poison ivy, I only went as far as the pea gravel on the edge of the blacktop. Thankfully, the driver scooted over as well, and I was happily not knocked off pace, but I found myself wondering why the heck the neighboring farmers hadn't gotten out and mowed their roadsides. My pace quickened also as I met up with my cousin's golden lab, busting out of the now neck high weeds on her way home from her morning tour of the neighborhood. If the weeds would have been mowed, I could have been completely out of harms way and wouldn't have nearly screamed when I saw Gunnar. Seriously, get in your air conditioned cab and mow the dang roadsides.

And finally, Reason #4: Roadside Treasures: I wish you could hear the sarcasm in my voice as I say the word, treasures. As I traveled down the serene road, wishing I had a camera to take a picture of the sun rising, I was met with not only a dead skunk (and its smell), roughly half a dozen water bottles, beer cans, a container of spinach salad (seriously), and a dead coyote pup hidden in the tall grass (almost causing scream #2). However, all of these treasures were found on the unmowed roadsides, whereas the mowed ones just made me realize more and more how necessary this chore is. I guess seeing a patch of tall weeds makes a traveler think that the road is his or her trash can. As far as the road kill goes, I just wish I would have had some time to mentally prepare for seeing the critters. . . bugged eyes on a dead animal at 6AM is not fun.

Regardless, my smarty pants approach to farming and its activities is once again thwarted. A seemingly unneccessary chore that takes Joe away for the entire day, makes Dad use the mower we call the "Man Killer," and leaves all of them sweaty and nasty at the end of the day is absolutely necessary. Now if I could just get the men to think that the artwork I need to hang in my bedroom is as necessary as keeping up with the mowing!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

What's the Beef on Our Beef?

We are enjoying the summer, thus the lack of blog posts. We have been swimming, swinging, biking, and currently the kids are out watching the crop dusters basically dive bomb our field across the road. We're having quite a time.

We are also enjoying the typical summer favorites as far as food goes. Our attempt at gardening was and is, well, an attempt, but we've yielded a few zucchini squash (squashes???) and some cherry tomatoes to pair with our unbelievably good beef. Seriously, we have excellent beef, and if you're ever interested in trying some, I would happily let you. It's amazing.

Enjoying our good beef with our friends has really stirred up some great conversations with those who have 1) never tasted really flavorful beef and 2) never put a face to who produces what they eat. Our friends are our best customers, as far as when it comes to divvying up halves and quarters, and we are extremely proud of our product. This new sense of pride I have acquired has caused me to become really sensitive to all the press and marketing that is basically anti-production agriculture.

I am not insinuating that one should not have a garden or should not question where one's food comes from, but a person should look for information regarding food farther than Oprah and the Triscuit box. While these sources seem to get the most press (notice I'm not on TV or getting paid for this, so who the heck am I to talk??), they are not the most accurate.

Case in point, I just read in FarmWeek (our Farm Bureau's state publication. . . yes, I'm trying to become more agricultural) that a woman put her family's hog confinement operation on YouTube to get some better press. However, thanks to some not-so-farm-friendly groups that seem to dominate this site, the video was deemed inappropriate. Seriously? Seeing hogs in a safe, comfortable building that not only feeds them twice a day and keeps their temperature comfortable, regardless of the season is inappropriate? That really bothered me.

But it got me to think, if no one knows what a good operation looks like, how could those YouTube Hog Bashers have any idea whether their confinement operation wasn't appropriate? If you're getting your information from TV, honestly, you're only getting what will get the best ratings, and controversy sells.

But what about all the push to "eat locally" and "know where your food comes from?" I truly believe that the tomatoes we grow (by the grace of God they survived our WEEDS!) are better than the ones I buy in the store. I can hardly order a steak at a restaurant without knowing that Joe can truly grow and then grill a way better one at home (even though someone else does the dishes, so I'll happily eat it!). However, in the grocery store, it's hard to find out from whom you are buying your products.

So, I implore you to start with your meat. Start researching where your grocery store gets its beef from, if you're still buying that stuff (seriously, try some of ours, and you'll never go back). Google the brand they are supplied, check the source, educate yourself on what it truly means to be "free range" ( do you know the chickens end up eating their own poop if they're free range?). Before you get caught up in the hype of all natural, organic, locally grown, no antibiotics, etc., etc., know what it means. I'm not saying that our cows are all juiced up on various unnecessary drugs, but I will tell you our calves are vaccinated for very basic illnesses. While our animals do receive some hay and some feed, that doesn't mean that they are not primarily grass fed. It's just that we live in Illinois, and who can get grass for 100 head of cattle in December?

Be logical. Be informed. But most of all, be realistic. We are not in the cattle business to get rich or famous. Joe loves his animals. He loves being a cattle man, and we love the lifestyle for our family that we are living. Who wouldn't. . . when it constitutes ribeyes on a Saturday in July?