Friday, January 28, 2011

Hip To Be...

...born in a barn?

Have you noticed that it is completely socially acceptable as well as commendable to be "getting back to the basics?" While I agree that we should all eat a little more fresh, play more outside, and depend less upon technology for entertainment, shouldn't we be embracing technology a little more and realizing how good we have it?

Case in point: my house. I live where my grandma and grandpa raised four kids. The house, while they lived in it, housed six people, had one bathroom, and my aunt used to have to plug in her hair dryer upstairs, in the hallway, as it was the only outlet up there. Fast forward 30 years and six months of major renovations, three bathrooms, new heat/central air conditioning (hallelujah!), new plumbing, and now about nine thousand installed outlets later, here we are, thinking we do not have enough space to raise our four children without adding onto our house.

I know, I know, my grandma is looking at me from heaven, thinking I'm spoiled.

And, I am, as many of us are. However, I feel as if this luxury of making choices, living comfortably, even lavishly, has caused us to attack the very core of what makes living where we do and when we do great. Innovation is in our blood. Finding something better, faster, safer is good, isn't it? I'm thankful my husband does not have to thresh wheat, but, rather, sits on a tractor and watch a machine do a job that could potentially cut his arms off. The age of technology is around us. Convenience is king. And while we do our best to try to get back to the basics, could we really?

I know as a farm family that utilizes equipment that is GPS enabled, seed that has been engineered to resist certain diseases, and cell phones that are used to let me know when they're coming home for dinner, we couldn't farm the way we do without technology. And, conversely, you couldn't live the way you do, eat the way you do, and/or choose to not eat what we help produce without our technologically advanced methodology. I'm not saying that what we produce is juiced up, jacked up or in any way, shape or form engineered to do anything but make your life better, and what you eat safe. I'm just saying that if you believe for one second that all farmers could live like they did 20, 50 or even 100 years ago, and still produce food and fuel for the country and its needs would be impossible. We would starve. Worse yet, since many of us have never felt truly, truly hungry, think of it like this: your choices would be limited and (gasp) expensive.

While I believe that eating from your garden in the summer (especially if you live in Illinois, and don't can...only in the summer!), buying locally grown, great tasting beef or pork or poultry, supporting local businesses is ideal, and generally good for your local economy, friends, and waistline, is it always an option? How many of us frequent a grocery store (weekly, bi-weekly, DAILY?), and even though may acknowledge that they may have had to ride on a truck for a day, still buy California grapes for our kids' lunches, because they taste good and are a healthy snack, fully of Vitamin C and other good stuff? I realize that this may sound smarty, but I have never had less than 10 choices of bread types in the grocery store. I could choose to make my own bread, as my great-great grandmother did, but I'm certain, she's smiling at me from above when I choose my Cottage Wheat bread from Hy-Vee instead of spending an afternoon making a week's supply of bread. I am able to spend more time with my kids as well as spend more time ranting on my blog because I BUY MY BREAD!! Ha, ha!

If you're still not convinced that your life is made easier by technologically savvy farmers, please note that when you start to cast judgment on the American farmer in his big, (hopefully) green tractor, I hope you're wearing the outfit that you made from the cloth you have woven from the cotton you have grown after having taken your horse and buggy to town to buy the seed for said cotton plant. Only when we realize that modern conveniences may have made our lives more complex, however much easier, can we also realize that not all technological advances are crumbling the moral fiber of our being.

Outbuildings and Organization

Ahhhh, January. The time when magazines are published to make you feel like you need to go out, buy all new containers, and organize every closet in your house. At least, that's how I feel. I pore over Better Homes and Gardens, sicken myself with the sweet organizational nectar Real Simple gives me, and then try to get to work.

Try is the key word here.

As a farmer's wife of three small children, it is easy to set unrealistic expectations for myself. I'm at home. I'm crazy about organizing. I love bins and baskets and bowls. I should have a home where everything has a place, and every person is completely on board with the new system of bins, baskets, folders, drawers, etc. But, I don't for the same reasons I should. I have small children, yes, and they are being groomed to be as crazy as their mother about organizing (my middle daughter has told my mom that they "have to get this room organized before playing anything else!" YIKES!), but Joe is groaning here. I have tried so many, many times to implement many, many systems to help alleviate his need to clutter our house with stripped off layers, house shoes, mail, random keys, checkbooks, business cards, and the like.

But all my systems fail miserably, as Joe needs to put on his warmer layers in just a few hours, so why put them away? Why find a place for the nine hundredth farm magazine when they may or may not be hauling grain to an elevator that may or may not have a long line to wait in? Why throw away the feed sacks when they make perfectly good floor boards?

I'm not kidding.

However, in a strange study in contrast, we have these outbuildings around our house: one we call the "ghetto shed" which will be thankfully torn down come spring (hooray attached garage!), a machine shed, and then just our regular garage. Even though, after doing some informal research, polling the farmer's wives in our operation, all the wives sing the same "stuff everywhere" song, these outbuildings are surprisingly organized, especially the machine shed. This monstrous steel building houses not only most of our equipment, but also a lot of the guys' tools. Because most of our equipment is in here, including two semis and trailers, two pick up trucks, and a lawnmower (not to mention a monstrous combine and other various large tractors and implements), each piece of equipment housed in here must be put away like pieces of a puzzle. Most of the equipment is cleaned meticulously by the dealership before being put away for the season, and then housed in the order in which they will be needed the following season. Wouldn't Real Simple be excited? A plan! Clean, crisp order! What bliss!

The tools are housed in red Craftsman chest after red Craftsman chest, and, although a light film of grain and road dust covers all the red surfaces, any of the guys on any given day can locate the correct appendage for the air compressor that will help me when I need to pump up my jogging stroller tires. Real Simple would be horrified that the spare nuts and bolts are are housed in old coffee cans that are NOT covered in color coded paper, but they are put away, no less, leaving no nut or bolt behind.

It's a system, that's for sure.

Although this makes my organizational brain so proud...why is it so hard to get Joe to understand my basket system of shoe organization? Why am I still finding random fleeces, sweatshirts, and, as I type, I see there is now a hat on the top of our sofa?! Honestly! There is clearly a dresser, bin, basket, whatever in every corner of every room and in every closet? Why is this so difficult???


I think I should reconsider my Pottery Barn-ish baskets for coffee cans.

I might get better results.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bring It On, Chrissy

Okay, honestly people.

When do I get to go on the Today Show and peddle my craziness? "From the lady who brought you the Thighmaster and Boob Lifter, comes the latest in her plight to fight fat and leaky gut syndrome."

I'm not kidding. In the interview, she cites "leaky gut" syndrome as a medical condition, caused by eating corn fed beef. I might be a little bit sensitive to this, but I am indeed taking offense to the latest installment of Suzanne Somers' attack on American Livestock Producers and their products.

This has got to stop.

This is the second time this month that this woman, a person who is famous for her short shorts and blond hair, not her medical expertise, has come out proclaiming that beef, unless grass fed and organic, is basically toxic for your body, causing holes that lead to "leaky gut syndrome."

Now, I am not saying that in a country where we value our freedom of expression, speech and choice, should one not be able to choose his or her own food, and where it comes from. should have actual medical or scientific facts behind the choice, especially before going on national television and shooting down an industry entirely.

Somers's take on beef is that the corn fed to the animals has antibiotics in it, and that is what is making us all sick and fat. The CORN has antibiotics in it.

Huh. Now, we all know we have the option to give our plants Miracle Grow or put some sort of fertilizer on them, but I have never seen or heard about plants being administered antibiotics through injections.

This information is also coming from the woman who takes over 100 vitamins and supplements per day and has obviously injected most of her revenue from her crazy books into the the Botox injections in her face.

Thanks for keeping it au naturale, Chrissy.


This is obscene. How come there was no rebuttal position from a livestock farmer, beef industry executive or even MEDICAL DOCTOR during this segment? Thankfully, Natalie Morales did point out that Somers basically was peddling craziness (not in so many words), citing that there were no actual medical doctors used as experts in her book, and that such illnesses as "leaky gut" were not actual medical conditions, nor were her claims of eating corn fed beef causing holes in the stomach valid, according to the FDA. Thanks for that, Natalie, but WHY THE HECK IS THIS LADY ON YOUR SHOW ANYWAY???

Honestly people, please do not get your information about food and eating and whatever from Suzanne Somers. Please do not accept this as something that is anything other than a famous person with a platform that is doing essentially what I do, which is RANT!!!! I at least have some sort of expert around whom I can ask questions to.

My hope is that whatever choice you make, base it upon FACTS, not a woman who roller skated her way into the hearts of Americans in the seventies.

Come and knock on my door, Chrissy. Bring it on.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Name Game

As calving season continues on (we now have two purebred Simmental calves), I have been constantly reminded of the increased workload Joe has to endure, as well as the excitement the girls get from hearing the news, "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" My girls are so excited to actually pet and visit the new calves, however, the excitement continues when they are asked to name the calves.

As I reported earlier, Yosemite Sam is the first bull calf we had, just a few days ago. Bugs Bunny was born Saturday night, named again by Anna, who, in the car on the way to Grandma and Grandpa's decided that she would name the boys and Josie would name the girls (Amelia was thrown under the bus this year). Sounds like a good plan, don't you think?

While the girls believe that the responsibility of naming the new babies is theirs to bear, Joe has the final say on the truly correct, registered names. The names the girls come up with are merely nicknames only to be used on the farm (Joe used to use ex-girlfriend's names, but has since stopped that). They do have a registered name, which is Joe's initials, followed by a derivative of their dad's name, for the bull calves, and mom's name, for the heifers. For example, Bugs Bunny's actual name is JRW (initials) Dominique (dad's name) W2Y (tattooed name). The true name of each animal ends with this series of letters and numbers: the first letters being Joe's initials, followed by the number which indicates the order in which the calf was born, and then another letter, which denotes the year in which he or she was born. This sequence, on the purebred calves, also matches their permanent ear tattooes. Quite a science. Josie thinks it's great that the little calves get to wear earrings so young, and Anna wonders what their mothers think about their tattooes, since we have made it abundantly clear how we feel about scarring the girls' beautiful skin.

Even though they're just nicknames, naming the calves gives the girls a sense of ownership, making it such a great way to introduce them to the cattle business. However, sometimes, the inevitable has to happen. When some of the cattle need to be "culled" (which means sorted out and sent to the sale barn due to many factors: some of them include being difficult or trouble makers in the herd), it becomes tricky to explain to little girls about keeping the herd healthy and breeding with the traits we want in our cattle. That's why when Paige, Anna's bucket calf, lovingly named after one of the girls' favorite cousins, needed to go away because as a bucket calf (a calf literally fed by a bottle and a bucket) and a twin, she did not have the qualities that would allow her to be a viable asset to the herd, we had to pull a fast one on Anna. Joe didn't have the heart to tell her that her first true responsibility on the farm wasn't working out, so he switched out the tags with a similar looking calf, and thanks to the fact that the kids don't quite get the true naming system yet, Paige lives on! That may seem dishonest to some, but I equate it to allowing the girls to believe in Santa Clause. However, if we're still pulling these fast ones on the girls when they're 15, then we have a lying issue in our house. Until then, age appropriate fantasies will occur in our house.

The bearer of the most work during this time is Joe, for certain. Late night checks, assisting in the birth of some of the calves, as well as remembering to write down what calf was born in which order to what mother are just the start of his duties. I am happy, however, that even though they're just nicknames, by naming the calves, my girls are getting a taste of responsibility and ownership in this business that their dad loves. I just hope I can remember to check Joe's pockets for the calving books he uses, as to not wash the important data he recorded with his work clothes!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Calf Watch 2011-Update

He's here (I thought about titling this blog post something like this, but my mother would have had a heart attack...considering my current state!)!

Anyway, our newest addition to the Purebred Simmental herd is here!

Weighing in at just around 90 pounds, Yosemite Sam (Anna named him) came into the world with a little bit of difficulty, but (sparing you the truly gross details) with a little pushing from both Mama and Joe, the use of a few chains (don't ask, unless you really want to know), and the help of our neighbor and landlord, Lou, they delivered him safely and all parties are doing well.

We are hopeful that a late night, cold, and rather tricky delivery does not continue to be a trend during our calving season. This delivery occurred at 11:30 PM on one of the absolute coldest nights of this winter. In the cattle world, it seems that this is always the case. A friend of ours was laughing (now) about the birth of twin calves, in the snow, who were warmed by a hairdryer at 3AM, and then unfortunately died the next morning. Calving is tricky, and with constant observation and hopefully healthy deliveries, they can be pleasantly uneventful.

That, coupled with being lucky with your timing when you check the mamas! Thankfully, that night the Illini were playing that night (badly, thanks to the curse of playing Penn State at Penn State), and Joe and I had only been asleep on the couch for about an hour (or the second half of the terrible game), so he awoke to his alarm to go check her, just in time.

We are so excited to get this season started. Well, Joe's excited...I'm cautiously optimistic that most births will go well, and it will be a quick season.

Here's to hoping!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Knowing Where One's Food Comes From

Can you imagine going to the grocery store or the butcher shop's meat counter and seeing my family's picture next to a Ribeye Steak? Can you imagine reading about how the beef you'll be enjoying tonight have been treated during their life span? How about seeing a picture of the pasture in which they graze?

In a world where we are bombarded with advice to "eat locally," "know your farmer," and "be green," wouldn't seeing who is providing your beef, specifically, give you a positive farmer image? My guess is the answer is yes. I would buy beef from me, just seeing a picture of my cute kids frolicking in the green grass next to white machine sheds and green tractors (I am biased, I know). However, it would be interesting to see where our food is growing and by whom, and wouldn't that promote a positive farmer image to the greater public?

Whole Foods, Inc. already has a program such as this. I was reading the latest edition of Agri-News (my dad is beaming, and my friends are laughing), and they reported that Whole Foods markets have been employing a Step System. This system is more focused on the "how" of the raising, rather than the "whom," but beside the graphic of the system they have employed for the grading of animal welfare, literally in the meat display, there is a picture of a happy looking older gentleman in a cowboy hat. At first glance, I thought, "Hey! This looks like something that should be at MY grocery store."

Seriously, why in the heart of farm country, is something like this not in place? This is Farmer Image 101. This is easy. This is something I could get behind.

However, reading on, the article states that the Whole Foods, Inc. committee (made up of a "natural" beef rancher and the head of the Humane Society of the United States...look up that organization, if you never have, and then run screaming from them.) is more concerned with getting the information out about how the beef and other meats were raised before making it to Whole Foods. While it is good to not only know who your food is raised by, but also how, the requirements they have come up with are a bit, well, odd.

I will not go through all the details, but there are five levels in this "Animal Welfare Rating System." They range from a Level One, which is, to use a buzz word, free range: no crates, no stalls, no cages. It progresses from there, from allowing animals to have meaningful outdoor access, whatever that means, and I am horrified to write that in order to be a Step Five producer, you must not only allow your animals basically the freedom to do whatever they want wherever they want, but also slaughter them on your farm.


I am of the belief that there are certain experts out there. I go to the hospital to give birth, go to a doctor when I'm sick, ask for grammatical advice from my mother, consult the Pottery Barn catalogue for decorating details, and above all else, send my beef to the meat locker. We don't know enough about the art of butchering to be considered a Level Five, nor do we allow our cows to roam free and basically party on the pasture. There are rules and there are people who are employed to take care of certain aspects of our beef production because they are, well, experts.

I am torn by this article. On the one hand, it a great idea it is to have a face associated with your product, one that you are proud of. On the other hand, would you really make a decision based upon "meaningful" outdoor access and in-house slaughtering when you're considering the ground beef for your chili?

I guess what frustrates me about the latter portion of this article is that is someone shopping at Whole Foods really that knowledgeable in the study of meat science to make a decision based upon whether the outdoor access was meaningful or not? When did we, the non-agricultural folks, become experts all of the sudden? I personally hate being in tight spaces, but did you know hogs like it? I didn't know that until my father-in-law (a pork producer, and a person whom I would call an expert in his field) told me that hogs are happiest when they are in a confined, tight space. They feel safer, and are thus more calm, and therefore produce a better end product. Cattle should have a comfortable and safe place to graze and roam. However, would you want cattle roaming freely into places where they could eat plants or be around other animals that could be detrimental to their well being? Is that considered meaningful outdoor access? I think not. Do you want to have to dodge them while you're taking the back roads to get to your destination quicker? Personally, I don't want my kids to have to dodge cow manure while they play ball in the yard, as I believe my yard and my girls could possibly offer a meaningful experience to anyone...or at least an interesting one at that!

As a consumer, one should be knowledgeable. However, when does this knowledge cross the line? When do you become so open minded that your brains fall out (thanks Mom, for that phrase)? Consider your source of information, at all times, and if you do find out what meaningful outdoor access is, will you please share that with me? I am dying to know.

Death By Cookie

It's come to this: The Girl Scouts have been taken over. These sweet little do-gooders have been tricked by marketing. These girls in green, who are known for being honest and good, have succumbed to the anti-High Fructose Corn Syrup marketing scam.

That, or the sweet little girls need a "No High Fructose Corn Syrup" Badge...the one with the letters HFCS crossed out with a big red circle and a diagonal line.

Either way, Holly Spangler wrote a great blog about it, and while I believe we all have to choose our own opinions in what we feed our children or ourselves, consider this: Will the High Fructose Corn Syrup in the Thin Mints or Tagalongs cause you to not be able to button your jeans at the end of the day or promote the spread of adult-onset diabetes, or is it the simple fact that once again, we're searching for a reason that we are getting fatter, that doesn't lie deep within us...or at the bottom of the trash, covered by other trash, as to conceal the evidence of gluttony.

I'm not advocating for diving into a fresh batch of High Fructose Corn Syrup, nor am I knocking the deliciousness that is a Girl Scout Cookie, but as Holly points out, there's some misinformation here. As a wife of a corn producer, High Fructose Corn Syrup seems to be the target lately, and although I do believe many people are eating too much of it, as well as other processed foods, it is my contention that all sugars should be created and discriminated against equally (if you have an allergy or health concern, please disregard my rant). The Girl Scout Cookie debate is, unfortunately, one of many where High Fructose Corn Syrup is put on the hot seat. I suppose there always has to be an evil to our delight.

I just wish they wouldn't have attacked Thin Mints...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beware of the Dog

If you ever come and visit us, will you please call me first? I have a dog who may potentially lick you to oblivion, jump on your clean jeans, or possibly just bark at you until she becomes hoarse (if that's even possible). Currently, we have some tractors being loaded up, and she is freaking out at the man who is casually ignoring her spastic "dog yelling."


Our beloved hound, Sadie, is a fixture on our farm. As Joe's companion in the mornings in the back of the truck or in with the cattle, she is a loyal companion to him. To me, however, a "town girl" whose parents (well, mainly my dad) didn't allow any pets, proclaiming that there was no space in town for a dog, cats could walk on the cars and leave footprints, and fish didn't do anything now finds myself surrounded these days, thus baptized by fire. Our dog is something that I have had to learn to love, deal with, as well as clean up after.

Now that I have offended all animal lovers, let me redeem myself. Our dog is loved dearly by all of us, especially by our oldest daughter. When Sadie used to get in trouble, she would cry. Our girls enjoy throwing the Frisbee to her, even if she does knock them down when she retrieves it, and Amelia looks for her out the window in the morning asking for the "puppa." Sadie is learning how to be useful on the farm, choring with Joe in the morning, and stretching her instincts as an "Australian Cattle Dog." She is good to have around when there's critters roaming around our yard, because, although she herself is scared to death and barks basically to be let in the house, she keeps the varmints away. She has been the longest living pet we have had in our short stint on the farm, and because of that, I find myself fretful when I am not attacked with jumps and licks at the door as I'm leaving the house. Thankfully, however, she is usually merely a few steps away, chewing up the Internet connection, destroying my fifth and final landscaping light, or barking at the bin fans.

I guess most everybody's picture of a farm probably includes a dog. All of my grandparents' farms had dogs (even if they were generally mutts left on the side of the road). Our neighbors all have dogs, at least one or two, and it seems like I need to get over the fact that pants tattooed with paw prints, back entryways filled with dirty towels (to wipe off aforementioned paws) and dog hair, and incessant barking are all just a part of this peaceful, blissful country living. Thankfully, our closest neighbor is nearly a mile away, and drop ins are generally other farmers.

I'm hopeful that Sadie's phase of being crazy is just that, a phase. We are pretty high energy here, however, so I don't know if it's just something that comes with our happy, crazy environment. We're hopeful that all of you who visit us will understand that Sadie is just excited to see you, and that muddy paw prints wash off, licks are just loves, and that her bark is worse than her bite.

At least, that's what I have to tell myself nearly every day.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Calf Watch 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Calf Watch 2011.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? However, I'm just like the national news reporting on some storm that turns out to be nothing, in that calving season, although exciting and busy, isn't necessarily the biggest news event on the face of the planet! However, around here, we're all about adding to the stress and excitement of our lives (see the upcoming events of the birth of our son, planting season, all the while starting our plans for an addition to our house, because what goes the best with pregnancy hormones??? Answer: CONSTRUCTION!).

Anyway, calving season is upon us, purebreds first. Meaning, these are the cows that Joe has purchased that are 100% Simmental (red) cattle. This group of cattle will be potentially used by our daughters (and son) as show cattle. I have been told that ever since we had our first child, we would be showing cattle. Yes, my family will be a family that lives 95% of our summer in an RV (Joe's dream vehicle...well, that and a dualie diesel pickup truck) at various county fairs, showing cattle. I don't know the details of what it entails to prepare and then subsequently show cattle, but I'm sure I'll learn. I do see, however, my role during this time as being the one who procures meals that don't consist solely of cotton candy and fried candy bars on a stick, as well as outfitting our kids in cute "show" wear...whatever that looks like.

I'm digressing.

Anyway, we are on calf watch currently. This morning, as we were readying Anna for her first day back at kindergarten since winter break, she announced to me that she hoped the purebred heifer had her calf today because Daddy is going to be gone for the next couple of days. When I asked her why, she explained that the purebreds are cattle that Daddy and she will be working with when she gets older, and that this calf is important to her because it might be one that will be her responsibility some day.

Seriously...this kid is the reason I need to know more about our way of life.

Anyway, I should have titled this post, Purebred Calf Watch 2011 because this means Joe has to run down the road to the calving barn at least four times a day, whereas Commercial Heifer Sim-Angus Calf Watch 2011 means the cows we will be watching are Simmental and Angus cattle that have been bred together. This group will be made up of a bunch of first time moms, 20 total, that will calve in a three week span. Yikes. Then, there's Sim-Angus Cow Calf Watch 2011, which is a little better, as these are the more experienced mothers (I crossed over from being referred to as a "heifer" to just a "cow" by our third child. Romantic, huh?). Sim-Angus Cow Calf Watch 2011 will mean all Joe has to do (well, not ALL he has to do, but as far as waiting for the calf to be born...)once in a while is look out our south windows at the pasture across the road and see if there are any front feet sticking out the back of the cows.


And you were complaining about your husband watching too much football.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of the first birth during Calf Watch 2011.