Monday, March 21, 2011

The Gigantic Baby Bottle

If Joe ever needs a Halloween costume...I'm looking at a potential prop, sitting right next to my sink: a seriously huge baby bottle.

Yes, I am in nesting mode for our newest arrival, but NO, we will NOT be utilizing this bottle...however, we were a little desperate the other night with friends who were over and needed a bottle, but they didn't think it would work.

Anyway, why do I have an enormous baby bottle? Am I planning for a big baby, one that rivals those in the pages of the National Enquirer? Is Joe truly going to be wearing a baby bonnet and carrying around this prop come October? No, it's just another perk of being a cattleman's wife! Not only do I have to wash the freshly "birthed" upon overalls, check the pockets for random syringes and chains and calving books, I also get to wash this monstrosity.

I lead one heck of a glamorous life, don't I?

Back to the bottle: the purpose of this bottle today was to help a calf that was born nearly 40 to 50 pounds over the normal birth weight of calves. Joe found this big/little guy this morning, and not only did he note that he was huge for a calf, he realized quickly that this "little" dude was in need of assistance. The calf couldn't maneuver his way to his mama and figure out how to eat. Thus, Joe became his own chapter of the Cow Le Leche League, and the big bottle came into use.

We're hopeful that this calf is going to make it, but the odds are against him. Tube feeding (just like it sounds...stick a tube down the calf's throat and feed him/her milk) can be a good thing, but one slight misplacement, and the fluid could run to the calf's lungs, and kill it. It's actually very nerve wracking, and if one factors in that Joe has a tender heart, and often feels responsible when a calf has trouble nursing or even dies, it's also very stressful.

Our hope is that we can just wash the bottle up and tease guests with small children about using it, and hope that our calves will be smart enough to nurse on their own. Here's to hoping.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shutting Gates

Our girls are very fortunate. We live in a place where they can run circles around our house (always being cognizant of the potential dog bombs), enjoy bike rides in a big driveway and fly kites without worrying about neighbor's rooftops or power lines. Country living- for kids as far as hanging out time is concerned- is good.

Along the same lines, this country living is great for future employment endeavors. Our girls love to chore with Dad. Even Amelia, who is not quite two, loves to check "baby [c]ows" with Dad, donning her green bug boots, basically for ceremony's sake, as she's usually carried around the lots. Anna especially is enjoying the farm kid's life, and is getting to the age where Joe feels as if she is responsible enough to take on a few odd jobs when they go out choring.

Case in point, this morning: despite a bout with sickness this week and a weird rash, there was no way I was going to keep her in the house this morning, as today is the beginning of our district's spring break. Anna, as she tends to do, was up before all of us, whispering in Dad's ear that she was ready to go when he was. She didn't realize it was 5:30, and Joe wasn't quite ready to rock and roll just yet, after a late night of watching March Madness!

Anyway, I have been hearing, as I waddle around this morning, the four wheeler buzzing all around across the road, as Joe and Anna, holding her on his lap, are out to check the pasture for new calves. I equate this process to hunting Easter eggs. Unlike new mamas, bred heifers and ol' cows (i.e., experienced mothers) are easy calvers and quick to nurse. Joe basically is an obstetrician at this time, in the sense that he some times comes in to the rescue to catch a baby calf, or just waltzes around, doing his "rounds," making sure that all is well. With the new moms, he has to be both the hardworking Labor and Delivery Nurse as well as the OB, but this gig with the more experienced moms is less stressful.

Can you tell what's on my mind???

But I digress...back to the jobs my KIDS have...

While checking calves is fun, Anna really gets a kick out of little responsibilities her dad gives her when she's out being helpful. There are gates to open and close, buckets to haul, and the dog to round up. Anna is given the opportunity to feel a part of something bigger than just riding around on the four wheeler or in the truck. She is his constant companion, and if he wants her to stay this way, he's got to keep her interested, involved, and engaged.

I think about my experience with my dad's early farming days. There were a lot of factors that kept my brother and me at arm's length to this side of my dad. There was the simple fact that we lived in town, 35 minutes away from the farm, and then there's the aspect of my personality that is like my Josie, the fact that I was (and still am) very girly and more interested in what I was going to WEAR to the farm. Thus, I never had a job to do with Dad. He was just a "part timer" at the time, and had no livestock. Thus, the "chores" my brother and I could participate in were walking beans (literally pulling weeds from the rows of soybeans), mowing the grass (if you haven't read my story about how I will never mow the lawn, let me know), or sitting in the tractor, planter, grain cart, or combine and just riding.

Sounds fun, doesn't it?

Life for a livestock kid isn't all fun and games and shutting gates, however. Dad has to be given a lot of grace, during this busy time, and may or may not be at the baseball game, or may or may not be at the parent teacher conference. He may or may not be able to take a kid with due to the weather, circumstance of the day, whatever. But, our farm dad, when my girls do go with him, makes sure that each kid has something age and personality appropriate to participate in.

I only hope that Anna will just share the bare minimum details of the calf she just saw being born with her kindergarten class!

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Face to a Product

I love conversations on Facebook that spur good banter. A city-gal, with whom I'm friends, commented on watching the movie Food, Inc. Her comment was very much the norm. As Joe would say, so eloquently, "she drank the Michael Pollen Kool-Aid." However, knowing that this particular lady is very smart and savvy, she just watched it as an agricultural outsider, and the movie did what it was produced to do: PERSUADE CONSUMERS.

However, it wasn't the comment she made about the food processing plants or the production side of agriculture that got me to think. It was the anti-Monsanto sentiment. When I asked Joe if he believed that Monsanto had cornered the soybean market, or if they were taking over the agricultural chemical or seed production business, he took a second to respond. We had a good conversation about how this particular corporation could be seen as a monster, as it has been its practice to swallow all other little guys in the same business. However, I look at Monsanto with different eyes.

I see our dear friend Andy, who is working hard to take care of his two little girls and helps us out a lot. Joe and I see our friend Ron, a really awesome guy who knows his stuff and does great things for this company. We see Chris, my dear friend's husband, who works long hours and uses his Master's degree to do a good job for his farmer customers. We can rattle off many guys and girls we went to college with, who are not evil. They're just doing their job, in a field they love...they're farm kids with insurance benefits and a steady paycheck (WHO KNEW??)!!

When suburbanites and those who are not in the "agri-biz" watch something like Food, Inc. and hear that Monsanto is a terrible company, they don't have a face to put to the product. They don't have an Andy or a Ron or a Chris. They have a big, nasty corporate dude in their line of sight. I see a guy I go to church with.

It's the same as livestock farming. Until American consumers are able to see the faces that produce their beef or pork or chicken or whatever, big companies like Hormel or Tyson or whatever will just be big corporations with no heart, no family, and no need for good insurance.

While I'm not saying that life wouldn't be better for us if our Monsanto bill was a little smaller, I do truly believe, that like everything, there are always two sides to every story, and we as consumers need to be ready to understand that while we're all able to tell our stories, those who know the "real" story, should maybe yell a little louder.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Real Job

Okay, so I grew up with a dad who taught agriculture at both the high school and college level. That was his real job. However, when I was in grade school, he started "farming on the side" in the same place where we live right now. He bought a beater of a pick up truck, worked all day at school and then sometimes wouldn't come home until we had long since been tucked into bed during the busy seasons.

He loved (and still loves) the actual act of farming. However, couldn't support us as a family with the income generated by the grain farming industry.

Fast forward 25 years, and here we are. Joe and I moved to this place, nearly five years ago, so we could be closer to our family, and he could pursue his childhood dream of being a farmer. However, his real job at the time was still being a national agriculture educational consultant. That was what paid the bills. That was what we were able to count on. The markets and cattle prices were important, don't get me wrong, but we had a paycheck that we could depend upon.

Thanks to the lovely state of our finances in the educational sector, Joe became too expensive to employ by the company, so we had to take a big risk and have farming become his real job. Full time. All eggs in this basket.

I am thankful that we have had this opportunity to stretch ourselves, to trust in this profession, to truly watch over all of our finances and learn how to truly budget (well, I learned; Joe taught). We have had to truly figure out what purchases, vacations, etc. are important to us, what's not, and then plan and plan and plan. It's been a good exercise for an impulse spender who is impatient...aka, me.

However, when I mention to someone I have just met that Joe is a farmer, almost always, my second question from those unfamiliar with agriculture is, "Is that his real job?"


Yes. It is. Yes, we know that in the media we're considered evil, and in the Midwest, we're truly in the minority. Many of our friends, members of the FarmHouse Fraternity, no less, would love to be farmers full time. I've heard the conversations, but they can't swing it. The lure of the paycheck is too much. The stability of health insurance and a 401K is too good of a deal. Every dude wants to play in the dirt, but no one wants to give up his flat screen TV, ski trips to Colorado, and nice, not-so-farmy looking pick up truck.

Do I blame them?


Thus, we are now at a crossroads, a transition, if you will. Joe has taken a "real job." He has an amazing opportunity to work in crop insurance with a successful, established business with a really nice boss. He has to make appointments and head out during the day now. He has to work on Sunday afternoons, tending to the cattle herd (especially during this time), so that he can be ready to attend meetings, trainings, appointments and the like, to help build this new opportunity.

Why am I okay with this, when it's cramping my style of running out to here and there without worrying about childcare?

Because, admittedly, I am okay with the concept of a real job. I am okay with financial stability. I am okay with "something on the side" (in business sense, only!). I am thankful that, although the markets play a big role in my grocery and clothing budgets, and the fact that I am staying at home, it's nice to have something to help lessen the Target bill blow.

Farming is a noble, necessary, and, not-so-predictable way of life. I wish that we could be at the point that Joe could just call this profession his real job, but we're not. And, realistically, there are a lot of other young farmers (and old, I guess) who are in the same boat. Crop insurance, seed sales, trucking corporations, etc. are side jobs that fill the gaps in our unstable environment.

However, when will I be able to answer, confidently, that Joe is a full time farmer, and that I'm okay with that, and no, we're not destitute or crazy? Probably never, thanks to the lavish lifestyles we Americans enjoy living.

Until then, I'll continue to answer my most asked question with the lengthy response I tend to give, and hope that some day, just being a farmer will be enough for us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reflections on a Birthday

Today is our oldest daughter's, Anna, birthday. I am a big birthday gal. I love parties, presents, balloons, treats at school, all that fun stuff, but I truly believe that upon having a child, the birthday concept took on a whole new meaning.

As a many mothers do, I have a grueling labor story in my pocket, to be used during those tumultuous teenage years. This long story includes being sent home from the hospital, after laboring for nearly 24 hours, only to labor for 12 more, hard, painful hours, drug-free (not at the end...I'm no martyr!). A total of 36 hours. Yikes. I think I should be getting presents today.

However, since we are in the height of calving season, I got to thinking about the differences and similarities of the whole birthing process we mothers endure. Our heifers (those who are first time moms) are inexperienced, scared, dumbfounded at times, and unable to comprehend the fact that they just gave birth. Aren't first time mothers some times like that? Don't we wonder how we got to where we are (okay, that's not what I meant...), wonder if we're going to be able to care for our babies the way they need to be, because we have no point of reference? Joe's first-calf heifers need a lot of assistance, and I think back to when I was even just expecting Anna. My mom and dad called me all the time, checking on me during my third trimester. I am now in my third trimester of this, the fourth pregnancy, and once in a while, I'm asked how I'm doing. Not that I'm complaining, it's just that we all have a level of experience now.

Joe has had to teach many a new cow-mom how to nurse. This is something else that I understand a little better. When we first had Anna, I was diagnosed with mastitis, which is pretty common, but painful. Joe diagnosed it before the doctor, and as annoyed as I was with him at the time--how dare he compare me to an ANIMAL?- we're all built similarly, and consequently, now that I'm living the livestock life, I see those similarities.

Not that I want to be referred to as an "old cow," as I some times am. So romantic.

Anyway, we are enjoying a great day, thus far. It's early, and Joe's already been out to check a mama who had twins, trying to get her to realize that two calves came from her. . . something we human moms don't have to worry about. Anna's been up since dawn, actually pre-dawn, excited for her presents, the sticker she will receive at school, and lunch at school with Dad. Life is good today.

My hope for our now big, little girl is that she will continue to enjoy many, many years of birthdays, but also see that even though we make a big deal with presents and parties and such, she will understand that we are all God's creatures. Because our family has a love for animals, I hope that all of my girls will always see that, regardless of the species, each life is as precious as the next.

Happy birthday, Anna Grace!