Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Another Experience of Inexperience

In case you haven't heard, this week is National FFA week. In case you haven't also heard, FFA is an organization that was started as the "Future Farmers of America" and has evolved from a bunch of ag boys to a tremendous opportunity for all high school students across the country to not only learn more about agriculture, but also demonstrate their knowledge through speaking competitions, judging teams, and both state and national conventions.

I'm married to a former Section FFA President and FFA sponsor, and was raised by a former FFA sponsor. However, I never participated because, as a little girl, when we attended an event where FFA officers were present, I told my dad that I would only participate if the jackets were pink, not blue.

And we wonder why my middle daughter changes her mind in the middle of the night and changes her pajamas, just because the Ariel ones seemed a little more stylish.

Anyway, it's not only FFA week, a week where the FFA students participate in various fun activities during school time, but it's also the week that my former high school and its section hosts their public speaking competition. Being a woman who not only taught English, but talks a lot, I was called upon (well, only after my mom called me in) to help judge one of the groups of public speakers. I was to judge those who were speaking in the "extemporaneous" division, meaning "off the cuff," kind of. The kids would have to draw from a pool of various topics in agriculture today, take 20 minutes, and use what they already know as well as resources that they had brought to come up with a 3-5 minute speech.

I knew this part. I knew I could listen and figure out who had good presence, knowledge of the topic, as well as basic public speaking skills.

Piece of cake.

Plus, I got to leave the kids with Grandma, get dressed up, and go to my former high school, feeling all old and "good ole days-ish."

However, the part that I didn't know was that once the students finished their little ditty, I, along with my two other judges, would have to ask questions about each student's topic.


When our "head judge" said that I could go first with my questions, I nearly fainted. As I listened to the first speaker, I jotted down a few notes about what I thought would be somewhat intelligent questions, but realized quickly, I had NO IDEA what to ask her.

What I really wanted to ask was, "Why does FFA require you to wear a navy blue jacket with black pants or skirt? Doesn't National FFA watch What Not to Wear? Don't they know the simple laws of fashion state that navy blue and black do NOT match?"

Anyway, I tried my best, but my questions sounded more like Suzy Homemaker and not Sally Farmer. I have a long way to go in my knowledge of agriculture, this I know, but in situations like this, my confidence in knowing what is going on outside my front door is down the drain. These kids knew their stuff. Some more than others, but they only had 20 minutes to prepare, and I LIVE ON A FARM, WITH A FARMER! I'm a card-carrying member of the Farm Bureau. This blog is about agriculture!!!!

Yikes, again.

Even though tonight really highlighted my lack of knowledge in the universal identification of livestock as well as cloning, biofuels, and farming for pharmaceutical use, I truly hope they ask me again next year to help. I hope my questions will be more intelligent sounding.

Here's hoping I can learn something in a year.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Town Home

Okay, so last week was b-e-a-u-tiful weather, and the kids and I spent a lot of time outside. While our picturesque country yard was a perfect place (picturesque if you ignore Sadie's "gifts" that we need to clean up still) for the little tikes to expend a lot of energy, I found myself wanting to revert back to my life as a town kid.

We are so fortunate that my parents moved a mere five miles away, in town, and into a neighborhood that is full of kids, sidewalks, and a home for my double jogger that doesn't require a dust cover (thank you, crappy road). So, on a particularly lovely morning, I took the two little girls into town for a walk. As I was happily cruising, a friend yelled out her door to join us. We chatted and walked along the cute streets of Elmwood, and upon returning, and going into my parents' house, I truly realized how, while my husband has a lot of country in his blood, I have a lot of town in mine.

It probably didn't help that I was hanging out in my parents' brand new home, filled with nice furniture that hasn't been continuously run over with trucks and Barbies. A house that I didn't have to clean, nor did I feel like I had to, but was already tidy, filled with snacks and a full dishwasher that I didn't have to unload.

Anyway, I have heard a lot about how people who grew up in the country had it great, and are so lucky to have enjoyed a big yard, animals, fresh air, etc. However, I do not feel slighted in the least to have enjoyed my childhood amidst paved streets and sidewalks, bike rides around town that didn't require first a trip in the car, and friends just a few doors away. Town life was great for me. Country life is great for me, too, don't get me wrong, I just find myself wondering if my girls (and soon to be little guy) will miss out by not living in town.

I am learning to like to live this country life, but there will always be a little piece of me that will yearn to be able to head out for a run with the kids without having to drive to town. There is a part of me that longs for my girls to be able to ride their bikes to school, to walk out of their door and have a friend holler out to play with them. There's a lot of really special things about living in the country, but there are also really great aspects of living in town.

My hope is that because we are so fortunate to have a "town home" (aka my parents' house), my kids can grow up with both experiences. I just hope that my mom will continue to stock the mixed nuts and dried fruit like I like it, and my dad will keep the air in my stroller's tires.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

We're in Print!

Check out today's story in the Quincy Herald-Whig! What about that good lookin' bunch of girls? Check out the fact that I was too late submitting our photo that I didn't touch up my make-up, or even pick up the back entryway.

Seriously. At least I'm kind of "glowing" because of pregnancy, right?

Enjoy the read!

Is It Here?

Has spring sprung?
Are we just being teased?
Should I be rejoicing the melt of our nine thousand inches of snow?

Well...maybe, on all accounts.

Around here, when we get above 40, you would think that it's early June. Everyone's a little bit antsy to bare his or her arms and legs. Illinoisans are opening windows, letting fresh air and sunshine stream in. I'm celebrating by wearing flats with no socks, all the while being cautious around the enormous puddles of melted snow in parking lots. Runners are running outside (that WILL be me year). Kids are having outdoor recess. Life is grand.

But, it might just be a fake out, because there have been many a cold and snowy March and even April, so I am just making the best of the next few days.

I washed my car.

Which sounds like a great plan, considering the temperature would no longer freeze my doors shut or freeze ice on my windshield as I drive away from the car wash. However, I did have to drive home, and as I turned on my road, I decided my choice to wash my car might not have been the most intelligent decision in the world that day.

Our road was nothing but a mucky, rutted mess. living. We live completely "off the beaten path," and with that comes a "gravel" road. I put gravel in quotation marks because after the winter, there are roughly four pebbles left on the road: those lucky little guys who survived the elements, the snow plow and the road grater. The road is rutted where it's soft, making a great home for nice muddy puddles. The ones my daughters would love to jump in, and the ones I tend to either swerve around or go about 5 miles per hour through, just to save my car's clean exterior for more than twenty minutes.

It is agony to this town girl who loves a clean car to live on this road. My dad is the same way. We drive about 15 MPH, maximum during this time of year, something my farmer husband finds ludicrous. He drives his farm truck about 40, coating the sides with the brownish-gray mud, and not worrying about a thing. He might wash it, but it also might rain, and considering he leaves it parked outside, who cares. He has other concerns during this partial thaw.

Calves are his main concern, of course. Thaws in mid-February are great for runners, flat-wearers, and puddle jumpers, but they are very, very hard on new calves. Older, stronger calves with bossy, experienced mothers tend to occupy the barn during this time. Not only is it warmer in the barn, but, most importantly, it is also dry. Thus, inexperienced, new heifers and their calves are left to rest in the mud and the muck, causing sickness, which is never good, especially in the early days of their lives. Just last night, Joe had to tube feed electrolytes to a dehydrated calf when it wouldn't take its bottle of "Cow Gatorade." Thankfully, this morning, the calf is doing much better, but while days like yesterday and potentially today make me think about washing windows and outside running, they can some times be detrimental to a young calf's life.

Are you sensing a theme here? Are you wondering why the heck we have cattle in the first place when nights like last night, which happened to be Valentine's Day, are spent in the dark and the cold nursing and then tube feeding a calf instead of snuggling with a lovely, but largely pregnant, wife?

Did you enjoy a steak dinner last night in celebration of Valentine's Day?

Thanks, from us, if you did. Your dinner may have paid for our car wash!

Happy Taste of Spring!

Friday, February 11, 2011

When Vacation is Measured in Hours

If you're anywhere near the Midwest, you know, it's been a long, cold, snowy winter. Many of us are dreaming of getting away to somewhere warmer, escaping the bleakness that is mid-February. As I was sitting at my mom's group yesterday, we (well, I was listening, but we'll get to that later) were sharing where our next trip would be. I have a friend whose family are travelers, and they're off to sunny Florida in the next few weeks, another friend is fortunate enough to go to Arizona coming up. As I listened, lamenting that my last trip was to St. Louis when it was the HOTTEST week EVER in HISTORY in August, I was nudged out of my small pity party by another friend, a dairyman's wife. She reminded me that farmers, specifically those with livestock, don't measure our vacation time in weeks, or even days, rather, it's measured in hours.

This was a sad realization, but so very, very true.

Now, no one go out and feel sorry for me and buy me an all expenses paid vacation to somewhere warm (hint, hint), because at one time, Joe and I did travel a lot. Ironically, especially Joe. For his "BF" (Before Farming) job, he was a consultant for a national agricultural education corporation, and he spent many days of the week on the road or in the air. California, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Idaho, Georgia, even Las Vegas were a few of his destinations two or three times a MONTH. He even traveled a bit abroad to India, China, and Hong Kong for another leadership group he was a part of. We went to Maui for our honeymoon, Texas for our first anniversary (during the hottest part of the summer, but that seems to be a trend, and if it means I'm going somewhere, I will never complain of it again). I traveled a bit as a single gal, enjoying running marathons and other races in places like San Diego and Seattle. We even visited my brother's family in sunny, Southern California with the girls, taking in the beach, Disneyland, and all other California-ish things! We were on the go.

No more.

When your vacation is measured in hours, you are quite limited to where you can go. I must be a trendsetter, because I think we Webels invented the stay-cation. We are the king and queen of our castle, and even when offered the opportunity to visit Joe's family, a mere two hours away, we have to make the trip quick, between chores, and if it's calving season, forget it. We have birthday presents we owe nieces and nephews from December. It's pretty sad, if you're a traveler.

Even this morning, as we talked about our weekend, which will be spent with Joe's fraternity brothers at a local hotel, our oldest, Anna, spoke excitedly as she waited for the school bus about the stay in the hotel (even though it's just a mere 25 minutes away). Joe explained to her, that even though we'll check in, have a room, and use the fun swimming pool with our friends that day, we'll have to come home and sleep in our own beds because Daddy has to check the heifers. Anna began to moan in agony, "Why does it always have to be about the cows, Daddy?"

Even though sometimes I share my daughter's angst in regards to our vacation hours, I am beginning to understand that this is the way a good cattle man keeps his herd. Joe has to be especially cautious during this cold, snowy time, making sure that no calves are born in the snow, left to freeze, by new, inexperienced mamas. Although I would love to just get away for a weekend here and there, I know that this is not in the cards for this time of year. I have to wait, patiently, until potentially the hottest part of the summer, when the cows and calves are out on grass pasture, and then, we'll see our nieces and nephews and deliver them their winter birthday presents!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Learning the Secret Handshake

As I sat at my second Farmer Image training session (no, I did NOT flunk the first, I just saw an opportunity to talk to adults and hit the shoe department at Von Maur without the kids, so I jumped!), I felt like the last kid on the playground to be chosen for kickball.

I did not fit in.

I was one of the last to introduce myself, and as I listened to the others sharing their acreage total, master's degrees in crop/animal/weed science, what state board they were president of (be it pork, beef, corn, whatever), as well as their experience with livestock, I realized that I was not in my comfort zone at all. I was the most under-qualified, non agricultural person on the panel that day. I was sitting in the middle of a fraternity house, the fraternity that is agriculture, and did not know the handshake.


My heart was racing as the introductions continued down the line, nearing me. Leaning on my ol' friends, sarcasm and humor, I introduced myself, honestly, proclaiming that I was indeed supposed to be there, even though none of my education was going to help me.

However, this was not entirely true. Although I did not have on a pair of cowboy boots (thank you for reinforcing stereotypes, gentlemen), nor did I have anything emblazoned with any reference to seed corn, chemicals, or equipment, when we were practicing talking to the general public about the good agriculture was doing for the economy, environment, etc., I was able to actually participate!

While I wasn't able to give the scientific reason why we apply our fungicide by aerial application (aka crop duster planes), I was able to interject that no one in my family has a third eye because of it.

So, I might not have sounded the most polished, but one step at a time.

Anyway, my point here today is that I do not have a BS in Crop Sciences, nor did I participate in FFA in high school, nor do I even have the slightest clue how to turn on, let alone drive a tractor, even one as small as a lawnmower (due to an unfortunate run-in with a culvert and our push mower in fourth grade, I am no longer able to mow anyone's lawn...or so my dad says), but that does not make me less credible. The on the job training I am receiving by simply being a farm wife is helping me polish up my information set that I can share, as well as my communication skills to try to become a voice in agriculture that can be heard above the craziness of what is put out by the media.

Even though I am wiggling my way into the agricultural world, one meeting, blog post, and step at a time, I'm going to find myself a card-carrying member of this ag fraternity some day...and then, maybe I can learn that dang secret handshake!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

At the Mercy of the Commish

Okay, so I readily admit that as a kid and then later as a teacher, I loved snow days. I watched the weather and then did a small dance when our district was announced on the radio. So exciting.

This is when I lived in town as a kid, near great hills, and had a mom who would make cinnamon rolls for breakfast in celebration (she was a teacher, too). Later, during my time as a teacher, and while I lived in the "big city" (well, not a huge city, but still), I took advantage of really good city snow plows, and would spend my snow days going to the gym, running errands, and maybe even shopping. They were glorious.

However, I never truly experienced the affects of a snow day until I was at home in 2006, with our four day old baby and 20 month old toddler (read: another baby), completely stranded on our drifted-over road. We had received over 16 inches of snow the first day we had brought our second child home. Having only lived in our home for six months, I was new to a lot of the aspects of country living. Our road was impassable, and I didn't understand why no one was digging us out. Where were our snow plows? Thankfully, that particular snow was light and fluffy, and the morning after it had fallen, Joe, who was still new to farming, without any livestock, had fun plowing through our road on his way to my uncle's and grandpa's houses.

Fast forward to this year, add in another kid and another pregnancy, 100 head of cattle (most of them who are going to calve here relatively soon), and then factor in an icy, heavy, drifting snow, and you've got yourself a true snow day. After seeing all my city and town friends' pictures on Facebook: cute kids bundled up, sledding, and enjoying the day off of work, all set against the backdrop of plowed roads, thanks to the city's snow plows, I reported in frustration that Joe had to leave his tractor and walk the rest of the way to the calving barn, as our road and even the field were impassable. While my girls have enjoyed playing outside, Joe and I (well, Joe mainly) are completely stressed out when he is unable to get to his calves. We were completely at the mercy of our road commissioner, and he was no where in sight. All day. And into the evening. For two days.

By late in second day, we were starting to get nervous. Joe was nervous about his new calves and heifers who were ready to go (And, of course, to punctuate a really nasty snow day, there was a calf born in the night. One that spent most of the day in the truck, warming up as Joe ran errands!). I was nervous because what if there was a fire? What if we needed an ambulance? What if I needed contact with people other than my FAMILY?? There was no way anything, other than something with a large blade across it's front could pass through our road. We even debated contacting friends with snowmobiles to get Joe to the calving barn. I always thought I was the control freak, but after last night's pacing and cursing our (I'm sure very nice) road commissioner, I'm realizing he and I are soooo much a like in the control-freak aspect of our personalities!

However, at about 6:30 last night, it was like a scene in a movie. Back in the distance of our little gravel road, coming up over a hill, the bright lights atop a large road maintainer were spotted! They lit the way for what would be our sweet freedom, and an end to Joe's panic. HE HAD COME!! Our superhero for the day, the COMMISH!!

Joe and I despise being at the mercy of someone else, especially when our livelihood is at stake. It is not only sad, but costly for us to lose calves, therefore, it is necessary for Joe to do his checks often. Being at the mercy of our road commissioner was enough to make us both crazy, crazier than a "normal" snow day antsy feeling.

Until I moved out here onto a county side road, at the very southernmost part of a really loooooong county, 30 minutes away from the metropolis where most of the plowing takes place, did I truly understand why school days are canceled due to snow. Roads can be impassable, and there's not enough time and people to get to all roads so that buses can pass through, and until we have a specific snowblower attachment for our tractors, on days like yesterday, we will be stuck.

Now that I realize we are at the mercy of someone else for our safety and sanity, I'm prayerful that Snowmaggedon, Snowpocolypse, Snownado, or the Snowtorious B.I.G. will NEVER happen again.

Or, I'll be better prepared with a hotel room in the city and a snowmobile for my husband.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Veganism or Nepotism?

I'd like to first take this opportunity to give a big thank you to shows like the Today Show and Oprah for giving me such great material to comment upon.


Okay, so today, Oprah featured that she and 378 of her fellow staffers decided to take a Vegan challenge: no meat, no eggs, no dairy, all for one week. Now, while I truly believe, truly, truly, truly, that we must eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and cook more using good, wholesome beef, pork, chicken or whatever, do I believe that making the choice to cut something out, be it meat, white flour, sugar, whatever is the key to the best life? No: see my grandmother, who is 96, lives independently, takes no prescriptions and loves chocolate. Do I believe you should cut out all animal products because Oprah proclaimed Monday to be Meatless Monday? NO! Think for yourself. Believe what you believe is right, but know that a life change shouldn't be made up of an "all or nothing" mentality.

Michael Pollen, of the book the Omnivore's Dilemma and the movie Food Inc. and Kathy Freston, not a nutritionist, not a doctor, not a nurse, but the exceptionally leggy blond wife of Oprah's partner in the OWN network (SERIOUSLY?? No credentials except her dislike of eating all animals and animal products as well as a well connected husband. Don't know what makes me madder...), were the featured guests. Along with these two, a manager at a Cargill meat processing plant (or slaughterhouse, thank you Lisa Ling for your use of more "harsh" sounding words), a cattle farmer (for about 30 seconds), and staffers who took the week long challenge were interviewed. If you haven't watched this show, please do. I know that I am uber-sensitive to the voice of the American farmer, but I feel like I saw a lot more of the cute, non-credentialed blond and her really cute boots (which I'm assuming were faux fur) than the Cargill woman, and even Michael Pollen.

Watching this, I realized how much Oprah is self-promoting. How much she is out to work the crowd and have them believe what is most trendy, getting the biggest buzz, and consequently, getting her the most revenue, not the facts. I am currently formulating a response to her message board in regards to this show, and the biggest ad on the page is for Kashi, one of the sponsors of this challenge. I know from my little experience with advertising on this blog, that advertising is key to revenue.

Not only did the blatant pocket lining of Oprah, Freston (who was promoting her book) and corporations such as Kashi and Whole Foods bother me, but it's also the shameful references made about the American public and their eating habits. To me, I feel a balance of everything is the key. I have been the same size (with some fluctuations thanks to pregnancy) since high school because I try to eat balanced as well as exercise often and vigorously. I feel like I have set a good example for my kids, allowing them sweet treats and other "fun foods" in moderation, and run around as much as possible. We eat meat, obviously, and have ZERO interest in taking this Oprah challenge (which you can sign up for on the web site, too), but also balance out a meal with at least one veggie along with a fruit and a grain side. But it's not only because we're livestock producers that we eat meat. Thankfully, because of our livelihood, we know what we produce is a good quality product, which is something Michael Pollen stresses. However, it's because everything in moderation yields good results.

I would love to have a true, true expert on one of these shows. I would have loved to see the Cargill representative, who did a good job, by the way, have more than 30 seconds of time during her interview. I would have loved the staffer whose father-in-law was a dairy farmer have had more time to explore that aspect of her life, or maybe even have Oprah invite aforementioned father-in-law to the show and give another face to the American producer. But all the daytime talk shows, one side is only given the most face time.

That is what truly ticks me off. GIVE US A VOICE, MEDIA!!! See the face of agriculture the way that it truly looks like: my husband, who is out for the third time this afternoon, in a blizzard, checking his few heifers who are close to calving. This is not some dude who is just out for a buck, because believe me, this gig does not pay enough on a day like today. See the life of our cattle, not "factory cows," who are protected from the elements during this terrible storm, thanks to the rebedding of barns and fresh water provided by automatic waterers (please power, stay on!!).

Only when we can tell our story on a stage such as Oprah will the face of American agriculture be seen in a positive way.

So, I guess I have to dye my hair blond, sprout really long legs, and write a book I really have no expertise in.


Guest Post--From the Guy Who Does It All

For the guy who is not only plays the role of a large animal vet, obstetrician (not for me, don't worry), nutritionist, handyman, husband, father and snow removal expert...snow days, especially ones with the threat of no power, are a big deal and tons of extra work for Joe. He's out checking his heifers now, in the midst of a time when I have heard more than once in the 15 minutes of TV I have watched today: STAY OFF THE ROADS! Well, no kidding, however, we're pretty far down on the county's snow plow list, so we tend to be pretty conservative.

Regardless of whether you are snowed in, or enjoying beautiful summer-like temperatures in some tropical, exotic location, please take a moment to appreciate the work American farmers, particularly livestock farmers do for your food supply. Unless you're following and drinking the Oprah Kool-Aid again by going vegan. However, remember that although one may be told otherwise, life is not all or nothing, instead, take a minute to appreciate all the controversy and craziness that make our lives interesting!

Happy reading!

Snowpocalypse 2011- A Cattleman's Perspective

With a few minutes of break here in the middle of the day, I thought I'd share what this snowstorm means to those of us caring for livestock on days like today.

The past two days have been spent preparing for the blizzard of biblical proportions, according to the weathermen. Fixing up and cleaning sheds for the lucky cattle that have one available to them, bedding down extra loose hay in the areas that have windbreaks for those cattle that won't have a roof over their head, and making sure water is readily available in all situations. We fed enough hay this morning that if the weather necessitates, the older cows will be OK if I can't get there tomorrow.

The maternity ward is a different story. I'm in the first week of calving season for my first calf heifers. These are first time mothers, and like first time mothers, they often times have no clue of what to do. Sometimes when they go into labor, they want to be alone, so they will leave the comfort of the shed and go out to the corner of the lot and give birth there. As first time mommas, in that scenario, they are likely to get up and head back to the shed. Not such a good deal today! Experienced cows won't do this- they will either stay with their baby, or run the others out of the barn so that they can have it to themselves. Thus, the heifers will be checked every two hours during the day, and when I check them before I go to bed, I will shut those four heifers that I predict are most likely to calve in the barn where they can't get out into the snow. If at that time I believe that any of them are in the process of going into labor, I will be out at 2 am to go check them and make sure that they deliver successfully and assist them if required. If the forecast holds true (and it is so far), I will have to take my loader tractor for that trip as the roads will likely be impassible for my pickup (the calving barn is 3 miles down the road).

As if today wasn't bad enough already, I hear that Oprah is having a big deal on going Vegan for a week, having Michael Pollen and his ridiculous fabrications and lies (all in the name of lining his pockets to sell his books) and having an "expose" on beef processing plants. This should be good (sarcasm alert)- everybody is snowed in so her audience will be even bigger. They will probably go to great lengths to talk about how cruel we livestock producers are to our animals, how meat is terrible, so on and so forth. Funny that there are no cameramen following me around today- maybe that would tell a side of the story that they aren't interested in telling. I don't know what the show will have to say about livestock and meat, but i know enough about the people they have on to know it won't be fair, accurate, or based in sound science. That would be asking far too much. Maybe I'll be surprised. I won't be watching, I'll be busy caring for my animals.