Tuesday, February 28, 2012

There's A Lump in My Throat and Ravioli on Her Shirt

So it's no secret that I have been a baby factory for the past seven years. We have been blessed, oh-so-blessed, to have a gaggle of healthy, happy kids. All but one have celebrated birthdays thus far, and while every birthday brings great joy by ways of a party and presents and happiness for another great year, it is my first daughter's birthday, this Friday, March 2nd that doesn't just bring me great joy, but I find myself close to tears during the days leading up to it.

I am watching her now, pedaling her bike up the road to the pasture. She's fresh off the bus, has had her snack "on the go" (as she put it), and is now back outside to be with her dad. She came in apologetic about the ravioli splatter on her shirt, as she was bumped at lunch, but that didn't cause the lump in my throat (Shout is my best friend).

It was how big she is.

How old she seems now.

How just seven years ago, I wondered who my sweet little baby would resemble, whose personality she would favor, how she would act/be/become when she went to school.

And she's there.

And so is that lump.

My girl is something that I never imagined, despite the pink we doused her in as an infant, she is my farm girl, my tomboy. She knows more about the cattle than I probably ever will. She and her dad have a special relationship thanks to hours they have spent together. She is responsible and caring and trustworthy, and I don't doubt she would have become that on her own, but thanks to her time as a farm kid, doing farm kid things, she has gained a lot of maturity, and she's just seven.

But she's SEVEN.

My baby is SEVEN.

Where did my time go? In seven more years, she'll be in high school (gasp), and seven more...college.

I can't even begin to think about that.

So, for now, as I watch her hop over the fence with great ease, walking slowly amongst the cows, I see my girl the way I hoped she would be at seven: caring, careful, and carefree. My little girl has grown up a lot, but not too much, and, thankfully, not too fast.

Because there's still ravioli on her shirt.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Function, Not Fashion

Let me just preface this post by saying that I did wear bibs in the 90s. I have a few pictures of myself at Barn Dance (did your sororities do this, or is it just a land-grant school thing? That's another post, another day) wearing a cute pair of bibs...cute, but it was Barn Dance, and it was the 90s.

However, there are a pair of bibs bouncing around in my dryer currently, and I will tell you, they are for function, not fashion.

My whole mission of this blog is to debunk stereotypes. It is to fight the image of a farmer as some hick wearing bib overalls, chewing on a length of hay. It is to show you that my husband is someone who does work hard, often times manually, but has a master's degree and once upon a time held an executive position in a company.

 And he may wear bibs now and again.

And that doesn't make him a hick.

Rather, Joe's bibs make him appear to be almost like Superman and Clark Kent. The layered look is in, and farmers like my husband are working it! Today, he came home from helping his friend with a land sale, and was wearing his bibs. I was surprised, as I knew that he had to be in professional dress for most of the day. However, like Superman, Joe peeled off his bibs to reveal his dress shirt and khakis. Impressive that a mild mannered "picker" from an auction can come home, throw on a pair of bibs and check cows, concealing his fanciness beneath layers.

These bibs are worn for warmth and protection in the winter...protection from manure and mud and other maliciously dirty things, and are worn for coolness (the temperature, not fashionably cool) in the summer. My father-in-law wears bibs almost exclusively. Bibs allow him to do multiple dirty jobs (think Mike Rowe), but come in the house and peel off the overalls and enjoy lunch without having to sit in dirty or smelly clothes.

He would also contend that his bibs with the most holes are the best in the summer for natural air conditioning, but we won't discuss that any further.

Anyway, my point is, bibs for farmers are out there. They are worn. They are utilized, but they are not worn by the farmers in my world for anything than function. You won't see my husband or father-in-law at the family dinner at Easter wearing their bibs. Those are delegated for work, only, and possibly a trip to town for a work related errand.


So, while the Gap had a few pairs of bibs in their stores this last fall, I would highly recommend you not bothering, as you'll look either like someone who needs to go check calves or feed hogs or someone who regrets wearing bibs to a Barn Dance, and now she is trying to fight against the Hee Haw persona of folks who live where there are barns.

Moral of the story: Function not fashion on the farm.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tale of the Coffee Can

Once upon a time, there was a Folger's coffee can. It contained the coffee that Farmer Joe and his wife drank nearly every morning. It lived a good life, housed in the family pantry, on the second, left hand shelf, next to the strawberry Nesquick. It breathed life into the tired Webel family, providing the necessary caffienation that is required for raising four kids, calving 120 cows and surviving on the farm.

It lived a happy life.

Until it turned up empty and in the dishwasher.


The dishwasher.

Am I the only one who thinks it's kind of weird to constantly wash coffee cans (and I say can, but it's the plastic tub...but who wants to constantly write plastic tub...I'm digressing.)? Joe thinks that coffee cans (tubs) are necessary on the farm, and if I "accidentally" let one slide into the garbage can, it is fished out and placed back in the dishwasher for another washing.


You see, there are a lot of nuts and bolts on the farm, and I'm not being frilly and metaphorical. I'm serious. There are a lot of little pieces, parts, nuts, bolts, screws, nails, syringe tips, hoses, pieces of plastic that go with one thing that could also go with another. So, I am to keep the coffee cans, wash them, and place them around my house to keep aforementioned do-dads.

Generally, the coffee can gets put to use immediately after leaving the dishwasher, and that is well with my organizational soul. However, sometimes, the bright red can (although red is an accent color in my house) sits on my counter for days...just waiting for its contents.

Just teasing me to try to throw it away.

Mocking me with its stupid black lid and happy white and yellow writing.

Making me crazy as I hold myself back from throwing it in the yard...where it would stay longer than on the counter, so what's the point?

Anyway, I love coffee, but I hate coffee cans. I have one in my dishwasher currently, taking up valuable space, as I try to cram sippy cups and bowls around it. I refuse to wash it by hand, but know that if Joe finds it in the garbage, I'm in for a discussion of the necessity of coffee cans in the machine shed's shop.

So, if you have a lovely pantry with fancy glass or clear plastic organizational containers, or a shop that houses nuts and bolts in Mason jars, like the ones I have seen in softly lit photographs on Pinterest, good for you.

I'll take an artsy picture of my coffee can and post it so you can "repin" if you wish!

Monday, February 20, 2012

I'm All For Milk, But Where's the Beef?

So today is President's Day, no school, and Joe's birthday, and how did we celebrate?

By meeting one of my dearest friends and her son at the Children's Discovery Museum, of course.

Now, I'm all for an outing. I love a good children's museum--I was a TEACHER, for heaven's sake, I know the benefits of "smart fun"--however, the children's museums that I have attended as of late are interesting to me now from neither a teacher's, nor a mother's perspective, but from a farmer's eye.

While the agricultural exhibit at this particular museum is outstanding, my girls were the ones who brought really great observations to the table.

"Why is the giant chess table next to the corn field, Mom? Don't you think that's strange?"

Well, yes..so that observation isn't the best one...probably just simply a 6 year old's observation.

Here's a better one:

"Why is there just corn, Mom? Where's the beans?" observed Josie, who is five.


"Why are dem cows black and white? Where's da red ones?" asked Amelia, who is two.

My girls know farming. They live it, go out to do chores with Dad, and hear about it all the time. Their observations are pure, untainted by television or a book or something in a magazine. My kids are the most pure agriculture advocates out there. However, they are also pretty biased, and although we live on a farm, we are a grain farm, growing corn, soybeans and hay, as well as a beef operation. We are, even more specifically, a cow/calf operation, which is a piece of the cattle puzzle, as there are many other ways to raise cattle. So while my kids understand farming at their level and see what's out their front door, we are still not experts on hogs or strawberries or sheep. My girls wanted to see a farm display today that looked like their farm, what they knew, but it's not the same as what other kids see, thanks to TV and books. While my girls are most familiar with green tractors and red cows, most depictions of cattle in the mainstream are always black and white cows, with big udders and a stupid bell around their necks. Why is that? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for milk, but where's the beef?

My beef with the lack of beef examples is not that I think that every aspect of farming should be represented, all the time. My girls need to know about dairy cattle just as much as the next kid. While this children's museum has one of the best agriculture displays around, my beef with it today was that is that all the moms (and a few dads) who brought their kids there were just getting a taste of agriculture, seeing the high points: combines, dairy cows and grain bins. Those are awesome, but we as farmers and advocates have to get out there and make agriculture kid friendly and fun and do it well, and while places like this are a good place to start, they are just a start. Until farmers like us open our doors and ask kids and parents to come and see calves and corn and beans and semis and dirt and manure and electric fences (and learn not to touch them!!) and gravel roads, these kiddos will only know about 15% of the story.

This museum depicts agriculture in an awesome, interactive, correct way, in a very small space  (located next to the large chess set, FYI), but it too is just a small window into the agricultural world. While I understand not all aspects of farming can be represented, it made me realize how hard this job of getting our story out correctly is and will always be. We have a lot of work to do, and even an excellent museum display such as the one we enjoyed today can only give city folks bits and pieces of the story. Kids will only continue to think that only dairy cows are the only cows out there if we beef people don't get our animals out there to be seen. We have to not just be telling our story, but opening our doors as well.

So...I guess besides being a mom, a wife, a writer, a teacher, a runner, an advocate...I need to be a tour guide, too.

I can hear Joe sighing now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Valid Excuse?

Let me set the scene.

It was 6:05 in the morning. I was headed home from my early morning Power Pump class at the Y, and I was hoping that no one would be awake at my house so I could start my coffee and laundry before the chaos of the morning ensues. I was also hoping that since it was indeed 6:05, that Joe wouldn't be irritated by having to be a few minutes late to make his early morning rounds at the calving barn.

So, as I tooled through town, I was focused on other things.

Not the speed limit.

As I turned onto our hard road, about three miles from home, the lights went on.

The red and blue lights.

Of. A. Cop.


Yup, I got pulled over this morning. What a glorious way to start the day.

However, when the cop, who evidently wanted to make small talk (or hear a good excuse) asked me if there was a particular reason why I was speeding, I didn't bust out tears, or a story of having to use the bathroom or whatever. I blurted out, without pause, "We're calving, and I need to get home for my husband to do his checks."


Realizing only after the words came out that it probably sounded ridiculous, the cop answered with a, "Well, that makes sense."


Then, realizing again where we were pulled over, nearly 100 yards from a sign reading, "Kieswetter Angus," did I realize this dude probably has pulled over his fair share of farmers, and subsequently, farm wives, so I'm sure his list of farm related excuses is long.

However, it didn't work, and I am blessed to still have my license, but a nice ticket to add salt to the wound that is is named budget issues.


Anyway, I am constantly reminded the affects of farming on my life, and am proud of my ability to use  it as an excuse with a law enforcement agent without skipping a beat. If only I could have whipped up some tears to go along with it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day on the farm, bullet point style:
  • Heart shaped faces requesting heart shaped pancakes cannot be denied.
  • Heifer calving during pancake production.
  • Phone call from Farmer Joe saying calf must be pulled, and thus, kids will need to be loaded up to take Anna to the bus.
  • Mom realizing pancake production must halt, and all children need to be dressed, as last night they wore summer pajamas to bed (don't ask).
  • Candy snuck by children from Valentine's bag during Mom's hysteria to get the baby fed and keep the morning rolling along.
  • Kids dressed...by the grace of God.
  • Phone call, all is well, calf is pulled and Farmer Joe is on his way. 


This was all before 7:00 this morning.

Anyway, happy Valentine's day, everyone. Enjoy your chocolates, flowers, and dinners out. I will enjoy my Shark Professional Steam Mop (I requested, and am loving), first grade party, and heart shaped pizza I will be concocting tonight. I wasn't able to have my date night at the sale barn last night, thanks to a babysitting snafu, but maybe next year.

Love to you all.

Monday, February 13, 2012

According to Calculations

There is a method to calving, I have learned. Our first group of bred heifers (for all of you who might have had to google this term, it means first time moms) are the ones who Joe is the most concerned about right now. Having never calved, they are the ones who might need the most help, and thus, are shut in at the calving barn, receiving night-time feedings.

According to Joe's dad (and other cattlemen), if you feed an expectant mama at night, then she should not necessarily calve until the morning, thus, making it easier to assist, thanks to daylight and warmer temperatures. Joe follows this to a T, even though generally when he needs to leave is after dinner when I'm starting to give the kids a bath and would appreciate an extra set of hands.

But I'm digressing.

This is for the first time mamas.

The rest of the "old cows" (which, having four kids, I am now considered one if ever I am compared to livestock, which happens more than you would like to think) are out in the various spots around our farm, on stalks, and also in places where they can get out of the wind and elements. According to Joe's calculations, these mamas should have been bred after the heifers and won't start calving until all the heifers are done.

However, sometimes the methods to the madness don't work out as expected, but since Joe is a dedicated, meticulous cattleman, he notices when his cows are not necessarily acting as they should. For example, a mama cow who is about to calve generally goes off by herself.

So, yesterday, when Joe was feeding, he noticed a particular older cow, off in the distance. After checking her number, he realized who she was. She was a mama who required extra care last spring, and thus was up in the barn lot with two yearling bulls, and thus was rebred before the rest of the other cows.

Anyway, back to yesterday, Joe noticed this lady by herself and decided to be safe than sorry. He hauled her from the field to the calving barn, and sure enough, his calculations were correct! She is the proud mama of a healthy calf this morning!

How exciting when things happen according to calculations, planning and, well, luck. I think I could be a half way decent cattlewoman, as I am a crazy person about scheduling, planning, and organizing.

If I could just get used to the poop...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Day Our Bull Went to Town

Yesterday started off as any other day would.

After dropping Anna off at the bus stop, Joe went on to do his normal morning chores, which consists of feeding, checking, and moving cattle and calves around. Jumping from the truck and chore tractor, Joe's morning is spent up and down our road, between our calving barn and down the road to the other pastures and fields where our cattle winter.

He does a lot of running around.

So, after preschool drop off, I was going to spend a glorious morning, alone working on my talk for Friday.

At about 11:00, Joe came in, and announced,

"You know you have calm cattle when you can walk them home from town."


Apparently, our red bull and two of his friends, who are across the road from the calving barn, decided to take a walk. Town is also a relative term. The farm where our landlord lives is a mile (ish) from the city limits of Yates City (never heard of it...that's okay...it's only about 500 people). Anyway, while Joe has good fences around this set of cattle, you never know when a bunch gets a hankering to get out. You can try and try, but every now and again, a cow or a bull or a rowdy set of calves has to bust out.

Fortunately, our landlord was headed home from town and noticed a red bull and two others,  evidently headed to the town's cemetary to pay their respects to someone.

Calling Joe, he reported their whereabouts, and Joe headed to the city limits.

Sure enough, they were ours. That's what's crazy about cattle. Even though as you're whizzing by a pasture of cattle that probably look really similar to each other, Joe and all other cattlemen know which ones are theirs. Breeds, color, and fortunately for me, tagging systems worn on their ears like earrings help identify whose cattle are enjoying a trip to town.

So, Joe and Lou (our cattle partner) located the escapees. Joe hopped out of the truck, and with Lou acting as a barrier, calmly guided them back to the road.

This is where cattle who are calm, well taken care of and trusting of their herdsman are helpful. Seeing Joe, their trusted caretaker, the bull and the two other cows calmly listened to the noises he makes when they need to move. He says something that sounds like, "Skell..." and they know it's him. Joe is also very calm in his movements and body language. No use getting a probably out of sorts animal even more riled up by yelling at it, so he just calmly moves and swiftly guides them to the right way.

He walked them back to the lot where they belonged. Thankfully, they weren't in someone's yard, and it wasn't spring, and they didn't have flowers planted that they were munching on, but it is a funny mental picture to imagine such event.

These are the things that happen to us. Not on a daily basis, but once in a while, we're allotted something that is worthy of a title such as this.

Thankfully, not every day does our bull need to take a trip.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Table Talk

My pain threshold, and stomach, for topics of discussion at the dinner table has really gotten a lot stronger. I can stomach discussions about labor, delivery, and all the goo in between as I dish out chili soup and crackers.

"So then the calf's feet were sticking out and..."
"Please pass the bread."

"And then I had to get the chains and pull like heck.."
"Please pass the salt."

"And when the afterbirth came..."
"What's for dessert?"

I have mellowed and don't turn green as much as I used to. Maybe that's from being a farm wife, or maybe it's just from having four kids...maybe it's from the five years I have had to learn to tune out the gory details.

I'm not sure.

When this information comes from Joe's mouth, it's not a big deal. However, when Anna, our six-almost-seven (as she says) year old, starts to spout off details, that is another story.

There's just something about my sweet little girl talking about water bags and feet and afterbirth that seems wrong to me. The town kid who wrinkled her nose at Grandma's dusty road kicks in. I can just imagine my little darling daughter sitting down at the school lunch table and spouting off about the calves she helped nurse or the one that needed Dad's help with chains.

I think I need to write a note to all the kids in her class, directing them to this blog, and offering my apologies.

While I do think Anna should keep her gory table talk limited to other farm kids and maybe just at home, isn't she just spouting off what is natural and interesting in her world? Isn't she doing basically what I'm doing, just in her first grade manner? I should be celebrating the fact that she jumps off the bus, grabs a snack and hops in the truck to do chores with her dad, not returning to the house until dinner time, right? She's learning how to appreciate and understand the neat life that we're creating here, right?

I know I have written about this before, but it never ceases to amaze me how my daughter is advocating at her own level. Her table talk isn't loaded with pretense and preconceived notions. She's just spouting off information in its purest sense.

As long as I can stomach this discussion, I will continue to praise her efforts. That is, until breeding comes along...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Bleary Eyes

While most of the fashion magazines are saying that the smokey eye is the way to look, we here on the farm are sporting the bleary-eyed trend.

That's right, folks.

Red rimmed eyes, generally associated with lack of sleep are the new thing for February. Maybe because of Valentine's Day? Red hearts, red eyes?

Anyway, we are clearly exhausted around here, and it's not because of a fun night on the town. Rather, instead of togetherness making us tired, it's our parallel lives that are exhausting us. I came to this conclusion today. Joe and I get irritated with each other at times, and it's generally over putting socks away or another charge on the card from gap.com, but mainly it's because he and I are dealing with the same frustrations as of late:


However, his are of the bovine species and mine is of the I'm-eight-months-and-have-an-ear-infection breed.

Thus, the bleary eyes.

Late nights with Jack fighting his ear infection are truly testing my patience. Couple that with three other kids, early morning runs (thanks to another stupid goal of mine to complete another half marathon...what was I thinking?) and you have a crabby mama. If you look into the universe that is parallel to mine, i.e., Joe's Farm World, you would see a similar scene. While I was up bouncing Jack, Joe was on his way down the road for the third time since 11:00PM, checking the heifers who are ready, making sure that no disasters are ensuing. While our calving barn is just a quick two miles away, put anything two miles away at 2:00 AM, and it seems like a haul.

While the love and the frustration and the duties and the exhaustion are the same, in our parallel worlds, the care and time and great understanding with which we accomplish our tasks are the same. I get really frustrated when folks out there who are not in the thick of livestock farming comment on how "most" farmers out there are cruel to their animals, raising them only for money and not allowing them to live a life that is carefree.

I think the person who is not allowed a carefree life at this moment is Farmer Joe, as it is three o'clock in the afternoon, and he's out for the fourth time, checking and choring again. Like a new mom, we aren't allowed out and about for more than three hours at a time without a check, as something might happen/go wrong/or birth in that short amount of time.

So pardon our bleary eyes. We are tired, but it is the outcome that we're remembering as we go on in our duties. I am remembering that my son needs love when he doesn't feel good...that, and I need thigh toning, so I'll stand and bounce him all night!! Joe is remembering, in his fog of exhaustion, that the calves born and nursed today with assistance will be the mamas birthing the next year, so we need to protect our precious commodities.

That, and they might just pay for a calving barn surveillance camera system that I'm going to start saving for!!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is Print Media Dead?

On my third trip to the washing machine today, I knocked over Joe's stack of agriculture publications. The glossy magazines featuring bull sales, the latest equipment, and seed advertisements as well as the newsprint ones that offer more of a newspaper style periodical went tumbling to the floor. Nearly a quarter of my kitchen floor was riddled with pictures of cattle, folks in seed corn caps, and the Stockman's Supply.

Here are a few titles I picked up, just for fun:
Agri News
Iowa Farmer Weekly 
Silver Towne Farms
Prairie Farmer
Beyond the Bean
The Furrow
Illinois  Beef
The Register
National Cattleman
Farm Journal
and some random animal supply catalogues, such as Stockman's Supply, Rancher's Supply and something about gates.

The sad thing is, there were multiple copies of each, and the counter on which I ran into is only about two feet long by six inches wide.

So, not only did it cause the crazy anal-retentive person in me to pile all the periodicals into dated, post-it noted, can-we-please-throw-these-away-so-I-can-get-to-the-laundry-room-unscathed piles, it caused me, the blogger, the cyber-writer, the UNPAID, to beg the question of the minute:

"Isn't print media supposed to be dead?"

My sweet friend Holly is screaming, "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!" as are all the other paid, printed and proper ag-journalists, and while I sit here, lowly and just a mere blogger, I have the power of the pen, just hypothetically. While I have nothing but self-imposed deadlines and personal expectations to work off of, I get excited when I am actually in print...even if it's just a hometown newspaper or one of the above mentioned publications, written by someone about me writing (seems redundant, don't you think?). Print media in agriculture is alive, and evidently thriving, based on not only the pile in my kitchen, but the daily arrivals in my mailbox.

The irony is, however, how often does my lovely, well-spoken, well-read husband get a minute to sit down and read aforementioned periodicals.

Answer: not since July of 2011, as evidenced today in the carnage in my kitchen.

However, in the age of blogs and cyber-digests, iPad apps and Facebook, why are there so many different ag publications?

My short answer is that many farmers need something to read in line at the grain elevator during the hauling months of the winter.

My long answer is that agriculture, although seemingly similar in its outcome, is like anything: it's multifaceted. Joe's periodicals seem to center around cattle, corn, and equipment. However, my dad's are a little different, and some times a swap will occur, a magazine marketplace, if you will. And, I know it's a shock, but while I get smarty about all the crazy titles of magazines my husband gets, I too can pore over magazines when give the opportunity, reading such favorites as Runner's World, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens from cover to cover and back again.

The difference is, I throw them away when I'm finished.

Hint, hint.

Anyway, newspapers may be going broke and simultaneously going digital, but I will tell you, the agriculture print business is alive and kicking.

Now, if only some one would give me a job...