Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Recognizing a Good Thing

Please excuse my lack of postings. It's not that nothing has been going on, in fact, Phase One of planting (aka, corn) is nearly complete. Calves are nearly all birthed. A half marathon has been trained for and is getting ready to run. Kids are literally crawling all over the house, and the weather has been great to allow them to take it all outside.

So, it's not just my "busy-ness" that has caused a lack of posting. I feel as if I have turned a corner. I feel as if I am starting to understand. I even have had more "Mmm-hmm" moments than "Aha!" moments lately.

I am not an agriculture expert, by any means, but the day to day that has been going on has become less of a source of strife in our marriage, less of a "what the heck?" minute for me, and more of a "oh yeah...I remember, but might have blocked it out" moment.
Just the other day, Joe needed me to do a chore, like an actual cattle chore. He prefaced this chore with the remark, "Now, you need to do something for me, but you don't even have to change your shoes."

Now that's a chore that screams my name!

We had just made it home from church, the kids and I, and were getting ready to head back to town to my mom's so I could go to the other, bigger town for a get-together, sans kids. Joe's purebred cattle, however, hadn't been watered that day, and although there is a good spring running through their pasture, he likes to have a big tub of water for them just in case they don't meander their way down to the spring. He and Anna generally take care of this duty on the weekends, and I knew where the cattle were, but that was pretty much it. So, when Joe was explaining what I needed to do, he added, "And Anna will know what to do, too."

Yes, even though I have my moments of "oh yeah, I know that!," my seven year old is still way more wise in the ways of cattle than me.


Anyway, we packed into the car, after rearranging a few plans (as the pasture where these cows are is the opposite direction we were intended), we piled in the car and headed east.

We were indeed able to do the chore sans a shoe change, and as Anna stood back from the fence, counting eight babies and eight mama cows and one bull, which, thankfully was the correct total, I took a good look at the cattle.

The scene was picturesque: Deep red Simmental purebreds set against a foreground of lush pasture. The white barns seemed stark and crisp against the deep blue of the sky that day. The cattle were unfamiliar with me, so were up at the fence line, curiously looking at me, as I teetered around in wedge heels and skinny jeans (did I mention I had another thing to do, and I don't just traipse around in wedges...that much.). I don't know much about cattle, but I do know that Joe cares deeply for his herd, and it shows. They were all so tame, so clean, so healthy looking. I almost wanted to pet one! And don't get me started on the calves! Holy smokes are they cute!

I guess I haven't really had any time to step back and enjoy our herd. This particular group of cattle is not en route to anywhere for me, and the cows and calves across the road from our house are, frankly, white noise. I am too interested in keeping the kids in line or remembering what I need at the store to have really noticed what a great group of animals we have. I found myself last Sunday enjoying the colors, the inquisitive eyes and the serenity of the pasture. It was so relaxing. While I have generally stayed away because I know I would probably make the cattle nervous, they're so tame and calm and just curious, I think I might need to get to know them better.

So I guess I need to do chores more, huh?

Well, maybe not chore chores, but more that don't require a shoe change!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Parking Wars

Well, it's time. It's not technically the 20th of April, but the guys are ready. The planter is hooked up, filled up, fertilizer tank is ready, and they're all buzzing around the driveway like a bunch of bees.

It's exciting.

However, as I backed out of the drive to meet a friend for a run this morning, I found myself wondering what it would be like if I could just back out and pull out of the drive without having to navigate around a 24 row planter that was unfurled and ready to roll in the middle of the driveway.

Literally, the middle.

Now, I am terrible at backing out, which, as a farmer's wife especially, is not a good thing. I have to back out of all sorts of weird spots, but in the early morning light, a planter, the one that "needs to get going" (according to my grandpa yesterday in the same driveway...thus the earlier start time, perhaps?) shouldn't be run over by a mom, still bleary eyed and her SUV.

There's always something in my driveway: a semi, a chore truck, the chore tractor, a mower, a sprayer, the gas man, the pest guy, the sprayer...something. But, there are usually always little people in my driveway too, on scooters, bikes with and without training wheels, pushing dolly strollers, or pushing Jack in a stroller. While I have a hard and fast rule that my kids are to NOT be anywhere but our concrete pad when something is running in the driveway, it only takes a second for something to go awry.

However, one has to be able to retrieve the bouncy ball that rolled under the tire of the tractor, right? Kids have to be able to ride and run and play and chuck balls here and there, right? But, this is the home base for the farm. This is the place where all service calls are made by more trucks, where the guys come in to refuel, where the semis are parked.

So, what's a mother of toddlers and kids to do?

There's a lovely homestead we oooh and ahhh over as we drive to my in-laws. It is the same type of set up....gravel drive to the lovely landscaped machine shed, and the house directly in front of it. However, we noticed that there is now not only a lovely white rock driveway for the big equipment, but not also an even lovelier blacktop drive leading to the even lovelier landscaped and cute as a button house.

That lady, I assume, had had enough of fighting with the farmers in her driveway and stomped her foot and poured some asphalt.

Atta, girl!

Maybe I need to stomp my foot a little louder...

Nah, I'll continue to wage the parking war, and be the envy of all little boys of our friends as I get to look at the big tractors all day, every day.

Lucky me.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We're Waiting

That's the answer to the question that everyone has been asking me in regards to our planting schedule.

So, have you started yet? (guy at the gas station who evidently knows who I am despite my lovely post-run attire)
(me) We're waiting.

Hey! It's hot...isn't it time to get out there and get started? (lady at the gym upon finding out I am a farmer's wife)
(me) Yes, I know, it's 85 degrees. We're waiting.

Well, you never know what will happen in May...might just want to get some crop in the ground (guy at the gas station again, another post-run donut purchase)
(me)Thanks for the advice, I'll pass it along...(to myself, I'm certain they won't listen to me!!), but we're waiting.

Upon finally asking Joe what the heck the deal is with us not starting:
(Joe) We go by the date on the calendar, not the degrees on the thermometer.

We're all tired of answering these similar questions, because to the guys and now to me, it seems kind of obvious to me that we wouldn't plant until after the 20th of April.
The reasons being, but not limited to:

1)It's Illinois. The weather is fickle.
2) We're superstitious (read about it here).
3) We're not in a hurry.
4) Need I mention again that we live in Illinois...where some times there's snow in April??

Anyway, as much as the past few weeks of warmer weather has made me start to think about flowers and window washing, and all the joys that come with spring home ownership, I am not jumping the gun, either. I'm hopeful that the decision the guys have made around here to not start just yet won't come back to bite us in the end.

But, that's just another one of the joys of this beloved occupation.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Day a Grain Farmer Helped a Livestock Farmer

Today we had a "round up." Calves were vaccinated and little boy calves were castrated (you can uncross your legs now, guys). Each calf had to be rounded up, processed, retagged with a "fly tag" (they have a red identification tag, and now an orange tag that will help keep flies at bay...I was excited because red and orange, among other saturated colors are so "in" this spring.).

This is not an easy job. This is definitely not a one-man job. This is a hard day of physically and mentally taxing work.

So, along with the vet and the vet tech, Joe enlisted the help of our landlord (a lifelong cattle man), my cousin, Anna, and my dad.

Yes, my dad.

The dad who didn't let us keep our kittens because they walked on the cars and made footprints.

Yes, the dad who tries really hard to like our dog.

Yes, the dad whose gene pool I share, as we are organized, meticulous, neat, and find animals to be difficult to enjoy, as they work against all of the aforementioned qualities (sorry animal lovers).

Anyway, I was down to just one kid, with the other two at Grandma's and Anna helping, so I spent my morning running up and down the stairs desperate to get the house in order before the girls came home. In my third trip up the stairs to put away the last few loads of laundry, I noticed the calves and their mamas headed down the pasture hill, in a neat order at a pretty quick pace. Not a stampede by any stretch of the imagination, but a good clip...in running terms, they were doing a tempo run.

Anyway, guiding the calves and mamas was Joe, waving his arms in a calm but forceful way, making the cattle call sounds that the animals know so well. They were calm. They knew where to go. They trusted Joe.

Bringing up the rear was my dad! I was so proud of him! He was waving his arms a bit, but mostly he was just walking alongside them. Now, Dad is not unfamiliar with animals. He grew up with a few "fat calves," as he calls them, and some pigs. The guy was an agriculture teacher for over 30 years, so he has some know-how on the animal science end of it all, but livestock farmers are not successful because they were necessarily A students in Animal Science 101. Rather, livestock farming and the mannerisms associated with it are innate.

The cattle trust Joe.

They recognize his voice, turning their heads even when his truck goes by.

My dad is a grain farmer. He is more comfortable walking fields, testing soils, watching the radar and utilizing GPS monitors for maximum crop production. This livestock business is a whole different breed (pardon the pun). The crossover of grain farmers helping livestock farmers is not something super common around us. Generally when Joe needs help, he enlists other cattle men and women around here, but today was different.

Today was fun to watch from my warm view at the top of my stairs.

Today was not only an inter-generational experience, but an experience where livestock and grain farmers crossed the great divide that separates them and worked together.