Wednesday, January 29, 2014

So, It's Been Cold, What Else Is New?


It's ridiculous. It's so ridiculous, that today, when it was 31 degrees, I rushed through the car wash and then even considered wearing just a vest, no coat, because it felt so warm.


However, not just cold has been going on. While school was cancelled for two more days, we weren't Alabama or anything. Have you read about this? Kids stuck at school? Parents unable to drive because of ice? Is this for real, or is this because they're in the South? I'm not being smarty, I'm just wondering.

Anyway, while my children have enjoyed their two extra days off with activities such as cleaning out closets, practicing the piano and going to Grandma's (which cancels out all productive activity! We love Grandma!), the world of agriculture has had to endure some more bad press/equally ridiculous marketing from our lovely friends at Chipotle, got a farm bill, kind of, and have been completely freaked out by various projections for the next year's prices to be down…down…down…way down.

Oh good times.

All the while, I just blissfully sorted clothes and went to the gym, so I give you more information, friends. I am doing the lazy woman's post, but reposting better information…maybe it's the smart woman's post. I am no expert, but here's some information that you will hear about in regards to the aforementioned three topics:
1) Chipotle-- Max Armstrong, Holly Spangler, and Farmer Joe all weighed in on this issue. To quote the great farm broadcaster, Mr. Armstrong, "Chipotle's healthier than thou marketing needs to be questioned." Uhhhh…yeah. Basically, they're knocking hogs raised in confinements. With our temperatures the way they were the past few days, their reaction to this (according to my sweet friend Holly) was that they'd "raise pork outside, but only when it's economically feasible." Really? So, where do the little piggies go when it's -50 wind chill and snowy? INSIDE. Like the other piggies down the road. Gah.

2) The Farm Bill: So this is a part of agriculture that baffles me. They call it the Farm Bill, and while the numbers agricultural aspects such as conservation, commodities and crop insurance are getting seem large, look at the Food Stamps and Nutrition aspect.
Thank you for this chart.

And, yet, and YET, people are still walking around griping about those "rich" farmers who get soooooo much help from governmental programs. Again, I'm no expert, but this doesn't look too "farmy" of a Farm Bill to me. Feel free to weigh in. Again, I'M NO EXPERT.

3) Market Projections. Oh Lord help us. The words "4 dollar corn" have been uttered. Furrowed brows and bankers and analysts and marketing gurus are hoping they're wrong, but times, they are a changing. I'm hopeful that this means they'll be an awesome, bumper crop and maybe we won't notice the difference in price, ha, ha. But, I'm not so sure. Joe attended an ag marketing breakfast in town, and while the biscuits and gravy were delicious, the projections weren't as palatable. Anyway, look for more exciting information on this as it transpires.

Sorry for the downer today, but it just goes with this lovely January territory I guess. I'm hopeful that February brings new hope of less snow, warmer temperatures, and happy cute farm kid stories to share.

Until then…enjoy!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Comfortable and Confident

Isn't this what a lot of us are aspiring to become?
Comfortable and confident in ____________.
Our finances.
Our marriages.
Our parenting skills.
Our physical health.
Our mental state.
Our homes.
Our career choices.
And, more specifically in regards to agriculture advocacy, our practices and lifestyle as farmers.

I have tried to be an advocate for farmers and those involved in the agricultural process, challenging us to be comfortable and confident in telling our story, in getting our faces out there, our livelihood, making ourselves real and accessible for consumers.

But to be "comfortable and confident in our place in the food chain?"


That's a concept that I never really had a grasp on, but on Saturday, I heard it, loud and clear, and it really hit home.

On Saturday, our county Farm Bureau was charged to take this up a notch.  Katie Pratt, a farm kid, farm wife, Ag Literacy Coordinator, and now one of the Faces of Farming and Ranching for USFRA, came to speak at our county's annual meeting. Katie is an Illinois girl, was a state officer for FFA, and Joe knew her "back in the day." We were excited to hear her speak, and knew she wouldn't disappoint.

And, as you can see, she didn't…as it's Monday morning, and I'm still thinking about the words she spoke.

Her charge to get comfy in my role as a "food chain" member really struck me. Food chain? Us?

Oh yeah…

I think what hit this point home so hard was that this is basic, people. This is not a fluffy sweet picture of kids in agricultural hats. This is not a sweet story about how our grain helped pay our grocery bill and for preschool and shoes for those sweet kids.

To have something as concrete as where we are in regards to the global food chain is perfect. It's simple. It's hard to argue against, but you have to be comfortable and confident in that place to keep from being defensive.

For urban consumers, this is a pretty interesting concept. The best way to relate to your farmer is to personally know them, maybe buy a quarter of a beef from them, visit their farm during harvest, etc., but that's not reality for a lot of these folks. I even consider my brother and sister-in-law in this scenario. We always feed them our beef whenever they come back to Illinois from their home in sunny southern California. However, I can't get beef to them, or vegetables from my friend Karla's garden, or sweet corn from my uncle's patch, as easily as I would wish. So, I need to figure out where we are when they head to the grocery store, and start talking about that, rather than wishing they could have some delicious rib eye steaks on an everyday basis like me. Their life isn't like mine, so why should I try to push it?

Instead, I'm going to push information. Nail down our place in the food chain and shout that, confidently, from the mountain tops. I'm going to need to do some digging on this, however. While we do not directly supply beef to a grocery store that I can stand in front of the meat case, we're there. While I don't have a grasp on all the places our corn and bean crops go to, I have some idea. I need to get basic, get simple, and make a diagram like I did in seventh grade science class, only instead of a picture of a cow or a corn plant, my family's picture needs a place in that flow chart.

This basic knowledge is an untapped, but easy concept area we as agriculturalists are missing in our plight for advocacy. Sometimes the simple things are the hardest points to get across, but I'm thankful for Katie's charge to us to keep telling our story, but once in a while, revisit our place in this world.

And maybe draw a flow chart while we're at it.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Diary of a First Day

Tonight's blog is brought to you by the resident expert, Farmer Joe! In between church, 4-H, football, and now yelling at the Illini (why are they losing?), he's chronicled the first important moments in "processing" a new calf. The kids and I were excited to join him in this adventure, and I hope you enjoy his explanation. Happy Sunday!

Calving Season on the Webel farm kicked off today, or more accurately, last night between 9 pm and midnight!  The new mother is a purebred Simmental heifer that we bought at the Silvertowne Farms sale last September.  My commercial heifers are due to calve starting on February 5th, so we've got a little break in the schedule!  The kids were excited to go see the new baby, so we thought we'd document the process of what we do with a new baby calf for our readers.

The kids were excited to go see the new baby.

Momma is a very calm heifer.  She didn't make any fuss at all of the extra attention.  That's the kind we like to see!

 After a calf has nursed its mother the first time, it's ready to be processed.  After bringing the calf over the the processing area, we start off by dipping the calf's navel in a solution of antiseptic solution and water.  This kills any bacteria around the navel, which is a common entry point for infections.  We also give a shot of vitamins B and Selenium.  This gives the calf extra "pep" that gets them active during their first few hours of life.

 Next, we weigh the calf.  Birth weight is an important piece of information, as it is a very hereditary trait. Statistics are generated on all registered animals based on production information such as birth weight, ease of delivery, and weaning and yearling weights that help to compare an animal's value.  If you have a bunch of calves coming from a particular bull, tracking birth weight can help you know what to expect from the cows that have yet to calve.

72 pounds.  An ideal weight for a first-time calver.  Cows can have calves that weigh between 60 and 110 lbs.
 Next we give the calves their own ear tag.  The purebred cattle will get a tattoo that matches the number on their tag.  The tag has their ID number- this one is W1B.  The W is for Webel, 1 is the first calf of the year, though you don't need to use sequential numbers, just something that differentiates the animal from the others in your herd.  Finally, the B is used in all cattle across all breeds that are born in 2014.  Last year used "A", this year uses "B", etc.  The ear tag also has the mother's tattoo number, 28LZ, so I can pair up the right calf with the right cow if needed, and finally, the father, or sire's, name is written on the tag as well.  STF Quigley is the sire of this calf.
Applying the tag.
 The most important part of collecting the information is recording it.  Here, Anna is writing all of the information about the calf in her herd book.  This information will then get registered with the American Simmental Association, via their online herdbook.

Showing the girls how to fill out the calving recordbook.

 We'll do this process about 130 more times this year, hopefully.  27 heifers are due to start calving the first week of February, then 105 cows start calving the first of March.  During the first two to three weeks of March, we'll likely have 3 to 7 calves per day.  If the weather is nice, this will take place out in the pastures, otherwise the calving barn will be a busy place.

Anna shows Josie the heifers that she'll show this summer.
The kiddos, in their appropriate ag-related hats!

Have any questions about this? Joe is happy to answer. I was just standing there, snapping pictures, so if your question involves things like, "what type of boots were you wearing, Emily?" or "was it cold?" I can handle those...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

When Is It Cold Enough to Shut the Farm Down?

Our church was cancelled today.

Countless school districts in Central Illinois have cancelled their first day back after a long Christmas break tomorrow due to crazy, blustery snow and absolutely bitter cold temperatures. The high tomorrow in our area is -9.

It's miserable.

As a teacher, I adored the weather cancellation day. Snow days as a kid were a dream. Waking early enough to hear the sweet voice of the teacher up higher on the phone tree, and then to see the name of our school scroll across the morning news made us all yelp with joy. The best snow days were those that were bad in the morning, but, good enough in the afternoon to go somewhere. Shopping as a kid…the gym as an adult.

Now, however, when Old Man Winter comes to call, it's not as fun. There's no fuzzy pajama day for Joe with sweet memories made frolicking in the snow, baking cookies or playing board games. Unlike when I was a teacher, when Joe gets a snow day, cold day or ice, there's no happy dance. Just more  work. Longer days. Harder days. Trickier situations. Frustrating and frigid conditions.

So, when is it cold enough to shut the farm down?

Answer: NEVER.

We never shut down. We're like Steak-n-Shake. Open 24 hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a freaking year.

Oh the joys.

This morning, Joe left at seven, just as we received the call from church that it was cancelled, and right after the road commissioner (God bless him) had come plowing down our road. He worked until lunch time, came in to thaw out, and will go back out again in a few moments to do more checks.

Not only is he feeding extra, bedding down areas, plowing out pasture entrances, but water is also the crucial issue. With the cold, cold temperatures, our water and its manner of coming out is always a concern. Lakes are frozen, obviously, so Joe has to cut ice. His favorite place to winter cows has a nice ever flowing stream, but thanks to the dry end of the summer, it's so low that it's not reliable. Automatic waterers are an obvious solution, however, with frigid temperatures, the plumbing at the pump houses has to be warm enough to not freeze, and the waterers themselves have to keep warm and not freeze up.

Sounds like fun, huh?

It's a party, believe me.

So, in temperatures and conditions such as these, the farm CANNOT shut down. Absolutely not.

What's a farmer to do, then?

Suck it up.

Get out there.

Enjoy nature's splendor through goggles and a ski mask. Clear out his wife's stash of light bulbs to warm up water lines. Check on each other and lament. Come in and have a nice cup of cocoa from a semi-sympathetic wife who has been cooped up with four kids all day…

Sorry, in the midst of feeling sorry for Joe, I started to feel sorry for myself.

I'm digressing.

Anyway, it's never too cold to farm, so we better just get used to it and get on with it, right?

We'd covet your prayers for the animals, Joe, water, winter to be over, patience, happiness, and spring.

And, if you have a time share you'd like to offer up, we'd gladly take it…

for the 2 weeks we're free in the summer.

Happy snow day.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Don't Get Me Wrong, I'm All For Trends

As I was poring through, considering making an Ugg boot purchase, I realized that maybe this consideration of purchasing a rather bulky, however, utterly warm and truly trendy footwear  piece may be a poor judgement call. Maybe I want these boots because they're still the "it" footwear item, and I have yet to pull the trigger, and figure it's now or never, considering they may be "out" next year. Maybe I'm just trying to look younger, since, on my next birthday, I'll be closer to 40 than 30. Or maybe it's the fact that it's darned cold, and my TOES ARE FREEZING.

However, trends are trends. Whether it's Uggs or, I don't know…non-GMOs foods…trends are trends.

Remember a few years back? When everything that had High Fructose Corn Syrup was definitely toxic to your entire being? Well, Cheerios…I know, blessed Cheerios, has jumped the labeling bandwagon. The irony of this is, as my sweet, smart cousin Sarah, referred to in a Facebook conversation, Cheerios has now replaced their GMO crop beet sugar with…cane sugar, which, like high fructose corn sugar/syrup, is STILL SUGAR, people.


But they didn't stop there.

Non-GMO foods are the trend right now. We try to eat more "real" food, as who wants to pump chemicals and junk in your body, I realize this. Thus, we raise our own beef; we pick apples from the nearby orchard in the fall. Who doesn't love a fresh strawberry? How about summer vegetables? We received some salsa from a dear friend, all from her garden, and it was divine.

However…this overracting on labeling is overriding the obvious. In this article from (thank you Holly and Katie) the first line states that that General Mills will not be altering the "formula, and has never used genetically modified oats."

You know WHY???

 A quick google search will have you find that oats are NOT A GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROP.

Never were.

And probably, with all of this craziness, NEVER will be.

However, don't google that, because there's also a lot of crazy sites that will lead you to believe that you should go ahead and buy your Uggs because we're all going to die from some sort of food produced by some evil plant, so live it up…and eat twigs and berries.

My point is, friends, honestly, let's be real here. The Cheerios labeling is just another marketing ploy. All of you moms who fed your sweet babies these precious o's will not have a sweet school aged child with learning disabilities because they ate the cereal that included beet sugar instead of natural cane sugar. Simiarly, our crops that are fueling vehicles on the road and are fed to our animals are not going to cause you to lead anything but a pretty cushy first world life with problems such as what color of Uggs should you buy.

Which leads me back to my original question…back to!

Blogger's note: If you want to read more information about this, go to Katie's blog. She wrote a good one today.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Batten Down the Hatches, It's 2014!

Highs of -8.

Sub zero windchill.




To my friends, Emily in Minnesota and Katie in North Dakota, this weather is white noise. No biggie. January typical.

To an Illinoisan like me, who is used to the schizophrenic weather we experience, this is darned cold.

What a way to start 2014, eh?

However, this is the beginning of a new year, and with that comes the resolution that I will be more patient, accepting, happy, satisfied, etc., etc. about where I live, what we do, the weather, everything in general.

But, really Mother Nature? Really? -8 for a high within the first week of my resolution to be more zen?


Joe detests this weather. It's hard on everything. Water is a factor. It's not water any more…it's ice. There's your science lesson for today.

You're welcome.

While our calves are slated to be mostly born in the early spring, we bought one in the fall, and she's due soon. A birthday during the January cold could be detrimental to a new calf's first days unless careful watch is taken (i.e., constant checks in the middle of the night and throughout the day).

Tractors hate to rev up in sub zero temperatures.

Farmers don't like to get out of warm beds to feed and water animals.

Welcome to 2014!

However, I'm serious. I'm taking this all in stride.

There's nothing to do about it. I can't demand the sun to shine and warm us up, melting the ice for easier watering chores for Joe. I can watch the weather like a hawk, and pounce on the first morning that is above 15 degrees and head out for my run with my friend. I should be grateful for this weather, as my hair is a good smooth blow out, thanks to little humidity.

It's the little things, people.

I promise, I'll whine again about the weather, don't you worry, but for now, I'll jump on the resolution bandwagon, and try to enjoy Joyful January.

Until Freakin' February rolls around...