Dust In My Coffee

Dust In My Coffee

Monday, October 13, 2014

Walking Beans

Have you ever walked beans?  Have you ever heard of walking beans?  I smile as I ask this because before I became a farmer I had no idea what walking beans meant.   Before I was married I had a co-worker at a vet clinic I worked at that farmed with her husband.  One day she mentioned that she was going to be walking beans on her weekend off.  At that time I knew very little about farming and farming terminology.  The little bubble above my head was of her and a leash and somehow getting green beans to move along.  I didn’t even know that she was referring to soybeans as the only fields I saw growing up were cornfields.

I am walking through a soybean field just as the leaves
are beginning to turn.  The plants are knee high.

My flashback to that moment came the other night as I was watching TV and one of the political candidates from Iowa mentioned that she had grown up walking beans.  I was wondering how many people knew what she was talking about.  I also realized I’ve done this when talking to people about what we do on our farm.  I assume someone understands my terminology until I see a confused look on their face or worse yet, they turn and walk away shaking their head!

Steve's not confused as he walks through this soybean
field that was partially harvested the week before.  Rains
kept us out of the field for a week.  Steve is chewing on
a soybean to check for moisture, a skill I have yet to learn.
One of those expressions came to me when I was talking about how we treat cattle.  When we find a sick animal we remove him from his pen and take him up to the barn where we can give him medicine.  This is how I said it “we pull the steer and then take him to the barn to get treated”.  I didn’t realize that the bubble image the person was having was of us roping the animal and dragging him from the pen to the barn.  Fortunately this person asked more questions so I was able to explain what “pulling” meant.

We use ATV's instead of horses to remove cattle from
their pen.  We try to walk them out slowly as this steer
is doing.  He is looking at the gate and moving towards it.

 I wasn’t brave enough to ask my friend what it meant to walk beans.  My opportunity to learn came when I became a farmer.   When Steve and I were in our early years of marriage I became quite skilled at walking beans.  Walking beans was a form of weed control in soybean fields.  We would walk through the rows with a hoe to cut out the weeds.  My sisters also became skilled at walking beans when they came to visit.  We all agreed that walking beans was not that fun but easier than detasseling corn.

The soybean plant with numerous little
pods growing along the stem.
Here is a part of a soybean plant with a
few pods.  The quarter gives you an idea
of the size of the pod and beans inside.

My days of walking beans are long over thanks to the development of roundup ready soybeans.  Using a chemical to control weeds isn’t the only tool we use but this was a big help.  Tillage methods and crop rotation are also important as we try to raise the best crop we can each year.  

I would encourage anyone not familiar with farming terminology to ask the questions that help in understanding what we are doing and why.  My own fear of looking stupid really makes me look stupid for not asking and making an inaccurate assumption.  I have learned to prefer wisdom over ignorance, facts over fear and truth over lies. 

Happy Fall from our house to yours!
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you!  For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Size Fits All

     Have you ever purchased an item that was sold as “one size fits all”?  There are some items, like a rain poncho, that worked for me to buy that way.  That wasn’t the case when I went to buy a pair of rubber gloves.   I found it very difficult to stuff my hands into a glove that was made for much smaller hands than mine.  Has this ever happened to you?    

     Imagine shopping for clothes if your choices were limited to the one size fits all label.  Would we be limited to buying stretch pants and pull-over tops?  The one time in my life that I actually liked elastic pants was when I was pregnant.   Even the labels small, medium and large can be frustrating if you don’t know how much they will shrink.  Fortunately, we have clothing made for all shapes and sizes including specialty stores for those needing even more choices. 

     What about food choices?  Besides a plethora of diets to choose from we also have plenty of choices when it comes to how the food was raised.   When I was a child, my mom didn’t have the labels of organic, grass-fed, hormone free, etc. to look at.   Mom often bought the items that were on sale that week to feed our family of eight.  Now when a mom goes to the store, there are labels and whole grocery aisles of specialty foods that can be quite confusing.  Learning what labels mean and understanding more about production practices can help.  You can learn more about labels here.

Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals
on our deck-steak with veggies and hash browns.
     When Steve and I were raising our children we could choose to eat food from our farm and from the grocery store.  I took pride in having a big garden with items to freeze or can for winter meals. Perhaps many of you also enjoy gardening and eating the fruits, or veggies in my case, of your labor. We sometimes butcher a steer from our farm but also buy meat at the grocery store.  I never doubted the safety or quality of the food from the grocery store or from our farm.   How the food was raised was not a concern of mine and our children were healthy and active with doctor visits due mostly from sports injuries.   

My garden June 2014.   Some of the sweet corn is
starting to tassle.  We enjoyed radishes and broccoli
with snap peas nearly ready.  Plenty of weeds to pull!
     In our culture today we have many people concerned about how food is raised.   Part of that is due to the change in the size of farms as well as fewer people doing the farming.  Farms have changed over the centuries to meet the needs of the people needing to be fed.  The food choices we have today are very important so that those with food sensitivities can find what they need as well as the family on a tight budget.
This is a picture from the 1950's.  Four farmers are combining oats.   From
left to right you can see Farmall, Oliver, John Deere and Ford tractors. 

                Our farm practices are designed to feed more people using less resources.  We utilize the science and research done by our universities and yes, companies that sell us seed, weed control and veterinary medicine.  We utilize a hormone implant in cattle, antibiotics for disease and seed corn that can defend itself against a pest through DNA procedures.  It is very important to us to use methods that will leave us a better farm tomorrow.  Putting research into practice is akin to saying the proof is in the pudding.   Continually finding better ways to improve our soil, provide better care for the cattle and produce a healthy food choice is what we work for.   

Getting there from 3500 B.C. to 2010
     I encourage people on all sides of the debate about food production to first accept the need for a variety of farming methods and second to spend time getting to know farmers by asking us how we do what we do.  It is through shared friendly discussions that we all benefit from a continued food supply to meet the needs of a many sizes needed to fit all society.

This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond
near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation
we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ag 101

     Steve and I are pen pals with two different schools through the Nebraska Farm Bureau Pen Pal Program.  We have a class of kindergarteners in Omaha and a class of fourth graders from Columbus.  The purpose of the program is to help kids understand more about where their food comes from and to build relationships with farmers and ranchers.  You can learn more about getting involved in the program here.  

I am with a kindergarten class in a north Omaha school.
After showing pictures and passing around containers of 
feed ingredients the kids received many items including
new crayons and booklets about beef.

     During the school year we correspond through letters with each class.  We tell them about our farm and family. They tell us about themselves and ask us questions.  When we first became part of the program a few years ago I was quite surprised at some of the questions.  They included “Do you only eat the food you raise?”, “Do you make all your own clothes?” and “Do you ever go shopping?”   We also receive more typical questions about what we feed cattle and how we care for them.   Besides writing letters throughout the year we send a something special at Christmas and we visit the class in the spring.  We were very fortunate this year when our Columbus class received permission to come and visit us.

This is no ordinary school bus!
     Steve and I transformed the shop from the farm mode to the classroom mode.  We had the five animal pens on one side with rows of tables and chairs on the other.   Included in the visit was a lunch of grilled hamburgers and ice cream.

It takes quite a bit of time for this transformation to occur.  The
wooden benches were made by our son, Jeff, a few years ago
as a 4-H project.  They came in handy for more seating.
      As soon as we learned the fourth graders would be coming I knew we would want to add items of interest that we don’t normally have here-like a petting zoo!  When I asked several of my 4-H families about loaning me their animals for this they were very supportive.  We ended up with two rabbits, baby chicks, a lamb, two goats and a bucket calf.  Our Bichon, Zoey, became an added attraction during lunch.  

Kids petting the chicks, rabbits, goats and lamb.
      We decided to split the group of fifty kids in half.  Steve took one half over to see planter and a feed truck. A couple of questions he received were “What’s it like to live on a farm” and “How do we make sure a sick animal does not get into the food supply”.   Steve has lived on a farm his whole life so it might have been easier for him to answer how living on a farm has changed since he was a child! He was able to easily explain how we make sure only healthy animals enter the food supply.     Food safety is a top priority that you can learn more about here.  

Part of the group when they were with Steve.  We had been receiving rain
and cool weather so the planter was in the standby mode. 

     I kept the other half of the group in the shop.  The 25 kids split into five groups and rotated around to pet the animals and ask questions about them.  I was holding the lead rope of the calf which ended up allowing me to encourage the timid children to touch the hair and offer him some hay.  The kids didn’t ask me many questions so I asked them questions.  I focused on what the value a beef animal besides food adds to everyday life.  You can learn more about that here

The kids loved to try to get the calf to eat some hay.  We
talked about what a baby calf might eat-milk-and how
we feed a calf that is not with a cow-a very big bottle.
      While the kids were visiting one of our veterinarians stopped in.  He talked to the kids about the shots we give the animals similar to the ones they receive to keep them from getting diseases.  He also explained why and how we use antibiotics just like they might receive them to recover from an illness.  The kids asked very good questions and seemed to understand the answers they were given.

The kids were very polite with many hands up to ask questions.

     We continued the tour of the feedlot so the kids could see how feed ingredients were weighed and loaded on the truck, where we give the animals their shots, how the holding pond keeps all the water from the feedlot from entering any rivers or streams and then they spend quite a bit of time near a pen of cattle.  The cattle did become curious in spite of the bright colored jackets and chatter of the kids.      

I am not sure which group is more interested in the other here!

     We explained that our cattle are not pets but that we do want to give them quality feed and care.  I asked the kids if the cattle looked crowded and in unison they said “Nooooo” which almost scared the cattle!  The kids saw how the feed is placed in the bunk and how the cattle go up and drink from a tank whenever they want. They saw black tubing with sprinkler nozzles above the bunk line that I explained was used for cooling them off in the summer.  

This is the picture I used to show how the sprinklers work.
     During lunch we visited with the kids and I showed them some large pictures we have on foam board to help them see the sprinklers in use on the cattle during the summer and the cattle laying on bedding behind the wind breaks in the winter. As soon as they finished eating the kids all wanted to pet the animals again with our Bichon, Zoey, also getting some attention.

Getting ready for mass distribution of burgers!

     As the group prepared to leave we gave them each a bag of items we had collected from various commodity groups.  The hamburger eraser from the Nebraska Beef Council was a big hit.  The kids and teachers were very grateful for the visit to our farm.  We were very grateful for the opportunity to have them here so they could see for themselves what a feedlot looks like.  Hugs were freely given from the kids as they boarded the bus.  While our intent was to educate it was the friendship we created with them that will hopefully have a lasting impact.

A group picture while we were touring the feedlot.

“People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care” 

 John C. Maxwell