Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Celebrating Our Farmer Fathers

June is here and that means it is time to start planning for Father’s Day. Father’s Day always falls on the third Sunday in June, which happens to be the 16th this year. The idea of Father’s Day is to honor and celebrate all fathers and to recognize the contribution that fathers and father figures make on the lives of their children. The very first Father’s Day was celebrated on June 19th way back in 1910 and was founded in Spokane, Washington by Sonora Smart Dodd. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children.

When I think of Father’s Day, I can’t help but think of farmers. Farmer dads are the hard-working, up before dawn dads that always have dirty, grease stained hands, even if he just washed and scrubbed those hands. Those stained hands come from years of wrenching on equipment, elbow deep in grease, keeping everything running smoothly on the farm so they can provide for their family.

Farmer dads are not your typical dads for more than just their grease stained hands. For example, those few times we do get him off the farm, he’s the one studying the atlas double checking the road map options on how to get to where we’re going. We all just punch the address into our phone or vehicle navigation system - but he doesn’t trust that and needs to study it himself with his faded atlas with the ripped and worn pages because the cover fell off years ago. He’s also the only one on vacation at an amusement park still using an old fashioned park map unfolded covering his whole face as he plans our complete route for the day. Everyone else uses the park map app on their smartphones but once again “change is bad” and he’d rather see it all on the paper in front of him. As for me, I can’t even fold the map back into the proper creases!

After this crazy wet spring, a farmer dad really does deserve his own day but seriously the past two months have been all about him as well. We have all spent every hour of planting season getting his fields ready, delivering him seed and fertilizer, anything and everything to keep him happy in that planter through every possible weather condition. I never remember a spring being drug out so long! He’s basically had the entire last two months all about him. However it just doesn’t seem right to not get him anything, but when you ask the farmer dad’s what they really want they reply with something like this, “Crops planted, first hay cutting down, some peace and quiet … and maybe a steak.” All in all, farm dad’s are pretty special and I couldn’t imagine a world without mine. ~ Kesley Holdgrafer

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Cranky Farmers

It is the month of June and we are still planting. The weather just has not cooperated well all spring. I do not know about your farmers but for mine, the tension gets tight and the moods are a little on the cranky side. We had a small window of opportunity to get back in the field earlier this week and jumped at the chance although conditions were less than desirable. I never remember planting fields with such dark wet spots throughout the side hills. Dad always says, “plant in the dust and the bins will bust,” so these wet conditions are all new to most farmers. But as we glance at the calendar or listen to the gloomy forecast, we decide to chance the wet conditions in this far from a normal year.

Overnight last Monday we received another two and a half inches of rain. We were wet to begin with so now a couple more days off from planting means a few more days of moody farmers around our house, exciting!

The other day I had to deliver lunches to the field. An easy job I often get asked to do. Mom was gone to a baseball tournament with my younger brother, so I made the lunches and was off to deliver them. The first stop on my route was my older brother in the field cultivator not far from home. Simple. I could handle it - or so I thought. Of course when I got to the field he was way in the back, so I decided to head across the ridge. As I started heading toward him I get a call from him saying I am going the wrong way. I stop and go to turn around, however, when I go in reverse my wheels start spinning. I look around and realize while I was talking to him on the phone I drove into a huge wet spot that I was even told specifically not to drive into. There I sat with the lunches in the front seat stuck in the so-called “dry fields”.

The tension was as tight as the chain Todd used to pull me out. He was a little cranky when he had to hook me up to his tractor to get me unstuck. I would also like to give a huge thanks to social media for making it so most of his friends could see how badly I got stuck and how muddy the pickup looked. Todd thought it was a lot of extra work just for a cold ham and cheese sandwich. I guess I need to make better lunches… or just learn to pack them in a cooler and give them to the guys before they leave each morning.

Hope you all are having better luck than we are finishing up the planting season. And remember to pack the cooler before they leave if you want to keep them smiling! ~ Kesley Holdgrafer

Monday, June 3, 2019

Kesley's Corral: Are You in the Field, Yet?

May is officially over and that means a lot of things have come to an end. One thing that really sticks out for me is school! School is out for summer! All the senior students have graduated and that leads us to graduation parties. Over the last few weeks we have celebrated all the hard work these senior students have put into their past four years of high school. However, after going to quite a few grad parties lately, I have realized it also makes for a great place for farmers to catch up and talk to other farmers. More this year than others, due to all the rain we have had because now farmers aren’t in the field and can actually attend all the parties in the neighborhood with their families. If there's one thing I have learned it’s that almost every conversation is structured pretty much the exact same way every time. The only thing that really differs is the length the conversation goes on for. When you get a specific group of farmers together, they can “farm talk” for hours. Trust me, I have had to sit through these many many times, often while enjoying an extra piece of graduation cake while my dad is still farm talking.

First, these conversations start off with a simple question that may lead to a lengthy answer. For example, with a basic question of, “Are you in the field, yet?” It should end with a simple yes or no answer. There are no simple answers with a farmer. You can either answer with a quick yes which can lead you down the path of talking about what you're doing such as beans, corn, no-till or work ground, if it’s working well, followed up with a funny story about something that isn’t working correctly, as it always somehow reverts back to talking about the weather. Now, if you were to answer that first question with a no. It also leads you down a very similar path with answers of “we probably should be in the field” or how something broke or isn’t working properly, followed up with a funny story about getting parts, and it still ends up back at the topic of the weather not cooperating. With either answer of yes or no, somehow your conversation is still going to lead you down the path to talking about the weather. They will start by asking what the other thinks the forecast is going to be this week because meteorologists have “no idea”. However this is actually a trick question for the farmer asking knows exactly when it is predicted to start raining, how long it will last, and the exact places it will hit because they track the Ember Days or the Farmer’s Almanac which either can usually accurately predict the weather better than the weatherman.

Hopefully, one of those recent high school graduates will go on to be a meteorology major to teach us all a thing or two about predicting the next rain or major storm in our forecast. Until then I’m going to enjoy our last few graduation parties for my friends while my dad continues to farm talk with all the neighbors and I wonder how farmers can have an occupation that is always at the mercy of the weather. Weather is always one of the biggest challenges the farmer faces. Hopefully, the start of my summer vacation will bring some much-needed summer-like sunshine! ~ Kesley Holdgrafer

Connecting With Kids

While livestock is easily my favorite part of agriculture, the FFA organization has to be a close second. Growing up I was incredibly involved in my chapter, spending most of my free time in my ag building. As an adult, I joined my school’s FFA Alumni Chapter where I hold the office of secretary.
In early June, I asked the chapter advisor if she needed any help with summer activities. “I could use a chaperone for our officer retreat” she replied, which is why, as I write this, I am sitting on the deck of a posh cabin on the Iowa-Wisconsin border.

This year’s officers, eight in all, are a fun group. Led by a president that I can only describe as dedicated, they revamped their chapters Program of Activities (POA), calendared out their year, started a National Chapter application, recreated their committees, decided on a poster theme, designed tee-shirts, came up with new fundraisers and community service activities, and even did their officer team photo shoot!

An afternoon of cannoning brought both smiles and sunburn and for their evening, the students played a game involving a twister board, washable paint, and shaving cream. The picture below says it all!

Just as we were wrapping up the mess above, it started to downpour. Unfortunately, the storm knocked out electricity, which meant cold showers. Not to be put off, the girls grabbed a garden hose and their conditioner and washed their hair in the rain, which was great because shortly after we also lost water. The well was struck by lightning and would not be fixed until morning.

The next morning was our last and after a quick trip to the Amish bakery for heavenly maple cinnamon rolls, we were on our way! The students had a great time and I stole tons of new ideas to use with my NE Student Council kids. Thanks for an awesome trip, guys! I can’t wait to do it again!

The Art of Losing Gracefully: A Message to Young Showmen

If there is one piece of advice I would give to young showmen and women it would be to learn how to lose gracefully. Everyone wants to win, showing is competitive by nature, but how you act when you do not win is just as important as how you act when you do win.

As an eight year old, I learned this lesson the hard way and as an adult when I am asked to cite milestones in my life, this story is always one of them.When I was eight, I entered the beef arena for the first time. While I had been showing horses for years, showing cattle was different. Showing cattle was what my dad did, my brother, my family. I am a third generation beef producer and the only girl in my family to continue the tradition in the show ring. These factors, along with the fact that I won the first show in my career meant that I was a bit too big for my pint size britches.
My second show started out much like my first. I was showing bulls and won my class. I went back in for division champion and won that too. When I went back in overall, however, I got beat by the larger two-year-old bulls. Apparently, more mature bulls are more desirable in the show ring than six-month-old calves. Who knew!

On the way out of the ring I started to sniffle. By the time we were outside, the sniffle turned into full tears. When my dad saw this he grabbed my arm and spun me around to face him. “Don’t ever cry when you leave the ring,” he told me. “If you want something to cry about, I will give you something to cry about, but this isn’t that something. I better never catch you doing it again.” My dad is not a big guy, nor is he a mean guy, but by the look on his face I knew he meant business and it is a lesson I never forgot.

Over the years my collection of trophies grew, but not every year and certainly not every show. There were times when I was on the bottom although thanks to my father’s knowledge of cattle and genetics, those instances were few.

Showing has taught me many things over the year, but I still think that first lesson is the most important. It is also one I hope young showmen and women heed because it is ultimately a lesson that makes you better.

Adventures From the Bull Pen

With summer in full swing you might be thinking the title of this post means I have taken on the job of a relief pitcher for the major leagues. While I did play a full summer of tee-ball when I was six, the bullpen I am referring to happens to be a cattle yard.

We recently went north to pick up a bull that our renter had purchased and wound up on a runaway thrill ride. After showing up at the farm, we were escorted into a lot containing what the herdsman said was four bulls. Devin had already purchased one of them and we were looking for another to replace our old bull.

When the bulls were shooed out of the barn they were a little feisty. One of them slipped on the concrete coming out, and then they went and settled into the south corner. I was standing on the opposite side of the lot against one of the built in hay feeds in the old barn. When the guys tried to sort the bulls so we could look them over, the one that slipped on the concrete bolted. He headed for the other southern most corner and not seeing the exit he was looking for, headed straight for me.

I decided after the fact that he must not like girls because he passed by several large male specimens in favor of little old me. I flattened myself against the wooden slatted feeder as images of hoof prints danced in my head. Scott told me later that you could not have gotten a hand between the bull’s side and my ribs. Thank God, he went on by me on his race to the back of the barn. After letting out a shriek, I hoped inside the massive feeder with only seconds to spare as he hit the back wall of the barn, spun around, and tried at me again. Not seeing me, he turned on the boys and the chase was on. Eventually they were able to lock him in a pen away from everyone else and Scott suggested that it was time for me to leave the lot. I told him I would like very much to do that, but I was shaking so hard I do not know if I could have climbed over the fence. After a few minutes, my heart finally stopped racing and I was able to make my exit.

Growing up on cattle farm my entire life, I have been in some sticky situations before, but this is one of the scariest I can remember. Thankfully, Devin decided that he did not want to purchase that particular bull for his cows and they allowed him to trade for another, which is great because I am certain if they had brought him to the farm they may have lost their free hired hand, me!

Kesley's Corral: "A Routine Day"

Everybody has a certain routine they follow. Think of your own routine in the morning it probably follows the same criteria pretty closely every day. Does it consist of waking up and doing chores then showering, brushing your teeth, doing your hair, and eating some breakfast? That is my routine every morning and for the most part it has gone in that order my whole life. Routines however do not just happen in the morning some people's routine may consist of going out for ice cream every Friday night or ordering their favorite pizza on Sunday night. Either way no matter what you do or how you do it, you can conclude that it is an important part of your lifestyle that is always consistent.

Farmers have a lot of routines that they follow which does not surprise me for one of my dad’s favorite lines is “change is bad!” Every morning a farmer follows a certain special routine that they have followed for ages. Some farmers and you know the ones I’m talking about can be found at their local gas stations or feed stores with their buddies drinking coffee every morning and talking about all the town’s local gossip that also consists of “who’s in the field?” or “anybody got corn up?” followed up with “how much rain did you get?”

Messing with someone's daily routine and you can really screw up their entire system. One day last harvest my sleep-deprived dad forgot to shave that morning and he looked like a homeless person by late afternoon. His messed up routine had his whole day off kilter. My grandparents have gone for breakfast to the same restaurant each morning for as long as I can remember. It’s simply how they start their day. It recently closed and I think they are still in denial. Change is sometimes not expected and can mess up your plans.

Routines serve as the building blocks for a successful day. It’s a tool and like all tools on the farm it can easily get lost in the shop or left in the field but yet there will always be something to substitute it. Farmers and change are never desirable but farmers are also creative and come up with some great replacements. I’ve seen my mom fix equipment in the field without any tools. Ask her sometime about cutting bale wrap with her wedding ring.

With the weather we’ve had this spring most of our routines have changed unwillingly. All the talk about the small percentage of crops planted and planting dates being the latest in years. Things are off kilter for farmers but I know it will work it out eventually. Maybe this crazy weather will hopefully bring up the markets or help bring another change for the better. Farmers are survivors as routines deviate from the original plan. Let’s hope June brings sunshine and dry weather! ~ Kesley Holdgrafer