Giving Back

The following is an article recently printed in the Hillsboro (Kan.) Star-Journal. Doug is the hub’s father and a great man with a big heart. We will miss Mr. Penner. 

Trojan football players wield machetes for good

Summer weightlifting and conditioning sessions are staples of Kansas high school football. Machetes, however, are not.

When Hillsboro High School head coach Lance Sawyer told the team one morning during weightlifting they were going to be slashing volunteer corn out of a soybean field, Trojans seniors Justus Hilliard, Jakob Hanschu, and David Dick weren’t quite sure what to think.

“I think the first reaction I had was ‘What?’” Jakob said.

“I was kind of reluctant at first,” David said. “I didn’t really know how to respond to it. I didn’t know what to expect.”

The idea for the unorthodox workout came from Sawyer’s father, Doug, a McPherson County farmer. His friend and neighbor, Arden Penner, was in a Hutchinson hospice dying from cancer, and Penner’s soybean field needed one last cleaning.

“He thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to get out and work together,” Lance Sawyer said.

Four coaches and 21 players left Hillsboro at 6:30 a.m. for the farm, located southeast of McPherson. Doug Sawyer gave them an orientation, and machetes, when they arrived.

“He told us more of why we were doing this,” Justus said. “His friend had developed cancer and he was in the hospital and they were saying he didn’t have that long to live. He said he’s known for having one of the cleanest, best fields in Kansas, and he thought he would like to come by to see his field neatly cut before he died.”

Then the Trojans headed into the field, machetes in hand.

“Half of them had never been in a field before,” Sawyer said. “I guess they didn’t know what they were getting into.”

“It was humongous,” Justus said. “There were two of them, about 150 to 160 acres each.”

Jakob said the density of the corn was deceptive.

“It probably doesn’t look heavy, but it’s spread out, and there’s a lot in that area,” he said. “There were some areas we were hacking left and right, everywhere, and there were times I didn’t have anything in my row for as long as could be. We tried to stay in an even line so no plants would get left.”

“Once we got in the rhythm, it was actually kind of fun hacking away at the corn stalks,” David said.

As the day grew hotter and the players began to tire, another senior put things in perspective.

“Graham Pankratz brought up the fact that we were going to be in the heat the next week in shoulder pads, doing a lot more physical exercise, so we might as well get used to it,” David said.

The team cut corn from 7 a.m. to noon, took a break to eat 20 pizzas ordered by Doug Sawyer, then went back to work for two more hours.

“We did 320 acres in one day, so we walked probably about 11 miles,” Lance Sawyer said. “They loved it. The first four or five hours it was pretty good. Then they got tired.”

As fatigue set in, Jakob and Justus knew it was time for the seniors to step up.

“Walking up and down the rows isn’t the most exciting thing,” Jakob said. “That we kept going showed our freshmen they didn’t need to stop.”

“They knew they had to push through, and we had to tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got this, guys,’” Justus said. “You could tell when their heads were getting down, and we were like, ‘Clear that out of your mind, let’s get this done.’”

The seniors may have earned respect for their leadership, but they were impressed with the underclassmen.

“Having done this with them, I think it shows they’ve already proven that they can work hard,” Jakob said. “For us, seeing that people under us are willing to work that hard, that’s going to make us have respect for them.”

Sawyer said the experience was a unique opportunity.

“How many times do those kids just talk for seven hours?” he asked. “They don’t do it. They’re all in groups outside of things like this, they all have their own friends.”

Jakob agreed with Sawyer.

“Being seniors, we kind of stick more to the senior class,” Jakob said. “This helped us reach out to the freshmen and sophomores, people we don’t hang around with as much. It helped us to get to know them a bit more, and that’s good for our team.”

Justus said the experience would help the Trojans during the season.

“I think when we’re struggling in a game we can reflect back on what we did and how we worked together for one goal, and just tell each other ‘Hey, remember what we did, we can do this now, we can win this game,’” he said.

The players never met Penner, who died Aug. 11, but they were glad they did something to help.

“We all felt really good afterward,” David said. “It wasn’t just for us, it was mainly for him. Knowing you did such a good thing warms your heart.”

“I feel good that we did that for him before he passed away,” Justus said.

Sawyer said the experience was all he hoped it would be for his players.

“Those kids get along so well, and chemistry isn’t going to be an issue this year,” Sawyer said.

You can find the article online at:

Men of Many Talents

One thing that always impresses me about my husband is his many skills and talents. There is little the hubs can’t fix or figure out on our farm. Of course, he’s still scarred of our son’s dirty diapers, but that’s a subject for another post.

No matter what part of the county you live, there is one thing that remains consistent, farming and ranching involves far more than driving a tractor and walking through corn fields. Most farmers are also electricians, plumbers, welders and general contractors.

We let the youngest generation make his mark in the new construction at our cattle facilities.

We let the youngest generation make his mark in the new construction at our cattle facilities.

My husband, his father and farm employees have been hard at work this summer improving various aspects of our farm. That means putting a variety of skills to work. They welded metal fences through the heat of August, poured concrete to created a new water source for our cattle and re-wired combines and tractors to prepare for fall harvest.

He does all of this work to provide better facilities for our cows and calves and leave the farm ready for the next crop and generation. We were lucky to catch some fresh concrete earlier this week and let the youngest generation leave his mark.

Each season bring a demand for a different skill and talent. Farming provides never-ended demands for fixes, tweeks, re-do, re-furbishes and new construction. There is little the hubs and his crew can’t fix and create and that’s what makes him a true farmer and rancher.

The Politics of Farming

Today Kansas residents reported to the polls for several primary election races. Because Kansas is a predominately GOP state, these primary races will essentially find the general election winner.

Farming isn’t often thought of as a highly politicized industry but the agriculture industry has an interest in creating and preserving policies that affect how farmers run their farms and care for their animals.

Rules and regulations created at the local, state and national levels all impact our farms. That means we have to remain informed and involved to protect our industry and interests.

We take time to vet candidates for their ability to protect our way of life and continue the fight for legislation we find beneficial to farming. This year several state positions are up for grabs and we have done our part to find candidates we feel best represent our points of views and interests.

Anti-farming and animal agriculture groups will continue to push for harmful legislation so it is essential that we continue to push for our policies and support candidates that will protect farming, ranching and rural life. We must support candidates who will continue to carry the agriculture agenda and stand for our way of life.


Stickers for all declaring our participation in election day.

Stickers for all declaring our participation in election day.

This morning we made a family trip to the poll to cast our votes and do our part to shape the political landscape and legislative agenda. We only have one vote but that vote could very well make an election. Voting is an easy and free way to protect our way or life, our industry and our future.

Building a Base

*Read more about beef production and beef as fuel for running on the Kansas Beef Chat Blog

Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

Derek stands amongst his ladies as he inspects and condition and health of our heifers out at pasture this summer.

For most runners, summer is spent on long runs, tough track workouts and sweat sessions that build character and stamina. It’s the time of year you build your mileage base, expand your CO2 capacity and simply become a better, strong runner. It’s also the season to clean up your diet by enjoying more fresh fruits, vegetable and lean proteins – hot off the grill. Hard work and dedication in the summer pays off on race days in the fall.

We see the summer as much the same for our cattle. No, they’re not running laps in the pasture or really doing much of any type of workout, but they are building their base and lean muscle mass through the consumption of nutrient-rich grasses in the Kansas Flint Hills. Many of our cows become pregnant in the spring, which means they spend their all-important first trimester out at pasture. The grasses provide enough calories to allow both the new calf and the mother to thrive and grow. We supplement the grass with minerals essential to a growing baby and mother and ensure the animals always have access to fresh water.

Allowing our cattle to graze throughout the spring and summer months pays big dividends in the winter. Our mother cows are healthy and strong enough to care for a newborn calf. And the calves that have spent their first summer with their mothers in the pastures are healthy, strong and ready to be weaned.

The summer grazing season is an essential part of our cattle’s lifecycle and our feed regimen. And the summer running season is vital to feeling confident on race day each fall.

Where Has The Time Gone?

The hubs checks the monitor of one of his sub-surface drip irrigation systems while the kiddo splashes in water. Sometimes work errands make for great family trips.

The hubs checks the monitor of one of his sub-surface drip irrigation systems while the kiddo splashes in water. Sometimes work errands make for great family trips.

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve updated my blog and I promise my absence isn’t a reflection of inactivity on the farm. Far from it! It has been a month of wheat harvest, milo planting, family trips and all the other things that make life busy for my family of three.

There has been much publicized about this year’s wheat harvest. It was definitely one for the books but not because of devastating drought as spring headlines predicted. Much the opposite. A week of nearly continuous rain brought much-needed moisture but also halted harvest. My hubby and his cutting crew were out of the field for nearly a week waiting for things to dry – that meant lots of daddy-son time! When they did get back to work, it was easy to see where the tractors had treaded as ruts and mud piles now mark the fields. Even yesterday (July 12) my husband continued to cut wheat – cleaning up low, muddy spots and corners.

When the combines weren’t cutting, the planter was at work planting soybeans and milo into wheat stubble. With continued moisture, we could see a spectacular fall harvest of all crops.

The cows remain at pasture in the Flint Hills and are thriving on the lush, green grass. We continue to visit our animals to ensure all are doing well and this week we will check our cows to see which are pregnant with the 2015 calf crop. One of the reasons we continue to calve in the winter and early spring is because our pregnant mother cows can take advantage of the nutrients provided by summer grazing. Grass is an excellent food source for cows and one that we strive to utilize as long as possible.

Finally, despite the June rains, my husband and his father remained this week busy starting irrigation systems. We were fortunate enough to convert an old, in-efficient pivot into a sub-surface drip irrigation system earlier this year. That means fewer breakdowns and more efficient irrigation. It also means more family time because my husband is less likely to have to spend his evenings getting a pivot un-stuck or changing gates on a flood irrigations system. Technology is great for many reasons, including it’s time-saving efficiencies.

This week, will be spent planning for a farm tour that will visit our crops next weekend. I’m excited to welcome a group of Central Kansas ladies to our farm – through the Kansas CommonGround organization – and answer their questions about food and farming.

Cow Emissions

A Facebook friend recently shared an article and questioned whether the study – and suggestions – cited by the author had any merit. It all sounded good – feeding cattle grass instead of grain would cut CO2 emissions and therefore help battle climate change.

But pull back the layers and you will see a questionable reporting source and misguided responsibility for the emissions. Thankfully, Facebook allows comments and some very knowledgeable and responsible livestock producers weighed in on the post, correcting the facts and explaining why grain feeding is more efficient and environmentally friendly method.

Here is a link to the article:

And here are a several of the comments defending American feeding practices. I don’t think I can say it any better than these gentleman did. Please note the insightful comment from my mostly quiet but always intelligent hubby, Derek. He usually leaves the farm talking to me but occasionally chimes in to explain what he does.

Brett Moline Most of those things farmers and ranchers are already doing. Animal selection for the most efficient, matching feed type and amount to what the animal needs, keeping animals healthy, these things are what farmers and ranchers have been doing for generations. As far as the new plants, some might have to be modified to live in our Wyoming climate i.e. GMO’s

David Miller Be very cautious of generalizing any data from an UN FAO report to the US cattle industry. Apples & oranges comparisons. Most of the emissions from the world’s cattle herd is due to emissions associated with “maintenance” of the animal and the typical “feeding time” for cattle in the developing world approaches 5 years. The typical US beef cow is already raised on quality forage and reaches market weight in 20 months. The rapid rate of gain and the significant reduction in the number of days to reach market weight is why US feedlot based beef production has significantly less emissions per cow and emissions per pound of beef than does grass-fed beef.

Derek Sawyer I agree with the other guys. We strive everyday to be more efficient than we were the day before- we have to to stay in business. What many people don’t understand is that improving efficiency does not always correlate with reducing inputs. In the case of feeding cattle, the intense feeding lowers the number of days an animal just eats to “maintain”. The last of my calf crop born in 2013 will be sitting in a restaurant next week- averaged 1400# in less than 15 months.

This study doesn’t suggest anything that cattlemen in this country aren’t doing everyday. Converting foodstuffs into pounds of beef and doing it in the most efficient way is the keystone to this business. This industry amounts to Billions and Billions of dollars each year in this country. IF there was evidence of a way to feed cattle with less feed (and do it without affecting the safety of animal or meat) somebody would have it on the market ASAP. It would not have been passed up for 45 years! Besides that, in the 1970’s, I believe it took 9+ pounds of feed (dry matter) for the animal to grow 1 actual pound. Out of my 700 head I fed this spring, they all converted less than 5.8 pounds of feed (dry matter) for the pound they gained. We accomplish this by genetic selection, studying feed ingredients and the ration the cattle eat, use nutritionists and veterinarians to keep the cattle in top health, and keep the cattle in a manner that reduces as much stress on the animal as possible. I say all this understanding many people will first think “factory farm”, but in this case- #1 raising pounds of meat responsibly and #2 providing a living for my wife and young son both correlate with how efficiently I perform my profession.


Puddles, Not Waterways – #DitchTheRule

Recent rainfalls have filled low spots in fields the EPA wants to regulate as waterways.

Recent rainfalls have filled low spots in fields the EPA wants to regulate as waterways.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) already regulate all lakes, rivers and streams – not matter how large or small – in the U.S.. Now the agency wants to extend its reach to ditches and low spots in fields that fill only when Mother Nature provides the rain.

As the picture above illustrates, the water is simply sitting in a low spot in the field. We received over 2 inches of rain this past weekend and the ground was simply not able to absorb the moisture immediately. It will be be gone in less than 72 hours and won’t migrate or run into any other body of water.

But if the EPA has its way, it will treat this low spot as a waterway, requiring farmers to secure additional permits and government approvals before farming the land adjacent to this low spot. It’s not only burdensome but inefficient, costly and excessive. The EPA’s new proposed rule would cover any ditch or low spot in a field meaning a farmer could potentially have to have permits to farm and manage multiple low spots in one field.

We need to #DitchTheRule and tell the EPA to stop its unnecessary overreach and prohibitive regulations. Farmers and ranchers won’t be the only ones suffering under the new rule. Anyone relying on a affordable food supply could see a substantial impact. Log onto to take action and learn more.


Dole Tours Kansas

Former Senator, presidential candidate and Kansas native Bob Dole made a stop in McPherson Tuesday as part of his second Kanas thank-you tour.

Former Presidential candidate and Kansas Senator Bob Dole made a stop in McPherson Tuesday.

Former Presidential candidate and Kansas Senator Bob Dole made a stop in McPherson Tuesday.

Dole is 90 years old and can no longer hide his age or war wounds. He battled in WWI, served as both majority and minority leader of the U.S. Senate and battled President Bill Clinton in the 1996 presidential election. Unfortunately he was on the losing side of that latter.

But Dole is well remembered in the nation’s political landscape and well regarded among Kansas Republicans. He has been touring the state, sharing stories and thanking voters for their decades of support.

During his stop in McPherson, he made no formal speeches, opting to sit, answer questions and greet visitors. Dole made known his frustration with the current administration but he didn’t hold back from expressing thoughts on the in-fighting of the GOP.

I don’t personally remember much from Dole’s time in Washington but it was great to see a well-known and highly respected Kansas legislator in-person. Derek and I took our son, Evan, who I believe was the youngest in attendance. He won’t remember seeing Dole but it’s something to put in his baby book. I believe it’s important to take advantage of opportunities, such as this, to hear from former leaders and see historically significantly men of our great states.  Leaders like Dole don’t stop in McPherson all that often and and today’s politicians don’t retain the popularity and respect that Dole continues to enjoy.


I don’t mean to brag, but my hubby is a pretty darn good farmer. He understands what makes for ideal planting conditions, he has a knack for applying fertilizer at just the right time and he’s usually right on target with harvest decisions.

Timing is everything in farming and when conditions are right for planting, the tractor barely stops. The same goes for fertilizing and harvesting. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for any farmer and certainly doesn’t double check anyone’s schedule. She’s her own woman. So when opportunity knocks, farmers answers. That flexibility and drive to do what it takes, when it takes has made farming substantially more efficient and kept food prices affordable for all consumers.

But the EPA recently announced its intentions to expand its powers under the 1972 Clean Water Act, imposing new, unworkable regulations on America’s farmers.

Among other impacts, the new rule would expand federal control over land features such as ditches and low areas in fields that are wet only during storms. This means that everyday farming activities such as fence-building, planting and fertilizer application would require a permit.

We all known the glacial pace at which government works, adding a new level of oversight and series of permits would substantially alter farming practices and remove farmers’ abilities to react to weather conditions and complete field work in a timely fashion.

When the rain finally fell last weekend, my husband knew that he would have a small window of time at the end of the week to get corn seed in the ground. Too soon and the soil would be too wet, too late and the moisture would be gone. So now he’s burning the midnight oil, planting corn before the next round of rain. Farmers don’t have time to stop, fill out paper work, apply for a permit and wait for the response from the government. They have to react when conditions are right.

If new oversight is approved, farming would become substantially less efficient, increasing costs for farmers and raising prices at the grocery store. Farming would become less competitive and less profitable.

The EPA should ditch the rule and continue to allow farmers to carry out routine field and farm would on their own time, without the hassle and headaches of permits and government oversight. Farmers know the land, they know when conditions are right to work and they know that slowing down and taking a break isn’t an option. Farming doesn’t need more permits and increased bureaucracy.




Planting Time


Knowing dad was hard at work – and would remain so well past bedtime – Evan and I took advantage of the nice weather and made a trip to the field tonight to say hello and deliver dinner.

Spring is the busiest season on the farm. Cattle have to be moved to summer pasture in the Flint Hills and corn and soybeans have to go into the ground. Many farmers, like my hubby, were patiently waiting for rain before starting to plant corn. We received about an inch last weekend so planting began in earnest this week. Once the planter starts, it typically doesn’t sit still for very long. My husband or his father are in the planter 18 of the 24 hours in the day. My husband usually takes the late shift and my father-in-law will get started with the sun. It makes for long days and tired farmers but it’s part of life on the farm.

In just a few days, small, green corn plants will begin to emerge and by late summer, we will be picking the corn to be used for feed and fuel.