Made To Be Mothers

I have a love-hate relationship with winter. It’s my favorite season on our farm because it brings a new crop of baby calves and proud mother cows. But it also creates long, sleepless nights for my farmer hubby and the occasional sad news of a calf that just didn’t make it.

But as I soak up the joy that is new calves playing in our backyard, anti-animal-agriculture groups continue to criticize animals owners like my husband and I for breeding our cows each year. They consider it abuse for our animals to be continually pregnant and instead advocate for cattle to spend their days mindless munching on green grass and carrying a calf every few year.

But I disagree. Our cows are born to be mothers. Not just in the literal sense of reproductive organs and hormones, but in their behaviors and temperaments. It’s their genetic make up and natural calling to carry a calf.

Our cows deliver a calf each winter and nurse it through the spring and summer months. In late April and early June they are usually impregnated again. All the while receiving the proper feed and nutrition – which varies according to their stage of pregnancy. We work to ensure all of our cows get pregnant around the time same so that we know when to expect calves.

The mothers provide all of their calf’s nutritional needs. She protects it from wildlife and the weather and watch over it as it runs, plays, grows and explores. Mothers lick their newborns warm and dry and clean a dirty behind with a quick pass of the tongue. Mother cows and calves communicate with moo’s and bellows and pair up each night and throughout the day for food and protection. It’s a relationship not unlike that of my son and I’s and as I hear for the mothers call to their calves at the end of each day I know that motherhood is in their DNA.

We treat our cows with respect and a gentle hand and they, in return, allow us to participate in raising their calves. A cow’s job is to raise calves. That is her mission and purpose in life. Cows allow us to grow our herd and continue our dream of handing this farm and way of life on to our children. Motherhood is not abuse, it’s a continuing of the life cycle we all depend on for food and fuel and it’s what our cows love to do.

New Years Resolutions

January is nearly half over and I’m just now getting around to seriously thinking about my New Years resolutions. (I hope this isn’t a sign of my success with said resolution).

This year I wanted to do something different, something that would benefit those around me – not just me – and something that would hopefully make my life better. So, I have decided to become a more productive farm wife.

What does that mean? Well, as it stands right now, I am a far cry from a real farm wife. I don’t cook all that often, I don’t do a lot of meal prep for the guys and I’ve been a little lazy on little things like making the bed, doing laundry in a timely fashion and keeping an organized house. But I’m aiming to change all of that.

I can blame my tornado of a toddler son, my full-time, off-the-farm job and my various volunteer commitments and the fact my husband just isn’t around all that often, but the fact it, if I think I can, then I know I can.

So my first step has been small – making the bed each morning. It makes my bedroom feel more organized and put together and takes about two seconds total – who knew! My second step has been in the kitchen, where I have been making an effort to cook at least five meals a week. That’s a far cry from a week of meals but for me, that’s big. (Although I must admit, I do consider mac and cheese and hot dogs a legitimate family dinner!)

I’ve embraced meal planning, Pinterest and new cooking tools – like my cast iron skillet. My husband’s enjoyed coming home to home cooked meal – except for the onions – he doesn’t like onions! So onion-free it is!

My next step is a cleaning routine that I can spread out over the course of a week so my Saturday isn’t filled is vacuums and toilet bowl cleaner.

I’m starting to realize this whole farm wife thing has its challenges but I have all of 2015 to figure it out! Here’s to 365 – ok more like 340-some days of cleaning, organizing and scheduling. Any and all tips, tricks and advice is much appreciate!

One of my new years resolutions is to cook more. This christmas I added several new cookies tools to my kitchen, including this 10" cast iron skillet. My first attempt at cast iron cooking was The Pioneer Woman's chocolate chip cookies.

One of my new years resolutions is to cook more. This christmas I added several new cookies tools to my kitchen, including this 10″ cast iron skillet. My first attempt at cast iron cooking was The Pioneer Woman’s chocolate chip cookies.

‘Super banana’ shows tech’s value to ag

This column was recently published in the December edition of Kansas Agland, a quarterly publication of The Hutchinson News. You can read Kansas Agland in its entirety at: http://issuu.com/hutchinson_publishing_company/docs/kansas_ag_land_december_2014/0

Most of us have the luxury of spending this holiday season celebrating with food, feasts and family meals. Technology and a rapidly advancing agriculture industry have allowed farmers to provide a safe, affordable food supply that provides for our country and millions outside our borders. But it is the same technology that has caused some consumers to begin questioning the safety and long-term effects of genetically modified crops (GMO). We have all read about individuals and organizations, including the United Nations, who truly believe that the solution lies in separating technology and food production.

While that would appease the GMO opponents, what many naysayers don’t realize is technology has allowed farmers to not only feed the world but simultaneously deliver nutrient-enhanced crops that are key to childhood development and combatting curable diseases in many third-world countries. Starting in the 1960s, scientists began using technology to boost the nutritional value of commonly consumed foods. Golden Rice was developed by researchers and delivers up to 23 percent more Vitamin A when compared to white rice commonly grown in Southeast Asia. (A lack of Vitamin A dampens a child’s immune system leaving susceptible to a multitude of common ailments, including blindness.) That discovery, dubbed the Green Revolution, proved to be only the first of several technological advancements that have improved basic food staples and helped subsistence farmers feed growing populations.

The work continues and today scientists are preparing to test Vitamin-A-enhanced bananas that, if successful, will be grown by farmers in Uganda and be a primary tool in reducing infant deaths and blindness.

Time Magazine recently included this discovery as one of its 25 Best Inventions of 2014. “These bananas could potentially solve a major health problem,” (James) Dale, an Australian biogeneticist told Time. While some Americans question this newest use of technology in agriculture, mothers across sub-Sahara Africa will look to these simple bananas as a life-saving solution for their babies and children.

Technology isn’t just being used to enhance products, researchers at Kansas State University are participating in the federal Feed the Future initiative, which aims to remove the hurdles to common production issues in third-world countries. Technology is the driver of the solutions but sometimes the research leads to low-tech outcomes, like using insects to do work that chemicals or machines might have done.

The marriage of technology and agriculture has done more than create GMO crops, it has delivered life-saving products and solutions that feed and nourish millions across the globe. If the agriculture industry looses the ability to insert technology into the equation, the result will be a world with more sick, hungry and malnourish people. When consumers and organizations advocate for the end of technology in food production they are essentially removing a valuable tool for saving lives and filling plates this holiday season.

Farm Raised

Evan is obsessed with cows so it only made sense that he dressed as a cow for Halloween this year.

Evan is obsessed with cows so it only made sense that he dressed as a cow for Halloween this year.

Former Kansas State University football standout and current Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was recently profiled by Sports Illustrated. The reoccurring theme of the profile was Nelson’s farm upbringing. And Nelson admits, without the hard work and dedication he learned from the cattle and crops, he would not have made it to where he is today. (Read the entire article here: http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/12/05/jordy-nelson-green-bay-packers)

My husband is the third generation of the Sawyer family to farm in McPherson County. He knew from an early age that he wanted to farm for a living, so the hours, weeks and years accrued on the farm left an imprint on my husband – one he hopes to pass along to our son, Evan. He is who he is today because he grew up on a farm and involved in the agriculture world.

As a farm wife I know there are downsides to the farm life but I also know there are things my son will learn that cannot be replicated within the city limits. Here is my list:

1- Work Ethic: Banks, restaurants, grocery stores all have set hours. The work stops when the doors close. Farming does not. Not only does it often require 12-plus-hour days, but farmers that raise livestock must work 365 days a year – animals don’t take a day off. When the work is there, it must get done, regardless of the time of day or the day of the week. The time clock doesn’t exist on a farm.

2- Appreciation for the land: Kansas always get a bad rap for it’s flat landscape and lack of scenery. But the soils of Kansas are some of the most productive pieces of land in the country and world. My son may not realize it right now, but the land is and will be his most valuable asset – larger than any tractor, animal or piece of equipment. But as Derek and all farmers will tell you, you only get from the land what you put in. Evan will soon come to realize and appreciate the beauty in a wheat field and value of open, flat pastureland. We work daily to improve the land so it will continue to provide for our family.

3- Critical Thinking Skills: Most people would assume critical thinking skills are only needed in a board room or corner office. But being able to problem solve and assess situations is vital to making it in the farming world. When you are on the tractor there are no co-workers in adjoining cubicles to ask for advice or bosses to call with questions. A farmer must problem solve on the spot, find a way to get new parts to the field, a calf to the hour or a broken irrigation system functioning again. There are also the larger issues of analyzing practices to improve yields and testing feed to determine nutritional deficits. Rarely a day goes by that my husband doesn’t have to think on his feet and solve a new problem.

4- A Love of Family: My husband farms alongside his father. Family is what built our farm and family is what has kept it together. It’s never easy to work and live with the same people everyday but it is a valued part of owning a family farm and it’s something I hope my son will have the opportunity to experience. My husband works daily to not only put food on our table but to build a business for his child/children to return to someday. And he hopes to be still manning a tractor and working with cattle when the next generation takes over. My husband appreciates the wisdom and guidance his father provides and I know my son will think the same of his father.

5- A Stubborn Streak: As a mother, the idea of having a stubborn child is not something I look forward to. I have a stubborn husband, I don’t need a stubborn son. But I know it’s that stubborn streak that has allowed my husband to succeed and hold his own in an industry dominated by operators a generation older than him. Whether that’s holding a salesman’s feet to the fire or demanding an answer to an issue with his cattle, Derek’s inability to wave in the breeze means he stands for what he believes in and doesn’t back down easily. I hope that one day my son will inherit that same desire to stick with it and hold his own – I just hope he knows that his mother always gets the final say – and is always right!

6- A Love of Animals: One of my son’s first words was cow. Probably not the most common first word but it’s not surprising considering half of his wardrobe includes a cow and they reside outside our back door. From an early age, we took Evan to the farm to see and interact with the cows. The large, black, loud animals never scared my son. Today when we take him to the farm, he begs to get into the pasture with the cows for a friendly game of tag. Our farm dogs have taught him to not fear dogs – large or small – and our cats are oh so tolerant of his “petting”. If he’s not looking at a tractor or cow book, my son is flipping through pictures of animals. He knows their names and sounds and jumps at any opportunity to pet and meet a new animal – be it a goat, pig, bunny or chicken. Farmers understand and truly appreciate their animals – providing them with food, water and a safe habitat. Growing with the animals and helping during calving season will only strengthen that passion.

A Little Down Time

For those farming only crops, the end is in sight. Most rushed to get the last fields cut before the season’s first snowfall. Those that didn’t make it have only days – maybe hours – left in the field before a slowdown for the holidays and winter chill.

But farmers who raise crops and cattle aren’t winding down for the winter. They’re simply taking a break and catching their breath before winter moves in for good.

My husband and his father manage not only our crops but our growing Angus cow herd. Our cows have returned home from a summer of grazing and will be delivering calves starting in January. A calving season typically lasts three months so the men will be on calf watch until nearly April.

Between now and New Years Day, my husband will keep himself busy hauling water to our cows grazing in our picked corn and milo fields, vaccinating and tagging heifers and steers as they arrive to our farm and organizing feed sources for the long winter ahead.

The mother cows are in their final months of pregnancy with their calves so nutrition and proper medical care – if necessary – is essential. As 2015 approaches, all of our animals will be moved to more secure calving areas that provide protection from the wind and snow. The guys will make daily trips to the fields and facilities to check on each animal and when calves start arriving those trips will become hourly visits to ensure each new calf is up, active and nursing.

The work of a cattle farmer is never done and as some farmers settle in for a winter of maintenance and meetings, my husband and others will be busy battling the cold to care for our cows and their newborn calves.