Sunday, December 28, 2014

#196. or, Merry Christmas.....Shitter's Full

  Back in the day, and now I'm old I can say that because I've somehow blown past that imaginary line faster than an Olympic sprinter burning through steroids like they're froot loops, Christmas was easy.

  I mean, as a kid, the biggest thing I had to worry about was studying the TV Guide to make sure I didn't miss any Christmas specials. And if I was good at anything, it was TV Guide. I could have taught a course. Except, interactive, picture in the corner, scrolling screen guides have made that obsolete, so I'm glad I didn't put all my eggs into that basket.

  Anyway, for some reason, Christmas is a whole lot harder now. Every year, when I park my combine and bring the cows home, I foolishly think that November and December are going to be a breeze. But they never are. They seem to fly by faster than I go through a roll of single ply toilet paper, and before I know it, Christmas is crashing down on me and I haven't even got my holiday lighting up yet.

  Don't get me wrong, I  do love Christmas. It just seemed easier to find the spirit when I was younger. From the time I was a kid, through newly married years, and onto when my own children were growing up, that magic spark was always there. I struggle finding it now, and so, it's also the reason that I found myself racing to clear the snow from our grain bin cabin by the dugout, on the 23rd of December. Even though it's never happened before, someone might want to go out there and do something rustic over Christmas, rather than play with shiny new electronics.

  Because I can't do everything from a tractor seat, I had to get out to chisel some ice away from the outhouse door. After breaking in, I lifted the seat to give it a check, because that's what you do, and I discovered that some burrowing rodent had completely filled in the pit. And an outhouse without a pit is basically just a cold empty closet with a seat. It left me feeling somewhat dejected.

  As I got back to plowing snow, it occurred to me, the unusable outhouse was a metaphor for my fizzling Christmas spirit. Just a hollow empty shell without the ability to contain any substance. The shitter with the filled in hole was proof the universe was conspiring against me to suck the Christmas spirit out of my bones.

  Except, Christmas still came.

  Over the next couple days our house was blessed with family and guests that made me remember what the holidays are all about. It didn't really matter that the outhouse wasn't usable, we have indoor plumbing for Christ's sake! It didn't matter that the lights burned out on the ass half of one of my yard reindeer, causing it to look like some genetic conglomeration, half human/half deer mutant. I was inside happily drinking eggnog paralyzers with my family.

  Regardless of the things I couldn't control, Christmas still came, and I had a wonderful time.

  Today, sitting here thinking about it, maybe I got the metaphor all wrong. Maybe, just maybe, by filling in that outhouse hole the universe was telling me to stop dealing with the shit, and just enjoy what I have? Funny how things work out.

  Of course, when it thaws out this spring, I'm still going to have to dig that shitter out. Perhaps I'll get The Boy to do it

   .............just so he doesn't forget the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday, December 19, 2014

#195. or, A Less Than Beautiful Mind

  My cows are finally on the back forty, and their calves are not.

  Every fall, for more than the last number of falls than I care to remember, I've had a plan. Upon returning from pasture, I've wanted to pen the cows and calves into corrals, keeping them in the smaller batches that they spent the summer, and arrived home in. Then, I could bring each of those pens of cows and calves in, one at a time, wean the calves, treat the cows, and turn all of the cows into one bigger pen until they adjusted to being calf-less, then eventually turn them out back where they can crap freely and we don't have to haul it out in the spring.

  This grand plan has worked out exactly......well, zero times. Until this year that is.

  There are a number of reasons for this. Most notably, is that I'm a bit lazy. Other than that, I usually don't have any pens ready when it's time for the cows to come home. Other times, we've gotten a huge dump of snow or it's been bitterly cold and I've sent the cows, along with their calves out back where it's easier to maintain them and I can set up some shelters for protection. We'd bring them back in, sometime in January, and sell the calves straight off the cows.

  However, this fall, like a one time in a 7000 year alignment of planets, things sort of worked out. For one thing, Middle Son now works at a lumber mill, and I got a lift of fence planking on the cheap. Secondly, I was able to exploit the manpower (and womanpower) of my wife and The Boy to drive nails and have most of the pens ready for animals. And thirdly, we were able to get last years manure cleaned out of the pens in hasty fashion, in turn making those newly repaired pens available for cattle.

  Mostly anyways.

  So, even though it did get bitterly cold, and we did get a huge dump of snow, and had to dig out all of our working pens, I resisted the urge to just turn everything out back, yet again. Over a few days about a week and a half ago, we brought those cattle up, pen by pen, and weaned our calves.

   Before turning the cows into the weaning pen, we ran them through the alley and treated them for lice and worms, as well as trimming the hair covering their ear tags for easier identification when they calve.

  It's not entirely the most difficult of jobs, weaning calves. Truth be told, it's actually more difficult to keep them apart once they've been separated. During the process of handling cattle, I tend to see things unfold around me, much in the same manner that complex mathematical equations, and geometric graphs appear in the air around geniuses as they solve, save the world, life and death situations in the movies. Unfortunately, as I'm definately not a genius, me running after cattle, chasing imaginary arrows to gates that haven't been opened yet, most likely has completely the opposite effect. Leaving those around me with the impression that I'm more like somebody that should be eating pastey soup with a spoon sewn to a mitten than someone about to save the world. Or at the very least, handle cows.

  Despite that, everything went quite well and the cows are now nicely settled in the back field without their calves, which are in their own pen in the yard. I've decided to keep the calves at home for a while and feed them some grain to put a bit more weight on them before taking them to market, even though the prices are currently better than I've ever seen in my life. I made that decision based on a set of complex mathematical equations and geometric graphs that seem to be floating in the air around my head.

  Of course, like most of my other marketing decisions, this may not turn out to have been the smartest thing to do, when all is said and done. Maybe I should get my wife to go over those figures,

  ...........I always sucked at imaginary math.

Monday, December 08, 2014

#194. or, Just a Farmer

  You may have noticed,

   or maybe you didn't, it doesn't really matter either way, but lately I've been filling up your timeline with a plethora of articles and links to what I deem to be important and valuable information regarding the job that I do.

  I'm in the business of agriculture.

  And that's the thing. The business of agriculture. I know some of you might imagine me strolling through a field of wheat. Under the noon day sun, arms and fingers outstretched as the golden heads of grain dance playfully off my fingertips. It's a romantic notion. But more often than not, the reason that I'm there wandering through my grain field, whether it be wheat, barley, oats, or canola, is to ensure that I'm growing the healthiest crop that I can with the tools that agricultural technology provides me with.

  Now, I have never professed to be a smart fellow. When I graduated from high school, 30-some years ago, it was with solidly average marks, which I struggled to maintain. Because of this, I tended to gravitate towards the trades courses that my school offered and that is most likely what made my high school years even bearable. And while I never in a million years intended to be a farmer, it's now the job I've spent my lifetime doing.

  Like my father, and his father before him.

  So, I do what I do with multiple generations worth of trial and error type knowledge, and when my father passed away and I was thrust into more of a decision making role, it wasn't like I was starting from scratch. While it was daunting, I still had a wealth of hundreds of combined years of agricultural expertize I could call upon, through a network of rural neighbors and family friends.

  The reason I'm laying this out there is because recently, I've taken more of an interest in defending the thing I do for a living. I feed the WORLD, damnit! At least in some small part, I like to think that. However, there are people who would call into question the practices that I use.

  I use fertilizer.

  I spray my crops to protect them from weeds and disease.

  I use genetically modified seeds.

  And I vaccinate my cattle.

  I do these things, not because I'm evil and my only interest is to purchase a new tractor or something. Rather, it's because I've done the research and made the decision, based on all the available information, that it's the safest and most productive use of the land and livestock that I've been charged with caring for.

  I want your family to benefit from the very best product that I can produce. Perhaps there are those who can do this without the tools that I mentioned earlier, but in all honesty, I can't. I can't, and still provide for my family, while maintaining an acceptable standard of living. Basically, the same thing you're trying to achieve. There are things I've tried, and abandoned because I didn't like what it did to my land. Years ago, we used hormones for cattle, but I don't do that anymore, because while it's scientifically safe, it's just not something I practice. However, I'm still going to give a sick calf medicine because I won't see it suffer in sickness, and in turn, pass an unhealthy animal on to you. It's my job to do the best that I can do. And I try to live by that.

  Yet, there are those who dispute the practices I use.

  I've spent a considerable amount of time recently, trying to decide the role I need to play in defending my profession. I think there's a lot of us in this field thinking the same thing. And while it is most definitely my fight, I think it's a fight, better fought by those in the business of agriculture, who have the benefit of multiple years of schooling on multiple levels. Those who have the ammunition and the knowledge to wield it against people that would dare to say I'm producing a product without the very best of intentions in mind.

  That being said, it doesn't mean that I can't do my part as well. I can share the knowledge of people much smarter than me, with you. So hopefully, when you're faced with a choice somewhere down the road, the decision you make will be one balanced by both sides of the debate.

  Perhaps, I can use my miniscule presence here, trying to come up with goofy stories, to occasionally remind you that when the slings and arrows are being hurled, there are still those of us, on the ground as it were, trying to make a living the best way we know how.

  But, what do I know?

  ............after all, I'm just a farmer.