Saturday, July 26, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect

     My husband and I grew up showing animals in 4-H. In fact, that is the first place I met him. We would often compete against each other in the cattle show ring.  The debate remains who placed better than who at the show. We do agree that 4-H was a very positive aspect of our youth and as soon as our own children were old enough we signed them up with the local club.
     This is the first year that we have a full-out 4-Her. Until now the kids have been in Cloverbuds and got to enter contests for participation awards. This year Simon is able to enter the show ring and compete for the cherished champion ribbion.
     When I was in 4-H I only ever showed cattle, but my husband also showed hogs. Conveniently  my brother- in-law raises show hogs so my children will get the experience of also showing beef and hogs like my husband. I have to admit that showing pigs is a lot easer than cattle and it's kind of fun.
        In these pictures we are walking the hogs around the yard. This is done so that the animals keep limber and move easily. As the animal gets more muscle they can get stiff and not move well which does not look ideal in the show ring. Walking the pigs also trains them to keep moving and how to respond to direction from the shower. In the show ring the kids need to direct the hog to keep it in the judges line of sight and show off the pigs best qualities.
     The kids and I walk the pigs every morning and evening before they get fed and the pigs are learning this and are waiting at the gate to get out when we arrive. We enjoy our time walking the pigs and laugh every time they take off running.

My cone flowers by the barn. I love that they re-seed every year. Low maintenance and stunning.

     We are also working with two heifer calves that will be shown at the fair. They are becoming quite calm now but they are still strong and sometimes unpredictable so we take care while the kids are handling them. This year Simon will be taking the calves into the ring on his own and he is becoming more confident every day.  Showing cattle is much more involved than hog. With hogs you can try to direct the pig in the ring but for the most part they go where they want. With cattle you have to be in control of the animal at all times and also master the use of a show stick which is used to set the animals feet so they are standing in a flattering pose for the judge. Juggling all this can be a tricky thing for a new showman.
        We also wash the calves often first to keep them clean but also to encourage hair growth. On beef cattle full, thick hair is desired so you can have that fluffy calf look. After washing the calf we use a big hair drier to "style" the hair and have fans on them all day to keep them cool. Washing the animals also is another way to help them get use having humans working with them in different ways.
      Last night we had some young kids from the 4-H club come practice showing hogs. These kids are in cloverbuds so they are able to show another 4-Hers animals and get a participation  ribbon. The kids had fun seeing the pigs and working with them. The pigs behaved themselves and everyone had fun.
       It is always nice to see children experiencing an aspect of agriculture that they might not have been exposed to before. Paul and I gave them some information on hogs which they might need to know in the show ring. Everyone is excited for the big show at the fair in less than a week.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

I met a farmer tour

        This last June I had the chance to participate in an I met a farmer tour that our county Farm Bureau hosted. The tour consisted of visits to 4 different ag production sites. The invited guests were local community members who may not be exposed to agriculture through their every day life. 
       The tour started off with a stop at a local dairy farm. The young lady who lived on the farm took us on a tour of her milking parlor. She demonstrated how to milk a cow and provided some education on milk production. The tour participants were able to touch the animals and interact with them. A lesson was also given on the feed rations for a dairy cow. Examples of the different feed componits were passed around for every one to smell and feel. The final portion of the tour took us through the milk room where the milk is stored until transport off the farm. Here it was explained the many actions taken to keep the milk supply clean and free from any contamination.
      The next stop was a large beef feed lot. We were unable to get off the bus at this site due to recent rains and therefor saw the facility as we drove through it on the bus. Due to this I didn't get any pictures of this tour. (By the way the above picture is of a dairy cow, not beef. Big difference.) Our tour guide here was a young man who is the youngest of a three generation family that owns and operates their farm. Such things as housing of animals, waste control, and feed were discussed. There were many excellent questions asked by tour participants and I feel we all left with some gained knowledge about beef production.
      Stop number three was to a large hog feed mill. There were no animals on the site but we got a full tour of how the feed ration is mixed and delivered to the different barns the animals are housed in. This facility was also owned and operated by one local family. The husband, wife, and all three of their grown children have different rolls in the operation of the farm. The feed mill was quite large and highly technical with many computerized and automated processes. The facility was very impressive and modern. 
   Along on the tour were many farmers who were available to answer individual questions and engage tour participants in deeper conversations about agriculture as was appropriate. Above my husband Paul is talking to a community member who had some further questions. 
     The last stop was on a grain farm. Here participants were shown some traditional farming equipment and some used for organic farming. The purpose and use of each different machine was explained. Some had fun sitting in the cab and seeing how technical the tractors are with GPS and various other monitors. The main message here was that grain farming is focusing on precision farming to optimize crop production and control the amount of fertilizer or chemicals used. 
      The tour finished with a wonderful supper on the farm and some good conversation. I feel that it was an enjoyable and educational day for all those participating. In fact I had a Dr who was on the tour stop me a week or so later to say how much he enjoyed the tour. I reminded him that it is an annual event so he can spread the work and help encourage others to attend next year. He said he will definitely do that. 
       There is no better way to educate someone about something new than to let them see, touch, and interact with it. These community members can now tell others about their new knowledge in agriculture and have experiences they can talk about. Being open and telling our story is so key. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

No place like home

       My family has a tradition of vacationing on the big Lake Michigan every summer. It is a wonderful time spent with my siblings, nieces and nephews, and my parents. We stay at a cabin owned by the extended family in the UP. The lake is so clear and the fine white sand is unlike any found in MN. This year was one of the coldest trips we had so there wasn't much swimming and beach time was not as enjoyable as in the past. Despite the cold weather we still had a wonderful time just being together.
      Here are some of my favorite moments and pictures.
Paul and me on the beach in front of the cabin

Paul and our two youngest taking a walk along the lake
The kids in the top of a lighthouse. It was a bit of a climb


Simon was the first to reach the top
 for the 2nd year in a row
Therese was not far behind in 2nd place

We have a tradition of going to Log Slide which is at Pictured Rocks park up on Lake Superior. Log Slide is a big cliff that goes down into the lake and you can climb down and up it. The kids love this (some of them more than other). Here are their victory pictures as they reached the top.

Third place went to little Dave

 Then came the tailenders all tied for 4th place

Paul the coach and motivator
My sister Maria

Big Dave who I was told climbed the hill about twice going back and forth between everyone climbing the hill

And Mary. Later she said she will never do that again.
It wasn't that bad, was it Mary?

         As I said we did have some fun time on the beach. The kids are all at an age where playing in the sand is wonderful fun. We were also very excited to find some new sand in front of the cabin where in years past it had just been a bunch of sharp small shells. We sure hope the sand stays.
Many of the kids had to do some sampling of the sand to see if the taste was acceptable.

             We got to spend the 4th of July on the big lake and had fun with Red, White, and Blue Drinks, tie dye shirts, and a parade in the local town. The only let down was that the fireworks were cancelled due to the cool weather.
Attempt at a grand kid picture. Yes we spend the vacation with 11 kids all in one cabin. Crazy but fun.

Having fun with the girls hair

We went out to the local lighthouse and the kids had fun running from the waves that were crashing up against to rocks.

4th of July cake. So good.

Luke, my youngest, got help from grandpa to put his feet in Lake Michigan for the first time.

 Another tradition is to hunt for fossils along the shore line. Mary has used them in 4-H geology projects for the past few years. We did find some treasures to take home.

      The time at the cabin ended with the kids going on a great frog hunt in the slough behind the cabin. I was impressed that they caught so many frogs and that they were so big. I know that this is a memory they will keep with them about this years trip to the UP.
one of the many large tadpoles they caught
        We did a little photo shoot with the kids as they let the frogs go before we left for home.
Big Dave and a big smile
Mary hold on tight

Little Dave and his frog he called pickles.
          I have to say that it was good to spend time with family but every time I leave the farm for an extended amount of time I realize how much I love this life and how much it is a part of me. I find myself wondering what is growing in the garden, how tall is the corn, are my flowers blooming, and have the animals been well taken care of while we are away. I know that farming is not just a way of life for me it is a calling. Something deep inside of me is connected to the land and it always pulls me back. It is fun to visit other places and relax on vacation, but it is so true that there is no place like home, and for me their is no place like the farm.