Friday, September 9, 2011

Elected officials learn about animal agriculture by showing cattle

You've probably heard the saying:  "If we build it, they will come."  Same is true for teaching non-ag folks about animal agriculture.  If you can provide a unique opportunity for them to learn, they will come listen -- and have some fun, too!

This weekend is our second annual county 4-H livestock show where kids from 15 counties in North Carolina will show meat goats and beef heifers.  Last year we invited our local elected officials, including the N.C. Speaker of the House and a state senator, to show beef heifers.  It isn't everyday that you can find a state Speaker of the House -- and a county manager -- who actually knows how to show beef cattle!

N.C. Representative Joe Hackney leads his borrowed beef heifer in a special elected official showmanship class at the 2010 Chatham/Randolph County 4-H Livestock Show. 

Since this special event was so successful last year, we've brought it back this year.  All five of our county commissioners, the county sheriff and our area's state senator plan to be paired up with 4-H members tomorrow to receive a crash course on how to show a beef heifer.  Elected officials will lead a beef heifer in a special showmanship class created just for them.   

Chatham County Manager Charlie Horne looks for the judge as his 4-H partner, Matthew White, watches closely to provide showmanship tips.  In addition to his job as county manager, Mr. Horne is a registered Angus cattle producer.

This opportunity provides 4-H members and parents a chance to share their experiences raising and showing cattle, as well as talk about their farming operations. While we are fortunate to have several elected officials who have ties to agriculture in our area, those who are not as tuned into the industry should come away from the event having a new appreciation for what agriculture provides for our community and young people.  In fact, in our county, agriculture continues to be the number one economic driver.  Unfortunately, sometimes local residents tend to forget this fact.

N.C. Senator Bob Atwater visits with his show partner, Harnett County (N.C.) 4-H member, Mason Blinson, to learn more about her beef cattle projects.

I encourage those of you in other states that work with 4-H and FFA youth to find ways for them to interact with your local elected officials.  Even if we don't always agree with the opinions of our elected officials, building relationships at the grassroots level is still very important.  Plus, it is a great way for our young people to hone their communications skills by getting them out of their comfort zone.

Rep. Hackney (left) and Sen. Atwater proudly display the honorary 4-H medals they earned by taking part in the show.

When you consider that the U.S. has only around 219,000 full-time farms, it never hurts for our young people to remind big decision makers where their food comes from!   Sometimes information that comes from "the mouths of babes" can make a big impact.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Pioneer Woman on Food Network

Howdy folks!  I have been on the go quite a bit over the summer, so I've been slackin' on the blog.  My hope was to write a post at least once a day.  When this didn't happen, I thought I'd blog at least three times a week.  Well, this didn't happen either so now I hope to make it happen at least once a month!  A friend warned me it is hard to keep up just doing three posts a week.  I didn't believe him, but he was right -- especially when you keep a schedule like mine!

Ree Drummond.  Food Network photo.
So, did any of you catch the debut of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, on the Food Network on Saturday?  It was a great treat for a farm gal like me to see some farming stuff on the Food Network channel.  They were working cattle, too!  Plus, she made chicken fried steak and mashed taters -- you know, the type of food us country folks like.  Be sure to check her out as she shares her family life on an Oklahoma ranch.  Personally, I want her kitchen!  Click here to see scenes from Saturday's show:  Ree on the Food Network

If you are looking for a simple and yummy meal for your family tonight, try Ree's Sour Cream Noodle Bake.  A friend posted this recipe on her Facebook page a while back, so I gave it a try.  She said it would be simple, fast and good....and she was right!  I didn't think my daughter, who tends to be anti-cottage cheese, would eat it, but it has become one of her favorite meals.  The only thing I did different was add one more can of tomato sauce and a small can mushrooms to the tomato sauce/meat mixture.  This way you can be sure there is enough sauce to cover all of the noodles.  The ground pepper, green onions and sharp cheddar cheese -- oh my!  They make this meal.  There is something about the combo that isn't overpowering, but just right.  Since July 4th, I've made this recipe about seven times and it has been a hit every time! 

Photo from  -- Sour Cream Noodle Bake.
And if you are watching your weight, I figured out that the Weight Watcher points for a hefty serving only comes to six!  To calculate the points, I used lower fat food items (93% lean ground beef, 2% sharp cheddar, low fat cottage cheese and fat free sour cream) and then divided a 13x9-inch pan into eight servings.  Wella!  Guess what I am fixing for dinner tonight?    

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The "Albino" Heifer?

Today on the Beef Daily blog I posted a comment about the funny inquiries or questions we sometimes get from non-farm folks about cattle or farming in general.  I thought I'd share my comment with you on my blog to see if it might make you chuckle, too. 

Photo from
As show season picks up, I am reminded about last year's North Carolina State Fair.  One of my 4-H kids was showing a beautifully white, fluffy-haired Charolais beef heifer calf.  While the heifer was in the grooming chute getting a last minute hair cut, the alley was open for the general public to see the cattle up close and personal.  Two families happened to catch a glimpse of the calf and got all excited.  The mother of the first family that came by said, "Wow…hey kids…look at this albino cow! Can we pet it?”

It was all I could do to not giggle. I quickly explained that the white hair coat helped to indicate her breed. The second family that came by also asked, “Is this an albino cow?” I jokingly said, “Yep…can’t you tell by it's bright red eyes?” Once they looked at it’s eyes and realized they weren’t red, they gave me a deer-in-the-headlight look. They knew by my grin that something was up. My response made for a good conversation starter!

The second funny thing that happened at the state fair last year was when a fair worker got cow poo on his brand new white tennis shoe as he walked through the barn.  Talk about having a fit!  He then proceeded to a big puddle near a spigot in the cattle barn to swish around his shoe to get the manure off. What he didn’t realize was that about five minutes earlier, a heifer urinated to make that nice big puddle.  Sorry to say it,  buddy, but that wasn’t water!  (Well, I guess it was...but not the kind he was looking for!) I would venture to guess he probably realized this the next morning when his shoe didn't smell too fresh!

There is always something that makes us laugh when we show animals -- making it one of the reasons why we do it.  There is nothing like a good fun laugh every now and then.  But in all seriousness, what better way to learn about animals than to ask the people doing the growing, right?

What is your favorite show memory or funny moment?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Farm safety should be top of mind -- learn from me!

It has been a few days since I last wrote a new post.  I've been on the go running my daughter to end-of-school-year events as well as helping her prepare for a 4-H cattle show that was held last weekend. 

Now that school is out, I am reminded of the frequent summer time farm accidents that can often occur.  In church recently, someone said, "Let's be mindful to pray for our families as they begin their summer activities."  It is so easy to think about summer time fun, but so often we forget about being careful, too.  Not only should we be smart when it comes to camping, swimming, biking and baseball/softball activities, we shouldn't forget about what can happen on the farm. 

Tractors, silos, animals, gates, latches, power tools...while it is easy to go about our daily activities on the farm, we need to remember that we can't be complacent that nothing will ever happen.  I am a prime example of this statement.   

One of my nine lives?
Two years ago while setting up our cattle grooming chute, I experienced one of my worst farm accidents.  That's involved me!  As much as I've preached to my daughter and my 4-H members about being careful when it comes to working on the farm, I should have been looking in the mirror telling this to myself. 

I've been very lucky over the years when it comes to staying safe on the farm.  I have had a few close calls, though, especially as a kid.  When I was nine, I nearly cut off my thumb when a pocket knife folded back on me as I was opening a feed bag (knives didn't have the safety locks like they do now).  Then there was the time my flannel shirt got caught in the PTO shaft on the tractor and ripped a huge whole in it.  How can I forget the time when I was sled riding down the barn bank and my sled turned backwards, forcing me back first into the bumper of our old Impala.  I thought I broke my back, but because of all of the winter clothes I was wearing, they padded the blow.  It still hurt like the dickens, though! 

I will never forget skidding on a slick spot of mud while rounding the corner of the house on our Honda 50 trail bike (with no helmet on).  The cycle landed on my leg while it was folded back under me.  Luckily enough, other than a sprained muddy leg, I was unscathed.  I still don't know how the muffler didn't tattoo a burn on me. 

And, the one that sticks in my mind the most was when I about 13 years old and I was bringing the tractor and manure spreader back down the road after unloading the spreader in one of our fields on the hill.  I was going way too fast coming down the road and couldn't slow down the tractor without it and the spreader swerving every time I'd hit the brakes.  Dad always told me to take it slow.  But did I listen?  Of course not...I decided to press it a little.  I was rushing so I could get done with my chores.  The feeling of no control on the tractor was horrible.  I soon passed our farm's driveway screaming for help.  I just remember the anxiety of whizzing by my dad and our hired hand who were running after me.  No one could help me at this point.  I was fearful that a car was going to pull out in front of me as I passed a side road.  Finally, as I started to go up a slight incline in the road at my neighbor's dairy farm, the tractor and the spreader started to coast and I was able to get them under control.  When I finally came to a stop, I remember breaking down in tears.  How I didn't flip that tractor with me on it is beyond me.  I truly believe divine intervention had something to do with it.

Grooming chutes hurt when they fall on you
But as for the grooming chute incident two years ago, this was a different story.  This was my closest call yet and I hope my last.  As we were lifting up (unfolding) the two ends of the chute, the front end slipped out my my husband's hands just as I happened to bend down to straighten up the chute's mat while I was still holding up the back end of the chute.  The front end nailed me right in the head at full force.  It hit me so fast, I honestly didn't know what happened.  I remember right before it happened, my husband yelled, "Look out!"  Although he tried, he wasn't able to stop it in time.  When the front part of the chute hit me, I saw a few stars (just like in the cartoons) and could feel immediate pain on the left side of my head.  I do remember screaming for help.  In a frenzy, my husband (who felt horrible at what just happened) gathered me up off of the barn floor and put me in the truck -- manure covered and all.  Off to the emergency room we went. Fortunately, the ER is only five minutes from our farm.

When I got to the hospital, my husband checked me in.  He said to the ER registration lady:  "My wife is down here on the floor....she was hit in the head by a metal pipe!"  Well, this probably wasn't the best description of what happened and it just about got him in trouble.  His explanation did, however, make for a quick reaction to the medical team, as two nurses immediately ran out to get me into a wheelchair when they saw me sitting on the floor with a head bleed.  Of course, Sam had to be questioned after his response as to why I was there in the first place, as you can imagine.  Once our stories were confirmed as a match, he was then able to come on back to my ER room.  We joke about it now, but I imagine at the time he was worried he might have to post bail!   

Unsure of whether I had any neck injuries, the ER team quickly put me into a neck brace as a precaution.  After going through a series of CAT scans, the nurses and doctors came to the conclusion that I have one hard head!  Fortunately, other than just a cut on the outside of my head from where a bolt slightly penetrated the skin, I had no skull fractures.  Two hours later, I was released.  Once again, luck was on my side.

Here I am in 2009 in the emergency room following a farm accident.
But while I was in the ER, I made my husband take a picture of me in my raunchy state.  While it is not a very flattering picture of me at all, I  wanted to share it with you as a reminder to think safety first.  Innocent mishaps can occur so fast, as I experienced first hand. 

Be safe out there everyone!  Trust me, you don't want to end up like me in this picture.  By the way, I also learned that you shouldn't mess with a chute mat until the entire chute is put together correctly and set with lock pins.  I learned the hard way!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Scotty -- The All-American Country Boy

I'll have to admit I've been a big watcher of American Idol this year, at least when it came to the selection of the top 24.  And from the get-go, I loved watching the 17-year-old, Scotty McCreery, from Garner, NC.

I've made several trips through Garner since I've lived in North Carolina.  It is a town adjacent to Raleigh and has seen a lot of growth and transitions over the years.  Scotty sure has done a lot in the past several months to put Garner on the map.

I was tickled to death when Scotty won the 10th season of American Idol last night.  So was North Carolina!  Nearly 10,000 people packed into the RBC Center in Raleigh to watch the night's finale festivities, including a few of my daughter's high school friends. (Click here to see the fans' reaction at the RBC Center when Scotty won.) 

What is it about this young man that everyone loves?  Yes, he can definitely sing using those deep tones.  But I believe it is his wholesome, kind, not-embarrassed-to-show-his-Christian-faith attitude, and his all-American boy character that made me want to pull for this young man.

My family and I thought it was funny that there was this push on the show last night to show the pop singers.  But when a Raleigh t.v. news reporter interviewed the youngsters at the RBC Center, they all said they "love country music."  Hey Hollywood, did you hear that?  They LOVE COUNTRY MUSIC!

Now, I like some of the pop songs that are out there, but it always seems there is this push to try and get people away from country music.  Why?

My hope is that Scotty -- and Lauren -- will draw folks to country music and prove to the music industry that country really is cool!  Just look at all of the country singers that have come out of North Carolina, especially from the American Idol competitions.  I have to give credit where credit is surely due -- the churches!  Look at how many of those kids got their start in a church.

Kudos goes out to all the dedicated school and church music directors out there!  North Carolina has many terrific ones.  If it wasn't for my high school band instructor in Ohio and church choir director in North Carolina, I would never have dreamed to get up in front of hundreds of people to perform and actually enjoy it like I do today. 

Congratulations Scotty!  You represent Garner, the state of North Carolina and the country music industry well!   I look forward to seeing you in concert soon!     

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What sound takes you back in time?

I am a big country music fan, but in my growing up years I listened to a lot of pop music.  Two of my favorite groups to this day are Journey and Foreigner.  If I hear one of their songs now, I immediately drift back to a place as a kid that I vividly remember -- like a high school dance, a school bus ride home from elementary school, a drive to the livestock market with my dad, a stroll through the grocery aisle with mom, or when I would just chill out in my bedroom. 

But there is one sound that still is my favorite.  The fan.  There is something about its cool soothing nature that takes me back to several places, like my Grandma Hines' kitchen.  In the summer, I would often walk into her kitchen on a Saturday afternoon right when the west side of the house was getting its strongest rays from the sun.  There'd be grandma peeling an apple at the sink and standing right in the path of the breeze.  The powerful fan would be humming its tune in the front hall doorway, which led into the kitchen.  And this wasn't just any fan.  It was one of those high-powered machines that could blow you over!  I'd sit on the chair next to the fan to cool off.  It was almost hypnotizing.  Our family enjoyed grandma's fan so much, we soon started sporting the same model in our farm house living room.  And like in grandma's kitchen, I began enjoying the soothing sounds while watching t.v., which pretty much always led to a quick summer time nap before the next round of farm chores.

Photo from Dover Projects.
Then there was the metal box fan that was in the hallway window upstairs in our farm house.  This fan scared me.  While it definitely served a purpose to cool down the upstairs bedrooms, little did my parents know that this particular fan brought fears to me when I was nine years old.  For one thing, I hated storms.  After all, we lived in the eastern-most section of Tornado Alley (see map below at red arrow).  Whenever the fan would start pulling hard in the opposite direction due to an incoming weather front,  I knew we'd be in for a bad one.  I started to believe that because I was getting so good at figuring out the fan's reactions, I had physic powers!  The hall fan was never wrong.

Early one night while in my bedroom, I noticed the hall fan started pulling direction.  I rushed to turn it off, took it out of the window, shut the window and then headed downstairs to be with the rest of my family in the living room to watch t.v.  Sure enough, the fan was telling me something.  A tornado warning had just come across the t.v. screen for the county located just west of us.  We were in the path of the storm. I can remember going outside with my family to watch the pea-soup colored sky just over the line of trees opposite from our house -- a definite sign that bad weather was coming.  The calm before the storm was eery.  No animals or birds could be heard.  It was if they knew the fan was telling them "to take cover now," too!  Everything was so still UNTIL the front arrived.

I remember my family rushing to their places when the storm got closer.  Dad starting yelling to my brother to go with him to shut the barn doors.  I ran inside our house to shut every window to keep the wind and rain out, and then I went back outside with mom on the front porch to anxiously wait for my dad and brother to return.  Just about this time, a state highway patrolman whizzed by our house to take post on the overpass bridge located up the hill so he could watch for funnel clouds.  As the winds started to howl and huge rain drops began beating down, pea-sized hail began to fall and trees limbs started breaking off.  Deep in the background, we could hear the faint sound of the tornado siren from the nearby town, along with an emergency alert on the local country music radio station (WNCO) to let us know we needed to take cover. 

All night long we listened and watched as storms hammered our area.  As for me, I shook in panic.  Luckily, we received little damage from this particular storm.  But it was during this same summer that we had to dodge several tornado-potential storms.  I believe the thing that helped prepare me for them was that ol' 20-inch box fan in the hallway window.  Would you believe I now own two of them and have used them in the upstairs bedroom windows even though we have central heating and air?  Of course, I only use them when the temperatures aren't too hot and I long to hear the humming sound again that takes me back to my childhood on the farm.  However, I do keep a small fan by my desk in my office at work that helps me cool off in the heat of the South and to get that special "sound fix" I enjoy from time to time.   

So, what is the one sound above all others that takes you back in time?  

Friday, May 13, 2011

Teenage ag students make excellent help on the farm

If there is one thing I've learned in middle age, it is that I don't move like I used to.  Now, I am not saying I've completed my "bucket list" and am on my way out.  I am far from it (hopefully).  However, when it comes to farm work, weekends are brutal.  But Monday's....well, they are the worst! 

You see, my husband and I work full-time, agricultural-related jobs off of the farm and we stay very busy with agricultural organizations.  During the week it is hard to do major farm tasks because in most cases we are too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to even think about picking up a hammer or chainsaw at 7 p.m.  Plus, daytime hours have diminished by the time we stroll in.  I have an hour commute to and from my job, and this doesn't help much either.   

Daddyman (my husband) and my daughter usually hold down the fort during the week.  A typical weekday involves feeding animals, making supper, watching a bit of t.v. and going to bed!  And when the next day rolls around, we do it all over again.  Honestly, sometimes the schedule can be a total drag.

Saturday means "go" on the farm
When Saturday rolls around, there is no down time at our house.  We are up and at it early to get things done on the farm.  First, there are things to go pick up like feed, farm supplies, groceries and dry cleaning.  Then there is the mowing, which requires the use of two riding lawn mowers going at the same time.  After two hours of mowing, there is weed-eating, followed by fixing things -- and I mean anything you can imagine!  This could include fixing a piece of equipment, removing old trees around fence lines or repairing holes in the barn.  It NEVER ends!  Why does it seem you can never get ahead on a farm?

We go so hard on a Saturday, it is pretty much a regimen for us to pop a couple of ibuprofen before we go to bed in the evening in anticipation of the next day's pain.  Sunday includes church in the morning, and then house chores in the afternoon that didn't get done on Saturday because of farm work.  It can be a busy cycle...and one that wears you slam out!

Monday is the worst.  It seems like the pains from physical farm activity on Saturday skips a day and hits us on Monday.  When you've gone at it all weekend with no down time and then Monday comes back around...oh is tough.   

Young farm hands
The one thing that has helped our family both mentally and physically is hiring good young help.  However, we have been fortunate for many years to get some excellent help from a retired extension agent friend.  But ever since my daughter started high school two years ago and joined FFA, we have made several connections with area country kids that know how to work -- and I mean work without us even telling them to!  Now, no offense to the urban boys and girls out there, but there is nothing like country kids for working on the farm.  They know how to get it done and they require little direction.  Plus they love working on the farm!  There is something about the work ethic of country boys and girls that makes us adults smile from ear to ear.   

Last weekend my daughter and two of her ag buddies went to work on her show cattle pen, which needed some serious spring cleaning.  They did an awesome job and they didn't require any direction.  Now, I ask you, would I have gotten the same work ethic out of a non-ag girl or fellow?  Maybe.  But would they have griped the whole time about how the pen had a smell to it or that they got manure on themselves?  Maybe or maybe not.  We don't take that chance.  The country kids get first dibs on the jobs every time.  We don't have time or patience for whining.

To show our appreciation for hard work,  we always treat help to lunch at the local hamburger dive.  It gives them a chance to socialize and get energized for the second half of the day.  I try to throw in a treat in the afternoon, too.  And, of course, they get paid for their hard work.

Country Kids vs. City Kids
Don't get me wrong.  I know of many hard working, terrific non-ag kids, but when it comes to farm work, I can almost bet every time (from experience) that non-ag kids will be the first to ask if you if they are done with a project even when they are far from it.  You just have to sit back and chuckle at em' and hope that your effort to get them to appreciate the value of hard work will pay off with them later in life.

Photo courtesy of Proyecto Asis.
This reminds me of the time when a girl in my dorm in college was telling me she wanted to be a veterinarian.  She was a pre-vet student from a northeastern U.S. city.  She always dressed to the max and had those long pretty fingernails.  She wanted to be a small animal veterinarian because she loved pets.  I said to her one day, "You know that you are going to also have to get some large animal experience as part of vet school training even though you don't want to be a large animal vet, right?"  She looked at me in horror.  I went on to say, "Oh, you will love it, because you will get to do cool stuff like preg check cattle and everything...but you'll have to trim those pretty fingernails."  She looked at me and said, "Why?"  I said, "Because I don't think a mama cow will appreciate you scratching their hiney with them!  Besides, your fingernails will bust through the extra-long OB gloves." 

With a bewildered look, she went on to ask me more questions about raising farm animals.  Halfway through the discussion I replied, "Are you sure you are ready to be a vet?"  She said, "Not after what you've told me."  I said, "Did you not think poop, blood and afterbirth were not going to part of your veterinarian profession?"  She finally fessed up and said, "I have no idea what I am getting myself into."

As we finished our conversation and after witnessing her green facial expression, I told her that she might want to consider another profession.  She piped up and said that she loved fashion, which was very obvious by her obsession to look her best every day.   

Later in the quarter, she dropped by my dorm room to say hello and said, "Hey Jules, I decided to change my major to Fashion Merchandising!"

I just smiled and said, "I think that is a wise decision!"  And it was.  She would have been miserable as a vet student, but she makes one heck of a clothes buyer for a major department store!



Sunday, May 1, 2011

Learning from the kids: Where do they get this stuff?

NC A&T University provided animals from the college's farm.
On Friday I set up a booth on behalf of the company I work for at an "FFA Day" sponsored by the FFA chapter at Southern Guilford High School near Greensboro, NC.  FFA Day was held for the entire student body (approximately 1,200 students), and I have to give the chapter members and advisers credit for their efforts to help educate non-ag students about agriculture. 

Since my daughter, Kaylyn, was out of school for Spring Break, and since she is the NC Jr. Beef Ambassador, I told her she should come along to help educate the students about beef.  So, she grabbed her box of educational materials, and I packed the truck with what I needed, and off we went. 

A real eye-opener
Kaylyn with beef educational materials.
Let's just say it was a real eye-opener for Kaylyn to participate in a school event in a fairly urban area.  It was very opposite of the rural-based high school she attends.  When students came by the booth, they asked us both questions.  I got a lot of the typical "What does your company do?" questions and Kaylyn got a few unanticipated "I don't eat meat!" comments.  One boy asked Kaylyn with all seriousness:  "Doesn't beef get stuck in your stomach easily?"  I guess you could say we were stunned at some of myths that have been thrown at these young people.  Stuck in your stomach?  Seriously!?

I have to give credit to Kaylyn for her ability to think quick on her feet.  She asked the boy who thought beef would get stuck in his stomach where he got the information from.  He said, "The t.v.!"

NC Department of Agriculture food shopping cart...always a hit!
Ah yes, the television.  Let me guess.  I would bet they've been listening to some well-known talk show hosts who tend to never have farmers on their programs, but rather only self-proclaimed food experts who spend very little time on a farm or who aren't involved in the production aspect at all.

Something to Crow about...
I had to laugh recently when a popular national morning news show featured Sheryl Crow and her personal chef Chuck White to promote Crow's new recipe book.  They were actually making a beef recipe from the book.  As a beef producer, this was an encouraging sign.  The chef went on to say that he prefers grass-fed beef because of its leanness and flavor.  Okay.  No problem there.  The beauty of the beef industry is that it provides different options to consumers.  But then Crow piped in and said that she likes to buy her meat locally and looks for organic.  I raised an eyebrow a bit wondering where this was about to go.  Okay, again not a big deal if she is looking for organically grown meat; HOWEVER, did she mean that just because the beef being used in the recipe was grass fed beef that is was organic?  If she did, then she may be a bit misinformed and is doing what a lot of people do by taking current food "buzz words" and confuse them with the true meanings.  Just because a cut of beef is grass fed doesn't mean it is organic.  This is a common misconception.  My advice to Crow and other consumers who like to buy locally is to make sure they ask local beef producers how they actually grow their beef.  This way they know exactly what they are getting and they'll be more educated about their food production.     

Folks, the bottom line is this.  If you don't understand something regarding how your food is produced or raised, ask a farmer or call your local cooperative extension representative.  Like your teachers always said, "There are no stupid questions!"   It is better to be informed with the facts.   

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Strawberry time in the Carolinas

Unlike my grandmothers, I don't get the opportunity to spend countless hours freezing and canning fresh fruits and vegetables like they used to do.  But there is one fruit I make time for every spring and that is the strawberry.

I just got off the phone with one our area strawberry producers and am very excited to learn that the u-pick operation is fully underway.  They started picking on Monday.  For me this is the sign that spring has truly sprung!

There is nothing better tasting than a juicy ripe strawberry straight out of the field.  Yum!  At some point this weekend I plan to get up early to head out for a 7:30 a.m. picking.  It will take a little while to fill my two five-gallon buckets, but it will be worth it.

My Grandma Hines was really big into making freezer strawberry jam.  She always said that freezing jam tasted more like fresh fruit when you'd put it on a slice of bread or dab a little on some cottage cheese.  I guess I would have to agree.  It is pretty tasty with the "hint" of sugar in it.  Okay, so maybe "hint" of sugar isn't correct.  I guess "cups" of sugar is more appropriate!   

My family must like the freezer jam, too, because we just finished up the last plastic jar from last year's harvest.  Time to restock!

So, what is your favorite fresh strawberry recipe?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Youth livestock events are a family affair and tradition

4-H livestock club members show off their awards.
One of the highlights of my life the past several years has been volunteering as a 4-H livestock club adviser.  As a parent of a child who shows livestock animals, and as a former youth livestock showman myself, I know what it takes to get ready for livestock show events.  It is definitely a family affair.

With young children who are starting out showing livestock, they can't do it alone.  This is where mom, dad or some adult figure has to step in to lend a hand and guide them the right way.  And when it comes to showing cattle, adults are critical in helping build a child's confidence level around large animals.  It is all about building a trusting relationship with your animal that makes a difference.

Talking to a judge really isn't that scary!
Yesterday I witnessed firsthand how hours of preparation and proper care of livestock are so important.  Our 4-H club beef heifer showmen had their first show of the season...and as always, it's the hardest.  New cattle in the show ring for the first time, new 4-H members who have never shown before, and parents who have never experienced this type of thing.  It can be a bit overwhelming and exhausting.  Let's be quite frank, showing those big critters takes some serious work!  But when all was said in done yesterday, the kids (and parents) did awesome!

A cloverbud waits with parents.
When you see a smile of a child after they survived "the unknown" in the show ring, it makes my job as a volunteer so worthwhile.  I've witnessed some of the quietest kids come out of their shell once they've experienced what it feels like to go into the show ring after handling an 850-pound animal.  Talk about facing fear!  This is what I mean when I say 4-H and FFA make a difference in a child's life.

Facing my fear in the arena
I have never forgotten those times when I showed livestock as a kid.  I started off showing pigs, which were fun, easy to handle and raise, and more controllable.  I also showed pigs because I wasn't old enough to show cattle yet.  When I finally did become old enough to start showing beef steers, I was scared to death of them.  Just ask my dad!  I was so scared of the "unknown" in the show ring, I would come to tears and beg dad to not make me go in there.  

And then there was the first time I let my grandparents talked me into participating in a youth Belgian horse showmanship class when I was in 8th grade.  I thought I was going to pass out from fear.  Just look at the size of a Belgian's head, not to mention their body and feet!  Looking back, it never was quite as bad as I thought it would be.  After all, my parents and grand parents weren't going to put me in an unsafe situation.

Showing cattle can be a bit intimidating when you are young.  Shucks, it can be intimidating for an adult!

My big "ah ha" moment
When I was 10 years old, I joined the Ashland County (Ohio) Baby Beef Club, which had about 60 members.  Every November all of the members would go to a local cattle farm to pick up their calves from a shipment that was brought in from out of state.  All of the cattle were similar in size and age, which made it fair for everyone.  Club members would draw a number out of a hat on a first come, first serve basis.  You'd pay for your steer, load them up and for the next 10 months you would raise your steer in preparation for the beef show at county fair the following September.

This is me and my Hereford steer.  (Second place, 1979).
As I recall, it was at the 1979 Ashland County Fair where I earned a third place in a pretty large youth showmanship class.  Once I left the arena with a bit more confidence and a ribbon premium in my pocket, I waited outside with my steer until his placing class was called to enter.  (Of course, I made dad tie him up because I didn't want to hold him by myself.)  In the meantime, my dad went back in to watch the judging of the other classes.  I can remember him scurrying back outside to tell me, "Your steer may actually place pretty high....the judge is looking for your steer's body type [less fat] this year.  Make sure you do your best to show him off."

When dad told me this, my butterflies went away.  I started getting really excited that I might actually have a shot at some good premium (money).  Suddenly all of the fear I kept bottled up inside went away.  I had business to do.  I had to focus.  I had to win a class so I could earn some good money!

As it turned out, dad was right when it came to the judging.  I didn't get the blue ribbon with my steer (I received second place in my steer's weight division), but I did get a fond memory of that experience that will always stay with me.   

Kaylyn with her first calf, Helga, in 2003.
Keeping the tradition alive
After all of the craziness I went through showing beef steers as a kid -- tears, fears and exhaustion -- my parents never thought I would now be helping young people show cattle today.  And like me, my daughter has gone through times where she was petrified to enter the ring with a beef animal that was acting up.  She has looked fear in the eyes many times (with a slight nudge from mama and daddy, of course) and conquered it.

Kaylyn showing Herefords in 2010.
You can always bet the smile is there, too -- along with some ribbon premium money and a good nap afterwards.   Now that she is older, I asked her the other day if she still enjoys showing cattle.  She said, "I can't imagine doing anything else!" 


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Young people telling the real story about beef

The Southern Women's Show was held in Raleigh at the NC State Fairgrounds this past weekend.  The NC Beef Council set up a booth at the three-day event to help educate the public about how beef can be an important part of a healthy diet.  Representatives from the NC beef industry passed out numerous educational  pieces and recipes.  And if there happened to be a man that would stroll by among all of the women in attendance, it wasn't too uncommon to see them pick up the grilling recipes!  One information sheet that seemed to be very popular was the beef selection guide, which shows the different cuts and where they come from on the carcass.   

NC Beef Ambassadors share beef information with a consumer.

As I observed  Rossie Blinson (picture left in the middle), 2011 NC Beef Ambassador, and my daughter, Kaylyn (right), who is the 2011 NC Junior Beef Ambassador, I enjoyed seeing how enthusiastic they were to share beef information with show participants by using their Master of Beef Advocacy skills.  There was just a couple of anti-meat bullies that booth workers had to handle, but beef representatives held their own by showing respect, tactfulness and a willingness to educate them about "the facts" of beef nutrition and production. 

Two ladies that stopped by the booth asked a question to Kaylyn about family farming in general.  They had questions about the large operations they see in North Carolina, particularly with hogs.  I chimed in on the conversation since I know a bit about hog production.  Like many beef producers, my family also has experience in other livestock areas.  For example, I grew up on a farrow-to-finish hog farm in Ohio, and my father is still involved in the pork industry today in Michigan.  So when it comes to talking about or eating meat products, we certainly don't discriminate.  I went on to explain to the ladies that 98 percent of U.S. farms are family owned.  They didn't realize this is the case, and it took a minute for it to sink in.  Once I explained how vertical integration works and that the large barns they see are a part of how modern farming is done today on many family farms; you could see the light bulb go on in their eyes.  It is amazing how much you can teach someone in about two minutes to help keep them positive about agriculture.  They appreciated the conversation and as they started to walk away, they said, "By the way, we love eating beef!"  

So do we, my dears, so do we!     

Monday, April 11, 2011

Another lucky dog arrives on the farm!

Meet Brutus!  He is scared, but we hope to change this soon!
In a follow-up to my last post, it appears we've adopted a new dog.  This morning we were trying to determine whether we should call the local animal control officer (which we know far too well from prior stray dog experiences) or attempt to keep the little guy and make him into a gentle farm companion.  There is something about this little dog that is different from the others who've stopped by our place recently.    

The little guy on our porch is still really scared of us.  When we get close to him, he just burrows his head in fear.  We have been giving him puppy food and water.  We even threw him a little rawhide bone to chew on, but he hasn't touched it.  He looks so much better than he did yesterday.  It was a good sign this morning to see that he had drank a lot of water.  He definitely was dehydrated.     

New Name 
He also has a unique hair coat color.  It is the color of peanut butter fudge -- just like the inside of a piece of Buckeye candy.  You know, those little round bites of chocolate and peanut butter fudge goodness?  I asked my daughter, "Doesn't his coloring look like the inside of a Buckeye?"  She agreed.  So, guess who we've decided to name him after?  Brutus, as in "Brutus The Buckeye"...mascot of my Alma mater, The Ohio State University!  Of course, daddy man (NC State grad) doesn't know that yet, but I believe the name will stick.  It sure does seem to fit what appears to be a lab/basset hound cross.  

The pup is still really timid and keeps hiding behind our covered corn hole boards on the porch for protection.  He'll let out a little cry every once in a while, but for the most part, he hasn't barked.  This is the way our little house dog, Princess, was when she arrived, too.  When we first found him near the road out by our pasture, he had a male sibling the same age that was with him.  We fear something might have happened to his brother since we haven't seen him lately.  Whatever happened, Brutus was lucky to escape and now seems to have unpacked his bags on our porch. 

Lucky Dog
I guess we either have "suckers" written on our foreheads or a soft spot for the lil' thing.  The latter is probably the case.  Assuming he doesn't run off once he hears he has to be neutered, Brutus is our new farm dog.  I suppose I better go fetch a new collar, tag and dog house to help get him settled in.  Once he lets us handle him, off to the veterinarian he goes for all of the appropriate medical attention so he can live a healthy, happy life on the farm.  Welcome home, Brutus!              

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What I learned from grandpa about stray animals

Grandpa in his trademark bibs with pocket watch.
If there is one thing that I remember most about my grandpa's farming ways, it has to be how he handled stray animals.  If an abandoned dog or cat ended up on the porch starving for food, grandpa always made sure they had something to eat.

Most of the stray cats my grandparents cared for would unpack their bags in the barn.  And when a stray dog would come up, it wasn't uncommon for it to take the room in the dog house outside -- if it was available, of course.

When I was about 10 years old, I remember when a litter of scrawny cats found their way to the ramp leading into the milk house.  (My grandparents had a small dairy farm.)  After grandma and grandpa finished milking the cows the night they arrived, grandpa asked grandma if she would put some milk in an aluminum pie plate for the cats out back who were looking for "rooms in the inn."  Grandma and grandpa never were the type to get attached to the strays, but they sure made it clear as responsible farmers, if you can help an animal in need, do it!

Preparing feed for the pigs.
Feeding the horses at dusk. 
I guess that mind set has stuck with me to this day.  Over the years, my family has taken in and helped stray dogs (and a few kittens).  Most of them appeared to be "dumps" from somebody who didn't want them and were almost always scared and hungry when they showed up on the step.  Our little indoor dog was a stray that found its way to our farm several years ago.  Mutts, in my opinion, are some of the best dogs to own.  Our little dog, Princess, is a "mutt" and has never jumped on furniture or chewed on anything -- ever!  Not even a bone!  It is as if she knows she got lucky and doesn't want to ruin her "diva dog" lifestyle of heat, air conditioning, comfy pillow, food, treats and a sparkling pink collar by doing something we might disapprove. 

Checking on the Belgian horses in the pasture.
As I write this post, ironically a scared stray dog is hiding under our corn hole boards on the front porch.  The dog is cute, but scared to death and hungry.  So, like responsible animal agriculture farmers, we've been feeding and watering it, and we've thrown him some treats.  He won't come near us, but he sure hasn't decided to leave.  I am thinking that this dog would make the perfect farm dog once he gets used to us and realizes we won't harm him.  But who knows.  Until we decide what to do with him (find him a good home), he'll at least get the love and care he seeks while under our watch.  After all, it is what grandpa would have done.  Grandpa may have passed on many years ago, but the impression he left with me about being a responsible caretaker of animals stays strong today.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why did you let that calf get by you?

How many of you women beef cattle producers have been scolded by your husbands when asked to help herd cattle to be worked?  You know what I mean:  "Why are you standing just let that calf get by you?  I thought you knew how to move cattle!"   Sound all too familiar? 

After a few of those hair-raising experiences, I just had to seek out a new way.  If anything just for my own sanity!  Fortunately, relief came along.  

On Wedneday, April 6, I attended a Leadership and Cattle Handling Skills for Women Producers workshop at the North Carolina State University Beef Unit in Raleigh.  What a great workshop!  Female experts in the areas of pasture management, cattle health (vaccinations/deworming), and reproduction did a fantastic job of providing tips to help over 20 female producers on their beef farms.

(Photo by Boyd Kidwell.)
Additionally, Dr. Mark Alley (shown left) with the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine provided a super demonstration on low- stress cattle handling using a bud box.  And, the executive director the NC Cattlemen's Association spoke about the importance of a being a leader in agriculture and how we can tell beef's story the right way.

I came away from the workshop with renewed hope that the next time I help work cattle, it should be a much more pleasant experience -- less stress for the cattle and me!  I still need to master the low stress cattle handling techniques to get away from all of those old habits we've all been taught, but now I have the tools to do it right.   

I believe most of the ladies that left the session at the end of the day were quite pleased with what they learned and accomplished.  My cowgirl hat goes off to those who coordinated the program.  You saved my marriage!

Spring is in the air and show season is around the corner

Next week marks the official start of cattle show season for our family.  The Central Jr. Piedmont Livestock Show and Sale takes place in Hillsborough, NC, and our 4-H club members are getting ready.  I've planned to help some of our newest club members with clipping this weekend.

Ouch!  The after effects of a 850-pound heifer.  No broken toe, though!
My daughter, KK, is going to sit out on this year's show.  Not because she wants to, but because she is participating in her first FFA Career Development Event (CDE) of the year -- Prepared Public Speaking.  This event just happens to be the same day as the beef heifer show.  It has been tough for her to get her speech ready due to the amount of homework she has this semester, but she has made great progress.  She is looking forward to the event.

As part of her NC Jr. Beef Ambassador opportunities, KK is also going to help out on Sunday at the NC Cattlemen's Association booth at the Southern Women's Show (NC State Fairgrounds in Raleigh).   This is a great opportunity to share the beef story.

Welcome to my blog -- The Ropin' Pen!

Do you ever think your life is like a country song?  I sure do.  If I would ever sit down and write about the crazy and fun experiences I have had throughout my life in agriculture, in particular, I'd probably be a country superstar!

Sometimes people ask me why I like agriculture so much.  I probably drive a few folks nuts sharing my experiences and talking about all the ag "stuff" I am involved in, but it is what I understand and enjoy.  I love nothing more than to walk into a public place with a pair of cowboy boots on and a Carhartt.  When I wreak of agriculture (and I am not talking cowpies here), I am in my element!  Go ahead...stare at me.  Make my day!  Don't worry....I won't bite.

You know, I like being a part of the two percent of the U.S. population that has the noblest job around.  And if you are an aggie, you probably agree.  If you aren't an aggie, you may be scratching your head in doubt.  If you like to eat and wear clothes....well, there you have it. I'd say a farmer's job is pretty important, wouldn't you?  Let's face it; no one can live without agriculture and the people that produce goods from it.

Aggies have a special bond.  They are about the only people I can truly connect with.  It doesn't matter how much money they make or what trucks they drive.  There is something about "our kind" that is like no other.  In fact, I was inspired to start this blog after a song called the Ropin' Pen by country singer, Trent Willmon.  I think his song sums it up best.  Read the lyrics and tell me if you agree:

Ropin' Pen -- Trent Willmon
"Every Friday afternoon, I hitch up the trailer,
Saddle up ol' Rock an' ice down the cooler.
Drive that back road until it ends,
At the ropin' pen.

There's rusted out pick-ups an' fancy rigs;

Twenty-thousand dollar horses, then there's my ol' stag,
But we're all the same the minute we ride in,
To the ropin' pen.

Well I ain't no Clayo Speed,

But I give her hell,
Hell, you never can tell,
Some day, I just might be.

We'll turn a few steers an' tell a few lies;

Kick back in the saddle an' philosophise.
Most of life's problems, we can prob'ly solve 'em,
In the ropin' pen.

We don't do it for the money, hell we're always broke.

Just ask my ol' buddy Nathan what he'd pay to rope.
He lost a couple of wives an' the fingers on his hands,
To the ropin' pen.

An' it takes a little skill an' a little luck,

An' you can talk smack if you can back it up.
Ah, but we're all friends no matter who wins,
Here at the ropin' pen.

Well I ain't no Clayo Speed,

But I give her hell,
Hell, you never can tell:
Some day, I just might be.

We'll turn another pit of steers an' tell a few more lies;

Drink another beer and hypothesise.
Most of life's problems, hell, we're gonna solve 'em,
In the ropin' pen.

See y'all again next weekend,

Here at the ropin' pen.
At the ropin' pen.
Down at the ropin' pen.
In the ropin' pen."

Not bad, eh?  So come along for the ride.  Maybe we can solve life's problems here at The Ropin' Pen.....