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.....