Winter Wednesday

Thought I’d just share a few pics from the ice storm we had last week. It meant that we were without power for a few days, but grateful to have a generator that we hooked up less than 24 hours into the outage. Those lineman for our co-op are AMAZING!

What’s your favorite part of winter?

The definition of disaster

Earlier this week, I posted about the devastation that hit to the west of us. So many farmers and ranchers lost so much in the blink of an eye. People were quick to share photos and stories of heartbreak, but the questions started pouring in.

So I’m going to attempt to answer a few, from this farmer’s point of view. Please remember, these are my thoughts and reasons, but I’m hoping to give just a bit of insight.

1) It’s the Dakotas, why aren’t we ready for a blizzard?

Well, it’s pretty simple. Look at the calendar. It was the first week of October. And although snow is always a possibility, just about any month, the early snow falls are usually fast, wet and disappear. It was predicted to snow, but not even the most cynical of weatherman predicted it would hit that fast, that hard and bring with it the winds that were present.

There were 26 named winter storms across the country last year, according to The Weather Channel. There were many, many storms that hit our area throughout the winter. We don’t usually name them, and they don’t usually impact our lives too much. This was unexpected and beyond our realm of normal.

2) Why weren’t the cattle cared for?

This is plain not true. These cattle were being cared for…in just the way that many ranchers care for their cattle. A few weeks ago, I explained that our cattle spend a majority of their time at pasture. Which is just where most of these cattle were, out to pasture.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

You see, in my case, our pasture is located about 15 miles from our farm. The land is hilly, rolling and wouldn’t be suited for farming. Yet it makes the perfect pasture. If a storm were to hit suddenly, and packing the punch that this one did, there is no way I could drive to the pasture, have them loaded up and brought home, and do so safely, in anything less than a day.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

3) OK, I get it, it was a freak storm, the cattle were on grass…but why did they die?

Good question. And it’s simple science. The storm hit fast, the snow was heavy, many suffocated under the weight of the snow, or ended up disoriented and wandered into a more dangerous area. (Below you’ll find a video I did a few years ago, when I went out to check cows after a blizzard…you can see how they gather.)

Snow accumulates and builds in drifts, much like sand dunes. And when the wind is blowing like it did, it creates very dangerous drifts. If the cattle gathered in an area that was protected from the wind, they may have ended up buried.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

Here’s the one thought I would like for you to take away from all of this: We deal with these types of storms every year. It had nothing to do with lack of care or not knowing how to handle the weather…it had everything to do with timing. The fact that we handle hundreds of winter storms without a loss every year speaks volumes to the care that we provide our animals.

The ranches and farms that were impacted by this storm need our support and resources to get them back on their feet. We can all help out and do our part.

As I sit at my computer, typing this post and considering the challenges that face those to the west of me…all while in a severe thunderstorm watch, I can’t help but shake my head at the irony of it all.

A blizzard last week? Potential for tornadoes this week? Perhaps this government shutdown is even getting to Mother Nature? (Sarcasm…that’s sarcasm.)

I can tell you that the farm and ranch community will rally around and do what they can to help each other out. But the fact is, we may lose a few farms and ranches…and when our numbers drop, the effect is felt throughout the country.

The storm may have hit a small area, but we will all feel it.

 

 

Spring in North Dakota

So glad that April is here…I’m getting the gardening bug. So I thought I’d go out and get some things ready today. Want to come along?

shoveling snow in winter

First, I checked my garden path. Making sure it was ready to go. Check.

snow drifts in winter

Went to get my gardening tools. I keep them in the shop. Good thing I have them ready to go! Check.

The tulips in front of the house are almost ready to bloom! Hopefully the sun will convince them to open up. Check.

The tulips in front of the house are almost ready to bloom! Hopefully the sun will convince them to open up. Check.

geese flying in winter

Even the geese are confused. They came north, now thinking about going south, and settled on southwest instead.

I am more than ready for spring…now if spring would just show up.

 

 

 

What size of brush are you painting with?

I was watching George paint the other day. It was entertaining, to say the least. He would take his paint brush, and dip it into all the colors, then get mad when the picture didn’t turn out like he had imagined.

And he expected me to fix it.

This little artist gets frustrated when his "masterpieces" don't turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it's just a mess.

This little artist gets frustrated when his “masterpieces” don’t turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it’s just a mess.

He couldn’t understand that the problem had nothing to do with the paper, or the colors, or me, but with the brush he was using and how he was using it. And it reminded me of a conversation that occurred online just a few days ago.

Someone had asked for anyone that calves this time of year to explain why they were doing it, or what benefit they perceived that they received from calving during winter months. I simply replied that with our operation and our location, calving now was what made sense for us. It’s easier for us to deal with snow and ice, rather than mud and muck.

It's not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than...

It’s not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than…

...the mud and muck of spring.

…the mud and muck of spring.

The responses that were received from people who also raise cattle was surprising, to say the least. One claimed that “winter calvers” are not profitable. Another claimed that some people were too willing to work too hard to make less money.

At first I was somewhat offended. And then I found a little humor in the situation. But it wasn’t until watching my son getting frustrated with his paintbrush, that I realized the lesson that could be learned from it all.

The humor? Well, if winter calving operations aren’t profitable…then there’s a check or two that I’d like to cancel. Mainly to the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, Boss Man will be relieved to hear that our days of paying taxes are over, now that we’re a non-profit livestock operation. Whew! What a relief that is! (Yes, my dear reader, that is sarcasm. At its finest.)

The lesson? When you’re working to make a better picture, using a broad brush will get you nowhere. Neither will dipping your brush in all the colors, expecting for everything to work out.

The same is true in agriculture…or any industry, actually. What makes our way of life great is the reds, the blues, the greens and yellows. All the different colors, all the different sizes, shapes and methods of operating. Together, agriculture makes a wonderful picture. But if you try to shoehorn us all into what you perceive to be the “only way” to farm or ranch? Well, you end up with a big old ugly mess.

We all have the same end result in mind. A great, abundant, affordable food supply for anyone looking for it. And the beauty is, in the great country we live in, the choices are there for you to make. You can decide the types of food you want, the way you want it raised and the price you want to pay for it…there’s always a decision, even if it’s take it or leave it.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy...that's our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy…that’s our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

And we have choices, too. We decide our methods and what works for our operation – whether it’s calving now or in the fall, using no-till or conventional methods, growing organic crops or using biotechnology. It’s one of the main principles our country is built on.

I was upset by the insinuation that our operation was sub-par because of the decisions we made, but after the lesson my son taught me, I’ve taken something valuable away from what could have been a disappointing situation.

And that was my choice, too.

Winter storm Orko

Mother Nature has once again given us a strong reminder about who is in control…not that I ever questioned it for a minute. Winter storm Orko arrived in full force today, bringing with it about 10 inches of snow and 40 mph winds – white-out conditions.

Unfortunately, our heifers are due to have their first calves any day now, so that means that we don’t get a chance to hunker in for the storm, we must keep an eye on our livestock.

The cows stay where it's protected during the storm. Their instincts help keep them safe...usually.

The cows stay where it’s protected during the storm. Their instincts help keep them safe…usually.

Today Boss Man spent a lot of time pushing snow. Although heavy snow fall is a pain, it can be useful as well. With our loader tractor, he can push the snow up into big piles, creating natural windbreaks for our cattle. As long as it’s here, we might as well put it to use!

Boss Man making a windbreak with the snow.

Boss Man making a windbreak with the snow.

I was hoping to earn some Val’s Day (my nickname for Valentine’s Day…catchy, isn’t it?) bonus points by letting Boss Man catch a few extra zzzz’s while I took the first night check for our heifers. (We check them every two hours, to do our best to make sure that the calves are born in the barn – or at least brought to the barn as soon as possible, to keep them from getting chilled.)

My mistake? Thinking I was going to make a quick trip down to the calving lot and not suiting up properly. Instead of coveralls and the whole get-up (fashion plays little in calving), I just slipped on my Bogs, my jacket, hat, scarf and gloves. It wasn’t too bad, until I started fighting thigh-high drifts.

Even then, it wasn’t terrible…except when I started losing my balance in the wind and snow. Then I was working so hard trudging through the snow that I was melting the snow stuck to my yoga pants, soaking me clear through. I was chilled to the bone! A colossally stupid move on my part. Really.

I’m guessing I’ll sleep like a baby tonight, but may have a sore muscle or two tomorrow. Anyone looking for a great cardio routine? I think I found one!

Winter weather

We’re getting geared up for calving to start in just about two weeks, which means that we could have calves any day now.

And just to remind us who’s in charge, Mother Nature gave us a little wake-up call today. We’re hoping all the calves stay where it’s warm until this front moves through!

Winter weather is upon us!

Winter weather is upon us!

Visibility is dropping, but the temperatures are staying mild.

George was excited to see the snow at first, but has changed his mind now. He’d like to go swimming. You know, 3-year-olds…they keep you on your toes!

 

School lunch: A difference in latitude

Today is inauguration day, and it’s also a day off for our school. It also happens to be the coldest day of the year for our area – well, at least so far.

How cold is it? Judge for yourself:

So, does this qualify as cold where you're from?

So, does this qualify as cold where you’re from?

The extreme temps have me keeping the boys inside today, although we may have to go out for a 4-H meeting later. While thinking about the cold temperatures, I started thinking about ways to warm the boys up, and keep them fueled up for the day.

That’s when another glaring problem with our new school lunch guidelines hit me. The USDA and other supporters of the new restrictions and calorie limits claim that we all shouldn’t eat like high school athletes, but they forget about regional differences as well.

It’s been well-documented and scientifically proven that we use more calories in the winter than in the summer. We usually make up for it by being more sentient and eating more during cold snaps, which leads to winter weight gains.

But what about those that continue their same caloric burn, but don’t receive the extra caloric intake? Like our students.

Imagine if you will, putting on snow pants, jacket, heavy winter boots, scarf, hat and gloves, then going out and lugging around all that extra weight while playing outside. Can you imagine that you wouldn’t burn more calories? That you wouldn’t need more to keep you going throughout the day?

Scooter posing outside a few winters ago, minus his usual snow pants. Must have been a warm day out!

Scooter posing outside a few winters ago, minus his usual snow pants. Must have been a warm day out!

Yet there are no regional differences set into the new guidelines. A child in 70-degree Florida is allowed the same number of calories as a child in the frozen-tundra of North Dakota. Just another glaring hole in the one-size-doesn’t-fit-all mess that makes up our school lunch program.

Snacks? Sure. I send snacks, which are usually consumed prior to the bus even stopping at the school.

Pack a lunch? Sure. I could pack a lunch without problems for my boys. But when it’s cold outside, I prefer they have a warm meal, and so do they. Also, my boys happen to really like our school lunches, it’s just the amount that gets to them. (Or lack of.)

I long for common sense, about as strongly as I long for the warmer days of spring. Fortunately, I’m guaranteed that spring will eventually arrive…I’m not guaranteed that common sense will ever prevail in our lunch program again.

But I won’t stop pushing for it.