Tag Archives: winter

Tis the Season: For a Beard and a Basketball…

Each fall, when the temperatures hoover around O degrees for the first time, I mutter to myself that I need to figure out how to grow a beard. Last week our temperatures hit the zero degree level on the morning that we shipped cattle to Tyson.

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My foreman and I put on a bunch of layers of clothes, and I got out my fake beard for the first time since February.

Winter in Nebraska takes some getting used to.  While figuring out the role of a hood on a sweatshirt came instantaneously to me, learning how to layer correctly to work safely outside in the cold took a little bit longer. I have a few toes with frostbite damage to remind me of the learning curve…

To this day, I vastly prefer the summer and fall months to December and January, but farm chores continue in the winter-time despite the drop in temperature.  This time of year, Mother Nature offers challenges instead of resources so we have to provide care when the cattle need us — every single day.

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 My favorite blonde cowgirl wisely trades her boots for basketball shoes for the winter.  She made the transition this year to high school basketball and brings the same winning attitude to her team as she brings to the feed yard crew.

Her hard work and focus earn her success and she proudly represents the Lady Haymakers this season on three levels:  9th and 10th grade, Junior Varsity, and the Varsity.  She’s playing in games four nights a week and packing her FAITH along the journey.

  • F ortitude
  • A ttitude
  • I ntegrity
  • T rust
  • H umility

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I love to watch her love basketball almost as much as I love to see her awesome work ethic make a positive difference.

When I think of all of the great things that being a farmer has brought to my life, raising my kids on the farm tops the list.  Megan runs a scoop shovel with the best of them.  She became a member of the farm crew at an early age, and learned the art of teamwork working cattle and dealing with weather challenges at the feed yard.

She understands that no necessary action is unimportant — no matter how physically demanding or mentally menial.

The girl has grit.

Last summer, I watched Megan practice basketball in our farm shop — Shooting more than 10,000 baskets during the hours outside of working at the feed yard and training for swim team. Inspired by the awesome set of Lady Haymaker basketball coaches, she combined her farm work ethic with a fledgling love for the game and began building the necessary set of ball handling skills.

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I look at my favorite blonde cowgirl and I see my work-a-hol-ic nature combined with a unique zest for life. This combination packs a powerful punch that we fondly refer to as the art of Meganizing.

I recognize that personal need to make a difference that she wears on her face.  It gleams in her eyes both on the basketball court and on the farm — even when the rest of her face is covered with a matching cold weather mask while she scoops snow out of feed bunks in a blizzard 😉

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, Farming, General

Blizzard 2016…

The blizzard that resulted from winter storm Kayla wreaked havoc on our farm Tuesday and Wednesday.  We received over a foot of snow with winds up to 50 mph.  The worst of the storm passed through from 8:00am – midnight on Tuesday.

Since our day at the feed yard starts at 6:00, we all arrived safely Tuesday morning before the worst of the storm.  My favorite farmer opened up the gravel road between our house and the feed yard with a tractor and I followed behind with my favorite blondes in my 4 wheel drive Tahoe.  We all spent the morning clearing snow, scooping the feed bunks, and delivering breakfast to the cattle.

Trying to walk north into the wind to get to the next bunk to scoop...

Trying to walk north into the wind to get to the next feed bunk to scoop…

Our bunk sweeper broke on the first feed bunk, so we scooped bunks the old fashioned way — with a shovel.  Between our 24 feed bunks, that made a length of more than 3500 feet to be cleared with a scoop shovel both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.  Fortunately, we had the bunks cleared of snow and full of breakfast for all of the cattle by about 10:30am.

Scooping bunks in a blizzard makes for icicle eyebrows...

Scooping bunks in a blizzard makes for icicle eyebrows…

About the time we finished morning feeding, the storm got really nasty and we had some challenges getting feed trucks (and my Tahoe) from the feed yard back to the shop.  Visibility was non-existent and the snow drifts formed so quickly that we could not keep the alleyways open.  It took an hour to get all of us out of the feed yard and less than a half a mile back to the shop having to use the pay loader and the tractor to get “unstuck” multiple times.  At that point, we all rested and ate some chili that I had made Monday night.

Winter storm Kayla dominated all of Tuesday afternoon.  My foreman and his son stayed at the feed yard and were able to reopen the roads and deliver the second feeding of the day about midnight Tuesday night when the weather showed signs of improving.  The rest of us arrived back at the yard about 6:00am Wednesday via tractor and 4 wheel drives to re-scoop bunks, move snow out of the corrals, and help deliver breakfast.

It takes a blend of equipment and people to care for cattle in a storm...

It takes a blend of equipment and people to care for cattle in a storm…This picture was taken after the storm.

Consistently delivering feed is very important during winter storms as the digestion process helps the cattle to remain warm and weather the environmental stress.  It is priority #1.  I am incredibly proud of my crew and my family for their hard work and dedication. The herculean effort that goes into caring for cattle during a blizzard is truly difficult to describe, and the welfare of our animals is dependent on our perseverance.

Below are some pictures from after the blizzard conditions abated.  I have to take my gloves off to take pictures which limits the volume of them …

Scooping bunks Wednesday morning with my special short handled shovel-- the 2nd morning in a row...

Scooping bunks Wednesday morning with my special short handled shovel– the 2nd morning in a row to hand scoop 🙂

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Drifts in one of the pens on the north end of the feed yard…

My corral area is completely closed in with 4'+ drifts...

My corral area is completely closed in with 4’+ drifts…

My cowboy dug a heifer out of this drift when she got partially buried...

My cowboy dug a heifer out of this drift when she got partially buried…

I wasn't the only one left wearing icicles...

I wasn’t the only one left wearing icicles…

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The road from my house to the feed yard — the ditches were so full of snow that you could not tell where the road ended and the ditches began…

My favorite blondes playing on a snow pile at the feed yard after helping to scoop bunks...

My favorite blondes playing on a snow pile at the feed yard after helping to scoop bunks…

Wednesday evening's beautiful sunset...

Wednesday evening’s beautiful sunset…

We are all tired and glad that the “emergency” time is over.  It will take at least a week for us to completely dig out from the blizzard, but we are thankful to have come through the event successfully. We did our best to offer care despite Mother Nature’s wrath.  The girls will all head back to regular school tomorrow 🙂

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Freezing in the New Year…

Central Nebraska is ringing in the New Year with frigid temperatures.  Yesterday, the thermometer reported -18 degrees when I read bunks at just after 6:00am.  This time of year, I tend to reflect back to my high school days — sitting in a warm Florida classroom and reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire.  Since learning how to winter on our farm in Nebraska, the words of the story take on a much fuller meaning…

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When it turns this cold, we rely on technology — common sense — instinct — and basic care standards to protect both ourselves and our animals.  In times of harsh winter weather, survival becomes intrinsically tied to the above things, as depicted eloquently by London’s story.

  • Any vital equipment (feed trucks, tractors, pay loaders) is parked inside the heated shop or next to a building where we can plug in an engine heater to better ensure its likelihood of working when it is needed.
  • Special fuel is used to run the equipment that makes it less likely to “gel up” and quit working.
  • Crew priorities focus on the basics: feeding the cattle a special storm ration during both daily feedings that helps them to generate heat from within, frequently checking all water tanks to make sure that a constant supply of water is not disrupted by a tank freezing over, checking cattle health, and preparation for the next day to ensure that morning feed delivery (breakfast) occurs on schedule.
  • Any extra time is spent working on inside paperwork/chores.

Crew members working outdoors are fully covered with multiple layers of clothing, and take frequent breaks either in the shop or in a warm pick up truck to protect against frost bite.  My guys all tend to grow beards for the winter, I get out my ski mask and do my best bank robber impersonation.

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London’s protagonist perishes in To Build A Fire due to his lack of common sense and employment of poor survival skills.  Conversely, his dog companion depends on instinct and survives.

I think that it is fair to say that good farmers use a combination of modern technology and instinct to ensure survival and productivity during times of winter challenge.  After all, it is our job to care for the animal, not be bested by him!

 

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Filed under CAFO, Farming, General

1200 Calves, a Dozen Eggs, and the Start of Winter…

The last six weeks have been truly a blur. This time of year I loose sense of the day of the week as the days all seem to run together amidst a common theme —

Take care of the calves.

Unquestionably, October and the first half of November are the busiest times of the year at our feed yard.  Mother Nature stops giving the gift of grass, so cattle must be moved and fed in order to remain healthy for the winter. Breeding cattle (cows and bulls) are trailed or trucked to winter pastures where they receive supplemental feed or moved to graze the remnants of corn fields after harvest.

Cattle that will become beef are trucked to feed yards.

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The majority of the calves that are moved into feed yards like mine during this time are animals that are 8-9 months of age. Many of them are bawling calves which means that they are weaned from their Mamas at the same time that they leave the home ranch. These cattle are undeniably high maintenance and take a lot of work. Limiting the stress for these animals is critical, and they require a lot of time and care.

I am extremely proud of the care that my crew and I provide — we focus on what is best for each calf and work tirelessly to provide it.

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  • Exercising
  • Acclimating
  • Feeding
  • Maintaining comfortable pen conditions
  • Identifying any sick animals that need special care

All these things fill our days (and likely a few of our nights).

By the middle of November the fatigue sets in, and my crew and I anxiously await the end of the fall run. This week (for the first time in six weeks), we have no new animals set to arrive at the feed yard. This gives us the opportunity to catch up on secondary work that has been set aside as we cared for the new cattle and, hopefully, to take a few deep breathes in order to cast off the weariness.

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On the home front, I am happy to report that Ashley Grace’s chickens have begun to grace us with eggs. The laying process began slowly, but we are up to 2-3 eggs per day from her 5 laying ladies. While I sternly remind the feathered girls that they are food animals, I have to admit that I find myself talking to them while I do home chores…

My favorite farmer was pretty proud to be the one to find the first egg!

My favorite farmer was pretty proud to be the one to find the first egg!

I am sad to report that it appears that winter has arrived in Nebraska. We worked cattle Monday with sub-freezing temperatures and a 50 mph north wind. Today, I exercise calves at dawn with temperatures hovering around zero degrees.

I am reminded that this is the time of year to cowgirl up as working at a feed yard is not for the weak of heart!

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Filed under General

Gold and Blue…

Thoughtful Thursday

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Cattle are great recyclers:  turning the remnants of last year’s corn crop into beef to nourish each one of us…

The striking contrast between the gold of the corn stalk stubble and the blue of the winter sky is my favorite combination of colors

— it was also one of my dad’s favorite —

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Filed under General, Thoughtful Thursday

When You Are a Bovine, Brown Is Better Than White…

Every year I hope for a nice pretty brown Christmas.  It isn’t that I don’t think that snow is beautiful, rather it is that snow storms are hard on my cattle and make my chores more difficult.

Lots of curious ice covered faces greet me...

Lots of curious ice covered faces greet me…

I have found over the past 17 years that snow rarely falls in a vertical pattern across the plains of Nebraska.  Instead, it whips viciously and horizontally across the horizon.

It settles in the roadside ditches camouflaging where the road ends and the ditch begins...

It settles in the roadside ditches camouflaging where the road ends and the ditch begins…

The snow makes drifts as is blows across the prairie.  There are times that these drifts are taller than I am.  Fortunately, this go round we have only small drifts…

Here you can see the snow drifting and blowing over the feed bunk...

Here you can see the snow drifting and blowing over the feed bunk…

We place our cattle on a special feed ration (casserole) to help them stay warm during inclement winter weather.  We also have windbreaks in the home pens so that they can huddle up and seek protection from the wind.

Up at the feed bunk eating the nutritious feed that will help them to stay warm...

Up at the feed bunk eating the nutritious feed that will help them to stay warm…

A constant source of fresh water is vitally important to our cattle’s well-being.  When the snow is blowing and the temperatures hover around zero, it is a challenge to keep our water tanks free of ice.  We have temperature control valves in each of our tanks which helps the water move around the tank and remain open despite the frigid temperatures.  Sometimes we have to chip ice off of the tanks when the valve system fails to keep the waters open.

Water is important --- no matter if is it warm or cold...

Water is important — no matter if is it warm or cold…

I am always amazed that even in times of brutal weather, the cattle still want to run and play around their home pens.  I have on so many layers of clothing that I waddle like a penguin, but the cattle deftly chase each other demonstrating that to them it is spunky weather.

They are far more agile than I am in the bone chilling cold...

They are far more agile than I am…

Down the gravel road about a mile, the Mama cows of some of the cattle in the feed yard are grazing a corn stalk field and gestating next year’s calf crop.  They also seem to take the cold weather in stride (at least better than this Florida girl does…).

I laughed as I watched her calmly eat the corn stalk that she rummaged from the field...

I laughed as I watched her calmly eat the corn stalk that she rummaged from the field…

Although I love the seasons because they mark a simple passage of time, winter is my least favorite of the four.  Each year, about the middle of February, my toes want to bury themselves in the warm sand of a Florida beach instead of bundling up inside my winter boots!

The ice and snow turn this black calf into a white/gray color...

It is amazing to me that the snow/ice can make a black calf look this color!

What do you do to get through the cold winter months?

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Filed under CAFO, General

Weights In My Boots…

I never knew the purpose of a hooded sweatshirt until I moved to Nebraska.  Quite honestly, I do not think that I ever owned one prior to going to work at the feed yard.  My closest is now full of them, and I wear them daily.

They come in handy...

They come in handy…

The wind across the Great Plains region of the country is merciless.  A breeze is defined by wafts of 30 mph, and we have days where it blusters past 60 mph.  A hooded sweatshirt is my best friend when the Nebraska winds doth blow.  It protects me from the cold, the dust, and the snow that sometimes sweeps in an angry horizontal pattern across our valley.

When the winds top 60mph, I start to think that in addition to my hoodie, I also need weights in my boots.  Those are the days when it seems impossible to stand up straight and I tend to stumble around bracing myself against the gales.  As I do chores, I try to distract myself by thinking fondly of Mary Poppins, but mostly my eyes water – my face stings – and my back hurts from the effort.

The wind alone does not seem to bother them a bit...

The wind alone does not seem to bother them a bit as they choose to walk to the feed bunk for a bite to eat…

My cattle appear to deal with the high winds much better than I do.

  • Perhaps it is the fact that they have four feet on which to balance…
  • Perhaps it is because they outweigh me by 800 pounds or more…
  • Perhaps it is simply because they are tougher than I am!

Whatever the reason, they seem content to rest behind a windbreak, have a bite to eat at the feed bunk, or run around playing with each other as if nothing is out of the ordinary.

Resting comfortably in the home pen after breakfast...

Resting comfortably in the home pen after breakfast…

Last week the cold north wind blew and blew and blew.  Thursday afternoon the gusts topped 60mph, and the weather was just plain ghastly.  Thankfully there was no snow — instead we had dust storms with dirt and remnants from harvested corn fields blazing across our farm.

Piles of corn stalk shucks blown into the ditch at the south end of our corn field...

Piles of corn stalk shucks blown into the ditch at the south end of our corn field…

I was tired when I got home Thursday night, and eternally grateful for the reprieve that the structure that my home offered.  I found myself thinking about the pioneers who trekked across the Great Plains living in wagons and building sod houses when they decided to settle.

As unforgiving as the Nebraska weather is at times, I cannot imagine the tenacity and grit required to survive in those early days.  It makes me thankful for my warm home, and all of the technological advancements that protect me from the elements and help me to care for my animals.

Here you can see the heavy coat of hair that keeps our cattle warm when the cold north wind blows...

Here you can see the heavy coat of hair that keeps this heifer warm when the cold north wind blows…

As we head into the heart of the windy winter season perhaps I should heed the advice of Abraham Lincoln rather than putting weights in my boots…

When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on! 

Abraham Lincoln

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Q Fun…

Lest you all think that I am a complete bah humbug about the snow, I figured that I would share a few pictures from our family sledding expedition on Saturday afternoon. 

The snow was perfect for sledding and the afternoon weather was gorgeous!

The snow was perfect for sledding and the afternoon weather was gorgeous!

My 8 year old dare-devil...

My 8 year old dare-devil…

My 41 year old little boy...

My 41 year old little boy…

My ornery 10 year old cowgirl/chef/trouble maker...

My ornery 10 year old cowgirl/chef/trouble maker…Yes, she did drop it on her sister’s head!

My favorite teenager who kept loosing her sled on the way down the hill...

My favorite teenager who kept loosing her sled on the way down the hill…

And yes, even the girl who traded her flip flops for cowboy boots enjoyed the hill!

And yes, even the girl who traded her flip flops for cowboy boots enjoyed the ride!

Even Shellie, the family mutt, enjoyed the outing :)

Even Shellie, the family mutt, was thrilled with the snow 🙂

The girls keep Matt and I smiling, and I cherish all of the memories that we make together!

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Filed under Family, Foodie Fun!, General