Category Archives: country living

New Bridges

Let the day dawn bright and new, full of passion for what I do. Cock-a-doodle-do!
Let the day dawn bright and new, full of passion for what I do. Cock-a-doodle-do!

I post a lot of farm photos over on our Facebook page and lately I have gotten a ton of requests to build a photo book. After doing some digging into some options, I’m now working on building one through MixBook. I’m hoping to have it all set by the end of the month to use as a fundraiser!  I will work on a calendar after that like I did for last year.  Sometimes, I feel like there is so much to do and so much to get done. I’m slowly working on getting all this stuff figured out and still managing to keep up.

The research is the worst by far because it’s so time-consuming. It’s all worth it in the long run through. Without new knowledge, we never expand our horizons. My horizons keep going and maybe I will never be able to fully attain my goal on what I build for years down the road, I hope that my dreams can inspire another generation. A generation that makes it to my horizons and their own beyond. Maybe it will be family and maybe it will be a random stranger, I don’t know but the possibilities are endless!

It’s still kind of hard for me to grasp that I am a farming photographer. Five years ago, if you had asked me where I would be in the future and what I would be doing neither choice would have been considered. I wish I could pass on half the feelings I get now when it comes to both. I feel so entirely blessed to be able to photograph and share my life in transition. I have photographed so many people along the way, so many different events and through it all I have come out of it all with a true dedication and passion for all things agriculture.

I love that I can photograph my everyday world of cattle and country. I love that I can create artistic images that capture the “feeling” within those moments that inspire me. I am truly blessed with talent through my passions. To those that say it’s all a hobby, I have this to say. It still takes time to care for each animal. I would bet my camera that I spend more time per cow in a week than most farmers do in a year. I may operate something closer to a petting zoo but, for all those kids who are here experiencing a hands on thing with cattle that give them kisses, it means more than a stroll through a barn to watch cattle eat. Maybe it’s all those years I worked in sales and marketing that make me see and do things differently. I honestly don’t know.

Maybe it’s all those years of cruel people who’ve been involved in my life that makes me more compassionate to the animals. And to clarify, I’m  not saying the “standard farmer”, whatever that may be, doesn’t care for their animals. I’m saying that I feel. I’m passionate about each cow, calf or bull. I touch them many times a day and not just during a milking chore. I touch them like we humans do when we gentle touch someone’s hand in comfort or their arm when we are talking to them. Being the photographer has made me observe. I’ve observed countless farmers who will scratch a head as they walk by or talking to an animal when they need them to move. I’m just different. It’s difficult to explain.

My herd is my family. I love them all for different reasons. I still have a favorite or two and spoil them with extra attention. I know that some will go on and others will become food for my belly. It doesn’t matter to me, they are still something I get rather passionate about. They provide me a counselor when I need to talk my way through a problem. They are my friends who are always happy to see me (usually because I give attention or have treats). They share affection when I need it the most.  The greatest thing about them is that they make me happy. If you’ve ever watched calves playing, you know that warm fuzzy feeling that comes over me when I get around my cattle.

Each one is individual yet part of a whole, kind of like us. Each one with unique personality difference, yet all part of the same community. To me, cattle are inspiring. To them, it doesn’t really matter if it rains or is sunny. As long as they have food to eat and a dry place to lay (unless they are idiots and go lay in a mud puddle), they are happy. Nothing sparks an inner peace like cattle grazing on the top of a knoll with green grass under their feet and nothing but a cloudy sky of blue above. You can imagine it, can’t you? That’s my life. That’s the moments I live for. That’s my bridge to a better me. That’s the bridge that inspires photographs.

I’m working hard to expand those bridges. A bridge of knowledge for the younger generations to hopefully find the same inspiration I have managed to find in farming. That bridge that leads to that moment when all in the world feels right inside your soul. Maybe that bridge can be built on the farm through physical contact with the cattle or maybe through the visions I create through a photography book or calendar. Maybe that bridge will be through a video or seminar. I honestly don’t know what’s going to bridge the gap for the next generation to feel the same passion for the cattle, animals and the land like I do. I was fortunate to have grandparent’s when I was young but so many don’t have that privilege. It’s something I want to share…or as the title says, building a new bridge to.

Advertisements

Miss Belle

I’m writing this with so much sadness in my heart. Yesterday, probably one of the hardest afternoons of my life, brought an end that I tried to prepare for but found myself severely lacking.

As many of you know, several years ago we took in a Jersey cow in very sad shape.

Belle and Danny the day they arrived. Malnurished, she still provided love to her calf.
Belle and Danny the day they arrived. Malnourished, she still provided love to her calf.

I’ve talked about her countless times because she had such a profound affect on my life. I remember the day she stumbled out of a cattle trailer and became part of my life. I remember sitting with her and the two calves that came with her in the pasture with tears in my eyes. A promise was made to her that day. A promise that she had a home here on the farm for the rest of her days, no matter what may come. A promise that she would be cared for and loved. A promise that every day forward would be what she deserved in life, respect. In a matter of hours, she showed such grace and such a motherly devotion to her calves, she was named Belle and nicknamed Ma. She ended up becoming a mother to many and in one summer season came back to her full potential. The photo video below shows that transition.

As the years went by, she inspired so many changes. We developed the whole future of the farm based on her needs and care. You may all think I’m crazy and say she was nothing more than a pet cow but you couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, I was her pet human. She was the epitome of a lady inside that bovine body of hers. She was gentle enough to stand for anyone to milk her. She provided me with something I never thought possible; a calm personality. She taught me that no matter how bad your life may become, God will bring a change that will have a profound impact. She was a blessing to a woman who was lost in the depths of depression. She gave me purpose and showed me what I should be doing with my life. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for her and I know that there will never be another cow that comes into my life that will be like her. She was unique and special. I want to always remember her like the video and photo below.

My sweet Belle as I picture her in my head now grazing in God's green pastures.
My sweet Belle as I picture her in my head now grazing in God’s green pastures.

Beef Cattle Woes and Wonders

There are some things that I guess I should explain.

I was raised as a small child on a dairy farm. Dairy cattle are what I know the most about. Dairy cattle and Beef cattle are NOT the same thing!
Being raised on a dairy and gathering lots of knowledge over the years does NOT mean that I am an expert either. Somethings I know but there is and always be a ton of stuff I don’t know. There is always new research, new methods, and tweaking to systems. Dairy cattle require different food values than Beef cattle too. High protein, high energy and lots of different nutrients. Don’t get me wrong, Beef cattle still need good food they just require different levels than Dairy cattle.

I have never been around beef cattle until 2011. I don’t know much about them other than they are still cattle. I did a fair amount of research on a couple of different breeds until I found one that I thought was suitable for what I wanted to do. I started my journey into beef way back in 2008. It took 3 years before the breed was found and could be purchased at a reasonable rate. Did I get animals with a pedigree? No, I did not. It has created some issues on it’s own by not having them but they weren’t all that important.

So what’s the breed you ask? Well, Irish Dexter Cattle is what they are. I’ve heard many different takes on how to describe them. Overall and from experience, I will say this. They are a short breed of beef cattle with stout legs and solid feet. The three original cows purchased are 42″, 39″ and 37″ in height. When it comes to frame scores (based on body height at the front shoulder) these ladies don’t even register as a Frame one! They give birth to small calves too. The largest I have seen has been 60 lbs or so. Irish Dexters are efficient grazers that will forage on just about anything, including low protein forages and still have great daily weight gains. Irish Dexters are also a dual purpose cattle too. They can be milked and will give up to around 2-1/2 gallons of milk a day if fed a high protein diet. We do NOT milk them currently.

In the process of learning and building the herd, there are characteristics about them that are not all that wonderful. When you are producing an animal for meat, you want muscle bulk. This is something that the Irish Dexters severely lack in the rear quarters or buttocks region. It’s not that they don’t have muscle, it’s just small. This is something that can be improved through genetics by choosing the right animals to breed them with.

This is the second generation of Irish Dexter on the farm. He is ONE YEAR old in this photo.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn't nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.
As you can see, the rump muscle isn’t nearly as rounded as what most beef cattle would have.

For a year, I have followed Pharo Cattle Company through their facebook  group. I have learned so much from the likes of Kit Pharo, Chip Hines and many others who discuss grazing, drought, genetics and so much more. I’ve been fortunate enough to gain mentors through this similar like-minded people who have established themselves as herd quitters (I’ll explain this more later). Recently, Kit and I have been holding conversations about what kind of options are available when you are breeding an animal like an Irish Dexter to improve the quality of the next generation. This whole process is all about learning for me and I will take all the advice given by him to heart. He probably doesn’t know it but he is also part of the inspiration behind my goal of 365-grazing. I am thankful to have such a great network of people to build knowledge from and the modern technology that allows me to be able to connect with them.

Now, as many of you already know. I’m a strange bird, doing different things and always experimenting with things outside of the box other farmers have built. This is the real reason I starting following and learning from Kit and others like him. Kit has come up with a name for those of us who don’t follow the “herd” and do what everyone else is doing. As I mentioned before, Herd Quitters, is the name appropriated used. He told me the other day, there is a phrase that fits me to the T.  His Cowboy Logic for me: “If you’re doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I don’t want to be average, far from it actually. I want to be different. I want to try new things, not only in life but with the farm.  I want people to visit and say, “WOW! Can you believe that?!?!”  I don’t have everything figured out and probably never will create the perfect situation for everyone but I can keep working to create better for me and for me to be better. I can continue to work to develop animals that are efficient grazers. I can continue to develop and improve the land I work. I can continue to tweak what I do with rotational grazing. I can continue to work harder, develop more and still keep my feet firmly planted.

To end this message, the meaning of being a herd quitter:  “The term “Herd Quitter” refers to people who have enough courage to break away from the status-quo, herd-mentality way of thinking. It is more about thinking for yourself than anything else. Following the crowd and doing what everyone else is doing – WITHOUT KNOWING WHY – has never been the best way to manage your business. If you are doing what everyone else is doing, you will never be better than average.”

I think this should also include that is not the best way to manage business or life! And I couldn’t agree more!

Here’s to the Herd Quitters… The crazy ones… The rebels… The troublemakers… The square pegs in a world full of round holes… They see things differently… They have no respect for the status quo… They make things happen… If it weren’t for the Herd Quitters, the earth would still be flat… While some call them crazy, we see genius… Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do… Dare to be different… Dare to be a Herd Quitter!

Busy Spring

I am horrible at keeping up with everything that is going on within my life and on the farm right now. I am horrible at time management when it comes to blogging too. I apologize for this and will work harder at doing better at staying in touch and keeping all informed of what’s happening.

Update on Fencing: Still nothing started. Another meeting scheduled for on the farm this afternoon that will hopefully change that.

Update on calving: Including the calf born in February, we are up to 4 new calves born this year. Three of which are heifers!!!! The newest one came last night at around 11 pm. We have just one more to calf. I’m almost hoping it’s a bull so that we have something around to raise for beef.

Update on grazing: Things have been going good. We have extended the rotational grazing out to total around 13 acres for the time being. It’s still all set up with step in posts and single strand braided wire but it’s working 99.9% of the time. We have had just one issue since Spring turn out in April. That was Monday morning…I will explain more further in the section on new seeding.

Update on crops: I am excited to report that the entire farm is now replanted in GRASS! No more bare ground at all!!! So if anyone is interested in a good old Brillion seeder, give me a shout! The last 26 acres planted on May 18 is growing good. The forage oats and grasses are growing great…well, other than where they were grazed due to loose animals anyway. They only “clipped” a few of the tops and minimal damage was done thankfully. Some of the growth is now to our knees! First cutting will be ready before we know it!
Last years new seeding came in fabulous this year! We’ve had some issues with harvest…so let’s discuss the next topic.

Update on Spring Hay Harvest: This is the one area that we are having a horrible time. Between the rain and inconsistant people who have backed out on us (three to be exact) we still have yet to get first cutting done. Last years new seeding is all headed out and not necessarily a bad thing but it would still be nice to get the grasses cut since they are as tall as I am at 5’8″ now.

All in all, it’s been a busy and productive spring. Even with the issues we face as a small farm with limited capabilities, we are managing. Are we managing to the extent we want to be? That’s a big NO. Unfortunately, without the purchase of equipment we don’t have funds for, we just have to go with what other’s working with us do. At some point, this will be easier due to the fact that we do have our own equipment but until then we will make do. Hopefully we aren’t spending out another $1,000 for hay over the winter again.

We have lots of irons in the fire between the beef, dairy and poultry. Between the eggs, meat and milk we are doing okay. But that’s just it…okay. Not great, not fabulous. I hate feeling that we are in a rut but it drives me to work that much harder to get things done. I’m optimistic that someday, I will be able to kind of sit back and be able to look around saying, LOOK at everything that has been done. LOOK at the struggles we overcame! Nothing that’s rewarding ever comes easy and the struggles make us remember how important hard work and dedication are.

I’m out for now…more work to get done. Big meeting to prepare for and hopefully a little more good news by the end of the day today!

 

Fencing Followup

Well, now that I ranted and talked about all the issues I have had with fencing companies. I would like to gladly report that after making some phone calls and venting to people I know who used to be in the business I have come up with a solution to the problems.

A post pounder – √

A post hole digger – √

Suppliers for materials – √

 

And here is the real kicker…it’s going to save nearly $25,000 of funds!

Yes it’s going to take some work…but I can get it done. I can even hire some hands to come help me out. Guys I know that will work for their pay.

NO JOKE!

I will be finalizing the order of materials today…which is a full tractor-trailer load by the way! Delivery should be sometime by Wednesday of next week!

As the old saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way!!!

So there…take that you ego-maniacs!

My Rant!

Do y’all remember back when I did the “13 Questions” blog post and I talked about how differently women get treated within the Ag sector. WELL….let me just explain how different women are treated!

A little background first…I am no stranger to digging deep to get what I want. An example of this is the grant we just received. I have done my homework, spent countless hours researching and networking to learn all I could about rotational grazing. Even went to the extent to build a small area as a “test plot” to try the whole concept out. I was told by our local NRCS and Soil & Water representatives to NOT move forward with permanent fencing until we were completely approved for the grants being filed. Alright, I will admit I am not a patient person and I drove them crazy with phone calls asking for updates, double checking on dates, etc, etc. BUT, low and behold we finally got approved for a $60,000 project that includes new seeding, soil amendments, perimeter fencing and a water system to ensure water supply to the cows.

Problem one: I don’t really know the first thing about high tensile fence. It has been a SEVERE crash course in construction, post holes and rock formations. But in the end and after several serious conversations, I feel equipped to talk to people about what I want. Five strands, three of which will be “hot” or electric strands with two that work as grounds on posts every 50 feet or so; 13 gates, 10 are spring gates while the remaining 3 are tubular steel….Does anyone notice anything too difficult yet? Didn’t think so. Now there are 26 corners and 22 ends. I can even give you a rough estimate of the number of posts. Then there are the extras like tensioners, the gizmo to supply juice called an Energizer, ground rods, crimping sleeves and some other odds and ends. Still don’t see anything too difficult, do you? Nope me either.

Our allotment of funds is equal to around $2.09 per foot. Okay, well that’s a little low so I know I am going to need to put in some line posts myself and that I will need to also string the wire myself…with a little help here and there of course. During my conversations with these various fencing companies, I have been continually asked if I want it done the right way. Seriously? UMMMMM….NOPE I THINK I WANT IT TO FALL DOWN IN A YEAR!

Okay, well what is the worst is that I actually had a contractor tell me he would be willing to come in to do the job for around $2.00 per foot, completely installed. NOW that I have a quote in hand, the price is more like $2.50 a foot. I ask how much for just corner post and end post installation…to which I seriously got this response: “I will pay you $14 an hour for any work you do.” Okay, you are billing me at $30 but you are going to “knock off $14” and if I get hurt too bad because I am the landowner? And I’m using my own equipment (ie: four wheeler and the spinning jenny to unroll the wire)? What’s wrong with this picture? OH MY GOD wait…this is for 4 strand, not 5!!!! Did you listen at all? Apparently not!!!

The issue above is just one of many but it continues over about four different companies. Alright fine. I’ll start calling locally to find out just what equipment is available. One guy, Bub, has a post pounder I can use for FREE. Another guy, Troy, has a post hole digger with a rock bit (we have lots and lots of shale rock) that I can use. SCORE!!!! I have a tractor, truck and four wheeler. I CAN DO THIS! So I sit down with Rich and we come up with a lengthy list of supplies needed. I make a phone call on a price quote for just the supplies (which will total around $15,000 prior to shipping). Yup, they will send me a quote to turn in. Yup, I think you have everything listed you need. Yup, we will email you the quote. SIX HOURS LATER another fence company CALLS ME.

Oh, we are the fence company for this supplier. I’ll bid it all out for you. We understand you are extremely upset over the way other fence companies have been. I’ll get you a quote directly. Give me an hour. THREE HOURS LATER STILL NO QUOTES FOR THE JOB OR THE SUPPLIES.

So let me explain something to all you MEN out there! Listen close because you are really starting to wear on my last nerve and Tractor Supply is about to get my business. Be respectful of the ladies when you talk to them. We are a growing sector within the industry and YOU DO NOT NEED MY PARTNERS APPROVAL FOR JACK SHIT! It is my fence. It is my project and the fence is going where I WANT IT TO GO. I know what I want and I will get. Don’t want to work with me…FINE! I have no issues with that. I will do the whole damn job myself! No big deal. I am sure there are enough people out there I can offer to pay $14 an hour and they would love to have the work. Or maybe I will just be greedy and keep all the money in MY POCKET SINCE IT’S OUR TAXES THAT PROVIDED THE FUNDS ANYWAY!

Seems to me y’all would want to work with someone who is having issues keeping animals inside a fence. I would have been forever grateful to anyone who could have pulled their egotistic male head out of their own ass long enough to actually be respectful.

End of my rant!

Who Inspires You?

I know my answer, right off the top of my head with every beat of my heart. I know I have talked about this before and shared with you but I have to do it again. It’s that important to me.

You would be amazed at how something as simple as a grainy, blurry old scanned photograph can bring up so many emotions and memories. Yesterday, my cousin Corina shared an old photo of my Grandmother Liddington. I think it was probably taken from around the time I was born because her hair is still dark, not grayed like the later years of my youth.

My very special Grandma Liddington. Love you and miss you every day!

There are no singular words to describe her. She was the community cook, rural doctor of sorts, farmer’s wife and so much more. She was a tough women who raised six kids and never, ever took any back lip from anyone but she would give you her last loaf of bread if you needed it. She was the type of person I have always been inspired to be.

I can’t even begin to tell you all the things she did for so many people. And OHHHH the food that lady could make on her wood fired cook stove!

She has been gone from us since the early 1990’s but her memories live and breath every day through those of us left behind. There aren’t many photos of her to share but the imprint she left on us was without a doubt a legacy for years to come. To best sum up her legacy, I will make a list of impressions and words to that I live by handed down through her actions.

Take no lip. You know what’s right, so do it.
Never cook a meal without extra, you never know who may need the extra plate.
Never waste food. It’s valuable and expensive.
Provide for yourself. Don’t rely on others but don’t hesitate to give.
Pass on what you know to your children and grandchildren.
Work hard, expect nothing.
Treat everyone as family. Trust no one, love everyone.
Stand your ground and let know one push you around.
You don’t need a whole lot of nothing to be special, lead with your heart. No one cares about your clothes, car or bank account. It’s the love in your heart that really counts.
No one is going to hold your hand forever and treat you like a child. You need to dry your tears, get off your butt and learn to be better.

Yup, that about sums up my Grandma. Treated everyone as equal. Money and status never mattered. There was always extra food and a place at the table in her house. If you need mending from a cut, scrape or sickness, you saw my Gran.

In closing, I hope that somehow my words get to Heaven because I know that’s where she’s at:
Gran, I still love you with all my heart! Thank you for taking a child with a broken wing under yours and teaching me so much. I never knew just how much you would impact my life as an adult. With every meal, every trip to the barn, every second spent weeding the garden, at nearly every point in my life…you are still here with me. You were a special lady, unique and one of a kind. No one will ever be able to take your place to so many people but thank you for everything, every moment that impacted so many more lives that just mine. I pray that someday when people look back on my life…they can easily say, “yup, that was Martha’s granddaughter!” I will forever keep this place in my heart and I hope that someday, we can sit under the lilac trees in Heaven together. My one request…please don’t make me pick a switch! I promise to live my life from this day and every day so you won’t have to.