Sunday, March 19, 2023


 Someone made the statement not long ago that we have passed the point of winter and that it is now harassment.   I was amused and sick enough of winter and so started to pass the thought around.  But today I realized that some of life really is being harassed.  This constant snow cover, looking as if it will now extend all the way to April is kind of a death warrant for some of the wildlife.  I woke to the fact that I have seen pheasants, for example, near the roads and right up to the buildings on our farm since January.  They are looking for seeds to eat and if their luck doesn't improve, they will soon die.  On our farm grain and feed spillage as well as stockpiled manure is a regular occurrence, so that might partly explain why I see so many.  

In demonstration of the thought that it is an ill wind that blows no one some good, I can say that we put seed out last fall that we are optimistic will succeed in sprouting a crop of Kernza.  And I have seen no sign of the soil drifts, often several inches deep on the snow that are usually evident.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023


 The bald eagle was perched high in the cottonwood tree that towers over the dugout where the fill for the hoghouse was bladed out at the northwest corner of the grove.  He watched me, head turning slowly, as I came past with the tractor headed to the bale site where I would load up two bales to feed the cattle in the pasture as I did every day.

We have had a two week stopover from a pair of bald eagles each of the past ten years, usually in March, when the retreating snow cover reveals a number of carcasses of wild things and the occasional casualty from farm operations.  They seem to be on the way somewhere, possibly the river bottom some thirty miles south of here, though I have never seen them take off in that direction.  Their behavior while here reveals their essential nature as buzzards.  At least while I have observed, they do not hunt while there is something available that is already dead.  I can't say I even know what a hunting bald eagle looks like.  I am, on the other hand, surrounded by hunting red tail hawks all season long.

But this eagle was alone.  I did take the time to look for the mate.  I pushed in the clutch and sat for awhile, scanning the grove carefully for sign of another perching bird of prey, but came up empty.

I have taken to paying much more careful attention to any change I see in the wild things surrounding me.  These changes might include different species growing in the grove and odd ends of fields that generally get left alone.  I have brought to mind that I regularly seed fescue with pasture and hay mixes, an idea my Dad would have scoffed at, knowing as he did that it would not succeed this far north.  I have brought to my own notice the fact that I have fewer grassland birds and songbirds of any kind than he did. I have begun to assume that mostly because of our own behavior, we are in the midst of massive change-deterioration might be a better word-and we are not going to like where it brings us out.  One eagle where there have been two is an alarm bell.

I wonder what else has changed or is changing that I have not yet noticed.

It is an ironic truth that I and a few others are becoming more acutely aware of the world around us, our plant and animal companions on our farms, just as they are fading because of the threat our way of living has put them under.  

Perhaps I will see the eagle and his mate today.  If I do not, and if the mate continues in its absence, I will have to question why it has happened.  Obviously, animals die.  But just as obviously it is not always because of age.  If it is instead that change is making it impossible for them to live here, I will need to question myself, us all, and how we are living and farming.  We cannot succeed on earth by pushing other species out. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023


 The spring is moving in, today most visible in the appearance of meltwater under the thick snow pack we have.  It generally starts this way, with snow melting from the bottom up a bit ahead of the warmup from above which manifests in a compacting of the snow cover.  We find it easy to forget that the earth is warm at heart and that the conduction of heat from the earth's core has as much to do with spring as the warming air.  

There is a sense that the season told us we needed to bundle up and lay in supply in November and December so that we could sleep more and work less.  This is followed by the returning light and invitation in spring to stir and wake up, to get on with the joy and work of the farm.  It would be difficult, pretty much impossible, not to respond.  Impossible anyway for me!

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

late winter

The days have been lengthening steadily, slowly at first, coming away from December 21st, then accelerating into the summer.  By mid-February, a meteorologist proclaimed from the television yesterday, we have added a full hour of daylight. 

And it feels like it.  For us who have lived in a northern climate all our lives, we recognize that subtle awakening going on inside, the coming back of a bit of spring to the step, and the looking forward again to the changing earth and what it might bring to our notice.  We wake earlier and better refreshed at that.

Now I can go walking in the pastures and pause my wading through the snow to push a little of it aside to see the greening of the grass, the coming of the first little spears of new life.  This is ancient wisdom. this coming of life(spring) after death(winter).  It is in late winter I feel the most sympathy for the snowbirds, the ones that have gone south for the winter.  They have meddled with that all important seasonal clock and neglected the fact that much well being comes of changing with the seasons, making us acutely aware of the rebirth of the earth and all its wonders.

Soon as the snow melts back, there will be the return of the seasonal birds and the warming of the soil will cause it to send up that unique smell, only available to us when the earth is warming or we have disturbed the soil.  It is this time of year when the need to be at home on earth is most apparent to those of us who are place bound.

Sunday, January 15, 2023


 I just listened to a news report, an in depth one, I guess, about California's heavy rains and flooding.  The in depth label comes from the story's attempt to get into what or anything would mitigate some of the damage.  It was all about drainage systems and flood control structures and water diversion projects.  None of it spoke to the truth that any attempt to deal with severe climate disruptions must always start with land use.  

When huge amounts of water are running off a surface it matters what the surface is.  Is it flat and somewhat impervious or more sponge like in consistency?  It matters very much how whatever water was in the system at the outset of the event existed in the land.  Was it very much tied up in soil particles?  Are there parts of the landscape that will always be wet and that have been deliberately not meddled with by capitalism?  Is the entire surface in the area tied up with economic production or are there a significant number of acres in a closer to natural state? 

We humans are not helpless unless we make ourselves so by failure to think and reluctance to act upon what we have thought.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023


 Success, or sometimes just survival on the farm requires an ability to adjust.  Especially is this true in times of large and frequent change, which is happening now largely because of the pandemic, the climate, and the war in Ukraine.  For example, prices of hog feeds have skyrocketed over the last several years, due to the drought we are experiencing and the upset in the grain markets caused by the war in Ukraine.

The same drought caused our pastures to slow down early and severely cut into our hay supply, necessary to get the herd through the winter.

We are using two strategies to cope.  With the hogs our markets are continuous and ongoing.  Therefore we cannot shrink the size of the hog operation to compensate for the expensive feed because below a certain level of production we risk losing the market.  So we focus upon moderating the cost of feed by leaner operations and by substitute feedstuffs.  For the last several years we have been using product from our local pretzel factory, which is free, organic and also pretty readily available.  This becomes available because at start up and shut down for the various production runs, the resulting product is not something the company wants to sell.

These are great hog feeds.  On a traditional farm, hogs are always fed feeds that are similar to those for us humans, but that for one reason or another, we do not want to eat.  But the labor and extra machine use required to deal with them is something we need to keep in mind.  Labor is always in short supply in a livestock operation and diesel fuel has also been much impacted by the war and the pandemic.  We cannot rest easy expecting to work extra hours and using extra fuel.

We will soon have to solve a problem that came with our solution to the current problem.

Now with the cattle, the situation is a bit different.  Our cattle are a grazing and forage based operation that uses no grain and moderate amounts of fuel(for baling and wintertime feeding).  Additionally we had spent the last several years building up the cattle numbers to run a small stocker development business alongside the grass feds.  This plus our decision a year or so ago to sell the cowherd and buy in replacement feeder animals instead enabled us to destock which is the first need in responding to a drought situation.

We have marketed the cows-I am currently trying to adjust myself to the fact they are gone-sold a group of fat cattle at the sale barn and brought another group of feeder animals to the feeder cattle and bred cow sale.  Cattle prices are good now, which is helpful to us in our need for destocking.

The second rule of a cattle business coping with a drought is to buy any needed hay early, which is what we are currently doing, as our cattle sales did not reduce the appetite here quite enough to get through without purchase.  And hay is expensive. 

Our marketing with the beef is a bit more flexible, as it is all frozen product.  Thus the cattle processing can be a bit more seasonal and tends to be easier to adjust.  We do not have the same weekly need for market animals we have with the pigs. The role of the cattle in the farm operation is to benefit from the need to grow hay in our organic cropping rotation and also to serve as a third crop opportunity as they can be used to harvest crops that are harder to sell but necessary in a good crop rotation, such as the small grains and various annual forages.

Implied in everything I have written here is the predominance of marketing in the operations.  The late Allan Nation said it well when he wrote that the marketing locomotive must pull the production train.  This can make coping with difficult weather and high input prices harder than it would otherwise be, but without marketing, farms do not succeed. 

Friday, December 30, 2022

power lines

 The power coop did keep the lines up through the snow and high winds last week.  We have had some less than wonderful experiences with the power coops on our solar effort, because they over invested in coal and thus took away from their management much of the ability to make good decisions for the customers.

But the coops take a back seat to no one in utility service on maintenance and daily management.  Considering the huge distances they cover and amounts of assets they have exposed to all weather, they are without peer in service.  We could be stuck with Texas level carelessness and incompetence.  That we are not makes me grateful.