Up Close and Personal with No. 703!

Up Close and Personal with No. 703!

Monday, February 20, 2017


We chomp through our share of leftovers around here. I know there are husbands who don't want to eat them. Thankfully, mine is not one of them. As long as there's something to eat, he isn't picky about whether it's a re-run. Oftentimes, I prefer the term "planned overs." I take leftover taco meat, for instance, and turn it into something else the second time around - like a taco pizza.

But last week, the loader tractor bucket also bit into a few leftovers. In January, an ice storm affected much of Central and Western Kansas. While it created a lot of beauty, it also brought some damage, including to the big high-line poles that run through one of our fields. Crews spent a day repairing it, and they put the "leftovers" in the ditch.

Some people might see trash. (True confessions: I was one of those people who didn't appreciate the boxes, buckets and even fast food wrappers left behind. That was especially true after someone came and destroyed the insulators - apparently just because they thought it would be fun. Besides the needless destruction, I see dollar signs rolling upwards as the broken pieces end up piercing our tires as we drive in and out of the field.
But Randy didn't just see trash. He also saw opportunity. Much like I see another meal in the leftover pot roast that becomes beef and noodles the next day, he saw replacement fence posts amidst the trash.
When the company called to talk about damages to the wheat field, Randy asked whether we could take some of the poles.
So after the semi got done hauling the 12 loads of hay we'd sold, it was ready for a new payload. Randy and Ricky hauled a couple of loads of leftover poles to our fencing piles. 
We can use the sturdy poles to replace rotted out posts in a corral or they could become corner posts in a new fence-building project.
Best of all: They were free. (Well, except for the labor and a little gas to haul them away.) And Randy called a couple of neighbors to share the bonanza. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Little Boost

Traffic jam - County Line style as Randy stops while feeding cows to talk to the Kanza Co-op spray rig workers.
Goldilocks had a hard time getting everything "just right." Papa Bear's porridge was too hot. Mama Bear's porridge was too cold. But Baby Bear's porridge was just right.

Getting things "just right" is best left for fairytales, though we'd all like to have a good dose of "happily ever after." That's easier said than done on a farm. Weather is always an uncontrollable factor in crop production. And these, days, with commodity prices low, it's a balancing act to try and keep input costs under control and still produce a good yield on a quality crop.
The Kanza Co-op recently used their ground rig to apply a couple of different inputs to part of our 2017 wheat crop - nitrogen fertilizer and Finesse herbicide.
This year, Randy decided to apply 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Last year, he had them apply 30 pounds per acre. He used the results from soil samples to determine the nitrogen application level. With each unit of nitrogen added to the field, there's a "diminishing return on investment." In other words, the cost outweighs the potential yield bump.

I'll admit that my eyes were starting to glaze over when Randy started explaining about "diminishing return on investment." So he pulled out his old textbook, "Economics for Agriculturalists: A Beginning Text in Agricultural Economics" and showed me a chart. Who knew those textbooks would still come in handy?

According to current research, if you put on 10 pounds of nitrogen per acre, there's a 2 bushel per acre boost in yield. If you put on an additional 10 pounds per acre, there's only a half bushel per acre increase in yield. The nitrogen costs $3.50 per acre.
 A "nurse" truck came to the field to replenish the rig.
During the applicator's same trip over the field, Randy also had them apply Finesse, an herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds, including kochia, henbit and wild mustard. Finesse needs to be sprayed before the wheat breaks its dormancy. Moisture will incorporate it into the soil. We hope to get some rain soon.

This year, it costs $2.50 per acre for the Finesse. This is 20 percent less than it was last year, a financial advantage that Randy says comes from the merger of the Kanza Co-op with some other co-ops, giving it better buying power.

Since we don't have our own spraying rig, we pay $5.00 per acre for the application. If you're adding that all up, it costs $11 per acre, an input expense that we'll add to the bottom line of producing our 2017 wheat crop. 

Later, Randy will have additional 2017 wheat acres sprayed with a different herbicide. That herbicide has less carryover. In other words, Randy will be able to plant sudan hay on those acres after we harvest the wheat in June. That's not an option for the acres sprayed with Finesse. However, Finesse is less expensive and has longer lasting control. Again, it's a consideration of what's "just right" for our farm - or as close as we can get it.
The plot thickens. Just like Goldilocks, we are hoping for a happy ending. We'll see what Mother Nature has up her sleeve as we continue the march toward the 2017 wheat harvest. The thermometer climbing into the 70s in February may delight golfers, but if the wheat breaks dormancy and starts growing, there is the potential for a damaging freeze if the temperature then goes back to more seasonal levels.
Just like in a fairytale, there are a lot of pages between "Once upon a time" and "They lived happily ever after." (For a complete look at the life cycle of wheat on our Kansas farm, check out "Aggie Visits the Wheat State," a blog I wrote a few years ago when we had Flat Aggie visit from a California elementary school.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Double Trouble?

Two for the price of one?
Double the fun?
Double trouble?

Even though you'd think that twins would be a good thing, it isn't always in the calving world. Sometimes, the cow doesn't have enough milk for two babies. She may not claim both offspring. Also, if one calf is a boy and one is a girl, the female is more likely to be infertile, a condition called "freemartinism."

Cow R47 gave birth to two bouncing boys.  (Forgive the poor photo at the top of this post. Randy got in a hurry to give eartags to the calves. What was he thinking? Work got in the way of my photo op - ha!)

The calf who was up and around with its mom ended up with tag No. 741.
The mom moved it away from we pesky humans.
Its brother, No. 740, stayed behind, hunkered down into the dried grasses.
Then, the next day, we had a heifer - No. 556 - lose a calf.
So Randy brought one of the twins - No. 740 - to the calving shed to try to get the heifer to claim the calf. Even though the white-faced heifer had been bawling for its lost calf, it didn't claim the new baby right away.
However, after a couple of days, it appeared that the heifer and the twin calf were getting along. Little 740 calf looked healthy, so Randy turned them both out with the other heifers and their offspring.
Once out of the pen, the mama wasn't as generous. It was back to pushing the baby away when it tried to nurse. But another mama allowed the baby to steal a drink while its baby stood patiently aside. (See photo below.)
That earned heifer No. 556 another trip to a smaller pen to see if she would have "an attitude adjustment." Sometimes it works for toddlers and teenagers, right?!

The conclusion?  No. 556 is not going to win the Mother of the Year Award. But several other heifers seem to have "adopted" the calf and don't mind sharing the wealth - in this case, the mother's milk - with an interloper.

You've heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." In this case, it's taking a corral of heifers to raise No. 740. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Lessons from a Valentine Box

I feel a little like a Valentine's slacker. Last year, Kinley and Brooke were here at the farm shortly before Valentine's Day, and Kinley needed a Valentine box for school. I spent some time perusing the internet for ideas and finally settled on helping her construct a kitty box.
I declared success when one of her friends told her that she liked her "kitty." I'm not known for my crafting ability, so it was a proud Grandma moment when Jill reported the conversation!

A few weeks ago, I had the girls for the week, and I decided I'd take "Valentine's box" off Jill's already full "to-do" list. But I went an easier route this time. I bought a bunch of foam stickers at Hobby Lobby and let the girls peel and stick to their hearts' content on hot pink boxes I also took off the shelf at the craft store. (We also used the foam stickers to decorate foam frames.)
They both had a great time arranging the stickers on their boxes. The glittery stickers were Kinley's favorite. (I'm sure Jill and Eric found glitter on and under their kitchen table for days afterward, and Eric is not a lover of glitter.)
But mission accomplished: They were happy to show them off to Mommy and Daddy. (Jill had to do the hard part and supervise the painstaking writing of classmates' names this weekend. I would have done it, but they didn't have the Valentines or the classmate list at the time.)
Just like the "olden days," kids are supposed to give a Valentine to each member of their class.

At tiny Byers Grade School - my alma mater - Valentine's Day provided a lesson in how we'd all like to be treated: We had to give a Valentine to each classmate. No leaving out any pesky boy who teased me about my red tights.
(I'm second from the left, and it appears I'm wearing the red tights!)

Before Valentine's Day, we carefully cut out pink and red paper hearts and used our Elmer's Glue bottles to adhere them to shoeboxes. Mrs. Bond cut a slot in the top of the lid to make a Valentine's mailbox, which we perched on our desks. Other years, the teacher might give us a white paper sack, and we'd liberally decorate with crayon hearts and cutout cupids. We'd hang them with a piece of tape from the edge of our desks and wait anxiously for holiday greetings from our classmates. If we were lucky, someone might include a heart-shaped sucker along with the holiday card.

My Mom let each of us choose our box of Valentines from the store. I'm sure I very deliberately considered my options in an effort to choose just the right box. I also contemplated which Valentine to give to each classmate. That pesky boy needed a generic greeting, and I wanted to give just the right one to each of my female friends.

Each Valentine's Day, Jill and Brent chose their box of cards, too. A few are still in a box in the cabinet, and I use some each year for this and that. It's fun to look back and think about the choices they made at the time - a football theme for Brent or Barbies for Jill.  We had the same rule at our house. Every class member had to get a Valentine - no matter what.

And wouldn't the world be a better place if we treated each other with a little unconditional friendship? And not only on Valentine's Day, but every day.

Maybe Valentine's Day would be a good day to dust off the New York Times bestselling book from 20-some years ago, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

In it, author Robert Fulghum explains how the world would be a better place if adults adhered to the same basic rules as kindergarten-aged children, like sharing and being kind to one another.

For the record, I didn't go to kindergarten. It wasn't an option at Byers Grade School. But the lessons are still valid - and maybe even more so in this contentious world. 
As Robert Fulghum would say:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Way to a Man's Heart

My Valentine doesn't care much about cards. Unlike me, a sappy card doesn't seem to pull at his heartstrings.

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Yep, that sounds about right, at least around these parts. (I realize that's probably a sexist thing to say. Goodness knows, there's plenty of talk about such matters in my news feed these days, so I really am not looking to start a war.)

Truly, Randy would much prefer a blueberry pie instead of a $7.95 card. (I couldn't believe how much Valentine's cards are. He added the card to my Wal-Mart cart the other day, so the $7.95 card went on my credit card bill with our medicines. Ah, true love! At least the cashier carefully pulled it out of the envelope to scan it so that I couldn't see the front!)

If he's lucky, he'll probably get a pie.  I'm not sure whether it will be a double-crust blueberry pie ...

... or a crumb-topped blueberry pie. (It depends on whether I use the frozen pie crust already in the freezer or I whip up another recipe of dough).
But before the Super Bowl game last weekend, I made Caramel Puffed Corn. It's a recipe I've had in a "to try" pile for awhile now.
It uses "puff corn." Though it's the same name, it's not found in the cereal aisle. It's not popcorn. Find puff corn in the chip aisle. (I used Chester's Puff Corn, which is a Frito-Lay product.) And the caramel mixture is very similar to what I use for caramel popcorn, minus the salt.

One advantage of these giant corn puffs is that there are no hulls like you find in popcorn. When I make caramel popcorn, I try to keep the unpopped kernels out of the final product. Breaking teeth is not a romantic thought. But, no matter how careful I am, there inevitably seems to be a stray unpopped kernel or two in the finished product.

True confessions:  Randy says he didn't like the Caramel Puffed Corn quite as much as traditional caramel popcorn. But it was still good. If you want to jazz it up, add M&Ms in holiday colors - like for Valentine's Day. Or before a big game like the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tourney coming up next month, add M&Ms in team colors.

Enjoy! (See more Valentine treats below this recipe!)
Caramel Puffed Corn
3 3.5-oz. bags puff corn (not cereal - it's in the chip aisle. I used Chester's)
1 cup butter (no substitutes)
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Spray roaster(s) with cooking spray. Put 2 bags of the puff corn into 1 extra-large or two smaller roasters. Set aside. In a large saucepan, melt butter; stir in brown sugar and corn syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in baking soda and vanilla. (It will bubble up; that's why you need a large saucepan.) Gradually pour hot caramel mixture over the puffed corn, stirring to coat. Mix in the additional bag of puff corn until pieces are well coated. (I like to do it in two parts because I think it's easier to mix and stir.)

Bake in 250-degree oven for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Turn out onto waxed paper or parchment paper to cool. If desired, mix in M&Ms in holiday or team colors. Store in tightly-sealed containers or plastic storage bags.

Here are some other ideas for Valentine treats:

Homemade Pretzels 

Blonde Brownies (add Valentine sprinkles instead of flowers)
If you're looking for cake, pie, cookies, coffee cake, etc., just type a key word into the search bar on the blog. It will give you lots of tried-and-true options from the County Line. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Bucket and Other Legacies

Maybe no one else can see the value and legacy in a beat up old Tupperware container. And just like that old container, we can sometimes be a little "worse for wear" in dealing with plummeting commodity prices on one side but rising equipment and input costs on the other side.

This old Tupperware container was part of our inheritance. Really. It's been used to hold the pulling chains and disinfectant since I've been part of the family, nearly 36 years now. I don't know how long it was used prior to that.

It used to be stored in my in-laws' mudroom, but it now makes its home in my basement or back porch, depending upon the season. I'm sure when Marie bought that Tupperware long ago, it was never intended for use in a barn or calving shed. In fact, according to the label, it was part of the Millionaire Line. Man, if only THAT had come true! After a quick perusal at the Tupperware website, I have concluded they don't make it anymore. Maybe I could suggest a whole new marketing campaign for cow/calf producer products. On second thought, no. Somebody somewhere would protest that the plastic isn't "GMO-free" or "local" or some other buzzword.
Just last week, Randy used it as a bucket when he milked out a heifer so he could hand feed its calf. 
I've done a fair amount of thinking about the bucket since calving started again. The bucket itself is certainly nothing remarkable. In its former life, it was probably used for beverages, since it has a pour spout. Since it still has a working lid, it's handy for keeping disinfectant in the container when we use it for the pulling chains or for disinfecting the scalpel when our bull calves become steers.

It could be replaced. It probably should be replaced, since I doubt the scratched and stained plastic container is impenetrable by germ-free standards.
However, the dingy old Tupperware is more than the sum of its parts. It's kind of a passing-of-the-torch symbol - a hold-it-in-your-hands representation of Randy's and my places in the fifth-generation of our respective farm families.
I wish I had a photo of Melvin and Randy using the bucket together. I know it happened, but I wasn't recording every moment in blogland back then. For seven years of our marriage, I was driving back and forth to Hutchinson as a reporter and editor at The Hutchinson News.
Randy's grandpa Clarence with one of their bulls.
While that off-the-farm work helped pay the farm bills, it didn't give me the opportunity to play an active role on the farm. During part of the that time, I was commuting with infant - then toddler - daughter, Jill. After Brent was born, I "retired" from the full-time newspaper job, but I was raising two young children and doing some freelance writing work and later working at the school. So I didn't always make it out to watch a calf being pulled. I took more photos of the kids than I did of the farm. And that's OK. That's the ebb and flow of life. Different seasons often bring alternate perspectives.

But in this season of life, I've used the same reporting and photography skills in a new way. And while I didn't begin the blog to garner attention, it's always nice to be recognized
Last week, I was notified that I had received a "Golden Tractor Award" from Lawnstarter.com. Here's the email I got:
First of all, we’re huge fans of Kim's County Line, which has been chosen by LawnStarter’s editorial team to receive our 2016 Golden Tractor Award! Congratulations!

The Golden Tractor Award celebrates the Top Farming & Agriculture Blogs on the internet. We spent countless hours scouring the web in search of the blogs that deserve recognition.

We judged your blog based on criteria such as:
  • How well-written and informative the 2016 content was
  • How engaging it was (social shares, comments, aesthetics)
  • Popularity (pageviews, “popular posts” lists, etc.)
We hope that you enjoy our list of winners and encourage you to show off your Golden Tractor Award on your website (along with other awards that we’re sure your blog has received).
You can read our article announcing the winners here.
Randy and his first 4-H calf.
In this era of "fake news" and "alternate facts," I think it's important for people in the ag community to tell our own stories. Nobody can tell it like the people who live it, even though fast food restaurants and advertising companies are glad to share their thoughts about the evils of modern agriculture. 

But, just like that old bucket, we persevere - one day at a time.