Making Hay

Making Hay

Monday, July 25, 2016

Oh My, How You've Grown!

Oh my, how you've grown! It's a phrase often attributed to little old ladies commenting on children's exponential growth. (Oh wait! Some people may put me in the "old lady" camp these days. Hmmppffff!)

But the sentiment also applies to our 2016 corn crop.
June 18, 2016
In a little more than a month, our dryland corn crop has gone from waist high to towering over my human measuring stick.
Randy says that corn needs a certain number of "heat units" to grow well. I would say it definitely got its share of "heat units" last week.The temperature hovered around 100 degrees all week, and we didn't get any rain. This Monday morning, we've gotten 0.20" of rain. Let's hope it helps cool things off a bit and gives another boost to the corn, milo and feed sorghum crops.

Since we are first and foremost wheat farmers, the rain we got during wheat harvest may have been an aggravation. But our corn farmer alter ego is happy the rain helped fill the corn cobs and has the 2016 corn crop looking so good. 
Most the corn stalks have more than one ear.
Maybe the song lyrics from South Pacific will come true this year: "I'm as corny as Kansas in August." By the end of August, our dryland crop may be ready to harvest. It happens in half the time of the 9-month-long march to wheat harvest.
April 23, 2016
More photos from this year's corn crop progress (and my human measuring stick) can be found by clicking on this link.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

One Person's Opinion On One Day

Grand Champion, Stafford County Fair 2016 open class
"It's just one person's opinion on one day."

It's a phrase my parents often repeated. They said it at music festivals while I anxiously waited for the rating on my vocal solo to be posted. They repeated it during the county fair. With a stomach turning somersaults and my fingers anxiously tapping a nervous rhythm, I probably inwardly rolled my eyes. (I didn't outwardly do it: I would have gotten in trouble.)

But you know what? It's true. Judging is one person's opinion on one day.

So if people at the Stafford County Fair looked at the Grand Champion ribbon taped to my photo last week and thought, "I wonder why they picked that one?" That's why: It was one person's opinion on one day.

Of all the photos I entered, I wouldn't have chosen that one as my favorite either. It was probably among my most unusual though, and sometimes uniqueness counts.

I took the photo last March at Pratt Livestock when we sold feeder calves. We had been at the sale barn all day long. But when we stepped outside into the darkness, I noticed the country version of a traffic jam. Randy wasn't surprised when I delayed our departure a little longer to get a few shots of the cattle trucks lined up around the perimeter of the sale barn parking lot.

I entered a bunch of photos in the open class division of the county fair last week.  Old habits die hard.

I've been exhibiting things at county fairs since I was 10 years old. I was a fourth grader and a member of the Lincoln Bluebirds 4-H Club.
My only project my first year was "Snacks and Little Lunches," a foods and nutrition project. According to my meticulous record book, my first fair netted a blue ribbon on cookies and red ribbons on both my cupcakes and brownies.

If my 4-H story is to be believed, I had a "lot of fun." In fact, several times, I had "a lot of fun." Perhaps my descriptive writing had not yet been developed.
But, at any rate, I evidently did have "a lot of fun." Here we are ... um ... several years later, and I'm still entering exhibits in county fairs.

In open class at the Stafford County Fair, not every photo gets a ribbon. I had several blues, along with some reds and whites. And I had some that didn't place at all.
Blue ribbon in "People" category
My premium money didn't begin to cover the cost of enlarging photos, buying mat board and special plastic bags, but I felt pretty good about having more than half of my photos "in the money," so to speak.
Blue ribbon in "Animal" category
However, it's not about the money. It's about being part of something bigger. If people don't enter, there's nothing to look at during the fair. And if there's nothing to look at, nobody is going to come. And if no one comes, fairs are going to die.
Blue ribbon in the "Landscape/Scenic" category
Because of a decreasing population base, there are already fewer exhibits than there were back when I was a kid. Or maybe it's just a shift in the kind of 4-H projects kids take today. Back in my day, there were lots of little girls in clothing construction. Today, very few 4-Hers construct their own clothing or other items. There are no longer racks of home-sewn clothing hanging at county fairgrounds.
Blue ribbon, "Human Interest" category, Black and White
But photography seems to be alive and well. There were lots of entries in both the 4-H and open class divisions.
Blue ribbon, B/W, "Action" category
Because of blogging, I seem to grab the camera more often. So I have a lot of photos to choose from.

Blue ribbon, "Humor" category
For the record, one of my favorite photos, a sunrise over a wheat field, got a red ribbon. That particular photo had gotten more than 500 "likes" on Snapshot Kansas' Facebook page. So you just can't outguess a judge: "It's one person's opinion on one day." 

So here we are, back to the question at hand: Why exhibit at the county fair? People have been experiencing fairs since the days of the Roman empire (At least that's what Wikipedia - the authority of all things - told me). I suppose there's a little rush to being chosen "best" at something, satisfying that little kernel of competitiveness in the human spirit.

But I truly think it's about helping to make sure fairs last another 2,000 years. (Maybe women in Jerusalem met in the city square while gathering water and decided who had the best flat bread. Yes, I know I have a vivid imagination.)

Fairs give people an excuse to come together, to visit with people they don't see everyday.

It gives guys an opportunity to eat food their wives won't fix them at home everyday (Yes, I think Randy had pie every day he was there.)

It brings volunteers together to work on something that's bigger than what any one person could accomplish on their own.

It's about being part of a community. I'll give that a purple ribbon any day.

And speaking of purple ribbons, I also got a pretty lavender Reserve Grand Champion ribbon in the arts and crafts division with my children's book, Count on It! Adventures from a Kansas Farm. 
I used my photography and created rhyming verses for the numbers 1 to 20 and self-published it on Heritage Makers. I dedicated the book to our granddaughters, Kinley and Brooke, and to "other children in an effort to keep our rural heritage strong."
I'd like to pursue getting it published by an actual publisher, so I could sell them at a lower price, but that's easier said than done. Still, it's nice to have someone say, "Job well done!" Even if it's only one person's opinion on one day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly: Wheat Harvest 2016 Summary

Wheat Harvest 2016 is now in the rearview mirror.

I don't know that there is ever a harvest without some hitches. But the 2016 version had its moments of "the good, the bad and the ugly" during the almost month-long process.
The good: We had a high yield of 80 bushels per acre in one field. (Randy got 2nd place at the Stafford County Fair market wheat show with some of the KanMark wheat, which tested 64 pounds per bushel.)

The bad: We experienced rain delay after rain delay, dragging harvest out for a month. By the end of harvest, the test weight was down to 56 pounds per bushel.

The ugly: We  had a low yield of 15 bushels per acre on a field that had been hailed on twice and was mired in mud and weeds. By the time we "called it good," the grain was sprouting in the head, and we had a borrowed combine buried in the mud.

Our overall average on 1,559 acres planted to wheat was 48.5 bushels per acre. The last two fields definitely brought down the average.
It had all started so well. We were all smiles when harvest began June 15.
We had a new-to-us combine. At a farm auction this spring, we purchased a 2010 7120 Case combine, along with a 2011 35-foot flex header.
Randy was loving all the new gadgets. He could hardly keep his eyes off the yield monitor and information screens.
After a quick, first-day repair, the combine was working well.

We were getting binloads of high-quality wheat. Early in harvest, test weights were 62 to 64 pounds per bushel. The benchmark for quality wheat is 60 pounds per bushel. 
The lunch lady was getting good reviews from the boss and from the truck driver.
Philly Cheese Steaks served al fresco on the back of the car trunk!
Our first minor bump in the road was a trouble with a truck tire. But nobody got hurt and we were able to get it fixed relatively quickly. Plus, we were close enough to Zenith that hauling exclusively with the semi didn't pose too much of a problem.
A storm rolled in late June 17. Even though Randy would have preferred spending his Father's Day on the combine, we had a weather delay.
 After 6+ inches of rain during a period from June 17 to July 2, we were starting to see quite a few weeds in the remaining fields.
The final 275 acres had been hailed on twice and had gotten the most rain.
We had a rain-imposed hiatus from July 2 to July 11. Then, a raccoon dining inside the combine created more harvest drama. The raccoon went through the radiator when Randy tried to move the combine to our final two fields. The combine got hauled off to the repair shop.
So we traded red for green, borrowing our neighbor's combine.
The 4-wheel drive came in handy anyway, since Randy was still combating soggy ground and mud. Randy had a breakdown on July 13, which necessitated parts runs to both Hutchinson and Pratt.

The Kanza Co-op locations at both Zenith and Stafford were full, so we started hauling to Stafford County Flour Mills. And there we discovered another problem. The wheat had begun sprouting in the head because of all the rain and because it was down in the field so badly. Thankfully, they accepted the grain, though it was with a 17 percent dock. (It's not the impression you want to make on a mill that produces the best flour in the country: Hudson Cream Flour. We weren't the only ones with sprouted wheat, though, and Stafford County Flour Mills hauled the sprouted grain to another facility, where it will likely be used as livestock feed.)
We ended harvest with Randy watching a bulldozer in the combine's rearview mirror as it got pulled out of the muck and mire of the final field.
At some point, you just have to say "enough is enough" and call it good. It was our final location, and it had hail damage from two separate storms. Weeds were taking over after multiple rains. 
And after the combine got stuck the evening of July 13, we got another 2.20" of rain. The bulldozer we hired had to pull the combine all the way to the road.

A little perspective is in order: In 2015, our wheat crop averaged 50 bushels per acre. Harvest 2014 was not a good year, and we averaged 24.5 bushels per acre. Our best year ever was 2013, when we averaged 52 bushels per acre, despite planting into dust and several late freezes. 

So, the sun has finally set on Wheat Harvest 2016. The dryland corn and milo looks good after all those harvest rains. The guys are working on the second cutting of alfalfa. This harvest has been one to remember. Some of it, we'd probably prefer to forget. But that's part of farming. Kind of like the amnesia that new moms experience following labor, we'll put it behind us. And the journey will begin anew in September and October as we plant the 2017 wheat crop.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Right Place, Right Time

There was plenty of action at the Stafford County 4-H beef show Friday night. With cooler temperatures and a storm brewing to the west, the cattle were restless. The 4-Hers dealt with skittish steers, setting them up and resetting them, no matter how ferociously the 4-Hers rubbed the bovines' bellies with the show sticks to try to keep them calm and in place. 

But the real action was outside the arena. A rainbow arrived about the same time our neighbor girl and her boyfriend got engaged. How is that for timing!?
I'm rarely happy with rainbow photos, but it was beautiful in person!
After that, I left the breeding beef show and walked across the street from the fairgrounds. With all the storm clouds, I knew the sunset was going to be one I didn't want to miss.
As I walked to the west with camera in hand, someone said, "Hey, Kim! You can't start your fair photos for next year yet! This fair's not over!"
Edited with HDR treatment
But I think I just might have gotten a head start. The sky was too beautiful to ignore.
I'm used to having hay bales, windmills and trees in the foreground of my sunset shots. It was a treat to be able to highlight the co-op and the Stafford Depot. I love being at the right place at the right time, don't you?
With all the ugliness in the world, it's easy to get discouraged. It seems that every newscast is filled with more hate and unrest. That's why it's so important to look for the beauty. Especially look for it in people - those who are like us and those who are not. Like shifting skies at sunset, our perspective can be changed if we look for the beauty around us.

A Time to Think

Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer.
And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.
–Maya Angelou, author and poet

A Time to Act

Pray and release your worries.

A Time to Pray

Oh, Lord, teach me to remember You in all things, every day of my life.
Email devotional from Guideposts.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Throwback Thursday on Friday

Throwback Thursday seems to be a popular feature on Facebook on Thursdays. However, I spent all day on Wednesday (and a good portion of Tuesday afternoon) at the Stafford County Fairgrounds, helping with the 4-H foods department. So my Throwback Thursday has evolved into a Throwback Friday blog post. (It seems that my motto this month is like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland:  "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.")

Our family has plenty of old photos related to the Stafford County Fair and the 4-H program. The photo at the top is from 1967. Randy was a 5th grader and in his first year in Stafford County 4-H with his first 4-H beef project.

Our kids continued that tradition 25 years later or so. Jill's and Brent's 4-H records take up a yardstick-long piece of book shelf real estate in the office. But what you learn in 4-H is much more valuable than you can encapsulate in a record book.

Before you can confidently lead your bucket calf into the show ring at the county fair, you have to put in the time.
You sometimes have to dig in your heels and keep practicing - day after day after day.
You have to go out and feed the calves before school and check on them after you get home.
But the 4-H program does more than help you figure out how to lead a calf in a show ring or how to show a pig.
It's about becoming a leader and teaching what you know to other people, too.
Jill's friend, Holly, & Jill making pretzels for a demonstration
Jill, several years later, teaching that skill to someone else - with the same apron!

A few years ago, The High Plains Journal ran a story about 4-H that shared this study:
Young people in 4-H are three times more likely to contribute to their communities than youth not participating in 4-H.
4-Hers all across the nation are empowered to take on the leading issues of their towns, counties and states and make a lasting difference. ... 4-H youth get the hands-on, real-world experience they need to become leaders and to make positive differences in their communities.
"The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development"
 from Tufts University 
While I didn't take livestock to the Pratt County Fair, I did my share of foods talks and experimented with recipes before taking them to the fairgrounds to be judged. I learned to sew and crochet, too. But it was the leadership skills that most impacted my life as a child and today.
I made the cookies and the dress.
My family's involvement with 4-H started with my parents back in the 1940s. Both were members of the Lincoln Bluebirds 4-H Club in Pratt County, the club that my siblings and I later joined. (It later combined with another club and became the Lincoln Climbers.) All four of us and all seven of the grandchildren have been part of the 4-H program, two in Pratt County in the same club their grandparents attended, two in Stafford County and three in Clay County.

Randy's parents were leaders in the Stafford County 4-H program, too, though we're not sure they were 4-H members themselves. For a dozen years, Randy & I were community leaders of the Corn Valley 4-H Club, the same club Randy was a part of back when he took his first steer to the fair.

In 2006, we celebrated 100 years of Kansas 4-H. The youth program has been part of the national landscape since 1902.

The 4-H website says:
The 4-H idea is simple: help young people and their families gain the skills they need to be proactive forces in their communities and develop ideas for a more innovative economy. That idea was the catalyst to begin the 4-H movement, and those values continue today.
Growing through 4-H isn't like magic (though that self-determined project was one of Brent's favorites when he was a little guy.)
There's no sleight of hand. It requires putting in the time and effort - as an individual, as a family and as a community.

That's how the magic happens ... the kind that lasts a lifetime.

We aren't community leaders or project leaders anymore, but we do help out in small ways during the fair. I am a superintendent with 4-H foods judging, and Randy usually helps with the hogs, though he wasn't able to this year.We also are proud to sponsor some of the awards. We chose project areas that were important to us or our children, like the Grand Champion awards for foods and for bucket calf.  We also sponsor a dog award in memory of Randy's mom, Marie, who was a dog leader in the county for years.

The bucket calf award will get handed out this afternoon, and the market beef show is later tonight. It still tugs at my heart a little bit to watch pony-tailed girls and proud little boys walk into the ring with their bucket calves. I always wish I could hear what they are telling the judge!

Randy and I also made some entries. After our nearly month-long wheat saga (a wrap-up is coming next week), Randy earned a second-place finish in the Market Wheat Show. Since we got 2.20" of rain yesterday morning, he was there to pick up his prize. Several of my photos did well in the open class photography judging. Once a 4-Her, always a 4-Her, I guess!

This post is revised from the archives.