Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Stories needing voices...

Greetings from the epicenter of the Bakken Oil formation!

It has been a busy one.  It has been a good one!  FALL - the most wonderful time of the year...

I had an amazing opportunity in early October to tell my little story to a group of be-you-tilful rural women from southwest North Dakota, northwest South Dakota, northeast Wyoming and southeast Montana at the Rural Women in America conference held in Bowman on October 5th.  A good friend and RLND class mate extended the invitation and I graciously accepted knowing full well that neither I nor my story are exceptional in any way, but rather that I am willing... to stand in front a room full of people and share the story of a rural woman engaged in agriculture living in western North Dakota (all of which I am very proud of)... and encourage others to do the same - to share their stories.

For far too long we have been crazy busy tending to our marriages, our children, our farms and ranches, our off-farm careers, our churches, our communities.  We have failed to connect with urban and non-agricultural America.  We have not communicated with these folks who have forgotten or no longer know their roots.  That was not meant to be an offensive comment, but rather to point out the fact that today less than 2% of the U.S. population is active in agriculture (food and fiber production) and in many instances Americans are 4 generations removed from their agrarian roots.  In 1960 that percentage was just a touch under 50%, so if you weren't a farmer your brother probably was.  The story didn't need to be told back then because even those living in urban America periodically had an 'on farm' experience.  Additionally back then, marketing and special interest groups weren't constantly pushing products, production models and agendas.  The story of agriculture was being experienced first hand and not being hi-jacked, manipulated or misrepresented.

My advise to these rural women was simple... be hear able, be relatable, be trustworthy, be respectful, be balanced.  Build a platform for conversation.  Open doors and walk through them.  Don't slam doors (even if you aren't sure what to think of what is on the other side).  In doing so, connections will come your way and provide you with space and place to tell your story.

I have made many valuable connections over my 39 years, many I am proud to call 'sister' and 'brother' in agriculture - a couple of them this fall that have provided space and place, a platform to build conversation from:

The Union Farmer     (page 9)

Inspired Woman

I would like to sincerely thank them for that opportunity.

So, (depending on your personality type) I encourage and / or challenge you to tell rural America's story.  The story needs your voice!

Rural Women In America Conference - October 5, 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

The chicken saga

Greetings from the epicenter of the Bakken Oil formation!

As usual, things have been incredibly busy around here.  I was talking to a fellow rancher from the west side of the county today at the Farmers Union C-store.  It was self-proclaimed f'real Friday  We both have 5 year olds and the coincidental timing of this weekly event provided us opportunity to basically complain about all of the prosperity that this amazing rainfall total of 2013 brought to a typically dry landscape.  There is just too much fall's work to do.  Too much hay to haul home.  Too much corn to ensile.  Too much winter wheat to plant.  Too many commodity contracts to deliver on.  Too many things to get done before winter sets in.

This end to the growing season of 2013 brought me to the realization that the final chapter in our little chicken saga is soon to play out.

(six months earlier...)

In March I get a phone call from my sister who instructs agriculture classes at Williston State College.  "Vawnita, I was wondering if Kyle wants chickens this summer", she says.  I instantly have childhood flash backs of picking eggs out from under angry pecking hens, being chased by 'the rooster' and pitching 'fertilizer' each spring from the hen house by hand.  Oh yah, and then there was the unpleasant chore that we were forced to participate in which was by far the worst part of having poultry on the ranch when we were growing up.  Harvesting (butchering) them.

My gut response was to firmly say "No.  Absolutely not.  I like my Cashwise Grocery Store eggs just fine.  Thanks for asking but no thank you."

Kyle and my sister Kim the day his chickens arrived.

Kyle with his six 'laying hens'.
Instead, I said "Only if we can get 6 of them.  All laying hens.  No boys.  No broilers.  No butchering chickens."  Kim thought this should be doable with the assistance of her Ag Club students who were hosting elementary school kids from around the Williston area on campus to learn about farm animals (livestock) and how farmers and ranchers care for them, and of course TSC (Tractor Supply Company).

Now, due to the early date of this beginning of April event on campus, these sweet, fluffy, adorable little baby chicks spent the first 8 weeks of their life on the ranch in a stock tank retrofitted into a brooder box in our attached (to the house), heated garage.  Yes, you heard me.  We had chickens in our garage.  One wall away from my kitchen to be exact.

I love my child and I do firmly believe that having meaningful chores for children are important.  In addition to having the daily chores of checking their feed and water, there were two other life lessons that I anticipated.  One, good animal and resource stewardship and two, how fulfilling it is to grow your own food and to share it with others.

What I didn't anticipate was that there would be numerous other life lessons as this saga unfolded.  Now, hold on to your over boots and keep up because there are a lot of side bars popping up in this story of Kyle's chicken herd.


One early May morning I was loading the dish washer.  The house was quiet when all of a sudden erupting from the garage, "Cock-a-doodle-doo!".  Remember, NO BOYS.  That was the deal.  This was bad.  My hope was that there was one rooster.  My fear was that there were three roosters.  This fear was founded from watching them interact in their brooder box - the fact that the three black and white ones picked on each other, had big combs and were incredibly flighty.

We rode and sorted pairs that day and our friends, Hayes and Lonny Feilmeier came out to help.  After we were done, we all came in to the house to eat.  I was going off about this 'rooster' thing that was weighing on my mind.  Lonny, who claimed to be a poultry expert went out to the garage to investigate.  When he came back in he informed me that we did indeed have three roosters.  Which also meant we only had three hens.  Both issues = BAD.

As the chicks got bigger and the weather got warmer... and they had definitely out grown their little brooder box (we had a couple escapes before we finally got them moved outside), the construction of the hen pen was on simultaneously as we were getting the barn ready for our annual customer appreciation supper and private treaty bull display (another post for another day).

The hen pen is a converted stock rack flipped upside down with laying boxes built in and a waterproof roof with netting side walls.  Kyle's lucky little chicken herd spent the summer grazing (and fertilizing) the yard.  During the 'grazing months' the mobile hen pen can be moved from location to location fertilizing and eliminating the labor piece which is typically required for a stick built, non-portable hen house. 

He couldn't take anymore hen pen building / barn time.  Kyle self napping with his private treaty bull catalog on the barn floor as Pete and Brad worked on the hen pen.

The four lessons that weren't foreseen when agreeing to take the Ag Club's chicks after their kiddy day at the college, but that were very valuable for our four year old son were these:  First, there are two things guaranteed to all creatures.  Every creature on earth enters this world and every creature leaves this world.  How, when, where, why... most of these events are out of the control of the being.  It is simply part of life or more accurately, it is simply part of the circle of life.  Secondly, make lemonade with your lemons but don't just make your average run of the mill lemonade.  Make really good, memorable lemonade with fresh, locally grown ingredients when they are available.  Share your lemonade with all who are thirsty and don't waste it.  Third, always remember happiness is in the journey and don't be so wrapped up in a picture perfect, Pollyanna like journey that you can't laugh at yourself.  Life is funny stuff and if there isn't anything there to laugh at, I pity your journey and the poor people that signed on with you.  Fourth, if beauty and function aren't a package deal and you have to choose one, function will serve you much better in life.

Those unintended lessons may have turned out to be more valuable to our four, soon to be five year old son than the 'lesson plan' was... which is likely another lesson.  One for me.


We had the chickens moved out to their hen pen, had them acclimated to that and now were allowing them to 'free range' around the yard.  Have I mentioned that the chickens were all named?  By Kyle with help from his cousin Jaden.  There are Chabella, Big Red Hen and the third one was Salt N Pepper.  According to Kyle, Salt N Pepper was his favorite.  Unfortunately, she was the favorite of the neighbor dog too.  It all happened in front of him and it was a very sad day for both Kyle and the dog.  The chicken didn't suffer very long before I relieved her of her injuries.  I remember my first 'circle of life' lesson as a young child.  It was a twin bottle calf who I fed often and named Barnaby (after Barnaby Jones).  Barnaby was a boy and went on to fill our freezer and sustained and nourish our family and guests to our home.  After having been through them both first hand, Salt N Pepper was easier than Barnaby, but I won't try to tell Kyle that.  Also, it was an important lesson, but I won't try to tell him that either.  He will realize that on his own someday.

On a lighter note, the journey as it played out that day through Kyle's eyes was later revealed to me by our neighbor who was there at the time building some shelves in our basement.  Kyle was sent to the basement by his father after it was realized that he was watching his mother beat the neighbor dog with a dead chicken out the dining room window.  Kyle says to neighbor Jerry who is working away on library shelves and unaware of the events outside, "Oh man Jerry.  My mom is really mad.  She is violating Abby (the dog) with Salt N Pepper".  Out of the mouths of babes.  And no, I don't know where he learned that word and no, I don't think he knows what it means.


There was an expansion to the little chicken herd.  Brad's friend from back home had a couple fancy show chickens that she was willing to send with Brad's mom and grandparents when they came to visit this summer.  This pair had just been crowned Grand Champion laying hen pair at the county fair.  Truly, when they arrived at the ranch I thought to myself "these are the most stunningly beautiful chickens I have ever seen before".  Kyle wanted to name them Pretty Dash #1 and Pretty Dash #2... they were and still are a little flighty.  I had to shut him down on that one.  Instead we did a google search of 'Victoria Secret models'.  Along with Chabella and the Big Red Hen, Kyle now has Gisele and Jasmine.

Unfortunately for Gisele and Jasmine (who both lay white eggs), this was the ONLY day in the last six weeks that we have been able to find two white eggs.  On the other hand, Chabella and Big Red Hen who both lay brown eggs, and who both would be considered 'big boned' and 'plain' each kick out an egg daily like clockwork.

(present day - October 4th)

The three 'stewies' (AKA - The Three Stooges, AKA - The Three Roosters) had a stay of execution this summer when we had an outbreak of grasshoppers around the yard and the hens needed help keeping those destructive critters out of the yard and the garden.  Although they are 'Kyle' chasers (he won't go outside to pick eggs without his handy catch rope (lariat) to defend himself) and incredibly noisy all day and much of the night, they were good vector control this summer and certainly earned their right to stick around through the first killing frost of the season (which is tonight).  Their scheduled time to leave this place and fulfill their destiny is next weekend.  They will go on to feed us and our guests and we will look back at our time with the three 'stewies' and laugh.  They made us laugh; sometimes with annoyance.  OK, mostly with annoyance.  None the less, when they leave, it will be swift and instantaneous.  They will have the death that I hope for for myself and my loved ones regardless of the number of legs they have. It will be painless.  It will be necessary.  It will not be a time to laugh, but it will be a good ending to three lives that were lived well and with purpose... NOW, here is a tribute to those damn 'stewies' and the struggle we faced this summer keeping them out of the 60 feet by 100 feet of the ranch that were suppose to be off limits to them!