Today marks 100 years of our farm in the Ruskamp family. That means our farm is a century farm!
There are some jobs that are just easier to do with extra help. One of those on our farm is opening and shutting gates.
I was trained for the gate keeper job when I met Steve. The feedlot Steve had at his dad’s place had wooden feedbunks that were inside the pen. When the cattle were fed Steve had to drive inside the pen. That meant four times on and off the tractor to feed one pen. Since I spent the weekends at Steve’s folks I would often help with cattle chores. I was the gate keeper during feeding. I didn’t mind hanging out with my honey and I’m pretty sure he was glad for the help.
Our feedlot has fence line bunks which is much better for the cattle and the equipment. The cattle always have a dry place to stand where they eat. We do put bedding in the pens and that is when it is nice to have a gate keeper.
Steve was bedding cattle and asked if I had time to open gates. I know how cumbersome it can be to climb off the tractor, open the gate, drive in, get back out and close the gate, get back in the tractor and so on.
There are probably more romantic things we could do together but I have to say that working side by side with Steve has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!
A recent snow and ice storm that hit the southern states has made me appreciate our road crews and the work they do to keep our roads safe during winter weather. When the forecast calls for snow/ ice in our area the salt trucks are out in full force preparing the roads so people can travel more safely. It is sad to see what happens to people in cities like Atlanta when cold weather leaves motorists stranded for 18 hours. We can plan and prepare to the best of our ability for weather situations but Mother Nature has been known to surprise us.
Because weather forecasting in an evolving process we have emergency weather plans so we can take the best care of our cattle as is possible. This includes having plenty of feed ingredients on hand much like people will stock up on grocery items like milk and bread when bad weather is in the forecast. We also continually work at keeping cattle pens in shape and machinery ready to go. This winter we have not received much snow so the pens have been easier to take care of.
Cattle that live outside adjust to the weather. They have a thick hide (we know it as leather) and grow hair that insulates their bodies for colder temps. In Nebraska we also get strong winds so the wind chill is a factor in designing cattle pens. We seek to provide pen conditions that keep them as comfortable as possible. Many of our pens utilize windbreaks from trees we’ve planted in the early 1980’s. Other pens utilize windbreaks made from steel for similar protection.
Because we have had so much cold with high winds we have had a tougher time keeping water tanks open. We chop open the ice with an ax. That job is a little hard on my back so it has been Steve’s job this winter. Generally the cattle drink throughout the day to keep the water tanks on.
The Atlanta storm is a great reminder to me about the dangers winter weather can bring and the need to be prepared. We have learned that Mother Nature is not perfectly predictable. We strive to prepare for the worst and hope for the best!
The certainty we have is that the weather will change. It won’t be long before the heat of summer arrives and we will be putting up sprinklers to keep the cattle cool.
Autumn is a beautiful season for so many reasons. I love years like this, when summer tries its best to hold off the crispness of fall. But inevitably, as the days get shorter, our world is filled with the unique sights, sounds, and smells of fall.
Autumn is also a very important time for farmers because it marks the end of the growing season. I love to count my blessing at this time every year, having been lucky enough to see the circle of life of another crop year.
This time of year can be crazy for farmers. When the crops are ready to be harvested, there is little that will keep the farmer out of the field.
This go, go, go attitude can leave little time for family interaction or quality time together. But if there is one thing that can get a farmer to stop momentarily in his tracks, it’s a good, hot meal. That is one of the things I love most about food – it has an amazing ability to bring people together and bring calm to the storm, if only for a moment.
I chose this recipe to share with you because it’s the perfect time of year for so many reasons. On the tail end of apple harvest season, many people are looking for great apple recipes to capture their flavor during the peak of freshness. This recipe is also great for fall because it does a great job of warming you right up on a cold morning.
When it comes to bringing the family back together, this crowd pleaser always seems to get the job done. I hope it does the same for you and your family.
Apple Crock Pot Breakfast
- 2 apples sliced
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 cups oatmeal
- 2 cups water
- Layer the following into a regular-sized crock pot starting on the bottom:
- Pour two cups of water over the top.
- Cover the crock pot with the lid.
- Cook overnight on low setting.
NOTE: This recipe works well if you start at 9 p.m. and eat breakfast at 7 a.m. the next morning. This recipe is also good cold.
My display consists of pint sized canning jars and M&M’s. I used facts from a beef myths website to calculate the amount of M&M’s it would take to equal levels of nanograms of estrogen in foods. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram used to measure hormones in the blood. I found that using one M&M per nanogram would require buying large amounts of M&M’s. While I would enjoy eating those M&M’s I decided for travel purposes I would divide the levels by six to show levels of estrogen in food.
Recently I was in a HyVee in Omaha. I had several kids interested in eating my M&M’s but what really amazed me was how quick they caught on to the fact that we have hormones present in many of the foods we eat as well as even larger amounts in our bodies. The parents would confirm that they were concerned about hormone levels in beef. After allowing me to explain how we use hormone implants in cattle as well as the M&M visual they agreed that this was not an issue to prevent them from buying beef.
As a volunteer for CommonGround and an advocate for agriculture, I have found that listening is the most important skill I can use when reaching out to consumers. If it is a concern for the consumer then it is a concern for me to clarify what the consumer wants and needs to know. Sometimes it means sharing facts in a manner that a consumer can relate to and then encouraging them seek further information from reliable sources.
Summer is here for many of us! A great recipe our family enjoys is summer salsa that I like to make with sweet corn and tomatoes. Both of these vegetables are fresh in our stores today because of food biotechnology – or GMOs.
What are the benefits of food biotechnology to agriculture?
Growing food with GMOs can result in better-tasting fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer and are naturally resistant to insects. Plant breeding also results in crops better able to withstand the environmental challenges of drought, disease and insect infestations.
By developing special traits in plants, food biotechnology allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources. This increased availability of crops provides significant economic gains to farmers in developing countries.
It helps your food budget as well.
An Iowa State University study shows that without food biotechnology, global prices would be nearly 10 percent higher for soybeans and 6 percent higher for corn.
Biotechnology also benefits the environment.
A Council for Agricultural Science and Technology report says biotech soy, corn and cotton have decreased soil erosion by 90 percent, preserving 37 million tons of topsoil. Food Biotechnology crops also provide a 70 percent reduction in herbicide runoff and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
USDA also says research on potatoes, squash, tomatoes and other crops continues in a similar manner to provide resistance to diseases that otherwise are very difficult to control.
No need to fear your food!
2 ears cooked sweet corn (2 cups)
3 med tomatoes chopped (3 cups)
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves (or chop fresh if avail.)
1 tablespoon lime juice
Mix well. Let sit at least an hour. You can adjust the amounts according to your own preferences. This salsa is great when you have fresh corn and tomatoes from the garden (later in the summer for those of us in Nebraska!) but thanks to food biotechnology, we can enjoy these vegetables year-round.
When I was growing up there was a slogan that went like this, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.” For me it meant litter control–not throwing trash out the car window. What I didn’t realize in the 70′s was that a movement was starting with a focus on air and water quality. That movement can be traced back to April of 1970 when Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day. In December of the same year congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
We are very familiar with EPA regulations. Since our feedlot is considered a CAFO we have certain rules to follow in order to operate.
Earth Day is more than rules and regulations. It is about people returning to the earth more than we take from her. My husband, Steve, and I have been trying to do that ever since we started farming together nearly 32 years ago.
One of our annual projects is planting trees. We started planting trees in the early 1980’s through a tree planting program through the NRD. Since then we have planted thousands of trees and shrubs. The NRD delivers them to us in bundles of 25 trees that look like sticks.
When Steve and I started planting trees we were developing windbreaks. We would plant two rows of Cedar trees and two rows of Ash trees. We started substituting Honey Locust for the Ash trees in the 90’s. We have also started using Pine and Spruce trees. Once the trees were planted we needed to keep them watered and the weeds mowed. We planted so many trees when the kids were young that I taught them math as they rode along with me in the pickup. We had a big tank on the back of the pickup with water and a large hose. As I would drive between the rows Steve would water the trees. As the kids grew they either ran the hose or drove the pickup.
Our kids also planted a tree of their own in our yard. Each of them received money from their grandparents to get a tree after graduating from 8th grade. It has been fun to watch the speed at which some of the trees have grown.
Celebrating Earth Day is a something we do in agriculture every day. The earth is our partner and we know that without her we can do nothing. I encourage you to find ways you can give more than you take by following one of the newer slogans “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Earth Day has become more to me than keeping our highways clean but that, too, is something that still needs to be done.
Thanks to the Omaha World Herald, “The Public Pulse” for posting this last Thursday.
About this time every year, I begin to get surprised looks from people when I talk about all the activities happening on my family’s farm near Dodge, Neb. My husband, and I feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa. While the crops may not require a great deal of attention in the winter months, animal care on our farm is a top priority 365 days a year.
My many responsibilities include walking through the cattle every morning, no matter the weather conditions, to make sure each animal is healthy. If a sick animal needs antibiotics, we always adhere to label use under our veterinarian’s supervision. We also adhere to strict withdrawal times, or a set number of days that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply.
Even though cattle have hair coats designed to handle living outdoors, we take extra care in winter to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. We provide extra bedding and windbreaks to help block the extreme cold. In addition to shoveling our driveway, we must remove or pile snow in the pens so cattle have dry places to lie down. And even during a snowstorm, cattle must be fed at their normal times with continuous access to water.
So, even though the winter weather might make you want to stay bundled up inside, know that farmers are braving the elements to make sure the animals are well cared for — because healthy animals equal healthy food for our families.
It is important to me to recognize the most influential person I have had in my life for the past thirty-one years: my husband, Steve.
Steve grew up on a farm near Snyder, NE. He dreamed of feeding cattle and farming as soon as he could start playing with tractors and building little pens in the dirt. It was in his blood. His dad and grandfather were cattle feeders and perhaps his German ancestors were as well.
Steve and I met at a wedding dance in Snyder. I was with the brother of a good friend of Steve’s. Steve sat across the table from me most of the night and wooed me with stories about his horse. I didn’t remember his name until he stood up to leave and I noticed the cut out letters “S-T-E-V-E” on the back of his belt.
Steve didn’t remember my last name but he did remember where I worked. The Monday following our first encounter I heard the phone ringing as I was unlocking the door to the veterinary clinic that I was working at. I hustled over to the counter figuring it was an emergency call for the vet. It was Steve! He was wondering if I would want to come out to his farm and ride his horse that next weekend. Well, yes, I responded and the rest, as they say, is history. We were married in September of 1981.
I didn’t know much about feeding cattle but I was excited about living on a farm. I always loved animals and had gone to college in Curtis, NE to be a veterinary technician. I found that my knowledge of doctoring combined with my concern for the well being of animals was an asset to our business.
Steve and I started having children so my work on the farm was limited to the chores I could do with the kids in tow and book work. We had moved to the vacant farm that Steve’s dad was born and raised on and eventually purchased it from Steve’s uncle. We faced financial difficulty in those early years. Every penny was accounted for and we didn’t buy what we didn’t need. The focus was on building the farm so that in the future the farm could give back. It was tough but Steve had a vision and the work ethic to see it through.
While Steve loves feeding cattle he also has a hobby that is near and dear to his heart. Steve is a fisherman and has many tales of fishing as a boy in a nearby creek. When we were able to take a fresh water holding pond and make it into a fish pond Steve saw a dream fulfilled that he never thought possible—a fish pond only a few hundred feet from our house. One can find Steve fishing early in the morning, mid morning, lunch time and in the evening during the warmer days of the year. While I don’t have the fishing bug that Steve has, I do enjoy spending time in the paddle boat or roasting marshmallows in a nearby campsite we built.
We have faced many challenges together. The external challenges revolve around weather and markets. I had to learn early on the importance of timing when it comes to farming. One summer day I had planned to take the three young kids we had at the time to a circus in Norfolk. Steve said, no, the hay had to be baled that night (we also picked it up right away in case of rain and I drove the hay rack across the field). I shared this story once with a group of students that were our Ag Pen Pals in Lincoln. They were shocked that our kids had to miss the circus. I then explained to the students that many farms grow to add employees so that family activities can be attended.
We have been fortunate to have employees to help us with our labor. Taking care of livestock is a full time job seven days a week, on holidays and when the weather is blistering hot or bone chilling cold. While I get moments of burn out from the lack of time off, Steve seems to run on Energizer batteries. It has been said that if you love what you do it won’t seem like work. Steve has passion for what he does and he does it very, very well.
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