My farming experiences were limited when I was growing up. I had extended family living on ranches and acreages we called farms. On my mom’s side of the family, we made visits to ranches near Woodlake and Rushville, Nebraska. The ranch near Rushville was homesteaded by my great-grandfather Nicholas Dukat. There was a peace and beauty I felt on those ranches that I still treasure.
This ranch was homesteaded by Nicholas and Barbara Dukat. In
this picture are my great uncle Joe Dukat, my dad, Clem, my
mom, Barb and my two nieces Brooke and Breanna. The
late Joe and Adah Dukat have a grandson that is the current
owner of the ranch. This photo was taken in the fall.
From my dad’s side of the family, I enjoyed a farm experience much closer to home. The farm was actually a ten acre piece of property my grandparents and uncle‘s family lived on that my family referred to as “the farm”. When I was young, there were hogs and horses on the farm. I loved going to the farm mostly because I had cousins that were also there. I watched sows farrow pigs and learned to love the smell of freshly cut hay. I longed to live on a farm and enjoy what I thought looked like the ideal lifestyle.
I spent countless hours on this acreage riding horses with
my cousins. I am riding the second horse, an Appaloosa,
that I bought with detassling money.
Little did I know then that my love for animals would lead me on a path towards living on a farm for most of my life–so far anyway! I was working as a veterinary technician when my husband swept me off of my feet and brought me to a farm his dad had grown up on. The farm was empty, a little run down, and full of potential for two young newlyweds to make as a home.
This is a photo of Steve’s grandfather, Joe and grandmother, Anna sitting on the
south side of the farm house we lived in for the first 15 years of our marriage.
Our daughter, Emily, is enjoying time in the swing under the
same trees her great-grandparents enjoyed sitting under.
I still nourished romantic thoughts of living on a farm. Oh the animals. Oh the space. Oh, farming! Boom, reality hit pretty fast as the Farm Crisis of the 1980’s hit agriculture and our early married years of managing our farm.
This is how the cattle were fed by Steve’s grandfather, father and uncles in the 1960’s.
This is how cattle have been fed the past thirty years on our farm. The ration
includes hay and other ingredients that have been scientifically calculated to
meet the dietary needs of the cattle so they will thrive in our feedlot.
Fast forward thirty years and you will find us thriving on the farm we were barely surviving on in the 1980’s. We’ve managed to get where we are for a variety of reasons. One of the most important lessons I had to learn was that farming is a 24-7 job 365 days of the year and in Nebraska that means extreme heat and extreme cold temperatures to work in. I saw the determination in my husband’s eyes as he bundled up early in the morning to make sure the cattle would be fed on time. I also saw the fatigue in his eyes after weeks of hot weather in the summer and making sure the cattle were kept cool.
One tool to protect cattle from winds in the winter is to build windbreaks from
natural or man-made materials. Steve is walking with our son, Scott, through
a fairly new row of trees we planted in the late 1980’s. We have planted
thousands of trees and shrubs since we bought the farm in 1981.
Our son, Jeff, with his Grandpa Ruskamp admire a newly
planted tree in the early 1990’s. Francis farmed about eleven
miles from where our farm is located. We farmed together
until his recent death in the fall of 2015.
Farming is a decision. It’s a decision to do what is right in caring for the animals in bad weather, on weekends and holidays even though it causes discomfort to us. It’s a decision to do what is right for the land by planting the best seeds that will thrive in our soil and climate. Farming is a business, a way of life, and a home for many of us.
I am admiring a field of soybeans that is just starting to turn color as
they mature and dry. New seed development has helped farmers raise
more bushels using less resources of land and water.
We recently had some family owned ground we’ve been renting for 34 years go through a public land auction sale. The price for the land went far above what we wanted to pay, so we had to let it go. Even though my primary passion on the farm is caring for our cattle I found myself grieving the loss of this land we’ve been taking care of for so many years.
Steve’s dad, Francis loved harvest. This is Francis helping
us with corn harvest on the ground we will no longer farm.
There are some in the conversation about food production that say farmers don’t care about the animals or the land. I am a voice that says that is just not true for me and many other farmers I know. If you don’t understand why we use GMO seeds or why feeding cattle in a feedlot can help them thrive, then please ask a farmer that can give you a credible answer.
Producing healthy food that is also good for the environment
is important to farmers. We have generations of people to
think about and plan for. Steve is pictured with our daughter,
Ginger, our two granddaughters and our grandson.
I am walking through our cattle to make sure each animal is doing well. This
is often called pen riding in the feedlot. This job is done every morning
no matter how cold or hot it is and on weekends and holidays