Monthly Archives: December 2013



“Who will stay with the sheep?”

It’s Christmas time in our small, mountain town. The trees are flocked and you can see the breath of our horses as you drive by, their coats warm and thick against the cold. Just last night our little town performed a Christmas pageant celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. My Mom and I were the directors, she in charge of the narration and I the music. It was a chaotic event with Mary, Joseph, angels and of course the beloved shepherds. They, along with their woolly counterparts brought back memories of a Christmas not too many years past. A Christmas that I will never forget, not because of the presents or the lights or the caroling, but a Christmas remembered because of a simple story.

Who Will Stay with the Sheep - Photo 1

It was a Sunday, and like all Sundays we attended church in our little town. My friend had been asked to speak this Sunday, and she shared a personal story by Sheralee Bills Hardy. Sheralee told of taking her four young sons to watch the dress rehearsal of the area production of “Savior of the World: His Birth.” Her husband was playing the important role of Joseph, and he had spent months preparing for the performance. The weeks leading up to Christmas had been intensely involved for her husband, and the family had felt the absence of their husband and father. Sheralee told how, as she watched her husband perform, she felt envious of his important role. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” she thought, “to be in the spotlight rather than the designated behind-the-scenes babysitter?”

Not proud of her feelings, Sheralee had prayed for strength to overcome her self-pity and the desire for a more glamorous and visible role. The play continued, the shepherds hastening to meet The Messiah. The shepherds had waited all their lives, dreaming of the day when The Savior would appear. Now the Angel of The Lord had come, hastening them to Bethlehem to behold the wondrous event. The shepherds hurried from the stage, all but one, an old man remained motionless. A young boy, his grandson, returned to the stage and asked, “Grandfather, aren’t you coming?” In his reply, was the answer to Sheralee’s prayer, and a great lesson to us all: “I’ll stay with the sheep.”

Sheralee felt the love of the Savior at that moment, and she now understood. Her role as mother had seemed menial, but now it took on a greater significance. She would care for the spirits entrusted her. While bedtime stories didn’t end with an applause, she knew her role was important. She would “stay with the sheep” so others could see the babe in Bethlehem.

This story has stayed with me and I have thought of it often since. At the time of hearing the story, I had a three-week-old baby, and Dustin and I were newly-elected as our state’s Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Commitee chair. Although the position is filled as a couple, only one serves on the board of directors. So, often times I would stay home and take care of our five daughters and the ranch while he was traveling for board meetings. Dustin and I are partners in every sense of the word. We ranch together, we run our hay business together. Dustin is the best dish-doer in the business! He really does more than his share of housework. The Utah Farm Bureau Board of Directors was really the first time in our married life that we were, in a sense, going our separate ways. Ashamed, I admit, there were times I was envious of his “spotlight.”

YFR Orientation

Being involved in Farm Bureau, I often get the opportunity to attend various conferences. More than once, when a keynote speaker has been addressing the audience, have I wondered, “Who stays with their sheep?”

I have looked at the past and present national YF&R Committee chairs. The current chair, Zach Hunnicutt, has an amazing wife. Just recently, he attended the National FFA Convention with the rest of the committee while his wife, Anna, stayed home with their three children, one of them a new baby. She stayed with the sheep. Past YF&R Chairwoman Chris Chinn has really taken ag advocacy to a new level. She has children and a hog farm at home. Is her husband the sheep tender? What about AFBF President Bob Stallman, who tends his sheep while he is away? Our state Farm Bureau president is very good to recognize his brother and partner as the reason he is able to serve in that capacity. I have never met his brother and wouldn’t recognize him if I saw him on the street, but my hat goes off to him.

All of us have people we need to thank – husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, partners, parents, men and women – who stay with the sheep so we have the opportunity to be in the spotlight from time to time. We know that having good agricultural people in positions of leadership is important, but crops don’t water themselves and livestock need daily care. Make sure this Christmas you remember to thank the one who stays with your sheep.

As we say in the West: From our Outfit to Yours, Merry Christmas and may you have a prosperous New Year!

Christmas for a Country Kid

Christmas in the Northeast is a magical time of year. A time when families get together over warm hot chocolate and home cooked meals to reminisce and tell stories of times gone by. Children build snowmen and ride sleds with their cherry red noses dripping from the cold air. Churches hold midnight services, children put on nativity pageants and we celebrate in our Savior’s birth.  Houses are filled with the smell of fresh gingerbread, the sounds of Christmas carols and the laughter of good company.

xmas_tractor

While much of America is able to slow down, take a break from work and enjoy a nice respite this time of year, there is one who cannot so much as take a day off: the livestock farmer. In fact, winter is one of the more difficult times in the Northeast, as we struggle with freezing temperatures, blizzards and other challenges. No matter how cold, how many feet of snow, how blustery or how much freezing rain comes down, the animals are priority number one. There are no snow days and no looking at the frost on the windows and deciding to roll back over and pull those covers up a little bit tighter. Cows need to be milked, animals need to be fed, calves are being born, waterers are freezing, snow needs to be cleared from paddocks, and the list goes on.

Winter_ponies

Despite this, Christmas in the country is always a wonderful time of year. When my brother and I were younger and emerged from our rooms at 6 a.m. to see what Santa had left us, it hadn’t crossed our minds that our father had already been awake for hours doing chores so he could watch the magic of Christmas unfold before our eyes. We knew Santa had been there because he always took a bite from the cookies and had a sip of milk, but we made sure his reindeer were properly fed too! They always left behind half eaten carrots and spilled grain so we knew that they had, indeed, been there. I doubt the city kids had this added layer of proof!
Xmas_Santa

As we got slightly older and took on more responsibilities, it became common place that the animals were to be taken care of every day before breakfast, and certainly Christmas morning was no different. We would wake up, put on our long johns and barn clothes, and go to feed the horses, cows, sheep and ducks. Even the animals got a special treat, be it carrots, apples or molasses in their grain. This Christmas chore time was special as I bonded with my brother, our imaginations running wild wondering what treasures awaited us under the tree. We couldn’t help but sneak a glimpse at all the pretty colored packages on the way out the door! Imagine our surprise when we opened the doors to the sheep barn one year and found a snowmobile with a big shiny, red bow on it! You can only guess how we spent the rest of the day – and it sure wasn’t in the house!

Yes, Christmas in the country truly is a blessing…I hope yours is, too. MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone!

Get Involved!

All across the country, state Farm Bureaus are gearing up for or have just finished their annual meetings. In just a month, agriculturalists from every part of the United States will gather together in San Antonio for the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention. Why is this important? Why should it affect you?

For too long we have been content to care for our herds and drive our tractors with little thought to local, state, and national policy and advocacy. To sound cliché, the squeaky wheel gets oiled and we have not been squeaky enough!

Young farmers from New York meet with their members of Congress.

People, speak! Be loud! Get involved! Be active!

I know you could really use those last few hours of daylight to get things done on the farm. I know that it’s really hard to take two days away to attend yet another meeting. Who’s going to take care of the herd? Make sure no one has come up to the house and stolen the four-wheeler? This is where you need to go out on the edge and leap. Ask your neighbors for a hand. Lock the tools up in the shed. Get involved!

Go to your local Farm Bureau meetings, to your annual state policy meetings. Book a flight and head to San Antonio and see what policy looks like on the national level. Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization. This means that you, the local family farmer, drive the policy and direction for the group as a whole!

Since my involvement in Farm Bureau, I have developed a strong belief that EVERYONE should make an effort to speak PERSONALLY with our elected officials. Yes, that is a lot of capital letters but I want to emphasize this. Personal contact and relationships with those who are in charge of writing and forming the policies that affect our industry are important. Putting a face to those who are affected by things like the Clean Water Act is invaluable. However, we still have jobs to do. We have food, fuel, and fiber to produce.

Thankfully the American Farm Bureau Federation and our state Farm Bureau organizations are there for us.

State delegates discuss policy changes during the AFBF Annual Convention.

“But wait!” you say.

“How will they know what we want? What we need?” you ask.

The answer to this: you get involved. You come in from the field a couple hours early for that meeting. You become an active participant in the policy formation in your state. You become a squeaky wheel, and say listen up! You let Farm Bureau know what is needed so that they can be a defender of our industry in Washington, D.C. and our state capitols.