Tag Archives: Animal Care

“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!

The definition of disaster

Yesterday, I posted about the devastation that hit the upper Midwest. So many farmers and ranchers lost so much in the blink of an eye. People were quick to share photos and stories of heartbreak, but the questions also started pouring in.

So I’m going to attempt to answer a few, from this North Dakota farmer’s point of view. Please remember, these are my thoughts and reasons, but I’m hoping to give just a bit of insight.

It’s the Dakotas, why aren’t you ready for a blizzard?

Well, it’s pretty simple: it was the first week of October. Although snow is always a possibility, just about any month, the early snow falls are usually fast, wet and disappear. It was predicted to snow, but not even the most cynical of weatherman predicted it would hit that fast, that hard and bring with it the winds that were present.

There were 26 named winter storms across the country last year, according to The Weather Channel. There were many, many storms that hit our area throughout the winter. We don’t usually name them, and they don’t usually impact our lives too much. This was unexpected and beyond our realm of normal.

Why weren’t the cattle cared for?

This is plain not true. These cattle were being cared for in just the way that many ranchers care for their cattle. A few weeks ago, I explained on my own blog that our cattle spend a majority of their time at pasture. Which is just where most of these cattle were, out to pasture.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

Our cattle spend the summer, and part of fall, on grass.

You see, in my case, our pasture is located about 15 miles from our farm. The land is hilly, rolling and wouldn’t be suited for farming. Yet, it makes the perfect pasture. If a storm were to hit suddenly, and packing the punch that this one did, there is no way I could drive to the pasture, have them loaded up and brought home – and do so safely – in anything less than a day.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is how we get our cattle to and from our pasture. It takes about a day to bring them all home, or take them all to pasture.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

This is what our pasture looks like. Not quite as hilly as the area where the storm hit, but you can get an idea of what it would be like.

OK, I get it, it was a freak storm, the cattle were on grass…but why did they die?

Good question. The storm hit fast, the snow was heavy and many suffocated under the weight of the snow, or ended up disoriented and wandered into a more dangerous area. Snow accumulates and builds in drifts, much like sand dunes. When the wind blows like it did last weekend, it creates very dangerous drifts. You can see how the cows tend to gather in this video I made a few years ago, when I went out to check them after a blizzard. If the cattle gathered like this in an area that was protected from the wind, they may have ended up buried in a snow drift.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

You would think that a building would provide protection from snow, but it can actually collect more snow than an open area.

Here’s the one thought I would like for you to take away from all of this: In the Dakotas, we deal with these types of storms every year. It had nothing to do with lack of care or not knowing how to handle the weather. It had everything to do with timing. The fact that we handle hundreds of winter storms without a loss every year speaks volumes to the care that we provide our animals.

The ranches and farms that were impacted by this storm need our support and resources to get them back on their feet. We can all help out and do our part.

As I sit at my computer, typing this post and considering the challenges that face those to the west of me…all while in a severe thunderstorm watch…I can’t help but shake my head at the irony of it all.

A blizzard last week? Potential for tornadoes this week? Perhaps this government shutdown is even getting to Mother Nature? (Sarcasm…that’s sarcasm.)

I can tell you that the farm and ranch community will rally around their fellow farmers and ranchers and do what they can to help each other out. But the fact is, we may lose a few farms and ranches…and when our numbers drop, the effect is felt throughout the country.

The storm may have hit a small area, but we will all feel it.

Here’s another point of view from a ranch west of the storm.

Mother Nature Didn’t Shut Down

According to my calendar, we’re entering another week of government shutdowns…and it doesn’t appear as if there is an end in sight. After this weekend’s early blizzard in the upper Midwest, I have a few things that are on my mind.

Apparently Mother Nature didn’t get the memo that there was a government shutdown. In fact, Mother Nature decided to show many just who is in charge…and it was a hard lesson learned. They estimate that as many as 100,000 cattle have died from the results of the massive blizzard that took many by surprise.

Mother Nature Didn't Shut Down

Many cattle caught out in the sudden storm perished along rural highways. Photo credit: Rapid City Journal

Yes, snow in October is expected. But this was more than snow.

And where is the assistance? The websites of information that could be used to help? Oh, sorry, didn’t you hear about the furlough?

But don’t worry, while the government is shutdown, hosting its own two-year-old tantrum, claiming that no one wants to play fair, workers that aren’t guaranteed pay are pitching in to help, organizations are offering services to connect those that have lost cattle and those that have found cattle, setting up sites for information and tips on how to make sure your losses are reported.

At a time when assistance from elected officials could be felt the most, there is no one there to answer the phone.

#DearCongress: Mother Nature is not on furlough. Farmers and ranchers are not on furlough. Emergency workers are not on furlough. It’s time to do what you were elected to do…grow up and represent our country, lead us to a better future, not down a path of destruction.

On the plus side, perhaps this shutdown will lead many to decide that it is time to step out of the shadows and start becoming actively involved in our government. Remember, this is our government…not just the government.

Run for office, whether it be township, county commission, school board, state or local offices. Let your voice be heard. Write letters. Make phone calls. It is well past the time to start charting our course back on track.

We cannot go back and change the actions of the past, but we certainly can make sure that our future is a different story.

A government shutdown will not have an impact on Mother Nature. But it can unite us in a drive to finally do what we should have been doing all along…be involved.