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Just wanted to let everyone know that we've tweaked the comments process so that it's a little easier for those who don't have accounts. You can either post anonymously or use the name/url option and leave the url blank. Let us know if you still have issues. We LOVE comments and hope this encourages you to post more of them!

Also, the weather is beautiful so feel free to come out and visit us. Just give us some notice to make sure we'll be here and that the dog doesn't tear your leg off. Just kidding about the dog. Or am I...

We are tentatively planning a Farm Day on May 19th, so mark it on your calendars. More info to come.


A Lantern in Her Hand

I freely admit that I am a total book nerd.  When I was a little girl, I had to have a stack of books with me before I left the house.  That would often be 3-4 books, because I read so fast that I didn't want to be without a book!  I wasn't the kid who got in trouble for being loud in school....I was the kid who got in trouble for sneaking her books when she should have been working!  Thankfully I had very understanding teachers that knew I was a fast worker and just let me be most of the time.

After having Clara, my book reading dropped dramatically.  My first book that I actually got to read was "A Lantern In Her Hand" by Bess Streeter Aldrich.  I've read this book before, but it took on a whole new meaning to me this time.  The story, (for those who haven't read it) is about Abbie Deal, a young woman who moves to Nebraska during the pioneer days and follows along with her life.  I've always been a little obsessive about pioneer days harking back to the first time I read "Little House on the Prairie".  That series ignited a passion in me for reading and I encourage everyone to introduce their children to them.

The part of the book that really struck home was in the introduction.  At one point, Abbie Deal was reflecting on her past with her grown children.  Her children kept mentioning how hard and uncomfortable her life must have been during the years when they had first settled the land.  Her simple quote of "Those were the best of times" really stood out to me.  The life of a pioneer woman was HARD.  Trying to carve a living from native prairie soil, while trying to fend off wild animals and hostile Native Americans wasn't easy.  Not to mention trying to keep her young children from dying of disease or accidents.  Now THAT would have made a good reality TV show!

That is exactly how I want to remember my time here on the farm.  I want to be able to tell my children what an adventurous life their father and I led and encourage them to do the same.  Hopefully this blog will be a great memento to show them someday that their parents used to be really cool and adventurous :)

In addition to being a great fan of pioneer days, I also love Nebraska history.  And the Bess Streeter Aldrich museum just happens to be up the road in Elmwood, Nebraska!  I sense a road trip in my future...


email list

In case you didn't see it on Facebook, we are starting an email list to let people know when we have farm goodies available. Let us know if you're interested and we'd be happy to add you!

And if you refer anyone else to join, we will give you a dozen eggs!


rocky mountain oysters

I can't say I can tell you what they taste like. I've had them but it's been a REALLY long time. It's not that I don't want to try them again, I just haven't sought them out... Anyway, I digress.

Farmer Jon here blogging for you on this beautiful (almost) spring day. I wanted to update you on some of this week's events. I recently talked about balance, mainly in regard to the humane treatment of farm animals and how to find that balance of keeping the farm animals happy without getting too carried away at the expense of your farm business. Because, at the end of the day, it's still a business and if we can't make money then we can't afford to provide those animals with the happy, healthy lives they deserve.

As part of that, we decided that we needed to have our 8-9 month old bull calves castrated.  We had considered finishing them as intact bulls but that would require two separate herds for half the year (which means a lot less grass growth) and then we would have to find demand for the very niche market of bull meat in the U.S. Plus, bulls are generally more aggressive then steers (castrated bulls) so there's a chance for unnecessary added danger. So, we decided to haul all of our bull calves, heifers and cows into the vet to be preg-checked, aged and/or castrated. We had to take them to the vet because we don't have a handling facility set up yet (pens and cattle chute). I figured that would be a 3-4 hour process. As usual, my naivety caused me to greatly underestimate how long it would take but even now, I'm surprised that it took about 10 hours before everything was said and done! I'll spare you all the details but you can imagine that there was a bit of cow chasing and some swearing involved. It has definitely helped me to re-prioritize the Farm To Do List. And guess what's now at the top of my list. Yep, a handling facility. Luckily, my family still has some equipment left from the days when they had cattle. They have been kind enough to let us use the old cattle chute and a bunch of other things, including the livestock trailer I used to take the cattle into town with. We've said it many times but I'll say it again - we are very grateful to have such supportive family and friends!

Now that it's done, though, we have a ton of great information. We now know that 11 out of 12 cows were bred back and 5 out of 6 heifers are bred. All of which are approximately 6-7 months along. We also now know that our cows are mostly 4-5 years old. We also got weights on all of them, which we can use to help us decide which cows we want to keep and which cows need to go. And it will help me develop an eye for estimating the weights of cattle. So, all in all, we are very glad we did it. For beginners like us, that information is invaluable. I still have heartburn about taking our medication free animals to a place where many other (sick and/or heavily medicated) animals have been but we needed to get it done and everyone seems OK so far. 

By the way, who's up for a rocky mountain oyster fry?! I may or may not have forgotten them in the truck for 6 hours... Normally that wouldn't be a problem but with the 80 degree weather, I'm not so sure. Or should I say that Jamie's not so sure. I threw them in the freezer anyway in case someone still wanted them.

I also wanted to mention that Open Sky Farm is putting together an email list for anyone who wants to be the first to know of new things we have available. We will also offer email list only specials! Shoot us an email or give us a call if you'd like to be included.


Dare to be a Herd Quitter

Jon and I had the awesome privilege of hearing Kit Pharo of Pharo Cattle Company speak last night in Sabetha, Kansas.  Kit is a producer of grass genetics seedstock in Colorado.  He using Black Angus, Red Angus and various other breeds and composites to produce his bulls.  And boy are his bulls great looking!  They are everything a good fertile bull should be.  Just take a look at his semen catalog.

Kit was also a great speaker.  His philosophy is "Dare to be a Herd Quitter".  His definition of a herd quitter is someone who goes against the herd mentality.  It's a person who doesn't follow the herd, but strikes his own path.  He is a great example of that.  His animals are low input, easy fleshing cattle who are being raised with little to no hay during the winters.  Not feeding hay to cattle in the winter is almost unthinkable to many cow/calf producers.  It can be done with good grass management and rotational grazing.  One of his points last night was how inputs are not getting any cheaper.  Oil, gas, and diesel prices are not coming down anytime soon, which also translates into higher prices for corn and hay.  Farmers are going to start going out of business soon if they can't find a way to lower their inputs and make a profit.

Another one of his points was the topic of innovation.  In every other industry besides farming, innovation is quickly adopted with 17-24 months.  In agriculture, innovation takes closer to 17-24 YEARS to be adopted.  As farmers, we need to do a better job of applying new research and innovation.  He also talked about the average age of a farmer.  Guess what?  It's close to mid 60s now.  That is scary.  Farming and agriculture are not doing a good enough job of getting young people interested.  I feel like farming is at a tipping point.  Small family farms have GOT to find a way to make money.  They also need to figure out a way to making farming more family friendly and sustainable.  We need young people interested in agriculture.  Young people my age are smart.  We want to have free time to enjoy our hobbies, vacations and families.  We want to be able to enjoy life AND work hard at a profession we love.  But too often, young people just hear the grumbles of older farmers who have been working hard for a long time with little to show for it.  If you aren't having fun and enjoying what you are doing, farming will quickly make you very miserable.     The farming community has got to figure out a way to keep the next generation interested.

Anyways, it was a great night and Jon and I really enjoyed ourselves.  Clara also enjoyed herself.  Apparently she decided that night was the right time to really show off her vocal skills and how loud she can shriek!  Many thanks to Phil and Linda Wertenberger of N-K Land and Cattle for hosting Kit!  They are PCC cooperative producers locally in Sabetha, Kansas and just plain great people. We are hoping to get back down there again soon to spend more time with them on their ranch.

It's so important for Jon and I to continue going to meetings like this.  It helps keep us focused and we always pick up on key points that help us to make decisions for the direction of our farm.  One discussion we've been having lately is our bull.  But I will let Jon elaborate about that!

Speaking of future farmers:



Sometimes in life a person needs an attitude adjustment.  This week that person is me!

I've been struggling a bit with my attitude lately.  In all fairness, there has been A LOT of life changes happening to our family in the past couple years.  Still my attitude has been fairly poor and I'm a little tired of it.

I hate sitting around thinking "Whoa is me...my life sucks...other people have it way easier than I do..." Yes, other people do have it easier than me, but guess what?  Other people have a harder life as well!  I'm so incredibly lucky to have a caring husband, beautiful little girl and a life that always keeps it real and interesting.  So, I've decided to stop the self defeating attitude and adopt a new one.

Case in point:
Old attitude:  Why is breastfeeding so hard for me and so easier for other women?
New attitude:  Man, I am so lucky to have been able to breastfeed my daughter for three months, even if I struggled mightily with nipple shield, nipple vasospasm and a dropping milk supply.  Way to stick it through, Jamie!

Old attitude:  My life sucks, my baby screams in the car seat anytime I want to get out of the house, which makes it nearly impossible to get into town without wanting to stop and pull out my hair.
New attitude:  Dear baby in the backseat, I know that car seat is pinching you to death and you are not a fan.  We are almost to town, in the meantime enjoy the pleasurable sound of this rattle I'm shaking in front of your face.

Old attitude:  My life sucks because sometimes I don't even have enough power to finish a blog post or the power kicks off when I turn on my breast pump (true story!)
New attitude:  You are a crazy fool who lives off the grid, just think of how many stories you will be able to tell your children...I was in the middle of (fill in the blank) task and the stinking power went out!  Silly power...

Old attitude:  My life sucks because I miss my nice house in town with a dishwasher and clean floors with no dog hair.
New attitude:  You are so incredibly lucky to have had such a nice house in town with a dishwasher and clean floors with no dog hair.  Just think, someday you will have that again and will be so incredibly grateful!

Old attitude:  My life sucks because my sweet baby girl won't go to sleep at the magic hour of eight.
New attitude:  Dear baby girl, I know you feel like you are a rock star and are ready to party all night.  But now it's sleepy time, so why don't we snuggle a bit until you start to feel sleepy.  I prayed for you everyday for over 14 months and I'm so glad you are here with us now...even if you won't go to sleep!

Old attitude:  My life sucks because....blah blah blah..whine whine whine...you get the point!
New attitude:  My life is awesome, because I'm alive, healthy, have a great husband, baby girl and extended family.  AND to top it all off, Jon and I are in the incredible position to actually pursue our pipe dreams and not just talk about them.

Tired of my whining yet?  Me too!  My attitude is a work in progress, but I already feel soooo much better when I actually admit to myself how nasty my self talk has become.  Life is short, let's not waste it on such negativity...mmmkay?


Look very closely at this picture...

It looks like a nice young heifer in a corral, right?

Look closely, see that large black lump in the back....

Let me zoom in for you a little bit.

Why yes, that is a large black boar sunning himself!

We've been having issues with this heifer for a little bit.  Jon noticed one day that she was dreadfully skinny.  He moved her into the corral and she drank and drank and drank.  Later that day, she looked much better and was getting plump.  Turns out she was probably very dehydrated.  Jon put her back in with the other cows and observed her for awhile.  She may have gotten shocked by the electric fence that we have near the waterer and now refuses to drink out of it.  That is the only source of water in the that pasture, so she has gotten dehydrated again.  We are debating on what to do with her now, she's a nice friendly heifer and we would like to milk a cow this year.  This would be her first year calving, but we are a little doubtful she was actually able to sustain a pregnancy with her issues.  We shall see.

Oh, I should probably explain about the boar.  He has been separated for awhile now, because when we tried to put everyone together after mating it got a little hairy.  The boars were fine and dandy together since they grew up together, but once they mate, they become very territorial over their sows.  We were crossing our fingers that we would be able to put them together because that is much less work for us.  Didn't work!

She's looking a little bit plumper since this morning all ready.  When we first pulled her out, she was like a stick.

On a side note:  Hallelujah for spring!  I've got grass growing all ready, anybody else?



It's not my intent to have deep, soul searching type posts every week but it sure seems like we find ourselves in that position quite often. As beginning farmers we are trying to create an identity for our farm. But what do we want that identity to say about our farm (and us)? It sounds great to say that we want to be a farm that is 100% certified organic and Step 5+ GAP certified practicing some of the most humane treatment of farm animals possible. But then you take a closer look and see how unpractical a lot of that really is. For a farm our size, it's hard to make money paying for those kinds of certifications and jumping through all the hoops required to earn those designations. It's equally difficult to get the premium you need to make it pencil out on paper but consumers face a similar conundrum in that ideally they would buy nothing but 100% organic and ultra humane products. But guess what, the majority of folks don't because they feel it costs too much. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying that we are experiencing the same thing from the farmer/producer side. It's what we would love to do, in a perfect world, but it's not a perfect world so we have to decide whether we would rather do something a little more profitable and more enjoyable.

I've been asked to be on a council that will promote the humane treatment of farm animals. This council will bring criticism from both sides. Farmers who say we're trying to take away their livelihood and animals rights folks that   say no animal should be raised for the purpose of slaughter. That's where all these questions started. I thought to myself - "Self, how do I feel about all this? What will I say to all these critics from each extreme?". And that's when I began to realize that's exactly what they were - extremes. Just because we won't be in the top tier of some organization's definition of humane doesn't mean that I'm a terrible person and it doesn't mean that my animals aren't happy and healthy. Just because I feel that all animals should be raised in a humane manner doesn't mean I want to put your feedlot/hog confinement facility out of business. Instead, I want to show you how you can raise your animals in a way that is better for them and more profitable for you. We feel like we can raise our animals in a very humane fashion, using organic and sustainable practices in a way that we can make a profit, enjoy what we're doing and feel good about the way we're doing it. Will everything be 100% certified organic? Probably not. Will we be operating in the top tier of some organizations humane standards? Probably not. But guess what, I'm OK with that.

This will not be the last time we re-evaluate our practices, our farm's direction and our ideals and I don't want it to be. But for now, I feel pretty good about it.


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