My name is Dawn Caldwell. I live near Edgar, Nebraska with my best friend and husband, Matt and our two kids, Kaydee who is 21 and Emmet, our 18-year-old.
Let me begin by telling you – I am not one to tell anyone where to buy their food. I am certainly an advocate of choice! My choice is to do everything I can, utilizing some ingenious technology to try to grow enough food to satisfy the needs of our rapidly growing world population. I have heard people talk of “big farming”, and their dislike of the use of GMO’s, and those “horrible hormones”! Well, I am here to tell you, my family is very average and we are not what I would consider big farmers! Granted, there are certainly farms and ranches much larger than ours; my thinking – what a blessing for those people who have that! They are probably lucky enough to bring a son or daughter back to farm with them. At this point, that isn’t an option for us. Our kids will have to wait until we “retire.” Just for your info – farmers rarely retire. My dad is 70 – he has slowed down slightly, but it is ever so slightly! He and Mom have always taught all of us kids (I have 2 brothers and 1 sister) – you are raising food. Even if it is grain or hay that will be fed to an animal, that animal will eventually be consumed by a person. When you do something just ask yourself, “Is it right?” It needs to be right for all involved. We need healthy cows to make a living. In order for the cows to be healthy, the land has to be healthy. For the land to be healthy, we need to use products that reduce insect and fungus damage to plants. We also need to use products that help us make fewer trips over a field and use less water. We spend many of nights warming baby calves and then re-introducing them to their mom. When it would rain and the cow lots would smell, Dad would just comment, “It smells like money.” Ok, it doesn’t, but for us, that manure can be used as fertilizer and that’s less fertilizer we have to buy. Dad teaches all of us how to appreciate modern agriculture by telling us about how it was even before we were born. And, like most farm dads, his greatest wish is to pass his farm on to his kids.
Let me give you a little history on how we came about – just a few years ago I found out that had my dad taken a whole different direction in farming, I wouldn’t even exist! Matt & I were visiting w/ my Grandma about when they moved from their farm in Central Kansas to South Central Nebraska. She told us Dad and Grandpa had been working out details to purchase farm ground in Brazil and freight the farming equipment back and forth seasonally. WOW! I had no idea! As luck would have it, their realtor, who had been given the task of finding farm ground with water in the area, brought them to Guide Rock, Nebraska one Sunday afternoon. A couple years later, my Dad purchased a farm of his own several miles north of Grandpa and Grandma in the same area. Here’s another twist on my existence – when Dad moved to Nebraska, my Mom was only 10 years old and was the daughter of the neighboring farmers. We tease them all the time that Dad had to help raise a girl to become his wife. Anyway – here I am…
Now, as for the Caldwell farming crew: We keep the kids’ 4-H animals at our house near Edgar and farm in North Central Kansas (about an hour away). Kaydee and Emmet grew up super involved in everything we do from sitting around the supper table talking about plans to helping build fence, hauling cows, and definitely working calves. At their ages, they are not only VERY helpful, but keep us laughing constantly. Both kids were involved in 4-H and FFA, as many farm kids are, but they also loved their sports and music as well. We definitely spent our fair share of time in the bleachers – just like any good parents from anywhere in the world!
I wish you could come visit our farm….it is slightly unique for our area because it is all dryland. For us, that not only means not irrigated, but in some years, nearly desert-like! We have about 800 acres of pasture to summer graze our 100 mother cows. Just to help you visualize, 800 acres is about the equivalent of 800 football fields. We also have about 700 acres of crop ground, raising hay for the cows, wheat, soybeans, and sorghum. My husband’s brother is the farmer of the group! My family does 99% of the livestock work – calving, processing, sorting, moving, haying, feeding, etc. Our favorite times of year are calving time and weaning time – probably because there is more hands-on action during those times. It is awesome to roll out hay for the cows and it smells sweet and looks as green as the day it was baled. I know a lot of people think farms don’t smell good, but when I think about the smells of a farm, I think about freshly cut hay or silage or the smell of harvest. MMMM – almost as good as bread baking!
Daily chores can be done by one or two people (weather dependent). Big projects like preg-checking, working calves in the spring/fall, etc. take a minimum of four and we really prefer to have 5 or 6 people there for a project like that. We are very fortunate to have a good hired man and neighbors that we trade labor with. Where do I fall into those duties? Gosh, pick the day….I do have a full time job so we can have some steady income and insurance. However, when it comes to the farming – I try to stay out of the major cropping decisions (my brother-in-law really likes to do that, so that is more of his role), but as for the cows – I am all in. I am the nutrition consultant in the family, so even if I’m not the one carrying the buckets, I decide what should be in them – I make the call on what and how much to feed. I help with tagging and weighing newborn calves, I give nearly all shots, and we have a big family meeting several times per year on genetic decisions (what bull goes in which pasture with which cows, or what semen do we buy for the registered cows to be artificially inseminated to?). I remember when I was a year or so into dating the guy who is now my husband – I was back from college for the weekend and I went out with him and his dad to fix some fence; my future father-in-law commented that he wished his dad was alive to see a woman doing that kind of work on their farm – he loved it! Plus, he said I know how to fix a good meal on top of it….I think all of that was a hint to Matt that he should try to hang on to me. I’m sure glad he did!
Family is such an important of our farm and our neighbor’s farms as well. I really wish we could be involved more with my family’s farm. We did start out keeping our cows with my parents when my father-in-law was still alive and had his own herd. I am fortunate to have been born into a family that raises really good cattle and Mom and Dad took time to teach us kids strong livestock values and life values at the same time. I have to admit, growing up I did NOT feel fortunate to have a few milk cows and pigs along with the cow herd. There is NOTHING worse that milking a cow on a hot day w/ her tail slapping your leg the whole time, not to mention the less than feminine forearms you acquire! Regarding pigs, well let’s just say my grandpa and I were almost statistics leading to gestation/farrowing crates. We had our sows in a dirt pen & took them in a crate hooked on the tractor to the barn for farrowing. We can definitely verify that a sow just ready to deliver her litter is mean and she will eat (literally) whatever is in her way! Thank goodness for modern facilities!
Just like the advent of computers, cell phones and video games, farming has evolved and become much more modern! My folks and brother who is back at their place have wonderful working facilities so that even my aging dad can still be helpful by running the hydraulic squeeze chute. Feed wagons hooked on tractors make feeding time much less of an event than the 30 or 40 5-gallon buckets we used to carry. My husband, our kids, and my Mom and Dad and my brother and his wife all depend fully on farming and agriculture for our livelihood. Farming with family can be one of the most rewarding experiences and one of the most challenging.
Some of our fondest family memories come from days when a bunch of us have been together working cattle. I will share one of my favorites with you…we always preg check our cows in the fall. So for those of you not familiar with what this means, I will explain. Our cows are bred in the spring and should be heavy with calf in November/December. We have a veterinarian come to our place to determine if the cow is bred, how far along, and at the same time he is doing this, one of us is mouthing the cow to make sure she still has teeth enough to chew up grass. Now, the method of determining pregnancy involves palpating or putting your arm in the rectum, which on a cold day is the best job to have – it’s nice and warm in there! Anyway, from there, you can feel the uterus, a fetus if there is one, how big that fetus is, the ovaries, and for those of you who have studied reproductive physiology, the corpus luteum on the ovary. The vet, of course wears a long plastic glove to do this and stick his arm carefully in the backside of the cow to feel around. OK, now you will understand this fun memory…the day we were pregging, my son was there helping us and had already learned to correctly use the sorting stick to move the cows forward in the ally and use the correct cow-handling language when doing so Bear in mind, he was right at 3 years old when this is all taking place. I had smashed my hand between the sort gates in front of the chute, so Mom brought be a bag of ice. He came and took that bag from me & I assumed he wanted the ice (my kids were very slow teethers). What he did was dump the ice out of the bag, but that bag over his hand (remember that long glove the vet wears?) and start chasing the dog! He was going to preg check the dog! It only took us 15 minutes to stop laughing and regain our composure.
I have to say, I love family life on the farm. We have trials and tribulations, but we also get to nurture and manage God’s creation to help feed the world. Wow! That is heavy! Other than what we do to earn money to take care of our family (bear in mind, farmers do not punch time clocks, they don’t get paid overtime, and they definitely don’t get paid vacation or retirement/insurance benefits), we are not that different from our city-dwelling friends. I do have friends that live in cities, or at least bigger towns. Daily life for all of us is the same in many ways. We all have kids’ activities to go to, parent-teacher conferences, club sports, church activities, and so on. They have to deal with a housing authority; we have a county board of supervisors. My husband and kids and I all know that any plans made can be changed abruptly due to the needs of the cows. The cows get fed before the Christmas presents get opened. On weekends, we don’t often go to the mall or movies, but we do take care of cattle projects that require more than 1 or 2 people and we get to marvel at some of the most amazing sunsets you will ever see – usually because we aren’t done working yet. We do like to go out to eat at least once every week or two and I LOVE grocery shopping at HyVee when I have time to drive that far (around an hour). Our kids have their own cow herd from which they sell breeding stock to other cattlemen and women, so we spend several weekends/year at cattle shows. Some folks travel to see NASCAR or the NFL; we travel to see and compete with the best cattle in the country. Don’t get me wrong – if someone offers my son NFL tickets, he will make sure we use them! We try to get our kids some culture, if you will, so they at least respect if not enjoy many different types of entertainment and hobbies enjoyed by all different types of people from all over the world. We do enjoy traveling every few years and 4-H has afforded the kids a 15 day tour of the eastern ½ of the U.S. Since they have been around the country a little bit & they are VERY KNOWLEDGABLE young adults (LOL), they do have their opinions of farm life vs city life. They did admit outloud to us that they are glad to be raised in the country. They like cities and are glad others are willing to live and work there. Kaydee and Emmet are thankful to know where food comes from and are amazed at food science/technology, they love drinking fresh well water, and don’t mind driving 10 or 20 miles to visit their friends and classmates.
I’m not one to say farm life is harder than any other life. I know all types of workers who contribute their piece to the wholeness of our country; I know the hours put in by construction workers, health care professionals, restaurant employees, and even over-the-road truck drivers, among many others, can be long and hard. I do want you to know that every time a farmer makes a decision, he or she doesn’t only think about the financial impact on their family, but the well-being of the ground or animal involved and the well-being of the person who will consume what is produced. I will never apologize for making money; we really try to make decisions that will be profitable. I know a lot of farmers who are lucky enough to own enough land they can make a good living and their wife doesn’t have to get a job in town. I also know many farmers who literally dream of making enough money to repay loans and still feed and clothe their family after putting in the long days of planting, irrigating, harvesting, and feeding and nurturing livestock. I learned well from my mother and my grandmothers how to do the most I can with what I have. For farm wives, sometimes you try to do a lot with very little! Other times, you get to spoil yourself and others a little. One of my favorite parts of living on the farm is how neighbors take care of each other. When someone is in need, everyone in the area shows up to help however they can. It is amazing to see 15 combines going through a field to get a widow’s crops out because her husband passed away just before harvest. She will not just stand by and watch the work get done; she will be driving a grain cart when she can and she will definitely be fixing food for the entire crew.
As you go to the grocery store, I would never expect you to dwell on an entire growing process of a food item. But try to remember, someone put their time, their dollars, and their back into growing whatever you are eating. Now, if you are eating food that isn’t grown, but is somehow created and packaged; HHMMMM, that’s a whole other conversation. I trust America’s farmers. We know what is good for the land, the animals, and we really know what is good to eat! It is amazingly humbling to think that what my family does feeds about 150 people every year. We have so many choices in our stores and at our restaurants; we would not know what to do if we went backwards 50 years. We live in a great country with the safest, cheapest, and most plentiful food supply in the world. I am blessed to be part of that. In conclusion, thank you for being a purchaser of food and giving my family and others like us the opportunity to do what we love.