Tag Archives: agriculture

Wordless Wednesday: December 29, 2014

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Happy Friday

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WE Made a Video

This past spring, thanks to CropLife America, I got the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. to talk about what I do. While I was certain I was going to die from anxiety, before and during the event, miraculously, I did not. It turns out, I had a fabulous time, and I felt like I was finally promoting my way of life in a way that I could feel. In short, I wanted to do it again!

The best Washington D.C. Felfie I took. Ali Velshi's socks and my boots. So much fame.

The best Washington D.C. Felfie I took. Ali Velshi’s socks and my boots. So much fame.

When I saw that the U.S. Farmers and Rancher’s Alliance was searching its next class of Faces of Farming and Ranching, I decided to enter. I felt I was ready to finally leave the Ranch and take my advocacy to the next level, and this was the perfect year and forum to do that.

I spent a month making my Parents take video of me doing everyday activities on the Ranch. We started to really get into it, thinking of the prettiest places on the ranches to film, trying to get ‘good’ shots. I, somehow, managed to talk my friend Brendan (who has two small children – one is a newborn, a lovely wife, and a full-time job) to use his amazing talents and craft the short video needed for my application.

My Dad took this picture of me while we were filming, and I just loved it.

My Dad took this picture of me while we were filming, and I just loved it.

I asked my musician friends if I could use one of their song’s for my video soundtrack. This became more of a community effort. It was fun to have so many different people being supportive, helping and offering insight. Pretty much everyone in the immediate “circle of Meg” knew I was doing this and was pretty excited about it.

In typical Meg fashion, I turned my application and video in the day it was due. It was a very exciting day. However waiting the month to hear back was agony. I vacillated between being super excited and having super anxiety. This was a big deal!

When the big day came, I ended up not being a finalist. But I realized I was actually ok with that. I had so much fun making the video! Involving my friends and family was the best part, I made memories! The icing on the cake is I have this super, awesome video that shows a good part of my life! Plus, I’m getting twenty pigs this year and I’m certain my Parents would kill me if I left them that job.

I want to share this video because of all the work others put in, thank you everyone!

I’m really proud of this video. Brendan is so good at what he does! This was a bunch of 5 second, shaking clips from my iphone that got turned into something cool that I can share. Plus I totally know one of the finalists, and she is an amazing advocate that is going to kick more ass than I could! When it’s time, vote for Dairy Carrie!

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Wordless Wednesday: Working Cows

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Guest Post Meet Your Beef: California Drought on a Central Valley Ranch

I met my friend Brooke on social media. We are both multi-generational cattle ranchers, who are very passionate about our way of life. Brooke has a wonderful blog where she details her life. Because of the hurtful and ignorant comment made by my local environmental group (which I am now a member of), I decided to attempt to humanize this drought, so they could see the farmers and ranchers and families behind it. Brooke was kind enough to let me re-blog her original post (please see here).


 

 

My friend and fellow blogger, Megan Brown, over at The Beef Jar recently uncovered some rather hurtful words that her local Butte Environmental Council shared on their Facebook page. After I saw what’s pictured below, I decided that maybe I should continue to share how real the drought in the Central Valley is and how it has hurt my family’s business as well as multiple farmers and ranchers in the area. Just to be clear: my intent in writing these posts is to share our business, foster agricultural education, and develop conversation pieces that may lead to a better understanding for the greater good. I hope it comes off that way.

Here is what Butte Environmental Council put on their Facebook page that inspired this post:

Cry me a River??

Cry me a River??

My mom is the 3rd generation cattle rancher and she runs the ranch my grandparent’s fought hard to preserve all their life. As most everyone knows by now, over the last 4-5 years we have had a heck of a time with the drought. 2014 has been the worst. The ranch we raise our beef on solely relies on annual rainfall to grow the native grass to feed our cattle. There is no irrigation on this land. Average annual rainfall for us is somewhere around 12-13″ a year. This year, there was no rain in December and most of January (typically wet months for us). Our grand total was a whopping 4.89″ of rainfall. That was also accompanied by record high temperatures.

We take pride in how well we manage our ranch land but regardless of what we did this year, there was no saving it from devastation. Between the months of January and April we had to cull 20% of our herd as well as spread our cattle out amongst another field just to sustain them and the land. 20% of any business is no small amount… especially when these animals are your livelihood. My mom has worked her whole life to build these genetics, making the decision to sell those cows not just a business decision, but an emotional one as well. To make matters even worse we also had to buy and feed 3 times the amount of hay this year (it’s outrageously priced right now because demand is so high).

Relying on Mother Nature is a gambling business. We know that. I can remember growing up when ever we would sit down to a large meal in celebration of someone’s birthday, we would say a prayer before eating. My grandfather would always chime in at the end of that prayer with “and PLEASE don’t forget the rain!” It became a bit of a joke then because he’d say it regardless of the season (we have a lot of June birthday’s in our family and it tends to be in the 100’s then). But this is no joke. This drought is real and it is hitting the bottom line for every farmer and rancher in the state of CA and beyond.

Some close family friends of ours, the Estills, who are also a multi-generational cattle ranching family in both CA and NV have sold a staggering 60% of their herd this year due to drought. 60%!!

A family whom leases part of our ranch also grows oranges in the surrounding area. On my way to the ranch I pass their orchard. They put up this sign that reads “No water. No trees. No work. No food.” And behind that sign is acres upon acres of DIRT.

No Water Sign No Water, No Trees, No Jobs, No Food

No Water Sign
No Water, No Trees, No Jobs, No Food

 

Orange Trees that have been ripped out

Orange Trees that have been ripped out

 

There used to be a beautiful grove of orange trees but they were forced to rip them out due to the water crisis. I can’t imagine what kind of financial impact that will have on their business. For the people of the same mindset as Butte Environmental Council, this isn’t just a bunch of propaganda. It’s real life and it’s devastating. We aren’t a bunch of “giant agribusinesses”. We are close knit families trying to carry on traditions and a passion for this industry that our mothers, fathers, great grandmothers/grandfathers and so on worked tirelessly to build.

A recent drought impact study published by UC Davis (read more here) states that the total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion! Amongst other things, there was a loss of 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs related to Ag which represents 3.8% of farm unemployment. Regardless of whether someone is directly connected to Agriculture in this state or not, those numbers tell a brutal story.

I will leave you all with a video that my mom and I were asked to be a part of for a news station from France that was covering the drought here in CA. This video was done in March when the grass was still green. It is now very brown, very sparse, and very brittle.

Having trouble viewing the video above? Click below to see it on YouTube!

California Drought on a Central Valley Cattle Ranch

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Cry Me A River

I spend my summers in Indian Valley, California. It’s a beautiful valley nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, located in Northern California. This valley is perfect for cattle and hay, since the growing season is too short for most food crops. It’s a great symbiotic relationship, we make hay, then turn the cattle out. The cattle poo, fertilizing the ground, then we make more hay for the cattle to eat. Rinse and repeat.

On the left used to be a ditch, we changed it to a buried pipe to conserve water. On the right is our laser leveled field.

On the left used to be a ditch, we changed it to a buried pipe to conserve water. On the right is our laser leveled field.

This is the one ranch where we have irrigation. Many of the ranches in this valley have water shares from the local river. We use the water to irrigate the hay and water our cattle. Over the years, we’ve gotten rather high tech when it comes to our water share. Since we only get a limited amount of water, we know we must be as efficient as we can with it. This has led us to bury our ditches in underground pipes so we can limit evaporation and waste. We have laser leveled our fields so we don’t waste water in holes or on poor grades. My point is, we understand what a precious and rare resource water has become, because our life depends on it.

California is in the middle of a major drought. This is terrifying for a number of reasons, but mainly because California produces more than half the nation’s fruit, nuts, and vegetables and we can’t grow these things without water. This drought is directly impacting people like me: farmers and ranchers. Let me remind you that 98% of farms and ranches are family owned.

My family has been working extra hard this summer. We’ve practically lived in our fields, watching our water. Because it is so precious and rare to us, we have to use it as wisely as we can, in order to survive, we simply must. Imagine my shock and awe, as I was sitting in a field, waiting for the exact instant the water was ready to be changed, I saw a local environmental group post on their social media page:

It’s hard to stomach the giant agribusinesses whine about lack of water when they have made the poor business decision to grow luxury orchard crops (pistachios, etc) in a dessert (sic). Cry me a river about your dust bowl.”

 

This is a pretty tough thing for agriculture to read when we are drying up.

This is a pretty tough thing for agriculture to read when we are drying up.

I started crying, right there in the field. I may not be in the central valley of California (where that vile comment was referring to), but I certainly understand the anxiety and fear this drought is causing. Our neighbor’s well had just dried up the that very morning, our water share is the lowest we have ever seen it, our fields are starting to brown and die. How could a group that claims to be “devoted to environmental education and information referral services, and advocacy” say that about the very people that work for a better environment everyday of our lives?

I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so upset over that comment. Giant agribusinesses? Luxury crops? Dessert (sic)? This is how many of the misconceptions and fallacies that plague agriculture start. By people that, I think, do have their heart in the right place, but don’t have enough understanding of a topic to fully communicate both sides. Beyond that fact, I was hurt that the writer chose to take such an inflammatory and hurtful tone – “Cry me a river about your dust bowl”. Ouch. That is a hurtful and horrible thing to say when farmers and ranchers are literally crying over the loss of our way of life.

I decided that I needed to join this group and I needed to say my peace about their comment. As someone that lives to advocate for my life, I would be a hypocrite to not take the 10 minutes to have a conversation. As soon as Dad could spare me, I jumped in my truck with my cowdogs, drove the hour and half to Chico.

 

A felfie. I was on my way to Butte Environmental Council's office. I haven't showered in two day, I had no make up on, the same pants I wore the day before (saving water!), I had both my dogs and our neighbors well just went dry. I wanted to show them the face of giant agribusiness crying them a river in my dust bowl.

A felfie. I was on my way to Butte Environmental Council’s office. I haven’t showered in two days, I had no make up on, the same pants I wore the day before (saving water!), I had both my dogs and our neighbors well just went dry. I wanted to show them the face of giant agribusiness crying them a river in my dust bowl.

Because of the heat, I was forced to take my cowdogs in the office with me. I can only imagine the sight and smell of me as I walked down the streets of downtown Chico with two dogs on a leash made of bailing twine. I arrived at their office, introduced myself, and proceeded to cry them a river. All the anxiety, emotion and fear I’d been feeling lately about our water situation boiled over. Their office was so nice and cool, such a change from the heat and dust I’d been working in. The women in the office seemed very nice, concerned, and thanked me for coming in and talking to them. They said they would speak to the people that had administrative access to their page. I urged them to remove the comment and maybe issue an apology because alienating your active environmentalists (farmers and ranchers), is not a good way to foster communication.

My dirty, smelly self, crying in BEC's office.

My dirty, smelly self, crying in BEC’s office.

I also paid my $20’s and became a member. As I said, I want my voice to matter, so I felt like paying my dues, would prove I am serious about working together for the greater good. I left their office feeling hopeful. Hopeful that their comment would be removed, perhaps an apology given and hopeful that a new partnership could blossom.

I walk the walk. I am serious about my love for our environment and agriculture and making those things better for everyone.

I walk the walk. I am serious about my love for our environment and agriculture and making those things better for everyone.

 

When I checked their page the next day, I was dismayed to find they had not removed the offending post. In fact, they edited it to reflect a spelling change. I realize that the women in that office do not have the same experience as I have with water or our environment.  Their income, their very way of life, all they have ever known isn’t on a cattle ranch that five generations before them worked so hard for. Their friends, family and peers aren’t facing uncertain futures like mine are. As a new member with these insights, perhaps I need to show and tell, so this council can start to fathom what we are facing.

My comments on the initial post and the day after I went in, paid for my membership and cried.

My comments on the initial post and the day after I went in, paid for my membership and cried.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share more about how this drought is affecting agriculture. I’ve reached out to some other advocates in hopes that their stories can help put a face to what people think are “giant agribusinesses”.  They plan on sharing about their farms and ranchers and the “luxury” crops they produce. I sincerely hope that with this new information and ability to communicate with agriculture, the Butte Environmental Council will re-think how they talk about farmers and ranchers. Perhaps this would be an excellent time for everyone to start over again, and work together for the great good. All of our futures depend in it.

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Wordless Wednesday: Sunflowers

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CropLife America 2014 – I Went, I Saw, I Spoke

Now that I am back on the ranch and have calmed down sufficiently to form coherent thoughts, I want to share my experience at CropLife America’s 2014 Policy Conference. This was the first time I’ve done anything of this caliber, it was quite an eye-opening experience for this ranch kid.

Speaking in public or even performing in public (ask me about the burlesque show I was in!) is not an issue for me. Years and years of 4-H, FFA, and college clubs have honed me into an old pro when it comes to crowds, plus once you’ve sang and danced in your underwear in front of your hometown, there is nothing left to fear!

Or so I thought.

Speaking in front of a roomful of people that I respect and lurk often? Whose books, articles and blogs I go to for information and opinions? With cameras and people live-tweeting what I was saying!? In our nation’s capital?! With no cow poo on me?!? Nope. That was not my natural habitat and more than just a whisper outside of my comfort zone.

I was so scared the morning of the conference that I took almost no pictures, which is rare for me! They had TV's where live tweets where streaming, I could see my friend Jenny's tweeting and it made me feel so much better!

They had TVs where live tweets where streaming, I could see my friend Jenny’s tweets and it made me feel so much better!

I was terrified the morning of the conference. It was so ridiculous because I met many of the other participants and CropLife members the night before, and everyone was fantastically nice. We were going to be talking about a subject that is my greatest passion and deepest love. Regardless, the few hours before my panel I was a hot mess. I was convinced I had made a HUGE mistake by agreeing to do this. I wondered if anyone would notice if I just hid in the bathroom?

I met my fellow panelist, Dee Dee Darden, the night before. She was warm, engaging and knew her ham (seriously I want to buy a country ham from her)! Jesse Hirsch, I was familiar with because of his work with Modern Farmer (subscribe, it’s great stuff). And our moderator was Ali Velshi (OMG). And then there was me – needless to say, I felt out-gunned, intimidated and a long, long, way from home.

I was so scared the morning of the conference that I took few pictures, which is rare for me. I stole this picture from CropLife America. Look how terrified I look.

I was so scared the morning of the conference that I took few pictures, which is rare for me. I stole this picture from CropLife America. I look terrified.

When it was time to start, I nervously stumbled on the stage and tried to smile. I kept reminding myself that I castrate things for a living. That no one in that room was 1200 pounds, mooing and trying to kill me. Thankfully, Jesse and Dee Dee spoke before me, so I had a few minute to acclimatize to being on stage. When it was was my turn to speak, Mr. Velshi brought up Silly pig, and my hogs, which is my happy place. Much to my surprise, I opened my mouth and words actually came out! Once our panel started, I lost my nerves and decided I had made the right choice by not hiding in the bathroom.

As promised, the video of our panel:

Let’s talk about Ali Velshi for a second. A large part of the reason I was willing to leave the ranch and participate in this panel was because I was familiar with his work both on TV and when he moderated the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Dialogues in New York. Mr. Velshi gets it; he realizes how important agriculture is and he talks about that fact. We have a primetime, well respected journalist taking time to moderate conferences and interact with farmers and ranchers –  are we paying attention Agriculture?

What I like most about Mr. Velshi’s moderating style is how he approached this sometimes contentious topic with humor and knowledge, it made me want to send him some Brown Ranch Beef. He quipped that his “perception of food is just fantastic” but at the same time was able to weave serious issues that face agriculture into the conversation. He mentioned that Al Jazeera realizes their main markets tend to be in the northeast but our natural resource-related problems tend to be elsewhere and they are trying to bring attention to that fact. Hey Agriculture, again does that sound like another industry we know?

Since I’ve been home, I have made more of an effort to watch Al Jazeera because I want to be informed about their reporting on those issues that are relevant to me. I urge you to do the same, I believe it is important for agriculture to engage and be aware of journalists and media that are willing to listen to us. Plus, Al Jazeera is right next to RFD TV (at least on my TV) so it makes watching both convenient! I have to say, Al Jazeera does do a stupendous job of reporting the news (no Justin Bieber or celebrity weddings!).

To wrap up, attending this conference was sensational for me for so many reasons. Getting out of my comfort zone, no matter how terrifying it was at the time, forced me to learn and accept new points of view, which makes me a more effective communicator. Mingling and having conversations with national leaders of my industry was enlightening and inspiring. But something I did not plan on getting from this conference was the confidence to do it again. I now know, that if someone asked, I could get on a plane tomorrow, and hold my own anywhere in the world. What a feeling.

I promised myself that if I kept my foul language in check and did a good job, that I could buy myself a new pair of boots....

I promised myself that if I kept my foul language in check and did a good job, that I could buy myself a new pair of boots….

 

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How I Lost My Voice…..

Life is never dull on a ranch.

One moment you are making deviled ranch eggs and raiding your Parent’s freezer for a BBQ and the next moment you are screaming bloody murder because one of the biggest rattlesnakes you have seen lately is right where you park your truck.

I noticed the black birds making a fuss, I didn't think too much about it until I spied this guy (see the snake?)

I noticed the black birds making a fuss, I didn’t think too much about it until I spied this guy (see the snake?) by the bird.

I just had a very upsetting nightmare where I stepped on a rattlesnake but I didn’t kill it, I was screaming for help, but no one could hear me. I was stuck on a mad, live snake! I knew I was going to die!!!!

When I saw this snake, I put everything I had into screaming for help, just in case my dream actually came true!

Snake in the circle of trust (near the houses and pets).

Snake in the circle of trust (near the houses and pets).

Thankfully, my Mom did hear me and helped kill this bad boy snake. But not before I managed to hurt my vocal chords by screaming like a Banshee. After we killed it, I went back to get the rattles and it moved and peed on me, so I screamed again. That probably didn’t help my voice either.

When rattlesnakes are this close to our homes and pets, we don't think twice about killing them. They do not need to be in the circle of trust.

When rattlesnakes are this close to our homes and pets, we don’t think twice about killing them. They do not need to be in the circle of trust.

We always are careful to remove the snake’s head to prevent any accidents. We’ve heard enough horror stories about people getting bitten after the snake was killed or meat bees eating the poison and stinging people or animals. The head is placed into a bag and thrown away, safe from meat bees and animals.

See this cow's upper back leg? This is what a snake bite looks like.

See this cow’s upper back leg? This is what a snake bite looks like.

Rattlesnakes are a fact of life here on the ranch. Inevitably, we always have at least one cow or calf get bitten every year. Worst case scenario is the animal dies. The best case is we have a hurt cow or a calf that will never fully recover.

A full year later, we are still treating the bite. We had to lance her wound.

A full year later, we are still treating the bite. We had to lance her wound.

It is always upsetting when we kill a snake around the houses. Although we know the snakes are here, we don’t often see them, so we can pretend they don’t exist. But then you have a scare, and it is ALWAYS when you aren’t paying attention, wearing your office flats (not snake boots) and you have a puppy frolicking at your feet. For the next few weeks, we will be on high alert, every stick will be a snake, the wind moving the leaves in the trees will be upset snakes! Eventually we will relax again, but the cycle will continue.

Many of my musician friends ask for the rattles to place in their guitars, they say it improves the sound.

Many of my musician friends ask for the rattles to place in their guitars, they say it improves the sound.

Everyone is safe and healthy, so this was a good reminder that we need to pay attention. Well, maybe not totally healthy….

I really did hurt my vocal chords when I screamed. Ever since we killed the snake, I’ve been a raspy, squeaky mess. I am a whisper nervous about this because on Thursday I am going to be a panelist at the 2014 CropLife America Policy Conference . I’ve been trying not to talk and eating lots of ice cream and drinking lots of honey tea, so I know I’ll be fine!

If you have a few minutes Thursday morning, please consider streaming this event on your computer! I am so excited to be apart of this and want to share it with my readers!

 

 

 

 

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Payday

How often do you get a paycheck from your job? Once a month? Every two weeks? Once a year?

Dogs, helping with the cattle.

Dogs, helping with the cattle.

For many of us in agriculture it is normal to receive one or two paydays a year. That is it. We must budget those few paydays to last, and with all the unknown variables that are apt to happen in agriculture, that can  be a huge challenge. For us, payday is when we sell this year’s crop of animals or harvest. For farmers and ranchers that specialize in one product, like beef cattle, we work all year for this one day.

Where our cattle live in the winter.

Where our cattle live in the winter.

We sold this year’s calf crop today. As I was sitting at the auction, I realized that not many people outside of beef production, get the chance to experience what I experienced today. I want to show you what a cattle sale looks like.

What an average animal sale looks like.

What an average animal sale looks like.

But first I want to talk about what it took for us to get to this point. This calf crop is the result of almost two years of work. From planning the pregnancies of our Mama cows, to the birth and growth of the calves themselves.

Look at this little cowgirl.

Look at this little cowgirl.

The calves we sold today were almost a year old. My family has spent every day since before their conception with this herd. We selected the bulls we felt would best improve our herd,  we watched as the Mama cow’s bellies grew, we helped them give birth, we spent countless hours watching and protecting them. If you want to know more about the process, please look through the Beef archives to the right of this post.

This is when we de-wormed and vaccinated our babies.

This is when we de-wormed and vaccinated our babies.

When we watch the sale of these calves a whole range of emotions course through us. Part of you wants to grieve for the loss of these animals that you have spent so much time with, becoming attached happens regardless. Part of you feels pleasure, watching these beautiful animals walk around ring. Then you feel thankfulness because you have successfully brought them to market. Often feeling incredibly proud is yet another emotion, the knowledge that I am helping to feed my country is amazing.

This is how we ship our cattle, in huge cattle trucks. The bottom is what they look like inside.

This is how we ship our cattle, in huge cattle trucks. The bottom is what they look like inside.

Needless to the blend of emotions causes a lot of stress, anxiety, but eventually relief and in a good year, joy.

My little cousin was giving me a back rub to help with the stress of selling our cattle today. It was a nice treat.

My little cousin was giving me a back rub to help with the stress of selling our cattle today. It was a nice treat.

Ok, now on to the auction part. If the past we’ve sold our cattle multiple different ways. From video sales in years past to a more traditional way of literally taking them to market.

This is how we sold our cattle today, it is the traditional way of trucking your cattle to market:

This is how we’ve sold our cattle in the past, a video sale:

Each method has it’s pro’s and con’s, but we’ve been very happy with both. Hopefully, this summer I can attend a larger video sale and go more in depth about it for this blog.

Our family is grateful for today to be over. Our emotions have been all over the map and we will talk about nothing else amongst ourselves for the next few days. However, we are thankful that we can continue to do what we love and look forward to many more generations of ranching.

 

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