Friday, January 30, 2015

Grazing plans

I'm in the process of finalizing this year's grazing plan for the ranch. I could go into a great deal of detail and perhaps at some point I will, but for today, just the bare bones basic fundamentals.

It all starts with the sun. That big ball of fusing hydrogen provides every single bit of the energy required and used by the living organisms on this planet. All the energy, all the organisms, Homo sapiens included.

On the ranch, which is entirely dull, boring, flyover country prairie, something really cool happens. The plants (forbs, shrubs and trees, but mostly -- 99 percent -- grass) combine energy from the sun with carbon dioxide from the air, moisture from precipitation, and micro-nutrients from the soil to make, well, more plants. Nature does this all on her own. She needs no help from the likes of me.

As the land owner, I use cows to harvest nature's bounty. The cows eat the grass, which provides them with energy to grow and make new cows. The new cows (calves) become people food. The beef from my ranch provides people with energy to grow and make new people and build skyscrapers and deflate footballs and all kinds of wonderful stuff.

But whether carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, or badly confused human, all the energy used to exist, do things, and reproduce starts first in the sun when hydrogen fuses.

So. Grazing plan. My job as a rancher and steward of the land becomes more holistic and better for everyone when I manage my grass harvesting cows in such a way as to support the ecosystem. Overgrazing is bad. Undergrazing is bad. The trick is to strike the proper balance. So I plan, and execute, and monitor, and learn, and adapt, and improve, and grow.

Here's what some of the grass and some of the cows looked like on Saturday. The wind was blowing and I was lecturing, so I had youtube get rid of the noise and replace it with a catchy tune.



Here are cows and calves grazing the same pasture in July. They make pretty good music, at least to my ear.



And finally, cows grazing that grass. It's a sweet sound, and one most folks never hear. Enjoy!










Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Guess it's video day...

I'm trapped in my office in the courthouse today. I serve as the part time veterans service officer for the county. Takes about 12 hours out of my week. It's a job that needs doing, and really, it needs doing by someone other than me. If you're interested give me a call or shoot me an email. Very little pay and no benefits, but the hours suck. But I digress.

The VA system is down again, so while I was waiting to upload a new claim, well, stuff happened.

This may be my fave F-14 video. Good music. Every bit as good for a naval aviation video as Van Halen's Dreams. Australian band, too. But now back to work...

Just another slider...

There's this, over at xbradtc.

Which is indeed pretty sporty.

And which reminded me of this. A bit of salty sailor talk.



Another view

Twenty-nine years

I got to do a heck of a lot of cool and fun stuff in my navy career. We've all heard about the guy (or gal, of course) who has occasion to think, "I can't believe they're actually paying me to do this!"

Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt.

There's the down side, too, and I've written about that.

As I look back and think about all the wonderful and amazing experiences, and about all the tragic and heartbreaking experiences, I realize that none of it would have meant anything were it not for the people I shared those experiences with. For those who serve in this arena, personal interactions, even at the most superficial level, carry a hell of a lot of weight.

So. Twenty-nine years ago today...

The sun rose over an uncharacteristically chill and frosty Cape Canaveral on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986. A futuristic rocket ship, poised atop launch pad 39-B, stood silent and inert except for the wisps of vapor seeping from its vents. The gantry and associated equipment dripped with rare icicles and the 26 degree air was close and still.

There was a sense of anticipation in the air. The day would mark the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, and launch was scheduled in only a few hours. The hushed atmosphere was charged with pre-launch tension, and as with so many previous Cape Canaveral dawns, the very fabric of the air was shot through with greatness.

For a lot of Americans, including literally millions of school kids, Jan. 28 began as a banner day, filled with hope and joy and anticipation. Happy youngsters would gather in front of school televisions across the nation, don party hats and clutch noisemakers, and breathlessly await the moment when they could cheer as America’s first Teacher in Space sped on her way to orbit.

Suspended in that moment, the world had no inkling that it would turn out to be a very hard, very sad day.

In Virginia Beach, the weather was almost balmy. Sunrise found me working in the emergency room at Naval Air Station Oceana. We were busy that morning, but not so busy I that couldn’t make time to watch the televised launch.

Mike Smith, Challenger’s pilot, was a 41 year-old Naval Aviator who had flown A-6 Intruders before joining NASA. In a sense, he was the prototypical astronaut, a military man who had survived the rigors of flying tactical jets in combat and in the unforgiving arena of test piloting.

Judith Resnik was a 36 year-old Ph.D. Engineer who had been one of the first five women selected by NASA for astronaut training.

I met Smith and Resnik in 1985, not long after Oceana was made an emergency landing facility for shuttle flights. They were the astronaut part of a NASA team briefing air station personnel on shuttle operations and contingency plans.

I enjoyed working with them and had the opportunity to chat informally with both. They were friendly and filled with keen and infectious enthusiasm. They seemed to represent the future of American space exploration, a commingling of military and civilian skills and expertise. The best of the old school and the best of the new.

I was especially smitten with Resnik, or as she introduced herself, "JR". In addition to being an astronaut, she was supremely confident, smart, beautiful, and had the deadliest dry wit and sense of humor I’d ever known. Meeting astronauts was an enormous treat for me, but meeting and visiting with JR was one of the very most enjoyable experiences of my life.

So it was with a great deal of pride and anticipation that I watched the first 73 seconds of Challenger’s flight that January morning. The explosion that ended the flight was a savage, gut-wrenching shock.

Having witnessed the death of friends and shipmates, and having participated in the sad business of recovering remains and investigating mishaps, I was honestly surprised by the intensity of my reaction to the loss of Challenger. The long unfolding of that devastating moment was incredibly painful.

To this day I’m still not sure why my reaction was so powerful, why the hurt was so overwhelming. The pain has eased as the years have gone by, but as I write this and contemplate the events of twenty-nine years past, I find the pain is still sharp and my grief still profound.

I can’t tell Mike and JR how much I appreciated our all-too-brief acquaintance, our nascent friendship. But I can tell you, in this insignificant space, that despite the pain I still carry, despite the ache of loss, my life has been more rich and filled with more joy and wonder than it would have been had my path never crossed the paths of Mike Smith and Judith Resnik.

The crew of Challenger’s last flight. Front from left: Mike Smith, Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Ron McNair. Back from left: Ellison “El” Onizuka, Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith “JR” Resnik.

Juxtaposition

The busy keeps on being busy. What was I thinking? As spring approaches and the weather improves I'm going to have to become rather more organized if i want to keep blogging.

Well.

Three videos. Calf getting up and two of USS Midway. What I do and what I did. Kinda. I'm not an intuitive videographer...

Weather's actually been a treat here. Hope my friends in the northeast are staying warm. Ish. Have a delightful day, all.





Sunday, January 25, 2015

Corpsman Chronicles II : Circles and Layers

I've been messing around with this post trying to get it just right. Well, that's not gonna happen.

A long time ago, and then some...

North Atlantic. 1986. Late summer.

Longer ago even than that...

Roll the clock back 21 more years and check in at the EJE Ranch on August 21, 1965.

I got up early that morning, a little before 5 a.m. It was early for me but my dad was already up and around as usual. I walked into the living room, dimly lit by the soft pre-dawn glow, and switched on the old Zenith black and white television. Which at the time was neither old nor remarkable.

Wikimedia Commons.
I stood there as the tubes warmed up and the screen began to glow, feeling quite grown up. I was a NASA kid you see, and soaked up everything I could about the space program. This morning I was on a mission.

Last night Walter Cronkite had told me that he’d be carrying live coverage of the Gemini V splashdown in the morning, starting at 7 a.m.


As a NASA kid, this was something I was obviously required to watch. I did a quick time zone conversion (NASA kids ate that time zone sh.., er, stuff, with a spoon), ran it by Mom for a giggle test, and scrambled off to set my alarm clock. A first for me. Four-forty-five a.m.

That morning I watched events unfold on the television with rapt attention. Walter was great. He could do the big picture and the little details, and Vulcan mind meld them directly into the info sponge between my ears. There was a delay in the recovery when the Gemini capsule splashed down off target, landing about 600 miles east of Jacksonville. It wasn't long, though, before the television showed an image of the stubby craft bobbing gently in the swells. A big green monster of a helicopter circled the spacecraft several times, then made a very low, very slow pass.

I watched in amazement as a wetsuit-clad fellow (a "frogman" according to Walter) jumped into the sea next to the bobbing capsule. That guy had to have the the best and coolest job in the world.
Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper Jr. is hoisted up to a Navy helicopter during recovery operations in the Atlantic Ocean of the Gemini-5 spacecraft. NASA, in the public domain.

Gordon Cooper, Command Pilot of the Gemini V spacecraft is hoisted into a recovery helicopter after the Gemini 5 eight day mission. NASA, in the public domain.
A U.S. Navy Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King dropping rescue swimmers around a Mercury space capsule mock-up during recovery practice. NASA, in the public domain.
And that was the moment when I knew. When my navy future became pretty much a certainty. By the time I took my place as a crewman on the mighty Sea King, space capsule recoveries were a thing of the past. Which was good, because what we did was even better.

Flash forward to 1986...

Mid-August. The Nimitz Battle Group was underway as a player in Northern Wedding. It was a huge exercise, both at sea and in Europe. Ashore, simulated red hordes of soviets were charging deep into Germany. At sea, simulated (and some not so simulated) red hordes of the soviet navy surged into the Atlantic to disrupt NATO resupply efforts.

Underway! Sailors belong on ships, and ships belong at sea. My extended tour with the squadron was coming to a close, and this was my last hurrah before shore duty.

My time with the squadron had been a long, hard slog. Four major deployment cycles. Hard, yes, but I lived for this stuff. I'd grown tremendously. A snot-nosed kid at the beginning, now I was a paramedic, an aircrewman, and a swimmer. Nowhere else in the world could I practice these skills at this level and in this kind of arena. Operationally, I was at the top of my game.

The non-operational part of my life was a bit shaky. I was clueless when it came to striking a healthy balance. I was also hard-headed enough to try to impose my will on the world.

Behind me on the beach was a home and mortgage shared with a girlfriend. She was in the navy too, and in the age old story of the naval service, we had different dreams and goals and spent most of our time talking around reality.

I wasn't looking forward to shore duty. The best uncle bupers could do was a berth at the medical clinic at USNA. Dress Blues or Dress Whites. Every day. Doing flight physicals. Gag. All pain, no gain. Purgatory.

This last float provided some temporary avoidance of "things which must be dealt with," but the clock was ticking and they were ever close at hand. And though I didn't realize it at the time, I really needed to decompress. I was wound tighter than an eight day clock. I'd had a magnificent run with the squadron, but it had taken a toll.

As day four began there was a medevac in the works. A young Fireman (E-3/FN) in one of our escorts had been severely steam scalded in an engineering mishap. He was being flown to the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61), the closest major medical department within range of the frigate's SH-2 Seasprite helo. We needed to get him to Gander, Newfoundland, for a rapid transfer the Army Burn Center in San Antonio. Our Sea King helos had the range for the mission, but only just. Iowa had turned around and was charging toward Gander at 34 knots to close the range. We'd fly to Iowa, refuel while we took on the patient, fly to Gander and drop him off, then retrace our path.

A Kaman SH-2G Seasprite. Wikimedia Commons
USS Iowa, BB-61, 1986. Wikimedia Commons.
Knox Class Frigate USS Moinester, FF-1097, 1986. Wikimedia Commons.
An SH-3H Sea King lands on Iowa. Wikimedia Commons
As I grabbed supplies and shoved them in my medevac bag, I did a quick mental review. Burns are terrible injuries, and according to the casualty message, the injured sailor had suffered second degree burns over 100 percent of his body. Burns cause severe loss of fluid as the damaged skin weeps in response to the injury, and that fluid would need to be replaced intravenouslyWith 100 percent of the skin involved, starting and keeping IV's in place would a major challenge. The weeping, damaged skin would also allow bacteria to get in. This patient was already infected. He was going to become very, very ill. There was also a good chance that his airway had been burned, damaging the lining of the trachea and bronchus. Such injuries can flare up hours or even days after the injury, abruptly and unexpectedly closing the airway.

My medevac bag contained IV fluids and sets, A cutdown tray in case I had to surgically acquire a vein. A Laryngoscope, endotracheal tubes and a tracheotomy kit in case we lost the airway. A Lifepak heart monitor and defibrillator. Morphine for pain control.

The Iowa medical department would have the patient stabilized and prepared for medevac. He'd have an IV going and his airway would be stable. His burns would be dressed and he'd have pain medicine on board. He'd be wrapped and secured correctly in a transfer litter. If all went well, I'd only have to monitor his IV, airway, vital signs, and level of pain. I'd be ready to handle complications, but with a little luck, my most skilled services wouldn't be required.

I slung my bag and headed for the paraloft to suit up. It was the middle of summer, but summer is often less than balmy up north. The air/water temp matrix said I had to wear a wetsuit or a dry suit. I chose the wet, because it afforded more freedom of movement and I might be scrambling around quite a bit. The downside to wearing a wet suit in the back of a helo in cool conditions is that it's even more uncomfortable than the dry suit. It gets cold and clammy, and wearing one for hours can be a miserable experience.

Over the wet suit I wore a green nomex flight suit and summer weight flight jacket. On my feet were woolen socks and scuffed flight boots. I shrugged into an LPA/SV2, a combined life preserver, torso harness, and survival vest. A flight helmet finished the ensemble.

I rolled into the brief in time to hear all the bad stuff. We were going to be very tight on fuel on two of the four legs, and the weather was turning dogshit. Visibility at Gander would be at or near minimums. We had zip for fuel reserves and no divert options. If we'd been a civilian flight crew we couldn't have legally flown the mission. But we weren't civilians. One part of my mind was very concerned with the risks, but the dominant part of my mind was zeroed in on executing the mission.

"How bad is he burned, Doc?"

A rule of thumb for estimating mortality in burn cases was to add the age of the patient to the total percentage of skin burned. If the number reached 70, the mortality rate was 90 percent. If the number equaled or exceeded 90, the mortality rate was 100 percent. This young sailor was 20. Do the math.

"He's probably going to die. His only chance is to get him to a burn center in the next 12 hours."

And so we launched.

We ground our way west and south under a solid overcast. Below us the sea was dark gray and choppy, broken by millions of foaming, white backed waves. From 2,500 feet above the restless Atlantic, the horizon was a distinct line where dark gray met light gray.

The first leg of the flight went quickly, and before long Iowa came into view, charging toward Gander with a bone in her teeth. We set up a normal approach for landing on her helo deck aft. I'd landed on plenty of destroyers, and from a distance a destroyer and a battleship bear a superficial resemblance, so the approach seemed pretty normal at first. Until the battleship started getting bigger and bigger. And bigger. And bigger still. As we hovered over our landing spot, Iowa's helo deck seemed to rival the size of the carrier's flight deck.

From this point I'm left more with impressions than distinct memories. I followed the Iowa corpsman who'd been sent to guide me. I recall dark and narrow passageways, and the massive thickness of of main deck hatch, hanging counterbalanced over the ladder leading down to the second deck.

I followed the corpsman into sickbay, around a corner and through a hatch, and then into the treatment room. I remember the smell of that room, the smell of silvadine burn cream, sterilized gauze, sweat, pain, misery, despair. I remember that the burned sailor was in a lot of pain, moaning with it, slowly writhing in an attempt to find a more comfortable position. I remember that his face was pale beneath the redness of fairly mild burns, but that the rest of him was swathed in acres of freshly changed gauze, much of it already becoming sodden with weeping fluids.

I must have done a detailed turnover with the ship's doctors, but I don't remember any of that. I checked the IV site where someone had done a serviceable job on a cutdown. I checked the security of the foley catheter, and felt a slight boost of hope when I saw that the burned sailor was still making urine.

The helo was full of gas by the time we got the patient loaded and situated. We didn't waste any time.


The next four hours were extremely busy. There were so many things that could go wrong so quickly. The major needs were to keep the airway open, keep the IV going, and keep the analgesia adjusted.

If the airway had been injured it could, without warning, swell shut in a minute or less. If that happened the patient would quickly suffocate unless I performed a field tracheotomy. I knew the procedure cold but had never actually done one. I watched that airway like a hawk.

The IV was vital. Losing it could also be lethal, though not as quickly as a closed airway. It was sutured directly into the great saphenous vein on the patient's left foot. His skin was so damaged elsewhere that the surgical cutdown had been the best option and the only way to get and keep access to a vein. But any IV can fail, and if this one went south I'd have to do a cutdown on the other foot. I'd done cutdowns before, but never in the back of a helo.

I administered analgesia through the IV. The young man's body was in terrible pain. The morphine I gave didn't stop the pain, rather, it blocked the pain receptors in his brain. In addition to blocking pain receptors, it caused opiate euphoria, a kind of altered consciousness and relaxation. Morphine is a great pain medicine, but it's potentially deadly as well. With such severe pain, the line between adequate analgesia and overdose is very thin indeed. The first sign of overdose would be slowed respiration, so I watched the patient's breathing closely.

Managing all that was a full time job, but all the usual "bad deal" thoughts were bouncing around inside my skull. This wasn't the first badly burned patient I'd treated. It wasn't the first losing battle I'd fought.

The losing fight

It seems almost strange in retrospect that the hardest battles trauma corpsmen fought ended so very often in defeat. When our best skills were most needed, the outcome was generally predetermined.

The life force and physiology of the young human being is remarkably powerful and self healing. In the vast majority of injuries we dealt with, our services weren't really required. The trauma was either immediately fatal or the patient would pretty much heal themselves. We provided good and useful support in the latter case, but it was rarely directly life saving. In the former case, of course, we packaged the remains for shipping.

The paradoxical realities for trauma corpsmen of my era were stark. Badly injured borderline cases were too often not going to survive. We had no choice but to fight the battle though. Our responsibility was to maintain life, and every single scrap of skill and energy we had was expended in the execution of that responsibility. It was never negotiable. But the outcome, success or failure, life or death, depended almost entirely on factors beyond the control of mere mortals. We had mad skills and they could make a difference. But not always.

In the naval service in the 1980's death was far from uncommon. We all lost shipmates. Each loss was a tragedy and a blow. For most sailors, as painful as the blow could be, it was quick and clean. For the trauma teams, though, sometimes it wasn't.

As we approached Gander the weather was awful. I was focused on my patient, but I heard concern leaking through the calm and collected voices on the ICS, and part of me was quite unhappy about the thumps and bumps and unusual attitudes. We landed near a turning Air Force Starlifter that represented the final leg of a tragic journey. Our helo was mobbed by a green-clad crowd, and strong hands whisked the sailor and stretcher across the ramp and into the belly of the big green bird.

I did my turnover thing and headed back toward the helo as the jet taxied away. I stopped in the lee of the refueling truck emblazoned with bilingual no-smoking signs, and sparked a Camel to life. I was joined by a fellow in a funny looking flight suit, a paramedic from the local Canadian SAR unit. We had a nice chat as fuel flowed into the helo's nearly dry bag. Then it was time to go.

The return trip is a blank to me now. I remember that I was shiveringly cold and spent. I also remember feeling a great wash of sorrow for the young man who was going to die, and for a family who had surely by now had the dreaded visit. They would be traveling to Texas, most likely. I prayed that they would make it in time and that God would hold them close in their time of tragedy.

Postscript

After a good sleep I was back up and in battery. The rest of the deployment went well, for the most part, though there was more tragedy and loss of life. The medevac had been a tipping point though, and I decided not to reenlist.

I drove away from Oceana in early spring, headed for the ranch with vague plans of going to medical school. I helped with calving and healed and decompressed. My grandfather, the son of our ranching patriarch, a great and humble man who had taught me uncountable important lessons, died suddenly in the summer. I was blessed to have spent time with him in his final weeks. He seemed impressed with some of the stories I shared and bragged on me to his friends.

As the days marched toward late summer, I began to realize that I wanted to get back into the fight. I'd left too much on the table. I made my way to the local recruiting office, and by the time September rolled around I was back at sea with a different squadron and airwing on a different carrier. I'd found the perfect way to circumvent crappy shore duty orders. I had many more adventures.

And yet another postscript

A couple of years ago I stumbled across a social media page belonging to the ship the burned sailor had been assigned to. I discretely reached out to some folks and found to my delight that the sailor had not in fact died. He had survived. He'd had, and continues to have, a life.

My part in his survival was vanishingly small. The corpsmen on the ship, the medical department on Iowa, the burn center in Texas, and the young man's own stout constitution and will to live were the deciding factors.

When I learned the happy news, I went to the attic and dug a small golden pin from a pouch, the tarnished, "Winged S" of a Sikorsky Award. It sits on my desk today, with a couple of mates and alongside other shiny bits of career detritus. It's perhaps my favorite relic, because it reminds me that where there's life there's hope, that the losing fight is always worth fighting, and that sometimes we win.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clobbered

I've been clobbered with work on the ranch. A lot of little things put off in the deepest of the cold spell are coming due, and the usual daily chores don't go away.

That's not a bad thing, it's good. Makes for long days, though, and less time for blogging.

The April calves are growing like weeds, really packing on the pounds despite winter's cold. Like all young cattle they are curious. Like all young cattle, they wonder if the side mirror tastes good. It doesn't seem to.



They asked me to send a video message to their pals in Herefordshire, so of course I did.



After I sent the video I managed to catch up with and shoot a coyote that's been hanging too close and becoming too bold. It'll be calving time soon and I don't want my young calves predated.

So I shot the coyote to death. I didn't give him a sporting chance. I stalked him, used the wind to my advantage, and killed him from ambush. I used a black rifle, too. A Colt LEC with a custom .458 SOCOM upper, firing a 300 grain Hornady jacketed hollow point at just over 1,900 fps. He dropped instantly and didn't even twitch.

In the real world this is the yin and the yang of animal husbandry, conservation, stewardship and sustainability. To a great many who inhabit the artificial/fantasy world, my actions are purest evil. What can I say? I prefer the real world.

The cows will be calving in about 70 days. This group is carrying a solid 5.5 body condition score, and they are gaining condition even in the depths of winter. They will be in superb shape at calving time and will produce vigorous, healthy calves.



In another nod to the primacy of nature's reality, this is one of the tools I use to gauge the metabolic and digestive health of the cows.



That's right, it's poop. Or as we say out here in the sticks, manure. The fact that it's beginning to "stack" and that the cellulose fibers are a bit longer than I like tells me that I need to provide a bit of protein to the girls. This I'll do with a compressed distillers grain product.

Here's another bit of natures reality. It's January. The ground is frozen. The grasses of the prairie are completely dormant. Or are they?



Is that green? You can click on the image to embignify.



Why yes, it is green. Threadleaf sedge is busy here photosynthesizing, turning sunlight and carbon dioxide (yes, the evil carbon dioxide) into more sedge. I believe this may be an EPA violation.

The cows don't care. It's icing on their cake.

And now it's time to head back out into nature's reality and mend a little fence. But first, cute kitty pics.




She's not a fan of the flash, especially when it interrupts her purse-napping.

Have a glorious day, kind readers.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Don't forget the good

I wrote a bit about WWI earlier. Actually, my unknowing and unasked Herefordshire correspondent did most of the writing.

When we visit battlefield cemeteries we can't help but think about the unrealized potential represented by all those markers and names. That's normal and right and proper.

Often we think about war in terms of waste. Lives wasted, property wasted, treasure wasted.

Up to a point this is correct. But it's not the whole point.

For the men and women who fall, who are scarred on the outside and within, it is sacrifice. It is giving of themselves for a higher purpose. There is nothing more noble.

Whether we agree or disagree with the particulars of any given conflict, the fallen, the wounded, and those who return unscathed (do they?) have each given all of us a precious gift.

There are babies who were never born to those who fell. But there are also babies being born all across the globe today who would not have had the chance were it not for the noble sacrifice of the fallen.

This evening as I drove toward home I was enchanted by the beauty of Venus and the new moon hanging in a southwest sky painted bold orange by the fading sunset. I stopped and took a few pictures. As I snapped away I heard a familiar sound, the throaty hiss of a Twin Pack turboshaft and the syncopated beat of an approaching UH-1N.

That's the 90th Security Squadron. They're out there, tonight, doing good. They're not alone.

Venus, Moon, Sunset

Venus, Moon, Sunset, Huey

A century ago in Belgium and France

Got an email from dear friends in England yesterday.

Hmm. Dear friends. How do you define that?

I've only ever met Elwyn and Julie the one time. They traveled to the States last summer for a vacation and to visit relatives in Colorado and Iowa. They visited the ranch almost by accident, having stopped at the High Point Welcome Center as they drove west to east along I-80.

They wondered if there might be local ranch available to tour, and HPWC Director Jo Caskey gave me a call.

Elwyn and Julie are fourth generation farmers from Herefordshire, England. They raise cattle and sheep, hay, small grains, and cider apples on a lovely farm that looks exactly like you'd expect an English farm to look.


Elwyn and Julie trimming ewes hooves on their farm in Herefordshire, England.
We struck up a fast friendship, comparing and contrasting our farming and ranching experiences. Much was different, but all the basic things were similar. Our "quick" tour lasted three hours.


Julie and Elwyn on the ranch last July.
We've kept in contact through mail, email, and whatsapp. It was great to meet them and it's been great getting to know them a bit better through the convenience of modern communications technology.

So yes, dear friends.

At any rate, Elwyn sent pictures an comments on their recent visit to the Ypres and Somme battlefields. When he mentioned the pending trip a couple of weeks ago, I told him I envied his proximity to such sites. I'll let his words do the work here. A lot to ponder.



"Got a few pics for you of my trip. As you said 'my proximity to it.' I never realised it was all so close. four hours to the tunnel, half an hour sat in the car on the train and one hour more and we were in Ypres.
"I am a lot wiser now than I was before I went, although I have always been very interested in all WWI stuff. Until I got there I never realised so much fighting went on in such a small area, about 12 miles across with Ypres in the middle.

"Went to Vimy Ridge . It has the most spectacular memorial to the Canadian troops high on a ridge overlooking the plain.

Vimy Ridge Memorial.
"Then we went on down to the Somme and followed the front line.

An old trench system near the Somme.
"We hear a lot about numbers and casualties and yes they are terrible but until I went there it really [hadn't] hit me. As you drive through the Ypres area everywhere you look on streets, in towns and villages, out in the fields and on hill sides, some times only one hundred yards apart, there are cemeteries. Some small, others massive and all pristinely kept. In fact there are 142 cemeteries of more than 40 graves, all for Commonwealth (All the countries of the old British Empire, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India etc.) Soldiers.


"Five cemeteries for the French and one for the Germans at Langemarck, a very grim looking place.

Langemarck German WWI Cemetery.
"We went to Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world. I looked at all these white grave stones, nearly 12,000 of them, so tightly packed together, and you can just see in your mind rank after rank of young men. A lot of graves said 'known only unto God' on them while others sometimes had two or even three names on them, basically they were in such a mess they didn't know which bit belonged to who.

"The most shocking thing I encountered though was the stone panels, about twenty feet by ten, that were covered in the names of the poor souls that had no known grave. There were 34 panels around the outside of the cemetery with 34,880 names on them.


"We visited a farm that was in no mans land and they showed us what they have found over the years. Scores of rusty rifles, machine guns, bayonets that puncture the tractor tyres, and hundreds of shells and cases, sometimes live! They said two people a year die from unexploded munitions. Two Bulgarians working on a building site [recently] had brought up a shell, so lunch time they tried to get the brass detonator off to sell as scrap ......with a hammer! One killed, [the] other very badly injured.

“An experience I'll never forget, especially Vimy Ridge and the craters on the Somme made by those ex miners digging tunnels under the German lines.


I even picked up a bullet as we walked across a ploughed field down there. I better stop , I could go on and on it was amazing and very sobering. Best Wishes, Elwyn”

Thanks Elwyn and Julie! Wonderful pictures, and I so much appreciate your sharing your thoughts.




Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'86, frustrations and fun

I'm pulling my hair out a bit. I'm working on a post that shouldn't be that hard to write. I'm slowly getting the upper hand, but it's complicated. If I'm up to the task, none of the hair-pulling complications will show. I think I can pull it off. I also think I'm trying to hard just now and it's time to put it away and rax.

"Dreams" was a smokin' cool vid in '86, and this is a very clean copy for the interwebs.

I don't think the Blues ever flew a better jet.

A-4 Super Fox. Weight: 11,300 lbs. J52-P408. Thrust: 11,200 lbs.

Do. The. Math.

Go ahead and punch it up to full screen.

Van Halen-Dreams (Blue Angels) from Max Martin on Vimeo.

VFC-13 bonus clip

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ideas and complications

One of the reasons I like giving ranch tours is that for the vast majority of my fellows, food production remains a great mystery.

Sure, we all learned about farming in elementary school, then learned something about the science of farming in jr. high, and maybe even more of the science in high school.

Um, my niece tells me it's middle school. Not jr. high. And it should be capitalized. Middle School.

So. Where was I? Oh yeah. Nearly all of us Americans learn stuff about farming in school. And most of us occasionally watch television programs, some of which are billed as educational, about farming. We also read propaganda insightful, informative farming and ranching articles and essays in books, magazines and newspapers.

But we get our food at the food store. There are no crops or livestock at the food store. So the connection between food production and the wealth of nutritious, safe, wholesome and inexpensive foods on display at the food store is rather tenuous.

Also, much of the propaganda insightful and informative farming and ranching stories we read, listen to, and watch in the media is, shall we say, less than complete. And sad to say, some things taught is school these days are rather questionable. I've seldom had tour guests who didn't have questions and concerns about GMO’s, Roundup, herbicides and pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, E. coli, pink slime, animal rights, etc.

If you cast your gaze over to the right and toward the top, you'll see a poll regarding concerns about food. Feel free to vote!

In my experience, people visiting my ranch seem to enjoy the opportunity to discuss these concerns. Nearly all of them listen closely to my answers and ask good follow up questions. When they leave, they seem to have a bit less anxiety about their food and where it comes from.

The learning experience is great, but there should be fun, too. And what’s more fun than feeding bottle calves? What’s more preciously photogenic than little Bobby and Susie and the slobberingly insistent little bovine?


To that end I’m trying to put together an exhibit slash bottle calf feeding experience at our local Visitors Center, which happens to adjoin our ranch at Exit 20 on the mighty I-80. If it works out, it’ll bring together the Visitors Center and their local advisory committee, city and county government, the local high school FFA/agriculture program, and the local Farmers’ Day committee. Adding stakeholders (particularly government stakeholders) adds, well, complications. And much of my hair is already missing (Stakeholders: IKBIL!). Still, there seems to be lots of upside here, for visitors and locals. We’ll see how it goes.

And now for a completely different complication…

Cattle need food and water. In this part of the country, and in particular on my ranch, there’s usually enough of the former available. The prairie is grass, after all, and grass is cow food. There is, however, very little surface water. Water is not optional -- without it the cattle die.

So we clever ranchers drill down into the ground and pump water from the Ogallala Aquifer into stock tanks from which the cattle drink. On our ranch many of the stock tanks come equipped with a float and valve assembly which regulates filling of the tanks. When the water level drops, so does the float, which allows a float arm to pivot and open the water supply valve on the bottom of the tank. When the water level rises the float lifts the float arm and shuts the valve. See? Clever! Sometimes there is a little spillage, but it’s all good.


When the temperature drops below freezing in the winter, however, ice forms in the tank and, well, complicates things. Cattle can’t drink ice. So ranchers have to chop holes in the ice so the cattle can reach the liquid water beneath the ice, which forms, of course, on the surface of the water. The ice can also capture the tank float, holding it fast and preventing the valve from opening to refill the tank.

So clever ranchers also chop the float free of the grasping ice.

Some ranchers, unfortunately, are more clever than precise.

Torpedoed by an imprecisely wielded axe, this float is a gonner.
First drain the tank...
Remove float from float arm...
Assess the damage (eewwww)....
Secure the proper repair materials (this stuff is da bomb!).
Apply the patch.
Me: "I gotta fix the float in that tank in the hay meadow."

Boss: "Axe?"

Me, with head hanging: "Yessir."

Boss: Patented double move. Eyeroll and headshake. Not many can pull this one off. "Okay."

Think today's food consumers need to know this level of detail?

Yeah, me too.