Life on the Farm

Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from the edge of the woods that bordered the farm.

Big-bulbed lights, strung in barber pole fashion, generated almost as much heat as the nearby woodstove. Yellowed Christmas cards, saved through the years and perched like doves in the untrimmed branches, served as ornaments.

“I believe this is the […]

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Life on the Mississippi

As widespread rains begin to slowly refill lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, Thanksgiving thoughts turn back to the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth where the Mississippi River, just a mile from our dairy barn, was a constant, often dominating presence.

Except, that is, in the late summer months when everything around the farm–cows, hired men, […]

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Every Day was Labor Day–Including Labor Day

One certain way to raise my agricultural bona fides among farming friends was to casually mention my upbringing on a 100-cow, southern Illinois dairy farm.

“Oh,” they would say reverently, “that’s real work.”

Yes, it was, but mostly for my father who began his farming career milking cows by hand in 1950 and ended it in 1989 […]

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All Hats, No Cattle, and Little Chance

Two groups–one of South Dakota investors, the other tied to Texas cattle ranchers and feeders–are preparing to spend a collective $1.8 billion on two meatpacking plants that they say will be so innovative each will pay cattle suppliers more for their cattle and bison than any of today’s Big Four packers.

Most meatpacker pros, however, think […]

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Vacation Essentials: Mayonnaise Jar, ‘Light Breakfast,’ Butter

Each of my parents had an unwritten list of essentials to take when our family–of, holy cow, eight–left the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth on our annual August vacation.

For example, my mother never crossed the state line without a wide-mouth quart jar filled with soapy water and a washcloth so she could keep […]

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It’s a Big Country and It Floats on Less and Less Water

From 35,000 feet, the white ring that marks the high level of Lake Powell looks just like the ring of an emptying bathtub. The only difference is the chalky top mark on this big tub, once the second largest freshwater reservoir in the U.S., is an unscrubble 1,900 miles around.

And Lake Powell, the upper reservoir […]

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Cattle Never Judged Me, So I Never Judged Cattle

Despite spending every day of my southern Illinois youth on what at the time was a very large dairy farm, I never really had a clue of what made one Holstein cow or calf better or worse than the next Holstein cow or calf.

Most of that inability lay in my complete disinterest to show any […]

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Twenty-five hundred gallons of water per bushel of irrigated corn is ‘too much’

In a recent telephone conversation, a southwest Kansas farmer casually noted that he had stopped growing irrigated corn some years back because “it cost too much.” Curious, I asked what it cost to irrigate an acre of corn in his arid, cattle-feeding-and-corn-hungry corner of the state.

“It wasn’t the money,” he quickly explained, “it was the […]

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Making Pork Chops Flow Uphill

For more than 40 years my father farmed within a mile of where the Kaskaskia River met the Mississippi deep in southern Illinois. That meant he had two, lifetime partners: the river and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, landlords of the levees that guarded our wedge of the Great American Bottoms.

Dad never argued with […]

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The New Ag Alchemy: Gold from Gas

The biggest gold rush in U.S. history is about to hit rural America and it won’t involve corn or cattle or even gold. Instead, the big money will be in pipelines.

That’s right, pipelines; pressurized carbon dioxide (CO2) pipelines designed to carry CO2 from Midwestern ethanol plants to “sequestration” sites in either North Dakota or Illinois.

Itchy […]

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