Sunday, July 20, 2014

My first year of 4-H.

I'm a first year 4-H member, my Mom and Dad have been helping me. I have practiced showing my steer at home for hours.  I have worked hard and sewed a skirt, the pillow case I made received a special clover award. learned to spray paint to create a night stand and learned to take trick pictures for photography. I even made some red ribbon cookies that my Grandpa Jim really liked.

However, the week of the fair has left me with a lot of time to watch the older members.  I am very observant and I watch everything.  I walked through the still projects several times.  

The furniture my 4-H counselor made was one of my favorites.  

I watched an older 4-Her and I noticed they hold their shoulder almost just like this with their arm straight when they show their calves . . .

so I am practicing that too. 

I was able to spend a lot of time with my friend Mattie.  We have showed all winter and we have been in the same class, but at the county fair we weren't in the same class. However we both had to say goodbye to our steers at the county fair together.

It has been a great first year in 4-H. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Coaching Livestock Judging - Who Wins?

As a former livestock judging team member, I have known the importance of livestock judging and now that my own daughter is old enough to judge I've taken on a new challenge.  I've been coaching the Dawson County 4-H Livestock team and their season has come to an end at an outstanding program called Premier Animal Science Event (PASE).

They are extremely excited as they finished second overall and placed first overall in oral reasons. As their coach it is so much more than this, the contest marks a notch of growth in their journey as young men and women.  They don't even realize that I have been charting much more then their scores the last few months.  They don't know what it meant to me as a coach when:

- at nine years old a boy walks in, shuts the door and gives his first set of reasons, nervous but determined.

- the first argument broke out over a set of market hogs, when they believed the coach placed them wrong and they finally had the confidence and vocabulary to formulate a convincing (yet unrewarding) discussion to change the placing.

- a young man that had barely spoken directly to me through several judging practices, except to give reasons, looks at me in the eyes, stretches out his hand and gives me a firm handshake, saying "thank you for coaching me".

- my phone buzzes with a text from a young woman saying "we miss you and wish you were with us before the contest, wish us luck"

- when a young girl says "who invented sheep judging anyway?". I said "judging sheep is biblical".  Then another young woman begins to explain livestock judging and the selection of the best sheep for sacrifices.  Now that is deep!

- when you know the girl that loves the swine industry, wins the swine division.

- when the practices got harder and the test got tougher and the they said give us more, we can do it!

You see it really isn't about judging livestock.  Judging livestock is just a way to get kids together with a common purpose to teach life skills, confidence and thinking on your feet.  Most importantly though, it is a way to build confidence in kids, and that is life changing. The life change happened to them as they took a challenge, worked hard and became successful. That is contagious.  It won't matter where they end up or what they want to do.
This challenge was hard and they achieved success, they now know they can, and so they will. 
I can't wait to see what it is!

Thanks for a great year livestock judgers!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chipotle - Don't call me irresponsible behind my back. Come to Nebraska!

Dear Chipotle CEO Steve Ells,

I realize you are very busy creating your next ad campaign to sling mud at farmers and ranchers across this great country.  Although I don't have the advertising budget your company has, I do have friends and family who appreciate beef production.

I understand that even though you don't know us and have never met us, you believe that we are irresponsible beef producers.  I would be remiss to not mention that it hurts my feelings that you believe without meeting us or visiting our feedyard that we are irresponsible. I invite you to our feedyard in order to better understand our family business and the beef industry. 

My husband and I have moved over 1000 miles to the middle of this country away from everyone and everything we knew just to raise beef for America.  We have invested every penny we have into a feedyard that was permitted under condition that we met certain environmental requirements in less than four years.  We basically took a deserted feedyard and spent all of our profits now and for the next undetermined amount of years (depending on how many cattle we feed, beef prices, corn prices, etc.) to meet all of the environmental quality standards that the EPA and NDEQ require.  This project's total costs were over $500,000.  Spending that kind of money on an environmental project that returns no profits back to the feedyard, does kind of make me feel irresponsible. However it was not a decision we made, it was one that the government made for us.


Shortly after we started this environmental project and there was no turning back, corn prices were toying with the $7.00 mark, and a drought hit making the supply of cattle in this country low.  This is not comparable in your business as you are able to change the price of your product.  Since you are a CEO I am guessing you would understand your profit margins. What I am wondering is if you can grasp the profitability of beef cattle? Did you know statistics say that a growth hormone implant can decrease production costs by 5-10%? I'll give you an example: last year when we were in the middle of this large environmental project, cattle were losing close to $200.00 per head.  Without technology, losses would have been more than  $220.00 per head.  How many times did you lose money last July selling our beef through your burritos? 

I am just wondering if you were able to serve a product that was proven scientifically safe, over and over, to make 5-10% more money, would you? I would ask if you would serve that same product to keep from losing 5-10%? We all know you never let a burrito leave your restaurant at a loss.  Just like the current "anti American agriculture" campaign that is gaining momentum at virtually no cost to you.  I am sure as you source beef from Australia you will pass that price on to your customer, causing no loss for your company.  

My only hope is that all Americans that support farmers and ranchers will choose another source for their burritos. As you have turned your back on America they too will turn their back on your restaurant. The question for Americans: are we really willing to pay 10-15% more for a burrito utilizing beef from a natural, grassfed steer, when beef from conventionally-raised steers has proven to be as safe or safer, as healthy or healthier, and is more available domestically?  

Janice Wolfinger
4+ Feeders

If you are interested in statistics that have been found through sound science that discuss the amount of beef we would be able to produce with and without hormones, how removing hormones changes Beef's carbon foot print and the choices beef producers offer I recommend this link - Great Plains Livestock Consulting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

. . . and it all started in the FFA Van

I have two former students that landed phenomenal internships for the summer.  Tiffanie is in Texas with Cargill's Pork Division and Kayla is in Omaha with Monsanto.  I am able to follow a lot of their experiences through Facebook.  I couldn't be more proud.

Last weeks within hours of each other they both posted pictures of their new rides for the summer.

Kayla's new summer ride!

Tiffanie's new SUV for her internship.
It got me thinking about the Agriculture Industry and the reason so many Agriculture Educators are lured from the classroom into the industry.  I will add, neither of these students were pulled from the idea of teaching by expense accounts, trucks, travel (alone), fancy hotels or the many other things the industry offers that the classroom doesn't.

However it then got me thinking about the school van I was able to pack too much luggage in and all of the students as I headed out for COLT yesterday.  Driving a school van is not like a fancy company truck or SUV.  The liability and stress of driving seven other students is much higher than if I was just driving myself.  The fact that I must coordinate leave times, restroom stops, and destinations to eat with seven other people is more of a challenge than if I was in the industry calling on customers.
Do you hear the BUT coming?

BUT - It all starts in a FFA Van.  Both of the above students and several other ones along the way have learned to be on time, get along with others, travel, explore, and respect the property of others. I am proud of my past students that I have traveled with and the beginning of the journey with my new students. The FFA Van is where it all begins.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Going Back - Education and Influence is More Important Than I Thought

The feedyard is in full swing, and our new record system is becoming my friend. Well kind of. The major portion of the DEQ project is complete.  I was thinking life is about to get a little easier.  Every time I think that, I believe God grins.  My phone started ringing from our community members, people just letting me know the Ag. Teacher at SEM where the girls go to school was taking another job. They were the most subtle phone calls I have ever received.  I told Jake I am unsure if they want me to take the job or just want me to know.

Jake and I have spoke from time to time about me heading back to the classroom. We decided in less a position opened in the girls' school, with no family here it would be impossible.  Jake encourages me to go back to the classroom. I think he thinks this because I relate everything at the feedyard to teaching.  I have been out of the classroom for three years and those three years have been eye opening and not in a good way.  I spent the first 17 years of my life in the Northern Local School District, among some great students.  I then left and spent 4 years at The Ohio State University mostly with other wonderful Agriculture Education students. I then went straight to work as a teacher.  It was not until this year as we continue to search for a crew that is capable of helping us take the feedyard to the next level, that I realized our work force is horrific. As a teacher I was completely unaware of the incredible problem we have with skilled labor in this country. Not only do we have a problem with skill, we apparently have problems with sobriety and attendance also. It is an epidemic. We are in big trouble and if something doesn't change soon our children may be in bigger trouble.

It was clear to me that the only way I could influence these problems is to go back to the classroom. I was unsure about taking the position, I knew if I took the job I would be jumping in with both feet to a situation that is way more than full time. I know my philosophies in education have never aligned with the political officials passing our curriculum mandates and many times have not always lined up with my administrators. But then, there I was at a 4-H livestock judging event with Jacie talking with a school board member.  We started discussing education and what is important and my thoughts and ideas were spot on with what he was saying.  First time ever!  I decided to turn in my resume and then I decided to interview.  Then a few hours after my interview I took a new job as the SEM Ag. Teacher and FFA Advisor.

I am going back to the classroom with a new plan. In fact I am wondering while in my education career why they don't just have teachers manage a fast food restaurant (not in a college town).  I believe a town's fast food restaurant tells a lot about a towns education. I believe we would really better understand society and what is the least we would allow students to leave our classrooms knowing.

We have really just over complicated education.  I have decided that really I would like to be measured not by how many students pass a certain test, but how many are tax paying citizens 5 years out of high school.  I believe students really only need to leave high school with a healthy self esteem and a work ethic.  However I plan on adding a lot of life skills.  By life skills, I mean skills that students can go to someone and say I can do this and a person can afford and will want to pay them to do it.  These life skills also include a financial lesson in savings, spending and planning. Specifically they include, payroll and the worth of an employee, coming to work on time and ready to work, animal movement, care, multiplication, dosages, BQA certification, animal behavior, quality assurance, how electric fence works, the flow of electrons, affordable health care, welding, following directions, being respectful, working independently, recognizing when to remain silent, understanding your paycheck, cash flow, net worth . . .etc.  

Please send your ideas - I am overhauling my lesson plans starting now.  Please send in all the things you were glad someone taught you in high school and the things that you wish someone would have. I am meeting with the community soon to get their ideas.

I am excited to get back to the classroom with a new philosophy and the same intensity.  It's sure to be a wild ride.

To all my former students, please feel free to leave advice for my new students.

A look at my past career:
Reaping One Last Seed
State Officers
My Move to the Real World - Where Attendance is Still a Problem
Career Development Events
FFA Camp 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

4-H - Our First Steer Show

My Dad showed cattle,

Jake's Dad showed cattle, both Jake

and I showed cattle.

It was only a matter of time that our kids would start showing cattle. Nine years ago when Jacie was born I was teaching a group of students that are now getting married and having their own families.  They all knew I hated video games and loved cattle.  They asked "what if your kids don't want to show cattle and they want to play video games?"  I'd laugh and say "oh, they will love it and I'll never let them play video games.".   Late breaking news for all of you "Jacie loves showing cattle and still hasn't played a video game."

This was our first weekend out for the Nebraska Cattlemen's Classic. Jacie has had a wonderful time.  We were able to stall with some of Jacie's friends from school and it has made all the difference. Thanks for a wonderful weekend to all of the Sumner showman and families. I now must share a few photos, for our friends and family in Ohio.

Jacie enters showmanship.  To this point Jacie had never lead her steer more than 3 or 4 feet from her Dad or I. I was a bit nervous. Best advice I received this weekend came from another Dad "just let them go and they'll be fine".  And he was right.

The Judge was asking her a few questions.  She tells me later, he asked "what is his name?" She said, "New Moon".  He said "oh, Newman".  Clearly he watches too much Seinfield. Her face says it all.
 The next three are her friends from school . . . they were also in the same showmanship class.

This is Bart's first year also and he gets the Moxie Award for the weekend.  His steer bumped him around a lot the first day and he was offered help to lead his steer while he showed and he said "nope, I got it".  The next day, he went right back out there and did it again.  He says he wants to go again next weekend.  Do you remember your first years of knowing what you needed to do and your animal not cooperating and the frustration you felt? Ugh 

Jaelin was a great support all weekend.

Jake dusted off his clipper box and realized how rusty he was at clipping.
 I am confident he will get his confidence and skills back soon.

Jaelin - don't touch the hair. But I can't help it. I bet you are dying to know what is in that backpack.
Sorry - it's confidential. (hee, hee)

You still want to know, don't you?

Jake giving last minute instructions.

This is Mekenzie, she has been bittin' by the cattle showing bug. She showed all weekend, two steers and a heifer and also showed a heifer for someone else. She placed 6th in showmanship! She is a wonderful encouragement for Jacie.  Thanks - Mekenzie!

Mattison has a very correct and beautifully marked steer.  She is an excellent showman.
It has been a wonderful family fun weekend.  We are all exhausted. I will continue to update you on New Moon or Newman through the rest of the show season.

Friday, February 14, 2014

My move to the real world . . . where attendance problems are still a problem.

I am in a state of disappointment and shock now that I have left the walls of education and have entered the world of running your own small business. I am only able to share a little bit of what I am grasping to understand.  There will likely be other blogs similar to this.

A little background on me, I was in public school for 13 years in the same school district in rural Ohio, followed by 4 years at The Ohio State University, followed by 11 years of teaching in public schools. For the first time I am out of the walls of academia. I am now helping my husband manage a feed yard in central Nebraska.

While I was teaching I was critical, graded harshly (until administration made you defend your grades), and pushed and dragged "some" student to their highest potential. One successful student said this about me  "The woman who has presented me with some of my greatest challenges, while showing no mercy, and the first person who ever truly intimidated me."  I now know I did not do enough to insist that every student attain certain standards to become a tax paying citizens.  I am not sure all of that was in my control. I try not to beat myself up about that too much.  However, now that I am trying to find employees to hire, I realize I didn't do enough.

I remember having a conversation with a group of students.  I don't remember who now (you can identify yourself if you want) about being tardy and attendance.  The school of course had a policy about excused absences and unexcused absences.  How many days they had to make up work and the rules went on and on. Like most teenagers, their goal was then to bend the rules to their advantage.  So, bluntly I told a group of students (seniors I think), I don't really care why you are late or tardy.  It doesn't really matter if your grandma died or you were throwing up or kissing your girl friend in the hall, you missed whatever we are doing.  They looked at me like I was an alien and one of them said, "well that is just mean".  I said "I don't mean to be insensitive, but when you miss something you miss it."  They recanted with, "but the rules say we have ? days to make it up".

The problem with being an Agriculture Education Teacher and FFA Advisor is you usually have at least 5 different classes to prep for, labs, and at anytime you coach at least four different judging events, plan a banquet and fill out individual record books and awards for a number of students.  Therefore the kid that just decided not to show up for class for two weeks and wants to make up individual labs, building projects, safety tests, record books and class work is a bit of annoyance. But the rules say  . . . And that's what really beats a teacher down.

I never minded helping students make up work, however if we just spent two weeks welding and now we are in the greenhouse, how is this student supposed to weld while we are in the greenhouse. Especially since said student missed the safety test. I will say I really did not do enough to influence the public school system in the area of attendance.

Now, I am on the hiring/management side of things and realize I really didn't do enough.  If you look at our time cards there is not one of them that clocks in on time everyday.  I helped cause a problem for our entire world.  We had an employee that clocked in 20 minutes late continuously, when asked about it, he acted as if it was no big deal.  I was so disappointed I felt like I was back in high school.  He wasn't ashamed at all.

When students are late for school it matters, because it becomes a habit for life.  It is killing our labor force.  What can we tie tardiness and absence to that kids will buy into to fix this problem.

Do not reply with it's the parents problems.  Because public school systems taught them this way too. This isn't a new problem we are at least two generations into this problem.

To my fellow teachers, still in the trenches, you guys are awesome.  Keep working hard, you make a difference and someday we will turn the American work force around. I know you are drowning in reports and school standards.  What will count for you and our country in the end, is if these students get out of bed and get to work on time. Don't underestimate your power.

To all my students that post early morning posts about leaving for work and tweet about working 60 hours while your buddies are at the bar. I am proud of all of you and appreciate you helping make a difference for America.  Be proud of being a hard working citizen!