It’s always something

Hello, kind readers. It’s been a few years since I’ve written for The Business Farmer. I think my last piece appeared at the end of September, 2018, so a bit more than three years have elapsed.

By way of personal background, I was raised on and around the family farm/ranch south of Kimball, Nebraska. My great-grandfather, Evert Jay Evertson, bought the homestead quarter section from the initial homesteader, Emile Forsling, in 1907. Evert’s son Wilbur– my grandfather–was farming the place when I was growing up. By that time Wilbur owned 1.25 sections including 3/4 section in a wheat-fallow rotation and a half section of native prairie where he ran a small cow-calf operation. Eventually Wilbur sold out to his son, Mick, who was my dad. Mick added another 3/4 section to the place, and after various experiments with diversification put all the farm ground back into grass and settled into a cow-calf operation. I grew up driving tractor, fixing fence, and working in the cattle operation. When I graduated High School I joined the navy. My intent was to leave the farm and Kimball behind me and to have an adventurous career as a navy search and rescue paramedic. And that’s what I did. I had no intention of ever returning.

Once I retired from my lifelong naval adventure I realized I had a lot of life left in front of me. Having seen and done a lot of serious paramedic work, in peacetime and in combat, I didn’t want to continue in emergency medicine. As I looked around for a new career and a new adventure there just weren’t many options that looked good to me. My thoughts kept returning to the ranch, and after some investigation and some negotiation I landed a job back where I started, on the family farm, which had become the family ranch. After only a very short time I realized that I was born to be a rancher.

I learned a great deal from my dad. The things he taught me would fill a book. The most important lesson was the first lesson, which is that we weren’t actually ranchers. Rather, we were grass farmers. The only way to be successful at wresting a living from a small shortgrass prairie ranch was to take care of the ecosystem first, last and always. With this approach the cattle became a tool rather than a primary focus. Cattle harvested the grassland bounty and converted it into a product–he yearly calf crop–which we could trade for money.

Don’t get me wrong, raising and managing a cow herd is enjoyable, interesting, fulfilling, and takes a lot of work. It’s a part of the job I cherish and love. But cattle can’t survive without grass to graze, so the ecosystem has to come first. Over the last two-plus decades I’ve found that the most fulfilling and rewarding part of the job is husbanding the shortgrass prairie ecosystem. A big part of that is raising and husbanding a cow herd, so in that sense I get to have my cake and eat it too.

That’s a thumbnail sketch of my general background. More recently, in the three years since I’ve appeared in this newspaper, my life has been rather tumultuous. My dad died in 2019. My fiance died last year, killed in a single vehicle rollover. In the last three months I’ve had back surgery and survived Covid.

I’m still here, and I’m still managing my treasured ecosystem. I’m healthy and very fit for a fellow well into his sixth decade of life. I’ve been welcomed into and embraced by my late fiance’s family, and with the sadness of loss there is also much love and joy.

Let me share a brief story of the unexpected adventure of the week on our ranch.

On Monday while sorting cattle the large corral light–mounted to a pole inside the corrals–suffered a major problem. The pole, which has been in place for decades, fractured at ground level. Only the guy wire and service wire held it upright, but it was leaned over at an alarming angle. Switching off the breaker ended any threat of electrocution or fire should the whole thing collapse, but high winds were forecast for Wednesday, so the problem needed to be addressed.

I called REA while hauling the next load of cows to corn stalks and got a service order started, which was pretty much all I could do at the moment.

Once we finished moving cows mom let me know that she’d lost water pressure at the house. I checked valves and tanks and hydrants and could find no running water, which is most often the culprit with a sudden loss of water pressure. That pointed toward the well itself. The breaker wasn’t tripped, so it was either a pressure switch or the pump itself. Fortunately Mom always keeps water on hand, so it wasn’t an emergency.

I got the well crew out the next morning. They had to replace the pump, wiring harness, pressure switch, and pressure tank. It had been 12 years on the pump, and who knows how many years on the wiring and pressure tank, so while the event represented an unexpected expense, it’s also just part of living on a ranch.

“It’s always something,” I grumbled to myself. But on second thought, it’s actually almost always nothing. In other words, we rarely have water problems and we tend to take our wells and water infrastructure for granted. For me, it’s important to keep such things in perspective. Bad thoughts and a feeling of being victimized are the wrong path for me. Better to keep things in perspective and remember how lucky and blessed I am.

It’s a livin’ thing. As Gus McCrae said to Woodrow Call in the mini-series 'Lonesome Dove', “It ain’t dyin’ I’m talkin’ about, it’s livin’!” 

What I hope to do in this space is provide commentary and a bit of scale, context, and perspective about living a life in agriculture in this part of the country. Life has a lot of components, and this life in particular holds countless opportunities for livin’, as opposed to merely existing from day to day. If I do my job correctly you kind readers may be able to glean some tips, tricks, and ideas to think about and even integrate into your own journey.

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