The Underdog: Aaron Watson and Agriculture

Last week a guy named Aaron Watson became the first independent male artist to have a #1 record on the Billboard Country Music charts. If you haven’t heard of him, you aren’t alone. I listen to a lot of country radio on my daily 50 mile commute, and I have yet to hear one of Aaron’s songs there. Despite the obvious approval of the listening public, Nashville apparently still isn’t interested in Watson who’s latest album is aptly titled “The Underdog”. I suppose they have a bad taste in their mouth after he made it this far without them. Thankfully, I also listen to a lot of Pandora radio where my Red Dirt/Texas Country stations play plenty of Aaron’s songs.

I’ll admit I hadn’t purchased this new album until it hit number one, but I was a fan of Aaron’s previous work. He’s not exactly new at this – this is his 12th studio album. After downloading The Underdog, though, all I can say is: wow – I forgot how good country music could be.  Besides being a talented singer and songwriter, one of my favorite things about Aaron Watson has always been that he appears to really have his priorities straight. If you like good music, family values and Christian faith, he is a great Instagram/Facebook follow. Sunday afternoon, after the biggest week in his career, Aaron shared this: Some friends in agriculture with similar musical taste suggested blogging to help promote this album. The idea interested me, so I started thinking. The 2% of the population involved in agriculture is clearly an underdog – we’re small in numbers and often living in rural areas far from urban consumers. The stories about us in the media are frequently less than favorable, and while we log a lot of hours trying to do things the right way, at the end of the day, often the public is critical. It’s tough to stomach people telling us how to do our jobs, especially when they are unfamiliar with the work we’re doing. I think Aaron can relate – in the final track on the album, he recalls the Nashville executive who trashed his musical dreams: “But I do have a problem with someone who can’t even play a “D” chord on a guitar telling someone with a dream that they won’t get far.”

I know we personally put a significant amount of thought into everything we do and how it will affect our cows. Just because someone doesn’t understand the reasons we do something, doesn’t mean we’re doing it wrong, but something’s gotta give. Our consumers opinions matter, but I believe the public is critical, not because we’re doing it wrong, but because we’re not telling them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it this way. Like Aaron Watson, we need to keep doing it our way – we need to put in the work and do things the right way, always working to improve. We shouldn’t necessarily change our methods because it’s more appealing to an uninformed public, but we should keep trying to innovate to do things that are better for our cows, for our environment, for our products, our industry, and our customers. Instead of shutting out our critics, we need to invite them in to have a listen – to hear our stories and have a discussion.

If you, too, are tired of the pop songs Nashville keeps pushing out to country radio, and you long for the days when George was King, may I suggest The Underdog, Aaron Watson. And if you want to hear the story of agriculture from those who have dedicated their lives to doing the work, who want to be part of the conversation, and who also have great taste in music, may I suggest the blogs below.

P90X3 – Halfway Through!

Like so many people, in high school I was a dedicated athlete. In college, I was less dedicated, but I was always active. Since then though, I’ve become a bit more sedentary. I work on the farm on the weekends and some evenings in the summer, but my full time job consists primarily of a desk, chair and computer. I also spend 2+ hours a day commuting. By the time I get home, all that sitting has worn me out, so I stand long enough to cook dinner and typically find myself sitting on the couch for the rest of the evening.

I’ve made some efforts at staying in shape – several years ago I did a few 5k races, I still play slowpitch softball when the weather’s good, and 4 years ago David and I attempted the original P90X program. We liked the workouts, but they were long – 1 hour minimum plus 15 minutes of abs. For our busy schedules, that just wasn’t sustainable 6 days a week. I think we made it about halfway through the 90 days before one missed day led to another and then another.

Fast forward a few years, and we were both tired all the time and just generally not feeling great. I gained some weight, and had been trying to eat less, but it just wasn’t working. We had been hearing about Tony Horton’s latest effort – P90X3, so I looked it up. All of the workouts are 30 minutes, which sounded so much more do-able. We started working out right before Christmas, but then took a break for the holidays. We felt the extra stress of squeezing workouts between family dinners and traveling wasn’t worth it. As soon as we got home from Christmas in Illinois, though – we started the program for real.


The program consists primarily of three three-week-long blocks with transition weeks in between. Each week includes 6 workouts, but the transition weeks are lower-intensity, presumably allowing your body to recover a bit. You don’t need a lot of equipment – we have a small variety of dumbbells, a doorway pull-up bar and yoga mats. The program works a lot of different muscle groups and puts a lot of emphasis on functional things like core strength, balance and flexibility that actually impact your everday health and well-being (not just make you a better athlete). I should also note that we aren’t doing the P90X diet or using shakeology, but we have been trying to eat healthier meals, and I’ve been focusing on smaller portions. After his workouts, David has been drinking chocolate milk, a good substitute for a protein shake.

Monday, December 29th was Day 1 and, yesterday was Day 45! We’re halfway through, and still going strong! In 6 weeks I think I’ve only missed 2 workouts. As we had hoped, it has been so much easier to find the time and energy for a 30 minute workout than an hour or more. I generally have more energy, I’m getting fewer headaches and my clothes are fitting better. I will say, though – I’m a little disappointed that I haven’t lost any weight – not a pound. Sure I’m building muscle, and my waist is smaller, but I’d like to see the number on my scale drop, too.

Sometimes I wonder if 30 minutes is long enough, but Tony has repeatedly assured us that it is (at this point we’ve memorized many of his lines). We’ve got 45 days to go, and I’ve made a few additional diet changes, so time will tell if weight loss is in the cards. If you’re dealing with some of the same issues and looking for a workout program you can actually stick with – so far, I’d definitely recommend P90X3. And while I’m not completely dreading tonight’s Eccentric Lower workout, I’m really looking forward to that lower-intensity transition week next week!

Farmers are People

Last Saturday as a calf took its first breath there were cheers and big smiles among a small crowd welcoming her to the world. A couple of women driving by had seen our heifer calving and stopped along the road to watch. After a little while (the heifer had been pushing for about an hour), we decided to assist the birth, and at that time, the women watching pulled into our driveway, stopped and walked down along the fence to observe a little closer. I told them I didn’t mind at all, said a silent prayer that all would go well (especially given the audience), and started pulling. After she arrived, I informed our guests that the new calf was a girl (see the photo on Facebook). They watched for a few more moments as the new mama started to clean her calf off, and then thanked us and went on their way. We share our story on social media, but words and pictures do not make an experience – we got to show these two passersby more of the real story – the way we interact with our cattle, the way they interact with us, and the miracle of a new life, in this case a future milk cow.

In stark contrast, this Saturday I posted a photo on my Instagram account of two of our “getter-outer” cows standing by the gate by our milk barn. I noted that these two didn’t like where we put our fences, but they still wanted to be milked (I opened the gate, and they walked right in – no persuasion required). Without thinking I used a hashtag (#milktruth) that was apparently being monitored by a rather angry set of vegans. I almost immediately started receiving comments about stealing babies and milk and being “fake” for claiming to care about our cattle. When I took the photo, I was standing in the rain doing exactly what these cows wanted me to do, so forgive me for my confusion. One user was so amped up over my post that she posted disrespectful and insulting (and untrue) comments on several of my other pictures before I was felt it was necessary to block her.

I’m not opposed to a difference of opinion, and I strive to allow productive discussion on all of my social media sites. After all, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job as a farmer or a writer if my opinions and practices cannot stand up to challenges; however, I will not approve comments that are disrespectful, slanderous or vulgar, and I will not hesitate to block someone who is clearly on the attack. There’s nothing productive about that situation. They don’t care what I have to say, and at that point, I don’t much care for their input either.

So what’s the difference? When a person witnesses our work face to face, they are polite and respectful. No question is off-limits, and we give the best honest answers we can. When a person (albeit one with a pre-conceived agenda to attack what we do) sees us posting about our work on the internet, though, they are rude and often vulgar. I often wonder, have they forgotten that on the other side of another screen is a person? Would the discussion go differently face to face? Maybe not, but perhaps the anonymity of the internet allows them to ignore the humanity of the people on the other side.

cow selfie
Me and my cow Flurry a few days before she had her first calf.

Most farms are family owned, and they’re managed by the same people out there busting their backs every day. In case you didn’t know this, farmers are people. I didn’t realize it had to be said, but apparently it does. We’re people (even those of us who use social media), just like you. We work, we play, we win, we lose, we laugh, we cry, we struggle, but we try. Every single day we try to do our best – at home, in the barn, and in between. We try to make a living. We try to build a legacy. We try to care for our land and our animals in the best way possible. We try to do all things in a way that lets us sleep well at night. We are not perfect, but we are people.

Christmas in the Country

Last month I participated in the Christmas in the Country gift exchange with other rural/farming bloggers from across the country. I was hesitant to take on another thing, but I am so glad I decided to particpate! I feel fortunate to have been paired (as a giver and receiver) with two women I hadn’t previously interacted with. Not only did I get a really cool gift, but I got to “meet” two new blogging friends!

I had no idea when I would be receiving a gift or who/where it was coming from. On December 22nd I received a package from Darcy Sexson in Oregon, and I loved it.  Darcy had read my blog and Facebook page and put a lot of thought into sending things I would like. Her gift included some items representing her home state of Oregon and her background with cattle – a small bottle of Pendleton Whiskey, a Genex beef calendar including several photos she had taken, and some Genex gloves. It also included some Holstein/dairy themed items to fit my interests – a mailbox flag, some Bonnie Mohr cards, and some hand soap (trust me, if you’ve been to a dairy, you know this is related). And then Darcy threw in several items that she described as some of her favorite things – lip balm, lip gloss, bracelets, a scarf, and butter fingernail polish (or is that one part of the dairy-related gifts, too?).


Christmas Gift
The items I recieved from Darcy – I had trouble fitting them all in a picture!

The lip balm and gloves have been getting daily use – little did Darcy know that I had been complaining about the lack of gloves, or rather the tendency of gloves to disappear if they are abandoned for even a moment, because everyone at the farm uses the same yellow gloves in the winter.  So far, so good – no one has “borrowed” my new Genex gloves yet, and having two pairs (one was supposed to be for David, sorry honey…) has proved handy because I always have a dry pair.

The lip gloss has found a permanent home in my purse, and I love Bonnie Mohr’s art – the cards are so pretty, I’m not sure I can use them! I think I’ll be finding a way to display these instead. Then there is the mailbox flag. Another thing I’m sure Darcy didn’t know is that our current mailbox has seen better days. Our stock trailer and bale trailer and milk hauler have all made contact a few times in the past several months, so we’ve got a new mailbox sitting in our garage just waiting for us to remember to buy a post for it when we’re in town and get it installed, a little further back from the road this time, to try to avoid a repeat of any of the aforementioned contact. The new mailbox is boring, though – but no more! This flag is just what it needed.

Thank you so much to Darcy for the thoughtful gifts. You can check out her blog and website at

Also, I sent a gift to Kaitlyn O’Neal in the Texas Panhandle – you can find her blog at I hope she enjoyed the items I sent as much as I am enjoying the gift from Darcy.

And of course, I owe a big thank you to the women behind the scenes, the hosts of the Christmas in the Country Gift Exchange:

Jamie – This Uncharted Rhoade

Laurie –  Country LINKed

Robyn – The Ranch Wife Chronicles

Erin – Diaries From the Dirt Road

Christmas in the Country


Work: Is it a four letter word?

Anyone who can both count and spell knows that work is in fact a four letter word. My point (in this post at least) isn’t to call into question the general public’s ability to count and spell, but rather I’m wondering – when did work change from something we were proud of or passionate about to one those four letter words. You know, the kind you can’t say around your grandparents?

I understand that our culture values leisure and entertainment, but Americans used to value work. Is there not room for both? I heard on a tv commercial the other night that the American dream is to get rich quick – funny, I thought it was to take advantage of the opportunity to improve your position in life, and provide further opportunity for your children, through hard work – blood, sweat and tears – perhaps earning enough to become rich, over time, through hard work…clearly, I missed something in history class.

Or maybe I didn’t. Maybe, sometime in the last few decades, our priorities shifted. What’s the point? Well, I don’t mind work – I kind of like it. I was raised to put effort into things and to take pride in the results. I also don’t think there is shame in earning a living using both your physical and mental resources. I think our culture and our country have strayed from their core values. I hear the statement “That’s too much work” or some similar sentiment all too often.

Now I’m not saying that everyone should be working their weekends away, nor do I think that only physical labor is valuable – clearly my engineering degree would be a waste if I did. I just think it might not be so terrible to invest time that isn’t required to earn a paycheck to accomplish something of value or heaven forbid, to sacrifice something superficial to achieve something you can be proud of. Are we so afraid of failing that we refuse to take a risk and invest a piece of ourselves in something that matters?

When leaving my office on Friday, I am commonly asked about my weekend plans, and my typical answer is “just milking cows” (a pretty extreme simplification, but much easier than going into details about feeding and calving and such). Based on the reaction of some you would think that doing something resembling work on the weekend were the equivalent of having a root canal while squirrels chew on your feet and acid drips on your forehead and spiders crawl all over your body, all while being forced to listen to Joe Buck and Dick Vitale narrate golf. Ugh…sounds horrible, right?

My husband, David, standing proudly in front of our first-ever 200 bu/acre corn. This year’s weather helped a lot, but he also put a lot of research and effort into improving our yields.

The fact is, dairy farming is an everyday job. No, it is not easy. No, it is not glamorous. Yes, it is a huge commitment. No, we cannot go on vacation without finding people to do most of the work. Some days everything doesn’t go right. A lot of days we’re exhausted when we walk through the door. In spite of all the perceived negatives, two and a half years ago David and I decided to give this dairy thing a go. We’ve invested everything we have – financially, physically and emotionally – into building this farm, this business. In all honesty, failing at something we’ve put this much into is really terrifying, but even more terrifying is never trying it, never knowing if we could. We don’t do this because we have to – we’ve chosen to do this because we want to – we think it has value, and we take pride in it. What’s so bad about that?

I guess what I’m saying is that I want the old America back – the one where people were proud to achieve things that were hard. I long for the America that stood for something, that at the end of the day had a clean conscience and dirt under its fingernails, whose citizens were proud to call her home. I want to live in a culture where people aren’t afraid to truly chase their dreams, even at great cost. I want to live in an America that thinks work is the four letter word that makes your grandparents proud of you.

I don’t think that America, that culture, is gone, but it sure feels like she’s been forgotten.


Lessons in Advocacy from the AgChat Cultivate and Connect Conference

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the AgChat Foundation’s 2014 Cultivate and Connect Conference in Austin, TX. I attended the organization’s Agvocacy 2.0 Conference two years ago in Kansas City and learned a lot, but I was feeling like a needed a refresher, something to get my creative juices flowing and inspire me to write (if you haven’t noticed its been a while since I last blogged).

This conference was just what I needed. After a whirlwind trip to Austin, I came home energized, my mind practically spinning with all of the ideas I gleaned from the conference. Unfortunately, I also came home to a project deadline at work and a very busy season at the farm, and all those ideas and energy had to be put on the back-burner. Life is returning to normal, though, and I’ve finally found some time to write. Forgive my delay, but the lessons learned from this conference still warrant sharing.

Lesson 1: Listen

Too often, we as farmers and advocates tell people what we think they want to know, or worse, what we think they need to know, regardless of the information they’re actually looking for. We dismiss their concerns and correct misinformation with facts, but our talking points aren’t cutting it. Instead, we might take a few minutes to listen to what people are actually asking. Then, we can address their concerns by conveying the information they’re actually interested in, and in the process we might also build a little trust.

For example, lets say a consumer asks me about milk quality. I, as a dairy farmer, might explain the concerns to my operation like reducing somatic cell counts or on-farm antibiotic testing, but what quality means to the consumer might be totally different. They may be concerned about milk’s nutritional value for their kids or the care that our cows receive. Quality doesn’t mean the same thing to every person.

Lesson 2: Be Respectful

I think respect is a problem for both sides of the conversation. In fact, I think respect is a problem for our society in general, but that is likely a topic for another time and place. Regarding the conversation about food and farming, we can only affect the consumer’s attitude by changing our own. After we listen to their questions or concerns, we need to respond in a way that does not insult their values or beliefs. Though they may be misinformed, our customers aren’t uneducated or ignorant. Being dismissive of information a person believes comes from a reliable source can strain the conversation. Providing accurate information also may not immediately change a person’s perspective, but being respectful of the fact that not everyone will see things the way that you do can help move the needle toward a more informed understanding of your perspective. If you expect consumers to respect you, you have to respect them first.

So let’s say the consumer from the example above is concerned about cow care/comfort. Instead of explaining that healthy cows produce more milk, so I’m going to take good care of them even if I’m a greedy jerk, I should probably keep in mind that last week Mercy for Animals released a video that they claimed was representative of the dairy industry as a whole. Instead of being defensive, I could explain to the person that the owners of that farm were shocked and appalled by the video as well and sent their cows to other farms immediately to protect the animals’ safety. The owners felt certain, as do I, that the farms that took those cows in (and the vast majority of dairies in this country) treat their cattle well. I might add that our two part time employees were trained to handle cattle safely and effectively as soon as they started working for us.

Lesson 3: Build Connections

Connecting is where it all comes together. When advocating, we need to remember to be human, which we obviously are (right?). Talking points and scientific facts may make sense to you, but to some they sound like the industry agenda. When you get the chance, listen to what consumers say and be respectful, as already stated, but then find common ground. Ask questions to determine the real issue and try to connect your answer to something that you both believe in or value. Connecting in this way is powerful. These days we too often get lost in the anonymity of the internet, but if you work at it real human connections can be made, even via social media.

If I ask our example consumer more about their concerns, I might find out that they think the 100 cows we milk is a lot, and they are concerned that we can’t provide individualized care that they feel the animals deserve. To that I might respond that on our farm, we usually wean calves in small groups between 2 and 6 animals (they are individually housed up to that point).  As they get older (and their specialized needs are reduced), their groups get larger.  But even in our largest group (our milking herd), our cows are cared for based on their individual needs. Each of our employees, David and myself know most of the cows by both number and name (if they have one).

By building trust in this way, at some point in my relationship or conversation with this person I might also be able to let them know that Mercy For Animals is a group with an alternative agenda of promoting a vegan lifestyle.  In order to discourage dairy consumption in general, they search out bad actors in our industry to paint a picture for the public that I believe differs from reality. If I’ve listened, been respectful and made an honest connection, I might even change the person’s mind.

Group photo at the conclusion of the conference.
Group photo at the conclusion of the conference.

My favorite thing about this conference was that it wasn’t really about educating attendees. It was about developing relationships, sharing ideas and learning from each other. If we can do the same when advocating, we might just change the tone of the food and farming conversation.


An Empty Porch

On February 13, 2002 Waylon Jennings passed away. That same day a border collie delivered a litter of puppies. Two of the females landed at this farm – their names were Willie and Waylon.

I first met Waylon in 2009, already an old dog; Willie had been gone a long time. Waylon must’ve taken after her fathers breed, whatever that was because while she looked like a border collie, she never acted like one. She was a loyal friend to anyone who would pet her and a fearless guardian of the back porch (mostly against cats). The only active job she held was to chase the milk truck out of the drive every other day. She survived many canine friends – Willie (her sister), Shamus (her son), A lab, Elvis, a stray yellow dog, another Willie, and Chief.

She didn’t always win the battle against the cats, but if she couldn’t see them, she could pretend they weren’t there.

I can’t imagine a better companion than Waylon. Every day she greeted me with a wagging tail and a head to pet whenever I came or went. She was always content unless there was thunder or gunfire or fireworks nearby – then you would see her heading for a hiding spot long before you heard the sound for yourself.

Waylon even helped with calves at night when we had to feed electrolytes…she was waiting patiently for the calf to finish so that I could pet her.

Every weekend she helped me feed the hut calves, meaning she watched for my hands to be idle long enough to pet her and when the calves finished drinking, she liked them to suck on her fur, which they usually did. Baby calves were far and away Waylon’s favorite part of the dairy. She could always be counted on to accompany a calf as it was carried to it’s new home, often inspecting the hut or pen before you set the calf in.

Waylon’s last evening. She had obviously not been feeling well for a few days, but for just a few minutes while the sun was warming her coat, she looked really happy.

On July 3rd, 2014 we said goodbye to our friend. She had lived at this farm longer than any other animal or person currently living here. This truly was Waylon’s dairy. Her presence was constant and her absence is too. Right now our hearts ache and the farm feels empty.

The day after Waylon died, a calf was born. Her mom’s name is Jess, so her official name is Jennings, but we think we’ll call her Waylon – we’re not sure the farm can survive without one.

They don’t look much alike, but we know that Waylon the dog would’ve loved Waylon the calf.