The Winter That Won’t End

Keeping our cows and calves safe and healthy in the cold and snow


It’s snowing AGAIN here at Sawyer Land & Cattle in Central Kansas. It’s been years since we’ve dealt with this much snow in one winter, but Mother Nature has decided that we need to live like Canadians (no insult to those north of the border).

The cold wouldn’t be so alarming but winter is also the time we welcome new baby calves to the farm. Between the first of January and end of March, our mother cows will deliver a couple hundred baby calves, and it’s our job to make sure they are safe, healthy and, most importantly, warm and dry. Cows have, for centuries, endured the cold and snow so they are built to endure this weather, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help make winter a little more bearable.


A cow’s instincts work well in this weather. As soon as a mother delivers a new calf she begins licking the calf dry and encouraging it to get up and suck. If all of that happens within the first few hours of birth, the calf’s chances of survival are good. If the calf fails to get up or the mother never gets the calf dry and fed then the cold can quickly take over. It’s our job to ensure our mother cows are doing their job – and thankfully we have a herd of great moms.

This year we created a fully enclosed space in our barn for our first-time mothers to deliver. This is an extra step to further protect our novice moms and keep them out of the elements while they figure out this new thing called motherhood.

Two new momma cows and a baby calf enjoy the comforts of our enclosed calving barn.

For cows in our pastures, we provide windbreaks (in the form of trees or buildings) and dry straw to help protect the cows from the wind, moisture and cold ground.

The final piece of keeping our ladies and babies safe and healthy during winter weather is proper nutrition. Cows – like people- produce their own body heat to keep warm – fun fact, a cow with snow on her back is warmer than a cow with melted snow – but that takes a lot of energy and calories. We feed our cows a grain-based, energy-rich diet that provides them the calories to grow a baby calf and keep themselves warm. That means we’re on meal duty 7-days a week, rain or shine!

The farmer hubs and his father make the rounds and check on every cow on the farm at least once a day. Those momma cows we know are due to deliver anytime are checked on multiple times a day. We aim to interfere in the natural birthing process as little as possible but are always ready and willing to step in when needed. Winter is busy on our farm, but a few inches of snow or ice means extra work and attention for our cows is necessary – but most definitely worth it.

Girl Power and Girl Bosses

11.2.18 Phillips County Vet
Veterinarian and owner of Black Dog Veterinary Services, Alissa Kirchhoff, stands in the home she has turned into an office in rural Phillips County.

I participate in a lot of tours. Normally I’m planning a tour for my boss or I’m hosting a tour on my farm for city folks. But today I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed touring Phillips County, Kansas, with a group of smart, caring and awesome ladies who simply want to make their businesses and communities better.

During the tour we had an opportunity to see four different ladies in action – at their place of work, showing us what they do and why they love living in rural America. We discussed policy implications, opportunities and financial concerns, but the conversation kept coming back to “what more can we do?” “how can we be more intentional with our resources?” and “how do we keep rural America alive and well?”

This tour wasn’t about women’s rights or women empowerment, but what I took away from it was how great these women bosses were and how important their work was to the future of their families and their communities.

The “woman” conversation has been ongoing for a while, sparked by the 2016 presidential election and fueled by the #MeToo movement, supreme court nominees and a general push toward a more modern form of feminism that aims to have a woman in every boardroom and parity in every state and federal elected body. However, I feel the conversation has largely been absent in much of rural America. We’ve all been listening – it’s hard to miss – but I haven’t seen many of my fellow farm wives and small town moms adding to the conversation.

Today I realized why, too many rural women are too busy running businesses, caring for kids, serving on boards and finding ways to uplift one another. The group of ladies assembled in small town Phillipsburg, Kan., today included a veterinarian, two nurses, a school teacher, a nursing home administrator and a sixth-generation farm wife running a large-scale hog operation. These women get sh** done and they do with style and grace (literally good style because of the super cute boutique in Phillipsburg Kan.). They spend their days earning paychecks, caring for kids, playing taxi and now and then taking the time to come together to fundraise for a school project, plan a community event or lend their expertise to an on-going issue.

These women aren’t looking to government to mandate they have a seat at the table, they’re making their own networks, finding their own opportunities and discovering new paths to success. And they do it with busy husbands, limited resources and an optimism that is contagious.

I believe too many women in America are having the wrong conversation, it shouldn’t be how can we, as women, make ourselves equal to men but rather how can women use our unique talents to grow businesses, enhance our communities and bring people together? The women of Phillips County are doing it and it makes me proud to call them friends.

5 Reasons To Love a Farmer

It’s Valentine’s Day so while it is not the only day to express my love for my Farmer, it’s a good day to remind others why it’s great to have a Farmer for a valentine. I’ll admit, being married to a farmer is never easy, but there are so many great parts of being a farm wife, living the farm life and waking up with a farmer each morning.

1. They are care takers: Before we had kids, my husband was already taking care of babies, animals and living things all around our farm. I appreciated his willingness to stay up all night with a newborn calf or slosh through mud to help a mother cow that was having trouble giving birth. He showed me early and often he knew how to care for others.

2. They drive big tractors: While the appeal of a tractor has diminished slightly over the years, the idea that my husband gets to command big trucks, huge tractors and even bigger combines is always something worth bragging about. The best part is they all come with buddy seats so there is always room for me to hitch a ride (and maybe even enjoy a date night in the field).

3. They don’t have an 8-5 gig: I always say my husband is flexible but not always available. He doesn’t report to an office and doesn’t punch a time clock which means he can get away from the farm when he needs or wants. It’s not always that simple but if there is something I want him to join me for or need him to attend to, there’s no asking the boss for vacation time.

4. They can fix anything: My husband may not be as skilled in the “fixin” department as others but he usually has the tool, trick or duct tape to jimmy rig about anything you need. The one thing he can’t do – patch the holes in his jeans or replace the buttons on his shirts. I’m guessing sewing is one skill he won’t be picking up anytime soon.

5. They have big hearts: The last but certainly not least reason I love being married to a farmer is their big hearts, kind souls and Midwest manners that make them gentleman and all around great guys. Most of my husband’s farmer friends are great husbands and fathers as well. Farmers grew up learning the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to pitch in when it’s needed. Farmers are some of the best people you’ll get a chance to meet – as long as you don’t mind a little mud on their shoes.

Want to reach more about life with a farmer hubs, check out some of these great blogs by fellow farm wives:

Distance Distorts Understanding

Conveniences in food purchasing and preparation are leading to continued decline in connection to agriculture

Combine and grain cart

We Americans want it all. We want the big paychecks and the 40-hour work week. We want well behaved kids but don’t want to tell them no. We want big houses but little upkeep. And we want the trendiest, healthiest and riches foods but none of the input required to get it to the table.

Today’s culture has become obsessed with cooking and all things food. We have multiple television channels devoted to cooking and culinary trends. Food retails were responsible for more than $500 billion in sales in 2016 and just recently, retail giant Amazon jumped into the grocery market, buying Whole Foods and sending shock waves through the industry.

But like all things in our busy lives, we don’t seem to actually have time to shop for and prepare these amazing foods we are insisting be found on our dinner table. Heck, we hardly have time to sit down and enjoy a meal. Grocery stores now offer online ordering and curb side delivery and if you can’t possibly make it to the parking lot, a dozen or so new companies specialize in delivering meal kits directly to our homes.

While all of this convenience is nice, it’s also a bit worrisome. At a time when we have become so entrenched in dictating food policy and eating habits not just of ourselves but others – see article on school districts reducing meat consumption of its students – we are farther removed than ever from the people, places and systems that grow our food and deliver it to the table.

I’m certainly not one to point fingers. I just polished off a frozen microwave meal and handed my children Eggo waffles as they walked out the door this morning. But I still believe in cooking and making the weekly trek to the grocery store to personally pull the boxes and cans from the shelves and throw them into the back of my always dirty car. And being married to a farmer, I get to witness each part of the growing and harvesting process. Today less than 2% of the country’s population shares my experience and understanding of the food system and that’s too few.

That decline in direct connection to food has been in stark contrast to the uptick in regulations, proposals and pushes to label, stipulate and mandate ingredients, growing practices and preparation techniques. We want unblemished products from untreated seeds and unprotected plants. We want healthy and balanced ready in 30 minutes and for less than $5 per person. We want our farmers and ranchers to raise products using outdated and ineffective growing practices but want to use 21st century technology to deliver it the next day to our kitchen table.

As American consumers, we have access to the most abundant, healthy and affordable food supply on the planet. Nowhere else can people enjoy so much for so little. But our push to move technology out of the field but onto our kitchen table has further distorted most consumers’ views and understanding of how food is raised and impacts our bodies and overall health. We want to see all Americans with equal access to all things healthy and gourmet but we don’t want to see farms grow or consolidate to realize the efficiencies necessary to produce affordable grains, beef and dairy products. People who have never in so much as peeled a potato want to tell others how and what to eat.

American consumers cannot continue to take a hands-off approach to purchasing and preparing food but insist on dictating how our farmers raise their crops and others get their nutrients. If consumers want to make decisions on meals, they need to be more involved in the growing of the food. But the more we walk away from buying and preparation, the most uneducated and uninformed we all become in regards to our food.

The Tale of Two Disasters

Wildfire 2
A hole remains where a bridge once stood – destroyed by a wildfire that burned nearly all of the grass acres on this ranch in Clark County, Kan. 

Twelve hours after witnessing, first-hand, the devastation wrought by fire and wind, I turned on the television to reports of sleet, snow and blizzard conditions.

These were two separate natural disasters, one predicted, reported and planned for, the other unforeseen, nearly unimaginable and deadly.

Last week, more than 10 counties in Kansas fell victim to wildfires with Oklahoma and Texas also fighting blazes. The exact causes of the fires are still under investigation but dry conditions, heavy winds and low humidity created an atmosphere ripe for a blaze. Ranchers across southern and western Kansas were caught unaware and largely unprepared. The fire leveled homes, metal buildings, vehicles and animals. Hundreds of thousands of acres of pasture were blackened and thousands of animals were killed or so injured that owners were forced to put them down. The scars of the fire are still visible and daunting and the recovery will take months, if not years.

A week after the fires, the Northeast is experiencing a late winter storm that is dumping cold, wind and snow. Public transportation has slowed, offices and the government are abbreviating operating hours and people are being asked to stay home and stay warm. Meteorologists saw the storm coming and municipalities were able to treat roads, close schools and reschedule events. Some estimates predict 18 million people will be impacted but no fatalities have been reported.

The fires in the Midwest and the blizzard in the east are two separate but not equal disasters. Television reports would lead you to believe the blizzard will handicap and devastate the I-95 corridor when in fact, life will likely return to normal in a matter of days. But the farmers and ranchers still sorting through injured animals, broken fences and piles of ashes that were once homes, have received little to no national attention. No major television networks giving hour-by-hour updates or ticker tape read outs of the economic impact of the fires. Instead volunteers from far and wide, many livestock owners or farmers themselves, have trekked to Clark County and other impacted areas to donate their time, energy and resources to help the rebuilding efforts. There are few federal dollars helping the recovery and municipalities in the region are too small to provide any substantial level of support or service.

Federal dollars will be slow to arrive to the fire victims – as most are funneled through FEMA, which cannot help these types of situations – and what few disaster programs exist will only cover a fraction of the lost income and future revenue sources. The fires will completely change some ranches and force those who have lived off the land for their entire lives to find other sources of employment.

Burnt remains of a metal building lay in a pile to be removed. The wildfire that destroyed pastures and killed livestock also decimated homes, offices and sheds. 

Meanwhile, those living in the Northeast will return to work Wednesday, having had a day to rest, recoup and let the storm pass them by. Federal and state dollars will power snowplows, tree trimmers and salt trucks to lessen the burden on residents.

We often hear about the invisibility of the “fly over states” but the timeliness of these two disasters only proves to illustrate the resilience and determination of Rural America. No warnings to help them prepare and evacuate, no public dollars to clear away the debris and no minute-by-minute updates to inform the nation of the devastation. Just hardworking families and farmers working tirelessly to rebuild their homes, their businesses and their way of life.

If you want to help the victims of the recent fires, please use the link to below to donate online:


Any and all help will be appreciated.

Taking a Note From the Trump Campaign

Author’s Note: I must preface this article by emphasizing that this is in no way an endorsement of Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency. It is, however, a study of his ability to attract and ignite new voters.

In July 2015, Trump declared his candidacy for president of the United States while at the same time taking his first step into the country’s political sandbox. He has gone from New York businessman to presumptive GOP presidential nominee in less than a year, and seemingly broken every campaign rule along the way.

Now I am by no means an advocate for many of the tactics Trump has used to attract and retain his millions of loyal followers, but as a communications instructor and marketing professional, I cannot help but take note of his messaging success.

We in agriculture all seem to understand the goal, but too many consumers are still unaware of our mission and unwilling to listen to our point of view. Maybe it’s time we reassess how we conduct our own campaigns and take a few cues from the man who has made himself a household name.

The following are my five takeaways from Trump’s political playbook that I believe can help us in agriculture continue to connect with consumers and activists:

1. Connect with their issues. Trump has expanded the tent of the Republican Party by speaking to voters who previously felt abandoned and ignored. He specifically calls out the obstacles and difficulties people face and at the same time draws in voters who previously felt abandoned by the party and ignored during conversations.

As advocates, we must lead with empathy and meet consumers where they stand. It’s not about finger-pointing and name-calling but finding common ground and mutual understanding.

2. Find new faces. Trump’s ability to step outside of the traditional GOP talking points and policy stances has enabled him connect with millions of people who previously never felt embraced by the party and political system. These legions of new voters are now part of the conversation and the Republican electorate.

Many agriculture advocates can tell you which mommy bloggers or movie stars are anti-GMO or have spoken out against animal agriculture, but have no clue what their neighbor thinks about pesticide use and organic produce. Sadly, I’m guilty as charged. I often overlook the people in my daily orbit as I reach to connect with those outliers. Our conversations must start at home and travel with us to everyone we encounter.

3. Find your voice. In a sea of politically correct speech and party-approved talking points, Trump quickly rose to the top with his brash yet simplistic speeches and rallies. He has no stump speech he repeats at each rally or acronym-filled policy musings to fill the time. Instead he uses his own unique form of speech to simplify his message and drive home his thoughts.

Every one of us fighting for the future of agriculture has a unique story to tell. While we all have common interests and goals, our voices and approaches can and should remain our own. Use your own viewpoints and beliefs to connect with voters. It may not look or sound the same as the farmer next door, and that’s OK.

4. Always be willing to talk. Many have blamed the media for Trump’s rapid success, claiming their willingness to give him free air time and publicity has given him a clear advantage over others running for office.

Trump’s amazing amount of media coverage is largely the result of his willingness to speak with journalists anytime and anywhere. A reporter for The New York Times Magazine recently wrote a profile on Trump and revealed that Trump’s press secretary often travels with him and will simply hand the phone to Trump when a reporter calls asking for an interview. No games, appointments or worrying about the who and what. Trump simply takes the call and talks.

Few are comfortable enough to speak with reporters or members of the media at a moment’s notice, but we can all make ourselves more approachable and available. Take every opportunity to connect with reporters and tell your story, because if you don’t, someone else will. And it may not be the story you want told.

5. Bad hair, don’t care. Trump has risen to fame despite a head of hair that has been the butt of political jokes this entire election cycle. He owns his looks and doesn’t let a little comb-over get in his way. It’s part of his character and over-the-top persona.

None of us is perfect and we rarely look camera-ready, but that that shouldn’t prevent us from stepping up and stepping out. We’re all human. We all have unique characteristics that endear us to one another. We shouldn’t let our waistline or wrinkles prevent us from speaking out and sharing our story.

When we allow our imperfections to shine through, consumers will see that we are also just moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, trying to do our part to provide quality food for our families and theirs.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Kansas AgLand, published by The Hutchinson News. 

Ghost Towns and Cow Tales

A recent ‪KansasAgLand article by Amy Bickel showcases Evansville, a little known ‪‎Kansas ghost town, but a ranch and family near and dear to our farm. For years, my husband has purchased cattle from the Merrill Ranch, which sits on the site of Evansville.

Dee Scherick talks about a building that remains on the Merrill Ranch. The building at one time housed the post office and mercantile shop of short-lived Evansville.
Dee Scherick talks about a building that remains on the Merrill Ranch. The building at one time housed the post office and mercantile shop of short-lived Evansville.

I’ve been fortunate enough to make a few trips to the ranch and get to know Dee and Phyllis Scherich, who manage the Merrill Ranch. As technology becomes a larger part of the agriculture industry, articles like this are a nice reminder that the true backbone of farming and ranching is good land, hard working people and a passion for producing high quality food. Follow the link below for the full article.


Me and the little guy on his first plane ride to Florida.
Me and the little guy on his first plane ride to Florida.

My last blog entry was all about our wonderful mother cows and sometimes I look at them with empathy and sympathy – for any of your breastfeeding mothers out there you would cringe while watching a calf nurse. But I also see that their one and only goal is to keep their calves fed, safe and warm. Sometimes I envy the simplicity.

I am not only a mother but a full-time professional who balances work, motherhood, domestic duties and a few non-profit obligations on top of it all. Combine that with the fact my husband works 80-plus hours most weeks and I’m basically a single parent for a few months of the year.

This is one of those months. Outside of the normal work hours, my husband and his father split the night hours, checking the mother cows and calves every three hours. Sometimes that check takes 10 minutes and sometimes it leads to an all-nighter of babysitting expectant mothers and watching over newborn calves. Regardless of the number of hours my husband spends in bed each night, he gets up every morning to do it all over again.

I know I am not the only mother with a spouse who can’t make it home for dinner every evening or who is absent from the weekend activities and errands more often than not. I am fortunate in that I can call and visit my husband most days because while he isn’t at home, he’s right down the road. Some spouses are halfway across the world defending our country and our way of life – and to those individuals I tip my hat and offer a sincere thank you.

Outside of the stress of just trying to get it all done each day, going a day, evening or weekend without a spouse means there are no time outs or “me” time. You have no “other half” to watch the kids while you run to the grocery store or make the quick trip to the mall. There is no one to hand the kid off to for bath time or to read the same book for the 1,000th time. It’s you and them and only you and them.

But for all of the times I have grumbled about my situation because my husband is spending yet another Saturday at work, I have also learned to appreciate the irreplaceable one-on-one time I have with my son. I know all his habits, I can decipher his toddler language and can comfort him when something just isn’t going his way. Because we have spent so many mornings, evenings and weekends together, I am his go-to, his protector. And that’s pretty cool. Dad may have the keys to the tractor and access to the cows, but I have the ability to console him when he’s sick and find the blanket he’s misplaced.

I didn’t grow up hoping to find a husband who wouldn’t be home for dinner or away for entire nights and days at a time. But I love and respect what my husband does and I know he is living out his dream. For all the moments I want to complain and fight, I have to remember that there are millions of other women in my shoes and I am one of the lucky ones. Some are fortunate to have a spouse that will eventually return home. Some have forever lost their partner and others are simply hoping that one day they will have the opportunity to just be a parent. My situation may not be what I envisioned as a child but I know I have much to be thankful for.

It’s never easy juggling a job, friends, children, cooking, cleaning, laundry and extra obligations. But I count myself fortunate to have a wonderful little boy who enjoys my company because it’s only a matter of time before friends, sports and the farm will pull him in a million directions. I will never love the idea of going it alone but I have learned to appreciate the time I get to spend as a parent. It’s priceless and fleeting.

That’s My Farm

In addition to a new full-time job at the college in town, I recently embarked on another first, a role in front of the camera lens as one of the hosts of “That’s My Farm.”

The 30-minute segments features farmers and ranchers from across the great state of Kansas. As a host, I travel to farms and agri-businesses large and small to talk to the owners, learn their stories, share their successes and their hopes and dreams.

I’m still learning and am by no means a seasoned television host but the new opportunity has allowed me to meet some great people, learn a thing or two about cattle and crops and travel to new parts of my home state.

You can check out mine and other That’s My Farm segments at:

Giving Back

The following is an article recently printed in the Hillsboro (Kan.) Star-Journal. Doug is the hub’s father and a great man with a big heart. We will miss Mr. Penner. 

Trojan football players wield machetes for good

Summer weightlifting and conditioning sessions are staples of Kansas high school football. Machetes, however, are not.

When Hillsboro High School head coach Lance Sawyer told the team one morning during weightlifting they were going to be slashing volunteer corn out of a soybean field, Trojans seniors Justus Hilliard, Jakob Hanschu, and David Dick weren’t quite sure what to think.

“I think the first reaction I had was ‘What?’” Jakob said.

“I was kind of reluctant at first,” David said. “I didn’t really know how to respond to it. I didn’t know what to expect.”

The idea for the unorthodox workout came from Sawyer’s father, Doug, a McPherson County farmer. His friend and neighbor, Arden Penner, was in a Hutchinson hospice dying from cancer, and Penner’s soybean field needed one last cleaning.

“He thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to get out and work together,” Lance Sawyer said.

Four coaches and 21 players left Hillsboro at 6:30 a.m. for the farm, located southeast of McPherson. Doug Sawyer gave them an orientation, and machetes, when they arrived.

“He told us more of why we were doing this,” Justus said. “His friend had developed cancer and he was in the hospital and they were saying he didn’t have that long to live. He said he’s known for having one of the cleanest, best fields in Kansas, and he thought he would like to come by to see his field neatly cut before he died.”

Then the Trojans headed into the field, machetes in hand.

“Half of them had never been in a field before,” Sawyer said. “I guess they didn’t know what they were getting into.”

“It was humongous,” Justus said. “There were two of them, about 150 to 160 acres each.”

Jakob said the density of the corn was deceptive.

“It probably doesn’t look heavy, but it’s spread out, and there’s a lot in that area,” he said. “There were some areas we were hacking left and right, everywhere, and there were times I didn’t have anything in my row for as long as could be. We tried to stay in an even line so no plants would get left.”

“Once we got in the rhythm, it was actually kind of fun hacking away at the corn stalks,” David said.

As the day grew hotter and the players began to tire, another senior put things in perspective.

“Graham Pankratz brought up the fact that we were going to be in the heat the next week in shoulder pads, doing a lot more physical exercise, so we might as well get used to it,” David said.

The team cut corn from 7 a.m. to noon, took a break to eat 20 pizzas ordered by Doug Sawyer, then went back to work for two more hours.

“We did 320 acres in one day, so we walked probably about 11 miles,” Lance Sawyer said. “They loved it. The first four or five hours it was pretty good. Then they got tired.”

As fatigue set in, Jakob and Justus knew it was time for the seniors to step up.

“Walking up and down the rows isn’t the most exciting thing,” Jakob said. “That we kept going showed our freshmen they didn’t need to stop.”

“They knew they had to push through, and we had to tell them, ‘Hey, we’ve got this, guys,’” Justus said. “You could tell when their heads were getting down, and we were like, ‘Clear that out of your mind, let’s get this done.’”

The seniors may have earned respect for their leadership, but they were impressed with the underclassmen.

“Having done this with them, I think it shows they’ve already proven that they can work hard,” Jakob said. “For us, seeing that people under us are willing to work that hard, that’s going to make us have respect for them.”

Sawyer said the experience was a unique opportunity.

“How many times do those kids just talk for seven hours?” he asked. “They don’t do it. They’re all in groups outside of things like this, they all have their own friends.”

Jakob agreed with Sawyer.

“Being seniors, we kind of stick more to the senior class,” Jakob said. “This helped us reach out to the freshmen and sophomores, people we don’t hang around with as much. It helped us to get to know them a bit more, and that’s good for our team.”

Justus said the experience would help the Trojans during the season.

“I think when we’re struggling in a game we can reflect back on what we did and how we worked together for one goal, and just tell each other ‘Hey, remember what we did, we can do this now, we can win this game,’” he said.

The players never met Penner, who died Aug. 11, but they were glad they did something to help.

“We all felt really good afterward,” David said. “It wasn’t just for us, it was mainly for him. Knowing you did such a good thing warms your heart.”

“I feel good that we did that for him before he passed away,” Justus said.

Sawyer said the experience was all he hoped it would be for his players.

“Those kids get along so well, and chemistry isn’t going to be an issue this year,” Sawyer said.

You can find the article online at: