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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tuesday's Tutorial: Miniature Jerseys




As I indicated Monday in our Meet The Farmer Series, I knew very little about the Miniature Jersey breed of cattle when I bought my first trio of two, mature cows and a bull.  The information I found on the breed came from two official registries:  American Miniature Jersey Association  (AMJA) and International Miniature Cattle Breeders Society and Registry (IMCBS).  The information I found on those two sites, ten years ago, didn't answer all my questions.  I was curious to know more.  When I began searching for information by contacting what was then a small group of breeders,  I soon found out that there was A LOT of controversy.  Each registry seemed to have their own personal claims to the breed, and I sensed a strong dislike between the two groups. This was a definite "turn off" to me.
In some instances, their seemed to be some intentional deception regarding these animals by individual breeders regardless of registry (or lack thereof). Unfortunately, the high market price on these "rare" Jerseys sets the stage for dishonest breeders to try to profit from unsuspecting individuals.  Many people seem to gravitate toward the breed because they see potential for huge profits from the offspring.

It wasn't about any of that to me.  I soon found myself distancing myself from the political and backstabbing antics of some individuals involved in the world of Mini Jerseys.  I loved the smaller Jersey because it reminded me of that little cow that provided milk for our family when I was a child.  Because I was "blessed" with all bull calves for a little over two years, and because I needed heifers to grow my small dairy herd, I didn't have to try to market my Mini Jersey heifer calves.  This allowed me to distance myself from all of the contention.  While I register my animals, I do not participate in the drama that is often a part of discussions and groups regarding the Mini Jerseys.  (In addition to the various Mini Jersey groups attacking one another, I also found that some people who promote the standard size Jerseys didn't appreciate the Mini Jersey breeder's claims that these smaller cows had descended directly from the Isle of Jersey cows.  So there was that contention as well)  

From the beginning,  I knew that my involvement with the Mini Jerseys  would not be short lived. It was important to me to provide as accurate a pedigree as possible for those who might own my cattle or the descendants of my herd.  Since my cattle were already registered with AMJA, I decided to continue my registration with them.  ( I had considered a dual registration with IMCBS and a later registry, the  Miniature Jersey Herd Book and Registry and may go that route some day.)  With that said,  registries are only as honest as the people who participate in using them.    

My goal is to provide accurate information regarding the animals under my care; provide quality, healthy animals that have good temperaments; as well as to introduce some new blood into the gene pool.  (Upon beginning with this breed, it quickly became apparent to me that the gene pool  was entirely too small to be healthy.)  In my opinion, there is no "right" or "wrong" about the individual choices of Miniature Jersey breeders and what animals they choose to include in their breeding programs.  Integrity comes from correctly and honestly identifying those animals that are used for breeding so that buyers can access the information and make conscious choices about what they want to do with their own breeding programs.





While I am not currently a member of the Miniature Jersey Herd Book and Registry, I appreciate their take on the history of the breed and have borrowed their description because I think it most honestly describes the process by which we came to have Miniature Jersey Cattle.  From their ABOUT US section:

 ****Research into the history of these smaller dairy cows reminds us that the original old fashioned Jerseys were first imported into this country as "Old World" standard Jerseys around 1850 or so, from the British Isle of Jersey (Alderney) in the UK. Many people have taken credit for their existence here in America and importation into this country with much being unverifiable, so it will not be repeated here. However, we do know that the original imported Jerseys were not as tall as the typical standard Jersey we see in American commercial dairies today.

One man in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Ralph Martin (deceased), was a verifiable person who began collecting the smaller Jersey cows locally from obscure farms, sale barns or auctions and bringing their numbers to popularity. Mr. Martin himself, never once imported any cattle. Per Dorothy (Mrs. Martin) and others, there was no "Old Man Snow" who supposedly sold Mr. Martin his first miniature Jersey cattle. This is only a legend and repeated from site to site with no validation. Mr. Martin had a good eye for cattle and located his stock, from neighboring farms and sale barns, then began breeding them himself.

Another is Mr. Nathan Harris who is still breeding little dairy cows today at his farm in Virginia. He partnered with Martin on many occasions to search for and purchase these little dairy cows.  Together they both have multiplied and preserved the original small Jersey type dairy cows. These men would be known as the original godfathers of this breed.
Others have followed in their footsteps though, as interest increased. Mr. Martin and Mr. Harris located, bred and sold as many "Guinea Jerseys" (smaller Jerseys) as they could find and did some cross breeding with them as well. Some people considered Guinea Jerseys the original smaller Jerseys while others say that the Guinea's were "throwbacks" and survivors from the Depression Era. There is no evidence to document the story of the "Guinea" Jersey, even today.
Dorothy (Miss Dot, now deceased), Martin's wife, shared with me before her death that Ralph never once registered a single cow that he owned or sold. He rarely even named them, except for his favorites. So, some of his lineages were original smaller Guinea Jerseys from the 1940's to 1950's that were descendants from or survived the Depression Era. (Any of the Guinea Jersey descendants that we see today, came out of the Depression Era and were mostly smaller because of malnourishment. The ones that did survive this period of time, gave birth to scrawny, smaller calves. It is because of this lack of nutrition, that they remained smaller and were given the pen name "Guinea Jerseys' . )
For the most part, the original imported smaller or Guinea Jerseys are a thing of the past, yet a few still remain in the lineages of our cattle today. And since Mr. Martin never registered any cattle, it is hard to determine with certainty, the purity or lineage of any cattle claimed to have been his or sold by him, yet many will claim stock from his farm.. His son Ansley Sr. and Martin's wife both confirmed this to me directly. Many breeders today still lay claim to cattle purchased from or having "Martin" bloodlines in their stock, but again, there is no proof of any purity or lineages in most of these animals.
There are other breeders who later bred Jerseys to other naturally smaller dual purpose or beef breeds such as Dexter (called "Belmonts" or "Belfairs"), Lowline Angus. Galloway, British Whites and even Zebu's, etc., which brought the original medium size of the imported Jerseys down in some offspring, to what we now call the "miniature" version of Jersey cows. These very small sizes do not naturally appear in nature, but have on occasion happened as a fluke of nature, as with any breed. They were considered "runts" in the UK when born this small naturally and destroyed. This crossing also gave these little dairy cows their "polled" genetics as well as introduced "pink" noses in some cattle. True, original island Jersey cattle have black noses and horns, without exception! Polling in heritage Jersey Island bulls has only recently become popular there for exportation of semen.
So, most of the smaller sizes we have today in America are what I would call a "designer breed". These "miniature" cattle were never imported from anywhere...they were created and bred HERE in the USA about 30 years ago. This has also been documented by David Hambrook, President of the Royal Jersey Historical and Agricultural Society on the Isle of Jersey. There have always been smaller sized Jersey cattle since the original importation, but those were rarely, if ever, under 42" in height at maturity and certainly not 36" at maturity! Please do the research and you will find the truth, as I did.
When these miniature cattle were produced by crossbreeding smaller standard Jersey cows with a naturally small beef type or dual purpose bulls, the offspring were then bred to other smaller crossed Jersey cattle, and sometimes "line bred" or "inbred" to try to preserve the miniature characteristics while also maintaining the dairy qualities of the natural Jerseys. This process of crossing, then breeding back to others of higher purity, takes many, many years of producing to achieve a consistency in the breed. And this is also why today, that one can breed a miniature to another miniature yet get a mid-sized offspring. Genetics still play a huge part!  
Though perhaps not quite as small as some are now because of breeding with other small breeds of beef/dual purpose cattle to create even smaller cows, the original Jersey was not as tall as they are today in the typical commercial dairy operations and they still reign as the smallest of the dairy breeds…neither did they produce as much milk as the commercial sized cows, which made them perfect for home use. Our purebred standard Jerseys of today are typically about 2"-3" taller than they were when first imported in the 1800's. Once here, they were sometimes bred “up” with larger dairy breeds to produce more milk for commercialization of this industry.  The smaller cows produced just enough milk or meat for a small family to consume quickly. With the invention of refrigeration, the small Jersey cows became obsolete once again, yet  numbers of them have always remained scattered throughout our nation and descendants can still be found in dairies today. *****
 I have some Mini Jersey cattle that are papered as "directly descended" from some of the original cows registered with AMJA.  However, because I saw the necessity of including new blood into the gene pool, I have taken small, registered standard Jerseys and bred them to Miniature Jerseys for several generations, producing what is considered Native Pure by AMJA.  I have been fortunate enough to find registered, standard Jerseys (American Jersey Cattle Association) that meet the height requirements for AMJA Mini Jersey Status. Fortunately, when the registry changed hands, the new registrar for AMJA acknowledged  the need for new blood and allowed animals that were three years of age (meeting the height requirements specified) to be registered as Foundation Pure with this registry.  (Please note that these animals will clearly show the standard Jersey genetics in their background on their registrations so that buyers can make informed choices regarding their purchases.) Although I did experiment with crossing Mini Jerseys and non Jersey breeds of cattle for a while, I soon decided to sell those animals and discontinue crossing the Jerseys with the beef breeds.  It was important for me to breed in as much small, registered, standard Jersey blood as possible to improve conformation and milk lines and Jersey status. 


***From AMJA's page regarding the up breeding program:



The breeder can work with the percentage animals and gradually breed them up to the status known as Native Pure (bred in this country) when they reach 7/8 or more Miniature Jersey blood. This is known as the Miniature Jersey Upbreeding Program. ***

Depending on what registry you decide to use, the height on these small cows varies a bit.  Both registries break the cows down into two groups:  Mini and Mid Mini.  Both registries have set the height of 42 inches and under as standard for the Mini.  The difference lies in the maximum height on the mid mini cattle.  AMJA designates 46 inches as being the maximum height at three years of age, whereas IMCBS designates the maximum height as 48 inches.  

As you can see from this brief overview of the Mini Jersey Breed, there are differences in opinion on various issues.  I like to encourage people to educate themselves by reading the information from all three registries. (Links provided throughout this post)  It also doesn't hurt to join some of the group discussions (even simply as an observer) so as to familiarize yourself with some of the areas of contention/disagreement as well as gain knowledge.  In the end, the individual has to decide what is most important for their situation.  Many people are not really interested in fancy pedigrees and claims that their cattle are of great historical significance.  In fact, a lot of people, like me, are drawn to this breed because their smaller stature reminds them of little Jersey family cows they knew in their childhood, because they don't need more than two or three gallons of milk a day for their family's needs, or because they have limited acreage and can't house a larger cow.  In my biased opinion, the Miniature Jersey's superior temperament  and size make them the ideal family cow in most situations.  Unlike some breeders who sell these smaller, designer cattle for up to $5000 for a bred cow in milk with "excellent" pedigree, I seek to keep the cost of these animals more manageable so that we can see more of them on family homesteads throughout our country.  Sometimes, we "get what we pay for".  Other times, we can find prices grosses inflated.  My advice is to do your homework and determine your own personal priorities before buying a miniature Jersey.  If you are fortunate to own one of these little cows from an honest breeder, I cant' imagine your not being pleased.  


Monday, March 23, 2015

Meet The Farmers ~ In Love with Jerseys (Tammy)

Mayfield, my first Jersey


I had intended to end my portion of the meet the farmer series with last weeks post where I told about my years in Alaska and, how Mike and I later came to be a couple.  However, I realized the story would not be complete unless I included my journey with the Jersey cows.  Although my parents never owned cattle of their own, I think spending five years living in the middle of a cow pasture where the beef cattle literally rubbed their heads against my bedroom wall as I gazed at them through the windows from the  top bunk of my bed, must have made me feel as if I must always be among them.  It was also during those years on the farm that my dad went to work for a local dairy farmer, and listening to the stories he told of  cows with names and personalities, only encouraged me further. It was also during these formative years that I was introduced to a small, big eyed, gentle Jersey cow owned by a local veterinarian when we began to get raw milk for our table.  It was this little Jersey cow that sparked my love affair with the Jersey breed.

After Mike and I became a couple, much to his chagrin, I told him I wanted a Jersey family cow.  Loving me as he does, and always wanting me to be happy, he sighed and started helping me look for a family cow.  Mike was a third generation dairy farmer.  His grandfather, who was a Church of the Brethren lay preacher (without pay), started the dairy to support his family.  Then Mike's dad took over the dairy, and eventually he handed it over to Mike and his brother who operated it together for a while.  Eventually, Mike's brother sold out his portion of the dairy.  Mike held on for a while on his own but ended up selling his dairy cows just a couple years before he met me.  Mike knew well how hard it was to keep a dairy going.  It's a seven day a week job and EVERYTHING  esle that needs to be accomplished in a dairyy farmer's life has to be done BETWEEN MILKINGS.   In spite of knowing the commitment and time involved, Mike agreed to help me find a family cow.  I had one specification:  the cow had to be a Jersey.

When we began our search for a Jersey, it was more difficult than I had imagined.  At that time, there just were not a lot of family cow owners like there are now. ( It seems in recent years, owning a house cow has really become more common, or perhaps the internet has served to unite us in ways we didn't know in the past.)   Ten years ago, when I searched all the classifieds, there just were not any Jerseys  to be found.  I called every dairy I could find that was within a day's drive, and most of the farmers  just flat turned me down.  They didn't want to waste their time with someone looking for a "family cow" and they told me so.  The few cows I did find for sale were cross breeds.  When I did have a chance actually see  some registered Jerseys, I was shocked at their size.  They were much bigger than what I remembered the little cow from my youth that had provided our family with raw milk.

I began to broaden my search, looking further and further away from home.  I looked to the internet for leads and stumbled across a couple of web sites for Miniature Jerseys.  Immediately, I was drawn to the Miniatures because they reminded me so much of that little Jersey cow when I was a kid back in Missouri.  As I researched the Mini Jerseys, it became apparent to me that I would never be able to find one for sale without getting on a long waiting list and spending an extravagant amount of money.  (Today, you can find Mini Jersey breeders within driving distance of most folks.  Ten years ago, that wasn't so as they were more rare.)

Months passed and I couldn't find my cow.  Then my brother, who lives in Georgia, happened to see an advertisement from a petting zoo in the Atlanta area that had some older Miniature Jersey cows for sale.  Mike called and talked to the lady who owned them but there was no way he was going to pay her asking price.  These were older cows and while one was obviously Jersey, the other seemed very questionable.  She would not sell them separately and required that we buy the two cows and a bull as a group in order to get them.  Mike negotiated and negotiated until finally we were able to buy the group for a fair price.  These cows were six and seven years old and had never been milked.  They had simply been kept to produce calves.  The girls were getting older and the owner was replacing them with younger stock.

We prepared a place for the two girls and the bull and then drove to Georgia to pick them up.  I had a few months to let the girls warm up to me while waiting for them to calve.  We got them in the fall and in early spring, they calved.  That was when reality replaced the stars in my eyes.  I set out to milk by hand. Since Edy and Mayfield had never previously been milked, it turned out to be a real adventure ( and not necessarily of the pleasant kind).  Twice a day there were tears, yelling, cursing, bruises, cuts, and scrapes from the farmers.  It became apparent to me very quickly that I was not born with the ability to hand milk rapidly enough to satisfy either my dairy farmer husband or my two Jersey girls.  I was head over heals in love with my Jersey cows at this time,  but wondered if we would ever be able to train them to milk after their living so much of their lives without being handled.  As a testament to my husband's love, he did not give up, nor did he allow me to give up.  Together, we were able to break those two old girls to milk and within a couple of months, Mike bought me an old Surge bucket milker so that I didn't have to milk by hand.  (Now that I am more relaxed and have trained cows, I choose to milk by hand sometimes, but I still prefer to use my machine.)

Those two girls only served to wet my appetite for more and with their arrival came folks literally knocking at my door and asking me for raw milk.  At first, I refused but eventually I gave in to the demand and started a cow share program.  I never advertised and word of mouth grew the business until at one time I was milking 12 cows and providing 90 gallons of milk a week to my share members.

Those years were filled with lessons of which I never dreamed, joys I never imagined, more work than I can describe, and plenty of stress and tears.  The cows literally kept me "living" when my 18 year old son died unexpectedly and tragically and my bond with the bovine is something so deep that I find it difficult to convey to others.  I ended the share program just this past fall and sold the majority of my cows because life changes and often we need to adjust to those changes.  I am thankful for the Jerseys in my life, the years of the cow share program, and being able to enjoy the few Jersey girls I have now.




Thursday, March 19, 2015

Old Fashioned Sauerkraut




Sauerkraut evokes memories for me of visiting my dad's only living sister in her modest mountain home in North Georgia.  I would pull up to her table and be served a big dish of fermented cabbage, chopped up by hand, and fermented in crocks.  I eagerly anticipated not only eating kraut while I was visiting my family on Lookout Mountain, but also enjoying my own personal jar of this delicious treat that my aunt never failed to send home with me each time we visited.  As an adult, I decided to try to replicate my aunt's delicious kraut and I asked her for instructions.  From a lifetime of kraut making memories, she told me how the cabbage must be chopped by hand, salted, pounded, weighed down in the crock to keep it under the brine and left to ferment.  My aunt is now in a nursing home and dreams of going home to spend time in her kitchen again.  Each summer, I make kraut, think of her, and carry on the tradition passed down from generations of women I am proud to call family.

Sauerkraut is a fine German word that simply means "sour cabbage".  Cabbage is transformed to kraut by the magic of lactic acid which ferments the cabbage.  This process is not only a great method of preserving cabbage for long term storage but has excellent health benefits as well.

How To Make Sauerkraut:

Preparation:

I have fun making my kraut in an antique crock, but it's not necessary.  One can also make kraut in a glass gallon jar.  I like to make kraut in large quantities because it keeps so well.  When making kraut, you want to be sure to use only unchipped enamel or glass jars.  Wooden, glass or enamel utensils should be used when making or dipping the kraut.  (No metal or stainless)

Fresh, organic cabbage is best for making kraut.


Getting Started:

You will need approximately five pounds of cabbage for a gallon container.   Measure out three Tablespoons of canning salt (salt that does not contain iodine) per five pounds of cabbage.  Shred your cabbage.  (While my dear Aunt swore that it must be chopped finely by hand, I admit that I don't have the time or patience and use my food processor for this task, especially since I tend to make five or six gallons per batch.)  

Making Kraut:

Layer your shredded cabbage by sprinkling a tablespoon of salt between each layer.  (Remember that you are using three tablespoons per five pounds of cabbage.)  You will want to end with salt sprinkled on top.

At this point, I have found that walking away and letting the salt begin to draw the moisture from the cabbage is very helpful.  I usually return in about an hour and begin pounding the cabbage.  Once enough juice has been extracted from the cabbage, then you need to press the cabbage down beneath the surface of the brine.  It's very important that all of the cabbage be covered by the liquid.  You will then need to weigh the cabbage down to keep it submerged under the brine as it ferments.  When I am using my large crock, I place a plate on top of the cabbage and then put a gallon jar filled with water on top of the plate to hold it down.  I cover the whole crock with a flour cloth sack to keep it clean.

As the cabbage begins to ferment, a scum will form on top.  Simply skim this off, keep the cabbage submerged, and allow to ferment for 7 to 14 days.  Warmer temperatures will make the fermentation take place more quickly, although you don't want the temps to be higher than 70 degrees if possible.  The fermentation process will be slower at less than 70 degrees.

That's all there is to it!

Storing Kraut:

After your kraut has fermented, as long as you have a cool place to store it, you can actually leave your kraut in the crock (or glass jar)  and dip out what you need.  The kraut keeps well in a climate of 40-50 degrees.  I don't have a place cool enough to keep my sauerkraut year around, so I put it in quart jars and store it in the refrigerator.  I currently have some that I have kept for eight months in this manner and it's delicious!  Made and stored without heating, the kraut retains all it's nutritional properties.

In the event you need to "can" your kraut, simmer for ten minutes, pack in sterilized canning jars, fill within 1/2 inch of top, cover with brine  and process for ten minutes in a hot water canner.  If you don't have enough brine, you can make more brine by  diluting two tablespoons of salt in a quart of water.

Enjoy!





Monday, March 16, 2015

Meet The Farmer ~ Adult Years (Tammy)





If you have been following along with our meet the farmer series, you are aware that my earliest years were a child's dream as I began life on a small "homestead" back in the late sixties and early seventies.  Those early years instilled in me the basic desire to live as close to the land as possible.  In later childhood, more structure, discipline and hard work became the routine as my family moved to a farm and worked as hired hands for approximately five years.  My teen years proved to be difficult as I worked through typical teen hangups as well as some unique situations.  To complicate things,  the freedoms I had enjoyed as a younger child were taken from once we moved from the farm. A strict church and private school I attended discouraged young ladies from participating in activities that appeared too "masculine", and the the adults in my life felt they were helping me become more "ladylike" by prohibiting a lot of the activities that were so much a part of my being.  (My heart has always been outdoors and I have always been happiest with the animals.)  Those years when my time was limited from the woods and fields and from spending time with any animals (other than our dog), were very difficult years for me.  But, I survived them and did learn lessons that have helped me throughout my life.  

I left my home in Missouri as an 18 year old and never moved back.  I spent a year at a very strict private college in Florida after which I decided that the lifestyle of the church and school I had attended would never work for someone with a free spirit such as mine.  I then left for Alaska to visit my grandparents for the summer.  After spending a few months in Alaska, I knew I didn't want to leave.  I made my home there for the better part of 13 years.  During those years, I married a guy I had gone to school with as a teenager and we had two children just 16 months apart in age.  Those years in Alaska were truly wonderful years for me.  I was able to immerse myself in the great outdoors and feel my soul come alive once again after those years of feeling so constricted.  I tried to experience as many uniquely Alaskan adventures as possible.  We spent time in small cabins, grew gardens during the Alaskan summers, went trapping and hunting in the winters, fished,  cooked on an old wood cook stove, lived without running water and hauled our water from a spring even when 60 below zero outside.  It was here that I also worked for a while milking cows for a small, family owned dairy.   During those years, we played hard, worked hard and I loved hard.   But it wasn't enough.   Somewhere along the line (what I probably knew but wouldn't admit from the beginning), I found out that loving someone who is dishonest, unfaithful, and abusive just doesn't work.  After 17 years together (and moving during the last few years all over the United States from Alaska to Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, California and then Virginia) to try to make a relationship work that was destined to fail, we finally ended our marriage.  Those years in Alaska (and even the time we spent out west) gave me the opportunity to live a lifestyle that suited my personality and interests. Those years taught me that I could face extremes in nature as well as relationships and survive.

Probably the greatest gift my ex gave me was to move me to Virginia before our marriage officially ended.  (We actually moved to Virginia because his parents lived here, but I now know that God brought me to this state so that I could meet the man I have always loved, but didn't always know.)  By this time, I had two teenagers and the whole idea of dating was pretty scary to me.  Being lonely (and introverted by nature),  I decided that I would check out one of those online dating services.  While I knew that any site could be used by predators or dishonest/untrustworthy people, I picked a more conservative site that I thought might be a little safer.  I put my basic information on the site and left for work, only to have a panic attack later that morning about what I had done.  I went home immediately after work with the intention of pulling my information down from the site. There were a number of messages waiting for me when I logged in  from men who were "interested in getting to know me" and my curiosity got the best of me.  I looked at a few and then started to pull down my information when I noticed a message with a picture of a man with dark hair and eyes, and a smile that lit up his whole face.  I was instantly drawn to what I thought was transparency, honesty, and character in that photo.  I read his profile and found out that he was a farmer.  (Yep, he had me at "farmer".)  We began to talk but quickly moved it from the dating site to personal email.  I insisted that we write messages (because I hate talking on the phone).  I didn't realize at the time that Mike doesn't know how to type.  Everything he wrote was time consuming for him as he searched for the letters on the keyboard to type messages to me.  Finally, after a while, I gave in and told him that I would let him call me, but I wasn't doing any of the talking and he would have to make all of the conversation.  He called.  He talked.  I listened.  With time and patience, eventually I began to open up and respond by participating in the conversation.  (I will admit, at many times it has been difficult for Mike to pursue a relationship with me due to the walls I build to protect myself.)  I am thankful that he saw something in me that caused him to persistently seek a relationship when I was being difficult.  

Then came the point where he asked to meet me.  I was nervous and he knew it, so he offered to drive down and go to church with me.  I figured if he was willing to go to church with me, then I should be pretty safe at least while we were in a public place together, so I said "yes" to our first date.  The day Mike was to arrive, he called me just a few miles away and told me he would be there shortly.  I offhandedly asked him what he was driving and he responded with "a white Beamer" (BMW).  At this point,  I was convinced that he was not a farmer, because none of the farmers I knew drove a BMW.  I told him to turn around and go home.  (I really did!)   Mike calmly responded and politely said that he would turn around and go home if that's what I wanted him to do, but he had driven a long distance, and he really just wanted to meet me.  I still wasn't sure I could trust any man, but I agreed to go ahead and meet him.

As they say, the rest is history.  We have been together now for a little over ten years and married for nine of those years.  While neither of us is perfect and we sometimes struggle (just like all real couples), we have been blessed with a mutual love and respect for each other and as well as a mutual love and respect for farming.  Farming mirrors life in so many ways:  It's difficult and filled with sorrow, but each new sunrise brings with it hope for a better day.  There are disasters and tragedies that set the farmer back and sometimes even threaten to destroy him, but the belief that he will succeed keeps him putting one foot in front of the other.  As with the farm, so with each other, we just keep nurturing, loving, supporting and working toward our goals.  We gain new life and we lose lives unexpectedly. We laugh, we cry, we cuss, we pray, we sweat, we freeze, we work, we play, we hurt and we are filled with joy.   We are often misunderstood and sometimes even ridiculed for choosing this path. When farming is in your heart, it doesn't matter what path you take to get there, you will find yourself covered in dirt and manure and smiling at the sunset at day's end and you will get up and do it all over again tomorrow.