Second-Guessing Season

by Amy on March 9, 2017


This column was originally published March 26, 2014

It’s March, and calving time, which means we are currently in the season of second-guessing. March definitely lives up to its reputation around here as being erratic between my husband’s last minute mind-changing and my constant second-guessing what he wanted me to do.

During these transition months known as spring-winter, we begin each day with a little self-doubt starting with where we feed cows. An analysis is always done late afternoon or the night before to review the most up-to-date weather forecast for the night and next day, a hay/alfalfa consumption evaluation, a determination of whether a cow-sort is needed for the barn, and which cows should go in the barn based on the next day’s forecast. Anytime the forecast acts like it wants to be winter posing potential life-threatening weather conditions for a newborn calf, a cow-sort is done to put springers (cows showing signs that they’re  likely to calve soon) in the barn for the night.

This seasonal self-doubting quandary affects our decision on which springers we chose to put in the barn especially the next morning if we discover a cow outside calved instead of one in the barn. Second-guessing carries over into barn checking. When there’s a new calf in the barn sometimes our presence can mess with a cow’s nurturing, bringing out the protective meanness in her, and can sometimes turn a cow’s threatening behavior into a perpetual issue instead of a temporary one.

Regardless, plans for the next day are set accordingly; action is taken if necessary and nothing is second-guessed until morning. If it suddenly gets windy, the wind changes direction, the sky looks like it might rain, snow, or rain-and-snow, then the original feeding location is second-guessed and sometimes changed without notice.

Determining our cows’ hay-alfalfa ratio is based on what they didn’t eat the previous day. To avoid wasting hay we feed only what we think they’ll clean up, especially if it’s not as cold or there’s a lot of pasture-picking available. When shoots of green grass start popping up there’s second guessing whether it was wise to turn the cows out of the calving pasture when we did because ingesting too much fresh green grass they acquire grass tetany—a potentially fatal metabolic disorder resulting from a deficiency in magnesium.

Turning cows out of the calving pasture (a pasture that’s easier to check and closer for getting cows and calves to the barn if necessary) creates new opportunities for second-guessing because cows have more places to hide when calving. We also second-guess how much time we need to give a pair before getting involved to help them with the bonding process.


Choosing which cows go to the barn, how long to keep them in the barn, if intervention with a new pair is necessary, and if our help is the cause of a cow getting mean are all second-guessed actions. This leads to temperature and forecast second-guessing. Once we’ve over-prepared for an anticipated unpleasant forecast and nothing happens, future forecasts and what’s considered too cold for a calf becomes frequently second-guessed also.

Despite all the questioning, we’ve had ideal calving weather and minimal problems  and we are feeling optimistic about the remainder of our season, but so as not to jinx things, I am highly second-guessing that expectation.

© 2014 Amy Kirk

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Making the Cut

by Amy on August 3, 2016


This column was originally published July 23, 2014

I’m sure that the quilt pattern “Drunkard’s Path” was named after my hay cutting. When I windrow, my main focus is to keep the windrower’s header held straight so that the edge of the cut hay looks straight and not like a hacksaw blade edge on every pass up and down the hayfield.

When the Hubs gets the perimeter of a field lined out for me to finish, I am set up with a straight line to follow, but I have it mutilated after the first pass. In an attempt to smooth out my crooked-looking cut hay line, I misshape the rest of the field’s windrows with each pass.

My mission becomes correcting the previous correction line I tried to smooth out on the last pass down the field. I like looking down the field as I’m windrowing and not seeing my last cut line all jagged and become obsessed with getting a straight-cut hay line. Correcting my previous hay-cutting correction line is how I end up occupying my time in the windrower once looking for rocks and gopher mounds gets boring and I’ve sorted out all the thoughts I planned to think about while windrowing.

I enjoy windrowing because our windrower is one piece of equipment I’m allowed to operate that has a cab (except that the air conditioner decided to quit shortly after we started haying), but the machine’s downfall is that it is hypersensitive to steering. Our windrower’s hydraulic steering wheel is so touchy if I sneeze there will be a jag or gouge in my cut line. This is not helpful since my steering is bad enough as it is. I don’t need a hypersensitive-steering windrower to make my driving mistakes visible too. Regardless of my efforts to guide it straight, steering in the direction I’m looking is still obvious. Having to turn around to look at what’s behind me about every few minutes compounds the problem.

The fact that we have to windrow in odd-shaped fields also challenges my efforts to create clean cut-hay lines. One of the things I loathe about the Black Hills is that there is no such thing as square-shaped property lines. I don’t enjoy cutting weird shaped hayfields. One reason I’m sure I fail miserably at cutting hayfields is because math seems to be a part of haying; specifically geometry, and math has never been one of my talents. I want central and eastern South Dakota kind of hayfields that are square or rectangular; not our hypotenuse, parallelogram, trapezoid, and kids’ doodle-looking shaped hayfields. Our hay ground has angles, corners, or glob-shaped lines that make windrowing difficult due to having to go around rocks and trees that hinder my efforts to cut hay neatly.

Even though my hay-cutting doesn’t suit my standards for straight lines, fortunately, any way I cut it, the important thing is that it still makes hay.

© 2014 Amy Kirk

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Kids Know How to Live

by Amy on July 22, 2016


Photo subjects: compliments of my niece and nephew


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This column was originally published September 10, 2014

Whether it’s a determined lead cow wanting to veer the herd in the wrong direction, through the trees, or straight ahead when we want them to turn, reliable communication is helpful because cows, trees, and rocky canyons complicate the process.

Our family likes knowing what’s going on at the other end when we can’t see ahead or behind, where someone’s at, or where more cows are because we usually have to split up to get everything gathered. Someone keeps the main bunch moving while other riders go in different directions to gather more cows and everybody works around trees, hillsides, and forks in roads to keep the herd headed in the right direction. Radios and cell phones have been useful for this in place of the standard far away “hand signal” or “winging it” system but cell phones and radios aren’t failsafe replacements. The point of using communication gadgets is so everybody can talk and eliminate miscommunication, confusion, or wrong actions, but both have their frustrations too.

The Black Hills isn’t entirely cell service dependable and it’s always at a critical moment such as needing backup that I’ll call the boss and get his voicemail box. Texting is unhandy and more time consuming than convenient, especially when loping a horse through trees to catch up to the lead cow to turn her and the herd toward the desired direction.

With radios, it’s best to announce who is being addressed. One time our daughter and I got cows to the water tanks and I heard my husband say something on the radio but didn’t get it all so I ignored it and kept riding. Then he said, “Did you hear me? Stop right there.” Realizing he was talking to us we stopped. We all waited for our son and the pair he was bringing. After a few minutes Art saw him waiting a ways off at the corner of a fence not moving.  The three of us decided to ride toward him and asked him what he was doing. He heard Dad on the radio say, “Stop right there” and figured he was talking to us girls so he kept coming until he heard Dad say, “Did you hear me? Stop right there.” He couldn’t see Dad anywhere but wasn’t about to keep riding.

Radios are most useful when everybody’s calm and cow-moving is going smoothly, but that’s not usually when radios get used. During tense moments when riders at the back can’t see what’s going on ahead are when a disgruntled Russian-sounding voice comes on the radio. I can’t understand what my husband’s saying because he hollers into the radio before he’s actually clicked it on and what’s heard is a highly excited voice giving some kind of time-sensitive command which only the last half gets heard. When our commander is trying to salvage a chaotic situation I’m sure he doesn’t want hear me say—and it pains me to do have to do it—after conferring with my daughter and determining his message was incomprehensive; “WHAT?”  When I don’t get a reply, I then add, “We can’t hear you! You have to hold the mic before you start talking!” Once he does reply, it’s usually louder, more articulated, and distorted unless it’s too late.

It figures that the only times my husband gets excited about talking to me is when it pertains to cows.

© 2014 Amy Kirk



This column was originally published July 30, 2014

The act of a farmer or rancher sending his wife to pick up or go get parts is referred to as going on a “parts run.” This is because farmers and ranchers generally want the parts-getter person to hurry in getting the needed parts and hurry back in hopes of getting machinery fixed and salvaging some of the day’s plans for haying.

Most women who marry into this lifestyle—the kind that requires ample equipment repairing—do not remember agreeing that going on a parts run was part of speaking their marriage vows at the altar. To refresh the memory of these women, the words they repeated after the minister were “I, (name), take you (name), to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish and run to get parts whenever necessary; from this day forward until death do us part.” Like every bride high on wedding day bliss, they don’t remember saying it because that tidbit of their wedding vows was kind of like overlooking the fine print.

One of the requirements for haying season is that equipment breakdowns have to occur on good days for haying when a lot can get done, but especially when specific haying goals have been planned for the day. The other requirement is that repair work is to take place on a cloudless hot day. Equipment rarely breaks down when it’s cool and cloudy or while haying right when it starts to rain and there’s no more cutting, raking, or baling that can be done anyway.

Hay makers are in a hurry to get back to the haying operation while the conditions are still ideal and it’s necessary that the people involved contribute to the quick turnaround time needed in order to cut, rake, or bale as close to the day’s anticipated hay-producing goal as possible. When equipment breaks down in the middle of an intense haying operation, guys still expect to squeeze in as much haying as they can.

Farm and ranch women do the majority of parts running to the nearest parts store to get whatever is needed in order to resume haying so much that by the end of haying season these wives know the parts guy’s relatives, where he grew up, his wife’s workplace, and his dogs’ status.

Part of restoring harmony in the hayfield workplace is being a parts runner wife that has this marital duty mastered. She insists her husband calls the parts dealer before leaving if there is any doubt the part might not be available (especially with older models). She takes the old part(s) with her if possible. She has her husband write down every part, part number, and quantity of part(s) in legible handwriting for the parts guy. She makes sure her husband has his phone with him, it’s turned on; the volume is all the way up, it’s set on a loud ringtone, and is also on vibrate for alerts. Most importantly, she prays the parts store has all the components she needs; that they give her the right parts and they don’t forget anything on the list. Then she runs for parts.

My husband loves it when I drive up to him and he asks, “Do you have the parts?” and I say, “I do!”

© 2014 Amy Kirk


It’s Random Acts of Kindness Day!

by Amy on February 17, 2016


Recently, I have developed “a thing” for finding out and celebrating unusual holidays and celebrations. It started out a few years ago when I wanted to know what else was celebrated on my birthday, May 27th. I found a few sites that listed the more popular as well as unusual days worth noting and celebrating.

I have all the ones interesting to me marked down in my calendar. I especially like today’s Random Acts of Kindness Day. Last winter I wanted to boost my winter blahs and decided to do more old-fashioned letter writing and let the people who are important to me, know I am thinking of them. This activity has snowballed and I now have included people in my church and community, and people who have lost loved ones. I’ve also added to my letter writing by sending people needing hope or encouragement “God Rocks” marked with the Bible verse Psalm 18:2 on it (The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold). This summer after attending a cross-making retreat, I also started making crosses out of discarded, broken, or found items in nature and randomly sending them to people on my mind as well. It’s a form of prayer and you can learn about this awesome and therapeutic process from the book Making Crosses Ellen Morris Prewitt.

This is my wall of crosses in our mudroom.2blog2-17-2016

I continually add new ones I’ve made and send out ones that call to me for someone in particular, or if someone comments on a particular cross, I give it to them. There’s a reason why a particular cross catches a person’s eye, and they should have it.

Another activity I enjoy besides letter writing is baking. Once this summer I baked a pan of cinnamon rolls and had my husband take them into our local parts store guy, who has always treated us with the best deal he could get us, best suggestions to try before buying a part, or helping us troubleshoot any mechanical problems we needed to bounce off someone. I included a note of gratitude letting this local business owner know how much we appreciate their customer service and business in town.

Doing random acts of kindness by doing something for someone else is an amazing way to feel good about myself. Sending a piece of mail out of the blue, usually a postcard, has become a fun way for me to demonstrate kindness and thoughtfulness towards others randomly. Anytime I think about someone, I send them a quick note on a postcard. It makes me feel awesome knowing I’ve surprised someone and hopefully made someone’s day!

So what’s your you’re preferred kindness to share with others? Be the reason someone smiles today!




This column was originally published January 7, 2015

I don’t have much for hobby collections, but one thing I get into collecting is quotes, signs, and phrases. They inspire me, make me smile, laugh, and put life into perspective. I thought I’d share some of the ones I found and liked the most.

  • Live life like someone left the gate open.
  • On a dairy man’s T-shirt: “Come smell our dairy air”
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Except country girls. Country girls can kill you. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • Four words I never want to hear: I don’t love you. I found someone else. It was never real. We need to talk. I don’t remember you. Let’s just be friends. We can’t be together. There is no food. (thank farmers and ranchers for making sure this never happens!)
  • You aren’t wealthy until you have something money can’t buy. Granger Smith
  •  Sign: Keep gate closed. Don’t let the cows out no matter what they tell you.
  • The best classrooms smell like a barn. Support Agricultural Education.
  • There’s no Wi-Fi in the woods, but I promise you’ll find a better connection. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy cows, which is pretty much the same thing.
  • I hate it when I plan a conversation with someone in my head and they don’t follow the script. (Note: This is me. I always hash out my argument’s conversation I plan to have with my husband when I’m mad at him.)
  • We lose ourselves in the things we love. We find ourselves there too. Granger Smith
  • FARMER: a person outstanding in their field.
  • Sometimes bad decisions make for good stories. Granger Smith (I can’t express enough how true this is on a ranch).
  • Farm girls have nice calves.
  • Don’t mess with someone’s faith, family, or firearms. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • How to tell if a woman is mad at you: 1. She’s quiet, 2. She’s yelling, 3. She acts the same, 4. She acts different, 5. She murdered you. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • Teacher to students: “Ok children, what sounds did we hear on our trip to the farm yesterday?” Student #1: “Moooo!” Student #2: “Quack Quack!” Student #3: “BAAAAA,” Student #4: “Get off that #*@! tractor!”
  • A gun is like a woman. It’s all about how you hold her. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • Sign: Chasing cows will be our fate if you do not close this gate.
  • Déjà poo: the feeling you’ve heard this crap before.
  • Why do we need guns? Because it ain’t easy throwin’ a rock 1400 feet per second. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • If you don’t think fear can control you then you’ve never been chased by a mad momma cow.
  • FARMING: because starving sucks.
  • Sorry, I only date country boys. You better know how to bait a hook   bale a field.
  • Even if it’s too cold to roll the windows down I still like a backroad road to clear my head. Earl Dibbles Jr.
  • Sign: WARNING: This property is a farm. Farms have animals. Animals make funny sounds, smell bad, and have sex outdoors. Unless you can tolerate noise, odors, and outdoor sex, don’t buy property next to a farm.
  • (Photo of a cow in a pasture) I’m an expert in my field.
  • In dog beers I’ve only had one.
  • Scars are like tattoos with better stories. Granger Smith
  • (On the rear door of a livestock trailer) Caution: Floor covered with political promises.
  • Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you want to meet him.
  • Of all the roads you travel in 2014, make sure most of ‘em are dirt. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • God gave us shin bones so we could find trailer hitches in the dark.
  • Life is tough. Be tougher. Granger Smith
  • On an inner tube rentals sign: RULES: You are not allowed to do ANYTHING that begins with the words… “Hey Ya’ll watch this!”
  • You can tell a lot about a girl by her hands. For example, if she’s holding a gun either run or marry her. Earl Dibbles, Jr.
  • Love is watching someone else’s boring show on TV.
  • Billboard sign: “This country needs a Department of Common Sense”
  • I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.
  • Is Google a boy or a girl? Obviously a girl because it won’t let you finish your sentence without suggesting other ideas. Zach Galifianakis

You can find more like these on my Pinterest pin boards “Rural Life/Agriculture,” “Good Quotes” and “Humor.”

 Copyright  © 2015 by Amy Kirk



Matthew 6:32

by Amy on December 24, 2015


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This column was originally published June 18, 2014

Handling yearlings consists mostly of a using a technique known as “winging it” which is essentially carrying out a series of audibles. The problem I have with my Hubs calling an audible is that he calls them inside his head where nobody else can hear them.

For those of you who may be like I used to be and don’t know what the heck an “audible” is, it’s a term for calling a new tactic that’s usually a series of codes hollered among men. Audibles are normally affiliated with football, but they occur around here all the time. The only difference between the football version and the rancher version is that most of my husband’s audibles are carried out with hand gestures unless he and I are dealing with our yearlings.  With yearlings, plans fail so fast that there’s not enough time for him to confuse me with a hand gesture, so he’ll just run around while I stand there asking myself out loud, “What is he’s doing?”

Our last wreck happened over Memorial Day weekend—the weekend when LOTS of people visit the freshly groomed cemetery to pay respects to lost loved ones. We got a call about a yearling being out and when we found her, she was lollygagging in the cemetery that borders our yearling pasture.

I was lined out to hide behind a tree unless she came my way, and then try to turn her back towards the fence. Since yearlings don’t cotton to easy plans, she didn’t feel like jumping back through the low fence she’d found, so I had to come out of hiding and turn her back, but loping back and forth through the cemetery was more her style.

Let me just clear up your burning curiosity and say that there is NO WAY to delicately chase and cut off a yearling on a high lope around headstones.  Cow and I tangoed briefly before getting slowed down by too many headstones and she got by. More running, shin-meets-headstone dodging , and zigzagging ensued before my husband felt compelled to share his new audible with me: “STOP!” (Yay!) His next audible was encouraging the yearling to exit through the cemetery gates according to his actions.

After accomplishing phase one of dealing with a yearling that got out, the next audible was husband-and-jeep gunning it in high gear through the ditch to turn the cow toward the nearest opening leading back home—the dirt-filled autogate with cable stretched across. I took the initiative to lag behind on foot in case she got by the jeep. Right at the gate, the renters’ barking dogs nearly caused the next failed audible. The displeasure followed by a scolding to get the dogs back inside was quite audible—for half a mile away at least, but the cow went in.

For most ranchers, cursing is the go-to reaction when plan A fails to get a cow back in. The general rule is to try to work with them to get them in, but the minute a cow figures out she can outrun man or woman, every attempt gets harder and each plan change goes unannounced.

It’s when things go awry and I can hear a slew of bad words over a failed plan that I wish he would be inaudible.

© 2014 Amy Kirk

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Dirt Roads

by Amy on August 17, 2015


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