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PICT Head Robert Strasner - Sowing Seeds
Robert Strasner

Don’t name an animal you plan on eating later. This is a bit of old rural farm and ranch wisdom passed down through the years. It does remind me of a good story though and I’ll never turn down the opportunity to tell a good story. The wife and I raised or fed and boarded several what I would call (with much affection) strays. I’m not talking about animals. I’m talking about friends or relatives who might have been down on their luck and needed a place to hole up for a month, three months, a year or several years in a couple of cases. This all started six months after our honeymoon when our niece moved in with us. She was 12 or 13 years old at the time and she ended up staying with us through her high school graduation. There were several others and we still have an open-door policy to this day. The last two years are the first in the last 27 that we haven’t had a permanent stray living with us.

I have always lived in smaller communities. The town where I went to college had 1,500 people and I think 1,200 of those were students. You know the place. Our campus security had to be shaken awake in his patrol car most of the time to make sure he hadn’t passed on. His name was Ernie. Everywhere I have been has had 4-H and-or FFA. My niece was from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and did not have a clue what farm animals were and had no intention of learning what farm animals were. She was this little city girl that was more worried about makeup and boys than she was anything else. She had never even heard of 4-H or FFA. Well she had some cousins that were in 4-H and after they told her they were in it, she thought it would be a good way to get out of some class time when they had meetings. 

Well it turns out that this was a big turning point in her life. Little did she know what that decision was going to do for her as she moved forward into maturity. She came home and told us what she had decided to do as far as joining 4-H. I then explained to her that she had better think twice about it because if she stayed with it, we were going to do it right or not do it at all. Her comment to me was that her cousins were in it and they seemed to be getting along just fine. I said I was aware of that but that they were used to raising animals for the county livestock show and they were used to hard work. I told her if she were going to stay in 4-H she would have to raise and show a hog. Her reply was what I expected when she said, “how hard can it be?”

Of course, she didn’t have a clue.

Now her cousins had been doing this a while and offered to let her use their facilities to raise her hog. They lived about a quarter mile from us and this really saved her a lot of time and money. When it came time to buy the weaning hogs, their Dad and I hitched up the stock trailer and the girls and the kids followed us to another 4-H member’s place. This kid had been doing it long enough that he was selling his own show pigs. My niece picked out a very nice hamp barrow and the cousins all got theirs as well. I loaned her the money for the pig and the co-op I managed let the kids set up their own feed accounts. I have to admit that I was very proud of the way she took off with taking care of Oreo. I know, black and white, Oreo not too original. As time wore on and freezing weather set in, I thought to myself “we’ll see how she likes getting up in the dark to feed and water.” Again, whether she was trying to prove it to us or to herself, she kept right on at it. The cousins showed her how to train Oreo to walk beside her and how she should carry herself and she really worked her tail off. 

Showtime! Time to wash and trim the pigs and keep clean hay in their stalls. Time for all of the pent-up emotion and nervousness to come out. Just waiting for them to call your group out to strut in front of the judges. Well, she didn’t win, place or show. But my wife and I could not have been prouder of her at that moment and she was proud of herself. She had started this project and seen it through to the end. Or had she seen it through to the end? Remember me telling you that you should never name an animal that you are going to eat? Well, now it was sale time and she had bills to pay. She told the wife and I that she didn’t know if she could part with Oreo. She had raised him from 50 pounds up to 220 pounds. 

My wife worked for one of the local banks and the VP of the bank said beforehand that he would buy our niece’s animal if it came up for auction. The wife and I reminded our niece of her obligations concerning her feed bill and the money she owed us for Oreo. She said she knew and reluctantly agreed to send Oreo through the sale ring. He came through and my uncle ran the banker up to five hundred dollars for Oreo! I explained to my niece what had happened, and she could not believe how her hard work had paid off. Oreo ended up going to feed the folks at the nursing home and Meals-on-Wheels. My niece eventually ended up raising her own hogs for 4-H clear up through her senior year in high school. Today, she is as fine a person and as great a mother as you will ever meet. She doesn’t live in the countryside any more as her husband is a manager for a big restaurant chain. But she can tell you what a fantastic organization 4-H is and what it does to make awesome young men and women of our kids. Life lessons come with hard work and dedication. Success comes with hard work and dedication. I’m preaching to the choir though. I would like you to remember these kids when the livestock sale comes around. Not only those that win, place or show but those kids that might have started out on the wrong side of the tracks or that little girl from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Your impression will last a lifetime. Thanks for your time. 

Bob Strasner is an agronomist based in south central Kansas. He has over 30 years of experience in the farming, soil science and plant science business. His weekly column focuses on agronomy, horticulture, soil science, farming in general, rural-small town community life, some life-learned wisdom and a good dose of humor here and there.