Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Football, Goats, and Time Travel

We didn’t raise goats on our Midwest family farm when I was a kid (sorry, pun intended), but funny videos of them frolicking or even one singing a Taylor Swift song have me wishing we would have. Goats hit my radar when I read a story about the Euro Tier trade fair for animal production in Germany. One featured item was the high-tech rotary goat milking parlor. According to a YouTube video, one operator can milk hundreds of goats per hour.

I realize dairy farmers have the same type of options, and in some cases robotic sensors even make it so the “cows milk themselves.” No big complaints here, but it took me somewhere between 15 minutes and a half hour to milk our lone Guernsey before school—it all depended on how obstinate Bossy was and how often she kicked at the bucket or swiped at me with her tail. My bad habit of squirting hot milk at the cats or a younger brother also added to the duration.  

High-tech Ag and Low-tech Memories

So as I read the rest of the trade fair article, I time traveled to my 1960s yesteryear to consider farm chores in light of new technology. A few long-distance observations:

** Automated feed and water systems have taken the fun out of tending animals. We dug for bales of hay in a stifling hot barn and toted buckets of corn through snowdrifts from a wagon to the bunk, all the while arguing with a brother about who was not holding up his end of the work. Dad used to turn on the hydrant to fill the water tank for cattle, and he would switch his feed company cap backwards to remind him it was on. This worked fine unless he didn’t see anyone for a spell, but at least by lunchtime Mom would let him know his "head was on backwards," and he could shut it off before a major overflow puddled up in the feedlot. Sensors and apps have streamlined such systems.

** According to the article, handheld scanners can now check pig weight and monitor health records. We could estimate a pig’s weight when we pulled one up onto its back hooves and pinned it between our legs so Doc Walker could inject medicine. We figured if he missed his aim a time or two, it couldn’t hurt for us kids to get vaccinated. Must have worked—not one of us got erysipelas back then. 

** The Euro tech show featured such items as straw spreading machines, and I’ve seen videos of robots that “scoop” up manure. Actually, spreading straw by hand was relatively fun—the golden stalks sparkled in the light and almost glowed until they hit the floor. The pigs quickly did a makeover with slobber, mud, and poo. The only robotic manure haulers we had were zombie-like teenagers with pitchforks.

** The manure pitching crew included cousins who farmed jointly with us, and they had a rabbit venture that could have used an upgrade. The tech show featured rabbit cages with automated feeding, watering, and manure handling. My cousins’ yard featured wood and woven wire cages that had mounds of raisin-like droppings under them. When rabbits got loose, we had a roundup that resembled Looney Tunes more than Rawhide.

The Euro Tier hosts invited everyone for next year and also bragged about their low-tech table game. “Leave time for a game of pig foosball,” they said. By the time we were done with chores, we’d had enough of pigs, and since the two families had a total of 14 kids, we played regular football--as regular as you can get in a yard that included a slope for a sideline, a road ditch for one end zone, and a tree that worked well to screen off when running pass patterns. Our game was definitely low-tech: no pads, no video replays, and the tree could be a vicious tackler if you were looking the other way to catch a pass. Even viral video goats would have laughed at our antics.

by dan gogerty (top pic based on, middle pic on, and bottom from

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blessed with the Best--A Family Portrait

**Hannah's latest blog comes in time for holiday gatherings, as she considers the advantages of growing up in the beautiful, tangled web of a large extended family.**

It’s that time of the year again when we eat turkey and stuffing, fall asleep from the comatose effects of food, and then wake up, repeat, and maybe sneak in a slice of that pumpkin pie you had your eye on all day. It’s times like this when we come together as a family and give thanks for the many blessings of life.

One of my blessings has been growing up with a big, beautiful, crazy, loving family. I have learned a lot in my 20 years, but the majority of the lessons have come from the people I call my family. These lessons reflect the true meaning of life and how coming together helps us accomplish great tasks.

This past year I have been able to experience so much with my family by my side: get-a-ways at our heritage farm; my grandma’s hip surgery; a cousin's graduation party; two cousins' weddings and another on the horizon. I’d say it’s been and will be another eventful year for this clan.

As I considered these family “gifts,” I came up with a list of the lessons I’ve learned and the blessings I’ve encountered along the way.

Lessons from Growing Up in Big, Beautiful, Crazy, Loving Family

Knowing you always have a support system.
It’s no secret, the support systems big families have are unlike any other. Whether celebrating successes or sharing failures, there will always be someone to support you in the decision you make regardless if it’s the right or wrong choice.

Some of the best memories are made when you’re all together.
We’ve had our share of fun memories and stories. From laughs around the card table to Grandma’s “elaborated” Mabel stories around the campfire—Mabel was an interesting neighbor lady my grandma grew up with down the road, but that’s for another blog—there really isn’t a favorite memory that doesn’t have my family tangled in it.

No one understands your passions, talents, little quirks, and characteristics better than your family.
My family knows me all too well—from my favorite hobbies to my top pet peeves. They know how to push the buttons just right to get me laughing or sassing, depending on my mood. Even nicknames come to be from these characteristics. In our family we have a Sweat Pant Sally, a High Maintenance Hannah, a Betty Miller, Cowbell, Tree Stand, Sacket, and we can’t forget about the Tribal Elders. These names are all tied to a story; just ask one of us—you’ll understand and maybe even share a laugh at the end.

Nothing says I love you more than family recipes and family traditions.
With the holiday season rolling around, I can’t wait for my favorite family dishes and the epic card games that follow the feast. I guess you really do find a way to someone’s heart through the stomach—at least for my family—then you go and break their heart when you win a game of Nerks or Euchre. What can I say—it’s a love/hate relationship.

Learning how to live, love, and laugh unconditionally.
I have always been taught to live life to the fullest and enjoy every minute of this thing we call life. With love comes joy, and laughing follows along the way as an additional perk to spice things up—unless you’re my Aunt Tassie, then it comes very naturally and unmistakably. Tassie’s laugh is known to echo throughout the valley at the Cook Farm.

Hannah is a student at Iowa State Univ. and a CAST intern.
Experiencing the beauty within compassion and rejoicing in blessings and gifts of others.
I’ve learned being gracious can take you a long way in life—it’s the little things that can make a difference. In a family, one learns to appreciate the gifts and talents others bring to the table. It’s when we share our gifts that we can enjoy life to the fullest. I’ve learned that I can find beauty within anything if I take a deeper look—a tree branch maybe a stick to some, but it could be walking stick used to hunt mushrooms for me. Or if you’re my Grandpa Ralph you might find beauty in an idea that includes a hip joint, cremation, and a bowling ball—let me tell you he takes inventions and art to another level.

Patience and Tolerance.
This is a lesson from Grandma Jeanine—patience is a virtue. Sometimes we speak when we should just sit and listen. It’s hard to listen without interjecting your thoughts, ideas, or opinions, but when in a big family sometimes listening is all you get. Listening is patience—can you tolerate that?

As the Thanksgiving season rolls around take the time to reflect on your own blessings. When you count them one-by-one then you can begin to see how you are blessed with the best. There are many lessons I can share with you, but some are best told by the ones who’ve experienced them first hand.

Family Quotes

What have you learned from growing up in a big, beautiful blessed family?

“I have learned to be willing to share and celebrate successes and failures and having somebody always there to support you in the decisions that you make regardless if they were the right or the wrong choice. Accepting the diverse point of view from each person and respecting and honoring their beliefs. Growing up with multiple siblings also helped me learn that hand-me-downs were really not that bad either.”
-Theresa Pagel

“To have learned the beauty of compassion and rejoicing in the blessings and gifts of others. It’s not about the have/have-nots—but rather it is about the unconditional sharing of those gifts that makes for a beautiful and compassionate family.”
-Tassie Hendsrud

“Patience and tolerance. I have learned to sit and listen to others without interjecting my thoughts, my opinions, or my ideas. That itself takes a lot of patience.”
-Jeanine Matt

“To live, love, and laugh. Live as long as you possibly can. To love one another and to be loved. And to laugh like your Aunt Tassie.”
-Rick Pagel

“That it is like a small community. You will pull together when times are tough. There will always be someone there through the good and bad times. Bigger is better in my opinion when you have a family like ours that ROCKS—we are so blessed.”
-Katie Arthur

“I’ve learned that your family always has your back. No matter what, I will have some of my best friends through my family. And I’ve learned a thing or two about cows and hay bales.”
-Gabreielle Hendsrud aka. Cowbell

“Retweet ^^^.”
-Alexandra Hendsrud aka. Betty Miller

by Hannah Pagel

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Playing the Game with Your 7 of Hearts

Have you ever been dealt a hand of cards and thought to yourself, “How am I going to make this work?” In the game of life, we all have been dealt a hand that can take us down a difficult path, but what we may not realize is that each card has its own unique trick. Everyone has a secret talent that they possess—it might be a witty personality, artistic ability, athletic stamina, or a way of connecting with individuals on a deeper level. Anything can be a gift, but some might not share it for fear of losing it or being ridiculed about it. We all have been dealt a certain hand, but sometimes we hide that “special card” or fold before we let the hand play itself out. It’s then that we miss out on the opportunity to play the game of life to its fullest possibilities.

Hannah (center) with conference colleagues.
I recently traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to take part in the Agriculture Future of America Leadership Conference. At this conference we heard from some amazing speakers that inspired, informed, and engaged with us about various topics concerning our future in agriculture—but also our own personal life. There were many positive and inspiring messages shared with us throughout the four-day conference, but it was the last speaker that spoke to my heart—thus making me want to share that message with the rest of you.

Now there are two things in life that fascinate me. The first is Laffy Taffy jokes and the other is magic. It doesn’t matter how simple the trick is—I just love the thrill of believing in something unknown, kind of like Santa. Now the last speaker at the conference was just that—a magician who is not Santa. His name is Jon Petz and as much as his magic fascinated me, his message did too.

A little background on his story: Jon is a magician in the Indianapolis area, and one day he got a call. He was told that there was a child named Nathan whose wish was to see David Copperfield. Nathan was fascinated with magic and wanted to see it first hand. When Jon was called upon, he was hesitant at first to come. Jon said he was no David Copperfield and didn’t know if he could compare to Nathan’s expectations of magic. But Jon went to visit Nathan anyway.

When he got there he was touched by what he saw—first he noticed a priest, then Nathan’s parents and siblings, and then behind them in a hospital room was a child hooked up to many machines that guided his breathing. It was then that Jon realized his purpose. As Jon entered the room, Nathan’s eyes lit up when he was told Jon was a magician. Jon performed a variety of tricks, and at the end he wanted Nathan to perform the last two tricks himself.

It was a simple card trick. Nathan pulled out a card and wrote his initials on the card to signify it was “his” card. Nathan’s card was the 7 of hearts. As the trick continued, it only took Nathan a wave of the hand and a double tap on the deck and then the 7 of hearts would appear on top. But it wasn’t till Jon shared the last trick with us that a tear rolled down my cheek. He had Nathan throw the deck of cards up to the ceiling. And as the cards came falling down, there was one that wasn’t among them—the 7 of hearts was stuck on the ceiling.


I swear you could hear a pin drop at this conference. Jon continued on with the story, sharing that six months later he randomly ran into the priest that was with the family that day. It was then he learned that Nathan had passed on the next day after being visited by Jon. The priest also shared that in Nathan’s casket the family placed a 7 of hearts card—it symbolized that last happy moment they all shared as a family.

That story has touched my heart in more ways than one. There have been so many times where I had the opportunity to share my 7 of hearts with others, but I decided not to in the end. One thing that I realized in Jon’s speech was that it not only affects me but also the people I decided not to share it with. If Jon decided that his talent wasn’t comparable to David Copperfield, he never would have met Nathan and never would have had a lasting impact on Nathan’s family.

It’s a risk we take to be seen for who we truly are—but by not taking the risk, we take the chance of missing out on new opportunities and experiences that can have a lasting impact on our own lives and the chance to grow as an individual. I’ve been told that in life we have to play the cards we are dealt. But if we take the chance to play our 7 of hearts, it is then that we can change the way we as individuals view the game in the end. Life’s too short to wait on when to play the right card. We could miss the opportunity to experience life at its fullest possibilities. Don’t wait—take the chance, and experience the love and the thrill of playing your 7 of hearts. For it’s not what you’re dealt, but how you play the game in the end that truly matters.

by Hannah Pagel (Iowa State Univ. student and CAST student admin. asst.)