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Christmas 1990

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By

Barry Whitworth, DVM

Area Food/Animal Quality and

Health Specialist for Eastern Oklahoma 

It was Christmas eve.  I was closely monitoring the clock, counting down the minutes until I could head home.  The boss had talked about closing the clinic down early, and I was ready.  My wife and new 9-month old daughter were waiting for me to get off work so we could begin our holiday celebrations.

In the midst of my Yuletide daydreaming, I heard the sound of the boss drive up to the clinic.  He motioned for me to get in and silence filled the truck for a moment.  Finally, the boss broke the quiet, “Barry, I think it’s time for you to ‘get on down the road’.”  When he said, ‘get on down the road’, he was not talking about a farm call.  He was firing me on Christmas Eve.

As I stepped out of the pickup and walked back in the clinic, my mind was racing with the reality of being jobless.  I should have seen this coming.  In fact, in the 8 months that I had worked there, my boss and I had never been on the same page.  I had actively been searching for another job, a fact that I never hid from him.  I left that day with a sense of defeat heavy in my chest.  I prided myself on being an excellent employee.  In my whole life I had never lost a job.  I was accustomed to getting pay raises and praise from my employers.  Instead, that day I was getting a pink slip to take home to my family for Christmas.

As I begin my drive home, fears, doubts, and anxieties began to make themselves at home in my mind.  A sea of questions began to rush in, “Would I ever get another job?” “What would potential employers think when they found out I had been fired?” “Was I cut out to be a veterinarian after all?”  My confidence was wounded, and I felt inadequate.  The classmates I had studied and trained with over the past four years seemed to be breezing through their first year with no hiccups; yet, I had met many obstacles during my first job.  Deep down inside, I felt like an embarrassment to my alma mater.

I rounded the corner and the small trailer that we had called home over the past eight months was in site.  The truck rolled to a stop, and I paused a moment to collect my thoughts before heading inside to break the news to my wife.  The holiday scents and sounds greeted me as I opened the door.  My wife had been preparing all day for our first Christmas with our new baby.  She turned to welcome me home with a cheerful face, but she knew instantly that I did not bring good news.  Tears began to flow when I told her that I had lost my job.  Together we began to wonder how we would make it.  It was not just the two of us anymore.  We had our baby girl to worry about, too.  How would we take care of her?  What if she got sick?  In reality, neither my parents or my in-laws would then or now ever let their granddaughter go without, but in the moment the fears were very real.  We sat contemplating the future full of worry, and the joys of Christmas Eve seemed to drift somewhere far away.

Following our family’s Christmas celebrations, I returned to the clinic to turn in my equipment and pick up my final check.  My employer and I parted as best we could, and then I ‘headed down the road’ to somewhere I did not know.

One morning as I sat at home updating my résumé, the phone rang.  I stopped working and answered the phone.  The person calling was Bill Booth.  He said, “I was wondering if you would bleed some pigs for some of the kids in the local 4H and FFA program.”  Shocked that he had not heard the news, I politely informed Bill that I no longer worked for the veterinary clinic and gave him the number to get a hold my previous employer.  I am not sure if the next words out of Bill’s mouth were said simply because he felt sorry for me or out of compassion, but they are words that I will never forget.  “I did not ask another veterinarian to bleed the pigs.  I ask if you would.”  I was grateful at the thought of making a little money since I had none coming in, but the impact of his call was of greater value to me.  At that moment in my career, those words reassured me of my abilities and worth.  Someone still believed that I was capable.  Someone still believed that I had what it took to be a veterinarian. 

Over the course of my almost 30 years in veterinary medicine, I have worked for many clients, and I have bled hundreds of pigs.  None were as memorable or as important to me as the ones I did that day so early in my career.  Bill’s willingness to reach out and ask me to care for his animals re-instilled in me the confidence that had been wounded and shaken.  I am forever grateful for the kindness that he showed me.

Bill passed away a few years ago.  Upon his death, I relayed to his family how much him giving me that pig bleeding job had meant to me as a young struggling veterinarian.  I told them that one of my biggest regrets was that I never properly thanked him for extending such kindness to me when I needed it the most.  Over the years, I have had many wonderful clients that have touched my life and given me the opportunity to make a living doing what I love.  You, too, have stories like mine.  Stories of a time when someone reached out in kindness to pick you up when you were down.  My hope for you is that this holiday season you would take the time to thank those special people in your life and as well be an encouragement to someone in need.

From my family to yours, may you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Read more in the December issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful

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By

Norman Winter

Horticulturist, Author and Speaker

National Poinsettia Day just passed, December 12 to be exact. While I am sure the powers to be wanted a celebratory type day, from what I have been seeing this year is this may have been a deadline day. This most likely applies to poinsettia partners too! If you are asking what a poinsettia partner is then put on your thinking cap and gather around.

Proven Winners got most of us to thinking partners when they introduced the concept of combining poinsettias with Diamond Frost euphorbias. This is one of the best ideas ever and we now actually have three choices, Diamond Frost, Diamond Snow with double flowers and Diamond Mountain that is the taller of the three.

To a horticulturist like myself this combination is so special because both the Poinsettia and the Diamond Frost are Euphorbias. That’s right, they are cousins. Just like Christmas, families visiting and long-lost cousins getting together. Of course, the main reason we like this idea is that the red, pink, or variegated poinsettia looks incredible, it’s as though it is sitting on a bed of snow or frost. I have found these to be more available at fine florists.

But if you are going to create your own and go plant shopping then keep in mind some other options you might want to-try. For instance, a couple of years ago Jenny Simpson of Creekside Nursery in Dallas North Carolina introduced us to not only using caladiums at Christmas but even in combinations with poinsettias. She used the Heart to Heart White Snowdrift caladiums which turned out to be a perfect partner with red poinsettias.

My time as Executive Director at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah GA taught me there are opportunities for outside use with poinsettias, particularly if you are astute at long range weather forecasting. First consider that Savannah is technically zone 8B with a proclivity to lean into zone 9. We used poinsettias in large planters surrounded by Silver Bullet Dusty Miller or artemisia.

A similar application gave me the opportunity of photographing pink poinsettias mass planted in an atrium-like setting and surrounded by gray leaved Icicles helichrysum. But the most obvious and perhaps easiest if you are getting a late start is to combine your poinsettias with another Christmas plant like cyclamen. White cyclamen around a red poinsettia can be simply breathtaking.

This year I have also been watching what I call the professional garden club ladies walking out of both florists and floral departments with holly berries. We all think of hollies on swags above the fireplace or front door, but two or three preserved branches loaded with red berries stuck in a pot of white poinsettias is quick, easy and unbeatable.

Red berries for Christmas, landscape beauty, and of course feeding the birds is a prime reason to grow winterberry hollies like the compact Berry Poppins. Consider also growing Berry Heavy Gold winterberry holly. Cutting branches of the gold berries to be used with red poinsettias makes a stunning partnership. Go to Proven Winners site, Winterberry Holly: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Colorful Berries. If you don’t have poinsettias yet make today your shopping day! Follow me on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy for more photos and garden inspiration.

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Homesteading Skills: The Essentials for Self-Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

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Homesteading, once a way of life for our ancestors, is experiencing a resurgence in today’s world. As people seek greater self-sufficiency, a deeper connection with the land, and more sustainable lifestyles, homesteading skills have become not only practical but also deeply rewarding. In this article, we’ll explore the essential homesteading skills that can empower individuals and families to live more self-reliant and sustainable lives.

1. Gardening

At the heart of homesteading is the ability to grow your own food. Gardening is the foundation of self-sufficiency, and it’s a skill that can be cultivated no matter the size of your property. Key gardening skills include:

Soil preparation and composting

Seed starting and transplanting

Crop rotation and companion planting

Pest and weed management

Harvesting and food preservation techniques like canning, freezing, and drying

2. Animal Husbandry

Raising animals for food, fiber, and companionship is a fundamental aspect of homesteading. The skills related to animal husbandry include:

Care and feeding of livestock, such as chickens, goats, cows, or pigs

Breeding and reproduction management

Livestock housing and pasture management

Animal health and basic veterinary care

Dairy and meat processing if you’re raising animals for consumption

3. Food Preservation

To make the most of your garden’s bounty or the harvest from your livestock, knowing how to preserve food is essential. Food preservation skills include:

Canning fruits and vegetables

Fermentation for foods like sauerkraut and kimchi

Dehydrating fruits, vegetables, and herbs

Making homemade jams, jellies, and pickles

Smoking, curing, and other methods for meat preservation

4. Foraging and Wildcrafting

Homesteading often involves making the most of what nature provides. Learning to identify and use wild edibles and medicinals is a valuable skill:

Identifying edible wild plants and mushrooms

Harvesting herbs for teas, tinctures, and salves

Sustainable foraging practices to protect local ecosystems

Preserving wildcrafted items for later use

5. Beekeeping

Keeping bees not only provides a source of honey but also contributes to pollination on your property. Beekeeping skills include:

Setting up and maintaining beehives

Handling and managing bees safely

Harvesting and processing honey and beeswax

Identifying and addressing common bee health issues

6. Food Self-Sufficiency

Beyond gardening, you can work toward greater food self-sufficiency by learning skills like:

Seed saving to preserve heirloom and open-pollinated varieties

Raising and harvesting small livestock like rabbits or quail

Cultivating perennial food crops like fruit trees and berry bushes

Aquaponics or hydroponics for year-round food production

7. Basic Carpentry and DIY Skills

Homesteaders often find themselves needing to build and repair structures, tools, and equipment. Carpentry and DIY skills include:

Building raised beds, chicken coops, and animal shelters

Basic woodworking for constructing furniture and farm implements

Repairing and maintaining machinery like tractors and generators

Fencing and infrastructure construction for property management

8. Water Management

Managing water resources efficiently is crucial for sustainable living. Key skills include:

Rainwater harvesting and storage

Drip irrigation and water-saving techniques for gardening

Proper well maintenance and water testing

Building and maintaining ponds or water features for livestock and wildlife

9. Energy Independence

To live off the grid or reduce your environmental footprint, consider energy independence skills:

Solar panel installation and maintenance

Wind turbine installation and maintenance

Energy-efficient building design and retrofits

Off-grid living strategies for reduced reliance on public utilities

10. Soap and Candle Making

Homemade soaps and candles can reduce reliance on store-bought products. These skills include:

Making soap using cold or hot process methods

Crafting candles from beeswax, soy, or other materials

Adding scents and colors naturally

11. Herbal Medicine and Remedies

Homesteaders often turn to herbal medicine and remedies for self-sufficiency in healthcare:

Growing and harvesting medicinal herbs

Making tinctures, salves, and herbal teas

Natural remedies for common ailments

Basic first-aid and emergency care skills

12. Sewing and Textile Arts

Basic sewing skills are essential for making and repairing clothing, linens, and more. These skills include:

Hand and machine sewing techniques

Mending and darning clothing

Knitting, crocheting, and other textile arts

Crafting items like blankets, rugs, and quilts

Homesteading is not just a return to simpler times but a way to embrace self-sufficiency, sustainability, and a deeper connection with the land. While mastering all these skills may take time, the journey itself is a rich and rewarding experience. Homesteading is about learning, adapting, and continually improving your ability to live more independently and in harmony with the environment. Whether you have acres of land or a small urban plot, these essential homesteading skills can empower you to live a more self-reliant and sustainable life, fostering a sense of fulfillment and purpose in the process.

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Raising Chickens for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

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Raising chickens can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, whether you’re a homesteader looking to become more self-sufficient or a backyard enthusiast seeking fresh eggs for your family. Chickens are relatively low-maintenance animals, making them an excellent choice for beginners in the world of poultry farming. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the essentials of raising chickens, from choosing the right breed to ensuring their health and happiness.

Selecting the Right Breed

Before diving into chicken-raising, it’s crucial to choose the right breed that suits your goals and environment. Different breeds have various characteristics, including egg-laying capacity, temperament, and adaptability. Here are some popular options for beginners:

Rhode Island Red: Known for their excellent egg production and hardiness.

Plymouth Rock: Friendly birds that lay brown eggs and adapt well to various climates.

Australorp: Record-holders for egg-laying, known for their docile nature.

Silkies: Unique and fluffy birds often kept as pets; they lay smaller eggs but are adorable companions.

Research the specific breeds available in your area and consider factors like climate and available space when making your selection.

Coop and Run Setup

Before bringing your chickens home, you’ll need to set up a safe and comfortable living space for them. A coop and run are essential components of your chicken-keeping setup:

Coop: The coop is where your chickens will sleep at night and lay their eggs. It should be well-insulated, predator-proof, and provide at least two to three square feet of space per chicken.

Run: The run is an outdoor area where your chickens can roam during the day. It should be fenced and covered to protect your birds from predators and provide shade.

Make sure to include roosting bars, nesting boxes, and adequate ventilation in your coop for a healthy environment.

Feeding Your Chickens

Chickens need a balanced diet to stay healthy and lay eggs regularly. You can feed them commercial chicken feed, which comes in various forms:

Starter Feed: For chicks up to six weeks old.

Grower Feed: For chicks aged six weeks to 20 weeks.

Layer Feed: For hens producing eggs.

Additionally, you can supplement their diet with kitchen scraps, vegetables, and grains. Ensure they have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

Care and Health

Regular care and monitoring are essential to keeping your chickens healthy. Here are some key aspects of chicken care:

Regular Health Checks: Inspect your chickens for signs of illness or injury daily. Common issues include mites, respiratory infections, and injuries from pecking.

Disease Prevention: Vaccinate your chickens against common diseases to keep your flock healthy.

Egg Collection: Collect eggs daily to ensure they remain clean and prevent hens from brooding.

Clean Coop: Regularly clean the coop to prevent the buildup of waste and odors, which can attract pests.

Handling and Socializing

Chickens can be friendly and enjoy human interaction when handled gently. Spend time with your chickens, hand-feeding them treats to build trust. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises, which can startle them.

Understanding Egg Production

Egg production varies by breed and age. Hens typically start laying eggs at around 5-6 months old. The amount of daylight, diet, and stress can affect egg production. You can use artificial lighting to simulate longer daylight hours, which can encourage consistent egg-laying.

Dealing with Challenges

Chickens, like any animal, come with their challenges. Here are a few common issues and how to address them:

Predators: Invest in a secure coop and run, and consider adding motion-activated lights or alarms to deter nighttime predators.

Broodiness: Some hens may become broody and stop laying eggs. You can break this behavior by isolating them in a separate enclosure or providing them with dummy eggs to sit on.

Feather Pecking: Chickens can sometimes develop a habit of pecking at each other’s feathers. Ensure they have enough space and distractions to prevent this behavior.

Raising chickens can be a delightful and educational journey. By selecting the right breed, setting up a proper coop and run, providing a balanced diet, and offering care and attention, you can enjoy the rewards of fresh eggs and the companionship of these feathered friends. Remember that every chicken has its unique personality, so get ready to be charmed by your new flock as you embark on this fulfilling adventure in poultry farming. Happy chicken-keeping!

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