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Leading the Way



Growing up in the northeast Oklahoma, Tanner Taylor aspired to a life with livestock. His parents fostered his passion for agriculture, and the diverse ranch of quarter horses, cattle, hogs, and lambs gave him ample opportunity to learn.

Soon he joined his local FFA chapter, setting him on a path that eventually would lead him to the highest FFA Office in the state – Oklahoma FFA President. Now, with COVID-19, Tanner and his newly elected officer team find themselves in the unprecedented position of guiding the states 26,466 FFA members through the next year.

Born in 2000, Tanner grew up in the Grand Lake community in northeastern Oklahoma. He started school at Ketchum, where his mother Joy is the Superintendent, but made the switch to Adair Schools prior to his eighth grade year. “The problem was that they did not have an FFA Chapter at the time, which was very important to me. I made the transition to Adair to be a part of their ag-ed program. They are one of the top rated FFA programs in our part of the state, and that was really where I wanted to go,” he shared.

Coming from a livestock-oriented background, Adair was a perfect fit. Agriculture education teachers Devin DeLozier and Shane Johnson are both enthusiastic about the competition side of FFA, and Tanner fit right in. “Both Mr. DeLozier and Mr. Johnson have been there many years and are exceptional guys. Adair’s livestock program is huge, and that’s what I wanted,” Tanner said. “But what is interesting is that, this year will be the third year in a row that Adair has had a State Officer, and the program has migrated to encompassing more of the leadership aspects in recent years. It’s been rewarding to see how we’ve kept our traditions, but grown as well.”

Tanner admits that he once held a narrow view of what FFA was. “In all honesty, I had two things on my mind when I started FFA, and that was exhibiting cattle and judging livestock. That’s what my parents both did when they were members – exhibit livestock,” he shared.

As he became more involved, he recognized that FFA was more than just livestock exhibition and evaluation. He explained, “I soon realized that my FFA advisors had a lot more in store for me than I knew. They pushed me to do many different things from horse evaluation, public speaking, being a chapter officer, and going to leadership conferences. It really started out with me wanting to just exhibit and judge livestock, and now here I am.”

It was during that first year as an FFA member, while attending State Convention, that the idea to be a State Officer was planted. “I had an awesome eighth grade year and was fortunate enough to find some success in prepared public speaking and won several contests. When I got to State Convention, the State FFA President at the time, Garrett Reed, was giving his retiring address. He was from the very same county I was, and I thought, ‘This guy right here, who is so exceptional and led our association so well, is from my county. If he can do it, why can’t I?’ So I made a plan to pursue state office,” Tanner recalled.

First though, Tanner had to serve as an officer at his school. Adair is a competitive chapter, and FFA members are only able to serve as officers during their junior and senior year. Tanner served as Sentinel his junior year, and led his chapter as President his senior year. “When I first ran for a State Office, my goal never was to become President, it was just to get elected and serve as the Northeast Area Vice President. I was very excited to give it my all in that position. When I got to the end of that term, I believed my work wasn’t finished, so I ran for State President,” he said.

Running for Office with COVID-19

The election season began as it had in previous years. Aspiring officers filed all necessary forms, went through formal interviews, took tests, and then advanced through the first round during the nominating committee session in Oklahoma City. “Everything went as normal as it usually does, and the officers vying for each position were able to start campaigning,” Tanner said.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck quickly. Schools and extracurriculars were shut down, and gatherings were prohibited. “With school out everything was canceled. Our speech contests, leadership conferences, and livestock shows were all canceled. That first month after nominating committee was really, really crucial to those state officer candidates, if they utilized and made the most of that first month, they were set up really well,” he said.

The process delved even more into the unknown when Oklahoma State FFA Convention was canceled. “That left us with online elections. We worked through that with the State FFA staff, and the State Officer team gave input when needed.” He added, “We didn’t know if the online platform would be reliable. We didn’t know if there would be glitches, but there was a lot of prayer and diligent work that went into it, and it worked out for the best.”

Perhaps the biggest change was how officers learned of their win. Instead of reveling in the win on the Convention stage, most, like Tanner himself, waited for the announcement with friends and family at home. “It was a fun-filled night for me. I had my closest friends and family here at the house. We gathered and watched Convention and laughed and visited. In my mind I was pretty negative about the whole thing but watching convention with my family sitting beside was one of my biggest blessings. Most parents rarely get to see what their children are doing in FFA, so it was awesome to be there and honor my family and my FFA chapter and advisors,” he said.

“My family was more on edge than I was. When my face came up on the screen as the State President, everyone went crazy, but all I did was take a big sigh of relief because it was such a long process,” he said. “My biggest regret for the new State Officers is that they did not get to experience their election in person at Convention, because that is one of the most memorable experiences an officer has. When you get to run on stage, that is the moment all of your hard work comes to fruition. Still, they got elected, and I’m beyond excited for them.”

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

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Country Lifestyle

Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful




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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Country Lifestyle

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



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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Country Lifestyle

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



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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