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Get to Know Jacob Custer

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On a Sunday afternoon, November 3, 2019, Aaron and Debby Custer, received the call every parent prays they will never receive.  Their middle child and only son Jacob, had been in a feed mill accident and was being life flighted to Amarillo, Texas.  Aaron and Debby had spent the weekend in Hugo, Oklahoma with Aarons parents, Warren and Marilyn Custer, and were over 400 miles from Amarillo when the call came in.  As a mother I can only imagine the fear in their hearts as they made the long trip from Hugo to Amarillo keeping up with Jacob’s condition through phone calls and texts. 

The day of the accident was like any normal day at the feedlot.  Jacob had rode the one-man electric lift up to the top of the mill to check out an airlift (an air system that moves/blows the feed ingredients used in mixing the feed rations) located over the top of the auger cover.  As Jacob was working on top of the auger cover to access the airlift which was just out of is reach, his left toe caught the lid and flipped it off causing Jacob’s left leg to land into the auger.  I truly believe with every ounce of my being, in the split second when Jacob could have lost his life, God reached down and gave Jacob the physical and mental strength, needed to free himself from the clutches of the auger.

After Jacob had managed to free himself from the auger, he used his shredded jeans to make a tourniquet then called his Supervisor and told him he had just cut his leg off and needed help.  Upon his Supervisor’s arrival, Jacob instructed him to take off his shirt in order to construct another tourniquet.  Working together the two used the shirt and a latch bar to secure an additional tourniquet.  With the help of his Supervisor, Jacob hopped to the one-man lift and rode it down all alone where he was meet with the crew he worked with.  Prior to the arrival of the paramedics and life flight helicopter, two more tourniquets were tied to his left leg to try and stop the bleeding.

Upon arrival to the hospital the Doctors discovered that Jacobs leg had been disarticulated at the joint, or in layman’s terms, it had been twisted off at the knee.  After the initial surgery, an infection set in and an additional three to four inches more of Jacob’s leg had to be taken off.  Jacob spent a total of 25 days at the hospital in Amarillo, Texas, with his mom Debby rarely leaving his side. 

Jacob ended up having a total of seven surgeries before being released to go back to Oklahoma where he did inpatient rehab in Ardmore, OK.  During his two weeks at Mercy Rehabilitation Services, in Ardmore, Jacob worked on building up and getting back his core strength, which after 25 days of laying in a hospital bed, had started to deplete.  After the two weeks of in-house rehab, Jacob was able to go home with his parents while he attended outpatient rehab.

Also, during his time of rehabilitation, Jacob regularly went to Mercy Hyperbaric and Wound Care to tend to the healing of his leg.  A wound vac (a device that creates negative low atmospheric pressure at a constant rate. It is used on open wounds to remove fluid secretion and enhance granulation tissue and wound healing) was placed on the stump of Jacob’s leg and was not taken completely off until April 10, 2020.  After the removal of the wound vac Jacob started working with Dream Team Prosthetics to get his artificial limb.  Jacob said he loved working with the Dream Team. He said they were extremely professional and a just a great bunch to work with. 

When working on the design for the prosthetic limb, the Dream Team designed the leg to fit Jacob’s lifestyle.  Knowing Jacob would be working in a feedlot again, the prosthetic needed to be water and dust proof.   The technology in the knee of the prosthetic was originally created for wounded combat veterans by Ottobock, a company out of Germany.  Ottobock was hired by the DOD to create prosthetics that would allow wounded soldiers to return to active duty.  The technology includes a microprocessor that records the knee’s position 100 times each second.  The information is then sent to a hydraulic unit that can adjust resistance.  In a nutshell the knee allows Jacob to walk down a ramp, up and down stairs and do most anything his natural leg would do.  The leg also comes with six different programable modes which allow for different actions such as walking, running, or driving.

During the recovery Jacob had to overcome more than just the normal healing process.  He had to learn once again how to be mobile.  How to get in and out of bed or a wheelchair, how to use crutches etc.,   In addition to healing and mobility Jacob experienced what is known as phantom pains along with the actual nerve pain.  He said the nerve pains were the worse but still today experiences phantom symptoms such as a sensation of his foot itching.  Jacob said the lowest points during his journey where the nights at the hospital when he couldn’t sleep.  Those nights were tough, but the mental battle was the hardest to conquer. 

When I asked Jacob, what kept him motivated his answer was simple.  He said from the day the accident happened he kept telling himself he wanted to go back to work for the feed yard.  Over the last several years he has really come to love the cattle feeding industry and plans to continue his career in the cattle feeding world.  The old age saying of, if you love your job you will never work a day in your life fits Jacob to a “T”!

Accidents are a normal part of any industry, however in the agriculture industry it seems like we hear of more severe injuries from machinery and tools such as augers. I asked Jacob if he felt the accident could have been prevented or if more safety measures should be put in place.  Jacob’s said he felt a large majority of accidents could be prevented with the proper behavior put in place, but complacency will get you every time.  He said you can build a cage around a bomb but that won’t keep some one from cutting it open and punching the red button.  At the end of the day your safety is in your own hands and you are the only one who will deal with the consequences of your actions.  Before you start every workday remember why you work, or who you work for (i.e. family, friends) and think of them before you do something perilous just to shave time.

I am a firm believer, that with every negative there is a positive.  When I asked Jacob if he felt there was a positive from his accident, he said absolutely.  Jacob said the accident had allowed him to spend more time developing himself as a person and changed his perspective on a lot of things.  He said he now has a more positive outlook on life these days and shared with me a quote by Ray Wylie Hubbard he once saw that really stuck with him throughout the entire ordeal. The quote is “On days where my gratefulness exceeds my expectations, I have good days.”  

Jacob’s advice to others who have lost a limb, “don’t give up!”  It’s hard but you’re only limited by what you tell yourself you can’t do. There are people everywhere who will support you on the journey, and just know there’s a whole lot of life after limb loss.

After almost loosing his life that dreadful day in November, Jacob returned this past June to the same feedlot he last left on a life flight.  Jacob is back living his life doing what he loves and I for one will always be grateful God granted him another chance.  Having known Jacob since the day he was born I always knew he was special with his kind ways, big heart and special gift of gab.  I just never knew the inner strength that lay quietly inside.

Until Next Time …

Read more in the November 2020 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Poinsettia Partnerships Will Make Your Holidays Beautiful

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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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