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Tenacious Taylor

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What does it take to become the only woman to have won all four levels of Oklahoma State Rodeo Queen pageantry, and earn two high school rodeo titles – one for state and one for national – along the way?

Tenacity, perseverance, and an unwavering eye pointed at the prize; all of which Cleveland’s Taylor Spears has in spades. The 23-year-old first became enamored with the glitz and glamour of rodeo queen contests at just three years old when she wanted to do everything her sister did. Over the years she learned how much work there was aside from the glamorous outfits and perfect makeup, evolving into the well-spoken, world traveling, and smiling rodeo ambassador she is today.

Growing up in the tiny country town of Hallett in north east Oklahoma, Taylor Spears has always had a love for rural life. That passion was fueled by parents who were relatively new to agriculture themselves. “I had two amazing parents, and interestingly enough, neither one of them had an agriculture background. My dad always had this dream, even though he was a city boy from Tulsa, to get some land and have cattle. He even wanted to be a bull rider at one point in his life,” she said, referring to her parents Shirley and Terry Spears. “Honestly, my dad is one of the most admirable people in my life because it’s crazy to think about where he came from, and where he is now. We have a beautiful ranch in northeast Oklahoma, and we get to live the dream every day with horses, cows, and pigs.”

As many younger sisters do, Taylor admired her older sister Sarah, and wanted to emulate everything Sarah did. “My sister started showing in 4H and all of that, and so, being three years old and thinking my sister hung the moon, I had to do it, too,” Taylor said. “So I grew up my whole life showing pigs and goats and I even tried cattle for a little bit.”

Sarah fell in love with horses, and eventually the Spears family purchased a reining horse. “You name it, we tried it, and our parents supported us,” Taylor said. “We still have our first reining horse that’s out in the pasture, and dad will say, ‘Well there’s my swimming pool,’ because I guess he had a choice of getting either a swimming pool or that horse. I think that was the best option.”

So the Spears sisters traveled the country showing livestock and horses, and then they ventured into the rodeo lifestyle, competing in barrel racing as well. It was actually Sarah’s barrel racing coach who set the sisters on the path to rodeo pageantry, when she encouraged Sarah to try her hand in a contest. “Sarah became a rodeo queen, and I was obsessed. In the car rides going to lessons, I would be answering the questions that mom would be asking, instead of giving Sarah time to answer. I was just infatuated with it all.

“Truly, starting around three years old, I became interested in promoting the sport of rodeo and telling people about it. I remember being so excited to tell my friends when I learned something new,” Taylor said.

Her very first pageant was for Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Sweetheart, which she won. She laughed, and explained, “That was a fun experience because all the Sweethearts win. They want you to keep going, so they don’t tell you that you didn’t do well.”

Riding high after her “win,” Taylor was soon humbled when she aged out of the Princess division and had to actually compete for Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Princess. “I was a Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Sweetheart in 2005 or 2006, and it took me until 2010 for me to finally win Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Princess,” she shared. “In those years, I not only grew as a young woman, but I also used that time to grow in my knowledge and become well-rounded.”

She added, “I had gone into that first Miss Rodeo Oklahoma Princess pageant expecting it would be easy to win, and then I learned I had to study more and work harder. Each year that I didn’t win pushed me to study more, work more, and study some more. I think the biggest thing I learned is that nothing is ever handed to you, and that everything you have in life is something that you work hard for. Truly, losing those pageants at that young of age was a blessing because most people don’t get to learn those lessons early on.”

As a rodeo queen, it is said you have to be a master in almost every category, being knowledgeable not just about rodeo, but also agriculture in general, politics, and current events. As Taylor grew up, she would miss out on normal childhood things because of contests or clinics. “I had a friend tell me that if I had spent as much time on my schoolwork as I did studying and learning for the rodeo queen contests, I’d be a straight-A student, but I had other desires,” she shared. “During high school, when everything started piling up, it would have been really easy to say I was done for a bit.”

Once she began winning, she didn’t stop. She became the only person in Miss Rodeo Oklahoma history to be a title holder in all four divisions; Sweetheart, Princess, Teen, and of course, Miss Rodeo Oklahoma in 2018. She also became only the second young woman in Oklahoma history to hold both the State and National High School Rodeo Queen title. Taylor went on to compete for Miss Rodeo America, and finished as first runner up.

Life After Royalty

Taylor graduated from Oklahoma State University in December 2020, where she majored in Marketing and Communications. The vivacious 23-year-old has already racked up lots of real-world experience in that field. She spent several years as a social media ambassador for RFD-TVs the American Rodeo, and has been an on-camera personality for several rodeo-based television shows on RFD-TV. “Each year when the National Little Britches Rodeo Association Finals have come to Guthrie, I have been fortunate enough to be on-camera to interview all the contestants and know their stories,” she shared.

She also works as an assistant producer on Rodeo Queens, a show in its second season on the Cowboy Channel that follows several rodeo pageants. “It lets viewers see the ins and outs, and I wish I could have watched it before I competed because I have learned so much from working on that set,” she said.

In December, Taylor continued her work with the Cowboy Channel, interning with the Channel and focusing most of her efforsts on the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, which was moved to Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, due to COVID-19. “Right now I’m just burning the candle at both ends and working on everything I can,” she said. “I’m kind of in a transition phase of my life. I’m able to work in a lot of areas, and am seeking a job that I feel is the right fit. Through the rodeo pageants I learned the importance of brand management, because when you are a rodeo queen, you are the face of that organization. There are so many things that I can do because of the opportunities afforded to me through being a rodeo queen.”

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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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Country Lifestyle

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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