Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas 2013Well, it’s time for us to sign off for the year. We hope to be back early in January with more information and resources, including our ongoing cattle breed guide. May God bless you and yours this Christmas.

Meanwhile, in case you are looking for some good winter reading, allow us to make a few recommendations.


Best of 2013



Streams of IncomeStreams of Income


Looking at the Bigger PictureLooking at the Bigger Picture


The Old-Fashioned WindmillThe Old-Fashioned Windmill


Don’t Throw It Out!Don't Throw It Out!


What is pH?What is pH?


Soil TypesSoil Types


How to Make Osage Orange Fence PostsHow to Make Osage Orange Fence Posts


Super-Small-Scale FarmingSuper-Small-Scale Farming


What is Silage?What is Silage?


5 Ways to Save Money On Seeds5 Ways to Save Money on Seeds


Lessons from the BisonLessons from the Bison


Texas FeverTexas Fever


10 Time-Saving Tips for the Farm10 Time-Saving Tips for the Farm


How to Make a Sweet Potato BeetleHow to Make a Sweet Potato Beetle




Beans as a Field Crop in KansasBeans as a Field Crop in Kansas


Building a Sustainable BusinessBuilding a Sustainable Business


Home Vegetable GardeningHome Vegetable Gardening


Online Bird GuideOnline Bird Guide


Kansas State University Weather Data LibraryKansas State University Weather Data Library


“Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way”Doing the Lord's Work in the Lord's Way


Wildflowers & Grasses of KansasWildflowers & Grasses of Kansas


You Can FarmYou Can Farm


All New Square Foot GardeningAll New Square Foot Gardening




Getting StartedGetting Started


Kansas RegionsKansas Regions



CharolaisAlthough no one knows for certain the exact origins of the Charolais (shar-LAY) breed of cattle, it probably originated in the central Burgundy region of France, near the town of Charolles or Charollais. The Romans may have brought it to the area for sacrificial purposes. However, it may have existed in France earlier.

The region surrounding Charolles was frequently isolated from the rest of France throughout history as one petty ruler after another conquered and governed it, frequently restricting imports as a means of retaining his control. So the Charolais became a distinct breed early in its career, when it was used for milk, meat, and pulling power. After centuries of selection for size, strength, and rapid growth, the Charolais slowly began to spread throughout France, beginning shortly before the French Revolution and continuing throughout the 1800s.

The next step in the breed’s expansion came after World War I. While serving as a volunteer in the French army, a Mexican named Jean Pugibet happened to see a few of the cattle and was impressed by their massive size. He began a series of importations of Charolais to his ranch in Mexico, and by 1937 had introduced a total of 37 cattle, 8 bulls and 29 females. He died shortly after the last shipment, and no one thought to import any more for a few years.

The first few cattle had meanwhile been brought to the United States via the Texas-based King Ranch. And they were a resounding success. The size and muscularity of the Charolais impressed quite a few cattlemen, and soon ranchers were clamoring for more of the cattle. An outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Mexico precluded any more importations from that direction, however, so after 1965 Charolais were imported from France.

But most ranchers relied on upgrading to expand the breed’s numbers. In the process, they created a polled (hornless) version of the breed and discovered something that would radically change the American beef industry.  Crossbred Charolais calves were huge, making them the perfect choice for the feedlot. A “bigger is better” mania erupted across the nation, affecting nearly every breed of cattle. Taller, heavier cattle became the norm in America, and only now are breeders beginning to rethink their philosophies a little bit.


The modern Charolais is almost exclusively a beef breed. However, many Charolais cattle in America are kept for breeding purposes, while their crossbred calves are raised for the feedlot.


The Charolais has earned a bad reputation for its temperament. Its personality can run the gamut from skittish to aggressive. Charolais also tend to fight with each other. Bulls are difficult to deal with, and cows protecting calves are equally dangerous. Crossbred Charolais cattle are not immune from these issues, either. For this reason, Charolais are not recommended for beginners.

A few seedstock producers have taken great pains to improve the temperament of their cattle, and have raised some very peaceable, good-natured animals. Potential cattle owners looking for Charolais would do well to seek out these reputable breeders when buying their cattle.


A number of health issues plague the Charolais, most notably reproductive difficulties such as prolapse and dystocia (difficult calving). Their white color can lead to sunburn, pinkeye, and cancer eye.


  • Genetic consistency.
  • Adaptability to most climates.
  • Fine mothering instincts.
  • Rapid growth.
  • Conformation ideal for producing high-value cuts of beef.
  • Lean meat.
  • Tenderness.
  • Good flavor.
  • Good prices for crossbreeds at the sale barn.


  • Poor temperament.
  • Inability to perform under minimal management.
  • High feed/forage needs.
  • Late maturity.
  • Calving problems; should never be crossed to small cows under any circumstances.
Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Charolais right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Charolais breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds


WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High Plains

WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High PlainsWaKeeney, Kansas, did not start out as the “Christmas City of the High Plains.”  Its founders, Albert Warren and James Keeney, called it the “Queen City of the Great Plains.”  It was located conveniently along the Kansas Pacific railway, nearly halfway between Kansas City and Denver, and (if Warren and Keeney are to be believed) boasted “the most fertile agricultural land in the world.”

The settlers who arrived in 1879, one year after the town was surveyed, might have felt otherwise.  Severe drought prevented WaKeeney from thriving until the Volga Germans began to arrive near the close of the century.

Today WaKeeney is best known for its stunning annual display of Christmas festivity.  Since 1950, residents have gathered on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving at Main Street (5th Street on the map below) and Russell Avenue to light the tree.  And it’s quite a tree, too.  It’s 35 feet tall and made of fresh greenery decorated with red and green lights.  Four shining stars top the display.

WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High PlainsThe tree is not the only Christmas attraction in town, though.  All of WaKeeney joins in the splurge of lights and greenery, but the four blocks surrounding the Christmas tree are particularly spectacular.  Bells, wreaths, bows—you name it, WaKeeney has it.  The result is the largest display of Christmas lights between Kansas City and Denver.

Even when it’s not Christmas, WaKeeney obviously retains the spirit of the season, with signs proclaiming its “Christmas City” status and a festively decorated nook on Main Street known as the North Pole.  It may seem unusual to some to think of Santas and snowmen on a blistering July day, but a year-round North Pole is part of the charm of WaKeeney.


Helpful Resource

Scroll down and click on “Christmas in WaKeeney” to see a slideshow of the decorations.  You may also want to read these interesting facts about WaKeeney’s festivities.

Stovetop Apples

Stovetop ApplesApples, cinnamon, brown sugar…yum!

Cooking apple slices on the stovetop is quite simple, and it’s a great way to add a little variety to your fruit options. Give this delicious side a try, tweak it to suit your taste, and see if it fits on your Christmas menu.


  • 1 pound (2 large or 3 small) apples
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (adjust to suit your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached white flour


  1. Peel, core, quarter, and slice the apples.
  2. Combine in a saucepan with the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour.
  3. Cook on medium-low heat until apples are tender and sauce is thick.
  4. Reduce heat to low until you are ready to serve.

The Weather Wizard’s 5-Year Weather Diary

The Old Farmer's Almanac Weather Notebook

Update: Unfortunately, this diary appears to be out of print. We now recommend The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Notebook, a beautiful, sturdy four-year journal in full color. The Weather Notebook has room for recording current conditions, temperature, precipitation, wind speed, barometric pressure, humidity, and special weather or personal events. It also includes amazing photography, fascinating information on how weather works, and a daily dose of weather folklore.

The Weather Wizard's 5-Year Weather Diary

Looking for the perfect gift for that storm fanatic in your family? Give him a copy of this handy journal and get him started collecting his own weather data!

Continue reading The Weather Wizard’s 5-Year Weather Diary


BrangusThe Brangus is yet another Brahman-derived breed developed for the challenging conditions of the South. As usual, Southern cattle breeders were searching for ways to adapt superior beef breeds such as the Angus to their climate.

Research began in the early 1930s at the USDA Experiment Station in Jeanerette, Louisiana. Cattlemen simultaneously conducted their own experiments, and through trial and error the right combination of Angus and Brahman was discovered. By 1949, a new breed had taken shape that was roughly 5/8 Angus and 3/8 Brahman. This composite creation was called the Brangus.

Originally, both black and red Brangus cattle could be registered as purebreds. In 1959, however, the breeders’ association decided to follow the example of the Angus registry and accept only black cattle. Dedicated breeders of Red Brangus believed that their cattle had superior heat tolerance and formed their own organization. Both the Brangus and the Red Brangus are becoming increasingly popular in the South.


The Brangus is a versatile beef breed. It has proven itself on both grass and grain, both as a purebred beef animal and as a cross with other breeds.


The well-bred Brangus is calm, quiet, and cooperative with its handlers. Its curiosity and self-confidence give it additional charm.

Prospective owners of Brangus cattle should be aware, however, that irresponsible breeders who do not strive for good temperaments in their livestock do exist. A poor-quality Brangus can be both unpredictable and aggressive.

Also, Brangus cattle must be handled gently and frequently or they become excitable, and therefore the breed is recommended mainly for experienced cattle owners. They respond best to people they are familiar with and have learned to respect.


The Brangus is hardy and resistant to many diseases and health problems, particularly bloat. Both color varieties excel in resistance to hot-weather difficulties such as pinkeye and sunburn, but the Red Brangus is sometimes considered to have a particular advantage under pressure from extreme temperatures.


  • Hardiness.
  • Adaptability.
  • Heat tolerance, especially in Red Brangus.
  • Insect resistance.
  • Disease resistance.
  • Efficiency under most management styles, whether forage- or feed-based.
  • Ability to thrive in some of the harshest conditions.
  • Longevity.
  • Early maturity.
  • Exceptional calving ease.
  • Good survival rate.
  • Superior mothering instincts.
  • Fast growth.
  • High yield of meat.
  • No excessive fat.
  • Black Brangus qualifies for premium programs such as Certified Angus Beef.


  • Difficult temperament for beginners to handle.
  • Tendency to jump fences.
  • Limited cold tolerance.
  • Lower conception rates than Angus.
  • Discounted in sale barns outside of the South for Brahman influence.
Helpful Resource

Choosing a Breed of CattleChoosing a Breed of Cattle
Is the Brangus right for you? This book will help you assess your five needs and make that decision. Includes a brief profile of the Brangus breed. Free sample pages are available here.

Complete Series

Cattle BreedsCattle Breeds


How To Make a Sweet Potato Beetle

How to Make a Sweet Potato Beetle

If you are looking for a great gift idea for your gardening friends, look no further. Make them a sweet potato beetle.

It’s simple, it’s appealing, and it’s made with supplies you may already have on hand. It’s a fun project for the children, too, and is guaranteed to get lots of laughs. Plus, if you overwatered your sweet potatoes this past year, making a beetle will be a good use for those jumbo-sized spuds.

Continue reading How To Make a Sweet Potato Beetle

The Story of Sod Corn Jones

The Story of Sod Corn JonesThe neighbors said it couldn’t be done.  Sod Corn Jones said it could.

The Kansas sod was tough—tougher than anything the early settlers had ever seen before, thanks to the thick root system of the tallgrass prairie.  Many an ox team wore itself out dragging a crude plow through the ground, and many a tired homesteader hired a professional sodbuster—if he could afford to.  It took the oxen a day to break maybe an acre, if they were lucky.

But the worst part was that the sod was still rough at first.  Nothing could grow on it but squash, pumpkins, and the like.  At least, that was what the knowing ones said.

Sod Corn Jones looked at the virgin soil with its lush growth of grass and thought otherwise.  He knew the prairie must be fertile enough for other crops, fertile enough to take a dedicated settler past bare subsistence farming.  Why not try his hand at something other than squash?  Why not try corn?

Corn!  The neighbors laughed outright.  Everyone knew that Kansas sod was too tough for corn, at least at first.  Start with pumpkins, and keep plowing every spring, and then maybe in a few years they could consider corn.

But it has been said that virgin prairie is virgin only once.  Corn thrives only on a nutrient-rich soil, and Sod Corn Jones believed he had found just that.  If the rains fell, the harvest would be staggering.  Why, it might even be a hundred bushels to the acre!

So regardless of the snickers and scoffs of the neighbors, Sod Corn Jones took his ax and hacked his rows into the sod.  Carefully he dropped the precious kernels of seed corn into the ground and packed the soil down over them.  Seed was hard to come by back then.  If the experiment failed, Jones would have a hard time coming up with something to plant next year, let alone something to feed his family.

Days passed, and then one morning, miracle of miracles!  Tender green blades forcing their way up through the sod along the ax slits!  Steadily they grew, first putting out leaves, then growing more stem, then putting out more leaves.  Fortunately, Sod Corn Jones lived in eastern Kansas, and the rains fell on schedule.  The corn continued to grow and thrive, much to the astonishment of the wise neighbors.

Sod Corn Jones’s estimate of a hundred bushels per acre was not far from the actual yield.  He had seen a vision, worked to bring it to pass, and fought against the tide of opinion.  And he had prevailed.

Was there really a man whom the neighbors called Sod Corn Jones?  It is doubtful.  The plucky farmer seems to be just another half-forgotten folktale of the past, buried in a particularly dusty corner of the legends of Kansas.  But to the early settlers, the story may have provided a much-needed source of encouragement, a beacon light in the darkness of their struggles with nature.

And so, Sod Corn Jones really did prevail.