When Alfred Came to Christmas

Christmas morning 2007 began like most others in recent years for our family, with 3 teenagers lumbering in around 7:30 to see what Santa had left them, then lounging around amidst the gift wrappings and treasures. Kevin had gone to check the calving cows and I had gone into the kitchen to actually cook a full breakfast, complete with bacon, eggs, biscuits, and muffins, which I am sad to say only happens on Christmas at our house.
It was about then, that one of the kids came in and said, “Mama, there is a man on the porch and you need to come. He wants a “light” and we don’t know him.” So, leaving the bacon frying, I headed to the front door and realized immediately the cause for their concern. I glance out to see there is no vehicle in sight, just a lone man in his 40’s, unshaven and shaking badly, holding a cigarette in his hand. I went out and asked him how I could help and he asked for a light and said he hoped I didn’t mind that he had picked up some pecans from the yard to eat. I told him to have a seat in the rocking chair on the porch while I found a match and to help himself to all the pecans he wanted. I returned to help him light his cigarette and told him just to hang out on the porch for awhile. I managed to ask where he came from and how he got to our house and he explained that he had just been walking all night and that he was trying to get to Columbia and that his name was Alfred. I noticed that all he was carrying was a small plastic sack and that his tennis shoes had no laces.
At this point I return from the porch, met by three inquisitive faces. I called Kevin on his cell phone and told him not to be alarmed when he returned from the barn, that there was a strange bearded man, smoking on our porch. I was not frightened of the man, but didn’t really know “what to do with him”. Shortly thereafter, Kevin returned and went to the porch to visit with Alfred.
I kept cooking breakfast and Kevin came back in to say that Alfred was coming in for Christmas breakfast. The kids immediately freaked out, imagining all terrible things they had seen in the movies and on TV, and began a mild protest. I looked at them and could think of nothing reassuring to say except – It’s Christmas, WWJD. More mild protest. More WWJD. (which stands for What Would Jesus Do to church-going teenagers). So, in comes Alfred, who sat right down at the head of our table, with the five of us. I must say it was the quietest and the quickest breakfast I have ever seen our children consume on a Christmas morning. Alfred was mostly quiet too, but ate heartily and was very grateful. I noticed that he had stopped shaking, which was apparently just the result of being cold all night.
He then went with Kevin to check the rest of the cows and ended up sleeping in the front of the truck with the heater blasting, all morning. Kevin was able to determine few details except that he wanted to find his girlfriend in Columbia (he had no address or phone number) and that he had a sister that lived near Atlanta. Realizing that he was certainly homeless, Kevin offered to drive him the 50 miles to Columbia, which has a couple of homeless shelters. I found him a duffel bag and packed up some toiletries, a blanket, and a few clothes, overwhelmed with sadness that Alfred had no family on Christmas, and that we were the only people he had to share his Christmas with.
Kevin drove him to Columbia, still trying to get more details on his sister in hopes that we could contact her in case they were looking for Alfred. After having another Christmas meal with Alfred at the Waffle House, Kevin left him in Columbia in a hotel room (after all it was Christmas) with instructions to go the Oliver Gospel Mission the next day. He also had our phone number. About a week later, he did call, borrowing a cell phone from a passerby, to say that he needed to get to Raleigh to visit with the tobacco companies to show them an invention that he had. He told Kevin he would cut him in the profits if he could help him get there. That was the last we heard of Alfred. We were unsuccessful in locating his sister and joke around that someday we hope we will see his face in the press as a millionaire for his “tobacco invention.” Before leaving him on Christmas Day, Kevin asked Alfred if he knew about Jesus. He said, “Of course I know Jesus, how do you think I got to your house this morning?”
We think of him often and hope that you will too as you spend Christmas with your families and those that you love. Remember an Alfred this year, it will bless you far more than him.

Clemson University, Agriculture, and Priorities

Agriculture.    Clemson University.     My children.    I have great passion and love for all three of these things and all three crossed paths in 2009 when our firstborn struck off to begin her college career at Clemson, enrolling in the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Life Sciences, better known as CAFLS. She was soon followed by her two brothers who also enrolled in CAFLS, with all three choosing different majors to pursue, including Ag Education, Ag Economics, and Ag Mechanization.  They all have selected a good dose of Animal Science courses, as well.  Our family has deep roots at Clemson, beginning 4 generations ago, and including four graduates from our immediate family in CAFLS in the 1980’s.  In the 80’s Clemson probably had less total Agricultural students enrolled than they do today, yet the College of Ag had a huge presence on campus – I would venture to say along with the College of Engineering,  Agriculture was at the top of the pecking order.

When you graduate from college, you can become pretty busy with work, business, family and you don’t dedicate much time to keeping up with what’s going on in the halls you once wandered.  That is, until the next generation enrolls, and then it becomes a priority. As with anything, you want the very best for your children, and at the cost of attending college, who wouldn’t want to make sure the price tag fits the offering.  While I won’t go so far as to say the train had completely run off the tracks over a roughly twenty year period since we graduated, it sure was heading in that direction.  We had heard rumblings of budget cuts, faculty shortages, re-organization, majors being merged or discontinued,  and the like at many meetings we attended in the past twenty years. All of us that were actively involved in Ag heard it at some point and we were deeply concerned at what was happening at our land grant university.

I don’t know where the blame should be placed, and it really doesn’t matter (finger pointing accomplishes nothing), but I truly felt that Clemson was no longer proud to be THE school of agriculture in a state where that industry is ranked at the top of the class, even above tourism. How could this be when Clemson was charged to serve as the Land Grant University for our state, and where there was no other option for students of agriculture to be trained without going out of state?  It wasn’t an enrollment issue – there were plenty of prospective students, but not enough enthusiastic, passionate faculty to teach them.   Seriously people, we all eat, wear clothes, and use agricultural products every day- what’s not to love about being part of the industry that feeds and clothes the world, along with so many other contributions.  Agriculture today is certainly not the same creature that it once was, even ten years ago – precision farming, genomics, financial management, international opportunities, e-marketing are commonplace in the agricultural scene today.  Career opportunities abound for agricultural graduates – from biotechnology, to production, to marketing, to financial institutions, to the forestry industry, the possibilities are far too many to list.

Now comes the good news.  Maybe even GREAT news.  This week we attended the first ever Dean’s Summit for Agriculture at Clemson University, hosted by Dean Tom Scott.  Serving a the Dean for the past four years, we have seen him hit some major road bumps, take heat from students and his constituents, and be pressured by the “higher-ups” to implement some things that most likely were not his idea -   yet he has  evolved in his leadership role and had become a real champion for CAFLS and for students.  His summit wasn’t about politics, getting brownie points, or pay raises,  or pats on the back.  Simply put, it was an attempt to hear from the people who love Clemson and make a living in the field of agriculture in our state.  Clemson administrators were there to ask what we need and what they should be doing to help the industry that we all love. Now I know this doesn’t sound like rocket science, but this is a huge step in the right direction and to the best of my knowledge,  the first time in a long time that the administration has reached out to involve alumni and agricultural industry in planning for the future and evaluating what is in place.  The highlight of the day was the official announcement that since approval by the Board of Trustees, Clemson will finally offer a major in Agribusiness, available in the Fall of 2013. This department will encompass a number of essential areas that will benefit not only the students enrolled in that specific major, but all students in CAFLS.  This is indeed great news as just a few months ago the currently enrolled Ag Economics students and faculty were still reeling over being shuffled over to the School of Business in a failed attempt to quietly watch that major fade away.  Fortunately, the agriculture students, a few Clemson administrators, and the Ag industry in this state rallied and pleaded that Clemson get back to its roots, and give agriculture the respect it deserves. New faculty hires are being made throughout CAFLS in many departments and there seems to be a shift to recognizing that the undergraduate students are indeed what keeps the university in business, and that they need some bang for their buck..

Hats off to the Dean and to the administrators who took their day to listen.  It’s a great time to be in agriculture and it looks like Clemson is aware of this.  We’ll see in a year at the second annual Dean’s Summit for Ag (it was announced that it would be an annual event) just how much progress has been made.  At least, for now,  it appears that Thomas Green Clemson can stop turning over in his grave and rest easy that his will to help Agriculture and the ordinary people of SC, is once again alive and well.

On new Motherhood – from the Bovine perspective.

I have had the opportunity to serve as the maternity ward “checker” for a number of groups of first calf heifers over the years and have determined that they are not so different than people.  My observations include that there are several categories of new mothers.

1.  The devoted.  She has been waiting for her day in the pasture for her little bovine bundle of joy to arrive and does exactly what she is supposed to.  Cleans the baby off, fights off intruders, licks it, remembers where she left it, and feeds it happily.  Thankfully the majority fit this category.

2.  The baby thief.  She has birthed a new calf which is probably lying very close by, but she prefers the two week old, already dry and tagged version.  During the birthing process her little pea brain told her that the calf of choice could indeed be hers and that she would not need to tend to the slimy little arrival on the far end.  With a heifer, despite the best efforts of the original mother to reclaim her calf, and repeated attempts to separate the parties, this is often only remedied by the old “out of sight, out of mind” trick.  New mom and the real calf must be moved to the isolation ward and usually within a few hours the cow will decide that maybe she should feed that bawling bundle of joy.

3.  The indifferent.  She has a calf, breathes a sigh of relief that she can walk with ease again, and walks  away,  as soon as labor is over to begin grazing or catching up on some rest.  She does not want her calf, or any of the others in the pasture.  Again, off you head to the isolation unit to get her in a small enough area to force her to let the new calf who is running around looking frantically for any non-moving udder to feed it.

4The aggressor.  Probably my least favorite because the hormones have completely taken over.  The calf appears to the cow as an alien creature   Bellowing and sniffing, mom is usually tolerable of the calf    while it is lying down, and knows that there is some reason she is supposed to stay with it . Things generally take a turn for the worse when the alien attempts to stand.  These babies are tough and think being tossed through the high tensile fence is the norm. Fortunately, after a few hours if the calf hasn’t  given up yet or gotten injured, the hormones subside and bonding begins. Not an easy way to “fix” this.

5. The high maintenance mother.  She wants no part of labor and thinks if she just continues to eat without dilating or pushing, that the whole pregnancy will just go away.  She is the one who you bring in to assist, thinking there must be a baby elephant inside from the way she is acting, to grab a foot and easily pull out a  70 pound calf while she moans as if the end is near.  I have seen the occasional show heifer have this ‘syndrome”.

I’m sure you probably have other categories to add if you’ve been the “heifer checker”.  Luckily after that first one arrives, the ones in following years are usually uneventful and they have the motherhood thing all figured out.  Happy Calving Seasons to you all.



Thoughts on the National Junior Angus Show 2012

     I had a little time to reflect on this quiet Sunday afternoon and wanted to take just a moment to put this on paper before Monday morning arrives and “catch up” at work begins.  I am pleased to have completed washing seven loads of clothes so far, and have progressed to seeing the floor in a few places underneath what is left to do.  I always remind myself it could be worse-  I could be Debbie Blythe who has five adult size juniors.  All joking aside, the dirty laundry is soon forgotten and the trailers will all be unloaded until the next adventure begins.  A full seven days of limited sleep, filled with activity, in a barn filled with cattle.  Why, my non-livestock friends ask, would your family choose to spend a week of summer at a cattle show???  Don’t you get enough of cows all year??   So here goes. 

    Our family does not attend NJAS with high aspirations of winning purple banners, and are pretty well pleased if we make it into the first cut of our class.  We are realists and are pretty certain that it is unlikely we will show a class winner.  Our kids have always shown heifers that are bred and owned in our program which is totally geared for producing bulls for commercial cattlemen.  The sires we use are not known for siring many show champions, but for stacking EPD’s and producing working cattle.  At our house limited time is available for rinsing, working hair, and spending time with 3-4 head.  We are southeastern producers and our customers want slick haired cattle, so we have a real hard time with WANTING to grow hair.   Our kids have noticed that our cattle are referred to a real ”broodcow” prospects by many of the judges we have shown under.  We all take that as a compliment as that is exactly what we want to produce for our program. Not to take away anything from programs that are geared to producing show winners.  I recognize that this is a viable part of the Angus world and that many people make a great livelihood selling and helping youth with junior prospects.  The hours it takes to get a heifer to the winner’s circle and the expense involved can be daunting, so I certainly commend those who set and reach the goal of reaching the top. The point I am attempting to make is this – whether you stand first or tenth in your class, Angus cattle are cattle that can work in a variety of settings and that can be taken a number of different directions.  Those winning show heifers that do go out an make working cows exist. And there are plenty of cows who have never seen a show ring that make money for their owners and have outstanding production records.  Our children understand this, just like plenty of other juniors do – YET we still go to NJAS so what’s up with that if we aren’t planning to win it all.

     NJAS is 98% about the kids and the cattle are just the common denominator that give us all an excuse to get together for a week.  As a parent it makes me so happy to have a huge group of youth together under one roof that value hard work, don’t mind getting up early, and have a common interest in cattle and agriculture.  Conversations around the show box among neighbors, family, new friends and old ones are priceless.   I can’t even begin to name all the contests available that provide training for real life skills – from graphic design to career development to the CAB Cook Off, there truly is something for everyone to get involved in.  Showmanship, running for the board and waiting to find out if you won a scholarship are all part of the NJAS week as well. There are few other livestock events where numerous breeders and juniors from a state tie together, design and prepare a common display to showcase their state.  No individual farm signs are seen – it’s all about teamwork and helping each other.  What a great lesson to teach youth that for one week even the most competitive individuals in a state can work together for the greater good of their junior associations.

    The NJAS IS a fiercly competitive event as far as the quality and quanity of entries in every event that takes place.  It is a place where you learn to be a gracious winner and a place where you sometimes learn to face and deal with dissapointments. It is an event where hard work can pay off and where youngsters can see older postive role models to look up to.  The host states and AAA staff as well as numerous other volunteers cooperate to put on the premier junior livestock event in the world and the youth have the opportunity to meet and network with breeders from around the nation throughout the week.  Where else can you spend an entire week in that setting!

   The long ride home in the truck is usually spent reflecting on the week and planning for next year between much needed naps.  It was a great week in Louisville, just as it was in 2003. Great job to everyone who had a role in being a host.  Our family looks forward to seeing yours in Missouri next summer!




A Taste of Ohio – Guest blogging from Sally Yon

It was a “dream come true” to be offered an internship at Certified Angus Beef, LLC inWooster,OH, and as the spring semester quickly ended, next thing I knew I was in Ohio to stay for three months. As a southern girl who has never lived outside of the state of South Carolina, needless to say I had no idea what to expect living in Ohio for the summer.  I’m now in my sixth week of work, and once again,  I have no idea where time has gone. The experience and relationships I’ve made in this short amount of time are already invaluable to me. I have never learned so much and been happier about what I’m doing than I am now.

As for the town of Wooster, it’s the biggest town I’ve ever lived in as Clemson and Ridge Spring are both a lot smaller.  (Ridge Spring doesn’t even have a stoplight.)  Everyone at work laughs when I say that because Wooster is definitely not a metropolis.   I’m living in a downtown loft which is also completely different than our house in the country or even my apartment in Clemson, which is literally in the woods.  My roommate moved in this past weekend from California, so it’s a little less quiet now that she’s around. I’ve figured out the area and have somewhat gathered my bearings of the state as now I have officially been to the “3 C’s” (Columbus,Cincinnati, and Cleveland).

To whoever said that I was going to be bored in Wooster, OH… you were wrong. I work with an awesome set of girls that have plenty of fun activities going on throughout the week. From grilling in the afternoons, taking bike rides, and playing in a beach volleyball league there is never a dull moment. On the weekends, I have practically been adopted into the Grimes family in Hillsboro and have spent some time at Maplecrest Farms and shows with them. The joke is that I must be their good luck charm, because both Lindsey and Lauren have been racking up in the show ring this summer.

Something that I’ve realized that I have taken for granted over the years is summers at home. I’m wouldn’t say I’m homesick, but I do miss family, friends, and the farm. Weekends at the lake with the “fun time” crowd, tasty peaches and our sweet corn, and most of all,  not having show heifers and dogs to spend afternoons with has taken some getting used to.  I did find peaches grown in Monetta, SC in the grocery store the other day and had to smile as they came from one of my former summer employers.  Oh, and I do miss southern accents… people here sometimes have a hard time understanding me.

Before I know it, I’ll be back in the SC and dreading to start my senior year at Clemson. At the same time, I’m super pumped about Clemson football and student teaching in the fall. I have considered changing my major just so I can hang around those hills a while longer. Needless to say, I’m not exactly ready to grow up. Well, I’m glad Lyd has created this family blog because this one of the ways that I’m actually able to keep up with what’s going on with my own family and the Ridge. Talk at y’all later…  Sally (aka Ruthie)

Orientation…. Clemson here he comes.

The last of the Yon children is heading to Tiger Town in August to join his older siblings at Clemson University and begin his journey.  So what did we learn at our third Clemson orientation in less than four years?

1.  You will not like all your assignments, but you have to do them – that includes the infamous Library 100 class for which you receive no credits, unless you don’t complete the work-  in which case you are rewarded with an F. You have to read a book over the summer (heaven forbid) and attend a class with all the other freshman to hear the author talk about this book.  And write a two page paper, submitted online.  Welcome to college.

2.  You are going to get lost on campus, no matter how many times you have been there to a football game or to visit your siblings.  The names of the buildings are not always so easy to find.  Looking for landmarks like the high rises or Tillman Hall is helpful until you learn how to navigate the campus.

3.  Class sign up and changes online are a little harrowing the first time you do it no doubt, but trust me, it is WAY easier than standing in very long lines in very hot weather like us old folks used to do.  If your parents haven’t told you how hard they had it back in the day, they will.  Kind of like walking to school in the snow……barefooted.

4.  Along those lines, Clemson has a lot of hills and you have fifteen minutes to get to back to back classes across campus.  This can be accomplished without owning a moped.  I am sure of it and will not be convinced otherwise. And furthermore there were no university buses shuttling students around, not even from the remote parking lots back in the day.  Walking is good exercise and it is free,  so enjoy.

4.  If you don’t have a roommate lined up when you go to orientation, this too can be remedied.  I must say I was proud of Corbin and his newly found roommate who were randomly placed in the same orientation group.  The two of them decided via text message after orientation that while they just met for a few hours that they were pretty sure they  could both tolerate each other for at least a semester/year and thought that was a safer option than the random assignment given from the housing dept.  So an Engineering major from Nassau and an Ag major from Ridge Spring will be bunking together come August if approved by housing. Let the adventure of dorm life begin.

5. And though Corbin doesn’t know it yet, he will,  in time,  understand fully the meaning of the phrases that “there is something in these hills” and “my blood runs orange.” As I sat in a courtyard on what is no doubt one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, it seemed like not so long ago that I was on this journey. People keep reminding us how sad it will be to become “empty-nesters” but I can honestly say,  no tears here, though I certainly miss them all being in the house.  What a great stage of life – I can’t wait to watch it unfold!  Go Tigers!



A busy first week of June!

Our youngest son, Corbin graduated from high school on May 31 and we haven’t slowed down for a minute since then.  We have been baling wheat straw behind several farmers who are ready to get in and plant beans,  so we have been trying to keep up with them since we have some moisture and they are chomping at the bit. The wheat straw is being mixed with fruit and vegetable waste  that we are getting truckloads of several times a week and we are feeding it to cattle where we are short on grass, which is actually quite a few places.  We are usually in a pinch this time of year between winter annuals and when the summer annuals and bermuda really kick in,  especially if the key ingredient of rain is missing.   We are also battling cinch bugs which are eating our Sorghum Sudan grass and have even been munching on our bermuda grass.  Bad bugs- hopefully the recent rain will help destroy them since I understand they are most detrimental during dry conditions.  We had a nice visit on Monday from 5 Angus enthusiasts from the northern part of the county and thoroughly enjoyed showing them the cattle and visiting with them.  Our “ET man”, Greg Clements came today and flushed five donors and froze a total of 60 embryos.  We are very excited that a number of those embryos are full sibs to our bull,  Future Focus (owned with ABS Global and Robert Summerford)  that is doing such a fantastic job for us.   And on top of the normal cattle stuff, the sweet corn is in, being pulled fresh daily, and we have a young man selling it on the main street in Ridge Spring – it is really delicious this year!!!  Kevin is off to and American Angus board meeting for a few days and Corbin is attending State FFA convention this week.  We are soooo thankful for the rain and look forward to seeing the grass take off!

So it’s finally time….

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June 1, 2012.  I am finally taking the plunge into blogging.  No promises on how often this might occur, but my GOAL is to keep you informed with short updates on what’s happening at the farm and the family. The occasional philosophical thoughts and random wandering blog cannot be ruled out either.  Nor can the occasional appearance of guest bloggers including any and all family members who can be persuaded to participate. And so it begins -the Yon Family Farms Blog is born.