Thursday, January 14, 2021

Show Cattle…The Toddler of The Industry


Ashlyn Robinson

Have you ever thought of the similarities between show cattle and human toddlers? As I was walking out to the barn this past summer, I began to think of the heartbreaking losses and the Championship wins that I had witnessed in the show ring. But it was as I started to think about my daily dealings with 1300-pound animals, I begin to realize one thing. Taking care of show cattle is much like taking care of babies.

I know nobody knows a single person who is a picky eater. But this finicky quick can start young in children. Babies starting on foods find certain foods they like and others that they most certainly do not like. Give a baby an arrangement of food and you will most likely find some foods gone quickly and others not even tried. If you can believe it, cattle are similar. Toss a cup of Stierwalt SuperFlex powder, into a feed mixture for a calf and put it in front of the calf to eat. You should not be surprised to come back thirty minutes later to find all of the grain gone, but almost a cup of powder left in the feed pan.

When I was eight years old, I had my first show calf. We got him in December of 2010 when we weighed about 600 pounds. From that day until the Lincoln County Fair in July of 2011, my family tried many complete feeds. We tried what seemed like every show feed brand, Purina, Show-Rite, ADM and even tried to mix our own feed that would have every ingredient, protein (soybean meal), fat (molasses), energy (corn), fiber (cotton seed hulls), salt, and other minerals (calcium, potassium etc.) the steer needed to have a “complete diet”. Much to our dismay, the steer was much like a baby trying food for the first time, he found one food he liked and would not eat anything else. Whole kernel corn was the only thing that that steer cared to eat. While this was no harmful for the steer, it did create a challenge. Whole kernel corn is an energy source, not a fat or protein. Fat and protein will help cattle become finished quicker and more easily than strictly energy. As me and my family worked to try and feed this steer, we certainly felt like parents to a young picky eater.

There is no doubt that feeding time in the show cattle barn is similar to dinner time at the table with a young eater. I can still recall when my brother, Cauy, was a baby the mess that was made each time we put food in front of him. Without fail there was food on him, on the floor, anywhere he could throw it, and everywhere in between. Each time this happened, we took a deep breath and began to clean it up because there was nothing you could do to stop it the next time.

Walk into a show barn, and you will find a similar situation. Showmen and parents struggling to keep their cool as cattle are spinning and tipping feed pans. The pile of feed that is now soggy from water sloshed out of a bucket by the same steer that may now refuse to eat the spilt feed. Set a full five-gallon bucket of water down for a calf and walk away, well there is your mistake. As soon as you walk away, there goes the bucket water sloshed across a mat and into the woodchip stall. Without fail the bucket will get tipped and the water spilt. In 2019, I had a steer named Rico. Now this steer, without missing a feeding, would spin his feed pan and dump half of the feed out onto the ground before he ate the feed left in the feed pan. Now one would think this is a large waste of feed, but no. As soon as he had eaten what was left in his feed pan, he would proceed to clean up the feed on the ground. While this drove myself and my family berserk, the steer was as phased by the mess as a young baby is by their mess.

One of the toughest times to care for a child is before they learn to talk. You have no way to ask them questions such as why they are upset, what is hurting them, or if they are hungry. This communication barrier can be large cause of frustration for parents because life would be simple if the baby could just answer a question. Luckily for parents the majority of children do learn how to speak and/or communicate in another such way.

Unfortunately, cattle are not the same. Cattle never learn communication skills with humans. I cannot walk up to my brother’s steer on show morning at the Nebraska State Fair and ask him why he will not eat any feed we put in front of him. I could not ask my steer in 2015 why he did not like my two younger siblings and would kick at them whenever they came near. To this day my sister can be quoted saying, “There were three times when “Royal Pain in the Ass” kicked me. And that’s only cause I stayed away after that.” Cattle do not have the ability to share their feelings or problems.  Similar to newborn parents, cattle owners must use their best judgement and sometimes even just take a guess at what is wrong with and what the “baby” needs.

In 2017, I took a steer to the National Western Stock Show. When we got to Denver, my steer became sick and refused to eat. If he would have been able to speak, he could have answered our questions and helped us figure out what was wrong quicker. Unfortunately, it took us most of eight hours to figure out that he was likely dehydrated and needed fluids. Because of this my steer did not look his best during the show and therefore did not place as high as we would have liked. I know I speak for “parents” of cattle and human babies when I say that our jobs would be easier to complete if we were able to be told exactly what the “child” wanted or needed.

The “Terrible Twos” are what many people called the time in a child’s life when temper tantrums seem to run rampage. When a child does not get what he/she wants and begins to scream and whine, or flail itself around seem to occur at the most inconvenient times. Of course, in the mind of the child, the candy isle seems like the perfect place to scream at the top of his or her lungs after being told they can only have one piece of candy. As the parent tries to calm the child and reduce the scene being made, the embarrassment hits. Much like the toddler screaming at the most inconvenient location, my show calves also seem to find what they consider the “perfect” time to throw a temper tantrum.

While cattle’s temper tantrums are not always as loud as a toddler’s, there are other obstacles that face the calf’s owner or showman. Take a screaming two-year-old for example that does not want to leave Grandma’s house. The mother can simply pick up the child and carry him to the car to go home. Now consider this, you are trying to lead a calf into place in front of a backdrop to take a picture. The calf decides he does not want to walk near the backdrop. Unfortunately, you cannot pick up a 1350-pound steer and move him where you want him to go. Picture this, you have the halter of a steer that weighs more than five times as much as you do in your hand at the Nebraska State Fair. You are pulling with all of your strength to get him to walk in front of the backdrop. At the same time your father and another grown man are behind the steer trying to push him forward. Another showman is leading a calf in front of you with hope that your steer will follow the other steer. All of this is for a simple photo. Oh, how we love the temper tantrums of life.

I cannot imagine not showing cattle and managing our show cattle every day, just as a parent cannot imagine not caring for and loving their children. Each of these two ideas have their struggles and their joys. There is no doubt that babies and cattle are very different, but if you start to stop and think about it there are many similarities to raising each. Everything from meal time to communication to attitude can be similar between a 25-pound child and a 1300-pound calf. Just remember, we cannot tell the children, or the cattle, which one is our favorite, because parents do not have favorites. Right?




The Secret Life of a Wendy’s Employee


Hope Gustason

When I turned fourteen, my parents wasted no time in pushing me out into the workforce. They encouraged me to apply for any jobs that hired kids my age. However, it wasn’t until after two years of filling out applications that I finally landed my first job. After one painfully awkward interview and a grueling training week, I was able to begin work as a Wendy’s crew member. Little did I know that the job of a fast-food employee entailed much more than just taking orders and handing out food. Soon, I would assume the role of a cook, a janitor, a customer service representative, and a confidant. A crew member at a fast-food restaurant may appear as a flat character to customers, but, in reality, we must be jacks-of-all-trades to provide satisfactory service.

After I completed enough training to start working, I discovered that I would be filling the shoes of a cook much sooner than I expected, and I found myself being assigned to the fry station. I later found out that all the new hires were put to work at the fry station. From what I gathered, it was because no one else would take that job. The massive friers full of hot, sizzling oil that popped and stung my arms were intimidating at first. It took some getting used to, but, soon, I was able to balance the orders from both the front counter and the drive-thru and knew when I needed to drop a fresh batch of nuggets or fries. After a few hours of standing over the scorching oil, you begin to feel as greasy as the food you serve, and, after a full shift, a cool shower is the best feeling in the world.

Thankfully, it wasn’t long until I got promoted from the fry station and assumed other duties. A couple of months later, my manager thought that it was time that I learned how to make sandwiches. What began as the most overwhelming, stress-inducing responsibility, soon became a welcomed break from grumpy customers and a chance to catch my breath. Wendy’s serves a variety of chicken sandwiches, burgers, and wraps with a surprising amount of ingredients. For example, there are seven different kinds of sauces alone that are used on Wendy’s sandwiches. It seemed like a lot of steps to remember and keeping up with the constant flow of orders was difficult at first; however, once I noticed similarities between each sandwich, it got much easier to manage. For example, many of the basic sandwiches, such as the Dave’s single, start off with the same two condiments: ketchup and mayonnaise.

Next, I would like to make it known that I’ve had plenty of experience cleaning up after some pretty horrendous accidents. Being the oldest of my siblings, often put me in charge of cleaning sticky spills off the kitchen floor and taking care of any other heinous messes that I will spare you the details of. This being said, I was not at all prepared for some of the scenes that I walked into after being sent to clean the bathrooms at work. In my time working at Wendy’s, I saw everything from bloody vomit to urine to any other bodily substance imaginable spewed or smeared across the floor and walls.

One time, I remember wiping splattered blood off the mirror, trying to imagine a scenario that explained how blood ended up there in the first place. Eventually, I decided I was probably better off not knowing, and, to this day, I still have no idea what happened in the Wendy’s bathroom that day. The good news is that I haven’t been called into the police station to discuss a murder, though. Because of situations like this, we checked the bathrooms for such disasters often, so it was nearly once a day that messes like these were discovered and in need of cleaning.

Of course, not all the messes that I was expected to clean up were horrific segments straight out of a horror movie. Sometimes, frazzled parents with faces full of embarrassment would shamefully approach the front counter to alert me of a spill caused by their obnoxious toddler who they had been struggling to calm down for the last half-hour at lunch. They usually apologized profusely as I gathered the cleaning supplies, and, of course, I assured them that it was no problem and that I was happy to help them. In the back of my mind though, I knew that mopping up this kid’s sticky Sprite would put me behind on dishes, orders, and other tasks that I had the responsibility of dealing with.

One of the primary and most obvious roles of a fast-food employee is being a representative for the customer. You may have heard the popular phrase, “The customer is always right.” Well, I’m here to tell you that, in most cases, that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. For example, I have, on more than one occasion, had customers insist that I entered the wrong order for them. When this happens, you have to repeat the order back to the customer for a second time and sometimes have to get a manager, all the while the customer is usually grumbling something along the lines of, “I ordered the same thing last week, and it didn’t cost this much,” when, in fact, it did. Nonetheless, when you work with people, you must treat even the most difficult customers with utmost respect unless you want corporate breathing down your neck.

In addition to the blatantly rude customers, there are also some that just simply throw their common sense out on the parking lot before placing their orders. One of my favorite stories to tell about situations like this is of one particular man who, in his defense, probably had a long day at work, rushing to pick up his children from school on time and having to resort to Wendy’s for dinner that night. Long story short, he was visibly disheveled when I greeted him in the drive-thru that night.

“Thank you for choosing Wendy’s. Go ahead and order when you’re ready,” I said in my painfully over-friendly customer voice which was met by the shrill squeal of one of his kids in the backseat. The man shushed the child, apologized for his outburst, and told me that it would be a minute.

After a few moments of going back and forth with his three kids, the man asks me, “How many nuggets are in the Kid’s 4-Piece Nugget Meal?”

In case you didn’t catch that, let me reiterate. How many nuggets are in the 4-Piece Nugget meal? At first, I thought it was a joke. After a few seconds of silence, though, I realized that this poor father was so frazzled he didn’t even realize the ridiculous question he asked me.

“There are four, sir,” I responded. Not all customers were rude, some just had a long day and didn’t have time to worry about making dinner.

Working closely with people means that you hear a lot of stories and get a glimpse into the lives of many different individuals. Being a confidant to customers is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. Once, a homeless woman came into the lobby, saying that she hadn’t eaten in over three days. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her, so I excused myself and rushed to the back in search of the manager on shift. I told him about the woman’s situation and, even though I’m pretty sure it’s against our policy, we gave the woman a free meal. When I called for her and held the tray of food out in front of me, I watched as her eyes welled with tears. She apologized for being emotional, but I didn’t mind. It was a pleasant change of pace to have someone be genuinely grateful for something we did, and knowing that I was able to make even a trivial difference in that woman’s life was rewarding. Listening to stories of hardships and struggles was another part of my job that, when I applied, I had no idea that I’d be doing.

Working at Wendy’s provided me with opportunities to learn and grow as an individual and a member of a team. To say the least, there was never an uneventful day on the job. In fact, I should probably thank my parents for making me apply to nearly every business in North Platte. If it weren’t for them nagging at me for two years straight, I never would have applied at Wendy’s: a place where I made lifelong friends and learned valuable lessons. However, I don’t think you’ll find me working in the fast food industry again anytime soon.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Crater Chaos on the Dark Side of the Moon


Photographer: Jayce Bischoff

This photo was taken last winter on a cold night to reduce atmospheric shimmering, which is why it's so clear. Many of these craters are usually not seen because they are on the "dark side" of the moon that isn't seen by us. There are many more craters on the opposing side of the moon because it isn't as protected from impacts.