In many places my column goes by the moniker "Dear County Agent Guy."
The "county agent guy" part refers to Mel Kloster, my local county extension agent. It was he who prompted me to submit for publication a spoof letter I had sent him asking for advice about controlling the cattails growing in my corn field.
A minor tragedy first caused Mel's path to cross with mine. Our eight-year-old son, who was in his first year of 4-H, decided to show a Holstein heifer calf at Achievement Days. He had spent most of the summer taming the heifer and training her to lead.
We hauled the calf into the county fairgrounds the day before the show. During the night, she somehow managed to garrote herself with her lead rope.
We received a call from Mel early the next morning. He told us what had happened and that he had seen to the removal of the deceased animal, sparing our son a very grim surprise.
We later met Mel to retrieve the halter. Mel gently explained to our son that we had done nothing wrong, that these things happen and all we can do is accept them and learn from them and move on. Mel's words helped soften the hard edges of a very harsh situation.
I decided right then and there that Mel is a guy I would be glad to call a friend.
I began to consult with Mel on a fairly regular basis. His deep knowledge of all things agricultural and his wry wit made each phone call or visit a pleasure. His favorite saying, "Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick" had the effect of injecting levity and putting even the most nettlesome situation into perspective.
Mel also helped me navigate the direst straits of my farming career, the morning my cows decided to bloat.
We'd had a hot, dry summer and my alfalfa had gone dormant. I was using a rotational grazing system, putting the cattle on a fresh alfalfa paddock each day.
It began to rain about the first of August, continuing until we received several inches. Had I consulted with Mel, I might have known that such conditions can cause alfalfa to break dormancy and put out tender, delicious -- and deadly -- new growth.
One morning I took the flashlight and the dog and walked out to bring the cows in for milking. Off in the dusky darkness I gradually perceived the outline of an expired bovine, her legs pointing to the sky, her skin taut as a cartoon balloon. Dang it! One of the gals had up and bloated!
I chalked it up to extreme bad luck. But then I found another. And another.
Horror. Nausea. Overwhelming panic. I somehow managed to push these aside and trotted the rest of the herd to the barn. Half a dozen cows were thinking seriously about dying, their bellies tight as drumheads.
I knew two things: These bossies needed to stay on their feet if they were to have any hope of surviving, and I wouldn't be able to accomplish that alone. I ran to the house and made a phone call.
Mel arrived at my farm in a short while. We divided the herd and spent the next couple of hours chasing cows, keeping them on their feet and alive. I am certain that Mel's help helped save several head.