Dust In My Coffee

Loving my life as a woman in agriculture one sip at a time

Our Bichon, Zoey, joined our family about twelve years ago.  Zoey was a dream come true for our youngest daughter, Kim.  Kim was in seventh grade when she started asking Steve and I for a dog.  I encouraged Kim to seek a dog we could keep in the house.  My husband told her if she could find one that did not shed and would not get very big he would allow a house dog.  Kim began the search for the dog we’d all come to love.

zoey posing

Kim and I researched different breeds of dogs looking for one that wouldn’t shed.  We discovered the Bichon Frise breed.   We learned this breed of dog is known for not shedding and as a good dog for kids.  Kim started her process of winning Steve over to get a dog.  She cut out pictures of a Bichon and of our family.  We had taped up pictures on our bathroom mirror and other places in the house of a Bichon with a dream cloud above it’s head with our family in it.  Steve weakened pretty fast!

When we were given the green light to look for a puppy we immediately started our search.  We found a family in Lincoln, NE with a litter nearly ready to go.  We called.  We talked. We decided to drive to Lincoln and pick out our puppy.

The drive to Lincoln only takes about an hour and a half.  Kim kept asking “How much longer?” as we drove.  She was so excited she could hardly contain herself.  Little did Steve and I know how important this puppy was to her.  Our daughter, Emily, thought Kim was just missing her as she had recently graduated and went off to college.  Whatever the reason, Kim was definitely excited to get this dog.

We picked out our puppy, named her Zoey, and took her to her new home.  Before long we started watching “The Dog Whisperer” so we could learn what it meant to be a pack leader to help Zoey and her caretakers learn good habits.

kim zoey dog show

Kim continued training Zoey for obedience and agility in the 4-H program.  Zoey was not the best at the lay/stay position for one minute.  The noises at the fairgrounds were more interesting than listening to Kim!

Every morning when Kim would leave for school I would leave the house to go down to our feedlot.  The feedlot is downhill from the house so that is why we say we’re going down to the feedlot or up to the house!  We couldn’t leave Zoey in the house all day with no one to hang out with so she went with me and hung out in the office.  Over the past twelve years Zoey has continued her routine of going to the feedlot office in the morning to greet salesmen, bark at strangers and keep my office chair warm when I am outside.

zoey in chairZoey learned not to jump up on people and only barks at unusual noises or unfamiliar people.  She learned to recognize my father-in-law’s car, the Synergy truck, the garbage man, the neighbors who bring us corn and employee vehicles.  Zoey’s bark only lasts as long as it takes for visitors to reach down and pet her!zoey in office window


Zoey watches most of the feedlot activity from the office window.  Our family has also spent time with Zoey by going for walks…

zoey cattle pen 6

riding around on the ATV…


playing the piano…

zoey ginger piano

playing in the snow…

zoey snow 2

and countless other activities around the farm.  In the evening you can find Zoey curled up near my feet on the couch and later at the foot of our bed.  Every family should be so lucky to have a dog like our Zoey!

sleeping Zoey and Kim

“I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.” -Doris Day

The month of March brings a variety of changes to Nebraska.  We are privileged to live on a migration route for millions of geese, cranes and other birds as they head north signaling the start of spring.  March can be frustrating to birds and people when we are teased with sunny, springtime weather one day and a blustery snowstorm the next.


We’ve had geese spend some time with us each spring.  They will swim on this small fish pond and then fly to the east side of our feedlot and swim on our holding pond.  Last year we watched one pair hatch and raise their ducklings on our holding pond.


No matter what Mother Nature decides to give us it is important to be prepared for the best and worst of weather conditions.  Here are some of the steps we take to be prepared for winter storms in March or any other month:

  1. Make sure the pantry is full.  For our feedlot it means making sure we have plenty of ingredients like corn, Synergy (a corn by-product made by ADM), supplement and ground hay.  Our pantry includes bins, open front buildings with bays for different feed ingredients and home grown feed kept under a large plastic tarp held down with a large number of tires.
  2. Make sure there is plenty of fuel in the barrels.  We store diesel and gas on the farm to use in our tractors.  Winter storms can delay delivery of fuel and more fuel will be used to take care of the cattle during and after the storm.
  3. Make sure the generator is ready to go.  Losing power can happen during any severe weather.  A tractor is used to run the generator. The generator is plugged into a power source providing electricity to keep wells running for water and many other electrical needs the farm has.
  4. Make sure snow removal equipment is ready to go.  We have a bunk blower to remove snow from the feedbunks saving our backs from scooping.  We also have a tractor mounted snow blower to move larger quantities of snow.  There are several other implements we used to move snow including a front mounted blade, a rear-end bucket and a box scraper.

bunk blower

The goal during any storm is to make sure the cattle are fed as close to the normal time as possible and then get them comfortable places to lay down.  Our feedlot is designed to give protection from high winds with trees and metal windbreaks to help cattle handle Nebraska blizzards.


We have cement pads running along the feedbunk on the inside of the pen.  Those pads allow us to utilize cornstalk bedding for the cattle to lay on.  If we did not have the cement then the bedding would go on wet ground and not last as long as it does on the cement.   Here are some of the actions we take during and following a winter storm to care for our cattle:

  1. Clean the roads around the feedlot to allow the feedtruck to get to feed to the cattle. Sometimes this requires a very early wake up call to get a good start before step 2.
  2. Clean the bunks of snow before the cattle get fed.  If the snow is too wet or too deep we have to help with scoop shovels.
  3. Feed the cattle as close to the normal time as possible.
  4. Clean the cement pads in the cattle pens.
  5. Use the bale processor to put bedding in pens.
  6. Take the box scraper or bucket into pens to pile snow if needed.
  7. Haul piled snow out of pens to keep pens as dry as possible.

Steve is using the box scraper to move snow.  The box scraper is used year-round on our feedlot for a variety of purposes including keeping the cattle pens in good condition.

Farmers and ranchers know Mother Nature is a force to work with.  During the month of March she sends us the spring wake up call of geese honking as they fly overhead.  She also sends the Robins and Cardinals into the trees as they take cover for a March blizzard.  Having a plan and being prepared is what enables us to take better care of our cattle no matter what March, April, May and every other month of the year brings us for weather.

tulips in snow

“Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.”  –  Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

For nearly two weeks the world looked to South Korea with anticipation as athletes competed for a gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.  Did you watch any of the events?  I was able to watch a few events including figure skating, snowboarding and curling.  The athletes make their moves look so simple and yet we all know countless hours of training brought them to Pyeongchang.

It is fun to celebrate with the gold medal winners like the United States Women’s Hockey Team and the United States Men’s Curling Team. What about the athletes who gave it their all and came home with no medal at all?

Steve and I watched the Snowboarding Women’s Halfpipe.  This was the first year I have ever watched the event.  One of the competitors, Maddie Mastro from the U.S., pushed herself on every run coming up short at the end of each run with a fall.   Maddie had so many impressive moves and after her three runs was not able to stay upright on the final spin.  Maddie went for the gold on every run.  She had so much determination and perseverance to get the entire run perfect and in the end she went home without a medal.

Many of us strive to excel in our jobs, education and other activities.  In addition to  character traits like determination I believe there are three elements we can all use to help us reach for the gold.  We need a trainable attitude, quality resources to give us the skills we need and a fan club to cheer us on. kim bowling

Our daughter, Kim, pictured in the front left, was part of a gold medal winning team in bowling in high school.  Thanks to the training from the coaches, the willingness to improve their skills and the support of many family and friends at the tournament the team was able to work through their nerves and bring home the gold!

I have witnessed the value of having those three elements present in one of my volunteer roles.  When I was first appointed to the Cattlemen’s Beef Board I did not know a lot about what the board did.  I had a willingness to learn, great mentors to learn from and friends who cheered me on.  That combination is the reason I am chairman of the board today.anne donuts


Meet my friend, Anne Anderson.  Anne mentored me and encouraged to become an officer for the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.  We both loved this donut display, not a gold medal but a reward in other ways!

In what way can you utilize the three elements in your life?  Is there an area you would like to excel in?  How is your attitude?  Do you have the resources you need for the desired skills?  Who is cheering you on?

Olympic athletes have a way of capturing our admiration because of their dedication to excellence.  We can follow their example by encouraging one another, teaching one another and moving forward from our past mistakes.

Thank you to the athletes and the everyday heroes who seek to excel,  mentor others and share their passion by encouraging others.  Here is a slideshow of photos from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games showing many of those elements in action.




Let’s talk about hormones.  A few years ago I put together a little demonstration for moms.  I used M & M’s for the purpose of discussing the added use of hormones in cattle.  The image (below) shows the comparison in the levels of the hormone estrogen found in different foods we eat.  Many light bulbs went on and I overheard things like:

  • “Who put the hormones in my cabbage?”
  • “I thought for sure the full jar was going to be one with the beef label!”
  • “Oh yeah, I remember learning about hormones in biology class. How do they work again?”

This important shift in the conversation from one of doubt and fear to trust and transparency is the reason I am involved in sharing the story of what Steve and I do on our farms.  Concerns about how food is grown and the increased use of food labels “free of this” or “no added that” make grocery trips more stressful than they should be.   The label “hormone free” has created unnecessary fear and a lot of misunderstanding.

Fortunately, the past thirty-six years of living as a cattle and row crop farmer, have given me the opportunity to learn the terminology,  utilize the science-based research and understand the newer technologies farmers use such as added hormones in beef cattle.  In this blog post I will share what I have learned about how hormones work and why farmers like Steve and I use added hormones in our cattle.


This little demo has sparked hundreds of conversations as farmers and ranchers seek to help consumers understand the science behind using added hormones.  The foundation of the conversation is based on science but our engagement is based on shared values farmers and consumers share like honesty and transparency.

Hormones naturally occur in all living things.  Why?  Dr. Terry Etherton, distinguished professor from Penn State, writes in his blog Hormones, Hormones, Hormones:

“A hormone is a substance that sets in motion a set of metabolic events  that would otherwise lie dormant.  All of the hormones together form a communication network in the body that is called the endocrine system.  Another way of viewing the endocrine system is to imagine at any given moment the circulatory system (the blood) of animals and humans is literally packed with thousands of these chemical messengers moving about the body sort of like an urban freeway on a late Friday afternoon.”   

Dr. Etherton continues to write, “Hormones act as ‘messengers,’ and are carried by the bloodstream to different cells in the body, which interpret these messages and act on them.  Without hormones and the endocrine system, humans and animals would not survive.”  We need hormones to live!

Hormones are not limited to humans and animals.  Plants have an estrogen-like compound called phytoestrogens.  As explained in an article from Tulane University, “In general, phytoestrogens are weaker than the natural estrogen hormones (such as estradiol) found in humans and animals or the very potent synthetic estrogens used in birth control pills and other drugs.”  Plants have additional hormones that are responsible for all sorts of functions like helping the plants sense light, forming lateral roots, and triggering flower development and germination, just to name a few.  


Healthy soil makes healthy plants makes healthy animals and healthy humans.  Farmers like Steve and I understand the importance of making decisions for the good of the entire cycle of life

Plants, animals and humans need hormones to exist.  Hormones naturally exist.  They have an important purpose.  Understanding the role hormones play in our human development and the foods we eat can help us understand why farmers like Steve and I would use an added hormone for beef production.  We use an added hormone on the steers in our feedlot because it:

A) Helps the animal convert feed to protein more efficiently.

B) Is safe for the animal and human consumption.

C) Is safe for the environment.

You can learn more about all growth promotants used in cattle and the impact those promotants have on safety and sustainability here.

without growth promotants

The safety of consuming beef with added hormones has to remain front and center of our discussion.  Dr. Jude Capper explains in her blog post about hormones:

“Yes, an 8-oz steak from a steer given a hormone implant contains more estrogen than a  steak from a non-implanted animal. 42% more estrogen in fact. That’s undeniable. Yet the amount of estrogen in the steak from the implanted animal is minuscule: 5.1 nanograms. One nanogram (one-billionth of a gram or one-25-billionth of an ounce) is roughly equivalent to one blade of grass on a football field. 

By contrast, one birth-control pill, taken daily by over 100 million women worldwide, contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. That’s equivalent of eating 3,431 lbs of beef from a hormone-implanted animal, every single day. To put it another way, it’s the annual beef consumption of 59 adults. Doesn’t that put it into perspective?”


This chart is an example of what farmers and ranchers like myself use to kick start a conversation about hormones in our food.

Are there hormones in your cabbage? Yes, and there are hormones in every living thing we eat.  Our ability to help cattle convert grass and grain to protein using less resources while producing a wholesome, tasty food for people to enjoy is dependent on science-based research.  Beef producers like Steve and I count on quality research to help us continually seek ways to improve our impact on the environment while maintaining the highest levels of care for our animals and the safety of the beef we produce.

cattle bedding

During the coldest days of winter, cattle can thrive with a nutritionally balanced diet, bedding to rest on and the thick winter coat Mother Nature gives them to live comfortably outside.  Farmers like Steve and I cannot control the weather so we do our best to manage the conditions the weather can bring with cattle comfort our main objective.


Hormones are truly a gift from God in helping plants, animals and people thrive.  Understanding how hormones work has helped farmers partner with nature to produce a healthy, sustainable food for people to enjoy.  When you serve beef to your family you can be confident they are receiving ten essential nutrients to help them thrive.  Beef does give you ZIP!

ruskamp family supper

Eating together is nourishing to the body and the spirit! This picture was take a few years ago and includes our five children, our first son-in-law and our first grandchild.  Beef is the center of the plate for most of our meals.  Our children currently live across the country and in one foreign country.  From California to Peru our children choose to include beef for dinner whenever they can.  You can find beef recipes to fit your life style and family needs here.






We are at the beginning of a brand new year and I want to extend my sincere wishes to you and your family for a very blessed, joy-filled and peaceful year ahead.  Turning over the calendar to a new year is a traditional time to reflect on the past with new hopes and dreams for the year ahead.  What are you bringing into the new year?  For some of us we are bringing aches from losing a loved one.   Reflecting on my experience of losing my dad has given me renewed hope for 2018 as I seek to grow in faith, hope and charity.

In February of 2017 my family went through the experience of losing a close family member.  My dad had been living with Alzheimer’s making a sudden turn for the worse requiring a move to intensive care and then hospice.  Even though doctors gave my dad hours to live, he chose to give us days.  In a period of time where people choose to end suffering, my dad blessed our family with his.


When we moved Dad to skilled care we tried to visit as often as we could never knowing when he would stop remembering who we were.  On my last visit to see dad he was not eating very well and looking downward most of the time.  I got down on my knees and looked up at him with a smile and he gave me the biggest smile back with a little chuckle.  It is a treasured memory.

I won’t minimize the pain watching someone live with Alzheimer’s or any other disease involving suffering.  It’s hard to accept the prognosis.  It’s not easy to watch someone die. Why, then, am I telling you my family was blessed through my dad’s suffering?  He gave us the opportunity to grow in virtue while we reflected on his.  As we prayed together, sang songs to dad, shared familiar stories and learned new ones, we grew as a family in faith, hope and charity.

I was reaffirmed of the power of those virtues when attending a recent funeral for a woman I admired and loved for many years.  The family members shared family experiences and final experiences they had with their mom.  Even though Alzheimer’s had taken her memories, the disease had not take her virtues of faith, hope and charity.  What a powerful witness, again, of how these three virtues can shine like gold even as we die.

Would you like to join me in growing in faith, hope and charity?  What is faith, hope charity?  I would like to share with you some teaching from Fr. Jacques Philippe.  In his book “Interior Freedom” he teaches us:

“Faith is the root of our cure and our liberation, the start of a life-giving process that heals the death engendered by sin.”

“Hope is a choice that often demands an effort. It is easier to worry, get discouraged, be afraid. Hoping means trusting. When we hope we are not passive: we are acting.”

“There can be no charity without hope. Love needs space to grow and flourish; it is a marvelous thing, but in a sense, fragile. The special “environment” it needs is made up of hope. If love does not grow or turns cold, very often that’s because it is stifled by cares, fears, worries, or discouragements.”

“Love is also a decision. Sometimes it comes spontaneously, but very often loving people will mean choosing to love them. Otherwise love would be no more than emotion, even selfishness, and not something that engages our freedom.”

And from his book, “Charitable Life”,  Fr. Jacques Philippe writes “The greatest act of charity one can do for others is to encourage them to live in faith and hope. To praise God is a veritable food for the soul.”

As I seek to grow in the three-legged stool of the virtues faith, hope and charity I believe I will begin with praising God more often.  I will praise Him in the morning for a new day, I will praise Him in the noontime for the food, farm and family I have and I will praise Him in the evening for the gift of life, love and laughter and I will praise Him as I sleep for the wise men and women have taught me the value of faith, hope and charity.

wise men card

Many thanks to my Aunt Juanita and Uncle Paul for this beautiful Christmas card.

If you would like to follow me on my journey you can sign-up to receive email notifications when I write a new post.  I seeking to write at least bi-weekly and if possible weekly.  Your comments are greatly appreciated!