Hot Dog

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“Lucy’s only 9 months old, so this is her first real snowfall and it seems she likes it. Before you think I’m abusing my animals, understand that she has access to a shed and a barn, but prefers to be outside. It’s a Livestock Guarding Dog thing.”

This photo got a lot of attention when I posted it on social media the other day. I expected some comments to be negative but was pleasantly surprised in finding that all comments were positive, some complementing my young Anatolian Shepherd but many sharing similar stories of how their LGD loves the snow and cold and refuses to come in when the weather is, by most standards, inclement.

It’s really a matter of context and understanding your particular breed. Some dogs don’t do well out in the cold and need to be sheltered when the mercury dips and snow and sleet begin to fall. Others, like Lucy, have been bred for centuries to endure and thrive in adverse conditions because that’s really when the threat of predation is the highest and they are needed the most.

Coyotes in my neck of the woods get a little hungry and a lot more aggressive when the snow falls and their regular prey hibernates or takes to the dens. That means the LGD’s have to be even more vigilant and they really can’t do that if they are brought in and confined, as some well-meaning but narrowly worded local laws require of “pets” during extreme weather.

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I love Lucy (hey, that might make a good TV show title) however, she’s not my pet, she’s my co-worker. Wikipedia says her ancestors “originated in the Anatolia region of central Turkey. It (the Anatolian Shepherd) is rugged, large and very strong, with good sight and hearing that allow it to protect livestock. With its high speed and agility it is able to run down a predator with great efficiency.” The same might be said of my old Šarplaninac, whose genetics go back to the Šar Mountains in the border area between Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania. There are over 40 recognized breeds of Livestock Guarding Dog and dozens of hybrid breed combinations, but they are all similar in one regard – they are tough dogs bred to do a tough job under, at times, extreme conditions. Most of them do so extraordinarily well with little training or human influence. They should be rewarded well for their work, but they don’t take well to pampering.

The use of dogs in protecting livestock originated over 2000 years ago. Both Aristotle‘s History of Animals and Virgil‘s Georgics mention the use of livestock guardian dogs. They’re reasonably new in the United States, being introduced in the 1970’s.

This was not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on LGD’s. There are lots of smarter folks who have done a much better job than I could extolling the virtues of these marvelous animals. A quick Google search of Livestock Guarding/Guardian Dogs will yield more information than you will ever need. Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training by David Sims and Orysia Dawdiak is a valuable resource and Cat Urbigkit’s Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs: How They Guard Sheep is as sweet and loving a tribute to LGD’s as you will ever find and a great way to introduce kids to the concept.

Truth? or Consequences?

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“Fake News” seems to be a prime topic of conversation and consternation these days. It’s a hot button issue now, but I’ve been concerned about it for some time, as evidenced by the blog entry I posted some 4 years ago after Kentucky Farm Bureau graciously tapped me for their 2012 Communications Award. I was concerned about the state of the “Fourth Estate” then and my apprehension has only been amplified since then.

I’m not feigning any prescience. The handwriting was clearly on the wall then, it just wasn’t being as widely discussed as it is today.

So, I thought it appropriate to share with you. Some of the references are perhaps not as timely as they were then, but I hope you find it worth your time and consideration.

There’s a rumor going ’round that I’m a journalist.  Back a few years ago, I would have been gratified to be identified as such, but with the current state of the news media, I’m not so sure.  I think I’d just as soon be recognized as a storyteller.

I grew up watching the likes of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.  I’m not quite old enough to remember Edward R. Murrow, but I have studied his work as have legions of journalism students.  To me, folks like that are the gold standard of the news business – not that they were perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they were skilled craftsmen with a respect for their industry.

The onslaught of negative publicity for the ag industry and the pandering, preening and posturing of the so-called mainstream media in the recent (2011) presidential campaign have soured me somewhat on the mantle of “journalist.”

ABC’s malicious and unwarranted attack on industry innovator Beef Products, Inc. and the Consumer Reports junk science stories about arsenic in rice and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in pork are but a few examples of the agenda-driven drivel that tries to pass itself off as news.  I take little joy in the demise this week of the Rupert Murdock-backed new media website “The Daily,” even though they “played a key role in igniting the national media firestorm” regarding LFTB.

The shift to new media is not surprising, even though it is not without its bad apples (are you listening Huffington Post?)  It’s becoming more and more difficult to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s grinding their ax or goring someone’s ox.  (How’s that for colorful ag metaphors?)

I won’t even claim that you’ll be hearing totally unbiased information from me, although I try to assure that my opinions are easily identified as such.

It has become increasingly important to closely examine and weigh every piece of information as you seek to develop your own honest and balanced opinions.  As more and more on-line information sources are instituting “pay walls” or paid subscriptions, try to be as certain as possible that you’re not paying someone to lie to you.

My New Year’s Revelation

DSC_1718 (2).JPGI’ve never been much on making resolutions. Mainly because I’ve never been much on KEEPING resolutions.

So, as I was pondering the fate of this humble epistle – whether to get rid of my blog or get serious about it – I was struck by an epiphany. “I’m a writer. And, writers write.”

It’s a matter of discipline and that’s something that I’ve struggled with for most of my 65 years. Sitting down at the keyboard on a regular basis to hammer out a bunch of words doesn’t come easy. It usually takes some motivation (like paying the bills) to make me stay still long enough to write anything remotely readable or relatable, yet thoughts continue to course through my mind that I would like to share but just don’t, sometimes out of sheer contrariness.

So, starting now… starting today, the second day of 2017… it is my intention to take the time on a regular basis to open my mind and spill my thoughts into a format that you, dear reader, may come to expect and (I dare to hope) enjoy.

The title of this blog being what it is, you can expect the bulk of my musings to trend in an agricultural direction. Yet, that’s somewhat more limiting than I care to confine myself to, so don’t be surprised if there are occasional references to my faith. My relationship with my Heavenly Father is the most important thing in my life so it naturally influences everything I do. At least, it should. If you find that offensive, consider yourself forwarned. You might, perhaps, consider me intolerant for saying so but there are plenty of other blogs out there that shy away from matters of faith, so it’s not necessary for you to lecture me about how your beliefs don’t mesh with mine. Please be respectful.

Second to that would be family. I promise not to inundate you with cute stories and photos about my wife, my kids, my grandkids and my great-grandkid. That’s what Facebook is for. However, occasionally personal anecdotes might creep in. I’ll try to keep them amusing and entertaining.

Farming is the glue that holds this all together. It affords me the lifestyle I enjoy and, in that, it serves a most useful purpose. I’m not an outstanding farmer and that fact might frequently make itself evident. However, many of my friends across this great nation are exemplary agrarians and it’s more often their story that will be told here than mine.

Faith, family and farming. Maybe it’s a bit of a cliché to some, but to me it is the essence of who I am and what I do. That’s what I hope you will see filling this space with regularity in the future.

May God richly bless you throughout the coming year. Thanks for being my friends.

Is lamb on its way back to the American dinner table?

By Ray Bowman

(First published in the November 2016 issue of Kentucky Farm Bureau News)

Sheep first made their way to North America on the second voyage of Columbus in 1493. The versatile animal quickly found its niche and the flocks began to improve and grow with the infusion of better genetics through the early 1940’s.

It was during that time that the Bluegrass area of central Kentucky became a sheep focal point, with stories being told of all-night sheep sales in Danville and Paris and boxcar-loads of lambs being shipped out by rail.

But then something happened.

The national inventory of sheep topped 56 million in 1942, but a steady decline led to a 2006 count of a mere 6.2 million, the lowest since the introduction of the animal on what would become U.S. soil.

Reasons are unclear as to the precipitous fall from favor, but they range from available labor pools depleted by the second World War, poor quality mutton being served to GI’s, restrictions on grazing and the general competition from other livestock and meats.

Obviously, something had to be done to improve the product and image, reinvigorating the industry and getting it back on its feet. Innovators rose to the occasion and the fortunes of ovine America once again began to rise.

One change that came about was a greater focus on hair sheep. Wool had once been an economic driver in the sheep business, but increased foreign processing reduced the market until, today, the United States is responsible for less than 1 percent of all world-wide wool production, much of that being used for value-added limited production products.

Wool breeds are still important in this country for their larger carcass size and meat production, but hair sheep have become a very attractive option due to their quality meat, lower maintenance (no shearing) and adaptation to a range of varying environmental conditions.

One central Kentucky sheep producer longs for the glory days of Bluegrass lamb and has taken steps to do something about it.

James Mansfield owns Four Hills Farm in the Salvisa community of Mercer County and leases other property in Boyle County, just outside Danville.

Mansfield had worked in extension in North Carolina and raised produce in Oklahoma before settling in the Commonwealth.

“I moved here to Kentucky and saw all this beautiful grass and decided if I was going to have a farm, I had to use that great forage resource,” he observed as he and wife Lynn Pruett took a break in the breezy alleyway of a historic Danville mule barn that has been converted for the feeding and working of sheep. Around the turn of the 20th century, the barn housed mules slated for sale to the U.S. Army.

“We ended up buying 25 Katahadin ewes and kinda went from there,” he says. “I grew up eating lamb and we found out these sheep had excellent quality meat.” Mansfield notes his mother was an influence on his culinary choices, describing her as a cooking writer and an “early foodie.”

A national grocery store chain became interested in Mansfield’s product, which he designates as “New American Lamb,” a Kentucky Proud product, and began to feature it in 11 of their regional retail outlets. “We had to jump through a lot of hoops to get the product, the logistics and the marketing just the way they wanted it, starting with just two stores and growing from there.

One of the contingencies is that lamb, usually a seasonal product, be available fresh, year-round. To facilitate this, Mansfield’s flock has grown to 800 and he contracts with 47 producers in 17 other Kentucky counties to assure the supply.

“That’s what I always wanted to do,” Mansfield continues. “I always wanted to grow things I like to eat.”

Hopefully, for Mansfield and others trying to expand the sheep industry in Kentucky, there’s plenty of folks who will come back to entertaining lamb as a menu staple.

Track Meat

Processing facility meets need in Henry County area

There was a time when it would have been very advantageous for a butcher shop to be located near a railroad track for its various supply and distribution needs.

Such necessities no longer exist, yet there is still something very nostalgic about the location. However, Trackside Butcher Shoppe (and its location near a rail line) is more than a charming anachronism. It’s a source of fresh, local meat products for consumers in Henry and surrounding counties, as well as a processor for a substantial contingent of producers in the region who, heretofore, found themselves traveling prohibitively long distances to have their animals custom slaughtered, cut and packaged.

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In October of 2013 a feasibility study was conducted by Kentucky Center for Agricultural and Rural Development. It revealed a great need for a meat processing facility in the area, citing the large demand for processing services, large quantity of livestock and reduced transportation costs for farmers in the area as factors contributing to the feasibility of the project.  A couple of Trimble County farm boys, Chris Wright and John Edwards felt they were up to the task, even though neither of them had previous experience in the meat business.

Chris and John were childhood friends who, upon graduating from high school, worked together in the communications industry for 15 years. Seizing the opportunity to return to the agriculture industry, their first love, the two best friends became business partners and set to work creating the business now located in the Henry County Commerce Park in Campbellsburg.

In mid-October, the co-owners/managers of Trackside snipped the ribbon at the official Grand Opening of the facility which began processing in November, 2015.

“Last year, in November, we were scrambling, trying to get open by the first week of rifle season so that we could get our feet wet with deer,” Edwards observed. “Immediately after that, we started taking in beef and hogs.”

Edwards says he’s exceedingly grateful to the producers that have trusted them. “They pulled around back here and dropped off thousand dollar bills, basically,” Edwards continued. “Those animals have great value. We’ve been trusted with those animals that producers have invested a lot of time and energy into and we thank them for their trust.”

The 5,400-square foot facility has the capacity to process 1,000 cattle, 400 hogs, 400 sheep/goats and 4,000 chickens, annually. It was supported in part by a combination of grant and loan funding from the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, including $127,500 in county agricultural development funds from Henry, Oldham, Owen, Shelby and Trimble counties. The state contributed $372,500 in funding. The total project was estimated to cost nearly $1 million.

“To all the surrounding counties that believed in us and were willing to contribute their Ag Development funds, we say thank you very, very much,” Edwards reflected in his ribbon-cutting remarks. “We came to you and you, too, had trust in us.”

Also addressing the Grand Opening crowd, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles complimented everyone involved in making Trackside a reality, saying “that just goes to show you what can happen when the right people get together.”

 

How do you eat an elephant?

General Creighton Abrams was a United States Army general in the Vietnam War. He served as Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1972 until shortly before his death in 1974. He once famously noted that, “When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.”

In other words, when taking on a difficult task, do it slowly and carefully.

In contemporary politics, this process is referred to as incrementalism. Dictionary.com defines it as “a policy of making changes, especially social changes, by degrees; gradualism.”

Recently, vegan activists launched an on-line petition calling for retail giant WalMart to stop selling a child’s toy. Not because it posed a physical threat to children, but because they just didn’t like it.

The now infamous “slaughter truck” is an  ERTL Big Farm 1:32 Peterbilt Model 579 Semi with livestock trailer. Just after this kerfuffle emerged, I ordered one for my 5-year-old grandson. It’s a model of a truck used to move livestock for a number of purposes and, yes one of those tasks is transporting animals to slaughter.slaughter

Many of my agriculture contemporaries rushed to point out the number of other jobs the real version of the truck performs, and that’s an important informational tool that’s been covered many other places, such as the Beef Magazine article by Amanda Radke, “Vegan Activists Flip Over Walmart toy “slaughterhouse” truck.” That ground has been plowed, so it doesn’t need me muddling it up.

The bigger question – the “elephant in the room” as it were – is why go after a product that obviously generates such a small volume of sales?

Walmart could easily assume that placating the protesters with such a modest offering would get them off their back. That would be the first bite of the elephant.

Making grandiose demands is great for grabbing headlines, but the small victories are easier to achieve. When the “slaughter truck” is gone, something else deemed offensive by the activists will fall into their sights.

Growing up, I used to hear the phrase “give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.” The end-game here is likely the mile, perhaps even so bold as to demand that meat sales be ceased. It’s not beyond the realm of comprehension.

How many of these activists do you think would have bought a toy like this anyway? They certainly could bypass the product and leave any of us alone that might choose to purchase it. Before they called attention to it, there wouldn’t have been that many sold.

Here’s where we might make the strategy backfire. What if a number of us in the ag community buy the toy, as I did, perhaps even depleting the entire stock? Walmart would likely take notice since they surely track such sales trends. It might make a bold statement, but even if it doesn’t a lot of happy kids will enjoy playing with a neat new truck.

Note: As of this morning, Walmart’s web page shows the item out of stock, so there’s already a small success. You can, however, click a button that says “get an in-stock alert” and I’m sure that message will be noticed as well.

If you don’t have a kid to buy for, some friends of mine have started a GoFundMe page where you can donate $5 or more toward purchasing  farm-related toys that will be donated to Toys For Tots or local toy drives this Christmas season. Find out more about it on Ryan Goodman’s Agriculture Proud blog.

Why don’t we try to ensure that the first bite of the elephant leaves a bad taste in their mouth?

A Parable of Ageism

A few things lately prompted me to go back and have a look at this post. I still think there’s something to it…

The Farmer Feeds Us All

Image Unquestionably, John Wayne is my favorite actor.  Not to say that all his films were of the caliber of The Searchers or Red River .  There were some stinkers, like the 1956 disaster, The Conqueror , in which Duke was cast as – wait for it – Genghis Kahn!?!

Another film that doesn’t rate high in Wayne’s artistic canon is 1971’s Big Jake.  The considerable talents of Bruce Cabot, Maureen O’Hara and Richard Boone were mostly squandered in this B-grade oater, but the real draw to me is the underlying theme of ageism.  I doubt Wayne and director George Sherman fully appreciated the significance of the statement they made about a grandfather searching for his kidnapped grandson.

Jacob McCandles shows up at his sprawling New Mexico ranch after an absence of 18 years, only to learn from his estranged wife (O’Hara) that a grandson he never knew he had, also his namesake, has been…

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Sustainability – what is it, really?

(I posted this about three years ago, but recent events have caused me to revisit it.)

An exchange that took place on Facebook one election day left me pondering a few things.

After urging Facebook friends to do their homework and vote for candidates that are pro-Ag, a comment appeared almost immediately correcting me.  Pro agriCULTURE my friend insisted, not agribusiness. I certainly understand his concerns about big money special interests influencing legislators and legislation, but we still have to be careful about drawing too many boundaries and dividing ag up into powerless fiefdoms.

Much of the divisive rhetoric within the agriculture community stems from some overused, misunderstood and misinterpreted catch phrases that are often used to gain the “moral high ground” for those who favor a particular methodology or discipline.  These terms most often defy definition, so they can be manipulated to support anything that anyone wants, thereby reducing them to being virtually meaningless.

Take for instance “sustainability,” one of the most ubiquitously amorphous aphorisms.  Recently we shot some video with a family that had been farming the same area for about 9 generations.

To me, anyone who’s been successful for that long deserves the sustainable appellation.  However, since their operation produces large numbers of animals in confinement, they are instead a “factory farm” in the eyes of those who make such pronouncements.  They are decent, God-fearing people who are modestly successful from a production standpoint, but place a premium on quality of family and community.  Their state-of-the-art facility is immaculate, their livestock are healthy and well cared for and they productively employ not only family members but neighbors as well.  Waste from their facilities has turned the surrounding cropland into black gold, producing record yields with little or no added chemical fertilizer.  It’s a model of efficiency and stewardship that should be celebrated, not castigated.  Yet, they do not receive the family farm mantle they deserve.  That’s reserved for production models that more closely resemble farms of the 1940′s; quaint, picturesque, earthy.  In short, romantic as opposed to realistic, profitable and efficient.

Agribusiness is another one that I guess I don’t properly comprehend.  My local feed mill or co-op are, to me, agribusinesses because they do business with farmers and ranchers.  Isn’t that agribusiness?  Apparently not.  Agribusinesses are those faceless corporate giants that mercilessly maraud and pillage the rural landscape, running honest farmers out of business with their genetically modified, patented seeds and products.  You know, the guys they talk about in the movie Food, Inc.  Well, as I asked my Facebook friend, where do you draw the line?  Is my small, local co-op OK, even though they sell products manufactured by the corporate black hats?  Should we condemn GMO’s even though the negative notions surrounding them are more conjecture than science?  How about those third-world countries that would have no agriculture if forced to use conventional seeds as opposed to GMOs?  I just don’t think the answers are as black-and-white as some would like them to be.

I’m not normally a huge fan of the Los Angeles Times, but a story resonated with me.  I puzzled over the title, “the facts about food and farming.” But, after reading it I found I agreed more than disagreed with author/chef Russ Parsons, and I encourage you to read it and decide for yourself.  Parsons states what I have always felt, that the truth is somewhere in the middle between the “hard-line aggies” and the “agricultural reformers.”  In the final analysis, Parsons says “Beware the law of unintended consequences. Developing tasteless fruits and vegetables was not the goal of the last Green Revolution; it was a side effect of a system designed to eliminate hunger by providing plentiful, inexpensive food, but that also ended up rewarding quantity over quality. We should always keep in mind that when we’re dreaming of a system that focuses on the reverse, we run the risk of creating something far worse than strawberries that bounce.”

So, rather than pointing fingers and hurling epithets at each other, should we not be arming ourselves to do battle with the legion of forces that seek to tell us how to care for our livestock and plant our crops?  We must avoid attitudes that divide or weaken us.  We don’t want to find ourselves in the situation described by the late cartoonist/philosopher Walt Kelly when he quipped “we have met the enemy and he is us!”

Can’t ya take a joke?!?!

onion-newsI sometimes enjoy the irreverent satirical humor of The Onion and its competitor The Daily Currant.

Problem is, some people just don’t get the joke.

Several times recently I’ve needed to point out that articles being shared all over social media with accompanying incredulous comments were, indeed, a spoof. These are generally perpetuated by folks of reasonable intellect. They just tend to take things at face value and, often, overreact.

This sort of behavior makes things like Chipotle’s recent foray into on-line television programming potentially more destructive. No doubt, there will be an element of the on-line community that mistakes these offerings as documentary evidence that those “big ag” folks are up to no good.

When these things start getting passed around with the “Look what they’re doing to us now!!!” comments, the ag community needs to be prepared to appropriately respond, not by attacking either the burrito barons or their unwitting accomplices but by providing context, acknowledging that Chipotle’s just trying to be humorous and sell some product. Product, by the way, that is made with ingredients not remarkably different than anyone else. In fact, the chain sometimes runs short of the stuff they usually use and resorts to sourcing ingredients from conventional agriculture. It seems at that point they would just shut down to preserve their “integrity,” but that’s not a call for me to make.

So be ready to gently intervene, but please stop short of saying something like “Aww, it’s all in fun!”

It’s not.

In fact, there’s really not one funny thing about it.

Atlas Shrugged

ImageIn Greek mythology, Atlas was the Titan that supported the world on his shoulders. In recent history, Atlas was the name of the powerful early-season blizzard that slammed the Northern Rockies and the Northern Plains. With apologies to Ayn Rand, when this Atlas shrugged, the world of many South Dakota ranchers fell and shattered.

Up to four feet of snow, plummeting temperatures and howling winds were too much for an as yet undetermined number of livestock. Seasonably moderate temperatures the week before caused little reason to expect the devastating conditions that became known as Atlas.

I realize the government has been shut down and there’s currently no Farm Bill, but my question has been “Where’s the leadership on the federal level?”

The president certainly could have taken a few moments to express his regrets.  An appropriate time for that might have been in his remarks following the shutdown when he mentioned that an upcoming legislative priority would be passing a Farm Bill. “We should pass a farm bill, one that American farmers and ranchers can depend on, one that protects vulnerable children and adults in times of need, one that gives rural communities opportunities to grow and the long-term certainty that they deserve” he said, meaning of course that he wanted a Farm Bill that kept SNAP funding intact.  What a great place to mention the devastation in the Black Hills from this historic agriculture disaster. What a great place to urge sufficient disaster funding and better livestock indemnification, retroactive to the victims of Atlas. But, nothing of substance was said – no stirring call from the nation’s leader for strength, courage and resolve in the time of trial or even comforting words to at least let storm victims know that he cared as much about them as he did about the victims of Hurricane Sandy or any other disaster.

Theodore Roosevelt was a former rancher when he occupied the White House.  He once noted “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  The victims of the Atlas blizzard needed to know someone cared. They needed to feel that Washington was at least aware of what had happened to them. The USDA Secretary could have expressed condolences and a little compassion for those devastated by the Atlas blizzard, even if the federal offices were shut down.

It didn’t happen.

Much like the tree falling in the forest when no one’s there to hear it, four feet of snow fell in South Dakota in October and the rest of the country hardly noticed. It was close to a week before mentions began to appear in the national media.

Meanwhile, aggie bloggers were hard at work trying to do their part to call attention to the event. What they received for their efforts was rampant Monday morning quarterbacking by pundits that had no knowledge of livestock, chastising ranchers for not taking better care of their animals. Nobody really needed to hear that, especially since it couldn’t have been further from the truth.  As South Dakota state veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven mused on my Food and Farm radio show, “maybe it was good that the power was out so that most of the ranchers didn’t get to read those things.”

Several years ago, I traveled to Kansas City to speak to an Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) conference about the psychological impact of agricultural disasters. I met Dr. Stephen Van Wie there. Steve is a Wisconsin Veterinarian who shares my concern for the emotional welfare of disaster victims, having witnessed the psychological impacts of the British Foot and Mouth epidemic of 2001. You can hear a conversation with Steve on Food and Farm’s Spreaker channel at https://www.spreaker.com/user/foodandfarm/steve_van_wie_disaster.

The interview with Dustin Oedekoven is at https://www.spreaker.com/user/foodandfarm/dustin_oedekoven_south_dakota_blizzard

As peers line up behind the impacted ranchers with efforts like the #RancherReliefFund, it’s their way of saying, yes – someone does care.

Visit GiveBlackHills.org to donate at https://www.giveblackhills.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Organizations.Overview&Organization_ID=27677

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