Bryon Chvatal hadn’t expected the red Angus heifer to give birth to twins, let alone triplets.
He saw the heifer after the first calf was born.
“I thought everything was fine and I went and did chores and came back an hour later,” the Prague-area farmer said.
And there were two more calves.
One of the calves didn’t make it, but the other two still were alive. So he gave them extra nutrients and left happy to have twin calves.
But within 24 hours a second calf died.
Chvatal still had one calf _ and yet another reminder that farming has ups and downs. Chvatal knows that sometimes a promising crop will be severely damaged by hail.
He doesn’t need to go to Vegas to gamble. Every year, he takes a gamble on the weather and other factors, when buying the seed and fertilizer needed to produce a crop.
Yet this is the life Chvatal -— a fifth-generation farmer - and his family loves.
“It’s something we enjoy,” Chvatal said. “It’s in our blood. You’re out there working and you smell the fresh air and you look around at the livestock and crops and say, ‘How much better can you have a place where you’re your own manager, making different daily decisions to better our environment and make it a better place for everyone - and to provide food for the world?”
More than just a guy with an optimistic outlook, Chvatal and his brother, Eric, are part of a heritage that has spanned generations.
And this month, the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce will honor the Chvatals as the Farm Family of the Year for 2019.
Surprised when he received notification of the honor by mail, Chvatal good-naturedly said he figured it must mean he’s doing something right.
Actually, his family has done something right for decades. Family members trace their Nebraska roots to Anton Chvatal who came from Moravia and settled in the Prague area with his mom and stepfather in 1877. He was just 16 years old.
Anton became at United States citizen in 1888 and bought his first farm - 160 acres in the Prague area - in 1891. Anton later bought farmland for each of his five sons, including one named Charles, who received farmland in the Morse Bluff area in 1904.
Charles passed his land on to Francis, who passed it on to Glenn - who is Bryon and Eric’s dad.
“It’s been taken care of all those years - conservation-wise and operation-wise,” Glenn Chvatal said.
Generations of Chvatals have seen how farming has evolved.
Glenn Chvatal smiles broadly when he mentions that while his grandmother loved horses, his granddad, Francis, didn’t.
So Francis was happy to trade a horse as part of the payment for his first tractor - 78 years ago. Francis paid the balance on the tractor and then traded two other horses for a cultivator. That last deal was an even trade.
Glenn still has the bills of sale of the farm equipment, which include mention of the horse trades.
And in a shed, Glenn still has his grandpa’s first tractor, which has been restored.
Glenn and Bryon marvel at how it only cost $15 to have that tractor delivered to the farm almost eight decades ago.
Today, Eric and his wife, Laura, and their sons, Reed and Boyd, live on the original home place near Morse Bluff. Bryon and his wife, Lesley, and daughter, Brynley, live on a farm 3 miles north of Prague. They are expecting another baby in June.
Glenn and Eileen live by Prague, site of the main farming operation.
Farming is a family venture. Glenn, Eric and Bryon have an operation of between 130-140 cow-calf pairs. In addition, they have about 200 feeder calves.
Between the three of them, the men farm 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. They raise alfalfa for their livestock. The alfalfa they don’t feed to livestock is marketed to horse owners.
The men work closely with their neighbors, the Roland Kavan family of Morse Bluff, with whom they share equipment during planting and harvest seasons.
“And, if something else arises, we help each other out,” Bryon Chvatal said.
The families keep records, logging hours on each piece of equipment used, and settle up financially at the end of every year.
“Usually, it equals out,” said Bryon, adding that equipment is expensive and that the families work well together - an arrangement that began years ago between Glenn and Roland.
When it comes to the land, Bryon said he and his family incorporate no-till and other conservation practices, such as planting cover crops and making terraces to prevent soil erosion.
Bryon Chvatal is the local president of the Saunders County Corn Growers Association and participates in University of Nebraska farm research.
“They are a resource I use a lot for our farming,” he said. “If I have a question, I call our local extension agent, Keith Glewen, and he’s a very valuable and knowledgeable person. If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll find somebody in the university system.”
Chvatal works closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service with cost-share programs for implementing tile-outlet terrace basins and cover crops to prevent soil erosion.
It’s important, he said, to keep nutrients in the soil for the crops instead of having them run off into streams and other water sources.
Chvatal is a member of the Saunders County livestock and soybean associations.
“I’ve got to support my own industry, which is corn, soybeans and livestock and to make sure we’re sustainable for the future generations,” he said. “I believe in working with other farmers as much as you can to help each other out. We’re in the same industry.”
For years, Glenn Chvatal worked for the Farm Service Agency, checking conservation reserve program acres and measuring grain bins for the loan program.
“He knows a lot of people throughout the county,” Bryon said.
The Chvatals have worked to support their community.
For example, Eric serves on the Morse Bluff Volunteer Fire Department. Bryon said he’s a member of St. Peter Lutheran Church in North Bend. Eileen is involved in a North Bend garden club. Glenn, who served in the National Guard, and Eileen are active in the Morse Bluff American Legion.
One recent afternoon, Eric, Bryon and Glenn made their way across a farmyard. Nearby, cattle looked curiously at the three men. It was cold and the animals’ breaths came out in thin white puffs in the air while a friendly farm dog ambled not far from the men.
Earlier in the day, Bryon talked about some of the best parts of farming.
“I like the physical labor and working outside and dealing with the day-to-day activity - whether it’s scooping snow out of the feed bunk or driving the tractor or doing field work,” he said. “The different activities make you wear different hats which make it enjoyable.”
There are hard times.
“When you go through all that effort to raise a crop and you don’t get as good of a crop, because of weather changes or a hail storm or you didn’t get the rain like you should have - it makes it more challenging,” he said.
Loss of a calf is tough, too.
“You feel so bad,” he said. “You wonder what you could have done differently. Sometimes, there’s nothing you can do.”
Therein lies a lesson.
“It’s a lesson of life,” he said. “We live in this world for a short period of time and you don’t know how long we’re going to have and I see that when I work with life situations. … You learn that life keeps going on.”
The Chvatal family and other ag award winners will be honored during the Excellence in Agriculture Awards Luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 19 at Fremont Golf Club.
“Selecting the Farm Family of the Year is always one of the most challenging winners to determine,” said Tara Lea, the chamber’s executive director. “The Fremont Community is so fortunate to have so many outstanding farmers throughout our area. They all work so hard and make an incredible difference. This year, we are honored to recognize Bryon Chvatal and his fantastic accomplishments.”