Not every woman would appreciate the sentiment behind a Christmas gift of a pair of bred heifers.
Yet Amy Kiel says there couldn't have been a more thoughtful present from her husband of four years.
"I thought it was great," she laughs, adding, "I recognize the value in such a gift even if other people wouldn't."
Randy and Amy were married in the yard of the Kiel farm that's been in the family since 1869, with a combine in the backdrop. And later that afternoon, they made hay – while the sun was still shining.
A second marriage for both, the couple met one another when Amy saw Randy's profile on Match.com. The two exchanged photos representing their respective farm lives, and soon they were talking by phone.
Amy and her two children were living near Carthage, Illinois (across the river from Fort Madison) in a home built on her parents' farm. Her background included having worked as a large animal vet tech, and administrator of a group home. Having a passion for animals, she saw Randy as someone with whom she could share her interest in being an active partner on the farm.
After seven or eight weeks of phone calls, the pair decided to meet, and Amy agreed to make the drive north since it was harvest time on the Kiel farm just outside Oelwein.
Remembers Randy, "I'd met a lot of girls who said they understood farming," but he often realized later, their comprehension of the long hours required during planting season and harvest wasn't on the same plane as his commitment to the vocation.
Once Amy arrived and found Randy in the field combining, he decided to tease her with his first 'test': sending her back across the field with to get the tractor and grain carts.
"She'd been here for two hours," he says with a grin. And though it took her a bit longer than he expected, Amy met the challenge.
"I was used to driving an Allis Chalmers tractor," she exlains, and so the John Deere model gave her a little trouble in getting it started. She can laugh now as she describes calling her Dad for help. "I knew it was a test," she says, and she was determined to make the grade. Pleased to see his 'date' bringing the tractor and grain wagons, Randy had yet another challenge in mind. He asked Amy if she would use the old farm truck (which had a stick shift of course) to pull the combine header on the cart, back to the farm. Again, Amy was undaunted and helped Randy see that she was no pushover around farm equipment or livestock.
"I grew up around farming and I didn't expect anything different," she says of driving tractor and the skid loader, and doing vaccinations and other herd health for the farm's sixty cow-calf pair operation. The Kiels also have about 110 feeder cattle.
"I could spend all day, every day with those cows," she admits. And Randy's pride in his wife's care for the animals is evident when he says they haven't lost any feeder cattle since she set foot on the farm. "She walks through every pen, every day."
Just a few years into their marriage, the couple now works side by side 24/7, and enjoy watching their blended family of four children appreciate farm life and the menagerie of animals they keep.
Amy laughs when she describes her move to R Avenue, just outside the Oelwein city limits.
"It was like Noah's Ark. We came two by two ... two children, two goats, two ferrets, two chickens, two rabbits, two dogs and a couple of cows."
In addition to the cow-calf and feeder operation, the Kiels farm 400 acres and Randy does custom planting and harvesting. If they have free time, they enjoy snowmobiling and tractor pulls. They admit time away from the farm often involves going to bull sales, or looking at farm equipment, when they aren't attending their children's school and extra-curricular events.
"It was important to me that he loved kids, and would accept my kids as his own," says Amy. Between them, they have an 8-year-old son, Garet; a 10-year-old daughter, Malayna and a 10-year-old son, Owen and a 15-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.
Each of the children has their own cow. When the cow calves and the calf is sold, half of the profit is returned to the farm toward the cost of raising the animal, and the child keeps the other half to be used toward their college education.
The Kiels put up a new hoop barn and they look forward to the improvements. And until the baby calves start arriving, there are the family's pet goats, eight laying hens, a rooster and a pair of horses to keep Randy, Amy and all the kids entertained as they follow them around the farm yard looking to get into trouble.