Friday, October 30, 2009

Family Farm Values

Last night my family sat down to dinner. We had pot roast (most meals are centered around the beef we raise) and all the fixings. This is not an unusual event in our house, we try to have breakfast together every morning and dinner as a family every night. During dinner we often talk about the day's events, school and, of course, the farm. I truly believe that that family dinner is what we are all missing far too often. It helps us reconnect as a family.

Family values are what we as a farm family are all about. I feel very fortunate to have grown up on a family farm and that is what I want for my children. I had my parents, my sister and my grandparents around me every day. I worked side-by-side with my parents, we ate meals together as a family and I learned to appreciate the blessing I had been given each day.

Now all I want for my kids is to live that same life. In this modern rush, rush world it is hard. We get up every morning and feed our animals. Some mornings, like today, it isn't too much fun, but they are learning to put the needs of their animals ahead of their own needs. We eat meals together so they know that their parents care about what they are doing and are involved in their lives. Our children are an active part of our farm and I think that is important. Many times after school and on the weekends they would rather be doing something more fun, but the farm has to come first.

What I am trying to convey is that farm kids learn some valuable lessons very early in life. Things I would like to share with more kids. Lessons like putting others ahead of yourself, the value of family and the benefits of hard work. Most importantly my kids know where their food comes from and, they too, are proud producers of the food we all eat.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Cowboy Way and Modern Animal Science

This week we only had two days to harvest. While that was really frustrating, it was not the biggest worry. The middle part of this week brought rain and a sudden drop in temperatures. Not only did that stop harvest but it also is bad news for my freshly weaned calves.

Rain and a cold temperatures often spell the start of sickness in calves. However, that was not the case at our ranch. Why did we escape without any illness? It was the result of planning, consultation with our veterinarian and hard work.

First, we provided our cattle with the resistance they needed through a good vaccination program planned with our veterinarian. The calves could fight anything mother nature and stress sent their way because they were vaccinated against common bovine diseases.

Second, we weaned the calves so they had nose to nose contact with their mothers. This lessens the stress weaning brings on. The calves were old enough that they no longer got their nourishment from their mother's milk. They are ready to be on their own and the close contact with the cow helps this transition.

Finally, we watch them closely and try to give them a good, clean environment. This morning I was late to work because I moved them to a dry area to lessen the stress. I didn't really have time to move them, but that is what we do. Our animals must come first.

Now this doesn't insure that our calves will not get sick but we have given them every advantage so they can fight any illness. In the meantime, we will hope for sunshine and dry weather, and we will keep constant watch on the calves. If they do get sick, we will treat them with the latest in modern veterinary medicine. That folks, is the cowboy way with a little modern animal science thrown in.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Watching the Radar and Waiting

This past week was a tough one at our farm. We have corn and soybeans still in the field and it rained all week. To add to the stress the wet, cold weather was less than ideal for weaning our calves. So as we watched the dreary, fall weather this last week our thoughts were really about the crops deteriorating and our calves health.

Each morning I would go out and feed the calves. I would stand among them and watch for the early signs of sickness. I also brought out fresh bedding so they would have a dry place to lay down. We were lucky and they all made it through the week healthy. We did not have to pull a single calf and treat them.

However, if we had needed to treat them we would have used a treatment protocol prescribed by our veterinarian, designed specifically for the specific illness. Our cattle benefit from all the advances of modern veterinary medicine. The health of our cattle is first and foremost on our priority list, we do everything in our power to keep them healthy.

Meanwhile, our crops continue to deteriorate in the field and the prices continue to fluctuate. Each day and each rain means more grain on the ground. All of this while commodity brokers speculate about the condition of the crop and cause the prices to yo-yo. In other words, our paycheck can change in two ways because of the weather.

This week dawns with a couple of days of favorable weather followed by a couple more days of rain. You might ask yourself, why would anyone put themselves through this. All I can tell you is that there is a deep satisfaction felt when you realize that the crops you grow feed the world. So tomorrow we will frantically try to get as many bushels of soybeans on the trucks as we can while we hope the sun drys the calf pens out. Such is the life of a farmer or rancher.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cap and Trade

Today I participated in an effort to educate my friends and neighbors about Cap and Trade and the Climate Change Bill with many other farmers and ranchers. This is a horrible piece of legislation and it will drive up the cost of living for every family in the United States. I don't know about your family but my family will have a hard time absorbing any more increases in our living expenses.

This proposed legislation will increase the cost of nearly everything namely; energy, heating, gas and food. Why food? Well, this bill will result in an increase in the price of fertilizer and it will increase the cost of our putting a crop in the field. But more than that it puts our food supply in grave jeopardy.

My farm is like most and we are operating on a profit margin that is razor thin. This proposed legislation will result in higher production costs and unless crop prices rise, less profit. That very same profit is the salary we farmers live on. Less profit, equals less money, less money means less money for my family to live on. Remember what I said about the razor's edge.

Farmers care about the environment and we are doing everything we can to preserve the environment we all live in. However, this proposed Climate Bill and specifically Cap and Trade will cripple agriculture and our society as a whole. That is why it is of the utmost importance that you contact your elected officials in Washington D.C. and tell them to vote no.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Factory Farming?????

Yesterday the topic of Larry King's show was the safety of our food. I have to admit that I did not see the show, but I did engage in chat on his website. Over and over mentions of "factory farms" were made and they were blamed for the ills of food safety.

The term "factory farm" is one of the favorite propaganda phrases used over and over by groups such as HSUS and PETA. Make no mistake this is a play on words meant to sway the tide of public opinion and is used to present a negative image of some of our most conscientious family farms.

Often the farms mentioned as factory farms are pork and poultry producers. I have visited many such operations and they are the farthest thing from a factory. Most of our farms are family operations. Each farm is operated by men and women who truly care for the livestock on that farm and do everything they can to insure the health and well-being of their animals. The animals are checked on a regular basis, their nutrition is carefully taken care of and they live in a climate controlled environment free of the stresses of nature. In short, the animals on a modern livestock farm have every need taken care of.

The other criticism I often hear is about the danger they pose to the environment. I can also tell you this is absolutely not true. I work with these producers on a regular basis and I am a neighbor to one. They are the most heavily regulated group in agriculture, but that is not why they take care of our natural resources. They take care of the land because that is what farmers and ranchers do. They have nutrient management plans designed by consultants paid for by the farmer. Every bit of animal waste is caught and accounted for and it is used as fertilizer often replacing petroleum based man-made fertilizers. They simply do not and cannot make mistakes when it comes to the land and water that we all share.

I hope this sheds some light on the family farms that are often maligned by those who would like to remove meat from your dinner plate. I hope you will become more educated about modern livestock farms. Come to think of it, don't take my word for it, give a local farmer a call and talk with them about their farm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Weather is the Drizzles

This morning we woke up to sprinkles and drizzles, it was gray and cold, terrible weather for harvest. That meant we were not going to get in the field today, harvest and work was shut down. Most people get really excited about a day off, in agriculture we get really nervous. Our paycheck is out in that field and we need to be able to get to it.

As a crop matures it becomes more susceptible to weather. Soybeans pods start to pop open and the beans fall out, corn and grain sorghum start to fall over. In any case it means more grain we cannot harvest, more grain on the ground and fewer dollars in our paycheck.

The next couple of days have rain in the forecast and it will take at least two good days of drying after the last rain before we can get in the field. Not only does the ground have to be dry but the grain has to be dry enough it can be stored in bins.

That is why agriculture can be so rewarding and so frustrating all at the same time. I cannot think of another occupation I would rather be in, feeding this great nation and being my own boss. At the same time we cannot control the conditions we working and many times nature has the upper hand. The same rain that made our crop this spring and summer now threaten to take it away. So watch the weather and cross your fingers and hope for dry weather for all of the farmers trying to bring the food to your plate.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weaning Time

This past week we weaned calves at our ranch, this is a rather big event in the life of a rancher. It also goes a long way to show just how much we care about our animals, so I thought I would share this past week with you.

Actually this story goes back to this spring. Before we moved the calvess to summer pasture we gave them a round of vaccinations. These vaccinations cover common diseases and they are much like the very vaccinations we give our children. Then this fall, a couple of weeks before we weaned the calves, we gave them boosters of the same vaccines. Why a couple of weeks before we weaned the calves? The calves get natural immunity from their mother’s milk and it takes a couple of weeks for the immunity from the vaccine to kick in.

The week we wean calves is also very important, it is very important that we have time to watch the calves very closely. Each morning and night we feed the calves and we take extra time to walk through them. We watch for small things like a calf with droopy ears, or is breathing hard or one that is off by itself. Those are early signs of sickness and when we notice them we treat the calves with the most effective antibiotic available to us. You see the sooner we catch it, the easier it is to treat and we use less medicine. In the rare case that the first round of treatments doesn’t work we go to something stronger, but that is very rare.

These days we hear about antibiotic free and natural, while I don’t have anything against producers who take that path it is not for our operation. You see I believe I can balance the health of my family and the health of my cow herd. I want to make sure I do everything I can to insure the health of my herd and when my cattle are sick I will do everything to make them better. That begins with making sure they get as much protection as I can give them before they get sick, then I need to catch the illness at the earliest possible moment and finally I need to give the calf the most effective medicine at the smallest dose possible.

So as we go through this very important week on our ranch, I hope for healthy calves. I will keep a vigilant watch and I will care for the calves that need my attention. If I have to treat a calf I have no problem with feeding the meat from that calf to my family because I know I have followed the prescribed withdrawal period and there will be no trace of that medicine in the meat. As much as I care for my cattle, my family and their health is priority number one