Sunday, January 31, 2010

Willie You're Wrong

Saturday morning I happened to catch a news story on ABC about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) catching wild mustangs. It seems the herd is somewhere around 3000 horses and they are trying to get it down to 500. In other words the land has 2500 more horses than it can carry. ABC showed horses that were thin and said some of the horses could not be saved.

A quick history lesson would tell us that the horses came from ancestors turned loose or abandoned by humans starting with the Spanish. Horses are not a native specie, they are introduced. Even as such, they are a part of our western heritage and probably should be maintained. However, grazing lands have only so much carrying capacity (grass for the animals to graze on) and the herd needs to be thinned down.

That is were the rub comes in. It seems a number of celebrities and big names (Willie Nelson and T. Boone Pickins wife) have come out against this reduction of the wild mustang herd. Willie sights the heritage of the mustang and the wild west. Mrs. Pickins is wanting to throw millions of dollars into a refuge where the horses can run free.

What they don't understand is that only so many animals can graze an area of grass. Horses are some of the most aggressive grazers and can quickly damage the grass if not managed correctly. This is very important because the same BLM lands are important grazing lands for local ranchers, many who have been there for generations (yes, family ranches). This does not even take in account the wildlife that depends on this range.

So Mr. Nelson, I too am a fan of the wild mustang. However, we seem to differ in opinion of western heritage. I guess I see the hard-working ranchers who utilize the BLM lands to carry on generation old ranches as preserving our western heritage. Oh and they are providing beef and feeding the world at the same time. So Willie, put that one in your pipe and smoke it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Farmers and Ranchers are Winning

It seems these days that animal agriculture is under attack from all sides. Large, well-healed anti-animal agriculture groups are attacking family farmers and ranchers in the media, in the courts and in the legislature. But the more I thought about it, these attacks are proof of just how good those of us in agriculture are at our jobs.

Think about it. Do countries with less food security have groups who criticize their farmers and ranchers? Do they question the methods their farmers and ranchers use to produce their food? Do they wish agriculture could go back to a system of smaller, less productive farms?

Of course they don't. People in those countries are worried about where their next meal is coming from and hoping that the farmers and ranchers of the world will produce enough food. Yet a small group of well-fed, well-healed activists in our country find it quite easy to criticize our farmers and ranchers for utilizing modern advances to produce the food that feeds our nation and our world.

You see it is easy to complain about how food is produced when you are not hungry, when you know the grocery store will have what you want and when you know you can afford whatever you want. Most of these activists have no connection to agriculture and do not understand the science, experience and intuition farmers and ranchers use to raise the animals and plants we all eat.

I am so proud of my fellow farmers and ranchers who have stood up to these special interest groups to tell the truth about agriculture. I truly believe that as consumers know us as individuals, know the blood, sweat tears and the technology we combine everyday to produce the meal on their plate, they will choose to listen to us. That is why these groups have ramped up their propaganda and why they are attacking us so personally. In short, they know if the consumer gets to know us, their false attacks will not work.

I am not asking the consumer to blindly believe the farmers and ranchers who feed them. I am asking that they learn more about agriculture from those who really know about it, those same farmers and ranchers. Then they can make a fair and balanced decision based on the facts and not glitzy propaganda.

Monday, January 25, 2010

If You Know Ag,You Will No Sonic

Supper at Sonic is not an option for our family anymore. Why? Sonic caved into the radical anti-animal agriculture group the Humane Society of the United States or (HSUS). Sonic stated that they will start to phase in eggs raised on cage-free farms and pork produced on farms that do not use gestation crates. I raise crops, beef and sheep on my farm, so why does it matter to me?

It matters because those of us in agriculture need to stand up for ourselves and that means stand up as a united front. You see even though I don't raise poultry or hogs on my farm, I know many farmers who do. They are hard-working family farmers who are using the latest in technology to take care of their animals. Believe me when I saw they have the best interest of their animals first.

I know that cage-free may sound good when it comes to chickens and eggs. We have a pastoral picture of chickens pecking around a barnyard, happy and healthy. Unfortunately that is not necessarily true. Did you ever hear of something called the pecking order. Well that got its name from chickens establishing an order of dominance within the flock. That leads to malnourishment and death if you are at the bottom of that pecking order.

This behavior is also exhibited in pigs. The bottom line is that the lower the chicken or pig is on the social order the harder it is for them to survive. That is why conscientious chicken and pig farmers employ modern technology like gestation crates. This allows the animal to benefit from modern building with climate control (no extreme heat or cold like outside), modern diets (balanced for complete nutrition, fed in the right amount), without the competition from more dominant animals.

You see, contrary to what HSUS would have you and Sonic believe, farmers and ranchers care enough about their animals to provide them with the best, latest, most technologically advances developed to provide their livestock with a stress-free environment. I don't know of a single farmer or rancher (and I know a lot) who only cares about the bottom line and not about their animals.

I would ask that you let Sonic know that they need to do more research and not bend to the heavy-handed propaganda of HSUS. Folks, don't be blinded by this group. HSUS's intention is that you no longer eat meat, period, end of story. All I ask is that you spend a little time, get to know a farmer or rancher, find out about agriculture, then you will have a greater appreciation of the lengths we go for our animals.

In the meantime, I will be going to Dairy Queen for my limeades and elsewhere to eat. I hope that with a little outrage and a lot of education we can make Sonic know agriculture.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lambing Lament

Last night was a long one at our farm. Just about 9:00 last night I found a ewe with a lamb out in the pen. Come to find out she had a set of twins. One was already dead and the other was very cold. We spent the next three hours working to save the surviving twin.

We brought him in the house were we dried him off and put him in a bathtub full of hot water. His core temperature had dropped to 97 degrees and lambs need a core temperature of 102 to 103. So for the next two hours we dried, rubbed and fed him until his core temperature had reached an acceptable level.

We then took him out to his mother and spent another hour making sure he had nursed her and didn't get too cold. Then in the middle of the night I got up and went out and made sure he was OK, watching him for a half an hour. My alarm went off at 5:30 and I got up and went out and checked him then too.

The lamb appears to be just fine and should make it. For that I am grateful, but all day my thoughts kept going back to the lamb we lost. I wondered what I could have done different and what I had missed. I would guess I am similar to many farmers and ranchers that I agonize over every animal I lose.

Often those of us who make our living in agriculture are portrayed as people who view livestock as objects, but that is not true. Even though I know the animals I raise will ultimately become food, that doesn't mean I do not care for them while they are in my care.

I will spend the time it requires, in any weather, at any time of the day to care for my animals. My commitment is to provide them the best care possible, with as little discomfort and at the lowest possible stress level while they are with me. That is why I agonize over each animal I care for.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Meet the Real Cowboy (or Cowgirl)

Did you ever wonder why society prizes some occupations over others. Why do we seem to put sports stars or movie actors over the other jobs. For instance, why do we collect cards with baseball players pictures? Well, that is a question John Standard posed to me this week.

John is a county agent friend of mine. In a past life John was a ranch manager/ cowboy type and therefore he has a deep love and passion for those who raise our beef. So when John suggests something it comes from the heart.

His idea was to put real life ranchers at different sporting events or other public places. Real cowboys, cowgirls and kids signing pictures and meeting the public just like the "famous" people we currently collect pictures, cards and autographs from.

Imagine, your favorite cowboy or cowgirl type signing glossy 8x10 pictures and talking to lines of adoring beef eating fans. OK, I so I know that is dreaming, but the idea behind it is really good. We need to go meet our customers instead of waiting for them to come to us.

Recently ranchers have been the target of anti-animal agriculture groups who would eliminate our way of life and the beef you eat. I think most of the head-way these groups have made were because of a lack of communication. So John's idea of going to the consumer so they would have a face to put with the beef they buy might actually work.

I would like to know what you think of this idea. Please comment and tell me what you think of putting real life ranchers out for the public to meet.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lambs, Calves and Anti-biotics

The next couple of months are "crunch" time on our ranch. Over that period we will be lambing and calving. This period of time is one of my favorite, I love working with the animals and seeing the newborn lambs and calves. However, this is also one of the most stressful, physically draining periods for all of us on the ranch and it would be even more stressful without the advances in modern veterinary medicine.

I have stated many times that I do not have my own doctor programmed into my cell phone but I do have the numbers of two veterinarians (both their clinics and cell phones). Without the guidance of these two skilled professionals and the modern advances in medicine this time of the year would not be so eagerly anticipated.

Recently I have heard that there is a push to reduce (or even eliminate) the anti-biotics we have to treat our livestock. Misinformation and outright lies have been spread by groups such as HSUS , PETA and various sub-groups about the use of anti-biotics in agriculture and their ties to anti-biotic resistant bugs in humans. Let me just say that, without a doubt, limiting the anti-biotics we have to use on our animals would lead to much more suffering by those very animals.

Each time I have a lamb or a calf with a respiratory ailment I am very thankful to be able to treat it with the most advanced modern anti-biotic available. Let me also assure you that this treatment is done under the advisement of my veterinarian. We use only the prescribed amount and only for the prescribed time. We do not want to over-use our most effective treatments.

So what is my message? The anti-biotics we use on our farms and ranches have been tested and reviewed by a myriad of government regulators. We utilize highly educated, trained veterinarians and only administer them in the dose needed. All withdrawal times are followed. This all means that the meat you get is completely safe and does not contribute, at all, to anti-biotic resistant illness in humans. The men and women in agriculture work hard day and night to insure a safe, abundant, ethically grown food supply and they can be trusted.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Uncommon Common Sense

I propose that on days of poor air quality in the Kansas City metro area that the driving of cars be banned. The EPA wants to regulate when we can burn because of air quality issues in Kansas City. Let me state that it is my belief that while we may push those air quality numbers to a higher level, pasture burning is not the cause for alarm. The air quality is pushed to the brink because of all the cars being driven in the Kansas City area.

You can't do that, it would hurt your business. Well, I suppose it would and those are the same reasons that limiting burning do not work for those of us in the Flint Hills. Research has proven that fire is necessary to maintain the integrity of the tallgrass prairie. Kansas State University research has also proven that cattle eat a more nutritious diet on pastures that have been burned in the spring. Therefore, they gain more weight, they are worth more money when the rancher sells them and the rancher makes more money (or loses less).

The EPA would have us burn at different times of the year. Again, research has proven that earlier burning results in more water running off of the native range increasing soil erosion and allowing less water to infiltrate the ground and causing a lack of soil moisture. They have all of this information and yet they chose to ignore it.

What am I asking for. Well, I suppose I am asking for something novel, something very uncommon in government regulatory agencies with political appointees, common sense. All I am asking for is for the EPA to realize that the burning of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie is necessary and only results in a very short, very temporary blip in air quality and to ignore it. In a matter of hours or days it will go away. In the meantime, we will maintain the last tallgrass prairie in the world. Remember, as ranchers we have spent our whole lives taking care of the prairie and we know what is best. Please contact your congressional representative and the EPA and ask them to use some uncommon, common sense.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fire and the EPA

I think the Flint Hills are the best place to live and raise cattle in the whole world. The Flint Hills are the last vestige of tallgrass prairie in the world. It is a very unique ecosystem and a very fragile one at that.

As a rancher in the Flint Hills it is one of my duties to preserve it and pass it on to other generations. Tallgrass prairie is a very unique ecosystem in that it is not a stable state. What do I mean by not a stable state? Without proper management small shrubs will start to encroach and eventually the prairie will become a woodland.

There are only three ways to stop this encroachment. One is mechanical, or cutting the shrubs and treating the stumps. This is virtually impossible and requires a lot of chemical brush control. The second method is chemical. This option is both expensive and not one I prefer because of the chemical. I would guess I am like most ranchers in that I prefer a natural chemical free solution.

That brings me to my third option, prescribed burning. Prescribed burning is more than just throwing out a match. We time the fire to control a certain invasive species of brush or weed. It also improves the quality of the grass for our cattle, making it more nutritious. Fire, at the right time of the year, is vital for the preservation of the Flint Hills.

So what is the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gotten involved because our prescribed burning, at times, pushes Kansas City's air quality to an unacceptable level. Don't get me wrong, I am very aware and sympathetic to those with health problems that air quality is very important to. However, maintaining our option to burn is absolutely necessary for the Flint Hills.

The EPA wants ranchers to burn at different times of the year, but that is not a good option. Too early in the year causes run-off and this increases erosion. Try to burn too late in the year and it is hard to get the pasture to burn. In short, we burn during April because time and university research have proved it is the best time to burn native range.

What is the solution? I am not sure, but I do know that air quality is very important to all of us and the ability to burn native range is absolutely critical to maintain native tallgrass prairie. So no matter what we all need to work together to find a solution that is beneficial to both parties and I am pretty sure that doesn't mean an edict from a government agency.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bitter Cold and Livestock

The weather is awful tonight. Single digit temperatures combined with winds in excess of 25 mph making windchills, well, downright dangerous. To top it off it is snowing. In short it is not a night for man or beast outside.

Great night to be in my easy chair by the fire. Well, for now I am. However, in a couple of hours I will be heading out to the barn to check the ewes that are about to lamb. If they are in the process of lambing I will spend most of the night with them, making sure they and their lambs are OK.

The preparations for tonight started weeks ago. We winterized the barn, hung tarps , boarding all but one door(to cut down drafts) and hung heat lamps. Pens were built and lined with straw. We try to give our lambs the best possible environment to be born in. If all else fails we have an area in our basement with a space heater to help warm them up.

The bottom line is as a livestock producer we do everything we can to insure the health and well-being of our animals. No matter what the weather conditions or how bad we want to stay in we know that is not a possibility. So later on tonight I will put on my chore clothes, coat and brave the winter storm to take care of my animals. Why? Because as a livestock producer our animals come first.