Sunday, May 30, 2010

Soybeans and Memorial Day

Memorial Day Weekend, the unofficial start of the summer season. Let the grilling, camping and summer fun start. Well, not yet. We have been working hard to get the soybeans planted this weekend. Farming is one profession where weekends and holidays aren't on the calendar.

I posted this on Facebook yesterday and one of my friends reminded me that I willingly give up my weekends and my holidays because I love what I am doing. He was exactly right and that reminder made me think today. I am incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to pursue the life I love on the land I love. Land that my ancestors made the long, dangerous trip to homestead and that my family has called home for over 100 years.

I also thought about the men and women who had made sacrifices to allow me to live on this land and work it. That is the true purpose of Memorial Day, to remember the ones who have passed on and especially those who have served in our defense and given the ultimate sacrifice. We all need to remember that the very freedoms and blessings that we have in our lives are due to the sacrifice and bravery of those who protect those very freedoms.

So as I look at the cattle grazing on the green, Flint Hills grass in the cool, wet, thunder-storm cooled evening, I am humbled to think that all of this was due to the dedication of our brave men and women serving in our armed forces both past and present. So as you go about your Memorial Day activities (work or play) stop to remember those who made your choices possible.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cows are Just Cows

This morning I was leaving for work early (which happens very rarely) when I came across two cows munching happily along the side of the road. This suddenly made me grumpy. One, yes, I was going to be late. However, more importantly, I had just rotated the cows onto fresh grass and they had un-rotated themselves back onto the grass that had been grazed.

At first this made no sense to me because it seemed only logical that the cows should be happy with their new grass. Then I realized, it seemed logical to me because I operate with human logic. You see cows are animals (what a revelation, but stay with me) and they act upon instinct, not logic. That is a very big distinction and one that is hard to make if you have not been around farm animals and watch a lot of Disney movies.

Movies such as Babe, Charlotte's Web, Bambi or any of the other myriad of movies that give animals human emotions and logic have blurred our understanding of animal behavior. It is easy for us to project human thought and logic onto our pets. Then it is another short leap to project those ideas onto farm animals. Folks, I have spent my entire life around animals and I think I have a pretty good grip on their behaviors and they are all driven by instinct.

Animals are driven by the instinct to eat, reproduce and stay safe, period. They do not look to us as friends or family, but simply as the source of their food and the keeper of their shelter. They are not happy to see us (the feed bucket maybe, but not us personally) and they do not love us. I am sorry if this bursts your image of your pet but they simply are animals who act on instinct. We, humans, are the ones who give them our human emotions.

Having said this, it does not mean that I treat my animals with any less dignity. I understand through my study of animal behavior how to use those very behaviors to cause them less stress. I know that they need a balanced diet and work to provide them with the right amount of feed, mixed to provide them proper nutrition. When I inter-act with them, I understand their stresses and try to minimize those stresses. However, I also understand that they are animals and may react instinctively without regard to my health, safety or convienence. I also understand that my animals have a purpose and that purpose is to be food for my family and my neighbors.

The bottom line in all of this is that farmers and ranchers understand that their animals are just that, animals, devoid of human emotion and logic. We understand their behaviors, instincts and tendencies and utilize them to provide for their needs and reduce their stress. I would invite you to spend time with a farmer or rancher and get an understanding of animal behavior and dispel the myths of Disney.

Monday, May 17, 2010

In Defense of Monsanto

Let me throw this disclaimer out right off the bat. I do not work for Monsanto, I do not own stock in Monsanto and I really don't have any interest in Monsanto. Having said that I am writing this blog, as a farmer, in support of Monsanto.

Too often I see things written about the big, bad bully called Monsanto. Yes, they are the multi-national corporation that developed Round-up Ready soybeans and corn. For those of you not involved in agriculture, Round-up Ready soybeans and corn were a major technological break through in agriculture. Monsanto developed a gene in corn and soybeans that allowed us to spray the chemical Round-up on those crops without killing them. Round-up is a herbicide that attacks green plant material. Yes, it is the same herbicide you spray on the cracks in your sidewalk.

This advancement allowed us to adopt environmentally friendly farming practices like no-till and has drastically reduced soil loss and fuel use on farms. It has also allowed us to use fewer herbicides on our crops. In short, Round-up technology allows us to grow more food, with less fertilizer, fewer chemicals and less fuel. All-the-while preserving our land in an environmentally friendly manner.

Sounds great doesn't it. Well, there are many "environmental"groups that would muddy the waters and spread false information. They point toward Monsanto's patent on this technology and theorize that they are trying to monopolize the market on the very seed we use to grow your food. That is just not true. Yes, Monsanto is a for profit company and last time I checked this was the United States and we believed in the free market. Monsanto developed this technology and spent millions doing so, they have the right to make money. We farmers have the right not to buy their seed and I suspect in the near future we will have the right to buy the next, better innovation in farming technology. Do you think anyone will feel sorry for Monsanto?

As far as the idea they are cornering the market on seed. I want someone to prove it to me. No, I don't mean in shadowy Internet terms, I mean in real life, solid source terms. It's a conspiracy theory meant to cast doubt over modern farming practices.

Finally, the same shadowy, conspiracy theorists will claim that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) like Round-up Ready products will cause health problems in the future. First, what doesn't cause health problems and second, prove it. I have not seen one shred of credible evidence of any health risk from this technology.

So, I applaud Monsanto and their innovation. They have allowed me to grow more food and save the environment. If you want to go back to farming with heirloom vegetables and organic practices, then more power to you. It is a free country (for now) and we can all run our business as we see fit. Which is all I am really asking for. So if you don't mind I will continue to grow my Round-up Ready soybeans and corn and be a proud producer of the food we all eat.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chipotle and Sustainable, Ethical Agriculture

I am a big fan of Mexican food, but there is one Mexican restaurant than I am not a big fan of, Chipotle Mexican Grill. Recently they publicly came out backing HSUS, while that bit of news pushed me over the top, it was not the only problem I have with this establishment.

On their website they tout that they serve "Food with Integrity" if that were so they would be aligning themselves with the very farmers and ranchers who raise that food and not a group of questionable ethics, financial practices and agendas like HSUS.

In another portion of their website they claim to use ingredients grown sustainably, naturally and with respect for the animals, environment and farmers who produce them. I whole-heartedly agree with most of that. However, I think the fine people of Chipotle need to spend some time with us out here in the fields and pastures.

Almost every farmer and rancher I know strives to be sustainable and has the utmost respect for their livestock, land and environment. Most of us have roots several generations deep in the land we live on and we are constantly looking to technology and research to give us new methods of being both more sustainable and environmentally friendly. According to the American Farm Bureau we produce 272% more food than we did in 1950 with only 98% of the inputs. The bottom line is those who run Chipotle and even those who eat at Chipotle need to get a balanced view of agriculture that is not influenced by propaganda put forth by groups such as HSUS.

As for the natural part of that statement, I do have a problem with that. By natural, they mean without anti-biotics. While many of the animals I produce have never had anti-biotics of any kind, I want to reserve the right to give them medicine if necessary. I cannot speak for my fellow farmers and ranchers, but I know many of them operate their farms and ranches in this manner. I only use anti-biotics when absolutely necessary, only at the dose prescribed by my veterinarian and I strictly follow the withdrawal time. The meat I produce from those animals is safe and I do feed it to my family. In my opinion, it is far more ethical to treat my animals if they need it than to let them suffer with an ailment. Again I would like the people at Chipotle and their customers to spend some time with me on my ranch and then they might understand the importance of modern veterinary medicines.

This all comes back to my farmers and ranchers opening our farms and ranches and taking the time to share what we do with the consumers of the food we produce. It also takes the consumer and the business owner listening with an open mind and not one influenced by anti-agriculture groups, I cannot stress enough that farmers and ranchers care about the world we live in, the animals we rely on and the people we live with. I hope you will join me in letting Chipotle know that they have aligned themselves with an organization bent on destroying the very farmers and ranchers they claim to respect.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mike Rowe Gets It

Mike Rowe gets it. Yes, the same Mike Rowe who hosts Dirty Jobs and is the spokesman for Ford. He gets it when it comes to agriculture. The following is an article he posted on his website "", . This website is one that Mike dedicated to hardwork and he has a whole section dedicated to agriculture.

As I read it I marveled at his grasp of agriculture. I wondered why does this man get it and so many others don't. The answer is simple, Mike Rowe has had a chance to spend time with farmers and ranchers. He has gotten dirty with us and knows what kind of hard working, good citizens we are. He has seen our concern for all things living and the environment we live in.

Mike understands the importance of agriculture because he has seen it first hand. He understands that this country is based upon agriculture and without it we will cease to exist. He understands the importance of hard work and getting dirty and the bedrock principles this country was built on.

This confirms my belief that we must bridge the gap between farmers and ranchers and our customers (i.e. anyone who eats). Communication is the key and we must work hard to commicate with the other 98% who don't work in agriculture. We must open our farms and ranches and allow our consumers to spend time with us. Then they will understand why we do what we do. In short, we need to create more Mike Rowe's, who support, advocate and appreciate agriculture.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Food Production of all Kinds

Tonight we had fried chicken for supper. It was not just any run of the mill chicken but one we raised on our farm. I know the chickens we raise taste much better than the chicken we can buy in the store. This was also the thought we had when we started directly marketing our beef. We are sure we raise a superior product to the one you can buy in the store.

Lately much has been made of the regional food craze, it seems everyone wants to buy local food. I agree that locally raised food is often better quality and fresher than the produce and meat we buy in our stores. Groups outside of agriculture have also jumped on this bandwagon and are effectively driving a wedge between smaller producers and larger farmers.

As a producer who both markets locally and grows commodities, I am here to tell you that it should not be that way. While producers who sell their product locally fill an import place in the food production chain, we still need to produce food in large quantities to feed an ever-growing world population. It is impossible for us to produce all the food needed even for our own nation locally. Modern agriculture production methods have allowed us to feed 155 people and ourselves and to meet the future demand we must constantly increase this count.

Groups such as HSUS would have you believe that food grown on large modern farms are unhealthy and bad for the environment. Conversely, these groups would have you believe food you buy at local farmer's markets or directly from the producer is much healthier. This is simply not true. The food you purchase from the supermarket is just as wholesome and healthy as the food purchased directly from the source.

The truth is that we need both kinds of agriculture production. The producers who sell their products locally are our bridge to the consumer. The consumer gets to know real live producers. The product is fresher and it can be argued that it is higher quality. However, it is also more expensive and not available to all consumers. Those who live in big cities or in climates not good for food production rely on food from other sources. In short, if you can afford locally grown food and have access to it, more power to you.

However, the truth is that most of the world's population rely on our modern farmers and ranchers to produce the food found in supermarkets. This food is safe, wholesome and affordable. It is produced in a manner that is sustainable to the environment. The world needs large, modern farms to feed its growing population.

What I want you to know is that all farmers and ranchers both small or large, those who sell locally or those who sell in quantity, all care about the people they feed and the environment they live in. We should celebrate all types of food production, our world needs all the food we can grow it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Taking the Cows to Summer Pasture

This week I am bruised, dirty and tired from vaccinating cattle and moving them from winter pasture to lush green summer pasture. You know what? It is one of the best weeks of the year. It is hard to explain the feeling but at the end of the day you are caked with mud and "other things", bone tired and really sore. However, when you open the gate and watch the cows and their calves spread out and start grazing, it is very gratifying.

Each morning we start by gathering up one of our herds of cows and calves. We keep each herd to a maximum of 40 cows. This is because it is more manageable for us, safer for the calves and generally causes less stress to cows and humans alike.

Next we sort the cows and calves into separate pens. We sort the cattle as slowly and quietly as possible. University research has proven that cattle (and all prey animals) are very sensitive to loud or sudden movements and we again want to minimize the stress. We sort them because the cows receive a different regimen of vaccinations than the calves and it is safer for the calves if they are in their own group.

Vaccinations are the next round of business. Calves receive their first round of vaccinations against common cattle diseases such as red nose, black leg, pink eye and other diseases that often are fatal if the calves catch them. Really this is no different than the vaccinations our kids get before kindergarten. The cows receive booster shots for the same diseases and are given de-wormers to help with internal parasites and external parasites, like ticks. We also take this time to inspect each cow's physical condition and give her a new identification ear tag if she needs it.

When the vaccinations are finished we again sort the cows and calves according to the summer pasture they are going to. In the fall, cows are sorted by age and body type. This helps insure that they receive the proper nutrition. However, when we sort in the spring the sorting is done according to the bull that will be in each pasture. Choosing the matings has become more and more precise due to the advances in tracking of growth and carcass traits in cattle. A lot of planning and thought went into the beef you eat.

Finally the cattle are herded into the trailers for the ride to the summer pasture. We put the calves in a separate trailer to make sure they are safe and can't be jostled by the bigger cows. The last part is my favorite, opening the gate and letting them out on new, green grass. Often we are very busy, but I always find myself lingering and watching the cows and calves. That makes all the dirt, bruising and exhaustion worth it and reaffirms why I ranch.