Monday, January 31, 2011

Ruffling my Fur

As many of you know, recently I have had the opportunity to spend many hours watching daytime TV. This has been an interesting study into why many people develop the beliefs they have. You see, daytime TV is littered with many programs featuring celebrities with lots of opinions and little in the way of facts.

I suspect many of these celebrities have good intentions but fall prey to the need for higher ratings and more sensational topics. This makes them easy targets for animal rights and environmental groups who rely more on emotions than facts.

Earlier I saw Rachel Ray promote cage-free, organic eggs as more healthy. She did not have any facts to back up her assertion. How do I know? Because there is no scientific proof that cage-free or organic are healthier than commercially produced.

Then today I watched "The Talk". Sharon Osborne interviewed an actress (who I did not recognize), the discussion quickly turned from her new movie to her ad campaign for PETA. The actress said she decided to become a spokesperson for PETA because of a documentary about fur. She claimed that animals were skinned alive and she related this to her dog. Sharon then asserted that most fur collars come from dog and cat fur.

This sheds a lot of light on typical PETA propaganda. First, they reach people who's only contact with animals are pets. Animals raised for food or for fiber are different from pets. The animals are well cared for but they are raised for the purpose of food or clothing. When the proper time comes they are ethically harvested for items we need. It is not cruel, but rather the cycle of life.

Second, Sharon stated something that was more sensational than true. I have never seen anything would indicate what she said was true. In fact, my guess (yes it is my opinion) most of that fur is faux, fake, man-made. PETA and their mouth pieces are never hindered by the truth or facts. They will say anything that will make their point, sway more people and ultimately raise more funds for their own use.

My daytime TV watching may have cost me some brain cells and several points on my IQ but it did make me realize that those of us in agriculture need to get out and tell our story. Too many actors look for "causes" and are hooked by slick characters from fund raising groups like PETA and HSUS. We need to reach them and at least educate them about the truth.

The truth is that we are incredibly lucky to have the safest, most abundant food supply in the entire world. We have an amazing network of farmers and ranchers who work tirelessly to produce food and fiber in an environmentally sustainable manner. Without the agriculture backbone of our nation we would not have actors, celebrities or daytime TV.

What is the answer to this dilemma. Each time something outrageous about agriculture is presented, we need to be ready and willing to answer it. We also need to go the extra step and try to reach people before our opponents do. If you are one who is watching daytime TV, I ask that you contact me or one of my fellow farmers and ranchers to learn the truth about animals, the environment and your food. The truth will set you free and free is much different than what PETA and HSUS have in mind.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Response to Rachel Ray

This is a segment on food myths Rachel does on her show. At first I appreciated this segment because she pointed out that the color of an egg made no difference. However, she went on to recommend only buying organic, cage-free eggs. While I have no problem with them, to insinuate that they are somehow healthier and better did not sit well with me. The following is my response.

I am a proud farmer and rancher so I was very disappointed to read your comments about organic, cage-free eggs being better. I do agree that fresh eggs are better tasting, however, the eggs you can buy in your grocery store are just as safe and nutritious.

Organic eggs are no more nutritious or healthy than conventionally produced eggs. Eggs are USDA inspected and the feeds ingredients are also closely regulated. The key to safety when consuming eggs is to properly handle and cook them. There are no credible research trials that prove that organic eggs are healthier.

As far as, the cage free tag. Many years of animal science research has went into the much maligned laying cages. To understand them and why they are much better for the hen, you must understand chicken behavior. The term pecking order is not something that is just made up. Chickens determine a level of hierarchy by fighting. The weakest are forced away from feed, picked on and eventually killed. If they are cage-free there is little the farmer can do to protect the hen. By placing them in cages they hens all receive the same, balance diet and are protected from more dominate hens. This is a far more ethical approach to producing eggs.

I am not a poultry farmer, but I do know many who are. They are good, hard-working men and women. Many are family farmers who have been working the same land for generations. All I ask is that you try to do some research and visit a modern poultry farm. Then you can form a fair, unbiased opinion.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Response to Article from Men's Health

The following is my response to an article published in the men's health section and posted on the Fox News website. Please read and respond. The article is inaccurate and unfair.,4_0_cf67f9da_{%22method%22:%22cookieFailure%22,%22params%22:[],%22jsonrpc%22:%222.0%22}

I am a fifth generation rancher in the Flinthills of Kansas and I am also one of the small producers that the article speaks of. However, I feel the need to stand up and say that the article is both misleading and inaccurate and the facts must be set straight. The meat in the grocer case is both safe and nutritious. Most importantly it is affordably priced for all consumers.

I direct market a significant number of the beef cattle I produce locally. The beef I market is a premium product priced at a premium level. My customers are middle to upper class and can afford my product. However, many cannot and that is why we need larger farms producing a more affordable product.

The safety of meat is also questioned in this article. That is absolutely false. E-coli can simply be avoided through proper handling and cooking of meat. Consumers who properly handle meat making sure to clean utensils after each step in the cooking process and who cook their meat to the proper internal temperature are protected from e-coli. The truth is that e-coli were much more prevalent 80 years ago when production practices were more closely aligned to the ones supported by the article.

The truth of the matter is that there is a need both for locally raised, premium foods and for the products produced on a larger scale for distribution in larger stores. Small farms simply cannot produce enough food for the ever growing, ever more urban population.

We are incredibly blessed in this nation to have a safe and abundant food supply. Farmers and ranchers produce more food , cheaper, with fewer inputs in a more environmentally friendly manner, each year. The need for nutrition in this country has led to the creation of the greatest most efficient agriculture system in the entire world. All I ask is that the readers of this article take the time to get to know the great men and women who produce the food and fiber we all need. Do that and they will have a greater appreciation and trust in our shared food supply

Sunday, January 16, 2011


It seems that for everything there is a profession
It is no different for those who sell livestock and grain
The brave souls that specialize in commodities
Whose income depends on what happens on the plains.

For their life’s work is an unsteady balancing act
Understanding the crazy, unpredictable world of agriculture
With its mixed up weather and uncertain demand
Its very much similar to many forms of water torture.

Drought in good ol’ Russia creates a crisis in wheat
Then too much rain in Iowa drops the price of beans
Cheap corn causes the price of cattle to begin to rise
While cheap bacon crashes hogs down into the teens.

There’s a world wide effect to this manic profession
The market drops every time China catches cold and sneezes
Maybe the European Union imposes some silly rule
And South Korea embargoes whenever they dang well pleases.

Everything has an effect on the market it seems
From Global warming errr. I mean climate change
To the price of fuel and all kinds of fertilizer
And people wanting meat that’s called free range.

But the one silver lining for each of them I suppose
The money wagered on nature and politics is not their own
Farmers and investors alike, entrust them with their cash
Like mana from heaven, it is a real life no-interest loan.

Many customers wonder, and some right out loud
If, maybe, they shouldn’t just invest in professional poker.
But names tell it all, its right there in their job title.
And that, my friends, is why each is called a broker.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Trust the Professional

Today I received a call from a family farmer friend of mine who raises pigs. During our conversation he mentioned that he was trying to become certified as humanely raising his pigs. However, he was having trouble with this certification because it was both expensive and in some ways unrealistic.

Most of the groups wanting to do the audit insisted that the pigs not be in modern facilities. By this I mean no farrowing crates and baby pigs must be allowed outside. I suppose that all sounds good until you understand swine behavior.

Sows were placed in farrowing crates ( this is a structure that does not allow them to turn around) to protect the baby pigs. Until the advent of farrowing crates a large number of pigs were crushed by the sow. Baby pigs being allowed to roam the outdoors sounds good until you realize what a modern hog barn is like. It is a constant temperature (unlike the baking heat of summer and the bitter cold of winter), free from predators (even hawks, cats and dogs are predators of baby pigs) and free of disease carried by birds and other animals.

Basically what the "humane certification" dictates is that he has to operate his farm utilizing the same methods that were deemed obsolete in 1950. That got me to thinking. As many of you know I recently injured my Achilles tendon. Until this injury I knew nothing about Achilles tendons, therefore I sought the treatment of an orthopedic surgeon.

Now imagine if I had went into my surgeon and insisted that I knew that the way this injury was treated in the 50's was far better than today. You (and my doctor) would tell me that modern medicine has made many advances and the treatment today is vastly different and better than it was 60 years ago. Furthermore, how dare I question someone with extensive training, many years of experience and the advantages of on-going professional development. You know what? You would be absolutely right.

I went into my doctor's office confident that he knew what he was doing. Had I known enough about Achilles tendons to treat myself, I would have. However, while he was in medical school, serving as an intern and practicing medicine, I too was learning about my chosen trade, agriculture.

My fellow hog farmers are no different. They have gone to college to learn modern animal husbandry, many have worked for more experienced farmers, and all continue to attend workshops and other professional development to advance their knowledge. They are experts and professionals in their chosen fields.

Does that mean I should blindly follow my doctor. No, I did some research and made myself aware of the basics of the Achilles tendon, my injury and treatments. However, that knowledge did not make me an expert, it gave me a better understanding of what the expert was telling me. Every farmer I know welcomes the consumer becoming more educated about agriculture.

What is the bottom line in all of this. Trust the professional. Just as I listened to my doctor and my leg is getting better, trust the hard-working men and women that produce your food. We care about our animals and the changes we make to our farms are there to improve the life of our livestock. Because of the changes in modern medicine I will be healed in 12 weeks. Because of the changes in modern agriculture we can feed an ever-growing world population by producing livestock more ethically, with less stress, more economically and that means more wholesome, safe nutritious food on your plate.

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Wife's Snow Day

This morning was our first winter storm and that meant a lot of work. Well, it meant a lot of work for Jennifer and the kids since I am currently on the physically unable to perform list to put it in NFL terms. Winter storms, especially during lambing season, take a lot of preparation before and even more work during.

Yesterday, Jennifer and the kids sorted the ewes by when they would lamb. How do we know when they will lamb. Early this fall our ram was fitted with a marking harness that leaves a paint mark on ewes when he breeds them. We keep track of when he marks the ewes. That way we know when they will lamb.

Utilizing this knowledge, Jennifer put the six ewes most likely to lamb in our new lambing barn. She made sure they had water, feed, that they were bedded down on straw and had a heat lamp to keep their newborn lambs warm. Having ewes in the lambing barn also means she needs to check them at regular intervals during the night.

The other ewes were split up in two groups depending on when they are due to lamb. That also meant rearranging feeders and water tanks. When that was done the water tanks for the cattle and horses needed to be filled in anticipation of the freezing temperatures. She made sure we had enough hay to get through the storm and made sure the feed truck had enough fuel to get through also. She came in after dark last night, very cold, dusty and tired.

Then this morning she and the kids woke up early and checked the ewes in the lambing barn. They then proceeded to fill all the hay feeders for the cattle, sheep and horses and gave all of them extra grain because of the cold, wet conditions. Extra time was spent checking the well-being of all our animals. Chores that normally take 30 minutes took two hours today.

This evening she and the kids returned outside to check the animals, fill water tanks and make sure everything is healthy and happy. This was in addition to the usual chores of make sure buckets of grain are ready for chores the next day and feed pans and bunks are in place for the morning. All of this led to a very exhausting "snow day" for her and the kids.

Sure, Jennifer would have liked to be inside warm and dry. I am quite sure she would have liked to sleep in this morning. I am also just as sure that she had other things she would have rather done. I am also just as certain the kids had other more fun things they wanted to do on their free day from school. However, our animals always come before our comfort. It doesn't matter what the weather conditions are, if everyone is healthy or what else is on our to-do list our livestock are our number 1 priority. This farm is truly a family farm and everyone pitches in.

My story is no different than any others around me, irregardless of the size of the farm or ranch, or the type, the livestock is always first to receive care. Farmers and ranchers put the care and comfort of their animals first, period. As you sit down to your meal tonight, remember that many dedicated farmers and ranchers spent countless hours in harsh conditions to bring that meal to you.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Rich Farmers"

Lately, the finances of farmers and ranchers have come up as a discussion piece for many of our national news shows. While I will not debate the farm program and subsidy payments, keep in mind they are less than 1% of the total federal budget. All farm payments do not add up to the amount we spend on food stamps and related programs. However, that is not the point of this blog.

For some unknown reason, some of the public has the misguided idea that farmers and ranchers are the owners of a "cash cow". What is true is that we handle a lot of cash, what is not true is that we get to keep any if very much of that cash. In agriculture, we are not rich until we die.

Just this week, we found out that the tractor we sent in for a minor tune-up will cost several thousand dollars. That is several thousand dollars that come right out of what would have been profit. The prices of the equipment necessary for our trade and their replacement parts have risen dramatically. Recently we have watched helplessly as oil prices spiked driving up the prices of fuel and fertilizer. We have also watched as the price of the seed we plant has gone up steadily each year.

If that wasn't enough, farmland prices have reached new highs. While the real estate market has continued to lag, the price of the land we depend on has sky rocketed. Not only do the high values make it difficult to expand our farm and ranches but it drives up the rental rates. You see, we cannot afford to own all the land we need to make a living so most of us rent more land than we own.

One shining light of hope did happen this congress with the temporary stay on the estate tax. Remember what I said about farmers and ranchers dieing poor. Many of us would have to sell some of the family farm or at very least take out a mortgage just to pay the inheritance tax. I always thought it seemed silly to pay again for something Dad, Grandpa and Great-Grandpa all paid for.

After all of that remember that we don't get to set the prices we receive for our crops and livestock. Often prices move at a moments notice and for no good reason. Even the smallest movement in price can result in a loss. To top it off, if the prices we receive move higher, often the prices we pay for inputs also increase at the same rate (and they never go back down).

I don't mean to paint a grim picture of life as a farmer or rancher. We all know what this way of life is like when we pick it. If we wanted to be rich we would chose something else as our life's work. I just wanted to give you an accurate picture of what a farmer's finances look like. I am still proud to be a farmer and as long as the bank will let me I will continue to grow your food.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I am Responsible for What I Eat

I am hungry. Not because of a lack of food but because I need to be. You see while I am on my injured reserve I have decided that I need to cut back on my food consumption. I think this is a problem that is uniquely American and it is both a blessing and a curse.

I have battled my weight for many years and it is due to a definite lack of will power. It is my problem and not the fault of anyone else, I ate my way into this problem. I do not blame my fellow farmers and ranchers for my weighty problem, nor do I blame food processors or even the fast food restaurants. Therefore, it is my responsibility to change my habits.

Only in America would we have a problem with too much food. Only in America would we have enough food that we could over-process food into snacks and only in America could we blame the farmers, ranchers, processors and restaurant owners for our over-eating. When in reality it is our own fault.

We have a choice of the most healthy, nutritious foods and often they are right at our fingertips. We should have the best diets of any people in the world, however, we chose to eat poorly. I admit it, I love to eat. I enjoy a great diversity of food. I eat my fruits, veggies, lean meats (including beef and pork) and whole grains but I also have a fiendish sweet tooth and an attraction to unhealthy foods.

So we now hear about the need to regulate foods, tax unhealthy offerings and remove all sweets from our schools. Anything remotely unhealthy is ostracized. I ask, what happened to personal responsibility? When I was a child those foods were there, but my mother understood nutrition and only let us have them on special occasions. Now we feel that the government must make our choices for us and our children because we are not able too.

I don't know about you but rather than relying on our government to regulate our nutrition, I think we need to take responsibility for our own health. I plan to use my current immobility to combat my weak will power and change my habits. Foods do not need to be banned or taxed, rather we need to realize our eating habits are a personal decision and not a subject for government regulation.

What is my point? I think three things need to happen. First, our farmers and ranchers need to be praised and revered not scolded and criticized for producing the bounty we have in this country. Second, it is not the government's place to be the food cops. Finally, we need to each be responsible for our own choices and the choices of our children. Then and only then, we will each defeat the problem of obesity.