Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Local Foods and Feeding the World

Recently I was asked how I felt about the local food movement. My answer was; I am all for it up to a point. In fact, I am a willing participant in it. Each year we market a few head of the calves and lambs we raise locally. I must say that interacting with my customers is one of the things I enjoy the most and maybe one of the most unrecognized benefits of locally produced foods.
One of the things I do tell my customers is that the product I am providing is not more nutritious than the meat you buy in the grocery store. However, I do think that I have a better product. My beef is aged before it is cut up and that makes for a much better eating experience. I have my hamburger made much leaner than most of what is bought in the grocery store. I also probably feed my animals longer and give them more grain than most of the beef or lamb on grocery store shelves. Finally, I believe that I have animals that produce genetically better beef than the average calf.
All of this adds up to a better product, not a more nutritious one. However, because I feed my animals longer and because my hamburger is leaner, I must charge a premium price. Unfortunately, the higher price probably excludes many consumers. I cannot speak to others who raise livestock, crops, fruits and vegetables for local sale, but my breakeven price for the livestock I raise is much higher than the larger, commercial feeders. If you will let me revert back to my Ag economics background, it is simply the economies of size; they can spread costs over a much larger area and purchase inputs at a discounted rate.
I agree that there probably is some intangible feeling that locally produced food is better. I think the consumer has an idea that it is fresher and tastes better and they could be right. Either way, it does give some farmers and ranchers an opportunity to produce locally grown foods and increase their profit margin. The same person who posed the first question to me also made the statement that maybe every farmer or rancher could benefit from selling some of their produce locally. After some windshield time to think about it, I think there may be some merit in that statement. Please hear me out.
Each time I deliver my beef or lamb, I have the chance to interact with a consumer. It gives me a chance to get to know them and them a chance to understand what I do. Jennifer observes that I can only make one or two deliveries in a day because I spend so much time talking to my customers. Part of that is because I like to chat with people but part of it is because I am proud of what I produce and I like to share it with anyone who will listen.
These chats over deliveries have given me the opportunity to talk about antibiotic use, growth promotants, livestock handling and husbandry. I have had the chance to tell about our history in agriculture and out plans for the future. In the end I leave the delivery with a better understanding of the consumer and, I hope, they have a better understanding of how their food is produced. That is where I think every farmer and rancher would benefit from selling something they produce locally.
I do try to leave my customers with the thought that we still need large scale commercial food and fiber production. While I truly believe the beef and lamb I sell is a higher quality product, I also understand it is not affordable or right for all consumers, it is not a bargain. I believe that we need to produce food in a much more economical manner to feed the growing population in more urban areas who might not have access to locally grown food or the income to purchase them.
So the answer to the question is that I do believe that the locally grown food movement is a good thing as long as we realize that all farmers and ranchers are in the same boat. We need to keep that in mind and we need to remember that we all must row the boat together. The bottom line is that there is a place in agriculture for all farmers and ranchers. At less than two percent of the population we need all hands on deck, big or small to produce enough food and fiber for a rapidly growing population.

Win One of the Lambing Season Goes To.......Jennifer

Lambing season has started. Par for the course, it started on one of the coldest nights of the year. That morning I went out to check the ewes, lulled into a week of anticipating new lambs only to find nothing each morning. This morning was different. I walked into the barn, looked around the corner and saw them. Ewe 001 had a set of twins. At first glance it looked like the first set of lambs for the year was going to be a disaster, both were sprawled out in the straw and neither was moving.
001 was doing all she could do, she was working at cleaning them off and had them under the heat lamp. The temperature that morning was somewhere in the single digits so the heat lamp was really just a source of light. I inspected them expecting to confirm my worst fear that both had died shortly after birth. The first one I looked at was indeed dead, what a way to start the season off. I quickly moved to the second and to my surprise I felt him breathe ever so slightly.
Quickly I scooped him up and put him inside my coat and made my way to the house. Inside the door I called for help and the entire family mobilized. Jennifer took the rag doll lamb from me and Tatum immediately started hot water in the sink. Isaac put his chore clothes on and went out with me to look for more lambs. Thankfully there were no more. Ewe 001 met us at the gate and was quite confused and concerned about her missing baby. Isaac and I got her bedded down, disposed of the dead twin and finished outside chores.
I cautiously looked around the corner when I got back to the house, expecting the worst. Much to my surprise I saw the lamb sitting up draped in a towel in front of the space heater. He looked somewhat alert and a whole lot more alive than when I had last seen him. However, based on several years of bad experiences I knew we were not out of the woods yet.
Jennifer and Tatum told us about the lamb’s revival. His temperature had been about 92 degrees to start out with or about ten degrees from where it should have been. That is pretty cold and awfully near fatal. A dunk in warm water, followed by a hair dryer on his  belly, then more of the hot water bath and finally a comfy spot on a towel in front of the space heater. The lamb’s body temperature had risen to 99 degrees on its way to normal. Things were looking up.
We ate breakfast and formulated a plan to reunite the lamb with mama. During this time the lamb bleated and stood up, definitely a good sign. When the breakfast dishes were cleared Jennifer and I bundled up, wrapped the lamb up and made our way back out into the cold. As soon as we opened the lambing bard door the ewe was anxious to get her baby back.
This is where I must add a disclaimer. I am not nearly as good with baby lambs as Jennifer is, I simply do not have the patience she does. She reunited lamb and ewe and worked at getting the lamb to nurse. The lamb was still wobbly and groggy from its near death experience and would not latch on and nurse. The ewe was one of our older, calmer ewes and waited patiently.
We decided the need to get nourishment into the lamb was critical so Jennifer milked the ewe out while I help on to her head. We then used a stomach tube to quickly get the milk into the lamb’s belly and feeling pretty good about the whole situation retired to the house. The kids and I got ready for church and Jennifer staid back to watch over the revived lamb and check for other new arrivals.
Soon after church was over I got a text from Jennifer of a new set of twins born during church healthy and alive. She also commented that the lamb from earlier was doing well. When I got home I changed clothes and went out to observe the lambs. The second set of twins were alert and the first lamb was running around and wagging his tail. I am sure we will have low points during this lambing season, but it felt awfully good to start off with a win. Once in awhile, things do work out.