A Typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer

I’m going to introduce you to someone today. A typical Wisconsin Dairy Farmer; not to be confused with an “atypical” Wisconsin Dairy Farmer. This typical farmer is “Dairy Carrie”.

Dairy Carrie is a dairy farmer on a family owned farm in Wisconsin. She didn’t start out that way. Carrie started out just like the overwhelming majority of people start out. She started as a non-farmer. Then, she became the first young woman to take an Ag class at her High School! I think that is a great part of her story. Apparently, she had a great experience because she eventually married into a multi-generational farm family. I am not going to go on at length about family working together but I will say that it is great when it works. It doesn’t always work. That is a topic for another day.

Carrie blogs about her experience as a dairy farmer at “The Adventures of Dairy Carrie…I think I Need a Drink!“. She farms with her husband and his parents on a typical Wisconsin dairy of about 300 acres and about 100 cows. She has been posting a lot of new-born calf pictures lately because it is calving season. I was raised on a dairy so I personally think calves are very appealing.Image (I’d call them cute and adorable but that is not a very manly thing to say.) She covers a lot of different topics on her blog about life in Wisconsin but she became Nationally recognized through her Agvocacy. “Agvocacy” means that when Carrie sees an issue relating to Agriculture that needs to be addressed, she takes action!

Her first big action was in response to the historic drought conditions a few years ago. She started an on-line hay drive to donate hay from farmers in Wisconsin to farmers trying to feed their cattle in the extreme dry areas of Texas and Oklahoma. She originally intended to get one semi-trailer of hay. The drive achieved “viral” status on-line and she ended up sending 7 truck loads of hay! That is making a difference!

Carrie attended an AgChat conference a couple of years ago and that just spurred her interest in Agvocacy to a higher level.  Panera Bread Company put out an Ad campaign in-accurately portraying Poultry producers using antibiotics in a lazy attempt to raise un-healthy chicken a few years ago and Carrie spoke out. Her promotion of the truth about Poultry producers caught Panera’s attention and they ended up retracting their whole Ad campaign!

Carrie speaks genuinely and from the heart. She blogs. She uses Twitter. She has a Facebook page. She was picked up by the Huffington Post when she talked about being a Farmer and not a “Farm Wife”. She tells the story of her family and her farm and her life in Wisconsin and her Agvocacy in a transparent fashion that reaches people. All kinds of people are following Carrie. That is the way to tell the story of Agriculture. A thousand farmers may read her but that is “singing to the choir”. The “overwhelming majority of people” who are just like Carrie before she took that first Ag class in High School are hearing and experiencing parts of her life. They are becoming engaged in farming and experiencing the truth about farming as told by someone living the life, not a Restaurant chain bashing modern Agriculture practices to sell burritos. People are being inspired out there right now to start something like a hay drive because they now know it can be done and it has been done. I recommend taking a look at Dairy Carrie and trying some of her brand of inspiration on for size. It might change your life!

Water

It has been a rainy morning today. I had about 1 3/4 inches of rain in my rain gauge this morning. I realize that many people might think that statement almost bereft of any important meaning. Those who are not engaged in Agriculture, do not have a garden, and have no yard to mow, may very well find rain nothing but an inconvenience or even a hated problem. We’re going back to the basics for this post.

Farm ponds and creeks are very important water sources for plants and animals. They are also great for fishing and playing! I have spent Many an hour fishing in farm ponds and enjoyed many a meal of bluegill and bass that I caught and cleaned myself. A historic drought in the early 1950’s was the incentive for many ponds being built across Southwest Missouri. Most of the elm trees on my boyhood farm were cut down so the cattle could eat the leaves since there was no grass. Ponds don’t help the pasture that much but they at least are places for livestock to drink.

Livestock drinking brings up another aspect of water availability. Winter cold means that water sources can freeze over unless it is a sufficiently large creek or other moving body of water. Cows and calves can’t break the ice by themselves if it is thick. I remember many times taking an old axe out to the pond and chopping through the ice to create a hole where the cattle could get a drink of water. That is cold, wet, hard work. There has to be Enough water underneath that ice for the cattle to get a drink. That is one place where that 1 3/4 inches of rain I got today becomes VERY important.

Rain this morning!

Rain this morning!

Rain is very important to Agriculture. Water availability may very well be THE MOST IMPORTANT factor across all of Agriculture. Crops need rain, livestock need water. Animals depend on crops to eat that depend on water to grow. Water is the basis for cleaning pretty well everything relating to farm production. The biologic nature of Agriculture means that everything has a time limit. Everything either goes bad after a certain amount of time (think of rot, mold, and decay), or starts off bad as in manure, contaminants like ag chemicals, and waste  animal parts in meat processing.

I grew up on a dairy farm where the equipment had to be carefully cleaned and dis-infected after every milking twice a day every day. Think about how quickly milk goes bad when left out. My brother had a gallon of milk spill in his car once and it stank that car up for the rest of its life! Water is the basis for cleaning in almost every part of life. Guess what? Animals poop! (Poop is such a silly sounding word. It makes 6 year olds out of everybody. I always want to giggle when I hear “poop….. poop, poop, poop”.) Manure is a much more civilized term. Milk cows produce manure and they really don’t care where they let it fly. You haven’t lived until you have had a cow swish a manure filled tail around while you are attaching the milker and it wraps around the back of your head and slaps you in the face and mouth! Take my dad’s word for it! Milk barns have to be cleaned of all that manure during and after every milking. Manure is right there at the production point of milk. The two have to be separated. Water is the key.

Water is used for mechanical advantage in processing a lot of produce. Apples,  cucumbers, and many other types of fruits and vegetables are examples where sluices are used to convey produce from one place to another without bruising it.  The product gets washed and safely moved at the same time. Water is safer, cheaper, easier, and more energy efficient at moving things than belts or rollers.

The next time the weather forecast calls for rain, think about all the benefits that water brings with it. I happen to enjoy water quite a bit. I enjoy drinking it alot. Here is a link to an article discussing the value of water as a vital commodity to be invested in for the 21st century. Just a head’s – up, water availability is going to become very critical to everyone in the next 50 years. That rain may be a nuisance, but you better keep praying for it.

Cute Calves turn into hamburgers

Farming is an exercise in dualism. Farmers live in two worlds at the same time. They work in one of the oldest professions in the world using the most modern of high technology like GPS guided combines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Growers utilize state of the art genetic modification to change plant characteristics while searching the far corners of the world for ancient “Heirloom” plants with valuable forgotten properties of taste or color. They take millions of dollars  in investment and literally bury it in the ground like “Jack and the Beanstalk” hoping it will “magically” turn into more millions of dollars. I fully understand that this “magic” involves more millions of dollars of experience/ expertise, years of genetic manipulation and/or modification, chemical/ fertilizer application, and mechanical investment.

Some of the more literal “magic ” is the dependence on the biological nature of Agriculture.   Biology is the basis on which all of Agriculture production rests. Plants and animals have to GROW. They have to survive disease. They have to withstand adverse weather. They have to take in food and water and, through the act of metabolism, turn that food into valuable end products like, meat, milk, eggs, plant growth, and plant production of fruit and seeds. The plan is that you start with something small and grow it into something more over the course of time. Grow the plants, grow the animals, grow the farm, grow the investment. This investment is NOT just money. The investment is also the Farmer’s land, labor, time, emotions, blood, sweat, tears, heart, and very Soul!

Baby farm animals are very cute. They are easy to love.  There is nothing like having a curly-headed little calf licking and sucking on your fingers when you are bucket feeding. (Their tongues are very rough and raspy.) I mean exactly what I said. Farmers actually “love” their livestock. We care about them. We care what happens to them. They are not just numbers in a ledger.The Horrendous  Atlas Blizzard in South Dakota two weeks ago imagesleft ranchers devastated over the financial and emotional loss of up to 100,000 head of livestock. News stories spoke of the pain of ranchers losing animals they had invested their lives in, not just their money.

The dualism comes in the fact that these animals were not destined to live out their lives on a pasture and die of old age surrounded by their “GrandCalves” like a Disney movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney movies. Livestock are not pets. We love them and we care for them knowing the whole time that their purpose is to end up being consumed in some fashion. Most cute curly-headed little calves are destined to end up in someone’s hamburger or taco or on a plate in a steakhouse. Livestock are to be treated “humanely” NOT “humanly”. Calves, lambs, chicks, and piglets etc., etc. are not people. We treat them well and we care for them physically and often emotionally but they are produce.  Nor are they pets. Pets reward us with emotional benefits beyond what stock does. Pets are not human, either. I would not marry a pet. I would not bequeath my inheritance to a pet. I would not place the welfare of a pet above the welfare of a human.

A field full of 10 foot tall corn waving in the breeze is an awe-inspiring sight.  Six months later that same crop would be nothing but a field of tangled worthless stalks and weeds if not harvested. Apply that same thinking to a field full of livestock. That is wastage. This is a Judeo-Christian outlook but I also consider it to be the practical outlook. Mankind has the moral imperative to husband the resources of this world in such a way as to promote the welfare of humankind. That welfare comes above the welfare of livestock and crops. Our welfare is best served by the best possible care and nurturing of the resources placed within our purview. The better we treat them, within reason, the better we are rewarded.

I understand that other life philosophies feel that all life is sacred and should be treated the images-1same. Man has to eat to survive. Man has the capacity to alter his environment in such a way to better utilize the plants and animals placed on this Earth with us to increase our welfare. Curly-headed calves are beautiful in their way. They are also hamburger. Keep it in mind.

 

I’m Sick of this!

This government shutdown has gone way too far. I started thinking about this post a week ago and, unfortunately, it is still a valid topic. A week may not seem like much but try not having a paycheck for a week with no idea of when your next one will arrive. How about my friend who went on her HONEYMOON planning to visit a few National Parks only to have this once on a lifetime experience run into a literal road block. Sure, she can go back with her husband at a later date but it won’t be her HONEYMOON! Another friend is trying to get her passport renewed to go on a trip to Ireland. She has a short timeline because this came up unexpectedly. I’ve been praying for her passport to get renewed.

These are personal issues affecting individuals. There are larger issues at stake. The Foster Farms chicken debacle combined with a lack of USDA inspectors should worry all Americans. This article from the news agency Reuters talks about how USDA meat inspectors are considered “essential personnel” because Meat Packers CANNOT, by law, function without inspectors.

The same article brings up the huge issue of the vast amount of USDA publications like crop reports that affect farmers, traders, bankers, and eventually all of us. try this very thscary quote on for size: “If the shutdown lasts more than two or three days, USDA may be forced to delay the release of its monthly crop estimates, due on October 11, which often cause swings worth billions of dollars in the price of corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton.”  That is a quote worthy of the Halloween season. I don’t know about you, but it scares me. Let’s not even THINK about what happens if Washington doesn’t up the debt limit in the next day! That is beyond scary!

Here is another little fact that few people know but could have vast implications. Medical researchers use mice for testing and researching an enormous amount of topics ranging from genetic diseases to new pharmaceutical products. These mice might have to be destroyed due to the lack of funding to feed and care for them. searchThis article from NPR tells about the effect the shutdown could have on decades  of continuing research at the National Institute of Health! It has happened before! “Shutdowns in the 1980s typically lasted no more than a few days. The current one promises to go on for weeks. And that could be disastrous for researchers, says Carol Greider, a researcher at Hopkins, and a 2009 Nobel Prize winner. “Not being able to breed mice for several weeks could really shut down years’ worth of experiments,” she says.  That is YEARS worth of ongoing information and trending. Ongoing experiments are, by definition, ruined if they cannot be “ongoing”! Some of these mice have unique genetic traits that may never be replicated.

These are examples of just a minuscule facet of what the Government shutdown is costing all Americans. Is it worth it? Is it really worth the cost to try and de-fund something that has ALREADY been funded and approved by the Federal Government. This is outrageous! This is terrorism! The American economy is being held hostage for partisan politics. COME ON WASHINGTON! Stop playing brinksmanship! Find another way to play! You are acting like three year olds! You should all be spanked and sent to bed without any TV! You should all be sent to prison like the terrorists you are imitating and forced to work together until you finish this. Find another way to settle your difference! NOW!

Seasonality

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

A Time to Dance

A Time to Dance

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”

Evening light

Evening light

All you have to do is look out the window in the evening and you can tell that this season’s change is coming faster every day. The sun is setting much earlier than it was a month ago. The work is no less hard and, with harvest upon us, it may be harder for a while. Farm life is very affected by seasonality. Cows and sheep calve in the spring (generally, this is not a given), crops are planted in the spring, hay is cut in the summer, harvesting can occur at various time based on the type of crop in mind, and winter is the time to catch up on other things.

The biological nature of Farming leads to great seasonality. I work in a hospital. I see a little bit of seasonality in my work because people are more active in the summer and allergies are more active in spring and fall but for the most part illness is  an “equal opportunity employer”.  My work varies day to day but I do the same type of things regardless of the time of year. Farmers don’t cut the ice on the pond for the cattle to drink in the summer because the water isn’t frozen! (Captain Obvious.) They don’t plant corn in the fall but they may plant cover crops like winter wheat or rye. Livestock have to be milked year round but they generally get fed a lot more and a lot differently in the winter due to no available pasture. I could go on and on.

I know these things are very obvious to people who grew up with them. Not everybody has. Most people these days get up and go to work Monday through Friday exactly the same way all year long. A lot of people get in the car in the garage and get out of it in a parking garage and never get out in the rain, sleet, or snow. They don’t even necessarily put on a coat or hat. Try feeding the cows for an hour and a half in a minus 20 degree wind chill without a coat. Farmers are much more tied to these biological life factors then most people.

Fall is a great time for cookie baking and football games, feeding wildlife and enjoying the last rose of summer. Fall trips to check out the foliage and visit the relatives are a great idea. Enjoy it while you can. Winter is coming. Spring will be on the way in a few months after that.IMG_0433IMG_0276IMG_0108IMG_0485IMG_0416IMG_0808

Waiter, I have a fly in my soup!

The old joke responds ” Please, not so loud! Everyone will want one!” I started to make a pot of the “Elixir of Life”, a.k.a. “coffee”, this morning when what to my wondering eyes should appear but A FLY floating around in my coffee pot! I was not amused. How in the world could a fly get into my empty coffee pot in the first place? The pot has a lid on it with only two TINY little openings And it was sitting in the drip coffee maker where you could BARELY slide a piece of paper between the pot lid and the bay of the coffee maker. FLIES! AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHH!! (Coffee is another post subject we’ll get to in time)

I grew up on a farm and flies are just a fact of life on a farm. I will never forget when some cousins of mine were visiting from Philadelphia, PA and went with me to bucket feed the

Disgusting!

Disgusting!

calves.  They had never SEEN a farm, much less visited one. They were amazed and appalled at the number of flies in the shed where we fed the calves. The flies were all over the calves and trying to get into the milk buckets. My cousins were constantly waving their arms and swatting at the flies like me fighting cobwebs while I just fed the calves. It was just flies, after all.

Flies are a fact of life in nature. They serve a purpose, just not a purpose we tend to appreciate very much. Here is an article that tells you more than you ever wanted to know about various types of flies. ‘Mother nature”( a euphemism for the forces of nature in my book) fills every niche of life possible and there is a niche for flies. Fly larvae, maggots, eat refuse. (“Refuse” is a nice word for manure and other things that come out of animals and vegetables isn’t it?) They can serve a very useful purpose in Healthcare wound management of all things! The thought of having maggots on your flesh is counter-intuitive to almost everybody, but it does work and has for millennia! One of the reasons we don’t like flies is they tend to do their thing on the refuse and then come straight to us and sit on our food.

Just so you know, I hate flies. I hate it when they fly around the house. I hate it when they sit on my beverage of choice.I REALLY hate it when they land on my hot dog, hamburger, steak, and on and on. I do not want to find another fly in my coffee pot. I REALLY do not want to find one in my coffee.

Chew on this.

Meteor Crater

Meteor Crater

I took a trip with my wife and son a few years ago to the Grand Canyon. We went in March when the temperature was very nice and we had a great time. The Grand Canyon is beyond description. We saw some other local attractions like the San Francisco volcanic field and Meteor Crater. I had no idea there were so many actual volcanoes in the Southwest!

I had heard of Meteor Crater. My son was taking a College class on either Solar System Science or Interstellar Material at the University of Missouri at the time and we decided to tour the Crater since it was so topical to the class. Fascinating place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there. It was very hot and dry most of the year.

One of the men at Meteor Crater got to talking about the surrounding ranch.The ranch runs cattle in the area and has for many years. The land doesn’t seem to have very much grass

Arizona Grazing land!

Arizona Grazing land!

on it compared to good old Southwest Missouri pasture. If I remember correctly, he told us that the gazing supported about one cow for every thirty acres! That would be 1800 acres of “grassland” for the roughly 60 head of cattle we averaged on the farm where I grew up! This was quite a change in perspective from what I was used to.

 

This article from the University of Arizona gives a great in-depth description of of calculating the number of acres it takes to support a cow. Then you have to multiply the number of cows by that many acres to see how much grazing land you need to support a herd. Compare that to this article from the University of Missouri Extension office that says one beef cow and calf needs three acres per year in Southwest Missouri.

It just goes to show that Agriculture practices in America are extremely widely varied. I mentioned “waist high fescue and clover” in one of my previous posts about my trip to the Middle East. That kind of pasture can support completely different Ag practices than the Middle East or the dry range of Arizona. Cattle are still raised in Arizona: you just have to do it in a different fashion. All farmers face different conditions in different parts of their land. Even neighbors can experience quite different conditions relative e to pasture, water, and shelter. These just exemplify some of the variables every farmer faces.