Archive for the ‘Cattle’ Category

Spending Money to Save Money. Farm Style.

It’s a funny thing.  Spending money to save money, that is.  As consumers, it’s easy to get sucked in by marketing schemes such as “buy one, get one,” or “spend $100 and save $25.”  I’m pretty sure if you posses a debit card, you are guilty of buying stuff you weren’t planning on buying  just to “save money.”  And most of us get home after doing something like that and roll our eyes when we realize what we did.  Well, spending money to save money on the farm isn’t quite the same, but it’s a similar concept.

Instead of tying our money up in a Washington bureaucracy, we gave some to this farmer, for his tractor. And he is going to turn around and buy another tractor with it, stimluating the economy in our own way. 🙂

Well, if you’re a business owner, chances are you’re familiar with an accountant and tax accounting, and you see where I’m going with this.  A couple weeks before the end of the year, Justin and I paid a visit to our accountant.  We had what’s called a pre-tax planning session.  Essentially, the accountant looked at how much money we had taken in (income) and how much we had spent on business expenses.  Take the income minus the expenses, and you have our taxable income.  Taxable income is what Justin and I have to pay our family expenses such as food, shelter, and transportation.

We don’t get much control over the prices we receive for our crops and livestock, nor do we have a lot of control over the costs of caring for those crops and livestock.  This means our taxable income varies wildly from year to year.  Some years we will make a lot of money, other years we will make no money, and some years we will lose money.  In the years we make a lot of money, it is advisable to spend it on business expenses before the end of the year, to reduce our taxable income and therefore our tax bill.  In the years that we make no money or lose money, we will attempt to sell some crops or livestock before the end of the year to give ourselves some taxable income.  It is desirable to try to keep our taxable income with a reasonable range from year to year.  At least, that’s our philosophy.

Well, this year was a good year.  A very good year.  Our income was considerably higher than our expenses.  Which means we had to spend some money or give a huge chunk of it to Uncle Sam.

Think of it this way…

Instead of getting a tax refund, you owe the government $10,000 in taxes on April 15th.  But, you could invest $7500 in your IRA or 401K and only owe $2500 to Uncle Sam.  Which would you do?  Invest the money and pay $2500 or just give the whole $10,000 to help reduce the federal defecit?  I have a pretty good hunch that most would choose to invest in themselves.

So….we purchased a tractor and grain cart as opposed to sending an exorbitant amount of money to our representatives in Washington and Des Moines.  Don’t worry, we will still have a taxable income and will be sending in a healthy chuck of money to take care of our patriotic duty to pay taxes as well as operate our farm more efficiently.

See Russell down by the tire?? The grain cart we bought is huge!! It holds one and a half semi's worth of grain!

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Smells Like Money?

MANURE-- Nutrient rich, and downright pungent at times.

If you have ever taken a drive through rural America, chances are that you have heard the expression, “smells like money!”  This phrase is often used when an less than pleasant odor is present in the air.  Namely, manure.  Smells from livestock farms are plentiful and mostly unpleasant, I’ll admit.

Some would like to attribute this issue to the concentration of livestock facilities, modern confinement systems, and larger size of today’s farms.  I must disagree with this.  Livestock has always stunk.  Especially if they live outside, and after a rainstorm.  In the past, when there were more farms, there were more opportunities to get a whiff of “the smell of money.”  Without getting too technical, I will share a childhood memory of the hogs my dad used to raise and the distinct odor they left in everything in the house.  These hogs were raised outside, and if it had rained recently and the wind was in the right direction, you most certainly didn’t want to open the windows.  This was a year-round issue.

On the other hand, today I live less than 1 mile from our confinement hog buildings, which contain far more pigs than my father had.  There are only a couple days per year, when we are applying the manure to our crop land, that I smell them.  I attribute this to the fact that the manure is stored under a roof with ventilation systems to keep the odor to a minimum.

Now that crops are coming out of the fields, it's time to rejuvenate them with a little cattle manure.

Which brings me to another point, how the manure is applied differently today as compared to days past.  For the liquid hog manure, we will inject it into the ground, which keeps the smell down.  It also maximizes the nutrients from the manure that are available to the plants.  We factor in the nutrient content of the all the manure (hog/cattle, liquid/dry) we apply, which ensures we don’t over-apply it and put too much in any particular area.  Again, keeping the “eau de livestock” to a minimum.

Of course, management of a livestock facility is important in many ways.  Other practices that address odor management on a farm include, scraping and hauling the manure from outdoor lots in a timely manner, maintaining fresh bedding, containing run-off, proper storage of feedstuffs, proper handling of dead animals and compost, and proper storage and containment of manure.  It is important that we do all of these things on our farm to ensure it is a pleasant and safe place for us to raise a family, as well as give the livestock the utmost in care, which in turn provides food processors a quality commodity which will ultimately nourish other families.  

Before scraping and cleaning the manure from the yard.

And after cleaning the yard with the skid loader.

I’ve listed the specific things we do on our farms to keep the smells under control, but there are other cutting edge things happening out there.  Research is being done on feed additives and feed ration formulations that are aimed at reducing odors.   I’ve also heard of products that can be applied to the manure after it has been contained.  So far, nothing has become an industry standard, but perhaps, someday.

While I cannot argue that the smell of money is a pleasant one, I will say that I have gotten used to it.  We have 150 steers that live , quite literally, in our back yard.  And my windows are open anytime the weather allows.  I do this because the smell of freshly cut hay,  the sweet aroma of corn silage, and a cool clear breeze blowing through the house outweighs the possibility of an occasional whiff of cow poo.  Which, quite honestly, I really don’t mind that either.  Which is something only a true country boy or girl can relate to.  Think, the smell of the livestock barns at the fair, or the sale barn.  It takes you back, and is a reminder of the hard work that has brought you to the point in your life where you can appreciate it.

My little manure haulin' helper.

How Our Livestock is Handling the Heat

On the corner of that little shed, is the kids', errrr, cattle's sprinkler.

This summer has been a steamer!  For the last 3 weeks temperatures have been in the 90s and the humidity has been through the roof.  It feels like a sauna outside.  There has been little relief from these temperatures, even at night. Many of our animals have been showing the effects this blistering heat, despite our best efforts.

For some reason, cattle don’t handle heat well.  When it gets hot, they will crowd together, looking for the coolest spot in their pen.  Which only makes things worse, as their body heat rises from being in close proximity to each other.  It doesn’t matter how much space they have, when they are hot, they all think the next guy has the coolest place to be, and they want to be there too.

The first hot day we had, I was doing chores for Justin, and the guys were loading hogs in the wee hours of the morning.  It was already hot.  My glasses fogged up every time I got out of the air conditioned tractor, the humidity was literally making everything damp with condensation, and the cattle were panting to stay cool.  That day, we lost 4 cattle to the heat.  They were nearly fat, and just couldn’t handle the temperatures.  We fared much better than some farmers around us.  Almost everyone I’ve talked to has a story about the cattle they lost to the heat that day.  Our local sale barn lost 100 head of cattle.   It’s devastating to hear the tales of cattle dropping like flies, as farmers scrambled to do whatever they could to cool the cattle off.

Some of the cattle just love the sprinkler, others do not.

We set up sprinklers in every yard of cattle, for them to stand under and cool off.  At first, the cattle didn’t want to be near it, but they quickly figured out that it was the place to be.  We even let some of the water run out of our manure pit back into the cattle yard, for the cattle to stand in.  That worked very well.  Did you know, cattle lose a majority of their body heat through their feet?  If you keep their feet cool, they will be cool.  So we made sure they had plenty of fresh bedding to stand in too.

Notice I haven’t mentioned our animals that are in confinement buildings?  That’s because they have been comfortable through all this heat.  Our hoop barn cattle haven’t even slowed down on what they eat.  Which is a really big sign that they are doing just fine in their shaded barn, which creates a natural breeze through it.  The deep bedding is also a factor in their comfort.   The hogs have also fared well through all this, as their barns are tunnel ventilated.  Which means that big fans pull the air through the building they are in, creating a refreshing breeze.

The hoop cattle have been cool as cucumbers through this heat wave.

The hogs have had a nice tropical breeze in their buildings as well.

We haven’t lost any more cattle since that very first day.  But the kids haven’t been able to play in their sprinkler either, as the cattle at our house have been playing in it.  We really need a break from the heat.  It’s too hot for anything here.  Even the crops don’t like it this hot.  Neither the crops nor the livestock eat and grow like they should when they are spending all their time keeping cool.  Some cool nights would be gladly welcome around here.  I hate to complain, as it will only be a few short months and we’ll be talking about _snow_.

Orange Lucy

No, not an oompa loompa or jaundice or a fake tan gone bad....just a little cattle marker facial.

Lucy has been helping me with cattle chores quite a bit lately.  She’s really a good helper, most of the time.  She is learning how to hold gates for the tractor to drive through, but still needs her brother’s help.  She loves to look for “princess cattle.”  Don’t ask me what qualifies a calf as a princess.  I think any white faced calf can qualify, but they also have to look like they are wearing a crown.  I don’t know, Lucy’s three, and her standards change by the minute.

Well, the other day Lucy discovered a large orange cattle marker that we use for putting a waterproof mark on a calf that has been treated for an illness or ailment.  She decided to “decorate” the tractor cab while I was in the skid loader, filling the feedwagon.  In less than 10 minutes, she managed to cover the back window of the cab, the back of the seat, and herself with orange.

Guilty as charged.

She knew the second I opened the tractor door that she was in trouble, as she was hiding behind the tractor seat.  She’s such a sensitive child.  I just made her hand me the marker, and told her that she would have to explain to Dad (who drives the tractor most of the time) and Uncle Kevin (who owns the tractor) why the tractor was orange.  She told them, and was highly embarrassed while doing so.

When I first discovered Lucy’s “decoration,” I was mad…. but now that it’s all cleaned up, it was pretty funny.

Lucy's artwork on the tractor window.

Our Farm Family Honors Earth Day

Our livelihood as farmers, as well as future generations, depend on the care we give the planet.

“Every day is Earth Day for a farmer.”

Heard that before?  Yeah, I’ve heard it a million times.  It’s true, taking care of the earth is job#1 here on the farm.

Let me prove it by linking to a few articles I’ve written in the past:

Recycling on the Farm

Every Day is Earth Day

Manure…A Precious Commodity

And some common sense things we do in our family life:

Garage Saling, the Ultimate Recycling!

Cooking from Scratch and in Bulk to Avoid Eating Out

Buying Groceries Once Per Month in Bulk

We have been entrusted with the land, and we must ensure that it is well cared for.

Taking care of the planet isn’t something we should think about once per year, it should be a part of our daily lives.     

Animal Abuse, Undercover Videos, and Doing the Right Thing

Caring for livestock is a lot like caring for kids. Both run around my back yard. I would never dream of causing unnecessary pain to either.

Another disturbing undercover video is going to be released this morning.  Apparently it was shot at a cattle farm and depicts awful cases of blatant, deliberate animal abuse.  It has not been made public at the time I write this, but Facebook is all abuzz about it.  I imagine it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream and many who are reading this will stumble across it.

Part of me doesn’t even want to watch, I know it will make me sick to my stomach.  I know it will enrage me.  Animal abuse is wrong, must be immediately exposed, and the offenders must be convicted and punished in a swift and just manner.

There has been a lot of talk about the pending legislation here in Iowa that would ban undercover documentation on farm facilities.  First, let me talk about the intention of this legislation.  Often times, animal rights groups will send individuals under false pretenses to gain employment at farms and then shoot undercover video of activities on the farm.  Sometimes these individuals uncover legitimate abuse.  Sometimes they stage or encourage acts of abuse.  Sometimes they depict humane animal handling as abuse.  Often, they hold onto the footage they shoot and wait to release it to the public at an opportune time.  Often, they edit the footage to depict the problems, both real and concocted, to be bigger and worse than what they are.  Often, the real motivation for shooting these undercover videos is all about money, donations for their charity, and not about correcting the depicted problem.  Because, let’s face it, if they actually corrected the problem of animal abuse, then they’d be out of a job.

Although this calf may experience temporary pain in the working chute, we handle him as quickly and quietly as possible to prevent him from experiencing unnecessary pain in the future.

Could you imagine if someone had knowledge and video footage of a human being violently abused, and decided not to report it until it was the most beneficial to them, weeks or months later?  (I’m not saying this is the case in the most recent footage, but it has been the case in the past.)  To me, that is just as sick as the person doing the abuse.  Animal abuse is a problem, but it is not the widespread, industry standard that animal rights groups would have you believe.  Animal abuse (and not reporting it) is sick, wrong, and absolutely unacceptable.

I personally do not agree with a full out ban of undercover video on farms.  I feel that individuals must be allowed the ability to document legitimate animal abuse.  The solution to the problem is simple.  Make it a crime to possess documentation or have knowledge of animal abuse for more than 24 hours without reporting it to authorities.  Just like it’s a crime to be in possession of child pornography.   Prosecute the individuals who slander farms that are using humane practices.

Animal abuse, just like child abuse, makes zero sense to me. On our farm, we respect and cherish both our children and our animals. Both are our livelihood!

Finally, as a farmer who works with animals every day, I fail to see why anyone would ever intentionally and unnecessarily harm an animal.  It goes against everything within me.  Caring for animals is much like caring for children.  Sometimes there are things we must do on the farm that creates temporary pain in our animals, and although it is hard to do, it prevents bigger and longer term pain in the long run.  Just as I must allow my children to withstand the pain of a vaccination knowing it prevents worse pain in the future, I must care for my livestock the same way.  That doesn’t mean it is easy for me to cause even temporary pain to an animal or my child.  It does mean that I am going to take every measure possible to make my children and my animals as comfortable as possible while looking out for their well-being.

Animals rights activists will often claim that farmers only care about making money, and will abuse their animals to do so.  Abuse, whether child or animal, is counter-productive.  An abused child will face challenges and require more resources in life that will make it harder for them to succeed.  Similarly, an abused animal will take more resources and suffer from reduced productivity.  From a strictly economic standpoint, it doesn’t make any sense either.

But, in the end, the economics do not matter.  It’s simply about doing the right thing for the right reasons.

An Iowa Cattle Drive

Doesn’t involve horses or four-wheelers.  Nope.  It involves SUVs, tractors, and semis.  Really.

Last week, it was time to move our cows from one field to another.  But first they needed to be moved to the barn to get a little medical attention.  The following is how it all panned out.

An Iowa cattle drive goes something like this:

The goal is to run the cattle into that door on the edge of the hoop barn without any issues.

1.) Set the scene.  Choose a time of day when there will not be much traffic on the road, typically mid morning.  Shut all gates along the route the cattle will be driven.  Most generally down the road.  Park extra vehicles in gaps.  Line up two grain semis and the pickup and livestock trailer to create a “fence” across the yard and into the barn you are driving the cattle to.  Prop corral panels where necessary.

2.) Do not feed cattle the morning of the drive.  Mix up a batch of feed, but do not feed the cows!

3.) At least 3, maybe four individuals jump into a four wheel drive vehicle.  Last week, we were slightly short staffed.  We had my father-in-law in the pickup, me in my Expedition, my brother-in-law in the tractor and feed wagon, and my husband got the privilege of bringing up the rear on foot.

4.) Turn on flashers to warn oncoming traffic of the impending cattle that will be wandering the road side.

Calling the cattle out of the field. "Coooome Booooossss!"

5.) Open gate you intend to have the cattle exit.

6.) Call the cows.

7.) Bring in the bait.  Tractor and feedwagon disperses a tiny bit of feed to tempt the cows.  Hungry cows come at a gallop when they realize what is going on.  Tractor takes off with cows in hot pursuit.

Follow the feed wagon, girls!

8.) Cows follow tractor in a somewhat orderly manner, bent on getting fed.  Support vehicles keep stragglers pointed in the right direction.

9.) Cows realize that they have exited their safe pen, decide chasing the feed wagon isn’t worth it, and instantaneously reverse direction to go back to where they came from.  Not cool.

10.) Justin begins hooting and hollering to scare cows back in the right direction.  Support vehicles drive in reverse as fast as they can, without running into each other or into the ditch, to help out.  Honking horns ensues.  Tires may squawk a bit.

11.)  Cows stop, admire what they made the stupid humans do, and turn back towards the feed wagon.  Good news.

Stay in a single file line, dont step on the pavement!

12.) We encounter a few passing vehicles, that are never sure what to do when they come upon this.   We try to flag vehicles on by, but Iowans love to help out, sometimes to a fault.  We grin and bear it.  We are technically using public property, anyway, and we do appreciate that they slow down.

13.)  Cows follow the feedwagon directly into the barn like they knew what they were doing all along.  And less than 10 minutes after it began, it’s over.  On a good day anyway.  Things could have been worse.  Much worse.  Cows can be tricky and stubborn, and things can get ugly in a split second.  One cow could have made up her mind that she was going back to the pen she came from, and if she had gotten by us, it’s almost a sure bet that the rest of the cows would have been close behind.  And if you don’t get things on a first try when working with cattle (or most anything with a mind of its own), the second try will be several times more challenging.  Just like loading hogs, moving cattle is as much of a mental process as a physical one.  The individuals involved in handling livestock must be able to interpret what the livestock is going to do before they do it.

14.) Gate gets shut on cows, cows eat feed.  Portable working chute is set up so we can treat the cows.  Cows go through the chute one at a time and receive a shot to prevent their soon-to-be-born calves from getting scours, a life-threatening form of diarrhea that commonly afflicts new-born calves.  They also have a dewormer poured onto their backs to kill any parasites living in their digestive tracts, another common affliction of animals that can cause poor health.

15.) Cows are given a trailer ride to a new pasture, where they will have their babies, and stay for the rest of the growing season.

Soon, this will be a common scene in our pastures.

And there you have it, a simple, 15 step process for an Iowa cattle drive.  🙂

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