Archive for the ‘Hogs’ 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_.

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.

One Year Ago….

I posted my first post to this blog!

Read it by clicking here: http://iafarmwife.com/2010/03/31/and-in-the-beginning/

It’s hard to believe I’ve been at it for a year.  But, then again, it feels like I’ve been doing it forever, too!

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to do my very first giveaway!

Up for grabs is a $50 gift certificate to go towards a custom metal gift of your choosing and design from Schares Metal Works! Schares Metal Works is owned and operated by my close friends, Corinne and Jake Schares.

Corinne has been my bestest friend since before either one of us can remember.  We went to school together.  I even followed her when she moved away in 1st grade, I moved away to the same town  a year later, just a mile down the road from her.  We rode our ponies and horses all over the countryside, and have countless stories about our adventures. (One of the the most memorable being when we were in 5th grade and raced our horses around the school’s track and thought we got away with it….until we were called to the principal’s office the next day.  But that’s a story for another day!)  My friendship with Corinne could provide subject matter for many many blog postings, let’s just say that.  🙂

Anyhow…back to the giveaway.  Corinne and Jake can custom cut just about whatever you can imagine out of metal.  Here are a few examples:

3D Name

3D Football Helmet

3D Farm Sign

Lighted Signs!

 

Outdoor, custom welcome signs! Seriously, your imagination is the limit!

Look at the detail! Corinne and Jake made this sign for me and my siblings to give to my Dad & his friend, Deb, for Christmas. I couldn't be happier with how it turned out!

Cool, inspirational words...would make great gifts.

Love these, wouldn't they be a great wedding gift?

Honestly, go check out their website at www.scharesmetalworks.com!

You will be fascinated by their creations, I promise!  Make sure you pay a visit to the gallery, where they show how they can turn any picture into a custom metal display!

So, in order to enter the giveaway, please comment on this post and answer me this question:

“What agricultural topic/rumor/question would you like to see me address?”

I will use a random number generator to pick the winner.  Please, share my blog and Corinne & Jake’s website with your friends!!

Thanks so much for reading!

Liz

Factory Farmed Animals Live in Horrible Conditions and GMOs Will Kill You!

These poor cattle will spend the rest of their lives lounging around, being served food, and having their bedding fluffed. Such a rough life they will live in confinement.

I often find myself in a predicament.  This usually happens when I go looking for trouble.  Somewhere out there in cyberspace, someone will post an article about “Big Bad GMOs,” or the horror of “Factory Farming.”  Inevitably, the comments on these sorts of things are filled with hatred and inaccuracy.  There is always mention of “greedy industrial farmers who only care about making money while ruining the environment and confining animals.”  As a farmer who raises livestock and crops with so-called “industrial” methods, these things always get me going, and they always put me in a difficult situation.

I will reply (yeah, I know, glutton for punishment) by posting a comment to the tune of, “As a farmer who uses modern methods of livestock production, I get tired of people telling me that I treat my animals poorly and my crops are poisoning people.”

And the response almost ALWAYS is something like this:  “Well, I’m sure YOU don’t treat YOUR animals badly.  But INDUSTRIAL agriculture does, they cram their animals into CAFOs and they rob GOOD farmers like YOU from making a living.”

And that, right there, is where the gigantic disconnect between the consumer and the farmer comes in.  I’m still not sure how to bridge this gap.  I often envision myself taking said cyber-person by the shoulders and shaking them.

Here’s the deal.  I AM “INDUSTRIAL” AGRICULTURE!!  Along with thousands of other farm families working hard to feed the population.  When you say “CAFOS ARE EVIL!” You are telling me, my family, and the people that we work with that we are evil.  The animals we raise get sold to “BIG BAD CORPORATIONS” such as Tyson and Hormel.  We buy our GMO seed from Monsanto.  Our livestock is raised in confinement.

These resting pigs have it pretty rough too. When it's below zero outside, they have to relax in a temperature controlled barn. Their feeders have sensors on them that ensure they have access to unlimited feed. The floor allows their manure to drop into a pit below them, keeping their pens clean.

So, if I do decide to push the issue with these people who feel that all farming should look like it did in 1950, they will then proceed to tell me that they pity me.  That the EVIL CORPORATIONS have FORCED me to accept their ways and raise an INFERIOR, INHUMANE, and TOXIC product.  Clearly, I, as an individual, must be STUPID to not see it.  If I was smart, I’d choose to raise my crops and livestock without chemicals or confinement.

And here is my disclaimer, as I have stated before, I do not mean any disrespect to farmers who choose to raise their produce differently from me.  There is no one perfect way to farm, and I know that the vast majority of farmers, and food industry workers, are good people working hard to provide a quality, abundant food supply.

See, when it comes to a debate, many humans have a really hard time telling each other one-on-one that we have a problem with each other’s individual actions.  Especially, when we’re not 100% confident about what we’re debating.  It’s so much easier to throw up a scapegoat, like a faceless corporation, than to tackle an issue on a individual level.

Can you believe it? I let my son touch our GMO corn! But for some reason, he's still healthy and growing.

So, If I am really feeling feisty, I go on to say “I make the choices I make because I am confident that they are the best choices for me, my farm, my family, and the consumer. I educate myself about the applications and consequences of everything we do on the farm, and I am comfortable that the product I provide is safe, environmentally sound, and nutritious.”

And then, I’m told I am a fake.  I can’t possibly be real.  The “BIG CORPORATIONS” have brainwashed me and I am a paid fake.  And if I am real, then I have destroyed their faith in humanity.  Because it just can’t be possible that there’s more to agriculture than what Michael Pollan (the director of the horribly biased Food, Inc and author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) told them.

Agriculture is my family's livlihood....and our way of life. So, yes, I do feel threatened when it comes under attack.

Here is the truth.

The animals my family cares for are raised in CAFOs and FEEDLOTS.  They are comfortable and they do not suffer, and we work our tails off every day to ensure that.  The animals’ comfort always comes before ours. The hormones and antibiotics that they receive are given in a prescribed manner, under the direction of our veterinarian and feed specialist, according to USDA rules and guidelines.  I fully understand how these products work, and do not hesitate to feed my family the beef we raise.

My son rides in the tractor with his dad. He is adamant that he is going to be a farmer when he grows up.

Our crops are GMO and we use chemicals.  We live right in the middle of the farms where we grow our crops.  My kids play in the yard right next to our crops, they help with the planting and harvest of them.  We follow several guidelines and rules set forth by the USDA to ensure that the crops we grow are safe.  Using GMO technology has allowed us to produce more crop with less fuel, chemical, and water.

Now, if you choose to buy organic, local, or pasture-raised produce, (or whatever the latest food buzzword is) that is completely your choice.  Please, just don’t do it while saying that our “FACTORY FARM”  is inferior, because, I ensure you, we are not.

I feed my kids the beef we raise using antibiotics and hormones because I know that it is safe.

I do not hesitate to feed my family our beef (which is also sold to Tyson) and I do not care if the food I buy in the store contains GMOs.  I am confident that the US food system is reliable, safe, and continually improving.

I don’t deny that there are issues, there always will be.  I’ll admit, there are some things that I see happening in agriculture and food production today that concern me.  I am glad there are skeptics out there, because nothing should ever progress unchecked. I have faith that we will work through these issues and come out better because of it.

I do know that I am glad to be living in today’s day and age, where food-borne illness is so rare that it makes the news, as opposed to years past where it was a common cause of death.

So, back to the difficult situation I put myself in.  Reacting to bad information about farming puts me on the defensive, by default.  And for some reason, people are particularly skeptical of defensive people. At least, I know I can be.

I’m pretty defensive, aren’t I?  I’ll admit it.  Agriculture has been under attack lately, and it seems like every day there is some new piece of misinformation out there.

So….

How can I not defend the way of life, the “BIG BAD INDUSTRY”, that I love?  How can I not reach out to consumers and show them that what my family is doing is not going to harm them, the environment, or the animals?  How can I not begin to take a proactive approach to this problem of misinformation?

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