Posts Tagged ‘beef production’

Hoop Barn Open House

A far-off shot of the barn entrance, where tables were set up and the food was served. Many thanks to Earl from Hanson Silo for taking all the pictures!!

One reason why this past week was so hectic, was that we were scrambling to get the hoop barn completed enough to be presentable for the open house/celebration of agriculture we had on Tuesday afternoon.

Justin doing a radio interview to promote the event.

Before we constructed the barn, we toured other farms to see what our options were for building a new cattle shed.  Since the farmers were gracious enough to allow us onto their farms, we figured we needed to pay it forward and allow other farmers to come take a look at our new barn.  We also felt it was important to allow our farm neighbors in the area to visit and learn more about how cattle are being cared for with new technology.

It was a beautiful day for a farm tour.

So, I put in a call to Aaron at the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, and explained to him what we would like to do.  He and the Coalition were awesome, but we already knew this from when we were in the planning stages of this barn.  They helped us to understand what sort of regulations and other considerations we needed to be aware of in building the barn.  Then they stepped in and did the majority of the logistics and planning for our “barn party” as Russell called it.  They also handled much of the expense.

Lots of people, both farmers and farm neighbors, attended.

We advertised on the radio and in the papers, to invite the general public out to our farm for tours, a free meal, and door prizes.  I sent invites to key people in the county and contacted several of the people we do business with for sponsorships.


The kids and I went down to the barn (which is only about 1/2 mile from our house) on Monday afternoon to see how things were progressing.  To say I was nervous would be an understatement.  You see, my family is a very last-minute family.  There were still piles of rock to be leveled, cement was being poured, and a huge pile of construction junk laid right in front of the building!!  We did what we could to clean up around the barn, but there is only so much you can do with three small children in tow!  We went back home, and went to bed, hoping things would come together.

Many thanks to our sponsors, we couldn't have done this without you!

The next morning (the morning of the open house), Justin called me to tell me there were at least 20 people down there working to get things ready… whew!  So I stepped outside to wait for the bus with Russell, and that’s when I heard it, bellering calves!!  What the heck!  I knew there were calves  coming in that night, but someone neglected to check if they were weaned.  Oh I was mad!  Justin is lucky I didn’t make him send them back!!  They were not happy about being in a barn without their mamas, and they were going to let the whole world know about it.

Yay! Cattle in our barn, at last!! Now, if only they were a little quieter...

So I got Russell on the bus, loaded up the girls and took them to daycare, then headed down to the barn.  Equipment and workers were running all over the place, moving rock and dirt, and cleaning up in general.  The calves looked at me as if to say, “Are you my momma?”  Well, I suppose I am now, huh?  Justin and I gave them some bedding and fluffed it up for them, that was just what they were looking for, as they laid down and took a nap.

The cattle were tired from their ride and late night arrival at the barn. So Justin and I "made their beds" so they could take a nap.

We had so much help in getting ready for this party, I don’t even know where to begin thanking people!  Our cattle nutritionist and a few other Silveredge Co-op employees did a lot of work in setting up tables and general helping out.  Other sponsors contributed as well, thanks to our fuel salesman from Three Rivers FS for helping clean up and providing a tank and ice for the pop.  Even the construction crews bent over backwards in getting things ready!

We had so many people that cars were parking on the road!!

As people started showing up, Aaron and Kent from the Coalition kicked into high gear and did a great job of setting the atmosphere of the celebration.  I will be forever grateful to Earl from Hanson Silo for taking photos throughout the day… as I didn’t take a one!!  I was practically bouncing off the walls…checking on the food, doing radio interviews, chatting with guests, drawing door prizes, and explaining the ins-and-outs of the barn.  The evening really flew by, and from what I hear, everyone had a really good time.

Thanks to the Delaware County Cattlemen for grilling!

The greatest thing in hosting this party, was seeing just how much the community is still interested and involved in agriculture.  I was blown away when I started adding up all the sponsors that support us and that our farm helps to support:  Silveredge Co-op, Three Rivers FS, Lextron Animal Health, Ryan Veterinary, F & M Bank, Hanson Silo, Accu-Steel, Inc, the construction businesses, electrician, and so so many more!!!

A gorgeous fall evening made a nice setting for our visitors.

The attendance was beyond anything we could have imagined.  We were planning for 300 and figured that we would probably have left over food.  Justin came to me at 7:00 and told me we were out of burgers… luckily, I had made up a roaster of maid-rite meat “just in case.”  But even that was wiped out within an hour!  My best guess is that we had around 400 people in attendance.  Probably half farmers and half farm neighbors.

Just another picture of the barn and all the festivities.

I was also excited to show our farm to our farm neighbors, who may not have had a chance to set foot on a farm in recent years.  This was probably the best part for me.  Sometimes I think our closest neighbors get nervous when they hear stories in the news about today’s food providers.  To be able to look my neighbors in the eye, take them by the hand,  walk around our farm, and answer their questions was an experience that was as rewarding for me as I hope it was from them!  We farmers sometimes get so wrapped up in our work that we forget to really appreciate the consumers who buy what we produce.

If you ask Ralph why he built the barn, one of the (big) reasons he will tell you is that it was for his grandkids.


Chopping Earlage

Earlage is the cobs, ears, and husks of the corn plant, all chopped up into little pieces for cattle feed.

Chopping earlage is much like chopping hay or chopping corn silage.  The chopper just gets to wear a different head.  The attachments on the front of the chopper or combine are called heads.  There are many different kinds of heads for different crops, as they are all gathered in a little different way.  Some crops are cut off (soybeans and silage corn), and others are simply picked off the plant or the ground (corn and hay).

This corn has matured and is beginning to die and dry out, which is perfect for making cattle feed.

Anyway, earlage is made from the ear: the kernels, husk, and cob of the corn plant.  For us, it is an excellent cattle feed.  The corn is higher in moisture which makes it more palatable to the cattle.  Plus it gives us some extra roughage (the husk and cob) to feed the cattle  that would otherwise not be used.  It also allows us to get in the field earlier in the season. Which is always a good thing when you are battling mother nature and time during the harvest season.

Hills. They make me nervous!

About half of our acres of crops are in hilly land, which makes for some inevitable nervous situations when it comes to running equipment.  We have to be very careful of our speed when driving on hilly terrain, as some of the equipment can be top heavy and poses the risk of overturning or sliding down a hill. Click here to see a video of the chopper running on one of our steeper farms.

Let me tell you, as a girl who grew up in the flat country of Iowa, adjusting to the hills has been hard for me.  My hands are sweating just thinking about some of the situations I’ve gotten myself into when driving in the hills.  Praise the Lord for four-wheel-drive and big engines!!  Enough said. 😉


Farming Tuesday: Do Farmers Wear Business Suits?

Yes, farmers wear business suits...but not all the time. All of these people are farmers and friends of mine.

I recently read a blog entry about about local food.  The author was breaking down the energy it takes to get food from the farm to the dinner table, and debunking some common beliefs about local food.  Read it here. A short and very interesting read.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love local food!  I love the farmer’s market!  I love CSAs (Community Supported Ag)!  Locally grown produce and meat provide an excellent opportunity for those who don’t have a connection to food production.  And they provide my family with fresh food when it’s in season.  But… (you knew there was going to be a but) that doesn’t mean that modern/industrial farming is the “bad guy.”  There is a place and a need in this world for all forms of agriculture.

Anyway… there was a person on this blog that commented that small local farmers wear blue jeans and worry about their crops, unlike “industrial” farmers in the Midwest who wear suits and worry about their balance sheet.  Ok, I know many of you who read this blog are in the Midwest.  And most of you have met a farmer.  Was he or she wearing a suit??  Probably not.

So many terms get thrown around when it comes to food production.  What do they even mean?  I’m a farmer in the heartland of America, just 50 miles from Cedar Rapids, the “Food Capital of the World” and I’m not really even sure….

My crops and livestock are sold, for the most part, to food processing companies.  Does that make me an “industrial” farmer?  My hogs are kept indoors.  Does that make me a “factory?”  I use herbicides and have a professional accountant do my taxes.  Does that mean I’m “corporate?”

All of the labor and management on my farm is done by family.  Does that make me a “family” farmer?  I sell beef directly to local customers.  Does that make me a “local” farm?  We use cover crops, no-till, and crop rotation.  Does that mean we’re “sustainable?”

I have been known to do cattle chores and get covered in manure (although my husband is the champion at getting dirty, he can look at dirt and it will stick to him).  Then the next day I will be dressed in a business suit to attend a Farm Bureau gathering.  I’m so confused!  Am I supposed to do only one of these activities?

Then there are the days that there isn’t enough time to transition from one role to the other and you end up walking into the bank with your filthy, holey jeans on.  Or you extend your dirty greasy hand to family from the city who decided to stop by for a visit.

Then there’s the other way around.  Such as when you’re on your way to church and spot 40 head of feeder calves plowing through the newly planted corn field.  There isn’t enough time to go home and change into your chore clothes.  Or, you go straight to the field after prenatal classes (because you know if you miss one your baby is gonna come out with three legs and hairy ears) because the weather is perfect for the first time in weeks for soybean harvest.

Yes. All of the above situations really happened to me.

I’m not rare.  This is how agriculture in the Midwest is.  The people you see on the cover of the Farm Bureau Spokesman in their business suits are the same people you will meet on the road with their tractors and manure spreaders.  The same people you will see in the bleachers at their kid’s tee ball game.

People who think that “industrial” farming is a horrible, evil, greedy, destructive way of life  are the reason I blog.  The way they see modern farming just isn’t so.

So, even though there are times my family looks like this....

We are much more comfortable like this....

or this... (yep, a lot of these are old pictures)

"Even this is better than wearing a dress." says Hazel

And this, well, this is typically how Justin looks when he gets home. There's just something about a guy who is willing to get dirty and get the work done. 😉

Vacation or Business Trip?

Cattle in a pasture in Tennessee

We make an effort every year to go on vacation with the kids, like most families.  This year we decided to go to western Tennessee and Kentucky and visit the people we do business with.  Most of the cattle we have fed out come from that region, and we hadn’t ever been there.

We have been planning on this trip since last winter, but the farm always comes first.  The hay had to be harvested, cattle worked, and spraying finished all before we could nail down a time to go.  Turns out that time was the last four days.  I spent all day Thursday loading up the car while Justin fed and worked cattle, and by 3:00 we hit the road.

After many miles of screaming kids and a few pit stops, we arrived in Dyersburg, Tennessee at 2am.  The next morning we took a short drive out to the country side to visit with Johnny and Norma.  They have lots of pasture ground, and it is their job to care for our calves and get them started on feed for about 30 days before the cattle come to Iowa .

They are such a wonderful couple.  Norma took me and the girls in the house and made us feel like family.  She made a blueberry cobbler for us and the girls had fun playing with her dog and cats.  Russell and Justin went for a ride with Johnny to look at the group of cattle he was starting for us.  When they got back we all went for a ride to look at more cattle and a visit to a local restaurant near Reelfoot Lake.  Southern hospitality is an amazing experience!

Everyone we met made us feel like family.

The next morning we took our time packing up and heading out for Mayfield, Kentucky to meet up with the people who buy our cattle.  Jeff, Joe, and Randy make a living going to sale barns throughout western Kentucky and buying cattle, then grouping them according to size and sex and selling them to feedlots across the country.  They also went out of their way to make us feel at home.  It seems that everyone we met that worked for them was family… brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews.  We toured some of their cattle facilities and farms, and Jeff welcomed us into his home for supper on Saturday night.  It felt just like a family get-together, our kids playing with theirs and everyone just excited to be together talking about how things are done in their part of the world.

On Sunday we experienced Cowboy Church at the Kentucky Opry and visited the Kentucky Lake area, and Land Between the Lakes National Park.  It was soooooo HOT, and we really couldn’t do much with little kids.  We did manage to find a living history farm and the kids enjoyed that.  It was based on what a farm would look like in the 1850’s.  My, how far we have come!! I’m so glad I don’t have to farm that way, and it makes me wonder where agriculture will be 150 years from today.

Russell and Lucy built a fairy house at the living history farm.

There were tons and tons of horseback riding trails and a huge camping area complete with a farrier and cabins.   I am way excited about visiting some time in the future when all my kiddos are old enough to ride.  We were amazed by the population density there compared to Iowa.  We never really seemed to get into a truly rural area, even in the country, there were at least 4-5 houses per mile, and a lot of 4 lane roads.

Lucy loved the view from the top of the Arch

On Monday we began our journey home.  As we came through St. Louis we hit a pretty big storm that cleared off just in time for us to go up the Arch.  Lucy didn’t appreciate the ride up, but really loved the view from the top.  So did Russell and Hazel.  The rest of the ride home was fairly dreadful…poor little Hazel was really sick of being buckled in and she let us know what she thought of it.

All things considered, it was a great get-away.  I can’t wait to go back and visit again!  I always feel so refreshed after taking time away from home.  It gives me a whole new perspective.  I just love meeting new people and learning about how they are making their way through life.  Now the question is, where to next year?

Manure…a precious commodity

There is a belief that manure is nothing more than a waste product on the farm. I can tell you that this is not the case on our farm, nor any of my neighbors’ farms from what I can tell. In fact, manure is quite a booming business in our county. Many people make their living handling manure. Half the reason we own livestock is for the cheap fertilizer that manure provides for the crops. We also have plenty of regulations to pay attention to. I prefer to call manure a by-product as opposed to a waste product, it’s just simply too valuable to waste, hence the term “the smell of money.”

Above ground manure containment, called a slurrystore.

Manure comes in two forms: liquid and solid. The solid manure consists of that which can be scooped by a skid loader and loaded into a manure spreader and applied on top of the ground. Liquid manure does not contain bedding and is collected in sealed pits or above-ground containment areas, then it is pumped out through big hoses and applied with a special disk pulled behind a tractor that injects it into the ground. Both forms provide a cheap, organic form of fertilizer for the crops. The manure replaces more expensive, petroleum-based synthetic fertilizers.

For some weird reason, the cattle like to play on the piles of manure... maybe they're playing king of the hill??

Because all the special equipment for handling liquid manure is expensive, most farmers around here (including us) rely on local individuals who have made a business out of it. We will call them up once or twice per year to empty our storage structures and apply the manure on our fields. There is new technology that is gaining popularity that will vary the rate at which the manure is applied according to the needs of the different kinds of soil in the field.

Stockpiling manure

The skid loader filling the manure spreader

We haul our own solid manure. The cattle live in cement lots with bedded barns for shelter. Ideally, we try to scrape every lot once per week. The skid loader is used to pile the manure until conditions are fit in the field to haul it. When conditions are fit, the manure is scooped up and loaded into a manure spreader pulled by a tractor. Gone are the days of pitching manure by hand, well, unless the spreader breaks and has to be unloaded by hand, that is.

Tractor and manure spreader

We must be careful not to apply more manure than the crops will utilize, because it is a source of the plant nutrients nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. We test our manure for nutrient content and work with the DNR as well as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to stay in compliance with regulations and prevent any run-off into water ways.

To me, manure represents the whole cycle of life on the farm. The cattle eat corn. They turn the corn into meat and fertilizer for next year’s crop. Next year’s crop will be fed to cattle and the cycle starts over again. Definitely not a waste product by any means.

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