Posts Tagged ‘factory farm’

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.

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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?

A Lesson in Recycling: Corn Stalk Bedding

My sister-in-law Melissa took this awesome picture...there is something about cornstalk bales that is really picturesque, don't you think?

We finished up corn harvest this week!  Woo hoo! Let’s go on vacation!

Wait.

The cattle still need attention….A LOT of attention!  Although all of their feed is now put up for the winter, they still need a stock of bedding to get them through the upcoming cold weather.  They also need their manure hauled out on to the fields and routine health check-ups.  Darn it! I guess Hawaii will have to wait. 🙂

Rolling hills and round bales.

Side note: I can not believe that we are done with grain harvest already!  This time last year we were just wrapping up beans and looking at weeks of corn harvest yet, on top of all the cattle chores that pile up during harvest season.  Farming is incredibly variable.  One year we are setting records on being behind in harvest, and the next we are finished up in record time.  So, although I don’t get to go on vacation just yet… I am eternally grateful for the bounteous harvest, the beautiful weather, and the safety of everyone who helped out.

Sun setting on the bales on a gorgeous late fall day.

So, now that the corn and beans are all put away for the year, it is time to focus on cattle comfort.  Not that we aren’t always paying attention to the cattle, but now we need to make sure they are set for the upcoming winter.

First step, bedding.  Lots of fluffy absorbent bedding. And where best to find this, but in the fields.  Corn stalks, cobs, and husks remain in the field after the kernels are harvested.  Getting them picked up and stored begins with “shredding,” or mowing, to break up the residue in to more manageable, comfy bedding.  Next they are gathered in to windrows with the rake, the same way hay is.  Then the baler, pulled behind a tractor, is driven over the top of the windrows,  picks them up, and rolls them into tightly packed round bales.

Here is a nice video on YouTube from “Mrflyinpig” that shows how the corn residue is collected by the rake and baler. :

Well, now we have a field full of round bales.  They are no good to us sitting out in the field, so we must haul them in.  This is done by putting a skid loader in the field, and one at the farm we are hauling in to.  We haul the bales a couple different ways.  Lately we have been using pick up trucks and flat bed trailers.  We have also used tractors and special bale hauling trailers.  The skid loader picks up the bales and stacks them a certain way on the trailers, which then take them out of the field and in to the farm to be unloaded.

Picking up a bale with the skid loader.

We have bales coming out of our ears right now!  They are all over every farm we have cattle on.  Neatly lined up.  We even have a bunch of them lined up along our driveway to serve as a snow fence over the winter. So, even while they wait to be used, they can serve a purpose!

The trailer waits to be loaded up with bales.

The skid loader putting a bale on the flat bed trailer pulled by the pick up.

Look close and you can see my little helper in there...don't worry, we were hauling in on the farm, no roads.

Couldn't this be an ad for Chevy? I can almost hear the old.... "Like a rock" theme song!! This truck and trailer is all loaded and ready to take the bales in to the buildings.

Recycling is not only is good for the planet, it makes good economic sense too!  The nice thing about using corn stalks as bedding is that they will be “enriched” by the cattle’s manure and then returned to the fields we took them off of.  I know I have written of this before, but I’m going to do it again.  I am continually amazed by the cycle of life and the bounty we can take from the land we are stewards of.  The land grows corn.  The cattle turn the corn in to meat, and in the meantime produce by-products (a.k.a. manure…which is NOT a waste product, but a precious commodity!) to enrich the land for the next crop.  The longer I am here, the more involved I become with the farm, and the more that the reality of the next generation sinks in… the more I appreciate this.

So, after the cattle “enrich” the bales, they are hauled right back out to the field to provide fertilizer for next year’s crop so we can do this all over again.  Have you ever thought about how farms recycle? Or am I the only crazy one?

Chopping Corn Silage for Cattle Feed

This is our new bunker silo a little over half full of corn silage.

Around the beginning of September, the corn is nearly mature and has the peak ratio of nutrients and moisture content to be harvested as silage.  Silage is any form of crops that are harvested and fermented for livestock feed.  Silage can be made from hay, corn, rye, etc.  It is an ideal feed for cattle because it contains the entire corn plant, not just the grain.

There has been a lot of rumbling in the foodie world about grass-fed and grain-fed livestock.  Many would have the consumer believe that cattle in feedlots are fed strictly grain and nothing else.  This is not true.   Cattle must be introduced to grain slowly.  Cattle need forage to keep their rumens (or stomachs) working properly.  Even if a calf is getting all grain, it’s rumen will adapt and digest the grain as forage.  This is an inefficient way to use corn, as the energy value of the corn is wasted, and there are cheaper alternatives to feed cattle.  None of our cattle are ever on a 100% grain diet.  I hope I didn’t lose anyone there.  I could go on and on about cattle nutrition, and I probably will as this blog continues.

The bunker silo has four different bays, we are filling two of them with corn silage. The big tractor pushes the silage up into the bunker, and drives on top of it to pack it in. Packing the silage down helps to preserve it.

Corn silage can be stored in a few different ways such as upright silos, bunker silos, or silage bags. All are designed to preserve the feed at peak nutritional levels over the next year.  We use all three storage methods on our farm and each has it’s advantages and disadvantages.  Here are a couple links to videos of us filling our new bunker silo at the new hoop barn site.  If you have little boys who like to watch tractors, they will love these quick clips (ok, big boys will too)!

The tractor is unloading a chopper box of corn silage here in front of the bunker silo bays.

Corn silage is harvested (also referred to as “chopped”) by our chopper.  It is a big, expensive piece of equipment that cuts, collects, then chops the corn plants into little pieces.  Think M & M sized pieces.  After chopping the corn up, it blows the little cattle M & Ms into a chopper box being pulled behind it.  (See this post about chopping hay to refresh your memory as to what a chopper box is and does). Once full, the chopper box is then emptied in the same fashion as if we were chopping hay…so, check that post if you want to know more!

Hazel making sure Dad is doing a good job. She is so proud to be riding with Dad!

So we began chopping corn silage about 10 days ago, and finished up on Friday.  We have been blessed with great weather this year as well as only one day of machinery break downs.  When corn silage harvest is done, we will move on to earlage harvest…but, that is a whole other post!!

‘Til next time!

Liz

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. 😉

Anatomy of a Corn Plant

Hard to believe these huge corn plants were just tiny seeds only a few months ago.

If you’re like me, and you live in Iowa, chances are you take for granted all the corn fields around you.  Have you ever really considered what goes on from the time the seed corn is planted until it is harvested?  I know I never did, until recent years.  I mean, really, is it not absolutely amazing that one tiny little seed planted just three months ago is now around 8 feet tall and nearly mature?

Little baby corn plants just popping out of the soil.

Have you ever wondered how that happens?  I mean, it is simple biology, so here is your lesson for the day:

Corn seeds are planted in a row no more than 2 inches deep and spaced about 6 inches apart.  The rows are 30 inches away from each other.  Depending on the soil temperature, the corn sprout will emerge anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks.  As the plant grows over the next several weeks, it will add leaves and begin to develop an ear until it puts out a tassel. The tassel is the bushy top of the corn plant.  At this same time the ear will put out its silk. Both the silk and the tassel are considered part of the flower.

Russell is pointing to the silk. It is called silk because it consists of silky strands that stick out of the top of the ear.

The tassel on top of the plant contains pollen to fertilize the silk, which forms kernels on the ear.

Tasseling and pollination are critical times in corn development.  The tassel contains pollen that must make it to the silk in order to fertilize the plant. Each strand of silk must “catch” a pollen grain from the tassel to form a kernel. So, the number of  pollen grains caught by the silk, equals the number of  kernels formed on an ear.  This determines the yield. Corn plants usually fertilize other corn plants in a field (the silk catches pollen from a different plant).

Russell helping me show a close-up of the tassel.

A corn plant will only release pollen under ideal conditions.  Usually only during a few hours of a day, for a few days.  It can’t be too wet or dry or too hot or cold.  That’s why farmers can be so nervous during the growing season.  So much of their income depends on circumstances out of their control!

After pollination, it is now time for the corn plant to begin forming kernels over the next couple months, called the grain fill period. The kernel goes through a few stages.  These stages are basically based on the moisture content, size, and starch content of the kernel.  Once the kernel is fully formed, and contains about 30 percent moisture, it is considered physiologically mature, or black-tipped.

After the corn is mature, it is essentially dead, and farmers now begin the waiting game for it to dry down.  Ideally, we like to harvest our corn once the kernels are below 20% moisture.  How long it takes for corn to dry varies wildly, but dry corn harvest will usually begin around the second week of October here in Iowa.

Tall green corn and a bright blue sky... a sight to behold for a country girl!

See, fascinating, huh?  This was a hard post to write, as it would be very easy for me to get way too technical.  There is a lot of research and science that goes into field corn production.  Thanks to genetic technology and other advances, today’s farmer feeds 155 people.  That number is double what it was in the 1970’s.  I wonder what farming will be like in another 40 years?

Chopping Hay

This hay has bloomed and is more than ready to be harvested.

Rain,  rain, go away!  For at least a week, please!  Two weeks would probably be asking too much… but we’d certainly appreciate it!!

The first step in harvesting hay is mowing it.

When you are trying to make hay in Iowa, the weather is often the enemy.  Lately, we have been stuck in a horrible pattern of rain every single day for the past 3 weeks or so.  It takes at least two dry days to get any hay harvested.  If we were trying to bale it, we’d need at least 3 days of nice sunny windy low humidity days.

So, we have been struggling along all summer, mowing patches of hay here and there, and then rushing to get it chopped before the next round of storms moves in.  Thank goodness we bought a better chopper this year that allows us to get more done in less time.

So, for those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about… here’s the simple process of making hay:

Mowing down the hay into wide swaths so it can dry out.

Once hay is mature (probably about knee to waist high, right before it blooms) it is time to mow it.  The tractor pulls a big mower, called a haybine, that cuts the hay and lays it in a swath (a wide path of cut hay).  It is a lot like a great big lawn mower, except it’s purpose is to cut the hay and lay it down as gently as possible.

Had to steal this picture from the internet, as I never got a chance to get one of my own. The rake gathers the wide swaths of hay and piles it into a trail (called a windrow) to finish drying.

The hay then lays for a day or so, and can be raked with a tractor and rake to turn it over and combine two or more swaths  into one larger windrow (a more narrow pile of hay in a long trail).  Raking helps the hay to dry and also saves time when the chopper or baler picks it up.

The chopper picks up the hay in front, sends it through the machine which chops it up, and then blows it out the pipe on the top into the wagon being pulled behind it.

If the hay is being chopped, we will pick it up with the chopper as soon as it is raked.  Hay doesn’t have to be very dry to be chopped and stored in a silo.  The chopper picks up the hay and chops it into little pieces then blows it into a wagon called a chopper box, that is pulled behind the chopper.

Tractor pulling a chopper box in to the silo, where the hay will be unloaded and stored to feed the cattle over the winter.

My hubby climbing the silo to make sure the silage is filling it properly. He does this often, he has no fear of heights when climbing, but take him on a ferris wheel and he most likely will break out in a sweat and puke.

When the chopper box is full, the person driving the chopper flips a switch to unhook the wagon.  Another person will bring an empty box with a tractor for the chopper to hook up to, and take the full wagon to be unloaded into the silo.   It usually takes about 3 tractors pulling chopper boxes to keep up with the chopper.

There is a lot of room in the cab of the chopper for Hazel to explore. We just lay a blanket down and she loves to watch the hay going into the chopper.

Once the hay is harvested, it will grow back and we will be able to get another crop in about a month.  We can usually expect to get 3 crops in a year, 4 if we are lucky.  Hay serves a few purposes on our farm.  It provides forage for all of our cattle and it’s extensive root system helps to conserve the soil on our hilly farms.  So, although it can often be a frustrating crop, it is worth the headache.

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