Posts Tagged ‘farming’

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.


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.

Farm Subsidies, A Farmer’s Perspective.

We must know exactly how much grain is in a bin before "putting it under loan" in the marketing assistance loan program.

Today I want to (attempt to) set the record straight when it comes to farm subsidies. I’m going to present some facts, and some opinions. I’m also going to “reveal” what my husband and I have received from the government and why. (I put reveal in quotations beause it’s all public knowledge.  Don’t belive me?  Click here.) I understand that not everyone is going to agree with me on this. But that’s ok, it’s what makes us human, and what makes us all great. It also doesn’t mean I should keep quiet about it. Everything I share today is public knowledge, I’m just going to put it here in one place with an explanation behind it.

I must preface this by saying that my understanding of the farm bill and all it’s intricacies is limited. While I do feel I have a handle on it,  it is a very complex, and ever changing thing. Often I get the impression that even the employees of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) feel the same way.  Anyway, this is my perspective of the farm program, administered by the federal government as a part of the farm bill.

The farm program mainly focuses on grain production, not livestock.

First, a very simple explanation of farm subsidies:

Most of the cropland in Iowa is a part of the farm program.  When a farm is enrolled in the farm program, there is a plethora of paperwork and rules regarding conservation that must be followed.  Farmers must report exactly how many acres of each crop they plant, and where.  They must develop and follow a conservation plan with NRCS staff.  Grain bins are measured, and yields are recorded, and turned into the FSA office.  Farmers receiving subsidies must prove that they are “actively engaged” in farming.  In exchange for complying with the program, the farmer or owner of the land is eligible for financial incentives from the federal government.  There is a variety of programs within the farm bill.

The most talked about program is what is referred to as direct payments.  Direct payments are a lump sum of money, calculated on a per acre basis, that is paid to the farmer.  The formula used to determine the amount paid is based on the productivity of the land.  We receive roughly a $20-25 per acre direct payment.

And then there is Counter-Cyclical Payments (CCP).  This is also based on productivity, in addition to the yearly average price for grain (as determined by the federal government).  In recent years, we have not received a CCP, because grain prices have been higher than in past years.  The trigger price for CCP is around $2.25 per corn bushel.  CCP will get higher as the price of corn gets lower.

Next comes the more optional programs, LDPs and Marketing Assistance Loans (MAL).  LDPs have been obsolete the last few years, again, due to higher prices.  But, Justin and I do take advantage of the MAL program.  Basically, when we need money to pay bills, but don’t want to sell our grain for a low price (prior to May 30), then we can “seal” the grain, which is essentially handing over the title to the grain to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).  We will then receive a loan in the amount of the set loan rate per bushel.  For example, I “seal” 10,000 bushels of corn.  I receive 10,000 (bushels) x $1.84 (per bushel county loan rate) or $18,400, as a loan.  I then use the money to pay bills.  Then I have 9 months to repay the loan plus interest (“buy back” the bushels), the title to the grain is turned back over to me, and I can sell it when prices are (hopefully) better.  I really like this particular program, because it is not a true susbisdy, it is simply a low interest loan, and it really helps us out.

A few other programs that make up the federal government farm program include the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program, the Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) program, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Security Program (CSP).  ACRE is meant to replace the DCP, and CCP.  SURE is for crop disasters.  CRP involves letting enrolled acres sit fallow for 10 years.  Finally, CSP is all about improving conservation practices.  I won’t even begin to explain these…google them if you’re bored!

The last, and most important piece of this gigantic puzzle, is crop insurance subsidies.  The government subsidizes crop insurance, based on a hugely complex formula, based on percentages.  Basically, it makes crop insurance a viable, affordable option for farmers, and protects us from crippling crop and financial losses, and helps us to stay in business. Crop insurance, in and of itself, is another horribly complex animal….which I will address sometime down the road.

Each category of subsidy has a maximum amount that can be paid to one individual.  If a farmer is found to be out of compliance with any rules, they can be made ineligible for the program.

Simple explanation, right?  Clear as mud?

The NRCS helped lay out these hay buffer strips, as a part of a conservation plan.

My views on farm subsidies are simple.  Direct subsidies are a waste.  Sending a farmer a check in the mail for participating in the conservation program is an inefficient use of taxpayer money.  There are better ways to incentivize participation in conservation compliance programs.  Personally, I’d like to see more emphasis on crop insurance and marketing loan programs.  Regulations must be kept tough on those that are out of compliance, and eligibility for crop insurance (as well as other programs) should be tied to conservation compliance.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that farm subsidies are a small part of the farm bill.  A whopping 84% of the farm bill is food assistance programs, such as food stamps and WIC.

I’ve only skimmed the very tip top of this subject.  If you want to know more, take a gander here:

Farm Services Agency, Iowa

Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa

Commodity Credit Corporation

My apologies if I’ve gone too far over anyone’s head….this stuff is confusing to me, and I deal with it on a regular basis!  I do hope that maybe I’ve shed a little light on this subject, anyway.  If you have any questions, I will try my best to answer.

Terraces are another method for prevention of soil erosion, and keep us "in compliance."

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!


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 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. 😉


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!


Family Bonding, Farm Style

Hazel and Dad having a little snuggle break in the tractor cab. She loves riding in the tractor!

Fall harvest season has officially begun on our farm.  It is the craziest time of year for us, but also the best.  I just love the fall weather, the changing of the leaves and crops, and the excitement of getting harvest done!  Fall harvest means the kids get to spend a lot of quality time with Mom, Dad, Uncle Kevin, Aunt Melissa, or Grandpa in a tractor, semi, or combine cab.  Many people can’t believe that we bring the kids along with us to the field.  I’m not sure why, as the kids love it!  Now me, on the other hand, I could do without all the packing and planning it takes to be in the field all day.  But then again, I wouldn’t have it any other way, what other job is there that allows you to have your kids along side you?

Eating on the run! BBQ beef sandwiches, apples, bars, and water.

The kids learn a lot of life lessons riding along in the field.  They learn patience.  You can’t just stop in the middle of what you’re doing to cater to every whim.  So they learn the valuable lesson of waiting, such as how to eat when the food is offered and pee when there is a break.  They also learn a lot about what adults do when they are at work, and how to handle a stressful situation.  Sometimes they learn how not to handle a stressful situation and what not to do at work….but either way they are witnessing real life, first hand, and at a young age.

Lucy riding in the tractor with me last fall.

They get to spend a lot of time entertaining themselves and talking with whoever they are riding with.  There aren’t a lot of distracting toys in a tractor cab, so they get to be creative.  We make up songs about what we’re doing, we talk about why we are doing what we are doing and what’s going to happen next.  We practice counting and ABC’s.  We play “find the corn cob” when there is a breakdown and we are trying to kill time.  The kids get to watch the combine’s grain tank fill up, or the semi dumping it’s load of corn.  They never tire of it, even when harvest has drug on for months, they still want to crawl up into that cab and ride.

I should mention at this point, safety is rule number one on the farm.  The kids are extremely aware of how dangerous the farm equipment is.  They go nowhere on foot around the farm without holding someone’s hand, and we are constantly alert as to who is where and what they are doing.  They seem to have a natural understanding of this, and we’ve never had any instances of them behaving dangerously on the farm.  This is not to say that we give them any credit for that, we are always on the look out and reminding them of the dangers of the farm.

I'm pretty sure Russell will be driving farm equipment well before he gets his license.

We are so blessed to be able to work together as a family on our farm.  Sure, there are drawbacks, there is a reason people say it’s hard to work with family.  We have to be constantly mindful of our actions and words and how they might be interpreted, because a misunderstanding at work equals a misunderstanding in the family and hurt feelings.  The lines of communication have to be kept open, but not too open, sometimes it really is better to” just let it go.”  Everyone has to be slow to accuse and quick to forgive.  The one thing that keeps us working together as a family is our mutual understanding that the farm is what provides us with our amazing way of life.

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