Posts Tagged ‘food production’

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!


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."

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.


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?

Ethanol: One Farmer’s Point-of-View

Rural economic development at it's finest. An industry built in a rural area offering a variety of skilled employement positions and using locally produced inputs.

Ethanol.  It is a very complex, yet, easily simplified subject.  And it seems like more and more people are developing opinions about it. Here is mine.

First, let me lend my qualifications to this issue.   As a farmer who produces both livestock and corn, the ethanol industry affects me.  As a consumer of fossil fuels, both on the farm and in the household, the ethanol industry affects me.  As a resident of rural Iowa, living within 100 miles of several ethanol plants, the ethanol industry affects me.  Justin sat on a board and poured his heart and soul into an attempt to start up an ethanol plant around 10 years ago, right before ethanol took this state by storm.  Unfortunately, he was just a little before his time, and his efforts failed.  I stood by his side through the loss of that dream (and a sizable financial investment), so the ethanol industry affects me on a personal level as well.

Before the ethanol boom, corn prices were painfully low. Around $2.00 per bushel.  Farmers were dependent on government subsidies.  There was a lot of talk about adding value to corn.  How to expand the market for it?  Value-added this….value-added that.  And along came ethanol.  At first, farmers were skeptical, which is typical.  Farmers take enough risk on a daily basis, and their thresholds are usually maxed out. I was fresh out of college and working in a farmer’s co-op when meetings started popping up, informative meetings on investing in ethanol plants that were trying to get started.  The rumor mill got to running about a plant that was built by farmers near Preston, MN and how wildly successful it had been.  Before you know it, the ethanol bug bit Iowa’s farmers and they were scrambling to invest in the business.

As the years passed and plants got built, there was suddenly competition for corn, and the price went up.  $3 per bushel, then $4.  It’s gone higher than that, but we have been able to count on $3-4 corn pretty well in recent years.   All of a sudden, farmers quit caring about that government check that was coming.  Grain subsidies are based on the price per bushel of corn, so as the price went up, the subsidies dried up.  Yes, we still get payments from the government, but not nearly as much as we used to.  And that is a very good thing.

This is what is left over after corn goes through an ethanol plant. It makes excellent cattle feed. There are many different "varieties" of it.

The distillers grains produced by ethanol plants are great for mixing with cattle feed to make it more appetizing to them.

Another good thing about ethanol production is that it provides a cheap by-product, called distillers grains, that makes a great livestock feed.  Our livestock farm has done nothing but expand along with the ethanol industry, simply because we have been able to count on an affordable, quality feed produced along with ethanol.

Let’s not forget the product itself, ethanol.  It burns cleaner than fossil fuel.  It takes less fossil fuel to produce a gallon of ethanol than it does to produce a gallon of gasoline. Awesome, right?  To add to that, it is produced right here, in the heartland of America, by Americans.  And as if that weren’t enough…corn is a lot more renewable than oil.

This ethanol plant is just 10 miles from our house.

Ethanol plants have provided employment opportunities here in rural Iowa that were not available before.  High-tech jobs, high paying jobs.  Construction and maintenance jobs.  The railways, which had nearly become obsolete, are now booming with trains.  Ethanol has bolstered our economy.

Lots of rail cars carrying corn go in to the plant, and lots of rail cars leave the plant carrying ethanol and distillers grains.

The efficiency of ethanol production has improved by leaps and bounds over recent years.  It has become just as economical, from a water perspective, to produce ethanol as is does to produce gasoline.  4 gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol, 3-5 gallons of water to produce a gallon of gasoline.

Ethanol helps to keep the price of gasoline low.  Have you ever looked at the prices at the pumps?  The higher the ethanol content, the cheaper the price.  My thrifty budget really appreciates that.

I personally have not seen any ill effects from the development of the ethanol industry.  I will admit that there have been challenges, and there will continue to be.  Does it bug me that ethanol receives a tax break? Sure.  It bugs me just as much as the oil industry’s tax breaks do (or subsidization of anything for that matter). As long as ethanol is given a fair chance against competing industries, I see no reason why it couldn’t stand on its own.

Many local farmers take advantage of the close market for their corn. Here a truck is leaving the plant after delivering a load of corn.

Does ethanol have an effect on food prices?  Yes.  It has brought the price of corn up to the true production cost by competing for bushels.  Farm subsidies used to hold corn prices artificially low.  But, ethanol is not the only thing that has increased food prices.  The increasing cost of oil has had an effect too.  Coincidentally, ethanol helps to keep the cost of fossil fuels under control by introducing competition to the market.

I have confidence that the good people working to produce ethanol will continue to meet these challenges head on and improve even more upon this positive value-added industry.  There are a lot of advancements coming down the pike, and it will be exciting to see where bio fuel production is headed.

Harvesting Soybeans

The combines, poised and ready to roll through the last farm of beans for the year.

Soybeans.  For a farmer, they have their drawbacks. Weather conditions have to be just right to harvest.  They can be too wet or too dry and there’s not much you can do about it.  They are hard on a combine, and it is a constant adjustment of the machine to make sure they are being harvested correctly.

This field was once a tall, green field of growing beans. Now they have matured, lost their leaves, and are dried out and ready to harvest.

They have a positive side too.  When conditions are right, you can harvest a lot more acres per hour than corn.  They “fix” nitrogen in the soil to make it available to the corn that will be planted in the same field the following year, therefore reducing the need for fertilizer. They take less inputs and cost less to grow per acre than corn.

The attachement on the front of the combine is called a grain table, or head, and cuts the plant off at the base, then pulls the entire plant into the combine.

We just wrapped up the 2010 soybean harvest this past week, with not too much to complain about.  Yields were good, about 50-55 bushels per acre and the weather was nice and dry.

The one complaint we can make is on our combines.  We own two machines, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They both came out to the field from the repair shop and proceeded to break down…multiple times.  We had 3 separate incidences of tires coming off,  a few different belts breaking, and other mechanical difficulties.  I cannot describe how extremely frustrating it is to see such expensive machines just sitting in a field of expensive crops that need to be harvested.  It’s maddening for me, and it’s even more so for my husband and his brother and dad. Chances are we will not be running the same combines next year.

Finishing up the very last of the beans, our house is in the background.


Wet weather will put a halt to bean harvest.  The plants absorb the moisture and won’t feed through the combine properly.  Even a dew at night will make things too “tough” to harvest.  Thankfully, we have had little to no rain and absolutely gorgeous fall weather this year.

Soybeans are ready to harvest when they have died off, lost their leaves, and dried out.  They are harvested by the combine, which cuts the plant off and sends it through the machine which separates the beans from the pods and the rest of the plant.  It does this by rubbing the plants up against a screen, then shaking them through sieves.  The sieves will send the beans up an elevator into a tank on top of the combine, and the rest of the plant will be blown out the back of the combine onto the ground. Here’s a nice link to a simple soybean anatomy chart, if you’re confused by some of the terms I’m using.

This is the grain cart, used to "catch" the grain from the combine in the field and haul it to the trucks waiting near the road.

When the tank on top is full, the combine driver puts out its auger and unloads into the grain cart as it drives alongside.

When the tank on top of the combine is full, the driver will push a button to extend a long auger out.  This is the sign that the person driving the tractor and grain cart (often times, me) is to come alongside the combine and “catch” the beans as they are unloaded.  Then, when the grain cart is full, it takes its load to the semi trucks and fills them.  The trucks do not drive in the fields because their tires will create ruts, soil compaction, and, eventually, erosion.  The combines and tractors have big wide tires to distribute their weight evenly and lessen the impact on the soil.  The grain cart will follow the same path through the field on each trip to keep the soil disturbance to a minimum.

This is one of the semi trucks we use to haul grain in to our grain bins, as well as to the processors who buy our grain.

The semi truck, once full, then takes the load of beans in to a grain bin, where they will be stored until prices improve or we need the income.  During harvest, the price per bushel of beans is typically the lowest it will be all year due to supply and demand.  There is an abundance of supply, and there will be more demand in future moths, so prices are low to encourage the farmer to store their crop and wait to put it on the market….but marketing is really a whole other blog post in and of itself.

I was waiting in the grain cart tractor and snapped a few pictures of the landscape while the combines rolled.

So, that’s the soybean harvest in a nutshell.  Eventually our beans will go on to become things like soy milk, oil,  salad dressing, diesel fuel, tires, pharmaceuticals, crayons, glue, paint, and plastics.  It’s amazing, really, to realize that the crops we cared for all year will go on to do such beneficial things!

And, finally, I’m excited because I figured out how to put my YouTube videos right here in this blog for you to watch… so check it out… one of our combines in action, harvesting beans!

Loading Hogs

This is me, holding a hog panel, which is used to help guide the pigs where we want them to go. The coveralls are to keep me from spreading any disease to the pigs, and the hankerchief is to keep the "aroma" of the pigs out of my hair.

One of my least favorite jobs on the farm is loading fat hogs.  I’m just not as much of a fan of pigs as I am of cattle.  Never have been. I’d be lying if I said I looked forward to it, but really, once it’s happening it’s not so bad.

Looking down the alleyway, which leads out of the building and onto a ramp that goes up to the semi trailer.

Here’s a run down of how it goes.

All this week we will be loading out hogs.  Two semi truck loads at a time.  The alarm will go off at 4:30 AM.  I will cuss and whine the entire time I am getting ready, on the ride to the hog buildings, and as I am putting on the coveralls and changing my shoes (for biosecurity, don’t want to get the piggies sick).  Basically because it is early in the morning and I just want to go back to bed.  Once I’m inside the building, I get to wait with my hubby, brother-in-law, and father-in-law while the semi backs up to the load-out ramp.  Usually the conversation involves what the neighbors are doing in the field or what we need to do once we’re done loading.

A blue mark spray painted on this pig means he's big enough to become brats.

The pigs are still snoozing, but every time there is a bang of a door or something drops, they all jump up and voice their opinions.  Pigs are like that.  Very opinionated.  They grunt, bark, screech, chomp, and snort to voice their approval or disapproval of an event.  They are also very curious animals, and will swarm around you if you stand still near them.  They have it pretty good in our barns… lounging around in the pens with food, water, and shelter all readily available and closely monitored for them.

The trucker gets backed up, changes his shoes and clothes, and enters the building through a different door to keep the risk of carrying disease into the building at a minimum.  His job is to stand inside the semi trailer and put the pigs into the different pens on the trailer.

Lounging pigs enjoying the sunshine.

The rest of us enter the first pen to sort out all the pigs that have been marked a day or two before loading.  Marking the pigs (with a non-toxic spray paint) that are ready for market speeds up the loading process and lowers the stress on the pigs.  Each pen contains approximately 35 hogs.  Usually there are about 10-12 hogs in each pen to be sorted out.  It is my job to stand at the gate of the pen and only allow the marked pigs out.  My father-in-law, Ralph, works in the back of the pen to bring the marked hogs up to me. My hubby and brother-in -law get the hard job of bringing the pigs up the alleyway, onto the ramp, and into the trailer.  It’s the hardest job because they have to contend with pigs coming up the alleyway that they are trying to walk down, which means they have to crawl over the fences and into the pens.  The fences are about waist high on me, but Justin and Kevin are taller and make it look like they are stepping over a baby gate.

Demonstrating how the gates on the pens open up into the alleyway.

Sorting and moving hogs is a lesson from the school of hard knocks in animal psychology.  It is all about anticipating what a pig is going to do and then channeling his energy in the right direction.  I am having a hard time putting it into words, as it is something you just learn from being around hogs.  Where to stand, when to make noise, when to back off,  when to get the heck out of the way… these are all things that can only be learned by trial and error.  There are a few tips that can be applied, such as try to always keep the panel between yourself and the pig, or do everything in your power to not let them get by you.  But for the most part, working with pigs is like trying to solve a puzzle, it takes a lot of thinking and patience, and then once it starts working out, it will seem easy and you’ll develop a strategy.

More lazy lounging pigs.

There are rules we must follow in loading out.  We can take no more than 5 pigs per person down the alley.  A hog cannot be zapped with a stock prod more than 3 times.  The stock prod cannot be used in the pen.  On a side note, I have been shocked by a stock prod before, it certainly does not feel good, but it did not hurt me either.  A stock prod, like all things, has a time and place where it is appropriate and can actually prevent a stressful situation.  There are also times and places where it is inappropriate and can make a situation worse, it is not a tool to be used willy-nilly.  We do not slap, pull on, or drag the pigs; these are all actions that only contribute to a bad situation.

Semi trailer backing up the the ramp.

Here are some of our hog loading stats: It usually takes us about an hour to load one semi load of hogs.  One semi carries approximately 175 hogs.  The ride to the processing plant takes approximately 2.5 hours.  The pigs weigh about 250 lbs each when they are fat and ready for market.  And, nothing tastes better than sausage for breakfast after a morning of loading hogs!

Farewell, piggies!  We appreciated the opportunity to care for you on your journey to become nourishment for us!


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. 😉


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