Posts Tagged ‘industrial farm’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So….

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

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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. 😉

Grocery Shopping: Farm Wife Style

I have grocery shopping down to a science.  I really don’t mean to brag.  But I’m pretty proud of how efficient I have gotten at “get in, get out, and get on with it.” I HATE shopping of any sort.  I know that makes me weird.  But it does save me a lot of money.

Laudry baskets and one big tub help make loading and unloading easier, and helps keep the cold food cold.

So, I do one major grocery/household needs shopping trip per month.  I find a sitter for the kids and clear out the back of my Expedition.  I throw in my trusty totes to make loading and unloading easier.  One tote is for cold groceries, another for canned goods, another for squishable things like bread and bagged cereal.  You get the idea.

Ahhh... an almost empty parking lot! Early morning shopping means crowd avoidance, a clean store, and friendlier staff.

I leave as early in the morning as possible to avoid crowds.  My first stop is Sam’s Club.  Their store brand diapers and formula are the cheapest and best quality I have found.  I also buy a lot of dairy products from Sam’s.  My main rule when shopping at Sam’s is to buy the store brand (Member’s Mark) products of whatever they have available that’s on my list.  It is also the cheapest place to buy a name brand, but my main philosophy is to buy store brands unless I really cannot stand the store brand.  For example, I cannot stand any french salad dressing other than the Western brand.  Their produce and meat is also a much better value and quality when compared to Wal-Mart (my other stop).

The back of the car after Sam's Club... next stop, Walmart!

Once I am done at Sam’s, the next stop is Wal Mart.  I have an itemized shopping list that is grouped according the the aisles at Wal Mart.  I composed this list by taking pictures of the aisle headers with my digital camera, then putting the list together at home on microsoft excel. Here is the link. (Yes, I may be a little too perfectionist about my grocery shopping.)

My over-the-top shopping list... I highlight the things I need, then cross them off once in the cart, and keep a running total as I go.

I carry a calculator with me and add up my total as I go.  I put myself on a tight budget and this is incredibly helpful in staying within it.  People may stare at me, but I really don’t care, I’d rather save money than worry about what some stranger thinks.  I also bring a pen and cross off items as I get them, because it’s really easy to forget something.

Pictures of the aisle headers, which the order of my shopping list is based from.

When I’m going through the check-out, I will put the groceries on the belt according to their category (cold, canned, squishy, etc.) so they are bagged accordingly.  Canned goods go first so they are in the bottom of the cart, squishies go last.   If I have an attentive cashier, they usually appreciate it.  It also makes loading, unloading, and unpacking much easier.

Time to get home!

Throughout the month, I’ll have to make occasional trips to the grocery store (love Fareway!) for more perishable items and a few miscellaneous things.  Since I have all the staples at home, though, it makes trips to the store with three kids in tow a much more enjoyable affair.

What a midsummer view! Corn is tasseling. It's too easy to forget that all our food originated from a farmer's field.

I do have to say as a consumer I often take for granted all the selection and variety that there is when I go to the grocery store.  Here is a great website that talks about our food choices as consumers: choose2choose.com. Food is so available and convenient that it is easy to forget that everything in the grocery store was once in a farmer’s care.

The Neighbors

One of the best things about living in rural Iowa is the people….hands down.  Our neighbors and community consists of the type of people who pull over when you’re stopped on the side of the road.  The sort of people who know just what to do when tragedy (of any sort) strikes.  People who go to church on Sunday overflowing with generosity and tolerance.

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We have 10 families who live within a mile of our home, and many more who live near our farms.  In fact, much of our land shares a border with the nearby town (population 500).  We grant permission to pretty much any responsible individual who asks to hunt or trap on our land.  FFA students have conducted experiments in our crop fields, and we have proudly supported these local young leaders in many ways.

The local school is the center of activity, and the youth’s accomplishments are celebrated by all.  There is a women’s club, a Lion’s club, athletic boosters, and a scholarship committee… just to name a few of the community organizations.  They are all very active and dedicated.

We have an excellent hospital in the next city about 10 miles away, with caring doctors, nurses, and surgeons who often know you on a first name basis.

So even though Iowa may seem small and desolate, the people here have huge hearts and truly care about each other.

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