The reason we do this

The reason we do this
A walk with the Coys

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Defining the "Image" of Agriculture

How should Farm Bureau engage farmer/rancher members, representing all types and kinds of operations (i.e. conventional, organic, large, small and niche markets), to work together to better promote a more positive image of agriculture?

This is one of the questions for Ohio Farm Bureau's annual discussion meet, hosted by the Young Agricultural Professionals committee.  I love the competition and love discussing the questions.  So, I thought for my next 5 blogs, I would focus on these topics.  If you would like more information on the discussion meet or other Young Farmer activities supported by the Ohio Farm Bureau, try here (OFBF YAP Page).

So, as all good "researchers" do, when I have a question I go straight to the academic center of our modern world, Google. (there is sarcasm and truth in that statement).  And I searched:
"working together small large farms promote agriculture". I saved it.. because it seemed like the most likely order that someone might type key words in if they were to look this up.  Not too surprisingly, it didn't come back with very many useful links. About 10 down or so, after school meal programs and other titles that did not grab my attention; I found the blog  I knew must be out there..and it dealt with the heart of the matter... well the two hearts of the matter I guess.  Globalization and Food Security are both factors in this whole "positive image" that we are trying to work on.

In, "The food conundrum: Can small farmers and big business work together to solve the world food crisis? " the issue is discussed.  The author raises two very thought provoking questions: "Do we have a global food crisis so urgent that small farmers need to be pushed to one side? and  Will increasing production alone solve the problem of hunger?" Personally after looking at these questions, and then reading the one originally stated, it reminds me that I think we are looking at this all wrong.

I personally feel that if it ever comes a time when we need to push any segment of food production to one side, then we will have lost our balance.. much like a delicate ecosystem. "‘Smallholder farming, which has been long neglected, is not a single solution, but an important component of both hunger and poverty reduction’. "

The question of "image" itself demeans the conceptual notion of farming and agriculture.  By that I mean, instead of working on the positive "image" of agriculture, perhaps we just need to keep improving agriculture's role in society. Our role in society was put on display this year during the superbowl advertisement by Dodge.

Why do you think the super bowl advertisement by Dodge was such a hit amongst non-farmers and farmers alike?  The ad has (now 3 days after it aired)  4.1 million views and won the "ADBOWL" while it finished third in USA TODAY's likability Ad Meter, behind the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale colt commercial and the Tide "Miracle Stain" spot.(Pillar, What actual Farmers thought..)  In his article about the ADBOWL, Marcucci reported: "An iconic radio voice took the cake, as Dodge Ram’s “Farmer” spot with Paul Harvey as the v/o was the highest-rated commercial during Super Bowl and wins the ADBOWL XLVII (video) ."

I think the message was a hit because it was coming from a seemingly unrelated entity; it was genuine.

Dodge's message spoke to the deep rooted love and respect we have for farmers.  Instead of wasting time and energy on an "image", why don't we spend more time on working together, supporting one another and involving as many people as we can, so we can focus on assessing the food security of our people and those of our allies.  When we work together, as we have been, then our image takes care of itself.  Dodge has tugged at the heartstrings of most of America with that commercial, and we thank them.

When the message comes from Monsanto or another larger agricultural supply corporation, the message is perceived as unauthentic.  If a politician praises agriculture it can give the perception of hidden motives.  If the message comes from a farmer, it is often received by the viewer as authentic and honest.  But Dodge seems to have, for now, trumped even us, as farmers, with its Super Bowl Commercial this year, "God Made a Farmer"  So Why all of the love for farmers?

Why did Dodge name 2013  "The year of the Farmer" ? Why do people treat farmers with so much respect? Why do little children treat us as if we are super heroes? 

This is because our actions speak louder than our words.  WE ARE APPRECIATED and the current "image" of agriculture is positive.  If we, as farmers and stewards of this land continue to do the Lord's work then the truth is promoted by our actions.  The good works we do in our communities, the good food we provide our nation and world, and the land we leave for the future generations speaks for itself.

How can we band together and work together into the future?  I don't have one single answer for this, but if we can answer this, then we can solve any of the other questions posed in this entry.  Michele Payne-Knoper discussed this at length in her excellent blog "Cause Matters Corp, Connecting Gate to Plate".  She asked: Can Agriculture Lead into the Future?, and in this she addresses some areas that we will need to address down the proverbial, 4th dimensional road:

"*Why is it so very easy for agriculture to be divided and conquered?
*Does agriculture care enough to speak out proactively?
*Is it possible that we try to fix things that aren’t broken?
*Do we sometimes get so hung up on bringing recognition to farmers that we lose the millions  of others responsible for food, fuel, feed and fiber?
*Are we so stubborn that we sometimes lose sight of the big picture?"

Ok, So now that I have started the ball rolling, how would you answer this question?  Join the conversation at "Ohio's Advisory Council" Facebook Group.

To refresh you, as the start of this blog seems SO long ago, here is the question again:

How should Farm Bureau engage farmer/rancher members, representing all types and kinds of operations (i.e. conventional, organic, large, small and niche markets), to work together to better promote a more positive image of agriculture?

Other related Links:

HLN News for "So God made a Farmer"

Mixed Reviews

What actual farmers thought

View the add to give back to FFA

Can Small Farmers work together with Big Business?


Cause Matters

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Baby its COLD outside! Taking care of the critters in the COLD!

It has been cold in the Ohio Valley the last couple of Days, REALLY cold.  Cold enough that my nose hairs freeze upon entering the outdoors.  This lead to extreme conditions for our furry friends and livestock.  So how do you keep Cattle warm in the winter? 

The best advice I can give is to keep any animal out of the wind as much as possible.  The wind in this region is primarily Westerly, and therefore you need a place for every head of animal to be on the East side of a wall/structure/natural windbreak.

What does a natural windbreak look like?  It could take on a geological form, such as a hill/cliff or bedrock outcrop, or it could be of the more "supple and green" variety.  Iowa State Extension has a handy publication on Natural Wind Break planning for increased herd protection.

We utilize a feed lot shed that was here when we purchased the farm in 2004.  Its a sturdy structure, that still needs some tuning, but it does an excellent job blocking the wind.  This being said, where do you think our cattle were at the break of dawn when the day is at its coldest? 

They were bedded down on the heavy use pad! (The feed lot shed is directly to the left in this picture, its just not visible).  So, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, and you can provide a cow some shelter, but that doesn't mean she'll choose it! 

I interpret this to mean that they must be enduring the weather without too much issue.  If you would like some more helpful perspective on winter cattle care, try this video by the Ohio Dairy Farmers .

Another challenge is the watering need in the cold months. For that we have an insulated automatic waterer (the yellow box with a red top in the above picture).  Jim wired it so we could also plug a de-icer into it if needed.  The frost free hydrant he installed in the barn is also keeping the water flowing for the barn critters.  What else lives in that big ol' barn? 

We  have peacocks that like huts made out of straw, horses (with a couple that are quite old - one is 35) that require extra supplemented calories, two goats who think they are dogs and not goats and a barn cat (who has been upgraded temporarily to "house cat" status :)  

Stay warm over the next month, and remember greener days are ahead!

If you have any questions, or tips, please send them along, Jim and I are always eager to learn new tricks! :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cattle Scoring in the Cold Months

We all do it, we drive by an animal that we can see from the road, and we mentally score it.  Perhaps you don't have a numeric scoring guide down pat, but we still have our own systems.  Maybe you say to yourself "That horse looks kinda thin", or "Well that cow hasn't missed too many meals..." or "Gee, those animals all look just right". But just like we do with everything else, we are sizing them up.

So what do I, as a farmer, see when I am "sizing up my cattle".  Do I look for nice, fat cattle ?  Surely a fat cow must be healthy and warm on these cold winter days, right?  Well.. what I am finding in my few years of experience is a little to the contrary of that. 

Cattle scoring actually has a "rubric" if you will,  and each breed has its own sets of ideals.  We raise black Angus, but Dairy animals have their own criteria.  Here is a link to a dairy body conditioning document.  And here is one for Angus:

What stands out to me when comparing the two, aside from quantitary differences in their scale, is where the ideals are, compared to my own conceptions of what I thought was ideal.  Our first year on the farm we kept the cattle entirely too fat for winter.  The problem with this is, our calves that were growing in their mama's were also becoming fat as well, and that could lead to complications during birth.  Thankfully our veterinarian was there to guide us along, and suggest that especially in the winter, that we keep them a little bit more "lean" than what we normally would. 

They stay plenty warm with a beef score of 4.5 instead of 6.5 which is where we tended to have ours.  So, when I am looking at my cattle everyday, I am always assessing their body score to see if we need to supplement their diet, cut back, or even maintain the status quo. But our number one goal is to have healthy cows who give birth with very little effort this spring to nice healthy calves!  Because.. that is the whole point of this adventure we are on.. to grow our heard!

If you want a thorough (but not very exciting) video on how to score cattle, try this one: for beef, or this one: Dairy Scoring for Dairy.  Not sure why I didn't "name" the other links until the last one.. I"ll try to change that habit next blog! :)

Happy Scoring! :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Planning for the next year..

Clearly I don't get the award for the world's most kept up blog... it has been since March since I posted.  So much has happened to us and the farm this year and part of my resolutions this year is to keep log of it more faithfully through this blog.

Changes on our farm in 2012:
With the drought that impacted a huge portion of the nation last year, we were faced with the reality that this current winter we were not going to be able to afford to feed all of the cattle we currently had with projected hay priced.  This being said, we made the hard choice to sell several of our herd, but the benefit from this has been fantastic!  We sold animals that had characteristics that we did not want to see continue in our animals, and so this coming year's calves should be absolutely fantastic!

Water management and Spring development:  We are blessed with an abundance of water on our property, however with this blessing, comes the responsibility of managing the flow of the water and protecting it along the way.  With the addition of a new septic system, and underground drainage tile, we have been able to divert water from a low lying field that often is flooded, and take it to a pond that badly needed filled... two birds, one stone!

Plans for 2013:

With the projected 9 calves we will be having this spring, we are going to have a good amount of grazers on the land that is currently fenced.. which means its time to do some more fencing!  Our big "addition" project is going to be adding an area of 20 acres of grazing to the rotation.  We believe strongly in rotational grazing, and I would be happy to talk with anyone about the benefits to the animals and to the land.

Two other "addition" projects I would like to complete this year are the completion of our greenhouse, and the completion of our meat goat facilities, phase 1.  We are looking at making our farm as sustainable as possible, and goats seem to be a potential answer for this, as does produce.

There is always lots of "planned" demolition with any old farm setup, and this year will be no exception to the demo.  We have an old garage that will be removed this year, along with a loafing shed that is causing harmful pulling forces on our main bank barn structure.  These two jobs are going to require the recruitment of some of our near and dear friends.. and a very large dumpster. :)

In the agriculture education arena my goals are to create a video clip series of science lessons that can be taught on the farm.  I plan on linking them to the Ohio Science Content Standards so that teachers can pull them up at will and have their students transported to the farm.  I haven't come up with a good name for this yet... but we are going to start filming soon.. so I should work on this... Any thoughts?