Category Archives: Agriculture

Farm Girl Problem/Perk # 4 My nails pretty much always look like crap.

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so.. umm... this is my life.

so.. umm… this is my life.

My hands are strong, callused, and rough to say the least. I’m not ashamed of them. Their strength allows me to do many things that many women can’t or won’t do. My hands have pulled unborn lambs/goats/calves from the womb into the world. They have moved countless hay bales. Carried thousands of joints of hand line. Pounded posts into the hard earth and completed countless other tasks. Hands are amazing to say the least. Think about all the things you can’t do without your hands… yeah the list is practically endless.

Here is the catch 22 for women in agriculture…

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This is no joke. At least half of the things that I do while working on the farm or ranch involve getting dirty. I don’t shy away from getting dirty. Though there are times that I really want to have pretty nails like those awesome ones on Pinterest. Yes there is yet another unattainable standard for women. Its unfortunate. You can’t have beautiful perfectly polished nails if your hands are constantly dirty.  In all seriousness perk/problem it really just depends on the day, where I’m going, and what I’m doing.

 

Farm girl problem #3 Granny ewe’s

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Whats a granny ewe you ask? Did you like how I tossed ewe and you in the same sentence…. bet that was a little confusing for a minute. Anyways a granny as we call them are ewe’s that may or may not have lambed that decides to claim or STEAL someone else’s lamb(s). Nearly every rancher has a love/hate relationship with the granny. They are so darn convenient when you have a bum lamb… but you hate when they take others lambs without being promoted to momma status. Most of the flocks at the university have been around a while and all of the grannies in each have been identified.

We recently acquired thirty new crossbreed ewes for a research project starting this fall. My boss being the economical man that he is wouldn’t let them sit idle and burn hay for nine months before the project started… so we bred the ewes for replacement lambs. Now I liked this idea! We get replacements, the ewes produce a few others to sell, and we get the chance to find out what kind of mothers they are before we implant Zillion dollar clones into them. (zillion is an exaggeration).

Fast forward to five months or so later and we are discovering exactly what kind of mommas we have on our hands. Many of the ewes are great they follow you in the barn happily, are attentive mothers, and only one has come up with a bad bag. (meaning she has no milk) Until last night, when I got in a no joke “fight” with a ewe that had already lambed because she stole another ewes lamb. She tried to eat me when I picked the little guy up. I swatted at her, this typically will deter most from attempting push their way back into the equation. In her case it seemed to fuel her need to get the lamb back. We shared words… her in the form of blaa’s and grunts.. I in the form of curse words. Until I could escape the pen with the rightful mother and both of her lambs. Foolishly I thought that the worst of it was over….

Once in the barn with the new mother and her lambs in their own private pen I discovered the worst. Since the granny had claimed and fed the lamb it smelled like her and the “real” mom was rejecting her lamb. When I say rejecting I mean she was stomping her lamb into the ground and pushing it away from its sibling. In a situation like this there are a few things you can do. 1) take the rejected lamb away and let it be a bummer 2) attempt to trick the mom into thinking she just gave birth to a new lamb or 3) drag the granny inside and make her take care of the rejected lamb. I chose to go with option number two.  I placed the mothers head into the head stall so that she couldn’t get to the lamb and then proceeded to rub it against its sibling and rub it with after birth. Once momma was released she licked down the lamb and ate the placenta off of it. (yes sheep started the trend long before Kim K) She let the lamb nurse and I went home.

This morning when I arrived at the barn the mom had decided to reject the lamb again. Why is beyond me because she was pretty lovey dovey with it before I left the night before. It’s one of the most frustrating/ hard to understand things when a mother does this. None of us like to take care of bummer lambs; when you have 450+ sheep and goats to take care of its difficult to justify having a bum lamb to add to the list. Dave decided that we should see if the granny ewe would take the lamb back. She only had one lamb to begin with and was more than capable of feeding two lambs. When we brought her into the barn she instantly pushed her way to the abandoned newborn. She now is the happy mother of not one but two lambs.

Whats the moral of the story? Its that granny sheep are a giant pain in my butt… I personally dislike them. I appreciate that she stepped up to take care of the lamb. But we wouldn’t need her to if she would have just mined her own business to begin with!

Aside

I have this really great friend, Alyssa, who gave me a book a while back that she wanted me to read. It’s by Howard G. Buffet, titled Forty Chances Finding Hope in a Hungry World. To be honest I wasn’t fully prepared for what I found within its pages… I thought I knew a little bit about the world hunger crisis and its effects on agriculture… I know nothing. Well not exactly, what I know is like a drop in the ocean when we compare it to the size and scale of the issue at hand. (I haven’t even finished the book yet.)

Hunger. What is it to us? Most of us, if we can afford the luxury of reading a blog can’t imagine hunger as anything more than a minor nuisance between meals. I have never known what hunger truly feels like, I was blessed to be born into a food secure family. My wonderful parents always made sure that there was food on the table and enough money left over to cover our other expenses. Unfortunately that is not the case for all the children born in this world or even this country. How many people in this country do you think are food insecure? Well in 2011 the nations overall food insecurity rate was 16.4 %. Let me put that into simpler terms over 50 Million people were food insecure that year. Child food insecurity is much worse at 22.4% of children, thats a little over 16 million children in the US that went hungry. 19% of them were likely ineligible for government assistance because they lived just above the poverty level. Let that sink in for a minute…Thats in the land of the free, home of the brave ladies and gentlemen! Can you imagine what global hunger must be like if those are the statistics for our own dear country? Now take your imagination and times it by ten… its that bad if not worse.

I spend my Friday nights weighing lambs, tagging, docking tails, and reading.

I spend my Friday nights weighing lambs, tagging, docking tails, and reading.

I’m not trying to make you feel like you should curl up in the fetal position and cry for the rest of the day, I would much rather you go pick up a copy of Forty Chances yourself. Its going to make you think, cry (unless your heartless), but most of all I hope that this book will make you think about agriculture and global food production. Its a must read for everyone, not just farmers/ranchers or those with an agricultural interest, I mean everyone. I believe that every man/woman has a vested interest in agriculture and global food production. We all need to eat, therefore we all have to care about food production.

Farmers/ranchers/agriculturalists are however, the people that I must implore to read this book. I know that many of you barley have time to keep up with the farm and family; but you can always find a few minutes for a good read. We carry the weight of feeding the world on our shoulders, no pressure. (except there is) We already know that we have to feed 9 billion people by 2050, but we can’t even feed everyone today. Which is only a half truth because globally we produce enough food to fill every man, woman, and child’s needs. Both nutritionally and calorically. What?? Yes, we can feed everyone. ( yeah I nearly fell over when I read that too) Why don’t we? Mostly because people are jerks and thats my nice way of putting it. Food+ hungry people= power. An equation that many war lords are all to aware of. We have power too. Power in our seed genetics, technology, knowledge.

Howard really does have a way about conveying his knowledge of agriculture and global food insecurity that will change the way you think about food.

Nights at the barn

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Most people hate giving up their night to go to work, I however love it. But I do have my dream college job… I won’t be doing it forever. To me there has always been something so incredibly tranquil about being in a barn at night with the animals, especially when their are babies involved! I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on what exactly makes it so great. It’s hard to describe the peacefulness that I find when I go in to feed and check on the mama’s. Maybe its the way my coffee tastes in the cool night or the way that the mama’s snuggle up with their lambs. It could be the smell of milk replacer and the way that the bummed lambs slurp it all down. I think its all of these things and a little something extra that you can’t describe. Whatever that special something is this picture captures all of it perfectly. This little guy, only a few hours old, lounges under the feed bucket while his mamma happily munches on her feed. The barn was quiet and the moment was just to perfect. A midst all the craziness that is lambing season there are a few perfect moments like this one that remind me why I love the chaos.

Lamb-ageddon

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Do you like my play on the apocalyptic idea of armageddon? Lamb-ageddon is when you have a huge wave of lambs being born; typically on a weekend, late at night, in the middle of a snowstorm/rain/or any other crappy weather. You never have enough jugs (pens) to put the ewes and their lambs in because 15-20 ewes will lamb in 48 hours. Yeah just about every rancher has at least one massive wave of births in a short period of time during their lambing/calving season. It happens with most species of livestock and some other wild animals. For example Wildebeest will commonly cycle so that all of their calves are born in a three week period after the rains come. Why do they do this? Because if they all give birth at once the predators will be overwhelmed and won’t be able to eat as many of the babies. Why do sheep do this? Same reason… except I believe that they do it to overwhelm us! Most livestock animals are seasonally polyestrous which means that they come into heat only one time a year and they generally cycle together, this allows them to have all their babies pretty much at once. Evolutionarily and genetically this is what our animals are programed to do. We as ranchers prepare for this as much as possible.

Now I know that our lamb-ageddon is coming; we have only had one or two ewes lamb a day for the past week. That would be about average if we didn’t have 40 more ewes in the teaching flock that are due to lamb in the next 5 days…. do the math… its not going to be good. On top of the 40 that haven’t lambed we also have another 90 ewes in the Callipyge project due to start lambing on Monday. How am I going to prepare for this? Coffee, lots and lots of coffee. Maybe a little bit of red bull. To be honest there isn’t a whole lot that you can do to prepare… you keep the barn clean, extra feed on hand, and tackle the population explosion head on.

I live for lamb-ageddon. If there is one thing that I am very good at its managing the chaos that emerges when animals are giving birth. I’m the kind of person that thrives in the midst of chaos… it is one of my strong suit… and let me tell you lambing is complete and udder insanity!! Jugs need to be cleaned, lambs tagged, bum lambs fed, ewes fed, and there is always the occasional case of mastitis. Mastitis for those of you that don’t know is an infection of the mammary glands; it can be quite painful and requires antibiotics. Where was I? oh yes, I’m a rockstar at being a sheep birthing coach/nurse/doctor. So lamb-agedon may be exceptionally stressful, cause me to loose a week of sleep, and push me to my limits but I can handle it.

Food with Integrity?

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We have all heard of the chain restaurant Chipotle. A company that boasts about its “Food with Integrity” a commitment to changing how people view fast food. Their goal is to create food with quality ingredients, which may include but are not limited to anti-biotic free meat, organic vegetables, and locally sourced food supplies. Which was all fine and dandy with me in the beginning. There are many different types of agricultural operations and I stand behind the idea that agriculture should be diverse. Giving our consumers options and allowing them to make their own decisions about their health and wellbeing is something that agriculturists should always stand behind. That being said I must say that I completely disagree with Chipotle on their ad campaign, Farmed and Dangerous. Which I understand is meant to be a satire but, it actually comes off as an oxymoron in my eyes. Now I’m not stupid I know that satire is designed to make people feel strongly about something. It does, it strongly makes me feel like Chipotle is run by a bunch of morons that have little to no idea about American Agriculture.

I am an agriculturalist and a strong advocate for agriculture. I don’t know everything about agriculture (that would be nearly impossible) I do, however know enough to take a stance and form a knowledgeable argument on most topics having to do with agriculture. So here is my argument and evidence against Chipotle:

1) Integrity as we all know is a noun, its definition is: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. Now how can Chipotle believe that they are running their company in a manner that fits into the definition of integrity when they are running an ad campaign attacking the very agriculture that is producing the food that they serve? Now I know that many Chipotle fans are up in arms over this statement so let me explain: Chipotle only uses SOME antibiotic free meat, SOME organic produce, and SOME locally sourced food which means that all the other food that they use in their restaurants does not fall under those categories. Wow… right? That doesn’t seem very honest or morally upright to me…  I wouldn’t call it false advertising but, its not exactly telling the whole truth either. Where does this other unaccounted for part of their product come from? Other forms of agriculture of course!  It’s my understanding that Chipotle is striving to one day exclusively serve these products, that is not however a excuse to bash all other agricultural production methods. Other methods should not be seen as “bad” or “inhumane” but should be seen as different. I must really emphasize the DIFFERENT part of that statement. (on a side note the USDA has strict rules about animal and plant agriculture)

2) In Chipotle’s first episode of their new mini-series they aim to paint agriculture as a large, cold, inhuman industry which is completely false. Are there large farming operations out there? Yes, I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t. Are these businesses run by cruel, unfeeling, hateful people like the man in the video? For the most part no, I would be wrong to say that there are not those out there that are this way, but for the most part farmers/ranchers care very much for their animals and land. Look at it this way animals produce higher quality products and remain more productive for longer periods of time if we take care of them the way that should be taken care of. The same thing goes for the land we cultivate. If we take care of our land and animals they will take care of us. You also have to add in the family factor of farming; 97% of all farming operations are run by families, individuals, family partnerships, or family corporations. That means that large industrial corporations only make up 2% of  American Agricultural operations. So Chipotle’s painting of crude, wall street, business men running large laboratory operations simply isn’t true. It would be more accurate to say that there are families that operate large ranch or crop facilities. For example my friend Katharine is a third generation dairy farmer. Her family owns and operates a dairy in central Utah with 3,000 cows. Their dairy is a family operation her mother, father, two brothers, sister in law, and grandfather are highly involved in the day to day operations. They all care very much for the cows used in their operation and work very hard to maintain their herd at a very high standard, sometimes higher than the standards set forth by the USDA. Why do they do this? Because they know that healthy happy cows are more profitable!

3) In addition to the family aspect of agriculture there are only 2.1 million full time U.S. farms that produce 80% of our food and fiber. Think about how many people there are in the US, a little over 300 million, now think about how many farmers there are… One American farmer feeds 155 people. This means that as more people choose to live in cities we will need to have more large scale production agriculture. By 2050 we (farmers/ranchers) will have to feed 9 billion people… let that sink in for a minute. That means our food production will need to double! Which also means that farmers and ranchers will have to come up with more innovative and efficient ways to produce food and fiber. We are working to meet this challenge. Now this isn’t the image of farming that Chipotle would have you see.

4) Another idea that Chipotle plants into your head is that agriculturists are preforming weird science fair type projects on their animals in order to make more money. Well I can clear that one up real fast if you want to be rich farming isn’t for you. Seriously. Agriculture is not for the faint of heart. If you want to be a millionaire, that gets to sleep a steady eight hours a night, and has time to go on vacation for two weeks a year, and holds a 8-5 job agriculture is not for you. On average farmers get 584 hours less sleep than the average american gets in a year. Yeah thats right agriculturalists sleep less so that you can eat!

As far as the weird sci-fi science that they show in that episode well I’ve never seen it on your average farming operation… ever. We would never, ever, under any circumstances consider blowing up our cows to produce petroleum… that is beyond ridiculous. Now if you want to talk about all the cool new high tech farming and ranching methods yes we do have those. Like tractors with GPS, conservation tillage methods, and diary cows that wear tracking bands. When it comes to antibiotics, hormones, and feed additives that are used on livestock and poultry the USDA tests the products before they are allowed on the market, most of which have to be prescribed by a licensed Veterinarian. Chipotle would like you to believe that not only are we cruel but we are uneducated about the decisions that we are making, which is not true. Farmers and ranchers are highly educated about their operation and the decisions that they and their Veterinarian are making.

5) The weird science, cruelty, greed, whoring out of ones daughter, among many other things portrayed in Farmed and Dangerous personally offend me. ( I won’t even touch the whoring out ones daughter subject… because I was livid when I saw that) But above all the way that farming is portrayed as a top secret operation offends me the most. I don’t keep anything about my job in agriculture a secret. If you have questions about what its like to raise sheep ask me, I am more than willing to answer them. I know that the average person is three to four generations removed from agriculture but that is no excuse for being uneducated about where your food comes from. There are plenty of farmers/ranchers, agricultural education teachers, and 4-H extension agents that are more than willing to answer your questions, so please ask!

Chipotle, I am a farmer. I am proud to say that I am nothing like the “farmer” you portray in your mini series. I don’t know any farmers like the one you have dreamed up, props on the creativity though I never would have imagined blowing up Holsteins to produce petroleum. Maybe I’m just a kind, intelligent, average farm girl.

Note * all of my facts are from one of the following,

the American Farm Bureau web cite- http://www.fb.org

Farm Policy Facts web cite- http://www.farmpolicyfacts.org

Americas Farmers web cite- http://www.americasfarmers.com