I eat. You farm. So what? – Cause Matters

I’m often struggle with making the non-ag translation when talking about ranch life. Sometimes it has a lot to do with opportunity. So I thought this post from Cause Matters would be a good example of a conversation between a consumer and farmer in a grocery story. Some times as farmers and ranchers we have to learn to speak on a non-ag level when conveying our messages.

Food plate & farmer

Here’s the thing; I don’t really get why farmers are on the warpath. Really! We can get our food from anywhere. I just care that our family has food that’s affordable and safe. And I’ve heard some pretty bad things about you farmers.

You are poisoning water and soil by using pesticides and insecticides. Our family plays in the creeks and ponds on our land. Our kids chase fireflies through soybean fields, while playing hide and seek in corn fields. Do you really think we’re going to pour poisons in fields that surround our family home? By the way, our well for water is between the house and the field. We understand that it’s not cool to use bad chemicals, which is why we rely on a whole lot of science, research and technology to ensure we’re using the right products.

Big farms are bad, and you all seem to be getting bigger. What size of school does your child go to? There are many different sizes of schools that offer options and choices for families. Likewise, we have a mix of large and small businesses in America due to our free marketplace. The same is true for farm families; some choose to farm a large number of acres or work with many animals, while others have small operations. 97% of farms in the U.S. are still owned by families; they deserve a right to choose the best option for their family and business like other Americans, don’t they?

Animals are abused on today’s farms. I’ve worked with animals my whole life. If you’ve seen the sensationalized videos from animal rights groups, I want you to know they probably impact me even more than you. Animals that live in barns are actually in a lot better conditions – they get to stay at one temperature, avoid predators and have a environment that’s customized to their every need. Barns do look different today than in 1970, but isn’t the same true of computers, doctors offices and stores? Yes, animals die to feed humans, but we respect their sacrifice and care for them in the best way possible.

I’ve heard farm subsidies are making you rich on our tax dollars. There are a lot of mixed opinions on this, even within agriculture. However, the big thing people don’t realize about the “farm” program is that 86% of it is for mothers and children in need of food assistance. And I’m not asking for a handout from anyone, but we manage millions of dollars of risk every year – sometimes the safety net has kept our family in business – and is a tiny part of our net has kept our family in business – and is a tiny part of our national budget.

Biotechnology is evil. Do I look like Satan? Sorry, just joking. Our family chooses biotechnology because it’s the right tool for our farm. But more importantly, there are a lot of hungry people around the world, a problem that’s getting worse with a growing population. I was on a mission trip last year to Africa and saw some this myself. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a hungry child? It haunts me – and that’s why biotechnology is a tool that we choose.

Hormones are making our kids develop way too soon! I have a daughter, so I get your concern – we don’t want to have kindergarteners in bras. Kids are growing more and faster because our diets are better.  Did you know there’s more hormones in a serving of broccoli than in a steak? People need to remember that all food has hormones – and it always has.

It’s been interesting to talk with you.  Are you on Facebook or are there ways we can stay connected? Sure, would be glad to connect with you. Our farm’s Facebook page has a lot of pictures to give you an inside look on what’s happening.  I’m also on Twitter and will put up some videos to show you what we’re doing during harvest. I’d also suggest you check out these websites…

Cool. I like that we share the same values. We may not always agree, but I appreciate what you do as a farmer a lot more after we’ve talked.  And I’ll remember you when I shop for our food.


If you’re buying food, when have you sought out a person involved on a farm or ranch? Same for those in agriculture… when was the last time you really made an effort to relate on human terms instead of ag terms?

via I eat. You farm. So what? – Cause Matters.


Spontaneous Combustion

Last night I was doing some digging around on facts and figures of hay quality. Scooter Moody (@moodycattle) forwarded me a link to a great fact sheet on hay quality. The topic I was looking at is Moisture content. Have you ever heard of a barn burning because the hay spontaneously combust? Well it’ll combust alright, but it’s more than just an “up-and-decide-to-burn” thing. There’s a whole process behind it.

Since I’m in the middle of the hay fields I figured you might like to know a little more about hay moisture and what I’m talking about when I talk about letting the hay dry or cure. It’s either that or let the barn burn down… I’ve seen it happen. Like I’ve said before, cattle ranching is more than riding horses into the sunset. There’s quite a bit of figurin and thinkin going on inside the head of every cattleman. Sometimes that thinkin is a lil slower than normal.

Moisture content From the Mizzou Fact Sheet

When forage plants are cut, the plant continues to breathe until the moisture content of the plants falls below 40 percent. Dry matter is lost during this process, and in some cases the loss may be as high as 15 percent. Respiration losses, however, are usually about 5 or 6 percent of the total dry matter. In normal hay curing, you cannot eliminate these losses.

When the moisture content of hay drying in the field reaches about 40 percent, further dry matter losses are due to raking and baling. Losses from these operations range from 10 to 25 percent, with most losses averaging about 15 percent. Dry matter losses from raking and baling are especially severe because most of these losses come from the most valuable part of the hay — the leaves.

Using hay crimpers and crushers can greatly reduce dry matter loss. Their use reduces curing time in the swath, exposure to the weather, leaf shattering and respiration losses. All serious hay producers use crimpers and/or crushers.

The key to keeping dry matter losses of hay to a minimum are:

  • bale at a moisture level low enough to prevent excessive heating,
  • Prevent infiltration of moisture into the hay after it has been baled.

When hay is baled, it should not be higher than 18 to 22 percent moisture. At higher levels of moisture, bales lose large amounts of dry matter (Figure 1) caused by excessive heating and molding (Figure 2). In severe cases, spontaneous combustion is possible.

Spoilage loss in bales made from alfalfa-grass at different moisture levelsFigure 2
Spoilage loss in bales made from alfalfa-grass at different moisture levels.

Although there is no danger of burned buildings when you store large bales outside, excessive heating and molding can occur, resulting in large dry matter losses. Therefore, don’t bale hay to be stored in the field until the moisture level reaches 18 to 22 percent. See Table 1.

Table 1
Dry matter losses of alfalfa-grass in big bales under different storage conditions. (Howard David Currence, MU.)

First cutting hay

  • Moisture at baling
    36 percent
  • Dry matter loss
    Inside storage
    17.8 percent
    Outside storage
    26.6 percent

Second cutting hay

  • Moisture at baling
    24 percent
  • Dry matter loss
    Inside storage
    12.2 percent
    Outside storage
    15.2 percent

Heating occurs to some extent in all forage material unless it contains less than 15 percent moisture.

The extent of temperature rise and duration of heat production in hay depends on moisture content. A relative humidity of 90 to 100 percent, which favors mold development, can develop in 20 percent moisture hay that is stored inside. The heat generated by the metabolic activity of the microorganisms and plant respiration increase the temperature of hay (Figure 3). Heat resistant fungi are active when the temperature is between 113 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Causative agents in the heating of hay
Figure 3
Causative agents in the heating of hay.

A large variety and number of microorganisms are associated with plant material in the field, but fungi are the microbes primarily responsible for breakdown of complex carbohydrates. Heating above 175 degrees Fahrenheit results in thermal death of microbes; then heat-producing chemical reactions serve to further increase temperatures. A subsequent rapid oxidation of reactive compounds may cause a further temperature rise to an ignition point of 448 to 527 degrees Fahrenheit. If enough oxygen is present, flames will erupt. The time required for heating to combustion may vary from four to 10 weeks, depending on storage and climatic conditions and on the moisture content of the forage.

The obvious consequence of spontaneous heating of forages is combustion, which has resulted in numerous barn and silo fires. But molding of forages and heating to temperatures below ignition also result in serious losses of forage quality and quantity. Available carbohydrate and protein portions of forages are reduced. Carbohydrates are used in microbial metabolism and subsequent chemical oxidation. Protein is bound in an unavailable form (sugar-protein polymer) through browning or the Maillard reaction.

Moisture levels for safe storage of hay vary with size and density of the bale and type of hay. In general, hay in small rectangular bales should be baled at less than 22 percent moisture to keep molding and heating to a minimum. Large round bales retain internal heat much longer than conventional bales. Therefore, hay should be less than 18 percent moisture before baling in large bales. If you are storing or sheltering some of your big bales, this long-term heat retention affects the proper time to move big bales into storage. See Figure 2. Hay baled with more than 22 percent moisture should probably not be put into storage for at least 30 days. This is especially true if bales are to be stacked several layers deep.

With the threat of barn fires removed by outside hay storage, many operators of large round balers try to bale hay with too much moisture. But excessive heating and molding can cause the loss of as much as one-third of the feeding value of hay baled at 28 percent moisture.