Tag Archives: Agriculture and Forestry

I am a commercial cattle rancher.


 

The AgChat Banditas have taken over!
The AgChat Banditas have taken over!

 

Megan BrownRyan is back to school and the Agriculture Proud Banditas are back to hijacking this blog! Today’s post is by Megan Brown a commercial cattle rancher from California. Meg loves agriculture, food and cooking and in addition to the ranch works a job as a paralegal. You can read more about Megan and her ranch on her blog. TheBeefJar.com

 

I am a commercial cattle rancher in Northern California. When most people think of California, they tend to think of beaches and movie stars instead of food and fiber. However, California is the biggest, in terms of cash farm receipts, and most diversified agricultural state in our union.

Despite living in a rural area of a state that producers nearly half of our countries fruit, vegetables and nuts, I have found most of my peers have no experience with commercial ranching or farming. Many people in this area had grandparents or parents that spent time living or working on a farm, but have since sold the family farm and moved to town.

Orchard
Learning how to harvest pecans, just like their Mom, Grandpa and Great Grandpa did.

This has created a generation who grew up listening to extraordinary stories of farm life from older generations. As a result, many young people are hungry to have the same hands-on experiences that member of their family previously had. Those feelings are creating opportunity for those of us in production agriculture, if we choose to see it that way.

The first time she fed a pig. Her Grandparents used to own a large farm in the area. This is her heritage.
The first time she fed a pig. Her Grandparents used to own a large farm in the area. This is her heritage.

Unless you are a child with access to 4-H, FFA or other agricultural related group, a checkbook seems to be the best way to get hands-on knowledge about agriculture, and some specialized farmers are capitalizing on this opportunity. Workshops and classes are popping up, charging anywhere from several hundred to several thousands of dollars to live and work on a farm.

Learning horses aren't like in the movies. They require a lot of work!
Learning horses aren’t like in the movies. They require a lot of work!

Since we all eat, I think we all should have access and knowledge about our food supply, and it should not be an exclusive or expensive lesson. Since I am in the unique position of living on a commercial cattle ranch, I’ve made a huge effort to open my barn door to anyone who wants to learn about what I do. This has paid huge dividends, not necessarily financially, but in arguably more satisfying ways.

Do you remember the first time you got to visit a farm? That memory stayed with you, didn’t it?
Do you remember the first time you got to visit a farm? That memory stayed with you, didn’t it?

From adults to children, the look on people’s faces when they first see a calf nursing from its mother, or a chicken eat a bug, or when they touch a pig for the first time, is priceless to me. Often they share memories that have been passed down from when their family farmed, and in that instant, they get to walk a mile in my shoes. I am grateful for the opportunity.

His first time in a pasture with cattle. “They don’t stink!” he says.
His first time in a pasture with cattle. “They don’t stink!” he says.

By giving the public the access to their food as I have, I take away the fear of the unknown. I take away their trust in animal activists that claim our animals are mistreated. I reconnect them to part of their heritage and sometimes inspire them to start a garden or enroll their kids in 4-H. In turn they share their experience on my commercial ranch with their urban friends, often on their social media profiles or, like my most recent visitor Jenny, on their own blogs 

I urge other farmers and ranchers to take some time out of your busy schedule and offer to take your urban and non-ag friends around your ranch. For those of you not in production agriculture, I urge you to visit some farms and ranches. In my experience, opening up not just our barns, but our way of life to the people who ultimately consume the food we grow, benefits both agriculture and society as a whole.

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Ag Proud Outsider


The AgChat Banditas have taken over!
The AgChat Banditas have taken over!

 

Brandi Buzzard

 

Native Kansan with a passion for K-State, agriculture, rodeo and free speech. Two-time K-State alumna with a background in animal science, rodeo and some livestock production combined with a tremendous love for writing and communicating. I find joy in the simple things: college sports, hot chocolate, ‘me time’ and a close circle of family and friends. I blog about a wide assortment of topics including agriculture, rodeo, K-State, home decorating, cooking, clothing and married life, you can check out my blog by clicking HERE. 

 

I’m a bit of a rogue when it comes to livestock production. My family has really never produced pork, poultry or beef for other people’s tables. I grew up rodeoing and showing livestock – we didn’t have any mama cows whose calves we sold in the fall but we did have roping/bucket calves and steers, some show pigs and several horses.

When I got more involved in the agriculture industry, I thought I was different from everyone else because I wasn’t necessarily a producer of food. I worked with hogs and cattle during my master’s research and continued to show livestock during my first few years in collegiate 4-H but somehow I never felt worthy of talking about calving or feeding cows and the like.

Since then, I’ve married a farm boy whose family has a diversified crop operation, a cow/calf herd and feeds cattle for a branded program. I’ve learned a lot by helping take care of their cattle and also by helping my dad feed and check cattle on the weekends for his employer.

Grazing at sunset

As I’ve arrived at this juncture in my life, where I can start planning my business ventures, I’ve come to realize that although I may only own horses (and believe me that’s no small task) I still have a lot in common with producers who own cattle, hogs, sheep etc. Additionally, I’ve got the scientific knowledge of many facets of pork and beef production and hopefully, one day very soon, I’ll have my own cattle to start the ownership learning phase. While a degree isn’t a necessity by any stretch of the word, (there are multitudes of folks without degrees who are the big-time leaders and players in their industry), I am confident that it will at least help me make decisions regarding my animals’ health and well-being.

Like all producers, I love living the farm/country lifestyle – I had to live in town during college and in the middle of a metropolis in Australia – and it’s fantastic to be back in the country. I can look out my backdoor and see my horses in the pasture or the neighbor’s cows across the road.

I want to raise my future kids the same way my husband and I were raised so we can teach them hard work and values. You learn best by bruises, scraped chins and trial and error.  My future kidlings will rise in the morning and feed their bucket calves and show animals, they’ll do chores and clean pens and their biggest toy will be the great outdoors, a.k.a the back yard and pasture.

Brandi Buzzard

 

Like most producers and ag folks, I don’t want to be given anything for free. I want to have earned my way and be proud of the fruits of my labor. I think that’s one of agriculture’s defining characteristics, we’re proud of what we have earned and done, even if it may not be much by Wall Street standards.

It’s these shared values of hard work, determination (and a little bit of mule headedness), love of the country and making my own way that make me proud to be an agriculturalist. Although I’m not there yet, I will one day be a livestock owner (more than just horses) and in the meantime, I am excited to continue sharing my love of agriculture, the land and the legacy of food production with consumers.

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Cattle 101 – The Life of a Beef Cow


I need to continue with my Chronicles of #ThePile by passing on a little #AgNerd vocabulary. I’ve been in the office for the past few weeks, reading research papers and background on my project. Writing the literature review for my Master’s degree program is proving a difficult task in the middle of summer. I have to keep telling myself the more I accomplish now, the less it’ll hurt later.

I’ve been asked more than once what is the difference between a cow and a heifer. A heifer has not given birth to offspring. A cow has given birth once or more. To be more specific, we can break it down into more technical terms.

Here’s a new addition to my beef cattle glossary:

  • Parity- Number of different times a female has had offspring.


In this case we’re talking cattle, of course I reckon it applies to any female who bears offspring. Cows are classified into 3 parities.

Young cows who have yet to give birth to a calf are known as nulliparous

In reference to this Summer (2012), this nulliparous heifer would have been born Spring 2011. She was bred at the age of 15 months of age and will calve at 24 months of age. If this sounds like a very young animal, don’t be alarmed. Cattle will reach puberty and start estrus cycles a month or two before breeding age.

The goal is to have heifers close to 65% of mature weight at breeding, and 85% of mature weight when having their first calf. For a cow who will be 1,100 pounds when full-grown that’s approximately 715 pounds at breeding and 935 after first calving.

A cow who has given birth once is referred to as primiparous

This primiparous cow was born in the Spring of 2010 and had her first calf in February 2012. Best management practices aim to breed nulliparous heifers so they’ll have their first calf a month ahead of the mature cow herd. This gives the primiparous cows an extra 30 days to regain weight, provide nutrients for peak milk production, and prepare her reproductive tract for rebreeding.

Cows will naturally rebreed within the first few months after giving birth. Farmers actually keep the bulls separated from the cows to give some to recuperate after having birth (I imagine it’s pretty hard work giving birth) and to maintain a uniform calving season. We want cows to calve within a month or two of each other so we can provide adequate nutrition for the entire group easier and calves will be more uniform at weaning and easier to feed.

Ideally we want cows to calve no more than every 365 days. (Remember farming is a business and we have to pay the bills too. Calves are our source of income.) In this case, cows should rebreed within 80 days of calving if they have plenty to eat. This is even without any interventions by the farmer. Any cows that don’t breed back within the specified breeding season will likely be culled (removed) from the group and replaced with younger cows. Reasons for animals not rebreeding are as numerous as the stars.

Cows who have given birth to 2 or more calves are referred to as multiparous

This cow is multiparous. She was born in 2009 or earlier and has given birth to 3 or more calves. Cows that have given birth 5 or more times are referred to as grand multiparous. These cows will be of mature weight, have fully developed udders (mammary glands). These cows are generally the easiest keepers in the herd – meaning we worry less about calving difficulties (compared to primiparous cows who are may not be mature size) and will generally have a higher rebreeding rate during the breeding season.

Once these cows get to age 7 or 8 (greatly depending on environment or genetic stresses) production starts to decline (peak milk production, maintenance of body weight/condition, and weaning calf weight). This can be attributed to things like wearing down of the teeth or unsound (long, cracked, generally making it uncomfortable to walk) feet. Most cows will remain in the herd from 8-10 years, some lasting 12-15 or even longer.

It’s important to cull (remove) from the herd, cows that do not produce a calf. Like I said before, farming is a business. Cows cost money to feed year-round (Whether on grass or receiving hay/supplement feed). If a cow doesn’t have a calf to sell one year, she can’t pay for her keep and the farmer still has to pay the bills. So the best management is to cull open (not pregnant) cows and replace them with a cow who will have a calf and pay for her feed.

Most cows will go to slaughter after being removed from the herd. These cows may spend time receiving some extra feed while on smaller pastures. Most go straight from grass pastures to market. Everyone claims these cows are just hamburger, but actually many parts are used for whole cuts – think deli meats or roasts. This page from Ontario does a decent job of explaining who meat from a cull cow ends up being used.

Ah… to have the life of a cow!

Well, what started as a short post in response to one question, ended up with a lot more information. I could have gone on for days about the life of a cow in the beef cattle herd, but we’ll leave it for another post.

While reading this post, what questions came to mind about the life of a beef cow?

Let me know in the comments section and you’ll give me a chance to write another Cattle 101 post.

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Why Do We Care?


Wednesday was just another busy day at the feedyard. Plenty of cattle going through the processing barn receiving vaccinations and ear tags. The cowboys were putting off their morning pen riding as long as possible by quizzing the Vet during his monthly visit. Here I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off, getting the morning tasks finished up. I had some paper work to finish up, a medicine delivery at 11, and three cattle trucks arriving at 11:30. Simple enough right?

Come about 2:30, roughly an hour and a half before the feeders finish on a normal day, I heard the batch room operator over the radio, “Guys we will be down for about an hour. Something broke off in the batcher and has made its way into the finish feed leg.” One feed truck driver lets out a gruntled “10-4″, another shouts a sarcastic “Woo-Hoo”, and I can just imagine the 3rd looking at her watch, knowing her kid is waiting at the grandparent’s house. The air lifts shut off at the mill and I once again realize how quiet it can be in the middle of 65,000 cattle. Continue reading