Tag Archives: eatocracy

CNN Eatocracy: ‘Frostbite on their teats’ and other cold weather farming issues


Despite all the cold during the past few weeks, farmers and ranchers across the country have been out and about, taking care of their livestock, and getting things done on the farm and ranch. I wrote an article that looked at several of these cold weather tasks that was published on CNN Eatocracy yesterday. It was published without many of the links to the farmers’ blogs, so I thought I would post it here. Let me know if you’ve seen other ag blog posts talking about working in the bitterly cold weather. And hop on over to CNN Eatocracy and join in the comments section.

cows in the snow

Last year we talked about the fact that there is no such thing as a snow day on the farm or ranch. Livestock must still be fed, equipment must still be maintained, and preparations for the next growing season continue. All of that work becomes much more difficult when the mercury drops well below zero degrees.

The livestock take priority for many farmers and ranchers in these situations. Preparations for the storm include making sure all supplies are on hand, generators are maintained, equipment is prepared to start in very cold conditions, and extra feed is close by in the event that travel is impaired. Despite all the preparations, it is difficult to be ready for everything that will occur when the weather turns for the worse.

Podcast: Farmers go to extremes to keep their livestock healthy during weather extremes. Dr. Michelle Arnold joins Ray Bowman on Food and Farm to talk about caring for lactating livestock in winter. Click here to listen.

For dairy farmers, the cows must still be milked every day, no matter the weather. Minnesota Organic Dairy farmers Tim and Emily Zweber explained how important it is to provide a sheltered barn in -54 degree wind chills. Cows that do not stay in the warm sand beds may get frostbite on their teats. A very uncomfortable situation to say the least.

Patrick Mess in Wisconsin has been bringing the newborn calves into the shop for shelter and affixing doors on the hutches for older calves to protect them from the -20 degrees temperatures. This goes along with making sure the milking parlor stays warms and functional for every milking.

Even in eastern Kansas, the Heim dairy farm family experienced -30 degree wind chills. David and Jennifer were working hard to provide warm bedding in the barns for their cows and calves despite tractors not starting in the cold.

Most beef cattle ranchers will not bring their cattle indoors. However, if calving is near, a newborn may end up in the house overnight. Cattle are incredibly resilient and are able to stay warm through thick winter hair coats that act as insulation. As long as they are able to stay dry and find shelter from the wind, like a shed or trees, cattle will stay warm.

Cattle produce body heat from digestion of hay and forages in their rumen (large stomach compartment) and are able to stay warm in most conditions. One of the main challenges in this weather is keeping water sources thawed. As Kansas rancher Debbie Blythe shows, even the no-freeze water tanks ice over when it drops below zero.

For smaller animals like turkeys, chickens, and pigs, keeping warm can be more of a challenge. This is where it really pays off to have barns that retain heat well. Even when wind chills dropped to -26 on the Olson family farm in Minnesota, Carolyn’s pig barns never dropped below 73 degrees.

In Ohio, the Wildman family raises pigs and must make sure that generator power sources are ready for when power goes out on their rural farm. Extra feed supplies must be on hand when roads become impassible so farm from town.  Even in Iowa, turkey farmers like the Olthoff family are working to keep their livestock barns warm and insulating feed and water sources to make sure nothing freezes up.

bull in the snow

Despite all the preparation that may occur, not everything will go right on the farm and ranch when it gets this cold. Diesel tractors will not start, equipment will break, and a water line will freeze. The farmers and ranchers are in the fields and barns, working around the clock, waiting for things to warm back up.

Oh, and we did not even mention the bread and milk grocery run! Hopefully the farmers and ranchers remember to stop for a bite to eat and keep themselves warm as well.

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CNN Eatocracy: How has farming changed since 1978 and “So God Made a Farmer”?


Paul Harvey So God Made a Farmer compared with today's farmsThis week has been an exciting one for those discussing food and farming. Sunday’s airing of RAM Truck’s Super Bowl ad featuring the American Farmer has had online communities buzzing about the images and characteristics that defined our farmers in 1978.

Those characteristics and values still hold true today, despite what we commonly hear in mainstream media and reports from those who have a ‘beef’ with modern farming.

Also read this post and join the conversation on CNN Eatocracy

Paul Harvey first recited “So God Made a Farmer” at the 1978 Future Farmers of America annual convention. A few things have changed in the three and a half decades since. My dad was in Junior High (and still had a full head of hair). Since then, he has raised a few thousand cattle, has broken in a few new pickups, and harvested several crops of hay.

So how do things compare between 1978 and today?

Using the numbers from our most recent U.S. Agriculture Survey (2007, a new one is being conducted for 2012), here are some interesting comparisons:

In 1978, there were 2,257,775 farms, averaging 449 acres each. In 2007, those numbers reduced to 2,204,792 farms averaging 418 acres each. Farmers today are actually smaller by 31 acres.

Today the market value of farmland and buildings is $1,892 per acre. That is up from $619 per acre in 1978 - an increase of $1,273 per acre.

Continue reading more about how the stats compare between now and 1978 over on the CNN Eatocracy page. It’s a great place to join the conversation and share your experience on how things are different or the same.

My highlight of 2012: CNN Eatocracy


eatocracyThe comment that started it all:

I’m from a family farm with cattle, horses, and on occasion a few pigs, chickens for our own freezer. I’ve also worked in large cattle feedlots in different parts of the country. Farmers (both large and small) I’ve worked with all care about providing a quality life for their animals. There’s no other way around it. If someone doesn’t, we have a problem to work out. It’s our responsibility, and do the best we can with tools, technology, and respond to customer demands. Gestation crates were one of those tools for pig farmers.

Ryan Goodman AgricultureBack in June, I made a decision that would take my advocacy efforts to a new level. It was on this post from CNN Eatocracy covering the crate-debate. Many folks were discussing the use of gestation crates in pork production and I wanted to add my 2-cents just like I have on hundreds of other online news articles. This one was in the right place at the right time.

I am so thankful for CNN Editor Kat Kinsman in 2012. For whatever reasons when she read my comment, it sparked enough interest for a follow up and eventually open doors for myself and few other farmers to share our thoughts with the CNN Eatocracy audience.

That event turned into my first CNN Eatocracy post and several others.

cnn eatocracy july 2012I really don’t know how to say thank you enough other than to say it made my year to receive that opportunity to share a bit of the farming world and links to my many fellow ag bloggers with that audience. I am so thankful for the support of the many friends who have read my posts, left encouraging comments, and guided me in how to be a better advocate for my beliefs.

An even larger bit of gratitude goes out to those have increased their efforts to reach out and share their message of food production with our customers.

I hope 2013 brings better understanding and many more great opportunities for the agriculture community to reach out to customers and answer their questions about our food supply.

Be sure to catch up on the Top Posts and other highlights on my blog from 2012 on this previous post.

CNN Eatocracy: What should a ‘local’ farm (and farmer) look like?


I have another article on CNN’s food blog, Eatocracy, this week! This time I’m bringing up the discussion of local food from the perspective of a farmer who most do not consider as ‘local’.  Be sure to read the entire article and join the discussion on CNN’s page.

CNN Local FoodThe term “local” is used frequently in conversations centered on the American food system. Is it 50 miles from your home or 500? Must the food be purchased directly from the farmer? Can the food be sourced by a retailer and sold under a “local” label for stronger buying power?

I have listened to several panel discussions on food topics over the past year and the topic of local food sources normally pops up. Some of these panel discussions have included suburban or urban mothers and restaurant owners. When asked what they considered local food and farmers, a common theme arises, and it bothers me: the urban ideal of what local farmers should look like.

My family has raised beef cattle in Arkansas for several generations. Most of our cattle are shipped to the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles and Western Kansas. These areas have ample feed available for cattle and farmers who specialize in feeding cattle until they reach their harvest weight. In these parts of the country, the land is flat, more arid, and conducive to higher populations of livestock than people.

We feed a few cattle for local harvest each year to feed our family and occasionally a neighbor will buy a fattened beef for their family. We have focused primarily on cattle production rather than adding in diverse local marketing. Is my family considered a “local farm” to our area? I would not have second-guessed that assumption a few years ago.

lazy cowI grew up in the heart of Arkansas cattle and farmland. Our county produces far more beef and crops than could ever be consumed by the local population of 78,000. We are thankful for a national market to trade our cattle and be able to reinvest in our land and livestock and feed our families.

Now I find myself in Knoxville, Tennessee with a metro-area population over 700,000 people. We have several local farms and multiple seasonal farmers marketsaround town. There is a regional dairy brand and we are surrounded by cattle, swine, and poultry livestock farms as well as many vegetable farms. Unfortunately, there are far too many people in the area for immediate farmers to supply our food needs. We are thankful for a national market to bring in food supplies from farmers in more rural parts of the country.

Many folks, like the panelist moms and restaurant owners, look at my family and say we are not local farmers simply because we do not provide for their food preference. As a family farmer trying to make a living with the skills I know best, those statements offend me.

My family contributes to the local economy, buying our supplies in local shops and paying all of our taxes. We are every bit a part of the local community as anyone else. Why should we be looked down upon because we make a good business decision for our livelihood when marketing our livestock? Sometimes I wonder if America is just a country full of food snobs.

If there were a stronger demand for our beef in a local market, we would probably sell more beef to neighbors. If all of our neighboring farmers did the same, what would happen to the excess? Where would folks in places like Knoxville receive their beef? What about larger cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, or New York?

Local food is a great choice and opportunity for many folks, but there is a stronger need for national markets to provide food on a consistent and broader scale. Farmers like my family should not be looked down upon because we do what is best for our future, our land, livestock, or even business.

Invest money in what you believe is important for your community, health and family, but do not look down on others because they make different food choices. Remember, you can make multiple choices; local on some things, national on others, and other people will make the right choices for themselves and their family. We should all be thankful for what we have. Things are pretty great and certainly could be far worse.

Do you want to discuss food options with more farmers and friends of agriculture? Try folks like the Zwebers who run an organic dairy in Minnesota, central Utah dairy farmer Trent BownBrian Scott who grows crops in Indiana, Alabama Slow Food farmer Jan Hoadley, Kentucky-based butcher Amy Sipes, blogger Janice Person, farming advocate Anthony Pannone and many others using the #agchat tag on Twitter.

What defines local for you? Should family farmers be penalized because they market a product to a national community? How can you strengthen the market for local products in your community? Let’s have a conversation, starting in the comments.