Tag Archives: Sustainable Agriculture

Cheerleading for Team Agriculture!


Did you think the Banditas were gone? Hardly! We will be popping in here and there to keep you all entertained so be sure to be on the lookout for us! 

Jennifer ElwellBandita Jennifer Elwell lives near Louisville, Kentucky and is the mom of two. She enjoys her horses, finding creative ways to encourage her kids to eat healthfully, and singing in the church choir (that’s a new found love). She has been the Director of Communications for the Kentucky Corn Growers Associations and Kentucky Small Grain Growers Associations since 1998, while providing graphic design and web services to several national and state associations. She is involved in CommonGround , a national program that works to connect women from both sides of the farm gate, and other state farm advocacy programs. Her latest projects include the Kentucky Farms Feed Me  virtual field trip and education program for teachers and a new blog that showcases Kentucky food and farmers, Kentucky Food and Farm Files

I remember really wanting to be a cheerleader when I was a little girl. I remember envying my friends who took tumbling classes and cheered for the local youth sports teams. And it always seemed as if those girls were the most popular. Unfortunately my parents did not have the money for such extra-curricular activities, and I convinced myself that I was too big, too clumsy, and not popular enough. But look at me now. Who would have thought that I would become a cheerleader in my late 30s?

How I got to this point in my life is a long story, but it started with my mother’s love of horses. Horse-crazy lady marries farm boy who shares her love. I grow up on a small farm with lots of horses, and I became Miss Kentucky 4-H Horse Program (that’s not a real title, but if it were, I was “it” in my teens). I’d like to admit that I dreamed of working with horses, but I did not. I was a natural science nerd (still am), and I was convinced I would become a research geneticist. After a series of events not worth mentioning here, I ended up at my land-grant university, the University of Kentucky, studying farm animals. I was thrilled to be one of the many scholarship recipients, which in part was due to my involvement in the 4-H program. I hate to sound like I settled because of a financial situation, but I now know this was my path. (Lesson 1: Money is available for those studying agriculture.)

I soon figured out that I craved a creative outlet, so I weaved journalism and public relations into my studies. I sought out every opportunity that would help me land the career of my dreams. (Lesson 2: Make your opportunities).

So I graduate, my mother bribes me to refuse a job away from home by buying me a horse, and I shortly-there-after land the job I have to this very day, working for farmers. (Lesson 3: Listen to your mother.)

Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.
Jennifer talking with a Lexington, Ky. Incredible Food Show visitor as part of the CommonGround program.

Over the years I have learned quite a lot: what it takes to grow crops, the struggles farmers face, etc. I talk with the farmers I serve on regular basis. I feel that I have the inside story, which is most often quite contrary to many of the messages dispersed by non-farming intellectuals and sensationalism-loving media. I wonder if I can even compete against the anti-ag rhetoric. After a year or so of wondering what I can do, I suck it up and start blogging. My first post on “Food, Mommy!” was “Why I Choose to Eat Meat.” I expected to get some feedback from those who do not agree with me, but the positive comments far outweighed the negative. (Lesson 4: Don’t be a wuss.)

Now I’m smack dab in the middle of the social media age. My efforts have connected me to farmers, food processors, and agri-business folks like myself from all over America. I continue to learn from them. I have posted about not wanting to buy organic, but I now talk with organic farmers, and I can feel good about what they are doing as well. (Just don’t try to sell me one by stomping on the other!) I continue to educate myself about farming and food technology. I see changes that are being made, not only to meet consumer demands, but what research has shown to produce nutritious, safe food with less impact on our environment. The system is naturally moving in that direction. (Lesson 5: Never stop learning. Never stop moving forward.)

So now I see myself as the CHEERLEADER I have always wanted to be, and my version is a heck of a lot better than being tossed in the air with a skimpy skirt on. And I have learned that being an effective cheerleader for the farming world has nothing to do with how loud you can yell, but how willing you are to listen and have a candid conversation. (Lesson 6: Not everyone has the same perspective as you, so be willing to open your ears before running your mouth.)

The point of this tale is not to showcase what I have done, but encourage others to join the team. We need you! The best part of my journey is that I am just one cheerleader of many, and we come from all walks of life. We are rallying together to make sure the story of American agriculture is being shared in as many places as possible. We are not BIG AG. We are people that appreciate having access to healthy, affordable food. (Last Lesson: Be Agriculture Proud!)

How do I build fences for livestock?

Tools for building livestock fencesPasture Fencing: Everyone has their own way of doing it. Every situation is different. No two fences are the same. Whether the project is a short two hours of patching or an extended building project, each needs its fair share of planning! It’s one of my favorite things to do when I need a little time to myself to get something accomplished

If not familiar with cattle operations, one might ask why pasture fences are even necessary. Cattle are ruminant animals, meaning they graze forages, primarily grasses, legumes, and other plants. They spend the majority of their day grazing and ruminating (re-chewing) these forages and so fences help to manage their movements, grazing habits, and prevent overgrazing on areas that are more palatable.

Cross fences are an invaluable resource in livestock and pasture management. Over the years, many industry professionals have looked into the design and types of fencing to be used. Some proponents of natural herdsmanship avoid the use of pasture fencing, in favor of managing livestock under more natural herd mentalities.

For a fencing project of any size, whether it be mending or rebuilding project, detailed planning is required. The following questions are important to figuring out the detail of the fencing project.

  • What is the purpose of the fencing project? Will this project benefit current management practices?
  • Does the fence design complement livestock species, type, and size?
  • Does the fence design fit within a predetermined budget? Will the benefits pay for the costs of the project?

building livestock fences of water ditches creeksWhen considering the fencing project it is important, to consider how the design applies to current and future forage, range, and management practices. Pasture forages are the most important assets of a grazing program. If these forages are not managed properly, pasture quality will suffer. This is especially important to consider with intensive grazing programs, rotational grazing, and range grazing programs. If pasture design is not complementary to the environment, forage conditions can deteriorate, resulting in the need for new stand establishment.

Pasture fencing needs to complement livestock management. Cross fencing and individual pasture management is key to managing livestock facilities. In breeding management programs, livestock separation may be key to breeding, calving schedules. Livestock nutrition is important to manage properly. Pasture must be of adequate size for stocking rates and grazing patterns for different species.

building livestock fences to manage resourcesEvery good fence starts with a solid anchor. Solid corner/anchor posts are vital to a fence’s longevity. Following a solid anchor there are other key parts to fence design to consider:

  • Is fence height sufficient for livestock?
  • Is wire type adequate? Barbed wire, box wire, field fence, electric strand, barbless wire. Some wires may be more dangerous for some livestock species than others.
  • Is wire and/or post spacing adequate for livestock species/size? Smaller livestock need smaller spacing. Calves may crawl through wires with too much spacing. Legs injuries are possible with too little spacing.
  • Is fence design durable for the landscape and terrain? Within one stretch of fence, terrain may change between flat stretches, steep hillsides, water crossings, wooded areas, and swamps. Each may require slight changes in fence specifications.
  • Is fence design durable against pressure from livestock? In areas with increased stock density or smaller widths, livestock pressure will increase upon fences. Wire should be placed between posts and the heaviest pressures (i.e. the inside of an alley or the uphill side of a slope).
measuring distance to build livestock fences
It’s important to measure the distance of your fencing project

Draw out plans for the project. Figure included costs: materials, labor, weather delays, and grazing time loss. Figure in a little extra some unexpected costs that might show up during the project. Is all the necessary equipment on hand? This includes a few pairs of fencing pliers, wire stretchers, post diggers, tamping bars, guide string for placing posts, hammers, steeples, fence clips, and steel-post drivers. Don’t forget everything that will be included in the fence itself: wire, wood posts, steel posts, brace wire, and cement for anchor posts.

Continued fence maintenance is crucial to fence longevity. This includes periodic checking for fallen trees, collected debris after rainfall, and breaks due to wildlife/livestock crossings. As a fence ages, rusting and rotting of materials may require increased maintenance.

building livestock pasture fencesListed below are just a few links to sites/documents on the subject. Your states local extension website likely has available factsheets on fencing design, pasture management, stocking rate and density, as well as fencing specifications.

What have you learned from your fencing experiences? I want to hear your story.

Why DO I Advocate For Agriculture

I find this pretty interesting. Out of 5 kids in my family, I am the only one with the slightest interest in a future in Agriculture. I’ve got a brother who is into mechanics, another that has interest in accounting/banking, a sister that’s smarter than us all and loves science, and another that… (well I’m not sure what she wants to do). Point being, I’m the only one carrying on agriculture in my family.

My brother and I went for a drive a few weeks ago. He’s starting his Senior year in high school and already thinking about college. He is looking into the accounting field and business. My family probably gets tired of my agvocacy (It might come up often). In passing, I usually mention jobs and careers in agriculture related fields, usually sparking up crickets. To be honest, it kinda frustrates me. So I asked my brother, why not go into AgBusiness in college. You can still do accounting, get most of the skills of a business major, but in an ag setting, and have an additional skills that’ll help your career in this rural part of the country. I get an automatic shut out.

So we decide to approach it as a debate, just to get thoughts out there and keep some type of conversation flowing. He says there is no interest in agriculture, and not everyone has to be in ag production. We still need processing and transport for food.

True. So I come up with this description. In my generation, with all our spouses, I’ll be one person producing food for 10 people. Suppose we all have only 2 kids, only of my continues in ag production. That’s one person feeding 20 people; only accounting for his generation. They all have 2 kids, only one of my grandkids continues in ag production. That’s one person feeding 40 people; only accounting for his generation. And the math goes on.

Sure this is only one family, a hypothetical situation. But I’m pretty certain we’re not the only family like this. Kids are leaving the family farm for jobs in town and in a long shot, some will return as hobby farmers later in life. The numbers add up pretty quick and it’s no wonder the population of the farming community continues to shrink, in relation to the total population. Farmers are forced to produce more with less and this is where “conventional” methods have come into play. Sure “organic” farming or “the way grandpa used to do things” is romantic, but it’s not always sustainable when the percentage of producers is not growing in this country.

Back to the conversation, my brother responds to the math by suggesting, maybe one of his kids decides to go into farming.

I ask how that’s gonna happen. He says they’ll get interest from exposure, maybe spending the weekend with a relative or something.

Ah ha! That’s it. The only way this kid (who grows up in town with non-ag parents) gains interest in ag production is by outside exposure. It’s my job to invite him to the farm on weekends and summers, spark that interest and feed any inspiration for a future in agriculture.

I’m always prodding for my brothers and sisters to engage in agriculture, and unless I do, how else will they learn? It’s the job of those involved in agriculture to find and feed that interest in others. Unless we agvocate for our cause, find those with interest, and feed that interest, the agriculture community will struggle to grow.

Now I know that part of my agvocate effort is to feed the interest of others to learn about agriculture, share my passion in hopes of inviting others to join me. Even if they find a future in agriculture isn’t for them, at least they’ll have someone to turn to with questions. It kinda seems like a mind game, but then again, if you show interest, of course I want you to come over and join the team. Isn’t that what all advocate efforts look for?

What inspires you to advocate for your cause? Did you find involvement in your passion due to the efforts of someone outside of your immediate family?

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