Posts Tagged With: grass

Farmer Perspectives: We Hear You

By Melissa Hildebrand Reed, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Melissa Hildebrand Reed farms with several generations on her family’s dairy farm near Junction City, KS.

Melissa is one of seven family members working on the family dairy farm near Junction City. Hildebrand Farms Dairy raises 150 cows and supplies milk to more than 120 stores across Kansas. Melissa and her husband, Brett, have two sons.

 On a typical farm, producers harvest their commodity and sell it to a company or cooperative, which turns it into something you might see a grocery store. That’s the way our farm operated from about 1930 until 2007 when our family decided to build a processing plant.

Now, we are in the unique position of selling directly to the public. Having our own dairy processing facility allows us to own the milk from the cow all the way to the grocery store. We even sell bottles directly at our farm store. We also have the opportunity to get to know you, our customer, better.

There are a few questions that stand out during the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with customers. Maybe they’re even questions you’ve been wondering about.

 

Can I see a dairy cow up close?

Yes! We give tours of our farm. We’re close to Fort Riley and Manhattan, Kansas, both of which bring people from all over the world to Kansas. Many people have never had an encounter with any sort of agriculture before. If this sounds like you, we’d love to show you around.

We’re immensely proud of our cows and our farm. There is no question to big or too small to ask. Our cows graze beautiful pasture in the Flint Hills and receive clean sand bedding in our free-stall barn. In fact, we’ve found the best milk comes from cows that receive the best care.

 

Is your milk GMO-free?

Our milk is not genetically modified and neither are any ingredients we use — like pure cane sugar in a flavored milk, for example. However, we don’t seek a “GMO-free” label for a few reasons. First, our cows would not be able to eat feed containing GMO ingredients. Based on our research, it would be an unnecessary cost that doesn’t positively contribute to the safety or quality of our products.

We grow most of the food our girls are fed. For us, GMOs help us reduce the use of herbicides while increasing yields of our crops — meaning we can feed more cows with the same amount of land.

 

Is your milk organic?

Our first priority is treating our cows with care. Using antibiotics are critical to good animal care at our dairy. If one of my girls is sick, we’re going to help get her healthy again. The idea of not treating a sick cow to retain an “organic” label on our milk wouldn’t be true to our farm’s values.

We use antibiotics carefully and sparingly. Antibiotics don’t stay in an animal’s system forever. The cow rejoins the milking herd after it is eliminated from her body. We vigilantly track each dose and animal that requires a treatment, which is prescribed by our veterinarian. Milk from cows being treated with antibiotics doesn’t even enter our processing facility. That’s true of our farm, but it’s also true of any other dairy in the United States.

Our family believes our milk stands out in the grocery store for its quality. To show you we care, the best label we can put on our product is our family name.

 

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Farmer Perspectives: Peaceful, Easy Grazing

By Laura Handke, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Laura and her husband, Chris, have a cow/calf herd that straddles the Missouri-Kansas border.

Laura is a regional coordinator for Ag Education on the Move where she helps elementary students in Missouri learn about how their food is grown. She has a master’s degree in ag science and previously worked in food safety. Laura and her husband, Chris, have a cow/calf herd that straddles the Missouri-Kansas border.

Driving by a herd of mama cows and their calves looks serene to most passersby. It’s a sight I love more than just about anything. As a rancher, I also see the hard work that’s put into the grasses waving in the wind. Yes, even grass takes work!

My family’s cattle herd grazes on pasture with rolling hills. We need strong grasses to prevent erosion of our valuable topsoil. We actually plant grasses to ensure our fields have the right mix of plants to help the soil and feed our cattle at different times of the year.

For example, we plant legume grasses to add nitrogen to the soil and create a healthy mix for both the cattle and the environment. Our goal is to create soils that will feed the plants, that will feed the cows, that will feed the calves, that will feed your family!

We regularly test our pasture grasses to ensure there’s enough convertible protein, phosphorus content and other nutrients — just like you would examine the label of a multivitamin. As ranchers, we want to make sure we’re providing enough growing food for the cows and calves. It’s our job to actively manage what Mother Nature started.

 

Stocked up

The pastures we raise cattle on are fed by a spring. Only in severe droughts has the spring run dry. In these cases, we drive truckloads of water to each pasture daily to ensure the cattle have enough to drink. It’s a huge increase in overhead costs in fuel, time and management, but our animals’ health is our top priority.

We also keep an eye on the number of cattle grazing the pasture. This is called “stocking density.” When grasses are plentiful, the pasture can support more animals. If we’re short on rain, we may have to move cattle to a different pasture and give the grass time to grow.

We are caring for the grass and land just as much as we care for the cows. One of our “checks” to ensure the system is working correctly is by examining the cow’s overall body condition. There is a grading scale for a cow’s body condition that ranges from one to nine. Ideally, a well-nourished cow will be between five and six.

Years of working with cattle give us a keen eye for making assessments. We can look at the cows while walking through the field and see which animals are in the right range. Careful pasture management helps ensure that we rarely need to supplement our cows’ rations.

 

Added guidance

We’re closely watching our pastures, water availability, nutrition and animals. Yet, that doesn’t mean our cattle don’t get sick. With the help of our veterinarian, we administer medications only when we need to.

Our veterinarian knows our herd well. In fact, the same DVM helped my husband’s father and grandfather when they were raising cattle on this same land. This year, our trusted veterinarian helped us through a change in how some medications are prescribed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which is like a prescription for medications that are administered through the feed.

In herds like ours — with cows grazing across miles and miles — it can be difficult to catch every animal that might be sick and give her a shot. Illness tends to spread through a group. For example, we can almost count on diarrhea during weaning time from an infection called coccidiosis. To treat it, we simply call up our veterinarian and ask for VFD to include an ionophore, a common treatment. It helps us treat the illness without the added stress of corralling sick calves.

A VFD hasn’t changed the way we work with our veterinarian or care for our herd. We are committed to caring for our cattle. We start with sound nutrition, observe the health and condition of our animals and call in our long-time veterinarian when we need help.

 

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Bloggers meet farmers at Go Blog Social

Volunteers LaVell Winsor (left) and Laura Handke (right) chat with guests at the "Sip and Shop" event during Go Blog Social Apr. 3.

Volunteers LaVell Winsor (left) and Laura Handke (right) chat with guests at the “Sip and Shop” event during Go Blog Social Apr. 3.

Fashion and food brought new friends together at the Go Blog Social “Sip and Shop” event on Friday, Apr. 3. After a day of soaking up blogging tips, lifestyle bloggers from across the Midwest enjoyed an opportunity relax and sip on signature cocktails at the hip Berg Event Space near downtown Kansas City.

Attendees took a break from shopping and visiting with health and wellness professionals to ask their food and farming questions at the CommonGround Kansas table. Questions such as “Is grass-fed beef better?”, “Are there antibiotics in my meat?” and “Are hormones used in chicken?” were popular among attendees. Volunteers LaVell Winsor, Grantville, and Laura Handke, Atchinson, shared experiences from their farms and sent bloggers home with flexible cutting mats with food safety tips, as well as links to find science-based facts to help guide food choices.

This marks CommonGround Kansas’ second year attending the popular Go Blog Social conference, which helps attendees grow their blog and social media knowledge, connect with businesses and socialize with like-minded bloggers. Attendees had ample opportunities to learn about food and farming, as women from Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Farm Food Connection also supported the event.

 

 

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