Posts Tagged With: ranch

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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Farmer Perspectives: Ladies Who Grow Your Lunch

By Frances Graves, CommonGround Kansas farmer volunteer

Frances and Kris Graves and their daughters represent the fifth and sixth generations on their Bartlett, KS, ranch.

Frances and her husband, Kris, raise beef cattle — and their three daughters — in Bartlett, Kansas.

I never dreamed I’d be a “farm wife.” Growing up in the city, I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but I wasn’t interested. My women’s studies courses earned at a liberal arts university ended up preparing me to raise three little women on a cattle ranch.

It was a trial-by-fire education when my husband and I made the decision to join his family’s farm in southeastern Kansas. At our farm, the words “husband” and “wife” mean partner. As a partner in a growing business, you simply do whatever needs to be done.

Now, I see that’s how other farm families operate as well. We all contribute to the farm in our own way. Our children’s grandparents also are our business partners. My father-in-law is an amazing engineer, and can fix most anything on the farm. It’s a fantastic skill that keeps us reusing equipment better than many recycling centers. My mother-in-law is an excellent bookkeeper and helps make sure our business is sustainable.

We chip in to get the job done for our farm, for our business and for each other.

 

Seasonal solo parenting

My main job right now is to raise our 8-year-old, 6-year-old and 3-year-old girls. My city friends often talk about “solo parenting” for a night or two while their spouse is away on business. In farm life, we can go seasons of late nights and early mornings. For young moms, it can leave you feeling isolated.

Now that our kids are a little older, the best solution is for our girls to ride along with their dad in the feed truck or tractor. We leave our summer mealtimes and bedtimes flexible so the whole troop can bring a meal to the field. These little doses of family time help us make it through the wide swaths of time alone.

 

Continuing education

Growing up in the city, I’ve had to start from the basics to learn about our farm, and I’ve also made a point to learn about the way other people farm as well.

I’ve attended our state’s Women Managing the Farm Conference and listened to women who raised children, created their own side businesses and worked as farmers alongside (or without) their spouse — and sometimes all of the above! I’ve become more active in our Farm Bureau organization and recently completed the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership (KARL) program dedicated to growing rural leaders.

In these groups, I’ve met women from 20 to 70 years old who are immediately unified by the common goal of keeping our wits about us while we carry on the business and contribute to a safe and plentiful food supply.

Living in rural America, I can tell you that we do not expect less of women in farming: We expect more. There is a long history and tradition of sisterhood in agriculture. I’m proud have my girls be a part of it.

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Flow Yoga on the Farm Benefits Just Food, Connects Farmers and Grocery Shoppers

We kicked off summer with our first-ever Flow Yoga on the Farm on Saturday, June 3, in a gorgeous green pasture just east of Lawrence. The weather was perfect! Thanks to the nearly 70 guests who came together for this beautiful yoga practice and food drive. Together, we raised more than $300 for Just Food and filled an entire barrel with food donations that will benefit community members in need.

After some sweat and savasana in the early summer sun, we enjoyed a fresh brunch with a make-your-own yogurt parfait bar, pastries, juice and milk from Hildebrand Farms Dairy (the farm of CommonGround volunteer Melissa Hildebrand Reed).

We had a blast trying out some new yoga poses with instructor Cherish Wood of Kansas City. We might leave that challenging crow pose to the birds flying over our fields, but we had such fun and walked away with a good sweat. The shade was very welcome after our practice!

Farmer volunteers Frances Graves, Kim Baldwin and LaVell Winsor shared the most commonly asked questions about their farms. If you didn’t get a chance to visit with them after the practice, you can learn more about their farms here. They’re also available to answer questions that might pop up down the road, too. That’s what we’re all here for!

Special thanks to Lowell and Krystale Neitzel and their family for hosting us on their beautiful ranch land. You can learn more about their farm on Facebook. They’re known for their sweet corn, so don’t miss out on that later this summer. Yum!

Our farmer volunteers enjoyed connecting with folks in the Lawrence area and talking about how we raise food on our Kansas farms and ranches. Often, food and farming are divisive topics, but this event was full of positivity and great questions about all shapes and sizes of farms, which is what CommonGround stands for. We’re all about sharing our love for our land and our animals. If you have a question about how farmers and ranchers raise your food, we’re always here to chat so you can feel more confident in your food choices.

Learn more about the national CommonGround program at findourcommonground.com. Don’t forget to like CommonGround Kansas on Facebook and on Instagram at @commongroundks for details on future events.

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Farmers and Ranchers Join Shocker Fans for a Day at the Ballpark

Kansas farmers and ranchers greeted Shocker baseball fans with souvenir cups of lemonade and fan giveaways during the Wichita State vs. Southern Illinois baseball game on Sunday, Apr. 9, at Eck Stadium in Wichita. Fans had a great view of the action from the right field pavilion, where they were able to get their farming and food questions answered by the families who raise crops and livestock on their nearby farms.

Three lucky families — Brandi Rice, Sonia Payne and Elisa Valencia — won four-packs of tickets to the game through a contest on the CommonGround Kansas Facebook page.

Fans also enjoyed giveaways including pom poms and sunglasses. Volunteers Kim Baldwin, Janna Splitter and Katie Sawyer welcomed fans to the pavilion and answered questions about their farms.

The cups of lemonade weren’t just a welcome refreshment for a sunny spring day. They were also a great illustration of how much weed killer is applied to an acre of cropland. Tyler Field is about two acres, so if it was a field growing crops, farmers would only apply about two lemonades’ worth of weed killer to the area. The visual reference offers an enlightening comparison to understand how little weed killer is prescribed and mixed with water to be applied to a large area.

CommonGround is a national volunteer-based organization that connects grocery shoppers with the farmers and ranchers who raise their food.

Grocery shoppers have more food choices — and questions — than ever before, yet few personally know a farmer or rancher they can feel comfortable having that dialogue with. Sourcing credible information on food production can be especially challenging with the abundance of conflicting information online. CommonGround offers an opportunity to go straight to the source.

CommonGround aims to help grocery shoppers make more fearless food choices by building connections with farmers and ranchers, providing opportunities to ask questions and offering links to resources rooted in science.

Learn more at findourcommonground.com.

Love for the land, our families, our friends and our food – that’s what fuels our CommonGround community. CommonGround is funded by America’s corn and soybean farmers. Learn more at findourcommonground.com.

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Kids’ Reading List: Levi’s Lost Calf

Saddle up and hit the trail!

Levi's Lost Calf on Amazon

Young readers will find little Levi as curious and eager to prove his independence as they are while searching the ranch with him to find Little Red, Levi’s Lost Calf.

A fifth generation ranch, author Amanda Radke, tells the story of Levi who, after the morning head count, realizes one calf, Little Red, is missing from the herd.  Readers are introduced to a variety of barnyard animals as Levi searches the ranch for the calf.  Radke uses her past and present, first-hand ranching experience to accurately tell this engaging story.  Young readers will not only enjoy the tale, but also the beautiful illustrations by Michelle Weber.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list:

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Kids’ Reading List: Little Joe

Fairs are some of my favorite events during the summertime.  Blue ribbons, funnel cakes, rodeos and show animals looking their very best.  It takes hard work, perseverance and a love for animals from the whole family to get the cattle, pigs, goats and more ready for the show.

Little Joe by Sandra Neil WallaceThe eighth book in our Kids’ Reading List series, Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Mark Elliott, describes how Eli raises his bull calf, Little Joe, for the next year’s county fair.  The heartwarming tale details the joys and discomforts of taking care of another living thing.  Read along as Eli, and Little Joe, learn life lessons about growing up and taking on responsibilities. 

Readers in fourth grade and up will be immersed in the natural world of the farm.  This book appeals to readers who can have similar experiences to Eli and many more who share a love for animals.  The theme of family love is apparent through the story, making it identifiable for most readers.

Thanks to Holly Spangler for compiling this list, which was featured in the March 2012 issue of Farm Futures magazine.

Check out the past selections in the reading list.

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What’s in a Label? The Question of Antibiotic Use

Each morning, we might take a multi-vitamin. Some of us take our prescriptions with breakfast. When our loved ones get sick, we encourage them to go to the doctor. We take care of ourselves and our families with prescribed medicines.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that U.S. farmers and ranchers must maintain good animal care. This means making sure animals are healthy; well nourished; comfortable; safe; able to express natural behaviors; and not experiencing pain, fear, or distress. Farmers and ranchers administer antibiotics to their animals out of concern for their wellbeing, just as we are concerned about the health of ourselves and our loved ones.

There are some very mixed messages about the food-choices we make. The latest Panera commercial may make us question the use of antibiotics and become concerned about the use of antibiotics in raising animals. It’s perfectly natural to questions where our food comes from and how it is raised. Here’s what you need to know:

The FDA does not allow meat to be sold with traces of antibiotics above strict safety limits.

You do not have to be concerned about antibiotics being present in the meat you eat. The Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service require specific withdrawal times, which means a set number of dates that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply. Farmers and ranchers keep detailed records of antibiotic administration to make sure they are following these regulations. The FSIS also conducts random, scheduled testing of meat nationwide.

“The use of medicated feeds in food-producing animals is evaluated and regulated to prevent harmful effects on both animal and human health,” said Steven D. Vaughn, D.V.M., director of the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation in FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

No difference in taste has been proven.

Panera claims that there is “an issue of taste” association with antibiotic free meat. No research has proven this perspective to be true. If you decide to make the choice of antibiotic-free meat, make sure to check the label.

A study by Food Safety News found that many antibiotic-free labels are not verified by USDA. Learn the USDA requirements for food labels. Look for the USDA-verified symbol when shopping. Look out for unapproved labels: No Antibiotic Grown Promotants, Antibiotic-Free, No Antibiotic Residues.

The USDA states “no antibiotics added” may only be used on labels for products if the farmer provides documentation that proves the animals were raised without antibiotics.

We care about the health of our families and our animals, just like you!

We want our animals to be healthy and we want to feed our families with nutritious and safe food. Sadly, the media doesn’t share our story of deep commitment to providing excellent care for our animals. We are very proud of how we care for our animals and welcome the opportunities to talk with everyone about how keep our animals healthy and safe.

Have questions? Please ask!

How and what you eat is your choice and we respect that freedom. All viewpoints are welcome. You can submit questions via our website or contact one of our volunteers.

Farmers and ranchers, including CommonGround volunteers, want to talk to you about how we raise your food. We want everyone to be educated and feel confident in every food choice.

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Do Farmers Care About Their Animals?

Cattle

Photo © CommonGround Kansas

Do farmers care about their animals? Absolutely, we do!

But Americans are getting a different story today with a post on Yahoo! titled “8 Cruelest Foods You Eat” from Prevention magazine. The article includes a sufficiently terrifying dose of buzzwords like factory farms, animal abuse, gestation crates and inhumane conditions. As consumers, it’s easy to get swept up in the wave of fear.

In our nation today, most folks are many generations removed from the farm. It’s perfectly natural to be concerned about where your food comes from and how it was raised. Here’s what we want you to know:

As farmers and ranchers, we absolutely agree that the treatment of our food matters.

You might be surprised to learn that we put our animals’ health and safety first. In fact, guests at our recent dinner at the Kansas State Fair were fascinated to hear how our ranching volunteers care for newborn beef calves, even bringing them inside their own homes to stay warm in the cold winter birthing months.

We watch over our livestock and ensure they are comfortable and content. We provide veterinary care when needed. We make sure they have all of the food, water and shelter they need. These animals are our livelihood, and they deserve to be treated with the utmost care and respect. As an example, volunteer Katie Sawyer talks about how they care for their beef cattle in this video.

Simply put, healthy animals are good for business. We are family farms, many of which have been handed down from generation to generation. We simply could not stay in business without providing excellent care for our livestock.

You might be thinking, “Well, that’s nice that you take care of your animals, but what about all those undercover videos? You must be in the minority.”

Actually, quite the contrary. The overwhelming majority of farmers and ranchers practice great care and respect for their animals. As in any industry, there are isolated cases of the “bad apples” … but American agriculture is making great strides every day to help eliminate these outliers. They simply do not represent the industry as a whole, and we are as passionate as you are about creating positive change among these offenders.

Remember, in the media, sensationalism reigns.

Think about how reports of crime and car accidents all too often trump good news happening in our communities. As consumers, we only seem to hear about animal care when an undercover crew exposes mistreatment.

Guess what? Those stories upset us, too! We never want to animals to be mistreated.

Sadly, the media never shares the other side of the story — stories of how we go to great lengths to provide excellent care for our livestock. We’re very proud of the way we care for our animals and very comfortable in talking with folks off-the-farm about how we ensure our animals are healthy and safe.

Do your homework.

Instead of simply taking what you hear in the media at face value, we encourage you to seek out your own information from sources based on research and science, as well as asking the folks who actually raise food. In fact, in the most recent Yahoo! article, we can’t find any citations of even a single farmer being consulted. Perhaps that’s because the facts that truly represent the agriculture industry aren’t nearly as sensational.

If you have a question, just ask. We won’t tell you how to eat or what to eat, and all viewpoints are welcome. You can submit questions via our website or contact one of our volunteers.

Farmers across the nation, including volunteers in the CommonGround program, are eager to talk to consumers about how we raise your food. We want everyone to feel confident in their food choices. Most importantly, we want you to have all the information you need to make educated decisions about how you feed your family.

Categories: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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