The Blomme'n Coop

Our Farm = Your Food

Month: January 2017

Drink Up!

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled against the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit which targets three counties in Iowa (and more specifically, farming practices) for nitrate contamination in the water supply.  (http://www.agriculture.com/news/crops/iowa-supreme-court-rules-against-des-moines-water-works-in-lawsuit)

img_1440I thought this would be an appropriate time to talk about some things we are doing on our farm to help manage nitrogen in our fields.  The amount of technology used in farming today often surprises people.  It really has changed and improved almost every aspect of farming, including nitrogen management.

Nitrogen is essential to growing corn.  When trying to make sure that our growing crop has enough nitrogen throughout the growing season, there are many variables we have to deal with.  The soil structure is constantly changing throughout the year.  The weather arguably plays the largest role in managing nitrogen effectively.

Thanks to tremendous advances in technology, we are able to monitor the nitrogen levels in our fields.  As we near planting time this coming spring, we’ll use a nitrogen management tool to assess the levels in our fields and determine how much we need to apply in order to achieve our yield goals.  Then, as the growing season progresses, we will monitor the nitrogen levels to ensure the growing crop has enough at the key stages of growth.  If we start running low, we can apply more nitrogen at that time, but only if necessary.  This technology, like most things, isn’t perfect but it’s a heck of a lot better than guessing.  The goal is to not over-apply or under-apply but rather give the growing crop the right amount when it needs it most.

There’s an app for that!  We can even use an app on our smart phones to monitor the nitrogen levels in our fields.  At any given time, we can pull up the app and check a specific field to see what the nitrogen level currently is and what it predicts it will be in the future to make sure we have enough nitrogen to finish out the crop.  It takes into account the weather to date as well as the forecast.  So, if we get a big rain in early June, we can check the nitrogen levels in our fields and see how much, if any, nitrogen we lost due to the rain.  If we’re planning a nitrogen application, we look at the near term weather forecast and if rain is coming, we will hold off on the application to prevent nitrogen loss.  Pretty cool stuff, right?

This is just one way that we’re doing our part to utilize our resources as responsibly as possible.  As I sit here writing this tonight, I sure am thankful for safe drinking water, my corn fed family and the fact that I get to live in the greatest country on Earth.  God bless the U.S.A. and all the farmers that feed us.

 

New Girls in Town

img_1402Earlier this week, my husband decided that he needed even more females in his life . . . living with four women just wasn’t enough.  He and his dad purchased some Red Angus bred heifers from Nebraska which we received on Sunday.  My husband actually found these beauties through a video on Facebook.  Social media has certainly changed everything about our lives . . . even the way farmers do business in this case.

Our girls immediately picked out their favorites as soon as they walked off the trailer.  My oldest daughter, Laney, picked the one who made herself right at home and started eating out of the bunks almost immediately.  My middle child, Ruthie, picked the one who touched the electric fence first and therefore got zapped as a result.  If you know my girls, this selection strategy will not surprise you.  Laney typically follows the rules while Ruthie just has to know what it would be like to get zapped.

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Welcoming the new girls to the farm.

 

Once Laney and Ruthie made their selections, we put uniquely colored tags in the heifers’ ears to identify which one belongs to each of our girls in addition to the normal tags they get (shown in the picture on the right).  Even our baby, Andi, has one of her own which her older sisters picked for her.  These heifers will calve in March which is when the rest of our heifers will start calving.  Our older cows will calve the end of March/first of April.

So, what will we do with the baby calves once they are born?  All the calves will stay with their mother for about 120 days.  At that time, they will be weaned from their moms.  We will select which ones we want to keep as replacement heifers (meaning we will add them to our cow herd and they will be bred for next year).  The steers (castrated male calves) and any heifers we don’t keep will be fed out to market weight.  They will then be sold, taken to your grocer’s freezer and ultimately to your kitchen table.

We’re currently feeding these girls corn silage and ground hay.  As a special treat to get them comfortable with us, we’re also feeding them a little bit of ground shell corn.  The corn silage comes from field corn that we chopped last fall and the ground hay comes from alfalfa hay bales that we made last summer.  We use our hay grinder to grind the round hay bales up into shredded pieces that our cows and heifers eat.  I’ll talk more about hay grinding later.

Just think, before you know it, I’ll be blogging about calving season and that will mean that spring is almost here.  I can’t wait to share that with you . . . calving season is easily one of the best times of the year on the farm.

 

Less is More (Sometimes)

Let’s talk about something super exciting – fertility.  No, not the kind that makes babies (not that kind of show, folks).  Soil fertility!

There has been a lot of attention, especially in Iowa, on water quality and more specifically, nitrate loss in streams and rivers.  From a farmer’s perspective, we have every incentive to keep key nutrients where we need them . . . in our fields.  The problem is, soil doesn’t just stay where we want it to.  When Mother Nature decides to bring us abundant rain, we inevitably lose some of that soil as it washes away.  We also have natural soil erosion that occurs. There are many things we can do to help prevent soil erosion which I’ll talk about at another time.  But my point is, we’re dealing with very complex things . . . soil, weather and volatile nutrients.  The only way nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium or lime do us any good is if they are in our soil where our crops can utilize them.

I think it’s a good thing that there’s so much attention on this issue right now.  Keeping nutrients where we want them and minimizing the amount of nitrates that get in our water systems is everyone’s common goal.

So why do farmers spread commercial fertilizers on their fields anyway?  Soils are very complex much like our bodies.  They must have the right balance of nutrients in order to be healthy and productive.  Fertilizers like potassium, phosphorus, lime, sulfur, nitrogen, etc. are essential for our crops.  Each year, the growing crop uses up these key nutrients and they must be replenished so that the soil is kept in a healthy condition and so that next year’s crop will have everything it needs to succeed.

Thanks to incredible advances in the ag industry, we have technology that helps us manage these nutrients better than ever before.  This technology helps us to get a better handle on what nutrients our soils need, when they need them and how much of them they need.  This means we are not over-applying or under-applying fertilizer or nitrogen.  It’s a win-win for us because we have peace of mind, knowing that we’re managing nutrients the best we can and it’s helping us to spend our dollars as efficiently as possible.

On our farm, we are starting to use variable rate prescriptions to spread fertilizer on our fields.  What are variable rate prescriptions?  The traditional way of spreading fertilizer is to take soil samples of the field to determine what amount of phosphorus, for example, the field needs.  Then we apply a flat rate amount of that phosphorus across the entire field (whether the whole field needs that amount or not).  This method is not bad and certainly works very well for many farmers including us.  However, with variable rate technology, we have the ability to break down the field into smaller management zones.  We are able to apply different amounts of fertilizer to different parts of the field based on its needs.  We are micro-managing each area of our fields.

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This is a variable rate prescription map for potassium.  The different colors in the field signify different amounts of potassium needed.  The darker orange areas are more deficient and will get more product applied.  

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This is the same field but showing the variable rate prescription map for phosphorus.  

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Same field again, showing the variable rate prescription for lime.  Lime is used to properly balance soil pH.    

This technology looks at our soil maps and understands how our specific soil types hold water and nutrients.  It also takes into account the topography of the soil and productivity levels of each part of the field.  It figures our yield history into the recommendation as well.  Through the yield data we have been collecting the last several years, the system knows what yield levels the field is capable of and therefore how much fertilizer is needed to achieve our yield goals.

Our goal is to have the most productive soils possible, because, after all, we make our living on productivity.  But the soils and environments we deal in are very complex.  As a whole, farmers today are achieving higher yields than ever before in our history.  That means we’re also taking more nutrients out of the soil in order to achieve these yields.  Therefore, we have to use commercial fertilizers to replenish the soil.  But with that, comes great responsibility.  Responsibility to apply the right amount of nutrients, at the right times, to maximize efficiency but also minimize negative results such as run off.

I look forward to sharing much more on how we are utilizing technology on our farm to improve our practices.  Thanks for reading!

Chore Boots and Tutus

As I was drinking my coffee this morning, I couldn’t help but chuckle as I listened to my girls playing . . .

With three little princesses, our home is full of glitter, sparkle and everything pink (my husband especially loves when he finds glitter on himself ).  And we have more than our fair share of Barbie “stuff.”

But, in our house, Barbie is usually doing chores or sorting cattle . . . in hot pink high heels and a tiara no less.img_1360

I love their combination of girly-girl and farm girl all in one (at least for now).

Lately these little princesses have been plagued with sickness.  Unfortunately, it’s not glitter that they’ve been dispersing all over the house if you catch my drift.  It’s been going through our local school and daycare as it does every year.  With three little kids, it seems inevitable.  Our livestock go through the same thing.  We do the best we can to take care of them and keep them healthy.  But at the end of the day, they are living beings that get sick.

It’s important that I don’t only talk about the fun, positive things that happen on our farm.  After all, that would not be realistic.  There are hardships and challenges that occur and that’s real life isn’t it?

When my kids go to their check-ups, I have them vaccinated.  When they get an ear infection, I give them antibiotics.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but that’s what I choose to do.  We do the same with our livestock.  When a calf is born, we vaccinate them to protect them from common illnesses just like my pediatrician does for my kids.  The same is true when we get a barn full of new baby pigs.

As of January 1, in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration, farmers must now obtain a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) from their local veterinarian before they can use antibiotics that are important to human medicine in any feed.  Along with this VFD, it must be specified in the prescription the specie of livestock, number of head to be treated, approximate weight of the animals and the length of time that it will be administered to them.

Having a large group of animals living in one common space makes it nearly impossible to prevent an outbreak of sickness at some point.  If a group of cattle break out with an illness, we work with our veterinarian to diagnose the situation and determine the best treatment plan.  That plan could include the use of antibiotics.  If it does, we must get a prescription from our vet to use feed-grade antibiotics or an inject-able form to treat the group.  Feed-grade antibiotics means that they are getting the antibiotics through the feed they eat.  The benefit of using feed-grade antibiotics is that we’re able to treat a large group without creating more stress for the animals.  The alternative is to send the group through a working facility and give each one an injection.  We do this as well but it can be stressful on the already sick animals.  Our hogs will get antibiotics through the water they drink when necessary.  In the summertime, we often fight pink-eye in our cattle out on pasture and we’ll give them an injection of antibiotics.

It’s important to know that the antibiotics we use are regulated and we have to get a prescription to use them for our animals just like you have to go to a doctor and then a pharmacist to use prescription medications for yourself or your loved ones.  img_1369

I don’t like to give medicine to my children anymore than absolutely necessary.  I myself try not to take medication unless I’m really miserable.  The same is true with our animals.  We don’t use medication in our livestock anymore than necessary.  After all, it’s not free.  But it’s not fun to watch your loved ones suffer when they are sick.  Without using antibiotics in livestock, we would lose many animals that could have been treated and saved.  The folks who are advocating for the elimination of antibiotics in livestock need to go visit a facility that has been forced to stop using them . . . and they should also help the farmer carry out the hundreds of dead animals while they are there.  Because that is what happens when there is an outbreak of illness and we’re not able to treat the sick animals.  It’s not pleasant to think about, but that’s the reality for the farmer.  Not only is it a shame because it’s a preventable loss of life but it’s also detrimental to the farmer’s profitability.

The use of antibiotics in livestock is being taken very seriously and that is a good thing.  It’s critical that regulators and farmers are able to work together so that we can all enjoy safe food and animals can have the best life possible before becoming that food.

That got pretty serious there . . . let’s go back to glitter and tutus.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any questions about our farm.  Now go eat some beef!

Let’s Try This Again.

andi-2About a year and a half ago, I set out to start this blog about my family’s farm . . and . . . well . . . life happened.  To make a long story short, I got a new job, thought I was too busy to blog, lost my job, got another new job and had another beautiful baby.

Since my last post, it has been tugging at me to continue this blog because I believe it is so important to share what we do on our farm since not everyone is so fortunate to be connected to a farmer.  After watching the Netflix documentary “Farmland” recently, I was re-inspired to give this another try . . . so here goes.

Our winter in this part of the world has been pretty mild . . . so far (knock on wood).  Even so, the bitter cold that we experience in Iowa is a reminder of some of the many benefits of raising cattle under roof – warmth, comfort and a dry environment.  It has been raining/sleeting for the last couple of days here but the cattle we raise under roof enjoyed some fresh cornstalk bedding today.


These cornstalk bales were made last fall right after our corn was harvested.  The combine picks the corn off of the plant and the remainder of the plant is shot out the back of the combine onto the ground.  Then we rake the corn stalk residue to form a windrow which we can then bale into cornstalk bales.  We then stacked the bales in a pyramid and covered them in plastic to keep them dry and to prevent spoilage caused by moisture.cattle-in-hoops-2
We bedden our hoop barns once a week so that our cattle continuously have a dry, clean environment to live in.

So, why do we need to bedden these hoop barns with cornstalks?  The manure from our animals piles up and we have to scoop it out in order to keep their environment clean.  Where does the manure go?  We haul the manure to our fields and it will provide fantastic fertilizer for our crops this spring and summer (talk about recycling!).  As you can see, we utilize our resources as efficiently as possible to minimize waste and get the very most out of every product we produce.

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions, concerns or specific things you would like to know about our farm.  Our barn doors are always open.

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