The Blomme'n Coop

Our Farm = Your Food

Author: lblomme (page 2 of 5)

Rainy Day

The baby calves were dry and cozy today as their moms ate some hay and silage in the rain.


Hormones in Beef

img_1564Does my beef have hormones in it?  Yes, it sure does.  And do you know what else has hormones in it?  Everything that grows.  Meat from animals and plant foods all have hormones in them.  Salt is the only food we consume that does not have hormones in it.  So, yes, the beef that we raise on our farm and that you eat has hormones in it.  So how did we get to the point where consumers have been led to believe that the use of hormones is not safe for us?  Why are there products in the grocery store that say hormone free, making the assumption that hormones are bad?  That is a great question and one that we should challenge.  Are these “hormone free” products safe and healthy for us to consume?  Absolutely, I have no doubt of this.  But to say that they are hormone free is quite frankly not true.

As a mom, I constantly think about what is going into the three little bodies that I cherish most.  There is a whole new level of responsibility that goes along with feeding your family and you want to make sure that you’re providing them with safe, wholesome, sustainable food.

It is incredibly challenging and even overwhelming to go to the grocery store these days.  Since such a small percent of the population is producing the world’s food, that means that most consumers don’t have a first hand understanding of how their food was raised.  To make matters even harder, there are lots of clever yet elusive marketing tactics that are used today which make it almost impossible to decide what is truly good for you and what is just marketing garbage.  Hormone free, antibiotic free, cage free, natural, organic, whole grain, grass fed, etc.  The numerous tag lines on packaging make it very difficult to know what to believe and what to buy.  What does natural actually mean?  What’s the difference between grass fed and grain fed?  What am I supporting by buying this product?

I feel your pain and I’m right there with you reading the labels of products and trying to figure out if I’m being misled or not.  Since we raise livestock, we butcher and eat the meat that we raise on our own farm.  We know exactly what was done to that animal at every step of the way.  But most consumers aren’t so fortunate to have that understanding.  That’s where I want to help.  The beef you buy in the grocery store or eat at your favorite restaurant either came from our farm or a farm like ours.

There are lots of different ways to raise beef cattle – natural, certified organic, grass-fed, grain-fed.  I’ll dive into the real differences between these methods later.  The good news is that all of these different methods of raising beef cattle produce a safe, nutritious product for you and your family.  All of these different ways to raise beef are responsible, sustainable and are methods that keep the animal’s health and well-being at the forefront.  Luckily, for all of us, we have great choices available to us no matter what our preferences are.

For now, I want to focus in on this really important topic – the use of growth hormones in beef.  Why are growth hormones used in the first place?  What is the end result for you as a consumer?  These are a couple of questions I am guessing you have had at one time or another.

Growth hormones, mostly estrogen, are used to replace natural hormones that are removed from calves through castration.  When male calves are born, we castrate them within the first couple of days.  The reason for this is intact bulls can get very aggressive if they are not castrated.  They can become dangerous to other members of the herd and to the people working with those animals.  By castrating them, their testosterone levels are reduced and subsequently their aggressive behaviors are also prevented.

We use small levels of FDA approved growth hormones to replace the testosterone lost through castration and to promote more efficient growth.  What I mean by more efficient growth is that the animal is able to grow and develop faster than they would without the hormone which allows us to use less resources like feed and water.

We implant the hormone, which is the size of three tiny pills, under the skin behind the ear on the animals.  This helps to stimulate the calf’s own natural hormone production.  But what does this mean for the juicy steak that you eat and love?  That’s the most important question you’re probably wondering.

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Size of the dosage of hormone implanted into each calf.

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Implanting the hormone under the skin behind the ear.

To help bring some perspective to the amount of hormones found in beef, let’s take a look at some other commonly eaten foods.  I have already mentioned that everything that grows contains hormones.  Plant foods like cabbage and soybeans contain significantly more estrogen than beef.  Soybean oil, for example, can contain as much as 900,000 nanograms of estrogen.  That’s 450,000 times more than a pound of beef regardless of whether or not the animal received an implant of a growth hormone.

The level of hormones that naturally occurs in animals is constantly fluctuating, just like in our own bodies.  You may be surprised to learn that the level of hormones found in the steak you enjoy from an animal given a growth hormone is only .2 nanograms per pound more than that of a non-implanted animal.  According to the Beef Checkoff, the average level of hormones in an animal that was implanted with a growth hormone is 1.9 nanograms per pound compared to that of a non-implanted animal which is about 1.7 nanograms per pound.  This difference of .2 nanograms is actually less than the natural fluctuation of hormones that occurs in animals.  Depending on the day or even the hour that the animal is processed, you could find higher levels of estrogen in an animal that has never been given growth hormones versus one that had.

It’s also important that you understand the strict regulations and rigorous research and testing that take place with the use of growth hormones and antibiotics. Since 1967, the Federal Meat Inspection Act has mandated that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) test for residues of growth promoting products at the time the animal is harvested.  The FSIS conducts strict and regular testing and inspection during the slaughtering and processing phases to ensure a safe product is provided.

If there is one thing I hope you take away from this article, it is this:  We as farmers take our responsibility of providing you with safe, healthy protein very seriously.  Our livelihoods depend on the fact that we provide you with a product that is nutritious, not to mention delicious.  We feed this exact same product to our own babies.  Our first priority is to take care of our families but we also want to take the best possible care of our animals in the process.

Whether you are eating beef, pork, fish or lettuce for dinner tonight, eat with confidence, knowing that a farmer worked very hard to bring you a safe, healthy product.

Source credit:  The Beef Checkoff

Spreading Like Wildfire

IMG_1967Recent wildfires have completely devastated farms and ranches in areas of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  Farmers have watched their entire life’s work go up in flames.  Some farmers even lost their lives trying to save their livestock.  In the midst of this horrific event, something else has been spreading like wildfire . . . support, generosity and selflessness among complete strangers.

For a couple of weeks now I have been reading about and seeing videos across social media of people all over the country giving their time and money to try to bring some sense of relief to those affected.  The last few days, I have witnessed members of my own community coming together to donate and haul fencing supplies, milk replacer for orphaned calves, loads of hay and much more to those in need in Ashland, Kansas.  Hometown businesses have gone above and beyond to give of their own time and funds and make every dollar stretch even further.  Community members, farmers and non farmers, have selflessly given their time, money and prayers.

What has happened in Ashland, Kansas and the surrounding areas is absolutely horrible.  No farmer or rancher should ever have to watch their horses, cattle, dogs, home and farm go up in flames.  But there is good that comes from bad.  This event has shed light on the incredible devotion that farmers and ranchers have for their animals.  It has shown the true compassion among the agricultural community.  Whether you’re a cattle rancher in Kansas or a hog farmer in Iowa, we all share the same passion for our way of life.  Taking care of our animals is not a job; it’s a lifestyle.  Our animals are the highest priority.  The animals get taken care of and fed before anything else gets done each day.

So it’s not surprising that the farming and small town community across the entire country has come together in faith, strength and ability.  The ag community is the most tightly knit one that I know of.  When one is hurting, we all hurt.  There is no question that if this disaster had happened in Iowa, these ranchers in Kansas would be loading up their trucks and hauling needed items up to us.

We like to think that we have control.  We like to think that we can avoid disasters or be prepared for certain events.  But mother nature has a way of bringing us to our knees and humbling us to realize that we really don’t have any control.  Sometimes God brings circumstances that we can’t understand.  But then you see how people react in such a wonderful way to such an awful event.  You see people coming together, offering anything they can to help those in need.  You see the absolute best in people rise to the surface.  And that is an absolutely beautiful thing.

The ranchers in the Southwest are going to need our continued help and prayers for a long time to come.  There is no question they will rebuild and will be even stronger than they were before.  But they have an incredibly hard road ahead of them.

God bless all those suffering in the Southwest right now and may your strength and courage continue to spread like wildfire.

 

This Week in Pictures

A week ago today, we were doing field work and the very next day we were pushing snow.  I’m not sure who is more confused with this winter’s weather . . . our cattle or our kids.  One day my kids are able to go with jackets only and the very next day their mean mom makes them wear snow pants, hats and gloves.

It certainly creates challenges to go from warm, dry conditions to cold, wet conditions during calving season.  Nonetheless, we captured some beautiful moments on the Blomme Farm this past week.  I hope you enjoy.

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Ground hay, corn and frosted snowflakes for breakfast.

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Here is one of our newly formed foster families.  In an earlier article, Life Lessons on the Farm, I wrote about a couple of orphaned calves and heifers without calves that we were hoping to pair up.  Good news – both of these heifers did foster the calves and are taking good care of them.  In this picture, you see the method we used which is to lock the heifer in a head gate and give them a bucket of feed for a couple of reasons:  1) to keep them still and content while the calf nurses and 2) to keep them from seeing and smelling the calf while it nurses.  After about three days of this, we let them be together and, thankfully, it worked!

In the video below, you’ll see a close up of this same calf nursing its new mom.  You’ll notice that the calf will occasionally hit the heifer’s udder with its head.  The calf does this to stimulate the bag and help bring the milk down.  You’ll also notice that the calf is wagging it’s tail much like a dog does.  This is a good sign as it shows that he is getting milk.

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And here is the other foster family, Laney and her new calf (my oldest daughter’s heifer . . . we get very creative with names).  Does it get much sweeter than this?

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The girls were helping daddy check cows yesterday afternoon.  Ruthie (the middle child) has a hard time staying away from the electric fence . . . it’s just so darn tempting for a three-year-old.  So, they get to check cows from the pickup bed.

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The puppies get to go along to check cows too.  Here is our handsome Tuff, looking on at the herd.  Some farmers have highly trained livestock dogs that are tremendous help with tasks like sorting cattle.  Tuff would not be one of those dogs . . . he is very good at napping though.

Honey . . . I’m going to the field.

Hearing the words, “Honey . . . I’m going to the field,” bring on much different emotions now that I’m a mom of three littles.  Before kids, when it was time to go to the field, I was behind the wheel of the tractor helping with the task at hand.  But now, with three kids under the age of four and a full time job that also revolves around farming, my time in the tractor cab is much more limited.  So, when my husband says he’s going to the field, it makes me feel excited for sure.  Spring planting season signifies a new beginning and the hope that this year’s crop will be the best one yet.

But if I’m being really honest, it also now gives me a sinking feeling in my gut because I know that for the next couple of months our time with our farmer will be few and far between.  We’ll make trips to the field almost every night so the girls can get some quality tractor time with daddy and so mom can steal a quick kiss from her handsome farmer (I’ve always told him I like him best when he’s in his chore clothes and smells like work).  As the season progresses, papa and daddy will start to look more and more weary as their fuel tank will be running on empty and stress will have been at a constant high for too long.

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I feel torn in this phase of life where I don’t want to wish away any time with my precious babies.  But I also long for the days when I’m able to help in the field and on the farm more.  I suppose every phase of life is a give and take and there will never be enough time for everything we want.

For a farmer’s wife, spring and fall days go so fast and yet seem to take forever.  A farmer’s wife has to juggle taking supper to the field, doing bathes and bedtime routines solo, cleaning up the house and then jumping on the computer to get back to their full-time job once the kids are in bed.  They’ll keep looking out the kitchen window, down the gravel road, to see if any headlights are coming that might be their farmer.  They’ll eventually go to bed and check in with their farmer one last time to make sure he’s getting along okay before falling asleep.  But they won’t sleep well because they’re constantly worrying about him, knowing that he’s exhausted and hoping that he stays safe.  And at some point, in the middle of the night, their farmer will finally collapse into bed for a few hours before getting up to start another long day all over again.

A farmer’s wife always prays for whatever kind of weather the crop is needing at the moment.  But deep down she’s also asking God for one little rain shower.  One that will bring just enough rain to keep him out of the field for 24 hours so he’ll get caught up on a little sleep and she’ll get to see him too.

There are a few farmer’s wives in particular that never cease to amaze me with their strength, dedication, loyalty and work ethic.  If I can be half the farmer’s wife that my mom, mother-in-law and Aunt Janice are, I’ll consider that a success.

As my farmer left today, I had a sleepy baby in one arm and two wild and crazy toddlers running around.  He could sense that I was missing him already and he said with a grin “you should have married someone who makes more money and works less hours.”  I wouldn’t change our life for anything in the world.  Every part of it is worth it.  It may not be easy but nothing worth having is.

As spring planting approaches, I want to wish all the farmers and farmer’s wives a safe and successful season.

 

Life Lessons on the Farm

When you raise livestock, the circle of life is always in front of you.  Calving season in particular brings the miracle of birth and the reality of death front and center.  Unfortunately, the past week has been a little heavy on the latter.

If you remember, a few posts back, I wrote about a heifer that wasn’t doing very well after giving birth.  Unfortunately, she didn’t make it so we are now bottle feeding her calf.

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My oldest daughter’s heifer had her calf earlier this week as well.  But it didn’t go as we had hoped.  My father-in-law ended up having to call the veterinarian in the middle of the night because the calf was backwards.  They were able to successfully pull the calf and it lived for a couple of days.  But it was very weak and couldn’t stand on its own.  Laney was so excited to hear that her calf had been born.  She just had to go meet him right after daycare that day.  We explained to her that he was not doing so well and tried to prepare her for the reality that he may not make it.  Unfortunately, he passed away yesterday.

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Now that we have an orphaned calf and a heifer with no calf, we’re hoping that this heifer will foster the calf.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t as cows don’t always want to claim a calf that isn’t theirs.  There are many different theories on how to get a cow to foster an orphaned calf.  We tried one particular method last year and had success with it in a couple of different situations so we plan to try it again this year.

In order to encourage this heifer to claim the calf, we will actually keep them separated at first.  When the calf needs to eat, we will lock the cow in our head gate so that she will stand still and let the calf nurse her a few times a day.  The key is to not let them see or smell each other for two to three days.  If the cow sees the calf, she will know right away that the calf is not hers and she may not want to foster it.  After a few days of doing this, then we let them be together and hope that the cow claims the calf as her own.  With any luck, this heifer and orphaned calf will be a family soon.

As a parent, you want to spare your children any hurt, pain or disappointment.  You want to make their world happy and positive.  But my girls are learning invaluable life lessons on our farm.  They’re learning that sometimes life isn’t fair.  Sometimes, we don’t get what we want and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Sometimes, we’re forced to accept a circumstance that we didn’t choose.

We’re doing our best to try to explain life and death to our kids but it can be very difficult.  My girls’ bedtime prayers have been revolving around the cows and calves lately.  We clearly have some more explaining to do as our three-year-old, Ruthie, has been saying every night, “Dear Lord, please help that cow so she doesn’t die again.”

I’ll end with some good news.  We added a new bull to our lineup last weekend.  Meet Rich.  He is from Rich Red Angus @richredangus in Vinton, Iowa.  This is the second bull we have purchased from Rich’s and we’re pretty excited about him.  The first thing Laney said when she saw him was, “Muscle!”  I think that’s a good sign.

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Confined Spaces

 

One of the misconceptions about confinement hog barns is that the animals cannot move around and their environment is inhumane.  Pigs, much like humans, naturally want to be close to other pigs.  Even though the piglets in our barn have plenty of room to move about in their pins, you can see in the picture below that they love to be close to one another under the brooder heaters.  Don’t they look comfy?  They should be . . . no matter how cold it is outside, these pigs know nothing but 74 degrees even in the middle of winter in Iowa.

As the pigs grow larger and the space in their pins becomes tighter, we open up the north half of our barn so they have even more room to roam.

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I can understand why people like the idea of animals roaming freely outside with the sunshine hitting their backs and green pastures to feed on.  We all like that.  But it does puzzle me a bit that some people feel so strongly about animals not being in confined spaces and yet we have millions of people across the world living on top of each other in large cities, with nothing but concrete surrounding them.  Having lived in the country my whole life, all I know is wide open spaces, privacy, fresh air and corn fields.  But the majority of people would disagree with me since most of the population chooses to live in the city.

When I was in Hong Kong a few years back, I remember thinking that it seemed like people were literally living on top of each other in the tiniest of spaces.  When I looked up across the mountains there were houses and apartment buildings that looked to be stacked on top of each other.  When I was in New York City I almost felt claustrophobic being constantly surrounded by people and the hustle and bustle.  I love experiencing big cities and have a great appreciation for them.  But after a couple of days, I always start to long for home, being in my space without anyone bumping into me and my freedom to jump in my truck and go where I want without waiting in line.

Although it’s hard for me to imagine the city life, most of the world’s people live this way and feel most comfortable in this environment.  Most people do not prefer my lifestyle.  I have had numerous friends come visit us in what they describe as “the middle of nowhere” and they can’t imagine not having neighbors right next to them or amenities close by.  Having people and infrastructure close by gives them a sense of security and comfort.

It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you’re on; whether you prefer living in a big city or living in the middle of nowhere.  People and animals want the comfort of being with their peers.  This can take many different shapes and forms.  Not good or bad forms; just different forms.

Let me clarify one thing before I go . . . I am comparing pigs to humans in this article, yes, but only to a point.  Let’s not forget that the pigs we are raising are for the purpose of protein.  We want to ensure that each pig on our farm has the best life possible, one where they are kept healthy and safe.  But we can’t compare the value of a pig’s life to the value of a human’s life.

Here are a couple of shots of the girls meeting the new pigs last week.

Isn’t this one cute?!  The pig’s not bad either 😉

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Uneducated & Brilliant

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Generally speaking, farmers are uneducated.  And yet they are the most brilliant people I know.  (Someday, I’ll talk about how stubborn they are too.)

If you were to ask the average farmer what their highest level of education is, they would most likely check the box that says “high school education.”  It is a bit more common now for the younger generation of farmers to have a college degree.  But I am willing to bet that their parents and grandparents don’t have those degrees hanging on the wall.

And yet, these uneducated farmers are the most intelligent people I have ever come across.  I have spent my entire life and career surrounded by farmers.  It never ceases to amaze me how darn smart they are and how they seem to find a way to overcome even the toughest of challenges in an extremely volatile environment.  No piece of paper can represent the importance and the difficulty of the thankless work they do.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not meant to condemn the value of an education.  No one believes in education more than me.  The degrees that I earned are some of my proudest accomplishments.  I am one of the weird people who actually loved school and secretly misses being in school.  Rather, this is meant to celebrate the people who feed, clothe and provide for the world through the most respectable job there is – farming.  It is meant to make you pause and think about your perception of a person who is, by our standards, uneducated.  I am no genius, but I am smart enough to know that being an educated person does not make me any better or any smarter than an uneducated person.  It does make me qualified for certain career paths and, of course, establishes credibility . . . after all, that’s the whole point of earning it.

My husband earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Truman State University (go Bulldogs), knowing the entire time he was in college that he wanted to farm.  Friends would often ask him what he wanted to do after college.  After responding that he wanted to farm, they would almost always ask, “Then why are you going to college?”  It is true that you don’t need a college degree to join your family’s farm.  But the education he received, experience he gained and connections he made in college have served him very well.

If you were to write a curriculum for an aspiring farmer today, I think you would find that the program would include economics, finance, accounting, grain marketing, animal science, biology, engineering, data analytics and diesel mechanics to name a few.  And it would need to include a 10 year residency with your father, the head farmer.

If you get right down to it, farmers hold the knowledge needed to survive.  This isn’t your great-grandpa’s farm anymore.  Without agriculture, no other industry would matter.  The world we live in today is full of disconnect . . . disconnect between farmers and non-farmers.  I challenge everyone to look around their lives and think about not only where their food comes from, but how so many of the products we use in our everyday lives are made possible because of farmers.

You know what they say, don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Your Future Bacon

We welcomed 400 piglets to our farm tonight.  These little fellas came from a nursery in Arkansas and weigh about thirteen pounds.  They will live in our hog confinement barn until they reach market weight in about five months.

This video shows the piglets coming off of the semi trailer.

Here the pigs are checking out their new home and testing the feeders and waterers.

img_1757The first thing that needs to be done after receiving baby pigs is sorting them by size.  The ten biggest and ten smallest pigs in each pin will get sorted off and put in separate pins with other piglets of like sizes.  The reason for this is we want to level the playing field and reduce competition among the pigs so that the smallest pigs don’t get pushed out by the bigger pigs.

We will vaccinate these pigs within the next day or two and then again in a couple of weeks.  Any pig that gets sick will be sorted off and put in the “sick pin” where it will receive extra monitoring and care.

img_1755This picture on the left shows a brooder heater hanging from the ceiling.  Brooder heaters are propane heaters that provide direct heat over the rubber mats on the floor to give the pigs a very warm place to lay.  When they get all settled into their new home, they will pile on top of each other underneath these brooder heaters as they love the warmth.

These pigs will ultimately end up being the bacon and pork chops on your plate.  But in the meantime, we take our responsibility of caring for them very seriously and will work hard to provide them a safe, healthy life.

Calving Update

If you watched the video I posted last week of the calf being born (Labor & delivery . . . on the farm),  you might be curious to know how that calf is doing by now.  She is now at one of our other farms with the rest of the cow/calf pairs and is doing really well.

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The calf that was born last week in the video from Labor & delivery . . . on the farm with her mama in the background watching on.

Daddy had his supervisors with him tonight to make sure he was on top of things.

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I want to keep it real and show the good along with the bad.  The mama in the photo below is not doing so well tonight.  She’s having a hard time recovering from labor and is not standing very well.  Because she’s not standing well, her calf is not able to nurse as often as he needs to.  So, we’ll need to keep a very close eye on this pair in the next 24 hours.  If the calf is not getting enough milk, we will need to bottle feed him and then try to rehab the heifer back to full strength.

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This mama is having a hard time recovering from labor and is getting a much needed drink of water here.

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