Flat Aggie visits our farm

We had a visitor at our farm this week. He didn’t eat much, didn’t take up much room, but wanted to learn about what we do. His name is Flat Aggie, and he’s a project that was started by a teacher in California.

Many people are aware of Flat Stanley, the popular children’s book that follows the adventures of a paper man. This project is very similar, except the teacher sends Flat Aggie to farms across the country, hoping to learn through Flat Aggie’s travels all about what happens on the farm.

So what did Flat Aggie learn about on our farm? He helped with tagging our heifers with their cow tags. (To learn more about what the cow tags mean, such as their color, read more here.) For our heifers, that’s kind of like being adopted. When we switch out their calf tag with a cow tag, we’re including them in our herd.

A simple hair cut around the ears helps us see the cow tag better. Notice how the number on the left is much easier to see than the number on the right? Thanks, Flat Aggie, for the help!

A simple hair cut around the ears helps us see the cow tag better. Notice how the number on the left is much easier to see than the number on the right? Thanks, Flat Aggie, for the help!

While we were tagging the heifers, Flat Aggie also helped us trim the hair growing in the cattle’s ears. This makes it easier to see the tag numbers when we are working with the cattle. It’s important that we’re able to know which cow we’re dealing with from a distance, so that we can keep track of health, calving progress, etc.

This heifer (meaning she's going to have her first calf soon) is trading her yellow calf tag in for a blue cow tag!

This heifer (meaning she’s going to have her first calf soon) is trading her yellow calf tag in for a blue cow tag!

The last thing Flat Aggie helped us with was giving pre-calving vaccinations. For our cattle, this is very important for the health of the unborn calf. Think of it as a pregnant woman getting a flu shot. The risk of being ill while pregnant, or immediately after the baby is born is greater than the minimal risk of the vaccination. In cattle, even more so.

Before she goes back to eating her breakfast, this heifer gets a shot that will help protect her unborn calf from illness.

Before she goes back to eating her breakfast, this heifer gets a shot that will help protect her unborn calf from illness.

The best part of having Flat Aggie visit our farm? Being able to see things from another perspective. Having to figure out how to explain what we do so that a student could understand was a real eye-opening experience. And it’s great to connect to others across the country that are interested in what we do, but really have no way of finding out, other than through activities like this.

Did it take a little time? Of course. Was it worth it? Without a doubt.

Flat Aggie will be moving on to his next farm, learning his next lesson, sharing his next story. But you don’t need to have a piece of paper to encourage you to share your story. You can do it all on your own.

Trust me, people are wanting to hear what you have to say…you just have to take the step to share it.

Wordless Wednesday – Cows

The cows, enjoying their straw bed on the fresh snow while waiting to calve.



When is it my turn?



Cows are curious (and photogenic) by nature.



Oh, that angle makes me look fat.



You can't see me, I'm hiding behind this weed.



We’re not quite half-way through calving season, but the last few days have been very, very busy. But the weather has been wonderful, and everything is going pretty smoothly so far.

If you look back at the ear tags, you’ll notice that not one of the close-ups have the same color. Wonder why? Find out here!

Records – Part 2 (Ag Book of the Day 7)

So, as promised yesterday, I said that I would explain what records we keep for our heifers (females that haven’t had a calf).

At birth, the records are the same. We keep track of the cow number, the sire (or bull), date of birth, weight at birth, calving ease number and weaning weight (adjusted to 205 days). The only thing that is different, is when we decide to keep a heifer to include her in our herd.

As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, bull calves get white tags at birth, heifer calves get yellow tags. If a heifer is chosen to stay in the herd, she keeps that yellow tag until after she’s been bred with her first calf. Sometime between breeding and calving, those heifer tags are switched to a new cow tag, the chosen color for that year and a new number.

That’s why it’s so important to have those records. This way we can keep track of which calves came from which cow, which bull sired which calves, etc. This way, if we have really large calves, we can see if the bull is the problem, or if there are other genetic abnormalities or issues. Also, we can make sure that no heifer is bred to its own bloodline.

Boss Man writes down the calving information in a small notebook that he keeps in his pocket, then he transfers that information to his calving book that he keeps in the shop. We used to keep that information in the kitchen, so I could help with writing out tags and such, but one Easter morning, right before church, we found out that Scooter knew how to use a Z-tag marker.

What happens when you have a child find a Z-tag marker right before church on Easter Sunday. (Pic is of Scooter, Big Bro, EJ and their cousin)

So, needless to say, Boss Man does all his own tags now…in the shop.
On to Ag Book of the Day 7 – “Senses on the Farm” by Shelley Rotner.
I had the privilege of being able to be involved with the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher committee that read this book to a small, young classroom outside of Atlanta this year. It’s a great book, with great pictures, allowing lots of discussion and question-answering.

A matter of record – Ag Book of the Day 6

I was asked if I could explain the records that we keep for our herd, so I will do my best to do just that. (And I’m willing to take other blog requests!)

Before I get to the details, let me tell you that our record-keeping has joined the 20th century (I would say 21st, but we don’t use smart phones…yet) and it’s mostly computer-based, and has been since 1988. We use what is called CHAPS, or Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software.

We have one of these for every calving season, since 1988.

This is how the typical method of record keeping goes for a calf – from birth to sale barn (let’s just say that this particular calf is a steer, since most steers are sold). (And to clarify, a steer was born a bull calf, but was castrated within a few months from birth.)

Shortly after birth, the cow number, the sire (if known), date and weight is wrote down, as well as whether the calf is a bull or heifer. The calf number is the same as the cow, as long as it’s a single birth and both the cow and calf are healthy. The other number that is recorded at birth is the calving ease number.

Calving ease is just what it sounds like…how easily the calf was born. It’s a 1-5 scale, with 1 = no assistance, 2 = minor difficulty, some assistance (Boss Man may have to assist by using the obstetrical chains and pulling some, but just using his own strength, no mechanical assistance.), 3 = major difficulty, usually mechanical assistance (such as a calving jack), 4 = caesarean section (surgical removal of calf), and 5 = abnormal presentation (such as backwards calf, or feeling a tail, not a head).

In the fall of the year, the calves are weighed and weaned (adjusted to 205 days). We keep track of their weight, so that we can figure out what their gain was from weaning to sale time. That way we can make adjustments to feed, weaning date, etc., for the next season (if numbers aren’t where we like), or we can be assured that we’re doing what we need to do, producing the best results we can.

The next time we weigh the steers would be right before sale time. Not only will we know what their average rate of daily gain is (usually 3 pounds per day for our herd), but we can also sort our cattle into different groups, making it better for the buyer (uniformity is always a goal).

Once our cattle go through the sale barn, we have no data on them. We don’t retain any type or percentage of ownership, so there is no reason for whomever is finishing them to harvest weight to let us know how they did.

Now, I’ve mentioned before that our herd is a closed one, meaning that every cow here was born here. We can trace back any cow, calf, etc. that’s on our farm to her origins. It’s kinda cool.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about our heifer and cow records. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask! I love answering questions about our farm and our herd!

And now on to today’s Ag Book of the Day – Day 6:

“Plow! Plant! Grow!” yet another John Deere book (but yet again, one of EJ’s absolute favorites!). It’s a board book, so it’s easy for even George to handle. The pictures are bright and colorful, and it talks about many of the different farming activities that happen on the farm. We don’t use all the methods that they cover, but it’s neat to be able to bring other methods into our discussions. Love it!

Calving by the numbers – Ag Book of the Day 5

I promised yesterday a calving post, but the day got away from me…I know, real shocker, right?

Here is the 2011 calving data:

2/11/11 – Starting date of calving

5 – cows left to calve, as of this posting

75 – number of bull calves

95 – number of heifer calves

9 – most calves in one day, including two sets of twins

2/19/11 – most sets of twins in a 24 hr. period (5 sets)

48 lb. – smallest calf (a twin)

130 lb. – largest calf (not a twin…but born by c-section, only vet call for an assisted delivery this year. Knock on wood.)

18 – number of sets of twins for this year

This group of twin calves is enjoying a day in the sun!

8 – number of sets of twins that were heifer/bull sets (I’ll get into why that’s important to know in another blog, but if you follow Cows_Life on twitter, you’d already know that answer!)

12 – number of calves that have died

3/17/11 – first day that we did not have a calf since calving began

165 – number of cows on the farm right now

170 – number of calves on the farm right now

This calf is a twin...notice the "B" on it's tag? There's an "A" to match!


And now onto today’s Ag Book of the Day:

“Buttercup, the Clumsy Cow” by Julia Moffatt and Lisa Williams. It’s a really cute book, focusing on how to make the most out of any situation. Yes, it’s silly, but you need some humor on the farm too! Plus, it still gives plenty of places where you can talk about real-farm stuff, like the dangers of wildlife to livestock, etc. Mostly, my boys just love it!

And the tag means???

I had a question asked of me on Twitter today, or should I say I answered one that was being discussed. Someone was wondering how we decide what tags go on which cows. I had never thought of it before. Sometimes, when you’re on the inside, things seem so obvious that you forget that others don’t know why you’re doing it…it’s an epidemic in agriculture, and one we’re working on fixing.

To answer the question, yes the tag does mean something. When calves are first born (or at least soon after), they get a tag in their ear with the same number their cow has. The white tags mean that the calf is a bull, the yellow tag means that it’s a heifer (a female that hasn’t had a calf yet).

Separating the two sexes of calves helps make giving the calves their vaccinations easier. Plus, you don’t have to worry about trying to castrate a heifer! 🙂

Purple cow

This cow has a purple tag, you can see the one in the background has a blue tag.

Now the cow tags are different colors for a different reason. Each year the cows get a different color ear tag. Tags come in tons of different colors, so it works pretty well. Cows are normally only on the farm for 10-12 years, as long as they have a calf, they stay. You can look at the cows tag and know which year she was born in. (We have a closed herd, which means every cow that’s on our farm was born and raised here…I’ll explain that more in another post some time.)

Another benefit of having different colors is so that you can easily determine which cow you need to bring in (sometimes looking at a sea of red faces is confusing, but the color of the ear tag helps), during calving season…or any other time of the year, if there is a health issue.

There’s a lot more to it then that, but that’ll do for now. I don’t want to overwhelm you with cow information!

If you have any questions, please, feel free to ask. I love talking about our farm…and I’ll gladly take a video or some photos to help out the process! 🙂