What does Earth Day mean on the farm?

Today is April 22, 2013…Earth Day. A lot of people talk about how important today is, but I believe that it’s important to consider the earth and its resources every day.

So how does our farm celebrate Earth Day? Well, to tell you the truth, we don’t. No, today is not a special day. We continue to use our resources as wisely as we can, making decisions based on what our land needs, what we have available and what is best for the future…just as we do every day.

But what does that entail? Let me show you.

seeding wheat, residue

We try to limit the number of passes we make on a field with equipment. Notice the residue on the field? That’s the crop left over from last year. It breaks down and gives nutrients back to the soil. With our late spring, we won’t be in the field any time soon.

crop consultant, analysis, soil samples

We spend a lot of time going over information that’s been collected through soil samples, analysis and watching forecasts. We work closely with our crop consultant to make decisions that are best for our farm and its future.

new calf, straw

All safe and warm inside, no matter what’s going on outside, thanks in part to the wheat straw used for bedding! It’s a farm version of recycling!

Our heating system on our farm is also a great way that we save resources and limit our impact on the environment. The water from our well heats our house, our shop and also waters our cattle! Read more about it here.

Right now spring has yet to show up here in North Dakota, so we’re working on getting our equipment ready for planting. By making sure our equipment is ready, we’re able to use less fuel, make fewer stops, leave our tractors running less often and are able to use our time the most efficiently. But sometimes you have to call in some outside help:

light saber, farming

EJ thought that the planter needed a little extra guidance last year.

force, light saber

Yes, the force was with us.

I guess it’s never too early for the next generation to start adding in their ideas for modifications! 🙂

These are just a few of the steps we take to make sure that we’re doing our part to conserve resources. We know that we need to take care of our land, so that the future of our farm is secure. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

 

Where our water goes – farm efficiency

March 22 is World Water Day, and I thought it would be fitting to explain how the water on our farm works…it took me a long time to understand just how amazing our system is, and I am excited to try to explain it to all of you.

First of all, let me start with a disclaimer: I don’t really know the proper terms for what I’m trying to explain, so although my wording may be off, just hang with me. I’m not an expert, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m simply a farmer, a farm wife, a mom, trying to share a really cool piece of information. If you have questions, I certainly can attempt to answer, or better yet, find someone who can answer them!

Digging out the pipe to fix a leak...it's not really that far down.

Digging out the pipe to fix a leak…it’s not really that far down.

That being said, let me tell you about the water that provides for our family, heats our home, heats our shop AND waters our cattle…all at the same time.

We are fortunate to have a third-flow artesian well. That means that our water comes from deep within the ground. It is very hard water, but it’s an amazing source. We have done all that we can to ensure that our resource is not wasted, so we use it for many, many things.

This is our home...all supplied with an amazing source of water.

This is our home…all supplied with an amazing source of water.

When the well brings up the water, the first thing that many people comment on is that the water is warm. It comes out of the ground at about 72* F. No, I’m not kidding. When my kids have water fights in the summer, it’s almost like having a water fight with bath water. The biggest problem? You will never get a cold glass of water out of the tap. Ever.

Our well water actually heats our home. If you understand the wonders of heating systems, we have a heat pump (if you’re really interested in learning more, you can read about it from Wikipedia here). Basically, the heat from the water is transferred and forced through our house in the heating system. It’s a wonderful source of heat, and we never have to worry about propane, fuel oil, etc. The only downfall is that occasionally the system can be overtaxed, and can’t keep up (imagine when it’s -30* outside and 40 mph winds). We do have an emergency electrical backup heating system, but rarely need to use it.

The water not only is used to quench our thirst and heat our home, but then it makes it way to our shop floor, running through the coils in the cement, heating the shop to a balmy 42* in the dead of winter. It may not seem like much, but it’s an amazing improvement from the cold temps outside. Boss Man did put in a small furnace, to help keep the place warm when the big doors need to be opened several times a day.

So where does it go once it’s heated the shop? Well, we’re not done quite yet. The water then is piped down to our barn area, where it fills our water tanks and keeps our cattle satisfied. And remember the temperature that the water comes out of the ground at? Guess whose water tanks rarely ever freeze up? The continual flow of water keeps things running smoothly…well, most of the time.

And at the end? The water goes to a series of tanks, and eventually returns back to the earth…in the same condition it began.

An amazing cycle, indeed. And every day I am so very grateful for such an amazing gift!

Calving: Backwards Calf

Last weekend I was helping out Boss Man by checking cows. It’s become one area of the farm that I’ve been able to get more involved in, and I love it!

During these cold winter months, we check the cows that are due to calve at least every two hours. We do this to try to guarantee that calves are born inside the barn, where it’s warm and protected, not outside in the cold. Another reason to check on the cows frequently is to be able to step in when there’s a problem…and on this particular day, there was one.

One of the things that I look for when checking cows is the presentation of the calf being born. As I talked about a few days ago, sometimes calves can present in ways that jeopardize their chances of being born safely, much like when a woman is pregnant and the baby is breech, transverse, etc.

When a calf is presenting in the best way possible, they come out feet first, headlong…kind of like they’re diving out of the birth canal. You look for the feet to be toes down, or the hoof to be pointing down towards the ground.

If you look under the tail, you can see that this calf is being born with its toes pointed down. By catching the cow at this stage, she was able to walk to the barn and safely have the calf indoors.

If you look under the tail, you can see that this calf is being born with its toes pointed down. By catching the cow at this stage, she was able to walk to the barn and safely have the calf indoors.

Unfortunately, when I noticed that this particular cow was calving, the toes were pointing up, indicating that the calf was coming backwards. In this case, the calf needs to be born quickly, so that it’s chance of survival is greatest.

This is a diagram of what a calf being born backwards looks like. A quick delivery is the best way to guarantee that the calf has its greatest chance of survival.

This is a diagram of what a calf being born backwards looks like. A quick delivery is the best way to guarantee that the calf has its greatest chance of survival.

I let Boss Man know what I had found, and he was able to assist the cow in having the calf quickly by attaching pulling chains to the back feet, and pulling the calf out at the same time that the cow is pushing. Together they quickly delivered a healthy calf.

It’s great to know that your hard work and dedication can pay off, especially when sleep is short and the list of things to do gets long.

Have any other questions about calving? Be sure to ask, and I’ll explain what I can (and look up what I can’t!).

What size of brush are you painting with?

I was watching George paint the other day. It was entertaining, to say the least. He would take his paint brush, and dip it into all the colors, then get mad when the picture didn’t turn out like he had imagined.

And he expected me to fix it.

This little artist gets frustrated when his "masterpieces" don't turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it's just a mess.

This little artist gets frustrated when his “masterpieces” don’t turn out as he had planned. Sometimes instead of being a beautiful piece of work, it’s just a mess.

He couldn’t understand that the problem had nothing to do with the paper, or the colors, or me, but with the brush he was using and how he was using it. And it reminded me of a conversation that occurred online just a few days ago.

Someone had asked for anyone that calves this time of year to explain why they were doing it, or what benefit they perceived that they received from calving during winter months. I simply replied that with our operation and our location, calving now was what made sense for us. It’s easier for us to deal with snow and ice, rather than mud and muck.

It's not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than...

It’s not always fun making sure the cattle stay protected in the winter, but the snow and ice are easier to deal with than…

...the mud and muck of spring.

…the mud and muck of spring.

The responses that were received from people who also raise cattle was surprising, to say the least. One claimed that “winter calvers” are not profitable. Another claimed that some people were too willing to work too hard to make less money.

At first I was somewhat offended. And then I found a little humor in the situation. But it wasn’t until watching my son getting frustrated with his paintbrush, that I realized the lesson that could be learned from it all.

The humor? Well, if winter calving operations aren’t profitable…then there’s a check or two that I’d like to cancel. Mainly to the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, Boss Man will be relieved to hear that our days of paying taxes are over, now that we’re a non-profit livestock operation. Whew! What a relief that is! (Yes, my dear reader, that is sarcasm. At its finest.)

The lesson? When you’re working to make a better picture, using a broad brush will get you nowhere. Neither will dipping your brush in all the colors, expecting for everything to work out.

The same is true in agriculture…or any industry, actually. What makes our way of life great is the reds, the blues, the greens and yellows. All the different colors, all the different sizes, shapes and methods of operating. Together, agriculture makes a wonderful picture. But if you try to shoehorn us all into what you perceive to be the “only way” to farm or ranch? Well, you end up with a big old ugly mess.

We all have the same end result in mind. A great, abundant, affordable food supply for anyone looking for it. And the beauty is, in the great country we live in, the choices are there for you to make. You can decide the types of food you want, the way you want it raised and the price you want to pay for it…there’s always a decision, even if it’s take it or leave it.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy...that's our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

Making sure that our calves are healthy and happy…that’s our main objective, same as most anyone raising livestock.

And we have choices, too. We decide our methods and what works for our operation – whether it’s calving now or in the fall, using no-till or conventional methods, growing organic crops or using biotechnology. It’s one of the main principles our country is built on.

I was upset by the insinuation that our operation was sub-par because of the decisions we made, but after the lesson my son taught me, I’ve taken something valuable away from what could have been a disappointing situation.

And that was my choice, too.

Calving season has started

Yesterday was a day to mark down on our calendars – literally. We had two heifers calve, which means that calving season has officially begun. Unfortunately, one calf was born dead, which is always a hard situation to take.

So what went wrong? Well, somehow, during the birthing process, the calf ended up having a foot back. You see, a calf should be born like this:

But instead, it looked something like this:

And Boss Man did what he could to bring the foot forward, so the calf could be born safely, but sometimes it doesn’t work out…and this was one of those cases. We do our best not to intervene unless we have to, but you never know what Mother Nature has in store for you.

This morning I was fortunate to go out right at sunrise. And with the new day:

At first light, I noticed something on the straw.

At first light, I noticed something on the straw.

The sun was just kissing the sky as I went out.

Comes new beginnings:

This heifer is a good mama.

The only problem with the calf being born on the straw, is that it’s only 19 degrees outside. Not ideal for a wet, warm calf fresh to the world. So I called Boss Man down and let him know what was going on. New mothers aren’t always predictable, can be feisty and mean, and really don’t appreciate their calves being messed with…so I let my hubby deal with the logistics of getting the calf someplace warmer. (It’s kind of like him doing laundry, I’m not happy, he’s not happy, so it’s just best if I do it myself.)

Boss Man uses the calf sled to bring the calf to the barn. Mama is close behind, making sure her calf is safe and doesn’t get too far from her!

The last 12 hours have had its highs and lows, but I know that we are where we’re supposed to be…and days like today make it all worthwhile.

No man needs sympathy because he has to work . . . Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

– Theodore Roosevelt

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.

What makes a constitutional amendment?

As I’ve made perfectly clear in the past, I am in favor of Measure 3, the North Dakota Constitutional amendment that would protect farming and ranching and modern practices employed by farmers and ranchers.

I want to address one of the concerns that is being brought up by the only vocal agricultural group in opposition to this measure…the North Dakota Farmer’s Union.

First of all, as a member of Farmer’s Union (I’m a member of Farm Bureau as well), let me tell you that I’m extremely disappointed and concerned regarding the stance they have on this measure. It’s becoming more of a school-ground bullying match than fact-sharing, and it’s not what being in agriculture is all about.

Enough about that, let’s get to the issue. Opponents of the measure keep declaring that the constitutional amendment is too vague. Practices aren’t specified and there are no restrictions for negligence.

Why did I highlight constitutional amendment? Because that’s what this is…a change to our state constitution, that would protect the heritage that makes North Dakota the great state that it is, that provides food, fiber and fuel for the world.

The amendment needs to be broad enough to stand the test of time, allowing society to advance and our state constitution to stay current, even when we can’t imagine what the next century may bring.

Let’s take a look at another constitutional amendment:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

 

Wait a minute…how could that amendment have been passed? It doesn’t state that you can’t use weapons negligently. It doesn’t state that you are limited to muskets and cannons only. So, surely, it must have been voted down and didn’t stand the test of time, right?

How about another one:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

Geez, that one didn’t pass either, did it? I mean, it doesn’t specifically state that I can’t call someone a few choice words in a newspaper ad that runs across the country. Oh, wait…but I can’t, can I? Not without the other person having legal recourse.

No, constitutional amendments are NOT about specifying exactly what it is you can or cannot do, it’s about upholding the wishes of the people of the state, for generations to come. It allows flexibility for growth and changes that are made by society, yet it protects the basic rights that we should be entitled to…and that includes our agricultural heritage.

With these rights come expectations, regulations and limitations, it does not, nor will it ever, trample on the rights and freedoms of others. It allows for the legal protection of our way of life and direction for those that are making the laws that will govern our future societies.

Please, do not tell me that Measure 3 is too vague in its wording, and needs to have specifics put in place.

Although, all I can do is ask, because there’s already an amendment that allows you that right.