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January 2013 Archive for 100% Grass-Fed

RSS By: Randy Kuhn, Beef Today

Our family farming history began with my great-great-... (nine generations ago) grandfather Johannes. He, his wife and three children left Saxony, Germany, on April 20, 1734, aboard the ship St. Andrew, mastered by Capt. John Stedman. They landed at Philadelphia on Sept. 22 and eventually settled our family’s first "New World" farm near Society Run in Frederick Township, Montgomery County, Pa., in 1743. Pig farming was our family’s specialty until the mid 1950s. A lot has changed since then. Our BQA cow–calf operation includes 100% grass-fed registered Red Angus, Hereford and purebred Beefalo; 30 to 35 pastured Duroc and Spot pigs; 100 Freedom Ranger broilers; and 90 Golden Comet and Buff Orpington layers. We organically maintain 80 acres, comprising 15 acres in rotational pastures, 15 acres in tillable cropland, and alfalfa/mixed grass hay on the balance. We have never used chemical pesticides or herbicides on our pastures or hay fields. We are not a "certified" organic farming operation, but we prefer the natural/organic approach to help promote sustainability.

What is a Family Farm

Jan 27, 2013

What is a "Family Farm"?

From Wikipedia:

   A family farm is a farm owned and operated by a family,  and often passed down from generation to generation. It is the basic unit of the mostly agricultural economy of much of human history and continues to be so in developing nations. Alternatives to family farms include those run by agribusiness, colloquially known as factory farms, or by collective farming.

From the USDA:

   As defined by USDA regulations to farm loan programs (e.g. those administered by the Farm Service Agency), a family farm is a farm that produces agricultural commodities for sale in such quantities so as to be recognized in the community as a farm and not a rural residence; produces enough income (including off-farm employment) to pay family and farm operating expenses, pay debts, and maintain the property; is managed by the operator; has a substantial amount of labor provided by the operator and the operator’s family; and may use seasonal labor during peak periods and a reasonable amount of full-time hired labor.

(For exact language, see 7 U.S.C. 1941.4,1943.4).

   In the U.S., the "Family Farm" is viewed sentimentally, as a lifestyle to be preserved for tradition's sake.

   Until the 1950’s, the heads of the household were usually the oldest man followed closely by his oldest sons. The wife generally took care of the housework, child rearing, and financial matters pertaining to the farm. However, agricultural activities of today have taken on many forms and changed drastically over time.

   Farm wives often need to find work away from the farm to supplement farm income and most children have no interest in farming as their chosen field of work. Until a cure for laziness is discovered, I’m afraid the traditional "Family Farms" of our country are going to continue to disappear and the lands that were once worked by Father and Son or Grandfather and Grandson will continue to be bought up by Mega-industrialized "Farms", or they will simply be re-claimed by nature as is what seems to be most common in our area of North East PA.

   Promoters of the traditional family farm argue that as agriculture has become more efficient with the application of modern management and new technologies in each generation, the idealized classic family farm is now simply obsolete, or more often, unable to compete without the economies of scale available to larger and more modern farms. Advocates argue that family farms in all nations need to be protected, as the basis of rural society and social stability. 

   In South Eastern Pennsylvania there are huge amounts of farms being "preserved" or protected from residential or industrial development.  In North East PA, the natural Gas & oil boom of the last 5 years has made any type of preservation of farm impossible.  The "Boom" has been beneficial to many farmers whom have struggled all their lives to make ends meet, but very few have invested their new found wealth back into their farms.  Many have just stopped all production, and the farms are literally falling down around them.  Our immediate neighbor to West is a perfect example.  Their barn use to be a show-piece of our community.  They have a natural Gas well with two well heads, and they have been properly compensated for the land they lost due to the access road and 5 acre well pad.  But their main barn that still has over 60 milking cow’s in it is in danger of imminent collapse.  On the other side of the hill, another dairy farmer is nearing completion of his new free-stall barn and milking parlor that will more than quadruple his families milking herd size.

   I’ve been struggling with finding a concrete definition of what a true, traditional "Family Farm" is. Our only child is grown, married and raising a family of her own off-farm.  Therefore my wife and I are the only ones taking care of the day-to-day chores and business requirements of an operation our size.  I’ve always enjoyed the history and simplicity of farming in the early to mid-1900’s.  Things seemed to be less hectic, simpler, more hands-on, more enjoyable.  I think that size of the land worked and the number of animals on the farm should define what is or isn’t a "Family Farm".  Personally, I don’t think of a 2,000 acre, 10,000 sow or 3,000 head cattle operation is a "Family Farm".  It might be owned by a family, but if you have an on-farm feed-mill bigger than what most rural communities have to service a 2-3 county area, that’s more commercial or industrialized than what I think of as a family enjoyed operation.

   I realize that most of you are thinking that I need to get into the 20th and 21st century way of farming, or do I?  What’s wrong with wanting things to be more personal, or community minded?  I didn’t grow up in the 40’s or 50’s, maybe I would have been better off back than.  I can’t believe that I’m the only one who when asked "what do you think of when asked what do you consider to be a Family Farm?",  thinks of a 100-200 acre farm where the farmer raises a couple dozen cows, pigs, chickens and veggies.  And still plants and harvests his own forages and grains without the need for a tractor that costs more than an F-16 fighter jet!  O.K. they don’t cost that much, but if you’ve priced anything new recently you know what I mean.

   I guess I’ll end this week’s blog by simply saying thank you.  Thank you for first of all reading this entire blog while I vent.  I feel a little better being able to state my feelings about what I feel this country is loosing site of.  The "Traditional Family sized Farm".  I’m sure I’m going to get quite a few comments about my latest rant, but it’s been a while since I’ve un-intentionally offended anyone and received any creative criticisms.


Jan 20, 2013

Why is there a calf in the bathtub!?

   With freezing temperatures sweeping across the nations mid-section and North East this coming week, my thoughts go to keeping newborn calves alive.  I often tend to recall a broadcast of This Week in Agri-Business from about two years ago.  Every week Max Armstrong & Orion Samuelson feature a Farm Broadcaster of the week.  On this specific episode,  Mr. Ron Hayes from the Radio Oklahoma Network was featured.  He was talking about reviving newborn calves in your bathtub!  I felt a sense of relief come over me to learn that I’m not the only one who, (as my wife put’s it) "pamper my cattle".  She jokingly tells folks that if she would let me, I’d have winter born calves in our house.  I’ve never actually pressed my luck by trying to bring one in, but it’s just nice to know other farmers wives (although reluctantly), allow this practice of re-warming calves in this fashion.

Before telling her about what I heard, I decided I’d better do some more homework on this practice.  So here’s what I found……


Calves in the Bathtub 

by: Dr. Patricia Whisnant 
Grass Farmer and Veterinarian

This winter is proving to be colder and bringing more snow than our area’s average. The old timers around here are saying it is more like the way winters used to be.  Personally, I do not remember it being this cold for this long since 1993. We had moved from South Florida to Missouri and I had told my husband that he needn't worry because the winters would be mild (I had grown up in Tennessee and he was from So. Florida). Up until 1993 winters were mild. 

   We were in the process of building a herd and had used AI (artificial insemination for city folks) to breed about 300 first calf heifers (no one in their right mind would do this). We did not want to purchase older cattle to build our herd and prefered to start with healthy, young heifers. Only problem is a heifer will run the chance of having a dystocia (difficulty calving) a lot more than a cow. Hence, they have to be watched more. We breed our heifers to calve about a month earlier than the rest of the cow herd (gives them more time to recover before trying to rebreed). That puts these heifers calving in Feburary where the rest of the cows start the calving season in March. 

   Heifers are a bit goofy as mothers the first time around and sometimes just don't know what to make of that new calf. They don't always have a strong enough instinct to do what they should.  I have seen them run off and just leave the calf or look at it without a clue as to where it came from. That and the likelihood of problems calving (dystocia) means we watch our heifers every 2 hours (day and night) while they are calving. We alternate this duty during the night.

   In '93 we had 300 head and along comes a whale of a snow storm. It was bitter cold and over the course of the day and night we got over 14 inches of snow.  Since this is extremely unusual in our area, we do not have indoor calving facilities. As we checked the heifers through the night it became increasingly difficult to do so and finally had to resort to using nothing but the tractor as it was the only thing that would go through that much new snow. We had moved all our "girls" into the front pasture so they would be easier to check. 

   It is always best for a newborn calf to have its own mama clean it up and prompt it to drink its first milk (colostrum). The maternal stimulation is actually necessary.   As luck had it, this particular night was a birthing bonanza. We had 8 or 10 calves born that night. We would typically observe that the calf was born . . . yet wanting to give the mother time to clean it up on its own we would check the other heifers then come back to check to see that the calf was up and nursing.   It was cold enough that if their mama had not gotten them up right away they would already be suffering from hypothermia (low body temperature) by the time we got back. In a couple of the cases the water from the placenta had actually frozen to the ground and the calf had to be pried free. 

   Several calves succumbed to hypothermia and needed immediate help or they would be dead in a short time. Sometimes you can put these little fellows in the pickup truck and use the heater on high to warm them up in the floor board. 

   But this night we had too much snow to use the truck and by the time we got them in from the pasture they were in pretty bad shape. We needed some heroics to pull these calves through. So, we brought them in to the house and filled the bathtub up with warm water. We submerged these nearly comatose animals (weighing 60-80#) in the warm water and would leave one of our boys with them. 

   The boys kept the calf's head out of the water so he could breathe as they poured cups of water over the newborn. It is the neatest and most miraculous experience. As these cold and near dead animals began to revive . . . they would start to suck on your finger.  In a short time, they would be struggling to get out of the tub. We had spread out quilts and these newborns who had never yet stood up would wobble to their feet and another boy would begin to dry him with a hair dryer.  By the end of the night, we had repeated this procedure 4 times and by daylight the bathroom was becoming a bit cramped so we also blocked off an area in the kitchen to hold them. At daylight we walked the mama heifer/cows into a stall in the barn and took their babies back to them. 

All accepted their calves and they received a full warm belly of mama's milk. It had been a long tiring night for the entire family,but good tired when it ended with the saving of 4 newborn calves who would have otherwise been dead by morning.  It was a memorable evening for our family. One that we often laugh about now and yet not one I would want to repeat. On cold winter nights, I can still see those gangly calves in the bathtub.

Re-warming Methods for Severely Cold-stressed Newborn Calves

   Several years ago, an Oklahoma rancher called to tell of the success he had noticed in using a warm water bath to revive new born calves that had been severely cold stressed. A quick check of the scientific data on that subject bears out his observation. 

   Canadian animal scientists compared methods of reviving hypothermic or cold stressed baby calves. Heat production and rectal temperature were measured in 19 newborn calves during hypothermia (cold stress) and recovery when four different means of assistance were provided. Hypothermia of 86 degrees F. rectal temperature was induced by immersion in cold water. Calves were re-warmed in a 68 to 77 degrees F. air environment where thermal assistance was provided by added thermal insulation or by supplemental heat from infrared lamps. Other calves were re-warmed by immersion in warm water (100 degrees F.), with or without a 40cc drench of 20% ethanol in water. Normal rectal temperatures before cold stress were 103 degrees F. 

   The time required to regain normal body temperature from a rectal temperature of 86 degrees F. was longer for calves with added insulation and those exposed to heat lamps than for the calves in the warm water and warm water plus ethanol treatments (90 and 92 vs 59 and 63, respectively). During recovery, the calves re-warmed with the added insulation and heat lamps produced more heat metabolically than the calves re-warmed in warm water. This represents energy that is lost from the calf’s body that cannot be utilized for other important biological processes. Total heat production (energy lost) during recovery was nearly twice as great for the calves with added insulation, exposed to the heat lamps than for calves in warm water and in warm water plus an oral drench of ethanol, respectively. By immersion of hypothermic calves in warm (100 degrees F) water, normal body temperature was regained most rapidly and with minimal metabolic effort. No advantage was evident from oral administration of ethanol. (Source: Robinson and Young. Univ. of Alberta. J. Anim. Sci., 1988.) 

   When immersing these baby calves, do not forget to support the head above the water to avoid drowning the calf that you are trying to save. Also it is important to dry the hair coat before the calf is returned to cold winter air. If the calf does not nurse the cow within the first few hours of life (6 or less), then tube feeding of a colostrum replacer will be necessary to allow the calf to achieve passive immunity by consuming the immunoglobulin’s in the colostrum replacer.

   Obviously not every calf born in cold weather needs the warm water bath. However, this is apparently a method that can save a few severely stressed calves that would not survive if more conventional re-warming methods are used.

Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Specialist.

I hope this information is helpful to all producers since winter weather is not just above the Mason-Dixon line anymore!  I’m not expecting my wife to allow me to do it, but luckily so far, we haven’t had to throw any calves in the tub!

Wintering your Cattle

Jan 01, 2013

Keeping Cattle healthy through winter


   Snow and high winds like most of us have been experiencing this winter are a bad combination for previously healthy unstressed cow’s & calves.  Not to mention it’s pretty hard on us and our equipment too!  We can always put on more clothing and have the option of going back inside to sit in front of the wood or coial stove.  But to protect calves and full-grown cattle from the onset of respiratory problems, it’s advisable to keep them dry and out of the wind as best as possible.  Throughout America’s Heartland, many herds remain out on winter range and pasture with little protection from the wind.  Moving livestock into protected areas as soon as possible may reduce potential problems. Colder temperatures also raise nutrient requirements of both cows and calves. Extra, high quality forages will be necessary to help livestock maintain their core body temperatures and help keep their immune systems functioning properly.


   Calves that are showing signs of respiratory problems should be treated and moved indoors or at the very least into a shelter type structure which provides wind protection with dry bedding to keep them up off of the frozen ground as soon as possible. The sooner calves are cared for after showing signs of sickness, the more effective the treatment will be. However, continuous use of antibiotics as a preventative treatment for respiratory problems is discouraged as drug resistance can become a problem.


   Another concern producers may be experiencing is water availability for livestock as a result of freezing temperatures, no electric service, or both! After a short adjustment period, cows will consume adequate amounts of snow to meet their water requirements.  Eating snow is a learned behavior rather than instinct, therefore an adjustment period is needed for the cows to learn how to eat snow. Generally it takes three days for cows to adapt to eating snow.  Cattle can do well when snow is their only water source, as long as there is adequate snow present, and it is not hard or crusted over. It is important to monitor your cattle and snow conditions on a daily basis. A lack of water will reduce feed intake, and cows can lose condition very rapidly when water is deficient.  If snow hardens and crusts over due to drifting, rain, or thawing and freezing, you will need to provide them with an alternative source of water. Substituting snow for water is not a cure-all, but it can buy some time until range/pasture conditions improve.


   Adverse winter weather, like what those of us in the North East are experiencing this winter, can increase costs of production up to 20% or more. Whether in a feedlot or wintering pastures, proper shelter design and maintenance are crucial for keeping your cattle dry, healthy and comfortable under adverse climatic conditions.  In a winter like we’re currently experiencing, cattle maintenance requirements can be over 50% greater in pens containing wet "muddy" cattle, versus dry clean cattle, causing reduced comfort and performance.


   Good pen/shelter/feedlot drainage is critical for minimizing mud. The basic goal is to remove water/urine as quickly as possible from the pen with minimum erosion of soil. Ideally a 5-8% slope away from feeding areas, especially when round bale feeders without bottoms are utilized, should be maintained in the protective shelter/area.  Shelter area’s should be designed so that the back of the area stays clean and open to allow drainage to discharge directly into environmentally friendly catch basins/manure holding facilities, until the accumulation of waste material can be safely spread on your fields.  In some areas that could mean needing an area large enough to contain waste until spring!


   Construction of concrete pads or aprons (generally 8 feet wide) along feed bunks and around water troughs eliminate much of the competition often associated with feeding areas when mud becomes a problem and good feeding spaces become scarce.  Mud tends to accumulate around feeding and watering places due to the soil being worked away while cattle are in these areas. Manure & urine also tends to be concentrated in these areas adding to the mud and moisture problems.


   It is essential that pens & shelter surfaces are cleaned regularly, sometimes daily, with any manure or undigested materials being removed from the animal protective area.  Also, it’s okay to change to a higher roughage diet when the next snowstorm hits, to minimize overeating or acidosis, but don’t be too aggressive in making those changes. The more stable we can maintain the rumen environment, the better off our cattle will be.  So start feeding better forages now so your cattle’s rumen can adjust and build up a resistance to what "Old Man Winter" is apparently only getting started to dish out.  It’s going to be a loooong winter!!

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