Moooving Towards Cow-Savvy Technology

In the last several years technology has become essential to everyday life. The dairy industry, however, has been using technology to improve animal care for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I always joked with my parents that our cows would get cable TV before we did because we were always investing in new technology to improve the lives of our cows while we watched the same three channels even though the rest of the world had moved on to flat screen TV’s and Netflix (true story!). Looking back, this was because by taking care of our cows, our cows took care of us.

Dairy farmers use technology to keep their cows comfortable while also making their farms more efficient. Technology allows us to care for cows in new and exciting ways. From back-scratchers to fitbits, technology improves animal care on dairy farms!

Fitbit for cows

Dairy farmers often use fitbit-like technology to monitor the health of each cow. Cows can wear these monitors around their neck, or on their ankles.

The monitors deliver information like what I get every day from my fitbit, and more. They not only monitor resting and current heart rate, steps taken, miles walked and hours slept, but how many times a cow swallows and a slew of other information that I can use to measure physical fitness and health.

Farmers use this technology to gauge the health of their animals. Farmers can tell when cows are sick before they show any clinical signs of illness, when cows are in heat and need to be bred and when cows are experiencing stress and need additional attention.

Dairy cows wearing pedometers
Dairy cows often wear collars or anklets that collect detailed information about their health!

Sensors

Sensors monitor the cows’ environment. Cows are milked with a machine that gently massages milk out of the udder, and sensors can be placed in those machines to detect any malfunction before the equipment actually begins to fail. Keeping this equipment running smoothly prevents it from harming the cows during the milking process.

Curtains cover the walls of many barns so heat can be retained. Many dairy farms use sensor technology to move the curtains up and down according to the temperature outside. This keeps the airflow and temperature inside perfect for the cows. Cow cooling techniques like fans and sprinklers also use sensor technology.

Fans, Sprinklers and Cow Cooling Galore

Cows have a higher internal body temperature than humans at about 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of their warm bodies, cows prefer weather between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So, what do farmers do to keep their cows comfortable in the hot summer months?

Cow cooling is a science based best-practice that says if we keep our cows cool and comfortable, they are happier, healthier and they produce more milk!

Some examples of cow cooling include fans, sprinklers and soakers. Fans circulate the air, sprinklers provide small mists of cool water when cows are around and soakers deliver a direct stream of water for the cows to play and cool off in. They can also turn on when the temperature hits a certain threshold, or are triggered by motion sensors that indicate a cow is nearby. The sprinklers and soakers use recycled water from other areas of the farm!

Give a little to those you love

For my parents 21st wedding anniversary they bought an automatic spinning brush for our cows. It’s mounted on a wall that the cows walk by on their way to and from the milking parlor, and anytime one of them brushes up against it, it turns on and spins. They absolutely love using it; there’s often a line of cows waiting to use it after each milking!

Automatic cow brush
Automatic back-scratching brushes keep cows clean and happy!

This kind of thing happens on dairy farms all the time. Some people find it strange that my parents didn’t get something more traditional for their anniversary like an exotic vacation, or even just a vacation. But to them, this was just as good. Watching the cows come up and use their new toy has become one of the highlights of my days at the farm and our farm tours. So, we still don’t have cable TV (although we did finally get Netflix), but we continue to invest in our cows’ comfort and we are all the better for that.

Stay tuned for another blog about how dairy farms use robot technology to improve animal care!

Trusting turkey farmers

The Animal Ag Alliance team recently participated in a staff outing to celebrate Casey’s graduation from George Mason University with a master’s in strategic communication – congrats, Casey! We spent the morning at Go Ape!, a zipline and tree-top adventure experience.

Everyday trust

This adventure included five different obstacle courses, about 20 feet above ground that all ended in a zipline to return to the ground. Half way through one of the courses, I notice the tree I was headed to wasn’t too big around. It was holding up two obstacles (the one I was on and the one I would be headed to next), a platform, me and all of my coworkers. It had a BIG job. I started to wonder if I should trust the tree to hold everything up. And then I started to wonder if I should trust the engineers, builders and safety inspectors. Then I started to wonder if there were even any safety inspectors. Had we done adequate research on this place?!

Go Ape Course
Going Ape!

At that point, pretty much my only option was to keep going, try to put these thoughts out of my mind and trust the system.

Trust. We put trust in people everyday. And we ask others to put trust in us. I trust the people around me, people I’ve never met, and even people I probably don’t know exist. People driving cars around me, pilots, people testing drinking water, farmers, doctors, and the list goes on.

I’m fortunate to have met hundreds of farmers and ranchers so putting my trust in them is easy. I’ve seen first-hand the care many farmers take to put food on our tables. I know farmers care for their animals, their land and their employees.

My visit to a Minnesota turkey farm

In honor of Turkey Lover’s Month, I’d like to share some insights I learned from visiting a turkey farm and a cranberry bog. (Turkey and cranberries are great year-round, not just at Thanksgiving!)

On a visit to a Minnesota turkey farm, I learned:

  • They are always looking to making improvements. As we walked around the barn, those leading the tour pointed out some areas where they thought they could do better and changes they would implement before the next flock arrived.
  • Turkeys grow without added hormones or steroids.
  • Farmers prioritize biosecurity to keep the birds healthy. The farmer proudly shared the flock we were visiting was healthy and did not need to be treated with antibiotics. If a flock does get a disease that can be helped with antibiotics, they use them to get them healthy as quickly as possible and to help keep the birds as comfortable as possible.
  • A baby turkey is a poult. This is a good tidbit to know before chatting with the president of a turkey company. Definitely do NOT call them chicks!
Turkey farmer
Turkey farmer checking on his birds.

Visiting a cranberry bog

Most of the farm tours I do are livestock or poultry farms, but it was awesome to visit a cranberry grower. Here are a few takeaways from that visit:

  • Just like livestock producers, he talked about the importance of sustainability and keeping the land healthy for future generations.
  • He puts a lot of attention toward giving the cranberries the exact nutrients they need to thrive.
  • He seeks advice from outside experts and consultants.
  • It’s pretty cool to harvest cranberries! It’s just like the commercials!

You can find farmers too!

Not everyone knows a farmer, but connecting with farmers is easier than you may think. If you have questions, check out 6 ways to ask a farmer or industry leader. Farmers and ranchers are all over social media these days. Check out our list of farmers to follow. And don’t forget to celebrate Turkey Lover’s Month!

Separating Cows and Calves: The Real Story

Animal agriculture has become one of the most controversial topics when it comes to food. Misinformation spreads like wildfire, and some may find it difficult to make peace with eating animal products without all of the facts.

dairy calves enjoy the perks of growing up with dairy farmers to care for their every need
Dairy calves enjoy the perks of growing up with dairy farmers to care for their every need.

I am a student at one of the most “vegan friendly” campuses in the United States, according to the Princeton Review. Ironically, my school also has one of the top animal agriculture programs in the world. As a student studying animal agriculture and science at such a diverse university, I have found that one dairy question takes prevalence over all others: “Why do dairy farmers take the baby calves away from their mothers?”

Cows are different than people

There are two main reasons why newborn dairy calves don’t stay with their mothers: for their safety and their health.

To answer this question, I’d like to remind you of the very real and often forgotten fact that cows and people are very different. Cows do not exist in a family unit like most people do. They are herd animals, meaning that they are most comfortable with other cows their age and their size – their herd-mates.

Cow instincts

When a cow has a baby, her herd instinct doesn’t just disappear so that she can fulfill the joys of motherhood. For the first hour or two after the calf is born, there is a clear connection between mom and baby. At my family’s dairy farm, we keep the calf with its mother for this part. The mother licks off her baby, which aids in stimulation and getting the calf up and moving.

However, after this initial period, the cow becomes increasingly anxious. She wants to be with her herd mates. Cows are not big fans of change, and I think that we can all agree that giving birth is a pretty big change.

This anxiety puts the calf in severe danger. The cow often forgets about her calf. She walks or runs around, searching for her herd-mates and becomes extremely stressed. This can lead to the calf getting stepped, sat on, or injured in a variety of ways.

Big mama, big problems

The average adult dairy cow weighs about 1,500 pounds, while calves are born weighing between 60-90 pounds. Speaking from my own experience, once a calf has been crushed or stepped on by her exponentially larger mother there is not much we as dairy farmers or even veterinarians can do. It is heart wrenching and terrible to see this happen, and far too regular when calves are left with their mothers for too long.

Immune system health

Here, we circle back to the fact that humans and cows are different, especially when it comes down to biology. Human mothers have a different type of placenta–the sac around the fetus– than bovines. And all of the complicated biology of different placenta types boils down to this: when a human baby is born, it already has an immune system with a semi developed immune response. It may be immature, but it’s there. When calves are born, they do not have an immune response to fight off infection.

This causes them to be at a much greater risk for just about everything found outside of their mother’s uterus. Their mother, however, will produce a special milk called colostrum that will (ideally) contain everything the calf needs to start it’s immune system. But, if the calf tries to nurse off of the cow it can be put at risk.

First, cows can sometimes not be the cleanest animals. As dairy farmers we can give them clean beds to lay in, clean their barns two to three times a day and the list goes on and on. The bottom line is, if they want to lay in the dirtiest part of the barn, they can and they will, and they often do. And if the baby calf nurses on a dirty teat before it’s fed colostrum, it could get very sick.

Second, if the calf is suckling, we have no way of knowing if the calf is actually getting quality colostrum, or any colostrum at all. Sometimes cows get sick after giving birth, and that could effect the quality of her colostrum.

Misconceptions

Calve are fed by dairy farmers
Calves are fed by dairy farmers so that they get the right amounts of nutritious milk!

Finally, I want to address one of the most common misconceptions I hear about why the cow and calf don’t stay together: “if they don’t separate them the calf will drink all of the milk and there won’t be any for them to sell.”

Calves get fed milk or milk-replacer. Milk-replacer is the equivalent of feeding your baby formula instead of breast milk – it’s a personal choice. Cows naturally make more milk than a calf will drink on its own, so the choice to feed replacer versus milk is one made by each individual farm.

The best of both worlds

The bottom line is, things can and often do go wrong when the calf is left with the cow. But dairy farmers are trained to be good care takers to their animals, including the babies. That means that we feed them from a bottle or bucket to make sure they drink their milk and that it comes from a clean place. We are also able to monitor them very closely until their immune system develops, and continue to do so as they get older.

The primary job of dairy farmers is to keep their cows healthy and well cared for. Cows that are not taken care of don’t produce quality milk, so it really is in our best interest to have the cow’s best interest in mind. Calves are the future of every dairy farmer’s herd. So the same concept applies. Healthy calves grow up to be healthy cows. Caring for the calves ourselves prevents them from being injured by their mothers, and enables us to care for them in a controlled environment.

Calves and cows are separated because it is best for both their health and safety. It allows the cow to return to her happy place – her herd – and gives the calf an opportunity to begin life its with its best hoof forward! We, the farmers, can make sure the calf gets clean and nutritious milk. Farmers can tell if the calf gets sick and give it the best care possible. We can do all this while providing a high quality, all natural, nearly perfect food.

Happy Dairy Month!

Happy Dairy Month
Don’t forget to celebrate Dairy Month with all your favorite dairy products!

Technology is changing how we care for livestock

You don’t have to look very hard to notice all the ways advances in technology continue to revolutionize our lives. Although still following tradition in many ways, animal agriculture has also embraced this revolution. Farmers and ranchers have been able to improve animal health, welfare, reproduction, record keeping and so much more.

Drone flying over field.

New products are being developed and tested every day, it seems. The goal is to continue to enhance the efficiency of modern farms and ranches while also improving animal care. Recently, I attended a talk by Dr. Andrew Huff, a professor at Michigan State University in the Veterinary Medical Center. He discussed the future impact of technology on animal agriculture – and it sure is an exciting one! We look forward to being able to take even better care of our animals using these new advances. 

Thermal Imaging 

Although thermal imaging is not a new technology, we are just realizing its application in animal agriculture. We can potentially use thermal imaging to determine aggressiveness, heats and infections in animals as those conditions are associated with elevated temperatures. 

Object Classification 

Photo credit: Cargill.

Cargill Animal Nutrition has partnered with a machine vision company, Cainthus, to develop a software to identify individual animals. Like snowflakes, each individual animal is unique, and the software will recognize individual hide patterns and facial features. The software will collect data on feed and water intake patterns, heat detection and daily behavior trends. Although the initial version will focus on cows, Cargill and Cainthus plan to expand to pigs, chicken and fish.

Pen or Chute-Side Rapid Diagnostics

Rapid diagnostic machines will provide farmers with real-time health information. The goal is to provide results while the animals are still in a handling chute (a narrow stall used by farmers and ranchers to safely restrain animals during exams and treatment). A quick diagnosis will allow for more accurate treatment of the individual animal and a better sense of overall herd health. 

Remote Sensing

When the animal is out in the pasture, remote sensing can be used to check on them. Farmers will soon be able to use radar detection technology to measure respiration and heart rates from a distance. This is similar to the technology used in self-driving cars. We can even mount this technology to a drone and monitor cattle herds in a pasture. 

Movement Sensors 

Cow wearing a collar.

Movement sensors can determine when an animal is acting abnormally, which can occur for any number of reasons. This can help to decrease the amount of time between the onset of illness and treatment. Some of the new models of this technology can take the animal’s temperature and locate the animal within a pen or pasture.  Farmers and ranchers may be able to download an app on their smartphones to have the information in their back pocket. The most common form of these sensors is as a collar or an ear tag.

Although many of these technologies are still in the development and testing stages, I can’t help but get excited about the potential. It is about to become so much easier to provide more individualized care. This will help farmers manage overall animal health and well-being even more closely than they do today with the tools available to them.

Keeping Animals Cool in the Summer

Growing up in the Midwest meant experiencing some pretty cold winters and hot summers. Raising livestock in the Midwest meant quickly learning how to ensure my animals were safe and comfortable no matter the temperature. I’m not a big fan of super hot weather and neither are livestock. Luckily, farmers and ranchers are dedicated to the health and well-being of their animals. So when the weather gets hot and humid, they take many steps to ensure their livestock are happy and healthy! Here are four ways that farmers help animals keep cool during the summer:

1. Water, Water, Water!UEP-Cage-Free-Brown-Hen-close-up

I’ll be honest; I do a pretty bad job of drinking the recommended water intake of half a gallon a day. I prefer an iced coffee or the occasional soda. But I know that in order to be productive and healthy I need water. Just like humans, animals need plenty of water to stay hydrated during hot summer days. Farmers provide access to water by having water troughs in fields and barns, using automated water systems and allowing animals to access natural water streams in fields. The amount of water an animal needs a day depends on species and size. Farmers work hand-in-hand with their veterinarians to ensure their animals are receiving enough hydration!

003IMG_9639 2. Good Nutrition

I’m my happiest after I’ve eaten a good, healthy meal and livestock are no different. During the hot summer months, animals tend to eat less so farmers pay close attention to how much they feed and what type of feed they use. Farmers will feed their animals earlier in the morning and later in the day (when it’s cooler) because the animals will be more likely to eat. When animals sweat, they lose key nutrients such as potassium or sodium. Farmers provide their animals with mineral and salt supplements to replenish their nutrient levels. Just like people, happy animals have good nutrition!

3. Shade and Shelter diane-spisak_ks_dog.jpg

Whenever I go to an event or a new place in the summer, the first thing I do is locate the shade areas. I know that if I stay in direct sunlight too long I’ll wake up the next day looking like a ripe tomato, no matter how much SPF50 I lather on. Whether it’s access to shade trees or a barn, farmers also make sure their animals can escape from the hot summer sun when needed. Some farmers use misters and water pools to cool down animals – yes, even livestock get to have pool parties! Like humans, animals can internally regulate their body heat. For example, when animals pant they are self-regulating their body heat through water evaporation. Animals will also sweat or shed some hair in order to cool down in the summer heat. Of course, farmers will also use fans inside barns to keep airflow going.

4. Low Stress = Good Health

bull-calf-heifer-ko-162240.jpegThere’s nothing worse than stressing over your mile-long to-do list while it’s sweltering hot outside. Heat and stress don’t combine well! That’s why farmers work hard to ensure that animals experience low stress during the summer months. If a farmer needs to move or transport an animal during the summer they aim to do that in the early hours of the day, when it’s the coolest outside. Heat stress can lead to decreased growth rate and fertility. That’s why farmers also work closely with their veterinarians to ensure their animals don’t experience heat stress during the summer. The healthiest animals are also the calmest!

If you want to learn more about keeping animals safe and healthy during summer months, check out these great resources:

Water Intake Charts: omafra.gov.on.ca

Livestock and Poultry Care: animalagalliance.org

Dairy Cattle Care: dairygood.org

Pig Care: porkcares.org

Chicken Care: chickencheck.in

Hen Care: unitedegg.org

How are farm animals not freezing in this winter weather?!

Bundled up in scarfs, hats and gloves, families across the country are bracing for ice and snow with wind chills in the single digits. As children build snowmen and parents curse the wind while clearing snow off their vehicles, farmers and ranchers are making sure their animals stay comfortable. Farmers are the 24/7 caretakers of livestock and poultry – whether it’s 64 degrees or -2 degrees!

Poultry

Jennell Eck, a poultry farmer from Maryland, showing how warm the chicks are in the house.

Broiler chickens (raised for meat) are usually raised indoors, so they don’t have to worry about the cold weather. All modern chicken houses have a computer system that controls the lights, temperature and ventilation. When chicks arrive to the farm from the hatchery, the houses are pre-warmed to feel like summertime. As the chickens grow, they’ll be able to more easily regulate their body temperatures so farmers turn the thermostat dial down 10-20 degrees.

Turkey barns also come equipped with fancy computer systems to ensure the temperature is just right for the birds, especially with a lot of turkey farms in Minnesota where it often gets into the negative digits!

Pigs and cattle

Peggy Greenway, a pig farmer from South Dakota, sharing a beautiful sky while her pigs stay warm inside!

Pigs are also typically raised inside where farmers can set the temperature. Piglets need extra help staying warm, so they sleep under heating lamps with the barn temperature set at about 85. Similar to broiler chickens, once they are older the farmers adjust the thermostat to a comfortable 65.

Taking care of cattle in the winter is a bit different compared to pigs and poultry as most cows are outside and/or in barns with open doors/curtains, but that doesn’t mean the level of care is any less. If it gets frigid, dairy farmers can close the curtains, but did you know adult cows actually prefer cooler temperatures?

Calves on the other hand need a little extra help keeping warm. Dairy farmers give calves jackets, extra hay and make sure they stay dry. Extra feed is given to beef cattle and water buckets are always checked to ensure they don’t freeze. Cattle also have much thicker skin than humans, so they are able to handle the chilly winters without shivering.

Animal care comes first

Jacob White, a college student studying agriculture who helps his family on their Oregon beef ranch, remembers how last year’s snowfall was a bit too cold for a newborn calf, but his mom and dad jumped into action and made sure the calf received the best animal care:

Joan Ruskcamp, a rancher from Nebraska, making sure her cattle have enough feed and water during the snow.

“Rural eastern Oregon was hit with an unexpected two feet of snow last February. Usually, the majority of snowfall comes around December with never more than a few inches. At the crack of dawn, my dad was up, hooking the snowplow up behind the tractor. He was on his way to plow trails in the snow for the cattle herd to reach water. Mom followed closely behind with a trailer of fresh straw for the cattle to lay on.

With the unexpected cold front, this also meant increasing the amount of hay the cattle consumed to sustain their health in the cold weather. Windbreaks (tall and wide wooden structures to give the cows shelter from the wind) had been put up in the months prior and the “the girls” (female cows, as my dad likes to call them), were enjoying a fresh hay bale of alfalfa. All was well, or so my dad thought.

Changing weather conditions can also cause stress for the cow and sometimes induce birthing earlier than expected. On this cold and snowy day, exactly that had happened. After giving birth, the mother cow had done what she was biologically conditioned to do—lick her new offspring clean and stand the calf up for the first taste of colostrum (nutrient-rich milk of the cow present after the cow gives birth). But the newborn calf was cold, perhaps too cold on the brisk day.

Seeing this, my dad did what any rancher would do – anything and everything to ensure this newborn calf’s survival. Cautiously approaching the cow, he scooped up the calf and placed it on the floorboard of his truck with the heater going full force.  Hightailing back to the barn, the calf was placed under a heat lamp and given a nutritional milk supplement. A few short days later, the calf was in full health and frolicking in the fresh snow.

The calf warming up!

While this seems like an anomaly, it goes to illustrate the genuine passion and care agriculturalists have for the animals they raise. When temperatures drop, the health and well-being of the herd are on the forefront of a rancher’s mind.”

Now you know how farm animals aren’t freezing in this winter weather. Because farmers and ranchers care!

 

Sustainability is more than a buzzword for farmers and ranchers

We’ve all heard the word sustainability, but what does it really mean? For farmers and ranchers, it’s a promise to future generations. A promise that they will care for the land, air, water and livestock in a way that ensures their children can take over the family business if they so choose.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance puts together a report every year spotlighting farmers and ranchers commitment to continuous improvement in animal care, responsible antibiotic use, environmental sustainability and food safety.

Here are a few key points from the 2017 report:

  • The health of broiler chickens in the U.S. continues to improve with scientific advancements in genetics, management and nutrition. As a result of these industry-adopted developments, quarterly mortality rates remain at historic lows. According to 2016 statistics, today’s mortality rate is 4.8 percent compared to 18 percent in 1925.
  • Hens under the United Egg Producers Certified program now account for 95 percent of all the nations laying hens and are independently audited annually based on guidelines recommended by a committee of world-renowned scientists in areas of food safety and animal behavior.
  • In turkeys, the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service reported Salmonella continued to decline to 1.7 percent in its most recent analysis updated in 2015. The turkey industry has continued to aggressively drive down the occurrence of Salmonella, to achieve the lowest count possible among raw poultry products.
  • The pork industry’s flagship education program for farmers and employees is the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus. As of March 2017, more than 63,000 farmers and farm employees were PQA Plus certified.
  • More than 80 percent of research funded by America’s beef producers is used throughout the beef supply chain on a daily basis to enhance the safety of beef and beef products.
  • The U.S. dairy industry conducts almost four million tests each year on all milk entering dairy plants. In 2017, only 0.011 percent of all milk tanker samples tested positive for residues of animal medications, indicating that efforts at detecting and deterring harmful drug residues in milk are effective. Those samples that tested positive were dumped and never reached the grocery store shelf.

Sustainability is more than a buzzword to farmers and ranchers. It is their promise to never stop giving food, fuel and fiber to families across our nation and around the world.

Why I Thank Agriculture

Imagine this: you walk into your home on a crisp fall afternoon and your senses are all over the place. You can smell cinnamon and baked apples as a fresh, warm apple pie just comes out of the oven. You hear the bubbling of a creamy vegetable soup over the stovetop. You see a delicious steak marinated to perfection and about to be cooked just how you like it. To top it off, you are about to take a sip from a large mug of peppermint hot chocolate. I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering right now!1

After picturing all of that happening, I cannot help but be thankful for the hands that have produced each ingredient in those delicious foods. November is the perfect time to reflect on why we are thankful for everything we have been given in our lives. Something that I am most thankful for, and is often taken for granted, is agriculture. I can think of a million reasons #WhyIThankAg, but what I want to highlight is the delicious and nutritious foods farmers are producing to feed the world. It does not matter if you grow fruits, vegetables, or grain crops,  care for animals or produce herbs and spices, I am thankful for farmers all over the United States that produce a safe and abundant food supply.

I really enjoy cooking and baking and I know it would not be possible without the farmers and ranchers that help to produce each ingredient. Without them, one of my favorite pastimes would not be possible (and we would starve). That is #WhyIThankAg. Growing up on a dairy farm means that my family is almost always busy and meals are eaten in unusual places and at unusual times. With chilly fall nights and an always cold Minnesota winter, there is one recipe that is my family’s go-to when we need something quick, hearty and delicious. There is nothing better than a hot, creamy soup when you need to warm up.  Check out this AMAZING soup recipe courtesy of Midwest Dairy Association.
Soup-er Creamy Veggie Soup2
Ingredients
  • 2 ½ cups reduced fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can (14 ½ ounces) fat free chicken broth
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (1 ½ cups)
  • 1 ½ cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 cups small broccoli florets or cut fresh green beans
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of diced cooked chicken breast

 

Directions

  1. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add broth, potato and carrots; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered 5 minutes.
  2. Add broccoli, salt and pepper; cook 5 minutes.
  3. Place flour in a medium bowl. Gradually stir in milk, mixing well.
  4. Add milk mixture and cooked chicken to soup; bring to a simmer. Simmer uncovered 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender and soup has thickened.

3Need a quicker version?  Use pre-cut or thawed frozen vegetables to make this delicious soup in half of the time!

It is not often that most people think about the individual person that helps to produce the food they are putting into their favorite recipes. It is so important to remember that food does not just come from the grocery store. There are hardworking, passionate people behind each and every food that we enjoy eating. Next time you sit down with your family for a delicious dinner, remember the people who are working around the clock to feed your family and the families of people all over the world. Thank you, farmers and ranchers, because of you my family can enjoy a delicious and nutritious meal together, I can occasionally indulge in my favorite sweets and treats and I am able to continue to participate in one of my favorite hobbies. Because of the food you produce, I will always be thankful for agriculture.

Growing up the Farmer’s Daughter

Some children grow up in the suburbs, others in the big city, some live in large mansions, others in small apartment buildings, but I believe I had the best place of all tpicture-in-front-of-barno grow up. Where would that be you might ask? My family’s dairy farm. Our farm is proudly located in the Land of 10,000 Lakes (Minnesota) and has been there for four generations. Each and every day on the dairy is something very special to me. There are triumphs and challenges, but I could not be more thankful to have been raised with agriculture in my roots. Here are three of the most important life lessons I learned growing up as the farmer’s daughter.

The cows come first. Always.

Regardless of the day or time, cow care is the top priority for my family. In my home, we do not eat supper or lunch until the cows have received their’s. We don’t clean our home, until the cow barn is taken care of. We don’t go to the doctor until the veterinarian came to check on our cows. Everyone in my family knows and fully understands that the cows come first. Farmers just like my dad, work tirelessly everyday of the year to make sure that their animals are well cared for. Imagine getting a call from your boss at 2:30 a.m. telling you to get to work right away. Most of us would question their sanity and then roll back over in bed. That is not the case for farmers. If my dad knows a cow will be calving in the middle of the night, I can guarantee you he will be up monitoring the birthing process ensuring the cow and newborn calf are well and healthy. There is no such thing as a ‘day off’ in my family.

There is always something to learn.

There are just some things that cannot be taught in the classroom. Thankfully, I have learned many life lessons on the farm. Work ethic, growing from mistakes and failure, and the importance of advocating for what you love are all proficiencies I have learned from the dairy. When you have to be up at sunrise and do not get to bed until way after sunset, you begin to be appreciative for the fact that you have a job that makes time go by in the blink of an eye. When you spend a countless number of hours preparing the land and planting your crops in the spring only to watch a hail storm destroy everything, you begin to be thankful for the fact that no people or animals were hurt. When you read and hear about organizations trying to destroy your livelihood by spreading misinformation, you begin to find the courage within yourself to stand up for what you believe in. I am a better person because of the trials and tribulations, victories and accomplishments I have had on the farm.

Family is forever. kylas-family

It is definitely not a ‘normal’ thing to have to work with your parents, grandparents, and siblings every day, but truthfully, I would not have it any other way. Each day, my family and I wake up knowing that we are taking care of cows that are producing wholesome, nutritious milk and are feeding the world. Being able to lean on your family in times of success and defeat is something I will never take for granted. We support one another in all aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to the farm.

Farming is a family affair. We farmers love what we do and are thankful for the opportunity to work alongside some of our closest friends and family. Just because a farm is large, does not make it a “factory farm” instead of a family farm. Ninety-seven percent of farms in America ar
e family-owned. Just as a person from town or a large city may want to go back to the family business, children of farmers want to do the same. With more family members wanting to continue their agricultural legacy and tradition, it is important that the farm expands in order to support multiple generations. Regardless of the size of the farm, animal care is going to be our top priority.

Do you see whfamily-farms-for-blogy life on the dairy farm has meant so much to me? I would not be the person I am today without the life lessons learned and the family who helped to raise me on the farm. I can assure you that I am not the only one who has ever felt this way. People all across the country are thankful to have been raised in agriculture and are passionate about producing our world’s food and fiber. Being an actual farmer may not be in my career aspirations, but I know that agriculture will be in my future. After all, I will always be the farmer’s daughter. 

Don’t let misinformation become someone’s truth

We are all consumers. We all have our preferences regarding the types of foods we like to purchase and eat, but our purchasing decisions should be based on facts, not fear and misinformation.

IMG_17411I recently attended the annual Glenview Dairy Breakfast and Stockshow at the Historic Wagoner Farm, a family-oriented event filled with games, a tasty breakfast and barnyard animals. My job was to answer any questions people had about animal agriculture and animal care. Almost every person I spoke with didn’t necessarily have a question, but rather a statement they wanted me to verify. Unfortunately, all of their statements were laced with misinformation.

Here are a few of the myths and misinformation I heard:

“I don’t buy products in the store that come from factory farms.”

When people say “factory farm” they are usually referring to large farms, but size does not automatically make a farm good or bad. What matters is how the farm is managed.

It takes farms of all sizes and types to make up the agriculture community and provide consumers with healthy food choices. Large farms can be conventional, organic or local and the same is true for small farms. Large farms often have the resources to hire animal care specialists, veterinarians and animal nutritionists to be on staff to help care for the animals using advanced technology that not only benefits the animals, but the farmer as well.

Farmers may prefer to raise their animals or grow their crops in different ways, but one thing all farmers share is the commitment to animal care and food safety. One way the animal agriculture community ensures their herds and flocks are healthy and receive the best care is through quality assurance programs and constant research and dedication towards continuous improvement.

Advances-in-Animal-Ag

Advances in Animal Ag Infographic

Perfectionism does not exist in agriculture because farmers are always looking for ways to improve and evolve as new research and technology becomes available. The Alliance recently released a report and infographic highlighting the advances in animal care, food safety, responsible antibiotic use and sustainability achieved by animal agriculture.

“What are you doing to prevent farmers from abusing their animals?”

To assume that farmers mistreat their animals is quite disheartening because it couldn’t be further from the truth. Farmers and ranchers care about the well-being of their animals and work hard to ensure they are providing the best possible care every day. Groups that want you to think otherwise often use scare tactics, misinformation and highly-edited videos to convince you not to support American farmers and ranchers. When a farmer takes care of his/her animals, the animals are healthy and comfortable which yields a safe, wholesome food supply for consumers. Farmers are striving to feed us, while activist groups are striving to take protein-packed meals off our plates.

grassfinished-or-grainfinished-beef-1-638“What’s the deal with grass-fed and grain-fed?”

A common misconception is that grain-finished cattle never eat a blade of green grass, but all cattle spend the majority of their lives eating grass on pasture. Some cattle are grass-finished and others are grain-finished. Grain-finished means they are fed a nutritionally-balanced diet of grains, vitamins and minerals for the last 3-6 months of their lives.

Farmers work closely with veterinarians, animal nutritionists and animal care experts to ensure their animals receive the right amount of nutrients at the right time. Whether the animal is grass-finished or grain-finished does not correlate with the quality of care they receive. Ninety percent of United States cattle are raised under the guidelines established by the Beef Quality Assurance program – a science-based program that helps farmers and ranchers raise their cattle using proven techniques and recommendations from animal care specialists.

Myth-busting marathon

What I honestly hoped would be a day filled with sharing coloring books with children and Alliance resources with parents quickly turned into a myth-busting marathon, but I would run the marathon again in a heartbeat. The people I spoke with were only repeating what they had heard from advertisements, activist groups and misinformed friends. Once I started a conversation with parents addressing their concerns and sharing the truth about how farmers care for their animals, they planted their feet in the ground and we had long discussions that left them smiling and thankful to hear the other side of the story.

We need to share our agriculture story so they hear the truth. Go to events, be active on social media, talk to people in your community and don’t let misinformation become what they think is the truth!IMG_17621

About the author: 

I didn’t grow up on farm, but as soon as I met a farmer I knew I wanted to help tell their story. I am the communications coordinator at the Animal Agriculture Alliance responsible for social media, website management and member resources, bridging the communication gap between farm and fork and telling farmers’ stories every day.