Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Do you know: Who Farmers Feed?

I have pondering how to improve my blog more than usual lately. With such a busy February, I felt like it slipped backward a little, and I don't like that. I also lost two followers (gasp, sigh). I fully realize that I too add and delete who I am following, and it really isn't that big of a deal, but then again it is.
So, please let me know if you have aspects you particularly like/dislike on here, and any suggestions as I move forward. My most popular posts continue to be the ones that document a task on the ranch with lots of pictures, and those aren't going anywhere. The posts of just photos are also well-received based on number of page views, and I'm not likely to stop taking mountains of photos anytime soon, so those too are safe.
My thoughts are to make a few minor changes that will hopefully make it a better blog to read, and provide me with a few more ways to post regularly. One of these ideas is to start including posts highlighting an interesting ranching/farming/agriculture fact about once a week.
I was given a couple Farm Bureau resources while in Michigan that are jam packed with great facts and figures about agriculture, and I really enjoyed reading them. I also learned a lot. Basically, what Farm Bureau did was take USDA facts and figures, and put them in sentence form. Much more interesting than reading the information as USDA publishes it! I plan to make these the backbone source of information for these new, "Did you know," posts, and throw in additional facts I hear at various events.
So, without further ado, here is the first week of this. Some of these will be things you may already know, and hopefully everyone will learn a thing or two as we go. I know I did as I browsed through the sources I'm pulling these from!

(Tractor equals farming where I'm from, sorry for those of you who are really from farm country)

Did you know that today, each U.S. farmer produces food and fiber for 154 people in the U.S. and abroad? This compares to each farmer feeding 19 people in 1940, and 46 people in 1960.

In 1935, the number of farms in the U.S. peaked at 6.8 million. By 1940, there were 6.3 million U.S. farms. Today, there are 2.2 million farms.

Since 1950, the total U.S. crop yield (tons per acre) has increased more than 360 percent. Even though there are fewer farms today, farmers continue to improve their production practices and utilization of modern tools and technologies to increase productivity and maintain their ability to feed a growing world population.

(Information from publication found here)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Feeding cows in the snow

Today it is snowing and the wind is blessedly absent at my house. I took these photos while feeding this morning. Always love photographing black cattle in the snow, especially when it's coming straight down! Hope you enjoy.

 Guarder of the hay bale

Sunday, February 26, 2012


I have been pretty swamped in February. Some days I feel in over my head, much like this cow, except in work and life instead of food. Well..some days it's food too, but we won't cover that here : )
Between my trip to Michigan, a few trips around Wyoming for my writing/photography and the constant feeding and water checking tasks at the ranch, it has been a hectic month. I am hoping to be back on track, and giving this blog more attention, in upcoming weeks.
On the ranch we are still spening the majority of our time feeding and checking water every day. In the next few weeks we will be altering some of our feeding in preparation for calving. Bangs vaccinating our heifers, getting set up for calving and weighing our steers.
Since feeding is such a big part of our operation in the winter, and the number one cost on some ranches, it gets a lot of attention. I haven't covered it as much this winter, but last year I explained feeding cake to our calves and hay to our cows, more than once. I did highlight our latest piece of feeding equipment a couple weeks ago, which we are using daily right now.
This year we are feeding what are called tubs, instead of cake, to the calves. I am planning to explain that in the next few days. In the mean time, you can swing over and check out the cake and hay feeding options.
Hope everyone else is having a productive 2012 thus far! I will also be answering emails in the next few days (I hope). I really appreciate people taking the time to comment on my blog or send me emails, and have not forgotten you, I promise!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wyoming Sunsets

I am back home today, and while it is white and blustery in Eastern Wyoming today, I took these photos before I left when it was dry. Hope everyone is having a fantastic Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Young Farmers and Ranchers

I apologize for the lack of posts in the last few days. I have been in Grand Rapids, MI, and the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference. It was a busy three days of speakers, informational sessions, and tours of various components of Michigan agriculture. Here's a super-fast look at some of the things I learned/noticed/are stuck in my mind.
- Michigan grows a lot of crops, fruits and has a big dairy industry.
- Very few people at the conference had an understanding of what ranching was in a western state like Wyoming, and I found that interesting and concerning.
-There are some great places to eat in Grand Rapids!
-I saw a million dollar yacht, drank wine ground from Michigan grapes and toured a soybean processing plant that runs on methane.
-There is a heck of a lot of attention to detail that goes into growing wine grapes.
-The end result tells me they're doing a good job : )
-Every minute, 2 acres of farm land are lost to subdivision encroachment in America.
- They're much more ethanol friendly in this state than we are in Wyoming.
- Ultimately, it's all about raising a safe, nutritious food supply while improving the land, and that doesn't change between state borders. All that changes are the foods we raise, and the practices involved in our specialized areas of production.

I'll be back with a more detailed look, and some photos from the trip, soon!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Hay Buster

We purchased a hay buster this winter. This is a machine that grinds up hay and feeds it onto the ground, or into a bunk, for livestock. The benefit of grinding hay is livestock can better consume and digest hay if it's already been ground into smaller pieces. We are utilizing this machine to make some of the poorer quality hay we have on hand more palatable to our calves. If we didn't grind it,they would pick through it and consume less of the total volume of hay we fed them due to its coarseness. It still has nutritional value, but in its whole form it's not as appealing to the calves.

This is what it looks like. You back up to each bale, and pick it up with the arms on the back that are holding the second bale in place. We don't have the right mirrors on our tractor yet, so there have been some pretty humorous attempts at getting backed up to a hay bale the driver couldn't see.

Here are the controls, which run the hay buster.  The lever with the blue tape and handwriting on it is used to run the arms, and pick up hay bales and drop them into the grinder. The red-handled lever next to the blue one, and the lever on the right side of the photo that slides back and forth are used to feed the bale once it's in the grinder. Just ignore the rest of those controls for this job : )

Here is what the inside of the hay buster looks like. When you adjust the levers in the cab appropriately, the chains in the bottom move, and the whole unit works to tear the hay bale into smaller pieces, and shoot it out the side on the left in the photo.

As the feeder, this is how it looks to drive the tractor. The calves love their hay, and often start heading toward the house when they hear the tractor start in the morning.

When you reach the feed grounds, there is a specific order to things. First, you get the tractor, which is a manual and has two gear shifting knobs (technical terminology at its finest), and a lot of gear choices. You need to get into a relatively low (slow) gear.
Second, you have to turn on the lever that slides in the photo of the controls, and let it get up to speed. I apologize for those of you that know all the accurate terminology. I am not that mechanical, I just know how to run the stuff.
Third, you let out the clutch and start moving, while pushing the red handled lever forward, which turns on the actual grinder.
The result is that the hay bale starts spinning as the grinder chews it up and spits it out on the ground. You can manually adjust how coarse or fine it will chop the hay, and how wide of a pile it spits out on the machine. The size and width of the pile on the ground is also impacted by how fast or slow you drive.

The second bale just rests on the back until you're done feeding the first. Then you run the arm control to dump it into the grinder.

Here's what it looks like from outside the tractor.

Feeding, like most ranch tasks, can be a dirty, dusty job.

But the calves don't mind.

Then, when you're done with the last bale, you pull the red handled lever back, turn off the one that slides, and head for home.

This is what the hay looks like after being run through the buster. We don't have it set to chop the hay extremely fine, partially because we're feeding on the ground. But, the difference in palatability is noticable, and my dad is just tickled with his purchase.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's wishing you all a wonderful, romantic Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Issues in Agriculture

As everyone gets ready to start the work week, I would like to highlight a couple ag-related issues. I don't have time to cover everything I would like on here, and always find it refreshing when I find a great source of information on relevant topics written by others.
Up first is South Dakota being ranked the least humane state in the country by HSUS (Humane Society of the United States). I am firmly opposed to the HSUS, because they are not the same group as your local humane society. There primary goal is to end animal agriculture, and they conveniently use the assumption that they are similar in nature to your local humane society to garner funds to support their objectives, which really don't include helping pets. I live about 25 miles from the South Dakota border, and know several great farmers and ranchers that take exceptional care of their livestock every day by a standard that is self-created and unprecedented. Stories of a First Generation Farm Wife lives right in South Dakota, and has an excellent post on this topic. She also includes the link to an article printed in the Rapid City paper on this subject, which quotes another ag producer.
Second is the topic of using false information advertising, especially when that false information makes the agriculture producers in our country look bad. We deal with this a lot right now in agriculture, and it's very frustrating to have to combat and rectify false statements that are stated as fact. Crystal Cattle tackles this topic on her latest post, which highlights several of the misleading angles used in Chipotles Grammy winning commercial.
Just a couple of the important issues currently  faced by farmers and ranchers. Hope everyone's week is off to a great start!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Feeding in the Snow

 We've been getting some snow this week. Here are a few photos from feeding our yearling heifers and two-year-old cows two days ago. Have a fantastic weekend!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Buying Bulls

 I've shown our bulls before, but realize the majority of my focus tends to be on the cows, and their calves. Today I'm highlighting the men of the operation.
Bulls are half of the genetic contribution to each calf, and while a cow is very important in a lot of ways, she raises just one calf a year. A bull, on the other hand, will sire an estimated 25-30 calves per year (some do less, some do much more). One key area of importance with bulls is their genetic influence within a herd, and the fact that it will last for decades.
Because of the ability of a single bull to influence a herd, we spend a lot of time and effort and money making sure we buy bulls who will sire both bull and heifer calves we like phenotypically, and who will excel in specific performance related areas that are important to us.

First, we do our research. We check out potential sires of the bulls we will buy in semen directory catalogs, or online (you can check out one website I use here). Shown above is a page from a semen directory, with two popular sires. Producers can purchase semen from these bulls, and artificially inseminate their cows to them. This system is one way both registered and commercial cattlemen can have access to the best and most elite genetics available in the cattle industry when breeding their cows.
We buy registered Black Angus bulls, which have a lot of information recorded on them, including pedigree information, and a plethora of production related information, and how likely he is to pass those performance traits to his offspring.

Here is some of the information on the bull from the right page above, who is called Bismarck. Every bull has a name, that often includes numbers. You can see his pedigree over by the picture of the cow. The first three capitalized letters proceeding the actual name represent the ranch or people who bred the bull. For instance, SAV, stands for Schaff Angus Valley. Bismark's dad is GAR Grid Maker, and his mom is SAV Abigale 0451, and SAV Abigale 0451's dad is Schoenes Fix It 836, and her mom is SAV Abigale 6062.
Pedigrees are one part of our research. We like some bloodlines of cattle, and won't buy bulls with too much influence from other bloodlines. This is usually due to one or more traits a bloodline is known to carry, and pass on to their offspring.
Then there are the numbers, perhaps you noticed them at the top of the photo? Every two or three capitalized letters are an abbreviation for a genetic trait of importance. The number highlighted in blue is that bulls performance indicating number for that trait, and the number below that is his accuracy for that trait. The percentage number at the bottom of the grid is how he ranks in the breed.
For example, CED stands for Calving Ease Direct, and is a measure of the ease, or difficulty, this bulls calves will experience when being born. In this trait, a higher number is better, and his 13 (that's a high number in this instance) means his offspring shouldn't have any trouble. The .93 is a high accuracy for the trait, which means there is a lot of data recorded on actual offspring of this bull that were used to calculate his performance. But, you have to use all the numbers in combination, and weigh and measure them against each other to get the perfect mix that you want in your herd. Going right from CED, BW = Birth Weight, WW = Weaning Weight, YW= Yearling Weight, and so on. Each of these traits, (CED, BW, WW, YW), is called an EPD (Expected Progeny Difference).
Every breed has EPD averages for every trait you see. The numbers are a comparison of how that bull compares to other bulls in his breed, and how is progeny will differ compare to those sired by other bulls. As a rancher, I have a good idea what the breed average is for each trait, and I have my own requirements of what numbers a bull must have in each of those traits before I will buy him.

After we do our research on sires, we get out our catalog and mark any bulls that work for us on paper. That means they have the right numbers in all of those different traits for us, and their pedigree doesn't include certain individual's we don't like. Different ranchers will have different requirements based on the environment their cattle live in, how they market their cattle annually, and what their feed program is, to name a few examples.
Ranchers who sell bulls often have a sale, and they will send you a catalog if you request one, or have purchased from them in the past. Catalogs are a compilation of information on all the bulls in the sale, with their pedigrees and how they perform in all those EPD areas.

If a producer has enough bulls that meet our requirements on paper, we may attend their sale. At the sale we look at all the bulls for physical traits of importance.
First, they must structurally correct. Just as different humans have different bone and joint problems that limit their mobility, so do cattle. If we buy a bull that has an unsound skeleton, he is significantly less likely to hike over our rough terrain, and make sure he gets as many cows bred as possible in a breeding season. And, let's be honest, that is his one job each year. Structural incorrectness increases his odds of personal injury, and he can pass those problems on to his offspring. Just like your dad passing his bad knees on to you...
There are also physical attributes that indicate how a bull will perform in certain areas. EPD's, and all that information I showed you, is relatively new to the cattle industry. It's been used heavily since the early to mid 1990's. Some people still don't use EPD's as a selection tool when buying bulls, but we believe in using as much information as possible to make the best and most well-informed decision.
One thing to check out physically is the shape and size of a bulls shoulders, and the shape of his head. These are typically among the "problem spots" when calving. If a bull has smooth shoulders and a relatively long, narrow head, he's likely to pass them on to his calves, and they will be born with ease compared to calves with big, bulky shoulders and a big, fat head. Usually.
Third, a bull has to have the style and look we like. As in all things, different people have different taste, and cattle are no different. I'm really not kidding. All black cattle do not look alike.
You can get short, wide, massive bulls, or long, narrow, tall bulls. Obviously those are extreme examples, but you get the idea. My dad and I both have very specific tastes, and also as with most things, if we're going to buy a bull, we much prefer him to have the look we like. This is the "cuss and discuss" part as we call it, and we will give each other a very hard time about specific traits that one of us likes and the other doesn't : )
As we find bulls that meet our physical requirements, we write them down, with notes for areas they excel or are weak in.
Then, we combine our physical picks with the bulls who made the grade when we looked at the catalog. Any bull that passed in both areas is one to potentially bid on. We will have favorites rise to the top as we go through this process, and they will be our top picks to purchase.
A budget is set based on how deep our checkbook is prior to attending any sale, but upon arriving we will discuss how much we would be willing to spend on each bull we have marked. Dad and I like to go together, but either one of us will also go alone to bull sales.

Then the sale begins. Each bull is sold individually, in an auction-style method. Some sales are held at a local sale barn, and some ranchers have their own set of facilities on their place. You have to pay attention, and make sure you understand what price the auctioneer is at if you're bidding. If he's a good auctioneer it's not hard once you get the hang of it.
Then if all goes as planned, you will leave with your top choices for well under budget : )
Not everyone buys bulls like this, and there are lots of successful ways to buy good bulls. But, if we're buying bulls at a production sale, this is the process we go through.
To give you an idea of what bulls cost, most Black Angus sales in our part of the world averaged $3,500 - $4,500 per head last year. So far this year they are higher than that, with some averaging over $5,000 per head.
We use bulls for four years. Any longer and you run the risk of inbreeding, and the potential for sexually transmitted diseases increases. Plus, introducing new genetics is a good thing. A percentage of bulls you buy will not make it to their fourth year, and some don't even make it through their first breeding season due to death or personal injury.
The bull sale season is hitting high gear right now, and there are sales every weekend for the next several weeks. I literally have a stack of catalogs and flyers from different producers that is several inches thick.
This is one of my favorite activities in ranching, because it is how you introduce new, "better" genetics, and improve your herd through selecting bulls with specific traits and attributes. I love the entire process.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Oh Deer

Hope you're all having a fantastic week so far!

P.S., I'm linking this up with Farm Photo Friday : )

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Freelance Writer

I have had several questions in recent weeks about my job as freelance writer via email, in person, and even during interviews : )  People ask how it works, what I do, how it pays, etc...   I thought I would give a little information here, in case anyone else is curious.
I write and take pictures for multiple, primarily agriculture affiliated, newspapers and magazines. I contribute regularly to BEEF Magazine, Hereford America and Tri-State Livestock News. I've also had either my writing and/or photography work published in The Fence Post, Limousin World Magazine, Wyoming Livestock Roundup, Beef Producer Magazine, and in Wyoming Stock Growers flyers and promotional materials,
To explain how I got started as a freelancer, we need to go back to how I got started in writing. I have my degree in animal science, and had never written anything beyond an opinion column at the University of Wyoming school paper prior to being hired as the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. They hired me because of my practical background in agriculture, and obviously not my writing experience.
After a year and a half in that position, I left the Roundup and decided to attempt freelancing because I thoroughly enjoyed the interviewing and writing aspect of my job. I contacted some of the people I had met during my time as an editor, and/or who had published my photos, re-published articles I wrote during my time at the Roundup, or who were publications I thought would be interested in my work.
I had a few people willing to give me a chance, and several others who weren't interested. I sent out a lot of examples of my work, came up with a lot of ideas, and built up gradually to the amount of work I do now.  Roughly 10 months after I started, I have a wonderful form of self-employment that compliments my photography business and ranch related responsibilities nicely.
Yes, I have three jobs total.
Everyone is always very curious about the pay. Well, it varies greatly, to the extent you can add and subtract the number of zeros paid per article at different publications. I know some people who make a very good living exclusively as a freelance writer. However, I don't think this is overly common, and certainly not how you start out.
As with most self-employed positions, it takes a lot of hard work, responsibility and long hours, and you have to be dedicated and willing to put in the amount of time and effort necessary to produce a quality product every time. But, if you can handle that, the rewards are also great in that you set your own schedule, the amount of work you want to within a given time period, and the location from which you work.
I am also frequently asked what advice I have for someone wanting to enter this field. What I say is that you need to work at a publication, as in within the office, for a period of time. As with most professions, being involved in the day-to-day tasks is when you really learn about what it takes to work within the industry, who the people you need to know are, and various other nuts and bolts bits of pertinent information. There's no way I would have a clue how to even do this job without that time spent as an editor.
That's not to say that there aren't any successful writers out there who have never worked in an office, it's just that for me that was a critical contributor to my current success.
I would also encourage a person to work on a paper in high school or college if you're in that age group, and give writing or photography a try. While at the University of Wyoming, I worked with an extremely talented editor. He continually asked me to try writing editorial for the paper, but at that time I was the paper's photography editor, and in no way every saw myself writing much beyond addressing envelopes in the future. Honestly.
I cannot imagine how far ahead I would have been when the opportunity to work at the Roundup presented itself if I had taken him up on writing, even if it was just once or twice. You never know where God is going to direct your life, so if you have the chance to try something, for peets sake try it. It may just be useful in the future!
As usual, if anyone has any more questions about my writing work, anything ranch related, or other topics covered on this blog, please feel free to ask. I enjoy covering topics you want to read about!