Spend any time around farmers’ markets, school activities, fairs, and other similar events and you’re likely to hear agriculture ‘facts’ from adults and children alike that can make you scratch your head. Iowa is one of the leading agriculture states, so you’d think most of us have had our fair share of time on a farm or around others who have a farm. But I think you’d still be surprised to hear some of the misconceptions in agriculture.
A recent family outing to a local farm over the Easter weekend was one such event. This local farm offers many activities for families throughout the year – a pumpkin patch, Easter egg hunt, and a cut-your-own-Christmas-tree experience, among others. They have farm animals you can feed, ponies to ride, a corn pit, massive hay bales to climb, and a huge mud kitchen as well as several other activities. One of my daughters’ favorite activities is feeding the goats. While my daughters were feeding the goats, I overheard another child ask their parent why the farm only had boy goats (since they all had horns). The parent responded that it was kind of strange that there were only boy goats.
It got me thinking…what other misconceptions do children and adults have regarding agriculture topics?
Misconception 1: Only male goats have horns
Despite the misconception that only male animals can have horns, some female animals such as goats can have horns. The horns of a male (buck) goat are typically much thicker and longer than the female (doe). Animals with horns typically use their horns to defend themselves from predators or members of their own species, and for dominance.
Misconception 2: Cotton is from sheep
The fluffiness of cotton can cause some people to think it comes from sheep. Cotton actually comes from a plant and is one of the planet’s most widely-used natural fibers. Cotton has been cultivated and used to make fabrics for at least 7,000 years.
Cotton is native to the Americas, Africa, and India. The plant requires a warm, dry climate with lots of sunshine. In the U.S., these growing conditions limit cotton production to the southern U.S. region. According to the National Cotton Council of America, 98 percent of the U.S. cotton is grown in 14 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas).
Cotton takes about five months to grow from a planted seed to a ripe plant ready for harvest. Cotton plants grow into green, bushy shrubs about three feet in height. The plants grow pink and cream-colored flowers. Once these flowers are pollinated, they drop off and are replaced with cotton bolls. Inside each cotton boll is fluffy white lint as well as the cotton seeds. The cotton must be removed from the seeds before it can be made into items such as clothes.
Clear into the 1950s, cotton was picked by hand and the seeds were removed by hand which were both labor-intensive activities. As early as 1793 though, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, a machine that was able to extract the seeds from cotton bolls.
Today, cotton is entirely machine harvested.
Some of today’s high-capacity gins can turn out as much as 30,000 pounds of clean, cotton fiber in one hour. This video shows how cotton is grown and harvested.
While you may think cotton is only used in materials such as clothes, cotton is also used in many items we consume. The oil from the cotton seed is extracted and used in products such as potato chips and crackers as well as beauty products. Cotton seed is also sold as livestock feed for animals such as dairy cows.
To get back to our original question does cotton come from sheep? No, sheep produce wool. You can learn more about wool in one of our previous blog posts.
Did you know? John Deere’s Des Moines Works production plant is one of the locations that build John Deere cotton pickers.
Misconceptions 3, 4, 5 & 6: Milk is…
More than 47 billion pounds of milk was sold in the U.S. in 2018. Despite this large number, many people still have quite a few misconceptions on where milk is from and how it’s produced. The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture asked recently what common questions agriculture education professionals hear about various topics. The topic of milk came up and some of the questions show us there is definitely confusion of where your milk comes from. Examples of these questions include:
- Beef cows make the milk I drink from the store.
- Chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
- Milk is cow urine.
- (When viewing a dairy cow with an udder) – Is that a bull?
Milk comes from dairy cows, not beef cows. A dairy cow is bred to have a calf so they can continue to produce milk. Once the calf is weaned, the mother continues to lactate for another 10-12 months. This is the milk collected for human consumption. The key to a good milk output is a good diet. Dairy cows eat 45 kilograms of feed (a mix of hay, grass, and grains) and supplements with minerals. On a hot day, one dairy cow can drink the equivalent of a bathtub of water. This YouTube video, Milk – How It’s Made, gives you a peek inside milk production. And, no brown cows don’t make chocolate milk.
Did you know? Iowa is the 12th largest milk-producing state in the U.S. There are approximately 1,360 licensed dairy herds in Iowa. Source: Midwest Dairy Association
Misconception 7, 8 & 9: Eggs are a dairy product
In the past, families had their own cows, chickens and other animals to produce their family’s food. As modern agriculture progressed, more people were able to leave the farm life behind and move into cities in search of their fortunes. However, this move of people away from the farm has led to an increasing lack of knowledge of where our food comes from. This is even true for something as simple as eggs. When asking both young and old, there are quite a few misconceptions of eggs.
Eggs are a dairy product.
You need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs.
Brown eggs are from farms, white eggs are from the store.
Let’s break down each of these misconceptions.
- Eggs are a dairy product – While eggs may be shelved in the dairy section of your grocery store, eggs are definitely not a dairy product. The definition of dairy includes foods produced from the milk of mammals such as cows and goats. Eggs come from poultry, and in the grocery store that means mainly chickens.
- You need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs – Unless you want fertilized eggs, you don’t need a rooster (male chicken) for hens (female chickens) to lay eggs. A hen will produce an egg once every 24 to 27 hours and it will form the egg regardless of whether the egg is actively fertilized during its formation. Learn more about how a hen produces an egg.
- Brown eggs are from farms, white eggs are from the store. Nowadays, both brown and white eggs are available from the store. Egg color is determined by the genetics of the hens, according to the Michigan State University Extension. White-feathered chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs. Red or brown-feathered chickens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs.
Different regions of the country have a variety of preferences in shell color. White eggs are the most common in most places except the New England states. Those states prefer brown eggs. No matter the shell color, nutritionally there is no difference. Eggs are among the highest quality protein source you can get and is a crucial ingredient in many recipes.
Did you know? Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the United States. Iowa farmers are responsible for about 1 in 5 eggs consumed in the U.S. each year. Iowa’s economy benefits from the egg industry as well as contributing to more than $2 billion in total sales and more than 8,000 jobs. Learn more about Iowa’s egg industry.
What are some common misconceptions you’ve heard or have about the agriculture industry?
- What is Cotton?
- Field to Fabric
- How Cotton is Processed in Factories
- The Story of Cotton
- Milk – How it’s Made
- Milking Cows – Why Do They Do That?
- Welcome to the Dairy Farm
- How Milk Gets from Farm to Fridge
- PSA – Eggs are Not Dairy, Despite Being Sold in the Dairy Aisle
- Ag 101: Curious Things You Want to Know about Chickens