Why My Kids Should Learn About Agriculture

I am a native of Iowa that did not grow up on a farm. I will be the first to admit that I was clueless as to the importance of agriculture. We had food on the table and in our refrigerator. I didn’t have to ask where it came from or if there was enough for the family. I can say that I really didn’t know where my food, fiber and fuel came from. I truly took a lot for granted.

Statistics say that most people today are three to four generations removed from the farm and they do not know where the food they eat comes from and really don’t know the importance of knowing anything about agriculture. Should I as an Iowan care?

  • Who are tomorrow’s influencers and decision makers:

The future of agriculture does depend on the next generation. As population grows, so does the need to be able to produce enough food to feed everyone. We need to be sure we are equipping young people with the skills and knowledge to make sound and informative decisions. The more we can teach students about where food comes from, how it is raised and if it is sustainable, the better decision makers they will become. According to the agriculture census, the average age of the American farmer is 58 years old, if this knowledge is not being passed to next generations, who will be farming tomorrow? It is vital to inspire, train and maintain a strong interest in agriculture, so we will be training and transitioning to a new younger generation of Iowan Farmers.

  • Job Markets of tomorrow:

Young people of today seek to get an education in a field of study where they will be able to find employment after a college degree is earned. Many Iowa kids have grown up on

oh the places youll go

or near farms, yet are unaware of the possibilities of what a degree in agriculture can offer them in the way of a job to do what they love to do. A degree in agriculture gives the knowledge and skills to offer students opportunities and many areas, such as: manage business, work in sales and food production, animal nutrition, plant genetics, land surveyor and journalism fields. Many young people work alongside their parents to take over the family farm, but there are many other opportunities to open doors for employment if working on the farm is not an option.

  • Introduction and exposure:

How early can students begin to learn and understand simple agriculture concepts? Children are eager to learn and understand at a very early age. We all eat. Helping very young students see the connections to farmers producing food that is healthy for us to eat is a great foundation. It helps young people develop an understanding about how food is grown and how farmers take care of the animal, the land and still provide healthy food to feed Iowans. Students learn that farmers have families and those families eat the food that is produced on the farm. These building blocks start making connections to food and farms, land and the need to always be learning.

  • They want to know & be involved

Oskaloosa Elem 2

Today’s youth want to know more about the food they eat. They are passionate about understanding and learning. Today’s technology savvy generation has so many possibilities right at their fingertips to make learning exciting and fun for kids of all ages. Farms use technology on the combines, in the barn and even on smart phones. Teachers can use computer programs and games to teach math, science, and so much more. We can even bring the classroom right into the barn with the farmer by way of FarmChat®. Farmchat® is a program that utilizes technology like Skype or Facetime to bring the farm experience into the classroom. Kids can see up close and personal and can ask questions, but they are never at risk of injury, because they are still safely seated at their desk.


Another fun and exciting way to use technology and excite the learner is Journey 2050. You can grow crops, raise livestock, craft and sell goods and engage with local and global partners as you level up. Feeding the world relies on balancing your economic, social and environmental sustainability so strive to be a leader. Along the way, real farmers from across the world will show you what they are doing on their farms. This is a great program to help kids start to really think about how we will sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050.

I have been blessed to be able to be part of Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation and have learned so much in the past few years. I encourage you to connect with your teachers and see how they are equipping students today with real world needs of tomorrow. Let’s all be able to say we are agriculturally literate – an agriculturally literate person understands the relationship between agriculture and the environment, food, fiber and energy, animals, lifestyle, the economy and technology. We need to be part of a team to build interest and excitement for agriculture in Iowa and beyond. We’d love to have you join our team and advocate for agriculture.


Sheep Vocabulary

Baa Baa Black sheep, have you any wool? It’s spring time… and that means it’s lambing season. The grass is soon to green and the weather will begin to warm up and the ewes are ready to give birth to their baby lambs.

Growing up on a small family acreage, lambing season was by far my favorite time of year. There was always excitement awaiting the birth of the new baby lambs. We would go out to the barn multiple times a day to do chores and to make sure the ewes had everything they needed to have their lambs. It was always exciting to go out and hear a little “baa” and find a new lamb.

Let’s learn some Ovis aries (That’s the scientific name for sheep) vocabulary and breeds!


Ewe: A ewe is a female sheep and a young female sheep is called a ewe lamb.

Ram: A ram is an intact male sheep. He is able to reproduce when he is put in a pen with female ewes. A male lamb has reached its sexual maturity approximately 6-8 months after birth. Normally, one ram can breed between 30 – 35 ewes each breeding season.

Lamb: A lamb is a young sheep that is under one year of age. They typically have not produced an offspring yet.

Lambing: Lambing is the act of giving birth to a lamb. Sheep have a 145 day gestation period. That means that it takes 145 days from the time that fertilization takes place until the baby lamb is born. You can find a lambing calculator here. Spring lambing takes advantage of the ewe’s natural breeding cycle. The ewes are often bred between October and December for the lambs to be born between March and May. Spring lambs improve breeding outcomes and allows for better pasture utilization.

Lamb Vs. Mutton: Meat produced from young sheep under one year old is called lamb. Lamb is very mild and tender meat. Mutton is the meat from sheep that are more than one year old. Unlike lamb, mutton has a more intense flavor. Mutton is also less tender than lamb. 

Wool: The fiber that sheep grow is called wool. The wool from one sheep is called fleece. Each year a sheep can produce 2 to 30 pounds of wool depending on the breed. The wool is sheared from the sheep and collected to make yarn or blankets.

Nutrition: Sheep are ruminant animals. They have four-chambered stomachs. Because of the makeup of their stomachs, sheep are natural grazers. Their diet consists of forages like grass, hay, and silage. They can also consume grain like corn or pellets. Sheep love the taste of grain, it is like “candy” to them. Farmers must be careful and not overfeed grain to sheep because they can overeat and large amounts of lactic acid can build up in their rumen. This could be fatal for the sheep. It is important to introduce grain slowly to their diet to give time for the rumen to adjust to the new diet.


Polled Dorset
Photo By: Cgoodwin

Dorset: Dorset sheep originated in southern England. They were first imported to the US 1885. Dorset sheep are all white. They are medium sized. Dorsets are known for their ability to breed out of season and lamb up to two times a year. The Polled Dorset, without horns, is the most popular breed in the United States. Many 4-Hers start their 4-H sheep project with a Dorset ewe lamb.


lincoln sheep

Photo By: NLSBA

Lincoln: Lincoln sheep are considered to be one of the world’s largest breeds of sheep. They are an English breed. They produce heavy, long and lustrous fleece. The Lincoln breed is mainly used for wool production.  They were first brought to the United States in the 1800’s. Today, Lincoln sheep are quite rare in the United States.

rambouillet sheep

Photo By: OSU

Rambouillet: This large, rugged, and long-living breed is the foundation of most western range flocks. Rambouillet sheep flock well together, which is an important trait for range flocks. They are considered to be a dual-purpose breed which means they can be used for wool or meat production.

suffolk sheepSuffolk: The Suffolk breed is one of the most popular breeds of sheep in the United States. They originated from England and were brought to the US in 1888. They produce high quality market lambs. The Suffolk breed is the preferred for producing club lambs. The lambs grow fast and produce well-muscled carcasses. Suffolk rams are commonly used for crossbreeding programs because they produced lambs with lean, high-yield carcasses, and a rapid growth rate. Suffolk ewes are excellent mothers and produce plenty of milk for their offspring.

Laura with lamb

Me as a child checking on the baby lambs on my family’s acreage.

Happy lambing season from my farm to yours!



Why Do They Do That? – Vaccines

Cold and flu season may be waning for the year for humans, but farmers might still give their animals vaccines. Why do they do that?

One of a farmer’s main priorities in raising animals is keeping the animals healthy. Vaccines are one of the tools that farmers use to help keep their animals healthy. First, it is important to understand the difference between vaccines and antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections AFTER an animal like a pig or a human have gotten sick. Antibiotics are chemical agents that act by killing the bacteria or preventing the bacteria from multiplying. Vaccines on the other hand are given to animals BEFORE they get sick to try and prevent infection. Vaccines use a dead or modified virus to stimulate the body’s natural defenses against infection without causing the illness itself. If after the immunization, the body is exposed to the specific virus in the future, it will recognize it and fight off the infection much more quickly and effectively.

Once an animal receives a vaccination, the immune system responds by producing antibodies that destroy the infectious agents. This stimulates immunity from contracting the disease in the future. Vaccines are typically used to fight viral diseases but can also be used to immunize against bacteria, bacterial toxins, or parasites. They are usually given to animals in the form of an injection.

IMG_5457.JPGPigs, for example, are communal animals. They love being around and interacting with each other. Modern farms raise pigs in barns and in shared pens. Each pig has a lot of close contact with all of the other pigs. If one pig gets sick, there is a high likelihood that all of the other pigs would get sick too. It is sometimes hard and costly to treat a lot of sick pigs. So preventing illness is the preferred strategy. If all pigs are vaccinated, then they are all safe. Even if one animal doesn’t get vaccinated, it should still be safe because of herd immunity.

There are several diseases that are common in pigs. Procine parvovirus, PRRS, swine fever, and swine influenza are just a couple of examples that vaccinations can help protect against. In part, farmers are trying to manage the health of their animals. But some of these diseases (like swine flu) can be transmitted to humans. Keeping the pigs healthy helps keep humans healthy.

Throughout much of human history, diseases have caused widespread deaths. Smallpox was one of the most feared. In 1774 and English farmer inoculated his wife and sons with puss from a cowpox lesion on one of his cows. The wife and sons couldn’t contract the cowpox, but it was similar enough to smallpox that their bodies developed a resistance to both diseases. This was how the idea of vaccination first started. This inoculation technique was widely used and then by 1796 Edward Jenner had success in research and experimentation with vaccinations. His techniques continued to improve and over the succeeding years were applied to other diseases.


Most piglets receive their first shots of vaccines within a week after they are born. This helps ensure they have a healthy immune system from early on. These early vaccines are for common diseases and can be easily prevented. After the first round of shots, sometimes booster shots are required to ensure the vaccine is effective. Viruses can mutate in nature. Influenza or flu viruses for example mutate very quickly. So the same vaccine might not work year after year. In cases like that, animals may need to be vaccinated with a different vaccine that year to prevent the specific strain of influenza (just like with humans).

IMG_8324.jpgJust like antibiotics, vaccines have a withdrawal period. Humans don’t want those vaccines to be in the meat. So an animal cannot be harvested within a certain time period. The vaccines will have done their job and then been naturally flushed out of the body by the time the withdrawal period has passed. Each vaccine is a little different, but withdrawal periods can be around 21 days. Vaccination is a common and safe part of the pork industry. It helps ensure the health of the individual animal and the health of the whole herd. Just like humans should be vaccinated, animals should be too!


Ag 101: Eggs

Aurora moving along the horizonWhile stocking up on eggs recently, I noticed the wide variety of choices in the egg section.  There were white eggs, brown eggs, and sizes ranging from medium to jumbo.  I also found cartons labeled free-range, cage-free and organic.  Looking at all of the options sparked many questions.  Does shell color affect the taste or nutrition? How will egg size affect my recipe?  Is free-range and cage-free the same?  I had more questions the longer I thought about it.

After a few conversations with farmers and a little online research, I found my answers.


brown eggsWhat’s the difference between white and brown eggs?

Egg shell color is determined by the breed of the chicken. White-feathered chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs. Red or brown-feathered chickens with red ear lobes lay usually lay brown eggs.

Does shell color matter?  Not really.  Nutritionally there is no difference.

Where are most eggs produced?  

I’m proud to say that Iowa is the top egg producing state!  According to the Iowa Egg Council, one in five eggs consumed United States is from an Iowa farm.  Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas round out the top five egg-producing states.  These five states represent over half of all U.S. layers.

chicken10Why are so many eggs produced in Iowa?

Corn and soybeans are key components of a hen’s diet. In fact, Iowa’s laying hens eat a  8 million bushels of corn and 30 million bushels of soybeans annually. Raising hens near their feed source reduces the overall production costs.  Chicken litter, or manure, from Iowa’s egg farms also provides a valuable soil amendment and nutrient source that is used to grow the next crop of corn and soybeans.

Are most eggs gathered by hand?

Farmers who raise a small number of hens to sell eggs locally likely gather their eggs by hand.  But most of today’s farms utilize automated gathering belts to do the job!  Check out this cool video to see how it works!

How old are eggs in the grocery store?   

Most eggs raised commercially, are shipped off the farm within 24 to 36 hours of being laid.  Most go to a distributor, but still arrive at your local store within a week after being laid.

Apple Blossom In Spring!What’s the difference between free range, cage free, and organic eggs?

Here’s the simple explanation:

Free-range eggs are produced by hens have access to outdoors.  The hens consume grains, but may also eat wild plants and insects.

Cage-Free eggs are produced by hens raised inside, but may roam in a room or open area within the barn or poultry house.

Organic eggs come from uncaged hens that have access to the outdoors.  The hens are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.

Visit the American Egg Board’s overview of common production systems if you’d like to know more.

What determines egg size?

All hens lay small eggs at first.  The size of their eggs increases as they mature.  In most modern breeds, hens are laying large to jumbo eggs by the time they are 40 weeks old.

A hen’s breed, body weight, and feed intake also affect egg size.


eggs2What size eggs should I buy?

If you are buying eggs to scramble, fry, or poach, it really doesn’t matter.  After some experimentation, you might find that you have a preference based on your appetite.  For me, two large eggs make the perfect breakfast.  If I am buying eggs to make deviled eggs, I prefer x-large or jumbo ones.

Buying eggs to use in recipes is a different story.  Most recipes are developed using large eggs.  Using a different size, especially when baking, will affect the texture, flavor balance, and consistency.  I have a friend who only buys x-large eggs.  She is an avid baker and doesn’t notice a difference if the recipe only calls for a few eggs.  However, if she is doubling a recipe she will often use one less egg than called for.   For example, if the recipe calls for six eggs, she’ll only use five.  This egg size conversion chart is a handy recourse if your family prefers an egg size other than large.

– Cindy




Dogs in Agriculture

Everyone loves dogs. My favorite dog is my mutt, Odie, whose only real accomplishment is that he’ll shake your hand if you give him a treat. However, I have always been fascinated by different breeds of dogs, their skills, and their many different “jobs,” especially those relating to agriculture. Today, I thought I’d walk through a few different dog breeds and their jobs in agriculture to learn more about these cute and loyal animals.

One of the main uses of dogs in agriculture is for herding. As you might expect, ranchers from all over the world have needed help herding various livestock through history. This means that there is a wide variety of herding dogs originating from places like Europe, the U.S. and Australia, all bred for similar herding capabilities.

What kind of capabilities are they, though? Herding dogs tend to be medium-size dogs that are very smart, athletic, and energetic. Though herding is an instinct in herding dogs, they also require a lot of training to work with their owners and recognize specific commands. For example, on a hillside in Ireland, a sheep rancher might use a variety of different whistles to command their dog on which pen, pasture, or paddock (section of a pasture) to direct the sheep towards. For some of these herding dogs, their instincts and temperament will be more important to breeders than their visual characteristics.


Photo by the American Kennel Club: http://akc.org/dog-breeds/border-collie/

First and foremost, I’d like to recognize Border Collies. Border Collies are a herding breed that originated from Scotland, and are widely recognized as the smartest breed of dog. Border Collies have an incredible instinct for herding livestock, and with a little training, a good Border Collie might be the only extra body a farmer needs to move their livestock from one place to another. In fact, when I was younger, a Border Collie named Andy once tried to herd me away from an electric fence! Here are some cool videos of Border Collies working.


Photo by the American Kennel Club: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/australian-shepherd/

Another beautiful breed of herding dogs are Australian Shepherds. Australian Shepherds are similar to Border Collies in many respects. They are smart, loyal, and have good herding instincts that can help farmers shepherd their animals. They are also very energetic, and are known for their beautiful merle coats.

Some more examples of herding breeds include Blue Heelers, Collies, German Shepherds, and even Pembroke Welsh Corgis!

Another big job dogs can have in agriculture is protection. Livestock animals tend to be prey animals, which makes keeping them safe from predators a big deal to farmers. This is especially true for sheep and alpacas. On sheep farms, there may be a big dog that lives with the sheep to help protect them from coyotes, mountain lions, or even other wild dogs that can hurt the livestock. A good term for this type of dog is livestock guardian dog.

Since the protective trait is largely instinctive, a good guardian dog will probably join the flock or herd as a puppy so they can imprint on the animals. Some people say that this also means that human contact should be kept to a minimum, but that has been argued specifically so that humans can help train the dogs on their duties. These dogs should be trustworthy, attentive, and protective. Generally, they are also large dogs, and tend to be gentle when not actively protecting another animal.

One breed of guardian dog is the Anatolian Shepherd. This breed is quite old, and originated in Anatolia (the Asian portion of Turkey). There are artifacts documenting this breed’s ancestors back to the Babylonian Empire! These dogs are large, rugged, and like other guardian dogs, are smart and devoted.

One of my favorite working dog breeds is the Great Pyrenees. Apart from being huge (males are around 100 pounds) and extra fluffy, they are smart, patient, and calm. These dogs were bred to work with livestock in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. Though they are known for their patience and calm, they are also known for being courageous and attentive when watching over their flock on snowy mountainsides.


Photo by the American Kennel Club: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/great-pyrenees

Some other common guardian dog breeds are the Komondor, Pyrenean Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and other types of shepherds and mountain dogs.

Of course, dogs have many other amazing skills, from helping people with disabilities, to sniffing out everything from bombs and drugs to missing people and even diseases, to pulling sleds, helping hunt, and of course being loyal and loving companions. Humans have co-evolved with these great animals, benefiting us both with protection, companionship, and assistance in a variety of tasks.

What breeds of working dogs are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!


Daylight Savings Doesn’t Matter on the Farm

Over this past weekend we “sprang forward” for daylight saving time.  Daylight savings time was adopted in the United States March 19, 1918 as an act to preserve daylight and summer-sunset-meadow-nature-442407provide a standard time for the United States. The official reason was for fuel savings. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the policy because Americans getting off work while there was still daylight meant that people could go shopping or enjoy sports and recreational activities. There is a thought that Daylight Savings was created to benefit farmers and ranchers, but the time differences do not work in favor of the farm. Farmers actually lobbied against the establishment of Daylight Savings. Most agricultural related activities are based on hours of daylight instead of clock hours. Does time change help to get more done or are the effects felt in other ways?

When the time does change I enjoy the extra sunlight in the evening, but I also feel a bit of “jet lag” because I lose an hour of sleep. My body responds by being a bit weary and sluggish until my internal clock gets adjusted. I was curious how this change affects the animals on the farm. Does it make a difference? Are there any notable stressors to livestock?

Just like I maintain a schedule, livestock have routines, too. Granted, the routine is shaped around human factors and activities – but when the routine is disrupted it can confuse the animal. The body has a circadian rhythm, that is a “body clock” that tells our bodies when to rest, sleep, eat. The circadian rhythm responds to light and darkness in our environment. Circadian rhythms are found in most living things, including plants pexels-photo-382166and animals. On a farm, dairy cows will have a regular schedule for being milked, if the farmer alters the timing to an hour later, the cows will feel the discomfort because their internal clock tells the cows that it is past time to be milked. The cows’ udders continue to produce milk and pressure builds up in a regular amount of time. The cow does not know that clocks have been adjusted and it is not time for milking. The cow needs to get used to the new schedule. It is suggested to avoid livestock issues surrounding daylight savings time to gradually adjust schedules in the days before so that animals do not have to experience an observable difference to the normal daily events.

Change in the amount of light is a signal to plants, animals and people – that days are getting longer and warmer weather is on the way. Plants need the sunlight to grow and warmer weather brings new life on the farm. Our previous post on baby animals and Spring time sheds some light on warmer temperatures and birth on the farm. Some animals like chickens are greatly affected by the number of daylight hours. That is whypexels-photo-840111 most chicken barns are lit artificially to maintain regularity in their schedules. Farmers need to be out in the field and they will be in the field until the work is done. People and animals on the farm are not guided by the clock on the wall. If it is light outside, then workers will be in the fields and cattle roaming. What matters is not the time on the clock, but the work that needs to be done in daylight hours. We may enjoy a little more sunlight on the quiet evening – but the farmers are taking advantage of a little more daylight to get the work done – so that we all can enjoy food on our tables.



What’s Cookin’: Angel Food Cake

angel food cakeHomemade Angel Food Cake is a staple for birthday celebrations in my family. It started many years ago when my grandmother would make a homemade angel food cake for each child’s birthday. She even made homemade 7-minute frosting to go with it!

When I was in 4-H, I wanted to learn how to make a homemade angel food cake so I could make the next family birthday cake just like my grandmother! I was determined to have a blue ribbon entry at the Louisa County Fair. Each week for two months I made an angel food cake to perfect my cake baking skills. My mom and dad were expert taste testers by fair time. My cake went on to receive a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair!

Learn about each ingredient so you can make a blue ribbon angel food cake for your next birthday celebration!

cake flourCake Four- Cake flour is similar to regular all-purpose flour, but is more refined. Cake flour starts as wheat, then millers find the wheat germ’s endosperm, the softest part of the kernel. The endosperm is extracted, then ground into a fine powder. It is usually so refined that the end result is a light, powdery substance. It often has the texture of baby powder. Cake flour is also bright white due to the intensive bleaching process that it undergoes as it is being made. The gluten content affects the density of baked goods. Gluten is related to the protein content. Bread flour has about 15% protein content, whereas cake flour has 7%. Cake flour’s lower protein content creates lighter, fluffier products, perfect for angel food cake!

Egg Whites- Eggs are produced by chickens. It is important to only use the egg whites when making an angel food cake for optimum results. Egg whites contain almost no fat and 50% of the protein found in eggs. It is a clear liquid contained within an egg formed around the egg yolk. The final product will result in a light, fluffy angel food cake with no fat! You can separate the egg whites from the yolks by using an egg separator.

cream of tartarCream of Tartar- Cream of Tartar is a byproduct from the wine industry. When tartaric acid is partially neutralized with potassium hydroxide, Cream of Tartar is formed.  In baking, Cream of Tartar is used to stabilize egg whites and whipped cream.

pure cane sugarWhite Sugar- White sugar can be produced from sugar cane or sugar beets. Check out this video to see how sugar beets are made into sugar. The process includes harvesting the sugar cane or sugar beets, extracting the juice, evaporating the excess water, boiling the syrup, drying the sugar crystals, and finally storing the sugar in the paper packaging like we see in the grocery store.

vanilla extractVanilla- Vanilla extract is made by percolating chopped vanilla beans with ethyl alcohol and water in large steel containers. The beans stay with the extracts for about 48 hours then the extract is filtered and stored in a holding tank until it is time to be bottled.

almond extractAlmond Extract- Pure almond extract is made from bitter almond oil, water, and alcohol. Almond oil is extracted from almond drupes. The strong almond flavor comes from benzaldehyde, a substance found in the kernels of drupes.

iodized saltSalt- Salt is obtained in three ways: evaporation from sea water, mining salt from the earth, and creating salt brines. Table salt is most commonly a product of salt brines. Salt brines are made by pumping water below earth’s surface to dissolve salt deposits and to create a brine. The brine is then pumped to the earth’s surface and evaporated to create salt. This method produces a very clean, inexpensive, high yielding table salt.

angel food cake suppliesfolding in flourangel food cake batter

Angel Food Cake- 

Recipe from: Merry Welsch, Winfield, Iowa 

1 1/4 Cups sifted cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/2 Cup white sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 Cups egg whites (about 12 eggs)*

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 Cups sugar

Measure sifted flour. Add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times. Combine egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and flavorings. Beat until soft moist peaks form. Beating slowly, add the remaining sugar in four additions. Fold in flour mixture with a wire whisk. Pour into an ungreased tube pan. Cut through batter. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes. Invert to cool. Remove from pan once cool.

*Set eggs out 2 hours ahead to allow them to reach room temperature for optimum results.

angel food cake goodsStrawberries and vanilla ice cream are the perfect pair to your homemade angel food cake! Enjoy!