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!

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

1/4 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!



Why Do They Do That? – Antibiotics

I recently was at the meat counter of a local grocery store and was noticing several prime cuts of meat. They all looked delicious. I was already imagining a slow roasted brisket for St. Patrick’s Day. But I noticed some of the cuts were labeled hormone free and antibiotic free. Sounds great! I don’t want any weird stuff in my meat. But if antibiotics in meat are such a bad thing, then why do farmers use them?

beef_cow25.jpgJust like humans, livestock sometimes get sick. When they get sick, farmers what to do whatever they can to help get them healthy again. The first step is to (if possible) separate sick animals from the rest of the herd. This helps minimize the spread of an infection or illness – especially if it is at all contagious. The second step is to call the veterinarian. Just like doctors prescribe antibiotics for sick humans, veterinarians prescribe antibiotics for sick animals. The antibiotics are administered with the supervision of the vet.

Careful records are kept, too. The farmer and the vet know exactly how much of an antibiotic was given. They keep record of the date and record of exactly which animal it was given to. Antibiotics are medicines that inhibit the growth of or destroy microorganisms – specifically harmful strains of bacteria. Eventually, after the antibiotic has targeted the harmful bacteria it will start to break down in the body and be eliminated from the animal’s system. The time that it takes for the antibiotic to break down is known as the withdrawal period. Different antibiotics will have different withdrawal times and interact a little differently in different animals and different types of tissues in the body.


Sometimes the withdrawal period is short (1-2 days), sometimes it is long (2-3 weeks). Knowing withdrawal times and keeping record of when animals were given antibiotics is important. Dairy animals cannot be milked and meat animals cannot be harvested until after they have passed the withdrawal period. Milk and meat are both tested as a safety measure to ensure there are not traces of antibiotics. Following these withdrawal periods means that none of the meat at the grocery store has antibiotics in it.

But then I noticed another label that said ‘raised without antibiotics‘. This means that the animals were never given antibiotics. Either they never got sick (always the goal anyway) or if they did get sick those animals were separated and not sold with that label. In cattle, horses and other animals, antibiotics are primarily given in a case by case scenario – only as needed.

chicken8.jpgBut poultry (chickens and turkeys) and swine (pigs) can be a little different. Poultry and swine are raised with many animals in the same building. Chickens like to flock together and pigs like each other’s company. But if one animal gets sick, there is the potential that the entire flock or herd would get sick. Farmers sometimes choose not to take this risk and add antibiotics into the animal feed so that all animals receive antibiotics. For young animals that haven’t had enough time to develop their immune system, the intent is to help keep them healthy. The use of these antibiotics are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA. But animals who have had antibiotics added to their food are still subject to the withdrawal period before they are harvested so there are no antibiotics in the meat at the butcher counter.

Antibiotics seem like they are really important for animal health. And with appropriate regulations in place and safety checks, I feel confident that there are no antibiotic residues in my meat. I think I will go ahead and get that brisket and look forward to some corned beef!


Why do they do that? Wrapping Bales

wrapped bales

It is common for farmers to store big round bales outside. Have you ever noticed that some are wrapped in a net or solid plastic? Why do they do that?

Farmers often bale hay in large round bales instead of small square bales because they require less labor to bale and move than small square bales. The shape of round bales enables them to be stored outside, something you would never do with square bales. Rain and snow naturally run off their curved sides, like a roof.

Farmers have three choices of materials to wrap bales – twine, net wrap, or plastic wrap. Unlike gift wrap, the choice isn’t just about presentation. It’s about baling efficiency and storage. If properly baled and stored, hay can last a long time without degrading in quality.

twine wrapped bale -

Bale wrapped with twine. (Source:

Twine is the least expensive bailing material, but some hay can be lost as it is baled and moved. Twine bales are also more prone to damage when stored outside. They do shed water as well as net or plastic wrapped bales. Moisture increases the likelihood of spoilage and decreases the nutritional valuae of the hay.

A woven plastic material called net wrap is often preferred over twine, especially by farmers who need to store hay outside. Net-wrap can cost two to three times as much per bale as twine, but it has three big benefits that justify its cost. Net-wrap reduces harvest loss, storage loss, and time needed to bale. Net wrapping only takes a couple turns in the baler, compared to 15 to 30 for twine bales. As a result, a farmer can make thirty percent more bales per hour using net wrap. This not only saves time but also reduces fuel and equipment wear.

net wrapped bale -

Bale wrapped with net wrap. (Source:

Plastic wrap is most commonly used in high-moisture baling. In this method the forage crop is cut sooner, immediately baled, and wrapped in plastic to ferment like silage. The finished bales look like giant white marshmallows. Baleage can be made from 40-65% moisture forage, while traditional hay is dried to 16% percent before it is baled. Because forage is at it’s highest quality when cut, baleage is higher in protein and more palatable for livestock than dry hay.

plastic wrapped bales -

Bales wrapped with plastic film. (Source:

Like most aspects of farming, there are many options to consider. Farmers weigh the costs, benefits, and risks, and choose the option that is the best fit for their operation.

– Cindy

Why Do They Do That? Rotating Crops

It’s still winter outside, which means farmers are carefully planning how they plan to manage their crops starting in the spring. One thing that farmers carefully plan is what crops they want to plant in what fields.

Though you may not notice by driving by farm fields every year, most farmers plant different crops on their fields year after year. For example, one specific field in 2016 might have been planted in corn and another field might have been planted in soybeans. Then in 2017, the first field may have been planted in soybeans, and the second field may have been planted in corn. This is called a crop rotation. But why do they do that?


There are multiple reasons and multiple ways to rotate crops. The first, and likely the most prevalent reason, is nutrient uptake in plants. Compared to other crops, corn needs lots of nutrients, especially nitrogen. This makes soybeans a good crop to alternate with corn, because soybeans have nodules on their roots that host bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen. Thus, soybeans require less nitrogen to be applied to the field and they deposit more nitrogen into the soil. Other legume crops, like alfalfa, offer similar benefits.

Another reason farmers rotate crops is to break fungus, disease, or insect life cycles. By changing up the type of crop grown in a specific location, you can disturb certain pests that rely on that environment. However, if this is a large concern, the field would likely require more than one year of an alternate crop. For example, soybeans are often affected by nematodes. Nematodes won’t feed on corn like they do with soybeans. By rotating corn and soybean fields, farmers can minimize the nematode population that might affect their soybean yield.

Planting various crops year after year can also benefit soil tilth. Different crops have different root structures, which can help aerate the soil in different ways, as well as provide different amounts of organic material to the soil.

In Iowa, many farmers do a corn-soybean crop rotation, meaning one year they will plant corn on the field, and the next year they will plant soybeans before returning to corn the following year. They are able to do this because Iowa has relatively healthy soils, and both of these crops offer farmers here the most financial gain at the end of the season. However, lots of research is being done on extended crop rotations, which add in other components, like small grains (like oats) and forages (like alfalfa).

According to Soil Fertility and Fertilizers by Havlin, Beaton, Tisdale, and Nelson, “Numerous long-term experiments have demonstrated that, in general, rotations increase long-term crop and soil productivity compared with continuous cropping.” Extended crop rotations could also play a role in mitigating nitrate losses.

However, these extended crop rotations are not always an easy sell. Because the markets in Iowa tend to favor corn and soybeans, small grains and forages might not be valuable if the farmer doesn’t also raise livestock. That said, even if extended crop rotations aren’t the best option for a specific farmer, two-year crop rotations, conservation tillage systems, and responsible nutrient management are all tools that can help to meet similar objectives.

soybean square

In summary, crop rotations are good for many things, but mostly help to keep the soil healthy. Iowa’s main crops are corn and soybeans, and when alternated, they can help each other grow the best they can.


How Does it Work: Grain Elevators

Farmers plant corn in their field in late April and May and in the fall corn is harvested by a grain combine. Once the corn is harvested (usually in September, October, or November) it is dried and stored on a farm or in a grain elevator and from there is shipped to mills and refineries. So, how does a grain elevator work?

Combines harvest grain out of the field and transfer it to a grain cart or directly into a truck that can carry the crop to the grain elevator. Grain elevators are located near railways or waterways to accommodate shipping the grain out after being processed. Elevators are generally in small rural areas which is less distance for the farmer to haul the grain. It is easy to recognize the grain elevator. 1It is sometimes the tallest building in town, between 70 to 120 feet tall!

The truck carrying the grain pulls into the local grain elevator and then stops on the scale at the elevator to be weighed. The operator takes a sample of the grain to test for the weight, moisture content and to check for any foreign materials present. Foreign materials could consist of chewed up corn, stalks, weeds or trash. To store grain, the moisture content needs to be around 15% or the grain might mold at higher percentages or be too dry at lower percentages. If the grain is too wet farmers have to pay to have it dried at the elevator. Either one of these scenarios will lower the cost per bushel.


The grain is then dumped from the truck to a work floor of the elevator. The work floor is an open, slatted floor where the grain dumps into pit and will then travel on a continuous belt that has buckets attached to scoop up the grain and then deposits it into silos. This bucket system elevates the grain taking it from the floor to the top of the silo (thus the whole facility is called a grain elevator). The empty truck will drive back to the scale to weigh the truck again. This will tell the elevator operator how much corn was unloaded.

The farmer will be given a receipt called a weight or scale ticket. This ticket will tell the number of bushels calculated as being brought to the elevator. It is important for the  farmer to know the weight of the grain that was dumped. Corn is sold by the bushel and the standard weight of a bushel is 56 pounds. It is the measurement for weight when buying or selling crops. The ticket will be a record of delivery for the farmer. The scale ticket will show the date, quantity, kind of grain and quality of the grain being delivered. It will also tell if the grain is to be sold or stored.

Grain elevators were created to hold crops being purchased or available for resale, and 7to help with the problem of storing grain. The essential function of storage is to protect the grain from the elements and allow for it to be stored and tracked for quality and temperature. The inside building houses a vertical storage with bins that allows for easy transport of the grain. Proper storage is of utmost importance. If the crop is left in the field it can have reduced return on investment due to insects, mold and birds or rodents. Crops must be clean. The moisture content is a major factor for storing safely. High moisture can lead to mold and fungus. As grains reach maturity the moisture content diminishes.

Storage of grain will allow flexibility to the farmer to use marketing and possibly receive season price increases. There is a cost incurred for storing grains, so the farmer must decide based on storage capacity and expected returns after storage. If selling the crop later for a price that exceeds the current selling price is the better decision, the farmer will choose to store the grain. Proper use of storage will potentially increase the income cost for the grain. However, the farmer will need to take into consideration storage costs, which can include facility cost, interest on grain inventory, extra drying of the grain, shrinkage of the grain and handling fees.

Farmers have choices on how to sell their grain. They can choose to do a forward contract and sell to a grain dealer at any time. A forward contract allows the farmer to know exact price, exact quantity and date of delivery. The downside is if prices go up, the farmer is already locked into the forward contract. If the farmer does choose to store the grain and sell later, he can sell to ethanol plants, bio-diesel plants or to livestock feed producers. The farmer will negotiate prices and will choose to sell throughout the year. Keeping in mind the cost to store and the importance of keeping the grain suitable for purchase.

When the grain is sold it may leave the   elevator it may be into a rail car, truck or barge. Gravity is usually used to load grains from bins to the loading station. The process of loading and a reversal of the process for unloading. The empty truck pulls onto the scales and is weighed. The truck will pull under the spout and the grain will load back into the truck. Both the trucker and the elevator operator watch the gauges to know when to shut off the grain. The truck will pull back onto the scales to get an accurate weight and then will deliver the load to the destination.

There is so much more to agriculture. The process of getting the grain to and from the elevator is full of important steps, none of which can be omitted. I realize that the job of farming has so many aspects that go unnoticed, but are vital to the result which is food, fuel and fiber for the hungry world. I send a huge thank you to the Farmers!

– Sheri


Keeping Livestock Comfortable In Frigid Conditions

It is no surprise that Iowa winters are frigid cold. The freezing temperatures, snow, and sometimes icy conditions can wreak havoc on livestock producers. How do farmers care for their livestock in the frigid temperatures?

1.       Keep Enough Feed and Water Available

Increasing the amount of feed available to livestock can help them prepare for the cold. They are consuming more nutrients in the feed and that means they are consuming more energy. Providing good quality forages like alfalfa and grass hay goes further than just providing more grain

water heater

Image borrowed from:

Livestock must also have access to water at all times. To keep water troughs from freezing, farmers can use a variety of tricks. Electric tank heaters provide a steady supply of heat to keep the water above freezing. The heater can be submerged, like the photo,  so animals won’t bother them as much. The warmer water also encourages consumption. Water temperature of 37° Fahrenheit or warmer is ideal for livestock. If heaters are not an option, producers should offer fresh, unfrozen water several times a day to make sure that livestock can meet their daily water requirements (three gallons for sheep and fourteen gallons for cattle). 


2. Shield Livestock from the Elements

Image borrowed from: http://Flicker

Farmers provide windbreaks to protect the livestock from strong winds. The windbreak should be located perpendicular to prevailing winter winds. In Iowa, windbreaks are located on the north and west side of the fence. Wind breaks can be made using different designs. The multi-row windbreak design incorporates three or more rows of trees and shrubs.  Dense conifers are planted in one row. The multi-row windbreak design provides a large plant population, greater protection, and valuable wildlife habitat. There is also a twin-row, high density design that uses closer tree spacing between rows than the multi-row design. You can also use portable wind fences to protect livestock. Wind fences can be made of bale piles (hay or straw, or inedible biomass). Even snow piles pushed up by loaders can dramatically slow wind speed. Whatever type of windbreak farmers provide, it will dramatically reduce wind speed and increase temperatures for the livestock.

3. Have Bedding Available


Image borrowed from:

Bedding helps livestock stay dry and comfortable in winter conditions. It insulates the livestock from the cold ground. Straw, corn stalks, wood chips are a few types of bedding that livestock producers use. Newborn animals should be provided clean, dry bedding as needed in their pens. The bedding keeps animals relatively clean from mud and protects them from frostbite. Providing bedding for livestock can also improve feed efficiency and overall animal health.

With a few added steps during the cold climates, farmers will have their livestock feeling comfortable in the frigid Iowa winter. 




future ag teacher 2

P.S. My name is Laura, I recently started as the Education Programs Intern for IALF. I am a Sophomore at Iowa State University studying Agriculture and Life Sciences Education. My agricultural background started on our family acreage in South East Iowa raising sheep and chickens. I was highly involved in 4-H and FFA and now continue to be involved in collegiate organizations: Sigma Alpha, AGED Club, CALS Council, and CALS Ambassadors.