We recently had the opportunity to attend the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference, this year held in Portland, Maine. While there we learned about all of the unique agriculture that Maine has to offer including blueberries, potatoes, and….aquaculture!


For a long time and still today, fishermen use the ocean to harvest wild species of seafood. We learned about how they regulate and maintain populations of wild species. For example, lobster are only harvested when their carapace (body shell length) is between 3.25 and 5 inches in length. The idea behind this is that there will be sufficient enough breeding animals to ensure the maintenance of wild populations if only lobsters of a certain size are harvested. Lobster traps are designed so that big lobsters can’t get in. Smaller lobsters might get in and feed on the bait, but then are easily able to get out. Only lobsters of the correct size are caught. But each lobster is measured once the traps are hauled in, and if they don’t meet the size requirements they are released back into the water. It takes about seven years for a lobster to grow to a size that can be harvested.

But throughout history, fishermen have had a hard time regulating natural and wild fisheries. Environmental conditions can make populations boom and so harvest increases. But when populations fall, harvest doesn’t always react as quickly because there is now a consumer demand that has been built. Sometimes this has led to species loss or at least significant population loss so the fish is no longer economically viable to harvest.


Enter aquaculture or fish farming. Fish farms can take advantage of ocean water, currents, and habitats. But the fish and seafood are cordoned off so that they can be monitored, controlled, cared for, and ultimately harvested easier. Maine aquaculture has 10 different types of farms including baitfish, halibut, hatcheries, mussels, oysters, salmon, scallops, seaweed, trout, and urchin.

One of my favorite of these types of farms is seaweed or kelp. Through this type of farming, the ecosystem of the ocean can actually be improved. Kelp is ‘seeded’ near the surface of the ocean on lines and takes advantage of the sunlight it receives. Farmers can then practice vertical farming with scallop lanterns and mussel socks suspended below the kelp lines. On the sea floor, oyster and clam cages can be installed. The kelp helps increase oxygen levels in the fishery. It can pull out excess nitrogen and carbon (up to 5x more than land-based plants) in the water helping ‘clean’ the water and rebuild a degraded ecosystem.


The oceans offer an incredible resource that if managed correctly can continue to grow food to feed our hungry world. But more and more fisheries are moving inland which presents a new opportunity. Places like Iowa don’t need a coastline to potentially get into the seafood industry! While there are some negative considerations, there are many advantages to inland aquaculture systems. Iowa might make sense to house aquaculture systems because Iowa grows a lot of corn and soybeans which could be used as food for the fish being raised.

Some Iowa farmers have already started to produce fish, shrimp, and other seafood products. By raising seafood in an inland system, farmers can better monitor the growth and health of the fish and shellfish. Managing water quality, feeding schedules, effluents, etc. can all be challenging. But once an effective system is in place aquaculture in Iowa can really make sense.


As Iowa looks for ways to continue to grow and expand the agriculture industry, aquaculture represents a real opportunity. Nearly all of the beef, poultry, and pork that is consumed in the U.S. is also produced in the U.S. The domestic market is saturated and so farmers need to seek international markets if they want to raise more cattle, pigs, chickens, or turkeys. However, less than 10% of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is raised here. The rest is imported from other countries including China, Canada, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Chile. Some of these countries have high standards of food quality and safety, but not all. Raising more seafood domestically in the U.S. could help ensure food security, but could also help ensure food safety and farmers would adhere to high standards and regulations.

In addition to being a leader in producing corn, soybeans, pork and eggs, maybe someday Iowa could be a leader in producing fish as well!

– Will

8 Ways to Spark Students’ Interest in Agriculture Careers

Those working in agriculture know that it’s a good career choice. The work is fulfilling, usually pays well, and the types of jobs available are plentiful and diverse. However, careers in agriculture are often overlooked. Aside from a farmer or veterinarian, when was the last time you heard a kid name an agriculture career when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We held six professional development workshops in June where teachers spent one day visiting farms and agribusinesses in their communities. At every workshop we heard teachers say something like, “I had no idea there were so many good jobs in agriculture.” or “Wow, agriculture is so high-tech! My students would love these jobs.”

Teaching students about agriculture is the first step to sparking interest in agriculture careers. But how do you showcase the wide variety of jobs available? We are often asked for recommendations for good lesson plans, displays, handouts, and engaging activities about careers in agriculture. There are tons of resources available, but finding the best through a Google search can be daunting.

Below are my top picks of career resources that are suitable for both classroom teachers and those working in agriculture to take into schools. The list includes choices for elementary, middle and high school students and things well-suited to a variety of settings and time constraints.

  1. My American Farm – Little Ag Me. This simple online game is a perfect way to help elementary students discover the job of a farmer isn’t the only career in agriculture. Students earn points by correctly picking clothes, tools, work places, and tasks for a produce buyer, diesel mechanic, agricultural journalist, plant scientist, and more. The game’s accompanying educational resources include ideas for classroom presentations and hands-on activities, printable student readers, and even an augmented reality experience.littleAgMe
  2. Career Ag Mag. Read-all-about it! This newspaper-like student reader is a great way to have students learn more about agriculture careers at their own pace.AE-AGMAGCR-001-030
  3. When I Grow Up: Discovering Careers. Developed by the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, this free online curriculum includes all you need to explore nine different agriculture career areas with middle school students. The educator guide includes a lesson plan, three interdisciplinary supplemental activities, and an activity sheet for each career area. Pick and choose what resources fit best for your time, setting, and the students’ interests. A card game and poster set are also available to purchase through the AFB Store or borrow from the IALF lending library.When I grow up
  4. Agriculture Career Pictionary. Who doesn’t like Pictionary? This is a fun way to introduce older students to the variety of jobs in agriculture or have younger students review what they learned learned from the Careers Ag Mag or When I Grow Up curriculum.
  5. Career Trek. In this lesson students complete the Holland’s Interest Assessment and do online research to learn more about the agriculture careers best suited to their interest, talents, and aptitude. The lesson also includes a fun board game to assess student knowledge about agriculture and natural resources careers. Career Trek game boards available to purchase through the National Agriculture in the Classroom Store or borrow form the IALF lending library.   
  6. Careers in Agriculture Videos. This collection of 40 short videos highlights a wide variety of careers in agriculture and natural resources. Each video is one to four minutes long and features an interview with a professional working in an agricultural field. Give students time to explore these videos on their own or select a few to show in class.
  7. Careers for 2050 & Beyond/Journey 2050. This lesson and app-based game is a quick and easy way to introduce middle and high school students to careers in agriculture.  The entire lesson only takes 30 minutes!  A ready-to-go PowerPoint is provided to engage students in discussion about the careers needed to produce, process and market the food we eat and introduce a career game in the Journey2050 app. The game takes less than 10 minutes to play and can use used as a stand-alone activity at school and community events! 
  8. AgExplorer is the most robust and comprehensive career resource on this list! Developed by National FFA and Discover Education, the website includes more than 235 unique career profiles, virtual fieldtrip videos and an interactive career assessment to help high school students explore the broad range of careers within the agriculture industry.


The most important thing we can do to spark students’ interest in agriculture careers is share our passion for agriculture with them.  Tell them about new the many ways technology is used in agriculture. Create opportunities for them to experience the science and business of agriculture. Take them a farm or agribusinesses, or visit one virtually.  Introduce them to someone in an agriculture career that interests them.  The possibilities are endless.



How to Keep Farm Animals Cool in the Summer

I didn’t grow up on a typical farm but we lived at the edge of town where we raised registered American Paint Horses. From the tender age of four, my summers were spent working around horses – feeding, riding, cleaning stalls and showing. Those were some hot summers spent outside! While I could go inside and cool off in the house or show trailer, our horses didn’t have that luxury. My dad taught us to work the horses in the early morning or late afternoon and make sure they had access to water. If we saw them start to sweat too much and get overheated while practicing, we’d need to stop and let them cool down.

Thinking back on those days and the work that went into us caring for our small number of horses, I never really appreciated how hard farmers work to care for their livestock. Farmers care deeply for their animals and want to keep them comfortable. Whether they’re raising cattle, pigs or chickens, there are a lot of actions farmers take to keep their animals cool in the hot summer months.

Raising Animals for Local Environments
One of the first ways farmers can keep livestock comfortable is to raise animals that are well suited for local environment conditions. Iowa weather typically changes gradually. Some animals, such as cattle, have the ability to change their coats for the type of weather – shedding leading up to the hot summer months and adding thicker coats as winter approaches. The Angus and Hereford breeds are the most common type of cattle breed in the Midwest due to several factors, including their ability to adapt well to extreme hot and cold conditions.

Indoors or Outside – Housing Matters
Where animals are located also determines their care plan. As you’re driving along the Iowa countryside you’ll likely see cattle in lots of different locations – in an open feed lot with shelter nearby or grazing in the pasture. No matter the location, farmers make sure cattle have access to water through ponds, creeks or watering systems. When no water is around, farmers bring misting tractors to the animals to cool off. If you see a farmer driving a misting tractor out to the field, you’ll likely see the cattle not far behind coming to greet them. When it’s 90+ degrees with high Iowa humidity, we all want to take a dip in cool water and farm animals are no different.Cattle_Stream_Crossing

For animals such as chickens and turkeys, they are likely housed in indoor facilities or have free range access to outside. For indoor housing, it’s important for producers to manage the environment. Chickens pant when they get hot as they don’t have sweat glands. If they’re too hot they won’t want to eat, which will impact their growth rate. Ventilation, lighting, temperature and litter condition all impact the housing environment inside, and the health of the poultry. With hot summers, producers regularly check the thermometer inside the facilities to gauge the temperature and closely follow weather forecasts to make adjustments.IMG_0016

Pigs are an animal that don’t sweat either. While they do have a few sweat glands, it’s not significant enough to keep them cool. Pigs can easily overheat if not kept cool. While most pigs are raised in modern confinement facilities with climate control, they can still overheat during extreme heat. Pork producers with large indoor facilities use fans, air inlets, sprinklers/misting systems and other tools to help manage the heat stress on their animals. For pigs primarily raised outside, farmers keep them cool by offering shade and access to water – both for drinking and laying in it. Pigs love mud and it has practical purposes for them. Mud can help cool pigs down and protect against sunburn.


Daily Check-Ins
Each day – even weekends and on holidays – farmers are focused on making sure animals are comfortable and healthy. Just because it’s a holiday doesn’t mean a farmer can rest. They’re constantly checking on their animals to make sure they’re staying healthy, well fed and have access to water and shelter.

Keeping an Eye on Nutrition
You might be surprised to learn farmers also work with a nutritionist to ensure their animals are getting the right nutrients at the right time for optimum health. This is one way to keep the animals healthy, which will help them in extreme weather conditions. Some animals will decrease their feed intake during periods of high temperatures. Farmers counteract this by feeding them high quality, dense food.

Other Factors
Many factors need to be considered when managing animals during extreme weather conditions. In addition to raising the right breed for the environment, providing shelter and access to water, and watching diets, producers also consider actions such as transportation and handling procedures as well as timing animal reproduction activities.

Extreme heat causes significant stress for all animals. Farmers want to do what’s right for their animals while also ensuring a quality product for their customers.


Hello! My name is Melissa. I’m the new part-time administrative assistant for the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. While I didn’t grow up on a traditional farm we did raise and show registered American Paint Horses as well as registered purebred elk. Growing up, I was also actively involved in our local 4-H group.

I studied public relations and marketing in college and went on to work for several different companies in marketing communications roles. I always enjoyed opportunities to work in the ag industry the most so I’m glad to be back.



Vo-COW-bulary: Beef Breeds Edition

Cattle are great. They’re big, cute, and make us delicious beef, milk, leather, and all kinds of other byproducts. But did you know there are different kinds of cattle? Today, let’s learn about different breeds of cattle and what they’re known for.

Beef Breeds

First, you should know there are different categories of cattle breeds. Some breeds are best at turning their feed into muscle (our beef breeds). Other breeds are best at turning their feed into milk (our dairy breeds). This means you can (generally) tell what an animal’s purpose is just by looking at it! Here are some popular beef breeds of cattle.



Angus cattle are definitely the most popular breed of beef cattle. Think about those Hardee’s commercials about Angus Thickburgers. This is what they’re talking about.

The Angus breed originated in Scotland in the 19th century. These cattle have been around for a long time, and have built a reputation for high quality meat with great marbling (intramuscular fat, which adds flavor to meat). These animals are hardy, polled (naturally hornless), efficient, and are more resistant to pink eye than other breeds.

Some folks may worry about large, black cattle overheating in the summer, but for the most part they are safe here in Iowa. However, it is very important that cattle have access to lots of water, shade, water misters, or to a breeze regardless of breed during hot summer months.



Hereford cattle are another common cattle breed. Up through the mid-20th century, this was the predominant cattle breed. However, as times (and cattle fashions) changed, people started moving away from the short, thick Herefords of the 1950s and more toward tall Chianinas and average-sized Angus cattle. Today, the Hereford breed is very comparable to other breeds of cattle in size, stature, and meat quality. However, they are very distinguishable with their red and white coloring.

Hereford cattle were also founded in Great Britain (Herefordshire, England) as long ago as the 1600s. This breed has changed in appearance quite a bit over time, but have maintained their dark red to cherry red and white coloring, docility, foraging ability, and longevity. Though the traditional Hereford breed does naturally grow horns, there is a sub-breed of Polled Herefords that were founded in Iowa. Read our blog about this breed here.

Because of their white faces, Herefords tend to be at a greater risk of developing pink eye. However, this can be treated easily when recognized, and breed leaders have conducted research and are experimenting with breeding Hereford cattle with red rings around their eyes, different shaped eyelashes, and other interesting things to help curb this in the future.



Photo source: Dismukes Ranch,

Pronounced shar-lay, this breed is recognizable as it is one of the few breeds that is predominantly white in color. Charolais cattle are relatively large cattle and heavily muscled. They are said to be well-suited for cross breeding.

This breed originated in France as early as the 16th century, and was initially bred for draft, milk, and meat. From today’s animals, you may be able to see the remnants of those draft qualities in their large stature and heavy muscling. This breed is also naturally horned.

It has been said that Charolais cattle have more of an aggressive temperament than other breeds, especially in that of protective mothers and bulls. However, extra care and caution should always be taken when working with cattle, particularly mother cows and bulls. There is also some research being done to help select for temperament traits genetically.



Photo source: Kent Ward, Farm Online,

Right away, you can probably tell this animal looks quite a bit different from the European breeds we’ve been talking about. That’s because the Brahman is a Bos indicus breed of cattle, as opposed to the Bos taurus breeds we see most often. They differ mostly in ear shape and placement, size of dewlap, and size of the hump on the back.

This breed of cattle originated in India. Over time, they have developed resistance to some pretty harsh environments including excessive heat, parasites, diseases, and insects. Here in Iowa, we don’t have much of this bloodline in our herds, but in the southern states, crosses with Brahmans are common. In fact, there is another breed of cattle that is crossed with Angus and Brahman called Brangus. This helps capitalize on the meat quality traits of Angus cattle, while benefiting from the heat tolerance and hardiness of the Brahman cattle.

Brahman cattle are not necessarily known for meat quality as much as their tolerance to tropical environments. However, this does make them an ideal candidate for cross breeding systems in more demanding climates. Bos taurus breeds can easily be bred to these cattle to produce high-producing cattle that are better equipped to thrive in harsh environments.


Most cattle produced commercially are not just one breed. They are usually a cross between two, three, or even four or more popular breeds. The breeds listed above are all good candidates, but some others include Simmental, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Shorthorn, or Gelbvieh.

Why do these breeds get crossed? Mostly it’s to promote heterosis, or hybrid vigor. For some reason, when you cross two animals from different genetic backgrounds (breeds), their offspring performs better than would be expected based on either parent. This extra performance (usually noted in weight gain) is essentially a free benefit of using genetically diverse parents. Farmers producing commercial calves may purchase purebred cattle to use for breeding purposes so they can benefit from this natural phenomenon.

All breeds of cattle have their own purposes, strengths, and weaknesses. Farmers may pay attention to specific characteristics that work well in their style of farming, marketing plan, and environment to pick the ones that work best for them. For more information on various breeds of cattle, visit The Cattle Site and Oklahoma State University’s Department of Animal Science page.


What’s Cookin’: Chocolate Oat Squares

What’s better than a savory, chocolate treat? A HOMEMADE, savory, chocolate treat! Everyone has their go-to recipes for potlucks, family get-togethers, and sweet treats. I happen to have one too, chocolate oat squares! These sweet, delectable treats are sure to be a crowd favorite. Follow me as I share my recipe for chocolate oat squares, but first we need to learn more about each ingredient!

Chocolate Oat Square Ingredients cookie bar ingredients

Butter- In the U.S. butter is made from churning cow’s milk until fat separates from the liquid buttermilk. After the fat begins to clump together, it forms butter, and the extra liquid, buttercream, is removed and placed in a separate container. Processors can add salt to the butter mixture to add more flavor. There are two kinds of butter; salted and unsalted. Unsalted butter has a shelf life around 3 months whereas salted butter has a shelf life up to 5 months because the salt acts as a preservative. Watch how butter is processed here.

Brown Sugar– Molasses is added to sugar to create brown sugar. Most of the brown sugar that is used commercially is made by adding molasses back to refined white sugar. It has a soft and moist texture. You will notice that there are two kinds of brown sugar at the store, light and dark. The difference between the two is the amount of molasses in it. Dark brown sugar contains about 6.5% molasses where as light brown sugar contains about 3.5% molasses. The thin film of molasses covers each sugar crystal giving it a rich flavor.

Eggs– Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the country! Nearly 55 million laying hens produce 16 billion eggs a year in Iowa. Eggs are very important while baking. They add structure, leavening, richness, color, and flavor to your delicious treats.

Vanilla ExtractVanilla 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.

Quick Cook Oatmeal– Oatmeal is produced from a grain called oats. It is harvested and then processed. There are various types of cuts for oats, old fashioned, quick, instant, and steel cut. The total cooking time is determined by the different type of cut. Quick cook oatmeal typically has a shorter cooking time because they have a finer consistency compared to the old fashioned and steel cut oats. They are also called “One-Minute Oats.”

All-Purpose FlourAll purpose flour is the most common kind of flour you’ll find, hence the name all-purpose. It can be used in almost any recipe. It is made from a blend of both hard and soft wheat grains. The bran and the germ have been removed leaving only the starchy endosperm for the flour.  It is used as a thickening agent in recipes. It also provides structure to the food product.

SaltSalt 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.

Baking Soda– Baking soda is used as a leavening agent in cooking. It makes food rise by creating a reaction that causes the release of carbon dioxide. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, comes from soda ash, through the Solvay process or from trona ore.

Sweetened Condensed MilkSweetened condensed milk comes in a vacuum-sealed, sterile can. It is made from milk and sugar. The milk is flash-heated to 185°F for several seconds, then it is piped to an evaporator where the water is removed. After the water is removed, the milk is held under vacuum pressure until it measures between 30-40% solid. It has a thick, syrupy consistency. It is cooled and sugar is added. The added sugar helps preserve the condensed milk. The sweetened condensed milk is then piped into sterilized, vacuum-sealed cans.

Semisweet Chocolate Chips– Chocolate is made from cocoa, which comes from the seeds of the cacao tree. These trees require very warm temperatures and lots of rain to grow. You can find most cacao trees where the many of the world’s rain forests lie. The pods are harvested and split by hand. Inside the pod are cacao beans and pulp. They are spread out to dry and they begin to ferment. After they are fully dried, the beans are cracked. This creates shells and nibs. The nibs are the heart of the cacao seed. They are roasted and ground. Then the perfect combination of coca butter, cocoa powder, sugar and milk are mixed together and the chocolate is made.

Walnuts– Long roads of walnut orchards in California produce 99% of the United States’ production of English walnuts. Walnuts are a nut that is produced from a walnut tree. Harvest begins in late August and lasts until late November. The orchard floor is cleaned, then mechanical shakers shake each tree causing thousands of walnuts to fall to the ground. After the nuts are on the ground, mechanical harvesters are used to pick them up for cleaning. The nuts then travel to the processing plant where the outer green husk is removed by a huller and the nut is dried to 8% moisture level. After the walnuts are dried, they can either be packaged as inshell walnuts or shelled walnuts. The inshell walnuts are sized following the drying stage. Sizes include jumbo, large, medium, or baby, according to USDA standards. The shelled walnuts are further processed where they are cracked, screened, and sorted. They are hand-sorted before they are packaged. Watch this video how walnuts are processed.

Chocolate Oat Squares

Recipe from: Jennifer Eilts 

1 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons butter, softened, divided

2 Cups packed brown sugar

2 eggs

4 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

3 Cups quick cook oatmeal

2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

2 Cups (12 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips

1 Cup chopped walnuts

  1. creamed butter and sugar 2In a large mixing bowl, cream cup butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. Combine the oats, flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and baking soda; stir into creamed mixture. Press two-thirds of oat mixture into a greased 15x10x1″ baking pan.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the milk, chocolate chips and remaining butter and salt. Cook and stir over low heat until chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat, stir in walnuts and remaining vanilla. Spread over crust. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture.
  3. Bake at 350 F for 20-23 minutes or until golden brown Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares. cookie-bars-baked.jpg

Now it’s time to enjoy your chocolate oat squares!

Do you have a go-to recipe too? Share your recipe in the comments and maybe next time your recipe will be highlighted in our What’s Cookin’ segment!


Milking Cows – Why Do They Do That?

Most-Americans-eat-like-MyPlate-for-just-a-week-a-year_wrbm_large.jpgDairy is an important part of a balanced diet. It can come in the form of cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or good old fashioned milk. Dairy can be a good source of protein, but one of the main reasons it is recommended as a part of the human diet is as a source of calcium, potassium, and vitamin D. All dairy products start with milk as the base, but why do we milk cows in the first place?

Dairy products can, in theory, come from any lactating mammal. Humans regularly consume milk from goats and sheep, but most dairy products come from cow’s milk. Humans and cows have evolved alongside each other for as many as 10,000 years. Cows were valuable animals in early days of agriculture because they could pull plows or turn grinding mills. But cows also provided meat when they were butchered and their hides were turned into leather for clothing, armor, and tools. When a mother needed more milk for her baby, cow milk was an easy alternative.

Different breeds of cattle are thought to have been domesticated in Africa and Europe. Those cattle were bred over thousands of years and the ones best at producing milk were selected separately from the ones best at producing muscle. Today, breeds like Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, and Guernsey are known for their high milk production. They produce much more milk than goats and sheep and so cows are a natural choice. Because humans (particularly those with European ancestry) have been consuming dairy for so long, humans have evolved to be able to better digest milk. Not everyone has adapted, though, and that is why some people are lactose intolerant.

IMG_0072.JPGEarly farmers found that a cow starts producing a lot of milk after they have a baby calf. That calf can grow healthy and strong with that milk because it has all of the right nutrients. But eventually the calf will start eating grass. Early farmers discovered that if they keeping milking the cow after the calf has been weaned (starts eating grass) then the cow will continue producing milk. This milk could then be used for human consumption. It could be preserved into things like cheese and potentially be saved for lean times.

Dairy cows like Holsteins are bred for one purpose and that is to produce milk – approximately 6-7 gallons of it a day! Male dairy cattle are raised and sold for beef. Female dairy cattle are raised until they are about 1 year old at which time they are sexually mature. They are typically artificially inseminated and will become pregnant. It is through the process of pregnancy that their bodies start producing milk. Calves are weaned at a young age and farmers will start milking the cows and collecting the milk for human consumption.

IMG_1235.JPGFarmers have learned that a healthy, balanced diet will allow the cows to produce more milk. So they work with nutritionists to try to find the best feed ration for their cows that has the right balance of grains, roughage, vitamins, and minerals. For cows to make milk they need to drink a lot of fresh water – sometimes as much as 15 gallons or more a day. So the cows always have access to as much water as they want. Farmers have also learned that if the cows are comfortable and not stressed they will produce more milk. So farmers go to extreme lengths to make their cows comfortable and happy. They provide fans and misters in barns and outdoor areas to keep them comfortable and cool in the summer. Buildings are also heated in the winter to maintain more comfortable temperatures. Dairy cows are often provided with nice sand sleeping stalls that are comfortable for them to lay in. A lot of thought is put in to making the animals happy and comfortable.

The cows are milked two or three times a day and they easily fall into a routine. When their udder gets too full it can be somewhat uncomfortable and they usually want to get milked. Many modern dairies are highly automated and so animals can get milked at their leisure. The teats are washed with brushes and then lasers line up the cups to each teat. Gentle suction starts the milk flowing and it is then pumped to a storage tank. Cows like to get milked because they usually get a little ‘treat’ – maybe some extra feed when they are in the milking parlor. But if a cow tries to come through the milking parlor more than two or three times, automated sensors will not let that cow in. The automated milking parlors recognize which cow is in the parlor and adjust the teat cup settings to match that cow. The computer will track how much milk is let down and compare it to data from previous milkings. It is easy to quickly identify if there is anything wrong with an individual cow because milkings are usually pretty consistent.

A cow will continue to lactate and be milked for up to 10 months. During which time she is inseminated and becomes pregnant again. About two months before she is due to give birth again, milking is stopped and the cow is ‘dried off‘. This is intended to let the cow rest and be strong and healthy for the new baby. Once the new baby is born, milk is produced again and the cycle starts over.

Milk production becomes more and more efficient as farmers continue to learn to manage their animals including keeping them healthy, well fed, and comfortable. This in turn leads to cows producing a lot of great milk products for humans to enjoy. As a part of a balanced diet, why not enjoy a tall glass of milk or a summer treat like a bowl of ice cream!


5 Ways Technology Has Changed Farming

spraying corn

Farms have changed a lot in the last 50 years. Farms are bigger, livestock are usually raised inside, yields are higher, less manual labor is needed, and it’s not common to see dairy cows, beef cattle, pigs, and poultry on the same farm. Why is this? The answer is simple. Technology.

Think about how much technology has improved medicine & healthcare, communications, and transportation in the last 50 years. The field of agriculture has changed just as much.

Let’s take a look at the few of the ways technology has changed farming.

1. Livestock genetics & breeding. Improving livestock breeds is not a new practice. Humans began domesticating animals more than 10,000 years ago. Early farmers selected livestock for their adaption to specific climates and breed them to improve productivity, temperament, and meat, leather, and wool quality. While the practice is not new, the technology used to improve livestock genetics and breed animals has changed dramatically in recent years.

Animal geneticists work to identify elements within genes that can enhance animal growth, health, and ability to utilize nutrients. These genetic advances can increase production while reducing environmental impacts.

It is common for beef cattle and pig farmers to purchase straws of semen from male animals with superior genetics and use artificial insemination to breed females. Embryo transfer is also gaining popularity in the dairy and beef cattle industries.


2. Crop genetics & pest management. Like livestock breeding, the idea of improving plant genetics is not new. Farmers and scientists have used plant selection and breeding techniques to improve crop yield for years. Plant breeders have worked to improve germplasm to develop seeds with the best mix of characteristics to deliver the best yield for specific soil and weather conditions.

Today, plant breeders use a mix of both traditional and modern methods to improve plants. Modern breeding methods include marker assisted breeding, which helps speed up the time it takes to to get the desired improvement, and genetic engineering (GE). GE technology can improve a plant’s insect resistance, drought tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and disease resistance. This technology gives farmers and additional tool to help increase crop yields.


3. Labor and mechanization. Improved farm equipment has probably had the most significant impact on how farmers raise crops and care for livestock. Tractors, planters, and combines are much larger and efficient. Livestock barns have automated feeders. Robotic milking machines milk cows. These technologies and others have enabled farmers to produce more with less labor.

4. Livestock facilities. Aside from beef cattle, livestock are usually raised inside climate-controlled barns. Farmers do this to protect them from predators, extreme weather conditions, and diseases spread by animals and people. Raising livestock inside also enables farmers to utilize technology. Many livestock barns have Wi-Fi and automated feed and climate control systems. Farmers can monitor a cow in labor or adjust the temperature in a barn from their smart phones. If the power goes out, back-up generators start and the farmer is alerted with a text. This technology enables farmers to be more efficient and better care for their animals.


5.Specialization. When my grandparents were my age, farms looked like those in children’s books. They raised a little of everything on their farm. They made a good living and fed their family off 160 acres of corn and hay, a few cows, laying hens, some pigs and my grandmother’s large garden. Over the years, their farm changed. As they invested in tractors and better livestock facilities, they concentrated their efforts to make the most of those investments. They sold much of the livestock and focused on raising pigs, corn and soybeans.

Farms today are even more specialized. If farmers raise livestock, they usually raise one type and even focus on one growth-stage. Most pig farms specialize in farrowing or finishing. Beef cattle farmers generally have cow-calf herds and focus on breeding, calving and weaning, or finishing operations where they raise weaned caves to market weight. Specializing enables farmers to acquire the facilities, technology, knowledge and skills needed to produce the chosen crop or animal, and produce it well.

Farming has changed a lot. What do you think it will look like in the future? How will advances in technology continue to allow farmers to be more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable?