If You Give A Kid A Dairy Show Heifer

When I was growing up I had a favorite children’s book that I loved to hear. And to this day I will still quote the book in conversations to signify a cause and effect that is about to happen, just like the book did. The book I’m thinking of is If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff. As I grew up, I never thought that this book would come up as much as it did, but in the past year I have been able to see this book come to life with my brother and his dairy heifers. So with that, enjoy the story of what happens if you give a kid a dairy show heifer.moxi and harry

If you give a kid a show heifer, they might ask to give that heifer a name.

It was a year ago when my family was at a dairy sale up in Northeast Iowa. My family hasn’t been in the dairy industry since the 1990s when my grandpa decided to quit milking due to the impact of the  Farm Crisis. I grew up with beef cattle, so the dairy industry is not one that I am the most familiar with. At this sale, my dad had no intentions of going to buy anything, but at the end of the sale my 11-year-old brother walked away with two dairy heifers, one was a Jersey heifer named Sonata and the other was a Holstein heifer named Tribute.

If you give the heifer a name, they might ask for a place on the farm to give them a home.

Well if you buy an animal they need a place to stay. So, my brother and dad cleaned one of the lots on our farm, added in some clean bedding, and fixed up the water machines and the feed bunkers to accommodate for these two animals. Even though these dairy heifers are considered farm animals, they still require daily chores to be done just like any other family pets. My brother learned quickly about the importance of mixing up the right feed amounts for each animal, the necessary care each animal needs between grooming and washing, and the general chores of keeping their pens cleaned out and restocked with fresh bedding.the-whole-gang-is-here.png

If you give the heifers a home, you might get asked to get them out of their pen to lead them around every now and then, so a kid might ask for a halter and lead rope to do so.

It’s not like walking a dog. Breaking farm animals to lead can be a big challenge to overcome. When I say “breaking to lead” what I mean is it is not in the nature of the animal to follow wherever you lead them. It is a process that requires the animal to learn to trust the owner or the leader in order to follow them. This process takes a lot of patience, time, strength, and more patience. The more you are around the animals and work with them the faster the animal will learn to trust and be comfortable around you. Since dairy cattle are bred for milk production they are used to being around humans and having that interaction between them, but it can still be a challenging process.

If you give a kid a halter and lead rope and they break their heifer to lead, they might ask to take their heifer to a dairy show.

Showing animals is a sport that kids dedicate many months in advance to prepare for. Showing animals are judged on different characteristics depending on the type of animal, age of animal, as well as the purpose of that animal. For example, dairy cattle are raised for milk production. In a dairy show, they are judged for their dairy characteristics (dairyness), how their body is structured and built for milk production, and their genetic makeup of the heifer or cow itself. To be more technical, a judge will first look at the overall balance of the dairy cow/heifer. They are looking for no flaws and a complete and balanced animal throughout. When looking at overall balance they look at length in body, stature, and openness of frame (the wider the better). A judge will look at the legs of the animal to make sure the legs are not too stiff or too curved. They also look at the depth of the ribs of a dairy cow to show their condition. It might not seem like it but you do not want a fat or round dairy cow—that signifies they are over conditioned and are not milking efficiently.Harry laying with cows

So, if you let a kid take a dairy heifer to a dairy show, they might ask for white pants to wear.

Now another thing that might surprise you is when you show a dairy animal the standard dress code is white pants. White pants might not seem like the most logical choice when working with animals that relieve themselves at any time of the day, but this is the standard in the dairy industry. There is not a direct reason why you wear white in dairy shows, but one source states that it dates all the way back when showing animals first began in the early 1900s. In the early years of showing, different standards and rules were adopted and one of them was white pants in dairy shows. White is a symbol of cleanliness and it was mentioned that when you show your dairy animal you are wanting to show off your animal and not yourself, so exhibitors would wear all white to show cleanliness and not take away from the animal’s spotlight. White pants were also worn by the milk man and so some would argue that this trend stems from matching the milk man. For more information, here is the link to the source I found about white pants and the dairy industry. Some shows require exhibitors to wear all white, some allow nice button up shirts with white pants. But, for the most part you want to look presentable because the cleanliness of the exhibitor is reflected in the judgement of the cleanliness of the animal.Selfie hunter brad hannah harry cow

Now if you give kids white pants and the required tools to show, they might need a support team behind them.

Just like any good sports team nothing can get done without the people behind the scenes and the fans that travel along for positive support. Showing one animal is more than one person can handle by themselves. It takes a team of family and friends to come together to take on a dairy show from helping break to lead, to the preparation of the show, to clipping and styling the hair for the show, to watching the cattle once they are prepped to make sure they stay clean, to bringing food to the show barn to feed the exhibitors, and to be there for positive support when something doesn’t go the way it was expected. This industry is more than one person can handle all by themselves, it’s a team effort—which in the end provides more learning experiences for everyone involved.harry-and-millie-vanillie.png

This industry is more than just cows, milk, and ice cream. It creates opportunities for the youth to learn about a sector in the agriculture industry and to create relationships amongst family and friends. My brother fell in love with the dairy industry and is now joining the county dairy quiz bowls (dairy trivia competitions) and joining different dairy promotion events. I don’t think anyone in my family knew what would happen when my brother walked away from a sale with two dairy heifers, but I guess you never know what you’ll get unless you give a kid a dairy show heifer.


Summer Boredom Busters


We’re only a few weeks into summer break, but I know many kids are already saying, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Whether you’re trying to keep your own kids busy or want to teach a group of kids about agriculture, we have many ideas for you!  Below are some great ways to help kids explore the world of agriculture, have fun, and learn about science or history too!  Some will work well for one or two kids to do at home, while others can easily be done with larger groups at a county fair, summer camp, etc.

GrassheadbigGrow Something

  • Create a Cover Crop Monster with grass seed, soil, stockings or old tights, a few art supplies. The grass grows into a funky hairdo your kiddos will love!
  • Plant a seed necklace. Add a corn kernel and a soybean seed to a jewelry-size zip top bag filled with moisture beads or a moistened cotton ball. Punch a hole in the top, add a piece of yarn, and viola… you have a living necklace featuring Iowa’s two main crops.
  • Get gardening. Remember, you don’t need to a big garden to get started.  Plunk a seedling or two into an existing flower bed, or create a container garden with something you already have around such as an old flower pot, bucket, barrel or even a shoe.  Just make sure it has holes in the bottom, to allow excels water to drain.
  • Plant soybeans in plaster of Paris. Say, what???  Just do it.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!


TypingRead & Write

  • Read the digital version or request your own copy of My Family’s Beef Farm or My Family’s Corn Farm. For farm kids, have them to write and illustrate a simple story about their farm.  This would be a great family project!
  • Explore the list of books in our Lending Library with your children and pick out a few of their favorites to read together. See if your local library has these titles, or check them out through us for two weeks.  A few of my favs for younger children are Who Grew My Soup, and So you want to Grow a Taco, and All in Just one Cookie.  Great picks for older kids include The Kid Who Changed the World, Farmer George Plants a Nation. A Hog Ate my Homework, and The Beef Princess of Practical County.
  • Click Clack Moo, Cows that Type is one of my kids’ favorite books. In this super silly book, the cows write letters to the farmer demanding extra amenities in the barn or they will go on strike. After reading this book and “My Family’s Beef Farm,” ask kids to write a letter to Cecelia’s family from the perspective of one of the calves.  Their letters can be silly or more serious and consider the needs of the calves and what Cecilia’s family provides for them.  Instead of a “demand” letter, maybe they’ll choose to write a “thank you” letter.  To make this extra fun, ask around to see if you can find an old typewriter so the kids can type the letter just like the cows in Click Clack Moo.  The digital version can be found at PBS and it’s in our Lending Library too.

ice-creamGet Cooking

2050Play Games

  • Farmers 2050 is perfect for the middle and high school videogame-loving kids. This online and app-based game allows players to grow crops, raise livestock, and support their local community, and engage with local and global partners as they level up.
  • My American Farm’s interactive games are perfect for elementary-age kids. Players learn where food comes from and how those products get from the farm to their dinner plate.

IMG_1354Create Something:

  • Paint with Soil! Yes, dirt can be beautiful. The color of soil in Iowa varies quite a bit, but for a more colorful work of art ask out of state friends and relatives to send you soil too!
  • Make corn mosaics. Explore the difference between Indian corn, popcorn, and field corn while creating a beautiful work of art. Gather seeds of each type, craft glue, and cardboard squares and let your little artist create a masterpiece worthy of display in the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD.
  • Forget rubber stamps, an ear of corn is all you need to create a beautiful work of art with ink pads or washable tempera paint. Rolling the whole ear in paint will create a beautiful pattern, but also try printing with the husks, cob, or a cross section of an ear. Other veggies like broccoli, potatoes, carrots, and even lettuce leaves make great prints too!

Grout-Museum-District-362x272Go Somewhere:

  • Visit a farm. Ask a relative, neighbor, or friend if your family can come visit their farm – or even better put the kiddos to work for a few hours help.  In person is best, but don’t forget about virtual visits too!  Check out our FarmChat® tips to learn how.
  • Have fun at a local farmer’s market. Encourage kids to help you pick out vegetables or ask the farmers questions.  This farmer’s market scavenger hunt will make the visit extra fun too!
  • Plan a family road trip to visit one of the many agricultural historical sites in Iowa. Check out Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area‘s eight Ag Adventure loop guides to make your planning easy! Even better, let the kids explore the website and help decide where to go!





Agriculture in the Classroom, A History

“Throughout much of the history of the United States, agriculture and education have been closely related. During the decades when most Americans lived on farms or in small towns, students often did farm chores before and after school. Indeed, the school year was determined by planting, cultivating, and harvesting schedules. Old school books are full of agricultural references and examples because farming and farm animals were a familiar part of nearly every child’s life.

In the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, the farm population began to shrink and agricultural emphasis decreased in school books and educational materials. Educators focused on agriculture as an occupational specialty, rather than an integral part of every student’s life. Agriculture education was mainly offered to those few students wanting to make a career of agriculture.

During this period, a small nucleus of educators and others persistently pushed for more agriculture in education. They recognized the interlocking role of farming, food, and fiber production with environmental quality topics like maintaining a clean water supply and preserving and improving forests and wildlife habitat. They kept education in agriculture and the environment alive during a period when interest by the public as a whole was decreasing.

Picture2.pngDuring the 1960s and ’70s, educators began to realize the need for quality materials. Many excellent films, books, and classroom aides were financed and produced by businesses, foundations, nonprofit groups, and associations, as well as state and federal agencies. There was, however, little coordination of effort or exchange of ideas among the groups and no central point for national coordination.

In 1981 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the leadership of then Secretary of Agriculture John Block, invited representatives of agricultural groups and educators to a meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss agricultural literacy. A national task force was selected from this group. Representation came from agriculture, business, education, and governmental agencies, some of whom were already conducting educational programs in agriculture. Block believed that agriculture should be an integral part of every student’s education experience – not just a subject offered in career and technical programs at the high school level.

This task force recommended that the USDA be the coordinator for national agricultural classroom literacy and that it sponsor regional meetings to help states organize their own programs. They also urged the department to encourage the support of other national groups. Since that time, significant progress has been made through these partnerships of agriculture, business, education, government and dedicated volunteers.

Picture3.pngEach state organization addresses agriculture education in a way best suited to its own needs. In some cases, an all-volunteer network is responsible for teacher education and materials distribution. States have formed educational nonprofit organizations which have the benefit of a tax-deductible status. In some states leadership is provided through the departments of education, agriculture or other government agencies; in other states through agriculture organizations or commodity groups; some through universities or colleges; and in some cases through the dedicated efforts of one or two individuals.”

– from National Agriculture in the Classroom

In Iowa, Agriculture in the Classroom enjoyed the leadership from the Iowa Farm Bureau with many county Farm Bureaus leading engagement activities with local teachers and students. These active county organizations have created robust programs and even pooled resources forming organizations like North Central Iowa Ag in the ClassroomSiouxland Ag in the Classroom, and Central Iowa Ag in the Classroom.

IALF logo - FINAL.jpgAgriculture literacy isn’t only the responsibility of the Farm Bureau. It affects the whole of the agricultural industry. In 2013 and 2014, Iowa Farm Bureau organized meetings of key stakeholders and in May 2014 the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation was born. As the central resource for Agriculture in the Classroom in Iowa we work with educators, volunteers, and students to teach agriculture. As a leading producer of agricultural products, it is important for all Iowans to understand the essential role agriculture has in their lives.

Through the development of lesson plans, organization of teacher professional development, and a variety of other activities, the organization has increased students reached per year from roughly 16,000 to more than 175,800.


This equates to roughly 41% of students in grades K-6 receiving agricultural literacy programming. Teacher engagement too has increased with more than 3100 teachers receiving training to expand their classroom activities and teach science, social studies, and language arts with agriculture. Programs like FarmChat®, student readers like Iowa Ag Today, and books like the My Family’s Farm series have all played a key role in expanding the reach of agriculture literacy in Iowa.

More than 30 Iowa educators will travel to the National Agriculture in the Classroom conference in Kansas City, Missouri this year. The excitement and enthusiasm for agriculture literacy has continued to grow. This is the largest delegation that Iowa has ever had to the national conference. These individuals will bring home curriculum ideas, resources, best practices, and even a national teacher award winner.

One in 5 jobs in Iowa is in agriculture or a related industry. It is vital that our students understand agriculture. Most won’t become farmers. But many will work in this vibrant, growing industry. Food is depended upon three times per day for most people. That food and many other products that we rely on everyday come from agriculture. With advances in technology and the need to continue to increase production while still protecting our natural resources, we need more people interested in agriculture and that means that we need to start them on an educational path with Agriculture in the Classroom!


Where Did They Come From?– Iowa Pioneers

The month of May means the school year is coming to an end and summer is right around the corner. But for some, like myself, it means picking up a few summer classes. I needed one more course to fill my history requirement and after looking through a variety of online classes I found one that seems to capture my interest perfectly—Iowa History.

Now if you enjoy learning about our past and how things came to be then you will understand my excitement when I stumbled upon this course. For the past couple of years now, I have been trying to track my ancestor’s history and how they came to settle in the state of Iowa. My grandmother has told me many stories of my ancestor’s travels, but after the first week of this course I am finally able to envision the journey myself. Each farm family has a story of how they came to this land, and with that here is the story of the Cook Farm and the history of the pioneers that came before us.

My ancestor’s history begins with a heritage farm, known as the Cook Farm, located up in the Northeast corner of Iowa. What is a heritage farm, you may ask? Well, a heritage farm is a farmstead that has been in ownership of the family for more than 150 years. Some of you may be familiar with the ceremony at the Iowa State Fair that recognizes families for century farms—farms that have been in the ownership of the family for 100 years. If you think about it, a lot of life events can happen in 100 years that can test a family’s strength in keeping a farm around for the next generation. Luckily, my family has been able to pass this farm on from generation to generation, but it still amazes me what these pioneers had to go through to leave that legacy behind.

cook farm barn

The Cook Farm barn and the garden that is planted every year by my grandparents. The garden sits where the cattle lot used to be many years ago, making for rich and fertile soil.

My family’s journey begins all the way back to the 1840s when my ancestors came over from Bavaria, Germany. For the first 20 years in America, my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Henry Cook worked as a baker in Cincinnati, OH and later became a citizen of the United States. He later married and started a family and around that time they were calling for settlers to move out West. To start their journey to Iowa, they acquired land through the Homestead Act of 1862. This act stated that an individual could obtain a track of land consisting of 160 acres and own the land after two years of living and working off of it. By the end of the Civil war, 15,000 homestead claims had been established, and more followed in the postwar years. Throughout Henry’s years he acquired more land—either by buying from soldiers who fought in the Civil War and were paid with acres of land for their service or from neighboring pioneer families who decided to continue moving out west.

Now in the first week of this Iowa history course we have been learning about the challenges these pioneers faced when venturing out West. The first that was noted was the environment and the climate. On the East Coast, trees lined the shores for miles inland and were a great source to build houses and start fires. Well, Iowa was not known for dense forests but for the never-ending prairies that stretched across the land. Some settlers noted that the prairie grass was over 7 to 8 feet tall and it was very easy to lose livestock or even children on the journey through the waves of tall grass.

Since there were not many trees around, settlers had to adapt to the resources in their new environment. Sod houses became an iconic image for the New Frontier. These homes were constructed by disassembling the pioneer’s covered wagon and using the wood boards and tarp as a foundation for the house walls and roof and then lay strips of prairie sod on top and around to finish it off. These sod homes made great insulation and warmth for the cold winter months and were cool for the hot summer months—perfect for Iowa’s climate and seasons.

Prairie fires were another challenge to overcome. To fight the fires, pioneers created prairie strips around the boarder of their homes in an act to stop or divert the fires away. They also purposely set the prairie on fire, that way they could control the size of the fire, the direction, and when the fires occurred– this is known as a prescribed fire today. That way it wasn’t a surprise and they weren’t in a rush of time to control the fire. In one of my history books, it claimed pioneers would sleep with one eye open all the time to watch for prairie fires starting up.

The last main challenge pioneers faced was that of disease. There were not doctors, let alone towns for miles. This was partially why you saw such big farm families. Not only were children seen as hands on the farm, but also life expectancy was not the highest. My grandmother stated Henry and Mary Cook had 11 children in 22 years and three of the children died as infants from disease that came through the area.

It wasn’t the best or glorious life one could have out on the open prairie, but the chances these settlers took not only lead to the future of their family farm but to the future of this state. Without them Iowa wouldn’t be what it is today. So, my question for you is, do you have what it takes to be a pioneer and if so where would your journey take you?

For lessons and educational materials on Iowa History check out our lesson, History of Iowa Agriculture or our website for more lessons.

Also check out these videos that explain rural farm life in the early 20th century.


Cook Farm Gang and House

Henry Cook first built a sod house on the Cook Farm land and later built a log cabin. The house in the background was the last farm house built by Henry’s son, Andrew Cook. This farm house was also the first home in Clayton county to have electricity, running water, and a working telephone.


Hole-y Cow!

In the spring of 2015, I took a science communication course that gave me the opportunity to explore and create a really fun final project. This piece talks about my adventure with a fistulated, or cannulated, steer.

Popular TV shows have highlighted it, our grandparents may talk about it, and I got to see it; a cow with a hole in its stomach.

Dr. Jim Russell, professor in animal science at Iowa State University, offered to take me to the Beef Nutrition Farm where the steers of interest are housed. He handed me a white lab coat, two rubber gloves, and one large plastic glove that fit up over my shoulder. I balanced the equipment with my own; a notebook, a pen and my camera, ready to be surprised.

Cattle are ruminant animals, meaning that they have a more complex stomach than humans with four total compartments. Overall, being a ruminant makes it easier to get energy from plant materials. Due to microbial and fermentation activity within the rumen compartment, cattle can gain weight on the plant material that humans eat to lose weight.

Technically speaking, these steers are fistulated, meaning they have a rubber grommet called a cannula and a plug in their side, just in front of their hip bone. These thick, rubber grommets are put in place to give scientists and students the chance to see the digestive system in a live animal and to aid in many kinds of research. With Russell, the research has to do primarily with digestibility of potential feed materials.

“Having the capability to get that rumen fluid helps us run samples,” Russell said, adding that with modern lab equipment, this fluid can assist in running up to 80 samples of feed at one time, which would take years to do otherwise.

Russell said the process of inserting a cannula is relatively simple. A local anesthetic is used so the animal won’t feel pain, an incision is cut, and essentially the wall of the rumen becomes healed to the animal’s skin. Then, the cannula is put in place, and the animal can live comfortably for their entire natural life.

“As long as you do it properly and get that good, tight seal, they can stick around forever and there are a number of uses for them,” Russell said. “It’s really quite amazing.”

How the stomach works and the microbes within it are entire fields of study, and they benefit greatly from having live animals to observe and study.

At Iowa State, there are four such animals. One of which I had the chance to meet.

The farm looked about how you would expect a small cattle farm to look; there was a long drive way, with wooden fences lining it. Towards the end of the lane, there were metal Morton buildings, machine sheds, and a small silo. In the pen nearest the road, there were four fully grown black steers, all fistulated. As we walked towards them, they walked up to the fence with inquisitive eyes, mooing and poking their big, wet noses towards my camera.

“They get to be pretty good old boys,” Russell commented.


Jim Dahlquist, the farm manager, helped us escort one of the “boys” to a chute so we could examine his fistula.

His ear tag said 351, but Dahlquist said the graduate students have other names for them. Dr. Stephanie Hansen, assistant professor in animal science at Iowa State, has also worked with these animals in her research, and recalled some of their names.

“Gary, Sheldon, Henry… I always forget the other one,” she said. “They’ll come up to the fence and lick your hand.”

351 was mostly motivated by thick patches of green grass, which halted his movement periodically on his saunter to the chute. As he got settled, I could get a closer look at the cannula. It was a thick, translucent and rubber with a hole big enough for a hand to fit inside. The plug in the center fit tightly into the cannula. The plug keeps the opening sealed for a majority of the time to minimize the impact of external factors on the rumen. Russell removed the plug, and steam wafted out of the opening; not unlike the steam that comes off of a football player when they take off their pads on a brisk fall evening.


As Russell removed some of the half-digested material, I was taken aback by how unremarkable it was. It didn’t seem the slightest bit unnatural. There was soggy, brownish golden bits of hay, grass and grain, stuck together with a brown liquid, some of which sloshed out of the opening when he moved. The mixture had a smell, but not necessarily a bad one. It smelled something like silage, a fermented plant material feedstuff, mixed with old gym shoes. Or maybe stinky feet and old dirty dishes.

After I observed the opening, I pulled on the long, plastic, over-the-shoulder glove. I fit my hand through the cannula and felt around inside. It was warm and soggy, but mostly it just felt big. Russell noted that in some studies, they empty the rumen and examine the contents. When they do that, it can fill a 30 gallon tub.

The cannula was situated in the upper part of the rumen, in what Russell called the gas bubble. This is where I initially reached my hand into. Just below the opening was the fiber mat; the soggy, half-fermented feed material layer. On the bottom of the rumen sat the liquid.

“Of course, they’re always being mixed,” Russell noted.

These layers can have a lot to do with research. For instance, Dr. Hansen recently studied sulfur toxicity and the harmful gases that can be created in the stomach of cattle based on different feed sources. It was found that distiller’s grains, a byproduct from ethanol production and a cheap feed source, can build up hydrogen sulfide in cattle’s stomachs, so when they eructate or burp, they breathe in this unfriendly gas.

This study played an important role for cattle producers, as it found that with adding different levels of forages to the cheap distiller’s grains, they can manage sulfur toxicity and not put their livestock in harm’s way.

“Obviously, we want to keep animals alive and safe,” Hansen said.

As a part of this study, the plug in the cannula was fit with a second, smaller cap that could fit a probe to measure gases. That way, taking gas samples didn’t require the whole cannula to be opened, just the smaller cap was removed to fit the probe. The study also used larger data collectors that sat in the bottom of the rumen and measured temperature and pH of the mixture.

Dr. Russell’s work with the fistulated steers worked a little differently. Though he’s been working with animals like these since 1972 while he was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, his research now is mostly focused on feed quality and digestibility. Using liquid samples from the animals, he can quickly test many feed materials in his lab.

351 didn’t seem to mind the attention. After he was let out of the yellow, metal chute, he was rewarded with some time to munch on the thick, green grass. The humans were rewarded with a growing knowledge of ruminant digestive systems, and, of course, the company of Gary, Sheldon, Henry and… the other one.

Beef Nutrition Farm



Is it a Notch, Tag or Tattoo?

Why are tags in the ears of farm animals and why do some have more than one type of marking? I’ve wondered about different types of animal identification and the purpose, so I decided to do a little checking of my own to help understand the process and the reason. Here’s to learning about those identifiers!

Animal identification is a process by which animals are being identified as an individual, or as part of a group. It is done for a variety of reasons, like tracking individual animals, verification of ownership, and tracking for a herd, just to name a few. Farmers keep data like animal weight, vaccinations, and any health concerns. Identification of animals by marking the animal in some fashion dates to ancient Egyptians as a ritual to protect animals from harm. By the middle ages it was a common practice to use a process of burning a mark into the hide of an animal to identify for ownership. This practice made Cowbell-2its way to America and was refined by using a branding iron with a unique brand to prove ownership. This process made “rounding up” cattle for a drive to market easier and also deterred cattle rustlers from stealing cattle with branded markings. There is also the cow bell with the first bells appearing more than 5000 years ago. These bells were made of pottery and were used to track the cattle, goats and sheep. Pottery bells were replaced with metal bells and appeared around 1000 BC.

Markers are done differently for different animals. Markings need to be distinguishable and yet individual to the animal breed and owner. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) uses three components: farm or premises identification, animal identification, and animal tracking. This program works across the country for tracking and in the event of disease expedites a process for quarantine.

 Pigs are marked in a variety of ways. Ear markings such as notching or tattooing are used as permanent identifiers. Ear tags can be used, but are not the best option for pigs penned together, as they can be thM7MRDN5Apulled off and lost. Tags are more often used to re-number pigs that have already been marked. Ear notching is the most practical as it is visible from a distance and remains notched for the life of the pig. It is the choice of the farmer to decide which option of identification works best. Piglets are notched before reaching 25 pounds. The right ear notches signify the litter number and the left ear signifies the individual pig number. Ear tattooing is mainly used in Landrace breeds and large white stud herds.

Cattle are also marked in a variety of ways. Nearly all are marked with an individual ID and another percentage of farms mark for the herd. Cattle can be marked with plastic ear tags, making thPQ3PT8RUsure that tags are legible at a distance and remain readable. Tags will have the following information on it: whether calf is a boy or girl, date of birth, number born on farm, mom, and dad. Metal self-locking tags are another durable option. Tattooing is used in a series of dots. Tattooing is done similarly to the way it is done for humans. It is a method to permanently identify the cattle. Tattooing is inside the ear so the animal must be restrained to read the tattoo.

Most breeds of race horses are required to have lip tattoos. The tattoo is on the upper lip and is to horse tattooidentify the link between horse and owner. Some individual owners choose to freeze mark their horse by a process of permanently tattooing a letter and number into the coat of the horse with a cold iron.

Sheep have identifying markers such as ear tags but also use tattoos, ear notching, or neck chains. Tattoos in right ears mark for owner information and the left ear signifies the year of birth.

Identification is not only used to track ownership, but to also track for research and for biosecurity control. Farmers want to keep the animals safe and healthy and this system allows for easy detection of animals that may have health concerns. Just like humans have proper identification (social security numbers, driver’s licenses, etc.); the farmer needs the proper records and a way to identify his farm family.


Everything and the Oink!

Iowa is famous for raising corn, soybeans, eggs (chickens), and…pigs! The state is one of the top swine producers in the country raising more than 20 million pigs at any one time. Each year, Iowa markets more than 49 million pigs according to the 2012 USDA census. Sales.pngTotal cash receipts in 2013 exceeded $7.5 billion. So it is kind of a big deal. And who doesn’t love bacon?

Pigs, also called hogs or swine, were among the first animals to be domesticated. This may have happened as early as 7000 B.C. Most of the pigs in the United States are produced in Midwestern states like Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, and Nebraska. That is because of the availability of food like corn and soybeans for the pigs to eat. North Carolina also is a huge swine producing state.

Real quick…here are some basic terms that you might hear when discussing pigs.
Barrow – a neutered male pig
Boar – a mature male pig that can reproduce
Farrow – to give birth to a litter of piglets
Finished – ready for market (approximately 275 lbs.)
Gilt – a young female pig, usually under 12 months of age
Litter – a group of piglets born at the same time by the same sow
Piglet – a young pig
Sow – a female pig that has given birth to a litter
Wean – to remove a piglet from it mother’s milk and give it solid food to eat

One hog consumes approximately 9 to 10 bushels of corn (~560 pounds) and 1 to 2 bushels (~100 pounds) of soybeans from birth to market. As the pig grows, all of that corn and soybean feed helps keep the animal happy and healthy turning into lean muscle. The primary goal is a lean animal for human consumption, but manure is an important by-product, too! Approximately 10 finishing pigs can provide enough manure to provide nutrients for one acre of cropland!

Pigs are known as monogastrics, which means they have only one stomach, just like humans. Young piglets will drink their mother’s milk until they are 16-22 days old. Once they are weaned from their mother, they are fed a diet primarily made up of ground corn and soybeans. The corn is a carbohydrate and supplies the nutrients needed for heat and energy. Soybean meal provides them the protein they need to build muscle. Vitamins and minerals are also included in their feed ration. An animal nutritionist will work closely with the pig farmer to create a balanced diet for the pigs to grow strong and healthy. Check out our lesson plan on pig feed rations here.

Scientists are working hard to figure out how to ensure pigs stay healthy with their diet. They also work to figure out how to increase feed efficiency. One project that the USDA is overseeing is probiotics for pigs. Humans might eat yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles or other foods that have live cultures of bacteria. Some of these bacteria are good for your digestive system and help keep you healthy. Pigs are the same in that they need a healthy digestive system. So one USDA research project is probiotics for pigs. A healthy digestive system increases the feed efficiency and allows pigs to turn more of the corn and soybeans they eat into lean muscle.

9e13fb11bddac4d626e6a4f6987bc810.jpgThere are many different breeds of pigs. The Yorkshire is one of the most common, although many farmers raise cross-bred animals to achieve high quality in their final product. Yorkshire pigs are white with erect ears. They are known for their muscle, with a high proportion of lean meat and low back fat.

2.jpgDurocs (the red ones with the drooping ears) are the second most popular breed. The are valued for their product quality, carcass yield, fast growth, and lean-gain efficiency. They also have very prolific females that have a long lifespan.

berkshire.pngBerkshire are usually black in color and have very fast and efficient growth. They are efficient in reproducing. They are known for their meat flavor.

Other popular breeds include the Spotted, the Landrace, the Poland China, the Hampshire, the Chester White, and the Tamworth. Each is has positive characteristics depending on what you are trying to achieve. The Landrace are really long animals and might provide an extra cut or two of the loin. The Tamworth is known for outstanding flavor in bacon.

Pork is the meat that comes from a hog. People eat many different pork products such as bacon, sausage, pork chops, and ham. Even pepperoni (like on pizza) is a pork product! Pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping in the United States. A 265-pound market hog will provide approximately 160 pounds of pork in various cuts.

In addition to meat, pigs also provide humans with other products including valves for human hearts, suede for shoes and clothing, and gelatin for food. Pig by-products also help make water filters, insulation, rubber, antifreeze, plastics, floor waxes, chalk, adhesives, crayons, fertilizer, glue, brushes, buttons, and more.

Iowa has more than 6,200 hog operations. These operations employ more than 40,000 Iowans in the day-to-day care of hogs. But there are loads of other jobs that part of the swine industry as well. Truckers, veterinarians, scientists, processors, genetic specialists, and meat cutters are just a few of the many careers in the swine industry. So the pig industry in Iowa is kind of a big deal.


**Some content re-purposed from Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.