We Can’t ‘Goat’ Enough of these Animals: Dairy Goat Breeds

Long before goat yoga, goats singing Silent Night and Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer, or goats in pajamas, goats were already a farm favorite throughout the world. Some of the oldest domesticated goats date back to around 10,000 years ago. Today, there are more than one billion goats worldwide.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed how goats became popular throughout history, the top producing countries, how goats are being used in sustainability efforts, and more. Today, we’re going to dive into some of the purposes for specific breeds of goats. Just like cattle, goats can be bred for specific reasons – dairy, meat, and fiber. Let’s look at dairy goats!

Dairy Goat Industry in Iowa

Photo by Mark Stebnicki from Pexels

Did you know Iowa is ranked third in the country in dairy goat production – only behind Wisconsin and California. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are 214 licensed dairy goat herds and 32,000 milking does (female goats) in Iowa. Despite our size, Iowa’s dairy goats are still a relatively small market. You can usually find producers goat cheese, milk, yogurt and other products available at local farmers markets and in local grocery stores throughout Iowa.

Goat Milk Products

Cow’s milk is the preferred milk in the U.S. but for much of the world, goat milk is the primary milk source for humans. One of the reasons goats are preferred over cattle is the small size of the animal and the amount of land required to raise them.

Goat milk can be fresh, raw or pasteurized, condensed, or dried. It has many of the same nutritional attributes as cow’s milk. Many grocery stores and specialty shops offer gourmet cheese and ice creams made of goat milk, as well as personal products such as soaps and lotions.

Goat milk is typically whiter than whole cow milk. The same goes for butter and cheese, however they may be colored during processing. Goat milk has distinct characteristics when compared to cow’s milk. The fat globules are smaller than those in cow milk, and the curd is softer and smaller which may make digestion easier. For some who are allergic to cow’s milk, oftentimes they’re able to digest goat milk with no problems.

Goat Breeds

There are eight different recognized breeds of dairy goats. In general, the lactation period for dairy goats averages 284 days. In the time after they give birth and after the kid is weaned, the milk can be collected for human consumption.

Alpine

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

The French-Alpine goat originated in the Alps. They were brought to the United States from France and were selected for uniformity, size, and production. The Alpine goat is known for being a hardier type. It’s an adaptable animal that thrives in any climate while also maintaining good health and excellent production. Alpines come in many different colors and color combinations. They may come in patterns ranging from pure white through shades of gray, brown, black, red, and other color combinations. Their hair is generally short. The does, or females, are typically at least 30 inches tall and weigh around 135 lbs. while bucks, or males, are usually 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs.

LaMancha

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

It’s believed that this breed descended from Spanish goats brought by early settlers to California. The breed was further developed in the United States and is known for its calm, loveable nature. It thrives in a variety of climates and conditions. The distinctive feature of the LaMancha is the very short ears. Does (females) are at least 28 inches tall and weigh 130 lbs. while the bucks (males) are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 160 lbs. Their hair is short, fine, and glossy. The LaMancha produces a high-quality milk with high butterfat and protein over a long period of time.

Nigerian Dwarf

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

The Nigerian Dwarf is a miniature goat of West African origin. Dwarf goats come in many different colors; however the main colors are black, chocolate, and gold. Their coat is soft, with short to medium hair. These are a loveable and gentle breed of goats, in fact, some are kept as pets and are used frequently as 4-H and FFA student projects. Nigerian Dwarf does are at least 17 inches tall and may be no taller than 22.5 inches. Bucks are at least 17 inches tall and no taller than 23.5 inches. The average weight is around 75 lbs. They are the only miniature dairy goat breed registered by the American Dairy Goat Association. Though small, this breed of goat produces a proportionate quantity of milk with high butterfat. 

Nubian

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

This breed is also known for its high butterfat and protein content of its milk. The Nubian’s appearance is distinctive in its facial composition, known for its Roman nose. The ears also are pendulous and hang down. Their hair is short, fine, and glossy, and may be any color – solid or patterned. They tend to be a little more stubborn than other goat breeds and have a distinctive sound. The does are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 135 lbs., while the bucks are at least 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs. Nubian’s originated in England as a cross between the Old English Milch Goat and the Zariby and Nubian bucks imported from India, Russia, and Egypt. Due to their Middle Eastern heritage, these goats can live in very hot climates and have a longer breeding season than other dairy goats.

Oberhasli

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

Loosely translated, Oberhasli means ‘highlander.’ While still relatively rare in the U.S., this breed comes from the district of the Canton of Berne in Switzerland. Their color is described as bay, ranging from light to a deep red bay with black markings. The does may also be solid black. They have short, erect ears. The does are typically at least 28 inches tall and weigh 120 lbs. The bucks are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 150 lbs. They have a calm disposition.

Saanen

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

This breed of goat is a favorite among commercial dairies due to its high milk production and calm temperament. They originated in the Saanen valley in the south of the Canton Berne, Switzerland. In the early 1900s, several hundred Saanens were imported into the U.S. from Switzerland. They are heavy producers of milk and usually yield 3-4 percent milk fat. The breed is better suited for cooler, shaded conditions and is sensitive to excessive sunlight. They are distinguished by solid white or light cream-colored hair. Their ears are erect. The does are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 135 lbs. while the bucks are at least 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs. 

Sable

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

This is another breed that originated in Switzerland and come from the Saanen breed. They may be any color or combination of colors except for white or light cream. Their hair is short and their ears are erect. They are known for their high milk production and calm temperament. The does are at least 30 inches tall and weigh 135 lbs. while the bucks are at least 32 inches tall and weigh 170 lbs. Since they are derived from the Saanen breed, they are very similar, however they are better able to withstand hotter climates and sunny conditions.

Toggenburg

Source: American Dairy Goat Association

Toggenburgs were among the first purebred dairy goats to be imported into the U.S. and registered. They are a breed of goat named after the region in Switzerland where the breed originated, the Toggenburg Valley. They are known as being the oldest dairy goat breed. Toggenburgs are medium in size, moderate in production, and have relatively low butterfat content. Their hair color is solid, varying from light fawn to dark chocolate with white or cream markings. Some does may also be black with white or cream markings. The does are at least 26 inches tall and weigh 120 lbs. while the bucks are at least 28 inches tall and weigh 150 lbs.

No matter the breed, dairy goats are well known for their milk production. To see a comparison between the various breeds, the American Dairy Goat Association has created a breed averages chart you can review.

Interested in becoming a dairy goat farmer? The ADGA has some tips on how to get started.

That’s all we’ve ‘goat’ on dairy goats. Next up will be breeds of meat goats.

~Melissa

Resources

Cheese, Yogurt, Ice Cream – Iowa’s Dairy Goat Ranking

Iowa Dairy Goat Survey

Goat Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Fun Goat Facts

Agriculture 101: Cooperatives

Growing up, I remember my dad and other farmers talking about the local co-op. It was usually in reference to selling grain or buying fertilizer, pesticide, or other crop inputs. To me, a co-op was a place. A place where farmers purchased supplies or sold their crops. I thought it was similar to the local tractor dealership or any other physical place where farmers do business. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized that a co-op was more than a business where farmers purchase supplies or sold crops. It was, in a way, their business.

So, what is a co-op and how do they benefit farmers?  Let’s dive into these and other questions and more.  

What is a co-op?

A cooperative, or co-op, is a user-owned and operated business that operates for the benefit of its users, rather than outside investors. All co-op owners, or members, have a need for the products and services offered. This all means that the users (the farmers) are usually also the owners. The motivation is utilitarian, not necessarily for financial gain. However, the business still needs to be sustainable so that means they still try to ensure a profit is made. That profit is then shared with the owners (the farmers). This can help farmers diversify their income and in turn help sustain their farm business.

What is a farm or agricultural co-op?

Agricultural co-ops help farmer-members market and process their crops and livestock. This means that they help market or sell the grain to an end user like Quaker Oats, General Mills, or any other company that might use it for human food, livestock feed, or an industrial purpose. Co-ops also help farmers secure needed supplies and services. This might mean that they run a store that carries things like fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, or other needed supplies. Some co-ops only provide products and services to farmers like agronomy consultation, technology services, or other services that will benefit the farm. Other co-ops (like Land O’Lakes for example) process and market food brands (like butter) we find at grocery stores.

Earnings of the cooperative business are returned to the farmer-members as dividend payments. The payment that each member receives is based on how much they used the co-op’s services (i.e.: amount of product purchased or sold through the co-op).

These are just a few of more than 3,000 U.S. agricultural cooperatives and their brands.

Are there cooperatives in other industries?

Absolutely. Cooperatives are common in almost all sectors of the economy, including the energy, grocery, housing, finance, and telecommunications industries. Some brands that you may be familiar with include Farmers Electric Co-op (energy), Iowa Food Co-op (grocery), Vintage Cooperatives (housing), Community Choice Credit Union (finance), and Farmers Mutual Co-op Telephone (telecommunications).

Are there different types of co-ops?

Yes. Cooperatives can be grouped into categories based on their primary business function or functions. Types of co-ops include:

  1. Marketing. In marketing cooperatives, members sell, or market, their products together.  This is the most common type of co-op in agriculture.  The co-op negotiates with processors for a better price for their members’ products.  Some marketing co-ops grade, process, merchandise, or distribute members’ products as well. Iowa meat processor, West Liberty Foods, is an example of a marketing cooperative. This farmer-owned co-op processes, markets, and distributes meat products to companies like Subway and Jimmy Johns.
  2. Supply cooperatives provide members with dependable supplies at competitive prices.  Farmers often join supply co-ops to purchase feed, seed, fertilizer, and other necessary farm inputs. By purchasing items in bulk, a co-op is often able to obtain materials at a lower cost than individuals. Bulk purchasing also ensures a consistent supply is available to producers. This is especially important to livestock farmers purchasing feed. 
  3. Consumer co-ops provide access to certain products for their members. Grocery stores that are structured as a co-op are the most common type of consumer co-op.  The most common example of a consumer cooperative is a grocery store that is structured as a co-op rather than an individual business.
  4. Service co-ops provide a specialized service to their members. Common types of service co-ops include finance, utility, insurance, housing, and healthcare. Electric co-ops, such as Prairie Energy Cooperative, provide electrical service to residents and businesses. Farm Credit Service of America, is a financial co-op that specializes in providing loans and other financial services to farmers and rural residents. 
  5. Worker co-ops are owned and self-managed by the people who work for the company. In the U.S. worker cooperatives tend to be primarily in the service and retail sectors.

If you’ve ever purchased Land O’ Lakes butter, you are supporting a farmer-owned cooperative that includes marketing, supply, and service functions. Originally named the Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association, it was formed in 1921 by 320 dairy farmers as a way to effectively market and distribute its member’s milk across the country. Today, Land O’ Lakes, Inc is still a farmer-owned cooperative, but it includes four businesses with marketing, supply, and service functions. Land O’ Lakes is its food business that processes, markets, and distributes butter, cheese, milk, and other dairy products. Purina Mills is its feed company. WinField United provides seed, crop production products, and agronomy services. Its sustainability and technology business, Truterra, provides services for farmers and food companies to improve sustainability and profitability.

How do co-ops benefit farmers?

There are may ways farmers benefit from co-ops.  Some include:

  • Expanded market opportunities for grain and livestock;
  • Reliable access to and price of quality farm inputs including fertilizer, seed, fertilizer, fuel, and more;
  • Lower overall production cost;
  • Increased farm income;
  • Shared income and risk in the cooperative business.

Most of America’s two million farmers are member-owners in one or more of the almost 3,000 agricultural cooperatives here. That means these farmers are not only in charge of their individual farms, but also have a share in the ownership and a say in the operations of the larger cooperative business.

-Cindy

Farm Animal Reproduction 101

Spring is notably a time when farm animals have their babies. It’s an exciting, joyful, and sometimes stressful time. But not all livestock gestation (pregnancy) is the same. How do farm animals gestate and have their babies?

Cattle

Cattle, like humans, have a gestation period of nine months (283 days). Different breeds of cattle have much different average sizes, but a new calf can weigh somewhere between 70-100 pounds. For beef cattle producers, cows will be made to cycle (go into heat) at the same time so that new calves will be born at roughly the same time. Producers generally choose to either calve in the spring or in the fall, depending on feed availability, climate, building accessibility, etc. For dairy producers, calves are born year-round to keep a certain amount of cows at their peak milking potential at all times.

Cattle are also like humans in that they usually only have one offspring at a time. In fact, it is preferred that cows only have one calf as that is much easier on the mother. There is also a phenomenon when twin male and female calves are born that the female is likely to be sterile. This calf is called a “freemartin”. So, while it may seem more efficient to want cows to have multiple calves, their bodies simply don’t handle it as well as other species, and can cause major problems and even death.

Pigs

Pigs are very efficient at reproducing. Their gestation period is three months, three weeks, and three days, meaning they can have two litters per year. Sows (mama pigs) average around 7 piglets per litter, but can have a dozen or more. A new piglet will weigh only a couple of pounds.

Sometimes in large litters in many species, there can be siblings that are more aggressive or more weak than others. If sows have variation in litter size, some of those siblings can be moved around to other sows to get a better shot at equal nutrition. Farmers will keep records of each animal so they can track progress, health, and development.

Sheep

Sheep have a slightly shorter gestation period at 142 – 152 days, or about five months. Lambs, similar to calves, are born in the spring. This is partly because they are one of the animal species whose estrous cycle is dependent on seasonal changes. For sheep, the most natural time to breed is late fall. However, this can vary breed to breed.

Sheep are also interesting in litter size. The first time a ewe (mama sheep) lambs, she will likely have only one offspring. For later pregnancies, she will likely have two or maybe even three. Sheep are unlike cattle in this way, and twins are really more preferred.

Chickens

Chickens are different as they are not mammals and are instead birds. However, their reproduction cycle is commonly misunderstood. Chickens are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. Chickens will cycle to develop and lay an egg about once a day. They do this with or without a rooster present. The cycle can be impacted based on the amount of light (natural or artificial) present. This means that backyard, outdoor chickens will likely lay fewer eggs during the winter than they would in the summer because the natural length of daylight changes. For commercial production, laying hen barns will likely have artificial lights on for the same length of time everyday to keep the birds’ cycles more consistent year-round.

When a fertilized egg (which does require a rooster) is laid, the hen will incubate it for 21 days, at which point the egg will hatch as a fully developed chick. Though it is possible for an egg to hatch twin chicks, it is rare.

Goats

Goats are a lot like sheep in many ways. They are similar sizes, have similar gestation periods (about 150 days), and also tend to have twins. They, too, have estrous cycles impacted by day length, meaning they are more likely to cycle during the short days of the fall or winter and kid (give birth) in the spring. Times when they do not cycle is called anestrous. A new baby kid can weigh between 4 and 12 pounds, depending on the breed.

Donkeys

Donkeys have an interesting anomaly in gestation length. There’s a normal three-month window where the jenny (female donkey) could foal. Donkeys can gestate between 11 to 14 months. To me, a mom with more experience working with cattle and pigs, this seems highly inconvenient! Imagine being full-term for three months! But, that’s just how they are built.

Donkeys tend to have single births, but twins do happen on occasion. A donkey foal will weigh in between 19 and 30 pounds.

Horses

A mare (female horse) will have a gestation period of 11-12 months. Horses are similar to donkeys in many respects, but do mark some differences in twin occurrences (notably fewer than donkeys) and maternal instincts (less so than jennys). Horses, like cattle, are also not well-equipped for multiple births. According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, almost all twin pregnancies will result in the death of both foals.

Horses are also impacted by seasonal estrous cycles, but unlike sheep and goats, their breeding season will occur in late spring (April-May). If the different seasonal estrous cycles seem to not make sense, just think about when the offspring will be born. It’s common for an animal’s natural cycle to give birth in the spring, when temperatures are not so harsh on the young and there is grass and water available for the offspring. For horses, the mares can expect to give birth in March, April, or May to a foal that weighs about 40 pounds.

Why is there such a difference between species on gestation? The short answer is that different species are very different. The long answer may be that different animals have different uterine types that lend themselves better to multiple or singular births; different species have different estrous cycles that time their fertile windows and seasons differently; and there are differences in farms, climates, and facilities available on an individual farm level that impact reproduction management farm to farm.

Then what?

Before, during, and after birth, livestock species require lots of care. Pregnant and nursing mothers require adequate nutrition and monitoring to be sure things are progressing normally. During birthing times, farmers will monitor their livestock closely and only interfere if the mother needs help. If a mother is having trouble giving birth, this is called dystocia. Farmers pay attention to these occurrences and try to breed for animals that will not have trouble giving birth.

After the baby is on the ground, one of the first things they will need to do (in mammal species) is find their way to their mom for food. The first milk is called colostrum and includes very important nutrients and antibodies. Newborn animals lack strong immune systems, so this first milk is extremely important.

On the occasion that the mother doesn’t claim the young or doesn’t survive, the farmer will take care of the young by using store-bought colostrum or milk replacer, or by pairing the offspring to a different mother in the herd. Mothering ability is another trait that farmers will keep tabs on with the females in their herd.

Are there other species you have questions about? Let us know in the comments!

-Chrissy

We’re not kidding around…goats are beneficial to agriculture

My oldest daughter loooves animals and is a wannabe farm girl but unfortunately for her, we live in a suburb. She has visions of having her own farm acreage when she’s older where she can have horses, rabbits, ducks, chickens…you name the farm animal and she wants it. This past summer to help her get her ‘animal fix’ she took horse riding lessons, but we also made multiple trips to a local agritourism farm operation. One of the draws for my girls was the baby goat cuddling. While enjoying the warm summer breeze surrounded by cute, cuddly, bleating baby goats, it got me thinking about the value of goats in agriculture and I wanted to learn more.

Did you know goats are one of the earliest animals to domesticated by humans? Neolithic farmers, during the New Stone Age, were the first to begin herding wild goats for the purpose of acquiring meat and milk, as well as using the animal parts for clothing, tools, and more. Today, goats live on every continent except Antarctica. Their adaptability makes them exceptionally suited to most climates.

Goats around the world

Goat farming involves the raising and breeding of domestic goats. They’re raised primarily because of their meat and milk, but also for their fiber and skins. Goats are very adaptable to their environment and can be raised alongside other farm animals who won’t eat lower quality grazing land vegetation. Grazing animals (like cattle and goats) can make use of land that isn’t suitable for cultivation or tillage.

While goat farming is a rising area of agriculture in the United States, they are not as prevalent here as in other countries. Goats are more common in developing countries because they are easier and cheaper to raise than cattle.

India is the top goat milk producing country producing more than five million metric tons annually (source 2017). Bangladesh is second followed by Sudan. In 2019, goat meat exports by country totaled US$251 billion. Australia is the largest goat meat exporter, followed by France, and Spain. Goat meat is an important source of protein for other parts of the world. Their high heat stress tolerance allows them to survive in more hostile locations. They require less land than cows, can eat lessor quality vegetation and still produce a higher quality product.

In 2020, there were 2.66 million head of goats in the U.S. compared to 77.5 million head of pigs and 94.4 million head of cattle. Demand for goat meat is rising though due to the increasing ethnic populations but more than half of the U.S. supply of goat meat is imported. You won’t likely see goat meat available in your local grocery store due to the low inventory.

Here in Iowa the goat industry is still growing. Common breeds being raised include dairy goat breeds like the Nubian or the La Mancha or meat goats like the Boer.

Goats used for anything from meat to environmental sustainability

Goats are raised primarily for the meat and milk. Goat cheese is one of the fastest growing segments within specialty cheese.

You might not know that goats also produce fiber like mohair and cashmere that is used in clothing. They can typically produce more than 5 lbs of mohair per goat at each shearing. Mohair is typically from the Angora goat and is known for its luster and sheen. Cashmere wool is from the cashmere or pashmina breed of goats and is known for its light weight, strength, and softness.

Source: Goats on the Go

Because of their small size and penchant for less desirable vegetation, goats are also starting to be used for clearing unwanted brush in a more environmentally sound way than using machinery or pesticides. Larger counties, cities, urban developments, and even private individuals are using goats to clear areas of land from unwanted or invasive plants such as Canada thistle and honeysuckle. Not only is this environmentally sound, it also allows native species to come back. Check out this video about an Iowa company, called Goats on the Go.

Even goat manure is virtually odorless and is beneficial to the environment and farm. Goat manure is a good source of nitrogen, phosphate, potash, and other minerals. Some countries are allowing goat manure to be sold commercially in the form of composted manure products.

All this talk of goats has me itching to get back out to the farm and cuddle some baby goats. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait awhile until kidding season is here in the Midwest.

Look out for future blog posts on type of goats, and more!

~Melissa

Additional Resources

Raising goats for Iowa’s ethnic markets
Iowa Dairy Goat Association
Modern Goat Production
Iowa Minutes – Goats on the Go
WorldAtlas – Goats

No matter how you slice it…we like pork on pizza

Whether you call it a pizza or a pie, Americans have enjoyed a long history of loving our pizza. Italian immigrants brought pizza along with them when they came to the United States in the late 19th century. And, since that time it’s become one of Americans’ favorite foods.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Of all the possible pizza toppings that we could choose, pepperoni ranks the highest followed by sausage according to a 2018 study from Caviar. With its savory flavors that pair well with flavorful marinara and gooey cheese, we can see–or rather taste –why we love our pepperoni pizzas! Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S. and the top state for pork exports so it’s no wonder that pepperoni ranks high among Iowans. Midwestern states such as Michigan and Missouri also highly favor pork products like pepperoni, bacon, and ham on their pizzas. A few misguided states (I’m looking at you Maine) make the mistake of adding pineapple on their pizzas (I said what I said!).

Before we dive into the various pork meat toppings, let’s learn a few quick details about pigs and pork.

The delectable taste of pork on pizza
Now, let’s dive into a few of the favorite types of pork that grace our pizza.

Pepperoni
According to Wikipedia, pepperoni is a variety of salami made from cured pork and/or beef seasoned with paprika or other chili pepper. The meat for pepperonis come from the pig’s back, shoulder, and the belly. Pepperoni gives us a soft, slightly smoky flavor and has a bright red color. So popular as a pizza topping, pepperoni is featured on the pizza emoji. Americans love our pepperoni, consuming 251.7 million pounds of it annually.

No matter its end destination, all pepperonis – whether sticks or chips – go through a production process. Specific cuts are chosen to achieve the target ratio of fat to lean meat. Once selected, the meat is put into a grinder and there, depending on the end use, the various seasonings such as paprika or cayenne pepper are added. Various other cultures are added along the way to help preserve the meat and give it a cured flavor. After the grinding process is completed, the pork is typically placed into filling machines which then place the meat into some type of casing. In the manufacturing process, the meat is smoked several times and then dried.

Sausage
Sausage ranked second in pizza toppings. It’s a meat product made from ground meat, often pork, beef, or poultry, along with salt, spices, and other flavorings. Sausage is prepared much like pepperoni. Once meat is selected for fat ratio, it goes through a grinding process where seasonings are added then it’s put in casings and smoked.

Bacon
On many meat lover options or breakfast pizzas, you’ll often find bacon added. Bacon is a type of salt-cured pork made from various cuts, usually the pork belly or from the less fatty back cuts. Americans love our bacon, spending $5 billion on it and eating 18 pounds of it annually.

Bacon’s popularity goes back to early times when people smoked it and cured it in their own homes. Today, bacon is made mainly through food manufacturers. Pork bellies go through a process to soften them and then they are put in a brine solution using water and salt to cure the pork. Liquid smoke and other seasons are also added in the process. After showering in a liquid smoke mixture, which adds more flavor and color to the surface, the pork is transferred into a big oven to cook the meat. It then goes into a freezer for a few days which makes the meat easier to slice. Finally, the meat is cooked again, inspected, and packaged.

Canadian Bacon
Some pizza eaters like to add Canadian bacon to their pizzas. Canadian bacon is the American name for a form on back bacon that is cured, smoked and fully cooked, trimmed into medallions, and thickly sliced. This type of bacon is made from the lean eye of the loin. It tastes more like ham than other flavors due to its lean cut.

Fun Pizza Facts

  • It’s believed that pizza was first invented in Naples, Italy in the 16th century
  • Pizza is the favorite food (21%) over steak (16%), hamburgers (13%)
  • Pizza wasn’t popular in America until after World War II
  • Pizza is the preferred dish for cheating on your diet
  • About 13 percent of the U.S. population consumes pizza on any given day, or 350 slices of pizza are eaten each second in the U.S.
  • More than three billion pizzas are sold in the U.S. each year, plus another one billion frozen pizzas
  • $38 billion worth of pizzas are sold annually in the United States
  • 93 percent of Americans have eaten pizza in the last month

Sources: California Pizza Kitchen survey, National Pizza Day

Bring Agriculture into Your Classroom through Everyone’s Favorite Meal – Pizza
Want to bring agriculture into your classroom? Bring in pizza with the following resources:

We’re also launching a farm-to-table pizza competition called Pizz-a-thon! Check out our teacher resources and enter your classroom here!

Want more ideas of how to incorporate agriculture into your classroom through ways your students can relate? Contact an Ag in the Classroom Coordinator in your local area or a member of our staff for ideas.

All this talk of pizza has me craving some gooey, savory goodness! I’m off to find some pizza!

~Melissa

Additional Resources

Know the Nutrients in Pork
History of Pizza
Pig Farming: Learn more about farming, pig breeds, and antibiotics
Iowa Pork Producers Association
How It’s Made: Bacon
USDA Pizza Facts
Most popular pizza toppings in every state
How pepperoni became America’s favorite pizza topping

Agriculture 101: Oranges

Oranges are a staple of the produce section, but how much do you know about how they are grown and harvested? Let’s dive into the agricultural story behind this popular tropical fruit. 

Oranges are a perennial tree fruit grown in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Brazil is the top orange-producing country, growing about 30% of the world’s supply. In the United States, oranges are grown commercially in Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona. Florida and California dominate, producing 55% and 44% of the country’s oranges, respectively, in the 2019-2020 season.  

Orange production in California and Florida are very different though. Over 95% of Florida’s oranges are processed into juice, and 80% of California’s oranges are sold to eat fresh. Why is this? It comes down to geography and climate. California’s dry heat is favorable for growing oranges with a sweet flavor and a thick peel that holds up well during storage and transportation. California’s mountains also create natural windbreaks that protect the fruit from wind damage. Florida’s ocean breezes and humidity, on the other hand, produce very juicy oranges that have a thinner skin and less pleasing appearance. 

While there are several types of oranges grown commercially, navel oranges are most commonly grown for fresh consumption because they are sweet, easy-to-peel, and seedless. Their seedlessness is a result of a genetic mutation and can only be propagated via cuttings since the fruit is sterile.   

Orange groves are laid out in rows to maximize space, sun penetration, and harvest efficiency.  Herbicide is applied under the planted tree to reduce competition for water and nutrients. The area between the rows is mowed as needed.

Oranges do not continue to ripen after they are picked, so growers must closely monitor the crop to ensure they are harvested at peak maturity.  Oranges picked too soon are not as sweet.  Oranges picked too late will quickly become soft and loose their sweetness.  Fruit size and color are helpful factors in monitoring maturity, but commercial growers also utilize internal assessment to decide when a section of an orange grove is ready to harvest.  A sample of fruit is taken and tested for its juice, sugar, and acid content.

Once the oranges are ripe, workers carefully handpick the fruit and place it in large canvas bags. The bags are then placed into specialized vehicles that bring the harvested fruit from the grove to roadside tractor-trailers. Oranges grown for fresh consumption are hauled to packinghouses to be washed, graded, and packed. Oranges produced for juice are transported by truck to processing plants for juice extraction. Check out this video to see an orange harvest an action. 

That’s the agricultural story of oranges! What other crop or animal product would you like to learn more about in an Ag 101 post?

-Cindy

All things mint!

The holidays bring about warm memories of family get togethers, present exchanges, and favorite activities to do with our daughters. While making a few Christmas treats, the aroma of mint was in the air which reminded my daughters of their summer garden.

This past summer, my girls and I started growing some herbs as an easy summer project. Mint was the favorite herb that they liked to pick. They enjoyed smelling it and using it in their drinks.

Mint is one agricultural product that reaches millions of people every day. Let’s take a closer look at how mint is grown and used in everyday products.

The Mentha Genus

Photo Source: Washington Mint Growers Association

Mint belongs to the Mentha Genus. There are many varieties of homegrown mint, however, two main species of mint are grown for agricultural production purposes – the Mentha Piperita and the Mentha Spicata. There is also a lesser known, cheaper variety of mint known as Mentha Arvensis.

The state of Washington is the world’s largest mint-producing area. It is also grown in California, Idaho, Indiana, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Mint oil is located in the glands on the undersides of the leaves. Professional odor evaluators can tell you exactly where a particular mint was grown and when it was cut just by the taste differences.  

Mint is a perennial plant. Farmers often grow mint for four years and then rotate it with other crops like soybean or corn. For example, a farmer will typically plant mint the first year in rows. In the subsequent three years, the field looks more like a meadow as the plant expands its root system. If you’ve ever seen an alfalfa field, that’s what a mint field would be like. You can learn why farmers rotate their crops in one of our past blog posts.

Photo Source: Washington Mint Growers Association

How is Mint Oil Made?

The mint plant is harvested once or twice a year depending on the variety and region it is being grown in. The entire plant is harvested then it is steam distilled to extract the essential oil, which is the commodity that farmers sell. There isn’t a large, open market for selling mint oil, so farmers mainly grow mint under contract from processors.

How Farms Work, a channel on YouTube, has created a three-part video series on mint oil. Watch this part three video where they show how mint oil is extracted. You can watch part one here, and part two here.

How is Mint Used?

Mint oil is found in a variety of products – toothpaste, mouthwash, gum, candy, beauty products, and more.

One of its earliest known uses was when ancient Greeks rubbed it on their arms, thinking it would make them stronger. It’s also been used in the past to treat stomach aches and chest pains. In more modern uses, research is being conducted to see if it can help treat irritable bowel syndrome.

Photo Source Pexels.com

Mint is used in drinks like Mint Mojitos to give them a refreshing flavor. It’s also used in anything from syrups and candies to ice cream and curries.

You might not know that mint can also be used as an insecticide to kill common pests such as wasps, hornets, and ants.

Mint Facts (sources: Mint Industry Research Council, Idaho Mint)

  • 45 percent of mint oil produced in the U.S. is used for flavoring chewing gum.
  • 45 percent used to flavor dentifrices (toothpaste, mouthwash, etc.).
  • 10 percent is used for flavor in the confectionary, pharmaceutical, liquor, and aromatherapy industries.
  • One 400-pound drum (barrel) of mint oil will flavor more than five million sticks of chewing gum.
  • One pound of mint oil will produce approximately 1,000 tubes of toothpaste or 50,000 mint candies.
  • There is about one drop of mint in a tube of toothpaste.

Want to grow some mint at home? Check out this article.

Tell us in the comments what your favorite mint product is!

~Melissa

Sources and Additional Reading

Extracting the Essence of Mint
How Your Toothpaste Gets So Minty Fresh
Mint Industry Research Council
Plant of the Month: Mint

Christmas Cards from the Farm

It’s that time of the year again. As soon as the temperature drops and the Christmas lights are being draped on houses, trees, and fences I start thinking about sending out Christmas cards. I don’t know what it is about the paper rectangles, but they seem to me like joy stuffed in the appropriately sized envelope. So, you want to send cards but where do you begin? Do you order brand new matching cards? Should you print off the good old family photo to show relatives, friends, family members co-workers and acquaintances how adorable your kids are? Or put your scrapbooking skills to use recycling cards from previous years?  

Then comes the math. Who makes the Christmas card cut? I appreciate  the U.S. Postal Service and am constantly amazed how 55 cents can send a card anywhere in the country, but we are talking about two quarters and a nickel. That can add up to some serious holiday jingle.

No matter what style you choose, or how many you decide to send, all Christmas cards are made of paper. So, where does the paper come from?

Paper comes from trees. More specifically, paper is made from cellulose pulp from trees. Trees that have been planted for harvesting, just like corn and soybeans, are planted for the purpose of being harvested. One misconception about paper is that it “destroys” forests, when paper processing is actually for the most part quite sustainable. According to the US Forest Service, over 4 million trees are planted in the United States. Over 1.7 million of these are planted by the paper and wood products industry, and this excludes naturally regenerated seedlings. These tree farms have been around since the 1940’s and since then the American Tree Farm System has “shifted its focus on whole stewardship, rather than strictly fiber production.”

Reds, greens, blues, silver and gold colors pop out vividly and make Christmas cards festive. Would you be surprised to discover those bright colors may have started in a soybean field? Soy ink can be made from soybeans once they are cleaned, flaked, and processed into oil. Next, the oil is blended with pigment, resin, and wax. This process turns a common bean into “a high-quality ink” which prints bright and sharp images, is cheaper than petroleum-based ink, and is sustainable. Soybeans require little irrigation and only a small amount of energy to cultivate.

Once you’ve written your special holiday message and signed your card (or if your family is anything like mine threatened and harangued everyone until they finally sat down and signed each card) it’s time to seal that envelope. What’s in that glue that seals it together? It’s probably gum arabic made from the hardened sap of acacia trees.

These trees are found in Africa and other places around the world, are long growing and have deep roots. The sap is harvested by stripping the bark of 6-year-old trees or tapping the tree by making a horizontal incision across the bark. The sap runs in a furrow from the cuts, hardening as it is exposed to the air. Another great agricultural product that comes from trees. (Note: During my lessons as an Agriculture in the Classroom coordinator, I teach students that school glue is made from animal byproducts. I find it interesting that envelope glue comes from trees.)

Your Christmas message has made it to the post office and needs to be delivered to your recipient. That can mean many miles of driving. The USPS travels many miles and operates a fleet of 40,000 alternative fuel-capable vehicles, most of which are equipped to use ethanol-blended gasoline. Ethanol is generally made from corn, crop residue, wood chips, or sugarcane. It is a renewable resource for the same reason as trees, they can be replanted season after season. For more information on ethanol be sure to read the IALF blog Ethanol Quick Facts.

So, whether you are a seasoned “card shark” with preprinted labels that are applied before December even begins, or an occasional mailer whose cards may or may not get there by the new year, take a moment to think about agriculture. And as you get ready to mail your envelope, consider the farmer and the agricultural products that make your Christmas stationary possible.

-Melanie

What is a Hay Bale and What is it Made From?

While driving across the country, you’ve maybe seen big round or rectangular bales. You’ve maybe wondered what they are, what their purpose is, and what they’re made out of. If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Hay is a very commonly misunderstood agricultural product. It’s easily confused with straw, and most people never really interact with it. So, what is it?

Hay is a feed source for ruminant animals (think cows, goats, and sheep). It’s entirely made from plants, and is cut or mowed multiple times a year. Hay ground, or a hay field, may be seeded with a mixture of alfalfa, clover, timothy, ryegrass, fescue, or other grasses and legumes.

That seems pretty simple, right? In theory! There’s actually a lot to hay production, and it can get pretty scientific.

First of all, nutrition is very important in hay production. For ruminant animals, forages (like hay) need to be a large part of their diet to keep them healthy. Too much grains (like corn and soybeans) can offset the balances in their digestive system and lead to rumen acidosis, which can cause death if not caught soon enough. However, this is also tricky, because ruminant animals like cattle that are raised for meat grow faster and more efficiently when they have access to those same grains. In the end, the farmer is responsible for making sure their animals have the correct balance of grains, forages, and other feed additives to keep their animals the healthiest and most efficient they can be.

So hay is a very important part of a healthy cow’s diet. But not all hay is made equal. Ruminant animals are great at digesting plant materials, but some plants and some plant parts are harder than others to digest. Plant materials with lots of cellulose or lignin are the hardest to digest. These are plant parts with very tough, rigid cell wells. Think about tree bark, bamboo, or a dry cornstalk – these are all very tough and have lots of cellulose. A ruminant animal could probably eat some of these, but they won’t be a very efficient part of their diet.

Alternatively, nice, soft, leafy green parts of plants are much easier to digest. This also means that younger plants are easier to digest. A farmer may have to pay attention to how fast the grass grows so that the hay is cut and baled before the grass gets too tall, too tough, or has too many seed heads that the cattle won’t want to eat. Leguminous plants, like alfalfa, clover, and birdsfoot trefoil, are also a highly nutritious and leafy part of a good forage mix.

Bale wrapped with twine. (Source: MakinHay.com)

This is a key difference between hay and straw. Hay should be green, leafy, and smell good. Straw is mostly the stems of oats, wheat, or another cereal crop, and is a golden color. Straw is mainly used for bedding.

When hay is cut, it is baled. It is baled so it can be transported and stored easier. The bales can be held together with twine, wire, netting, or even plastic wrap. If you see large, round bales of hay that are a solid color, like black or white, that farmer chose to wrap their bales with the solid plastic wrap. Different farmers have different priorities that can impact the decision of what they choose to bind their bales with.

Bales can also come in different shapes. Hay bales you see in pastures along the interstate are probably the large round bales. Bales you see used for seating at events or on a hayrack ride are probably the smaller rectangular bales (usually called square bales by agriculturalists). Size of farm operation, equipment available, and storage facilities available can all help a farmer choose which type of bale to use.

In conclusion: hay bales are a feed source for ruminant animals made from a variety of forage crops. This is not to be confused with straw, which is not as nutritious and is instead used as bedding for livestock. The big, round, marshmallow-looking shapes that dot the countryside aren’t just there for fun – they’re there for food!

Hey, what other questions do you have about hay?

-Chrissy

This spice is a collaborator…

While the term vanilla has come to mean “plain or ordinary” in American slang the actual plant and its fruitful product is anything but. This agricultural product enhances the flavor of other ingredients in baking, frozen treats, beverages, and more. It is also known for adding aroma to some of our favorite baked goods and is one of the most popular notes used in perfumes.

During this time of COVID, it was reported by CBS News that worldwide vanilla sales have doubled. With all the baking happening during this quarantine time, let’s take a closer look at this unique spice – vanilla.

 

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Source: By Markcaya – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33552502

 

Vanilla’s origin story
Nearly 80 percent of this fragrant spice comes from one small African island called Madagascar, however, vanilla didn’t originate there. It originated in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico and Guatemala.

The tale of the vanilla orchid goes clear back in time to the Aztec Indians. They were known to enjoy a drink of ground, spiced chocolate––the spice being the vanilla. In 1518, Chief Montezuma of the Aztec Indians shared a drink with Hernando Cortes, a Spanish conquistador. It was Cortes who brought the vanilla back to Europe where it became widely popular.

Today, vanilla is the second most expensive spice, after saffron, due to its labor-intensive nature. It’s also more valuable than silver and is the only flavor regulated by U.S. law.

How it’s grown

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Source: By Malcolm Manners from Lakeland FL, USA – Vanilla planifolia, CC BY 2.0, https:commons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=42110592

 

Vanilla comes from the pod of the Vanilla orchid (or the Vanilla Planifolia), which is a pale, white or yellow orchid with short, oblong, dark green leaves. There are 25,000-30,000 different species of orchid worldwide. The vanilla orchid is the only orchid known to have edible fruit.

Vanilla orchids grow in tropical environments as they require high temperatures and humidity to thrive. It is a vining orchid that can be found growing on trees. It is known to grow to eight to 10 feet when it’s fully mature.

How it’s pollinated
For the orchid to produce the pod that contains the vanilla seeds, the orchid flower must be pollinated. In Mexico, this wasn’t a problem because there was a specific bee – the Melipona bee – that pollinated it. When the French colonists brought the vanilla orchid to Madagascar in the 1500s it did not produce the pods needed for the spice. No insects would pollinate it so the flower grew but no vanilla could be cultivated. For many centuries, this was the case…no pods were produced. In 1850, Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old enslaved boy, discovered that the plant could be hand-pollinated.

The flower is only open for 24 hours and must be pollinated within 12 hours of blooming. To pollinate the vanilla orchid, the outer flower petals are removed to expose the flowers’ stigma. A thin, small stick is used to lift the rostellum, which is the flap that separates the male anther from the female stigma, and then using their thumbs, the agriculture worker pushes the pollen from the anther over the stigma. If successfully pollinated, a vanilla bean pod is produced eight months later.

Today, nearly all vanilla is pollinated by hand using the technique invented by Mr. Albius. His discovery is what has allowed millions of people throughout history to enjoy vanilla spices and perfumes.

How it’s harvested and processed

321px-Vanilla_planifolia_cluster_of_green_pods (1)

Source: By B.navez – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6969739

After waiting for eight months following pollination, the vanilla pod is ready to be harvested. The pods are picked when they are still green. They are placed in hot water to stop photosynthesis and then laid out to dry for six months. They are sorted and massaged regularly during these six months. The entire process from flower to finished product takes 15 months but the result is a vanilla pod that contains thousands of tiny, black seeds. With 40 million vanilla orchids in Madagascar alone, that’s a lot of pollinating, harvesting, and sorting. It is such a valuable product that it can sell for more than silver in its weight. Some farmers even tattoo each pod while they’re still green so they can track their product in the event of theft.

 

There is much more to vanilla’s story, but we hope this provides a little insight into one of the world’s most valuable agricultural products. The next time you’re in the grocery aisle reaching for pure vanilla extract or sampling a frozen vanilla goodie, remember all the steps this little bean went through to be enjoyed by you and your family. Be sure to reach for the pure vanilla, not the synthesized version and your palate will thank you.

~Melissa

How to Grow a Vanilla Bean Plant at Home
The Journey of Vanilla: From Plant to Extract
Vanilla: The Journey from Source to Table
Pollinating Vanilla Bean Orchid
Vanilla Bean Harvest
The Surprising Reason Why Vanilla is So Expensive
How to Use and Substitute Different Vanillas
Edmond Albius: The slave African child who created the multimillion-dollar vanilla industry