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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.



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.


What the Pandemic Has Taught Us about Sourdough – Part 2

This post is part of a short series. See part 1 here: https://iowaagliteracy.wordpress.com/2021/03/24/what-the-pandemic-has-taught-us-about-sourdough-part-1/

Now it is time to make the bread!

The Mixing

One thing that most people familiar with bread will know about is kneading. A good loaf requires kneading to build up the gluten. Gluten is the protein of wheat flour that binds together and gives it its stretch. This stretch allows for the dough to hold in the carbon dioxide from the yeast and trap them in little bubbles. You need to knead the dough to build the gluten up. That might mean 10-15 minutes of kneading the dough. My forearms have been built up over this time. You are supposed to be able to do the ‘window pane‘ test with the dough to know it has been kneaded enough.

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Resting dough

My pandemic learning – and this has been a life saver – is autolyse. Letting the flour and water sit and just absorb and meld for about 30 minutes before kneading really seems to cut down the needed kneading time. In fact, whenever possible I almost exclusively practice the ‘no knead’ technique with the ‘stretch-and-fold‘ technique every 30 minutes for 2-3 hours. It might take longer, but it takes much less energy. Of course you can over knead and under knead. I’m not a fan of kneading. I’m a fan of autolyse and stretch-and-fold. I’ve yet to have any problems with the final product using those techniques.

The Shaping

This is the one step and lesson that I had – pre-pandemic – never practiced, but now has changed and defined the final product. Bakers typically shape any bread loaf. With sourdough the shaping helps the overall structure. By creating surface tension on the dough, you help trap more bubbles and air pockets. Creating this surface tension is achieved by rolling and stretching the doughball or boule.

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Dough in a baton.

The second important part of shaping is using a baton. A baton or wicker basket is lined with cloth and used for the second proving. Dusting with rice flour helps prevent the dough from sticking. The wicker basked allows for air flow. The dough will develop a little bit of a skin as it proves and that skin will help hold or direct the shape of the final loaf. I’ve found that a baton is most useful for long proves, overnight in the refrigerator. The refrigerator retards and slows the microorganism growth. You can easily make a loaf of bread in a day, but timing and spreading things out by using the refrigerator can yield different results. A baton isn’t essential. You can easily do the second prove in a bread pan or any other vessel that you choose. But a breathable baton will help create that ‘skin’ to help direct the final shape.

The Baking

With the first prove you are looking for the dough to double in size. This can take anywhere from two to more than eight hours depending on everything from temperature to the active nature of the microorganisms. I usually plan for about four hours. Then you knock out the air, shape it and allow for the second prove. Again you are looking for it to roughly double in size. This usually takes less time, maybe 30 minutes to four hours – again depending on a variety of factors. After this second prove, it is ready to bake. Enriched bread doughs (with butter, milk, and/or eggs) can bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-50 minutes. But for the basic sourdough of just water and flour, you want a quick, high heat to start (roughly 20 minutes) and then a slightly reduced heat for the remainder of the time (roughly 20-25 minutes). The quick, high heat forces those air pockets in the bread to expand making the bread rise quickly and then the skin or crust forms, locking everything in place.

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Scoring the dough immediately before baking by drawing a sharp knife through the surface of the dough allows for the bread to expand as much as possible. Artisan bread makers have a lot of artistry in the scoring process. But don’t get overwhelmed. Focus on a few simple slashes. The quick, high, humid heat will help give the bread its ‘oven spring’ and complete the rising process. Scoring the dough with a couple of slashes allows for the bread that has taut skin to expand in specific places rather than tearing at random places.

High humidity environments help with that initial expansion of the bread. Some ovens have steam injection to increase humidity. For most of us who don’t have steam injection ovens you can recreate the effect by dumping a cup full of ice cubes on the oven floor as you put the bread in. This allows for incremental release of steam as the the ice melts and the water evaporates. This method does work. However, I’ve found the cast iron self-contained steam to be better. As you pre-heat the oven, place a cast iron pan with lid inside. When the oven is preheated, pull the pan out. Turn the shaped dough into the hot pan. Parchment paper is key to prevent sticking. Put the lid on the cast iron pan – dough inside – and place the whole thing in the oven. The steam from the bread stays in the pan and helps with the rise and expansion. After 20 minutes, remove the pan lid and let the bread finish baking at a slightly reduced heat (450 degrees F to start and then down to 425 degrees F).

Have Fun!

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I have enjoyed making loaves and loaves of bread with my sourdough starter and so much more. Sandwich bread, round loaves, doughnuts, pretzels, focaccia, challah, stollen, panetonne, pan de muerto, bagels, baps, kings cake, bao buns, pizza dough, baguettes, and English muffins.

I’ve also enjoyed using the discard for things like crackers, chocolate chip cookies, and my personal favorite: pancakes. My go-to family recipe for weekend pancakes (or waffles) is: 2 cups sourdough starter, 2 Tbsp. oil, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda. My secret ingredient is a 1/4 tsp. of ground cardamom. Mix everything together and cook it on a griddle, in a pan, or on a waffle iron. It is a very forgiving and universal batter.

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Cheese Crock = Sourdough Starter Crock

One of my cherished memories of sourdough from childhood into adulthood is the container used to store the sourdough. My parents always used a vintage crock from the Kaukauna Klub Wisconsin Stoneware Cheese Crock Dairy Co. I had no idea it was a cheese crock growing up because we only ever kept sourdough starter in it. Then when I needed to make my own sourdough starter, I was lucky enough for find another cheese crock! The rubber ring was a perfect non-airtight seal for the breathable sourdough.

I have also had fun with my sourdough starter by giving it a name (and therefore a personality). My starter is named Marlon Brandough. “I’m the king around here, and you don’t forget it.” This is nothing new and many people have been very creative with their names.

The Recipe

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My basic recipe is simple and does get tweaked nearly every time I bake. If you want to try your hand at a loaf, I would suggest this recipe: Mix 1 cup fed and active sourdough starter with 1 cup lukewarm water. Mix in 2 cups bread flour and 2 teaspoons of salt. When the water is absorbed, knead with your hands for 2-3 minutes until it all comes together. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough four times. Rest another 30 minutes. Stretch and fold. Rest. Stretch and fold. Rest. Stretch and fold. Let prove until doubled in size (approximately 4 hours). Knock all the air out and shape the dough and use a baton or bread pan. Let prove until nearly doubled in size (approximately 1 hour). Place the dough in the pan and bake at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 425 degrees F and bake another 25 minutes. The bread should be golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped. Remove from the oven and let cool. Slice and enjoy!

Sourdough is not something to be scared of, but it does take some work. With these tips, hopefully you can create the perfect loaf for you and yours.


What the Pandemic Has Taught Us about Sourdough – Part 1

Many people have taken up hobbies this past year. Exercise, fiber arts, baking might be some of the top activities that have kept us occupied during the COVID quarantine over these past 12 or more months. Instagram is awash with millions of posts (successes and failures) of people who have tried their hand at sourdough. There are countless resources that help novices to experts try their hand at this artisanal craft. I have been playing around with sourdough for many years (before it was pandemic-cool), but the pandemic has allowed me to concentrate and experiment.

Making sourdough is easy. Water, flour, salt, natural yeasts and bacteria. Mix, knead, prove, shape, prove, and bake. Anyone CAN do it. But while this seems simple enough, there are reasons not everyone DOES bake sourdough. This simple process can go awry at any point and in a variety of ways. Even if it isn’t a complete failure, the results can be very underwhelming. So, while this post is not the ultimate guide, nor is it the final authority, we hope that you can learn from our year of experimenting and baking. Here are our lessons learned from a year of sourdough.

The Starter

The first place to start is the starter. Water plays an essential role and the salt is essential for flavoring the loaf. But our biggest lessons learned were in the flour and the yeast. I grew up with a 50+ year old starter that my family cared for. We didn’t often bake sourdough bread but every weekend we enjoyed a special treat of sourdough pancakes. Sourdough starter is nearly the perfect consistency for pancake batter! Add a little oil, egg, sugar, vanilla, and baking soda and you’ll have robust, flavorful pancakes in no time. But when I moved away from my parents, I had to make my own starter. I tried a couple of different times before I landed on one that worked. But I didn’t realize how ‘bad’ it was until I tasted a different starter – one from Alaska. So I dumped my old batch and started fresh with an Alaskan starter. So, four lessons learned.

First, what makes sourdough sourdough are the natural (found in the environment) yeasts and bacteria that metabolize the flour producing carbon dioxide and giving the bread its light, airy texture. Many commercial breads use quick acting yeasts that will give the bread its airy texture within just a couple of hours. Natural yeasts might take a little bit longer to metabolize the flour and form all of those lovely pockets of air. Additionally, natural yeasts work in concert with natural bacteria that give the bread its slightly sour flavor. But not all natural yeasts are created equally. First, it is important to note that yeasts (types of fungi) found in Florida are different than those found in Maine. Yeasts in Iowa are different from the one found in California or Alaska. They are all different. No matter what types of yeasts you start with your sourdough will likely collect yeasts from the air where you currently are and start to take on those characteristics and flavors. I mentioned that I started with a strain of Alaskan sourdough yeast. There is a reason that San Francisco sourdough or Alaskan sourdough is famous. Those yeasts and bacteria make amazing bread. And it is hard to recreate those same flavors in different areas because they start to acclimate to the local conditions. I feel like my sourdough still has a lot of the flavor, but I’m sure it would not compare to the real thing in Alaska because it has started to accumulate more of our Iowa yeasts and bacteria from the air.

While you can start a sourdough just from the natural yeasts and bacteria in the air, an easier way is to use the natural microorganisms that are on the wheat. Flour is simply milled or ground wheat. That wheat was grown in a field and there are millions of microorganisms that are on those wheat berries when they are harvested. Lesson two is that using whole wheat flour will allow you to start a culture simply using what microorganisms are naturally present. Those microorganisms will be accustomed to metabolizing that kind of flour. By adding a little water and providing a hospitable environment, you can quickly get those little microorganisms active and reproducing. It is important to note that all purpose flour or other refined flours won’t have as many microorganisms because the outer hull and bran of the wheat berries have been removed, also removing many of the microorganisms. It is also worth noting that bleached flour will have very few, if any microorganisms since that refinement process is meant to kill any that might be present. So, if you want to make a starter, best to start with whole wheat flour. You could even grind your own from whole wheat berries.

Start the starter. Every farmer knows that you need to create the optimum conditions for your animals to thrive. Yeast farming is no different! We simply need to make the optimum conditions for those microorganisms to thrive. The flours serves as the food for the microorganisms. All living things need water. So mix the flour with a little water and you get the perfect slurry for things to start happening. Keep it at room temperature and within a day or two you might start to see little bubbles form. Those bubbles are the carbon dioxide being released as the yeast and bacteria start to metabolize and eat the flour. But this process takes time. The first bubbles are from the quick acting microorganisms. Those aren’t the ones you want. Everyday you’ll need to discard a little of the mixture, add a little more flour, and a little more water. After that first bloom of activity, you might have a few days where it doesn’t look like anything is happening. But as the desirable yeasts and bacteria start to out compete the less desirable ones you should start to see renewed activity – more bubbles. Keep up the daily ritual of discarding some starter, adding a little more flour, and a little more water until you get a robust, active starter (roughly ten days).

Microorganisms will be accustomed to what they are fed regularly. If you want to change up the bread making and make rye sourdough, it isn’t as simple as replacing wheat flour with rye flour. Lesson three is that you have to give the microorganisms time to adjust. Start with your wheat starter, then add a little rye flour and water for several days in a row. The microorganisms should start to transition over or adopt new microorganisms that are better suited for rye flour. You can use this same strategy for a variety of different flours – with varying degrees of success. For best results, though feed your starter the same thing consistently.

Most recipes and directions for starters suggest using lots of flours and lots of water. But one thing the pandemic has taught us is that it is more about proportions than it is about quantity. Early on in the pandemic when flour on grocery store shelves was in short supply, but a lot of people wanted to start experimenting with sourdough the quarantiny starter was invented. This lesson can be applied to many things in baking. It is about proportions. Want a bigger loaf? Increase all ingredients by the same proportion. Want two or three loaves instead of one? Double or triple the recipe. Want a smaller loaf? Cut the recipe down – proportionally.

The Care

Sourdough starter is living and breathing. It consists of multiple alive and active organisms. So it needs to be treated accordingly. Think of it as a pet or livestock that needs to be cared for. It needs to be fed and watered regularly. If you keep your starter at room temperature, you’ll need to feed it everyday. Practice the same procedure of discarding half and then adding equal amounts of water and flour. Starter also needs to ‘breathe’ or release carbon dioxide, so keep it in a jar or container that is not airtight. A slight gap will allow for the carbon dioxide to escape. If you keep your starter in the fridge, the cooler temperature will slow down the respiration so you will only need to feed and water it once a week. If you neglect if for longer than that you may still be able to revive it. (I’ve accidentally let mine go as long as four weeks). But it is never as good, and takes time to rebuild those active microbes with several sequential feedings.

Remember that every time you get ready to bake with your starter, you are going to want to save some for next time. The idea is to grow the starter enough that you can use some for baking and save some to keep your cultures active and growing. Add your water and flour to the starter the night before and let it sit over night. The next day when you start your recipe the first step, the very first step, is always to reserve a a portion back in your storage vessel for the next bake. Also remember, we are working with yeast and bacteria. Once you have a desirable starter you don’t want to contaminate it with other strains of yeast or bacteria. Wash and sanitize all your containers and bowls in-between uses to try and prevent any microorganisms sneaking in.

For a continuation of the story and baking bread, be sure to check out Part 2 here: https://iowaagliteracy.wordpress.com/2021/03/24/what-the-pandemic-has-taught-us-about-sourdough-part-2/


Clover & Agriculture

Every year many people around the world celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th. When thinking about St. Patrick’s Day, images of leprechauns, pots of gold, green, or Ireland might swarm your head. Did agriculture come to mind? One of the symbols of St. Patrick’s Day, the clover, is a valuable plant to farmers.

I’m not sure about you guys, but I spent a good chunk of my childhood outside intensely staring at the grass, searching for the lucky four-leaf clover. Sadly, after spending hours on the lookout, I never found one on my own.

Photo by Sudipta Mondal on Pexels.com

Clover or Shamrock?

It turns out I wasn’t even looking for a shamrock since a four-leaf clover is just a genetic mutation.

Shamrocks fall under the broad term of clover. Clover is the common name for the species in the Trifolium family, which translates to “having three leaves.” It’s kind of like how dogs, foxes, and wolves all fall under the canine family.

If you ask a botanist or the Irish what kind of Trifolium a shamrock is, most likely, you are going to get at least two different answers. Most botanists believe that the white clover is the same thing as a shamrock. In contrast, those staying true to the Irish tradition believe that the three leaves symbolize the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit as taught by St. Patrick.

So, how do farmers use it?

While many probably recognize clover growing in their lawns, some farmers will grow it in their fields as a cover crop. Cover crops are planted to reduce erosion between growing seasons and add organic matter to the soil. To learn more about cover crops, check out the blog post “Cover Cropping. Why Do They Do That?”

According to Practical Farmers of Iowa, it is one of the best possible cover crop options. They describe it as the “Cadillac of cover crops.” Clover has many, many benefits as a cover crop. As a legume, it helps contribute nitrogen to the soil, it reduces soil erosion, and it helps limit the number of weeds in the field. Clover also helps a lot with the soil’s moisture hold capacity and water retention, which is great for those dry summers like we had last year.

Photo by Zhanna Fort on Pexels.com

Clover and livestock

Not only do farmers use clover as cover crops, but some feed their livestock with it as well. Integrating clover in pastures through a process called overseeding has its benefits: increase of yield, improve animal performance, Nitrogen fixation and grazing season extension, to name a few. Adding clover to a pasture will help the soil, the livestock and other grasses, but it does come with a warning.

Farmers need to be careful because too much clover could cause bloating. An abundance of clover consumption may cause cattle or other livestock species to have a gas buildup and can be very dangerous if this leads to pressure on the internal organs.

There are ways to prevent this bloating. Farmers can mix the clover with other grass species in the pasture, wait to feed livestock clover until it is drier or rotate their grazing.

Despite these risks, few farmers cut out clover feeding entirely due to its significant protein and fiber amount.


Other than the shamrock around St. Patrick’s Day, another famous clover is the clover emblem of 4-H. 4-H is a youth development organization for 4th-12th graders where members can create projects in health, science, or agriculture fields. The four-leaf clover emblem representing the 4-H organization has an “H” on each leaf, meaning head, heart, hands and health.

As you are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, don’t just think about all of the green you’re going to wear, but think about how much agriculture is tied into this holiday!


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!


Additional Resources

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

Norman, Who?

Norman Borlaug (Source: World Food Prize Foundation)

If I asked you to name a famous Iowan, who would come to mind? TV and movie stars like Johnny Carson, Ashton Kutcher, John Wayne, or Cloris Leachman? Maybe sports greats Dan Gable, Shawn Johnson, or Kurt Warner? Former President Herbert Hoover or astronaut Peggy Whitson?

While these people are certainly famous, there is one very deserving name missing from this list. A person who most Americans have likely never heard of; Norman Borlaug, a scientist whose work is credited with saving over a billion lives. That’s right, the person who saved more lives than any other person in history is unknown by most.

I encourage you to take some time to dive into the life and work of Norman Borlaug by reading Our Daily Bread by Noel Vietmeyer or watching Freedom from Famine: The Norman Borlaug Story. But for now, here’s five things you should know about the life and accomplishments of Norman Borlaug.

  1. Norman Borlaug was an agricultural scientist, specifically a plant breeder. His work focused on improving crop genetics, mainly wheat and rice. In 1944, Borlaug moved to Mexico to fight stem rust, a fungus that infects wheat. At the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation and Vice President Henry A Wallace, he worked on research stations in Mexico to improve agricultural practices. He and his colleagues spent the next decade crossing thousands of strains of wheat from across the globe, ultimately developing a high-yielding, disease-resistant variety. Borlaug’s breeding techniques were soon expanded to other crops and laid the groundwork for advances in agriculture that helped to alleviate world hunger
  2. Borlaug is recognized as the father of the Green Revolution, a period of advancement of agricultural practices and technology between 1950 and the late 1960s that increased food production worldwide. The work of Borlaug and others to increase the yield of grain crops decreased famine and malnutrition, especially in Mexico, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and other developing countries. By increasing the amount of grain harvested per acre, Borlaug’s work also preserved natural habitats that would have been cultivated to meet the needs of the growing population.   
  3. Borlaug was raised on a farm near Cresco, Iowa, where his family instilled in him a strong work ethic and the value of education. Norman’s grandfather Nels saw great potential in Norm’s curious mind and encouraged him to pursue more education than was typical for a farm boy at the time. “Think for yourself, Norm Boy” and “Fill your head now to fill your belly later” are two things his grandfather would tell him often.
  4. Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for his lifetime of work to feed a hungry world. He is one of only seven people in the world to receive all three honors. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mother Teresa are some of the other honored seven. 
  5. Borlaug founded the World Food Prize, an annual award that recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world.  

I’ll admit, I was well into adulthood by the time I learned about Norman Borlaug. And it wasn’t until recent years that I really began to understand his work and why it had such a huge impact globally. I now feel compelled to share his accomplishments with others, especially students. And I hope you do, too.



A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian

Did you know that Americans own over 88.3 million cats and 74.8 million dogs? I think those numbers are a clear indictor that people enjoy owning pets. Farmers keep different kinds of animals and for different reasons. Meat, dairy products, eggs, leather, and fibers are all resources that are harvested from animals on the farm.

Whether you keep animals for companionship or raise livestock on a farm, at some point in their lives, your animals will need someone to take care of them.

Photo of our Border Collie pup who is now five. She “helps” with our cattle when it’s time to move them from place to place.

This is when you call the veterinarian. A veterinarian is “a person qualified to treat diseased or injured animals”. There are many different types of veterinarians.

  • Small Animal or Companion-Animal Veterinarians treat animals for wounds, diagnose illnesses, perform surgeries, administer vaccines, and prescribe medications. The majority of veterinarians are small animal vets.
  • Veterinary Specialist – Just like doctors, veterinarians can specialize in a section of veterinary medicine (dentistry, pathology, surgery) or in a particular species or group of animals (i.e. cats, dogs, poultry).
  • Food-Animal Veterinarians diagnose and treat illnesses for animals primarily on ranches and farms that are raised for human consumption.
  • Food Safety and Inspection Veterinarians may inspect livestock and animal products like eggs, dairy, and meat to ensure they meet sanitation standards. In some cases, they might need to quarantine infected animals to prevent illness from spreading to other animals and humans. Still others are involved in testing the safety of medications and additives. As you can see, these veterinarians do a lot to improve public health.
  • Research Veterinarians review past findings and techniques to work toward better methods for diagnosing, treating, and preventing health conditions. They solve both animal and human health problems. This usually requires a specialized education beyond  a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.

But what does it take to be a veterinarian? I asked the people who take care of our cattle, the employees of Shelby Vet Clinic, what does a day look like for a veterinarian? I know their day starts pretty early so when I called at 7:00 a.m. I was not surprised to find all the vets were busy working on their small animal practice. Clients bring their pets into the office and the animals are treated there. Some animals are treated and can go home right away, however others may need to stay for a day or two, depending on their reason for seeing the vet. While the animal is there, they are cared for around the clock by dedicated employees. Dr. Clayton McGargill had a busy morning vaccinating three dogs and spaying three cats.

We have a slightly different experience on the large animal – or food animal side. If the veterinarian is planning on treating just one or two cows, calves, or even bulls, clients can load up their livestock trailer and bring them in. This would include semen testing a bull for productivity, emergency treatment of a sick calf, or even performing a cesarean on a cow who is having trouble delivering her calf. Just this morning, Dr. Clay pregnancy checked two cows right there at the clinic. He used an ultrasound device to see if the cow was pregnant and how far along in her pregnancy she might be.

Photo of a cow/calf pair. This cow is standing next to her two week old calf.

However, most of the time the veterinarian makes a visit to the farm and turns a cattle shed into their office. It may be to treat the entire herd, give a large group of calves vaccinations, or it may be to assess a large animal that would not be able to be safely transported due to illness or injury. The veterinarian comes prepared with everything they need in their work truck. They are a hospital on wheels.

I asked Dr. Clay what things he carried in his truck and he said it varies. Since each vet usually goes on two or three calls a day (sometimes as many as seven or eight) the supplies need to be restocked daily. In Shelby County there are a lot of cattle farms so that equipment is mostly what the vets carry. Calf pullers to assist in calving, syringes, and a variety of medicines are just some of the items. One interesting feature that the vet trucks have is water onboard. They can clean equipment and have hot soapy water even if they have to operate on an animal in a field.

A veterinarian has to know a lot about animals. They learn in vet school. Most vets attend four years of school, earning a bachelor’s degree and then apply for and attend vet school. This is a highly competitive process. Only about ten percent of applicants get in and then they have another four years of schooling to complete.  

“The best part of my job is the diversity. No two days are ever exactly alike,” says Dr. Clay. “I also like the seasonality of the job.”

Are there any downfalls to being a vet? “We work a lot,” says Dr. Clay. Long hours are nothing unusual for country veterinarians. The hours of operation for the Shelby County Vet Clinic are from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm and one week a month each vet works on-call and is available for emergencies around the clock.

Did you have a love for animals and think of being a veterinarian when you grew up? Caring for animals is an admirable profession and one that cattle farmers, like my husband and myself, could not do without.


COVID-19 Precautions and Biosecurity

Biosecurity is a common practice in raising livestock. Essentially it means that farmers try to keep outside germs away from their animals to avoid those animals ever getting sick. Farmers know that it is easier to raise a healthy animal from the beginning than to raise an animal that gets sick and needs treatment and recovery time before they can reach the market. This makes biosecurity a humane practice as well as a financial benefit.

Current COVID-19 preventative measures are exactly the same.

Wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands; these are some of the same measures that farmers take around their livestock. Their purpose is to keep germs away from organisms to prevent them from ever getting sick.

Teacher guests to a pig barn wear disposable coveralls, hair nets, and booties inside the facility to avoid bringing in outside germs.


Pigs and poultry species farmers are especially careful about biosecurity practices. These species generally live indoors to avoid predators, extreme temperatures, and disease-carrying wild animals. Because they generally live indoors together, if a germ gets in to one animal, it can spread through the barn very quickly. This is not unlike COVID-19 in a nursing home facility.

Wash your hands and wear a mask

Knowing this, pork and poultry farmers take a variety of precautions when entering their barns. They may take full showers before they enter and after they leave. They may have special clothes that only get worn on-site. They may have special shoes, hairnets, or caps they wear. They may walk through disinfectant footbaths to clean their boots. If outside tools or equipment are required, they may get sanitized on-site to kill any lingering germs. This is not unlike nurses wearing special suits, masks, goggles, face shields, and gloves when working in our health services.

Educator guests to a pig barn wear hair coverings to prevent bringing in outside germs.

Social distance

Farmers also social distance. For example, two poultry farmers will rarely visit each other’s barns; especially not wearing the same clothes they would wear in their own barns. This helps keep one flock’s germs away from the other flock, and vice versa. This is not unlike staying home and away from friends when the potential for COVID-19 exposure at their grocery store, pharmacy, and clinic may be different from that of yours.

Get vaccinated

As COVID-19 vaccinations are being rolled out, we also have a unique perspective on the importance of vaccinations. Farmers have long known that by vaccinating livestock against common and deadly diseases that they can protect their livestock’s health and even their lives. We, too, will soon be able to protect our own health and the health of the people around us by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Pig farm staff and guests wear designated barn clothes that stay onsite. Staff and guests shower before entering the barn and before leaving the barn.

This is a unique time in our history where we have such parallels between livestock health and human health. We are seeing firsthand what farmers try to avoid every day. We are also seeing how important it is that everyone holds up their end of the bargain. If a farmer visited a different farm without taking proper precautions and forgot to wash their boots upon re-entering their own barn, how would that impact those animals? If a person visits a restaurant and then goes to the pharmacy without wearing a mask, how would that impact those pharmacists and patients?

So, even as the COVID-19 precautions seem foreign, cumbersome, invasive, or even just annoying, it’s really nothing new or radical. These steps we take every day are the same things our farmers do to help protect their animals and secure a safe and abundant food supply for us.


Representation (in Agriculture) Matters

While we can and should recognize the contributions of people of color all year long, Black History Month gives us a great opportunity to focus on and raise up those contributions people in these communities have made. Black History Month reminds us of the importance of respecting and supporting Black people and minorities here in the United States. Even through teaching agriculture we can teach topics and teach in ways that promote respect, love, empathy and understanding to influence young people who will eventually become doers and leaders in this world.

In including conversations about respect of all people, no matter what their skin color, we are able to point to solutions and methods of action that positively impact our world. These conversations can be challenging, so where do you start? Do you start with the six elements of social justice: self-love and knowledge, respect for others, issues of social injustice, social movements and social change, awareness raising, and social action?

Or do you start with the small step that we can all take by including more books representing black characters or from black authors in our curricula? Some of our favorites books are about George Washington Carver who had a huge role in agricultural research. He can be, in part, credited for things like our modern system of crop rotation with legumes and nutrient intensive crops (soybeans and corn or peanuts and tobacco). Check out some of these great titles:

  • A Picture Book of George Washington Carver by David A. Adler
  • A Pocketful of Goobers: A Story About George Washington Carver by Barbara Mitchell
  • A Weed is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver by Aliki
  • George Washington Carver by Tonya Bolden
  • George Washington Carver for Kids; His Life and Discoveries, With 21 Activities by Peggy Thomas
  • George Washington Carver: Agriculture Pioneer: Life Science (Science Readers) by Stephanie Macceca
  • George Washington Carver; Ingenious Inventor (Graphic Library) by Nathan Olson
  • In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby

Black farmers and agriculturalists have had a lot of other contributions to the agriculture industry. Consider Henry Blair who patented both corn and cotton planters. Consider Booker T. Whatley who researched sustainable farming practices and helped improve farm efficiency. Or consider Frederick McKinley Jones who invented the refrigerated truck and helped develop the refrigerated transportation system. In celebrating this attitude of invention, science, and engineering, some of our favorite books featuring people of color are:

  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip by Gaylia Taylor
  • No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas by Tonya Bolden
  • Seeds for Change: The Lives and Work of Suri and Edda Sehgal by Marly Cornell
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Black people and other minority groups are an integral part of American history, science, innovation, and agriculture. Black agriculturalists tend to be underrepresented and face unique challenges. Representation of these groups in nature, science, and agriculture can be important to recognize their contributions and to help create STEM identity in our students.

Building this representation in curricula and developing STEM identity in students can even be tied to history lessons and social studies standards. We remember that we are not isolated, but instead connected to the world as things like Iowa corn is used here at home and also shipped all around the globe. Some of our favorite books that feature diverse cultures and people are:

  • Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo
  • Carlos and the Cornfield by Jan Romero Stevens
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
  • Harvesting Friends, Cosechando Amigos by Kathleen Contreras and Gary Undercuffler
  • Sweet Corn and Sushi by Lori Erickson
  • The Empty Pot by Demi
  • The Good Garden by Katie Smith Milway and Sylvie Daigneault
  • The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola

These resources and thoughtful conversations can help students develop race consciousness and help minimize or eliminate discrimination. At the end of the day we all eat. We are all tied to agriculture. We can all have a role in producing food and understanding the agricultural system that is behind it. We can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with peers of all hues. Representation in agriculture matters.


How will you be celebrating Black History Month? What titles did we miss? We’d love to hear from you.