Why Do They Do That? – Vaccines

Cold and flu season may be waning for the year for humans, but farmers might still give their animals vaccines. Why do they do that?

One of a farmer’s main priorities in raising animals is keeping the animals healthy. Vaccines are one of the tools that farmers use to help keep their animals healthy. First, it is important to understand the difference between vaccines and antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections AFTER an animal like a pig or a human have gotten sick. Antibiotics are chemical agents that act by killing the bacteria or preventing the bacteria from multiplying. Vaccines on the other hand are given to animals BEFORE they get sick to try and prevent infection. Vaccines use a dead or modified virus to stimulate the body’s natural defenses against infection without causing the illness itself. If after the immunization, the body is exposed to the specific virus in the future, it will recognize it and fight off the infection much more quickly and effectively.

Once an animal receives a vaccination, the immune system responds by producing antibodies that destroy the infectious agents. This stimulates immunity from contracting the disease in the future. Vaccines are typically used to fight viral diseases but can also be used to immunize against bacteria, bacterial toxins, or parasites. They are usually given to animals in the form of an injection.

IMG_5457.JPGPigs, for example, are communal animals. They love being around and interacting with each other. Modern farms raise pigs in barns and in shared pens. Each pig has a lot of close contact with all of the other pigs. If one pig gets sick, there is a high likelihood that all of the other pigs would get sick too. It is sometimes hard and costly to treat a lot of sick pigs. So preventing illness is the preferred strategy. If all pigs are vaccinated, then they are all safe. Even if one animal doesn’t get vaccinated, it should still be safe because of herd immunity.

There are several diseases that are common in pigs. Procine parvovirus, PRRS, swine fever, and swine influenza are just a couple of examples that vaccinations can help protect against. In part, farmers are trying to manage the health of their animals. But some of these diseases (like swine flu) can be transmitted to humans. Keeping the pigs healthy helps keep humans healthy.

Throughout much of human history, diseases have caused widespread deaths. Smallpox was one of the most feared. In 1774 and English farmer inoculated his wife and sons with puss from a cowpox lesion on one of his cows. The wife and sons couldn’t contract the cowpox, but it was similar enough to smallpox that their bodies developed a resistance to both diseases. This was how the idea of vaccination first started. This inoculation technique was widely used and then by 1796 Edward Jenner had success in research and experimentation with vaccinations. His techniques continued to improve and over the succeeding years were applied to other diseases.


Most piglets receive their first shots of vaccines within a week after they are born. This helps ensure they have a healthy immune system from early on. These early vaccines are for common diseases and can be easily prevented. After the first round of shots, sometimes booster shots are required to ensure the vaccine is effective. Viruses can mutate in nature. Influenza or flu viruses for example mutate very quickly. So the same vaccine might not work year after year. In cases like that, animals may need to be vaccinated with a different vaccine that year to prevent the specific strain of influenza (just like with humans).

IMG_8324.jpgJust like antibiotics, vaccines have a withdrawal period. Humans don’t want those vaccines to be in the meat. So an animal cannot be harvested within a certain time period. The vaccines will have done their job and then been naturally flushed out of the body by the time the withdrawal period has passed. Each vaccine is a little different, but withdrawal periods can be around 21 days. Vaccination is a common and safe part of the pork industry. It helps ensure the health of the individual animal and the health of the whole herd. Just like humans should be vaccinated, animals should be too!


Ag 101: Eggs

Aurora moving along the horizon

While stocking up on eggs recently, I noticed the wide variety of choices in the egg section. There were white eggs, brown eggs, and sizes ranging from medium to jumbo. I also found cartons labeled free-range, cage-free and organic. Looking at all of the options sparked many questions. Does shell color affect the taste or nutrition? How will egg size affect my recipe? Is free-range and cage-free the same? I had more questions the longer I thought about it.

After a few conversations with farmers and a little online research, I found my answers.

brown eggs

What’s the difference between White and Brown Eggs?

Egg shell color is determined by the breed of the chicken. White-feathered chickens with white ear lobes lay white eggs. Red or brown-feathered chickens with red ear lobes lay usually lay brown eggs.

Does shell color matter? Not really. Nutritionally there is no difference.

Where are most eggs produced?

I’m proud to say that Iowa is the top egg producing state! According to the Iowa Egg Council, one in five eggs consumed United States is from an Iowa farm. Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas around out the top five egg-producing states. These five states represent over half of all U.S. layers.


Why are so many eggs produced in Iowa?

Corn and soybeans are key components of a hen’s diet. In fact, Iowa’s laying hens eat about 58 million bushels of corn and 30 million bushels of soybeans annually. Raising hens near their feed source reduces the overall production costs. Chicken litter, or manure, from Iowa’s egg farms also provides a valuable soil amendment and nutrient source that is used to grow the next crop of corn and soybeans.

Are most eggs gathered by hand?

Farmers who raise a small number of hens to sell eggs locally likely gather their eggs by hand. But most of today’s farms utilize automated gathering belts to do the job! Check out this cool video to see how it works!

How old are eggs in the grocery store?

Most eggs raised commercially, are shipped off the farm within 24 to 36 hours of being laid. Most go to a distributor, but still arrive at your local store within a week after being laid.

Apple Blossom In Spring!

What’s the difference between free range, cage free, and organic eggs?

Here’s the simple explanation:

Free-range eggs are produced by hens have access to outdoors. The hens consume grains, but may also eat wild plants and insects.

Cage-Free eggs are produced by hens raised inside, but may roam in a room or open area within the barn or poultry house.

Organic Eggs come from uncaged hens that have access to the outdoors. The hens are fed an organic diet of feed produced without conventional pesticides or fertilizers.

Visit the American Egg Board’s overview of common production systems if you’d like to know more.

What determines egg size?

All hens lay small eggs at first. The size of their eggs increases as they mature. In most modern breeds, hens are laying large to jumbo eggs by the time they are 40 weeks. Old.

A hen’s breed, body weight, and feed intake also affect egg size.


What size eggs should I buy?

If you are buying eggs to scramble, fry, or poach, it really doesn’t matter. After some experimentation, you might find that you have a preference based on your appetite. For me, two large eggs make the perfect breakfast. If I am buying eggs to make deviled eggs, I prefer x-large or jumbo ones.

Buying eggs to use in recipes is a different story. Most recipes are developed using large eggs. Using a different size, especially when baking, will affect the texture, flavor balance, and consistency. I have a friend who only buys x-large eggs. She is an avid baker and doesn’t notice a difference if the recipe only calls for a few eggs. However, if she is doubling a recipe she will often use one less egg than called for. For example, if the recipe calls for six eggs, she’ll only use five. This egg size conversion chart is a handy recourse if your family prefers an egg size other than large.

– Cindy

Dogs in Agriculture

Everyone loves dogs. My favorite dog is my mutt, Odie, whose only real accomplishment is that he’ll shake your hand if you give him a treat. However, I have always been fascinated by different breeds of dogs, their skills, and their many different “jobs,” especially those relating to agriculture. Today, I thought I’d walk through a few different dog breeds and their jobs in agriculture to learn more about these cute and loyal animals.

One of the main uses of dogs in agriculture is for herding. As you might expect, ranchers from all over the world have needed help herding various livestock through history. This means that there is a wide variety of herding dogs originating from places like Europe, the U.S. and Australia, all bred for similar herding capabilities.

What kind of capabilities are they, though? Herding dogs tend to be medium-size dogs that are very smart, athletic, and energetic. Though herding is an instinct in herding dogs, they also require a lot of training to work with their owners and recognize specific commands. For example, on a hillside in Ireland, a sheep rancher might use a variety of different whistles to command their dog on which pen, pasture, or paddock (section of a pasture) to direct the sheep towards. For some of these herding dogs, their instincts and temperament will be more important to breeders than their visual characteristics.


Photo by the American Kennel Club: http://akc.org/dog-breeds/border-collie/

First and foremost, I’d like to recognize Border Collies. Border Collies are a herding breed that originated from Scotland, and are widely recognized as the smartest breed of dog. Border Collies have an incredible instinct for herding livestock, and with a little training, a good Border Collie might be the only extra body a farmer needs to move their livestock from one place to another. In fact, when I was younger, a Border Collie named Andy once tried to herd me away from an electric fence! Here are some cool videos of Border Collies working.


Photo by the American Kennel Club: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/australian-shepherd/

Another beautiful breed of herding dogs are Australian Shepherds. Australian Shepherds are similar to Border Collies in many respects. They are smart, loyal, and have good herding instincts that can help farmers shepherd their animals. They are also very energetic, and are known for their beautiful merle coats.

Some more examples of herding breeds include Blue Heelers, Collies, German Shepherds, and even Pembroke Welsh Corgis!

Another big job dogs can have in agriculture is protection. Livestock animals tend to be prey animals, which makes keeping them safe from predators a big deal to farmers. This is especially true for sheep and alpacas. On sheep farms, there may be a big dog that lives with the sheep to help protect them from coyotes, mountain lions, or even other wild dogs that can hurt the livestock. A good term for this type of dog is livestock guardian dog.

Since the protective trait is largely instinctive, a good guardian dog will probably join the flock or herd as a puppy so they can imprint on the animals. Some people say that this also means that human contact should be kept to a minimum, but that has been argued specifically so that humans can help train the dogs on their duties. These dogs should be trustworthy, attentive, and protective. Generally, they are also large dogs, and tend to be gentle when not actively protecting another animal.

One breed of guardian dog is the Anatolian Shepherd. This breed is quite old, and originated in Anatolia (the Asian portion of Turkey). There are artifacts documenting this breed’s ancestors back to the Babylonian Empire! These dogs are large, rugged, and like other guardian dogs, are smart and devoted.

One of my favorite working dog breeds is the Great Pyrenees. Apart from being huge (males are around 100 pounds) and extra fluffy, they are smart, patient, and calm. These dogs were bred to work with livestock in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain. Though they are known for their patience and calm, they are also known for being courageous and attentive when watching over their flock on snowy mountainsides.


Photo by the American Kennel Club: http://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/great-pyrenees

Some other common guardian dog breeds are the Komondor, Pyrenean Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and other types of shepherds and mountain dogs.

Of course, dogs have many other amazing skills, from helping people with disabilities, to sniffing out everything from bombs and drugs to missing people and even diseases, to pulling sleds, helping hunt, and of course being loyal and loving companions. Humans have co-evolved with these great animals, benefiting us both with protection, companionship, and assistance in a variety of tasks.

What breeds of working dogs are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!


Daylight Savings Doesn’t Matter on the Farm

Over this past weekend we “sprang forward” for daylight saving time.  Daylight savings time was adopted in the United States March 19, 1918 as an act to preserve daylight and summer-sunset-meadow-nature-442407provide a standard time for the United States. The official reason was for fuel savings. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the policy because Americans getting off work while there was still daylight meant that people could go shopping or enjoy sports and recreational activities. There is a thought that Daylight Savings was created to benefit farmers and ranchers, but the time differences do not work in favor of the farm. Farmers actually lobbied against the establishment of Daylight Savings. Most agricultural related activities are based on hours of daylight instead of clock hours. Does time change help to get more done or are the effects felt in other ways?

When the time does change I enjoy the extra sunlight in the evening, but I also feel a bit of “jet lag” because I lose an hour of sleep. My body responds by being a bit weary and sluggish until my internal clock gets adjusted. I was curious how this change affects the animals on the farm. Does it make a difference? Are there any notable stressors to livestock?

Just like I maintain a schedule, livestock have routines, too. Granted, the routine is shaped around human factors and activities – but when the routine is disrupted it can confuse the animal. The body has a circadian rhythm, that is a “body clock” that tells our bodies when to rest, sleep, eat. The circadian rhythm responds to light and darkness in our environment. Circadian rhythms are found in most living things, including plants pexels-photo-382166and animals. On a farm, dairy cows will have a regular schedule for being milked, if the farmer alters the timing to an hour later, the cows will feel the discomfort because their internal clock tells the cows that it is past time to be milked. The cows’ udders continue to produce milk and pressure builds up in a regular amount of time. The cow does not know that clocks have been adjusted and it is not time for milking. The cow needs to get used to the new schedule. It is suggested to avoid livestock issues surrounding daylight savings time to gradually adjust schedules in the days before so that animals do not have to experience an observable difference to the normal daily events.

Change in the amount of light is a signal to plants, animals and people – that days are getting longer and warmer weather is on the way. Plants need the sunlight to grow and warmer weather brings new life on the farm. Our previous post on baby animals and Spring time sheds some light on warmer temperatures and birth on the farm. Some animals like chickens are greatly affected by the number of daylight hours. That is whypexels-photo-840111 most chicken barns are lit artificially to maintain regularity in their schedules. Farmers need to be out in the field and they will be in the field until the work is done. People and animals on the farm are not guided by the clock on the wall. If it is light outside, then workers will be in the fields and cattle roaming. What matters is not the time on the clock, but the work that needs to be done in daylight hours. We may enjoy a little more sunlight on the quiet evening – but the farmers are taking advantage of a little more daylight to get the work done – so that we all can enjoy food on our tables.



What’s Cookin’: Angel Food Cake

angel food cakeHomemade Angel Food Cake is a staple for birthday celebrations in my family. It started many years ago when my grandmother would make a homemade angel food cake for each child’s birthday. She even made homemade 7-minute frosting to go with it!

When I was in 4-H, I wanted to learn how to make a homemade angel food cake so I could make the next family birthday cake just like my grandmother! I was determined to have a blue ribbon entry at the Louisa County Fair. Each week for two months I made an angel food cake to perfect my cake baking skills. My mom and dad were expert taste testers by fair time. My cake went on to receive a blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair!

Learn about each ingredient so you can make a blue ribbon angel food cake for your next birthday celebration!

cake flourCake Four- Cake flour is similar to regular all-purpose flour, but is more refined. Cake flour starts as wheat, then millers find the wheat germ’s endosperm, the softest part of the kernel. The endosperm is extracted, then ground into a fine powder. It is usually so refined that the end result is a light, powdery substance. It often has the texture of baby powder. Cake flour is also bright white due to the intensive bleaching process that it undergoes as it is being made. The gluten content affects the density of baked goods. Gluten is related to the protein content. Bread flour has about 15% protein content, whereas cake flour has 7%. Cake flour’s lower protein content creates lighter, fluffier products, perfect for angel food cake!

Egg Whites- Eggs are produced by chickens. It is important to only use the egg whites when making an angel food cake for optimum results. Egg whites contain almost no fat and 50% of the protein found in eggs. It is a clear liquid contained within an egg formed around the egg yolk. The final product will result in a light, fluffy angel food cake with no fat! You can separate the egg whites from the yolks by using an egg separator.

cream of tartarCream of Tartar- Cream of Tartar is a byproduct from the wine industry. When tartaric acid is partially neutralized with potassium hydroxide, Cream of Tartar is formed.  In baking, Cream of Tartar is used to stabilize egg whites and whipped cream.

pure cane sugarWhite Sugar- White sugar can be produced from sugar cane or sugar beets. Check out this video to see how sugar beets are made into sugar. The process includes harvesting the sugar cane or sugar beets, extracting the juice, evaporating the excess water, boiling the syrup, drying the sugar crystals, and finally storing the sugar in the paper packaging like we see in the grocery store.

vanilla extractVanilla- Vanilla extract is made by percolating chopped vanilla beans with ethyl alcohol and water in large steel containers. The beans stay with the extracts for about 48 hours then the extract is filtered and stored in a holding tank until it is time to be bottled.

almond extractAlmond Extract- Pure almond extract is made from bitter almond oil, water, and alcohol. Almond oil is extracted from almond drupes. The strong almond flavor comes from benzaldehyde, a substance found in the kernels of drupes.

iodized saltSalt- Salt is obtained in three ways: evaporation from sea water, mining salt from the earth, and creating salt brines. Table salt is most commonly a product of salt brines. Salt brines are made by pumping water below earth’s surface to dissolve salt deposits and to create a brine. The brine is then pumped to the earth’s surface and evaporated to create salt. This method produces a very clean, inexpensive, high yielding table salt.

angel food cake suppliesfolding in flourangel food cake batter

Angel Food Cake- 

Recipe from: Merry Welsch, Winfield, Iowa 

1 1/4 Cups sifted cake flour

1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar

1/2 Cup white sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 Cups egg whites (about 12 eggs)*

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 Cups sugar

Measure sifted flour. Add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times. Combine egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, and flavorings. Beat until soft moist peaks form. Beating slowly, add the remaining sugar in four additions. Fold in flour mixture with a wire whisk. Pour into an ungreased tube pan. Cut through batter. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes. Invert to cool. Remove from pan once cool.

*Set eggs out 2 hours ahead to allow them to reach room temperature for optimum results.

angel food cake goodsStrawberries and vanilla ice cream are the perfect pair to your homemade angel food cake! Enjoy!



Why Do They Do That? – Antibiotics

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Why do they do that? Wrapping Bales

wrapped bales

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

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

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

twine wrapped bale -https://www.makinhay.com/would-you-like-netwrap-twine-or-plastic-with-your-bale/

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

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

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

net wrapped bale - https://www.makinhay.com/would-you-like-netwrap-twine-or-plastic-with-your-bale/

Bale wrapped with net wrap. (Source: MakinHay.com)

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

plastic wrapped bales - https://www.makinhay.com/would-you-like-netwrap-twine-or-plastic-with-your-bale/

Bales wrapped with plastic film. (Source: MakinHay.com)

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

– Cindy