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

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

Why Do They Do That? –Irrigation

Most of us are familiar with weather and know that it is not consistent every year, and rain doesn’t always come when farmers need it. This is why some large fields resort to using some kind of irrigation system. Even though you may see a large irrigation system while driving down the road, it is helpful to note that most of Iowa’s cropland is not irrigated. According to the USDA, other states outside of the Midwest, such as California, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Idaho, rely more heavily on irrigation systems. This is due to their irregular and infrequent precipitation.

Using this method of irrigation systems to water crops, farmers can control their crops’ water requirements if there is not enough rainfall. Like many things in the agriculture industry, the control of these irrigations systems can be automated and can be done right from the farmer’s phone or tablet. With different technologies, farmers can adjust the water pressure, the amount of water, and more without even being on the field, similar to how you could control your home’s security or temperature with smart technology while being on the road. As advanced as this may seem, these irrigation systems continually advance with the rest of the agriculture industry with solar-powered irrigation systems being implemented more widely in the future.

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

When deciding what kind of irrigation system to use, farmers have several choices: sprinkler vs. drip and center pivot vs. linear.

sprinkler irrigation system:

This system imitates rainfall by distributing the water above the field surface, allowing it to fall on the crops and soil. All plants on the field should receive the same amount of water, hopefully resulting in similar growth. This system is one of the most popular kinds of irrigation, and you probably have seen them in the fields at one time or another. This system is also similar to what many homeowners use to water their lawns. Like every system, sprinkler irrigation has some advantages and disadvantages. A farmer may decide to go with the sprinkler system because of the reduced cost of overall farm labor and reduced soil erosion. Another farmer may opt out of sprinkler irrigation because of the high initial cost of pipes, motors, and installation, and because of the high water loss due to evaporation.

drip irrigation system:

Compared to a sprinkler system, the drip irrigation system can be more efficient than a sprinkler system because the water is being dripped from a lower point, drop by drop (there is less evaporation water loss). With this kind of system, the soil soaks in the droplets before they can evaporate or be blown away by the wind. The water is applied closer to the roots where it is truly needed. Although drip irrigation may seem like the more beneficial choice, there are some downfalls, including that the water outlets get clogged because they are in direct contact with the ground. These systems also take a lot of training to understand the machine and manage the system.

center-pivot irrigation system:

This type of sprinkler irrigation is just what it sounds like: a mechanical system that moves in a circle with a center point. This machine can also be used to apply fertilizers and pesticides. The chemicals are mixed into the water as the water is sprayed onto the field. This multipurpose system can be used on a variety of crops, including vegetables and fruit trees. The center point is usually a permanent, stationary point where the water is pumped up from an underground well. The long arm of the system stretches across half the field and as it moves in a circle, it waters the entire field. The arm is supported by large wheels that travel across the ground and hold the arm up. If you’ve traveled in a plane over Midwest states like Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado and looked out the window, you’ve likely noticed the circular fields. Each one of those fields has a center-pivot irrigation system on it.

Photo by Mark Stebnicki on Pexels.com

Linear Irrigation System:

Linear irrigation systems are marketed to irrigate 98% of the field by traveling across the field in a straight line, forward, and reverse working best in square or rectangular fields. This system is another example of a sprinkler system. The water used is either taken from underground or a hose that drags behind the machine’s wheeled cart. In a linear irrigation system, soil compaction is reduced. It is also easier to work in windier conditions, unlike the center-pivot system because they are lower to the ground. Center-pivot systems can work on tall crops like corn. Linear irrigation system are better for shorter crops like alfalfa.

Now that we know what types of irrigation systems are out there, the final question is, why use them? With this kind of technology, crops can be watered in a controlled environment where the lack of rain can be less of a burden on farmers and their yield. Controlling the amount of water applied in a slow and steady manner can lead to less runoff and erosion. Plus, the time that farmers would typically take using more complex kinds of irrigation can now be spent perfecting other areas of the field or farm operation.

Next time you see one of these systems as your driving down the road, now you will have a better idea of what it does! If you’re a farmer, let us know in the comments what works best for you!


Hi! My name is Madison Paine and I am the education programs intern at IALF for the next year. I am currently a junior at Iowa State University studying agriculture communications. I grew up on an acreage outside of Maxwell, IA where my love for agriculture first sparked. I am very excited to be here and can’t wait to see what this next year all entails!

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.

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 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.

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!


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

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!


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

7 Factors that Affect Where Food is Produced


Have you ever wondered why Idaho is known for potatoes or why so many pigs are raised in Iowa?  Or why California and Wisconsin are first and second in dairy when the two states are so different?

Many livestock and crop species can be grown in all 50 states. Corn, for example, is grown in all states but 90% of the U.S. production comes from farms in the Midwest.  Why is this?

What is grown in each state largely depends on the land and climate. High and low temperatures and precipitation determine what crops farmers plant, but there are other environmental and economic factors that determine what crops and livestock are grown where. Let’s take closer a look at each of the variables that determine where food and fiber are produced.

1. Climate & weather

Climate and weather are the same right?  Not quite. Weather is what it feels like outside on any given day. It includes temperature, precipitation from rain or snow, wind, humidity, cloudiness, and atmospheric pressure.  Weather can move and change rapidly. As the old saying goes, if you don’t like the weather in Iowa, wait five minutes.   

An area’s climate is determined by average weather conditions and trends over many years. For example, the Pacific Northwest has a cool, wet climate, the Southwest is generally hot and dry, and the Upper Midwest and Northeastern regions are known for their cold winters.

Although weather is variable and can change from year-to-year, a location’s climate determines the main crops farmers grow. The climate of Midwestern states like Iowa and Illinois is perfectly suited for growing corn and soybeans. Warm nights, hot days, and well-distributed rainfall during the summer months are ideal for both crops.

Weather also plays a role in where livestock is raised. Before modern livestock barns were used, the broiler chicken industry was established in the Southeast largely because of its climate. Chickens don’t fare well in extreme temperatures, especially harsh winters.

The dairy industry has grown in California and other states with mild climates. This is in-part because farmers can expand their herds using lower-cost dry lots instead of investing in four-season barns that are a necessity in Wisconsin and New York.

2. Growing season length

This factor is directly related to climate & weather, but I’ll discuss it separately since it plays such a large role in where certain crops are predominantly grown.

The growing season, or freeze-free period, is the period of the year when conditions are favorable for crops and other plants to grow. In temperate locations, with warm summers and cold winters, the growing season is determined by temperature. It generally becomes shorter as the distance from the Equator increases, so in the United States, the growing season is shorter in northern states and longer in southern states.

Elevation also affects the growing season. Higher elevations are cooler and have a shorter growing season. This can cause the growing season within one state to vary greatly. In California, for example, areas in the Sierra Nevada mountains have a much shorter growing season than land along the state’s coast.

Growing season length is determined by the average number of days between the last killing frost in the spring and the first killing frost in the fall. Most crops that are direct seeded, like corn, wheat, and rice, need a growing season of at least 90-120 days. Annual fruits and vegetables generally require a shorter period from planting to harvest, especially those that are transplanted outside as seedlings.

So why does growing season length matter if most U.S. locations have a long enough growing season for all crops?  It comes down to economics. It is more profitable to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in areas with a longer growing season.

Sweet corn, for example, is only harvested in Iowa from July through early September.  Farmers in Palm Beach County Florida, on the other hand, harvest sweet corn from October to June. Their long growing season enables them to stagger planting dates and have income from the perishable crop most of the year. Because of this, Florida usually ranks first or second in fresh-market sweet corn production and Iowa doesn’t make the top 20.

While tomatoes are grown in every state, if you’re buying fresh tomatoes in the grocery store they probably came from Florida or California.  These two states regularly contribute more than two-thirds of the country’s fresh tomatoes.

3. Soil & topography

Soil varies as much across the United States as the weather does. And that’s a good thing because different crops thrive in different types of soils.

Vidalia® onions’ large size and sweet flavor is linked to the unique soil of where they grow. The sweet onions are only grown in the mild climate and unique soil surrounding Vidalia, Georgia. The region is so famous for its onion growing success, that Georgia passed the Vidalia Onion Act of 1986 which authorized a trademark for the unique onion and limited its production to 20 counties in southern Georgia.

Idaho is synonymous with potatoes and that is largely because of soil, too. Potatoes are predominantly grown in eastern Idaho, a region with volcanic soil that is ideal for growing the state’s famous spuds. Volcanic ash once covered this area.  As it slowly eroded, it created a soil that is dark, rich, well-drained, and packed with minerals.

While soil is extremely important in determining what farmers raise, other physical features of the land are important too.  Areas that are too rocky, rough, or hilly to grow crops, can be well suited for grazing cattle and sheep. This is why ranching is common in western states.

4. Access to feed

Unless livestock is grazing on pasture, they will consume a substantial amount of feed, and that feed usually accounts for the largest cost of raising livestock.

Raising livestock close to where feed ingredients are grown saves in trucking costs to transport feed. This is why Iowa is the top producing pork and egg state. All of those pigs and chickens eat the corn and soybeans farmers grow here.

5. Proximity to fertilizer sources or a market for byproducts

There’s another reason why pigs and laying hens are raised in Iowa. They provide a valuable resource for Iowa’s corn crop. Manure! 

Corn plants use large quantities of nitrogen, and manure is an excellent source of nitrogen. Farmers who grow corn and raise pigs can produce crops for a lower price because they don’t need to purchase as much fertilizer. 

6. Markets and proximity to processors

Market availability is one of the biggest factors that trigger crop and livestock expansion in an area. Farmers may want to try growing a different crop or type of livestock, but without an end-user, or market, it will not be profitable. 

The location of processors and where crops and livestock are raised go hand in hand.  Sometimes current production causes processors to move to an area (i.e.: ethanol plants in Iowa), but other times the addition of a new processing facility causes a substantial increase of production in an area. The latter is especially true in the canned and frozen vegetable industry.   

While most fresh market sweet corn is produced in California and Florida, Washington and Minnesota ranked first and second in the amount of sweet corn grown for processing. This is because major canned and frozen vegetable processors, including Green Giant and Birds Eye, are located there. These companies contract local farmers to grow the crops they need. Contract production is beneficial for both the famers and the processors. Farmers get a guaranteed price for what they produce, and the processor gets an assured supply what they need when they need it.    

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2019 Illinois produced over 3.5 times more pounds of pumpkins than the second-ranked state. Why is this? It is home to Libby’s Pumpkin, which produces 85% of the world’s pumpkin.

Growing crops close to where they are sold is especially important for perishable crops, but it also reduces trucking costs of non-perishable commodities.  

7. Government Policy

Federal and state government policies regarding land use, labor, irrigation, and commodity prices have a direct impact on agriculture production too.

State water policies vary by state and regulate ground and surface water use. Water policies are especially important in states that depend on irrigation. Colorado recently passed a law that allows ranchers’ historical stock watering rights to stay first in line when dry conditions trigger cutbacks.    

States also have different policies for how commodity prices are set. Until 2018, California used a different system for determining milk prices than most other dairy-producing states. California dairy farmers led the push for the state to change to a  Federal Milk Marketing Order system because they were making less on milk sold for hard cheese production than dairy producers in other states.

Favorable or unfavorable policies can affect what crop and livestock industries thrive or decline in an area.     

It is rare that only one of these factors determines the success of a crop or livestock species in an area.  Multiple factors usually come into play, and what is produced where changes over time. Just because an agricultural product is featured on a state’s license plate, doesn’t mean it will always reign supreme there. 

– Cindy

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.


What’s Cookin’ – Holiday Traditions

With the changing of the seasons to colder weather, thoughts often turn to the upcoming holidays. This year, holidays may be a little different for all of us due to COVID but that doesn’t mean we can’t partake in some of our favorite traditions.

Growing up in north central Iowa, one of my favorite traditions was making Norwegian Lefse with my grandmother. My paternal grandfather passed away when I was in fourth grade but my grandmother did a wonderful job of keeping his memory and Norwegian heritage alive with us grandkids. The family story goes that my grandfather was among the first generation born in the United States so we are relative newcomers on that side for coming to America from Norway. In Norway, we came from a family of farmers but land was scarce and expensive, so our family migrated to the U.S. in search of more land, much like other Norwegian immigrants at the time.

Norwegians began arriving in Iowa during the 1830s and by the 1850s the number increased dramatically. Many of these immigrants settled in northeastern Iowa around Decorah which is why you see such a strong Norwegian heritage in that community today. In 1880, more than 82 percent of the Norwegians living in Iowa were farmers. (Source: Iowa PBS)

While farming didn’t end up being the future for our family, Norwegian traditions still played a part in our upbringing – and one of those was lefse.

What is Lefse?

Image Source: Cheap Recipe Blog: Norwegian Lefse

Lefse is a traditional, soft Norwegian flatbread. Some lefse is made with potatoes but true Norwegians (LOL) know the better version is made with flour. In fact, the original lefse made in Norway was actually made from flour – not potatoes. It wasn’t until potatoes were introduced in Norway more than 200 years ago that people started adding them to lefse. Batches of flour lefse could last a household through the long winter months as it was more of a flat bread or like a tortilla when it dried. The lefse was stored in wooden boxes and dipped in water to soften it when it was needed for use. My family puts butter and sugar on the lefse and then rolls it up for eating. But, other Norwegians have been known to use the lefse like a tortilla and wrap beef, mashed potatoes and peas in it like a burrito, or some put butter and jam on it.

Before we dive into the making of the lefse, let’s take a look at where the ingredients for lefse come from. There are many different types of lefse but the particular one that my grandmother made is quite simple. To make our family’s Norwegian lefsa you’ll need flour, sugar, salt, water, and lard.

Flour is a powder made by grinding different types of grains. Wheat is most commonly used to make flour. Mills use high protein or hard wheat species to make bread flour and lower protein or soft wheat to produce cake and pastry flour. All-purpose flour is made of medium protein. Watch how wheat is grown, harvested, and used in baking products.

Sugar is a type of sucrose derived from sugarcane or sugar beets. Most cane sugar comes from countries with warm climates due to the plant’s intolerance to cold. Sugar beets grow in cooler temperatures but do not tolerate hot climates. In the northern hemisphere, most of our sugar comes from sugar beets. The beet root is composed of 17 percent sucrose. In the spring, farmers plant the seeds and then the sugar beets are harvested in the fall. In the United States, sugar beets are most commonly grown in three regions: Upper Midwest (Michigan, Minnesota, and North Dakota), Great Plains (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming), and the Far West (California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington) according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Statista’s Sugar Beet Production Report notes that approximately 28.6 million tons of sugar beets were produced in the United States in 2019.

Salt isn’t thought of as an agriculture product but it is an important component to many recipes. Salt is one of the most widely used and oldest forms of food seasoning. It is processed in several ways – from salt mines, evaporation of seawater, and through mineral-rich spring water in shallow pools.

Lard is a semi-solid white fat product made by rendering the fatty tissue of a pig. While some might think it’s the same thing as Crisco, it’s actually not as Crisco is made of vegetable oils. In the 19th century, lard was used in replacement of butter in North America. But, lard lost its favor in the late 20th century due to its less healthy reputation vs vegetable oils.

All the ingredients are mixed in a large bowl. You’ll need a long wooden turning stick, a pastry board, a special rolling pin with deep grooves and a large, flat griddle. (Pictures courtesy of lefsetime.com)

Lefse Recipe
6 cups flour
½ cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 cups of boiling water
3-6 tablespoons of soft lard

1. Mix with spoon first since the water is boiling hot then mix with your hands
2. Roll out the lefse as thin as possible
3. Cook on dry skillet until it bubbles
4. Place lefse in between thin towels to cool (each lefse separated by a towel or they’ll stick together). Once cool, the lefse can be wrapped in aluminum foil, placed in a freezer bag and be pulled out later for use.
5. To make it soft again, drip warm water on the lefse and place them separated by towels until ready to eat.

Food is often at the heart of family, holiday traditions. As we sit around our tables this holiday season, maybe we can all take a moment to thank those who make our family traditions possible – farmers. Without farmers, we wouldn’t have the food to enjoy on our holiday tables.

What are some of your family’s holiday traditions?


Additional Learning

Iowa Pathways: Norwegians
Lefse History
Exploring our Fluid Earth: Weird Science – Salt is Essential to Life
Cane Sugar: How It’s Made
Beet Sugar: How It’s Made
All About Sugar and Baking
How It’s Made: Flour
Wheat Harvest
U.S. Sugar Industry
Make Your Own Lefse – Lefse Equipment

What’s Cookin’? Hearty Breakfast Quiche

I’m sure most people would agree the year 2020 has sure been a doozy! Normally leading up to August, our staff gets excited for all the fun agricultural events we get to host at the Iowa State Fair. We love nothing more than getting people excited to learn how agriculture impacts our every day life. This year, all of that changed since we couldn’t meet Iowans in person to talk about agriculture. Instead, our staff came up with several virtual ideas that we could use on social media to engage with Iowans about our favorite topic – agriculture!

One of our annual events at the Iowa State Fair is a cooking contest where we invite participants to enter their favorite recipes using Iowa’s four largest agriculture commodities. This year, we decided to expand the contest to include several Iowa commodities or by-products: corn, soybeans, pork, eggs, beef, and/or turkey. We launched the Great Agriculture Cook-Off, timed when the Iowa State Fair would normally be held. Iowa commodity experts and Agriculture in the Classroom volunteers judged the best dish. Since we were doing this virtually this year, the judges cooked, tasted, and rated the recipes all individually.

Holly Houg (Urbandale, Iowa) won first place with her Hearty Breakfast Quiche with a Hash Brown Crust. Before I share the winning recipe, here’s the agriculture story behind the ingredients.


Butter is a dairy product made from the fat and protein components of milk or cream. It is most frequently made from cow’s milk, but it can also be made from animals like sheep and goat. Butter has a rich history. It can be traced clear back to the ancient Romans who used it as a beauty cream and to treat burns. Back then, people made butter by shaking milk in bags of animal skin. Today, we use modern technology to make our butter. After milk is gathered from dairy farms, large tanker trucks of raw milk deliver the milk to a processor. The milk is pumped into a separator to remove the fat from the liquid. Fat is called buttercream and the rest is skim milk. Buttercream is put into a tank where mixers stir it. After pasteurizing for 24 hours, workers put it into a churner. The churner spins as fast as a clothes dryer. After a period of churning and a few other steps, the result is butter. Watch our video on how you can make your own butter at home.


Iowa is the number one egg producing state in the country. Nearly 55 million laying hens produce 16 billion eggs a year in Iowa. In the United States, there are roughly 340 million laying birds, and each produces an average of 294 eggs per year. You can learn more about eggs in our previous blog post: Ag 101: Eggs.


Most cheese is made in factories but it all starts in one of several places – a type of animal that produces milk such as dairy cows, goats or sheep. In some parts of the world, even buffalo, camel, and donkeys are milked for cheese production. There are many different types of cheese – bleu cheese, cheddar, swiss, and Gruyere, among others. Milk first goes through a filter where more fat or cream might be added to ensure consistency. After that it is pasteurized, and good bacteria are added to the milk. The milk then begins to ferment the lactose, milk’s natural sugar, into lactic acid. This process will help determine the cheese’s flavor and texture. A few more ingredients are added such as rennet. Once it starts to gel, the cheesemakers cut it, which allows the whey to come out. It goes through several more processes until it becomes the cheese that you see in the store! Learn more about how cheese is made from the U.S. Dairy Association.   


Bacon comes from the side and belly of the pig. Iowa is the number one pork producing state in the U.S., and the top state for pork exports. According to the Iowa Pork Producers Association, nearly one-third of the nation’s hogs are raised in Iowa. At any one time, there are approximately 22 million pigs being raised in Iowa.


Cattle are raised on grass for much of their life and then fed with corn, soybeans, silage, and other feed components to finish them out. More than 97 percent of beef cattle farms and ranches are classified as family farms. Ground beef, used in the recipe below, comes from the less tender and less popular cuts of beef.

Hearty Breakfast Quiche with a Hash Brown Crust

For the Hash Brown Crust:
24 oz. pkg. shredded hash browns, thawed and squeezed dry
4 Tablespoons butter, melted, divided
1 egg
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

For the Quiche:
1 T. olive oil
1/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1/4 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1 10 oz. pkg. baby spinach
5 slices bacon
1/2 lb. ground beef, cooked and crumbled
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese

For the Hash Brown Crust:
1. Brush a 9-by-2 1/2-inch springform pan with 2 T. melted butter. Line the sides and bottom of the pan with strips of parchment paper, brush paper with butter too. Be generous on the bottom of the pan so the potatoes don’t stick.

2. Squeeze as much excess moisture from hash browns as you can. The hash browns should be as dry as possible so the crust will get crispy.

3. Combine the hash browns, 2 T. melted butter, egg and spices in a bowl. Put them in the pan pushing them up the sides.

4. Cook in a preheated oven at 400 for 20-30 minutes or until the hash browns start to crisp up.

For the Quiche:
1. In a large pan, cook the bacon until crisp. Keep the bacon drippings in the pan.

2. Over low/medium heat, sauté the onions, pepper and garlic in the bacon drippings for 8-10 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add the spinach and cook another few minutes over low heat until wilted. Set aside to cool.

3. In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cream, salt, pepper, cheeses, red pepper flakes, crumbled bacon & ground beef.

4. Add the cooled veggies and stir to combine. Pour into the hash brown crust.

5. Reduce the heat to 350 and bake for 45 minutes.

6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing the collar and base.

Second and Third Place Winners

Marcia Kreutner (Center Point, Iowa) placed second with her Turkey Cashew Casserole, and Holly Houg also placed third as well with her Spicy Sausage Wraps recipe. Holly’s Hearty Quiche also won Fan Favorite in our Facebook competition. This year we added a twist requiring each participant to include an agriculture fact for each agriculture ingredient.

Do you want to participate in the Iowa’s Big Four Cooking Contest next year at the Iowa State Fair? Follow our Facebook and Twitter pages for details next June.