Why do they do that? – Early Calving

thinkstockphotos-87175110Traditionally, spring is thought to be the time when baby animals are born. Spring is a season of new life, but on many Iowa farms calving season begins in the winter. So why do some farmers plan to expand their herd when the weather is still cold?

Farmers take several things into consideration when deciding when to breed their cows. The gestation for cattle is 283 days, so calving will begin about 9 months after cows are bred.  Most cattle farmers today use artificial insemination to breed their cows. Among the many benefits, artificial insemination allows them to better plan when calves are born.

Farmers choose to breed their herd to calve at different times, depending on what is best for their operation. The two main things they consider are time and weather, and these two factors go hand in hand.

Many farms, especially those in the southern half of the state try to plan calving in February and March. This enables calving to end before spring planting begins, and gives them more time to dedicate to it. Farmers’ first priority is the health and safety of their animals. They check on expecting cows and new calves often, sometimes hourly. They check to see if cows are going into labor, if new calves are born, and that moms and babies are doing well. Most cows are able to give birth on their own, but farmers are ready to assist if the cow or calf’s health is at risk. Occasionally farmers or veterinarians must pull calves that are stuck in the birth canal.

Herd of cows in a field at sunsetSome farmers move expecting cows to a pen or small paddock so they can closely monitor them as their due date approaches. It is common for farmers to move the cows into a barn or protected area of the pasture just before or when they go into labor. Some farmers have equipped their barns with Wi-Fi cameras, so they can keep an even closer eye on the cows in labor.

Weather is another key factor that farmers consider. Although it may seem odd to plan to have baby calves arrive when temperatures are low, the cold weather can be advantage.  Generally speaking, diseases don’t spread as quickly in cold weather. Frozen ground can also be an advantage. Muddy ground in the spring is difficult for young calves to walk in.  They can even get stuck in the mud.

Black Angus CattleAlthough there are benefits of cold weather, extremely cold conditions are not good either.   Farmers in northern Iowa, where it is common for temperatures to drop below zero regularly in January and February, generally breed cows so that calving begins in March when conditions are a bit warmer. This makes for a very busy spring for farmers who also raise corn and soybeans, since spring tillage and fertilizer application often begin in March. But with proper planning and management, farmers are able to balance both.

Be sure to check out Chrissy’s recent blog, Vo-COW-bulary to learn more about cattle.

– Cindy

Organizing for Agriculture

This title alone does not convey this to be an engaging blog, but let’s see if I can put a unique spin on this topic. What have you done for agriculture? What do you do to help support, promote or advocate for agriculture? Agriculture is connected to so many careers, it is important everyone becomes informed on the issues facing agriculture, food production and the environment. I encourage you to LISTEN (it’s different than hearing) to many different viewpoints, form your own opinions, and stand behind your beliefs. Boy, all those election commercials are rubbing off, sorry.

Iowans have long recognized the importance in having a voice in and about agriculture. It is the backbone of our state economy. Do you know how many Iowans have held the position as Secretary of United States Department of Agriculture? The answer: six! The most of any state! You will likely recognize some of their names: James “Tama Jim” Wilson, Edwin Thomas Meredith, Henry C. Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, Mike Johanns, and Tom Vilsack. All of these men have interesting backgrounds.  One of these gentlemen allowed George Washingon Carver to stay in his office while going to Iowa Agricultural College (ISU). Another founded the Better Homes and Gardens magazine, while another went on to become Vice President of the United States. All these men had a strong voice about the importance of Iowa and agriculture. You, too, can you be a voice. Do you visit with farmers? Do you call your legislators and speak with them to voice your concerns at a local, regional, state and national level?

And did you know at one time the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was not a member of the President’s Cabinet? An organization rallied in 1889 to make this position a part of the Cabinet. What organization do you think that was? If your answer was the Farm Bureau, you would be incorrect. The American Farm Bureau Federation did not form until 1920. The correct answer would be the National Grange, founded in 1867. To be honest, the first time I heard of the Grange was watching Little House on the Prairie. Pa got dressed up, went to a Grange meeting and wore a yellow ribbon on his lapel. (Yes, I remember the strangest things.) That is all I could tell you before I did a little research.  Did you know the Grange was also involved in the Hatch Act that created experimental stations at state colleges of agriculture. (GO ISU!) they also were involved in legislation in 1906 that promoted ethanol as a motor fuel. See, ethanol is not a new thing. There are other items in the news presented as new which, if one did a little research, would find have been around for decades (i.e. methane, GMOs, soil/water conservation).

Sugar Grove 2

The National Grange will be holding their 150th convention in November. According to the National Grange website, it states they advocate for rural America and agriculture. With a history of grassroots activism, family values and community service, the Grange is a part of 2,100 hometowns in the United States. One of these hometowns is Newton, IA, home to the Silos & Smokestacks Partner Site Sugar Grove Vineyards & Gathering Place, a rejuvenated 1870s Grange Hall. I hope you will make an appointment to visit.

These are just two examples of organizations and people that have had a voice for agriculture. I encourage you to check out FarmHer, WOCAN, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Soybean, Iowa Cattlemen, Iowa Pork Producers, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, and the many others that have a voice for American agriculture. How can you help?

-Laura, Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Summer 2016 Professional Development

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This summer, our staff assisted in hosting eight different professional development workshops across the state. Each workshop consisted of one tour day and one day in the classroom. The tours visited a wide variety of farms and agribusinesses, which helped teachers learn more about agriculture concepts, how they tie to other subject areas, and the potential career opportunities for their students.

The tours ranged from dairy farms and beef cattle farms, to a tomato and aquaculture farm, children’s museum, grain cooperatives, ethanol refineries, implement dealerships, grocery warehouses, a wind farm, implement factory, greenhouses and even a genetics laboratory. At ethanol refineries, we were able to talk about chemistry, biochemistry, marketing, and energy issues. At the various farm operations, we were able to discuss biology, biosecurity, health, safety, logistics, and marketing. At implement dealerships and factories, we were able to discuss engineering, science, and the challenges that farmers face that agriculture engineers work to solve.

The second day of the workshops focused on tying the concepts from the first day into subject areas like science, social studies, language arts, and math. Teachers got to walk through hands-on activities and lesson plans that bridge these concepts.

During these workshops, we documented our experiences. Check out our Storify story to see some social media posts.

We also documented the workshops with a short video. Give it a few minutes and learn about what we did this summer!

-Chrissy

Castration – Why do they do that?

Rocky Mountain oysters (aka cowboy caviar or bull fries) might in some circles be considered a delicacy. But testicles are not for everyone. Beyond the occasional food eating contest, why do they castrate cattle and pigs?

When managing a herd of cattle, maintaining oversight of the genetics is important. By selecting which bulls are allowed to breed the cows, farmers can positively influence traits in the calves. Traits like weaning weight, muscling, fat, milk production, physical soundness are all closely monitored. By breeding the best quality cattle, farmers produce the best quality meat that will make it to the grocery stores.

In cattle, male calves are castrated through the surgical removal of the testes, an elastrator band, through chemical castration, or through hormonal castration. All have advantages and disadvantages so farmers choose the one that makes the most sense for them and their operation. They try to minimize pain to the animal and increase the chance for a quick and speedy recovery.

There are several reasons that cattle are castrated. Testes produce testosterone. By lowering testosterone levels in male animals, aggressiveness is reduced. From a herd management standpoint less aggression means less fighting and less potential harm to humans. Male animals can also have high muscle pH. This can affect taste negatively. Castration reduces this high muscle pH and can increase the marbling, tenderness, and overall grade quality of the meat. The higher quality meat, the higher market prices the carcass can command.

Just look at the different in body shape and size of the two animals below. On the left is a Black Angus bull (testes intact). On the right is a Black Angus steer that has been castrated.

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The bull is much larger and much more heavily muscled. The meat will likely be tougher and not as well marbled. The meat of the steer will more closely resemble the meat from heifers and cows. Consumers crave uniformity in meat and so having a consistent product is one objective of the beef industry.

Woody_osPigs are castrated for many of the same reasons as cattle. Meat from male pigs that haven’t been castrated (boars) often suffers from ‘boar taint‘. This smell and taste of pork is caused by excessive testosterone and androstenone and is undesirable. Boars can also be very aggressive toward other animals and toward human farm workers.

Male pigs are castrated at a young age typically surgically using a disinfected surgical knife. After the incision is made and the testes removed, the wound is cleansed. The castrated pig, or barrow, will be less aggressive and have improved meat quality. There are some chemical alternatives to this physical castration. A protein compound that works like an immunization delays the maturity of the animals. This reduces the sex hormones in the animal’s body and reduces the effect of ‘boar taint’.

Castration has been a very common practice in livestock operations. It is one management tool to help ensure quality meat products to consumers. So throw another steak or pork chop on the grill this Labor Day weekend and enjoy!

-Will

Great Teachers Create Great Students

Research shows that an inspiring and informed teacher is the most important school-related factor influencing student achievement. It is increasingly critical for new and experienced educators to be trained so they can relay those experiences to their students.

Teachers can take advantage of a number of different professional development opportunities to learn from each other and learn from other experts in the field. This ongoing learning keeps teachers up-to-date on new research on how children learn, emerging technology tools, new curriculum resources, and much more. The best professional development is experiential and collaborative. It should be connected to working with students, understanding their culture, and making learning real and relevant.

IMG_2063Through a series of workshops this summer, teachers across Iowa get the chance to participate in experiential and student focused professional development. These workshops use agriculture as the context to teach science, social studies, language arts, and other subject.

Each two-day workshop is set up with one field day and one classroom day. The field days take teachers to see firsthand farms, feedlots, dairies, co-ops, ethanol production plants, and other agribusinesses. Many of these businesses are hallmarks for the community yet we don’t understand what they do. The classroom day helps teachers break down what they saw on the tours into manageable lessons and activities that they can take back and implement in their classrooms.

Integrating Science

IMG_2052One of the stops of the workshop hosted in Tabor, Iowa was to a beef cattle feedlot that recently installed a monoslope barn. Monoslope barns might not be much to look at, but they utilize a number of different scientific concepts to provide a comfortable environment for the cattle. The building is built with an east-west alignment. This alignment keeps the cattle cool and shaded during the summer months and allows for maximum sunlight during the winter months. The pitch of the roof allows for heat to rise and be siphoned off very efficiently. Even though it is open air, there can be as much as a 15-degree temperature difference between the inside of the building and the outside of the building. The narrow opening on the north side of the building also takes advantage of the Venturi effect and promotes a lot of air flow through the building.

Integrating Social Studies

Journey 2050 Final Logo Illustrated_HIGH_RGBOne of the new resources that teachers are learning about is Journey 2050. This online gaming platform explores what sustainable agriculture really means. It looks at farmers in Kenya, India, and Canada. By understanding how farmers in different parts of the world are different and how they are the same we can begin to apply different social studies concepts. We can discuss the geography of those regions that create limiting factors. We can discuss the economics of those regions that might lead to the success or failure of those farmers. And we can discuss all of the factors that contribute to sustainability including profits, jobs, community, food, education, health, infrastructure, soil, water, and greenhouse gases.

Integrating Language Arts

IMG_2186Teachers who attended the workshops were introduced to a variety of resources to help supplement language arts lessons including Iowa Ag Today and My Family’s Beef Farm. Using these resources, students can practice contextual reading and begin to understand farming. Using teaching strategies like close reading, context clues, visualization, fluency, self-questioning, and making tracks, teachers can teach language arts to their students. This can boost reading, writing, and speaking skills easily aligning to standards.

Learn more about these workshop and other upcoming workshops. Great teachers make great students! With ongoing education, we can ensure that our students have the best possible chance for future success. The workshops were made possible with support from the Iowa Energy Center, the CHS Foundation, and the Monsanto Fund.

-Will

Summer Adventures

It’s summertime and school’s out. What a great opportunity to teach a lovdr suesse for reading to the young people in your circle of influence. Grab a blanket, a book and your favorite young ones and treat them to reading retreat exclusively planned by you. Placing a strong value on literacy in the summer months will benefit all involved.

Research concludes that there is a definite loss for students that have no learning opportunities during the summer months when students are not in school receiving academic instruction. Kids tend to model what they see and what a better gift to give a child – model the love of reading. Make reading a family event by visiting your local library and help grow a love for reading.

Summer can be a time that helps to improve reading and language skills. We can keep kids motivated and learning all summer long, by making reading a part of everyday schedules. Try encouraging readers to have 30 minutes per day devoted to reading. Provide incentives for the reader to want to read, like offering other “wished for” activities if they commit to daily reading. Plan outings that young readers can find books to connect to and add to the learning experience, like visiting a zoo and allowing them to pick an animal to research and read about.

I have some excellent book ideas to share with you that are full of agriculture facts, information and are just plain fun to read. We have loads more book suggestions here too. Or check out the digital version of “My Family’s Beef Farm” by Katie Olthoff  where you can read about a family beef farm through the eyes of a young girl.

My granddaughters love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so I am looking forwaCapturerd to sharing with them PB & J Hooray by Janet Nolan. This light hearted book is a fun exploration beginning with a finished sandwich and journeys backward to supermarkets, factories and the farmers field.

I love my job because we are honored to share agriculture with kids of all ages and I so often hear that most young children think food comes from the grocery store. Before We Eat from Farm to Fork by Pat Brisson explains what really must happen before the food we eat can get to our table. This book is a great choice to help young people understand what farms are all about and how farmers work diligently to produce healthy food for all of us to eat.A Seed is Sleepy

For the young gardeners and explorers, A Seed is Sleepy by Diane Hutts Aston is a beautiful introduction for children to a variety of seed and plant facts. This poetic book shares so many interesting facts about seeds and how they grow and what they need for proper care. I hope to pass on the love of watching things grow with my family and sharing this book will help them understand a little more about how the plants starts its growth in the soil.

If your family is like my family, I will bet they love pizza in any size and combination of toppings. Extra Cheese Please by Cris Peterson shares the story of turning milk from the family cow into mozzarella cheese. Kids see moments on the farm and a view of the cheese making process. You will even have a great recipe to try on that next pizza creatiothn.

Kids enjoy hearing about real people and real life stories. In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby is a wonderful story that shares the message of Dr. Carver – hopefully creating a new generation of earth caretakers. This is a great way to share George Washington Carver and his love for the earth.

George Washington was the first president, but do your young readers know there’s much more to President Washington? Farmer George Plants a Nation by Peggy Thomas is a look at George Washington’s life through letters and excerpts from his diary telling of his journey as a leader, inventor, scientist and so much more. And Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation by Peggy Thomas tells of how Thomas Jefferson another president loved to grow everything – even a nation!popcorn

When it’s really hot outside what better way to spend the afternoon than curled up with your kiddos, a big bowl of popcorn and a book to read. Popcorn by Elaine Landau shares everything that you ever wanted to know about popcorn. They can learn all about this awesome crunchy treat.

My little ones aren’t old enough to read chapter books yet, but I have three great books that tell wonderful stories about life on a farm. There is so much to learn and so much to share and these books are such a great way to open doors to all kinds of possibilities of the adventures of growing up on a farm.

  • The Beef Princess of Practical County by Michelle Houts is a story of growing up on a family farm and the legacy of showing prize winning steer for dad and entering a beauty pageant at the prompting of mom.
  • Little Joe by Sandra Neil Wallace is a story of Eli and the newest calf on the family farm. Dreams of winning a blue ribbon at the county fair and the friendship that grows between the two.
  • Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry is a beautiful and uplifting story of a boy growing up in the heartland where he calls home.

With Iowa having such a strong agriculture influence, we can mix reading and learning about the great state of Iowa and treat the young people in our lives to a summer full of adventure. Check these great books out at your local library or request to borrow them from our Lending Library. Read just for the fun of it!

 

-Sheri

What’s Cooking? Beef Shish Kebabs on the Grill

May is a great time for family gatherings and grilling out. The United Stated produces more beef than any other country in the world – nearly 19% of the worlds beef. The journey from the beef cattle in the field to the market and then onto a grill takes a lot of people playing valuable roles to make the process successful.

To help celebrate National Beef Month, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation and the Iowa Beef Industry Council have a wonderful book written by Katie Olthoff called “My Family’s Beef Farm,” written from the viewpoint of a young girl that is growing up on her family’s beef cattle farm. It’s a great read and we invite you to visit our website for the digital version that you can share with the young ones in your family.

Beef Shish Kebabs are on my menu today! What is a shish kebab? The name shish kebab is a0459a44f5092c8e629a36c79d28fe34 - CopyTurkish in origin. It literally means “gobbets of meat that are roasted on a spit or skewers”. Shish translates to skewer and kebab traditionally refers to the meat, vegetable or whatever you decide works on your skewer. The English food definition of shish kebab is a skewer with meat and vegetables, usually grilled. Meat options for kebabs could be beef, chicken, pork, lamb, seafood or are whatever meat you prefer. When it comes to vegetables…use as many different vegetables as the length of your skewer will allow! Shish kebabs recipes are endless.

I have chosen sirloin tips for a basic beef shish kebab. It’s a great cut of meat and won’t break the bank. (If you’re looking for an option that goes from butcher to grillCutlet-Kabobs-2 - Copy – without marinating, use a more expensive cut like filet mignon or porterhouse.) Sirloin tips come from the hind quarter of the beef cow near the leg and rump. Marinating is a vital part of this recipe and serves a function to tenderize and enhance the flavor of the meat. This area of the beef cow contains connective tissues and muscles that get a lot of workout and there is not as much fatty tissue. It can be chewy because of the connecting tissue and muscle, so marinating will help break that down, tenderize the meat and enhance the flavor.

I like to marinate the sirloin in a soy sauce marinade along with olive oil, fresh lemon Olive-oil-and-mature-olives.- - Copyjuice, and garlic cloves.  Spain is the largest producer of olive oil. Olive oil is produced by crushing olives, stirring to form a paste consistency and then pressing to release the oils. This process is called malaxation.

Lemons come from states like California and Arizona or countries like India, Argentina and Spain. Lemons are grown in orchards and require rain, fertile soil and warm temperatures and are in the peak of season in May through August. Lemons give health benefits of being high in vitamin C and manfaay-jeruk-nipis-gambar-jeruk-nipis - Copyalso have antioxidant effects on the body.

We discussed garlic in our previous blog “What’s Cooking? Cola Pot Roast”. I marinate overnight to allow the meat to tenderize. Just mix the ingredients together and put into a shallow glass dish, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours to allow the process of breaking down the proteins to take place.

I like simple flavors- so I use mushrooms, red and green peppers, and new potatoes for my vegetables. All you need to do is alternate vegetable and beef bites onto the skewer. It is important that the beef and vegetable pieces are bite sizes and that you allow for a little space between the meat and vegetable. This will allow the heat to penetrate all around the skewer and as the skewer is rotated the meat and vegetables will cook to perfection. You also want the temperature of the grill low and allow the heat to slowly cook the skewered bites.

I like the basic white button mushroom and they are the most common choices in the grocery store and they range in a variety of sizes. The flavor is a mild, earthy one and they are available year round. This mushroom is grown indoors year round in an environment that is carefully controlled. It comes from a spore not a seed (because it is a fungus) and is grown in organic matter, like compost. The process of growing starts in a sterile laboratory environment and mature mushrooms create billions of spores. It is quite an interesting process. This mushroom is harvested when very young in growth cycle.th - Copy

I really like red and green peppers … But have wondered – what’s the difference? Green peppers are harvested early. They are essentially immature red, orange and yellow peppers. Because they are less ripe the flavor can be bitter. All peppers are a great source of vitamins A and C. Red peppers carry 11 times more beta carotene than green peppers and yellow peppers carry 1.5 times more Vitamin C.

Potatoes are said to have many health benefits like lowering blood pressure and promoting heart health by adding fiber, potassium and vitamins to our diet. Potatoes are usually grown from other potatoes or pieces of potatoes. Potatoes grown underground from a tuber – a short, thick round stem which originated from the piece of potato. Potato farmers actually plant potatoes to grow potatoes. There are many varieties to choose from. Idaho is the nation’s top producer of potatoes. New potatoes are planted in the winter and then harvested in early spring or summer. They are small and round and have a very thin skin. The flavor is sweet and they taste awesome on a shish kebab.

Ingredients:

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup olive oil

3 -4 cloves garlic, crushed

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Green & red pepper bites

White mushroom bites

Sirloin beef tips

Directions:

The recipe is an easy one. Mix the soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, and lemon juice together. Cut peppers, mushrooms and beef into bite sized pieces and put into a shallow glass dish. Pour marinade over beef and vegetables. Cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours to allow the meat to tenderize. Put meat and vegetables onto skewers alternating between vegetables and beef bites. Remember it’s important that the beef and vegetable pieces are bite sized! Leave a little space between each piece to allow the heat to circulate all around the skewer. Place the skewers on a hot grill over medium heat. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes or until the meat is cooked to desired doneness. Rotate skewers after 5 minutes.  Enjoy!

-Sheri