February 16, 2011
This December’s record rainfall was handled very well by the systems we have in place on the dairy to comply with environmental regulations. One of the most beneficial things we have done is to install a diversion system to the rain gutters on our barns, which allows us to keep this large amount of water separate from our lagoon system. In addition to the gutter diversion, we have constructed several tailwater storage ponds over the years that have afforded us more storage capabilities.
Cheese prices, which in turn have an influence on the milk price, are moving upward at a rapid pace; however, grain and alfalfa prices are also moving up for lack of inventory. The weather of late has been fabulous and the cow’s production is a testament to that; however, we could use some more precipitation to augment the rainfall of late 2010 and early 2011.
I would also like to remind everyone that as farmers and ranchers if we are not telling our own stories someone else will tell them for us, the way they want to tell them. I urge everyone to take every chance possible to tell their story and to “build bridges, connecting communities.”
via From the Fields.
How can I be a farmer? What does it take to be a farmer? I have heard these and other questions before so I decided to jot down how my on-farm experiences have grown me to be the farmer I am today.
When my dad started our dairy years ago, the day-to-day jobs on the farm almost all involved something with the cows. Now, decades later, my day-to-day role on my family’s dairy farm has evolved over the years from milking cows, to now where I spend more time meeting regulations than in the barn or in the field. That job is as important as it ever was caring for our cows and ensuring the safety and health of the milk we provide, but a lot more has to happen on the farm now too and my job has changed a lot over the years.
As a young child I started working on the farm by feeding hay to the cows. This was before we fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR). Before and after elementary school my brother and I would go out and either feed hay off the trailer into the hay mangers or climb the haystack several stories tall and throw it down to the feed bunk. I remember my first concussion when I took a misstep and fell off the hay to the concrete below. My brother had a few accidents as well, I remember he pierced his eye rolling up the wire securing the hay bales and to this day has deteriorating vision in that eye and needs glasses.
When I was old enough and tall enough to properly operate the equipment in our milk barn I was promoted to those duties before and after school. I would milk before and after school while my father worked off the farm because the economics of the dairy industry at the time mean that he had to end up taking an off-farm job. The dedication to getting the job done was instilled in me at a young age. One day I even watched the smoke from our house burning while I had to finish milking. Taking responsibility, I even tried calling my absence in to the school and they would not believe me.
By the time I was 16, I had spent more hours driving farm equipment than can be calculated. I also got on the job training so I could be entrusted with treating cows for ailments. I could handle a calving as long as there were no complications and also administer an IV. We also transitioned to mixing more feed on site and that became my new duty as younger brothers took on the milking.
Between my sophomore and junior years in high school we moved the dairy 80 miles. Having my driver’s license I was sent ahead to be the one to get things running on the new facility. As my dad loaded cows on the old farm I was unloading them and making sure they were okay on the new dairy. It was my responsibility to be the last line of defense for problems and make sure everything went as close to the plan as possible. Nearly 12 hours later we had finished the move and were all exhausted.
Through the rest of high school and college my jobs were everything from milker to feeder and mechanic to irrigator. As time went by my skills increased and so did the responsibilities. I was diagnosing and treating cattle. If we called the Vet for a calving he knew not to waste time because I was able to handle everything short of surgery.
After leaving college I spent some time off the farm working for other dairies and businesses. I gained even more knowledge and upon returning to our dairy again worked directly with the cows. Over the course of several years, we built more facilities of our design and expanded the dairy to support more of our family. As our herd expanded so did the workload, to the point where it was time to better utilize my skills elsewhere in our business.
Even though I had been handling everything as it related to the cows, I was also the maintainer for the milking equipment thus relying less on outside companies. I also started taking on more of our regulatory compliance work. And as we added land to our farming operation over the years, and regulations grew in complexity, a lot more paperwork and record keeping have been required.
Today I am still in touch with the cows everyday by analyzing data and records I make decisions about how we can manage the cows health better. I fill in were extra help is needed however the majority of my time is spent riding a desk chair, staring at a laptop or stretching the capabilities of my smartphone. I also work with our herdsman to stay on top of any problems that might be arising that need to be corrected. Even though I am personally not doing ALL the work with our cows I am still heavily involved with their health, care and our productivity as a business. Through all this I also work closely with my father so he can make sure we are on the same page. I also handle all of our regulatory compliance with agencies such as the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, CA Department of Fish and Game just to name a few. There is also work to be done to remain in compliance with many health regulations and inspections as described by Brenda Souza Hastings in her Blog titled “The Milk Inspector is coming”. There are also financial and crop records to be maintained and evaluated. There are also a lot of off farm things to be done so I can help my children have the opportunity to farm if they so choose, a great friend of mine and the cowboy version of this dairyman explains it best here.
I may not be the picture of a “farmer” my dad imagined as he started our dairy, but in today’s world, I’m a fairly common model. Sure I still get a handful of hay for a cow now and then… I just also know a lot more about the balanced diet required by our animals and how best to deliver it. I have no idea what a farmer’s job will include for the next generation, but I’m hopeful I’ll see my kids rise to the occasion. They certainly seem to love where we are and what we do.
Today is a special day in our house according to my dear daughter as she keeps telling me it is because it is her 8th birthday. I tried to convince her it is special because it is the Chinese New Year Day, I must not be very convincing though. There is a special breakfast being made by mom and dad to be eaten on a special plate, then for lunch a surprise will be delivered by her mom and I.
*Our kids nicknames are Big B and Little B some how they both ended up with names that start with B so Brsyon and Brielle quickly came to have these special nicknames.
Do you love cheese? We have a question for you, “What is your favorite cheese, please?”
After cheese won the “What is your favorite Dairy product?” poll we have created a new poll to vote for your favorite cheese. If you do not see your favorite cheese in the poll please leave a comment and we will add it, we are only looking for styles or types of cheese not specific brands.
Our dairy is located to the west of Yosemite National Park in California’s Central Valley and on extremely clear days we get a great view of Half Dome that you can see in this picture.
The cattle on our dairy farm eat diets that are made specifically for them by a ruminant nutritionist. Here on the dairy we mix together individual ingredients to make a ration that is then fed to the cattle. In addition we do have some pasture to supplement the rations.
The ingredients are:
Dried Distillers Grain – this is the grain left from brewing and distilling spirits and is a good source of fat and protein.
Almond Hulls – Outer protective skin when the Almond grows on the tree
Cotton Seed – the inner part of the cotton boll that is left after the cotton fiber is removed
Various silages – made from Corn Plants, and various small grain plants
Various minerals and vitamins
We also include steamed flaked corn, water and some concentrated energy additives to make the ration.
To learn more about technical information on cattle rations please visit the blog of my great friend Jeff Fowle he is currently doing a series of posts on cattle nutrition.
One night last week we had a Breech calving here at the dairy, a Breech birth is when the calf is coming backwards or rear legs first. These calvings are extremely difficult because the last part of the calf to be exposed is the head. A normal birth is front feet and head first presentation because it is naturally somewhat more aerodynamic and the calf can start breathing sooner. This situation has to be dealt with as an emergency and immediate attention and assistance is given so the calf does not suffocate.
As I was finishing the calving it hit me that the situation mimicked life a bit, in that if we are backwards in our thinking sometimes we can’t see the light and will suffocate. Sadly I see this thinking more and more everyday. For example overburdening regulations that actually makes doing the right thing more expensive than neccessary it threatens the sustainability of an industry. Here in the California Central Valley we have regulations from the Central Valley Water Resources Control Board that can actually make doing the right thing downright unsustainable for business survival. As time has gone by and common sense been added to the water environmental regulations they have been much easier to work with. Farmers are all about doing the right thing we just want a common sense economically feasible way to do it.
Backwards thinking can also be seen in knee jerk reaction to one high profile incident just to create that warm fuzzy feeling that something was done, only to end up making the problem many times worse. Another example of thinking backwards is the thought that something should always be done one way because that is how it has always been done, and refusing to see the opportunity for innovation by looking for more options.
By thinking backwards we can almost guarantee ourselves that we will never move forward and stretch our boundaries to see what lies beyond them.
If you are wondering how the calving ended up through teamwork my father and I were able to help a calf be born alive.
More and more you hear companies saying we must protect our brand. What is meant by this is to make sure you brand is not being mentioned negatively, whether in traditional or emerging forms of media.
For those of us in Agriculture our “Brand” gets pretty fuzzy: Are we animal agriculture, plant agriculture, forestry, soy, corn, dairy, beef or any of the various segments of Agriculture?
In my opinion we are first and foremost “Agriculture” and that is the true brand we need to spend the time sharing our story about. We are doing a disservice to ourselves by using an age-old tactic of war “divide and conquer.” As the California Farm Bureau Federation President, Paul Wenger, said in his address to the Annual Meeting delegation, in Monterey, last December, “If you cut one farmer, we all bleed.”
I feel it is our duty as farmers, who collectively are some of the most knowledgeable people on this planet, to band together, share our story and promote “Agriculture” our brand.
Some great examples of unity and positive “Agriculture” promotion are the Agchat Foundation, the Farm American project and the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance. On a regional level I am personally a contributor to the Know a California Farmer effort and encourage others to do what they can to help promote “Agriculture”.
These projects are great examples of working together for all of agriculture, without showing favoritism and divisiveness.
Now, as “Agriculture,” we need to join together and support programs like these.
What things that happen on a farm are of interest and should be shared online by farmers? Write an answer on Quora