Road to recovery

KansasFire4.jpgBy Sherry Bunting April 7, 2017

If there is one thing to come down the road of recovery from a tragedy in agriculture, it is the sense of community that agriculturalists make business-as-usual. It is the matter-of-fact way in which people are prompted to help each other, and the humility with which help is offered that allows proud and self-reliant fellow farmers and ranchers to accept.

All know that livelihoods and legacies are on the line, pending the external forces that cannot be controlled, and that, in an instant, a storm, fire, or other natural disaster could change everything.

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While driving through Ashland and Englewood, Kansas on Saturday heading back to Pennsylvania from other work in the Midwest, the post-wildfire realities stretched for miles.

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Intermittent wheat pasture is credited with saving hundreds of lives.

It was a rain-soaked day, just what the land needs to recover. New life was springing forth, adding lushness to the intermittent wheat pastures that had provided refuge – credited with saving hundreds of human and animal lives as they interrupted the fires that spread rapidly through the dry grasslands and provided a safe haven for evacuees when roads were blocked during the fire.

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Timely rains are softening the charred lands with emerging hints of green, red and gold, framing the wildfire zones as the Painter slowly re-fills this empty palette. Residents say that the rain has helped a lot, and the grasses will explode within the next two weeks in some areas. The hay being sent has been a godsend. And the move by the Trump administration to authorize emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands located in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas – the three states which were most heavily impacted by ongoing wildfires – will help.

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But it is the Sandhills of southwest Kansas that catch your breath. The Starbuck fire — that claimed over 500,000 of the total 711,000 acres burned in Kansas the first week of March — had burned so hot, sinking down through the sandy soil like a sponge, that many wonder if the grasslands will come back more than spotty at best in areas where windswept sand dunes present a desert-like appearance. There are areas with nothing on top, leading to lingering concerns about feeding surviving cattle.

Firefighters noted this was unlike anything they had seen in their 20 to 30 years. They described driving 60 to 70 mph, and being outrun by the fast-moving fire, seeing it move right past them.

Only time will tell how some of the acres will respond to the timely rains.

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One thing is for certain, the help of fellow farmers and ranchers via donations of hay, fencing supplies, work crews, orphaned calf care, and fundraising — all of it represent blessings beyond measure.

As Ashland resident Rick Preisner put it: “Everyone here was shell-shocked at first. Everything changed in an instant. It was difficult to know where to start. Then the help came pouring in and it lifted this community up.”

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Ashland is ‘home’ for Roddy Strang with sister Rhonda at Gardiner Angus, where their father worked 26 years.

“No one here is saying no to the hay that’s been coming,” said Roddy Strang. “They know they will need feed for a while here.” Strang trains horses and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and children, but he grew up in Ashland around the Gardiner Angus Ranch, where his father worked for 26 years.

Not only did he fill his livestock trailer with 250 compact alfalfa bales and some fencing for the trip “home” to the annual Gardiner Angus production sale Saturday (April 1), he helped connect the dots for Lancaster County dairy farmer Aaron Hess of Hess Dairy in Mount Joy and his neighbor Arlyn Martin. Martin drove the 1500 miles last week with a load of 36 large square bales from Hess, along with 1800 fence posts and 91 rolls of barbed wire the men procured with funds they had raised and with many companies offering equipment and supplies free or with discounts.

They worked with Kevin Harrop, of Harrop Hay and Bale, Exton. Harrop grew up on a dairy farm and today runs a hay brokering and custom harvesting business in southeast Pennsylvania. Between Harrop and James Hicks of Meadow Springs Farm, they filled another truck with 42 large square bales. Harrop and Martin set out for Kansas early last week, delivered the hay and fencing to Ashland Cooperative Feed and Seed by Wednesday, and were home by Saturday.

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For Strang, the mission was personal. He stayed for the Gardiner Angus sale Saturday, where a few cows were purchased for the return trip to Virginia.

For those involved with the donations from southeast Pennsylvania — as for the numerous others organizing convoys over the past three weeks from Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, northwest Pennsylvania, and more — the mission to bring hay to fire-torn regions in four states was something they didn’t really think twice about. And it is something they don’t want recognition for.

The only fanfare being given to these hay donations is the sentiment of “God Bless America.” As Harrop explains it: “We saw it the Facebook posts, and we knew people out there, so we called to see what was going on and to figure out exactly what they would need,” he said in a phone call from the road last week.

Harrop put it best when he explained that people helping out do not want publicity or pats on the back for their own sakes, but they sure don’t mind if others share and publicize what they are doing for the sake of showing the world how farmers and ranchers network and move forward to get things done.

“In a small way, we just want to help keep this network going,” said Harrop. “The need is great in the wildfire zone. The mainstream media and the government are ignoring this. Farmers all over the country have responded.”

In fact, hundreds of trucks with hay and fencing and other needed supplies have poured into the affected areas of southwest Kansas, eastern Colorado and the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle region. While some areas are saying they have enough hay, for now, southwest Kansas is particularly hard hit in this regard, and people are thankful for the trucks that continue to come – 200 of them, in fact, last Saturday, alone. The list of states represented is too numerous to be sure to acknowledge them all. Relief organizers say they have received calls from over 20 states. Plans are also underway for moving 1000 large bales that have been donated in Greene and Washington counties, Pennsylvania in the near future.
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“That is their lives out there. That’s what they do, and it’s not like they have a lot to fall back on,” said Aaron Hess after securing a load of large bale hay from his dairy onto Arlyn Martin’s truck. “I was just seeing the posts on Facebook, so I called up the Ashland co-op and they put me in touch with the guy in charge. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Teams of volunteers have helped remove damaged fencing. Crews, tools and materials to re-fence perimeters are the priority now.

Strang notes that the recipients are amazed by the outpouring of people wanting to come out to the middle of nowhere and help. “It is emotional,” he admitted. “There are some good people in a bad way. They aren’t going to ask for the help, but we see the need and we know if it were us, they would help.”

Even in this time when agriculture is taking such a severe economic hit, people step up. That’s how agriculture rolls.

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(Above) “From the Ashes” artwork displayed Saturday by Joel Milford of Fowler, Kansas from a photo captured by Cole Gardiner as he found this cow and her newborn calf a day or two after the fire. Milford’s painting was auctioned Saturday during the Gardiner Angus production sale, raising $35,000 and prints are still being sold for $200 each to benefit the wildfire relief efforts of the Ashland Community Foundation. Nearly 100 prints have been sold thus far. To purchase a print for wildfire relief, contact Jan Endicott, at the Stockgrowers Bank in Ashland, Kansas at jan@stockgrowersbank.com or 620-635-4032. Prints are $200 plus $15 shipping and 6.5% Kansas state sales tax. 

How you can help

Wildfire relief organizers are indicating that the best way for distant donors to help is to provide monetary donations for transporting nearby hay and resources to the areas affected by the wildfires.

Supplies and funding for the volunteer care of orphaned calves is also requested. Follow the progress of 4-Hers and other volunteers caring for these calves at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas.

In addition, auctions are being organized to benefit wildfire funds. For example, a heifer donated by Oklahoma West Livestock Market was auctioned 105 times on March 8 to garner $115,449 with proceeds going to the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief Fund. Similar ideas are creating a ripple response throughout the agriculture community and can be replicated anywhere. Visit Livestock Marketing Association  for these auction notes and efforts.

Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize this idea to fund the recovery and rebuilding efforts in the fire-ravaged areas of the High Plains through means of raising cash. For information about how to participate in this and to find a list of upcoming auctions, as well as how to set one up, contact Trent Loos at (515) 418-8185.

To give supplies and trucking or to donate funds to foundations for direct wildfire relief, contact the state-by-state resources below.

Kansas

Monetary donations: Ashland Community Foundation/Wildfire Relief Fund at www.ashlandcf.com or P.O. Box 276, Ashland, KS 67831. The Kansas Livestock Association/Wildfire Relief Fund at 6031 SW 37th St., Topeka, KS 66614.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Call Ashland Feed and Seed at (620) 635-2856. (Ashland Feed and Seed is also taking credit card orders over the phone for feed and milk replacer or other supplies for ranchers in the area.)

Texas

Monetary donations: Texas Department of Agriculture STAR Fund.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Ample hay has been received for two to three weeks, so call to see if and when more is needed. Fencing supplies are needed, which can go to the Agrilife supply points. Contacts are J.R. Sprague at (806) 202-5288 for Lipscomb, Mike Jeffcoat at (580) 467-0753 for Pampa, and Andy Holloway at (806) 823-9114 for Canadian.

For questions about donations or relief efforts, contact Texas A&M Extension at (806) 677-5628.

Colorado

Monetary donations: Colorado Farm Bureau Foundation Disaster Fund at 9177 E. Mineral Circle, Centennial, CO 80112 and visit http://coloradofarmbureau.com/disasterfund/

Hay, trucking and fencing: Contact Kent Kokes (970) 580-8108, John Michal (970) 522-2330, or Justin Price (970) 580-6315.

Oklahoma

Monetary donations: Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation Fire Relief at P.O. Box 82395, Oklahoma City, OK 73148 or www.okcattlemen.org.

Hay, trucking and fencing donations: Contact Harper County Extension at (580) 735-2252 or Buffalo Feeders at (580) 727-5530.

Other states organizing deliveries

Several states outside of the wildfire area are organizing assistance and deliveries. Find those resources at http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High plains fires take lives, spark spirit

Convoys of trucks bringing hay to the areas affected by March wildfires have come from central Texas, southwest Oklahoma, central Kansas and from Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and now funds for fuel are being raised to bring 1000 round bales from western Pennsylvania to southwest Kansas… as farmers and ranchers across the country pull together in amazing ways to help their peers with forage for cattle after wildfires decimated grasslands and stored hay in the High Plains. Derrick Carlisle of Claysville, Pennsylvania reports that nearly 1000 round bales of hay have been donated from farms in Greene and Washington counties, and a trucking company has agreed to transport the hay to Ashland, Kansas “at fuel cost.” Now, funds are being raised quickly to buy fuel to transport the hay. Individuals and businesses wanting to help provide funds for fuel, should contact Washington County Cattlemen’s Association president Brian Hrutkay at 724-323-5815.

To help with the ongoing relief efforts for ranchers affected by the wildfires, visit http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx to see various contacts for ways to help listed by the states affected as well as coordinated efforts in other states like Kentucky and Minnesota that are planning deliveries.

 Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize a rebuilding effort through means of raising cash. Various auctions are already set and the idea can be replicated. For information about how to participate in this, contact Trent Loos at 515.418.8185 or check out his Rural Route radio
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“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion.”

Recap reprinted from Farmshine, March 17, 2017

ASHLAND, Kan. — High Plains ranchers are always on guard for the combination of March winds and wildfires. When the two conspire together, the result can rapidly turn devastating and deadly. That was the situation last week in southwest Kansas, the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle and eastern Colorado.

All told, the wildfires on March 6 consumed around 1.7 million acres of grassland, 33 homes, over 200 farm structures, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 adult cows along with untold numbers of calves, horses and wildlife. In Texas and Oklahoma, over 5000 hogs perished in separate facilities.

Tragically, some of the affected ranching families in the Panhandle suffered the ultimate loss of loved ones. Seven people lost their lives, at least five while trying to herd cattle to safety before becoming trapped in the rapidly moving fire when the high winds changed direction.

The livestock losses are particularly heavy in southwest Kansas, where a local veterinarian estimates 3000 to 6000 beef cattle have perished; however, an accurate assessment is still weeks away. In the Panhandle, Texas A&M Agrilife extension reports preliminary loss estimates of 2500 adult cows, plus additional calves.

Two consecutive years of above average moisture provided the good grass growth that ended up fueling multiple fires in early March. The previous 60 days had turned it tinder-dry, together with the high winds of up to 60-70 mph, creating the perfect storm. The rapidly moving ‘Starbuck’ fire in northeast Oklahoma and southwest Kansas will go down as the largest and most devastating single fire in Kansas state history. In the Panhandle, the March 6 fire is being called the third worst in Texas history.

While there are some dairies in these areas, extension agents and veterinarians report that no dairy cattle were impacted. But dairy producers and calf ranch operators are among the ag community throughout the region, and beyond, responding to the immediate needs of the region’s ranchers.

Occurring at a vulnerable time, the fires have orphaned many newborn calves. In fact, one purebred Angus operation in Ashland, Kansas described the confluence of emotion – simultaneously dealing with the grisly task of locating and putting-down hundreds of adult cows while gathering to the corrals over 100 survivors for further monitoring and evaluation – 30 of them having their calves in the days immediately following the fire.

Many of the ranchers have lost much of their stored hay supply, and the region’s unburned grasslands are a good 60 days away from greenup — provided they get rain. Surviving cattle are being pulled onto wheat pasture and into corrals — making the immediate priority that of acquiring the hay necessary to feed a good 15,000 surviving livestock in southwest Kansas and over 10,000 in the Panhandle.

With fences to build and repair, feed to secure, cows still calving and long term plans and decisions to make, there’s no time to bottle and bucket feed calves two and three times a day, particularly those ranchers who have also lost their homes.

OrphanCalves01(K-State)County 4-H clubs put the word out early, that youth members would take-in bucket calves to help the ranchers who have so many other things to do in the recovery. (Follow them on Facebook at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas)

Veterinarians are reaching out to colleagues in the hard-hit areas. Dr. Randy Spare at Ashland Veterinary Center has been organizing some of the needs. He received a call late last week from Dr. Tera Barnhardt.

The 2014 K-State graduate operates a solo bovine practice for dairies and feedlots two hours north of Ashland. While doing preg checks at Deerfield Calf Feeders — where dairy replacement heifers are raised near Johnson, Kansas – Dr. Barnhardt and the general manager Cary Wimmer came up with the idea of offering temporary homes and care in the calf ranch hutches for orphaned calves from Ashland.

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Many ag companies have donated milk replacer, feed, pharmaceuticals and other animal care products — and along with hay donations from other ranches — have come personal items for the families who have lost their homes and belongings.

“Our hearts go out to the ranchers,” said Dr. Barnhardt. “I’m just glad we could help connect some dots and take something off their plate.”

Some of the orphaned Angus calves now at Deerfield are from the Giles Ranch, Ashland, where three family members lost their homes and where they had significant cow losses. At Deerfield, as with the 4-Hers who have volunteered calf care, these baby calves will get the individual care and supervision they need while their owners deal with the recovery process.

“All aspects of this industry are coming together,” said Barnhardt. “It has been impressive. Even the workers at the calf ranch are inspired and proud to take care of these babies.”

As the immediate hustle to triage cattle and secure feed and care for survivors shifts to a longer term plan for coordinating the ongoing relief efforts, those close to the situation are encouraging people who want to help to consider monetary donations needed to cover trucking costs to get donated hay and materials to the affected ranches.

“We don’t want to turn down hay because some of our ranchers are just coming to grips with what their losses are and what their needs will be,” said Dr. Spare. The biggest issue with hay donations right now is the trucking bottleneck. In the short term, the tangibles have been necessary because it takes time for the various foundations to pool monetary donations and get resources to the ranchers.

“Farmers have called from as far away as Vermont and Wisconsin wanting to donate hay, and right now we have 800 bales available nearby in Waco, Texas if we could find the trucking,” said Spare.

Convoys of trucks — semiloads and pickups hauling flatbed trailers — brought an estimated 3000 round bales to the fire-affected regions over the weekend. With more hay available in central Texas and nearby Nebraska, the biggest need at the moment is more trucks or funds to help pay the fuel costs to transport the donated hay.

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(above) Convoys of trucks with hay headed to the wildfire-affected areas over the weekend. This one was organized by Mike and Conner Franetovich of southwest Oklahoma carrying 260 round bales to the ranchers in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by LaQuita Massee/Images By LQ

“When the hay trucks rolled in, it was like the cavalry arrived,” said Greg Gardiner of Gardiner Angus, Ashland. The well-known Angus breeder lost over 500 adult cows, mainly donor cows and spring calvers. They have over 1500 survivors but lost all of their hay — over 5000 round bales and their horse hay as well.

Greg’s brother Mark and his wife Eva lost their home, three of their horses and their dogs to the fire, despite their efforts to free them as the fire changed direction. He was behind them with the horse trailer when the black smoke descended making it impossible to see. He spent a half hour not knowing if they made it out.

“This thing is of biblical proportions, but it all seems small to me. My brother is alive,” said Gardiner. He described the landscape that burned from one end of the ranch to the other as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that will eventually come back stronger with enough rain.

“We’re praying for rain,” said Spare, describing dirty skies as the wind lifts the gray sand over charred soils.

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While prayers are most coveted, those who want to help are urged to contact organizers in the various affected states (see below) to see what the needs are as community leaders develop an ongoing relief plan.

“We are still contacting ranchers,” said Spare. “Some are saying they don’t need hay and feel embarrassed to take it, but the grass is all gone, and we are 60 days from good grass (in unburned areas) if it rains, so we are trying to help people understand as they make their plans, that they will need to have something to feed.”

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Make no mistake, this will be a long recovery for ranchers who have lost 50 to 90% of their herds and multiple years of income, as well as their stockpiled forage and grasslands.

“I told CNN that we as ranchers are stewards of the grasslands, and that the only way we have something to sell for an income is to sell grass through the cows that are eating it. We are working to take care of that and start all over again,” said Dr. Spare, who had significant losses among his own cow herd and was relieved when his son showed up in the driveway Tuesday morning, taking time away from vet school before spring exams to take care of the home front while he worked with other ranchers and their cattle.

As the reality sinks in…

“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion, from the people who come alongside with prayers and help,” said Spare. “Many don’t know how they’ll get through this, but we know we will get through it.”

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A world without cattle?

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is just 11%, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage of that 11%. While cattle contribute a little over 2% of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!

Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.

Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!

Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?

They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”

Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:

  • Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
  • Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
  • Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Not true. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves. When healthy fats from nutrient-dense animal proteins are removed from the diet, additional sugars and carbs are added and these have led us down the road to increased body mass and diabetes.
  • Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not true. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.

The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.

The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.

Our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet by providing necessary environmental benefits.

Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness and appreciation for the gift of life given by the animals and because of the hard work and care they have been given by the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals. This Earth Day, we are grateful for the circle of life and the farmers and ranchers and their cattle, which sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.

A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net.

Learn more about the latest research to measure emissions due to the dairy and livestock industries.

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Images by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

NUTRITION POLITICS: Kids and cattle caught in the crossfire

GROWING THE LAND: Nutrition Politics: Let them eat cake!

April 2, 2015 Hudson Valley Register-Star

Seems like an April Fools’ joke, but I am sorry to say it is not. Like the ill-fated Marie
Antoinette in her final words, the federal government lacks understanding for the nutritional realities of the masses as it turns the simple act of providing a nutritious lunch to schoolchildren into an exercise in frustration.

Kids buy Twinkies instead of lunch. Or they pack. Some go hungry.

For 40-plus years, the concept of a “heart healthy diet” has been unchallenged even though it was implemented based on a set of hypotheses created from epidemiological studies on middle-aged men. No study of impacts on women and children. No clinical trials on anyone.

As noted in this column on Jan. 27, schoolchildren have been eating the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet since the mid-1990s as the fat percentage was tightly controlled even though the sugar was not. Then, the government cut the calorie totals realizing the fat that was removed was replaced with sugar to meet the calorie requirements of a growing child.

What have we to show for it? Rising levels of obesity and diabetes, particularly among children.

It is about to get worse, but there is still time to be heard. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee — charged with making recommendations every five years — has now
stepped beyond its nutritional realm to consider the “environmental impacts” of foods.

From the frying pan into the fire we go.1538850_10203867018139998_98482634260761802_n

In this column on Feb. 8, we looked at the National School Lunch Program and the Dietary Guidelines just as the five-year Advisory Committee submitted its Advisory Report to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Committee states that “The purpose of the Advisory Report is to inform the federal government of current scientific evidence on topics related to diet, nutrition and health. It provides the federal government with a foundation for developing national nutrition policy.”

However, the Advisory Report constructs and reinforces further reductions in its guidelines on the consumption of red meat and whole dairy fat such as butter and whole milk by using these so-called “sustainability factors.”

This area of science is even more subjective than the past four decades of nutrition science have proved to be. Just when the truth is coming out that decades of nutrition policies are based on hypotheses steering unwary consumers away from healthy fat and into the arms of carbohydrates, suddenly “sustainability” emerges to perpetuate the lie.

New York Times bestseller “The Big Fat Surprise” delves deeply into this subject. Author Nina Teicholz, an investigative food reporter, compiled nine years of research covering thousands of studies and many interviews with nutrition scientists to discover this April Fools’ joke has already had too-long a run and with unintended consequences for Americans.

As noted by Anne Burkholder, a rancher and blogger (Feedyard Foodie), who wrotGL 1847 (1)
e after reading Teicholz’s book: “The diet-heart hypothesis (coined by a biologist Ancel Keys in the early 1960s) proclaimed that a low fat and high carbohydrate diet provided the basis for good health. Although not proved through clinical trials, the hypothesis gained support from the federal government and provided the basis for mainstream dietary advice during the ensuing decades.

“…The culture of the American diet has shifted dramatically. According to USDA, the consumption of grains (41 percent), vegetables (23 percent) and fruits (13 percent) rose significantly from 1970-2005 while red meat (-22 percent), milk (-33 percent) and eggs (-17 percent) fell dramatically. Overall carbohydrate intake for Americans rose with low fat starches and vegetable oil took the place of animal protein and fat in the diet. Animal protein lovers shifted from beef to chicken and many traded whole fat dairy for skim milk and margarine thereby forsaking nutrition density for lower saturated fat options,” Burkholder writes. “All of this occurred during a time in the United States when obesity rates more than doubled (15-32 percent), the prevalence of heart failure, cancer and stroke all increased and the rate of diabetes increased from less than 1 percent to 11 percent.”

Here are just some of the conclusions Teicholz highlights in “The Big Fat Surprise” after nearly a decade of research:

1. Causal associations between red meat consumption and heart disease are minimal.

2. The HDL (good cholesterol) is increased by the saturated fat found in animal protein.

3. Animal fat is nutrient dense, packing protein, energy and essential vitamins and minerals — plus helping the vitamins and minerals of other foods eaten together to be better absorbed by the human body.

4. There are no health studies to learn the effect on health of liquid vegetable oils. We do know that the process of solidifying vegetable oils creates the very unhealthy transfats. Butter and red meat do not contain these transfats.

5. Insulin levels are elevated by constant carb consumption, not by animal fat and protein. Furthermore, as insulin levels are raised, the body is less able to digest its own stored fat created by — you guessed it — carbs!

Our children have been and will apparently continue to be test subjects for nutrition GL kids-cowspolitics. The simple act of providing a nutritious school lunch will become even more
complicated if the Advisory Report is accepted and used by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture secretaries in the food programs they administer.

Published in the Federal Register (Vol. 80, No. 35) on Feb. 23, the public comment period was recently extended to May 8. After that, the secretaries will jointly release the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015.

A quick perusal of comments already logged shows that two parts of the Report are garnering attention:

1. There is an overwhelming support for the recommendation to reduce the amount of added sugar in the diet. My only question is: What took them so long?

2. There is an overwhelming lack of support for the recommendation to reduce even more the role of saturated fats — red meat and whole dairy fat — in the diet.

Some children may forego the school lunch and pack a nutritious replacement. But what about the child in poverty? Their options are limited to taking what the federal government dishes out, literally.

To comment on proposed Dietary Guidelines by May 8, visit www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/. It is easy to do electronically.


GROWING THE LAND: Kids and cattle caught in the crossfire 

Feb. 8, 2015  Hudson Valley Register Star

Kids and cattle are caught in the crossfire of nutrition politics, and it may get worse. GL 0263Two weeks ago we talked about the changes over the years in the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans and their direct influence on the National School Lunch Prog
ram. This week we look at how the simple act of providing a nutritious school lunch could become even more complicated.

What I have gleaned from reader comments is a high level of frustration about the current status of the National School Lunch Program limiting the caloric intake and food choices of growing children. Now, the next twist in the nutrition-noodle may not even be nutrition-based.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the deciding agency for new “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” expected to be released soon. The HHS Secretaries are deliberating the recent report from their Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which held meetings for months.

When the new Guidelines are officially published in the Federal Register, a second round of comments will open. I’ll let you know when and how to comment when the time comes.

For now, let’s look at a few concerns with the committee’s report.

1) It is worth noting that back when we had a Food Pyramid, physical exercise was Boilermaker6929visually highlighted, where today it is notably absent from the MyPlate diagram.

2) More troubling this time around, is the fact that the committee is not just focusing on new information about healthful eating, they have incorporated so-called “sustainability”
factors or environmental impacts of various foods — namely lean meats. This opens a whole can of worms that — quite frankly — have nothing to do with nutrition!

3) Furthermore, some of the science the committee used to come up with thewWill-Feed3983 idea of eliminating lean meat from its so-called “healthy eating pattern” is quite controversial and involves a United Nations study that has since been refuted.That study had suggested meat production contributes more to climate change than transportation.

Scientists have come forward in droves with counter-studies showing the greatly reduced carbon footprint of agriculture, particularly animal agriculture. The whole lifecycle of beef and dairy cattle needs to be considered when formulating environmental impacts.

While the dietary gurus in Washington debate the merits of meat and whole-fat milk, let’s look at this term “sustainability” and what dairy and livestock producers actually care about and accomplish for their land, animals — and us!

Regarding potential replacement of a “healthy eating pattern” in favor of a “sustainable eating pattern,” there are several concerns.

1. If red meat and full-fat dairy are not considered a component in a healthy eating pattern, students will increasingly see this nutrient dense protein source removed from their diets and replaced with foods that are less nutrient dense.

2. Since these guidelines affect the most nutritionally at-risk children through their effects on the school lunch program, WIC and food stamps, the impact of the dietary guidelines would fall mostly on those children who are already on the hunger-side of the nutrition equation.

3. How can the committee recommend a “sustainable dietary pattern” when mothers, doctors, scientists, and all manner of experts can’t even agree on what “sustainable” actually means? Let’s stick to nutrition. Defining that is a tall-enough order.

Scientist, cancer survivor and new mom Dr. Jude Capper covers this topic best. She points out that, “With the world population officially hitting 7 billion people earlier this year and projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050, farmers and ranchers must continue to find ways to sustainably feed a growing world population using fewer natural resources.”

She notes the many improvements to the way cattle are raised and fed in the United States between 1977 and 2007 that have yielded 13 percent more total beef from 30 percent fewer animals. More beef from fewer animals maximizes resources like land and water while providing essential nutrients for the human diet. U.S. cattlemen raise 20 percent of the world’s beef with 7 percent of the world’s cattle.

Capper’s research in the Journal of Animal Science shows that beef’s environmental footprint is shrinking. Each pound of beef raised in 2007 (compared to 1977) used 19 percent less feed; 33 percent less land; 12 percent less water; and 9 percent less fossil fuel energy. Significant gains have been made in the seven years since the data was collected for this report.IMG_2657

What is discouraging to cattle producers — be they beef or dairy — is the lack of understanding for how cattle are raised and fed. They utilize feedstuffs we humans cannot digest and turn that into meat and milk, which are nutrient-dense sources of proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Some of their lifecycle is spent on grass or eating a mostly grass / hay diet and some of their lifecycle is spent eating a more concentrated diet at certain stages. Feedlot beef wky3327

cattle start out as calves on grass. Even in the feedlot, today’s rations — especially in the east and near food processing centers — utilize bakery waste, over cooked potato chips, wilted produce and the like that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Incorporated into cattle diets along with traditional feedstuffs, these foods provide protein and energy for the animals without sole reliance on corn. In addition, when corn is fed, the whole plant is used.

Farmers are thrifty. They don’t like to waste a thing. They understand the balance of working with nature because it is not just the vocation, but also the very life they have chosen working with their animals and the land.

I can’t think of any other reason why someone would work this hard and put their entire livelihood and all of their capital at risk to the swings of the marketplace other than they are passionate about producing food and using science and ingenuity to work with

Mother Nature in preserving a sustainable balance for all of God’s creatures — the 2-legged and the 4-legged.

Send me your questions and look for part three when the official new guidelines are posted in the Federal Register for public comment. Email agrite@ptd.net.10256404_10204082794934283_4627952695489572277_o


GROWING THE LAND: How did school lunch get so complicated        

Jan. 27, 2015 Hudson Valley Register-Star

Are you satisfied with your school lunches? Do your children eat them? Do they come home so hungry they binge out of the snack drawer?

The National School Lunch Program and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are lightning rods for the latest nutritional ideas — none of which seem to be working particularly well because we’ve gotten so far from the basics, and yet both childhood hunger and childhood obesity are on the rise.

Now it seems there will be another twist in the nutrition-noodle. Recent food studies and “The Big Fat Surprise,” a best seller by Nina Teicholz, reveals the truth about the healthfulness of natural fats in whole milk, butter, beef, ice cream, etc. Teicholz was profiled on “Live! with Kelly and Michael” last week, where she described the “nasty nutrition politics” that continually shape these programs.

In response to these animal-protein-friendly nutritional revelations, the environmental webfeed9297nail-biters (under the influence of refuted studies) are “concerned” about what they see as the effect of dairy and beef production on climate change. According to news reports last week, these groups would like the government to take their version of the facts and tweak new-again the nutrition guidelines. This means yet another lunchroom brawl will soon be coming to a school cafeteria near you where the already burdensome and counterproductive rules for lunch menu planning have lunch ladies and foodservice directors — not to mention kids and parents — tearing their hair out.

How did we let serving a decent healthy meal to schoolchildren become so complicated? Why don’t schools take their cafeterias back? One reason is the federal government ties its financial support for literacy programs (extra teachers and tutors) in schools to the number of students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program as monitored by — you guessed it — the federal government. Oh what a complex web we weave when all we set out to do is healthfully eat!

The government’s interest in the school lunch program got its first foothold during World War II when more women joined the workforce as part of the war effort. The emphasis at that time was to provide a hot meal with plenty of protein, calories for energy and the healthy fat necessary for brain development and satiety — a fancy word for no hunger pains during the end of the day math class!

My generation grew up with the “eat all things in moderation” mantra. Lunches were a bit repetitive, but they were good, honest meals and we ate them. We learned about the four food groups, and we ran and played and worked outside ‘til dusk.

My children’s generation grew up in the “food pyramid” days, spelling out the servings deal differently. Then, in the 1990s, the school lunch program went through a major metamorphosis that paralleled the “low fat” offerings in nearly every product category at the supermarket. What the 90s gave us was less fat and more carbs, and a lot of guilt. I would say those three things are actually ingredients for obesity.

By the late 1990s, the government came out with the nutrient standards for menu planning, and school districts across the country bought the software and began to submit their menus for approval. I was editor of a farm publication at the time and served as an elected director on a local school board. I interviewed not only our own district’s foodservice director but others as well, and I visited one of the schools that had piloted the program for USDA.

“Schoolchildren were being relegated to the equivalent of a heart patient’s diet,” explained the foodservice director who was piloting the program in 1997. The calorie thresholds were unchanged, but the government began regulating the percentage of those calories that could come from fat. There were no regulations yet for sugar or carbohydrates. And yes, as always, the goal was to get kids to eat more veggies and fruits and fiber. We might take a lesson from France in that department. They require lunches to be made from fresh ingredients, but they aren’t afraid to deep-fry some broccoli or soak a healthy vegetable dish in yummy cheese — real, of course.

The new fat rules forced foodservice folks to put imitation cheese product on their once delicious pizza. Ground turkey replaced beef in spaghetti and tacos. Rolls were served without butter. All milk was reduced to nonfat or 1 percent so the amount of chocolate milk consumed increased. (Whole milk is much more flavorful than nonfat, and it is just 3.25 to 3.5 percent fat!

As fat was reduced, so were calories and flavor. To get back up to the number of calories required, “we just served a bigger brownie, for example,” that foodservice director recounted. Of course, they used applesauce to replace the shortening in making such desserts. But still, no requirement on sugar and carbs.

“Two elements give food flavor: fats and sugars. When you pull one out, chances are the other is added,” the wise foodservice director observed. Whether natural or added, sugars and fats provide flavor, but what most people don’t think about is: The fat in real foods — such as beef and butter and cheese — is accompanied by a nutrient dense protein source that naturally supplies vitamins and minerals and helps kids feel satiated, not hungry or hyper, so they can concentrate and learn. Healthy fats are known to be good for brain development.

Fast forward to the decade of the 2010’s. More tinkering! The food pyramid became the plate showing portions of different food types, and we are now in a time when school menus are regulated in the number of calories that can be served using arbitrary, across the board calculations.

Caught in the crossfire are kids and cattle. We’ll continue this topic in the next edition of “Growing the Land,” so send me your questions about nutrition standards, new information on healthy fats, school lunch programs, and the real-deal on the carbon footprint and environmental contributions of today’s dairy and beef cattle. Email agrite@ptd.net.

No ‘snow days’ on the farm

cows6781By Sherry Bunting, columnist, Register-Star, Feb. 21, 2015

There are no ‘snow days’ on the farm. “When it is this cold, the simple every day protocols become enduring days of work,” notes Cody Williams of Wil-Roc Dairy, Kinderhook, where some of the 1500 Holstein dairy cows are housed in new and modern barns, while others are exposed a bit more to the elements in older facilities.

“We change our teat dip when it’s this cold, for extra moisturizing to the skin,” Cody explains. “We also adjust the cow diets to keep our cows in a positive energy balance as they burn more energy to maintain themselves during weather extremes.”

Operating a dairy or livestock farm in the extreme cold is not for the faint of heart. Veteran beef producer Phil Trowbridge of Ghent observes: “We know how to take care of ourselves. We dress in layers and give each other breaks.”

Frozen pipes, pumps, waterers, and manure — as well as difficulty in starting equipment — are commonly reported concerns when the snow piles up and the temperatures plummet, and, of course, concerns about keeping rooftops clear of a too-heavy burden.

Last week the mercury hit -14 at Trowbridge Angus Farm, where it is calving season January through March. The family, and their over 300 beef breeding cows, are navigating two to three feet of snow cover.

Twenty miles away near Schodack Landing, temps of -11 went virtually unnoticed by the over 700 Jersey dairy cows at Dutch Hollow Farm. They are tucked away in their barns with retractable sidewall curtains that stay open more often than not for natural light and ventilation but remain closed when the wind chills get this low.

Cattle are cold weather animals, but they do not like wind or drafts. The difference between beef and dairy breeds is the way their centuries-old partnership with man has adapted through specialized breeding and care.

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Beef breed cattle are kept outside pretty much year-round, coming into the barn only at calving time. Dairy cattle, on the other hand, are typically housed in barns year-round. While beef breed cattle spend more time foraging for their food and seeking the natural and provided windbreaks to lay down, dairy cattle in freestall barns will amble short distances inside from feedbunks and waterers to the deep-bedded stalls that are groomed for them two or three times a day while they are milking.

Dairy cows are accustomed to constant human handling from the time they are calves. 10986660_10206244497857081_5937924373439440151_oThey have a different temperament about the whole calving deal.They aren’t worried about predators and trust the humans they work beside day in and day out to care for them and their offspring.

Beef breeding cows, on the other hand, are more self-sufficient and protective of their young. They raise their offspring for the more hands-off life as a non-milking breeding animal or to spend 80% of their life foraging on pasture with the last 20% of their life in the beef fattening phase.

One thing in common: Both beef and dairy producers focus on the newborns immediately at birth to make sure each calf gets a warm start and enough colostrum for the passive transfer of immunity from its dam.

“When we get real cold weather like we have seen this winter, we spend more time in the calving barn at night. We pretty much sleep here with them when it’s this cold,” says beef producer Phil Trowbridge, who has had 50 calves born since January 1. “The main thing is to get those calves dried off and warmed up as soon as they are born, and to make sure they get enough colostrum. In two or three days, they’re old enough and strong enough to go outside.”

Not only are they prepared for cold weather, they frolic in it. “I took a video with my cell phone of the calves the other day when it was minus-11. We were putting out bedding for the cows, and saw those calves were feeling so good, they were just running through the snow,” Phil relates. “I like seeing that.”

calves

Stockpiled pasture grasses make a nice winter forage as cattle can push off a few inches or a foot of snow to graze it, and they do well getting around in the snow outdoors. But with over two feet of snow cover this winter, the Trowbridge family cuts trails to help the cattle conserve energy. They also put down extra bedding, more often, in the areas with windbreaks and feed more outdoor hay and supplement.

Meanwhile, on a dairy farm, the cows calve year-round. Calving pens are watched through video monitoring or by walk-throughs. The immediate newborn calf care continues

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

Tricia Adams pictures one of the heated boxes for newborn calves at Hoffman Farms

through the first few weeks of life in the calf nursery or individual hutches. Newborns often get time in a heat box or wear calf jackets and sometimes earmuffs when it’s this cold, and they are fed more often for increased energy to maintain their temperature and to grow.

“Taking care of the animals is pretty much routine. The feeding is very consistent day to day, and the freestalls are bedded twice a week,” says Paul Chittenden of Dutch Hollow
Farm. “Clean and dry and plenty to eat are what we focus on — regardless of the weather. Cows always have dry sawdust with extra sawdust stored in the front of the stalls. This allows for plenty of dry bedding to stir around each time we groom the stalls when the cows go to the parlor for milking.”

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Water is critical for drinking and cleaning, so lines are buried underground and drinking tubs are equipped with heaters.

“Cold weather management is really not too complicated,” explains bovine veterinarian and dairy farmer Dr. Tom Troxel. “Cows need to have plenty of feed and water, be out of the wind, and have a dry place to lay down. If they have these things, they can survive an awful lot.”

“No matter the weather, we have our jobs to do here,” notes Cody of Wil-Roc Dairy. “That is itself the reward. Getting our everyday tasks done and looking to see how the stressors of weather and other events can affect our system… That is how we keep improving how we do things all year long.”

Sherry Bunting is a member of North American Agriculture Journalists and has been covering beef and dairy production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows and graded beef cattle for market reports. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net

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Dairy and beef cattle are adapted differently, but they all depend on their people for great care during the weather extremes we have seen here this winter. Farming is not for the faint of heart. Everyday tasks take longer to complete but it sure is rewarding to see cows thrive and calves frolic after a good start – regardless of the weather! Photos by Sherry Bunting, Beth Chittenden and Evelyn Troutman.

‘Work hard. Save money. Be careful. Love the job.’

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Hector Jimenez (right) and his uncle Arturo Rodriguez have been working together since the late 1970s. Two decades of saving as they worked on dairies in California led to them starting their own dairy near Dublin, Texas in 2004. In an interview last May at their R&J Dairy, they reflected on a decade of dairying on their own in Central Texas. Photo by Sherry Bunting

By Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine and Texas Dairy & Ag Review during the summer of 2014

DUBLIN, Tex – The decade of 2004 to 2014 has been a volatile one for anyone starting out in the dairy business. For these two producers it took more than two decades of
work on other dairies in California to pave the way to be living their dream today in Central Texas. Hard work, disciplined saving, and hands-on management are the three keys Hector Jimenez and his uncle Arturo Rodriguez say brought them through 20-plus years of working for others and 10 years dairying on their own – including the 2009-13 era of tight to negative margins.webR&J-536

“We worked together since 1979 and always talked about one day having our own dairy,” Hector recalls. That day came in 2004 when Hector and Arturo bought a dairy near Dublin that had been vacant for a number of years after its previous owner moved west to where the dairy industry was expanding in the Panhandle.

They moved here from California with nothing, bought 110 cows and milked three months on a rented dairy, then partnered in their own R&J Dairy. They bought another 150 cows and took their time raising their own replacements to expand steadily through internal herd growth.

“WwebR&J-165e started with No. 1 and this calf, here, is No. 2869,” Hector smiles, pointing out a newborn heifer. Today their herd of 850 milking cows is 95% homebred. They produce an average of 75 pounds/cow/day and have achieve somatic cell counts at or below 200,000.

They are satisfied with the current size of their dairy as they build back their numbers after a few years of heavier culling rates while milk margins and feed costs were tight to negative. The recent memory of 2009-13 brings daily reminders of the importance of saving, working, and being cautious.

“We culled heavily because we needed that money to pay bills,” Hector relates. Today, the herd is 30% first-calf 2-year-olds.

Asked how they made it through those tough years, Hector’s wife Fabiola said: “We prayed.”

“And worked hard,” added Hector.

He and Arturo are hands-on managers. “My uncle is out here feeding cows at 4 a.m. and I start at 5 a.m.,” says Hector, who does all of the breeding. His day starts with cleaning the milk tank and the parlor, checking fresh cows, and starting the day’s breeding lineup.

“My husband is in love with what he does. He never complains. He and Arturo are always here – rain or shine, good or bad — that’s how we made it this far,” Fabiola adds.

She and Arturo’s wife Sylvia — and more recently Arturo’s daughter Christian — take care of all the calves at R&J Dairy.

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Hector and Fabiola Jimenez (left) and Arturo Rodriguez (right) with his daughter Christian. Missing from photo are Hector and Fabiola’s grown children Clemente, Abel and Joann and Arturo’s wife Sylvia and son Arturo Stephen. Photo by Sherry Bunting

They employ 10 people, mainly milkers. They feel a sense of satisfaction in coming to the U.S. from Mexico in the mid-to-late 1970s, working hard, starting a new life here, including their own dairy business, raising children who are either interested in the dairy or working good jobs in the community, and now providing jobs for others in the community.

Halfway through their first decade in business together, Hector and Arturo hit the 2009 milk market train wreck followed by years of drought and surging feed prices. Cutting expenses was a big part of that picture from 2009-12, and the partners aren’t so fast to spend money now that dairy margins are good.

They have 220 acres and rent some additional property for growing coastal hay. That, and working with their nutritionist in feeding commodities like corn gluten, canola and cottonseed along with purchased corn silage — helps them manage feed costs.

They feed a dry cow ration and move the close-up cows and first calvewebR&J-125xxrs close to the house for observation. They also use Udder Comfort after each milking for a few days post-calving to reduce edema and improve recovery time.

The breeding program involves synchronization, but only for those cattle that are not showing heats. Hector and Arturo pick the bulls. “We look for high components – fat and protein – as well as calving ease,” Hector explains.

High components and high milk quality are two keys to making the most of their milk check in both high and low market times.

“The dairy business can be a tough business,” Arturo observes. “You have to enjoy it. I enjoy everything about it, getting up early, being out here. It’s all I’ve known since 1975.”

For the next generation of dairy producers dreaming of having their own dairies, Arturo has this advice: “Work hard, and sooner or later you will be rewarded,” he says. “Save money and invest in cows, but above all work hard. If it is work that you love, that won’t be hard.”

Those two-plus decades of hard work for other dairies have rewarded Hector and Arturo with more of the work they love, but now they do the work for their own dairy investment.

As these two partners have experienced over the past 10 years dairying on their own – “Even when you have your own business, the work doesn’t stop and in some ways you work even harder. You have to be here, work here, live here,” Arturo explains.

Hector agrees. “Even when I’m at the house, I’m thinking about the cows and wanting to see that they are okay. You have to like this job to do it well, and you have to like it even when you are losing money.”webR&J-151

It can be done, they say, “but you have to be careful. We had to spend money carefully,” Arturo noted. “We started this dairy during the good times in 2004. We’re still here, I think, because we were careful in the good times and the bad times. We watch every day how we feed, and when the times are tough, we cut out what is too expensive. When the going gets really tough, we shift our focus into survival mode, not to how much milk we can make.”

Cost of production at R&J Dairy runs almost $20.00/cwt at the moment (spring 2014), which includes all costs — everything. “It gets scary when milk prices fall to $16,” Arturo relates. “In 2009, the price fell below $12, and our cost of production at that time was $18. At one point we were losing $2000 per day here and borrowing to pay bills.”

He explains that they were fortunate to have built up some equity they could borrow on, and he estimates that another three months of milk prices as high as April’s may finally pay back what they lost in 2009.

“We try to stay ready for the next downturn,” the two men agree.

Arturo sees the new Margin Protection Program in the Farm Bill as something that will help dairy producers during future downturns. “It’s better insurance, better than the MILC program. When it gets tough in the dairy business, any help is nice to have.”

As for forward contracting, Hector and Arturo prefer to take on the risk. They believe that while the new insurance program will help and some folks have benefitted with forward contracting… nothing substitutes for hard work, saving during the good times, and close management and caution all the time.

The two partners worked day and night through the worst of 2009-10, and believe that is webR&J-572what got them through it. “We looked for those small daily victories,” Arturo reflects. “That’s what kept us going. We just kept thinking we would be okay — that if we worked hard, we would be rewarded for the years of suffering, and I guess we are seeing that right now.”

A thankful heart

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Looking over the past year, and especially the past few months, the needs seem so great in the wake of weather events that have surpassed expectations. An early autumn blizzard in the Plains, a typhoon of immeasurable proportions in the Philippines, scores of tornadoes unleashed unseasonably in the Midwest — each event bringing its own form of devastation to a location, a people, a community.

And yet, folks in the midst of ruin are thankful. Reading the accounts or speaking with those affected personally, one common thread emerges… People who have survived a devastating event often have a more thankful heart than those of us going about our daily lives without having to face such immediate danger and loss.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, we talk about what we are thankful for. We look around at family, friends, home, hearth, sustenance, and the Lord’s blessings in our lives.

But do we have a thankful heart? Are we full of gratitude? While giving thanks is an action we are reminded to engage in, a thankful heart, on the other hand, is a state of mind.

One example for me is the rancher in South Dakota who — when selected to receive heifers from the Heifers for South Dakota project — instead said no, let me give four of my best to someone who needs that spark of hope. In that case, the rancher had lost nearly half his herd in Storm Atlas October 4-5, but he said he would pull through. With a thankful heart, he gave four heifers to the project so that someone else in a similar situation could benefit.

After the tornadoes last weekend, farmers in some areas of the Midwest lost buildings, communities lost schools and homes. Within hours, neighboring communities and farm groups had mobilized cleanup efforts to help with the first step and most difficult step in rebuilding — grasping the devastation and sifting, sorting, cleaning up to regroup and move forward.

An ocean away in the Philippines, an even darker picture emerges, with a staggering death toll and untold survivors without food, water, shelter. As organized aid finally is able to flow to that region, stories of thankfulness follow.

We live in a world today with all the bells and whistles. We have so many distractions from the things that are most important. Each of us can be one moment away from a change or loss unexpected, which is all the more reason to not just give thanks for what we have but to embrace an attitude of thanksgiving, to have a thankful heart. 

The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was such an occasion. The celebration was of the first successful harvest, preceded by a winter of loss, disease, hunger, and fear and a spring and summer of drought but trusted still to be blessed with a harvest.

I am reminded of the Rose Kennedy quote: “Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

A thankful heart then paves the way for optimism, faith, hope. A thankful heart allows us to see the new sunshine and sing instead of remaining quietly in the dark of the storm.

Happy Thanksgiving.birds-barn