The Winter That Won’t End

Keeping our cows and calves safe and healthy in the cold and snow

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It’s snowing AGAIN here at Sawyer Land & Cattle in Central Kansas. It’s been years since we’ve dealt with this much snow in one winter, but Mother Nature has decided that we need to live like Canadians (no insult to those north of the border).

The cold wouldn’t be so alarming but winter is also the time we welcome new baby calves to the farm. Between the first of January and end of March, our mother cows will deliver a couple hundred baby calves, and it’s our job to make sure they are safe, healthy and, most importantly, warm and dry. Cows have, for centuries, endured the cold and snow so they are built to endure this weather, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help make winter a little more bearable.

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A cow’s instincts work well in this weather. As soon as a mother delivers a new calf she begins licking the calf dry and encouraging it to get up and suck. If all of that happens within the first few hours of birth, the calf’s chances of survival are good. If the calf fails to get up or the mother never gets the calf dry and fed then the cold can quickly take over. It’s our job to ensure our mother cows are doing their job – and thankfully we have a herd of great moms.

This year we created a fully enclosed space in our barn for our first-time mothers to deliver. This is an extra step to further protect our novice moms and keep them out of the elements while they figure out this new thing called motherhood.

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Two new momma cows and a baby calf enjoy the comforts of our enclosed calving barn.

For cows in our pastures, we provide windbreaks (in the form of trees or buildings) and dry straw to help protect the cows from the wind, moisture and cold ground.

The final piece of keeping our ladies and babies safe and healthy during winter weather is proper nutrition. Cows – like people- produce their own body heat to keep warm – fun fact, a cow with snow on her back is warmer than a cow with melted snow – but that takes a lot of energy and calories. We feed our cows a grain-based, energy-rich diet that provides them the calories to grow a baby calf and keep themselves warm. That means we’re on meal duty 7-days a week, rain or shine!

The farmer hubs and his father make the rounds and check on every cow on the farm at least once a day. Those momma cows we know are due to deliver anytime are checked on multiple times a day. We aim to interfere in the natural birthing process as little as possible but are always ready and willing to step in when needed. Winter is busy on our farm, but a few inches of snow or ice means extra work and attention for our cows is necessary – but most definitely worth it.

A Mothers Guide to Calving

Pairs at home
Every year a group of mother cows and their new calves reside in the pasture right outside our front door. It’s pretty neat to wake up and see the mothers eating and babies running and playing with one another.

We are about a month into our 2018 calving season and I am loving all the new faces on the farm. Our first baby calves starting arriving in early January and will continue through March. Everyone understands the basics of pregnancy and birth, but here are a few details on the who calving process I know my fellow mother friends will appreciate.

  1. Cows have the same gestational period as humans. Cows and people carry their unborn for 40 weeks or 9 months. Calves can be born early and easily survive, but if they come too early they will often suffer from undeveloped systems and fragile health. But with a little extra care and a watchful eye, these preemies usually end up just fine. A full-term calf will weigh somewhere around 70 pounds at birth, and that number jumps to about 85 pounds for a calf from a mother who has previously given birth. (Why the increase? Cows usually have their first calf at age two and will continue to grow so that they have a larger frame and more room to carry a larger calf once they hit 3 years of age.)
  2. Calves receive all nutrients from their mother. Be it in the womb or during the first months of their lives, calves subsist exclusively on the nutrients delivered through their mother’s milk. That means we, as the farmers, must provide the mother with a nutrient-dense, well-rounded diet. Because these mothers’ third trimester occurs in the late fall and winter months, when grass is more scarce, we provide supplemental hay, distillers (made from corn during the ethanol production process) and grain pellets to ensure they are receiving enough protein and carbs. We will continue them on this diet through the spring since they will need the extra calories for nursing. Just like humans, a mother cow’s milk is the only food a baby calf needs for the first six months of their life. They can and often do try to eat grass or hay during that time but their digestive systems simply are not mature enough to process those items. By the fall they will have transitioned to a diet of grass supplemented by mother’s milk. P.S. Calves are born with teeth – ouch!
  3. Birthing is a natural process, but a little help is sometimes needed. For centuries humans gave birth with little to no medical assistance. Babies were born at home with a doctor no where to be found. The same is true for cows. However, just like in humans, things don’t always go as planned. Our first time mother cows are called heifers and those ladies require the most oversight. My husband and his father will take turns checking on our heifers every four hours or so around the clock to ensure everyone is doing well. But it’s not uncommon to have to pull a calf from a mother who is struggling or is just worn out, and on the rare occasion a veterinarian will be called out to perform a c-section. A mother cow will then need to begin licking her calf clean and encouraging the calf to stand and drink. This should all happen in the first few hours after birth. If it doesn’t we will intervene.
  4. Daycare is a thing. If you drive by a pasture or field with mother cows and baby calves, you’ll often find one mother with a group of calves. No she didn’t have quadruplets, she’s just the designated babysitter for that day. Mother cows work together to watch over baby calves because the calves will initially spend most of their time sleeping or lounging in the sun. However, just like humans, a baby calf and mother will recognize one another by scent and sound. A baby knows when it’s his or her mother calling for lunch.
  5. Mothers Rock. Most of us humans would earn passing grades on mothering but I’m gonna guess that our mother cows would exceed us in parenting abilities. Remember, mother cows do not have hubbies to lean on when caring for these babies, they are on their own. But they do an amazing job of feeding cleaning and watching over their calves. They will tuck the babies away under shelter or in a hedge row when the weather gets crummy and will stand guard when prey like coyotes or wolves attempt to attack the younger members of the herd. As I noted before, the mother cows work together – that’s where we get the phrase herd mentality – to protect one another and their young. That strong maternal instinct makes our jobs so much easier and allows us to keep watch but not have to be present every moment of the day. In fact, a vast majority of our mother cows will give birth and raise their calf with little to no intervention from us. And that’s the way we prefer it. When selecting bulls and cows for our cow herd, we look for maternal instincts – yes some breeds of cattle are considered more maternal than others – strong udders and well built mother cows.

There is so much more cool stuff I could share about our mother cows but I’ll leave it at this for now. Have a question, shoot me an email or leave your questions in the comments section. I’ll be sure to follow up and address it ASAP.

5 Reasons To Love a Farmer

It’s Valentine’s Day so while it is not the only day to express my love for my Farmer, it’s a good day to remind others why it’s great to have a Farmer for a valentine. I’ll admit, being married to a farmer is never easy, but there are so many great parts of being a farm wife, living the farm life and waking up with a farmer each morning.

1. They are care takers: Before we had kids, my husband was already taking care of babies, animals and living things all around our farm. I appreciated his willingness to stay up all night with a newborn calf or slosh through mud to help a mother cow that was having trouble giving birth. He showed me early and often he knew how to care for others.

2. They drive big tractors: While the appeal of a tractor has diminished slightly over the years, the idea that my husband gets to command big trucks, huge tractors and even bigger combines is always something worth bragging about. The best part is they all come with buddy seats so there is always room for me to hitch a ride (and maybe even enjoy a date night in the field).

3. They don’t have an 8-5 gig: I always say my husband is flexible but not always available. He doesn’t report to an office and doesn’t punch a time clock which means he can get away from the farm when he needs or wants. It’s not always that simple but if there is something I want him to join me for or need him to attend to, there’s no asking the boss for vacation time.

4. They can fix anything: My husband may not be as skilled in the “fixin” department as others but he usually has the tool, trick or duct tape to jimmy rig about anything you need. The one thing he can’t do – patch the holes in his jeans or replace the buttons on his shirts. I’m guessing sewing is one skill he won’t be picking up anytime soon.

5. They have big hearts: The last but certainly not least reason I love being married to a farmer is their big hearts, kind souls and Midwest manners that make them gentleman and all around great guys. Most of my husband’s farmer friends are great husbands and fathers as well. Farmers grew up learning the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to pitch in when it’s needed. Farmers are some of the best people you’ll get a chance to meet – as long as you don’t mind a little mud on their shoes.

Want to reach more about life with a farmer hubs, check out some of these great blogs by fellow farm wives:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jenny-dewey-rohrich/15-real-reasons-to-date-a_b_4688680.html

https://wfbf.com/blogs/nothing-like-a-farmers-love/

https://www.gracegardenandhomestead.com/how-to-love-a-farmer/

Taking a Note From the Trump Campaign

Author’s Note: I must preface this article by emphasizing that this is in no way an endorsement of Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency. It is, however, a study of his ability to attract and ignite new voters.

In July 2015, Trump declared his candidacy for president of the United States while at the same time taking his first step into the country’s political sandbox. He has gone from New York businessman to presumptive GOP presidential nominee in less than a year, and seemingly broken every campaign rule along the way.

Now I am by no means an advocate for many of the tactics Trump has used to attract and retain his millions of loyal followers, but as a communications instructor and marketing professional, I cannot help but take note of his messaging success.

We in agriculture all seem to understand the goal, but too many consumers are still unaware of our mission and unwilling to listen to our point of view. Maybe it’s time we reassess how we conduct our own campaigns and take a few cues from the man who has made himself a household name.

The following are my five takeaways from Trump’s political playbook that I believe can help us in agriculture continue to connect with consumers and activists:

1. Connect with their issues. Trump has expanded the tent of the Republican Party by speaking to voters who previously felt abandoned and ignored. He specifically calls out the obstacles and difficulties people face and at the same time draws in voters who previously felt abandoned by the party and ignored during conversations.

As advocates, we must lead with empathy and meet consumers where they stand. It’s not about finger-pointing and name-calling but finding common ground and mutual understanding.

2. Find new faces. Trump’s ability to step outside of the traditional GOP talking points and policy stances has enabled him connect with millions of people who previously never felt embraced by the party and political system. These legions of new voters are now part of the conversation and the Republican electorate.

Many agriculture advocates can tell you which mommy bloggers or movie stars are anti-GMO or have spoken out against animal agriculture, but have no clue what their neighbor thinks about pesticide use and organic produce. Sadly, I’m guilty as charged. I often overlook the people in my daily orbit as I reach to connect with those outliers. Our conversations must start at home and travel with us to everyone we encounter.

3. Find your voice. In a sea of politically correct speech and party-approved talking points, Trump quickly rose to the top with his brash yet simplistic speeches and rallies. He has no stump speech he repeats at each rally or acronym-filled policy musings to fill the time. Instead he uses his own unique form of speech to simplify his message and drive home his thoughts.

Every one of us fighting for the future of agriculture has a unique story to tell. While we all have common interests and goals, our voices and approaches can and should remain our own. Use your own viewpoints and beliefs to connect with voters. It may not look or sound the same as the farmer next door, and that’s OK.

4. Always be willing to talk. Many have blamed the media for Trump’s rapid success, claiming their willingness to give him free air time and publicity has given him a clear advantage over others running for office.

Trump’s amazing amount of media coverage is largely the result of his willingness to speak with journalists anytime and anywhere. A reporter for The New York Times Magazine recently wrote a profile on Trump and revealed that Trump’s press secretary often travels with him and will simply hand the phone to Trump when a reporter calls asking for an interview. No games, appointments or worrying about the who and what. Trump simply takes the call and talks.

Few are comfortable enough to speak with reporters or members of the media at a moment’s notice, but we can all make ourselves more approachable and available. Take every opportunity to connect with reporters and tell your story, because if you don’t, someone else will. And it may not be the story you want told.

5. Bad hair, don’t care. Trump has risen to fame despite a head of hair that has been the butt of political jokes this entire election cycle. He owns his looks and doesn’t let a little comb-over get in his way. It’s part of his character and over-the-top persona.

None of us is perfect and we rarely look camera-ready, but that that shouldn’t prevent us from stepping up and stepping out. We’re all human. We all have unique characteristics that endear us to one another. We shouldn’t let our waistline or wrinkles prevent us from speaking out and sharing our story.

When we allow our imperfections to shine through, consumers will see that we are also just moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, trying to do our part to provide quality food for our families and theirs.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Kansas AgLand, published by The Hutchinson News. 

Generations of Good Genes

June Calf Max for Beef Empire Show
Max is one of my son’s steers. He’s a good looking young man and will represent our farm in the Beef Empire Day steer contest.

When Derek and I were newly married, I accompanied him to the sale barn. He was selling some cow-calf pairs and then a lone calf that has lost its mother. I hated to see the calf sold so I made a deal with Derek that if it didn’t bring more than $200, I was going to buy it from him.

Two hours later, we were headed home with a calf in tow 🙂 Fast forward a few years and this bottle calf is now a mother cow named Jo. She’s a great cow and has produced three calves: two heifers and a steer.

Jo happened to have her first heifer calf the year our oldest son, Evan, was born. We decided this lady would become Evan’s first cow – in what we hoped would become a growing cow herd. The cow, which I named June grew to become another great cow and gave birth to a steer last spring that my son named Max. Max is a good looking young man who is now a full grown steer.

This spring, after my husband and I welcomed our second son, Owen, Jo had another heifer calf. We named her Daisy. Meanwhile Evan welcomed a second heifer to his herd, we settled on the name Sally – after Lightening McQueen’s girlfriend in the movie Cars.

Not only are we teaching our sons about animal car and the responsibility of ownership, we are building them a cow herd that will pay dividends for years to come. Ask Evan about his cows and he’s happy to tell you all about them. Owen’s a little young to understand but we hope that he too will grow to love our cows and way of life.

This year, Derek decided to enter Max in the Beef Empire Days steer show. It’s pretty cool to see one calf make such an impact on our farm and family. Jo will be in our herd for many more years and will, fingers crossed, continue to mother great calves. And with any luck June and Daisy will follow in Jo’s footsteps and help our sons continue to grow their herds.

Farming and ranching is a family business and we doing what we can to make sure our way of life continues onto the 5th generation.

 

The Only Option is to Help

Antibiotic use in animals has again made headlines as another national restaurant chain announces plans to move to serving only antibiotic-free animal products.

The change was the result of pressure from outside lobbyist organizations with a mission to discontinue the use of all antibiotics in animals. What’s disappointing is the restaurant chain’s lack of attention to facts, science and the people who actually raise the animals. Fear and misinformation again won, leaving farm animals as the ultimate victims.

My husband and I raise Angus cattle on our fourth-generation family farm in Central Kansas. We believe in the humane treatment of all of our animals and therefore use antibiotics in our animals on an as-needed basis to cure an illness and help the animal return to full health.

Antibiotics are not our first line of defense against sickness in our animals but they do allow us a resource to help the animal overcome illness, fatigue and stress. Without the ability to use antibiotics, we would be forced to watch innocent animals die from basic, treatable conditions.

We keep records of all uses of antibiotics to ensure the withdraw period has passed before the animal enters the food system. However, most of our animals remain on our farm long after the antibiotics are administered.

What most consumers don’t realize is that all beef sold in grocery stores and used in restaurants is antibiotic free and tested, by the USDA, for antibiotic residue before leaving the processing plant. The standards are strict and farmers and ranchers do everything they can to ensure the beef enjoyed by consumers is healthy and safe.

Everything we do is to protect and support the health and welfare of our animals. We don’t want to have to doctor sick animals so we do everything we can to ensure their health and wellbeing. But when we do find one of our animals is not feeling well, it is our duty to return them to health. That’s part of being good stewards of our animals and your food.

Beware The Comment Section

I did it to myself. I clicked a link for an article bad-mouthing agriculture authored by a publication that has never been friendly to farmers But as a livestock owner, mother and concerned citizen, I wanted and needed to see what this group was saying about antibiotic use in livestock.

Turns out it was nothing new. The same old finger-pointing and miss-representation of the issue and the fact. And I could have stopped there. Opting to move on and keep my opinions to myself. But I did it. I kept scrolling . . . right down to the comment section.

I hadn’t commented on an article in a while. And I quickly remembered why. The section should come with a warning: “Enter at your own risk. Reading comments can lead to high blood pressure, headaches and anxiety.”

In today’s digital world, the comment section of any online article has become a digital playground dominated by a pack of demeaning and malicious activists with no intentions of learning from the other side.

As a agriculture advocate, it is my job and passion to work with others to explain the other side of the issue and exchange thoughts, ideas and concerns. I aim for a dialogue and honest, respectable conversation focused on the issue, not the person.

It didn’t take long for the hate to find me. After commenting on a few errors in the article, I found myself bombarded by two brash and vile readers with no limits and no filter.

A self-described 51-year-old vegan triathlete expressed her delight in the idea of my drinking myself to death. “We would all be happier,” she wrote. What?!? Hiding behind a screen name and avatar, she asked no questions and quickly moved to name calling and insulting. Apparently she’s not a fan of meat-eaters and livestock producers. It was spectacular how childish an adult could act when protected by a computer screen and anonymity.

A second gentleman asked if he could eat my child if he got hungry – because that was akin to me raising cattle for beef. I simply had not words. It was obvious they were looking for a fight – not a conversation.

So with elevated blood pressure and a new opinion of humanity, I shut my computer and crawled into bed wondering how we got to this.

When did it become acceptable for adults to name call and belittle people with opposing views? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, I follow politics and sports. But I never realized the level of hatred, immaturity and loathsome behavior some people are willing to stoop to over a simple disagreement in dietary choices.

There are many things in this world I don’t agree with but I would never and could never use the language I witnessed in the comment section. This world is dealing with major, complex issues. Wars are raging in the Middle East, displacing millions. African nations are killing their own people and human trafficking is rampant around the globe. Ask a victim of any of those situations and they’ll tell you they don’t care what they eat – they just hope to live to see their next meal.

The growth and efficiency of American agriculture has allowed for a huge diversity in products available to consumers. The ability to choose should be heralded as a benefit of living in America, the land of the free. But choice is instead the catalyst for online, verbal warfare. Americans have the freedom to consume a plant-only or gluten-free diet. They can opt for grass-fed over grain-finished beef and choose locally sourced over imported produce. It’s the result of farmers and ranchers working hard to meet growing consumer demands. Most countries and people have only one choice and sometimes that choice is whether to eat or allow someone else to have the meal. We are blessed beyond belief and we should be thankful.

So to the lady who wishes death upon me and to the gentleman who thinks I’m an idiot a**hole, I hope you enjoy your next meal and I hope you give thanks for the ability to eat three meals a day. It something we should never take for granted. And if you ever have questions or concerns about your food. Ask a farmer or come visit. I’ll be happy to show you around. And I pray you find a more constructive use of your time, energy and passion.

Antibiotics Explained

In the past few days, Costco and McDonalds have both announced a change to antibiotic free meats in their stores and restaurants. It all sounds good to consumers and has – as both companies had hoped – generated ample headlines and media buzz.

Spokespersons for both companies noted that they would no longer be selling meat from animals treated with “shared-use” antibiotics, meaning antibiotics used on both humans and animals. While most consumers have been lead to believe that all antibiotics are shared-use, the truth is nearly three-fourth of all antibiotics used in animals are never or rarely prescribed for humans.

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The above information and infographic is from The Beef Checkoff. You can find more information about all beef products on the group’s website (www.MyBeefCheckoff.com) and Facebook page.

We use antibiotics in our cattle but only on an as-needed basis. We also document all uses of antibiotics to ensure a sick animal never enters the food supply. Over the years we have added several preventative measure to keep sickness and infection at bay. That includes more open-space calving – meaning we will let the mothers deliver their babies in the open pasture instead of keeping her in the barn to deliver. We also treat sick calves with electrolytes to re-energize the body and have purchased several warming stations to help cold calves restore their normal body temperature and re-gain their strength.

We don’t want to have to doctor sick calves so we do everything we can to ensure their health and well-being. But when we do find one of our calves not feeling well, it is our duty to return them to health. That’s part of being good stewards of our animals and your food.

Antibiotics In Our Animals

These calves are not feeling so well. Given their young age, only a few days of sickness can lead to death. We pay close attention to all our animals and when a calf is showing signs of illness- like lowered ears (bottom picture) or scours (diarrhea in calves, top picture) – we give them a place in the barn and do everything we can to nurse them back to health. That includes administering antibiotics. It’s not the only took in our toolkit but sometimes its the most powerful and key to health.

Some consumers want to deprive ranchers the ability to use antibiotics in their animals. That would basically mean we would have to watch our sick calves die from regular and treatable conditions. We practice the responsible use of antibiotics in our animals and record all uses so that sick animals never enter the food supply.

This little girl is not feeling well. She has scours - which is basically diarrhea - and has been under close watch and care for about a day now.
This little girl is not feeling well. She has scours – which is basically diarrhea – and has been under close watch and care for about a day now.

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A Little Down Time

For those farming only crops, the end is in sight. Most rushed to get the last fields cut before the season’s first snowfall. Those that didn’t make it have only days – maybe hours – left in the field before a slowdown for the holidays and winter chill.

But farmers who raise crops and cattle aren’t winding down for the winter. They’re simply taking a break and catching their breath before winter moves in for good.

My husband and his father manage not only our crops but our growing Angus cow herd. Our cows have returned home from a summer of grazing and will be delivering calves starting in January. A calving season typically lasts three months so the men will be on calf watch until nearly April.

Between now and New Years Day, my husband will keep himself busy hauling water to our cows grazing in our picked corn and milo fields, vaccinating and tagging heifers and steers as they arrive to our farm and organizing feed sources for the long winter ahead.

The mother cows are in their final months of pregnancy with their calves so nutrition and proper medical care – if necessary – is essential. As 2015 approaches, all of our animals will be moved to more secure calving areas that provide protection from the wind and snow. The guys will make daily trips to the fields and facilities to check on each animal and when calves start arriving those trips will become hourly visits to ensure each new calf is up, active and nursing.

The work of a cattle farmer is never done and as some farmers settle in for a winter of maintenance and meetings, my husband and others will be busy battling the cold to care for our cows and their newborn calves.