Apr 30, 2012

Spring Clean


It is time to spring clean at our house. Most times you make a list of items that must be done in your house. Our family makes that same list but for our barn too. Cleaning the barn is one of my favorite things to accomplish. There is nothing better (except maybe fresh mulch in a flower bed) than a clean barn for the animals. We bring in the best barn cleaning crew to help us with the job. Matt and I usually clean the corners and hard to get to spots with pitchforks. Dale (a family friend and the best skid steer operator ever) scoops out all that aromatic organic matter. My dad usually drives the tractor and manure spreader. The kids love barn cleaning day too because this means they can ride in the tractor more than usual.


I mentioned Dale being a great skid steer operator. He can move that machine with the most precision of anyone I know. I am a bit picky and he never disappoints!

Once the manure is scooped out the barn it is then dumped into the manure spreader. This is a great invention that, when activated, automatically spreads all that good stuff out on our pasture. You have to be careful not to apply too much in one area or it could kill the grass instead of fertilizing it.


I would be telling a lie if I said it did not smell. We live in the country and, to me, the smell reminds me of a few things 1.clean barn for animals 2. Cost savings. We do not need to buy fertilizer -- we can use what the animals have generated themselves to put back into our soils. What makes for a smelly couple of days will make our pastures grow for the spring and summer months.

Sometimes farmers get a bad rap when it comes to spreading fertilizers. Some people think the smell is horrible , but to me it just smells like life on the farm.


Apr 26, 2012

What Should you Eat?

I have just had a great opportunity to visit New York City and spend a few days talking to Editors about food, farming and even some political issues facing the farm.


The questions I have heard over and over are about Organic, Local and food safety. I want to break down my thoughts on these issues and I hope it helps you out the next time you go to spend your hard-earned dollars on food. I also hope that you remember that no matter if you buy fresh produce, meat at the market or even canned foods, a Farmer somewhere worked really hard to put that food on your table.

First, food is an important thing for every parent to consider based on the specific values, nutritional needs, and budget of the household. And, while food choices are very important, they can also be very confusing. How can you know that you are feeding your family healthy or nutritious food with all of the marketing gimmicks and farm-related terms that fill the grocery?

I think the easiest way to share what I know is to tell you what I eat and feed my family, based upon my lifetime of involvement with agriculture. We do raise most of our food in the summer. I would say 95% of the time we raise our own meat or I buy direct from the farmer. I do this because I know lots of farmers and I have the freezer space. I also budget more for meat to buy the whole or half of the animal at one time. I understand not everyone has the means or freezer space to do this.

If you want to go above and beyond the grocery store with your food purchases, I think the biggest bang for your buck is by buying your meat locally. This provides a great connection with your food and a great quality product. I have found that especially beef and chicken are hard to beat in terms of cost savings and quality when purchased from a hard working local farmer you know.

I buy all my milk and dairy at this point from the grocery store. I buy the store brand milk 2%. When the kids were smaller I bought Vitamin D. I have been to many dairy farms and those are the hardest working families I know. Large dairy farms, especially, are very clean, cow care is top-notch and they are quite impressive. They milk two and even three times a day and their cows live a wonderful happy life! I have no idea what farm my milk comes from but I have never once worried about what my kids are drinking. Frankly I think kids drinking pop should be a greater concern to the public than concerns about the safety of our milk. There are some small dairies out there, and I occasionally buy milk from there for fun, but it is expensive. It does taste a bit better, but most of the time I go with the better value, and also safe and nutritious store-brand milk.



When fruits and vegetables are not in season I buy from the grocery store. I can honestly say I have never worried about what I put in my grocery cart with regard to these items either. Just be sure to properly wash and prepare your food properly to maximize food safety. It can be really fun to buy your produce when in season from the Local Market, but, when in a hurry, do not fret over a grocery store purchase.

We raise our own eggs, but I do buy them from the grocery on occasion as well. Large poultry farms actually have a number of advantages in terms of food safety over small farms like ours. If you do get eggs from a small farm (which is great) take extra care to avoid eating them uncooked (like my husband eating the cookie dough) and make sure they are cooked properly.
 If you want you and your family to be healthy eat a good mix of food. Go for less processed foods and eat lots of colorful foods. Remember portion control and whole grains! Do not forget to add in a bit of exercise too!

Now, at the grocery you can find all kinds of labels for all kinds of foods. The one I get the most questions about is organic.

Organic

It seems that there are many mothers out there who feel guilty if they are feeding their families anything other than organic. There is no need for this.

Organic is simply a term that describes the way the food was produced, not the end food product itself. Research from USDA has shown there is no nutritional difference in organic verses conventionally produced. There are also no food safety differences between organic and non-organic foods. The ONLY thing organic means is that is was produced following a strict set of production standards outlined at http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop. There are many standards, but organic basically means that the food was produced without the use of chemical pest control, fertilizers for crops. Livestock are not treated with medicine and are fed organically produced feeds.

If these things are important to you, then organic foods are a great option. Do I ever buy organic? Yes and No. To me, I buy whichever is more cost effective at the time I am in the store. I will not pay extra for organic lettuce when I can buy an equally safe and nutritious lettuce for less.

Why does organic cost more? The risks for organic farmers are much greater and production costs can be higher, which is one reason why organic production is a very small portion of our food supply. Organic farmers have a niche market and there is a certain segment of consumers who feel a passion for organically grown food. Go for it! If you can afford it in your budget and it aligns with your family values, then buying organic is a great decision. The bottom line is, all types of agricultural production have pros and cons for the consumer, the environment and for food safety.

Local

First off, Local does not automatically mean organic. Please know the difference. Local can mean whatever you want it to mean. If you want to buy seasonally at the farmers market or right off the farm, go for it! When I have time, I love to visit the farmers market. It is a great experience for the entire family to make that connection. In the warmer months, the farmers market seems to be the in thing to do. Fresh food is typically more nutritious and often of better taste and quality. So if you want the more nutritious food, go with the fresher option.

Of course, this is not always possible in Ohio. So, reminder, do not have guilt if you are in a pinch on time or money and buy apples from the store and not the orchard or if you buy a tomato from the grocery store in January. Not buying local is not a bad thing either.

Food Safety

Every time you take a bite, you are taking a risk, whether it is organic, local or from the grocery. Eating is, and always has been, risky business. But today in the United States we have the safest food supply in the history of the world. Yes, there are certainly problems, but really not all that many. For example, the recent BSE case in California was caught. This cow was never going to enter into our food supply. I am personally glad the media was talking about it. This is a great example of a system that did not fail but thrived! If they were not talking about it, I think I may be a little more concerned. Remember, farmers are consumers too, just like you. They eat what they raise. Like you, our families come first. If our families are eating it, than you can rest assured that it is safe for the consumer.

We have enough worries and fear in our lives. I am here to say you should not fear when it comes to your food. Ask questions, be an educated consumer and take care to use all standard food safety precautions when preparing your food. Be sure to get the whole story, not just what you hear or read in the media. When in doubt, talk to a farmer.

And finally, please do not let people make you feel guilty for whatever educated food decision you make for your family.









Apr 25, 2012

The Big Apple



I am on a very small airplane about to arrive in New York City. I am sitting beside a man who is napping. The lady across the aisle is watching a movie on her I-pad and others have in ear phones. Most seem to be traveling back home to the city or on business. I hear talks of business, college searches and people who look like they do not want to talk to anyone. I wonder how many of them live on a farm? How many of them know where their food comes from? My guess is that I may be the only person who was cleaning out a hen house and trimming sheep hooves before they got on the airplane.

I will be spending a few days in the Big Apple visiting with magazine editors, doing a few radio interviews and talking about Women in Agriculture. I get to have this opportunity due to a fascinating movement called CommonGround. One of our appointments is with “Glamour.” I cannot help but wonder if “Glamour” has ever met with a real live farm mom before? The next few days will defiantly be out of my everyday norm, but I am happy to trade in my muck boots for a pair of city shoes, for a few days anyway. I live a pretty simple life -- one that is extremely hectic but pretty simple compared to life of New Yorker!

Maybe while I am at “Glamour” they will decide this county mom from Baltimore, Ohio needs a NYC Glamour makeover!

Apr 24, 2012

Tuesday EWEsday: Fudge in the Field




Fudge, one of our rams poses for a photo! This is a name that Campbell gave him as soon as she saw him, it has stuck ever since. He is quite happy to be out in the pasture with 17 of our ewes. Right now we are breeding for fall lambs which will be born in September or October. We select which ewes we want bred to what rams based on the characteristics we want to have in lambs. The sheep are out on pasture and can come in the barn if they like. When the weather is nice they are outside most all of the time grazing and enjoying the lush green grass. We rotate pastures every so often so not to overburden the grass. This also helps with parasites. http://sheep.osu.edu/ should be a concern when raising livestock. We have to maintain a worming regiment for our sheep to help keep them healthy and reading to start pouring all their energy into keeping those baby lambs alive and thriving inside. Farmers and Ranchers always have something to worry about!


Gestation of a sheep: 145-150 days

It is common for a ewe (female) to have 1-3 lambs at each birth

Breed: Horned Dorset


Apr 9, 2012

Gun-Ho!

I spent the morning with two of my friends Smith and Wesson!

Always wear your protective eye
and ear ware.

I have never written about guns. I am by no means a firearms expert but I do know that I love to shoot guns. I am not a hunter; I will leave that up to my little sister. I enjoy shooting trap, going to the shooting range and target practice. A few years ago I along with my sister and dad got our licenses to Carry a Concealed Handgun. Sometimes in my line of work I find myself going into vacant homes and sometimes meeting people I do not know. I feel much safer knowing that I have a plan in place if I need to enforce it.
Shooting my new hand gun at an indoor range.


Today I was shooting my new Smith and Wesson 380 hand gun with a built in target laser. We were also shooting one of my dad’s hand guns. It was a family outing with my dad, two brothers and sister. I must say it makes my husband Matt a little nervous that I enjoy fire arms. I think he is just jealous that I am a better shot.

I grew up around guns. My dad has always stressed the importance of gun safety. Yes they can be very dangerous but when used safely it is a great sport or line of defense. When living in the country guns can come in quite handy. There was the time a groundhog was up at our house trying to attack the family dog and how can we forget the ever growing population of coyotes moving in on our livestock.

I hope Campbell and Parker will share our love of guns when they get a bit older. For now they will have to stick to water and Nerf guns!




video

Apr 3, 2012

Time to take it all off!


The day has come to shear the sheep! We do this one time each year. It is a very long day but we always use it as a teachable moment. On an already busy day we had 10 extra children visiting and learning about sheep and wool. All the robust children made the day even more crazy and fun. Campbell was in her element hosting barn tours of her hay fort and the sheep. Parker was maning the tractor and on the prowl for coyotes, this is his new favorite adventure "Coyote Hunting".
The kids play on the hay fort. They were covered in good
clean farm dirt.

We shear the sheep and sell their wool to Mid States Wool Growers. They sort the wool and grade it. Based on its quality it is sold for various end products. Horned Dorsets are a multipurpose breed for meat and wool. Our wool is predominantly used to make carpets.

The wool from each sheep weighs around 6-8lbs  

The sheep are removed from the barn and enter up a small ramp and series of shoots that take them on to a trailer where their wool is shorn off using electric sheep shears. The gentleman who shears the sheep has quite the slick process to safely and efficiently shear the sheep.
The sheep go up the ramp and wait in line
for their turn. They average wait time
is about 3-7 minutes.



Once all the wool is shorn off, the sheep jumps off the trailer and runs back into the barn and then out into the pasture. This whole process does not hurt the sheep. At times it may be a little awkward, this only occurs once a year. Sometimes they do get a scratch but this is one of the reasons we use a gentleman who shears sheep all the time. He is very good and very careful with the sheep.

This ewe waits to be sheared next. She has done this a few times,
she is a pro!












This is actually more hard on the person
doing the shearing than the sheep.



The kids and the dog "Clay" are visiting in the pasture.



Did you know that sheep can get a sun burn? Their skin
has been covered up all year with wool, you have to be careful
they do not get a sheep sun burn! Campbell and Parker think
we should have applied sun screen on all the sheep.

The wool contains natural oil which you may find in many of your hand lotions and creams. Lanolin is a wonderful natural product that the sheep produces in their wool.