Monday, March 11, 2013

Week 21 (February 4, 2013)

I started Week 21 on Tuesday by heading to Paradox Farm by Battle Lake Minnesota.  I know I have a lot of friends from Wisconsin who think they live in God's Country but I tell you what, the area around Battle Lake also has a claim to that title.  The first thing I did when I got to the farm was to head down to the Winter Greenhouse to see how things looked.  Which I would have to say looked pretty good.  There was an abundant supply of salad greens growing which we later enjoyed for lunch.  There were also trays of fodder to be enjoyed by the cows, goats and chickens.

Winter Green House trays of salad greens

New trays of salad greens being started
 Next task was to sample some of the various bales of hay for nutritional content.  The process is a lot like taking soil borings when sampling soils in engineering.

Taking a core sample from a bale of hay to test nutritional content

You mix three representative cores in bag
Then randomly grab a sample to send to the lab. 

After the sampling the hay we cleaned seed for sprouting for fodder and then I had an opportunity to show off my highly overrated barn cleaning skills.  Here I am cleaning out the used bedding from the chicken coop.

Even more fun than shoveling the bedding out of the coop was
driving the skidsteer to spread the bedding out in the pasture.

 Then it was back to the greenhouse to start sprouting some new trays of fodder.

Trays of fodder at various stages of maturity.
The dairy goats really like the fodder as did the cows and chickens
On Wednesday morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to return to the Back 9 Ranch.  There the owner Steve let me tag along while they completed morning chores feeding the 800 plus head of cattle they were raising on the ranch.  The Back 9 Ranch was mentioned in my Week 10 post, when we were doing pregnancy checks with Dr. Prieve.  Wednesday's visit allowed me to observe how their operation works in the winter.  Steve the owner was a wealth of information.  Everything he was doing had a purpose.  The mistake I made with this visit was that I did not bring my notebook with to record the knowledge Steve was imparting on me.  When Dr. Wika reads this post and finds that out it will probably result in a grad deduction.  Observation of your surroundings is a common theme in all of the SFP program classes.  I did however take some photos and video of the morning.  Also, even though my memory is fading in my old age I do remember much of the visit as it was very interesting.
Feeding TMR to feed bunk

These cattle are being fattened up in the feedlot for market.  The process is also called finishing.  They are being fed a TMR which stands for Total Mixed Ration.  The truck has a built in scale and mixer, so they can get each component of the feed ration to the exact proportion needed to provide the nutrition needed to finish the cattle for market.  The feed ration consists primarily of beet pulp (which is a byproduct of the sugar beet industry) and distillers grain (which is what is left from corn after making ethanol).

Our next stop was at one of the fields where they were out wintering cattle.  Last year this field was a corn field, that Steve used for crop residue grazing on the corn stocks to extend his grazing season.  Now he has the field divided into two paddocks on which he alternates feeding the feed ration consisting of chopped hay (see video) and a separate area of sugar beet pulp.  They vary the location where the the feed is placed each day in each paddock to better distribute the manure on the field.  Then they also rotate paddocks every other day.  The system is similar to rolling out bales of hay in the winter or bale grazing (although it probably has better manure distribution than bale grazing).  When the truck came to lay out the beet pulp, he drove to the far end of the field and it was hilarious watching the cattle gallop at top speed after the truck.  They really like the sweet taste of the sugar beets.

Feeding ground hay

Feeding sugar beet  pulp

As exciting as the visit to Back 9 was Thursday got even better with yet another bonus free lecture from Dr. Prieve.  This one was on ruminant anatomy, specifically the cows reproductive system.  For this lecture we dissected a cow uterus and also got to learn about and practice artificial insemination referred to as AI).

working on a cow uterus
discovered a calf embryo

AI proved to not be an easy task
We finished up the week with Sociology of Ag., Grass Based Livestock Systems and Farm Marketing and Business.  All of which will have to wait for a future post.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Week 20 (January 28, 2013)

This week started on Wednesday with attending the Study Group Session for our Sociology of Agriculture class.  In the study group we typically discuss the previous weeks assignments and go over the reading questions associated with each reading assignment.  This gives a person an opportunity to compare and discuss answers with other classmates as well as to get/understand answers to questions that a person doesn't understand.

 After the study group we had the opportunity for a bonus lecture by Dr. Prieve on animal reproduction (primarily horses), as we were allowed to sit in on his Equine Class lecture on horse reproduction.  The lecture covered the reproductive anatomy of the brood mare (which was review for the Equine students), reproductive seasonality (various phases of equine reproductive cycle, the physiology behind seasonality) and the main emphasis of the lecture, the Estrous Cycle of the brood mare.  A good understanding of the "estrous cycle" of an animal is very important when breeding animals and especially important if you are using "artificial insemination" (AI) to breed your animals.  You need to know when an animal is in heat and the timing for getting them bred.  In case you're interested M-State Fergus Falls has a first class Equine Science Program in which you can receive a 1-yr diploma or a 2-yr associates degree.  The college partners with the nearby Red Horse Ranch which provides students access to their arena, stables and 225 acres of riding trails and facilities.

On Thursday in our "Grass Based Livestock Class" we continued learning about pasture and forage management, including a discussion on why a rancher might want to use Rotational Grazing (i.e. sward health - improved soil health, animal health - reduced parasite exposure, nutrient cycling, reduced inputs, better forage utilization, lower start-up costs, higher net return, reduced feed costs, lower manure handling costs, aesthetics (people like seeing animals grazing in nice pasture).   Then we discussed some techniques for dealing with the summer slump (think dog days of summer) and season extension to minimize costs associated with and need to feed storage crops.

The "Grass Based Livestock Class" is every Thursday from 11:00 am until 4:30 or 5:00 pm, so a lot is covered each class period.  Today we also had a lecture on ruminant anatomy,digestion, nutrition and health from Dr. Prieve. This lecture built on our free bonus lecture from Wednesday afternoon.  Yes, all of this is on our February 14, 2013 Midterm Exam.  Everybody always says a cow (or ruminant) has 4-stomachs.  What they actually have are 4-compartments to their stomach.  The reticulum, the rumen, tha omasum and the abomasum, which are laid out as shown in the previous figure.  If you are wondering what those organs actually look like here are some photos from class last fall when we butchered some sheep.



Small intestine

Spiral Colon or Large intestine 

 And that was it for Thursday.  On Friday in our Sociology of Agriculture class we started with a quiz on the weeks reading assignment from our textbook "The Sociology of Food and Agriculture" by Michael Carolan. This is an upper division college level book, well written, very well documented and organized.  The class and the book are all about how food and agriculture interrelates with community, individuals, industrial agriculture, big business, small business, politics, the environment, poverty, money and power at the local, regional, state, national and international levels.  We delve into what motivates individuals and corporations to pursue various agriculture related activities and what have been the impacts of those activities (i.e GMO plants, control of the seed market, restrictions on saving seed).  I do not recall ever having one sociology class while going to engineering school.  Needless to say comprehending everything covered in this class has been a stretch and not always a comfortable one.  I do believe in the end that the effort will be worth it as I expect I will have a better understanding of how our whole food system works and what motivates people, corporations and governments to make the decisions they do.  As well as an understanding of the consequences of those decisions, which should help in making better policy decisions.

Fridays finish up with our Farm Marketing and Business Planning Class in which we are currently working on  developing a business and marketing plan for our chosen business enterprise.  However, this post is getting long so the more on this class will have to wait until a future date.

One more item I just remembered that we did this week and that was attending the annual meeting of the Sustainable Farming Association's Central Chapter.  The following is an excerpt from the paper I wrote on my attendance of this conference:

            On Saturday, February 2, 2013, I (along with an estimated 70 other people) attended the 2013 Annual Meeting & Workshops of the Central Chapter of the Sustainable Farming Association (SFA).  The event was hosted by the Sustainable Food Production Program at M-State Fergus Falls and held in the colleges Legacy Hall.  The primary purpose of the event was for the chapter to hold its annual meeting and nominate new board members to replace those whose terms were expiring.  Secondary purposes of the meeting were to provide educational opportunities, networking and opportunities to socialize with other like-minded people.  A third priority was to share a very tasty lunch catered by Pat Crepps of Boyum Farms while being serenaded by music of a new up-and coming group the One Note Revolution.  The caterer and all band members are current students or graduates of the Sustainable Food Production Program.
            The published mission statement of the Sustainable Farming Association is this “The Sustainable Farming Association supports the development and enhancement of sustainable farming systems through farmer-to-farmer networking, innovation, demonstration, and education”.  This event accomplished the SFA mission for those in attendance.  The approximately 70 attendees consisted of a wide range of ages from less than a year old to some well into their 70’s.  There was also a wide range of farming experience and enterprises.  Those enterprises varied from authors, to berry growers, to dairy and beef farmers to honey producers.
            The first educational seminar I attended was the panel discussion on “Farm to Restaurant”.  The panel members included; Mike Stine from Stonebridge Beef; Chef Matt Jensen with Knute-Nelson (a retirement home in Alexandria); Arlene Jones from the Farm on St. Mathias and Sprout Minnesota; and Beth Dooley a noted food author with several published books.  All of the panel members told of their experiences in either purchasing or providing food for restaurants, schools, and retirement homes.  Of these, the one I found most interesting and surprising was that told by Chef Matt.  He first told about purposely purchasing local food for the restaurants he had worked and why?  then he told about his current job with the Knute-Nelson Retirement Home in Alexandria Minnesota.  He talked about how the Home sought him out to implement their idea of creating a menu for residents based almost entirely on locally grown foods for promoting their idea of “Fresh is Best” for foods and their residents.  He also explained how much the residents enjoyed the local foods as it reminded them of how they ate growing up.  Chef Matt finished up with some of their future plans for opening a restaurant on the campus and expanding into delivery of local foods to those receiving in home care.