Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hitching up the Honey Wagon

It's that season again!!

While most people get excited for baseball, cutting grass, and washing cars again, farmers are changing oil, and trying to get spring field work done.  In the case of this year, they just want to get STARTED.  In my part of the country, the fields have been too cold to plant, too wet to till, and not solid enough to pull a manure spreader across.  As the ground continues warming up and becoming more solid (less muddy) the livestock producers are eager to get in their fields because they are getting to be late on hauling manure. 

Individual practices vary by farm, and as I work on a total no-till farm, I will discuss this as we operate.  Before we can get corn planted, there are a lot of buildings that need manure hauled.  After manure is hauled, we spray burn-down on cover crops, and then finally start putting seed in the ground. 

Manure smells bad, annoys travelers and neighbors, and puts slow moving traffic on the road.  Why do we have to do things the way we do?  Great question!  Each field that has manure hauled on it is required to have soil tests pulled once every few years.  Depending on how the soil tests come back,
farmers have to plan a strategy to get rid of a ton of manure.  This is done more strategically than you may think.  Some farmers, in efforts to save time like to stay as close to the manure storage (hog house, lagoon, turkey house, feedlot, etc.) as they can.  What they have learned over time  is that to truly harness the nutrient value of "all that 'crap'" we have to view it as a nutrient source rather than a waste product. One farmer I know to has figured a nutrient value on his hogs manure at nearly $50 an acre.  This means Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, and Potash that they don't have to buy elsewhere. 

Personally, hauling manure is one of my favorite jobs on the farm ("eww" is the typical response).  There's not a much more relaxing job than five minutes loading a tank, driving to the field, finding where you stopped last, five minutes or so to unload, and the trip back.  It's not the best smelling job, and you may walk away with some "mud" splattered on you...  I enjoy it... It's peaceful I suppose. 

Think of it this way.  Driving through the country right now may smell absolutely horrid (especially in the poultry-heavy areas of our county).  What you need to look at more importantly, is the sustainability aspect of it all.  Farmers raise livestock, use the manure to fertilize fields, grow feed crops in those fields, and continue the cycle.  Animal ag in this sense is a very circular business.

Next time you see that "honey wagon" on the road, just breathe through your mouth, and take your time because what he or she is carrying is something you really don't want to be reckless around and cause an accident.  Manure doesn't do any favors for car paint...

Have a great day and be sure to let me know if you want to hear about any topics in future blogs!
sebenkam@purdue.edu
@ebenkamp2013 on Twitter
Life of a Future Farmer on Facebook

Photo courtesy of Gilmer Dairy Farm and Will Gilmer.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Miss Peggy Sue and You




This title must have made you wonder if I have lost it!  Well, fortunately I haven't.

I want to talk about one of my buddies, and she's pink!  Just like most people that live/work on farms, I too have one little critter that I take a special interest in.  Okay, she's not very small.  She's about a two year old sow that I, for some reason or other, just cant resist!

Now, why did this sow get a name and many of them don't?  Well, for the most part I was bored and "Peggy" rhymes with "piggy" (real creative, I know!).  This is actually "Peggy II" since Peggy I went to see Louie at the hog market back in the fall.

When I go to visit the farm, or work if you want to call it that, one of my first stops (after dipping my boots in a foot bath for biosecurity reasons) is the sow building.  One of my responsibilities since I started helping on the farm was to help care for the breeding hogs.  There are around 150 of them on the farm, and I always have one that's a favorite.  This is usually because she is the one that doesn't bark at me when I bring the feed cart down the aisle, but rather just looks up at me and patiently waits while I bring breakfast.

What's so special about sows that is different with market hogs?  At the farm, the breeding livestock come from a high-quality breeding stock breeder (tongue twister much?).  Sows will usually stay on the farm two to three years, and farrow (have piglets) twice a year.  They come to the farm about six months old, and then will usually breed in the next couple months.  Sows are pregnant for 114 days (three months, three weeks, three days is how its taught) and then have piglets.  They move into a "farrowing house" and are then put in individual pens like the one you see above with plenty of space to move around, warm straw to sleep on, feed every morning, fresh straw every morning, and a section where the piglets can lay under a heat lamp and stay warm when they are not nursing.  Piglets are very heat sensitive when they are born, so they are kept in buildings where climate is closely monitored.  After six weeks in the farrowing house, the sows go to a different building where they have outside access, and are put on a feed ration to help them put weight back on after six weeks of nursing.  Piglets go to the nursery at this time, and are put in group pens with other sows' piglets.  All pigs are well monitored for their health and well-being.

Peggy and the other pigs are raised in a way to provide a safe, nutritious, and healthy source of pork to consumers across the nation!  Yes, contrary to what some will say, farmers really care about what you eat, since it has their name on it. 

(sorry, this showed up sideways)

As we wrap up National Agriculture Week, I felt that I could share with you about one of my pink friends, since agriculture is, you could say, a huge part of her life! 

As you go on, think of Miss Peggy next time you are eating pork products.  She helped those get to your table!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

So, Are You a Farmer?

There are some questions I get pretty commonly, and this is one I want to address today.  "So, are you a farmer?"  Well, what's your definition of a farmer, and we will go from there.

I have worked for a farmer, raising corn, beans, wheat, rye, and pigs, and this will be my fourth summer with him.  What makes someone a farmer?  Does that mean you own the land?  You're the one that plants and harvests the fields?  You get the check when crops are sold?  You pay the bills?  You care for the livestock?  If you ask me if I'm a farmer, I will say yes. 

Why?

I don't own the land, a single seed or pig, any of the equipment, and I don't pay the bills.  What makes me a farmer then?  When I'm at home and can work, my alarm goes off at 5:30, I get up, and head to the farm.  No matter the season, I have pigs to feed, feed to grind, and other tasks to do.  Depending on the time of year, we may have crops to either get in or out of the ground, fertilizer to put down, manure to haul, pigs to sell, and there is always something that needs fixed.  Do I look at this as a job?  Not a chance.  What is it then?  It's farming in America.  You can call it work, by definition of the word, but it's a labor of love for me.  Most farmers wouldn't be there if it wasn't.  I do this because I want to, not because I feel I have to.  Nobody makes me - it's about loving what you 're doing.

I need to clarify why I use the term "we" when I talk about things happening, as it was a point of contention last week.  As I mentioned, I'm an employee in the operation.  I say "we" because when work gets done, if I'm a part of it, in the end, "we" did it.

What do I think makes a farmer?  I think a farmer is something special.  Man or woman, a farmer is someone who spends some portion of their lives growing row crops, raising livestock, keeping bees, growing produce, running a hobby farm with a corn maze, or doing some other sort of similar activity.  Farmers are something special.  Farmers are built of dedication, patience, hard work, tired backs, strong arms, and a heart of gold.  Paul Harvey mentioned much of this in his 1976 "So God Made a Farmer" talk, made popular again by Ram Trucks in the last year.

"And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, "I need a caretaker." So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board." So God made a farmer.
"I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife's done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon -- and mean it." So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, 'Maybe next year.' I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain'n from 'tractor back,' put in another seventy-two hours." So God made a farmer.
God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor's place. So God made a farmer.
God said, "I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who'd plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week's work with a five-mile drive to church.
"Somebody who'd bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life 'doing what dad does.'" So God made a farmer."
From http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/02/paul-harveys-1978-so-god-made-a-farmer-speech/272816/ .

To answer my question, yes, I am a farmer.  By one definition or another, I am.  I love the animals on the farm.  I love the land and am doing my part to conserve it, improving it for future generations.  I want to make sure I'm helping to produce the very best of what all I help raise on the farm.  I farm for the consumer, because that farm is where my heart is.  This is the difference between the people that say they're going to "work," and my "I'm headed to the farm."  It's about so much more than a paycheck, and until you've experienced it yourself, it's hard to understand.

I don't own it, but I love it all the same.  It's my second home.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Sense of Belonging

We all have a different calling in life, and sometimes it takes longer than others to find it.  What makes this whole process a little simpler is knowing your niche.  The golden question is "What is MY niche?"

Coming from a small town where I knew so many people, was very involved, and was familiar with the way life "just was," Purdue was slightly terrifying to put it lightly.  I have now completed a semester and a third, and learned one thing.  Big places become smaller when you get involved.

When I moved here in August, my friends were scattered hours away across the state, my family nearly 180 miles away, and my girlfriend over 200 miles away.  I WAS ALONE!  Well, except there were something like 38,000 other undergrads at Purdue that were in a similar position.  During welcome week, or Boiler Gold Rush as we call it, all of the colleges within the University held a meet and greet with some of the faculty and staff.  At the end of the week, the Ag department held a carnival.  All of these events served to make us feel like a part of the Purdue Ag Family.  Soon following this, the College of Ag's Agricultural Council hosted an ice cream social, and invited all of the clubs from the college to set up a table and be able to be advertised to incoming and returning students.  This is more or less where my college career began.

I have since become involved with Purdue Collegiate FFA, where I serve as community service chairman.  Coming from a high school with a barely-active FFA, I have gotten to fully embrace what the Collegiate division of FFA has to offer.  The opportunity to continue serving my community, school, and industry on a daily basis is something I truly enjoy.  More than that, the relationships I have built with fellow members are simply awesome!  Collegiate FFA is different from high school FFA in what we do, but we still work and live by the same principles.

Other than FFA, I got involved with Collegiate Farm Bureau, which at Purdue is a division of Indiana Farm Bureau, which is a part of the American Farm Bureau Federation, for those who are not familiar with the organization.  Farm Bureau and Indiana Young Farmers have offered me opportunities to attend two conferences, one in Indianapolis, and the second I just returned from, in Virginia Beach.  This has afforded me the opportunity to learn more about crops, people, policy, social media, networking, and many other topics.  The people I have met and interacted with make an impact on my life every day.

I am also a member of Purdue Agricultural Council.  As a member of Ag Council, I get the opportunity to again network with fellow students as well as faculty and staff of Purdue, working together for the common good of the students and college.  My term with Ag Council just began in January, so I do not have as many experiences to share yet, compared to the others.

What I'm getting at is, when you find people and organizations that make you feel like you are welcomed, share common goals and beliefs, and truly build relationships with people, you take on a sense of  belonging.  In order to succeed and truly achieve happiness, you must find a niche where you can feel at home.

I am a first hand testament showing how a small town kid can make it in the big city.  My recommendation is to always get involved and make connections!  I wouldn't be on the path I'm headed down without the guidance and friendships I have made through this.

Attached are some photos from my time at Purdue so far!

Thanks for reading!

Feel free to contact me any time at sebenkam@purdue.edu, or on Twitter at @ebenkamp2013.



Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crops are In, What do Farmers do in the Winter?

I hope everyone is having a happy New Year!

I don't know how you spent your holidays, but I spent my break from Purdue back at work on the hog farm.  Boy, I missed it!  And miss it again already. 

Due to it being a popular question I get asked, this post is about what farmers are doing all winter.  And no, drinking coffee and eating those delicious pies farm wives make is not the answer (though winter holidays do often bring pie, speaking from experience).

One thing I noticed while I was there was the type of work being done around the area.  Due to the nasty weather we had, one answer is, "Not much."  Other days, it was a rush to get everything imaginable done!  If you follow me on Twitter (@ebenkamp2013), you would have noticed the differences from day to day. 

Farmers and ranchers are, as I've said many times before, master tradesmen.  In the spring and summer, there are crops to plant and care for.  In the fall there is harvest.  In the winter, there is a whole other type of battle.  Working with pigs, we have even more to do!

One major task of farmers during the winter months is to haul off all of that grain they harvested in the fall.  For many of the people I know, this is a year where they will haul more than ever before.  This is also a time for major equipment repairs.  We get by on smaller repairs as necessary throughout the year, but winter is typically a time when we will do transmission or engine work.

Many livestock producers will be hauling manure right around the new year.  When they can, they haul manure at planting and harvest in order to get the best use out of the nutrients, but in numerous cases, due to building age and past construction requirements, there is not the capacity to last all winter.  Livestock farmers, especially in the northern states where it gets very cold, spend a lot of times checking buildings, heaters, ordering LP gas to keep the animals warm, and checking/thawing water lines to prevent them from busting.  It is a difficult task to raise livestock through some of these rough Midwestern winters.  This does sound like a slightly one-sided discussion, in terms of livestock care, but I have no experience with cattle.  I can recommend that you check out this article from CNN Eatocracy that discusses different types of livestock issues in winter here.

Farmers spend a lot of time watching the weather.  They do it every season, but in the winter it is even more interesting.  Some of us live with The Weather Channel, Weatherbug, AccuWeather, or another application open on our phones.  Where I work, we have to plan ahead feed-wise.  If it is going to snow or pour rain for three days, we need to be prepared and have feed ground for our pigs at the farm, and plan for the co-op to pre-deliver feed for the contract part of the operation.  When the temperature is going to be cold, we have to make sure the hog truck is positioned so that if it's too cold to start that we can pull-start it.  We plug in our diesel tractors, and put the blade on the old Massey 135 in case we have to move snow.  One time this winter, they called for enough snow overnight that we even moved equipment around so that if we needed to get the huge snow blower out, we could.  Eight to twelve inch predictions ended up only being two inches with patchy ice.  Luckily with all the below zero temperatures we had, only one time did we have a water line freeze, so we bucketed water to sows for that day.  Fortunately, we weathered everything with little incident. 

But here I sit, back at Purdue, in two or more inches of snow, dreaming of the farm and home...  Someday I'll be back for good...  Someday soon.

I hope this was an enjoyable, informative read.  I think it's very important for consumers to know about their food supply, and the people who raise their food. 

If you have questions or want me to write about a certain topic for you, please let me know!  I'm looking for things that strike your interest!  You can find me on Twitter (@ebenkamp2013), Facebook (Samuel Ebenkamp), or email me at sebenkam@purdue.edu.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For Consumers, It's about Values

Through social media and blogs today, we have the opportunity to do more than ever before in the way of educating the public.  The trick is that it is not all about simply telling them what we do.  That doesn't do much.  In my animal science course this semester, my professor discussed some of what we termed the "grand challenges" of animal agriculture.  One of these is animal wellbeing.  I producing food, we must focus on producing a safe, healthy, and wholesome food supply.  In defining "wholesome," there is another aspect that is being considered today that was less-considered in ages past.  People want  a food that they feel good eating.  This does not just mean something that's tasty, but something that people do not feel bad about eating.  We are touching a values issue now.  For ages people just ate meat, and now they are taking an approach looking at the animal and questioning how they felt about that animal.

How do we address value issues?  The answer is very delicately.  When I talk to folks about swine production, since it is one thing I'm better versed in, they often hold certain convictions about how their Christmas ham has been raised.  We as an industry often will tell consumers some of the same things.  We talk about the fact that in the United States, we have the world's largest and most affordable food supply in the entire world.  We talk about how we produce more today than ever before thanks to technology and evolving genetics.  Consumers are growing increasingly bored with this, and this is in part due to the fact that we live in a world that has grocery stores and supermarkets on every corner.  The shelves are always stocked, and there is more there than you could ever imagine!  This is also in part due to the large number of organizations in the nation alone that are spending billions of dollars to try and make agriculture look bad.  So, what do we as an industry have to do to help consumers feel confident in our products?  We must show and tell the real truth behind production in the United States.

There are farms across the United States that are now designed for the special purpose of educating the public.  Here in Indiana, we have Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks Indiana.  What they have done is built a dairy and now a swine farm that do tours and educational experiences to show the public the truth of production.  I have not visited either of these farms yet myself, but hope to do so soon.  This is one way to show consumers how things happen on farms.  Check out Fair Oaks Farms here.  Rumor has it that there are plans for building a poultry facility soon.  It does need to be noted that all farms are not show-farms, and for animal health reasons, cannot welcome the public in to see their animals without taking proper bio-security precautions before.

What is truly important to the consumer?  This is hard to tell as every consumer is different.  I would appreciate if I could get some feedback (email, Facebook inbox, and Tweets are great methods for doing this) so that we can address some of these issues.   Many consumers I have spoken with previously want to talk about housing.  What kind of housing is used?  Do the animals have adequate space?  Do they get to go outside?  They want to talk about feed.  What do the animals eat?  Is it healthy?  Do we still slop hogs (no we do not - per federal law)?  They want to talk about slaughter.  Is it humane?  Does the animal suffer?  Are these awful videos of processing plants reality, or is it staged?  People want to talk about animal treatment.  Do we keep a close eye on the animals?  Do we know if an animal has gotten sick?  What do we do when animals get hurt?  Do we hurt the animals?  Are we nice to them?  This is just some of what I have spoken about before.  I will later go into further details about some of these animal agriculture issues and the answers behind them.  Again, please submit your questions to my email at sebenkam@purdue.edu, my Facebook inbox, or Tweet me (@ebenkamp2013).

To follow with some of the animal treatment questions, I want to share a blog post and video from Carrie Mess.  Her post is titled, Sometimes I am 'mean' to my cattle.  Check it out here.

I appreciate all of you who read my blog, and hope that you can learn something.  Maybe you'll teach me something!  If you have topics you would like addressed, let me know, and I will gladly address them for you, or call in for more expert help!

Have a great rest of the week!

"30 Days" May Be Over, but I Just Got Started!

Hi everyone!  I know it has been a long time since I wrote last, but when I went home for Thanksgiving break, things got crazy, and I never quite finished my "30 Days" series.  I am here to say that my time with this blog has just begun.  It will hopefully be at least a bi-monthly posting, continuing on my topic of "The Life of a Future Farmer."

I have been asked, "Sam, why in the world do you write this thing?  You're a student with a full course load, multiple organizations you're involved with, exams, and friends.  Where do you find the time?"  To reply honestly?  I feel that there are some very important things in life.  One of them is working to better the industry in which I work.  Recently I was selected to represent Purdue's Collegiate Farm Bureau at the National Young Farmer's Conference in Virginia Beach in February.  Do I own or run a farm right now?  No sir/ma'am I don't.  Then why in the world am I such an adamant supporter of farmers, agriculture, and the like?  Why do I want to go to the National Young Farmer's Conference?  I feel that the key to succeeding tomorrow is to get off on the right foot today.  Many of the things I am involving myself with now are merely baby steps in my personal life, on the path to future success for the industry as a whole. 

In a recent interview for a position with an on-campus agriculture organization, I was asked how I feel we as students and as an industry as a whole can help to better relate to consumers and other non-agriculture people.  My response was, by way of technology.  Through social media and blogs today, we have the opportunity to do more than ever before in the way of educating the public.  This being said, I plan to continue to use this blog as well as my Facebook and Twitter (@ebenkamp2013) as ways to spread the good news of agriculture, and try to relate to consumers and friends in general.  If you ever want to ask questions about ag, feel free!  Message me, email me at sebenkam@purdue.edu, or Tweet me.  I'll be glad to speak with you, and if I cannot help you, I know people who can!

Stay in touch!