You Have No Idea What This Photo Represents

Maybe you’ve seen this picture floating around social media recently. It annoys me greatly.

calf hutch

Usually I’d let my friends in the livestock world handle this issue, since we don’t raise animals commercially, but you wouldn’t believe how cruel people who argue for humane treatment of animals are being to actual people, so I’m throwing my hat in the ring.

These pens are typically for dairy calves. And what the camera cleverly obscures in this picture are the cattle panels that allow the calves into a yard space.

calf hutches 2

You can see the panels vaguely in the first row of hutches if you know what you’re looking for.

calf hutches 3

The hutches are often used to make sure each of the young calves gets the proper amount of nutrition each day.  It’s very easy to see if someone skipped lunch or hasn’t touched her water if everyone has their own.

The reality is we know almost nothing about this farm.

Studies show dairy cows do well on sand, so its possible there is sand in each pen.  It might seem odd to us, but feels like a beach vacation to the animals.

There might be an employee assigned to every row of hutches; someone who feeds and waters the calves every day and can check on them, even get to know them.

It is highly likely a dairy didn’t grow to be this large without a lot of careful planning and consideration; for the employees, for the set-up and equipment, and for the biggest investment of all- the animals.  To make the most profit a dairy farmer needs the most milk.  Milk is best produced when the cow is comfortable and satisfied.

Not so "little" animals on the farm! {}

I was thinking about this because yesterday I noticed Fanny (goat on the left) kneeling down in the pasture on her front legs, back legs still straight because that is what goats do, trying to find green grass under all the dead stuff.  I almost took a picture so you could see what a pathetic creature looks like trying desperately to get a bit of nutrition but I thought it might go viral on Facebook.  In my make-believe photo shoot I would have then panned my camera back to reveal the giant round bale of hay, her water trough and grain pan.  Not starving.  Not malnourished.  Only a little pathetic. 😉

She, like the rest of us, is looking forward to spring and the green that will come with it.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a farm needs to be explained with millions.

Categories: Animals, Farming | 4 Comments

Not Your Grandpa’s Combine

There is so much more to farming than you’d ever think.  I’ve been here for eleven years and I’m still amazed.  Last week I had a great time visiting a neighbor’s farm to see how they calibrate their combine monitor for accurate harvest data– and believe me, this is not your Grandpa’s combine!

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

A combine’s monitor senses the grain coming in and records how much is being harvested.  This lets you know right then how well the field did.  On Bray Farms, Brad used this field to test two different brands of seed, filling half his planter with each type.  Now as he harvests he can see exactly how well each brand did.

That is, he can see exactly if his monitor is working correctly.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

To calibrate the combine’s monitor Brad first harvests a small sample of corn.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

He gets a reading from the monitor,

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

and then unloads the corn into a weigh wagon equiped with scales.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This wagon belongs to Cory Robinson of CR Seeds & Services.  He’ll be busy this fall taking it to many farm fields to calibrate monitors and checking to see if the seed he sold is working well for his customers.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Now the wagon weighs the corn as well.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

And Cory will check the grain for a few other things while he’s at it.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This tests the percentage of moisture in the corn.  Usually the places you sell corn to want “dry” corn, about 15%.  Brad’s was measuring closer to 19%, which means he’ll need to dry it before it can be sold.  As fall progresses the corn will dry out in the field and less air drying will be necessary.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Cory also uses this little thingamajig (technical term) to find the test weight of the corn– also important when you sell the grain.  Once the tests are done Cory unloads his weigh wagon back onto Brad’s semis, which take the grain back to the dryer.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Then Cory gives Brad the numbers to put into the combine’s monitor.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

Look at the last line.  The second column tells what the combine believes the total weight of the load to be. A simple click to the third column allows Brad to input the weigh wagon’s results.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

And the monitor will calibrate itself in just a moment to give you the most correct results.

There is so much to harvest! Here a farmer calibrates his combine's monitor for accurate data.

This was Brad’s third test (bottom three rows– top two are from 2014) and the total was 3 pounds off– 0.0%.  The monitor will retroactively change the data from whatever has already been harvested and Brad will have accurate maps he can use to submit to his insurance agent (insurance is based on a five year average for a field), use to plan how much grain to sell, and compare to his planting or fertilizer maps to see what seed is working well and what nutrients the crop may need.

This modern world of agriculture is pretty cool.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

When is An Inch of Rain Welcome in September?

Rain during spring planting can be looked on as a good thing; rain is necessary for crops to grow. But rain during harvest?  All it does is slow you down.

So when is an inch of rain a welcome blessing in September?

When the combine runs a board through the head while driving through the field and you have to tear the whole thing apart to fix it.

Rain 3

When the part you need to fix the combine head has to be shipped from three states away.

When your farmer signs up for professional development programs and must travel to D.C. during prime harvest time.

Rain 2

When you really, really, really need someone to fix the dishwasher.

When you really, really, really need someone to wrangle the kids.

When we’re all tired of family dinners consisting of Subway sandwiches at the edge of a field.

Rain 1

When the average amount of sleep you’re farmer has had per night is less than the number of days since you saw him last.

When God sends the rain and there’s nothing you can do about it anyway!

Categories: Family, Farming | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Picture A Modern Farmer

The AgWired team has been busy at the Farm Progress Show, so I’ve been reading, writing, and posting lots of information about everything new in agriculture.  I’ve been wading through information about ag app developers, tweeting John Deere’s newest tractor capabilities, and watching drones take flight.  Which got me thinking.

Despite being eighty-five years old, American Gothic is too often the picture that comes to mind when you mention “farmer.”


It would be harder to find something farther from the truth.  In fact, today’s farmers use as much technology as anyone in Silicon Valley.  Let me try to paint that picture for you.

We call it “precision farming.”  First, you might hire a company to come to your field and mark it off in a grid.  A bit of soil is taken from every square on the grid, carefully recorded and tracked.  These soil samples are then sent to a science lab and tested.

A picture of today's modern farmer

It’s then possible to take the maps with those results and upload them to a device in your tractor.  The right kind of equipment can read those maps as the tractor drives through the field and make changes in the amount of fertilizer placed in each grid square so you put on exactly what is needed.  The same idea can happen as you’re planting– putting more seeds in good soil and fewer on thinner ground.

GPS and auto-steer mean the tractor can drive along its path by satellite, with less than one inch of error along the way.  GPS also lets the planter know where it’s been and each row can shut off as the equipment drives over a spot that has already been planted.  Expect the same for the machine that sprays crop protection products over the field.  Automatic shut-off means no waste, no excess.


As the plants grow, farmers can now keep a watchful eye on disease and pests that might ruin a crop with the use of an Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) or drone.  Or a livestock farmer may use a drone to check cattle grazing on large acreages.


Monitors right in the field can let a farmer know when an irrigation system needs to be turned on, most likely through an alert on his phone.  The farmer can often turn the water on from his phone too.  Fruit and tree growers have access to the same smartphone technology to alert for frost, and animal farmers can check their barns while sitting at a soccer game.

And then there’s harvest.  Combines create maps as they move across the field, recording the yield as it goes along.  These maps can be overlaid with spring planting maps for even more information.  All of that may be tracked with another app from a smartphone.

Modern agriculture is a long way from pitchforks and overalls.

Categories: Farming, Technology | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Better Make Hay

You’ve heard the expression, “better make hay while the sun still shines?”  It falls in the same category as “shake a leg” or “get a move on.”  And while I have no idea how shaking your leg helps get any work done, “better make hay” isn’t just a saying for us.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

Baling hay tends to get put on the back burner because there aren’t many cows on our row-crop farm.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

The tractor on the left pulls the mower, which does what any mower does.  Behind that is a tractor pulling the red and yellow rake.  The rake pulls the cut grass into rows, ready for the baler.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

The tractor drives over the rows of grass and the baler sucks them up, winding the grass around and around until the bale is big enough.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

Then you open the baler and the hay rolls out.  (Funny story, round bales roll.  You have to be careful opening a baler on a hill.  There’s a surprising amount of physics in farming.)

All this, of course, depends on any number of things– most importantly the weather.

Fresh cut grass has water in it which evaporates as the grass dries to hay.  Baling dry hay is very important because wet hay will continue to “cure” after it’s baled and the steam inside a wet bale can actually cause the whole thing to smolder and smolder until your hay bale goes up in flames.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

We rely a lot on the National Weather Service when we cut hay.  We need a minimum of two sunny days in a row, one for the grass to dry and another to do the baling.  But since no one can predict the future we often see rows of hay like the photos–wet.

Better Make Hay While the Sun Still Shines

This hay was cut with a 0% chance of rain, only to experience several inches and a hail storm.  At this point all you can do is hope it stops raining and the hay can dry out again.

And when you’ve got a sunny day, well, better shake a leg.

Categories: Animals, Farming | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Oh Hail

Hail damage on the farm

Just a day or so ago these were thriving, healthy bean plants.

Hail damage on the farm

Then came the hail.

Hail damage on the farm

A massive downpour and so much falling ice that it destroyed our crops in a matter of minutes.

Hail damage on the farm

And there was nothing we could do.

Hail damage on the farm

These leaves are useless to the plant now.  No more photosynthesis.  No more energy.  No more crop.

Hail damage on the farm

There is insurance.  But this is heartbreaking.  This is farming.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

What is the Answer?

Did you know the answer?  Monday I asked what these signs on the edge of fields represented.  Several people commented, here or on the Facebook page. Ever wondered what these signs mean? The signs don’t designate field ownership, which was the misconception I was trying to correct.  Instead they are a little more like billboards.  They advertise to other famers what brand and variety of seed was used to plant this field. Ever wondered what these signs mean? So here the seed was sold by Pioneer.  If you looked at this field while driving past (and farmers do) and noticed the ground was  similar to yours and the soybeans were doing really well you might take note of the number in red as well.  Calling a seed salesman and asking for “Pioneer seed” would get you a very long list. A screen shot from DuPont Pioneer's website Here’s a screen shot from their website.  You scroll through two pages of this chart. A screen shot from DuPont Pioneer's website But if you know the number you can click through and find the information about the seed you are interested in.  The website provides information on how it grows in different soil types, how many days it will take to grow to a mature plant, how well it does against disease. Ever wondered what these signs mean? And while you might go around with a brand name on your jacket, you probably don’t go out of your way to advertise for a company. Neither do farmers. Seed representatives for the various brands check with farmers for the the fields using their products and then scout for crops that look best.  The reps put in signs to advertise their business.  For the farmer a sign is a little bit like a gold star.  Your crops look great! Brian (AKA Daddy) used to scout for sign-worthy crops during an internship he had in college.  It’s hot, sticky work! Ever wondered what these signs mean? Some of you also mentioned test plots, or research, where a company or university grows a seed to learn how it does in a specific area.  You can usually identify test plots by the rows of signs. Also important, seed companies work with farmer/landowners to do these test plots.  The seed representative (rep) sometimes gives a farmer specific seed to try for free, or the rep may come and plant the seed himself.  It’s a pain on our farm, but some growers really like the advantages of test plots.  While the companies do own ground, probably near their research facilities, it is a TINY percentage of farmland in the US. So the family farm isn’t gone.  In fact, non-family corporations actually make up only 3% of farm ownership in this country.  97% are still family farms!

Categories: Family, Farming | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Super Secret Farm Conspiracy

Ever wondered what these signs mean?

Summer sights along the highway are Queen Anne’s Lace in bunches in the median, cows standing in groups in a pond, and random signs posted by fields.  Ever wonder what these signs mean?

Ever wondered what these signs mean?

I recently spoke with a fellow blogger who’d had a conversation with a gentleman that insisted these signs meant the fields were owned by the company whose name is printed on them.  He was very concerned that all the farmland in his area was owned by major corporations instead of family farms.

It’s time to stop believing everything you read on the Internet people.

Ever wondered what these signs mean?

Despite her reassurances this wasn’t the case, this man was very insistent it was all a “Big Ag” conspiracy.  She was just a poor, deluded farmer who didn’t understand how things work.

Well, I may be poor 😉 and I may even be deluded, but I actually have a deed that shows we own our land.  So unless that’s a government conspiracy by my county courthouse, I’m telling you, these signs mean no such thing.

And since the idea of conspiracy within the farm community boggles my mind (Really?  Farmers who disagree on the color of tractors have ALL come to the conclusion that we should keep massive secrets from the general public?  Really?) I’ve decided to have a little fun with this one.

Leave me a comment and tell me what the purpose of these signs are– funny, silly, realistic, whatever.

And then come back Wednesday to find out for sure!

Categories: Agvocacy, Farming | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

View From the Combine’s Seat

Sure, many crops are harvested in the summer, but for corn and soybean farmers pulling the combine out of the shed conjures thought of apples and pumpkins, chilly nights and football games.  Not so with wheat harvest.

Wheat harvest-- pictures from the combine's seat.

We have been planting a small percentage of our acres to wheat over the past few years to help build terraces.  Summer is the time to take the bulldozer out to the fields to fix any damage done by torrential rains or the effects of time.  That doesn’t work so well if you’ve got crops growing in those fields, so we started growing wheat because the late June/early July harvest window means time to work on our soil conservation efforts.

Wheat harvest-- pictures from the combine's seat.

For those who are new, I love growing wheat.  It’s the first thing to green up after a long winter and it’s beautiful in all it’s growing stages.

This year, however, I thought instead of snapping my usual photos I’d ask Wayne to take some shots from his place in the driver’s seat.

Wheat harvest-- pictures from the combine's seat.

How’s that for a workplace view?

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

A Visit from Dusty Crophopper

I’m assuming you’ve seen Disney’s Planes.  Besides being yet another fun movie from the World of Cars it’s also a terrific film because it features a farmer!  Well, okay, a crop duster, but still.  And while Dusty leaves the farm behind in search of fame and fortune, anyone can tell you he got his work-ethic and moral principles working in the corn fields!

At any rate, he’s a favorite around here.

Which is why it was lots of fun when Daddy stopped by the airport and commissioned a crop duster to drop nitrogen fertilizer on our fields!

A crop duster visits the farm!

All the extra rain we’ve had is causing the chemical nitrogen (and when I say chemical, I mean all-naturally occurring element number 7 on a Periodic table) to go deeper into the soil where the corn’s root system can’t reach it.  Since corn depends on nitrogen– think Squanto adding fish to the Pilgrim’s garden– this is a problem!

Nitrogen is usually added before the fields are planted…

anhydrous original

(like this ^)

but this little hiccup called for Plan B.

A crop duster visits our farm!

It really is pretty amazing to watch a crop duster work.  They fly SO LOW!  Then the loop and roll at the ends; it’s kind of our very own air show.

To go with our vey own Dusty Crophopper.

Categories: Farming | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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