Friday, December 21, 2012

A visit from Flat Aggie

This past summer, we were pleased to host Flat Aggie on our dairy farm. Originally from a classroom in California, Flat Aggie spent time with us learning how to milk cows and do a few other summertime farm chores.

Well, ol' Flat Aggie must have had a really good time because he sent his cousin (also named Flat Aggie) to pay us a visit last week. So I took my new friend along with me to milk cows and plant ryegrass seed.

Our day started at 3:00am in the milking barn. Flat Aggie was able to get a close-up view of the action. He watched as we cleaned each cow's udder and then attached the milking machines. We milked 172 cows that morning and finished at 6:30am.

Once we finished breakfast, Flat Aggie and I poured ryegrass seed into a type of planter known as a grain drill. Ryegrass grows during the cooler months of the year and makes great cow food!

We spent all morning planting the ryegrass seed into hay fields. In late spring, I will harvest the ryegrass and feed it to my milk cows.

Once the afternoon rolled around, it was time to milk the cows again. Flat Aggie found a good spot to sit back and enjoy watching all of the action.

Flat Aggie even took the time to chat with one of our dairy cows before the day was finished.

I really enjoyed having Flat Aggie spend time with me, and I think he learned a little bit about life on an Alabama dairy farm. He said the kids back in California would be eager to hear about his visit, and that he was going to make a point of teaching them how to sing "Have a Dairy, Merry Christmas" once he returned to them. 

"But before I go home," said Flat Aggie, "I want to go on another farm adventure or two." 

And with that, we shook hands and Flat Aggie headed toward North Dakota.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A big ol' "Thank You!"

Today is the last day of online voting in the USFRA's "Faces of Farming & Ranching" contest, and I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to register and participate over the past month. I especially appreciate those of you who voted for the dairy farmer from Alabama, and please know that your words of encouragement and expressions of support have meant a lot to me.

The contest winners will be announced next month, and I am convinced that America's farmers and ranchers will be extremely well-represented regardless of whether or not my name is included in that list. The other eight finalists are all outstanding agriculturalists, wonderful advocates, and just flat-out good folks. To tell you the truth, I haven't been too keen on my chances since meeting and interacting with them in New York City last month, but I've been totally comfortable with it. That's how good these folks are at what they do!

The one big thing I've learned through this process is that the way I go about sharing my story apparently does have an impact. I don't know if "validation" is the right word, but advancing to the finals of this contest and seeing how many people have supported me along the way tells me that I'm helping people understand life on a dairy farm and how the milk they enjoy is produced. And that's something I really take pride in.

"Thank your for your support!"
I've been fortunate enough in the past to hold positions and receive honors that have given me a platform to reach more people than I would have otherwise, and perhaps I will have similar opportunities in the future. At the end of the day though, I'm just a guy that loves being a farmer and enjoys giving you a glimpse of what goes on around here. Whether "my story" reaches 50 people or 50 million, it has reached you and that's what's important to me. I hope I've been able to help you understand a little something about dairy farming and modern agriculture along the way, and maybe that I've even made you smile or chuckle a time or two.

Now get out there, buy some milk, and enjoy it and other safe, delicious, nutritious dairy products three times every day!

And from the bottom of my heart...thank you, and have a "dairy" good day!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is rural America less relevant?

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made a statement last week that rural America is becoming "less and less relevant". After reading the article in which his comments were published, I have to assume he was referring to rural America's diminishing political clout and not making a sweeping statement that we simply don't matter any more. But let's explore both possibilities.

US Sec. of Ag Tom Vilsack (photo:AP)
I first became aware of the Secretary's statements when Tim Lennox, a Montgomery television news anchor, asked me via Twitter Sunday morning to add a comment about it on his blog. I skimmed through the linked article and in my comment agreed that the failure (thus far) to get a new Farm Bill passed does show that agricultural and rural development programs aren't given the legislative priority they were once afforded. I also mentioned that we in agriculture need to continue building relationships with consumers to the point that hopefully they would advocate with us for workable farm policy. 

Fast forward to Monday. About halfway through the afternoon milking I received a call from a reporter in Washington, DC, asking if I would be willing to chat for 5-10 minutes about the Secretary's comments. I stepped outside, reiterated my thoughts about rural America's political influence, and shared a little bit of my own farming story. That reporter's article was published online today by...of all things...a Russian news agency. You can read it here if you so desire.

This evening, I went back and re-read the original article. There are a couple of things Vilsack said that I strongly disagree with. One is that we shouldn't be spending our time fighting to keep the EPA from regulating farm dust or the Department of Labor from telling us what our kids can and can't do on our farms. Maybe the Administration never intended for either of those things to happen, but I won't apologize for not trusting regulations that give wiggle-room to overzealous bureaucrats.

The other statement that I take issue with is that we rural Americans have to change our mindset in order to attract more young people into farming. What am I, chopped liver? I know plenty of folks my age and younger that are excited to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities American agriculture will offer over the next half-century. Could we stand to have more folks involved in food production? Absolutely! But don't discount the ability of those of us already and soon-to-be involved in farming to get the job done.

As I take a deep breath and wrap this post up, I'll go back to the question of whether or not Vilsack's comments were specific to rural America's political influence or relevancy in general. I think it was the former and not the latter, because to say rural America no longer matters would be completely absurd! Yeah, people continue to move out of the country and into the cities, and maybe we don't have the clout in DC that we once had. But rural, community bankers, small business owners, truck drivers, etc...are still critical to the strength of our great country. In fact, I would say we are more relevant than ever.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Weekend Farm Recap

I'm just got in from the milking barn on Saturday morning and thought I'd share a little bit about what's been going on this past week. 

thumbs-up to more milk
We've had two dry cows and two heifers give birth this week, running our total number of cows in our active milking herd up to 177. They have been slowly inching up on milk production and should bump up a little more once cold weather sets in. Their TMR diet currently consists of corn silage, bermudagrass hay, wet brewers grains, and a custom mix of ground corn, soy products, dried distillers grains, etc. that we purchase from a feed mill.

Weather-wise, we've had damp and mild conditions most of the week. The wet conditions have prevented us from planting any ryegrass this week, but the wheat and rye we've already planted is really benefiting from the moisture and the temperature. And since we couldn't do anything in the field, we turned our attention Thursday morning to our beaver problem. Beavers have built dams all up and down a small creek that runs through our farm, causing water to back up into and flood one of our pastures. We busted four dams and "let the water off", but we still have at least three more to tear out.

On to the links:

  • The Tuscaloosa News ran a story in their Sunday edition's Business section about me being named a finalist in the USFRA's "Faces of Farming & Ranching" contest. Read the story here, and don't forget to vote for me every day through December 15!
  • My dad and I left the farm in the hands of our farmhands during the first part of the week so we could attend the Alabama Farmers Federation's Annual Meeting in Montgomery. You can watch this nice wrap-up video to hear from our organization's new president, meet our new Outstanding Young Farm Family, and learn how much money was raised for the Foundation for Agriculture.
  • Speaking of videos, I have followed up 2009's "The Gilmer Dairy Farm Christmas Song" with a new one entitled "Have a Dairy, Merry Christmas" and I hope you like it. If you do, be sure to hit the "like" button on YouTube. It's been entered into Proud to Dairy's holiday song contest, and the video with the most "likes", G+'s, & "favorites" wins. And remember, sharing any of my crazy videos with your friends is sure to bring them holiday cheer!
Have a "dairy" good weekend, y'all!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Have a Dairy, Merry Christmas!

I got bored one day last week while planting rye seed into a hay field. And as is the case when I get bored, my mind starts coming up with strange things. In this case, it was bending the words of "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" into something dairy related.  I came up with a new version of the song pretty quickly, but decided to wait until this week to shoot some video and piece it all together.

What I didn't know at the time was that the Peterson Brothers in Kansas were going to come out with another one of their farm parody videos. I nearly decided just to scrap my little project when I saw their new one online last night, but I decided to go ahead and publish mine anyway. It may not be well-produced, have mass appeal, or receive a fraction of the attention some other videos receive, but what the heck! "Have a Dairy, Merry Christmas" has all the key characteristics of my other song videos: I made it up, I made it on the cheap, and I made it with a message. Yeah, it's low (no) budget and the audio track isn't anywhere close to being in sync with the video, but it does have cows, a Santa hat, and it comes from my heart.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you can't laugh with me, it is completely understandable and acceptable to laugh at me.

Have a dairy, Merry Christmas! It's the best time of the year.
In your cereal bowl or your cup of Joe, add milk for holiday cheer.
Have a dairy, Merry Christmas, and when you sit down to eat
Ask for's sure to please...and have ice cream as a treat.

Ho, Ho, don't you know Santa comes on Christmas Eve!
So pour him a glass of milk to enjoy before he leaves.

And have a dairy, Merry Christmas, and in case you didn't hear
Don't be contrary have a dairy, Merry Christmas this year!

Ho, Ho, don't you know quality is guaranteed.
'Cause the cows are milked with pride for you by dairy farmers just like me!

So have a dairy, Merry Christmas, and in case you didn't hear
Don't be contrary have a dairy, Merry Christmas this year!
Don't be contrary have a dairy, Merry Christmas this year!