Thursday, April 24, 2014

FARMLAND to be screened in Birmingham on 5/1/14

Get ready, Birmingham-area residents! On May 1st, you will get the opportunity to shake the hand that squeezes the teats of cows that make the milk you drink! That's right, I will be in B'ham for a couple of hours that evening and would love to chit-chat with you for a little while. You don't want to pass up this golden opportunity, so go ahead and mark your calendar to come see me at the Regal Trussville Stadium 16 movie theater next Thursday night!

Georgia chicken farmer Leighton Cooley
with documentary crew (courtesy of
All kidding aside, I will be there in support of something I know you will enjoy. The main event is the public screening of award-winning director James Moll's new documentary Farmland, and the stars of the show are the six young farmers and ranchers who share their passion for agriculture and the challenges they face trying to make a living doing what they love. The film's subjects represent a wide-spectrum of American agriculture, from livestock and poultry to commodity crops to organic produce to community supported agriculture (CSA). I had the good fortune to see Farmland last month, and from a farmer's perspective I thought it was incredible! But even though this film is about people like me, it isn't really "for" people like me. This documentary was made to provide the non-farming public with an intimate glimpse at how our nation's food is raised on a daily basis.

I encourage all of my friends in and around Birmingham to buy a ticket for the "one night only" public screening at 7pm on May 1st. Based on past conversations I've had with many of you about my dairy farm and food production in general, I have no doubt that you would really find this film interesting. The Alabama Farmers Federation will have a table at the theater from 6:00-8:30pm, so come a little bit early. I and perhaps a few other local farmers will be on hand and would love to talk with you about how we grow and raise the food you and your family enjoy.

I look forward to meeting you, and I know you will genuinely enjoy Farmland. See you next Thursday night!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Favorite farm photos of the week

Happy Saturday morning, folks! Over 2.5 inches of rainfall on Monday kept us from making any progress toward planting corn, but we found plenty enough to keep us busy. And through it all, I was able to snap and share a handful of farm photos. In case you missed them, here are a few of my favorites from the past week:

Palm Sunday sunrise

the milking herd beginning the second grazing rotation

Cow no.88 won't leave the road until she's had her head and neck rubbed.

A traffic alert/PSA letting people know how our cows' route to and from grazing
would affect their commute. I think we had to stop two cars over the course of three days.
Have a wonderful Easter, everyone!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Memory of my "Daddy G", Gray Gilmer

Twenty years ago today my grandfather, Gray Gilmer, passed away at the age of 82. He was the youngest of his parents' nine children, was born and raised on the farm our family still calls home, and established the dairy my father and I operate today. A few years ago I wrote a blog entitled "My Farming Forefathers" which included a little bit about his life and my own childhood memories of him, and I hope you will take a few minutes to check that out. In addition, here are three passages my grandmother wrote about his early life in her memoirs, For Sentimental Reasons. 

Gray Gilmer, 1911-1994
On his name:
George Gray Gilmer was born October 10, 1911, on the farm that is still in the family's possession. He was named for his father, George Franklin Gilmer. Even though Papa Gilmer was the most respected man in Gray's life, he didn't like the name "George". In our courting days, he wouldn't even tell me his first name.
On childhood farm chores:
As a little boy, he and Annie Mae were assigned the job of shelling and feeding corn to the chickens and everything else that ate corn. The despised job was tending to the geese to keep them from getting more than their share. There was always an old gander that kept watch, and when Gray's back was turned, the old rascal would latch onto him with his strong beak and beat the daylights out of him with those powerful wings. He said he always carried some ammunition of corn cobs in his overall pockets in case he had a chance to defend himself before the attack. 
Summers were spent working in the fields of cotton and corn. He never minded the hard physical labor, but used to say what galled him the most was when Papa would insist on his helping their nearest neighbors "catch up" with the hoeing and chopping of cotton...He said he'd get his work done and then go help those slow and lazy boys while their father sat on the porch and instructed them as to how the job should be done. 
George Gray Gilmer, 10/10/1911 - 4/15/1994. Husband to Mary, Dad to Don, Marianne, Josephine, and David, "Daddy G" to Donald, Doug, Mark, Tommy, Leanna, Amy, Charlie, Will, and Lydia.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weekend Farm Update

Another busy week on the farm is coming to an end, and the next one could be even busier. But before I look ahead, let me quickly catch you up on what's been happening on and off the farm since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago:

National AgDay: As I mentioned in my last posting, I participated in a USFRA-sponsored panel discussion entitled "The Next Generation of America’s Farmers and Ranchers" during National AgDay in Washington, DC (recap/audio). I was afforded the opportunity the next evening to attend a special screening of Farmland, a documentary in which six young farmers/ranchers from across America talk about their passion for agriculture. I know documentaries aren't the genre most people watch when they go to a movie theater, but I strongly encourage you to see this one. And speaking of watching something, check out the MooTube Minute I filmed in front of the Capitol while I was in DC.

at the Farmland screening with film subjects Brad Bellah & Leighton Cooley on the left,
fellow USFRA panelists Kate Danner, Seth Pratt, & Joel Mathiowetz on the right

Lamar County Cattle Drives: Back on the farm, we've held pretty steady at 210 cows in milk. We're still grazing them every day, which sometimes requires what I call a Lamar County Cattle Drive. Almost all of the land we strip-graze our cows on in the Spring is across the road from our dairy barn and their primary pasture/feeding area. Most of the acreage is accessible to them by simply crossing the two lanes of County Road 36, but grazing the furthest paddocks requires a road trip. Several times we've walked our herd down 1500' of CR-36 and into their paddocks in the morning and then back to the dairy barn in the afternoon. We have only needed to stop a few cars during the cattle drives, and none of those drivers seemed to be too put-off by the five minute delay. I've posted several pictures and short videos on Instagram and my various other social media channels, so be sure to check those out if you haven't already.

Baseball: My family will soon begin claiming the Vernon City Park as our secondary residence. Both the kids are playing baseball this year, and I'm a volunteer assistant on my son's coach-pitch team. Having games or practices three nights of the week has cut into my "crash on the couch" time in the evenings, which has in turn really made me put a priority on taking naps during my breakfast and lunch breaks. And though I'm not getting as much rest as I need and our lawn and landscaping have become woefully neglected, we are all having fun with it. Now if only my son's team could get that elusive first win...
our little ball players

She's having a baby: Our local veterinarian was on the farm this past week to check 62 cows for pregnancies. It was a good result as 54 of the cows checked out positive, giving us a total of 127 pregnant milking cows. We still have quite a few to breed over the next few weeks, and need to do so before hot weather and heat stress wreak havoc on the conception rate.
Dr. Hidalgo preg-checking a group of cows

Looking ahead, we expect to plant silage corn in the very near future. Rain is in the forecast for Monday, but hopefully it will be dry enough to get in the field by mid-week. If so, we're targeting 40 acres of our "hill ground" to fertilize and plant by the end of the week.