Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cows, Corn, and Politics

Good morning, y'all. Let me get you caught up to speed with what's been happening on the farm and bouncing around in my brain...

Tough April for my milking cows
Our milking herd finished the month of March relatively strong and near peak milk production. That changed the first weekend of April as a "bug" began working its way through our herd and resulted in quite a number of our cows developing pneumonia. Roughly two dozen cows required treatment for the illness, and milder symptoms appeared in dozens more. From a "whole herd" perspective, we lost nearly two whole days' worth of milk production over two weeks while the illness ran its course. And though all of the affected cows now seem to be fully recovered, they still haven't (and likely won't) return to their late-March level production due to the earlier-than-normal onset of heat stress. It's been a hot, dry April, and the "summer slide" that usually doesn't begin until mid-May is dangerously close to starting if it hasn't already.

It's finally time to plant corn
Last week I sprayed weed-killer on our corn fields and had the appropriate levels of fertilizer applied, and yesterday I used our strip-till to lay off rows for our first 10 acres of corn. We'll calibrate the planter this morning and hopefully have some seed in the ground before lunchtime. I expect us to plant approximately 110 acres of "hill ground" over the next couple of weeks and another 40 in our bottomland in early May. We made a late decision to (finally) move our row spacing from 38" to 30" and probably could have been planting a week ago if not for the time required to adjust our tractors and implements for that spacing change. We're four days behind last year's first planting date, but if the weather cooperates we should finish planting earlier than in 2016.

Mulling over a political run
As if the daily care of 400 head of cattle, the twice-daily milking of half of them, and the pressure to produce a good crop to feed them following last year's devastating drought weren't enough to occupy my time and mind, I've also been considering jumping into an upcoming political race. I've jokingly alluded to running for office before, but I've actually given it some serious thought lately. There are two offices I am interested in that will be up for election next year, and I would need to commit to running for one of them within the next few weeks if I am to have any chance at all. There are many, many questions I'll have to think through in the process of making that decision, the biggest of which is whether or not I have the resources to mount a campaign without compromising my farm's productivity or putting my family in a tough spot. Odds are I'll just stick with what I know for the time being, but it's a matter of prayer consideration.

Bonus thoughts
I'm helping coach my son's youth baseball team again this year. Working seventeen kids (yes, 17) into a 1:15hr game is a challenge, and scheduling a game for 11/12 year olds at 8pm on a school night is ridiculous (I'm looking at you, Guin).

Oh yeah, if you'd like to read about the trip I took with several other dairy farmers to this year's South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, you can check out these articles at and Progressive Dairyman.

Thanks for reading, and y'all have a dairy good day!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

From the milking barn to everywhere

I've been fortunate to connect with people from all across this great nation...and the world...over the past eight some-odd years via the social media platforms I use. And it's not unusual for me to wonder where a particular tweet, Instagram photo, or Facebook post I send from my dairy farm might be viewed.

So this afternoon I put it to a highly unscientific test.

Request for Locations
I tweeted/Instagramed the following while milking cows this afternoon and decided to see how many different places my photo could pop up.

Response Data
I received roughly 100 replies between the two platforms over a four hour span, and I've mapped the locations I was given. Blue pins correspond with Twitter replies, and red pins with Instagram.

locations of international responses

locations of North American responses

locations of local responses

1) I had no idea anyone in St. Kitts would see one of my posts, much less participate in this little experiment.
2) Responses were primarily North American, and all but one were from the Northern Hemisphere.
3) Participation was much greater east of the Mississippi River.
4) Local responses were primarily received via the Instagram post.
5) I get bored and fiddle around on my computer when I get home from the Sunday afternoon milking if it has run too long for me to make it to our church's evening worship service.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Real milk comes from real cows like ours

Let's start with a fundamental truth: milk is milk.

Now let's add another: nut juice and plant squeezings are not milk.

That's not too controversial, is it? Well, unfortunately it is, and a battle is being fought over the dairy case of your local grocery store between those of us in the dairy business and companies who want to continue labeling their plant-based imitation beverages as "milk."

According to the Food and Drug Administration's regulations (CFR 131.110), milk is defined as "the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." This definition doesn't leave much room for misinterpretation, and any product being marketed as milk should be able to meet this standard of identity.

real milk comes from real cows like ours
Unfortunately, FDA has not been enforcing its own rule. More and more plant-based imitation beverages labeled as "milk" are being sold in the dairy case right along with the real stuff. And while I don't have a problem with these beverages being available for consumers, I do have a problem with them being labeled as something that both common sense and the law says they are not.

The primary reason this issue is important to me is because our farm participates in the dairy checkoff, and the 15 cents we pay in for every 100 pounds of milk our cows produce is used for promotion and research. Through the checkoff, dairy farmers from across the country have collectively spent millions of dollars to make consumers like you aware of all the nutritional benefits of including milk/dairy in your diet. By positioning themselves as milk alternatives rather than imitators via labeling, makers of plant-based beverages are getting a free ride at the expense of dairy farmers like me.

I know most shoppers understand there are differences between milk and these other beverages, and some may prefer the imitations over milk for a number of reasons. But I don't want people to be under the false assumption that a plant-based beverage labeled as "milk" is nutritionally equivalent to real dairy milk. Enforcement of FDA regulations in regards to what can be labeled as milk would solve this problem without impacting consumer choice. The DAIRY PRIDE Act, which has been introduced this year in both Houses of Congress, would hold the FDA accountable for that enforcement.

The next time you're looking through the dairy case at your local grocery store, take a minute or two to compare nutrition labels and you'll see that "milk" doesn't compare with milk. And if you're so inclined after you finish off your next glass of the real stuff, make a few quick calls to the offices of your Representative and Senators and ask them to stand with America's dairy farmers by supporting the DAIRY PRIDE Act.

Thanks for your time and continued support, and have a "dairy" good day!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hey folks, it's been a while

Hey folks, it's been a while. Let me catch you up to speed on what's been happening on Gilmer Dairy Farm recently.

We currently have 223 cows in our active milking herd, which looks like our "high water mark" for this year. We will be sending several cows to the stockyard over the next couple of weeks, and I anticipate a herd size of around 210 after the next round of dryoffs, calvings, and cullings. Our daily herd production topped out at roughly 13,750 pounds of milk a couple of weeks ago, but our average per cow should improve by two or three pounds in the coming days for a couple of reasons. First, simply removing a few lower producing cows will boost the average. Secondly, we expect to see a production increase when we begin incorporating corn silage into their ration once again.

We had an incredible drought this past year, one that lasted well into late Fall. As a result, our dryland (non-irrigated) corn crop yielded far below what was needed to feed the herd for a whole year. Over the last couple of months we have been relying on last Spring's bumper ryegrass baleage crop, dry hay, and cottonhulls in a ration that allowed us to conserve our corn silage. This ration has worked well for us and our herd, but the cows' milking potential isn't as high as it is when they are on a diet that includes quality silage. We're at the point now we believe we have enough corn silage to make it into the summer, so we will be transitioning the cows to a new ration over the next couple of weeks.

Speaking of crops, we hope to be putting a lot of seed in the ground during the month of March. We were unable to plant any ryegrass or small grains last Fall due to the drought, and it's about been too wet since the first of the year. We should get a few days of dry weather after today's batch of thunderstorms rolls through, and I hope to begin drilling about 50 acres of late Spring oats on Monday. Our goal for this crop will be to harvest it as baleage in late April or early May. In addition to the oats, I hope to begin planting our silage corn crop the last week of March. We're looking at roughly 110 acres on our "hill" ground this year, and another 40 in our bottomland.

On a personal note, it seems like there's always somewhere else I have to be. Don't get me wrong, because I really enjoy being involved in my industry! But speaking at a dairy conference in Savannah, two meetings in Montgomery, and judging a farm contest in Natchez over the last five weeks has made it pretty tough to "get in the groove" farming wise. And over the next two weeks my schedule includes speaking at an elementary school, SXSW in Austin, and my regional dairy checkoff's annual meeting at Stone Mountain. And on top of that I'm helping coach my son's baseball team which begins practice this weekend. So yeah, I have a full plate in front of me, but better to be busy than bored. Besides, if I have too much free time on my hands I might start seriously considering making good on my threat to run for office...

Thanks for reading, and y'all have a "dairy" good day!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Calve me ousside, how bow dah?

As a person that's always looking to share my dairy's story with new people, I have found that piggy-backing on trending/topical stories is a great way to reach a larger audience. While helping my father deliver a calf one afternoon in early February, I realized there was an opportunity to capitalize on the "Cash me ousside" craze that had been sweeping through social media. I snapped a few photos and put my own unique dairy spin on the newly popular phrase:

Following up on a friend's suggestion, I have since "memefied" the phrase to make it easier for people to share across various social media platforms. Enjoy!