The Chicken or the Egg?

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This one hen escaped from her coop some months ago and has been running willy nilly around the farm.  For the past few weeks, she’s been laying in the barn somewhere, but sleeping outside on the manure wagon.  Last night, she decided to go ahead and sleep in the barn, too.

Did I ever tell you that chickens can’t really see in the dark?  They’re fairly helpless.  And we milk long before dawn.

This poor little hen spent the first 45 minutes of her morning circling the main floor, clucking in angst.  Finally, she spied the remains of a bale of hay and, with relief, made herself a cozy nest.

And that’s just where I found her egg tonight.

A Decision to Be Made: How Much Do We Care About GMOs?

We’ve been using a soy-free feed on our farm since we purchased our first cow back in 2009.  In my mind, soy is the most deadly foodstuff on the market, and I absolutely do not want my children consuming any more than they have to.  I am fairly satisfied with our current feed mix, but I have talked to both shareholders and prospective shareholders about trying for a GMO-free feed, too.  Let’s talk this through.

Are GM Foods Actually Dangerous?

I am not personally convinced that genetically modified foods are dangerous in and of themselves.  Most people who believe they are will say something like: “We’re consuming DNA now that our bodies were never meant to utilize.”  The reality is, though, that we change the DNA of our plants and livestock all the time.  It’s called selective breeding.  Every time we save the seeds from that one tomato that didn’t get blight, or hatch the eggs from just our best layers, we’re altering the characteristics – and DNA – of the species.

The GMO crops in question have been altered in the lab, primarily for resistance to the herbicide Roundup.  This allows farmers to spray their fields in order to kill weeds without affecting their crops.  I don’t think the main problem here is the change in the plants’ DNA; the existence of Roundup-resistant weeds suggests that, over time, corn, too, could have naturally mutated into a resistant variety.  I think the real problem is the Roundup.

I’ve read a fair bit of research lately about the effects of the miniscule amounts of Roundup residue that may be in our GM foods, and it’s pretty bad.  I also checked to see if the cows could possibly act as a filter for the residue, but it seems Roundup passes through milk.  Not only that, but it appears to build up in the body, like mercury.  Lifetime exposure matters.

Our Current Feed

We have our feed custom-mixed by Richard Uhl in Corydon, Indiana.  It contains:

30% distillers grain
20% corn gluten
30% wheat
20% oats

The distillers grain actually comes from our local distilleries, and wonder of wonders, they do not accept GMO grains.  The corn gluten is trucked in from Cincinatti, and Richard suspects it is probably a byproduct of ethanol production.  That means it will be from GM corn and will most likely contain Roundup residues.  The wheat is all locally sourced, and in spite of an article circulating to the contrary, none of it has been sprayed with any herbicide.  Also, there are no GM wheat varieties on the market.  Oats are not GM, either, but they aren’t grown around here; our oats arrive from somewhere up north.  I suspect that the oats, like wheat, are actually not routinely sprayed, especially by smaller farms, and can be considered safe.

That means we have a single ingredient that can not be assumed to be free of Roundup residue – the corn gluten – and each cow consumes approximately 1.6 pounds of it each day.

To put this in perspective a little bit, the daily diet of each cow in the winter consists of about 40 pounds of grass hay, 10 pounds of alfalfa, and 8 pounds of our grain mix, which includes the corn gluten.  They also still forage a little in the pastures.  The corn gluten makes up less than 3% of their total diet.

Alternatives to Corn Gluten

We’re looking at legumes, probably peas or lentils.  Legumes are the only feedstuff that approximates the protein and energy profile of the corn gluten.  On the positive side, I think it’s a more nutritious option for the cows, and therefore for us who drink their milk.  On the negative side, peas and lentils are not grown locally, and like oats, they’re going to be expensive.  I may have to adjust the balance of the other ingredients, too. I feed alfalfa hay summer and winter, and that is also a legume.  Too many legumes in the diet cause loose stools.

The Bottom Line

Unless I’m able to locate a cheaper source of peas or lentils, it’s going to translate into a $4.00 increase in monthly share costs, as well as increases in the price of cream, butter and cheese.

What do you think, prospective and current shareholders?  Is eliminating GMO corn gluten important enough to you that you’re willing to pay for it?  Or are you willing to live with the small amount of GMO feed in the cows’ diet?  This is going to be entirely up to you!

The Stakeholders’ Meeting

The stakeholders are not the same as the shareholders.  The shareholders own one or more shares of the dairy herd for the purpose of obtaining fresh milk, and for that they pay a fee, but the stakeholders are actually doing the work.  Mostly.  May I explain?

We were reading a Ralph Moody book a while back, The Fields of Home. (I recommend the whole series, by the way. A highly enjoyable family read-aloud.)  In The Fields of Home, Ralph helps Grandfather bring the family farm back to a state of productivity, and Grandfather shares the profits in this way:

The income is divided into ten parts. Five are for “provender” – the farm; two go to Grandfather; two more go to Ralph; and the remaining one is for the hired girl who only gets credit for the butter, but really does a lot more.

We’ve never had enough coming in to even cover expenses, so I haven’t been paying the children for their hard work, but I also wasn’t getting everything done that needed doing.  I had to ride them all the time and double check their work to make sure it was done and done well.  So I decided to try Grandfather’s method.  It’s only been two months, and I haven’t seen any particular change, but I’m going to give it one more month before I start docking the stakeholder payments.  They have to trust the money is coming before they feel badly when it doesn’t.

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Anyway, back to the meeting.  Our farm is small and we have a lot of bovines on it right now.  Decisions must be made.  We have two calves of excellent quality.  This wasn’t going to be a keeping year, but Annabelle has turned out to be a most excellent milker.  We also see improvements in milk quality in her – higher cheese yield and more cream, which is what I’m breeding for.  The bull I’ve been using should add to the milk quality – and Annabelle gave us a heifer calf this year.  I could risk my last stick of Miles’ semen on another heifer from her, but I think I’d rather just keep Cocoa.

I don’t like Daisy’s genetics so much, so I want to cross her with a beef breed this year.  Hopefully, we’ll get a heifer who can be crossed again, until we’ve raised up our own beef cow.  Daisy is a really good cow, patient and gentle, but her milk is the lowest quality of the bunch, as far as cheese and butter go.

And then there is Maybelle.  She’s got a persistent mastitis problem that only flares up around calving time, but she’s getting a little cranky with the other cows.  Actually, she’s a bully.  I was thinking of letting her milk through the summer, but not breeding her and sending her out for ground beef in the fall.

According to this plan, our current milking herd would be Maybelle, Daisy and Annabelle.  In the fall, it would be Daisy, Annabelle, and Sunshine.  The following year, it would hopefully be Annabelle, Sunshine and Cocoa.

This is what the stakeholders have decided.  But every morning, I go out to milk the cows, and I press my head into Maybelle’s flank, and I say aloud, “I just don’t think I’m ready to give up on you.”  She’s my cow, the one from whom all other cows on our farm have come, and she’s a really good cow.  I think I might just buck the stakeholders on this one.  They were just following my recommendations anyway.

Business is really picking up, since I started advertising.  We’ll probably need a fourth cow anyway, right?

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New Blog

Because I’m so good at blogging on one site, I thought two would be a great idea. :-)

All blogging of a family or personal nature will now take place here.  Please update your readers and subscriptions accordingly so you never have to miss out on photos like this:

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Public Service Message: Ebates

I’ve mentioned ebates a time or two before, but I just wanted to remind you about them!  You really and truly do not have to do anything except click through to the store of your choice through the ebates link.  There is no fee to join, and they mail you a check every three months.  Rebate amounts vary by store, and they’re pretty high right now!  Lots of popular shops, too.  You really can’t go wrong!  Click here to sign up!  (I’ll get a referral bonus if you sign up through my link, so thank you in advance. :-) )

Prayer Request

Hey, there! Could you please pray for my father-in-law this morning? He suffered a major heart attack last week and is having triple or quadruple bypass surgery this morning. He lost his wife this past summer, and I’m a little worried he doesn’t want to live, and he may also be feeling like a burden to his children, but he’s not, of course.  Love bears all things with a cheerful heart and good will.

Thank you so much!

UPDATE: His surgery has been delayed till next week.  I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but it seems he is heavily sedated because of another issue, and since the “balloon” is doing it’s job well, as far as giving his heart a rest, they’re going to try to bring him back to the land of the living before proceeding. Continuing prayers still appreciated, and I’ll keep you posted!