I got a couple questions on email this week -
First, from Wayne Wencl. He farms in Blooming Prairie, MN in partnership with his dad and brother. They milk cows and ship to organic valley. He said, "I'd find a blog post about bull safety interesting. I always wonder how you keep employees safe from bulls as they bring up cows for milking."
Since we do all our breeding by bulls, (which isn't as common as artificial insemination), bull safety comes up a lot.
First, we buy bulls that are about a year old. The younger they are, we've found, the less aggressive they are.
Also, we keep them at maximum for a year. Basically, we buy them from different farms at a year old, we raise them for a year, and then we sell them.
We've also found that if the bulls are kept busy by breeding cows, they are not interested in messing with people.
Last, if any bull is aggressive or threatening to anyone, we sell him right away. We don't ever want to compromise anyone's safety.
I understand the threat of bulls - my grandpa was seriously hurt by a bull. The bull came after him, knocked the pitchfork out of his hands, and knocked him down against the feeder. He kept butting him up against it. Finally he managed to crawl up into the feeder to get away from the bull. He drove himself to the barn to find his sons and had to go to the hospital - four broken ribs.
So, there are lots of pros and cons to breeding with bulls. By doing it this way, we personally haven't had problems so far. We just try to keep them young ... and busy!
Next, I had a question from my longtime friend Suzie Fromson. Her now-husband Jared worked on the farm here when he was a teenager.
Suzie wrote, "Your latest blog post made me wonder something... you mentioned trying to get the timing just right for planting, fertilizing, etc. In the farming community, do you feel competition between farmers? Like, how often would it happen where you see a nearby farmer out plowing early and you're like 'Oh shoot! Do they know something we don't know?' and then you hurry to catch up, or you go ask them about it?"
I really loved reading this question, because it gives me the chance to explain something non-farmers don't know.
Here it is: farmers are thinking about planting, field work, and harvesting every single second of every single day of the season.
First, we have to plant in a certain time frame, but it can't be too wet or too dry. All of the work to get the field ready has to be done. All of the equipment has to be ready. If you're paying someone else to plant, you have to be on their schedule.
Then when it comes to harvesting, it's the same game with the weather again - everything has to be just right.
Why? Because our planting and harvesting is so important - we have to feed our cattle and we want the absolute best quality and quantity, so they give the most and best milk.
Are farmers watching other farmers? Are farmers talking to other farmers? Yes! They think of and talk about little else. Farmers on Facebook post about it. Friends talk about it. Schedules are planned around it. Some farms go out and feed everyone on a tractor meals so they never have to stop to eat once they start. If the weather is right, people plant and harvest day and night to get it done.
Is it competitive? I don't think we're competing with each other - I get more the feeling that we're all in this together. We ALL want to be in the fields and we ALL want the weather to be perfect! We're more competing against time.
That said, it rained today. We won't be planting until next week at the earliest. This now affects our October vacation plans because the corn harvest will be later than usual. Yes, it's all tied in together!
Thank you for your questions! Now I'll go back to my kids where my questions are always the same: "What can I eat?" "What are we having for dinner?" and, "Can I have two desserts?"
Any questions? Feel free to ask! Email me at address above, or contact me on Facebook or Twitter @carlashelley