Thursday, January 29, 2009

Support the Feingold/Kohl letter to Sec. Vilsack

If you're a dairy farmer, I don't have to tell you how far our price has dropped and how bad the outlook is for the next few months. If you're a dairy consumer, you may not realize how bad our on-the-farm price has gotten based upon what you're paying in the store (that's a can of worms for another day).

There will be a whole lot of us walking the tight rope over the next several months, and unfortunately I expect too many will fall off and not recover. While we're doing what we can "in-house" as an industry (such as the CWT program), there are steps the USDA could take to help stabilize our market.

Senators Feingold and Kohl are preparing a letter to Secretary Vilsack requesting that the USDA explore several options that would offer some relief to the economic challenges that are facing America's dairy farmers. Specifically, the letter asks the USDA to modify its Dairy Product Price Suport Program (DPPSP) to accept standards more in line with industry norms, allow for additional purchases for distribution through USDA nutrition programs, and find ways to fully utilize the Dairy Export Incentive Program (DEIP).

Each of these steps could help preserve our domestic dairy production and make sure that our consumers have high-quality, safe, nutritious, and affordable American milk and dairy products. Please take a few moments and encourage your state's senators to support these requests by co-signing the Feingold/Kohl letter. It's a win-win for both the dairy producer and the dairy consumer.

You can get in touch with your senators through Senate.gov

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Busted by a 3 year old

A little after five, a little girl knocked on our front door. I was expecting to get hit up for some girl scout cookies, but instead her parents had sent her to my door to let me know that we had cows out.

I loaded Linton, my 3 year old son, into the truck, called my dad and tell him the news, and started heading down the road. Dad and I met up, saw a couple of tracks, and headed in different directions. A couple of minutes later, I saw the two rogue heifers walk back onto the road from out of a cut-over. I got around them and started steering them down the road towards the nearest pasture gate, when "A Good Hearted Woman" started playing on my phone. It was my wife calling to ask me about purchasing a new baby stroller for our upcoming family addition. I told her we were chasing cows and just do what she wanted to do. As we were saying goodbye the heifers did a 180 and turned back in the other direction. As I hung up the phone, I mumbled something under my breath that sounded a lot like "crammit". My little backseat passenger said, "Daddy, that's a bad word! You have to use good manners with the cows! You have to say 'Sook, sook, sook'. The cows want good manners, not bad words."

I had been busted, and over the next five minutes Linton lectured me on good manners.

Anyway, while he was correcting me I had turned around and headed the heifers onto a different road (and back towards the pasture they were supposed to be in). Dad made it there within a couple of minutes and we managed to get the heifers down the road and through the gate.

We're back at home now, and I'm about to make our supper. I'm hoping Linton doesn't tattle-tale on me when Joni gets home or else I'll get the lecture a second time.

Lunchtime update - 1/27/09

"When you're dealing with cows, you never know what the day's going to bring." - David Gilmer, 1/27/09

The first thing my father said to me once I returned to the farm after breakfast was that we would have plenty to keep us busy. One of our bulls tore out of his pasture and tore into a pasture of young, virgin heifers. Luckily, the only one that we could determine was in heat was of breeding age and size, so no real harm was done. But, we had to drive the group of 60 from their pasture to our corral and sort them out. We went ahead and separated out 23 that can be bred and sent them to a vacant pasture, and returned the younger stock back to their original home. The two-year-old bull got banished to the dry cow pasture where there won't be any young heifers close enough to draw his attention.

This whole exercise consumed most of the morning, save for herding a fresh cow and calf out of the maternity pen and pulling the liner off the remaining silage in the pit were currently feeding out of. We'll take care of the typical afternoon duties of milking and feeding after lunch, and I imagine we'll try to haul up some wheat baleage as well before the rain sets in.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Almost like a day off

Today was almost like a day off. I spent most of the morning on a tractor and then had a fair amount of paperwork to attend to this afternoon. I didn't put in but about 8 hours today (by contrast, I put 8 hours in before lunch several times last week) and even that time seemed to fly buy.

I'm not sure what we'll get into tomorrow other than the everyday milking and feeding. If it's not raining, we'll probably resume construction on the fence we're building on the backside of our milking herd's pasture.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

ABC's of Agriculture: Agriculture

Seems like a logical place to start, doesn't it?

Very simply defined, agriculture is science/art/business of producing food, fiber, and fuel through the cultivation of the soil, harvesting of crops, and management of livestock.

I could fill this page up with words and statistics about agriculture in this post, but my intention is to let this whole "ABC's" series give you a broad overview over the next few months. Hopefully you will become aware of how critical agriculture is to basic human existence and how it plays an integral role in our national wealth and security.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A long day on the farm

[this was written Wednesday night but couldn't be uploaded until Thurs. morning]

I put in about 13 hours today, not all of which I enjoyed. It started this morning at 3:00 with frozen air lines in our milking barn, which delayed milking by over an hour. And once we finished milking, I had to spend a good bit of time thawing out the washing system. The day went on to include several different "thaw-out" sessions, fence building, calf delivering, and, of course, the evening milking.

After a day of constantly mumbling "now, what?!" to a never ending series of mini-crises, he're to having faith that tomorrow will be a better day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On the Book

I was never really sure what "Facebook" was all about, and never really had any thoughts of participating. During my trip to San Antonio last week, however, I found out that several of my peers are using it as a forum through which to talk about agriculture. So, I've decided to give it a shot. It'll probably take me a while to figure it out completely, but hopefully it'll be worth my while (and drive some traffic to to this and other agri-blogs/websites).

If you've got a Facebook account, look me up. I'm looking for some new "friends".

Friday, January 16, 2009

Global Warming? Not in Lamar County

It was pretty doggone cold in the milking parlor this morning, but we were able to get the cows milked with minimal problems. All systems were "go" with the exception of the four drop hoses we use to wash off milkers, cows, etc. Apparently they didn't drain out completely before they froze yesterday evening. First thing after breakfast we're going to go back and scrub the units in hot water and get the system wash going. We'll have to drain everything out as soon as its finished because it's not supposed to get above freezing today.

Now I realize that people up north who have to deal with harsh winters are probably rolling their eyes at this story, especially considering the is a season-long reality for many of them. All I can say is that I admire their ability to farm consistently in this type of weather, especially those in animal agriculture. Many hours spent out in the snow and wind while others are piled up with their families in front of a fireplace just goes to show the dedication they have to making sure their livestock is well taken care of and that America has plenty of safe food year-round.

Cold-climate farmers, my hat (or my toboggan as the case was this morning) goes off to you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

ABC's of Agriculture

I think I'm going to start a new series of posts, about one a week, entitled "ABC's of Agriculture". I'll go down the alphabet and post about an ag-related word/term/phrase. Some may be simple definitions, some may be lengthy commentary, and many of them will probably learn towards a dairy perspective.

Don't hold me to it, but I'll probably start out: agriculture, beef, corn, dairy.

If you have any suggestions for me, let me know. I aims to please.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bracing for the cold

Ready or not, the arctic blast is nearly upon us. We've done what we can to make sure we can keep the water troughs going over the next couple of days, and we've got a tank we can use to refill any troughs with frozen supply lines. The air is dry and the ground has firmed up somewhat since all the rain over the past few weeks, so the cows will fare much better than if it was wet. It'll without a doubt be much harder on us, and my hands are already getting numb just thinking about it. Our biggest hope is that the equipment in our milking barn doesn't freeze up. The milking units and vacuum system itself is not really that hard to defrost, but the pneumatic controls pretty much have to thaw by themselves. These controls include the automatic take-offs and rapid exit system. The next two or three days could get pretty long.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Organicrazy

I stumbled upon an organic food advocacy blog this morning. It didn't take long for me to start shaking my head in disgust. If you're in traditional agriculture...crops or livestock...go read "10 Reasons You Want Organic" and be equally as entertained (Reason #4, if you read the comments, is what really set me off). If you're not a farmer, please take note that they justify their claims in the name of science without referencing any studies, legitimate or otherwise.

I'm perfectly willing to say "more power to you" if you are an organic producer. And I've noticed that virtually every organic producer I've ever talked to mentions that its a great way for them to make a great living supplying a product that people will pay a premium for. In my mind, all farmers, traditional and organic, have a place in supplying our people's food and fiber, and the common challenges we face far outweigh the differences we sometimes have.

What bothers me is the seemingly endless hate that's coming from some organic consumers. Not all, and probably not most, but too many nonetheless. They take take the issue from one of personal preference (of taste and locally-grown) and present it as a choice between good and evil. Of course, we've all seen that otherwise well-intentioned people will fall for a sensationalized agenda hook, line, and sinker. In this case, I'm afraid some folks have gone plain organicrazy.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Too Cold at Home

I'm home from San Antonio and ready to get back in the swing of things tomorrow morning. One thing's for sure, it's a bit cooler here now than when I left a couple of days ago. But the real cold is yet to get here, as the local tv station said we could be seeing Friday morning lows around 5 degrees. Now, that's nothing compared to what a lot of folks up north consistently deal with this time of year, but that's pretty extreme for those of us in the southeast. We'll do the best we can to prepare for it and make it through it, but I'm certainly not looking forward to it.

There are a couple of news releases about the presentation I was a part of yesterday, and here are the links if you are interested:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Live from San Antonio

The Dairyman's Blog is coming to you live from San Antonio.

I arrived at 6:00pm yesterday evening, though I should have been here at 10:30am. What was the problem? I committed the cardnal sin of dairy farming...I overslept. I had to leave my house by 4:00am to get to the airport in time, but either forgot to turn on my alarm or was so out of it when it went off that I unconciously rolled out of bed, turned it off, and got back in bed. Either way, I woke up at 4:31 and acted pretty much like a wild man for the next few minutes trying to stuff everything I could in a suitcase and take off. My wife calmly talked me into slowing down and settling for a later flight. So I did and now here I am.

I just finished giving the presentation I came down here for. I really enjoyed sharing the stage and listening to Chris Chinn and Michelle Ganci give their presentations, and I'm very appreciative to Don Lipton of AFBF and everyone else connected to the event that gave me the opportunity to participate. We all received alot of positive feedback, but the real measuring stick of our effectiveness will be determined by how many in our audience are willing to step up and tell their own personal stories about how they care for their farm animals. We've all got a great story to tell, and it's critical that we all go out and share it.

I'll be flying back home tomorrow, and will be back in the dairy swing of things on Tuesday. To end this post, allow me to plug the following:
  • visit (often), bookmark, and share www.gilmerdairyfarm.com with everyone in your address book
  • do the exact same thing with this blog, and leave feedback via the "response" check boxes, email, or comments

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog and my farm website, and have a great week.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A smooth Friday on the farm

Things went pretty smoothly on the farm today. The ground had dried enough to turn out milking cows out on oats for the first time. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. Other than that, we did the basic Friday morning "clean up and put out hay" routine. This afternoon was just the basics of milking and feeding, save for having to haul up three loads of baleage from storage to our TMR-building area.

I'm off to pack for San Antonio, as referenced in an earlier post. It looks like I'll be flying out in rain and coming back to much cooler weather. I don't know if I'll have an opportunity to post anything while there or not, but in the meantime have a great weekend and encourage as many of your friends, family, and co-workers as possible to drink more milk, eat more cheese, and made reading The Dairyman's Blog an essential part of their daily balanced internet diet.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thursday's Gilmer Dairy Farm recap (late night edition)

It's been a long day. Not a bad day, mind you, just a long day.

It started at 3:00am in the milk barn. Our DHIA technician was on hand to weigh our cows milk, and that monthly event generally adds about a half-hour extra time onto the milking shift. We finished up just before 6:30. By the way, preliminary results came back this afternoon and we had a herd average just shy of 59 pounds of milk per cow. We should get the complete report sometime next week, and that's when I'll be able to post information about the cows in our "Edopt-a-Cow" program on our farm website.

After breakfast, we spent a few minutes switching a few dry cows from one pasture to another, and then we begin building cross-fencing in one of the fields we'll graze our milking herd on this spring. We finished that job about 11:3o, and then had to herd three heifers back into their pasture.

After lunch, I helped get things started in the milk barn, then went to find and fix the spot where the heifers had gotten out of their pasture. From that point on, it was a typical wintertime afternoon. We finished milking the cows and fed the calves and headed towards home a little after 4:00.

I had to drink a couple of cups of coffee to stay awake and watch Florida defeat Oklahoma in the championship game tonight, so that's why I'm posting so late this evening. But the caffiene is starting to wear off and I've got another full day tomorrow, so it's time for this dairy farmer to hit the hay.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A late finish and an early start tomorrow

We got a good bit accomplished today, I'd say. We sorted a group of dry cows, spent some quality time cleaning out our shop building, distributed some hay, and of course fed all of our animals and milked our cows. We wrapped up about 4:00pm and I came on home. Since that time, I've swapped a bed in our house for a bed out in storage, helped my parents get a new tv into their house, harvested a deer, ate a couple of hotdogs, an worked on my portion of the presentation I'll be apart of on Sunday (see post "San Antonio Bound").

So, writing this post will be my last act before hitting the bed, save for brushing my teeth and saying my prayers. And I should have already been there, especially considering I've got a 3am appointment to weigh the milk of 218 cows.

Perhaps I'll get a good sleep in. Regardless, I'll do my best to find something interesting around the farm to blog about tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How high's the water, mama?

Four inches high and rising.

We've had a near constant mist, drizzle, or downpour since early yesterday evening. My dad said that his rain gauge read 4 inches a little before 3am this morning, and I know we've had a fair amount more since then. The tv weatherman said to expect this weather throughout the rest of the day, with another 2-4 inches possible.

The last several weeks have been very wet. And even though it's making parts of our pastures and our "high-traffic" areas pretty muddy and sloppy, it's really helping to get our water table built back up after the last few dry summers we've had. I just hope the clouds save some rain for June-August.

I'm not sure what we'll get into this morning once all the heifers have been fed. We'll probably try to find something to do in our barn or shop so we can stay under a roof.

Monday, January 5, 2009

San Antonio bound

Coming off the heels of my video conference appearance, I'll be traveling to San Antonio this coming weekend to participate in the 90th Annual Meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation. I'll be part of a three-member panel discussing why those of us in animal agriculture need to share our personal stories and correct the misconceptions people have about what we do. We'll also be sharing the methods that have worked for each of us. If you'll be attending the big event, our workshop's room & time assignment can be found on page 7 of the AFBF's meeting program, and a more in-depth preview is available via AlfaFarmers.org.

I'll be sharing the stage with two nationally-known and widely respected ag advocates, Chris Chinn and Michelle Ganci. I'm not exactly sure how I sneaked in there with them (my resumé certainly doesn't match up!), but I'll give it my best shot. Time to get back to work on that Power Point presentation!

Giving credit where credit is due

I was fortunate to be one of four Alabamians joining Governor Bob Riley via video conference during an event at which he announced a vendor to lead the state's rural broadband access expansion effort. There's a nice news story about the event on the Alabama Farmers Federation's website.

My job was pretty simple...just talk about why farmers and the agricultural industry need broadband. I basically rehashed what I had typed in an earlier blog post, "Creeping down the information superhighway". I was also able to work in a mention that many of us involved in our state's number one industry could use broadband access to help spread the truth about agriculture, and how production and the stewardship of our environment and animals goes hand-in-hand.

If you read the online story linked above, you might notice I also mentioned that a person using dial-up could make and drink a cup of coffee before a website was even half loaded. That thought, I must confess, was not one of my own. Earlier this morning I had a telephone conversation with Jesse Hobbs, a good friend and row-crop farmer from Elkmont, Alabama. I asked him about his farm's internet connection and he shared the "coffee example" while expressing his dial-up frustrations. So here's to you Jesse...you gave me a good line and I'm giving credit where credit is due.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A heck of a half-day

It seems that whenever I think I'm going to have an easy day, things change.

Everything started well enough on the farm this afternoon, but about half-way through milking the cows I got word that we had heifers out. It turns out that we had 12 out of a group of 52 out of their pasture. They really weren't much trouble, as they had already moved along the fence of another pasture.

I hadn't been back in the barn 20 minutes when I found out that we had "a whole bunch of cows in the road". Well, I was expecting the other 40 heifers, but it was only 9 of them. They too were easy to manage, but I decided once we finished milking to drive around the pasture and spot the others. I did eventually see them, and to this moment no one has called to say they're out.

Once I had finished dealing with those heifers, one of our workers and I went to look for a cow that had come up missing. We found her in a very bad place. Apparently, she had been walking alongside a gully and the ground caved off from under her. We got her pulled out, sat her upright, and fenced out the area where she had fallen.

Finally, I had a heifer in the maternity pasture that needed me to help her deliver her calf. It was some tough pulling, but we got the little joker on the ground and when I left both the heifer and her calf were doing ok.

Instead of having an easy afternoon and finishing up about 3:30 like I thought I would, I walked in the door about a quarter 'til 6:00. Such is the life of a dairy farmer I guess.

A half-day off

With two employees working this weekend, my dad took the early shift and I was able to sleep in this morning. Of course, my internal alarm still went off about its normal time and I didn't have alot of success falling back to sleep after that, but I did get more rest than I'm accustomed to. I'll be heading over to the farm after lunch to put in my half-day.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Creeping down the information superhighway

To the best of my knowledge, I was the first person in my high school class to have an internet connection at home and an email address. My parents subscribed to a dial-up plan that brought the world to my computer screen at 26.6kbps...pretty decent for a country boy in 1995.

After having the wonderful experience of using high-speed internet at college, I returned back to the farm in 2001 and signed up for the only 'net connection option available to me...dial-up. I'm still using it and on a good day I can get a 28.8kbps connection.

There are higher-speed options available to me. A local company installs wireless internet, and I could always subscribe to a satellite service. What I would really like is for the phone company to extend their DSL service by LESS THAN A MILE so I could get access to it, though an operator once told me, "it could be between three months and three years before it's available at your location." I don't want to pay $40 more monthly for a wireless connection that's 128k slower than the basic DSL package or $50 more monthly for a satellite connection (plus equipment costs and a 2 year commitment) that's equal to the mid-range DSL package. I need better options!

We in rural America need reliable, affordable broadband access. Especially farmers, who now more than ever need access to up-to-the-minute information, educational "webinars", and other 'net applications that are only practical with a high-speed connection. And that's just the receiveing part of it. More and more of us are using the 'net to promote our products and farms and are using it to share the story of agriculture with the populace at-large. A good example of how broadband access would be beneficial for me is that it would give me the ability to post videos of my farm. These videos could be the best avenue through which to share about my operation, but I simply don't have the connection I need to upload such large files.

Thankfully, there are other people concerned with this issue. Alabama's governor, Bob Riley, issued an executive order last May creating the Alabama Broadband Initiative. The goal is to extend broadband capabilities throughout our state, and hopefully that will include Gilmer Dairy Farm. Provided all the technical issues get worked out, I'll be participating in a video conference (from a location with high-speed, of course) Monday morning and will address some of these concerns. I certainly look forward to the opportunity and hope that I can make a meaningful contribution.

I don't expect someone to knock on my door next week and tell me that broadband is available to me, but knowing that our state government is making a committment to expanding it at least gives me a little hope. It also means I'll be patient and stick with dial-up instead of switching to wireless or satellite...at least for a little while longer.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hello 2009

Happy New Year! As we close the book on 2008 and look forward to 2009, there are several things I expect us to accomplish on our farm in the coming months:
  • We'll get a new feeding barn constructed. We're supposed to be receiving the final drawings within the next few days so we can begin talking to builders. This project will allow us to more efficiently manage our feeding and waste collection, and will also provide additional "cool space" for our cows in the summertime.
  • If the weather cooperates, we'll have a more broad-based forage plan. I expect we'll do more to utilize seasonal rotation/strip grazing for our milk herd, harvest more of our spring forages as silage as opposed to baleage, and plant both corn and sorghum for silage this summer.
  • We'll probably make some much needed equipment upgrades as well. Our old dump truck needs to be replaced, and we'll probably get a heavy duty work truck/dump trailer combo to take its place. We may also trade in one (or two) of our tractors and get one with more pto horsepower and torque.
Here at home, it's going to be hard to predict what the year will bring. We're expecting our second child (and first daughter) this spring and lots of people have told me that having the second is more of an adjustment than having the first. I guess I need to get a jump on things and start improving my time management skills right now. But whatever comes our way this year, either at home or on the farm, we're confident that in 12 months we'll be looking back on 2009 and calling it a good year.