My Passion – Fast Food Farm

WHAT IS YOUR PASSION?   My passion is teaching our youth as well as adults at times about the importance of agriculture.  This time of the year ends my nine months of fulfilling my passion.  My year starts with the beginning of the spring season and ends with the end of the fall season in teaching about “Where Does Your Food Come From?”                                                        

Fast Food Farm sign

At the Fast Food Farm the youth become physically involved in the growing process of their food.

Through hands-on activities they learn how the weather affects the plants, and what happens to the food when it leaves the farm.   They also learn about food nutrition, food preparation, and food processing.

#3 .Harvesting for the Needy - Geans 2

In working with the Ag Science students throughout the school year I have seen them grow in leadership and character to become leaders in our community.   At the Fast Food Farm students learn how to respect the land as they discover how to cultivate and prepare the soil for planting.  

 Throughout the nine months over 5000 students are learning about “Where Does Your Food Come From?”  It is so rewarding to see our youth connect to the soil, plants, animals, and the source of their foods.

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Winter weather wimp

There are a lot of things that make a farmer tough and one of these things is winter weather. When a farmer has to take care of animals in sub-zero temperatures, priorities of said farmer are never clearer. To demonstrate, let me explain what it takes to even get ready to go outdoors, let alone be functional completing chores.

chores

Coming into the house after a few hours in the field feels so good!

Layers. Your mama told you to dress in layers no matter the season, right? A northerner’s winter is the rule, not the exception for this tip. A running tank top, long-sleeve waffle T-shirt, a sweater and a hooded sweatshirt will get you started, underlined with a pair of long underwear and jeans or tight pair of jeans that hug to your body to keep in warmth. Top all that with a pair of lined coverall pants (or adult snowpants and regular coveralls), a wool button-up shirt, an insulated jacket and maybe a second, larger insulated jacket with a hood. Before you put on your farm boots, now is the time to decide if you have to shed some layers to use the bathroom or go back for a belt. You’ll thank yourself in the fourth hour of chores when you’re not dancing or needing to pull up your first layer of pants that are inconveniently located under your jackets and coveralls.

Finding the right gloves and other accessories. I’m still trying to get this right and this is the number one thing that makes me a winter weather wimp. My sheep are not impressed with the pearls that I wear to my office job and they don’t care if my belt (that you can’t even see under all those layers) matches my manure-covered boots. I don’t need to say that you should find a good pair of thick, wool socks – you already know that, right? A ski mask may not be pretty but it’s definitely the best option, otherwise you may settle for a neck gator and a tight hat that covers your ears.

The gloves are what get me. My hands are slightly bigger than a teenager’s and are absolutely drowned in men’s gloves, which are the most abundant in our household and in farm stores. Dainty garden gloves won’t do it this season and kid’s gloves aren’t likely to have the tough padding needed for barn and field work. My solution is to use a pair of kid’s gloves under a men’s pair of gloves that have a wrist strap to pull tight and lock in a more solid fit. It’s important for a person’s hands to be functional to open gates, use a knife to cut bale strings, handle the tractor gears, wrap around bucket handles and use a pen for hand-written records while sorting sheep. No matter how tempting it is to take those gloves off to use your cell phone to take a video or photo of your hard work in the cold, it’s just not worth it some days. There are warmer days for #felfies.

Optimism. Knowing chores will be over in a certain (estimated) timeframe keeps a person focused on what needs to be done for the farm animals. If you know you’ll stop for lunch, that helps. Lunch hasn’t always been a first priority for us so I usually ask for the day’s agenda before dressing in my layers. And, naturally, the list is usually an optimistic list so I like to ask for more clarification of the day’s priorities. It also helps to know that June is not too far off… and with summer comes grilling season of the meat we’re caring for today!

Matchmaking day

We expect babies – that is, baby lambs – two times per year on our farm. So that means that we need to plan 150 days in advance – twice. Our matchmaking days are September 12 (ironically, my sister’s birthday, and the day my uncle tells people that Honeycrisp apples will be ready from their orchard) and December 25.

So, like clockwork, yesterday the ewes (female sheep) were sorted to be put with the rams (males). In total we chose to expect lambs from 102 ewes this winter. Our other 150 ewes will be exposed this winter for spring lambs.

fall ewes

Red marks on these girls are a chalk mark made in the sorting process. Chalk is easy to see when opening the gate to these animals and washes out in the first rain.

winter lambs

Ewes bred in this cycle will have lambs under the protection of our 98-year old barn in February 2014.

spring lambs

A second round of breeding on Christmas will allow us to expect lambs in May 2014.

New Jersey’s history has many firsts

In 1642 the first brewery of American opened in Hoboken in northern New Jersey. They tapped into the fledgling grain market as these brews were made from local grains.

Today micro-breweries are a vital part of NJ’s economy as the large breweries have all moved out of state.

After the brew is made there are wet grains left. They are a good source of energy as they generally test at 25% protein.

We, as dairy farmers, have a contract to haul out these wet brewer’s grains from two small local breweries. The grains are hauled by tractor trailer and dumped here at the farm to be mixed into our feed ration for our dairy herd.

Our “TMR” – total mixed ration – consists of our homegrown and chopped corn silage, snapledge (the ear of corn is snapped off of stalk and ground up for feed), ground shelled corn, chopped hay, brewers grains and our nutritionist’s mix of soybean meal and minerals.

Dairy products are good for you!

Healthy cows

cows

Our cows are content in their open-air barn with plenty of food to sustain their bodies.

Our “Holstein Ladies” need a lot of attention to keep them healthy. The monthly reproductive healthcare is in the hands of two vets especially trained in this area. Their on-farm visits are vital for good reproductive and lactating health for our cows.

For any major sickness or injuries our local large animal vet comes to the farm for treatments. Most routine care and breeding is done by our guys.

Constant monitoring for cooling and air circulation is especially important in extremely hot weather – anything over 70° plus humidity can cause heat stress to our milking cows.

We have a mobile hoof trimmer who brings a chute and tilt table to the farm to trim each cow. Hoof care is important for healthy cows.

Important: proper fences and gates help keep animals from getting loose and out on the road. It is no fun to chase a herd of cows at 3 a.m. when it is dark outside and hard to see the animals!

Healthy, happy cows can produce more milk!

Our Sheep Dog

There are many times on our farm that we have to repeat, “Work smarter, not harder.” In the case of moving sheep throughout two property pastures, this is definitely something to consider!

Our sheep dog, named Nike (pronounce like “Mike” but named for the Nike swoosh [like the tennis shoe] on his neck), makes our job easier. But more importantly, Nike helps our sheep smoothly transition to new surroundings. He doesn’t push too far or too fast, but gently guides sheep as a group to a new location.

sheep dog

Farmer and herding dog work together on our farm to make sure sheep are comfortable in new surroundings.

Sheep are animals that like company. If one front leader moves in one direction, the rest will likely follow. And if the group is separated, animals get anxious. Border collies like Nike have been trained for years to have instinct to herd animals. In fact, this weekend in Utah, the Soldier Hollow Classic is a world-class sheepdog championship trial.

We’re very thankful to have a dog to work alongside our farm animals and he’s thankful to be well cared for in the wide open spaces of the country.

smiling sheep dog

Our sheep dog makes our job a lot easier and he’s very happy to have a job caring for our sheep on our farm!