Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Gotta Get a Fitbit for Bossy the Cow

I don't even know a close friend who wears a Fitbit--the folks I hang around with are only "a bit fit." But apparently fitness monitors are getting popular, so I guess the bovine crowd needs to keep up with the trends. These links and observations should get you caught up with the basics of wearable tech for the cattle in your life.

According to Inside Science, researchers hope wearable fitness monitors can help keep herds of beef cows healthy. An epidemiologist at the University of Calgary in Canada is testing how accelerometers--the same devices inside fitness monitors that measure a person's activity level--can be used to detect disease in beef cattle before it becomes obvious to ranchers.

A group called Quantified Ag has been developing electronic ear tags to monitor certain behavior and biometric markers that indicate when cattle are sick. According to a Wallaces Farmer article, a receiver in the feed yard takes signals from multiple ear tags and sends the data to a central system--the cloud--where the data is aggregated. Algorithms flag animals showing signs of illness, and alerts are sent to ranchers on their smartphones, tablets, email, or secure website.

The Moo Monitor tracks the activity and health of a cow—and it apparently keeps track of a cow’s fertility and hormonal cycle, information that can be used to more effectively breed cows.

A Fitbit for Bossy?

So... we can get devices to keep track of the cow’s fertility and hormonal cycle—apparently this leads to a higher rate of successful pregnancies. A bit invasive but helpful, no doubt.

We only had one milk cow on our farm, but the old Guernsey communicated just fine without tech. If she didn’t like the way I was squeezing out the milk, she swung a mud and manure tinged tail at my head while I sat milking on the three-legged stool. 

No way I would have ever pried into details about her sex life.

by dan gogerty (top pic from satirewire.com)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Dad reckons fencing in the Midwest has become a lost art. “Baling wire, panels, and electric wire are used to patch up problem areas. Only a few seasoned fence builders know how to stretch wire and brace it with wooden and steel posts set in a straight line for 80 rods.”

Fencing used to be essential--and maybe even dangerous. When I was seven years old, Dad nearly lost a finger while coming down hard with a steel post mall. He kept the bloody mass in his leather glove he was wearing, Mom drove him to town, and Doc Hall stitched it up—without using baling wire or duct tape, I presume.

“Before mechanized help, we pounded posts with a mall and dug holes with muscle. Hard dirt and rocks made it tough, and pasture creeks offered special challenges.” Dad and his brother Pat kept up the practices left to them by Grandpa: barbed wire field fences held cattle in pastures and out of the corn; boards on feedlot fences were nailed on tight and painted white by us Tom Sawyer kids on hot summer days; and woven wire fences gave the pigs something to match wits with—they sometimes won, and we spent plenty of time rounding up wayward livestock.

For some farmers, fences were a source of pride bordering on obsession. “Our neighbor Ambrose had the ultimate fence,” Dad tells me. “It was hog-tight around his 160-acre farm. Three barbs above 36-inch-high woven wire attached to creosoted wooden posts interspaced with two or three steel posts. This allowed him to graze cattle, hogs, or sheep in any field on the farm.”

Confinement livestock practices and wall-to-wall crop planting changed things in much of the Midwest. “Fences have fallen down,” says Dad. “Drifted over by blowing dirt and bulldozed out by farmers, fences are considered nuisances. They harbor weeds, drift snow, and snag field equipment.”

In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost uses the line “good fences make good neighbors” in folksy and ironic ways. Two neighboring farmers tend to a rock wall that sets the boundary for their property. As Dad recalls, “Fences could be meeting places for farmers in the fields. We’d stop our planters or cultivators to visit for a spell. Nowadays the renter might wave from an air-conditioned cab atop a monster tractor.”

But Frost also used the line “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Maybe he was prescient about modern farming in the land where corn and soybean fields roll like oceans toward the horizon. Something there is that doesn’t love a fence.

by dan gogerty, with thanks to Rex Gogerty (pig pic from organicgrowersschool.org; collage from youtube.com)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

College "Cowgirl" Joins CAST Staff

For most teenagers, winter break time means closing textbooks, sleeping in, and tuning out. For Andee Hammen, it has meant rising early and walking through the winter chill to help with her dad’s cattle operation. “Plenty to do when 150 cows calve out,” says Andee. “I’ve always loved baby animals, and I’ve been a cowgirl on the family farm as far back as I can remember.”

The small Iowa town of Jolley is not a typical Annie Oakley cowgirl setting, but it is one of those places where dedicated farmers work hard to produce the nation’s food. At an early age, Andee may have decked out as a gun-totin’ cowgirl for Halloween, but she knew that daily farm chores were real world necessities. She learned how to bottle feed calves and assist during difficult birthing times. “I’ve never been afraid of animals,” she said. “For many years I worked with cattle and sheep to get them ready for shows, including the Iowa State Fair.” Yes, even cowgirls show sheep at the fair.

Andee’s show days at the fair are over, but she is still focused on agriculture. As an Iowa State University junior, she is majoring in agricultural communications and recently accepted an intern position at the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. On the ISU campus, Andee is a member of the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow club, and as a student ambassador, she helps with recruiting. At the CAST office, she helps with editorial support, event organization, and social media.

Andee is also interested in photography, with nature and animals as her main focus. With her experience and classes now centered on agriculture and journalism, she is confident about moving into some type of ag-centered profession. “My first choice would be an agency or publications group concerned with livestock production.” As the saying goes—you can take the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the livestock farm off of a cowgirl who loves working with animals.

by dan gogerty