LYON COUNTY - Farming today isn't like it used to be, was the basic impression a group of Lyon County city folk received after visiting four farms Tuesday.
The Lyon County Farm Bureau hosted its third "I Met a Farmer" tour in which 27 people from a variety of professions participated.
"Each county has a way to educate people as to where our food comes from," said David Van Loh, a Minnesota Farm Bureau District board of directors member from Westbrook. "Each county is responsible as to how they want to spread the word."
Photo by Karin Elton
Matt Boerboom of Boerboom Ag Resources shows samples of the micro-ingredients, including bakery byproducts and distillers grains, that are fed to their pigs.
The group toured the Moorse Dairy Farm near Minneota, Triple C Cattle near Balaton, Greg and Paula Boerboom's hog operation near Marshall and Roger and Steve Coudron's crop farm near Marshall.
"I loved it," said tour participant Rachael Bucholz of Marshall who is a Lyon County Republican Board intern. "It was a wonderful opportunity. I grew up in town so this is new information for me. The members of the Farm Bureau answered a lot of questions for me. It was an eye opening experience."
Deanna Coudron, a Farm Bureau board member, said the tour participants included a "cross-section - a pastor, doctors, educators - people who work in the community. We want to educate the community about what a farmer does."
Although every farm is different, there are common practices that are employed such as proper sanitation and the use of technology.
Brittany Moorse was the enthusiastic spokeswoman for her family's business, the Moorse Dairy Farm, which is just outside of Minneota. Moorse is a third generation dairy farmer who works alongside her father, Greg Moorse, and his two brothers, Bernie and Ed.
She explained that their milk is tested to make sure no traces are evident of penicillin that may have been used to treat the cow. Disposable gloves are worn when interacting with the cow and "we sanitize the teat so no germs or dust or anything gross gets into the milk," she said.
The cow's tail is also "docked" or shortened "for a cleaner cow," Moorse said. "It's for the milkers too, so the cows can't swat you in the face."
The bulk tank room includes a sink.
"Every employee must wash their hands," she said.
Moorse said the cows are "pedigreed, and I can name every cow, its mother, grandmother and great-grandmother." A computer program is also used to keep records.
Other practices greenhorns might not know about is that a dairy cow does not nurse her young.
"We don't let the cows nurse their calves because the teats get too large (for the milking equipment)," she said.
Also, dairy farmers "don't use the first milk after birth for 72 hours because of the colostrum," she said. Colostrum results in too rich of a product.
The Moorses work with a dairy nutritionist to feed their cows.
The recipe includes alfalfa, corn, a vitamin and mineral mix, distillers grain - "which a byproduct of ethanol production and is expensive," Moorse said - and silage or dried-up corn.
"It's a hot dish for cows," she said.
Every calf receives an electronic ear tag which contains a computer chip.
"We test for ketones," she said. "The milk is tested before it leaves the farm and again at the creamery."
In addition to sanitation methods, farmers aim to use the best equipment and facilities that they are able to provide. At the Triple C Feeders, the Chandler beef feeding operation near Balaton, Troy Chandler explained the farm's monoslope shed, which houses 2,600 head of cattle. The shed allows for fresh air to come in on one side and employs a double curtain system which, at the push of a button, can be raised or lower in response to inclement weather.
"It keeps snow and stuff out and keeps the air flow in," he said.
Chandler, a fourth generation beef farmer, works with his father, Jeff, and grandfather, Marvin. Marvin's father, Clarence, started the operation in 1949.
Jeff Chandler said the cattle come in as 600-pound calves from western South Dakota and go out as 1,400-pound to 1,500 pound cows.
The ranch works with Dakotaland Feeds out of Huron, S.D.
"We buy a lot of our calves from them, and they put together our feed ration," Chandler said.
The feed ingredients, which includes distillers grain, may fluctuate "depending on the price and what works," said Chandler.
Chandler said the cattle are a crossbreed.
"They are 80 percent Angus," he said. "Packers like the Angus breed, but they are usually not 100 percent Angus. There is probably some other breed in there."
Chandler explained that the Angus are a "small breed, not a real tall breed, and they get crossed with bigger frames such as the Charolais or Hereford." Chandler said the cows are monitored daily for sickness and given antibiotics to treat if needed, but "they can't go to market until the antibiotics are out of their system."
The manure the cattle produces is "stockpiled in the summer until fall and then it's spread on the crops," he said.
Chandler added that the soil and manure are tested regularly.
The farm tourists donned plastic boots over their shoes to walk around the Boerboom Ag Resources hog operation owned by Greg and Paula Boerboom. Daughter Laurie Kesteloot and sons Mike and Matt Boerboom work on the farm in addition to 11 full-time employees and a few part-time employees.
Greg Boerboom noted there are "seven college degrees" among the employees.
BAR produces pigs from birth to market as well as the managed pig production with sales in excess of 150,000 market hogs annually. It operates a feed mill for the farm's use.
Employees wear plastic boots, coveralls, shower caps and dust masks as disease control and partly "so we don't smell," said Boerboom.
Boerboom said there are two main diseases to watch out for on a hog farm. One is the Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, which is a "pneumonia-like sickness" in which the virus constantly mutates so it is hard to treat, he said. "The best practice is to prevent it."
The second disease is the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, which is hard to withstand if the pig is younger than 20 weeks of age.
"They can't survive two or three days of extreme dehydration," he said.
Boerboom said the disease came from China, maybe from feed ingredients.
BAR raises about 600 acres of crops for feed and buys around 1,000,000 bushels of corn from surrounding farmers and about 5,000 tons of soybean meal annually to be fed to the pigs. Additional main feed ingredients are dried distillers grains and bakery bi-products.
Manure produced from the pigs is added back to the fields as fertilizer, which in turn helps produce the next crop of corn to be fed to the pigs.
Matt Boerboom said that Boerboom Ag Resources works with Ralco Nutrition in putting together the right formulas to feed pigs in their different stages of life.
A company from Aurora, S.D., comes in with a "semi load a day - 33 tons - of a byproduct of soybean oil," said Matt Boerboom.
The feed is regularly tested for quality.
Steve Coudron, who operates the farm with his parents Roger and Deanna Coudron, also monitors the quality and effectiveness of his farming methods.
With the use of a computer in the cab of his tractor, he can "get the ground perfectly level," he said. "You can do a better job of planting the seeds. With computerized steering, you are more efficient, there's less overlap," he said. "The planter can program how many seeds I need. I'm not wasting seeds with double planting."
The Coudrons plant 750 acres.
"I can plant 150 acres a day," he said. The tractor also monitors how much herbicide and pesticide is needed.
"That way we don't use extra," Coudron said.
Coudron added that Environmental Protection Agency regulations include keeping a record of every chemical application.
A farm that doesn't use chemicals is Olson Organics near Cottonwood. Jonathan Olson, who with his wife, Carolyn Olson, operates Olson Organics, gave a presentation at the Coudron farm about organic farming. Carolyn Olson is the president of the Lyon County Farm Bureau.
Jonathan Olson said he uses a machine called a "flamethrower" attached to his tractor that he designed to eradicate weeds such as broadleaf. Using a propane tank, it burns the tops off the plants which kills the weed without herbicides.
He also uses computer technology to navigate in the fields which "makes the trips across the field a lot easier, especially when you get such small windows between rains," he said.