Monday, April 9, 2012

Playing the Blame Game. aka Globe Warning

One subject that is bound to get people crazy is global warming. And it's no wonder. Weather is one of those topics that never seems to get old on the farm, or anywhere else for that matter. Endless hours are spent wondering if we can beat mother nature, or if she is going to beat us.
I sat in on a presentation form a U of M meteorologist this past February on global warming. I don't have his presentation, but here's what I remember.  Weather averages are reported on a 30 years average. In 2010, the average dropped off the decade of the 70's, and picked up the decade of the 2000's. When that happened it changed the average rainfall for Brookings, SD from 19.24" to just over 24". The high temps for the area aren't as high, and the lows aren't as low. But the the high of the day to the overnight lows, aren't changing as much. We are also dealing with more humidity. A dew point of +70 degrees feels tropical, and used to be rare in this area. Last summer we had 7 days with a dew point of over 80 degrees. On July 19th, Morris MN had a dew point of 88 degrees. Rain events are changing as well. In the time frame from 1986 to 2004, our area averaged just over one rain event per year that amounted to over 2 inches. Since 2004, Sioux Falls, SD has had 23 such events, with the largest event being 4.85". The presenter was quick to point out that he wasn't a theorist, but just a numbers guy. Does this change things on the farm? Absolutely. If we can't count on overnight cooling, and have to deal with high humidity, shade and cooling become MUCH more important. More fat cattle of the black variety during the summer is a real situation that needs to be addressed.
So why do I bring this all up? Everyone has been spending the last decade blaming everyone for everything. Claiming something isn't our fault and that it isn't happening are two different things entirely. So many are trying to find fault with everything and everyone that it gets hard to deal with possible issues. FTLB has been available for 20 years and ammonia has been used in food preparations for decades, but is now being blamed for killing us? If one takes a stand in support of technology we get accused of poisoning the planet. Life expectancy is higher than ever, and we are feeding more people than ever before, but still it seems to be in vogue to accuse farmers and ranchers of all sorts of evil.
Is global warming real? I don't know. But I know our winters have been incredibly mild in the northern plains. Europe has been cold. They were trying to skate the canals in Holland this year for only the second time since the 1970's. It hasn't been cold enough for the race for decades.
I know that in today's environment everyone is an expert. The Internet has allowed everyone a voice. But leveling the blame is getting in the way of moving forward.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Too Much Technology?

Growing up, I was fascinated by my dads hands. They were huge. A game we played as kids involved dropping a quarter through his wedding ring. I think dad wore a size 15 ring. Hands formed by milking cows by hand. Sometime in the 60's they switched to a vacuum pump and bucket milkers. The time spent with each animal went down as the technology increased.
A recent run of events brought this topic to mind for me. But the topic, is one that we seem to running into headfirst.
If we make use of technology in caring for animals, does this diminish their quality of life?
The most recent catalyst for this discussion was a post that highlighted the Lely robotic milkers. Someone I respect a great deal, suggested that this would remove the basic tenets of animal husbandry. This also seems to be the charge leveled against any of today's large farms.
Can any farm with hundreds to thousands of animals really take care of them?
What constitutes care?
This same friend offered that animals make our lives richer, and that we enrich their lives. I can't argue that point, but does an animal need daily interaction with me to be fulfilled?
Is there a different level of interaction that each species would require? And lastly who gets to decide what that level is?
If some of the basic jobs can be done by others/machines, does that diminish what happens on the farm?

When I was growing up, one of the jobs I got, was cleaning the calf barn. With a pitchfork. You know, the manually operated kind. It took a couple of hours each week. Character building kind of work. Within two months of my taking an off the farm job, that barn was being cleaned with a skid loader. They replaced labor with capital. The trend continues today.
Today's farmers are faced with the same issues that people everywhere face.Pay the mortgage, raise a family, and try to improve their quality of life. Growing up on a 40 cow dairy, we rarely took vacations. A week away from the farm was almost unheard of. If an opportunity came up for a day away, it could work, as long as it fit between morning and evening chores. Relief milkers were difficult to come by at best, and impossible to find at worst. The expansion of the dairy allowed for more hired help, more available labor, and more flexibility in time off. 
But has animal care gone down? I'd argue that it has gotten better. The barn of yesteryear were dark dank old caves that lacked much of what we now know contributes greatly to animal welfare. People see animals in barns when on their summer vacations and wish they were out running in the pastures and meadows, but when they get out of their cars they head for the air-conditioned comfort of the motel. Today's barns offer shade, and a great deal of animal comfort. Are they perfect? No, but producers are always on the lookout for cost effective ways to take better care of their animals.
Do farms today look like an updated version of Olde McDonald's Farm? Nope, and most likely never will again. Does that automatically make us evil? Nope, it doesn't