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Local Food Systems: Supporting Our Community In A CrisisOctober  |  2018

Volume One  |  Lauren Langworthy

 

We’ve all seen signs and memes on social media urging us to “shop local” or “eat local,” but in uncertain times like these, the reason behind the sentiment becomes clear. International trade, national transportation systems, and giant corporations don’t worry about their neighbors in the way that we worry about ours.

Think about all the hands that touched that toilet paper before it ended up in your shopping cart: hands that manufacture, package, transport it to a storage warehouse, inventory, transport it to a retail store, carry it out to stock the shelves, and the hands that check out from your cart. Now, compare that with the local vegetables, meats, flowers, or jar of preserves that you can pick up at the farmers market, in your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box, or at the food co-op.

If you know your farmer and can get your products directly from them, think about how few people are involved in that chain. Fewer people touched that product and fewer people needed to “get their cut” out of that sale. Even more, when you buy from a farmer like me, you get the added benefit of a personal relationship with someone else in your community. I can assure you, once you know your farmer, you know someone who will do their solemn best to make sure that you never go hungry. Right now, farmers across the Chippewa Valley are offering payment plans for CSA members laid off work and special home deliveries of farm-fresh food to people isolating to stem the spread of the coronavirus. A national box store chain will never care for you like that. If you can’t know your farmer, at least know the staff at your co-op. They have the same goals of building our local economy and have likely met the farmers who produce your food as they regularly drop off fresh deliveries in the back.

That’s not all! Beyond your personal benefit of local food security, nutritious and delicious meals, and robust regional relationships, our economy thrives when our local food system is flourishing. The dollars you spend at that big box store pay some local employees, but the focus of that company is really generating massive profits for CEOs and stockholders far away from the Chippewa Valley.

When you spend a dollar with a farmer or local business, those profits go to your neighbors. Those neighbors cycle that money back through our local economy: buying a cup of coffee, contributing toward the school fundraiser, tipping the wait staff after lunch or the musician at the bar, or putting it straight into running their business with local staff to meet specific neighborhood needs. Instead of enriching Wall Street, those dollars continue to cycle through the Chippewa Valley enriching our lives.

That’s why it’s so important to take this moment of awareness as an opportunity. It’s time to check our orientations: Are we supporting the neighbors who produce for us and provide us with tailored services to our community? This pandemic is our wake-up call. Every day in the headlines, we’re seeing the fragility and cracks in many of our systems – and it’s our neighbors who suffer. So, let’s focus on building resilient community systems that will always get us through the tough times. Buying direct from farmers benefits the whole community. Luckily, it’s getting easier all the time as more producers move their “farm stores” online, offer delivery or pick-up services, and try to meet the ever-changing needs of our community. After all, providing sustenance to their community is what farmers do, and we’re all in this together.

Lauren Langworthy and her husband, Caleb, run Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler, where they produce grass-fed lamb and beef. Lauren is also secretary for the Wisconsin Farmers Union and executive director of MOSES (Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service), an educational nonprofit focused on helping farmers to thrive in sustainable systems of agriculture.

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Pasture Walk at Blue Ox Farm

October  |  2018

Hay River Review  |  Erin Link

 

What a perfect evening to visit Blue Ox Farm in late August. There was a gathering of around thirty or more people for a pasture walk at Blue Ox in Wheeler, WI. This is the third pasture walk I personally went to this summer. The first was at Holm Family Farm in Colfax, WI where they raise organic heifers and custom graze other cows. My second was at Cylon Rolling Acres in Deer Park, WI where goats are raised for meat.

Right now I want to focus on my experience at Blue Ox and talk about pasture walks. Blue Ox is owned by Lauren and Caleb Langworthy. They moved here about six years ago and started off growing vegetables for their CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. Dedicated to improving the land where they were farming, they started rotationally-grazing their sheep to help fertilize the land as well as stimulate and promote healthy root growth in their pasture grasses. They also seeded in a variety of plants to their pasture that would be nutritious or anti-parasitic for sheep, but also improve soil health. These varieties included different clovers, grasses, and chicory. After a few years of veggie farming, Lauren obtained a job for MOSES (Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service) a farming organization dedicated to helping farmers that want to grow organically. At that point, things shifted a bit at Blue Ox and sheep soon became the priority. Caleb also started a couple of small outside gigs a couple years after Lauren started working for MOSES. With their focus shifted to sheep, they worked on creating and improving infrastructure - mainly fencing and water lines. Naturally, they wanted their fences to be secure. They also wanted to create more efficient systems for lambing, shearing, and regular maintenance.

Their sheep herd started at fifty, but has grown to almost three hundred in the last few years. They sell their whole lambs as meat to members and occasionally at local stores such as Just Loal in Eau Claire. Their lambs are 100% grass-fed and, in my opinion, absolutely delicious!

 

I have a soft spot for using ground lamb in tomato-based pasta sauces. I'm also a big fan of leg of lamb on the grill. There are many different ways to prepare your different cuts of lamb. To me, lamb tastes like a very mild venison and pork mix. It adds a lot of hearty flavor to any dish. You can sign up at their webpage to get your own lamb share this winter.

Lauren and Caleb have learned through grazing conferences, mentors, and trial-and-error how to best rotate their ewes and lambs, how to manage pasture, and reduce erosion. A few years back, they brought in a couple of highland cows. The first cows were named after the Golden Girls sitcom: Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy. The cows had calves. Herford bulls were brought in to breed with the highlands and more calves were born. They now have a small herd of highland and highland-mix cows and steers that have been used to clear out extremely brushy areas - all the brush plants that sheep wouldn't touch! Their intention is to create oak savannas. Oak savannas are lightly forested grasslands where oaks are the dominant trees. Creating these oak savannas helps to increase plant diversity and, ultimately, creates good pastures.

Coming back to pasture walks: these walks are organized by the Wisconsin Farmers Union and River Country RC&D, Southwest Badger RC&D, and Glacierland RC&D. These pasture walks not only have been educational, but a fantastic way to meet more people in the community. There is usually PIE involved, and pie always makes for great conversation!

I encourage people to attend a pasture walk or two in the future. Come out and meet your local farmers, show them your support, and be ready to ask questions. 

For more info: Blue Ox Farm Webpage: https://www.blueox.farm

Farmers Need Interdependence

August  |  2018

Agri-View​  |  Jane Fyksen

 

Caleb and Lauren Langworthy are diverting from the path of self-reliance that many farmers tread. The young farmers strive instead to make connections and build community because they believe interdependence is what creates a stable rural economy.

"Farmers in the past relied on one another," Lauren Langworthy said.

It's a philosophy that motivated the Dunn County couple to seek leadership roles with the Wisconsin Farmers Union and to reinvigorate their county's Farmers Union group. And it's why in part they buy hay instead of harvesting their own. They also purchase a Community Supported Agriculture vegetable share fro beginning farmers' they've sold shares of their own produce in the past. Networking and supporting fellow farmers with their time and pocketbook are important to the Langworthys - as is the do-it-yourself doggedness necessary to establish their own farming future.

The Langworthys operate Blue Ox Farm near Wheeler in northwest Wisconsin. Fans of American folklore, they named their farm for Paul Bunyan's mythical towering companion.

The couple purchased 153 acres in 2013 by utilizing a beginning farmer loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. They've also tapped programs from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Dunn County Land and Water Conservation to improve farm conservation and soil quality. They have fenced 55 acres for managed grazing and plan to fence an additional 30 acres in 2019.

While they started with high-tunnel certified-organic vegetable production, they've since switched to livestock production. Caleb Langworthy said labor and margins were concerns with fresh-market vegetables.

"And our sandy soil wasn't being supported by that annual production model," Lauren Langworthy said.

They rotationally graze 150 Coopworth ewes and their lambs - a breed developed in New Zealand. A small herd of beef cows was recently added - Scottish Highlands bred to a Hereford bull. The Langworthys strategically graze their beef cattle in their woods. They said they've seen marked improvement in a short time in the understory quality and productivity. They're working to build soil organic matter with techniques such as winter bale grazing by their livestock so manure is strategically deposited.

Lamb and beef are direct-marketed via social media and to former Community Supported Agriculture customers in Minnesota's Twin Cities. They also wholesale lamb to food cooperatives and restaurant chefs.

The Langworthys are natives of Zumbrota, Minnesota. After high school Caleb worked on vegetable farms. That's where he caught the farming bug. He earned a degree in agriculture from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He then taught school and managed a large market garden that fed students at Golden Hill Area Learning Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

Lauren Langworthy attended Luther College in Decorah, Iowa before working with 4-H and Extension Master Gardeners in Olympia. Now she's the program director for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Based in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, the organization spearheads the MOSES Organic Farming Conference held every year in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

She's also a state director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Her husband is the president of the Dunn County Farmers Union. The two assumed leadership roles after participating in a Farmers Union Enterprises leadership-development program in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Montana. Their first experience was in Montana where they met leadership-program predecessors Tenzin and Stacey Botsford of Red Door Family Farm near Athens, Wisconsin. Tenzin Botsford said he appreciates the Langworthys.

They're proactively engaged and (are) kind-hearted and caring people," Botsford said. "They're interested in learning and helping to direct (public) conversation in a productive manner."

Darin Von Ruden, long-time president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, is a dairy farmer near Westby, Wisconsin. He said the Langworthys have not been bashful about jumping into leadership roles and provide outstanding service to the organization.

Von Ruden said the organization has been attracting many beginning farmers similar to the Langworthys. He attributes the influx to issues the organization addresses It hosts a Community Supported Agriculture conference every other year, which he said tends to draw young people interested in a more non-traditional avenue into farming. The organization also sponsors an Emerging Leaders program in November for new members.

The Langworthys will host a Wisconsin Farmers Union co-sponsored pasture walk Aug. 22, the fourth pasture walk they've hosted. One of the written goals of their farm is to provide space for the community to interact and learn. Hosting a pasture walk fits with that goal. "It's a way to meet more farmers and overcome divisions within agriculture," Lauren Langworthy said. She said farmers have farm more in common than not.

"Farmers are such a small population broadly that we have to stick together," she said.

"Farmers are independent and professional problem-solvers," Caleb Langworthy said. "But supporting one another is what makes the countryside a vibrant place to live."

Visit www.facebook.com/BlueOxFarmers or www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com or mosesorganic.org for more information.

Jane Fyksen writes about crops, dairy, livestock, and many other agricultural topics; she is a crops editor for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Contact Jfyksen@madison.com or 715-683-2779 for more information.

18.08 - AgriView

Photo Credit: Danielle Endvick, Wisconsin Farmers Union

FUE Leadership Program Builds Leadership Skills, Lasting Relationships

March  |  2018

Wisconsin Farmers Union Blog

When Caleb and I applied to the Farmers Union Enterprise’s (FUE) Couples Leadership Program, we didn’t know entirely what to expect.  We knew that we wanted to engage with our community and Farmers Union in a deeper way. We also felt that we could always use more instruction and leadership training. With that intention, we applied for the program and have been so glad that we did.

 

Our first experience was to travel to Montana where we met last year’s outgoing couples (including Stacy and Tenzin Botsford) and our own leadership cohort. All together, we went through a training where we learned about our own tendencies in communication, as well as how to read others so that we can develop better abilities to dialogue with people with differing styles. The farmers unions presidents of all five states came and shared some history of our inter-state relationship’s development and took time to answer our questions on several topics. Most importantly, we got to know couples from all five of the FUE states who participate in agriculture in different production methods and scales. As we’ve developed deep friendships, we’ve also come to realize how many views we share in common - despite our obvious differences.f   

 

The next time we all met was at the Minnesota State Convention. This time, everything was different. We were seeing ‘old friends’ and telling them how wonderful it was to see their letter to the editor shared by their local paper. We got to see how a different state runs their convention and hear the policy debates happening over the boarder in a different community. We also had another training that focused more on our own personalities to help us consider how to step up into leadership opportunities while recognizing our own natural tendencies.

 

Our most recent reunion with the FUE couples came at National Convention where we began by learning a brief history of cooperatives in their relation to farmers union. We went through a workshop to help us become more comfortable with public speaking - and even though we were all nervous and weren’t sure we would do well, we all left amazed and impressed with each other’s short presentations. It built our confidence and taught us more about our new FUE friends. We also learned how to lead a meeting using Parliamentary Procedures and had a lot of fun being raucous in our example meetings as we exercised proper language and protocol. Beyond the FUE training, it was so inspiring to be a part of the strong Wisconsin delegation to Kansas City. We got to meet many of the Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) participants and saw our state’s candidate to the National Farmers Union’s Vice President position voted into the role. We were proud of our state, impressed by the positive powers of Farmers Union, and happy to continue sharing ideas with our friends from other states.

 

As we look ahead to our final two meetings in the Program (a Washington DC fly-in and the meeting to welcome next year’s delegates into the fold), we realize what a true gift we’ve been given through this program. We’ve been invited to learn more about our own inclinations and potential. We’ve developed deep bonds with farmers in different states and production models that we would have otherwise never met. We’ve learned about the depth and history of Farmers Union and we’ve become inspired to step up.

The FUE Program doesn’t end with a concrete plan or a list of expectations. Rather, it tapers off in an open end where each individual is allowed to reflect on their experience and consider - with their newfound knowledge and skills - where they might be able to offer their gifts to provide positive impact to their communities. All that we can really say is that we appreciate the support through this learning process and we look forward to offering what gifts we can to this amazing community-minded, democratic organization. We’d like to express our thanks to Farmers Union for taking a gamble on us. We’re looking forward to welcoming the next FUE couple into the fold.

The deadline to apply for the FUE Leadership Program is April 11. Applications can be found on our Upcoming Events page.

18.03 FUE Leadershp
18.03 NFU Convention

Thirty Wisconsin Farmers Union members are in Kansas City, Mo. March 3-6 for the National Farmers Union Convention. They include, (from left, front) WFU Government Relations Director Nick Levendofsky, Madison; Lisa and Jim Soyring, Maple; Patty Edelburg, Amherst; Janet Nelson, Prairie Farm; WFU President Darin Von Ruden, Westby; WFU Government Relations Director Kara O’Connor, Madison; Sarah River, Iola; Danielle Endvick, Holcombe; Chris Holman, Custer; (middle row) Rick Adamski, Seymour; Alexis Dunnum, Westby; WFU Membership & Special Projects Organizer Kirsten Slaughter, Madison; WFU Membership Coordinator Deb Jakubek; Bruce Miller, Hayward; WFU Executive Director Tom Quinn, Menomonie; WFU Facilities Manager Brad Henderson, Chippewa Falls; (back row) Lauren Langworthy, Wheeler; Craig Myhre, Osseo; Jessica Jurcek, Jefferson; Tommy Enright, Amherst; Jacob Marty, Monticello; WFU Education Director Cathy Statz, Chippewa Falls; Alicia Razvi, Stevens Point; and Dennis Rosen, Emerald. Not pictured but also attending the convention are Michael Slattery, Maribel; Caleb Langworthy, Wheeler; Linda Ceylor, Catawba; Mark Liebaert, South Range; and Gary, Lucas and Angela Edelburg, all of Amherst.

Wisconsin Farmers Represented at National Farmers Union Convention

March  |  2018

WisFarmer.com

Thirty Wisconsin Farmers Union members are among the nearly 500 farmers and ranchers who have gathered from around the country for the 116th National Farmers Union Anniversary Convention, March 3-6, in Kansas City, MO.

On March 5, members took part in the task of shaping NFU policy for the coming year.

"As a family farmer-driven organization, NFU's convention is the organization's most important event of the year. It's an opportunity to celebrate what makes Farmers Union truly unique - and that is family farmers of all types, sizes, ethnicities, regions and religions banding together to make sure they all can enjoy the American dream," says NFU President Roger Johnson.

"We're pleased to have such a large delegation of Wisconsin Farmers Union members this year," said WFU President Darin Von Ruden. "We'll be bringing some important policy forward supporting an incentives-based inventory management program that aims to provide relief for our struggling dairy producers. We'll also be speaking up on the need to increase federal spending to establish an effective dairy safety net and to create programs that better account for the actual costs of dairy production."

Throughout the convention, attendees will engage with industry experts, policymakers, thought leaders and fellow farmers on topics of vital importance to family farm agriculture. Top of mind for most attendees and speakers are the severely depressed farm economy, negotiations on the upcoming Farm Bill, extreme consolidation in the agricultural sector, and the success of the next generation of family farmers.

The information learned will provide context for the organization's annual line-by-line policy review by Farmers Union delegates in the final days of the convention.

"NFU's grassroots policy adoption process allows our members to dictate the direction of the organization, and it is very important to deciding the policy we bring to the table in Washington, D.C.," Johnson explained.

"This year's deliberations will be especially important, as family farmers and ranchers face a dismal farm economy, waves of consolidation, and upcoming farm bill negotiations, among the normal volatility that they deal with on a day-to-day basis," Johnson added. "We look forward to our members setting positions that are representative of policy solutions that work for family agriculture and rural communities."

Keynote remarks at this year's convention will be delivered by Jason Dander, president of Let America Vote, and Art Cullen, Pulitzer-prize winning editor of The Storm Lake Times. NFU President Roger Johnson will deliver his annual State of the Farmers Union speech.

The convention will also feature a conversation on the opioid crisis gripping farm and ranch families. Sarah Tyree, Vice President of Government Relations at CoBank, will moderate a panel with NFU President Roger Johnson, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, and USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett. The panel will focus on NFU's and AFBF's joint Farm Town Strong campaign and USDA's efforts to combat opioid misuse in rural America.

Convention attendees will also be treated to a local farm tour of Shatto Milk Company, award ceremonies, NFU education programming events, and a screening of the new documentary on beginning farmer issues, "Farmers For America."

The National Convention marks the end of a year-long participation in the Beginning Farmers Institute for several WFU members, including Jess Bernstein, Klevenville; Mary Jo Borchardt, Poynette; Jacob Marty, Monticello; Alicia Razvi, Stevens Point. BFI develops leadership and farm management skills in beginning farmers and encourages them to apply those abilities in their community organizations.

Jessica Jurcek of Jefferson is attending the convention as part of her role on NFU's National Youth Advisory Council, which she was elected to this past summer at All-States Camp in Bailey, Colo.

Caleb and Lauren Langworthy of Blue Ox Farm in Wheeler are cmongst farmers from across the Midwest and Great Plains who are taking part in the Farmers Union Enterprises Leadership Program, which includes leadership and personal development activities that aim to amp up Farmers Union involvement and networking skills.

The 2019 NFU Convention will be in March 2-5 in Bellevue, Washington. Learn more about the convention at NFU at www.nfu.org

18.02 Elected to WFU Board

WFU BOARD: The 2018 Wisconsin Farmers Union board of directors includes (front, from left) Rick Adamski, Mark Liebaert, Darin Von Ruden, Craig Myhre, (back, from left) Lauren Langworthy, Ed Gorell, Chris Holman, Tina Hinchley and Linda Ceylor.

Von Ruden Re-Elected Wisconsin Farmers Union President

Feb  |  2018

Wisconsin Agriculturalist

Westby, Wis., dairy farmer Darin Von Ruden was re-elected president by the Wisconsin Farmers Union during the organization's annual convention in Wisconsin Dells. Some 300 members attended.

Von Ruden is a lifelong WFU member, and since 2007 has served as the organization's District 5 director, representing Crawford, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Rock,  Sauk and Vernon counties. He also leads the WFU Foundation board of directors, serves on the National Farmers Union board, and is chairman of the NFU Membership Committee. Von Ruden and his wife, Joann, live in Westby. His family recently transitioned the farm to the fourth generation when their son Brett purchased the machinery and 50-cow dairy herd.

Von Ruden has been active with Farmers Union at the loacal, state, and national levels. He is a seven-time recipient of the Silver Star Award, which is National Farmers Union's highest recognition of membership development. A patron member of the Westby Cooperative Creamery, he was also a founding member of Wisconsin Farmers Union Specialty Cheese, chairman of the Wisconsin Dairy Farmers Guild and a founding member of the Upper Midwest Milk Producers Association. He is a past delegate to the Farmers Union Marketing and Processing Association. He is a past delegate to the Farmers Union Marketing and Processing Association, and in 1996-97 was a member of Gov. Tommy Thompson's Cheese Pricing Task Force. In recent years, he has represented U.S. farmers as a delegate at World Farmers' Organisation events.

Von Ruden is the 11th president in WFU's 87-year history. He divides his time between the WFU state office in Chippewa Falls and its legislative office in Madison.

New Director

Lauren Langworthy was elected as District 2 director, representing Dunn, Pepin, Pierce, and St. Croix counties. Langworthy and her husband, Caleb, own Blue Ox Farm, a 153-acre grazing farm in Wheeler, where they produce lamb, beef, and hay.

Re-elected to another term on the WFU board were District 6 Director Chris Holman of Custer and District 7 Director Tina Hinchley of Cambridge. Other continuing board members include Craig Myhre, Osseo; Rick Adamski, Seymour; Ed Gorell, Eleva; Mark Liebaert, South Range; and Linda Ceylor, Catawba.

Wood-Portage-Waupaca Farmers Union member Patty Edelburg of Amherst and Amnicon-Douglas Farmers Union member Lisa Soyring of Maple were elected as the delegates who will represent WFU at the National Farmers Union Convention March 4-6 in Kansas City.

Next year's WFU state convention will be Jan. 25-27 at Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton.

Ask A Specialist - Converting Land Into Pasture

Sept  |  2017

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

Question: 

I'm hoping to convert some of my land into pasture. What should I consider in the process?

 

Answer: 

As you plan your new pasture, remember that fallow land is not necessarily going to be good pasture land. Just because it’s covered in grass doesn’t mean it’s a productive pasture capable of meeting your livestock’s nutritional needs. Just as you would with any other field, you’ll need to work on your soil and forage crops. The pasture you plant will need enough nutritional density to support livestock health.

 

Start with a soil test. Many producers don’t think to test pasture soil. However, these test results can inform your decisions and drastically improve your pasture’s success. To unlock the soil’s wealth of resources, you need a balanced pH. If the soil is too acidic or basic, many minerals and nutrients will become unavailable to grazing livestock. After the soil’s pH has been addressed, you can begin to work on the other parts of soil health.

 

If your land has been fallow for some time, it may be suffering from many different issues: soil deficiencies, too much thatch, invasive or persistent species that need management, or a lack of palatable and nutritionally dense species. Invite expertise from other graziers and experts. You might just need to do some clipping and interseeding to gain a production pasture. However, fields in really bad shape might require that you turn the soil to incorporate organic matter and get a fresh start with a new planting. It might even be worthwhile to plan a year of cover cropping to manage deficiencies or problem species (like continually clipping a sorghum sudangrass crop to manage a thistle problem).

 

Land previously used for production may have been tested and managed better for crops. Focus on making sure that the soil is ready and work with someone to select the best pasture species for your soil, climate, management, and livestock. With the “clean slate” of a productive field, your pasture planting could be just about anything. Having a second (or third) opinion about which species might best suit your situation can be very valuable. Mixing grasses, legumes, and forbes can add resilience and create palatable options for different livestock species.

 

When it comes to selecting and purchasing seed, connect with local pasture-based organizations. Groups like Pheasants Forever and US Fish & Wildlife regularly work with private landowners to connect them with local resources supporting grassland development. Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and even local seed houses can help you connect with experts to select the right plants for your needs. It’s important to consider your soil type, what varieties are best suited to the local climate, management plans, livestock species, and grazing density.

 

There may also be programs available to cost-share seed used to convert land into permanent pasture. Many of these programs will require a signed contract, but they can be valuable resources if you’re already planning to graze.

 

In creating a new pasture, you’ll have some big decisions to make about infrastructure. There are many different options available for fencing and setting up watering systems. Your plan will depend on your livestock species, management plans, and budget.

 

Irrigation systems can be as simple as plastic tubing, a few fittings, and a float valve if the field has proximity to a well, and the system’s pressure won’t be overtaxed. However, if water sources are distant or the demands will be higher, the design might take more creativity. Year-round management in a cold climate also requires careful planning. Look at several different systems to develop one suited to your operation.

 

Consider how your fencing will affect your management of the livestock and the land. You might want to have one large pasture or several smaller paddocks. Make sure that permanent fences and gate placements don’t become problematic over time. Think about your water sources, the number of management groups you’ll have, what fence materials are best, and how your fencing might affect your options in years of drought or heavy rainfall.

 

You might want to start with mobile fencing or semi-permanent options while you gain a better understanding of what your grazing enterprise will look like. As with planting, financial support may be available for fencing infrastructure. Reimbursements and grazing plans may be available to you through NRCS and County Conservation offices with a grazing contract.

 

There are a lot of organizations that want to see graziers succeed. Grants, equipment loans, operating loans, cost shares, and expert support are available to help you create your new pasture. Contact your local FSA office about operating loans, NRCS about their EQIP and CSP programs, County Conservation, and local grazing organizations like RC&D about species selection and management plans.

17.09 Converting Pastre
17.09 Preparing for Breading

Ask A Specialist - Preparing for Breeding

Sept  |  2017

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

Question: 

What should I be doing to prepare my animals for breeding season on my farm?

 

Answer: 

While it may seem early to be thinking about breeding season, it’s actually a good time to start getting your plan in order to so that you and your ruminant livestock can be fully ready when the time comes.

 

The most important factor to consider when thinking ahead to breeding season is nutrition. You’ll want to make sure that the ladies are in good body condition as breeding approaches (body condition scoring is also known as BCS). Underweight or obese livestock may have trouble conceiving, carrying a fetus to term, or giving birth. To get off to a good start, you’ll want to make sure that everyone is healthy, even a little plump, but not obese. This might mean that you have to separate your herd into multiple management groups to reduce competition for feed, or supplement or restrict the diets of certain groups.

 

Achieving an optimal weight is also important for your breeding males. If they are underweight, they will not have the stamina they need to do their job and stay healthy. If overweight, they might not be successful or could cause injury when mounting females.

 

A quick check-up for the whole herd is generally a good idea before breeding season arrives. You may want to trim and inspect hooves, do a little clean-up shearing, or sort out young stock that won’t be bred this year. This can be a good time to make sure that small issues with your livestock don’t turn into larger problems when their body has high demands from the pregnancy. It is of particular importance to check hooves and leg joints before turning everyone out for breeding. Males can be hampered by injury or infection. Females will be responsible to carry additional weight during breeding and pregnancy. Small issues with joints, legs, and hooves can be aggravated and become much larger issues at a more critical time for your animals if they are not treated now. Make sure to plan this management early enough that your herd has time to recover from the stress of handling before you’re turning them out for breeding.

 

Another important consideration is breeding soundness. You can have a veterinarian out to check your males about 30 days before they’ve been turned out with your females. A few tests can help make sure that your leading man will be able to play his part effectively. Farmers and ranchers might consider having a back-up male available in the event there are last-minute issues. You can also put this male out just after your lead male should have completed his job. This “clean up” male can be good insurance, but may complicate your recordkeeping. Make sure that you record the dates that each male entered and exited the herd so that you can manage your breeding lines effectively.

 

Depending on the species you’re working with and your particular breed and management style, there may be some things that you can do with nutrition or management that will help promote a good and tight breeding window for your flock or herd. For example, a fence line exposure with a male can help induce estrus in your females. You’ll want to be sure you have strong fences if you employ this tactic. Also, “flushing” is a term that refers to feeding your females high quality feeds prior to breeding to improve their performance. While you want to make sure that you don’t induce obesity, this high-quality feed can increase ovulations and promote multiple births in many species.

 

No matter what your protocol for heading into breeding season, you want to make sure that your animals are in good condition and good health. Breeding and pregnancy can be taxing on animals that are in poor condition, obese, or dealing with other health issues. To ensure all of your animals have a successful year, plan time for observation, management, and treatment of little issues that could expound later when animals have more demands on their bodies. The work that you do to prepare your stock for breeding will pay dividends later in your season.

Ask A Specialist - Getting Involved in Policy

Jan  |  2017

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

Question: 

How can I get involved in farm policy?

 

Answer: 

Policy plays an important role in our agricultural communities. Whether you're discussing federal farm policy building conservation grants or more local policy governing infrastructure, the policies created have a huge impact on our food and farming systems.

 

Depending on your interests, there are many different ways and places to get involved in the creation of policy that can be impactful for your farm and community. My first recommendation would be to start with the organizations that you may already have membership in. For example, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Land Stewardship Project, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Practical Farmers of Iowa - and too many others to possibly list here - all include policy advocacy in their work. Consider looking through their websites, calling their offices, and finding out how you might be able to get involved. Member-based organizations that focus on policy appreciate hearing from their members. They may have meetings, listening sessions, or committees that you could participate in as you learn more about policy and share your insights. If you’re already a member (or would consider becoming one), you can develop deeper relationships with the staff and fellow members both in the realm of policy and beyond. These groups will want to know what policies and programs are helping their members and how less-helpful regulations or programs might be improved to offer better support.

 

Often, groups like these will be involved in larger policy collaborations. They will collect ideas and input from their community and share them in a larger regional or national dialogue. Along with many other organizations, MOSES is a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and the National Organic Coalition (NOC). These coalitions are made up of many smaller organizations that pool resources and information to work toward building sturdy and intelligent policy platforms that support farmers, consumers, the environment, and rural communities across the country.

 

If you don’t have the interest or energy to participate in local or regional conversations, you can consider donating to policy advocacy coalitions that your favorite local groups are involved in. You can also visit their websites and consider signing up for newsletters or “action alerts” that will help you know when something important to you is being discussed and which representatives you could call to express your stance on the issue.

 

Beyond participating in these organizations,

there are lots of ways to be involved in the policy that supports farms, the food system, and rural life. If you are just starting to learn and engage, you can stop by the Policy Place at the MOSES Conference to chat with organizations that impact policy and learn more about the programs that come from it. You can even sit in on specific Roundtable discussions about how to leverage Farm Bill programs for your own farm business.

 

Federal farm policy has brought many amazing programs to the farming community. You can also contact your local FSA and NRCS offices to learn about programs that might help your farm – whether they are NRCS-CSP grants that offer financial incentives for conservation work, FSA loans to help you capitalize and operate your farm, or NRCS-EQIP reimbursements that can help you put in needed infrastructure for your operations— it’s good to know how the policy behind them can help you.

 

For those who have more of a drive to get involved, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in local government or community groups that drive policy. Perhaps you want to consider becoming a county commissioner. What about joining that farmer-led watershed initiative in your area? There are many ways to be watching, learning, and engaging as we head into the next Farm Bill cycle. It’s important that we all pay attention and contact our representatives when needed to make sure that the policies our local, state, and national bodies create positively impacts our farms and the environment and communities that we share.

17.01 Policy Involvement
17.01 FSA for Land Tenure

Young Farmers Work With FSA to Find Land Tenure

Jan  |  2017

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

My 153-acre farm would not be what it is today without the support of the Farm Service Agency (FSA).​

About four years ago, my husband and I were coming to the end of an annual lease and feeling frustrated about year-to-year rental situations. We wanted to be organic farmers, bu the lack of tenure on the land made it difficult to justify the immense expense and time that we were putting into land we may not have access to in a couple of years. At the time, we were custom-grazing livestock and managing our own vegetable operation. We were developing market relationships, but really needed stability on the land to grow our business.

The uncertainty of short-term land leases were holding us back from pursuing the organic label and from some of the best management practices we wanted to be integrating into our farm. As most organic farmers know, there is a three-year transition process between conventional cropping systems and then potential to certify land as organic. We thought the USDA organic label would help our vegetable enterprise grow and prosper in new marketplaces. However, land tenure would mean more than just the organic label; it would also allow us to start cover cropping more intensively, developing longer rotations, and adding necessary infrastructure that requires more time, capital, and long-term view to carry our properly.

The two of us had participated in the Land Stewardship Project's Farm Beginnings course and had used the opportunity to develop holistic goals for our farm's future. We had taken the course's planning process very seriously and had developed a business plan to use as a road map that was reviewed by more experienced farmers who gave us a few welcomed doses of reality that we used to revise our plans. With all of that work under our belts and the plan in hand, we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for and a lot of support from our community as we sought the solution. We posted on land links and in classified ads, fielded calls from many landowners to see if we shared the same goals, and looked at dozens of farms on the market, and even met some wonderful private investors.

I won't go into our story of finding land tenure at length. Our solution wouldn't necessarily fit anyone else's situation. Besides, we're still beginning farmers - we don't know if our story has "a happy ending". However, I do want to share a key piece to our puzzle that might also help someone else find a solution.

The biggest problem we faced is a problem we share with many beginning farmers. With current land prices and all of the infrastructure, mechanization, and general expenses of starting a new farm, it would be difficult to come up with enough capital to make it all happen. We were entering farming with experience, but we still needed to build many of the assets that our fully grown business would require in order to function smoothly.

Through the Farm Beginnings Course, we'd heard of the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and been given a very brief introduction to some of their programs. However, we'd also heard some rumors and had developed the impression that it would be very difficult to get a loan through this agency. Because of the rumors, we didn't initially reach out to FSA to see how we could leverage its programs. It wasn't until much later in our land access story that we struck up a conversation with a very outgoing and informative FSA agent in the exhibit hall at a conference, and learned that there might be some real opportunities in working with FSA to develop the future of our farm.

After that conference, we struck up a relationship with our local FSA office. We set up an initial meeting to ask questions, explain our goals, and explore the potential of working with FSA to purchase a farm. We learned that the interest rates on FSA loans were extremely low and that we would probably qualify to receive one. I was surprised to learn that FSA could only help provide loans for initial farm purchases, but that they can't refinance one you already own.

We also learned that there are many different types of FSA loans. Several different varieties of Farm Ownership Loans can be used in different ways to purchase farms. There are also Intermediate Loans that can help farmers purchase equipment, certain infrastructure, or breeding stock for their enterprises. Operating Loans can be used for annual cash flow issue in an operation - for example, if you needed to purchase your year's hay supply before you would be planning to receive a big payment from livestock sales. There are Microloans that have a shorter application form and can help a producer with smaller projects or investments. There are even special Farm Storage Facility Loans that can be used to help purchase infrastructure such as hay storage or refrigerated storage units.

Depending on the farm's enterprise, goals, and willingness to take on debt, there may be several different options for someone to purchase a farm or capitalize the operation they're already working on.

In our story, the business plan that we had created through Farm Beginnings became a template that we used to "play out" a few different scenarios. What would be the financial cost over time of an implement versus additional annual labor? If our farm changes scale, what does that mean for our farm's financial situation? We considered the goals we had for our business and our life and looked at different ways we could achieve what we hoped for.

When we finally felt that we understood where we wanted to go, we made the plunge into the world of FSA with our business plan as our guide, trying to be cautious about taking on only debt that we had a plan to repay. The application process did take time and patience, but the staff helped us complete the paperwork and explained the process along the way. With the help of FSA, we were eventually able to purchase farmland and capitalize our operations to fit the scale and needs of the new property.

When we look our over our farm now, we feel that the opportunity was well worth the effort. While we still don't know our story's ending, our land tenure now enables us to invest the time, energy, and money into building our soils, adding necessary infrastructure, growing our operations, and moving toward our goal of using best management practices on the land.

FSA's loan programs are not going to be the solution to everyone's land access or farm growth puzzle. HOwever, for those who are still looking for a little support to capitalize their farm for the future, I recommend taking the time to investigate what opportunities FSA might be able to offer you. To find your local FSA office, see offices.sc.egov.usda.gov

Lauren Langworthy is an organic farmer and the MOSES Events & Education Specialist

From the January | February 2017 Issue

Ask A Specialist - Raising Livestock Without Permanent Pastures

Nov  |  2016

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

Question: 

Can I raise livestock on forage if I don't have a perennial pasture?

 

Answer: 

The National Organic Program states that ruminant must receive a significant portion of their daily nutrition (30%) from pasture. This means that they must harvest (eat) living plants that have roots in the soil. However, the rule does not state that the pasture must be perennial.

 

There are a few different reasons a farmer might not choose to establish perennial pasture. These include economic considerations, land tenure, or the desire to utilize livestock as part of a soil-building rotation with crops or between alfalfa establishments. Other farmers have perennial pastures, but wish to extend the grazing season in either spring or fall outside their perennial pasture fields. In these scenarios, it may make sense for a farmer to consider annual forage rotations.

 

Depending on the species you are raising, different species of forages may be a better fit. For example, there are some wonderful forage varieties of sorghum-sudangrass that provide high yields and good feed value. They can also be grazed multiple times if managed properly. However, they grow best in midsummer and should not be grazed below 18-20 inches due to concerns for prussic acid poisoning that is more likely to occur when younger plants are grazed. Sorghum-sudangrasses can also provide benefits within a crop rotation by suppressing weeds and offering a large amount of biomass to be grazed or trampled into the soil.

 

Annual forages can also be used to extend the grazing season for your livestock as your pastures slow down for the season. An example of this might be planting turnips in July or August to be grazed late into the fall and early winter. Some farmers will plant into standing oat or wheat stubble; some fly-over seed into standing corn; and, others prepare a rough bed with tillage. Depending on your field, early weed control may be necessary to make certain that you have adequate yields for your livestock. Livestock will graze the greens and pull up the root masses late into the season, sometimes even digging into the snow to retrieve these high-protein treats.

 

You can also use annual forages for early spring grazing. Clovers or annual cold-hardy grains like winter rye, triticale, or spring oats can be used for early spring forages. Depending on your location, soil, and forage needs, some spring forages can be planted in the fall to emerge in spring. Others may be best frost-seeded early in the season and grazed from mid-spring to early summer.

 

With some research and experience, many farmers are learning how to leverage the nutritional support of these annual forage crops to extend their grazing season, build soil, and manage field rotations for their livestock. If this appeals to you, reach out to other graziers in your area and see what has worked on their farms.

I'M AN ORIGINAL CATCHPHRASE

Protecting Water, Protecting the Land

Nov  |  2016

LSP's Ear to the Ground Blog  |  Lauren & Caleb Langworthy
 

This spring, a marketing firm hired by WEC Energy Group stopped by our farm a number of times. They wanted us to sign an agreement allowing an Environmental Impact Statement to be done so that a natural gas pipeline could be laid through our front field. We worried that all the work we had done improving that field would be for naught if it were disturbed for the project. We also feared that the pipe could compromise the integrity of our operation and water if it were to fail.

Despite the firm's persistence, we both refused to sign any documentation and WEC chose to not run the pipeline through our field. Rather, they began moving forward with two other proposed routes. This situation really scared us. Were we going to have to hire a lawyer? Was this going to happen whether or not we consented? We are young farmers and relatively new to the land that we steward, but having worked so closely with it, still have very deep ties to these acres. If the project had continued, we would have been devastated.

Throughout the summer and fall, we've been watching the community come together to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their resistance to an Energy Transfer Partners project called the Dakota Access Pipeline. We feel solidarity with their cause. It's hard to ignore people proclaiming "Water is Life" and asking for assistance. We followed friends' social media posts, the Bismarck newspaper, and alternative media coverage of this struggle. We've learned that indigenous communities across North America suffer from high levels of poverty and suicide rates and that access to economic opportunities and fresh food is often limited.

Last week, we were lucky enough to leave the farm with a sitter for a few days. We used that time to deliver the two tons of produce donated from the family farms in our area to the camps at Standing Rock. We are proud of our local community for stepping up to nourish folks working to protect the water. Many of the farmers mentioned that they wished they could do more, but as the truck was unloaded, we witnessed a deep appreciation of what had been given.

It's hard to explain in its entirety what it is like at Standing Rock. We found a peaceful and prayerful community that was respectful, humble, educating, and generous. We met folks from every corner of the country that came to stand in solidarity and pray. There were local government proclamations of support from Colorado to New York during our visit. While there, we participating in nonviolent direct action training from organizers involved in indigenous and Chicano issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. We all understood that access to clean water is a basic right we all share in common. The trainers and leadership repeatedly reminded everyone that we are strongest when we stand and act together with good intentions.

At Standing Rock, we see a struggle in which a corporation is putting profits above the interests of people who have inhabited that land for many generations. Rural communities on the Bakken Formation struggle to thrive through the volatility of petroleum markets. We see common cause with the work that the Land Stewardship Project engages in. Farmers work hard to steward and protect the land they live so closely with, and LSP's membership understands the destructive nature of extreme energy extraction, and the connection between the frac sand mined from the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, and the barrels of oil flowing from the fracked Bakken Shale.

The Land Stewardship Project has also committed itself to racial justice. Our farm lies on ground that was once inhabited by the Santee Dakota and later the Ojibwe people. Our immigrant fore bearers benefited by extracting resources from this land and we are still benefiting from it today. The crisis at Standing Rock arose when the pipeline project was rerouted from Bismarck suburbs, where residents had expressed concerns for their environmental welfare, to the sacred lands adjoining the Standing Rock Reservation. We believe that indigenous rights are once again being abused by our government and that the structural racism involved in the Standing Rock crisis needs to be acknowledged and examined.

The Standing Rock Sioux are calling out for allies to lend support to their cause and goal: to deny Energy Transfer Partners an easement to drill underneath the Missouri River. They have asked that folks led support through their physical presence, donations, and by calling on representatives in the government to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the governor of North Dakota are calling for a closure of the encampment by Dec. 5, the need for our action with representatives has become even more urgent.

Each of us needs to think of the best ways to leverage our skills, time, abilities, and resources to stand up for the world we plan to live in. Together, we can move forward into a future that is just and equitable. Together, we can work together to protect our water and our land so that these critical resources may support the coming generations. It's hard to ignore the chants of "Water is Life." Let's all take a moment to listen, and to respond.

Land Stewardship Project members and Farm Beginnings graduates Caleb and Lauren Langworthy farm near Wheeler, Wis. Lauren also serves on LSP's Federal Farm Policy Committee. For more information on how to best support the people standing up to the Dakota Access Pipeline project, see the Oceti Sakowin Camp website.

16.11 Livestock on Annual Forage
16.09 - Bale Grazing Certification

Ask A Specialist - Bale-Grazing and Organic Certification

Sept  |  2016

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

Question: 

Can I bale graze non-certified livestock in a certified organic hay field this winter?

Answer: 

Livestock that are certified organic must only be fed certified organic feed. Sometimes, though, producers find themselves in a situation where they’re feeding un-certified animals on certified organic ground. For example, you may custom graze someone else’s herd on your own certified organic pastures, or you may rotate livestock onto hay or crop fields during your off-season so that you can use their manure and soil-building abilities to support the coming year’s production.

In a short answer, yes, you can graze non-certified livestock on land where you grow a certified organic crop. These un-certified animals do not need to be fed certified organic feed simply because they are on your certified organic ground.

 

However, if you are planning to manage uncertified animals on certified ground, there are a few considerations you will want to think about. It is likely that your certifier will consider the waste hay, dropped feed, and manure in terms of applied manure with bedding. However, different certifiers could take different viewpoints on how to categorize the application. It is important to check with your certifier before taking any action that could endanger the certification of that land.

 

You will want to be certain that the feedstuffs you are using won’t be leeching prohibited substances into your pasture. Using the example of hay—you may want to make sure the hay you are purchasing doesn’t have strings or netting that has been treated with a prohibited substance like a fungicide. I would recommend asking your supplier about the netting, wrapping, or strings that were used on the crop before making a purchase, then checking with your certifier if the binding was treated before purchasing. If the hay does have treated binding and your certifier allows you to use it, you’ll want to remove the wrapping and take it off pasture to prevent the substance from leeching into your soil.

 

While you’re speaking with the supplier, you will also want to know if the feed was treated with any fungicides, preservatives, or inoculants that are not approved in organic production. Again, if any of these substances have been applied, you should talk to your certifier before proceeding.

By asking good questions and thinking ahead, you can help your land benefit from some helpful animal pressure in your offseason, even if the livestock isn’t certified. Please just proceed with caution and in good communication with your certifier to make sure that your productive crop season ahead is in good standing with the NOP

Ask A Specialist - Finding Organic Marketplaces

May  |  2016

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy

Question:

I'm transitioning to organic. When should I start looking for organic marketplaces for my new organic production?

Answer: 

One of the most important—and most overlooked—steps in the process of transitioning is to plan ahead for a marketplace where you will be able to move your organic products. Because an outlet for your goods is such an important part of the financial health of your farm, you should make an extra effort to set yourself up for success long before you have organic goods to sell. If you’re coming up on your certification date and haven’t yet found a buyer, you risk losing the important price premiums that will help your organic farm thrive. Instead, plan ahead!

 

Begin conversations with grain elevators, creameries, co-ops, farmers’ market managers, wholesale buyers, or whoever helps you move your products long before you’re ready to sell. You may even want to begin these conversations before you begin transitioning to organic so that you can be certain the plans you’re making will be well received at a price point that works to support your production.

 

Depending on what you’re producing, the new “marketplace” may be similar to (or even the same as) your previous one—or it might be vastly different. An example of a marketplace that doesn’t require many changes in marketing might be transitioning from selling non-certified produce to wholesale accounts or at a farmers’ market. Producers making this sort of transition may find that the price point they can request improves with proof of certification, but little else has to be modified from previous relationships and sales methods. Certification may even increase your opportunity to expand into additional farmers’ markets or wholesale accounts by giving you a preferred ranking.

However, some marketplaces treat organic products completely different than they do nonorganic. If you sell commodity crops to local co-ops or elevators, you may need to seek out new buyers in order to maintain the organic integrity and price point of your crops.

 

In that same vein, if you are a dairy producer, you may be surprised to learn that you’ll be signing a multiple-year contract to produce for a creamery purchasing organic milk instead of having your prices fluctuate frequently due to the marketplace demands. While it requires learning a new system, these contracts can be extremely valuable as you plan the future of your business and consider accessing credit for farm infrastructure. You may have to seek out new relationships if your current creamery does not deal in organic milk. Again, it is much better to get on a list and have a buyer expecting you than to learn too late that the creamery you’d hoped to work with will not be accepting new producers at the time you are ready to start selling organic product.

 

While finding a new buyer can be daunting, it’s also good to learn about the opportunities that are available to you. Because the relationships and structure of your sales may differ significantly from your previous experiences, it’s important to begin preparing for these changes well in advance. As you research the local landscape of organic marketing opportunities, you might learn that certain crops will not be well supported while others might offer an exceptionally good price. The more of this information you have at your fingertips before beginning your farm’s transition, the better prepared you can be with contracts and rotation plans that will allow you to be successful in your newly established organic enterprise.

 

Keep in mind that the more you can utilize the transition period to practice your organic production skills, organic seed varieties, and relationships with future buyers, the more likely you will be to experience success when your certification finally comes. Planning ahead and preparing for the future will help you find stable footing as you move into new mindsets for your production.

16.05 - Finding Marketplaces

Preparing for a Healthy Birthing Season

Jan  |  2016

MOSES Organic Broadcaster  |  Lauren Langworthy
 

My husband and I have a mid-sized flock of sheep on our farm in west-central Wisconsin. This time of year, the ewes are happily awaiting spring lambs. While we expect the majority of births to happen quietly in a dark corner of the barn without much fuss, we know from experience that some will not go according to plan. Breached births, prolapses, exhausted mothers, stillborn lambs—those are the births that we dread. We realize that a healthy lambing season—or birthing season for any animal—requires planning and care long before the impending births.

Two of the major factors that lead to a good birthing season include healthy environmental conditions and well-balanced nutrition. Before I go further, let me make it clear that I am not a veterinarian. All major health concerns with your livestock should be dealt with through with your veterinarian. My expertise in managing pregnant livestock comes from experience as a farmer and training as a MOSES Organic Specialist. While injury and illness will inevitably visit the farm, it is important that we do everything in our power to create conditions for healthy animals.

The organic standards automatically help farmers like me create healthy conditions for livestock by requiring access to the outdoors, pasture, and encouraging reasonable stocking densities. Creating a farm culture where emergencies are less likely is especially important to the mission and success of organic farms, but farms of all kinds can benefit from thinking ahead and creating systems for livestock health and wellbeing.

For all mammals, the development of a healthy baby relies heavily on the condition and nutrition of the mother throughout gestation. These factors will also impact her lactation and will be key to the success of that new offspring until it is able to forage for its own full diet. Obesity, malnourishment, infection, and the lack of vital minerals and nutrients can all negatively impact the baby, mother, and the birthing process. Even simple measures like hoof trimming before breeding or early in gestation can reduce strain on your livestock and prevent a more serious issue when an animal is unwilling or unable to walk later on.

One example of body condition causing a problem is ketosis (also known as pregnancy toxemia), which is a common issue for several species. Mothers who are overweight or underweight are susceptible to this ailment in which the body dips into its fat reserves for energy, but creates too many ketones in the process. The build-up of ketones in the body leads to depression and a disinterest in eating, which can spiral out of control. Ketosis can be managed in its early stages, but can lead to death as the condition worsens.

The best way to avoid the potentially devastating effects of nutritional issues like these and promote a smooth birth process is to make sure your breeding animals are in good condition throughout pregnancy—not too heavy and not too thin. You can manage their condition by balancing their rations. I recommend doing nutrition tests on samples of your hay and feedstuffs to be certain of the ingredients you are working with. There are resources available through Extension services and online to help build rations. Many of these allow you to input your own forage test results and then balance the various components of nutrition with added grain and other supplements to meet the nutritional needs of your livestock species at various stages of life (e.g., lactation, finishing, early or late gestation).

As you consider the forage, hay, and supplementation that your livestock will have access to, also be conscious of the fact that the growing fetus will be taking more and more space usually occupied by the stomach(s) and rumen as the birth approaches. This means that the mother will be needing to pull more nutrition out of less available space as the baby grows and places higher demands on her body. Plan for her to eat smaller amounts with more frequency, and understand that she will need higher quality feeds to help her with this difficult task.

It is often necessary to divide your herd into two or more management groups by age or weight in order to maintain ideal body conditions with the diverse needs of individuals within your herd. Larger, dominant, un-bred, or more aggressive animals can be managed together in one group and smaller, younger, or more submissive animals in another. Dividing your stock into multiple groups based on their needs means that you can offer each group a ration better suited to their needs. It also allows more equal access to the feed, water and minerals when the members of the group are more evenly matched.

Beyond general body condition, it is important to provide your animals the vitamin and mineral resources they require. Depending on your soil types, region, and livestock species, many health effects can be seen as a result of unbalanced minerals. During pregnancy, birth, and lactation, deficiencies that would otherwise have been subclinical can become aggravated by the high demands on the mother’s body and become a source of health problems. New livestock can also go quickly downhill if they are deficient in necessary nutrients.

For example, a selenium deficiency can cause White Muscle Disease (also known as nutritional myopathy) in lambs, calves, and foals. This disease impairs the cardiac and skeletal muscles of young stock and, if left untreated, often results in death. Trace minerals can be quite difficult to manage in pasture systems. Many methods exist to support the needs of your livestock ranging from free-choice options to feed additives or injections. I would advise seeking council from your veterinarian about the best way to ensure your livestock have a good balance of needed minerals. Taking the time to create a good system will help you avoid the detrimental effects of deficiencies.

Keeping a clean environment for your livestock will help throughout gestation, birth, and life. Depending on the species you raise, there are many infections—including abortive infections—that will affect the health of your livestock and their ability to carry a baby to full term and deliver successfully. Before and after birth, general sanitation around your housing and pasture will help reduce chances for infections. Water should be clean. Bedding should be kept clean and dry. Make certain that your housing options have clean air circulating. Also, keep watch for new little ones who collect meals from several mothers. With sheep, they’ll usually have a dirty face, which is a tell-tale sign that they’ve been sneaking in from behind in the hopes of going unnoticed. Their mother may have abandoned them, may not be able to produce the needed nutrition, or may be suffering from an infection causing them to be protective of tender teats. As that little one sneaks a suckle from various sources, it can spread infection and create a much larger and more serious problem for you to manage. If you see these behaviors, you may want to offer supplemental nutrition in the form of bottle or bucket feedings and take the time to inspect the mother (and possibly the whole group) for signs of infection, deficiencies, or disease.

Whether you are calving, lambing, farrowing, kidding, foaling or otherwise, thinking ahead can help save you a lot of heartache down the road. Testing your forage, balancing a ration to meet your animals’ needs, and making sure the environment is set up for your livestock’s success will ensure a healthy pregnancy, encourage an easy birth, and promote a good start for your new young stock.

Lauren Langworthy is a farmer and organic specialist at MOSES.

From the January | February 2016 Issue

16.01 - Healthy Birthing Season

Around the Farm Table - Bike To The Barn

Nov  |  2015

Wisconsin Public Television  |  Inga Witscher

Inga Witscher, host of the Wisconsin Public Television Program, Around the Farm Table, visits Blue Ox to learn more about our flock and the concept of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) in this ongoing series featuring Wisconsin's family farms.

Watch the Video: 

15.11 - Around The Fam Table
14.08 - MPR

Young Farmers

Aug  |  2014

Minnesota Public Radio  |  Daily Circuit

Guests:

  • Lauren Langworthy  |  young farmer at Blue Ox Organics in Wheeler, Wisconsin

  • Karen Stettler   |  Farm Beginnings Program Organizer at Land Stewardship Project

  • Traci Bruckner  |  Senior Policy Associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, former chair of the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

Farmfest is underway this week near Redwood Falls in southern Minnesota. The annual agricultural showcase includes the usual political forums and a look at the newest farm equipment.

But this year it also puts a focus on young farmers - with a day dedicated to those looking into farming or early in their farming career. Getting started in farming is hard these days - and the average age of Minnesota farmers, 56.6 in 2012, continues to rise.

On the Daily Circuit, we look at the barriers facing people who want to get into farming, and the programs in Minnesota to support and recruit new farmers.

One of those organizations is Minneapolis-based Land Stewardship Project.

"It helps evaluate and instruct young farmers on what they need to do to get started, said Karen Stettler, who oversees the organization's Farm Beginnings Program.

"The Farm Beginnings program really helps people to think about their deeply held values and beliefs, put that into a goal, and then to also make sure to follow that goal up with helping them to assess finances and marketing strategies," she said.

In the past 17 years, about 600 people have gone through the program, and about 60 percent are still farming, Stettler said.

Listen To The Audio: