It’s always a pleasure to sit down and open up a conversation about food and farming with South Dakotans and the farmers who grow it. In fact, that’s what Hungry for Truth is all about. True to our mission, we had another wonderful opportunity of connecting, Iowa native and speech pathologist/feeding and language specialist, Andrea Boerigter with soybean farmers, Peggy and Brad Greenway of Mitchell, South Dakota to talk harvest, sustainability, food safety and animal care. They spent a gorgeous Sunday afternoon together filled with good conversation and farm education. Today, Andrea is sharing her perspective of her recent South Dakota farm visit.
This Sunday I was fortunate enough to visit and learn about one of South Dakota’s family owned farms. I was promised an experience of learning about everything that goes into the inner workings of a farm: from the manure being knifed into the field all the way to the meat being butchered. I absolutely got what I was promised, but I got a whole lot more.
The moment Peggy opened her front door and invited me to sit down with her, I entered a world I have not been in since my childhood. She spoke about her husband being in the field with harvest and her daughter bringing him out lunch. She talked about walking through the pig barns and being thankful it has been dry enough to be in the field. I had been part of all of these conversations before. I had heard these words from my grandparents. I also saw the same love and passion for her crops and animals as I had seen in my grandparents’ eyes. Because to be a farmer, you have to love it. It is too hard to do it if you don’t love it.
That part of farming has stayed the same. However, so much of it is different. This is where it gets fuzzy for me. This is where I needed to learn…a lot.
In my childhood, I recall a much smaller combine. The pigs were moved from outdoor cement pads to smaller barns throughout the year to protect them from elements. I recall all of this somewhat – what I mostly remember is when my grandpa let me bring a baby pig into the house and put doll clothes on it. My mother assured me she was never allowed to do such things.
So it was time to ask questions. And let me tell you, if you have questions – Peggy and Brad are the people to ask. They are a wealth of knowledge and so passionate. They speak about not wanting to change anyone’s mind about what they eat, but they want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to learn about what they do on their farm. I could not agree with them more.
Because I could rant and rave about this amazing day forever, I decide to walk you through each part of the process – just like they did with me.
We started at the house, me asking a million questions, Peggy having a million answers. She spoke about their mission – Sustainability and responsibility. She said “It is responsible for us to grow as much food as we can with as little effect on the land as possible.” She also spoke about how making changes to their farm are not done without great thought. They do not just throw up a hog barn, they use local companies for concrete and equipment, as well as the companies that build the barns. I take so much comfort knowing that people growing my food put this much thought into things like this. It means they are putting even more into my food.
From the house we headed out to the field to get in on some harvest action. I had not been in a combine since I was 5. Holy moley, have those things changed! After talking about the field and the acres and process, Brad invited me to hop on up for a ride. Did you know they have a computer that tells them exactly where to put what?! My grandpa did not have one of these. Different colors on their screen indicate where weak spots in the field are and where they should use less seeds or more seeds. They are able to mark spots that have rocks and even use their technology to decide how much of what kind of fertilizer goes where. Yeah…that is a thing! They have their manure tested to make sure it is at safe levels and then they use certain types of their manure on specific areas of land.
Along with that computer telling them where to put what, it also measures what is coming up as Brad combines. They know exactly how many bushels they are getting from each area. This allows them to be more specific when they plant again next year. They work with an agronomist to make final decisions on their fields, but without this technology, a lot of resources would be wasted.
Now that we covered how they built their farm, how they plant, grow and harvest their crops, we had one last stop. The hog barn. And I love pigs. I was one happy lady to be ending this amazing day at a hog barn. This was one fancy operation. When we entered the pig barn, we came into a small office. In the office we saw binders, pipes, rules, regulations, and a bunch of buttons (at which point I thanked God my kids weren’t with me to push). To keep the pigs healthy – and happy – they are inside year round. They are not only shielded from the cold, but also from the heat. The barn provides them with heaters, fans, and even misters in the summer. Peggy explained that the books were all records of each health check and walk through. They have a vet monitor their hogs and must keep very specific records for the state. This assures that hogs are being taken care of to the best possible degree.
A few questions I wanted to ask Peggy were about hormones, vaccinations, and antibiotics. She informed me no pig is given hormones, so that wasn’t something anyone needed to be concerned with. (Check that off our list of things to worry about.) Vaccinations are something every animal on her farm gets, and they are very similar to the type we give our children. As for antibiotics, she explained that when hogs become sick, they do treat them. But they only do this when necessary. Peggy stated “Vaccinations are something we do to keep pigs healthy. Antibiotics are different. We do not want to use antibiotics unless we need to. They are expensive and cause a lot of added paper work.” She also went on to explain that when given antibiotics, like all other animals being raised on farms, there is a period of time where the animal has to stay healthy and the antibiotics must leave the animal’s system before being brought to market.
And this ends my tour. I have to say, I learned a lot. I am not only taking away exceptional pieces of information for my own children, but so much for the families I work with as well. I feel prepared to offer suggestions and answer questions about the process of our foods and what the best choices are for the children I provide feeding therapy for. I also encourage any parent – with any questions – to go straight to the source. Farmers are the only people that know how the food is being produced. No one else. So, when in doubt, ask a farmer.
It was so amazing to see everything that has changed in the past 20 some years since I last rode in a combine and played with a baby pig. What was even more amazing was to see that the love a farmer has for their farm hasn’t changed a bit.
About Andrea Boerigter
Andrea Boerigter is a mom, wife, pediatric speech, language, and feeding therapist, owner of Bloom Indoor Play Center, and blogger. Andrea grew up in small town Iowa where she was fortunate to watch her grandfather and uncles farm as well as participate in 4-H showing pigs. She is passionate about helping families bring peace and knowledge to the dinner table through feeding therapy and education. Andrea spends every spare minute she has exploring the world with her children, Hank and Gus. Andrea currently lives in Sioux Falls but takes her children back to that small town Iowa life any opportunity she has.
With a name like “laying hen,” you might think the chickens at Dakota Layers near Flandreau, South Dakota, are just sitting around all day. Well, technically, they are, but they have a pretty important job that requires them to stay off their feet. The 1.3 million hens are responsible for laying more than 90,000 dozen eggs each day (at full capacity), which means they need healthy food to fuel their bodies.
According to Brandon Gibson, manager for Dakota Layers, there’s a science to keeping hens happy and consistently laying high-quality eggs. It all starts with what they eat. No off-the-shelf feed brands will do for these ladies. They get their own special blends delivered right to them daily, which requires teamwork up and down the ag supply chain.
Brandon works with poultry nutritionist Stacey Roberts at Provimi North America Inc. to select the right mix of feed. “Feed is formulated to meet each flock’s needs. It’s adjusted weekly based on egg production, age of the hens and how much each one is eating,” she said. “We’re very precise. In fact, the hens eat better than I do.”
The foundation of the feed for Dakota Layers’ hens comes from corn and soybeans grown by farmers in South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa that is processed locally into meal. Other ingredients depend on what the hens need to be healthy.
So what do chickens eat? Let’s take a look:
- Soybeans. Soybean meal is about 15 percent of the feed mix and provides hens with important proteins and amino acids they need to lay nutritious eggs.
- Corn. Ground corn is an excellent source of energy for the birds and contributes to the yellow color of the pigment in the egg yolk. Corn contributes more than 50 percent of the feed mix. The next time you crack open an egg with a vibrant yellow yolk, you know the chicken enjoyed a diet rich in corn.
- Distillers grains. In addition to ground corn, chickens also eat corn in the form of distillers grains – 5-10 percent of the mix – which is a byproduct from creating ethanol. It turns out corn that doesn’t become a renewable fuel is a great source of nutrition for animals.
- Calcium, vitamins and other minerals. The remaining ingredients in chicken feed, about 10 percent, are the same vitamins and minerals you take in a daily multivitamin. The only exception is vitamin C, which is a deficiency unique to humans. One mineral that’s especially essential to hens for egg laying is calcium because that’s what eggshells are made of.
“Since hens typically lay in the morning, the shell is the last thing put on at night while they sleep. Large particle limestone is really important to make sure it’s a good shell,” said Stacy. Just in case you’re wondering, it typically takes just over 24 hours to make and lay an egg.
Once Brandon and Stacey settle on the feed formula, she sends the recipe to Darren Ponto at New Vision Co-op in Worthington, Minnesota, for testing, mixing and delivery. He makes sure they check each ingredient to confirm its quality before blending the feed.
Since New Vision is the sole feed provider for Dakota Layers, Darren is also in charge of making sure it gets there on time. New Vision Co-op hauls approximately 3-5 trucks of feed per day, five days a week with each load weighing approximately 31 tons! A missed or late delivery could throw off the egg laying schedule and ruffle the feathers of those hungry hens.
The next time you grab a carton of Dakota Layers’ eggs at Hy-Vee in Brookings or eat a bronco omelet at the Phillips Avenue Diner in Sioux Falls, consider the precision that keeps the hens behind those eggs happy and healthy. There’s no time to “lay” around when it comes to feeding a hungry flock.
Want to read more farm-to-table stories? Here are some journeys from the farm to your fork.
June may be dairy month, but if you’re anything like us, cheese is a year-round obsession. In South Dakota, Dimock Dairy is known for some of the best handmade blocks, curds and spreads you’ll find anywhere.
The journey for these delicious cheeses starts seven miles northwest of Dimock on Marty Neugebauer’s farm. Marty grows corn and soybeans, and raises beef cattle in addition to operating a dairy. He started selling milk to Dimock Dairy in the 1980s as a junior in high school when he his mother Anita expanded the family farm. When his mother retired in 1998, his brother Darin joined the operation. Marty knows dairy products don’t get any better than what’s right down the road.
Today, his family business is one of four family farms selling milk exclusively to Dimock Dairy. He’s proud to support a local business and enjoys knowing their products get their start on his farm. He claims their butter is the best ever made with the aged cheddar a close second.
Marty gets going every morning at 5:15 a.m. Before bringing the cows in around 6 a.m., he sanitizes the milking equipment and pipes to make sure the milk is clean when it reaches the bulk tank. Keeping things clean is Marty’s number one priority so he can send the best quality product to town.
He brings eight cows into the barn for milking at a time. Each cow goes into the same stall on the same side of the parlor every day. According to Marty, “Cows need routine. If you change anything, they won’t give the same amount of milk. Keeping them comfortable and happy is important to milk production.” He sanitizes the cows before attaching the milkers, which suction right to the cow. The milkers are equipped with a sensor to detect the flow of milk and stop pumping when the milk stops flowing.
Marty says cows have their own unique personalities and pump different amounts of milk. They can provide anywhere from 25 to 50 pounds per session, and it only takes about five to eight minutes to milk each cow. After the milkers shut off, they detach automatically and he disinfects the cows so they’re clean. Within 15 minutes of coming inside, the cows head back outside for the day.
Next, the fresh milk flows into a receiving jar and is pumped through a plate cooler to reduce its temperature by 20 degrees within seconds. It is then collected in a bulk tank where it’s chilled to 38 degrees F until a Dimock Dairy bulk milk truck picks it up.
Marty repeats this process at 4:30 p.m. every day. It takes three hours to sanitize and milk about 90 cows each morning and afternoon. In between milkings, he takes care of his beef cattle, tends to his crops and completes other tasks on the farm. “There’s always something to do,” Marty said.
Cow Comfort and Nutrition
For many dairy farmers like Marty the key to good milk production is keeping cows comfortable, giving them plenty of access to water and feeding them a nutritious diet. While Marty’s cows eat mostly distillers grain made from corn and silage, many dairy farmers in South Dakota also feed theirs soybean meal. Did you know there are approximately 117,000 dairy cows in South Dakota that eat 31,000 tons of soybean meal each year? Good thing soybeans are the state’s second largest crop.
Dimock Dairy Delivery
Every other day, approximately 10,000 pounds of milk leaves Marty’s bulk tank to take on a whole new shape and flavor. We’ll explore how Marty’s milk becomes the delicious cheese at Dimock Dairy in part two of this blog so stay tuned.
What about the gallons of milk you find at the grocery store? Ever wonder how it gets from the farm to the shelf? Read about its journey.
Todd Hanten would put his wife, Monica’s, cooking up against anyone’s in a contest. She’s been honing her skills on their Goodwin, South Dakota farm for about 30 years.
“I’m pretty sure that’s why my employees continue to work here. They enjoy Monica’s cooking,” jokes Todd.
The Hantens both grew up on farms and developed strong ties to the land. In fact, Todd’s family has lived on the same farm for more than 100 years.
It’s obvious they love the lifestyle, which includes growing crops and caring for their 900-head of cattle. They encouraged their children, Brittany and Brock, to spend a few years working off the farm with the hope that someday they may return to continue the family legacy. It should also come as no surprise that they get asked questions about the food they grow and how they care for their animals.
They point out that it’s great to have so many choices when it comes to food. Despite operating a dairy for many years, Monica says she occasionally enjoys almond milk. However, she also understands how having so many choices, labels and terms on food packages can be overwhelming.
During trips to the store, Monica checks nutrition labels and seeks out foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar. She’s learned over the years that words like “natural” can make something seem premium or healthier, but that it contains no real value. “Hormone-free chicken” is another example. Hormone use is not allowed in poultry at all, so there’s no reason to pay extra for that label. She and Todd have also done their homework on GMOs and feel they are safe and healthy for people and animals.
“We choose to grow biotech crops because of the science in the seed,” explains Todd. “Seeds with these traits allow us to grow more food on the same amount of land in difficult weather conditions like drought. Many times, the traits help us grow crops in more sustainable ways, like using less products to control insects and weeds.”
The Hantens have seen the benefits firsthand. They know that, in addition to the agronomic value GMO crops offer farmers, there are also direct benefits for consumers, like soybeans with an increased nutritional profile or non-browning apples that last longer. They put food with genetically modified ingredients on their own kitchen table with pride.
Monica and Todd encourage people to ask questions and have conversations with farmers about how their food is grown. One great resource for those who live in South Dakota is the Hungry for Truth initiative and its website hungryfortruthsd.com. It features farmers and families who can help separate fact from fiction when it comes to food, animal care and farming.
“It’s an opportunity to learn more from real farmers,” explains Todd. “We enjoy having honest conversations about these topics because we all eat, we all care about our families, and we’re trying to do our best to make healthy choices when it comes to food.”
Amanda Eben is a livestock specialist who works with farmers every day to ensure the health of their animals. Amanda and her husband are active in each of their family farms, helping with their corn, soybeans and pig operations. We sat down with Amanda to learn more about her career and how she connects food and farming every day.
HFT: Tell us a little bit about your career path.
Amanda: My career is in the field of animal health. I work at an animal practice in Pipestone, Minnesota, which is a veterinary clinic but also a swine management company. I work within the swine team, where we help pig farmers get the right products they need to care for their animals. That includes everything from boots to vaccines to coveralls.
HFT: What does a typical day look like for you?
Amanda: A typical day for me involves traveling throughout the Midwest – mainly South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska – to meet with our pig farmer customers. Some days I spend in the clinic, consulting with farmers to decide what products they need to keep their livestock comfortable and healthy.
I love working one-on-one with farmers to make sure their animals get the best quality care possible. If they have a question or a problem I can help with, the feeling I get is incredibly rewarding. I do what I do in order to help farmers do what they do.
HFT: What motivated you to become a livestock specialist?
Amanda: That’s an easy one. On a daily basis, I get to work with pig farmers who remind me of my dad. He is a farmer and the very reason I fell so deeply in love with livestock and agriculture. He taught me the importance of respecting and caring for animals, whether it’s a pet in your home, or livestock in the barn.
HFT: What is the best part of your job?
Amanda: The best part of my job is the people. The pig farmers I work with feel like family. I enjoy learning about the history of their farms or how they got involved in pig farming, but the best part is when I get to know their families and they get to know mine. I value those relationships because those are the kind of people I want to work for. They make it easy for me to strive to do the best in my career.
HFT: Tell us more about the pigs. What do farmers do to take care of them?
Amanda: The main three factors are shelter, food and health. Unlike the past, pigs today are raised in well-ventilated, comfortable, climate-controlled barns where they stay cleaner and are kept away from predators, flies and the environment. Most farmers work with animal nutritionists to set up strict diets, which are high in soybean meal, the number one source of proteins for hogs in South Dakota.
When it comes to health, just like people, if animals get sick, farmers give them antibiotics to help them get better. Antibiotics can also prevent infections so the animals stay healthy. According to government regulations, if an animal receives antibiotics, the meat from that animal cannot enter the food supply until the medicine has fully passed through the animal’s system.
HFT: What is your educational background?
Amanda: I have a B.S. in animal science from South Dakota State University, but most of my hands-on experience comes from growing up on a pig farm and working on a swine farrowing farm where mother sows have baby piglets. I also picked up experience and exposure to the industry through my internships at Ralco Animal Nutrition and Pipestone Systems, where I now work.
As an animal specialist, Amanda works with farmers every day to ensure that their pigs get the highest level of care and comfort. Healthy livestock means healthy food and Amanda plays a major role in making that happen with pigs across the Midwest. Do you have questions for Amanda? Leave them in the comments!
Do you ever wonder how your gallon of milk got to the grocery store? Milk goes through several steps before you can find it on the shelf. It might surprise you that many dairy products start out not far from home. Dairies are in all 50 states so it makes it easier to have locally produced dairy products in your grocery. Even those without a “local” label often start within driving distance of your kitchen. For example, when you pick up a gallon of milk from your local Hy-Vee, it’s likely coming from within a 60-mile radius of Sioux Falls. Let’s take a look into the journey your gallon of milk takes to get to your local grocery.
Before your gallon of milk can be enjoyed, dairy cows must produce the milk. Most dairy cows are milked twice a day. The milk is then cooled in a large storage tank on the farm and, within 24 hours, it is taken to a local processing plant in an insulated truck that keeps it cold. For example, a dairy farm in Garretson may drive their milk 55 miles to a processing facility in Brookings.
After a short road trip, the milk arrives at the local processing plant and is tested for safety. Dairy farmers and milk processing plants want to ensure the milk they deliver and use is safe. Next, the milk goes through a process called pasteurization. Pasteurization kills pathogens with heat and is just another step to ensure the milk is safe for consumption. After pasteurization, milk is packaged and sent 60 miles to grocery stores in Sioux Falls and beyond.
Isn’t it interesting to know that the entire farm-to-shelf trip for a gallon of milk can take only two days and 115 miles? The next time you’re at the store, remember that cows right down the road likely made that milk that is in your shopping cart. Local farmers and processors work to bring that gallon of milk from the farm to your home quickly and safely every day.
Check out this great video about milk’s journey.
“On our farm, animal care is the top priority,” says Peggy Greenway, farmer from Mitchell, South Dakota. She and her husband raise hogs and always look for ways to improve conditions for the animals on their farm. Watch the video to find out what big changes they made to improve the comfort of the animals on their farm.
Peggy says they are very pleased with their decision to the switch to indoor housing. When they kept their pigs outside, they spent a lot of time bedding them down with straw and cleaning pens out by hand. It was difficult to keep them dry and warm in the winter. When they are safe and comfortable indoors, Peggy knows they are providing the best care for their animals.
Read more from Peggy:
When it comes to antibiotics, hormones and food, we hear a lot of questions. Are they safe? Why do farmers use them? Do all livestock animals receive them? Farmers are the experts when it comes to taking care of livestock, so we asked local farmer Neal if we need to worry about antibiotics and hormones in our food.
“We give antibiotics to our animals when they are feeling sick, just like when people are feeling under the weather. Everything is prescribed by a veterinarian, and we follow strict guidelines set by the FDA,” said Neal. “When it comes to hormones, some farmers use them in cattle and sheep to produce leaner meat by helping the animals convert their feed. The use of hormones is also highly regulated, and it’s something we take very seriously.”
Have questions for Neal? Leave them in the comments below.
Harvest is complete. The weather is getting colder, and there’s snow on the ground.
Although farmers aren’t out in the field every day like they are throughout the warmer months, farmers are busy running their farms the whole winter, too. To find out more about what winter looks like on a South Dakota farm, we asked Peggy Greenway, a South Dakota farmer, to share her thoughts in this guest blog.
On our farm, we raise pigs and cattle, and we grow corn, soybeans and wheat. Though our active crop farming is done for the season, our livestock chores remain seven days a week, 365 days a year jobs.
We keep our cattle outdoors, so the winter weather makes a big difference. Their thick coat of hair keeps them comfortable, so since corn harvest, we’ve had our cows grazing out on corn stalks. The stalks provide nutrients, and the cattle’s manure provides fertilizer for our fields. We move them from field to field, bringing them closer to home as the temperatures decrease. When we have a big snowfall, like those nine inches we had earlier this year, we supplement their grazing with hay and silage. This gives them more energy to keep warm.
Although the cattle are out grazing all winter, we provide them with shelter from the cold and snow. The tree belts and four hoop barns close to our home protect them from the wind. For the most part, they’ll stay out and meander around the pasture. If the snow gets really deep, we might scrape some snow off a big area in the lot or pasture or lay down some straw to give them a dry place to lie down.
The calves from last year have been weaned since early October and we feed them in a large lot at another farm we rent. We sell those calves in January and another farmer will feed them out to market weight. We work with an animal nutritionist to make sure we feed our calves exactly what they need to keep them happy and healthy as they grow. That ration consists of ground hay, corn silage, modified wet distillers grain and some vitamins and minerals
When the cows start calving in late February, we keep them in the closest pasture to the farm or in the lots by the buildings for extra protection and so we can easily check on them several times a day.
If it’s really cold outside, we’ll warm the calves up and dry them off in the heated barn, and then they can go back outside with their moms where they have access to hoop barns for protection.
Antibiotics can seem like a scary thing. More and more, we see labels on our foods saying “No Antibiotics” or “Antibiotic Free.” What is the scoop on antibiotics in meat products? Why do some farmers use antibiotics? Are foods without the “antibiotic-free” label safe to eat? Should you seek out foods with those labels? Read on for answers to those and other questions.
Why do farmers use antibiotics? Just like when we get medicine prescribed by a doctor when we’re under the weather, an animal may be given antibiotics when it’s sick. Certified veterinarians care for these animals and make sure they get the proper medical treatment. To allow for a full recovery and keep other animals from getting infected, the sick animal is removed from the herd and is sometimes treated with antibiotics.
Administering antibiotics to animals is not something farmers take lightly. Treating sick animals is expensive, and farmers make sure their animals are only given antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian, following strict guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Are foods without the “antibiotic-free” label safe to eat? Even after an animal has returned to health, the process of monitoring antibiotic use doesn’t end. To make sure these antibiotics are not present in our food, the animal cannot enter the food supply until the drug is no longer present in its system. The FDA enforces a strict withdrawal time specific to different types of animals.
Even before food hits the shelves, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control routinely test milk and meat to make sure producers are complying with the standards they have set. You can feel confident the food on your dinner table is safe to serve your family, with or without an “antibiotic-free” label.
Should I seek out foods with the “antibiotic-free” label? Now that you have the facts about antibiotics in meat products, the choice is completely up to you. Knowing that either choice is safe, you can rest assured that you’ll be making the right choice for you and your family.