The crops may be harvested and the equipment put away, but there’s still plenty to do on South Dakota farms in the winter. This is especially true for farmers, like John Horter, who raise animals. John is the fifth generation in his family to grow soybeans, corn, wheat and alfalfa near Andover. He also works with his parents, wife Jaclyn and two adorable children, Dane and Raegan, to manage a cow/calf operation and a farm repair and supply business in their local community.
With 98 percent of South Dakota farms being family owned, it’s important for farmers like the Horters to practice sustainability and excellent animal care to continue feeding families in the future. So what does a typical winter day on the Horter family farm look like? How do they keep their cows healthy during cold weather? We visited with John to get the scoop on his winter activities.
Q: What is a typical day like on your farm in the winter?
A: A typical winter day starts with checking on and feeding our cattle. We do our best to make sure they eat at about the same time every day. Once they’re taken care of, we spend time in the shop fixing equipment and working at our store. We also plan for the next growing season by reviewing harvest data to determine investments in seed, fertilizer and equipment. This type of data and the technology in our tractors help us use minimal resources to grow healthy crops.
Q: How do you keep your cattle comfortable in unpredictable weather?
A: We make a plan for each situation. If it looks like it’s going to be warm, we put down extra bedding to keep them out of the mud. When it’s cold, we feed them more to ensure they have extra energy. If it is unusually stormy or cold, we bring them closer to windbreaks for protection or inside our barns. We add windbreaks and plant trees throughout the year to give them more protection out in the pasture. We are constantly looking for different ways to keep them safe and healthy no matter the weather.
Q: How do you make sure your cows stay healthy when it’s cold?
A: We work with an animal nutritionist to put together the right diet for every season. As the temperatures fall, we adjust their diets to provide more energy to keep them warm. Cattle grow thicker hair in the winter to protect themselves against cold temps so they can stay comfortable grazing in sub-zero weather.
We also rely on our veterinarian to help us treat our animals if they get sick. When we notice an issue, our veterinarian helps us diagnose the problem and can prescribe an antibiotic through a veterinary feed directive. This ensures that we only use antibiotics when necessary and in the right doses. It helps us treat our cattle safely and as directed by law.
Q: What’s your favorite part about raising animals on the farm?
A: It’s really fun to see the way our children interact with the animals. In the summer, we all check on the cattle in the pastures together. We enjoy welcoming new calves every spring and watching them grow. It’s so rewarding to be part of providing healthy, safe and affordable food for South Dakota families.
In a state with more cows than people, it’s easy to see why cow comfort is so important to many farmers and ranchers. Read how animal care and cover crops are helping Shawn and Kristy Freeland create a sustainable future for their Rapid City ranch.
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their 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!
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.
Here at Hungry for Truth, we receive a lot of questions about organic food and farming. We thought it may be helpful to share some information on how organic is defined. While most of the farmers in South Dakota do not farm organically, Hungry for Truth supports choice and believes there’s a place for all kinds of farming operations.
You may be surprised to find out there are many similarities between organic and nonorganic farming, but there are also some differences too. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulates use of the organic label, and we’ve broken down the USDA’s standards for organic farming.
1. Preserving natural resources and biodiversity
Organic farmers add compost, animal manure and green manure to give the soil nutrients from natural sources in place of synthetic fertilizers. The plants then absorb these nutrients to produce a healthy crop. Soil conservation is also part of organic farming standards. Many farmers incorporate cover crops, mulches and conservation tillage to maintain the biodiversity of the land.
2. Supporting animal health and welfare
Organic animal health care starts at the beginning with genetics. Farmers select breeds and animals that are healthy and adapted to their environment. From there, prevention is the main strategy for health care. Organic farmers try to prevent disease with a healthy diet, low-stress environment and plenty of exercise to build up strong immune systems in their animals. Organic farmers may use certain approved vaccinations and other preventative measures to try to prevent illness.
When organic livestock get sick, there are no organic-approved treatments for those animals. Farmers usually treat them with antibiotics, just like when people get sick. If an animal receives antibiotics, the meat, milk or eggs from that animal cannot enter the food supply until the medicine has fully passed through its system and then it is marketed as a non-organic product.
3. Providing access to the outdoors for animals
Livestock on organic farms must have access to the outdoors, including shade shelter, clean drinking water and direct sunlight. Grazing animals, like cattle, sheep and goats, need to have access to pasture during the grazing season. The idea is to promote the natural behavior of the animals.
4. Using only approved materials
Many conventional farmers also use the practices listed, but the big difference with organic comes from what you can’t do. To be certified organic, farmers may not use most synthetic fertilizers for soil nutrition, or pesticides for controlling insects, weeds or diseases. Some approved fertilizers and pesticides may be used on organic farms, but many rely on the PAMS method: prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression.
5. No genetically modified ingredients
Another restriction for organic farmers is GM ingredients. Organic farms may not plant GM crops, and livestock may not have any feed that includes GM ingredients.
6. Receiving annual on-site inspections
The application process for becoming certified organic is extensive. In fact, land must be in organic production for three years before it can be certified. USDA inspectors visit the farm each year for recertification.
7. Separating organic food from non-organic food
To maintain the organic integrity of the product, organic crops cannot come in contact with unapproved substances like pesticides and fertilizers, and the seeds and foods of organic and non-organic must not mix. All equipment that is used for non-organic products must be thoroughly washed each time before it is used for organic products.
As you can see, the difference between organic and non-organic lies in how the crops or animals are raised; there is no nutritional difference in the actual food. We think it’s great there are so many nutritious options out there for every family’s preferences. If you have any questions about organic or other types of farming, we would be happy to help answer them. Check back on our blog for more about how food gets from the farm to your table.
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.