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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Flat Aggie Meets Shorthorns in Michigan



In January, I traveled to T&R Shorthorns in Michigan.  T&R Shorthorns is a small beef cattle farm owned by two sisters.  The farm started when the sisters each bought a heifer (a young, girl cow) to show at the county 4-H fair.  The herd – and their love for cattle – only grew from there.  Just like there are different breeds of dogs – Beagle, Dalmatian, Labrador Retriever, and Poodle to name a few – there are also different breeds of cows.  All of the cows on their farm are a breed called Shorthorn.

Michigan is cold and snowy in the winter, but there is still a lot of work to be done on the farm.  On their farm, the cattle live inside a barn during the winter.  That means they leave manure (the farmer term for cow poop) in one area, so it has to be cleaned up often, and cleaning up manure is what we did on my first day on the farm.

Farmer Paula’s husband helps a lot on her beef farm.  In this picture, he is scraping the manure with a machine called a skidsteer.  Some farmers have other names for it though.  


 He let me take a turn driving it.


They dump the manure into a large wagon called a manure spreader.  Then they take it out to the field with a tractor and spread it.  The manure spreader throws the manure all over the field.  Manure is a good fertilizer.  It helps crops grow on the farm.  Then those crops will be harvested and fed to the cows.

We used this big, red tractor to haul the manure to the fields. 

After they clean out the barns, they put fresh straw down for the cows to lie in. 

They also empty out the water tanks and scrub them each time they clean the barn.

A big part of the cows’ diet (what they eat) is hay.  The hay is stored in large round bales inside the barns to keep them dry.   
 
Sometimes the ground is too muddy or too icy for the skidsteer to get up the barn hill to get hay bales, so they load some up every so often and bring them to a smaller place that is easier to get to in bad weather. 
 
 In the case of an emergency situation like a terrible blizzard, they keep some small, square hay bales in the top of each barn, so they can just throw them down to the cows and don’t have to worry about moving bales through snow.  This winter has been unusually warm.  Normally there is always snow on the ground in January and February.

During my time at T&R Shorthorns, we moved two older calves (baby cows) to another barn, so I got to help load them onto the trailer. 
 
 Their names are James and Penelope.  We also took a cow named Maddie to the auction sale.


Since there are fewer things happening on the farm during the winter because nothing is growing, farmers attend conferences to learn about new and different technologies and techniques to improve how they farm.  I was able to go to a presentation by Greg Peterson of the Peterson Farm Bros. I got to meet him!

Have you ever seen their video “I’m Farming and I Grow It?”   

The other thing farmers focus on in winter is record keeping and not so fun things like doing taxes.

Twice every single day, we fed and watered the cows. 
 
The calves love to help with daily chores.  


The sisters got interested in raising beef cattle because they grew up on their family’s dairy farm.  Their dad and uncles no longer milk cows, but they raise dairy bull calves (baby boy cows) and grow corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa.  In farming families and communities, people help each other out.  Their dad went to a crop conference, so Farmer Paula fed the calves for him, and I helped.  This is right after we gave them milk.

Most beef cattle farms are having calves born right now, but they have their calves during a different part of the year on this farm.  The calves were old enough that we worked on training them to be led on a halter.  They do this to make their calves friendlier and easier to work with.  In this picture, I am helping to halter train Teresa. 


I think my favorite part of visiting T&R Shorthorns was meeting the cows and the calves. They were very friendly.

It wasn’t all work on the farm though.  We did have some winter fun. (at PICTURES)

Here are some facts about agriculture in Michigan.
Michigan is a top producer of many agricultural products such as blueberries and tart cherries.  Lake Michigan keeps the west side of the state from getting really cold in the fall and really hot in the summer.  This effect from the lake combined with frequent rainfall and the soil conditions make the Lake Michigan lakeshore a perfect place for growing fruit.

But Michigan doesn’t just produce a lot of fruit.  Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state.  Only California produces a greater variety of agricultural products.  You can see that in Farmer Paula’s family.  As I said before, her dad and uncles milked dairy cows, but now grow crops.  Her grandparents raise pigs.  Her cousins grow many fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and strawberries for their farm market.  Some of her other cousins harvest maple syrup.  Agriculture is a big part of what Michigan does and also Farmer Paula’s family.