Tag Archives: technology

You Put Your Arms WHERE? To do WHAT?

WARNING! This might be considered by some to be gross, inappropriate, or tragic, but I think it is extremely important to share the how’s, what’s and why’s of our food. If you have any questions about anything you see please ask – I love to share about the ranch.

Every single cattle person I interact with loves their cattle. Our lives revolve around them and their needs. Their needs are met before our own. Their well-being is our first priority, always. When we have an animal in distress, we are in distress as well, and we do everything we possibly can to fix the situation.
I was reminded of this fact recently. It’s calving season in Northern California. Calving season is the best and worst time of our year. On one hand we are witnessing the birth of our future, new life and all the promise that brings. On the other hand, this is the time when things are most likely to go wrong.

Brown Ranch's first 2014 calf!

Brown Ranch’s first 2014 calf! Minutes old.

Just like when humans give birth, it is an event. Bodies change, hormones rage and things can go wrong. 98 percent of the time everything is fine, everyone is healthy. But sometimes, we do have problems. Often heifers, whom are giving birth for the first time, will need some assistance. Sometimes a cow will have a set of twins or a calf will be born backwards. In this case, both happened. In this video you will see our neighbor and family friend “pulling” a backward, twin, calf.

Unfortunately the calf you saw being pulled was not alive at birth and could not be resuscitated. However, her twin was alive and well!

Brand new twin.

Brand new twin.

When calves are born and are not breathing, there are certain methods we will use to resuscitate them. I’ve seen my father perform mouth to mouth on calves before and they lived! My Mom jokes that she decided to marry my Dad after watching him save a newborn calf. You can see Brian feeling and rubbing the chest, to double check that she was gone. This calf was already gone, so she felt no pain.

However when we do have a calf that is born dead, and without a twin for the cow to raise, we have methods to lessen the grief of the cow. Again we want our cattle to be happy, to do their jobs, and earn us an income so we can continue to ranch.

Cattle people work very hard to prevent pulling calves. I mean, honestly, is reaching your arms into the reproductive organs of a cow, something that you would WANT to do? No. This is why we use technology to improve what we do and hopefully prevent this from happening as much as we can.

This really isn't something we want to do.

This really isn’t something we want to do. But Brian is very good at it.

We use our knowledge of genetics and our understanding of EPDs (expected progeny differences) to manipulate our cattle herd. This means, calves are born with smaller birth weights (making birth easier on everyone, little babies are easier to push out!), but higher weaning weights. This makes us efficient. We are using technology to do more with less. I’ve been especially lucky in my lifetime to see these changes first hand. When I was a child, I remember watching my Dad pull way more calves than he does now. Our calves were also weaned at 500 pounds versus almost a 1000 now, all because we have access to better technology.

By adapting this technology into our herds we have improved the quality of our cattle’s lives, the quality of our lives and have become more efficient and sustainable. Yes, we still have death and loss, but, as I’ve just explained here, we constantly are seeking out ways to mitigate that.

Mama cow and her baby (from the above video) are currently grazing in a lush, green field in Northern California.

Seriously, these cattle have the best home!

Seriously, these cattle have the best home!

 

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Filed under Ag, agriculture, animals, Beef, family, Know a California Farmer, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized, Video

Field Trip: Monsanto and Tomatoes

Tomatoes have a special place in my heart. I’m not a huge fan of the actual fruit anymore (the reason why is coming up), but I love all things derived from tomatoes – sauces, salsas, ketchup. And I love to grow the plant. I think I love them because one of my most cherished childhood memories is about garden fresh tomatoes. My grandfather, or Papa, had a pretty amazing green thumb; his garden remains legendary in my mind.

Pretty heirlooms!

When I was little, it was a big deal to spend the night at my town Grandparents. Grandma and Papa spoiled us with Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes in the morning and cable (we didn’t get more than four channels until I was in high school, country livin!). After dinner, it was a big deal for Papa and me to head out to his garden to water, harvest his vegetables and pick tomato worms.

As little five-year old me was searching for those awful tomato worms, I remember telling Papa that I didn’t like tomatoes because “they were gross”. At some point during my little life I must have eaten off-season, store tomatoes and decided all tomatoes were like that. Papa gently picked some ripe cherry tomatoes off his vines and told me to eat one. Surprisingly, I did. And it was glorious. I remember shoving those little jewels in my mouth as fast as I could, being totally surprised at the sweet, warm burst in my mouth, it was like candy. I did that until I threw up. What can I say; I’ve never been good with moderation.

Every time I see a tomato plant, I remember my Papa and his warm cherry tomatoes. It’s a very happy memory. I think that memory is why my favorite part of my Monsanto tour was learning about tomatoes.

The tomato rows at Monsanto's farm. I wanted to frolic through them. But I restrained myself. Barely

The tomato rows at Monsanto’s farm. I wanted to frolic through them. But I restrained myself. Barely.

My field trip to Monsanto left me overwhelmed, I think I caught a really bad case of agnerditis while I was there. Monsanto was fascinating, it was like taking a plant science, a sociology, and a economics class all in one day. I loved it! Unfortunately, I have a mild case of writer’s block when it comes to writing about our day there, I learned so much! However, I am fighting it! Because I think it is important to talk about GMO’s, technology and Monsanto with an open mind.

Talking plant breeding with the actual plant breeders. No big deal or anything. Nope, not at all.

Learning about tomato breeding from actual tomato breeders! Nope, not a big deal. Not at all. (OMG IT WAS SO COOL)

Doug the Tomato Dude was our tour guide for the tomato portion of our tour. He was passionate about his tomatoes! By the time he left us, I wanted to start researching tomatoes too. He made it sound so interesting, and it is! He told us his passion for growing things came early (something I totally identify with), he grew garden peas as a kid. His fresh garden peas tasted nothing like canned peas – and there you go – inspiration comes from the simplest things!

Learning from the master....

Learning from the expert!

Doug is working on a breeding project where he is using various naturally-occurring genes to improve heirloom tomatoes! He explained that there are three natural color mutations in the heirloom realm, tiger stripe, purple and a bi-color (like Rainbow). Working with these three mutations he can breed tomatoes with different levels of acidity, sugars, and volatiles (what you smell) . Something for everyone!

Doug’s goal is to make tomatoes that taste as good or better than existing heirlooms while having the level of fruit setting and disease resistance of modern tomatoes. And he wants to find ways so we can have heirloom quality taste much longer than the current seasonal window. In addition to making tomatoes taste better for us consumers he is also using tools from his genetic toolbox to help the farmer by eliminating cracking in the fruit (less waste!) and increased setting of the fruit (more product with less resources!). Doug is using genetic material that is over 60 years old along with some of the new great things he’s found! I think it is amazing that Doug and Monsanto are keeping these old genes alive and in production. Notice that is something you never hear about from the media. This germplasm dates back many decades and is responsible for long-time home garden favorites such as Better Boy, Big Boy, and Early Girl. By combining the past and the present some great things can happen that both preserve flavor for the consumer and add value to the grower.

Grow babies, grow!

Grow babies, grow!

Doug’s tomatoes are fresh market tomatoes, you know, the tomatoes you buy at the store. As I mentioned above, I think many of us are scarred from the tasteless, pretty tomatoes that dominated the store shelves for years. But Doug is changing that! Doug wants to see more heirlooms on the shelves; he wants more variety, more diversity so consumers can have a choice. (Isn’t that just music to your foodie ears? It was to mine!)

Doug mentioned that he loves to eat his own tomatoes, and his family does too. In fact he said he was making his family BLT’s with seedless tomatoes that very night for dinner doesn’t that sound fabulous?

Look at the pretty heirlooms!

More heirlooms, so pretty!!!

The most exciting thing I learned during this portion of my tour was about the seedless tomatoes that have been developed, the Sweet Seedless. My Grandma has diverticulitis, so foods with little seeds, (like tomatoes), hurt her, she actually cannot eat them. This is unfortunate for people like my Grandma, because it can affect her nutrition. I plan on going to over to my Grandma’s house next spring and planting some Sweet Seedless in Papa’s old garden plot, so my Grandma can eat something she loves again. I think my Papa would be super proud of me.

Meeting Doug the Tomato Dude and learning about his work in tomatoes was marvelous. Being an animal science person, it is wonderful for me to learn more about plant science. I was able to make the connection in my head that like cattle, plants often benefit from different breeding techniques. These techniques and technologies are changing agriculture for us farmers and ranchers in the best possible way – we can produce more with less, we can increase the nutritional content of some foods, we can increase diversity, and we can give our consumers more choice! What an amazing time to be involved in agriculture!

If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend checking this blog out http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7076455123022001652&postID=5115683617599271132. Dr. Folta is one of my favorite experts.

*Also thank you to Janice Person for a couple of the photos in this post!

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Filed under Ag, Field Trip, food, photos, Ranch life, Rants, Uncategorized