This past weekend I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of about 130 farmers, market managers, and educators at the Innovative Farmers of Ohio Conference at Hiram College. My topic was fairly run of the mill….farming as a business and how to start, grow, measure, and change it. I think I did an exceptional job. I hope the audience could identify a few key takeaways.
I know I took a few things away from other speakers. I’ll try to write a couple blogs this week summarizing my learnings.
The first speaker of the day was Dr. Sue Beal from Big Run Healing Arts, a homepathic veterinarian from PA. I’m an extremely structured thinker, and when Dr. Sue took the stage without a presentation and didn’t clearly outline what she was going to be talking about…I was lost.
I quickly put the pieces together as she weaved stories into her materials. It was clear that Dr. Sue was passionate about grass grazed (non-conventional) dairy farming and, for lack of a better word, “intimate” animal husbandry. I think it is safe to say that everyone at the conference was in the same boat on the grazing subject, but they may not have been that personal with their cattle.
However, one story she told likely converted anyone on the fence. Dr. Sue had been contacted by a dairy farmer who traditionally had very good somatic cell counts in his milk. The cell count is an indicator of the quality of the product. All of a sudden, his somatic cell count sky-rocketed to nearly ten-fold of his previous levels and twice that of acceptable levels.
So Dr. Sue went in to evaluate. Step 1, check all the equipment for contamination. No contamination found in the equipment. Step 2, check the feeds and look for any sick cattle. Nothing appeared. Nothing about the way the animals were fed, managed, milked, etc, had changed.
On a follow up visit, Dr. Sue noticed that the farmers – husband and wife – were somewhat aggressive towards each other. In fact, they tried not to be on the farm together. They would actually try to avoid each other even in passing in the driveway. They were going through a divorce.
Being that nothing else was different in the milking operation other than this change in relationship between the two farmers, Dr. Sue figured that the bad energy from their relationship was effecting the cattle. She suggested that the couple hire someone to manage and milk the cattle until they can settle their differences.
So the couple hired someone to replace them. Within a week, the somatic cell counts had returned to normal.
It was amazing to hear this story. I can relate to it in many ways. One of the things I look for in my beef cattle farmers is a relationship with the animals and how social the animals are with the farmer when in the field. You most often see this with guys who were formerly dairy farmers and were used to seeing their animals twice a day for milking. This is important because you know that the farmer is really focusing on improving his herd and ensuring consistency in the product.
On a similar note, I prefer to have my chickens and red meats raised near the processing facility where they will be harvested. Poultry in particular tends to damage itself in transport, and the stress causes acids to generate and effect the quality of the meat.