Water: Them is fighting words…

Water. It always has been and always will be a precious commodity for all. Whether you drink or shower with it, water your garden or flowers, provide it to animals to drink, water crops with it, or use it for recreation, it is necessary for all living beings – plants and animals!

What do WOTUS (Waters of the U.S.), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the American Farm Bureau and others have in common? Currently, the commonality is a discussion about a proposed change to the Clean Water Act to expand the definition of “waters of the United States” for additional regulatory jurisdiction over streams and wetlands. As you can imagine, when we start talking about water use and rights, there are conflicting emotions.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Amy Talks Ag recently provided a timely article I want to share with you below …

The proposed “Waters of the United States” rule was issued March 25, 2014 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps). Since its initial publication, the proposed WOTUS rule has garnered a great deal of attention from concerned agricultural producers and prompted the EPA to address these concerns with a number of press releases, promotional materials, and educational webinars. The amount of information shared by advocates and opponents of the rule is staggering. So, where can you go to learn more about the rule and help you make an informed decision about how to comment on the rule to the EPA?

The EPA has developed a web page dedicated to clarifying what the rule does and does not do. While not particularly exciting or easy to read (let’s face it, regulatory documents are daunting and low on the list of “fun things to read!”), the published proposed rule from the Federal Register can be accessed from this website.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has developed a web page dedicated to sharing a number of resources from universities, commodity organizations, and other stakeholders who have reviewed and analyzed the proposed rule to determine whether the rule will be detrimental to agricultural producers: ditchtherule.fb.org. Included on this site is an interactive map designed to identify “waters” that would be newly regulated by the federal government under the proposed WOTUS rule, along with a number of state-specific brochures outlining the anticipated extent of the EPA’s jurisdiction of “waters” under the proposed rule.

The Bottom Line: Regulatory documents are seldom “cut and dried”, leaving a great deal of room for interpretation by the agencies who enforce the rules. Public comment periods are intended to give all interested and potentially affected parties an opportunity to read proposed regulations, determine where shortfalls or inadequacies exist, and provide feedback to impact the rule before it becomes final.  Seldom does a proposed regulation or rule become finalized without changes, often significant changes, being implemented following the public comment period. Don’t miss your opportunity to share your thoughts on this proposed rule and voice your opinion and concerns about how it may benefit or harm your activities. The comment period has been extended to November 14, 2014.

Some may believe that persons involved in agriculture do not care about the quality of the water on or around their farm or ranch (arguably, the reason this new rule has been proposed). However, most agricultural producers (and I say “most” because every industry or sector of society has their deviants) are very respectful of their obligation to protect the environment and go to great lengths to do so, whether it is required under their regulatory operating permit or because it’s just the “right thing” to do. After all, they drink water from the same sources as their neighbors and they swim and fish in the same lakes and rivers! Interested in the perspective of an active cattle farmer? I encourage you to read a recent blog post about this topic from Anne Burkholder, a highly regarded Nebraska cattle feed yard owner and operator. In her post, Anne talks about the proposed WOTUS rule and provides examples of what she does to ensure environmental responsibility on her feed yard.

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– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
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Farm Tours: Another perspective

I can’t believe it is already the middle of August! Where has the summer gone?! I feel like mine was spent dragging a suitcase through an airport, where I got more sleep on an airplane than I did in my own bed. The good news, I have a ton of posts in my head, I just need to get them down here!

One of my job responsibilities is to provide the Saunders County Livestock Association members with an annual agricultural tour. This was their 56th annual! Pretty amazing that there is that much history and tradition within this county based association. It is also tradition for the Extension Educator who does the tour to take them to their “home” area, for me that is Western Nevada and Northern California.

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The annual cap is nearly as important as the annual tour! And the red was a great color choice to find persons in our group when we were in busy public spaces.

I had 43 men sign up for the tour (the women stay home and supposedly have their own vacations while the men are away); good thing I am tough and can handle that much testosterone! Since we were flying, I had planned a six day, five night adventure out into the Wild West. We traveled via planes, boats, and buses 🙂 Below are photos from our recent trip. This was only my second tour to plan, but oh what a learning experience these have been!

You would think that since these guys see and deal with agriculture everyday, they would not want to see more of it when on vacation. But that is further from the truth – they love to see what other farmers and ranchers are doing across the county. I hope you enjoy this recap as much as the guys and I enjoyed participating in the 56th annual trip!

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We flew from Omaha, NE into Reno, NV. In route we saw Lake Mead near Las Vegas. And we saw a great bear mount in Reno.
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Day 1 included a trip to Seven Troughs Whiskey Distillery where we had a great catered lunch consisting of brisket and tri-tip (a west coast meat treat). We also got to see the open air fermentation process they use for their spirits. We toured a beautiful ranch where we saw some great Hereford bulls. And finally, we ended the day with a relaxing dinner cruise on Lake Tahoe. As an extra bonus, two representatives with the Nevada Department of Agriculture joined us. It was a great addition as the tour participants could ask them about all things concerning Nevada agriculture.
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Day 2 included a trip to Jacobs Family Berry Farm where they are growing 27 different varieties of berries to determine which ones grow best in Western Nevada. We also went to Bently Ranch were they are growing their own crops for a whiskey distillery they are building. Additionally, they raise a lot of cattle and have a large human waste composting program. This stop was fun, because the Nebraska corn farmers were thrilled to see and talk corn with the Nevada cowboys. We had the chance to tour the “behind the scenes” of Topaz Lodge Casino (no photos due to sensitivity of the tour). Our last stop was a garlic farm which was in the middle of harvest. It smelled great, and accompanied dinner nicely…
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My parents hosted the group for a Lamb BBQ Dinner. Some in the group were not terribly thrilled about this, as they had experienced mutton before (which is old sheep, and very different than lamb). David, the garlic tour host gave our group an entire burlap bag of garlic, so we cleaned some of it up and threw it on the grill too. I think by time the night was over the group had developed an appreciation for lamb and roasted garlic!
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Day 3 meant heading over the Sierra Nevada Mountain range – which was hard on a few of the guys. Personally, I enjoyed being back in the mountains and enjoyed the scenic beauty. On this day the Sacramento County Farm Bureau hosted us and provided a turkey farm stop, a cutting edge dairy that has an automated calf feeding machine (which provided milk, hay, and grain every couple of hours) and a huge methane digester that we could walk on! We also went to a sturgeon caviar farm and saw the fish in various life stages. The fish also enjoyed our visit and splashed us as they showed off. We topped off the night with barrel smoked steaks at Giusti’s (locally recommended and enjoyed too). On this day my Mom also hopped on the bus with us!
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Day 4 was spent in the Delta, just south of Sacramento, CA. It was a great day to see the diversity of crops grown. It was also pear harvesting season, so we enjoyed fresh pears and pear ice cream! Our Delta tour guide also made the day extra special by finding some fellow Nebraskans (i.e. Huskers) living in the area that hosted us for lunch. Come to find out one of the hosts and one of the tour participants were kin! We finished out the day at an olive tree and oil processing farm, where my tour participants were thrilled to talk wheat farming on California hills with the family! This was an eye opening day to the diversity of agriculture in the area. We also saw first hand and heard about the effects of the drought as well as the fight for water for agriculture. It will be a tough battle for California agriculture, one that we are now more sympathetic too.
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The interesting thing about planning a tour like this is how it changes over the months (I start planning in January, and we leave in August). My original day 5 was much different than the day 5 we got, but it was an excellent day. Day 5 was a day to do and/or see the things in San Fransisco that interested you most. For some that included trolleys over the infamous hills of San Fransisco, the seals, mass at a Catholic church, and more. For me it was taking in a variety of things (and time with my Mom). I was not able to get our group tickets to tour Alcatraz (as I should have booked those in January!), so we did the next best thing – a boat ride around Alcatraz and Angel Islands and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Next a group of us took a tour up to Muir Redwoods. While it was busy, it was beautiful and peaceful. We couldn’t have asked for better weather or scenery that day.
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Day 6 was just a travel delay. We left San Fransisco and headed back to Omaha. The entire experience was great, there was only one bag that got lost coming back to Nebraska. Not too bad for 44 people traveling for six days!!

This tour was especially important to me, as I took everyone “home” to see the area I was born and raised in. It was very interesting to see things through 43 other sets of eyes. These tours are a lot of work, but they are also a lot of reward to see them come together.

I have heard many of the Livestock Association members reference how great the trips were when the other Educators prior to me took the group “home” – so I had big shoes to fill! I think all of the guys really enjoyed it, and it will be one they talk about for years to come. P.S. – my Mom was already invited to hop on the bus again next year!

If you would like more information about any of our tour stops, tips for planning a large tour, or are interested in participating on a farm/ranch tour – please let me know.

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You can also find me on:

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Caring for livestock in cold temperatures

As the majority of our county is enveloped in extremely cold temperatures, which are plummeting into many degrees BELOW zero, you may be wondering how ranchers and farmers care for their livestock.

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The temperature in Lincoln, Nebraska this morning.

As temperatures drop it is important to remember that not all livestock need or want to be indoors! Unlike us or even our pets, they have extremely thick hair and wool coats that are very warm (sometimes water resistant), enabling them to withstand cold temperatures. Additionally, it is usually not feasible to provide shelter for all the animals on a ranch or farm (some animals like pigs, poultry, or rabbits may need shelter), as that could be for hundreds of animals, and providing enough space for them all to lay down and clean bedding would be quite the task!

And animals are interesting, even if you provide them with shelter, they do not always go into it. It is like that saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”‘ you can provide shelter, but you can’t make livestock use it.

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Animal Barn – Many people believe this is how livestock animals are housed. But let me share more feasible alternatives with you.

WINDBREAKS

Have you ever seen a row of trees in a pasture? These are called windbreaks. Windbreaks vary from a single row of trees to multiple rows of various trees and shrubs. It may look random, but they are usually strategically placed to be in an area that blocks the winds and blowing snow. Pastured animals quickly learn that if they stand on the opposite side of the windbreak they will get a break from the weather! Additionally, farmers and ranchers will move livestock to more protected pastures (such as the one in the photo below) in the winter where they can be fed and have their offspring in the best possible location.

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Cows being fed near a windbreak

Windbreaks are also used to protect homes and other buildings from blowing winds, snow, and even dust.

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A home with a windbreak

Windbreaks do not always have to be in the form of trees and/or shrubs. They can also be wooden or metal fence/panels to provide a weather break for livestock.

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A permanent wooden windbreak
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A portable wooden windbreak
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A metal windbreak

Sometimes windbreaks may be just a roof and no sides, which offers a place to get out of wet weather, and also provides shade on hot days.

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An above-head windbreak
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A windscreen
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Portable shelter

BEDDING

Livestock may be provided straw, corn stalks, wood chips, or other types of bedding to lay on in the cold winter months. If animals are sheltered indoors, these are great and warm for just a couple of days until they become soiled with feces and urine, and need to be changed (which can be very labor intensive and expensive). If these are provided outdoors they may get wet and stomped into the ground, and fresh bedding would need to be provided as needed. If no bedding is provided, livestock will generally lay on any leftover forage feedstuffs they waste during the eating process.

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An example of cattle laying the hay they wasted

Livestock will most commonly be brought in from pasture and put on bedding when they are about to give birth. This helps the babies stay warm and dry and get off to a good start in life. When the babies have nursed and are strong, they will be moved back out to the pasture (which may be anywhere from one to four days – or more if needed).

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Lambs in straw
D - Just minutes before the dairy farm tour this calf was born_Tracy Behnken
A newborn calf on wood-chips from my friend Tracy

SHELTER

As I mentioned, it is usually not feasible to offer shelter to all livestock animals. But sometimes ranchers and farmers will make a shelter for just the babies to get out of the weather. This gives them a warm, dry place to go when the weather gets really bad. These structures are usually just small enough for the babies to go into, leaving the mamas outside, where they are more equipped to handle the colder temperatures.

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Calves enjoying a warm shelter

Remember, in the cold winter months livestock have very thick hair coats (that is why they looks so fuzzy) and wool pelts to keep them warm!

FEED AND WATER

When temperatures drop and it stays cold for long periods of time, or if rain or snow events occur, livestock may need to be given additional feed. Some sort of forage (hay) that was put up in the summer months with the intentions of being used during the winter months is an excellent option. When it is cold, livestock use more energy to keep and stay warm, if they cannot get enough feed during this time you may see them drop condition or become thinner. You may see ranchers and farmers feeding their livestock at least once a day, and maybe twice a day when weather gets really bad. During winter months the quality of the grass in a pasture is not very good, so additional hay during those times is important.

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Here is a picture of me feeding hay to some hungry cows

Livestock always need access to fresh, clean water – regardless of the time of year or weather conditions. In the winter this may mean that ranchers and farmers will need to break a lot of ice, deal with frozen pipes, or haul water. Livestock cannot get enough of their daily water requirements from just eating snow, and if forced to do so will become dehydrated.

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Chopping ice – The Pioneer Woman provides a great blog post on it

So on these very cold days, be thankful that the ranchers and farmers raising livestock for our consumption are such good stewards of their animals and the land. And know that the livestock in their care are being taken care of properly. Being outside all day, everyday in these elements is not for the faint of heart!

Disclaimer: I am not promoting a company or product, the photos used are meant to only provide an example or illustration of a specific event and provide an example.

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– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
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