This morning I’m working away at the kitchen counter while I have a sick kiddo home from pre-school. This is day two that he’s home, during my usually three-day work week. I’ll note that as a farmer, I’m truly never off duty, I still have to chores, check livestock and carve out time here and there for other projects outside of my Monday-Wednesday “8 to 5” work week. Don’t get me wrong. I am very glad I have the flexibility to take time off to be here for my kids when they aren’t feeling well. And, I do want to be here for him. But, that means I also had to cancel an onsite meeting I had with a meat processor and will likely sort of get to the rest of my tasks today (working on business marketing, a community outreach project, and of course the day-to-day work of the farm). That’s ok. It’s part of being a parent. But, if I’m really being honest as a one-woman shop, I admit it’s a little disheartening to feel like I’m losing traction on getting things done and moving the needle on my farm business.
Aside from my parent duties today (and, of course every day), part of the reason we’ve chosen to have daycare for our kids, is so I have designated time to focus on my business. It’s for a variety of motives: being present with my work and with my family, being safe around the farm, effective use of time in the office and on the farm, balance (or attempt!) between work and family time, and (also, an attempt) to prevent burn out in work and, even in our marriage. I know others who make it work and kudos to them! This is what fits for our family and farm. [Side note: Did you know that Bert on Sesame Street was just reading “50 Shades of Oatmeal” before he got interrupted by Ernie to make a movie? Ha ha. Got to love PBS Kids ]
I’ve written and talked about this balance of being a parent and farming before. And as others may also know, one of my favorite “hobbies” is to listen to podcasts for both fun and professional development. This morning seemed to be a nice fit for sharing several “good listens” in the world of podcasts as it relates to women in agriculture and leadership. Note these link to Apple podcasts since that's where I listen, but you should be able to find them on other podcast platforms.
Do you know of other relevant podcasts? I’d love to hear your recommendations! I know have a few more Female Farmer Project and Sharpen podcasts on related to this topic on my "listen list."
Last week this time I was halfway home from a three-day road trip with a long-time friend from college. While we went by several large cities (Madison, Chicago and Indianapolis) and took in regional chain restaurant cuisine like Steak & Shake, Chick-fal-a and Cracker Barrel, it wasn’t the typical road trip. We drove to southern Indiana, just north of Louisville, to pick up two new breeding bucks for the farm.
Why did I drive 600+ miles just for new goats? I’ve been growing my herd of Boer-Kiko cross meat goats and am wanting to continue to build the herd’s genetics for thriving on a pasture/brush/forage-based diet. While meat goats are growing in popularity in Wisconsin, there are not as many herds that raised predominantly on pasture, nor are there many Kiko herds. The bucks, from McGuire Family Farms, have a lot of potential for continuing to growing our herd in the direction that I’ve been taking it: raising hearty meat goats on pasture. These bucks’ background includes coming from a herd that is
In comparison, these two new bucks are larger than our current crop of kids, born roughly about the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how my herd will continue to grow with these new genetics. I’ll plan to use these new bucklings to breed our yearling does that were born last spring.
With the addition of these bucks we will be retiring several of our current breeding bucks, both Boer and Boer-Kiko cross. If you might be interested in these bucks please contact me at email@example.com.
Lastly, I also want to thank Anna, Jr and Joan McGuire for their hospitality for also taking the time to show us around their farm, pastures and sharing their rotational grazing and goat management practices. You can learn more about their farm by visiting their website and following them on Facebook.
For our area farm friends/colleagues: We will be hosting a twilight pasture walk, Tuesday, July 24 at 6:30 p.m. Come learn how we use rotational grazing practices with our meat goats. The pasture walk is jointly hosted with the River Country RC&D, St. Croix County Farmers Union / Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Indianhead Sheep and Goat Breeders Association.
Please RSVP to at wisconsinfarmersunion.com/events or to Mary C. Anderson at 715-579-2206.
Come along for a quick pasture check. Throughout the summer I do pasture checks at least 2x a day on our three herds of goats. I'm checking for animal health (does everyone look ok), water tanks, mineral feeders and the plant height and trample in the paddock to know when to move the goats on to a new paddock.
Now that we’re into our second week of rotational grazing, I’ve take the time to get the Gator, my “grazing-mobile,” prepped for the season.
We rotate animals to new paddocks every 3-4 days. I like to have my go-to-supplies on hand so I’m not constantly running back to the barn or the shop for things, and then back again.
So, here’s what’s usually in my office-on-wheels:
This season I also spray painted some of the harder to find in the grass items blaze orange in the event I misplace something. I should be ready for just about anything when it comes to fence repair, waterline repair and working with my goats and guardian dogs.
To others in Wisconsin, Northwestern Wisconsin may seem like it’s home to a scattering of rural communities in farm country. But, for St. Croix County, were we live, that could be farther from the truth. Neighboring the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro, St. Croix County’s population is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. According to the Department of Administration, the county is protected to grow 41 percent to 119,010 by 2040, making it fourth to first place Dane, followed by Brown and Kenosha Counties, which are home to the Madison, Green Bay and Milwaukee metro areas, respectively (New Richmond News, 2014).
Increase in population in our area translates to sprawling communities of Hudson, New Richmond and River Falls, as well as increase in the number of people moving to the country on their own little piece of acreage. While this growth is good for the local economy, it also contributes to fewer of our residents having connections or understanding of agriculture and rural life. This divide presents both opportunities and challenges when it comes to working with our local decision makers, neighbors and fellow community members who live in our county’s larger communities.
This trend is part of the reason I attended the Wisconsin Farm Bureau IGNITE Conference, which focused on Policy, Issues, Advocacy, Governance and Organization, Building Farm Bureau and Communicating for Agriculture and Farm Bureau. This conference offered an opportunity to draw on resources and information, so I can continue to advocate for agriculture as a farmer, community leader and through Farm Bureau in my county. It's up to us in agriculture and rural communities to have conversations, do outreach efforts and tell our own farming story right in our own community.
In addition to hearing from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Sheila Hardsorf, I also attended sessions on agricultural education and outreach programs, political trends impacting the fall state and national elections, tips for working with local media and strategies to work with local issues in our communities.
Here’s an article from The Country Today, which highlights the conference, including a few of my own comments: Read the article here.
During snowy, cold weather like this our young stock are tucked away in the barn. Part of our herd stays outside and does quite well. During weather like this or cold snaps we feed extra hay, which helps keep them warm, bed down the pasture shelters and the goats naturally grow a thick winter coat. I often find that our goats that live outside year round are healthier than if they were in the barn. I didn’t stay out long since I came out to check the goats and bottle feed a few babies.
Note: Our goats and guardian dogs always have access to shelter, water and food. If it gets too cold or too much snow they'll be moved into one of our barns.
When someone asks if we have pets, I’ll talk about our high maintenance house cat and even mention our affectionate barn cats. But it’s usually a few minutes later I’ll remember to mention my two dogs, Moly and Ruby. I often call the dogs my two best employees, because that better describes them than pets.
Moly and Ruby are both Great Pyrenes, a breed that falls into a group of dogs labeled livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), also a type of “working dog,” similar in nature to police canines, service dogs or herding dogs. The dogs work best in pairs and live with our livestock 24/7. It’s fascinating to watch our dogs work together. The other day while I was checking the pasture, Ruby was laying with the goats on a patch of old hay from their winter feeder. Moly nowhere to be seen. I called for her and a few minutes later she barreled full speed over the pasture ridge. She had been patrolling the north pasture but came back at my call. This is typical LGD behavior, where one dog will stay with the herd, while the other patrols the rest of the pasture. If one dog senses a threat or a disruption, it will bark for the other dog to join them or return to the herd. Rather than attacking, the dogs provide protection in the form of keeping predators at bay. On our farm predators include other dogs, coyotes, bear, wolves, eagles, hawks and even unfamiliar people.
When we have visitors on the farm, I’ll give them a heads up about the dogs and mention that they don’t behave like other breeds of dogs. They won’t come running up to be pet, nor want much, or any attention from people. The dogs are most comfortable with livestock, and that’s due to the breed’s characteristics and the fact that they’ve lived with goats since birth. Both Moly and Ruby live with the goats 24/7, 365 days a year. They don’t come in the house, we don’t take them on walks (except when we were doing some basic training) or take them on trips. In fact, I will schedule veterinarian farm calls for annual checkups to minimize stress on the dogs. The dogs are feed daily while we check the livestock and they always have access to shelter and water.
Aside from dogs, farms may choose to use other forms of livestock guardian animals, including llamas and donkeys. We’ve used a donkey in the past, but the particular one didn’t work out so he returned to my father-in-law’s farm. The dogs are more appealing for us since they do a better job protecting young livestock from areal predators.
The threat of predators killing livestock is very real, especially in northern Wisconsin. I know farmers who’ve lost calves and sheep to wolves and bear. On our farm we’ve taken measure to protect our goats with Moly and Ruby, our livestock guardian dogs, but also made a substantial investment in high quality woven wire fencing, which includes a strand of electric at the top to keep critters from climbing or jumping in and a strand of barbed wire at the bottom to deter digging under the fence. While we haven’t lost any animals, I know the likelihood of it happening is very possible
If you’re interested in learning more about guardian animals, here are some more resources:
This column was recently featured in the October/November Rural Route magazine from the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
Since the beginning of time, farmers have been innovators, meaning technology and farming have always gone hand in hand.
High-speed internet, or broadband, has become a vital utility in our lives. One that could arguably be grouped with electricity, water and sewer; however, if you live in a rural area, this near necessity isn’t available.
Broadband is a topic I am very passionate about. I raise goats for meat for cultural and local foods markets. Most of my sales, direct and wholesale, are made through the internet. In today’s world, almost all products and software are internet-based. Poor internet makes it hard to do business even at a basic level.
It’s a challenge to send emails, use my accounting program or manage my farm website. It takes an excessive amount of time and sometimes doesn’t happen due to service issues. My husband, who works from home, can’t always access his company server or use web conference calling because of low speed and inconsistent internet.
We are rural, but nothing extreme. We are 13 miles from the closest town and an hour from a major metro area. We’ve tried different options for providers, even multiple services at one time, including satellite internet and cell phones. Nothing worked well. Now, we use DSL through our telephone provider, because I refuse to pay for services that don’t work. Others who don’t live far from us pay half the price for speeds that are at least 50 times the speed of what we use, which is 2 megabytes of bits per second, but only after pleading that 1 mbps wasn’t sufficient.
In August, I discussed rural broadband challenges with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue while he was in Wisconsin. I explained our situation in western Wisconsin but also shared other frustrations that I’ve heard of such as paying a $100-plus a month and speeds of 0.2 mbps.
For example, a friend who has a robotic milk system can’t update her software. The system service tech downloads the update at his shop and creates the updates via hard drive on the farm. Pretty impressive technology, right? Talk about a disadvantage.
A fellow Farm Bureau member discussed another point during a round table with Secretary Perdue. Some school districts provide students with iPads so they can do homework, but some rural students can’t use them at home because of broadband availability.
In the 2017-19 state budget, $9,187,500 was allocated for schools to apply for specifically designated broadband for personal electronic computing devices. This will be useless without adequate broadband.
Rural areas are suffering to keep up. We’re talking about basic access to useable internet for our businesses and students to learn, not for entertainment.
The keyword in that last sentence was ’useable.’ Simply having internet doesn’t cut it. It’s about having access to useable, reliable service at a reasonable price.
Have you tested your internet speed? Use these steps:
For reference the Federal Communications Commission calls 10 mbps basic speed, but has set 25 mbps as its benchmark. I highly recommend you test what your internet speed.
While there’s still a long way to go, broadband expansion is at least growing. The Broadband Expansion Grant Program provides funds for equipment and construction expenses to expand or improve broadband service in underserved areas of Wisconsin.
Created by Governor Scott Walker in the 2013-15 budget, the Legislature initially invested $500,000 per year for the program, but it was increased to $1.5 million annually in the next budget.
Understanding the critical and timely need for a broadband infrastructure investment in the 2017-19 budget, Governor Walker proposed a significant expansion of the program: approximately $14 million. At the same time, the Legislature approved bills to dramatically increase funding, in response to the recommendations that came in 2016 from the Joint Legislative Council’s Study Committee on Rural Broadband.
Wisconsin will see $570 million invested in broadband infrastructure through 2020 via the Federal Communication Commission’s Connect American Fund Phase II project. Three major telecommunications providers in the state are participating in this program with many projects under construction.
This may seem like a significant amount of money to invest in a broadband infrastructure, and don’t get me wrong, it is, but the need in rural Wisconsin for faster and more reliable useable service so farmers, and students, can do what they need to do is significant.
It’s a wise investment in the people and businesses in rural Wisconsin and one that I believe is long overdue.
Writer’s note: As a finalist in the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Excellence in Agriculture competition, I had the opportunity to share my background and contributions to agriculture, but also pressing issues I see impacting agriculture today. I’ll be covering these issues in my blog.
While the agricultural industry has come a long way in becoming an open environment for women, there’s still an underlying, often unintentional perception of the role a women plays in production agriculture, and even the jobs that support this field. More and more women are becoming sole farm owners, or are sharing the decision making with their husbands or families, and also working in careers that directly work with farmers. More young women are planning to work in agriculture. Are we really doing our best to make this an open, welcoming environment?
You might be thinking: Why should I care? Isn’t this a women’s issue? We should work to shift mindsets for a few reasons. On a personal level we all have connections to women: daughters, grandchildren, wives, girlfriends, sisters and friends. From an industry perspective there will be a huge shift in the workforce in the near future. Baby boomers will be retiring in business and farming. There will be a greater number of women stepping into roles. We need to help build a welcoming environment for this next generation, especially if we want to keep women in agriculture, especially as farmers and in careers that directly serve farmers. Finally, whether it’s a niece, neighbor, co-worker or colleague I encourage others to keep an open mind about the roles and abilities of women in agriculture
More action: Stepping up
The perceptions of women can continue to change by our own actions we take in the agricultural community and related organizations. Here’s what I’ve been doing as a farmer, who happens to be female:
I own and manage Cylon Rolling Acres in northwestern Wisconsin. On my farm I raise Boer - Kiko meat goats and dairy buck kids all on pasture. We also harvest maple sap. Read more here.
Keep up Day-to-Day with the farm:
Cylon (pronounced Si-lon) is the name of our township in St. Croix County, Wisconsin. Sorry fans, our farm is not named after the robots of Battlestar Galactica.