A ‘FUN’ Way to Farm

Almost a year ago I moved to the middle of the Corn Belt aka Northeastern Iowa. I grew up in agriculture, but my family had cattle and we bought all of our feed. Which meant I knew very little about farming other than what I had picked up on in my college classes and from inquisitively asking questions.


Surrounded by corn I began asking my then fiancé lots of questions about corn. Farming intrigues me. I find that it more business-minded compared to raising cattle. We make a lot of emotional decisions with our cattle, where as farmers use facts and research to make theirs.


I also learned that the way my family was farming was unique. They call their farming group the Farmers United Network – the FUN group.  We stay away from the word cooperative but there are 12 farming entities in the group all work ing together to achieve three goals 1. Be able to spend more time with their families, 2. Be more profitable, and 3. Have fun.


The people in the group span an age range of 24-72, with the average age being 42 years old. We are some of the younger people in the group. And currently with new John Deere combines costing xx there is no way we would be able to farm without the group.


Basics of how it is set up:

  • Two families own all the equipment. The others pay rental on that equipment when it is in their fields. On a side note I have never seen equipment so well taken care of. They actually put white carpets in the tractors and combines as a reminder to keep them clean.
  • The group has a wide range of expertise from a crop insurance guy, an agronomist, a loan officer, a seed salesman, a mechanic, a legal adviser and the list goes on. With wide range of expertise we can pull knowledge from within the group.
  • The group works together to plant and harvest each other’s fields. Decisions are made as a group of when planting, harvest, tillage, etc. will take place. When we were on our honeymoon someone else was helping plant our family’s fields. However, when we got back my husband spent time in another person’s field so they could attend a son’s basketball game.
  • We each sell our crops individually. However, when we have a contract hits or go through a mass text message is sent out to the group so they can try and take advantage of that same price.
  • Transparency is very important to the group. We are continually sharing insight on our own businesses, crop history and what did and didn’t in our fields. The value of our network is invaluable.


Why the group works:

  • It allows small guys like us to get into farming, and also learn from others with years of experience. We have top of the line equipment in our fields which allows us to be more profitable in the long run.
  • With the variation in age in the group it allows the more seasoned farmers to have a transition from farming to retirement. It also allows the younger people in the group to have better access to future rental opportunities when group members are ready to retire.
  • The group allows us to be more profitable. Currently, between the 12 farms we are farming about 8,000 acres. For us it is not about trying to have as many acres as possible, but rather making the acres we do have as profitable as possible. We can be more profitable because of the transparency I mentioned and the amount of knowledge being shared, something that many other farmers don’t have access to.
  • We are like to have fun. We all love farming, but we love our families more. The ability of the group to give us more time with our families makes the time spent in the tractor that much more enjoyable.


It’s been a fun journey learning more about this side of agriculture. I think this group of mostly men sometimes thinks that I am a bit of a nerd, but at the same time I am pretty sure they love being able to sit down and share their passion and knowledge with me. And it is even more exciting to know that we are ensuring generations of farmers to come will be able to continue doing what they love.

Feed Testing is a No Brainer

Have you had your feed tested this winter?

Article courtesy of Beef Cattle Research Council

While feed testing seems like a “no brainer”, it is surprising how many cattlemen skip this critical management tool. It seems many would rather rely on visual appraisal (i.e. colour, plant species, and leaf content) or knowledge of cutting time to judge quality. While these are all indicators of forage quality, they do not substitute for a feed test particularly when it comes to the energy and protein content of that forage. For example, the protein content of brome hay can range from as low as 5 to 6% up to 18% depending on stage of maturity at cutting. While visual appraisal may help separate the good from the poor quality hay, it is not going to help you decide how much protein supplement, if any, you need to background calves when feeding this hay. Only a feed test can accurately help you make this decision.

~  John McKinnon, Ph.D. at the University of Saskatchewan

Read more about the importance of having your feed tested and related resources.

Disease in Cattle: Bovine Respiratory Disease (Pneumonia)

For many purebred producers and 4-H beef club members, the fall season marks a new chain of livestock shows. When taking our cattle off the farm and traveling to different shows the risk for health problems like bovine respiratory disease is often increased. In this video from Stock Show Confidential we get some veterinary advice on what causes bovine respiratory disease (BRD – also known as pneumonia) and how we can best prevent it in our show cattle.


More complete details on BRD (bovine respiratory disease) otherwise referred to as “pneumonia” in cattle can be at Beef Research


Fly Control for Beef Cattle

Article by Paul Gonzalez, North Carolina Cooperative Extension

My position allows me to work with a variety of producers.  All of them have their own philosophy on how to raise cattle.  No matter how different these may, be they all ask some of the same questions.  One of these is, “What is the best thing for flies?”  I have had this question quite a bit this year, as the flies seem to be worse than normal.  There isn’t really a “best thing” for flies.  What works in one herd may not in another.  The producer with 20 cows may have more time to devote to the herd than a producer with 200.  There are many control programs and all can be effective.  Each producer should consider the options and choose the one that is best for his individual situation.

Horn flies are probably the most important economic fly pest on the list.  They are called horn flies because they tend to congregate at the base of the horns on horned cattle.  In this area we typically find them on the shoulders, down the backs, and on either side of the tail head on cattle.  As the population gets larger, they will spread down the sides onto the legs. Horn flies feed on blood and tend to feed continuously while on the animal.  Five hundred horn flies will remove a pint of blood each day from the host animal.  While a cow is a large animal with a fairly large blood supply, it won’t take many days to become anemic losing this much blood each day.  In the middle of summer, it is not uncommon to find as many as 2,000 flies on an untreated cow and 4,000 to 5,000 on untreated bulls.  Horn flies remain on the host animal all the time.  This fact aids in our efforts to control them.

Face flies, houseflies, and lesser house flies do not feed on blood but cause problems by pestering the cattle and spreading certain diseases.  These flies feed on the secretions from the eyes and nose of the host animal.  Obviously, this would be a source of constant irritation to the animal.  There is also evidence that these flies help spread pinkeye in the herd.  All three of these fly species tend to move from animal to animal, never spending much time on any individual, which makes controlling them more of a challenge.

Stable flies are blood feeders like horn flies but their feeding pattern is like that of the face and houseflies.  They tend to move from animal to animal feeding on each as they go.  Stable flies have been implicated in the transmission of anaplasmosis in cattle.  Anaplasmosis is a blood disorder in cattle that is on the rise in southern herds.  These flies can be effectively controlled by cleaning up old hay piles around feeding sites so that they have no place to lay eggs.

So what can we do to control these pests?  Two insecticides are on the market that can be fed to the animals through various carriers, the most common being a mineral supplement, which are then excreted in the manure.  The flies lay eggs in the manure for the developing larvae to feed on.  The insecticide in the manure stops the larval development and therefore eliminates the emergence of adult flies.  These insecticides have no affect on adult flies.  Since the adults only live for 2 to 3 weeks, control is achieved after this first generation dies.  However, if a neighboring herd (within 2 to 4 miles) is not under a fly control program, there can still be large numbers of adult flies present.  This would dictate using an additional control method or a completely different strategy.

Other control methods include insecticide ear tags, back rubs, dust bags, and hand-applied sprays, dusts, and pour-ons.  The insecticide ear tags, also called fly tags, offer very effective control by killing flies present on the animal and repelling flies that may come at a later date.  Fly tags should not be applied until there are approximately 200 flies per animal present and should be removed in the fall to help prevent pesticide resistance in the fly population.  To further prevent the pesticide resistance, producers should rotate tags used, by active ingredient.  Use an organophosphate tag for two years followed by a pyrethroid tag for one year.  Most fly tags on the market offer protection for 4 to 5 months.  Back rubs and dust bags charged with pesticide are very effective in controlling flies if placed where animals will use them.  Many older cattle will voluntarily use these but others must be forced to use them.  Placing them so that cattle must go under them when accessing water or minerals or from one pasture to another can do this.  The drawback to these devices is that they must be recharged every week or two.  Many times we put them up and then forget to service them during the summer.   The sprays, dusts, and pour-ons work well in most cases.  The biggest problem associated with these is their need to be re-applied every 2 to 3 weeks.  This becomes very labor intensive.  Most of the pour-ons on the market now will provide longer control but still won’t last all season.  One product now claims to have nine-week effectiveness, indicating that you can treat cattle twice during a year and have season long control.

Failure to implement a fly control program for your herd causes reduced performance and lost income.  It is generally thought that every $1 spent on fly control returns $5 to $10.  Some producers think they can’t afford to control flies.  Truth is, they can’t afford not to


Article courtesy of North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Link Photo courtesy of Andy Carter

Want to learn to make your own fly spray? Check out our article DIY fly spray for Horses

How do you handle flies on your cattle? Share with us the method that works best for you.