Moms see the farms and learn the ropes
You can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, can I see your farm?” For Angie Albright, who grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa, the second annual Moms on the Farm Tour on April 13 provided her the access she so craves at times. While still in college, her family farm succumbed to the agricultural crash of the 1980s but they still identify as a farm family. She blogs about the relationship between events in the life cycle and the cycle of the growing seasons on a farm on her website at http://AGrowingSeason.co.
Moms on the Farm is a free event started in 2012 by faculty, staff and graduate students representing many areas of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences and others involved with agriculture to help moms learn more about agricultural production, food safety and nutrition.
After loading about a dozen participants onto a very comfortable charter bus, the group was off to visit the Hart dairy farm in Prairie Grove owned by third-generation farmers Carolyn and John Robert Hart. The farm has been in John Robert’s family for 108 years. But Carolyn pointed out that during a remodeling of the main house on the property, they found wooden boards dating back to 1861, indicating that others likely worked this land long before the Hart family.
The Harts start their morning early like most farmers, at 4 a.m. with the first milking of the day. They milk their 112 milking cows twice a day, getting about 5 gallons per day from each cow. It takes them four hours for each milking. The Harts graciously altered their normal milking schedule to allow us to see how it all works. Each participant was offered a chance to climb a ladder to peer into the 1,250-gallon milk tank that they fill every two days and that Hiland Dairy empties.
John talked about progress in farming techniques, machinery and technology. When his dad milked, he got 35 pounds per day per head as opposed to the 50 that the Harts now get. Eight hours of milking per day is in addition to caring for some 50,000 young laying hens and bottle feeding 12 calves.
Despite the grueling hours their attitude is that you just do what has to be done and you also get the feeling they wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else. This is despite very difficult times between drought and lower returns. This is the first year they have ever run out of hay. Between buying bales and a cottonseed huller they are looking at three-fourths of their milk check going back into the farm instead of the average one-half.
After visiting the Harts, the delegation went to Anita and Jared Munyon’s Tri-M-Valley Cattle and Poultry Farms near Canehill. Anita and Jared are also third-generation farmers and work alongside Jared’s parents, John and Linda. Dairy farming for this family on this land dates back to 1945, but they had to give up that part of their farming operations due to drought and economic constraints. In September 2011, they had to sell their milking cows. Anita said that there were about three other dairy farms in the area that also had to shut down. It was especially hard for Anita and she kept some of the dairy cows as pets.
When property they were renting for forage for their commercial beef farming operation became available, they jumped at the chance to diversify and purchased the land that also contained chicken houses. They now have four houses with about 100,000 birds. Anita has been taking the lead on learning the ropes of raising poultry as none of them really have any prior experience. They contract with Simmons Foods for the birds, feed and tech support. Their representative from Simmons was present the day we toured and Anita is thankful for the help they receive from him. She also expressed much gratitude for the expertise and support of Susan Watkins, UA professor of poultry science and an Extension specialist, who was also on hand to supplement the information for the tour participants.
The tours concluded with a boxed lunch provided by the Arkansas Cattlewomen’s Association followed by a cooking demonstration by Wendy Petz, ACWA past president and cattle farmer. The Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Cooperative Extension Service helped with planning the visits.
The group plans to do a tour every spring and fall. Plans are being made to offer the next tour in October on a weekday, when kids will be at school, in the hope of attracting more moms who might not want to give up a whole Saturday or have to arrange for childcare. More information is available on the group’s Facebook page at http://facebook.com/MomsOnTheFarmTour or on the animal science department website at http://animalscience.uark.edu/7300.php.