All posts by Joan Ruskamp

I grew up a city girl dreaming of the farm life. My husband and I started farming in the early 1980s. The attachment to a farm was something I had yet to fully understand as we experienced financial strain and saw ministries spring up to help farmers cope. Now, nearly 30 years later, I have come to realize that farming is more than a career. It has become a part of who I am. We feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa near Dodge, NE. Our farm is the place my father-in-law was raised on, so it has always been important to us to honor those who started this farm. My jobs range from taking care of cattle and office work to farm landscaping and parts runner. We have five children who initially spent many hours with me doing little jobs like watering trees. Those five children are now grown with four of them in off farm careers and one in college. They all developed very good work habits as shown in their many high school and college honors. I am also involved in our community as a 4-H leader, volunteer EMT, catechist, and a member of several farm organizations. My experience in the Nebraska LEAD Program encouraged me to get more involved in promoting agriculture through the Farm Bureau Pen Pal Program and blogging for CommonGround.
This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond 
near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation
we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.

One size fits all

Joan new shot 1Have you ever purchased an item that was sold as “one size fits all”?  There are some items, like a rain poncho, that worked for me to buy that way.  That wasn’t the case when I went to buy a pair of rubber gloves.   I found it very difficult to stuff my hands into a glove that was made for much smaller hands than mine.  Has this ever happened to you?  

joan pulling a glove onImagine shopping for clothes if your choices were limited to the one size fits all label.  Would we be limited to buying stretch pants and pull-over tops?  The one time in my life that I actually liked elastic pants was when I was pregnant.   Even the labels small, medium and large can be frustrating if you don’t know how much they will shrink.  Fortunately, we have clothing made for all shapes and sizes including specialty stores for those needing even more choices.

What about food choices?  Besides a plethora of diets to choose from we also have plenty of choices when it comes to how the food was raised.   When I was a child, my mom didn’t have the labels of organic, grass-fed, hormone free, etc. to look at.   Mom often bought the items that were on sale that week to feed our family of eight.  Now when a mom goes to the store, there are labels and whole grocery aisles of specialty foods that can be quite confusing.  Learning what labels mean and understanding more about production practices can help. You can learn more about labels here.

Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals on our deck - steak with veggies and hash browns.
Steve and I enjoying one of our favorite meals on our deck – steak with veggies and hash browns.

joan_gardenWhen Steve and I were raising our children we could choose to eat food from our farm and from the grocery store.  I took pride in having a big garden with items to freeze or can for winter meals. Perhaps many of you also enjoy gardening and eating the fruits, or veggies in my case, of your labor. We sometimes butcher a steer from our farm but also buy meat at the grocery store.  I never doubted the safety or quality of the food from the grocery store or from our farm.   How the food was raised was not a concern of mine and our children were healthy and active with doctor visits due mostly from sports injuries.   

In our culture today we have many people concerned about how food is raised.   Part of that is due to the change in the size of farms as well as fewer people doing the farming.  Farms have changed over the centuries to meet the needs of the people needing to be fed.  The food choices we have today are very important so that those with food sensitivities can find what they need as well as the family on a tight budget.Joan_four tractors oats

Our farm practices are designed to feed more people using less resources.  We utilize the science and research done by our universities and yes, companies that sell us seed, weed control and veterinary medicine. We utilize a hormone implant in cattle, antibiotics for disease and seed corn that can defend itself against a pest through DNA procedures.  It is very important to us to use methods that will leave us a better farm tomorrow. Putting research into practice is akin to saying the proof is in the pudding.   Continually finding better ways to improve our soil, provide better care for the cattle and produce a healthy food choice is what we work for.   Joan_history of auto and biotech

I encourage people on all sides of the debate about food production to first accept the need for a variety of farming methods and second to spend time getting to know farmers by asking us how we do what we do.  It is through shared friendly discussions that we all benefit from a continued food supply to meet the needs of a many sizes needed to fit all society.

This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond  near our house and feedlot.  She is the next generation we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.
This is Steve with our granddaughter, Ella, fishing in our pond near our house and feedlot. She is the next generation we are striving to provide healthy and abundant food for.

 

The gate keeper

There are some jobs that are just easier to do with extra help.  One of those on our farm is opening and shutting gates.

I am opening a gate for Steve.
I am opening a gate for Steve.

I was trained for the gate keeper job when I met Steve.  The feedlot Steve had at his dad’s place had wooden feedbunks that were inside the pen.   When the cattle were fed Steve had to drive inside the pen.   That meant four times on and off the tractor to feed one pen.  Since I spent the weekends at Steve’s folks I would often help with cattle chores.  I was the gate keeper during feeding.  I didn’t mind hanging out with my honey and I’m pretty sure he was glad for the help.

Steve is driving on the cement pad and blowing straw for bedding out so the cattle have a dry, comfortable place to lay down.
Steve is driving on the cement pad and blowing straw for bedding out
so the cattle have a dry, comfortable place to lay down.

Our feedlot has fence line bunks which is much better for the cattle and the equipment.  The cattle always have a dry place to stand where they eat.  We do put bedding in the pens and that is when it is nice to have a gate keeper.

 Here is the hay buster that is behind the tractor.  In the old days we had to pitch hay using forks.  Now we can bed the cattle so much faster and easier!

Here is the hay buster that is behind the tractor. In the old days we had to
pitch hay using forks. Now we can bed the cattle so much faster and easier!

Steve was bedding cattle and asked if I had time to open gates.  I know how cumbersome it can be to climb off the tractor, open the gate, drive in, get back out and close the gate, get back in the tractor and so on.

We feel better when our cattle are comfortable.  As you can see they don't always choose to lay on the straw!
We feel better when our cattle are comfortable. As you can see
they don’t always choose to lay on the straw!

There are probably more romantic things we could do together but I have to say that working side by side with Steve has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!

Cold happens…

Joan new shot 1A recent snow and ice storm that hit the southern states has made me appreciate our road crews and the work they do to keep our roads safe during winter weather.  When the forecast calls for snow/ ice in our area the salt trucks are out in full force preparing the roads so people can travel more safely.  It is sad to see what happens to people in cities like Atlanta when cold weather leaves motorists stranded for 18 hours.  We can plan and prepare to the best of our ability for weather situations but Mother Nature has been known to surprise us.

USA Today front page news story about the Atlanta storm.
USA Today front page news story about the Atlanta storm.

Because weather forecasting in an evolving process we have emergency weather plans so we can take the best care of our cattle as is possible.  This includes having plenty of feed ingredients on hand much like people will stock up on grocery items like milk and bread when bad weather is in the forecast.   We also continually work at keeping cattle pens in shape and machinery ready to go.  This winter we have not received much snow so the pens have been easier to take care of.

You can see the cattle resting comfortably in temperatures around zero.  In the upper left of center you can see the steel windbreaks.   The pen in front of me has a windbreak of trees Steve and I planted in the early 80's.
You can see the cattle resting comfortably in temperatures around zero. In the upper left of center you can see the steel windbreaks. The pen in front of me has a windbreak of trees Steve and I planted in the early 80′s.

Cattle that live outside adjust to the weather.  They have a thick hide (we know it as leather) and grow hair that insulates their bodies for colder temps.  In Nebraska we also get strong winds so the wind chill is a factor in designing cattle pens.  We seek to provide pen conditions that keep them as comfortable as possible.  Many of our pens utilize windbreaks from trees we’ve planted in the early 1980’s.  Other pens utilize windbreaks made from steel for similar protection.

This is what the other side of the windbreak looks like.  The cattle can get out of the wind and the bedding provides added comfort.
This is what the other side of the windbreak looks like. The cattle can
get out of the wind and the bedding provides added comfort.

Because we have had so much cold with high winds we have had a tougher time keeping water tanks open.  We chop open the ice with an ax.  That job is a little hard on my back so it has been Steve’s job this winter. Generally the cattle drink throughout the day to keep the water tanks on.

Steve is chopping the ice around the edges of the tank first.  A black Angus steer looks on.  Notice the thick fur on this steer.
Steve is chopping the ice around the edges of the tank first. A black
Angus steer looks on. Notice the thick fur on this steer.

The Atlanta storm is a great reminder to me about the dangers winter weather can bring and the need to be prepared.   We have learned that Mother Nature is not perfectly predictable.  We strive to prepare for the worst and hope for the best!

The certainty we have is that the weather will change.  It won’t be long before the heat of summer arrives and we will be putting up sprinklers to keep the cattle cool.

This looks refreshing in the middle of winter.  We know  it won't be long before we are working in much warmer conditions.
This looks refreshing in the middle of winter. We know
it won’t be long before we are working in much warmer conditions.

Apple Crock Pot Breakfast Recipe

Joan new shot 1 Autumn is a beautiful season for so many reasons. I love years like this, when summer tries its best to hold off the crispness of fall. But inevitably, as the days get shorter, our world is filled with the unique sights, sounds, and smells of fall.

Autumn is also a very important time for farmers because it marks the end of the growing season. I love to count my blessing at this time every year, having been lucky enough to see the circle of life of another crop year.

This time of year can be crazy for farmers. When the crops are ready to be harvested, there is little that will keep the farmer out of the field.

This go, go, go attitude can leave little time for family interaction or quality time together. But if there is one thing that can get a farmer to stop momentarily in his tracks, it’s a good, hot meal. That is one of the things I love most about food – it has an amazing ability to bring people together and bring calm to the storm, if only for a moment.

I chose this recipe to share with you because it’s the perfect time of year for so many reasons. On the tail end of apple harvest season, many people are looking for great apple recipes to capture their flavor during the peak of freshness. This recipe is also great for fall because it does a great job of warming you right up on a cold morning.

When it comes to bringing the family back together, this crowd pleaser always seems to get the job done. I hope it does the same for you and your family.

Best wishes,
Joan Ruskamp

Apple Crock Pot Breakfast

Apple Crock Pot Breakfast

Ingredients

  • 2 apples sliced
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 2 cups water

Directions

  1. Layer the following into a regular-sized crock pot starting on the bottom:
    1. Applesapples1
    2. Brown sugar
    3. Cinnamon
    4. Oatmeal
  2. Pour two cups of water over the top.
  3. Cover the crock pot with the lid.
  4. Cook overnight on low setting.

NOTE: This recipe works well if you start at 9 p.m. and eat breakfast at 7 a.m. the next morning. This recipe is also good cold.

 

M&M’s and Hormones

Joan new shot 1I recently participated in a series of conversations about the use of hormones in beef cattle.  Little did I realize that an idea conceived while walking pens one morning would become a hit among my peers.


My display consists of pint sized canning jars and M&M’s.  I used facts from a beef myths website  to calculate the amount of M&M’s it would take to equal levels of nanograms of estrogen in foods.  A nanogram is one billionth of a gram used to measure hormones in the blood.  I found that using one M&M per nanogram would require buying large amounts of M&M’s.  While I would enjoy eating those M&M’s I decided for travel purposes I would divide the levels by six to show levels of estrogen in food.BlogMMsHormones

The jars compare levels of estrogen found in foods like cabbage, peas potatoes and beef.  What seemed to really amaze people was the idea that women of childbearing age would comparably have around 22 gallons worth of M&M’s in their system naturally making the little chip from the beef sample look insignificant in regards to making healthy food choices for yourselves and your family.

JoanBlogmmshormonesHyveeRecently I was in a HyVee in Omaha.  I had several kids interested in eating my M&M’s but what really amazed me was how quick they caught on to the fact that we have hormones present in many of the foods we eat as well as even larger amounts in our bodies.  The parents would confirm that they were concerned about hormone levels in beef.  After allowing me to explain how we use hormone implants in cattle as well as the M&M visual they agreed that this was not an issue to prevent them from buying beef.

As a volunteer for CommonGround and an advocate for agriculture, I have found that listening is the most important skill I can use when reaching out to consumers. If it is a concern for the consumer then it is a concern for me to clarify what the consumer wants and needs to know.  Sometimes it means sharing facts in a manner that a consumer can relate to and then encouraging them seek further information from reliable sources.

Summer Salsa recipe + benefits of food biotechnology

Summer is here for many of us! A great recipe our family enjoys is summer salsa that I like to make with sweet corn and tomatoes. Both of these vegetables are fresh in our stores today because of food biotechnology – or GMOs.

What are the benefits of food biotechnology to agriculture?

joan ruskamp food biotechnology safety commonground nebraskaGrowing food with GMOs can result in better-tasting fruits and vegetables that stay fresh longer and are naturally resistant to insects. Plant breeding also results in crops better able to withstand the environmental challenges of drought, disease and insect infestations.

By developing special traits in plants, food biotechnology allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources. This increased availability of crops provides significant economic gains to farmers in developing countries.

It helps your food budget as well.

An Iowa State University study shows that without food biotechnology, global prices would be nearly 10 percent higher for soybeans and 6 percent higher for corn.

Biotechnology also benefits the environment.

A Council for Agricultural Science and Technology report says biotech soy, corn and cotton have decreased soil erosion by 90 percent, preserving 37 million tons of topsoil. Food Biotechnology crops also provide a 70 percent reduction in herbicide runoff and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

USDA also says research on potatoes, squash, tomatoes and other crops continues in a similar manner to provide resistance to diseases that otherwise are very difficult to control.

No need to fear your food!

summer salsa joan ruskamp nebraska beef farmer commonground nebraskaSummer Salsa
Ingredients
2 ears cooked sweet corn (2 cups)
3 med tomatoes chopped (3 cups)
¼ cup chopped red onion
1 clove garlic chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro leaves (or chop fresh if avail.)
1 tablespoon lime juice

Directions
Mix well. Let sit at least an hour. You can adjust the amounts according to your own preferences. This salsa is great when you have fresh corn and tomatoes from the garden (later in the summer for those of us in Nebraska!) but thanks to food biotechnology, we can enjoy these vegetables year-round.

“Give a hoot, don’t pollute”

When I was growing up there was a slogan that went like this, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute.”  For me it meant litter control–not throwing trash out the car window.  What I didn’t realize in the 70′s was that a movement was starting with a focus on air and water quality.   That movement can be traced back to April of 1970  when Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day.  In December of the same year congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to tackle environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

We are very familiar with EPA regulations.  Since our feedlot is considered a CAFO we have certain rules to follow in order to operate.

aerial feedlot
The trees on the left side of this picture are on the north side our farm/feedlot. There is over 3/4 of a mile of trees that are at least four rows deep. There is another windbreak of trees
surrounding our house at the bottom. You can also see two ponds in this picture. The bottom one is fresh water. The top one holds all of the water that runs through the feedlot. We keep records of the water we use for irrigation from that pond.

Earth Day is more than rules and regulations.  It is about people returning to the earth more than we take from her.   My husband, Steve, and I have been trying to do that ever since we started farming together nearly 32 years ago.

One of our annual projects is planting trees.  We started planting trees in the early 1980’s through a tree planting program through the NRD.  Since then we have planted thousands of trees and shrubs.   The NRD delivers them to us in bundles of 25 trees that look like sticks.trees

When Steve and I started planting trees we were developing windbreaks.  We would plant two rows of Cedar trees and two rows of Ash trees.  We started substituting Honey Locust for the Ash trees in the 90’s.  We have also started using Pine and Spruce trees.  Once the trees were planted we needed to keep them watered and the weeds mowed.   We planted so many trees when the kids were young that I taught them math as they rode along with me in the pickup.  We had a big tank on the back of the pickup with water and a large hose.   As I would drive between the rows Steve would water the trees.   As the kids grew they either ran the hose or drove the pickup.

Steve and our son, Scott, walk along a fairly new windbreak in 1989.  There are a total of five rows of trees in this windbreak with a fast growing tree on the left called an Austree.
Steve and our son, Scott, walk along a fairly new windbreak in 1989. There are a total of five rows of trees in this windbreak with a fast growing tree on the left called an Austree.

Our kids also planted a tree of their own in our yard.  Each of them received money from their grandparents to get a tree after graduating from 8th grade.  It has been fun to watch the speed at which some of the trees have grown.

Steve and Kim are planting an Ornamental Pear tree.
Steve and Kim are planting an Ornamental Pear tree.

Celebrating Earth Day is a something we do in agriculture every day.  The earth is our partner and we know that without her we can do nothing.  I encourage you to find ways you can give more than you take by following one of the newer slogans “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”  Earth Day has become more to me than keeping our highways clean but that, too, is something that still needs to be done.

Our 4-H club has been picking up trash along highway 91 since 1995.  We normally get 2 bags of aluminum cans and 8-10 bags of trash for a 4 mile stretch we walk each year.
Our 4-H club has been picking up trash along highway 91 since 1995. We normally get 2 bags of aluminum cans and 8-10 bags of trash for a 4 mile stretch we walk each year.

Cow Pie Recipe

Joan new shot 1Many blogs have recipes on them.  I would like to share with you the recipe for cow pie.
A cow pie is a combination of ingredients according to available feedstuffs and the needs of the recipient.  I will share with you two of our recipes.
The first recipe is designed for growing bodies.  The ingredients are measured in pounds according to a percentage.  The recipe is called a ration when feeding livestock.  Our growing ration utilizes an ethanol by-product, wet distillers grain, called Synergy.  The ration also includes corn silage, a supplement and ground alfalfa hay.  The percentages of each ingredient can be seen in this picture.growing ration
The second recipe will be for the finishing steer.  This steer has had time to grow his frame so that now he can put on more muscle.  This phase often lasts around 180 days in a feedlot.  In this recipe we include the wet distillers grain.  The ground hay in this ration is usually made from crop residue like soybean straw and corn stalks instead of alfalfa.  Hay is a term that often refers to the roughage used.    Corn and a supplement to balance needed vitamins/minerals are the other two ingredients.  Here is the percentage picture of a finishing ration.finishing ration
Once the ration has been formulated it is loaded into a feed truck with a mixer that blends it all together just like our kitchen mixers do with cookie dough.loading feed
The ration is distributed to the pen using a scale on the feed truck  for precise and timely distribution.  The feed is digested throughout an amazing system God put into the beef animal allowing the making of a cow pie.cow pie
Now, what to do with the cow pie?  We use them for fertilizer on our crops.  I learned as a child the value of cow manure.  When I was growing up we had a neighbor that would get a few pickup loads of manure on his garden every fall.  His garden in the summer always looked like it should be on a magazine cover.
The pioneers used cow pies for fuel. Trees were scarce so they used dry grass and manure to make heat for baking and keeping warm.    We are expecting a winter storm today so perhaps I should save a few of these just in case the lights go out and Steve still wants supper tonight!

No snow days off for farmers

Joan RuskampThanks to the Omaha World Herald, “The Public Pulse” for posting this last Thursday.

About this time every year, I begin to get surprised looks from people when I talk about all the activities happening on my family’s farm near Dodge, Neb. My husband, and I feed cattle and raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa. While the crops may not require a great deal of attention in the winter months, animal care on our farm is a top priority 365 days a year.

My many responsibilities include walking through the cattle every morning, no matter the weather conditions, to make sure each animal is healthy. If a sick animal needs antibiotics, we always adhere to label use under our veterinarian’s supervision. We also adhere to strict withdrawal times, or a set number of days that must pass between the last antibiotic treatment and the animal entering the food supply.

cattle coatsEven though cattle have hair coats designed to handle living outdoors, we take extra care in winter to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. We provide extra bedding and windbreaks to help block the extreme cold. In addition to shoveling our driveway, we must remove or pile snow in the pens so cattle have dry places to lie down. And even during a snowstorm, cattle must be fed at their normal times with continuous access to water.

fresh water 2So, even though the winter weather might make you want to stay bundled up inside, know that farmers are braving the elements to make sure the animals are well cared for — because healthy animals equal healthy food for our families.

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