Four Gems from a Grazing Conference

I felt inspired yesterday, leaving the Southern Indiana Grazing Conference with several new ideas. A few weeks ago, I had been a little slow in developing enthusiasm for going to the day-long meeting in Odon, as I wasn’t sure if I wanted to eliminate the possibility for substitute teaching that day. Dad put in my registration anyway, and we headed down south at 5 in the morning.

The conference was worth far more than the missed substitute teacher pay.  The speakers were dynamic, their topics fitting well together. My three words — agriculture, believe and connectedness — were woven throughout. 

The theme of the meeting was, “Grazing Management – Important to Large and Small Family Farms.” The speakers were:

  • Kate Yegerlehner, herd manager for The Swiss Connection in Clay City, Indiana, which sells grass-fed dairy and meat products, on her business philosophy and how to connect the dots in holistic resource management
  • Gearld Fry, beef cattleman from Arkansas, on animal selection
  • Peter Ballerstedt, Ph.D., Forage Product Manager for Barenbrug, USA, on “Meat as Medicine,” a philosophy that has stemmed from his own health journey
  • Ernest Weaver, forage consultant for Byron Seeds, on managing pastures.

With each speaker, I found a golden point (or two or three) that really hit home with me and made me want to stand up and shout, “YES!” They were made with a farming perspective, but these golden points aren’t just for farmers:

“Whatever you purpose in your heart to do, do it with love.”

Kate said that many of her customers ask what makes the products she sells taste so good, and she answers, “They’re made with love.” She spoke often of her faith and how it guided her in business, encouraging us to think about our goals and how we can serve others, all in love.

“Be the best steward you know how to be with the resources that have been entrusted to you.”

~Kate Yegerlehner

Part of pursuing purpose meant knowing the answer to the question, “Why are you in business?” Kate introduced Dave Pratt of Ranching for Profit, and noted that,

“Profit is to business as breathing is to life. Profit is not the purpose of business, but a business must make a profit, just as you must breathe or you will die, but breathing is not the purpose of life.”

~Dave Pratt, Ranching for Profit

With criticism I’ve seen regarding farmers and other business owners being profitable (there seems to be the idea floating around that farming should not be a business because that means the ideals of the farm are automatically gone and businesses should be ashamed of their profits), this quote resonated with me.

The most important thing you can do to make your herd profitable is to change your management.

Gearld emphasized asking, “What can I do to improve my operation?” Genetics matters…but “without proper management and nutrition, genetics expression will never be fully expressed and production will be reduced to half.”

We all have systems in which we work. Constantly examining and improving our actions and the tools we’re using for their efficiency and effectiveness will lead to greater productivity.

It might seem we’re doing fine, but the point at which we think all is well may be the point to start reexamining ourselves to see what can be better. I once heard, “Good leaders ask open-ended questions every 30 seconds.” It might sound like a lot of questions, but it means the mind is working and finding solutions all the time.

A science base is the best ground to stand on.

Despite the science behind the reasons for consuming meat and dairy, food policies in the U.S. have been focused around decreasing the amount of meat and dairy we eat. This is harmful, not only to the livestock industry, but also to anyone who eats food. Opinions are fine, Dr. Ballerstedt noted, but policies should be formed on science rather than that emotion.

One of the most dangerous aspects of encouraging the public to eat less meat is that school lunches and meals sent to the military are greatly affected by the guidelines, Ballerstedt noted. (Sidenote: it is doubtful that these meals would provide a completely nutritious meatless alternative. See Jude Capper’s article about the new food guidelines and sustainability. Dr. Capper is a livestock sustainability consultant who was formerly a vegan.)

Dr. Ballerstedt also emphasized that animal fats and vegetable oil are not equal. Neither are animal protein and vegetable protein. Synthesizing two vegetable proteins does not automatically mean those proteins can replace animal proteins.

Science should constantly be challenging itself and seeing if it can disprove what it believes. We need to base our choices on sound science and not the loud emotional voices and critics that surround us.

Farming is a painting.

Ernest’s picture took us to imagine a painter who started with one can of paint and poured the color across a canvas. Then, he spread the next color right on top of the first color. These layers of color are like our ideas. We use the first one as a base, and then grow the idea and swirl the colors from there. At a conference, take home more paint and ideas rather than opening the can of worms and arguing about it.

At the end of 2015, a farm (and a life) needs to be better than it is now. Observe what’s happening and use the scientific method to make improvements.

“Great crop yields and tremendous forage yields don’t just happen. Plants need to be fed.”

~Ernest Weaver, Byron Seeds

And people are like plants. If we’re not growing, we’re…well…brown and break easily. And other macabre thoughts.

After the conference, I posted on Facebook, “Headed home from the Southern Indiana Grazing Conference. Basically, I looked at pictures of sheep and cows eating grass all day. It was pretty great.” I felt energetic and extremely optimistic about the future of agriculture and the farm, as well as the possibilities when we look at the whole picture and how everything is connected.

I still felt that way when I woke up this morning. I’ve been surrounded by negativity too much. We need more positive thinking and belief that we can make this messy world better.

I intend to bring just that.

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