“Snow Day” on a farm

by Lisa Hadden

“Snow Day” – when livestock farmers do what they always do – they just do it in the snow as well. I like to make my January lesson every year all about beef cattle.

Not only is this topic dear to my heart, but also it is important for students to understand that raising cattle is not a task for those not willing to brave the weather all year long. Cows do not care if we are having a blizzard, or the temperature is below zero — they still want to eat and drink.

They actually eat more when it is cold outside because they warm themselves from the inside out. With more forage (such as hay) in the rumen of their stomach, more fermentation takes place. This produces the additional heat that warms them from the inside.

They also are protected by their skin and hair, which we all know as cowhide. Access to water in the winter has its own challenges. If the automatic waterer freezes, farmers must thaw them out, and if the pond freezes over, a hole must be cut near the bank for fresh water. Bad weather also brings on added worries. Will motors in equipment run properly or what cow might think it’s the perfect time to calve?

Antibiotics is something else we talk about in the classroom. There is so much hype out there about purchasing meat that is antibiotic free. Guess what? All meat that you purchase is antibiotic free. On our farm we give our cattle antibiotics if they are ill or have an infection. We would prefer to make them well and not have them suffer. Antibiotics do not stay in one’s system, though. If you have strep throat one year and take antibiotics and then get strep throat again, you take new antibiotics because the last ones you took are no longer in your system. When cattle are processed there cannot be any trace of antibiotics left in their system. Therefore, all meat purchased is antibiotic free. Farmers also do their best to keep their livestock healthy, therefore reducing the need/expense for antibiotics.

Cows spend roughly eight hours a day chewing their cud. What is “cud,” you say? I am glad you asked. A cow is a ruminant, which means its stomach consists of four compartments. So they first chew their food to soften it, swallow it and then regurgitate it back to their mouth to continue chewing. I tell the kids that they then sort of look like they are chewing gum. A cow chewing their cud is a happy cow – they are not sick or upset about anything. Once they have chewed for a while, they will swallow it a second time and it will be broken down further and digested.

Beef cattle do not just provide food for consumers. There is a lot more than “meats” the eye. Some by-products from beef cattle include paint, candles, crayons, cosmetics, soaps, insulation and the list goes on. Also, one hide can produce 114 baseballs, 11 basketballs or 20 footballs. So, while we may still refer to the football as a “pigskin,” it was never actually made from pig skin, but from the pig’s bladder. Today, footballs for colleges and the NFL are made from cowhide. Wilson Sporting Goods is the official manufacturer of the NFL footballs and they supply them with over 700,000 footballs each year. This adds up to 35,000 cowhides. They are all manufactured in the United States and the hides come from feedlots in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.

So, the next time you watch your favorite NFL team play, color a picture or eat a hamburger – don’t forget to thank a farmer!

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