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Friday, May 27, 2016

Don't Invite Food Borne Illness to Your BBQ

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and it heralds the start of a new season.... grilling season, of course!

Burgers, chops, brats, steaks and chicken will all be making headline appearances at your backyard bbq festivities this weekend and throughout the summer, but don't let tag along bacteria play a supporting role and ruin your get together. Food poisoning is a traumatic thing to endure (speaking from personal experience) and there are several steps you can follow while preparing your food that will keep it safe and delicious!

Image courtesy Colorado State

Here are five tips to keep your backyard bbq safe from food borne pathogens:
  1. Keep meat and other refrigerated products at proper temperatures when not cooking. That means keeping them OUT of the DANGER ZONE by storing cold foods below 40F.
  2. Cook all meats to the proper internal temperature and use a food thermometer!
    • Ground meats - 160 F
    • Whole muscle beef, pork, lamb cuts (steaks, chops) - 145 F
    • Poultry - 165 F
    • Egg dishes - 160 F
  3. Use separate utensils and cutting boards for cooked meat and raw meat. And don't share utensils between fresh/raw produce and raw meats without washing with hot soapy water.
  4. Bacteria can easily be reintroduced to food after it is cooked. To store leftovers, put them in a shallow container for quick cooling and then into a fridge at 40F or lower.
  5. Still hungry? Grab the leftovers but make sure you heat them to 165 F before chowing down!
You can learn more about food safety and food-borne illness prevention by visiting the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

Have a safe and happy weekend,

Monday, April 4, 2016

COOL is no longer cool

This week in my livestock class I was stressing out and spending thousands of paper money dollars buying cattle, or trying my best to as, MAN, that dude can talk FAST. This was for a simulation of how buying and selling cattle would be in the real world. Our auctioneer was a pro, and in five seconds he could look at a lot of cattle and give you per pound price to the cent. As he was talking about factors he took into consideration, he mentioned the COOL repeal. I’ll give you a quick rundown on what COOL is. For starters, COOL stands for Country of Origin Labeling. This is a labeling law requiring retailers to give information of the origins of certain foods. The repeal was finalized February 18th, 2016 with President Obama signing the Government Funding Bill into Law.

So, what does this mean for consumers and producers?

There are two solid sides to viewing this and according to Farm and Ranch guide, “it’s messy.” Real quick before we dive into this, here is some background information. COOL was a problem for Canada and Mexico as they would sometimes be discriminated against and lose money on their products. So, they filed complaints, the World Trade Organization’s gave their permission to impose tariffs on U.S. products. This is estimated to be up to, or even over, a billion dollars. This is not yet a set number though.

Okay, on one hand, some people do not like the repeal. These individuals simply wish to know where their food comes from, and from there they can chose if they want to “buy American.” To an extent, this also is an extra safety net for preventing any diseases from entering and becoming health concerns.

On the flip side, there are arguments for the repeal. There are the tariffs that concern many of them as that is a rather huge number of dollars. Some feel that COOL has been used much more heavily for marketing, as opposed to being used for issues such as food safety. By having to label everything, there is an increased amount of paperwork for packers and processing plants. This also has hurt import numbers because of the extra record keeping necessary and additional costs imposed.

As I was spending $750,000 (give or take) for my cattle buying simulation in class last week, I did not realize the potential influence this could have. It is important that you do your part in being informed and analyzing all sides of the story. If you want to read more, feel free to check out my sources, or also many others!

Your (not) future auctioneer,


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Every Day is National Agriculture Day

Every Day is Agriculture Day

Happy National Agriculture Day! On March 15th, universities, organizations and individuals from across the United States will celebrate the role that agriculture plays in our everyday lives. Having an agricultural background, the strangest phrase that I’ve ever been told is, “I really don’t have any connection to agriculture at all.” Knowing the diversity of agriculture, and everything that it has to offer, I think it’s important that we know that we all play a role in agriculture and that we all should be celebrating Agriculture Day!

The first thought that comes to most individuals minds when you bring up the word “agriculture” is the idea of the farmer, driving a tractor through his fields. Though this is an important aspect, more than 21 million workers in America (or about 15% of the workforce) is employed in the agricultural industry. Opportunities include careers in Park and Recreation Management, health-care and pharmaceutical packaging and food science.

This is also a great time for consumers to get involved in the agricultural industry because it provides a variety of choices. Grass-fed or grain-fed, all natural or organic, we are able to take advantage of each option because the hard working farmers and ranchers who dedicate themselves to our industry. Not only are these farmers and ranchers producing a variety of products for us to enjoy, there are also producing more with less. According the American Farm Bureau, today’s farmers produce 262 percent more food with 2 percent fewer inputs (labor, seeds, feed, fertilizer, etc.), compared with 1950.

Not only should we be celebrating agriculture in the United States, but worldwide as well. This past January, I was able to travel to South Africa with the National FFA Organization. During our 10 day stay, we were able to tour many different agricultural operations, including a family owned dairy, and even one of the top 5 producing farms in the country! My travels made me realize that agriculture is advancing all over the world!

Even though March 15th may be the official day of National Agriculture Day, it’s important that we celebrate the industry that feeds the our nation, and every nation around the world, everyday. So whether it’s sitting down to a meal, putting on that cotton shirt, or planting a new set of flowers to mark the beginning of spring, go out, and celebrate agriculture!

If you’d like to learn more about National Agriculture Day, visit (

Yours truly,

Kyler Langvardt

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Truth Behind the Closed Doors

My name is Lori Thomas and I was born and raised in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. In 2013 I graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia and accepted a job as a farrowing manager at a sow farm in Thompson, Missouri. I learned more in one year of production than anything I ever read in a text book. To a city kid from St. Louis, this experience has changed my life forever.

My father grew up on a small farm in southern Illinois, which has since turned into rented farm land and a place for the cousins to ride dirt bikes and race go carts. My older brother followed in my dad’s steps and is now a successful engineer and I…. I just love pigs. I was pre-vet (small animal) until my junior year in college when I was offered a job working with pigs. For eight months, I helped a graduate student with data collection and daily chores of eight boars (male pigs). Upon graduation, I was still considering vet school but thought a year in production would be very beneficial. Little did I know, 365 days later, vet school was no longer what I needed to be happy, pigs were.

I am very passionate about the swine industry and because of that, I am passionate about agriculture. I want to share my knowledge about swine production and my story of what I have experienced behind the closed doors of the sow farm. I think consumers struggle to understand why we raise animals in the environments that we do and they fear the welfare of the animals. Coming from a background without agriculture, I can see these struggles and fears. I get it, but hear my story.

I spent exactly one year employed at a sow farm with roughly 10,000 sows and I was tasked with managing farrowing. To my city friends, I explained this as being a nurse to a sow and helping her deliver babies and then caring for these animals until they are weaned. What could honestly be better than playing with piglets all day? Unfortunately, it wasn’t all glamorous. There was power washing, fixing feed lines, treating sick animals, and a list that goes on forever (seriously). A normal day was a 12-13 hour shift, starting at 5:30 am. Farrowing had 15 workers plus management and we worked 12 days on, two days off. Inside the closed doors of this barn, was a family.

I learned a lot in that year that will stick with me forever. I was fresh out of college and was faced with management of people and pigs. It didn’t take me long to learn and practice patience, respect and commitment, to the people and the pigs.

Patience. It takes patience to work with animals. I am 125 lbs and trying to move a 400 lb sow into a farrowing crate (when she has ideas of her own), can be very challenging. Or the constant communication barrier I faced with most of my employees. Trying to teach a job to someone who speaks a different language than you, certainly takes patience. 

Respect. There were certainly times when your patience would spread thin. However; we never lost sight of respecting each other and the animals we cared for. For most people, this is a hot topic. What was the welfare of these animals locked inside of this barn? How was their quality of life? For the 365 days of which I was there, I think it was pretty darn good. My friends from home would ask why these pigs weren’t being raised outside, free range, instead of in a crate of any kind. I can see some of these thoughts, as I used to have them myself but at least for me, now it all makes sense. Recall, I was managing farrowing and when these sows farrowed, they were inside, in a crate. Why? With the genetics these pigs have today, they are capable of having several babies (12+, 25 in some cases). However; having this many babies without any assistance, can be challenging. By having them in crates, I am able to monitor the sow as well as her babies. We had 24 hour farrowing care, someone was always there. Not only assisting with delivering the babies (sleeving the sow, drying the babies, getting them up to mom to nurse) but also monitoring them in the days that followed. Are the piglets nursing? Is mom eating and drinking? Are the piglets warm enough? Is mom too hot? These ladies (sows) and their babies were cared for everyday in ways that wouldn’t be possible outside. Maybe having them indoors in a farrowing crate, isn’t so bad? She doesn’t seem to mind.

Maintaining respect of the animals was something we took very seriously. I always think about weaning. We had 60 farrowing crates per room and we would wean first thing in the morning. I would stand at the end of the aisle and count the piglets as the crew would remove them from the crate and into the aisle. I would get to 50 or so pigs and then we would run them out into the hallway. I remember a day when I was attempting to run them into the hall and these weaned pigs were not moving. No matter what method I tried, they were hardly fazed. It was extremely frustrating and apparently it showed. One of the guys, Auggie, stepped in and said he would try and he was instantly successful (he always claimed the pigs spoke Spanish and they weren’t moving because they couldn’t understand me). My point is we were watching out for each other. We didn’t want the others frustrations to get the best of them. We truly cared about the animals we worked with. Believe me, we spent a lot of time with them, they were part of the family.

Commitment. This was my life for a year. Remember, we are working with live animals. They don’t take holidays off. That’s right, we are open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. These are easily still eight hour days. We would try to rotate so everyone had a holiday off but it was most certainly a challenge. Not to mention my favorite commitment of all, alarm calls. The technology that we have today is truly amazing and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but those darn alarm calls. I swear, it would always happen the second I got home for the night or the second I went to bed. Every farrowing room had a box which controlled the temperature, ventilation, water usage, heat lamps, lights, everything. If something went out of range, it would alarm. Another perk of having these animals inside. The environment was controlled and controlled to benefit them.  Most of the time, the alarms were all minor issues. However; a few were a bit more threatening. I was always on pig time. I may have clocked out, but I most definitely was always able to be reached.

My life was put on hold for this job (and I wasn’t the only one). Granted, this was a fairly large barn, and it was a new farm. We had our work cut out for us. But we did it and I don’t think I would have it any other way, with any other crew.

I would have taken anyone into our farm. I wasn’t hiding a thing. It is not all glamorous, but what job is? Agriculture is filled with many other professions outside of the pig farm, but I think the same principles exist: patience, respect and commitment. We are real people, with real emotions, who are passionate about what we do. I encourage you to ask any questions you may have about what we do, come and visit with us, hear our story.

Thank you for reading,

Monday, February 29, 2016

Gluten: Friend or Foe

Gluten free has been a booming trend lately, but what is this “gluten” that is making its way out of every American’s diet?

I found myself asking that same question when my sister discovered she had a thyroid disease. Due to the complications of the disease, she had to avoid eating foods that contained gluten. The months leading up to the removal of her thyroid, my family and I had to become more aware of what foods contained gluten and learn more about this key ingredient of wheat.

Webster Dictionary states that gluten is a “substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough.” Basically my sister could not eat any grain or wheat products, unless they were gluten free. After her thyroid was removed, she was free to go back to her normal diet and she could once again eat all her favorite cereals.

My sister’s illness made me more aware of what was happening in the gluten free trend. While stocking shelves in the grocery store where I worked, I noticed things that had “gluten free” labels. What confused me the most was that some of these foods wouldn’t have gluten in them in the first place, such as strawberries. And later, I came to college, where I lived with many girls who ate gluten free diets; some girls have Celiac disease, others are very allergic to gluten, and some just choose to eat gluten free foods. I found myself wondering what was so harmful about gluten, so I did some research.

I found that choosing to eat a gluten free diet can actually be dangerous if not done carefully. Foods that contain gluten are a huge source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This is when I decided that gluten isn’t a terrifying entity that is ruining the health of Americans, as some articles will lead you to believe. While it’s okay to choose to eat gluten free, for whatever reason, it’s important to be knowledgeable. The Scientific American tells us that before we go gluten free, we should be checked out by a physician and make sure to replace gluten-containing foods with other foods that are naturally gluten free and contain the nutrients that your body needs.

However, gluten isn’t detrimental to your health if you don’t have a gluten intolerance. In fact, gluten-rich foods are a fantastic source of nutrients that keep you healthy. So before you go gluten free, make sure that you’re informed and stay healthy!  

Your bread-loving friend, Danielle.


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