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Technology in Food Production Has Reasons for Existing

July 22, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo often when the discussion of food production and farming comes up it seems a bad thing to discuss technology. We wouldn’t think of doing without electronic banking, cellular phones or ATMs. Going into the bank? How inefficient!

We have cars and appliances that notify us when maintenance is needed. We have technology surrounding us but when it comes to agriculture many don’t want farmers to use those same advances that allow efficiency.

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s it was a time of growth. From 70 acres of rolling hills were carved corn fields and hay fields. Alfalfa was planted on hills to hold the soil and prevent erosion, as well as giving a valuable crop for purebred cattle. The field too steep to cultivate was fenced for pasture, as well as a field in front that was divided naturally by a creek, making cultivation difficult.

The cattle herd evolved to registered Charolais cattle, where we learned hands on cow management and combining old ways that worked with new technology where it was appropriate. A state of the art Harvestore was constructed. This is a big blue silo that allowed feed storage out of the weather, and allowed feeding the herd at the touch of control buttons through augers and conveyors. The hay and corn was chopped and with machines handling the harvesting it meant we didn’t have to hire people to move as much hay in the summer, although some baled hay was always kept for emergencies or animals separated from the herd.

470_1524312There was a dry lot built to house and contain the cattle. This allowed more efficient feeding. The cow trails through the fields grew over, and allowed a bigger harvest of feed. There were fewer times cattle would get loose, and it eliminated them getting into the corn field. It eliminated worrying about bloat, a dangerous medical condition for cattle.

If left to their own devices many cattle will stay fairly near the feeders, which can wear down the grass in the feeder area. By using a ‘dry lot’ situation that penned the cattle near feeders it allowed that natural behavior of minimum steps for feed and water, but did so in a way that the rest of the farm was more productive.

Today the cattle are gone from the farm, but the lessons in using technology wisely remain. When it makes sense to do so, technology and new ways can be a good thing. Today hogs and chickens are often kept in climate controlled barns. When the recent driving snow would kill animals or leave them shivering in the drifts, they’re inside barns at a steady, much warmer temperature!

Automatic temperature control, feed at regular times and balanced rations have taken raising livestock to new heights. It’s often criticized as being “factory farms” but confinement raising can be 30 head of cattle or thousands of hogs but the welfare of the animals is important.

When it comes to 20 below zero with driving snow or inside a barn I know where my chickens would be if faced with a choice. In the far south they can be outside without dealing with snow very often. In other parts of the country this isn’t the case, and it is important to put the animal’s comfort in front of political arguments.

Technology, instituted with a balanced view works for farmers, animals and consumers.

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