Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Detective Work is Good for your Dinner Table

While I may not be well versed in deep and detailed agricultural issues that maybe only growing up on a farm would expose me to, I understand the basics.  I appreciate both sides.  I think people in agriculture tend to get frustrated with the average “removed from the farm” consumer and the way they are so easily swayed by fear tactics.  What we need to understand as an industry is that people are generally just confused and prepared to take in any information they can get their hands on.  They don’t know if that information is true or false, they just know if it sounds scary or safe.  But it is so hard to shake a mental picture from your head once it’s been painted for you.  How do you go about the legwork of seeking out facts when people are throwing around the terms “toxic, poison, and inhumane?” when it relates to the food you are feeding your family.  Your mind makes leaps and bounds to where it shouldn’t and suddenly you’ve made your verdict on where you stand.  
A pig at our farm settles in nice and comfy

As I have made it apparent before, I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan (my dog is named Dr. Watson, after all) and I often refer to the books or series for quotes.  I find that the detective work and fact seeking that Holmes relentlessly does to pull out the smallest details is spot on for what we as farmers wish the consumer to do when seeking facts about food and farming. There is a quote from the new BBC Sherlock series (which is amazing, seriously watch it) where Sherlock is trying to express to D.I. Lestrade how he has been deceived.  He says to him:

Ah, Moriarty is smart. He planted that doubt in her head; that little nagging sensation. You’re going to have to be strong to resist. But you can’t kill an idea, can you? Not once it’s made a home... there (in your head).”

This sounds exactly like what fact less fear mongering has done to our beloved world of agriculture. Extreme food and animal rights activists have turned into the Moriarty’s of the farming world, cleverly planting ideas with fears disguised as “facts”.  It has made some doubt the purpose and actions of the modern day farmer. Farmers scarcely ever educated about any of these glorious and innovative leaps we have taken towards feeding a growing population and now it is made into something to be feared and avoided.  So how do we turn the consumer back into Sherlock Holmes mode and aid them in defeating the overwhelming information that is working against them?  We need to help them in seeking facts before believing theories.  True fact seeking is a tough feat nowadays in the realm of such easily obtained information where the most popular link equals the most accurate in the eyes of the internet investigator.

I can’t say that if I had not met my husband 10 years ago and moved back to the city instead of the country that I would not have been one of these consumers.  I would be scared of what to feed my family, not knowing exactly who was preaching the real facts, taking whatever mainstream media has to say as truth, and making choices from there.  I see what farming and agriculture is about firsthand now-an opportunity unfortunately so few will ever get to experience.  It may make it even more frustrating for me as I feel like I many times scramble to get the word out, set the record straight, and restore people’s faith in the community that so carefully works to bring food to the worlds table.  This is the community that I am now so proudly rooted in and raising my children amongst. 

So with this we must continue to show people what we do.  We need to share our amazing stories of our everyday lives, not just the topics we feel are important to the masses.  Sure it is important to address such concerns as they arise, but remember that it is the most mundane of chores that we repeat time and time again that is probably most fascinating to a person on the outside looking in.  Strong work ethic and focus on family was one of the most surprising things I discovered when I moved here.  Consumers need to know that our passion is getting out there every day, doing all of the important little things that make up this wonderful life that we call farming.
Our son watches as Dad drives the tractor

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fall to Winter, Change in a Blink

It’s snowing outside.  Living in the Midwest my whole life I’m neither surprised nor sad to see it come back.  Like a dinner bell it signals the end of all the hustle and bustle that fall field work brings and rings in the hush of a calmer scene in the country. As harvest 2014 wraps up and winter blows in like he owns the place I began searching through all of my pictures that I have taken over this busy season.  As you well know by now, I am hardly ever without my camera in arms reach.  As a result I have captured some of the most pure snapshots of what living and working on the farm is all about.  It is about our passion and our love for what we do.  It is about being good stewards of the land and caretakers of our animals.  It is about hoping that the next generation grows their love for the farm so much that someday maybe they too will decide to come back and be a part of it.  So without further adieu I invite you to enjoy some of my favorite pictures from this fall. 
Watching closely so that someday he can do what dad does.

Our pig buildings sit in some of the most beautiful locations

Working on the equipment before harvest begins

Picking corn wears you out!

Tractor time with your kids is quality time with your kids

TJ and Tim check the feed mill in between all of the big bins.

The sunsets and sunrises were amazing this year!
The dawn of another busy day

As we pick the corn to feed the pigs you can see our farm in the distance

Real pig farming in all of its glory.

Some like to argue that pig farming is bad for the environment, yet this surrounding environment doesn't show that at all.

The lights come on as the sun sets so that we can work deep into the night.
Sunday mornings picking beans with the family are the best days!
The deer get a little "silly" this time of year chasing their ladies.
I just could not contain myself with all of the beautiful colors this fall.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tractor Driving Addiction

I can remember when I was younger driving through the mighty state of Wisconsin across rolling hills lined with rows of corn.  Every summer we would head through the state from Chicago on our way to our cabin in Upper Michigan.  It was a magical time for me.  Driving across the countryside like that was one of the only times I would leave my city limits and get to see true agriculture in action.  We would zip through and gawk as farmers in their tractors worked the fields back and
forth repeatedly in what seemed like slow motion.
I recall thinking to myself, how in the world can anyone stand to drive back and forth for so long in basically the same place? How incredibly boring and unrewarding that job must be.  

It was only after I had moved to the farm and became that farmer working in her field that I realized what the draw to it was.  It’s addicting, plain and simple.  Time in the tractor is time to myself and time to my thoughts.  It's a time where you can feel the power and the pull of the tractor you are the captain of as you pull some heavy implement across the soil.  It’s time to play whatever music I want to and sing to it, as loud as I want.  It’s a chance to sit back and watch the beauty of the farm grow and change around you.  It’s an opportunity to watch an entire sunset, start to finish, over a rolling hill and golden fields. 

 Spring time tractor riding means the smell of fresh dirt being overturned for the first time since the frozen months, getting it ready for the planter to sew a new crop into the ground.  Time actually goes faster in the tractor.  You start at daybreak and before you know it someone is bringing you supper at the gate. I get it now.  Now that harvest is almost over I know that even though I might be happy to see my husband in person a little more, we will still gaze at that combine and tractor sitting in the shed longing for the crop to turn brown once more so that we can drive them across those wide open spaces.  Yes I think it is safe to say, I have a tractor driving addiction.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Living Rural Doesn't Mean Living Distant

There is truly not a more caring and giving community to live in than the farming community.  If there is someone in need, there are 100 people there to help them in every way possible in no time flat.  I have experienced this in the 10 years living here so many times, it is comforting and heartwarming.  I can remember thinking with hesitation that I was going to feel so isolated and distant from the world living out here a mile away from any neighbor.  Coming from a person who grew up being able to talk to their neighbor by just shouting out the window, it is an understandable concern.  But once I got here I was overwhelmed by the amount of care and closeness of everybody around.  I had never felt more surrounded by friends and family in my life. 

My father-in-law and my son at a school visit.
 I can remember one time that my dog, when he was a puppy, ran off and I found him with his head stuck in a fence and having trouble breathing.  I couldn't get him out and I needed something to clip the fence with.  Of course it happened to be the day that everyone was gone from the farm.  The only person around was my father-in-law and I knew that he was in the middle of an important meeting.  Freaking out over the thought that I might have to tell my kids that their brand new puppy was no longer with us, I called him up anyways, crying of course.  Before I knew it he was flying across the field on a four wheeler with a pair of clippers in hand.  Everyone who saw him soar out of the driveway at ridiculous speeds thought there was some accident somewhere and someone was hurt.   But alas, he was leaving his meeting to help me and my dim-witted little puppy.  He jumped off the four-wheeler with clippers-a-blazin’ and had my dog cut out in no time.  I’ll never get a dog with such a big head (or tiny brain) again.

Grandma is hardly ever without an amazing baked good-
even in stressful situations!
Then there was the time that my husband’s cousin (who is more like a brother to him) had rolled a semi truck while hauling pigs.  He was okay, the pigs were okay, and the truck was on its side in the ditch.  In the blink of an eye every family member, neighbor, and friend were on the scene and helping out.  Even the law enforcement members that came to the scene were everyone’s friend.  Worried about the accident, relieved that everyone was ok, problem solving about the clean up, everyone was there for support.  Grandma even brought over her homemade cinnamon rolls to the scene for every one helping out to have a good meal, something that she definitely does best!  It was just what we do.

The line of trucks full of corn that were helping someone in need.
Then there are times like yesterday.  There was a member of the community that needed help harvesting the rest of his corn due to an unexpected event.  Without hesitation there were multiple people with their combines lined up to help finish the rest of his crop in one day.  Our farm received all of the corn that was harvested to our feed mill.  Semi trucks full from the fields rolled by one after another like a giant freight train delivering the community members corn to us.  Our office staff grilled pork burgers for everyone involved and brought them to the farmers working in the fields and to the truckers in the scales where the corn was being unloaded.   The line of trucks waiting in line wrapped around our great big bins and out to the road at times. It was a huge effort by so many, which was never even given a second thought by anyone.  It is just what we do in the farming community to help out in every way, for every one that we can.

So it is here that I stress how it is not just about the pigs.  It is also about growing a community and respecting everyone around us that is involved, directly or indirectly.   Farming is by no means every man for himself and may the biggest man win.  It is an effort of everyone working together towards a common goal in the way that works best for them.  Our goal as farmers is to help feed the world and we lean on each other constantly to achieve that.  We take great pride in what we do and wouldn't change that for anything.

Sharing our passion with others helps them understand what
farming is really  all about.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Welcome Pork into the Family!

Pork the puppy that is.  Yes we added another farm dog to the family.  I suppose I can consider myself the ringleader of this menagerie of animals that I have collected.  Growing up in the city we were tight on space and never had a dog.  Owning one was a lifelong dream but something I was just never able to do because of where I lived.  Once I moved to the farm I suppose I went a little pet crazy!  Taking care of animals is something that I believe to be my calling in life. With this comes great responsibility not only for me, but also for my growing boys and that is the real bonus of it all.  Giving them something to chore for, feed, let out, clean up after, and above all respect is something that I value highly.  As tiring as is it I love the feeling of the after school rush.  I feed dinner, help with homework, give baths, get PJ's on and tuck them in bed. It is only after all of that do I start my furry kid chores!  It’s those cold winter nights when the wind is howling do I drag myself out all bundled up to haul water buckets and clean stalls for my horses.  Once I get out there, turn on the radio, start shoveling and get the blood flowing to I get an overwhelming sense of pride and fulfillment for taking care of all of these animals.  I suppose it is safe to say that I am an animal lover of all kinds.  I am mother to my two sons, my thousands of pigs, my (now) three farm dogs, and my five horses and I exhaust myself and love every moment fulfilling my obligation to care for and love them all the same.  So without further adieu let me introduce you to my funny farm family!

The newest edition to our Brenneman Zoo!  Named by TJ, Pork is a 7 week old yellow Labrador that just joined us yesterday!  Cute as a button and already a little mischievous it is great to have another lab join us again! ( He is the little one in the picture in case you were wondering...)

Most of my animals names pay tribute to the fact that I am a huge film buff.  Downey is named after one of my all time favorites, Robert Downey Jr.. He weighs just over 200 lbs and loves to lay in the grass and sleep, in the same spot, every time, until the "grass bed" dies and he must move on to another section.  Downey is the reason that FedEx or UPS will not deliver to our house anymore.  Would you want to chance getting a package slipped into the door with this mammoth barking?  I don't blame them I guess...

Named after Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes series (another serious love of mine) he is Downey's half brother.  He would be considered the "smaller" of the two if there is such a thing.  When we got Downey I was already talking about how I wanted another dog in addition to him.  Tim said if we ever get another dog after this beast it will be a Labrador.  Boy was Tim so excited the day I went out and got another St. Bernard instead!  Can you really tell me you can resist that face when the people say they have another litter of puppies?  Apparently I didn't have that kind of self control...

Walter White
If you don't understand his name, then you need to get on NetFlix and watch Breaking Bad because it is amazing.  Walter is my 10 year old paint horse that is super pretty and super nervous! He needs to be constantly reassured that the boogey man is not sitting on his back when I get up there, just me.  But man if looks could kill...he is just gorgeous.

I am from Chicago so it only seems natural that I name one of my animals in homage to my sweet home town.  Wrigley is an off the track thoroughbred (OTTB for the horsey people out there) who, like the Cubs, didn't have the best track record.  So he finds himself retired here on my farm serving as a great companion to whatever horse he lives with.  Apparently he is an awesome friend because everyone has a case of the freak outs when they have to leave out of sight of Wrigley, Wrigley himself being the worst.  I cut him some slack as he must have had some lonely days at the track so I am happy just to have this pretty, silly boy with us.


My newest horse Boots came all the way up to me from the great state of Texas.  This will be his first Midwest winter so I hope he is ready with the fur growth!   Boots is a full of life spunky little horse
that I love to just hop on and ride around when the weather and the kids schedule allows!  He reminds me of a mini-Clydesdale with his markings and long dark mane.  He is currently Wrigley's bestie and it sometimes gets in the way of actual work time, but we love him all the same!

Sam is just named Sam. Nothing symbolic, no super hero Sam, just Sam.  He is a 9 year old mini
horse that is smaller than my largest dog.  He is completely afraid of "adult sized" people but will let my 3 year old drag him around at the end of a lead line all day. He is a sweet little pony and the little kids just can't get enough of him.


Yes, you guessed it, named after Tony Stark.  Stark is your typical "naughty pony" that nips and pushes you around.  Afraid of nothing and will go through anything if there is grass on the other side.  He has a wild little personality and is best friends with Walter and Sam.  He also has some of the wildest hair you have ever seen...

Gone but not forgotten, the original Brenneman Funny Farm... 

Death is a part of life.  It never makes anyone happy or excited and we are hurt by every animal that we lose whether it be a pet or a part of our livestock.  Animals are why we are here doing what we do everyday and our efforts are put towards raising them the best way that we know how.  Death is a big, hard lesson to learn on the farm and something that we must deal with respectfully being animal caretakers.  Growing up on the farm around all the animals I feel that my kids have a unique sense of what death is and a little more understanding of it at a younger age.  For this I am grateful for it is never an easy subject to discuss.

Spook and Gixxer, my chocolate lab and my first horse.  These two guys were here at the start.  Before the kids, before the wedding, before all of my crazy wild pet boom there was them. 

Spook had been my horse for just over 25 years and was a fine old age of 32 when we had to put him down just this past March.  One of the first horses I ever rode when I was 8, Spook was there through it all with me.  High school, college, marriage, kids, he was my only constant during this wild ride!  How fortunate I am to have the horse that taught me to ride be the first horse my own children got to ride!  Love him and miss him dearly.

Then there is Gixxer.  Gixxer was a chocolate lab that I got as a puppy the year Tim and I were engaged.  Our "first child" Gixxer was an absolutely amazing dog that loved the farm and loved his family.  We had to put Gixxer down 4 years ago when he developed an extremely rare heart infection that spread to his lungs.  Downey was meant to be Gixxers buddy and the timing was almost uncanny that we were scheduled to pick him up just 2 short days after Gixxer had passed.  It eased the loss on our oldest son and helped him have a new buddy that he could play with and care for.  

They were the best pets anyone could ask for and they help set the stage for me becoming the
 "lady with all the animals". 
Spook and Gixxer shortly after we moved to the farm

 It is an honor and a joy caring for all of these guys everyday!  It makes every day that much more important knowing that I make a difference for so many!

My Passion

I work most of my days inside our sow farms where the mother pigs are bred and also give birth.  It is in here that we also take care of the special needs for the nursing piglets before they are weaned off of their mother.  A lot of my stories I have to share have their roots in the sow farm.  I think it is an amazing, fast paced, full of life place to work.  I fell in love with the sow farm from the moment I stepped in there 10 years ago and I haven’t left since.

I am a Day One Care Specialist.  That means that I pour my heart and soul into helping newborn piglets and their moms on their first day of life.  There are so many things on this day that we need to get right to ensure that that pig stays healthy and grows.  It is a constant task to be running around being a nurse to sows and babies. 

The most important thing to get right for the newborns is simple.  Just like humans, newborn piglets need to be warm, dry, and full of milk.  On a farm our size we farrow (the process of sows giving birth) around 60-70 litters a day with totals of 700-800 piglets.  Yes, that’s daily.  And wouldn’t you know it; these girls give birth any time of day they feel is the right time for them.  They don’t care that it is Christmas or Sunday afternoon so we employ a 24 hour/7 days a week crew over 3 shifts.  This helps us make sure there is no hour of the day that a sow will give birth unattended and the piglets receive the care they need to be warm, dry, and full.

Hand drying newborns
Once a piglet is born we dry him off with a towel which not only helps him stay warm, but stimulates blood flow and his appetite.  We hold him up to a dinner plate (or teat) and show him where to find the stuff that he is searching for.  Once that piglet has gotten a taste of moms milk he often has no problem from there on out.  Sows, just like humans, express special antibody-packed milk for only a few hours after the labor process.  This super milk is called colostrum and it is essential that that pig receives some so he has protection from any sort of bug that may be out there.  We work tirelessly to make sure that everyone of those 800 piglets a day gets a hang of it.  Now that is a rewarding yet difficult task to achieve! 

These piglets are just born and already have the hang of it!
That is one of the reasons that we are so proud of who we are and what we do.  We are privileged to be called animal caretakers and take our business very seriously.  Everyone performing their jobs on our farms are specialists in their area and take much pride in being the best at it.  We love our animals and love working with them every day.  As you can tell by now, I could ramble all day about taking care of newborn piglets.  I work most of my days inside our sow farms so much of my stories come from in there.  Raising pigs and raising awareness of how much we care and put into our livelihood is my passion. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

A picture is worth...well you know the drill

I take pictures.  Ok that's an understatement.  I take tons of pictures.  Everywhere you turn around here there is something worthy of getting a snapshot and I am rarely without my camera.  I believe that pictures speak volumes.  Way more than me rambling along trying to explain something.  So along the way here you will get to see a lot of pictures that I take. Some just gorgeous landscape scenes, some help describe the how's and whys of what we do, all are important to me and my journey here on the farm.  So be ready for some sight seeing!  

No Wonder

It’s really no wonder to me why there is such a big misunderstanding about modern agriculture.  Growing up in a city and then moving to a farm I can tell you that it really is two completely different worlds.  Not much is mirrored in between the two.

I can remember my first night in the dorms at Iowa State University getting to know my roommate.  She was from a cattle operation that she was born and raised on in rural southern Iowa. She gazed out the window with such wonderment and gasped.  I looked at her with a raised eyebrow and said

“Whats up?”

The lights!  There are so many lights in this city!”

I stared at her for a moment with a confused look. Big city? 
Ames, IA?  This is the most rural place I’ve ever been to in my life!  I looked out that window and thought where the heck all of the lights are and here she is thinking she has been transported into a giant metropolis.  It was only then did I realize what a different world there was out there that I had never even come close to experiencing.

My husband said once in one of our first trips back to my home that where I had lived was so strange because it was like you were always in town.  I didn’t even understand the reference.  Why wouldn’t you be in town?  Where else is there to be?  I get it now, but so many don’t and that is my drive for Agvocating.  Sharing what I already know is so incredibly fascinating and alien to so many.  Farm life.

I write this now while my two boys play out in the yard with the new puppy we brought home today to be part of our farm family.   My two horses out grazing watching them, sun setting in the distance over a bean field, tractors and wagons rolling by; this is what my dreams have been made of I just never knew it at the time.  I am ready to paint my picture for you and let you see into the farm. Learn about how different it is living on a farm.  Learn about our practices as pig farmers and how they are most likely way different than what you thought or heard about. Learn that you don’t need to be scared of progressive agriculture but rather embrace it and celebrate its improvements and innovation over such a short period of time.  This is my life from the bright city lights of my sweet home Chicago, to the starry nights of the southeast Iowa countryside.