Livestock

3 Answers To Your Questions About Bees

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers! Bees always bring up a plethora of questions from what do you feed them, to how do you treat them, to what do you do with them in the winter. They are a very unique livestock that helps produce over $20 billion in products in the U.S. every year.

  1. How many bees are in a hive?

We buy our bees in a 2lb. or 3lb. package when we start a hive. Depending on size of the package, initially a hive starts out with anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 bees on average. Every hive has three types of bees – a queen, worker or female bees, and then male or drone bees. A hive will contain one queen bee, a few hundred drone bees, and anywhere from 30,000-80,000 worker bees.

 

  1. How much honey does a hive make?

Honestly, it varies every single year. Some years they are great producers, other years they slack a bit. It truly depends on the individual hive. But on average, a hive should produce in the 75lb. to 125lb. range. However, our hives are always left with two deep boxes to feed on throughout the winter.

 

  1. What can we do to help bees?

This one is simple – plant lots of pollinator friendly plants that bloom at various times throughout the growing season! One of my favorites to plant are zinnias. You can also use feeding pollinators as a really good excuse to your significant other when you don’t get to mowing the lawn right away because dandelions often serve as a first source of food for bees. Support local beekeepers and buy your honey from them when you can.

What other questions do you have about raising bees or honey extraction? Leave a comment and hopefully we can help answer your questions!

-Sara

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Dear Subway, I really wish you would have talked to a farmer.

*Please note due to the overwhelming response, I am unable to respond to every comment individually. I am however, reading them, processing & learning. Thank you!

Dear Subway,

I really wish you would have talked to a farmer.

I really wish you would have done so before your big announcement saying you would, as of 2016, be sourcing all of your turkey and chicken as being raised without antibiotics.

I really, really, wish you would have visited those farms that supply your turkey, chicken, and as you stated, eventually your pork and beef that will be sourced as antibiotic free as well.

Here’s the deal. I like your food, I really do. Your chopped salads and chicken bacon ranch sub are my favorites. I layer my sub with veggies like cucumbers, spinach, and onion. However, your marketing ploy makes me sigh, as I guess I need to check off another restaurant that I can no longer eat at.

ALL meat that hits the market for consumption is and continues to be antibiotic free. See, meat is tested for antibiotics, and livestock given antibiotics have to follow strict withdrawal periods before they can be sold for meat. Farmers have to keep accurate records about what antibiotic was given, when it was given and to what animal. Animals that are sick are often housed in a sick bay or removed from other livestock to help stop the spread of a disease. Sometimes, it involves treating more than one animal to prevent the disease from spreading. Animals are treated based upon a veterinarian’s recommendation for the best course of action, and farmers follow that plan of care to ensure that animal is healthy.

Minnesota is the number one producer of turkeys. I have many turkey farming friends. I see how their birds are raised and cared for, and have been in their barns. Have you? Have you asked a farmer what it is like to treat a sick animal or let it suffer? Have you asked them why antibiotics are an important tool in their toolbox on their farm? Yes, birds are raised indoors in Minnesota. Wouldn’t you want to be indoors during -35 degree weather?

I have seen a calf come down with pneumonia, just like I did during my sophomore year of high school. I watched my Dad call the vet out. I went to my doctor. The vet prescribed an antibiotic and instructed my dad on how to administer the correct dosage of antibiotic to save the calf. My doctor gave me a prescription for 2 antibiotics and cough syrup with the correct dosage and directions for how to administer the antibiotic to myself so I wouldn’t get sicker. The antibiotics worked for the both of us. That calf went on to lead a perfectly healthy life, never needing an antibiotic again, and became hamburger on one of our customer’s plates. Would it have been better to just let the calf die? Is that calf not worthy of treatment just as I am?

Why are you afraid to have the conversation with farmers, to learn about what they do instead of forcing them to change the entire industry and their practices? Have farmers asked you to change how you do business? Farmers’ frustrations keep mounting as more and more companies are asking them to do something without rhyme or reason, explanation, or understanding. Farmers don’t do anything “just because,” there is research, time, dollars, education, sweat, blood, and tears involved in every decision made. Please Subway, won’t you just take the time to ask? To look? To understand the decisions from housing, to feed, to what breeds to raise, to who to hire, to what bedding gets used, to why an antibiotic may be necessary… before you make another announcement? An announcement, that I will fully admit, you are going to find very difficult to actually come through on.

I understand some things have happened that have tarnished your reputation over the past year, but hurting the family farmer will only add to that issue, not help. I vote bringing back shredded carrot as an option and that will go a long ways, and having a conversation with the farmer who works tirelessly to raise the product you need to sell those delicious sandwiches.

Sincerely,

A farmer

Subway footlong

Top 5 Things Subway Customers Need to Know

Subway Announces That A Bullet Is Their Treatment of Choice for Sick Animals

Disappointed in Subway; Caving Into Fear

Subway Eat Fresh – Stay Politically Correct
Subway Removing Antibiotics and Facebook Comments

There Are No Antibiotics in Your Meat, Now Stop.

Ruffled Feathers over Subway

Food Dialogues- Antibiotics and Livestock

Fact or Fiction – Common Antibiotic Myths

Note: As of 10/23, Subway has updated their antibiotic free policy to now read:

That said, we recognize that antibiotics are critical tools for keeping animals healthy and that they should be used responsibly to preserve their effectiveness in veterinary and human medicine. Our policy is that antibiotics can be used to treat, control and prevent disease, but not for growth promotion of farm animals. Accordingly, we are asking our suppliers to do the following:

  • Adopt, implement and comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) guidance for industry 209 and 213, which requires that medically important antibiotics not be used for growth promotion. Visit the FDA site to learn more.
  • Assure that all antibiotics use is overseen, pre-approved and authorized by a licensed veterinarian before they are administered to any animal.
  • Keep accurate and complete records to track use of all antibiotics.
  • Adhere at all times to all legal requirements governing antibiotic withdrawal times. This assures that antibiotics have been eliminated from the animals’ systems at the time of slaughter.
  • Actively encourage, support and participate in research efforts focused on improving animal health while reducing antibiotics use.

Honeybee Update

Doesn’t it seem like summer just started and now we only have a month left?

We are busy making some last-minute purchases for our bees, and getting ready to plan our fall extraction – which will be our first time extracting!

As many of you know, we expanded from 2 hives to 12 this year with 2 different breeds of bees – Italian and Russians. We have our bees in 2 different locations and are excited to get a crop of honey this year!

Frame of capped honey.

Frame of capped honey.

Pictured above is a full frame of capped honey. The white capping is the wax that bees put over the comb of pure honey to seal it. This is what we extract. We cut the wax capping off with a capping knife, and then place the frame inside an extractor to extract the honey. We are going to try making both honey sticks and lip balm in addition to honey. Starting in September, we will be very busy with extracting and bottling!

These are our Italian bees.

These are our Italian bees.

Although we aren’t sure if all of our hives will winter over this year, we will once again be prepping our hives for winter around the end of September/early October. We never really know if our bees will make it through or not, as it depends on many factors including weather, honey stores, and colony strength to name a few. It is a struggle we face as bee keepers, and one we can’t do much about. We can do everything in our power to get them off to a good start including feeding them, treating them for issues when needed, placing them in the right location and more.

We are already making plans to expand our hives again next year, and expand into a secondary business of backyard pollinator hive rentals! If you want to follow what we are doing all summer with the bees, and check out more photos, visit our Facebook page!

-Sara  

Convincing my Husband we Need more Livestock…

I grew up with all kinds of livestock from sheep to cattle to chickens. I absolutely loved it. There was honestly nothing better than growing up on the farm, learning life lessons while caring for an animal that depended on you. My dad got me my first sheep, Gizmo, when I was around age 5. I remember playing with him in the house (bless my mom’s soul for what she went through with all of us kids – she even put diapers on this lamb so I could have it in the house with me!) and rollerblading and he’d follow right along behind me. He got a mixture of feed that included the “odd colored” fruit loops that we purchased from a cereal company in the neighboring town. My kindergarten teacher thought it was pretty neat we fed him fruit loops!

I also learned the circle of life with Gizmo. It wasn’t easy when I knew it was time for him to go to market and become meat for our freezer, but I also learned a valuable lesson about what our livestock was for, their role on the farm, and how to respect an animal that would later provide nourishment for my entire family. I learned all of this at a very young age, whether I knew it at the time or not.

The hubs and I have frequently talked about our farm goals and what they include. Three years ago, we raised and butchered a pig for meat for our freezer – it is still providing meat for the two of us, and we gave meat to our family as gifts as well. We also raised chickens and had some for meat and some we kept for egg production. I however, missed cattle the most. The cattle were one of my biggest memories of my family’s farm. I can remember mixing milk replacer for the calves, a sweet smell that always hung in our garage. Dunking noses in buckets, teaching calves to drink from a pail was always a soggy mess. Dehorning and castrating calves was always an interesting time on the farm that resulted in everyone helping, me, my brother and Dad, and if my other siblings happened to be home, yep, they were helping too! Shipping cattle to market or our local butcher was something that always reminded me that livestock were not pets, they had a role in life.

We have been really trying to figure out a way to diversify more, to bring more livestock on to the farm since it something both the hubs and I continue to be passionate about. Luckily for us, we have friends who farm and also believe in helping each other out when possible. We recently purchased this guy, a Jersey beef calf, and were able to work out a deal with our farming friends to have him at their place.

calf

He is cute now, but cute gets big. We named him T-bone since we try to name all of our livestock as one of the products they will become (our pig was the Baconater aka Bacon). In about 18 months or so, he will be going to butcher for beef in our freezer as well as sold in quarters to friends and family. The hubs is learning about things like dehorning, vaccinations and castration since he didn’t grow up with livestock, and I am getting a refresher of it all again since it has been five years since I’ve had cattle.

I think the hubs operates sometimes with the mantra “happy wife, happy life” since I convinced him we needed to purchase T-bone. I keep telling him, our own hamburger in our freezer! I’m also glad that we have farming friends who we can work with to try new adventures and learn things every day. We bounce ideas off of each other, talk strategy and work together to get certain jobs done when necessary. Farming is kind of like a big family some days, one I am thankful for, because I learn something from every single farmer I know. I am thankful for those opportunities when I can listen and ask questions because it can only make our farming operation better, and make us better farmers ourselves.

Now, if I only I could get him to get me those three hens for my backyard…

-Sara 

 

Getting ready for spring and honey bee arrival!

We are busy expanding our honey bee operation from two hives to twelve this year. We have purchased 2 separate kinds of bees – Russian and Italian. Our Russian bees are going up on a piece of land where they will help pollinate melon fields which we are pretty excited about! I am eager to find out what their honey will taste like. Our Italians will be going out on the same piece of land our other 2 hives are currently on.

Our Russian bees are being shipped to us, and we were lucky enough to find a local supplier for our Italian bees this year. It makes it a much shorter trip when we only have to drive 30 minutes instead of 5 hours to get our bees! They are set to arrive in the first 2 weeks of May.

So that means we have been busy ordering supplies from Mann Lake Limited in preparation for our bees arrival. It hasn’t been uncommon to come home to shipments like this sitting at my garage every week.

Honey bee supplies sitting and waiting to be put together!

Honey bee supplies sitting and waiting to be put together!

We decided to purchase unpainted hive bodies this year – you will soon find out why – so they are sitting waiting to be painted. Although we might have to paint and then stencil/repaint designs depending on when our next idea launches and we can get things in the works.

Just waiting to be painted

Just waiting to be painted!

Hopefully we will be all set for our new bees to arrive. We have our pollen patties and feeders ready to go. We still have to purchase our sugar. I’m fairly positive the checkers at the grocery store always look at me like I’m crazy when I have a shopping cart with about 50 lbs of sugar and that is it! Our suits are hanging up and ready. We are excited to expand and bring local honey to the area. Our first round of honey should be here in late August for purchase!

We’ve also been busy trying our hand at our first batch of honey mead!

transitioning the 2 week fermented mead to the carboy where it will ferment for about the next 6 months

transitioning the 2 week fermented mead to the carboy where it will ferment for about the next 6 months.

Honey mead takes a long time to ferment – 6 months at least! So we won’t have any ready until around late August or September for us to try. I’m just hoping it tastes good. ;)

It was an interesting process siphoning it, mixing in the yeast, watching the fermentation process, etc. We actually purchased all of our mead making supplies from a local craft brewing supply store in Faribault called Know-How Brews & Foods. They have very friendly and knowledgeable staff. If you are interested in trying some craft brewing of your own, they have simple beer and wine kits you can purchase! Some which have been developed locally in Faribault and Northfield! They are located right in downtown Faribault, so I encourage you to stop in and check them out.

Needless to say, we will have a busy spring with planting, honey bees and a new baby in the mix!

-Sara 

Why Bees Are Dying. It is More Complicated Than You Think & No, It Isn’t Monsanto’s Fault.

My Facebook newsfeed is full of well-intentioned people posting about Monsanto’s latest news piece from Mexico and the bees, but fail to actually read it or understand the issues that someone raising bees are actually concerned with. It was all about Round-Up aka glyphosate (a weed killer not a neonicotinoid) and the banning of Round-Up ready soybeans to protect the bees.

I finally made a Facebook post about it because I was so frustrated. I am going to go into a little more detail about that post here.

  • First of all, soybeans are a self pollinating plant. You don’t need honey bees to pollinate soybeans. However, that doesn’t mean that honeybees do not visit soybeans, because they do. Soybeans are a flowering plant, however it isn’t known how honeybees visiting soybeans affect yields. Research is currently being done on this.
  • Second, Round-Up, aka Glyphosate, sold by many, many chemical companies out there not just Monsanto is a weed killer, not in the class of neonicotinoid’s that bee keepers are worried about. That being said, typically glyphosate is applied in early spring before weed emergence, long before bees are out in full force. And let’s face it, soap and water can kill bees too. Many farmers, including us, are transitioning away from glyphosate due to weed resistance. In fact, we didn’t use it at all this year. Glyphosate is the last thing I’m worried about as farmer hurting bees. That is like worrying about my bees getting caught out in a rain storm. The modern and large-scale use of glyphosate is more common in your neighbor’s backyard to kill weeds on their patio.
  • Third, neonicotinoids are what bee keepers are worried about. The studies are inconclusive. Largely inconclusive. Mark and I have sat in and listened to some of the greats like Dr. Spivak talk all about this. There are a few things you need to know about neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are used as a seed treatment in modern agriculture, meaning the seed has a coating that has it in it and helps protect the plant while it is growing from munchers like aphids, beetles and other insects. The concern with them is the dust that can happen during planting. However, new technology involving planters as well as new seed lubricants eliminate that dust by up to 90%. Neonicotinoid’s don’t actually kill the bees. They make a bee, essentially drunk. Think of the last time you had a few too many beers. Standing and forming complete sentences was a tad difficult yes? Since bees have to go much further than ever before to find nectar due to habitat loss, when they are essentially “drunk” they may not always find it back to the hive, and then die or when they do find their way back to the hive, their pollen is no longer good.
  • Fourth, we have been losing bees since WW2. Long before any types of these crop protectants were used in agriculture. Remember too that a bee’s lifespan is measured in weeks. They don’t live very long in general, but multiply quickly.
  • Fifth, one of the major issues (larger than neonicotinoids) are mites. This is our number one killer of bees. Mites are nasty little parasites that operate much like a tick, except for bees. They can quickly destroy an entire colony, and this is a major issue we deal with. We actually have to medicate our bees during the fall, before wintering them, in order to protect them. Most bee keepers medicate their bees due to mites.
  • Sixth, another major issue (often larger than neonicotinoids as well) is habitat loss. This is a big deal. Which is also another reason why we believe strongly in CRP and RIM land here at Hewitt Farms. We often put more land into CRP and RIM because we believe in restoring habitats for wildlife, bees included. Our bees are out on a piece of 20 acres of RIM land, that bumps up into CRP. We planted the RIM land in a clover and wildflower mixture specifically for the bees. Farmers are not the only ones who may have contributed to habitat loss through increased planting of corn, soybeans and wheat, the general public has also contributed. From tearing up fields to build new subdivisions, to paving new roads or building a school on outskirts of town in what was once prairie. All of this has contributed. So how can you help and move forward? Plant bee friendly flowers. Consider planting a whole flower bed in bee friendly flowers. Consider turning your front lawn or back yard into a bee friendly prairie. Try planting an apple tree or two. Plant a few hardy blueberry bushes. All of these things will help with bee habitat. You are going to start to see farmers changing what they are planting here because of crop prices, which is a good thing, as it will bring additional crops into the mix for bees.
  • Seventh, bee keeping is a business. Bee keepers don’t just keep bees for the fun of it. They recoup through shipping them for pollination and making honey or using the beeswax. This all causes stress to the bees. Hives aren’t just left to their own accord. I know of bee keepers that ship their bees from Minnesota down to Texas or California. This puts stress on the hives and can bring other diseases into your hives too. Every time you open a hive to take out a super or to check on the comb, it can cause stress on the hive. Yet, you have to do this because it is a business. You aren’t just going to keep bees to keep bees. You use the products they create: the comb and honey, as well as the pollination they do. There are a lot of steps you have to follow when taking care of a bee hive.

So what can farmers do? We can easily make sure we are spraying early enough in the spring when bees are not out in full force. However, this is completely weather dependent. We can focus on seed treatments rather than sprays. We can look at alternative crops to try. Some Minnesota hardy crops we can try are pumpkins, cherry trees, apple trees, and blueberries. I know that Mark and I are both interested in trying pumpkins in the future on our farm.  But anyone can consider planting more of these around their garden or home. Think of a hedge of blueberry bushes at the end of your property! You can help pollinators and have delicious blueberries! We actually planted a cold-hardy blueberry bush this year at our home. Maybe you are interested in having a bee hive out on your property. We are always looking for additional places to put our hives, so if you have a piece of land you think we should check out to place a hive on, let us know!

Checking the hives and removing a pollen patty, a feed we give to the bees.

Checking the hives and removing a pollen patty, a feed we give to the bees.

It is important not to blame this on one company. It is important to think of what we can all do going forward. Stopping the blame game and realizing we all play a part in it and are all at fault is also important. There are things we can control like I mentioned above, but there are some things we can only combat like mites and viruses our bees pick up. If you have questions about our bees, and what we are doing, please don’t hesitate to ask at any time!

-Sara

Welcome to the Family Razzy

Some of you may remember that one of Mark’s promises when we got married, was that he’d purchase me a horse as our wedding gift. He in turn, got his fish finder the same month we got married, I however, had to wait almost 2 years for this lady to join our plethora of animals.

Meet Razzy

Meet Razzy

Meet Razzy. She is a 15-year-old paint mare and perfect for me, being a new horse owner and all. She was purchased from a rescue north of the cities, and is kind of lazy. But that is okay! Not much seems to phase her. She loves food just like me. Although, I personally can’t see hay being appetizing, but to each their own!

Razzy the day I brought her home. Checking out her new digs.

Razzy the day I brought her home. Checking out her new digs.

Do you have any advice for a first time horse owner? Did you ever have an animal you always wanted and finally purchased?

Razzy on her first ride out.

Razzy on her first ride out.