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2021 Virtual Farm Tour Day 2: Livestock, cowboys, and more!

2021 Virtual Farm Tour Video: Day 2

2021 Virtual Farm Tour Day 2: Ed Yarborough Ranch, Inc.

Livestock is an important component of Florida agriculture. About 15.6% of all the land in Florida is improved pasture, rangeland and woodland used for beef and dairy cattle grazing (Hodges et al. 2019). In 2017, cattle and calf production in Florida was valued at $502 million. In addition, milk production had a value of nearly $537 million. That is a lot of money just from livestock!

What is a cow-calf operation?

Many of the livestock operations in Florida are cow-calf operations. We are actually home to five of the top 10 cow-calf operations in the entire country. So, what is a cow-calf operation? This is the starting point for beef production.

Let’s start with some basic terminology about cattle. A heifer is a female cow that has not yet has any offspring. After a heifer has offspring, we call her a cow. Basically, a heifer is not yet a mom and cows are already moms. A bull is an adult male and they can become dads. A steer is also an adult male that has been neutered and cannot become a dad. That brings us to another important term, calf. A calf is the young from our mama cows.

A cow-calf operation essentially produces calves. At a cow-calf operation, the ranchers have a heard of cows that will give birth to calves. A cow will be pregnant for 9 months, just like humans, before giving birth. The calves will need to be close to their moms for about 6 months so that they can get milk. After about 6 months, the calves are able to start eating grass. They are weaned from their mother’s milk at this time. After that, the weaned calves get sold to other ranches to be raised for beef production. The ranchers also might keep some of the heifers that are born during the year. Then, these heifers eventually have calves and become cows in the herd. This all is a process that takes quite a bit of work by the rancher!

How does the nutrient cycle work?

Cows, just like people, require nutrients to grow and live. We get these nutrients from the food that we eat. Plants also need nutrients to grow. Unlike animals, plants get these nutrients in other ways since they do not eat like we do. They absorb nutrients from their environment, mainly using their roots to absorb nutrient from the soil. Plants also use sunlight to produce sugars important to their growth and development.

Nutrients in the soil come from a few different places. Some nutrients come from the weathering of old rocks deep in the ground. Other nutrients might be deposited from the atmosphere. Nutrients can also get added to the soil through decomposition of dead plants and other organic matter. For example, when a tree dies and falls down, it will slowly start to break down. This decomposition process might be aided by animals, fungi, bacteria, and other organisms. The organisms that help in the breakdown are called decomposers. The elements like water, sunlight and other environmental conditions also help break down organic matter. As mentioned before, plants can use the nutrients in the soil and turn it into a form that animals and other organisms can use. When that organism dies, it returns that nutrients to the soil as it decomposes, creating a cycle of nutrients.

Thinking about cattle again, these animals eat the nutrients contained in plants. In most cases, they eat a lot of grass and absorb its nutrients. Unlike cattle, humans cannot absorb a lot of nutrients out of grass. This is why we eat other plants like corn, tomatoes, strawberries and many more plants. In many parts of the world, grass for livestock is grown on land that doesn’t support other plants well, like the plants we eat. However, we can eat beef and milk. So basically, livestock turn the nutrients that we can’t access (in grass) into a resource that humans can eat (beef and milk).

How do cows eat grass?

We cannot eat grass like cows can. Cows are able to get nutrients from grass unlike us. There is some really cool science behind this! Let’s start with digestion. This is the process that our bodies breakdown food and absorb nutrients from food. In humans, we first chew and swallow our food. The chewed up food moves to the stomach where it begins a long process of digestion that includes the small intestines and a few other organs. In cows, there are some extra steps in the digestion process that enable the cows to live from a diet of mostly grass.

Cows are known as ruminants. They have a special pouch in their stomach called the rumen that contains important bacteria and microbes. When a cow first eats some grass, it doesn’t really chew it much. They basically just wet the food and then it goes to the rumen. The bacteria in the rumen help break down the grass, releasing nutrients in the process. Cows are also able to un-swallow their food using a special structure called the reticulum. It forces food from the rumen back to their mouths. This allows them to chew the grass more completely, ruminating. You may have also heard it referred to as cows “chewing their cud.” The unique digestion process allows cows to get nutrients from grass that other organisms, like humans, can’t do.

2021 Virtual Farm Tour and Video Scavenger Hunt

Hidden in each of our 2021 Virtual Farm Tour videos is a keyword. If you collect at least 4 out of the 6 keywords, you could have a chance to win some cool stuff! After watching the videos and collecting the keywords, fill out this quick survey. We have 3 baskets full of local Florida goodies, 10 compost bins and 10 at-home hydroponics kits to give away to randomly selected survey participants. For more information and links to all six 2021 Virtual Farm Tour videos, visit this 2021 Virtual Farm Tour blog.

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