Enduring the grind of calving season

The rolling hills of Bryan Reed’s farm near Albia provided a serene backdrop as cows and calves basked in the spring sun on Friday.

Reed navigated his utility vehicle through the pastures checking the health of calves that were born just days earlier. With the sun shining you could see a spring in Reed’s step as he finished his daily chores. That hasn’t been the case for the majority of his calving season though.

 A pasture next to Reed's farm is speckled with cattle during calving season.

A pasture next to Reed's farm is speckled with cattle during calving season.

The calendar says spring but Mother Nature refuses to close the door on winter. Snow, ice and rain have made this calving season especially tricky.

“My coat still shows signs of the challenges earlier this week. I had days where I was rotating coats every few hours while trying to stay dry and warm,” Reed said while looking at a pasture speckled with new calves and their mothers. “The sun makes a difference when you are checking calves and doing chores.”

 Reed says that every calving season is different. 

Reed says that every calving season is different. 

Calving season starts in mid-February at Reed's farm and goes through late May. It isn't a surprise that winter is a difficult time to care for livestock, but some winters are more comfortable than others.

"It happens regardless of the weather. It's going to be going on 24/7 whether the weather is cooperating or not. Whether you are sick or not," Reed said.

Reed recalled several years ago when a fight with the flu came during a rush of calves. 

"My wife drove me to the emergency room because I got run down," he said. "They gave me IV fluids and I was back home working with the heifers later that night. You have one chance to keep that calf alive and that is my paycheck for the year."

During a typical spring calving season, Reed expects about 240 calves and another 60 during the fall. But over the years he has discovered that there is nothing ordinary about calving season. 

"Everyday is different and has different issues to deal with," he said. "Some days you are an OB/GYN assisting with difficulties in delivery. Other days you are a vet trying to figure out what's wrong with a calf to help it."

Reed also added nutritionist to the list of his job responsibilities during calving season to make sure that the mothers are getting the nutrients needed to give birth and take care of their calves.

"Sometimes you even have to be a rodeo clown dodging a protective mother while helping a calf," Reed said as he scanned the pasture filled with mothers and babies.

Even though the grind of calving season means work around the clock through challenging weather conditions he wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's what I do and I don't know anything different. When you turn the cows and calves out into the pasture for the summer, you can see how good they are doing. It makes all the challenges of getting them started worthwhile," he said. "To know I'm feeding someone else and that person doesn't have to fight these battles gets me through it. I'll be cold and muddy and worn out if that means someone else can have safe affordable food."

Story and photos by Joseph L. Murphy

Chinese crusher positions itself on the new Silk Road

The Chinese government would like the historic Silk Road to be prominent once again, and U.S. soybeans could play an important role.

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Shaanxi Shiyang Group established its soybean crushing business in Xi'an, a city far from the Chinese coasts and other competitors. Preferring to rely on a strong transportation network that includes roads, river and rail the company believes it will be best for their business to be near their customers.

Sound familiar? It did to Governor Kim Reynolds and other members of an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) trade mission last week as they visited the company.

"We have a lot in common," Reynolds told the CEO while pointing to the state of Iowa on a map on the back of an ISA business card. "We are in the center of the country far from the coasts too."

Chang Qingshan, CEO of the Shaanxi Shiyang Group, hopes the strategic position will capitalize on the reemergence of the Silk Road.

The Silk Road was an ancient trade route between China and the West during the Roman Empire. It’s how silk from the orients make it to Europe and how China received western goods in return.

China President Xi Jinping announced in 2013 a new $900 billion trade corridor would reopen channels between China and Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The new Silk Road will be on land and sea with experts saying it will be a way for China to continue to boost global trade.

"They don’t have as much competition in the central part of China. If you look at the re-establishment of the silk road going north and west out of China there’s a lot of advantages logistically," Kirk Leeds, ISA CEO, said after touring Shaanxi Shiyang Group's facility.

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Shiyang Group was first established in 1992 and transformed into a joint stock limited company in 1999. The Group focuses mainly on farming, breeding and processing but it also has integrated into other areas like the sale of soybean cooking oil. The CEO told the ISA delegation and Governor Reynolds that 35 percent of the beans they crush is from the United States.

"They told us that 35 percent of their soybeans come from the U.S., but that leaves 65 percent that didn’t," Leeds said. "You have to listen to customers, but at the end of the day when you look at the total value of soybeans, consistency, on-time delivery and financing, they know there is an advantage in buying from the U.S."

Qingshan told the Iowa delegation he continues to be concerned with foreign material in shipments coming from the U.S., but as the Iowa group drilled into the numbers, they found the percentage was below the allowable rate for the beans they had purchased.

Currently, one out of every four rows of soybeans are exported to China. The country is by far the largest soybean importer projected at 83 million metric tons, or a little more than 3 billion bushels.

Jeff Jorgenson, an ISA director from Sidney, and other U.S. farmers would like that number to increase as large surpluses drag commodity prices down.

“There’s no better opportunity to sell soybeans than right now," Jorgenson said. "There is affordability, and we have plenty of supply, so obviously we see that in the markets. There is no better opportunity than having the folks we have in China with  Ambassador Branstad, with the United States Soybean Export Council and our Governor that we shouldn’t be able to make strides in moving more soybeans to China.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Read more articles at www.iasoybeans.com.