Friday, March 20, 2015


I just have to share this great project that our niece and her husband are taking on.  Last summer, they purchased an acreage northwest of Ames, Iowa.  It is in a beautiful setting and has some wonderful characteristics.  They have been working very hard to get everything into shape.  The acreage has a large beautiful barn with a lot of potential.  Potential for what, you say........Well, Amber and Preston had a vision for this barn.  They love to make wine and beer as a hobby.  So, why not turn that hobby into something that everyone can enjoy.  They have decided to turn the barn into a winery and event center.  We couldn't be more excited for them!

Preston and Amber have removed the trees hiding the barn, and have begun the construction phase of making their vision a reality.  The nice weather we have been having is making things progress quite nicely.  You can keep up with their progress by following their blog Backcountry Winery and also following their Backcountry Winery Facebook page.

This photo is amazing and was taken before the new roof was put on.  If you think this project is as awesome as we do and would like to help them fulfill their dream, they have enrolled in the Kickstarter Program which helps them raise funds to do a project on the barn.  These two are very hard workers and have put a lot of thought as well as elbow grease into this project.  We love these two and can't wait to watch their vision turn into something wonderful!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Open Door Policy

I don't know if you have been paying attention to Chipotle's new add campaign, but it has caused the Ag Community to strike back.  Their video series is called Farmed And Dangerous, and although they are meant to be a comedy, they still lead the consumers to believe that what we do for a living is dangerous to their health and the health of our animals.  I have read a lot of comments from various sources over the last few days which leads me to this blog post.  Everyone has a right to their opinion and to make their own choices.  I just ask that the choices you make are informed.  If you would like to know how your food is grown, go right to the source - the farmers that grow it.  We have an "Open Door Policy" and would love to show you exactly what we do.  So here is our farm structure:

I have read a lot of comments claiming that farms are owned by corporations, and therefore these farms are controlled by those corporations.  In a sense, this is true with a few exceptions.  Our farm is family owned and operated by our family.  However, our family has a corporation that it runs under.  So...essentially, our farm is owned by our corporation - Vander Veen Family Farms, Inc.  This is a far cry from a Monsanto, Tyson, DuPont, etc.  I will introduce you to our board of directors and staff:

Pictured are the CEO, CFO, Management and staff of Vander Veen Family Farms, Inc.  As you can see, we are a diverse group.  This team makes ALL of the decisions for our farm which includes seed buying, crop production practices, equipment purchases, livestock purchases, feed purchases, etc.  No outside entities influence our decisions since we have our experts already on staff.  The CEO is also an agronomist, the CFO is a loan officer at a local bank, and the next level of management is working with the crops and livestock daily.

Crop Scouting!
Now, I would like to show you our "Factory Farm" in motion.  We have quite a few machines that make our "Factory" work.  One is pictured above with the Corporate Staff.  This machine (a.k.a. Tractor) is a very sophisticated machine which happens to ride a lot better than my vehicle. It also is equipped with a GPS system that allows us to use the latest technology when planting our crops, doing field work and applying fertilizer.


Above are a couple more of the machines that allow our factory to produce our products.  These machines help keep our labor costs down to help make our farm (which is also a business) profitable.

I have read many comments that suggest the reckless use of chemicals and pesticides on our crops and in the use of antibiotics on our animals.  First of all, the use of GMO seeds has reduced the amount of chemicals, pesticides and commercial fertilizers that we need to use to produce our crops.  This is much better for the environment.  We are using technology to help feed the world and lessen the amount of products that we have to use.  I am not saying that using GMO's is the answer for everyone.  As farmers, we have to do what is best for our farming situation.  Also, chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides are expensive.  It would not make sense for us to overuse them because it cuts into our bottom line.  We farm for a living and want to do what is right for our families and the land.  Family farmers are stewards of the land.  We want this land to be here and in production for the generations to come.

Next, antibiotics are also used in moderation.  They are only given to animals when they are sick. As parents, we take our kids to the doctor when they are sick and give them medicine as needed.  It is the same with our animals.  We call the doctor, who still makes house calls, and treat the animals with the doctors recommended dosage.  We are aware of any withdrawal times on any medicines given to keep those animals from going to market during those times. Again, just like chemicals, antibiotics are expensive and reckless use of them only cuts into our bottom line.  We work very hard to have healthy livestock herds.

These are our "stock holders" that we answer to every day.  Whether it is 30 degrees below zero or a beautiful day to be outside, we are caring for these peeps every day.  It is our responsibility to care for our animals, crops and land.  We have visions of the future for our children, and that starts right here on our farm.  You may think that big corporations and factory farms is what agriculture has become.  Just ask a real farmer if you want to know the truth.  Our doors are open, and we love to talk about what we do.  It is our passion!  We are far from Farmed and Dangerous.  Instead, we are just trying to make a living for our families and our future generations!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Gold Key Experience

Our family had the opportunity to have a fun family experience this past Friday.  We got to go to Waterloo, IA and have a Gold Key Tour of the the Tractor Plant.  Originally, we were going to watch our tractor being built, but that did not work out last fall.  Therefore, we scheduled our trip for Valentine's Day which was also when JM had a day off from school.

We were able to walk through the assembly plant, and talk to the people that built our tractor.  It was fantastic to see just how that whole process happens.  We can't say enough about how friendly everyone was there.  They are very busy, but still take the time to talk to you as you go through.

JM had the opportunity to be the first one to turn the key on this new tractor.  JM and one of the John Deere employees spent time fine tuning the way the engine runs as they test the new tractor before it heads down the line to get a hood and some tires.

Next, JM got to help put the tires on another tractor down the line.  Roger got to help on the other side of the tractor.  It was a great experience for both of them.  I'm sure it is something they will never forget.

Since our tractor has already been delivered, we got our picture taken by a similar tractor. This was an amazing experience for all of us.  Nothing is better than seeing a smile like that on your son's face for an entire day!!!  In addition to the tour, we received a Gold Key that actually works in our tractor and an engraved plaque with all of our signatures and our tractor's serial number on it.  After finishing at the tractor plant, we took a tour of the Engine Works plant in Cedar Falls where they make the engines for these tractors.

If you ever get the opportunity to go on one of John Deere's Gold Key Tours, we would definitely recommend it.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let the Family Fun Begin!

What a difference a week makes in the winter time!  Last week it was 40 below zero, and this week it is 50 above zero.  Yesterday was such a beautiful day that we just had to take advantage of it.

We have one of the heifers signed up for her first show in a couple of weeks so we thought it would be a perfect day to work with her.

Both heifers got to go for a little walk around the yard, and then over to be washed.  They both seemed to enjoy their baths.  Lily and Belle both enjoy being around people.  They are so much fun to work with!!

After their bath, we took them into the shop to be combed and blew out.  Neither of them had been in the grooming chute yet this year.  Things went pretty well walking them in there.  Belle will also be getting a hair cut this week in preparation for the show.

JM is getting back in his groove of working with his calves every day.  This time of the year it is hard to balance homework, basketball, and getting out there to work with the calves.  He always gets his chores done, but finding that extra time for walking and grooming is more of a trick.  We all enjoy the calf projects so much that this is more like family fun than work.

Our family is very excited to start show season.  We have met so many great people showing cattle.  Each show is a new and enjoyable adventure for our family.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Challenges of Raising Livestock

You've heard of fair weather fans, right?  Well...for us livestock farmers, the term "fair weather fans" is not an option.  As we left our toasty warm house this morning, the outside temperature was -21 degrees with a wind chill of -50.  Although we would love to stay in where it is warm, we know that our cattle are out there waiting for some warm bedding and to be fed.  The thoughts that are running through our mind as we head out to get started are:  how many waterers will be frozen, how are the cattle handling the cold, will the tractors/payloader start and how long will they keep running in this cold?  So...our first steps are to start the tractors and payloader, then we walk through the cattle to see how they are doing and check the waterers as we walk in the pens.

After the cattle are fed, we begin to bed the pens to give our cattle a warm place to lay.  We have been giving them fresh bedding regularly through this cold snap.

We also changed their feed ration a little to add some more energy to their diet.  We know that they will need more energy to stay warm.

Even though we had a high of -11 degrees today, the cattle were having fun running around in their fresh bedding.  We take extra care during these cold days to make sure that our cattle our warm and healthy.  Our livestock are our first priority when the weather is not ideal.  Our family works together to make them comfortable and happy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Spa Week on the Farm

It is the week before our County Fair, and we are very busy getting prepared!  The calves have been given a daily bath or two along with brushing, blow drying and styling since sometime in May.  They spend their days in the barn being pampered in their stall area on fans to keep them cool.

Last week the calves went for a little ride to get their "nails" done.  They actually got their hooves trimmed.  Sometimes their hooves grow quite large and curve a bit.  When you have them trimmed, it makes it easier for them to walk.

They also got their first haircut this week.  Since they are kept cool during the day, they grow a lot of hair.  This hair is great for grooming them for the show ring.  They do need to be trimmed up a bit in order to looked groomed and not shaggy.  We have a few "styling" products that we will use on show day to pretty them up even more.

JM is excited to head to the fair next Monday.  He really enjoys working with his calves and showing them.  Fair is a great learning experience!!  He made some great new friends last year, and got to enjoy the full 4-H experience.  It is not about the awards and ribbons that makes the fair great for him.  It is about the experiences with the work of getting to the fair and enjoying the satisfaction of showing off that hard work in the ring.  The relationships are unforgettable - from the animals that become part of your family to the new friends you make!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

4-H Pen Project

We have been preparing our 2013 4-H projects since last fall, and tonight was the "Evaluation Night" for JM's Advanced Cattle Feeders Pen Project.  This project consists of choosing 4 steers to feed out as a competition.  They have a points system which measures rate of gain (the pounds each calf gains each day), their feed conversion (the rate at which they turn the feed they eat into pounds of gain), how they grade at the packer, the amount of money that the pen of four makes, and they have a component in there for hedging (which includes feed products i.e. corn).  Each "pen" competes against the other "pens" to be the top performer.  Each pen is fed at their own farm using whatever feed products they wish to use.  We submit feed sheets showing the feed  ration and pounds of feed fed to the cattle twice a month.  The pen of four were first weighed in at the end of November.

These "little" guys weighed in at an average of 628 pounds in November.  JM's pen project had full run of one side of the barn plus an outside pen.  They were fed the same ration as our other feeder cattle.  The four cattle that were chosen for JM's project were all home raised calves.  Three of them were from our own cows, and one came from a neighbor's cow.

Each 4-H member had the opportunity to talk about how their cattle are fed and chose 2 cattle out of their pen of four that they think will yield the best at the packer.  It is always fun to see just how much these cattle grow and change during this project.

JM's cattle were weighed in tonight with an average weight of 1523 pounds each.  One of his calves even weighed 1625 pounds.  Incredible!!  They had an average rate of gain of 4.32 pounds per day.  JM will have to wait until next week to learn how they grade and yield at the packer to find out the overall outcome of his project.

This type of project teaches the kids about what goes into feeding cattle for a living.  They have to know about feed rations and ingredients as well as the cost of those products.  The kids learn about the cost of the cattle and what price they have to have back in order to make a profit on their project.  It also teaches them work ethic.  Those cattle rely on them every day to be fed and watered.  We had a great group of kids there tonight that should be very proud of their accomplishments.  The kids learn something every year with this type of project no matter which place your project falls in the ranking.