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Nature’s Spring Treat

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Springtime brings warm days and cool nights. The mix of warm daytime temperatures and below freezing temperatures at night is the perfect weather for sap to start running. Maple trees (sugar, red, and black being the most popular, though there are several others in the family) are tapped for their delicious interior. If done correctly, trees can be tapped safely year after year to collect sap. This sweet, watery liquid is be collected and boiled down to make maple syrup. The typical harvest season lasts for a short time, about 4-6 weeks.

Up until a few years ago, it was always thought that the sap came from the top of the tree, given that it was flowing down the tree and out spouts for tapping. However, back in 2013, two scientists from the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center realized through observation that the sap was actually groundwater being drawn up into the tree. Maple sap contains nutrients that are brought up to the top of the tree to grow buds. Once the buds start developing, the sap starts taking on a different, less pleasant taste, which is why the season tends to be so short. Because of the short season, scientists were excited to discover sap was being drawn up because that means younger trees can be tapped, and even grown in a plantation setting in order to boost production.

It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. The sap must be boiled down to reach a certain density and sugar concentration in ordered to be considered syrup. Depending on the operation size and location, this can be done over a wood fire, large oven-like operation, or it can go through a process of reverse osmosis to remove a large portion of the water so the sap doesn’t need to be boiled as long.

This rich, woodsy treat is something most of us know and love, whether it’s put on pancakes, waffles, cereal, eggs, or even ice cream! Not only is maple syrup popular on sweet treats, but it can even be used in recipes for savory foods, like a glaze for steaks or to add flavor to homemade bread.

 

Sources:

“Maple Syrup Production for the Beginner.” PennState Extension

Sorkin, Laura. “Maple Syrup Revolution: A New Discovery Could Change Business Forever.” Modern Farmer

 

A Farmer’s Secret Weapon

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Bees are a vital part of the farming process. Many crops rely in some way on pollination via bees. These crops, close to 100 species, make up about 1/3 of the US diet including apples, almonds, cherries, strawberries, etc. With honey bee populations dropping from over 4 million to 2.5 million in the past couple decades, declining rates have some people worried about the future of agriculture.

Bees are excellent pollinators. Pollination is the transportation of pollen from the male reproductive organ of a plant to the female reproductive organ of a plant. Though there are several thousand types of bees, Honey Bees are the best for pollinating because of their quick flight, and the fact that they tend to stick to one type of flower/crop at a time. This means the bees will spend several days carrying and pollinating one type of plant, so the rate of reproduction is higher. It is estimated bees do up to 80% of crop pollination in the U.S. There are other insects and even birds that pollinate also, but with the vast amount of crops being planted each year, Honey Bees are the most efficient system to use for pollination.

Bees are often moved around from place to place in trucks so that they may pollinate multiple plants depending on the season and location. The entire hive is subdued and packed into a truck, and unloaded at their next target. Travel can stress the bees out, causing less pollination to occur. These travelling bee hives need to be monitored and scheduled in order to keep them healthy and unstressed.

Sources:

“Impact of CCD on US Agriculture.” PBS

“The Importance of Bees in Agriculture.” AgWeb

“Learn How Bees Play an Important Role in Agriculture.” The Nature Conservancy

 

4 Tips to Tell if your Reproductive Program is on the Right Track

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Getting heifers and cows pregnant and keeping those pregnancies to terms is one of the most vital aspects of a dairy. There are a variety of issues and challenges that present themselves through a Reproductive Program, below we have listed a few tips to make sure you keep in mind.

Heat Detection – The first step is to determine when the heifer or cow is in heat. This could be done by visually observing the animal and seeing how she acts and behaves. Talk chalk or paint could also be a good indicator, when it gets rubbed off, it is obvious the cow is in estrus and is allowing others to mount. Pedometers or activity meters are a great tool to use for heat detection. Cows are more active and move around a lot more when they are in heat, so their steps or activity level can go up by almost 400% during this time.

Hormones – Sometimes hormones are utilized to synchronize a group of cows in order to make breeding easier. These are all hormones produced naturally by the cow, but given in an injection to help sync them with the rest of the herd. Using these hormones, farmers synchronize their herd with a scheduled treatment in order to improve pregnancy rates. Once started, it is important to stay on schedule with this system.

Insemination – Ovulation happens 25-32 hours after a cow or heifer begins heat. Sperm need about 6 hours in the reproductive track before they are able to fertilize the egg. Insemination, whether natural or artificial, needs to happen fairly quickly after the animal has been determined to be in heat.

Pregnancy – Determining if a cow is pregnant is another important step in the Reproductive Program. Some people choose to use the “old school” method of uterine palpitations, which occur at 35-40 days after insemination to see if the animal is pregnant. Others choose to use a Pregnancy test kit where they are able to test an animal’s blood or milk to find pregnancy hormones in their system. This is not quite as effective as Transrectal Ultrasonography, which is quickly growing in popularity among farmers. Testing can occur as quickly as 28-32 days after insemination to see if a cow is pregnant. Regardless of which method is chosen, it is best to retest in a few weeks to ensure the cow hasn’t lost the pregnancy.

Sources:

“A Reproductive Update.” Hoard’s Dairyman

“Systematic Breeding Programs.” Penn State Extension