Category Archives: organics

Organic. It’s Worth It-New Website

This weekend the whole family had a chance to experience the MOSES Organic Farming Conference. Over 3300 farmers were in attendance making it the largest organic farming conference in the nation. This conference is one of my favorite conferences of the year. I am not sure if it is all the delicious organic food, the great chance to meet awesome and inspiring organic farmers, or all the new ideas that we take away. While wondering the trade show with a sleeping baby, I found the Organic Trade Association booth.

They have a new website that is a go to for all things in organic information. Need information on what the Organic label means? What to learn why did it is important to eat organic food? Need tips to make buying organic affordable? This website has it all: Organic. It’s Worth It.

organic worth it food family farm usda

There is a lot of great information on this website. I recommend it to anyone who has questions about organic food and organic farming. There is also a section with recipes (but  any recipe can be organic, just use organic ingredients).

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Miley’s Story-Part Three The Happy Ending

If you have been following along, you know that recently we had to treat one of our good milk cows, Miley, with antibiotics. You can read about Miley’s story here and here. We are happy to say that Miley’s story has a happy ending. This past weekend, Samantha’s boyfriend Nick purchased Miley. Miley will go live on his family farm just west of the Twin Cities.

Miley with Nick and Samantha

Miley is once again her old self. She was even dodging Sam and Nick when they tried to get her halter on. In the picture above she is trying to knock Nick over. This is something she would not have done when she was sick. We are sad to have her leave, but it is a must on our organic farm. Thankfully, she is going to a good home, where we know she will be treated well.


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Filed under #AgChat, dairy, organics, Raising Animals

Miley’s Story Continues

Dr. Bob Davis, DVM (aka Doc) visited our farm on Monday to check on Miley again and assess why she didn’t respond to the treatment we gave her. If you remember from a previous post Miley became extremely ill about a couple weeks ago. We tried treating her with organic remedies first, but quickly realized it was more serious than we could fix with those. We then moved to using an antibiotic called Nuflor with an anti-inflammatory drug similar to aspirin. At the time Doc thought Miley had pneumonia. Giving an antibiotic was the most humane choice at the time.

Well, it turns out she doesn’t have pneumonia. It is much worse. Miley has an endocarditis which is a fancy term for an infected heart valve. How did she get an infected heart? We don’t know and neither does the vet. Doc said last he saw this was 5 years ago when there were a number of cattle who had it and hadn’t see it again till now. The most likely cause of endocarditis is an infection elsewhere in the body that gets into the bloodstream. We never saw the clues if she did have an infection before she became ill the other week. That is the trouble with cattle, sometimes they don’t show when they are ill. Many animals don’t show weakness/illness as a part their defense mechanisms. Sheep are very well known for this.

So what do we do now? That is what we asked Doc, feeling a lot less hopeful for Miley’ s future. He decided we should try to do a very aggressive and sustained treatment protocol of penicillin to try to kill the bacteria infecting her heart. The chances of this working aren’t that great but its worth a try. The challenge is that we need to kill the bacteria so her body can repair her heart and fight off reinfection. Doc said that many times you will think the cow is better but then she gets ill again because the infection returns. It is very hard to cure an infection in the circulatory system of a cow because the bacteria causing the issue get distributed to every organ of the body. In other words the causative organism has a lot of places to hide from antibiotic therapy vs. a confined skin infection which is an easy target.

Hopefully the treatment will work. She is still eating well and getting around fine which are good signs. She doesn’t like getting shots but I guess she’ll have to put up with more of them if she’d like to keep living. As far as what we plan to do with her if she gets healthy or if she gets worse I don’t know yet. We’ll have to address those decisions as they come up.

FYI, we continue to dump all her milk. Like stated in the pervious post, she is no longer considered organic. Right now our main concern is her health and well being.

Tim (with some help from Emily)

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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Filed under #AgChat, dairy, Livestock, organics, Raising Animals

When Antibiotics are Necessary-Miley’s Story

Farming isn’t always green lush pastures and rainbows. Sometimes the decisions we have to make are hard and painful. For the past week and a half we have been closely watching a three year old cow of ours named Miley. Miley is a great cow. She is good producer and is very structurally correct. In fact, recently she was one of our show cows at the county fair. But, right now Miley doesn’t feel good.

As farmers it is our job to figure out why. Since Miley and us don’t speak the same language, we have to look at other clues. She is running a fever, isn’t producing much milk and just has that sunken “I don’t feel good look.” Yesterday, Tim talked with our veterinarian and after reveiwing the symptoms and the treatments we tried, Doc said it was most likely pneumonia despite the lack of normal symptoms associated with that disease. Organic treatments have not helped her thus far. We have tried everything in the organic playbook.

Our organic "playbook" Image from Amazon

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) rules clearly state that no animal raised under that organic standard shall be treated with antibiotics. BUT  we are also obligated under law to treat an animal with antibiotics if it is the best and most humane way to help the animal. So what do we do?

We will be treating her with antibiotics and if all goes well she will be back to her old self in a couple of weeks. If we don’t treat her, she will continue to suffer and prossibly die. Giving her antibiotics is the most loving thing we can do. While she is on the antibiotics, she will be milked separate from the rest of our herd. But since we are an organic farm, she will never be able to return to our herd. It is really sad. I wish there was some way to have exemptions for cases like this, but there isn’t. And there probably shouldn’t be exemptions.

This is the reason many farmers don’t want to be organic. They probably qualify for 90% of the organic rules, but the thought of selling perfectly good cows makes them cringe. Some organic farmers have two farms, or a good partnership with a conventional farm to “sell” their treated cows to. Once an organic cow goes to a conventional farm, it can never return to being organic.

The NOSB rules are good ones and shouldn’t be messed with. If we start making things gray and wishy washy consumers wouldn’t have trust in the product. I don’t believe there are any consumers that believe NEVER using antibiotics is the very best thing for animals (maybe there are). But, the organic label needs to differentiate itself from other milks and the no antibiotic rule needs to be firm.

To be clear, there are no antibiotics in ANY milk. There are strict withdrawal rules and every load of milk is tested. But what makes organic different is the holistic approach to animal health that organic farmers follow. If consumers want that, they can be confident it is happening with organic products. Organic farmers have extra incentive to make antibiotics the absolute last resort in animal treatment.

So Miley will recover and will be sold to a conventional farm that will let her live out her full productive life. We have good relationships with farms in the area. ( Samantha’s boyfriend has even expressed interest in purchasing her) We are confident she will have a nice and healthy life. We are sad that she has to leave us. These are the times and decisions that make farming hard.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.


Filed under #AgChat, dairy, organics, Raising Animals

Surprise! You are Being Inspected!!

Part of the USDA Organic Certification rules is that farms can be inspected at any time. This is to ensure that they are meeting all the National Organic Standards Board’s rules and regulations. All farms get an annual surprise inspection by their certifying agency. It truly is a surprise. We have never been inspected in the same month.

We got our “Surprise, you are going to be inspected” call recently and yesterday the inspector came out to review our paper work and make sure EVERYTHING on the farm was in compliance. The inspectors don’t give you much notice, usually a few days. It is enough to rearrange any plans you had (if you were going to be off the farm), but not enough time to “cover up” any mistakes. If a farm was cheating, they will be caught. Being inspected is serious business. The inspectors don’t care if you are in the middle of a (now a week late) hay harvest like we were or if you are trying to get crops planted or harvested. When the inspector comes you stop what you are doing.

Unlike our Grade A milk inspection, where the inspector comes, does his work and leaves without speaking with us, we need to be with the inspector during the organic inspection. She tours our farm, looks in barns and holding areas, views our pastures and fields, inspects all medications we are using, and more. After the visual inspection, she sits down with (usually) Tim, since he does the paperwork, and reviews ALL our organic certification paperwork. This includes pasture and housing records, manure application records, field planting and harvest records, animal health records, etc. The whole process yesterday took about four hours.

We are always on edge right before an inspection. It is not that we doing anything wrong, but it is like the nervousness you get before a big exam at school. There is always the chance that we interrupted the rules wrong or that the rules changed and we were unaware. We are in close contact with our certifying agency, but there is always the “what ifs.”

Often organic farms get a bad rap that we are some how “cheating” the system. I think that if anyone saw how thorough our paperwork has to be or how intense our surprise inspections were, they would not question if we were following the regulations.

Well, we passed the inspection with flying colors. Everything we are doing is within the rules and regulations. We can continue to produce milk for you and your family under the organic label.

If you ever have any questions on this process please let us know. You can email us or leave a comment. We are happy to answer your questions.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.


Filed under #AgChat, organics

GMO Alfalfa Deregulated by USDA and What it Means to Our Farm

Yesterday, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) fully deregulated Round Up Ready (Genetically Modified Organism or GMO) Alfalfa. The organic community has actively been trying to either stop the full deregulation or at the very least provide protection for organic farmers.

Let’s back this conversation up a bit and talk about why this even matters. The concern stems from the fact that alfalfa is pollinated by flying insects (such as bees) that can have a flight distance of over two miles. When insects transfer pollen from one plant to another they are transferring genes. But really a plant doesn’t have the new genes, just the seeds do. In any dairy operation I know alfalfa is cut LONG before seeds even think about forming. Actually, we try to cut before bloom. This is when the alfalfa is most nutritional for our cows. Want to learn more about how alfalfa grows? Read this blog post by a rancher friend of ours: Jeff Fowle.

So why the big fuss then? There are two camps: First camp is those that have a deep hate for all things GMO and will cry outrage at the mere mention of the thought, sometimes without fully knowing why.  Second is the one that holds the most water: GMO contamination of alfalfa seed stock could be a real possibility if strict precautions are not taken. Up until today, and still on into the future, the organic community has been/is working to put policies/restriction/etc in place to minimize the risk of contamination of seed stock and to protect organic farmers. If seed stock isn’t protected the price to plant alfalfa seed could sky rocket, which would mean less planted or a huge increase in cost of production.

Yesterday, a well read consumer advocacy group for organics published a post that somehow said that Organic Valley and several other organic companies “sold out” to Monsanto (the makers of the GMO alfalfa technology). The crazy thing is, the USDA hadn’t even made their announcement yet. Here are the facts: after a court order, the USDA was ordered to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This report took several months and you can read it in entirety on the website. A public statement period was opened and people who wished to express concerns did. The organic community had a very strong voice. There were even meetings between stakeholders and the USDA to come to some “agreement” or coexistence. You can read about one such meeting on December 20th. Notice how the organic stakeholders are not selling out but strongly voicing their concerns and demands until the very end of the meeting (Not sure how that is selling out to Monsanto or to GMO’s). Yesterday, at least 30 days after the release of the report per law, the USDA made their final decision and fully deregulated the Round Up Ready Alfalfa. Here is an abbreviated version of the timeline.

The USDA is in a tough spot. Any way that they would have went would have resulted in an outcry. But like all of life, sometimes we just don’t get what we want. You can ask our three and two year olds about that life lesson. So now that the decision has been made we can either act like my children (crying, complaining, etc) or act like adults and try to make the best of it moving forward.

There are two things that we can do to continue to ensure the protection of organic farmers. First: We need to have Congress modify the Federal Crop Insurance Act. Currently, GMO contamination is not a covered item under that act. That simple move would put a lot of organic farmers at ease. Second: When the USDA made their announcement today, they also demonstrated that they are willing to work with non-GMO stakeholders. You can read a statement by USDA Secretary Vilsack here (it is only three pages of bullets lines and a good read, please read).  In that statement two subcommittees are being reestablished: the  National Germplasm Resources Advisory Committee (NGRAC) and USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture. If you are an advocate for organics it is in your best interest to contact your national legislators and encourage them to demand the USDA to put a fair number of organic farmers and organic stakeholders on both those committees.

So in short (hah) what does this all mean for our farm? Nothing much at this point. Round Up Ready Alfalfa can be planted this spring. But again, we don’t let our alfalfa go to seed so that shouldn’t affect us. The real issue will be if seed stock are ever affected. If that does happen and alfalfa seed is priced out of profitability, we will switch to a different forage base (ie soybeans, clovers, turnips, etc). We are organic farmers, and we are very inventive and progressive.

And to clear up one misconception: Organic farmers are not allowed to use the GMO alfalfa. Not sure why people thought that? The USDA National Organic Standards remain the same. You will not find GMO’s in certified organic products.

Lastly, don’t take my thoughts that I am making lite of this whole issue. In fact it has been a major discussion topic for us for the past several years. The fact of the matter is the USDA has made their decision and is asking for a coexistence between organic, GMO and non-GMO farmers. The organic community is still actively demanding more protection for organic farmers. I respect those farmers that feel they need this technology to be profitable. I also worry that our future maybe in flux, but that is why it is so important for us keep having our voices heard and continue speaking out. Those who say there cannot be coexistence are foolish and have no better sense than my children. Come to think of it my children are smarter than that.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.


Filed under organics, policy

Grant a Farmer a Wish

You may or may not know this, but Stonyfield yogurt and ice cream is made from milk produced on Organic Valley farms. We often get asked why Organic Valley doesn’t make its own yogurt and that is the reason why. We are making it, just under a different label. The partnership came to being about a year ago and a half ago.

Right now Stonyfield is Granting Farmer Wishes to six deserving Organic Valley farm families. Each of these families submitted a grant application to their operations. Their proposals had to show a positive environmental impact, innovation and the ability to sustain organic farming practices. Stonyfield is giving away $10,000 to the top applicant, two $7,500 awards and three $2,000 awards.

The winners are chosen by YOU. You need to visit the Stonyfied Facebook page to cast your vote. Voting ends February 28, 2011. Tell your friends about the page too. The more votes the better!!


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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Filed under Organic Valley, organics, Stonyfield

Grazing is now “Progressive”

All of us at Zweber Farms read many industry magazines, newspapers and publications. Some are dairy focused, some are organic focused and some are just general agriculture information.

The other day when I pulled Progressive Dairyman out of our mailbox, I was shocked to see the words “consider grazing as a means to profitability” on the front cover. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy reading the Progressive Dairyman. Their up to date coverage on industry issues and trends is very helpful. But when it came down to the articles on animal care or management, their focus really didn’t fit our operation. We are grazers and our needs and issues are very different than those who operate with barns.

Not only was there one article about grazing, the entire issue was dedicated to the topic. When you read Editor Walt Cooley’s intro, he explains why. He had just visited New Zealand where grazing is a very popular and successful dairy business model. His visit reminded him of a time when his father explained to him “what works for me does not work for everyone else”.  How refreshing.

We have always thought of our farm as progressive, not regressive. Many naysayers of grazing and organic herds say we are just submitting to consumers’ fears and not taking advantage of the “latest” technology to be successful. “Why would we want to return to the 1950’s of farming?” they ask.

That is far from the truth. In fact today’s grazing herds employ many new advances in technology. Advances in herd genetics, pasture management, manure application, and environmental practices. This is not unlike “conventional” herds. Our technology may not be the same but it is still progressive and always moving forward. Any farmer who makes proactive changes to their operation to keep it sustainable for future generations is progressive in my book.

Grazing and organic dairying works for our animals, land and families. Does that mean that it is the only model? No way, and I know many “conventional” dairies that use very sound animal and environmental care. This is why it is so important for non-farmers to continue to ask the tough questions about where their food comes from. Having those conversations will continue to make us better food producers.

If we are open to farmers producing food in ways that “work for them” then we need to be open to non-farmers who want a choice in how their food is produced. Whether you consider yourself “green”, a “foodie”, a “coupon clipper” or a “green, foodie who clips coupons” (like me), you should continue to have the choice to buy what fits your food philosophy. As the attitudes in food production mature, and become more welcoming of all, the variety of food choices will also grow.

Thank you Progressive Dairyman for a great first issue of the year. Hopefully your example will encourage others in the industry to continue to encourage farmers to do what works for them.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Filed under farming, organics, Raising Animals

Everyone Loves Conspiracy…

It seems that everyone loves a good conspiracy theory. Growing up I could be found glued to the television when Unsolved Mysteries was on. UFO’s, unsolved deaths, crop circles, I loved it all. I still find enjoyment in reading about conspiracies and mysteries, but for me, it is mostly just fun and all taken with a grain of salt.

Recently, on Twitter I saw that a government “conspiracy” was being “revealed.” What caught my eye was that this conspiracy involved the National Organic Program. Apparently, Monsanto was in cahoots with the USDA and a product (Neotame, a sweetener) of one of their former affiliate companies was being allowed in organic products. Or at least this is how the conspiracy goes. With a quick Google search, you will see that this theory spread like wildfire around the internet and blog sphere.

I do know that some non-organic products are allowed in organic production and processing, but the list is small (110 items) and usually the items are one compound items, like salt, natural minerals and yeast. So, being someone who doesn’t just take everything I read as fact, I did my own investigation. If you visit the USDA National Organic Program website you will see a link to the National List of Approved and Prohibited Substances. This link isn’t hidden, in fact it the top link on the page. You can view the list without a password or secret hand shake. What I found was that Neotame was not on the list.

What does this mean? It means that Neotame is not allowed in 100% organic products. But that doesn’t mean if you buy an organic product that it might not be in there. Remember that organic products are broken into four categories: 100% organic, 95% organic, 70% organic and less that 70% organic ingredients. Review each categories requirements here: Labeling Packaged Products under that National Organic Standard. It is quite possible that Neotame could be found in products that are labeled “made with some organic.” If you don’t want Neotame, buy 100% organic products. Any FDA approved ingredient can be included in the last category. This isn’t a mystery, I believe the rule is clear.

There you have it, mystery solved.  What I don’t get, is that Neotame was approved by the FDA in 2002, why now for all the hubbub? There is a debate on whether Neotame should have ever been approved by the FDA, but that doesn’t jeopardize the integrity of the USDA Organic National Standard.

If you ever have questions about organics, please do not hesitate to ask. I don’t know everything, but I am pretty good at directing people in the right direction.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Filed under organics

Giving To a Charity this Season? Support Agriculture!

Our mailbox is always full these last couple days of December: Christmas cards, letters, store catalogs, flyers for holiday events, etc. But most notably are all the charitable donation requests. December is year end for many charitable organizations and it is also the last chance to give before the end of the tax year.

As a former Executive Director of a non-profit organization, I cast a wary eye on many of these requests. If the organization cannot tell me where the money will be used, what percent goes to overhead or even their legal name or tax identification number, the envelope gets recycled without a second thought (that also goes for all those charitable phone calls I get).

One “charity” that always gets my goat this time of year is the Human Society of the United States (HSUS). They send out these cute campaign brochures with sad puppies and kitties all over them. They talk about stopping factory farming and rescuing animals. But if you look closer, HSUS does not own or operate any animal shelters, nor do they spend a majority of their budget on animal rescue. In fact, they spend much of it on lobbying efforts, pension plans and more fundraising. 

So what is a charitable person suppose to do? First do your homework. If the charity is local, look them up on your state’s Secretary of State website. They should be registered as a 501c3 non-profit. Also, check out Charity Navigator to see how their money is spent. If you get a phone call from a charity that doesn’t let you talk over your donation with your spouse, hang up. Once I had a “Veterans” charity call me and they could not send to a website or other place for more information about them or did the caller know the tax ID number. They said that they were just a volunteer. Wrong answer. Good volunteers would know that info or could get a manager who does. Lastly, do not give out your credit card number out over the phone. Ask for a donation envelope or secure website to donate on.

If you are interested in giving in ways to help agriculture this season,  here are some of Zweber Farms favorites.

MOSES: serves farmers striving to produce high-quality, healthful food using organic and sustainable techniques. MOSES has given many farmers like us the resources and the support to start and to continue farming organically.

Heifer International: Their mission is to  work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth. This is one of my favorite charities to give to. The catalogs are fun, where you can choose to “donate” everything from bees to water buffalo. Even though your donation is directed to the most needed area, it is fun to know what your dollars can do.  Organic Valley also has a partnership with Heifer called: More Organic For Everyone (MORE). Check it out

AgChat Foundation: Do you like how our farm “tells our story” and wish more farmers would do the same? AgChat Foundation was started to give producers and those in the agriculture industry the skills and resource to tell the story of food, fuel and fiber production. Tim serves on the advisory board.

MN Agriculture in the Classroom: Do you wish more students had connections to where their food comes from? Support groups like Ag in the Classroom. Each state has one in some form or another. As the former executive director, I know for certain this organization makes our “A” list.

Local Animal Shelter: Due to the millions being donated to HSUS in thoughts that people are helping shelters, local shelters are actually loosing out. If you want to support animal rescues, support your local shelter.

Giving a charitable donation is a great gift for those “hard to buy for” types. Make sure to do your homework and support those causes that matter most to you.


Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.


Filed under Ag Education, Organic Valley, organics