Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What’s going down on the farm? Questions you’d ask a farmer if she were your best friend.

Seriously, what’s going on with GMOs?  What are GMOs, anyway?

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms.  If you’ve ever grown a garden, you know that it’s not easy.  Now, imagine that your garden crop is your field and your job.  Imagine that you’re responsible for providing food for your country. (If this were my garden, we would all starve.)  Guess what?  People keep trying to do a better job. 

For about 10,000 years, farmers have been picking desirable characteristics of plants and crossbreeding them to get better plants – ones that grow better or taste better.  Now, lab technicians insert genes from one plant into another to speed the process along.  They can also be more precise this way.  For an in depth view from Popular Science, read: How to genetically modify a seed, step by step. 

GMOs allow farmers to use less water, land, and pesticides to produce more food.  For instance, we grow corn to feed our cattle.  The corn seed we buy has been genetically modified to be more resistant to drought.

From the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance page: “Since 1995, food from GM seeds has been commercially available and has been proven safe for human and animal consumption. No other crops have been more studied or subject to greater scientific review. GM seeds undergo testing for safety, health and nutritional value – and regulation is overseen by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).”

But!  None of that matters if people think that GMOs are evil and killing us all.  I’m a firm believer in choice – I think we all are – but I also want people to have a deep understanding of what GMOs are, why farmers use them, and why they were developed in the first place.  Farmers are consumers just like you – we only want the best for our families, too.  My family has been farming here for 135 years.  We care about our land, our water, our animals, our product, and ultimately – you!
What’s the difference between organic milk and regular milk?  What’s up with antibiotics and hormones?

Good news for anyone wondering!

Conventional and organic milk have no antibiotics in it.

Conventional and organic milk have hormones in it.  (All milk has natural hormones.)

All milk is tested repeatedly on the farm and at the lab to ensure that it is antibiotic free.  We don't feed any antibiotics to cows.  We only give them medicine when they're sick, and then we don't milk them into the tank when they have the medicine still in their systems.  Then when they're better and the medicine is out of their system - only then do we begin milking them again.  No one wants antibiotics in the milk - the farmer or the consumer.

As for hormones - in Michigan, farmers don't give their cows hormones to help them produce more milk.  (We never have on this farm, either.)  When farmers did it in the past, there was no way to tell the synthetic hormone from the natural hormone, because cows already produced it.  (So there was no test for it.)  But when consumers didn't want it, farmers stopped using it.  In Michigan, that happened in 2008. 

I’m hugely in favor of capitalism and choice, and it's easier to make a decision when you know all milk is healthy and nutritious.    

So what is the difference, then? 

The difference is in the farm practice, not the product.  Organic milk comes from cows that are on certified organic farms.  They are fed organic feed, they are not treated with medicine when sick (they are sold or put into a traditional herd), and they have mandated outdoor access.

On our farm, they’re fed feed we grow, given medicine when sick and not milked into the tank until it’s out of their system, and are out on pasture.  We take fantastic care of our animals – just like all farmers try to do. 

There have been many studies – like by the USDA and the American Dietetic Association – that show organic and conventional milk is equally nutritious and safe.

So, once again – it’s America!  You can choose whatever you want in the land of the free and the home of the brave!  We have giant grocery stores at our disposal!  Just know that all farmers – organic and conventional – are trying our best to provide for you.

Isn’t the manure part of farming kind of gross?

Yes.  But only when it’s wet.  Dry manure just seems like dirt.

Here’s a little fun fact for you … many dairy farmers I know have a separate entry to their houses!  Many of them also have separate showers!  Many of them are also in the basement, for good reason.

Farms each have their own smell.  One day Kris came home and I said, “Where have you been?  You smell different.”

(Note – this is the exact opposite of a scene when a wife smells another woman’s perfume on her husband.  I smelled someone else’s farm manure.)

But the truth is - we need manure!  We save it up and spread it on our fields so we can grow well-fertilized crops to feed our cattle.  Our cattle all - with no training! - spread manure on their pasture themselves!

Do our boots have manure on them?  Yes.  Do our barn clothes smell like manure?  Yes.  Do we have a really good washing machine?  Yes.

Manure is just part of working on a farm and living on a farm.  But that’s where we keep it – on the farm.  We don’t ever go out in our work boots and clothes.  

Not even the boys … no matter how much they want to wear their barn boots to the library.

Any questions for me?  Let me know!   You can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cowlendar guy

ANIMART is a dairy and livestock supply company we use, and this year they held a photo contest for their 'cowlendar.'  They wanted pictures of calves and kids.

I only have one or two million, so I sent in a picture I took of Max and a newborn calf.  They're July! (My guess is that they thought shirtless = summer, but honestly, Max is wearing only a swimsuit playing outside in a leaf pile right now, and it's 45 degrees.)  

I left the calendar out for Ty and Cole to see, and Ty looked at it, very puzzled.  He said, "Mom, this says 'cowlendar!"  Cole opened it up and found Max's picture, and all three boys were excited.  It'll be fun to turn to July this year.  

Thanks to ANIMART, too.  I just looked at their site - they have a 'cowtalog' too.  It seems like this could be cowtagious.  

If you want to know more, you can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Radio interview & farm news

On Friday Nicole Heslip of Michigan Farm Radio Network interviewed me about being a finalist in the Faces of Farming & Ranching nationwide search.  It was fun going into the radio studio - it's in a beautiful old house turned office in Lansing.  There's even a bathroom with an old claw foot tub! (Getting it out would be harder than leaving it there, I'm sure.)  Nicole has four years with Michigan Farm Radio, is from a farm, and was a pleasure to talk to about all things farming.

You can hear the interview here!  Ag Focus on Michigan Farm Radio Network.

(Those of you who've asked about the USFRA Faces of Farming & Ranching competition - the voting starts on Friday and I'll post the details then.)


Meanwhile, back on the farm ... the hot water heater went out!  What does that mean?  We use hot water for washing, and we need A LOT of hot water at once, so we have two larger-than-for-a-house-size water heaters at the dairy barn.  We've kind of outgrown those, too, because it's barely enough water to wash everything before the next milking.  (The water has to run through all of the pipes, tank, and milkers between milkings.)

Last week we ordered a new one that runs off of propane, (right now they run off electricity), but it won't be here for another week.  We ordered it before this one broke!  But not soon enough.  In the meantime, we are taking a hot water heater from the old barn and using it at the dairy barn.  Thank goodness for old barns with their spare parts.

We also dug a new well.  We didn't have enough water capacity for the peak times (again, for washing) so, we have two wells to help.  Plus, if one goes down, we aren't going to be left without water.  


Tomorrow we're starting a new milking routine to improve the amount and quality of the milk the cows are giving.  We have a great milking team, and we're looking forward to seeing the improvements!

There are so many elements that have to come together to get milk ... the harvest, the water pumps, the procedures.  Sure, I could talk about it forever, but the radio show only lasts half an hour.

If you want to know more, you can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tillamook Cheese

Like all good farmers, we spent part of our vacation in Oregon ... visiting a cheese factory!  (We did a lot of other things, but we also spent a lot of drive time commenting on fields and checking out animals on pasture.  "It must be so hard to farm on that slope!"  "Looks like they just harvested."  "Is that an emu?!" Sometimes we really live up to the stereotype.)

Tillamook Cheese has a self-guided tour at their plant, and it was so well done.

Parts that stood out:

- The first farmers that settled in Oregon were super depressed that they spent tons of time and effort clearing these GIANT trees and then ... they couldn't grow crops.  Bad for them, good for the dairy industry.

- A man said that he remembered how to make cheese, but his first batch was so swollen it exploded on the shelves.  He guessed maybe he didn't remember that well.

- We got to see all the factory work, which I always find fascinating.  So many machines, moving parts, and people.  We watched as one stopped working and they discussed how to fix it with a mechanic.  

- I loved this old ad:

- And this is exactly how I look when I serve dinner: 

- They had free cheese samples and we tasted them all, and then they had an ice cream stop.  It was $5 for 5 scoops of ice cream.  I told Kris I only wanted one scoop ... could he really eat 4 scoops of ice cream?  He scoffed.  "Of COURSE I can eat that!" he said.  I'd like to point out it was 9:00 a.m.  (Of course, he'd eaten pie ala mode for his entire breakfast the previous day, so what's the difference?)

- Tillamook is different than our co-op, because Michigan Milk Producers Association employs people to sell our milk to companies that want to use it. We don't make our own products.  If we did, maybe you'd really see us driving something like this little beauty.

8. Educational, fun, and ended in ice cream.  Nice vacation stop! 

In today's farm news - the corn is done!  Kris and the guys chopped from 11:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., then furiously worked to cover the pile as fast as possible because it was the last time of the season!  We talked briefly before he went to bed, mostly about how cheerful and great our team members are.  It's because of them that we can ever even go on vacation - and plunge ourselves into dairy history! 

If you want to know more, you can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pedicures for cows

Today the hoof trimmer came.

If you're looking for work, look into becoming a good hoof trimmer.  It took us a really long time to find someone who was even willing to come - because they're ALL so busy!  With tons of dairies around here and tons of cows ... times four hooves ... maybe I'll be a hoof trimmer in my spare time.

Hooves are like fingernails.  They get long.

First, they picked out the cows that needed obvious work - cows with long hooves and ones that were favoring a foot.

He trims them down with a combination of tools.  He grinds them down, then sees if the hoof needs any more attention.  Like if there is something like a lesion, an ulcer, or a wart.

If they do, he puts the appropriate topical solution on them, and wraps up the hoof with an athletic-type wrap.  (The wrap just eventually falls off.)

Last, the cows selected their favorite polish color and trotted off, no doubt more comfortable than before.

Okay, no polish, obviously.  But a cow pedicure all the same.

In all the articles about jobs needing people, I never see 'hoof trimmers'.  But it seems like a good gig ... warts and all.

(Ours doesn't turn them on their sides, but here's a video that gives an up-close look at hoof trimming.)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Life cycle of a farm truck

What does a farmer drive?  A truck.  The truck isn’t just a mode of transportation – it’s also a tool.  And like every useful tool, it shows some wear and tear. 

But it doesn't happen immediately ... welcome to the life cycle of a farm truck.


This is my dad’s truck.  My dad is technically retired, but he still helps on the farm.  When he helps, he of course drives his truck. 

Though still presentable, it's not his preferred vehicle to take anywhere nice.  Why?  Because you have to wear barn clothes when you’re on the farm, and barn clothes = actual dirt and manure.

Let’s look at some features:



You can’t smell anything over the internet.

He has the toolbox in the back, and he has a telltale whisk broom in the side pocket.  Still fighting the battle to keep it clean.  It's a farm truck, all right, but it's still in the early stages.


I give you ... Kris' truck.  This truck has been in the ditch, run into other vehicles, and carried many calves.

Yes, you see that on the back?  It's so when we pick up calves from the pasture, we can transport them safely to the barn.  It also ensures that your truck will never be a car thief's first choice.  

There is also a toolbox on the back of the truck that has every tool you need for living on a farm, except for the one you want at the the moment.  Then it's invisible.

Since Kris drives this all day long, every day, through pastures and to barns ... it takes a beating.  There's straw on the floor, and getting in and out repeatedly made a small tear in the seat.  Did I say small?  I meant barely noticeable.

The bumper was threatening to come off, so it's held on with not only duct tape, but also a bungee cord.  It is clear this truck is made for WORK, and the driver knows it!  And doesn't care because he's planning to buy another truck soon.  Which will eventually look like this one, anyway.


And the unveiling of ... Josh's truck.  

Josh pointed out that his truck can only be fully appreciated if you can hear the engine.  It rattles the windows in our house when he drives by, and I'm not exaggerating.  It takes a certain finesse to even be able to operate it.  

He uses it only for work ... he has a much nicer truck he uses to go other places.

And on the inside - the ubiquitous pine air freshener!  It's like Christmas every day. 

The truck definitely gets him where he needs to go, even though the body is rusting a bit.  But what I love most about Josh's truck is ... 

It sustains life.

Yes!  Above the wheel well, you can see a tiny blade of grass growing.  

Now THAT'S a farm truck.  Not only is it a tool, but it's growing cattle feed right on the truck body.  

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Giant food processor

I'm not a big machine girl.  The other day I really laughed on the phone with my friend, because about 15 minutes into the conversation, she said, "Did I tell you I got a new car?"  I said, "No - and so funny that you didn't mention it until now."  She said, "I actually got it last week."

So that gives you a little insight into my level of machine interest.

However ... you know what's interesting to me?  Really powerful machines.

I rode with Kris in the chopper today.  It's fun, because the chopper takes these big, giant, strong stalks of corn, and chops it into tiny little bits!  So tiny, they're then blown into a wagon!

I find it all amazing.  Just watch this:

Fun, right?  Powerful!  The entire plant is shredded in seconds!  (I suddenly sound like an infomercial for a food processor.)

It's small, digestible, and the cattle love eating it. We put it in a pile, let it ferment, and feed it to them until the next harvest.

But all of it - the readying of the soil, the planting, the fertilizing, the worrying about too little or too much rain - the harvest is the payoff!  What you can't see in this video is that the corn is as high as the chopper cab.  We had a great growing season for corn, and it's going to give us a lot of feed.  All good news.

Plus, this machine is cool.  I'll bring this up in any phone conversation tomorrow by at LEAST minute 14.

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