Saturday, August 20, 2016

Whether weather

My goodness - we got RAIN!  Tons of rain.  Rain upon rain.

After an amazingly dry summer, we got about 6 inches of rain this week.

The AgroExpo (put on by AgroLiquid in St Johns) even had to cancel the last day because while the first two days went really well ... it was hard to fight against that much rain.  Everyone joked that they should've held it in July when we were desperate.  We were happy we got to go the first two days, aynThe picture below is from the AgroExpo Facebook page:


CEO of U.S. Farmers & Rancher Alliance Randy Krotz and USFRA staff Katie Foster were coming to it, and also came to tour the farm!  It was great to be able to talk with them and show them around.



We welcomed heifer #171.  The weaned ones (above picture) are outside on pasture.



And, we talk a lot about technology and how things have changed.  Here's a change that delights us. We have a weather station on our property and you can CHECK IT BY PHONE!  For instance, today we were gone, and I asked Kris if it was raining at home.  He checked his little phone app and it told us everything at home - how much it had rained in the last 12 hours, the last 24 hours, the rainfall rate in the last month and year ... Oh, the joy this phone app brings!  The science, the technology, the knowledge of it all!

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There were also puddles when we got home.  So that was a pretty good clue, too.

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Smithsonian 'Ask a Farmer'

I enjoyed doing a virtual question and answer session at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, so when they asked me to do a real-life one - and bring my mom - I was even more excited.

The theme for Ask a Farmer was 'Family Farms, Family History'.  The promotion said, "Meet farmers whose land and farms have been in their family for generations, and join us for a live panel discussion with these family farmers on history, agriculture, and the future; moderated by Susan Evans McClure, Smithsonian Food History Program Director."

The other panelists were Brenda Frketich and her dad Paul Kirsch, nut and grass farmers in Oregon, and Leighton Cooley and his dad Larry, who are chicken farmers in Georgia.

My mom and I walked all over DC to see the monuments, and even ate lunch in the Dept of Agriculture cafeteria, because that seemed super fitting.

It was so great meeting with everyone at dinner - including our moderator Susan and Katharine Mead, who did the virtual event.  Funny, smart, interesting people.

For instance, there's so much I don't know about being a seed farmer!  Did you know that the companies have to get together and decide - together - what's being grown where so the produce doesn't cross pollinate?  That's a lot of cooperation and organization.

We went to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and readied for the program.  Look what was right next to our stage!

My friend Alicia even came all the way from Maryland to see it!  Here we are in the Smithsonian kitchen -

So we knew we had one audience member ... as we started, people filled in, including a class of little kids.  We had a really great discussion, well-moderated by Susan, and then the audience asked questions.  Two questions were my favorite - one little kid asked, "How do worms move through dirt?" and another asked, "Are farmers allowed to visit the farms of other farmers?"  There were also adult questions - like about generational conflict, herd management, sustainability, and what we see for our farms' futures.

The Smithsonian videotaped it all and will be sharing clips from it soon.  It was an enjoyable, interesting, and hopefully informative program.  Thanks to the Smithsonian and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance for all their work making this and other similar programs possible.  (If only everyone in DC worked together this well!)


Meanwhile, back on the farm, Kris and the guys got the hay done and the pile covered!  Ahh ... another cutting in the books.  We're still having calves left and right, but it's August and the slowdown is in sight.  The cows are loving the cooler weather, and as a result they're giving more milk!  It was so cool last night that I had to put on a jacket ... which is definitely indicative of weather cattle prefer.  And even cooler to come!

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hello August

Well, it's summer!  Around here that means calving, harvesting, and hoping for rain.  The heat has been tough on the cows and we're doing our best to always keep them cool and comfortable.  Kris' latest thing is that he hooked up a soaker hose above them to mist them before they come into the parlor.  The fans blow on their wetted backs to give them an additional way to cool off.  We're hot too - we know how they feel!

For us and for all the farmers in our area, we had a different routine this year.  Usually, you harvest your alfalfa (hay) every three weeks.  But for the second cutting ... there was nothing to cut.  It didn't rain that whole time and nothing really grew back.  So we waited an additional week (like lots of people), and it did rain almost an inch during that time.  So Kris started the hay this week and ... there's something there.  Not a lot, but as we keep saying ... better than nothing!

Summer for us also means we get lots of visitors.  Our family comes, friends come from all over, and we get our annual visit from the Northwest A&F University of China.  This year 28 of the 30 students were female, and I absolutely loved their reaction to seeing the kittens, hearing my boys were twins, seeing a calf suck on my son's finger, and meeting Kris.  Each time it was, "Awww!"  It was delightful.



A strange thing happened yesterday - a cow in the parlor ran into the wall on her way out - and the wall got damaged!  We had the builder and mason out to look at it today, but I told Kris that I'd much rather they put in a huge observation window.  It'd make it so much easier for all of these friends we have coming!  (I realize this is not the point of the parlor, but it would be nice.)

So, hello August!  I hope these can be used for rain soon.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Surgery on the farm - displaced abomasum

Sometimes in a cow, the abomasum can fill with gas and rise to the top of the abdomen.  This is called a displaced abomasum, or a DA.  This sometimes happens after calving, or it sometimes happens when a cow doesn't eat enough due to another issue, like a sickness.  

The cow then loses her appetite, stops giving as much milk, and has digestive issues in general.  

Today we treated a cow's DA by surgery.  The vet makes an incision, locates the abomasum, returns it to the correct area, tacks it to the body wall, and closes her back up.  

It's rare that we have a DA surgery - this is the fourth one we can remember having in our nine years here.  I was super excited to go see it, and Cole was too!

Becky Bean, a vet at Clinton Veterinary Services, came to do it.  She said she's done hundreds of DA surgeries.  Just the kind of person you want!  

After brushing the area, she clipped the cow's hair.

She cleaned it thoroughly and repeatedly.  Even though you're in a barn, you need a clean and sterile area.

She tied up her tail so she wouldn't switch it into the incision.

After numbing the area, she prepared her instruments, put on her gown and gloves, and prepped her materials for stitching.

She put a drape on the cow to isolate the area, and made the incision.  She carefully cut through the layers.

She found what she was looking for ...

Then with a hollow needle attached to a hose, she had to find the correct place from which to release gas.  She let me smell the gas coming out of the end of the hose.

Cole too.

Here's the abomasum!  Displaced no more!

It was really interesting watching her tack it to the body wall.  She said that your hands just have to remember what to do, and what tension you need, and how to make the stitches.  It reminded me of watching my mom try to teach me how to crochet.

She said it went really well.

Becky stitched her beautifully - it reminded me of a football.

Abomasum back in place.  Thanks, Becky!

We wish our dear cow a speedy recovery.  We'll be watching her extra carefully and hoping she's back to feeling her best soon.

No one wants a DA ... but we'll really do anything to try and take care of our cows.  We're thankful for great vets, employees, and the technology that allows us to care for our herd.

We're also thankful that there's another generation coming up that finds this all as interesting as we do.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016


It's dry, dry, dry.  It rained a little last week, but we only got .10 of an inch.  The corn is curling on the edges.  The grass is brown and crunchy under our bare feet.  It looks unbelievable that the alfalfa will recover from the latest cutting.  The creek is little more than a stream.  

We've been really lucky with rain for a lot of years.  I remember summers like this one - when the rain just misses you and you just have to deal with it.

It'll rain again someday ... it always does.  In the meantime, we're just hoping and frequently checking the 10-day forecast!


On Thursday last week we began the day by giving a tour to my friend Graham Filler and the St Johns Kiwanis Club.  The club was in part founded by my great uncle Stuart Openlander, and it's always nice to talk to people who knew him.

Graham even took a turn in the parlor -


I ended the day by speaking at the Future Farmers of America State Leadership Conference!  My favorite part that was afterward, many of the students came up to talk to me about farming.  They were all so outgoing, well-spoken, and impressive.  They all shook my hand and looked me in the eye, and I couldn't help but notice they had callused palms.  I felt that our industry is literally in good hands!


We're up to 135 heifers and we're starting to wean the first 20 that were born.  The weaned ones will soon move out to the pasture.  The days already seem a tad less hectic.  I mean, there were only three born today!


Aside from the whole farm scene, I'm teaching swimming lessons this month like I have almost every summer since I was 18.  It is so incredibly satisfying to teach a person how to swim.  So that's another side of things ... the heat and lack of rain is terrible for the crops, but WOW, is it great for teaching kids to swim!

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Sound Bites - podcast with Melissa Dobbins, registered dietitian

At the latest U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance event, I met Melissa Dobbins.  She is a registered dietitian, author, and as her site says, "an award winning, nationally recognized food and nutrition expert, media spokesperson, speaker, blogger and podcaster with more than 20 years of experience."

She noted that when she talks about milk, people most often ask about hormones and antibiotics. (There are no added hormones nor antibiotics in milk.)  She wanted to have a conversation about it with a farmer, so she had me as a guest on her podcast!

It's here:  Sound Bites

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First-time visitors, long-time friends, cow giving birth to a calf on video!

Before I went to college, I never thought one thing about being from a dairy farm.  There were farms and farmers everywhere.

Once I was in college, I realized that people thought it was interesting I was from a farm, and they even wanted to visit.

One of my first farm visitors was my college friend Jodie.  She'd never been to a farm, she was from the city, and she loved seeing it.  She learned about silos, she met a big bull, and we perched up on a tractor.

So yesterday, things really came full circle, because Jodie brought her husband and kids to visit! (They had been once before, but only one was born and he was a baby.)

It was so fun showing them the farm, seeing our kids together, and seeing it through someone else's eyes. (Or nose.  Her son didn't like the smell of the manure lagoon, which quite honestly you get used to.  I used to live by an airport and never noticed the airplanes after the first day I lived there.  Then kids would come over, a plane would take off, and the kid would point it out.  Only then would I hear it.  The smell of manure is kind of like that.  I notice it only when it's pointed out!)

A cow even had her calf right in front of them.

This video isn't edited!  We walked up and she had the calf!  This is rare for me.  Usually they want to be off by themselves and are bothered by my proximity.  It's not so easy to get a close video.

So, from college home trip to RV trip across the states - I'm glad that the farm is still the destination that provides some education and entertainment ... for generations!

As for the smell, I'll see what I can do about that for next time.

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