Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer is the time for farms


July has been incredibly busy.  Not only has everything been going on with the farm - calves, crops, milking three times a day ... but we've had visitors!  My brother and sister and their families just left.

I love giving tours of the farm.  Right after they left ... today, I had friends from Alabama and Michigan visit.  One friend told me, "I asked your boys some questions, and they knew all the answers."  They should - not only do they spend a lot of time at the farm, but they go on all of my tours!

I get a lot of the same questions.  Today my friend asked, "Why does that cow have a ring in her nose?"

The answer:  Sometimes a cow will suck on another cow's udder, which ruins it and hurts her.  If you put a ring in her nose, it pokes the cow and she doesn't let her suck on her.

My friend joked:  "Oh, I just thought she was alternative."

My nieces, nephews and sons:


My brother showing his son how to milk a cow.  It never gets old!


Amy showing Ella the milking parlor, pre-getting-splashed-by-manure.  (Hard to avoid!)


Amy, Leslie, and (some) of their kids.  After I took this they asked if they'd be on the blog.  Of course!  Leslie's dad is a devoted reader. : )


Ty, with the hoof trimmer in the background.  It's nice that the barn doubles as a gym.


I'm glad we live somewhere people want to visit ... especially since it's hard to get away in the summer!

Thank you for reading about our farm.  Even if  you can't be here in real life, I love being able to share it with you online.  Thanks!  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

30 years later ...



My sister and brother are home to visit!  They live 12 and 16 hours away, respectively, and once a year we all get together for a week.

We've toured the farm, camped, gone canoeing, swam, and recreated this picture from 30 years ago!

We don't have even one brown and white calf so far this year, so we had to do with a Holstein.  My brother joked that we should use a cow so it looked like she had grown up too, but we went with a day-old calf instead.  

Speaking of calves, I wrote this article for U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.  You can see it on their site here:  Calf Care from Day One.

On our farm, taking care of our animals is the highest priority and it starts the moment a calf is born.

Our calves are born in the pasture during a three-month period in the summer and fall. During this time, we’re watching the cows to see who’s close to calving. If she needs help, we can pull the calf, but normally she has it unassisted.

After the calf is born, her mother licks her off to clean and stimulate her. When she’s ready, we take her to the calf barn, which we have specially designed for calf care. Each calf has her own individual pen.  We clean off her belly button, bed her down with straw, and feed her colostrum.

The barn itself has curtains, which we open and close depending on the weather. It is also fully ventilated with fans. We built it in a direction so that the natural breeze flows right through the barn, making sure it’s always nice and cool for the calves, the way they like it.

To ensure the calves are fed the correct amount, we mark the calves the first two times they're fed colostrum. It's really important that calves get colostrum right away, because it contains so many antibodies and we want them healthy from the get-go.

After a week, the calves start eating solids – grain – and drink water all day in addition to their milk. For eight weeks, they stay in their individual pens to make sure that they’re thriving. That way, we can monitor their health and make sure they’re getting all the food they need – and not worry about some bossier calf eating more than her share.

After eight weeks when the calves have received their individualized care and we’re sure they are thriving, we take out the panels in between them and put them in groups of eight. Calves like this, because they are social herd animals.

Like all our heifers, we plan on her being on our farm the rest of her long, healthy life. Starting as a baby, becoming a mother, giving lots of milk, and having a daughter that give lots of milk, we love taking care of them! For our male calves, since we own a dairy farm (and only females produce milk), we sell them to a farmer to raise them as steers. However, we do have about 20 bulls we buy from other farms who are responsible for all our little calves!

There’s all of this…but there are also calves born in the middle of the night, giving vaccinations, teaching them to drink from a bottle and a pail, hernias, stomach problems and constantly checking their manure. Really as a farmer, raising calves has many of the same glamorous details as raising babies. It’s all-encompassing, tiring and totally worth it.


If you want to know more, you can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley on twitter, or get the posts sent to your email by filling out the form on the right. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Three times a day

It's a big day on our farm today!  We normally milk the cows twice a day, but for the first time since Kris and I have been farming (eight years) today we're milking three times a day.

We're doing this because many of the cows have just calved - we have over 70 heifer calves in the barn - and therefore, they're giving a lot of milk.

Last year during this period, the cows were leaking milk by the time they got into the parlor.  Milking them three times a day will hopefully alleviate that, plus fill up the bulk tank.

Lots of farms milk three times a day.  This isn't anything new to anyone, just new to us.  At one point my dad and his brother Al milked three times a day ... just the two of them, plus did the other work on the farm.  They didn't do that for very long before they realized they were going to work themselves to death.  But!  We have a great team of people and hopefully this summer experiment will work.

Have a fantastic summer day!



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Why is cheddar cheese orange?

Lining up for cheese at Tillamook last fall.

Why is cheddar cheese orange?

I was thinking about this as I got white cheddar cheese out of our fridge and my son asked what kind it was.  

Go ahead - think about it.  Cheddar cheese is orange.  But milk is not, butter is not ... why is it orange?

Answer:  It's dyed orange with the annatto seed.

The annatto tree is a tropical tree, and its dried, ground seed is used to color cheese, margarine, microwave popcorn, and other yellow or orange food.  For instance, it's one of the ingredients Kraft is now using to color its new macaroni and cheese.

It's nothing new.  Tropical Plant tells me, "Throughout the rain forest, indigenous tribes have used annatto seeds as body paint and as a fabric dye. It has been traced back to the ancient Mayan Indians, who employed it as a principal coloring agent in foods, for body paints, and as a coloring for arts, crafts, and murals."

Never heard of it?  Me neither!  But there's a history to it, of course.

Milk components depend on a variety of factors, including the breed of cow and her diet.  If a cow is eating pasture, many of the plants in it are rich in beta-carotene, which gives the milk a more golden color.  During the winter, when there isn't pasture available and the cow is eating hay, her milk is whiter.

Since annatto seeds have been used to color cheese for over 200 years, the internet offers many reasons why cheddar became orange.

- To give cheese a consistent color, no matter the time of year
- To make people think the cheese was richer
- To differentiate it from other kinds of cheese
- To be more like the cheesemakers in Cheddar, Somerset, England

You can now buy cheddar cheese in a variety of colors, as long as you want white, light orange, or dark orange.  But when you reach for the orange cheese knowing it's cheddar, you can thank the annatto seed.

When my boys ask me questions I don't know the answers to, like 'What does the Tooth Fairy do with all those teeth?"  and "What do leprechauns like to eat?" they're surprised I don't know the answer and always say, "Just look on your phone!"

Sometimes it works.  Enjoy your whatever-colored cheese today!

If you want to know more, you can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley on twitter, or get the posts sent to your email by filling out the form on the right. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me! 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day!  From our herd to yours.


A couple of weeks ago Allison from Michigan Milk Producers Association came out to take pictures of cattle in the pasture for an article, and she also suggested that my boys pose for the picture above. Believe it or not, they're used to having their picture taken ...

We have 79 heifer calves going into the holiday, including another set of heifer twins!  One side of the barn is completely filled, and now we've started on the other one.


The oldest have ear tags now, which have their number and birth dates.  Isn't she pretty?

If you want to know more, you can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley on twitter, or get the posts sent to your email by filling out the form on the right. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me! 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Calf explosion

                                     

As the calves keep on coming, the harvest is happening too.

Juuust in between the rain storms, Kris and the guys managed to cut, chop, and pile up the second cutting of alfalfa.  Then the guys (and the little guys) put tires on the pile.

The first calves were born on June 8, and since then we now have 60 heifers.  We've had about the same amount of bulls, but we sell them twice a week to a farmer who raises them as steers.

So all day long, every day, there are pastures to check.  Cows to check on.  Calves to take care of, take into the barn, feed colostrum, and feed water.  The calves get fed milk twice a day, eat grain at a week old, and drink free choice water all day long.

We have a girl working for us who is going to vet school in the fall.  She has a lot of experience on farms, but Kris said he showed her a trick my dad taught him ...

Sometimes you are in a place where you have to help a cow calve by pulling her calf.  Usually you use calf pulling chains.  You put the chains around the calf's front feet and pull it out.

If he was in a pasture far from the chains (admittedly we own four of them, but it happens if you're not in the truck) my dad would take off his belt, loop it around the calves' hooves, and use that to pull a calf.

My dad taught Kris, Kris taught the employees, and everyone uses it as a backup.  Kris and Josh both did it last week.  (Nice, solid belt material!)

When people talk about a belt-and-suspenders solution, I always think of this belt use.  No one around here wears suspenders, but I'm sure - if necessary - they could be fashioned into a calf-puller too.

If you want to know more, you can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley on twitter, or get the posts sent to your email by filling out the form on the right. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers


Happy Father's Day to the 20 bulls who are responsible for all our calves - and the guy who's taking care of them and us.

Kris worked all day with the calves - wow, there are so many, sometimes I lose count.  We've had nine or more a day for the last three days in a row.  MANY.  Here we are on the last check of the night when we picked up a bull and a heifer.


Here's the bull, just starting to stand:


And of course, Happy Father's Day to our dairy farmer dads!  My dad was helping Kris just this morning, plus in this older picture -


There's also a good chance that Ty might look a little like his Grandpa Wardin.


We've had great examples.  Thanks!

If you want to know more, you can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley on twitter, or get the posts sent to your email by filling out the form on the right. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me!