Wednesday, April 27, 2016

One of my favorite sights

Ah ... for the first time this year, the cows are out in the pasture.  There are the 'dry' cows - meaning the cows that we aren't milking because they're two months or closer to having calves.

We planted alfalfa last Tuesday - and thanks to some lovely rain, it's already up!  (One week and one day, which seems amazing.)  My sister Tracy was telling me how excited she was that her grass she planted in her lawn poked up; this is the same excitement farmers feel EVERY YEAR when their crops emerge from the ground.

Can you see them?

We hauled a lot of manure.  We have a lagoon of manure and we need to use it to fertilize our fields. We also take manure samples and send it to a lab where they analyze the nutrients.  Then we can tell how much supplemental fertilizer we need to put on our fields.

This looks like a job for Captain America

Gloves seem like a good idea

Every day is take your kid to work day

I also did an event with CommonGround, the volunteer organization that communicates with people about farming.  (Check out their site if you have any questions - it's great.)  Tera Havard, Barbara Siemen and I talked to Michigan dietitians and nutritionists about farming and food.  People asked about GMOs, local issues, raw milk - but mostly how they get the real information to their patients and clients.  We also had a lot of tour requests from schools, so that was great!


Kris is headed to our co-op's advisory board meeting tomorrow, we have a community action group meeting for Farm Bureau ... and then we'll start planting corn next week.  The calving will begin, and we'll start the busy season all over again.

And the whole time we'll enjoy the beautiful view of our cows on pasture.  The boys are a nice addition, too.

Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Back in the day ...

I love this picture of my grandma and grandpa. (Caroline & Dale Anderson.) They were the fourth generation to farm here and raised five children. My grandma also was a teacher. I was lucky enough to live down the road from them and see them every day. I don't know where they're going in this picture, but I know it's not the barn!

Smithsonian & romantic life on the farm

I was talking to my friend Beth recently and she said, "I used to think about farming as a really sort of romantic thing - you lived on a farm, you worked outside ... but then I met you and you really ruined it!  You talked about all the work and the things that go wrong!"

We all laughed, but it's true - like any other job, once you know more about it, you realize it has its ups and downs.  It IS sort of romantic at times ... and other times it's just real life!  Cattle get sick, things break, stuff doesn't work out, milk prices are low ... etc.  But like everyone else, you just deal with it and move on because it's your job, your life, and your livelihood.

So when I was asked questions by people at the Smithsonian American farmer exhibit, they asked really good questions, like ...

Does farming affect how you make decisions at the grocery store?
Where does your milk go?
Do you have favorite cows?
Who works on the farm?
Do you want your kids to farm?
What is your manure management program?
What are you breeding your cows to now?
Do your cows go out on the pasture at night?
How does the government pricing affect your milk?
Is it made into things other than milk?
What is your opinion on drinking raw milk?
How many acres do you farm?
How many cows do you milk?
What do you do with the male calves?

In the course of answering those questions, I also talked about cow comfort, how there are no antibiotics in any milk (conventional or organic), how there aren't added hormones in milk, about natural bull breeding, and manure as fertilizer.  The people laughed, it was a good discussion, and I think it's a great program!  What a nice way to connect people from all over to a farm.

Meanwhile, back on the farm in real life ... everything is happening.  It's the time of year where Kris is working and organizing and on the phone and super busy.  First of all, we're getting the fields ready to plant.  This means preparing them with fertilizer (manure) and lime, working them up, and planting them.  We contract with a guy to do a lot of the field work so we don't have to own all the equipment, but you're still the one organizing it with him.  Today Kris was also figuring out how we can rock pick the field before it gets planted.  He wanted to get the cattle out on the pasture soon, but said that someone had to check the fences.  I offered to do it, and he said that would be great, but someone would also have to go out there with a chainsaw to cut the dead trees off the fence that had fallen during the winter.

Turns out there were a lot!  I fixed all I could, but some were just too giant to move without a chainsaw

Also, the hoof trimmer was here yesterday, we had to finish up our tax stuff with our accountant, we're getting the machinery ready, we're continuing to dry up cows - and on top of that we needed to take in a car to get fixed and I needed Kris to watch the kids ... basically, Kris and the team are working really hard right now.

That's why historically farmers are not continually communicating about what they do.  They're too busy working.  Due to our partnership, we are able to do both.

It's sometimes romantic, it's sometimes the opposite of romantic, but what it is above all is what we've chosen!  We make our own decisions, our own mistakes ... the crops will grow, the calves will be born, Kris won't get enough sleep, and we'll take some serious satisfaction in a job well done.

And if I still get emotional at times like this?  I can't help it.  I'm a romantic at heart.

Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Smithsonian video chat on April 15!

I'm so excited!

The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is showcasing an Ask a Farmer program to encourage conversations between museum visitors and farmers about agriculture.  

Ask A Farmer "connects museum visitors to farmers nationwide for real-time conversations" via video chat.  I'm the farmer for this Friday, April 15!  

Basically, I'll be at home answering questions from the museum patrons.  They'll project my video call up at the museum's exhibition on American Enterprise.

I was lucky enough to visit this exhibition when I was in Washington DC this winter:
Like many farms, the exhibit had old equipment ...

It showcased barbed wire, which made me especially happy, because we used to live in DeKalb, IL, home to the patent owner Joseph Glidden.  We even lived on Annie Glidden Road.

They had a tractor simulator ...

A favorite quote about farming ...

And some real truisms:

We also communicate about farming!  My hope for this video chat is that there are great conversations, interested people, and please, please ... let my incredibly-rural internet connection work the entire time.  

For more information, you can go to the Smithsonian Ask A Farmer.  

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Gateway Elementary, Ag-STEM school

In 2015, Gateway Elementary in St Johns was designated as an Ag-STEM (agriculture, science, technology, math) school.

This school year, each class was given a farmer, and Kris and I are the fourth graders' farmers.  It's been fun going in to see them this year, and they're going to tour our place, too.

Recently, they had a kindergarten music program put on by Mrs. Shirley Ries.  It was all farmer-focused! They asked me to come to the concert so they could recognize a class farmer and gave me nice fruit and animal-shaped cookies.

I didn't realize how farmy it would be - they sang things like 'The Milk Bucket Boogie', complete with milking motions.  It was very dairy and farming-positive!  And of course, when aren't kindergartners cute?!

Yesterday the fourth grade teachers Mrs. Jennifer Parker and Mrs. Natalie Berkhousen asked me to come in and read to their classes for March is Reading Month.  But they didn't want me to read farming books like I'd done before - they asked me to read the children's book I wrote, Sawyer in the Woods.  It was so fun! The kids were so attentive and had a million questions and comments afterward.  Thank you Gateway teachers for fostering the farm-school relationship!


Meanwhile on the farm, we started drying up cows today.  That means we quit milking them so they can get ready to have their calves.

We have a list of cows that need to be dried up based on their due dates.  So we give them about two months before their calves are going to be born.  We sort them out of the regular milking group, milk them one last time, then use antibiotic on each teat to keep their udders healthy.  Since we stop milking them, we don't want them to get mastitis.  (And we will not be milking them again until they give birth, so there is no chance the antibiotic will still be in their systems when we milk them again.)

We then we put them in their own separate group and give them their own special feed.  We spray paint a leg so that we can easily see who is supposed to be in which group.

Again, it's based on due dates, so today we did 14.  We'll dry up more groups once a week until they've all ready to go!

It was really nice seeing Kris this winter ... and for the first time this summer, our oldest boys are going to be old enough to do calf chores.  Evergreen Dairy and Brothers, coming up.

Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Happy 100th to Michigan Milk Producers Association!

Today Michigan Milk Producers (our milk co-op) held its 100th annual meeting.  A farmer greeted us when we got there, saying, "Good morning!  I'm looking forward to the next 100!"  I loved the optimism from the start.

All the speakers went for optimism in these days of rough times for dairy farmers.  Our governor Rick Snyder talked the business part of it, plus how he shares the milk in his cereal with his dog (we don't care who's drinking it!), and his eternal quest for the perfect blueberry ice cream.  He finished with a heartfelt talk about how we can make sure that this business is here for our kids for the next 100 years.  He said he knows it's not about the money, it's about the quality of life, what we respect, and what's important to us.  He said he knows we will continue to evolve to get the best benefits for our families and farms.   

Later in the program we heard from Dr. Phillip Knight from the Food Bank Council of Michigan.  He thanked us for our milk donations, and then he quoted Edmund Burke, who said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  He said that the biggest mistake people make is to choose to do nothing because we believe we can only do a little.  He said that all donations make a difference to a hungry person someone, somewhere.  He said he would continue to give his life for providing for people, and thanked us for our part in it.

Then MMPA's president Ken Nobis came up and announced that we were donating 100 gallons of milk a day for a year. 

Guys, Dr. Knight cried!  Then I cried!  He spoke again and was all choked up.  It was moving ... I didn't expect to feel like this during a regular meeting.

Farmers are optimists at heart.  We think the weather will improve, our crops will grow, our cattle will thrive, and prices will rebound.  We think our families will like this lifestyle, we'll continue providing food for everyone, and that we'll be able to keep doing it for generations to come.  Hearing speakers like this and talking to everyone today makes me think about how we're all in this together.

So, happy birthday, MMPA!  100 is huge.  Cheers with milk, whether it's in your glass or your dog's bowl!

Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You better Belize it

Belize!  My friends Annie, Aimee and I went to visit, and of course I had to check out the dairy scene.

First of all, we saw lots of cattle grazing, and we stayed across the road from dairy cattle on pasture. I'm sure my companions didn't at all mind when I yelled 'cows!' every time we saw them on our hours of driving.  (Right, travel friends?)

I'll tell you when we didn't see cattle ... on our way back to the airport, we took a highway we hadn't yet - the Coastal Highway.  This word 'highway' was misleading to us, because ... I want you to imagine the absolute worst dirt road you've been on.  Now multiply that by ten.  Now add rocks, creeks, and desolation.  No houses, no farms, no gas stations, nothing.  Now add that after you've been on it for 30 minutes of the hour it's going to take, you see workers and think - maybe it's paved from here on out, which would be great, seeing as how it's getting awfully close to our return flight times!  We saw that it was ... a bridge outage.

"Oh no," I said.  "We're going to have to turn around a find a new way!"

"No!  Look over there," Aimee said.  She was driving.  She turned toward a side road and pointed out a wooden bridge.  "That must be the temporary bridge."

"Can cars go over that?" I said.

"Are there any tire tracks?" Annie asked.

"Just go really fast!" I said.  Aimee gunned it.  I figured that if we were going to crash through it, I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible.  It held!  We later agreed that after all of the jungle hiking, rock sliding, tubing, Mayan-skeleton-sighting, termite-eating ... that was the scariest moment of the trip.

I saw a dairy product I've never seen here -

Chocolate milk energy drink fortified with vitamins and minerals?  Yes!

We also checked out banana and pineapple plants.  To plant a pineapple, you cut off the top and place it on the ground.  Not even in the ground.  Little roots come out of it, sort of like potatoes.  (Not in Michigan so much ...)

As usual in Central American countries, fluid milk was not super popular, but frozen was.  In San Ignacio, we tried the local ice cream.  I had Oreo.  It was not Oreo for real, but there was a cookie in there.  No complaints from us!

In Placencia, we went to Tutti Frutti, which had rave reviews.  It's a gelato place, and it was absolutely packed both days we went in.  I asked the guy working if he was the owner or the worker. He said that he was the owner and the worker - like most small businesses!

He said he was originally from France, so when I left I used my best 'au revoir'.  He kindly said 'au revoir' back.  We didn't need French though ... no matter the country, no matter the language, milk and sugar always go together.


This is truly one of the scariest sounds I've ever heard coming from animals.  Howler monkeys! We could hear them from far away, and we could stand right underneath their trees.  Chilling sound - as my friend said, it sounds just like the soundtrack for a horror movie.

I came back to my mostly silent and calm cattle - until they get out ... then their sounds rival the monkeys!

Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page.