Monday, May 15, 2017

Half of one barn has sand bedding

One side of the barn is done!  Due to a lot of work by our team members, of course Kris, and even our little family ...

We removed and replaced the free stalls and mattresses ...

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We got a sand shooter bucket.  You scoop up the sand from the pile, move it to the barn, and it shoots it into the free stalls.

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We smoothed out the sand to make it level.

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I am sure this is the only time they will be crawling in here.

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And today, we got to let the cows try it out!  They seemed to like their new sand.  Now just the other half to do ... and the other barn!

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Kris did take a short break this weekend to watch us run a 15.5 mile (25K) Fifth Third River Bank Run in Grand Rapids.  I ran with Team Chocolate Milk, Annie Link is a fellow dairy farmer, and of course we were both happy to drink it at the end!

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We just got a message from our neighbor Sharon Brock that she sees a new calf in the pasture along her yard.  Never a dull moment in the spring!

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

A million things to do

Things are going a million miles an hour.  We're trying to do our part of the barn as fast as possible.  Here's Kris compacting the sand that will go under the mattresses.  Then we'll bolt them down and they'll serve as a base for the sand the cows lie on.

(I love how the boys are standing here.)

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They're out on pasture!  This requires using the trailer, sorting them, taking them down the road in multiple trips, and then getting them back in before they learn to stay inside the fence.

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And in the midst of all of this, our corn is being planted (we pay a custom planter to do it) and ... we had our first calf!

The cows were especially excited when moving across the creek.  They were louder than I've ever heard them.

Now they're across the road from my house, so I can see one of my favorite sights ... again!  May really is the best month.  Not from a work-until-you-drop-from-exhaustion angle like Kris, but when this is out your window, how can you not smile?  (And then take a million pictures?)

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Converting to sand bedding

We're doing a big project - changing the barn to sand bedding! (It is a popular choice due to cleanliness and cow comfort.) This means we have to remove the free stalls and mattresses, cut the concrete, remove sections of concrete, pour a concrete curb, replace mattresses ... plus many other steps. Beach for cows, coming up.

It was a lot of work for our team to remove the free stalls and mattresses - and to be careful with them because we're going to reuse them.  Then we brought in a local company to do the cement work.  This was yesterday:

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And 24 hours later, the cement is removed, and the curb is halfway done.

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We're doing half of the barn at a time.  They are moving quickly.  And ...

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It's not bad outside, either.

Also, Kris and Jake were putting the calves from last year out on pasture while I was running by.  Three ran through the fence and I ran to help get them back in.  Running after cattle is so different than running on the road.  First, sprint to the right spot.  Second, crawl under a fence.  Third, race a heifer so she doesn't go into the woods to be lost forever.  Fourth, hop a stream to herd them in the right direction.  Fifth, get manure (or mud) on your shoes.  It's hard to tell without smelling them. Repeat steps 1-5. Sixth, ask Kris for a ride home because after all of that, you're late!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

April showers

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Our neighbor's cattle and ours stand at the fence and stare at each other.  The grass is always greener.
And just like that ... it's spring!  It's green, it's rainy, and the flowers are poking up.  The alfalfa fields are green as far as you can see.  My mom is landscaping the barnyard to make it look beautiful.  Kris and the guys are hauling manure.  You can smell spring (and manure) in the air!

It is still meeting season.  In January, I began working as a communication specialist for U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.  Their headquarters are in St. Louis, and we had the annual meeting this last week.  I love my coworkers, so it's always fun seeing them (including heading to Ballpark Village for a Cardinals game and going to Three Sixty, which gives a rooftop view of the arch).  The communication people from all the different affiliates across the country were there, trying to plan how USFRA can best bring agriculture and consumers together.

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I also had a Dairy Communicator meeting, where United Dairy Industry of Michigan trained us on how best to talk about farming.  Kris is now on the board of Michigan Milk Producers Association as well as United Dairy Industry of Michigan, so he had board meetings for both of those!  The UDIM meeting ended with taking in a Pistons game at the Palace because player Andre Drummond is a milk ambassador for us. In a huge surprise to us, we got to sit courtside! (Anytime Andre did well I would chalk it up to milk.  Anytime he did poorly I would blame it on lack of milk.)

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Meanwhile on the farm ... work, work, work!  There's so much to be done in spring.  We're drying up cows (meaning we don't milk them for a few months before they calve, but we have to prepare them for it). We're trying to haul as much manure as possible to get the fields ready for planting.  We have to reseed pastures.  We're planning on possibly changing to sand bedding and putting in some maternity pens.  It's all a lot.  Kris is usually sprinting from the truck to our house and back again in order to make it everywhere he needs to go - including singing in choir three days this week!

I hope your spring is going wonderfully, I hope you have sunshine wherever you are, and I hope you eat a ton of milk chocolate candy on Easter.  I know I'll do my part.

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 30, 2017

Talking to farmers, drying up cows

This week I went to Albany, New York speak to farmers at a conference put on by Farm Credit East called GenerationNext2.  It's a leadership development program in part organized by Tom Cosgrove, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Knowledge Exchange.

So - a conference full of young farmers and bankers?  Of course it was fun.  I was especially glad that I had the chance to talk to and get to know everyone throughout the conference.  There were all types of farmers - sod, cranberry, forestry products, of course dairy - and it was just interesting to hear about all different types of businesses.

My talk was about thinking beyond your business and engaging with neighbors, public officials, and the public, and after I served on a panel with Jessica Ziehm, Bill Peck, and David Haight.  It was so interesting and fun to do!  Smart people, great conversation, good questions.

I was dying to get downtown to see the famed capitol building, and Jessica kindly gave me a whirlwind tour!  The Egg was a bonus - I didn't even know about it!  Everyone also pronounces it ALLbany - not Albany, as I was, and Jessica said it's so small they sometimes call it SMALLbany. This was also funny to me, because you know ... my town is a tad smaller.

Thank you to everyone at Farm Credit East and at GenerationNext2! 

Meanwhile on the farm ...

We are drying up cows today.  This is a huge deal, so big that I have written about it in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 ... you get the point.

Why is it a big deal?  You have to prepare cows to not be milked.  You can't just stop milking them and expect them to just deal with it.

They're not going to be milked from now until they have a calf.  This way, their bodies can concentrate all their resources on getting ready to have a calf.  Then, after they have calves, they'll be ready to produce milk again.

Yes -  cows have to have a calf to continue giving milk. Jessica Ziehm organizes a Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair, (visited by 250,000 people each year!) and she said that people are continually amazed by this fact.  I assume they just never think about it.  Cows give milk, period, is what people think, and don't think about how or why until pressed.  We can't all think about everything at all times!

Some people ask if there's a period where we're milking no cows, but no.  We use bulls, and all the cows don't get pregnant the same month.  Some of them get pregnant later, so we don't dry all of them up at the same time.  So the ones that aren't as far along we still milk until it's their time to get dried up.  By that time, cows will have calved and we'll still have milk in the pipeline.  (Yes, the young ones get pregnant first, the older ones later. Some things never change.)

We already were contacted about two different types of tours on the farm for May and August.  When calving season starts, so does tour season!

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, March 21, 2017

What's the difference between milks? Whole, 2%, skim?

I was at a conference with a consumer panel, and I asked the question, "What kind of milk do you buy?" I was thinking they would talk about organic, almond, or regular.

I was completely wrong.  They answered with what kind of milk they buy - whole, 2%, or skim. This made me happy.  Today at the grocery store the cashier told me everyone knows the code for bananas, because everyone buys them.  I said, "What else does everyone else buy?"  She said, "Milk, eggs, bread."  WE'RE STILL IN!

My friends have been asking me some specific questions about milk, so here are some answers!

Is there a difference in nutrients?

No. Whole, 2%, and skim have the same nutrients when it comes to the nine essentials - calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin.

Is there a difference in fat and calories?

Yes.  There IS a difference in fat and calories.  But!  That doesn't mean you're getting different nutrients.  When the fat is removed from the milk, it loses some of the vitamins, (like vitamin A binds to fat), so they are added back in.  If you read the label, you'll see whole has a little bit less vitamin A (6% to the others' 10%). In the other two, vitamins A & D are added back in to reach the level of 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin A and 400 IU of vitamin D per 1 quart.

It says there is sugar in my milk.  Is this added in?

No.  Milk has a natural sugar called lactose.  White sugar is not added.  This is like fructose in fruit - it's what makes it naturally sweet.

What about sodium?  Is that added?

No.  Sodium occurs naturally in lots of foods, milk being one of them.

How do the milks compare?

What?  You don't have all three in your fridge? We do because we have different likes among the five of us.  (We all share, too, when we run out.)

For 8 ounces...

Whole milk:  150 calories. 8 grams of fat.  Cholesterol: 35 mg
2% milk:       120 calories, 5 grams of fat.  Cholesterol: 20 mg
Skim milk:     80 calories, 0 grams of fat.  Cholesterol: <5 mg

What's the same?  Protein, sugar, carbs, potassium, sodium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C.

What percentage fat is whole milk?  

It has 3.25% fat.

This is interesting, because it actually means that it only has that much, and it's 96.75% fat free.  Why aren't we marketing it that way ...

Cows aren't made all the same.  Different breeds and different cows give milk that differs in the fat content.  It differs based on what she's eating and how long ago she had a calf, too.  Farmers pool that milk with other farms' milk, so when you get the milk it's not automatically going to be these percentages.  That's why we take milk to a processing plant to homogenize it.

What is homogenization, anyway?

Homogenization breaks down the fat molecules in milk so they stay integrated instead of separating as cream.  Nothing is added to the milk.

Does it bother you when kids you live with call skim milk 'blue milk' or say 'it tastes like water?'

Why yes, it does!  I love skim milk the most.  There is zero water added to it.  And they're not doing the grocery shopping anyway.

What else is milk made up of?  

Ready for this!  WATER!  Milk is about 87% water!!  It differs from cow to cow and among breeds, but that's a lot of water.  And vitamins.  The original vitamin water.  It wasn't added though - it's all-natural. (Even skim, you kids.)

How much protein does milk have?

A lot!  Just 8 ounces of milk has 8 grams of protein. Chug away.

Is my milk from around here?

Most likely, yes!  Milk is perishable, so it's a lot easier to sell it near where you live.  If you don't know, you can check the label.  Each container of milk is identified by a 2-digit state code followed by a 3-digit processing plant code.  It's local!  Michigan is 26.

If you don't live in Michigan, you can check exactly where your milk comes from by typing in the code at this site: whereismymilkfrom.

Thank you for your questions, and please let me know if you have any more.  I'm off to chug some milk now, but not from the jug.  Well, not while anyone is looking.  Cheers!

Want to know more about the farm?  I post a lot of pictures on Facebook. Come on over.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy spring!

Today's the first day of spring! It really seemed like it - warmish, super muddy, and smelled like dirt.  Ahh!

The cattle that live partly outside grow a winter coat.  I like their fluffy look.  They'll shed it soon, just like my children have already shed their coats and shoes.  (It was nearly 50 today, after all!)

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In other news ... I served on a GMO Task Force this past six months.  The Michigan Farm Bureau board asked us to be on it to research the issue and come up with conclusions of what action should occur.  Today we presented our findings to the board.  (Someone said, "Carla, stand in the back, you're tall."  Thanks for the boost, shoes!)

Kris said he feels like we're in a holding pattern.  It's the end of winter, the cold is supposedly over, but it's the time before EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT ONCE.  Soon, calving, planting, work work work.  

But before that ... more meetings!  We're headed to more this week.  I'm not wearing a coat to any of them.

Want to know more about the farm?  I post a lot of pictures on Facebook. Come on over.