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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Sunday, June 26, 2016


It was GAI AgTech week in San Francisco! I had the pleasure of being on a panel 'The Farmers' Perspective' with fellow farmers - pictured here are Brad Greenway and Jay Hill.

The moderator - Paul Pittman and farmer Kip Tom also joined us the for the discussion.  This event is for ag investors and ag companies to find out more about the current industry.  They asked us questions like: What do you want to exist? Do you spend money on it? Who makes the purchasing decisions on your farm?  What is most important?

Brad answered for all of us - sustainability.  We all want to improve the way we farm, do more with less, and continue doing what we're doing.  (With the prices right now, this is particularly hitting home.)  

It was a quick trip - only 11 hours on the ground! - but I like traveling.  One of the parts I like about it is talking with different people, and learning about all the interesting things that go on. For instance, there's an entire conference about ag technology...

Some funny things - on a plane I sat by a group of soldiers. One was very tall and he was joking why he had to sit in the middle.  

"Aw, why does the 6'6" guy have to sit in the middle?" he said. 

"I can't make myself taller," another guy said. 

"You could. I've been drinking my milk," the tall guy said.

"Aw, I'm a dairy farmer and that's music to my ears," I said.  

"And how tall are you?" he asked.

"5'7"," I said, and they all laughed because ... apparently not tall enough. 

Later, I talked with a nurse going to training on a surgical instrument.  I asked her some questions and she said, "Are you in the medical field?"  I told her no, I was a dairy farmer.  She immediately asked me the most common milk questions I get:

- Is there any difference between organic and regular milk? (Just in process, not product.)

- Why does organic have a longer expiration date? (It's heated up hotter for longer.)

So whether it's talking to a group of people or individuals, it's great being able to connect with people and answer questions.  We love what we do and we'd love to be able to continue doing it.  

It's all the larger picture, but when you're involved in the details of it, you sometimes lose sight of that.

Like back on the farm ... we have calves everywhere! Over 100 heifers now.  We harvested the pasture grass and covered it. Some cows got out and we put them back in.  We feed them, care for them, milk them, care for them some more, and Kris and the team work from before dawn until after dusk. Technology is wonderful and assists us in a million ways in being better farmers.  However, all the technology in the world isn't changing prices right now.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bringing the community together

Family Fun at the Farm was today!  This year it was hosted by K&K Dairy Farms.

The committee does such a great job.  It's always so organized, so well-staffed with volunteers, and so fun for everyone who attends!

We've been every year - even when it was Breakfast on the Farm - and it just gets better and better. (This year just Kris volunteered from our family because I didn't know if I'd be home from a work trip yet.) I took the boys around and we saw not only the dairy farm, but all the extras!  Chicks, rabbits, a corn box, we made butter ... and saw everyone we knew!  The entire farming community comes together, and we also knew lots of the attendees who come for a great and free event.

This is Kristi Keilen, one of the owners!  Their farm looked great.

Kris was lucky to be stationed in the nice and cool freestall barn.  (It was really hot today.)  But the cows are kept cool with fans and a nice roof.  It was easily 10 degrees cooler in here.

They had chicks you could pick up and hold.  (I made the picking up chicks joke more than once.)

My kids were most looking forward to the corn box, which Rob West built and sewed the curtains for the night before, his wife Erin told me!  Nice job, Rob!  This was after dealing with a fire at the dairy he manages ... good time management.

They had tractor pulls ...

And here Graham Filler and Mindy Voisinet are showing people how to shake heavy cream into butter.  My son told me he felt just like 'Farmer Boy' (by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

This display was great - not only could you milk water out of a cow, but to make it even more realistic - that is a bucket full of manure!  I felt this was really getting into the spirit of things.  I was talking to the guys running this station and one said to me, "Wait ... don't you live on a dairy farm?" As in, why are you here and why are your kids so eager to milk this pretend cow?  BECAUSE IT'S FUN!

I had to do a little research on this one.  Kids were running around with these gloves from the vet station.  My friend RaeLynne asked me why it had one elongated finger ... and I didn't know, since I'd never seen one like this before!  I asked and found out that it's for the internal ultrasound wand. Later, our friend Nick, who is our vet, said he hadn't seen one like this before last week.  It's apparently the latest in vet glove wear.  In stores now!

Stephanie Luark, Melissa Humphrey, and Caleb Stewart - this event wouldn't happen without people like this organizing every single detail ... and planning for months!  (Thank you to all of the volunteers and host farmers - we appreciate it!)

We ended with a visit to the parlor ...

And enjoyed some chocolate milk.  

We look forward to next year.  If you live in Michigan, we hope you can join us.

Then it was back to our own farm, our own cows, and our own little farmer boys.

Thanks, Family Fun at the Farm!

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Why we do what we do

Photo credit: Natalina Sents, Beck's Hybrids

As I reported before, Natalina Sents is traveling all 50 states this year to honor farmers.  She is writing farmers' stories on the 'Why I Farm' site by Beck's, too.

She posted her story about us, and I'm so glad that she captured what Kris said.  It's nice for us to read back on it on the longest days, when he is working every waking hour!  (80 heifer calves and counting!)

“You think about all the things that go into a dairy farm. Growing the crops, maintaining the machinery, and milking the cows. This is the finished product that we come up with every day. We really have a lot of pride in all this work that we all do culminates into that product. So you really just want to do the best job you can, shipping out a high quality product. The more comfortable, well taken care of and fed the cows are, the more milk and the better milk they’ll give. They have mattresses, and fans, and a nutritionist, and a veterinarian, and a hoof trimmer, because it’s such a symbiotic relationship that we all are taking care of each other. We’re spending all this time and effort regardless. If you end up with just a mediocre product at the end, it’s just not that motivating. We’re trying to do the best job we can for the safety and quality, but also it’s for all of us that work here. We take pride in what we do.”

The entire article is here, on Why I Farm.

Photo credit: Natalina Sents, Beck's Hybrids

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