Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hairnets and taste tests - Dairy Communicator meeting

We don't normally dress in matching outfits.

Yesterday was so fun - we had the Michigan Milk Producers Dairy Communicator meeting, and it started with a tour of our Ovid plant!

I looooove a factory tour, and this one even required costumes.  We put on:

rubber boots
safety glasses
ear plugs

and removed all of our jewelry.  Every single bit of it.  Watches and fitbits, too.  We were a dull, exercise-not-tracked bunch.  (What is the point of walking if you can't count your steps?  Might as well lie down.)

We had to wash our hands like surgeons - singing happy birthday twice - and wade through cleanser so we didn't track anything from room to room.

We got to see the GIANT butter churn, which was churning butter and putting it into 55lb boxes with the MMPA label on it.  We saw rooms of processing, the loading docks, the valve room - which looked like something out of a science fiction movie - and more.

It was so impressive to see everything that goes on to process our milk.  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but here are some from the outside!

Fellow dairy farmer Jennifer Lewis!
Group photo, trying not to shiver in the cold.

We went to the meeting at AgroLiquid and listened to Kris and then Jim our director of sales.

We are all wrapped up in running our own day-to-day businesses and dealing with the actual obtaining of the milk.  Cropping, animal care, people, calves - so, so many details in running a farm.  Then we saw the actual processing side of it - a GIANT processing plant that gets it to people.  Then we have the sales and marketing side of it - an office that deals with suppliers, customers, market strategies ... basically, it's a huge operation to make, use, and sell food.  It's going on every day for every food and the world is a magical place that this all happens to reliably and safely.  Amazing!

We then did something really fun - a milk taste test!  We had 1% organic, 1% conventional, Lactaid, 2% conventional, whole conventional, and A2 milk, which is a kind of milk that has A2 protein and not A1 protein, so it's marketed as being easy to digest.

It was our job to guess which was which, and this was so fun!  I was not good at guessing them, but I liked all of them.  (I only got Lactaid correct.)  I love milk - apparently all kinds.  It was like a lot of tastings!

Only three people out of the 40-ish there got them all right - and the rest of us were very impressed.

That night I did it with my boys, this time with skim, 2%, whole, and A2 whole.  (We always have skim, 2%, and whole here, but we had some A2 from the meeting.  No one in our family has a problem digesting anything, as far as I can tell.  These kids could eat rocks.)  Fun for the whole family.  Give it a shot at your house and let me know how it goes!

All in all, a super fun day.  We're back on the farm today, doing just one small part in the entire huge process.  No hairnets needed.

Happy Maundy Thursday!

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

Monday, March 18, 2019

Michigan Dairy Cattle News - Spring edition

Today seemed like spring! 

1. I saw a robin two days ago for the first time, then again yesterday, and today all day.  They are here to STAY.

2.  The sun was shining and the birds were singing.

3. The boys played baseball.  (We did too.) 

4. I picked up a million sticks in the yard. 

5. It smells like spring, which is a mix of dirt and joy.

Spring really comes on Wednesday, and I am so ready!  In fact, I'm ready two days early.

The farm is ready, too.  Lots of new adventures ahead! 

The spring edition of Michigan Dairy Cattle News came out, and here are my articles.  Please note, the new cheese plant is in our town!  We like to check on its progress since we drive past it ten times a week.

I love writing, I love agriculture, and ... I love spring!  Hope the birds, the scents, and the warmth are balancing out the amount of mud in your life. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

140 years!

This winter is/was/is continuing to be a REAL winter, with lots of snow and cold!  Some winters it only snows a couple of times and melts away, but this winter we've had the chance for lots of sledding, and even skiing and snowboarding!  

It's tough when the waterers freeze, or when the fuel gels, but overall things have been going well.  No power outages, no furnaces breaking, and so the regular work has gone on like usual.

I was thinking about how many things have changed since we came back to the farm, and we've done some pretty big projects.

2008 - added an irrigation pivot
2010 - built cement pad and cattle crossings
2011 - built calf barn
2012 - remodeled the dairy barn
2013 - built freestall barn and manure lagoon
2017 - remodeled freestall barn to change to sand bedding
2017 - remodeled dairy barn to add an aisle leading to the parlor
2018 - added a second bulk tank

Five years ago, my mom made us a book about our homestead.  After a long history, Kris and I have a liiiiiittle paragraph at the end about what we had done since we moved here.  It's interesting to see how tiny your time is here over the 140 years that the farm has been here.

It's also interesting to think about the next 10, 20, 30(?) years that we will be here.  What projects will be next?  How will things change around here?  When will non-gelling fuel be invented? 
It's all still yet to be written.

In the meantime, we're alternately enjoying/withstanding the winter, taking care of our cattle, working with our teammates, and writing the history of our farm.  Here's to the next winter, and all the ones after that!  Happy 140!

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Otter spotter

Today was a balmy 46 degrees, and when I was running by the creek at my house, I saw an animal slip into the water.

It swam with its head up, making a squeak/bark noise, like it was calling another animal.  How funny, I thought.  I've never heard a muskrat make that noise before.

Another one appeared, making the same noise.  The two of them dove down, came back up, and chewed what they had found on the bottom.

I stared at them.  They didn't look like muskrat.  They didn't look like beavers, either.  Plus, they were huge.  They were also cute!  They looked like ... otters.  I watched them for a long time until they didn't come back up.

I went home and googled otters in Michigan, and came upon a video in Michigan that sounded exactly like these otters!  They were OTTERS!

I ran back down to the creek, but they never returned.  At home, I looked at trail cam pictures, news stories, and videos about otters.

This is so exciting to me, since you figure that the outdoors is kind of going to be the same, but this was an entirely new animal I've never spotted here - and it was a cute one!  My parents, who have lived here 30 years longer than I have, haven't ever seen an otter either.  It was - and is - SO exciting!

This goes for eagles, too.  Growing up, we never had eagles here.  Now we have tons of eagles and see them at least once a month, often flying right over our farm.  In December I saw eagles five days in a row.  They're often eating road kill along the side of the road, or perching in trees.

I have a friend named Greg Smith who takes amazing wildlife photos, usually of birds.  I asked him about the otters and he said he knows of two pair that hang out at the Maple River State Game Area (not far from my house), and he said there are at least six eagle nests he knows of in the area.

I told my brother Gage about this, and he said, "Are you going to write about this and tout that your farm's environmentally friendly farming practices are attracting all sorts of new wildlife?"

I laughed and said that was a great idea, and then in the above article I read that otters "tend to seek out areas with clean water and abundant fish."  So, thanks for the plug, otters.  I also read that eagles have doubled their number of nesting pairs in Michigan in the last 15 years, and there are now about 800.  They must like it here.

I talked about this with Gage, and he said, "Eagles, otters.  What's next ... a wolverine?"   

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Snow day!

On December 12, I was just running down the road and a FedEx Ground guy handed me a water out his window. Best surprise!!!

I was so delighted, and I snapped this picture as he drove away.

Today, on this super cold day, I was getting ready to go running outside, and an unfamiliar pickup truck drove into our driveway.  The guy in the passenger seat started up toward the door, and I opened it to meet him.

"Hi, is your farm open today?"  he asked.

I thought this was a charming question, because almost everything IS closed today.  Libraries, schools, state government - even the mail in Michigan was suspended today, because it was cold.  (This cracks me up.  Most of us walk just from our cars into buildings, so why were these things closed?  But we were definitely open, just like lots of other places.  I digress.)

"Yes," I said.  "What can I help you with?"

"Hey!" he said.  "You're the girl I gave the water to!"

I then noticed he was wearing a FedEx coat, and I recognized him from before.  I introduced myself, he said his name was Steve, and I thanked him for the water.  My boys had come on the porch to see who it was, and they met him, too.

He told me his FedEx truck was stuck on the road in the snow about a mile away, and he wondered if we had something that we could use to pull him out.  He'd gotten a ride from someone who had happened to drive by, and then they drove over to our farm to see if there was anyone around to help.  I called one of our team members who said he could do it.  Steve thanked me and went back to his stuck truck.

I started down the road on my run and before I even got a half a mile, the guy in the pickup truck came back, alone.  He told me that the road commission had happened by and was getting the FedEx truck out.  I cancelled the distress call. 

At the next mile, the FedEx truck flew past me, with Steve (we're on a first name basis now) smiling and waving. 

So we ARE open, but then the team went back to dealing with a flat tire, staying warm while working outside in the cold temperatures (it's -13 now), trying to keep the waterers from freezing up, and dealing with all the things that happen when it's cold outside.  Kris got ski goggles for the guys operating equipment.  Your face does get really cold in this wind. Update: It's 3:30 a.m., and Kris has not been to bed yet because he's working on a machine that won't work. Oh, the cold...

So - thanks to neighbors, thanks to our team members, and thanks to random FedEx guys for making our days bright.  It's so nice when we all work together.

On a side note, the kids have been off school all week.  We did the fun 'throw boiling water and watch it freeze' experiment in the cold.  It turned out great.  This is take two.  On take one I splashed some of it onto my foot and burnt it so bad it blistered.  Ridiculous mistake.  Where was Steve with that bottle of water then?!   

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Team Chocolate Milk!

Saturday Team Chocolate Milk was at the Portland Winter Run. Matt and I came in second in our age groups, and Kris won first place for the first time! It snowed the whole time - check out our frozen eyelashes.

Wearing my Team Chocolate Milk gear is so fun.  People always yell at me and cheer me on.  I did drink chocolate milk I brought myself afterward - they also had homemade chili, hot chocolate, and cookies.  I love races, and it's even more fun when people go and do them with you!  Go team! 

My plan is to run a race every month this year.  I'm pretty sure this will be the coldest one, but we shall see ... My next one is on Super Bowl Sunday in Okemos if anyone wants to join me in a chocolate milk toast!