Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Talking it out

I knew right away this was going to be a good conference.  Three milk choices?!
Through U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, today I spoke at the American Food Technology & Innovation Summit in Illinois.

Though 'American' is in the title, it was a very international conference!  Today I talked to people originally from India, Ireland, Brazil, New Zealand, England, Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Holland.  Nine in one day!  The accents were music to my ears.

Not only is it an interesting conference, but the attendees were very interested in learning about modern farming, and the people and technology supporting the industry.  Lots of questions and follow up conversations!  I had questions about anaerobic digesters, organic farms, modern farming practices, sustainability practices ... and lots of evening discussions.  Very enjoyable time with intelligent, invested people.

- One of the presenters who kicked off the conference was Kai Kight, a violinist, composer, and speaker.  Not only was his playing beautiful, but so was his message - don't just be the person playing the notes someone else wrote.  Write your own plan and do something different.  (As an added bonus, he and Zippy were super friendly.)

- During the PepsiCo presentation, Richard Black said that their products are consumed over a billion times every day.  It sounded like an impressive number - and it is - but without doing any research, I'm certain that dairy products are also consumed over a billion times a day.    

- Jeff Manning, one of the people behind the Got Milk? campaign, brought to my attention that there was at one point a Got Milk? Barbie.  How have I gone this far in life and not known that?  

- We had a Future Ingredients showcase - people are always trying to come up with something new, and I love it.  Lycotec, Innophos, and Parabel presented.  They might be your next favorite new ingredient.   

- After I showed how the hoof trimmer keeps track of a cow's hoof problem, Don McGhee of Perfetti Van Melle told me, "I don't even have that!  My doctor doesn't even keep track!  He just asks me what problems I've had!"  

Lots of talk about GMOs, ingredients, and global food issues.  I'm thankful to be part of the conversation to bring in the farmer perspective.  Even in my Midwestern accent.  

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, April 13, 2015

Farm tour and milk plant tour with young cooperators

We got together with the young cooperators from our co-op for a conference.  We toured our MMPA president’s farm (Ken Nobis, who farms with brother Larry and son Kerry) and checked out their manure sand separator.

General Manager of MMPA Joe Diglio pretends this is a candid picture with Ken Nobis
Larry Nobis starts the tour

There are a variety of ways to bed down cattle.  The Nobis family has been using sand bedding since 1974.  When you use sand bedding (like a beach!) you can reuse the sand by using a separator.  

That way, you don’t have to buy new sand, but can squeeze and move the water and manure out of the sand you already used.

The sand separator has, as one of the guys put it, “a lot of moving parts.”  Sand and manure are super for lubrication, obviously!  But they’ve been using it for a long time and are loving the results and ultimate cost savings.

Sand separator 

We also saw their udder gun.  (It doesn’t sound like what it is.)  It cleans the cow teats before milking with two air motor driven brushes that turn.  It’s like an electric toothbrush for cow teats, but it also has the cleaning fluid in it.  It stimulates and cleans.  Here’s Kerry showing it off:  

Then we went on a tour of our Michigan Milk Producers Association plant in Ovid.  Talk about moving parts!  I visited a few years ago, but it’s bigger and better than even then.  One of the new machines we have is a butter churn.  I wasn’t allowed to take pictures in there for fear I’d steal my own co-op’s secrets and use them against myself (I get it, just kidding) but here's one from when I went last time.  This room was still the most amazing to me.

This is one of many amazing rooms
The butter churn is now totally automated.  When I went last time, there were still people involved in cutting the butter.  No more.  Now (even gloved) human hands don’t touch the butter at all.

The sanitary restrictions are in place, too.  At one point we had to climb over a stainless steel wall, cupboard level high, to enter a room where we had to wash our hands and then use sanitizer.  There was no good way to climb over this.  My pregnant friend was more graceful than I was.  She sat, swung her legs around, and stood up on the other side.  I thought maybe I could just step over it, but it was so wide that I reeeeeeeealy had to stretch.  Just another level of cleanliness – no sneaking in there!

Maternity wear, by my friend Chriss

A farmer in front of his barns, a farmer in front of his milk plant

It was really hard to tell us apart. Not kdding

I was impressed with all of it – the room full of milk powder, ready to be shipped, the technical machinery, the efficiency.

We went back and played a trivia game, via phones, with the rest of the young co-op members.  It was a blast – lots of laughs – and our team was doing super well, until our team member’s phone died.  As a result, we didn't get to play for the next two questions.

Looks like there’s always room for improvement, machines.

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! 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Milkers milking milk

My lovely friend Lindsay brought her niece and nephew to see the farm.

We were in the parlor with Dave (who I've known my entire life) and his son Ryan (and I've known him HIS entire life.)  Not only has Dave milked on our farm for a long time, but he also has his own dairy farm.

Obviously, Dave likes cows and milking.  But you know what he doesn't like?  We were talking and he said, "I don't drink milk.  I mean, I put it on cereal when I eat it ... like twice a year."

"You don't drink milk?!"  I said, incredulous.  "Do you like all the other dairy products?"

"Oh yeah, cheese, ice cream, butter ..." he said.

"I don't drink milk either," Ryan volunteered. "But I like the rest."

I was so surprised.  Kris came into the parlor and we relayed our conversation to him.  They were all amused that I was so surprised.  But I was!  First of all, because I love milk and rarely go a day without having it, and second, because they're farmers.

One of my first jobs was at an ice cream parlor.  My friend had worked there the summer before, and she said to watch out - she'd eaten so much ice cream that she got sick of it.  I didn't want that to happen ... and it didn't.  I ate ice cream or frozen yogurt there all the time and I NEVER got sick of it.

But you know what I don't like?  I'm not fond of cheese.  Another friend doesn't like ice cream.  Kris doesn't like sour cream.  So, just because we're all dairy farmers doesn't mean we have to like EVERY SINGLE dairy product.  After all, we're producing, not doing all of the consuming.

So, eat and drink merrily today!  Whatever you want.  You know, as long as it comes from a cow.

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, March 30, 2015


The guys spent some time these past few weeks to fence off a pasture with strong, three-strand, high tensile fence.  We're going to put heifers in our pasture on another road, so we wanted to make sure the fences were great.

Heifers are young, they're new to pasture, and they have to figure out the fences.  A single-strand doesn't work quite as well because they can blow right through it without even really noticing it.  They also graze and sort of nose right under them, sometimes, if there's something interesting to eat on the other side.  But with three-strand, it's more of a real boundary.

They're also flexible, so that when deer (or cattle) run through them, they stretch, but don't break.

So the five of us went out to check the fence and make sure it was ready for the heifers, but it was also just an excuse to go for a walk in the woods.

Pulling branches away from the fence:

Making sure it's low enough... look how brown it is!  There were a few spots of green, but not many.

And wrestling, which happens pretty much all the time now.  This wasn't checking the fences at all, but at least all of us are entertained by a 4-year-old body slam.

I told my mom we'd done this, and she said she was so excited to have cattle on her road again.  She said, "I've missed them!  I can't wait until they're out there!"

Some people want an ocean view, some people want cattle.  Luckily, we're living in the right place.


Peter Schwarz (Midland Water Superintendent), J.J. Metz (CPS crop consultant), Chad Krumnauer (DNR)

I went to career day at Kris' old high school (Valley Lutheran in Saginaw).  Kris' cousin Jess teaches there and asked me to represent dairy farming.  It was so much fun!  It was such a well-organized event.  They had representatives from every industry you can think of - 70 people in all - and students had the chance to attend various panel sessions.

I asked the students why they chose our session, and of course some of the students were from farms, and plan on having their own farm.  (We're replacing ourselves, it seems.)  Of course I encouraged those who want to start from scratch, too.  The majority of the people who said they wanted to own farms were girls, which pleasantly surprised me.  Probably less wrestling.

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!  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Meeting it up

I loved this view outside our meeting.  We have Amish and Mennonite members.
Happy first day of spring!  So happy to greet the new season.  (And that's not just because we're farmers.  It's like a collective sigh of relief here!)

While it's still meeting season, we had our annual Michigan Milk Producers Association meeting, where we hear reports from our president and general manager, give awards, and my favorite - recognize the 35-year members.

Senator Judy Emmons, 35-year MMPA member and dairy farmer

Why is it my favorite?  Because each person - and there are a lot of them - are offered the microphone to say a little something, and it's always funny or touching or both!  I started taking notes during it of little snippets ...

- I'm glad there are a lot of younger people here, because the older I get, the more stubborn I get.

- This is the youngest group of old people I've ever seen.  Go Spartans!

- This is the fifth general manager that I've had since I've been a member.  Everyone here looks pretty old, and I guess I fit in.  As for milk prices, my grandpa always said that nobody can throw a stone high enough it won't come down.

- There's nothing better than raising children on a farm.

- I used to think when I was sitting there, God, what a bunch of old people.  Now I'm up here.

- It's a privilege to be able to be home with my family.

- Please keep sending true farmers to the legislature, because no one understands it like people who have done it.

- My husband has been gone for three years now, and we worked side by side all those years.  I sure miss him a lot.  But my name's on the contract now!

There were funny slides, like our general manager Joe Diglio (I really like him), showing his magazine photo from the 90s when he saved the co-op money by acting as a model to sell MMPA attire.  As we all had a good-natured laugh about it, Kris leaned over to me and whispered, "We still sell that denim shirt!"          

And lunch always ends with one of my most favorite foods in the world:

We did all the important business - like resolutions, elections, and discussions - and we even got to hang out with our far-away friends afterward.  Back to the farm ... 

We dried up ten cows.  That means that ten of them are at the end of their lactation periods and will calve in June.  Not all of them give milk for the same amount of time after calving, and it depends on when they gave birth last year.

So, we've stopped milking ten of them so they can prepare their bodies to have calves.  Over time, we'll dry them all up, and the calving will begin.  Get ready, get set ... it's going to get cute around here.

Want to know more?  You can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley, or get the posts in your email by filling out the form on the right.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Celebrating Michigan

The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development asked me to contribute to National Ag Week.  For those of you who already know me, it's a familiar story.  For those of you who are new, here's my background!  This article appears on their site:

Even though I grew up as the sixth generation on our family’s dairy farm, I didn’t see myself continuing the tradition.  I was adamant that I didn’t want a job that depended on the weather.  It seemed we were always worrying about it at home – was it ever going to rain?  Did it rain too much? Was it going to rain when the hay was down?  Why didn’t it ever rain!?

It’s not like I didn’t embrace the lifestyle.  I showed our Guernsey calves in 4-H, I washed the parlor when my dad milked, and I loved everything about living there, but I didn’t think I wanted it as a career.

I got my MA from Michigan State and my husband Kris and I worked in marketing around the country.  But Kris was also from a dairy farm … and one day we started talking about owning our own business.

Michigan and dairy farming suddenly seemed very attractive.  My parents were thinking about retirement, so we moved from Connecticut to Michigan, settled into my family’s 136-year-old farmhouse, and bought the farm.

We’re the sole owners of Evergreen Dairy, and the farm is more than a business – it’s our lifestyle. Part of what I love to do is to go into the community and talk to people about farming.  We also enjoy having people come and tour the farm.  Since you can only reach so many people in person, I also write a blog – Truth or Dairy – that shows and tells what it’s like on our dairy farm.

Another wonderful part about the Michigan farm lifestyle is that we have so many organizations that support and promote farming.  We’re involved at the local, state, and national level.  For instance, our milk co-op is Michigan Milk Producer’s Association, and through our involvement with them and National Milk Producers Federation, we’ve had the chance to represent our industry in Washington, D.C.  Through Michigan Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau, we always get the chance to come together with other farmers and have our voices heard. It’s great meeting so many active people from all the different farming industries to communicate on what we all have in common – the desire to run our family businesses.

This year, I had the opportunity to represent farmers through U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, in a position called the Face of Farming and Ranching.  The other four spokespeople and I are spending this year talking to consumers and communicating about farming and food questions.

Along with the enthusiastic people we work with in the agriculture organizations, there are important people closer to home.  Every day, we’re thankful for our neighbors and team members – who are often the same people.  We’re so fortunate that they share our same passion for farming.

Then, there’s the support system – there are so many industries that sustain a farm.  Just to name a few, we work with milk haulers, electricians, builders, machine dealers, and seed salesmen.  We have veterinarians, nutritionists, feed haulers, and planters.  Some days, it feels like everyone’s at the farm at once!  Each and every person serves a valuable role for making sure that quality milk comes from our farm to your table.

I still sit on the porch, willing the smell of rain in the air to turn into a downpour.  We still continually check the weather to see how it’s going to affect what we’re doing.  But – agriculture is Michigan’s second biggest industry, and we’re eighth in the country for milk production.  Not bad!  It turns out that Michigan weather is great for dairy farming … and the people are even better.

The article appears here:  An Inside Look at Being a Michigan Dairy Farmer

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ag week

Not only is it Ag Week, but it's also reading month.  As a result, my son's preschool teachers asked parents to come in and read to the class.  

My favorite types of books to read to classes are farming-related.  I brought in a milker and some cow models ...

I love tiny chairs
And I read 'The Cow in Patrick O'Shanahan's Kitchen'.  If you're interested in doing it, Michigan Farm Bureau has lesson plans.

Great time.  The kids were cute, super attentive, and loved the cow models in particular.  They loved them so much I thought their little legs might to snap off.  (The toys, not the kids.)

If you have the chance to go read to a class, have fun!  Meanwhile, back at the farm ...

- tons of meetings this week.  We're meeting with the nutritionist and vet (together), and we have another co-op meeting.

- going to dry up a group of cows, which means we stop milking them before they calve.

- Kris is trying to schedule his entire life around NCAA basketball.  You know, work life balance.

Want to know more?  You can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley, or get the posts in your email by filling out the form on the right.