Sunday, November 23, 2014

Icy today, gone tomorrow

This was Friday morning - 2 degrees, and icily beautiful:



Later, I was marveling at the heifers.  They have access to the barn, where they're bedded down with dry, soft straw.  But some of them prefer to lie right in the snow:


I think even the other heifers were admiring her.  Or questioning her comfort choices.

I've been doing a couple interviews for the Faces of Farming & Ranching award, and one of the interviewers asked me about how our farm is 'different' than a lot of dairy farms.  I don't really think about it much, but, here are the ways our farm is different than a lot of others.

- We pasture our cattle.

Not every farm has fields right next to their barns, and not everyone had a parent who built an irrigation pivot.  Barns are built for cow comfort ... sand beds, mattresses, even misters in their barn to keep the cows cool in warm weather.  

- We use natural bull breeding.

Many farms use artificial insemination, which is called AI.  We buy bulls from different farms, let them in with the cows, and let nature take its course.  Why the difference?  When people breed cows with AI, they impregnate them with like, the Harvard grads, NFL bodies of bulls.  Also, it takes bull meanness out of the equation.  We rarely have a mean bull, since we have young ones with only one thing on their minds, but it has happened.  We just have to sell them.

- Our cows calve in the pasture.  

Since the cows are in barns, the calves are usually born in maternity pens.  Other farms, due to AI, also know exactly when the calves are due.  Ours are born within a few months, but the exact time is a surprise.  Usually during the night.

- We don't record each cow's milk production.

On some farms, people have monitors on each cow telling how much milk she gives.  Some farms show the milk coming out of the milker so you can check right away:  



We check this just when we're milking them.

But like when I talked to the interviewer, I told him what I think:  there's no 'right way.'  It's like any business - you do what works for you.  What works for our land or operation might not work for another.  So we're all different, and that's what keeps dairy farms - and dairy tours! - endlessly interesting.  If you're a dairy farmer, anyway.

That, and the weather.  The ice is gone and the mud is here.  Wonder what the heifers will be lying in tomorrow?

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Pour it forward

Tonight, the foamers stopped working during the milking.

The foamers are what the milkers use to clean off the cows' teats.  They foam, like foam soap, due to an air compressor.  But something wasn't working.  Kris tried a new compressor, and it worked. They were mostly done for the night, but it would really matter to the guys milking in the morning - always better to fix things .. when you're awake, as opposed to half asleep!

It's super cold here.  It's supposed to get down to 9 degrees tonight.  What mysterious problems will the cold cause tomorrow?  Always a surprise!

***

I was in Kroger today and heard over the speaker, "Michigan's dairy farmers and Kroger have come together to donate milk to those in need.  Donate a gallon of milk by buying a paper milk gallon at the register."



This is the second annual "Pour it Forward" campaign, which runs this month in all 124 Michigan Kroger stores.  Kroger customers can purchase a paper milk gallon for $3, and the milk goes to local food banks.  The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (funded by dairy farmers) has partnered with The Kroger Co. of Michigan as part of the Great American Milk Drive.

The above article quotes Jayne Homco, president of The Kroger Co. of Michigan, as saying that milk is the number one food item requested by Michigan food banks.

When I got to the register, this is what I saw ... looks like it's popular in the North Pole, too.





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Monday, November 17, 2014

Dairy lesson

Today I had the pleasure of teaching at St Joseph ... first, their begindergarten class.  (This is a class for young 5 year olds, and I was excited to be there, because I love words smashed together to make new words.)


I quizzed them individually after and gave them a 'Got Chocolate Milk' slap bracelet when they got it right.  They drank chocolate milk, got their milk coloring book and crayons, and were generally adorable.



I walked into the kindergarten class and heard, "You're my soccer teacher!"  A different boy said, "You're my swimming teacher!"  The class teacher said, "You teach a lot of things."  (You live in the same town long enough, and you'll have taught everyone something!)

In this lesson, I got one of my favorite things about this age.  When I ask for questions, everyone has one ... but it's never actually a question.  It's a really long story about the time they went to a farm.  I love it - it makes me laugh.  We had a great discussion.

After we were done, the teacher said, "Well, even I learned something today!  I didn't know a cow had FOUR stomachs!"  

A student said, "There's a monkey that has four stomachs, too."  (I looked it up later.  Proboscis monkeys have a four-chambered stomach.  What an odd-looking creature ... so I learned something too.)

And we filled all of the kids' stomachs with chocolate milk.  Only one person spilled, and it wasn't a student.  Sorry!  




Meanwhile, back on the farm ... the story is, IT'S COLD!  16 degrees tonight when I came in.  So it's all the regular farm work as usual, just with tons of layers, cold faces, and even colder hands.  It's snowing, too, which slows everything down as usual.  Buckle down!  We're in for another cold winter, I guess ... seeing as how right now it's still fall!

Want to know more about the farm?  You can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seventh grade farming



Tracy's class spelled out 'Truth or Dairy' when it was warm

Since I was already in Kansas City, I went to school with my sister, and did a farming lesson for 220 seventh graders.

The lesson focused on getting good sources, getting points to back up your thesis, and checking out three articles with different views on farming.

We started with this Jimmy Kimmel video, in which people are asked, "Do you avoid GMOs?"  People emphatically answer yes.  Then the video people ask, "Why?"  or "What does GMO stand for?"  Even though the people selected for the video had very strong opinions, they didn't know what GMO stood for or what it meant.  So that led into the articles and how to write their own persuasive essay.

With the articles, we also talked about farming.  I loved the kids' questions, as always!  There were the regular ones, and also these I'd never gotten before:  


- What do you do when a cow dies? (In this sad event, we call a trucking company and they are composted.)

- How much does a cow cost?  Because I want to buy one.  (It varies.  A calf costs about $300, and a cow costs about $2000.)

- Why don't you keep the boy cows?  (Because only girls give milk.)  Why don't the boys give milk?  (Only girls give milk in mammals.)  Boys can't give milk?  (No.)

- Who is stronger, you or your sister?  (Tracy.  But I can run faster.) (I had to say that to save some face.) 


Teaching in the media center



This must be the expression I have when teaching.
Tracy in her classroom.  She can't help but talk about farming - she's from one too!

Back when I got home we had our first snow that stuck to the ground!  The boys were SO excited! This was us at 8:00 a.m.

It's already gone, but it was fun while it lasted.

Kris, who was busy doing all the work ... said he had the exact opposite reaction when he saw the snow!  He was out late last night.  He helped pull a calf - the biggest heifer calf he'd ever seen.  He couldn't even lift her himself.  He thought she probably weighed 150.  (We thought we were going to sell all the rest of the calves that were born because it's so late in the year, but I'm trying to convince him to keep her.  She's so big!)

She's yellowish.  Sometimes this happens when a calf manures while inside the mother.  It's sort of like a coloring on her hair.

So since everything was frozen this morning, of course everything took longer.  Back to frozen-winter farming, with all of its complications!

But that's a class lesson for another day.  When we're still working on which gender gives the milk, we have a few more points to cover before we get to that.

Any questions for me?  Let me know!   You can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Faces of Farming & Ranching - exciting!




I'm thrilled to announce ... I've been selected as the Face of Farming & Ranching! A MILLION thanks to everyone who voted! For the next year, I’ll be speaking about farming around the country. Right now I’m in Kansas, where they announced the winners at the National Association of Farm Broadcasters convention.

Thank you so, so much for all the support.  I’ll do my best to represent our fantastic community, state, and industry!

The entire process started with an application, essay questions, and a video.  Through that they chose the eight finalists.  Then the film crew came and recorded a video.  We then had a 30-minute phone interview with U S Farmers & Ranchers Alliance staff and the Faces of Farming & Ranching from last year.  After that, the online vote ... and then the phone call!  They wanted to be able to make the announcement themselves, so they instructed us to keep the news confidential until after the press conference here yesterday.  (It was a difficult secret to keep, so thank goodness I didn't have to keep it for long.)

Yesterday I met the other four Faces - Erin Brenneman, a pig farmer from Iowa, Darrell Glaser, a turkey farmer from Texas, Jay Hill, a crop and cattle farmer from New Mexico, and Thomas Titus, a pig farmer from Illinois - and they were all so great to talk with and so fun.  We had a day of media training, where we practiced our skills, and then the press conference.  We all spoke, did some Q & A, and then had about six individual interviews each.  (It was the most I've talked in one day since ... possibly ever.)

Some spouses and my sister were able to come, plus two staff members, and we all went out to dinner together and talked (surprise!) farming - with a lot of laughing.  They're just a great group of people.          

Thanks again for all of your support.  I'm so excited to be doing this for the next year, and I'm so honored to be selected. 

So that brings us to today ... I'm back in school!  My sister Tracy is a middle school teacher here in Kansas, and I'm teaching a dairy lesson in all her classes today.  She's got them prepped - they've read two articles about dairy, and their assignment was to check the code on their milk gallons.  I'm ready for questions about milk, cows, and whatever else seventh grade boys are interested in.  I've got a good lead ... I do live on a farm with 400 females. 



Want to know more about the farm?  You can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.
 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wacky Wednesday





Today the farm was a bustle of activity ... Kris commented on how Wednesday is always the busiest day, because it's the day everyone in the world is working.  Mondays and Fridays - not so much!

Nutritionist
The nutritionist came for his regular visit to take feed samples and talk about corn silage fermentation.  Kris loves talking nutrition with him.  (They're also friends.)  They also go through the barns to look at the cow's manure to see how firm it is, and see how much corn they can see in it.  OH, THE GLAMOUR!  But yes, very important.  Sort of like ... how moms monitor their babies' diapers.

Note: Our nutritionist has a PhD in animal nutrition.

Workman's Comp Auditor
Every so often the insurance auditor comes to check our books and make sure we're compliant with workman's comp.  Our meeting was today.  We're legit.  Though we'd prefer no one ever gets hurt.

Note: She has been doing audits for 27 years.

Tire company
The tire company came to put duals on our tractor.  We tried out a new disc (which is a field implement), and we thought that if we had dual tires it wouldn't slip when pulling it.  It still sort of does, so we might have to just not buy the disc. But we'll keep the big tires.  Better traction and stability never hurts.

Note: This is the first time we've used this company.  It's amazing how many tire choices there are.

Trucking company
We moved some of our heifers over to our heifer raisers' farm.  Our heifers have been outside since spring in the pasture.  We don't have a barn for all of them for the winter, so we pay a heifer raiser to keep them at his place until the spring, when we put them back out on pasture.

Note:  One of our long-time employees now works with his dad at his dad's trucking company. Always nice to see them - they do all of our cattle trucking.  Our heifer raisers have been taking care of some of our cattle in the winter for two years now, and they also have ... twins!

(Why is Max in shorts and Kris in a winter hat?  Because one of them is not still pretending it's summer.)


When you think about a farm ... all these people and all these businesses are involved.  There are businesses whose entire purpose is to fix milking equipment!  (They're hugely in demand.)  It's not just us, alone, on a farm.  There's no chance to be lonely.  We even have a driveway alarm to alert us when people are here - you never know when someone will stop by, looking for us!  There's us, our employees, their families ... then all these businesses and their families ... we're all in it together.  The farm is more than just a family farm.  It's a community effort!

No matter what day of the week we're all working.




Want to know more about the farm?  You can like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by good old, old-fashioned email - the form is on the right side of the page.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Agri-Fit Challenge!

We did such a fun race today!  In the spirit of mud runs and obstacle races, we participated in the Agri-Fit Challenge - a 5k with farming-related obstacles!

The race was:

Climb over round bales
Go down a dirt hill
Crawl under barbed wire
Run through the woods on a winding trail
Crawl under more barbed wire
Go over a set of three round bales
Carry a square straw bale around an arena
Flip a tractor tire down a row and roll it back
Crawl through a culvert
Climb up a semi truck filled with corn, run through the corn, climb down
Carry two 5-gallon pails of water up and down a barn
Push a wheelbarrow of sugar beets around an arena

Then a sprint to the finish.

It was so much fun - and a challenge!

For instance, I thought the tractor tire flip was going to be the hardest, but it wasn't!  That wasn't so bad ... scrambling up the bales was definitely the hardest for me.  My mom made me feel better by telling me that almost all the women had to help each other get over them.




Kris and I were together until we got to the bale carry.  He could run and carry a bale at the same time ... as he picked it up he yelled to me, "This is actually exactly what I'd be doing at home if I weren't here!"



Some of the obstacles felt totally natural.  When I picked up the pails of water it was just like carrying grain for the calves - or two carseats with twins.

I loved that they had sugar beets as part of it.  We don't have a ton of sugar beets around us and I love seeing them.  Cole said that at first he thought they were giant rocks.





We all toasted with chocolate milk at the end - and since it was 29 degrees, got back in the car to warm up the kids.  I was so happy to win my age group, and we finished 7th (Kris) and 8th overall.



As soon as we got back home, we went out to deliver protein tubs to the heifers in the pasture.  It's cold, and they need their protein, too!  Even if it's not coming in the form of chocolate milk.


I'm one of eight finalists for the Faces of Farming & Ranching nationwide competition!  There's an online voting portion which counts for 25% of the final score.  If you think I'd make a good ag spokesperson, please vote daily here: http://faces.pgtb.me/w2Sg4d

To learn more about it, you can read the Lansing State Journal article here: 
Vote for Carla Wardin to be National Voice of Farming