Thursday, October 8, 2015

Go Green!

Today Professor Miriam Weber Nielsen from Michigan State University brought her Introductory Dairy Cattle Management class to our farm.

They make a yearly visit, and every year the students are always engaged and interested.  Great conversations!

Kris and I talked about our farm, and the students had specific questions - different than what people not involved in agriculture ask - like what pasture grass we grow, if the calves ever suck on each other, what specific feed we use, the benefits of pasture, about growing our own feed, what kind of illnesses the calves get, how we work with natural bull breeding, etc.

They all have different interests too - one student came from a 50-cow dairy farm, and she wants to be involved in cow care.  Another came from a farm but wanted to learn all about cropping, because it's new to him.  Another wanted to work somewhere like the MSU extension office.

Miriam also mentioned to the students that part of the reason she brings a class to our farm is because Kris and I are good communicators.  All that talking I did through all my college classes is finally seen as a positive, instead of a negative!  If you wait long enough ...

Thanks again to Dr. Weber Nielsen and our beloved MSU!  If you ever need us to take this bus to football games, we're in.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ask a farmer anything! - from the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo

Thomas Titus, pig farmer from Illinois, Jill Mantey, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers alliance staff, and I represented farmers at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Nashville, Tennessee.

Over 10,000 dietitians and nutritionists came to attend educational sessions and visit the expo.

The people:

It could have also been called a parade of health. I knew most dietitians were women, but I learned there was a type. Healthy, great hair and skin, outgoing, and apparently fantastic clothing. (Where is the app I can point at outfits and immediately purchase them? Please invent.)

There was the occasional male dietitian. I used the term 'male dietitian' with one and he corrected me, saying, "Mantitian. Advantage - no bathroom line!"


The issues:

When I asked dietitians what farming questions their clients or patients had, they almost always responded that they were the ones educating their clients about agriculture, and that often their clients think food comes from a grocery store. They often stressed how it's important to know where your food comes from, and they talked a lot about local choices and farmers markets.

Our booth said, "Ask a farmer anything!" We got ...

"What are the biggest barriers for you in connecting with consumers?"

"What is your goal in being here?"

"Is it true you take out all the fat in milk and put it back in?"

"Are tomatoes a berry?"

Pesticides, sustainability, environmental impact, GMOs, organic, animal care ...

You name a hot topic in agriculture, it came up. I found it incredibly useful - and it never got less funny - to introduce my family and farm by gesturing behind me. It was so great to be able to talk to so many people at the forefront of nutrition education about our business and lifestyle.


Public view of farming:

Over time, the public perception of farming has changed dramatically. When Thomas and I introduced ourselves as farmers, people often thanked us and told us they personally also wanted to be farmers - or hoped to be farmers someday. We got questions about soil for gardens, the easiest farm animal to maintain, and educational resources for starting a small farm.

A dietitian who also farmed said, "Farmers used to be considered country bumpkins. Dumb hayseeds. Now when people say they're farmers it's the cool, trendy thing! Fifty-seven years old and I'm cool again!"

But it's a type of farmer that is considered interesting. Small farms and farmers markets are considered good, and people are skeptical of big farms, corporate farms, and farmers they don't know.

A different dietitian said, "I know the food I'm buying at the farmers market is not the same food people are buying at fast food restaurants and grocery stores."

That was an interesting statement, because it really boils down to control. People want some control over the food they're purchasing. They can't produce what they want, because they don't have the resources, but they certainly know what they want. The hows and whys of what they want doesn't really factor in, because they've never had a farm as a business. But we live in a country where you can get pretty much what you want, and so consumers would like to be able to dictate how they want their food to be produced, what they want to eat, and the price at which they get it.

Farmers, in turn, want to have the best farm possible. We want to produce food consumers want to buy at a profit. We want successful businesses, healthy animals, good crops, and job satisfaction. We all want clean air, water, and soil.  We want to meet consumer needs. As people often say about farming, you have to really love it, or you wouldn't do such a hard job.

So where does that leave us? My husband Kris often points out that there are extremists on both sides of every issue and most people land somewhere in the middle. 

We all essentially want the same things - food, responsibly grown, healthy, affordable. So as long as we keep working together toward solutions that meet everyone's needs, we can all be happy.  (It totally works in Congress!)


One tool U.S. Farming & Ranching is using that we hope helps give a real view of farming is the documentary Farmland by James Moll. It follows six young farmers and talks about what their lives are like. It's a way to provide a counterpoint to documentaries that are not a good representation of farming.

I think the documentary does a good job profiling the farmers the producer picked. It's on Netflix and you can find more about it here. (But of course dairy farming is my favorite, and since they don't feature a dairy farmer, please feel free to ask me any questions.)

Lots of dietitians asked if they could show it in a class or to others in their profession, or to clients,  of course we appreciate any tool that helps get the USFRA message across - we're farmers, we're real people, and we're trying to run the best farms possible.

For instance, one dietitian said that she'd seen a drone video going over a farm, showing the massive pits of manure, which they then spray onto fields and pollute the environment.  I told her I'd seen that video too, and when I saw it I had a different reaction.  All the farmers I know invite anyone and everyone to come to their farms, tour it, and talk to them about their concerns. Manure lagoons aren't a secret. We have one, it's engineered under strict federal, state, and local regulations, it's managed, and we use all the manure in it to fertilize all of our fields to grow crops. Manure is a fantastic natural fertilizer. I told her a creek runs right by my house - I live right on my farm, and I wouldn't want to pollute my land and my water either, just like she wouldn't.

So yes! All of these issues are important to all of us. We're all in this together. Whatever way we can talk about it - in person, through video, through drone footage - let's keep doing it.

Fun facts:

- Thomas snagged me a selfie stick. Get ready for some farm selfies.

- Hairless kiwis exist! Zespri SunGold. You can eat them - skin and all - like an apple.

- Two of the most popular booths (tons gave away food) were Siggi's and Chobani - both are yogurts which use tons of milk.

- Dietetic students go through an internship. During a session a professor reported on student reactions to including farm tours in the curriculum. The main lesson the students learned? The students reported: "Farming is hard."

It's not the easiest job in the world, but it is satisfying. After all, Kris and I are farmers in a long, long line of farmers. We've done the same things that our ancestors have been doing for years. One thing that might be different ... this week I spoke with hundreds of people who care deeply about where their food comes from, and they tweeted and Facebooked about it to their thousands of followers.  Hopefully by continuing to work also in this way, we can help make an impact.

So, ask me your questions! Tell me your concerns! And while you're at it, please invent that clothing-buying app. If we can grow an edible-skin kiwi, can't we do anything?!

Contact me -

Thursday, October 1, 2015


We're snapping corn, which means we put a corn head on the chopper.  Instead of chopping up everything, like with the other head, this one snaps off the stalk and grinds up the cob into tiny little pieces.  It still gets some of the stalk, but this method concentrates on getting the corn on the cob, which has the most nutritional and caloric benefits for cows.

We then are putting the ground up corn into bags.  Why?  Because it's such a good corn harvest that we can't build our piles any higher!  So we have to devise other ways to store the harvest.

Here's a little of what it looks like:

Rows and rows to do - here's the view from the cab.

He pulls a wagon behind him.  The chopper shoots the feed into it.

One of our team members takes it to the barn, and Kris gets out of the chopper and hitches up the empty wagon.

We take it to the barn and use the rented bagger to get in into the plastic bag.  This requires dumping it, using a wheel loader to load it, then using the bagger.

Repeat until finished.  We've been snapping for two days now and hope to be done by Friday.  The weather and equipment have been cooperating, and it'll be a huge relief when it's done!  It'll be an especially huge relief to Kris because I've been really using the corn puns all month long.  I know it's corny, but shucks, I can't help it.

Here's a video of the action!

 Until next year!

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 email!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Step right up

Our friends Julie and Brent Koopmann - dairy farmers in Iowa - came to visit!  We know them through National Milk Producers Federation so we actually met in Florida, got to know each other in Arizona, visited them in Iowa ... and now put them to work in Michigan!  

I'm kidding, of course.  Brent just stepped right in to help because ... it's what he does too.  (I swear we are better hosts than that.)

Since the summer employees are back in school, Kris has been doing a lot of calf chores.  Above, they're feeding bottles, and below they're using our calf cart.  We have a golf cart with a tank on the back.  We fill it with the milk from our cows and feed it to the calves in their buckets via a hose.  

We love our license plate.  (The answer is yes.)

We also have finished chopping the corn - but we still aren't done.  We have no more space for silage, so we rented an adapter and a combine head.  That way, we can mount them on the chopper and get snaplage to put into bags.  Snaplage is what it's called when you grind up the cobs of corn into easily digestible food for the cattle.

And, we have a new red and white Holstein!  We had a red and white Holstein bull a few years ago, and every now and then one makes an appearance.  My kids might not be covering this in school yet, but at home they get little genetics lessons all the time!

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 email!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

GMO - Genetically modified organisms

I got a handout from the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan all about GMOs.  It made me want to give one to everyone as Kris is out chopping our GMO corn right now.  Let me summarize from it so you, too, can discuss in the grocery store aisles!

What are GMOs?

Genetically modified organisms.  Translated - genes are changed.  Scientists intentionally make a copy of a gene for a desired trait in one plant and use it in another plant.

Selective breeding has been used since the beginning of time to produce crops with better taste, yield, and disease resistance.  GMOs speed up the process - instead of going through generations and generations of plants, you can use the genes right away.

Which crops are genetically modified?

(There are only eight!  How many of the eight can you name before scrolling down?)

Sugar beets

The USDA has approved others, but they're still in the process of being approved for sale.

Why would anyone want to grow GMOs?

One, they're better for the environment,

With better crops, farmers can reduce pesticide use, plow less often, and use fewer natural resources.

Two, they keep costs down for everyone.

When there's a drought, GMO plants still have a good chance of growing due to their hardy traits. That means food is still available to everyone, even though there was a dry year.  A year of no crops would be devastating to a farmer and bad for the consumer.  When crops are assured, we can still provide and we can all still consume.

Three, they present no health risks.

Farmers have been growing GM crops since 1994, and "there has not been a single documented instance of harm to human health resulting from genetic modifications, including allergic reactions, cancers, infertility, ADHD, or any other diseases." (CMPM, Real Talk About GMOs)

Who grows GMOs?

Answer in the brochure:  18 million farmers in 28 countries.  You may have heard that some countries ban GMO plants.  That's true.  But millions of people embrace the technology:

Canada, US, Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, S Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia, Romania, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Phillipines, Australia, Argentina, and Czech Republic

What else?

Today's GMOs are "the most researched and tested agricultural products in history."  In fact, "GMO crops are compositionally and nutritionally the same as their conventional counterparts." (CMPM, Real Talk About GMOs)

GMOs are bred to resist chemicals and/or insects.  They do not internally contain pesticides and herbicides.

I wasn't able to find the brochure online, but this is the information in it.  I like it because it's succinct and straightforward.

Of course, none of this matters if consumers decide they don't want GMOs.  What consumers want, consumers get.  So if we're all educated on the matter, then we're all able to make better decisions.

As a farmer, why am I pro-GMO?  All the reasons that I just cited.  When a new iPhone comes out, people are waiting in line overnight.  Technology is embraced.  When scientists are able to streamline the genetic modification process to allow farmers to grow drought-resistant, chemical-resistant, and bug-resistant crops, people are worried.  Technology is not embraced.

Since I'm involved in agriculture and know a lot of farmers, my social media feed is full of articles about GMOs.  Take the time to do your own research ... and try to be more informed.  Take note of the woman who answers, "What's a GMO?" with: "I don't know.  I know it's like some corn, bad stuff, right?  I know it's bad, but to be completely honest with you, I have no idea."  When you have all of the information, you can make an informed decision for yourself.  Then when Jimmy Kimmel comes along, you'll be ready!

Thank you to the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan for their great brochure and educational efforts.  You can follow them on Facebook.

Meanwhile, back on the farm ... we're still chopping corn!  It's such a fantastic yield this year.  All the farmers are in the fields chopping.  Our milk co-op had an advisory board meeting today and I'm wondering who could have possibly made it!  When the corn's ready, it's ready.  We're still having newborn calves, today's the last day of summer, and the milk prices aren't budging.  Let's hope for a wonderful, dairy-loving fall!

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 email!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Roll it

We rented a roller to help compress the pile of corn silage.  It's really heavy and it has the nubs on the roller and it vibrates.  It's a Caterpillar - regards to our old employer!

We've done 110 acres so far (5 entire days of chopping) and have about 130 acres left to do.  Almost halfway!  We store it in a huge pile so we'll have feed for our cattle the rest of the year.

Here's what the chopper looks like folded up to drive on the road.

The soybeans are all turning yellow - we don't grow any soybeans, but we do buy them as a supplement to our feed.  Lots of our neighbors grow them, and I think they're beautiful.  The leaves change on the trees and the leaves change on the ground.

It's a rough time of year, really.  It's hard work with the continued calving and harvest, and the milk price just keeps going lower.  We're really thankful for our great team of people and everyone who bought milk today!

A friend posted this story on Facebook - her son didn't eat any of his lunch today.  When she asked him why, he told her it was because he drank four chocolate milks - that he had taken, not paid for, and no one had noticed.  I think it calls for a new marketing line - dairy!  Good enough to steal!


Today I spoke at the US Department of Agriculture's Mideast Marketing Area meeting in Frankenmuth.  It was super enjoyable, and they had a lot of questions.  Thanks so much to Linda Garrett for inviting me.

I also participated in my first email conversation with the fourth grade class at Gateway North Elementary School.  Gateway is an AG-STEM school, and Kris and I are the class farmers for the fourth grade this year.  They had lots of good questions also, but my favorite was the first one because I've NEVER gotten it before.  It was ... Do you have turtles?

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 email!

Thursday, September 10, 2015


We started chopping corn today!  Every time we chop corn I'm amazed at the machine that is the chopper.

It takes the ENTIRE corn stalk, ear and all, and turns it into confetti-sized pieces.  The pieces shoot into the wagon that a tractor is pulling.  (And it happens fast - much faster than I can mow wet grass!)

The person driving the tractor has to drive alongside the chopper at the exact right speed and distance.  When his wagon is full, he goes and dumps it on the pile, and another tractor and wagon takes his spot.

Everything has to go right ... all the machinery has to work.  The corn has to be the right moisture. Everyone driving has to pay close attention.  They use hand signals and cell phones to communicate. It's quite a process.  Today one of our team members pulled a wagon for the first time for us - and did a great job.

I rode along today, and I was impressed like every year.  I like to think of what my ancestors would think about this machinery.

One thing never changes, no matter the machines ... everyone is exhausted after a day of harvesting. Whether you're using horses or amazing machines - it's tiring!

I've been sharing a lot of little pictures and videos on Facebook - if you're interested you can like my page on Facebooklike this:

It's corn chopping time! Here's Kris and Max (age 4) discussing the harvest. : ) We chop the entire corn plant into...
Posted by Truth or Dairy on Thursday, September 10, 2015