Sunday, December 14, 2014

Highs and lows of 2014


I love end-of-the-year wrap ups.  As we look back on 2014, here are some farm highs and lows -

Highs - milk prices!  We saw the highest milk prices ever.  In the history of our farming, and in the history of time.  To follow - lows!  They're predicting significantly lower prices for next year. 

The funny thing is ... in our 7 years of farming, this has already happened.  The first year we farmed it was record high prices, two years later, record lows.  (It's like watching a rerun.)  So, no surprises here.  You invest in the farm when you have high prices, and you hold on, roller coaster style, when prices are low.  AIEEEEE!

Lows - We had a super tough winter.  It was the coldest and snowiest winter since the 70s.  It was hard on the guys and the machinery.  High - Thankfully, it wasn't as hard on the cattle. This was the first year they had the new barn to stay in.

Highs - We had a record number of calves and a record number of twins.  The downside?  We had a majority of bulls, and an inordinate number of boy/girl twins!  When there are boy/girl twins in cattle, there's a high chance that the heifer will be infertile due to the mixing of hormones in utero.  (Infertile heifers can't have calves, and therefore never produce milk.  As for the bulls, they aren't so hot at producing milk either.)

Highs - We were able to get a new used chopper.  Low - We had to buy a chopper.  There are other things I'd rather spend money on, but as my dad puts it, "Those don't chop."  Fill 'er up with the 290 gallons of fuel!  Likewise for the manure pump.  Sometimes your business investments are necessary, sometimes they're fun, but most of the time they're really exciting to one person - the salesman.

Highs - We have a really great team here.  Some people I've known my whole life, and some were born the year I graduated high school.  (Or even later.  I know!  Hard to believe they're not tiny infants!)  They're funny, nice, and great to work with.  We had another super year with them.  Lows - we have too many birds that want to eat the feed in the barn, too many critters that want to live in the barn, and cats that don't seem to care about chasing any of them.  But!  As long as the cows and the people are good, then that outweighs the bad.  FOR NOW, CATS.

When I met pig farmer Erin Brenneman, another of the Faces of Farming & Ranching, she said that a friend told her, "Whenever I buy a pork chop, I think of you."  I really liked that.  Since then, a friend sent me a really cute link to a picture of a pillow with a cow silhouette on it, with the words 'Moo-ry Christmas.'  She wrote, "Carla, you have to make this!" 

Credit:Facebook.com/HobbyLobby

Around here, my lack of craft skills is legendary.  I've failed at almost every craft you can think of - cross stitch, crocheting, painting, wreathes, any of the ones you help preschoolers with ... so!  When my friend thought of me when she saw the cow pillow, it made me happy.  I can't make a pillow to save my life - but I can write about the farm.

So, thank you, as always, for reading.  This is the four year anniversary of writing the blog, and each year it's a little different.  If there's anything you want to know about or hear more about, please let me know.  I'm glad for such a supportive online community.  Here's to another year - happy 2015!

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wash, rinse, repeat




My friend was talking about her laundry, and how she separated her darks from lights, but then there were some shirts that were black and white striped - and what were you supposed to do with those? So she washes them all separately.  I said that I don't separate into darks and lights at all, but I do separate into three groups - boys, Kris, and me.

So there are many ways to do your laundry ... and now we have another one.

We have a washer and dryer at the barn!  Why?  Because we love laundry this much.

Not really.    

What used to happen was that we used heavy, cloth-like paper towels to clean the cows' udders before milking.  They worked, but they also generated a lot of trash, plus you had to buy a ton.

So now we're using ... towels!  Towels you can wash and dry and reuse.

The guys like them, because it makes it easier to get the cows' udders clean.

They're not dark, they're not light, they're not striped - they're green.  And they're going all in one load.  

If you want to know more about the farm, like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @carlashelley, or get posts sent to you by old fashioned email.  Sign up - the form is on the right side of the page. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Following the rules


There was some news recently about a Kentucky farmer who said he didn't always follow the labeling protocols on antibiotics.  It was a painful article to read, because like anything - cops, teachers, lawyers - if there’s one person doing something wrong, it reflects badly on the entire profession.

In this instance, it’s even worse, because it affects all of us – and our entire food supply.

On our farm, we only use antibiotics when cows are sick.  For antibiotics, there’s a period of time on the prescription label that instructs you on the period of time it’s in their bodies and you have to dump the milk.

All antibiotics have a strict pre-slaughter withdrawal period, and we always follow that.  Of course you want to do all you can for a sick cow, but you want to make sure that the meat from the cow you’re having butchered is safe and healthy.  We follow the protocol that years of testing and FDA regulation have approved.  The slaughter price of cows isn't worth risking human health.

My family eats the same food and drinks the same milk everyone else drinks – there’s no way I’d want to be giving them something that was tainted.  I don’t want it for them, and I don’t want it for other consumers.  Label rules are the rules, and that’s what we follow.  

The article stated that the farmer has since retired and has no cattle.  I wish him well in his future endeavors … in retirement you can write your own rules.

 


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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Michigan Farm Bureau Annual meeting

This was the 95th annual Michigan Farm Bureau meeting.  95?!  So long.  This is only the seventh year we've gone.  We've gone from knowing just a couple people to it feeling like it's one big family.

What an organization!  As they state, the purpose of Michigan Farm Bureau is to "represent, protect, and enhance the business, economic, social  and educational interests of our members."  At the annual meeting, part of the program includes going through the process where farmer members adopt resolutions.  

Farm Bureau is the governmental voice for farmer members.  There's the county level, the state level, and the national level.  In Michigan we have 48,552 members and 67 county Farm Bureaus.

We love our dairy farming organizations, but in this one, it's everyone together.  Fruit farmers, vegetable producers, pig farmers, sheep ... it makes of a lot of involved people! 

And we're ... 



This year, our Michigan Farm Bureau president Wayne Wood is retiring.  He did a great job (and is a super nice person) and there were nice tributes to him.


Our Governor Rick Snyder comes and speaks each year.  He does a really good job.  I thought back fondly to the first time I saw a Rick Snyder commercial (during a Super Bowl game, where we were instructed to go to onetoughnerd.com) and I immediately did, to check him out.  We wanted to see his views on agriculture and there was nothing other than a heading with a vague paragraph.

Times have changed.  Many years later, he's considered a friend of agriculture.  Part of that is because he showed a real interest and willingness to learn.  His talk was very well-received!  And not nerdy.



We had a tribute to Dave Camp, some great young farmer awards won by friends Melissa Humphrey (from our county), Michael Noll (from our co-op), Kevin Thiel, and Ashley Messing-Kennedy.

Farm Bureau then held a fundraiser for Michigan Foundation for Agriculture where everyone could get together - right across the street at a dueling pianos place.  Another great part about Farm Bureau is that we have a reason to see friends who live far from us ...



'

Again, it doesn't matter your role in ag.  Whether it's part time, full time, supporter, selling Farm Bureau insurance, on any type of farm - we're all in it together, and it's a great way to be involved in the policy part of farming.  And the people who we've met through it?  Passionate, dedicated, outgoing people!  I can see why this has gone on for 95 years ... and I hope to go until I'm at least that age.

If you want to know more about the farm, like the page on Facebook, follow me on Twitter@carlashelley, or get posts sent to you by email.  Sign up - the form is on the right side of the page. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Milk cans


Last week we went to a MMPA (Michigan Milk Producers Association, our milk co-op) meeting.  I was talking to a milk inspector, and she mentioned 'can dairies.'  "What's a can dairy?" I asked.  She said, "Those are farms that are still delivering milk in cans."

What?!  I had no idea that people were still milking into cans.  We - and many farms - use these as decorative items.  Many of us have them around because our ancestors used them back in ye olde dayes, but now ... we have automated milkers.



I kept questioning her and questioning her.  She said that they milk into the cans, they have milk can trucks (just like they used to) that come and pick up the cans.  The milk is considered Class B milk, which mostly goes into cheese.  She said that some of the farms are Amish, (which made sense), but not all of them.      

I found this so interesting - people still milk into milk cans!  I asked other farmers about it, and they didn't know that either.

So, my decorations are also still-used tools.  Or my tools are decorations?

Ah, it's a fine line.  I have a wagon wheel and an old cow waterer, too.  Apparently I'll take anything once used on a farm and call it 'decoration.'

***

Not the best luck this week ... one of our team members was doing some plumbing work on his house, and his utility knife slipped and he cut his forearm open.  So badly he had to have surgery!  He had the surgery tonight and said that it went well.  He's such a nice guy - he told Kris that he'd come in before the surgery, but Kris assured him we'd be fine - just heal!

Then, one of our cows had to have surgery too!  She got cut by her ear, and it looked so bad that we called the vet to sew her up.  He put her under, sewed it up, and she's eating well today.  She looks fine, now.  But ... that's enough, everyone!  No more injuries this week.  ... I'm sure by writing about it that'll make it not happen.  


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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The New Coke milk

Have you heard? Coca-Cola is launching a new kind of premium milk called fairlife.  It has 50% more protein and calcium, half the sugar of regular milk, and is lactose free.  But it's still milk!

This is what they do - they filter it, separate it based on the molecular components of the milk, then recombine them.  They offer a cute video with smiley, colorful molecules to explain the process:




The milk is supplied by Fair Oaks Farms, which owns fairlife, which Coke invested in.

I can't see a downside.  Another milk product?  In a single serving package?  Hooray!  Maybe all the companies will now be fighting over making their own brand of this, just like the Greek yogurt craze.

fairlife also opened with a splash.  (Get it?)  With these pin up ads:




They're controversial and provocative! People made fun of them!  They generated tweets.  Journalists wrote articles about the 'strange and sexy' fairlife milk ads.

When's the last time 'milk' and 'sexy' were in the same headline?  That would be never.

Congrats to Fair Oaks, fairlife, and Coke!  Their product is available in Chicago, greater Denver, and greater Twin Cities right now ... and soon, if I know Coke ... the world.

We'll be here on our farm, cheering on the milk drinking.  In dresses just like these.


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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Washers




Water, water everywhere!  Do these pictures make you super excited?! Probably not.  But it's upgrade time here.  (Like most of the time.  Like all businesses.)  

Think about the taste of sour milk.  One time my son got a sour milk carton in a restaurant.  He spit it out and said, "It tastes like cat milk!"  We laughed so hard, but then I thought ... how does he know what cat milk tastes like?

The point is, sour milk is terrible, and in order to make sure there's never anything sour around here - we need clean equipment.

After every milking, the entire system goes through a wash.  It's like a dishwasher for the innards of the pipes and milkers.  The bulk tank has its own washer system, which goes every time it's emptied.

What we need is a lot of hot water in a little amount of time.  We used to have two water heaters, but we replaced them with one bigegr, more powerful water heater.  

Like a lot of projects, you can't stop there! 

The pipes are the same pipes that were there when the barn was built - about 1972.  So when you get a bigger water heater, you need bigger pipes.  When you get new pipes, you need someone to come and hook it all up together ... and that's quite a job.  It's been going on awhile.  

So, now that you know the back story, isn't it even more beautiful?  That's our job!  Making sure it never tastes like cat milk.

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