Sunday, June 26, 2016


It was GAI AgTech week in San Francisco! I had the pleasure of being on a panel 'The Farmers' Perspective' with fellow farmers - pictured here are Brad Greenway and Jay Hill.

The moderator - Paul Pittman and farmer Kip Tom also joined us the for the discussion.  This event is for ag investors and ag companies to find out more about the current industry.  They asked us questions like: What do you want to exist? Do you spend money on it? Who makes the purchasing decisions on your farm?  What is most important?

Brad answered for all of us - sustainability.  We all want to improve the way we farm, do more with less, and continue doing what we're doing.  (With the prices right now, this is particularly hitting home.)  

It was a quick trip - only 11 hours on the ground! - but I like traveling.  One of the parts I like about it is talking with different people, and learning about all the interesting things that go on. For instance, there's an entire conference about ag technology...

Some funny things - on a plane I sat by a group of soldiers. One was very tall and he was joking why he had to sit in the middle.  

"Aw, why does the 6'6" guy have to sit in the middle?" he said. 

"I can't make myself taller," another guy said. 

"You could. I've been drinking my milk," the tall guy said.

"Aw, I'm a dairy farmer and that's music to my ears," I said.  

"And how tall are you?" he asked.

"5'7"," I said, and they all laughed because ... apparently not tall enough. 

Later, I talked with a nurse going to training on a surgical instrument.  I asked her some questions and she said, "Are you in the medical field?"  I told her no, I was a dairy farmer.  She immediately asked me the most common milk questions I get:

- Is there any difference between organic and regular milk? (Just in process, not product.)

- Why does organic have a longer expiration date? (It's heated up hotter for longer.)

So whether it's talking to a group of people or individuals, it's great being able to connect with people and answer questions.  We love what we do and we'd love to be able to continue doing it.  

It's all the larger picture, but when you're involved in the details of it, you sometimes lose sight of that.

Like back on the farm ... we have calves everywhere! Over 100 heifers now.  We harvested the pasture grass and covered it. Some cows got out and we put them back in.  We feed them, care for them, milk them, care for them some more, and Kris and the team work from before dawn until after dusk. Technology is wonderful and assists us in a million ways in being better farmers.  However, all the technology in the world isn't changing prices right now.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Bringing the community together

Family Fun at the Farm was today!  This year it was hosted by K&K Dairy Farms.

The committee does such a great job.  It's always so organized, so well-staffed with volunteers, and so fun for everyone who attends!

We've been every year - even when it was Breakfast on the Farm - and it just gets better and better. (This year just Kris volunteered from our family because I didn't know if I'd be home from a work trip yet.) I took the boys around and we saw not only the dairy farm, but all the extras!  Chicks, rabbits, a corn box, we made butter ... and saw everyone we knew!  The entire farming community comes together, and we also knew lots of the attendees who come for a great and free event.

This is Kristi Keilen, one of the owners!  Their farm looked great.

Kris was lucky to be stationed in the nice and cool freestall barn.  (It was really hot today.)  But the cows are kept cool with fans and a nice roof.  It was easily 10 degrees cooler in here.

They had chicks you could pick up and hold.  (I made the picking up chicks joke more than once.)

My kids were most looking forward to the corn box, which Rob West built and sewed the curtains for the night before, his wife Erin told me!  Nice job, Rob!  This was after dealing with a fire at the dairy he manages ... good time management.

They had tractor pulls ...

And here Graham Filler and Mindy Voisinet are showing people how to shake heavy cream into butter.  My son told me he felt just like 'Farmer Boy' (by Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

This display was great - not only could you milk water out of a cow, but to make it even more realistic - that is a bucket full of manure!  I felt this was really getting into the spirit of things.  I was talking to the guys running this station and one said to me, "Wait ... don't you live on a dairy farm?" As in, why are you here and why are your kids so eager to milk this pretend cow?  BECAUSE IT'S FUN!

I had to do a little research on this one.  Kids were running around with these gloves from the vet station.  My friend RaeLynne asked me why it had one elongated finger ... and I didn't know, since I'd never seen one like this before!  I asked and found out that it's for the internal ultrasound wand. Later, our friend Nick, who is our vet, said he hadn't seen one like this before last week.  It's apparently the latest in vet glove wear.  In stores now!

Stephanie Luark, Melissa Humphrey, and Caleb Stewart - this event wouldn't happen without people like this organizing every single detail ... and planning for months!  (Thank you to all of the volunteers and host farmers - we appreciate it!)

We ended with a visit to the parlor ...

And enjoyed some chocolate milk.  

We look forward to next year.  If you live in Michigan, we hope you can join us.

Then it was back to our own farm, our own cows, and our own little farmer boys.

Thanks, Family Fun at the Farm!

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Why we do what we do

Photo credit: Natalina Sents, Beck's Hybrids

As I reported before, Natalina Sents is traveling all 50 states this year to honor farmers.  She is writing farmers' stories on the 'Why I Farm' site by Beck's, too.

She posted her story about us, and I'm so glad that she captured what Kris said.  It's nice for us to read back on it on the longest days, when he is working every waking hour!  (80 heifer calves and counting!)

“You think about all the things that go into a dairy farm. Growing the crops, maintaining the machinery, and milking the cows. This is the finished product that we come up with every day. We really have a lot of pride in all this work that we all do culminates into that product. So you really just want to do the best job you can, shipping out a high quality product. The more comfortable, well taken care of and fed the cows are, the more milk and the better milk they’ll give. They have mattresses, and fans, and a nutritionist, and a veterinarian, and a hoof trimmer, because it’s such a symbiotic relationship that we all are taking care of each other. We’re spending all this time and effort regardless. If you end up with just a mediocre product at the end, it’s just not that motivating. We’re trying to do the best job we can for the safety and quality, but also it’s for all of us that work here. We take pride in what we do.”

The entire article is here, on Why I Farm.

Photo credit: Natalina Sents, Beck's Hybrids

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Monday, June 13, 2016

The last school ...

The Milk Means More Jump with Jill Live Tour!

St Johns has five elementary schools, and this is the last one to get the show.

Jill and Nick sang all about healthy food and drinks, and especially did some dairy education.  We all loved it!

Meanwhile back at home ...

70 out of our first 108 calves are heifers!  These are surprising statistics.  Kris just left to help deliver and feed the 13th and 14th calves born today.  So while we're singing the praises of dairy ... we're bringing more into the world.

Some of us can't forget about dairy, ever!  My son spilled raw milk under our car floor mat and forgot to tell us.  If you're gagging, you're imagining the smell correctly.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Monsanto, pigs, and dietitians

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance hosted a training for people in the digital community to reach a broader audience with information about food and farming.

The group, made up of USFRA staff, marketing people, dietitians, and writers, was as outgoing and fun as you would expect.

First, we went on a tour at the Monsanto headquarters in St Louis.  A side note - I thought everyone knew what Monsanto was, but this isn't the case.  You definitely know it if you're in ag, you know it if you're anti-technology ... but not everyone knows this company.  In short, they are an agricultural Fortune 500 company that sells seeds and crop protection chemicals.  They have a long history - for instance, when I was at the Smithsonian I saw an exhibition that features "Monsanto’s Dr. Robert Fraley, chief technology officer, for his contributions to agriculture biotechnology, as well as the economic benefits of genetically modified crops... Monsanto donated several items for the exhibit, including a photograph of Fraley with the world’s first genetically modified petunia and a souvenir connected to agriculture’s widely planted and adopted Roundup Ready® soybean."

They had an entire room of machines that extracted DNA from plant samples.  They had growing closets that mimicked the conditions of different places in the world - this was the Brazil room.  Hot, humid, and so bright!  We couldn't open the doors to the cooler rooms because they didn't want us to bring down the temperature, so we just looked through the windows.

Our guide, Lara, was very entertaining.  In the beginning of the tour she said, "We can't have alcohol at work, but we do have cheese and ice cream!"

(Of course, as a dairy farmer I found this especially funny.  Eat up, people.)

She also said, "Sometimes you see something on Pinterest like, we share 99.9 of our genetic material with BLANK.  And you know there's some scientist reading that saying, "That 0.1 makes a huge difference!" and crying over his PhD."

"Is 'crying over your PhD' a common phrase around here?" I asked.

"Yes, but I just have my masters, so I say 'crying over my masters," she answered.

(Best tour guide ever!)

She showed us a display with genetically engineered soybeans, bred to be resistant to the soybean looper larvae, and ones that were not.  We looked at different types of corn in greenhouses.  They walked us through how biotechnology works on a plant.  They introduced us to scientists and we got to ask them about their work.

The HQ with their 1700 employees and their dedication to farming was very interesting, and I hope they all continue to work hard, crying over their various degrees.

We continued on to the Deppe hog farm.  Why do I say hogs instead of pigs?  Because that's what they said, and they're the farmers.

This is only the second time I've been on a (pig) farm, and it was the first time for many of the attendees.

We saw them at every age, from birth to sows to pregnant sows to right before they're sold.

I held a piglet, then the older one in the next barn, and planned to try until I couldn't lift them any more ... but that was the third stop.  They are huge!


We learned about their 90% conception rate, rode the pig trailer, checked out their corn, and enjoyed talking to the Deppe family and team.  Thanks for the tour!



The next day I had the chance to speak to the group about dairy farming and the issues I get asked about - specifically how there are no antibiotics in milk, no added hormones, and how organic and conventional milk are the same nutritionally and differ only in process, not product.


Randy Krotz (CEO) and Nancy Kavazanjian (chair) were also there - it was great hearing them as well.  Darrell Glaser, another Faces of Farming & Ranching, and dietitian Charlotte Rommereim also spoke.

We had a lively discussion, and I think we all enjoyed the tours and the conversation.


Meanwhile, back on the farm ... it's been two weeks since we started calving and we're up to 40 heifers.  That means we've had lots of bulls, too, who also need bottle feeding.  The boys and I have been trying to help out where we can, since it's a lot of work no matter how many people are helping.


Through all of us - seed companies, individual farmers, educators - we're all trying to produce, market, and sell food ... because we all like to eat.  There is so much that goes into all of this, from education to bottle feeding a calf.  I celebrated my return with ice cream, and the only way I'd cry into my masters would be from happiness that these are my coworkers.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sheep, lambs, and ewe

We were lucky enough to be invited to my friend Elaine Bristol's family farm - Bristol Lamb!  Her dad, Jim, gave us the tour.

First of all, HE WAS HOLDING A SHEPHERD'S CROOK.  I immediately commented on it and said, "What do you use it for?"  He said, "Everything!  Pushing down fences, getting sheep ..."  He then demonstrated his use for it many times over during the tour.  (Side note - my brother's corporate job title is 'shepherd' and I really want to get him one of these and see how it goes over if he took it to work and started using it to pull over his coworkers.)

I've never been on a sheep farm before, and I am never around sheep.  Jim told me, "Everything you need to know you learned in a nursery rhyme."  Sure enough, we walked in the pasture and there was a lost little sheep.  It followed us everywhere we went.  

It was absolutely adorable.  My great grandparents had sheep as well as cattle.  In the St Johns Courthouse there's even a picture of my great grandpa Floyd dipping sheep.

However, my grandpa didn't like sheep at all, so he sold them all after he died and milked exclusively. But I totally understand the attraction!

The lamb had lost her mother and we were going to help her.  Eventually we found a ewe that she thought was hers - and she was a twin.  She tried to drink from her mother and she kicked her away, because she already had a lamb and didn't recognize her.  Jim picked up the lambs and rubbed them together so they smelled the same.  Elaine told me that if you do that with a lamb that's not actually a mother's it's called grafting, but this was her lamb - she just needed help recognizing her.

After Jim did it, the lamb drank from her mother and she was fine with it, because she smelled right. Jim joked, "These sheep make me look brilliant."

We went to the barn and he asked the boys, "How many bags full in the nursery rhyme?"  They chanted "Yes sir. yes sir, three bags full."  He said, "That's how much you get!" And showed us the giant bags of wool.

We got to bottle feed a lamb, and he showed us where and how he does the shearing.  Though it seemed to be it might be for the sheep, the hook hangs from the ceiling to make it easier for Jim to handle them - it's a support for the human so it's not as physically demanding.

 And ... there are special sheep shearing shoes!  They're comfortable and grippy, he said.

We checked out the sheep in the barn, then another pasture of sheep, then he prepared us lamb chops - of course!

It's always so interesting to see different kinds of farms, because you never really know about them until you see them in real life.  If you have a chance to take a tour of a farm - do it!  And bring your shepherd's crook along.  Those have really stood the test of time ... and are headed to the corporate world, I can just feel it.

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Reason for leaving? Covering pile.

The farming tradition is alive and well! My mom was working in a high school office and noticed this ... kids give the reason why they are signing out early and one kid's reason? 'Covering pile.'

Here, this refers to putting plastic and tires on a pile of just-harvested alfalfa. Here are some pictures of years past:

It's a tough job and takes a lot of people. Here's to hard-working kids!

Speaking of ... as of this morning we have 16 calves, and we are eagerly awaiting all our summer kids to be done with school!

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