Friday, December 30, 2011

Top ten of 2011

It's the end of the year, and that means it's time for a list!

This is our fourth year of farming, but that doesn't mean that everything is same old, same old. Like what, you ask? Here are the top ten NEW farming events of 2011.

10.  We used a Kubota for the first time.  It doesn't have the following of John Deere, but we'd never turn down a year's use of a tractor!  It worked great.

9. We used big square bales instead of small ones.  Kris likes them - you use machinery to handle them instead of lifting them, plus they stack nicely.

8. We got our first red and white Holstein bull.  Can't wait to see the colorful calves next year!

7. We rented a chopper because ours broke during a critical harvest point.  Until then, I never even knew you could rent one.  (Or honestly, thought about it at all.)

6. I didn't see a calf being born. I live in a house surrounded by pastures where 300 cows gave birth. Despite my best efforts, I didn't see EVEN ONE of them take place. I did, however, see tons of calves seconds after they were born.  Just think - the first sounds they heard were my dramatic sighs of frustration!  Ah well, there's always next year ...

5. We used a snaplage bagger. That's one of my most-read posts. It may be the price of corn or it might be the new fashion for 2012.

4. We modified a golf cart and turned it into a calf cart, which Kris uses to feed fresh milk to the calves. It's useful ... and fun to ride!

3.  Instead of feeding milk replacer to the calves, which is like baby formula, we exclusively fed them our cows' fresh milk.  This meant changes in schedules, changing milking procedure, modifying the building, and using a calf cart - but it seems worth it.

2. I drove a tractor for the first time.  It was a short ride, I performed no useful task, and Kris was sitting beside me giving much-needed instructions ... but my kids still talk about it.

1. We built a barn. Our first barn, but probably not our last.

Happy 2012!  Here's to another exciting year of farming!

Thursday, December 29, 2011


It's been a whirlwind of parties and family! Kris and the guys get the necessary work done, then Kris returns to whatever holiday activity we're doing next. You know how it goes - party at his parents' house, my parents' house, visitors staying with you, lunches, dinners, basketball games, and eating. Lots of eating.

All five of us also got the flu - Kris was sick on Christmas Eve. He was too sick to go to church with us, but he had to go feed the cows. (There they go again, wanting to eat EVEN on holidays and when he has the flu!) Luckily, no one had it for very long and we were quickly able to resume our excessive eating schedule.

We were with some friends yesterday and my friend Molly said, "I gave up wine for Lent and didn't miss it. But I could never give up milk. I have dreams that I'm in line at the store and people keep cutting in front of me and I can't get to the milk."

We laughed, but I loved that. That's dedication to a product! I support dairy promotion, and when you have fans like that, it's an easy sell.

Also, today is our 10 year wedding anniversary. Ten years ago, we got married in the church we now go to, never imagining that we'd one day own a dairy farm. Here's a toast to many more years ... wine or milk in your glass - it works either way!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve eve

- Starting yesterday, it seems like Christmas around here! Just getting done what needs doing - mainly feeding and milking. Everyone's taking vacation, figuring out their own schedules, and going to parties and family events. Hooray!

- Kris is treating the calves. He said they're better, but he doesn't want to take any chances. He said nothing makes you feel better about a sick calf than trying to catch it and treat it. They're big, they're fast, and even though they might look ill, they're super hard to catch!

- I've been writing this blog for a year now. It's a blog anniversary! My son said today, "Mom, come look! The silos are lit up like Christmas trees!" Due to the clouds, the early morning sun was shining only on them and everything else was dark. After a little while, all the tops of the trees started glowing, too. It was rare and beautiful.

- Before the blog, during, and someday after, I'm sure I'll still be running outside in the morning to take pictures. But it's not always that my son will be yelling from the doorway, "Put that on your blog!"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Up on the barntop, roofers pause ...

It's nice enough weather to sing roof repair carols!

Even though we're not using the barn to raise calves anymore, we do want to use it for storage. The shingles were coming off and there was a hole. So, we're having the roofers put steel sheets on it.

They were here early in the morning working on it - even before it got light. With the cooperative weather and the quick work, I'm sure they'll be done before Christmas. A nice present for us!


I posted an article about a neighborhood breakfast and cookie exchange on the Farm Fresh Food blog.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Walking in a warm wonderland

It's so non-wintery here. Today I was running without gloves on - crazy! It's currently 44 and ... not bad outside.

The heifers were very excited to see me passing by, as usual. They all came over to greet me and ran alongside me until the fence ended.

The pasture is muddy, but the fall weather is welcome for all of us. Whether you're running, eating grass, or for Kris and the guys ... working outside.

There's always a downside. It's muddy. It's hard for the calves and cows to switch between weather patterns. Sometimes it makes them cough. But really? Hard to complain when it's December 19!

On the other hand, my sister-in-law in Texas said it just doesn't feel like Christmas when it's 74 degrees. I'm sure that won't happen here.
The snow will come again soon enough. As for now, this is the winter farm scene we're enjoying. Muddy ground and warm cattle. The fact that I could take this picture without gloves on? Even better.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Training cattle

Last night, the heifers walked to the woods and spent the night there.

This morning, half of the heifers walked back to the barn to eat from the feeder.  The other, not-as-good-at-directions-group didn't come back.  They were standing at the fence.  They could see the other ones, but they couldn't figure out where the fence ended so that they could get to where they wanted to go.  So they stood there and mooed their displeasure. 

Kris walked into the pasture to lead them to the barn.  It doesn't take a lot - he just walks out there, they see him, and they follow him.  He'll continue doing this until they all learn their way around the field.

This is similar to how I've seen him train the calves.  When the calves move into the barn, they lie down in freestalls.  When Kris would feed them, some of the calves wouldn't come out of the freestalls to eat.  Why?  Because they didn't know how to walk backward out of them.  So every day, Kris would go and chase out the ones that were, essentially, stuck in there.  They understood it eventually - but for some it took weeks.

It's no circus performance.  But for cattle, these are pretty good tricks. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Calf health

Today our vet (Russ) and a manufacturing rep for Safe-Guard (Julie) came over to talk with Kris and take samples of the cow and calf manure.

We do everything you're supposed to do for calves, but they still get coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease that results from infection by a single-celled protozoa called coccidia. Kris treats them, and they grow out of it, but in the meantime they have liquid manure, and it's not fun for anyone.

They also get giardia, which can come from drinking out of puddles. (People can get this too.) It's an infection of the small intestine.

Kris has had many, many people working on this problem and they're mostly perplexed why the preventive measures and treatments don't stop it from reoccurring.

Russ used a weigh tape on the calves today - to see if the intestinal difficulty was affecting growth.

Just like kids, there's an average to measure them against. And happily, our calves were in the 90th percentile for weight and 98th percentile for height!

Russ and Julie took samples and now we're waiting for lab results and hopefully some more ideas. But until then, we're certainly happy we have giant calves!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Kris and I looked through a new 2012 calendar last night. (It was from Spalding Fly Predators. I'm sure yours is on its way!) Each month was a comic about cows. Three of the months had to do with making a joke about a cow jumping over the moon.

This morning Kris told me that on different days this past week, TWO of the older calves (about 7 months) jumped over a gate to get in with another group of calves. Those gates are incredibly high!

I told him I couldn't believe he didn't mention that when we were talking about the cow-over-the-moon comics. That story must have some truth to it.

Friday, December 9, 2011


I was waiting for Kris to get home last night so I could go out with some friends.  When he got home, he said he was later than he wanted to be because the scraper tractor had a flat tire.

As I was driving on the highway my car started riding funny.  I slowed way down and as I pulled into the next exit, I knew ...

Kris loaded up the kids and came to change my tire.  (Am I capable of changing my own tire, you may ask?  I'm sure I COULD, but it was below freezing, I had no gloves, and I was wearing a dress.  But I COULD.  In THEORY.  If I were more than 12 miles away from home.  Enough disclaimers?)

Kris said, "This is just funny.  Two flat tires in one hour." 

I told him to speak quietly and be careful on his drive home.  Our other car might want to join in the fun.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Kris was part of a producer panel for a MSU extension program today. Also on the panel were our neighbors who graze exclusively, a professor from MSU, and a professor from Iowa State.

Since my dad started pasturing our cattle in 1990, grazing to us doesn't seem that new. But it is still considered different - and a way for new farmers to start an operation.

The professors explained how a beginning farmer can graze cows with very little capital investment. The MSU extension agent, Faith Cullens, told me that there were a lot of young people that attended.

When we were at the Farm Bureau meeting, a speaker said that a woman told him, "I didn't know there were even young farmers anymore!"

It's nice that there are, that there are programs like this to assist young people, and that Kris got to brush off his old Power Point skills for today's meeting.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And done

They finished the granary roof today!

It's so bright white it's hard to tell where the roof ends and the sky begins.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Granary roof

Buildings always need some upkeep.  Old barns and granaries are no exception ... especially when your great grandpa built them.

My great grandpa Floyd Anderson built a barn and granary over 100 years ago.  They're sturdy buildings - we're still using them today.  Of course, they need roof work every so often. 

Today our builder was working on the granary roof.  Instead of shingles, which need replacing more often, we had him put on steel. 

I went over to look at it when they were tearing off the shingles.  It was interesting to see the old boards underneath the shingles - rough sawn boards, super old looking.

I remembered this article we had about the house and barn that was in Michigan Farmer.

This is from 1928, when it was designated as a 'Michigan Farm Home'. (The granary is on the right.)

The article also had a picture of our house.  I was surprised - there was a large tree in the yard that isn't there now.  But this fall we planted one in that exact same spot!

Roof work, tree planting, farming.  Some things never change.  Well, the roof is white instead of gray.  BIG difference.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Discussion meet

I had a great time at the Michigan Farm Bureau State Annual meeting.  The most exciting part was - Kris won the Young Farmer Discussion Meet!

It was so interesting listening to the discussions.  This year, the questions were:
  1. How can we convince the public that the animal agriculture industry balances production efficiencies with the public’s expectations of animal care?
  2. What role, if any, should agriculture play in addressing health and obesity issues?
  3. Are the current and proposed renewable energy policies beneficial to all segments of American agriculture? Why or why not?
  4. How do we capitalize on the growing world demand for agricultural products?
(Here's more on how it works.)

I love the young farmer events.  Seeing profiles of what other farmers are doing, talking to all different kinds of farmers from around the state, and of course, creating policy - all so interesting!

Kris is going to compete at the national level in Hawaii.  They let me tag along, too. 

For more, here's a nice article.  Aloha! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Robots at Swisslane Farms

Today with his free time, Kris went to help out at ... another farm!

Our friends, Annie and Jerry Link, just installed eight robot milkers to milk 500 cows.  Today was the first day they started milking them in it.  Their friends, relatives, other farmers with robots, Lely people, people from MSU's robotic dairy (and I'm sure others) all helped. 

Kris was running a robot for part of it and said that a few cows were hesitant, but mostly when they saw the feed pellets they'd go right in.  The first time a cow enters a robot someone has to manually position the laser to see where the udder is.  After that first time, the robot has a record of it, and knows.  The lasers go every time, since udders change depending on how much milk they're giving, how recently they had a calf, etc. but it has a benchmark.

We're happy for our friends and their new adventure! 


Back on our farm ... it's snowing.  Hard, wet snow.  Probably all the schools are going to be cancelled and the roads are bad.  That kind of snow.  Both beautiful and inconvenient.

Naturally, Kris said that the heifers decided that they didn't want to be in the pasture they were in, and they broke a fence and went to a different one.  They weren't out, just not where they were supposed to be, so he said he wasn't going to bother about it when it was pitch black and snowing.

Meanwhile, our kids went outside and played in the snow, until after their bedtime.  Their clothes won't even have a chance to dry before morning.  Kris' will though ... we have the state annual Farm Bureau meeting tomorrow.  It's snowed every single year I've gone to this.  It's the most reliable snowfall I've ever experienced.  It's okay.  Probably all these farmers driving to the meeting have four-wheel drive anyway. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011


When I picture a bale, I never think of these.  I think about baling with small bales, when people would stand on a wagon, hauling them up into a pile.  Then moving them off those wagons to a haymow.  Then tossing them down and using them to bed down cattle.

We have to bed down a lot of calves, so we need a lot of straw.  Bales come in bigger sizes now!  It's a lot more wrapped up in one package, and there's a lot less you have to move around.

Plus, you can't lift these.  (Well, I can't.  Maybe you can.)  But a skid steer can!  Kris has been buying these big straw bales to bed down the calves this winter.  This is Josh unloading the big square bales this weekend.

We got a Christmas tree today.  I held it up while Kris was putting it in the tree stand.  I apparently got picked by the needles and have red bumps covering my arm.  It's the same way my skin used to look when I got picked by straw.  So far, the skid steer is showing no ill effects. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Moving day

Today was a big day - we moved the heifers to their winter pasture. 

This means we have to move them a long way - including under the bridge.  In past years, this has proven to be quite an undertaking.  Why?  The bridge is different.  It worries them.  They have no desire to walk under it.  Sometimes you think they're going to go ... they look like they're going to go ... and then they all turn around and run like mad in the wrong direction.

One benefit of rotating pastures is that we move them pretty often, so they're more used to being moved in general.  (When we first got here we didn't do that as much, and this big move really threw them off.)  That's not to say today was easy - but it did take two hours as opposed to half a day. 

Kris and two of the employees did it by splitting them up.  There were 115 cattle total, but they would take 10 at a time.  Two guys would push the 10 from behind until finally they would walk under the bridge.  Then they'd go back and do 10 more.

Of course, the ones they already led through broke through some fence tape.  They're just wild, wondering where to go, and all excited that they're moving.  But it was expected and not a big deal.

Eventually, Kris and the guys led/pushed them all across, and got them in their new pasture.  Now they're in a pasture next to the dairy barn.  All winter long - since obviously the pasture won't be growing - they'll get silage.  So tomorrow, they'll be having their own Thanksgiving feast, too.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Another calf was born today!

That's right - the first calf was born in April.  It's now November.  Some get pregnant early, most get pregnant all at the same time ... some get pregnant later. 

It was a pretty good day for it.  It was fairly warm - in the high 40s - and she had it in the middle of the day.  (As opposed to in the middle of the freezing-cold night.)

Since it's not calving season, like when Kris is feeding fresh milk to a lot of calves, he had to wait until the mother was milked to get her colostrum.  It just takes longer when there's only one!  He bottle fed the calf.  The mother didn't look great, so he prepared a pen for her in the barn.  He bedded it down with straw and got her water. 

There's one more pregnant cow left.  After that calf's born - another calving season will be done!  No more pasture checks, teaching to drink, and weaning to a bucket. Now they'll spend the winter in their new barn, until next spring when we put them on pasture.

So, around here, the workload will ease, but the cuteness factor will go down. Until next year!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


1. During MSU home football games they often show an entertaining clip where the team members answer a question.  This week's question was: What's your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?  Fully half of the team members answered 'macaroni and cheese'.  We've never had macaroni and cheese at Thanksgiving, but I applauded the dairy inclusion in the meal. 

2. We were eating some eggs I got from my neighbors.  My son said, "I hope that egg doesn't have a chick in it!"  I explained about how some eggs are going to be chickens and some aren't with some vague details, then had to consult the internet for the rest of it.  After all, I'm not a chicken farmer - to get to explanation-level I needed some backup.  Do you know how you tell what color eggs a chicken will lay?  In general, by the color of their earlobes.  White ear lobes, white eggs.  Red earlobes, brown eggs.  (Exceptions are the Easter Egger, Ameraucana, and Araucana. Their egg colors range from green to blue to pink to occasionally lavender.)  The first time my father-in-law told me this, I couldn't tell whether he was joking with me.

3. While tailgating, we met another farmer.  He asked about a farm in Kris' parents' area, asking - "Don't they feed all haylage?"  I thought it was funny that he would know about another farm based solely on what they fed their herd.  People in this job really pay attention to what other farms are doing!  We're all interested.

We've been farming for almost five years, but there's always more to learn.  I know almost nothing about cow earlobes.  Yet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


We've had a really nice fall - nice in that the cows are still able to be on pasture. It's been dry enough, and it hasn't been too cold.

As a result, it's easier to keep them out because they're staying clean and comfortable. Plus, the growing season for the pasture was longer.

To get ready to close the pastures, Mike is draining the water tanks. We always drain them at the end of the season. We disconnect the hoses so they don't freeze and break.

Why today? This 27 degree morning, there was a thin sheet of ice on top of one of the water tanks. The heifers had broken through it to drink.

This morning Mike also had to replace the pressure pump for the parlor hose. It's a miniature version of a pressure washer. It boosts the water pressure so you can spray the parlor well during and after milking. They go bad on a fairly regular basis, just from using them every day. If the switch gets left on and you're not spraying, it heats up and melts the components inside the pump. Even if that doesn't happen, like this time, it just gets to a point where it isn't working well and has to be rebuilt.

No matter the form - drinking, frozen, rushing - water's a big deal on a dairy. Not as big of a deal as milk, but close.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Cows love to scratch themselves on ... anything. Buildings, trees, barn walls. They don't seem to be too particular.

Have you ever seen anyone lean against a door frame and scratch against it? That's what cows look like.

When I was visiting Triple H Farms, I saw their Lely cow brush. The theory is that since cows want to scratch themselves, you might as well make it easier for them. Lely's marketing material says that good cow comfort results in a "healthier and more productive herd."

This is an automatic brush. When they touch it, it turns on. It looks like a big car washer brush:

I watched as the cows left the robot milker and took their turn with the brush. They obviously enjoyed it.

On the streets of San Jose in Costa Rica there were several men selling back scratchers. They just had them fanned out in front of them, hawking them.

That is, I assume they were selling them. Maybe if you walked close, they'd just scratch your back. Resulting in a healthier, and more productive crowd!

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I went to the calf barn with Kris tonight. A waterer had been running ... had overflowed, with a little stream running out of the barn. (Nice drainage, anyway!) Kris fixed it - there was a tiny pebble that had gotten lodged in part of it, and once he freed that, it started working again. It took him awhile, though, because he had to take the entire thing apart and put it back together again.

I remember when we were growing up here and my sister asked my dad how he knew how to fix everything. He told her he didn't start out that way - just when you HAVE to fix things, you learn by doing.

I'm sure Kris never took a class on waterer maintenance. But when the calves HAVE to drink, you figure it out pretty quickly.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

Thank you, veterans! 

Did you see the MSU vs. UNC game on the aircraft carrier?  So awesome.  It's been a nice tribute.

My family went to the Veterans Day parade today.  My dad is a veteran, my brother's currently serving in Iraq, our employee Mike is an Army vet who served in Desert Storm. 

It's nice to be surrounded by people who volunteered to serve our country.  (All we do is serve your dinner.)

Veterans, we're proud of you, we're grateful for you - you've done so much for us.  Thank you!

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It snowed today!  Then it was sunny.  Then it snowed.  Then it was sunny. 

I looked for a rainbow, but I didn't see one.  It only seemed fitting that there would be one on such a strange-weather day.

When the first snowflakes started falling, my kids and I raced outdoors.  The heifers were in the pasture across the road, and they were just as excited.  They took off - as a herd - and galloped across the pasture.  They were running and kicking and looked ... like spring calves.  Not heading into winter.

Last night I called Kris to see if the boys could come and work with him.  The wind was wild.  Whipping, relentless - crazy.  He answered the phone, obviously outside.  I could barely hear him.  I heard, "No, not today.  (Wind sound.) I'm on the roof." 

"He's on the roof," I reported to my kids.

"Our roof?" one asked, running to the window to look up at the house.

"I'm assuming the barn roof ..." I said, suddenly unsure.  I guess it could be any roof. 

Turned out I was right.  He had to nail down part of the roof that had started flapping in the windstorm.  It wasn't really fun for him to do it at that moment, but at least it happened before the first snowfall.  Followed by sun.  Followed by snow.  Followed by sun.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Time change

I just heard a news story about how the time change affects animals. They mentioned dogs and cows in particular.

We milk the cows at 5:00am and 3:30pm every day.  To account for the time change, Kris asked the Sunday milkers to pretend that the clocks didn't change until after the morning milking.

Side note - isn't it funny how cell phones have changed this, too?  If you want to set your alarm on your cell phone, you have to account for the time changing at 2:00am as it's supposed to.  On an even funnier note, when I was in Costa Rica my friend Aimee's phone was an hour off the entire week.  UNTIL the last day, when it changed in the middle of the night.  Result?  She woke up really late for her flight.  Still made it.  Happy ending.  But, keep up, satellites.

Back to cows.  Dogs, people, animals - the time change doesn't kick in immediately.  It takes a few days for one to get used to waking up at the 'new' time. 

How does it affect our cows?  Are they waking up, mooing, eager to be milked at their 'old' time, like my kids are for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?  Are they like the dogs in the news story, waking up and barking at the wrong time?

Well, not our cows, I guess.  Every day for them is a little different.  If it's cold, they like to hang out in the barn until they're milked.  If it's nice, they hang out on pasture until someone herds them in to be milked.  After they're done, they're free to go and do what they want, same as before.

They eat, they sleep, they get milked.  Apparently an hour difference doesn't matter much to them.  Really, they're only working a few hours a day anyway.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

When do cows calve?

Kris has told me that cows don't like to give birth when it's rainy.  He said they usually hold out for a nice, clear day.  We've often speculated on their ability to control when they give birth.

Today I read an article about women on the same subject.  From the Wall Street Journal:

"Women have some control over when they give birth, a study suggests—and they don't want to give birth on Halloween.

Researchers looked at all U.S. births, 1996-2006, during the two-week windows around Halloween and Valentine's Day—the theory being that connotations of hearts and candy were more pleasant than those of ghouls and goblins.

Indeed, "spontaneous" births rose 3.6% on Valentine's Day, compared with other days in the two-week window, while caesarian deliveries rose 12.1% and induced births 3.4%. But on Halloween, spontaneous births fell 5.3%, caesarians 16.9% and induced births 18.7%. The researchers said the rise and fall of spontaneous births suggested that women can "expedite or delay" them "within a limited time frame."

"Influence of Valentine's Day and Halloween on Birth Timing," Becca R. Levy, Pil H. Chung and Martin D. Slade, Social Science & Medicine (October)

So!  Studies show that humans have a little bit of control over when they give birth.  If women were having them in a pasture, I bet they'd show more of a preference for sunny days, too.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


This morning I started when I saw the thermometer ... 25 degrees. 

The scraper tractor wouldn't start.  It was too cold.  We're going to have to start plugging it in at night.

It's frosted three or four times by now.  My son told me he licked a frosted-over leaf and that it tasted like snow.

The calves are tucked away in the new barn, ready to sit out the winter.  The cows don't seem to mind the cold.  They still stay out on pasture, even though the barn is available.

The cows have a lot in common with my kids.  They're seemingly impervious to cold. 

I was standing at the door today wearing three layers of clothes and a hat.  My kids?  They ran outside barefoot. 

I guess it's going to take more than a number on a thermometer to convince them summer's over.  Maybe more leaf-tasting.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


I had to run some errands today, and Kris asked me if I could stop by the vet.

What was my task? Besides picking up some medicine, I had to take in stool samples.

There were three test tubes, filled with manure, in a neatly closed plastic bag. (My kids were absolutely delighted. It was the first time we transported manure in our car on purpose.)

Kris wanted to take in the stool samples to check if the calves need to be treated for coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is a parasite, and one of the symptoms of having it is diarrhea. If you don't treat it, calves can get really sick and even die.

It affects mainly young calves, meaning ours are old enough that they'll soon not be affected by it. So, Kris wanted the vet's help in seeing how he should be treating them.

I was very conscious of the manure in my car. I drove carefully. A car crash is one thing ... a car crash that ended in spilled manure would mean I'd be far less willing to go to the vet next time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Farm sweet farm

While I was gone, Kris had some cement pads poured in the old calf barn area.

We poured them so we can have more freestalls for the heifers when they outgrow the new barn.  We're doing this because we're raising more calves than we have in previous years.  Hope they like their new digs!


When we were driving in Costa Rica, I could not stop looking at the fences that lined the roadside. Their fence posts were trees.

How did they do them, I wondered. Did they plant ALL those trees? Did they have fence posts, string the barbed wire, then add the trees? Why were they all about the same size?

I finally found a guide who knew the answers. He said that about 15 years ago Costa Rica made a law that corporations building fences had to make living fences. They do this by planting trees. He said that in about 4 months, the tree is big enough to support wire. Then, you can break off the branches, stick them in the ground, and make more fast-growing fence posts. He listed about 5 types of trees they can use, like machete trees.

I've been with Kris when he's digging a fence post. He has to use an auger or a post hole digger. Sticking a branch in the ground seems a lot easier.

It's the same no matter what country you're in - whether you're pouring cement or growing a fence - it's all for the cattle.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Almost back

I'm just about to leave Costa Rica, where I spent the last week with my friends, thoroughly enjoying the volcano hikes, ziplines, rappelling, horseback riding, hanging bridges, kayaking, hot springs, beach, monkey viewing ... etc.

This morning I was walking to breakfast and saw a statue right by the pool.  What is it?  Surprise!  A cow!  The famous cow parade is right here in San Jose.  Even though I'm several countries away, in the middle of a big city, it looks just like home. 

The views here have been magnificent.  (I'll share pictures when I can.)  My friends and I talked about how you become used to them after awhile.  The first day you take a lot of pictures, the third day it's just what you expect to see.  Oh, gorgeous scenery again?

But now that I've been gone, I'm more excited than ever to see my own beautiful, bucolic views at home.  The cow statue by the pool is great, but not near as good as the real thing.  Pura vida!

Friday, October 21, 2011


Today we dealt with a lot of bales. 

Straw - We bought big rectangular straw bales (they look huge to me - not like the small square bales of old you could lift) in a nearby town and stored them.

Hay - We put round bales in the pasture with heifers as a supplement.  (I also couldn't lift these, but I only ever see them one size.) 

Speaking of bailing (haha), I'm going on a trip with some friends.  Kris will be farming as usual.  See you soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It's rainy, super windy, and cold.  This means the salesmen are making calls, because they figure people aren't in the fields. 

Before noon, Kris told me he'd talked to the New Holland dealership, crop insurance, concrete guy, cattle salesman, nutritionist, and the fertilizer salesman. 

When I was growing up, my dad often had meetings in our dining room with various sales guys.  He'd always be eating during them, because it was the only time he was home, and therefore the only time he had to eat.   

While Kris waits to eat, there's no chance my kids can.  My boys love when Kris is meeting with a salesman because it means they get to eat in the kitchen instead of the dining room.  They actually ask about it and look forward to it. 

I think that the term 'salesman' sometimes comes with a negative connotation.  I don't think of it that way.  Some of my favorite people are salesmen!  And here, running our business, we have some really good ones.  They call on the phone, they make house calls, and they don't mind my kids' screams of joy coming from the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Irrigate no more

Every year the irrigation has to be put away. We take the caps off the ends and run water through them to blow out all the mud and debris. This cleans out the main pipes.

We pull the suction tube out of the creek and clean that out. We tape buckets on the ends of the suctions pipe to make sure nothing crawls in over the winter.

We disconnect everything and cover what goes into the ground so it doesn't freeze.

And last, we turn off the electricity and cover the electric motor.

That's it, until next year. Show's over. Instead of looking at fields of lush, green grass, soon we'll be looking at fields of snow. That snow doesn't cost us anything, either!

Sunday, October 16, 2011


When Kris isn't watching MSU win a big game, he's spending a lot of time monitoring how much the cattle are eating. 

It's always hard to feed cattle on pasture this time of year.  Why?  Because it's such a variable season!  Each day, each weather change, and each paddock is different.  So he's always trying to guess how much grass they're getting.

Heifers - He wants to make sure the heifers are getting enough grass, because that's what they're eating.  He checks their condition and their pastures a lot. 

Cows - He feeds the cows supplemental feed.  After he feeds them he checks the bunks.  If you feed them too much, there's food left in the bunk.  You don't want to pile feed on top of it - you want them to eat what was put there originally.  But you don't want their eating schedule to be off.  He also checks the milk production numbers.        

So, grass quality, feed quantity, and a nice break from it all for a few hours on a perfect football Saturday. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Kris finished the corn harvest. We managed to squeeze the rest of the corn into the bags. Hooray! We're ready for winter.

On the History Channel tonight, there's a show called 'Harvest'. They just spent several minutes and various camera angles showing them putting a combine on a trailer. Kris said, "The guy from the dealer does this in two minutes. Every day!"

The tone of the narrative is funny too - everything is so serious. A storm is coming, making them combine faster. We noted they were probably already going as fast as possible. It's not like when it's nice weather they just drive slowly, enjoying the day.

We had a situation outside our house that was similar today. A neighboring farm is tiling their field. The tiling company was driving by our house and the tile was dragging on the ground. They stopped, jumped out, pulled the tile back on the truck, and drove on. But if it were a reality show?! Interviews, potential damage numbers, possibly some tears ...

But, like anything, they're shows. They're made for entertainment. At our house - where there are boring work days and not-fake-exciting work days - they're definitely entertaining. We're laughing, anyway!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Part of what I find exciting about traveling to other countries is seeing their ruins.

In England, Scotland, and Germany, I toured the oldest structures I could find.

Not that the U.S. doesn't have ruins. They're just a lot younger. In Connecticut we used to live next to America's first state prison, which was built in 1773. Old, for here!

We stopped using our silos to store feed. If they break - which they do - they're hard to fix. You have to get up inside them, usually when it's bitter cold, and it's physically tough. It's much easier to store feed on the ground in piles, if you have the room. The reason people built silos in the first place is because the feed is protected, the pressure ferments it well, and it was out of the way. However, the ease of piles outweighs the benefits of the silos on many farms.

You can see evidence of this across the countryside. Taking down a silo isn't simple. (See the video of us taking one of ours down here. It involved a sledgehammer, a cable, and a tractor.) If it's not being used on a working or non-working farm, people often leave it alone.

Many times, it begins to look like a ruin. The weeds creep up the sides and take over.

Once I started noticing old silos, I see them everywhere. They look different depending on when and how they were built - like of stone, cement, or blocks. Often they're flanked by a barn, but sometimes they stand alone where a farm used to be. There's even one right next to our mall.

I think they're beautiful. Obviously it's part of my upbringing, because I've always lived near one. But like I enjoy looking at tall buildings, I like seeing the perfect cylinders dot the skyline.

They mark where farms used to be, where farms are, and where farms try new things, and move on from them to something that's (hopefully) better.

Kris thinks it's better. He's never missed climbing up in a silo to fix it.

But someday, long from now, people might tour our country's silo ruins. That is, if the weeds don't get them first.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Kris spent all day snapping corn again.

Using the bagger isn't as fast as building a pile. They have to move the bagger to place the bags in different spots. (The bags have to be in a place where you can get the feed to the cattle easily, and once they're created, they're not moving anywhere. Too big!)

With that and tying the bags, it forces a lot of breaks in the action. So the entire snapping process is slowed.

On the plus side, it's really good corn and there's a lot of it. Also, since it's in sealed bags, we can preserve it longer. So the tedium and slowness are worth it!

My mom Cherie Anderson took this picture from my yard this weekend. We were at a wedding up north, enjoying the 80 degree weather. So no, Kris isn't harvesting every minute. Some breaks are more welcome than others.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Farm Bureau

I'm now a contributing author on the American Farm Bureau site. My first post for them is here: Terms.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bag it

We had so much silage that we didn't have room on the concrete pad for a corn pile. We decided it'd be a good year to try out a bagger.

It works like this - Kris snaps the corn with a modified combine head on the chopper. It takes the cobs of corn and grinds them up, so that the cattle can easily digest it. (It's really soft and warm. We played in it a little bit.) After it's ground up it's called snaplage. It was called this long before Snapple.

The dump wagon unloads the snaplage on the ground. We use the skid steer to deposit it onto the conveyor, which moves the snaplage into the bagger.

It moves through an auger that pushes the snaplage into the bag. As the bag fills, the entire bagger machine moves slowly forward on its little wheels.

The bag looks like a giant slug, slowing growing in our barn yard. Full of yummy corn that the cattle will eat all winter long.

As I was watching this, Mike told me I should climb on the platform and look down into the machine. I did ... and saw why he wanted me to.

He said, "Doesn't it look like something from a James Bond movie?"

Yes. Feed storage that could double as a movie star.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


You're familiar with a pitchfork. They symbolize farms. There's the famous painting of the pitchfork-holding farmer and his stern wife.

In the old calf barn, when you wanted to completely clean out the bedded pack (straw) of the calf pens, you had to use a pitchfork. Shovels don't work for picking up straw, and the skid steer didn't fit in all the spaces.

Three times a week we add to the bedding, but today we wanted to completely clean it out. (We do this on a schedule too.) In the new barn today, we were able to move the calves to one side and swing the gates closed. Then we were able to take the skid steer into the barn and use that to scoop and scrape the barn clean.

It may not be what paintings are made of, but it sure makes it easier to clean a barn.

Monday, October 3, 2011


It seems to me like it's slowing down because there aren't calves being born all day, but it's just as busy as ever. To give you a snapshot, besides the regular chores that go on, today:

- Kris met with a seed salesman/custom field work guy about buying corn seed for next year and working a field down with a tool we don't have

- He chopped half a load of corn to feed the cows

- The milk pump wasn't working right, so the dealership had to come and fix it

- The skid steer wasn't working correctly either, so we changed the fuel filter and it seems better

- We hauled a bunch of pen manure out onto field that has been chopped

- Kris bought some calf feed

I hadn't seen a bag of calf feed before, and I don't know why I was surprised that it looks just like cat or dog food.

The marketing side of me loves everything about this - the images, the simple packaging, and of course, the name: Future Cow.

Wouldn't that be a great baby food name? Forget Gerber. Future Adult!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

You can tell it's autumn

The sky is bright blue, the corn is getting ready, and the air is crisp. There was a light frost on the ground this morning. It was 35 degrees when I got up, but it warmed up to almost 60 this afternoon. All in all, a perfect fall day.

What goes with fall? Closing the curtains. This is what the barn looks like with them closed, to keep in the calves' body heat.

I'd say the curtains are going to stay closed for the season, but it's supposed to be in the 70s later this week. Good thing they're easy to move!

Saturday, October 1, 2011


We can't keep all of our calves. This year we kept 123 heifers, but the cows birthed about 150. So what do we do with our extra calves? We sell them. There are always people who want to raise calves, especially from a healthy herd.

This year we've sold them to a few different people. Who buys our calves?

- People who like to raise them as a hobby, in hopes of making money.

Some people we sell to raise just a few, and sell them when they're larger and they can get more money for them.

- People who want to add to their herd.

Other dairy farms can increase their herd number by adding heifers from us.

- People who have the land to do it.

One of our employees just bought quite a few from us because he had available land to pasture them on. He can then sell them later.

Who says goodbye to them?

Kids who have seen lots and lots of calves, yet never get tired of going to see them. Here are the boys seeing off the latest newborn bull/heifer twins.

The twins looking at the twins

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top farm blogs

I'd like to thank Seametrics for choosing Truth or Dairy as one of the Top 50 Farm Blogs!

They write, "On “Truth or Dairy”, Carla chronicles the evolution of corporate climbers into Michigan dairy farmers who see beauty in round bales dotting a field, find wedding conversations turning to calf bloat, and witness the future of farming when the neighbor brings home a robotic milker."

Want more farm news? Check out the rest of the list here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I was working with my son on writing his letters. After he wrote them all I said, "Since you can write all the letters, now you can write any word you want. Anything! What do you want to write?"

He said, "Got milk." He added, "Grandma has a t-shirt that says that."

After all these years, that ad campaign is apparently still powerful! Maybe I'll have to have my mom wear some shirts that encourage good teeth brushing and learning how to put on your own socks.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


We breed our cattle naturally, which means we use bulls to impregnate them.

My dad - whose 67th birthday is today, happy birthday, Dad! - visited my uncle and aunt's dairy farm in New Mexico last week. They impregnate their cattle using artificial insemination. My dad said he joked with them that bulls do the same job, and faster.

With artificial insemination you know exactly when the cow is in heat and when she gets pregnant. Using bulls is not as labor-intensive, but you don't know exactly when. Plus, you can buy bull semen from semen companies with desired characteristics.

Speaking of which, did you see the news story about redheads? Apparently there's not a huge demand for redheaded children, so the world's largest sperm bank can "afford to be picky." Just like people can pick a donor with traits they hope to pass along, people can pick bulls with traits they hope the resulting calves will have. I hope next year using a red and white Holstein will change the look of the pasture a little.

Bulls do their job and move on. We bought a bull in July. Today we sold him to a different farm. Next year, we're leasing out a bull to another farm. As long as they're doing their job, and they don't hurt themselves, they don't really go down in value. Whether they're fast, slow, or red, it doesn't much matter as long as they pass on those desireable traits. And continue to sell for (almost) as much as you bought them!

Sunday, September 25, 2011


It's officially fall! Crisp apples, cider mills, changing leaves, and declining pasture quality! Right?

It happens every year. The pasture still looks good, but the nutritional value of the grasses goes down, because it's not actively growing. It's getting ready to become dormant or is dormant already. As a result, it's not as high in protein or energy.

There are always a lot of factors to take into account for milk production, but this is one we can look for each autumn. When the pasture quality starts to decline, Kris feeds them more silage. We like to keep those milk numbers up.

Fall also brings the apple harvest. We don't grow any apples, but we do support the orchards. On a normal day, our household consumes six apples. We like to keep those apple numbers up.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Farm facts

Last night Kris and I had our county's annual Farm Bureau meeting, where we vote on everything that needs voting on - like policy resolutions and board members. The great meal, awards, door prizes, seeing friends, and ice cream bar were all just a bonus.

At our table we had a brochure with some fun farming facts! Are you ready?!

- There are 1,231 farms in Clinton County.

No wonder I never thought being from a farm was anything special. When I went to college and people were always surprised I was from a farm ... I was surprised right back! Obviously, a lot of farms in my county.

- 86% of Clinton County is farmland.

Again, that doesn't leave a lot of room for skyscrapers. UNLESS you count silos as skyscrapers.

- There are 83 counties in Michigan. Clinton County ranks #2 for milk and other dairy products from cows.

Yes, that's right! We're #2! We're #2! The unfortunate side of that is land is hard to come by. But we have lots of dairy people around to support us!

- My door prize was ear protection, which I was excited about. Kris always gives his to our boys when he's doing something loud, leaving his older ears unprotected.

It was encased in that super-hard plastic, and there was a hole where you would hang it in a store. I stuck my thumb through it as we were standing around talking to people. After awhile, I realized I could not get it back through. There were two sharp points, so pulling the thumb backward was impossible. I was laughing at my situation and Kris said, "Just find someone with a jack knife. Probably 2/3 of the people in here have one on them."

It was true. A nice woman cut my thumb free. And that stat wasn't even in the brochure.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tires, tires, and more tires

Today, Kris finished chopping the corn silage and covered the pile.

Big guys, big tires. Little guys, little tires.

We actually need more tires. Seems impossible, doesn't it?

I climbed up to the top for the first time. (Halfway up, I realized I really should have carried up a tire, not just a camera. I instructed my sons to carry twice as many to make up for it.) This is the view from above.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making the pile

Here's the scene around here - Emptying a load of corn silage from the dump wagon. It's really loud when the tailgate of the wagon slams into the box. The video doesn't capture how that sound travels for about a half-mile. They do this all day long, all during harvest. As long as I can hear the wagon slam, I know things are going okay.

Monday, September 19, 2011


It rained most of the morning, changing plans, so ...

Calves - There are nine more dry cows in the pasture, and nine more to dry up. Still 18 more chances for me to see a calf being born this year!

Bills - Kris spends a lot of time doing office type work. Records, bills, computer work. I well remember my dad spending a lot of time on this when I was young. It's much easier to do when it's not nice outside! I think the same about cleaning and organizing. Spring cleaning? Why would I want to do that when it's nice out? Fall cleaning ... fine. I'm in here, I might as well do it. Same with bills!

Chains - Kris left rows in the cornfields for the insurance adjuster to appraise. He went back today to chop the rest of it. The weeds and corn got lodged in the head of the chopper and messed up one of the chains. He and Mike took the row of the head apart and moved the chain. He got home pretty late, but it's ready to go tomorrow.

Kris plans on chopping all day again. I plan on missing several calf births by just a few minutes. Let's meet those goals!

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Charlevoix! Michigan has so many pretty places to visit. We were there this weekend for a wedding. I always feel compelled to take pictures of boats on water, but I never take pictures of cars in parking lots. Maybe I'll start.

I taught the boys how to run through alfalfa. You have to turn your knees to a 90 degree angle so you can run without hitting the plants with your feet. I learned this when I was a kid and had to run across the field to get to the woods, where I would roam, hunt, gather, and make my own clothing. Just kidding! I went to play in the creek and get leeches.

Here's the pile of corn in front of the covered piles of alfalfa. The tractor in the foreground gives you a better idea of the size. I like to think of them as our mountains.

Weekend's over - back to chopping more corn tomorrow!

Thursday, September 15, 2011


When we got married, my aunt and uncle gave us Cutco knives. They were wonderful! I'd never owned such great cutlery - that actually cut food. Almost ten years and hundreds of meals later ... they really need a good sharpening. Today I was having difficulty slicing a thick-skinned tomato.

Likewise for the chopper. The chopper cuts the alfalfa and corn with knives. Kris was trying to adjust the position of them yesterday, and it wasn't working. It meant that they needed to be changed. So the dealer came today and took off all the old knives and put on new ones.

This is just a maintenance fix that needs to be done occasionally. Kris spent the rest of the day chopping. More tomorrow!

Maybe this'll spur me on to find some sort of sharpener for our home tools. I don't want to have trouble with that banana in the morning.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good and bad

The good news - We fixed the leak in the pipe yesterday.
The bad news - Mike just called to say his well wasn't working. This means the heifers' waterers are affected, too. This obviously needs fixing as soon as possible.

The good news - Kris succesfully chopped corn all day.
The bad news - A cow went down.

So far, we're even. Let's hope the scales tip in the favor of good this week!

Shot Kris took while chopping corn. You can see the windshield wipers on the right.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Full day, normal day

The cows gave 2000 more pounds of milk today than yesterday! This could be due to many factors - feed, weather. But no matter what it was ... hooray!

There's lots going on around here. Today:

Josh is picking up square bales in the field. We hired a guy to bale some of our alfalfa into big square bales. We've been grinding bales so we can put the hay in the mixer and this might eliminate that step. I was watching Josh pick them up with the skid steer - they're huge! 8x4x3 feet. Definitely need a skid steer - no lifting those by hand.

We hired a guy to seed our heifer pasture. Mike finished working it up to get ready for the seed.

Mike has a big puddle in his driveway, indicating that a water line broke. It's to one of the hydrants for the water the cattle drink in the pasture. We called Miss Dig, which comes and marks all the telephone and power lines. We're going to call T.H. Miller, who will probably bring a mini excavator over, dig it up and find the leak.

Kris has a meeting tonight (like lots of nights). He just came home for lunch and currently is wrestling three boys at once.

Tomorrow, we're starting the corn harvest! Just a regular day, except for the milk influx. I'd like to make that a regular occurrence too!

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I was at a family wedding Saturday night, and I got a lot of questions about the welfare of the bloated calf. (Isn't that what you talk about at a wedding?)

After she bloated a few times, Kris separated her from the rest of the cattle and moved her into the old calf barn. He fed her only hay, instead of hay and grain like the rest of them her age were eating. She hasn't bloated since.

She is, however, lonely, which she lets us know by mooing a lot. Kris is going to move her back with her peers this next week when he's moving them onto TMR, which stands for total mix ration. It's a mix of silage, hay, grain, and minerals. She'll be happier to be with the herd and will hopefully not bloat anymore.

Apparently this is such a common topic of conversation, that after we eat my sons often take turns saying to each other: "Look at my stomach. I'm bloated," and stick their stomachs way out. The other one will poke his stomach with his finger, saying, "I'm going to deflate you." Then they suck their stomachs way in.

It was a beautiful wedding, super fun to see my family, and the tasty dinner ended with a wonderful surprise. Ice cream sundaes!

If only poking a finger into your stomach really made it deflate ...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Corn head

This isn't like calling someone a cheesehead. A corn head is an attachment for the chopper.

Just like you get attachments for lots of appliances, the chopper can change into a different piece of machinery. (This sounds very infomercial-like. "Call now and we'll throw in a corn head FREE!")

We took off the hay head and put on the corn head to chop the corn. Now it looks like this:

Not a combine

Kris chopped some corn this morning to feed the cattle. The corn silage from last year just ran out.

When you do it like this, it's called 'green chop', and you chop it and feed it fresh to them. He's going to do it like this until the corn is ready to chop (it needs to be drier for chopping and putting in the pile) which will be soon.

So the chopper harvests both alfalfa and corn, just with changing the attachment! CALL NOW!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Robot milker

It’s 2011. Remember how far in the future that seemed when we were all young? Where are all our robots?

For us, they’re across the road. And rapidly spreading.

Our neighbors, Howard and Mary Jo Straub, own Triple H Farms. They have a robot milker.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s not an R2-D2-like creature walking around the
parlor, tending to each cow.

The brand name is Lely. It milks all by itself, all the time. It costs about $250,000.

First, the cow enters the machine. She’s wearing a responder on her neck that communicates how much feed she’s going to get. She eats grain while she’s being milked. (The Straubs pasture their cows, so they graze outdoors the rest of the time.)

She steps in and stands over a grate. Not only does this space their feet correctly, but it also keeps the area clear of manure.

The brushes come in. Like a tiny car wash, the brushes go over each teat and clean them.

Since every cow’s udder is a little different, the robot scans the udder to detect each teat’s location. (It looks like little red laser beams going over it.) Then it attaches the four teat cups.

Then milking begins! As each quarter is done, the teat cup comes off. Then the robot sprays off the udder. The gate opens, and the cow walks out. The next cow, eager to be milked, steps in.

View from the other side

All of it is run by a computer. If there’s a problem with the milking, a different gate opens and she’s shuttled into a holding pen. If her responder indicates she’s in heat, she’s moved into there to be bred. It’s really an amazing system with tons of detail, like a weighing floor, milk quality measuring system, and management software that even lets you compare your results with other Lely users worldwide. (You can learn more about it here.)

People come from all around to see it. They have a viewing window and a chockfull guest book. We take all our visitors there. The Straubs had the first robotic milker in Michigan, and now Lely is putting them in eight farms in Michigan this year.

Mary Jo told me that if something isn’t working, Lely performs a service call. The other day, she said, Lely was at another farm and couldn’t be there immediately. So, their herdsman Dan used a piece of wire from an old political sign and rigged up the machine so it was working again.

Dan, Straubs' herdsman and our neighbor

Robots, just like we thought the future would be like. Pair that with farm people who can fix anything … it’s better than R2-D2.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

Kris said, "There are a lot of people around here laboring on Labor Day." Our labor was mixed with fun - Kris needed to buy some more bulls to put in with the cows. He was going to our friends' farm to buy them, so the whole family went with him.

Hello, new bull. We have a job for you.

Their heifers were excited to see us off. Maybe the bulls had something to do with it too.

In this family, the wife and kids just went on a vacation. I asked the farmer what he did while he was alone. He sort of laughed and said, "Worked until dark."

Happy Labor Day! Especially to those who love their jobs - so much they'll do even MORE of it when they have the time.