Saturday, April 30, 2011

Calves and more calves

Another two calves born yesterday, and three more this morning! Kris is out looking for more now.

There are a lot of studies about how colostrum is good for calves, and the earlier they have it, the better the benefit. Some research shows that if they have it within the first 12 hours of life it's the most beneficial.

Kris first feeds calves from a bottle, like this:

He feeds them two bottles a day. Like human babies, it's not always intuitive. He has to cup their mouths with his hands, stick the bottle in, and hold it there until they're done drinking. Sometimes they really need coaxing to drink and it takes a long time for them to finish a bottle.

After two bottle feedings, he teaches them to drink from a bucket. Then they have milk twice a day and free choice water all day.

A friend brought her daughters yesterday, and they were excited to pet newborn calves:

After they left, my sons had some funny questions. First of all, my sons are with Kris and on the farm all the time. They love doing farming type things. So I laughed when my son asked, "Why did the girls say 'aw' when they saw the calves?"

(Do they not hear girls say 'aw'? Are the boys so used to calves they don't see their appeal anymore? Unsure.) I answered, "They thought they were cute."

He continued, "She asked if we had chickens. She thought we had a real farm."

"We DO have a real farm!" I said. Darn those children's books. Even my kids, born and raised on a farm, think it can only be a real farm if we own every type of barnyard animal? Ha! I explained the definition of a farm and how we met it.

He thought about it and said, "But we don't have any chickens."

That's true. We don't have any chickens. But we have lots of cows, a few cats, and more and more calves by the minute.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Rain gauge

Everything's a huge, sloppy mess!

My mom mentioned something she said she didn't know about before she moved to the farm ... and it's field tile.

Most fields with crops in the Midwest are tiled, which means they have big plastic pipes underground that drain the excess water out of the field into a creek or ditch or some other waterway. This way, the field doesn't get too wet and kill the crops. If you're selling land, it's worth more tiled than not tiled.

They're strategically placed in fields for the best drainage. They're put in with giant machines called tile plows. The end result - all that you see - is a plastic pipe sticking out of the ground.

Right now, water is gushing out of all the tiles, because there's so much rain. I went out to take a picture of the tile near our creek, but it was covered by the water from the creek!

Sometimes the tile just can't keep up - many, many fields around here are little lakes today.

The grass is growing really fast, but we can't put the cattle out on pasture yet because it's so wet they'd just tear it up. Our builder is really ready to continue - he came just by himself today - but it's been too wet. Our lawn is squishy, we have puddles everywhere, and our basement has a little stream running through it. Though even field tile wouldn't help that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First calves!

An exciting day! The first calves were born! Kris came home right after he left in the morning - I thought something was wrong - but he was coming to get towels to dry off the little calves. (Oh, it was raining. Have I mentioned the endless rain?)

This is the way it works - at least three times a day Kris walks or drives in the pasture to see if he finds any calves. If a cow is having trouble, he helps her, but most of them just give birth unassisted.

He got a blue towel and a pink towel, I noted. They were the first ones he grabbed, but really - a heifer and a bull!

He at first thought they might be twins, because not only were they close to each other in the pasture, but he could only find one mother. This wouldn't be the best scenario, because when there are male/female twins in cattle, the heifer is infertile the majority of the time. However, he found the second mother later in the day. Hooray!

One mother was a heifer (her first calf, so now she's a cow) and one was a cow (which means she's already had a calf before.) The cow had plenty of colostrum to give, so he bottlefed them and they drank well.

So, the first two! About 298 to go, all between now and August 15. Kris' schedule for the next three months is pretty set. Ready, set, calve!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rain rain ...

Kris got a new water heater for the barn. There was so much rain today the builders didn't even come. We went to a benefit with friends - that's one positive to all the rain. No planting in this kind of weather, so the busy time is put off for one more day. Even though he'd really like it to start now ... it will eventually.

I saw Josh's video and the picture of the snake.

1) It was in his dishwasher, not his washer. His wife opened it and the snake fell from the top to the bottom.

2) He took it outside, and that's where he shot the video of it. It shook its tail like it had a rattle on it, but didn't. (Baby ones have just buttons there, I learned.)

3) Based on my memory of the picture, it's either an Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake or an Eastern Milk Snake.

4) Based on Josh's job, it's probably a milk snake. Just because of the name! Besides, the other one is Michigan's only venomous snake. If you get a snake in your dishwasher, it seems too much that its bite would ALSO be full of venom, right?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Post holiday

We had a lovely Easter. Today was back to normal:

Buying - Kris got a new battery for the four wheeler. The other one was totally dead - it wouldn't even take a charge. (We use a four wheeler to herd the cattle in to the parlor from the pasture to be milked.)

Building - The builders started roofing in the morning, but it started raining. They quit and started putting in posts for the gates. When it stopped raining they started on the roof again, but ... it's supposed to rain for the next three days at least.

Stories - Kris came home with a story. Our employee Josh said his wife opened her washer and ... there was a snake inside! And not a garter snake! Josh grabbed it and killed it. He showed Kris the video on his phone. I have no idea how any of this story could happen, but it did. I can't wait to talk to Josh to hear more details and see the video.

Community - I was gone most of the day to the St Johns Community Pep Rally. We came in sixth place in Reader's Digest We Hear You America contest, so the Reader's Digest RV came into town today to award us with $10,000! I went in the RV with my friend Suzie to take pictures of the RV in front of the town elementary schools. We're using the money as seed money to build a spray park.

Let's hope the rain pauses enough to let them build the barn this week. Let's also hope that my laundry remains snake-free.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


My cousin's son visited today with his wife and kids. They're from Utah.

His grandpa is my dad's oldest brother, my Uncle Dave. I won't go on and on, but man, I liked that guy. And miss him. The story I remembered is that he was really happy to leave the farm for the Air Force Academy.

So when Kris and I decided to buy the farm, I was interested in what he thought. I'd had a friend leave a voice mail message that had disturbed me - the friend expressed shock that we were going to buy the farm and, essentially, change our life path.

I emailed my Uncle Dave about it and this is, in part, what he sent back:

Farming - a "Lesser Profession!" I've never had the experience you just had - or that Kris is anticipating; i.e., having people look down their noses at farmers. At least, I should say, I've never had people say anything negative about farming/farmers to my face. Maybe one of the reasons is because I've always been so outwardly proud of my background on the farm and its positive influences on me (so much so that we sent the first three of our five sons back to the farm during their summer vacations from school). Whenever I have to give a verbal bio sketch of myself, it always starts off with: I'm a FARM kid from Michigan! And my admiration for the way your dad and uncle have conducted their businesses of dairy farming is a frequent topic of conversation when I'm in the position of having to make "small talk" with people at parties, etc. It's easy to marvel at the technological advances in farming (particularly, dairy farming) that have changed it from the "Mom & Pop" operations of just a few years ago to the highly efficient businesses that are extant with those who are making a living in that arena these days. Those who DO look down their noses at the business you're about to get into are exactly what you typed the boor who left you that message: incredibly ignorant!

He, of course, made me laugh. It turns out my friend was just making a joke anyway.

But seeing his grandson today, and his interest in the history of the farm, made me think about all of this. If we hadn't taken over the farm, I probably would rarely, if ever, come here again. My parents would have sold it and moved. But since we're still here, our relatives still come and visit! So a day in their lives might be a little different too.

Uncle Dave loved leaving for college - who doesn't? But he loved coming back to visit, too. When you introduce yourself as a farm kid, what other vacation plans could be better?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday and friends

Brad and Liz from Illinois stopped by today. We got to meet their kids for the first time and take them on ... the first farm tour of the spring!

At one point, when we were in the milking parlor, Liz said that she didn't realize that farmers still didn't milk cows by hand. The other day, someone mentioned to me that they didn't know cows had to have a calf every year to give milk. But really, why would they know? They know cows give milk - but if you don't know a farmer, don't drive by farms, never are exposed to it ... why would you think about these things until someone teaches you?

Modern day parlor

So it's always fun to have people here and to be able to answer their questions about everything - like what the feed pile is. (Liz said she'd seen them in other places and thought they were some kind of sledding hill. They do look super fun.)

While they were here the milk truck came and I met Andy, the guy who was driving today. He showed the kids how he was taking samples of the milk and then pumping the milk into the truck. He even honked the horn for them.

And kids LOVE tractors. (I remember loving them when I was little too. I distinctly remember the first time I lied. I was playing on the combine after being explicity told not to do so, because I was wearing nice clothes and we were on the way to a graduation open house. My mom came out of the house and said, "Were you playing on the combine?" And I said, "No." THAT is how powerful the allure of equipment to a kid is!)

She would never lie. Look at her!

The spring tours will continue - we have more visitors coming tomorrow! Maybe even at some point our tours will not end in the words, "Well, let's go in. I'm freezing."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Flying high

It’s a flurry of activity around here!

The builders finished putting up the trusses. We got two big deliveries – the steel for the roof and the insulation. The electricians who are wiring the building (and doing the rest of the utility work, like putting in the water lines, the cattle waterers, and the hot water heater) were here digging the trenches where the water lines will be. The electric company that we pay for power called and said that after we mount the box on our building they can start hooking everything up.

I saw a lot of my mom and dad’s house being built. I was really happy for them and I loved seeing how everything came together. But my goodness! Your own building?! I love seeing it happen! I imagine this is a mere percentage of the excitement Kris feels, since he’s the one who did the actual planning.


It was warm and sunny. I got to run outside and I’ve never been sadder I didn’t have a camera with me. Along the creek I saw a turkey vulture (also called turkey buzzard) perched on top of a post. I was really close to it. Then, it raised its wings – I thought to take off – but it just stayed that way. I noticed a shadow and saw a second turkey vulture perched on an electrical wire. And it also had its wings out! I wished for the camera. They sat that way, with their wings outstretched, for about three minutes until a car came by and they flew away. I thought they may have been soaking up the sun. That’s how I felt, too.

When I came home I read that they sit that way a lot, they think for three reasons – to dry the wings, to warm their body, and to bake off bacteria.

Later on the road I came upon them eating a raccoon that’d been dead for a long time. It didn’t look like there was a lot to eat on it, but they seemed quite interested.


I picked up the boys from preschool today and there was a wildlife person there showing them a dead badger. All the kids were gathered around it. Many of them were petting it, making its own paws pet it, and feeling its teeth. My sons were watching closely, but not petting it.

I wondered later why they weren’t petting it. My best guess is that we see dead animals all the time. We spend a lot of time going for walks and we see a lot of road kill. We always look at them, but what do I tell them? Don’t touch the dead animals! We don’t always have enough sun to bake off that bacteria.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


"Where's dad?"

"He took a bull to the auction to sell it."

"Is it going to be steak now?"

"No, he actually sold it to a farmer who's going to use it to breed his cows."

"Then is it going to be steak?"

"Well, maybe. Or it might go to a different farm after that."

"THEN is it going to be steak?"

"Possibly. It'll end up as steak or hamburger eventually."

"I don't want our cows to be steak!"

"Why? You like steak."

"Yeah, I like steak. When is dad coming home? And when are we having steak?"


The employees replaced both doors to the milking parlor today. One of them was the original door - circa 1970s. I'm sure the cows will appreciate the new decor.

The builders continue through the rain and wind. There were seven trusses up by the end of the day!

The 10-day forecast shows rain almost every day, and it's thundering right now. Planting soon? Not looking likely. Maybe Kris will just have more time to grill up some steaks for the kids.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Let it snow ...

The daffodils were so mad this morning. Robins everywhere, looking confused. It's funny to walk outside and hear birds singing while also getting snow in your hair. The boys immediately wanted to play in it - and I couldn't even locate their snowpants. (I told them to just not sit down. They shoveled the sidewalk - because it needed it!)

It was all melted by the end of the day.

Last year on April 21 Kris started planting corn. That seems a bit far off right now, but it was early for planting last year.

Everyone is ready for it to be busy, but it's not. All the farmers are anxious to get into the field. It's an exciting time of year! ... Almost.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's a small, windy world

I’m not going to complain that it was snowing this morning. Or that it’s only 40 degrees right now. I’m not even going to complain that it’s incredibly, wildly windy. I just saw the damage the tornadoes did in the south - so at least we’re not having those! (If we have some later today, just assume the roof came off, because that’s what it sounds like is going to happen.)


We went to a party last night and I met a girl who was from the same town as one of my college roommates. Sure enough, she knew her. It somehow came up that she grew up on a dairy farm. She said her brother now milks about 1500 cows. I didn’t know him, and Kris didn’t know him either. We were all a little surprised. She said, “There aren’t that many young people going into farming!”

Kris and I talked about it later – there are lots of farms around here. You’d think that we’d know them all, but we don’t! With all the organizations we’re in, all the meetings we go to, and all the people our parents know, there are still farms we’ve never heard of. Big farms!

But there’s another one down. Later, when I hear the name of that farm, I can say I know his sister . . . plus bring up that college roommate.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Let's build a barn

It's starting!

Monday morning, this was just pasture. What will it look like by next week?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Let's talk about dairy

I went to my first MMPA Dairy Communicator conference today.

Part of it was an idea sharing session, where we talked about our promotion activities, and I - surprise! - showed my blog. They were receptive and it was fun.

The most interesting part to me was listening to Crystal MacKay, the executive director of the Ontario Farm Animal Council. She spoke about bridging the gap between farmers and the rest of society.

(She traveled from another country! If she came all that way, you just knew she was going to be good! I'm not kidding, even though Canada is practically in our back yard!)

She said she was from a farm and that her dad missed her high school graduation because he was helping a cow have a calf. She went on to use that point to emphasize that farming is a job and a lifestyle - farmers really care about their business and the animals.

Someone in the audience called out, "Was the calf okay?"

Crystal said, "It was fine. I'm still in therapy."

We all laughed. If you're brought up that way, you're just used to it.

For instance, my birthday is coming up. (Quick! Buy your presents now!) The day of my birth is always the same day of corn planting. My mom tells of waiting until dad came home from the field to go to the hospital. My birthday meal when I lived at home depended on when dad was going to be around. (Fast forward through all the years at school, in different states, and dating someone whose job didn't depend on the weather.)

And now, back again, I mentioned celebrating my birthday to Kris and he said, "How? By planting corn?"

Lucky for him, I like to celebrate the entire month. He can't plant corn every night.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How the cattle win

I have a guest post on the blog today, which explains pasture and traditional farming practices.

Check out - What's a paddock have to do with my food?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jobs of the day

Lots going on! It's a nice change from the winter.

They continued grading the sand at the new barn site. More trucks are still coming with sand, and the bulldozer pushes it into place. We drove down there and took pictures and waved. This is the same company that did the dirt work for our concrete feed pad, so they're pretty used to having us watch them.

It looks like such a massive amount of work. The truck driver dumps the trailer of dirt. Then he gets out, unhooks the trailer, gets back in. Dumps the second trailer of dirt. Gets out, hooks the trailer back on. Drives out. Comes back with another two truckloads.


Kris is continuing to work on the calf cart. He’s fitting it with a tank on the back that we’ll fill with fresh milk to feed to the calves in the new barn.

We used to feed them milk replacer (which is like formula), but with the new setup we’ll be able to use the cow’s milk to feed to them. This will save us money, since we won’t have to buy milk replacer.

He even made it more clear what the cart’s used for:


The vet came to check the rest of the cows today. Some are pregnant, some are a little pregnant, and some aren’t pregnant. We’ll eventually sell the ones that aren’t pregnant, because they’ll stop giving milk. The ones that are pregnant, we’ll dry up.

The vet checks them internally. He puts on a long, plastic glove that goes up to his shoulder. He feels them on the inside and determines by its size how old the calf is. It took him about an hour and a half to check 50 cows.

I didn't take any pictures of that. Feel free to browse the internet on your own!

Monday, April 11, 2011


We saw the bulldozers coming by on trailers early this morning! Here's the site of the new calf barn.

They took off the topsoil and spent all day bringing sand in these trucks. They're going to level it to the right grade and compact it. Then the barn building can start.

No word on if they need me to help with anything. After all, I drove that tractor ... how hard can it be to operate a bulldozer?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Aren't there country songs about this?

I drove a tractor for the first time today.

When I told my dad, he said, “I remember the first time I did that . . . when I was six years old.”

Kris said I’d better do it before they hooked anything up to the tractor. (I agreed.) So the kids and I met him at the barn and four of us climbed in. Me in the driver’s seat, three of them in the buddy seat. There were many warning stickers of things they didn’t want you to do - like of a tractor tipping over and a stick person falling out. I didn’t see any pictures of kid stick people, so I figured we were okay.

Very patiently, Kris explained to me how to drive it. Number one was to press the clutch. As he moved on to the rest of the steps, my leg got tired holding the clutch down. I’m guessing it takes practice, or you aren’t normally sitting there holding it down as you learn.

When it got to the point that I had to move the gearshift, it was really hard to move also. I asked, “Is there a button I’m supposed to be pushing at the same time?” He said no, I just had to push really hard. Yep! I was able to move it by using more force.

We got moving, and I drove us slowly around the barn driveway. I felt a little like I was in a parade. That’s how slow I was going.

I mentioned to Kris that the steering wheel had a lot of give, and that seemed like it would make it harder to use. He showed me that the front of the tractor had sights on it, like on the end of a gun, so you could point it at a row and know you’re going straight.

He suggested I could back it back into place, but I decided against it. I’d been successful thus far . . . why take the chance of hitting another tractor or my car?

“Did your mom do a good job?” my mom asked my son later. “Yes, but she was scared,” he told her.

I was not scared. What’s there to be scared of? There are definitely more steps to it than I thought. It would take a lot of practice to be good at it. I don’t think a six year old would be strong enough to operate that modern tractor.

And my son certainly isn’t going to find out anytime soon, not when he’s answering questions like that.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Plats and pickles

Fun Saturday facts:

My father-in-law mentioned plat books today. I always remember plat books being around our house, but I didn’t know the name of them until much later. Did everyone else have these? They’re little books that have the public record of maps, showing where land is divided and who owns what. I think these are of particular interest to farmers because . . . you’re always interested in land! You can’t help but be interested, since it's part of the job. You look at other people’s crops, houses, and woods. Plat books help make it easier to know your neighborhood better.

We also visited some friends who live in Frankenmuth. They're cash crop farmers, and when they talk about it, they say that they grow 'pickles'. I asked why they say pickles, rather than cucumbers. He explained that every cucumber they grow is used for pickles. They have to be a certain width and height, and if they’re not, then the pickle companies can’t buy them and won’t use them. Why? Because they have to fit in the jar. Packaging!

The Pickle Farmers is also the name of an unsigned band. I found that out when I was googling for more information. Maybe with better packaging, they'll also get a contract!

Friday, April 8, 2011


Great day on the farm!

Things started early, when Kris met with the builder and they started staking out where the barn’s going to be. The excavation company representative was there, and he did the leveling and it was as we all hoped – we don’t need to bring in fill dirt! If the weather cooperates, they can start on Monday.

Our new tractor came. I got in – it even smelled new. Even though it’s used. My uncle Al (who owns a dairy farm in New Mexico) was here watching them unload it off the trailer and said, “Are you going to drive it, Carla?” I said, “I’ve never driven a tractor.” He couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. When I got in, it looked pretty easy . . .

Kris made a decision on the calf panels, which is nice to have done. Now I hope they live up to our expectations. (Bulletproof, double as whiteboards, curing disease, etc. Just kidding. Not breaking when they’re kicked would be nice.)

Kris said that a day like this on the farm just makes you feel lucky. Let’s hope that luck holds when I take the tractor out for a spin.

Out with the old

In with the new

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


On this rainy day, Kris is embracing the part of the job where you do ... all types of different work.

He went to a distant town to get supplies to turn his golf cart into a calf cart. He was on the phone trying to get more quotes about the calf panels (the panels in between the calves) so he can order them. He talked to the builder, the excavation company, and the well drillers about the frost laws coming off – possibly Monday. He worked in the office paying bills, switching his email address from his decade-old Hotmail address that has inexplicably stopped consistently working. (Mine too! Anyone else?)

And of course, just the regular twice-a-day feeding. In his free time, he's working on adding on to our swingset.

We're really excited about getting started on the barn! It's more interesting than office work, of course. It's even more exciting than the swingset addition. That's if you ask me, though - not our kids.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I have a favorite condiment, salad dressing, and spice. It’s salt. (Don’t worry. I don’t use much and have very low blood pressure.)

Just like humans need salt to function normally, cows need salt, too.

Some vitamins and minerals are in what they already eat, but not everything. Most cattle producers add what’s called trace mineral salt to their feed. It can be mixed in with other feeds or can be given alone free choice. If we can mix it with their feed, we do. If they’re on pasture, we give it to them free choice. That means we get it in a bag and pour it into a salt feeder. It can also be given in salt blocks. (Yes, it’s a big block of salt and they lick them down to nothing.)

We’re going to try a different salt mix for the dry cows this year that has more vitamins in it that are beneficial for pregnant cows to keep them healthy through calving. It’s like a prenatal vitamin for cows.

You can buy all types – from generic mixes at the local store to custom mixes created by a nutritionist. As with anything, we’re just trying to give them the healthiest mix to meet their nutritional needs.

And taste . . . I didn’t even mention taste. I don’t know about you, but every vegetable I’ve ever eaten has been improved by salting it. When your diet includes a lot of pasture, probably the cows would agree.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Drying up the cows

We dried up the cows today, which means they’re going to have a period of rest where we don’t milk them. Because they’re going to have calves! (Cows need to have a calf every year in order to continue producing milk.)

This is how it works – Kris and two employees did the milking this morning and milked the cows like normal. Then they check to see if a cow is pregnant by pushing on the right side of her stomach to feel if there’s a calf in there. This is called ‘bumping’ a cow. There are also ultrasound and other ways to tell, but this is accurate, since the cows are a little over seven months pregnant, and their gestation period is nine months. So that calf is pretty big.

If the cow is pregnant, they give an antibiotic in each teat to prevent infection. Since she’s not going to be milked again until after she has a calf, we don’t want her to get an udder infection like mastitis, which can happen if you abruptly stop milking.

A side note on antibiotics – No cow that has been given antibiotics is ever milked into the bulk tank. We test our outgoing milk on the farm, it’s tested at the plant, and we follow the drug labels telling how long medicine is in their systems. If we give a cow antibiotics while she’s being milked, we milk her into a separate container and dump it until it’s out of her system. These cows won’t be milked again at all until at least one month - after they have calves. Then the first three days of milking is separated out from the bulk tank too, since it’s colostrum.

Then they put a sealant called T-HEXX on her teats. This also prevents bacteria from entering her teats. It’s bright blue.

So they dried up all but 51 cows that are either not pregnant, or not pregnant enough to feel the calf from the outside. The vet is coming next week to check them.

It’s an early day and a late night, but . . . it’s exciting every year! The calves are coming! The calves are coming!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wait a minute ...

Wait a minute ... those spring flowers are checking their calendar. Didn't it say April?

Oh, those are ice balls, not snow. Well, that's totally different. Ice balls are allowed on April 3. (And thunder, too, apparently.)

Friday, April 1, 2011


Karla Palmer, who's the district nurse for St Johns, invited us to a program for the kids at the town elementary school today. They've introduced a new fruit and vegetable bar, in addition to the lunch that's already served.

Denise, the woman who implemented it, showed the kids a 5-section tray.

Three sections are for fruits and vegetables, she instructed. The one at the top is for (she paused) and the kids yelled, "MILK!" And the last one is for (she paused again) and there were a variety of answers, from "Cookie!" to "More fruit!" She answered "Your entree."

I was impressed by the food - she even kindly offered to let my kids take a turn at the bar. Fresh grapes, oranges, bananas, good canned mixed fruit, carrots, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. It was all colorful and crisp and tasty.

I was also impressed on how every kid knew which section was for milk. There was no hesitation at all. No one yelled 'water' or 'pop' or any other hint of another word.

After my kids finished the food on their trays, I saw why:

Can you see that? Hooray, healthy choices, and milk on their trays! Literally.