Monday, May 30, 2011


Today is definitely a holiday Kris works. It's 10:30pm and he's just getting home.

Kris and my dad chased a cow in the barn to pull her calf and saw it was both upside down and backward. This is pretty rare, so Kris called our vet, Russ.

Russ used a tool he said usually didn't work, but the alternative was a c-section, which we've never done since we've been here.

It was a bar with two loops on the end. They looped one end over the calf's legs and twisted with a bar, trying to get the calf to flip over. It worked! They still had to pull it out backward, but both the cow and the heifer calf were fine.

Not really a holiday for our vet, either. Good thing we're friends with him, so it could be considered partially a social call. Except for the bill!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day

As long as I can remember, my mom has planted flowers on our relatives' graves for Memorial Day. I used to go with her, and since I've had kids, we all go with her.

We have a lot of relatives buried in our little church cemetery, including my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and my great-great grandparents.

Just last week an article caught my eye in one of our many farm magazines - 'Living the Country Life.' Brent Olson wrote about how Americans are so mobile now that their ancestors are buried everywhere, but his family's lived in the same place for 130 years, so he's planting flowers at five different cemeteries.

My mom planted some lilly of the valley on my grandma's grave and told us grandma always had them by her back door. I told the boys about the time I was a teenager and planted some flowers for grandma at her house - and wore my bathing suit to do it. She thought it was so funny she took my picture. (A rarity! Those days we had FILM!)

I never wanted to live where I grew up. Now I can't quite remember why.


Two calves born today. We had friends over. Their daughter really wanted to a see a calf being born - we saw one in the pasture right after it was born, and that was good enough for her. Kris later pulled one, but he didn't call us because it came backward and he was afraid it wasn't going to have a positive ending. But it was alive!

My friend's husband told his wife, "I don't know what women are complaining about. She was in a barn, having a backward calf, with Kris pulling on it, and she didn't even make a sound!"

Ah, the human/cow comparisons never get less funny ...

Happy Memorial Day!

Anna with her calf and pigtails

Friday, May 27, 2011


Kris got a call today from our neighbor. Our cow was out along our road. Apparently, one of our fences had shorted out because ... it was underwater! Yes, that's how much rain we've had.

Our neighbors (who are dairy farmers also) waited for Kris and talked as they herded her through a gate back into the pasture.

It's so nice knowing your neighbors are watching out for you. No farmer would drive by, see a cow out, and just keep on going. What if it caused an accident?! It would be horrible for everyone - the driver, cow, farmer, and person who didn't call!

When my parents were farming a little calf got out, ran into the road, and was hit by a car. Who was driving? Just by chance ... my mom's boss! He and the car weren't hurt, but it did break the calf's leg. My dad had the vet put a cast on it. (I took a picture and used Snagit to write the boss' name on the cast. He liked it.)

That's the only time we've had one hit, thankfully - but that's in part because of our neighbors helping out. And all of our ever-present cell phones. Hooray!


Want to learn some more farm terms?

Dry cows - Cows that are about to have a calf. They're in the period where you stop milking them before they calve.

Example: "We moved the dry cows to a new pasture today. Since it's so wet, they just trample the long grass and get it all muddy and won't eat it."

Fresh cows - A cow that has just had a calf.

For instance, Kris just told me, "So far 76 heifers have freshened."

(Try to work that into your next conversation! See how many listeners you lose!)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Smell test

At lunchtime, Kris was playing with our baby and smelled him to see if he needed a diaper change.

"Does he need one?" I asked.

"I don't know ..." Kris said, handing him over to me to test.

"He definitely needs one," I said. "How can you not know he needs one - you normally have such a good sense of smell! Of course, you smell manure all day long. Not human."

"Yeah," Kris said. "I was pulling a calf this morning, and I slipped on the wet grass and landed with my hand right in the middle of a cow patty. I thought, well, at least I didn't fall on my butt."

"No wonder you can't smell his diaper," I said.

"I might be immune," he agreed.

150 calves born ... 150 more to go!

Monday, May 23, 2011


When I met Kris, I noted the incredible cleanliness of his car.

My car wasn't quite as clean ... not only did it have a lot of pop cans rolling around in the back, but it certainly wasn't vacuumed or dusted. In fact, I think I could count on one hand the times I washed the outside of it. (Besides parking it outdoors when it rained.)

So when we moved to the farm, Kris got a farm truck. Every farmer has one, as far as I know. My dad always had - and it was always the same. Fly specked, dirty, but also super useful, since it had a toolbox on the back with any tool you could need. It was powerful enough to pull anything. He helped me move numerous times, and the truck bed was always big enough for all my possessions.

Not to say Kris and I didn't have a truck before we moved to the farm - we did. (This should have been a clue to me that there was a farmer in Kris all along.) I didn't know how people got along without trucks. What if you needed to get mulch? Take home furniture you bought? Chop down a Christmas tree?

Regardless, we got a farm truck. This truck has been through a lot, so far. The other day, a cow in the pasture snapped off the mirror. Last year when the cows were out and he was using his truck to herd them back, he ripped off his bumper when he was turning around quickly. During calving season, Kris puts a homemade rack on the back of it so he can transport the calves to the barn. There's no mistaking it's a farm truck.

I was riding with my dad in the pasture today and he said, "Once someone asked Dave (our employee) why my truck always looked beat up. And Dave said, 'Because Jack uses his truck as a tool, not a vehicle.' And Kris does too!"

Of course, when you put it that way, my car's a tool too - a recycling bin for pop cans.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


I went out to the pasture with my dad and Kris. They picked up this newborn calf - one of 8 born today.

What is there to know about calves?

- They're really wet when they're born. Their mothers have to lick them off to stimulate them and get the fluid off of them. If they don't, another more-experienced cow does it, or Kris towels them off.

- They can walk within an hour of birth.

- Once they're in the barn, Kris treats their bellybuttons with iodine to help prevent infection.

- Iodine is used to make meth, so it's not as readily available as it used to be. (So I hear.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Kris worked from 6:00am to 9:00pm today. And when I say worked ... he really was working all the time, except for the few minutes where I forced encouraged him to apply sunscreen.

Calves galore - 11 today! Picking them up in the truck. Chasing in the mothers. Feeding the calves. Loading up some feed we're selling. Repeat. My dad worked most of the day too ... and he's twice Kris' age. Will Kris be able to do this physical of work when he's my dad's age? Let's hope! (Of course, we are raising all these boys. One of them better be able to lift a calf onto a truck bed at some point. Next year? Maybe with intense training and a serious growth spurt.)

I did my part as dairy communicator hosting a friend, her husband, and her two-year- old son Jack. (It's tough work, but Kris can't do the physical labor AND show people around the farm.) Jack loves tractors. He loved sitting in them. All of them. We were pretty sure he'd never tire of it. As they left, his dad said, "I don't think Disney World would be any better." We laughed. Then as they were getting in the car - minutes after he exited a tractor - Jack said, "When can we go to the farm?" Ha! It may not be a theme park, but it's cheaper ... and closer.

And check out these rides! It's hard to beat sitting on an early 90s parked tractor! Take that, tea cups.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


The weather has changed, and it feels like it's for good! (Note - I'll be taking back these words soon, now that I've written that.)

There were only four calves born today. Kris said tomorrow looks like it's going to be a big day, since a lot of them look ready.

The boys got to see Kris pull a calf today ... I'm still on zero for the year. That's right - they so far have had 56 heifers and 48 bulls, and I've seen NO births. It's just not the best year. Between keeping kids from touching the electric fence and having another kid who can't yet walk, it's not the easiest to witness these births. I strongly encourage all the calving mothers to have them near the road - in between my children's naps - but so far, no luck.

Last year I was lucky enough to assist, and to have my friend take a picture:

Judging from the picture, "assist" seems strong, but I really did pull enough to realize that I wasn't strong enough to do it by myself.

Here's to a banner calving day tomorrow! And increased arm strength for all!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New home

Today we moved 107 heifers on pasture for the first time. These are the calves that were born last summer. We take them from their outdoor barn and put them on trailers, drive them a half a mile down the road, and put them out. Then they dance and frolic across the pasture ... and run into the fences.

This is their first exposure to pasture and high tensile wire. It's stretchy wire. That means when the cattle run into it, it doesn't break. It's strung in three places - high, medium, and low. It's also electric.

Most people are familiar with barbed wire - birthplace DeKalb, IL, where we used to live! We don't use that, because electricity is basically the 'barb' of this wire.

So the heifers tried out the pasture, checked out the woods, ran around, and ran into the fence. Kris said that one heifer had it stretched about 20 feet before it snapped back. One ran through it, and then ran the other direction back through it. But once they understand their boundaries, they never really touch it again.

Kris did say, however, that he didn't see even one of them eating grass. He said they just don't get it yet.

It doesn't take them long though. They soon tire of running around and get down to eating. In a few days they'll have to move them on to the next paddock. They'll be here until the grass stops growing and we move them to a pasture next to the barn, where we can supplement their feed through the winter.

Welcome to pasture, little heifers! Eat, run, and watch out for those fences. I really, really don't want to get the dreaded 3:00am call and chase you back in tonight. High tensile wire is great, but it can't beat teen-heifer excitement.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pulling calves

Kris and my dad went out in the pasture this morning and saw two cows in the process of having calves. Kris said that even though it's nearly impossible and almost never works, he snuck up behind one of them and put chains on the calf's feet. He was able to pull it out without much of a problem. (The chains are made to pull calves. It's a specially-designed chain that loops around their feet and has a triangle handle so you can pull on them.) I well remember a time from when I was young and my dad was holding onto it as a cow was running away. He held on as best he could for as long as he could ... it looked like he was water skiing.

The other cow was right next to it, so they slipped the chains on that calf's feet. It was a bigger calf, and whenever they pulled, she backed up. This obviously wasn't helping, so they got her to lie down. Once she was on the ground they were able to pull out the calf. It was pretty big, and they were fine.

Kris and dad did a lap to collect the rest of the calves in the pasture and saw another cow giving birth - with one foot sticking out, backward. They put the chains on again, but she kept running away. They walked her into the barn so they could put her in a freestall.

They were able to pull the second leg out, but since they knew it was backward, they got the calf puller. The calf puller is a winch that braces against the cow's back legs. It has a long metal bar with a winch and a cable. You pull until it's tight, then you push down for more leverage, then tighten it and pull some more.

She laid down and they were pulling ... and the cable broke. It whacked Kris in the shin (and left a big lump, actually.) Dad retied it, and when they pulled it broke in another spot. That was the end of the calf puller.

They got the regular chains. Dad sat on the ground and braced his legs against the cow's legs, and he and Kris were able to pull it out with all their strength. It breathed a few times, but then died. The cow (it was her first calf) was pretty spent, and they gave her a steroid to help her recover. Often when they go through a difficult birth like that it affects a leg. She has been up walking but has also fallen down. They're keeping her in the barn a few days until she's recovered.

Kris said it's always sad. Yet if you feel like you did everything you could do, you just have to accept that not every birth goes perfectly.

So with the negative comes the positive. She'll recover, she'll give milk, and she'll try again next year.

Kris and dad are pulling calves, and they're pulling for them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Take your child to work day

As soon as my sons wake up in the morning, they ask if they can go help their dad work. They plead with me to call him. If they see his truck pass by, they ask if they can go get in it. One of my favorite sights from last summer was to see him drive up and the boys would scramble into his truck - up the door and through the window. Barefoot, like tiny mountain goats.

One of the reasons Kris wanted to farm is so that his kids would know what his job was. Here they do! He takes them with him as much as possible. Tonight they helped my dad and Kris do chores, which consisted of feeding the calves, riding in the calf cart to get milk, and looking in the pasture for calves.

The boys will drop anything they're doing to go and 'help dad.' Sometimes getting them to put on their shoes and coats takes forever - but not when they're going with him!

It's a nice bonus of farm life that every day is take your child to work day.

Some other sights of the day:

I love waking up to see the cattle across the road. It only happens every few weeks since they're grazing on a rotation. I always hope they'll be there when we have guests visiting.

Kris and the boys feeding the calves in our 100 year old barn

The cement feed alley in the new barn - poured today!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ahhh ....

Kris has had quite the weekend! Thirteen calves born on Friday the 13th ... the 4-wheeler almost getting swept away by the swollen creek ... pulling a calf while the cow was trying to run away ... and tonight he came home and said when he'd parked the truck in the pasture, the cattle had snapped off his driver side mirror.

Cows are really hard on trucks. They can do some damage - not on purpose - just because they're strong and like to rub on things. So one of them could've bumped into it, or was scratching herself on it, or was trying to get a good look in it to see how her pregnancy was coming along.

I spent the weekend on vacation, so I missed the 85 degree weather. No worries! I returned to 40 degrees and rainy, so everything seems normal.

Funny thing - since today was rainy, Kris was hoping no calves would be born, and none were. My dad said no self-respecting cow would have a calf on a day like this. They really do tend to have calves on nicer days - chalk that up to instinct and survival skills. After two days of rain ... how much longer can they hold it? When a calf is ready, it's ready, but it is amazing how they tend to have them on nice days. So ... next day without rain? Get ready for some serious calving.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There are no antibiotics in your milk

The planting is done! What a happy day. The planter made it through the rest of the acres without breaking, too! Now back to the barn building and calves ...


I also wanted to point you to a guest post I did for The Farm Fresh Food Blog, which answers a question I often get about antibiotics and hormones in milk.

My summation is "There are no antibiotics in your milk. Farmers aren't adding any hormones to your milk. You can consume it, worry-free."

You can get all the details here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Kris planted about 100 acres of corn today. I asked him to take a picture of the planter for me to show people.

When I mentioned "the planter" to my friend the other day, she said, "Planter, like what exactly? Because when you say that, I think of a flower box."

The planter is a really amazing piece of machinery, I think. You pour corn seed from big bags into the white bucket parts of the planter. I imagined first that then the corn plops on the ground. That's not right. After it goes in there, a WHOLE LOT of things happen.

There's a blower that blows the seed against a plate that has holes in it and the seed has to be in the right place in the hole, then it drops down into a tube that puts it in the ground. There are also two blades that are in a 'v' shape that dig a hole for the corn seed. A bunch of wheels press it into the ground and cover it up with dirt.

So, the planter digs a hole, places a seed it, presses it into the soil, and covers it with dirt.

It's the same idea as a flower box ... except we need the crop to feed our cattle all winter, we have to harvest it in the fall, and for a flower box, it's really, really big. But you get the same pleasure at looking at a nice field as you do your beautiful flowers!

Monday, May 9, 2011

One of those days

When we told my parents we wanted to farm, we still had about a year until we moved here. During that time, my mom would email us the details of the farm day - just to let us know the sort of life we were headed into living. Today was the kind of day that we'd read about and think - wow, it's going to be busy. (You'd think I'd remember more from growing up on a farm. Not really.)

Kris was planting, but something on the planter broke. He fixed it. Something else broke, and he fixed it. Then something else on the planter broke. It required welding. My dad fixed it. Obviously, there are names for all those parts, but they don't mean much to me.

Today also nine cows had calves. When a cow has a calf, it means you have to separate her from the rest of the cows in the pasture and drive her into the barn to get milked. Sometimes they just don't go easily, and today was one of those days.

They also found out that the cattle had ripped through a bunch of fences in the pasture.

Really, Kris left home at 6am and got home at 10pm and THIS is what people mean when they talk about farming being a lot of work - when it's planting, calving, and cows breaking through fences all at once!

This post could be one of my mom's emails. You know, with the names changed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


First set of twins born today! Two heifers. Plus five heifers and one bull. Happy Mother's Day!

Kris fed, calved, spent three hours celebrating with our families and me, then was back out for more calving ... and started planting corn!

Our wonderful, fantastic, hard-working employees were great this weekend. Kris asked some of them if they'd be willing to work, and they were! It really made a difference in the planting time. (And stress level.)

He's now doing payroll, and is about ready to fall into bed and start all-day planting tomorrow, along with the regular work. I should mention that my dad also is a great help during this season, since he helps Kris every day. (Unfortunately, this means he's not available to drive my kids to school. I GUESS Kris needs the help more than I do, but my kids are learning far fewer new songs than they did riding with my dad.)

I went with my (fantastic) mom today to see some new mothers ... our neighbors' lambs! Again, my experience is with dairy. I don't know a ton about other kinds of farms, but I'm learning. And what did I learn today? Lambs are adorable.

Also ... my parents made steak for lunch today. While eating it, my son said, "Is this one of our cows, or someone else's?"

Kris said, "It's someone else's cow." (My dad bought a steer from a 4-H member.)

My son looked closely at his meat and said with confidence, "I thought so. It looks brown. Ours would look black and white."

Saturday, May 7, 2011


When you think about farmers planting crops, what do you picture?

It's a studied process. There's the technology of the seeds, the equipment, the fertilizer. But what hasn't changed? Dependence on the weather.

Last year was perfect, weather-wise, since we had all of our corn planted before calving started.

This year was a lot wetter, which seems more normal to me, and a lot more stressful for Kris. It just got dry enough to get into the fields. What does that mean? Before you plant you often have to work up the ground. (There are a variety of tools you pull behind a tractor that do different things to it. The basic goal is to turn the dirt over to get it best-prepared to grow seeds.)

So now that it's dry enough Kris and the employees have to prepare the ground (once or twice over) and plant. All while doing the regular feeding, plus calving and taking care of calves.

It always seems like a race. The weather is only dry enough for a certain amount of days. You have a specific amount of acres to plant. You have limited time. Every farmer in the community is in the fields as much as the moisture and the daylight allows (longer for the ones that have lights on their planters.)

So far 17 heifers and 17 bulls have been born, including nine yesterday. So it's action-packed around here! I'd say it's fun, but I'll wait until every field is planted until Kris breathes a sigh of relief. After that, it's the race to cut, rake, and chop the alfalfa ...

Farming has depended on the weather since the beginning of time! There aren't any more hours in the day, no matter the technology. But it is nice to have tractors with air conditioning.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Our barn has a color! They also put on a wall, forms for the cement curb, and a window.

I went out to the pasture again tonight. A heifer was trying to have a calf. Kris brought her in the barn and pulled it, but the calf was dead. He said it was just a really huge calf. It's always a disappointing way to end a night, even after a generally good day.

On a positive note, three healthy calves were born today - with no assistance. Soon they'll have a new home in a big, red barn!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I sent this picture out to some friends last weekend, and it got a lot of comments - not about the boys, but about how it looks like the cattle checking them out. They don't just seem like they are - they ARE very interested. Our cattle love looking at people that are different, and anytime these darting, small creatures come around, they have their undivided attention. (They also like Kris a lot, because he means food.)

This evening at 8:30pm I was going running and Kris asked if I would run through the pasture to check one more time for calves. I was running along the fence line, in with the cattle, and they were SO EXCITED. They all ran alongside me, getting as close as they possibly could before kicking away, then running back again to catch up. I got splattered with a lot of mud. I spotted a calf, with about five cows hovering over it. I couldn't tell who the mother was.

When I got back and told Kris, he said, "Was it a bull or a heifer? Did a heifer or a cow have it?" Hmm. He said, "I'll send you with more specific instructions next time."

Even though it was 9:00pm, he'd already showered and changed, he put his work clothes on and went back out to take care of the calf. He said if a heifer had it, the chances of it feeding her calf weren't great, because first-time mothers don't know what to do. Or if they do know what to do, the bossy cows crowd all around the calf, trying to take care of it. (I will draw no comparisons between humans and cows in this paragraph.)

When he went out to get it, he saw another cow trying to have a calf. So he warmed up colostrum, brought the calf back to the barn, and made sure the second calf was born with no trouble. Showered again, and collapsed into bed before starting it all over again in 7 hours!

Even though it's tiring, Kris loves this exciting time of year because due to his extreme physical activity, he can eat whatever he wants. Some of us have to go running year round. But we're both doing our part, right? He's taking care of the cattle's every need, I'm bringing the evening entertainment.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Some people like to look out on the ocean. Some people prefer a mountain view. While I think those are beautiful landscapes, I also enjoy mine - cattle grazing in the field! Today we put the cattle out on pasture!

They're standing in knee deep grass, eating to their heart's content.

This also makes less work for Kris, since he doesn't have to feed all of them the chopped up food from the feed pile. (He's still feeding the milk cows a supplemental feed, and feeding the one-year-old calves, and feeding the new baby calves - but still, a little less!)

Have you ever seen cattle go out on pasture? They're always so excited. They frolic. They kick up their heels. They check out the fence line to see how far they can go. They eat and eat. When it's quiet, you can hear them tearing off the plants and chewing. It's not a setting on any sound machine I know of, but it's just as peaceful as hearing waves crash on the sand.

Monday, May 2, 2011


As I was heading to the barn, Kris told me a cow was having a calf where I'd easily be able to see it give birth - near the edge of the pasture.

I watched for awhile (I LOVE watching calves being born) but my kids got hungry and wanted to leave. My mom said, "Don't you think you should call Kris? There's only one hoof out."

Later he refreshed me on 'reasons a cow needs help calving.' One hoof - bad. One hoof and head - bad. Back feet - bad. Two front hooves - good. He and the employees chased the one-hoof-coming-out-cow into a barn freestall, where he could help her without chasing her all over the pasture. (Cows having calves tend to run away. As you can imagine, this doesn't help the birth progress.)

Then he had to push the calf's hoof back inside her and maneuver it until both of the hooves were coming out with the head following. Then he was able to pull the calf out. Both cow and calf were fine.

He also showed the boys and me a little two-inch scratch on his arm. No, calves can't bite, but when you're pushing and pulling - the calf's teeth had scraped some of his skin off. Welcome to the world, little calf! I guess my kids weren't the only ones who were hungry.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


After Kris stops giving calves a bottle, he has to teach them to drink from a bucket. Some of them catch on easily, some of them take longer. They all get it eventually.

He sticks his two fingers into the calf's mouth to get her to suck. Then he draws her head down into the bucket. Her natural inclination is to drink with her head up, not down, so when she gets milk into her mouth, she often butts her head upward. However, since she's drinking from a bucket ... she doesn't get any milk this way. So he draws her head back down again until she understands that she has to keep her head down.

Kris already has a worn-away spot on his skin where the calves have been rubbing. They only have bottom teeth, so they can't bite him. By the end of calving season, he develops a callus.

Today was sunny and 75 degrees! We're in the season where I don't really count on Kris being anywhere on time. This morning after I parked at church, I texted him about something I forgot. He later told me he got that text while he was still in the field - and had just pulled a calf. Yet he still made it to church on time - and was showered and dressed! I'm not really sure how he did it.

Also, our neighbors have the most wonderful tradition. Every May 1, they hang a bouquet of flowers and candy on our doorknob with a note wishing us 'Happy May Day!' There is no better start to my favorite month! So - Happy May Day to all of you! I hope your month is full of good weather, flowers, and calluses where you need them!