Thursday, June 30, 2011

Curtains for you

Our barn has curtains. They're made of plastic, and they roll manually with a crank. They're two separate curtains, so you can open them from the bottom up or the top down.

This way, it can be wide open in the summer for optimum ventilation, and closed up tight in the winter to make it warmer. The semi-transparent plastic allows the sun to shine through so it's still bright year-round.

These are common in lots of new barns, but if you didn't know what they were, you might think the barn was unfinished - since plastic on a house indicates it's still under construction.

But these curtains are here to stay! And since it's Fourth of July weekend coming up, hopefully they'll be wide open ... I love a holiday weekend of good weather. Also, that way, the calves might be able to glimpse a little of the fireworks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Weaning calves

The calves that were first born are about eight weeks old now. This is when we wean them, meaning we feed them less and less milk, until we stop feeding them milk at all.

After they don't drink milk, you can put them into a group pen. Here, they eat grain from a feeder and drink from automatic waterers. They're ready to eat and drink with the herd.

They look big in the pens, but then you put them together and they look so little - and they're very skittish. It's all new to them. When I went to take these pictures they were kicking in the air and running around and were all excited about their new environment. And they haven't even seen the new barn yet! When we move them over there, maybe they'll be doing back flips.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Difference between hay and straw

There's a difference between hay and straw.

Hay is alfalfa or grass that's been harvested. Cows eat it.

Straw is wheat stalks. People use it for bedding - meaning they put it down so cattle can lay down on it and be more comfortable. It also kind of soaks up the manure. It's consistently changed and added to in the pens.

It's easy to understand why people confuse them. They look similar, since they're both stringy and usually in bales. Hay is green and straw is yellow, but unless you're comparing them, you wouldn't really think about the differences.

Children's books often get it wrong, because 'hay' makes for a much better rhyming word. But we have a book that talks about the cow lying down in the 'soft, sweet hay, in the cozy barn, at the end of the day.' I have to substitute 'straw' when I read it, even though it doesn't flow nearly as well. Why? Because hay is much too valuable to have cattle sleeping on it! It'd be like me going to sleep in my bed made of caviar. You know, if I liked caviar.


Farm news - just awaiting calves, building a barn, and waiting for the next cutting of alfalfa. Translation - everyone is busy all the time.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New era

Five of my college friends and their husbands got together at my house today. (Plus our 16 children. We're more than replacing ourselves!)

We went on the farm tour, like we have in the past, but the difference is - we didn't go to the old calf barn! We only went to the new calf barn. Never before have I given a farm tour that didn't include a stop at the old calf barn.

Taking kids to visit the new calf barn has a lot of advantages - it's cleaner, it's easier to see where the kids are, and it's not five feet from a really busy road. I didn't even have to point out to a pure city girl that the brightness and ventilation must make the new barn nice for the calves.

One disadvantage ... with all those kids, it's not within walking distance. This was another tour first, probably never to be repeated. Load up!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


2 inches of rain in two days. (A lot.)

68 degrees today. (It felt even colder, due to the rain.)

140 round bales of pasture grass. (Yay!)

96 heifer calves in the barns. (Keep 'em coming.)

Summer just started, but it feels like it's already half over! The numbers just don't add up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Kris just said he loves listening to the rain. It's raining and thundering and lighting outside right now, on this nice first day of summer. Not only is it good for our crops and pasture, but ... we also turned on the irrigation for the first time yesterday, so now we can turn it off.

My dad put up the first irrigation system on our farm, which is this one above that covers 75 acres. (When we moved here we put up another one to cover an additional 100 acres.) He said he always wanted to put one up, because there are creeks on both sides of the farmland, but the middle pasture was dry - especially during the 70s and 80s. Grass is a shallow-rooted plant so it needs regular watering.

In 1995 dad had been pasturing for eight years. He said that most of those years, there was a drought. So that year he put up the irrigation system.

My mom said that year it rained and rained and rained. The other farmers in the community kept joking, telling him, "We're so happy you put up that irrigation system!"

But there have been many years since then we've really depended on it. And more to come, I'm sure!

Monday, June 20, 2011

New barn

The calves are in the barn! The calves are in the barn!

It's not done, but it's complete enough on one side to start moving over the calves. This also works as a sort of trial to see if we need to change anything before the builders are finished.

We moved over the youngest nine calves. It seemed so nice with the breeze, the bright building, and the open atmosphere. I walked there again at night to check on them. They seemed happy. Who doesn't love the first night in a new house?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Breakfast on the Farm

Yesterday we went to a Breakfast on the Farm event at a nearby dairy farm. (There are more - you can check the link to see if there's one near you.)

We've been to it the last three years and it has really grown! It's so organized and informational. It's a free breakfast plus a farm tour, but it's much more: Equipment, feed samples, quizzes and prizes for kids, signs explaining everything, volunteers (many of them farmers) answering questions, informational tables from different organizations ... and ice cream. I think it's wonderful that farmers are hosting these breakfasts and I'm glad so many people are attending.

Since I'm asked about this a lot, I particularly liked this sign:

People from all backgrounds go to these ... even farm kids like mine. A stranger asked my son, "Do you want to be a farmer when you grow up?" My son nodded, wondering how the man guessed, until my mom said, "His dad is!"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Bale spear

Today we stopped to watch Josh unload bales. He was using a bale spear to take them off the trailer and move them beside the barn.

It looks like a difficult thing to do, if you're not used to doing it. Lots of balancing.

I explained what was happening to my boys. I took a few pictures, because even though bales and equipment are things we see all the time, I thought I might post a few for people who don't.

See the spear?

Maneuvering it off the trailer

On his way

I started to walk away and my son said, "Mom, can we watch him unload ALL the bales?"

Some things never get old.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Kris told me today they put nitrogen on the corn fields. Nitrogen is a fertilizer.

Some farms use anhydrous ammonia. It's the cheapest form, but it's also a gas, so it makes it kind of dangerous to handle. (This is why meth labs are always exploding, right? I sure don't know.)

When the corn is about a foot high, we drive the tractor between the rows and knife in the nitrogen with a rented pull-behind applicator. We put on 28% liquefied nitrogen. If the corn is too short, the nitrogen might run out before the corn plant needs it, but you can't wait until it's too tall, because you wouldn't be able to drive through it.

Corn needs fertilizer to reach its full potential. Many farms put it on when they plant the corn. Since we spread manure on our fields during the winter, we don't. Because ... there's nitrogen in manure. Let's celebrate the wonder that is cow manure! Easily the cheapest fertilizer, and not at all explosive!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Kris got a call this morning at 6:15am from a neighboring farm - one cow had gotten out and was in his pole barn. Kris and my dad went over and chased it back, but he said she didn't want to come.

And he saw ... she's the same cow who got out yesterday! I asked if he was selling her. He said not yet, but she'd caused him to miss breakfast.

She should watch out. A hungry farmer is ... well, it's not a saying I know of, but I can think of multiple endings to that sentence:

- not someone you want to live with.

- a restaurant in Colorado that I really liked. (I just read it went out of business in 2003. Were all the farmers fed?)

- not hungry long. Watch out, cow.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Worm free

Twice a year, we treat our cows with Cydectin® Pour-On for Cattle.

The person administering it sits on a little seat above the door of the milk parlor. When the cows are leaving the parlor after their milking, they get sprayed on the back with the dewormer. It leaves a purple streak on their backs.

According to the label, it treats and controls "gastrointestinal roundworms, lungworms, cattle grubs, mites, and four types of lice."

I've not seen one of these creatures - on our farm or anywhere else - ever. Thank goodness.

But just reading that makes my skin crawl. If you see me tomorrow with a purple streak on my back, don't be surprised.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Ever see these when you're driving around the countryside?

It's a feed bin. (It reminds me of the cereal dispensers in my college dorm. It's pretty much the same idea.)

This is a way to store grain to feed the calves.

We had one at the old calf barn, but it was much smaller. We always had to plan on how not to run out over a weekend, because the feed companies that deliver aren't open on weekends. Yet the calves still want to eat on Saturdays and Sundays! Crazy.

This bin is over twice as big as the old one. We're also going to be feeding more calves.

Do you see the tractor next to this? The feed bin is tied to it. It was really windy and we didn't want it to blow over. Now it's anchored down - bolted - into the concrete.

The bins in college were also bolted to the table. But I don't think they were worried about windstorms.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Today Kris spent a lot of time mowing our pastures.

Sounds funny, doesn't it? Why would one mow pastures when the cattle are supposed to be eating it?

Here are the reasons:

It grows fast. Especially this spring, with all the rain. As a result, the cattle can't keep up. The good news is, it grows back really quickly.

The cattle don't like it when it's tall and headed out - meaning the grass has seed heads on it. You know, like when you know it's REALLY time to mow your lawn. It pokes them in the eyes, and it's tougher and drier. I'm guessing the cattle don't know this, but it's also lower in nutritional value.

So Kris took the discbine and cut the grass. Then it has to dry for a few days, then we'll rake and bale it. In the winter we'll feed the bales to the dry cows.

It takes a lot longer to cut pasture grass than to cut a field of alfalfa, because of the fences and the triangular shape.

I used our push mower today. I was wishing we could just bring over some cattle to trim up my lawn. It'd be worth the manure.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Shelly Strautz-Springborn from Farm World interviewed me about blogging in her article, 'Michigan Ag Council hopes to reach non-aggies through blog'.

When I read where she calls me a "fifth-generation" farmer, I had to calculate. I told Kris, "Well, it was my great grandpa who started this farm, but that only makes me fourth generation. But my great great grandpa was also a farmer, just a few miles over. So I AM fifth generation, but not all in the same place."

Kris pointed out that you don't have to farm on the same farm to be considered a generational farmer. True.

No matter what generation farmer you are, some things are different, some the same.

Like look at my great great grandpa Gabriel Anderson and me. We both have to deal with the weather and cattle health. We both have three sons.

Differences? He fought in the Civil War, and I ... block out time each day for blogging.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


These waterers remind me of those big McDonald's thermoses from elementary school. Yet they're not filled with some orange drink, they're Ritchie cattle waterers.

By looking at that site, I just learned Thomas Ritchie patented the first automatic waterer device in 1921 ... way to go, Thomas. Apparently still wildly popular.

It's always full of water. If a calf drinks enough out of it at one time, there's a valve that opens up and it automatically fills back up. It's also heated, so that when it freezes outside, the cattle's water never freezes over.

So, this is the new barn. Piece by piece, it's getting put together - and looks good! I hope the calves like it ... McDonald's and Ritchie obviously know what they're doing.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Covering the pile

It seems like every time the guys cover the pile, it's 90 degrees. Except today, when it was 92! But there was a breeze ...

So, in six days, the first cutting of the alfalfa is done. Cut, raked, chopped. 97 times, they dumped a wagonload on the cement pad.

So, if you remember the first load:

In between loads, they drive a tractor over it to compress and shape the pile.

Then, they cover it with plastic and carry tires up it to hold the plastic down.

Voila - the first cutting!

Our employee Josh said to a new employee, "It's the hardest the first time. After that, you know what to expect."

He said this as he was carrying tires two at a time to the very top of the pile and making it look easy.

In another month, it'll start all over again. Then one or two more times this summer. It's like a season-long workout program. Easily offset by the pizza at the end.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Last night Kris said he was thinking about how nice it was to take off early and play a doubleheader of softball. Then he said he calculated it, and taking off early meant he'd already worked 10 hours. Go crazy!

When we got home, my dad was trying to chase in a cow that was having trouble having a calf. But she just wouldn't go in. He and Kris chased her around for an hour, but she just would not go in. What else can you do when an animal with lots of determination and speed doesn't want to go in the barn in the dark?

We had a set of heifer/bull twins yesterday AND today. Twins aplenty around here.

Today Kris chopped 80 acres. All day! The weather cooperated beautifully. See how dry it is?

Creek on April 28:

Creek now:

Let's hope this keeps up. At least ... until we want rain. In the meantime, we'll enjoy our ever-changing scenery.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


My dad's had a lot of injuries over the years. Serious ones, non-serious ones ... I well remember when he had a very deep cut in the palm of his hand. He kept putting udder ointment on it and taping over it when he worked so it wouldn't get dirty. It healed nicely.

I remember when he cut his shin. It had bled into his sock, so that we saw him, his white sock was completely red. Not just a little red - ALL red. Cut with an ax, a chainsaw, various elbow, hamstring injuries, etc. He bounces right back from all of them. People ask about his retirement, but these months during calving, he's right with Kris, doing the super-physical work.

Perhaps one of the funniest injuries is when we were having a family reunion. He was getting rid of a wasp's nest because they were bothering his grandchildren. One of the wasps stung him on his face. While he was doing chores, his cheek and forehead swelled up to cartoonish proportions. When he drove into the yard to show us, his assembled family members, we all ran for our cameras, laughing.

So when my dad pulled into my driveway today and said, "You have to see this!" I immediately thought he'd injured himself in some creative and possibly humorous way.

He then showed me this:

He'd been riding the quad along the fence line. In one part it was spliced together and it caught his jeans and ripped them completely apart!

He wasn't at all hurt ... neither, thankfully, was the iPhone in his pocket. That wouldn't have healed quite as quickly as my dad.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dairy month

Did you know June is Dairy Month? No? Neither did I! Our fourth year into dairy farming, and I find this out.

I'm celebrating by blogging. Check out my guest post on The Farm Fresh Food Blog - One Drop in the (Milk) Bucket.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


They chopped 14 loads today!

What does that mean? It means they emptied 14 wagons of chopped alfalfa onto our concrete pad.

Here's wagonload number one. It's the green mound.

Looks tiny, right? Soon it'll be sky high. After three cuttings, it'll fill the entire cement pad.

This is what chopping looks like:

The tractor broke at one point, but Mike called the dealer and it took them about 10 minutes to fix it.

Kris says 14 loads isn't very many. Let's see how many happen (and breakdowns) tomorrow. Let's hope for a good ratio.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The back window of our new tractor blew out today. A rock got kicked up and broke it. Kris said, "It's pretty common."

That doesn't seem like something that should be common. If the back window of my car blew out commonly, I'd be pretty annoyed. (Or not notice. There's a lot going on in my car, between the singing and group dances.)

It happened while Mike was cutting hay. That's what it's called anyway. There's a whole process for turning alfalfa into what the cows eat. Ready for the steps on making hay?

1. Planting alfalfa. It's a perennial, so you don't have to plant it every year like you do corn. You replant about every five years or when it gets scraggly.

2. Cutting. You use a discbine and cut it. It cuts it, then it gets squeezed through roller and lays it down in a row.

This is a discbine:

3. Raking. You use a rake, which is another implement you pull behind a tractor. You turn the hay over so that the bottom dries. You also pull two rows into one row so that you can chop twice as much at once.

4. Chopping. With the chopper, you chop the alfalfa that's lying on the ground and shoot it into wagons.

5. Putting it on the pile. We dump the chopped alfalfa from the wagons onto the cement pad and drive a tractor over the pile many times to compress it.

You harvest the alfalfa (do this whole process) three or four times a summer. The entire thing is very stressful and weather-dependent. Once it's cut, you don't want it to rain. If it rains, you have to wait until it dries. You don't want it to rain on the pile before you get done chopping it all ... etc.

With all the rain we've been having, we're due for a drought. I can't help but talk about the weather, even if it's cliche. It affects everyone's schedule around here ... not to mention mood. Even the tractor windows are feeling it.

Alfalfa field