Saturday, July 30, 2011


Kris' dad brought over bulls today to put in with the heifers - because nine months from now it'll be calving time all over again! (Can you believe it?)

One of them was a red and white Holstein.

I was excited. I like when new calves have recessive traits - due to the history of our cattle, sometimes calves show up looking a little Guernsey, some a little Jersey.

But a red and white Holstein! I couldn't remember having a bull like this, or ... really, seeing them around.

I asked Kris about them and why black and white are more popular than red and white. He said that black and white was just sort of the preference, even though they're the same breed of cattle. He said, "Just like all redheads - persecuted!"

He was joking, but there is quite a history with red and whites and their popularity or lack thereof.

I immediately thought of my good friend Julie:

She has beautiful red hair. People always notice it and comment on it.

So hopefully next year, some of our calves will be red and white. And we'll be welcoming and complimenting them. Especially when Julie comes to visit.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Calf & Heifer Resource Center

Megan Pierce wrote an article about our new barn in the Calf & Heifer Resource Center for Dairy Herd Network. It's titled Combo Barn Makes Sense.


It rained 1 3/4 inches last night! The corn already looks better. They're predicting some more rain tonight, too.

This morning my son asked me, "Did you see the thunder and hear the lightning last night?" I said no. He couldn't believe I missed it ... until I told him he had it backward.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Kris called me to tell me there was a heifer having a calf really close to the road. I loaded up the kids and drove down there ... and she'd already had it. I was disappointed. He told me I'd have many years to see calves born.

Later at lunch, Kris said, "I don't know if this will make you happy or not ... but that heifer had twins. She had two heifers. Our last heifer of the year to give birth had two more!"

It didn't make me happy. I should have stuck around, hoping for another one to come out.

So all the heifers have calved. After about 270 calves born this year, there are 26 more cows to have calves. Unfortunately, they have them even faster than heifers. But here's to hoping! I have a few more chances to see a calf being born this year.

Kris suggested I take the binoculars and sit out on the porch, checking. It probably would work ... but my own little bull pen here would get pretty restless if that's how I spent my time.

On the way home from my unsucessful trip, I did get to see the blue heron, and it even stayed still for a picture. We watched it for a long time. Since when are wild animals so compliant? They need to talk to the cows.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The other day a cow had a calf. She'd lost her ear tag, and dad wanted Kris to know which one she was. So he took a picture of her from both sides with his iPhone.

My mom talked about it later and said, "Remember when I used to have to draw all the cows?"

We used to have registered Guernsey cows. Part of their registration papers included a blank cow picture and my mom would draw their markings on. Both sides and the front of their faces. It seemed like it always took a long time to sketch all those cows and get their markings! It worked, regardless.

Other farmers register their cattle, and of course they take digital pictures for their papers. It's just another one of those things I'll tell my grandchildren about. We used to have phones that hooked to the walls, and we had a party line! We used card catalogs in libraries! The internet didn't exist when I was born! And ... grandma used to draw the cattle's markings to identify them!

They won't know what I'm talking about, of course. They'll be too busy on their iPhone 7000.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Today, Kris was supposed to meet me at a funeral of a family friend. I was genuinely surprised when he didn't. My phone was in the car, but I knew that something had gone wrong on the farm. Sure enough, when I left, I read his text telling me that the milkers weren't working and he had to go help. It's one of those things you can't put off. The cows had to get milked.

He called the people who fix them, and eventually they were able to get them working again. Good thing, since we were hosting a party with my entire family (coming from out-of-state) and Kris' family (coming from out-of-town).

It was our annual Anderson Olympics, which we've held for many years. We play different (silly) games and award points.

Kris was a little late, the milking got done later than usual, I'm glad people work on things like this on Sundays, and ... we have a new Anderson Olympics champion.

The final game had us moving an Oreo from our foreheads to our mouths without using our hands. Another surprise - we didn't eat them with milk.

Mike Wardin, Kris' dad, 2011 Anderson Olympics Winner

Friday, July 22, 2011

Moving day

All the calves are in the new barn! Josh and Kris moved all the calves from the old barn to the new barn today. They took trailer-loads of calves over in groups of eight. We went down to see the big excitement ... they all walked around and checked out the straw, their food, their water, each other. They kicked in the air and ran around. It seems so much better than their old barn, especially in this warm weather.

When I went down there later just before dark, they were all lying down and it was silent.

It'll be strange to not have calves right next door. We've been able to walk over there to see them for years - as long as I can remember. It's a new era. Improved conditions for them and for the people feeding them.

A nice finish to the day, not a surprise after the start. This was the first thing I saw this morning - a hint of a rainbow.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

But it's a humid heat ...

It says it's 95 degrees outside. Yesterday and today have been blazing hot. It hurts to stand on the cement, the grass is prickly, and the cattle are hot.

They stand under trees for shade and go in the barn, and they pant. Milk production always goes down when it's hot because they don't eat and drink as much. We're hoping the weather breaks for their sake, since their preferred temperature is 50 degrees. My swimming lesson students, on the other hand, are really enjoying it.

Chance of rain tomorrow, which would be great for the corn, as well as everything else. (It's impossible to not talk about the weather when you're a farmer.)

Also ... we moved the seven week old calves into groups in the new barn today! We removed the dividers between their pens and made up two groups of eight. Kris said they jumped around, excitedly checking out their new pen, and tried to suck on each other's ears.

Kris said that the new barn is so well-ventilated that it's about 15 degrees cooler in there. He suggested we all sleep in there tonight. So far the box fan is doing the job - what, you thought a house with bees in the walls also had air conditioning? Nah. Imagine what critter we'd have living in that! - but if I find him gone, I'll know just where to look for him.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Bruce, a guy who works for our barn builder, and Kris tackled the bee issue today. For the last week I've been explaining honey dripping from my ceiling to various babysitters and houseguests. (You don't have five bowls of honey in your living room? It's all the rage!)

But today was the day! Instead of cutting into the wall, like we thought we were going to have to do, Kris suggested we try from the outside. They got on the roof and pulled out the arch above the window where we initially saw the bees.

Bee free arch

Bee full arch

What did they find? Honeycombs - lots of them. Saturated with honey. Apparently it was going to be dripping for a long, long time. They threw them off the roof onto the ground and hosed off everything. No bees, though, which made the job easier.

I'm going to monitor the dripping to see if any more honey comes or if that was the sole source.

Many people I've told about this have never heard of having bees in your walls. But if you look for it on the internet you'll see it's really common.

Yes, living in an old farmhouse has its downsides. Not enough outlets. Having to seal it for bats. Living too close to the road. Random liquids coming from your ceiling. But when Bruce commented on how beautiful the old woodwork is, it makes me happy about the upsides. Plus, we really like living where we can see everything that goes on between our barns.

And did I mention we have free honey? Lots and lots of honey? Free range, organic, from ancient (dead) bees, AND filtered through 130-year old walls! Spun like that, it'd be perfect for selling at a farmers market. I can't wait to see what money-making material this house will produce next. Have you seen how much bat guano is going for?

Sunday, July 17, 2011


There were five calves born yesterday, and four calves born today. That includes a set of twins each day! (We love twins around here.)

Today was really hot - in the 90s. Last year, we would have been done keeping new calves 20 calves ago, but this year we're keeping more. So there's still more bottle feeding, teaching how to drink from a bucket, and hot days ahead!

After a sweaty day at work, Kris finished the day in the pool. Some dairy farmer friends of ours were building a pool this past spring, and they asked us if we used ours much. I swim nearly every day it's open. As a swimming lesson teacher and lover of water, I think it's totally worth it. Kris - especially on days like these - totally agrees. He doesn't consider it a shower, though. My kids on the other hand ... to them, chlorine is just another form of soap.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


I don't think of our farm as a vacation destination, but ... my friend and her son are visiting from North Carolina, and part of why she wanted to bring him was to do farm things. He rode in a tractor, saw calves, saw fields, played in barns, milked a cow, fed calves, and helped bottle feed a newborn calf.

And then the little things - like a neighbor's stray chicken in our yard. You rarely get that in the city. (Rarely, but not never. Urban chickens are getting popular!)

As he was pulling up weeds and feeding them to calves, my friend said, "I'm so glad he came with me. I just can't replicate this experience."

I joke about how many children's books there are about farms. I always ask Kris why they don't have more books about other professions. But there's something obviously entertaining about farms. They're fun! No matter your age or where you're from.

Even if you live here all the time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pink eye

When I was in college I thought I might have pink eye - I'd never had it before, but I was familiar with the symptoms. I was pretty sure it'd go away on its own.

I talked to my dad on the phone and he said I might want to go to the doctor, because if pink eye is left untreated in cattle, they can sometimes go blind.

(Of course I went to the doctor after that. Viral conjunctivitis does heal on its own. They can give you antibiotic eyedrops if you have bacterial conjunctivitis. The eyedrops felt like I was pouring lemon juice in my eyes. But hey, I could see!)

But for cattle, pink eye is a lot more serious. It also looks bad, poor things. As a result, we vaccinate our cattle for it.

Today we gave the dairy cows their pink eye vaccination shots. When cattle are outside there are flies in the grass, and they can spread it between cattle. (It can spread anyway, but the flies don't help matters.) We also vaccinated the heifers for it right before they went out to pasture.

If it were a choice between getting a shot and putting those drops in my eyes, I'd pick the injection every time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


“Look,” Cole said, first thing this morning. “Look at this naughty thing someone did. I didn’t do it.” He pointed at two small pools of liquid on our wooden windowsill.

Puzzled, I got a dishtowel to wipe them up. They were sticky. I looked up and saw the window top was dripping. Sap? I looked harder. The ceiling was also dripping. Then I knew what it was – honey.

We’ve been hosting a bee colony in a tree in our yard for the last couple of years. I’ve really enjoyed when they’ve swarmed. Here they are two years ago, hanging out before they found a place for their new hive:

This past year I didn’t see a swarm, but I did see some had taken up residence in our house wall. I didn’t do anything about it for a few days until my baby’s room got bees in it. Then Kris climbed out on the roof and sealed the hole they were going into. I didn’t feel good about it, but we never saw any more bees.

Fast forward to now - I have four bowls collecting the honey. I called a beekeeper. He said even if the hive is inactive, I need to have it removed because the honey’s going to attract other insects, like ants. That means we’ll have to cut open the wall, have them take the honeycomb out, seal it, and plaster or drywall the wall and ceiling back together.

Kris said that it’s just what you deal with when you live in an old house.

After this discovery, we went to the grocery store. On the end of an aisle was a display of honey bears. Ty said, "We don't get our honey at the store. We get it from our ceiling!"

When we got home, they raced to the bowls to see how much we'd collected. “This one has so much in it!” Cole said. Ty said, “This is so cool! I love this!”

Living on a farm and getting meat from our own cattle, growing fresh fruits and vegetables in our garden . . . that’s one thing. Harvesting honey from our walls is taking this to a ridiculous level. Aside from that - biscuits with honey for everyone!

Monday, July 11, 2011


This morning it turned dark - like it really wanted to storm. I did with my kids what I always did with my mom ... sat on the front porch and hoped for rain.

While we were doing this, my mom called from a nearby town to ask, "Is it raining? It's POURING here!" No, I told her. No rain here. It looked like it was going to pass us by - but wait! A few drops!

It did rain. A tenth of an inch.

No doubt sitting on the front porch does no good. But when those few drops start, and you can see the rain moving toward you, and you can smell it wetting the dirt - it's a wonderful feeling of both relief and joy.

I'm reading the boys Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy. We just read the chapter where it froze on July 3 and they had to go out in the middle of the night and pour water on all the corn plants before the sun rose, since the sun on the frozen corn plants would kill them. They poured water on three acres of corn, and lost a quarter of an acre.

I liked this book when I was little, but I find it far more interesting now. We buy crop insurance every year, so if we have a bad corn crop, we're not going to be completely devastated.

The days before crop insurance must have been especially terrifying. I'm sure you'd do anything to keep them alive - maybe we'd be out there manually giving each plant a drink. Definitely, I'd be far too anxious to sit still on a porch swing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


The cattle are now grazing behind our house in the creek flats. Yesterday I was delighted to see that one of them was having a calf in perfect, full view of our yard!

This is how close she was:

I watched her for over an hour, even though my kids lost interest after two seconds. I made Kris come and look at her, because she was taking so long. Kris said that she was a heifer, and it's a long process, and it looked like everything was going well. He had other work to do but said he'd come back later and check on her.

I waited and waited and waited. She kept looking at me as she pushed, and I'd cheer her on. She sometimes got up and acted like she was going to walk away, but then she'd lie down and push some more. There seemed to be zero progress.

I went inside - baby in tow - to quickly go the bathroom. Big mistake. I came outside to see this:

A calf! I totally missed it!

I was mad at everyone - her, me for going inside, even the newborn calf. I tried to console myself by thinking I live on a dairy farm and I'll have years to see calves being born.

However ... like a lot of animals, when cows have calves they go off to give birth alone. She apparently saved the big pushes until I left.

It looks like if I'm going to see more births around here, I'm going to have to help with the pulling. That's probably going to be awhile - when I have fewer kids hanging on me and develop super strength.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


-- The second chopping is done! Chopped, piled, covered in plastic and tires, all before it rained.

-- We drove around and looked at the corn fields. Wow, it really looks like we need some rain! Were we just happy there wasn't any one paragraph ago?

-- We went over to change the irrigation. (You can change the direction, the rate of flow, etc. I'd be more technical about this, but Kris is already asleep.) While we were there we got to partake in one of my most favorite part of Michigan summers ... blackberries! Some people call them other names, but this is what I'm talking about:

Eat these, not poisonous ones.

They grow wild all over around here. We ate every single ripe one we could find. With five of us, it didn't take long.

-- We paid a company to fertilize our pasture today. Do you ever see these on the road?

He spent a long time fertilizing our pastures. Kris said it took longer because he had to go around all the fences. He also had to stop and get more fertilizer in his tank.

Everyone's been working long hours and having the second cutting done is a relief.
Now it's time to kick back and stop working. Just kidding! But there does seem to be a little more time to stop and smell the roses ... or really, gorge ourselves on blackberries.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Last night as Kris was finishing chopping, the chopper started making a noise.

(Cue the scary music.)

This meant that this morning he had the dealer come out and see what was wrong with it - and whether or not we could use it to chop. The short answer? No.

Kris rode back with the dealer to St Louis, which is about 30 miles away. We rented a chopper, which Kris had to drive back home.

This took an hour and a half, where Kris learned to dislike many drivers, especially you, honker! As well as learn how to operate a new chopper, which was really different than the old chopper, even though it looked just the same to me.

Also, the tractor we were using to rake the hay had a tire go flat overnight. So they had to use a different tractor.

Okay. So far, broken chopper, rental chopper. Flat tire, different tractor.

After the morning's frustrations, including Kris ripping off a fuel cap lock with his bare hands, everything went pretty well. The chopping goes twice as fast with this new one. They have only about 40 acres left to do tomorrow.

A few people emailed me to tell me they didn't know the saying, 'make hay when the sun shines.' But today's events bring another saying to mind. Do you know the saying, 'Nothing parties like a rental?'

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Make hay while the sun shines

And just like that ... it's July. And time to cut the alfalfa again! After a wonderful holiday weekend, Kris and Josh started on the fields on July 4th. Josh cut it and Kris chopped 'the headlands'. That means he cut around the edges, because it's harder to go around the edges. Once those are done, you can go in straight lines in the field. Today they chopped all day.

So the saying, 'Make hay while the sun shines,' really means that you need to do the work when the conditions are favorable. You can't 'make hay' when it's raining, because then it gets all wet. It looks like it's going to be a sunshiny week, too. Hopefully we can get the second cutting done before it rains again.

It seems like all the farmers are chopping today. I saw two choppers going down the road at 7:00am. I know farmers like to have a day off. But when the sun is shining, it's hard to stay out of the fields. That saying is popular for a reason!