Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top farm blogs

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 25, 2011


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

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

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

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Farm facts

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

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

- There are 1,231 farms in Clinton County.

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

- 86% of Clinton County is farmland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tires, tires, and more tires

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making the pile

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

Monday, September 19, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011


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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good and bad

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Full day, normal day

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

There's lots going on around here. Today:

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 11, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Corn head

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

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

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

Not a combine

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Robot milker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from the other side

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

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

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

Dan, Straubs' herdsman and our neighbor

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 3, 2011


We're having an excavation company (T.H. Miller) work on our lanes from the barn to the pasture.

We originally fenced in the lane, and the regular dirt worked fine for a few years, but now it's bumpy and gets messy in the rain. With their bulldozer and compactor they can do it quickly and well.

We'll have to add gravel over the years, but with the cows' cooperation, hopefully it'll last a long time.

The compactor rolls and vibrates over the dirt.

Part of the neat and clean lane.

The cows, sniffing it out as they walk down it for the first time. Can you feel their excitement?!

Thursday, September 1, 2011


All our alfalfa is chopped and put up for the year.

(That's how you say it. 'Put up'. Even if I need to ask about details sometimes, I am fluent in the lingo.)

Since we moved here, we added more cement to the pad to make more room to pile feed on it. Our alfalfa harvest this year covers the entire area of the original cement pad. We still have corn to harvest! So the corn will fill up the rest of the pad.

So, here's a comparison of the first load of alfalfa vs. four cuttings' worth of alfalfa.

And it'll be all gone by next spring, when the cattle go back out on pasture.

I like to imagine my family's food that we're going to eat this winter, all piled up like this. Cows are big animals. But when I'm unloading groceries, I really feel like our family's food pile would be the same size.