Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Working in a winter wonderland

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.  We did!  Everything went smoothly.  We didn't even have any snow to bother us on our drive to visit our family.

Today, on the other hand ... it's snowing hard, it's cold and windy, and there's a snow storm in the forecast. 

Didn't matter to the lagoon builders though!  They were here early, working away.

It still seems like a holiday - I'm not exactly sure what day of the week it is - but everyone's back to work.

If your 'work' is blogging about it, the snow doesn't matter anyway.

Speaking of, a guy called today to ask me to be a part of a social media panel at the Michigan Potato grower annual meeting.  It sounds like fun - not only do I know the other panel members, but I also would love to read a potato grower blog!  I know you would too.  I'm sure we can think of some creative, punny names for their blogs.  I say potato, you say potato ... I've got my eye on you ... an ap'peel'ing story ... I could go on and on, but I better save something for the panel.

I'm off to watch the snow fall!  And my kids shoveling my walk!  Gee, winter sure is tough.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hello winter

Yesterday morning, after Kris ate breakfast, the power went out.

I couldn't believe how fast he got out the door.  The power going out causes all sorts of problems, mainly that we have to run a generator to be able to milk the cows.  The well stops working.  The fences stop working.  Blah.

Kris tossed us a flashlight on his way out, since it was still dark.  (We only have one flashlight that we keep away from the kids, since they've had a million and are all lost and/or broken.  They immediately wanted to play with this one but I explained it was the only thing between us and 'just waiting for the sun to rise.')

Minutes after Kris left, the power went back on.  I was relieved for him, since I knew everything would be simpler now.

He told me later that when the power went out the fencer reset, and wasn't on, so the heifers ran into some wrong pastures.  They got them back in fine, though.
It was super windy out, with a little snow - totally fitting for the first day of winter.  Two of my boys fell while walking down some icy steps, and when I drove them to school I slipped on the road.  But I knew I was heading home to a warm house and a working farm.  Bring it, winter! 

(That is not in any way a challenge to the weather.  I fully believe I will lose that every time.  What I really mean is:  Come on, super mild winter!) 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December calf

I checked at the barn and the little calf was born!  Kris wasn't sure what to do with her, because due to Christmas there's no auction this week, so she'd be here for two weeks while we're really busy with the holidays ... so he made a little gift of her to Josh.  (Josh didn't ask for a calf on his Christmas list, so it's possible that this was Josh's gift to Kris.)

Calves are going for cheap right now.  Our neighbor told me he took some calves to auction, but the prices were too low.  So he returned home with the calves, plus two pigs!

So if you're around our neighborhood, it's not always plates of Christmas cookies - sometimes it's animals.  If you come to my house, I'd happily give you this dropped-off, super-friendly cat that tries to get in my car every time I open the door.  PLEASE TAKE IT.  Josh can't feed every animal around here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Merry cheesy

One night, we had a package outside.  We recognized the box, because we've given and received them before - a cheese gift box from the MSU Dairy Store!

Kris loves cheese.  It was the perfect thank you gift from some people (and friends) with whom we do business.  Kris suggested we take it to a Christmas party.

The next day, I looked outside and recognized the box ... ANOTHER gift box from the MSU Dairy Store!  The same one!  It was from our milk co-op, thanking us for participating in the OYDC program.  Kris said we should take this one to a second Christmas party.

The third day in a row - you guessed it.  A third MSU Dairy Store gift box on our porch, this one from a MSU professor thanking us for hosting a tour.  Kris said we should eat this one all ourselves.

Go cheese!  Go State!  Go gift boxes and a clever logo! 

Note: Some readers have told me that my blog now looks different on the iPad.  It's nothing I did, but if you scroll to the bottom and click 'web version' it'll look like it did before.  Thanks!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On the site

There's a lot of activity at the site - it's hard to show, but it's about two acres of dug up dirt.  The boys and I go and check it out a lot, because it's interesting and they like the excavators and dump trucks.  (Well, I do too.)
The lagoon will be lined with a 2-foot layer of compacted clay.  So walking around in there can get pretty messy.  The falling down doesn't help, but they do that on normal ground anyway.
In other farm news, we have a cow that is going to have a calf.  She wasn't pregnant at the end of the season, and then she was too newly pregnant to detect when the vet checked her.  But!  She's going to calve, so we have her in the barn, bedded down by herself.  I went over to check on her today to see if she'd calved yet.  No calf yet ... unless it's the weirdest calf I've ever seen. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Is that snow leftover in the field?  It sort of looks like piled up snow.

But no!  Look closer ... it's lime.

We're spreading lime on all our fields that need it, based on soil tests.  When you add lime to the soil, it raises its pH.  (There are lots of sites that explain why this is good chemically, but the basic point is that it helps maintain peak fertility.)

Kris bought the lime from a company, then he had another company truck it here, then he had another company spread it on our fields.  It took a little figuring but - here it is!

Excavators at sunset

Is that a man inside that giant hole with excavators poised above him?

Yes.  No need to look closer on this one.  They're digging the lagoon!  The man was holding a rod, which is a big measurement stick.  The lagoon is going to be 14 feet deep, 150 x 265.

Tonight my brother was on the phone and asked a lot of questions about the lagoon.  In case any of you out there have the same questions - We'll use skid steers to push the manure in it from the barns.  There will be high berms on the sides.  It'll have a clay bottom.  And after it's built, it'll never have a guy standing in the middle of it again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

And so it begins

We're breaking ground!  Today they're starting to construct the manure storage facility, also known as a lagoon.   

Equipment on the horizon
They brought in the excavator and bulldozer and other heavy machinery today.  Kris is excited to get the building started.  He's glad we get to begin it this year ... it'll go all winter long, weather-permitting. 

It is exciting.  Something new - literally - on the horizon!  We'll build the manure lagoon, the new free stall barn, and milk more cows. 

This article yesterday - America's Milk Business In a 'Crisis' - gives various reasons why milk consumption has gone down.  According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, "Per-capita U.S. milk consumption, which peaked around World War II, has fallen almost 30% since 1975, even as sales of yogurt, cheese and other dairy products have risen."

Yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products ... all still take milk, thankfully!  Which means more cows and bigger barns.  Which means more manure storage.  Which means dirt being pushed around.  Here we go!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Farmer Style

The videos really seem to keep coming this week. Remember the Peterson Brothers of 'I'm Farming and I Grow It' fame? They now have another hit spoof - a parody of PSY's Gangnam Style.

PSY's video just was recognized as the most-watched video EVER on YouTube, which is pretty amazing. It's here, if you want to compare videos:

The Peterson brothers' 'Farmer Style' video is here:

Farming is a lot like that video.  At least around here.  Lots of dancing ... not in the back of a pickup truck, though!  Well, not when anyone can see us.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Last week Kris and I went to the Michigan Farm Bureau annual meeting in Grand Rapids.  Kris was a delegate and I was able to make it for the Young Farmer Award Banquet. 

It was great!  It's my favorite night of the program.  (This year was even not-stressful because Kris wasn't competing in anything for a change.)  At it, Farm Bureau gives four awards, and four people are up for each one.  So we get to see a total of 16 two-minute videos about each person.  It's like a whirlwind farm tour.

The videos - done by Steve Paradiso - are great.  They're informative ... but they're also usually really touching.  There's something about pictures set to music that really gets to you! 

This year Rob West won the Outstanding Young Farm Employee Award.  He, his wife Erin, and their four kids (including twin boys!) live in St. Johns.  So congrats to the West family!

His video is here:

Also, there's also a really cute video just posted - Michigan Dairy Farm Families: The 12 Days of Christmas.  Lots of our friends are in this one, and it's fun to watch!

Last, WLNS channel 6 came out to our farm tonight to interview Kris (local farmer) about the latest news on farm subsidies.  It was interesting to see the whole process work - with the writing, the interviewing, the filming Kris, the filming the reporter, the kids getting really cold and losing all interest as well as the feeling in their toes ...

Here's Kris, being filmed for the interview:

And here's what's just outside the shot.

All these videos take a lot of work!  But they're worth it in the end. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012


There was a point in my life that I realized my dad knew how to fix everything.  I asked him how, and he answered, "I don't know how to fix everything.  But I know how to fix lots of things because ... I fixed them.  I learned by doing." 

Then I married someone who also seemed confident he could fix things - or at least try.

Kris told me that this morning while dad was helping him, something on the mixer wagon broke and my dad fixed it so Kris could continue feeding.

I asked Kris if he would've known how to fix it, and he said yes - it was just something small.  Dad did it to help out and save time.  If Kris had been alone, he'd have had to fix that AND feed and probably been late to church.

I sort of laughed, because we've been here six years now and Kris gets lots of opportunities to fix things around the farm!  Like all farmers - and business owners - you have to figure out what you can and can't fix and when you need to call in someone else to do it.

So there's on-the-job-learning every day.  Hopefully, not so much when we have places to be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Milking gone viral

Have you heard of the latest internet craze since planking?  It's milking!! 

Obviously, I couldn't be happier. 

Some guys in Newcastle uploaded a video of themselves pouring containers of milk over their heads in public places.  It's funny. 

The text on their YouTube tagline is 'support British dairy farmers.'  It's gone viral and spawned a lot of imitation videos. 

You can watch the video below.  And copy it often.  Let's bring this trend across the ocean!  You go first.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Tis the season

Tis the season ... but not the holiday season.  It's meeting season!  Today we went to the Michigan Milk Producer's Association Leader's Conference. 
One of the speakers showed the picture above on her last slide while she took questions.  I whispered to Kris, "That doesn't look like one of our cows."  (She's much burlier than ours.)  Kris said, "Because none of ours have maps?"  I looked again and saw she had the world map photoshopped onto her!  I hadn't noticed.  One of the audience members made a joke about it to the speaker and she did a double-take and said, "I never noticed that before! I've been using that slide forever!"  I was glad I wasn't the only one.
Other notes from the meeting:
A company wanted to sell milk in China and made it very Chinese - label in Chinese, Chinese-type marketing, everything.  And it flopped.  Apparently the Chinese public wants American and European dairy products with a Chinese label slapped over the other languages.  That way, they know that it's coming from another country.  Buy local isn't popular everywhere.  Glad it is here. 
Our general manager was going through sales slides and pointed out that Hurricane Sandy will affect dairy prices this upcoming season.  Due to the displaced people, fewer people will be buying cheese, butter, and milk for holiday gatherings.  No hurricane here in little Michigan, but we're all affected. 
A fellow farmer introduced himself to me and said, "I know you worked off the farm first ... why did you want to farm?"  I told him about how we wanted to own our own business, we liked the lifestyle, and we wanted to raise our children somewhere we'd see them all the time.  He agreed, and said he loved his life on the farm for all those same reasons.  The only difference is that we've seen both sides and got to make a choice.  A lot of people farm because their parents farmed and they know it's what they want to do from the beginning.  Both of the ways of life would have been nice, but we just picked.  So far, it's been a good pick.
Remember the Pure Michigan gift bag?  The winner, Meghan, sent me a picture of herself wearing/eating/displaying all the gifts at the same time.  PURE MICHIGAN!  Even though she lives in Texas.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The big heifer move

Over the last two days, we've been moving the heifers. 

We're moving them for the winter from a far pasture to a pasture next to the barn, so we can feed them silage. 

The guys left the gates open, so that the heifers could sniff around and make their way over on their own time.  That way you don't have to chase them and have them get all crazy. 

One heifer didn't want to go, and she did get really wild.  She took down a cable, tried to hurdle a four-wire fence, broke a pole, and ran along the creek for a long way with Kris chasing her.  But she eventually went with the herd!

The guys put them through the barn so they could pour dewormer on them.  Kris said it's strange having them walk through the barn because they don't remember how to walk on concrete!  They're not used to a non-ground surface.  But they got them all through, dewormed, and out to their winter pasture. 

Now they'll spend the winter outside eating, gestating, and waiting for spring.  A huge pasture full of pregnant heifers is a beautiful sight.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sights and scenes

This morning we visited Kris during a run. 
We were there while some corn was being delivered from the feed company.  A nice corn pile triangle:
Kris had told me about the wheel loader, but I hadn't examined it up close.  When it was really windy, one of the guys opened the door and the wind caught it and shattered the glass.  (Yes, that's how windy it was!)   
So this was the fix in the meantime:
That's a feed bag duct taped over the door.  The glass was delivered already, and someone is coming to install it next week.  Until then, just being cold and looking sweet.
We also had snow flurries yesterday ... and it was 23 degrees when I got up this morning.  So soon I'll be taking pictures of machine malfunctions caused by ice, and conical piles of snow.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Down on the farm

When Kris worked for Caterpillar, it was understood that we were going to move around a lot.  We had no problems with it - no kids, not much stuff, exciting.

Now that we live here, we live here.  Our farm and business is here.  We're not going to be moving for a long time, if ever, depending on what happens in the future. 

Not only am I really invested in my community, but I also apparently have a new concern I've never had before.

I have really great friends here.  When one of them used to tell me that she had news, I would automatically guess that she was pregnant.  Not anymore!

Recently my friend called and said, "I have news!" 

I said, "Please don't tell me you're moving!"

Another friend started working in a city 2.5 hours away and commutes.  She started telling me about her job and I interrupted with, "You're moving.  I just know it!"  She hasn't yet.  Yet.

Last night we were out with another couple.  My friend began a story with, "Try not to be shocked."  I said, "You're moving!"

She laughed.  My response has become automatic.  The funny part is - she also has a farm.  She's not going anywhere either.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Keep it together

We have a barn on our farm that's over 100 years old.  My great great grandpa Warren Casterline built it. 

It's built the way you want a barn to be - sturdy, well-done.  It's served as the milk parlor, a calf barn, and now we use it for bale storage. 

However, everything needs a little lift now and then, right? 

We've cabled the barn.  That means we had the builder come and drive really long, huge screws into the beams.  Then they stretched a cable to the other side of the barn and drove screws into that side. 

Then, you stick a crowbar in the hole you can see in the picture and turn it.  It brings the barn together slowly and carefully.  The cables are permanent.

When I was growing up, we had a barn on our property that was obviously ready to collapse.  We weren't allowed to go near it, because my parents were afraid it would fall right on top of us.  They decided to knock it down and ... it wouldn't go!  They used tractors, they used brute force - it was kind of comical that a building that looked so fragile was really so strong. 

We did this because the cables will help extend the life of the barn.  Hopefully it'll outlast all of us.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Some cheese for your pizza and oatmeal

Kris and I attended the National Milk Producers Federation joint annual meeting in Orlando, FL this past week.

Just a few high points:

- Patrick Doyle, CEO of Domino's Pizza, talked about how their partnership promoting milk and cheese has benefited both of our businesses.  He toured the Horning dairy farm in Michigan.  He was a super speaker and charismatic guy.

- Jose Luis Prado, the president of Quaker Oats, talked about how they're promoting how oatmeal can be made with milk - right now only 30% of people make it with milk.  He also talked about the restaurant OatMeals, which is popular NYC restaurant that uses oatmeal like people use rice - mix it with all types of other ingredients.  Like cheese.  Or you can make them yourself.  He also joked about how he was jealous of Patrick because there are "pizza parties" but no "oatmeal parties." 

- The two days of meetings just for young cooperators and issues that concern us.  Great to talk to young farmers from around the country and to hear the speakers on business planning, robots, the death tax, and farm practices! 

- The glow in the dark volleyball game with the young cooperator group.  So fun!  After one of my bumps a lump formed on my arm that didn't hurt much, but looked like an injury would look in a cartoon drawing.  Ah, my athletic prowess strikes again.

Is that my elbow?  No, my forearm.

- Being with all these other dairy farmers excited and energized about our business. 

They talked all about the opportunities for milk - like why isn't there a fountain-type machine from which you can get all the kinds of milk in one machine - skim, chocolate, strawberry, 2%, whole ... instead of that crummy warm pitcher of milk they have in hotel lobbies?  (Quick, someone invent it!) 

While we were gone ... only one calf was born.  So much for the full moon theory. 

It was great to be gone, it's even nicer to be home, and I'm excited to spend the next year working on the 2013 Young Cooperator Advisory Council. 

Know what else?  At the meeting, when break times were over, a staffer would walk around and herd us back into the conference room by ... ringing a cow bell.

Not surprisingly, it worked really well.

***Meghan Kidwell won the Pure Michigan gift bag giveaway.  Congrats, Meghan!***

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Preg check

Our vet Russ came to do what farmers call a 'preg check.' 

What it means is that he palpates them (yes, I'm talking about with the shoulder-high plastic glove) to see if they are pregnant. 

He had to check 11 of them, because they were the only ones left that hadn't calved this year.  Three of them were not pregnant, so we're selling them.  Not bad numbers! 

Kris said Russ felt one of them and said, "Oooh. She's going to have this calf soon."  Kris joked, "Do you just want to pull it out?"  He didn't, but then she calved the next day.

The other seven cows will calve pretty soon. Hopefully sooner rather than later because it's getting cold! It was 75 degrees this last week but yesterday morning it was in the 30s. 

We had a full moon last night.  There's an old wive's tale that full moons make women go into labor.  People think it about cows, too.  I'm sure some researcher, somewhere, has done the same study on cows.  We'll see what the real-life results are today!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

First ever giveaway

When I was the dairy spokesperson on the Pure Michigan Agriculture Tour last week, the Michigan Ag Council gave me a gift bag filled with all sorts of cool, ag-centered items.

They also gave me one to give away! 

Kroger gift card, gloves, coffee cup, meat thermometer, Pure Michigan ag hat, flashlight, clip, marker, oil, bag, etc ...

Here's how to enter: just leave a comment telling me either 1) something you learned from this blog, 2) something you hope to learn from this blog, or 3) your favorite dairy product.

I'll collect comments until Nov 1 at 5:00 p.m.  I'll use a random number generator  to pick a number, and that commenter will walk away with (well, really, I'll mail it) this gift bag, plus a Got Chocolate Milk? t-shirt. 

Friends and family, you're welcome to comment also.  But I have a shirt just like this, so let's not wear them at the same time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

911 and OYDC

After a lifetime of never calling 911, I've now called it twice in two days.

The first time was on the way home from Illinois.  We saw a truck pulling a cattle trailer full of straw, and the straw was on fire!  The driver and the passenger had stopped the vehicle and were pulling the burning straw out of the trailer.  It was obvious it had just started.  I called 911 and the operator answered, "Are you calling about a truck on fire on the highway?"

That was fast!  Everyone driving by must have called.  Poor farmer!

Tonight I did it at a township board meeting when a participant had a medical emergency.  It was very scary and the ambulance came and took him away.  It actually took 15 minutes for it to arrive.  Note - only have a medical emergency in an urban area.


On a happier note - Kris and I were selected as the state winning 2012 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators (OYDC) in August.  Alex Schnabelrauch came out to our farm to interview us and wrote a really nice article.  If you'd like to see it, that issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger is now online. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Crop farm

Apparently, I like to spend my weekends visiting my friends on farms.  That's what we did again, but this time in Illinois!  We went to visit a longtime friend who also quit Caterpillar to farm with his family. 

They are cash crop farmers and they grow corn and soybeans.  He showed us around his fields, their buildings, and their new grain elevator.  I'd never really seen how an elevator works before - it takes in the corn, dries, and stores it - and of course it's all computerized and technologically advanced like all farming is now.

Central Illinois looks so different than mid-Michigan.  You can certainly tell that their soil is meant to grow crops, and that our soil is meant to house dairy farms! 

Their soil: Black.  I mean, really black.  They have potting soil.

Our soil: Light brown.

Their fields:  Crops, or harvested crops, as far as the eye can see.

Our fields: Crops, broken up by trees and treelines and houses and buildings.

Their land:  Hundreds of acres uninterrupted.

Our land: Acres really interrupted.  Definitely smaller fields.

As I kept commenting, there's a reason our state is full of dairy farms and theirs is full of crops.  That's what we're each made for!

The six-hour drive was even fine.  As we passed barns, fields, and crops, we discussed every detail of them.  Driving in farm country is never boring.

We got to meet new people, see our old friends, and had a great time.  Then it was time to return home ... back to putting our noses to the grindstone.

If you saw a grindstone like this, wouldn't you pose?  Our friend said I was the first.  I like bringing idioms to life.  Now I'll be killing two birds with one stone, betting the farm, and partying 'til the cows come home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pure Michigan Agricultural Tour

Today I went with the Michigan Ag Council as the dairy spokesperson (and blogger) for the first Pure Michigan Agriculture farm tour! 

It was so much fun.  The Ag Council invited bloggers and food writers to learn about Michigan farming and food production. 

First, we visited the Horning Farm in Manchester, MI.  They milk about 500 cows.  Earl Horning was able to answer their many questions - about organic, antibiotics (not in milk!), GMO, feed, raw milk, his favorite calves ... even what he would do with his cattle in the event of a tornado.  It's always so interesting to talk to people about farming and get their different perspectives.

Earl showing off his milking parlor

Letting the milker milk our fingers

We next went to the Michigan Dairy LLC in Livonia.  This is a milk processing and bottling plant owned by Kroger.  We went inside and I said, "It smells like milk in here."  Another blogger, Camille, laughed and said, "Who says that?"  But it did! 

I thought the plant was fascinating.  I love factory tours!  I've been to the milk plant in Ovid, but this one was different - mostly due to the bottling.  We got to see the bottles being made, being moved, being filled, and being moved out - all in two rooms.  We saw the lab, we checked out all the various machines to separate and pasteurize the milk, and we got to talk to really enthusiastic (and proud) employees.  The bloggers asked really good questions and liked the answers.  After hearing about the local milk, the safety principles in place, and the dairy farm practices, Lisa said, "This makes me really want to buy milk at Kroger!"  (Which I of course support because Kroger is a great MMPA customer!)

I also learned something I'd never even thought about - milk goes from the farm to the grocery shelf in about 40 hours.  Or shorter.  Occasionally it'll be longer if a farm does every other day pickup and the grocery store does every other day shelving.  But that's the exception.  MOSTLY, the milk you're buying just came from the farm.  The shipping, bottling, and shelving happens very quickly! 

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the plant, which is too bad, because we were wearing hairnets, helmets, glasses, boots, and coats.  Maybe one will turn up tomorrow!

We then went to Kroger to hear about their Pure Michigan campaign and to have lunch.  First, Dale walked us through the store and showed us the giant signs that featured Michigan farmers that sell their products to Kroger.  I asked if all Krogers had these signs and he told me yes.  I hadn't noticed them at my Kroger - and I even know some of the farmers on the signs! 

Then we came upon our beautiful milk-tasting table. 

Which called for a toast:

Then we walked to the dairy section and were surprised by ... our lunch spread! 

Three beautiful tables, covered with tablecloths, pretty place settings, tulips, and food, right among the shoppers!

Just a normal day in the dairy section

We were waited on and had a fabulous Michigan-made meal.  I'm a super picky eater, and I never expect to eat what's served at a dinner.  But I ate every bite.  (For those who know me personally, yes, this is the first time it's ever happened.)

Portobello mushroom covered in squashes and eggplant, ice cream with warm apples, chocolate milk ... delicious. 
Even our tulips had a 'From Michigan, For Michigan' sign 

Good looking and good tasting

And I never let my kids eat in the grocery store ...

Wonderful day, interesting people, fun environment - and a meal I didn't EVEN MAKE.  Hard to beat.

On the way home, I had to buy milk.  I went to my local Kroger.  I checked out the dairy section and - yes!  There were giant signs featuring Michigan farmers.  They've been there all along and I just hadn't noticed.  Learn something new every day, even in my own backyard ... or grocery aisle.   


Check out some of the other attendees' sites to get their take on the tour! 
Lauren Weber – Mrs. Weber’s Neighborhood
Camille Jamerson – The Super Family 13
Alysia George - Michigal
Regina Sober – The Crazy Nuts Mom
Lisa Nocera – Smart Food and Fit
Lisa Paparelli – Simple Food First
Kara Dykstra – Domestic Endeavors

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Back to the farm

The Wall Street Journal dedicated an entire section of the paper yesterday to agricultural issues.  One article called The Ultimate Growth Business started like this:

"Every year, hosts of Americans are trading the corporate world for greener pastures. Literally.

They're gathering up their savings and severance packages or cashing in their retirement plans and plowing the money into small farms—raising a few acres' worth of crops or livestock to sell.

The motives of these start-up farmers run the gamut. Some just want to escape the workaday world, others are fueled by environmental idealism, and still others see it as a straightforward entrepreneurial opportunity. Most of them, though, are betting that the public's current hunger for fresh, local food will keep them afloat."

We're practically trendy - haha! 

Other topics included growing crops in high rises, how to create better tasting tomatoes, and robot harvesters.  Pretty interesting ... and surprising to see in my Monday Far-from-Wall-Street Journal. 


Even though it's not as busy in the fields now, Kris is very busy with meetings.  Yesterday he went straight from a three-hour bank meeting to a two-hour Michigan Department of Agriculture meeting.  Today he's taking four calves to sell at an auction.  There's nothing wrong with them - they were just born later than the others and we like the herd to be on the same schedule.  He's also checking out another barn that a builder built in a distant town. 

He was looking at going on a pasture walk tomorrow - which is a tour that MSU Extension organizes and shows farmers different types of grazing operations - but it's three hours away.  I think he'd have a tough time finding an extra six hours in the day to do the drive, let alone the tour.


I'm really excited about what I'm doing on Thursday.  I'm going to be the dairy spokesperson on a Pure Michigan Agriculture farm tour.  It's a tour for food writers, bloggers, and journalists.  We're touring a dairy farm, a plant, and even having a milk tasting event.  I'll tell you all about it here!  If you want updates as it happens, you can follow me on twitter - @carlashelley.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Kris finished the final cutting of alfalfa and covered the pile for the last time this year.  Finished!  End!   Hooray! 

Usually when they cover the pile, it's extremely hot.  This time they did it wearing hats and gloves.  The wind was blowing really hard too.  Even though he was bundled up, my son came home shivering, with blue lips.  Looks like the real fall is here ...


This morning Kris got home and reported that a cow had partially fallen in the manure pit!  Her leg slipped in and Kris and my dad were able to get a halter on her and pull her out with a skid steer.  Thank goodness for heavy equipment! 

To give you an example of how unusual this is, this is the first time this has happened since we've moved here.  The manure pits are covered with heavy duty covers, but she managed to get it just right and knock one.  Bet she won't do that again!


Last weekend we visited our wonderful friend Brian Pridgeon's farm for the first time.  Their farm has been in business 176 years - longer than Michigan has been a state.

Yes.  1836! 
Kris, the boys and I had never been on a pig farm before.  It was really interesting.  Here's Brian, the seventh generation to farm here:

Defended his master's thesis just a few days after this picture was taken.  He's even happier now!

We toured the barns and the grounds.  I've never seen pigs so little (just born the day before) or that big.  SOME PIGS ARE HUGE!  I'd never really heard so many pigs making noise at once.  The little ones do squeal, but the big ones definitely do not oink.  It's more a grunt.  Not like the word 'oink' at all.  (Much like most animal noises, the words don't do justice.)

We all enjoyed the tour. 

My youngest son loves animals - has always loved cows and cats and dogs.  This was his first up close encounter with a pig:

What a look.

I guess he's going to stick to dairy cows for awhile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

News and necropsy

It's been a stressful week around here ...

First of all, a cow died.  We asked the vet to do a necropsy that night to find out why.  It had hemorrhagic bowel syndrome, also known as bloody gut.  Sounds terrible, doesn't it?  Yesterday morning Kris raced to a town to buy medicine to hopefully prevent any other cows from getting it.

We're also doing the fifth cutting of alfalfa this week.  It's really hard to plan for cutting alfalfa when it's cold, windy, rain is predicted ... I mean, it's fall!  But the alfalfa is ready to cut and you can never have too much feed.


My friend today said that she heard 1) that farmers were feeding their cattle candy and 2) that farmers could get emails telling them when a cow was fertile.

I'm part of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and a few days ago they were encouraging people to explain to Americans the effect the drought has had on farmers.  When I read it I thought - that's funny ... everyone knows about the drought.  But not so!

The article "Cash-Strapped Farmers Feed Candy to Cows" explains it well:

"Feeding candy to cows has become a more popular practice in tandem with the rising price of corn, which has doubled since 2009, fueled by government-subsidized demand for ethanol and this year's drought. Thrifty and resourceful farmers are tapping into the obscure market for cast-off food ingredients. Cut-rate byproducts of dubious value for human consumption seem to make fine fodder for cows. While corn goes for about $315 a ton, ice-cream sprinkles can be had for as little as $160 a ton.

"As the price of corn has climbed, farmers either sold off their pigs and cattle, or they found alternative feeds," said Mike Yoder, a dairy farmer in Middlebury, Ind. He feeds his 400 cows bits of candy, hot chocolate mix, crumbled cookies, breakfast cereal, trail mix, dried cranberries, orange peelings and ice cream sprinkles, which are blended into more traditional forms of feed, like hay.

The farmer said that he goes over the feed menu every couple of weeks with a livestock nutritionist who advised him to cap the candy at 3% of a cow's diet."

We've had a feed ration with ground up cereal added before.

But really, the point of it is, people feed their cattle according to nutritionists.  The unusable human food is ground up and added to a grain mix.  It's not like their feeders are full of candy canes.

And, to give you some perspective, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this was the most severe and extensive drought in 25 years.  So, farmers are really feeding their cattle what they can, when they can, in order to not go out of business.   


As for the texting fertility information, there's this article: "Swiss Dairy Cows Send Text When They Are In Heat".

I can see why people would think this was amusing, since they so infrequently get texts saying, "508 is in heat!"   But I live in a world where I'm aware that our neighbors' robot milker automatically calls their phone when something goes wrong.  But the technology for determining when cows are in heat has been there a long time. 

I well remember growing up when we had a TV in my house that showed the cattle in the barn.  My mom would look at it and take note of which ones were in heat.  We've been on farms where the cows wear temperature monitors that transmit their fertility information every time they go in to be milked.  On our farm, we use natural service bulls, so they have their own ways of telling which cows are in heat.  They don't need a text message.  They seem to have their own way of telling each other, probably something like "OMG! 508 is in heat!" 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sound the alarm

At 7:09 p.m. I decided to take advantage of the last few rays of sunlight and run down our road. 

As I ran past the dairy barn, I heard a lot of cows mooing.  They're certainly excited about something, I thought.  I looked closer and saw - they were out! 

Some of them were milling around the front of the barn, some were turning toward the feed piles, and some were hanging out along the barn.  All of them were eating weeds and having a good time.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket and called Kris.  I started herding them back in and considered taking a picture, but I figured I'd better pay attention to my job. 

The cattle very easily turned back and headed in the right direction.  Kris pulled up, and we got them back in where they were supposed to be.

Kris said he was really glad I went running there because they'd just gotten out and hadn't gotten far ... and it would've been horrible getting them in in the dark.  Agreed!  I was glad too - I've never been the one to sound the alarm before.  Proximity has its advantages.

I started running again at 7:22 p.m.  As a result of the detour, it got dark before I finished.  I scared up three deer and started running while yelling, "I'm not a deer!"  After all, it's hunting season - you can never be too careful.  I guess I was yelling for any stray cattle's sake, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Field trip

Michigan State University students came here on a field trip today! 

Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen brought 50 animal science students out to our farm.  She told us that the students ranged from people who came from their own farms and plan to go back, to people who've never been on a farm until today.

They visited a large dairy down the road to see their setup.  Then they came here to talk about pasturing, seasonal calving, and the transitional barn.  Kris had a good time talking to them, and of course we welcome people anytime.

A field trip literally in a field.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall baby

Kris stopped by to tell me there was a cow across the road from our house who was starting to calve.  (The kids and I didn't notice, as we were far too busy throwing raking leaves.)
He loaded them up in the truck to do chores and I headed out in the field to see if I could see yet another calf being born! 
The excitement has not worn off, I assure you.
Beautiful day:
The cow was really far along and pushing the calf out easily.  The calf's tongue was sticking out and she was moving her head around.
After she got this far, the cow stood up.  The calf didn't come out. 
You look like you have a little something there.
The calf stayed that way for a long time.  Defying gravity. 
Hey, did you notice you have a calf attached to you?
I could hear the mucous draining out of the calf.  I kept thinking I should assist, but knew that if I weren't there - like the hundreds of other times - everything would turn out fine.  So I just watched. 
So did the other cows. 
Eventually, she gave a big push and the calf plopped onto the grass.  Welcome to the world! 
Good thing you're pliable!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow

Last night Kris was lying on the floor, poring over blueprints and making calculations. 

It seemed a familiar sight ... and for a good reason! 

We're building a freestall barn and manure lagoon.  We're going to expand our herd and milk more cows.  We're aiming to milk 400. 

Even though we have our cattle on pasture most of the year, they also like to have a place to lie down when they're not outside.  They like to lie in freestalls, which are dry and soft.  It's one freestall per cow.  So if you have more cows, you have to have more freestalls. 

When you have more cows, you need more manure storage. 

So, there's the excavation, the cement work, the actual building.  There's the placement, the construction, the lagoon.  And the paperwork! 

It's a project - Kris always likes to have one going.  And this one will be going for quite some time.

Thursday, September 27, 2012


We're planting rye. 
Didn't think fall was a planting season?  It is.  (In North Carolina my friend Courtney replants her entire yard from her spring flowers to her fall flowers.  This reminds me of that.)
After chopping corn, the field is full of corn stalks and leftover weeds.  We used a disc to cut the weeds and uproot the stalks.  We chisel plowed it to help break up soil compaction. 
The headlands are the parts around the outside of the field that get driven on all the time.  It gets compacted - think, like a driveway.  For instance, a neighboring farm planted radishes to break up the soil in their headlands. 
We're having a contractor work our field down with a soil finisher, which makes a smooth bed.  Then he'll plant the rye. 
It'll grow this fall and when it gets cold enough it'll go dormant.  Then in the spring when it warms up it'll start growing again - like grass.  We'll cut it in the spring for cattle feed. 
By doing this, we'll get another crop out of the field before we plant the corn.  It's good for the soil, because the rye itself helps keep the nutrients in it.  It also covers it to help prevent erosion over the winter. 
In the meantime, we're enjoying the fall.  Some years the leaves are nice, and some years they're gorgeous.  This year is spectacular, as well as the weather.  70s and sunny! 
I guess ... at least one good thing came out of the drought. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012


My brother-in-law Rob did the Redman Triathlon yesterday, which was a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.

He texted me afterward and said they got chocolate milk towels at the end of the race.  He also mentioned that he drank five cartons himself.

To races from the farm ... hooray!

Today marks something for me.  I've run every day for six months.  I've been a runner since I was 18, but I started a streak and haven't found a reason to stop it yet.  There's a whole organization devoted to running streaks - some people on it have been running every day for 40 years. 

I also have dairy every day because I haven't found a reason to stop doing that, either.  But that streak is a lot longer.  And really, nearly effortless.  Plus, I'm pretty sure there are no sites devoted to it.

So, enjoy your food and drink.  We went to a football game and baseball game this weekend.  After the corn is harvested and the calves are weaned, leaving home gets a lot easier!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Our many publications

I've talked before about how many farm magazines there are - both free and subscription.  (Don't think I'm complaining.  I read - or at least skim - them all before I throw them on Kris' pile.)  Today our haul was particularly interesting. 

- First of all, Michigan Farm News had an article 'Deer killer confirmed in 17 Michigan counties'.  It's not a poacher ... it states that the deer deaths are indeed caused by epizootic hemorrhagic disease, and that so far 900 dead deer have been reported to their office.  The article also states, "Past observations have revealed that simultaneous infections sometimes occur in deer, cattle, and sheep. Discovery of illness in deer indicates that infected biting midges are present in the vicinity, and thus, both deer and livestock are at risk of infection." 

Our furnace turned on for the first time last night.  I don't usually hope for an early frost, but - any day now would be fine ...

- I opened up Progressive Dairyman and saw my blog under Tech Tools - Featured Blogs.  I always read that section and it was a pleasant surprise! 

- Hoard's Dairyman is an age-old (since 1885!), well-respected,  and usually good magazine.  We pay for this one, even.  I could talk about all the good articles that are in there, but today one sentence really threw me.  The article was called 'Natural-service bulls can't compete with technology.'  We use natural-service bulls, so I was interested in the study.  Instead, I got this sentence, "While space does not allow us to go through details, we can tell you this ... the results of these two studies indicate that TAI, despite long resemination intervals, either did not compromise or may have even enhanced reproductive performance when compared to natural service."         

Ha!  Who needs to know anything about the study when you can just tell me the results?  Maybe give them another page in the magazine, leave that sentence out, or reflect on what my dad always says, "Magazines are written to make money."

Or, talk about the article at length with your husband and sons and realize ... good, bad, featured, not - I'd much rather get any magazine in the mail than another bill.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Oh deer

We've seen in the news and heard from neighbors that people have been seeing a lot of dead deer.  It's thought that they're dying of hemorrhagic disease, or bluetongue.

It's a virus transmitted through midge fly bites.  (Didn't know what a midge fly is?  Me neither.  This site says they're known as no-see-ums, or gnats, which is what I call them.)  Scientists think that there are outbreaks during drought years because deer and midge flies hang out in the few available watering spots.  Not all deer die from it, but many do.

Cattle can also get the virus, but it's not as common.

Last week, Kris saw one dead deer in a field he was chopping.  Today I saw one in the creek.  I wonder if we're going to start seeing them all over, now.  The articles say that the first frost will kill off the flies and then they'll quit spreading it around. 

We also saw two live deer today.  We rode in the chopper - yes, all five of us again - and we scared out two young deer from the corn.  Kris was finishing up the chopping, so they had to run across the very open field to the woods.  Stay away from flies!

I know that the deer population is large, I know that they eat our crops, and I know they can spread tuberculosis to cattle.  Despite that, I love seeing deer around.  There just aren't that many large wild animals that you get to see.

Large tame animals, sure.  We see the cows all the time.  Stay away from the flies!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sidewalls sideways

This is the way the silage pad looked when it was being poured in early August:
This was it today, with 107 loads of chopped corn on it:
After three straight days of chopping, we're done until Monday.  The rest of the fields need to dry a little more.  So the guys covered the pile.  (It rained a little later to make everyone feel like it was worth it!)
It was such a jovial atmosphere.  Even though it's hard work, the guys were all laughing and talking and joking.  It was nice, plus my kids enjoyed it.
Kris purchased some sidewalls.  The benefits are: they weigh less.  They're easier to stack and get out of the way when they're not on the piles.  They don't fill with rainwater that gets really gross.  Cole calls it "tire juice" and later told me, "All the guys started calling it that too."

The cons: they cost money, unlike tires that people are always trying to get rid of.  But when you're moving them around a lot, sidewalls are at least a nice alternative. 

While I was there, Mike joked that covering the pile is a lot like Sisyphus, the king who had to forever roll a boulder up a hill.  But he was smiling when he said it ... so maybe throwing some sidewalls in the mix does help.

Not everyone there was working hard.  Some of them got downright comfortable.  Mired in tire juice and all.