Wednesday, February 29, 2012

US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance

I'm the featured writer on the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance site.

USFRA is a group "consisting of a wide range of prominent farmer- and rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners. This marks the first time agricultural groups ... have collaborated to lead the dialogue and answer Americans’ questions about how we raise our food."

The goal is to "begin a dialogue with Americans about where their food comes from, the importance of today’s agriculture and our commitment to continuous improvement."

Thank you, USFRA! You can read my post on their site here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Sad event today - a cow calved, but since she was two months early, the calf wasn't alive.

The cow was still dripping milk from her udder, so it's possible she'll still produce.  Sometimes when this happens, they only produce milk for a little while.  Sometimes they'll give all year.  We'll just have to see.  Cows have to have a calf every year in order to produce milk.  This is one of those farming things that you know when you're involved in farming, but you don't really think about when you're not!

It's a reminder though ... spring is coming.  To get prepared, Mike went around to all the machines and took an inventory of all the filters we need to replace.  The parts store has a filter sale every year at this time.  (What?  You haven't been to the filter sale?  BIG FILTER SALE!)  Mike said when he went in they told him they have a service there where they can keep track of that for you.  Then every year at the sale they'll automatically order the filters you need.  I don't know why we didn't know about this the last four years, but it sounds great!

Soon it'll be new calves and new filters and a new season.  We're preparing for the best and the worst.  Everyone around here jokes that since our winter has been so incredibly mild, then the spring is going to be ... just like this winter.  Let's hope those calves enjoy the snow in May!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hockey and milk

We attended our first Grand Rapids Griffins game last night!  They're a hockey team.  We also had the chance to go out on the ice during intermission and hit a puck into the goal to win jewelry ... there were three spots.  I hit it in the easiest spot to win a chamilia bead!  One of the spots to hit in won you a diamond.  Oh, you've heard of diamonds and not chamilia beads?  This did not diminish my excitement one bit, seeing as it was the first time I'd ever hit a hockey puck.

Two farming notes that piqued my interest:

The zamboni had a buddy seat, just like tractors.  Buddy seats - really called training seats, Kris told me - are for someone to ride along when you're in a tractor, chopper, or some other farm machinery.  Why?  To train.  To have your kid come along.  To have some company.  Because big machines are cool.

A girl was riding on the zamboni and she waved when they announced her name.  It was cute.  Maybe next time we go she'll have training enough to drive it!

During the last period they changed the advertising behind the goal:

Chocolate milk is the drink of athletes!  The word is out.

My friend we went with is from a huge hockey family.  I asked her, "What are hockey players typically like?"  She answered, "Toothless."

Yet another reason hockey players can enjoy chocolate milk.  No chewing required.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Picture this

One of the big conversation topics anytime farmers get together is land prices. Farmers compare them from every neighborhood. Today I read the article "Rural Population Stagnates," which said, "Old-line farming counties saw the most dramatic decline: The population of farming-dependent counties grew by just 0.3% between 2000 and 2010, due entirely to births rather than migration from other regions."

So my bright side is ... maybe land prices will decline?


If you like reading about farms (and want to know more), Janice Person describes many blogs from people at the Young Farmers & Ranchers conference. (Mine too!)


One more conference note. During a slow period, Kris and a few other farmers were showing each other pictures on their phones. All of them (and no bloggers in the bunch) had pictures of their farms. Ones they took while they were working, ones of their animals - sights they wanted to remember. I liked it. I have a million on my phone as well ... for instance, today I took my youngest son out for a stroller ride. I didn't take along my camera. But when the entire herd thundered over from acres away to see him, I was glad I had my phone.

There was a mutual interest, that's for sure. They mooed at each other for a long time.

Rural areas may not be the most popular spots to live, but they're fun!

Monday, February 20, 2012


We're home from the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers conference!  About 1000 young farmers (and people involved in ag) from all over the country got together to learn and talk policy.  Today they hosted a lot of tours around Michigan to different farms.

It was so fun!  The farmers who go are outgoing and like to talk.  They purposely seat you to mingle at meals, so you meet interesting people.

For instance, I met:

- A seventh generation rice and soybean farmer from Arkansas.  He farms 4000 acres.  I'd never met a rice farmer before and had a million questions.

- A rancher/writer/photographer from Wyoming.  (Heather blogs here.)  When I asked, "Where is your farm?"  She said, "We don't farm - there's no water where we are.  We have a ranch."  Which is why the name of the national organization is Farmers & Ranchers.  I clarified it with her - to her, a farm is a place where you grow crops.  She has cattle on tons of acres, which to me is definitely a ranch!

- Tons of cash crop farmers from sea to shining sea.  Whenever I said we had a dairy, they'd say, "I've met a ton of dairy farmers!"  Which is because there were tons of Michigan people there, and Michigan has a lot of dairy farms.

One of the big topics of discussion - as it frequently is - is how to reach our customers through social media.  I watched the collegiate discussion meet and the final question concerned that.  One student said that getting internet access to farms was a problem.  (Really?  Where?!)  Another said that you couldn't trust farmers to say what they're supposed to say, because they would 'shoot from the hip' and needed intense training.  (This kid had a low opinion of farmers.)  Another finished her conclusion with, "Hashtag, yfr12."  I liked that, because she was citing the twitter symbol and keyword of the conference.  (Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher were also mentioned in the discussion.  Can you get more youthful than that?)

It was exciting - a convention center full of people who love their jobs and like to talk about it.  Blogs, Facebook, and twitter are fantastic, but there's nothing better than laughing with people in person.  No hashtag required.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Over the river and through the woods, to another conference we go ...

Today we're off to the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference. It's a national conference that just so happens to be in Michigan this year.

It seems like there are a lot of conferences, right? Well, it's the time of year. Winter is farmers' slow season, so the meetings are all crammed into about three months. It's the only way any of us can actually attend! It certainly makes winter go quickly - and we get to see a lot of friends we barely see the rest of the year.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, the free stall addition is coming along nicely.

New mats, new stalls:

The clientele, looking eagerly at the new addition in the works:

They'll enjoy this for a little while, then they'll be moving out to pasture as soon it's spring. And we'll be transitioning from indoor meetings to outdoor work at the same time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

John Deere factory tour

Today was Kris' award trip to the John Deere factory tour!

We started out in Davenport, Iowa at John Deere Davenport Works.

We donned hard hats, safety glasses, orange vests and headed out to the line. We saw equipment being built from start to finish - from the steel being cut to the finished wheel loader driving away.

I'm not a huge tractor fan or anything - not like this cute kid that was also on the tour and was so excited about sitting in them - but I like seeing how anything is made. Something with so many parts like heavy equipment is super interesting.

Assembly line at the plant:

Line work:

A guy was cleaning up fluids and said that they test the lines. If there's a leak, they find out where it is. Then the guy who didn't tighten his line correctly has to do a "walk of shame" up the line and fix his own mistake. They said that as a result it doesn't happen very often.

They also had a gold key presentation for Miller Trucking & Excavating out of Moline, IL. They bought a new wheel loader and got to see it in the factory at the end of the line. It had a plaque on it with their name, and they received a gold key.

It's hard to show how big it was in there ... but it was 2.2 million square feet, or 53 acres, all one building. It was huge.

We left there and went just over the Mississippi River to the John Deere world headquarters in Moline, Illinois:

I like the way 'world headquarters' sounds. I kept wanting to say 'world domination' headquarters. The office building is made of all steel I-beams. It looked strong, to say the least. The deer on the left is just the like deer we narrowly missed this morning in the car. I prefer them made of bronze.

Last, we went to the parts distribution center in Milan, Illinois:

This was an EVEN bigger building. It was 63 acres, covered with neat aisles packed to the 25 foot ceilings. All parts.

They showed us how the part pickers worked, how they transported them through the building - even the robots they program to drive to where they need them to go.

Parts and parts and parts! It made me not want to complain about late shipments ever again.

The trip, which was sponsored by AIS Construction Equipment, (thanks, AIS!) also flew us in their plane. It's really refreshing and pleasant to drive to the airport, park, and walk onto a plane. No getting there early, searches, or waiting. They even rolled out the red carpet for us. Literally! I just saw it when I looked at this picture.

Kris said that being there made him think about Caterpillar - since he gave a lot of tours - and all the fun times he had working there. He quickly added that he's glad we have our farm now, but we certainly had some great times with our friends.

Never mind that Caterpillar and John Deere are competitors. We own both and have toured both! Maybe I'm more interested in tractors than I originally thought.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Manure pit

My entire life I was taught to fear the manure pit.

To get rid of the manure in the barn, we scrape it in a manure pit, which is an enclosed space under the barn. Then we pump it out into a manure spreader and spread it on the fields to fertilize our crops. So, we have clean barns and nutrient-rich dirt.

Methane gas is an odorless and colorless byproduct of liquid manure. It's happened in the past (on other farms) that people have fallen into a manure pit. They don't drown, but they're overcome by fumes and suffocate and die. It happens very quickly. Even worse, I've read many tragic stories where people follow one after another to save the person who fell in. I mean - imagine. It's usually family members. How could you not try to help?

I was talking to a friend of mine who also has a farm. She said they had a new employee who seemed to really like the calves. In fact, she said, the automatic manure scraper had knocked a calf into the manure pit. (This happened after a number of unusual events - the cow had calved too early, the calf wasn't seen immediately, etc. It's a rarity.) The employee had jumped into the pit and rescued the calf.

"He jumped in?!" I said. "And didn't die?!"

She said the pit was only up to his waist and was well-ventilated. She added, "But he didn't know how deep it was!" She said she told him that he was to never go in the pit again - lasso the calf and pull it out, yes. But he should never, ever go in the pit. He said there was no written protocol for what happened when a calf fell in a manure pit, so she said she'd write one.

I told this story to Kris, and told him to please tell every new employee to never, ever go in a manure pit. I want everyone to be afraid of suffocating. I want everyone on our farm to be safe. I want a lot of things - and no farm accidents is on the top of the list.

So next time you're on a farm, remember - no swimming in the methane gas.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Snowy day

The scene has changed! It snowed all day today.

When we moved back to the farm we talked about where to move. Should we live right on the farm? Should we build a new house? Should we buy an existing house?

We decided to move into the house in the middle of the farm where my parents were currently living. They didn't want to live there anymore - they built a beautiful home in the prettiest place on our land.

It's up on a hill, looking over where two creeks meet. The woods are beautiful. As a result, the snow pictures are even better from their house!

I'm glad we live in our house, since it's definitely helpful to be in the middle of the farm. We can see the barns and it's easy for people to find Kris when they need him.

I'm glad they live where they live - always somewhere beautiful to visit!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Free stall fun

We're adding free stalls to the heifer barn. This entails:

- Putting down mats for the cattle to lie on
- Renting a hammer drill to anchor them to the cement
- Getting an expensive, hard-to-find drill bit for the hammer drill
- Finding a place near our house that sells them. (No one wants to drive 30 miles to buy a drill bit.)
- Building the framework to hold the free stalls
- Screwing the free stalls into the framework

Like building anything, there are a lot of steps. But this way, the barn will be able to house more cattle - and they'll all have separate places to lie down. Padded and bedded down with straw. All the steps will be worth it - and we'll forget most of these details anyway!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Post-Super Sunday

Did you watch the Super Bowl?!

Kris missed the first half. The cows - apparently knowing it was the final NFL game of the year - worked open a latch, broke through the tape, and mixed all in with the heifers in the pasture. Kris and the two milkers spent about two hours separating the cows (the ones that get milked) from the heifers. He's going to reinforce the latch and put up a gate instead of tape. It wasn't a big deal to miss part of this game ... but what if it had been a Spartan basketball game? Best not to find out.

One of the commercials that got rated high on a lot of lists was for Dannon Oikos Greek yogurt. We discovered this yogurt by accident. My friend Alicia was coming to visit and I bought her two of them because I knew she liked them. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my family. The next day, Kris told me, "That new yogurt was great - it's so much creamier! Cole and I each had one!" Alicia didn't get any. Kris has been buying it ever since. No head butts, but he doesn't like to share it, either.

When I worked at TechSmith, we got our birthday off as a paid holiday. I loved that perk. It's Kris' birthday today! He didn't get the day off, but the cows didn't get out. My parents had us over for a steak dinner, which is his favorite. I made an apple pie. Almost as good as a vacation day! Sometimes even better, depending on how hungry you are.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Strange and nice

The dealer found out what was wrong with the skid steer, cleaned out the fuel tank, shined it up all nice and pretty, and now it works again. Having a skid steer with a cab isn't as important when it's so warm! (But it'll get cold again.)

One side of the curtain wasn't working right on the new barn. The builder is coming to fix it. It's not as pressing when they're going to be open anyway! (But it'll get cold again.)

It feels like spring. It's 45 degrees, the sun is shining in a clear blue sky ... the birds (obviously confused) are singing. We were outside all day - no gloves, no hats - Kris wasn't even wearing a coat.

It is the BEST WINTER EVER! (But it'll get cold again.)

Maybe in December.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creative ads

Like I've said before, I used to work as a marketing writer at TechSmith. We often had a company come in with print ad ideas for our products. I always thought it was interesting and fun to see what wildly creative ideas they would show us.

I wonder what type of direction they give advertisers for farming magazines, because they are frequently eye-catching. Let me give you a sample from just one magazine - February's Dairy Today.

Ads like this always make me stop and look. It's by Novus International. They develop animal health and nutrition programs. Naturally. That is one strong cow. Or creepy human who's been getting into the cattle feed?

There's a lot to look at in this picture. There's a cow driving the tractor, two cows high-fiving (hooving), three carrying a board, one pushing a broom, one shoveling, and two standing with a clipboard. The cows eating are obviously the slackers of the group? The ad line is: "Healthy cows work harder." It's for EXCENEL RTU, which is a medicine that treats uterine infection and other diseases. I like to think that the artist who drew this was having a great time. Those are some good-looking udders.

And last ...

This one is for Bovi-Shield Gold, which is a vaccine that prevents reproductive diseases. This one reads, "If she can't stay pregnant, what else will she do?" The answer to this one is: be a bird dog-cow. It's a series of ads. What career choice will she make next?!

Maybe something in advertising.