Saturday, March 31, 2012


Kris and I attended the MMPA Young Farmers Conference, featuring a farm tour at Hillhaven Farms where the Rasmussen family uses a Gea Houle Manure Separator.  What does that mean?  It means they turn the cattle manure into bedding.  (Cattle bedding, not people bedding.  I prefer cotton.)

In barns cattle need some type of bedding in their freestalls to lie on - farms can use sawdust, straw, sand, etc.  They chose a method where the bedding is produced every day by the barns' inhabitants!

In this system they scrape the barns with a vacuum sucker.  It sucks the manure into a tank:


They empty the manure into a pit.  They pump the manure into a machine.  First the machine crushes the material and gets rid of anything hard that might have made its way onto the barn floor. 


Then the manure goes through three rollers that compress all the liquid out of it.  The liquid goes from a pipe into a liquid pit, and the hard material goes on a conveyor belt into a pile.  Then they take that pile of dried manure and put it back in the freestalls.

Liquid squeezed out

Compression and dry matter

Mike Rassmussen and his cattle's new/used bedding

In the freestalls

It was a dry, soft-looking material. (I didn't feel it with my own hands, but I listened to Mike.)  The whole process was interesting, since I'd never seen it before.

I told my brother about it, and he asked, "Do cows know they're lying in their own poop?" 

According to Mike, though cows will try to eat almost any kind of bedding, including sand, he's never once seen them trying to eat this.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Get ready, get set

Yesterday Kris and the guys dried up the cows.  This means we're not going to milk them for a bit before they have calves.  So drying up means - you check if they're pregnant, give them an antibiotic so they don't get an infection by halting their milking, and put a sealant on their teats.  (For more detail, check on my post here.) 

It takes all day to do it.  Then we let them out onto the pasture for the first time this year!  It's so nice to see them out there again.  Kris said they were excited to get out there too. 

The vet came today to check the ones that didn't seem pregnant.  While yesterday they checked from the outside, by feeling the cow's side, today the vet checks from the inside. Yes!  Just the way you're imagining!

He also used an ultrasound machine, which was a first for us here.  He put the wand inside the cow, then he had a headset.  One of the eyes of the headset was a screen that showed the ultrasound.  Kris and the guys all put it on, and Kris said it was just like looking at a human ultrasound.  There's a grid on the screen, so you could gauge exactly how big the calf was.

So we're only milking the non-pregnant or recently-pregnant ones.  (Once the pregnant cows have calves, we start milking them again.  They have to have a calf every year to continue giving milk.)

Now, you may be wondering, doesn't that mean that we don't send much milk, and that our milk check is really small?  Answer again - yes!  But it's the same every year, so we plan for it.  It's not like it's a surprise, just like we won't be surprised when the calves are all born on a Saturday when we're having people over.  It's so predictable!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rocking it

Kris is looking at using a rock picker to clean up the fields. Rocks are a real problem, especially when you're doing hay. Rocks can bend the knives on a discbine, and they can also shoot into tractor cab windows. (It happens!) When you chop hay with the chopper, the rocks can wreck the equipment.

We're going to pile them up for eventual landscaping use. My mom has built rock walls at my house and her house. The fields will be nicer and I'm sure our yards will be too!

There are rock piles around every field. For as long as people have been farming, they've been getting rid of rocks in their fields. They would pile them in the closest border area - because why carry them farther than you have to? They're heavy!

When I was younger, I'd sometimes go with my mom to get rocks. We'd drive the truck out to the woods and take rocks out of the massive piles. We'd marvel at the amount of them. I'd also marvel at what a great weight training program it was. My mom could lift rocks twice the size that I could! She probably still can ... but this rock picker will have us both beat.

My mom's latest rock wall

Monday, March 26, 2012


My friend recently got in an accident - a guy towing a trailer with a farm implement on it backed into her car.

While she was telling me the story I said, "What kind of farm implement was it?"

She said, "Hmmm. I don't know."

I said, "Did it have circles or things that looked like rakes? Because then I'd guess a plow or a rake."

She said, "No."

I said, "Then that ends my guessing."

I'm not really equipment-minded. So today Kris told me that Mike leveled out spots in the field with a disc. Tomorrow we're having another company come and "work it down."

I asked Kris what they would work it down with. He answered, "A soil finisher."

I nodded. No picture came to mind. I realize that there are many, many tools for 'working down a field' but to me they all sort of run together. Because until you're personally doing it, buying one, fixing one, or renting one, they all look like 'farm implements.' Even when they're coming through your windshield.


Josh went around and checked all the fences today in preparation for letting the cattle out on pasture! (This is earlier than usual. Last year at this time we had a snow day at school.)

Kris said there were just the regular fixes - places deer or trees had knocked against the wires needed tightening. Nothing major.

The cows were really excited, Kris said. They saw Josh on the quad out in the field and THEY WANTED TO BE THERE TOO. Looks like Wednesday is the day!


My sister Tracy visited recently. We were talking about the weather and she said, "I remember when I first went to college and it started to rain. I thought ... I don't care. I don't have to worry about the corn, or the hay being down ... it doesn't matter!"

(This is obviously in the day before texting, when mom and dad would have been keeping her up to date on the farm events regardless!)

Though I've been loving the recent warm weather, I knew the fruit farmers were concerned. In this Detroit News article, Freeze threatens state's $300M fruit crop after weeks of warm weather , they explain that since everything is four or five weeks early this year, these cold nights might really damage the crops.

Not only do I know a lot of fruit farmers, but I looooove fruit. Whenever there's a rough year, we notice. I may not notice what tools are in the field, but I always notice the fruits of their labor.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Capitol in the capital

We had the 96th annual state delegate meeting for MMPA yesterday - that's Michigan Milk Producers Association, the co-op where we sell our milk.  It was in downtown Lansing, so when I left the meeting, I was greeted with this view:

Doesn't it look like a postcard? Meetings are usually in the crummy season when you don't want to be outside ... not true right now.

Some interesting things I jotted down during the meeting:

- When there's a surplus of milk, the co-op has to find something to do with it. There's no long-term storage for it like a lot of other foods, since it has a short shelf life.

- Due to the mild winter and spring, cows in the US have been giving a lot of milk.

- One of the speakers made a joke that "It's like picking up rocks. It's a never ending job." This made me laugh, because a joke about picking rocks out of a field can only work for select audiences.

- Kris' uncle was also there, from his part of the state. A farmer at our table said that his 9-year-old left open a gate and the cows got out. Kris' uncle said, "I have a 30-year-old that does that." We all laughed. That joke would work for any audience.

I spent the afternoon outside (hooray!) and happened to go back to the same city block at night to see some friends. This was my evening view:

Much easier to be inside this way.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Want to marry a farmer?

My friend called me today and said, "I walked into the room and Jim was watching TV ... and I thought it was a Saturday Night Live skit. But it was NOT. Have you seen the commercial for"

I watched the commercial, and yes, it's bad. It's terrible. It's hilarious.

Then I went on the site. Really, they need better marketing, because I was totally won over.

I think online dating is a great idea. I know tons of married couples that met online. This is just even MORE specific!

I'm friends with some very eligible bachelors ... most of them farmers or in farm-related industries. (Hi, guys!)

When I try to think of girls they can date, you always have to take the lifestyle into consideration. Would the girl want to live on a farm? Would she like to live in the country?

These girls do!

Yesterday a neighbor and I were talking and she said it was hard for her son to find girls to date, now that he was back on the farm. (That's the same concept the commercial is trying to get at. You know, through the talking animals. Also, why do they have clown voices?)

Another one of my farmer friends commented that he loves going to sporting events, because he is surrounded by girls his age - which just doesn't happen on his farm. And a different farmer friend said that when you date a girl with marriage in mind, she has to know - and accept - the lifestyle she's going to marry into.

So the site is obviously meeting a demand. It's not meeting good commercial standards ... but then again, I'm talking about it, aren't I? But I'm using a normal voice, not like those creepy farm animals.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First day of spring

We spent the last week in Texas, visiting Kris' family.  His sister and brother-in-law live in Houston, where we went to the rodeo! 

The rodeo is HUGE.  Huge as in there were 74,900 people there, watching bull riding, barrel racing, and mutton busting.  Have you ever seen this?  Five-year-old kids rode on sheep.  The kids were clinging to the sheep, faces buried in them.  The sheep were ambling across the arena.  Slowly, the kids would fall off.  I laughed so hard.  Then they had indoor fireworks, a concert ... and everyone was dressed like cowboys!  The boots!  The hats!  The rhinestones!  It was so fun and so different than what I normally see.

We went to a country dancing bar that weekend.  We were waiting in line.  A woman working there was trying to move the line along quicker and said, "Do y'all have your ids?"  Yes, we did.  "Are any of y'all wearing spurs?"

Spurs?!  Spurs!  I've never been asked that in my life, that's for sure.  We were not. 

Inside, everyone was also in costume.  (I realize it's not, but when you're not from cowboy country ...)  Often a song would start and everyone would stop two-stepping and start THE SAME line dance.  They all knew which songs went with which dances.  It was like stumbling into a musical!

When we go to Farm Bureau events, the ranchers often wear cowboy boots.  Kris' grandma (who is incredibly stylish) left some boots at Kris' parents' house that didn't fit her.  I wore them out one night, pretending I was a rancher instead of a farmer.

On the plane I talked to the guy sitting next to me, also from Michigan.  When I said I was a dairy farmer, he said, "Well, now I have to ask THE question.  ... Which cow gives the chocolate milk?"  We laughed together, and then he said, "Really.  Where do they put it in?  How does that work?"  I was happy to explain it.  You never know unless you ask!   

Everything was different when I returned.  It's the first day of spring!  It's been in the 80s all week, today too.  The barn roof was recoated.  It's a little different color and looks fresh.  The road commission cut down the dead tree.  And the daffodils are all in bloom.

Goodbye, Texas.  Hello, Michigan!  I left my boots there for next time. Here, I go barefoot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chocolate milk

Check out this ad:

It's world champion triathlete Mirinda Carfrae. The copy reads, "My training doesn't stop when my workout ends. After a run, I refuel with lowfat chocolate milk for high-quality protein and what I need to help me stay toned. Because it's not over until I say it is."

It directs you to On the site, it talks about the science behind chocolate milk and why it's so good for you.

I'm a runner. I love chocolate milk - who doesn't? My whole family loves it. Though something (her expression, body ... lifestyle) tells me that Mirinda is doing a bit of a harder workout. Good thing. It probably just means she drinks more!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring notes

Congressman Dave Camp met with Kris and other farmers today in our district.  Rep. Camp gave a short talk and then answered questions for 45 minutes.  I've always liked Dave Camp because when I was 17 he gave a recommendation for my brother to attend the Air Force Academy.  (Way to pick 'em, Dave!)  Why did he meet with farmers?  Because as the old saying goes ... farmers vote! 


Spring cleaning around here!  We moved all the heifers out of the new barn.  Now we're cleaning and sanitizing the entire place to get ready for the new calves that will be born this season! 

We put the heifers in the barn near our house and let them into the new free stall area.  Kris said they were very excited, running all over and checking them out.


My sister and her family are visiting from Kansas!  Even though my nieces and nephew have been here lots of times, it never gets old.  Everyone loves going in the milk parlor, sitting on tractors, climbing the silos, and riding the 4-wheeler.  What's not to like?  Since they're city kids, there's the regular talk about how it smells like cows, manure is lots of places ... but they're not complaining, just stating facts.   They also have a million questions and I love to answer.

It may not be everyone's idea of a dream spring break, but they keep coming back ... and we're so glad. Happy spring, everyone!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Big Ten Tournament

Kris, my dad, and two friends went to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, Indiana this past weekend to watch Michigan State University win it all!

(That exclamation point understates my excitement.  If you could have seen us watching the game ...)

Last night Kris got home to do payroll and he said that Kody had hurt his foot playing basketball and got someone to cover one of his milkings.  Then Kris saw that on Sunday, he'd started milking and had had another employee finish for him.  So his foot must really be bothering him, poor guy!

But the whole chain of events - Kody hurt, tells Kris, doesn't milk, gets someone to finish milking on his own - is great.  We have such wonderful team members here!  They're the reason Kris can leave and everything still gets done!

And since we love to travel, I could throw in quite a few more exclamation points.  !!!

* Note later in the day - Kody was sick and came to milk anyway.  He was so sick that he couldn't finish ... so Mike drove to Ryan's house to find him and ask him to finish up.  Thanks, guys!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ag Day

Today is National Ag Day! I didn't know there was an Ag Day until this year, because I read about it on my friends' Facebook and twitter posts.  How are you celebrating?!  That might be the nicest thing about Ag Day ... no matter what you eat for your celebratory dinner, it'll be food a farmer produced. So eat up! I hope your food tomorrow is just as enjoyable ... even though the day after a holiday is always sort of a letdown.  Taking down the Ag Day decorations, the Ag Day lights ... but March 8th will be here again before we know it!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Kris is thinking of taking the haymow out of our old barn.

It would be like taking out the second story floor. Since there aren't any calves in there any more, there's no need to throw straw bales down. Since we get really big bales now - both square and round - getting rid of the second floor would allow us to store bales and stack them up high.

Our builder came over to take a look and give us some quotes.

He showed Kris that the barn is starting to bow. The main supports are starting to pull away from the sides. If we don't do anything, eventually the roof will collapse.

Instead, we're going to brace it. That means we'll put a plate on either end and run a cable through the whole thing to hold it all together. This is new to me, but Kris said he's seen it done in other barns.

There's also a tree in our yard that's dead. It's split down the middle. The road commission called me and asked me if I wanted them to cut it down. (When it falls, it's going to fall in the road.)

I reluctantly said yes. It's going to fall sometime, yes, but that could be years from now. I also don't want it to fall while some car is sitting there at the stop sign.

He came and spray painted a big orange 'X' on it today, marking it for felling. After it's gone, I'm going to immediately plant another one in the same place.

This centennial farm needs constant maintenance! But hey - no one gets to 100 without some repair work.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I saw a robin today! Later I saw a whole flock of them! (If a flock is three.) It was exciting, because it really seems like spring. It was sunny and warm - it got up to 59 degrees. Soon we'll be consumed with planting and calving. This is the calm before the storm.

I also got ... pinkeye. This is the second time in my life I've gotten it, the last time being fourteen years ago. I just wrote about pinkeye in cattle on Sunday, and I can't shake the idea that this is why I got it. I just looked too long at those pictures. Those ads are even more powerful than I originally thought.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Drink chocolate milk

Kris and I were at the MSU basketball game yesterday. Suddenly the announcer said, "... Please stay for our halftime show, which is sponsored by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan."

I immediately stood and gave a round of applause. (Yes, it was a lone ovation, but deserving.) Nice placement, UDIM!

UDIM is a non-profit that provides "dairy product promotion and nutrition education services on behalf of funding members." All Michigan dairy farmers give a portion of every milk check to them.

The halftime show was The Skyriders: High Flying Trampoline Show. It was really fun to watch, especially the last trick. Ken Kovach does what he calls a 'neck breaker'. He goes up super high and pretends like he's going to land horribly. Like his head is literally going to snap off. Like anyone who's jumped on a trampoline for any extended period of time has done or seen and never wants to do either again. Then, at the last second he tucks his head and avoids injury. There was a collective gasp from the crowd.

And they also had this!

You can see the UDIM logo on the big screen and the 'Choose chocolate milk' plug everywhere.

Combining dairy, an exciting show, MSU basketball ... and chocolate? Hard to go wrong.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dairy ads

It's time for another look through Progressive Dairyman to see what's for sale!

This week I'm going to focus on the 'showing' part of the ad.

In few ads for human products do they show you the picture of the malady. For instance, you almost never see a real picture of toenail fungus. Instead, the commercials show a gross cartoonish character. (Which is gross enough, of course.)

But the ads here ...

They want to show you it, warts and all. Literally.

I guess that works as an educational tool as well. For instance, say you didn't know what your cows had. You browse through the magazine, and - they must have warts!

Warts on hooves are bad for cattle because it hurts them. We use a foot bath to prevent and treat warts.

The same applies to pinkeye. I've never seen a human pinkeye treatment that shows a kid with crusty, weepy eye. Maybe I don't see enough parenting magazines, but that seems out of place.

But the dairy magazines - yes! How do you know it's pinkeye if you don't know what it looks like?

Need a closer look?

A different product? And picture? Yes, please!

But it's not to say that everything about the ads is different. It's certainly not.

Take a look at this next ad. It's for Animat, a company that sells mats for cattle to lie on in barns.

So among the infected hooves and eyes you see a pretty milkmaid? It stands out. Not only does the old adage 'sex sells' apply, but she looks even better next to warts.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Andrew Breitbart died today.

He once wrote, “I love my job. I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it. I love reporting stories that the Complex refuses to report. I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and -- famously -- I enjoy making enemies. Three years ago, I was mostly a behind-the-scenes guy who linked to stuff on a very popular website. I always wondered what it would be like to enter the public realm to fight for what I believe in. I've lost friends, perhaps dozens. But I've gained hundreds, thousands -- who knows? -- of allies. At the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror, and I sleep very well at night."

I love that quote.

Every day on the internet I read opinions with which I don’t agree. Like: GMO crops are evil. Rich people should pay all the taxes while poor people should pay none. Dairy is bad for you. Organic should be the only choice of food available. Farmers are money-hungry people-haters who want to pollute the world and your body.

I don’t believe any of those things.

Yesterday Kris went to the capitol with Farm Bureau to give support to a bill that exempts farm vehicle drivers from having to have a commercial driver’s license to drive a truck pulling a trailer. Another government regulation.

Another one that’s up – labor laws. Under a new proposal, no child under 16 on a farm can do anything on a farm, unless it’s your kid. So my nephew couldn’t run an electric screwdriver, my friends’ kids couldn’t help feed a calf a bottle … a teenager who wants a part-time job couldn’t work here. The original proposal didn’t even have the parental exemption.

Even if that’s passed, it won’t be respected or obeyed. And enforced? Come on.

What’s the best we can do? Be a part of organizations that try to affect the outcome of laws. So we try. And we do.

Unless I’m directly confronted, I don’t often voice my more controversial opinions. I save my defenses for the things that matter most to me. Laws definitely do. I’ll fight for what I believe in, and I’ll sleep well at night.