Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rain, rain, don't go away

Ah ... it's the familiar feeling of wishing it would rain.  As a girl - waiting on the front porch with my mom, begging for it to storm.  Now - going on a stroller ride with my sons, hoping we get caught in a downpour.

Today it (sort of) worked!  It wasn't so wet that we would've gotten soaked on our walk, but I was also really cold.  It's been sprinkling on and off since 4:00 p.m. 

We really need it.  Of course the crops need it, but it's so obvious it's dry.  Even the leaves of my mature trees are wilted.

We went strawberry picking today at a new place.  I told the boys the owners were fruit farmers, like we are dairy farmers. 

My son said, "We're also vegetable farmers."

His brother added, "We're also beef farmers." 

I didn't argue with them.  We sell milk for money, but we also sell cattle.  We don't sell vegetables, but we do raise crops for our herd.  Farming is farming, eh?

All of us need the rain.  Come on - POUR!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


What a holiday!  We had a baby boom ... the barn is filling up with calves.

With all the births, we now are the proud owners of not one - but TWO heifer red and white Holsteins! 

Black nose!

To show contrast

I was gone for the week, and while I was gone Kris was possibly more busy than he's ever been. So were my mom and dad. All three of them were taking care of my kids. They've asked me not to leave again - they're just joking, I'm sure! Right? Haha?

The fun/work in the calf barn never stops

It's nice to come home to a place that, to me, is just as beautiful as where you vacation.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Calves and more

Kris pulled a calf yesterday.  He said it was huge, and he knew the cow wouldn't be able to have it on her own.  The boys were with him, and later my son imitated Kris pulling the calf.  His face turned red and everything as he pretend-strained!  But it all worked out - a giant bull and a happy cow. 

If you want to see what's going on on other farms, check out the Farm Fresh Food Blog where I have a guest post this week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fighting cows

The Wall Street Journal had an article recently called, No Bull in Switzerland: In Spring, It's Time for Cow Fighting.  Yes, some Swiss are apparently very serious about cow fighting!  It's a 90-year-old tradition.  (I'm amazed I've never heard of it before.  Doesn't it seem like this would at the very least be a punchline to a joke?)

The article states, "... the action is largely limited to head-butting, heavy breathing and abundant slobber. Some bored bovines simply wander away."

There are drug tests, veterinarian monitors, and training.  It's also a specific breed - Hérens.  Apparently, they are big into establishing herd hierarchy.

Our cows aren't all the same. Some are definitely the leaders of the group - first to go to a new pasture, first to run up to the fence, first to do everything. The herd follows.

Some like people more than others. They rub up against you so much you want them to back off a little.  Lots of slobber.

I see them butting heads out in the field all the time.  They seem to be more playful than establishing hierarchy, but then again ... 'butting heads' has a negative connotation for a reason, right?

Of course, we have Holsteins, not Hérens.  I watched the video ... Hérens are sturdy.  They look more like bulls.  Their fights are much different than what I see between our cows.  Ours are a milking breed, theirs is a fighting breed.

Another funny thing ... this is Switzerland.  Known for being neutral.  But when you can turn a docile field of cud-chewers into fighting machines, what else are you capable of?  Holy cow.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Red and white calf

Yesterday after a tire on the rake split, and we had a hydraulic leak on the packing tractor ... we finished the first cutting of alfalfa! As a result, the guys had to cover the pile of newly cut feed with a giant tarp and tires to hold it down. 

Know what's easier than carrying all the tires up? Using a tractor to do it. The tractor drives over the pile pack it down anyway, so carrying some tires in the bucket just runs it over it a few more times.  (They also carry a ton up on their own.  Even though this is a physically demanding job, the guys actually make it look easy.) 

Not only that, but being this close to a running tractor made it one of the most exciting days of my son's young life. 


You may remember we got a red and white Holstein bull last year.  Today we had our first red and white Holstein calf!

It's a bull, so it won't be gracing our fields, unfortunately.  He'll be raised Josh, the guy who's buying them.

We went down to see him and I was really surprised by his eyes.  They don't look like our other Holstein calves' eyes.  Theirs are very dark, and his are light blue. 

My dad made the joke that he's a really patriotic calf, because he's - ready for it - red, white, and blue. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flat tire

Does that wagon look crooked to you? 

Yes, that is one FLAT tire.

This is the way it works:  the chopper chops the alfalfa and blows it into a wagon.  The wagon is being pulled by a tractor.  When we harvest, we have two tractors pulling two wagons.  Once one is full, the driver dumps it on the pile at the barn.  Then goes back.  It's a cycle so that the wagons never stop moving and the chopper never stops moving.

Unless you get a flat tire! 

The wooden blocks on the ground are for helping jack it up.  You have to jack, put a block under the axle, put a block under the jack, etc.  Since it's full of chopped alfalfa, it's really heavy, too. 

Thankfully, we had another wagon we could use.   Nice to have a spare - tire and wagon.


Kris said this is the busiest week of his life.  He's working every waking hour, and when he's chopping and such, he's planning what he needs to do next.  But he said that he's not sure if it's like this every year and he forgets about it, or if it really is more busy.

I guess next year we can just check the blog posts! 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Double digits

It was a record day yesterday.  Ten calves were born!  Kris saw one of them, because he had to pull the first backward calf of the season. 

Calves are born like this:  front hooves out, head following.  But some calves come out backward.

They almost always have to be pulled when they're backward, because like a breech birth, it's just not supposed to happen that way. 

After Kris got home after his 16 hour day, he was telling me about the calf.  I said, "Didn't you have a backward calf yesterday, or did I already talk to you today?"

He said, "My days are all running together."

If farming were like this every day, people wouldn't be able to farm for their whole lives.  Thankfully we have the winter to forget about how busy it is when it's calving season and harvest all at the same time.

After Kris sat down last night, it started to storm.  He joked, "Maybe it's heat lightning."  We had 60 acres of hay cut (ready to be chopped, but you have to let it dry), and the pile of feed was uncovered.  No one wants that rained on. 

I told him he should get back out there and cover the pile (haha).  It's a really physically demanding job, it takes many people, and there was no way he was going to go do it at 10 p.m.  Not if he planned on getting up in the morning again, anyway. 

Current stats:  39 heifer calves.  72 calves total.  (We sell the bull calves.)  39 of the heifers have had calves, which is good, because they usually get pregnant faster than the cows.  On the flip side, they have more trouble birthing, since it's their first.

Here's to a good Wednesday, which will be much like Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday!

No complaints here though - when Kris worked for Caterpillar he never wanted to talk about work.  He'd come home and he'd say, "I just talked about work all day.  Let's talk about something else."  I was always interested, but he wanted to focus on non-work topics when he wasn't there.

But when your work is your own business, of course you talk about it.  It's our work and life.  As for work-life balance?  It's all the same.  Though he is getting plenty of exercise.  It takes a lot of strength to pull a calf.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The peak

Today was the peak of the busy season for a few reasons:

1. Seven calves were born today.  So far.  This is the goal of seasonal calving - they have them all pretty much at the same time. 

2.  Along with the constant calving, we started cutting the alfalfa today.

3.  Our summer high school employees are still in school.  This is fine, of course, but there's more help when they aren't in school!

4.  Something broke on the disc bine today.

5.  The vacuum pump motor broke again.  It also broke last week.

It all results in the product we know and love!  Once again, thanks to Tracy's 6th hour communication arts class:  Got milk?


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

There are mothers all over the place here. 

As of this minute, we have 30 heifer calves.  I say 'this minute' because Kris is out in the pasture looking for calves right now. 

We had two heifers as of April 28, so now two weeks later we have 30 heifers and 30 bulls.  But it certainly doesn't happen one a day ... there were two different days this week where 8 were born.

Kris is very busy.  To give you an example, he leaves in the morning at 6:30 a.m. because that's when it's light and he can see them calving.  On Friday between calving and feeding and chopping rye, he didn't come home until 7:15 p.m. at night ... when I had some people over.  He stayed up until midnight being a host and started again on Saturday at 6:30 a.m. again!  It's a good thing he's energetic!  My dad gets calves with him on the weekends and he's twice his age.  I think it must keep you young.

Youth must have something to do with it.  Kody is our 20-year-old employee.  He helps Kris get calves on the weekdays.  Know what Kody did in between getting calves and milking one day this week?  Went and lifted weights. 

Yes, the guys are all working hard.  The cows are working hard, too.  Kris just walked in (10:30 p.m.) and said it was another 8-calf day!  Happy Mother's Day to 8 more cows on the farm ... and 200 more to go!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Uterine torsion night

Wow - I've seen two births in two days! This one was not as easy for the cow ... she'd been laboring since morning, but she wasn't dilating or progressing. She was tired and weak. Kris called the veterinarian to see what he thought was wrong.

Russ, our regular vet and friend, came and checked her out. He put on the long glove, cleaned her up, palpated her and immediately said, "It's uterine torsion." That means that her uterus has twisted and there's no way the calf can come out.

Russ let my sons and me feel her, too. I guess we'll all be ready next time we need to make a diagnosis.

Russ said that the new vet in their clinic - it was his first week - was coming. He said, "Don't tell him it's uterine torsion! We'll let him make the diagnosis."

Nick came with his fiancee Karen, who's also a vet. He felt around and made the correct diagnosis. We all cheered.

They told me how you correct a uterine torsion. You turn the cow around, while holding the uterus in place, and it effectively untwists her uterus.

It took some figuring deciding which way was the untwist direction. My dad went to get a long board to brace the calf/uterus part of her.

The vets gave her a bottle of calcium through a needle in her neck to help her in her muscle recovery.

Russ said to Nick, "Do you want to do the surfing?" That's apparently vet lingo for, "Do you want to stand on the board we're placing on the cow?" He did.

Note - the cow was right by the road. Kris said he didn't want to chase her into the barn earlier because she was weak. So, by this time quite a crowd had gathered. Friends, strangers, family members ... the uterine torsion show is on!

Kris, my dad, and the vets started turning her while holding the board in place. She didn't resist. 

Nick palpated her afterward and ... it had turned! We were all so happy.

Now it was time to pull out the calf. He went inside her and placed the chains around the calf's feet.

They pulled. She wasn't dilated, so it took a lot of gentle pulling, because Nick didn't want her to tear.

Then, the big, healthy bull was born!

They sucked out his nose and mouth with a bigger version of the snot suckers they use on human babies.


The cow bled a lot at first, but it stopped and she rallied. She licked off her calf and was standing and walking around.

So, a happy ending to the story! With all its twists and turns. Or, fixing them.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I saw a calf being born today!

I got really lucky. I was writing a blog post and looking out my living room window at the cattle across the road. Right in my line of view I saw a cow with hooves coming out!

I ran outside and watched her. (I was hoping the people in cars driving by didn't take note of my hurried ensemble of a blue jacket, green shorts, and red shoes. Nothing odd going on here! Just a rainbow standing in a field!)

She would stand, lay down, and push. Eat some grass. Stand, lay down, push. Look at me, wondering what I was doing in her birthing room. 45 minutes passed. The rest of the cows became interested in me and started to come over to lick my clothes and skin.

I couldn't tell if she was progressing, but then she stood up and I saw that the calf's head was out.

I called Kris and asked if this was okay or if I should try to pull the calf. He said that it was fine and that if she was standing up and I tried to pull it, she'd run away from me. He said he'd be over in a few minutes.

She laid down, gave a few hard pushes, a quiet moo-an, and out slid the calf!

I can hardly tell you how excited I was! (And still am, really. Made my day.)

The calf was quiet and still. The mother - she was a good one who knew what to do - immediately started licking it to stimulate and dry it. The calf started breathing and bawling.

She really went to work on this calf. A few other cows gathered around and helped her lick it off. She also ate all the grass around it that had fluid from the birth on it.

Did you know almost all placental mammals eat the placenta of their young? Know what mammals don't? Humans (most, anyway), camels, cetaceans (like whales and dolphins), and pinnipeds (like seals and walruses.) Try to bring that up at your next dinner party!

Kris and Josh came over to check out the new calf. Kris saw it was a bull.

I left her still licking off her calf - she did it for at least 15 minutes - and went inside and told a friend that I'd just seen a calf born! She said, "Great! That's really going to free up your schedule this spring."

It was a record day this year ... EIGHT calves born! But yes, this one is clearly my favorite.


Monday, May 7, 2012

Spell it out

This weekend, I had a booth promoting dairy health at the Clinton County Fit Fest.

We handed out at lot of string cheese and milk moustaches.  The moustaches were wildly popular, especially. 

At one point, both the 2012 Michigan Dairy Ambassador Britney Zondlak and the newly crowned Elsie Dairy Festival Little Miss Grace Leavitt were there at the same time!  It was like the Avengers of dairy knowledge.



We're up to 16 heifer calves.  They're across the road from us now.  It was rainy tonight, so I used binoculars to watch a cow labor from my dry living room.  She turned her back to me right before she had it.  It wasn't that great of a view anyway.

I knew Kris hadn't pulled any yet this season, so I asked him - how many had he seen give birth?  Also zero!  I guess I should be happy they're coming easily!


Last week I was talking about how my sister Tracy uses my blog as a teaching tool in her Kansas classroom.

She and her wonderful students sent me a fantastic surprise!  Check out her seventh grade communication arts kids!

Truth or Dairy. Communication and art. A+ for all of them!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Not this time

In order to help me in my quest to see a calf being born, Kris called me to tell me there was a heifer trying to have a calf in the pasture.  I loaded up the kids, we ducked under two electric fences, crept up quietly on the heifer, and watched her labor.

For an hour.


We were having some friends over for dinner. They all arrived, adding four more kids, and we watched her labor.

For another hour.


Then nothing.

We watched another half an hour. (I'm quite the hostess, eh? 'Want to stand in a windy field where we can only whisper while I stare intently at hooves emerging from a cow? GREAT! Then you're going to love this party.')

It was nearly dinnertime and everyone - especially my baby - was hungry. I gave up, resigned myself to the fact I wasn't going to see this one, and slowly drove home. I was willing her to have it as I went past, but no luck.

My friend noted, "You've only seen three calves born in your ENTIRE LIFE?! Even my daughter's seen one born! And she's six years old!"

But you see the difficulty! They have them off by themselves, they have them often at night, and when they do have them where you can see in the middle of the day, it's hard to find three hours that you can stand, watching, with kids you're trying to keep away from manure and the electric fence.

Kris got home a half hour later. He'd checked on her right before driving home. She had the calf in solitude. It was a tiny heifer.


Tomorrow is another day! Hear that, cows?!

Thursday, May 3, 2012


We had a wild storm!

The clouds started rolling in ... they were pretty, until it started raining and I realized - I was a half mile from home, I had a lot of stuff outside, and I left the window open that's right next to all our shoes.

Then, we were surprised by hail. I heard it on the window and ran out to see it. It only hailed here for a little while. Big pieces, though! I put my toes in to show you the size.

Kris drove by, on his way into the field to check for calves. The cows didn't have any in this mess. (Way to go!)

Everything is soaked. There are flood warnings. It's still thundering and lightning right now. But! Check out what we got at the end of the day:

Yes, a pot of gold! Okay, wet shoes. But with a nice view.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Baby news

It's fun looking at the stats on my blog.  I like seeing how many hits I get (and wonder why I get far more direct emails than comments, but that's okay!  Keep 'em coming!). 

I'm curious about seeing what people google to find my blog - some examples from today are 'barn curtains,' 'truth about dairy', 'dairy footbath', and even 'child bookshelf shaped like a barn'.  And I get to see what far-away countries people are reading - hello Russia, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Brazil! 

But closer than that ... my sister Tracy is a middle school teacher in Kansas.  Tracy teaches in a city - to city kids, many of whom have little to no farm exposure.  She often shares what's happening on our farm as a way to teach them a little about dairy farms. 

She asked them the same quiz questions I asked at the health fair.  She answers their questions about farms.  Sometimes she uses images from it as a writing springboard. 

This morning on the phone she asked, "How many calves were born yesterday? I wanted to tell my students."

As of this minute, we now have 8 heifers and 2 bulls.  They're all doing well. 

Kris said that if this year is like last year, these next few weeks are going to be birthing central.  He's going to be in the pasture looking for calves several times a day, feeding calves, teaching calves to drink from buckets, picking out the mothers, and sending them in to be milked.

New babies are always exciting, no matter whether you're across the world, a few miles away, or in a classroom.  (Hi, Tracy's students!)  Welcome to our farm - both calves and visitors.