Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Not for the queasy

Russ had to lance an abscess today! 

One doesn't often get to use that phrase.  But Kris told me yesterday our vet, Russ, was coming over because of a calf's umbilical abscess. 

We wanted to make sure it wasn't an umbilical hernia.  No one would want to lance that on accident, because that would really injure the calf.  Sometimes a calf has a half hernia, half abscess.  Anyway, I got to go along because my mom generously offered to stay with my napping kids.  My niece Caroline - a city girl - went with me.  

Russ got out a shot to put the calf under. Caroline said, "You look like a doctor."

Kris got out a halter for the calf.

"How did you notice the abscess ..." I started to say, until I saw the calf. That's right. You see it too. Not a normal bellybutton at all.

Russ gave her the shot, put the halter on her, and tied her to the gate.

Yes, flip flops are what I wear to every minor calf operation.

He let Caroline feel it and told her what he was going to do.

He explained that abscesses commonly occur in bellybuttons because they're a vulnerable entry point for bacteria.  The bacteria causes an inflammatory response, which triggers the immune system to form a cavity to contain the infection and prevent it from spreading.  The interior liquefies and pus forms.  The area expands, creating tension and inflammation. 

He got a scalpel.  If you're easily grossed out by bodily fluids, scroll down past these two pictures. 

We all got out of the way as he lanced it. 

Caroline was duly impressed.  You can tell by her expression.  Oh, you don't think that's what her face is saying?

Russ showed us the calf's response to the infection - its body had built up a thick interior wall.

Russ said, "The solution to pollution is dilution," as he used a syringe full of soapy water to wash out the cavity. 

He used fly spray that's safe for wounds.  He said you can't close the wound up, because it would just become infected again.  He told Kris to continue spraying fly spray on it for the next few days. 

Success! Just another day at work.

Waking up, feeling woozy, but much less self-conscious about her navel.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Building up and tearing down

There's so much to see around here ... so much going on.  We get up early, we stay up late - summers are the best! 

It rained the past two days, thank goodness.  Kris said the corn's going to be short, but at least it'll have ears on it now.   

We're adding onto our cement pad so that we can store even more feed outside for the cattle.  Drought or no drought, we're going to have more cattle and that means they need more feed.  And we need a place to put it.  We're using the muddiest part of the pasture for the silage pad.  Here's the truck delivering one of its many truckloads of sand to put under the cement.  Note the fascinated kids, too.

We continue to modernize the facilities.  Current studies show that cattle do better when they have lots of ventilation.  So, we took steel off both sides of the barn in order to let air circulate better. 

The cattle have a lot to see, too.  We continue to have visitors and friends stop by for their annual visit.  Dump trucks, destruction, and animals.  It's practically Disney World.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fresh air

The barn looks like a geometric puzzle!  Our latest addition is a tube fan. 

This is the way it works.  The fan on the outside of the barn is attached to a plastic tube.  It blows air through the tube.

The entire length of the tube has little holes in it.  The air blows through these holes and pumps fresh air into the barn.  According to the experience of other farmers, the fresh air helps the calves not get pneumonia, be more comfortable, and as a result, grow better. 

The first calves - now that they're older - are no longer in individual pens.  Now they're in small group pens of eight.  You can see that we've removed the dividers between the pens and swung out the gates.  Now they're able to drink from the same waterer and eat the feed that we give them in the alley.

Fresh air for them, fresh air for my kids.  We're building up immunities left and right.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ice cream and rain - a perfect day

My friend Trisha and I took our kids to Michigan State University's Dairy Store.

When I was in school there, I went there a lot.  Know why?  I had to pass it to walk to class.  Right by it!  How could I not stop?

As their site puts it, the Dairy Store "is many things­—our plant, our stores, an educational and outreach center, and more. We make, package and sell delicious ice creams and cheeses."

They have a viewing balcony of their factory.  We watched the workers package up their ice cream.  We also watched an educational video up there that told us all about it - even that the Dairy Store sells their excess milk to MMPA, which is the same co-op we belong to as well!  (Did I cheer when they showed the MMPA sign?  I guess you'd have to be there to know.  Okay, yes.  Did you hear me?)

I haven't been in a few years, and ... I forgot.  Their ice cream, which they make onsite, is the creamiest ice cream I've ever had.  And I've eaten a lot of ice cream, all over this land.  Every day on vacation.  In other countries.  For instance, in Costa Rica, they kept serving it to me alongside jello.  I don't even like jello, nor did I like it touching my ice cream.  But, it was a cultural experience either way. 

Trisha's son had a pamphlet called Michigan Adventure.  One of the reasons we went there today was for him to get it stamped by the Dairy Store workers.  It's a statewide thing - if he does nine of the events he gets entered into a drawing for a bunch of prizes, like an iPad. 

But we all won today!

This was a framed picture up in the store

Watching the magic happen

Trisha paints her toenails for every occasion, even a Dairy Store visit!


Thankfully, thankfully, it rained yesterday and all of today.  I think we'll probably end up with almost an inch.  We needed it so much.  I can almost feel the earth sighing with relief.  No, wait - that was everyone who lives here.  You can tell you're friends with a lot of people in agriculture when every Facebook post is proclaiming: "RAIN!  It's RAINING!  My rain dance worked!  Finally!"  Let's hope the crops respond!

Eating cheese

I had some cheese that got a little moldy.  (I don't know how that happened.  Usually the boys in this house eat food fast enough - long before mold spores can even think about forming.)

I put it outside for the barn cat.  He wasn't around, and as I was returning outside, I saw something interesting.

Three sparrows were eating the cheese.  One of the big sparrows was also feeding it to the little baby sparrow.

Thanks to smart phone technology, I immediately googled 'Do birds eat cheese?'  I saw that tons of people had asked it before me, and that several sites assured me birds did. 

Now that I think of it, it's kind of funny that I googled 'Do birds eat cheese' when I was seeing with my own eyes that they did. 

What my real question was ... are these birds eating cheese because they live on a farm?  Is the dairy marketing working on people and animals alike?!

But birds everywhere are eating cheese.  Great!  So, instead of buying bird seed, put out some cheese.  The sites tell me it may even attract different species than you normally see in your yard.

It might also attract cats like our barn cat, who will then eat those birds. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Today the Lansing State Journal front page showed a sad farmer looking at his even sadder corn.  It was 99 degrees and windy today - a hot wind.  My mom said it was "dust bowl hot" outside.  Really, anything with the words "dust bowl" as a preface is not going to be a positive.  Dust bowl fashion!  Dust bowl fine dining!  Doesn't work.

The road commission was digging a ditch on our road so we couldn't drive down to the calf barn.  I had friends (and their kids) visiting from out of town and out of state.  It seemed much more pleasant to stay in the pool than to walk down to the barn. 

They were leaving and my friend Leslie said, "Well, we didn't go on a farm tour this year, so I guess that means ... we won't make the blog."  Instead, we all praised ice cream and discussed how many teats a cow has on her udder.  Always a learning experience for the kids!

There's thunder and lightning outside.  The forecast says there's a 100% chance of rain tonight.  I'm hoping they're right.

The weather did produce a beautiful sunset view.  It helps that it looks out over irrigated pasture.  It was dust bowl pretty.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I've barely had time to breathe this week - but all for good reasons!  My family is visiting, friends have been visiting, and today we held our annual Anderson Olympics and my mom won.  (She beat my dad and me in a playoff.  She was one of two people there with the last name 'Anderson', so I guess it's okay and I'm over it.  I'm not really constantly replaying in my head how I could have won.) 

Of course everything's been busy on the farm, too.  It's July!  Of course it is!  Here are two cuties (my friend Katie's kids) petting our latest red and white bull.

It's going to get a lot more colorful out on our pastures for years to come.  We bought 23 heifers from another farm, and half of them are red and white!  I like it because it reminds me of when my grandpa and dad had Guernsey cows, and I just like the way they look different than what I usually see.

It rained at the end of our Olympics tonight, which none of us minded, since we need rain so much.  Is there any better end to a day on a farm?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Third cutting

After I finished teaching swimming lessons today, one of my student's moms gestured to the tractors driving past our house said, "So, all this equipment going by is yours, then?"

I told her yes, because we were cutting alfalfa today, which we used to feed our cattle.

Another friend said, "Wait - didn't you JUST do that?!" 

The answer is ... yes!  Farmers cut alfalfa three or four times a season.

If you think about how often you have to mow your lawn, it gives you an idea of how fast alfalfa grows.  (Then you add in great seeds, good soil, and fertilizer.  I don't do any of that to my lawn.  Which you would know if you drove past my house.)

And then you add rain.  Or in the case of this cutting - almost no rain. 

Our lawn is brown and dry.  Our alfalfa looks pretty good in the field, but it's thin.  We were able to cut a lot of crop today in just a little time.  Not preferred. 

You can't get perfect rain every year - as another friend said, "That's why you buy crop insurance!"  Unfortunately, it's not that easy, because everyone needs feed for their animals, and money's a poor substitute.

But there's hope for the next cutting, which will happen in about four or five more weeks.  Rain dependent.

At least the weather is good for swimming lessons.   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Milking the controversy

My dairy farmer friend pointed me to an article today. 

Mark Bittman, who doesn't like milk and doesn't want anyone else to either, wrote, "But what about the bucolic cow on the family farm? [They] barely exist: “Given the Kafkaesque federal milk marketing order system, it’s impossible for anyone to make a living producing and selling milk,” says Anne Mendelson, author of “Milk.” “The exceptions are the very largest dairy farms, factory operations with anything from 10,000 to 30,000 cows, which can exploit the system, and the few small farmers who can opt out of it and sell directly to an assured market, and who can afford the luxury of treating the animals decently.”

Isn't that amazing?  We - and our neighbors - don't exist.  Also, treating animals well isn't a luxury, it's a necessity.  All dairy farmers depend on their animals, which is why they treat them extremely well and do all they can to keep them healthy and fit. 

This week is so hot - we do all we can to help keep the cattle cool.  We run fans in the barns.  We move them to pastures with the best shade.  We provide them with ample water and feed.  Kris manipulates the irrigation so that it'll spray right over top of them.  A farmer who neglects his cattle gets a crummy return!

To the New York Times, we're an impossibility.  Sometimes it does seem like a fairy tale, but not for the reasons they think. 

Cow and her newborn calf today

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Whether weather

I spent the last week in New Mexico, attending my cousin's wedding and visiting my brother Gage.  My dad flew there from here.  After he retired from farming, he took flight lessons, bought a plane, and flies around the country.

He and my brother had a very eventful flight from one city to another in New Mexico.  There were thunderstorms, dust storms, and huge gusts of wind out of nowhere. 

They were telling us about it, and my dad said it was sort of fun.  He said that flying with obstacles -going around the storms and trying to avoid the wind - made it interesting.

Gage said, "Isn't that funny, dad?  You went from a job that depends on the weather ... to a hobby that depends on the weather."


We tried magic milk flavoring straws that I blogged about earlier.  My niece, sons, and I thought they were great.  They're straws that have filters on either end and are filled with chocolate powdery-crystals that dissolve as you drink.  So by the time the milk is in your mouth, it tastes like chocolate.  It's such a great idea. 

When things are better than good, I often say, "That's awfully good."  My son apparently wanted to express just HOW much he liked it, but didn't get it quite right. 

To give you an idea of just how great it tasted, my son said, "It's horribly, awfully good."


It has been dry, dry, dry and hot, hot, hot.  No rain and in the 90s for over a week.  The cows don't like it, the corn is all withery-looking, and the irrigation system runs all the time on the pastures. 

Last night, out of nowhere, we had a storm.  At 3:00 a.m. - lightning!  Thunder!  Wind!  The power went out and Kris left the house (before it came back on) to go and start the generator in order to be able to milk.  So we didn't need to use it.  Later in the day, our employee had to borrow it to milk his cows, because his power wasn't back on yet! 

This also happened last night:


If you're having trouble identifying what you're seeing, try and spot ...

- a patio chair
- an umbrella (CLOSED, but didn't seem to matter)
- a table that was seemingly pushed six feet by the wind
- glass shards that used to be the tabletop covering the cement and pool bottom
- a mouse using a diaper as a lifeboat - after all it'd been through, I saved it.  It'd had a rough night, obviously.  (My brother suggested that it actually pushed the table in.  I wished I'd have thought of that before I let it run off.)

But!  The good news is that it rained.  We got 3/4 of an inch.  Forget rain dancing - I guess the sacrificial glass table is what works.