Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Not a normal morning

Ah - a picture like so many I've taken. Cattle grazing peacefully in the pasture.
Except it's not a pasture and I didn't take the picture. It's our alfalfa field, and there's no fence. These cattle are out!
I got a call this morning from a neighbor that the cows were out.  I called Kris and heard tons of mooing.  I said, "Oh, you know.  Never mind." 
A few minutes later our neighbor (and friend) Sharon called and told me, "This is what I love about living in the country."  She was so amused to see the cows out running around!  She grabbed her camera and sent me the pictures.
Kris and the guys got them in fairly quickly, because they were - surprise! - in a herd.  Here, Sharon captured them turning the corner next to her yard.     
And some who were running through their yard after they missed the gate home ...

I told some friends tonight that the cows had gotten out this morning and one said, "Well, where would they go?  Don't they just stand around?"  I told them that cows can run really fast - definitely faster than a person. 

Of course someone who hadn't been around cattle wouldn't know that - but let me tell you!  They can RUN!  We have to get them back in with the help of quads and trucks. 

Sharon told me, "I will be smiling and relaying this story all day!" 

No one wants the cows to get out, so it's great when you have understanding neighbors.  And even better when they have their cameras ready to capture the cow-sprinting action!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Almost last

A cow was kind enough to calve right in front of our house yesterday!  As I walked out toward her, I could see she was really close.  When I got in a good spot to watch, she pushed out her calf!  It was the perfect timing.

Newborn. It actually doesn't get any more new than this. 
All cleaned off and mooing, just minutes old

Kris said that later she also gave birth to another - she had twins.  I guess I was bound to see at least one of them be born ...

It's also that time of year - on Friday we moved the yearlings (that's what you call cattle that are a year old) at the old barn out to pasture.  They've been kicking up their heels in delight all weekend long.  They haven't even broken out yet - fingers crossed. 

So now the pasture is full of heifers.  In the paddock next to them are the last 11 cows that have yet to give birth.  The cycle continues, with one huge difference - this is the most calves I've seen born in any year!  2012 will go down in history!

That number?  Yeah, it's three.  Three births.  Two natural, one assisted.  It's a start.   

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Take a tour

We hosted a farm tour Monday and today.  It's such a beautiful time of year!  Blue sky, green grass, perfect temperature. 
We finished the alfalfa last night.  It all went well, except a hydraulic line did burst.  Mike blamed me for writing that nothing had gone wrong yet.  I should've known better!  The machinery is always listening ... and apparently has internet access.
Just a few weeks ago that the grass was so crunchy it hurt to walk barefoot on it. Now it's soft and growing fast again! The pasture is, of course, benefiting from this, too.  Irrigation is wonderful, but nothing beats real rain.
Look at that sky.  The barn sets it off nicely.  I'm only half-joking.  When we show the barn to people on tours I'm like a new homeowner.  Look at the features - the rafters, the waterers, the new tube fans!

Our dairy barn - now more ventilation, still a good parlor inside.

Speaking of grass, it's the time of year to plant some more.  But not just for cattle! Here's our farm's sixth generation watering the new grass below our centennial farm sign. 

What's more beautiful than a summer day?  To me, nothing.  But a close second?  Watching your kid do his first actual chore ... and seeming to enjoy it.  This grass is not going to go dry!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One, two, three, four ... cuttings of alfalfa

 Fourth cutting!

That's right - four times a year we cut, rake, and chop the alfalfa to feed our cattle.  Seems like we just covered the pile and put on the tires.  But now it's time to take off the tires, remove the plastic, and add more feed for the long winter! 

The timing worked okay on this one - it's supposed to be nice all this week.  We chopped all day today and should be able to finish tomorrow.  I almost hate to say that, because it's as if I'm just asking for a flat tire/breakdown/weather/other unforeseen delay.  It's like going to the airport and saying, "I haven't ever had a flight cancelled!"  (I would never say that.  My flights get cancelled all the time, especially when trying to return from other countries.  With no backup to watch the children.)

The boys wanted to ride with Kris in the tractor, so we went to see him.  My youngest had to go to bed, so he was just stopping by to say hello.

The boys waited patiently until Kris was able to stop and pick them up.

Kris came to see Max.  Kris doesn't even flinch anymore when I continually take his picture. 


Off to rake in the tractor.

After they got home, the boys excitedly told me they drove the tractor.  They were also both really thirsty.  Cole said, "It was hot, dusty, and exhausty.  You know, it's an old tractor."

Not as old as these boys seem.  By the time they can drive a tractor for real, they won't even remember their first cutting. 

Here's to a great post-drought alfalfa harvest!  And a merry corn chopping to come!

Saturday, August 18, 2012


We went with a group of young farmers to tour the Michigan Milk Producers Association headquarters in Novi, MI.  MMPA is our member-owned cooperative.

It was fascinating!  Our tour started in the lab with Patti Huttula.  She explained everything that the three lab technicians were doing and how the machines worked. 

Every day, every farm gets an online report on their milk's components - butterfat, protein, somatic cell count, and other solids. 

While I realized this, and knew that the milk was tested, I loved seeing how it actually happens. 

Huge, intricate, well-oiled machines.

Look at those insides!

I asked Patti that if the machines needed configuring, could they do it, or did someone come in to fix it?  She kind of laughed and said that the guy who fixes the machine is actually her fiance.  She said she knew exactly which day they installed the machine because that's the day she met him.

We moved on to the office area, where Joe Diglio, director of finance, talked about how much he loved accounting.

Have you ever seen anyone look so excited about accounting before?  He wasn't faking.

He took us around to meet more staff members, and they were all so cheerful and positive.  It was obvious that they took pride in their work.

MMPA President Ken Nobis talked in part about the political aspect of our milk price.  GM Clay Galarneau detailed how the calculations for the milk check work and why.  Dean Letter, director of member services, talked about milk quality issues.

When I was in high school I was active in student council and drama.  I knew that there was a lot of work to be done before any school event or play.  I could never again go to any production without thinking about how someone ordered the linens, and someone painted that set piece, and someone designed posters, printed them, and put them up to get me there in the first place.

While I knew in general that our co-op did the behind-the-scenes work, it was great to see it in specific.  One of the benefits of belonging to a co-op is that while we're involved in milk production every day, there's a whole network of people involved in testing, marketing, and selling that milk.

And when they seem to like it ... and throw in a romantic story?  All the better.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Writing a letter

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that impelled me to write a letter to the editor

As published, it reads:

  Retired agriculture and economics professor Ed Jesse says that organic dairy cows produce less milk because they can't be given antibiotics ("Got Milk? Spinoff Shows Lure of Organic," Marketplace, Aug. 9).

  Your readers, however, shouldn't take this to mean that antibiotics are found in traditional milk. On a traditional farm, sick cows on antibiotics are milked into a separate container, and the milk is dumped until the antibiotics are out of the cow's system.

  If a trace of antibiotics is found in a tank delivered to a processing plant, the entire load is dumped—yours and whatever other farms' milk is in the tank. You don't get paid and you are fined. The tainted milk never reaches the processing plant's tank.

  Consumers can be assured that all milk, traditional and organic, is antibiotic-free.

Carla Wardin
Evergreen Dairy Inc.

As the reporter also stated in the article, "Consumers are willing to pay much higher prices for products they perceive to be more healthy."  Perception is king, but when consumers know the facts, they can make a more informed choice.

Enjoy your milk today - and every day!  For me, opening the paper and seeing my letter made it one of the best breakfasts ever. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cementing it

I mentioned earlier that we're pouring more cement to make a larger silage pad.  (A silage pad is a cement slab where we pile the feed we grow.  We cover it with a plastic tarp and tires, then take a little of it out every day to feed the cattle the rest of the year.) 

Pouring the pad is quite a process - and really fun to watch.

First, there's the sky high pipeline.

 It takes a lot of guys to do it, since of course it sets quickly.

Look how far that angles!

Pasture to pavement.  It was a really wet part of the pasture anyway.

They used something called a laser screed.  I don't know if this is the brand they use, but the link offers a good description of how it works.  Basically, it levels the concrete using lasers. 

I've only heard the word 'screed' to describe a written rant before, but I see now that this use is the second definition.  No angry rants here!  It looks great and we're ready to fill it up. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Chocolate milk and racing

Today we ran a race that had a chocolate milk station at the end!

It was sponsored by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.  They're giving out milk at a series of races around the state.  You can find out more at the Choose Chocolate Milk site.

I came home and saw this article:

Chocolate milk? At the Olympic pool, it's the drink of champions.

It reads in part:

"Jessica Hardy emerged from the Olympic pool on Friday, clutching the drink that would aid her in recovering from her performance.

Not water. Not Gatorade. Not some special sports drink.

Hardy was chugging chocolate milk.

"I won't do energy drinks, with my supplement history," Hardy said. "Chocolate milk is as good as it gets."

Whether they're on land or water, athletes love the taste of chocolate milk, the proven science behind it, and ... yes, the taste again.