Saturday, October 27, 2012

Preg check

Our vet Russ came to do what farmers call a 'preg check.' 

What it means is that he palpates them (yes, I'm talking about with the shoulder-high plastic glove) to see if they are pregnant. 

He had to check 11 of them, because they were the only ones left that hadn't calved this year.  Three of them were not pregnant, so we're selling them.  Not bad numbers! 

Kris said Russ felt one of them and said, "Oooh. She's going to have this calf soon."  Kris joked, "Do you just want to pull it out?"  He didn't, but then she calved the next day.

The other seven cows will calve pretty soon. Hopefully sooner rather than later because it's getting cold! It was 75 degrees this last week but yesterday morning it was in the 30s. 

We had a full moon last night.  There's an old wive's tale that full moons make women go into labor.  People think it about cows, too.  I'm sure some researcher, somewhere, has done the same study on cows.  We'll see what the real-life results are today!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

First ever giveaway

When I was the dairy spokesperson on the Pure Michigan Agriculture Tour last week, the Michigan Ag Council gave me a gift bag filled with all sorts of cool, ag-centered items.

They also gave me one to give away! 

Kroger gift card, gloves, coffee cup, meat thermometer, Pure Michigan ag hat, flashlight, clip, marker, oil, bag, etc ...

Here's how to enter: just leave a comment telling me either 1) something you learned from this blog, 2) something you hope to learn from this blog, or 3) your favorite dairy product.

I'll collect comments until Nov 1 at 5:00 p.m.  I'll use a random number generator  to pick a number, and that commenter will walk away with (well, really, I'll mail it) this gift bag, plus a Got Chocolate Milk? t-shirt. 

Friends and family, you're welcome to comment also.  But I have a shirt just like this, so let's not wear them at the same time.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

911 and OYDC

After a lifetime of never calling 911, I've now called it twice in two days.

The first time was on the way home from Illinois.  We saw a truck pulling a cattle trailer full of straw, and the straw was on fire!  The driver and the passenger had stopped the vehicle and were pulling the burning straw out of the trailer.  It was obvious it had just started.  I called 911 and the operator answered, "Are you calling about a truck on fire on the highway?"

That was fast!  Everyone driving by must have called.  Poor farmer!

Tonight I did it at a township board meeting when a participant had a medical emergency.  It was very scary and the ambulance came and took him away.  It actually took 15 minutes for it to arrive.  Note - only have a medical emergency in an urban area.


On a happier note - Kris and I were selected as the state winning 2012 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators (OYDC) in August.  Alex Schnabelrauch came out to our farm to interview us and wrote a really nice article.  If you'd like to see it, that issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger is now online. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Crop farm

Apparently, I like to spend my weekends visiting my friends on farms.  That's what we did again, but this time in Illinois!  We went to visit a longtime friend who also quit Caterpillar to farm with his family. 

They are cash crop farmers and they grow corn and soybeans.  He showed us around his fields, their buildings, and their new grain elevator.  I'd never really seen how an elevator works before - it takes in the corn, dries, and stores it - and of course it's all computerized and technologically advanced like all farming is now.

Central Illinois looks so different than mid-Michigan.  You can certainly tell that their soil is meant to grow crops, and that our soil is meant to house dairy farms! 

Their soil: Black.  I mean, really black.  They have potting soil.

Our soil: Light brown.

Their fields:  Crops, or harvested crops, as far as the eye can see.

Our fields: Crops, broken up by trees and treelines and houses and buildings.

Their land:  Hundreds of acres uninterrupted.

Our land: Acres really interrupted.  Definitely smaller fields.

As I kept commenting, there's a reason our state is full of dairy farms and theirs is full of crops.  That's what we're each made for!

The six-hour drive was even fine.  As we passed barns, fields, and crops, we discussed every detail of them.  Driving in farm country is never boring.

We got to meet new people, see our old friends, and had a great time.  Then it was time to return home ... back to putting our noses to the grindstone.

If you saw a grindstone like this, wouldn't you pose?  Our friend said I was the first.  I like bringing idioms to life.  Now I'll be killing two birds with one stone, betting the farm, and partying 'til the cows come home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pure Michigan Agricultural Tour

Today I went with the Michigan Ag Council as the dairy spokesperson (and blogger) for the first Pure Michigan Agriculture farm tour! 

It was so much fun.  The Ag Council invited bloggers and food writers to learn about Michigan farming and food production. 

First, we visited the Horning Farm in Manchester, MI.  They milk about 500 cows.  Earl Horning was able to answer their many questions - about organic, antibiotics (not in milk!), GMO, feed, raw milk, his favorite calves ... even what he would do with his cattle in the event of a tornado.  It's always so interesting to talk to people about farming and get their different perspectives.

Earl showing off his milking parlor

Letting the milker milk our fingers

We next went to the Michigan Dairy LLC in Livonia.  This is a milk processing and bottling plant owned by Kroger.  We went inside and I said, "It smells like milk in here."  Another blogger, Camille, laughed and said, "Who says that?"  But it did! 

I thought the plant was fascinating.  I love factory tours!  I've been to the milk plant in Ovid, but this one was different - mostly due to the bottling.  We got to see the bottles being made, being moved, being filled, and being moved out - all in two rooms.  We saw the lab, we checked out all the various machines to separate and pasteurize the milk, and we got to talk to really enthusiastic (and proud) employees.  The bloggers asked really good questions and liked the answers.  After hearing about the local milk, the safety principles in place, and the dairy farm practices, Lisa said, "This makes me really want to buy milk at Kroger!"  (Which I of course support because Kroger is a great MMPA customer!)

I also learned something I'd never even thought about - milk goes from the farm to the grocery shelf in about 40 hours.  Or shorter.  Occasionally it'll be longer if a farm does every other day pickup and the grocery store does every other day shelving.  But that's the exception.  MOSTLY, the milk you're buying just came from the farm.  The shipping, bottling, and shelving happens very quickly! 

We weren't allowed to take pictures in the plant, which is too bad, because we were wearing hairnets, helmets, glasses, boots, and coats.  Maybe one will turn up tomorrow!

We then went to Kroger to hear about their Pure Michigan campaign and to have lunch.  First, Dale walked us through the store and showed us the giant signs that featured Michigan farmers that sell their products to Kroger.  I asked if all Krogers had these signs and he told me yes.  I hadn't noticed them at my Kroger - and I even know some of the farmers on the signs! 

Then we came upon our beautiful milk-tasting table. 

Which called for a toast:

Then we walked to the dairy section and were surprised by ... our lunch spread! 

Three beautiful tables, covered with tablecloths, pretty place settings, tulips, and food, right among the shoppers!

Just a normal day in the dairy section

We were waited on and had a fabulous Michigan-made meal.  I'm a super picky eater, and I never expect to eat what's served at a dinner.  But I ate every bite.  (For those who know me personally, yes, this is the first time it's ever happened.)

Portobello mushroom covered in squashes and eggplant, ice cream with warm apples, chocolate milk ... delicious. 
Even our tulips had a 'From Michigan, For Michigan' sign 

Good looking and good tasting

And I never let my kids eat in the grocery store ...

Wonderful day, interesting people, fun environment - and a meal I didn't EVEN MAKE.  Hard to beat.

On the way home, I had to buy milk.  I went to my local Kroger.  I checked out the dairy section and - yes!  There were giant signs featuring Michigan farmers.  They've been there all along and I just hadn't noticed.  Learn something new every day, even in my own backyard ... or grocery aisle.   


Check out some of the other attendees' sites to get their take on the tour! 
Lauren Weber – Mrs. Weber’s Neighborhood
Camille Jamerson – The Super Family 13
Alysia George - Michigal
Regina Sober – The Crazy Nuts Mom
Lisa Nocera – Smart Food and Fit
Lisa Paparelli – Simple Food First
Kara Dykstra – Domestic Endeavors

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Back to the farm

The Wall Street Journal dedicated an entire section of the paper yesterday to agricultural issues.  One article called The Ultimate Growth Business started like this:

"Every year, hosts of Americans are trading the corporate world for greener pastures. Literally.

They're gathering up their savings and severance packages or cashing in their retirement plans and plowing the money into small farms—raising a few acres' worth of crops or livestock to sell.

The motives of these start-up farmers run the gamut. Some just want to escape the workaday world, others are fueled by environmental idealism, and still others see it as a straightforward entrepreneurial opportunity. Most of them, though, are betting that the public's current hunger for fresh, local food will keep them afloat."

We're practically trendy - haha! 

Other topics included growing crops in high rises, how to create better tasting tomatoes, and robot harvesters.  Pretty interesting ... and surprising to see in my Monday Far-from-Wall-Street Journal. 


Even though it's not as busy in the fields now, Kris is very busy with meetings.  Yesterday he went straight from a three-hour bank meeting to a two-hour Michigan Department of Agriculture meeting.  Today he's taking four calves to sell at an auction.  There's nothing wrong with them - they were just born later than the others and we like the herd to be on the same schedule.  He's also checking out another barn that a builder built in a distant town. 

He was looking at going on a pasture walk tomorrow - which is a tour that MSU Extension organizes and shows farmers different types of grazing operations - but it's three hours away.  I think he'd have a tough time finding an extra six hours in the day to do the drive, let alone the tour.


I'm really excited about what I'm doing on Thursday.  I'm going to be the dairy spokesperson on a Pure Michigan Agriculture farm tour.  It's a tour for food writers, bloggers, and journalists.  We're touring a dairy farm, a plant, and even having a milk tasting event.  I'll tell you all about it here!  If you want updates as it happens, you can follow me on twitter - @carlashelley.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


Kris finished the final cutting of alfalfa and covered the pile for the last time this year.  Finished!  End!   Hooray! 

Usually when they cover the pile, it's extremely hot.  This time they did it wearing hats and gloves.  The wind was blowing really hard too.  Even though he was bundled up, my son came home shivering, with blue lips.  Looks like the real fall is here ...


This morning Kris got home and reported that a cow had partially fallen in the manure pit!  Her leg slipped in and Kris and my dad were able to get a halter on her and pull her out with a skid steer.  Thank goodness for heavy equipment! 

To give you an example of how unusual this is, this is the first time this has happened since we've moved here.  The manure pits are covered with heavy duty covers, but she managed to get it just right and knock one.  Bet she won't do that again!


Last weekend we visited our wonderful friend Brian Pridgeon's farm for the first time.  Their farm has been in business 176 years - longer than Michigan has been a state.

Yes.  1836! 
Kris, the boys and I had never been on a pig farm before.  It was really interesting.  Here's Brian, the seventh generation to farm here:

Defended his master's thesis just a few days after this picture was taken.  He's even happier now!

We toured the barns and the grounds.  I've never seen pigs so little (just born the day before) or that big.  SOME PIGS ARE HUGE!  I'd never really heard so many pigs making noise at once.  The little ones do squeal, but the big ones definitely do not oink.  It's more a grunt.  Not like the word 'oink' at all.  (Much like most animal noises, the words don't do justice.)

We all enjoyed the tour. 

My youngest son loves animals - has always loved cows and cats and dogs.  This was his first up close encounter with a pig:

What a look.

I guess he's going to stick to dairy cows for awhile.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

News and necropsy

It's been a stressful week around here ...

First of all, a cow died.  We asked the vet to do a necropsy that night to find out why.  It had hemorrhagic bowel syndrome, also known as bloody gut.  Sounds terrible, doesn't it?  Yesterday morning Kris raced to a town to buy medicine to hopefully prevent any other cows from getting it.

We're also doing the fifth cutting of alfalfa this week.  It's really hard to plan for cutting alfalfa when it's cold, windy, rain is predicted ... I mean, it's fall!  But the alfalfa is ready to cut and you can never have too much feed.


My friend today said that she heard 1) that farmers were feeding their cattle candy and 2) that farmers could get emails telling them when a cow was fertile.

I'm part of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and a few days ago they were encouraging people to explain to Americans the effect the drought has had on farmers.  When I read it I thought - that's funny ... everyone knows about the drought.  But not so!

The article "Cash-Strapped Farmers Feed Candy to Cows" explains it well:

"Feeding candy to cows has become a more popular practice in tandem with the rising price of corn, which has doubled since 2009, fueled by government-subsidized demand for ethanol and this year's drought. Thrifty and resourceful farmers are tapping into the obscure market for cast-off food ingredients. Cut-rate byproducts of dubious value for human consumption seem to make fine fodder for cows. While corn goes for about $315 a ton, ice-cream sprinkles can be had for as little as $160 a ton.

"As the price of corn has climbed, farmers either sold off their pigs and cattle, or they found alternative feeds," said Mike Yoder, a dairy farmer in Middlebury, Ind. He feeds his 400 cows bits of candy, hot chocolate mix, crumbled cookies, breakfast cereal, trail mix, dried cranberries, orange peelings and ice cream sprinkles, which are blended into more traditional forms of feed, like hay.

The farmer said that he goes over the feed menu every couple of weeks with a livestock nutritionist who advised him to cap the candy at 3% of a cow's diet."

We've had a feed ration with ground up cereal added before.

But really, the point of it is, people feed their cattle according to nutritionists.  The unusable human food is ground up and added to a grain mix.  It's not like their feeders are full of candy canes.

And, to give you some perspective, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this was the most severe and extensive drought in 25 years.  So, farmers are really feeding their cattle what they can, when they can, in order to not go out of business.   


As for the texting fertility information, there's this article: "Swiss Dairy Cows Send Text When They Are In Heat".

I can see why people would think this was amusing, since they so infrequently get texts saying, "508 is in heat!"   But I live in a world where I'm aware that our neighbors' robot milker automatically calls their phone when something goes wrong.  But the technology for determining when cows are in heat has been there a long time. 

I well remember growing up when we had a TV in my house that showed the cattle in the barn.  My mom would look at it and take note of which ones were in heat.  We've been on farms where the cows wear temperature monitors that transmit their fertility information every time they go in to be milked.  On our farm, we use natural service bulls, so they have their own ways of telling which cows are in heat.  They don't need a text message.  They seem to have their own way of telling each other, probably something like "OMG! 508 is in heat!" 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sound the alarm

At 7:09 p.m. I decided to take advantage of the last few rays of sunlight and run down our road. 

As I ran past the dairy barn, I heard a lot of cows mooing.  They're certainly excited about something, I thought.  I looked closer and saw - they were out! 

Some of them were milling around the front of the barn, some were turning toward the feed piles, and some were hanging out along the barn.  All of them were eating weeds and having a good time.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket and called Kris.  I started herding them back in and considered taking a picture, but I figured I'd better pay attention to my job. 

The cattle very easily turned back and headed in the right direction.  Kris pulled up, and we got them back in where they were supposed to be.

Kris said he was really glad I went running there because they'd just gotten out and hadn't gotten far ... and it would've been horrible getting them in in the dark.  Agreed!  I was glad too - I've never been the one to sound the alarm before.  Proximity has its advantages.

I started running again at 7:22 p.m.  As a result of the detour, it got dark before I finished.  I scared up three deer and started running while yelling, "I'm not a deer!"  After all, it's hunting season - you can never be too careful.  I guess I was yelling for any stray cattle's sake, too.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Field trip

Michigan State University students came here on a field trip today! 

Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen brought 50 animal science students out to our farm.  She told us that the students ranged from people who came from their own farms and plan to go back, to people who've never been on a farm until today.

They visited a large dairy down the road to see their setup.  Then they came here to talk about pasturing, seasonal calving, and the transitional barn.  Kris had a good time talking to them, and of course we welcome people anytime.

A field trip literally in a field.   

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall baby

Kris stopped by to tell me there was a cow across the road from our house who was starting to calve.  (The kids and I didn't notice, as we were far too busy throwing raking leaves.)
He loaded them up in the truck to do chores and I headed out in the field to see if I could see yet another calf being born! 
The excitement has not worn off, I assure you.
Beautiful day:
The cow was really far along and pushing the calf out easily.  The calf's tongue was sticking out and she was moving her head around.
After she got this far, the cow stood up.  The calf didn't come out. 
You look like you have a little something there.
The calf stayed that way for a long time.  Defying gravity. 
Hey, did you notice you have a calf attached to you?
I could hear the mucous draining out of the calf.  I kept thinking I should assist, but knew that if I weren't there - like the hundreds of other times - everything would turn out fine.  So I just watched. 
So did the other cows. 
Eventually, she gave a big push and the calf plopped onto the grass.  Welcome to the world! 
Good thing you're pliable!


Monday, October 1, 2012

Let it grow, let it grow, let it grow

Last night Kris was lying on the floor, poring over blueprints and making calculations. 

It seemed a familiar sight ... and for a good reason! 

We're building a freestall barn and manure lagoon.  We're going to expand our herd and milk more cows.  We're aiming to milk 400. 

Even though we have our cattle on pasture most of the year, they also like to have a place to lie down when they're not outside.  They like to lie in freestalls, which are dry and soft.  It's one freestall per cow.  So if you have more cows, you have to have more freestalls. 

When you have more cows, you need more manure storage. 

So, there's the excavation, the cement work, the actual building.  There's the placement, the construction, the lagoon.  And the paperwork! 

It's a project - Kris always likes to have one going.  And this one will be going for quite some time.