Thursday, December 26, 2013

Top ten memorable moments of farming in 2013

I love end of the year lists.  So in summary ...

10. Taking down the haymow

I fear change.  But in order to make the barn useable, we needed to take out the floor of the haymow.  My great grandpa built the barn.  It looks so different.  But we saved the wood and we'll be using it in our garage someday!   

9. Representing farmers in DC

When you go to speak to our representatives, you might be the only dairy farmer they talk to that month.  True, nothing got done this year, but that's true most years.   

8. Covering the pile/bonfire/going away party with the guys

Really nice, fun people work here.  It's fun to hang out!

7. Watching my kids and niece play in the irrigation

They were screaming with joy.  The whole scene was just perfect.

6. Seeing my first calf of the season being born. 

Memorable doesn't always mean good.  I had the perfect spot ... and the time ... to watch a cow have a calf.  She pushed for just a little while, and then the calf was stillborn.  It was an awful ending.

5. Seeing the new herd come.

We bought a friend's herd.  It was so exciting to see them arrive!  Everyone was excited ... they had quite the welcoming committee!

4. Finishing the lagoon

The huge hole is done!  Watching people put down cement on a steep slope is impressive.

3.  Finishing the barn

Some people talk about builders and say they don't show up, or they do just a few hours of work, or they come late ... these builders were here 6:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. every day they worked here.  Even on weekends some people came.  It took a long time, but it was just because it was a lot of work.  Kudos to them! 

As a gift, the builders gave us a ham for Christmas.  This is the most expensive ham ever.  Ha!

2. Finding out our herd didn't have tuberculosis

Wow - what an incredible relief!  Six weeks of talking about 'WHAT IF', ending with, 'GIANT SIGH.' 

1. Getting a history book

For Christmas, my mom gave us a book called 'Homestead' that she compiled.  It's the history of our house and farm.  It has original documents, pictures, the history of everyone who farmed here, what changes they made to the farm and house, and even letters from my dad, my dad's siblings, and cousins.  I was so moved and so happy.  The next day, Kris' mom gave him a book she made about his genealogy with pictures, stories, and family history! 

Before this, I always said that if there were a fire I wouldn't need to rescue anything material.  Now I do!  Kris thinks we need a fire safe.

So, we're on year 6 of farming, year 12 of being married, year 4 of blogging, and year 1 of talking about tuberculosis for a month straight.  Let's add to all of those but one in 2014.  Happy new year!



I've never seen ice like this before.  Usually it ices a little and then melts away ... but there has been no melting since it happened on Sunday! We got an ice storm, then a snow storm.  Then more snow.  The ice is so heavy that we watched tree branches break off and shatter on the ground.  After I watched it happen three times I told my children to walk directly into the house - not under any trees. They started in and a branch broke directly above us and just missed my son. It was a branch, not a limb, but it would've done some damage!  When you drive around, you see limb after limb on the ground.  80,000 people lost power.

Of course, when it's this cold there are bound to be problems on the farm. 

On Sunday, Kris came home later than usual.  His sister and brother-in-law were visiting from Texas.  We sat down and asked Kris how his morning went.  He said, "Oh ... I had a few issues."

But he didn't say it in his normal voice, because he could hardly talk.  He said his throat hurt.  (I can't even remember the last time Kris was sick, so this was odd.)  So while we ate lunch, he ate out of an ice cream container.  After he'd cooled his throat off, he listed what happened that morning due to the cold:

The tractor door was so frozen.  He had to scrape it and the windshield for 10 minutes.  Eventually, he pried it open with a crowbar. 

The garage door to the barn wouldn't open.  He could do it manually if he could push and pull these cords at the same time, but in order to do that he had to balance on top of the metal poles that are placed there so no one runs into the barn.  Super safe anytime, especially when icy!

He noticed the cows were gathered around the water tanks ... and saw that they had no water.  When the power had gone off and back on, the water pump had stopped pumping.  He was able to restart it.

There were issues with the milking.

As he was telling us this ... our power went out.  Kris said he'd better go start the generator, because the milk truck wouldn't be able to pump out the morning milking without electricity.   (Apparently it's not like flipping a switch.  You have to hook it up to a tractor.)  But he made no move to leave. 

That's when I knew he was really sick.

The power was out for about an hour, and when it flashed on for a moment and I said, "Quick!  Make a cup of coffee!" Hoping that would heal him. 

It stayed on (thankfully!) and he didn't have to start the generator.

He went to see the doctor as soon as they opened on Monday.  He had strep throat.  She told him it was the worst she'd seen in awhile.

But!  I couldn't post any of that because our internet provider in town didn't have power.  We got it back last night.  So as of today, everything is still frozen, it's still super cold (24), people still don't have power ... but we were lucky enough not to lose it for any length of time.  Kris' antibiotics made him feel like a new person within 24 hours, and we had a fantastic Christmas with our friends and families.

So, merry day-after-Christmas from the frozen farm!  I hope your holiday was merry, bright, and free of falling branches!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


We woke up Saturday morning to a really snowy day.  I divided our last drops of 2% milk between the three boys so that their cereal was almost wet.

"Can I have some more milk, please?" Cole asked.

I told him we didn't have any.  We were out.

"Can I just have some girl milk, then?"  he asked.  (That's what they call skim milk.  I'm the only girl and I'm the only one that drinks it.  I haven't corrected them.)

I told him we didn't have any of that, either.  We were totally out of milk.

"When are we going to the store, then?" he asked.  I figured we'd go later, when they scraped the roads.

We went sledding and came home for lunch.  The roads were still not scraped.  My youngest son didn't feel good.  Kris was out of the state for the weekend.  We weren't going to the store.

"Can I have a cup of milk, please?" Ty asked at lunch.  I told him there wasn't any. 

"Any at all?" he pressed.

(Like I'm hiding milk.  Of course, I hide some food from them, but this is milk.)

"I know!" I said.  "What kind of farmers are we?!" 

They joked around about getting milk right from the parlor.  I reminded them that's how we got milk when I was growing up.  They thought that wouldn't be great because it would be warm. 

The rest of the day I realized how much they ask for milk, because I had to say no so many times.

This morning, the boys got up to eat breakfast and Cole poured himself some cereal.  I said, "That cereal's really messy to eat dry.  Do you want some yogurt on it?" 

He laughed and said, "No, I want milk."

"We don't have any milk, remember?" I said.

Three sets of eyes fixed on me with total disbelief.  I tried not to laugh.

I didn't think it was that big of a deal, but ... yes, they eat cereal with milk on it every morning.  This had actually never happened before.  We'd never run out of milk and not had it for two days.  But they didn't think it was just an inconvenience - they were actually alarmed.

Cole stopped pouring.  "When are we going to the store?  Right now?  Can we go now?" 

They still hadn't scraped the roads, but we just went slow.  We bought a cartful of groceries and three gallons of milk. 

They must have felt like they were at a deficit, because the three of them finished a gallon of one of the 'boy' milks today. 

When Ty asked for another cup of milk I said, "Yes - because we went to the store!"

He said, "Yay!  Now we're real farmers again!"

Oh, so it wasn't just that we didn't have milk to drink.  To him, we'd lost all credibility. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

The shadowy organization you’ve never heard of

Last week Kris and I stole away with hundreds of other agricultural people for our annual meeting.

There - as part of an exclusive group - we debated and discussed and voted on book-length policy.   We covered everything from tagging cattle to the definition of a full-time farmer.  Over three days, every single word of every single change in our written doctrine was voted on.

And this was just in Michigan ... the same meeting was happening all over the country. 

There isn’t an organization for agriculture (dare I say) that has more governmental influence.  Elected officials come to address us.  People want our support.  Governmental people want to be associated with us.   

What is this shadowy organization?  It's Farm Bureau.

Ever heard of it?  No, it's not just an insurance company.  (We do have a partnership with Farm Bureau Insurance.  It's different.)  For 94 straight years, people in Farm Bureau have been getting together to make sure that the government hears the voice of people in agriculture. 

When Kris and I moved to the farm we got involved with Farm Bureau because we wanted to meet other farmers.  Kris is on the local board, so through that we met fun local people.  By attending the state annual meeting and a couple national ones, we became great friends with farmers from around the state and country. 

These meetings have everyone from new moms with babies to super old farmers who have been going to these meetings since ... they were the babies being brought along.  Sugar beet farmers mix with sheep farmers and apple farmers hang out with dairy farmers.  We're all in it together, working for the good of our industry.  More voices, louder voices - hopefully better results! 

Each year, we've gotten to know more and more people.  It's so fun walking around and talking to everyone - some people that you see only once a year - and hanging out together in vibrant Grand Rapids.  Michigan State always plays UNC in basketball one night when we're there, we always go out, and every single year has ended in dancing.

So yes, this age-old organization is responsible for working with government officials to implement member-driven policy.  It's also a fantastic way to get to know other driven, involved, and outgoing farmers. 

And, probably, the closest I'm going to get to joining a secret society.


Thursday, November 28, 2013


Kris had to get up earlier than usual today to feed the cows because we had a turkey trot.

He sprang from bed, bright and early!  There's nothing he loves more than a race!

Just kidding.  Kris runs in Thanksgiving races only because I love to run them.  It's one of my most favorite traditions.  We've run them in several states over many years.

I'd gotten the children ready and we were heading out of the house.  The car was warming up.  We were leaving at 7:45 a.m. and I assumed Kris would make it home in time.

Then he called.  As I moved to answer it, I steeled myself against bad news.  I figured I could take the three of them anyway without him - it just wouldn't be as much fun.

"Are you in the car?" he asked.

"Not quite.  Just heading out.  Why?"

"My truck won't start.  I'll just walk home."

He did, and we left only 5 minutes later than we planned.

So, let's add that to the list of things I'm thankful for - that we live within walking distance of the barn!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

5 myths about farmers

1. They’re all a bunch of old guys wearing overalls.

When I returned from a recent dairy meeting with fun young people, my friend said, “How many young farmers are there, really?  Because all I read about is how farmers are all dying out.”

Of course, there are lots of old farmers, but it’s just because they’re so visible.  They never stop working.  Most people are trying to retire, but farmers seem to want to work on their farms until the day they die. 

But the overalls  … I rocked the overalls in college.  Shorts overalls, corduroy overalls – back when (for fashion reasons unknown – how best to make you look shapeless?) they were in style.  I haven’t worn them since, but every picture of the stereotypical farmer shows them in overalls.  Kris doesn’t own overalls.  They seem very hard to wear when you’re outside without bathroom facilities, if you know what I mean.

I love pointing to cartoon pictures of farmers in books to my kids.  They’re always plump.  The farmer’s wife is always baking and the farmer is usually holding a pitchfork.  “Does this look like a farmer?” I say.  “NOOOOO!” they chorus. 

There are young farmers, old farmers, and middle aged farmers.  On the farm, they wear a lot of work clothes.  I see a lot of sleeveless t-shirts, work boots, hats, and Carhartt coats.  Off the farm, they blend in with everyone else

If you do see someone in overalls, it’s safe to assume it’s Halloween or a 90s party.

2. Farms have one of every animal.

Back in the day, many farms had a variety of animals.  It was a cheaper way to eat.  You had the space or buildings so you may as well house some pigs or steers to eat.

Now, farms are much more specialized.  A pig farm has pigs.  A chicken farm has chickens.  Our dairy farm has … you got it!  Cows. 

In fact, we don’t own even one other kind of animal.  No dog, no cat, no horse.  Nothing. This surprises and disappoints some people who come to tour.  But that’s what 4-H Fairs are for!  That’s where we take our own children to see other farm animals! 

3. Farmers are uneducated.

It’s true.  You don’t have to go to college to own a farm.  You don’t have to go to college to do a lot of things.  But despite that fact, a lot of farmers have college degrees.  Many of them go to school for ag-related degrees, but a lot do not.  For instance, my dad got an engineering degree.  So did Kris.  

There are a lot of respected agricultural programs, but any schooling opens you up to different experiences and education you can bring back to the farm.

Which brings us to …

4. Farming is never a choice - it’s something you’re born into.

I know a lot of farmers.  Yes, a fair amount of people know they want to farm as their career when they grow up on a farm.  But there is a large population of people who decided to farm.  They had other careers, lived other lives, and then decided to farm.  Of course it’s easier when your family is already involved in farming, but there are also first generation farmers who just choose to get into the industry. 

My dad decided at one point that he wanted to own his own business.  He was weighing whether he wanted to go into business with his dad or if he wanted to buy a car wash.  He went with the farm, but said if the car wash had gone through, it would have been a fine decision, too.  I’ve used a car wash about ten times in my life, but I consume dairy every day.  It seems like he made the better choice.

5. Farmers go to bed early and get up early.

They only try to go to bed early and don’t, night after night.  Kris’ alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. every morning.  Knowing that, it seems that he would go to bed early and get more sleep.  However, there are so many things at night - every night - that prevent this from happening.  Kids, bills, feed ration figuring, scheduling, talking to people, going out, things breaking at the barn after he comes home, and of course, talking to me.  Some farmers take a short nap to make it through the day.  Kris isn’t a napper, but sometimes on the days that are hard physically, he just drops.  Once this summer he fell asleep on the floor of our cement porch.  When you’re tired, you’re tired. 

At the beginning of this year he said his new year’s resolution was to get to bed before 11:00 p.m.  Reflecting on this year, he accomplished it probably nine times.  Better luck in 2014! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Milking with robots

Tonight when I was out with some girls my friend mentioned she was going to New Zealand.  I joked about how she should be sure to notice the farms there, since they're big into dairy and were early adopters of robot milkers

We continued talking for a little bit and she said, "Wait ... I'm confused.  What are these robot cows?"

If only!  Of course - not even all farmers have seen robot milkers, though most everyone knows about them now.

I explained how the robots work - first, the cow enters the robot. It's like walking into a little room.  She wears a responder on her neck that communicates how much feed she’s going to get and she eats grain while she’s being milked.

I took these at our neighbor's farm.  It's always fun to take visitors there.
She steps in and stands over a grate. Not only does this space her feet correctly, but it also keeps the area clear of manure.

The brushes come in. Like a tiny car wash, the brushes go over each teat and clean them.  Since every cow’s udder is a little different, the robot scans the udder to detect each teat’s location. (It looks like little red laser beams going over it.) Then it attaches the four teat cups.

Brush, cleaning off the teats

Then milking begins! As each quarter is done, the teat cup comes off. Then the robot sprays off the udder. The gate opens, and the cow walks out. The next cow steps in.  Each robot accommodates about 80 cows each and one costs about $250,000.

Exiting the robot

So for lots of farmers, it makes sense.  This way, there aren't people physically milking the cows.  There are still lots of people jobs to do, like making sure the cattle go through and doing regular feeding. 

For lots of other farmers, it doesn't make sense.  If you have reliable, good employees, and old parlor that works just fine, and a lot of cows, then it's not an easy financial decision.

Maybe someday it'll be the way of the future and we'll look at our parlors today - where we use milking units - the same way we regard our ancestors milking by hand.

Or maybe we'll just all have robot cows by then.  Who knows what they're coming up with in New Zealand next?!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Mercy, mercy, MRSA

We had a huge wind and rain storm here last night.  Nothing like poor Washington, IL.  (Did you see those pictures?  Awful.)  But a mess.  Steel blown all around the barn area, dead trees down ... we ran into a Farm Bureau Insurance agent tonight and he told us they had over 1000 claims so far.  One of them was a friend whose combine caught on fire! 

Besides a messy barnyard, our patio table blew over and snapped the umbrella.  A few years ago an identical table blew over and shattered, showering glass into our pool.  Apparently these tables are not wind-approved.

The top of one of our evergreen trees snapped off and landed in our yard.  Nothing was harmed, except our ability to have ANYTHING NICE.  No, wait.  I meant nice greenery.  I was having a flashback to my childhood.

Just a trim, please

But aside from the weather, which farmers are required to discuss on a daily basis ... I also wanted to talk about MRSA. 

When I was growing up I would always point to the injuries on my dad’s hands and ask how he got them.  He never knew. 

When Kris and I moved here, he naturally has the same thing happen.  He has no recollection of how he has cuts and chunks taken out of his hands.  When you’re working with your hands, you can’t help it.  (Same goes for many hands-on jobs.  Cooks burn themselves, mechanics gouge themselves, and depressed artists seem to occasionally slash their wrists.  Work-related hazards.)

Since skin is a great barrier against bacteria, there’s always danger with an open wound.  And without it, there are things like MRSA. 

MRSA is so IN THE NEWS right now. Recently, three NFL players contracted it – national news.

It's a potentially deadly staph infection called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.  It's a "nasty bacteria that is resistant to most common antibiotics, and if it takes hold in deep tissue, bone or the bloodstream, can cause intense flu-like symptoms and potentially lead to amputation or even death. MRSA is present on the nose and skin of about one-third of the general population ... and an infection/transmission generally occurs when a cut or skin abrasion is not cleaned properly."

Recently, our dairy farmer friend got MRSA.  He went to the doctor when his cut started to get infected.  He took antibiotics and is fine. 

(If you want to see what MRSA looks like, there are plenty of horrible Google images here.  But you probably don't.  Unless, like me, you're using them to show your kids why they have to wash their hands.)

So - it goes to show, other than the pay, hours, and fame ... NFL players and dairy farmers are almost exactly alike.  No wonder this Fuel Up to Play 60 works so well.  We're sharing health philosophy AND bacteria! 

That's the weather and MRSA report for the night.  Steer clear of glass patio tables, unstable treetops, and scratching your scabs.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Dancing with young farmers

Kris and I spent the last week in Phoenix at the National Milk Producers Federation/National Dairy Promotion and Research Board/United Dairy Industry Joint Annual Meeting.

Whew!  That's seriously the name of it.  I couldn't even find a way to shorten it.  Basically, the organizations used to all have their own meetings, then they joined forces and decided it'd be better to work together and meet in the same place.

Kris and I served as the Young Cooperator Chaircouple, which meant we represented the young people, helped run the YC meeting, and got to make jokes speeches in front of 800 people.

Things I learned:
- I met a cute couple that actually met as a result of  She was a way better commercial for it than the one currently running.  She said, "I was so sick of city boys!  They tried to help me bale and milk, but it wasn't their thing."

- A girl told us her husband was so serious about their steers looking good for the fair (you win awards and then sell them) that they keep them in an air conditioned pen in the summer so that their hair stays long and thick.  (Normally their hair thins in the summer.)  But by keeping it cool - which is what cattle prefer - they can trim their long hair to better emphasize their shape and hide any defects.  Kris said, "Do you even have air conditioning in your house?"  She said, "NO!"

- I found two speakers particularly inspirational.  Bruce Vincent is a logger who spoke on how farmers have to fight the people trying to put us out of business - because his industry lost their social license.  I also liked Will Gilmer, who talked about ways we can engage people.  He also mentioned that he has the only dairy in his county.  Kris and I laughed.  We have so many in our county.  It reminded me of how when I went to college everyone was so surprised and interested that I grew up on a dairy farm ... but you don't think of it as different when you have several dairies not just near you, but right on your same road. 

- I tried Google Glass.  In case you didn't know that the dairy industry was on the cutting edge of technology. 

- Wow, these people are fun.  The YCs (young cooperators) had social events and one ended in a dance party.  Then the final night James Wesley played and the people - young and old - had a giant dance party!  Sometimes people never dance at these, but Julie the party-starter made sure everyone did.  (That's not her job.  She's a wonderfully fun girl from Iowa.  She and her husband have a dairy farm and she's also a stylist.  She fractured her arm before she came but it didn't stop her from dancing, going down water slides, or using it to take pictures.)

- We have really great partners.  Taco Bell, McDonald's, Dominos, Quaker Oats - all use tons of dairy and seem very interested in being in business with us.  McDonald's even made us this little video:

I couldn't have had a better time.  Our duties in that year-long position are finished now.  Back to farming, blogging, and having dance parties with my three little boys.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Parody of a parody

Of course by now everyone knows and loves 'What Does the Fox Say' by Ylvis.  (My kids think it's the best thing ever.)

It seems there is a farming parody for pretty much every popular song.  This one makes me laugh - especially that the farmer says 'yawn.'

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movember - want an excuse to grow a moustache?

Movember is the global men's health charity encouraging men to grow and women to support the Mo (moustache) for the 30 days of Movember.  (I guess we could all encourage women to grow them this month too, but somehow I don't think it'd catch on.) 

Grow just a moustache to spark public and private discussions about important health issues like prostate cancer.  That's right!  Your question of, "Are you growing a moustache?! Can now be answered that you're doing it for Movember health reasons.  Prostate health, in particular.  I can't think of a better conversation starter.  People will think you're a hipster and find out you're just really into health education!

In the U.S., 92% of dairy producers are men.  The dairy industry is trying to spread the news - take care of your own health.  Movember Dairy is trying to raise awareness about prostate cancer risks, raise funds for research, and encourage men in our industry to get an annual physical. 

You can find out more at:

Twitter - @MovemberDairy
Facebook -
Online - Movember Dairy

My brother grew a pretty sweet one recently.  Kris' dad had one forever but now it's gone, my dad's been clean shaven my whole life, and we'll see how Kris' goes this month.  Feel free to play along and send me pictures! 

Maybe it'll grow a little straighter than this ...


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The end

It's the end of the corn chopping and we're well into fall.  It's gorgeous, sunny, and warm.  We're soaking up every minute of it, just like the cattle!

Kris was pointing out some of the new cattle we've purchased in the pasture.  He showed me that the new ones stick together.  They all have ear tags identifying them, so it was easy to see.  Cliques in the pasture!   

Today we had a going away party for one of our longtime employees.  He's going to work with his dad at the business his dad started.  We're going to miss him, but I can't think of a better reason for moving on - work in the family business?!  Sure!

Speaking of working with your dad, the cows got out the other day.  (A gate had been left open.)  Kris happened to see it from afar while the boys and I were with him.  Kody used the quad to chase the ones far away back into the barn, while Cole and Max held a wire fence to block them off.  Actually, Cole was pulling with all his might and Max was holding his hand.  Kris and I were also being human fences and Ty was chasing the cows in. 

When we'd gotten half of the cows back in the barn they tried to run back out.  Kris yelled at them, "Ya!  Ya!  "  Translation - get back in the barn. 

Max said, "I'm scared!"  The reason?  He'd never heard Kris yell before!  (Hearing me yell?  Not at all scary.) 

They went in pretty quickly, no problem.  Afterward, Cole said, "Aw, I wanted to chase the cows.  I LOVE when the cows get out!"

And that was the first time - and probably the last - those words have ever been spoken on our farm. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fuel up!

I went to a really fun, well-organized, educational, AND entertaining event today!  I helped out at the 5th annual Rally for School Health at Ford Field in Detroit. 

The Fuel Up to Play 60 program encourages students to educate about and promote healthy eating (including dairy) and exercise in their schools.  This event is big!  Thirty schools - each with six students and three advisors - came to take part in the program.  It was put on by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan.   

After a fantastic breakfast where we got to know the students, former Detroit Lion Herman Moore fired up the students.  Then Jill Jayne, billed humorously-on-purpose as 'the only rock star nutritionist' entertained and engaged the students with a message about healthy living. 

The Detroit Lions coaches and Former Detroit Lion Jason Hanson talked to the audience.  At one point, Jason said, "Do you know what professional football players do when they're done with a hard workout?  They drink chocolate milk." 

I'm not kidding, I broke into applause.  The healthy message of chocolate milk is everywhere!

Then, it was time for all of us to run through the tunnel and onto the field!  I don't care if you're a football fan or not ... it was loud, the music was pumping ... it was exciting!

The coaches ran us through many drills.  We ran in those little ladders.  We passed footballs.  We sprinted.  We even tackled those big dummies. 

(For a girl who's never going to be on a football team, it was very exciting.  When would I ever have the chance to do this?)

They yelled at us, they blew on their whistle, they told us when we weren't doing things right.  Students were learning from real coaches and real professionals.  We all had a good time.


After we sweated through that - I'm not kidding, I really did sweat - we had lunch.  There was a taste and vote for the kids.  It was entertaining to me, because I realize that not all kids have the same eating experiences.  The kids at my table weren't even able to identify sweet potatoes or chickpeas.  Not only had they never had them, but they couldn't even recognize them on sight.  I told my children this later and they laughed out loud.  But all the kids were drinking milk, at least! 

We had speaker Jean Blaydes talk about how nutrition, exercise, water, and sleep make you smarter.  She was having us stand up and do different activities every few minutes.  A lot of our meetings could incorporate some of that!

We went back to the field and Jason Hanson answered the students' questions.  (Right before this I asked him if I could get my picture taken with him.  I led with, "I'm a dairy farmer.  Can we get our picture with you?"  That sentence really opens doors.)

He was good.  Someone asked what the funniest moment in his years of playing was - and he said once he had a flight scheduled to go and see his wife have their baby.  She was in a different state on bed rest.  The only way he wouldn't make his flight was if the game ran late.  The game ran late and ... it was up to him to kick the field goal.  If he made it, they'd win, and he'd get to see his son being born.  If he missed it, everyone would hate him, and he'd miss his son's birth.  He made it, ran out of the stadium, and got to be there for the birth.  He said it was funny now ... not then.

Jill Jayne taught all the kids (and some of us adults) a dance on the field 'The Bone Rap', all about how great milk is for your body.  I wondered why I never pursued a dance career.

We all got footballs and played around on the field as we waiting for our professional photo with the players and Roary, the Detroit Lions mascot.

My friend Annie Link was one of the other dairy farmers there.  There were only a few of us - and it's always nice to go to events like this to represent our industry!

Congrats to United Dairy Industry of Michigan for a successful event!  I'm glad it generates such excitement for the students and in the schools. 

When I got home, some turf fell out of my shoes.  Yep.  I'm practically a real football player now.  I'm on the same number of NFL teams as this guy.

Honestly, the overall message of the importance of exercise and good food choices was heard loud and clear.  It was a great event and I'd get turf in my shoes for it any day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Last Crop: the film

Chuck Schultz of  BluePrint Productions contacted me and asked me help promote his film, The Last Crop

He wrote, "The Last Crop is an intimate exploration into who grows what we eat and what it takes to be a farmer in today's America.  At the heart of our story is one family’s determination to address three critical issues facing farmers and our nation’s food system today: the affordability of farmland, the fragile balance of farm succession, and ultimately, the preservation of small family run farms."

He said the film is 75% finished and he's using the Indiegogo site to help him raise the rest of the money.  Since September 16 when this kicked off, he's raised $6,800.

It's a gross understatement to say I'm not much of a movie person.  I watch one or two a year.  But since Chuck reached out to me, is telling a true story about real farmers, and is discussing issues that matter not only to farmers but to all the people who eat ... I wanted to mention it to you.

You can learn more at:


If we were filming a movie here today, it'd be a big plot point!  We're the proud owners of even more cattle!  Today we received our delivery of 28 heifers.  Welcome to our farm!  These are actually from Wisconsin, so I hope they like Michigan as much as we do.

When Kris wasn't guiding cattle into their new digs, he was chopping corn.  Last night a hydraulic line broke during the last load.  (As Kris said, "Better the last load than the first!")  They fixed it and were ready to chop again today.  The boys went and chopped with Kris for a long time.  They LOVE being in the chopper when he chops corn.  It's amazing how powerful that machine is - it just takes down entire corn stalks and chops them into little bits like nothing.  It's super sharp.  Kris cut himself on some part of it the other day, even.  Easy to do!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ode to harvest

The leaves are falling!  The air is crisp!  The furnace is on!

It's corn chopping time.

The tractor broke down!  The chopper needs fixing!  An employee is sick!

It must be corn chopping time.

We started chopping last week and it continues into this week.  Kris - even though summer is a busy time - has been especially busy this part of the year due to our increased size of herd and decreased number of employees.  Our summer help is back to school (both students and teachers) and of course all the high schoolers are busy at night and on weekends with sports and activities. 

So, Kris leaves the house at 6:00 a.m. and returns home at 10:00 p.m. and is also available to help me with things I need here ... like yesterday we closed the pool in the rain.  Today he sprinted from his vehicle to mine so we could take a car into the mechanic.  And he always makes time for the boys, even if it's them riding with him in the chopper.  They love it, he loves seeing them, and the only bad part about it is that I can't fit in there too. 

And, with all the excitement of the harvest ... we're getting more cattle this week!  We've purchased more heifers and they'll be delivered to our farm soon. 

After this week, when all the corn is chopped, piled up, and covered, we can be happy knowing all winter long they'll have a good crop to eat. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Soft little newborns

Everyone likes little tiny human newborn fingers and toes.  So tiny! 

Today when I was looking at the newborn calf we brought from the pasture to the barn, I was looking at its hooves.

Now, picture what a hoof looks like.  Got it?  Did it look like this?

They're not smooth on the bottom when they're born! 

Also, they're not hard.  They're soft, since they've been in liquid for the last nine months. 

In fact, after this calf walked around a little bit, it left part of its hoof on the floor.  (This shedding is normal, according to Kris and the internet.)  I prodded it with my toe and it was positively mushy.  Not even a little bit hard.  The boys were all gently petting its hooves after I told them this. 

So, little newborn calves have soft, malleable hooves.  Even though I've been on this farm awhile now, I'm continually learning. 

And I have some little malleable minds learning along with me.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chop chop

Kris and the guys are doing the fourth cutting of alfalfa.  But, we don't have as many people working as normal, so everything is going a little bit differently.  In fact, one of our employees is driving a silage wagon for the first time!  It's tricky, (or looks tricky to me), because you have to drive alongside the chopper while it shoots alfalfa out of it into your wagon.  So you have to drive right next to the chopper ... and not run into it.  He had no problem.

I don't like driving that close to anything

We shifted the milking and the feeding an hour earlier today, because the builders needed to get a lot done in one day.  With an extra hour in between milkings, they could get finished!  In one day - and this is impressive - the builders tore out all the free stalls in the holding pen and poured a new cement floor.  Tomorrow they're pouring the walls.  I really like these builders.  They work like farmers. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Four wheeling

The new freestall barn and the manure lagoon are working out great so far.  The builders, electrical guys, and cement guys are all still here, working on modifying the existing dairy barn.

Kris has been able to go away on some vacation days, and when I suggested he leave his phone in the car while we went to an amusement park - (woo hoo - Cedar Point!  We are 17 at heart!) - he looked at me like I was crazy.  "I can't leave my phone," he said.  Again, like any business owner, he needs to be reachable!  He took it and didn't lose it on any roller coasters.  But he did take his calls.

He often takes the boys to work with him at night, and today I joined them right as they were about to chase the cows out to pasture.

He said if I was going with them, I could drive the other four wheeler.  (I know people call them quads, but we always called them four wheelers growing up.  I guess by this logic we could call all cars four wheelers too ...)

I said I hadn't driven a four wheeler in a long time, and he said this was a good time as any to learn.  Why not?!

He gave me a quick lesson on how to work it.  He took the three boys with him and I rode by myself.  The funniest part of that is that the boys were safer riding with him - even four people on - than riding with inexperienced me.

It was easy, of course.  I mean, I see the guys here ride them super fast.  Sometimes up on two wheels!  (I assume they're doing it on purpose ...)  I did get a little nervous when I was going down an incline and realized I didn't know how to stop it.  A minor detail.  I really didn't want to slam into the back of Kris and the boys.  But the brakes were like the brakes on ... anything, including bikes, so that took about one second to figure out. 

We rode a little while until I was confident, and so I took one of the boys on mine to even out the loads.

So there we were, the five of us out in the middle of the pasture, riding into the sunset.  It doesn't matter if Kris does have to take his phone everywhere he goes.  All of us being able to go to work with him makes it worth it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sunset over the lagoon

Not really what you were expecting, was it?
The construction goes on.  Every day, more work - but now on the old barn! 

We're making the old freestall barn more like the new barn.  We're making it roomier and with more air circulation by putting in new freestalls and taking down walls.

We've been doing a lot of moving of giant items.  The guys moved the mixer wagon out of the barn (hard to do), moved the molasses tank (giant), and today had to move the old bulk tank (bulky!)

Soon the construction will be a distant memory and we can work on ... winter projects!  But for now we're enjoying the beehive of activity around here.  And, of course, the sunsets.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Cow proposal

Last year Kris and I were chosen as Michigan Milk Producers Association's Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators.  So this week, we got to head up the meeting to choose the cooperators for this year! 
We had a really enjoyable time talking with the other dairy farmers from around the state.  We're really thankful for our great employees and family members because without their help, we couldn't attend events like these. 
One young couple there had been married just a year, and this is how David proposed to Kathleen:

He wrote on her cow!  Way to stand out from the herd.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cute calves


Along with the construction, a wiring issue that made the power go out, working out a water tank problem, looking for a heifer raising facility, and the regular everyday events - the cows still continue to have calves.  (Hooray!)

Two days ago we filled in our last spots in the barn with heifers.  After this we sell the calves to other farms to raise. 

But my dad and Kris found it hard to sell this nice heifer born yesterday ...

So big!  So healthy!  So pretty! 

So we kept her.

The boys like calves, too. 

Yesterday I watched Kris push up the feed in the new barn.  The tool is very simple:

A board on a frame.

It works to ensure that the cows can eat all of their feed.  When they eat it, they push it forward, just in the act of eating it.   To make sure they can reach all of it, farmers push the feed toward them.

Right side pushed up, left side not:

Coming up:

All done:
All farms do this, in various fashions, whether it's with a tool, a broom, or occasionally your feet, if you're right there. 

I took a picture of my dad, Kris and the boys while we were in the barn.  I said something about 'all the guys.'  My dad said, "Yes, you're outnumbered around here."  I gestured to the rest of the barn, chock full of heifers (all girls) and said, "Not here!"

It's a super busy month - Kris is doing a million different things, the team is working hard - but there's a light at the end of the tunnel!  It'll all be finished up someday soon.  With the guys and the girls.

Monday, August 5, 2013

From the inside

The cows are in the barn, and the pile is covered for another cutting.  It seems like fall outside because it's cool now.  It almost seems like things are slowing down.  Still, there are 50 cows that are still going to have calves this season.

There's still construction work going on at the barn - fences, cement, a walkway ... but getting the lagoon and the barn and the cutting finished really was satisfying.  So far, August is great!   

Friday, August 2, 2013

Full barn

The barn is full!

As of yesterday, the barn is fit for cattle.  The cows filed into the other side easily and happily.  They're cooler and giving more milk. 

I tried to take pictures of it, but it was difficult - it's been raining on and off all day yesterday and today.  As a result, it was really sloppy getting back there with three boys in tow.  I went back later when it was drier, but they were all still getting milked.  So just an empty barn greeted me again.

So now that the barn's full and the lagoon is getting filled - it really feels like we can exhale.  AHHHH.  It's nice to have them done.

So now Kris and the team are sitting around doing nothing.  Just kidding!  They're trying to chop the alfalfa for the third time this season.  Unfortunately, it keeps raining.  It's best to do it when it's dry out, but this endless rain keeps messing up the chopping plans. 

No complaining here.  At least the cows are dry.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lagoon in use!

Last night I was out with a friend and called Kris to see if he was going to be able to come.
He said he couldn't, because they were about to scrape manure into the lagoon FOR THE FIRST TIME! 
I said, "Hooray!  Take pictures!"
Later he said as he was taking the pictures, he was thinking about how most people wouldn't want to take, see, or hear about these pictures.
But when you have a dairy farm, manure is part of the business.  Especially when you've had a giant hole dug in which to store it.
So now we can scrape the manure from the barns (twice a day, every day) into the manure lagoon.  We'll pump it out and use it to fertilize our fields. 
We use a skid steer with an attachment on the front.  It's a half a tractor tire attached to a frame.  We can use the tire to scrape out all the - mostly liquid - manure.
Enjoy our photos ... these aren't the normal ones you get in your Facebook feed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Family, 4-H, farm

This past week the irrigation broke, but the company was able to fix it in just a few days!  Kris is currently working on a different issue with the irrigation right now - at 10:00 p.m.  I'm sure he'd rather be doing this: 
Yep, that's my sister Tracy and her family - plus my kids - checking out the freestall mattresses for themselves in the unfinished half of the barn.  (We have more visitors, yay!)  They all agreed that they were very comfortable.  They all had dirty shirts when they stood up.
We also checked this out: 
The lagoon is almost ready for manure to be poured into it.  The cement around it is done too.  Tracy said she was so tempted to run down the incline into the bottom because she'd never have the chance to do it again.  She resisted. 

We went to the 4-H Fair today.  It was wonderful - we all got to see animals we rarely see.  Even though we live on a dairy we don't see pigs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, goats ... I even held a tarantula.  (Even though all of my self-preservation instincts were telling me it was a bad idea.)

When we were seeing the sheep, Tracy pointed out something else ...

This sheep and I have the same hair.  Color, style, and cut. 

Isn't it great having a sister around to question whether or not you're part sheep?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Family fun on the farm

My brother, sister and their families - plus other family members - have been visiting!  So there's a lot of this:


And this:

...while Kris and the team are doing all the regular work.  The builders are still building, the cement pourers are still pouring, and it rained a half of an inch - so the crops are still growing.  Kris has been stopping in during his meal breaks to see all the little kids and family members. 

So it's as busy as ever around here - maybe just a little cuter than normal.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All mooved in (I can't help it)

They're in! 

They went in the barn to eat their supplemental feed and lie down in the shade after the morning milking.  We went to see them enjoying themselves. 

It was great!  What a perfect, super-hot day for them to get a new place to hang out.

Checking out the new digs

Eating some brunch