Saturday, March 30, 2013

First calf

Our first calf was born tonight!  A red and white Holstein that we purchased last year from another farm had her first calf.  She had a big red and white bull. 

Kris pulled it - he said he probably wouldn't have had to do it - but it was late and already dark.  He didn't want to leave her in the field overnight if she had problems, and the calf's head was already out.   

Our neighbor was trying to watch the birth earlier in the night but was thwarted by 1) the dark and 2) all the curious cows coming to see her, blocking her view of the laboring one. 

First of over 400 births to come this spring!  Or, I could say ... 1/400th done!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Welcome to your new home!

Today was so exciting!  We welcomed 71 new cows to our farm.
We bought them from a lovely woman we met through our milk co-op.  She cares about her cows very much and said she was happy to send them to a good home.  Of course, we're happy to have them! 
After permits and working through the trucking contacts, we were able to do it all in one trip - two semis and one trailer. 
Here's the trailer, which came first:
Then the semis came ... and the milk truck, at the same time.  It was quite a coincidence that they all came at the same time.  The milk truck driver, Justin, got out and greeted us all like he was a rock star and we were waiting for him.  Normally he doesn't have such a crowd gathered! 
But we were all ready and waiting to watch the new cows come.
So the first semi backed in ... which did not look easy to do, by the way ...
The cows were separated into different sections into the semi with gates.  So we just opened the gates and they casually walked down the ramp into the barn.  They were all eager to check out their new place.  They immediately ate, drank, or walked around sniffing at everything.
It all went smoothly.  Super cool.

Josh, Kris, Kody, and Mike - some of our happy team members ... ready to milk more cows! 
The milking tonight went fine.  (They were milked this morning at their old place and then have to be milked here tonight.  You can't skip a milking because they would really be uncomfortable.) 

I could hear them mooing when I was out in the yard.  As soon as the weather allows, we'll be putting them out on pasture.  Seventy-one more cows to make the view from our windows beautiful!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Big day - drying up the cows

I've written about drying up the cows before, in 2011 and 2012.  Drying them up means we don't milk them from now until they have a calf.  It gives them a period of rest to get their bodies ready for birthing and producing milk. 

This day is always a big deal around here - we plan for it way ahead of time, we look forward to it, and Kris helps in the milk parlor for both milkings.  It's a long day!

Here's how it works:

First, they push on the right side of a cow's stomach to see if they can feel a calf.  The cows are about seven months pregnant, give or take a few months, so they can normally feel the calf. 

If she's pregnant, they give her an antibiotic shot in each teat of her udder to prevent infection.  (She won't be milked again for at least a month, so the antibiotic will be out of her system long before she is milked again.  For more about how antibiotics are not in your milk at all, read here.)

They finish by putting a sealant called T-HEXX on her teats, which prevents bacteria from entering them.

They mark them (Kris described it as 'coloring on them') with a cow marker on their hind quarter to separate the dry cows from the cows that are still being milked.  (They'll find some that aren't pregnant or are not as far along in their pregnancies, and we'll continue to milk them.)  The vet is coming to check the remaining ones tomorrow. 

I was explaining this to a friend this afternoon and she asked if all farmers were doing this today.  We're a seasonal dairy farm, which means that all our cows have calves at the same time.  Some dairies have calves year round.  So they dry up individual cows on different schedules.

But for us, today's the big day.  So big, that Kris is falling asleep as I read this to him.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Let's buy some cows

Since we're going to milk more cows, there has to be a way of getting those cows.

Easy, right? Just go to the cow store and get some? Exactly.

Getting cattle is a HUGE DEAL.

For instance, some farmers near us are unfortunately going out of business and selling their herd. They have good cattle - we've bought some before - so Kris wanted to go to their cattle auction to bid on some.

But before the auction there's the going to their farm to look at the cattle. And the looking at the lists of cattle. The cattle we get have to calve in the spring - they can't deliver at another time, since we have seasonal calving. We don't want any that are too old. And we want ones within our price range, of course!

And Kris couldn't even go to the auction, because he had a co-op meeting he had to attend! So he sent my dad (my brother in law went too) with a list to see what happened.

The cattle were really popular! We bought some - and we're happy for the farmers that they got a good haul for their herd.

We've also been negotiating with another farm about four hours away. There's so much to think about - vaccinations, how they walk, what their udders are like, if they have hairy heel warts - and to figure out between the seller and the buyer.

Then, after that's all figured out, there's the picking up!

I've discussed frost laws before - you can't drive heavy loads on the road when the 'frost laws are on' because it wrecks the roads. So we can't truck a heavy load of cattle ... just smaller loads.

So we're paying a guy whose entire business is trucking cattle to make two separate trips with three separate trailers to get all the cattle we want to truck to our house. (Kris pointed out that our area, due to all the farms, can support a cattle trucking company. This would not work everywhere.)

Of course, he has to go super early in the morning, because the trucker has other people he trucks for on a regular basis. (He picks up calves from farms on certain days to take to a calf raiser.)

They'll be leaving super early ... but I figure, unlike me, guys who drive trucks don't have a tendency to get lulled to sleep while driving.

So between the lists, the purchasing contracts, the auctions, the trucking ... I'll be happy when our cows and heifers are here, safe in their new home.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring is in the air

You know when you get that feeling that spring is in the air?  When you can smell the moist dirt outside ... the birds are singing ... it's humid and warm ... it felt exactly like that today. 

Because I was in a climate-controlled butterfly greenhouse.

In the real world, it looks like this outside:

Anyone want to go sit on the porch swing?

It's snowing and really windy!  That's where the real cold comes in.  When Kris worked today he wore the same amount of clothes he's worn on the very coldest days this year.

But the work goes on ...

- The guys are still working on removing the haymow floor.  (At least that's indoors.)

- We vaccinated all the heifers and cows.  Just like people, we vaccinate them against disease.

- We continue to ramp up for expansion.  We're acquiring equipment and discussing items with the builders.

- It's still meeting season.  Kris averages 349508 meetings a week, while I hit about two.

Today is National Ag Day, tomorrow is the first day of spring, and soon it'll look like this shot from the butterfly greenhouse every day:

It's called a Common Morpho, which seems like an awful name for such a pretty thing.
Maybe around June.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book barn

Farm Bureau has a book barn available for people to take around to different schools and day cares. It's a little barn-shaped bookcase on wheels filled with accurate farming books. Kids can check them out of the bookcase and learn all about real farms and food.
I took it to my boys' classroom and read them 'Extra Cheese, Please! Mozzarella's Journey from Cow to Pizza' and 'How Did That Get In My Lunchbox? The Story of Food'. I asked each kid a question about dairy, and every right answer got them a string cheese stick.
I also brought in a bottle that calves drink from when they're first born ... because it looks just like a baby bottle, but giant, so it always makes kids laugh.
My kids go to school in a fairly rural community. (There are tons of dairies on my road - let alone my county, which is second in the state for milk production.) But out of all the kids in their class, only one of them had ever been on a dairy farm before! 

So it was fun doing a little lesson about their neighbors.
Meanwhile back on the farm ... it's STILL muddy.  So muddy, in fact, that the builders can't take equipment back to the building site.  While they wait for the ground to (freeze?  Thaw?  Dry out?  Do whatever nature does when it's almost-spring?) they're doing what they can on the ground. 
The boys were impressed.  Big barns are just as exciting as little barns.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Washington DC

As part of our duties for the Young Cooperators Council, Kris and I attended the National Milk Producers Federation board meeting in good old Washington DC.
NMPF is a 97-year old organization that tries to advance the well-being of dairy producers and their co-ops.  Basically, they try to influence politics by speaking for 32,000 dairy producers who are a part of it.
The issues they discussed were of course interesting to us, and we even hobnobbed with some politicians:

Seriously, NMPF has a young cooperator program because they want us to be involved and active.  In June, the entire young cooperator council comes and we meet with our state representatives.

A lot of what I saw was this - the meeting:

But we also had time for this - the sightseeing:


And despite the state of the government now, we took some time to be thankful that we don't have to pay taxes in the currency of Yap.

Sun Country has a direct flight from Lansing to DC, and we knew we had a couple friends on the plane coming in that we were taking home ... what I didn't realize is that we would have LOTS of friends on the plane.  Michigan Farm Bureau was coming to meet with legislators, and since we've been involved in that organization, we knew about ten people getting off the plane.
Everyone stayed and talked for a little bit, and after they left and we sat down a stranger said to me, "I've been in airports before where I ran into someone I knew, but how is it that you knew EVERYONE on that plane?!"  I explained about Farm Bureau and she said, "Oh, I thought maybe you were rock stars."
That'll be my answer next time.

Friday, March 8, 2013

March scenes

It smells like spring, but it still looks like winter. 

They delivered a lot of sand to the barn pad. 

It is so, so muddy here.  

I love it!  Everything is about to happen.  In the meantime, Kris is getting ready.  Endless paperwork for the bank and the cattle.  (Today I even got life insurance!  The bank apparently still wants you to be able to pay a loan if you kick off!)  Trips to everywhere to talk to people.  Work on the barn.  Planning, organizing, and more ... paperwork. 

And mud.  Now our sledding hill ends in mud.  Spring must be around the muddy corner ...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ice cream fever

I wrote a guest post on the Farm Fresh Food blog called Ice Cream Fever

Check it out if you like 1) ice cream and 2) more ice cream.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Losing a floor, gaining a use

Kris went on a trip with other dairy farmer friends to tour five dairy farms in Wisconsin.  Huge dairy farms - like some of them milking 5000 cows.  Some of them had rotary parlors, where the entire room turns (with the cows in it) in a big circle and the milking never stops.  One of the farms had its own water treatment system.  He said it was interesting to talk to the other farmers he went with as well as to see the different kinds of farms.

I was telling my friend Julie about it - her family owns the hand truck company Magline.  She thought it was interesting that the farmers were willing to give tours of their farms to other farmers - she said there was no way that her company would give a tour to another hand truck company.

The nice part about it is - it's not like we're in competition, because we all have somewhere to sell our milk.  If we were competing for customers, it'd be a different.  But because we're not, it's a sort of feeling like we're all in it together.  As a result, farmers are always giving tours to other farmers!  For example, the president of our local MMPA has made it a point to tour almost every farm in his district.  People go to see each other's new barns and new setups.  It's like giving someone a tour of your new home.

It may not be everyone's idea of a vacation, but for a group of young dairy farmers, it's great fun.


The guys have been carefully removing the floor of the haymow.  Josh said it was interesting seeing how it was all put together - so long ago, by my great-grandpa Floyd Anderson.  How did they get these giant boards up there?  How did it all hold together with just two nails on one board?  Where did they get these boards - from a mobile mill or from another town?  So long ago.  We're going to use the wood when we remodel ... someday.  It's been good for 130 years and it'll be good for more!

No ceiling - more room for bales
Changing the look and the use of the barn
If you're around, drop by and see it!  I mean it.  That's what we do.