Friday, May 31, 2013

Rain ... rain ... can't stop talking about ... rain

Freestall barn week three

This week it rained three inches!

Normally I would be rejoicing, but ...

all our corn isn't yet planted.  Now it's too wet to go in the field.

we couldn't cut alfalfa this week like we'd planned.

it delayed the barn building.  (These super hard working guys apparently do not work in a downpour.  But they do work in the light rain!  I felt for them.)

we had to move the cattle around and this made it quite difficult.

I'm not complaining, just stating some facts.  After all, why get upset about the weather?  I can't change it.  Besides, there are lots of other things going on!

For instance, today we found out that the motor we have for the new corn bin didn't have enough power.  Kris said they were going to use a more powerful motor from the old silo unloader.  I told Kris I was amazed that parts would fit together like that - that you could take an old motor from a different machine and hook it up to something new and different.  Kris said it was just like our kids' circuit boards - just wire the parts together and it'll work!

(I realize this is true but yet know I don't have the ability to do that.  I mean, I had to ask my dad to start my power washer today.)

Our relatives from Chicago came to visit!  Five of them had never been on a dairy farm before and for the others it had been a long time.  It was so fun showing them around because they asked insightful questions and the kids loved the calves and cows. 

Curious heifers and kids alike
Patient teacher, happy kids

Kris is working very long hours - by which I mean he leaves the house at 6:30 a.m., sometimes comes home for lunch for an hour, but sometimes not, and gets home about 9 or 10:00 p.m.  He plays in a weekly softball game and attends the occasional party - thanks to our dependable employees! -  but for these months he's busy.

But again, no complaints.  It's just the way it is this summer.  And who could be grumpy when you're looking at this?



Friday, May 24, 2013

The running of the cattle

Yesterday, we had a calf that we were unable to find.  Kris knew the cow had given birth in the pasture, but there was no calf in sight.  He looked for it in the pouring rain.  Kody looked for it.  Kris looked for it many more times ... but couldn't find it.  He was disappointed. 

Then last night right before midnight I got an email from my lovely neighbors Sharon and Ben.  She said they had heard a lot of mooing and went outside to investigate.  She "tromped through the weeds" on her side of the fence and found the calf!  She said it was "quite comfortable and in no particular hurry to return to its mom."  Sharon held a light and Ben stood up the calf and walked it over to our side of the fence.  She said, "I loved it!"

A happy ending, orchestrated by Sharon and Ben - thanks!

There is so much going on.  Just a few things: yesterday we put up the new grain bin.  They put on nine out of fifteen roof trusses today.  We're dealing with many new mothers.  Today we got a delivery of 16 more heifers we purchased.  Also, today we moved our one-year-old heifers (called yearlings) out to pasture for the first time ... and they were so excited!

I took a little video.  It went on like this for quite some time.  It's probably still happening right now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


One week in ... it's looking great! 

Kris took this picture yesterday.  Today it's raining and they couldn't do much of any building. 

When Kris came home at lunch he said they'd had 13 calves already - including three sets of twins!  By the end of the day, we had one more birth.

It's funny how quickly Kris gets into the routine.  It seems we go from waiting around for calving to start to him going a million miles per hour.  He's really tired for about the first week, and then it just seems like normal after that.  Like a good workout routine! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

I'm so excited to write this post ...

I'm so excited to write this post, because I've been thinking about it for months.  But until today, I didn't know the ending.

Many cows in a herd near Kris' dad's farm were diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis.  To track down the source, the state tested every herd within a ten-mile radius of that farm.  They also tested deer.  They also tested farms that sold animals to that farm or were sold from that farm.

Two and a half years ago, we sold two bulls to that farm.  So on April 6, we found out our herd was going to be tested. 

When I first learned about this, I thought that if your herd had TB, you couldn't farm anymore, because your facilities and land would be infected.  The state comes and puts lime on your fields and helps you sanitize everything, but you have to observe a waiting period.  Since there's no vaccine or medication for tuberculosis, if the cattle have it, they put them down.  What if you don't have enough money to build up your herd again?  I was really worried, because I thought that if we had TB, then Kris would have to find a new career.  I asked him repeatedly - for a worst case scenario - to tell me exactly what job he'd be doing if we weren't farming.  (He gave me a different answer every time.  Some of them were even sincere.)

They couldn't come and test until the end of April, because there were 66 farms within a ten-mile radius of the original farm.  Yes, 66 herds to test!  Kris' dad's was one of them and had no positive reactors.  Hooray!

The state vets brought their own chutes, which are really a set of portable gates with a headlock.  Over two days, they (with of course Kris and the guys' help) tested over 500 animals.  They do the test by giving them a tiny shot at the base of their tails.  They also had to give them a special ear tag.  It took many hours. 

Then two days later, they had to do it all over again.  This time, they had to check every single one of them to see if they had a reaction to the shot. 

If they have a reaction, they take blood.  Then then do a blood test.  If the cow doesn't pass the blood test, they put her down to look for lesions.  If they don't see lesions, they check the lymph nodes under a microscope.

On the day they checked for reactors, Kris was at the barn helping ... and I was waiting anxiously to see how many had a reaction.  What if our whole herd had TB?  What number was he going to tell me?  Whatever it was, it was going to really affect our future plans.

Finally, they were done, and we had seven reactors.  It was way fewer than the percentage of reactors they were assuming we'd get.  They said that this didn't mean they had TB - just some cattle are more sensitive than others.  They also said that the reactions were very small - like mosquito bites, and on the affected farm the reactions were the size of bananas. 

I was feeling pretty good.  So, the news a week later from Kris really crushed me.  Out of the seven blood tests, two of them tested positive. 

The state vet assured us the blood tests aren't 100% accurate.  (Thank goodness?) 

It seems like they would immediately swoop in and take the two cows.  But since they're doing this all over the state, it took a little longer.  Two weeks after we got that call, they took away the cows to be put down.  The state paid us for them, which made it a little less painful for us, but crummy for them.

My dad called it the Salem Witch Trial of TB tests. 

Three days after they took them, they called and gave us the good news - no lesions.  They told us we passed step one, and we'd get the microscope test results today.

So today we got the call - NO TB!  TB-FREE!  What an incredible relief.  I've been thinking about this and worrying about it every day for 44 days. 

Like I said, there's no vaccine or medicine for bovine tuberculosis.  The original farm isn't at fault.  You can't control disease that's passed by respiratory secretions.  In Michigan, bovine TB has been found in "white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, bobcat, coyote, opossum, raccoon, and red fox."  (Quit congregating, animals!)

I feel for those farmers and any farmers who have TB in their herd.  Of course none of us want TB in our cattle or our people.  The state and the farmers all only have the public's best interest in mind.  I wish all farmers and herds clean bills of health!

Thankfully, I'm writing the ending I was hoping for all along.  Looks like Kris is still going to be a farmer tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Here it is!

Today's the day! 

The builders put in the posts and then started framing the new freestall barn.  We watched them working and it all seemed to be going very quickly. 

I don't find it easy to make permanent changes.  When we first moved here and started altering the house, it was hard for me to do things that would never be the same.  The morning before we had a builder make closets in our house, I was really having second thoughts - what if I didn't like it?  When we had them knock down an interior wall, I really had to be all in for it ... we certainly weren't going to be undoing that one! 

Kris doesn't feel this way at all.  Thank goodness, because we certainly need somewhere to put these cows. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Our lunchtime conversation yesterday

"There were six calves this morning, and we had to pull four of them."


"One of them I pulled using my belt.  I learned that from your dad."

"What?!  Why didn't you use the chains?"

"Your dad had my truck with the chains in it."

"Oh ... did it work?"

"Yeah, it worked great.  It's a sturdy belt."

"Well!  I'm glad."

"It's a little crusty now."

Now I know what to get him for Father's Day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

16 going once ... going twice ...

Kris, dad, and all the guys had a long day yesterday.  Sixteen calves born!  It's a record for us.  However, we have more cows this year than any year, so it was an easy record to break.

Happily, we also got some corn planted yesterday.  We pay a custom corn planter to plant some of our fields for us.  It works out quite nicely that the planting is getting done while the calves are constantly being born, getting bottle-fed, having their mothers brought in for their first milking ... you get the idea. 

Kris sent me to town to get a part for the calf cart, but it wasn't the right part.  Today I went back and just handed the phone to the hardware store employee.  I'm sure they get that a lot.  He didn't even seem phased when I abondoned him in the aisle with my phone after my son declared he had to go to the bathroom.

Today was rainy, which always means fewer calves.  They like to birth them on dry days.  But there were eight born - that used to seem like a lot.

My neighbor Sharon watched from her backyard - and took some fantastic pictures!  This is hers:

She told me, "This just never gets old." 

For us, either!  This is really the best time of the year on the farm.  Kris would agree with me, but he's headed to bed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Calf explosion

Lots of activity at the barn - the builders were pouring cement for the utility building and a grain bin pad today.  Kris let the boys write their names in it.  They both wrote in cursive, because they think cursive is awesome.

Kris pointed out a cow in the pasture that he thought was going to have a calf.  He could tell because she had her tail up and her udder was really big.  She looked so close to calving it was even obvious to me.  After he pointed her out I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed her already.  She might as well as had a sign above her blinking 'IN LABOR.' 

We watched her ... some of us from a higher vantage point than others ...

and in no time, the hooves were out.  She laid down, gave a few pushes, and had her calf! 

I was close enough to see it happen, but not close enough for really good pictures.  If you want to see close pictures of a calf being born, check out my pictures here.  It looked a lot like that.  Really, all the easy births do. 

Eight calves today!  It's 10:40 p.m. and Kris is just getting home from his last calf check.  How many more will be born before midnight?  Only the cows will know ... this household is going to sleep.  We have to get ready for more calves and cursive tomorrow!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Parlor tricks

This morning a cow got her leg caught in the parlor. 

There are two bars on the parlor wall to help position the cows when they come in to be milked. 

Unfortunately, somehow, a cow got her leg caught between the two bars.  Then she fell down.  Kris and the guys worked a long time to free her leg - trying to pry the bars apart, trying to position her ... but it wasn't working.  She just kept backing up and getting it more stuck.  My dad went to get the torch to cut the metal, but as he did that, she managed to kick around and free herself! 

She walked out of the parlor limping, but okay!  Kris was really happy she was tough and that it ended well. 

Kris said my dad mentioned that they should take a picture ... but they didn't.  I didn't know about it until it was all over.  Can you believe they're not stopping to call me and tell me to come home from town to take a picture with my nice camera?  Amazing, I know.  It's like they're so busy.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

First the trade show, then the calf show

Today I worked in the United Dairy of Industry Michigan's trade show booth at the Michigan International Women's Show in Novi, MI.  It was huge!  There were tons of women there and they eagerly snapped up our recipe books, nutritional information, and Got Milk? magnet clips.  (We were calling them 'chip clips' but decided 'magnet clips' was a more descriptive name.) 
UDIM also hosted a cooking show, with chef Dina Tallman, where she cooked guacamole, smoothies, and parfaits with lots of dairy ingredients.  I assisted her in handing out the prepared food to the attendees.
This show had everything ... people getting their teeth whitened, people using shaking machines, poison ivy removal services with HORRIBLE pictures of poison ivy rashes ... everything.  It was a great show, UDIM has wonderful staff, and with all the choices of booths to visit - it was nice to hear people rave about dairy!
Meanwhile, back on the farm ...
Kris came home and said, "I need your help getting calves.  You can drive."
I said, "Eh ... you can drive."
He said, "I need to open and close the fences, so you should drive.  Come on - it can't be trade shows and marketing all the time, there needs to be some farming!"
We laughed, gathered up the boys, and went to collect calves. 
At one point you have to throw a log on top of a wire fence, then drive straight over it.  (We switched on the way back so I could get the 'log throwing' experience under my belt.)
We picked up some newborn calves:
We took them to the barn where Kris clipped their umbilical cords shorter, then dipped the cords in iodine to clean them:
I took this picture because Kris got a call right then.  His phone never stops ringing, actually - salesmen, farm stuff, farm stuff, farm stuff, friends and family.  Today one of his calls was from Kris' former co-worker friend who just quit his job to go back and farm with his family!  So trendy! 
We have six heifer calves and two bull calves in the barn right now.

 They're all healthy and good looking!  Some little ...

Some big ...
Some really, really loud:

Whether we're in a booth in a city or on our little farm, it's all the same deal.  Thank you!  We hope you're enjoying your dairy products!  We're enjoying producing them.