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 ...