Thursday, April 24, 2014

Drying up the cows

We dried up the cows this week.  I wrote about it in 2011, 2012, and 2013, because it is a BIG DEAL.


It takes a lot to prepare cows to not be milked.  They're not going to be milked from now until they have a calf.  This way, their bodies can concentrate all their resources on getting ready to have a calf.  Then, after they have calves, they'll be ready to produce milk again.

So, you may wonder, if our cows are dried up, how are we making any money?  We aren't!  We accept both cash and personal checks.

No, really, we use bulls, and all the cows don't get pregnant the same month.  Some of them get pregnant later, so we don't dry all of them up at the same time.  (Just most.)  So the ones that aren't as far along we still milk until it's their time to get dried up.  By that time, cows will have calved and we'll still have milk in the pipeline.

My sister has again been using my blog as a way to inspire journal writing in her middle school classroom, so for them, I'll walk you through the steps of drying up ... (see what they ask about this!)

1- The guys push on the right side of the cow's stomach to see if they can feel a calf.  This is called 'bumping'.  Most of them are about seven months along, and their gestation period is nine months, so you can usually tell.  (I think they look pregnant just by eyeing them, but I know it's not polite to ask.)

2 - If she's pregnant, they give her an antibiotic squirt 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.  (There are no antibiotics in milk that goes to the store, ever.  If a cow is ever given medicine, she is not milked into the bulk tank until it's out of her system.  Every milk load on every farm is tested every day, multiple times.  For more about how antibiotics are not in your milk at all, ever, read here.)

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

4- They mark them with a cow marker on their hind quarter to separate the dry cows from the cows that are still being milked.

5 - The vet checks the remaining ones manually (by which I mean she gives them a pelvic exam) to see if she can feel a calf.  Either the cows aren't as far along in their pregnancies, or there are always some that didn't get pregnant at all.

Then, we stop milking the really pregnant cows.  They were mooing at us last night, wondering why we weren't milking them like we have twice a day for a YEAR.  I tried to explain it to them in a soothing manner, but they mooed right over me.  It's so hard reasoning with pregnant ... anythings.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Proud new owners

We are the proud new owners of a ... get ready for it ... manure pump.  I know - fancy cars, dream vacations, you can have 'em.  Manure pumps are where it's at!

Isn't it beautiful?


Well, even if it's not impressive-looking, it is necessary.  When you have a giant lagoon filled with cow manure, the manure eventually settles and turns chunky.  It gets a crust on the top.  Some of it is even frozen.  (Not unlike the super-popular movie.  But with more of an odor.)

So lagoon owners use a pump to churn it up and make it liquid again.  It's like putting a giant KitchenAid mixer into it ... that effect. 

But what it really does is - it pumps the manure through the pump and shoots it back into the lagoon.  It eventually will make the entire vat move in a circular direction, like it's being stirred.  Imagine washing out a pail with a hose.  Like that.

When it's liquid enough, you switch a valve on it and pump it into the manure spreader.  Then we spread it on our fields for fertilizer.

Amazing, right?  So much goes into managing manure.  Scraping, pumping, hauling.  And the fun never stops - the lagoon holds 2.5 million gallons. That's 2.5 million reasons I'm truly excited about this pump.  Get it out of here ... they're making more!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I was born in Michigan

I just went on the treadmill and the movie Easter Parade was on.  Judy Garland started to sing a song ...

"I was born in Michigan,
And I wish and wish again,
That I was back in the town where I was born;"

(Oh, how funny!  I thought.  I've never heard this song before.)  She continued:

"There's a farm in Michigan,"

(Wait, a farm?!  Wow.  Now I really can't believe I've never heard this.)

"And I'd like to fish again,
In the river that flows beside the fields of waving corn.
A lonesome soul am I,
Here's the reason why:

I want to go back,
I want to go back,
I want to go back to the farm,
Far away from harm,
With a milk pail on my arm."

(Milk! No way.  She's singing about going back to a dairy farm in Michigan and I've NEVER HEARD THIS SONG?)

She went on about a rooster and a big city and missing a certain someone full of charm, but I was already searching on the internet about how old this song was.  Yes, Irving Berlin wrote it in 1914, it had some success, and the most famous performance of it was in the 1948 movie Easter Parade.  Meaning - this song has been in existence my entire lifetime and my mom's entire lifetime, yet I have never once heard it.

Does anyone know this song?  Or does everyone?  Are all of you secretly humming it to yourselves when you're talking to me?  I'm going to start paying closer attention.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Crack the code!

My friend Alex who works at Michigan Milk Producers Association posted about this: "Milk is local! Each container of milk is identified by a 2-digit state code followed by a 3-digit processing plant code."  If you don't live in Michigan, you can check exactly where your milk comes from by typing in the code at this site: whereismymilkfrom.

Our milk was a little harder to produce this weekend due to an 18-hour power outage.  But thanks to two generators, we were able to keep milking, provide the cows with water, and keep all the milk in the cooler cold ... so it can get stamped with a code and sent to you!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Technology and brackets

Yesterday Kris and I helped host the Michigan Milk Producer Association's Young Cooperator Conference.  For part of it, we went on a farm tour at Daybreak Dairy in Zeeland, where they use automatic calf feeders.

They're not new to the farming world, but I haven't seen them before.  So they're new to me!

All farmers have to decide how many times a day they're going to feed their calves, and then they have to decide how long they're going to drink out of bottles before they move to buckets.  

With an automatic feeder, you don't decide those things, because they eat all the time. 

The machine reads their ear tags, and can tell when they've eaten and how much, and when they meet their maximum in a certain amount of time.  If the calf hasn't eaten enough, it tells you that, so you go and chase it up and encourage it to drink.

So they're hanging out here:

And they walk up to the feeder:

This is a view from the top. You can see the top of the bottle sticking out.

And here's the machine indoors.  The door is open so we could see the inner workings.

This is the milk powder mixing with the water.  It smelled exactly like human formula.

It was fun seeing something new, and as always, talking farm talk with other young farmers.

I always enjoy this conference and the tours, but this marked the first time that I didn't fight sleep on the way back.  This time, thanks to my friend Alex, I was able to avoid the dreaded head jerk.

The conference featured reports from our co-op staff, Gordie Jones speaking about cow comfort, a panel on business planning, and a tailgate party!  We even had a cornhole (beanbag) tournament, with a bracket and everything.  Kris and I came in second place, even though my throw - I was horrified to see when I looked at my pictures - looks like this:

(Can you believe we beat many teams with this toss?  I even obviously step with the wrong foot!)

We had a great time with our planning committee, and we look forward to returning next year!  Who knows what will be new on the farm we visit, what I'll learn at the meeting, or what other terrible discoveries I'll make when I look back at my pictures.