Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chocolate milk, please

Our co-op - Michigan Milk Producers Association - donated chocolate milk to give out at the end of the Farm to Fork 5k today.

The race put on by Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers, which is a St Johns-based company - it started near our house, and now has an international presence.  The Bancroft family donates a lot to the community, and the money from this race went to the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

The race went through corn fields, peanut fields, and even a field of sunflowers.  They had a great turnout! Tons of our neighbors were there and ... lots of them were farmers!  Farm family after farm family, lots of farmer age group winners, a dairy farmer team running ... people we rent land from to farm because their parents farmed ... it was a good showing by farmers today.

The boys and I handed out chocolate milk at the end, along with another dairy farm family neighbor.  I love seeing people drinking down nature's recovery drink!  (I drank mine in 2.5 seconds.)

Thanks to Liquid, Alex from MMPA, and all the volunteers!  Nothing like a run through the fields - and chocolate milk - to start off a morning.

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

China comes to the farm: Hosting Northwest A&F University of China students

This is my favorite picture of the day.  Let's call it a calfie.

Today, we hosted students from the College of Economics and Management, from the Northwest A&F University of China.

As part of this summer study abroad program, the 23 students and 4 instructors made site visits to farming, forestry, and livestock operations. 

They pulled up in their huge Michigan State University bus and piled out.  I introduced myself and the boys, and they were immediately showered with gifts.  Mascot from Nagano, art, keychains, necklace pouch, bracelets … the students were so kind to them. 

Checking out the calves and the kids
The students were so attentive and interested.  Their liason, Dr. Runsheng Yin, translated for them if needed.  They all met the calves, learned about their care, and asked lots of questions.  They also enjoyed the kittens … you can see one being cradled in the picture!

I think you can see the enthusiasm!
We took the short drive over to the dairy barn and gave a tour there of the grounds, the lagoon, and the free stall barn.  After explaining the milking process, we talked about the business and financial aspects of a dairy farm.  We covered co-ops, start-up capital, loans, etc.

Talking by the dairy barn
Thanks to George Silva, MSU extension agent, too!
They presented Kris with a beautiful red tie, and we gave them each a bag filled with dairy-related items, including a Go-Gurt, which is perfect in any and every country.  Who doesn’t want dairy sweet goodness in a tube?! 

The boys posed for more pictures, including some where the girls gave them their sunglasses to wear, and they were off. 

I love giving tours – it was so much fun!  If nothing else, today 27 people from the other side of the world have a better understanding of dairy farms.  And many pictures of my boys to remember it by.

Sniffing out the feed

My gift-laden children.

The tie, the bags, and the nice people!

Thanks so much for coming!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What? 9 words that have a totally different meaning on a farm

What are they talking about?

1. Feed.

What do you feed a cow?  You feed a cow … feed.  You don’t say, ‘cow food’, like you say ‘dog food.’  It’s ‘cattle feed.’

Our cows are on pasture, but we also feed them a supplemental feed.  (See what I did there?  I can’t get away from it.)  We chop up corn and alfalfa into tiny bits and feed them their feed.  Looking at ‘feed’ repeated so many times is … well, it’s making me hungry. 

Regular use:

“I tried to feed Cujo, but he wasn’t hungry for his dog food.”

 Farm use:

“Everything broke today when I went to push up the cattle feed.”

2. Lagoon.

Ah … a shimmering, azure body of water, tucked away in the Caribbean, the perfect temperature for a dip.

Or, a manure storage system.

Why is it better to have a giant lake of manure instead of having it in pits underground?

Lots of reasons!  The best reason, in my opinion, is that if you fall into a manure pit, you die.  The fumes, which are in a very small, enclosed space, overcome you and kill you.  There are many instances over the years on farms of someone falling in, and a dad, a brother, an uncle, etc. – trying to help and also perishing. 

But!  If you fall into a lagoon, the air isn’t trapped, so you’ll just be really messy.  No real harm done.

There are many other reasons – great engineering, easier way to spread the manure on fields in a timely manner, bigger, and basically everything is easier to work on when it’s out in the open and not under a barn.

You’d think it’d smell really strongly, right?  Amazingly, it doesn’t.  The manure forms a crust on top of it, and it doesn’t smell like you’d think it would.  (I know you’re thinking porta potty at a football game, right before kickoff.  It is only one million times better than that.)

Regular use:

“I’m going to lounge in the lagoon.  You’ll find me by the mermaids.  They’re thinking of making me queen.”

Farm use:

“A cow tried to fall into the lagoon today.  It must just look really inviting.”

3. Combine.

Okay, say that word out loud.  What syllable did you stress - did you say comBINE or COMbine?

If I were reading it, I’d say comBINE, as in to bring two separate pieces together. 

But on a farm, it’s a COMbine, which is a piece of farming equipment used to harvest grain.  It used to be called a combined harvester, and the name was shortened.  But that begs the question … were people pronouncing it the COMbined harVESTer?  And how did the NFL decide on their combine pronunciation?  And which quarterback could best run a combine this fall harvest?  Sports talk radio, I look to you.  I know you have an opinion.

Regular use:

“I wanted to combine my interest in taxidermy with my love of pets, but it just didn’t work out.”

Farm use:

“I wanted to combine my interest in combining with my interest in the combine, but sports talk radio ignored me.”

4. Fresh, freshening, freshen, freshened.

Crisp, bright vegetables, just from the garden!  Waking up bright and rosy-cheeked!  Reapplying perfume and touching up makeup!

Or, a cow that has just had a calf and is giving milk.  After they start giving milk, we refer to them as the ‘fresh cows’.  (Which makes me think of a gang of cattle, sassing their teachers and smoking across from the school.)

Regular use:

“My laundry never smells fresh.  It’s probably because I leave it in the washer for days before I realize I’m out of underwear again.”

Farm use:

“The fresh cows are milking well.” (This does not mean as opposed to the stale ones.)

5. Bagged up.

At the grocery store, a kind gentleman bags up my groceries for me. 

On the farm, it means that the cow’s udder is getting bigger, meaning she’s closer to delivering a calf. 

Kris drives out in the pasture and walks in the barns to see which cows are getting close to calving, so he can keep an eye on them.  They give signals, like getting really big on their right side (cows carry calves more on that side of their bodies.)  Their udders get larger.  They start complaining about their ankles and water retention.  Just kidding!  

Regular use:

“When I bagged up my groceries, I forgot to put in the conditioner.  So I had to cut all the snarls out of my hair before I left the house.”

Farm use:

“A few of them look pretty bagged up, so they’ll probably all have calves when we should be leaving for the football game.” 

6. Deacon.

You’re thinking – religious position.  Here, it’s a term for newborn dairy bull calves that you’re selling.  (If you’re keeping them, or they’re older, they’re just called ‘bulls’.  Isn’t that incredibly specific?  It is not a standard definition in Merriam-Webster, but it is one that we all know. 

Regular use:

“The deacon jumped from the church balcony to save his nephew from drowning.  No, wait, he made that up.”

Farm use:

“I sold three deacons today.” (And after they’re sold, they magically turn into bulls!)

7. Pasture.

When I think of a pasture, I think of a green meadow, full of grass.  That is a pasture!  It’s also used as a verb.  When I say, ‘we pasture our cattle,’ it means that our cattle graze on a pasture.

I think only farmers use it as a verb – but really, who else talks so much about pastures?  Endlessly?  For hours, months, years?  Pasture farmers!

Regular use:

“Do you see that pasture over there?  They’re turning it into a Denny’s.  If it were any other restaurant, I wouldn’t be mad.”

Farm use:

“We pasture our cattle on pasture.  It’s pasture bedtime, young man!”  (Raucous laughter.)

8. Crick.

Sometimes you wake up, and you have a crick - or a painful stiffness - in your neck.  Here, we often have them running through our backyards.  They’re a natural stream of water smaller than a river.

I well remember when I was a little girl, writing my aunt a thank you note.  I wrote, “We’ve been playing in the crick until we get leeches.”  My mom looked at my writing and said, “That’s not how you spell that – it’s C-R-E-E-K.”

Oh, that crazy English language, I thought.  A word sounds like ‘crick’ but is written ‘creek’?  Except I noticed … everyone didn’t call it ‘crick’ that rhymed with ‘brick’.  They called it ‘creek’ that rhymed with ‘seek’ - JUST LIKE IT WAS SPELLED.

Since then, I’ve said ‘creek’ to rhyme with ‘seek’.  But I’d say it’s 50/50 around here.  But everyone knows what everyone else is talking about, so there’s never any confusion. 

Regular use:

“I can’t believe I still have this crick in my neck from headbanging in the ‘90s.  Darn you, Nirvana!”

Farm use:

“I’m soaked, because I had to run through the crick to chase that cow that got out.” (Sometimes causes back cricks.)

9. Scours.

What do you scour – a sink?  A pan?  The internet?

Here, scours is synonymous with calf diarrhea.  (Aren’t you glad you know this?)  Scours isn’t a disease, but it is a symptom of several diseases.  No matter what’s causing it, scours can make the calf dehydrated and lose electrolytes.  Since they’re just delicate little babies, you have to make sure that everything that’s going into them and coming out of them is right.

Regular use:

“I scoured that pan for upwards of five minutes.  Then I just threw it away.  I think I’m actually coming out ahead on time if I just buy a new pan every time I make omelets.”

Farm use:

“Kids, I was just treating that calf with scours, so let me take a shower before I hug you.”

I'm a national finalist for Faces of Farming & Ranching - and you can help select the winner!  See a video of my farm and vote here:

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Pulling an all-nighter

This morning Kris' alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. It woke me up (it doesn't usually) and I was surprised to see ... Kris wasn't in bed.

We'd texted before I went to sleep - he said it was going to be a late night.  I didn't know he meant that late, though.

A little worried, I called him.  I was very relieved when he answered, saying, "What are you doing up so early?"

"Oh, just making sure you're still alive!"  I said.

This is what happened - the straw was finally raked, dry, and baled.  With the forecast of 100% chance of rain today, Kris didn't want the bales to get rained on.  They had to be taken out of the field and put into barns.  As a result, he and one of our team members (he didn't mind, he promised!) stayed up putting bales up all night!  By the time they were done, it was time for Kris to start feeding the cows.

Hours later, Kris got home and sat down to do payroll.  The boys were buzzing around him - so interested in the 'Dad staying up all night' story.

"Have you ever stayed up all night before, Dad?" Ty asked.

"Not ... the entire night," he said.  "I've definitely only had an hour of sleep or two, but not the whole night."

We looked outside.  The sun was shining brightly.  We hoped the forecast was right.

Just as he went to take a nap, the rain started, and it rained steadily for a few hours.

Later Kris said, "It's just Murphy's Law.  Or the Law of Farming.  If we didn't get the bales in, it would have rained early.  Just like - we got the irrigation system fixed yesterday, so now it's raining. If that hadn't gotten fixed, it never would have!"

(No wonder forecasters have such trouble figuring out what's going to happen.  They have to take every farmers' day into consideration when making their predictions.)

I once said I'd never have a business that depended on the weather.  Turns out it affects every single decision that goes on around here ... even when people sleep.  ...Sweet dreams!

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Proving once again there's a day for everything ...


I get emails asking me to promote or mention different events ... who could say no to this?!  Happy National Zucchini Day!

I am also definitely in favor of sneaking zucchini bread onto porches.  Mine, preferably.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014

The all-consuming chopping!

We chop our alfalfa and sudax (a kind of grass) for our cattle's feed.

To do this, you have to cut it, rake it into rows, and then chop it when it's dry enough - but not too dry!  We want to ensure the best feed for our cattle.

Sometimes it all goes perfectly.  Sometimes ...

It rains on it after it's been cut.
You have to rent a different kind of rake to rake it.
It rains again.  Not much, just enough to ruin your harvest plans.
You have to then buy a rake to rake it when you need to return the other rake.
A tire blows on your chopper.
You have to find the one tire in the area that someone will sell you to put on your chopper.  (Only dairy farmers really have choppers - they're not that common.)
You have to find a guy to come over really early in the morning to remove the rim and put the tire on the chopper.
You chop, find out one field is sort of wet.  Take the feed out and test it, decide it's fine.  Start chopping again.

So!  We got the hay chopped today, finally.  It took a lot of people and a lot of days.

Know what?  None of that matters to the next generation.

Yesterday, all three of the boys rode with Kris in the chopper.  Today they took turns.  (I also saw one of our team member's daughters riding with him in the buddy seat.  Kids just love it.)

My sons started asking about it as soon as we got home from town.  "Dad said we could take turns and each ride an hour with him!  Can we?  Call him!  Is he ready?"

They each eagerly left the pool, one by one, to go and ride with their dad.  They love the machines, they love the excitement of seeing the hawks in the field, a deer with antlers, the guys who work with us ... all of it.

When they're older, they probably won't remember any of the hard parts of farming - just the best parts. The harvest, the machines, and especially hanging out with their dad.

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