Saturday, January 24, 2015

Hoof trimmer - or, confetti party

I really wanted to show our hoof trimmer Sheldon at work before he left.  He's recently announced that he's selling his business to become ... a dairy farmer!  (Everybody's doing it.)

Why trim hooves?  It's like clipping toenails.  Big toenails.  If there are any problems, the hoof trimmer can also take care of them before they become a big problem. 

It starts by guiding the cow into the chute.  

After she's in, Sheldon shuts the gate behind her.  You can see she has two supports underneath her. They cradle her and lift her slightly so that he can work with her hooves.  

One by one, Sheldon takes a hoof, secures it, and trims it.  

First, he uses a grinder, which takes off the very outer layer of the hoof.  

This creates a FESTIVAL OF CLIPPINGS.  Every time he did this, there was a sudden snowstorm of nails.  My son yelled, "Confetti!"  They really shot high and far.  Even after I became accustomed to it, I got hit in the face. 

Just like some guys' bathroom floors I saw at college parties:  

Then he shapes the hoof.


If she has a problem area that's healing (like she used to have a wart) then he treats it.

We watched a long time until he came upon one with a wart.  (Glad they're rare!  We don't want warts, obviously.)  

He treated it with copper sulfate ...

Wrapped it up ...

And sent her on her merry way.  Eventually after it's healed, the milkers take off her bandage.

This is an 'after' picture of a trimmed hoof.  The discolored areas aren't problem areas, he told me. The hooves just wear away at different rates.

After we watched him do several cows, he said, "I don't know how technical you want to get, but I can show you what I'm doing over on this side."

On his side, he had a touchscreen computer that recorded which cow he was trimming, if it had any problems, and where the problem was.  That way, every time he came to trim, he'd have a record of any past areas to give special attention.

He pressed the hoof and area (10 in the picture) where she had the wart.  Since he serves many farms, he has a file for each of us.

Sheldon joked with my kids that he could trim their nails when he was done. The whole time was good - it's great for the cows and was super interesting.

And we even got a take home gift - a little hoof clipping that landed on Max's hat.  A nice fashion choice for today's dairy farm. Everybody's doing it.


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Voice of Agriculture!

Michigan Farm Bureau puts on a Voice of Agriculture conference that helps people get ideas about promotion and get educational resources for doing outreach in schools, for adults, and to the media.  

I attended the breakout sessions on working with the media, doing lesson plans with The Cow in Patrick O'Shanahan's Kitchen (which teaches about food sources), and social media.  Then I did the motivational, go-get-em speech.  It was a blast!  Everyone was so enthusiastic and invested!  

When I was in a breakout session I met some new people - they were whispering funny things in the back of the room.  One girl is a cherry farmer!  She asked me, "Have your kids ever picked cherries?  Have YOU ever picked cherries?"  Big no to both of those.  So she immediately invited us to her farm this summer and said she'd save us some to pick.  

So obviously, the day was already a success at that point.  

Another girl had a sheep farm.  (I learned a common question for sheep farmers - "Do the sheep get cold when they're shorn?")  The background of her phone was a picture of a sheep.  Know why?  Because they're adorable.  She lives in the same area as the cherry farm ... probably should visit.

After my talk, and meeting great people, and learning about promotion and education - I ate the snack they had.  Warm, salted pretzels, which are one of my favorite treats.  The drink they provided? Milk.

Thanks to Farm Bureau!  You really know how to put on a good conference.  Inspiring, entertaining, and nutritious.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Preg check - ultrasounds today!

Big excitement today - preg check!  

Our vet comes and gives an internal ultrasound to every cow to determine 1) if she's pregnant 2) exactly how pregnant she is 3) if she has any problems.

Nick was our vet today.  I first met Nick when he was new to the practice, dealing with a uterine torsion.  (Go to that link for some great pictures.)  Now he's married, has a baby girl, and is well-seasoned!  

Like most good doctors, Nick likes answering questions about what he's doing.  (I once had a doctor who told me I asked too many questions.  I never saw him again, of course!)

So there was a lot to learn today!

Nick reaches into the cow with the probe in his hand.  It's connected to goggles that he can look into, and on the screen of his goggles is the ultrasound.  

He let me look through them - it looks a whole lot like a baby ultrasound.  I could see the beautiful spine and the little heartbeat fluttering away. 

But 'reaching into the cow' isn't an easy job.  He has to push into them up to his shoulder.  He answered that yes, lots of vets eventually tear their rotator cuffs or hurt their elbows.  He has personally overextended his elbow before.  

Sometimes the uterus isn't where he can feel it, so he coaxes it up with his hand in order to get a better feel for the calf.

Sometimes he uses his hand and not the probe to feel the calf and estimate the size.

But this isn't a one man job, of course.  Josh was in there, helping position, treat, and tag the cows.

Here's a view from the pit.

And this is a really physical job.  Right here, the cow has moved into Nick so that he's pinned and can't move.  He wasn't in pain or hurt or anything ... just clearly not going to be able to move until she leaves the parlor.  There's another vet in the clinic who's far along in her pregnancy, and this is why she isn't doing preg checks right now!

All of our cows have ear tags so that we can keep track of them.  Over time, they sometimes fall off. We give them a new one at preg check, if necessary.  


We bought some cows from a friend named Susan, and her name still goes on their tags!  (They're doing great, Susan!)

Some have names, some have numbers, and all of them wear earrings.  

We separate the cows into three groups.  We did one preg check Tuesday, one today, and we'll do one in two weeks.  We don't have enough time in between milkings to do all of them, and a vet wouldn't want to do hundreds at one time, anyway.  (See rotator cuffs.)

Josh and Adam were helping put them in the parlor, one by one.  

They'd put one in one side of the parlor, and yell the number.  Nick would check her while they put one in the other side, yell her days pregnant, go again, and so on until they were all done.  Of course, this wasn't like an assembly line ... there was lots of talking and laughing the whole way through! 

Still going ...

Nick came upon a cow that he thought had a DA, which means displaced abomasum, which is the technical term for a twisted stomach.  He listened to her with a stethoscope and ruled that out, so he wanted to check her for ketosis.  We have strips that the cows can urinate on to see if they test positive for ketosis.  

So, Nick sort of rubbed on the back of her until she peed, and Josh held the stick in her stream of urine.  It was negative, and she was fine.  Hooray!  (I've never seen a vet stimulate a cow to urinate either.  Nick said it almost always works.)

Kris was in the front, writing down all the numbers and names and taking a record of the pregnancy dates, cows that were open (not pregnant), and ones with any problems - like an ovarian cyst or an infection. 

Max mostly swung around on pipes and chatted. 

It was all a success!  The calves are growing, the cows are doing well, and we're on our way to another year of milk.  Which makes farmers ... and milk lovers ... very happy.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Home work

My friend is a crop farmer, and today she wrote about 'what crop farmers do in the winter', because all the dairy and livestock farmers tease them that they only work a few months a year.  This never gets old (to us!)

What this dairy farmer in the winter pictured above does - along with the regular daily work on a farm - is go to meetings.

All the meetings are in the winter, because there's no way you'd get a farmer to a meeting on time during any sort of harvest.  (Or a graduation open house ... or a wedding ... or a funeral.)

Just to name a few, together we have our local, district, and annual Michigan Milk Producers Association meetings.  I've got the Voice of Ag next week.  In addition, he's going solo to a Purina meeting, an extension advisory meeting, and a Farm Bureau natural resources advisory meeting.    

Kris went to a meeting today put on by the MSU Extension office about energy audits.  After he got home, he got out his file of last year's bills to get proof for potential energy rebates.

We marveled at it together.  LOOK AT THAT FILE!  And these are just the paper bills - not counting the ones we get online!

So, farming is more than just the daily outside work - there's the business side of it that you have to tend to every day too.

... This is probably true even for crop farmers.  (See? Always fun.)

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Milk Means More - Jump with Jill - Live Tour!

Joe Matulis, the St Johns elementary gym teacher, won a Jump with Jill assembly for two more schools!  Today was Eureka and East Olive.

The Milk Means More - Jump with Jill show is so fun.  It's informational, entertaining, interactive - and the kids love it!  Everyone is up and dancing and totally into it for the entire hour show.  And why not?  It's a rock concert! 

Jill (Laura Brown) and DJ Devon (Devon Watson) teach about dairy, vegetables, fruit, exercise, and making healthy choices.  For each of the lessons, the kids learn a catchy song and dance.  

This is the third time I've been at a show, and I love it!  It's always a little bit different every time, and the performers are so nice (and nice to my kids.)  They also always say a really nice tribute to dairy farmers.

The invite dairy farmers to introduce the show, and Joe had Fuel Up to Play 60 door prizes for me to hand out.  I asked dairy quiz questions. 

The kids were pumped.

Milk, complete with sunglasses and gold chain.  Milk has never been so chill.

The kids loved dancing.  

Karla Palmer, school nurse, Joe Matulis, gym teacher, Cari Cravotta, music teacher, and two more music teachers in St Johns - 100% dance participation!

 Jill, the milk, and me - sporting our giant J necklaces.

Jill invited kids and adults up to do the Bone Rap!  (All about health benefits of milk ... my clear favorite.)

So hardcore.

I can't say enough good things about the show, and I'm so glad Joe Matulis won it for our schools ... here's to healthy eating and daily dance parties!  Gold jewelry optional.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Wintery week

Tonight Kris and I were supposed to go a neighborhood party together.  He came home from the barn and showered, but he got a call ... a cow had a calf!  This was a surprise calf ... the vet had checked her in May and said that she was "open".  (Meaning she wasn't pregnant.)  

This just happened in the news this week.  A girl didn't know she was pregnant until an hour before she gave birth, and had a 10 lb, 2 oz baby.  Having been pregnant twice, I don't know how this could happen, but it seems to happen all the time.

June 2007
For me, it was hard to miss it.  

To be fair, the cow didn't look pregnant either.  

After the two of them were taken care of, he came back, reshowered, and went to the party.

It was a cold, cold week.  -11 wind chill one morning.  Wind gusts of 20 mph, a little snow.  On Thursday Kris wore five layers on top, two on the bottom.  I posted this picture on Facebook, and everyone kept commenting on his smile.     

Winter isn't just working in the cold ... it's indoor work!  Taxes and health care and meetings, all of which we did a lot of this week.  But yes, Kris always makes time for seeing friends and family.  It keeps him smiling.  (All work and no play makes Kris a dull boy.  Or definitely not as smiley.)    

He also manages to involve the boys in a lot of his work.  For instance, he lets our four-year-old address the employee paychecks and tax documents.

Sort of makes finding your envelope more of a challenge!

We'll see what new surprises are coming this week ... more surprise calves?  A sudden warm front?  An audit? Haha -  just kidding, government.
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Monday, January 5, 2015

Agriculturally-based STEM school starting in St Johns

Exciting news in St Johns ... an Agricultural Science Technology Education Math elementary school! They call it Ag-STEM, because obviously it needs to be less of a mouthful.

St. Johns Public Schools and Central Michigan University have signed an agreement to create a university lab school with an agricultural focus.

Known as an Ag-STEM school, it will be the first of its kind in Michigan, and possibly in the United States, St. Johns Superintendent Dedrick Martin said.

Gateway Elementary School will be the Ag-STEM school in St. Johns – a school where science, technology, engineering and math concepts will be introduced with a decidedly agricultural focus.


I really love this project, because Clinton County is such an agriculturally-focused region.  The school board in St Johns is working hard to come up with new curriculum ideas, and I think this one will resonate with the community.    

The rest of the article is here:

Lab school with agricultural focus to be launched


In farm news, the guys were able to fix the wheel loader this afternoon!  Kris said it wasn't that bad this morning, despite the cold, but everyone was happy that they had a closed cab for tonight and for the rest of the upcoming cold, cold week.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Snow, cold, and broken machinery!

We woke up to a beautiful winter day.  The boys and I spent all morning and a lot of the afternoon outside in it.

We were at our friends' house - they have a pony, goats, and chickens, which all the kids loved! - and Kris got a call from home that the wheel loader wasn't working.

At home, they tried to fix it, to no avail.  It seems like something electrical.  And of course you can't call anyone to fix it at 6:30 p.m. on a Sunday.  (Well, he did call, but they didn't answer.)

This is the machine we use to take the feed from the feed pile and put it into the mixer.  Since it wasn't working, they had to take the tip bucket off and put it on the skid steer.  It's supposed to fit both.  But unlike Legos, it never really transfers super easily, so it took a lot of time and tools.  Legos, where are you in the ag equipment market?!

Kris offered to feed tomorrow morning, because even though it isn't his day, he didn't want anyone else to have to mess around with it.

So ... tomorrow at 4:00 a.m., it's supposed to be 1 degree.  Instead of being in a warm, closed cab wheel loader, Kris will be in an open cab skid steer ... which means it's going to be a COLD job!

Kris said he was going to wear all of his clothing that he has.  I fished out a ski mask-type cover from the depths of our coat closet and suggested he wear it tomorrow.  It's a little different - it has little holes for breathing in the mouth area, and it sort of resembles a hockey mask.

He stood in the bathroom, pulled it on, and we both looked at him in the mirror.  He looked terrifying.  It was a scene right out of a horror movie.

"This should help me keep warm," Kris said in a muffled voice.  He leaned close to me and whispered, "I'm going to get you."

Let's hope that wheel loader gets fixed quickly, or he's going to scare the children.

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Why does some organic milk have a later expiration date?

Today while I was (ironically) in the grocery store, I got a text from Jay Hill, one of the other Faces of Farming and Ranching.  He said his sister was in town and she had questions about organic milk ... could I talk to her?

She asked the same questions that almost all of my mom friends have asked me:  Do I need to be buying organic, or is it just marketing?  Am I worried about antibiotics and hormones in non-organic milk?  Do I feed my kids organic food?

We talked for awhile - I had to park my cart so I could give her my full attention.  At one point when I was engrossed in our conversation, my son held my hands down and whispered, "You don't need to move your hands when you talk."

I told her my views:  I buy conventionally grown food, all milk is free of antibiotics, and I feed my kids conventionally grown food.  I'd never feed my kids something that I thought was harmful to them.  I'm happy for the choices available, but I know that we farm with food safety in mind, and conventionally-grown food is my farm and purchasing choice.

She said, "Do you think all farmers are like you and Jay?"

I do!  The farmers I know are proud of what they do, and they do it well.  Like I always say ... we live here and eat here too!

One question she asked is something that I haven't addressed here:  Why does some organic milk have a later expiration date?

Great question!  Here's the answer:

Organic milk lasts longer because producers use a different process to preserve it.  The milk often needs to stay fresh longer because organic products often have to travel farther to reach store shelves since there are fewer organic farms.

What's that process?

Well, you're probably familiar with pasteurization.  There are three types for milk:

- Low temperature, long time:  Milk is heated to 145 degrees F for 30 minutes. (Not common.)

- High temperature, short time: Milk is heated to 160 degrees F for 15 seconds. (Standard.)

- Ultrahigh temperature: Milk is heated to 280 degrees F for at 2-4 seconds.

Pasteurization doesn't kill all the bacteria in milk, just the ones that cause disease.  Ultra pasteurization kills everything.

If we're killing off bacteria, why not kill it all?  Well, the heat destroys some of the milk's vitamin content, and affects some proteins.  Also, not all bacteria contained in milk is harmful, and many of the cultures that thrive benefit the human digestive system.

It also tastes a little different - it burns some of the sugars, so it's sweeter. So it's not that it's organic that it lasts longer on the shelves, it's because it's been heated up to a higher temperature.  An added benefit is that the long shelf life is useful for many people.

And that's the story on pasteurization!  So if you have any dairy-related questions, go ahead and contact me.  You can be sure that when I answer, I'll be gesturing wildly with my hands.  

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