Saturday, October 24, 2015

Another aspect of farming ... policy!

This year for the first time Kris was part of the Michigan Farm Bureau Policy Development Committee.  (His interview starts at 35 seconds in the above video.)

For three days, they take the 800+ proposed resolutions from the county Farm Bureaus and draft them into resolutions members will vote on at the annual meeting in December.

The resolutions are about absolutely everything affecting agriculture (800 seems to cover a lot, right?) from energy policy to taxes to animal care.

So for these days, Kris depended on our great employees to take care of everything on the farm. We feel very fortunate to have a team that can take care of the work here.

There are so many aspects that go into farming ... cattle health, nutrition, cropping, machines ... and governmental policy!  Farm Bureau is so well-organized and established (this is the 96th annual meeting) and it's great to be a part of this aspect of it as well.

Kris said they got a lot of work done, he ate more food than he had in months, and he can't remember the last time he sat down for this long since EVER.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Middle East and Midwest


Today we hosted a tour for women scholars from the Middle East!  Marilyn Thelen from MSU Extension brought them, along with MSU associate professor Andrey Guber.

They were interested in manure management, crop and soil sciences, and women-owned farms.  Of course, coming from another country, their questions were different than the ones I usually get.

Along with specific manure and soil questions, we discussed my role on the farm, women's roles on farms in general, income, taxes, and ownership.  (They told me that at home, if a husband/wife team owns a farm and he dies, she gets 1/8th of the farm.)

The calves were appropriately adorable, the cows were calm, and the women were cold.  I asked what they liked best about their trip so far, and one mentioned the beautiful fall leaves.  We are having a gorgeous fall.  (I say this every fall ... and take the same pictures.  This is a picture from this year and a picture from last year.  I can't help myself.)

It was a really interesting and enjoyable tour.  Thank you to our visitors and to Marilyn Thelen for bringing them.

Meanwhile on the farm ...

Kris has an policy development meeting for Michigan Farm Bureau for the next three days.  Farm Bureau's role is to 'represent, protect, and enhance the business, economic, social and educational interests' of their farmer members.  Kris said, "The day runs from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.!  Of course, that's shorter than my normal day."

We're hauling manure right now, because we want to get it on all our fields that we just harvested so we can work it in.  The conditions are good because the ground isn't wet yet either.  Most farms are hauling manure continuously around here now for the same reasons.  You can see and smell the work going on!

We're getting ready for fall.  The grass isn't really growing any more, so we brought most of the cattle in from the pasture.  (The heifers are still out on it.)  We're going to rent a neighbor's facilities and keep some heifers there over the winter.  Basically, just like our visitors today, it's getting cold and we know we need to all get inside!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

We love our vets - today's surgery

Every once in awhile a calf gets a hernia.  This nice two-month old heifer had a pretty prominent one in her belly button, which is called an umbilical hernia. (Tonight our dads were talking about how they've fixed small hernias in the past - they have taped or wrapped the calf around the entire body in hopes that the hole will close.)  In this case, since it was big, we called on our veterinarians.

You can see her hernia pushing out near the center of her body.

Full disclosure - I LOVE watching the vets do surgeries.  I had even more interest in this one because a few years ago, I also had umbilical hernia surgery!  

Our longtime vet Russ Seifferlein was assisting our newer vet Lindsey Sanchez.  Earlier in the day she had been to float (file) a horse's teeth and helped a family say goodbye to their cat.  Seriously, vets have such interesting days!

This was Lindsey's first ever hernia surgery.  I'm sure she was super glad that she had four people watching and one taking pictures.  (Just kidding - she did a great job.) 

First, they sedated the heifer.  Then, they shaved and cleaned the surgical area with alcohol for a long time.

Note their cute headlamps.
They covered the rest of her body and gave her anesthesia.  If you didn't see her hernia before, you can see it now!

Lindsey made the incision with Russ looking on.  She cut around the circle of the hole, making sure to cut only skin and not the intestinal wall.

It's amazing how tough skin really is.  I mean, they are known for leather and all.

After she'd cut all she needed to, she made sure the intestines were pushed back in the body and moved to sew her all back together.  (This part actually made my belly button hurt a little.)

She needed to sew up the hole, and then she needed to sew the skin. Russ also referred to the 'belt and suspenders' method, where she sewed it in two places (together and to the side) to make sure the repair didn't fail.  

Looks just like any surgery in a hospital, minus the straw.  But it's clean straw!

Like for most events on the farm, our son got an up close view.

Kindergarten in the morning, vet school in the p.m.

Then, she was finished!  First hernia surgery successful!  She proudly displayed the repaired calf.

We'll keep her in this pen by herself for a week or so to make sure that no other calves accidentally injure her.  She'll be herself in no time, but with a stronger abdominal wall!

Thank you, Russ and Lindsey, for the educational day and great work.  As always, we hope never to see you on our farm again! 

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Go Green!

Today Professor Miriam Weber Nielsen from Michigan State University brought her Introductory Dairy Cattle Management class to our farm.

They make a yearly visit, and every year the students are always engaged and interested.  Great conversations!

Kris and I talked about our farm, and the students had specific questions - different than what people not involved in agriculture ask - like what pasture grass we grow, if the calves ever suck on each other, what specific feed we use, the benefits of pasture, about growing our own feed, what kind of illnesses the calves get, how we work with natural bull breeding, etc.

They all have different interests too - one student came from a 50-cow dairy farm, and she wants to be involved in cow care.  Another came from a farm but wanted to learn all about cropping, because it's new to him.  Another wanted to work somewhere like the MSU extension office.

Miriam also mentioned to the students that part of the reason she brings a class to our farm is because Kris and I are good communicators.  All that talking I did through all my college classes is finally seen as a positive, instead of a negative!  If you wait long enough ...

Thanks again to Dr. Weber Nielsen and our beloved MSU!  If you ever need us to take this bus to football games, we're in.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ask a farmer anything! - from the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo

Thomas Titus, pig farmer from Illinois, Jill Mantey, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers alliance staff, and I represented farmers at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Nashville, Tennessee.

Over 10,000 dietitians and nutritionists came to attend educational sessions and visit the expo.

The people:

It could have also been called a parade of health. I knew most dietitians were women, but I learned there was a type. Healthy, great hair and skin, outgoing, and apparently fantastic clothing. (Where is the app I can point at outfits and immediately purchase them? Please invent.)

There was the occasional male dietitian. I used the term 'male dietitian' with one and he corrected me, saying, "Mantitian. Advantage - no bathroom line!"


The issues:

When I asked dietitians what farming questions their clients or patients had, they almost always responded that they were the ones educating their clients about agriculture, and that often their clients think food comes from a grocery store. They often stressed how it's important to know where your food comes from, and they talked a lot about local choices and farmers markets.

Our booth said, "Ask a farmer anything!" We got ...

"What are the biggest barriers for you in connecting with consumers?"

"What is your goal in being here?"

"Is it true you take out all the fat in milk and put it back in?"

"Are tomatoes a berry?"

Pesticides, sustainability, environmental impact, GMOs, organic, animal care ...

You name a hot topic in agriculture, it came up. I found it incredibly useful - and it never got less funny - to introduce my family and farm by gesturing behind me. It was so great to be able to talk to so many people at the forefront of nutrition education about our business and lifestyle.


Public view of farming:

Over time, the public perception of farming has changed dramatically. When Thomas and I introduced ourselves as farmers, people often thanked us and told us they personally also wanted to be farmers - or hoped to be farmers someday. We got questions about soil for gardens, the easiest farm animal to maintain, and educational resources for starting a small farm.

A dietitian who also farmed said, "Farmers used to be considered country bumpkins. Dumb hayseeds. Now when people say they're farmers it's the cool, trendy thing! Fifty-seven years old and I'm cool again!"

But it's a type of farmer that is considered interesting. Small farms and farmers markets are considered good, and people are skeptical of big farms, corporate farms, and farmers they don't know.

A different dietitian said, "I know the food I'm buying at the farmers market is not the same food people are buying at fast food restaurants and grocery stores."

That was an interesting statement, because it really boils down to control. People want some control over the food they're purchasing. They can't produce what they want, because they don't have the resources, but they certainly know what they want. The hows and whys of what they want doesn't really factor in, because they've never had a farm as a business. But we live in a country where you can get pretty much what you want, and so consumers would like to be able to dictate how they want their food to be produced, what they want to eat, and the price at which they get it.

Farmers, in turn, want to have the best farm possible. We want to produce food consumers want to buy at a profit. We want successful businesses, healthy animals, good crops, and job satisfaction. We all want clean air, water, and soil.  We want to meet consumer needs. As people often say about farming, you have to really love it, or you wouldn't do such a hard job.

So where does that leave us? My husband Kris often points out that there are extremists on both sides of every issue and most people land somewhere in the middle. 

We all essentially want the same things - food, responsibly grown, healthy, affordable. So as long as we keep working together toward solutions that meet everyone's needs, we can all be happy.  (It totally works in Congress!)


One tool U.S. Farming & Ranching is using that we hope helps give a real view of farming is the documentary Farmland by James Moll. It follows six young farmers and talks about what their lives are like. It's a way to provide a counterpoint to documentaries that are not a good representation of farming.

I think the documentary does a good job profiling the farmers the producer picked. It's on Netflix and you can find more about it here. (But of course dairy farming is my favorite, and since they don't feature a dairy farmer, please feel free to ask me any questions.)

Lots of dietitians asked if they could show it in a class or to others in their profession, or to clients,  of course we appreciate any tool that helps get the USFRA message across - we're farmers, we're real people, and we're trying to run the best farms possible.

For instance, one dietitian said that she'd seen a drone video going over a farm, showing the massive pits of manure, which they then spray onto fields and pollute the environment.  I told her I'd seen that video too, and when I saw it I had a different reaction.  All the farmers I know invite anyone and everyone to come to their farms, tour it, and talk to them about their concerns. Manure lagoons aren't a secret. We have one, it's engineered under strict federal, state, and local regulations, it's managed, and we use all the manure in it to fertilize all of our fields to grow crops. Manure is a fantastic natural fertilizer. I told her a creek runs right by my house - I live right on my farm, and I wouldn't want to pollute my land and my water either, just like she wouldn't.

So yes! All of these issues are important to all of us. We're all in this together. Whatever way we can talk about it - in person, through video, through drone footage - let's keep doing it.

Fun facts:

- Thomas snagged me a selfie stick. Get ready for some farm selfies.

- Hairless kiwis exist! Zespri SunGold. You can eat them - skin and all - like an apple.

- Two of the most popular booths (tons gave away food) were Siggi's and Chobani - both are yogurts which use tons of milk.

- Dietetic students go through an internship. During a session a professor reported on student reactions to including farm tours in the curriculum. The main lesson the students learned? The students reported: "Farming is hard."

It's not the easiest job in the world, but it is satisfying. After all, Kris and I are farmers in a long, long line of farmers. We've done the same things that our ancestors have been doing for years. One thing that might be different ... this week I spoke with hundreds of people who care deeply about where their food comes from, and they tweeted and Facebooked about it to their thousands of followers.  Hopefully by continuing to work also in this way, we can help make an impact.

So, ask me your questions! Tell me your concerns! And while you're at it, please invent that clothing-buying app. If we can grow an edible-skin kiwi, can't we do anything?!

Contact me -

Thursday, October 1, 2015


We're snapping corn, which means we put a corn head on the chopper.  Instead of chopping up everything, like with the other head, this one snaps off the stalk and grinds up the cob into tiny little pieces.  It still gets some of the stalk, but this method concentrates on getting the corn on the cob, which has the most nutritional and caloric benefits for cows.

We then are putting the ground up corn into bags.  Why?  Because it's such a good corn harvest that we can't build our piles any higher!  So we have to devise other ways to store the harvest.

Here's a little of what it looks like:

Rows and rows to do - here's the view from the cab.

He pulls a wagon behind him.  The chopper shoots the feed into it.

One of our team members takes it to the barn, and Kris gets out of the chopper and hitches up the empty wagon.

We take it to the barn and use the rented bagger to get in into the plastic bag.  This requires dumping it, using a wheel loader to load it, then using the bagger.

Repeat until finished.  We've been snapping for two days now and hope to be done by Friday.  The weather and equipment have been cooperating, and it'll be a huge relief when it's done!  It'll be an especially huge relief to Kris because I've been really using the corn puns all month long.  I know it's corny, but shucks, I can't help it.

Here's a video of the action!

 Until next year!

If you want to know more, you can like my farm page on Facebookfollow @carlashelley on twitter, or get the posts sent to your email by filling out the form on the right. If you have any questions, please email!