Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What you do all winter

A crop-farming friend of ours posted a lovely article by The Farmer's Daughter USA detailing what crop farmers do in the winter.  It covered doing taxes, buying seed for next year, fixing equipment, etc ... and all the time I was reading it I was thinking - dairy farmers do all that too.  Many of us around here are also crop farmers because we feed our cattle the crops we grow.

Admittedly, winter is a much slower time because we aren't doing all the crop work.  We're instead feeding the fruits of our labor - see the picture above!

That giant pile of chopped up corn is feeding our nice little cows all winter long.  Every day we take some off of the pile, mix it up with other nutrients, and feed them.  

Icicle, check.  Cat tripping you, check.

We keep our bred heifers in a different barn down the road, and our yearlings are close to our house. They each get their own ration - different from each other and different from the milking herd.  The pregnant indoor cattle have different nutritional needs than the semi-outdoor year-old cattle.  It's all a mix of corn silage, haylage, sudax, snaplage, and minerals.  Kris works with the nutritionist to figure it all out, and it's always changing.

My son was sad because they have this large patch of ice at school they're not allowed to play on. I told them the teachers don't want them to fall and hit their heads because they're taking care of them. Then my other son found a giant patch of ice and ice slide at the barn.  We played on it for a long time.  Later, my son fell on my other son and he hurt his head.  I said, "See?  If that happened at school they would feel bad.  I just check for a concussion!"  

The cattle are full and happy, and we're all enjoying this mild winter.  The kids are seeing Kris a lot, and we're doing ... taxes!  Seeing the accountant!  Filing forms! And learning about ice.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

What's our CommonGround? Language! 5 words that have a totally different meaning on the farm

CommonGround Michigan in front of the White House

CommonGround is an all-volunteer, all- women organization with the goal to “share our personal experiences, as well as science and research, to help consumers sort through the myths and misinformation surrounding food and farming.” 

I attended my first conference for them - they just opened a Michigan chapter - at the Smithsonian in Washington DC! We toured the sights, attended training workshops, and socialized with funny, interesting, and enthusiastic farmers from around the country.  Dairy, crop, sheep, bees ... you name it.

A theme we focused on were words we use in farming that mean nothing to anyone else - even other farmers.  Since I love talking about farming, and I love words … here’s installment two (here's one) of words that mean something different on a farm!

We all know the traffic use, but when we talk about it on the farm, we mean the amount of crops we’re harvesting.  

Regular use:
“Stop! Or at least yield! My goodness, just pull over and let me drive.  Did you learn that sign in driver’s training?!”

Farm use:
“We got a pretty good yield.  If it weren’t for the drought, the locusts, and the flood, it would have been a lot better.” 

No till
Till is a word sometimes used for a cash register, but on the farm it is a practice.  While some farmers plow their land, some do not – it is called no till, as in no plow.  

Regular use:
“No tills are open.  We’re going to be waiting in this line for fifteen minutes, and I didn’t bring my phone in, so my head might explode.”

Farm use:
“We’re no till.  Our ancestors became dairy farmers for a reason – they found out this land wasn’t very good for growing crops in the first place.”

Face-holder?  Yep.  But on the farm we often use it to count animals.  

Regular use:
“Use your head, please.  Seeing ‘who can jump the highest from the tree’ never sounds like a good idea.”

Farm use:
“We milk about 400 head.  Well, we don’t actually milk the heads at all.”

Clearly, this is a familiar term.  But on the farm, it also means that a heifer or cow is pregnant.

Regular use:
“Let’s go outside to play catch!  I promise not to hit you in the teeth again.”

Farm use:
“Did she catch?  No, I’m not talking about her. I’m serious.  I’m talking about the cow.” 

Pretty much only farm people know the difference between cattle.  A calf is baby still drinking milk, a heifer is a female that has not calved, a cow is a bovine that has had a calf, a steer is an infertile male, a bull is a fertile male, and so on and so forth.  We have lots of classifications because they are all meaningful to our industry.  

During our meeting, a woman mentioned that ‘heifer’ causes children to snicker in her school because it is a derogatory term for a female.  Heifers are prized on our farm!  It is never used in a negative manner here.  However …

Regular use:
“Seriously, she’s a real heifer.  No, I didn't know she was your sister.”

Farm use:
“That cow that had a calf? She had a heifer!  ANOTHER GIRL!  She was breathtaking.”

The final word that means something different?  Snow.  On Thursday in DC, the schools were closed after an inch and a half of snow.  Here, we sometimes notice if there's a new layer added to what's on the ground.  But that's not so much farm, but just where we live.  But we all have more in common than we don't - all across the country, no matter who you are or where you live, we all ... eat.

Smithsonian exhibit
Touring DC with Michigan farmers Jody Sharrard, Barbara Siemen, Carla Schultz

Elaine Bristol, Michigan Ag Council

Right after this picture, a guy let me try his hoverboard.  So fun!

Tera Havard, Michigan Corn Growers Association

All of us including Angel Jenio, Michigan Corn

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Monday, January 11, 2016

My, how times have changed

In 1879, my family bought this house and land, and we’ve all been farming it ever since.  I’m often struck by how my ancestors lived here doing the same things we’re doing.  There are some things I’d like to talk to them about though …

1. The house
First off, I love my house, where all my ancestors have lived.  Second, does it really need to be ten feet from the road?  I’m sure when that road was a horse trail it was fine, but now I’m one stumble away from crazies driving 75 miles per hour.  

Also, those cute little saplings on either side of the driveway were probably really a nice idea.  Until they’ve grown so large that they both bear the marks of inexperienced baby sitters, exuberant UPS men, and in-a-hurry family members slamming their vehicles into them.  Really, it’s like the trees are asking for it.

2. The farm
We know why they moved here from the East – land was available!  Lots of it!  I’m sure cutting down all the trees was no small task, and thanks to them for those rock piles which we’ve used for landscaping.  (It’s kind of funny we just move rocks around – from fields to yards.)  Strangely enough though, we live north of a very important line … the line where rain stops.  We live juuuuuust outside of where it rains.  So close, guys.

3. The upkeep
Thanks to them for all of the long-lasting buildings.  We have three buildings here that are over 100 years old.  However, some of them right now need repairs.  HONESTLY, it’s like every century we have to do so much work around here!  

4. The married-in
My mom recently printed off all of her researched genealogy.  After having tons of kids every generation, my great grandma was an only child.  (Her parents had the farm here.) She married a local guy, and they farmed, making lots of improvements.  So, bringing Kris in as a married-in is just tradition now.  That’s two daughters so far who have been crazy (in love) enough to buy into this whole farming idea!

My great grandparents posing with their children in front of their house,
which is now my house. From left: Floyd, Jean, Ione, and Dale Anderson

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sloppy milk

Kris and I had the local MMPA meeting, and the big topic of discussion is … why is it bad, when is it going to get better?

We’re talking milk prices, and it all boils down to one main principle – supply and demand.  We all know how it works!  Supply is up, price is down, supply is down, price is up.

There are different reasons every time it happens, and every time we have to wait it out.

One reason we were talking about in the meeting is this: when Russia invaded the Ukraine, they had sanctions placed against them.  Before that, they were purchasing a lot of dairy products. After that, they purchased none.

It’s interesting to think about.  Everything that happens in this world has a direct effect on the rest of us.  Putin’s choices have a DIRECT EFFECT on our milk check, which affects our farm purchases, which affects the local economy, which affects the tax base, which affects the schools, which means that my kids’ school is buying paper milk cartons because they’re cheaper and none of the kids like it, so thanks, Russia.

Another reason MMPA President Ken Nobis talked about is this: China was buying their factory workers lunch, which included dairy choices.  Now the factories are not buying their workers lunch.  Obviously, based on the number of people we’re dealing with, this makes a huge difference.  (See?  The reasons are varied and interesting!)

If we only had a domestic market, it’d be much more stable.  However, there would also be not much chance for growth.  We’re supplying the places that can’t support their dairy needs, too.

As a result, the co-ops have to find places for the milk to go.  (At the meeting Ken referred to it as ‘sloppy milk.’)  When the milk processing plants are full and there’s no one to purchase the milk, where does it go?  It’s like a complicated game of Tetris, and sometimes we lose.

So, we wait it out, hoping for better times.  In the meantime, we just keep doing what we’re doing. We milk cows, we take care of our farm, and we encourage the kids at school to drink out of milk cartons with a straw.  It tastes way better that way, no matter where you live.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Winter is here

Today it was 10 degrees outside.  It was so cold that when I went running my phone shut off.  When I returned to the car and plugged it in, it gave me an alert I'd never seen before - a thermometer and an exclamation point.  It was fine for humans, but TOO COLD for a phone!  I guess I need a phone that's made for Michigan.

When it's cold, it increases the chances of things going wrong on the farm.  The machines always need extra special attention.  Today, the waterers tried to freeze, but we were able to fix it.  When there's snow, there's always extra plowing.

We're about to start feeding the cows the snaplage (corn cob and husk ground up) that we harvested this fall.  We're basically trying to keep everything running smoothly every day, without a ton of extras ... those can wait for warmer weather!

Of course weather is always the biggest variable in this business.  The farmers in New Mexico and Texas just dealt with a horrible blizzard that killed an estimated 30,000 dairy cows:

LUBBOCK, Tex. — After a mild and dry Christmas Day, a fierce blizzard whipped across the rolling plains of West Texas and eastern New Mexico. The wind blew mercilessly for 48 hours, leaving snow drifts as high as 14 feet.

Though winter storms are not strangers to this region, the unrelenting wind — sometimes gusting to 80 miles per hour — and blinding snow of this blizzard surpassed even the most dire of forecasts. Dairy farmers in the region, who produce 10 percent of the milk in the United States, are now tallying their losses.

So far, more than 35,000 dairy cows have been found dead; many other animals developed frostbite and could still die. In West Texas, about 10 percent of the adult herd was lost. Farmers are trying to decide how to dispose of the carcasses that dot the landscape, though others might not be found until the snow melts.

“It was just beyond anything we ever saw,” said Nancy Beckerink, who moved her dairy farm, Dutch Road Dairy, to Muleshoe, Tex., from western New York six years ago to escape the harsh winters of the Northeast. Her dairy lost 300 of its 2,200 cows, and Ms. Beckerink said she might lose 50 to 75 more to frostbite.

You can read the rest here.
We're thinking especially of my family that dairy farms in New Mexico.  Everyone knew it was coming and prepared for it, but some blizzards you just can't beat.  We wish everyone well in their recovery.

We're hoping for a mild winter, of course.  The animals, the people, the machines, and even the phones prefer it that way.

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