Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Gateway Elementary, Ag-STEM school

In 2015, Gateway Elementary in St Johns was designated as an Ag-STEM (agriculture, science, technology, math) school.

This school year, each class was given a farmer, and Kris and I are the fourth graders' farmers.  It's been fun going in to see them this year, and they're going to tour our place, too.

Recently, they had a kindergarten music program put on by Mrs. Shirley Ries.  It was all farmer-focused! They asked me to come to the concert so they could recognize a class farmer and gave me nice fruit and animal-shaped cookies.

I didn't realize how farmy it would be - they sang things like 'The Milk Bucket Boogie', complete with milking motions.  It was very dairy and farming-positive!  And of course, when aren't kindergartners cute?!

Yesterday the fourth grade teachers Mrs. Jennifer Parker and Mrs. Natalie Berkhousen asked me to come in and read to their classes for March is Reading Month.  But they didn't want me to read farming books like I'd done before - they asked me to read the children's book I wrote, Sawyer in the Woods.  It was so fun! The kids were so attentive and had a million questions and comments afterward.  Thank you Gateway teachers for fostering the farm-school relationship!


Meanwhile on the farm, we started drying up cows today.  That means we quit milking them so they can get ready to have their calves.

We have a list of cows that need to be dried up based on their due dates.  So we give them about two months before their calves are going to be born.  We sort them out of the regular milking group, milk them one last time, then use antibiotic on each teat to keep their udders healthy.  Since we stop milking them, we don't want them to get mastitis.  (And we will not be milking them again until they give birth, so there is no chance the antibiotic will still be in their systems when we milk them again.)

We then we put them in their own separate group and give them their own special feed.  We spray paint a leg so that we can easily see who is supposed to be in which group.

Again, it's based on due dates, so today we did 14.  We'll dry up more groups once a week until they've all ready to go!

It was really nice seeing Kris this winter ... and for the first time this summer, our oldest boys are going to be old enough to do calf chores.  Evergreen Dairy and Brothers, coming up.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Happy 100th to Michigan Milk Producers Association!

Today Michigan Milk Producers (our milk co-op) held its 100th annual meeting.  A farmer greeted us when we got there, saying, "Good morning!  I'm looking forward to the next 100!"  I loved the optimism from the start.

All the speakers went for optimism in these days of rough times for dairy farmers.  Our governor Rick Snyder talked the business part of it, plus how he shares the milk in his cereal with his dog (we don't care who's drinking it!), and his eternal quest for the perfect blueberry ice cream.  He finished with a heartfelt talk about how we can make sure that this business is here for our kids for the next 100 years.  He said he knows it's not about the money, it's about the quality of life, what we respect, and what's important to us.  He said he knows we will continue to evolve to get the best benefits for our families and farms.   

Later in the program we heard from Dr. Phillip Knight from the Food Bank Council of Michigan.  He thanked us for our milk donations, and then he quoted Edmund Burke, who said, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."  He said that the biggest mistake people make is to choose to do nothing because we believe we can only do a little.  He said that all donations make a difference to a hungry person someone, somewhere.  He said he would continue to give his life for providing for people, and thanked us for our part in it.

Then MMPA's president Ken Nobis came up and announced that we were donating 100 gallons of milk a day for a year. 

Guys, Dr. Knight cried!  Then I cried!  He spoke again and was all choked up.  It was moving ... I didn't expect to feel like this during a regular meeting.

Farmers are optimists at heart.  We think the weather will improve, our crops will grow, our cattle will thrive, and prices will rebound.  We think our families will like this lifestyle, we'll continue providing food for everyone, and that we'll be able to keep doing it for generations to come.  Hearing speakers like this and talking to everyone today makes me think about how we're all in this together.

So, happy birthday, MMPA!  100 is huge.  Cheers with milk, whether it's in your glass or your dog's bowl!

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

You better Belize it

Belize!  My friends Annie, Aimee and I went to visit, and of course I had to check out the dairy scene.

First of all, we saw lots of cattle grazing, and we stayed across the road from dairy cattle on pasture. I'm sure my companions didn't at all mind when I yelled 'cows!' every time we saw them on our hours of driving.  (Right, travel friends?)

I'll tell you when we didn't see cattle ... on our way back to the airport, we took a highway we hadn't yet - the Coastal Highway.  This word 'highway' was misleading to us, because ... I want you to imagine the absolute worst dirt road you've been on.  Now multiply that by ten.  Now add rocks, creeks, and desolation.  No houses, no farms, no gas stations, nothing.  Now add that after you've been on it for 30 minutes of the hour it's going to take, you see workers and think - maybe it's paved from here on out, which would be great, seeing as how it's getting awfully close to our return flight times!  We saw that it was ... a bridge outage.

"Oh no," I said.  "We're going to have to turn around a find a new way!"

"No!  Look over there," Aimee said.  She was driving.  She turned toward a side road and pointed out a wooden bridge.  "That must be the temporary bridge."

"Can cars go over that?" I said.

"Are there any tire tracks?" Annie asked.

"Just go really fast!" I said.  Aimee gunned it.  I figured that if we were going to crash through it, I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible.  It held!  We later agreed that after all of the jungle hiking, rock sliding, tubing, Mayan-skeleton-sighting, termite-eating ... that was the scariest moment of the trip.

I saw a dairy product I've never seen here -

Chocolate milk energy drink fortified with vitamins and minerals?  Yes!

We also checked out banana and pineapple plants.  To plant a pineapple, you cut off the top and place it on the ground.  Not even in the ground.  Little roots come out of it, sort of like potatoes.  (Not in Michigan so much ...)

As usual in Central American countries, fluid milk was not super popular, but frozen was.  In San Ignacio, we tried the local ice cream.  I had Oreo.  It was not Oreo for real, but there was a cookie in there.  No complaints from us!

In Placencia, we went to Tutti Frutti, which had rave reviews.  It's a gelato place, and it was absolutely packed both days we went in.  I asked the guy working if he was the owner or the worker. He said that he was the owner and the worker - like most small businesses!

He said he was originally from France, so when I left I used my best 'au revoir'.  He kindly said 'au revoir' back.  We didn't need French though ... no matter the country, no matter the language, milk and sugar always go together.


This is truly one of the scariest sounds I've ever heard coming from animals.  Howler monkeys! We could hear them from far away, and we could stand right underneath their trees.  Chilling sound - as my friend said, it sounds just like the soundtrack for a horror movie.

I came back to my mostly silent and calm cattle - until they get out ... then their sounds rival the monkeys!

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Show Us Your Ag! - National Agriculture Week

I posted some pictures on my Facebook page that I wanted to also share here (you are welcome to follow me on Facebook too.)

This week we celebrated National Cereal Day ... after seeing this, my funny friend Tara asked if we pair milks with cereals, like wine with meals:

I substitute taught at Fowler High School and was delighted to see that Joe Feldpausch had driven a tractor to school:

Our snow is all gone, and my kids are going barefoot again:

Kris took a weekend off from farming to cheer the Spartans on to a Big Ten Tournament Championship!  Now it's back to farming this week, and this week is special because ,,, it's National Agriculture Week!

March 13-19, U.S. Farmers & Rancher's Alliance is asking everyone to "Show Us Your Ag!" You can submit a short video, an image or a blog about life on your farm.  Each day they will select a winner to feature on USFRA's social media channels. You can learn all about it (and see someone you know) here.

Have a great, agriculture-filled week!  I'm starting mine tomorrow by reading farming books to kindergarten students.  So really, it's going to start out adorable.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Ice and snow and ice and snow

Kris was calling.

"Where were you on that?" he said, laughing.

"Where was I when?" I asked.

"The heifers just got out right by the house!  They managed to open a gate," he said.  

"Ah!" I yelled.  I was running on the treadmill, doing the first couple of miles inside so I could finish up outside.  Kris knows how much I love the excitement of the heifers being out ... but mostly I could have seen and helped get them back in!

"Our neighbor said that he saw one go toward the pasture, but I didn't see any tracks.  So keep an eye out for her!" he said.

I ran outside with my camera - like I was planning - because it is the most beautiful morning.  After our second 12-inch snow, this morning everything is covered in ice leftover from the fog.

The heifers were all back in, I didn't see any in the pasture, and I couldn't even see a stray hoofprint. They'd run nicely in the scraped road.

Enjoy your beautiful winter day, wherever you are!  Hopefully today you're around for whatever excitement your cattle, pets, children, friends - or whatever you're responsible for - provide.

Want to know more about the farm?  Like the page on Facebook, on Twitter @carlashelley, or sign up to get the blog by email - the form is on the right side of the page.