Thursday, December 28, 2017

End of 2017

Ah, I started this blog seven years ago this month, and I've gone from writing here every day to ... writing for work!

Our farm, our family, and our lives have changed so much in the last seven years, too.  It's changed even in the last year!  So, here's to a wonderful 2018 as we look back.

The biggest project this year was changing from sawdust to sand bedding.  Just saying that doesn't sound so hard, right?

Last summer we had a bad problem with mastitis.  We tried everything, and the next solution was to change to sand bedding.

However, this wasn't easy.  This would require modifying our only five-year-old barn!  We wanted to pay our builders to do it, but they wouldn't be able to schedule such a huge project until after the summer ... when the heat can exacerbate the problem.

So, nearly everyone on the farm, plus the boys and me, helped.  It required taking down the free stall dividers, breaking up the cement, pouring new curbs.  We needed to painstakingly remove the mattresses and reuse them as a base for the sand.  All of this took weeks of manual labor as well as using cement contractors.  As well as all the hard work by our team, Kris and the boys spent their free time doing it.  Finally, it was done, and even better - it really solved the problem!  Saying all of that in one little paragraph doesn't really capture the amount of work that this took, involving new drills that broke bits, buying a sand shooter, bringing truck after truck of cement, moving the cows around to accommodate the work, trying to get done before the cement people came ... ah.  I'm glad it's done!

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Cow Walk
Another big project we completed was a cow walk for our cattle.  We built it for them to enter the milking parlor, so we could have even more free stall space in the barn.

This project also had great results, as it gives us more barn space!  The cows liked it too, except one that did not want to walk in the new way.  She eventually accepted that this was what was happening, and moved with the rest of the herd!

We are very thankful for the team we have working here.  It's not always easy to find people who want to work on a farm, and we're very grateful to these great people!  I know I say this a lot, but it affects our lives each and every day, and we're so appreciative of our wonderful team.  Also new this year is that Kris is on the Michigan Milk Producers Association Board, which means he goes to more meetings, which in turn requires replacements here!  So thank you, this year and every year, to our farm team.  A special thanks to my mom and dad, who are the best volunteer workers this world has ever known!  My mom fed calves for months and my dad does any driving or running or hands-on-things we even mention, and words can't express our thanks enough.

As for me, I have the farm, three or four other jobs, and these kids I like to see.  I love sharing about the farm and appreciate you taking the time to read all these years.  Here's to a wonderful next year, full of milk drinking, cheese eating, and ice cream parties.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ag Business and Katie Eisenberger!

In January of 2011, Kris, our 3-month-old Max, and I went to Atlanta for the American Farm Bureau meeting.  

While we were there, Atlanta experienced quite an ice storm.  Great footage here.  There were no flights, no restaurants or museums were open, and the hotel workers even had to stay in the hotel because no one could go home.  (In fact, on the day we were trying to take a train to the airport a car nearly slid into Max and me in the street.  SO MUCH ICE!)

As a result, we spent a lot of time with the other Farm Bureau members there and got to know them very well!  One of them was Katie Eisenberger, and we've been friends every since.  She's also the daughter of a dairy farmer, and after careers at MSU extension and as in insurance, she's now an agriscience teacher at Breckenridge High School!

Katie is one of those teachers that you absolutely just loved.  We all had them.  It was obvious from the way the students acted.  She's easy to love!

Katie asked me to talk in her Ag Business class today about how to communicate with people, how to share your story, and about blogging.  The students were great (hello all), and it was incredibly enjoyable to talk with them!

Out of the class only three of them were from a farm, and one girl whose family runs a greenhouse talked with me about how ... she knew there was a lot that went into a greenhouse, but until you're DOING IT, you have no idea.  

We discussed how each farm is different - we haven't been to a chicken farm ... she hadn't been to a dairy farm ... it's all just what's around and what kind of farmer you know.  Farmers don't know the details of other kinds of farms, let alone the general public knowing about every kind of farm.  

Just like the ice storm, when we were joking about why Atlanta had no equipment or salt - why would they?!  It almost never happens, so why have that expense for a once-in-50-years event?  You don't know everything that goes into it until you're the person responsible.

I went to the gas station by the school afterward, and the cashier said, "Are you a teacher?" 

I said, "No, I'm a dairy farmer."  

"Oh!  Well, thanks for feeding all of us!" he said cheerfully.  

And thanks to people like Katie Eisenberger, who are teaching all about it!  

Happy Thanksgiving, all!  

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Thanks, Mom! It's November ...

The cows used to have all of the calves in the summer, which made for some long and hard days ... like when 18 calves would be born in a day.

Kris thought that this year we would space them out a little bit more, so as a result ... we're still feeding little calves after our summer help went back to college!

My mom, the best volunteer in the land, offered to do the morning calf chores, and she's been great!  Kris and I don't know what we would do - or the calves would do - without her.

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While that's been happening, we've had a lot of promotion, too.  One day the United Dairy Industry of Michigan hosted their program advisor training at the Huntington Club at Michigan State.  This is my friend Karly who was a part of it - (she looks just like a college student even though she is married and has a baby!)

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I went to the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance annual meeting in Kansas City to continue our mission to positively promote agriculture ...

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And as a member of Team Chocolate Milk, ran a 5K in my hometown with my kids and friends.  Cole won his age group - first time! (Yes, he has been heavily influenced by watching Olympic winners bite their medals.)

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The five of us hit the national dairy meeting in California that Kris went to because he's a board member at our co-op ...

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and today was our Michigan Milk Producers Association Leaders' Conference.

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So you can see why my mom - and our employees that we actually pay - are such a huge part of all of this!  Thank you to all of them for taking care of things while we're not here.

Though it looks like we've been gone in November, we're actually here more than we're gone.  I just hit the highlights with these pictures.  The normal schedule for Kris is farm, farm, farm, farm, farm, farm, Michigan State football game ... but we just had the last home game!

The meeting was optimistic today, but I hope that the rest of 2017 and 2018 ... and beyond is only positive for farming!  Happy Thanksgiving - we all have a lot to be thankful for. At the very least, I'm already really looking forward to stuffing myself at dinner ... and my mom is, of course, making most of it.  Calves, kids, grandchildren ... she feeds all of us!

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Milk Means More!

Maranda is the WOTV 4 women, kids, and family expert. She hosts a weekday program called “Where You Live”.  She was at Fuel Up to Play 60, and yesterday they showed a nice little story on it on her program!

And something fun and different - she interviewed the boys! 

The feature is here: Fuel Up to Play 60 with Milk Means More & the Detroit Lions.  The video is the third one, called 'Maranda introduces us to Future Farmers of America.' 

Meanwhile back on the farm ... it rained for two entire days, and then it got cold!  It's always an adjustment when the weather changes, and it's been 70 and sunny for months.  We're still having calves, my mom is still doing calf chores, we're still milking cows three times a day ... now it's just all happening in different temperatures!  Thanks to our great team members who are all bundled up and ready.  The cows ... their ideal is around 50, so they're more comfortable than any of us.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What's the difference between organic milk and regular milk?

What’s the difference between organic milk and regular milk?

Nothing.  The products are the same.  If you have a glass of organic milk and a glass of regular milk, there’s no test that says – yes, this is one, and this is the other.  They have the same nutrients, neither of them have antibiotics, and neither of them have added hormones.  They are both GREAT.

It’s not just me saying it. There have been many studies – like by the USDA and the American Dietetic Association – that show organic and regular milk are equally nutritious and safe.

(Please see articles about how there are no antibiotics and no added hormones in your milk.  There are none in organic milk or regular milk.)

The difference is in the process, not the product.

Organic farms produce organic milk.  This means:

-The cows must eat organic feed, except minerals and vitamins.
-The cows must not be treated with antibiotics or added hormones or during their lifetimes.
-The cows must be allowed outdoor access for at least 120 days a year.

(You can read the regulations from the USDA here.)

Conventional farms produce conventional milk.  This means:

-The cows eat feed that benefited from technology, including fertilizer and weed and pest control.
We grow corn and alfalfa and sudax, plus we have our cattle on pasture, and we take pride in our crops!  It takes a lot of work to grow food for hundreds of cows.

-The cows are treated with antibiotics in the rare occasion one is sick. 
The milk from a cow treated with antibiotics never goes into the tank, and there are many, many safeguards to prevent this from happening.  NO ONE wants antibiotics in the milk.  Read about it here.

-The cows can be indoors or outdoors. 
We personally have our cows on pasture as well as indoors, but lots of farms have their cattle indoors in well ventilated barns, using all the latest technology on how to keep your cattle comfortable.  (Sand bedding, misters, fans, waterbeds.)  Conventional farms also adhere to strict government regulations and frequent inspections.  There's a small sampling here.

So the result is … milk!  

Some organic and some regular milk have longer expiration dates, and the reason why is because they are ultra pasteurized.  This isn’t because it’s organic, but instead because heating it up hotter for longer makes milk shelf stable for a longer period of time.  You can read all about that here.  Some is more expensive, but don't feel like you have to pay more.

Again, the milk that comes from farms, both organic and regular, is the same.  It still has nine essential nutrients.  It has the SAME amount of vitamins, minerals, and proteins.  It still has no antibiotics and no added hormones.  And most important to me … it tastes great.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like milk, please enjoy cheese, ice cream, or yogurt!  Or just pick some up for me.  We buy skim, 2%, and whole and right now we’re out of ALL THREE.

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.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fuel Up to Play 60 - with the whole family!

Yesterday was Fuel Up to Play 60 at Ford Field, and guess who came?  Eureka Elementary in St Johns AND my husband and kids!

The entire day was really well organized and fun.  Kris was a referee, and I was happy to once again be the emcee! 

First, former Detroit Lion Herman Moore spoke to the kids about exercise and eating a healthy diet that includes dairy.  Next. Rodney Lamar Page gave a motivational speech where he played violin, played an electric violin, rapped, and did beat boxing.  (He is a former St Johns music teacher, too!) 

Detroit Lion Tahir Whitehead played a nutrition trivia game with the kids.  Then the kids went down to the tunnel, got announced, and ran onto the field!  They did an hour of football drills with Detroit Lions players and coaches, including Eric Ebron and Miles Killebrew.  It was great fun watching them.

We ate a dairy-filled lunch, the student ambassadors talked, we had a super energetic speaker Kim Campbell (very good) and then we all headed back down to the field to have a press conference with player Ameer Abdullah, dance, take pictures, and play more football!

The pro-dairy, pro-health, pro-exercise messaging was great, the people were fun, and I was so glad to be a part of it again.  Thanks to Mr. Matulis, Ms. Foreback, and Mrs. Potter from Eureka for bringing the kids, and to United Dairy Industry of Michigan for putting it on!

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Mr. Matulis took some nice shots of the kids on the field.  Here are a few:

Monday, October 9, 2017

Chicago Marathon and Chocolate Milk

Well, THAT was an exciting race!

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I ran the Chicago Marathon yesterday, representing Team Chocolate Milk!  It was a great race, I got a PR, and I never got tired of people yelling, "I LOVE CHOCOLATE MILK!  GO TEAM CHOCOLATE MILK!"

Since it says it on the back, too, runners said to me, "There's never a bad time for chocolate milk!" and "I love your shirt!" 

Not only did I refuel afterward ... but at mile 20, my kids shared a couple of quick bites of their ice cream with me.  Creamy vanilla and Oreos.  It was much appreciated!

Thanks to all the volunteers, our relatives Tom, Melissa, and Amanda for hosting us, my family for cheering me on in person and on the phone, and Chicago an all-around great race.  That city is great fun.  We even took our kids to where we went on our first date - the top of the John Hancock building.  And look where all of this has led!

We're back on the farm today, and heading out for another dairy event tomorrow.  Enjoy whatever is refueling you today!  I ate a GIANT bowl of ice cream.  Two bites is good, twenty is even better.

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.

National Farmers Day on TV!

I'm sure you're getting ready to celebrate National Farmers Day on October 12!  Do you have your decorations up?  Your gifts purchased?  Your meal ready?!

Yes, even though you and I may not know it ... a day celebrating farmers is on Thursday, and no matter what food you eat, it came from a farmer.  Enjoy!

United Dairy Industry of Michigan was planning ahead and had me tape a TV spot that will be shown on Fox 47 at 7:25 a.m. on October 10th.

The Morning Blend people in the studio and the co-hosts Bob Hoffman and Mary Turner were incredibly friendly - plus enthusiastic.  Kathi Eckler from UDIM came along with dairy products to display during the interview.  Jolene Griffin from UDIM sent me the shirt to wear ahead of time.  (It's true.  Even if I were never a dairy farmer this is true.)

Here's to eating - every day!

You can see the video spot here

Monday, September 18, 2017

Chopping, calving, running

We've had quite a month ...

Here's Kris with our 116th heifer calf this season.  About halfway done, now.  The calving has been going pretty well.

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I got to see this calf being born.  It's not always a sure thing, because the cows don't like to be watched, and sometimes when I'm hovering nearby with a camera, it makes them nervous and they walk away and stop pushing.  Then I feel like I'm making the entire birth process more difficult ... and take longer ... and possibly harm the calf ... you get the idea.

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I never get tired of seeing this.  This is my backyard!

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I spoke at an event put on by Ionia County Farm Bureau.  They hosted a tour that took consumers to see a dairy, a beef farm, an ethanol plant, and to lunch at Denny Farms Farm Market & Bakery, where I spoke to them about food safety.  Kudos to the organizers for their educational efforts and the people who want to learn!

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I finally flew with my dad.  He got his pilot's license eight years ago.  It gave me a great view of the farm!  The circles are the path of the irrigation wheels, and you can see exactly where the water stops.

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We chopped some of the corn, but not all, because the rest of it was much wetter.  (We farm on different types of soil, and one of our fields is irrigated - the one above.)  The boys love, love, love to ride with Kris.  They take turns, because Kris can only fit one of them in there with him now! We used to squeeze in more when they weren't so huge!

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Speaking of huge, isn't corn an amazing plant?!  As I read somewhere, people don't write country songs about soybeans.

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And speaking of irrigation ... we had a floorless tent up in our yard for an event for 22 hours.  During that time it rained about 1/2 inch.  Imagine the state of our crops if we didn't get that rain.  None of it drained over to under the tent?!  Incredible.  Thank goodness we got that tiny shower when we did - it really made a difference.

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This is an insurance row.  The insurance adjuster can't always get to the field before we do it, so we leave these rows so they can come and test it.  We come back later to chop it.

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My mom has been doing calf chores in the mornings!  Why?  Because she's great and we didn't have anyone to do them.  What a gem!

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As part of Team Chocolate Milk, I ran the Capital City Half Marathon in Lansing!  It was such a blast.  We all chugged some chocolate milk afterward.  We took a regular picture just holding our milk, and my dad said, "Why aren't you drinking it?  I want a picture of that!"  I like how, just by chance, we all have our eyes closed.  Bright ... and bliss!

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It's been a hectic summer, and we're looking forward to a slower fall.  Cheers!

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Monday, September 11, 2017

No hormones are added to your milk.

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Twice this weekend I was asked the same question – are there added hormones in milk?

I’m happy I could give the answer – no!  There are no added hormones in milk.  Not in conventional milk nor in organic milk.

First of all, in Michigan, farmers don't give their cows hormones to help them produce more milk. (We never have on this farm, either.)  When farmers did it in the past, there was no way to tell the synthetic hormone from the natural hormone, because cows already produced it.  (So there was no test for it.)  But when consumers didn't want it, farmers stopped using it.  In Michigan, that happened in 2008.  The rest of the country has done the same.

All milk - organic and conventional - has natural hormones, because it is coming from a lactating mammal.  But!  Never fear because ...

Humans do not have receptors for bovine hormones.

It's not me saying it - it's scientists.

Dr. Terry Etherton: “There are zillions of protein hormones in both plant and animal foods. They are digested in the stomach, which kills their ability to have any biological activity." Best Food Facts

Another way to put it, from Science Blogs: Aetiology by Tara C. Smith, is:

“Studies have shown that human and bovine milk normally contain small amounts of growth hormone. After ingestion, growth hormone as any other protein in milk: it is digested into its constituent amino acids and di- and tripeptides. There is no data to suggest that BST present in milk can survive digestion or produce unique peptide fragments that might have biological effects.

Even if BST is absorbed intact, the growth hormone receptors in the human do not recognize cow BST and, therefore, BST cannot produce effects in humans. … Overall studies show recombinant growth hormone cannot be absorbed intact through intestine and even if small amounts get absorbed, there is no receptor for bovine growth hormones in humans.”

Or from the American Cancer Society:

"Neither natural nor synthetic BGH has been found to affect human growth hormone receptors."

Let me also add that these are naturally-occurring hormones, which all milk has, because it comes from lactating animals.  Hormones aren't just present in milk - they're present in all types of food. For instance, look at this chart about estrogen from Allen Young, Utah State University Extension dairy specialist and associate professor:

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So there’s your milk news for the day.  Please feel free to ask any questions you have!

Other questions answered:

What's the difference between whole, 2% and skim milk?

How long can you drink milk past the sell-by date?

Does milk make girls develop faster?  No.

What's the difference between organic and conventional milk?  Process, not product.

Why does organic milk have a longer expiration date?  It's heated up hotter.


There are no antibiotics in your milk.

This is what we do to guard against human error to never have antibiotics in milk.

GMOs, no antibiotics, etc.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


I'd like to give an incredibly enthusiastic thank you to:

Wirth & Fedewa Construction & Miller's Redi-Mix for buying Ty's steer,

and to J C Electric for buying Cole's steer!

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The community support at the 4-H auction is truly heartwarming. Thank you so much!

We had a great week.  My sister just uploaded her pictures from when she was here and shared this one with me ... here's a behind the scenes of what washing a steer doesn't look like at all.  Clearly not a candid!

Here's really what it looks like, with my dad.  The kids did it too, of course.  We all got pretty good at it.  It's nice to see them all clean, trimmed, and spiffed up at the fair.  

Meanwhile on the farm ... it's dry.  The corn and alfalfa look so dry, even though we got a couple tenths of rain.  Around us they've had tons of rain, but we're still hoping for more here before harvest. 

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fair Week

It's the 4-H Fair!  Kris and I both led cattle and had projects at our fairs, our siblings did, our parents did, our grandparents were leaders ... the connection is long and storied!  Until now our kids have just enjoyed attending the fair, but this year our twins had prospect beef steers.  They worked very hard on teaching them and leading them (way, way more than I ever remember working with my calf), and yesterday they showed them.  They were in showmanship and market, and they did well!  We're spending the rest of the week there taking care of them, and the auction is on Wednesday night.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the family members, friends, and 4-H people who helped us!

Meanwhile on the farm ... summer is quite the time.  Sentences like, "Seven calves were born before noon," "My phone battery died hours ago," "It's just one thing after another," are pretty much an every day type of thing.  Let's hope the month of August is boring and predictable ... and that someone invents a phone battery that actually lasts an entire day.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summer months

Summer ... we're helping calves get their start in the world, harvesting alfalfa, and doing all the regular milking activities.  It's a pretty busy time, to say the least!

Here's an overview of what's been going on the last month ...

The chicory is blooming!  This flower makes me so happy.  It's tough, I love the color (periwinkle is what I say), and it covers our roadsides.

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We completed the second cutting.  We had just about 30 more acres to cut, and our discbine broke.  Our friend and neighbor Mike came over and cut it with his!  (We paid him, of course, but really a nice thing to do any way you look at it!)

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We hosted the Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator picnic at our house, which is an award given through Michigan Milk Producers Association.  The picnic is for everyone who has gotten the award from the year they started giving it, plus MMPA staff.  It was great talking to everyone!

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This was in June.  This did not mean I didn't need to wear a winter coat.

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We've all, especially my dad, been helping the boys with their 4-H calves.  It takes a lot of training to teach them how to walk with them ... way more than I remember doing when I was ten years old!

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Max is always along, even though he's too young to do it.

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We continue to work on our barns ... since we were working on the free stalls, we figured we might as well take the sides off of the barn to make it more ventilated.  Here's the process:

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As always, we're working with our promotional activities and our wonderful community.

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Here's to continued great weather and a fun summer!