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!



Sunday, June 11, 2017

Joy

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This morning Kris and I got our 17th heifer of the season from the pasture!

I came back from a Caterpillar Women in Leadership Conference in Peoria, IL.  I was on a panel to talk about agriculture with Julie Anna Potts, Vice President at American Farm Bureau, and
Jill Harvie, a farmer and programs manager at the Canadian Cattleman's Association.  (Wonderful conference and a fantastic time.)  It was great meeting them ... and afterward I was standing a group of five Cat employees who also happened to be from farms!  We congregate.

Panel moderator Phil Kelliher, Cat VP, Julie Anna Potts, and Jill Harvie 

My dear friend came over with a belated birthday gift - one of EVERY FLAVOR from the MSU Dairy Store!  I was floored, I was thankful, and I think this picture captures the sheer joy I'm feeling! Thanks so much, Elaine!! (Yes, this is how much I love ice cream.)


The day ended beautifully.  This is my backyard and one of my favorite sights in the world.


It's the busiest time of the season - calves everywhere, Kris is super busy, and everyone is working really hard.  I'm ready for the boys to get out of school so they can help more with calf chores!  ... Is that an excused absence?

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Welcome Gateway Elementary fourth grades!

                                   

Mrs. Parker and Mrs. Berkhousen's fourth grade classes from Gateway Elementary (plus many adults) came to visit our farm today! 

We are the class farmers for fourth grade at the ag-focused Gateway, which was recently featured in the article - Connecting the classroom to the farm improves mathematics test scores: St. Johns Schools-CMU partnership focuses on Ag-STEM.

I've been to their classrooms, as well as answered many questions by email.  But today was the big day - the day they came to see the calf barn, the free stall barn, and the milking parlor!  

As usual, the calves were adorable, the cows were curious, and everyone had lots of good questions.

A new question I got was: "Does it always smell like this?"  I said yes, but told him to wait a few minutes and he wouldn't be able to smell it any more.  (Like magic, this olfactory sense!)

A new statement was: "I would like to be born from a cow, but still look like this."  We all agreed that would be really interesting to see.

I told them part of the reason we do this is to enjoy delicious dairy products, so we ended with GoGurts.

Thanks to Gateway, their teachers, the parents, Stacey, my mom, and everyone who is helping teach these kids about where all their food comes from.  It may be smelly, but wow, does it provide some good food.






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Sand sand sand

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The first barn is done - all sand bedding! See them lying down? Beachy.

We moved on to changing over the second (built in 1972) barn and found a great surprise! After removing the mattresses and cutting away the cement we found an old curb - no need to pour a new curb in this section!

This picture shows the sand that was already there as a base under the cement. It's been a major effort by everyone on the team.

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This is now completed, and there's a small section on the opposite side to do.  But before that happens ... it's time to cut hay.  Everyone likes a little variety in their jobs, right?

When Kris isn't working on the farm, he is helping the boys with their 4-H calves.  

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The boys are juuuuust slightly stronger than the calves.  We'll see if that's still true in July!

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Half of one barn has sand bedding

One side of the barn is done!  Due to a lot of work by our team members, of course Kris, and even our little family ...

We removed and replaced the free stalls and mattresses ...

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We got a sand shooter bucket.  You scoop up the sand from the pile, move it to the barn, and it shoots it into the free stalls.

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We smoothed out the sand to make it level.

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I am sure this is the only time they will be crawling in here.

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And today, we got to let the cows try it out!  They seemed to like their new sand.  Now just the other half to do ... and the other barn!

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Kris did take a short break this weekend to watch us run a 15.5 mile (25K) Fifth Third River Bank Run in Grand Rapids.  I ran with Team Chocolate Milk, Annie Link is a fellow dairy farmer, and of course we were both happy to drink it at the end!

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We just got a message from our neighbor Sharon Brock that she sees a new calf in the pasture along her yard.  Never a dull moment in the spring!

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

A million things to do

Things are going a million miles an hour.  We're trying to do our part of the barn as fast as possible.  Here's Kris compacting the sand that will go under the mattresses.  Then we'll bolt them down and they'll serve as a base for the sand the cows lie on.

(I love how the boys are standing here.)


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They're out on pasture!  This requires using the trailer, sorting them, taking them down the road in multiple trips, and then getting them back in before they learn to stay inside the fence.

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And in the midst of all of this, our corn is being planted (we pay a custom planter to do it) and ... we had our first calf!

The cows were especially excited when moving across the creek.  They were louder than I've ever heard them.

Now they're across the road from my house, so I can see one of my favorite sights ... again!  May really is the best month.  Not from a work-until-you-drop-from-exhaustion angle like Kris, but when this is out your window, how can you not smile?  (And then take a million pictures?)















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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Converting to sand bedding

We're doing a big project - changing the barn to sand bedding! (It is a popular choice due to cleanliness and cow comfort.) This means we have to remove the free stalls and mattresses, cut the concrete, remove sections of concrete, pour a concrete curb, replace mattresses ... plus many other steps. Beach for cows, coming up.

It was a lot of work for our team to remove the free stalls and mattresses - and to be careful with them because we're going to reuse them.  Then we brought in a local company to do the cement work.  This was yesterday:

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And 24 hours later, the cement is removed, and the curb is halfway done.

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We're doing half of the barn at a time.  They are moving quickly.  And ...

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It's not bad outside, either.

Also, Kris and Jake were putting the calves from last year out on pasture while I was running by.  Three ran through the fence and I ran to help get them back in.  Running after cattle is so different than running on the road.  First, sprint to the right spot.  Second, crawl under a fence.  Third, race a heifer so she doesn't go into the woods to be lost forever.  Fourth, hop a stream to herd them in the right direction.  Fifth, get manure (or mud) on your shoes.  It's hard to tell without smelling them. Repeat steps 1-5. Sixth, ask Kris for a ride home because after all of that, you're late!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

April showers

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Our neighbor's cattle and ours stand at the fence and stare at each other.  The grass is always greener.
And just like that ... it's spring!  It's green, it's rainy, and the flowers are poking up.  The alfalfa fields are green as far as you can see.  My mom is landscaping the barnyard to make it look beautiful.  Kris and the guys are hauling manure.  You can smell spring (and manure) in the air!

It is still meeting season.  In January, I began working as a communication specialist for U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance.  Their headquarters are in St. Louis, and we had the annual meeting this last week.  I love my coworkers, so it's always fun seeing them (including heading to Ballpark Village for a Cardinals game and going to Three Sixty, which gives a rooftop view of the arch).  The communication people from all the different affiliates across the country were there, trying to plan how USFRA can best bring agriculture and consumers together.

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I also had a Dairy Communicator meeting, where United Dairy Industry of Michigan trained us on how best to talk about farming.  Kris is now on the board of Michigan Milk Producers Association as well as United Dairy Industry of Michigan, so he had board meetings for both of those!  The UDIM meeting ended with taking in a Pistons game at the Palace because player Andre Drummond is a milk ambassador for us. In a huge surprise to us, we got to sit courtside! (Anytime Andre did well I would chalk it up to milk.  Anytime he did poorly I would blame it on lack of milk.)

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Meanwhile on the farm ... work, work, work!  There's so much to be done in spring.  We're drying up cows (meaning we don't milk them for a few months before they calve, but we have to prepare them for it). We're trying to haul as much manure as possible to get the fields ready for planting.  We have to reseed pastures.  We're planning on possibly changing to sand bedding and putting in some maternity pens.  It's all a lot.  Kris is usually sprinting from the truck to our house and back again in order to make it everywhere he needs to go - including singing in choir three days this week!

I hope your spring is going wonderfully, I hope you have sunshine wherever you are, and I hope you eat a ton of milk chocolate candy on Easter.  I know I'll do my part.


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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Talking to farmers, drying up cows



This week I went to Albany, New York speak to farmers at a conference put on by Farm Credit East called GenerationNext2.  It's a leadership development program in part organized by Tom Cosgrove, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Knowledge Exchange.

So - a conference full of young farmers and bankers?  Of course it was fun.  I was especially glad that I had the chance to talk to and get to know everyone throughout the conference.  There were all types of farmers - sod, cranberry, forestry products, of course dairy - and it was just interesting to hear about all different types of businesses.

My talk was about thinking beyond your business and engaging with neighbors, public officials, and the public, and after I served on a panel with Jessica Ziehm, Bill Peck, and David Haight.  It was so interesting and fun to do!  Smart people, great conversation, good questions.

I was dying to get downtown to see the famed capitol building, and Jessica kindly gave me a whirlwind tour!  The Egg was a bonus - I didn't even know about it!  Everyone also pronounces it ALLbany - not Albany, as I was, and Jessica said it's so small they sometimes call it SMALLbany. This was also funny to me, because you know ... my town is a tad smaller.





Thank you to everyone at Farm Credit East and at GenerationNext2! 

Meanwhile on the farm ...

We are drying up cows today.  This is a huge deal, so big that I have written about it in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 ... you get the point.

Why is it a big deal?  You have to prepare cows to not be milked.  You can't just stop milking them and expect them to just deal with it.

They're not going to be milked from now until they have a calf.  This way, their bodies can concentrate all their resources on getting ready to have a calf.  Then, after they have calves, they'll be ready to produce milk again.

Yes -  cows have to have a calf to continue giving milk. Jessica Ziehm organizes a Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair, (visited by 250,000 people each year!) and she said that people are continually amazed by this fact.  I assume they just never think about it.  Cows give milk, period, is what people think, and don't think about how or why until pressed.  We can't all think about everything at all times!

Some people ask if there's a period where we're milking no cows, but no.  We use bulls, and all the cows don't get pregnant the same month.  Some of them get pregnant later, so we don't dry all of them up at the same time.  So the ones that aren't as far along we still milk until it's their time to get dried up.  By that time, cows will have calved and we'll still have milk in the pipeline.  (Yes, the young ones get pregnant first, the older ones later. Some things never change.)

We already were contacted about two different types of tours on the farm for May and August.  When calving season starts, so does tour season!

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