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.

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.

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!

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.    

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What's the difference between milks? Whole, 2%, skim?

I was at a conference with a consumer panel, and I asked the question, "What kind of milk do you buy?" I was thinking they would talk about organic, almond, or regular.

I was completely wrong.  They answered with what kind of milk they buy - whole, 2%, or skim. This made me happy.  Today at the grocery store the cashier told me everyone knows the code for bananas, because everyone buys them.  I said, "What else does everyone else buy?"  She said, "Milk, eggs, bread."  WE'RE STILL IN!

My friends have been asking me some specific questions about milk, so here are some answers!

Is there a difference in nutrients?

No. Whole, 2%, and skim have the same nutrients when it comes to the nine essentials - calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and niacin.

Is there a difference in fat and calories?

Yes.  There IS a difference in fat and calories.  But!  That doesn't mean you're getting different nutrients.  When the fat is removed from the milk, it loses some of the vitamins, (like vitamin A binds to fat), so they are added back in.  If you read the label, you'll see whole has a little bit less vitamin A (6% to the others' 10%). In the other two, vitamins A & D are added back in to reach the level of 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin A and 400 IU of vitamin D per 1 quart.

It says there is sugar in my milk.  Is this added in?

No.  Milk has a natural sugar called lactose.  White sugar is not added.  This is like fructose in fruit - it's what makes it naturally sweet.

What about sodium?  Is that added?

No.  Sodium occurs naturally in lots of foods, milk being one of them.

How do the milks compare?

What?  You don't have all three in your fridge? We do because we have different likes among the five of us.  (We all share, too, when we run out.)

For 8 ounces...

Whole milk:  150 calories. 8 grams of fat.  Cholesterol: 35 mg
2% milk:       120 calories, 5 grams of fat.  Cholesterol: 20 mg
Skim milk:     80 calories, 0 grams of fat.  Cholesterol: <5 mg

What's the same?  Protein, sugar, carbs, potassium, sodium, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin C.

What percentage fat is whole milk?  

It has 3.25% fat.

This is interesting, because it actually means that it only has that much, and it's 96.75% fat free.  Why aren't we marketing it that way ...

Cows aren't made all the same.  Different breeds and different cows give milk that differs in the fat content.  It differs based on what she's eating and how long ago she had a calf, too.  Farmers pool that milk with other farms' milk, so when you get the milk it's not automatically going to be these percentages.  That's why we take milk to a processing plant to homogenize it.

What is homogenization, anyway?

Homogenization breaks down the fat molecules in milk so they stay integrated instead of separating as cream.  Nothing is added to the milk.

Does it bother you when kids you live with call skim milk 'blue milk' or say 'it tastes like water?'

Why yes, it does!  I love skim milk the most.  There is zero water added to it.  And they're not doing the grocery shopping anyway.

What else is milk made up of?  

Ready for this!  WATER!  Milk is about 87% water!!  It differs from cow to cow and among breeds, but that's a lot of water.  And vitamins.  The original vitamin water.  It wasn't added though - it's all-natural. (Even skim, you kids.)

How much protein does milk have?

A lot!  Just 8 ounces of milk has 8 grams of protein. Chug away.

Is my milk from around here?

Most likely, yes!  Milk is perishable, so it's a lot easier to sell it near where you live.  If you don't know, you can check the label.  Each container of milk is identified by a 2-digit state code followed by a 3-digit processing plant code.  It's local!  Michigan is 26.

If you don't live in Michigan, you can check exactly where your milk comes from by typing in the code at this site: whereismymilkfrom.

Thank you for your questions, and please let me know if you have any more.  I'm off to chug some milk now, but not from the jug.  Well, not while anyone is looking.  Cheers!

Want to know more about the farm?  I post a lot of pictures on Facebook. Come on over.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy spring!

Today's the first day of spring! It really seemed like it - warmish, super muddy, and smelled like dirt.  Ahh!

The cattle that live partly outside grow a winter coat.  I like their fluffy look.  They'll shed it soon, just like my children have already shed their coats and shoes.  (It was nearly 50 today, after all!)

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In other news ... I served on a GMO Task Force this past six months.  The Michigan Farm Bureau board asked us to be on it to research the issue and come up with conclusions of what action should occur.  Today we presented our findings to the board.  (Someone said, "Carla, stand in the back, you're tall."  Thanks for the boost, shoes!)

Kris said he feels like we're in a holding pattern.  It's the end of winter, the cold is supposedly over, but it's the time before EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT ONCE.  Soon, calving, planting, work work work.  

But before that ... more meetings!  We're headed to more this week.  I'm not wearing a coat to any of them.

Want to know more about the farm?  I post a lot of pictures on Facebook. Come on over.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A decade in...

Ten years ago today Kris had his first day on our farm.

I moved here in February of 2007 to work full-time at TechSmith.  I took great satisfaction in the fact that I could still fit all of my clothes, shoes, home office, and music in my little Pontiac Grand Prix - just like all of my college years!  Kris moved everything else by himself.  Luckily, he is great at packing.

So when he moved here in March, he had his first day at work.  Of course I wanted to take his picture.

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My parents got him that coat as a gift for his birthday the month before - his first Carhartt.  Right now, he was just leaving for the barn, and we calculated that he's on his third!  His current one is a taaaaaad dirtier.  (What a testament to a durable product.)

We got out the photo album tonight and showed the kids.  Ty and Cole kept marveling at how giant pregnant I was with them, and Max asked continually, "Where am I?!"  The pictures already seem so dated - here we are in the old barn, here you are climbing up to fix the old silo, here we are - just two of us - in our house!

I love to speculate what our lives would have been like if we wouldn't have bought the farm.  We have good friends who work for Caterpillar, and it's like checking out the parallel existence.  It seems great also!  It's just different, for sure.  As for us, we're happy we bought the farm, we love living here, and we're excited to see where this adventure goes.

Let's think ...

How many more coats will Kris go through before he sheds them and heads for a warm, sunny retirement community?

How many changes will the farm go through in the next ten years?

and -

Did anyone think that electrical setup in the picture above was a good idea?

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.   

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring in February

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We had a super-warm and lovely February.  Whenever it thaws, it gets super muddy and messy on the farm.  Kris doesn't particularly like it.  I ... love it.  We were barefoot around the farm last weekend! Then this week it got cold and we had flurries - it even hailed.  The tulips that were already pushing their way out of the ground were completely surprised!

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I hosted Fuel Up to Play 60 at Ford Field in Detroit.  It was so much fun! It is such a great event, because the kids are so excited.  We had two motivational speakers, a workout with the Detroit Lions, different dairy foods, and we did it all with fun people like these two dairy girls here - Ashley Messing Kennedy and Madeline Meyer.

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I attended the Voice of Ag in Traverse City and toured the FARM Science Lab. It is SO cool.  They take it around to different schools to bring the science about ag to them!  I can't wait until we can schedule it for ours.  People in Michigan - I'm pretty sure they're scheduling into 2018 now.  Go ahead and contact them for your school.

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Here we are making plastic from corn.  This enthusiasm is not faked.  We loved it.  Science experiment love is not limited to kids, obviously!

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Most exciting to us, we welcomed new cattle to the farm.  So far, they love it here and are giving us lots of fantastic milk.  Thanks to our friends for selling them to us!

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As February ends, it's back to winter around here.  Our hats and mittens are back on, we're back indoors, and we're ready for spring when it really comes!

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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, January 4, 2017

The Farmer - Land O'Lakes and Amelia E. Barr

Land O'Lakes made this video internally, then when everyone loved it, they released it.

It features a poem called 'The Farmer' by Amelia E. Barr (1831-1919).

AdWeek writes about it, "Created by The Martin Agency, "The Farmer" recites Barr's poem as picturesque scenes of American agriculture, shot by a National Geographic team, flick across the screen. The result is a reclaiming of our agricultural roots, mingled with something sad and nostalgic."

The rest of the article is critical of farming.

"But farming has never really been all that romantic. Being, as Barr wrote, a partnership with sky and earth, sun and rain (not to mention economics), it's a relationship that can be characterized only by volatility."

It is a volatile relationship, it's a hard business, and it is difficult.  But not romantic?  Come on!  There is just something about farming and the relationship with the land that is like nothing else.  Watch any farmer describe how he planted a seed, watched it grow, tended to it, and harvested his crop, and you will see pure satisfaction.  Obviously, this writer has not listened to country music.  Full of romance.

She continues:
"When Barr wrote "The Farmer," rural life had already lost many of the charms we attribute to history. Most Americans still lived in rural areas in 1900, but urban sites were growing faster. A drought in the late 1800s drove many homesteaders into debt, forcing farmers to build alliances and even try forming a political party. (It didn't work out.)

The agricultural revolution was also in full swing, with new technology (and hybridized corn!) completely disrupting established ways of life—paving the way for farming that looks a lot more like the creepy, cyberpunkish dystopia of Chipotle's "The Scarecrow.""

Okay, the writer and I completely disagree here.  There has always been drought and debt.  As for turning farming into dystopia ... I'm convinced this writer has never been to a farm.  There aren't a lot of farmers crying to go back to the old ways before machinery and technology.  (We haven't traded pitchforks for cell phones ... we've just added another tool!)  And Chipotle?  I, personally, am anti-E.coli.

But disagree as I may with that writer, I agree with everything in this poem.  Here's the video, followed by the beautiful words.  I mean, she even gives a special mention to milk! Now that's poetry.  


The Farmer

The king may rule o'er land and sea,
The lord may live right royally,
The soldier ride in pomp and pride,
The sailor roam o'er ocean wide;
But this or that, whate'er befall,
The farmer he must feed them all.

The writer thinks, the poet sings,
The craftsmen fashion wondrous things,
The doctor heals, the lawyer pleads,
The miner follows the precious leads;
But this or that, whate'er befall,
The farmer he must feed them all.

The merchant he may buy and sell,
The teacher do his duty well;
But men may toil through busy days,
Or men may stroll through pleasant ways;
From king to beggar, whate'er befall,
The farmer he must feed them all.

The farmer's trade is one of worth;
He's partner with the sky and earth,
He's partner with the sun and rain,
And no man loses for his gain;
And men may rise, or men may fall,
But the farmer he must feed them all.

God bless the man who sows the wheat,
Who finds us milk and fruit and meat;
May his purse be heavy, his heart be light,
His cattle and corn and all go right;
God bless the seeds his hands let fall,
For the farmer he must feed us all.