Friday, July 22, 2022

Now wheat!

My mom, Cherie Anderson, has done it again!  This time it's on wheat. We don't grow wheat on our farm, but we do buy a lot of it to bed down our cattle. I love looking at it when it's growing and when it's in bales in the field. It's just so beautiful. A friend of mine just had her niece's senior pictures taken in Greece, and in them she's standing in front of ... wheat! Beautiful in any country! Here's what my mom wrote:


The farmers around here have been harvesting their wheat for about the past week. Wheat is a cereal grain in the grass family. Most of the wheat planted around here is winter wheat and it’s planted about the first week of October. When it comes up, it looks like a field of grass and is a very pretty color of green. When the cold comes, the wheat just sits there and it survives all through the winter weather. In fact, it’s desirable to have snow cover the crop as insulation. In the spring, it begins to grow again and as it ripens in July, it turns a beautiful golden color. You know, “amber waves of grain”.  

Wheat is harvested with a combine. The combine cuts the plants off and separates the kernels of wheat from the chaff. The last photos show what comes out and is put into the truck or wagon. 

Wheat is almost like two crops in one, as the combine can shoot all the stems of the wheat out onto the ground and then the farmer can bale all of that straw up. If he doesn’t have livestock, he can sell all the straw to farmers who do. It is used for nice, soft, clean bedding for the animals. The straw can be baled  into big square bales, small square bales, or big round bales, just like hay is. 

Wheat is a cash crop, not generally raised for animal feed. The farmer can harvest the wheat and sell it that day for the current market price; he can store it and sell it when he wants to; or many farmers sign a contract ahead of time for a certain number of bushels at a certain price. This happens to be a good year to have wheat to sell!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Alfalfa - the process!

A beautiful field of aflalfa

My mom Cherie Anderson wrote this on her Facebook page, and since she described it so well, I'm going to use it here! She also took all the pictures. Even though I grew up here, I didn't really pay attention until we started farming here ourselves. Growing and harvesting alfalfa to feed our cattle is a summer-long process with rewarding results! 


It’s haying time in Michigan. Everyone knows what hay is, but maybe not everyone knows the process. This is a field of alfalfa. Alfalfa is planted in late summer or early fall to use the following spring. It’s a high protein food for cattle. It’s a legume and has deep roots. A field will be good for three to five years, or even longer, depending on the weather and soil. 

When the alfalfa is at the right maturity and there’s no rain imminent, the farmer mows it and the machine lays it in rows. Then a rake or merger will put those rows together into larger swaths, or windrows. Then a chopper will scoop up those rows, cutting the alfalfa into smaller pieces and shooting it into a wagon or truck which is driving alongside. It’s trucked to a cement pad, dumped out, and another tractor pushes it into a pile and drives over it, compacting the pile. When it’s all done, the pile is covered with plastic. The alfalfa ferments, does not rot or spoil, and makes nutritious, delicious feed for cows for later on. It’s called haylage. 

You can also bale alfalfa into round or square bales. In that case, it has to be much drier than chopped alfalfa. You can’t bale wet hay. It can actually spontaneously combust, as crazy as that sounds. 

Alfalfa is mixed with corn sileage and other feeds and fed to cattle. Hay for horses is generally not purely alfalfa - it is either grass hay or a mixture of alfalfa and grass. Alfalfa is harder for horses to digest. They only have one stomach, unlike a cow which has four. 

The last picture shows the field when all the chopping is done. The cool thing is that the alfalfa will grow back and the farmer can get three, sometimes four, cuttings every summer!  Of course, at that point you WANT rain, unlike when you’ve got hay on the ground. 

Oh, and it smells wonderful when it’s freshly cut!

Alfalfa close up



Chopper chopping it

Dumping onto feed pile

Tractor driving on continually to form file and compress it 

The alfalfa field afterward

Ready to just 28ish days we do it again!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Slow ride

While his brothers are in drivers training, Max is in on-the-job training! 

While running the manure pump is Max's favorite farm job, mowing pastures in the tractor is his second. He only drives in the fields (not the roads MY GOODNESS), and Kris had to move the tractor, so Max brought the truck up from the back of the field. He was waving to me after he parked from across the road. This was his first time driving the truck.

It's funny to ride in a car while my older kids take turns driving, and it's no less strange to see Max at the wheel. Soon to be normal on both counts.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Farm tours!

Mrs. Logan, kindergarten teacher, asked to bring her class for their first ever field trip - not just in the class, but ever! It was just SO MUCH fun. 

She said it was all of their first field trip and many their first bus ride. We all toured, fed calves, saw cows, watched them get milked, climbed on the tractor, and ate ice cream. 

Mariah, one of the students, said "This was the best day ever!" I asked her why, and she said because she saw a cow, and she'd never seen one before. Everything is so new and wonderful when you're five years old!

They were interested, fun, and it was SO WONDERFUL! I love showing kids the farm. Thank you Mrs. Logan for your sense of adventure and dedication to agriculture!

Thank you also to our neighbors AgroLiquid for letting us use your people mover. We so appreciate it!

Thanks for the people mover, AgroLiquid!

We let everyone feed a calf a bottle. 

They all stepped right up.

This is the delightful girl who told me it was the best day.

She has such a perfect no-front-teeth smile! 

Yesterday, we hosted a tour of Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan interns. Josh Mosbaugh brought them to see a dairy farm as part of their 10-week education about their business. They all had some sort of agricultural background, including being from a dairy farm, so their questions were informed and detailed. They were also really friendly and interesting. The future of FB is bright!

Jeans were the fashion choice of the day

There's no age limit to liking calves

When the kids are drinking milk, and when the interns are choosing a career, I hope they have fond memories of visiting here.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The corn popped up!

"You look at that field that you tilled. You planted that seed, you watched that crop grow - there's no feeling of satisfaction like seeing that. Or raising a calf to be a cow that produces milk. You think about those things when you make your career choices." - 34:15, Cherie Anderson, Ask a Farmer: Family Farms, Family History

Way back in 2016, my mom and I were invited to be on a panel at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History about multigenerational farms. I remember a lot about that day, but today I watched the video to hear exactly what my mom said about the satisfaction of farming.  

Why? Because we had our corn planted - we hired our custom harvester Pat Feldpausch. He is currently having some health issues so his son PJ did it.

Then we patiently (Kris) and impatiently (me) waited for it to pop up.

We plant corn that in 107 days comes out of the ground and towers over our heads. I worry the entire 107 days about rain. Is it enough? Is it too much? 

This is the reason I didn't want to farm. I didn't want to be like my parents, willing it to rain when the corn got dry, since your livelihood depends on feeding your cattle.

However, with 15 years of farming under my belt - the benefits outweigh the emotional cost. I absolutely love watching this all happen. We're ready for another year of growing corn!

Friday, May 13, 2022

A history of work

Kris at work

When I was in first grade, my mom told me she had gotten a part-time job. I was sad, thinking that she wouldn't be home when I was home. She explained to me that since it was part-time, she was going to be there when I was. It's not like she wasn't working already - she was the township treasurer, and she also helped on the farm. She worked the rest of my home life and until retirement age, in three different, enjoyable and good bookkeeper jobs, never more than seven miles from home. It worked out great. My dad was farming all this time, and he always credits my mom for helping support our family. 

My dad also really admires my grandma Caroline Anderson for getting her education degree after she had her five kids, then teaching and helping support their family while my grandpa farmed. She had already graduated from MSU with a degree in home economics - that's where she and my grandma met - but she returned to be able to teach. 

Kris' mom also always worked while her husband Mike was farming, whether she was making stained glass art or owning a quilt shop or accounting for the golf course. Kris' grandma had off-farm jobs too, including being a secretary, a typist, and driving a school bus from 1965 to 1989. 

I have always also had an off-farm job. Of course I help out here whenever I'm needed, but I've always worked contract or full-time since college. Kris and the team are doing the work on the farm. Sometimes people ask me if I keep the books, because a lot of families divide up work that way, but that is probably the last job I would do. Kris does those too.

When people ask me what I do, I say "I'm a writer, and my husband and I own a dairy farm," and depending on whatever part of the answer interests them, they'll ask about that. I feel very fortunate that I've had a career as a writer since 2001, starting with my first job out of grad school. I've written and worked for industries from agriculture to health care to software to GPS tracking for fleet vehicles. 

I'm also strong on the dairy farmer side, having grown up on one and now an owner of one. I love talking about it, living here, and being a part of it all. I live and breathe it. Literally!

Yesterday I was in an online meeting, and I introduced myself to some people in there from around the country. I included that I live on a dairy farm. After I gave my work update, my coworker running the meeting said, "Raise your hand if you like milk or cheese!" The nine people onscreen laughed and raised their hands. 

So, here's to farming, here's to off-farm workers, and here's to heading into the weekend, where in some jobs it matters and some it doesn't. We're very thankful to be farming, and I'm also glad I have a phone in my hand and a computer on my desk to share it with you.

Me at work

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

We put the cattle out on pasture!

One of my favorite things - we put the heifers out on new pasture today! 

These heifers were in an open barn lot where they were getting fed, and they also were out on pasture, but since they're running all over it during the winter and early spring, it's out of grass. 

Kris opened a fence, and I tried to Pied Piper them over. One brave soul was curious enough to come over and she entered into a world that was COVERED with food she loved to eat!

We left them alone for a couple of hours, then some of them ventured out, and then they walked behind them to the open field.

They ran! Ran the perimeter, checking it all out, then came back panting. Some of them ran it again, while others ate the grass and twigs off the trees. 

Oh, the joy of heifers on new pasture! It is one of my favorite days.