Category Archives: Dairy Care

Starting 2017 on a Rise

I’m not going to lie to you. The year 2016 was one I’d rather forget. In my mind, I’ll remember lots of stress, running around, frustration, and the time when I was convinced that I had legitimate memory loss issues (still think I’m not 100%). (My mom tells me it will come back when the boys are a little older.) (I don’t get that!)

Here’s the thing, as I was pondering a post and thinking about what I might write reflecting about the year and how horrible it was, I saw the title of the post from last year come across my Facebook memories: “Buh-Bye 2015.” Stop it. Did I write about 2015 in a good-riddance way too?

What is wrong with me?

Hold on. I think its human nature to dwell on the negative, right? But wait, that’s not me. I can always find the silver lining in something. And there were some redeeming things about 2016, so here goes.

I discovered the book-turned-tv-series Outlander, written by Diana Gabaldon (@WriterDG on Twitter), which immediately became my guilty pleasure. I read all eight books plus the graphic novel. That’s like 15,746 pages (not really, but they are huge books). I had not read for pleasure in such a long time – six years at least, that I forgot what it was to get wrapped up in a great story. (In full disclosure, the idea for the title of this post came from @WriterDG when she casually said she was ending 2016 on a rise.) (She’s so cool!)

I grew both professionally and personally, continuing to exercise the “choose wisely” mantra my husband said to me once. Sure, I learned a lesson or two, or seven, but all in a good way.

And of course, the boys are wonderful. They are both in school now. TK can read in Kindergarten! How crazy is that? They go from being these tiny beings incapable of the slightest care for themselves to reading in five short years! Big E keeps us on our toes. He is very quick-witted. When he starts in with the “MAWEmmeee I want some chocolate milk” for the eighth time in a two minute span, I reply “Well I want a million dollars.” To which he replies “But mommy, I don’t have a million dollars and we do have chocolate milk.” He’s 3 folks. How many more years of this?

So that leaves, the farm. As I’ve reflected on why I feel like I won’t miss 2016, it’s mostly about the farm. Don’t get me wrong, we are still very happy with our choice to farm and be here, but between the low milk prices and waiting all year for something to happen (hopefully soon) (we’re still waiting), the slightest thing tend to get you down and maintaining perspective is hard.

But even at that, by late fall, things had started looking up. The milk price started to come up. The forecast for the year is to be much better than 2016. And we had a beautiful Thanksgiving and Christmas with lots of visiting family and friends we are blessed to have in our lives.

And the first calf born for 2017 was a Jersey heifer…okay, she was second to a Holstein bull but it was the same freaking day. After my bad luck with not getting many heifers, I am rejoicing in small victories.

Which leaves me with one goal for 2017: To be able to look back on the year in the last week of December and feel a little less good riddance and a bit more nostalgia for auld lang syne.

 

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Meet Circle S Lemonhead Trisha, aka Miss Trisha Yearwood!

 

 

 

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Filed under Dairy Care, Farm life, Jersey Cows, Life Balance

Choices and Farming

Life’s about choices. As we have advanced as a culture, we have created more choices in nearly every aspect of life. When I was planning my wedding, I remember being in awe about all of these choices being thrown at me. Sometimes it felt like I was on the bottom of a big pile just trying to get out from under it one decision at a time. Some people thrive in that situation. For me, I just wanted to marry my husband and not worry about whether we’d have wine on each table or serve it from the bar.

That’s not to say that choices are not important. Certainly there are those that are indeed more important than others – like my decision to say “yes” to my husband when he asked me. Or even perhaps my choice to ask him, had I thought of that.

To me, this ongoing debate about how farmers should farm is much like this type of scenario. There are many choices we have to make – like what color or brand of equipment we choose, which isn’t as important as whether we will be buying a no-till corn planter or something else that makes sense for our farm.

As I’ve been vocal in the debate about labeling or as I see it, stigmatizing, food produced with GMO crops, people have asked why speak up? Reporters seem to always want a simple answer – which happened in this Christian Science Monitor article, which I was happy to be a part of but left me a bit disappointed in its finished form. The journalist reasoned that my main concern about stigmatizing GMOs was because I was afraid it would raise the feed expense for the cows and thus, my boys wouldn’t have the chance to carry on our farming tradition. While this is a small part of my concern, there’s way more to it.

Let’s face it. Right around one percent of Americans are primary farm operators, or about one farmer for every 99 people. One expert and 99 back seat drivers give or take. That’s a pretty big bus that farmer’s driving. To some extent, the farmer can listen to passengers and go slower or faster, turn the A/C or heat on or off, provide more cushion on the seats or not; but at some point, the bus has to safely arrive at it’s destination – avoiding pot holes, ice, ditches, oncoming traffic, etc. More importantly, the driver (the farmer) has to make the best decision possible for protecting those passengers, getting them safely from here to there while keeping the bus in good condition for future trips. Sure, there may be other buses passengers can choose – but there won’t be as many without preserving options – either through legislation or the market.

Back to choices as a farmer and figuring out the best way to make the best use of our resources while preserving the farm for the next farmer to come along: Choices ensure sustainability.

Choices ensure sustainability.

We face a constantly changing landscape as farmers, with new challenges and opportunities appearing nearly every day. No doubt my sons, or the next farmers here, will face the same. In order to keep up, adjust or take advantage, the ability to make choices that the market will accept and that regulation will not deny will be key to ensuring sustainability.

So yes, preserving the next generation’s chance to farm is about concern for the cost of feed for the cows – both economically and environmentally, but it’s also about so much more than that.

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Three Times a Day, You Need a Farmer

I was lucky enough to catch some attention with a post that I wrote that tried to simply answer, “What makes farming worth the heartache?”

While I expanded on idyllic images, (which happen to be my reality), I wrote it in response to many other’s lamentation about the hard times and sadness that often comes along with farming (which is also my reality). Farming must be closely related to Mother Nature – who not once, among the many things she has been called, was ever referred to as “fair.”

There’s not much that is more rewarding than nursing a sick cow or calf back to health; and then to have her live a long, healthy and productive life. But just as easily if not more so, that same animal could be gone in a literal heartbeat.

It certainly makes one appreciate life, and the things in it, that much more.

At the end of the day, this way of life, this collection of extreme ups and extreme downs and whatever comes in between is all done in the name of producing of food. Food that is served at the dinner table or grabbed in a rush. Food that is baked or cooked in your kitchen for those closest to you with love. Food that nourishes our bodies so that we may carry out our string of daily tasks that make up our lives.

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” –Brenda schoepp

We as dairy farmers take particular pride in producing what’s been described as “nature’s most perfect food.” Milk provides protein, calcium and nine essential vitamins and nutrients in a single serving; ounce for ounce it’s nutrition cannot be matched. So there’s a bit of pride and even more reward had in providing such nourishment for our neighbors, communities and family.

Of course other goodness in dairy products include cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cream, butter, and more.

But our beloved milk has come under attack. Fewer and fewer people are drinking it; fluid milk sales have been trending downward for the past several years. Milk has more competition now from plant-based beverages that have the same look and feel (but not the same nutrition). Various label claims create confusion about everything from hormones, antibiotics, animal care to the environment. All in the name of selling.

The worst part is talking about these issues with dairy farmers who aren’t active on social media and/or who don’t see these claims every day.

The best part is knowing that despite the spin, despite the claims, despite the advertising, there are millions of people – children and adults alike, who depend upon us everyday – even three times a day – for our milk. And we won’t let them down.

At the end of the day, milk is milk, still the nutrient powerhouse and wholesome glass of refreshment produced by farmers who care about taking care or their cows and keeping their farms sustainable for future generations.

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[Farm] Size: Does it Matter?

Farm size gets a lot of press these days. Big farms, small farms, micro farms – each operating differently, in ways that make sense to their particular operation. The common denominator among the vast majority despite the size of the farm is a proud, caring farmer or farmers, doing their best to take care of the land and/or animals they rely upon often with future generations in mind. Usually they are carrying on a family tradition or striking out on their own after being inspired to do so.

To illustrate, I reached out to a few fellow dairy farmers to ask their philosophies about animal care. You will find their statements in their own voices first, and then a list of the farm sizes. I won’t tell you who said what, but rather let you guess.

Farmer quotes:

“Animal care is THE most important part of dairy farming. We treat our cows with respect and compassion. We treat our animals well, not because a well-cared for animal is healthy and strong and will produce quality milk in good supply, but because it is the right. thing. to. do. Period.”

“Caring for dairy cattle is in my blood, it is my passion. The most important lesson I have learned is that if you do not treat your animals well, you will not succeed. Dairy cattle are domestic animals and they depend on us for food, shelter and care. I know that as long as I keep working hard to provide my cows with the best care and comfort, they will produce well and our family business will prosper. Happy cows make milk; there is no truer statement.”

“Our philosophy is to provide as comfortable a life as possible to our animals. The more comfortable and healthy we keep our animals the better they are able to produce for us. As farmers we see animals born and we also sometimes have to make the unfortunate choice when they pass on. We don’t want to see animals suffer. Life is fragile and it is our job to make sure that theirs is as comfortable as possible.”

“For us health is the #1 priority. It’s all watched very carefully. We have nutritionists and we test our feed weekly to make adjustments. Our herdsman was a vet and he is always on top of issues. When we treat with antibiotics we have our own hold back chart which is more conservative than the medicine company. We have a hospital pen where the sick and recovering from surgeries are held to protect them. Also, keeping beds clean and dry lend to healthier animals. We work to prevent foot diseases and mastitis. We are pro-active when it comes to health care.”

“On our farm the cows come first. Every decision we make whether it is how to treat a sick cow or a renovation to make, we first think if it will make the cows lives better and more comfortable.”

“I married into farming. I never understood why someone would want to work so hard for so little. Then it happened, I fell in love with cows. Every day you go out and tend to their needs, often before your own. The work is hard, the hours are long but seeing a new life enter the world or having one of your girls give you loves, it makes it all worth it. Animal care is our top priority. In order for us to keep doing what we love which is tending to their needs, they have to be well taken care of. Our job as dairy farmers is to take care of them. Doing the best possible job we can keeps a roof over our heads as well as theirs.”

“Our dairy cows deserve the utmost care and respect, however they are animals not humans. They should get the care that they need to lead a healthy and ‘happy’ life. They are our livelihood, and deserve to be treated that way. But how do you rate the ‘happiness’ of an animal? I know that animals deserve proper nutrition and care, but when it comes down to spending an exorbitant amount of money or putting animals ‘happiness’ in front of human life, I don’t feel that it should be a hard answer. Maybe it is my faith, but God did put humans on this earth to care for it and the animals, but also to ‘rule’ over them.”

“For dairy size and animal care: I think it’s all in the management. We are strictly family run. Most of the animals have names and they are all seen by one of us every day. I think it’s important if you can to manage your animals properly and take the time to see them every day. We have plenty of room in the milking barn and of other barns and pasture for all the animals.”

“Our girls are our livelihood. Without them we have nothing. So it stands to reason that we take all measures to make them happy and healthy, just as most farmers do. On our farm we don’t push our cows to their fullest. I like to compare cows to athletes. Like any athlete when they are pushed they are bound to have maintenance and more likelihood of things that need intervention.”

“On our family farm it’s all about the cows. Our greatest efforts and resources are always devoted to ensuring that our family of cows receives the best care and are provided the greatest comforts. We truly believe that any cow, provided with the right care, can reach her potential which is why we invest the bulk of our time, money and resources into not just maintaining but improving all aspects of their lives- from feed, health & nutrition to housing, comfort & quality of life. Farming is our way of life, it just also happens to be how we make our living.”

Farm sizes and a few other details:admin-ajax

  • 500-cow dairy
  • 115-cow dairy
  • 1200-goat dairy
  • 70-cow dairy transitioning to organic
  • 725-cow dairy
  • 130-cow dairy
  • 1700-cow dairy
  • 200-cow organic dairy
  • 50-cow dairy
  • 270-cow dairy

These statements are all straight from the farmer. Despite the varying sizes and the different ways accomplished, one theme winds through them all: animal care is of utmost importance. There may be folks who still want to debate differences between the sizes of dairy or other farms and what they can or can’t offer, but those discussions should all be held with the knowledge that at the end of the day, animal care is a primary influence on decision making.

Farmers know that if they take care of the animals, the animals will take care of them. And I’m proud to say that I couldn’t agree more.

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Losing the Calves

I love posting pictures on social media sites of all the fun stuff around here: the fresh cut hay, cows grazing on rolling green pastures and cute baby calves. Farming is not all fun stuff though; it’s tough, sometimes so tough that you find yourself asking why you continue to do it. Sometimes those baby calves don’t make it for whatever reason, but reason beyond your control.

This spring, we have had a string of bad luck with our calving. We lost three heifer calves – all to freak things. I wrote the following post on my phone while the second one we lost was struggling to make it. When I wrote, we had done what we could for her and we were in wait & see mode:

towanda

Towanda and me on a random Tuesday night.

There’s a heifer calf in the barn struggling to live. While her future is bleak, there still is hope. I found myself in the same position a few years ago with a cow who is now seven years old. In a similar way it was a very cold day in March and she came unexpectedly. We brought both into heated parts of the barn. We dried each calf, rubbing them down with at least a half dozen towels. We “tubed” each calf, inserting a small tube down to their stomachs to get them colostrum with vital nutrients and immunities they need to fight off whatever they may have to fight off in these first few hours of life. We put blankets on them, said a little prayer and tried to make them as warm and comfortable as possible while we left to go do the next thing.

And now we wait. Last time, I went back to check on the baby calf at noon and found a spritely little thing be-bopping around the room. She was very cute- already a very small calf having come early and out of a first-calver and we only had a large Holstein calf blanket available.  I think it made her even cuter – she was swimming in that thing! Because of her spunk, I named her “Towanda” from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. I hope for a similar outcome today, but am not optimistic. Maybe I’ve become a little jaded as I’ve gotten older. Maybe I’m more realistic – this isn’t exactly the same situation, and it seems the calf this time is struggling a bit more as we think she may have aspirated during calving. Maybe I’m just feeling depressed because it just keeps snowing. Or maybe I’ll be wrong and she’ll make it.

Later that night:

Turns out I was right. Unfortunately the calf didn’t make it. When I went back down to check on her, she had gone further downhill, not even able to pick up her head. It is an indescribable feeling, holding a dying calf in your lap. You feel sad, hopeless, and maybe a little angry that there wasn’t anything else you could do to save her. It certainly makes you want to work harder and smarter for the sake of all the rest of the animals who did make it and are in your care. It reminds me of a line from that Paul Harvey speech made famous by a 2013 Super Bowl commercial:

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.'”

And while this doesn’t happen often, it happens on farms regardless of the label put on the package its product sells in. Again it leaves you wondering if it is all worth it. Then you look around at all the faces watching you as you walk back through the barn to get ready to feed or clean or milk or for one last check before you leave for the night and you realize it is.

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Immobile in the Yogurt Section

The other day I went grocery shopping at a store that is not one of my two usuals. Everything was going fine, uneventful, maybe even a little dull, you know – grocery shopping – until, I was struck immobile in the yogurt section.

I was literally wandering up and down the seven feet of yogurt products while working through an internal struggle. You see, my usual choice for my kids is Chobani Champions in the tube; a Greek yogurt because of the additional protein and a tube because it’s fun. Of course, this particular store did not carry the Champions yogurt, though it did have several choices: regular and lowfat traditional yogurt, greek yogurt, kids-themed yogurt, serious “indulgent” adult yogurts, and of course, Stonyfield organic yogurt and all its offerings including its “YoBaby” and “YoKids” – the only other choice in a tube.

Up until this point, I was very much anti-Stonyfield yogurt. In fact, truth be told, I am anti- most organic products unless it is grown by someone that I know. You see, while I appreciate choice in our food industry, I don’t appreciate misleading marketing efforts that feed into an often irrational fear of our safest food supply in history; particularly when it’s just to make a buck. But on this specific day, I decided to test myself to see if I was willing to make a concession for the sake of the “tube” and the delight of my children, albeit a two minute delight. After a solid five minutes of deliberation, I found that I was not and I am glad that I did not give in.

The very next day, my decision felt further justified as one of the Twitter accounts that I follow shared the top to a Stonyfield yogurt – one I somstonyfieldehow missed during my yogurt examination – with a comment “Marketing at its finest. Come on. #cantweallgetalong.” Amen sister.  (picture at right)

The problem with this label is that organic farms are allowed to and do use “toxic” pesticides. The difference is, they are not allowed to use “synthetic” pesticides. I know this already because of my involvement in farming, but was also happy to read a recent article on slate.com that addresses pesticide residue in fruits and vegetables written by a mommy-blogger. The author, a non-farmer, took task to find the actual numbers behind pesticide residue in produce farmed organically versus conventionally, because like many others, she had been led to believe that harmful residues in conventional produce was not good for her son. What she found was far from her initial belief, no doubt created in part by crafty product marketing. Her conclusion was, though you may have other reasons to purchase organic produce, when it comes to pesticide residue, “Conventional fruits and vegetables are perfectly healthy for kids.”

The thing is, this trust-eroding-though-we-think-we’re-building-trust-in-our-BRAND advertising strategy (ala many other big-food companies like Panera and Chipotle as well) is not coming from the organic farmers. It’s coming from a marketing department removed from what’s actually happening on the farm and obviously what the national organic standards are in the U.S. What strikes me ironically is that Stonyfield recently had an initiative to recruit more conventional dairy farms to become organic-certified and sell milk to them directly, all the while their marketing department continues to piss their so-called recruits right off.

I know a lot of organic farmers. Some are even great friends. And while I respect their decision to farm organically, I don’t agree with all of their practices, just as I am sure the pendulum swings both ways. But I do know that we all care for our animals and the land to the best that we can and that alone builds a level of commonality. Trouble comes when the people using labels and other advertising to sell farm products for their food company pit us against each other. And while we do have the safest food supply in history, that in no way means that there isn’t room for improvement, innovation and still more choices.

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#FarmLove is All About the Love for the Farm

You may have seen several posts recently on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets using the hashtag #farmlove. I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what it’s all about and why we chose to pursue it.

First, #farmlove is all about farmers and those who love farming to share why they love farming. Let’s face it, farming is a tough business and not for the faint of heart. There have been a few days where even I have asked why it is that we are in it. Not only do farmers have the daily operations of keeping everything fed, healthy, running and humming but we also have a constant worry about making enough money to pay the bills and put food on our own table, let alone future stuff like who will take over the farm when we are gone.

And now we have more concerns arising from a shadow that has been cast by mainstream media. Every time an undercover video of animal abuse is released, animal ag takes a hit, even though that type of behavior is not tolerated on the vast majority farms. Certain terms like factory farm, industrial farm, GMOs and hormones are thrown around without any regard to context that they have taken on new meaning and their own negative light. Today’s farms are being scrutinized in everything they do from the types pens they raise their calves in to the type of corn seed they purchase or even if they grow corn by an uninformed, or worse, a partially informed, non-farming public.

So in a way, #farmlove is about connecting all farms together too. There are no labels when we’re using the #farmlove hashtag. Big farms, small farms, conventional farms, grass-based farms, hobby farms, organic farms can all use it. Because we are all in this together. We are all farmers. We all care for our animals and our land and just may have different ways of doing it.

Anyway, #farmlove is about just that. Sharing the love that we have for our farms, for our farm life. If you have any pictures or videos to share, feel free to start. February is a month for love, let’s make it for #farmlove.

FarmLove

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