Category Archives: Farm life

September, What September?

September has been a blur. It seems like life is moving at warp speed lately. I’m working on a few ideas for blog posts, but to actually get something posted, and I’m stealing this idea from another blogger, I thought I’d share five things (she did 10) that I learned in September.

1. I actually can get calves fed while toting the baby and dragging the toddler along, though it takes me about 3.5 times longer than if I did them free-handed.

2. I was right not to plant a garden this year. I haven’t even been able to keep up with the few container plants that I have near the house.

That's a lot of parsley! Is it even still good?

That’s a lot of parsley! Is it even still good?

3. I’m learning PC Dart, the software we use to keep track of herd management details (like when cows have calved [had babies], were bred and how much milk they’ve made) and my DF appreciates it. At a herd check-up earlier this month where our veterinarian comes out to check the cows to see if their pregnant and also to vaccinate the calves that are of age against certain diseases, it was so easy to just print out the list from the program versus the other convoluted way of getting the information that involved determining the position of the sun that my DF used to use.

4. My dog is afraid of thunderstorms and he needs my help to suffer through them. We tried a few different strategies throughout the summer to help try to keep him calm, hoping to keep everyone else sleeping while he was up pacing about. I found myself explaining the situation when I had family coming to visit and realized that I have just accepted that he still needs me too. So if there’s a thunderstorm in the forecast, I make sure there’s a clean sheet on the couch, a spare blanket if needed and an acepromazine pill in the cabinet (for the dog! not me).

Buzzman and me on the night I brought him home.

Buzzman and me on the night I brought him home.

5. Bedtime is more fun and seems to go smoother when both Mommy and Daddy can attend. In fact, TK hasbeen wanting his dad to carry him to bed lately…and I’m totally okay with that. After lots of nights pulling solo duty as a “crop widow” I welcome the help for sure. Besides, hearing my husband read “Goodnight Moon” makes my heart happy.

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We’re Saying No and Yes to Raw Milk

This is a follow up to the post, To Raw Milk or Not to Raw Milk.

It was a pretty clear decision for us about whether or not we would sell raw milk: No. However, we say yes to if you want to consume raw milk in general. That may seem like we are talking out of both sides of our mouths, but after my first post, I’ve learned that it’s a topic that many others feel conflicted about as well.

Thanks to the folks who joined in the conversation on my Facebook page. Lots of great information was shared while others raised questions about raw milk and wondered what it was all about. I thought I would explain the issue to the best of my knowledge here, share why we have chosen to stay out of the raw milk market and also share some great comments friends made about my previous post.

Milking Liesel at the fair.

Milking Liesel at the fair.

Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized or treated with UHT (Ultra High Temperatures) to eradicate potential harmful bacteria while preserving most of the goodness of milk. Raw milk advocates will tell you that this process also kills off beneficial bacteria, enzymes and other pathogens that help boost immune systems, ward off allergies and even cure asthma. The trouble is the harmful bacteria pasteurization kills off can be REALLY harmful and even in the cleanest of set-ups all it takes is one outbreak to cause serious damage.

Lots of people who grew up living on farms drank raw milk and still do today. I myself got to drink some from time to time even though we didn’t live on a farm… and no, I didn’t get sick. Most swear by it – they grew up on it and were healthier for it. These folks however, tend to understand the risks associated with Raw Milk itself but also with selling the stuff. A dairy farmer friend summed it up well on my last post, “All it takes is one person to say the milk made them sick and you lose everything you’ve worked so hard for.”

Put another way, a friend from business school commented, “The EV (expected value) of selling raw milk is highly negative due to the potential liability…even if they signed a waiver.”

Another friend who is a dairy farmer-turned vet student shared, “I grew up on raw milk but it came from my farm. My body was able to produce antibodies to the bacteria that was found in it because it was introduced to it from a very early age and they were endogenous to my farm and my environment. I may have gotten very sick had I gone to another farm and drank their raw milk. But I may have been fine. Food borne illnesses are very hit or miss. My biggest fear is that the consumers do not have enough education on how to properly handle raw milk and will make themselves sick by improper handling and it will come back to hurt the farmer and the dairy industry as a whole. It is a personal choice and one that if we can build in safeguards to the farmer that would require proof that they were negligent before lawsuits could be filed than I have no problem. But I have to tell you as a veterinary student and studying many bacterial and viral diseases that can pass thru to humans thru raw milk–I would not drink even my own anymore.”

And he’s right – those harmful bacteria and viral diseases are nasty stuff. To share an example, recently in the news – The Family Cow in Pennsylvania, a raw milk seller, recently had its third outbreak since January 2012. This time it was Campylobacter. Campylobacter is a found in cow manure and infection symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, fever and abdominal pains that can last anywhere from two to ten days after consumption. Listeria, e-coli and salmonella are a few of the other more “popular” foodborne bacteria related to raw milk among others.

Not only would we risk a potential lawsuit, something we don’t have enough resources to suffer particularly as we are really still starting out, but there isn’t enough insurance out there to indemnify the guilt I would feel were someone to get sick from raw milk we sold them.

Please don’t get me wrong, millions of people drink and sell raw milk every day and nothing bad happens. And quite frankly, as another commenter implied, I’m happy they are drinking milk in some way! I certainly do not want to play into any Fear Industry marketing (I feel there’s enough of it out there). So, to be sure, there are not many outbreaks reported. In 2013 through May, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been four outbreaks of campylobacter and salmonella related to raw milk and cheese consumption including 69 illnesses and 15 hospitalizations in the U.S., (this does not include the recent Family Cow outbreak).

On the other hand, there have been zero outbreaks in pasteurized milk. If you’re interested in learning more specifics about the risks of drinking raw milk, I found a great resource for raw milk risk facts on this website: realrawmilkfacts.com. To be fair, here’s a pro-raw milk website: realmilk.com, however, I don’t agree with its characterization as an “extremely” low-risk food. It classifies this statement using the term “when handled properly” which I think is an understatement. A recent recall for potential botulism-causing bacteria contamination in milk powder sold to Chinese companies by Fonterra, the world’s largest milk processor based in New Zealand, shows that mistakes or just plain bad luck can happen to anyone. (By the way, this recall occurred before any illnesses have been reported as of this time.)

On a personal note, I’ll continue to feed my kids pasteurized milk. It truly is a nutrition powerhouse with lots of good calories, essential nutrients, protein and other nutritional benefits that are still being realized. And as far as exposure to pathogens and other bacteria goes, I think they’ll eat enough farm dirt in their childhood to build up an arsenal of immunity if they haven’t already.

Any other thoughts or questions about this subject?

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So God’s Still Making Farmers

I’m not late to the party. We are just still talking about the “So God Made a Farmer” commercial from the Super Bowl. My DF really enjoys watching it. And he found the Farmer’s Tribute put out by Farms.com, which is basically the same thing but a minute longer and with different pictures but the same striking voice of Paul Harvey narrating a beautifully written oration.

I walked into the barn about two nights ago during chore time with TK and found my DF’s two uncles in the milk room with my DF. They had stepped in to help with a heifer who was sick and needed treatment (she didn’t agree and made her feelings known!). When they finished, my DF took them to my old laptop we have in the barn to show them the “So God Made a Farmer” videos. By the grins and lighthearted talk that was going on I could tell they appreciated the clips and were glad that my DF showed them.

A few minutes later and on to the next task, my DF was sending feed into the barn. The TMR (total mixed ration that includes both forages and grain) is run in on a conveyor belt from the big mixer wagon to a motorized feed cart waiting on the other end in the barn. TK and I watched the first two runs, then he got to go outside with his dad and watch from the tractor. When they came back in, my DF held TK while he maneuvered the feed cart around the cramped aisles to he feed out a load. The look on TK’s face was priceless. He was in awe.

Then they head out again to the tractor/mixer wagon to send in another load. As I watched from inside the barn, I saw as my husband placed TK on the tractor seat to watch the conveyor belt and huddled around him to keep him from falling, our son lean around to try to put his face in his dad’s and give him a kiss, well a “TK” kiss. Now it was my turn to be in awe. I was witnessing one of those scenes in life that you never want to forget.

I thought it was so fitting, TK showing his love for his dad the dairy farmer, after the dairy farmer had shown appreciation in his way to his uncles (the dairy farmers) by sharing the tribute. A typical Tuesday night turned out to be a pretty special night.

And oh, by the way, TK said his first word the week before and this is no joke, I have witnesses – it was “tractor” or actually more like “trac-tah.” Spoken like a true farmer.

From Farms.com:

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November Thanks in December

That’s right, I’m late. I didn’t make it on time. I wanted to finish just one last post about what I’m thankful for in November but rats. Foiled again. Didn’t get to it. I really enjoy remembering what I’m thankful for – it’s the same as counting your blessings. And there is so much to be thankful for, it leaves me feeling all warm inside, with a little curl of a smile on my face. So, because I’ve been doing a lot of business writing here, I’m going to number them in order to be more succinct in recounting them.

In addition to those things previously  mentioned, I am thankful for:

1. My siblings and their families. I can’t imagine my life without them. And as we’ve grown older, it seems as thought we’ve grown closer even though now we are running are separate lives in different places. They are typically among the first to hear big news, share successes and appreciate what is going on at the moment in each other’s lives. I love when we are all together. Not much beats that.

2. My extended family. Again, must be something about getting older and realizing how importing holding these relationships as tightly as you can is important.

3. Facebook. I know it seems silly, but I thought of it while typing the last point and it really has allowed for me to keep up with family that don’t live nearby and we don’t see often. It really helps to keep in touch.

4. My dogs. By the way, this is not a ranking exercise, I’m just writing things as they come to me. Buzzman is so tied to me and Tilly loves jumping on my lap in the morning when I’m waking up/waiting for TK. I call them my “doggie babies.” I also appreciate that they get to live on a farm, mostly. Until they get into something they should not have eaten…

5. My cows. This is the first time that all of my cows have been together with me on a farm. I love that I can walk down and greet any of them at any time. While I’m not able to work directly with them right now – I do miss milking! – I try to take TK down everyday to see them and check the heat chart so I don’t miss anything.

6. My job. You know that song with the lyric “I’ve looked at life from both sides now?” I’m thankful that my job allows me to keep a big-picture view of agriculture and the dairy industry while we live it everyday.

7. I’m also thankful for the awesome people that I work with.

8. My DF and I often look at each other, wondering, just like our tagline, “Life, how did we get here?” Not once did I ever imagine that I’d end up in Vermont. And certainly not that it’s a bad thing. It’s beautiful here! When I come home from the grocery store, there’s a spot where I come around the corner and see the Willoughby Gap  and I still say to myself, “I live here.” It’s breathtaking. Nevermind the baby and baby on the way!

9. My experiences. Without them, I wouldn’t be who or where I am today.

10. My faith. Again, without it I wouldn’t be who or where I am today.

Willoughby Gap

Willoughby Gap

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October Already?

Ugh. It’s been almost one full month since I’ve sat down to post. I can’t believe it. I was on such a roll. And please don’t think I haven’t thought about posting. I have several ideas in the works, but that seems to be where they are stuck. In the works. Nevermind. This post isn’t about how guilty I feel for not have written sooner, but rather an update of all that’s going on here.

To say the least it’s been a busy fall. TK and I have been out an about – we traveled down to the Big E in West Springfield and watched an impressive Jersey Show. I miss showing and hope to get back on track with a little help next year. We had a great time though, and TK got to go on his first ride!

Mom, TK and cousin LEO on the carousel!

The farmers’ markets finished up fairly well. They tell me there are three seasons to farmers’ markets up here. Starting with Memorial Day to the 4th of July; the second goes to Labor Day; and the third goes until Columbus Day, of course depending upon the weather. Foot traffic is much slower in the first and third season than the middle, which makes sense. The middle is the peak season for tourists. It starts to cool down quickly up here as we had our first frost on the 18th of September. So crazy.

Our set up at one of the markets.

We had another new calf at the end of the summer. I’ve decided to call her “Jersey” even though she is a Holstein, obviously. She is small for a holstein, out of a first calf heifer (first-time mom), so we say she is a Holstein in a Jersey package.

Here is Jersey, with my 13-pound rat terrier dog and 8-year-old cousin LEO for reference.

The garden finished up well. We had tons of green beans, yellow beans, zucchini, summer squash, buttercup squash, pumpkins and sunflowers! If you recall, I was clueless about gardening and not only had to read the back of every seed packet while planting, but also planted every seed in every seed packet. Yup. Zucchini from seven high producing plants – we had zucchini coming everywhere we turned! It was pretty crazy. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite prepared for that level of production so much of it went to compost though we did try to eat and give away as much as we could. Next year I’ll be more ready!

My little squash picker!

And finally, maybe our biggest surprise of the summer, something that slowed me down a little (or really a lot at times!), we’ll be adding a new little one to our family sometime in March. We are very excited for it. To be honest, I was a little intimidated at first – TK and Baby L will be 19 months apart. I kept thinking (and still do sometimes), how will we take care of two little ones? My DF, who really is my rock, is not worried about it and knows that we will figure it out. When I do find myself thinking too much and getting a little anxious, the baby’s due date pops into my head. It’s 3-16, which is one of the most popular verses in the bible. 

No, I don’t do the Tebow but I do feel an immediate calm come over me in one deep breath.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

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Talk About Hanging On by a Thread

Spotted this impressive hive on one of the limbs (sticks??) off the trees headed to the back pasture.

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My First Picture of What a Dairy Farm Is

Believe it or not, my DF, TK and I all got away for a weekend trip, aka a mini-vacation this past weekend. We did have a purpose for this trip – I had a bridal shower and bachelorette party for a close friend from college to attend. DF came to take care of TK and as a chance to get away from the farm for a few days. The festivities were out in the Finger Lakes region of New York – Syracuse, Skaneateles and Ithaca, home of my alma mater. We had a great time driving around, with me pointing out as many landmarks as I could find and telling as many stories as I could remember.

This is not my friends’ dairy, but a very clean and good-looking dairy similar to what they have. It would have been nice if I remembered to snap a picture!

We also made time to stop at some family friends that have a dairy farm in Central New York. I grew up visiting them as often as we could with my family and in the process, grew to love farm land, country landscapes, calves, three wheelers, that “farm” smell and of course, the family themselves. They have a pristine farm. Everything has a place. Everything is always mowed and there are pretty flowers here and there. Everything is always super clean and I don’t remember any trouble with any cows. In fact, they were the first picture in my head of what a dairy farm is.

Though I’ve worked in the industry for many years and have raised heifers before, living and working on a dairy now I understand more and more how much work goes behind it all. Of course the first priority is the cows – that they are happy, healthy and productive. Then come the crops – a constant worry in your mind that you will make enough and they will be of good quality. Maintenance belongs in here somewhere – hopefully before a breakdown is always helpful. And then comes the cosmetic stuff – again, hopefully before things get out of control. How they keep up with it all and then have time to host guests on a whim is truly impressive!

I wish everyone had friends like these especially when growing up. Folks to show and teach you what farming and cows are all about. People to explain why certain things happen a certain way; luckily for me, with patience, as I was a kid who asked a gazillion questions. People to share their passion for farming and inspiring you to find your own passion. Knowing a farmer goes a long way in understanding where food comes from and gives you a solid foundation for deciphering what comes at you via the media and social media these days.

The father at the friends’ farm passed away a few years ago. My Dad, who is a now retired minister, did the memorial service for him. I remember something he said then – that the father said he loved to be working in the fields; that he felt like he was truly in the presence of God when he was out there.

I think I’ve come pretty close to that feeling a few times since we moved here and started down this road and I feel pretty lucky about it. It is my hope that we can serve as that farmer-resource where you can ask questions, come visit or maybe just learn through my pictures and my blog.

So if there’s anything you are wondering about or would like to see, please don’t be shy!

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Our First Farmers’ Market

I was caught off guard a little last night when a friend said that she had looked up my blog to see where we were at with the Jersey Beef business. I had messaged her the other day that I was at a farmers’ market and she didn’t realize we were that far along. I’m sure I blushed a slight shade of dark pink, but I was really psyched to hear that she reads it. She is a really busy farm-wife-and-mother that works really hard and I am flattered she finds time to fit my little blog in.

Our logo with our new name too!

So, not to disappoint, here’s the latest. We attended our first Farmers’ Market as a vendor. It came with little fanfare despite my building excitement for it. Even though we thought to have strip steaks the night before to pump ourselves up, we were still blindly rushing around trying to get everything ready at the last minute. Things were rolling pretty smoothly – we even had our logo done – and then the printer stopped working of course. It was one of those mysterious issues where you have plenty of ink but it won’t print. As if it really was playing with us, it actually still made the noise as if it were printing but only blank sheets came out. I was able to get a few handouts before it decided to ghost print. We were headed to our local market anyway, so not too far away and we knew several folks there.

The results? We sold our first three packages of ground beef and I know those folks went home and had the best-tasting ground beef they ever had. The other vendors told me it was a quiet day for that market in terms of customer traffic. I was grateful for the insight from the other sellers. They were all quite nice and welcoming. I felt like they were happy to see us there and excited about farming. We had a few great but short discussions about agriculture. That’s another blog post though.

While maybe I was a tiny bit disappointed that we didn’t sell more our first run out, it didn’t really bother me too much. It really was pretty dead – I think everyone else in the world was at the beach. It made the day feel more like a dress rehearsal for us and we learned a few things right off the bat:

  1. We need better signage.
  2. We need bigger coolers and/or freezers.
  3. We need to make TK a shirt that says “Buy Jersey Beef from My Mom.”

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For the Love of Jersey Beef

You may remember I shared with you that we are trying to get started selling Jersey beef. First, thanks to all of you who have reached out and shared your own experience, and who have offered help and tips to get us going! I’m happy to report that our first load of beef is ready to be picked up and we should be hitting our first Farmer’s Market in about a week.

To fill in the blanks, after my post, I contacted another butcher, The Royal Butcher, this time USDA-inspected, at the suggestion of several folks. He happened to have a spot open at the beginning of July, which at the time was almost two months out. I jumped at the chance and said yes! He is located about 90 miles from us, but you know what? That didn’t bother us too much. It’s kind of nice to take a drive and get away from the farm for a few hours.

We moved the steer, (I called him Tank), to be close by so we could give him and extra scoop of grain as well as the grass silage we feed in the barn. In the last month, he really filled out nicely. We also put a group of heifers that came from my older brother in the pen with him and it in a way became his own private harem. He seemed to become protective of his “ladies” and let you know it too! He really lived out the rest of his days in leisure and style.

The day before he was set to head down to the butcher, I thanked him and I snapped this picture of him. He’ll always be special in our memories as we head down this road.

We usually dehorn our calves, but somehow he ducked behind a hay bale or something and we missed him. We ended up letting the horns grow out so he was looking pretty formidable (and tall!) toward the end. Don’t let that fool you though. He was a big sweetie.

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Wordless Wednesday Part Two

Chillin’ like villains.

Miss Independence is learning to drink from the bucket. Pretty quick learner!

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