Category Archives: Jersey Cows

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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Buh-Bye 2015

I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions. I think you can and should start resolutions any time the need or desire arises. However, that said, I do take this time of year to reflect on the past twelve months and in the next week or so will sit down with my DF, my partner in life and on the farm, to look ahead and brainstorm some goals, expectations and plans.

I will admit that I am somewhat glad to be moving on from 2015. It wasn’t a bad year, (I’d probably never admit it if there was one) but it had its moments. From not getting many Jersey heifers, to a tough year for crops and equipment breakdowns, to dropping milk prices, to finding balance with a new off-farm job and raising two budding independent farm boys, to juggling care for a family member in need. The year 2015 filled our plates and then some.

Spring and early summer brought cropping challenges to the farm. While early on, with parts ordered well ahead of time and work completed and ready for a window of good weather in May, we encountered a breakdown right off the bat. And then another, and another and another. The entire month of June felt like it dragged on while we dealt with the repairs and waited through rainy weather. The highlight was when my DF drove our big tractor in reverse (it was stuck in gear) through town to get it to the mechanic. Boy I wish I got a picture!

Shortly after the backwards tractor incident, we accepted the fact that “it is what it is.” That is, we are doing the best we can and will make adjustments along the way. For example we feed a “total mixed ration” or “TMR” throughout the year. By not putting up the highest quality feed we would have preferred to, we will be working with our nutritionist to come up with a balanced diet utilizing other feedstuffs to create the best feed for our cows, and it might cost us a little more. But that’s okay. It happens.

I also had a tough year with my Jerseys. I unfortunately had to say goodbye to several – including a few that carried my high hopes. You see the girls have to in a sense, pay for their way to stay as we only have a certain amount of space. There were a couple who we had to sell because they were not coming back into calf for us, and since our farm relies upon their ability to produce milk and reproduce offspring, they couldn’t stay. There was also an old girl who went far back with me, pre-marriage and kid days, whose time had come.

And there was an awful tragedy at the end of May: losing my best cow. In the past I would have written about a loss like that but for some reason this time I just couldn’t. I was incredibly sad for days. I tear up a little now even thinking about it. This was supposed to be her year – in her prime, looking great after freshening (having her baby). I felt a little hollow, like a little piece of me gave up a little at the time, but you know what, there are 103 other cattle here who need me, need us, just as much. And besides, I’d written about losing calves and cows before and didn’t want to seem like that’s all I write about. But maybe, like songs, the prettiest stories are somehow the saddest ones.

In addition to the girls we had to say goodbye to this year, I also had a “run of bulls.” While we raise many of our bull calves now either for Jersey beef or for polled service sires, there’s still something special about getting heifer calves. They are the future of the dairy. They carry in them potential, and the promise of what is to come.

Since January I have only had three heifer calves born out of 17 calvings. On top of that, two out of the three were by polled bulls and only one was polled. The other heifer, “Lady,” who has horns, was by a polled dam (mother) and a polled sire (father). Ready for a lesson in genetics? The polled gene is actually a dominant trait which means if it shows up, your offspring will be polled. So, with two heterozygous parents, I had a 75% chance of the calf being polled and at that, a 25% chance of it being homozygous polled. Homozygous polled would guarantee polled offspring for the next generation from that calf. Instead, I ended up with the 25% chance of the calf being horned! Fit right in with the way my luck had been going.

Despite the bad luck with getting Jersey heifers, we had an awesome year for Holsteins with a 67% heifer rate. Overall, we were at 52% for heifer calves, which is slightly better than expectations, so no complaints there.

Geez, this post is starting to feel a little whiny to me. Nobody likes whiners, including me. Perhaps this is why I didn’t write so much this past year. Perhaps I should use it as a reflection point because, of course, there were wonderful things to happen in 2015 as well.

We are all healthy and happy, embarking on new adventures, facing challenges and cherishing every day with our farm boys and time with our families. We are blessed and feel responsibility to live up to our good fortune and do our best by it.

Here’s looking forward to a new year and a clean slate. Cheers!

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“I Wasn’t Born on a Farm, but I Got Here as Fast as I Could.”

Just saw that phrase online somewhere, and could not resist. People sometimes ask how I got interested in agriculture. What follows is the very beginning of my farm story.

Some days I’m still amazed that I live on a farm. Being a farmer was a dream as a little girl, along with being a vet, college professor and a UN ambassador, but somehow the farmer one stuck. I started my path in agriculture with my family and my own 4-H dairy project, though we never lived on a farm.

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The cows enjoying a late summer day with Wheeler Mountain in the background.

Retired now, my dad is a United Methodist minister and my mom is a nurse. We moved around a little while my dad served his calling, but always found a place to keep our cattle where we could help with farm chores – mostly daily, although at couple of times the cows were a distance away from us.

It all started when my dad was serving a church in Spencer, Mass. At the time Spencer was still a fairly prominent farming community with several dairy farms in operation. One of the local farming families were members of the church and the farmer’s wife was an Extension Agent. She kept an acre of land and invited people who didn’t have a spot of their own to come to the farm and grow things in her garden. My mom, who was a city girl, reluctantly decided to give it a try, and brought my older siblings along with her.

The farm is a quintessential New England farm. Set in a rolling pastoral scene, the place dates back to a time where Indians were a big concern – there is even a small hiding spot next to the main fireplace in the farmhouse for hiding if a raiding party was known to be in the area. They milked Jersey cows, which is where my love for Jerseys comes from. I can even remember two old girls, one whose name was Venus, they retired but kept and lived to the ripe old ages of 19 and 21.

My mom kept her spot in the garden for several years and learned a lot not only about growing things, but about the rest of the farm too. My parents even helped when they could – whether it was doing hay, other chores or helping with the cows and calves. At some point, the farming couple’s grandchildren who were close in age to my older brother and sister started getting their 4-H calves ready for the local fairs. My sister and brother wanted to be a part of the fun too.

Despite my parent’s explanation about not living on a farm and not having our own place to keep cattle my siblings wouldn’t give up hope for their own 4-H calves. Mom recalls with specific detail the look of disappointment on my older brother’s face when they revealed a Silver Fox bicycle instead of a little brown calf on his birthday one year.

I’m not sure if either of my folks can pinpoint the exact day or instance when they thought maybe they could figure out how to keep a couple of calves. My mom will tell you she learned that you shouldn’t get in the way of God’s plan. Regardless, soon after my brother and sister started 4-H with their calves, Katrina and Rainbow, and the rest is history.

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One of my big days in a kiddie class.

Being the tag along little sister, I COULD NOT WAIT to get my own calf. I tried to brush their calves, lead them in the kiddie classes at local county fairs or go with them to the farm while they took care of their animals. I’m sure I was a pain and got in the way a lot, but I don’t remember caring. Finally, when I was nine as of January 1, we went to pick out my first calf.

Of course I fell in love with the first one I laid my eyes on. Her name was Annabelle, and she was the sweetest, prettiest calf I ever saw. Unfortunately, as far as calves go, Annabelle was really a bit on the ugly side and she contracted coccidiosis sometime along the way, which stunted her growth. I was only able to keep her two years but then got my second calf – Ivory.

Suffice to say I didn’t have great luck with my first two calves. It wasn’t until I bought a calf from my older brother that my luck started to turn around. Her name was Koral, who was a descendent of his first cow Katrina and we still have family members in our herd today.

So that’s how I got started in farming. Some days I still can’t believe I’m living out my childhood dream of being a farmer, married to a farmer, raising my kids on a farm and holding on to these Jerseys that came into my life so very many years ago.

Of course, there’s lots that has happened between then and now. But I’ll save some of that for another post.

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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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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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Wordless Wednesday Part One

A few pictures of the goings-on around here today!

I almost stopped to join them today.

Feeding the new baby.

The DF having some fun with our next project.

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