Category Archives: Life Balance

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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Things Relearned in 2013

As we head into 2014 I am excited for what the year holds for us. There are lots of things on my list that I would like to do like so many others – lose that last ten pounds, watch our home budget closer, plant a garden this summer, prepare healthier meals and snacks for my family and myself and take time to blog a bit more (!). But I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, preferring instead to focus on the day to day, stringing together a year that we can look back at and say “not bad.” I think I’ll be doing just fine if I am able take these lessons re-learned in 2013 into 2014 with me.

Here’s my version of taking inventory of 2013:

  1. Time sure does fly; don’t forget to live in the moment. For the first three months of Baby E’s life, I told myself as long as I can get through these first three months and we can establish some sort of routine, I’ll be all set. Guess what? In hindsight, those first three months passed like a flash and all of the sudden Baby E was smiling, rolling over and cooing. And now that he is approaching ten months, I find myself realizing that I didn’t really need to “wish” that time away. I just needed to find more patience.
  2. Patience, patience, patience. I always thought I had a lot of patience without having to think about it. What I found out with two little boys 19 months apart, a full time job and a dairy farm is that maintaining patience is a skill that needs to be practiced. Sometimes things seem to bubble up until I can’t take it any longer, and yes, I need to walk away, but I’ve found that by maintaining perspective I’m able to get through the tantrum meltdowns, fussy babies, never ending farm work, late-night catch up work sessions and even the constant clutter that doesn’t seem to unclutter itself. A reminder or perspective-check from conversations with close friends, family and the DF helps to keep that big picture view.

    One of the "farmer-rigged jobbies."

    One of the “farmer-rigged jobbies.”

  3. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. TK is BIG into tractors, particularly pulling wagons or some other sort of farm implement. At first, he used red implements that went with red tractors and life was copacetic until…he started wanted to use the wooden train cars as wagons. For about a week I tried to explain to my two year old that it could not be done. They were not the same and the two things didn’t go together until…one evening after a particularly pathetic meltdown I had a brainchild to use a twist-tie from a bread bag and hitch the two things together. Voila, problem solved. Besides, I had it on good authority that Santa was bringing him a new green tractor and green wagon and blue tractor and blue wagon and I wouldn’t have to deal with my “farmer-rigged jobbies” anymore. And yet he still comes to me, now saying “Help you?” wanting to mix up the sets again.
  4. Take time to connect with the people you care most about. A friend of mine lost her battle with cancer a few days before Christmas. Not in close contact and having recently seen her vibrant and full of life this summer, the news of the downturn in her health caught me off guard. She went into hospice care shortly after Thanksgiving and her family started a blog where they posted updates about her health. People could also leave messages for her. Once you posted, an email notification was sent each time someone else did too. To say it was inspirational to read about the impact this woman hand on so many lives seems too simple. How often do you have the chance to say thank you to someone for the impact that they had on you in your life’s journey? And she impacted so many! She was one to share her thoughts openly and honestly in a way that endeared her to you, making you feel comfortable to share freely as well. Just a thought, but maybe if we took the time to say thank you a little more often we might live fuller lives and help others to feel more free as well.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. In turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home and a stranger into a friend.”- Melody Beattie

Thank you to my family and friends who fill my life.

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On Sustainability, but Not Really

I was thrilled when my friend Tyler wanted to write a guest post for farmlifelove.com. He chose an important topic, perhaps the most important topic that unifies all farmers who simply wish to continue to farm especially if they plan to pass on a healthy business and way of life to the next generation. My DF and I think about this more often than we realize. It’s in the air up here. We ARE the next generation currently picking up the ball to give it a go at running this farm. While the next “handoff” is a bit off in the future, it’s exciting to think that we may actually be looking at their faces when they get out of bed each morning. Enjoy.

I hear farmers talk a lot and I like to listen to them. Not just to what they say, but what they mean. When I hear them talk about “sustainability” it’s like they put on someone else’s clothes, or start speaking in French or Pig Latin and pointing to clouds in the sky. They don’t seem to be using words that mean the same things to them as to the people who want them to use those words.

Here’s what I think they mean: Being sustainable is being able to pass the farm to the next generation. Black and white.

Behind that decision point follows a lot of other fractionally impactful decisions . Those are the ones that the neighbors seem to want to talk about, but not really.

At that point in the conversation I think farmers end up talking past their neighbors; they cite the improvements in technology or technique that have made an impact on their farm’s ecosystem. No till, cover cropping and minimal spray techniques are all a little too technical, and seemingly insignificant to the observer. It’s a whole lot easier to see and understand and still the impact of cover cropping across so many acres is going to be difficult to understand for someone not used to thinking in those terms. And when a farmer has made a decision not employ a certain beneficial practice they often hear, “Why aren’t you organic?”, frequently phrased as an accusation, and have to justify their decision to a stranger. Each farmer has made a calculation balanced with cost and impact about what to do and what they can afford to do. Sometimes that means waiting to do something impactful until they can afford to, not because they don’t want to.

Most people don’t talk about money away from their kitchen table, and most never talk money with their neighbors, but believe you me, there is nothing less sustainable than handing an under-qualified successor an unprofitable farm. If the farm has struggled for a long time, it’s entirely possible the kids have already given up on it. And likewise, it’s hard to be a positive force in the community as an overworked farmer with limited financial resources who’ is hustling but still losing money. When a neighbor asks a farmer to donate to their church’s food pantry, it’s hard to know if the farm can spare the foregone income or not. It’s not about being a good and charitable person; it’s about paying the electric bill.

Let’s not forget that some very profitable farmers and some very progressive farmers are taking risks here. Sustainability measures that some communities most want to see enacted could be a death knell for farms in the name of global environmental progress. Or simple NIMBYism. Or both. Then a community on the urban edge is faced with a change in values: a farmer is selling his farm and we don’t want a housing development there. Unfortunately his farm wasn’t sustainable and now the town has a broader tax base . Personally, the farmer is probably devastated, or angrily bitter about his change in direction. Or just defeated. Who knows how the rest of his family feels.

Being sustainable for the sake of being sustainable is a non-starter for most businesses, and I feel like that’s not enough of an open secret to the neighbors who want to influence their neighborhood businesses. It kind of feels like a shakedown, with some cartoon thug cradling a Louisville Slugger with a big scripted “sustainability” across its barrel. “Sustainability” needs to have a positive incentive and a more personally realized effect for it to be valuable. Otherwise it’s a convert-or-die mentality that doesn’t have any room for tolerance or alternatives. Farmers are frustrated that their neighbors don’t see the connections they do, that things like no till across 1,000 acres of silage corn can have a huge difference in water quality in the community. Frustrated most of all when they are characterized and generalized as destroying the environment. First, they work in the environment and understand it very differently than the abstracted version in the “conversation” and second, why would they ruin the land they want to pass to the next generation?

It’s hard to know the inside of somebody else’s farm and what factors led them to the decisions they make . It turns out that issues of sustainability are much harder and more personal things to have a conversation about than is realized by those neighbors who “want to have a conversation about sustainability.” Because they’re probably not talking about the same things. Not really.

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Tyler Matteson is a freelance writer and farm finance expert, working as Controller at Tendercrop Farm in Newbury, MA. He has previously worked for Farm Credit East and the Boston Flower Exchange and written for Green Profit, Grower Talks and Progressive Forage.

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What Makes Farming Worth the Heartache?

Recently I can’t help but notice so many blog posts, articles and pictures of heartache related to farming and ranching. My heart goes out to those producers in South Dakota that lost so much to the recent unexpected October blizzard. So many cattle, horses, hours, years of building genetics, so much.

Another blogger recently wrote about wanting consumers to feel the struggle that we go through as farmers. I know we’ve had ours but I’m sure there are those that have it much worse.

And I’ve seen not just a few posts about city gals marrying farmers and what farm life means. Most of it seems like they’re bending and getting used to life on a farm, maybe even falling in love with it too, though capturing what can be isolating and heartbreaking as well.

So, what keeps farmers going? Why do we put up with the heartache  and uncertainty? I’ll admit I’ve looked at my own DF and asked, why can’t we just have a house in a town somewhere with 9-5 jobs and a paved driveway?

I think farmers are built a little differently. I think the wives or the husbands that fall in love with them accept that and move with them to where they need to be. You have to understand that you can’t change a person, no matter how many J Crew pants you buy them. (I’m still learning to love the tapered leg jeans my DF prefers.)

I’m not city. But I’m not totally country either. I’ve had the farming bug most of my life. I bought my first Jersey calf when I was nine years old. I had a little insight into the heartache and the responsibility that goes along with owning, caring for and loving animals. My very first calf, Annabelle, got sick when she was very young and we had to let her go. This experience, along with many others, led me to making this choice to farm with my husband with my eyes wide open.

And there has been heartache. There has been dearly loved old cows laid down to rest. Young heifers lost by a spell of bad luck. Days where two steps forward gets you three back. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it feels like a ton of bricks gently laid down on your chest.

But this writing isn’t about the heartache. My question is, what keeps people farming, if not financial return?

For me, it’s mostly about the animals. It’s the cow who somehow finds herself on the other side of the fence separated from the herd and shows up at the back of the house, bellowing as if she knows you’re in there and you can fix things. (This happened the morning I started writing this and I just shook my head with a little laugh.)

It’s the promise that a newborn baby calf brings, especially when she looks at you with those big brown eyes. The latest girl born here, Amaryllus, had a tough time walking on her back legs as she was a big calf and her dam (mama) had a difficult time birthing her. It’s the moment you realize she’s going to be just fine walking on her own.

It’s Towanda, age 6 now, who was born too early, in a cold, frozen free stall barn whose mama abandoned her that I nursed back to health with many towels, a hair dryer, some help from my brother and another friend and a lot of loving. She’s making the most milk of any of the jerseys now, though she’s still a peanut of a cow.

Towanda, on the left with the white patch, had a little help getting along with pen-mate Lucky Girl when she was really little. Towanda was such a pipsqueak back then - Lucky Girl was an average size calf; Towanda was about half her size.

Towanda, on the left with the white patch, had some help getting along with pen-mate Lucky Girl when she was really little. Towanda was such a pipsqueak – Lucky Girl was an average size calf; Towanda was about half her size.

 

It’s the rush you feel when all the cows surround you in the pasture as you walk out to greet them.

It’s the beauty of the place around you and the sun on your face on a crisp October afternoon while your son is on your lap and you take a spin around a few fields on the gator.

It’s the fact that your son’s first word was “tractor” and the greatest thing on Earth is to ride in his daddy’s lap while he gets the day’s feed for the cows.

Maybe we need the heartache. Maybe it makes these things all that much more endearing; entwining our beings with the farm life so that you have no choice but to give it your best. All your best.

Some people are born into farming, some have the seed planted early in life, like me, and still some are bitten by the bug much later in life. Whatever the case, it sure is hard to shake!

Care to share what keeps you farming despite the heartache it can bring?

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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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Happy New Year and a Vermont Christmas, Maybe?

Happy New Year! I just spent the week between Christmas and New Years off from work. It’s the first time I’ve ever done that, but TK’s daycare was closed and so went the decision for me, really. Of course there are those of us out there who can never really power down from our jobs, but I think that’s okay as long as you have balance.

This year was my first Christmas actually spent in Vermont – the first time in 33 years not spent with my folks andtree2 siblings. Yes, I was very sentimental (pregnancy helps enhance those types of emotions), but being married to a Dairy Farmer, the separation was bound to happen. I actually felt conflicted – while I knew I would miss my family, I was excited to start some new traditions with TK and my DF.

At first we had planned a quiet, quaint holiday with just the three of us. TK and I would go down to the barn in the morning and “help” dad finish with chores. We’d all come back, have some blueberry buttermilk pancakes, open some presents, take a nap, open more presents and then dad would be off to do afternoon chores and TK and I would work on a nice Christmas dinner including one of our own Jersey beef rib roasts. YUM!

Then my DF’s family was going to be able to join us. Okay, no problem, we’d still do most of the “quaint” Christmas plan, just maybe skip the pancakes and get out a few more roasts for a lunch-time dinner. It would be fun to have everyone up here for Christmas anyway – our little party jumped from 3 to 11! We were guaranteed to have snow and with TK’s older cousins, sledding was a sure bet! Even my DF’s dad was going to be able to make it! How exciting!

Then came the early Sunday morning before Christmas. UGH! TK and I had caught a bug – I was up almost every hour of the night beginning at 12:30 with a stomach ache, having to take care of “business” six times into the late morning hours. I couldn’t keep anything down until late that afternoon. Luckily, it didn’t hit TK as badly. This was the first time he was sick as a toddler and I found that he is a “silent puker” (sorry for the graphic) as it was quite a mess I found in his crib that morning! Ah, the joys of parenthood. He really didn’t seem out of sorts though and by Monday I think we both were somewhat back to normal. That afternoon we got a call that my DF’s family had to cancel – some of them were sick too!

Then came early Christmas morning. My DF was up awfully early – 1:30! I didn’t think anything of it until I ran into him on my nightly walk to the powder room a couple hours later. Oh boy. Yup – he caught the bug too. Poor guy, he still had to muscle up and go down to the barn and take care of the girls too. Luckily, he was able to get some help milking and get through chores early. Phew.

So my quaint, crazy, then quaint again Christmas turned out to be a sick one. And it turned out TK wasn’t really into opening presents despite all the r-i-i-ippping he could do. And a juice incident had the pink stuff everywhere. And my DF really needed all day to rest and get over the bug too. There were no pancakes, no Jersey beef rib roast. We barely opened four presents and mostly spent the day inside. We did get down to visit dad in the barn at night. And then I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Lucky Charms for supper.

TKopeningMy first Vermont Christmas was certainly one for the memory books – despite starting off as a sick day, it lasted three days and eventually we opened every present, ate our pancakes, rib roast and even had a cookie or two or ten. We watched as TK’s attitude about opening presents change as he figured out what it was all about. It was pretty awesome. The warm feeling created by the decorated and glowing Christmas tree stayed with us throughout those few days and the sparkling snow on the trees with a silver Wheeler Mountain looking down at us only added to the magic.

Happy New Year again, everyone! We are looking forward to an eventful 2013, starting with a big one in March.

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