To Raw Milk or Not to Raw Milk?

Over the weekend we were approached for the second time in one week about selling raw milk. Not a light subject. Or is it?

Both people who asked were just visiting – the size of our town actually doubles in the summer time with snow birds and other vacationers. The first person was easy to turn down. It was at a town festival where we were selling our jersey beef and sampling cheese and I simply said, “Thanks for asking, I’m sorry but no, we don’t sell raw milk.”

The second was a little tougher. A neighbor had a visiting family member who had a few goats at home from which they get their milk. She and her young daughter were having a great visit and were hoping to take home some jersey beef to try as well as to drink some raw milk while they were here. Our neighbor called to see if they could come by and get the beef. She also asked on the phone about the raw milk to which I said that I was really sorry but no, we don’t do that.

A few minutes later, they arrived at the farm to pick up their beef. They all got out of the car, the dogs greeted them, I ran and got the beef, mixed up their order a bit (I blame the mommy brain) and then enjoyed a little small talk while the little girl played with the dogs. I then noticed the woman visiting had a jug in her hand, which confused me (I had said my line on the phone, right?), and she tried to persuade me in person to take some milk from the tank.

It was hard to still say no to her – so many thoughts were going through my head:  It would probably be just fine. What would the DF do? She’s only here for two more days. Are we even allowed to sell it so casually in Vermont? What do we risk? What about insurance? To top it off – our neighbor in a mom-like way said something about finding/sharing milk with our “neighbors,” (I didn’t fully hear what she said with all the thoughts swirling around in my brain but I can sniff a guilt trip a mile away.) Oh boy.

I voiced some of my thoughts:

Me: Did you try guy up the hill who also has goats?

Her: Oh, we did, they are all dry.

Me: I’m not sure we’re allowed to sell milk.

Her: Oh, in XX state you can sell up to 20 quarts or something and it doesn’t matter.

Me: We’re not really set up for it.

Her: Cocked eye-brow with an “I’m not buying it” look.

Me: I don’t… I don’t really feel comfortable without talking to my husband, the Dairy Farmer.

The whole time we were talking, I kept watching the little girl and thinking of a news article I read a few days earlier about victims of illnesses derived from consuming raw milk and where they were now. One was about a young girl who was still dealing with issues a year later. Her life was never going to be the same.

I talked to the DF that night and we stood firm on our no-decision. He said to put it on him if I needed to. So sweet… I sort of already did that 😉

The truth is I’m torn about this issue. I can see the side where hey, if the folks know and understand the risks associated with consuming raw milk, why not. It’s a few extra dollars right to our bottom line and they leave happy campers. Chances are nothing would happen – many gallons or pounds of raw milk are sold throughout the country without issue. I can actually hear a dairy farmer friend of mine in my head saying big deal – just give it to her.

On the other hand I wonder if they really understand the risks associated. Insurance and ability to continue to operate aside, how would we feel if something ever did happen? Now that would be some real guilt. We have had some excellent quality tests on our milk lately, but you just never know. I remember a few years ago a family dairy with a processing plant and an impeccable history of hard work, dedication and top quality had some outbreak in the milk they sold directly to consumers – and that was pasteurized milk. The message there underscored the importance of food safety: if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

So, what would you have done? Did I overreact? Am I overthinking the situation? It’s a hot debate no doubt.

Regardless, I will add “research the raw milk regulations in the state of Vermont” to my never-ending list of things to do.

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Stuck on March

Funny title, I know. It’s May. But this post has been rumbling around my brain for at least the past six weeks. March was a monumental month for us. We welcomed our second baby, a son, Baby E on March 22nd. Fittingly, he is two months old today as I finally sit down to write this post.

Baby E with his "4-H Mom" blanket

Baby E with his “4-H Mom” blanket

Baby E’s entrance into our world didn’t quite go as we imagined. In the end, all is well and we thank God and modern medicine for that. The abrupt change in course left me reeling somewhat and then adjusting to life with a 19-month old, a newborn and several first-calf heifers (new cow moms) and older cows having their own babies (taking up much of my DF’s time!). It was all a bit unsettling and I realized at the end of the first week in April that our calendar was stuck on March; hence the name of this post. I’m one of those superstitious people who changes the calendars on exactly the first day of each month so to see the March page on April 6th was a shock yet not surprising.

Leading up to Baby E’s birth, we heard these (now dreaded) words of wisdom: “The second ones always come easier.” That sounded great to me as I had to push for four hours with TK after a day of pitocin-inducing labor a week and a day after his due date. And it seemed that Baby E agreed – all signs were present that perhaps he may come sooner even than his due date; he certainly was big enough. Besides, everyone else in the world seemed to be having their babies early around then, why not us?

It was not to be. I’m glad for the experience with TK in that it prepared me for what was to come with Baby E. As an expectant first-time mother I found there was so much information out there, checklists, advice, etc. They said you had to have a birth plan which for me was easy enough coming from a family of planners. Luckily before the big day with TK someone told me to remember to keep an open mind. Stay flexible because you can’t foresee exactly what is going to happen. Boy was I glad to have that in my brain prior to our hospital stay – both times.

Back to Baby E’s day. Again we found ourselves at the hospital a week after the due date. Again I was hooked up to a pitocin drip and the contractions started. Again we made our laps around the “Maternity Loop” to encourage labor along. After many hours of the same routine we found that despite our best efforts, being fully effaced and good progress dilating, Baby E’s head just was not dropping as it should have – for you in the medical field he was still negative four station. We needed to make a big decision – continue as we were for a few more hours or face the potential that a stubborn fibroid was in the way and Baby E would not make his way around it as TK had. So, we headed to the operating room for a cesarean section birth.

For as open-minded as I was about what may happen during birth with TK and having accepted the possibility of a c-section with him even though I hoped for a vaginal birth, I did not think much about it with Baby E. I went to the hospital, actually the week before, truly believing things would happen more easily than they did with TK. The fact that they were harder was difficult to accept but sometime during the second week home I did and moved on. I sort of had to – I had two little boys that needed my attention. Two little amazing and beautiful creatures who, for as much as I wished it to be easier in those first few weeks and them a little bit older, will be growing up fast.

I am forever grateful for the love, help and support from our families when we needed it most. Whether it was milking cows, feeding calves, taking care of TK, taking of the dogs, whatever – I think we needed more help than we ever thought we would. Luckily, we know just how fortunate we are and when it’s our turn to step up and help we’ll be ready.

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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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The Importance of Feeding Grain

If you had asked me a few years ago why we feed grain to our cattle, I probably would have been stunned by the question. What? What do you mean? What dairy farmer doesn’t feed grain? That’s so weird. How does the cow get enough energy? Enough nutrients? What would you feed? An

d yes, even I tried it myself a very long, long time ago.

I’ll state up front my DF and I think feeding grain is an important part of a balanced diet for our cows.Liddy saying hi! However, our girls (and boys) get out on the pasture just as soon as we can get them there in the spring and they stay out as long as they can in the fall. We have beautiful pastures, abundant with fresh grass – a wonderful resource for our use. It’s good exercise for the cows and I think they enjoy the fresh air perhaps as much as I do on a warm, sunny afternoon.

When they come in the barn to be milked, we feed them a total mixed ration (TMR) that includes grain, grass silage and other minerals. The grain is a mix of ingredients, including corn and soy and others to balance the nutrient needs of the cattle given the other feed they get – like the pasture and grass silage. The grass silage is basically cut grass saved in a big pile in a “bunker silo,” where it is covered and left to cure. They also may get dried hay from time to time. Pasture, grass silage and hay are called forages while the grain and minerals are concentrates. We have a dairy feed nutritionist who helps us determine the right and precise mix of the ingredients to feed. He’s sort of like the cows’ personal dietician.

It so happens that I’ve procrastinated so long on this post from when I started it in September, that it’s now the first of February and we happen to be coming out of a severe cold snap that lasted almost a week. Temperatures here dipped to double digits below zero last week, never mind the wind chill. While we do our best to keep the cows warm, it does still get cold in the barns. One way to get be certain they have the energy they need to stay warm in our lovely winter temps in northern Vermont is to feed grain, specifically corn which is an excellent source of energy. We don’t really think of keeping warm as a body maintenance requirement in the summertime, but it sure is important now!

I asked a few friends from around New England their opinions on feeding grain and here is what they had to say:

From Beth, a dairy farmer in Hinsdale, N.H.: “Dairy cows are the athletes of the farm animal world. A cow uses the amount of energy it would take a human to run two consecutive marathons in one day. Cows need the carbohydrate load just to meet those incredible needs. It’s challenging to make sure cows get a balanced diet to meet those needs. Corn is an excellent source of energy when used as part of a balanced diet.”

From Carrie, a livestock farmer in Shelburne, Mass.: “We feed grain year-round to our sheep, unlike most farmers, because the ‘on & off’ feeding of grain causes weak points in their growing wool-much like when a human diets, you can see the portion of thinner part in the hair follicle. It costs more money, but it a better bet for us so that we know for sure that the wool yarn we sell is of the absolute best quality we can produce.

Our pigs live happy carefree lives in pastures, but are also supplemented with up to five pounds of a non-GMO complete and balanced grain ration, and a few pounds of local corn grown twelve miles away, for extra energy. It supports the local economy, and keeps hundreds of acres of local fields under cultivation.”

From Tiffany, a dairy and beef cattle farmer in western N.H.: “Cows need a complete and balanced diet just like my husband and children do, so adding corn to the grass, oats, and barley they receive makes this happen. The diet changes throughout a steer’s life depending on his age, and cows too have different nutritional requirements depending on their age. We have a nutritionist who helps us balance the diet. A little known fact is that corn is actually a grass, too.”

I’m choosing to not get into the biology behind the plants that we use to feed the animals – biology is not my forte. I will, however, share posts from other farmers who have written about the subject from across the country. These are folks that have different perspectives, farm in different environments, etc., but to whom I look to for advice or insight as well. Specifically, these posts dive into the biology of the feed ingredients and the cow’s digestive system much deeper than I can.

Agriculture Proud, Ryan Goodman, Tennessee – Ask a Farmer: Does feeding corn harm cattle?

Common Sense Agriculture’s Blog, Jeff Fowle, California – It’s More than Corn (series)

Cow Art and More, Kathy Swift, DVM, Florida – What Do Cows Eat and Why? (guest post on Janice Person’s blog)

The bottom line is, there are different options for feeding animals. At a farmers’ market last summer, a person would not purchase beef from me because we do not feed a strictly grass-fed diet. We have very valid reasons why we feed other ingredients as I’ve laid out; the bottom line for us is determining what makes sense for the cows. Unfortunately the customer was a paper order through another vendor at the market so I was not able to explain directly to her why we feed grain. I suppose my chance is here now.

If you reading this post have any other questions about what our cows eat, please leave me a comment below. I will do my best to answer them.

Making hay under watchful Wheeler Mountain

Making hay under watchful Wheeler Mountain

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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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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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November Thanks IV, An Anniversary and the Number 2

I feel like lately I’ve been two days late for everything! My DF and I passed the two year mark on Tuesday and reflected on the fast but long two years that we have spent married. One thing we like to smile about – we have two babies – one on the ground and one on the way. Talk about life-changer! Two of them. Anyway, that’s all. Happy Anniversary to one that I’m most thankful for, and I’ll let the photo speak for itself.

 

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November Thanks III, Sundays are for Dad

First and foremost, it’s Veterans Day, and I would be remiss if I did not state that I am thankful for our veterans. We are proud to have members of the military in our family – my great grandfatther served in World War I, my grandfather in World War II, my uncle was in the navy, to name a few. This country is a better place because of them and for all of us.

Tonight I feel inspired to express thanks to my dad. Let me share a recent story that in the end made me feel all the more grateful for his love and support. My dad and I usually talk early in the morning- he’s retired now, but for some reason he is harder to get a hold of than ever but typically I can catch him then. Recently, my DF and I have started to try to find a new solution for daycare for TK during the day. His babysitter is pregnant, (due one week before me), and just won’t be able to take him much longer. We’ve been evaluating all of our options, trying not to miss anything, which can be exhausting, and of course my emotions are heightened, apprehensive about any change, even if it is for the better.

I talked to Dad about it that morning and the last thing he said to me before we said our goodbyes, “we’ll [he and my mom] be praying for you.”

Five minutes later, as TK was set up with breakfast in his highchair, I decided to do a Sudoku puzzle from the paper, which I hadn’t done in awhile. The puzzle is located right next to the classifieds. At the very top of one of the columns was an ad for a daycare center with openings. I felt a flutter in my heart and my heart rate speed up. Childcare is pretty difficult to find up here and yet here it was. A lead.

So we’re running with it and hopefully it will work out. Whatever happens, I know we’ve got my dad’s support and that he’is praying for us [Mom too].

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November Thanks II, this One is for Mum

What does eight jars of blackberry jam, yet unlabeled, have to do with thanks for my mom? Not too much of a stretch, she’s the one who taught me how to make jams and jellies and all about canning. This batch of blackberry jam complete with seeds was my first batch I’ve done on my own with only one initial phone call to Mum to make sure I was on the right track. I already knew the answer, just had to check.

For my second post about November Thanks, I am thankful for my mom and all that she has taught me, done for me and her support for me. I’m grateful too for all that she continues to do for my growing family and me, even being 230 miles away. She’s an amazing lady with the biggest heart I know of (twin to my Dad’s coincidentally). It was her birthday two days ago, so to Mum I say, Happy Birthday and thank you. We love you.

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November Thanks

I’ve missed writing. I’m working on a final piece for “Farmers’ Markets Conversations” and have let that sort of be a block to posting more. So I’ve decided that it will be ready when it is, and to move forward. Here I am, 9:30 on a Monday night and jumping on the bandwagon to share what I’m thankful for in my life.

I’m thankful for my son. I still sometimes shake my head and wonder how we were blessed with such an amazing gift. I always wondered what it was really like to have children, to be a mom. It’s definitely life changing. And yes, I’m one of those who say it’s a change for the better. What I’ve learned from TK, from being a mom to children to things about me to things about him to raising him with my DF, is immeasurable – and we’re not done yet. Not even close. He is an amazing little boy and I’m grateful to be his mom.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” Melody Beattie

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