Saturday, December 12, 2009

I hate being wrong

Tonight was one of those nights when farming and parenting didn't mix. Two hours into chores, Dan and Monika were fussing to go in. So I put my chores on hold and took them in. We ate, played for a little while and then I put them to bed. I was mixing milk replacer when Glen came into the milkhouse and asked if I wanted to go on a date tonight.

"Who's calving?" I deadpanned.

"Faith just had hers and Disney's got feet out about this far," he reported.

"Faith have a heifer? I asked.


"How are we going to fit two calves in the warmer?" I asked, half-joking, half-exasperated. I really don't like winter calves.

So we finished feeding calves together before attending to the new and coming arrivals. We brought Faith in, put Frosty in the warmer and went back out for Disney. Glen got a good look at her progress and said, "We've got a foot and a nose."

"Just my luck."

Thankfully, the heifers we're calving right now are as easygoing as heifers get. Disney stood in the center aisle while Glen found the other foot and brought it forward.

Then it was decision time. Glen wanted to pull the calf right away. My vote was to give her a little time to labor now that everything was lined up and grab a bite to eat. I could tell Glen wrestled with the decision, but ultimately we chased Disney into the entryway and went in for supper. We came back 45 minutes later.

Disney was laying on the straw. It looked like nothing had happened yet. Until we looked to check her progress. Her calf and the placenta were folded up in a heap between her rump and the wall. We moved Disney and Glen tried to resuscitate the calf, but we were too late.

I hate being wrong. We decided that we might not have been able to save the calf had we pulled it, being that it appears the placenta abrupted, but we probably would have had a better chance.

Her name was going to be Tinkerbell. Glen warned me about naming heifer calves before they're born. "You're going to jinx them," he said.

"At this point there's nothing I can do to influence gender," I said in defense. It's been so long since we've had a DOA that I hadn't even considered jinxing the arrival.

Maybe next time I'll agree to pulling the calf right away. And, hopefully, Disney's next calf will be a Tinkerbell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Easy meals

One of the questions the Dairy Star asks Women in Jeans is about ideas for making life easier for women who farm. One thing that makes my life a lot easier is a quick supper. When chores run late, time for meal preparation is usually short. Here are two of my favorite quick, easy meals.

When I have no time: Deluxe Frozen Pizza and Oven Veggies


• 1 bag of frozen vegetables (any variety)
• 1 cheap, frozen pizza (make sure it's 100% real cheese; some frozen pizzas use fake cheese; ewww!)
• shredded mozzarella cheese
• oregano or Italian seasoning
• grated or shredded Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven according to pizza directions. Spread frozen vegetables in a single layer in a glass baking dish. Top pizza with a handful or so of mozzarella cheese. Shake on some oregano or Italian seasoning. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Put pan of veggies and pizza in oven together. Bake topped pizza according to directions or until edges start to brown. Stir veggies half-way through baking time. Veggies should be done about the same time as the pizza.

When I have a little time: One Pan Pasta Pleaser

Everyone loves this easy Italian dish.


• 1 pound ground beef, thawed
• 1 26 oz. jar marinara (Spaghetti) sauce
• 2 cups whole wheat penne or rotini pasta
• 2 cups water
• shredded mozzarella cheese


Brown ground beef in a large non-stick skillet or non-stick 3-quart pot. Drain beef, if desired. Add marinara sauce, pasta and water to beef in pan. Stir well. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes or so until pasta is tender. When pasta is done, remove from heat, sprinkle cheese over dish and cover until cheese melts. This dish is just as good the next day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's about to begin

The final chapter of the book I could write about the planning and construction of a manure pit is about to begin. The pit pumpers called this morning to say they'd be here at one o'clock this afternoon. We're hoping the maiden pumping of our pit goes without any glitches, but hope can't always overcome poor planning. Our pit is situated in a far from perfect location and the way the lot and fencing were finished after the pit work was complete will make it very difficult – if not impossible – for the pit pumpers to back a prop into the south end of the pit. And since the manure enters the pit on the south end, that's where we need agitation the most. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the short prop will make it around the corner. If not, fence posts will start flying – and expletives along with them.

I'll explain the nightmare of completing our pit after we see whether the prop makes it or not. If we can agitate without tearing down fences and berms, the end might justify the means.

(At least we got the corn done!)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gold rush

If corn is akin to gold – which it is this year because everyone needs the extra cash – then this week will go down as a gold rush. Everywhere you drive, there's a combine in the field. Every grain hauler in the county is booked through next week. Farmers are racing to clear their fields so they can finish field work before the earth freezes.

Our sprint for the finish was slowed today with the announcements that Central Grain in Sauk Centre would not be taking non-contract corn until Monday and Prairie Lakes Co-op in Glenwood would only take grain until noon today. We sent one load out this morning, but we've still got three-quarters of all the gravity boxes in the neighborhood sitting in our yard full of corn and 15 acres standing in the field.

We're going through a major case of could've - would've - should'ves right now. We could have waited until December to combine the dry corn, but the combine was here, the corn was ready and we really need the corn straw this year. If we would have contracted some corn earlier this week we'd be able to deliver right now, rather than sitting on all this corn praying for it not to rain. Maybe we should have talked a little more seriously this summer about putting up a bin, instead of waiting for our cash flow situation to improve.

Scratch that – our situation just changed in the five minutes it took for me to step away from the computer and take lunch out of the oven. Our trucker just called to say Glenwood could take another load of our corn, and possibly a third. Now it looks like we'll get done combining today and finish chopping stalks. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November storm

It feels like we're being tossed about by a classic November storm – except this storm isn't wind and rain, it's the flurry of activity that has occupied our month thus far. For the first time in a long time, we took a real trip – and actually took five days off from chores. And, as all dairy farmers know, each day you plan to be gone requires two days of preparation in advance, so we spent the first ten days of the month getting everything ready for our absence. Into that mix we added a visit with the young man who shadowed us as part of Minnesota Milk's Dairy Connections Program.

All dressed up in Dallas.

Our time away from the farm was like Dorothy's trip to Oz, but our return to the farm brought us right back into the storm. We didn't even have our bags unpacked before the arrangements were being made to combine the high moisture corn (that we really thought would have been done before our trip), chop and bale the corn stalks, and empty the manure pit. We took a short break to celebrate Glen's birthday and then jumped into fall harvest. The combine took seven boxes out last night and we started the bag of high moisture corn this morning. Glen checked the dry corn just to see where it was at; the corn was at 18%, so now the combine will be going straight from the wet corn fields to the dry corn fields. All I can say is it will sure be nice to have all the corn done. Then maybe things will settle down for a couple days before our Thanksgiving storm blows in.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Losing daylight, losing sleep

The end of daylight saving time each fall means an extra hour of sleep one night. We enjoyed our extra hour on Saturday night. But the gain was quickly erased. You see, toddlers don't live by alarm clocks. They live by internal clocks. And Dan's has yet to be reset. He was up this morning at 4:30, ready to start the day. We weren't planning to rise for another hour. There was no convincing Dan that he should lay down for another hour.

Cows and calves don't pay any attention to clocks either. The cows didn't seem to mind the extra hour of milk, but the calves sure let me know that I missed their scheduled feeding by an hour.

We go through this period of adjustment every time we change the clocks. The calves catch on pretty quick, but it takes the kids two weeks to return to a normal sleep schedule. And since it's impossible to sleep unless the kids are sleeping, that means it takes two weeks for the adults in this household, too.

As far as I'm concerned, we could eliminate daylight saving time altogether and forego the headaches that inevitably come with the time changes. The concept is outdated and costs us more than it saves – at least around here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trick or Treat

As we stood outside the barn this morning soaking in the sunlight, Glen asked, "Is it supposed to be nice today, or is this just a trick?"

I told him I hadn't seen the forecast but we were sure due for a sunny day. Furthermore, a dry day would make trick or treating a lot easier.

The morning sun was no trick. We had a beautiful day here. I actually had to dig out my sunglasses for our trick or treating adventure. I can't remember the last time I needed them to drive.

Trick or treating this year was a blast. Last year, we tested milk on Halloween so Dan and I got a late start. After the second stop, Dan fell asleep in his carseat, putting an end to our trick or treating.

It also helped that Halloween fell on a Saturday this year. We were able to fit our outing in between chores. Monika didn't quite know what to make of all the hoopla, but Dan was beside himself with excitement. He practiced saying "trick or treat" all week and listed all of our planned stops several times for me.

However, when we got to the nursing home to visit his great-grandparents and the other residents, Dan turned into 'timid mouse'. He would only whisper "trick or treat" and "thank you". His bashfulness didn't impair his candy-seeking, though. He walked politely up each of the residents and held out his basket. I'm not sure who was more delighted, Dan or the residents.

A sunny day. Happy kids. Making people smile. It really was a treat of a day.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Too good to be true

As the old saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

When the disposal company we were doing business started charging us a fee for recycling, I took our business to another company. We got a better rate for our dumpster and, even better, no-sort recycling.

I take recycling pretty seriously. It just about kills me to see recyclables in the dumpster. I visited a landfill once and was appalled to see how much of the trash there could have been recycled. Every time I'm tempted to toss a cottage cheese container instead of rinsing and recycling it, some inner force moves me to do what's right, rather than what's easier. So, everything in our household that bears a little triangle – from empty toilet paper rolls to steel cans – gets recycled. Even recyclables from the barn are sorted out. You'd be surprised how much barn trash can be recycled.

The worst part about recycling, other than remembering to put it out, is sorting it. So I really, really loved no-sort recycling. We have three cans in our kitchen, one for recyclables, one for dumpster trash and one for gutter stuff – food scraps, paper towels, etc. With no-sort recycling, when the can was full I just emptied it into the recycling cart. It was a breeze.

I had often wondered how it was possible to sort all of that recycling out, but our disposal company claimed it had a machine that sorted the recyclables. I probably should have paid more attention to those questions in my head.

We found out on Saturday that our disposal company's license has been revoked as a result of several violations – one of which was commingling recyclables and non-sorted trash. By the time I finished reading the newspaper article about the claims, I was fuming. I still can't believe that all my recyclables ended up in a landfill somewhere. My anger about the fate of my recyclables is minor, however, compared to my feelings about being misled.

Our new dumpster will arrive next week. And I'll be back to separating my paper, plastic and metals. At least now it will be recycled.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paying through the nose –

– for private health insurance

Like most other dairy farmers, we've been cutting costs everywhere we possibly can. Lately, we started to take a look at reducing the cost of our health insurance by switching to a new plan with a higher deductible. Last April when our policy was renewed, we opted to stay with our current plan, rather than switch to Blue Cross Blue Shield's new plan – which is only offered with a minimum deductible level $500 more than our current plan. (Our current plan is being phased out.) We really didn't expect to be a financial pinch for quite this long. So we started looking at the options for our family under the new plan.

I usually don't have to think about how much we're paying for health insurance because our premium is automatically paid each month. But since we've been looking into a switch, I've been thinking about it daily. With milk prices where they're at, it takes 6,000 pounds of milk to pay our monthly premium – even more if you deduct production expenses first. Next year it will cost even more. In the four years we've had private health insurance Glen's and my portion of the premium has increased almost $200 a month.

The worst part, however, isn't the price – it's the policy terms. We had group health insurance coverage while Glen worked for the state. After applying for private coverage when we started farming, we learned that not all health insurance policies are equal. We found out I was pregnant shortly after applying for health insurance; Blue Cross Blue Shield spent eight weeks investigating my health records to make sure the pregnancy hadn't started before we applied before they would grant us coverage. BCBS considers pregnancy a pre-existing condition. Furthermore, the company won't cover any maternity expenses for the first 18 months of coverage. That's the part that irks me the most. Group health insurance customers aren't subject to waiting periods for coverage. That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, which was probably for the better, because the medical expenses that would have come with that baby's birth would have crippled us financially. Dan was born 12 days after our 18-month maternity-coverage ban ended.

Health insurance is one of those necessary evils of self-employment. We can't risk not having health insurance, so we're at the mercy of the health insurance companies' outrageous rates, annual premium hikes and discriminatory policies.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cheaper isn't always better

Cheaper isn't always better. This concept was illustrated twice for us this week.

First, we started feeding some of the big round bales of alfalfa we made during our second crop harvest. We made some of the second crop into large square bales and small square bales as well. When you compare the hay from the three different bale types, the hay in the big round bales has significantly less leaves than the large and small square bales.

We had heard that round balers knock leaves off, but we'd never seen it so clearly demonstrated. Glen's father and brother own a round baler, so those bales cost much less to make, compared to the $8 a bale we spend for the big square bales. In the long run, though, the feed quality we lost by knocking all the leaves off will probably cost us more than the expense of hiring a custom operator to make big squares.

Second, when I picked up diapers this week, I purchased a generic brand. I usually buy name brand diapers, despite their higher cost, because they perform better. I've used generic diapers in the past with unsatisfactory results. But since money is tight I thought I'd give the generic diapers another try. It only took about two diaper changes before Glen asked, "Just how much did you save on these diapers?" He can't stand them. And I have to agree. We've had more leaks and more diaper rash and spent more time trying to put them on than we ever had with the name brand diapers. Plus, the material used to make them is so stiff it can't be comfortable.

Then, yesterday in the barn, Dan told me, "My diapee fallin' off." The inferior velcro used to fasten the diaper had indeed come undone, so he was running around with his diaper between his knees.

When you add up the time spent fussing with these diapers and doing extra laundry, not to mention the bottle of Spray n' Wash it will take to treat all of Monika's leaks, I'm beginning to think the generic diapers might not be more economical after all.

A penny saved isn't always a penny earned, despite what the price tag says.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wake up, Mommy! Wake up, Daddy!

Dan has moved into a monsters and nightmares stage – as least we hope it's just a stage. He runs around the house yelling, "Monsters are coming! Monsters are coming! Run!"

He's also been waking up in the wee hours of the morning, coming into our room and whispering, "Wake up, Mommy! Wake up, Daddy!" Hey, who needs an alarm clock when a toddler will do. As if the mornings don't come early enough around here...

We think nightmares are waking him up. For the first couple mornings Glen tried laying down with him to help him go back to sleep, but all that came of that was a late start on morning chores. So, now when Dan's up, he joins us in the barn for chores. He plays for a little while and then usually goes back to sleep in his stroller.

The other morning he woke up crying, something that rarely happened before this monster stuff started. I asked him what was wrong. He said he had a bad dream about alligators and hippopotamuses.

The next morning was the same. Except this time it really took him a long time to settle down. When he could finally tell me about his dream, he said, "Pumpkin coming! Pumpkin coming! Pumpkin bite my back. I climb up fence!"

I did a quick mental scan of the books we'd read recently. No scary pumpkins there. We have been seeing more pumpkins around as decorations in yards, but how those pumpkins turned into biting monsters we may never know.

I can only imagine what our mornings are going to be like as Halloween turns innocent looking pumpkins into scary pumpkins. How will I be able to tell Dan those biting pumpkins are only imaginary then?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Barn dancers

We have an esophagus feeder, but I don't use it very much. My dislike for using it gives me a lot of patience when it comes to feeding new calves. Luckily, that patience isn't tested very often – most of our newborns take to the bottle without any coaxing on my part. Rita's bull calf, however, absolutely refused to drink. I tried every trick I knew before flying the white flag. I tend to have slightly less patience with bull calves than I do heifers, but I really did try hard to get Rita's calf to drink.

Luckily, Glen was in the milk house when I returned for the esophagus feeder. I usually defer tube feeding to him if he's around, so I handed him the feeder. While I stayed in the milk house to wash bottles, Glen kindly took care of administering colostrum to Rita's calf. Apparently, the calf didn't take too kindly to the administering – I could hear him bawling and thrashing from inside the milk house.

When Glen returned, he said, "Well, he certainly did not disappoint his ancestors."

I laughed.

Rita comes from a line of high strung, sensitive cows. We call them barn dancers. Rita's mother, Rosie, is one of the calmer ones in the family. Rosie's sister, Hopscotch, is lucky she's still around; McDonald's was mentioned more than once during her first lactation.

Hopscotch wasn't the name she was given as a calf. We renamed her after the start of her first lactation. Her udder was so sensitive and she hated the milker so much that she'd kick with both back feet at once, like a kid playing hopscotch. It took both of us to milk her – one in the pit to reattach the milker after she kicked it off and one up above to hold her tail, which reduced her kicking by about half. At the time I seriously thought someone should invent an udder-numb spray for first calf heifers like her.

We probably should have culled Hopscotch, but we had just started farming, so every cow putting milk in the tank was important enough to risk broken arms for. Plus, Hopscotch came from one of my dad's favorite cow families – the Bo Derek family. Apparently, he liked to keep life interesting; I'm guessing that maybe if they hadn't milked as well as they did, Dad wouldn't have kept them around, but he did. One of Bo Derek's granddaughters was nicknamed Pellegro (that's Spanish for danger). Most of them just lived with red Ks marked on their rumps so whoever was milking knew that they should use kickers.

Hopscotch is now about to start her fifth lactation. She's mellowed some with age. She doesn't kick quite as fast as she used to, and only with one foot at a time now. But now that we're in a tie-stall barn, we have to deal with her front end as well. She tosses her head and snorts when we tie her up or untie her.

Rita's calf and the subsequent reminiscing about Hopscotch's first lactation made us wonder: How heritable is temperament? Who has more influence, dam or sire?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's silage time!

Here we are chopping corn again. I can't believe it's already that time of year. Glen brought samples in to the DHIA lab on Thursday to check moisture levels. One of the fields came back at 62 percent moisture. After a brief visit with the neighbors who chop our corn and a couple phone calls, arrangements were made to chop yesterday. It's amazing how quickly the plans for a quiet Friday turned into non-stop tractor traffic and the constant whir of the blower. I feel bad for Glen because he really wasn't ready to chop yesterday. He's been helping at the neighbor's all week, so he's been running constantly and was hoping for a couple days' rest before chopping. He also likes to have the silo unloader raised, the boxes lined up and an extra tractor reserved for hauling well before the chopping starts — none of which were taken care of before yesterday morning. It all came together, though. The unloader went up, the boxes rolled in and his dad and brother arrived to help — and everything was in place by the time the first load came in. Glen's uncle came to look at a concrete project for us and, instead, spent the day hauling loads. I don't think it's how he expected to spend the day, but I bet he had fun. I think they all did. Those smiling, dusty faces reflect the excitement and pride of a successful harvest.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where's Annie?

We're starting to believe, sadly, that Annie is probably never coming home. Her tags had our phone number on them, but nobody has called. I stopped jumping every time the phone rang – thinking it was someone calling about Annie – earlier this week. The nightmares about searching for our beautiful girl haven't interrupted my sleep for a couple nights now. Still, the process of accepting her fate has been hard. Two nights ago in the barn, Dan looked around and asked, "Where's Annie?" I had to tell him, "Honey, we don't know where Annie is." Almost instantly, he told me, "Annie's at school, Mom." Yeah, I hope Annie is in a happy place. I'm not sure where Dan got the idea, but I'm glad I didn't have to explain the situation any further.

The farm is eerily quiet without her. Vehicles arrive unannounced. There are no shrieks of joy as Dan and Annie run together across the yard or up and down the mangers in the barn. The cats and chickens have cautiously expanded their territories. One of the barn cats – the one that has the same markings and coloring as Annie – actually ventured up to the house last night and was sitting in Annie's place on the front steps.

Deep down a little part of me is holding out hope that she's out there somewhere and will find her way home. I'm just not ready to say goodbye yet.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Worried sick

On top of being sickened by the fumes blowing into our yard last night (see previous post), I spent the night worried sick. For the record, I now know how my father must have felt, sitting in his recliner, waiting, when us girls weren't home by curfew. Our beloved Annie is missing. She ran alongside the tractor while Glen was baling straw on Wednesday afternoon and that's the last anyone remembers seeing her. Fearing she was hit on the road, I've checked the road ditches for a half-mile in both directions and found nothing. None of the neighbors have seen her either.

My heart aches thinking about her. Where is she? Is she hurt? Did someone dog-nap her? The first night wasn't so bad, but going to bed last night know that Annie wasn't in her usual place on the steps in front of the door just made me sick.

The farm is noticeably quiet without her. I don't think Dan has really noticed that she's missing yet. I hope she turns up somewhere before we have answer the question, "Annie, where are you?" He'll be devastated when she doesn't come running to his call of "Annie, Annie, Annie!"

If you live in our area, please keep your eyes open for our friend. Annie is an extremely friendly, pretty well-behaved dog. She's wearing a blue collar and tags. Regardless of where you live, please keep your fingers crossed for her safe return. We miss her terribly. (And I could really use a good night's sleep.)

Toxic fumes, anyone?

Quick, what's the most nauseating, headache-inducing smell you can think of? Road-killed skunk? A liquid propane leak? Cigarette smoke? The container of leftovers that was lost in the back of the fridge? A stroll past the eau d'parfum counter at a department store? All of these will make me hold my nose, but nothing will make me more ill (and more crabby) than the smell of burning garbage.

Somebody in our neighborhood decided to barbecue their trash last night. This was no pile of baler twine and feed sacks, either – this was the whole can of household refuse. I can tell the difference. My family burned garbage when I was growing up. To keep the smoke from drifting toward the house, the fire was started when there was an east wind, which meant the toxic fumes blew toward the barn instead. I swear that burning barrel was only lit on the nights when it was my turn to milk. I know exactly what burning plastic smells like: awful.

Last night was no different. The prevailing winds carried the stench right into our yard. Our new barn fans pulled the reeking air right into the barn and milk house. I gagged through the last half of chores and finished with a splitting headache. You know the old commercial where the lady says, "I have a headache this big," and holds her hands out? That was me last night.

Maybe my olfactory system is overly sensitive, but I'm pretty sure there's a good reason why burning garbage was banned: the fumes released from incinerating household trash truly are toxic. Thanks, neighbors, for polluting the air my children and I breathe and making my bad night even worse.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fair day

What a difference a year makes! Our day of fun at the Great Minnesota Get Together was a vast improvement over our trip to the fair last year. There was no blood this year, very little sweat, and only a few tears. We were not prompted to leave the fair early by a toddler meltdown. No, despite waking up four hours early on fair day, Dan made it through the entire day without a single meltdown – something we've been seeing more of lately now that he's trying to explore his independence. We even navigated the sea of people sans stroller for a couple hours, with Monika in the baby carrier and Dan on Glen's shoulders. It was almost like our days at the fair before we had children.

The biggest difference we saw in Dan was his patience while we gabbed with friends we happened to bump into. Glen said he used to hate waiting while his parents stopped to chat at the fair; now, he was doing the same thing to his kids. In our first half hour at the fair we stopped three times to catch up with friends. What are the odds of finding our vet and two old high school friends among the hundred thousand people at the fair – and we weren't even close to the barns.

Dan also did much better this year as a Little Farm Hand. He peddled the tractor, gathered his egg and tomato, milked the cow, and picked an apple. At the end, we pulled his hat down over his eyes as we raced through the gift shop at the exit and decided we wouldn't go back again next year. Dan lives every day as a Little Farm Hand – with real chickens, cows and apple trees, (He did learn some very important lessons in learning to wait in line, though.)

We didn't have any blood in the sheep barn this year, but our visit with the woolies did require a change of clothes. The young man who worked for us when we farmed up north had his ewe lamb at the fair for the 4-H show. Glen put Dan in the pen with the lambs so he could pet them. After kissing and hugging the lambs and proclaiming, "I love them," escalated into chasing the lambs around the pen, one of the lambs jumped into the water pail while trying to escape. Three gallons of water went flying in all directions, including Dan's. Luckily, I was a good mom and had packed a set of cool weather clothes into our back pack.

I can only begin to imagine the memories we'll create next year at the fair.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Soggy business

I believe Mother Nature got the codes for June and August mixed up when she entered them into the national weather program. In June, our lawn looked as brown and dried up as is usually does in late August. Right now, it looks as green and lush as it usually does in June. The same is true for our pastures. During a typical year, we'd be heavily supplementing the cows and heifers with dry hay. We're feeding a little hay right now, but not as much as we usually do. Actually, we're feeding more hay because it's wet than because it's dry: we had to keep the cows in the barn for a couple days because the sod was too soggy to handle the traffic.

And when the pasture here is too wet for cows, that means our yard is really a mess. I wear muck boots all year long and by late summer they've always acquired a few cracks. Usually, it's not a big deal because mud isn't an issue in August. I walk around in cracked boots until September or October, when soggy socks send me to town for a new pair. Not so, this year. I went in yesterday for a new pair.

As further evidence that Mother Nature is mixed up this year, our third crop of alfalfa is the crop that got rained on. Apparently, the third time's not always a charm. Our first crop went up without a drop of rain; our second crop saw a little sprinkle, but not enough to push us back terribly. We took a chance on third crop and tried to squeeze the harvest in between two weather systems. It's a good thing we didn't buy any lottery tickets that week. After two days of terrifically muggy weather that resulted in no dry-down at all, our beautiful third crop was thoroughly washed by over two inches of rain.

Glen was pretty bummed, but chose to see the sliver lining behind the clouds. "Look at it this way, now instead of 150 bushel corn, we'll have 200 bushels an acre," he said.

(All in all, the third crop turned out to be pretty decent. The test results aren't back yet, but it looked reasonably nice coming out of the baler.)

Monday, August 17, 2009


We took the afternoon off yesterday and spent some time in Minneapolis. Part of our trip was a stop at the hospital to pay a visit to our neighbor. He's been there 10 days now and really appreciated the company.

Unfortunately, it sounds like it will be a while before he's able to return home. When his tractor rolled after the collision and pinned him beneath, the weight of the tractor crushed his pelvis. He underwent surgery last week to fasten the bones back together, but it will be about three months before doctors will know if the bones fused. If the breaks are healing, he'll be able to start bearing weight; if not, they'll do surgery again. He's hoping to be moved to a facility closer to home sometime this week.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A long night

So much happened today, I don't know where to begin.

Right now it's 10:47 p.m. I just finished helping Dan pick out a Dora video to watch because he doesn't want to go to bed without Daddy. Glen is out in the barn with the electrician trying to fix the motor on the vacuum pump. It quit with five cows left to milk at about 9:30. So, our late start on chores this evening is turning into an extraordinarily late night.

Normally, this would have made us all unbearably crabby.

But life is all about perspective. The troubles of our night are minor compared to what our neighbors are dealing with right now.

Earlier this evening, our neighbor was hauling bales off the field with his son. They had a quarter-mile drive from the field approach to the driveway. Half-way to the driveway they were rear-ended by a vehicle; the driver of the sedan claims he blacked out just before he crashed into the loaded trailer. The trailer buckled and the tractor rolled over, pinning our neighbor underneath. Our neighbor's son is okay; we don't yet know the extent of our neighbor's injuries.

This will be a long night for their entire family – and for our neighborhood – as everyone waits. And prays.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Behind the scene

No, we didn't win a million dollars from Publishers Clearinghouse – although that's what Glen wanted to tell the neighbors. The film crew in our yard wasn't here to document our newfound richness; actually it was just the opposite – they wanted to hear about our need for credit and how the Farm Service Agency's Farm Loan Program has helped us start our career in dairy farming.

We had no idea how involved the filming would be. Like clowns coming out of a circus car, cameras and lights and sound equipment rolled out of the film crew's van. They even came prepared with a voltage meter to make sure their power source was adequate; we learned that the outlet in our garage needs a checkup the next time our electrician is out.

They shot footage of us as a family out with the cows and moseying around the yard and then filmed individual interviews. The filming took about three hours. Had the film crew been around all day, they could have dubbed the film "Grand Central Station".

Our "movie day", as Dan called it, started with a fresh cow on the far side of the pasture. The neighbor we rent the pasture from was out for his morning walk to check his crops when I went out the get the calf, so I stopped to gab with him a while. The neighbor we borrowed the weed mower from came over to bring it home. Our nutritionist stopped in to discuss a recent ration adjustment, our route guy was here to change inflations, and our field rep stopped in to see how we were doing. Derek, our employee, came early to help with the last minute yard preparations. Our babysitter and Glen's mom were here to help with Dan and Monika. Glen announced the arrival of Mara's heifer calf just as we were finishing the filming. After the film crew packed up and left, our DHIA tester arrived for our monthly test. While Glen milked, Derek and I moved and cleaned hutches for the two new heifer calves.

I think I was asleep that night before my head hit the pillow. It was neat to be part of a film project, but I'm glad events like this aren't everyday affairs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Buzz cuts

It always amazes me how fast the buzz-cut alfalfa fields can turn from that brownish-yellow color to green almost over night – even without any rain. I guess that's one of the benefits of growing alfalfa. There was very little alfalfa planted in the part of the state where I grew up; I didn't see my first real alfalfa field until I was in high school. The grass hay we grew and harvested was much more susceptible to drought conditions. A first crop was almost always guaranteed, but all bets were off when it came to a second crop. My family and friends from up north ask for clarification when I mention that we're finished with our second crop; most of them are still working on their first crop. Dad said there won't be a second crop this year unless they get some rain.

The other crop that seems to be fueled by sunlight alone around here is our son's head of hair. I swear I just cut it a couple weeks ago. I think his hair is on the same schedule as our alfalfa – every 28 days. I finally decided last weekend it needed to be buzzed after I couldn't get the sand, silage and hay out his hair during his bath. So, the next night the clippers worked their magic and turned his shag into a buzz. I'm getting used to his new look. He still rubs his head and says, "Tickle my hair." (He thinks the clippers tickle.)

Before the buzz

After the buzz

In another 28 days, son.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


My how time flies when the sun shines! It seems like the days just disappear: one minute we're finishing breakfast and then, before we know it, it's time to start evening chores. It always seems to feel this way when there's hay laying.

Last week was a like a game of fruit-basket upset. We switched the cows' schedule in an attempt to keep them cooler. Usually they go out to pasture during the day and stay in at night. After we installed two 48-inch barn fans on Tuesday, we kept the cows in during the day and turned them out at night. That meant we had to rearrange mixing, feeding, and barn cleaning schedules as well. We're back to our regular schedule right now, but it looks like there will be another switcheroo coming next week if the weather man's forecast for 100 degree heat holds true. The cows really struggled with last week's heat wave, hopefully having the fans from the start will help them stay ahead of this coming wave.

We weren't planning for any major investments for this year with milk prices where they are, but some friends of ours offered us their barn fans for a very generous price. Big fans have been on our wish list for the future, so we took them up on their offer. A half-day's work later and standing in the front door of the barn feels like standing in a wind tunnel. I still can't believe how much more comfortable the barn is now. There are only two problems with the fans: first, the cows like to stand in front of the door when they come in rather than going right to their stalls, and second, we move so much air through the milk house that I almost need wind goggles to work in there.

Now, if we could only get that much air to move through our windrows today, we'd be set.

Monday, June 29, 2009

BioPRYN and twins

We've been using BioPRYN to diagnose pregnancies for quite a while now. We like the convenience and the ability to preg check cows as soon as they reach 35 days post-breeding. We love our vet, but it just isn't feasible for us to have herd health visits every two weeks. Before we switched to BioPRYN, we did pregnancy exams by ultrasound once a month. That meant some cows were over 60 days post-breeding before we found out if they'd settled or not. With BioPRYN, we know if a cow is open or pregnant before she hits 42 days post-breeding; if she's open we can then watch for her 42-day heat. We feel this has played a role in helping us reach and exceed our pregnancy rate goal of 20%; we're now running a 24% pregnancy rate.

We still have our vet out to ultrasound cows on occasion, usually if the cow has been a problem breeder in the past and we want double confirmation or if the cow experienced a fever as part of an illness and we think her fetus may have been affected. Now, we're thinking of adding another reason – twins.

Believe it or not, these guys are twins. They were our very first set.

One of our cows, Dinky, has a history of twinning. When she was confirmed pregnant by BioPRYN this lactation, the level of Pregnancy-Specific Protein B came came back quite a bit higher than the other cows in that sample group. One month later she was in heat again so we started to wonder if maybe she had been pregnant with twins – a common reason for pregnancy loss.

Last week Dinky was confirmed pregnant again; the level of PSPB was about double this time as well. We're planning to have Doc check her for twins, but in the meantime we have some questions. Has anyone else found a correlation between high PSPB numbers and twin pregnancies? Does anyone else follow-up after a BioPRYN test with an ultrasound exam? If so, what have you learned?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

There's no place like home

If there's one thing that can be said about the dairy industry, it's that our dairy farms come in more flavors than the products made from our milk. Every farm is a reflection of the people who live and work there and there are no two dairies that do things exactly the same.

Monika and I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week touring farms in southwestern Minnesota and eastern South Dakota while covering the Minnesota Milk Producers Association Summer Bus Tour. We saw quite a variety of the newest technologies being adopted by dairy farmers – from robotic milkers to cross-ventilated free stall barns.

Visiting other dairy farms is a great way to gather ideas for making changes and improvements on our own farms. It's also a great way to connect with other dairy farmers. Listening to a farmer talk about his or her farm is like listening to an artist describe his masterpiece. Their pride cannot be mistaken.

What I realized when I returned home, though, is that even though our farm may not be state-of-the-art, and we probably won't be welcoming bus loads of curious dairy farmers any time soon, what is important is that it's our farm. An extension of who we are and what we value. Our own magnum opus. There really is no place like home.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

With a cheep, cheep here...

...and a cheep, cheep there

Last week's rain seemed to usher in a wave of new life here at our place. We have a new little heifer calf, five new kittens, and a dozen hen-hatched chicks. Calves and kittens we always have plenty of, but this is the first time a setting hen has followed through to become a chicken mommy.

Glen found the Black Star's nest in the square baler two weeks ago when we were putting first crop up. He had told me that chickens like balers when our hens first started laying last summer – and I would dutifully check there for eggs on my daily egg hunt. I never once found any eggs in the baler, so I quit looking.

But this hen had 17 of them there. Glen put the eggs in cardboard box with some straw and left it at that. Not knowing what had transpired, I later saw the box of eggs in the front of the machine shed and a bewildered-looking hen clucking around in the back of the machine shed where the baler had been parked. I put two and two together and moved the box to the back of the shed. I successfully shooed the hen close enough to the box that she eventually hopped in. To our surprise, she accepted her new nest and kept on setting.

Glen announced the chicks' arrival yesterday. Dan and I were so excited we rushed right out to greet the newest members of our farm family. 14 of the eggs hatched and 12 of the 14 chicks are toddling around in the box, peeking out from under hen's wings to peck at feed and cheep. They look just like a picture out of Old MacDonald's story book.

Here's to the miracle of new life.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Global cooling

I understand, now, why my grandfather always wore long johns until the first of July. I put long johns on to do chores yesterday.

The families who braved the chilly temperatures on Saturday to come to the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm were bundled in coats, hats and mittens. I sent Dan out the barn this afternoon in his snowsuit.

Our poor thermostat must think we've gone crazy; it's been switched from heating to air conditioning and back at least twice now this spring. I can only imagine what the cows' bodies must be going through.

I know that June mornings can be brisk, but I don't ever remember them being downright freezing. Which makes me wonder: is this supposed to be part of the so-called phenomenon of global warming? It seems more like global cooling, to me.

The only consolation for the cold is that Mother Nature finally heard our cries for rain and opened up the skies. I'll keep my grumbling about the cold to a minimum as long as the rain keeps coming.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Roasted marshmallows and watermelon bubblegum

The first hay crop of the year is done. Hallelujah!

Despite the lack of rain this spring, we had a decent crop of alfalfa to put away. We decided not to chop any haylage since (1) the silo unloader really doesn't care for haylage, (2) we would have a hard time keeping up with the face on an ag bag, and (3) the emergency baleage we made last year worked out so well that we decided to try it again. Along with all those, I have a selfish reason for wanting to make baleage: I would much rather smell baleage than haylage.

Last fall, when we were still feeding haylage from the silo, I had to close the silo room door when the haylage was coming down because the smell made me nauseous.

Then we started feeding the baleage. I was outside doing chores one afternoon and couldn't figure out what smelled so yummy. I sniffed around until I found myself standing in front of a half-bale of baleage leftover from the day's ration. It took a couple more days to put a label on the smell – watermelon bubble gum. Man, I thought, no wonder the cows like it so much. If I were a cow, I think I'd much rather eat baleage than I would haylage. Glen just thinks I'm nuts.

So now we have several rows of watermelon bubble gum waiting to be chewed up by the mixer this winter. And if it ever rains, maybe we'll make more. As it is, the fields are so dry over by the baleage that the wind has coated the bales with dust. When you drive by, it looks like somebody shoved a whole bag of marshmallows onto a stick and roasted them to golden perfection.

Perfection. That's what baleage is – forage preservation perfection.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Big brother

There have been plenty of laughs – and plenty of "don'ts" – around here the past two months as Dan has incorporated Monika into his idea of 'us'.

Here's my take on a two-year-old's idea of what it means to be a big brother:

• drive tractor up and down sister's body

• jump on sister's head

• share raisins with sister by putting raisin in sister's mouth

• pull shirt up and lay down next to sister to "feed Mon-uh"

• quiet sister by letting sister suck on arm, hand or finger, despite where arm, hand, or finger may have been

• protect sister from all strangers by wrapping arms around sister's head and saying, "my Mon-uh"

• serve as sister's interpreter by announcing "Mon-uh sad" when sister cries or "Mon-uh more" when sister starts to root

• attempt to maintain family hierarchy with "no Mon-uh" when sister interrupts playtime, cuddle time or reading time with mom or dad

I'm sure Dan's role as big brother will continue to change as he and Monika grow – Glen is fond of saying, "Just wait, in two years Monika's pigtails will be flying as Dan pulls her little red wagon around the yard with his tricycle" – but, for now, Dan's got the job down pat.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

All in the same boat

What's behind the low milk prices?

I can clearly remember the Dairy Profit Team meeting at which our team members assured us we would never see $12 milk again. It was at that same meeting they assured us buying a farm would be much better than renting one. At least they were right about the farm.

This return to single-digit milk prices is our first experience with "which bills do we pay this week?" It's like being a cow in negative energy balance, except nobody's putting more feed in front of us anytime soon.

We've been assured, though, that every other dairy farm is in the same boat we are – it's just that some of those boats are sinking faster than others.

Lately, the discussion around here has focused on trying to understand the impetus behind the price drop. What's the reason for the severity of this down turn? Is sexed semen is at fault, for increasing supply? Are retail prices the reason, for decreasing demand? Is this the price we pay (no pun intended) for continuing to improve production on our farms? Or is it truly just a perfect storm of supply and demand conditions, as some market analysts have lamented?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what needs to happen next: Dairy farmers need to cull more cows. Dairy farmers need to unite to control supply. Dairy farmers just need to wait for retail consumption to return.

They say the cure for low milk prices is low milk prices. I just wonder how long we're going to be sick.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Losing Six, saving Diner

I'm starting to think the month of May comes with a curse around here. At least when it comes to herd health. Last year, May brought us six aborted calves from springers and a case of milk fever severe enough to rival all others. This past week we said goodbye to Six, one heck of a cow, and almost lost another.

The neighbor stopped in last Wednesday to tell us one of the dry cows was calving out in the pasture. They saw that only one of the calf's legs was out and figured she was going to need help. In the five minutes it took Glen and our neighbor to get back out there, Six had pushed her bull calf out – and her uterus along with it.

Watching from the house with my binoculars, I knew something was wrong when I saw the vet's truck driving across the field. We had never summoned the vet for an obstetrical call before, so I figured it must be bad. Glen and Doc reverted the uterus without any difficulty, only to discover that the delivery had pinched one of the nerves controlling movement in Six's back leg. She was able to stand, but not without assistance. The prognosis looked pretty decent. Until that night.

Glen went out to bring Six more feed and water after milking and found that she'd prolapsed her uterus again, despite the stitches. Glen and his brother reverted her again and added another stitch.

The next day she prolapsed again, this time only partially, but it was pretty clear that she'd probably never conceive again. On top of that, she was no longer able to rise. Unfortunately, there would be no happy ending to this story. We said goodbye to Six. Glen said that when he got into the truck after euthanizing her, Stairway to Heaven was playing on the radio – and he couldn't stop the tears.

Losing a cow never makes for a good week, but losing two would be downright awful. Luckily, Glen diagnosed and treated Diner's case of nervous ketosis before it came to that. As the cows when out on Friday morning, Diner refused to go out to pasture and instead kept trying to walk into the fence.

Glen noticed and brought her back in. She'd been off feed, but seemed fine otherwise. The ketone test turned plum purple, which explained why – by that time – she was gnawing on the manger liner and chewing on the pipes. A couple hours later, after some dextrose, B vitamins and propylene glycol, Diner was fine.

I'm knocking on wood as I type this: Thankfully the month is mostly over.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May madness

May madness

Forget March Madness, May is the month of madness around here. At least the first week of May was. Between tillage, planting and readying the pastures, the last 10 days were downright nuts. Glen was kept out late so many nights that I was starting to feel like a field-work widow. I honestly don't know how single parents manage bedtimes with multiple children; I'm sure glad there aren't many nights when I have to get the kids ready for bed all by myself.

On top of the busy-ness, the weather was just right for little boys to be outside – and Dan knew it. If he had to stay in for one reason or another, he'd get so squirrelly he'd start running laps around the kitchen table shouting "catch me, catch me, catch me".

Now that the corn is all planted and the cows are out to pasture, life has settled down a bit – at least for now. The rest of the heifers will go out to pasture today and then we'll start playing catch up with the farm (and house) chores that were put off. And we'll take some time to play "catch me" with Dan.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

How did she do it?

Today was one of those days when I found myself thinking about my grandmother. I don't have any memories of Grandma Jeanie; she passed away when I was just a toddler. I got to know her through the stories my family told.

I think of her on overwhelming days. When I'm struggling to find the balance between family, farm, work, and me.

How did Grandma keep it all together? She taught kindergarten for a couple months each year, raised four children, and kept everything going at home while my grandfather milked cows and worked shifts at the mill. On top of all that, she concocted meals and treats her children still rave about.

Did she have days when her list of things to do threatened to boil over? Days when she just wanted to hide her head under the pillow and take a break?

Like me, she didn't have her immediate family nearby to call for help. She grew up in Nebraska and left all her family there when she eloped with my grandfather and moved to northern Minnesota. I don't know how she felt, but I know, for me, it's a lot easier to ask my sisters for help than it is to ask Glen's family for help.

And then I find myself wondering, how do other farm moms do it? How do other farm families blend farm chores, housework, family time and other activities?

Most days I feel like I've got it pretty together, but every once in a while a day like today comes along to remind me that I'm human.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A healthy smile for less

As dairy farmers, we all know the value of routine maintenance. Unfortunately, when it comes to taking care of ourselves we sometimes put routine maintenance off. Not enough time, high health insurance deductibles, no major health concerns ("I feel fine. Why should I go to the doctor?") — all reasons why physical exams and routine health screenings don't happen on time.

The same can be true for our dental health. Especially since many of us don't carry dental insurance. Routine dental care isn't terribly expensive, but it's not exactly cheap, either. That's why we were so excited to learn about the dental clinic at St. Cloud Technical College.

For about $50, you can have your teeth cleaned, a dental and oral health exam and x-rays. The work is done by students in the dental hygienist program; the students' performance is evaluated by a Registered Dental Hygienist. The exam is done by the attending dentist. If cavities or other concerns are identified, x-rays and an evaluation report can be sent to the patient's dentist.

The only catch is that the appointments can take up to a couple hours to complete and the clinic's schedule fills fast. However, the exam and cleaning will be more thorough than you'll likely find anywhere else.

The situation is really win-win. Low cost dental care makes routine care easier for those of us with high-deductible health insurance or no health insurance at all; the dental clinic needs patients so students can gain hands-on experience.

If you're in the St. Cloud area and could benefit from affordable dental care, the dental clinic at SCTC can be reached at 320.308.5919. The clinic sees both adults and children. Again, the schedule fills fast, especially for children's appointments, so call well in advance of when you'd like to go.

If you're not in the St. Cloud area, check with your local university or technical college. I'd be willing to bet any educational facility with a dental hygiene program has a teaching clinic, most likely with affordable prices.

I'm guessing the only routine maintenance that'll be happening on most of our farms for the next couple months will take place in the shop, but once the equipment is put away this fall, take some time to take care of your smile. For less.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taking the plunge

I did it. I signed up. At the urging of several friends and the Midwest Dairy Association, I became a member of the fastest growing nation in the world: Facebook. MDA says we need to make sure the dairy industry has positive voices within social media applications. My friends say I need to get with the program.

I will admit I'm a little outdated. My only cell phone is a Tracfone that I keep in case I get stranded somewhere with two kids in the car. I've never sent a text message. And I had to Google Twitter to find out what it was after the MDA's message about social networking.

Frankly, the whole concept of Facebook and social media, in general, still scares me a bit. Kind of like the first day of high school or college: you've heard all about it from people you know, but you really don't know what to expect until you've experienced it for yourself.

Regardless, I'm giving Facebook a try. I've been a member for two days now. I can't believe how many people I know are part of this Juggernaut. Or how quickly they found out I'd joined. I'm really not sure what to make of it all.

Glen checked email tonight and promptly called me into the office.

"This Facebook thing has taken over our inbox," he told me. "It's like a virus."

"Yeah, I know... It's kind of scary."

Hopefully, like high school and college, Facebook will be a positive experience. And, like college, I'm sure it's all what you make of it. Here's to the future... I think... because I'm guessing that Facebook won't be going away anytime soon.

Monday, April 27, 2009

DA-n-g the bad luck

As the cliche goes, when it rains, it pours.

Yesterday's rain brought a good dousing of bad luck along with it.

Morning chores found Diner with a manger full of TMR left in front of her and no milk in her udder. She didn't have a temp, so she had a breakfast of pink pills along with a dose of wait-and-see.

Our bad luck continued during the game of Crazy 8's with our nieces. Glen was grabbing cards from the beginning; I sat with two cards in my hand for most of the game, then started picking up cards after I short-suited myself. The girls ended up trouncing us.

Then, during afternoon chores, the PTO on the Farmall 560 finally took a bite out of a bale of baleage it couldn't chew through. Glen left the bale to grind in the mixer while he went to get earlage. When he came back the 560 was dead and there were little wisps of smoke drifting out of the housing vent on the rear end. Dang the bad luck.

The irony of the breakdown is that we only have one bale of baleage left to feed before we switch back to haylage from the silo. We knew the 560 would have its work cut out for it running the mixer with baleage in the ration, but we needed the 886 for field work. Switching tractors around everyday takes way too much time, so the 560 went to work. Now, the 560 is in the shop collecting disability and the 886 will be working double overtime.

On top of the tractor breakdown, Diner's appetite hadn't returned, she still didn't have any milk and she pinged when Glen listened to her. So, the vet came today to repair her DA. Her second DA. She twisted last year just after she calved, too. I thought cows weren't supposed to have repeat DAs, and Glen agreed, but I guess there's an exception to every rule. What are the odds? Dang the bad luck.

The good news is, these maladies are minor in the grand scheme of things. Of course, the bad news is, bad luck is seldom cheap. The checkbook is going to groan after today. But, hey, it could be worse. (I won't say that too loud.) It still looks like rain, but it's not pouring anymore.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dinah's sneak preview

For the past week or so, when the cows go out for their daily exercise they spend the first part of their recess standing at the fence – gazing intently toward the pasture. I think they can smell the grass growing.

Even Dan noticed the greener lawn. Running across the grass one afternoon he suddenly stopped, as if noticing for the first time that the ground was green again.

"Eat grass," he said as he dropped to his hands and knees and lowered his head to the ground like he was going to take a bite.

"No, no, honey," I said. "Cows eat grass; little boys don't eat grass."

He might have been following Dinah's example.

Dinah is one of our old cows. And when I say old, I really mean old. She'll celebrate her 13th birthday in May. Being that she's old and stubborn (she's half Brown Swiss) and won't lay down in a stall, she gets special treatment. She doesn't get tied up in the barn. Instead, she's free to enter her stall to eat and be milked, and then excuse herself to lay down on her little mini-pack in the center aisle.

Well, twice now when Glen forgot to lower the front gate (that separates the stalls from the front pens) Dinah has let herself out the front barn door for a little sneak preview of spring's coming attraction: Eat Grass. Except that she can't access the pasture from the yard and so our lawn is her snack.

Mostly, though, she just lays down, like she's sunning herself at the beach. I imagine her ancient joints rejoice to rest on the sod.

Soon all the girls will have a chance to work out the kinks and aches they've accumulated from being cooped up all winter. And a chance to fill their bellies with sweet spring grass.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Memories of an April past...

...and the May that followed

I passed a tractor on Highway 17 coming home from Sauk Centre yesterday. That in itself wasn't unusual – any way you turn these days is seems there's a tractor hauling manure, disking a field, or sowing seed. What was unusual about the tractor I passed was that the tractor's driver wasn't wearing his shirt and I could see the sweat running down his back. Yesterday was April 23rd and our thermometer topped out at 86 degrees. Just twenty days ago I was lamenting the snow that had just been dumped into our yard.

As we peeled clothes off in the unseasonable heat, I couldn't help but think back to the April when we started farming. The weather was unbelievable. We spent the month of April in t-shirts and, often, shorts. We calved in most of the herd during those 30 days of sunshine and dry earth. Our career was off to a fabulous start.

Then, May came. For 27 of the the month's 31 days, it rained. Some days it poured. Some days it just pissled. For days in a row the sun never peeked from behind the clouds. It was awful. We were rotationally grazing and both the primary and alternate routes from the pasture to the parlor were barnyard soup. The cows were covered in mud, which made milking unpleasant, on good days, and downright miserable most days. Our moods were as gray as the skies. Looking back, I honestly wonder how our marriage and fledging farming career survived. Probably because we didn't have any other choice but surviving.

This past weekend when Glen was beaming about how beautiful it was outside I told him how much this weather reminded me of the spring of 2005.

"Do you remember what that May was like?"

"I will never forget that for as long as I live," he said. "That was awful."

We like to think we're a little better suited to handle that kind of precipitation now, both facility-wise and marriage-wise, should Mother Nature throw another May like that at us. But, honestly, I don't know how anybody could keep a sunny attitude when the sun refuses to shine.

I'm going to go out and soak in the sun while it's shining... just in case it goes on vacation next month.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The more the merrier

We set a new record in April. The head count of family and friends we hosted during the past three weeks far surpasses any hosting endeavor we've undertaken before. We probably opened our doors to more people this month than we do in a whole year. For three weekends straight and one full week in between we had family or friends camped out in our living room or sitting around our kitchen table.

And it was great.

Our guests not only made themselves at home and jumped right into helping with the housework and child entertainment, they just as willingly put on their boots and went out to help in the barn.

We all managed to have plenty of fun and still got loads of work done. One night Glen summed it up like this: "In the past three days, we got a whole month's worth of special projects done outside."

We opened the silo, gave the barn a pre-IMS inspection makeover, converted the corn crib slabs into a fenceline feeding area for the heifers, bonfired a ton of brush and ate like kings the whole time thanks to those who manned the kitchen.

I was sure Dan would go through company withdrawal after everyone went home. Thanks to our visitors he was able to spend nearly every waking hour running around outside. Now we're back to just a couple hours playing outside.

In a way it's nice to be back in our groove, but we sure do miss all the laughter (and the extra help).

Monday, March 16, 2009

Patiently waiting

Either our second child will be a productive procrastinator like his or her mother or he or she will be one of those headstrong children who requires buckets of patience – and his or her lateness is part of assessing our level of patience.

Yes, we are still waiting for our baby to arrive. It's only been a week since our baby's due date came and passed, but I swear this last week has been one of the longest of my life. We didn't have anything planned for this week – the calendar is nearly blank – because we figured we'd be spending this time adjusting to and getting to know the newest member of our family.

In contrast, the three weeks prior to last week were booked nearly solid with appointments, meetings, and other must-do-before-baby tasks. The dramatic reduction in activity level made this week seem to pass all the more slowly.

To make matters worse, not a waking hour went by without a phone call from a family member or friend calling to ask if anything was happening yet. Thankfully, not a single call has come in today. I know they all meant well, but I was about two phone calls away from turning the ringer off and changing the message on the answering machine.

The good news is that each day our baby delays its arrival the odds that it will come the next day dramatically improve. To my knowledge, no woman has remained pregnant forever and the vast majority of late babies come within two weeks of their due dates, or so they tell me. So, here's to another week of patience practice.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The tank runneth over

Apparently, problems can be categorized as good problems or bad problems. If that's the case, then we've been blessed with a couple of good problems: one, we ran the bulk tank over on Thursday morning and had to switch to every day pickup, and, two, we're running out of places to house baby heifer calves.

We figured when we moved to this farm that we'd outgrow the bulk tank sooner or later. Being eternally optimistic, we actually thought it would happen quite awhile ago, but it seemed like, for one reason or another, the cows just weren't milking the way we expected them to. But, now, we're firing on all cylinders and the girls are really milking. This hardly seems like the time – in terms of our national dairy supply and demand crisis – to be happy about running the tank over, but this just happens to be when everything finally fell into place for us.

The same is true for our heifer calf situation. For our first three years farming, we averaged 35% heifer calves. Our first year, our bull calves sold for $200 a head and they made a huge difference in bottom line at the end of the year. Last year, however, was a different story. So, last spring, during a long string of bull calves, Glen said we can either sit around and complain about all these bull calves or we can do something about it. And do something about it he did: sexed semen went into every heifer with a good, natural heat plus a handful of cows.

He even went so far as to breed Gerene – a fifth lactation, third service, 120-plus days in milk, heck-of-a-good cow – with sexed semen. She was showing great standing heat, Glen said. I told him he was nuts. She settled, though. If the odds are in our favor, she'll deliver her first heifer calf ever later this spring.

Our first gender-selected heifer calf was born a month ago. Since then, the heifer calves just keep coming. And, like the bulk tank, we're running out of places to put them.

I guess we'll be looking for a bigger barn in the not-too-far-off future. And a bigger bulk tank, too.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Any time now, baby

Our income tax returns are filed. Our balance sheet and year-end analysis are printed. Our 2009 cash flow is projected. The baby can come any time now.

And, get this, (drum roll, please) I even have the 2009 filing-to-date completed and the Quicken entries started. It's amazing how much easier it is to categorize transactions when you can remember the actual purchase or deposit because it happened just a few weeks ago – not ten months ago.

Folks, this is history in the making. Usually, we set a date with Jim, our farm business management instructor, to do all of our year-end financials and then I'm up late for three days in a row before he comes. And, then, I'm lucky if I have all the information Jim needs when he gets here. This year, everything went off without a hitch. Maybe it was the urgency of the deadline. Some of it, though, is that we're actually becoming better record keepers – which makes sorting things out at the end of the year a whole lot easier.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll keep up with the record keeping after the baby comes – and knowing how much easier is to keep up is really good motivation – but if I don't, at least I have a start.

So, any time now, baby.

(Actually, I really wouldn't mind if you waited until Monday so that we can move heifers as planned on Sunday.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twins 'R' Us

Aurora calved yesterday morning – with our sixth set of twins in the past 12 months. And that's not including the three sets of twins that were lost mid-gestation.

Of course, Aurora didn't deliver twin heifer calves. I'd have titled this entry 'Yippee!' if that had been the case. (Only two sets of our twins have been both heifers.) No, she produced a good sized heifer calf and a eensy-weensy little bull calf.

So, now we're faced with the decision every farmer faces in this situation: do we test the heifer calf in hopes of keeping her, or do we just be thankful for a live calf and hope for the best at the sale barn?

We'd like to know if any of you reading this have had any luck blood testing potential freemartins. We've heard of farms that blood test every female born twin to a male. How many times do you actually get to keep a heifer? Did that heifer actually go on to be fertile?

We're seriously considering testing this heifer, even though we've never had a heifer checked before. This is the only heifer Aurora has ever calved and she's one of the 'special' cows in the barn. We realize the odds are stacked against this calf not being a freemartin, but maybe it's worth knowing for sure.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Good help

"It's hard to find good help."

If I had a penny for every time I heard my dad mutter that phrase while growing up, I wouldn't have to worry about the milk price.

Right about now, Glen is probably thinking the same thing my father did, but dares not say it aloud.

I'm about as unreliable as farm help can get, even if I am unreliable for a very important reason. It's a good thing I can't be fired. And a good thing we have someone reliable to help with chores for a couple evenings each week.

Derek started working for us just before Monika was born. After his first night, when I asked Glen how it went, the smile that crept across his face said it all:

"Do you know how lucky we are to find someone who already knows how to shake straw and scrape the walk... And doesn't have to be told more than once what should be done next?"

Most of the farm kids around here have responsibilities on their own farms, so they aren't available. Derek's parents farmed until this past spring.

We are lucky. Derek has become a great help – for Glen and for me. At least for three nights of the week I don't feel quite as guilty when I can't be outside helping. For Glen, Derek's help means he can take a nap or attend a meeting without worrying about starting chores too late. I understand now why farmers have big families – the tasks pass a lot faster when there are several hands helping.

We only wish we had room in the budget to have Derek here every night.

It's nice to have good help.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A frog prince?

The first thing you need to understand before reading the rest of this entry is that I love frogs just as much as I love cows. As a young girl, I used to spend my summers catching frogs and keeping them in containers on my dresser. I'm not sure how this adoration developed, but I believe it was innate. Maybe I was a frog in a previous life – the possibility would help explain my love of being in the water as well.

So, anyway, I love frogs.

Well, last night I brought some empty jars down to the little cellar room where I store them between uses. As I opened the door, I saw that the floor was wet, as sometimes happens after a heavy rain. Who'd have thought there'd be water in our basement in the middle of February!

Most of the water had already dried, leaving a white line to indicate the high water mark. There was some water left, though, under a pail sitting in the corner. I moved the pail so that area would dry and was about to go for my bucket of bi-carb (the one I keep in the house for drying up and deodorizing basement puddles; it also works wonders in the washing machine).

As I turned, I noticed a little lump in the puddle where the bucket had been. I bent closer to look (which, at this point in my pregnancy, is becoming a little difficult). The little brown lump was a frog! At first I thought it was dead, but then it moved. How on earth do we have a living frog in our basement in mid-February? Where did it come from? Does that mean there's a crack in our basement wall big enough for a frog to wash in through?

[Western Chorus Frog — from my photo collection]

And what am I supposed to do with this frog? I can't put it outside. I can't kill it. So now I have a frog in a bucket. The irony of finding a live frog on Valentine's Day only hit me as I scooped the little guy into the bucket. Who knows, maybe he's a prince!

Happy belated Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Giving back

This past week brought two great opportunities to give back to the dairy industry. Last Saturday I spent some time helping our county's dairy princess candidates prepare for judging and the year of dairy promotion that awaits those who are crowned. Between my time as a dairy princess and a dairy ambassador, I accumulated seven years of dairy promotion experience. The skills and knowledge I gained during those years are still with me today. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to share some of that knowledge. I hope the dairy princesses in our county found Saturday's social helpful and work towards becoming the best promoters of the dairy industry they can be.

Then, on Tuesday, I spent the day in St. Paul for Minnesota Milk's Dairy Day at the Capitol. Glen was planning on coming along as well, but a couple of our close-up heifers (bred with sexed semen) looked like they would be calving sooner rather than later, so he decided it was best for him to stay home.

Dairy Day at the Capitol was full of meetings with legislators, a visit with Governor Pawlenty, and house and senate committee hearings. In light of the state's budget deficit it was challenging at times to ask legislators to keep programs like the Dairy Development and Profitability Enhancement Program (the program which coordinates Dairy Profit Teams and Planning Grants), but I was reminded again and again by other dairy farmers that agriculture is the foundation of our state's economy.

Our legislators have a challenging session in front of them. I hope they'll keep our conversations in mind as they choose which programs to fund and which to cut.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thrifty Dipper or not?

Between reviewing last year's income and expenses and trying to prepare ourselves for $10.00 milk, we're taking a closer look at ways we can improve our efficiency. We don't feel like we currently use an excessive amount of pre- or post-dip, but we're wondering if a Thrifty Dipper could help us use dip more economically.

Does anyone have experience using a Thrifty Dipper? Did you see any change in teat skin condition or teat end health with its use? Did you actually reduce your dip usage? Do you use it for pre- and post-dip or just post-dip? Would you recommend a Thrifty Dipper?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I think Rosie is Mortyfied.

She was due on the 22nd and she looks like she's ready to calve any minute, so we've been making trips out to the dry cow pen every couple hours to check on her. Finally, last night, Glen decided we needed to bring her in so he could make sure everything was okay. We've never had a twisted uterus, but our last calving involved a heifer trying to push her calf out tail first. So, we always feel a little more comfortable knowing the cow's parts and the calf's parts all seem in order.

Rosie's exam showed nothing out of the ordinary, except that Glen couldn't feel the calf at all it was still sitting so deep inside her. Now, Rosie's a big cow, but usually Glen can tap a calf on the head when the cow is this close to calving.

I told him, that since Rosie's bred to Morty, we really shouldn't be too concerned until she's at least a week overdue. Plus, since she hadn't calved at this time it was most likely a bull calf anyway. None of our Morty (Semex's Stouder Morty – 200HO0044) bull calves, which have all come out huge, have come earlier than a week past their due date. The Morty heifer calves come a week early or, at the latest, on their due date.

So, we're wondering, are other dairies seeing this trend with Morty calves? Are all Morty bull calves big and overdue? What about the heifer calves? Hopefully, Rosie's Mortyfication ends before we have any answers to our questions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where's the semen tank?

I have some memories of cows freshening during the winter when I was growing up, but for most of my formative years the cows were bred to calve seasonally. From Christmas to early March, the herd was dried up. Then, in March, calving began. At times it felt like we had calves coming out of our ears. When Glen and I started farming, the cows were still seasonal; that first April we had a new calf a day for a month. The logistics of housing and feeding that many calves required creativity at times, but once the big rush was over we had a nice group of calves of relatively uniform size and age. Then our breeding window opened and the cycle started all over again. The system worked well for several reasons: the cows were in milk when the grass was green, the pasture was our calving pen, and we never had to worry about cold-weather calving issues like frozen calves and frozen teats.

Under our management, however, the cows are slowly returning to a year-round calving schedule. We still have mini-rushes every now and then from the cows who have maintained their seasonality, but for the most part calving is divided pretty equally amongst the twelve months of the year. Which means we have cows and heifers calving right now. Actually, we've had quite a few new calves in the past month, including two sets of twins (not heifers). Between monitoring close-up cows ("What's Jackie doing? Do you think she's going to calve tonight? Should we bring her in?") and trying to find room for all the newborns until they're ready for the hutches, I'm about ready to be done with winter calving. I'd much rather have the cows freshen out on pasture (it seems like we don't have to be nearly as involved) and deal with new calves in attire other than my Carharts (and the basketball I have strapped around my middle). Plus, it's a lot easier to arrange temporary housing for calves when the weather is more temperate than arctic.

So I circled some dates on the calendar for Glen and told him he should refrain from breeding any cows between those two dates so we wouldn't have to repeat this again next year. He told me he couldn't let a good heat pass for the sake of a calving schedule; I'd have to hide the semen tank. My breeding moratorium will be here before I know it, so if you have any ideas about where I can hide the semen tank, let me know.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Good bye, Grandpa

The phone call I've dreaded since we moved down here came tonight: my grandfather passed away.

To borrow my sister's words, his passing was the way we all had hoped it would be. He was at home and didn't suffer; we never had to move him to a nursing home or watch him wither away in a hospital bed. But the suddenness of his passing caught us all by surprise. We didn't have a chance to say good bye.

Now, even more so than at the time, I am incredibly thankful we were able to spend Christmas Eve with Grandpa. We rearranged the cows' milking schedule to include five milkings in two days so we could be at Grandpa's for a couple hours on Christmas Eve. It was the best Christmas present ever. The gathering felt just like old times – everyone was there – and Grandpa was so happy. His slowing was apparent, but he sat smiling, listening.

We spent two more days together during our Christmas break. During our visit to his house the second day, Grandpa was just like I always want to remember him. He entertained us with stories from years gone by, from a whole different time. His storytelling and remarkable memory were two of his finest traits.

Grandpa had heard that I was writing again. He had always been my biggest fan. But he said he couldn't read anymore, his eyes didn't work right. I'm sure that bothered him more than any of us could have known. So, Grandpa, when you get a chance to read this, give Grandma a hug for me and know that you were the best grandfather a girl could have. I love you.