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).