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.