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.