Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reward in Heaven?

If there's a bathroom in Heaven for the father of girls, does that mean there's a reward in Heaven for the mother of farm kids? Maybe something like a recliner in a sound proof room with a good book and an endless supply of hot chocolate?

• I walked into the milkhouse the other night and found Monika standing in her playpen wearing nothing but a smile and trying to poke Dan in the eye while he slept in the stroller next to her. Her snowsuit, boots, footie jammies (she wears a jammies under her snowsuit because they don't crawl up under her snowsuit like pant legs do), diaper and ponytail holder were all laying in the bottom of the playpen. Now, our milkhouse is warm, but it's not that warm. I put her clothes back on her and continued with my chores. When I came back into the milkhouse a little while later, Monika's clothes were all once again laying on the bottom of the playpen.

• Two nights ago, Monika was confined to her stroller in the barn because she refused to leave her boots on. After she got bored in the milkhouse, I pushed her out to the aisle in the barn so Glen could entertain her while he milked. When he moved back up to the front of the barn to milk the treated cow, he parked Monika in the aisle behind Wander. Wander is one of those cows who is so well trained not to make a mess in her stall that she backs out all the way into the aisle and makes a mess there instead. Well, wouldn't you know it, Wander had to go while Monika was parked behind her. Monika wasn't splattered, she was dumped on. Literally. Thankfully she was leaning forward so most of the mess ended up on her back and the stroller. And what a mess it was.

• Then, last night, since Monika's stroller was still a mess, she got to run around in the barn with Dan. Dan, being the mischief-maker he is, dumped a shovelful of shavings on Monika's head. Since she had long before taken her hat off, the shavings ended up in her hair... and coat... and shirt... and onesie... and diaper. When we got to the house after chores, I shook the shavings out of her clothes easy enough, but the shavings in her hair were stuck. Had it been Dan, I would have taken the Shop-Vac to his head. The Shop-Vac works wonderfully when it comes to removing silage, shavings, sand, you-name-it, from Dan's short hair. But the vacuum just turns Monika's hair into a snarly mess. So I ended up holding her upside down and running a brush through her hair to dislodge the shavings.

So, if there's a reward in Heaven for the mother of farm kids, can I take part of it in advance?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Magic

Ten days ago, the title of this post would have been "Merry Madness". As Christmas approached, I had a serious case of the bah-humbugs. Between the cold, the snow, the newborn calves and the sick calves, chores were consuming nearly all of my time. I didn't decorate the house, I didn't make any Christmas treats, and I barely finished the Christmas shopping. I was exhausted and frustrated.

But as I hurried through chores the morning of our first Christmas celebration, my mood magically brightened. It didn't matter that I'd only finished shopping the day before or that our house wasn't decked out. What was important was that, in a few short hours, we would be gathered with family, making a new set of Christmas memories. I finished chores with new-found energy.

Our Christmas gatherings were wonderful. It was so much fun to watch our children's excitement and share laughter with family. I'm immensely glad my bah-humbug mood was replaced with cheer (who wants to be the crabby mom at Christmas?) and I could wear a smile.

In the midst of all the Christmas, we celebrated Dan's fourth birthday. I can hardly believe he's four. If you ask him, he'll tell you, "I'm still four," like he's already about to turn five. I swear the time does go that fast.

I hope that time slowed down a little for you and your family this holiday season, that you shared many smiles and laughs, and that the magic of Christmas touched you in some way, too.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Midwest Dairy Expo and snow

It's been a week now since Old Man Winter blanketed our area with snow. We ended up with nine inches last Monday. By Tuesday morning — the start of Midwest Dairy Expo in St. Cloud — the drifts in our yard were two to three feet deep. It seems like Midwest Dairy Expo and snow have bonded together in an unbreakable union.

As I shoveled my way from the house to the garage that morning, I imagined my grandfather looking down from Heaven and scolding me, "Girl, what are you thinking?"

Common sense said I should have stayed home. But my sense of opportunism prevailed; I really wanted to hear Dr. Larry Tranel's presentations on Millionaire Model Dairy Farms and Low Cost Parlors.

Glen couldn't come along as we had planned because our milker couldn't come, which actually turned out to be a good thing for the farm. But it wasn't so great for me, because that meant making the drive to St. Cloud by myself.

After I finally got out of the driveway (Thank you, snow plow!), the roads were awful. The whole way to St. Cloud I kept thinking to myself, "Man, am I glad I don't have to commute like this every day. This is nuts!"

I made it, though. And, as usual, the Expo was great. Dr. Tranel's sessions were excellent and I even had a chance to visit with him between presentations. I also got to reconnect with some friends we don't see much anymore.

The only bad thing about Expo was not having Glen along. I checked in with him mid-afternoon and he said it was good thing he was home. LeMans, a heifer from one of our show cow families, needed some help delivering her heifer calf.

Farm meetings and expos are valuable opportunities, but when something goes wrong at home while you're gone, it's hard to forgive yourself for being away.

Hopefully (cross your fingers), we won't have any cows or heifers due next December (or January) and we can both enjoy a day or two at Midwest Dairy Expo. And maybe Old Man Winter will go easy on the Expo attendees for once.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Family, football and He-Man pie

Our Thanksgiving celebration spanned two weekends this year — one weekend up north with my family and two gatherings on Thanksgiving weekend with Glen's extended family. In addition to giving thanks for our abundant blessings and spending some quality time with family, we made some fun memories:

Dan wanted to know whether the turkey was a mean turkey or a nice turkey.

I forgot Monika's dress at home for one of the gatherings, so she had to run around in her onesie and tights.

I took Dan to the Metrodome on Friday to watch my high school football team win the state championship. The young man who helped us on the farm up north is a senior on the team, so it was my chance to finally see him play (and to reminisce about my days as a football cheerleader for former state champion teams).

It was Dan's first football game ever, so you can about imagine how many questions he asked. My favorite query was, "Why is everybody yelling so loud?"

But my most favorite memory from this Thanksgiving came after Glen baked his pecan pies for the men's pie baking contest. Dan called them He-Man pies. And since He-Man is currently his favorite cartoon, he was actually excited to try the pie. (I've since been getting lots of leverage out of reminding Dan that He-Man eats his vegetables, too.)

I hope you made lots of great Thanksgiving memories, too.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Late nights

It's never good when the long-day lights in the barn turn off before the vacuum pump.

But I knew it was coming.

All through chores, I had the Black Eyed Peas' hit song "I Gotta Feeling" playing over and over again in my head, except the lyrics were changed to "Tonight's gonna be a late night, Tonight's gonna be a late, late night".

I guess this is our version of "living it up".

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What I'll Remember from Reno

Most of the 900+ dairy farmers and industry folks who attended the 2010 Joint Annual Meeting of the NMPF, NDB and UDIA during the last week of October in Reno, NV are likely no longer thinking about what they heard during the presentations and meetings, but a couple of the speakers' comments have been resonating in my head since we returned. Here's what I'll remember from Reno:

"The more you touch the poo', the more it stinks." ~ Barbara Martin, dairy farmer and blogger, about responding to negative comments on her blog, during the Young Cooperators social media session.

"Tell me something good." ~ Matt Booth, motivational speaker, during his presentation on goal setting and the power of a positive attitude. Instead of greeting people with "How are you?" and then listening to their often-negative answers, Booth asks people to tell him about something in their life that's good.

"Be consistent in your mood and temperament. If you're going to be a grouch, be a grouch every day." ~ Dr. Bernie Erven, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Ohio State University, during his presentation on farm family communication.

"Establish a home for yourself. If your mom still washes your underwear, you're not ready to form a partnership with your dad." ~ Dr. Bernie Erven

"Have you been invited [to return to the farm] or have you announced your arrival." ~ Dr. Bernie Erven

"Catch people doing things right and say, "Thank you." ~ Dr. Bernie Erven

"In the next 35 years, we will need to double food production." ~ Mike Jerred, Global Dairy Leader for Cargill Animal Nutrition, during his presentation on feeding the world.

"In the United States, less than 10 percent of consumers' income is spent on food. There are parts of the world where families spend 95% of their income on food." ~ Mike Jerred  

(Can you imagine spending 95% of your income on food? Most Americans have no idea how lucky we are to live in a country where food is abundant, affordable and fresh.)

"In Russia, 20-30% of food spoils in storage due to lack of transportation infrastructure." ~ Mike Jerred

"From 1975 to 2009, we doubled per-cow milk production. Can we double it again?" ~ Mike Jerred

"From 1975 to 2009, grain yields doubled, mostly due to better plant nutrition. To double again, we'll need genetics and technology, not inputs, to grow yield." ~ Mike Jerred

"If drinking milk is wrong, then I don't want to be right." ~ Howie Long, former football player and FOX Sports Analyst, in response to animal agriculture's detractors. Long was the guest speaker at the opening luncheon.

"Farmers, ranchers, miners, manufacturers... These are the people that make the world go." ~ Jason Jennings, researcher and author, during his "Stewardship, Instead of Leadership" presentation.

(Sometimes it takes flying half-way across the country to be reminded that farming is one of the most important professions in the world.)

Last, but not least...

No, that's not real money we're gambling with. The resort set up a mock casino for the YCs. Basically, they were training us, so that we'd go to the real casino and make a donation. We didn't. But we sure had fun learning how to play Blackjack.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The second truth about trips

The second truth about trips is one of my Murphy's Laws of Dairy Farming and Parenting: Plan a trip and somebody (human or animal) will get sick.

This law has proven true time and time again. And, with the cattle, at least, the diagnoses have been bizarre.

During our trip up north for my sister's wedding in August, Monika ended up being sick during the ceremony. We have wedding pictures with her wearing two different dresses because she threw up all over the first one (and Glen).

Just before a trip last year for my grandfather's interment, we had one cow prolapse her uterus and another come down with nervous ketosis — both conditions we very rarely see.

Our trip to Reno proved no different. Except this time it was calves that fell ill. We left our relief help with two recovering calves and came home to find several more ill, including a set of tiny twin heifer calves. Apparently it was one of those bugs that pass from calf to calf like runny noses in a kindergarten classroom.

I think we're through the worst of it now, but I haven't uncrossed my fingers yet. I wish the people who make their livings denigrating animal agriculture could have been here last week to see just how much time, effort, worry and love were expended helping those sick calves recuperate. The twins required around-the-clock care. It was like running a neonatal intensive care unit with one person.

Even with the sick calves, though, our trip to Reno was well worth the time we invested in preparing for and re-normalizing from the time away. I'll have some highlights from the trip in my next post. (And, if everyone cooperates, that might even be sometime soon!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The truth about trips

Glen and I spent the last week of October in Reno, NV for the National Milk Producers Association's Young Cooperator Leadership Development Program (yeah, that's a mouthful).

The trip was much like our trip to Texas last year for the 2009 program, but this year was much more relaxed because we knew what to expect and we knew some of the other couples attending.

Returning home, however, has confirmed, without a doubt, my new truth about trips:

For every day you plan to be gone, it takes two days to get ready. And for every day you're actually gone, it takes three days after you get back for life to return to normal. (If there is such a thing as normal.)

That means, for a five day trip, 10 days are spent planning, packing and making other preparations and 15 days are spent readjusting children to routines and catching up with the farm work that didn't stop while you were gone. So, a five day trip ends up consuming nearly an entire month (30 days, if you haven't already done the math).

I might have to extend that, though, because I haven't finished unpacking yet. The suitcase is still sitting right behind me here in the office.

But that fact that I actually sat down at the computer long enough to write this post means we've just about returned to normal. That must mean it's about time to start preparing for our trip up north to celebrate Thanksgiving. And then Christmas will come. Maybe sometime in February I'll finish unpacking all the bags and get around to all of the other unfinished household business that has been tabled until life returns to normal.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Venus fly swatter

We got lucky this summer. We hardly had a fly in the house, despite the little gap between the bottom of the screen door and the sash. And despite Dan's bad habit of standing in the doorway with the door open wide while he tries to decide if he should go out or stay in.

Well, our luck has changed. The flies have now commenced moving in like college freshmen. And somebody must have told them there was free beer and pizza at our place.

You can't even sit down to read the Dairy Star without a fly buzzing about your head.

So, out came the fly swatter. (I actually had to search a little to find it.)

And the swatting began.

We're a couple weeks into the war on flies now and my swatting is in top form. I'm like Venus Williams with a fly swatter. Except I'm not wearing one of those little outfits that could just as well pass for an undergarment.

Venus Williams
I've got a forehand and a backhand and an overhead (for the flies on the ceiling).
I take a swing. Ace! I step back, adjust my racquet, er, swatter, and look around for the next one. And the next one. And the next one. It seems like break point never comes. The flies just keep coming.
I've even got my own cheering section (Dan) who's all too quick to tell me when I miss one. Don't worry, I tell him, Mama will get it the next time.

Eventually, the indoor insect population declines enough to sit down and read the paper.
But they'll be back.

And if this tennis season doesn't come to an end pretty soon, I'm going to develop tennis elbow. 

I think maybe I should leave the swinging to Ms. Williams. Does anyone know if Venus Flytraps make good houseplants?

Venus Flytrap
P.S. What do you think of the new cartoon header? I'd love to know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wonders of the animal kingdom

One of the reasons Glen and I are dairy farmers is because we love animals. I mean really love animals.

How big is this love? My 4-H show cow is living out the rest of her life on pasture. At 13.5 years old, she's no longer milking, but I'm not willing to sell her. She means too much to me.

Last year when we were on vacation, one of Glen's favorite cows got sick and had to be sold before we returned. When the call came to tell us what happened to Lollie, Glen couldn't hold back his tears.

So it warms my heart to see our children developing their own love for members of the animal kingdom.

My favorite black rooster was Skippy's latest chicken-attack victim. Dan saw the rooster lying on the ground and started crying. It was the first time he expressed sorrow over the death of an animal.

On a brighter note, we finally took the kids to the zoo to see all of the animals Dan professes to love. (Thanks for the tickets, Midwest Dairy!) Unfortunately, the zoo didn't have a giraffe, and we heard about it for quite some time. But there were lots of other amazing animals.

What surprised me most about the trip was Monika's interest in the animals. She giggled and squealed non-stop while we were stopped in front of the prairie dog display. (I know what you're thinking. Prairie dogs? But their antics were quite entertaining.)

Both Dan and Monika were fascinated with the coral reef aquarium. So was Glen.

My favorite animals at the zoo were the grizzly bears. Because there was a blond one named Sadie. I told Dan, "Now you know why Mommy growls sometimes!"

It was also really cool to watch the zookeepers while they tried to bottle feed a camel calf. I imagine we were the only visitors that day who could truly understand the challenge of the task. (If I had been thinking, I would have shot video of the feeding.)

We didn't go to the zoo's farm exhibit. (Our kids see those animals every day.) Posing for a picture in front of the Land O'Lakes Elevator is as close as we got. But I think we'll check it out next year, just to appease my curiosity.

Until then we'll enjoy life here at our own little zoo.

Friday, October 8, 2010

One of those days

I think they both woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

All Monika wanted to do was pull all the note paper out of the desk.

Monika's favorite temper tantrum pose.

Dan didn't think he needed a time out.

He didn't want his picture taken, either.
Tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully a good night's sleep will cure the crankies.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dan's new best friend

I couldn't resist sharing this photo of Nougat, our first (almost) purebred Brown Swiss, who also happens to be Dan's new best friend.

Needless to say, she's getting way too much attention, which isn't exactly a good thing for a Brown Swiss. Can anyone else imagine Nougat at 1,500 pounds, both stubborn and ├╝ber-friendly?

There might be hope, though. Nougat's mother, Skippy, is one of the most well-behaved new cows we've brought into the barn in a long time, despite being outrageously obnoxious as a heifer.

(In case you're wondering, Nougat's name came from her great-grandmother, Snickers, who was so named because she was as persnickety as they come. Her grandmother's name is Peanut.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Perfect autumn

What a harvest this is shaping up to be:

Last Friday, Glen started our fall tillage (way ahead of schedule).

He helped his dad and brother chop their corn silage on Monday.

Our neighbor combined his corn the same day.

Another neighbor combined his soybeans the day before.

Thankfully, Glen said no when our neighbor called to ask if he could combine our corn this week. There was just too much going on.

The neighbor who chops our earlage stopped by to check that corn as well. (We planted our earlage corn after we took a cutting of alfalfa off the field, so that corn is quite a bit behind everything else.)

The ideal autumn weather these past two weeks has farmers bustling about like bees making honey. And the custom harvesters are just itching to get everything done.

But farmers aren't the only ones hustling.

Our pit pumper came today to knife the fields that are already open. He said his normal fall schedule was thrown out the window by the rapid pace of this fall's harvest. Everybody wants their pit pumped now.

"By the end of the week, I'm going to have a lot of guys mad at me," he said.

The fuel truck driver said he's feeling the rush, too.

"I haven't stopped for lunch in the past 10 days," he said.

With very little precipitation predicted for the next week, I'm guessing he won't be stopping for lunch anytime soon.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Expo ladies

A few photos of the ladies at World Dairy Expo...

Charlotte, Daphne, Tudie and the rest of the ladies from our herd who posed for the photo, now enshrined as part of the Dairy Star's display. It's probably the closest our cows will ever come to being at Expo.

The ladies from the Dairy Star, who were there for the second half of Expo. From left to right, Lori M., saleswoman, me, Krista S., writer, and Andrea B., online editor.

The real ladies of Expo: the top Holsteins from the Junior Show lining up for the announcement of Junior Champion. I watched the Parade of Champions and crowning of the Supreme Champion for the first time ever, too, but I forgot to take my camera out. Maybe next year.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eight years later

Yesterday marked eight years since Glen and I said "I do."

We celebrated by taking Dan and Monika to Dairy Queen for lunch.

We always do something special on our anniversary, and after several disappointing meals at fancy restaurants, we've settled on an anniversary tradition of dining at DQ. No one is disappointed with their meal, the kids can come along and, since it's usually a lunch date, we don't have to hire a relief milker.

The other anniversary tradition I maintain is jotting down the happenings of the past year in an anniversary book we received as a wedding gift. I'm always amazed at how much happens in a year. And I always find myself thinking during the process, "Whoa, who'd have thought, eight years ago, that we'd be right here in this place at this time?"

That thought went through my head as we sat in the Dairy Queen in Sauk Centre. Dan had chocolate ice cream dripping down his chin. Monika had tears running down her cheeks because she wanted a chocolate ice cream cone of her own and wasn't allowed to have one (the stuff stains worse than cow manure; I did share some of my ice cream with her).

Glen and I just sat there and grinned as we wiped away tears and chocolate ice cream. We were quite the sight, but what I hope the curious onlookers saw was the happiness in our little family.

We have been abundantly blessed these past eight years. And that's worth celebrating every day.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The girls are going to Expo!

The girls (e.g. our cows) are on their way to World Dairy Expo.

No, we didn't all-of-a-sudden start exhibiting cattle.

The ladies aren't riding to Expo in a trailer. They're going as part of the Dairy Star's new display, which will be unveiled tomorrow morning.

A photo featuring Charlotte, Daphne and Tudie is a central part of the display. The folks at the Dairy Star wanted a photo of cows in a pasture, so they asked if they could come out and take some pictures.

I got to see a mock-up of the display last week and, honestly, it was pretty cool to see our ladies right up front.

What's even more cool though, is I'll get to see the display in person. Since the Dairy Star will have it's own booth this year, they needed a little extra help manning the booth. So they asked me and I couldn't say no. (Hmmm... A trip to the greatest dairy show on earth? Three days without chores and children, no less? I didn't take me very long to decide.)

It's been nearly 10 years since I've been to Expo, so, needless to say, I'm really looking forward to this "work". And, finally getting to see our ladies on display.

If you're heading to Expo, stop by our booth (#MC 34, which is on the Main Concourse in the Coliseum). I'll be there Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I'll be the one with the big smile on my face.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Kids and farm chemicals don't mix

Since it's National Farm Safety Week, here are a couple of the ways we've made our milkhouse chemicals more inaccessible to our children:

This is the barrier we constructed to hide our acid and detergent barrels. As far as physical barriers go, this design will not keep children out. But it does provide a good visual barrier. And since the "out of sight, out of mind" principle works well with young children, we've found that this barrier does what we wanted it to. Between the barrier and the child-resistant drum pumps we now use, our milkhouse chemicals are a lot more inaccessible than they used to be.

I also save all of the child resistant caps off of gallon jugs and use them to replace non-child resistant caps on other jugs. For example, our utensil soap comes with these caps, but one of the stronger cleaner-santizers we use comes with a regular cap, so I replace the cap with a child resistant cap from an empty soap jug. Other products that are often left at ground level – like mineral oil, propylene glycol and oral calcium – get child resistant caps, too.

I shared a couple farm safety web sites earlier this week; here are two more good sites:

National Ag Safety Database

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety

I hope you had a safe week!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Farm Safety Giveaway

We have heard several stories this year about small children having unfortunate encounters with milkhouse chemicals. After hearing these stories, we decided it was time to invest in safer pumps for the chemicals on our own farm. 

We replaced the old pumps in our acid, detergent, pre-dip and post-dip with Ezi-Action Drum Pumps. These pumps are equipped with very child-resistant anti-pumping safety straps. The pumps are also easy to use and have a self-draining spout, so no residual fluid is left in the spout.

Because we like these pumps so much, we're giving away two Ezi-Action Drum Pumps (donated by our milking equipment dealer, Champion Milking Systems of Albany, Minn.). To enter the drawing, email your name, address and phone number to gsfrericks[at] (replace the [at] with @).

To qualify for the drawing, you must be a dairy farmer and your entry must be received by midnight on Monday, October 4. The drawing will be held, and winners notified, on Tuesday, October 5.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Keeping kids safe

As a farming mom, one of my constant responsibilities is keeping our children safe on the farm. Since this week is National Farm Safety Week, I'll be posting about farm safety all week.

It seems like all of the safety advice we read about is common sense, but I still think it's a good idea to review the information from time to time, especially if you have children whose skills and abilities are rapidly changing. We tend to become accustomed to the risks associated with routine chores and can easily overlook just how dangerous some of those situations could be to our pint-sized helpers.

These sites have good information on farm safety for children, adolescents and adults. To me, some of the advice seems impractical — like making sure adolescent employees change their outer clothes after working with large animals — but most of the advice is sound.

Farm Safety 4 Just Kids (scroll down to the Farm Safety Fact Sheets)

North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks

Safe Work Practices on Dairy Farms

I'd also like to know... What do you do to keep your children safe on your farm?

(And be sure to check back tomorrow for details about a farm safety giveaway!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

A load has been lifted

Woo-hoo! The corn silage is done!

The guys finished chopping corn silage just as I was starting evening chores, which meant they finished several hours ahead of schedule.

Later, when we were in the barn together, Glen was acting so squirrelly that I asked him if maybe he'd had a bit too much caffeine over the course of the day.

"No," he said, "I just feel like a load has been lifted off my shoulders. A 945-ton load." (That's how much corn silage we put up in the last two weeks.)

I think tomorrow will be nap day.

In the photo above, the tractor and chopper are about to drive over the grassed waterway that runs through the field. (Glen wanted me to make it clear that all of that grass is supposed to be there.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Farm kids, part two

A farming parent asked a question on my Farm kids post about what we did with our children when they were younger. Here's my response:

Dear Anonymous,

Before our children were old enough to play outside while we did chores, they sat in strollers, swings or car seats, depending on their age. We also kept an Exer-saucer in the barn that both kids loved. (I have a barn version and a house version of just about every child containment/entertainment device on the market.)

In addition to strollers, swings, car seats and saucers, our kids have also been kept safe outside in playpens, stock tanks (empty, of course), and a pen we built with plywood in an empty stall (before the barn was full). We keep some easy-to-clean toys in the barn, too.

Most of the time, they were in strollers, because strollers can be pushed around to wherever the action is – lots of times in the center aisle of the barn – or, in the case of the photo below, outside by the barn while we were trimming hooves.

When Dan and Monika were infants, I also kept a front carrier in the barn and would do calf chores and such with them strapped to my chest. It seemed like they weren't content for very long in one place, so I would move them around from stroller to swing to carrier and so on. 

One farming mom I know limited her kids to either the saucer or the stroller, because you can spend a fair bit of time moving children once they learn that fussing will get them moved. Limiting the number of options limits the fussing.

As far as eating things goes, both Dan and Monika were walking before I "let them out of the stroller". By that age, not as much goes into their mouths. But, Monika still does put some stuff in her mouth, most of which she spits out and a little of which she swallows. I've learned to just look the other way. Most of the stuff in Monika's play area is relatively harmless (corn, oats, bits of hay and straw, etc.), and ingesting a few germs is good for kids' immune systems, at least in my opinion.

I hope that helps.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Keeping Geneva

Glen and I had our first disagreement on Friday over whether a cow should be saved or salvaged.

Geneva was down with a case of milk fever late Thursday night. She was overdue and obviously close to calving, so, thankfully, we had been checking on her frequently. She got up after two bottles of intravenous calcium. Glen checked the position of the calf and found that it was still unengaged. We brought her in from the pasture so we could watch her more closely.

On Friday morning, Geneva was starting to show signs of labor (discharging, etc.). When nothing more had happened by late afternoon, Glen palpated her again to check the position of the calf and immediately called the vet. Geneva's uterus had twisted. (It wasn't twisted Thursday night.) We had heard stories of such cases, but hadn't experienced one until now. Dr. Kevin arrived within minutes.

A short while later, a beautiful, but dead, heifer calf was delivered. And, then, as if that wasn't enough to make for a bad day, Dr. Kevin found a large tear in Geneva's uterus during his post-delivery exam. In four years of working with Dr. Kevin, I've never heard him explain the seriousness of a situation so clearly.

We had three options, as he put it. If we did nothing, she would die within days from peritoneal infection. We could immediately try to salvage her. Or we could try to stitch up the uterus (blindly, via the cervix) and start her on an aggressive course of antibiotic therapy. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether the repair and treatment would work, and she would most certainly never reproduce again. Dr. Kevin did say he'd done such a repair on one other cow and she had survived, but the first couple weeks were rough.

For the first time I can remember, my vote was against trying to save a cow. Geneva's an old cow, who's live a good, long life, I said, let's not put her through hell. (I was the only one present who knows what the recovery from a C-section feels like.)

Glen wanted to try to keep Geneva. He has a terribly hard time losing cows and maintains that as long as the cow keeps trying, he'll keep trying.

Glen checked for himself to see how big the tear was and came up with the idea of repairing the uterus from the front, through an incision in the right side of her abdomen (much like a DA repair or C-section). Dr. Kevin thought it would probably work, at least to stitch up the front of the uterus. He thought he probably wouldn't be able to reach the back of the tear, and would have to stitch that through the cervix.

I conceded and the surgery began. Glen held the trouble light, Dan and I watched, Monika napped in the stroller, and Dr. Kevin scrubbed, sliced and stitched while Geneva stood there. Dan asked questions the entire time, the best of which was, "Dr. Kevin, is she going to die?" To which Dr. Kevin replied, "Well, I sure hope not."

To everyone's surprise, the repair went extremely well. Dr. Kevin was able to stitch the entire tear from the front. When it was all done, it looked just like Geneva had DA surgery. We gave her pain killers and antibiotics and crossed our fingers.

Later that night, when Geneva refused to eat anything — not even calf starter — or drink, the challenge ahead of us finally became apparent to Glen. I told him flunixin wasn't enough for her pain; she needed morphine. But that's not an option for cows, so he drenched her instead to at least keep her hydrated.

Saturday morning, though, I put some calf starter in front of Geneva and she took a couple of bites. Glen let out a whoop. And it's been uphill since then. We haven't uncrossed our fingers yet, but Geneva looks great. (I'm also knocking on wood as I write this, because I have a history of jinxing myself.)

For right now, at least, we're feeling pretty good about the decision to keep Geneva. And I'm glad I was out-voted. But we still have a couple of questions: Why have the last three aged cows to calve struggled with milk fever? (We've got everything but the kitchen sink in our pre-fresh mix.) What causes a cow's uterus to twist? (Was is the low blood calcium levels or something else?)

Time will tell for Geneva, but I have a feeling some of these questions might never be answered.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Whoa! Where did the day go?"

That quote about sums up how I've felt for the past three weeks. It seems like the end of August slammed right into the start of September and left my head spinning. I'm trying to catch up on projects left in the lurch and, at the same time, work ahead on some big projects that are due in the next couple months. I feel a bit like a dog chasing its tail.

Here's a recap of the past three weeks:

I spent an evening in St. Paul at one of my all-time favorite events, the Princess Kay of the Milky Way coronation. I love seeing the enthusiasm for the dairy industry and feeling the anticipation in the air as the new Princess Kay is crowned. This year's coronation was unique, though, because I was backstage most of the time, taking photos for the Dairy Star. I got to see all of the nervousness and excitement that the candidates channel into poise and polish for the audience. I found myself remembering my own experience as a Princess Kay candidate 10 years ago.

We took a couple days off and went up north for my little sister's wedding. Other than Monika being sick (she threw up twice on Glen), the wedding was a blast.

We wrapped our fourth crop of hay. This photo was actually from third crop. I forgot to take my camera out to the field. For fourth crop, we tried something new — wrapping two big squares stacked on top of each other. It looks like we built a fort wall out in our field.

We made our annual trek to the Minnesota State Fair. Thankfully, we picked a cool, quiet day to go. It did rain once, but we were inside the DNR Building when it started so we didn't get wet. Glen let Monika play in the puddle after the downpour stopped. Dan was still inside with Papa, checking out all of the wild animals in the Wildlife Wing (Dan even plugged his nose when he spotted the skunk).

We started chopping corn. We filled the little silo and two bags. We'll fill the big silo sometime next week, weather permitting. So far, the corn silage looks great.

With the whirlwind that has been the past couple weeks finally winding down, life is normalizing. We even dried up a big group of cows, so we're not switching cows right now. The reprieve won't last long, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts. What I'm enjoying even more, though, is the blank September calendar page. Hopefully that means we'll have fewer where-did-the-day-go days.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Farm kids

I can't even recount how many times I've been asked, "What do you do with the children when you're in the barn?"

My answer is always the same: "They come out to the barn, too."

Life on our farm for a toddler means lots of time spent in confinement, for safety's sake. Monika either naps in her stroller or plays in the front of the barn, fenced in by a stock tank and two bales of hay.

Dan has graduated from containment and now entertains himself while we do chores.

He spends most of his time rough-housing with Skippy, our dog, digging in the sand pile and playing in mud puddles.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On the wrong side of the odds

It seems like the past couple weeks were one big run of bad luck — rained on hay, sick cows, you name it.

Two of our unlucky events really stung:

The first stroke of bad luck involved Dancer, a heifer we'd been trying to get bred who wasn't showing heats. She'd been bred a couple times, but her pregnancy test back open after the last service. So, Glen started Dancer and two other heifers who were falling behind schedule on a synch program. All three heifers came into heat, just like they should. When Glen was breeding Dancer, though, her uterus didn't feel right.

The next morning, the neighbor who houses our breeding-age heifers called to say Dancer was still standing, so we decided to breed her again. This time, when Glen palpated her, he found placental membranes.

So, Dancer had been pregnant the whole time we were fretting about her not being bred. The bioPRYN test we use to check for most pregnancies has a very low margin of error in detecting open animals (from the fine print on the test — if a sample's result falls in the open range, 99.9% of animals are not pregnant in confirmatory testing). But, Dancer proved that false negatives do occur.

We were reminded of a bit of advice from our former farm business management instructor: Never give a dose of prostaglandin to a cow or heifer with a previous service unless you are 100% sure she's open.

Bitsy, a cow of ours, delivered the second stoke of bad luck. To start, the calf she was trying to deliver presented with its head turned backward. Since she was bred using a unit of sexed semen, our anxiety level was a wee bit elevated while we worked to get the calf out. Upon delivery of a live calf, the situation went from bad to worse. It was a bull calf. Our very first sexed semen bull calf (out of 14 calves).

Glen was seriously bummed. We haven't used very much sexed semen in the past 18 months, and we've only had 15 heifer calves out of 45 calvings so far this year, so Glen was really looking forward to this heifer calf. Plus, this was the only conception out of that half-rack of semen, making it, as Glen said, "the most expensive bull calf ever." What's even worse, is that in five lactations now, this was only Bitsy's second bull calf. We might have had better luck just using conventional semen.

After moping around for awhile, though, Glen said that these two events weren't really bad luck, instead they were simply part of the odds. 99.9% of the time, Dancer really would have been open. And 95% of the time, Bitsy's calf would have been a heifer. We were just on the wrong side of the odds.

I still think it was bad luck. But I do think our luck is changing. Why?

This morning I was walking out of the house when a strange car pulled into the yard. An unfamiliar man stepped out of the car and asked me, "Is your dad around?"

"Are you looking for Glen?" I asked.

"Yeah," the man replied.

It made my day. (Maybe even my week.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Photo of the week: Bootprints in the sand

The inch of rain we got on Sunday was bad news for our last field of third crop, but it made for great footprint conditions in the soft gravel down by the hay shed. There's something about seeing Dan's little bootprints all around the farm that just melts my heart.

The same thing happens in the winter, when fresh snow wipes the palette clean and then clearly displays the early morning critter traffic. The first trail of little bootprints from the house to the barn makes all the extra work of bundling the kids up worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Recipe for a bad morning

One sick child

Two missed alarms

Three sick cows

Four hours of sleep

Five loads of straw sitting in the yard yet when it starts to rain

Six hours to do chores, clean up and make it to the fair on time

Seven bottle calves to feed

Eight acres of third crop getting doused by the deluge 

(On the bright side, this was last Sunday. Things have since improved, but I'm still not convinced our luck has changed.) 

(The other good news is that, after a week in the shop, I finally have my computer back. The first time I checked email after getting it back, I saw that there were 37 new messages coming in, so I got up to go do dishes while they downloaded. Before I even made it to the door, the computer's you've-got-mail chime sounded. Zoikes! That was fast. Maybe if I took a week off to get upgraded I could work that fast when I came back, too!)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Laundry List

I'm not sure what it's like for families who don't live on farms, but it seems like keeping up with the laundry around here could be a full-time job for someone.

Part of the problem is that we each have three sets of clothes — good clothes, everyday clothes, and barn clothes. Because it's at the bottom of the clothes-chain, the barn clothes category is the largest. Poop runs downhill, and so do clothes. When good clothes come down with a few too many spots and don't respond to treatment, they become everyday clothes. Likewise, when everyday clothes fall victim to the stain-monster, they get turned into barn clothes. (Where do barn clothes go when their number is called? To the shop. As rags. But barn clothes have to be pretty bad before they're cut up.)

The other part of the laundry situation is that we go through a lot of clothes. Glen and Dan, especially. I've reached the conclusion that there must be some sort of atomic attraction between Y chromosomes and dirt. I swear, it seems like all Dan has to do is step outside and he's covered in something. I mentioned this to Glen once and all he said was, "Yeah, Mom did a lot of laundry when we were little." (He has two brothers and a sister; I can't imagine trying to keep up with three boys' worth of dirty clothes!)

So, with the laundry situation as it is, I'm always on the lookout for ways to make the chore easier. (And, for me, it is a chore. I'd rather pitch manure than sort, wash, dry, fold and put away clothes. The battle with laundry is never-ending; at least with pitching manure you eventually reach a point at which you can say, "There, it's done.")

Here's the list of my favorite laundry life-savers:

1. Black, brown, navy blue and camouflage. For obvious reasons, shirts, pants and shorts in these colors are my favorites. They tend to remain in their original categories longer because they don't come down with stains as easily. Good clothes and everyday clothes in these colors can also survive an accidental trip to the barn.

2. Tide Stain Release. For those clothes that do need stain treatment, this new product is like a miracle elixir. A scoop of this (or one of the little packets) in each load of stain-prone clothes will prevent just about any stain from setting. I do still spray some of the really bad spots with Spray N' Wash, but that's because I'm probably a bit too fanatical about keeping as many clothes in their original categories as possible.

3. Two washing machines. We recently inherited a washing machine from Glen's sister and her husband. It has a slight leak and they have a main floor laundry room, so it had to go. We do our laundry in the basement, right next to the sump hole, so a slight leak isn't a problem for us. We now have one washer for good and everyday clothes and one for barn clothes. My days of load planning are over. With only one washer, I had to manage loads so that good clothes, sheets and towels never followed barn clothes. Plus, now I can wash two loads at once, which is great because we have...

4. A clothesline. Since we go through twice as many clothes in the summer (in the winter clothes are protected by snowsuits, dirt is frozen and the kids just stay cleaner), the clothesline is the only chance I have of keeping up with the piles. And there's nothing like fresh air to make clothes smell really clean. Even barn clothes smell better coming off the clothesline. 

What's the laundry situation like for your family? What are your laundry life-savers?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Keeping a dairy policy open mind

After sitting in on the National Milk Producers Association board's approval of the Foundation for the Future program last month, it's been interesting to read the different reactions to the plan from throughout the industry.

One of the most thought-provoking (to me at least) write-ups was penned by Jim Dickrell, editor of Dairy Today, and published on his AgWeb blog. At first, the title of his post — National Milk's Plan a Bit Schizophrenic — irked me. My initial responses to negative reviews of the Foundation plan have been negative themselves, and a bit cynical: "Do you have a better idea? What we have now certainly isn't working."

Then, when I finally got around to reading Jim's piece and digesting it for awhile, I had to agree with him on at least one point, that being supply management.

If you recall, supply management wasn't part of the original Foundation for the Future plan. We were told last November at the NMPF annual meeting, when the Foundation plan was first unveiled, that price volatility was here to stay — it was an unavoidable part of operating in a world market — and that we just needed to learn how to manage around volatility, thus the reason for the Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program, and change the way we price milk so that supply and demand signals work better (which is what the Federal Milk Marketing Order reform is trying to do).

The Dairy Market Stabilization Program was added later. I'm inclined to believe now that some revisions need to be made if this component of the program is to be included in the final plan.

Jim made one very good point about the market stabilization program:

"The problem comes in when the Dairy Price Stabilization part of the program tries to solve [milk price-feed cost margin] problems by cutting supply. In two out of three cases, it could actually make the problem worse. Why? If you cut supply, you raise milk prices. But if the problem is not over-supply but feed prices, you simply raise milk and cheese and butter prices and reduce demand, which in turn reduces prices which means you have to cut supply even further. The same thing happens when demand is the problem. By cutting supply, you raise prices and kill even more demand."

Maybe National Milk needs to design a different trigger for initiating market stabilization, so that we're only cutting production when over-supply is truly the problem. Or maybe it needs to scrap the market stabilization program altogether. 

For me, only one thing is certain about Foundation for the Future: it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I do hope that the margin protection and marketing order reform parts of the plan become a reality, but I'm not sure yet about the market stabilization program. I will keep an open mind, though, when reading future reactions to the plan.

What do you think?