Friday, April 29, 2011

Lost and found

Like every farm family, we lose things. We look around for awhile in hopes of finding the lost items. When they don't turn up, we write them off as lost forever.

The objects most likely to disappear around here are sippy cups. The kids bring them out to the barn and they never make it back to the house. A couple of sippy cups, we later discovered, were snatched by Skippy and devoured. But the others seem to have simply vanished into thin air.

So it brought us a good chuckle this week when one of the lost sippy cups was found — in the manure pit.

We emptied the manure pit onto our fields this week and as the last of the manure was pumped out, one of the pumping crew members pointed out a small purple object floating in the corner of the pit.

Glen crawled down the pit wall, retrieved the completely undamaged sippy cup, and crawled back up laughing.

The crew member, laughing with him, said, "I wouldn't drink that!"

Glen thought maybe we could clean the cup up and put it back in the rotation, but I thought otherwise. The sippy cup went into dumpster.

At least I know now what became of it.

The sippy cup wasn't the only thing that turned up in the pit this spring. The small red gas jug that we keep in the back of the barn for the straw chopper, which had mysteriously disappeared this winter, was found in bits and pieces floating in the pit. Apparently, it didn't go through the manure pump as easily as the sippy cup.

And, wouldn't you know it, the evening after the pumping crew finished the job, we were joking in the barn about finding our lost items. Just after that, I started up the barn cleaner and heard a big ka-chunk. The messy investigation revealed that the manure pump tried to eat a No. 2 shovel that had fallen into the gutter. It left the handle in the hopper and swallowed the spade.

Unfortunately, I'm sure the shovel won't be the last thing lost to the manure pump.

Friday, April 15, 2011

No more wolf control

Thanks to the federal government's budget wrangling, the federal program that helps farmers and ranchers remove problematic gray wolves (also known as timber wolves) has been cut. (See the full story in the Star Tribune.)

I grew up in gray wolf country and, believe me, it's not like the program was being underutilized. Wolf attacks on livestock and pets are more of a problem now than they've ever been. My dad still has a beef cow-calf operation on my home farm and every year cows and calves are lost to wolves.

I vividly remember one night during our first spring farming up north. I had just finished the late calf feeding (we were milking the cows and feeding the calves three times a day then). It was a black, moonless night; only the yellow glow from the yard light kept the darkness at bay.

I was standing by the calf hutches when the wolves started. First, one wolf calling out. Then, the rest of the pack answering. If you've never heard a pack of wolves communicating, you can't imagine the involuntary tingles that run up your spine after the yips and howls register in your brain.

After the tingles, the fear and the worry set in. I had twenty-some baby heifer calves outside and more cows ready to calve in the pasture. And I was legitimately concerned about their safety. We had a dog on the farm, but that was no longer much consolation. When I was a kid, a farm dog was enough to keep the wolves away; but that wasn't the case anymore. In recent years, we'd had wolves within 100 yards of the barn. The yard light would help, but it was no guarantee.

The federal wolf-control program – the one that was cut – at least gave us some recourse when wolves caused problems. A phone call to Bill, our federal trapper (whose number was written right next to the phone in the kitchen) might not always result in the removal of the culprits, but at least we felt like we were doing something. If we were lucky, the wolves would still be around when Bill came and they'd be removed, like this one.

This wolf, a yearling who Bill said had likely just left his mother, and another yearling wolf were trapped after several attacks on my father's beef herd during the same spring I mentioned above. I don't like posting ugly photos, but I've been saving this photo for an opportunity like this. The photos we normally see of gray wolves, like the one at the top of this post, are of beautiful, healthy animals. In reality, most wolves in the wild have some degree of mange, like this one did, and they don't look nearly as picturesque as most photos depict them.

Nor are they as well-fed as the wolves normally photographed. And, as the wolf population continues to grow, so will the number of hungry wolves. Hungry wolves who can't find anything else to eat prey on farm animals and pets.

Without the federal wolf-control program, there will be no legal recourse for the farmers and ranchers for which wolf depredation is a challenge.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why we love chocolate milk

I've wrote before about how much our family loves chocolate milk. But with all of the media buzz about removing flavored milk from schools, I think it's worth mentioning again.

We love chocolate milk!


First, because chocolate milk provides crucial nutrients for active bodies. Our family is active. Our farm requires a lot of physical labor. And when Glen and I are outside working, our kids are outside playing. That means they play a lot! Chocolate milk provides fluids to rehydrate (milk is almost 90% water) and carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals to refuel.

Second, because chocolate milk tastes great! Our kids drink chocolate milk better than "regular milk", as they call it. (Who can blame them?) Since Dan is still a terribly picky eater, and Monika is just entering that stage, sometimes it takes a little coaxing to get nutritious food into them. I make chocolate milk by adding powder to unflavored milk, so I can control the amount of sugar added. It only takes a little chocolate milk powder to turn an untouched glass of milk into a finished glass.

Third, all flavored-milk research has shown that children who choose flavored milk drink more milk overall, have better quality diets, do not have higher intakes of added sugar or fat, and are just as likely to be at a healthy weight compared to kids who do not consume flavored milk.

I certainly hope that chocolate milk will be a choice when Dan and Monika go to school.

For more about why chocolate milk should stay in schools, visit