Friday, March 29, 2013

Daphne in the barn

When I was pregnant with Daphne, I got asked the same three questions by everyone: When are you due? How are you feeling? Do you know what you're having?

By the end, I was ready to have a T-shirt printed that said: My due date is 12/16/12. I'm feeling great. No, we don't know if this baby is a boy or a girl.

That way, instead of having to answer all those questions, I could just point to my belly and save both myself and the asker a whole bunch of words. (Yeah, I know asker isn't a word. Questioner is a word, so asker should be, too.)

Now that Daphne has been here for a couple months, I find myself answering a different set of questions: Are you back out in the barn yet? Do you take your babies to the barn? Is Daphne sleeping through the night yet?

sleeping baby all bundled up in winter clothes
Daphne sleeping in the tractor during her first official trip to the barn.

Q: Are you back out in the barn yet?

A: Yes. I've been helping outside for a couple weeks now. My 'maternity leave' (although you can't really call it that when you're a dairy farmer, because there's plenty of inside farm work to do while you're recovering from childbirth) ended up lasting longer than I planned because both Daphne and I got sick.

When I go out to the barn, however, is whole different question. Most days I end up heading out when Daphne is ready for her morning nap, around 10 a.m. Some days I go out earlier. Some days I go out after Dan gets home from school. Maybe someday we'll settle into a new schedule, but for now every day is different.

Q: Do you take your babies to the barn?

A: Yes, I take my babies to the barn with me. Dan and Monika both spent lots of time in the barn as babies and toddlers (see this post and this post) and Daphne will, too. But between both of us being sick and the awfully cold winter, I did wait until Daphne was a little older before I started bringing her to the barn.

baby bundled up in carseat, sleeping in barn
Daphne sleeping in the barn.

Q: Is Daphne sleeping through the night yet?

A: No. But she probably would be if I didn't let her take a four hour nap in the barn during the day. This is one of those cases in parenting+farming when you have to choose the lesser of the challenges. Do I let Daphne sleep in the barn during the day so I can get my chores done? Or do I keep her awake longer so she sleeps at night so I can sleep through the night? I decided that it's easier to nurse her at night than it is in the barn.

Before we know it, sleeping at night will be a challenge of the past, Daphne will be chasing after her brother and sister and then we'll be answering questions like "How does Daphne like kindergarten?" and "What are you doing now that all three kids are in school?"

Maybe then I will get a T-shirt printed with the answers.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Like father, like son

For those who have ever questioned how hard dairy farmers work – or how hard farm kids play...

And for those who have ever questioned the comfort of dairy cows' living conditions...

dairy farmer sleeping on rubber mattress in tiestall barn

farmer boy sleeping in tiestall barn

Enough said.

(No, these photos weren't staged. Yes, they're both actually sleeping. In fact, Glen still doesn't know I took that photo of him.)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Good dinner

Last week started out as one of those weeks when everything was wrong. Not with the world, but with me.

To borrow a phrase from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, I was at the bottom of the well.

Instead of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses, I was looking at everything through blue glasses.

I felt bad, felt sad, felt guilty, for not helping with more of the outside farm work, for being a yells-a-lot mom instead of a fun mom, for not keeping the house clean enough, for not losing this baby weight faster. The irrationality of it all was clear to me, but I couldn't stop the thoughts from coming or the tears that came with them. It was awful.

I needed a good nap and a good workout and someone to tell me I was doing a good job.

I think Glen knew.

After putting Dan and Monika to bed on Wednesday night, I delivered Glen's dinner to the barn and returned to the house to clean up the kitchen and put Daphne to bed. A little while later, I got this text message from Glen:

"Good dinner." text message from Hubby

Two little words. Such a big impact. My heart sang. I smiled.

I love getting unsolicited feedback on the meals and treats I make. Especially when I try a new recipe, which I had that night.

Plus, Glen's message was just enough to let me know that my efforts were appreciated.

So, what was the good dinner?

I tweaked a meatball recipe one of my friends shared on Facebook and added my own sauce recipe. I've been trying to rotate through the different types of meat in our freezer to keep dinner interesting. When I saw this recipe, I knew I had to try it with our ground lamb.

The meatballs were served with chunky-mashed baby red potatoes and broccoli. Did you know that frozen broccoli is actually slightly more nutritious than fresh broccoli? And milk, of course. (I only thought to take the picture below the next morning – after all the potatoes were gone.)

lamb meatballs in raspberry sauce

Aromatic Baked Meatballs with Savory Raspberry Sauce
(using my No-Touch Meatball Method)


1 pound ground lamb (see ingredients note)
1 pound ground pork
3 eggs
2 or 3 tsp ground cumin
2 or 3 tsp onion powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp chipotle chile pepper (optional)
½ cup oatmeal, ground fine (optional)

1 cup raspberry jam (with seeds or seedless)
2 tbsp soy sauce


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Put meat and eggs in a large bowl. Using a sturdy spoon, stir together. Mix in spices. Then stir some more. Stir really hard. And when you think you've stirred it enough, stir it some more. The key to meatballs that hold together and have great texture is to extract the proteins from the meat so that they can combine with the salt and eggs; in other words, the mixture needs to become a sticky mass. (I learned this from Glen when we made homemade sausage, so he deserves some credit. He didn't know I was paying attention, though. The first time I served meatballs for supper, he asked me, in awe, "Did you make these?" It was one of my proudest culinary moments.) Then stir in the ground oatmeal. [You can leave out the oatmeal, but the meatballs will ooze a little when they bake.]

Using a #50 scoop (or whatever size you want), place one level scoop of the meat mixture into each well of a mini-muffin pan. There's no need to shape these meatballs by hand. This recipe makes about 60 meatballs, so you'll need several muffin tins. You could put them on a cookie sheet, too. (When I make hand-rolled meatballs, I bake them on cookie sheets. The recipe my friend shared suggested using large muffin tins, so I decided to give the mini tins a try.)

Bake until well browned or meat thermometer reads 160°F, about 15-20 minutes. [Update: If you hand-roll these and bake them on cookie sheets, it takes about 25 minutes for the meatballs to be well-browned.]

oven baked lamb meatballs in mini-muffin tins

In a medium serving bowl, mix together raspberry jam and soy sauce. The amounts are flexible; you can adjust the amount of jam and soy sauce to suit your tastes. Transfer meatballs from muffin tins to serving bowl. Stir to coat meatballs with sauce.

Ingredients Note:

I've used this combination of seasonings and sauce to make roasted pork loin and chicken breasts, so I think you could easily substitute any other ground meat for the lamb. I think I'm going to try using a combination of ground pork and ground beef after we run out of ground lamb.  You can also easily use a one-pound package of ground meat; just reduce the seasoning amounts accordingly.

I'm also going to try adding a little black or red pepper to the meatballs or the sauce; the recipe I use for pork includes hot pepper jelly.

This recipe was inspired by Vanessa Romero's recipe for Oven Baked Lamb Meatballs, which was adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe for Aromatic Meatballs.

Recipe Review:

You already know what Glen thinks of the meatballs. Dan and Monika thought they were yummy, too. I love this combination of spices and I love this sauce. (I love any recipe with raspberries involved.) I also really liked that I didn't get my hands dirty making these. I don't normally have a problem with getting my hands dirty, but (1) the skin on my fingers is cracked from this never-ending winter and getting food, especially salt and spices, in those cracks really hurts and (2) since I'm almost always parenting while I'm cooking, I didn't have to stop and wash my hands each time I needed to help the kids.

Not only was this recipe tasty, apparently it's also very trendy. During the Land O'Lakes Kitchen Conversation I participated in last month, Ree Drummond from The Pioneer Woman shared that meatballs are one of the hottest food trends of 2013. Who knew? She also shared a recipe for Meatball Tortilla Soup. I haven't tried it yet, but I hope to soon.

If you decide to try my recipe or Ree's recipe or my no-touch meatball method, be sure to let me know what you think.

Feedback – especially positive – is always appreciated.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Double Golden Birthday

I'm pretty sure Mother Nature forgot it was my birthday. Or else this weekend's weather was one heck of a gag gift.

But if I ignore the mountains of new snow in our yard and the fact that Carhartts are still required for chores, then this was one of my best birthdays ever. Reflecting on the greatness of this particular milestone, I realized that I was celebrating my Double Golden Birthday, so maybe the way everything fell into place happened for a reason.

(Double Golden Birthday = I celebrated my Golden Birthday when I turned 16; so hitting 32 means I've doubled my golden. Yeah, I know it doesn't work so well for the people born early in the month, but I like the idea.)

My birthday celebration started with a night out. Except you can't really think of it as a night out because Glen and I were joined by three petite guests. All the same, I didn't have to make supper and we all had a good time. Plus, there haven't been too many outings with all of us since we became a family of five, so that alone made is special.

To continue the festivities, I baked myself a cake using a clever new recipe I found. The recipe needs a little tweaking, though, so I won't share it until I have it perfected.

The next best parts of my birthday were my gifts: our new dog, Ozzy, and 19 new laying hens. (Hear me out on the hens before you pass judgement about chickens being a birthday present.)

Australian Shepherd farm dog

Meet Ozzy

After our last dog, Daisy, died in January, I told Glen we weren't going to get another dog. All he said was, "You're right. We're not going to get another dog. (Pause.) Yet."

But, once again, I started missing having a dog. My high school speech coach always said that a town wasn't a real town if it didn't have a Dairy Queen. I feel the same way about farms and dogs. A farm isn't complete without a dog.

So when Glen said there was an ad for Border Collie puppies in the paper, I had to call and ask.

The people with the puppies had a whole bunch and I was all set to go look at them. But then a couple good friends both asked the same question: "Are you sure you have time for a puppy right now?"

No, I wasn't sure. But Glen and I had agreed that it was time for a new dog. So, I checked the internet for adoptable dogs in our area. I came across Ozzy's listing and knew, instantly, that he was the dog for us. After I talked to his family (who also provided the picture above), I almost felt like Ozzy was too good to be true.

We picked him up on Saturday and, so far, everything his previous family said about him is true.

Ozzy has been through both obedience and agility training. (He actually sits and stays when asked. I can't even get my kids to sit and stay when asked.) He has house and vehicle and kennel manners. (I won't say anything about my kids' house and vehicle and kennel manners.) And, at six years old, he's mellowed out, which will save us lots of training time and, hopefully, lots of boots and chickens.

Speaking of chickens...

Buff Orpington, Rhode Island Red laying hens

Restocking the flock

Before I continue: Yes, that is a pet carrier full of chickens. Yes, it is in the back of my van. Yes, it was a loud drive home. But not nearly as loud as the shed after those chickens were unloaded and introduced to our chickens. The cacaphony rivaled that of the Poultry Barn at the Minnesota State Fair.

Our last dog almost completely depopulated my flock of free range laying hens, so I had been making plans to get an order of chicks this spring to restock the flock. I was inquiring at the feed store about getting a partial order of chicks, since I didn't really need 25, when one of the store employees asked if I was looking for layers or broilers.

When I told him I wanted layers, he said one of the other employees was selling all of his Buff Orpington and Rhode Island Red layers. A couple phone calls later, I had 19 yearling layers to pick up on Sunday.

Talk about a stroke of good luck! Just like that, I have fresh eggs again without all the hassle of raising chicks.

*     *     *     *     *

The best laugh of the weekend came after one of Dan's comments.

While we were enjoying my birthday cake together, Dan asked about my birthday presents. I told him that Ozzy and the new chickens would be my gifts. Then Dan said, "I get it. The chickens will be toys for our new dog."

"No, honey," I said through my laughter, "They will not!"

I'm hoping to have both of these birthday presents – and all the memories – for a long time.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Award-winning milk quality

When something good happens once, it might be just a fluke. When it happens a second time, it might just be for real.

We earned our second milk quality award last Friday. Actually, I should say Glen earned his second milk quality award; we run this farm as a team, but he does most of the milking, and that's where milk quality starts. We earned our first award last year, for the milk we sold in 2011. The picture below doesn't show it, but we now have a nice little gold "2012" to add to the plaque.

When I interviewed a fellow dairy farm family two years ago about earning their 15th milk quality award, they said their milk quality was due to luck, luck, and luck.

I certainly agree that success in farming can often be attributed to good luck, but consistent milk quality takes more than just luck. It requires doing a lot of little things right all the time.

Our milk quality had been good for several years prior to 2011, but it hadn't been award-winning.

We were doing everything we thought we should be doing – feeding a great ration, focusing on cow comfort and cleanliness, DHIA testing, screening fresh cows, maintaining our milking equipment, etc. – but we were still falling short of our goal. Looking back, I think there were three basic changes that finally helped us earn an award.

1. Glen started milking with TED. No, TED isn't our hired man; TED stands for Teat End Detail. Basically, what that means is that Glen took his good milking prep routine and upped it a notch. Now, he pays extra attention to cleaning and drying each teat end before putting the milker on.

2. We focused on improving our herd's pregnancy rate. With more cows and heifers calving each year, the barn is full and it stays full. Before the barn was full, every cow was worth her weight in gold, even if she had milk quality issues. Now that the barn is full, cows with milk quality issues are culled sooner.

3. We fixed the lane to the pasture. We made a mistake when we had the lane to the pasture built during our manure lagoon construction project: we didn't extend the lane far enough. That meant there was always an area between the lane and the pasture that got muddy when it rained. Mud and milk quality don't mix well. For several years, we tried filling that area with gravel to build it up and keep it dry, but it wasn't helping. Finally, someone advised us to use clay instead of gravel. Now that we've been hauling clay into that spot, we've almost completely eliminated the problem.

Maybe there was some luck involved in finally earning a milk quality award, too. Either way, a milk quality award is a nice pat on the back for the work we do.

And now that we know our first award wasn't just a fluke, we're on a mission to fill that plaque.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Social media and spilled milk

I had a nightmare a few weeks ago about not making it to the Land O'Lakes Annual Meeting on time. Most years, this wouldn't have been a big deal, but this year I was asked to be part of a panel titled Social Media 101.

In the nightmare, I'm in the passenger seat of somebody else's car on the way to the meeting. I'm not sure who was driving. My hair is a mess, I'm wearing yoga pants and a hoodie, and all three kids are in the back seat. I say to whoever is driving: "I'm not going to make it. I can't go looking like this." Then, the panel coordinator calls to ask where I am and I wake up.

I think the nightmare was a result of not being able to make it to Land O'Lakes headquarters the week before. I was supposed to be there for the first installment of Kitchen Conversations , an initiative launched by Land O'Lakes to help people feel more confident and have more fun when cooking at home. I was super excited to be a guest host for the bloggers' webinar along with Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, and Becky Wahlund from the Land O'Lakes Test Kitchen. Unfortunately, Daphne was sick, so I had to stay home. I was able to participate in the webinar via remote connection (with Daphne sleeping in my arms), but it wasn't the same as being there and getting to meet Ree and Becky in person.

Bizarrely, my annual meeting nightmare almost came true.

When I dropped Monika and Daphne off at our neighbor's before leaving for the meeting, our neighbor said there was an accident in the Minneapolis tunnel. A milk truck had rolled over in the tunnel and they had closed the road to clean up all the spilled milk. I was more concerned about leaving Daphne with a babysitter for the first time, so I didn't give the accident much thought.

Because I was so concerned about leaving Daphne, I left as late as I possibly could to minimize my time away from her and didn't put any makeup on before leaving, just in case my separation anxiety produced tears – which it did. With decent traffic conditions, I would have just enough time to make it to Minneapolis, find parking and put my makeup on before I needed to meet with the other panelists.

The mid-day drive was going great and I was feeling better, until I got closer to the Twin Cities. The electronic signs on the freeway were lit up with the announcement: "I-94 closed at 394. Use alternate routes."

That's where the milk truck roll-over in the tunnel was. Despite living in the Twin Cities for four years, I couldn't remember if the exit I needed to take to get to downtown Minneapolis was before or after the tunnel. I don't have a smart phone, we don't have a GPS device in the van, nor did we have any maps in the van. All of our road maps were still in our old car. Dang it.

I waffled between thinking the road closing wouldn't affect me and concern that maybe it would. Finally, after the third warning from the highway department, my concern turned to alarm and I was struck with an idea. My friend Chris lives in St. Paul and travels through that area of Minneapolis on her way to work everyday. I found her number in my phone and sent up a quick prayer that she would answer my call for help.

"Hello, this is Chris." No sweeter words have ever been spoken.

I explained the situation to Chris. She pulled up a map to double check and put my concerns to rest. I'd be getting off the freeway before the tunnel.

What we didn't consider, though, was that my exit was the last exit before the tunnel and that every other car, truck and semi in Minneapolis would be getting off the freeway at my exit to go around the closed tunnel. Just. Like. That. Traffic stopped. I was stuck in a Twin Cities stand-still at 1:45 in the afternoon. How ironic, I thought, that, of all things, a milk truck accident was the reason for the traffic jam.

I was literally less than a mile from the meeting's hotel. I could see downtown from where I was parked. I could also see about 600 vehicles between me and my next turn. And inside those vehicles, everyone was sending text messages or checking their email on their phones, so they couldn't see that I needed to move over a lane. I wanted to honk, but I hate horn honkers, so I waited.

And waited and waited and waited. Even if the texting drivers wouldn't have been texting, I wouldn't have been able to get over. We weren't moving.

I watched the clock as the minutes ticked past. I was going to be late. My nightmare was coming true.

I felt my chest start to tighten as the panic set in. I grabbed my itinerary for the meeting, but the panel coordinator's cell phone number wasn't listed. Don't cry, I told myself. Deep breaths. Man, I hate post-partum emotional instability.

I was suddenly glad that I had decided to leave Daphne with a babysitter; had she been with me, this was surely when she would have woke up and started crying.

Then, magically, the traffic gods intervened and traffic started creeping along. A semi driver let me over. Once I turned the corner, the road was clear. I had three minutes. I would be late for pre-session meeting, but I wouldn't miss the panel.

I got to the hotel and made a quick decision to use the valet parking. I grabbed all my bags and bee-lined for the restroom to put my makeup on. I quickly found the other panelists, only to hear that the general session was running late and the social media session wouldn't start until the general session was over. At least I had time to relax a little before taking the stage.

Social Media 101 Panel at Land O'Lakes Annual Meeting
Photo courtesy of Land O'Lakes

Thankfully, Social Media 101: Telling the Story of Ag went much more smoothly than my trip to the meeting.

I was joined by Jolene Griffin (Dairy Farming Today), Bill Zucker (USFRA), and Matt Friesen (Mid Kansas Cooperative). We shared our experiences with social media and answered questions from David Krejci, the panel's moderator, and the audience.

I didn't get to stick around for all the fun after the session – I was needed at home – but it was nice to connect with some of my Land O'Lakes friends for a little while. And at least the trip home was uneventful.