Thursday, April 28, 2016

Lucy's heaven

The grass is green again. Our yard and pastures gleam like emeralds in an otherwise still-brown landscape.

With any luck (and by luck I mean rain), the pastures will soon be ready for the cows. The cows seem to know that their favorite day of the year – and mine – is quickly approaching. They’re reaching through the fences to nibble off the new blades of grass.

Sadly, though, when we open the pasture gate this spring, we’ll have one less cow kicking up her heels as the herd gallops out into the grass.

Lucy died last week.

Dan asked for a picture with Lucy after I told him she was sick and not getting better.
He also doted on her with extra treats and curry combing.

Lucy was Dan’s favorite cow, the one he befriended after he said good-bye to his first favorite cow, Love. That was four years ago, when he was in kindergarten.

For the past four years, whenever he was in the barn, Dan could be found in Lucy’s stall.

Lucy’s stall was a favorite spot for lots of kids. Monika often hung out there with Dan, the two of them curry combing Lucy, laying on top of her, or playing on the stall dividers. I have pictures of Lucy lying in her stall with our kids and their city cousins all piled on top of her. Lucy never moved; she seemed to love the attention.

It’s never easy to lose a cow, but losing a favorite cow like Lucy is especially hard – for all of us.

There were lots of tears when I told Dan that Lucy had died. There were lots of questions, too, about why the medicine couldn’t save Lucy and why prayers couldn’t save her. We talked about all the good memories and how special it was that Lucy got to spend her whole life on our farm.

The last time I wrote about Lucy, she had just been dried off. Glen had found Dan sitting across the fence from Lucy. Dan said he had been talking to Lucy about the baby in her tummy.

That baby arrived without incident a couple months later. We found Lucy in early delivery during a late night check of the dry cow pen. Our anticipation was too high to leave, so Glen and I napped on a big square bale, waking up every so often to check Lucy’s progress. After the last catnap, we woke up to find Lucy had delivered a pretty little heifer calf.

Nobody was more excited about Lucy’s baby girl than Dan. He named Lucy’s baby Lego and took Lego to the fair that summer.

Lego was Lucy’s only heifer calf. For Dan, the hurt of losing Lucy is tempered some by knowing that Lego will calve in June. He is looking forward to welcoming Lego into the barn and hoping she will be as kind as her mother.

One life ends and another will soon begin. One of the greatest gifts of growing up on a farm is an appreciation for the cycle of life. It doesn’t make the grieving any easier, but it helps to understand that death is an inevitable part of life.

A couple days after Lucy died, I realized that maybe Lucy wouldn’t be as sad as I was that she wouldn’t be going out to pasture with the rest of the cows this spring.

Lucy didn’t seem to care for grazing. When we turned the cows out of the barn after milking, Lucy would stay in her stall until someone chased her out. Then, as soon as she walked out the barn door, she’d turn around and try to come back inside. Midway through the day, Lucy would often come back in from the pasture to lie in front of the barn door.

Lucy’s heaven isn’t a pasture full of knee-deep grass. Lucy’s heaven is a stall in the barn full of laughing kids, all clambering over her as she lies there chewing her cud.

This post also appeared as a column in the Dairy Star.

Other columns about Lucy include:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Did Temple Grandin just say that? [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

A recent interview in The Washington Post with the renowned animal welfare specialist leaves many in dairy circles with unanswered questions.

With all due respect to Temple Grandin, and the research she has done to improve the lives of farm animals, her quotes in a recent popular media report left me questioning her intentions.

Titled "Why a top animal science expert is worried about the milk industry," the report ran last Thursday in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

According to the report, the main beef (pun intended) Grandin has with the dairy industry right now is that we’re using selective breeding to create hyperproductive dairy cows, with little regard for cows’ well-being.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the story yet, I understand. Maybe, like me, you’d rather be out caring for your cows instead of addressing inaccurate reporting. Here’s the quote that really made me wonder:

"I call them the bad dairies," Grandin said. "They make up most of the farms in the United States, and their cows are so wrecked by the time they stop milking they can barely be used for beef."

Grandin defines “bad dairies” as the ones that use selective breeding to increase cow size and milk production, at the expense of cow health.

My first thought was, “Really? Did she just say that?” No dairy farm I know, mine included, is in the business of wrecking cows. On the contrary, we put all of our time and energy into creating the best life possible for our cows.

Then, I was left with several questions.

[Read the rest here – in the HD Notebook at Hoard's Dairyman.]

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Acting glitchy? Time to reboot [Dairy Star Column]

I use my smartphone a lot. I use it to take pictures, manage social media, check the weather, monitor school happenings, and keep in touch with family and friends. My phone is on 24/7.

Every once it a while, my phone starts to act a little glitchy. The keyboard doesn’t slide up like it’s supposed to, a text message won’t send, or an app won’t open.

The first time my phone acted up, I got a little worried. But then I realized that all I need to do is shut my phone off for a little while. When I turn it back on, everything works the way it’s supposed to.

Dairy farmers are a lot like smartphones. We’re smart. We’re incredibly capable of performing multiple tasks at the same time. The variety of work we can do is astounding: from veterinary care to machinery maintenance to financial planning to growing crops. Most of us are on call 24/7.

And, every once in a while, we start to act a little glitchy. We forget things, we make mistakes, or we get grouchy.

Many of us operate in this glitch-y state for so long without rebooting that we begin to think this behavior is normal.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy to reboot a dairy farmer as it is to reboot a cell phone. But it is possible. Often, it doesn’t require shutting down as much as it requires reconnecting with others, although time away from the farm does help.

We rebooted ourselves last week with a short trip to the Central Plains Dairy Expo...

[Read the rest of the column here.]

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reframing...dairy farmer style [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

We can change our attitudes by changing our thoughts.

Without a doubt, I am an optimistic person. My glass isn’t just half-full — it’s overflowing.

I think dairy farmers, in general, are optimistic people. A positive outlook is almost a necessity for this way of life. As the famous quote from Brian Brett so eloquently states: “Farming is a profession of hope.”

But there are times when our optimism is tested.

For me, February and March are the months when my smile turns upside down.

For several reasons, we schedule breeding so that none of our cows calve in December and January. That means over a third of our herd freshens in February and March. This flood of fresh cows and newborn calves overwhelms our system, including both facilities and labor.

My husband and I provide 95 percent of the labor on our farm, which keeps us working overtime in normal months. During February and March, we work double overtime.

Compounding the situation is the fact that nothing else in my life slows down when calving picks up. I still need to be a wife and a mom. I still have responsibilities as an advocate and volunteer.

The combination of the workload and the sleep deprivation put me in a state of mind that generates some downright ugly thoughts about my decision to choose dairy farming for my life’s work.

But this year, I tried something new when I felt the negativity start creeping in.

I tried reframing my thoughts.

[Read the rest of Reframing...dairy farmer style here.]

Monday, April 11, 2016

Connecting matters, encouragement matters [Dairy Star Column]

When I first agreed to serve in a leadership role for Dairy Girl Network, I don’t think I fully understood the impact this role would have on my life.

In its infancy, Dairy Girl Network was a way to help women in dairy get together for conversation and camaraderie. In the few short years since, Dairy Girl Network has become so much more. This is evident in our mission: The Dairy Girl Network supports all women in dairy by enhancing lives and creating opportunity.

My friend Sarah and I set out to create an opportunity for the dairywomen in our area. The result was a luncheon with two great speakers and lots of time for conversation. At the end of the event, we asked each woman there to share one thing they would remember from the presentations. This is I’ve been reflecting on since the event:

Our first speaker, Paula, shared a lot of wisdom about stress management. One piece of advice she shared about coping with stress was the importance of connecting with other people. I found myself wondering, is this why Dairy Girl Network has grown so quickly? Are we deficient in connecting time? I think the answer is yes. Our lives are out of balance and that balance it tipped heavily towards taking care of everything else but ourselves.

Paula went on to share that connecting time is one of seven essential activities we need for optimal brain health. This concept of essential activities is part of The Healthy Mind Platter.

*          *          *          *          *

Our second speaker, Sherry, shared a number of great messages, but the one that resonated with me was: Encouragement matters.

“Instruction does much, but encouragement everything.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As I interpreted it, we need to support our fellow women but also remember how important it is to provide encouragement for spouses, children, and friends, regardless of gender. We also need to recognize and appreciate those who have encouraged us. This idea was reinforced later that evening.

After the Dairy Girl Network event on Friday, we went to Dan’s first swim meet. Our whole family went, which meant asking our relief milker to come so we could be there for the 6:30 p.m. start.

I knew Dan needed our support at the meet. In the weeks leading up to Friday, Dan had asked multiple times, “Are you going to be there? Is Dad going to be there?”

[Read the rest of Connecting matters, encouragement matters here.]