Thursday, June 30, 2016

#MilkSteps: All in a day's work

Q: How many steps does a dairy farmer take each day to put milk on your table?

A: Lots! That's the short answer. Keep reading for the long answer.

In honor of June Dairy Month, some of my dairy farmer friends and I used Fitbits and smartphones (and other devices) to track the steps we take each day while farming.

I found that I take about 20,000 steps each day. Glen tracked his steps for a couple days this month, too; he takes about 35,000 steps each day. I didn't keep track of how many steps Dan, Monika, and Daphne take each day, but some of their steps certainly contribute to finishing all of our chores.

Q: Where do all those steps come from?

A: There are lots of jobs that need to be done each day on a dairy farm to make sure that our cows and calves are well cared for – everything from milking the cows and feeding the calves to harvesting the crops that provide feed for the cows.

Here's a look at one day's work:

#MilkSteps:  measures or actions, especially
those of a series taken in order to
achieve the production of high quality milk

sunrise over the farm

5:37 a.m. Fetch the cows from pasture.

During the summer, our cows spend their days and nights out in the pasture. Some of them have internal alarm clocks that tell them to come to the barn when it's time for milking. Those without alarm clocks need to be brought in.

milking cows

6:17 a.m. Milk the cows.

It takes us 2½ hours, morning and night, to milk all of the cows. This morning we're milking 62 cows. It takes about 10 minutes to milk each cow, from the time we start cleaning her udder to when we detach the milking machine and apply a post-milking conditioning dip.

8:48 a.m. Still milking cows.

We're sampling each cow's milk this morning, so milking is taking a little longer. A meter is attached to each milking machine to measure how many pounds of milk each cow gives. A small sample of milk is taken from each meter to be tested in a laboratory for quality.

feeding calves

9:23 a.m. Feed the calves.

I carry bottles of milk out to the calves in hutches while Glen puts fresh wood shavings down in the group calf pens.

Most of our calves live in a big group pen with an automatic calf feeder, but we start them out in small group pens and individual hutches for a couple weeks before they move to the big group pen.

10:17 a.m. Clean up.

Dan and Monika are cleaning the walkway and stalls in the barn and putting fresh shavings down. Glen makes sure the washing system is cleaning all of the milking equipment. I clean the automatic calf feeder and tidy up the milk house.

Clean up gets done twice a day, every day. But today we have special guests coming to visit our farm and learn more about dairy farming, so we put down extra shavings and do a little extra sprucing up. We also left a couple cows in the barn for our guests to meet, since the rest of the herd has gone back out to pasture.

Clark on tractor

10:51 a.m. Share our farm.

Helping others learn more about dairy farming isn't something we "must" do, but sharing our farm is something I greatly enjoy. I believe strongly that the best way to learn about farming is to visit a farm and experience it in person. Today, my friend Becky, who visited our farm two years ago, brought her daughter-in-law and grandchildren out for a visit.

We showed them the cows, calves, kittens, and chickens. The kids got to pretend to drive the skid loader and tractor. Becky brought a lovely picnic lunch. Then my kids and Becky's grandkids ran around some more. I'm pretty sure Becky and Amanda had a quiet drive back to the Twin Cities.

swimming lessons

1:48 p.m. Swimming lessons.

Dan and Monika have swimming lessons every day this week. Their session starts at 2 p.m., so we raced to town. I try to balance letting my kids be farm kids for most of the summer, but also be involved in local youth programs. Dan is playing softball this summer and Monika is in a gymnastics class.

wrapping clover bales

4:36 p.m. Wrap bales.

We started baling and wrapping hay yesterday, but had an equipment breakdown. So we're trying to finish up today. The hay is baled slightly wet and wrapped so that it ferments. This allows us to preserve feed quality without drying the hay. Depending on the nutrient values that come back from the lab when we test the hay, these bales will be fed to either our milking cows or growing heifers.

Glen and a whole crew of family, friends, and neighbors are baling the hay and hauling the bales from the field to our yard where they're being wrapped and stacked.

5:24 p.m. Check for monarchs.

Our relief milker is milking the cows for us tonight, so I have some time to sneak out to a milkweed patch to check for monarch eggs and caterpillars. I found the first eggs last week and first caterpillars this week. This one is the biggest caterpillar I've seen yet this year, which makes me giddy with excitement.

At this time on a "normal" day – i.e. when we're not making hay and/or don't have our relief milker – Glen would be finishing up mixing feed for the cows and I would be fetching the cows from pasture for evening milking. But today, Glen is still hauling bales and I'm using this time to catch up with emails and work on my blog.

7:40 p.m. Leftovers for supper.

Becky kindly left the extras from our picnic lunch, so the kids and I are noshing on leftovers for supper. Woo hoo! I love to cook, but leftovers make my life a lot easier.

9:36 p.m. Feed calves.

I go back outside to feed the bottle calves their milk and put grain down for the rest of the calves. Glen just finished hauling bales and took off to go get the tractor and mower from the implement dealer where the mower was getting fixed.

mixing feed for the cows

10:52 p.m. Mix feed for the cows.

In addition to their summer pasture, we feed our cows a mixture of corn silage, fermented hay, and a vitamin/mineral/protein mix to balance out their diet. Together with comfortable housing, good nutrition is the foundation for content, healthy cows and high quality milk.

The cows are having a late supper tonight. Since it's so late, I help Glen load the ingredients into the mixer and then unload the feed into the feed bunks. The cows know when it's feeding time, so they come back in from pasture for their late night meal.

11:57 p.m. Hit the sack.

We're calling it a day. The cows are milked and fed. The calves are clean and their bellies are full. We wrapped a boatload of bales, but still have more to wrap tomorrow.

#MilkSteps: the movement of putting one leg
in front of another in dairy farming

After keeping track of my steps for a month, one thing is certain: No two days of dairy farming are the same.

There are outside jobs that "must" be done each day: milking, feeding, and cleaning. My day also requires some non-farming jobs, like preparing meals and chauffeuring kids. For me, those days require about 20,000 steps.

But there are days when I spend more time in the car, in the bleachers, or in front of the computer and, obviously, take fewer steps.

Average Day

#milksteps sick day
Sick Day
I even had a couple sick days this month – one of which literally left me in bed for most of the day.

And then there are days when I work outside all day. Usually those are the days I clean calf pens (which, interestingly, Fitbit thinks is a sport) or move calves. Those are the days we eat cold sandwiches for supper because there's no down time for meal prep.

Glen works outside all day, every day. That's why he takes almost twice as many steps as I do.

But even working outside all day results in vastly different step counts. Spending a couple hours in the skid loader unloading hay tallies up far fewer steps than a couple hours checking fences or spraying thistles.

#milksteps work all day
Work Outside All Day

calf pen sport
Cleaning calf pens and washing walls.
If I crunch the numbers a little, figuring that our kids contribute 5,000 steps between them, it takes about 60,000 human steps each day to care for our cows and calves.

That's a lot of steps.

Just like no two days are the same for dairy farmers, no two dairy farms are the same. Check out what the #MilkSteps are like on these dairy farms:

[Learn more about dairy farming by visiting these dairy blogs.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Lego and Legend [Dairy Star Column]

Sometimes we find the happy endings – and new beginnings – where we least expect them.
Dan with Maven at the Central Minnesota Dairy Day Youth Show

I had hoped that working with this year’s fair calves – Maven and Obsidian – would help take Dan’s mind off of losing Lego. But we were standing outside the ring at last Friday’s Central Minnesota Dairy Day Youth Show and Dan spotted a calf who’s eartag had the name “Lucy” on it. He pointed to it, with tears filling his eyes, and said, “That makes me miss Lucy.”

I told him I understood and gave him a hug. He put his smile back on and led Maven into the ring. Obsidian didn’t go to this show because she’s still ridiculously stubborn on the halter. Dan’s hoping she’ll come around in time for the county fair.

Dan with Legend, the registered Holstein winter calf that he won

After the youth show, Dan has another reason to hope.

His name was drawn from all exhibitors for the grand prize: a registered Holstein winter calf. For the past six years, the Stearns County Holstein Club has purchased a registered Holstein calf to give away at the youth show. This year’s calf was purchased at the Damhof Dairy dispersal in April.

After Dan’s name was called, it took a second for him to understand. Then he ran to the calf. You’ve never seen a smile so big on a boy’s face.

By the time I caught up with my camera, he was already asking questions.

“What’s her name, Mom? Can I give her an ‘L’ name?” Dan asked.

In that moment I realized what winning this calf meant to Dan and it was my turn for tear filled eyes. This calf was new hope for his broken heart. The start of his very own cow family.

Dan named his calf Legend to honor the memories of Lucy and Lego. I’m hoping with him that Legend will become her name. That she will be the beginning of a lifelong story that started with winning a calf at a show.

Hats off to the Stearns County Holstein Club and the supporters of the Central Minnesota Dairy Day Youth Show for an excellent show and for giving one boy a reason to hope.

Sometimes we find the happy endings – and new beginnings – where we least expect them.

For the whole story, read my last column in the Dairy Star.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chick rescue [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

Animals teach kids important lessons about responsibility and respect for life.

As caretakers of animals . . . whether farm animals or companion animals . . . we often face tough decisions. When an animal is ill or injured, it’s our great responsibility to decide if we should do what we can to save it or if we should end its life humanely.

When kids are involved in caring for and rescuing animals, they learn important lessons about life and death. They learn to accept responsibility and respect life.

A couple winters ago, one of our farm kittens got wet and was found perilously close to death. I submerged her in a small pail of warm water to bring her body temperature back up. When she started mewing and moving again, I turned her care over to my kids. I gave them a blow dryer and told them that the kitten needed be fluffy and dry again if we were going to save her. Long story short . . . that farm kitten is now our house cat.

Last week, Dan found a baby chick nearly dead. This was a free-range chick hatched out by one of our hens. The chickens always drink milk from the dish we set out for the cats. Dan found the baby chick lying next to the milk dish, saturated in milk. And even though it was a warm day, the chick was seriously chilled without its downy insulation.

Dan said we should try to save it, so I held the chick in the same small pail of warm water. Before long, the chick was kicking its legs and chirping. So I gave Dan the blow dryer. This time he didn’t need any directions; he knew what to do.

[Read the rest of this post in the Hoard's Dairyman HD Notebook.]

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One way in [Dairy Star Column]

Every dairy farm family is familiar with the duality of our way of life. We all have good clothes and barn clothes. We have good boots and barn boots.

Glen and I have good eyeglasses that we wear to town and old eyeglasses that we wear to the barn. Like many dairy farmers, Glen has a good truck and a farm truck.

Many dairy farm families even have separate entryways into their houses: one entryway for going in and out with barn clothes and barn boots on; one entryway to use when coming and going from town.

We had separate entrances in the house I grew up in. The barnroom, as we called it, was a way in and out without messing up the front entryway, but it was also a place to store our barn clothes and barn boots.

I didn't realize how nice it was to have two entryways until I moved here. We do not have separate entrances into our house. There's only one way in.

We keep our barn clothes and barn boots in the basement. To get to the basement, we have to walk through the entryway - the same entryway where we store our good shoes and good coats. The same entryway guests use when they visit.

We have both a boot scraper and a boot brush at the end of the sidewalk that leads up to our house. I know for a fact that the kids seldom use them.

I swear that I'm constantly reminding the kids to wash their boots before coming to the house - or, better yet, take them off outside. My words seem to go in one ear and out the other.

I even made it the kids' job to clean the entryway floor, thinking it would help them understand how much of a mess dirty boots can make. I'm sure they'll understand someday, but right now there's still a pair of dirty boots sitting in the entryway.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm glad my kids have dirty boots. Because it means they're learning the good life lessons that farm chores teach young people. And it means they're outside playing and exploring, growing in the fresh air and sunshine.

[Read the rest of this Dairy Star column here.]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Working smarter, not harder [Hoard's Dairyman Post]

Custom hire is a smart business decision for our farm.

While my husband and I milked our cows last night, a swather zipped through our fields, mowing down our first crop of alfalfa, along with the triticale and rye we planted as cover crops.

Swathing is one of the many jobs we hire others to do for us. We are lucky to have several dairy farms in our neighborhood that regularly do custom work for other farms. Our list of custom hire jobs also includes merging and chopping haylage; raking, baling, and wrapping baleage; baling dry hay; planting and chopping corn.

There are several reasons why custom hire is a smart business decision for our farm...

*     *     *     *     *

In addition to cropping and harvesting, we hire custom operators to empty our manure lagoon each year. This spring, we also hired a crew to haul the bedding pack manure from our dry cow and heifer yards.

[Read the rest of this post in the Hoard's Dairyman HD Notebook.]