Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A wonderful whoops

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

Forget flowers and chocolates and jewelry. I got the best Valentine’s Day gift ever – even if it was by accident and it arrived a little early.

It all started nine months ago on May 10, 2016.

“Do you think maybe there were a few things going on that day?” Glen asked cheekily, looking back.

I don’t remember exactly what was on our to-do list that day, probably fieldwork and planting. But I do remember standing in the barn office with Glen, talking about the heifers that were caught in the headlocks for work that morning.

“Your Milking Shorthorn heifer needs to be preg checked,” Glen said.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

Most of our pregnancy checks are done via blood samples, so we simply needed to collect a vial of blood from Dallas to bring to the lab.

“And Wonder is in heat,” Glen said.

Wonder is a stylish Holstein heifer out of our W family. She carries a polled gene, so Glen selected a red-and-white polled bull for her first service, but she didn’t settle. Glen decided to try the same bull again for her second service.

Later that day, when Glen and I stopped to discuss the day’s progress, he made a confession.

“I made a mistake,” he said.

He went on to explain that when he pulled the thawed straw of semen out of the thaw unit, he double checked the straw before loading it into the gun. But the straw wasn’t the Holstein bull he had in mind – it was one of the Milking Shorthorn sires we had in the tank.

“I think I still had Milking Shorthorns on my mind after talking about Dallas,” Glen tried to explain.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

You’ve heard of distracted driving; well, this is what I’d call distracted breeding.

Instead of discarding the Milking Shorthorn straw and thawing a Holstein, Glen put the Milking Shorthorn in Wonder. I know some dairy farmers would have chalked it up as a loss and thawed another straw. I think it is proof of how much Glen really loves me – or he’s just that frugal.

Upon hearing his admission, I jumped for joy.

“Maybe she won’t settle,” Glen said, half hoping.

But Wonder did settle. And I jumped for joy again when we got the pregnancy report 30 days later.

We already had several roan calves out of the Milking Shorthorn bull that Glen accidentally thawed, so I knew there was a really good chance Wonder’s calf would be blue roan. The prospect almost made me cry.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

My last blue roan, Glory, passed away unexpectedly in April of 2015, leaving me heartbroken. She passed so quickly, I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. She was, undoubtedly, my favorite cow. For eight years, she was my reminder of and connection back to the beautiful blue roans I grew up with.

Glory: blue roan dairy cow

Some of Glory’s descendants are red roan, but I knew deep down she was my last blue roan.

We decided several years ago that we were done crossbreeding. The Jersey crosses would all be bred continuously to Jersey; the Milking Shorthorn crosses would all be bred to Milking Shorthorn. All Holsteins would be bred to Holstein – no new crosses. Without a Holstein x Milking Shorthorn mating, it would be next to impossible for another blue roan to be born on our farm.

But miracles do happen. Sometimes in the form of accidents.

“Please let it be a heifer!” I cheered every time I saw Wonder’s mating in our record system.

Then, Wonder showed up on the Heifers To Calve list with a due date of February 14, 2017 and my excitement tripled. It would be hard to top a Valentine’s Day blue roan heifer calf.

When Wonder started showing signs of calving early, my hopes intensified. An early calf was more likely to be a heifer.

All of my hoping and cheering paid off.

On February 2, Wonder delivered a beautiful little blue roan heifer calf.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

I was so ecstatic I could hardly sleep that night. I’m still excited. Wonder herself calved in looking just as stylish as she did as a heifer. This little blue roan calf could turn out to be pretty spectacular.

All because of a wonderful whoops.

P.S. After much discussion, my little blue beauty's name will be Whoops.

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Farming with the one you love

My husband, Glen, and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage later this year. For 12 of those 15 years, we have been dairy farming together.

We’ve learned a thing or two (or three) about taking care of our marriage while also taking care of our cows and crops.

1. Compromise

Every marriage requires blending two different sets of values. Couples who farm together often have to combine two different philosophies on farming, as well.

I take a lot of pride in the fact that, in many ways, our dairy farm represents the best of the very different dairy farming systems Glen and I grew up with.

This hybrid system required a lot of compromise. Compromise is often associated with accepting lower standards . . . for us, compromise meant accepting something different than what we were accustomed to.

I can remember sitting in the haymow, bawling my eyes out, the first winter day we kept the cows in the barn overnight. I was accustomed to housing cows outside, but that wasn’t an option on our new farm. We needed the cows’ body heat to keep the waterlines in the barn from freezing.

I didn’t need to be concerned, though. Glen had a lifetime of experience with housing cows inside. We used his experience to create the best environment possible for keeping our cows comfortable.

On the flip side, Glen had relatively little experience grazing dairy cattle before we started farming. Now, grazing is an integral part of our farming system.

2. Communication

I know this sounds cliché, but clear communication really is essential for married couples. Yet, it’s so easy to slip into subpar communication habits.

Part of the issue is that farming couples spend a lot of time together — far more than our married counterparts with nonfarming jobs. After awhile, we tend to assume our partner should automatically understand what we mean when we speak (or gesture), but we all know what happens when we assume.

Planning is another area where communication is essential. A quick conversation in the morning about the day’s plans can prevent a lot of issues.

We had a hiccup right after I upgraded from an old school phone to a smartphone. Not because I was spending more time with my phone than my hubby . . . that’s a real issue for some couples . . . but because I started using the calendar on my phone instead of the paper calendar in our kitchen. Glen said not being able to see the week’s activities . . . everything from the kids’ activities to my meetings . . . made him feel like he was out of the loop. Now I keep track of activities and events in both places.

3. Compassion

There are three little words that, when used appropriately, can make all the difference in a marriage.

The words aren’t “I love you.” They’re even easier to say than that.

When your partner gets kicked by a cow or a gate falls on their foot or they smash their thumb with a post maul, show a little compassion and ask, “Are you OK?”

Yes, it might be clear that they’re OK because they’re still standing, but save the tough love for somebody other than your spouse. “Are you OK?” sends the message that “I care about you and your well-being.”

Ninety-nine times out of 100, the incident victim will feel just fine physically within minutes, but a little compassion will leave them feeling loved for the rest of the day.

And nothing beats feeling loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This post originally appeared in the Hoard's Dairyman Notebook.