What is With All The Freakin’ Tires?

We have been preeeetty busy around here. We harvested our 4th crop of haylage the first week of September and soon after that we began corn silage harvest. Which is probably why you haven’t heard from me in awhile.

Well, that and my addiction to reality TV…I just cannot get enough of those housewives and the crazy things the say!

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If you cruise by our farm or just about any other dairy farm, you might notice big piles with white plastic and A LOT of tires. You are like, “What is with all the freakin’ tires?!”. Well, it is your lucky day because I’m going to tell you all about those dang tires!

On our farm, we grow and harvest hay and corn to feed our cattle. But it is not dry hay or shelled corn we are feeding the cattle, what we do is a little different.

I know….this isn’t a real exciting topic. Hay! Stay with me, I will try to add some corny jokes.

  • Haylage is produced by chopping hay at a high moisture level and sealing it air tight to allow fermentation to occur.
  • Corn silage is produced by chopping the entire stalk of corn and sealing it air tight to allow fermentation to occur.

The harvest process is pretty similar for both haylage and corn silage. Both plants are chopped and blown into dump-like trucks or wagons and then transported to the farm’s feed storage area. It takes quite a few trucks to keep up with the chopper, so there is usually a bit more traffic around our farm during harvest.

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During corn silage harvest, it is important to watch out for “stalkers”.

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I promised you corny jokes, didn’t I?

When the feedstuff gets to the farm, the truck driver dumps the load in a pile and then returns to the field for the next load. We use three, large tractors to sculpt and pack the feed into a pretty, little pile.

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Actually, it’s not little at all. It ends up being a pretty BIG pile.

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It is important to pack the silage to prevent mold and spoilage.

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It is long, tedious work, but we want the best for Bessie, so we keep on packin’!

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Once we are all done and the pile is nicely packed, the plastic and tires come into play. We cover the finished pile with a sheet of white plastic with an oxygen barrier and then tires, side-by-side, on the entire surface. In the absence of oxygen, the feed ferments and mold growth is kept to a minimum. A tight seal is key to quality feed!

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Years past, dairy farmers stored their haylage and corn silage in upright silos (vertical storage). Now, a majority of dairy feed is stored in drive-over feed piles, bunker silos or plastic bags (horizontal storage). The learning curve of experience has taught us that in order to maintain feed quality during storage, we need weight (tires) on the entire plastic-covered surface of a feed pile.

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If you are ever looking for a good workout, come hang out with me when it is time to cover the pile. I’m basically a tire-throwin’ machine.

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A concern is that tires that hold water are a perfect breeding habitat for some species of mosquitoes. We manage our tires to eliminate water collection in the tires, thereby interrupting mosquito egg and larva development into adult mosquitoes.

All of our tires have a sidewall removed, so when we position them on a feed pile, they don’t hold water for mosquitoes to breed in. When the tires pulled off the piles at feeding, they are stacked open side wall down, to prevent them from holding water.

We finished covering the corn silage pile Tuesday evening and I am pretty jazzed that my tire throwin’ days are over for the year. It is always a good feeling when the job is complete and you can relax!

Drinks taste best when you are sweaty, dirty and attracting flies.

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Oh, wait.

What’s that? We are going to start making 5th crop haylage tomorrow?

Sigh.

Alright, let me go get my work gloves……

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10 Ways to Celebrate Dairy Month

“It is the most wonderful time of the year!”. June is Dairy month, do you know what that means? Time to celebrate cows, farmers, cheese and ALL things dairy related!  There are so many great ways to celebrate this month; here are a few! Most of these activities are kid-friendly; if you are looking for an adult version, just add booze.

  1. Host a game night featuring Dairy TriviaHere and here are some trivia questions.
  2. Visit a local dairy farm. If you live in a rural area or know a dairy farmer, pay them a visit!  I am sure they would love to show you around their farm and introduce you to a few cows. Be careful, they might put you to work! 😉

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3. Make fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. Here is a list of fun recipes.
4. Throw a Wine & Cheese PartyFollow the link for some great tips.
5. Attend a Dairy Breakfast on the Farm. Depending on where you are, you might have the opportunity to attend a dairy breakfast!  They are so much fun and great way to meet dairy farmers and their cows. Here is a list of Wisconsin dairy events going on this summer and here is a list of dairy events happening in the Midwest!

Photo by Cadillac News

Photo by Cadillac News

  1. Go out for ice cream or have an ice cream sundae bar at home.
  2. Try this yogurt smoothie recipe for breakfast or a snack.

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8. Go for a run or walk and then refuel with some chocolate milk.
9. Build your own pizza for dinner; Don’t forget the cheese!
10.Have a milk mustache contest and take silly pictures.

milkmoustacheThis oughta keep you busy, but if you are looking for even more activities, visit these pages:
National Agriculture in the Classroom
Dairy Doing More
Fuel Up to Play60

HAPPY JUNE DAIRY MONTH!

Three Myths About Food & Farming

More than ever, consumers have a growing interest in where their food comes from and how it is produced…which is great!  Folks should care about where their food originates from and it makes my job as a farmer so much more important. But, I don’t ever want consumers to feel “food shamed” or have fear when it comes to grocery shopping.  I always encourage people to seize the opportunity to visit a local farm and to get to know the farmers and their practices, but since that isn’t always possible, I blog. 🙂

I wanted to better understand my consumers and open up a conversation about food and farming.  With so many food buzzwords, Ag misconceptions and bad information on the internet, I think it is pretty common for consumers to have some concerns. So,  I sent out a questionnaire to a few of my non-Ag friends and did some creeping on social media to understand how consumers make their food purchasing decisions.  What I found led me to produce this list:

Three Common Myths About Food and Farming

Myth #1: Organic products are safer and more nutritious

The Truth: Organic products are just as safe and nutritious as conventionally grown products.

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When it comes to safety and nutrition, food is food. Organic is just another farming method, not a safety or quality term.  So what is the difference (besides price)? In my opinion, not much.  In fact, you might be surprised to learn that even organic farmers can use certified chemicals on their crops.   The chemical must be derived from a natural source rather than synthetic, but a chemical is a chemical.  There are different rules and regulations farmers must follow in order to be certified organic, but all farmers have the same goal.   Whether we choose to farm organically or conventionally, farmers are dedicated to producing safe, quality products and caring for the land. Here is an article written by an organic farmer that does a great job of defining organic practices.  Read this!

I support ALL farmers and understand that it takes all kinds of kinds to feed the world. I also understand that organic methods cannot yield the quantity needed to feed the growing population.  We cannot feed the world with just organic methods, nor can a majority of the population afford it!  It is all about consumer choice; no matter what your choice is or what you can afford, know it is safe.

Myth #2: Food with labels = greater quality.

The Truth: A label doesn’t mean diddly squat and for the most part, is nothing more than a marketing scheme.

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“Grass-fed”, “Natural”, “free-range”, “Country”, “Home-grown”, the list goes on and on.  You have seen these labels, perhaps you even base your purchasing choices around them.  Truth be told, with or without a label all food is equal and comes from farmers who care.  These labels are marketing tools that influence you to pay more for a product with a label compared to one without.  (Cough, Cough, Chipotle)  These feel-good buzzwords lead consumers to believe that the product comes from loving farmers who produce a greater product and implies that the label-less products are of poorer quality or come from “mean, factory farms”.   In reality, a packaging label tells consumers little to nothing about where the product originated from or how the animals were raised.

For example, the cows on my family farm are not grass-fed, but I know for a fact that they are provided with plenty of space, feed, shelter and care.  I also know that ALL milk and meat is antibiotic free, but labels lead you to believe otherwise.  Buy what makes you happy, but don’t pay more for a silly label.  If you truly want to know how your food was grown or raised, ask a farmer.

Myth #3: Smaller farms are family owned and provide better care compared to larger farms.

The Truth: 93% of farms are family owned and operated.

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I think there is a misconception that large farms are run by men in suits that pack their animals into a barn and treat them like a commodity.  They have so many animals, how could they possibly provide proper care for each, individual animal?!

As a farm girl who grew up on a 1,500 cow dairy farm and who currently works with her husband and in-laws to milk 500 cows,  I know that farmers love what they do and pay close attention to their animals.   Farmers may choose to grow their herd and their business, but they take the necessary steps to ensure that every animal and piece of land is provided with proper care and attention.  For many, this means incorporating more family members or hiring employees, using technology to help monitor animals and setting up strict protocols. When your livelihood depends on the health and happiness of an animal, you take it seriously and do everything possible to run a prosperous farm.

There are bad farms that are small, good farms that are big and vice versa.  Size has nothing to do with it.  Most farms, no matter their size, are run by farm families who care for their land, animals, and community.

Knowing that consumers have a growing interest in animal welfare, many farmers have been participating in the F.A.R.M. (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program.  It is a nationwide program that helps ensure consumers that farmers are using sustainable practices and treating animals with respect.

As a farmer, I want to thank you, the consumer, for caring.  Thank you for caring about the food you eat and the farmers who grow it.  Thank you for wanting to learn and grow with your farmer.  It is because of great consumers, like you, that keep me and my family in the business of doing what we love. 

Why I Farm

So often do we hear farmers say “Howdy, I am Farmer Brown from Wisconsin and we milk 125 cows and run 300 acres of land”.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  Farmers are really good at telling consumers what they do, but what we don’t commonly hear is why they do it.

Sure, it is always cool to learn how many cows your neighbor feeds and milks everyday or how many acres of corn he/she plans to harvest this fall, but wouldn’t you be more interested to know why they farm?  Wouldn’t you agree that it is easier to connect with someone when you understand their core values versus their business stats?  Farming is more than just numbers and trying to make a profit, it is a lifestyle.  Each farmer has their own set of reasons and values that drives them to work as hard as they do 365 day a year, and today I want to share my “why” with you. I will try not to get too sappy and sentimental on you

1. It is in my blood.

I was born into a dairy farming family and at a young age my sisters and I were on the farm feeding and caring for our family’s animals.

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I was lucky enough to work with and learn from, not only my parents and grandparents, but also my great-grandparents.  I was taught to be tough enough to take a kick in the leg from a rowdy heifer, but also to be gentle enough to care for newborn calf.  Strong enough to get through the bad days and how to find humor in them when you can.  I learned that a good night’s sleep comes after a hard day’s work and that to get respect, you have to give it.  It is the lessons that they taught me and the passion they showed me that made me want to carry on the family legacy of caring for the land and animals.  I farm because I want to make my family proud.

2. It is important.

People need to eat.  What I do everyday helps feed the world.

“My grandfather use to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher, but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” -Brenda Schoepp

I know that my job means something and that I can help families all over the country and world.  I think it is really cool that what I do, what I work so hard for everyday, ends up on a dinner table somewhere and brings families together.  By caring for dairy cattle and producing milk I am able to provide nutrition for thousands of families.  I farm because I want to help people.

3. It is what I love.

I love that my job allows me to be outdoors and work with family.  I love that I get to care for animals.  I love that I don’t have to sit in a cubicle all day and that I don’t have to wait until dinner time to see my husband.  I love seeing my calves grow into strong milk cows.  I love that my cows can’t talk back to me. I love watching our fields turn from dirt to green waves of corn.  I love that my job requires brains and physical labor.  I love that I don’t have to do my hair every morning (Even though, sometimes, I still do).  I love seeing the fruits of my labor.  I love that I will be able to pass our farm onto our future children.  I love that every day is different.  I farm because I love it.

Long story short, I farm because I believe in hard work, agriculture and providing families with safe, affordable dairy products. I believe in family, love and passion and my job encompasses all of these values.  Why do you do what you do?

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Milk Fever

Milk Fever.  No, it is not the intense craving you get for a glass of ice-cold milk or the belly ache you feel after competing in a milk drinking contest at the county fair.  Milk fever is a metabolic disorder caused by a low blood calcium level and is common among cows who are close to calving or recently gave birth.  We do our best to prevent the occurrence of milk fever, but occasionally it happens. In fact, it just happened yesterday.

Most  cases occur within one day of calving because milk and colostrum production drain calcium (and other substances) from the blood, and some cows are unable to replace the calcium quickly enough.  Other factors that put cows at risk for milk fever are:

  • Age. Heifers are rarely affected.  Older cows are at higher risk because they produce more milk and are less able to replace blood calcium.
  • Size. Fat cows have higher feed and calcium intakes putting them at risk.  That is why I always tell my pregnant cows to stay active while on maternity leave.  I have been thinking about offering cow yoga to the girls, but I doubt it will go over well.
  • Production. Cows that produce high yields of milk are likely to develop milk fever.
  • Dry Cow Management. The feeding management of dry cows in the 2 weeks before calving is very important, because it affects both the amount of calcium available to replace blood calcium and the efficiency with which the available calcium can be used.  We work closely with our nutritionist to formulate a specific ration to avoid milk fever.

We noticed 4054 was in labor and moved her into a calving pen.  Old 4054 was a textbook case of a cow with milk fever; she is an older cow in her 5th lactation, a bit overweight, and was a high yielding milk producer last lactation.  Like a said, a classic case.  On her way to the calving pen she fell down and wasn’t able to get back up, a common sign of milk fever.  Other signs include:

  • cold ears
  • low body temp
  • muscle tremors
  •  drowsiness.

Luckily this disorder is easily treatable and we were prepared.  My husband quickly began warming up a bottle of Calcium gluconate  and prepared to IV the down cow.  By administering calcium intravenously we were able to replace her blood calcium level and within minutes she was back on her feet.  Cows normally respond to the treatment very quickly.

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A couple of hours later 4054 gave birth to a healthy heifer calf and both are doing well today.  I am happy my husband and I were able to help this momma and  get her back to health.  Cows truly are domestic creatures and it makes me happy knowing we have a great herd of cattle that trust us to care for them and help them when they need it.

An Ode to Judy

Ugh.  Not a good start to my week.  Let’s start this story from the beginning…  This past weekend I went back to my hometown to visit family and help a good friend of mine pick out her wedding gown.  I was ecstatic early Saturday morning when I received a picture message from my husband informing me that my favorite cow, Judy, had gone into labor.  If you follow me on Facebook, you are likely very familiar with Judy.  She is truly a one of a kind cow and has real personality.  Judy was even Employee of the Month a time or two!

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Soon after the first picture message, I received another; Judy had given birth to a healthy baby girl!  Everything was going well and when my husband joined me at my grandma’s house for a belated Christmas celebration, he told me that Judy and baby seemed to be doing great.  I didn’t think much about it the rest of the weekend and was looking forward to Monday when I would get to meet the new calf and give ole’ Judy a pat on the butt.

Sadly, I never got to give Judy that pat on the butt.  It seems that after my husband left, Judy started to go downhill.  Post baby (or “post fresh” in the dairy world) is a critical time for dairy cows.  It is important that the new mothers are provided with the best comfort, care and nutrition.  We do our best, but sometimes cows fall ill and/or don’t make it.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but there are occasions when new mamas require critical care or have to be put down.  We aren’t exactly sure what was wrong with Judy, but she didn’t make it.  I found out when I arrived to the farm this morning and am heartbroken.  I know that it is part of the farm life, but it really sucks when it is one of your favorite animals.  My dad always said, “Where there is livestock, there is deadstock”.  Life happens; cows get sick, they get hurt, they get old, etc.  We do our best to make sure that our cattle live a long, happy and healthy life, but there isn’t a happy ending every time.

I’m really bummed that this happened to Judy and am sad I wasn’t around to help her or give her a scratch goodbye.

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There is a silver lining, Judy’s baby, whom I think I will name Janet, is doing great!  She has made a cozy home in a little hutch and is an awesome bottle drinker.  In a day or two we will begin to teach her how to drink from a pail and introduce her to grain.  I will be keeping a close eye on baby Janet and am hopeful that she has Judy’s quirky personality. Based upon this photo, I think she will be one sassy gal! Judy and Janet definitely look alike 🙂

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How to Respond When Your Farming Practices Are Attacked

I have been blogging and sharing stories from my farm life for a little over a year now.  I am a proud 5th generation dairy farmer and my goal is to share the truth about modern agriculture with dairy consumers.  With so many misconceptions about the dairy industry, I find it extremely important to show consumers exactly what goes on at a dairy farm.  Every decision a farmer makes is for the better of the farm and/or animals.  Raising food and fiber ethically and sustainably is not only our duty as farmers, but also ensures a better life for all.  Farming is our way of life, our livelihood and is absolutely a business.  Those of us in the agriculture industry understand this, but there are many who do not.  Most of my followers are perceptive and genuinely interested in what I have to share, but there are always a few who disagree or don’t fully understand each practice. Then, of course there are the activists. (sigh) Go ahead, just pour yourself a glass of alcohol now.

I had my first run-in with a few animal rights activists just last week.  I couldn’t believe how rude and disrespectful some people could be!  I was being called every nasty name in the book and told to “get a real job” (Is there any job more “real” than farming?).  Many of these commenters were immediately banned from my page.  Cyber bullying…ain’t nobody got time for that.  However, I didn’t want to ban everyone just because they had a difference in opinion.  So, if the person was polite I would engage in a conversation with them.

Getting your message across on such an emotional and passionate topic can be tricky, but here are a few tips that work for me.  I am no expert, but I hope you find these tips useful the next time you find yourself in a conversation with a disagreeing party.

1. Stay calm.

Getting fired up and chewing their head off is not going to solve anything.  If you want respect, you have to give it.  While it may be tempting to fire back after being accused of untruths, don’t.  Having passion and pride in what you do is great, but leave it out of the conversation.  Arguing (especially on the internet) never ends well for anyone.

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photo 1 (2)2.Understand where the person is coming from.

This person is entitled to his/her opinions and concerns.  It is up to you to understand and address the concerns.  Find common ground and ensure them that you aren’t so different from one another.  Maybe you are a mother or father, just like they are?  Perhaps a school board member of a soccer coach?  Find commonality.

3. Keep it simple.

You could go on and on about why your farm adopts certain practices, but too much detail can be confusing and stir up more questions and emotions.  An outsider who does not see what happens on a farm everyday may find your specific details difficult to understand.

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4. Know when to end it.

If things get out of hand, if name-calling begins, just stop.  Be open to those who have genuine questions and concerns, but know when to draw the line.   If you are having the conversation online, you have the ability to moderate the conversation.  It is your choice to ban and delete anyone or any comment that you deem inappropriate. Many activists don’t care what you have to share and are just using your page as a platform to spread their views.

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If your conversation is face-to-face, agree to disagree and politely excuse yourself.  It is a waste of your time to try to change the view of someone who is anti-whatever.  Remember who your audience is and who you are trying to convey your message to.  It is the folks who consume your product that you want to share with; put your time and energy in with them.

5. Don’t give up.

Agvocating and sharing your story can be frustrating and there WILL  be people who will make you want to pull your hair out.  Don’t give up.  I guarantee that for every negative response you get, there are ten more positive responses.  It can be easy to focus on the negative comments, but don’t forget about all the folks who appreciate what you do.  Most importantly, FARM ON!

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