When a Cow has a Baby: Part 1

You haven’t heard from me in awhile and are probably like, “MDFC, what’s the deal?”.  Here is the deal.  I have been working with someone to update the look and accessibility of my blog.  I was hoping to debut this post with my new look, but we hit a snag.  So, while we wait enjoy this post.

It is fairly well known that dairy farmers wear many hats.  They have a lot of tasks to tackle on a daily basis.  They have to be nutritionists, milkers, quaility control specialists, mechanics…the list goes on and on.  I do various things here at our family dairy farm, but my primary duty is to care for the cows that have just given birth and their newborn babies.

I know, it’s pretty cool.

So if we want to put a fancy title on this- because I like fancy names that make me sound really important-I guess you could say I am a dairy neonatal nurse.

I spend most of my time in what we call the “hospital barn”.  This barn includes two large pens that house the cows that are about to give birth and just gave birth.  It is important to the cows’ health that we keep a close eye on them for 2 weeks prior to calving and 2 weeks after calving.

This barn also includes several, smaller pens that are bedded with shavings and provide privacy for the cows in labor.  I keep a close eye on the momma-to-be and will assist her with the birth if needed.

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Once the calf has made its entrance into the world, I immediately step in.   I want to make sure the calf’s airway is clear of mucus and that he/she is breathing normally.  I then step back and wait to see if the mother will lick and dry the calf.

Most cows will begin to lick the calf due to the increased levels of hormones in their body and maternal instinct, but there are some cows who just don’t give a hoot about the baby.

They would rather just eat.

When this happens, I go back into the pen with the baby and mother and dry the calf off with a towel. It can be a wet, ooey-gooey job, but someone has got to do it.  I hear mucus is good for your skin…okay so that is just what I tell myself.

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Ya, you just go over and chow down, Bessie.  I got this.

My next task is to make sure the calf receives colostrum.  Colostrum is the mother’s first milking and provides the antibodies the calf needs to survive.  To ensure quality and consistency, we use a colostrum replacement.  It is important that the calf receives the colostrum within the first two hours of its life.

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Calves have a natural instinct to suckle and normally take to the bottle quickly.  It always amazes me how they just know to do that.

The momma is usually standing nearby as I feed the calf.  She may decide to eat or continue to lick the calf.  Occasionally, I find myself being licked.  Thanks, Bessie.

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After the calf is fed, I vaccinate her and dip her navel with iodine.  The iodine will protect the navel and dry out the umbilical cord so that it falls off naturally.  At this time, the calf also receives an eartag with an identification number.  This number will be entered into our computer system and help us track every event that this calf has throughout her life!

Now, we are not quite done with momma and baby.  There is still more work to do!  I hope you will stay tuned for When A Cow has a Baby: Part 2!

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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……

A Wild Morning

Most of my mornings can be summed up with the words “coffee” and “cow pies”, but this morning was something else.  A wild morning, if you will. While some days can be tough, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Here is a little glimpse into my life as a farm chick:

5:15- Alarm goes off, I immediately hit snooze. Pretty typical.  I never use to be a snooze button person; I blame my husband for this habit.

5:23-Alarm goes off, I actually get out of bed.

5:24-Walk like a zombie to the coffee. Drink it.

5:27-Open the fridge and find nothing to eat, damn.

5:28-Open the pantry and find nothing to eat, damn.

5:29: Decide I will just drink coffee for breakfast and eat double at lunch. I like lunch food better anyway.

5:30-Try and tame my hair that is a wild mess from going to sleep with a wet head.

5:40-Decide it’s pointless and just get dressed. #Can’tTameThisMane

6:00-Arrive at the farm and am greeted by my dog who is only being cute because he is hungry and wants to be fed.

6:05-Discover that we have a cow that fell down while giving birth and cannot get back up. I jump in the skidsteer and help my husband maneuver the cow into the bucket of the skidsteer. We move her onto a patch of grass and give her plenty of fluids, feed and TLC. We hope she will get up on her own soon.

  
6:20- I bring fresh feed to the hospital barn and make my husband shovel it all into the manger.

6:30- Head out to the calf hutches to paste the three newest calves. They had just eaten breakfast, so they didn’t squirm much. It was an easy job today. You can read more about how and why we dehorn calves here.

6:40- Walk to the back row of hutches to help my mother-in-law finish bedding calves. Realize I lucked out because she only has four left. Yahtzee.

7:00- Move a newborn bull calf out of the calving pen and into a pen of his own.  He is a big son of a gun, but its nothing these pipes of mine can’t handle.

7:10- Make the list of cows that will recieve rBST today. Yup, we use rBST. You can read more about that here.

7:17- Grab the list of cows that need to be dried up today and track down my husband.

7:20-Find my husband. He is drenching a fresh cow (cow that recently gave birth) with fluids and isn’t ready to sort cows yet, so I begin turning on all the fans in the barn.  Feels like its going to be a hot one today.

7:25-Notice I am being followed by a heifer in heat. I try to lose her, but she’s too quick. She licks my pants while I’m turning on fans and rips a bigger hole in my jeans. I take out my phone and snapchat this ordeal to my friends.

  
7:30-My husband and I sort out the cows that need to dried off and take them to the milking parlor.

7:46-Realize the cows we just sorted are running around outside because someone left the gate open. Are you kidding me?!

7:47- I start running after the cows with my husband, in-laws and other employees.

…30 seconds later….

Stop running and just begin walking really fast because I am out of shape and don’t run.

8:10-Finally get all the cows wrangled and back into the barn.

8:17-Get a little mad at my husband for something stupid.

8:18-I get over it because my husband is a cool dude and life is too short to stay mad.

8:20-We vaccinate and milk the dry cows one last time before sending them on “maternity leave” at the farm down the road. We will bring them back in 50-60 days when they are ready to calve.  What to know what to expect when your cow is expecting? Read this old post.

8:40- I throw on a little Miranda Lambert to calm my nerves and make a list of cows that will need to have their hooves trimmed tomorrow.

9:00-Help my husband sort a cow that needs to be bred.

9:10-Stroll on over to the calf hutches to vaccinate calves.

9:15-Get calf crap on my freshly washed jeans. Aaaargh!

  
9:30-Check on the down cow. She drank all her water and ate all her feed so I give her some more. This is a good sign and I’m feeling hopeful that she will be on her feet soon.

9:40- Enter my calf vaccinations into the computer and begin gagging because the calf crap on my pants is engulfing our small office with a rancid smell.

9:50-Realize I’m hungry ( which seems odd due to the gawd-awful smell radiating off of my jeans) I hope my hunger doesn’t turn into hanger (hunger+anger).

10:00 Call my sister to tell her how crazy this morning has been.

10:10- Do a walk through and see what is going on. Notice things seem to be slowing down. Cows seem happy, calving pens are clean, cows are being milked, dogs are basking in the sun. 

Life is good.

The rest of my day was a little less crazy, but still fairly interesting.  That’s a story for another day.

 How was your day?  Do you prefer the slow days or the busy days?  If you are anything like me you long for the busy days when you are bored and wish it was a slow day when you are running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

🙂

Five Fast Facts About Milk

I recently posted about this subject on my facebook page and thought it would be a good idea to put it in blog form and share this info with you all.  

Have you seen the recent ads for Dairy Pure? With their five-point purity promise, It sounds like their milk is the best of the best! You’re probably slamming your fist on the table shouting, “To heck with this other milk I have been buying!  They don’t have a purity promise; I need a purity promise!”

  
 While Dairy Pure is super nutritious milk from super awesome dairy farmers, so is ALL milk.  Yup, that’s right…milk is milk.  Any kind, any brand.  There is no wrong choice in the dairy case!  So spend a little more of your hard earned moo-la (pun INtended) on milk with a label or don’t.  The choice is yours.

Here are Five Fast Facts about ALL milk:

  1. While some farmers may choose NOT to use artificial hormones to help direct nutrients to the udder and increase production, others do and it’s is perfectly safe for the animals and for you. You can learn more about how and why farmers (like me!) use rBST here.

  2. ALL milk is tested for antibiotics.  No farmer wants to produce an unsafe product for their family or yours, so they take antibiotics very seriously and only use them when necessary.  Farmers aren’t just throwing antibiotics around willy nilly, they work with their veternarian and pay close attention to withdrawl periods.  All milk and meat is tested for antibiotics and is disposed of if it tests positive.  Read more about Cows, Antibiotics and You. 

  3. ALL milk is highly regulated and tested for safety and quality. Whether it is on the dairy farm or at the creamery, milk is regularly tested.  Read more about how we test milk at our farm by reading this post.

  4. Dairy farmers know that in order to be profitable they need to raise happy, healthy cows. Part of this includes feeding the cows a nutritious diet. In fact, many dairy farmers work with a nutritionist to produce a quality diet for their animals! 
     

    Our girls enjoying some freshly mixed feed!

     
  5. ALL milk is shipped cold and fresh. If the milk wasn’t shipped cold, it would start to go bad…duh. FUN FACT: The milk you find in your grocery store was likely still in the cow less than 48 hours ago!  It is kind of crazy when you think about it, isn’t it?  Talk about farm fresh!

Now that you know ALL milk is safe, nutritious, fresh and from farmers who care, you can feel comfortable buying Dairy Pure milk or ANY brand you choose. 

CHEERS!

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!

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.