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! ūüėČ

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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!

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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. ūüôā

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. 

#Milk Truth

Has your newsfeed been filled with #milktruth posts?¬† Maybe you have seen¬†something in the newspaper or on television. For some reason, milk has been under attack. Critics are saying don‚Äôt drink milk ‚Äď it‚Äôs unneeded, unnatural, and bad for you. That couldn‚Äôt be further from the truth. Dairy farmers and milk supporters everywhere are setting the record straight and sharing the truth about milk. Dairy farmers work hard, day and night, caring for their animals to make sure that a safe, nutritious product is delivered to your table. Get to know your farmers and ask them any questions you might have. Not everything you read about milk is true. Decades of nutrition research show how valuable milk is ‚Äď so don‚Äôt let skeptics lead you astray. Learn the truth about milk; visit the Milk Truth page and join the movement!

Wegnerlann Holsteins-3

MILK IS REAL, WHOLESOME AND LOCAL
Milk is one of the original local, farm-to-table foods. It’s a product from farm families that care about their cows.

 

What Do Dairy Farmers Do On Holidays?

There are no days off on the farm.¬† Cows don’t care if it is Christmas and that you have eggnog to drink; they still need to be fed, milked and cared for.¬† It may be business as usual at the farm, but we still make time to celebrate with family and friends.¬† The whole crew works together to get chores done and we all find time to eat, drink and be merry.¬† Each year is different, but here is how Christmas went down at the farm this year.

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Christmas Eve morning started with all hands on deck.  My father-in-law fed the cows as usual, my mother-in-law and her helper fed calves, and my husband and I cared for the hospital cows,  newborn calves and their mothers.  Meanwhile, other employees worked in shifts to get the cows milked and pens cleaned.

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Morning chores were soon complete and things settled down.¬† Slowly, but surely, everyone was able to take a break and prepare for Christmas celebrations.¬† My husband and I left around noon and headed to my mother’s house a couple of hours north.¬† The farm would be in the good hands of my in-laws and a few others while we were away.

Every year my mom throws a big Christmas party for nearby friends, family and neighbors.  My sisters and I do our best to help her plan and prepare.  This year we presented a pasta bar to our guests!  Using recipes from the Pioneer Woman, we offered a variety of noodles and three different sauces: Marinara with Beef, Vodka Sauce with Chicken and Alfredo Sauce with veggies.  Oh, and of course plenty of cheese!  Brushetta, garlic-cheesy bread and other yummy appetizers were also on the menu.

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While the food is always delish, what our guests really come for is the holiday cheer.  And by cheer I mean booze.  We usually whoop it up pretty good at the Christmas party.

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Christmas morning quickly came, presents were opened and my husband and I trucked on back to the farm.  Morning chores were taken care of by the time we arrived home, but there were pens to clean and new calves to care for, as well as evening chores.

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  My mother in-law and I fed the baby calves a Christmas dinner of warm milk!

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By evening, my husband and I were cleaned up and ready for a cup of cheer!¬† Around these parts, the Christmas beverage of choice is a Tom & Jerry.¬†It seems as though many folks¬†are not familiar with this drink and that the mix cannot be found everywhere, but if you ever see it…BUY IT!¬† The directions are right on the container and they are easy to make.¬† Can’t find the mix? Make your own!¬† Be warned, these suckers will catch up with you quick!¬† My husband and I spent Christmas evening together organizing our brand spankin’ new house!

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Christmas celebrations and farming continued through the weekend as my husband’s sisters and their families arrived to town.¬† Friday was lunch with grandma followed by an evening¬†with my husband’s family.¬† The entire crew worked to get things done quickly on Saturday so that we could open gifts and feast that night.¬† While there were a few snags along the way, we eventually all made it inside to see what Santa had brought.

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With one last Christmas/Packer celebration on Sunday, the Christmas week was complete!  While I enjoy the holidays and love seeing everyone, I am glad it is over.  Between moving into our new home, farming and celebrating, my husband and I stayed quite busy!  It will be nice to get back to the daily grind.

We are extremely thankful for all of our employees who help us care for the cows everyday and allow us to take time away from the farm.¬† If it wasn’t for the great team we have at our dairy farm, we wouldn’t be able to do all the things we love and enjoy.

Hope you all had a VERY Merry Christmas and made dairy part of your celebration

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If Your Belly is Full, Give Thanks.

These days it seems that just about everybody has an opinion on how their food should be grown and produced. Organic vs. Conventional, GMO vs. non-GMO. etc.¬† With so many food buzzwords, misconceptions and various opinions, debates tend to get heated.¬†I often wonder if folks would have less to say about the food on their plate¬†if their bellies weren’t so full.¬† I am not saying that you shouldn’t¬†care about how your food is grown or that you don’t have the right to choose.¬† I think it is extremely important¬†to understand¬†how your food is grown and visit farms whenever you have the opportunity!¬† But, can we be honest and say that some food requests get a little ridiculous?¬† “Excuse me,¬†I would like¬†the chicken parmesan, but only if the chicken¬†is free-range and organic.¬† I would like the noodles to be gluten-free and the cheese to come from cattle that haven’t been treated with hormones.¬† Oh, and could you tell me if the chicken was on an all vegetarian diet?”.¬† Seriously people, just eat the damn¬†chicken.¬†¬† If we offered the hungry children of Africa a meal of chicken and corn, do you think they¬†would care if the chicken¬†was free-range¬†or if the corn was derived from a¬†genetically modified seed?¬† Probably not.

 These sound like topics of luxury, discussed by a nation who pushes away from the table with a full belly.

– Ashwani Gujral, CEO of an Integrated poultry company in India.

Sure, it would be great if everyone could just grow their own food in whatever way they desire, but that is not reality.  Not everyone has the time, land or resources to grow their own corn or milk their own cow.  The reality is that the population is quickly growing and we have more and more mouths to feed each day.  In the U.S. alone, 15.8 million children live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.  Estimates indicate the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, including middle class growth of 3 billion.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts a 60-percent increase in demand for meat, milk and eggs by 2050.  More than ever, we need farmers.

How lucky are we to live in a country that not only has plenty of readily available foods, but also a variety of choices?!¬† You want a free-range turkey this year for your Thanksgiving feast, well by golly, get yourself one!¬† Need some fresh tomatoes in January?¬† Perhaps some strawberries for a Valentines Day dessert?¬† Not a problem here in the United States!¬†¬†It is awesome¬†that at any time of the year we have access to¬†a plethora of affordable foods, whether they are in season or not.¬† I hope you never stop caring about where your food comes from, but the next time you feel the urge to¬†bite a farmer’s head off¬†because he/she¬†chooses to utilize farming practices that you don’t quite understand or agree with, can you just¬†remember that your belly is full.¬† Full of foods that many don’t have access to or will ever be able to experience.¬† We may not all agree, but be respectful to each other.

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

-Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty

Know that farmers are doing their best to ethically produce a safe, quality product for your table   This year I am thankful for my full belly and my right to choose.

COWfessions: Stories From the Barnyard

Growing up on a dairy farm has taught me many things.  One of them being that funny, embarrassing things happen and the best thing you can do is laugh about it.  Life is too short not to laugh!  I asked my Facebook followers to share their crazy farm stories with me and now I share them with you.  Do you have a funny farm story? Please share it!

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“When we were still milking in our tie stall barn, my sister-in-law and a friend were over chatting with me when I was milking. I have a space between my front teeth. I went to say something at the same time the cow I was squatting next to hit me in the face with her tail and a dingleberry on her switch got stuck between my front teeth! Needless to say…I have a great immune system :-)”
-Kris, NY dairy farmer


As a kid, nothing was quite as funny as seeing my dad get kicked in the balls.”

  -Dirk, WI business owner


“I was feeding calves and pigs a few weeks ago and things were hectic, we were chopping corn and I was in a hurry to get back to scrape the barn and get the next group of cows for the milker. I was carrying a full bucket of milk for the pigs and tripped on a root. I fell, landed on my forehead and my wrist. Now I’m on my knees and laughing and crying. I have a very sensitive¬†vagus nerve and tend to get light-headed and nauseous when I get suddenly hurt so I was staying down till I got my bearings. My partner in crime looks back, not realizing I had hurt myself, and asks me (while holding back her laughter) if I was crying over the spilt milk or had I gotten hurt? We still break out laughing when retelling the story!”
-Corinne, NY dairy farmer


“We were out doing calf chores and I caught my daughter, Taylor, letting a calf lick her stomach. She was totally oblivious to the fact I took her picture because she had her shirt over her head.”

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-Macy, WI dairy farmer


“When I was a little kid, we had a bull named Lucky. ¬†I would be out in the woods and¬†Lucky would see me, take off running and bucking his head toward me.¬†He¬†would¬†stop right in front of me¬†and¬†want me to¬†scratch, rub, and play with his head.¬†¬†He did this to my dad once and later that day he was gone. I was sad and told dad he just wanted to play, we do it all the time. Lucky wasn’t so lucky after all.”
Chris, WI dairy farmer


“I was¬†feeding calves¬†at a small dairy¬†during college¬†and¬† was normally in and out¬†within two hours, so having to use the bathroom was never much of an issue. Well, one day I had to pee and I was not even¬†close to done with my chores. I didn’t feel comfortable going into their house to use the bathroom, so I ¬†decided to¬†pee in a pen, which I certainly had done before, except this time¬† one of their sons walked in the barn and kept calling for me to see if I needed help.¬† It was not easy getting my jeans and¬†¬†bibs up without him noticing… just a little awkward!!!!!”

-Angela, WI nurse


“My brother’s heifer would mount him whenever he bent over.¬† I am certain it was her way of hugging him back.”.
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-Jillian, WI dairy farmer

“I was training a heifer to lead for the show season.¬† She was a heifer that spooked easily, but didn’t cause me too many problems, up to this point.¬† I was leading her around the yard by a rope halter and everything was going fine.¬† I don’t recall what spooked her, but the heifer all of a sudden took off, running like a bat out of hell.¬† Well, you know the saying “Never let go of the rope”?¬† That is what I was trying to do…not let go of the rope!¬† So this heifer is running and I am keeping up¬†until she meets¬†the footbath that lays right¬†in front of¬†the¬†barn door.¬†The heifer suddenly stops, takes a flying leap over the footbath and jumps into the barn; meanwhile, I am still holding on to the rope! When she jumped,¬†I was¬†jerked¬† forward and I took a nose dive into the¬†FULL foot bath.¬† At that point, the heifer got away from me and was running around the barn.¬† I turn around (while still in the footbath, mind you) and my dad, who watched this whole thing, says “Well, go get up and get her!” ¬†And so I did!”
Ashley, WI dairy farmer

¬†“I was “cow sitting” for two wonderful fair heifers. Being a city girl turned ag student, I was fairly familiar with how to act around animals and what to expect. What I was not prepared for was a crazy jersey that came into heat during my care. I started piecing it together after hearing some awesome bellaring at night. However, the next day solidified it when I went out to feed them and the Jersey decided to mount me. Nothing says hands-on learning like being taken to the ground by a hormonal teenage heifer. Let’s just say it now makes a great story to tell my students about heat detection.”
-Kellie, WI teacher

¬†“I once witnessed my dad give mouth-to-mouth CPR to a dying calf. It lived.”
-Gena, MN student

¬†“As a nine-year-old 4-H’er, my grandpa had picked out a special calf from his herd for me to bring home to our farm. After chores that night, it was time for our very first leading lesson. It was going well until the calf took off, and I tripped. I did my best, holding on the the rope and remembering “NEVER LET GO!” That is, until the calf came to the bench in our front yard. She sailed over it, but I wasn’t so lucky.¬† Fortunately, it didn’t dampen my love of showing, even though that girl didn’t make it to the fair that year!”
-Heather, Iowa dairy farmer

“This was in the office at a dairy I worked at.¬† A¬†cow got out of a pen and managed to open the door of the office and the fridge. Never found out how good her DC-305 skills were as new employee!”
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-Wiebe, WI dairy farmer

“Forty-five¬†years ago we had a lot to the west of our barn¬†containing steers. As it sometimes happens, we had a sick steer out there that needed some attention. Well, Mom and I follow Dad, who is carrying a lasso out into the lot to where the steer was laying. We¬†wanted to¬†get¬†him into the barn to separate it from the others and to treat him.¬†We walk up to the steer and¬†he does not move. Dad slips the lasso around¬†his neck so we can lead it to the barn. Dad gives a little tug on the rope, the steer launches to his feet at about 15 or 20 mile an hour, Dad grabs hold of the rope. Dad becomes one of the fastest distance runners on record hanging on to this rope, attached to a steer which is now running at full speed.¬† After¬†the first lap, the steer and Dad pass Mom and I, who have now turned into spectators, “Grab the end of the rope!”¬†dad hollers. I am thinking, “Yeah, Right”. By the time Steer and Dad made the second lap around it was, “What the Hell you guys laughing at, grab the rope.” Mom and I were in hysterics watching this steer tow this large¬†man behind.¬† Suddenly the steer turns around and knocks Dad on his¬†back and proceeds to put a hoof just outside the four corners of the imaginary box that my Dad is now in and does this dance with his head down looking between its legs, mud and manure flying from all four, but never so much as touched my Dad.”
Oh, Dad let go of the rope….
Tregan, Nebraska beef farmer

When me and my brother(Ben) were young, every Saturday morning we would go down to our neighbor’s (Todd) dairy farm and do chores. Well, this Saturday wasn’t any ordinary one! Todd and I were waiting for the feed cart to fill and Ben was cleaning the mangers. ¬†Todd and I were standing there and all of a sudden he yelled, “Behind you!”. I ¬†turned around and saw a big rat crawling on the extension cords! I jumped out of the way as Todd whacked it with a broom! It fell down and ran through a crack in the wall! We ran around to the other side where Ben was sweeping the mangers. He asked, “what are you doing?”. We told him there’s a rat under the hay bale! As Ben grabbed a cat and Todd with a broom they told me to pull the bale away! I decided well why not! So I pulled half the bale away and jumped back! The rat started to run down the walk-way with Ben and Todd in hot pursuit! As the rat made a U-turn, Ben stopped and Todd collided with him! In all the mix up somehow Todd got in front of the rat as I turned to grab a shovel as a weapon! The rat ran at Todd and went up his leg inside his jeans. He started shaking his leg! With a big kick he got it out as it flew through the air and hit me right on my back pocket! As it held on for dear life I was jumping and shaking trying to get it off! Eventually it fell off ¬†and was hit with the broom! It felt like an hour long scenario, ¬†but was likely only a few seconds!
-Luke, WI student

Who’s Your Daddy: Artificial Insemination

Things are getting HOT today, we are talking about reproduction! (Cue sexy music). Okay, cool your jets; it is not as wild as you might think. In fact, on many dairy farms, reproduction in cattle doesn’t even involve a live male (bull). A majority of today’s dairy farmers artificially inseminate their cattle with specially selected semen that they purchase from a stud, a.k.a. a company that collects and sells semen.

Artificial Insemination is great for a number of reasons:

  1.  It eliminates the need to keep bulls, who tend to be mean and dangerous by nature, on the farm. I have heard and experienced horror stories involving bulls and am thankful that the stories I am familiar with did not have a fatal ending for any of my family members. 
  2.  It allows farmers to choose from a variety of bulls therefore, decreasing the chance of inbreeding. 
  3.  Farmers are able to control when the cow is bred and predict a due date.
  4.  Farmers are able to produce higher quality animals by choosing bulls that are known for specific traits such as milk production, size, longevity, feet & legs, calving ease, etc. Seriously, the list could go on and on. The amount of information that is available when choosing who to breed your cow to is amazing!

Every dairy farm is different and focuses on particular traits when choosing “who will be the daddy”. On our farm, we choose bulls with traits that will produce a cow that milks well, is of proper size to be comfortable in our facilities and lives a long, healthy life. Once per month, our semen salesmen pays us a visit and talks bulls with my husband. There are always new bulls to choose from¬† and we normally purchase semen from 12-14 different bulls.

The semen collected from the bulls is frozen and kept in a tank of liquid nitrogen until it is ready to be thawed and used. (How the semen is collected is a crazy story for another day, but if you just can’t wait, learn more here.)

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Virgin heifers are bred for the first time around 13 to 14 months of age, depending on their size and health, and older cows are eligible to be bred around 70 days in milk (or days since they have given birth). Now, you can’t just be throwing semen at cattle hoping they will get pregnant, you¬†have to be¬†certain that the cow is in good health and watch for a “heat”. Cows come into heat every 21-24 days and provide a short window of time to be bred and become pregnant, this is called the estrous cycle.

Signs a cow in heat include:
– mounting other cows
-mucus discharge
-swelling and reddening of the vulva
-bellowing, restlessness and trailing
-head raising, lip curling
-decreased feed intake and milk production

Cows in heat can be quite humorous and fun to watch:

 

Not only are we able to detect cows in heat visually, but we can also use pedometers to identify a cow that is ready to be bred.  All the cows on our farm wear a collar with a pedometer and it is part of an activity system. The pedometer monitors the cows’ activity and relays the information to our computer.  When a cow has increased activity a signal is sent to the computer and we take a look at the cow; it is likely that she is in heat and ready to be bred. In order to keep our herd growing and to remain profitable it is important to breed the cows via artificial insemination in a timely fashion; the activity system helps us do this.

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Sometimes, cows don’t show a good heat and can be tricky to get pregnant.¬† When this happens we have our vet check her out and usually give the cow a series of reproductive hormone shots that make her come into heat and increase her chances of becoming pregnant.¬† It is somewhat similar to fertility drugs in women.¬† The reproductive hormones given to the cattle are hormones that the cow produces naturally and will have no effect on you or¬†the dairy products you consume.¬† Many dairy farmers choose to keep a bull or two around to breed the cattle that are difficult to impregnate; nothin’ gets the job done¬†like the real deal.

Once we have detected a cow in heat, we unthaw the semen that has been specially selected for her and put on the long, plastic glove.  We palpate the cervix through the rectum and things tend to get messy (hence the glove).  After the cervix has been located, the straw of semen is inserted through the vagina and the semen is ejected.  We give ole Bessie a friendly slap on the rear, send her on her way and hope that we have a confirmed pregnancy in 32 days.

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 Find out how we preg check our cows and what to expect when your cow is expecting by reading here and here!