Got Jersey? We Got Three!

Growing up around my grandparents house, there was one slogan that guided our entire childhood.

Got Milk? 

Milk Mustaches were the cool thing, because it meant that you got milk. It also meant we were that family that bought six to seven gallons per week at the grocery store, because we told Mom that we couldn’t drink anything else.

Now once again we are finding that we are that family, but for a slightly different slogan.

Got Jersey? 

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This weekend we went out and expanded our herd once more (If you think about it, we almost doubled our herd). We bought three Jersey springers that are due to calve within the next month.

When we got to the farm we were placed in the dry cow/heifer pen and given a list of seven or eight to choose from. Knowing that all came from good genetics, we chose the three that were due to calve the soonest. Since they aren’t due for a couple weeks, they will also have time to adjust to their new home. IMG_0393

So instead of worrying about milk mustaches and gallons of milk (which still are priorities), we are adjusting to the life of being Jersey dairy farmers.

The gates get tied double just in case one of our curious creatures decides to let herself out with her tongue and we are preparing to be annoyed by their friendliness rather than unsociability.

Meet the cows that have made their way into our heart and our herd.

Ethel:

This beauty is the oldest of the bunch and is due to calve February 27.

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Frieda:

This gorgeous animal turns two on Wednesday and is due to calve sometime around February 17. IMG_0415

George:

This wild thing is the soonest one to calve. We are expecting her little one to arrive around February 11, just in time for Valentines Day.

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We have three calves on the way and three animals headed towards being milking members of our herd.

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Keep on the lookout for lots of cute pictures and stories about these three in the weeks to come.

Real Dairies, Real Farmers, Real Stories

This week has served as a reminder for me how important educating about and advocating for the dairy industry is. The dairy industry is a vital thread to many families and communities throughout the country. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products line the grocery store aisles and these same products are jammed into the refrigerators of families. Many of the individuals who consume these products won’t ever step onto a dairy farm. This blog and blogs like it serve to be a bridge between your homes and our farms. 

This reminder has come to me in two ways this week. 

First Reminder: My best friend of over 16 years made the long trek up to our house this weekend. It was our weekend to work. So, the minute my friend, Lauren, walked into our house, I began layering her with warm clothes in hopes that she would stay warm on the farm in the sub degree temperatures.

The weekend was a whirlwind of afternoon milking, late-night chats, early morning breakfasts and milking, and a chance for her to step into the world of dairy (if only for less than 24 hours). Lauren had never been on a dairy farm before and had quite a few questions about what Brett and I do. It was so rewarding to explain this important part of my life to a friend who is so dear to me.

It reminded me of what I hope that this blog accomplishes: A door into a otherwise unknown lifestyle. 12494747_10156437453290268_437531615555001169_n.jpg

Second Reminder: Blogging has allowed me to connect to so many other people who are trying to do the same thing as I am. Recently, I connected with another “accidental farmer/”, who blogs, through several friends of mine. Ally’s blog, The Speckled Goat, often features interviews from other farmers who blog. This week I have the honor to be featured in her blog

This experience was a reminder of journey I have walked to get to this place and a reminder of my desire to keep telling my story. I can tell you all the information and dairy facts that you could possibly want, but it is not until you know my story that it really matters to you.

Real dairies. Real Farmers. Real Stories. 

Countdown To The New Year

This year has been quite something. I simply can’t imagine what will come in the next year. Help us countdown the new year with this countdown through our 2015.

January: Brett started a new job driving truck (that was non-dairy related).

February: Life continued and we celebrated valentines day by enjoying some good ole’ Northwestern Theatre.

March: I got nothing so enjoy this little video!

April: We celebrated Brett’s birthday and he got the opportunity to go to the dairy challenge in New York (a side trip to the moon may or may not have happened).

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May: Brett graduates from college with a degree in animal science.

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June: We celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary!

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(and bought our first cow!)

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July: The month that we thought maybe we would move to Tyndall, SD in 2016.

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August: We went crazy doing everyone else’s chores while they were on vacation. This did include a weekend choring for a jersey dairy. What a blast!

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I also had my first last day of classes at Northwestern College.

September: Brett began his job at County Edge Dairy!

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October: We went cow shopping (again)! We bought Annabelle, Cocoa, and Daisy.

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November: Buttercup became part of our milking herd when she gave birth to bull #6232012.

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It was also a fun thanksgiving with the cows.

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December: We celebrated Christmas by buying ourselves a new house.

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It has been a busy year and we thank everyone who has been apart of our journey! I can guarantee it probably won’t get any calmer in 2016.

Follow us into the new year to see us featured in The Speckled Goat’s Feature Farm Series and to learn more about Calf management (Birth to Weaning)!

We have been so blessed! Here’s to 2016. 

Recipe Card: Dairy Style

When I was younger, I was the queen of puzzles. I would sit for hours trying to get each piece to perfectly fit in order to create a beautiful picture.

Dairy is the same sort of thing, really. Every piece has to fit together perfectly in order to great an effective operation. If you are feeling like there is something missing, there probably is.

First, you should know straight up: You are not going to know everything right away. It’s simply impossible. When you have questions, though, it’s important that you ask someone who can help you better your dairy farm.

One of the things Brett and I are learning about right now is actually one of most important topics in the dairy industry: nutrition.

What a cow puts into her body has a direct impact on her overall health and her milk production. Just like a human mother has to be careful what she puts into her body, a cow has to do similarly. This means you have to cut the Doritos and sugar out of your life in order to provide a healthier life for you and your baby.

If I asked you to guess what a cow ate, I would get answers varying from corn, silage, straw, and hay. It may seem like a simple answer to those who live and work on dairy farms, but it may not be that simple for those who have no connection with the dairy.

Why is nutrition important?  

If you eat or benefit from dairy products, it is important that you know where your food is coming from. After all, what a cow eats, directly impacts the quality of milk products that we get in the store. So this isn’t something that just dairy farmers should care or know about.

Below I have included a recipe card of the ingredients of what goes into feeding just one single cow. I have also included the importance of each ingredient. Each cow on a dairy is fed a diet that is specific to her needs. This specialized diet provides every nutrient needed to live a healthy life as a milk cow.

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Dairy Vocab: A place to learn more about the words you may not understand. Feel free to suggest words you want to know more about.

Premix: A mix of vitamins, minerals, soy bean meal, cotton seed, etc.

Alfalfa Hay: A forage (explain) crop

Silage: Corn that has been chopped and compacted into an airtight pile, without being dried.

Rumen mat: The thick mat of fiber on the top of the rumen that holds the recently consumed feed, especially portions of the food with high fiber content.

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The House in Town: Step Two to Becoming a Dairy Farmer

Buying a house in town is not the most obvious choice when one goes about becoming a dairy farmer. Believe me, it wasn’t our first choice either, but nine attempts later we found ourselves planted in the middle of town.Many people have asked how it is possible to be a dairy farmer and live in town. Does that mean that I keep my cows in my garage or that I have a barn next to my house? Nope.

This journey started a year and a half ago. We’d decided we were going to be dairy farmers. It didn’t matter what it took, because this is what we were going to do. I was convinced that if we were going to milk cows, (which is a 24/7 type of job) we were going to live by our families. I had spent all of my childhood wishing I had lived closer to my grandparents and I wasn’t going to do the same thing to our kids.

Attempt #1: We talked to almost everyone who milked within a 45 minute radius of where our parents lived, which wasn’t very many people since our parents down live around many dairies. One person we talked to didn’t have any kids interested in dairying and his wife was encouraging him to quit. After a while of talking, he decided that he wanted to keep the dairy just for awhile longer.

Attempt #2: We then began to talk with someone who was looking to retire and was willing to rent out his dairy to us. This was perfect. Or not. Half way through the paper work, this dairy farmer’s son came saying that he wanted the farm and didn’t want anyone renting it.

So on to Attempt #3: We then talked with three other people in the area who simply sent us to talk to one of the other people. They stated that they would love to help out a young farmer, but couldn’t rent out their empty facilities.

This was when we realized that we probably were not going to milk cows in the area we grew up. Attempt #4: We started to look on dairy realty  in hopes that we could find a dairy that we could afford, because obviously renting wasn’t going to work. We found one that would be perfect. Together, we put together our expense sheets and made all of the numbers balance. Then we put in our application for a FSA loan.Our loan officer told us that this dairy would never work, despite the fact that all of our numbers worked out. In the end, we were declined the loan and sent packing.

We were back to square one, with no plan of action. This is when we tried a lot of random attempts with no luck. Attempt #5: How about we move to Montana? There is someone there that has a dairy that they are willing to have us buy into. Then the realization that there are a lot of miles between Iowa and Wyoming and we would know no one.

Attempt #6: We met these guys from California that wanted to build a dairy in Iowa. We could manage it. Perfect. Except the fact that every place in the area that takes milk was all full. Therefore if you can’t get someone to take your milk, you can’t have a dairy.

Attempt #7: Someone we knew quit dairying. We should ask if we could rent their facilities. We did. They said no.

Attempt #8: My grandparents still live on their farm and that farm still has milking facilities. After looking through our finances, we realized that we couldn’t afford to buy the acreage, fix up the milking facilities, and still guarantee we would make a living.

Attempt #9: We go to the sale barn one night before the dairy sale and begin talking with someone we know that milks cows. During that conversation, he asks Brett if he wants a herdsmen job. He says that they offered him the job, but he couldn’t give up milking on his own quite yet. Brett calls the number and gets an interview. A week later he was offered the job as a herdsman for the 700 cow dairy. They told us that we would be able to have some of our own cows in the herd.

Brett started the job, but had a pretty large commute every day. We began looking to see if we could find acreages in the same area as the dairy. What we could find was at too high a price for a place that wouldn’t provide any sort of cash flow.

So, instead we found a house in town (there were only three options so it wasn’t too difficult) and have settled to pay off our house and save up for a future dairy of our own.12342376_10156311444475268_4381937698647263140_n

Conventional Vs. Organic Dairy Farming

There is a huge debate going on throughout the United States: Organic or Conventional This debate does not stop in the dairy industry. In fact it’s alive and well. In this debate, many have questions like: What is the difference? What are the benefits of each? Is organic farming better for the animal? Is organic milk better for consumption?

Before I go any further, I want to stop and state that I respect anyone who has chosen dairy farming as a lifestyle. This is commendable work and is necessary in order to feed our ever-growing nation. Dairy farming is hard work. It is a job that requires 24/7 attention, regardless of whether the farm is organic or conventional.

With that said upfront, let’s take a look first at organic dairy farming.

What does it take to be an organic dairy farm? According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), a dairy farm that produces and sells organic milk has the following requirements.

  • No Growth Hormones (for example rBST or rBGH) or antibiotics
  • Organic feed is defined as coming from land that has not been treated with prohibited fertilizers or pesticides, for at least 3 years.
  • The cow must eat a 100% organic diet

In contrast, what does it take to be a conventional dairy farm? Any dairy farm that does not meet the USDA standard for organic dairy farming is considered to be a conventional dairy farm. The definition is pretty vague and includes dairy farmers that fall all across a wide spectrum. The procedures and protocols vary for each conventional dairy farmer.

But just because procedures vary, that does NOT mean, as some people think, that conventional dairy farmers do not hate or mistreat their cows. Now I am sure there are dairy farmers organic and conventional alike that do not take care of their animals as they should, but the majority of dairy farmers do the work that they do because they love their animals.

I recently read a blog called Don’t Waste the Crumbs, written by who several years ago posted about this same topic, but with an organic lens. I found this to be interesting, because although I don’t agree with her in all areas, since I’m a conventional farmer; I very much respected her as a dairy farmer.

In her blog post, there was a section comparing the nutrition of organic milk with the nutrition of conventional milk. In this conversation, she compared conventional milk to that of, “a nursing mom (who) eats a diet of Doritos and soda and never for a moment leaves a chair to stretch her legs or exercise her lungs.” She, also, claimed that although it appears that organic and conventional milk have the same nutrients, conventional milk is actually, contaminated with hormones and antibiotics and who-knows-what-type-of-animal-parts.”

As I said, I can respect differing opinions, but it does no good to lie about the opposing side. So in the remainder of this post, I want to add a different perspective in regards to aspects of conventional nutrition: in particular I want to address the charge that conventional milk is “contaminated” with hormones, antibiotics, and animal parts.

Nutrition (for more information read this blog post): A cow’s diet is a vital part of every dairy farm, and a cow is given nutrients that best help her to function in whatever particular life stage she is in. Dairy farmers do not feed their cows the equivalent to junk food. A dairy cows health and nutrition is vital to the dairy functioning properly. There is no reason that a dairy farmer wouldn’t take this seriously and procure the best food possible for her herd.

Hormones: All milk has hormones in it. To say that Organic milk is special in this respect is misleading. It is not possible to have milk without any hormones. This is just part of the make-up of milk. 

Antibiotics: Most animals have to be treated when they are sick. This is true in the dairy industry, as well. It does not matter whether you are organic or conventional. We expect to be able to go to the doctor and get medicine when we are sick; this is the same when a cow gets sick. This means, in any dairy operation, that milk that has antibiotic residue is not saleable and therefore does not even enter the bulk tank. A cow’s health should not be compromised for the sake of an organic label.

It seems to me that often in the argument for organic farming there are misconceptions fostered about conventional dairy farming in order to argue a specific point. It is up to the specific individual what milk he or she chooses to drink, but in making your choice, and even in promoting your choice, do not misrepresent others in the dairy industry. Dairy farmers are constantly working to making life as comfortable as possible for their cows. It is their livelihood and the industry does not benefit from them harming their animals.

Purposely harming animals is not humane, and it’s not good business. Organic dairy farmers know this. And so do conventional dairy farmers.

Up Next: A day in the life of a cow

The Future of Dairy Begins with Calving (Part II)

Calving and heifer management is the future of dairy farming and the story of Buttercup and her calf is the future of my dairy.

The fact of the matter is that our milk cows will most likely not continue to be a part of our herd in 10 years. Just like people, cows get sick, retire, and die. In order to guarantee a future herd, we, as dairy farmers, must place high importance on our calves and heifers. Value must be placed on these life stages of a calf:

  • Birth to weaning (The items on this list will be linked to future blog posts)
  • Weaning to six months
  • Six months to breeding
  • Breeding to pre-fresh

For now, I want to focus on some of the important factors that go into taking care of a calf in the first couple days of life. These other life stages will be discussed in depth in future posts.

First though, it’s important to check the maternity pen throughout the day. Some cows will have more problems calving than others. That’s why it’s important to be aware when a cow begins to calve. For instance, one of the things you need to keep track of is whether you should pull a calf or not. In deciding this there are several things to consider. Here are some of the signs that tell a dairy farmer it’s time to intervene.

If the water sack has been visible for 2 hours and there has been no progress

  • If the cow has been trying for 30 minutes without progress
  • If the cow has quit trying for over 15 minutes
  • If cow or calf are showing signs of fatigue
  • If there is a possibility that the calf is in a abnormal position (ex. coming out backwards)

The other important thing to know in terms of the calving process is the importance of colostrum. This is vital to the life of the calf. Good colostrum, like I gave to buttercup’s calf, needs to have the right quality, the right quantity, and be given at the right time. That’s one of the reasons I sat with buttercup and her calf for that hour, so I’d be there to give the calf its colostrum.

But maybe you’re asking what exactly colostrum does. Well, good colostrum allows for several things:

  • Calves are born without any immunity. Colostrum provides this immunity.
  • As I indicated in my first post, colostrum ensures the calf gets the antibodies needed.
  • Colustrum must be given quickly after birth to allow the calves’ digestive tract to absorb these antibodies.
  • If the calf can get quality colostrum in the correct timing, the calf will have better disease resistance and will perform better once she is a mature cow.

All that to say, calving stories can be kind of cute, but newborn calving protocols are more than just a bunch of cute stories (the cuteness and the licking are just bonuses!). A dairy farmer must be on top of her game in order to provide the best care for the calves, starting on day one.

Dairy Vocab: A place to learn more about the words you may not understand. Feel free to suggest words you want to know more about. 

Maternity Pen: A place for cows that are two weeks or closer to calving. This allows the farmer to keep a better eye on them and insures the cows will calve in a comfortable setting.

Up next: Learn about organic versus conventional dairy farming.

 

The Future of Dairy Begins with Calving (Part I)

November 1, 2015: The beginning of something magical, though at the time there appeared to be nothing extraordinary about that Sunday morning. I rolled out of bed at 5:00 A.M. and pulled on some old sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt. My husband, Brett and I drove the 23.3 miles to the dairy and started our daily milking chores. When we got there I stopped and looked in our our cow, Buttercup.

We’d bought Buttercup as a bred heifer in June. And we were told she was about 3 months along at that time. Ever since then we’d been anticipating the day when she’d give birth and begin her milking career.

On this particular day, though, I noticed that there was fluid coming out of her vagina and she was making slow pushing movements. Which meant that today was finally the day! If I’d had the chance, I would’ve sat there all day, but since it was Sunday morning, I had to wash up and go to church (Buttercup didn’t need my help to calve. After all, it is a natural process and other people were around incase something went wrong).

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When we arrived back for afternoon chores, I could hardly keep myself from bouncing everywhere in excitement. I ran into the barn and found that Buttercup had given birth to a Red Angus bull calf.

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For about an hour, I sat in the corner with Buttercup and her calf–Buttercup alternating between licking the calf and me. (Buttercup took pretty good care of me, which was generous, considering I hadn’t given birth). About half way through that hour I went and got the warmed colostrum, this is milk given in the first milking of the cow, from the milking parlor and gave the bull his much-needed antibodies.

I don’t think that words can describe how cute these two were. Here is a video that I took of one of Buttercups first interactions with her calf.

Some people might be thinking this is the most adorable story ever, while others may think that it is a little corny, and still others may wonder why this story is so important.

If you’re one of those wondering why this story—and process—are important to dairy farming, I got a fact-filled follow-up post coming up next.

So stay tuned.

The Nuts and Bolts of the Dairy Industry

So I love cows and I love milk.

Despite this, there are quite a few people outside the dairy industry that look in and don’t understand or don’t approve of various practices. I believe that some of this disapproval stems from a lack of knowledge about and experience in the dairy industry.

My goal is to be able to advocate for and educate people about what a real-life dairy operation looks like.

There are quite a few people that are actively advocating for the dairy industry and have been very inspirational to my journey as a blogger.

Let me introduce you to several that I have found most interesting and informative.

Dairy Carrie was so well received as a blogger that she began to write a monthly column in Dairy Herd Management. Carrie has a great passion for cows and works on her 100-cow family dairy farm. She covers a variety of topics from cow comfort to stories about her own cows. This blog allows a place for me to dig deeper on different dairy topics. I am by no means an expert on dairy and it’s good to have places like this to consult with someone who has more experience

Cow Spots and Tales follows the journey of an average dairy wife. This blog specifically follows a cow named Henrietta. She is a calf that was born on the dairy. This allows the readers to follow the life of one particular cow, and get to know it in the same way a farmer might. This blog gives me a good picture of what it looks like to be able to inform non-dairy readers about the importance of dairy life, including thinking of the cows differently.

Dairy farming isn’t always easy and it isn’t always pretty. A Farm Girl’s Fight takes the perspective that the dairy industry should be honest with the public. Just because dairy life isn’t always pretty doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about. Life, in general, isn’t easy and dairy life is not an exception. This blog tries to tell the truth about dairy farming, spots and all.

Girlmeetsfarm is a blog that really hits home for me. This blog tells the story of a couple that grew up in the city, now they are dairy farmers. I often feel like I won’t make it as a dairy farmer, but reminders like this blog allow me to see that the journey is worth it, which helps me on my own journey with Brett.

Life on a real California dairy farm is written by a dairy farmer who has a passion for educating readers about where their food comes from. She believes that there often times, are disconnects between farms and dinner tables. By telling her life stories, she hopes that others will be better educated about how farms like hers are connected to the food they eat.

Sometimes it’s not just enough to hear about how dairies work, though. Wisconsin Dairy Farmer is a blog that allows the reader to connect with the dairy visually through pictures. Each picture comes with a description, but instead of experiencing the farm only through words, the reader is able to better visualize what it means to be a part of the dairy industry.

The online dairy farm conversation is driven by the passion of those who live this life and love it. There is a lot more too the conversation than what appears at the surface. Besides the resources above, I often use this list to find other blogs of interest. The dairy industry is ever changing and the conversation is ever growing.

Which is why I am all in as both dairy farmer and blogger: coveralls, boots, udder mint, and laptop.

Here we go!

Up next: The Future of Dairy Begins with Calving