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. 

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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 6.07.46 PM

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.

142097_ruminant_digestion

 

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 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

Wait… I’m a Dairy Farmer?

When I’d visit my grandparents’ farm as a child, I often wondered why my grandparents enjoyed waking up at four o’clock in the morning, why they always had to stop playing with me at three in the afternoon, and why supper at their house was always served after my normal bedtime.

My older brother always told me that when he grew up he wanted to be a dairy farmer, just like my grandparents. Whenever he’d mention this, I’d ask myself: Who would ever want to be a dairy farmer? But if this is what my older brother thought was his life calling, who was I to tell him otherwise?

Fast-forward fifteen years, and I am no longer the kid who couldn’t understand her grandparents or brother. Now, I consider myself to be a multi-generational dairy farmer, however untraditional it may be.

My great-grandparents passed on the milking tradition to my grandma. Together, my grandma and grandpa moved out to a dairy farm in South Dakota when my dad was in high school. When my dad was finished with college, he moved back to milk right next door to my grandparents.

The dairy markets got really bad several years after my dad started milking. My parents decided that it was best to take my two older brothers and move to town. I was born one and a half years later and spent my growing up years in town.

So how does a girl go from growing up in town to spending every spare moment around cows?

The answer is not what you would expect: college.

Now I do realize that deciding to be a dairy farmer isn’t the normal reaction that people have to college, but when college is as expensive as it is, you have to find some way to pay the bills.

When I started college, my husband, Brett, encouraged me to come along with him to milk. He told me that it would be a “great” way to spend time together.

I went reluctantly, but the more I went more my love for cows grew. These were animals that would snuggle up against you, lick you, and I loved it.

It was when I first started to work by myself at a dairy that I realized how much I really did love these animals. I worked with Jersey cows and found them to be the most compassionate, tender, and gentle-spirited animals. They were also the most stubborn, but I can be pretty stubborn myself, so I appreciated that characteristic.

Four years later, I have milked at several other dairies, raised calves in my backyard, bought four cows, and worked alongside Brett at the 700-cow dairy, where he is currently the herdsman.

When I started, I sometimes wished that we would be a normal couple who’s dates did not consist of staying up till two in the morning milking cows.

Now I wouldn’t trade the life of a dairy farmer for anything.

About a year ago, Brett and I first started to look into buying a dairy farm. We knew we wanted to be dairy farmers and this was the most obvious choice.

It turns out that it’s a lot harder to be a dairy farmer than we thought, especially when you don’t have parents who own a dairy. We tried to rent a dairy in the area where we both grew up, but that fell through. We also attempted to buy a different dairy, but we were encouraged to save up some money before plunging in.

Brett ended up being offered the herdsman position at that 700-cow dairy I mentioned and we realized that this would be a way to build up our herd without needing to rent or buy a dairy farm.

So we didn’t rent and we didn’t buy.

Instead, we bought four cows and a house in town.