Something to Smile About

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Posted by Becky | Posted in Becky, Fun on the Farm | Posted on Thu, April 10, 2014

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Can you see these girls smiling?

These ladies are happy to see signs of spring!

That is because spring is finally on it’s way to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan!

This morning the birds are singing and the snow is melting (I might add, we have a lot of snow to still melt!), and the fresh smell of spring is in the air!

The snow is slowly melting away

We have had a long, long, long winter with a record breaking 65 days with sub zero temperatures.  It has been a difficult winter with many challenges.  It has been harsh on our cows and on us alike.

We can finally see grass!

But, today we will soak up the rays of sunshine, breathe in the fresh spring air, watch the snow melt away, and smile along with our cows!

Farming in the Wintertime

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Posted by Mason | Posted in Animal Care, Mason | Posted on Mon, March 17, 2014

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In the winter you wouldn’t think that farmers would be doing much because we have no crops in the fields. But in the winter farmers are just as busy as the summer, sometimes busier.Winter weather can make for extra work on dairy farms

One thing we’ve done in the winter months is set up warming boxes for our newborn calves. These boxes have a heat lamp in them that helps dry the calf off and keep her warm.

Keeping calves warm and dry is a priority for us in the winter

After about 24 hours in the warming box we take out the calf and put her in an individual hutch bedded down with sawdust and straw, and a blanket is also put on her.

The blankets and extra straw keep the calves warm and comfortable and the hutch gives them shelter and protection from the wind.

In addition to some extra attention given to our calves, our cows and heifers also need extra care during the winter. We had to keep an eye on the waterers for all the older heifers and cows (younger heifers and calves are watered individually so we can monitor their food intake). Our waterers have heating elements in them to keep them from freezing, but in brutally cold weather the waterers still freeze.

With waterers freezing we had to chip away the ice so water was available for the cows and heifers.

Cows also burn more energy when it’s cold out, so we increased the calorie content in their food to keep up with their energy needs.

The winter also brought along many problems with our equipment. With it being so cold we had a hard time starting up the equipment in the morning for feeding the cows. To prevent this we plugged in the tractors the night before to make an easier start. Finally, there was the unending problem of ice. It was hard to be moving around heaving equipment with all the ice, and making sure there were cleared pathways for the milk truck to come in and pick up our milk.

There are lots of extra steps farmers take in the winter, but they’re all worth it, knowing our animals are healthy and comfortable.

This Valentine’s Day my Heart will be a Little Fuller

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Posted by Katie | Posted in Katie, Michigan Dairy | Posted on Fri, February 14, 2014

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Ever since I was a kid, Valentine’s Day has always been wonderful.  Our mom always bought each of my sisters and I and our dad our own box of chocolates and usually made a special breakfast, too.  Now I am married to my best friend, whom I get to spend Valentine’s Day with, along with our four beautiful children, who all now get their own box of chocolates and a special breakfast.

So what is going to make this Valentine’s Day even better?  Well, it is a Friday.  And it will be the third Friday that more than 35 children at our local elementary school will be going home for the weekend with a full six servings of milk they might not have otherwise had.

At the end of last year, I was inspired to apply for a grant from the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) to provide 24 children in need with milk for the weekend to complement the non-perishable foods they were already generously gifted with from local donors.  The inspiration came from me having the opportunity to visit the Forgotten Harvest headquarters in Detroit last fall to help with their Pour it Forward campaign. The program provided more than 34,000 gallons of milk to families in need over the holidays.

My husband, Jason and I at the Pour it Forward event launch with UDIM staff members Sharon Toth (left) and Staci Garcia (right).

I was further inspired when I noticed some of the children from our school going home with boxes of cereal in their backpacks and wondered how they were going to eat it without milk.  As a dairy farmer and mother I knew I could do something to help.

I wouldn’t be satisfied unless I did.

After getting support from the secretary at the school, I applied for and received a UDIM grant to do just what I set out to do.  I also was lucky that UDIM had 24 lunchbox -sized coolers to spare to help keep the milk cold on the way home from school.

When school started again in January, I was prepared and excited to get the weekend milk program underway.  We hit a few bumps in the road, but one unexpected (but welcome!) bump was the number of eligible children had changed: there were no longer 24 children – now there were 48!  I am sure when the secretary told me this, my eyes nearly popped out of my head, but I wasn’t going to tell her there was no way we could do that.  No, I smiled through the panic and said we could figure this out, it was the least of our worries.

I wasn’t leaving out any kids.

UDIM graciously sent more coolers, Jason and I donated all the ice packs, and I knew there would be a way to get more funding, I just had to figure that out.

Our next step was to send home permission slips with the kids to verify that their parents realized they were bringing home perishable milk in cartons stored in insulated bags with ice packs and that they needed to get the milk in their refrigerator as soon as possible.  More than 30 permission slips were returned right away and a few more have trickled in after that to bring our total up to right over 35 children every week.

Finding help packing the milk and distributing it at the end of the day was easy.  Remember all those sisters I spent Valentine’s Days past with?  Well I have two of them who were free on Friday afternoons.  They now have a volunteer job.  I enjoy spending the time with them.  I enjoy sharing the experience with them.  I know they enjoy it, too, because they know I’m determined enough to do it alone if I have to. However, there’s no need, because they are there with smiles every week, ready to help.

When we pack the milk, the kids are just numbers on coolers, but when we deliver it to classrooms, a lot of the older kids know which number is theirs and will run to the door, ecstatic to be getting their milk.  The first time I saw how thankful the kids were made every ounce of effort worth it.  The first time I saw my own children beam up so proudly and say, “My mom and my aunts do that.  They give the kids the gift of milk,” made it even more worth it.

 

I am so thankful to my sisters Emily (left) and Renee (right) for helping pack milk into the coolers each week!

Since the kickoff date of sending milk home on the weekend, we were interviewed and featured on the front page of the local paper.  I had been planning before that to send out a letter to individual businesses in the area, asking for support to help stretch my grant for more kids, and at least until the end of the year.  I haven’t had to do that yet.  Instead, I have spent my time answering phone calls and not only getting to speak to civil groups and share my story, but also getting to meet the unique individuals that make up these groups and thanking them personally for donations, while hearing about what drives them to be who they are.

One of the ladies who read about me in the newspaper and suggested to her group that I come speak with them is 100 years old!  That was a luncheon I won’t soon forget.  We have also received private donations in the mail at the school, thanking us for all our hard work and saying how nice it is to see people doing good for others.

I am very thankful for the secretary at the school who has supported me 100% the entire time, who has made doing this project so much easier than I ever imagined, and who has graciously added being my milk manager to her list of duties at the school.

This Valentine’s Day, my heart is fuller.  What fills it is the support of generous people, some of whom were strangers to me just weeks ago, others I have held near and dear to me all my life, but all who are now friends and comrades in the fight against hunger.  What fills it is knowing the bodies of sweet, thankful children will be nourished over the weekend and their parents don’t have to stress out over how.  What fills it is the endless number of people I can thank for helping make this happen and keeping it going.  And what fills it every day is the love and support right here on my own farm and the blessings my family has right in front of us daily.

 

Braving the Winter

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Posted by Scott | Posted in Animal Care, Scott | Posted on Tue, February 4, 2014

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January was definitely a wild month. While we were very blessed to start it out at the Rose Bowl watching MSU win, we hit the ground running as soon as we came home. Tons of snow and temperatures well below zero are hard on cows, machinery, milking equipment and all of us working to keep our girls comfortable!

 

Plowing snow on the way to Grandma's.

Throughout the month, we moved snow, made sure water tanks and pipes were thawed, and purchased extra calf blankets and brought in straw for extra insulation and warmth. We are incredibly thankful for our awesome team that cares about our animals as much as we do – regardless of how much snow is on the roads or how cold it is outside when they get here to start their day.

 

We've had to constantly keep up with snow removal so we can care for the cows and the milk truck can pick up our milk.

We’ve had to work especially hard the last few days with the continued frigid temps. As everything is frozen, it’s been difficult keeping water everywhere it’s needed on the farm. Regardless of weather conditions, our parlor gets sanitized with 180 degree Fahrenheit water four times a day, and our girls have to have water in their tanks to drink. That seemingly “simple” task has posed quite the challenge as frozen wells make for limited water availability.

We were all frozen this day!

So, the last few days, we’ve been making trips to the local fire department to get drinking water for the cows. To them, we extend a VERY sincere THANK YOU for sharing their resources. We are lucky to live in a community that is as compassionate to the needs of our animals as we are!

The bitter cold and windy days are exhausting for all of us, but a little “Thank you,” love from our girls makes it worth all the effort!

Baby It’s Cold Outside

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Posted by Katie | Posted in Animal Care, Dairy Farming, Katie | Posted on Fri, January 17, 2014

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I woke up the other morning to another alert on my phone letting me know about a winter weather advisory.  It was supposed to start snowing after 3 p.m. and continue through the night and into the next day with accumulations of 3-6 inches.  When I said this out loud to my children, the conversation at the breakfast table began.

Would there be school tomorrow?

We didn’t have school a couple days last week because of the temperature.

Last week school was canceled because of the temperature.

When it gets too cold we can’t even go outside to play.

(Then it clicked!)

Daddy still had to feed the cows, even when it was super cold.

Mommy still milked the cows when it was super cold.

Then, in an epiphany of a 6-year-old, “If we don’t continue to take care of our cows, even when it is really cold, they won’t give us their milk.”

And my boy is right.  Extreme cold, extreme heat, rain, snow, or a perfect beach day, dairy farmers have a commitment to take care of their cows just like they take care of their families.

It was this little lady's first time in the milking parlor, and she got a bit turned around. When it's cold out, we have to take some extra steps during milking to make sure our girls stay healthy and comfortable.

This week the thermometer is reading as much as 75-degrees warmer than it was reading last week.  Last week we had a little extra work to do.  We kept everything closed up to keep the cold out, it seemed as if we were moving snow constantly, we used extra heaters to keep our milking equipment going, we fed extra feed to hungry cows who were burning their energy to stay warm instead of just to make milk, we put extra bedding in for calves and worked hard to keep the bedding for the cows level and comfy even if it did freeze.

Caring for our cows is always a full-time job. No matter what the weather is like, our priority is to keep them as comfortable as possible.

We also had to make sure after freezing rain that the milk man could get in and out of our drive way safely and then pray he made the rest of his trip safe and sound.

 

With all the snow we had and freezing cold, it didn't take much to turn the snow that was still on the ground into ice!

As the thermometer rises, we still have plenty of work to do.  With the changes in temperatures outside, we need to make sure our cows and calves are adjusting okay inside.  All the manure that was frozen solid (if you ask me, it froze as soon as it hit the ground last week) is thawing out and can be moved where it needs to go this week.

I recently said that I don’t know that there is ever more or less work to do on a dairy farm, but rather a shift in the work that has to be done depending on the time of year and of course the weather. However, no matter the weather, the safety, comfort and well being of our animals is always our first priority.