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.

 

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.

 

 

Safe, Nutritious, Delicious Milk

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Posted by Katie | Posted in Katie, Michigan Dairy, Milk Safety | Posted on Wed, November 13, 2013

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My favorite tag line is: “safe, nutritious, delicious milk”, but what exactly do I mean when I say it?  For me it is every reason I stand behind the work that my family does.  It is why I love what I do and have a passion to continue to do it for the rest of my life.

Let’s break it down, starting with the obvious and work our way into a little education.

Delicious

Nothing beats an ice-cold glass of white milk, or chocolate, or strawberry, or malted… you get the point.  If it’s milk, I love it, and so does my family.  In fact, we drink at least a gallon in our house a day; when I buy flavored milk it goes much more quickly!  Just as popular for our family are the many things you can make out of milk, like low-fat yogurt, cheeses, and of course ice cream!  I always say if everyone consumed as many dairy products as our family, we would never be able to milk enough cows to keep up with the demand!

Nutritious

Milk is a nutrient dense powerhouse.  It contains nine essential vitamins and minerals to be exact.  My favorite?  Protein and calcium!  I love to work out and when I do, I love to refuel my body with dairy products like chocolate milk and Greek yogurt.  Being on the farm, my kids are really active and milk and yogurt give them the nutrients they need to fuel their growing bodies and keep them going all day long.  It is recommended that you have three servings of dairy daily to build and maintain strong bones and bodies, we definitely get that around here!

Safe

Safety is extremely important.  My family, my neighbors, and thousands of families I have never met drink the milk we produce on our farm every day.  I buy my milk from the store just like everyone else, because I can trust that it was most likely made on a farm by a family just like mine.  Safety means taking excellent care of my cows, keeping my farm clean, and monitoring the quality of the milk that leaves my farm.  You can learn more about what we do on our farm to ensure our milk is safe here.

Milking cows is the last job I ever thought I would have, but no job will ever bring be as rewarding as making safe, nutritious, delicious milk!

Three Ways We Ensure Milk is Safe

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Posted by Katie | Posted in Dairy Farming, Katie, Milk Safety | Posted on Fri, November 1, 2013

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I love milk, my family loves milk, and among the six of us, we go through at least a gallon every day. I love that, as a family, we produce a product that we can feel good about putting in our bodies, because it’s the perfect trifecta: safe, nutritious and delicious. On our farm, just like any dairy farm you’ll find, there are three key ways we ensure our milk is safe. While each farm may be a little different, the basic principals are the same.

We give our cows lots of love and attention everyday.

Caring for Our Cows

Caring for my cows means working hard to prevent them from ever getting sick. However, much like humans, sometimes it is inevitable that they get ill and we have to treat them with antibiotics.  When that happens we treat with doses appropriate for each individual cow and under the supervision of our veterinarian.  Treated cows are milked separately from all others and their milk is dumped down the drain until she metabolizes all antibiotic residues out of her body, which is then verified by a test we take right here on the farm.  Prevention of illness is always number one, but when it doesn’t work it feels good to know that our knowledge combined with that of our veterinarian can help us to humanely treat a cow who will in time be able to return to help us safely feed America.

Keeping the milking area clean is a top priority for us

Keeping Our Farm Clean

Keeping our farm clean not only gives us something to be proud of but it helps us keep our cows healthy.  Not only do we keep the outside of our farm clean, but we especially keep the barn where the cows live clean and definitely the milking area.  In fact, we are required by law to have clean, white surfaces in all rooms where milk is produced and stored, even though the milk will never touch those surfaces.  Did you know that milk never even touches human hands and that it needs to be stored at a temperature less than 45 degrees within an hour of leaving a cow?  We have a wash system that cleans and sanitizes all surfaces that the milk does touch before and after every time we milk our cows, it’s a lot like a dishwasher in a commercial kitchen.  It’s funny, but true that most days my barn is cleaner than my house, because somehow a barn full of cows is easier to clean up after than four kids, a husband and two puppies!

Every single load of milk we send off our farm is run through several tests.

Keeping an Eye on Milk Quality

Monitoring milk quality is a no brainer because I get lab results from our cooperative every day.  Yeah, we own a lab that tests our milk for how much protein and butterfat it contains, the health of udders, and most importantly antibiotics.  Although I have never gotten a call that my milk contains antibiotics, I use the rest of the lab results daily; they help us make decisions on the farm and track progress, they can even tell us if our cows are eating what they need to every day.

 

Worst Case Scenario

But, let’s say they do find antibiotics in our milk. Our cooperative would dump the entire truck that has not only the affected milk on it, but milk from other farms as well. Then, we would get a call to let us know, so we don’t make the same mistake twice. Trust me, you won’t, because next they send you a bill for ALL the milk that was on the truck!

Even though our milk is tested before it leaves our farm, it is tested again and again to ensure that it is absolutely safe for human consumption just in case someone along the line missed something. Should a test ever suggest that the milk might not be safe, it will never make it into the human food supply. Not only can farmers rely on lab results, but consumers can, too.

It’s Dairy Month!

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Posted by Katie | Posted in Dairy Farming, Drought, Fun on the Farm, Katie | Posted on Tue, June 18, 2013

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For consumers (including me) Dairy Month is another excuse to eat a little extra ice cream, to try out a new dairy delicious recipe or to learn something new about dairy farming.

Here on the farm, Dairy Month has a whole different meaning because it takes place in June.  In northeastern lower Michigan June is the unofficial beginning of the dairy year, and by that I mean it is when we start to plant or take off new feed and make plans for the rest of the year.  For dairy farmers, the corn that we depend on is planted by June and we are able to start to see it growing in the fields.  Another crop we begin to harvest on the farm in June is our hay.  We can get three to four cuttings of hay here and we store that hay to be fed throughout the year, always hoping for enough to at least get us back to the first of June the next year, when we know we will be able to start harvesting again.  After the drought last year, and being short on everything over the winter, seeing how beautifully the hay is growing in our fields right now is a huge blessing!

 

Last year, due to the drought, it looked like this field was never going to grow again. This year it looks like I could lose my 15 month old niece in it!

As a dairy farmer, I know I will especially appreciate Dairy Month this year, with the wounds of last year’s drought still healing, we have been looking forward to this new beginning for a while. Not only will this particular Dairy Month bring us opportunity to connect with consumers and share the love of what we do and the wholesome products we provide to a hungry world with the help of our cows, but it also brings the promise of a new beginning, and the relief that if the rest of the growing season continues this way, we can afford to keep doing what we love for another year.

Happy Dairy Month!  I hope you will get out an ice cold glass of milk and celebrate with me!