Monday, August 30, 2010

Dairy Farming 101 - part 1...animal basics

We farmers tend to use our own lingo, and we forget sometimes that not all of you grew up "just knowing" what a springing heifer or a twisted stomach is!  So, for those of you how don't know the difference between a silo unloader or a front end loader, here's a simple crash course in Dairy Farming 101!

heifer - a young female calf...she will be referred to in this manner from birth until she has her first calf at around two years of age

bull  - a male calf...will be referred to in this manner all his life  (how boring!)

steer - a castrated bull...raised for beef

springer - a heifer or cow who is close to delivering her calf.  Her udder "springs up", and fills with milk, an indication that she is close to delivery 

1st calf heifer - a two year old heifer who has deliverd her 1st calf, and is integrated into the milking herd.  Once she has her 2nd calf, she graduates to "cow"

fresh cow  - a cow who has just delivered her calf

holstein - one of the most common breed of cows in this and white in color...usually large, strong looking animals that yield large quantities of milk

jersey - another breed of cows, not known so much for their high milk yields, but for the high butterfat content in their milk...beautiful brown color...but we haven't been overly impressed with their personalities!  :)

breeder - the person who comes to the farm and artificially inseminates the cows...he/she works for a company who owns many bulls for the sole purpose of breeding cows.  Some farmers still use their own bulls, but it's not the most common practice anymore.  Bulls can be very dangerous, and by using a breeder, the gene pool is much more varied!

heat - call the breeder! 

heat - oh yeah...that brutal stuff we had this summer...mid to high nineties, with high humidity!

settle - when a cow is confirmed pregant, we say she has "settled"

dry cow - exactly what it sounds like...when a cow is about two months from her due date, she enters a "dry" period, when we stop milking her in order to give her a rest before she delivers her calf

herdex - a chart where the farmer keeps track of all the cows...from breeding date to dry up date to fresh date

fever - in a cow, anything over 102 degrees

milk fever - a condition where after calving, a cow becomes very weak, and has difficulty standing up. She may walk unsteadily or fall down, her ears will likely be cold, and left untreated, she will die. She almost always needs to be given calcium through intravenous injection in order to recover. This usually happens in older cows; rarely in a 1st calf heifer. ( and this usually happens either at midnight or on a Sunday morning, of course! )

twisted stomach - sometimes, usually soon after calving, a cow's stomach will twist, requiring surgery.  The surgery is rather routine, and the animal usually makes a full recovery.  The main indication is that the cows stops eating...whenever a cow stops eating, beware!! (did you know that a cow has 4 stomachs?)

hardware - sometimes a cow will ingest a foreign object...a sharp piece of plastic, a piece of metal...maybe a soda can was thrown into the corn field and got chopped with the silage...a nail...this can end up puncturing the stomach and cause serious damage.  A cow with hardware will often need to be slaughtered.  This is why you should never throw trash into a field!  It doesn't just look nasty, it can be very painful to the cow and costly to the farmer

magnet - each cow on our farm swallows a large magnet, which remains in her 1st stomach throughout her life.  The purpose it to attract pieces of metal that she may swallow.  It helps, but is not foolproof. 

Stay tuned for Dairy Farming 101 - part 2................  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Day After...

The day after silo filling is one of those days that is just not fun.  Oh yes, it's great to have the silage chopped and ready to feed the hungry cows all winter, but it's time consuming dirty work.

Two days ago, Jim spent a good chunk of time preparing the unloader to be raised to the top of the silo, where it would hang, suspended from it's cable, above the point where the silage is blown into the silo from the trucks and blower below.  The one silo unloader needs to be cranked up 50 feet by hand.  That takes a lot of arm muscles!  Jim, Eric and two neighbor boys took turns cranking.  The other unloader can be raised using an electric drill, a MUCH speedier process.

Yesterday, the silos were filled...that's actually the simplest part of the whole process!  The custom chopper pulls in with his chopper, trucks and drivers, and away they go.  Jim spreads innoculant on each load before it is blown into the silo, and oversees the operation.

Today was interesting, to say the least...

When we went to the barn this morning to start milking, Jim opened the doors to the silage room at the bottom of the silos.  The first thing he saw was a number of dead mice and birds laying at the bottom of both silos.  Silo gas! 

Silo gas can be deadly.  I don't profess to know exactly how it forms, but fresh silage can form a gas, which can impare judgement and kill rather quickly if one were to be in an enclosed space with no fresh oxygen supply.

We immediately started up some large fans to move fresh oxygen through the barn.  While Jim milked, I went to pick up an extra blower from another farmer.  The same blower that blows the silage into the silo can be used to deliver fresh air into the silo so one can safely work without fear of being overcome by gas.

After running the blower for a while to clear out the gas, Jim climbed the first silo to begin leveling the silage in order to set up the unloader.   Then it was my job to lower the unloader from the top of the silo down to the silage surface.  We need to constantly be yelling up and down the silo at each other in order to be heard.  The neighbors must think we're nuts!!

This afternoon, we set up the unloader in the second silo.  Standing in the feed room at the bottom of the silo, I was totally covered in dust and dirt from the silo chute.  There was a lot of cranking to do on this arms felt like wet noodles by the time we were finished.  My hair and clothing were covered in grime.

The silage will likely settle a few more feet by morning and the unloader will need to be lowered some more,  but hopefully from here on out, the trips up and down the silo will be few and far between!

After a busy day like today, it's time to take the wet noodles to bed!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Silo Filling

 Today was a reminder to me that, even though summertime can be incredibly busy, fall is definitely our busiest time of year.

The weather feels like fall.  Finally.  After a brutal summer, with countless days of high humidity and temps well into the 90's, this week has been lovely!  Mid-afternoon today, when the silage trucks and the chopper rolled in, it began to sound like fall around here too. 

It can be a challenge to know the right time to fill silo. The moisture level in the corn needs to be "just so" when it's chopped for silage.  Too get a lot of juice.  Too doesn't pack properly and can mold.  Either way, it can cause feeding problems.  Today it was just a little on the wet side, but that's the lesser of the two evils!

 I hitched a ride with one of the drivers this afternoon, hoping to get a few pictures.  Then I hopped in the chopper for a couple of rounds.  It gives you a new perspective, and a new appreciation for "farm safety" when you're out there with all of that machinery!  Things went relatively smoothly; only a few minor glitchesOur two 12' x 50' silos were filled in about four hours.

It's a good feeling to have this job well underway...we will refill in a few weeks, and put out a silage bag, which will be transferred to the silos during the winter, when the silos are getting empty and the ground is frozen.

Hopefully the cows feel the same way! 

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Days Like Yesterday...

I love days like yesterday!

I don’t really have a good reason, but yesterday was a day where I felt like I could conquer the world, and I got a lot accomplished!

It started out no different than any other day; I crawled out of bed before I was ready, and headed out to the barn with a steaming mug of coffee. By the time the cows were tied in their stalls, the coffee was lukewarm, but it didn’t really matter… It tasted good anyway!

Jim and I milked together until we were about half finished; then he left to do the feeding while I finished milking the last two rows of cows. After milking, it was on to feed the calves and chickens. One of the chickens was out exploring, so I picked her up and tossed her over the fence where she belonged! She must not mind, because she does it repeatedly!

Breakfast was next on the agenda; I don’t usually have time to make the family a hot breakfast, but one of the kids had a friend overnight, so this morning they got pancakes with fresh peach syrup. (the syrup didn’t turn out so good, but oh well!)

Then it was on to an appointment … then lunch, making pizza sauce, selling a puppy, being “Mom’s taxi”, meeting new school teachers, canning peaches, visiting a neighbor and back to the barn for evening milking.

I wish I understood why some days turn out this way…kids enjoying each other and lots getting accomplished! Even the weather was delightful!

Today has already begun in a quite different fashion, but it’s early yet!  For now I'll just relish the joys of yesterday, and work on today.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Enjoying the view

A week or so ago, a visitor to our house commented on the beautiful view that we have from our yard; flowers, fields, grazing cows, Amish buggies, etc. Typical Lancaster County scenery. She then continued to say…”Oh, but I guess you really don’t have much time to sit and enjoy it, do you?”

How right she was!

Keeping that in mind...yesterday, I did a horrible thing.  :)  I forced my kids to sit on the porch with me. It was a gorgeous day; low humidity, sunshine, a gentle breeze, a puppy playing at our feet! But alas, I ruined it! Shelling lima beans was on the agenda. My kids despise the job. They LOVE to eat them, but shelling is sheer torture!

I know the feeling. I disliked it as a child too! My three older sisters and I were subject to hours of slave labor ( just kidding!), sitting under a tree at the picnic table, singing silly songs at the top of our lungs, shelling lima beans until our fingers were numb. All the while, our Mother was bent over like a hairpin in the hot sun, picking lima beans until she could barely straighten up! Finally, she would come and sit under the tree with us, and help finish the horrid job.  (and you know what?  It really wasn't all that bad after all!)

Now the tables have turned…I am the horrid mother who forces her children to shell lima beans. But I know how good they will taste in the winter, served with milk and butter…and I can hardly wait to finish picking, so I can finally have an excuse to sit on the porch and enjoy the view!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Married to the cows?

For a while now, some of you (you know who you are!) have been asking for this!  So here it is...for my friends who are curious about life on a dairy farm, and for those of you who are just...curious...

I make no claims to be a great writer...what you read is how I see it.  So enjoy a slice of life on the farm, and learn a bit about what it's like to be 'married to the cows"!

Farming is a marriage of sorts.  It's a lifestyle, not just an occupation.  We are in it for the duration...on call  24/7/365.  The cows don't take off for birthdays, anniversaries or neither can we!

Jim and I have been happily married (to each other) for almost 17 years, and married to our cows for just over 16 years.

We've enjoyed a lot of good times on the farm...high milk prices, healthy cows, good growing seasons, lots of help to throw haybales, eating meals together as a family, working together, the satisfying feeling of falling into bed feeling like we'd earned our sleep, and a few quick weekends away.

We've also endured some rough times...rock bottom milk prices, praying over sick animals, rained on hay, scrambling for help, eating breakfast at noon and supper at 9pm, short tempers, exhaustion, and 2 1/2 years with no time away together as a family.

But just like in a marriage, you take the good along with the not so good, and make it work! 

We enjoy living on the farm and the opportunity to raise our children in the way that we both were raised...enjoying the outdoors, learning the value of hard work, and seeing God at work in many ways...

I hope you enjoy reading occasional posts about our life on the farm and I welcome your comments!