Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Babies, Babies, Babies!!!!

One of our many baby calves, this is Hauney.
So it's been a little while since I posted a blog, and it's not from lack of trying, but from lack of sleep.  I think we have spent the entire month of January on "Baby Watch".  We knew we were expecting a large number of calves this month, but you never realize how many there are until they are all born and ready to eat!!!  So our tally (so far...I have one more cow due with a set of twins for this week)...

  • 33 calves since Christmas from 29 cows.
  • 18 heifer calves (girls)
  • 11 bull calves (boys)
  • 4 loved baby calves still born (I always miss my lost ones!)
  • Currently feeding 27 calves on milk!!!  Lots of hungry babies to play with!
Even though we have so many calves, I can assure you that we are not skipping over our chores or doing a poor job.  Each calf is important, just as important as their mothers.  We strive to give each of them the best care possible, even if that means some short sleep nights and early mornings for us.  I have been doing the 3am checks for calves this entire month.  I am certain that I am checking my dry cows (expectant mothers) at least 10 times a day, waiting for the next little blessing.  Cold Minnesota weather has also offered a challenge.  It is critical that we move the calves quickly to get them into the warm nursery.  It's also equally critical that we get our cows to the milking barn after calving.  Both cows and calves are moved to prevent them from experiencing frost bite in these frigid temperatures (-10 to -20's last week).  February looks to be a lighter calving month, and a much needed break for this active dairy farmer! Stay tuned for more pictures and videos from the calf barn!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Update: Cows are back on track!

It's been a little bit since I blogged about our cows and how they have been doing, so I thought I would take this chance to post an update.  Well as you read in CSI: Dairy Farm Investigation, we had a little bump in the road.  After that post we had all of our forages tested.  We test our silage, haylage, hay and straw about once a month to make sure that we know exactly how much protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins are in each.  We build our diets around those forages, and supplement with grains to fill out the rest of our cows' nutrient needs.  The tests came back in a couple of days and we learned that not only had our corn silage increased in energy, but our haylage was more digestible, and our alfalfa hay had more protein in it.  All 3 factors caused our cows to get upset stomachs.  Too many treats for them, and their diet was out of balance.  So we fine tuned the diet once again, and after about 2 weeks on the new diets, we can say the the cows are back on track!  They haven't gained back all of the milk they once had, but that's ok with us, their health is far more important!  It's great to walk into the barn in the morning and see them all chewing their cuds so diligently! (we know we made the right choices then!)

Other than working with the new feed changes, we have also been busy welcoming a number of new calves to the farm.  Be sure to stop by our Facebook Page to see new pictures of our new baby calves!  The mother cows are doing great, and the baby calves are thriving.  I checked the calving list tonight, and we have 14 more to be born this month, including 2 sets of possible twins!!  I can't wait to meet them all!

Minnesota's Winter Weather has also been a challenge for us.  We have been constantly bedding in our cows....to keep them warm and insulated from the cold.  We have also been working move and remove as much snow as we can, since it snows here almost twice a week.   Needless to say, we are experiencing a traditional Minnesota Winter, and all the joys it brings with.  The forecast for the coming week doesn't sound too much more promising, but we can look forward to March....and thawing! 

Friday, January 14, 2011

What's YOUR dream job?

Last week, while I worked to bed in my little calves, I was listening to our local radio station.  The radio announcer was discussing a survey of the general public, answering the question "what's your dream job?"  Surprisingly, the top answer was to be a movie star/TV star/rock star and the second highest answer was a successful professional athelete.  I pondered that question....what would my dream job be?  I didn't have to think too long, as I knew without a doubt I would want to be a dairy farmer.  Nope, I am not interested in being a celebrity, but instead a noble dairy farmer.

There have been many times in the past 5 years that I have been offered jobs that require less physical labor, less hours, and would pay so much more, but dairy farming offers me so much more than a living wage.  The past 3 years we have barely made a living dairy farming (we hope to make a reasonable salary soon). We started farming well aware that we better not expect to be millionaires while dairying farming.  So if it isn't the money, what could possibly make me say that dairy farming is my dream job???

  • I LOVE my cows! Everyday I get to work with awesome animals, which I have great respect for.
  • There's nothing more rewarding that a newborn heifer calf!  Every time we have a new calf I am reminded of how so much of our lives is out of our control but how so much of it is also a great blessing!
  • Rising to the challenges!  I enjoy challenges, I always have.  As a dairy farmer each day has its own set of unique challenges....and I strive to meet them, it's very rewarding to save a cow, solve a problem, or help the herd be in their best health, etc.
  • Nature rocks! I complain a little about the heat and the cold in Minnesota, but at the end of the day I love the seasons, the weather changes, the wildlife, and the natural wonders that surround us...a great blessing!  Who needs an office when you have the great outdoors???
  • Feeding the world, one milk drinker at a time!  I am proud to know that we produce a nutritious and wholesome product that can help consumers of all ages maintain good health.  I feed the World and I am proud of it!
  • Protecting the environment.  We strive each year to be better stewards of our land, water and resources.  Each year we make changes to help us improve and sustain the environment around us for future generations and that's a great feeling!
  • Sharing our story!  I LOVE this blog and my SM activities which allow me to share our story with others who may never see a farm in their lifetimes.  How awesome of privilege it is to share how milk is produced and how families like ours care for our cows each day.....so please feel free to ask questions, I love to answer them!
So...What's your dream job???  Would you consider being a dairy farmer instead of a celebrity?  I would in a heartbeat!!!

Joke too funny not to share!

A good friend of mine e-mailed me the following this week, and it was just too funny not to share.  As a dairy farmer I understand this punch line all too well, but perhaps as a follower of my blog you may also respect the role we have in feeding the world...enjoy!!!

The North Dakota Department of Labor claimed a small Bismarck dairy farmer was not paying proper wages to his help and sent an agent out to investigate him.

Department of Labor employee: I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them.

Farmer: Well, there's my farm hand who's been with me for 3 years. I pay him $200 a week plus free room and board.

Then there's the mentally challenged worker. He works about 18 hours every day and does about 90% of all the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board, and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night so he can cope with life. He also sleeps with my wife occasionally.

Department of Labor employee: That's the guy I want to talk to... the mentally challenged one.

Farmer: That would be me.

Monday, January 3, 2011

CSI: Dairy Farm Investigation

Well, besides Christmas and New Year's interrupting my blogging time, Jon and I have been spending a great deal of time at the farm.  We really had a real life episode of CSI: Dairy Farm Investigation, on our farm this week.  As always, we put our cows' health first.  Healthy cows are Happy & Producing cows, but this past week the cows weren't happy.  So....here's what happened:

Monday: We noticed 1 of our heifers (13 months old) was avoiding the feed bunk.  This is odd behavior from a heifer, usually they can't get enough feed.  Jon and I immediately thought she had pneumonia, so we brought her inside for a thorough check up.  Much to our surprise we found that she had a LDA (Left-sided Displaced Abomasum).  Something had cause our heifer Snowflakes to go off feed, get a gas build up in her stomach, which forced her stomach to move from its normal position.  When an LDA happens, it has to be fixed immediately and their are 2 methods to fix it.  The first option is a surgery, where a cut is made in the side of the cow, the stomach is deflated of the gases, and the stomach is sutured to the body wall, preventing it from floating out of position again.  The second option is less invasive, but not always successful.  It involves sedating the animal, rolling her onto her back to force the stomach to the correct position and placing a suture on the bottom of the animal to hold the stomach in place.  We opted for the 2nd option, since it was be less tramatic for our Snowflakes, and since she was a small animal, it would be successful (and it was! Snowflakes is doing great now!).  So once we fix Snowflakes, we started our investigation....something caused her to go off feed and get a LDA...so what was it????  We didn't want any more sick animals, but we were in store for more.

Tuesday: We noticed new fresh cows (cows that just had calves in the past week) were starting to struggle with their feed intakes.  We watch our cows diligently, and because of that we noticed almost immediately that they were not eating enough feed.  We worked to treat them with probiotics, vitamins, and minerals to help appetite, but it wasn't working.  Our investigation continues....

Wednesday:  We found another LDA animal...a mid-lactation (cow that has been milking for more than 100 days) which had suddenly floated a LDA!  Luckily our vet came to our rescue, and we did surgery (with large milking cows we always do surgeries for LDA's to guarantee success).  Our cow Ozzy, for no apparent reason also went off feed, filled her stomach with gas, and floated it out of position....now we were really concerned....LDA's in cows don't happen at that stage of lactation.  We thought it could be our new alfalfa haylage that we started on Christmas, or maybe our new alfalfa hay that we had delivered on Christmas.  So, we tested both feeds and kept on investigating.

Thursday:  We noticed the cows were producing almost 5 pounds less milk per cow each day...this was a dramatic change!  What seemed like a good day, was about to be a storm of problems brewing for Friday.....

Friday:  3 more cows floated LDA's!  3 more surgeries!  2 were mid-lactation cows and 1 fresh heifer!  Now we were really worriedDid we have an epidemic on our hands?  What was making our cows sick?  How can we stop this?  We started to brain storm, and after some thinking we put the pieces together and contacted our nutritionist with Cargill Animal Nutrition.  After talking with Jeremy, we confirmed our suspicions.  So....what was making our cows and heifers sick???? ........Our Corn Silage!

Diagnosis:  Corn silage is a lot like wine...as it ferments, the longer it stays sealed the better it becomes.  Corn silage fermentation helps to make the fiber more digestible, but as it becomes more digestible, the cow's rations need to be adjusted to ensure that the cows are eating enough fiber each day.  If a cow doesn't get enough fiber in the ration, she gets loose manure, she has a reduced appetitie, she chews her cud less, and can even float a LDA!  So our corn silage has been working hard these past few weeks to become better and better, but the cows weren't giving us the signals we needed to see to make the changes to avoid upset stomachs and LDA's.  I would relate this to when we eat too many Christmas sweets...we have a stomach ache, and so do they!

Sollution:  The sollution was easy!  We needed to add more fiber!  So we are now feed more total forage to our cows.  The extra forage comes in the form of extra alfalfa haylage and corn silage.  But we also added straw to our ration.  Our cows are now eating 100 pounds of feed each day, that also serves them 1 pound of wheat straw.  The straw helps to slow the rate at which feed goes through the stomach, but it also encourages the cows to chew their cuds more.  Cud chewing is great for cow health~!  So after making these changes already on Friday, we know we are back on track!  It's so scary to see your cows getting sick and not know what is making them sick, but it is always rewarding to figure out the cause and return them to good health once again.  As always, our cows health always comes first!!