Monday, April 14, 2014

Crack the code!

My friend Alex who works at Michigan Milk Producers Association posted about this: "Milk is local! Each container of milk is identified by a 2-digit state code followed by a 3-digit processing plant code."  If you don't live in Michigan, you can check exactly where your milk comes from by typing in the code at this site: whereismymilkfrom.

Our milk was a little harder to produce this weekend due to an 18-hour power outage.  But thanks to two generators, we were able to keep milking, provide the cows with water, and keep all the milk in the cooler cold ... so it can get stamped with a code and sent to you!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Technology and brackets

Yesterday Kris and I helped host the Michigan Milk Producer Association's Young Cooperator Conference.  For part of it, we went on a farm tour at Daybreak Dairy in Zeeland, where they use automatic calf feeders.

They're not new to the farming world, but I haven't seen them before.  So they're new to me!

All farmers have to decide how many times a day they're going to feed their calves, and then they have to decide how long they're going to drink out of bottles before they move to buckets.  

With an automatic feeder, you don't decide those things, because they eat all the time. 

The machine reads their ear tags, and can tell when they've eaten and how much, and when they meet their maximum in a certain amount of time.  If the calf hasn't eaten enough, it tells you that, so you go and chase it up and encourage it to drink.

So they're hanging out here:

And they walk up to the feeder:

This is a view from the top. You can see the top of the bottle sticking out.

And here's the machine indoors.  The door is open so we could see the inner workings.

This is the milk powder mixing with the water.  It smelled exactly like human formula.

It was fun seeing something new, and as always, talking farm talk with other young farmers.

I always enjoy this conference and the tours, but this marked the first time that I didn't fight sleep on the way back.  This time, thanks to my friend Alex, I was able to avoid the dreaded head jerk.

The conference featured reports from our co-op staff, Gordie Jones speaking about cow comfort, a panel on business planning, and a tailgate party!  We even had a cornhole (beanbag) tournament, with a bracket and everything.  Kris and I came in second place, even though my throw - I was horrified to see when I looked at my pictures - looks like this:

(Can you believe we beat many teams with this toss?  I even obviously step with the wrong foot!)

We had a great time with our planning committee, and we look forward to returning next year!  Who knows what will be new on the farm we visit, what I'll learn at the meeting, or what other terrible discoveries I'll make when I look back at my pictures.   

Sunday, March 30, 2014

'Where the Filed Things Are' - or, Accidentally Washing Your Hair with Placenta

My book is done!  Where the Filed Things Are is available on Amazon in paperback or for Kindle.

It's a compilation of stories I've written down - and then stashed in various places - for the last thirteen years.  It begins when I was starting my career, to buying the farm, to finding honey dripping down my house's walls ... and remember when I accidentally washed my hair with placenta?  That one's in there.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy spring!

My mom took this picture for a friend in a warm climate ... our spring day equals mud, clouds, and broken trees.

I didn't feel winter today, though!  This morning when I walked outside, it smelled like mud, the birds were building nests, and I COMPLETELY ignored the dusting of snow on the ground.

Happy spring!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Not at all cheesy

I went to the boys' school two days last week to talk about dairy farming.  I took the Farm Bureau book barn, which is full of agricultural books the kids can check out.    

During their library time, I read books to each class about how milk gets from the cow to them, like Extra Cheese, Please: Mozzarella's Journey from Cow to Pizza.   

You can tell they go to a country school.  When I asked each class how many of them had been to a dairy farm or milked a cow, it was a strong 75%.  While there were no other kids who live on dairy farms, many of them had parents who worked on one or had cattle or worked for some aspect of farming, like driving a milk truck or working at the grain elevator.   

The kids eagerly did the United Dairy Industry of Michigan activity book, ate string cheese, wore their Got Chocolate Milk slap bracelets, unfurled their posters, and were generally super interested and engaged!  I really like my kids' school and really enjoyed my time there.  The kids told me they liked it, too.  

Favorite things kids said to me:

"My mom gets to feed the baby calves."  (Gets to.  Like her job is the best ever.) 

"We get cheese?!  You rock!"  (Yes.  Food is super cool.)

"Ty and Cole's mom?  Can we take these books home?"  (This is the only name kids in their class call me.)

"We already know all about cow stomachs!  Our teacher read us that book last week!"  (Yay!)

A second grader after I said a kid on a tour thought chocolate milk came from brown cows - "Yeah.  I used to think that when I was a kid." 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Wintertime, wintertime, win win wintertime

On Monday morning I walked outside to get the paper at about 6:00 a.m.  (Yes, we get a newspaper.  Two in fact!  I realize how old-school this is, but I love them.  Don't tell the internet generation ... I'll get kicked out.)  It seemed pretty nice outside.

I walked inside and checked the outdoor thermometer reading.  It was -16. 

So, after a super cold winter, -16 just seems regular.  It doesn't even seem extreme.  It's funny what you can get used to after awhile.

But that morning on the farm ...

The tractor had a flat tire.
The skid steer had a flat tire.
A hydraulic line blew in the wheel loader.
The molasses pump blew a hose fitting.

So, the cold is still affecting machines, if not people.  Don't look for any newspaper articles about it.  It's old news now.  Spring starts in 15 days!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spreading the milk life

My friend Julie has been affected by knowing a dairy farmer.  (Just like I've been affected by her family's business - Magline, Inc.  Founded in 1947, they're the world's leading manufacturer of lightweight aluminum hand trucks.  Hand trucks!  You may know them as dollies, which is what I called them before I met her.  I never call them that any more.)

One day Julie told me I needed to post about the millions of crafts people could make out of plastic milk gallons.  Her daughter was supposed to take one to school for a project, and she was really pushing the milk-drinking with her kids because she needed it emptied before school.  She thought that if people were making the crafts, we could increase milk consumption.

"Are there a lot of milk gallon crafts?" I asked.

"I'm sure - just check Pinterest," she said. 

Sure enough, there are billions of milk gallon crafts.  Later that week in the paper I saw a woman in my town had built a milk gallon igloo for the community center.  Are you inspired?  Getting crafty?

Then today she called to tell me she saw Live with Kelly and Michael at the gym.  She told me they were talking about how the slogan 'Got Milk?' ad campaign is being replaced by 'Milk Life'.  She said they were also surprised to hear that milk consumption has gone down - Michael responded to that by saying that he used to drink a gallon of milk a day and said ... "How do you think I got this body?"  as in, he's super fit.

We talked about how if she didn't have me as a friend, she would never think about these milk-related issues!  When you know someone who is personally affected, it changes your worldview.

Which brings me back to this weekend ... we went to a wedding with people we hadn't seen in a really long time.  Some since before we became dairy farmers. 

- Our first friend asked us about organic milk.  We had a long discussion.

- Another guy came over to the table and said, "Are you guys the people with the dairy farm?  I have some questions about ultra-pasteurized organic milk."

Our friends laughed and one said, "Carla, do you just want the microphone?"

- Then a friend came back from tending to her baby and her husband said, "Now tell her about organic and conventional milk."

What our friends had questions about were buying organic milk vs. buying conventional milk.  They wanted to know what we bought.  We told them we buy conventional.

We explained that ...

- conventional and organic milk have no antibiotics in it.

- conventional and organic milk have no added hormones in it.  (All milk has natural hormones.)

We told them about how milk is tested repeatedly on the farm and at the lab to ensure that it is antibiotic free.  We told them we don't feed any antibiotics to cows.  We only give them medicine when they're sick, and then we don't milk them into the tank when they have the medicine still in their systems.  Then when they're better and the medicine is out of their system - only then do we begin milking them again.  No one wants antibiotics in the milk - the farmer or the consumer.

We told them about how in Michigan farmers don't give their cows hormones to help them produce more milk.  (We never have on this farm, either.)  When farmers did it, there was no way to tell the artificial hormone from the natural hormone, because cows already produced it.  (So there was no test for it.)  But when consumers didn't want it, farmers stopped using it.  In Michigan, that happened in 2008. 

Of course we're in favor of capitalism and choice, and it's easier to make a decision when you know all milk is healthy and nutritious.    

The reaction from our friends was exactly the same.

"No one knows this."

"I've never heard this - ever."

"You need to do a better job of telling people about this."

"Does your industry try to publicize this at all?"

This made me laugh, since I feel that's all we do - through US Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, National Milk Producers Federation, the Michigan Ag Council, farm tours, events, blogs ... We're trying.  I guess we're not always reaching the people that we're trying to reach.  That's why personal connections mean so much.

But if we all tell a few more friends ... talk at a few more weddings ... and make some more Pinterest crafts, maybe we can spread the word about living the milk life.  To the milk igloo!