Farm Girl

It’s not talked about, because it’s sad

I was completely aware of what my body was doing, it was rejecting my baby. All day I searched for reasons why I could be bleeding at 8 weeks, every time I went to the rest room I begged for the liner to be clean. I felt like I was wobbling atop a Jenga tower, hour by hour a brick from the bottom being removed.

Maybe I had willed myself to miscarry, I had witnessed family members go through this loss and had made sure only our immediate family knew we were pregnant. I knew it could happen to me. I assumed it would hurt. By the time I had gotten home from work I went right to the shower and I prayed for this baby, my baby, to be ok. My husband took me to the hospital and a few hours later we walked out the double doors, the words “I’m sorry for your loss” echoing in my brain. It was March 4th, 2009.

I felt the feels in the weeks that followed. I ate my sadness, I drank my grief, I picked fights with my husband because he didn’t GET it. I was alone but I didn’t want a damn person to talk to me. The thing is, I didn’t have to be alone. The doctor informed me miscarriages are very common, 1 in 4 pregnancies miscarry, I was NOT alone.

Like a sponge I flipped to the back of my What To Expect book, for when things don’t go as planned, and then I Googled, and then I convinced myself we should try again. We delivered a healthy daughter on March 3, 2010, the day before the anniversary of my loss.

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Then I had a second miscarriage and when I stood in the shower I just prayed for the baby to be gone. I didn’t want to go to the hospital again, I didn’t want for the doctor to remove from me what I wasn’t able to grow, I didn’t want anyone to know I had failed. It was December 19th, 2010.

You don’t forget. But also, we don’t talk about it. And we should. Conversations remind us we are not alone.

It was incredibly difficult to fully enjoy my future pregnancies, I worried if I let myself feel attached that I would lose them also.

I have a tattoo in memory of my two babies in heaven and that makes me feel less alone.

It took years before my husband and I really spoke about those pregnancies and the heart break. I learned the loss WAS hard on him but he didn’t show me, he was trying to be the support I needed. Everyone handles loss in their own way, and it is important to grieve.

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month and from the very core of me, I am sorry for your loss.

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Dairy Truths

How to pasteurize your milk

Disclaimer: the milk you buy from your store is most likely already pasteurized – especially in States like Michigan which require all milk for sale must be pasteurized.

I thank God every day for the life I have, I am fortunate to have beautiful cows in my back yard. As a mom it makes complete sense to me that I take the very product I produce and feed it to my family. I know without hesitation that the milk provided from my farm is nutritious, wholesome, and essential to growing healthy kids. I am VERY thankful.

After the raw milk is collected from the cows it is directly stored and cooled in a bulk tank and shipped to our processor every day. A few times a week I use a couple gallons for my family – again thankful – but I don’t personally support consuming raw dairy for my family, so I pasteurize it in my kitchen. It really is such a simple process that ensures a safe product.

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Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria. This raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, which are responsible for causing numerous foodborne illnesses.

Pasteurization is a process that kills bacteria by heating milk to a specific temperature for a set period of time.

There are advocates for the benefits of consuming raw dairy, the decision is YOURS to make however it’s just not mine for my family, be sure to research the decisions you make with dairy – a few facts I can tell you.

  • Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
  • Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk’s nutritional value.
  • Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
  • Pasteurization DOES save lives.

Visit the website HERE for more information from the FDA regarding pasteurization.

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To demonstrate how I pasteurize the milk for my family I am showing the products I use. This is not a paid advertisement, I just like the products.

I use a SafGuard Pasteurizer, find it here. Pasteurize up to 2 gallons at a time, low temperature, and designed for safe use inside your home. Everything you need to pasteurize will come with the pasteurizer, but I recommend also purchasing a food grade thermometer.

Once the raw milk has been sealed in the silver canister place it on the ledges within the pasteurizer and fill the remainder of the space with water. Put the lid on the pasteurizer and plug in the unit, there is no ON/OFF switch so be sure to only plug the SafGuard in when it’s ready to begin heating.

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The water inside will heat and raise the milk temperature to an appropriate level in which harmful bacteria is killed – the milk should be heated to no less than 145°F for a minimum of 30 minutes for proper pasteurization. When milk temperature is taken immediately after pasteurizing the temperature should read 156-159°, you will need to test the temperature of your milk monthly to ensure the thermostat does not need to be adjusted.

Pasteurizing milk does not prevent bacteria from re-occurring, if you do not cool milk responsibly after pasteurizing then bacteria can begin to grow. Bacteria loves heat and the danger zone is between 40-140°F.

I remove the milk canister and put it in a cold water bath, stiring the product to help cool faster. Once the milk has reached below 70°F I bottle it and move it to the coldest part of my refrigerator. The milk must cool to less than 40°F within 2 hours or you’ll need to pasteurize the product again to prevent bacteria growth.

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Bottles can be found on many online stores and in supermarkets, I prefer glass bottles and these from Stanpac have held up very well over the last year of constant use. I use 2 quart heavy-glass bottles with lids from here.

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I pasteurize milk from my cows because I believe today’s dairy farmers provide the healthiest and mossy nutritious food source.

If you have any questions please leave me a comment ❤ Nicole

Dairy Truths

When our cows feed isn’t safe

My farmer and I were milking one morning when we noticed that one of our first lactation heifers didn’t have much milk. As a healthy, young animal that had only been in the herd around 3 months this caught our attention. We assessed some of her other symptoms and assumed that she had swallowed hardware. The name is legit – she probably ate metal.

Does my cow have Hardware Disease?

Hardware disease (bovine traumatic reticuloperitonitis) in dairy cattle, and sometimes seen in beef cattle, when a sharp metallic object is swallowed.  Cattle do not sort their feed by using their lips and do not fully chew their food so it is not surprising that they would swallow something foreign. Where would it even come from?

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Photo used with permission from Lemajru Dairy, https://www.facebook.com/LemajruDairy

This photo is from a local farmer who had a Chinese lantern land in their hay field and while they were mowing they noticed the foreign object and removed it. Had this not happened and the farmer mowed over the lantern it would have been chopped up with the cow feed. Containing small wires it would have been chopped (diced up) and put into feed storage for the cows to eat throughout the year. We feed our cows a TMR mix (total mix ration) that includes haylage, silage, mineral grains, etc; when this feed is all mixed together it can be very difficult to see a small foreign object like metal.

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As a preventative there is a magnetic strip on the mixer to hopefully catch any metal before it lands in front of the cows. Unfortantly this magnet doesn’t catch everything and then a cow is likely to eat it.  The metal will then settle in the reticulum and can irritate or even penetrate the lining.

A cow magnet is a medical device to treat hardware disease, the size of the magnet is roughly 1/2″ x 3″ and stainless steel. It can also be given as a preventative to all heifers at one year of age, a common practice on some farms.  #101 was a healthy lactating cow when suddenly she DROPPED in milk; we noticed she was NOT chewing her cud and she would occasionally KICK at her side. Her record indicated she had never been given a magnet before so we chose to administer one orally.

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How does a magnet work for treating Hardware Disease in cattle?

The magnet sits in the rumen and attracts metal objects and prevents them from becoming lodged in the animal’s tissue. In #101’s case — a day after she received the magnet we noticed that her eyes appeared brighter and her ears were perked up. Shortly after that she began eating again and chewing her cud. She came back into a healthy milk production and has had no further problems.

Good feed management is very important when preparing our cow feed. For the things farmers cannot always control we ask for help from the community, please don’t litter.  Throwing empty cans and plastic bags out the window or sending away Chinese lanterns and balloons can land in our fields and become a hazard to our animals.

Xo, Nicole

www.mifarmgirl.com
Caring for our cattle
Quick Reads

If plan ‘A’ doesn’t work

To celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary we left the farm – woohoo! The husband and I spent some time making plans over the last 24 hours, no children and cattle gave us time to focus. We spent a good deal of that time talking about the LAST 10 years, the NEXT 10 weeks, and where we want to be 10 years from now.

The thing is — neither of us ever expected to be having this conversation when we started our married life, a life that we knew was going to revolve around dairy. We decided together that we are ready to make some plans based on our happiness; we ended up agreeing on plan A and a plan B, and plan C, and D….

The world will not stop spinning if plan A is a huge letdown. Details of said plan have been mentioned here and here. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll probably cry in bed for a few days at the disappointment BUT the next day we start on option B and so forth. Whatever your plans are in YOUR life, adjust your vision just a bit to see your other options.

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You can be amazing at SO very many things, so why limit yourself?

About Us

Ten reasons to marry a farmer

Absolutely, one hundred times over, I would still say ‘yes’.

Yes to the first date. Yes to the late night tractor ride. Yes to you jumping off a moving tractor and leaving me in the seat to operate square baling for the first time on a hilly field, you hollering directions from the wagon. But thank goodness we’ve moved on to round bales!

To my husband, thank you for being my guy. I cannot wait for the next 14,600 days. Happy 10 year anniversary. Xo, your wife

Ten reasons to marry a farmer

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Respect, sing it out loud “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”

From day one and even on days when I’m not his favorite person, he shows me respect. There is a deep level of admiration from farmers when they commit to someone. Maybe it’s the role models from generations ago, maybe the connection between working with animals and having faith in the Lord, or maybe it’s just in their blood but farmers love their mommas, treat their families well, and will put other’s before themselves.

Commitment

When they say they will they darn well mean it. Some times the deck is stacked against them but farmers are not distracted by bumpy roads; they take pride in following through with a plan and are persistent.

Priorities

His job is to care for his family, he does so by caring for the farm. Long days and hours spent at work are done because it is essential to his job of caring for YOU. There have been plenty of times when the farm comes FIRST and there are situations where it drives me bonkers, but working beside him and learning his ‘why’s’ help me understand.

Kindness

Working with animals can be scarily similar to raising a toddler. Stressful, yes. Messy, yup. Feel like you’re talking to yourself all day, mmm-hmm. If your farmer can find the patience to bottle feed calves or sort cattle without completely losing his cool than I promise you he’s going to be your saving grace when the kids refuse to sleep and you require it.

Laughter, laugh out loud optimism

There are so many moments when the farm can pull you down – laughter and viewing life as half full are farmer traits. An outlook like that can help you whether many storms together.

Jack-of-all-trades

The guy surly dabbles in everything; fixing equipment, wiring electrical, he may not know the term shiplap but he CAN do it. I’m confident in saying your Pintrest FARMHOUSE DREAM board is totally do-able when your hubby is a farmer. Imaging the possibilities.

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He’d give the shirt off his back

Generosity is a trait we need more of and members of the farming community generally don’t hesitate to help when able to. It’s not about loaning time or resources, it’s giving to your neighbor and expecting nothing in return.

 

Conversation starter

Shy girl through – and – through, find yourself a farmer and you won’t need to worry about akward silence.

Practical gift givers

Tires or a new gravel driveway – the very gifts you forgot you wanted the farmer will know you needed. It generally requires planning to arrange such keepsakes so you can find comfort in knowing you were on his mind often as the plan came together.

Support

My farmer knows how it feels to go after a goal, and therefore he is so incredibly supportive. Whether it’s me complaining or planning a chore chart for the kids or building my dreams — he’s here for me ❤

www.mifarmgirl.com
Farmers are
Dairy Truths

It’s all bull

Let’s talk about the bull in the barnyard. We are a bull bred farm, meaning that we let a bull roam with the heifers and cows to breed them.

It might seem like dairy cows are always getting knocked up but that just isn’t the case. Cattle naturally have a heat cycle every 21 days and the veterinarian tells us when they are healthy to become pregnant. Pregnancies last 9 months and then you have an adorable four legged love child. Knowing the correct terminology for the cattle is important, so let’s discuss names.

  • Heifer – female that has not yet delivered a calf. Heifers are introduced to the bull at around 14 months of age, give or take based on their size and health. Once a heifer has her first calf you could call her a cow but to make things a little difficult a lot of farmers will call her a first-lactation heifer.
  • Cow – female that has delivered a calf. We would generally call her a cow after she delivers her second calf.
  • Lactation – The cycle of delivering a calf and milking. A cow that has just delivered her 3rd calf would be a third-lactation cow.
  • Bull – Male that can breed (he has all his breeding equipment).
  • Steer – Male that has been castrated, most commonly used for beef.

In a perfect rotation a cow would become pregnant about 3 months after she delivered her last calf.  We would then milk her until she is 7 months along in pregnancy.  The last 60 days of her pregnancy we stop milking her and move her to the dry barn, which is housing separate from the milking herd where they receive a different feed ration. Really – our cows have an average of one pregnancy a year.

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Farms either breed with a bull or artificially inseminate (AI) their herd; the choice belongs to each individual farm.  We choose to breed with a bull because we don’t currently have the set-up we would like to have to use A.I.  We also choose to breed with a bull because of the cost of hiring a technician to come to the farm on a regular basis.  These choices are what works best for our farm but that doesn’t mean there aren’t dangers to having a bull in the herd. Bulls are very unpredictable and their behavior can change in an instant.

There is a HUGE risk to the safety of every worker or person on the farm.  Bulls can also get too heavy or lazy when breeding and can injure the heifers or cows. That being said we try to make sure our bull does his job and when he gets too big or even slightly aggressive we will sell him. We also have a red heeler who despite her inability to herd cattle effectively is very good at identifying the bulls and staying close to us whenever we are in the barn with them. Having a cattle dog has been helpful, good herders can save a life.

We have had a few bulls that were pretty great – Blitz, Sanchez, and Parker.

And we have had some bulls that were not so famous – We once had a bull that spent six months with our heifers and only bred 2% of them, which was a big setback to our herd. We need our cows to become bred so that they continue to give milk. As cows get older we need younger ones to fill in the herd. This is an important cycle to dairy farms and an awful lot of things ride on the importance of getting your animals bred and having healthy heifer calves.

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While anti-farming activist will use emotional words to convince the public that we are forcing our cows to get pregnant it just isn’t true. What is true is that a cow getting pregnant and coming into milk will happen naturally and the method of using a bull or A.I. is a choice of convenience for individual farms.

Having a bull in the barnyard works for us right now but switching over to A.I. may be a better option in a few years. Either way our cows are healthy and are giving us healthy calves and our bull is doing his job.

Xo, Nicole

Farm Girl

Building this farm, growing my dream – part 1

Applying for assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been the heartbeat behind our dairy dreams. In 2007 we began the paperwork to start our dairy business and a few times over the years it has continued as we have relocated, made improvements, purchased more cattle and built new structures. Without the FSA our farm wouldn’t be here, during these low and unfortunate milk prices the FSA has allowed us to continue business.

FSA loans are…

Well, the loans from the FSA are…

The Farm Service Agency and their beginning farmers loans can be exhausting. Every office and every loan officer is different, so my experiences will not reflect the experience of others perfectly but I have decided to document this journey as I apply for my loan to grow my dream of processing and bottling my own milk.

FB_IMG_1531860623949We began speaking with our State Inspector in April 2017, beginning with basic how-to’s and requirements of building and equipment. During this time we also contacted creameries in our state and between long conversations and on farm tours were able to gain first-hand knowledge of what the process would entail and the end result we could expect. There have been so many moments where I have felt completely lost, on-farm processing is not incredibly common in Michigan. I’ve gotten very comfortable with asking questions I know nothing about and trying to absorb every detail. I have spoken to equipment dealers, I have a rough draft of my building, I have discussed quality and health guidelines with my inspectors, and I feel confident that I am less than 75% prepared for this journey – this, it’s not that I’m trying not to be prepared, it’s because nobody can tell me how to do this. Like anything in agriculture it’s specific to each farm and their location, and their personality.  Sometimes I have felt like I am stuck at the drawing board, erasing and tweaking different parts to the model that isn’t even tangible yet.

In October of 2017 I contacted my local Farm Service Agency and discuss my goals so that a loan application could be created for me. I began filling out the paperwork; my reason for loan assistance, three year financial history, tax returns for the last three years, authorization to release information, list of creditors, my experience in the industry, etc.

Find a comfortable place to sit, have the previous three year’s tax information handy and bust out the calculator and crystal ball. Providing time, examples, and a lot of realistic strategizing can give you the groundwork to begin your application. BEGIN. You can also get assistance for any part of the application process by contacting your FSA office and requesting more guidance on what information they are asking for, sometimes you can print reports from your PC farm financing program in exchange for rewriting all the information.

Within 10 calendar days from the date the FSA receives your application they will issue you a letter of complete or incomplete status.  An incomplete application cannot be processed; you will need to submit the required information quickly for your loan to move forward. I’ve always received at least two letters of incomplete application, don’t get discouraged.

1511406482092Once your application is complete there may be some down time, hold steady.  You’ve just authorized the government to access your history and credit report, they will contact local businesses and so forth. Do not make large purchases that could damage the chances of your loan being approved.

Here is where I got impatient. If you continue to have an incomplete application, eventually time runs out. In December 2017 I knew I was running out of time – I was frustrated, and I canceled my application.

I was disappointed because I had assumed that my research was sufficient, but to the loan officer looking at a project he wasn’t familiar with – there were so. many. questions.

I was disappointed because I had researched the possible grant opportunities and hit a dead end with my loan office. In hindsight, I was eligible to apply for the grant but my FSA was not educated about the requirements and therefore told me not to use my time on it. When I did connect with the right department and people it was too late to get a good application submitted – I winged together an application for the Value-Added Producers Grant but didn’t have the funds to match 50% of my asking amount. Time was completely against me and all I can take away from the Grant process is the learning opportunity.

THEN I prayed.

In January 2018 I was starting over with my dream.

(….to be continued)

About Us

Farm details

A few facts about our small dairy farm 💗

 

What is the name of your farm?  Wren Dairy Farm.

 

Where is your farm located?  North-eastern part of lower Michigan.

 

When was your farm established? In October of 2008, during a difficult time for many dairies but starting out we didn’t really understand the impact of low milk prices.

 

What generation is your farm?  First generation.  Neither my husband nor I grew up on any type of farm, although he worked on a dairy farm for 6 years prior to our farm.

 

Do you sell your milk directly to the public?  No.  We sell our milk to a cooperative called Michigan Milk Producers Association, they take on the responsibility of finding a market for our product.

 

How many cows do you milk?  We milk on average 60 – 68 cows.  Sometimes we have a group of young cattle come into milk which pushes or numbers up, but our barn comfortably houses 65 so we try to maintain in the low 60’s.

 

What type of milking parlor do you have?  We have a double-8 swing parlor, we milk 8 cows at a time while we prepare the other side of 8. Milking generally takes 70-80 minutes, twice a day.

 

Do you use rBST?  No.  Michigan does not allow the use of rBST from its dairy farms. You can read a post about this here.

 

Are you organic?  No.

 

What do you feed your cows?  Our cows are fed a TMR (total mix ration) mix twice a day; this includes haylage, sorghum, minerals and corn.

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Do your cows go out onto pasture?  Yes, from May to November they have access to pasture as well as their free stall barn.  They can choose where they want to be.  Michigan winters can get very cold and we keep the cows in the barn during that season.

 

What do you do with bull calves?  We typically do not keep bull calves on the farm, bull calves are male. We sell them to local farmers within the first week of life. While they are on the farm we make sure they receive their mother’s colostrum and feed them milk replacer after that.

 

Are the horns removed from your calves? We dehorn our calves at 6 weeks old with an electric dehorning burner. In the past we have used polled bulls for breeding, which genetically do not grow hornes, so some of our calves are born without hornes.

 

Does your farm have inspections?  Our farm is inspected by our Co-Op twice a year and by the State twice a year. All four inspections are unannounced and surprise, they are all thorough and allow us to sell Grade A milk in the state. Every other year we also have a federal inspection, again unannounced.

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments! Xo, Nicole

Dairy Truths

Welcome to the herd

There is always something new I am learning about farming, sometimes from my husband and sometimes from other dairy farms and research. Caring for a calf was definitely not something I grew up with; it’s a very important part of my life now and one of my main jobs on the farm, the growth of our herd depends on it and I’m always clicking on links to educate myself. A lot of thought and care goes into how we care for the animals on our farm, it’s like being the mom to a whole group of four month olds – all the time. Calves have a fragile immune system at birth, they obviously cannot communicate with us, and from the beginning they know how to move around but have no idea where they are going. The care for these new calves begins before they are even born.

Our expecting cows are dried off from producing milk approximately 60 days before they calve; they have a clean barn, dirt lot, and cement feeding area that is separate from the milking cows. I don’t know why but it seems 90% of the time a cow will deliver her calf in the dirtiest space possible; it is also most likely that she will pick the worst weather conditions. Calves are born throughout the year on a dairy farm that includes hot August heat and frigid January winters. This little guy was born in the fall when things around here were awfully wet and muddy; he looked pretty dirty when I found him after morning milking. Welcome to the herd little one and now it is my job to keep him healthy; whether it is a female or male calf they all receive the same special care.  Since newborn calves don’t have any immune system built up yet, keeping him in this environment is not the best option for our farm.

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We house our calves in individual hutches, it’s a clean and comfortable home where I can monitor their overall health, food intake, and output. We layer each hutch with sand, fresh sawdust, and a thick layer of straw in the winter to keep them dry, warm, and germ-free. To help boost the calves immune system we want them to get their mother’s colostrum as soon as possible; colostrum is full of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and antibodies that will help them fight off bacteria and viruses.

Shortly after my children were born at the hospital they were given immunizations and vaccines to help protect them, and with my youngest being born during the fall the hospital had strict rules about visitors and the likely hood that they might expose him to unnecessary germs.  I like to treat my calves the same way, they are given necessary vaccines like a vitamin boost and a guard again scours (diarrhea).  We monitor how much fluids the calf gets and make sure the output is normal, and this helps us detect illnesses before they become a bigger problem. It also helps us avoid transferring illness’ from one calf to the next.

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At 3 days old our calves are transitioned from their mother’s milk to milk replacer morning and night, and given free choice water and starter grain. We choose to feed milk replacer because we find it to be more convenient and consistent for our calves. Calves remain in the hutch until they are around 60 days old and strong enough to be in group pens with other calves of the same age. By this time they have been weaned from drinking milk and start consuming dry hay in additionto the grain.

The importance of raising a healthy calf in the safest way is what leads each individual farm towards their calf routine; I have talked to many farmers with protocols very similar to ours and some very different. Moving calves into hutches has always felt like the right thing to do on our farm because it allows us to provide that one-on-one care with the calf; the future of our herd depends on the care these babies receive. And truthfully, being present on the farm gives you insight to the bigger picture…

Sometimes cows cannot get up after a delivery; they are too weak to care for their calf.

Sometimes cows are not mother-ly; there have been times when they will try to injure their calf.

Sometimes cows accidently hurt calves; calves get stepped on because they are small and tend to trail behind.

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And so sometimes, we need to put a little more trust in the people who specialize in their industry.  Every decision we make on the farm stems from the love and care required to raise healthy animals.  I encourage consumers to be proactive and ask questions to better understand the why’s, I ask a ton of questions still today. And if you have any questions for me and our operation please leave a comment; I can also supply a pretty awesome list of more farmers to follow too!

Xo, Nicole

Quick Reads

Girl’s didn’t shovel

I wanted to help my grandpa shovel dirt, I was around 8 years old and he wouldn’t let me. He said girls didn’t shovel. I remember accepting that and storing it away as jobs meant for men.

When I was 18 I worked for my uncle who owned a convenience store, it was snowing and he told me to shovel the sidewalk. I didn’t know exactly how and I didn’t think it was my responsibility. I felt very small asking him to show me how to do it, but he did and he didn’t tease me about it.

My children sometimes feel right under our feet and there are plenty of days I want more alone time. However, I will not let myself tell them that boys don’t do laundry and girls don’t hammer nails because they DO. I won’t discourage them from helping because it’s a job I didn’t want to do and their help stretches time, because for them it’s time together.

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These are moments I remind myself to not get caught up in the to-do’s. These are the reminders I need.

I don’t think my grandpa was wrong, I think he was trying to be chivalrous. Girls are meant to be treated like princesses. Except even queens have to know how to take care of themselves, and the farm.

Xo, Nicole