Dairy Truths

Are there hormones in milk?

Raising children, and daughters specifically, I’ve heard the comments regarding hormones in milk and the effect on the rate of puberty in children. Trust me, I have fears about the future of my kiddos; I worry if I can do something different, a simple change, to better impact their lives. Are there hormones in milk? Do you need to pay more for a label stating “no hormones”? Milk is one of the top sources of much needed nutrients; providing dairy for my children is an easy way to assure they are getting the calcium and protein their bodies need. But, I don’t want to tell you to just TRUST me… I want you to make choices based on facts, I want you to know that if you are shopping the dairy aisle it doesn’t need to feel overwhelming and choices can be made on a budget without feeling like your putting your family at risk.
The human body creates a growth hormone known as somatotrophin. It is a protein hormone that stimulates growth, cell reproduction, and cell regeneration. Cow’s naturally create a growth hormone as well; bovine somatotrophin is a protein hormone in the pituitary gland and is essential for normal growth, development, and health. The bovine somatotrophin, bST, is natural in cows and will be found in their milk. Studies have been done to see if this bovine hormone is active in the human body; during the 1950’s natural bST was injected in children with growth deficiencies as an attempt to encourage growth. Spoiler alert: there was no effect. Dairy cows naturally produce a growth hormone and it’s proven to have no effect on human growth hormones.
 
Knowing that the natural bST was tested not to have any effect on human growth, what about rBST? Recombinant bST (rBST) is a synthetic version of the hormone that some farmers give their cows to help increase milk production. Using rBST can be thought of as a tool, it doesn’t label the farm but allows some farms to make choices based on their operations. Not all dairy farms use rBST on their cows; some sates, Michigan is one of them, have made it illegal for farmers to use rBST in their herd due to customer requests. The FDA has confirmed that there is no significant difference between milk from farms that use rBST and those that don’t. In large print you’ll notice the brand of dairy notifying consumers their products are hormone free while in teeny-tiny print they confirm there is no difference between the milks.
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Don’t let marketing strategies install a fear that no “hormone-free” label means something bad, instead we can appreciate that we have food options available. There are both – conventional and organic – brands of milk that are not treated with any growth hormone, look for labels that include “rBST-free milk” or “rBGH-free” or “not supplemented with rBST”. There will be some dairy brands that skip on the flashy advertisements, store brand’s for example; if it’s milk from an rBST free State it will never come from a cow treated with rBST. Try this next time you’re purchasing milk: pull out your mobile and go to the website http://www.whereismymilkfrom.com, type in the 5-digit code (on EVERY dairy product) and you’ll know if this milk is local to you. Michigan friends – our code is #26-xxx, the “26” identifies Michigan and you can be 100% confident your milk comes from a LOCAL farmer who has never used rBST.
So, what is added to milk? Actually – nothing except vitamins A & D. That’s it, cow’s milk is one of the most natural and simplest food options consumers have. There are both – conventional and organic – milk that NEVER have hormones added.

Going back to the hormones our own bodies create; women produce 28,000 times the amount of hormones that one would find in a glass of cow’s milk. In addition to the proven fact that our bodies don’t respond to bovine hormones, the amount of estrogen in the human body makes the glass of milk pretty insignificant.

I don’t think many people will deny that our children appear to be maturing at a younger age than previous generations, which is in contrast to the fact that dairy consumption is down more than in previous generations. If milk were a cause of early puberty or cancers than I would expect to see a similar increase in dairy sales. I’m a farmer and not a doctor, but I would recommend my friends to look at the rise in childhood obesity in comparison to early puberty. Gymnast have incredibly lean bodies and most are late in maturity development, this stands out to me as I was a ballet dancer and matured years later than my sisters did.
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How much dairy should we consume? It’s recommend we have 3 servings (about 3 cups) a day; milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream. Not many other foods in our diet contain as much calcium as dairy, which is vital for strong bones and teeth. Our bones reach maturity in our 20’s, and if we don’t have enough calcium in our bodies when needed (like when we are growing) then our bodies pull calcium from other places. That’s not helpful to our kids, or even ourselves as we….age. If you would like more information on how Milk Means More for our bodies click here, how Dietary Guidelines for Americans continue to recommend dairy click here, or Lactose Intolerance options that still include real cows milk and benefits click here.

Milk simply doesn’t compare to other drinks, it is fresh-local-responsibly produced and healthy for your family. From farm to fridge in 48 hours and contains the essential nutrients to help our bodies & bones. Dairy farmers are dad’s and mom’s too!! We have a shared responsibility to care for our animals and provide healthy, nutritious food for our families. I hope you’ll feel confident purchasing the next gallon of milk for your family, conventional or organic, milk does not have growth hormones added to it.

For more about my farm family follow along on Facebook and Instagram at Michigan Farm Girl. Please leave a comment or send an email if you’ve got dairy questions I may be able to help with.

Xo, Nicole

Farm Girl

Finding our common ground

In this post I want you to meet my friends Chelsy and Jenny – both family farmers, mom’s, AgVocates, and great people. You will notice our products are different but that under the surface we also have a lot in common!

The main things we share is that we blog about our life in farming and we have created tiny humans. You might notice our differences right away; Jenny is an almond farmer from California and Chelsy is an organic dairy farmer from Washington. From opposite ends of the industry and distinct differences in the dairy aisles…can we still support and cheer on one another? I’d like to say yes, because I’m a fan of farmers – even those who farm differently than I do.

Almond Girl Jenny

Hi everyone, I am Jenny an almond farmer from sunny California. I met Nicole this last December through a blogger exchange and instantly knew this was a girl to follow. You may ask yourself, what does a Michigan dairy woman and a California almond farmer have in common? More than you’d think, and I bet it is some of the same things I would have in common with you…

I grew up on my parents’ almond and walnut farm in Northern California. Growing up we had chores and responsibility. I had sheep and pigs through 4-H and FFA projects that I was expected to take care of. Feeding, cleaning, even purchasing their food and having an operating budget of my own was a normal part of my childhood. During school breaks and weekends, there were always jobs on the farm for me to help out with. Irrigation and pruning were just a few of the orchard responsibilities I was tasked with. Farm life was the only thing I knew, and I loved it.

I knew that I wanted a future in agriculture so after high school I went off to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. It was a long six-hour drive from home but I wanted to make a name for myself and learn more about agriculture than what was in my own backyard. While studying Agriculture Business and Fruit Science I of course met a boy. He was an almond farmer too, but in the central valley. This was a foreign land to me. In the central valley, agriculture was large scale and more corporate farms were established there.

Almond Girl Jenny

But then I traveled to this small town of Wasco, an agriculture community that didn’t have much else than almonds and roses. It was here that the boy and I would start our own future. That almond farmer would become my husband and his family’s farm would become our livelihood.

That same work ethic and sense of responsibility is what my husband was also raised on. We are both 4thgeneration California farmers and are now raising the 5th generation. Today, it’s my three-year-old son and 9-month-old daughter that keep me busy. Chasing them around the farm and watching as they learn about agriculture first hand is so rewarding. When my son wakes up in the morning and asks to go to the farm, I know I am raising him right. I hope that one day our farm is there for him and his sister.  My kids see the fun tractor rides, running through almond blooms, and family meals in the orchards. But they also see the long hours, crazy harvest season, and the frustration when things don’t go as planned. Yet, they still love the farm and enjoy seeing family every day.

That’s why I am an AgVocate. Farming is tough. Owning a business in California is tough. But it’s the passion for agriculture and raising children with a sense of pride and responsibility that keeps me going. I am a proud mom, farm wife, farmer and blogger. I bet we have more in common than you thought, huh?

Organic Dairy Mama

About Me! I grew up in Wisconsin on a 70 cow conventional dairy farm. I was involved every day feeding calves before school and feeding them after practice in the evening. I started showing dairy cows through 4-H when I was 9 years old and fell in love with it. Every summer involved dairy cows and best friends. This is when I really started to appreciate and love  dairy farming and knew I wanted to be in the industry even after 4-H and high school.

Fast forward a couple years and I met my Farmer, at the National 4-H Dairy Conference nonetheless. He was actually more interested in video games and paintball than thinking about dairy farming at the time. But, I went off to college and he moved to Wisconsin from Washington State for a few years. He eventually moved back to the farm in Washington while I stayed to finish my degree. Every break that I had in college I would make the 2,000 mile trip to see him and the farm; it kept calling me back. I finally earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Science, but still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my degree. I didn’t necessarily want to be “just a dairy farmer” so I worked as a dairy nutritionist for awhile, but it still didn’t feel right. I wanted to be involved in the day to day operation on the farm, and that is exactly what I am doing now.

Organic Dairy Mama

After college, we got married and I made the move to Washington State, and here I am on the farm as a wife,  mama to an energetic two-year old, and a dairy farmer and I wouldn’t change it for the wold.

We have made some amazing advancements on the farm and were the first farm North of Seattle to install two Voluntary Milking System or VMS (aka robotic milkers!). Our farm has been certified organic since 2009. We currently milk 100 cows and have 300 acres that we grow grass (for pasture and feed), corn and alfalfa. Farm life is hard work, there is no denying that, but it is a passion and a lifestyle that we love. I wouldn’t want to raise my family any other way than on the farm.

Michigan Farm Girl

My name is Nicole and I share my farm story on Michigan Farm Girl. Our dairy farm started in 2008 by my husband and I, completely from scratch, not a family member on either side having experience with cattle but a very supportive agricultural community. Not only am I big supporter of beginning farmers, I am strongly attached to below average operations. We milk 60-70 cows, own 65 acres on land and rent around 300 acres. In total we care for 165 head of cattle and have two part time workers to help with milking chores. We have a swing 8 parlor and milk our cows twice a day at 6:00a.m. and 6:00p.m.

Conventional farms of ALL sizes follow the same regulations; whether small or large 97% of farms are family owned and busting at the rafters with pride and love for their animals. We’ve always wanted to milk enough to support our family, which includes two daughters and a son (8, 5, and 3). The kids are definitely living the farm life and get as dirty as possible all summer long! They are learning to help with chores and take on more responsabilities, they each have a few cows that ‘belong’ to them, and they understand that while these animals are part of our family they also provide for our family – we care for them and they care for us.

We sell our milk to a co-op called Michigan Milk Producers Association, it is picked up daily and hauled to processing plants in lower Michigan. Majority of our product is distributed to brands for ice cream, cream cheese, dry milk, infant formula, and butter. Our co-op also owns a cheese plant in Middlebury, Indiana called Heritage Ridge Creamery.

Michigan Farm Girl

Dairy was my husband’s passion first, I didn’t know a single thing about cows and couldn’t have cared less about agriculture as a young adult. Once we started farming I had to learn everything; I asked a lot of questions and suddenly I cared a whole lot about this industry. Every day I am thankful for the land and the opportunity to raise my animals, watch my children grow, and just be here doing what I feel is right. It’s important to me that I remember how much I’ve learned and help answer questions for consumers who are unfamiliar with modern farming practices. Follow my family farm at www.mifarmgirl.com, also on Facebook and Instagram at michiganfarmgirl.

 

The way we farm IS different and the products we provide ARE different; we are women in agriculture, we are mom’s, we are trying our best every day to provide for our families – and that is the most important thing to remember. Stay tuned for our next collaboration!

Xo, Nicole

Quick Reads

Too much truth on a Tuesday

For me, owning a dairy farm kind of sucks right now. It is pulling all the strength I have. It has emptied my soul and left me bitter. I’m down right angry and if you try telling me how lucky I am based on the photos I post – I’ll tell you to kiss my ass.

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What you see is bare feet on five gallon buckets, not the fact that we’ve had to cut back on hired labor and babysitters because we are monitoring our expenses. You don’t see me reasoning with a bored 3yo who just took his bicycle seat off and replaced it with his sisters pink one and She. Is. Pissed., all during the last 30 minutes of milking and I’m losing my cool and everyone is crabby.

What you see is a post telling you to look at how far you’ve come, not the fact that a loan officer has made the last 6 months of my life a living hell because I’m trying to find ways to provide for my family and keep my animals and nobody knows the future of dairy. No lender wants to look at plans when the present is getting worse.

What you see is a photo of my husband in his volunteer fire gear, not the fact that he may want to find a job off the farm because this isn’t fun anymore – and I can’t blame him either. He’s taking night classes which is stressful for him, not a ton of fun for me, and the kids feel that.

This blog is about me, raising a family on a modern-day dairy farm. It is my collection of photos and thoughts. Today I realized that we take from others what we need, to fill the void in our own lives, and I’m not about to give anyone the impression that my farm family has their shit together, cause we don’t.

Things could be A LOT worse, but like I told the farmer who sold his farm a few months ago – we take it month by month. June was positive. July will, most likely, not be. I worry about this industry Every. Day. I worry about my neighbors and friends. I worry about my family; the kids and animals. I spend a lot of time thinking about things I have absolutely no control over, and if you know that feeling, you know it sucks.

So look at this photo of little girl hands, excited to milk a cow by hand, and know that a bad day doesn’t mean a bad life. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

Farm Girl

The role of a farm woman

I use to watch this one farm mom, not obsessively but from the sidelines, stalker-like on social media, because everyone is honest online. I’d see her treating sick cows, snapping family photos in the parlor with a smiling husband AND kids. She was the farm wife I needed to become. She had her shit together and I couldn’t remember if I dressed my preschooler or if I let her dress herself… A few years later I overheard a conversation involving my “farm wife idol” and she was explaining how she doesn’t milk the cows.

Not a big deal  E X C E P T  that I realized this vision of a person I was comparing myself to wasn’t necessarily who she was. I’d assumed so much and beat myself down for not measuring up. I needed to stay in my own lane, I needed to focus on the farm woman I am.

I’m the kind of farm girl that sees a green tractor without a cab, not a JD4020.

I’m the kind of farmer that says we have a cool glass jar the milk goes through before it pumps into the tank, not a glass receiving jar.

I’m the kind of farm mom that makes hamburger helper and uses Alfredo sauce from a jar. And I like it.

I’m the kind of farmer who names her cows and their calves and can tell you their dams and grand-dams, but I’ve got no clue what they score on a body chart. I have more selfies on my phone with cows than kids. And when the laundry is piled high on the couch, I sit outside-I don’t need to surround myself with that kind of negativity.

I like cows more than people, drink wine from the bottle, and you can bet your backside I wished for a pair of new coveralls the night I blew out my birthday candle.

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I’m the kind of farm wife who yells at her farmer when he is being a jerk and yells at her kids when they won’t listen. I don’t keep up on the laundry, I don’t mop or clean windows or bake pies.

I’m the kind of farm wife who will tell her husband to take a day off because he clearly needs it. I will schedule myself more days than I can handle and eventually hit a wall and break down.

I’m the kind of farm girl who drags her feet on Saturday morning chores because it’s quiet in the barn and kid free, as soon as I step inside the house the real work begins.

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I may not be the kind of farm wife he wanted and I may not be the kind of farm woman I expected myself to be. But that’s fine!

The role of a farm wife doesn’t come with a guide; it doesn’t really matter if you can back up a chopper box and wagon or if you run to the parts store, if you deliver calves or deliver dinner to the field. Your role, regardless of what it includes, makes the farm run smoother. Farm women are pretty darn awesome, all in their own way.

Xo, Nicole

About Us

Don’t forget about small dairy

When we talked about starting our own dairy farm we never imagined milking 400 cows, we have always just had a different mindset. Often times I hear that if a business isn’t growing it’s dying, but there are other ways to “grow” than by increasing cow numbers. We currently milk 60 cows and that is definitely enough to keep my farmer and I busy, and I enjoy visiting bigger dairy farms and learning how they operate, but it just isn’t for me. A lot of farms around us milk more than we do so the question of whether or not we will grow seems to come up. Often. With the trend being to grow I wonder, can a small farm exist? I want to believe they can, that they also have a place in this industry. And for anyone who wants to know why I’m just not on the bandwagon to expand here are a handful of my reasons:

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Our barn. Our barn has 63 free stalls and narrow alleys so if we crowd around 70 the cows just aren’t comfortable. Cow comfort is an important part of good milk production and happy animals. In the summer we do let the cows out onto a small dirt pasture which helps but in the winter months we don’t have that option. To expand our herd, we would need to build an addition to the barn or (more preferably) build a new, more up-to-date barn. At this time building a free stall barn is not a possibility.

We are only 1 family. Many farms are still family owned, even if they milk a large number. As the farm continues through generations there are more family members involved and the need to support those families grows. My husband and I started our own dairy farm so at this time we only need to support one family of 5. Also, I have three little kiddos who are young and need us, a lot. As our herd grows the labor involved to run the operation grows and I would rather spend more time in the house with my kiddos than in the barn playing in cow poop. Yes, I could hire a few employees to help with the workload but I’m not ready to go there.

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Available land. The area in which our farm is located is populated by other dairymen, beef farmers and crop land. As our herd increases we struggle to find more land so we can feed the animals. We could grow and just purchase the feed we are unable to grow ourselves but that is an expense that needs to be considered as well, survival mode 101 tells me to reduce expenses.

We are young. We started our farm when we were 23 & 24 and jumped in with both feet. It seems crazy to think that we could sell out and do something different but the option needs to be there. I want to keep the farm small so that if one of us decided to try a new career or if we chose to stop milking cows all together, it would be easy for someone to manage and grow as they desired.

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I am tired of growing. For almost eight years we have been building and growing this business and at some times it has felt like we were sliding backwards. Our herd grew from 6 cows to over 160 head. We have converted an old barn into a milking facility, then started over by building a new parlor & milk house, we have built a house & pole barn, and we have built a heifer barn. We went from a newly married couple to a family of five in just 6 short years which is full of exhaustion in itself! I’m tired. I am tired of growing and expanding and to be honest I just want a break.

It takes all kinds of kinds – we all have our own struggles and accomplishments, heart breaks and road blocks. For us, for now — being a small farm that operates efficiently is the goal, spending time with my kids and cattle, and being able to do it all {which is my over bearing, over-controlling, first child, stubborn to the bone, right}.

Xo, Nicole

Quick Reads

Do we talk about it

I’m at my nephews birthday party, feeling all kinds of uncomfortable, because it’s people around me and not cattle. The kids are running rampant, hyped up on blue frosting, playing with Lego pieces which I’m certain will end up in my sister’s feet at some point in the night. I smile at that thought – because it isn’t me, or my feet. And then I hear someone talking, to me…

“How’s farming going?”

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It’s a generic question right, I’m mean I’m sure he isn’t anticipating my loaded response. But what should I say. Words like hard, difficult, exhausting don’t cut it anymore. He’s a consumer, right, so he might not understand when my sarcasm comes through and I explain, well, uhh, you see, we’re on the fucking titanic and I’m not in a life boat. Why isn’t my husband here, he’s better at these questions, he’s not so e-motion-al. Emotions, hormones, all these freaking feelings that life shouldn’t be this hard. I mean I can’t afford to be in business, can’t afford to sell my business, can’t understand why for all these freaking years I’ve put time and energy into

Me: “Oh, it’s hard and a little difficult. But wow, your kids – right!? They are so big…”

It’s a generic question, better off talking about something else.

But why? Why do I feel that I shouldn’t burden the weight of my problems on people? And I’m not talking about my personal problems. The biggest issue with the current dairy industry, is that at this point if a farm goes out – it’s not because they are a BAD farmer. If any one of my neighbors calls it “enough” it’s because they were given no other option, and that, is probably the conversation we should have had. I’m not looking for pity.  I’m not expecting my customers to purchase dairy beyond their means.  Maybe, what I’m asking is that the public see some people haven’t had their wages cut, and some companies are still accepting new farms, and yet… here we float, paying for our excess milk production, going broke, and losing our ambition.

So, don’t talk about something else. Talk about our industry, whenever you get the chance. Something has got to change, or there won’t be any of us left.

Xo, Nicole

Quick Reads

I’m no longer sad, I’m exhausted

Dairy farmers, how are you doing?
Like, really, how are you.

I’m part of this really amazing tribe of dairy mom’s, and this question was asked. It’s really hard to find the joy in every day farming right now and I don’t feel I’m very helpful to other farmers. But it’s more than just that — I am angry.

20180904_095220_0001I’m part of this really amazing tribe of dairy mom’s, and this question was asked. It’s really hard to find the joy in every day farming right now and I don’t feel I’m very helpful to other farmers. But it’s more than just that — I am angry

I’m no longer sad, I’m exhausted.
I’m no longer fighting, I’m surviving.
I’m no longer hopeful, I’m waiting.

I’m angry and I’m pissed off. I’m determined. I am putting my boots down firm, I’m refusing to crumble. I’m not really sad, I just feel really empty. I have cattle and kids that depend on me. I have serious obligations. This isn’t like the day I walked away from my job 4 years ago. This is our life. I read a comment on my last post that said “suck it up or get out”. In case you missed that one, I said farming isn’t a lot of fun right now. Seriously, suck it up – or get out. Like, serious-l-y? As I explained to that ‘super helpful’ comment, farmers have been sucking it up since 2016 — like, literally, we’ve done sucked it up so much that some of us can’t afford to get out. It’s fine. I’m fine. We’re all fine. Every person goes though seasons of struggle. The frustrating part is, farmers are proud y’all. And they won’t ask for help, let alone easily accept it. So, how am I really doing?

I’m sitting in the yard, bawling ugly tears, throwing myself one hell of a pity party and this little ball of love got me to smile. Damn him. My advice: surround yourself with an amazing tribe AND a few people who will make you smile. And pray.

Xo, Nicole