Dairy Truths

When cows don’t get pregnant

As a dairy farm the success of our business depends on selling milk. Cows need to produce milk to secure a place in our barn. This is that line that as a farmer I hoover over; to one side I make business decisions because my livelihood depends on it, to the other side I let my heart fall in love with each of my cows and treat them as such. It can be a very real struggle to not consider these cows my pets.

When all is good — a cow will calve, she will enter her natural heat cycle, she will become bred by our bull within 2-4 months, she will be confirmed pregnant by our veterinarian, we will stop milking her two months before her due date, she will deliver and the cycle begins again.

We are a bull bred herd, meaning we run a bull with our cattle to breed them on their heat cycle. A heifer is a female who has not yet delivered a calf. Once she has delivered a calf she is often called a first lactation heifer but is technically a cow. These names are just ways for us to communicate about the general age of an animal.

  • Heifer – female newborn to roughly 24 months of age.
  • First lactation heifer – female who delivered her first calf.
  • Cow – female that is producing milk.
  • Lactation – the number of milk cycles, or pregnancies, they are in. Example, #49 is in her 5th lactation, she had delivered 5 times.

When a cow doesn’t get pregnant her lactation gets longer and longer and longer. Her milk production will decrease, her body condition may become unhealthy to become pregnant, and eventually we have to decide if she is still contributing enough to offset the cost of her being here.

We have to look at the amount of milk she is providing and determine if it’s enough to pay for the cost of her feed and her space in the barn.

We generally have 20-30 heifers deliver their first calf and move into the milking herd, logically we need to make sure they have feed space and resting room — larger, older cows will push younger ones out of the way. If we want to keep a decent balance then the cows not producing enough milk and not pregnant are actually hindering our younger cows from doing well.

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It’s hard to make the decision to cull, or sell, a member of our herd. Even the day we sold Liger, the very cow I despised, I hesitated and held my head down. But the reality is that cows don’t live forever and I cannot afford to keep a barn of pets.

When a cow can’t become pregnant anymore she becomes part of the beef supply. She will provide a healthy and nutritious food for families.

My children ask, and I explain as such: we give our animals the very best life we can while they are here, and if we treat them with kindness and allow them to live in a healthy environment we also owe them a humane end, and I’m proud of the life we’ve shared with them.

If you have any questions please leave a comment. 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

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

Mornings in the parlor

On mornings I milk with my farmer I get coffee. He makes better coffee than I do. On mornings we milk together a little one usually joins us in the parlor; they sit, they watch, they help, and they listen.

This morning it’s my middle one. Little features appear in the door way, a small smile spread across her face because she found her way to us…slightly underdressed but in boots. She borrows my hooded zip-up, and takes a seat on a bucket.

20180903_213843_0001Plans. Goals. To-do’s. Shoulda done differently. Some mornings there is silence. She sees damn near everything this farm makes you feel. There is excitement and joy, stress and worry. There is accomplishments and failures. This is where we talk it out. This is where we hold our business meetings.

She watched us dip a set of 8, swing milker’s to the other side and bring in 8 more. We talk about a few from each side:

she’s down on milk, -watch her tonight
she has a pinched nerve, -she’s my girl! get up there and rub it out
she needs to be dried off this week, -we can rotate the bull too
should we sell her next week, -i don’t know

She knows every cow has a story and we discuss every one. She knows what we do because she sees the whole process. She asks questions because how else will she learn.

So when my farmer asks me why I put this out there, why I put our farm out there, all I can say is – how else will people know?

Xo, Nicole