An Old Fighter

I admit, I like old cows. They might not be the prettiest anymore, they might not be the top producers on test day, but there’s something to be said when they’ve been coming thru the parlor day after day for 10 years. Girls that last this long are healthy, productive and easily calve back in.

Some people don’t keep old cows around. Old cows can be problems. Just as with anything else, with age can come more susceptibility to health problems. Sooner or later age can catch up with you.

Meet #120, she’s approaching her 12th birthday. For 10 years she’s come in to the milking parlor daily. She’s made over 225,000 pounds of milk in her life. That’s a lot of moo juice!

#120 chowing on some silage shortly after calving.

#120 chowing on some silage shortly after calving.

The old girl’s always been problem free. When she calved in with her 9th calf a few weeks ago things abruptly changed. The first few days were fine. The third day things went down hill fast. 120 came in to the parlor to be milked that morning and while being milked became very shaky and fell down.

We had to use a tool called “hip lifts” to pick her up so she could be moved in to our box stall. This device does as it sounds, it is placed on the cows hips and enable us to pick her up using a tractor or skid loader. It is important to remember we are dealing with 1400+ pound animals. It requires large things to move them and hip lifts enable us to do this with out hurting them.

After a quick exam, it was easy to see 120 was suffering from hypocalcemia, commonly called milk fever. It happens more often to older cows. It occurs when the calcium levels in their blood drop. This problem can be corrected fairly easily with IV calcium.

She was given a bottle of calcium and stood up about 10 minutes later. The stuff works fast! When I came back to milk in the afternoon she was once again down. I gave another bottle and additionally gave her a large, slow dissolving calcium pill to give a more slow release effect. By the end of afternoon milking she was back on her feet, then the following morning she even made it thru the milking parlor again. All went well for 2 or 3 days.

By Friday she was down. For some reason our cantankerous box stall inhabitant was no longer getting up. It was odd to say the least. She was still eating, so that was a good sign. Then came Saturday morning. She was out flat, making no effort to hold herself up. 120 had given up. Age and illness had taken their toll. We fought with keeping her sitting up and somewhat comfortable all day. By evening euthanasia was being heavily considered. It is not fair to make a cow continue on like this. For what ever reason our care was no longer working and she had lost her fight to live. Times like this suck. Not only were we losing our old “grandma” cow but we had spent a lot of time and energy thru out the past week for her to call it quits.

Sunday morning she was at least setting up. She didn’t show much interest in food or water but she was up. Her outlook was still bleak.

I came to milk Sunday afternoon, parked my car, looked in to the box stall and there was 120 but she was standing up! Hope! Everyone was cautiously optimistic. Over night she ate, drank and continued to get up and down. By the next day she began going thru the parlor again on a regular basis.

For whatever reason 120 got a second wind, decided she still had some more time left in her. We try our best to help our animals. Some days it simply doesn’t work. It can be discouraging. But this story had a happy ending. The old girl is back to going thru the parlor and is living back in the freestall barn these days. With time she should come back up to regular milk production. She was a good case to remind you that it can look bad, but there’s always a tiny shred of hope.

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Of Kids, Cows and….Pigs?

This has been an exciting week around here, if you like pigs that is! The past few years we have been raising small groups of pigs to have pork for ourselves, as well as some family and neighbors. I, for one, am not a huge porcine fan. They’re loud, they smell and their odd noises kind of freak me out in all honesty. I go along with the small scale pig farming because 1) Pigs taste good 2) the kids love playing with them 3) did I mention I like bacon?

I like the way we raise our pigs. I have nothing against large hog farms or commercially raised pork products. But there’s some satisfaction in knowing you raised what’s on your plate. There are days I worry how close to homesteading I am becoming…

With no further ado, here they are…

They're all cute and tiny right now. Pigs like to snuggle in together in pig piles in bedding to stay extra toasty!

They’re all cute and tiny right now. Pigs like to snuggle in together in pig piles in bedding to stay extra toasty!

This cute little group of seven bacon seeds will eat free choice feed for the next 3 months or so before they are butchered and tucked away in our freezer.

Chow time!

Chow time!

While they eat and grow, they’ll have lots of harassment, err play time with the tribe. Taylor absolutely loves pigs. He may leave us and our cows for the porkers someday and it wouldn’t surprise me. Emma likes them, but she like her mother, prefers them under 100 pounds while they’re still cute. They chase, pet, hand feed and love on this group and every group in the past.

The first attempt at hand feeding this group.

The first attempt at hand feeding this group.

Caught one by the tail! He catches the same piglet this way every time. The little guy stops moving as soon as you grab his tail. If he was a smart piggy he would keep running from this crazy kid!

Caught one by the tail! He catches the same piglet this way every time. The little guy stops moving as soon as you grab his tail. If he was a smart piggy he would keep running from this crazy kid!

Some prefer to investigate the squealers from a distance.

Some prefer to investigate the squealers from a distance.

The pigs give the kids a very real sense of where their food comes from. They know what the end product for the “rascals”, as Taylor calls them, will be. And they are OK with it. I’m not saying they aren’t sad when they leave, but as soon as they leave the tribe will be plotting to get new ones.

I’m sure there will be PLENTY more pig posts to come! In the meantime enjoy a few more cute piggy pictures.

Sitting and taking in the surroundings.

Sitting and taking in the surroundings.

Catching some zzz's after playing with the tribe.

Catching some zzz’s after playing with the tribe.

 

Guest Blogger: Nature vs Nurture: How Dairy Prepared Me for Down Syndrome

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I honestly did not know that until a few weeks ago. A friend and fellow dairy enthusiast has two boys, the youngest son has Down Syndrome. She began sharing daily facts for the whole month. So I asked if she would be interested in sharing some of their story with my readers. Of course she was and here it is!

 

Nature vs Nurture: How Dairy Prepared Me for Down Syndrome

 

One of the first dairy cattle selection skills I learned as a child was how to read a pedigree.  A pedigree is essentially a family tree that includes specific data relative to an individual animal and the animal’s ancestors, including their milk production and numbers called linear scores that describe certain elements of their body composition.  There are also codes that would indicate any genetic abnormalities within the ancestry and some of the other indicators would offer numeric  predictions for how an animal may perform based on their genetics.  Essentially, a pedigree is a snapshot into a family history that offers valuable information surrounding the potential for future generations.

 

During that same time in my life, I was also learning the irreplaceable value of raising cattle in a good environment when it came to developing my herd.  Specifically, science tells us that some of the fundamental items of a good environment include sound nutrition, good animal health and a safe shelter with adequate ventilation.  The art of executing strong animal husbandry skills however, can take things to the next level and begins to add many subtle intricacies to the basic scientific data and includes things like noticing when an animal is beginning to go off feed or a milking where her production is decreased, initial indicators of illness.  Likewise, becoming intimately familiar with the personalities of the individual animals in the barn to the point that you’d notice when “Bessy” who is always first in the milking parlor is hanging back, giving you a reason to investigate and learn why.  Being a good “cowman” or “cowwoman” for that matter essentially comes down to understanding cattle and making the right decisions to help each individual in your barn meet their fullest potential.

 

Those two and a half decades spent on my family farm were essential preparation for me in becoming a mother… no longer was I just bottle feeding my four-legged baby calves, but now I was caring for my own two-legged babies and almost all of the nurturing skills that I’d practiced with cattle for my whole life were applicable… things like figuring out how to continue meeting the needs of another while working through sheer exhaustion from late nights and early mornings, the importance of keeping routine feedings and even sometimes understanding the inherent value of just laughing when you find yourself covered in poop!  My husbandry skills were especially handy when my husband and I welcomed our second child, a son named Luke who was born with Down syndrome, a genetic anomaly where a person is born with an extra copy of their 21st chromosome.  Additionally, Luke was born with a congenital heart defect that is present in nearly 35 percent of people with Down syndrome known as Atrioventricular Canal Defect that was later repaired via open heart surgery when he was 16 months old.  Again I found myself using cow knowledge with human life…. Administering pharmaceuticals, monitoring weight gain, observing breathing patterns, watching for sunken eyes, excessive sleepiness and unusual behavior to indicate something was off because just like cattle, babies can’t verbalize when they aren’t feeling well. 

 

The value of environment feels especially heightened for me right now as our young family  is immersed is early development… our typically developing 3 year old recently started preschool and our son with Down syndrome is engaged in weekly sessions of physical therapy and speech therapy as well as regular occupational therapy sessions.  Although our children have nearly the same pedigrees, the genetic code indicating a 47th chromosome for Luke tells us that he will likely be differently abled from his brother… As I learned on the farm, it’s my responsibility as a caregiver to both of them to offer an environment that helps each of them meet their unique and fullest potential!

 

October is Down syndrome awareness month… please know that people with Down syndrome have the ability to make significant contributions to their local communities and society in general.  Having a son with Down syndrome is incredibly rewarding and the combination of differently abled children contributes to a diverse and wonderful home life for our family.  Please join me as I blog about our family at www.luke-bringeroflight.blogspot.com.

 

Luke

Luke

About the Author: Kristin Taylor and her family reside in rural Wayne County, Ohio and she has a deep appreciation for agriculture, with a specific interest in the dairy industry.  She has been a 4-H advisor for 15 years and has previously been involved with Ohio Farm Bureau.  She is a member of the American Jersey Cattle Association and a participates on their Junior Activities Committee.  She is also a past National Jersey Queen.  More recently, she’s become acquainted with groups like the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network and the National Down Syndrome Society.  Kristin has faith that God has designed a unique and wonderful plan for her life and the lives of her children and she enjoys advocating for individuals with special needs.

How We Get The Milk Out of Our Cows

We are a dairy farm. That means we milk our cows 2-3 times a day. This milk is sold to a processor, processed in to various of dairy products and then purchased and consumed by you. So how exactly do we get the milk out of our cows?

The first step is we bring the cows out of their freestall barn and put them in the holding pen. The holding pen is an area where they wait to enter the parlor to be milked. Once the enter the parlor they begin the milking process. We have a fairly common procedure. It is done to every cow who enters our parlor. In our parlor we can milk 12 cows at a time. Each group spends about 15 minutes in the parlor, from start to finish.

A full udder that just entered the parlor.

A full udder that just entered the parlor.

Our cows are housed on sand free stalls. This makes a very comfortable bed for them. It also helps keep them healthy by greatly lowering their chance of getting mastitis. Sand, unlike straw or sawdust, is an inorganic material. This means it will not grow bacteria on it unless it is contaminated by organic material, poop and milk. This is why we clean the stalls with a rake each milking to remove the organic material left by the cows. However, sand sticks to teats. So the first step we do in milking a cow it to brush the sand off of her teats.

A close up view of some sandy teats.

A close up view of some sandy teats.

A close up of the teats once all of the sand has been brushed off.

A close up of the teats once all of the sand has been brushed off.

Now that the sand has been removed we apply a pre-dip. This is a peroxide based dip that will sanitize the teat for milking. Teats are sanitized for two reasons. 1) We don’t want any dirt and germs from the outside get to the inside of the udder. This will make her more likely to contract mastitis. 2) You want your milk coming from a clean source.

Pre-dip being applied to the cows teats.

Pre-dip being applied to the cows teats.

Once pre-dip is applied the teats appear foamy from the peroxide in the dip.

Foamy, dipped teats. Good coverage is essentially to make sure all bacteria is killed.

Foamy, dipped teats. Good coverage is essentially to make sure all bacteria is killed.

After the dip is applied, we massage the teat to make sure the entire teat is covered in dip. This also helps stimulate milk letdown. Then we take 2-3 squirts, or strips, of milk out of each teat to check for abnormalities.

Milk being stripped out of the teat to check for abnormalities.

Milk being stripped out of the teat to check for abnormalities.

A clean puddle of milk.

A clean puddle of milk.

Now that she has been dipped and stimulated we need to clean the dip off.

We use paper towels to wipe the teats clean.

We use paper towels to wipe the teats clean.

A cow with clean teats, ready to be milked!

A cow with clean teats, ready to be milked!

Now that she is clean, we are ready to attach the milking unit.

The milking unit attached to a cow.

The milking unit attached to a cow.

It takes that average cow 5-7 minutes to milk out completely. So what does it look like when a cow is being milked with a milker?

Once she is milked out, the milking unit is removed and she is dipped with a post dip to help protect against germs. After milking the teat canal remains open while the muscle at the end of the teat retracts.The peroxide based post dip helps protect the cow from germs until it is closed.

Teats with post dip applied.

Teats with post dip applied.

Once all of the cows in the parlor have completed this process, they are milked at the same time, they exit the parlor and return to the barn.

Bye #124! Thanks for being such a good udder model!

Bye #124! Thanks for being such a good udder model!

The milk is then held in our bulk tank. The milk is picked up by the milk truck every morning and taken to a local processor. From there it ends up on grocery shelves and in your fridge!

 

Nice and Quiet

My house is quiet. Oddly quiet. Now this isn’t a bad thing by any means. These four walls normally contain chaos and craziness. So this little break is refreshing, just not what I’m used to.

The tribe has flown the coop. They left yesterday morning to go with my husbands mom. They eagerly packed their bags, except Henry who currently loves to pull clothes out of everything (baskets, bags, the dryer), and literally ran out the door when her car pulled in. Talk about feeling loved. The poor woman barely had time to put her car in park before they were throwing in bags, blankets, bikes and car seats. They gave me hugs and kisses then impatiently waited while her and I talked. You could hear shouts of “Gram, lets GO!” coming from inside the car.

They left and I felt a little relived. Truth be told mommy needs a break. I could easily work 45-50 hour weeks when I had no kids. Even after I had one or two, it was rough, but feasible. I’m drowning these days. A slow murky drowning of kids, dirty dishes, cows needing milked, laundry and living room floor in desperate need of vacuuming. And the thing is I know I’ll put my floaties on and survive, but at times it seems over whelming. So my husband kindly offered to see if his mom wanted the kids over night. A little relief. Now at least I have no one yelling at me to fulfill all their whims.

The first thing I did while childless was go to work. I know, I live a life on the edge! I was scraping paint in the milk house so it could be repainted and made all spiffy. Then we had a nice lunch. All the guys are working on filling bags of corn silage. We don’t have enough silo space so we use large plastic tubes, called bags, to store the extra silage we need. Some days it’s nice to enjoy a meal with no one asking you to constantly get them things, using you for a napkin, something being spilled…. Then it was time to head down and milk the ladies again. I’ve been milking nearly every afternoon. Normally the kids are good about playing in front of the parlor or sticking with an adult, but once again it was nice not to constantly think about what they were doing, wondering if I needed to hunt them down. Henry is teething again, so he’s not been so pleasant the past week while he’s been holding down his “office chair” in the parlor.

Excersaucer, office chair, it's all the same when you're 10 months old.

Excersaucer, office chair, it’s all the same when you’re 10 months old.

I decided when I was done milking that I would go ride with Tom while he chopped. He’s been living on a tractor lately so this is as close to a date as I was going to get. While some might think of this as boring, good conversation can be had while riding in a buddy seat! Mainly this was conversation not being interrupted by tiny, cute, high pitched voices!

The glory of the night was after I left the farm. The guys were unloading the last few loads of silage in to the bag so I went home. I took a hot bath with no, I repeat NO, interruptions. A-MAZING! No one stole the soap, no one ran off with my towel while laughing hysterically…. I love the tribe, I really do, but they can be some of the most trying little people.

I used my smart phone and car to secure supper for us. I picked up a pizza. I know, wild splurge for a “date night”. We chowed on pizza while catching up on our favorite weekly TV shows. It was a good thing we were up to the challenge of holding down the couch. Hey, everyone needs a good veg session here and there!

I got up this morning after an uninterrupted nights sleep, drank a hot, not luke warm, cup of coffee and pondered how it’s only going to take me 15 minutes to get ready for church instead of the normal marathon it can be. It’s kind of a nice feeling.

So I haven’t done much productive, but I do feel refreshed. Some times that is all we need to get thru the upcoming week. A good break from our normal routine. The tribe’s coming back this afternoon. Then I’ll get to hear, in their squeaky, high pitched little voices, all of their adventures with Gram. Henry will catch up on the cuddles and snuggles he missed from his mommy in the last 24 hours. And it will be divine!

My 4-H Experience

When I was 9 years old my mom drove myself and a little beagle to our local county fair grounds. I attended my first 4-H meeting, which was a hands on dog obedience class. We met every Saturday morning and worked with our pups. Eleven years, many meetings, shows, friends and memories later I exhibited cattle at our county fair one last time. 4-H was an organization that truly helped shape me in to the individual I am today.

My first project was dog obedience. I started with a beagle who would have much rather been hunting than been in “school”. Needless to say our first year was none to eventful, but I did learn a lot. Molly was more questionable to what she actually picked up on… The following year I had a new pup who was more willing to learn. Over the years Abby, my more “trainable” dog, and I participated in many 4-H obedience trials. We were lucky enough to qualify for the state contest and did very well. Obedience was not a project I stuck with all 11 years, but it was very fun. Out of it we also gained a loving and obedient family pet for nearly 13 years.

Being a dairy farm kid, exhibiting cows followed shortly after. I’ve shown everything from dairy heifers, cows, feeder steers and dairy steers. A feeder steer in case you’re wondering is a calf that is half way grown. They go on to be raised on feed lots and then become tasty beef. Dairy steers are just like beef steers, only they are dairy breeds. Many of the bull calves we sell from our farm go on to be dairy steers and then sold as beef animals. The cattle is where I found my true passion.

From the age of 10 on I have loved to show cows. Our fair was just my starting point. We had great dairy advisors who worked with kids so they were able to show at the fair even if they didn’t own cows. Many of the kids from our county also went on to several state and national shows, thanks several parents and advisors. I was able to show at the state fair and the North American Livestock Expo. My parents didn’t have the extra time to take me, but with people we had met in 4-H I was able to have this opportunity.

Once I was older I began using my market projects (animals I had taken to the fair to be sold such as the steers) to fund my habit of showing heifers and cows. I would sell my steers, and occasionally market rabbits, in the end of August at our 4-H auction, then attend our local fall Holstein sale to buy a heifer or cow to show the following year.

One of my last years in 4-H I was privileged to be on the state 4-H dairy judging team. This was my first trip to World Dairy Expo. If you’ve never been, it is an experience. This is another trip I would have never been able to experience had it not been for 4-H.

4-H also helped me pay for college. I received money from the milk sold from my cows I had purchased to pay for my college. I am able to say I never needed a student loan and graduated debt free. If not for 4-H this would not have been possible.

Not only did 4-H teach me many lessons and responsibilities, it also made me more prepared as an adult. There is a reason 4-H has more than 6 million youth currently involved in its programs. It is a great program. 4-H is more than steers and pigs. It’s lessons and memories. Things that can’t be bought nor experienced any other way. I must say, I am counting the years (4 more) until the tribe can start up. I think they are too!

If interested in joining 4-H contact your local extension office. I promise you won’t regret it!

Cheese Tortelleni Bake

Here’s a nice warm you up meal, perfect for fall. This is one of the first recipes I found on Pinterest and I have to say it’s one of my favorites! Pasta, a nice cheesy broth and it even includes spinach. Serve it up in a bowl with a piece of garlic toast and it’s ready to go!

photo (4)

I promise on the food taste better than the picture looks! 🙂

Cheese Tortellini Bake

  • 1 19 oz bag of frozen cheese tortellini
  • 2 14.5oz cans of Italian style diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1 10 oz box of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 8 oz block of cream cheese
  • 32 oz chicken broth
  • 1 pound sausage, browned

Place all of the ingredients in a medium sized dutch oven. Topping with the block of cream cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Stir to incorporate the cream cheese. This recipe can also be made in a crock pot. Simply cook on low for 3-4 hours and enjoy!

 

We All Survived

Some times you have to look back as a parent and say to yourself, well at least we survived. I had one of these moments yesterday. We had the whole tribe at Verizon for 2 hours trying to figure out our phone (or lack of phone) situation.

Sunday afternoon my dear husband some how lost his phone. It is either in some dark, tiny crevice of a Massey Ferguson tractor or in the middle of a 60 acre corn field. Neither sounds real promising. We coincidentally had an extra phone, that was originally supposed to replace mine due to the fact I’m an iPhone owner who could make one of those commercials with people slicing their fingers off on cracked screens… I hadn’t switched everything over yet so Tom took possession of it and was going to use it.

We had an update we could use, so this whole process should have been fairly simple and quick. 1 reactivated phone switched to Tom’s number and a new phone for me. In and out. Sure.

Let me start this with I really despise Verizon stores. 90% of the employees remind me of preppy kids who failed out of college so now they sell phones and look for any way possible to make a few extra bucks commission off of you. My apologies if you’re a Verizon employee. My sister in law actually works there so I can’t knock all employees.

We embarked on this journey after picking Taylor up from school. It was 11 o’clock and I figured 3 hours was plenty of time to drive to town, do our dealings in Verizon and then drop off a feed sample so the cows had a ration balanced for their new silage. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It was decided on the way to town that the tribe and I would simply wait in the car to try to minimize the chaos. Pulling in to Verizon it was apparent they were very busy. Tom headed in to check in at the desk. He then came back out and said he had at least a half hour wait until it was his turn. So after sitting and trying to entertain the kids awhile, I decided it would be easier to take the kids to get lunch. Verizon is in the middle of a strip of fast food restaurants, given all of our extra time I let the kids pick different places to get lunch. Emma is a Wendy’s person and Taylor prefers McDonalds golden arches.

We secured lunch, got back to the Verizon parking lot and I distributed their meals. It had taken about 15 minutes or so to get thru the lines and I figured feeding the natives would buy me almost a half hour if I needed it. Once again I was wrong. Two minutes in Emma declares she has to go potty. Like any 5 year old she’ll try to use this excuse to get out of the car, so I brushed her off. A few minutes later she brought it up a little more urgently. I assured her that her dad should be out momentarily. Then the third time she had that look of desperation, coupled with “Mom, I gotta poop!”. So we went to the nearest fast food place.

I hustle 3 kids in to the restaurant and we head to the bathroom. By now Taylor has decided he also has to pee. No big deal until he refused to go in to the women’s restroom. He didn’t just say no, he had the kind of fit where you look around acting like you’re wondering who’s little monster this is having a fist pumping, foot stomping fit on the floor in font of you. Finally I cave and let him go in. I’m thinking the kid just has to pee, 2 seconds and he should be out. Once again wrong.

Emma goes in to the women’s restroom with me, does her business and we head out. Still no Taylor from the men’s room. We wait a few seconds. Then I hear him… You see Taylor still flat out refuses to wipe his butt. He is sitting in the men’s room yelling “MOM COME WIPE MY BUTT I HAD TA POOP! MOM! MOM!” All I’m thinking is great how am I going to pull this one off. I wait a few minutes, we hadn’t seen anyone go in. I was about to work up my courage to knock and make sure the coast was clear when an elderly man came out. Good thing I dodged that bullet.

Another man entered about as soon as that one exited. He heard Taylor’s bellowing (I mean who in the restaurant hadn’t by this point in time) and graciously offered to watch the door for me. So I head in, lecturing him about wiping his own behind the whole time. He informed me he wouldn’t wipe his own butt because it was gross. No joke kid. I gather what’s left of my self pride and we leave, quickly.

No fear, after we pulled back in to Verizon, Tom was still not done. By this point in time the tribe was done. Henry was awake after the whole potty incident and the older two’s gold fish attention span was shot. Finally, at the moment I’m on the brink of losing it he emerges. The clouds parted, the sun shown thru and the angels sang! That’s what it felt like anyways.

So after 2 hours we have 1 new phone, 1 phone switched to a different number and somewhere along the lines picked up a free tablet for lost time and suffering, or maybe it was the data upgrade. Hard to tell.