The Strength of a Dairy Mom

Being a mom is hard enough. Being a mom living on a dairy farm throws in a whole new set of twists and turns.

I recently asked a group of fellow dairy mothers what they think some of their biggest challenges and rewards are.

Take a minute to glimpse in to the lives of these amazing women!

Erin Michels
Mother of 3 (ages 10, 7 and 3)
Milking 120 cows in Illinois
“When the laundry is piled high and all I have is paper plates to serve our made-from-a-box dinner on, I think about how we live the most blessed life. I’m a dairy mom and a dairy wife. We live the dairy life every single day!”

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Katie Harris
Mother of 3
Milking 350 cows in Washington
“Most challenging is trying to find time! Time for kids, housework, farm work, sports and then maybe some sleep?”
“Most rewarding is definitely the life style. I wouldn’t trade this for anything no matter how crazy it can get!”

Char Martin
Mother of 2 boys
Milking 74 cows in Ontario
“Most challenging is finding a happy balance juggling dairy life, marriage, kids, meals, household chores, play and oh yea..sleep!”
“Most rewarding is our family working and playing together! Every day is teamwork.”

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Lisa Shearer-Yoho
Mother of 2
Employee on a 250 dairy farm in Ohio
“I’m a single mom of 2 working on a 250 cow dairy farm. We also have an assortment of animals at our house. My daughter is 18 and graduates with FFA honors in May. My son is 7 and in all the sports he can be in! I juggle working 3rd shift 6 nights a week along with baseball, karate, basketball, bowling and FFA by myself. Honestly I wouldn’t trade it for the world!”

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Amanda Williams
Mom to 1 (13 months)
Milking 50 cows in Wisconsin
“I’m fairly new to being a mom and farming full time. My little guy is 13 months old. I never went back to my day job, starting the transition process on my grandparents farm. My husband works off the farm and most days it’s just me and Wade (son) by ourselves. Most challenging for me is balancing work between the barn and the house. Also newborn feeding, nursing, pumping while doing the field work last spring!”
“Most rewarding is not having to send Wade to daycare and he is growing up in the life I love! His love for animals and tractors is plain to see.”

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Corrine Banker
“My house is my biggest challenge. When the kids were younger it was a lot easier. Even though I worked off the farm, I wasn’t really “needed” on the farm or expected unless it was crunch time. It was easier to keep my house clean! Now the kids are gone and the dogs have free access to the house this time of the year.”
“I’m also full time on the farm now. We are building another another milking cow barn, making improvements to a heifer barn and planting spring crops. My house is the lowest of low priorities, not to mention I hate cleaning!”
Corrine’s Mother’s Day present to herself:
“I finally broke down and hired someone to help me keep the house clean (she comes the first time Monday!) I told her my problems, hesitations. I also told her I don’t want a spotless house, just not an embarrassing one! She wants me to make a priority list of what I want most importantly and as we get more cleaned up she will do deep cleaning. I am SO EXCITED!”

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Sarah Brandt
Mom of 3 (ages 4, 2 and 6 months)
Milking 60 cows in Iowa
“My barn is cleaner than my house and we eat way more McDonald’s than we should. But I would say my biggest challenge is making more time on a regular basis for my daughter who doesn’t like the farm. She tells me she’s not going to be a farmer or milk cows like me.”
“My most rewarding part is accepting and tackling all the challenges of being a farm mom.”

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Amie Sprinkle
Mom of 9 (ages 1-17)
Milking 90 cows with her parents in Ohio in addition to raising produce and processing poultry
“My biggest challenge is not getting overwhelmed. So many fires to put out! I just try to take care of the hottest ones first. The work is without end. It’s easy to get down about it when I think too much instead of just pushing ahead.”
“My biggest reward is watching my children turn into confident, capable people. I don’t think my kids will continue to farm as adults, but their time here now is preparing hen for life.”

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Eline Van Der Veen
Mom of 3 (ages 6, 4 and 11 months)
“My biggest challenge is my house. It’s always a huge mess and can be incredibly embarrassing! I swear our barn is cleaner. The kiddos drag in mud, sand, wood chips, cow hair, rocks and all kinds of other things that don’t belong in a house!”
“My greatest reward is watching my kids grow up vs sending them to daycare and not seeing them. My heart melts when I see them interact with the animals and seeing how much they love them! I love when my 11 month old gets excited seeing cow. Even if it’s only in a picture book.”

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These women and many others leading the hectic life in dairy are incredible. Facing life’s challenges head on, while still finding this crazy life rewarding.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the amazing women reading this today! Bless us as the women we currently are, bless the women who helped shape us and bless the little women we are raising to be the next generation of strong dairy women. ❤️

Ensuring Milk is Antibiotic Free

When a cow is sick she generally needs medicine to feel better. Did you know that once a cow has been treated (received medicine) her milk/meat cannot enter the food system until ALL of that medicine has left her system? 

So what do we as farmers do to ensure that the milk/meat you buy is free from antibiotics and other medicines? Here are important steps we take at our farm to keep your food safe.

Immediately when a cow is treated she receives 2 red Velcro leg bands. Red means STOP. This is a fairly universal rule in any milking parlor. 

Red means STOP!


These 2 simple bands allow everyone to know that her milk cannot go in to the bulk tank.But she still needs milked. Her milker will now hook up to a separate  bucket. This way the milk she gives until her  withdrawal (the time it takes for medicine to leave her system) is over can be dumped down the drain. 

The pail her milk goes in to every milking until her milk is “good” again.


All medicine comes with a mandatory withdrawal time. It varies from medicine to medicine and has been established from many trials done by veterinarians and scientist.

We are required by law that ALL of our medicines are clearly labeled with the withdrawal times. Regardless if they are purchased over the counter or a persciption is required.

It’s important to keep track of all the medicines a cow is given. This way she can continue to receive care accordingly and we know when her milk can be sold again. For ease of communication we have a large white board that hangs in our parlor to record any treatments given. 


The note on the board has her name/number, the date when she was treated, what medicine she received as well as the day and shift (am/pm). 

This is not a very long standing record. We have a computer system where we enter all of our medical (as well as many other) records. Medical records are available on any of our animals that cover the time they were born until the leave the herd. 



The cows identification number, medicine given and date are entered in to the records system. If you happen to enter a cow is leaving the farm before all of her withdrawals are done the computer alerts you. This is another great tool! 

Farmers work diligently to keep the food you buy safe. Every load of milk is checked for antibiotics and other medicines before being unloaded to be processed. Over 3 million loads were checked last year (that’s a lot of milk!). Out of 3 million loads there were only 371 loads that tested positive. These loads had to be dumped. 

You can buy your milk at the store with confidence knowing several steps have been put in place to make sure you are buying the safest and tastiest milk possible! 

Girls Can Be Farmers Too

You’ll only like spending time with cows until you find boys. 

I’ll never forget the day our vet told me this. I was in middle school and loved spending time with the cows. It hit me hard. 

With one of my girls, Pala, back in my younger years.


While it’s true that the average little girl doesn’t dream of growing up and being covered in cow poo daily, there’s plenty of girls who dream of living in the barn. 

Farmers are often envisioned as men. Agriculture is predominantly a male occupation. However, more and more women are declaring farming/ranching/agriculture as their main form of income. 14% of farms have a female principal operators. 

Being a female farmer never easy. Some people have a preconceived notion of what a farmer should look like. Most of these descriptions don’t involve a mom wearing yoga pants and a messy bun. Few things can be as disheartening as having a sales rep stop by only to ask to speak to your husband or father. 

Generally no one questions if a man can drive a tractor, pull a calf or AI (artificially inseminate) a cow. “You know how to that?” is not something that is asked to often of male counter parts.

Packing silage this past summer.


Women have a growing presence in agriculture. As more and more young women decide to cement a career in agriculture (be it sales,production, engineering) the gap we have with our male counterparts lessens. 

AND if you’re a young aspiring girl who wants to farm, here’s my piece of advice. Don’t listen to that old vet. There’s boys who like farming, that love girls who farm too 😉

Perseverance 

The outlook for agriculture is currently not a stellar one. Prices are less than mediocre and many are hanging on by a string. In some cases a string that’s fraying. 

A strong US dollar is limiting our exports. We are striving to make advances to benefit us but are being financially limited to do so. Agriculture runs on a boom and bust cycle. I think many are aware we are currently in the later category. 

So why do we stay? 

 A Way Of Life

It’s hard  to find another occupation quite  like farming and ranching. For many of us it’s not only a way of life, it is our life. Our homes sit on our farms. Often times multiple generations have been raised inside the walls. When a farm sells everyone is literally up rooted. Not many other businesses have this to deal with. 


Tradition

Much like a way of life, farming can be a family tradition. You don’t often hear of multi generational doctors, landscapers or contractors. You’re hard pressed to walk on to a farm or ranch and not see 2-3 generations working together on any given day. Let alone the number of generations that set the precedent. 

The Future

A love of the land and passion for agriculture is easily passed from one generation to the next. We are submersed in farming quite literally as soon as we’re born. Often with the hope that we stay and continue on with what has happened before us. Improving upon what was left in our care.


A life in agriculture is not for the weak nor weary. While we are so heavily depended upon, we are often overlooked. Times may be tough, but one way or another farmers and ranchers will find a way to persevere. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recyle

Lately an article drifting around social media has been causing quite the stir among some. A semi truck and trailer overturned spilling mass quantities of skittles. These skittles were intended to be used as cattle feed.

A snapshot of our cows eating at the feed bunk.


The whole thought of cows eating a sweet treat was foreign to most people. Here is a great thing about cows, they are amazing recyclers! If these skittles didn’t find a way to be repurposed they’d be destined to go to a landfill to rot. 

Cattle are able to use many products in their diets that would otherwise be thrown out. These are called byproducts. A byproduct is something that is leftover from manufacturing of a product. Cattle are able to utilize byproducts from bakeries, ethanol plants, breweries and everything in between! It’s pretty amazing.

The great thing about byproducts is they are able to reduce the cost of rations. Generally they are cheaper and used in smaller amounts than more traditional feeds. Cows, just like humans have nutritional needs to be met in order to produce milk, gain weight and grow. With the help of a cattle nutritionists they are able to eat a ration that is balanced to their needs, with or without the use of byproducts. 

The grain our milk cows eat. We utilize byproducts such as distillers grains.


So what are some byproducts cows eat other than red skittles? 

Brewers Grains- This is mainly the barley (and some hops) left over from the production of beer. It’s very easily digested by the cows and is a great source of protein. 

Bakery Waste- breads, pasteries, cookies, etc that are left over from large scale bakeries. Often when it comes to the farm it is all ground in to small particles. This is a great source of additional far and starch in a cows diet. 

Beer Pulp- this is the part of the sugar beet that is leftover from sugar production. It adds fiber and allows less forages to be fed. 

Chips/Potato Waste- leftovers from potato chip factories can be a great source of starch. 

Distillers Grains- generally corn, barley and other small grains left over from the production of ethanol. 

Candy- the infamous skittles, funny bears, milk chocolate, gum drops, etc. All of these are very high in sugar and fat, enabling energy to be added to the cows ration.

Obviously a cow can’t live on candy and bread alone. Just like humans, a cattle nutritionist balances their ration. Together with traditional feedstuffs (silage, hay, corn, soybeans) a economical and efficient ration can be made! This is another way farms are being more sustainable and reducing waste. 

All that feed gets turned in to tasty milk!

Being A Good Mom

I’m a good mom. It’s a hard statement to type. It’s probably even harder for me to say out loud. But the truth is we need to tell ourselves this. 

I frequently feel like the candle is burning from both ends. But really the candle doesn’t only have two ends, it has wicks every where. Some days that flicker of a candle is more easily envisioned as a bonfire blazing out of control. 

There are days I pray that my kindergartener feels like I’m giving him enough attention while he works on spelling as I’m doing dishes and tending to dinner. 

My first grader reads and colors with my toddler while I get lunches packed for school. She’s my go to to occupy him when I need a diversion for him so I can shower. 


I think the hectic life of farming has made me stop to appreciate the small actions that are turning them in to great little humans. They have learned it takes a team to get everything done in a day. 

I’ve begun to focus more on the quality of the time we spend together. We have fun even when doing everyday things. Telling jokes in the tractor. Singing pre school songs (possibly loudly and off key) while we scrape manure. Our time together may be crazy, but it’s still time together. 


Days I feel like the candle is starting to go a blaze I stop and think. Did the kids leave for school happy? Did everyone eat a semi nutritious meal today? Is everyone fairly clean? Did we all survive until bed time? It may sound corny, but some days just reminding myself this helps. 

Life’s not perfect. Some days it’s an absolute mess, with glue stick in your hair and all. There are nights I run to dance class a little “aromatic” yet from the barn. But I’m giving it my all. And that is what makes us all good moms. 

Plates, Screws and BooBoos, Part 2

When we finally arrived at the Ohio State Vet Hospital I found my way to the registration desk. After filling out a few papers a vet student came find me. 

A group of students assembled and we brought her in. Puzzle was placed on a make shift calf stretcher. It was simply a metal cart with lots of padding. 

Her admittance was similar to that of a human. Vitals, blood draw and medical history was taken. Next her cast was removed. She wasn’t too keen with this. On top of what I’m sure wasn’t the most pleasant procedure, due to her leg becoming mobile again, she was hungry! Just like a person, she was prohibited from eating Tuesday morning so she could go in to surgery immediately if needed. One thing that we’ve learned is Puzzle is a girl with an appetite! 

After her initial work up, Puzzle was taken to X-rays. We obviously knew her back right leg was horribly broken, but a better look was needed to develop a medical plan. 

X-rays revealed that had a complete break of her Tibia as well as several hair line fractures around her hock (rear knee) area. One possibly went in to the joint. This left us with 3 options: 

  1. Re-cast and include a brace made of heavy wire. This would help immobilize the hip, but not completely stabilize it. The pro is it is cheap. The big con was the outlook was not much more positive than simply casting. 
  2. Pins. Pins would be placed above and below the break. This would stabilize the bone, allowing it to heal while casted. Pro- reasonable price, fairly good outcome. Cons- pins have a higher risk of infection because the pin is both inside and outside of her leg. She would also have a fairly bulky, combersome cast for 6-8 weeks. During this time she would need to be recasted and have pins adjusted 1-2 times. 
  3. Plate and Screws. A large plate would be placed along the break and screwed in to stabilize. This would provide pressure to heal the hairline fractures. Also only a follow up visit to remove sutures would be needed. Pros- no cast, very mobile immediately after surgery and best chance for complete healing. Cons- price

After much consideration, thought, calling Tom for his thoughts and listening to my mother inform me they had more money wrapped up in a cat once (that’s a whole other story) I made the decision to have them use a plate. 

Puzzle was immediately taken to surgery. They were worried if she sat over night her break may have punctured the skin. This would open a whole can of worms to infection. 

We were allowed to watch the surgery! I’m not sure how many packs of fruit snacks nor how many cheesy John Deere YouTube videos Henry watched, but we occupied a toddler for a nearly 3 hour surgery. No small feat! 

Here’s a few photos from surgery. I edited out students faces. I didn’t want to share anyone’s picture they didn’t want shared! 

Cleaning and prepping her leg for surgery.

Dissecting back tissue to place the pin.

Waking up from anesthsia to pets from the vet students.


Here is an X-ray after the pin was placed and every thing was patched back up! 


A 6 inch plate and 8 screws later her leg was back in one piece! Seven screws run straight thru the plate (1 is visible in this X-ray) then 1 runs in towards her hock to hold all the tiny fractures together. 

Incredibly she eagerly sucked down a bottle of milk almost immediately after surgery. She was then so happy to eat, she tried to bounce, like a normal happy baby! This isn’t something that’s ok after major surgery to a leg. She had to be mildly sedated, foods just too exciting 😂

The following morning the hospital called to give us an update. She was eating like a champ, walking around and overall happy. They then gave us the great news that she could come home the following afternoon! 

Shortly after the phone call from the vet, my phone rang with a call from the tire store. The manager called to see how Puzzle was doing! I gave her the happy report.

Thursday afternoon we made an uneventful trip back to Columbus to pick up Puzzle, the newly bionic calf! 

Plates, Screws and Boo Boos

There are few things that will do in the fate of a cow quite as quckly as a broken leg. They’re painful, hard to fix on a large animal and not always the quickest healing as they are constantly bearing weight. 

Late Sunday night one of my heifer calves had her leg stepped on by a full grown cow. Unfortunately the accident left her with a broken tibia.

 Broken limbs can actually be casted on newborns with a fairly high success rate of healing. However this is on the lower portion of their legs where joints can be immobilized. Breaking the upper part of a leg is generally a death sentence. It’s simply too hard to immobilize shoulders and hips. 

We decided to call the vet in the morning. He walked in, took one look and said we should really just put her down. As disheartening as it was, it was what I expected but hoped not to hear. After a little more examining her he told me he would attempt a cast. While not having much hope it was our only option. 

Now I had been patiently waiting for this baby for months. She is the first grandbaby of one of my best cows. This cow also doesn’t like to have heifers. As in she is 9 with only 2 daughters. This is despite our best efforts to help her along reproductively. Accidents like this seem to only happen to special calves. The dismal outlook was beyond depressing. 

While wallowing in self pity, the idea popped up about moving her to Ohio State’s vet school. We called to see what kind of an investment this would be. After deciding it was worth a shot, we scheduled to take her down the following morning. 

Tuesday morning was a lot of rushing. Getting kids on the bus, loading up the calf (who’s name is Puzzle) and grabbing my mom for moral support in taking a calf and a toddler on an hour and a half drive. 

Our first of many incidents happened shortly after departing. The road we normally take to the interstate was closed, leaving us to take a longer route. Then some haphazardly placed road cones and a slightly left of center semi gave us a close enough view of an already down telephone line. Don’t worry, it gets better.

While looking for out exit to drive in to Columbus the truck starts to shake. I moved over a lane and slowed down. Still thumping… The tread was falling off of my back tire. Lovely. Coincidentally the spare tire for the truck was on the stock trailer. An hour plus away. 

All I have to say at this time is thank goodness for my google maps app. I searched for a tire shop. After calling 3 places I found one who had the tire I needed. 

The tire shop gave me the number to a tow company. It was a mere 60-90 minute wait. This may be a good time to note the air conditioner in our truck doesn’t work. Don’t fear the breeze from the traffic not moving over kept us cool. Puzzle however was sitting in a black truck cap. So we pulled her out to cool off. 

 

Ninety minutes later our tow truck showed up. He was a nice man, who had an air conditioned tow truck. That was very appealing to the 3 of us by this point in time. He was tickled to be escorting his first ever bovine rider! 

Once we arrived at the tire shop, they were more than accommodating. They bumped us up in line and showed us a nice shady spot where Puzzle could relax. This is where she let her little agvocate light shine. All, I mean every one, of the mechanics came out to see her! One asked for her picture, one thought she was a goat and they all were smitten with her. To the point they called the following morning to see how she was! 


We were finally back on the road! There’s enough road construction around Columbus for 3 cities. But after maneuvering thru we finally arrived on main campus. 

Siri, who had been gracious enough to direct us on our adventure, stopped smack in the middle of an intersection. Thankfully we saw a campus police cruiser. He was kind enough to make up for Siri’s short comings and we finally arrived. 

After a 5 hour trek we made it. This trip should have taken us an hour and a half. Yes it was that fantastic. 

Stay tuned for part 2 with the fun things that followed our arrival! 

Kids and Cow Shows 

Some times we have temporary moments of insanity as parents. Our minds go blank and for some unknown reason all solid judgement flies away. 

This past Monday night I let all 3 of my kids sleep in the barn the night before a cow show. That’s right a 7, 5 and 2 year old. In a barn. If you’ve ever thought I was a little nutty, here’s your verification. 

This began with me nestling the wild tribe down about an hour before I actually figured they’d willingly drift off. Everyone’s cozy, quieting down and then the fitter shows up to work on heifers. The kids heifers. Whom they have pampered all summer. Not to mention they find this poor fella fitting amazing.Yea, that coziness lasted long… 

Taylor doing a rough clip job on his heifer, Boo.


Fast forward about a half hour. Emma’s eyes are closed. Still semi on track. BAM! Good news, on the first night of the fair there are fireworks (unknown tidbit I now know). Cows jerk back, kids fly up. Bye bye attempt number 2 at sleep… Not only did we watch fireworks from the barn, we buddied up with friends to watch the light show. 

Finally shortly before 11 pm the tribe has all drifted to dream land. Henry’s on a cot, while Emma and Taylor opted for a few bales of hay. 


By some miracle, I think it was God rewarding my patience, they slept until after 7. With all the pre show noise and commotion, they kept on snoozing. Don’t fear the woke up ready to go! 


Except for Emma. Who “couldn’t get comfortable on the bed of bales, had no room when she moved to a cot, then woke up cold, congested and hungry.” Yes, she’s this pleasant every morning. 

But some breakfast lifted their spirits. 

Don’t worry the cups empty. Im not that crazy…

Pancakes and bacon lift anyones spirits!


They got their booties in gear and had a great time showing! Poor Emma, her heifer decided to be a “rascal” as she called her. So if you catch it in the peewee class pictures, I’m well aware that’s not the big black heifer you’ve seen pictures of all summer. 

Taylor and Boo


Henry and Reba (with some help). Notice he had to bring some hydration with him 😂


Emma and her borrowed buddy Cleopatra



We all made it! Some how, some way it went fairly smoothly. So smoothly the little goobers might convince me to it again next year 😉