With (hopefully!) less than 4 weeks to go until we meet #3 we're busy in baby prep mode, which includes digging out the baby boxes, wrapping up lose ends, and stocking the freezer with meals! The other day I made these great Cheesy Beefy Enchiladas and shared about it on Facebook & Instagram and of course there were requests for the recipe (because it really is amazing!). Since I wasn't planning on doing a whole recipe post there aren't any step by step instructions with pictures but I'm sure you'll figure it out!
Freezer Meal Tip:
Don't have lots of 9x13 pans? Always forget to buy aluminum pans for freezer meals? No problem!
I always line the bottom & sides of a 9x13 pan with aluminum foil, fill it up with my enchiladas, casserole, or whatever and pop it in the freezer. At least a day later, I grab it out of the freezer, place a piece of aluminum foil over the top, flip over the casserole, & out it pops. Then I wrap it in aluminum foil, label & pop it back into the freezer until you want to enjoy it!
To Enjoy: Place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom of a 9x13 pan (it'll make clean up easier!). Then take your casserole out of the freezer & unwrap the top and place original casserole & tin foil back into a 9x13 pan. Defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before proceeding with the recipes directions.
What are your favorite freezer meals? I'm hoping to make a few more (and keep making them even post-baby because it really does save time & is so easy!)
UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, the farmers of Swiss Valley Farms & Prairie Farms, voted to merge their dairy cooperatives, which means that we're now part of the cheese division of Prairie Farms. The principals of a dairy cooperative still stand true & we're looking forward to the opportunities that the merger will provide for us, the the dairy farmers.
So I grew up thinking that a coop was a place that you could buy organic local food in bulk because that's what my experience was and although that's true and there's plenty of coops like that out there, a coop, or a cooperative, really just means that a group of people have come together to cooperate on something and they legally form a cooperative.
So we've joined with other farmers to pool our milk together and then hire other people to take it from there! Because once our milk leaves the farm someone else has to take over in their specialty area from processing the milk into the many yummy dairy foods to marketing & selling those products both locally & globally!
What happens to our milk once we've milked the cows is one of the top questions we get asked. The simple answer? As member-owners our milk goes to Swiss Valley Farms. But you might have a few more questions... so read on!
What would your other options be if you weren't part of Swiss Valley Farms?
1) We could process it ourselves, which some people like Hansen's do but that would mean that we'd need to have some additional expertise & the machines/supplies necessary to pasteurize, make cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. which would take time away from caring for our cows.
2) We could also sell it on the open market to whichever milk plant, like Blue Bunny, needs or wants milk and then figure out how to get it there, again taking time away from caring for our cows, which is our specialty.
But does being part of a dairy cooperative really give you any advantages?
Yup! Here's at least three great reasons!
1. Farm to Table... and Beyond! We get tell you where our milk usually goes and what it gets made into and I think that's great because if you really want you can follow your food from Farm to Table, which is quite popular these days. Typically after our milk hauler picks up our milk along with other farms in the area, it gets taken to a cheese plant in Luana, Iowa. There's a wide variety of cheese that it can become from there, our favorite is the Swiss, because you can try it yourself by purchasing some here!
But not all of our milk ends up on tables in the USA, some of it gets made into cream cheese that ends up in cheesecakes halfway around the world in Asia! And that's pretty amazing to me, since on our own we'd never be able to make our milk into Swiss cheese for your table or into cream cheese and then figure out how to get it to Asia! Swiss Valley was even recognized this year as the 2016 Dairy Exporter of the Year by the US Dairy Export Council! Watch a video about it here!
And there's even a plant in Rochester, MN that makes processed cheese that ends up being used in all sorts of things like Goldfish or Cheez-its... yup there's real cheese in those crackers!
2. Learning & Training Being part of a dairy cooperative also gives us on-going learning & networking opportunities in and out of Swiss Valley Farms. As young farmers we have the opportunity to get together with other "Young Cooperators" each spring for 2 days of learning from Dairy Extension Staff and consultants, discussing what's happening within the cooperative, touring a farm or one our cheese plants, and having a little fun getaway from our 24/7 lives as dairy farmers!
Every year 2 couples get chosen to represent Swiss Valley Farms at the National Milk Producers Federation's Annual Meeting with other Young Cooperators from around the country. We were blessed to have been chosen a few years back. We learned a lot, met some great people, and had fun!
But there's even little things that have their advantages, like the monthly newsletter we get that highlights what's happening in the various cheese plants, awards that our cheeses' have won, and accomplishments & articles about other farmers, and more.
3. Market Protection Lastly and probably the biggest reason a lot of dairy farmers are part of dairy cooperatives is that part of being a member-owner ensures that Swiss Valley Farms will always give our milk a place to go to be processed and sent into the marketplace. When milk supply far exceeds demand for dairy products and the price we get paid for our milk is low the first milk that Swiss Valley Farms uses in it's products is milk from it's farmer owners, like us.
If we were selling our milk on the open market and trying to find the milk processor that would pay us the most for our milk, at times when the market is down, we'd get a lot less. We may miss out on the highest of high prices but we also are protected from the lowest prices or even not having anyone who wanted to buy our cow's milk at all, which sadly can happen.
Along those same lines, being part owner's of a company that makes our cows' milk into cheese adds value to our cow's milk because cheese has a much longer shelf life and is a much more unique product than milk on it's own.
Isn't that complicated? All that milk and all those plants?
Yes, it takes a lot of work and people to get the milk from our farm to the local grocery store shelf or half-way around the world for Asian cheesecakes! Milk is perishable so it has to stay cool & travel quickly & efficiently and we don't want it making any unnecessary trips!
Swiss Valley Farms has a great team of folks who communicates between each of the cheese plants about how much milk they need and the many milk haulers who pick up milk from Swiss Valley farmers 365 days a year! Cows make milk everyday which means the cheese plants have to be making cheese everyday too! Weather, natural disasters, equipment malfunctioning, customer purchasing and a variety of other factors can come up and milk has to be redirected to fill needs or find a processing home. It can get complicated!
Milk is perishable and typically spends less than 24 hours in the HUGE stainless steel food grade milk silos at the processing plants. Milk travels incredible quickly & efficiently thanks to the hard work of the many logistic teams at all the different milk cooperatives & companies in the US.
So, How big is Swiss Valley Farms?
Swiss Valley Farms has farmer member owners in 4 upper-midwest states that all come together at their corners - Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota so although milk doesn't actually travel very far from farm to processing plant it can cross state lines! Of the over 500 dairy farmers who are member-owners of Swiss Valley Farms, each of their farms is a little different - that's the beauty of dairy farming! Some are smaller and some are bigger; some milk their cows in tie-stalls & others have robots milk their cows; some cows spend all summer on pasture while others stay in the shade of the barn with big fans (like our gals!) and a whole lot of other variables!
Yeah, but do the farmers actually have decision making power?
While I can't vouch for every dairy cooperative at Swiss Valley Farms, yes they do or I should say they can, if they want to be involved. Every district elects a director who together make up the board of directors who meets at least monthly with the management team that they've hired to make decisions in the cooperative. And each district also has representatives that meet to discuss cooperative issues. My mother-in-law, Pam, served on the board for 26 years, the last 8 of which she was the Chairman of the Board. I can vouch that as Chair she typically had weekly conference calls with the CEO and vice-chair, talked with farmers in her district, and consulted with other district directors about the ins and outs of cooperative business. Is it easy to represent a diverse group of dairy farmers? Not always (is it ever really easy to cooperate?) but together we can do so much more than we could on our own and dairy cooperatives truly allow smaller farms to continue to survive as economies of scale push most every industry to grow & expand.
What about other dairy cooperatives? Are there more?
Yup! You may have heard of them. Dan's aunt & uncle are part of AMPI (Associated Milk Producers Inc.), and I since grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota Kemps & Land O' Lakes are the dairy cooperatives I grew up with. And don't forget Cabot Cheese out in Vermont and lots of other dairy cooperatives throughout the country. The amazing thing about being an American dairy farmer is that I have options, a lot of options, about which other farmers I join to help make our cows' milk into cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cottage cheese, chocolate milk, and more!
And Guess What???
And it just so happens that October is National Co-op Month. Did you know that in the United States there are more than 29,000 cooperatives that serve 350 million people? Maybe you're even included in that number... what kind of cooperative are you part of? Electric, Dairy, Grocery, Credit Union, Health Care... there's a lot of options!
Let me know in the comments!
On July 22 we celebrated 10 years of marriage which is an amazing accomplishment, although not quite as impressive as Dan's grandparents who celebrated 65 years and 60 years of marriage this year! We have a long way to go!
Today, 10 years later, we're together living, breathing, and sleeping (or not sleeping) dairy farming. And while that hasn't always been the case we have always shared a love of milk including the fateful day we first met...
We both attended Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa and were part of a fraternity & sorority. Our lives were quite far from what Hollywood would have you think college life in frat house is like and in fact the night we met Lynn happened to be attending a Bible study at Dan's fraternity. As the night got started it was probably long after supper time and I was thirsty so I asked if I could grab a glass of milk from the kitchen and of course no one minded. I headed to the kitchen filled up my cup and rejoined the Bible Study paying no attention to what else happened to be going on in the kitchen.
When I got back though I was transported back to Jr. High as Dan's fraternity brothers began teasing me... "You're going to marry D-Bo because you both like milk...ha ha ha" and on and on they went. Up to this point, to my knowledge, I hadn't met Dan, or D-Bo as his fraternity brothers called him, and so this all seemed rather childish and I noted that we should get back to our Bible Study.
What I didn't know & hadn't observed was that Dan had actually been in the kitchen when I grabbed my glass of milk baking cookies for a Bake Sale at his church. When he'd finished baking he had some extra and being the amazing guy he is, he decided to offer our Bible Study a few, so in he came...
As he came around the corner everyone started snickering in my direction and noting "Here comes D-Bo..." And it just so happened, I suppose because I'd gone to grab that glass of milk, that I was sitting just inside the door so I was the first one D-Bo offered cookies to.
So, what's going through my head since he walked in and the snickering started? "Ok, who put him up to this? Did I miss someone leaving & telling him it would be funny to offer some cookies to me because I like milk? This is silly...." And you know what? I couldn't even eat a cookie! I'd given up sweets for Lent...
I'm sure my face was bright red as the jokes continued as he offered everyone else cookies & then headed back to the kitchen. Because although I didn't know it then, it turns out that Dan's just a great guy who wanted to offer us all cookies since he had a few extra. I was embarrassed and did feel a bit like I was in Jr. High but I suppose the jokes & snickering did the trick because my curiosity & interest was pricked and I began noticing this D-Bo guy a bit more....
The rest of the story? You mean you want to know what happened next? Well from then on it's a pretty normal story. We crossed paths here & there, hung out at Sonshine Music Festival LINK where we happened to be camping in the same large group of friends, and eventually the next fall in 2003 starting seriously dating.
(So, I went in search of one of these pictures & couldn't resist including them all... enjoy!)
And finally on July 22, 2006 we were married and honestly we didn't have a farm wedding at all... I think the only way you would've known Dan was from a dairy farm a picture included with 20 others at each table. We didn't have any old cool old milk cans (like the wedding we went to a few weekends ago!) or other references to cows or the farm. Barely a hint that one day we'd end up back here on the farm enjoying glasses of milk together.
On our Honeymoon thought we did stop at Flayvors of Cook Farm for lunch
and of course some ice cream!
What's your story of how you met?
Ice Cream Month is here! Yum!
Last year Iinterviewed Dan's Grandpa Pete, the biggest ice cream lover I know, in honor of Ice Cream Month. He likes to eat ice cream with all sorts of things including this recipe, his Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal a la Mode.
Our family had the privilege of living with Grandpa Pete & Grandma Mary for a few months after our RV was frozen solid a few winters ago. If Grandpa Pete was the first one up in the morning we'd often get treated to this delicious oatmeal for breakfast! I don't think exact measurements were ever used so I just guessed, that way you can easily recreate it yourself!
Start by chopping up your apples into little pieces & tossing them in a big microwave safe bowl. I leave the apple peel on when I chop it up for some added fiber goodness!
Next toss your oatmeal into the same big bowl and add the milk. You do make your oatmeal with milk, right? If not, seriously consider starting now. Did you know that by making even a small instant packet of oatmeal with milk instead of water you're adding 4 grams of protein to your breakfast?
Stir the oatmeal, apples, & milk together and then microwave it for 2 minutes on high. Then check & stir every minute until it's the consistency that you prefer. Oatmeal is actually one of the few areas that #DairyManDan & I have differing opinions. #DairyManDan likes stick-to-your-spoon-and-roof-of-your-mouth thick oatmeal and I prefer a more creamy smooth "runny" oatmeal. Since I was cooking & it looks better for pictures, it took our oatmeal a total of 5 minutes to reach perfection.
Then stir in your cinnamon & raisins before scooping into individual bowls.
And of course, the most important part comes last. Top each of those bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which will, of course, start melting right away creating even more creamy goodness for breakfast! This is where you can use discretion & determine how sweet you want your (or your kids') oatmeal. All that's left is to enjoy!
Do you have any unique ways you enjoy ice cream? I'll be sure to let Grandpa Pete know!
And because everyone loves to SCREAM for Ice Cream Month here are some other dairy farmers sharing their favorite ice cream recipes, stories, and more! Check 'em out!
Have you been following along this month as #DairyManDan has been snapping pictures of his days?
Did you miss a few? Not to worry! Here they all are, telling a story of #DairyManDan's days on our family dairy farm!
Since typically I'm the one who snaps photos around the farm & posts them I wanted to get #DairyManDan's perspective on things and, as I expected, it's bit different than mine! Some of the photos I still took... especially if I happened to be around (plus that way you can see him in action!).
As you'll see, no day is quite the same although the jobs that have to get done are! My original intent was to have #DairyManDan snap a pic at the top of the hour everyday for the first half of the month & then on the half hour the second half of the month. That was unrealistic expectation!
His hands are usually busy with something, so the pictures ended up getting snapped when he'd take his phone out and would see that one of his many to-do's was to take a picture! The second part of the month they're not really even in a time order anymore!
To celebrate June Dairy Month I'd like to introduce you to some other amazing dairy farmers & what a day in their life looks like! One of the things I love about dairy farming is the multitude of practices or ways you can care for your cows! After reading about what Dan's days looks like check out what a day in the life of these farmers look like... it's so different & so similar all at the same time! The links are all below my introductions.
First up is Renee from Eat, Farm, Love! She farms in Pennsylvania where they milk 200 Jersey cows. 20 of those Jersey's get milked at one time, a bit different than 2 at a time at our farm! We have a few Jerseys & their eyes are so gorgeous!
Next is Alicia from Happily Married... To The Cows. She too lives in Pennsylvania too, which happens to means lots of beautiful things... I love her double story porch, old beautiful stone barn, and they have beautiful white fences, we just have some electric wire!
In the links below I'm up next so look around & check out our farm a little more!
Jumping to the west coast, we have Darleen at Guernsey Dairy Mama in Oregon. As you might have noticed she has Guernseys, all Guernsey, like Dan's Grandpa use to have. We only have a few left, but they are beautiful! I love her post about what's in a dairy farmers day since now that we have Rita the robot #DairyManDan's days look so different than they use to! And her days will soon be changing too as they're putting in robots.
Up to my home state of Minnesota we find Sadie at Dairy Good Life. Her 75 cows are milked in a stanchion barn, which means they each have their own spot and Sadie & her husband bring the milking machine to each cow to milk them. Check out their farm page & the great video about their farm!
And last but not least is Caci at The Farm Wife who heralds from South Carolina, which I'd say is the south, which means we're covering a good bit of the US! Their family has been farming for 10 generations... that's amazing! And she could be describing #DairyManDan, except he's actually averaged a little over 30,000 steps this month, with his high days at over 48,000 steps!
Explore A Day in the Life of Dairy Farmers Across the US!
What does your typically day look like?
Happy June Dairy Month! This month couldn't pass without another amazing dairy recipe! This one tops the list for so many reasons... it's packed with dairy (sour cream, cream cheese, milk, and Parmesan cheese!), it's perfect for making two at a time and freezing one for later (score!), and of course, it's delicious!
It's not a one-pot wonder but it is a two big pan wonder! In all these pictures I'm doubling the original recipe so I can freeze one for later. So let's started...
First things first... heat up that oven to 350 degrees and start boiling some water to cook those noodles however your package says (or just taste a noodle like I do!). Helpful hint: use a BIG pan... it'll be helpful later!
Next, chop up the onion to toss in the pan. See that handy-dandy chopper? It has saved me many tears, onion tears, that is. I LOVE my chopper! Then press some garlic into the onion pan.
At this point if Dairyman Dan walks by the window (because he's probably not in the house but in the barn or outside) he'd says something like, "Yum, that smells delicious!" To which I'd reply, "Of course it's onions & garlic, they always smell good!"
Now toss in your ground beef and mash it up. If you're like me, you'll be excited to use your Mix N Chop, which is perfect for browning ground beef... I can't believe I use to fight partial frozen ground beef with a spatula! When the beef is almost brown toss in the green peppers. Since mine were frozen I just eye-balled how much to put in.
No here's where I deviated a bit more from the original recipe. I had some tomato juice so instead of tomato sauce, tomato paste, and water I just used the tomato juice (which is essentially the same thing with some other added veggies - bonus!). Then sprinkle in the Italian Seasoning, stir it up, & let it simmer.
By the way, make sure to check those noodles if you forgot them... the kids, who help me "check" the noodles, usually don't let me forget!
Now onto the good part... Put your cream cheese & milk in a microwave safe bowl & cook them on medium in the microwave, stirring every 90 seconds or so. Because I doubled the recipe the whole way through it took my cream cheese about 5 minutes to melt. But every microwave is different so keep checking & stirring at the 90 second mark! Keep stirring it until you get a nice smooth sauce.
When I made this I had some of our farmer-owned dairy coop's cream cheese on hand... this stuff is amazing! I don't always have it on hand to use but we love when I do! It's so amazing that some of it travels all the way to Korea to make premium cheesecakes!
At this point you're going to want to make sure that your cream cheese mixture is in a big bowl or that the pan that your noodles were cooked in is big 'cause it's all going together!
If you have your noodles all drained, combine the noodles, the cream cheese, the sour cream, (just 1 cup) the Parmesan cheese and the corn starch because we're freezing it! Stir well and be in awe of all the creamy dairy goodness!
Next you'll have to decide if you're baking both right away or freezing one for later. I suggest freezing one. So that my freezer doesn't hold one of my baking pans captive until I bake the second casserole I line one of the pans with aluminum foil, freeze it, and then remove it when frozen to wrap up and store until it's time to bake it. I'm using 9x13 casserole/cake pans but any 2 quart baking dish should work fine.
Now you're ready to assemble. It's pretty easy - two pans, two layers in each pan. First put half of the cream cheese/noodle mixture in each pan and then top with half of the ground beef mixture in each pan. Finally step is to sprinkle the remaining Parmesan Cheese on top.
Pop one in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until it's bubbly. The other one, pop in the freezer until it's frozen solid (12-24 hours, I'm not exactly sure how long really... I usually forget until the next time I open the freezer!)
Then take it out, serve with salad or veggie on the side and of course a tall glass of milk! And at our house probably some $1 Italian Bread from Walmart, which reminds us of our time living overseas in the bread basket of the world!
Once the second one is frozen, take it out of the freezer, take it out of the pan and wrap the whole thing in more aluminum foil and write on the top:
"Sicilian Casserole: Thaw for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Bake covered 25-35 minutes and then uncovered 5-10 minutes until bubbly. "
That way you don't have to remember, plus if you end up wanting to drop off a meal to a friend or neighbor, it's all ready to go!
With all this yummy cheese, this casserole will help you get your #Dairy3forMe! Three servings of dairy a day, including milk, cheese, & yogurt is so HEALTHY plus it's Dairy-licious!
Pledge to get your 3 servings a day! Let me know if you do!
The first time we saw a milking robot in action was almost 5 years ago. We'd just moved back to the US and Iowa State Extension was hosting robotic milking farm tours. So 4 generations of Bolins headed out to learn about the newest thing in dairy farming - robots milking cows. A few days later, our milk hauler asked Dan & his dad, Dave, how likely it was that they'd put in robots. Their replies? Dave said 1% chance and Dan said only a 10% chance! Obviously, things changed.
Over the next year our opinion shifted as we learned more about the different management styles & routines that it takes to own & operate a robotic dairy farm. Eventually the dial shifted from a slim chance to a whole new way of thinking about designing a new barn, routines of life, and equipment needed, all based on having our cows milked by a robot. Dan visited a variety of farms with his dad, his grandpa, and his father-in-law. He saw a variety of types and brands of milking robots and eventually decided on the Astrea 20.20 from AMS Galaxy USA but really that's a post for another day.
Through seminars, books, tours, and talking with farmers, consultants, and dealers, we learned that robotic milking is so much more than not having to milk the cows yourself anymore. Robotic milking doesn't mean less work it just means our work is more flexible. We have more time to manage, focus, & care for our cows, we need less outside family labor(which can be hard to find), and as we've definitely learned, it makes life a whole lot more interesting!
Flexible & interesting... that's how we often describe robotic milking. In the past our cows were milked twice a day starting at 5am and 5pm or as close as possible to that time but now our cows can go get milked whenever they choose 24/7, which also means there can be problems 24/7. And when Rita has a problem, who does she call? Dan - whether it's a pleasant 10:30am call or a wake you from your deepest dreams call at 3:30am! Then again, Dan's parent's have had middle of the night calls from neighbors when the cows have gotten out, too.
And since the cows don't need us to get milked because Rita's helping them, when something comes up we can just go deal with it. And on a dairy farm somethings always coming up... heifers getting out, a visitor or two stopping by, calves jumping out their huts from low flying planes, a delivery of supplies, a calf being born, or a whole lot of other options. With a robot, the cows keep going to get milked even without us there to help them.
Flexibility also means we don't have to hire someone or change the cows routine to go to an evening activity. Dan's been able to enjoy coming with us to the School Carnival and going with Miss Muffet to the Father-Daughter Dance in the evenings. We would've had to have hired someone to milk the cows in the past! When Dan wanted to be in earlier than normal for longer than normal on Easter morning for a Sunrise Service, Easter Baskets, an egg hunt, and heading to church, he & his dad just fed the cows twice the day before giving them a little extra to make it through those morning hours he might typically be feeding. It was the same amount of work (and maybe a even a touch more) but it was flexible, meaning he could join us for a "normal" Easter morning (or at least what Pintrest & Facebook would have you to believe is normal!).
And it's interesting work... no day's quite the same. Of course manure needs scraping everyday and the cows need to be fed everyday but in between who knows what's going to happen! It seems someone's always stopping by - the cow's nutritionist, the veterinarian, an genetic/semen salesperson, a maintenance or repair person, another sales person, friends or family to see the new barn, and more!
And with lots of automated machines around there's also a lot of maintenance, well either that or repairs... and we try to do maintenance and minimize our surprise repairs! When you're dealing with repairs on robots interesting is a good way to describe it! For example, just the other night Dan got a middle of the night call from Rita because three cows in a row hadn't gotten milked quite right. Rita knew there was a problem and had called Dan but she didn't know exactly WHAT was wrong so Dan had to figure out that out.
At first glance everything seemed fine... all the parts were in tact and nothing was broken or cracked. Finally he observed that one of the milking cups & hoses didn't have any vacuum or suction, which is what helps milk the cow. After looking under Rita's hood he deduced that a cow must have kicked off the milking cup, which then landed in a cow pie sucking up manure instead of milk for the brief moment it laid there before Rita pulled it back to it's holding spot. Well manure isn't quite the same consistency as milk so it just got stuck and the suction stopped working. After 3 cows not getting milked Rita called Dan. Dan got it cleaned and fixed, got the cows back to being milked, and got himself back to bed. If someone had been there in a traditional milking parlor they may have seen the first cow kick it off and been able to figure it out right away. In robotic milking when you're not there sometimes it takes a bit more detective work.
By the way, in case you're concerned, all of the milk on our farm (and every other dairy farm!) goes through a milk filter (which we change 3 times a day) just for situations like this, ensuring that our milk stays purely milk! Plus it gets pasteurized at our coop's plant too!
When Rita calls with a problem, we have to fix it NOW. We don't have until the next milking time to get it done because although Rita milks the cows around the clock for us, we or the cows can't have her taking a break while she's broke down. That means we're always on-call or need to have someone else who is on-call, just in case.
And Rita's not the only one who keeps thing interesting! One evening we found Freddie the Feed Pusher jumped up onto a temporary panel/gate that had gotten knocked over. How he managed that we'll never know, but moving him involves getting the skidloader to lift him up. So at 10:30pm that night we got the skidloader and lifted him up & off so the cows would be able to get a midnight snack without us.
In the end are we glad our dial shifted to robotic milking? Yes! We have almost every meal together as a family, as Dan just puts his work aside and comes in for family meals. When the kids & I are trying to get off to school or another activity he'll pop in to help us get ready to go & out the door. We have the option to have evenings free or mornings free or whenever (the work just shifts elsewhere)! At 5pm we don't have to drop everything and head to the barn (although we might have to at 2:37am!). And it adds a little, well actually a lot, of spice to life... we wouldn't want life to get boring :)
PS... Do you know what song Rita sings us via Dan's phone whenever she needs "Help!"? What song would you pick?
It just so happens that as dairy farmers we not only love our cows we also love all the delicious foods they give us! Really if you think about it it's pretty amazing what can be made from milk... cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, ice cream, cottage cheese, sour cream, cheese (I guess I already said that but there's SO many options I had to say it again!), butter, and of course, a cold glass of milk, and many, many others, not to mention all the variations on the above!
To switch it up a bit every so often I'm going to start sharing some of our household's favorite recipes that include yummy dairy products! Some will be long-standing family traditions, some new discoveries, and some menu mainstays, and all delicious!
** Warning: I'm not a food blogger.... So far I rarely remember to take a picture of the finished product let alone the whole process so you'll just have to imagine each step! I will give you some of my personal pointers & tips though!
First up is a new recipe to our family! My sister-in-law is a Pampered Chef consultant & over the years I've fallen in love their kitchen products! During a recent Facebook party this recipe popped up and I knew we had to try it! To make a long story short I came to own this amazingly beautiful LARGE round stone and my fridge just happened to be filled with cream cheese (this recipe's secret dairy ingredient!) and eggs, perfect for this brunch pizza!
I'm a pretty basic simple cook... not a lot of fancy ingredients around our house. But I do also like to start with real foods that aren't packaged or processed as much since they're both cheaper & better for you. So most recipes get a little tweaking!
For this I recipe I browned the sausage on the stove & then added some frozen peppers - I use frozen green peppers in all sorts of things! Next it took a few rounds in the microwave to smooth out the cream cheese & then we added farm fresh eggs from some friends, although we use store bought all the time too!
The trickiest part was cutting the biscuits horizontally - I used a big serrated bread knife. Honestly I rarely use pre-made refrigerated biscuits but it did make this recipe go faster & they are yummy! I used my super awesome Pampered Chef roller to squish the biscuits all together but I think a glass or your fingers would work just as well!
Then all that's left is sprinkling, pouring, a little more sprinkling. Now let's talk cheese for a moment. The original recipe called for provolone cheese but I'm not sure I've ever had provolone cheese in our house, so we used boring (and so delicious) ol' cheddar! Next it was stuck it in the oven and of course waited for it to come out! We'll be making it again for sure!
Saving Dan's health and body is one reason we "hired" Rita the robot to milk our cows but it's far from the only reason.
It turns out Rita knows each of our cows really, really well... but then again she only knows them like Amazon, Facebook, and your FitBit knows you, by your data.
Dan and his parents have always known each of their cows well; they are able to pick out which one is which just by looking at them (I almost always have look at the ear tag to know!) and they know their individual personalities and quirks. When they were milking the cows, and therefore seeing them, twice a day everyday Dan could usually tell if a cow was feeling sick or if there was another problem based on how much milk she made or if something seemed off with her milk but now, with Rita's help, he knows even more!
It's often said, "You can only manage what you can measure", and while management certainly encompasses more than measuring things, measuring certainly helps. With Rita's help Dan has many more measurements that allow him to manage & care for our cows much better than before! So how does Rita do it?
First each cow is fitted with their own "FitBit" RFID (radio frequency identification) tag, which if you remember didn't work when we first started! When each cow comes into the milking box Rita identifies who she is and decides what to do next. Depending on how long it's been since the last time she's visited, Rita either starts milking her or kicks her out to come back and try again later (sometimes they just want some cow treat!).
Then Rita starts cleaning the cow's teats to get her ready to milk. Another anatomy lesson for you... a cow's udder actually has four separate compartments, or quarters as they are appropriately called, that each have their own teat for the milk to come out of. So after Rita cleans those four teats, she attaches a milking cup to each teat individually to start milking. The amazing thing is that Rita then measures the flow of the milk from each quarter so she knows when to take each milking unit off (movie below) as well as measuring how long a cow has been milking from each quarter. She can also measuring the conductivity which is an indication of if an infection (like mastitis) is starting in that quarter. If anything seems out of the norm (shorter than normal milking time, lower overall milk given, higher than normal conductivity), Rita alerts Dan and he makes sure to check on that cow. In the past Dan had a general idea of how much milk a cow was making because it went into glass measuring jars before being transferred to the main cooling tank but now he knows exactly and is able to catch a variety of problems before they begin!
Another thing that the RFID "FitBit" does is measures the cows activity level... how much time she's lying down, walking around, or standing still. Why would we want to know that? Well, about every 3 weeks a cow's activity skyrockets which means she's ready to get pregnant or is "in heat". We can often see their elevated activity visually but if we miss it, or don't know exactly when it started or ended, Rita lets Dan know, which means he can help the cows get pregnant with more accuracy.
Not only does Rita measure how much milk each cows gives, she also gives each cow an individualized portion of cow treat/feed to eat while she's milking. When the cow leaves the box Rita can tell how much she ate (based on weight), so if she doesn't eat enough Rita alerts Dan and he checks up on her in case she's getting sick (you don't like eating when you're sick, right?).
Now Rita gives us all this data & more but it's still up to Dan to take the time to look, analyze, and act on the information that Rita is giving him to make the best decisions for each cow... does she need to get milked again because Rita missed a teat? does she have a hurt foot or a tummy ache & that's why she hasn't come to get milked yet? does she need more to eat in the robot because she's making so much milk? is today the day to try & get her pregnant again? and on and on...
It's really quite amazing how much information and data there can be, and now-a-days in most every field there's plenty of data. Dan's aunt visited two weeks ago and loved looking at all the data that Rita gives us because in her job at the Post Office she dealt with lots of data too. Although at the Post Office, instead of how much milk a cow makes, her data was how many pieces of mail got delivered or lost, how fast they got to their destination, and more.
Dan's parents have used computer programs to track the health & well-being of their cows for decades and we still track many of those things with Rita and her accompanying software (family history, birth & health records, production timelines, and more). But now we have even more data helping us know with more accuracy how each cow is doing, meaning we can care for each of them even better!
How does information & data help you get your job done better?
P.S... Guess what? We've been sharing our dairy life with you for a whole year now! Hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as we have. Make sure to stick around because we're just getting started both in the barn and on the blog!
She's been hard at work for almost 3 months now doing the same thing over and over and over and over and... well, you get the idea.
And really that's the perfect job for a robot to do.
So why do we have Rita milking our cows? Let's take a little trip back in time to answer that question, shall we?
According to Dan's grandfather, 125 years ago when Dan's great-great-grandma wanted milk to feed her growing family she headed out with a pitcher in hand to their cow, that's right, one cow. Holding the pitcher in one hand she milked the cow with the other hand right into that pitcher and brought it in to be drank with dinner or churned into butter.
As the years went by, and the next generations came, a few more cows were born and eventually there was more milk than their family could drink and there were other families in the area who wanted that milk. So now instead of milking into the pitcher, they milked, still by hand, into metal milk cans. Typically they separated the cream from the skim milk right there on the farm. Then the hogs got the skim milk and the cream was picked up and hauled by horse & wagon to the local creamery to be made into butter. It turns out that it was actually Dan's great-great-grandfather Roy on the other side of his family tree that picked up cream from area farmers with his horses & cart (made into a sled in the winter) and brought it into the creamery.
As time continued to go by more and more families decided it wasn't practical for them to own and milk a cow but still wanted to give their family milky goodness. At the same time new technologies were being invented that allowed Dan's great-grandpa to milk more cows in a shorter amount of time, meaning he could provide more families with more milk!
Dan's grandfather, Neil, remembers when their first two automatic milking machines arrived sometime in the mid-1940's. He was a little boy and his dad, Adlai, was pretty skeptical. He made sure to keep the shipping crate around for awhile, "Just in case it doesn't work" as Neil remember's him saying. But work it did and our family hasn't looked back since. Twice a day Adlai moved those two milking machines from cow to cow until he'd milked all 17 cows, the number of stalls in the original barn. The milk still headed into metal milk cans and then was either picked up or taken to the local creamery.
Now for a little anatomy lesson... milk comes out of a cow's teats from their udder which happens to be located on the underside of their belly. What does that mean if you're milking a cow? Well Dan's great-great grandmother probably just bent over or squatted down for the few minutes it took her to get enough milk for her family but as more and more cows were being milked it mean more time bent over, squatting, or on your knees. And if you've ever spent much time bent over, squatted down, or on your knees it can take a toll on your body - especially if you're doing it over and over again twice a day every day. So technology continued to evolve...
As more and more people wanted to buy milk and dairy products at the store instead of milking a cow themselves everyday, Dan's dad, Dave realized he would need to milk even more cows making even more milk in a shorter amount of time ('cause we all only have 24 hours in a day!). So in 1979 he and Pam built a new barn and a milking parlor, the room the cows visited twice a day to get milked. The milking parlor had four milking units allowing four cows to be milked at one time and four more getting read to be milked on the other side.
The other advantage of the new parlor? Well, in the middle the floor was dug out lower, meaning no more bending, squatting, or kneeling to put the milking machine on the cows teats, leading to less back and knee problems. But Dan's parents and then Dan still had to prepare each cow to get milked and then put on and take off the milking unit of each cow, which meant rotating your arm in and out 3-4 times for 70 cows 2 times a day or over 450 times a day every day of the year. That's a lot the same repetitive motion often resulting in things like tennis elbow and contributing to arthritis.
And that's one of the reasons Rita the robot has joined the farm.
It turns out the Rita can do that repetitive motion of preparing the cows for milking and attaching the milkers over and over again without significant harm to herself and if she does "get sick" or break down we don't have to go to the doctor, prepare for weeks off after surgery, or try a variety of medications, we just fix her and get back milking the cows.
Now there's actually lots of other reasons too... Dan has more time to oversee and care for the cows instead of spending most of his time just milking them; Rita can give us more information about each cow and her well-being than we'd ever be able to know without her; she doesn't have attitude problems or forget to show up to work; the cows actually like the consistency of being milked the same way every single time and more but I think I'll cover those another day.
What parts of your job have been automated over the past 100 years?
Seven & a half weeks ago the cows moved into their new home... and now we're finally home too - right next door!
Saturday was moving day.... here are the pictures of the Guest House ready for us to move in! (remember to click the pictures to get the whole picture)
And thanks to friends & family all of our stuff is now here and we can start living together as a family again!
Today was great because we were able to see Dan so much more! He could step in for a quick update and say hi or read a book or eat lunch or tuck the kids into bed.
The kids might say the best part was after playing in the mud while I was organize the porch before the blizzard comes they got to continue in their dirty state by helping daddy in the barn. The best part for me? Getting to strip off their outside layer after spraying them off in the calf care room, then stripping off the inside (still dirty!) layer in the mudroom/office and heading right inside to a nice warm bath.
Since working together & having fun together is one of the main things we value (remember that post?) we're so glad our hard work has paid off and we're all together again!
Don't worry there's still plenty of hard work ahead (I mean look at all the unpacking I still have left... that's real life!) but now we can do it together and truly start to enjoy the flexibility that having Rita the robot milk our cows for us brings!
Plus now that we're living so close to the cows you should hear from me a bit more often about what's happening on the farm! I've got all sorts of ideas and plans up my sleeve for this year!
Well, honestly, we'll probably stop counting the weeks pretty soon. Today marks 3 weeks since the cows moved into their new home - 3 very INTENSE weeks! We knew it was coming... we'd been told. But living through it is another matter!
I've been told that in disaster response there is 3 days of immediate, intense relief efforts, 3 weeks of continued relief efforts, 3 months of recovery efforts, and then 3 years of rebuilding. And I think in a lot of major changes, such as starting a new robotic dairy barn, this holds true as well.
3 days of ADRENALINE
3 weeks of INTENSITY
and we're moving on to
3 months of ADJUSTMENT and finally
3 years to NORMALCY!
On December 9th the cows literally followed Dan into the barn - if you haven't seen the movie, check it out! We had a great big crew of family, friends, & neighbors assembled who used their vehicles & bodies as fences to guide the cows into their new home!
And then the fun started... we got the first cow, Meramet, into the robot box. Dan's mom, Pam bought her great-great-great-great-great-great (you get the idea) grandma when she was in 5th grade and her cow family line has stayed in the family ever since. Dan's grandpa milked Meramet's ancestors and now he would be the first to milk her in the new barn!
But wait... it didn't read her leg band which gives out a radio frequency telling the robot who she is (important in robotic milking!). We'd done practice runs but now the time had come and it wasn't working... disappointment and scrambles abounded. We had to get it fixed because we sure weren't taking them back down to the old barn!
Thankfully we had great tech support from AMS Galaxy on the ground who had dealt with this before. After switching about everything imaginable on and off we found the problem... the well. If the well pump breaker was turned on the robot couldn't read which cow had just come in. So now we had a new problem because water's kind of important for drinking and cleaning and all sorts of other things.
Eventually we figured out it only needed to be off for the cow's first 10 seconds in the milking box to be read. So until we got it fixed a week and a half later (yes, a week and a half of phone calls, fix-it attempts, and parts ordered) we and all of our amazing help ran back and forth turning on and off the well pump breaker switch.
In the end Meramet didn't get to be the first cow milked, the importance of nostalgia slipped away so we could finally just get started!
Since then 3 weeks have flown by with Dan rarely leaving the barn (he has a bed in the upstairs walk-in closet), Christmas celebrated a bit differently than we imagined, support & help from wonderful family, friends, and neighbors, and cows that are starting to adjust. They say it takes humans 30 days to form a new habit and cows are no different. Eventually they should almost all decide to go get milked by themselves but for now each day a few more figure out they don't have to wait for Dan to come get them to get milked, they can just go!
There are more stories I could tell - how once we finally got everything figured out and were ready to milk a cow, Dan's Grandpa Pete leaned in to start getting the cow ready to be milked and with the bill of his hat hit the button that kicked her out of the milking box; how we've had lots friends & family stop by to check it out; how in the midst of frustration Dan erased the feed pushers route; how my mom showed up just in time for me to get violently sick for a day; how one of our little Jersey's was able to jump in (and then out) of the robot arm area in between the milking boxes; how we've had 3 heifers born in the new barn; how Secret Santas brought us treats & goodies; and how even though these last 3 weeks have been intense, we've had fun, been blessed, and are so thankful that after years of planning, preparing, and building we're actually milking cows!
Happy New Year!
It's every dairy farmer's dream
To have a child join their team.
One day though you looked up - 3 boys gone
Many thought you'd just move on.
But through the unknowing years of an empty nest
You still worked hard and gave it your best.
Before deciding the cows would be sold
“please tell us” you were told.
But then off to Turkey we flew
When we'd return, we gave not a clue.
You persevered through 2009 -
The job you did was quite fine!
Some farms have a great big crew
But you kept going – with only two!
You visited and as we sat on the Iskele drinking tea
you shared how you started your dairy journey with me.
Dad had said, “I think I'd like to milk the cows.”
“Me, too,” I thought “But exactly when & how?”
Then came a diagnosis of cancer
And we had more of an answer.
So back to the farm we came
But things would not look quite the same.
Plans for a new barn were laid.
And Mom would no longer be a milkmaid.
As the way for a new barn was paved.
Your blessing you readily gave.
Even though things look a bit different now,
We're glad the new barn is housing your cows.
As we look back over the past 5 years
All the hard work, laughter, fun & tears,
We're thankful for your support along the way
It helped us make it through those tough days.
Today we're working side by side on the same team
And together we'll work towards even more dreams!
Dan & Lynn
To Start or Not to Start?
That was the question we had to answer mid-morning this morning. Thankfully when the time came our team was in agreement... WAIT.
We were SUPPOSE to start today. The cows were SUPPOSE to make their journey up the hill. We were SUPPOSE to be working through the night getting the cows use to their new barn and way of getting milked.
But instead we'll sleep for one more night :)
As Monday dawned the barn was buzzing with activity, each crew with it's own "last minute" list to get done and most of it did get done. But a few key parts hadn't arrived and been installed like planned and we had a few minor things (some step ladders, self closing doors, the right light bulbs, and more) that we needed to check to pass the State of Iowa milk producers inspections.
We knew our 8am Tuesday cow parade was postponed but for how long? Mid-morning we had to decide and even though we may have been able to push and start sometime today, we determined it was better to wait and start fresh in the morning sticking with our original plan just a day late which gave us time to finish a few other things too.
In the end, this is best and we're thankful for the extra day.
Tomorrow is a new day... and we're praying it'll be a good one!
It's Here. The Time Has Come.
Is the barn done? Not completely...
Are we ready? As ready as we can be...
As as I sometimes say over and over when playing with the kids... "Ready or Not, Here I Come!"
There's still some little things we'll keep working on and pieces to fit into the puzzle but the very necessary ones are in and we're working on the final touches and details!
The Guest House isn't ready like I'd hoped but I sometimes you just have to move on because honestly there's too much else to do anyway. Which is why this week you get to look through a bunch of pictures without any commentary.... Enjoy!
Included in pictures: concrete being grooved, manure handling equipment being installed, gates hung up, same cabinets, tile, & light fixtures being hung, feed pusher, feed mixer, robot lines, sand in the stalls, some overhead doors installed, walls & roof on the reception pit, treats made & travel mugs arrived, entering information into the computer, transponders on the cows, hand prints in the cement, and more! And in case you didn't notice... they're in no particular order :)
PS... Still want to get in on the action? We'll feed you and give you a 1st edition New Day Dairy travel mug for helping us get the cows use to their new home or bringing a meal for all to enjoy!
There's the plan... well there's a lot more details but as an overview that's what has to get done this week so we, I mean, our robot, can start milking the cows next Tuesday! Even with a short Thanksgiving work week (for everyone else, not us!) we still moved full-speed ahead!
The robot install was finished up with just a few little pieces to complete when they come back before we get started. We have technology all over the place!
The outside feed alleys are almost finished up with tile (the cows plate) being set into the concrete. The equipment guys set the barn cleaner into it's place too.
The electricians kept working all week long getting everything hooked up... it takes awhile to run conduit to all the places in the barn that need electricity. Seriously, what would we do without electricity?
Along with other things Dan & his Grandpa Pete worked on getting lime into the cows beds and then packing it to make a "brisket slope" which helps the cows know where to lay down so their back end is still sticking just off the back side... which hopefully means their "pies" go in the alley and get scraped away! Then comfy sand will get put in this week. Dan also worked on getting the cow brush (their back scratcher) set up, gating plans, and probably about a million other things!
The feed rail on the south side was also installed yesterday... so glad we work with folks who are willing to work Saturdays!
The barn builders were back to put the finishing touches on the robot room as well as the door to the Guest House and the steel on the front porch. Inside things are all painted and we'll move on to tile, trim, and cabinets! The kids & I went to Ikea this week to get the cabinets... now we just need to put them together!
That's all the pictures we have and although Dan's planning to do some more work today my parents & brother are coming into town for Thanksgiving so I'll post this now and you'll just have to see what else happens next week!
The cows are coming....
Well it's countdown time... if you haven't noticed I added a count down timer on the side bar... 14 days to go! Yikes!
That also means that we need help! That's right, getting the cows use to their new home starting December 8th is going to be a big (and very important) job.
The first three days we'll need 3 people in the barn 24/7, which hopefully doesn't include us or Dan's parents as we'll be learning the system from our technicians and continuing to do all the other daily farm chores. Then 2 extra people 24/7 for a few days before just needing 1 extra person 24/7 for the 2nd week.
So.... are you a calm, conscientious, confident cow handler? We'd love to have you join us to see things up close and help us encourage the cows to try out their newest friend, our milking robot! Join us for one 4 hour shift or get in on all the action and sign up for more, I'm sure we could use you! (And hey, there will be free food, your own first edition New Day Dairy travel mug, and an unforgettable EXPERIENCE!)
Getting up close with the cows not your thing? You can still help... before December 8th we need help cleaning up the barn (trash/debris pick up, etc), bringing a meal during the first week or two for us & the extra helpers, sending treats for those helping, watching our kids, helping us move into the Guest House in a few weeks and there's probably more - just ask! We won't be able to do it without you!
Now on to what happened this week.
This week the robot continued to get installed and set-up both mechanically and electronically (on the computer) which means lots of little pieces and details that I don't understand...
The barn continued to get finished up with the final freestalls being put up, lighting installed, the fans electric being hooked up, waterers being set in place, water softener installed, the side curtains getting rolled up (just in time for the foot of snow that fell on Friday!) and probably more!
In the Guest House the stairs went up on Monday much to our kid's delight, check out Facebook for the video! Then the walls got textured. Primer & paint starts on Monday!
Dan also got some more cabinets hung in the office space as well as setting up the two monitors to monitor everything.
And to literally top everything off, we got a foot of snow on Friday! It's beautiful and the kids were excited which helped me to remember the awe and wonder of the first snow, especially when it's a foot! It's not ideal, of course, to be working in and around it but we don't have much choice so we're just continuing on to our goal!
There's a lot to do in the next two weeks but we're working as hard as we can to get it all done! I've been trying to get up more frequent updates on Facebook so check back there too!
Happy Thanksgiving... we have much to be thankful for!
Well our weeks are starting to blend together as we're in the final sprint to get done... cows start getting milked in the barn December 8th and there's still A LOT to do before then. Dan's been working long days... as in 18 hour days most every day this week and his phone rarely stops ringing as he runs back and forth around the barn answering questions for the concrete crew, robot installers, and all the other equipment folks who are getting their jobs done!
I'm sure I'll miss something that's happened this week in my review as I don't even always know what's happened... when we get a chance to talk it's usually been a need-to-know-to-get-the-next-thing-done basis. Not that you'll have any idea but somehow we didn't take a single picture on Wednesday... it's been busy! So here we go...
More and more concrete was poured. Alleyways & crossovers that need to get grooved (so they're not as slippery) are done as well as areas that will need equipment like barn cleaner and scrapers or feed bins. Once again our crew worked Saturday to get it all done! On a side note the robot installers (from the East Coast) were surprised that concrete was delivered on Saturday, but we weren't surprised 'cause it was a really nice mid-November day and I'm SURE we weren't the only ones desperate to pour concrete before the COLD comes!
Next up is all the work the robot installers have done, working long days as well! I won't even be able to tell you all that they got done because really I don't understand it all :) but I know they got things like the wash controller, milk line/pipes, safety gates, other gates, and lots and lots of other things done all related to getting the robot ready to milk the cows in 3 weeks!
And then all the little but not-so-little things that happened in the barn... the electrician and plumbers were around this week working on all their lists, which means we have in-floor heat & a toilet inside! Cold porta-potty be gone! A lot of the freestalls were hung up in the barn making it look even more like a dairy barn! The boot wash grate was dropped in making an even surface as people come in and out.
This is the third dairy barn that Dan's Grandpa Pete has helped install the freestalls as he helped in Dan's parent's barn over 35 years ago when it was built as well as at his original farm. This is the first set of free stalls the kids have helped install and we hope they don't have to install them again for quite awhile! Buddy Boy especially enjoyed helping both Daddy & Papa Pete and although his attention span was short was actually quite capable and helpful at putting the washers & nuts on the bolts!
And to top top off everything else since we're the first in Iowa to install the AMS Galaxy the state of Iowa milk inspectors all came for a tour and pre-inspection on Thursday spending much of the day here.
Inside the Guest House the mudroom/office wall & ceiling panels were finished up and then more and more layers of tape and mud went on the walls and ceiling. The really exciting stuff like stairs, texture, paint and more is on it's way!
Yesterday & today Dan was able to get his office/mudroom area set up with some stairs, cabinets & counter tops from his grandparent's former kitchen and a corner desk. The computer aspect of the robot will be installed Monday and Tuesday. When we stopped by today the kids had fun "helping" using daddy's tools.
I don't think things will be slowing down anytime soon with Thanksgiving and a short work week ahead we only have 2.5 work weeks before the cows are in! Although the week has ended it's also just beginning....
And I'm starting to recruit people to help during start up so if you have experience calmly handling cows let me know and I'll get you in the schedule!
A lot of concrete and drywall... that pretty much sums up this week although there was a lot more than that.
Our concrete crew worked long days trying to beat the falling temps and they were rewarded with popcorn balls on Friday afternoon! We like to bring treats to our crews to keep them going and let them know how much we appreciate their hard work! I wish I had a picture of Miss Muffet handing them out, she was pretty proud!
They got the maternity pen, some crossovers, the pre-fresh stalls, the area around the robot room, the last part of the west alley and the north alleyway all poured. It's a lot of work to get everything just right and then to weld together all the rebar (to hopefully avoid stray voltage).
Our barn builders finished up the east wall and the robot room at the beginning of the week and will be back to put the final finishing touches on things once a lot of other things get finished up!
Dan had the robot's "hood" open a few times this week doing work or showing it off to someone, so of course, I snapped a few pictures! I have NO IDEA what any of that does... someday I'll learn and let you know.
Inside the Guest House the drywall finished going up and taping and mudding started. On Friday they put on tile board panels in Dan's office so we can start installing the computer pieces needed to communicate with the robot! We're putting tile board in the entire mudroom, mud bath and Dan's office so it's easier to clean.
We've continued to have visitors, which we love. Dan's been spending most of his days at the barn so he usually catches them. I forgot to post that Dan's friends from the band, The Elim Arrival, visited after they put on a concert in conjunction with a hayride our church had. This week on Monday one of Dan's college friends stopped by after an appointment in the area. And then Dan's aunt came out with his grandparent's mid-week. And our great neighbor who had been helping us out SO much milking the cows also get a tour this weekend, which was obviously long overdue! I suppose you should visit soon if you want a shout-out on the blog as I probably won't keep noting everyone that stops by!
We also had the boiler for the in-floor heating go in as well as more electric lines & lights as well as the lights for the barn being delivered. And then there's always people like the state dairy inspector, our coop's field rep, our nutritionist, a rep from the company that engineered the barn (EPS Buildings), and more that come by (that's only the ones I remember Dan telling me). There's never a dull day! Dave & Pam got back mid-week so they also came up to see the progress and take some pictures (included above)!
The installers to install our robot and get it up and running arrive Sunday night for an early Monday start planning to work long days getting the robot all ready! The pace just keeps heating up!
This week started with a bang and it didn't let up all week! I have a TON of pictures to share... it was that kind of week. It got more amazing every day!
Monday morning the curtains & team to install them arrived bright & early, installing them in less than 2 days with an amazing team of people! Thankfully the kids & I helped finish calf chores & clean the parlor so Dan could get up to the site to both check in with the curtain team and help get the robot in place!
Unwrapping & setting the robot & boxes in place went fairly quickly & easily and as far as we can tell it looks good after sitting around for a few months. The rest of the week the room around it went up. Late in the week Dan climbed up on top to take some pictures - which are especially neat considering all that the concrete crew did this week!
Almost all the curbs are in now for the stall areas, which means big flat pours will happen this coming week, really making things look real!
Besides the robot room our builders also worked on the east end wall and getting that all closed up and Dan met with the overhead garage door guy to get some of the doors figured out. They also helped set in a few more slats over the manure reception pit area. They even worked Saturday to finish up the robot room and be out of the concrete guys way.... so appreciated! I don't have pictures of that, but you'll see it next week.
And our electricians were back getting lights up in the utility room, calf care room, and milk room. Now we'll have light and people can work into the evening (which happens to be coming earlier, especially with the time change!). And the plumbers were working on getting in the in floor heating up and running so we also have heat!
Drywall went up in the Guest House making it feel more and more real too!
Here's to hopefully our last month of building... our goal is December 1st! The robot installers arrive next week... let's keep going strong and finish this thing! (I think I'm mostly just cheering myself on to the end!)
Fall has definitely arrived and the landscape in and out of the barn looks different this week. Lots of great concrete work was done this week in the barn and on Monday we unwrap the robot and get her set in place! It's been a long time coming...
To get ready the robot room floor was poured early in the week followed by curbs and lots of other concrete places! There's still more to come of course, but we've made a "dent" :) Once all the curbs go in I think the flat work will be even more dramatic and amazing!
Dan spent most days at the building site again this week although he did get some office work and a few naps in there. And he got lots of odd jobs done like sending in water samples, meeting with inspectors, getting the rest of the free stalls delivered, giving a few tours, and setting these big concrete slats in place in the manure reception pit area (which he thankfully had help with!).
Not a lot happened in the Guest House but drywall should be going up on Monday! The plumber got the water heater set and all the water lines filled with water so we know if one gets punctured during the rest of building. And that means I got to see some of my fixtures... the most final touch yet!
We expect this week to be crazy, especially with Dan's parent's away at a meeting & visiting family. Thankfully we have great people helping us out and available if we need it and they need a break too! With the robot being set and drywall going up things are going to be happening this week! Can't wait!
Oh my.... it's getting crazy around here! There's so much to share this week it's hard to know where to start...
Once again my husband is AMAZING... not only was he a dairy farmer and general contractor this week he also was an amateur plumber doing some very complicated & important work. And one that only got a 20 minute nap one day this week (and he get's up at 4:40am and usually goes to bed at 10pm or later!). Thankfully it's the weekend... I never thought I'd say that because we usually work on the weekends just as much as the weekdays. But no one is working today on the barn which means no urgent questions and things that NEED to be done, and that means Dan can get some rest!
I think we're going to be going at crazy pace until we're in the barn... with temps below freezing outside as I write this, we're racing to get done before real winter sets in!
We learned this week that we still have amazing folks working with us... our concrete guys pulled out a little before 7pm Friday night so they could get the pour in before the weekend... allowing it a few more cure days over the weekend. Our electrician was still there wrapping it all up around 5pm and our builders worked hard all week too!
Dan spent most of the week working closely with the concrete crew and getting plumbing in for the robot room before concrete was poured. That also meant he was around and available for all the other questions that people had and all the other people who are not stopping by with deliveries, inspections, questions, etc. He said he wished he had a picture of the tree of plumbing he put in but he backfilled as he went, making sure the drain slopes were correct... more important than a picture of the final product that's now under concrete!
The robot room floor, the dry cow feed alley, the pre-fresh cow pens area, and the robot room wall footers were all poured this week. Those guys worked hard all week getting things just right... concrete's tricky - you rarely have a 2nd chance!
And yes, that's tile and no it's not for decoration! That's the cows' plate to eat off of. Concrete gets rough and cows don't like to eat as much off of it so we're wet setting tile into the feed bunk area giving them a nice smooth "plate". The kids and I picked that up early in the week... with more to pick up soon!
You might want to know what that big hole is too. That's where the water will drain from the boot wash and other water drains in the milk house and barn area on that side and then will be pumped over the the manure/waste storage area. Don't worry, it'll get a cover soon so no one falls in!
Remember to hover over the pictures for captions & if you want to see them bigger click on the pictures to open in a gallery format.
Our builders changed the color of my porch roof... it looks so much better now. I just couldn't handle it being white every time I drove up. Now it looks like it's suppose to! The rest of the porch is finished up too. They also hung more bird netting and fans on the north side of the barn and finished up most of the poly board in the milk house rooms.
Our other builder also got started on the "dog house", or the walls and roof over the manure reception pit both making it a safer enclosed place and ensure it won't freeze in the winter.
The guest house electric is all finished and ready for inspection and dry wall next week! By the way... love my electrician... make sure you get a good one because it makes the difference! We even have temporary lights so we can keep working as the days get darker and darker! And with the lights on it feels more cozy and real yet... it's going to get more so this week!
Our septic pod went in this week too. Apparently we're so high-tech that even our septic system needs both electricity & Ethernet run to it... I guess if there's a problem it contacts our septic inspector and lets him know. Beats it backing up into the house, which is how you find out in the old septic systems...
Well we hit the big 3-0 this week. 30 weeks into our building project, which started the first of April. I guess since Dan & I have both already hit the milestone in our lives (barely mind you) it's not the end of the world... we just don't want to hit the BIG 4-0 before I stop writing these updates! We're planning and working hard to get 'er done... and that's all we can do.
I've been writing this post in my head and jotting down notes on my phone for over 2 months as I've been doing calf chores most mornings and evenings. Now it's here. I have a moment to share with you how I really feel about calves and doing calf chores, which by the way, if you want to know what in the world these "calf chores" are check my post out from last week! (A link will not insert, so I guess you'll have to find it yourself in the Dairy Farming 101 series.)
For one, I feel like I can truly say "I am a dairy farmer." Sure I would've said that before and I think it would've been true but now that I've really gotten dirty and sweaty, gotten to know my calves, and done it day after day for 2 months I think it's a more legitimate statement. And, for better (because now I can do it) or worse (because now I can do it & can't plead ignorance), I also know a lot more about how to do things on the farm.
Since I'm a beginner but am still dedicated to our farm and calves I feel like I can give you an honest perspective. Now I say beginner because I'd done calf chores before and I knew our farm so I wasn't a complete novice. I'd help Dan out here or there when Dave and Pam were gone or the kids and I would visit and help for awhile but it was random. Over the past 2 months I think I've moved from novice to beginner and maybe even a little bit into the basics, which is impressive for this suburban grown city girl!
Even though I now can call myself a basic dairy farmer I still have a shocking confession:
I don't really like calves.
There. It's out there. I've said it. I don't really like calves or calf chores.
Why? But, Why? You may ask. Well, I'll break it down for you, from the reason I least like calves and calf chores to the best part about it (yes there are some good parts).
Now I'll be honest that this list has gone through some changes over the past 2 months because I've gone through some changes. The first week after Dan had surgery a good friend asked how I liked doing calf chores and I said "good". At that point my mom was still around caring for the kids and my house and helping me take care of Dan, so calf chores were a nice little break and I was still in the "honeymoon" stage of doing something new.
But it didn't take long and the honey started to disappear. Throw in a week of VBS and then my mom leaving (which she had to do - she'd given us 10 days!) and Dan not recovered enough to do anything but keep the kids alive and hopefully entertained while I was gone, and it went downhill fast. My plate was overstuffed and overfull and that didn't help my attitude toward the rowdy seemingly ungrateful calves I spent hours caring for everyday.
The last few weeks the tide turned again as Dan had been able to help the kids eat dinner or breakfast, get them ready for bed or the day, and into bed while I was doing calf chores in the mornings or evenings. With less responsibility on my plate I didn't have to fight for joy quite as hard. Going forward I'll continue to help with calf chores to help Dan out when Dave & Pam are gone but thankfully for me it won't be ALL. THE. TIME.
So here we go with our list of why I don't really like calves or calf chores...
5. Calf Slobber, Kisses, and Nibbles. Seriously, for some reason, this is the thing I have the least patience for. No matter how I'm trying to care for a calf, whether giving her fresh water, some food, or trying to give her a dry place to lay down, I can't get near her without her trying to suck and nibble on any part of body or clothes that's available. Calves have no discretion - they suck on my hair, my arm, my shirt, my leg, my elbow... you get the idea.
Truthfully this just makes my job harder because it turns out I'm usually using my arms and body to take care of them and if they're nibbling on me it means they're in my way. AND I just don't really like wet warm slobber all over me....
When I told Dan's aunt, who has been dairy farming her whole life, about my predicament she said she doesn't even notice that this happens to her anymore. So maybe if I did calf chores long enough I'd get use to it too... but I don't really want to.
I'd rather figure out how to train these little calves to stay out of my way and respect my body bubble...
4. Messy, Misbehaving Calves. Now obviously calves have to eat and drink to grow, which is what we want. And obviously some of what goes in must come out but calves are not the smartest creatures when it comes to where they're going to poop and pee (like, ahem, pigs). No matter how much I'd tell them to make sure to relieve themselves in their yard not on their bed in their hut, they usually didn't listen.
And then related to #1, if I was providing them with fresh straw to lay on instead of ground papers, I had to climb into their yard and hut to spread it out all nice for them, which usually involved trying to get them out of their hut and into their yard so I could stoop down and go into their hut and spread out their straw. While in their hut I often have to balance on one leg to keep the other leg out behind me to protect me from the licking, nibbling, slobbery calves - as well as a few rowdy ones who just want to head butt me (literally!).
Dan thought he should take a picture of me doing this to insert here for your viewing, ah, pleasure... I don't think it'd be pleasurable. Instead just imagine yourself doing the above described acrobatics and you'll probably giggle a little!
Equally as annoying is when they decide to poop or pee in their water bucket, especially if I've just given them fresh water! There are even a few chronic offenders who not only often poop in their bucket they figure out how to get their bucket out of it's holder and then roll it around in their messy yard. And then I'd clean it again and again and again and again....
Now this isn't number one because every so often it can be helpful. During my first week one of those chronic offenders happened to pee in her water bucket and it wasn't yellow but red - which means bladder infection. Thankfully we were able to catch it early and get her the treatment she needed fast and now she's doing great! If she'd peed anywhere else we wouldn't have caught it as early.
3. My Body. There's some good and bad here, so it rightly falls in the middle. Even though I haven't been milking cows just carrying buckets of water and feed, it has caused my wedding ring to no longer fit and for callouses to form on my hands. Now that I'm not as actively helping with calf chores the callouses will probably fade away and hopefully my hands will shrink back to my wedding ring size. Either way I still love my husband unconditionally but I'd hate to see my beautiful ring just sit around! (PS... the ring is already back on!)
And I've lost weight and for sure some inches with all the physical lifting and walking twice a day. I took a strength and weight training class in high school and my teacher would be proud. I've been using my knowledge to lift with my legs and engage my abs while lifting and carrying buckets. Hopefully I'll be able to keep being active and eating right to stay in shape now!
2. Getting to know the calves. Now honestly, I'd probably feel a lot more lovey fuzzy feeling toward my calves if I got to know them even more than I have. If I'm truthful my 2 and 5 year old have some of the same issues I don't particularly like in calves - getting in my body bubble, having to feed and then clean up after them, and caring for them in general. Thankfully I spend a lot more time with my kids and I know them and all of their amazing attributes too - like cuddles and "I love you's", funny faces and phrases, learning to help, saying "thank you", and so much more!
But I've still gotten to know the calves I've been caring for and each one has a personality - even if it's a rowdy in your face personality. You know who will drink their whole bucket of water as soon as you give it to them so you'll have to refill it right away. You know who will stand in the door of their hut so you can't get any bedding in it. You know who is going to get their bucket out of it's holder. You know who thinks she's the boss and always gets the first drink of water (one of my calves, Peyton, I renamed PrimaDonna because she's thinks she's number 1 and the most important in her big hut group!). And thankfully you know who's just going to be chill and laid back, although you might not notice them.
1. Experiencing God's Creation. My favorite thing of all was getting to experience God's creation each morning and evening. Now on those hot humid days this wasn't my favorite but thankfully I knew I'd get to take a shower as soon as I was done working, something they didn't have the luxury of when Dan's Great-Great Grandparent's started farming our farm over 125 years ago!
Since I was helping through summer which was turning into fall I usually got to experience dawn's arrival and evening's dusk settling. For around two hours each morning and evening I'd be in and out of the barns and caring for the calves at the huts, getting to both see and feel the new day's arrival or the day's end. I've watched the sunrise and set before and can usually see it from inside my house but then I'm on to the next thing on the to-do list - usually inside, missing the beauty of the slow change as the days come and go.
Perhaps my favorite morning was after a stretch of hot humid summer days I drove to the farm at 5:15am and it was still icky and sticky out with my car's thermometer at 72 degrees. Over the next two hours I experienced the weather shift like I never have before. The wind picked up and spent a good 30-60 minutes working on blowing away the hot heavy air mass, bringing with it cool crisp refreshing fall air. Driving home a bit after 7am that morning my car's thermometer had dropped 8 degrees and more importantly the humidity had been pushed away.
The weather and our atmosphere is truly amazing. I so appreciate that we have meteorologists who really are pretty close when it comes to telling us what's coming our way but I think most of us usually miss out on the wonder of our world and getting to really "feel" the weather and the way it shifts and changes. Being outside in God's creation to see how many different beautiful ways the sun can set and rise, experiencing the changing weather, feeling rain drops on your head but continuing to work has given me more of an appreciation and awe for this amazing place we live called earth.
In the end I really am thankful that I had the opportunity to learn the day in and day out pattern of calf chores as well as get the farm through a tough time, being down a more than full-time worker! I may not have said that one month into doing calf chores but that's what perspective is so important!
What are the blessings and annoyances of your job? They all have 'em!
Things kept moving along this week so quickly that for some reason I'd forgotten to take pictures for some things. So the kids & I ran up this afternoon to take some pictures for you (and really me!).
In the Guest House a lot more of the electrical went in, which really in pictures is just a bunch of wires and little plastic boxes on the wall. I spent time talking things over with the electrician a couple different days to make sure we had it all done right.
Our framers/finishers also popped over for a day to box in the duct work, make a mantel for future electric fireplace, move a wall & door, and put up a stair stringer so the electrician could keep moving. We're so glad everyone is working together so well!
On the barn side of things Dan spent most of everyday at the site between morning & evening milkings, which I expect will become more and more common as all the little things and details are coming together.
On Monday more equipment for the milk handling side of things arrived. The manure storage area was back filled to get that all finished up and Dan moved more fill sand into the barn to prep for concrete arrival.
Dan, the plumber, and the excavator played in the sand mid-week moving and laying plumbing lines underneath the sand and eventually underneath the concrete.
The concrete guys were finally able to get here on Friday and they got some good stuff prepped for concrete to be poured on Monday... things are going to look different fast!
The barn builders got some steel up on the east barn wall and then went to town the rest of the week getting the porch on the front and putting up the steel. It looks great! They even worked Saturday getting things set up for the chimney vents and putting up bird netting on the north side - love them!
Looking forward to concrete getting poured and the electric getting finished up this week so we can be onto drywall and moving in soon!
Maybe you've been wondering as I've talked about "doing calf chores", what in the world does that mean? After doing calf chores for 2 months I think I'm qualified to let you know all about it.
Now I thought about calling it calf care, because really that's what it is but then I thought more about it and decided at least for me they really are calf chores. Not that I'm not caring for the calves because as you find out that's all calf chores are about but let's be honest when you do your dishes, mow your lawn, dust, clean your toilet, shovel snow, or any other variety of jobs around your house to CARE for it, do you call it "household care" or "chores"? I think most people call them chores. You might even like doing some of those things but it's still a chore, at least some of the time - something that has to be done to properly care for your house and family.
So here's a typical morning or evening of calf chores on our current farm.
Water. Lots and lots of water. Lots and lots of water that must be carried to calves in 5 gallon buckets. Calf chores start and end with water. We try and give our calves the water that's already been used once to cool our milk down (a more complicated mechanical process than I can tell you about!) which means we have a little hose that water runs out of into 5 gallon buckets that we carry out to the calves and then take back for refill after refill. This also means the little calves don't have to drink the cold water straight from the well.
AND, we give them water in the middle of the day as well. For the most part Dan's mom did this while Dan was recovering but if she had meetings and had be be gone I'd run down and fill up those buckets! Calves are thirsty creatures, especially in the summer!
Next is grain, which varies depending on how old the calf is - we have 3 different kinds of grain and grain mixes that we'll even mix together more as they transition between the grain types. For both carrying water and grain buckets I borrowed the kid's little red wagon to haul the buckets back and forth, making less trips to and from our "hut city".
As they get bigger and after they've eaten their grain they get some hay to munch on. The grain contains most of their carbs and some additional vitamins & minerals while the hay contains more of their protein and fiber, giving them a customized balanced diet.
After they're all fed we make sure their living quarters are clean and comfortable. From birth to around 2 months each calf gets their own little hut to live in, helping keep any colds from passing too quickly while they're especially young and susceptible. We can also keep a closer eye on them individually to see how much they're eating or drinking or what their poop or pee looks like, so we can hopefully catch anything that's off of normal as quickly as possible.
Next they head into big huts that can hold a small group of 4 calves, which helps them begin to socialize with other calves and we're still able to keep a close eye on them. Eventually those groups are combined into even bigger and bigger groups until they have a baby and join the milking cows.
To keep the little calves' individual huts clean and dry we use recycled newspapers and papers that we grind or shred up into fluffy little pieces that we toss into their huts. I got to help bag up the ground up papers twice while doing calf chores - a rather messy dirty job! We get old newspapers from area newspapers and businesses as well as friends and family who save theirs for us... want your old papers to get a new life on our farm? Let us know!
The older calves get straw to sleep on - which by the way is different than hay. Hay is made from alfalfa and is what cows or horses or other animals eat while straw is the leftover grassy part after small grains like oats or wheat are harvested and cows sleep on it. Since I didn't grow up on a farm I still have trouble remembering and saying the right thing - which is important when telling someone else which calf chores you have or haven't done.
Finally, the little calves need to be fed milk. For the first few days we feed them their milk with a bottle and then transition them to drinking from a bucket. Calves get milk for 6-8 weeks before transitioning into drinking just water.
And that's how we care for our calves, our calf chores. Really it's much more in-depth than that... what questions do you have? Wanna help sometime?
Growing up a city-girl, after marrying my dairy farmer husband and spending a few years abroad, we came home to expand the family dairy farm and want to share our journey & farm life with you!