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!