Category Archives: landscapes

Questioning Your Food-Milk

As you sit down to dinner each night, do you think about where your food comes from?
While walking the isles of the grocery store, do you ever think about what’s produced in your state or region?

Lately, there is much conversation about antibiotics in meats and milk, along with a heavy conversation about GMO’s.

As a consumer, it made me sit back and think about where I got all of my information that is stored in my head about the food I eat.

As some of you already know, I also work on another farm. That farm is a 76-head dairy farm that produces milk that goes into our supply chain. That milk can become bottled milk, yogurt or cheese.

Neighboring Dairy Farm

I have talked and asked lots of questions over the years about the milk that goes into the tank for pickup. I have asked lots of questions about what happens to the milk from treated cows.

Here are just a sampling of those questions and responses:

1. About how much milk do your cows produce?
Our herd average is 80 pounds of milk per day.

2. Why do you use a milk line? (A milk line is a stainless steel pipeline that pumps milk from the cow to the milk house and ultimately into the bunk tank)
The system is mandatory for the USDA regulations. It is the safest way to transport milk from the cow to the milk house. It is a closed loop system that prevents air from within the barn to enter into the lines and reduces the opportunity for air-borne bacteria to enter the system. 

3. With the closed-loop system, do you still pay close attention to the cleaning process?
Yup, it is mandatory that the system is flush and cleaned with an approved cleaner to make sure that all of the milk held within the line is removed. Even our milking claws (that’s the piece that fastens to the teats of the cow) is fulling cleaned and heated with 180 degree water to ensure a sterilization process too.

4. Do you milk any of the cows that just freshened? (Or just gave birth to a calf)
We use a pail milker to remove just enough milk from that cow to relieve the pressure and fullness of her udder. We use the pail to make sure that the milk never reaches the bulk tank. The colostrum or mother’s first milk is feed to the calf. Any remaining is dumped out and unusable for any type of consumption. No other calf gets the colostrum and no human gets it either.

5. What happens if the mother gets milk fever or mastitis? (This are illnesses found in cows that are producing milk typical caused by an infection)
A vet usually checks them to make sure that our preliminary diagnosis is correct and then we typically treat the animal with antibiotics to help her fight off the infection. 

6. Once you treat them, what happens to their milk?
All of her milk is dumped. She is milked into the milk pail and the milk is then discarded. It isn’t acceptable for the bulk tank.

7. What happens if the milk gets into the tank?
When the milk is tested at the delivery site, if it registers back that the milk is contaminated with antibiotics, the whole truck gets dumped. The trucking company will then back track the milk in that load to the farms it was picked up from. If it is discovered that is from our farm, we are responsible to pay for the loss of the whole truck of milk. One load tracked back to our farm could put us out of business.
*Special note- Some milk pick up companies do a dip test at the time of pick-up. 

8.  How much milk do you send on a truck?
We send approximately 10,000 pounds of milk every other day. Since a gallon of milk weighs approximately 8.5 pounds, that means we ship 1176 gallons of milk.

9. Wait, they only pick up milk every TWO days?
Yes, we have a chiller attached to our tank to ensure that the milk is kept at 45 degrees. All milk that enters the tank MUST be chilled to that temperature within two hours. When we do additional milkings, the tank can NEVER go above 50 degrees.
Ultimately, the milk is pasteurized at temperatures about 160 degrees to kill any bacteria that may enter the milk.

10. Do you drink milk from the tank?
Yes, we do take about a gallon, maybe two, a week to drink ourselves. We do not pasteurize for our own consumption.

I hope that these questions and answers help those who were curious and concerns about antibiotics within the milk supply chain. If you have any further questions, comments or concerns please leave a note or comment below. We will take the time to answer them all.

Will Gilmer of Gilmer Dairy has also taken time to write about antibiotics in milk today. I hope you all click the link to go read his view points as well. http://gilmerdairy.blogspot.com/2012/01/faq-are-there-hormones-in-my-milk.html

Farming Communities

I live in a farming community. On the rolling hills of what I call home, I can travel up to our back field and look across the valley. I can see hay and corn fields. I can see barns and silos in every direction.

The view from our top field, looking East.

I can’t even start listing off all of the active working farms within a 5 mile radius. Little farms like me with just one milk cow but a diversity of animals and big commercial dairies that have about 1500 milking head.

There are times, like during harvest season, that some of us will work together to get crops in but generally speaking we all keep to ourselves. That is, until someone needs help. Time and time again, I have seen this community pull together to help others. From one farm to another it may be helping get equipment pulled out of a muddy location or handling one or two milkings due to an injury.

We might have some new modern equipment but this area still reminds me of what communities were like when I was growing up. At harvest time, the families all pitch in together to get the job done. The wives cooked big meals to share with the crew. We worked from sun up til sun down. We all knew that no matter what the issue, help was just a phone call away.

I am proud to say I know that I have my neighbors support if I need it. Of course they have mine too, no matter what.

Things are just done differently out here in rural USA. We don’t expect to receive pay for the help we offer…mainly because someday you know you are going to need the assistance back. We don’t call tow trucks for break downs. We call the neighbor (usually a farmer). We plow out each others driveways when (and if) it snows. Sometimes the big dairy will come in with his big equipment when the snow is too deep.

That’s just how it seems to work around here. And I don’t think any of us would change that for the world.

It’s Cold Out There

Even though the temperatures are above freezing already this morning, at a whole 32 degrees…It sure hasn’t been that way for the past two or three days.

On Friday, we got hit with extremely high winds with some gusts over 40 mph and snow. I don’t mind the snow. I actually think it’s good to get some snow. Especially when the ground is already so saturated from all of this strange weather we have had this year. Buffalo, which is about a three hour drive from here, is 40 inches below their average snow fall accumulations for this season. We have had more rain than I can ever recall and there have been days in January that have days in the 40-50 degree marks.

January 13th, 2012

But on Saturday, the thermometer decided to plunge. It was 9 degrees out there when Mr. Farmer went out to do morning chores.

He had a few problems getting out little milking pump started but, everything else went alright. No frozen water lines, no cold animals and no sludge for oil like I had yesterday morning when I went out.

Sunday morning brought a headache, sore muscle and stress. One of our calves got cold stress. Cold stress in a calf is very dangerous. It is actually a form of hypothermia. The poor girl was our there shaking like a leaf in the breeze. She wouldn’t eat or drink. Having to bottle/force feed a five month old animal isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I didn’t want her to get dehydrated and I also know that giving her warm liquids is a good way to warm her up from the inside out.

After discovering that my girl was so cold. I decided to take a peek at the thermometer again. It turned out to be a big mistake when I pulled it up on my truck when I was headed to go pick up our weekly feed.

Just a little chilly out there

After the half hour feed trip, I had to work on getting the water lines unthawed. During all that, I had to keep checking on the heifer calf, making trips to the house to warm up blankets for her. Then the milker pump needed fixing. Mr. Farmer put on a different motor, cleaned it all up and warmed the oil (which turned out to be the only issue).

Then we cut firewood due to the fact that we were burning through lots of extra. All of those winds seemed to find yet more cracks in the walls of the house. At one point, the whole house was at 51 degrees. Thankfully, we didn’t have any frozen lines. We built a fire in the fireplace for added warmth but only ended up with temps around 60.

The chickens stayed nice and toasty inside of the chicken barn with their heat lamps. Believe it or not…they actually ALL laid an egg yesterday too. That was a whole boat load of eggs and more than my poor little bag could handle. I had eggs in my coat pockets, the front pouch on my hoodie and a couple in my hat along with the one’s in the bag as I raced hatless to the house! 45 eggs in total.

Old barn

My fingers and toes still hurt from frost bite but things are looking better for the time being. I guess that eventually, we will all pull through this and be alright. At least, I sure hope so. And here I was hoping for a better, even start to 2012. So far, everything has been full of severe swings of ups and downs…one positive thing, it has to get better from here!

Hope you are all staying warm and dry. God bless.

Farming and Food

For some reason, the average person today doesn’t think about how much work actually goes into every meal they eat. I decided that since it is freezing outside this morning (2 Degrees F with a windchill of -10) I would take some time to walk you through the hours of my day. Not a day when I work both farms…just my own.

5:30 AM- That annoying alarm clock goes off. It sounds like a tractor trailer backing up. Nee, Nee, Nee. Hit the snooze to shut it up!
5:45 AM- That annoying alarm on my phone goes off. It sounds like a rooster. Cockadoodle doo. Cockadoodle doo. Hit the dismiss button, miss and hit the snooze. Alarm disappears. Swing out of bed, head into bathroom. Pee.
6:00 AM- Make coffee, get partially dressed. Jump out of your skin when the damn alarm goes back off. Cockadoodle doo. Quickly followed by Nee, Nee, Nee. Feel like you want to rip your hair out while attempting to locate the buttons in the dark.
6:15 AM- Kiss Hubby Goodbye since he has a “regular job” and needs to be in by 7 am.
6:20 AM- Head to the barn. Milker pail and wash bucket in hand.
6:25 AM- Start the milker pump, wash milk pail, feed grain (cows and turkeys), feed a small amount of hay, wash teats, put on milker. Get more hay into feeder. Check water (refill if needed).
6:40 AM- Measure fresh milk into two pails (2 pints each), feed calves milk, get more hay (second cutting grasses from small square bales), clean up manure, rebed, refill water and grain buckets. Clean milker pail with wash water. Take milker and pail of milk into the house.
6:55 AM- Shut off water (if it was needed), check the other pastures water. If needed, dig out hose, run from other barn, fill tub. Open the doors for the chickens. Gather eggs, check water, clean up manure piles out of nest boxes, feed scratch grain. If needed, mix up 50 lbs of scratch. 50% cracked corn, 25% crimped oats, 25% wheat. Mix in other barn, carry to chicken barn, fill bin and proceed with feeding.
7:10-7:15 AM- Shut off water hose, talk to cows (The Dexters and one steer). Talking the cows isn’t for pleasure. It is to check them out physically and personality wise. All the while asking yourself things like: Do they look clean? How’s they bedding? Any sores? Runny eyes? Any lethargy? Are they eating and drinking? How do the hooves look?
7:30 AM- If anything looks off, fix it. Make sure to make notes when returning into office inside the house. If something like a sore appears, take a photo (not the easiest thing to accomplish either). Speaking of photos…it’s about time for the sunrise, so make sure you take a photo to share.

January 4th Sunrise

7:35-7:45 AM- Check furnace. We have an outdoor boiler that provides all of our heat and hot water. This step is crucial!
7:45 AM- Strain milk, put into fridge. Make sure eggs are clean and dry, load into carton and store in fridge.
8:00 AM- Time for a cup of coffee! Take cup into office. Start making notes on animals into computer. I keep track of things like the weather, time of milking, any abnormal activity, amount of feed (both hay and grain), amount of milk produced for the milk cow. For all of the young stock, aka the calves, I track things like how much milk, how they drank it down, body condition, how much grain and hay they ate from the night before. Once per week, I take measurements of their rib cage and torso length and also note their growth. I also make notes for the poultry. I mark things like body condition (typical feather appearance), what grains they peck at first, how many eggs, how much laying mash (cornmeal, wheat, barley, oats, millet, grain sorghum, and finely ground dried distillers grains typically around 14-16% Protein) has been consumed, how much of the oyster shells remained, and how much water they drank. I also note things like hours of supplemental light in the winter time. How many hours, what wattage of bulb and the overall temperature in the barn when I first open the doors.
8:30 AM- Since I already have the computer on…time to check Facebook, Twitter and Emails. Sometimes, I even talk with my cousin over a cup of coffee. She lives about an hour or so away…not like I can just pop my head around the corner to chat.
9:00 AM- Time to get to work. Phone calls for the business, farm and personal business. Mr. Farmer usually calls me around that time too. He makes sure that everything went good for AM chores. If I don’t answer, I have to notify him immediately that I am alright or he is calling in the neighbors to come check up on me.
Sometime between 10-10:30, I usually start a batch of cheese. Lately we have been making a ton of cheese curds. Everyone seems to like them and just trying to keep up with family demands are crazy. Yesterday, I didn’t get started until about 12:30.
Since you need to watch the temperatures, stir and wait for time to elapse. I usually try to take that time to bake something. Yesterday it was bread. Today, I think I will make dessert bread.
Things are slower in the winter time. No gardens to weed or harvest. No fields that need to be checked. No harvesting that needs to get done. There are more trips to the feed store or local grain farmer. Too bad I never hurry when I go to them though. Winter gives me time to chat with the “help”! Also gives me time to see all of the different stuff they have…which really isn’t good sometimes!
The great part about winter is that you can spend more time scouring through the pantry to come up with some fantastic dishes to fix. Like our dinner last night. Fresh white bread with fresh churned butter resting in a big bowl of Corn Chowder laced with bacon and rum with cheese curds floating in the soup. Here in a few minutes, I will walk you through my afternoon (with photos for most). I will put it in a separate post…too many good things to add to this one.
Well, now you have walked through a “normal” morning for me in the winter. Most farms do more than that. Usually with two or more people working year round to produce all of those foods on your table.
The next time you sit down to eat a plate of food, ask yourself this…”Where did this come from?” Knowing where and how your food is produced in important in my mind. Maybe it’s because I have an inquiring mind that wants to know. Maybe it’s just because I have spent so much time on the farm that knowing where my food is produced is important to me. They are valuable lessons to learn. Make sure you just don’t look at the package and say “Oh yeah, that’s a familiar name so it has to be produced the right way.” Look into the background of where it comes from. Is it one huge commercial producer that has been known for animal neglect or abuse? Or is it from a cooperative of small farms that have received recognition for their humane practices? Or better yet, is it from a local producer?

Sunrises around the farm

The morning sunrise (Taken Spring '11)

I don’t know what it is about this location but there are not too many days out of the year that we do not have spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

I live in a fairly high elevation, about 1300 ft. above see level on the side of a hill. The best place to watch the sun rise is basically right out my front door or off the backside of the one of the barns. Most mornings, I am out there finishing up chores, camera in hand watching it come up.

Sunsets, on the other hand, are kind of hidden through the trees. A good place to watch them is the pond. Unfortunately, I don’t get down there often enough so that I can get some good quality photos though on a regular basis.

I put together this video clip from photos I have taken just this month. I hope that you enjoy!

 

Strange Weather

Well, I never thought that I would still be dealing with mud issues just days before Christmas! It’s 8:30 in the morning, 42 degrees and it rained all day yesterday. EVERYTHING is a muddy mess. The one good thing….the barn isn’t too messy ’cause everybody is out in the pasture.

The poor grass is even confused as it is greening up again. I am surprised that the trees aren’t budding!

I worry that without a really cold spell, we aren’t going to be getting sap from the maples to make syrup this year. Wouldn’t that be just our luck now that we own our very first evaporator! We bought the one that Mr. Farmer’s parent’s had prior to their retirement and consequent move out of their home. Kind of hard to travel between NY and TX with maple syrup making equipment! 🙂

Yesterday, when I was outside taking care of some necessity chores around the farm….I couldn’t help but notice the music of the rain. Have you ever just sat and listened to the different tones of the rain?

It makes such a unique and difference sound on each thing it hits and of course it depends on how hard it rains. It was perfect yesterday for listening. No high winds whistling through the trees. Just the sound of the pattering of the rain.

I think the sweetest sound is when the light rain was hitting the steel roof on the barn. It sounded like distant cricket-like noises that all blended together. Then there were the baritones of the drops hitting the roof of the two cover-all style buildings. With them being two different sizes, the pitches and tones were different there too. And even different sounds when the rain it puddles, the ground, the gravel in the drive….

Natures Music! Soft, subtle and completely peaceful.

This is just another one of the many reasons why I couldn’t live in the city. Too much ambient noise to really hear little things like the differences in the sounds of rain hitting various objects. Here, in the country, there may be  an occassional car that drives by or the sound of an animal but I sat on the picnic table in the barn (yeah, I know…nice place for it huh?) listening to the different sounds that created from nature.

It was one of those hours when I sat back thinking about how blessed I am to be surrounded by such beautiful things.

A dying weed on a cold, rainy morning just after the sun came through the fog.

Out of Sorts

This time of year is really difficult for me. I guess you can say that part of it is the “empty nest” syndrome. So many things have changed and I miss some of them more than I care to admit.

Being a mom is one of the greatest treasures that life has to offer. I have three children (two boys and a girl) of my own and two step-children (one boy, one girl). Unfortunately, I do not get to see my own children. Someday, I will explain all of the details but even five years after the fact…I still tear up and develop an ever painful ache in my heart. No they haven’t died, but the loss I feel still hurts the same.

The step-children are grown. The daughter with a new family of her own. The son, we don’t see often.

Times have changed, as it always does. But, this house feels so quiet, so empty and it’s pointed out more during the holiday season. There are no more month of December crafting activities with the kids. No cookie baking, no popcorn strings, no excitement of getting Christmas gifts……

No one to hang the lights or decorate the tree. No one to listen and dance around the living room to Christmas music with. No class project Christmas Ornaments. No drives through the city to see the Christmas lights. There isn’t even the feeling of closeness that the holiday season usually brings.

I have tried all month to snag the holiday spirit. I just can’t seem to get a good firm grip on it! Yes, the tree is up and decorated. Yes, the two lone stockings are hung by the chimney with care….But, I didn’t do much other decorating this year. All of my plans that I had have evaporated into the unknown. I was hoping that Mr. Farmer would help me with them.

Mr. Farmer is a bit of a scrooge. His holiday shopping includes exciting gift cards for the kids and this year he is talking savings bonds for the granddaughters. Dull, boring and not very exciting. He even complained about me putting up the Christmas tree. His exact words were “I don’t know why you bothered. No one comes here.

See, to me it doesn’t matter if anyone comes here. I just love sitting next to the tree in the middle of those restless nights when I can’t sleep. The twinkle of the lights glinting off the hanging ornaments is beautiful and one of the seasons greatest treasures.

I sit here typing, realizing that my biggest problem is that I feel alone. Everything I do for the holidays isn’t done with family or friends. I decorate alone. I bake and cook alone. I do most of the chores alone. Most of the year, that doesn’t bother me. I guess it is just something about this time of year that makes me want to surround myself with family and friends, laughter and memories, good food and happy times.

Ugg…How depressing is this post? I will leave with happier tidings……..

To all of you out there that are surrounded by family and friends:
Merry Christmas! Make memories that will last a lifetime this holiday season!

Nature’s gifts of the seasons are like opening brightly colored packages, loosely tied with crinkled ribbon.

December Sunrise