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The Shiny New Barn

8 Aug

After months of planning, building, and anxious mooing, our shiny new barn is finally complete. I’m sure the Dairy Man would love to take a moment to bask, but he’s already moved on to other projects.

Manure pit

Oof. Just a little manure pit. Things never slow down around here.

But, back to the beauteous barn. As you know, Dairy Man decided to expand one of our barns this spring in order to grow our herd and give the current bovines a little more room to spread out.

Here’s where we started: two pretty white barns on a grassy hill (our parlor is on the far left).

Barns before

In order to build an expansion, we had to first raise up the ground. This required sand. Lots and lots of sand.

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I quite enjoyed the sand. Unfortunately the Dairy Man shot down my idea to turn the area into a beach volleyball court complete with tiki torches and frozen daiquiri bar. Apparently making space for more cows trumps my desire for summer beach parties.

But Jersey agreed with me. He loved the sand. It was like an episode of doggy Baywatch.

After the sand was laid and the ground was even, the posts went up.

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These random sticks pointing in the air were like a dairy farm version of Stonehenge. Without the burial mounds and Druid undertones.

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Then it was time for rafters and a roof made out of steel.

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Once the outside structure was complete, it was time to trick out our barn. Or “pimp my barn.” We’re still waiting to hear from MTV about the TV rights.

A few notable elements inside the barn:

Grooved concrete floor.
A grooved floor helps give the ladies traction as they roam around the barn. Without grooves, the floor would be a skating rink of slippery cow poo. Delightful. DM told me to take a good look at the floor, because it will never, EVER be this clean again. (Also, these are the wrong shoes to check out barn construction. In case you were wondering.)

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Big fans and sprinklers.
Cows hate to be hot and bothered. In order to keep the ladies cool, the new barn has huge fans and a sprinkler system. Thanks to several weeks of 90-degree weather in July, the fans and sprinklers have been getting a serious workout.

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Water tanks.
The new barn has two large blue water troughs. In the summer, the cows spend a lot of around them, an area I’ve dubbed the “water cooler,” to catch up on the latest gossip.

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Freestalls to give the ladies their space.
All of our barns are freestall barns. This means that the cows are free to roam around and have access to comfy sand beds/stalls. The stalls are spaced four feet apart to give even the biggest-boned bovine plenty of personal space.

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So. Those are the thrilling aspects that make up a barn. DM is so proud that I can recognize the glory of grooved concrete.

I was lucky enough to be in the barn when DM released the girls into it for the first time. I’m not a cow whisperer, but I could tell the cows were excited. I suspect they had been conversing longingly about the cozy new sand beds and waterfront views of the pond.

This event also finally gave me the chance to test an age-old dairy theory: that cows are just as excited about going into a new barn as they are about going into pasture. I’ll admit I was skeptical. I’ve witnessed our dry cows (pregnant ladies) go into pasture for the first time in the spring multiple times. It’s one of my favorite parts about living on a dairy. Why? Because it’s like a very rotund and jubilant running of the bulls. For a few minutes, the ladies forget they are mature mother cows and leap, frolic, and roll in the pasture like calves.

Would cows really be as excited about freestalls as they are about fresh pasture grass?

My camera and I were ready to find out. DM opened the gate between the old barn and new barn and after a few tentative steps, we had a stampede on our hands!

Ok, maybe “stampede” is a bit of an exaggeration, but it was joyful.

I even caught one of the girls rolling in the new sand bed like a wet puppy at a beach. Not a typical look for a 1,500 lb. animal.

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In a matter of minutes, every single cow was packed into the new barn. Except for this loner. She was soaking in the sudden privacy in the old barn.

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The bovine ladies are loving it. And yes, new barns are just as exciting as green pastures.

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12 Cows A-Carolin’

22 Dec

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Twelve cows a-carolin’

We all know that cows can’t sing. Well. They can sing, but their melodious mooing is rarely in tune. Regardless, in the interest of sending you off into the holiday weekend with visions of sugarplum dairies (see what I did there?) dancing in your head, I thought I would let our bovine ladies wrap up the twelve days of Christmas.

Thus, a herd of cows, steers, and even a calf or two are here to sing the twelve verses of my little dairy ditty. May you all have a Christmas full of blessings, family, eggnog, and twinkly lights!

“On the first day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to meeee,

Twelve cows a-carolin’
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Eleven (thousand) sliced tires”
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Ten mooing neighbors”
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Nine essential nutrients”
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Eight loads of sand”
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Seven bales of hay”
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Six stripping shanks”

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Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaaaays”

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Four milking shells”
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Three shifts of milking”
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Two orange tractors”
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“Aaaaand a twinkly-liiiight-laden faux treeeeeeeee!”
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A Dairy Merry Christmas to you and yours!

****

Ps: Fun fact about December 22. Did you know that three years ago today a very nervous boy got down on one knee to ask me to be his wife? It’s been a wild adventure full of love, change, and cows ever since! Love ya, Dairy Man.

Batten Down the Hatches: Winter on the Farm

11 Jan

Something about that title makes me want to wear an eye patch, get a pet parrot named Polly, and end every sentence with “Yaaaaaaarrrrrr.”But this is not a post about pirates, yaaaaaaaaarrrr. This is a post about cows (but not cow pirates). Someday we’ll contemplate a world in which burly cow pirates roam the seas like those mischievous stars of the Chick-fila-A commercials, but not today.

Though Michigan has been experiencing some delightfully mild temperatures lately, I know the winter won’t pass us by. As we enter this second week of January, the suspense is building. The temps are slowly dropping and there’s snow in the forecast. These days it’s not unusual for the nightly lows to be in the 20s. And we’re not even in the throes of winter yet, people! This is the time of year when we have to bundle up from head to toe when entering the great outdoors. But what about our bovine ladies? How do they keep warm in the 4-6 months of blustery cold?

Is there a church group somewhere knitting cow-sized sweaters? Does the Dairy Man fill the water troughs with hot cocoa and marshmallows? Do the ladies huddle around hundreds of space heaters? Not exactly.

We have a few ways to help the cows stave off the chill in winter. First, the Dairy Man closes the curtains. Much like our parlor isn’t frilly and Victorian, the curtains here aren’t lacy and delicate. Rather than silk or cotton, these curtains are made of thick plastic. Each barn has top and bottom curtains that come down on each side. The bottom curtains are almost always down, but the top curtains come down in the colder months. These curtains help protect our cows from blustery winds and keep snow from blowing in and getting the sand beds wet.

Next, the ladies get fluffy. Seriously. Around November each year, I start noticing that the bovine members of our family are sporting some seriously rocking ‘dos.

The Dairy Man also has a few other tricks to keep our dry and milking cows happy. In the winter the feed ration changes slightly to include a higher fat content because the cows burn more energy to stay warm. We also turn on heating units in each drinking trough to keep the water from freezing. And what about the moneymakers on the underside of each cow? When temperatures drop below 15 degrees, DM and his milkers switch to a teat dip (more on that in a future post) that has more conditioners in it to keep the udders from drying out.

When you stop to think, it’s not entirely different from my raging chapstick addiction in the winter. I blame Bonnie Bell, circa 1999.

So that’s how the older and more mature members of our herd weather a Michigan winter. But what about the little guys and gals? The big cows may not get sweaters, but the calves get jackets!

What’s that? Your heart just melted? That’ll happen.

In addition to their stylish jackets, calves are also given more straw for their beds to build forts …er… nests. And visions of sugar drops danced in their heads…

Though this January has been unseasonably warm (I’m entirely in favor of global warming if it means 45 degree heatwaves in the middle of winter), a storm is a’brewing. I’ve lived in Michigan too long not to expect that we will PAY for this nice weather. So when the flakes inevitably fly, the cows and I will bundle up, eat more fat than usual, and dream of green pastures.

Jersey, on the other hand, has found a favorite season and loves to be outside. Curses.

That’s just not natural.

2 May

It’s the age-old question: “Tell me, Dairy Man, where do cows come from?”

To find the answer, the Dairy Man forced encouraged me to watch the “Dairy Cow Midwife” episode of Dirty Jobs. Needless to say, my delicate sensibilities will never be the same.

I may be a farm wife, but there are certain aspects to my husband’s job that I don’t want to know anything about. Before that fateful episode of Dirty Jobs, I had some vague ideas about artificial insemination but had always managed to push those disturbing thoughts out of mind. The less I knew the better. I wouldn’t be forced to ask questions I didn’t want the answer to, such as “WHERE does the breeder stick his arm?!?”

The process of birds and bees on a dairy farm is not quite like it used to be. Dairy farms of old had a bull or two running around the farm to turn on the charm and make cow babies.

But in modern dairy farming, this method of reproduction is highly inefficient. Or so the Dairy Man tells me. You can’t control genes, desirable traits, success rates, milk production. Because, of course, we want super-awesome high-producing wonder cows. Bulls are dangerous and modern farming can do better. We don’t want just any Joe Bovine impregnating our ladies.

So, what’s a farmer to do? Buy high-quality sperm for use in artificial insemination of course. Yes. There are entire companies dedicated to the sale of baby-making liquid for cattle. And the Dairy Man wears their hats.

This knowledge is an example of a fact I wish I didn’t know. But alas, one cannot be a dairy farmer’s wife without losing some innocence. I also know where hamburgers come from. Traumatizing, eh? Welcome to my life.