12 Cows A-Carolin’

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!

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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.

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11 (Thousand) Sliced Tires

On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Eleven (thousand) sliced tires

tires

Ten mooing neighbors
Nine essential nutrients
Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

When we chop corn each year for cow food, DM has two options for storage: ag-bags or silage packs. Ag-bags are easier to seal and maintain; packs are more space efficient. We utilize both methods of storage, but I’m partial to the pack. Maybe it’s because Dairy Man won’t let me climb on the ag-bags. I’m all about storage methods that allow me to scurry around on them like a mountain goat.

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After we’re done building the pack, we cover it with huge sheets of plastic and thousands of sliced tires. Though I enjoy talking about “sliced tires” and imagining them on a pastrami sandwich on rye, DM would prefer I use their proper name: tire sidewalls.

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Tire sidewalls are sliced tires used to hold the plastic down on our silage pack, thus preventing oxygen from seeping into the valuable cow food. The slices come from the sides of old semi truck tires. Semi tires suit our purposes better than car tires (or rubber inner tubes, which, I admit, is what I first thought the black circles were when I first saw a silage pack) because they are heavier and cover more surface area per tire. We don’t use full tires because they hold water and are clumsier to handle.

The tires are ultimately tied together with bale twine to keep them from sliding down the pack. It also makes a perfect stairway for MFW mountain goats.

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In addition to creating a delightful farm jungle gym, sidewalls are an effective and cheap way to keep our cow food fresh and tasty throughout the year.

10 Mooing Neighbors

On the tenth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Ten mooing neighbors

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Nine essential nutrients
Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Above you’ll see Jersey, chatting it up with ten of our mooing neighbors. I’ve talked before about taking walks with my pup to fill the time spent without the Dairy Man. During the spring, summer, and fall, Jersey the dog and I take a LOT of walks. It’s a wonderful time to get my bearings, to breathe, to appreciate this boondockish place in which I live. There was a time when I didn’t think the country was beautiful. But I officially stand corrected.

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On these walks, Jersey and I love to stop and say hello to our mooing neighbor ladies. Our neighbor farmer raises beef cows on a few huge, green pastures. The cows (and cute little calves!) are friendly and very curious about the black and white canine furball racing along the fence line.

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Jersey loves to socialize with the neighbors and I love to stop walking for a second to watch the black and brown cows frolic through the field. It’s an idyllic view. I can barely stop myself from taking a picture every single time.

I used to long for a real neighborhood; for human neighbors, sidewalks, streetlights, neighborhood watch, city plows, playgrounds, and playdates. But these wide open spaces and mooing neighbors make life in the country just a little sweeter.

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9 Essential Nutrients

(We’re going to do two days of Christmas today in the name of wrapping this up by Saturday. A certain modern farm wife has some Christmas shopping to finish up…)

On the ninth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Nine essential nutrients

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Eight loads of sand
Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Did you know that the milky goodness our ladies produce every day (“white gold” as DM calls it) is not only delicious and nutritious but contains NINE essential nutrients? That’s more than I can say about other imitation versions of milk you see above. #Snark. But seriously, everything we do here on the farm, from manure management to keeping the ladies cool, all works towards the production of pure, healthy milk.

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The nine essential nutrients you’ll find in our milk are:

  1. Calcium: The most famous ingredient in our milk concoction; helps to build strong bones and chompers
  2. Protein: Protein isn’t just found in tasty steaks. Milk is packed full of the stuff, which can build and repair muscle tissue and serve as a source of energy
  3. Potassium: Regulates the body’s fluid balance and helps maintain normal blood pressure
  4. Phosphorus: Feeling sluggish? Phosphorus strengthens bones and generates energy in our cells
  5. Vitamin D: If you don’t want to look like an overly-tanned, leathery Real Housewife of New Jersey, you’ll want to find a way to get your Vit D that doesn’t involve the sun. Milk is a great way to get it, promoting the absorption of calcium in the body and enhancing bone strength
  6. Vitamin A: This nutrient helps to maintain normal vision and skin and is important for the immune system
  7. Vitamin B12: A fancy little vitamin that helps to maintain healthy red blood cells and nerve cells
  8. Riboflavin: Aka Vitamin B12, but Riboflavin is SO much more fun to say. Helps to convert food into energy
  9. Niacin: Metabolizes sugars and fatty acids. So if you MUST eat four donuts, make sure you wash them down with a tall glass of milk. Yes, I’m a doctor.

DM says that milk is the perfect beverage. He’s a little biased (and we go through a RIDICULOUS amount of milk in our house), but he’s not wrong. According to the National Dairy Council, you don’t even have to drown yourself in milk to get the health benefits. Just one 8-ounce glass of the cold white stuff provides as much vitamin D as 3.5 ounces of cooked salmon, as much calcium as 2 1/4 cups of broccoli, as much potassium as a small banana, as much vitamin A as two baby carrots, and as much phosphorus as a cup of kidney beans!

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That’s practically a salad. Even Santa knows that you can’t beat the white stuff.

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8 Loads of Sand

On the eighth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Eight loads of sand

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Seven bales of hay
Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Every week our dairy gets eights truckloads of sand. For what purpose, you may ask? Do we have a giant cow sandbox in the back for playdates and sandcastles? Do we make sandy cow crafts involving Elmer’s glue and construction paper? Do we throw weekly cow luaus complete with beach volleyball and fruity drinks?

No. All sand on our dairy goes straight to the free stalls to make comfy beds for our ladies.

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Every Wednesday we get a delivery of eight truckloads of sand, or approximately 96 cubic yards. DM uses sand for bedding because it’s an inorganic material that won’t grow bacteria, making it one of the cleanest beds you can get. Plus, several hundred cow hammocks didn’t really seem to be practical.

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If you’ve ever spent a week at the beach, you know that sand gets tracked eve-ry-where. The same is true in our barns. Throughout the week, the ladies track the sand between their beds, the feed bunks, the watering troughs, and the parlor. This grainy mess actually provides great traction in the alleys and ensures that our cows don’t ice skate into the parlor.

After seven days of tracking the sand around the barns and kicking it out of their stalls, the cow beds are ready for a new load of fluffy sand each Wednesday.

Just in time for some relaxing girl talk. And a nap.

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7 Bales of Hay

On the seventh day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
Seven bales of hay

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Six stripping shanks
Fiiiiiiive commodity baaaaays
Four milking shells
Three shifts of milking
Two orange tractors
And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

Ok, ok, there might be more than seven bales in this picture. But you get the idea. Let’s say the Dairy Man gave me seven.

Hay/grass/alfalfa silage is one of the key ingredients in our cow food ration. Depending on heat and rainfall, the Dairy Man and his father cut hay 3-5 times per summer (approximately every 30 days).

The cutting process has five steps:
1. Cut hay
2. Wait for hay to dry
3. Rake or merge hay using a big machine (helps it dry out)
4. Bale or chop hay
5. Load chopped hay into Ag-bags OR store bales in the barn for immediate use

DM, hard at work

Wet hay loses any nutritional value, so it is vitally important for the Dairy Man to work like a madman once the hay is cut to make sure we get it in before it rains. So, for several days every few weeks during the summer, DM is unloading trucks of hay silage every 20 minutes from dawn till dusk. Why can’t we just cut hay once per year, you ask? Well, as explained in this brief interview with the Dairy Man, we have to cut the hay before it blossoms. Once the stalks start to bloom, the plant starts to allocate nutrients towards seeding and reproduction, thus depleting the nutritional value of the hay.

I don’t particularly enjoy haying season (it’s hard to scarf down dinner and tell DM about my day in 20-minute intervals), but it’s a necessary process to make sure we have enough delicious food for the bovines in the upcoming year!

And you can’t beat a pretty hay field.

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6 Stripping Shanks

On the sixth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
6: Six stripping shanks

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5: Fiiiiiiiive commodity baaaays
4: Four milking shells
3: Three shifts of milking
2: Two orange tractors
1: And a twinkly-light laden faux tree

Something about the word “shank” makes me feel cool and dangerous. Like a stocky gangbuster out in the prison yard. Or a villain in a James Bond movie. But though this apparatus looks like it could be a torture device from a Bond flick, it serves a more wholesome purpose on our dairy: to help prepare the soil for planting corn. After all, this is a family show.

You might remember that the Dairy Man changed our field prep practice this year from disking to strip-tilling. I promise it’s not as dirty as it sounds. The strip-tiller machine has six rows with six shanks to churn up the soil. DM hooks the machine to a tractor and drives up and down (and up and down and up and down) the fields, creating perfect rows for our little corn babies.

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Strip-tilling works for us because a lot of our fields are sandy and hilly. It helps to eliminate soil erosion by only churning up strips of soil (as opposed to the entire field) and leaving organic material behind. This gives the corn plants an existing root structure to grow into and keeps more nutrients in the soil.

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So there you have it. Strip-tilling is thrilling stuff. And my apologies to the wayward Googlers; but trust me, stripping is far more interesting on a dairy.