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.

5 Commodity Bays

On the fifth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
5: Fiiiiiive commodity baaaaaays

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

As we learned in this post, feeding our illustrious herd is a little more complicated than putting out a bowl of Frosted Flakes and a milkshake in the morning. Eating a balanced diet is key.

Each day our ladies chomp on a delicious concoction called Total Mix Ration (TMR). In addition to corn and hay silage, TMR contains five other components. These five fixins’ are stored in five bays in our commodity shed.

A commodity shed allows us to buy cow food in bulk. DM purchases the food through a broker and it is directly trucked in from the factories. The five bays allow for easy delivery and make the daily food prep a snap for an employee driving a skidster (or, as I call it, a baby loader). All five bays slope outward to allow rain and snow melt to flow away from the food.

But the cows don’t really care about all of this. They just love to spend hours each day with their face in the feed bunk.

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4 Milking Shells

On the fourth day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
4: Four milking shells

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3: Three shifts of milking
2: Two orange tractors
1: And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

The Dairy Man and I struggled to find a way to phrase this one. I wanted to call them “the four thingys that suck the milk of out the cow,” but DM didn’t appreciate my lack of technical phraseology. So, when I say “four milking shells,” I’m talking about the four “arms” of the milking cluster/claw that go to the four teats of a cow. Got that? Warning, if you are offended by the word “teat,” you’ll want to stop reading now. It’s frightening how accustomed I have become to the word. It may even be used at the dinner table. What has become of me?

Anyway. In the past, milking a cow required a stool, a bucket, and a good aim. Modern milking is faster, more efficient, and utilizes a lot of fancy “thingys” …er… machines. Get ready for a quick and dirty explanation of the milking machine. Our parlor has a total of 24 milking units (clusters, claws, thingys, etc). Each of the four “arms” on the unit has a shell with a liner inside.

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The milker (human) starts the milking process by cleaning each cow’s teats with a teat dip to kill any microorganisms. It’s all about clean milk. Duh. After the milker (human) wipes off the dip, he/she attaches the milker (machine) to the four quarters of the cow. Pushing a button turns on a vacuum that opens and closes a rubber liner inside each of the four shells. This pulsating movement makes the milking process very relaxing for our ladies.

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The milker (machine) automatically detaches when the meters sense that the flow rate has decreased. Before the cow heads back to the barn, she gets a post-milking iodine teat treatment that includes a skin conditioner. It’s basically lotion. Yes, some might say that a trip to the milking parlor is a little bit like a trip to the spa for those udders.

After the ladies leave the parlor, they feel as light as a feather and bound back to the barn to eat, nap, eat, poop, eat, socialize, and eat.

3 Shifts of Milking

On the third day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me
3: Three shifts of milking

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2: Two orange tractors
1: And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree

On our dairy, we milk the bovine ladies three times a day: 8 a.m., 4 p.m., and 12 midnight. Each shift runs for approximately 3-4 hours and each cow spends an average of 15 minutes in the parlor.

While the cows are hanging out in the parlor, we are fluffing up their sand beds, cleaning their stalls, and piling up some food for a post-milking snack. The Dairy Man milks three times a day–or 3X as the experts say–because it increases overall milk production and keeps our cows more comfortable (less milk to carry around in those udders).

And did I mention that occasionally they even get to wear Christmas hats in the parlor?

Moo-ry Christmas!

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2 Orange Tractors

On the second day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me:
2: Two orange tractors

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1: And a twinkly-light-laden faux tree.

As you might remember, I recently learned that we have not one, but TWO big orange tractors. These pumpkin-hued twins stay busy from spring to fall hauling manure to the fields. They boast air conditioning, padded seats, GPS technology, and one even has a satellite radio!

Modern farming, I tell ya. It’s not easy being a dairy man.

The 12 Days of Christmas, Dairy Style

Yesterday I unintentionally wore green earrings and red shoes at the same time. It wasn’t long before someone in my office said, “Red and green, huh? Somebody must be ready for Christmas!”

Embarrassing. But um, yes. Somebody is ready for Christmas. I’m downright jolly, even if it’s just accidental.

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More evidence?

  • I’ve been listening to Christmas music since November 21 (thus breaking my rule to “never be one of those pitiful people who rock out to Trans-Siberian Orchestra before Thanksgiving”).
  • I am hopelessly addicted to candy cane Hersey Kisses (to the point where I’m bringing them to meetings, just begging coworkers to save me from myself).
  • I am compensating for our faux tree at home with a bevvy of pine-scented candles (our house smells like a forest, and it is awesome).

I love the holiday season. And while I’m no Andy Williams, I wanted to take a stab at adding a yuletide carol to the existing glut.

So over the next two weeks, I will be feeding you verses of my shiny new song. If nothing else, at least it will be better than “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” right? The bar is pretty low there.

Thus I give you:

The 12 Days of Christmas, Dairy Style*
(*It’s like Gangham Style without the dancing and foam. Oh, and there are a lot more cows.)

On the first day of Christmas, the Dairy Man gave to me:
A twinkly-light-laden faux tree.

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I love our tree. It’s fluffy, realistic, and doesn’t shed needles. But this year I made the mistake of Googling “how to string Christmas lights on a tree” and found my way to the Better Homes & Gardens website. I should have known better. As the Dairy Man says: nothing good comes of reading BH&G.

Last year I just draped the lights on the outer branches of our tree. This year, I tried the BH&G method. I quickly realized that we were going to need more lights.

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Oops. Speficially, three times as many lights as last year. DM wasn’t a happy camper.

Maybe I should have stuck with the old method, but I am loving the extra twinkle coming from inside the tree this year. And, DM, can you really put a price on Christmas spirit?

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I Talked to Your Dad, Go Pick Out a White Dress

The Dairy Man and I aren’t the kind of couple that celebrates every little relationship milestone. We don’t exchange gifts or Facebook statuses to commemorate things like “the day we first kissed,” “the day we went on our first date,” “the day we said I love you” (though I can remember the circumstances), or “the day we first ate pizza together.”

Who has time to remember every little thing? When you’ve been friends for five years, dating for four, and married for one and a half(ish), who has time to recognize each wonderful first? Not us. We’ve got blogs to write, cows to milk, you know the drill. That’s not to say we don’t like to reminisce about that first date, that first kiss, that first slice of pizza (just kidding). We love to look back on our history and savor those little moments. But we don’t have enough space in our brains to remember to celebrate our first jog together.

That being said, today is one date I’ll always remember. In 20 years, it won’t rise to the height of our wedding day or the day we have our first child, but it will be a date I won’t forget.

What’s today you ask? Well, it was exactly two years ago that my bashful Dairy Man knelt down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal days of my life. This day marks the moment I fully committed to farm life, to Michigan, to him. It’s also the day I got to start wearing something sparkly and practice writing “Mrs. Folkema.”

It was Tuesday, December 22, 2009. I had just returned to my apartment after my last day of work before the holidays. The Dairy Man had called from his home (an hour away) and said that he was going to drive down to make me dinner. Which, frankly, was suspicious. But I did what all girls who helped pick out their rings do—I played dumb and waited. The Dairy Man showed up with grocery bags, candles, a tablecloth, and a bottle of wine. We chatted awkwardly while he cooked up some shrimp tortellini (what I ordered on our first date) and sat down to dinner.

After dinner, he suggested we head downtown to go ice skating. When we parked, he said, “I’ve got something for you in the back of the truck.” Wouldn’t you know it: two brand new pairs of ice skates! We carried our skates to the steps of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and sat down to lace them up. Strangely, the Dairy Man wanted me to put mine on first. He handed me a skate** and hovered over me while I put it on.

MFW: “Um, don’t you want to put on your skates?”

DM: (Shifting from foot to foot) “Uhhh I will in a second. Ready for the other skate?”

As I pushed my foot into the second skate, I felt something hard in the toe. I pulled out a ring box and wahBAM Dairy Man was down on one knee.

He said amazing things.

I cried.

And then there was some light and joyful snogging.

Unbeknownst to me, a friend had popped out from behind the building when DM’s knee hit the ground and started taking pictures of the whole thing. I treasure these pictures. I still remember the elation, the love, the hope of that moment. I also wish I hadn’t tucked my pants into my argyle socks, but what can you do?

**In regards to the awkward hovering? Later, the Dairy Man mused: “If I had been thinking, I would have handed you the skate with the ring in it FIRST, not second.”

I remember telling a friend a few weeks prior that I really hoped the Dairy Man didn’t propose on Christmas. It was too cliché, it wasn’t us. Rather, I said, “I just really want him to propose on some random Tuesday!” And it was. The Tuesday before Christmas. My man knows me well.

Even though we don’t celebrate today, we remember it. I get warm fuzzies when December 22 rolls around. This day is symbolic in so many ways. That December 22 marked the last year I celebrated Christmas in the city. It marked the last year I celebrated Christmas as a Bareman. It marked the start of a new adventure with a handsome man who milks cows.

Two years later, these recollections still cause my breath to catch in my chest. It’s easy to get swept up in the normalcy of work, marriage, no-longer-pending adulthood. But today I will look at my Dairy Man and remember those two bright-eyed kids, shivering in the cold, agreeing to start a life together.

And really, somewhere in the distant hills that night, I think the cows agreed too.

Merry Christmas!

Real or Plastic?

In a lot of ways, this is my first “real” grown-up Christmas with the Dairy Man.

Last year we moved into our house a week before Christmas. For the next few weeks we could barely find our toothbrushes, much less decorate for the holidays. Our living room was a pile of piles and things were so chaotic and disorganized we almost forgot what time of the of year it was. Thankfully, a generous aunt and uncle let us borrow a fake tree from their attic and one of my mom’s coworkers donated a box of old ornaments. It wasn’t much, but this tree reminded us of Christmas, of family, of tradition.

I promise there’s a tree in there somewhere! And yes, we did nail sheets over our windows for a while.

Fast forward to this year. We’ve lived the farmhouse for almost 12 months and Christmas is just around the corner. We’ve painted, decorated, and put things away. The disorganized disaster we inhabited last December has become our home. Thus, it was time to get a tree.

The Dairy Man and I wrestled with a vital yuletide question newlyweds must ask themselves: are we real-tree-people or plastic-tree-people? Though we both like the idea of a real tree –the smell, the realistically green branches, the memories created whilst picking one out– we did not feel confident in our ability to …er… keep it alive. With the exception of the Dairy Man and Jersey the dog, I kill all living things I touch. I have neither the time nor the patience to remember to water things. Or, on the flip side, not to drown them. Our shrubs shrivel and our plants are plastic.

The Dairy Man isn’t much better. His horticultural successes are saved for the dairy. The corn thrives, but the hydrangeas suffer.

Clearly, the idea of chopping down a LIVE TREE and bringing it into our house gave us pause. My mind was nearly made up when I learned that you have to water the thing multiple times a day. Craziness. Though we loved the smell of pine and the idea of being real-tree-people, the reality was too cumbersome. Not to mention a fire hazard.

Someday we’ll have children. They’ll write Santa letters, craft ornaments out of popsicle sticks and glitter, and get a real tree. But that day is not today. This Christmas the Dairy Man and I welcomed a beautiful 7.5 foot fake Stanwick Pine into our lives and we’ve never been happier. I’ll admit we splurged a little to get the “real tree” look, but you can’t put a price on not having to crawl under a needle-riddled canopy with a watering can. It was worth every penny. And it’s gorgeous.

A handful of pine-scented candles takes care of the rest. Our house looks and smells like the holidays.

More than anything else, I feel thankful to be settled. After a few years of moving, moving, moving (from college house to parents’ house to apartment to our first house), I am finally home. When the Dairy Man and I sit on our couch and bask in the gentle glow of that realistic fake tree, we realize how far we’ve come.

Here’s to our first grown-up Christmas.