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.

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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