I love this recipe because it’s pretty quick and easy, and it fits in at holidays, summer cook-outs and Tuesday night dinners. In 2017, our oldest son was diagnosed with food allergies. This recipe, however, has been tweaked rather than abandoned. See the substitutions suggestions below for tips to create the allergy friendly version!
FFA Dairy Judging Practice
Saturday morning the Pleasant Ridge FFA dairy judging team visited the farm for a practice before their first competition. Aaron, one of our milkers, is on the team. He and our other milker, Tyler, selected four classes of cows and calves for the team to judge.
FFA stands for Future Farmers of America. The organization teaches high school students about agriculture through judging and showing competitions. Of the kids who visited our farm, some had a livestock background, but many did not, and I don’t think any had a dairy background. In high school David was very involved in FFA, and his coach Mr. Silvers is still leading the program at PR.
I don’t know the specific rules of dairy judging, but I’ll share what I do know. At the competition, the students will look at some number of classes that each include four animals of similar age. Each animal is marked 1, 2, 3, or 4 for identification purposes. They judge and place these animals based on their body structure. For some of the classes at the competition, the students will have to give reasons explaining their placements. Mr. Silvers has been teaching them about good and bad qualities to look for, mostly using slides. Seeing real animals before competition is where we fit in.
For practice, we started with a class of calves just under a year old. The team had several minutes to inspect the calves before placing them. After they were finished, Mr. Silvers “talked” the class presenting his placing and reasons. It was interesting that the calf he placed last is the one we expect to make the best cow, but we have the advantage of knowing her genetics and that she was the youngest in the class (and also the smallest). He explained to the kids that judging calves can be difficult and that often a young class will place very differently after the animals have matured. For those interested, a Trigger calf was first, and a Planet calf was fourth.
The second class was breeding age heifers 1 to 2 years old. In this class, three were sired by Sholten and displayed similar qualities making it a pretty difficult class. The process was basically the same as the first class. Mr. Silvers suggested that the students look from 20′ in addition to 5′ because different things might stand out. The only non-Sholten, an Aftershock, took second. She was the oldest in the class and isn’t bred yet despite several attempts, but she does look good. The first place Sholten heifer was confirmed bred to Boliver last month.
The third class was 3-year-old cows. This class was easiest to place from the view shown below. If you’d like to give it a try, place the class in the comments section. Do keep in mind this was only a couple of hours after milking. First place was sired by Pippen and is one of the best looking fresh heifers we’ve had. The fourth cow cracked David’s ribs while he was breeding her and didn’t stick. She’s destined for a trailer ride when her production drops.
The fourth and final class was aged cows. For this class, Mr. Silvers asked the kids to place them and take good notes. He didn’t talk the class so he could have the kids give their reasons in class on Monday. We had a little excitement when one of the aged cows decided to try to jump the gate. She got hung up, but we got her over and she seems perfectly fine. The top rail of the gate didn’t fare as well.
The boys threw in a little bit of a curve ball for this class: a very nice 3-quartered cow. She probably would have been #2 in the class otherwise, but with one dry quarter, she automatically falls to fourth. This cow milks better than many four-quartered cows, but that doesn’t matter in livestock competitions. Some of the students noticed, and others learned a valuable lesson.
We really enjoyed having the students visit the farm. We were able to answer some general dairy questions, and they got to see real milk cows before their first competition. Placing classes isn’t an approach we often take to evaluating our animals, and it was actually really interesting to see how they stacked up. Looking at their eartag numbers on paper, I would have placed the classes very differently than I did looking at the animals isolated side-by-side.
Thanks to the team for coming out, and good luck at the district competition!
Back in April we had a tractor spontaneously catch fire inside our Morton building. The tractor was a total loss, and the building was damaged. To ensure it was repaired … Continue reading Morton Makeover
The guys finished the first round of silage chopping back at the beginning of August. We mentioned several times that we had some corn come up late, and they just finished chopping that corn this week. Our first corn had a decent amount of grain for its size and actually yielded a better quality silage than last year’s crop; there was just quite a bit less of it because the plants were so short. It has been tested and is being fed to the milk cows without incident from nitrates or aflatoxin.
The late corn may be a different story. There was very little grain on even shorter plants. The grain that was there was drier and the plants were greener than corn we traditionally chop. We will need to test the silage for both nitrates and aflatoxin. If it contains aflatoxin, we may still be able to feed it to heifers that won’t be milking. If it contains nitrates, it would be harmful to any animal, but it’s our understanding that the chemical process that occurs in the silo would solve the nitrate issue.
We chopped 100% of our corn, so we haven’t had to get the combine out yet. Our soybeans are only about knee-hight, but they put some pods on. They won’t be ready to harvest for a few weeks and have just started to “turn” in the last week or so. As the plants dry down, they change color from green to gold.
Besides fall harvest, the guys have been planting fall crops. We planted three different forages on one farm. First, we borrowed a no-till drill from a neighbor to plant oats that we hope to chop for silage this fall. They’re up and growing – probably about 4” tall. We hope they grow quite a bit more before we get a hard frost. We also used the no-till drill to plant rye that we will chop next spring. The rye is growing well (about 6” tall now), and we may also be able to mow it this fall if it gets tall enough. We then worked the ground on part of the farm and seeded alfalfa. We will mow and bale the alfalfa 3 or 4 times each year for the next three years.
We also ordered seed for both triticale and turnips which we will plant on one of the other farms that we just finished chopping. Rather than harvesting these forages, we plan to graze heifers on that farm.
We’re trying to raise enough feed for our cows and calves for the next year, so we have to be somewhat creative with our crop rotations and are trying some of these forage crops for the first time (triticale and turnips). Hopefully we’ll continue to get some moisture and the frost will hold off long enough to produce some feed to supplement what we’ve already harvested. In the meantime, we’ll be busy in the field
Farming: It’s Worth the Fight
In his years at K-State, David’s favorite band was Cross Canadian Ragweed. They often played shows at Longhorn’s in Manhattan where he got the opportunity to meet lead singer Cody Canada, who would hang out with the crowd after the shows. Today, we often listen to Ragweed and other Red Dirt (that’s the genre) favorites in the milk barn.
Through our friend Carrie Mess, better known as Dairy Carrie, we’ve discovered Cody Canada’s new band – The Departed. They covered a song titled ‘A Little Rain Will Do” that really resonates with us right now, and yesterday they released a new single called “Worth The Fight”. It’s from their upcoming album Adventus due out in November.
Carrie blogs at www.dairycarrie.com and had this big idea (she’s known for her big ideas) to have fellow fans promote The Departed’s music along with what we think is worth the fight – Agriculture. You can read her post and find links to others on her site. You can also follow the twitter hashtag #worththefight.
Farming isn’t usually easy. Every single day we’re committed to looking out for the land and animals under our care. For David and I, it’s our heritage. Our families passed down the love for land and animals that we share. They taught us hard work and determination. We hope to someday be able to pass that heritage down, but to do that, we have to preserve it.
In our first year, we’ve faced a drought and a pricing imbalance. We’ve been discouraged at times, but we know we can’t give up. We’re proud of the land, the cows, and all that goes with it. We want to preserve the farm and way of life it allows us to live – for ourselves and future generations.
In addition to the weather, we have to battle misinformation. So often we hear things that aren’t true about our practices, or most other farmers’ practices. In the age of the internet, it doesn’t take long for information to spread, regardless of its accuracy, though. So many people today are several generations removed from the farm; less than 2% of Americans are directly involved in production agriculture, and many don’t know where to look for accurate information. That’s why we started this blog – we wanted to tell our own story. We’re not always perfect, but we try to always be honest.
In our area, houses dot the countryside. More and more, farms are being divided up and sold as residential lots. Farmers are supposed to feed the world, but here at home the amount of land available to do so is shrinking every day. We’ll keep doing our part to preserve the traditions handed down to us, striving each day to use less to make more. Hopefully, our hard work will pay off. Farming is our way of life, and we think it’s worth the fight.
What do you think is worth the fight?
It’s been a long, hot summer. We haven’t had much rain, and we haven’t had many calves.
We also hadn’t seen my family for a little too long. My parents came to visit in May, but we haven’t been to Illinois since Christmas. Unfortunately, we still can’t make it to Illinois, but my parents brought my grandma to visit for the holiday weekend. We had a great time and hopefully they did, too, even if the farm kept David and I pretty busy.
Monday really was just the beginning of the fresh cows. We had five more by Friday. Then it got busy: three Saturday, three more Sunday, one Monday and two Tuesday. Of all those calves, 6 were heifers and 9 were bulls, but most importantly we have 15 fresh cows that we’ll be able to introduce into the milk herd over the next few days.
As if baby calves aren’t exciting enough…In the last two weeks, we’ve had over 3″ of rain! That’s a lot for two weeks, especially in a drought. David and I spent much of Sunday morning walking through a pasture and hay field looking for a cow that needed to come home to have her calf (she had it Monday). We found her, but you wouldn’t believe what else we found: GREEN GRASS!! There is actually quite a bit of grass growing in the pastures, and the lawn needs mowed. Tuesday morning, after almost an inch of rain overnight, there were even puddles in dry ponds.
The rain really couldn’t have come at a better time, either. Well, at least not better than much earlier this summer might have been. The moisture should help our soybeans fill in their pods, and last week we planted oats and rye in between rains. We plan to harvest the oats this fall and the rye next spring; both will be used for feed. Hopefully, the rain was just what they needed to get started growing.
Thank you to my family for coming to visit. It was an exciting weekend catching up on the things we’ve been lacking this summer. September is off to a great start!
Those familiar with beef herds are used to hearing about calving seasons, but many dairies, including ours, prefer to keep a consistent number of cows milking and try to calve year-round. A very hot end to summer 2011 meant not very many cows got bred, though, so this spring we actually went two months without a calf. Also, we do limit calving in the worst heat of July or August because calving in the heat is hard on both the cows and calves. It has been a little interesting watching our numbers swing as we continued to dry off cows without adding back equivalent numbers of fresh cows. At the moment, we’re milking fewer than 70 cows, but all that is about to change.
Monday morning number 476, Willow (a Kuckelcow), had a heifer calf out of the bull Shamrock. She was due to calve on September 8th . Calving early is very common, and there is no cause for concern. It wouldn’t really even have been a surprise except there are 7 other cows or heifers actually due before September 8th. In addition to those 8, there are 13 more animals due in September. In fact, the craziness doesn’t stop this month – we expect 17 calves in October and 13 calves in November – that’s 51 total fresh cows in three months. For a herd our size, that’s a bunch.
I explained dry-off a few weeks ago, but what happens when a cow or heifer has her calf (or “freshens”)? After the cow has cleaned off her calf, we take the calf to keep it safe and healthy. After the next milking shift, we milk the cow separately to collect it’s colostrum. Colostrum is thicker than milk and contains a lot of good stuff meant specifically for her calf. We feed the calf it’s mother’s colostrum for it’s first two feedings. Because the cows are treated before dry-off we milk them 6 times before testing their milk for antibiotics. If the test clears, we “turn them out” with the rest of the milk herd. If for some reason the milk tests positive for antibiotics, we would continue to dump her milk until the antibiotic cleared. I don’t recall this ever being an issue with a fresh cow, but we never return a cow to the herd without testing her.
Heifers are a little bit different. Our heifers, now 1st lactation cows, are not treated prior to calving, so we only milk them 4 times before turning them out with the rest of the herd. We do this to make sure they’ve stopped giving colostrum and started giving milk and to help them adjust to milking. It’s a big change, and keeping them separate enables us to give extra attention to keeping them calm and comfortable as they adjust to their new daily routine.
As we ease into fall, we’re looking forward to fresh faces in the calf huts and fresh udders in the milk barn.
Everyone knows we’re in a drought. It seems like it’s all you hear about, especially if you know any farmers. Everyone also knows that a drought means its dry. Maybe you’ve heard that we’re 10″ behind average precipitation, but maybe you don’t know why it matters for us and our dairy.
Last Sunday we moved some heifers home from a nearby pasture that we rent. The pasture has two water sources – a creek and a pond. The creek has been dry for months (usually is in the summer), and the pond had been dwindling. That Sunday, it was gone. It was 105 degrees, and the calves had no water. There wasn’t much green left for them to eat anyway, so now they’re at the dairy where the cows and calves have access to the same water we drink.
A couple of weeks ago we repaired fence around the “Junkyard Pasture” because “Below Bud’s”, which I would call our primary pasture, was pretty bare. Thankfully the two pastures connect because the Junkyard Pasture also currently has no water, but Below Bud’s has a frost free water. The dry cows and bred heifers can graze the Junkyard Pasture and can come up to Below Bud’s for water. It’s not ideal, but it’s working okay, and so far the fence has effectively kept them in the pasture rather than the corn field.
I rambled on about our corn silage situation last week. We feel fortunate that most of our corn did put some grain on and overall has been better than we expected. Some of the corn (planted the middle of May) laid in the ground a full month until we got a rain and came up around June 15th. That corn is very short and just tasseled this week, so it’s fate is yet-to-be-determined.
David finished chopping corn silage (until the yet-to-be-determined corn is ready) Monday, and the bigger of our two pit silos was full. It took about 40% more acreage to fill the silo than in an average year due to reduced plant size and yields.
I discussed our soybeans’ need for rain in June. Thanks to a timely rain, they came up. However, we haven’t had much moisture since, so they fall under the “yet to be determined” category also. They’re not very tall, but are alive and starting to bloom.
We also raised brome hay that we mowed and baled earlier this summer. Many of our neighbors reported about half as many bales per acre compared with a typical year. Our yield was closer to 75% of average, but it was definitely a noticeable difference.
In addtition to not being able to raise as much feed, prices for the feed we will need to buy are much higher than usual due to the drought. Both corn and soybean prices are approximately 33% higher than last year’s prices, which we considered high at the time. We will likely need to buy some corn because we chopped all that we grew, and our commodity blend typically contains soybean meal. Hay is hard to even find for sale locally, and we’ve been hearing of prices more than double those of an average year.
The drought also affects the quality of feed. There have been many reports of corn crops containing aflatoxin, which could be passed to the milk if we fed corn containing it to the cows. There’s also a risk of our corn silage containing nitrates, which can be deadly to cows. Under drought conditions corn stalks can contain nitrates. If you shell the corn, it doesn’t matter, but when you chop it, it could. We will test our silage before we feed it for this reason.
All of these things indirectly affect our cattle, but the cows are directly affected by the drought’s partner in crime – extreme heat. Our facilities aren’t great for keeping cows cool (yet), and the cows don’t like the heat at all. It affects their appetite, production, and reproduction. Yes, it’s summer in KS, and we do expect it to get hot. However, we had a record number of days over 100 degrees in the month of July, and we started having 100 degree days in June.
As we head into August, we don’t expect the heat to subside. It would help if it were less consistent, though. More than the high high temperatures, the high low temperatures have hurt the cattle. When it doesn’t get below 80 degrees at night, they have more trouble cooling off from the day’s heat. Monday morning it was in the sixties, and I imagine the cows enjoyed it as much as I did.
So Now What?
The drought has been a major challenge, and it’s not over. This something we never could have expected to face in our first year operating the dairy, but it’s also not a new problem. This New York Times graphic shows how drought is and has historically affected our country. Like many generations of farmers before us, we will do the best we can with the hand we’re dealt. Over the next several months, we will manage our resources carefully and hope for much needed improvements in economic and environmental conditions.
Silage chopping is underway! Chopping is the busiest and most important season for our dairy. I wrote about chopping rye this spring, but that task pales in comparison with this one. This time we’re chopping corn.
I’ve said before that corn silage is a big part of our cows diet. Chopping cuts up the whole corn plant – stalk, leaves, cobs (with or without grain) and all. Our silage is then packed and covered in pit silos. The end product is very efficient feed for our cows.
We only get one opportunity to chop corn silage each year, and the plants are only at the right moisture for a short time. We do stagger our planting to extend our window to finish, but it’s still a high stress time involving very long days.
Typically we chop around 80% of our corn in late August or early September. Because we’re in a drought, the corn didn’t get as tall and has started to dry out faster. That means there will be less grain (quality) and less tonnage (quantity) than an average year. It also means we’re chopping in July for the first time in David’s memory, and we plan to chop 100% of our planted acres.
We ran out of corn silage about a month ago, so chopping early isn’t all bad. It was hectic trying to get the chopper, trucks, and dump box ready, though. Also, I should note that I’m using “we” pretty loosely. I’ve been working in Wichita and have contributed little other than moral support to the chopping effort.
David’s cousin Jeff has been a huge help, running the chopper so David can get milking and chores done. Jeff also recruited his dad and other neighbors to help out driving trucks back and forth from the field to the pit silo. This also allows Dave to spend some time packing the silage – an essential part of the process. David’s dad and our employee, Tyler, have also been logging extra hours.
Having a person to do each task (chopping, hauling, and packing) has made chopping significantly more efficient. We still have at least a week to go – we’ll keep you posted on our progress. In the meantime, prayers for safety and sanity are appreciated!
A Bunch of Bull
In two weeks time we had 5 bull calves born and zero heifer calves. I don’t know why, but we always seem to have streaks related to calf gender. In … Continue reading A Bunch of Bull