Saturday, December 26, 2009

Working on Christmas

I hope you all have had a Merry Christmas and that you are enjoying any time off work that you might have. I know that many businesses close for several days before and after Christmas, but a dairy farm is one business that doesn't have that luxury. Whether it's Christmas, Easter, Independence Day, or any holiday, the cows have to be milked, fed, and attended to.

My father has worked every Christmas day as far back as I can remember, and I've been right there as well since I was about 15. It can keep you from traveling to the in-laws if they have their gatherings on Christmas instead of before (like mine) or after, but all the Gilmer family gatherings happen here on the farm. It's really not that bad of a deal, either. We typically work a "weekend" schedule on holidays and take care of chores before breakfast and then again after lunch. Our milkhand usually likes to work the early shift on holidays, and did so again yesterday. Dad and I were also joined by another employee yesterday afternoon who decided he needed a few hours away from his in-laws.


So whether you're enjoying a holiday feast or just snacking any other day of the year, savor it happily and know that a farmer's commitment to care for his animals and to provide you with quality food never takes a day off!

And in closing, here is a new episode of our MooTube Minute in which I give you a quick tour of our "milk room". Enjoy!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Full-Throttle Monday

It's going to be a full-throttle Monday here on the farm to kick-off Christmas week. Luckily we're going to have good weather today, so we are going to accomplish as much as we possible can.

Our cows have already been milked and fed once and will be again this afternoon. The heifers, dry cows, and calves are being fed right now, and in about half an hour we'll begin trying to catch some of our youngest stock and move them into a new pasture. After that, things will really start picking up. We have 7-8 calves that need to be vaccinated and moved into a weaning pasture. Several bales of hay need to be distributed to pastures around the farm and at least two loads of baleage need to be hauled from the stackyard to have on hand for grinding in our feed wagon. Throw in some "cleaning up" chores and the inevitable Monday surprise, and we'll have plenty to keep us busy today.

I'll "tweet" about our activities as I get time (and my cold fingers allow), so if you don't have a Twitter account you can simply look over on the sidebar to find my posts. Meanwhile, you can check out our newest MooTube Minute and get a quick tour of our milking parlor.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Gilmer Dairy Farm Christmas Song

Did I ever tell you about the time Santa Clause milked our cows early one Christmas Day? Well, watch the video below and listen to the story. Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings from Gilmer Dairy Farm...have a "dairy" merry Christmas!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gilmer Dairy Farm Update, 12/10/09

Both my father and I spent a couple of nervous nights off the farm a few days ago while we attended the Alabama Farmers Federation's Annual Meeting in Mobile. Even though we have good, capable employees who we know can handle all the chores when we're both gone, it's always a little nerve-wracking worrying about the things that could go wrong on the farm while you're away. I'm happy to report that the farm was still here and functioning properly when we got home.

My return home was delayed a little on Tuesday as I stopped by the Precision Agriculture & Field Crops Conference in Atmore to speak to the attendees about using social media to proactively tell the story of agriculture. One of the things I shared with them is how taking the time to tell our stories is much like paying the insurance premiums for our farm policies. You can read more about what I mean on the FB Blog.

Back on the farm, we had around 6 inches of rain fall on Tuesday, mostly from late afternoon through the night. Yesterday was beautiful but very windy, and the forecast for today and tomorrow call for clear skies and cold temperatures. As always, we'll find plenty to do to keep us busy. We now have 23 breeding-age heifers we have pastured next to our barn and will be observing them each for signs of estrus. We also have a Select Sires representative coming this afternoon to look over a group of 30 first-lactation cows. He'll look at their physical traits and genetics and will then recommend which bulls' semen we should use to AI each of them.

As it is getting colder we're also feeding alot more hay to our drycows and heifers. You can learn a little more about that in our latest GDF MooTube Minute. Y'all have a "dairy" good day!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Keeping busy in cold December

Today is the third day of December, and I'm still waiting to see the sun shine this month. A drier-than-normal (hallelujah!) November ended on a wet note, and all week we've had overcast skies and cold winds. The weather has put a temporary stop to spring forage planting, but we already have about 2/3 of the crop planted. That includes all of the ground we intend to graze, so we're not in too big of a rush to finish the remaining acreage.

As our field work has slowed down, our time in the milking barn is steadily increasing. We've been freshening cows and heifers nearly every day over the last two weeks, giving us 197 currently in the milking herd. We don't expect to have more than a handful of calves born over the next 10 days, but they'll start coming hard and heavy from mid-December through the first of the year. In fact, we'll most likely top our own record for most cows milking (232) the first week of January. It also looks like we're going to try and sell some of our heifers due to calve in January to another dairy (anyone interested?) to keep from having more than we can properly handle.

In closing, please keep something in mind as you shop for holiday gifts this month: nothing says "I love you" like a gift of cheese!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Keeping busy on the farm

We've been very busy on the farm lately, and that's going to continue on into this week.

Our maternity pasture has been very active these past two weeks. In fact, we've had 26 cows and heifers freshen in the last 17 days, 15 of those in the last week alone. While the calving frequency is going to slow down a little bit, I still expect to have several calves born this week.

For the first time in quite a while, our milking herd is increasing in size. This is because we are having more cows calve and rejoin the herd than we are "drying off" and removing from the herd. And not only are our numbers increasing, but our milk production per cow is also improving. And so is the milk price...just not enough to suit us!

Now that our silage harvest is over, we've turned our attention to planting our cool season crops. We will be planting just over 200 acres of rye, ryegrass, and wheat over the next few weeks. We will graze our milk cows on the acreage closest to our milking barn, and we will harvest the rest next spring as silage or baleage. After our poor total yield on this year's sorghum, we desperately need a good spring crop! We did have a good harvest this past spring, so we're hoping for more of the same in 2010.

Don't forget you can also keep up with what's happening on our farm by following my Twitter account, becoming a fan of our farm's Facebook page, or watching the videos we post to our YouTube channel.

Y'all have a dairy good day!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Showdown

Around the middle of yesterday morning, just as I was finishing up some county Farm Bureau paperwork in my farm office, my phone rang. "Someone stopped by and said we have cows in the road on the other side of the creek," said my father on the other end. "We're heading that way, meet us over there."

So I hopped into my truck and made the quarter-mile westward journey. I went down one hill and as I climbed the next (the "creek" runs between them) I saw a group of dry cows standing in and along the road. Dad and our employees were only about a minute ahead of me but already had the situation under control. I helped them get the cows back into the pasture and reattach the latch to the gatepost.

I know this isn't much of a story...it's not like we had to chase after them in the dark or the rain. No, putting them back in their pasture wasn't the interesting part, but how they got out in the first place.

We currently are pasturing dry cows north of the road and heifers on the southern side, with nothing but a two-lane blacktop and right-of-way separating the two. My theory is that an animal in one pasture started mooing at another across the road. This probably went on for a few minutes until one of the two mooed across something that must have been interpreted as an insult or a taunt. At that point, it became group warfare. More and more animals from each pasture began lining up at their gate and along the fence line, getting as close as they could to hurl their moos at the other group across the road. At some point the dry cows finally had enough of these upstart heifers and decided it was time for a little less moo and a lot more action. They used their weight advantage to put enough pressure on the gate that the latch pulled loose from the post. Once the gate swung open, they "bull rushed" the heifers in the pasture on the other side of the road.

Luckily a passing motorist came through immediately after the cows broke free and was able to inform us before the cows forced open the heifers gate and invaded their pasture. Had that happened, I expect the heifers would have taken a pretty good whoopin'. It also would have meant we would have had to drive them all to our working pen and sort them back out. As luck would have it though, we were able to step in and stop the showdown between the dry cows and heifers before it went to far.

Is this the real reason the dry cows were out? I dunno, like I said it's just my theory. But it's a good one, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wednesday Tidbits, 10/28/09

My wife and I left the farm early last Thursday morning (after I fed the milk cows, of course) bound for Indianapolis. The AFBF's Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee was holding it's fall meeting in conjunction with the National FFA Convention. It was my first time to visit Indy and to take part in the FFA Convention, and I was very impressed with both the city and the blue-jacketed youth who were seemingly everywhere. It was great to see all the enthusiasm the FFA members have for agriculture, and I know our industry's future will be in good hands.

As I mentioned, our YF&R Committee met during the trip. We worked together staffing a booth at the FFA Convention's trade show, boxed up food for the needy at a local food bank, and had a great time visiting with each other over the course of four days. I always come home feeling refreshed and recharged after spending time with my Farm Bureau family, and I'm already looking forward to seeing them all again in January.

While we were gone, the farm kept chugging right along, of course. Dad and our employees were able to chop 25 loads of sorghum on Thursday before rain moved in that night and shut harvest for a few days. They "dried off" quite a few of our pregnant milk cows Friday afternoon, and didn't have much to do other than milk and feed through the weekend.

Monday morning we moved into another field and cut 17 loads by the end of the day. It began raining late that night so yesterday was a no-go. We tried to resume the harvest this morning, but the ground is still too slick to operate. We'll let it air out this afternoon and hope we can cut some tomorrow morning before the next round of rain moves in.

On the cow front, we're now down to 181 in milk with 11 more due to dry off this week. We also have a few that should be calving in the next few days, but we'll hit this year's lowest number of cows in-milk sometime within the next 2.5 weeks. We'll start freshening cows and heifers faster than we dry them off once mid-November rolls around, and from there it should be a slow, steady climb back to 200+ cows milking sometime after the first of the year.

Finally, we had our monthly DHIA test this morning. Each of our cows' had their milk production measured, and we also pulled milk samples from each cow to have them analyzed for butterfat and protein composition. We should get a preliminary report back on their production amount this afternoon and the official report with the sample results next week. You can learn a little more about this in our newest MooTube Minute.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The 2009 Fall Harvest has begun!

We had to wait a lot longer than we wanted to, but our fall harvest is finally underway. I cut 13 acres of bermudagrass on Sunday afternoon, most of which was run through our silage chopper and packed into a pit yesterday. It should take us about an hour this morning to finish harvesting that bermuda, then we'll be swapping the head on our chopper to start harvesting sorghum.

Here's hoping for a breakdown-free day!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday Morning Tidbits

Just a few quick notes on a Thursday morning:
  • It's probably going to rain for a couple of hours today, but after it's out of here it won't be coming back for a week. Hallelujah!
  • We're going to move several concrete feed troughs out of two different pastures and place them in our milking herd's feeding area. We'll be out of silage within the next couple of weeks and will have to feed more baleage. It's much bulkier and we'll need the additional trough space to handle it.
  • I've uploaded two new "MooTube Minutes" since the beginning of the week. #003 deals with the rain delaying our harvest and #004 is about a cow that calved on Wednesday. Check them out on our YouTube Channel.
  • Did I mention the monsoon is about to end? Again, Hallelujah!
Have a great Thursday everyone, and make sure you enjoy some delicious, nutritious dairy products today!

Monday, October 12, 2009

When will the sun shine?

"Rain." It's hard for me to even type that word these days without a feeling of hopelessness washing over me. Our best laid plans of finally beginning our silage harvest this week have been thwarted by nearly an inch of rain that has fallen since midnight, an inch of rain that is expected to be joined by about three more inches over the next three days.

Our sorghum, which ideally would all be chopped and packed into silage pits by now, is still standing in muddy fields with no expectation of being harvested for at least another seven days. The bottom leaves are beginning to dry, a sure sign that the crop has hit maturity and quality is beginning to diminish. This process is going to speed up rapidly if the crop is frosted on, a real possibility if our coming weekend's low temperatures do drop to around 42 degrees as the forecast suggests they will.

In the grand scheme of things, the rain we're getting is probably needed. If you'll recall I began this blog in 2007, a year in which a severe drought left us with nearly a 30 inch rainfall deficit. Last year's precipitation was about average, and so far this year we're looking at a 20+ inch surplus. Our aquifers needed recharging, and all this rainfall is helping to do that. But since we all live and usually focus on the present, this rain couldn't be coming at a worse time. It's not just because it is delaying and will ultimately limit/diminish our harvest. It's because this is happening in a year where we've suffered through abysmal prices for our milk. And though that price is very slowly creeping up, our cows' production over the last few weeks has been below what we are accustomed to them giving this time of year. Buying additional feed to make up for our silage shortfall is going to be a painful but necessary exercise.

Somewhere in the midst of this "perfect storm" of adversity lies an opportunity and a path towards a successful future. I don't know if that means gritting our teeth and simply riding out the storm or if it means making major changes in the way we manage our farm. Whatever the answer may be, the best option is probably somewhere in the middle ground.

In the meantime, we'll continue to go about our daily chores thankful for the blessings we do have and with a stubborn determination to not allow 2009 to be the year that puts an end to over 55 years of hard work. We WILL survive this rough stretch, and hopefully we'll come out of it even stronger than before. But even though I'm convinced we still have years of successful dairy farming ahead of us, I can't help but wonder, both literally and figuratively, "when will the sun shine?"

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The GDF MooTube Minute

If you've read my blog for very long, you may recall a post from this past April in which I announced my intentions to someday add video blogging to my family farm's online catalog. Most of the roadblocks I outlined in that post are still in place, but now that I have a video-capable cell phone I can upload unedited videos to YouTube. Perhaps you've already seen a little bit of my "handiwork". Anyway, I decided today to go ahead and make a run at the video blogging. The first episode of the "GDF MooTube Minute" can be seen below.

I'm not sure how often I'll upload new episodes, and I imagine that most will be shorter than this first one. I'm still holding out hope that one day the stars will align, broadband will become available in my area, and I can edit the videos then upload them from my computer. Until then, enjoy the first and future episodes of the "GDF MooTube Minute", and don't worry...I'll still occasionally post videos along the lines of "March of the Holsteins" and "Water 'n Poo"!


Friday, October 2, 2009

A Friday morning farm update

This week's weather finally gave us a chance to dry out a little after two weeks of seemingly non-stop rain. And until a rain shower passed through early this morning, the weather has been absolutely beautiful. Sunshine, breeze, and cooler temperatures have been just what the doctor ordered. Our cows have also benefited because they have been able to graze full mornings without the worry of heat stress. They've also started milking a little better after bottoming-out last week, though they still have a way to go to get their production back up to where we want it.

We had hoped to be in the field chopping silage by now, but that hasn't happened. We do think we'll have our silage chopper maintenance completed by the end of the day and hope to get one of our dump trucks back from its tune-up. If weather permits (the forecast isn't great), we'll be running hard on Tuesday. We do know that we'll run out of our ryegrass silage before any sorghum silage we harvest is ready to feed, but we still have plenty of ryegrass and sudex baleage to feed the milking herd.

I most likely will not be directly involved in our silage harvest, or at least in the mornings. I figure I'll be spending my time getting some of our cool-season crops planted. We'll go with a mixture of ryegrass and oats on our grazing land (where our sudex was planted), and we'll follow our sorghum crop with ryegrass in some places and rye in others with both crops to be harvested as baleage or silage in the spring.

Finally, I have a couple of other items of interest. The first is an article by Dawn Kent that originally appeared in The Birmingham News this past Sunday. The article is about Alabama's dairy industry and features some of the management and promotion methods we use on our family farm.

The second has to do with nutrient management. Everything worked out mid-week to give us an opportunity to apply our captured dairy waste as fertilizer onto some of our pastures. The radio wasn't working in the tractor I was applying with I so I had to find ways to keep myself entertained. So, I decided to do something that might entertain YOU, and help you learn a little about nutrient management at the same time. Please enjoy my take on an old Stonewall Jackson classic, a little ditty I call "Water 'n Poo".


Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's still wet, but better weather is here

Two Sundays ago it started raining. And it rained. And it rained some more. In fact, we had measurable rainfall on the farm for eleven straight days. We had two dry (though overcast) days on Thursday and Friday, followed by a heavy storm Saturday morning that dumped nearly 2 inches. But I think it's safe to say the rain is gone after today's full sun, moderately milder temperatures, and occasional breeze. Hopefully the ground will dry enough to get in the sorghum fields and being our silage harvest by Thursday.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Roadway Safety is a Shared Responsibility

Though I generally can move my tractors over the road from field to field without incident, I do encounter the occasional impatient driver. I’ve been passed after signaling a left turn and around curves, forced onto narrow shoulders, honked at, and been shown not-so-polite gestures of disapproval. It can be frustrating (as this post recounts)! I have also been on the other side of the tractor, so to speak. I too have been in a hurry to get someplace only to find myself “stuck” behind a farmer on the road. Who is right and who is wrong when vehicles and farm equipment find themselves travelling the same roadways?

National Farm Health & Safety Week is being observed September 20-26. This year’s theme, “Rural Roadway Safety…Alert, Aware, and Alive”, speaks to the responsibility of both farmers and the public alike to keep our roads safe for travel and transport. Collisions between agricultural equipment and vehicles are far too common on our rural roadways and often result in injuries or fatalities. We all must accept our shared responsibility to lessen the frequency of these dangerous accidents.

Farmers have a responsibility to display slow moving vehicle signs on tractors and equipment, properly use caution and signal lights, tightly secure loads, and only travel roadways in low light conditions if adequate lights and reflectors make the equipment clearly visible from front, back, and side. We farmers also need to extend a little courtesy and when possible allow following drivers the space to make a clear, safe pass.

Likewise, we need our commuting friends to be alert and aware when encountering our machinery on the roadways. Keep in mind that many rural roads are hilly, curvy, or have narrow shoulders, and that you can quickly meet agricultural equipment without much warning. Always be cautious in such areas were the terrain limits your long range visibility. Please slow down and maintain a healthy distance behind us until it is safe for you to pass. Oftentimes we can see obstacles ahead that you cannot or cannot safely maneuver our equipment onto the shoulder, so please be patient. Use caution and “time” your pass-by wisely if you are approaching us in the opposite lane, especially if narrow or rough shoulders will limit our abilities to give each other more space.

Patience, cooperation, and common sense are virtues we all need to practice when traveling the roadways, whether we’re in a car, a truck, or a tractor. So let’s stay alert and aware so we call all stay alive!

To learn more about roadway safety, check out The National Educational Center for Agricultural Safety and The Alabama Farmers Federation's Farmer at Work Program.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It's raining in Alabama

Man alive is it wet around the farm!

We've had a little rain each day this week, including a very loud storm that moved through about 1:45am. Even more is expected today, and the weatherman says we won't see rain chances below 50% until next Monday.

Right now we have sorghum that's ready to be chopped for silage. We're also waiting on parts for our silage chopper and dump truck so we can get them in working order. Even if we can get our equipment repaired/serviced and ready to go by the middle of next week there's a chance that the ground will be too wet to operate on. Silage harvest is always a slow process on our farm, so any delay is generally not a good thing.

But there is also an advantage to this weather we're having. The increased cloud cover is keeping temperatures down a little bit, which is in turn allowing our cows to stay in their grazing paddocks virtually all morning. The heat and humidity this time of year is still usually enough to send them trotting to the barns for the comfort of fans and sprinklers, but the overcast sky is making them want to stay outdoors and eat.

Regardless of how much more rain falls on our farm over the next few days, we'll have plenty to keep us busy. And while we're milking our cows twice a day, we hope you'll be enjoying at least three servings of dairy products a day!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Edopt-a-Cow and YouTube

In case you missed it, our Edopt-a-Cow Program is now online! This free program allows you to select one of five cows to "edopt", then download and print a certificate and a photo of the cow. Each of the cows have a profile page on our website that is updated monthly so you can keep up with her milk production and other information. We hope you'll give it a try!

Speaking of Edopt-a-Cow, two of the five available for edoption are featured on our new YouTube Channel. Make sure you check that page periodically as we add short videos to it. Some are serious, some are silly, but they're all there to help you learn more about dairy farming and agriculture.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Singing the "Ain't gettin' paid enough for my milk" blues

The dairy crisis continues to wreak havoc on farm families across the country. Painfully low milk prices have left many of us in a lurch as we're burning through our reserves and using up our lines of credit just to stay afloat and weather the storm. Well, I was thinking about the situation this afternoon while feeding the cows and started feeling a little goofy. I decided, "what the heck...another song might be in order!"

There are dairy farm families doing an excellent job of making people aware of our situation, and others are leading the way in finding our best route out of this mess. I try to do my part, and this time I've again tried to do it by going down a road that I don't think many others are traveling.

Below you can watch some cows moving around the pasture while I sing the "ain't gettin' paid enough for my milk" blues. In all honesty, the situation on my farm isn't quite as dire as I make it out to be in the second verse, but things are tight and will continue to be that way for a while. Whether you sing along or simply laugh at my miserable vocal performance, please know that our dairy industry really is in a bad place right now but you can help. Make sure you and your family are consuming your daily recommended servings of dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt), etc.) and you will have certainly done your part to help American dairy farm families survive and recover from the dairy crisis.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Videos from the Hayfield

What happens when you take a dairy farmer out of the milking barn and put him in the hayfield? If he's armed with an over-active imagination and a camera phone, he might make a few short videos for you. The following range from informative to ridiculous, so sit back, enjoy, and share these cinematic masterpieces with your friends!

First up, find out how we roll (hay) at Gilmer Dairy Farm.



Next, I share a PSA-type thought with you.



Occasionally I'll drift into deep thought and come out with a very deep, very profound truth.



It's always a good idea to sing at the end of a job, though not necessarily on camera. This one is completely ridiculous, but hey...it doesn't hurt to have a little fun at your own expense every now and then.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In the hayfield, in the news

This week we're going to be hitting it hard in the hayfield. Right now we have 70 acres of bermudagrass on the ground waiting to be rolled up for hay. The lower temperatures over the weekend made our lives a little more comfortable, but the cut grass didn't dry down as well. We'll have to ted, or fluff, the hay to help dry it out. Half of it was tedded yesterday afternoon and we plan on doing the rest today. Our plan is to rake and bale at least 20 acres of it this afternoon, but as we know all too well plans sometimes get changed on a dairy farm. If all goes well, we should have all of the hay baled by the end of Thursday.

I've gotta get back over to the farm, so I'll leave you with a couple of links. There are two articles about our family farm that have recently been published online: One from The West Alabama Gazette and one from the Daily Mountain Eagle.

Have a great day!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eat More Cheese...Borden Cheese!

No doubt, times are tough on the dairy farm right now. Really tough! Milk prices have remained sour and are just now showing signs of creeping higher, but I haven't seen anyone suggest that we'll see significant increases before we get well into next year.

But despite the depression that hits a dairyman when he looks at his farm's banking account these days, there are a few things to be positive about. One is that the public still holds us in high esteem, and people want to know that the money they spend on dairy products is finding its way to the farm.

Our farm is a member of the farmer-owned, milk marketing cooperative Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), and our membership in its predecessor co-ops goes back as far as I can remember. One of the big advantages to being a part of DFA is our ability to offer a wide variety of value-added products.

Take, for example, the Borden Cheese brand. Our co-op owns and processes Borden Cheese, which means everytime someone buys a package the proceeds come back to us instead of a big food corporation. The more often people buy Borden products, the more it helps cushion the blow for some 18,000 dairy farm farmilies across our country.

I've been fortunate over the past couple of weeks to speak with two of our county's three newspapers about the dairy industry and why our cooperative membership is so beneficial to our farm. One of those articles appears online at The West Alabama Gazette (the print edition included additional information about Borden). I expect to speak to at least two more newspapers and possibly even a television station or two within the next few days about these topics. With the dairy economy being such as it is, I'm very appreciative of the media giving me and other dairy farmers the opportunity to share about ways the consuming public can help us get out of this rut we're in.

If you would like to drink milk from our farm's cows, look for the processing plant code "0104-" stamped on the jug. There's a chance it might contain some of the milk produced by our cows. But if you want to help us out in another way, perhaps an even better way, buy dairy product brands that are 100% farmer owned. When you leave the grocery store, make sure you're taking Elsie home with you. Eat more cheese...Borden Cheese!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What they're saying about #moo

There have been several articles and blogs written about "#moo" after it trended on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It's even got a little renewed publicity this week after "#oink" made its even more successful run this past Sunday. For your reading pleasure, I've added links to sites that mention the event. There are probably more articles out there, so please point me towards them via the comments section or on my Twitter account and I'll be happy to add them. Thanks!

Why is #moo trending on Twitter - California dairyman (and Twitter virtuoso @RayLinDairy) Ray Prock's blog informed over 1000 people of #moo's meaning during the trend on Sunday, August 2
Why is #Moo Trending? - the Hungry Garden Blog's take
Dairy Awareness #Moo -ving on up in Twitter - my explanation and thoughts about #moo on this blog from late that Sunday afternoon
The day Twitter said #Moo - my day after review and observations on the FB Blog (also released as a Focus on Agriculture article and reprinted in several publications/websites)
Birthday Wishes and Twitter Trends - on Jacob Edenfield's blog
#moo - a brief review on the Midwest Laboratories Blog
What's #Moo? - a brief explanation from USDA's National Agricultural Library blog
The day Twitter went #moo - recapfrom Dairy Herd Management
Special #Ag TOTW: The #Moo Story - the Field Assignment blog honors Mike Haley & Ray Prock for their efforts
Farmers use Web site todraw attention to dairy industry Woes - a very nice article by Jeannine Otto of AgriNews
With a Moo Moo Here and an Oink Oink There - The Fastline Blog recaps both trending topics
Twitter Dairy "Tweeps" - the Hoard's Dairyman "HD Notebook" mentions #moo and recommends more dairy families get involved w/ social media
Social Media Helps Spread the Word About Agriculture - from the Nebraska AgRelations Council

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Driveby entertainment

Sometime around mid-morning I was backing a tractor alongside the road in front of the farm when I noticed an oncoming car beginning to slow down. I started to throttle down as I saw the car continue to slow and the passenger window start to roll down.

"This guy's lost," I thought to myself because it's not unusual for people to stop and ask directions in rural Lamar County. Turns out this wasn't the case.

The man pulled onto the shoulder between the blacktop and my tractor as I killed the engine. Before I could ask if I could help him, he pointed to his two young grandsons in the back seat and said that they loved riding by our farm so they could see the cows and tractors. I waved at them and they grinned and waved back as the man pulled back onto the road and drove away.

It's kind of neat knowing that some people get enjoyment from catching brief glimpses of our day-to-day routine as they ride by our farm. It's also means I probably should start keeping the place a little more presentable! But seriously, it just goes to show there's something special about farming that can catch the interest and imagination more so than many other businesses.

Lots of Sudex

We planted nearly 45 acres of sudex (sorghum-sudangrass) this year for our milking herd to graze. Thanks to a dry spell earlier this summer it was very slow to come up, but once the rains started coming the sudex started growing. And growing, and growing! Due to the heat, we can only graze our cows for about two hours each morning after milking, and night-time grazing in our sudex paddocks is out of the question since they are across the road from our barn (not safe to move cows across a public road at 3am). Between the rapid growth and the narrow grazing window, the cows haven't been able to keep up with it.

We've already cut, green baled, and silage wrapped around 175 bales of the sudex that had grown too tall for the cows to graze. In fact, we still have approximately 30 more to bale later today. All of this has come from a 26 acre field the cows have been in only twice. We're also starting to bush-hog the 18 acres worth of paddocks they've regularly been grazing. The sudex there has also grown too tall for them as they've been stripping off the leaves but not eating the stems. Cutting it off about 6 inches tall should stimulate more nutritious regrowth.

Even though our sorghum crop (which we'll chop for silage) is "hit or miss" depending on which field it's in, our sudex grazing/hay and bermudagrass hay crops have really done well so far this summer. With milk prices so low and feed costs so high, growing quality forage is an absolute must on our farm. Thankfully we've had the weather to do it for most of the summer.



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lots to do today

We've got plenty of tasks lined up for us today on the farm.

I'll be hooking up our spray wagon before much longer and head for the sorghum fields. We didn't get a very good control on broadleaf weeds at planting time, so I'm going to attack the morning glory, sicklepod, and cuckleburr that's beginning to plague our forage.

My dad started replanting some of our crop yesterday evening and will hopefully get finished with that today. Roughly 20 acres of sorghum in one field was destroyed by worms over the weekend and will be completely replanted with sudex (sorghum-sudangrass). He will also be doing some "spot" replanting in a few fields where our sorghum stand is not very good.

Meanwhile, the other guys will start off feeding all the heifers and will then build a fence to create a couple of new grazing paddocks. Later they will start getting the haying equipment tooled up so we can bale the few acres of sudex we cut yesterday afternoon.

And of course, there are 174 cows that will need to be milked around 1:00pm.

Here's to another hot, humid, busy, and hopefully productive day on the farm!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dairy awareness #moo -ving on up in Twitter

#moo

To those of you unfamiliar with the micro-blogging service Twitter, #moo has become quite the topic this Sunday afternoon. Words preceded by the # symbol are known as hashtags in Twitter lingo and are used as a label to help people find topics they are interested when searching through "tweets".

So what's the big deal about #moo?

Early last week, dairy families across our country received another painfully low milk check. Many of us thought that by the middle of summer we would have seen a price improvement, but that has yet to materialize. As bills pile up and losses mount due to the dairy pricing crisis, many of us have started feeling the emotional strain. As a way to do something silly and cheer ourselves up, a few dairymen with Twitter accounts suggested people use the #moo hashtag in their posts as a shout-out in support of America's dairy farm families. It caught on within the tweeting ag community and pretty soon #moo started showing up regularly within our discussions.

Then a farmer from Ohio, @FarmerHaley to be exact, raised it to a whole new level. Around mid-week, he stated his simple birthday wish: that people would use #moo in their posts on Sunday afternoon to support and bring awareness to America's dairy farmers. His wish was retweeted (repeated) many, many times and once Sunday afternoon rolled around #moo did indeed become a trending, or popular, topic on Twitter.

Not only have farmers and agricultural enthusiasts helped make #moo so popular, but its popularity has caught on with the tweeting public-at-large. And several folks, including fellow tweeting dairyman @RayLinDairy and @JPlovesCotton have worked diligently all afternoon to make people aware of what #moo is all about.

As a dairy farmer, I am very appreciative of the efforts that have been made to bring awareness to the situation our nation's dairy farm families are facing. I'm also thankful for all the people who aren't involved in agriculture who have taken time to simply explore what this afternoon's hot topic is all about. It's been a tough few months and the next several will continue to be challenging, but knowing there are people out there supporting you and appreciative of what you do really motivates a person to keep pressing forward.

So again, thanks to all of you who #moo! Keep it up, and keep on purchasing delicious, healthy dairy products!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Talking weather


It's the first day of August and all of our cropland, hay fields, and pastures are green. And a healthy green at that! It's not always been like this over the last few years, but so far this year we've gotten the rains we've needed to grow forage for our cows and heifers.

One of the toughest things about farming is knowing that you can't control what's often the biggest variable in your bottom line: the weather. Sure, a farmer can manage his or her operation based on historical patterns and select crops accordingly. One could hedge against the weather with irrigation, windbreaks, etc. Despite our best laid plans, though, a combination of prayer and damage control are often our only remedies when Mother Nature goes extreme on us.

Weather conditions at planting or harvest can cause delays that effect the yield and quality of a crop, not to mention weather's obvious effect on the crop during it's growing stage. And really good crops can often be destroyed in a matter of minutes by severe weather. Many heartland farmers have recently had crops destroyed by hail. One of our best corn silage crops ever was hurt by the howling winds of Hurricane Ivan several years ago when it hit us halfway through harvest. And then every once in a while, you get favorable weather all the way through which leads to thanksgiving and celebration (and a big sigh of relief).

Through it all...drought, wind, hail, floods, frost...the American farmer keeps on producing, holding on the the belief that no matter how good or bad this year has been, the next will be even better. And while we will never be able to conquer the weather, our nation's agricultural production proves that the weather hasn't yet conquered us.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Back from Chicago, rested and recharged

My wife and I returned home last night after a five day visit to Chicago with the AFBF's Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee. And boy-oh-boy was it a getaway I needed! While there was plenty of committee business to attend to while in Chicago, it was a nice break from the day-in, day-out dairy routine. In addition to the business discussed, team building exercises, and public relations training, we also had time to take in a White Sox game, tour Case IH facilities in Racine, look out upon the city from the observation deck of the Willis (Sears) Tower, and visit the CME Group in the historic Chicago Board of Trade building.

The highlight of the trip though was developing and deepening relationships with others who share a love and passion for agriculture and are committed to advancing its cause. We all face challenges, some shared and some unique to our own farms or ranches, but the "good vibes" that are generated when groups such as this come together give you the energy you need to keep on pushing forward.

I'm back on the farm now where low milk prices and unpredictable weather will cause plenty of headaches for the foreseeable future, but I'm back well rested and with a recharged battery. Whatever challenges might come this way will be overcome, and I've never been happier to share my story or do what I can to help others share theirs. American agriculture is on solid ground and is moving towards an even brighter future thanks to the grit, determination, and innovation of farmers and ranchers all across this country, and I for one am proud to be counted in their number.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Summer in full swing

Hello, blog readers. Nice to see you. It's been a long time!

The last couple of weeks have really been something. We've just about got our sorghum crop in the ground and plan on planting the last 38 acres today or tomorrow. We'll be looking to cut and chop the sorghum for silage sometime in mid-to-late September and start feeding it to the cows in November. We don't have the best stand of sudex, but what's there looks pretty good. I'm hoping we'll have those two fields paddocked by this time next week so we can begin strip grazing the milk cows early in the mornings before the heat gets to bad.

We've also been dealing with our first bermuda hay of the season. Last week we cut and baled 35 acres that yielded six 750lb. bales per acre. We cut our remaining 32 acres yesterday and will have it baled up, equipment willing, by the end of the week.

The cows have been up and down over the last two weeks. We had a few days of really high humidty that really put a strain on their production, but last week the humidity was down and the cows responded positively. Even though we have areas that use fans and sprinklers to keep the cows cool, they are still subject to heat-stress since they aren't in a confinement system. They typically leave the pasture to come to the fans around mid-morning, but in the evenings they usually return to pasture by 5:00. We're set for some real scorching weather over the next few days, so it'll be interesting to see if the cows decide to spend a little more time in the barn.

The state of the dairy economy still isn't very good. In fact, "still isn't very good" paints a very rosey picture compared to reality. Most of us who dairy for a living are just trying to hold on to the rope right now, controlling costs on our farms the best we can as we try to survive this Death Valley of low income/high expense. I suspect there will be some changes made within our industry to try to prevent this from happening again (at least to this extreme), but until then our best hope for recovery is you the consumer. Everytime you purchase dairy products you help us by helping yourself to a safe, nutritious, tasty food or beverage.

What does the future hold for the dairy industry? I don't think anyone really knows right now. But as far as Gilmer Dairy Farm is concerned, we're gonna keep on hammering away with good management, hard work, and prayer with the expectation that we'll eventually be able to see profitable days somewhere on the horizon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

My Farming Forefathers, p. II

Last Sunday afternoon (Father's Day) I posted about some of the men in my family who have preceded me in agriculture. By the time I finished writing about my memories of my grandfathers I was too worn out to continue on to write about my father. I'm still gonna get to him, but first I'm going to back-track in time to briefly mention another ancestor...

Clinton Leroy Kennedy, or "Daddy Kennedy" as he was known by his grand kids, was my father's mother's father. He learned to farm very early in life, as the responsibilities for managing the family farm fell to him at the young age of 10 when his father unexpected passed away. Once married and in his twenties, he sold the family farm to escape the poverty of early 20th century agriculture and moved his family to Birmingham for the chance at a better life. He soon moved back to Lamar County and bought a grist-mill near the locally-famous Iron Bridge that spans Yellow Creek. Sometime around 1920 he once again moved the family back to Birmingham to form "Kennedy & Hankins Produce Company" with his young brother and a brother-in-law. After a few years he grew weary of city life and moved the family back home. He bought a cotton gin, saw mill, and a team of logging mules in addition to the farm he purchased near Reed Creek. He would spend the rest of his life here, until he suffered a heart attack in 1955 while tending his fields. He died a few days later at the age of 69.

My great-uncle Hunter Kennedy, Clinton's son, now owns the family's farming property and rents it to us. The 50 acres of good creek-bottom soil is our most dependable cropland and the most critical to our ability to grow enough forage for our milking herd. We've actually been in those fields the last two days planting sorghum, and I'll be returning there to do more field work within the hour. And as an aside, Hunter still works with us (and often out-works us) every weekday morning even though he's now over 80 years old. He's a real tribute to the work ethic valued by his family and his generation.

Coming soon, My Farming Forefathers, p. III...my dad.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My Farming Forefathers

Lots of folks are "born into" a family business, and I count myself among their number. Some are born into the practice of law or medicine, others into industry and manufacturing, still others into endeavors ranging from retail to politics. I was born into agriculture. The following are stories about the men in my family who have paved the way for me to be where I am now, including the things I know of or remember about them that have may have more to do with family than farming.

My great-grandfather George Gilmer established our farm in part with land he purchased from his father-in-law (and my great-great-grandpa) Evans Jackson. Papa Gilmer farmed cotton corn and raised livestock on the farm, and was at successful enough to make a lifelong living doing it. He passed away in 1949 (six years before my father was born) so I know very little about him other than what my grandmother recorded in a book of family biographies she compiled nearly 15 years ago. The following are excerpts from page 63 of her compilation, For Sentimental Reasons:
"George Gilmer was known as a man of integrity. His family and neighbors sought his advise in decisions concerning politics on the local, state, and national issues. He helped formulate marketing practices that were new for the farmers of this area, such as the "pooling" of cotton that brought more favorable prices.

Friends...went to George Gilmer for counsel of personal problems. The advice he gave was always sound and practical. he had a way that was remembered by those he counseled. He'd sit quietly listening, twisting off a piece of the home-raised tobacco. He'd then put the chew in his mouth, as if that were a process of the thinking. Friends said he never answered weighty questions with haste."
Though I don't have any hard evidence yet to back it up, I've been told that Papa Gilmer was one of the first presidents and a charter member of the Lamar County Farm Bureau (now Lamar County Farmers Federation).

My grandfather, Gray Gilmer, had left the farm and his own fledgling egg business in the early 1930's to take a job with the TVA. He built dams all along the Tennessee River, starting first as a common laborer at Pickwick. He continued with the TVA through the Great Depression and World War II, rising through the ranks as a carpenter and ultimately holding the position of safety engineer. Following the construction of Fontana Dam he took a similar position with USF&G Insurance's Kingsville, TN affiliate. As my grandmother states in her book,
"Gray loved his work with USF&G. They valued his judgement and gave him many good perks. I would wonder why he couldn't just be satisfied and forget that dream he'd always retained through the years - that of coming back to the family farm in Lamar County, Alabama."
If coming back to the family farm was his dream, he fulfilled it about a year after his parents died. He planted his first corn and cotton crop in the spring of 1951 and started our dairy on a limited basis the following summer. After a couple of years he realized that the dairy provided a more stable source of income than did crop production on hilly, marginal ground and made that the main focus of the farm. He continued to grow crops to feed the livestock and raised hogs and chickens for the family's own consumption. Gray was a "Master Farmer Award" recipient and a long serving president and board member of the county's Farm Bureau. Above all else, he was a very dedicated, hard worker.

Though he was already semi-retired, Gray's farming career ended for good when he suffered a massive stroke in 1983 that debilitated his speech, personality, and general health. My little sister and I, the youngest of his nine grand kids, have no remembrance of him before that tragic event. Perhaps that was a blessing, as Lydia and I grew up with what I felt was little difficulty communicating and interacting with our "Daddy G". I spent a lot of time at the farm and at their house as a kid, and many of my childhood memories center around time spent with him watching an afternoon Chicago Cubs game on WGN, sitting in a lawnchair in the front yard looking out at the fields across from his house, or his amusement at watching this youngster get frustrated trying to herd full-grown holsteins into the milking barn.

I'll never forget the early morning I was awoken by a knock on my door and my mother shared the news that Daddy G had passed away. He had been complaining of chest pains and my grandmother phoned for my father to come over to help get him into the car for a trip to the emergency room. A massive heart attack suffered as dad was helping him to the car claimed his life in the early morning hours of April 15, 1994. I'll never forget the disbelief I felt when my mom broke the news, or the look of stunned, defeated grief on my dad's face when I went into my grandparents house to hug my Mama G before reporting to the dairy barn less than 100 feet away for the morning milking shift. In times of both family celebration and tragedy, the dairy doesn't take a day off! Anyway, my grandfather had been in failing health leading up to his passing, but the prior day had been a "good" day. He had mowed his lawn and spent time sitting in the front yard with my grandmother, watching tractors operating in the fields in front of their house. According to my grandmother, it is just how he would have wanted to spend the last day on his beloved farm.

Switching gears from the Gilmer family for a moment, my other grandfather was also a farmer. Linton Rhodes was a successful soybean and beef farmer in the small community of Biggersville, Mississippi, located in Alcorn County just a few miles south of Corinth. Mom would take my sister and I to visit my grandparents probably 5-6 times a year and they would come here about as often. Not growing up there, I don't have many farming memories of my Papa, as most of my visits involved staying around the house and playing with my cousins. He had a sense of humor and always made a show of "picking" on my grandmother around us. My last visit with him came just after I had finished my third year of college. He had since retired from row cropping, but continued to raise a few cows and did a little small-scale logging to keep himself busy. When I came to visit my grandparents he was recovering from recent gall bladder surgery and was restricted from doing anything taxing. At the same time, my grandmother was suffering from a back problem and couldn't get out much herself. As a result, we spent a lot of time visiting and talking about nothing in particular over the course of two or three days. Just a week or two later he went out fishing one morning in the 12o-acre down the hill from his shop, never to return. His small boat toppled and he fell in the water. Still weak from his surgery and unable to swim, he was not able to free himself from the water weeds and pull himself back into the boat. A neighbor heard his cries for help, found him and pulled him from the water, but by the time emergency personnel arrived on the scene it was too late. My Papa had passed away on Thursday, June 1, 2000.

Just as I remember my mother telling me of my father's father's death, I vividly remember the details of how I learned of my other grandfather's passing. I came in to my parent's house at lunch after a morning in the hayfield. Dad had stayed in the field and was going to take lunch once I had finished. My mom and sister were in Memphis waiting on a flight that would be the beginning of a vacation in Great Britain. Noticing the answering machine was flashing and not knowing it was intended for my father, I pressed play (at the time we didn't carry cellphones). I heard the frantic voice of one of my grandparents' friends telling my father what had happened as my grandmother wailed in the background. I was completely floored by that message, and can still hear it word for word, cry for cry in my head. When I came to my senses I called the travel agent to get word to my family not to board and to call home (luckily a cousin who lived in Memphis made it to the airport and delivered the sad news in person). Still in a state of mixed shock and disbelief, I went back to the field to inform dad and within an hour we were packed and headed to Biggersville. Thankfully my Grandmother had a very strong support group of friends to help her through the ordeal, and I myself took some comfort when a family friend told me how much my Papa had enjoyed my recent visit and how proud he was of my good grades and my decision to be a farmer once I graduated college. I already had a first date with a girl lined up for that Saturday and was about to call and cancel it, but my grandmother and mother both told me that my grandfather would have wanted me to keep it. I wasn't sure how a first date only a few hours after my grandfather's funeral would work out, but nine years later we're still together, married for nearly six years with two children. We named our son David (after my father), but he goes by his middle name...Linton.

Based on the length of what I've written above about two grandfathers and a great-grandfather, I don't think I have it in me right now to talk about my own father. That will come before too long, though. Until I sit and take the time to write about all those memories, let me just leave you with this. I love farming, but it takes a back seat to working with my dad. I know it won't always be like that, but I hope we'll be able to continue working together and carrying on our family's legacy for many years to come.

Friday, June 12, 2009

You Decide 2009 - GDF Milk Mustache Contest!

It was tough just picking three finalists from all of the many good entries in our 2009 Milk Mustache Contest, much less a winner. So, we're asking for your help! Please vote for your favorite Milk Mustache photo on our farm's Facebook page this weekend. The votes will be tallied and the winner will be announced on Monday, June 15!




Monday, June 8, 2009

Celebrate Dairy Month

If you haven't heard, June is Dairy Month! We hope you will help us celebrate by consuming at least 3 servings of dairy products every day. Having milk, cheese, or yogurt as part of your breakfast makes a great start to your day!

We'd also love for you to enter our Milk Mustache Contest! The winning photo will be featured on our farm website and the winner will receive a prize package. Hurry though, because all entries must be received by the end of this Wednesday!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Dairy Crisis

First and foremost, let me say Happy Dairy Month to all of you reading this! America's dairy farming families have expertly provided safe, healthy, delicious, and affordable milk and dairy products to our consumers for years and continue to do so. Even though many if not most of our nation's dairies have fallen on hard economic times, our commitment to providing quality products has not and will not change. It is our pleasure to serve you, and we have every intention of supplying you with products you can trust and enjoy for years to come.

If you're not familiar with the dairy industry, the way farmers are paid for their milk is pretty complicated...it's not as simple as saying we get x% of retail price. Because there are so many variables involved, it makes our price very volatile and we experience periods of highs and periods of lows. We're currently in a period of very low lows, made worse by the fact that our on-farm expenses are much higher relative to other periods of low milk prices. Many dairy farm families are depleting their cash reserves and even their retirement accounts just to keep the business afloat, and many others have already started borrowing monthly operating capital from lending institutions with the hope that somewhere down the road the price will improve enough to repay their loans. But there's a limit to how much money, reserved or borrowed, a dairy has access to. There's a breaking point somewhere, and though we're not sure where that point is we do know that we're moving closer to it every day.

We have to do something, but what?

There are several ideas being discussed within the industry right now from pricing reform to supply management. Some focus on short-term relief while others promote industry models that would attempt to provide future price stability that would help us avoid these devastating downturns. Finding good solutions won't be easy, either. Differences in markets, geography, farm size, and pricing are just a few of the challenges that will have to be overcome in developing a plan that works for all of us. And we also have to realize that there most likely will not be a single "magic bullet" that will benefit all farms fairly or equally.

But whatever solutions are discussed and ultimately presented as actionable, we in the dairy business will have to do something that's proven difficult over the years: we ALL have to work together and realize that if we don't buck history we will be history.








Monday, June 1, 2009

Welcome to June

Today's the first day of June, and it's a doggone hot start to the sixth month...one of those days you have to put on a fresh pair of socks when you return to the farm after lunch. June is also when we celebrate Dairy Month, but more about that in a later post.

We've only planted 22 acres of a summer crop so far, and have a long way to go be where we need to be. We'll be planting sudex for grazing and hay, sorghum for silage, and we have about 70 acres of bermudagrass that we'll cut for hay as well. Putting the pencil to paper and figuring out what our planting costs will be is proving to be a sickening experience, but I just keep trying to tell myself to focus on the end "cost per ton of drymatter produced" figure which should easily be less than what we would pay for someone else to grow our forages.

We're also beginning to thin out the milking herd, which is typical for us this time of year. We "dried off" ten pregnant cows on Saturday, and those girls are now on good pasture with plenty of grass and shade and won't need any additional feed for a few weeks. We're sending 7 older, lower producing cows into the beef supply tomorrow, and will be drying off an additional 4 by the end of the week. That's a 10% reduction in our milking herd we will have made in a week's period, but these girls are no longer "paying their way" with milk prices as low as they are. Hopefully we'll get a turnaround before too long, but I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Visiting Vernon 1st Graders

This past Friday I had the opportunity to read "Oh Say Can You Seed" to the first graders at Vernon Elementary. The original plan was just to read to my wife's class, but as she told the other teachers about it they wanted in on the deal. I was happy to oblige.

I'll have to admit, having 90 six-year-olds sitting in the floor looking up at you can be a little unnerving because you don't exactly know what to expect. But the kids were very attentive and interested in the book and asked several good questions about my farm afterwards.

I don't think I could stress enough how important it is to directly engage the public, especially kids, about agriculture. With so few having a direct connection to the day-in, day-out activities on the farm, it's no surprise that so many people are falling prey to the misinformation and dangerous ideology touted by groups and individuals who want modern agriculture to fail. And even though most of my "advocate" hours and activities are spent on the internet, nothing can replace the value of telling your story in person. Seeing the kids take a genuine interest in what I was talking about made my week, and I would encourage all farmers to take the time to visit a local classroom. It's a win-win-win-win propostion...for the kids, for the farmer, and for agriculture, and for America.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pass Safely

As I was hauling bovine-generated organic fertilizer to the hayfield this morning, I encountered three drivers who were short on patience, courtesy, and common sense. On two different occasions I was passed after I had turned on my left-turn signals and had began slowing down to pull into the field. Sandwiched in between those two episodes, someone in a car with a state government tag whipped across the double-yellow lines and passed me in the middle of a sharp curve. Luckily, I never had that problem again after I wrote a little reminder on the back of the honeywagon.

Events like these aren't just frustrating, they are very dangerous for the drivers, for the farmer, and for any oncoming traffic the driver may not see. When you're driving down the highway and come up behind moving farm machinery, please be patient. As long as you keep enough distance so that we can see you in our mirrors, we'll move over and slow down the best we can when the coast is clear for you to make your pass.

Let's all practice a little patience, courtesy, and common sense out there on the roadway so we can all live to drive another day!

A quick update on a beautiful morning

Good morning, yall! I've only got a few minutes before heading back over to the dairy, so let me get you up to speed with a few simple bullet points:

On Gilmer Dairy Farm...
  • The weather is great...sunny, mild, breezy, and dry. It's been good for our animals and for the ground surface as well.
  • We baled and wrapped the last of our ryegrass Tuesday. Soon we'll be turning our attention to planting and growing our summer forage crops (sorghum and sudex) and managing our bermudagrass hayfields and pastures.
  • Milk production continues has dropped as our cows get further along into their lactation curve. We're down around 57lbs/cow/day now. That will probably improve once our silage is ready to feed. We're still grazing the cows daily, but the grass is getting mature and losing quality (therefore the cows produce less milk).
  • We expect to get the final revised drawings for our new feeding barn from our engineer in the next few days. Hopefully construction will begin next month.
  • I spent most of yesterday and should spend most of today applying bovine-generated organic fertilizer to bermudagrass.
In the dairy industry:
  • Cooperatives Working Together (CWT) announced last week that over 100,000 cows will be removed from the national milking herd in an effort to help curb oversupply.
  • Current milk prices and futures remain too low for many dairies to sustain long-term operations.
  • The idea of a mandatory, nation-wide supply management program is picking up steam. Several individuals and industry groups have proposed different plans. Pretty much every dairyman I know is sick and tired of our price volatility, so a plan like this may actually have a chance at acceptance. There will have to be a whole lot of give-and-take on the details, though.

Friday, May 15, 2009

2009 Milk Mustache Contest


We will be accepting entries for our 2009 Milk Mustache Contest through June 10. Among other things, the winner will receive a Gilmer Dairy Farm logo shirt, and you just can't put a pricetag on that!

For more info, please click to our Milk Mustache Contest page on our website.

Winding down the week

The cows have been milked and fed, and in another hour we'll get back to business trying to get all of our loose ends tied up before the weekend.

After we move our cows into their grazing pasture, we'll be turning our attention towards are harvest again. A couple of flat tires ended yesterday's fieldwork a little prematurely, so we have a little catching up to do first thing. There are about 18 green bales ready to be wrapped (shouldn't take but 45 minutes) and about 15-20 bales worth of material on the ground ready to be baled and then wrapped. We still have probably 5 acres of ryegrass left to cut in the field, but we've opted to wait until Monday due to the growing chance of rain this evening and tomorrow.

After we finish things in the field, we'll load up a couple of truckloads of oat baleage from the stack behind my house and haul to the farm to grind as part of our cows' TMR over the weekend. There are also a couple of other maintenance jobs we need to do, such as reinstalling the injectors and injector pump on one of our tractors.

This afternoon should follow the normal script of milking and feeding, as will tomorrow morning. After finish Saturday morning's duties, we'll be traveling to my sister's house in central Mississippi for a family event. Hopefully nothing unforseen will hapen until we get back on Sunday afternoon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sick weather, sick kid

Yesterday we started cutting our remaining ryegrass. The lunchtime weather forecast looked like we could get through until Thursday without much chance of rain. We baled and wrapped about half of what we cut, but decided the rest was thick enough to let lay overnight without worrying about it drying out.

Well, now we need it to dry out.

Unexpected thunderstorms rolled through late last night and made everything even more damp. The skies remain cloudy and there's a fair chance of rain for this afternoon and tomorrow. We'll be able to bale and wrap what has been cut, but we may have to hold off on mowing any more acreage. Time will tell.

I'm personally not going to be involved in any of it, or at least not this morning. My son has what looks to be a stomach bug and I'm taking him to the doctor in a little while. Of course this would happen on my wife's first day back at work!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday update, 5/10/09

First of all, Happy Mothers Day to all of you ladies out there who have ever been a mother or a mother-figure to someone. As the old song goes, "There ought to be a hall of fame for mamas..."

The mommas on my farm, all 240 of them, are quite healthy and have enjoyed the cooler weather this weekend has brought. Unfortunately, it's getting to be the time of year where our cows begin dropping their milk production. That's a result of several factors. First of all, a good many of them are getting "late in their lactation curve". In other words, a majority of the cows that are currently milking have been doing so for over 150 days and are gradually lowering their production. We also have many that are close to or have entered the second half of their pregnancy (cows carry a calf for 9 months) which means that more of what they eat is going towards growing a calf at the expense of making milk. The increasing heat and humidity is also another factor that diminishes milk production.

This past week we finally finished chopping our spring forages for silage. We had several mechanical problems that slowed the process, but we did finally chop most everything we intended to. We still have several acres of ryegrass left to harvest, but we will cut it, green bale it, and then silage wrap each individual bale to make baleage. Speaking of which, baleage will be the primary forage our cows get over the next couple of weeks. Our summer grain sorghum silage will run out tomorrow and the silage we just packed hasn't quite had time to complete the ensilation process. We did harvest some rye as baleage about half-way through harvest and it is ready to feed. So, we'll grind 2-3 bales of the stuff for each feed batch and add in cottonhulls and our dairy feed. We'll continue to graze the cows in the mornings (weather permitting) to help supplement their TMR.

There are alot more things happening around the farm, and a whole host of very serious, challenging issues facing our dairy industry. I'm going to try and be a little more dedicated to the blog this week and will probably post about several of these topics. So check back soon and make sure in the meantime that you're getting your three daily servings of dairy products. And once you do, do me a favor and have 2-3 more servings because it tastes so good!

Monday, May 4, 2009

It's wet!

The farm had been getting a little dry, but that's no longer a concern after better than 3 inches of rain fell over the the weekend. It'll be a game changer for us today because we won't be able to resume chopping silage until at least tomorrow. More critical though is the thought that we probably won't be able to plant corn this year due to the wet ground.

We should find plenty to do today, though. There are a couple of cows to AI, lots of equipment needs servicing, and we may move some close-to-calving dry cows to a pasture closer to the milking barn.

Our cows will also be getting a new forage in their TMR late this week. We've almost feed all of our sorghum silage from last summer and will have to replace it with rye baleage until our new silage crop has ensiled. It will be interesting to see the impact it has on their milk produciton.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A busy Wednesday

It looks as if we'll be running wide open today. After the heifers get fed and the cows are moved into a grazing pad, things will really get busy.

First of all, we have a milk pump problem to attend to. One of the circuit boards has malfunctioned and it won't automatically engage when it needs to. Dad had to spend the morning milking going back and forth between the parlor "pit" and the control box in the equipment room to manually engage the pump. We've got a circuit board from the control box that was in our old milking barn, so we'll see if that'll do the trick. Otherwise we'll be calling the equipment man.

While that's going on, someone will head over to our "big" hayfield near Mt. Pisgah church to begin cutting down rye/ryegrass. We cut and chopped about 6 acres out of the field yesterday, and should be able to get 10 today and the remaining 10 tomorrow. Based on the maturity level and the weather we're having, we think that the chopper can run about 3-4 hours behind the cutter and harvest it at an acceptable moisture level.

Yesterday's harvest also pretty brought our silage pit up to capacity. We'll have to seal it off this morning and then resume cleaning out our small reserve pit. That pit should hold everything left at Mt. Pisgah, the two hayfields near my house, and some of the 30 acres of ryegrass that will still be left (that we should get to next week). Whatever doesn't go into the reserve pit will likely be baled and wrapped for baleage.

Of course, all the above assumes that everything goes as planned. That's something you can never take for granted on a dairy farm!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Silage choppin' goin' good

My dad has been chopping the ryegrass/triticale I mowed down yesterday evening, and so far so good. It's looking like we're going to have quite a yield off of that 11 acre patch.

I'll be in the parlor this afternoon helping with the milking duties. Once we're finished I'll probably take over the job of packing the silage into the bunker from my great-uncle.

A lot can happen in an afternoon's time, but if our equipment will hold together we should finish the day with 25 dump wagon loads.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday morning update and cropping projections

It's a beautiful Sunday morning here on the farm, and I'm getting in a little rest while I can. With two employees and my father working this weekend I've been able to sleep in the last two mornings until about 5am. Between breakfast and church services my father and I will move the milking herd over into their daily grazing pasture, and then we'll get cranked back up and going about 1pm.

I expect I'll be in the barn this afternoon with our milk hand while one of our employees takes care of building and feeding the herd's TMR and my father dry bales the remaining ryegrass we have on the ground. Once we've finished with the cows, I'm planning on loading my son up in the tractor with me while I start cutting down the ryegrass/triticale in the ten acre field across the road from my house.

We'll start chopping silage again on Monday, but we'll be taking the JD 4255 off of the feedwagon to pull the forage harvester until we can get our International's injector pump problem solved. This game of musical tractors will find the Case taken off the cutter-conditioner and hooked to the JayLor.

We still have roughly 80 more acres of forage to harvest. After the ten acres in front of my house is harvested, we'll prioritze 40 acres of rye and volunteer ryegrass that is growing on bermudagrass hayfields. The remaining 30 acres is a combination of ryegrass, wheat, and triticale that's spread across two fields that we'll drill sudex on later this summer.

The wildcard in all of this (other than more mechanical problems) is our 60 acres in Yellow Creek bottom. Our window for planting corn in those fields runs through about mid-May. It has been so wet down there that it looks like we'll have to break the surface to get it in any sort of condition to plant. After a week of dry, hot weather and what's looking to be another just like it, it's probably going to finally be dry enough to run equipment over by the middle of this coming week. Depending on how the harvest is going and what the weather forecast says, we may stop what we're doing for a couple of days to get the ground opened up in the bottom. If so, we can go back as soon as the harvest is completed (and any rain between now and then has dried off) and lighly break and smooth the ground ahead of the planter.

By the way, the cows are still hanging in there pretty good. We'll probably dry off about a half-dozen this week but should still stay above 200 in milk for a little while longer.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Same song, different verse

We're having mechanical difficulties again, this time on the tractor that's pulling our forage harvester. All signs seem to point towards injector pump problems, so hopefully we can get it taken off properly and take it to the diesel repair place.

The good news of it is that we didn't have but maybe 8 acres left of cut forage in the field we're in. The baler has been hooked up and is running as I type. I came in for an early lunch to let them get a few bales made before I head to the field with the bale wrapper.

On the bright side, it's gonna be a great afternoon to be on an open-station tractor.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Still in the Field

Our spring forage harvest will continue today under blue skies and bright sunshine. We'll start cutting the ryegrass/tritcale mix in one of our fields in about an hour. The silage chopper is nearly repaired, so we're hoping that it's back up and running after lunch and can operate all afternoon without further problems. Otherwise, we'll use our hay baler and bale wrapper tomorrow to harvest the cut forage as baleage.

I don't know where I'll be today...on the tractor, in the shop, or in the barn (this afternoon). I'll try to "tweet" a few times if my hands are free and I have a spare minute now and then. You can follow gilmerdairy if you use Twitter, otherwise just look to the right-hand column of this page.

Have a great day and make sure you enjoy three healthy, delicious servings of dairy products today!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, the day we turn our attention and social consciousness toward the many issues that face our planet. Students will take a few moments to pick up litter scattered around their school grounds, adults will make short-lived pledges to themselves to live more eco-friendly, and buzzwords like "green", "carbon footprint", "climate change", and "sustainability" will be thrown out by every pundit with a platform from which to preach. And while designating April 22nd as Earth Day may be necessary to bring about a heightened public awareness to our home planet's health, there's at least one group that celebrates the spirit of Earth Day every day...America's farming families.

Agriculture has been and always will be linked directly to our environment. Those of us who raise our nation's food and fiber continually refine our farming methods to grow our crops and livestock more efficiently. This commitment results in the increased conservation of soil, water, and fossil fuels, thereby preserving our precious natural resources for years to come. We have a responsibility to balance the nutritional needs of a growing global population with the needs of our sensitive environment, and we are able to do both without sacrificing one for the other. We continue to protect and improve the quality of our soil, water, and air, develop agri-based alternative energy solutions, and find more ways to productively process our livestock and crop residues. These issues aren't just important to our financial bottom line, beacuse the bottom line is that environmental stewardship is critically important to the health and well-being of both our own families and the public we serve.

So as you celebrate Earth Day and do your part to "save the planet", take time to thank conservationalists, environmentalists, and sustainability experts for all the contributions they are making to keep the Earth healthy and viable for generations to come. And remember...you can thank all three by thanking a farmer!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another full day on the dairy farm

The morning has already gotten off to a pretty good start. Our monthly DHIA test was this morning, so our cows each had their milk production measured and sampled for quality. We'll clean and remove the milk meters first thing after breakfast and move the herd from their feeding area into a grazing paddock. Then it'll be off to the field!

I cut forage most of the day yesterday and will probably do so at least all morning. I finished cutting the rye early yesterday afternoon and moved into a ryegrass/tritcale mix. The new crop isn''t nearly as tall but is very thick and leafy, so it'll probably match the rye on tonnage and beat it on quality.

We should have all our employees here today, so we'll be able to continue harvesting while a couple of people get the cows milked. I'll probably be in the parlor this afternoon if I can cover alot of ground this morning. If that's the case, I'll rejoin the harvest effort sometime around 4:00pm and run for another 2-3 hours.