Friday, November 22, 2013

The Last 3 Weeks in Farm Pictures

A lot has happened around the farm the last three weeks, and I feel duty-bound to get you folks caught up to speed. Instead of a long written narrative, though, I'll let a few photos tell most of the story.

We have had A LOT of cows and heifers calve during November. A majority of their calves have been bulls, but that'll get turned around sooner or later.

Thanks to all the "fresh" cows, our milking herd has climbed up to 207 cows. This is the first time we've eclipsed the 200 mark in well over a year.

The switch back to Standard Time means we have the opportunity to see the first light of morning and sunrise every day before we finish the morning milking.

A larger milking herd (and those cows increasing their production) means that we're spending more time in the barn every day. My wife and kids have had to leave for school some mornings before I could get home for breakfast. But on the plus side, more cows = more milk = FULL MILK TANK!!!

Aside from the cows, I've planted quite a bit of wheat and ryegrass for them to graze next Spring...

...I've slung a little "Water 'n Poo" to help fertilize pastures...

...engaged in some Twitter nonsense...

...and we've generally been finishing both the field and milking chores just before sundown.

Though it's cold and lonely in the deep, dark night...I can see to plant my wheat by the GPS light.
(though I did run a little late planting wheat one night)

Despite the long, busy days on the farm, our family has still been able to find our way to Dear Old State for a couple of ballgames.

And the sun comes up again each morning, bringing with it new challenges, new opportunities, and a renewed sense of appreciation for the wonderful life I've been blessed with.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Real-time updates from the milking barn

Thanks to modern technology, I have the ability to share real-time updates about what is happening on my farm to a virtually unlimited audience. My favorite "on-the-go" social network is Twitter, and today I decided to tweet out how many cows we had milked throughout the course of this afternoon. It didn't take long before I started growing bored with it, so I decided I would try to share the information in a more creative manner.

Y'all have a "dairy" good weekend!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: DONE

Our 2013 fall silage harvest is officially complete! We chopped roughly 1970 tons of corn and sorghum silage over 66 calendar days, filling all three of our pits to capacity in the process. It was the best yield we've had in years, and it's good cow food according to the first forage test results we've received. It wasn't all easy, of course, and if you're a regular reader you know we've had mechanical, weather, and "we need to do extra herd work today" delays throughout. But it's done now...chopped, hauled, packed, covered, sealed, and ensiling. All that's really left to do is clean the silage chopper, take the side frames off of the dump truck, and watch our cows convert the silage into wholesome milk.

We'll celebrate this accomplishment by having a full work schedule through the end of the week, tend to our regular milking/feeding chores over the weekend, and then start drilling next Spring's wheat and ryegrass crops into the ground come next week.

we are now feeding our cows corn silage from the first pit we filled.

Friday, October 18, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Weeks 7 & 8 Recap

We weren't able to get but five days of harvesting in the last couple of weeks, but we made pretty good progress the days we were in the field. We finished chopping all of the forage sorghum across the road from our dairy, with the final estimated yield on the BMR 108 Leafy variety working out to 14 tons per acre (72% moisture). And though we got stuck a few times, we did get most of the sorghum in our bottomland chopped. It didn't yield out as well, which is a result of simply too much moisture the first 6 weeks after planting. 

We still have 18 acres of sorghum growing on hill ground to harvest, and we'll plan on knocking it out on Monday and Tuesday. We'll go back to the creek bottom after that to chop what we can of the roughly 10 acres worth of sorghum (spread over 59 acres) that remains. By the end of harvest, we will be going into the winter with the most silage we've had in years...actually more than last summer's and this spring's crop combined.

I will certainly be ready to celebrate the end of the long harvest season once we do finish, but that celebration won't last very long as we'll immediately start planting our spring grazing and silage crops. No rest for the weary, I guess, but such is life on a dairy farm!

Chopping sorghum in the Yellow Creek Bottom.

Looking out across a bottomland field.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Excuse me, are those Dalmatian cows?

Growing up, I always looked forward to showing my family’s dairy cows during the “fair season” that ran from late summer through mid-autumn. Blue ribbons, clipping and grooming, friendships made in the barn that turned into rivalries once inside the show ring…all happy memories. The most vivid of these memories has has nothing to do with ribbons or showmanship, though, but is of a question I was asked at the 1990 West Alabama Fair in Tuscaloosa.

The Holstein breed show had ended, and my heifers were bedded down on some straw in the barn adjacent to the show ring. The barn was open to the public, and a steady stream of "city folk" filed past my heifers and I. Wide-eyed kids my age who apparently had never seen a cow before would ask to pet my heifers, while many of their parents looked as if it was their first close encounter of the bovine kind as well. As I sat on a hay bale between two of my heifers thinking how envious those city kids must be, a tall, thin, dark-haired gentleman wearing glasses approached and asked me the one question I’ll never forget...

“Excuse me, are those Dalmatian cows?”

Now I’ll admit, as an 11 year old kid I was really annoyed by this question. After all, how could a grown man NOT know that Dalmatians are dogs and that these were Holstein heifers? For a split-second I thought of giving a smarty-pants answer like, “Yeah, they love riding on fire trucks!,” but instead simply and dryly replied that they were actually Holsteins. My father and a few other dairymen within earshot responded differently. One immediately spit out a mouthful of boiled peanuts in a fit of laughter, while the others managed to at least muffle their laughter until the man had passed by.

my sister & I with a couple of "Dalmatian cows" (1991)
Looking back, I guess that was the moment that I realized not everyone knew about agriculture. It took me a few years to grasp the significance of that fact, and as an adult I have learned not to be surprised by some of the questions I’m asked. After all, most Americans have not had much (if any) direct experience with agriculture, and fewer and fewer students receive the benefit of agri-science classes in their schools. The responsibility falls upon those of us involved with agriculture to inform the rest of the public about our industry, and it is a responsibility we all need to take seriously and embrace.

So to all of you non-farmers that might read this blog post, please don’t shy away from asking your questions. We "aggies" are are eager for the opportunity to share our knowledge with you…just please forgive us if we occasionally crack a smile or chuckle at some of your questions.

Especially if you’re asking about Dalmatian cows.

Friday, October 4, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 6 Recap

Another week of silage harvest is in the books, and a few more tons are in the pit. Wet, soft ground early in the week and equipment trouble on Wednesday limited us to only 12 hours of actual chopping time, but we were fairly efficient when we were running.

Whoops! #nobueno
I guess the big news of the week happened Wednesday afternoon. With 3/4 of a load on my silage wagon, I attempted to pull my equipment downhill across a field terrace in order to start chopping a new pair of rows. I've executed this maneuver many times without incident, but not this time. I tried crossing the steep terrace at too flat of an angle with an unbalanced load in my wagon, and THUD!...the wagon and its 3.5 ton load tipped over and fell to the ground. It survived the fall relatively well, though, and we were back up and running Thursday morning.

About the only other news worthy of reporting is to mention that we did pull out of our hill ground on Friday morning to harvest some of the sorghum in our creek bottom fields. With the ground down there still a little soft from Monday's rain and more rain expected for this Sunday, we decided it would be worth our time to move even if we could only get a handful of acres. I harvested most of a 5.5 acre field (only got stuck twice), and then sent three loads out of another before we shut down for the day. I'll chop another couple of loads Saturday morning to use in our cows' feed ration this weekend, and then we'll probably pull the equipment back out Monday. The chopper has a few bearings and sprockets that need to be replaced, and we can probably knock out all of the remaining sorghum in our "hill ground" while waiting for the bottomland to dry more.

We still have a long way to go before we finish the harvest, but we're getting closer all the time.

The wagon has a side that's bowed out and is now topless,
but she can still get the job done after her fall.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Be Safe...because it only takes once

I pulled my son's air rifle out this past Saturday so he could get in session of backyard target practice. It had been a while since he had shot it, so I went through the whole safety spiel with him before letting him handle the gun. "Be safe," I said, "because it only takes once. One mistake, one careless moment, one shortcut with a gun could hurt or kill you or someone else."

The same goes for farm equipment, and I should have taken my own advice earlier today.

Though I generally use common sense and follow safety guidelines around the farm, I'm willing to admit that I've cut a corner now and then if doing the safe thing was really inconvenient. Like this morning, for instance. One of our tractors needed to go to the dealership's shop for repairs, and the hauler asked me to remove the GPS antenna off the roof before he left our farm. I should have gone looking for a ladder, but that would have taken too long. So I climbed up on the trailer, shimmied up the tractor's cab steps, grabbed the top of the roof, stepped onto the top of the rear tire, and swung around to the back where I could detach the unit while standing on the three-point hitch's lift arms. Mission accomplished, no problemo. Now I just had to get down.

a swollen foot was the extent of my injuries...luckily
I started my descent by retracing my steps, but my route changed halfway through. The most awkward part of the process was getting from the tractor tire to the platform in front of the cab door. I got one foot there but lost my balance trying to get the other one over. Very luckily for me, I had enough time to realize what was happening and knew the best thing to do was push off and jump away. I landed hard but on my feet with nothing worse than a bruised foot from the 8-9 foot fall to show for it. It could have been much worse, as I likely would have fallen over backwards if I hadn't been able to push myself away from the tractor and trailer. Of course, it wouldn't have happened at all if I had taken two minutes to fetch a ladder.

As I sat in the car on the way home from my son's soccer game tonight, all four of us singing along to "Louisiana Saturday Night" and having a grand time while my left foot throbbed, I decided life's too precious not to take a little extra time to be safe. As I said earlier, it only takes once. Hopefully once was enough to learn my lesson, because I might not be so lucky if there is a "next time".

Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 5 Recap

Last week's harvest yielded several tons of sorghum silage per acre, but there's not a whole lot else worth mentioning (maybe that's a good thing). We got a good day in Monday, skipped Tuesday, had another full day of harvesting on Wednesday, and then finished filling our second pit up on Thursday afternoon. We covered and sealed that pit Friday morning, and since then we've only chopped enough sorghum to feed our cows each day.

Ten more "full" days of chopping should see us finish our harvest, but those ten days could easily be spread over three weeks. We had intended on moving into our bottomland this morning, but over an inch of rain quickly washed that thought way. Most likely we'll chop next to the dairy for the next two days and move to the creek bottom on Thursday...IF it doesn't rain anymore.

chopping sorghum on a cloudy morning

Saturday, September 21, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 4 Recap

Our silage harvest continued on this week, chopping two rows of sorghum at a time at the slow but steady pace of two acres an hour. By the end of the week, three more fields had been harvested and our cows have roughly 180 more tons of feed ready to ensile. Most of our BMR-90 sorghum variety is now "in the pit", with just over an acre's worth left still standing in a field where we planted one row of that variety along with three of BMR-108 Leafy. The yield per acre wasn't quite as good this week, mostly attributable to drier conditions at planting. Dry weather and another week of maturity also impacted plant moisture at harvest, dropping the sorghum from 68-70% moisture down to 62-65%.

Even though we had a good run this week, we weren't immune from breakdowns and maintenance downtime. Our silage wagon needed a couple hours of welding done to it Tuesday morning to patch up cracks in its frame and bed, and a snapped driveline on the chopper cost a half a day's worth of chopping. We also had to start using a different tractor to pull and power the chopper on Friday as our JD7810 needs a new internal bearing around its PTO stub. We hope to have that tractor fixed and back in the field by the end of next week.

Here are a couple of photos from this week's action:

looking back at the dairy over a field of BMR-90 forage sorghum

chopping the first few rows of our BMR-108 Leafy forage sorghum

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Bad, BAD Bull Run

We are in the midst of a bull run. A bad, bad bull run. I am talking about a bull run of epic proportions.

#113 with her newborn bull calf
To clarify, a "bull run" is what we in the dairy business call a string or streak of bull calves being born as opposed to heifer calves. This is not a great situation for farms like ours that depend on homegrown heifers to be the future of our milking herds. It's not a big deal in the short term because you generally expect that your bull-to-heifer ratio will even out over time, but a run like we're on can be a little unsettling.

So how bad is our bull run? We've had 35 calves born over the last 37 days. Only five of those have been heifers, three of which are Holstein/Angus crosses that will be sold for beef. We've had bull runs before, but nothing like this. Luckily we have built a good local demand for our bull calves, but I'm ready to see our own calf barn start filling up again.

All bad bull runs come to an end, of course, and the law of probability says that we should have quite a few heifer calves born from the group of 25 cows currently in the maternity pasture. Here's hoping we go on a "heifer run" and get back to normal sooner than later!

UPDATE: A cow gave birth to a heifer calf late this morning...I guess I should have blogged about our bull run sooner!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 3 Recap

Much like last week, our silage chopper was in the farm shop more than the field during the first part of the week. We anticipated being down for a day to replace a set of bearings, but we found other parts that needed replacing as well. It was Wednesday morning before we finally had the new parts in and the chopper all put back together. Since then we've chopped 18 of our 50 acres of BMR-90 forage sorghum, which is yielding an estimated 7-8 tons per acre. Barring any more major maintenance issues [knocking on every piece of wood I can find] we should finish chopping this particular variety next week. We will then move on to our final silage crop of the year: 100 acres BMR-108 Leafy forage sorghum.

Here are a few photos from this week's harvest:

a half-harvested sorghum field

our BMR-90 forage sorghum is averaging 7-8 tons/acre

the BMR-108 Leafy variety is about a food shorter than the 90 but much more, well, leafy

Friday, September 13, 2013

I'll have a burrito with extra salsa, hold the bull****

I had every intention of taking a nap during my lunch break today, but I made the unfortunate error of clicking a link to Chipotle's new video promoting their "Scarecrow" game.


Once again, a restaurant chain is vilifying and grossly misrepresenting the way that most farmers raise food. I guess they have to manufacture enough contrast to make what they sell appear to be the far superior (both nutritionally and ethically) food that it really isn't. But I have to hand it to them, it's a good marketing strategy that really strikes an emotional chord. If I didn't know anything about agriculture and was willing to take their word for it, I'd probably buy in to their message.

Milking time at Gilmer Dairy Farm
I could probably spend two hours angrily pounding out a thorough rebuttal, but I have dairy cows to tend to and a crop to harvest this afternoon. While I'm doing that, I would encourage you to look around this blog, my farm's website, and our YouTube channel. You can follow me on Twitter, too! Then check out a few of the many, many other farmers who are sharing their stories over the internet and social media. Once you do, I think you'll see that modern agriculture and the way we go about the business of producing food looks nothing like the horror story Chipotle and others (I'm looking at you, Panera Bread) is trying to scare you with.

In closing, I have heard that Chipotle serves some really tasty Mexican food. I might give them a try someday and order a burrito with extra salsa...but only if they'll hold the bull****.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

2013 Silage Harvest: Week 2 Recap

Downtime for repairs/maintenance and a few herd-related issues limited our harvesting time this week, but I did manage to finish chopping all of our corn by the end of it. The yields weren't quite as good this week, but we still averaged a very-good-by-our-standards 11 tons of corn silage per acre on our terraced fields. The smaller of our two main silage bunkers is nearly full, needing only a few loads of sorghum to "cap it off". Speaking of sorghum, I chopped about two acres of our short-season BMR following the last of the corn. It's too soon to get a handle on how it will yield out, but we should have a pretty good idea by the middle of the coming week.

view from the front window of my "mobile office" during silage harvest

Friday, September 6, 2013

Enjoying the sunrise

One of the many perks of living and working on a farm is the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and serenity of God's Creation. And in my mind, the transition from a sky full of stars when we begin our milking shift at 3am to the sunrise when we break for breakfast three to four hours later is simply amazing. Here are three photos I snapped this morning at approximately 5:45, 6:10, and 6:30.

photo taken from outside the milking barn before I fed the cows @ approx 5:45am

photo taken from our milking herd's pasture @ approx 6:10am

photo taken from my back yard after we finished milking cows @ approx 6:30am

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A laborious Labor Day

There's an old saying that farmers celebrate Labor Day by laboring. And like every Labor Day I can remember since finishing college, that is exactly what we did yesterday.

113 needed help delivering her first calf
It started off like any other Monday morning. Dad and I had the cows in the barn and milking by 3:30am, and our farmhands came in at 7:00 to clean the barn and feed all the heifers while we were on our breakfast break. Our plans from that point on were to spend a couple of hours doing maintenance work on our silage chopper before sending it out to harvest any more corn, but those plans got put on hold thanks to heifers having calving difficulties.

While feeding the cows and heifers in our maternity pasture, we found one heifer that had calved overnight, another in labor and having difficulty, and a third that just didn't "look right". We successfully helped the second heifer deliver a healthy bull calf, but we weren't as fortunate with the third. The calf she was carrying had already died, making for a slow, difficult delivery process. The heifer made it through the delivery with flying colors though, and we had three "first timers" going through the milking barn yesterday afternoon.

The rest of the morning was spent doing maintenance work on some of our milking equipment and our silage chopper. The original thought of spending two hours on the chopper was only about half what we needed, and it was not ready for the field until the afternoon milking was nearly completed. In the end, I only chopped enough to feed to our cows last night and this morning, and we called it "quits" for the day a few minutes after 4:00pm. Yesterday was a holiday after need to work too late!

Friday, August 30, 2013

2013 silage harvest: week 1 recap

The first week of our summer/fall silage harvest will be coming to an end later this afternoon, and so far I am very happy with our yields. We're averaging 14 tons of chopped corn per acre on the first 22 acres harvested, which is about as good as it can get for the ground we planted it on. And not only are we chopping lots of "cow food", it looks like the feed quality is also going to be pretty good. It will be interesting to see if we can maintain these yields as we finish our corn crop, which we should be able to do next week barring weather delays or major equipment issues. After we finish the corn, we'll move into the sorghum crop.

chopping corn for silage

a mild and moist summer led to 15ton/acre yields in this field

While we've had a few minor, inevitable equipment issues, preventative maintenance has keep the chopper in the field and out of the farm shop.

a load of corn silage being dumped into the bunker

Friday, August 23, 2013

Shifting gears (and forages)

putting the silage chopper back together
Our attempt to bale hay this week as pretty much been a disaster. We were able to get nearly 100 bales off of half of our cut acreage, but it is going to be some really low quality stuff. After yesterday afternoon's brief shower (the fifth straight day of rain), we decided to let the remaining hay sit until next week. Some we will bale and then use as "erosion control". The rest we'll allow to rot down and essentially re-fertilize the fields.

All is not as gloomy as the clouds we've been seeing over and over, though.  The wet weather that has plagued our hay harvest this week has been very beneficial to our silage crops. We have replaced a few parts on our silage chopper and hope to have it back together by sometime tomorrow. Our plan is to chop just enough this weekend to feed "green chop" to the cows before we go into full-scale silage harvest mode next week. We will start with our corn and then move into our BMR sorghum varieties.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Wet hay say, "Bale another day."

I've always heard that the ideal time to cut burmudagrass hay is 30-35 days after the previous cutting. Well, that's exactly what we did with 52 acres of the stuff last Thursday and Friday. At the time, the weather forecast showed a fair chance of rain on Saturday, and then nothing greater than 20% before the chances rose to 50%+ during the second half of this week. Our thought was that it would have enough time to dry even if it did get a little wet Saturday, and we should have it all baled and hauled out of the fields by the end of Wednesday.

It stayed cloudy but never rained on Saturday. Meanwhile, the greater rain chances shifted to the first of the week.

We got 0.1" of precipitation during an afternoon-long mist/drizzle on Sunday. The not-fully-dried-out hay was now wet.

We never saw the sun on Monday, but we did see a couple of short downpours. Needless to say we never made it into the hayfield.

By midday today we were finally getting enough sunshine to start giving it a try. I spent 3.5 hours "fluffing" some of the hay with the tedder to speed up the drying process, and by 4pm the first 10 acres was dry enough to bale.  As luck would have it, though, a stray rain shower found its way into the field just as the hay rake and baler were doing the same. Once again, hay baling must be postponed another day.

I guess there are two things that we can learn from the events of the past few days. First of all, never place too much faith in a weather forecast beyond three days. And secondly, a farmer can ALWAYS find an opportunity to complain about the weather, even in the midst of one of the best summers weather-wise in recent memory.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Summer Break is over

For the first time since late May, my wife and kids were up and ready to go before I made it back home from the morning milking. Yes, today is first day of the new school year.  Summer break is over, and, coincidentally (or not), so is my hiatus from this blog.

another cloudy, damp August morning
The story over the last 10-12 weeks has definitely been the weather. Other than a dry stretch during the second half of June, we've had more than adequate amounts of rainfall and the summer heat hasn't been nearly oppressive as normal. In fact, I dare say we've had a few days of very "comfortable" weather this summer. Though late getting it planted, our silage crops look to have taken advantage of the extra water, and our first cutting of bermudagrass hay was outstanding. The second cutting is currently on the ground, but yesterday's drizzle and this morning's clouds will likely either delay or postpone the baler going into the field.

Well, it's 7:30 and time to get back to work. You can follow me on Twitter (@gilmerdairy) for a "play-by-play" of the work day, and I'll occasionally post a photo or short farm video there, too. So until next time, y'all have a "dairy' good day!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cows, Antibiotics, and You

Raise your hand if you want to serve your family milk and dairy foods that contain antibiotic residues.

Yeah, I didn't raise my hand either.

The subject of on-farm antibiotic use has been coming up a lot in conversations lately. People want to know how it affects food quality and safety, as well as the possible long-term resistance issues that could be associated with their use. As a farmer and food provider, I have a responsibility to both my cows and my customers. The judicious use of antibiotics helps keep my cows healthy, and our quality-control procedures ensure that all of the milk that leaves our farm is safe, wholesome, and residue-free.

I recently wrote a blog post for the Food Dialogues website explaining the steps we take on our farm to strike the balance between herd health and food safety. As you read through it, I hope it clears up some questions you might have about our farm practices and the dairy products you buy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2013 Milk Mustache Contest

It's that time of year again...time for our annual Milk Mustache Contest! Last year we received more milk mustache photos than ever before, and we hope you will send in even more this year. To enter, take a photo of you or your child proudly and prominently displaying a milk mustache and either post it to our Facebook page or email it to " gilmerdairy [at] gmail [dot] com ". Be sure you include the first name, age, and home state of the person in the photo!

All entries must be received by Saturday, June 8. Filtered photographs such as Instagram will be accepted, but please do not add special effects or text to the picture. Originality, "cuteness", and milk mustache visibility will be considered during the selection of finalists. We will announce the finalists on June 10 and allow our Facebook fans to vote for their favorite milk mustache photo. Depending on the number of entries, we may also include a semifinal round of voting to select two finalists. The winner will receive a prize and be highlighted as part of our celebration of June Dairy Month.

In years past, we've had winners all the way from North Dakota to south Mississippi. This year, it might just be you...but only if you enter! So grab your camera and a glass of milk, say "CHEESE!!!", and help us celebrate June Dairy Month by entering our annual Milk Mustache Contest!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day, y'all!

People from all over the place are celebrating Earth Day today, which I tend to refer to as "Monday".  In fact, I know today is Earth Day only because it was printed on a calendar I have hanging in the milking barn. When you practice what Earth Day preaches on a daily basis, I guess you can forget that there is a specific day set aside to celebrate and embrace "being green".

Taking good care of our land and natural resources is very important to us. We utilize farming practices that minimize erosion and preserve topsoil, maximize the nutrient potential of our cows' manure to fertilize their feed crops, and maintain high air and water quality. And these practices aren't just good for business, they ensure that our farm's environment is well-suited to raising healthy cows and...more importantly...healthy families.

So Happy Earth Day today, tomorrow, and every other day of the year! I'll leave you with a couple of photos and a video of our milking herd strip-grazing, a practice we use to take care of both our land and our cows.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday morning farm photos

Here's a photographic recap of some of this morning's farm activity:

One of the first jobs after breakfast was to drive a group of seven "dry cows" up the road to a new pasture. We want to keep them a little bit closer as they begin to approach their calving dates.


We also moved our milking herd past the barn, down the road, and into a fresh grazing pasture this morning.

By the second half of the morning, we turned our attention to our disk. We now have a full (and long overdue) new set of blades on it.

The low, gray clouds finally cleared off shortly before lunchtime, so it looks like we'll get to enjoy a pretty Spring afternoon for a change.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Registered Holstein

Here's a little photo of Spike & Pet I put on our Facebook page this morning. I hope you get a chuckle!

Friday, March 8, 2013

GDF Vocowbulary: "Teat Dip"

Teat dip is an essential tool we use on every cow every time they come into the milking barn. So what is it (note- for what it is NOT, search my 3/8/13 twitter timeline for #teatdip)?  Teat dip is bacteria-fighting substance applied to a cow before and after milking. There are several different brands and formulations, but most that I am aware of use low levels of iodine as the active ingredient. Using teat dip helps to prevent mammary infections, thereby promoting good udder health and high-quality milk.

applying teat dip to a cow after she has been milked
As you'll see in the video below, "pre-dip" is applied and wiped off before a cow is milked. The pre-dip kills bacteria on the outside of the cow's teat. If left unchecked, that bacteria could work its way up into the teat during the milking process and cause an infection. An infection could then lead to lower milk quality, a decrease in milk production, health issues for the cow, and the potential need to combat the infection with antibiotics (at which point the milk would be "dumped" for several days). When the cow is finished milking, we apply a "post-dip". The post-dip accomplishes two things: 1) it fights-off bacteria until the cow's teat-end orifices can seal themselves off, and 2) it contains skin conditioners that help keep the cow's teats soft and supple.

I hope you enjoy this edition of GDF Vocowbulary, and maybe you will learn a little something about teat dip!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A MooTube Minute recapping February on the farm

Hey, folks! I'd like to apologize for the lack of blog activity over the last couple of weeks, and hopefully this MooTube Minute will catch you up to speed on what's been happening on our dairy farm lately.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Our crazy schedule

If you're up and at 'em and scrolling through your Twitter timeline anywhere between 3-6am, there's a chance you've seen me shooting off updates such as "60 cows milked, 140 more to go" or "only 30 more cows standing between me and breakfast." I'm not sure if tweets like that have prompted it, but I have received lots of questions over the past few days asking why we milk the time of day we do.

Before I answer the questions of "why", let me first explain how our normal milking schedule shapes up. My dad and I handle the morning milking chores. The barn lights come on a few minutes after 3am, and by 3:45 the first cows are being milked. It usually takes us about three hours to milk 200 cows and wash the milking machines in the mornings, so lately we've been heading home for breakfast a few minutes before 7am. We start the afternoon milking around 1:30pm, and we're usually finished by 4:00.  

Most dairies schedule their milking shifts on even intervals...12 hours apart if milking twice a day, 8 hours apart if milking three times. We do it a little differently, though. Starting early in the afternoon means we're finished early enough to participate in whatever evening activities might be happening in our community. We extend our morning start-time beyond 12 hours from the previous afternoon because we'd each rather have five hours of continuous sleep than a couple of 2-3 hour naps on either side of the shift.

Not adhering to a normal milking schedule might cost us a little bit of milk production, but the "quality of life" we gain is worth it. We get more substantial rest at night, and we have more freedom in the evening. Thanks to our crazy schedule, my dad had the time to coach my youth baseball team when I was a kid, I have the time to help coach my son's team now, and we both have the time to attend meetings in town or basketball games over at Mississippi State. And trust me...our employees have NEVER complained about being finished by 4pm!