Friday, September 5, 2014

Farm Photo Friday (9/5/14)

There's an old joke shared by dairy farmers (and I presume a few other folks) that we celebrate Labor Day by laboring. That was true for us once again on the farm, and was also the case for a couple of our pregnant cows. Cow no.086 went into labor Monday afternoon and easily birthed a heifer calf. Cow no.038 didn't have it quite so easy.

my father helping cow no.038 deliver her calf
My father made a final check on the cows in our maternity pasture when we finished milking Monday afternoon. He noticed that no.038 appeared to be having labor pains, but with no visible sign of a calf being born. We herded her to the working pen so we could help her have her calf, and dad discovered that it had a leg turned backward at the knee which was preventing it from being delivered. After "going in her" and straightening the calf's leg, he attached the OB chains to it's front ankles and begin to pull. It wasn't a very big calf, and it pulled rather easily. Unfortunately though, it had already died prior to our intervention.

That's the way it goes on the farm sometimes. Our cows rarely have calving problems, and even when they do the calf is usually delivered alive and healthy. This was just one of those times that it didn't work out...a bad way to end a holiday.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dairy Good Questions (9/4/14)

This week's edition of "Dairy Good Questions" is going to be a quick one..

DGQ 1) What is a mineral tub for?

Answer: Mineral tubs are used to provide supplemental vitamins and minerals to cows that are out on pasture and rely on grazing or hay as their primary diet. These tubs contain trace minerals such as selenium, zinc, and cobalt, and are available in several different formulations depending on the animals' nutritional needs. The tubs we provide for our heifers and dry cows come with the minerals and vitamins suspended in a molasses-based liquid that is poured into a plastic tub and hardens into a block. Cows will spend a few minutes a day licking the mineral tub, seeming to instinctively know both when they need it and when they've had enough.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to send your questions to me any time!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Farm Photo Friday (8/29/14)

Happy Friday, y'all! I have two farm photos to share and discuss with you today.

WARNING: cows in mirror are closer than they appear
Most of Tuesday morning was spent "working" dry cows and pregnant heifers. We walked the group from their pasture to the milking barn, sorted them into three smaller groups based upon their expected calving date, and then walked each group back to their respective pastures. When we are dealing with lots of animals (around 60 in this case) in close-by pastures, walking them down County Road 36 is much quicker than setting up a catch pen and hauling 6-8 at a time.  So if you're ever driving by our place and see us moving them on down the road, just remember that the cows in your mirror are closer than they appear.

The second "photo" is a video I shot while dumping a load of corn silage over into our truck. That process happened 113 times over the past ten days, and I'm glad to say that our first round of silage harvest is now complete. We will spend the first part of next week making some repairs and adjustments to the harvesting equipment, and I expect to be back in the field the week after that. I expect to repeat this scene at least another 85-90 times with the corn that remains, and then well over 100 once we start chopping sorghum a month from now.

Y'all have a "dairy" good weekend!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Five Year Anniversary on Throwback Thursday

I uploaded my first farm videos to YouTube five years ago this week. I filmed and uploaded them from my very first "smartphone", a Nokia e71x, while harvesting hay. And while the video quality has definitely improved over the years, my goofiness and singing voice are still around the same level of awfulness as they always have been. 

So on this Throwback Thursday, I present my first YouTube videos. Try to enjoy!

Dairy Good Questions (8/28/14)

Welcome to this week's installment of "Dairy Good Questions". I've had several good questions come in over the past several days, and I would like to focus on two of those today. I had intended to answer three, but a breakdown on my silage chopper is costing me half of my lunch break. So with that in mind, let's get started...

DGQ #1) Have you ever drank raw milk?

a refrigerated bulk tank full of raw milk
Answer: I have, but not many times. There have been occasions in the past when I have collected a couple of quarts from our milk tank to either drink or make ice cream/milkshakes with. If I was to do that now, however, I would pasteurize it first. That would allow to me to keep the extra butterfat while removing potential harmful bacteria in the milk. Truth be told, though, it's a lot easier to buy milk at the store and add some half-and-half if I want to thicken it up.

The safety of raw milk is one of the great debates within the dairy industry, as well as the argument over whether or not consumers should be able to purchase it if they so choose. I have felt relatively comfortable drinking raw milk from my farm because I spend so much time around my cows and are exposed to the same "bugs" that they are. But while I would figure our raw milk would be 99.99% safe for someone else to drink, the consequences of that 0.01% just don't make it worth it. Proper pasteurization provides a food safety aspect that far outweighs any perceived flavor or nutritional benefit gained from drinking raw milk.

DGQ #2) Do your milking devices self-disconnect when cows are finished milking?

Answer: Yes, our milking machines have automatic take-offs which turn off and disconnect the units when a cow finishes milking. In our system, each cow's milk passes through a chamber that contains a pendulum. As milk hits the pendulum, air in another small timing chamber is released. As the milk flow slows to the point it no longer moves the pendulum, the pressure in the timing chamber begins to increase. Once that pressure climbs to a certain level, it triggers a series of valves that first shut off that milking unit's suction and then pulls the unit off and away from the cow's udder.

Until next time, thanks for reading and have a "dairy" good day!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Farm Photo Friday, 8/22/14

Happy Friday, y'all! I would like to talk a little bit about three photos I posted over the last few days on this week's edition of Farm Photo Friday.

If you were keeping up with me on Twitter or Instagram this past Sunday night, you know I had a long evening. Armyworms had once again invaded our hay fields and required extermination as soon as the afternoon milking was finished. I was expecting to spend several hours in the tractor cab, so I ran home to change clothes and grab a couple of sandwiches my wife had packed for me. Later in the evening and well after sundown, my wife pulled into the hay field I was spraying and hand-delivered this cup of her homemade Milky Way ice cream. She had made it for the ice cream social that was to be held at church that evening, and wanted to make sure I got some. So the purpose of this photo is to mention the fact we had more armyworm problems, but more so to recognize my wife as being totally awesome!

We have finally started seeing a lot of activity in our maternity pasture. I think we have had ten calves born this week, and that is just the tip of the iceberg of what's to come over the next couple of months. Despite all the fresh cows rejoining the milking herd, we are also drying off other cows at about the same rate. Our calvings vs dry offs should stay roughly equal for another couple of weeks, and then in September we will start to see our milking herd have a sustained increase.

We started harvesting our corn this week, and hope to have 25 acres chopped and packed into the silage pit by the end of the day. You can see in this picture that the bottom half of the corn is starting to brown, both a sign of its maturity and the result of hot, dry weather. Most of our fields are sloped and terraced, and we have a good number of "short rows" to contend with (look just right of the tractor). We've avoided any major breakdowns up to this point, but we have a long, long way to go before this harvest season is over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dairy Good Questions (8/19/14)

Welcome to the debut edition of "Dairy Good Questions", a new midweek feature in which I answer 2-3 questions people have asked about my farm or the dairy industry. Let's get right to it:

DGQ #1) "Will, do you have a favorite cow?" (via Whit Macknally)

Answer:  As a matter of fact, I do: Gilmer Dairy Farm cow number 859. She's big and tall, she's a good milker, she's as laid-back as a cow can be without being overly stubborn, and she never gives the first bit of trouble in the barn. She might not have strong idiosyncrasies like Ol' Number Seven had, but she does have her own spots where she prefers to stand in the barn and isn't shy about moving other cows out of "her" space. And unless she's on her way to eat, she always seems to appreciate a good head-rub. 

DGQ #2) "What's the milkfat/butterfat percentage of whole milk?" (via Josh Johnson)

Answer: Some of the milk in your local grocery store is identified specifically by the amount of butterfat it contains, such as 1% and 2% milk. Skim milk contains only traces of butterfat (< 0.5%) or none at all. Whole/Vitamin D milk, on the other hand, often doesn't give a clear indication of its butterfat percentage on the label. The federal minimum butterfat percentage standard for pasteurized whole milk is 3.25%, and most of it retails at or just slightly above this percentage. Exceptions include whole milk sold in California (3.5% minimum) and some brands of "cream line", or non-homogenized, milk. And while you might not find the actual butterfat percentage listed on a jug of whole milk, its nutrition label will include the grams of fat per serving along with information about protein, calcium, vitamins, etc. My advice is to drink whichever bf% milk you enjoy the most and adjust the rest of your diet accordingly, but do take time to compare labels and choose one that fits best within your overall nutritional plan. 

That's all for this week, but please let me know if you have a "dairy good question" you would like to have answered in the future. You can leave your questions via the comments section on this post, tweet them to me at @gilmerdairy, or post it to our Facebook page. Thanks for reading! 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Farm Photo Friday, 8/15/14

I would like to start doing a weekly feature on my blog entitled "Farm Photo Friday". I post several farm pictures a week to my Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts, and each Friday I plan on selecting one or two of them and provide more of the back-story/context than a simple caption will allow. Let's start this edition off with a sunrise...

I took this photo of the sun rising over the sorghum field east of my house on Wednesday morning after Dad and I had finished milking our cows. I've been taking quite a few sunrise photos lately, and this one has been one of the more popular ones across my SM channels. The sorghum in the foreground is only about knee-high and shouldn't be ready to harvest until October, so I'll probably get another shot or two from this location.

We spent mid-morning working through a big group of dry cows and pregnant heifers. Our goal was to sort out all the ones due to calve before Labor Day and move them to the maternity pasture. Instead of using corral panels, we deployed in a 2-1-2 formation with the cow dog acting as a rover. Dad and Jeff were up front sending the ones we didn't need while trying to keep the ones to move in front of them. I was in the middle keeping the "stay" group moving back while cutting off any "movers" that slipped by them, and JD & Doug were in the back as our last line of defense against cows that didn't want to go where we wanted them to go. After some running back-and-forth and perhaps a choice word or two, the nine cows and one heifer we needed were successfully sorted out from the rest of the herd.

Let me know if this Farm Photo Friday feature is something you find interesting, and by all means tell me if you see me post a photo elsewhere that you would like a little more information about. Thanks for reading, and y'all have a "dairy" good weekend!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

2014 Milk Mustache Contest Winner

Congratulations to Charlotte, our 2014 Milk Mustache Contest Winner! A strong last-day surge helped her clinch this year's title with 123 total votes. Charlotte will win a dairy-themed prize package and will be featured on the front page of our farm's website.

Charlotte is the GDFmmc14 contest winner.

There is also a story behind this milk mustache. Charlotte's mother added the following comment to her photo during the contest:
I know you may be thinking this is not a big ole milk mustache, but believe me, this girl can make one of those! This photo makes me choke back tears because it was taken at one of Charlotte's recent trips to the U of MN Children's Hospital... That day we had lunch at the hospital cafeteria and had to rush off to one of her appointments. After she chugged her milk, not wanting to waste a drop, she reminded me, "Don't you know how hard dairy farmers work, Mom!?"...Charlotte is always excited to go into classrooms and read books to other kids about dairy farming and do butter and ice cream making demonstrations. This photo is her salute to hard working dairy farm families.
We want to thank our other two finalists, Treyson and Rylee, for sharing their great milk mustaches with us, as well as all the other kids and parents that submitted a photo this year. And of course, we appreciate all of you who helped us celebrate June Dairy Month by "liking", sharing, and commenting on these photos. Next year will mark our contest's 10th anniversary, and we hope that it will be our biggest one yet. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 Milk Mustache Contest Finalists

vote for your favorite on Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter

Only three remain in our 2014 Milk Mustache Contest, and now it is time for you to select this year's champion. As in our opening round match-ups and semifinals, you can vote for your favorite milk mustache photo by clicking like/favorite on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (links are provided below). Voting will remain open through Friday, June 27, with the winner being declared on Saturday, 6/28.  Not only will the winner receive a prize package, but we will also randomly select and send a Gilmer Dairy Farm shirt to one of our Facebook page fans that shared the winning photo during the voting period.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2014 Milk Mustache Contest Semi-Finals

The field for our farm's annual Milk Mustache Contest is now down to five photos. A big thanks to all who voted on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in our five opening round match-ups last week! Charlotte received the most votes and has locked down a place in our Final Round that will run June 25-27. Who will join her? That's for you to decide! 

Our 2nd-5th place vote-getters are listed below and will square off in the semi-finals on Monday (6/23) and Tuesday (6/24). Links to photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will be listed for each semifinalist on the day of their match-up at 8am, and voting will remain open until 3am the following day. 

Semifinal #1, Monday, June 23:
Isaiah - 25 total votes
Treyson - 68 total votes (advances to finals)

Semifinal #2, Tuesday, June 24:
Rylee - 73 votes (advances to finals)
Shelby - 30 votes

Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Milk Mustache Contest - Opening round eliminations

The entry period for our annual Milk Mustache Contest is now closed, meaning it's time for you to pick our winner! Ten milk mustache photos have been selected for the "playoffs". We will feature two photos each day this week, and the photo receiving the most cumulative votes via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram will advance to next week's championship bracket.

We will seed our five finalists based on their vote totals, and continue in the same manner (votes will be reset each round). Next Monday will be #2 vs #5, with #3 vs #4 on Tuesday. The two advancing finalists will join the #1 seed for a three-way championship final. Voting for these three photos will begin on Wednesday and remain open through Friday. The photo receiving the most votes over that time period will be declared the Gilmer Dairy Farm 2014 Milk Mustache Contest winner on Saturday, June 28.

First Round results:
6/16: Charlotte (96), Cora (53). 
6/17: Treyson (60), Charlie (50)
6/18: Rylee (47), Frances Tate (29)
6/19: Isaiah (27), Sammee (20)
6/20: Shelby (27), Paige & Jenna (12)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

2014 Milk Mustache Contest

We are happy to announce that we are now accepting entries for our annual Milk Mustache Contest!

2014 marks the 9th consecutive year our Milk Mustache Contest has served as the highlight of our June Dairy Month celebrations. We are hoping for lots of entries this year, and we are giving you several ways to submit your photo:

  • post it directly onto our Facebook page
  • email it to gilmerdairy [at] gmail [dot] com
  • submit an entry via Instagram or Twitter by using the tag #GDFmmc14 (please also tag user @gilmerdairy)
Please include the first name of the person in your milk mustache photo. Submission implies permission for us to save and repost the image and subject's first name for promotional purposes. All entries must be received no later than June 14, 2014.

The winning photograph will be selected by popular vote in one of two ways, depending on the number of total entries received. If we have enough entries, we will create a bracket-style process that will give you several opportunities to vote for multiple photos. Otherwise we will select a group of semifinalists from which you can select your favorite. We will publish the voting procedure no later than June 16.

People of all ages are invited to participate, and you can enter as an individual or as a group. Be original, be "cute", and let that milk mustache shine bright and true! The winner will receive a dairy-themed prize package and will be featured on our website and various social media accounts. So grab a glass of milk and your camera, say "CHEESE!", and enter our 2014 Milk Mustache Contest today!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Spring silage harvest has begun

After making a few "test runs" over the weekend, we are now full-bore into our spring silage harvest. As per normal operating procedure, we will cut our wheat and ryegrass with a hay conditioner and chop it with the forage harvester (silage chopper) a few hours later. We plan on harvesting roughly 75 acres over the next week and a half, weather and equipment permitting. Following the harvest, we will turn our attention to planting sorghum and harvesting our first cutting of bermudagrass hay.

Our silage wagon is still topless after my little accident last Fall.

A dump truck will transport the freshly cut forage
to the silage pit where it will be packed and sealed.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

FARMLAND to be screened in Birmingham on 5/1/14

Get ready, Birmingham-area residents! On May 1st, you will get the opportunity to shake the hand that squeezes the teats of cows that make the milk you drink! That's right, I will be in B'ham for a couple of hours that evening and would love to chit-chat with you for a little while. You don't want to pass up this golden opportunity, so go ahead and mark your calendar to come see me at the Regal Trussville Stadium 16 movie theater next Thursday night!

Georgia chicken farmer Leighton Cooley
with documentary crew (courtesy of
All kidding aside, I will be there in support of something I know you will enjoy. The main event is the public screening of award-winning director James Moll's new documentary Farmland, and the stars of the show are the six young farmers and ranchers who share their passion for agriculture and the challenges they face trying to make a living doing what they love. The film's subjects represent a wide-spectrum of American agriculture, from livestock and poultry to commodity crops to organic produce to community supported agriculture (CSA). I had the good fortune to see Farmland last month, and from a farmer's perspective I thought it was incredible! But even though this film is about people like me, it isn't really "for" people like me. This documentary was made to provide the non-farming public with an intimate glimpse at how our nation's food is raised on a daily basis.

I encourage all of my friends in and around Birmingham to buy a ticket for the "one night only" public screening at 7pm on May 1st. Based on past conversations I've had with many of you about my dairy farm and food production in general, I have no doubt that you would really find this film interesting. The Alabama Farmers Federation will have a table at the theater from 6:00-8:30pm, so come a little bit early. I and perhaps a few other local farmers will be on hand and would love to talk with you about how we grow and raise the food you and your family enjoy.

I look forward to meeting you, and I know you will genuinely enjoy Farmland. See you next Thursday night!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Favorite farm photos of the week

Happy Saturday morning, folks! Over 2.5 inches of rainfall on Monday kept us from making any progress toward planting corn, but we found plenty enough to keep us busy. And through it all, I was able to snap and share a handful of farm photos. In case you missed them, here are a few of my favorites from the past week:

Palm Sunday sunrise

the milking herd beginning the second grazing rotation

Cow no.88 won't leave the road until she's had her head and neck rubbed.

A traffic alert/PSA letting people know how our cows' route to and from grazing
would affect their commute. I think we had to stop two cars over the course of three days.
Have a wonderful Easter, everyone!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Memory of my "Daddy G", Gray Gilmer

Twenty years ago today my grandfather, Gray Gilmer, passed away at the age of 82. He was the youngest of his parents' nine children, was born and raised on the farm our family still calls home, and established the dairy my father and I operate today. A few years ago I wrote a blog entitled "My Farming Forefathers" which included a little bit about his life and my own childhood memories of him, and I hope you will take a few minutes to check that out. In addition, here are three passages my grandmother wrote about his early life in her memoirs, For Sentimental Reasons. 

Gray Gilmer, 1911-1994
On his name:
George Gray Gilmer was born October 10, 1911, on the farm that is still in the family's possession. He was named for his father, George Franklin Gilmer. Even though Papa Gilmer was the most respected man in Gray's life, he didn't like the name "George". In our courting days, he wouldn't even tell me his first name.
On childhood farm chores:
As a little boy, he and Annie Mae were assigned the job of shelling and feeding corn to the chickens and everything else that ate corn. The despised job was tending to the geese to keep them from getting more than their share. There was always an old gander that kept watch, and when Gray's back was turned, the old rascal would latch onto him with his strong beak and beat the daylights out of him with those powerful wings. He said he always carried some ammunition of corn cobs in his overall pockets in case he had a chance to defend himself before the attack. 
Summers were spent working in the fields of cotton and corn. He never minded the hard physical labor, but used to say what galled him the most was when Papa would insist on his helping their nearest neighbors "catch up" with the hoeing and chopping of cotton...He said he'd get his work done and then go help those slow and lazy boys while their father sat on the porch and instructed them as to how the job should be done. 
George Gray Gilmer, 10/10/1911 - 4/15/1994. Husband to Mary, Dad to Don, Marianne, Josephine, and David, "Daddy G" to Donald, Doug, Mark, Tommy, Leanna, Amy, Charlie, Will, and Lydia.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weekend Farm Update

Another busy week on the farm is coming to an end, and the next one could be even busier. But before I look ahead, let me quickly catch you up on what's been happening on and off the farm since I last blogged a couple of weeks ago:

National AgDay: As I mentioned in my last posting, I participated in a USFRA-sponsored panel discussion entitled "The Next Generation of America’s Farmers and Ranchers" during National AgDay in Washington, DC (recap/audio). I was afforded the opportunity the next evening to attend a special screening of Farmland, a documentary in which six young farmers/ranchers from across America talk about their passion for agriculture. I know documentaries aren't the genre most people watch when they go to a movie theater, but I strongly encourage you to see this one. And speaking of watching something, check out the MooTube Minute I filmed in front of the Capitol while I was in DC.

at the Farmland screening with film subjects Brad Bellah & Leighton Cooley on the left,
fellow USFRA panelists Kate Danner, Seth Pratt, & Joel Mathiowetz on the right

Lamar County Cattle Drives: Back on the farm, we've held pretty steady at 210 cows in milk. We're still grazing them every day, which sometimes requires what I call a Lamar County Cattle Drive. Almost all of the land we strip-graze our cows on in the Spring is across the road from our dairy barn and their primary pasture/feeding area. Most of the acreage is accessible to them by simply crossing the two lanes of County Road 36, but grazing the furthest paddocks requires a road trip. Several times we've walked our herd down 1500' of CR-36 and into their paddocks in the morning and then back to the dairy barn in the afternoon. We have only needed to stop a few cars during the cattle drives, and none of those drivers seemed to be too put-off by the five minute delay. I've posted several pictures and short videos on Instagram and my various other social media channels, so be sure to check those out if you haven't already.

Baseball: My family will soon begin claiming the Vernon City Park as our secondary residence. Both the kids are playing baseball this year, and I'm a volunteer assistant on my son's coach-pitch team. Having games or practices three nights of the week has cut into my "crash on the couch" time in the evenings, which has in turn really made me put a priority on taking naps during my breakfast and lunch breaks. And though I'm not getting as much rest as I need and our lawn and landscaping have become woefully neglected, we are all having fun with it. Now if only my son's team could get that elusive first win...
our little ball players

She's having a baby: Our local veterinarian was on the farm this past week to check 62 cows for pregnancies. It was a good result as 54 of the cows checked out positive, giving us a total of 127 pregnant milking cows. We still have quite a few to breed over the next few weeks, and need to do so before hot weather and heat stress wreak havoc on the conception rate.
Dr. Hidalgo preg-checking a group of cows

Looking ahead, we expect to plant silage corn in the very near future. Rain is in the forecast for Monday, but hopefully it will be dry enough to get in the field by mid-week. If so, we're targeting 40 acres of our "hill ground" to fertilize and plant by the end of the week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy Ag Day!

I would like to take a moment to wish all of you a very happy National Ag Day! I'm celebrating the event in Washington, DC, where I will be part of a panel discussion entitled "The Next Generation of America’s Farmers and Ranchers" later this afternoon. This discussion is just one of several events associated with Ag Day in DC, and only one of hundreds being held this week around the country. I'm sure you can contact your local agricultural organizations to find out about events being held in your area.

Ag Day means different things to different people. For some, it's an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of great agriculural pioneers such as Dr. Norman Borlaug. For others, it's a chance to assess agriculture's current social and economic impact. Personally, the thing I most appreciate about Ag Day is that it provides an excellent opportunity for Americans to learn more about our nation's farms and the families that raise our food. This awareness can help build relationships between consumers and farmers and serve as the starting point for conversations about how our food is grown and raised.

So no matter what your connection is to agriculture, I hope you have the opportunity to attend an Ag Day event or at the least take a moment to reflect upon it's impact in your life. And as always, I certainly appreciate all of you who buy milk and dairy's YOUR support that enables me to make my living doing what I love. 

Have a "dairy" good Ag Day!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

It's Grazing Time!

It's been a long, cold Winter, but Spring has finally sprung and that means that the grazing season is upon us! The wheat and ryegrass we planted late last Fall has gotten tall enough (and the ground firm enough) to begin grazing our milking cows in the mornings, which we've done now for four consecutive days. The girls have already responded by upping their milk production a couple of pounds, and I suspect that number to climb by a couple more pounds by mid-week.

As a reminder to my local readers, most of our cows' grazing land is across the road from our dairy barn. Be prepared to stop and watch the cows cross the road for a couple of minutes if you plan on driving by our farm around 8:30am or 1:00pm. 

Now, here are a few videos and photos from the first few days of grazing:

I love the sight of our black & white cows out in a green pasture!

Mooooving on down the road back to the milking barn.

cows on their way to graze

With their bellies now full of green grass, the cows are ready to head back to the milking barn.

Lamar County cattle drive

Thursday, March 6, 2014

5 years and 20,000 tweets later...

March of 2009 was a big month for me. It was the month I left my 20's behind and said hello to 30, embarked on my two-year AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee adventure, and welcomed my baby daughter into the world.

I also tweeted for the very first time:
I didn't have great expectations for Twitter at the time, or at least not my usage of it. The thought of sharing short bursts of farm info was intriguing, but I didn't think you folks would find my tweets as interesting or useful as my blog or my farm's Facebook page. Once I figured out that I could post real-time updates via text on my Razr v3 flip-phone, though, both my follower count and my own interest began to rise. I upgraded to a smartphone within a couple of months, and my new-found ability to interact with other Twitter users while in the milking barn or in a tractor cab encouraged me to tweet even more frequently. 

So now here I sit, five years and a little over 20k tweets later, and I wonder what kind of impact I've made. As I stated in my very first tweet, my goal was to let you know about life on my family's farm, and that still remains the primary focus of all I do online. There are other farmers that interact with and influence far more people than I do (give 'em props), but there's nobody else that does it exactly like me and I'm pretty dang proud of that. I might not have posted or tweeted a single thing in the last five years that has helped shape your point of view on food or farming, but I've had fun trying!

Whether you follow me on Twitter, regularly read this blog, watch my farm videos on YouTube, or "like" our Facebook page, I sincerely want to thank you for taking the time to learn more about me and my family's dairy farm. I continue to welcome your comments and questions, and I hope my social-sharing style helps you feel more connected to both your glass of milk and to the farmer keeping a steady hand on the udder. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Show me your jugs...of milk!

As the Mardi Gras season enters its final weekend on the way to its (butter)Fat Tuesday finale, it's time for me to once again ask you to not only celebrate with parades, parties, King Cake and beads, but with milk as well. So in in the spirit of this festive time, I'm asking you to open your refrigerator, snap a photo of the dairy products stored within, and "show me your jugs"! Whether you have big jugs, little jugs, full jugs, near-empty jugs, mismatched jugs, or jugs of different shapes and colors, you can feel good about exposing them to the whole world and showing them that you value the taste and nutrition milk has to offer. And unlike some other "show me your (fill-in-the-blank)" Mardi Gras photos that may be floating around, you'll never have to have an embarrassing or awkward conversation with your family or coworkers about the milk jugs in your fridge.

nothing beats a nice, full rack of milk
Let's have some fun and raise a little dairy awareness while we're at it. Post a photo of your milk jugs to Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, and be sure to include the #showmeyourjugs tag. And when Ash Wednesday rolls around, consider giving up soft drinks for Lent and replacing them with milk. With 8 grams of protein per serving and a wide variety of options for flavor and butterfat content, milk is a beverage you can feel good about pouring for yourself and your family.

Have a "dairy" happy Mardi show me your jugs!

Friday, February 14, 2014

20ish Hours of Snow

With apologies to Steinbeck, I guess we can add yet another chapter to The Winter of Our Discontent as we experienced our first post-Groundhog Day winter weather event this week. Unlike the single-digit temperatures we endured during January's two hard freezes, this time the perils were freezing rain, sleet, and snow. 

Our little slice of Lamar County missed out on the first round of wintery mix that passed through the Twin-States region on Tuesday night, but Wednesday was a different story. The precipitation alternated between what could be best described as a mist and a drizzle that morning, and by mid afternoon it had started falling in a more frozen state. Here is pictorial look back at 20ish hours of snow:

Well, that accumulated quickly.
The sleet/snow mix didn't do much more than make the mud puddles bigger the first hour or so it fell. The sleet stopped around 4pm, the wet snowflakes got bigger and fell faster, and within a half-hour we had our first (and probably only) accumulation of the year.

Vernon City Complex / old Lamar Co. High School at intersection of AL Hwys 17 &18
My wife and I had previously made plans to attend Mississippi State's 8pm basketball game against Georgia, with a stop for an early Valentines Day dinner along the way. After enjoying a nice meal in Columbus, we decided to check the weather before proceeding on to Starkville. Continuing west down Highway 82 didn't look to be a problem, but with reports of road conditions deteriorating back in Lamar County we decided we might should cut our date short. We made it all the way to and through Vernon without any issues, but the county road between Highway 17 and our farm was fairly slushy.

snowy morning sunrise
I don't think the temperature ever did drop below 30° overnight, and we didn't have any cold-related issues in our milking barn. The previous afternoon's snow was looking a little less-impressive by the time the sun started to peek above the horizon, and I knew it wouldn't stay around for much longer.

heifer calves enjoying the once-a-year snow accumulation
"What's this white stuff, boss?"
Other than making for a couple of good calf photo opps, the remaining snow didn't have much of an impact on farm chores.

sorting cows into groups
Half of the snow melted off by the time we started sorting cows for a big pregnancy check at 8:30am., with most of the other half melting while the veterinarian was busy confirming pregnancies in 71 of the 76 cows he examined. By lunchtime, the ground was just a wet, brown, sloppy mess.

I don't know what the next few weeks hold in store as far as "extreme winter weather" goes, but we've about had our fill of it. There will be great rejoicing once Spring finally arrives...until we get that freak cold snap in late-March/early-April.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Gilmer Dairy Farm lands big heifer class on National Signing Day

LAMAR CO., Ala. - It's now official: 48 Holstein heifers are expected to join the Gilmer Dairy Farm milking herd this coming Fall.

Current projections have 18 heifers calving into the milking herd between 8/28-10/2, with the remainder freshening in either late October or mid-November. Nine AI sires are represented, though the class is dominated by Roland (18) and Rib (12) daughters. Four of the heifers in the class were sired by former GDF herd bull Roberto, and 12 can claim other home-grown bulls as their maternal grandsires. 

We caught up with dairyman Will Gilmer and asked for his perspective on this latest signing class of heifers. In the video linked below he discusses the size of the class, expectations for their future, and the farm's recruitment strategy.

A list of all 48 heifers sorted by their projected calving date (pending veterinary pregnancy confirmation; subject to change) is listed below. Stay tuned to this blog and other GDF social media accounts for further updates on these heifers as they progress to the milking herd.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We Survived the Snowpocalypse

After surviving the "Deep Freeze of 2014" earlier this month, we've had to brace ourselves and our farm for yet another blast of frigid Arctic air. The temperature may not fall quite as far or remain below the freezing mark for as many consecutive hours as it did previously, but today's weather brought a menace the first hard freeze did not. I'm talking about that four-letter word that the mere mention of will send people rushing to their local grocery store to buy all the milk (a good thing!) and bread they possibly can. I'm talking about cloud dandruff, The White Death,...SNOW.

Lamar County snow drift, 1/28/14
As you can see in the photo to the right, snow drifts developed along the side of the county road between my house and the dairy barn. Driving conditions were treacherous, making my 0.6 mile commute seem like a 0.65 mile drive. But despite all the problems caused by the snow and freezing weather, the cows had to be milked.

And milk them we did.

The cows didn't seem to mind the weather one bit. Save for a few slobbersickles (and one very impressive, four-inch long boogersickle), you would have never known by looking at them that it was a miserably cold day. Two or three small sheets of ice formed in the back of the milking barn prior to the cows' afternoon arrival, but they quickly melted. We did have one incident in which slow-moving traffic in the milking barn's outbound lane caused a significant back-up, but we did not attribute it to the same conditions that stranded thousands of motorists on Alabama highways today.

"Slow traffic has caused a back-up in the outbound lane. Authorities say it is not weather related, just cows being cows."

On a serious note, a "dusting" of snow might be an over-exaggeration of what we got this morning. The freezing temperatures have and will cause a few problems and delays around the farm, but the snowfall proved to be inconsequential in our area. But even if the "worst-case" winter weather scenario were to befall us, we would do whatever it takes to keep our cows fed, watered, and milked. That's the way it has to be, and that's the way it is!  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Ol' Number 07

No.07 standing in her preferred milking position
This Monday we said farewell to our oldest cow, number 07.

Seven was born on July 30, 2000, just a few days before I started my final year at Mississippi State University. She gave birth to her first calf…a bull…and entered the milking herd on October 14, 2002. She went on to have nine more calves (5 bulls, 4 heifers) and produce over 180,000 pounds of milk in her lifetime. She was rarely ever a top-producing cow, but she was steady and sound and never gave a bit of trouble in the milking barn.

Many cows have physical characteristics, habits, or quirks that distinguish them from their herdmates, and Seven could check all three of those boxes. She was a thick, stocky cow with big, droopy ears, and she always preferred to be milked at the front unit on the west side of our parlor. And she hated the cow dogs…absolutely HATED the cow dogs.

Evidence of her anti-caninism first came to light the day she gave birth to her second calf. Though she never directed her aggression toward my dad and I, she chased both of our border collies out of the pasture when we tried to walk her and her calf to the barn. This happened three or four times, the dogs barking and retreating every time she took a step in their direction. From that day on she would glare at any dog that got within ten feet of her, often charging them if they made the mistake of not knowing where she was.

Our fondness for her and her antics (I once jokingly suspected her of leading an "Occupy Farm Lane" protest) helped contribute to her 13+ years of residency on the farm. She hadn’t been particularly profitable her last couple of lactations, but we kept her around for the sake of keeping her around. When our veterinarian informed us this summer that he didn’t think she would ever successfully calve again, we made the decision that we would “cull” her (sell her for beef) sometime within the coming months. That day came on Monday, January 13, 2014. By then her daily milk production had dropped below 30 pounds, she had developed a persistent case of mastitis (a mammary infection) in one quarter of her udder, and just wasn’t moving around as good as she used to. Typical of her lead-cow mentality, she was the first of the eleven cows we culled that day to load the trailer that would haul her off to the stockyard.  I have no way of knowing, but I imagine she probably fought her way to the front of the line for the ride that would take her from there to her next…and likely final…destination.

The idea of culling a dairy cow, especially one that has been on a farm for years, can seem harsh to those who have never owned or cared for livestock. But just like beef cattle, hogs, goats, etc., dairy cattle are food animals. Unlike some other types of livestock, they are meant to serve two distinct food production purposes: milk and beef. So no matter how fond we are of one particular cow or how much milk she’s produced for us in the past, she can’t reach her full potential to feed humanity by living out her final days on our farm. We will miss ol’ Seven and know we’ll never have another cow quite like her, but it was time for her to take the last steps toward fulfilling her complete purpose.