Friday, November 17, 2017

Checking in with a long overdue farm update

Hello, folks, it’s been a while. I apologize for not posting to this blog over the past few months...sometimes I forget that not everyone follows along with the daily goings-on via Twitter. But now I'm back and happy to share a bit about what's been happening on the farm and where we see it going in the future.

The happiest news coming out of the summer is that we had a very good corn silage crop. We only planted corn on three-quarters of our available acreage this year, yet we harvested enough to fill all three of our silage pits. Without a doubt it was one of the best silage crops I can remember. We also rolled up over 550 bales (roughly 220 tons) of bermuda and crabgrass hay. That's a little short of our normal yield but should be more than enough to see us through the winter and early spring. 

Weather permitting, we will finally begin drilling oats into fields and pastures over the next few weeks. Some of the planted acreage will be used for spring grazing, but most will be harvested as baleage. It doesn't provide quite the kick of corn silage, but it's proven to be a better option on some of our marginal ground. Other farm chores on the docket include clipping pastures, seemingly endless equipment repairs, keeping hay rings filled, and of course milking cows twice a day.

Speaking of the cows, we currently have 167 in the active milking herd. That number should climb steadily over the next few months as more cows freshen than are dried off. The same could also be said of our cows’ milk production. It’s been slowly improving since the summer, but our nutritionist expects next week’s ration change to boost milk 4-6 pounds per cow. Let’s hope so!

And now…the bad news.

The dairy business is not very good right now, particularly in our part of the country. We've seen worse prices and margins a couple of times in the past ten years, but it appears we are now in a period of what could be called "persistent mediocrity."  The price we are receiving for our milk lets us pay the bills, but that’s about the best I can say about it. The dairy industry’s long-term outlook is bright, but I don’t know how many dairies in this part of the country will be around to see those better days. In Alabama alone we’ve lost nearly 100 dairies over the last fifteen years, and we have barely more than 30 operating today. There are many factors that have led us to this point, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of supply and demand: too many cows in this country producing more milk than we can sell for a good price in the marketplace.

I regularly pray that God will give us wisdom to make good choices about the direction of our farm, and recently we have made a big one: we are taking the first steps to transition from dairy to beef. Breeding our way into owning a commercial beef herd will take time, so there will be several million more pounds of milk produced on our farm over the next few years. And don't worry...I’ll continue to promote dairy just as hard as I possibly can until the last Holstein leaves our farm!

Over the past 65 some-odd years, dairy farming has provided a good living for my grandparents, my parents, and my own family. Breaking away from that legacy is scary, but I’m at peace with our decision. As much as I love what I do every day, I’ve come to believe this change gives our farm a better opportunity to be productive and profitable in the years to come. I’ll continue to pray for wisdom as we make decisions along the way, and I would certainly appreciate any prayers you could spare on our behalf every now and then.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Rocking into July

Move over fidget spinners, there's a new fad in town: rock hunting.

According to a Facebook Group called "205 Rocks!," people are painting rocks and hiding them in parks, near businesses, around churches, and in other public areas in our local communities. Once these rocks are found, they can be kept as souvenirs or re-hidden for someone else to find. These rocks come in all shapes and sizes and the artwork on them is just as varied.

my kids hid five special "prize" rocks in Lamar County
Activities like this offer golden opportunities for business promotion, and a few local businesses have hidden "prize" rocks that can be redeemed for anything from trinkets to t-shirts. My daughter decided we should get in on that act, so Saturday night she and her brother hid five black and white "Gilmer Dairy Farm" rocks between Vernon and Sulligent. My wife posted a photo of them on the 205 Rocks! group page with the instructions that anyone who found one could stop by our milking barn one afternoon and swap the rock for a prize package.

Two kids stopped by while we were milking on Sunday afternoon to claim their prize. Two more of the rocks have been found according to photos posted on the Facebook page, and the status of the fifth is still a mystery. I'm not sure how long the interest in rock hunting will last (or how many prize packages we will give away), but it is a neat little activity to help keep kids active this summer.

Happy hunting, and have a "dairy" good day!

my daughter holds the first rock redeemed for a dairy-themed prize package

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Reintroducing the "MooTube Minute"

I created a YouTube channel for my farm shortly after purchasing my first smartphone in the Summer of 2009. After getting a little bit of attention for my "Water 'n Poo" song, I decided to to start uploading a series of short farm updates called "MooTube Minutes" every few days to keep people up-to-date with what was happening on our dairy farm.

These videos where originally shot and with a smartphone, but I eventually upgraded to a tripod-mounted FlipCam that allowed me to merge different clips together and upload a higher quality video from my desktop. I posted these updates fairly regularly for a couple of years, but several weeks would go by between episodes by the time I recorded my last one in May 2014.

But now, the "MooTube Minute" is back.

I've been using other apps to share farm video over the past couple of years, including a few different live-streaming services. I started doing a daily live stream on Periscope recapping the day's farm work a couple of weeks ago and have decided to begin uploading at least some of them to YouTube. These new MooTube Minutes are generally going to be a little longer than the originals (3-5min) and will more often than not be shot "selfie style."

If you would like to interact with me while I stream/record, I encourage you to download the Periscope app and set a notification for when I go live. If you simply want to watch, you can do so live or later via Periscope and Twitter, or you can watch the ones I upload to YouTube without the live comments popping up on the screen.

My Periscope channel:
My YouTube channel:

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Forty heifers wandering in the Wilderness

We knew early on Wednesday that we might have a problem.

One of our farmhands and I were making the last stop of the morning feeding rounds in a pasture we call "The Mountain." The sprawling 120 acres of hilly open pasture and wooded bottom land gets its nickname for steep hill that offers a clear view across Beaver Creek Bottom. The group of 40 pregnant heifers currently residing at The Mountain receives feed pellets every-other weekday, and we usually find them enthusiastically waiting at the gate on those days. This time they were no where to be seen. We decided to pour the feed into their troughs and then ride up and down the pasture's hills until we could find them. We were unsuccessful, and decided they must be in one of the pasture's wooded areas. We left to attend to other farm chores but decided someone should check back later to see if the heifers ever made it to their troughs.

A group of forty heifers, some of which are seen here eating spilled feed pellets from the bed of a pickup truck, went missing from their pasture on May 24, 2017

The heifers were still unaccounted for after lunchtime, so halfway through the afternoon milking I sent the aforementioned farmhand back to the pasture with an ATV to conduct a more thorough search. He discovered an ancient wooden fence post had fallen over and allowed the heifers to step over the barbed wire and into the woods. He called to report back and then began tracking the heifers into the pines.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Podcasts I enjoy in the tractor cab

It wasn't too many years ago that the radio of the primary tractor I used on the farm went on the blink, leaving me to find ways to keep myself entertained. Thankfully, radios can be fixed and technology is always making entertainment easier to access. I occasionally listen to the radio, especially if a Mississippi State baseball game is on the air or if the local country station is playing songs from the 70s-90s (I won't listen to the new stuff). If I'm in the mood for music, I'll usually listen to the eclectic blend stored on my phone that ranges from Conway Twitty to Meat Loaf or tune into a 90s channel on Pandora. I mostly listen to podcasts these days, though, and for whatever it's worth I thought I would share some of my favorites with you.

    I was really liking
    whatever I was listening to.
  • The B&B Show This daily Mississippi State sports podcast is the first I listen to every morning, generally as I'm putting out feed for my milking herd around 6am. Brian Hadad excels in his role of "voice of the fan" while Bob Carskadon provides insight from within the school's athletic department. 
  • More Cowbell The second daily MSU sports podcast I listen to is hosted by the oftentimes sarcastic and cynical but always entertaining Brandon Walker, a former MSU beat writer who now works for SEC Country.
  • Total Soccer Show Yes, I am a farmer from Lamar County, Alabama, and soccer might just be my favorite sport to watch and follow. TSS puts out an entertaining yet informative daily podcast that provides previews, reviews, and analysis of the week's top matches. 
  • Blood Red Podcast  A round-table discussion about Liverpool FC that's published 2-3 times per week.

Political/Current Events
  • The Federalist Radio Hour One of my daily "must listens" that focuses on politics and current events with occasional detours into culture and sports. 
  • Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates Hour-long debates on current political, economic, and cultural issues published 1-2 times a month.
  • Common Sense w/ Dan Carlin I don't always agree with him, but I really enjoy listening to Dan Carlin lay out his viewpoints and arrive at his conclusions in this monthly-ish podcast.

  • The Briefing Another one of my daily musts, host Dr. Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary bills the podcast as "a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview" in which he examines the headlines in light of Scriptural authority.
  • Signposts Published 2-3 time monthly, Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission talks about "the latest books, cultural conversations, and pressing ethical questions that point us toward the kingdom of Christ."
  • ERLC Podcast  Speaking of the ERLC, their own weekly podcast offers insights into current moral, ethical, and cultural issues.

  • The Popcast with Knox and Jamie Billed as "a weekly pop culture podcast seeking to educate on things that entertain, but do not matter," this one often has me laughing hard enough to make me stop the tractor. The Popcast is the jug of 3.5% butterfat in a world full of skim pop culture podcasts.
  • Dan Carlin's Hardcore History Every few months Dan Carlin comes out with a new 3-5hr Hardcore History podcast in which he weaves together a captivating narrative from historical accounts of people and events within a certain historical time period.
  • This American Life One of the most popular podcasts out there, this weekly radio show usually tells the extraordinary stories of otherwise ordinary people.
This isn't the exhaustive list of the podcasts I enjoy, but these are certainly the ones I listen to the most often. Let me know if you are a fan of any of these, or point me in the direction of any of your favorites you think I might enjoy.

Happy listening, and have a "dairy" good day!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Making progress four rows at a time

When last I wrote, all of our "hill ground" had been sprayed and fertilized and ten acres had been strip-tilled. Not only have we planted that field within the past week, but we've also stripped and planted an additional 40 acres. That leaves us with 60 more acres of hill ground to plant, and I'm hopeful we'll have that in within the next week and a half. We plan to strip-till 25 of those acres while using full conventional tillage (chisel plow, disk, section harrow) on the remainder.

We'll turn our attention to our bottomland in mid-May and decide what tillage method to use based upon the moisture levels.

I sometimes catch myself feeling jealous of all the big-time flatland farmers who have the equipment to plant in an afternoon what takes me 3-4 weeks, but it is what it is. If we can get favorable weather and minimize mechanical downtime, we'll have it all planted before too much longer. The name of the game is to keep making progress, which in our case is made four rows at a time.

strip-tilling allows us to minimize erosion while preparing a good seedbed for our silage corn

all but the bottom four rows have been planted in this photo

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cows, Corn, and Politics

Good morning, y'all. Let me get you caught up to speed with what's been happening on the farm and bouncing around in my brain...

Tough April for my milking cows
Our milking herd finished the month of March relatively strong and near peak milk production. That changed the first weekend of April as a "bug" began working its way through our herd and resulted in quite a number of our cows developing pneumonia. Roughly two dozen cows required treatment for the illness, and milder symptoms appeared in dozens more. From a "whole herd" perspective, we lost nearly two whole days' worth of milk production over two weeks while the illness ran its course. And though all of the affected cows now seem to be fully recovered, they still haven't (and likely won't) return to their late-March level production due to the earlier-than-normal onset of heat stress. It's been a hot, dry April, and the "summer slide" that usually doesn't begin until mid-May is dangerously close to starting if it hasn't already.

It's finally time to plant corn
Last week I sprayed weed-killer on our corn fields and had the appropriate levels of fertilizer applied, and yesterday I used our strip-till to lay off rows for our first 10 acres of corn. We'll calibrate the planter this morning and hopefully have some seed in the ground before lunchtime. I expect us to plant approximately 110 acres of "hill ground" over the next couple of weeks and another 40 in our bottomland in early May. We made a late decision to (finally) move our row spacing from 38" to 30" and probably could have been planting a week ago if not for the time required to adjust our tractors and implements for that spacing change. We're four days behind last year's first planting date, but if the weather cooperates we should finish planting earlier than in 2016.

Mulling over a political run
As if the daily care of 400 head of cattle, the twice-daily milking of half of them, and the pressure to produce a good crop to feed them following last year's devastating drought weren't enough to occupy my time and mind, I've also been considering jumping into an upcoming political race. I've jokingly alluded to running for office before, but I've actually given it some serious thought lately. There are two offices I am interested in that will be up for election next year, and I would need to commit to running for one of them within the next few weeks if I am to have any chance at all. There are many, many questions I'll have to think through in the process of making that decision, the biggest of which is whether or not I have the resources to mount a campaign without compromising my farm's productivity or putting my family in a tough spot. Odds are I'll just stick with what I know for the time being, but it's a matter of prayer consideration.

Bonus thoughts
I'm helping coach my son's youth baseball team again this year. Working seventeen kids (yes, 17) into a 1:15hr game is a challenge, and scheduling a game for 11/12 year olds at 8pm on a school night is ridiculous (I'm looking at you, Guin).

Oh yeah, if you'd like to read about the trip I took with several other dairy farmers to this year's South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, you can check out these articles at and Progressive Dairyman.

Thanks for reading, and y'all have a dairy good day!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

From the milking barn to everywhere

I've been fortunate to connect with people from all across this great nation...and the world...over the past eight some-odd years via the social media platforms I use. And it's not unusual for me to wonder where a particular tweet, Instagram photo, or Facebook post I send from my dairy farm might be viewed.

So this afternoon I put it to a highly unscientific test.

Request for Locations
I tweeted/Instagramed the following while milking cows this afternoon and decided to see how many different places my photo could pop up.

Response Data
I received roughly 100 replies between the two platforms over a four hour span, and I've mapped the locations I was given. Blue pins correspond with Twitter replies, and red pins with Instagram.

locations of international responses

locations of North American responses

locations of local responses

1) I had no idea anyone in St. Kitts would see one of my posts, much less participate in this little experiment.
2) Responses were primarily North American, and all but one were from the Northern Hemisphere.
3) Participation was much greater east of the Mississippi River.
4) Local responses were primarily received via the Instagram post.
5) I get bored and fiddle around on my computer when I get home from the Sunday afternoon milking if it has run too long for me to make it to our church's evening worship service.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Real milk comes from real cows like ours

Let's start with a fundamental truth: milk is milk.

Now let's add another: nut juice and plant squeezings are not milk.

That's not too controversial, is it? Well, unfortunately it is, and a battle is being fought over the dairy case of your local grocery store between those of us in the dairy business and companies who want to continue labeling their plant-based imitation beverages as "milk."

According to the Food and Drug Administration's regulations (CFR 131.110), milk is defined as "the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows." This definition doesn't leave much room for misinterpretation, and any product being marketed as milk should be able to meet this standard of identity.

real milk comes from real cows like ours
Unfortunately, FDA has not been enforcing its own rule. More and more plant-based imitation beverages labeled as "milk" are being sold in the dairy case right along with the real stuff. And while I don't have a problem with these beverages being available for consumers, I do have a problem with them being labeled as something that both common sense and the law says they are not.

The primary reason this issue is important to me is because our farm participates in the dairy checkoff, and the 15 cents we pay in for every 100 pounds of milk our cows produce is used for promotion and research. Through the checkoff, dairy farmers from across the country have collectively spent millions of dollars to make consumers like you aware of all the nutritional benefits of including milk/dairy in your diet. By positioning themselves as milk alternatives rather than imitators via labeling, makers of plant-based beverages are getting a free ride at the expense of dairy farmers like me.

I know most shoppers understand there are differences between milk and these other beverages, and some may prefer the imitations over milk for a number of reasons. But I don't want people to be under the false assumption that a plant-based beverage labeled as "milk" is nutritionally equivalent to real dairy milk. Enforcement of FDA regulations in regards to what can be labeled as milk would solve this problem without impacting consumer choice. The DAIRY PRIDE Act, which has been introduced this year in both Houses of Congress, would hold the FDA accountable for that enforcement.

The next time you're looking through the dairy case at your local grocery store, take a minute or two to compare nutrition labels and you'll see that "milk" doesn't compare with milk. And if you're so inclined after you finish off your next glass of the real stuff, make a few quick calls to the offices of your Representative and Senators and ask them to stand with America's dairy farmers by supporting the DAIRY PRIDE Act.

Thanks for your time and continued support, and have a "dairy" good day!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hey folks, it's been a while

Hey folks, it's been a while. Let me catch you up to speed on what's been happening on Gilmer Dairy Farm recently.

We currently have 223 cows in our active milking herd, which looks like our "high water mark" for this year. We will be sending several cows to the stockyard over the next couple of weeks, and I anticipate a herd size of around 210 after the next round of dryoffs, calvings, and cullings. Our daily herd production topped out at roughly 13,750 pounds of milk a couple of weeks ago, but our average per cow should improve by two or three pounds in the coming days for a couple of reasons. First, simply removing a few lower producing cows will boost the average. Secondly, we expect to see a production increase when we begin incorporating corn silage into their ration once again.

We had an incredible drought this past year, one that lasted well into late Fall. As a result, our dryland (non-irrigated) corn crop yielded far below what was needed to feed the herd for a whole year. Over the last couple of months we have been relying on last Spring's bumper ryegrass baleage crop, dry hay, and cottonhulls in a ration that allowed us to conserve our corn silage. This ration has worked well for us and our herd, but the cows' milking potential isn't as high as it is when they are on a diet that includes quality silage. We're at the point now we believe we have enough corn silage to make it into the summer, so we will be transitioning the cows to a new ration over the next couple of weeks.

Speaking of crops, we hope to be putting a lot of seed in the ground during the month of March. We were unable to plant any ryegrass or small grains last Fall due to the drought, and it's about been too wet since the first of the year. We should get a few days of dry weather after today's batch of thunderstorms rolls through, and I hope to begin drilling about 50 acres of late Spring oats on Monday. Our goal for this crop will be to harvest it as baleage in late April or early May. In addition to the oats, I hope to begin planting our silage corn crop the last week of March. We're looking at roughly 110 acres on our "hill" ground this year, and another 40 in our bottomland.

On a personal note, it seems like there's always somewhere else I have to be. Don't get me wrong, because I really enjoy being involved in my industry! But speaking at a dairy conference in Savannah, two meetings in Montgomery, and judging a farm contest in Natchez over the last five weeks has made it pretty tough to "get in the groove" farming wise. And over the next two weeks my schedule includes speaking at an elementary school, SXSW in Austin, and my regional dairy checkoff's annual meeting at Stone Mountain. And on top of that I'm helping coach my son's baseball team which begins practice this weekend. So yeah, I have a full plate in front of me, but better to be busy than bored. Besides, if I have too much free time on my hands I might start seriously considering making good on my threat to run for office...

Thanks for reading, and y'all have a "dairy" good day!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Calve me ousside, how bow dah?

As a person that's always looking to share my dairy's story with new people, I have found that piggy-backing on trending/topical stories is a great way to reach a larger audience. While helping my father deliver a calf one afternoon in early February, I realized there was an opportunity to capitalize on the "Cash me ousside" craze that had been sweeping through social media. I snapped a few photos and put my own unique dairy spin on the newly popular phrase:

Following up on a friend's suggestion, I have since "memefied" the phrase to make it easier for people to share across various social media platforms. Enjoy!