Monday, April 25, 2011

The Last Ones....

I got a chance to go home this weekend to the Bertelsen Farm for Easter.  It was a little bittersweet when I had to open all 3 doors to the farrowing rooms before I finally found the one that still had pigs in it.  The Bertelsen's are getting out of the pig business.  My Mom & Dad have worked a long time to build their farm, and they have earned some much-needed and much-deserved R&R.  Therefore, they chose to voluntarily exit the business.  This is pretty sad for me, as I spend my days surrounded by pigs, and the reason I have become such a "pig person" is because of what I learned while growing up in the hog barns, especially with my Mom.  The last sow farrowed this week, and so once all these little pigs grow up and go to market (about 5-6 months from now), there will be no more pigs on the farm at all.

These are some of the last pigs to be born at the Bertelsen Farm

One of the main reasons why the pigs are leaving is because we have had a particularly difficult time finding someone to replace our long-time, full-time employee who was injured in a motorcycle accident last summer. This is why farmers tend to specialize, and "Go Big, or Go Home!".  Working on farms isn't easy work, and at times, it is not especially enjoyable.  (I personally think that the good times outnumber the bad, but that is just me!)  It is much easier to find someone to work on the farm who can specialize in one area, such as crop production, machinery, or livestock production.  Therefore, farms many times need to jump from 50 sows or cows (or a size when most work can be done with family labor) to 500 sows or cows (or a size when the farm can hire 4-5 workers that can specialize in the different areas around the farm).

The Bertelsen's are not nearly done farming though....there are still nearly 1000 acres of corn and beans to fertilize, plant, spray & harvest, as well as several years worth of projects that have been put off because we have been too busy taking care of all of those pigs for all of those years.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Three Most Wonderful Words....

The three most wonderful words that Brent could have said to me on Tuesday...........


I'd been planning a blog post about being on "Baby Watch", but it was over before it barely began.  One of our heifers, Team Mardi Gras, (a very nice, potential to be shown & sold in the future, has her own special pen, heifer) started acting uncomfortable Sunday, so I've been on the every 4 to 6 hour checks to make sure that everything goes smoothly.  However, this "uncomfortable-ness" was a good sign, as she wasn't actually due until April 22nd.  Early babies tend to be heifers, and we were really hoping for a heifer.  Tuesday morning, she didn't eat her grain (she ALWAYS eats her grain, and in fact, we kind of had her on a diet), so Brent stepped it up to hourly checks.  At 4 pm, he helped our new baby girl into the world.  Both mom & baby are doing great!  It absolutely made my day.  Even better, I got to feed the new heifer, and she sucked down her colostrum I gave her wonderfully with no problems.  Welcome to the farm, Po-Cop Shottle Madison!

Monday, April 11, 2011


So, this weekend we ventured into downtown Chicago for Baconfest Chicago 2011!  This is a unique event that caters to everything Bacon!  It reminded me of a type of "Taste of _______ " event, featuring high-end restaurants & eateries from throughout Chicagoland.

Bacon Bloody Mary's, Chocolate Bacon, Bacon Lollipops......even Bacon Ice Cream!  (Yes, I said Bacon ice cream!)  It was a wonderful opportunity to not only focus on Bacon, which is actually classified now as a lean meat, due to the fact that pork is much leaner than it was in the past; but for us, as producers, to share a little bit about what we do, and where that glorious bacon comes from.

You'll need to pay attention early if you want to get into Baconfest 2012.  This year's event sold out 2,000 tickets in under four MINUTES when they went on sale! Brent & I had big plans to go out to eat at a "Diner, Drive-in & Dive" (we are Food Network fans), but there was so much food available at the event, that we were stuffed.  I have to say my favorite dessert was the bacon canoli, with a shell made of bacon fat, and a cheese & bacon filling, while I had several good sandwiches including an awesome porkburger slider, and a tijuana pork dog.

I apologize for the fuzziness of the digital camera is on the fritz, so I've just got the cell phone cam.

The Baconfest logo screen & the crowd

Thanks to this woman for being willing to pose for a picture with the two most awesome food products put together by an awesome chef....smoked ice cream & bacon!

More of the crowd at Baconfest, brought to you by the Illinois Pork Producers!

Bob & Darrell - two of the "Official Bacon-Makers" 
The aprons were the envy of the event - but you have to have sorted pigs in your life to get one!
We also sold many "Peace, Love, Bacon" T-shirts, with all of the proceeds going to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Attendees could bring in non-perishable food items, and pork producers would match that donation, pound for pound with ground pork!  Looks like we'll need to be coming up with a lot of pork to match this pile!

Pam teaches attendees about "All Things Bacon" using the Wheel of Trivia.

Oh, and by the way, the "Monty" was out again this morning...... :-)

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Full Monty....

First, let me thank everyone who gave us encouragement last week after "The Ugly".  But, life will go on, and it was a very busy week.  Warren & Gail were at a dairy meeting in Arizona this week, and so Brent & I were on our own to take care of the farm.  Things went overall pretty well, with a new baby boy on Sunday, and a new baby girl on Monday - both were 2 weeks early!  The sun was shining all week until today (Friday), and so we cleaned lots, barns, and did a lot of moving & shaking to get everything caught up before spring fieldwork begins in earnest.

However, on the farm, sometimes, you just need a good giggle!  We got a good giggle on Tuesday, when we found some anonymous pictures in our mailbox.  They looked like they were taken with a cell phone; we guess by our mail carrier, based on the angles.  She must have been very amused at the scene she came upon one day.

The "Monty" was interested in our front door

Let me give you some background on our dearly beloved "Monty" (#7033).  She is a crossbred cow, being out of a Holstein cow (the typically black & white dairy cows), and a Montbeliarde bull.  Montbeliearde's are a breed of cow, mainly in Europe, that are more of a dual-breed, meaning they work for both milk & meat.  Dairy producers utilize crossbreeding to improve the hybrid vigor of their animals.  Well, "vigor" this cow has.....she has yet to find a fence that she couldn't get through.  This winter, she was out wondering around the farm daily.  Brent got in the habit of just waiting until milking before he put her back in the barn, or she would just get out & they would have to repeat the process.  She never went very far, but seemed to enjoy our yard!  We are guessing that the mail carrier saw her looking in our front door, took the picture, and then the Monty turned around to look at the commotion.  

Here's hoping you enjoyed the giggle too!  It's off to bed, so that we can get chores going in good time in the morning, as we are going to downtown Chicago on Saturday to help work at Baconfest to promote the world's greatest pork product!

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Good, The Bad, & The UGLY....

The Good:
Well, there has been some good stuff on the farm as late.  The cows are milking 68# pounds per cow (~8 1/2 gallons) per day this week.  This is the highest sustained milk level that the cows have achieved in 6 years (since Brent & I have been married).  We will usually hover around 60-65# (7 3/4 gallons) per day, and while this little bit may not seem like a lot, when you multiply 3/4 of a gallon per cow times 70 cows, it really adds up!  The cows are healthy & happy, and healthy & happy cows produce more milk.  We are also milking many "fresh" or newly-calved cows, which tend to produce more milk.  We've also had many live, healthy calves, and are already up to heifer #115, which was born Tuesday morning. 
The Bad:
 The bad part of all these fresh cows is that it means we have a lot more cows to attend to.  When any female has a baby, it is a stressful time, and such is the same with cows.  When cows are fresh, they are more susceptible to infections and metabolic disorders.  We work hard to stay ahead of the problems, and catch them early, so that we can treat them & keep the cows doing well.  Sometimes these treatments are just extra vitamins and minerals, like calcium and glucose (for energy), and sometimes, it requires more serious measures, such as veterinary surgeries.  Monday night we treated 4 fresh cows for various ailments.  #9014 & #913 (aka Hyacinth) were found to have displaced abomasums (DA's), and #9014 also had an infection in her uterus after calving. Hyacinth & #122 (Alexis) also both had ketosis, which is when a cow is in need of energy, and so begins to burn fat stores.  The ketones produced by the burning of the fat, reduce a cow's appetite, which leads to additional burning of fat stores.  (Hence, a bad cycle.)  So, we give the ketotic cows additional electrolytes to try to keep them from burning fat & try to get ahead of the cow's needs.  We treat the uterine infections with antibiotics, where necessary, and then we bring the vet in for surgeries.  Dr. Susan did 2 DA surgeries on Tuesday morning.  DA's is when one of the cow's 4 stomachs (the abomasum) twists, and doesn't allow food to pass thru this portion of the stomach, thus not allowing a cow to continue eating & absorbing nutrients normally.  Surgery typically is very effective on this issue, and the cow gets back on track quickly after fixing the problem.  Both #9014 & #913 are doing better now, but we will continue to watch & monitor them over the next few days.  Thank goodness for our veterinarians who we can call on when we need!

The UGLY...
Alexis in Spring of 2010, shortly after calving for the 1st time.

The UGLY happened tonite.  I was washing the milking equipment during the last group of cows, and suddenly heard a loud noise.  I looked up to see our cow, Alexis, who fell off the parlor floor & her legs where in all different directions.  I dropped the hose, and jumped up to the top deck, and lifted the bar that normally holds the cows in place during milking.  Normally, when a cow falls down, when someone opens the bar, she jumps up & tries to get out.  However, Alexis didn't really try.  I knew there was a problem, and let out a pretty blood-curtling scream to get Brent in from the barn, where he was bedding cows, to help.  We tried to get her up, and she tried once or twice, and then died in front of our eyes.  We think maybe she had a heart attack or her previous illness had progressed to something worse.  Death is something that livestock farmers learn to deal with.  A cow or pig will die from time to time, and you learn to deal with disappointment and sorrow, but this was so sudden, that I was seriously disturbed.  So, tonite, I will shed some tears for Alexis, have a glass of wine, and pray for a better day tomorrow.  Livestock farmers care for every animal on their farm, regardless of the size or type, and each and every one them means a lot to us, as their caretakers and as a part of our farm family!