Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The things we bring in our houses....

As farmers, we bring a multitude of things into our garages, houses, basements.  It is nothing for me to clean used needles (caps on - that is a rule!) out of the folds of the washing machine, along with nuts & bolts, the occasional wrench, and whatever else may not have gotten completely cleaned out of coat pockets!  This week, I've been working in the garage on reinforcing heifer bunks from our wean calf barn.  As the heifers get older, they have begun a habit of standing in the feed bunk. 

Partially done with reinforcing the bottom

Adding top rail supports

The sheet of plywood on the bottom just wasn't quite enough to support them, and they've been cracking the plywood & pushing out the reinforcing 2x4. (they always think they are starving, when they are actually fed quite well.  If we fed them what they wanted, we would end up with a bunch of fat, unhealthy heifers).  So, I've had one side of our garage occupied with a feed bunk for the last 2 weeks, and I slowly, but surely, have been reinforcing & retrofitting to prevent their future destruction.
While my woodworking will never pass as quality enough that I would build furniture or other things for our house, it is "barn-worthy", and so I use the skills my dad taught me to drive a nail straight, drill, saw, and whatever is needed to work through the never-ending "Farm Improvement List".  I'm one of the few women in America that receives circular saws, drills, & grinders as birthday presents, and is genuinely happy about it.  (And they are MY tools...believe me, I have thought about spray-painting them pink to illustrate this point on more than 1 occasion!) 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Farmer's Toolbox...

This assortment of objects may look like I took it in a doctor's or veterinarian's office, but instead it is the tools occupying a lot of Brent's days.  (And, may I just say, I had written this post before my husband bought the toolbox to organize it all - bless him!)  While we greatly appreciate (and use) the advice and knowledge of our vets, they can't be at the farm all the time (and certainly not available to everyone all the time), and let's face it, they aren't necessarily cheap.  So, we, as farmers, have to learn to do some diagnostic tests and treatments on our own.   Nowhere, am I finding this more true than with dairy cows, and especially fresh (or recently calved) cows.  Coming from a background of pigs & beef cattle, I was shocked at the difference when I moved to the dairy.  I came to realize that a dairy cow resting in an "unusual" spot (freestalls are like church pews - the cows all kind of have their "assigned" spot; another post on that later) could mean that she is sick, a funny look (from the cow to me) could mean she's in heat, and that also sometimes the bellering of the bull really means absolutely nothing!
Calving is a stressful time in a cow's life, and so we are closely monitoring each cow for signs of distress.  We do what we can, with what we have to keep each cow in proper health.  Sometimes that means absolutely nothing - she's doing just fine, and we are just checking.  Sometimes, it is energy tubes, full of nutrients to keep all her systems functioning at top performance.  And, yes, sometimes that does include antibiotics when necessary to clear any infections.  (Pushing a 100# baby out doesn't come without some potential issues)
When that happens, we use red duct tape to mark the cow's legs and pull her milk from the milk supply until everything has cleared her system.  We have an on-farm tester that allows us to do the testing ourselves. 
We are checking all the fresh cows every day for the first 2 weeks after calving, or until we think they are on a solid plan for success.  Cows that start off well, will reward us later with not only more milk, but a healthier system that will make her ready for another calf in another year.