Friday, November 30, 2012

Day 30: AI Gun Warmer

I talked yesterday about how we find and choose bulls for our herd.  This little device allows us to get our cows bred in the middle of winter.  

After the semen is warmed, it needs to be kept warm until it is used in the cow.  In the middle of winter, as Brent walks from the parlor, where the tank is kept, to the heifer pen, this can be 3-4 minutes, and when its below freezing, the temperature drops pretty quickly.  So, one day I came home & found Brent had bought an AI Gun Warmer.  When I saw the price tag ($400), I was fairly skeptical, but that first month we used it, we went from a very poor conception rate in the heifer pen (something that has always frustrated us) to a very good one, and so I shut up very quickly about the cost, as with that kind of improvement, it paid for itself very quickly.  It is now a handy device that hangs in the laundry room on its battery charger for use whenever the cold winter strikes.

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Day 29: Tank

I wrote this summer about why you don't mess with the bull on a dairy farm.  While you never want to mess with the head male of nearly any farm species, dairy bulls are particularly known to be mean and downright dangerous.  Therefore, a majority of dairy cows in the U.S. are bred using AI (Artificial Insemination).  This also allows us to utilize the best genetics in the world, as we can access bulls from Germany or New Zealand, or across the U.S. or Canada.  It allows us to use the best genetics, and do our best to improve our herd, and correct the flaws in each individual cow.  Instead if we had one bull on the farm, every cow in our herd would be mated to that bull for a time, creating a lack of genetic diversity, and potential problems.  We will occasionally raise a bull or buy a bull from another farm to use for awhile, but it usually isn't much more than 6 months and on a few cows or heifers, not the whole herd.  For example, we found that Kahlua sires REALLY big calves at birth, causing us to have to use chains & pullers in order to deliver the calf.  (and right now, we are blaming the colds we both have on the cow that we spent a night pulling a calf out of)  If we had a whole bunch of those calves, we'd be in for a long winter for both us and the cows.
Instead, Brent spends hours pouring over bull catalogs that come from the different AI companies with the different bull choices available for our farm.  We can buy a variety of different bulls that work for the variety of different cows on our farm.  Some cows are short and stocky, and need to be a little longer & longer; some need better udders, or better feet; while yet others aren't producing much milk, so we try to improve their production in the next generation.  The semen is stored in a tank, and available for whenever a cow is ready to be bred.  

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day 28: Feed Pusher

Fresh feed for the cows at all times is a must for any livestock farmer, and especially for dairy cows.  In our old barn, the feed bunk was in the middle of the barn, which on the plus side, meant the cows always had access to feed, but on the negative side, it meant that the tractor had to drive into and back out of the barn.  As someone who is going to have to feed cows next week, I am VERY glad, that we don't have to back up out of the barn with the mixer wagon.  However, that also means that we have to push up feed several times a day.  We don't have a skid steer dedicated to this job, so we typically do this by hand.  While not particularly physically taxing, it is time-consuming, and one of those things that interrupts your day when you are trying to get other projects accomplished.  (It's a great job for younger kids.....I'm sure that will be one of Ainsley's chores when she gets off the bus someday!)  A new product came out a couple of years ago, that is on every dairy farmer's Christmas list who has to push up feed several times a day....a REALLY cool feed pusher.

Juno feed...

If anyone would like to contribute to our family present, we'll gladly accept donations! :-)

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day 27: Back Scratcher

Kaliedoscope scratching her back

Your cat gets a scratching post.  Your dog probably loves getting scratched behind the ears.  Why not the cows?  This is the equivalent of the cow's scratching post.  It has big brushes on the top & side (when this picture was taken, the side brush was needing replaced), and the top brush is mounted on a big spring, so as to allow it to fit a variety of different shaped cows.  The cows can walk under it or alongside it, and get a good scratch in.  The seem to enjoy getting their tails scratched, or scratching around their ears on their head.  
There are even fancy circular ones that actually operate on a motor that turns on when the cow touches it. 
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 26: A Different Kind of Nail File

When a cow has feet problems, we have to fix it.  Cows can become sore on one toe, and that will cause them to limp and not put weight on that foot.  However, we can fix this issue by relieving the pressure on the bad toe.  We do this by installing what is known as a hoof block.  It is simply a piece of wood shaped like the cow's hoof that is glued onto the good toe on the bad foot.  This makes this the good toe "taller", and the cow puts all her weight on the good toe with the block, and not on the bad toe, allowing the cow to walk normally until the bad toe heals.  This prevents her from falling or causing more serious damage and relieves any pain. (think of it like Dr. Scholl's inserts)

We've got a special glue that mixes together and creates a secure bond between the hoof and the wood.  We then use the pink wrap (similar to what you wrap ankles or wrists with for sports) to apply any medication to the hoof, and let the cow heal.  Don't worry, these are big animals, and the wooden block simply wears away with time, giving the cow back her natural toes.  (and, if it doesn't, we just give her another "pedicure" to remove the remaining wood).

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day 25: Cow Pedicures

No, it's not quite a spa experience, but cows need their feet looked at & reshaped on a regular basis. Again, these are not small animals, and there is obviously some safety concerns in trying to pick up a cow's foot to inspect it.  So, we use this contraption, known as a hoof trimming chute, to safely secure the cow & allow us to lift her feet up one by one. 

It has belts & pulleys that support the weight of the body of the cow, while other ropes and bars allow us to pull a cow's foot up to inspect it, and do any necessary repairs or wrappings to heal injuries, warts, or sores.  We try to put each cow in the chute and examine her at the end of each lactation, before she is dried off, but sometimes we have to treat cows with problems as well.  This allows us to do this safely for us, and the cow.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day 24: OB chains

 After 40 hours of labor, I was ready to tell Brent to just go home & get "the chains".  Other farmers are laughing at this reference, as it has been made more than once with expecting farming families.

Since Brent can barely lift his arms today from helping a cow in labor for over an hour last night, I thought today was a good day to talk about OB (obstetric) chains. (And thanks to Miss Ainsley for behaving for 30 minutes while I went out to help at the end!)

Sometimes, cows will have problems calving.  Either the calf gets in the wrong position - calves are supposed to come front feet 1st, with the head on top.  Last night's calf came Ear first, it's head was backwards, and its feet were behind the head....not a good situation.  Or sometimes, they are just too big or the cow is too tired to push, and they need some help. 

OB Chain

So, we attach these chains to the calves' feet.  We use these chains because they don't have any sharp edges, and allow us to securely hold onto & pull the calves' feet, but without cutting or hurting them in the process.  Sometimes we just have to hook onto the chains & pull manually, and sometimes, 
Ratch-a-Pull Dual Action 
we have to hook them up to a long-handled contraption with a crank that allows us to get some better mechanical pulling.  
Many times, we can save cow and calf.  Unfortunately, last night, after a long struggle, we lost the baby calf, but were able to save the cow.
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Friday, November 23, 2012

Day 23: Magnet

Yes, this is a giant magnet.  We also give these to cows, like the big pills in order to keep them safe.  You see, occasionally "junk" gets in the fields (pieces or bits of wire or fence, an old nail, etc.).  When we chop the fields (especially hay), whatever little pieces may be in the field sometimes get scooped up & chopped with the hay, put in the bunker, and eventually fed to the cows.  Also, cows just seem to be able to find bits and pieces of metal (however much we may try to prevent it).  Bits of rust, or that screw that fell out of your hand and into the lime, that as much as you may look to find it, you can't (but the cow can!)

We give a magnet to all of our heifers in order to make sure that any of this "junk" that they may come across in their life finds the magnet, and sticks to it, keeping whatever the pieces of junk are from poking holes in their stomach wall, or otherwise causing them pain.

Just a little something different that you've probably never thought of giving a cow a magnet to eat before....

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Day 22: Things to be Thankful For

We have a lot to be thankful for this year.
Here is just a few of the reasons why....

Beautiful scenery...

 A new barn for the cows...

Plenty of food to eat...

Adorable, healthy calves...

Enough rain this year to make our crops grow....we were VERY fortunate compared to others.

 A roof over our head....

Beautiful baby girls....

With really cool uncles....

And Grandparents...

And great-grandparents....

 And a healthy, happy family!

We are truly blessed, and have lots to be thankful for!

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Day 21: Cow Pills

I have never swallowed pills well.  Too many amoxicillin pills when I was a kid for sore throats.  I called them horse pills.  Well, I"m not real knowledgeable about horse pills, but I do know that cow pills are NOT small.  They aren't small animals, and their pills are sized accordingly.
We give cows pills for things when they are sick:  diahhera, fevers, and sometimes for prevention of illnesses (like vitamins).
This is one of the pill pushers we use to give the cows their calcium supplement.  We give a calcium supplement to every cow after calving to help her replenish the calcium in her body as she begins to milk.
Some pills we use for general "not feeling well"
A smaller pill pusher for the above pills.
I used my pop can for some size reference.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day 20: Ear Tags

Telling all the cows on the farm apart is no small feat.  When we got married, I never thought I would come close to telling them all apart.  You can't just say, go bring the "black and white one"....they are ALL black and white!  Spending 4 hours a day with the cows, you get pretty good though; I could tell them all from the business end until I went on break.  However, we don't have to know them all by sight/memory.  That's why we have eartags.  Every farm has their own system.  Ours is a yellow ear tag in the left ear (this is the ear facing you when they walk in the parlor.  It's shocking how useful making sure it is in the left ear is!).  It has the # of the animal (in this case, #147), the # of the calf's dam/mom (in this case #8033), and the calves month and day of birth (December 19th).  It also has the name of the sire/dad on the back.  We can tell what year it was born in by the 1st digit of the #.  All calves are numbered in order at the beginning of each year, and at the start of a new year, we start over the numbers.  This calf was the 47th heifer calf born in 2011.  The first calf born in 2013 will be 301. 

These tags give us lots of information about the calf in a single glance, which is useful when we are doing chores, we don't always have to go back to the recordbook to tell the vital info on each animal, because they all are black and white, and sometimes they look at lot alike! :-)

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 19: Teat Dip Cup

Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a cup that dips the teats of the cows.  Before every cow is milked, each of her teats is first dipped with an iodine-based solution that kills any bacteria on the outside of the teat.  The towels are then used to wipe the teat clean of any organic matter and the iodine solution before the milking machine is attached.  After a cow is done milking, she is then dipped with a different solution, called a post-dip.  It too is usually iodine-based to kill any bacteria that may be remaining on the teat end, but it may also contain skin conditioners (think: lotion) that keep the teat end soft and prevents chapping in the winter months (think:  chapstick).  They may come in a variety of sizes, colors, and actual shapes, but this is the most common one used on a lot of dairies, complete with a handle for easy hanging off the CIP units.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 18: CIP units

CIP (Clean in Place) units are a VERY important part of keeping all of our milking machines, hoses, and pipes clean and sanitary.  This isn't just like doing the dishes, there are lots of crevices and parts that need thoroughly cleaned after each milking, and that can't be done correctly and efficiently by hand, so we use these units to mechanically make sure all milk from the previous milking is cleaned, and that the milking machines are sanitized before the next milking.  (Think of it as an ultra powerful dishwasher.)

To clean the milking machines, they are all attached to the CIP unit.  First, a blast of hot water rinses the units (think of it as pre-rinsing the dishes before going in the dishwasher).  Then, detergent is mixed in, and the machines undergo another round of hot water washing - this time with soapy water.  Then, a final cycle that includes an acid-based sanitizer is run to disinfect.  This pushes water through every crevice that milk can get into, ensuring a clean and safe system to collect milk for you and your family.  To be extra clean, we also run another sanitizing cycle with a chlorine based sanitizer immediately before milking.
We go to all efforts to make sure that everything we use to bring milk to you is clean and safe.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Day 17: Milking Machine

Yes, this is one of the more important items on our farm, as it gets used twice a day, 365 days a year. We're thankful that they exist, as they obviously help us be more efficient, and they are actually better and easier on the cows too.

We just got the numbers back from yesterday's test day, and we went up again, so these little machines milk out over 22,000 pounds from each cow, each year for a total of over 2.1 million gallons of milk leaving our farm to you each year.
And, yes, the green and blue, along with the orange block I on the floor make for a very colorful parlor!

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Day 16: Milk Meters

Today's post seems fitting, as our cows used these this morning to measure how much milk they give.  Today is what is known on dairy farms as "test day".  It is the day each month that our tester, Jen, comes with 12 of these meters that are attached to each of the milking machines, and weighs how much milk each cow gives. In addition, samples are taken from each cow's milk and sent to a lab to be analyzed for milkfat, protein, and bacteria count.  All of this information is transmitted to Brent's labtop & is in a program called PCDart that we can utilize to run reports, and identify cows with problems and figure out who has the best (and worst) genetics in the herd.  It allows us to look at a cow's milk production, and if she has dropped off significantly from the previous month, it tells us there may be a problem, and we investigate "cow-side". For example, Brent has a list of cows that he is checking out as we speak.

We anxiously await who the High Cow of the month is - that is the cow that gives the most milk. Brent prints off a report shortly after returning from the barn that allows us to look at the milk weights and some of the cow's vital information such as age, stage of lactation, and the difference in milk from last month's weight.  This month's winner is a tie - #8013 a 5 year old, 3rd lactation cow, and #7559, a nice 2nd lactation cow that we bought from a neighbor as a bred heifer last year when we built our new barn.  They both topped out at 118.4 pounds per day.  (@ 8 lbs/gal, that is 14.8 gallons of milk which is nearly 237 glasses of milk from EACH of these 2 cows every day!).  One of my more favorite cows, Kaliedoscope, (or #7025 for ease of entering) was #5 @ 103 lbs.
The entire herd averaged 72 lbs of milk today.  This is down a bit from last month, when we were very happy that we crossed the hump to 1500 pounds of combined fat & protein, meaning each cow gives 1500 pounds of butterfat (that goes into butter, cream, etc.) and protein (that goes into cheese) each year.  This is a hump we've been waiting to cross for awhile, and finally did last month (we went to Culver's for lunch to celebrate with Ainsley!).  Hopefully, we won't roll back below that this month, but this is figured on a 12 month rolling average, so we are still knocking off months from last year when our cows were recovering from VERY hot temperatures and an unfinished barn (therefore, little to no cooling fans & sprinklers available), so I'm pretty optimistic.  We also haven't had any calves for almost a month, and cows that have recently calved give more milk, so we're in a bit of a lull until next week when we'll have a batch due in early to mid December, and then we've got another break until the end of January.

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 15: Pivot Gates

Normally, gates in a barn wouldn't make the list of things neat enough or important enough to make this list; however, the pivot gates in our new barn are really cool.
Instead of being hinged at the side, the are hinged in the middle, and rotate up in the air.
Cows eating under the opened gate

A cow passing under the gate

Pulling the gate closed

Closed gate

The weights up in the air

Closed gate latched shut
 In our batn, where these gates are if they operated like "normal" gates, when they were open they would block off either freestalls or some of the feed alley.  Thanks to our engineering friend Andy who suggested this very simple, and yet, very effective type of gate, we are able to corral our cows more easily.  This particular gatemakes Day 14's item, headlocks work well in the new barn.  With only 20' or so of headlocks, we can sort the cows we need into the small pen using these gates, feed them, lock the headlocks, and typically have them caught before the vet arrives.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Day 14: Headlocks

These contraptions make life on a dairy farm MUCH easier.  So much so, that when we got married 7 years ago, there was only 1 set of old headlocks in the youngest heifer pens (that most of the heifers are too smart to make use of them), and now there are headlocks in the breeding heifer, maternity, and milking cow barn. 
The work by cows sticking their head through the bars in order to eat.  Most of the time, the cow is free to pull her head back out of the bars and go about her day, but when we set them to "lock", when the bar moves as the cow puts her head in, the bar is locked vertically, and the cow can't back out.  This allows us to vaccinate, treat, breed, or otherwise corral a cow, or more accurately typically a group of cows without having to fight them into a stall or confined space in order to get them whatever care they need.

Headlocks are a great thing that will continue to grow at the dairy over time.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Day 13: Cornstalk Bales

We aren't done making use of everything off those corn fields see, we can also use the stalk as a bedding.
They can be rolled into bales, and used as either a fiber-heavy feedsource, or as bedding.  You may have also heard of corn "stover" being used as a feedstock for the next generation of cellulose ethanol.  Some people raise the concern that baling the cornstalk will cause erosion of the soil.  As you can see here, even after the cornstalk residue is removed, there is still plenty left to keep the soil in place.  Now, you may want to be careful in selecting fields that will have residue removed, but in most fairly flat to slightly rolling hill areas, it isn't an issue, especially with today's corn hybrids that give higher yields and therefore, there is a lot more stalk leftover than there was say 10 years ago.

And, I promise to get into more "cow stuff" (this blog is supposed to focus on cows and pigs), but fieldwork is going on right now, so it makes for easy inspiration!

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Day 12: TMR Mixer

Growing up, this was simply "the mixer", but here on the dairy, it gets an acronym in front.  TMR stands for Total Mixed Ration, which is what we use the mixer to create for our cows.  Ours is a little more sophisticated, as it is connected to a scale, which weighs the amount of each ingredient as Brent adds it to it with the skidsteer.  He adds corn silage, haylage, ground corn, and supplement to create the total ration he feeds the cows and heifers.  Each group of animals:  milking cows, dry cows, maternity cows, and heifers get their own ration with a slightly different mix of those ingredients.  Inside the mixer is a big beater, just a bigger version of your home mixer used for baking.  This stirs and mixes the feed until it is well combined, with the goal that no matter where along the bunk the cow eats, she gets the same feed. 

A new vertical mixer is on Brent's Christmas list, so if anyone would like to get him a Christmas present.....

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day 11: Silos

Silos are an iconic fixture of farm landscapes.  Nearly every farmstead, whether it currently serves as an actual working farm anymore or not, in Northern Illinois seems to have at least one of these structures on it.  We have 4 - these 2 are the ones we use.  The blue one, known as a Harvestore holds high moisture corn (remember, you can't store corn wet in a bin or it will mold, but this structure seals out the air, so it can be stored safely, and wet corn is a little more digestible for cows), and the taller concrete one stores our silage for the year.  We use a blower to virtually blow the silage (or corn) from the bottom, where it is unloaded, up the white tube on the side, and into the silo itself.

Then, to get the feed out, we leave a hole in the middle with a fancy little thing called a "hole former" (or at least that's what Brent calls it when it comes time to adjust it), which leaves a hole in the middle of the silo all the way to the top, and then an auger sweeps around the silo at the top of the feed, pushing feed down the hole & to a conveyor which loads it into our mixing wagon.  The auger moves down the silo as the feed is fed, so last feed in is the first feed out.  Lots of these silos aren't used anymore because it takes a lot of moving parts (the blower, the hole former on cables and pulleys, the auger, the conveyor) that have a tendency to break (especially on cold, icy days), so many farmers, especially farms as they get bigger and the year's feed won't fit in the silo, or feed enough that it takes too long to fill the mixer using a conveyor go to the bunker method.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 10: Silage Bunker Piles - Storing all that Feed!

I was once asked, "What are those big white mounds on I-65 south of Chicago?".  I had to think for a minute, and then was able to figure out that what this person from Chicago saw along the interstate as they drove south towards Indianapolis was the silage bunker piles from the Fair Oaks Dairy farm that is along the interstate. (And has a great tourable facility, if you are ever in the area!)  When we chop silage, we need somewhere to store all that feed, as it needs to last until we chop the silage the following year, so we need 365 days of storage.  When you take the entire corn plant & chop it up, it yields a lot of tons (20+ tons/acre, in fact).  Cows also eat a lot (80+ lbs/cow/day), and corn silage is the main ingredient in their feed.  Some farmers use the "pile" or bunker method to store silage (we'll cover silos tommorrow).  They put the silage into giant piles, packing the feed tight with tractors to squeeze the air out, and make it an anaerobic (without oxygen) storage, so that bacteria can ferment the silage (yes, we want these bacteria to do their work!).  The pile is then covered with plastic (hence the white cover), and the plastic is secured with, in many cases, tire sidewalls (remember, I said we are the original recyclers!)  The plastic is removed a bit at a time as the cows are fed throughout the following year, until the pile is fed, and ready for another pile the following year.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Day 8: Other Fertilizers

This is an anhydrous ammonia tank.  As temperatures drop this fall, you will see more and more of these out and about as those farmer's without access to manure fertilize their fields for next year.  Anhydrous is a pressurized liquid form of nitrogen that is the most common nitrogen fertilizer used by farmers.  As it is under extreme pressure, it is also dangerous, so make sure to be careful when following one of these on the road.

Since the application of lime takes big equipment, most farmers hire it done by the local cooperative.  Here, the spreading machine waits for the truck to bring a load of lime that will dump into the bottom of the conveyor, which will be used to load the spreader.
I also had the ability to show you how farmers fertilize their fields using a dry product.  In this case, the local cooperative was preparing to haul lime onto the field across from our house.  "Lime" is simply a form of limestone that we apply to fields to increase the pH.  We test soils every 4 years, and test for several things, including pH, Phosphorous and Potassium levels.  We use the results to add products as necessary to provide optimal growing conditions for our crops.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day 9: Chiselplow

If you live on flat ground, chiselplowing is one of the 1st jobs you get to do as a kid.  It's pretty simple - drive across the field with the tillage implement in tow.  It doesn't matter if you overlap, or even skip a little here and there...just remember to turn at the end of the field and not get too close to the fencerow.  I've also heard of it being a date night and a way to pick up guys, but that is certainly a secondary purpose.

It can take a lot of horsepower to pull some of these implements across the field, as evidenced by the big tractor here. (and, no, it isn't ours, it was parked next to our field, and was therefore handy for a picture!)

The smell of tilled ground is in the air as farmer's work to beat this weekend's rain.

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