Our granddaughter Olivia (age 5) and her mom, our daughter Carrie, will come see us this weekend. When Olivia comes, she helps me with the calf chores -- she loves the cows! We visit the cows in the show barn; she knows them by name! She knows what to do in the calf barn and will pick up the milk buckets, push the grain cart, feed the bottle, etc.
Olivia "owns" three animals; she has shown each one in the show ring for three years now. Each phone call she asks me: How is Liv? Is she still giving 50 pounds (per milking)? How is Angelina? (She is expecting her calf next March and is now on another farm, but I see her once in awhile) How is Taz? Has she moved up to the next pen? (She is now in the heifer barn; the calves move through the pens as they grow.) Olivia is our farm girl!!!
Linda and her husband, Dale, will be hosting some new visitors next month when the Illinois Farm Families Field Moms venture out on their first farm tour. Field Moms from the Chicago area will have the chance to meet Liv, Angelina, and Taz, as well as have conversations with Linda and her husband, Dale, about farming in Illinois today. Come back to watchusgrow.org to see the Field Moms' experiences and read about it on this blog!
This statement has defined our lives, for better or worse, for the last 4 months. It is the question I asked every time I got home after dark and hadn’t yet had a chance to see the day’s progress. It is the question that all of our friends, neighbors, and families ask us when they see us. You see, “The Barn”, has been the focal point of the summer projects. On the farm you typically have a list of summer projects. Sometimes that list may have things like paint the barn or re-roof the barn, but complete rebuilding of the barn is another level of project entirely. Therefore, we have spent a great deal of time deciding all the little things that will make our cows lives better. For some reason, we had the idea that we would turn the barn around & have it finished in May. It is now September. However, like at the end of planting or harvest, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
The cows needed a new barn. (I mean REALLY needed a new barn!) After nearly 40 years, the existing barn had simply run its course. And, of course, we couldn’t just rebuild what we had. You see, we’ve learned a lot about cows in the last 40 years. The cow of today is not the same cow of 40 years ago. She produces more milk, she is bigger, she eats more, she gets hot easier. However, we hope to make life easier for our cows. Unlike our house (or most other farmhouses I know), the cows’ house has ceramic tile under the feed bunk for easy plate-lickin’. They also have bigger bed frames (we call them stalls), and more comfortable mattresses in those beds than the old barn. We also added almost twice as much of everything to keep the cows cool in the heat: natural air flow (via higher sides and bigger curtains), forced air flow (fans), and water space.
I’m sure within a couple years we’ll come up with the next thing that we’ve learned that will make life easier for the cows, and we’ll implement whatever that next thing is as soon as possible, because we always want what is best for our animals. We are always learning, and we have to change or adapt whenever we learn something new. We hope the cows will forgive us for temporarily disrupting their lives while we were under construction this summer, and hope that they will appreciate all these improvements, and thank us in the form of more milk. The old adage holds very true. If we take care of the cows, they’ll take care of us.
Check out the process on Carrie's blog, My Cows & Pigs.
Last night was Back-to-School Night at my son’s elementary school. Families crowded through the doors to visit classrooms, the library, the gym, and the science room – by far the most popular with Buttercup the hamster, two aquariums of fish, two parakeets and the guinea pig Violet and her new baby. Teachers passed out important papers about homework, the new report card, parent-teacher conferences and school snacks.
School snacks. According to the handout I brought home the state requires school districts to form a wellness committee that focuses on “health and nutrition education as well as physical activity for students”. In that effort, our district has mandated all snacks and birthday/holiday treats be store-bought and individually wrapped in order “to protect students with food allergies, prevent spreading illness and foster better nutrition.” The handout listed suggestions of “healthy” snacks like packaged apple slices, fruit cups, baby carrots, and the list goes on.
My reaction was this: Now our children, many who do not have any connection to our food production system, will learn that an apple comes sliced in a sealed plastic bag with a little tub of caramel dip on the side. That carrots are deep orange in color, uniform in size and shaped like a mini-hot dog. Think that’s a stretch?
What color of cow produces chocolate milk? I’ve been pen-paling with students through the Farm Bureau’s Adopt-A-Classroom program for six years, and I’ve heard the sincere answer, “A brown cow.
That is no fault of the child or his/her parents whose lives may not include a direct connection to food production. I don’t know that it can be blamed on any one thing or person; however I do believe in our societal effort to combat childhood obesity; our school’s wellness ways could actually hinder the movement to healthy living.
I don’t have any founded research on which to base my argument that growing your own food will foster healthy eating. I’m a mom of two (ages 6 and 4) and have learned their willingness to eat broccoli lies in their connection to the food. Every spring we plant a vegetable garden. The kids help – to the best of their ability – to plant, water, dig, weed, mulch and squish bugs who like our veggies as much as we do. This summer, my personal reward came when I sent them to the garden to harvest broccoli for dinner. Normally, not a vegetable voluntarily touched at the table, their excitement over displaying the product of their hard work trumped any upturned noses. Broccoli was eaten with pride. There is something to be said about literally having a hand in growing our food.
If healthy snacks are on schools’ menu, then I propose we till a small school-yard garden, plant some carrot seeds and maybe an apple tree. I have a hunch those snacks would satisfy so much more than a child’s appetite.
Grand Prairie Farms
When hearing for the first time that I’m a grain farmer, people often ask what I do during the summer and winter. I often have to stop and think about it, because the days seem to click by, every hour filled with something, even though I’m not sitting in a tractor or combine. We never run out of things to do – taking care of the animals, maintaining their buildings, repairing and rebuilding tractors and other equipment from the previous season, marketing, purchasing seed and fertilizer, paying bills and preparing budgets, maybe even blogging – the list goes on. We recently took a day to host Monica Eng, a writer for the Chicago Tribune, for a farm tour. As part of the Farm Families effort, we feel it’s important to tell people our story. Better yet, when we get the chance, we like to show people our story, especially those that can tell lots of other people about it.
These days, however, it’s easy to explain what we’re doing – readying our grain drying and storage system and other field equipment for fall harvest.
We’ve had beautiful weather since the hot spell in July, and we’re taking this opportunity to get some major renovations as well as minor repairs done. This year we expanded one of our grain bins to hold more, increasing from 40,000 bu to 60,000 bu. A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds, and fills a volume roughly the size of a five-gallon bucket. If a field produces 200 bu/acre of corn (which won’t happen this year, unfortunately), the bin could now hold the crop from 300 acres. Total on-farm grain storage now totals about 450,000 bu. In addition to working on that, we’ve done some other significant work on the equipment that moves the grain around the farm – augers, dump pit, pipes, etc.
Besides the grain system, we’ll service the combine, trucks, tractors, and tillage equipment again so when the crops are ready, so are we. We’ll mow ditches and waterways once more to knock down weeds and tidy things up. Any major outdoor projects will have to be done now, since during the course of harvest, which will start in 2-3 weeks and take approximately 50 days, the weather could turn nasty. Before we know it, it will be Halloween and then Thanksgiving, and time to start making preparations for the 2012 crop!