Friday, May 4, 2012

Spring Cleaning at Soaring Eagle Dairy...

There are a bunch of things we do at the farm to transition from the cold months to warm months of Wisconsin.  During the cold months, we have a heater in the water tanks to keep water from freezing - these get turned off.  Additionally, we have a fan and water sprinkler system in all the barns that keeps the cows cool in summer.  These must all be gone through to make sure they are working properly. 

We also spend a day digging the sand out of the beds the cows lay in.  While each cow's bed gets groomed three times per day, removing any cow pies, deep down in the pile is a great place from bacteria to hang out.  As a result each spring before the weather gets warm (which would cause those bacteria to really get going), we dig the sand out.  The attached video shows the "plow" our shop guys built for on the back of the oldest tractor we have that cleans out 95% of the beds on the farm.  (Yup, that's a plow blade from an old mole board plow which is used to work up ground in the fall after harvest.) 

My brother-in-law Jeremy is operating the tractor and plow

The 5% of the sand that the plow doesn't get we get the old fashion way...shovel and "girl power".  It's interesting to note that because sand in an inorganic substance, the sand we take out just gets piled for several months.  Because there in no inoranic material to feed the bacteria, they eventually die off and we can test for bacteria and reuse a few months later.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Girl Power!!

I have to admit that when my younger brother started back at the farm, I thought perhaps the "Head Rock Picker" title would be passed on to him.  He is in his 20's and I am in my 40's...

I must have done a pretty good job over the years since they never reassign these duties.  Don't get me wrong, I get LOTS of help.  Luckily I have Mom to help with the tractor driving, Stacy and Kelly help out too and now are kids are getting to the age of actually being helpful and productive.  They are also beginning to appreciate a little money in their pockets and that is a great motivator.

We finished picking rocks on the 150 acres of alfalfa a couple weeks ago when we had some warm and dry weather.  This is usually the worst part of rock picking.  We need to pick all rocks bigger than a baseball.  On one 28 acre field this amounted to 3 wagon loads full.  On these fields we sometimes spend more time bent over than actually walking.  Makes for a long, tough day.  It was great to have this wrapped up by the middle of April since last year we didn't finish until June - this springs weather has been so productive!

This past Friday, we started on our corn ground.  We have about 850 acres of corn ground to cover, but the good news here is we don't have to pick anything smaller than a cantaloupe.  Today we covered 70 acres of corn ground on in 3 1/2 hours.  The fields we picked today however had some HUGE rocks in that needed to be moved before we could get in to work the ground.  So Kelly and I headed out and quickly ran over about 100 acres to remove the "big ones".  These two pictures show what we managed to accomplish in about an hour and a half.

The front half of the wagon...

The other half of our harvest.  Notice the handle and shovel head amid the big rocks for perspective.

Not only do we have the pride of knowing we managed to get all those bad boys on the wagon by ourselves, I also managed to find a gorgeous new rock for my flower bed.  Now I'm off to get some aspirin...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bull Stuff!

So as many of you know we don't have any bulls on our farm.  All cows are bred by artificial insemination, using semen harvested from bulls.  By doing so, we control the genetics of our herd to a certain degree.  You see, if a cow has a good udder and good feet, but perhaps her milk production is less than our average, we can breed her to a bull that has proven to provide daughters that have good milk production.  Conversely, if we have cow that milks like a rock star, but looks like she has a hard time on her feet and legs, we can choose a semen from a bull that will help her daughter improve that trait.

A straw of semen can range from $15 to $100.  That's a pretty big range, however when you consider the lower cost bulls are "not proven" and the higher cost bulls perhaps provide some pretty strong daughters, it makes sense.  Bulls are ranked on 30+ traits - everything from udder, feet, legs, milk production, somatic cell count, ease of calving...the list is huge!

The week of March 19th, we had a bit of "bull stuff" going on - even though we have no bulls on the farm.  We were contacted by Select Sires - the company we buy our semen from - to ask if we would allow them to come and take a picture of three of our cows.  These are daughters of young sires that they were trying to prove in hopes that these bulls would make it into the 2012 bull book.  So these three girls were given a good hair cut on Tuesday, and Wednesday morning they got a bath.  Then later in the day about 6 people showed up to get them all in the right position to be pictured for future marketing.  Here are the three girls they were interested in:

I admit these are some pretty nice looking cows, but the level of particularity that these guys taking pictures had was phenomenal.  You see the cows legs each had to be placed a certain way, and if the cow moved even just one inch, they had to move her back into place.  The last girl was particularly challenging - as soon as they had her in place and the folks helping moved out of the way, she would shift before the picture could be taken and then they'd have to start over.  Then things got funny.  You see Dale Sabo, of Select Sires, placed this drape over his head and crawled around on the ground making bellering sounds to distract the cow...which while it looked ridiculous - it worked.  The cow stood perfectly still when she saw this:

Finally, it's interesting to note that we now have technology in place to use semen from a bull that is 90% certain to produce a heifer calf.  Semen can be sorted based on sex of the off spring.  This is often used by dairies interested in growing to allow them to fill barns using their own cows rather than purchasing from the outside.  Another example of the technology that makes our industry so interesting!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Welcome Home Nick!!

My previous posts point out that there are 3 of us girls at Soaring Eagle Dairy farming with our parents.  We are so excited that another member of the family is also back on the farm joining us.  My brother Nick graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a business and marketing degree and has worked for about 5 years at Acuity Insurance in Sheboygan as an underwriter.  While that was a GREAT place to work, something has pulled him back to the farm.  Perhaps it's the thought of spending countless hours with his sisters every week!!

Since it's hard to beleive anyone would trade in a job with the countless gifts Nick received at his previous employer (gift cards, the most AMAZING gift basket at Christmas, beer served with lunch on Brewer's opening day, pumpkins in fall, strawberries in summer, Packer hat when they won the Super Bowl - the list goes on....), I thought some may enjoy seeing Nick in action at Soaring Eagle.  Here's a few shots....

My favorite of these pictures is the last one.  We are working on a project in our parlor and Nick is using a jack hammer to bust out some concrete.  Now if I can only get a picture of him with some dirt (yes, I mean manure) on his clothes!! 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ultrasound for Cows?? Yup!

Every Tuesday at Soaring Eagle is herd health day.  Each week our vet, Dr. Jeff Bleck of Dairy Doctors in Plymouth, WI stops by about 8 am.  He's usually on the farm for about 2 hours and most of his time is spent checking cows to determine if they are pregnant.  Here is a video and explanation of how that works:

So about 35 days after the cow is inseminated, she is checked for the first time to determine if she is pregnant or not.  During this time we can tell if she is having twins which happens in about 4% of cow pregnancies.  Then 30 days later we check her for a second time.  At this second check, Jeff is actually able to tell us if its a heifer calf or a bull calf.  He also checks all our cows before breeding them for the first time to make sure they are in good condition for breeding.  If a cow has a difficult time transitioning to a milk cow, we may wait a bit longer before beginning a breeding program on her.  In the video below, Jeff is checking more cows and we show you what he sees on the eye piece that he's wearing:

On this particular day we checked 30 cows, of which, 24 were confirmed pregnant.  We have a deal with Jeff that if we hit 75% on any given week, he buys us lunch.  Up until this day, that's only happened once!  Since 24 of 30 is 80% it looks like we'll be going for lunch again soon!  Now he wants to raise the goal for us however, but I guess that called continuous improvement!!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Technology - Necessary to Feed the World!!

There has been much discussion in our industry regarding our need to keep up with the food needs of our growing planet.  You see, by the year 2050, we will need 100% more food and it has been determined that 70% of this increase must come from technology and improved efficiencies.  Since I truly believe that food is a basic human right for ALL people, we must continue to find new practices, products and genetics to meet this need.  More information regarding this can be obtained by watching the following video (Click on link that follows):

One in six people around the world is hungry. Watch and learn how more people can eat:

There has been much controversy regarding the use of genetically modified seed and the use of rBGH in dairy cows.  These are both examples of technology that allow us to produce more with fewer resources and with a smaller carbon footprint.  It infuriates me that as a consumer I no longer have a choice in the grocery store to buy milk produced on farms that choose to use rBGH!  The Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, American Dietetics Association, and the National Institute of Health have independently confirmed that dairy products and meat from BST treated cows is safe for human consumption. It's use allows us to produce every gallon of milk with less land, feed and water!  As consumers, this means that we pay a higher price for milk in the grocery store and I worry that for some it means that milk gets removed from the grocery list and is replaced with soda or Kool Aide. 

If you believe that having a choice in the grocery store is the right thing, the next time you are there ask them to carry milk that is produced using a safe, proven technology which will keep more money in your pocket.  You see, consumers can not buy milk which is "rBGH free" - since this is naturally found in cows milk.  For those who choose to buy milk produced without this technology, I ask that you too consider standing up for the rest of us who do not have a choice and ask your grocer to carry both.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Parade Reminder

This year the annual St. Patrick's Day parade will be held in Manitowoc along 8th Street on Friday, March 16th at 6:30 pm., with fireworks to follow.  Be sure to get there early to get a good spot along the route.  Last year, the picture below was taken of our float and while we decided to take this year off, several of us plan to be there as observers. 

The following is our wish for all our friends, family and followers.  It is an Irish Blessing that is dear to our hearts.

May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
and  until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.