If you're going to know something about me, let it be this: I love cows.

I am also a proud participant in the dairy industry, and I think we have a great story to tell about our farm businesses, our animals, and our product (MILK!).

So welcome to the conversation; I'm devoted to dairy, and happy to answer any questions you may have.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

(Dairy) Cliff Jumping

Greetings from my office in Wyoming County!

It's cold out and because I'm somewhat unmotivated to go the gym as initially planned, and because I finally got on a productive roll this afternoon- it's 6:30pm and I'm still at my desk. Gosh, my life is exciting.

One of the more interesting e-mails that managed to come through my inbox, despite the spotty internet and phone service we suffered through all day, was discussing the effects and a little unofficial ruminating on the the Farm Bill which (finally) passed Congress today. 

My opinions on the ridiculousness of the whole situation aside, we have a Farm Bill in place for 2013, which is to say, Congress  passed an extension of the 2008 Bill that was already in place, with a few exceptions.

Most notably impacting dairy farmers is that the Milk Income Loss Contract aka: MILC, has been renewed (yes, the one that I was ranting about in a recent post). If milk prices and feed costs remain where they are, dairy farmers can expect payments for several months in 2013, which will mean a little relief for many small to mid-size herds. For the big guys, it doesn't amount to more than a drop in the bucket, despite any proportionally-similar profitability strain.

Additionally, all the talk on milk prices in the store reaching $8 per gallon has been squelched as extending the bill means we will not revert to 1940's milk pricing. While the threat of a $40 price paid to farmers per hundred pounds of milk was appealing, in reality, it would have been extremely harmful to dairy product demand, as many who already struggle to put food on the table would have been forced out of consuming dairy products. And that my friends, is not something we would likely recover from, while the dramatic price increase would regulate as demand fell off.  Good or bad, our industry has been saved from careening off the dairy cliff.

For my dairy industry friends, it was noted that Congress acknowledged the dairy industry's self-made, hotly debated but likely effective- price support program, however, lack of support leaves it on the back burner until the 2013 Farm Bill is back up for debate later this year.

For farmers of the crop variety, business will continue as usual, with price support programs remaining unchanged.

As for the bulk of the Farm Bill spending- SNAP and Food Stamps- these programs also escaped change for the next 12 months; while some Conservation, Trade, Rural Development and disaster assistance programs were not re-upped with the bulk of the Bill.

So there we have it... 12 more months of the status-quo for dairy farmers... which, in my opinion, is not a good thing. What we really need is comprehensive change to the way milk is priced in order to support new product development, keep good dairy farmers in business, and ensure adequate dairy food supply for consumers at reasonable prices.

Maybe next year.

In other news... I was able to spend some time at home over the holidays and catch up with friends and family. I'm (super) excited to report the heifer that had her first calf looks MUCH better and I'm actually pretty darn happy with her. Her calf is still gorgeous, has a stellar appetite, seemingly grows before your eyes, but is most unfortunately, still a bull.

Cheers to all and wishes for 2013 to be your best yet! I'm sure as heck hoping for a little less upheaval in my life and hopefully some progress with the new job, plenty of time with friends and family, and some success in the show ring!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Play On

Sometimes in life, you have a bad day.
And then sometimes you have days that are so brutal that when you finally return home to your apartment at 10pm- (Greetings from the apartment) and start inhaling the bag of Christmas cookies you *were* saving to bring home to your dad- you have serious considerations about moving back to the middle of nowhere desert and being a bitter, sand-covered, workaholick, spinster for the rest of your life.
My friends, I had that day. So, in an effort to salvage the last  55 minutes of December 13th, I'm going to list some of the things I'm thankful for...

1. My family- I was seriously blessed in the parents department. And my sister is pretty cool. And the family tree contains some others that I'm quite fond of. And they're healthy and mostly doing well.
2. I have a job- it's good to have income. And in time, I may really like this one.
3. I'm young-ish- so there's time to get things sorted out yet.
4. Christmas is coming- which means I get to go home where there is family and there are brown cows.
5. Friends- I have a handful of people who are getting me through. And always have, and always will.
6. God only gives us what he knows we can handle- so clearly he thinks I'm kind of a big deal. haha. but really- I know it wont kill me. Just sort of feels that way.
7. My headache finally went away- After making me miserable all day... its departure is making the list.
8. Tomorrow is Friday- and one way or another, i'm doing something enjoyable this weekend.
9. Utah- if my return to the northeast doesn't pan out, I can run back to the desert and the desert has calves, and calves make me happy. And the people who own the calves are okay too.
10. There is wine.

and sometimes, 10 good things can bring a little perspective...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Too Much Bull

Greetings on a chilly morning in WyoCo!
   I dont know what it is about working from home that moves me to do a little writing, maybe it's the bright blue walls or all-you-can-drink coffee supply... either way, here we are again.

   For anyone eagerly awaiting an update on CalfWatch 2012- the wait is over!
   Unfortunately it was a bull. Another bull...
   Which puts us somewhere around 100% bulls in the last two years (to be fair, we only have a few cows so it's only 4/4, but still, c'mon already!). But he's huge and healthy and the reports from NH say he's eating well. Fair warning folks, we don't get too attached to bulls because they end up in the freezer.
   More importantly, Deiter, now officially a cow (can't call her a heifer anymore) came through calving like a champ, despite having a 100+ pound first calf. That's a good Swiss for ya' :) While it's not initially looking like she'll have the show udder I was hoping/praying for, it may improve as the swelling goes down. More than likely, I'll find a herd in WNY for her to hang out in and she'll live like a normal cow instead of a total show pet. But of course I'll visit her, since she's been a pet too long to go cold turkey and I need to see a brown cow every so often.

   In other news, I held a meeting with a few dairy industry folks who were kind enough to offer their insight as my advisory group for this new job. 
   Since this was the last of my initial objectives to check off the original to-do list, I'm going to stop referring to it as a new job. 
   Bringing together a group of people with such enthusiasm and experience in serving dairy farmers, or being dairy farmers, was a great reminder of why it's important to spend as much time as possible with people who know a lot more than you do. The group included a few progressive dairy farmers, a financial consultant, veterinarian, nutritionist, animal health company rep, cooperative field people, extension specialist and my excellent adviser, and they didn't let me down- I picked up some good ideas, was given a few things to rethink, and was left feeling a huge amount of gratitude to be involved in an industry that supports young people and new initiatives to help dairy farmers as much as this group of people do.  
That's about it as far as happenings, but I'm heading to a calf symposium tonight where I will again be nowhere near the smartest person in the room- so I'm sure there will be a lot of good calf-raising information making it's way back to WNY. If you don't already, find me @calfadventures on Twitter- I'll try to remember to tweet any really cool updates from the meeting. 

Oh, and Happy 12-12-12!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Serious Friday Happiness

Greetings from my apartment, where I've spent the morning doing everything from cleaning to mass e-mail purge and sorting through the collection of handouts I've accumulated at meetings the past couple weeks. 
   While I don't exactly have time, I'm in a really great mood (thank you sleeping in my own bed for a change and TGIF) and wanted to share a few of my favorite things about this time of year. 
   First, Christmas is coming!!! in case you weren't aware. (haha)
My family is thankfully, not big on gift-giving which means I can get excited about the holiday without ever feeling like a pack mule walking through the frenzied mass of over-caffeinated, deal-seeking shoppers at every hyper-decorated shopping center. Small blessings...
   I also was ecstatic to discover I moved to one of those "small town USA's" that LOVES to rally around holidays. Our neighboring towns decorate similarly, which makes the drive back into Wyoming county really, really cool- compensating somewhat for the late hour at which I've been viewing those nicely decorate town squares lately. There are Christmas lights EVERYWHERE. And, since Christmas lights are one of my all-time favorite things... I'm feeling especially festive. I even made a wreath and wrapped lights around the deck railing outside, almost making up for not having a tree indoors. 
   Which brings me to another favorite of the season- the sounds and scents of Christmas. Bells ringing and countless renditions of "Last Christmas" and the deliciousness of evergreen, fires burning and cookies baking. None of which originate from my apartment since I'm not here enough to justify a tree, don't have a fireplace, and inexplicably burn everything that touches a cookie sheet. But I do have the radio on and a scentsy burner so the combination of Taylor Swift's catchy holiday tunes and "evergreen and cozy fireside" melting away is making me seriously happy. I may even try to make cookies Sunday. 
   Aaaand finally and most importantly, it's early December, and like many of my registered cow-loving peers, I'm impatiently waiting for a calf. Since size matters (in the show ring) the ideal time for a potential winter-aged show calf to be born is early December, and I've got a two year old heifer literally ready to pop at my parent's barn in New Hampshire, and I CANT WAIT! A heifer having her first calf is a twofer of anticipation because you have the potential of a heifer calf being born and the uncertainty of whether or not the cow will have a show-quality udder. I really like the heifer, and she's a granddaughter of my first cow (who's still hanging out in the same barn in NH), so ideally she'll develop well and I will be able to enter my first dam and daughter classes next year! Fingers most definitely crossed.
  Hopefully you're enjoying some holiday happiness of your own and to all those awaiting next year's crop of show calves: good luck!

                               (Design, aka Deiter, as a newborn calf about two years ago)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Frustrated about MILC

   Greetings from our booth at the NY Farm Bureau annual meeting, where I've been sitting since 11:30am (after a frantic drive in from Wyoming county) typing up a farm report since no one seems to notice us down here at the faaaaaar end of the exhibit hall. Maybe it's because attendees are in session, or maybe because they literally can't see our pretty new display since the hall is getting darker as night falls and we're soon to be lit only by a lamppost 6 feet away and Christmas lights on plants in the lobby. Either way, I found myself between thoughts on the report and checking facebook, (sue me, it happens), where I found a link to an article referencing pending financial hardship for NY dairy farms if we don't see a new Farm Bill passed by congress in fairly short order.
   I'm not overly bothered by some of the assumptions used in the article- it's fair to assume that on the off chance no bill is passed and we revert to the method of milk pricing used in the 1930's (which would happen without a new bill), and the government starts buying up milk using the old formulas (which I suspect is unlikely to happen), the cost of dairy products to consumers could increase to the point of diminishing demand.
   A bigger contention is that they really harp on the loss of the price support program- Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) which sets a floor on milk price paid to farmers on up to 2 million pounds of milk or so per year. What that means is that if you milk about 100 cows, all of your milk is covered, whereas if you milk 200 cows, (NY's average dairy farm size is a little less than 200 cows) only half of your milk production would be protected. So if you happen to be a larger family farm (97% of all dairy farms are family owned) then you're not getting much help from the program. And whether we want to admit it or not, 75% of our milk comes from the largest 25% of dairies- so for the relatively high dollar amount that goes out in MILC payments, it's not supporting the production of a whole lot of milk, although it does get paid to a large number of farms.
   Since it's my personal blog, I get to state my personal opinion- and to me, MILC unfairly supports small farms and size is not the sole indicator of profitability of a dairy farm. Please don't take this as saying there is anything wrong with small farms- I believe there is room for everyone in the milk production arena who can operate profitably; but in my experience, MILC payments support some unprofitable farms when economics say that farm shouldn't be in business anymore (for the time being, I'll leave untouched the topic of overall milk production economics and milk pricing being a big, ugly, inadequate system). MILC also fails to address that milk price alone doesn't determine if a farm is profitable. With the high cost of corn and other crops that are typically used to feed cows, the cost of making milk is up significantly, so it's harder to make a profit even though milk prices are high compared to the average price over time. So technically, even if dairy farms are losing money right now, MILC wouldn't kick in and help them until the price of milk drops another couple dollars. Not actually all that helpful.
   So basically, we need a new Farm Bill, one that is renamed the "Social Welfare Bill" to reflect that 90% of the money that goes to funding it is paid out in WIC and Food Stamps, and we need a better type of price support that is equally beneficial to small and large farms. In this time of high feed cost, everyone buying grain and forages to feed their cows is in the same boat, and size doesn't help- whether you're losing $1 a day on each of your 100 cows or $1 a day on each of your 1,000 cows- you're having a hard time. 
  And finally, can we PLEASE stop acting like there's something wrong with having a large dairy farm. There are savvy families running great dairy farms of all sizes in this state, and they all need access to support from disasterous prices.
   I'm sure in the final hour, congress will pass a bill and we will avoid 1930's milk pricing. Even so, MILC can and should go away, and a better program will take it's place. And eventually we will have appropriate milk pricing. And eventually HSUS will go away. And eventually everyone will milk Brown Swiss.
It's good to be optimistic.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Home Again

The last time I blogged, which was admittedly, many months ago; I was writing from the home office on a 3500 cow dairy farm in Central Utah where I was managing the recently re-acquired calf ranch for some wonderful fellow New England transplants . Flash forward 3000 miles, 4 months, several cow shows, and a new job later, and you'll find me writing from my new apartment in Western New York where I now reside in a county with 160 dairy farms- that's more than the entire state of New Hampshire!
The transition back to NY and a shiny new job in the dairy industry has me wondering at times if I wont end up back in Utah sooner or later- those calves, western mountains and some amazing people sure stole my heart- but for now, I'm enjoying the closer proximity of my friends, family and my pretty brown cows.
The new position that I have taken is a direct result of the excitement in NY over growing yogurt and cheese demand, and trying to ensure that dairy farms in WNY are given every resource to help them improve profitability and long-term viability. Since it's a newly created job, I've spent the past two months sorting out a plan of attack and developing relationships with some of the key players already serving dairy farmers in the region. A big part of my job is going to be finding the farms that want help developing long-term plans and goals for their dairy business, and connecting them with the vet/nutritionist/cow comfort specialist/nutrient management planner/lender/extension educator who will help bring their plans to reality. I've enjoyed meeting so many people and getting a handle on the needs of NY dairy farmers, but I'm beyond ready to get out on to farms again and actually feel like I'm doing something helpful! The pace of a new state job where I'm trying to build momentum is very different than the pace of working on that dairy out west!
When I'm on the job, which feels like a lot more time than I had while working with calves, I'm settling into this cool little town I've moved to- which at the moment is intensely decorated with Christmas lights- and visiting friends as much as possible. There are also the cows in NH, including the March calf out of one of my favorite cow families (the BoJoy Gretchen daughters!!!!) and my homebred heifer (the pretty girl pictured below) that is due in a week or two with her first calf! Get excited, there will be pictures!
So the downside is I won't have any fun calf stories anymore, but I will share the trials and (hopefully) successes as this new job gets rolling, and I'm sure some recap on the joys of being a single 20-something in a small town in rural upstate NY.

Oh, and fair warning to anyone with a dairy in western NY- you'll probably be hearing from me. Or I may just show up to pet your calves. Gotta get my fix.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cows Make Bad Pets

Greetings on a lovely day in Utah!
Tuesday is my day off when I choose to take it, but with a rapidly approaching trip to NY in T-minus 7 days, I decided to help at the ranch and treat calves anyway. Can't claim martyr here, because I then spent midday following the vet and owner as they did pregnancy checks- then an hour or two visiting with our Pfizer Animal Health rep working out a game plan for preventing pink eye and salmonella in the youngstock population. Then the nutritionist stopped by for his weekly visit and we kicked around a few ideas to improve the feed mix for my 200-300 pound heifer calves.
Not a bad afternoon! Honestly, how many people thoroughly enjoy "working" on their day off? It's a perk of dairy farming.
There were two things that came up and got me thinking about a subject that we explored in my Young Dairy Leaders class- namely, that there is a significant difference between livestock and pets.
Point No. 1 came via a story my Pfizer rep shared about her kids, all under 10 years old, and the menagerie of livestock at home, including three orphaned piglets, a pygmy goat, chickens, cats, a dairy goat that lost her kid, a few dogs and a bunch of beef cattle. The rep shared with me how the dairy goat- acquired from a friend to supply milk for the orphaned pigs, (also acquired from a friend)- had "adopted" her husband, reaching the point that she came home last weekend to find her husband being followed around the yard by 4 kids, the dog, a couple cats and a goat.
She talked about how her kids love to play outside in the dirt and feed, are proud of their dad's job "doing AI (artificial insemination)" and are budding entrepreneurs- attempting to sell eggs to every visitor to the homestead, and negotiating terms to borrow a neighbor's male goat to get their pygmy goat pregnant.
Her children have a true appreciation for livestock, hard work, and the rewards associated with both.
They help care for the dogs and cats as well as the pigs- recognizing that the pigs will be bacon in the freezer someday, and raising goat kids can help them save up money for a dirt bike- none the less caring and for them to the best of their ability.
Ultimately, these children recognize that there is a purpose for pets, and a purpose for livestock.
I'll be the first to admit that the lines can become blurred- my 12 year old cow Dee, is a pet. I've made management decisions regarding her care that would not be practical for a cow that wasn't one. She won't be sent for beef as most dairy cows are at the end of their productive life; not because I take issue with dairy cows being slaughtered for beef, but rather because she was never intended as anything besides a pet and cherished 4-H project.
Dee is my favorite, but I truly enjoy cows. I could lose an hour watching a row of Holsteins dig into fresh feed- so clearly content and enjoying the veritable feast provided for them twice daily. I find the same enjoyment watching my calves polish off a bottle of milk or hop around the hutch on a sunny, windy day.
I care for them obsessively- regarding their health and growth as the most honest indicator of my success as their manager. I take time to check on any calves that don't finish their bottles in the hutches, or appear to be withdrawn out in the pens after weaning. But they are not pets.
Which is point No. 2; demonstrated as we received word that a pen of milk cows had gotten out and were milling around the commodity shed and compost rows. No big deal, a number of employees, the owners, the nutritionist and I took off to herd the cows back into their corral. No yelling, no running, simply guiding the cows back to the correct area by blocking their access to the wrong paths.
It reminded me of the joy of trying to catch my Dee cow when she freed herself from a field in her younger days. There was running- she ran away from me, clear around the pond and into the woods! There was yelling- she got herself wedged between two small trees and had the audacity to look back at me implying I was responsible. There was no simple solution to Dee getting loose. I would compare it to the game my puppy plays when it's time to toss her into the back of the pickup and head to the ranch. She's going to end up in the truck but not before I chase her around the truck (and house, and trees).
Cows are happiest when they have a routine. When I show my dairy cattle, I need them to be used to being handled and easy to lead on a halter to ensure the safety of those working with them, and so they look their best. (Dee never subscribed to this theory) This requires a lot of time spent making that type of handling routine. For the calves I work with at the ranch- this type of handling will never be a part of their life. They will be allowed to spend their days eating, drinking and laying down at will; herded to the milking parlor three times a day and left to their herd mates otherwise. For these cows, it is sufficient that they are handled without undue roughness or noise- learning to view humans as nonthreatening- allowing them to be milked and otherwise handled without injury to dairy employees or to the cow herself.
There are certainly similarities- the needs of the cow are met and they live without fear, able to thrive and produce milk, but I wouldn't put one of my show cows into a corral at this dairy because they would follow the employees around trying to be petted, and I wouldn't put a halter on a cow at this dairy and expect her to lead like a dream around a show ring.
Pets are an extension of our family if you will, cared for to the best of our ability. Livestock like dairy cows also have all their needs provided for, but they were never intended to play fetch (Thanks A.Birch!) which makes them bad pets, but great animals to work with.