What the 1000 words miss

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, but as I was scrolling through pictures on the computer from the last couple weeks the other day I saw one that really struck me. It isn’t a particularly great picture. It is of me ear tagging our new miniature Hereford/Mini Zebu calf, Hermione. In the picture I am wearing a nearly 14 year old sweatshirt with too big shorts I bought in high school, paired with manure covered boots. I am kneeling in the straw (and probably also some poop) and my hair is a complete mess, falling haphazardly out of a messy bun. I have my arms wrapped around the still wet calf aligning the ear tag on her beautiful, tiny new ear. She was barely a half hour old in this picture. On the ground next to me is a disposable cup filled with a naval dip solution to help prevent her naval from getting infected. Someone in jeans is standing behind me. I am focused completely on the task at hand and you can’t even see my face in the picture.

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My face isn’t the only thing you can’t see in this picture. The 1,000 words that this picture is worth are not nearly enough to describe the moment that this picture captured. This calf was a particularly special one. In the 284 days since we had bred her mother, Ferdie, a lot had happened on our farm. We had completed our first year of our CSA and designed big plans to make our farm successful in the coming year. We had made the decision that we would work to grow our miniature herd, and that if this calf were a heifer (female), she would stay on the farm. If it was a bull calf, he would be sold.
This picture fails to capture the nights we woke up every couple hours to check on the cows to make sure they weren’t having calving and needing assistance. It doesn’t capture how truly exhausted we were or the relief we felt when a heifer calf was born without intervention to another one of our cows a few days prior to this.It doesn’t capture the fact that on that particular day we had left the farm for a few hours to stop and get my dad to come down and see the first calf and that we had just gotten ice cream when we got a call from Jonathan’s parents that Ferdie had her calf. It doesn’t capture the apprehension I felt as I drove questionably quickly through town and out the valley to get to the farm, because I couldn’t wait to see the calf for myself.
This picture doesn’t show the people that were there because they had all invested time and energy into waiting for the birth of this particular calf. You can’t see that I had people on all sides of me watching the gates blocking both mama cows, including a 1400 pound ball of protective mama anger named Jewel, from trampling me while I gave this calf everything it needed for a healthy start to life.
This picture doesn’t capture the wonder I felt when I saw that tiny little being standing in the stall for the first time. It doesn’t describe the tears that pricked the corners of my eyes when I saw it was a heifer, or the number of times that I looked at Jonathan and said “I’m not crazy, she is a heifer right??” because I couldn’t believe my own eyes. It doesn’t tell you how many times I told everyone around me how absolutely perfect she was.
This picture doesn’t even come close to showing the anxiety I felt deep in my throat as I worried about this tiny calf’s first few days of life as I remembered how hard it was to lose our only calf last year. The 1,000 words that this picture is worth cannot even begin to tell you how much we, and all of the farmers I know, care for our cattle; how much every calf means to us. It doesn’t describe the importance of why I needed to be in that pen with that calf, or why I needed a team of four men to block the mama cows from me.
While this picture certainly misses a lot to most everyone, but when I see this picture all of those things are what I think about. I remember the emotion that I felt during those few moments when I was with her. I remember looking in her eyes and giving her a kiss on her nose as my way of telling her that I would always watch out for her before I quickly jumped out of the pen. This picture is worth 1,000 words to some people, but to me it is worth far more.
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An emotional day.

Today is a little bit of an emotional day for me. I imagine it is for Jonathan too. Today is his last day as a large animal veterinarian. On Tuesday he will start a new job as a companion animal veterinarian. This might get a bit long, so grab a seat.

When I met Jonathan nearly five years ago he was laser focused on becoming a large animal veterinarian with hopes of getting a job at the local vet clinic after graduation. Through the three years of veterinary school that I knew him he was relentless in the pursuit of his goal.  He spent any free time he could being involved in large animal medicine related organizations. He would come home on breaks and ride along at that vet clinic to build a relationship with them to increase his odds of being hired when he graduated.

When job search time came around it was the first clinic he called. Unfortunately, they had no positions open at the time, so he applied to a variety of other clinics. The week  that we needed to make a decision he had four job offers on the table, but none of them seemed right. All of them would have required moving and for me to make a job change. We were down to a few days left to decide and were no closer to feeling confident in our decision. Then a miracle happened. His dream clinic had one of the veterinarians turn in their notice- a job was open and they wanted Jonathan to take it. I was so happy I cried. Watching his dreams come true filled my heart with unimaginable joy.

When he started working, he had a blast. He built relationships with farmers and handled the learning curve with as much ease as possible. Luckily for me, he wasn’t afraid to take me along for the ride- literally. Over the last two years we have spent countless hours in his vet truck and in the clinic. We have seen animals healed when we weren’t confident they could be, we have helped people say goodbye to their pets, and we have attended dozens of births of every kind. We’ve cut necropsies and cut c-sections. We’ve seen cows jump up and run away after being treated and we’ve had cows die in our hands. No two nights on call were the same. The stories we have from our adventures were almost always the kind where you would shake your head and say “you can’t make this stuff up”. We truly need to sit down and write down some of the stories before we forget them. It was a blast sometimes, but it was also a lot of work and it really drained you. And I wasn’t even the one making the decisions.

As time went by I started to see a shift in Jonathan’s attitude. He still loved treating animals and he had farmers that he would drop anything for to help out, but he started to become disenchanted with what he thought was his dream job. I did what I could to encourage him, but the excitement was gone. The romance was over. As the daily stress of being pushed around by 1500 lb animals, late nights and long hours continued to wear on him the disenchantment turned to dissatisfaction and dissatisfaction turned to burnout. I watched as his dream job turned into something he dreaded. It broke my heart.

Finally, he decided his best option was to look for another position in a different branch of veterinary medicine. In some ways I am happy that he is moving on to a safer, more consistent job. At the same time I will miss our adventures and the incredible people that we met along the way.

So today is his last day as a large animal veterinarian. He has told his clients goodbye and is starting over. The veterinarians at the clinic are top notch and we are so thankful for the opportunities they have given him. He is a better, smarter, person for having worked in that position.

Next week, we start a new adventure.

What 2016 Took.

Normally, I try to stick to farm related content on here, but perhaps today I will branch out a bit. 2016 has been a rough year for me and my family. As it comes to a close, I have told a few folks how much I cannot wait for 2016 to be over and to start over fresh in 2017. For the first time in a long time I was struggling to find good among the bad. I have been rolling over in my mind everything 2016 has taken from me.  It started out by taking our first calf, Snow Day (read about it here). Then it took away the promise of a future for my cousin’s son when he was diagnosed with a form of Batten Disease, that will likely end his life before the age of 18. It took my other cousin’s life when he overdosed on drugs after he promised me he didn’t “do any of that stuff”. It took a LOT more money than we thought it would because surprise expenses kept cropping up. It took my uncle to ICU at Ohio State for 13 days because of complications from a lifelong struggle with addiction after my mother has spent months trying to help him get his life back together. It took one of my dear friend’s first calves that we tried so hard to save. It took the promise of a future for my cousin’s daughter when she too was diagnosed with Batten Disease.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that 2016 had taken so much more than that. 2016 took a lot of love. It took me on a LOT of adventures! I traveled to Kansas City for the National Young Farmers and Ranchers conference. I drove from Seattle to Ohio with one of my very best, dearest friends to help her move home. I saw some really cool veterinary procedures and spent some time with some amazing folks.It took enjoying the GORGEOUS weddings of my closest friends! It took plenty of learning as I learned more about farming and life and I started into a Master’s Degree program. It took a lot of laughs.We are so blessed to have friends that keep us rolling with laughter every time we are with them. It took faith that God has a great plan for us. It took hard work balanced with fun.  It took a lot of time talking to God. It took the whole summer of preparing CSA baskets to finish our first successful year of having a CSA! It took lots of walks and runs that eventually led me to run my first 5K to help raise money for Batten Disease Research! It took the support of my amazing husband to get me through the bad days and smile with me on the good ones.

You see, 2016 took a lot of things from me, some of them were things I loved that I won’t ever get back. Others were things I gave willingly because they led to something so beautiful. I have been so blessed to have this year of my life! I think that, as is often the case country music says it best in Darryl Worley’s song “Awful Beautiful Life” When he sings, “I love this crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful life”!

CSA Day! 

Yesterday was an exciting day for us. Over the past few months we have been planning, planting, advertising, gathering supplies and plotting. Yesterday, some of our hard work paid off and we had our first pick-up day for our CSA! CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that people pay for weekly shares ahead of the season so that the farmer is able to put the crop in the ground without having to take out debt. This year we decided to start small. We only have 4 people in our CSA. This allows us a pretty big margin of error and a good way to give this a try! We are really excited to see what the rest of the year brings! I’ll start from the beginning. This winter I spent way too much time pouring over seed catalogs and deciding what I wanted to plant. I ended up finding a really good sale with one seed company that had a really excellent selection. I bought my seeds and immediately set to work with a calendar deciding what needed to be planted on which date. I wrote and erased and wrote and erased probably 100 times until my planting calendar was just perfect. We also spent a long time looking for, and finally purchased, a piece of equipment that will make our lives infinitely easier this summer. We also reached out on Facebook to find people who were interested in being a part of our CSA.


 Finally it was time to start seeds! I spent way too much money buying grow lights, evicted our farm cats from the utility room and got a ton of seeds started. I logged each variety and planting date in a notebook so I could keep track of what worked and what didn’t. Then I waited. I waited and I watered. I checked my little seedlings every day and celebrated a little every time a new green cotyledon sprung up from the black dirt. We planted some of the most hardy crops, lettuce and kale in raised beds covered with low tunnels. They basically look like 2 ½ foot high greenhouses and help maintain heat in the soil and protect the plants from frost.

 Once the weather warmed up I could start to plant some of the things that needed to be sown directly into the grown and not started indoors. I planted potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, greens, swiss chard, carrots and peas. We first tilled the ground using a disc plow. For some of the rows we disked the soil into small rows and used our new plastic layer to fill the rows and lay a strip of irrigation tape under a layer of black plastic to control weeds. We will utilize a gravity flow system for irrigation using the water from a nearby creek and an electricity-free pump that Jonathan is working on putting together.


We have had a LOT of rain here lately, so it has been nearly impossible to get into the field to finish laying plastic. There is some hope for it to stay dry enough the next couple days that we could get it done though! All of our plastic will be recycled through a county Ag Plastics recycling program.

 Our greens in our low tunnels started getting big and we had to time our first cutting to make sure that they were regrown so that we were ready to cut again for our CSA delivery. As the deadline approached we made sure that we had all of the supplies we needed (bags, labels, etc.) and just waited in patient anticipation for the day to come! The night before we cut the greens and sorted them into bags. We labeled honey jars and washed eggs. The next morning we packed everything up and waited patiently for each person’s pick up time. By the end of the day all of the shares were picked up and we got some really great feedback from our customers!


 There was a LOT of hard work that went into even getting part of our crops in the ground! The pride I felt at the end of the day in handing out a fresh, delicious product was immense. I love being able to share our passion and our story with people and having the CSA is the best way I knew to be able to connect with consumers. Thank you to all of our CSA members for supporting our farm and helping us make our dreams come true!

I am a Female Farmer

I am a female farmer and I am strong.

I can carry hay bales and turn wrenches.

I can hammer, saw and shovel for hours.

I can lug a calf across the sale barn.

I can carry a 50lb feed bag to the barn and never even flinch.

 

I am a female farmer and I am flexible.

I can eat a meal in the barn, in the field or wherever I need to.

The phrase “there has been a small change of plans” doesn’t phase me.

I can drive a tractor, ATV, car, truck, or semi depending on the day.

I can go from shoveling manure to dressed for a wedding in 30 minutes flat.

 

I am a female farmer and I am emotional.

I have fought back tears when I lost a calf I’d been fighting for.

I have felt joy when a sick calf got better.

I have struggled with deciding to euthanize an animal.

I have been filled with excitement when a new seedling breaks through the soil.

 

I am a female farmer and I am smart.

I can keep detailed records for the farm and keep track of every purchase.

I am constantly looking for continuing education because learning is important.

I can design systems to sort cattle or trouble shoot a broken piece of equipment.

I understand markets and how they affect my bottom line.

 

I am a female farmer and I am prepared.

I am rarely found without a pocket knife and some baling twine.

I almost always have at least one change of clothes in my car for when “plans change”.

I am skilled with a slow cooker so that my supper is always ready and warm.

My phone is always with me because farm accidents do happen.

 

I am a female farmer and I am imperfect.

I make mistakes. A LOT of them.

During the busy times of the year, my house is a mess and laundry doesn’t get folded.

I have a hard time admitting what I don’t know.

I really do not know it all and often have to ask for help.

 

I am a female farmer and I am passionate.

I will stay up through the night and get up before dawn to care for an animal.

I have dedicated my life to a profession I believe in.

I will defend a production method that I believe is safe until the end of time.

I will tell my story to whomever will listen because I believe the farm story is one worth telling.

 

I am a female farmer and I LOVE what I do.

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A Bunch of Young Farmers.

If you had to guess how many farmers between the age of 18 and 35 lived in Ohio what number would you say? 200? 400? Last weekend over 700 young farmers (and that definitely isn’t all of them!) came together and in Columbus for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Young Agricultural Professionals “Taking Root” Leadership Experience. And what an experience it was! 

  
Friday night started out with an incredible keynote speaker. He is extremely well known, but not nearly as well known as some of his work. Dr.Robb Fraley is the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto. Robb Fraley is one of the fathers of biotechnology in food. He helped pioneer the creation of Round Up ready soybeans in the 80’s. He was also incredibly down to earth and a fantastic speaker. He made some absolutely fantastic points and explained a lot of the background of transgenics that I had never even heard! He even invited all of us to come tour his facility sometime. I certainly intend to take him up on that. 

 

Dr. Robb Fraley speaking at the 2016 OFBF YAP Conference.

 
After Dr. Fraley spoke we closed our first evening with a private concert by The Henningsens, a really awesome country band. The group has 3 members; a father, his daughter and his son. The Henningsen family is a farming family that sort of stumbled into song writing and performing. The last song they performed was one that they wrote and produced in collaboration with Beck’s Hybrids. It is called “Why I Farm” and will easily bring tears to any farmers’ eyes.  

The Henningsens performing.

 The next day was filled with four different break out sessions that I had an absolutely horrible time choosing which to attend! For the first session I attended the “Understanding Food Safety Regulations” workshop. I chose this workshop because I want to be able to provide my customers with the safest, freshest produce possible. This workshop provided plenty of tips and detailed some of the new regulations being implemented. This is a really good example of how our investment in continuing education directly impacts you! 

The next session I went to was “The Protection and Practice of Beekeeping”. This session spent a lot of time focusing on the destruction that varroa mites have caused in beehives. We talked about how bees’ food supplies have changed as people have changed the landscapes over the years and how bee keepers have to adjust for that. Something really important he mentioned was how even people that don’t keep bees can help the bees out by planting bee friendly gardens! I know our gardens are bee friendly, how about yours? 

After a delicious lunch I headed to my third session, “Advancing Your Brand on Social Media”. If you follow the farm on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest (@AngelFamFarms for everything except Facebook) you probably already know I LOVE sharing on social media. I really enjoyed learning some of the really great tips that Dr. Emily Buck had to offer. I took a lot away from this session and I hope that it improves your social media experience with us! 

My last session was about marketing produce. There was a panel of successful Ohio produce farmers who utilized several different types of marketing for their produce. They shared their unique experiences and what made each marketing system successful for them. I particularly enjoyed hearing about how they had collaborated with each other to become more successful as a group! 

After the closing it was time to head back home. I was sad to be leaving such a wonderful two days of networking and learning, but I was also pretty darn exhausted! It became apparent that our day off from the farm was over when on the way home the young farmer from our county that I gave a ride to got a call that he had one ewe acting sick and two more that were getting ready to lamb and that he needed to get home as fast as possible. Back to it! 

An Unhappy Story and 3 Lessons

The last 6 days have been a whirlwind on our farm. Unfortunately, we did not get the ending that we had hoped for. This is not going to be a happy post, but it will be an honest one.

Last Wednesday as I was getting out of the shower J called me and told me that he was going to pull Jewel’s (our pregnant full size cow) baby. She was in labor and it was 8 degrees outside before windchill. He was afraid that she would not have the calf until we left for work and that we would come home to a frozen, dead calf. So I quickly dressed myself and hurried to the barn. By the time I got there there was a beautiful little heifer(female) calf on the ground and mama was nowhere to be found.

calf 1

Eventually, we made the call to bring her inside and dry her off. We desperately wanted mama to take care of her, but she was pretty shaken from the morning’s events and wouldn’t even come near the barn. A few hours later than optimal we finally got a bottle of colostrum in the calf. After about 12 hours it became apparent that the little calf didn’t want to drink a bottle. So we decided that we needed to tube feed her or we were going to lose her. for the next 24 hours we fed her with a feeding tube at meal time as she continued to not show any interest in her bottle.

Finally, we made a breakthrough; Seth spent a half hour working with the calf and got her to drink an entire bottle. From there things started getting better. Three days ago she started actively seeking out the bottle when we walked in the room and we no longer had to stick it in her mouth to get her to nurse. Two days ago we caught mama up in the head locks and showed the baby mama’s udder and she went to town for 25 solid minutes of milk guzzling happiness.

Calf 2

Yesterday morning she downed a bottle and was ready for more. Yesterday night I walked in her pen and she was laid out on her side. We got her up and took her out to mama where she showed very little interest in drinking. Jonathan took her back to her pen and offered her a bottle which she rejected. He grabbed the feeding tube and tube fed her a bottle and gave her an antibiotic but her condition continued to get worse. He came up to the house to mix some electrolytes and as he walked back into her pen she passed.

The last six days we have gotten very little sleep. We have hardly seen the inside of our house except to do laundry and feed our pets. We spent countless hours and a pretty good chunk of money on the calf. We have talked to dozens of people that have more experience with beef cattle. Our parents, neighbors and friends have spent hours helping us do what we could to keep this calf alive. In the end we have a beautiful little calf carcass behind our shed and 3 really good lessons learned.

  1. God (and nature) will win every time. Over the last six days we have experienced fear, frustration, joy and disappointment. We have done everything we knew to keep this calf alive and thriving. We still lost the calf. Sometimes things are out of your control and sometimes that sucks. God has a plan and apparently this was part of it. We have to accept it and move on.
  2. Efficiency is a huge problem on a small farm. While having a small farm meant that we did not have other calves to look out for at the same time, this was our only calf this year unless we get Ferdie (our mini cow) bred. Had this calf been our source of food for the year, we would be in trouble. We also did not have the resources that larger farms have. We did not have a squeeze chute to secure mama so we could teach baby to nurse. J took a pretty violent kick to the leg because of it. We did not have  colostrum replacer, which is why her colostrum intake was delayed. We had to go to a neighboring dairy farm to get a bag. There were a lot of things that would have gone smoother if we had the resources of a larger farm, but we don’t so we made do with what we have.
  3. Perspective. As one wise old Amish guy once told Jonathan after he euthanized the man’s favorite horse, “There are house problems and barn problems. This is a barn problem.” As mind bogglingly frustrating as the last six days have been, we are still okay. We are healthy and there are good things happening in our lives and the lives of those we love. We can still pay the bills, we have food on our table and a roof over our heads. We may have a barn problem right now, but our house problems are limited. We are blessed in so many ways.