Undercover: What’s What?

Normally I feel pretty optimistic about agriculture and raising food. It’s a timeless vocation, and everybody needs to eat. What makes both my brain and my heart hurt are those who want to determine through fear what we should and should not eat.

Animal rights extremists are part of the picture farmers can no longer ignore. While I fully believe in caring for and treating animals well, I also believe in eating meat, milk, eggs, and other animal products. This unfortunately puts me at odds with many animal rights groups who, if you look closely, really aim to end all animal agriculture.

Don’t get me wrong — if someone wants to eat a purely plant-based diet they should absolutely be allowed that choice. I should be sensitive to that, and there’s no need for me to judge. In many cases we can get along and even learn from each other.

But everyone needs to be allowed to make their own food choices on the spectrum. When organized groups start trying to scare and manipulate people into avoiding animal protein, then I take issue.

Things get further confusing when you realize groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), give comparatively little to pet shelters and spend lots on lobbyists trying to influence policy against livestock farming.

As a side note, if you care about homeless pets, PLEASE give directly to your local shelter or rescue. They will put those dollars to work in your community, and you’ll avoid fattening the budget of misleading groups like HSUS. I’m an animal and pet lover as well as a farmer, and I’ve come to realize it’s so important to research the pet and animal charities you give to.

When groups do release videos of animal cruelty, we as farmers are left saying again and again that we don’t condone animal mistreatment. These cruel images are not the norm. A vast majority of farmers have a lot of integrity for what they do, and they care about their animals.

And I really believe that’s true. So many farms of all sizes have been in families for generations. Pride, responsibility, and a strong work ethic permeate the farming culture. Families raise their kids on the land, they drink the water, and they teach their children to help with animal feeding and care.

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My nephew and niece

Still, people are left wondering where these videos keep coming from. If they’re not the norm, why don’t they go away?

To this, I think the answer is two-fold. First, it can be very profitable to be an animal rights group that scares people. Groups like PETA and HSUS take in millions every year and spend large amounts on fundraising and salary to continue the cycle. Sensational videos tug at people’s emotions and get them to open their wallets. Beyond that, I’m sure some of the people within these organizations really believe the hype. They may think farms are truly bad places, they completely misunderstand them, or they want to stop everyone from eating animal protein. They’re working for a cause, and they’ll do whatever it takes to advance that cause.

This brings me again to the real question . Where do they keep getting these videos?

I’ve been thinking about that lately, and a simple example occurred to me. So just follow me for a minute…

If you take a picture of me with strep throat or the flu, I’m going to look a lot worse than I would on an average day when I’m doing normal things. I’ll probably have a blotchy face, red nose, and appear to be unhealthy.

Or, if you took a video of me the day after a 20 mile run, I’d probably look sore and stiff on my legs. That’s not representative of how I normally walk and move, but that would be what you see.

I think this parallels what extreme animal rights activists are doing as they dig and dig to find disturbing images to release. They get their people to pose as normal workers for varying periods of time and discreetly film (and sometimes create) situations that looks bad. They will quit or disappear once they finally get their footage – without ever reporting any problem. Some of this disturbing video may indeed be a frustrated worker making a bad decision or deliberately causing harm. And they need to be held properly accountable for that. Much more is likely an unfortunate situation where an animal is sick or hurt. It stinks, but these things happen to people and they happen to animals too. It’s not fun, but on our farm we do our best with the resources we have to treat any animal that needs. Sometimes farmers have to put an animal down. That’s not fun either. Awhile back I called it the worst job on a farm.

Some things on a livestock farm are dirty and bloody, and there’s just no way around it. But more often things on a farm are about country living, contended animals eating and resting, new babies being born, and regular people going about day to day chores.

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You guys are smart and I know you fundamentally get that. Still, it’s hard for everyone (myself included) to remember it when you’re seeing a disturbing undercover video or images.

I suppose that’s why I blog about topics like this — so we can remember. If I don’t talk about it, if other farmers don’t talk about it, nobody will.

I wish you all a great autumn week as we head into October. If you’ve got questions or comments on this topic I’m all ears!

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Posted in Agriculture ( in general), This and That | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Strong, Feminine, and Awesome: Esprit de She with Team Chocolate Milk

Several years ago I applied and got a spot on Team Chocolate Milk. The team is a combination of pro athletes, experts, and lots of regular people like me who balance training with full-time jobs and commitments. Maybe “regular” is the wrong word because my team members are extraordinary! Some are also runners, but others are cyclists, triathletes, and even IRONMAN finishers.

We all drink our chocolate milk, and we believe in the benefits of recovering with chocolate milk after a hard workout. Benefits including its optimum protein to carb ratio, calcium, vitamins, and hydrating qualities. Plus it’s tasty. :-)

When I first became part of the team they had white “Team Refuel” gear, and I wore it to multiple races. I enjoyed representing something bigger than myself, and as a dairy farmer I loved that the something was milk! The main sponsored events I could get entry to were Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series races and IRONMAN races, but none were anywhere close to me (And I’ve never even done a sprint triathlon…) Maybe someday I could travel for a race, but I was also happy to run local races and represent where I could.

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Since then I’ve gotten to stay on the team as an alumni member, but along the way they’ve updated the name to Team Chocolate Milk, changed the color to orange, and created new gear and apparel.

Around the time I was wondering if my gear was too outdated to wear, I got connected with Stephanie at Midwest Dairy and her efforts to grow Team Dairy. I got new Team Dairy pink, wore it for several races, and fell into a comfortable pattern of racing in pink. I’ve never (and still don’t) view my teams as competing — rather they both give me a chance to be part of a supportive community and to talk about dairy foods and my dairy farming background at races. Athletes are a great audience for food and health conversation, and whether I’m in pink or orange I’ve made some good connections.

This summer I learned Team Chocolate Milk is a major sponsor of Esprit de She , a series of running, biking, triathlon, and duathlon events for women. Several of these races are held in the Twin Cities. I couldn’t make the first ones, but I signed up for the Maple Grove 10K in September. I contacted the team about getting some orange to race in, and they quickly obliged with a new top! I was ready to rock at my first sponsored event.

This past week we were chopping silage through Wednesday, and then Wednesday night we stopped to cover what we had because the remaining fields were too wet. This meant on Thursday I could definitely make the race.

It was a beautiful and sunny evening, the hour drive went smooth, and I found a parking spot faster than I expected. All was well except my raw throat, stuffy nose, and sore body. I had really looked forward to this race, and I would just do the best I could. Women were everywhere, but I eventually got my number, tasted a few cold delicacies, and found my way to the start.

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The pace signs at the front were for 8:00/miles (about what I hoped to run), so I placed myself near the back of the front group as the national anthem got underway. After it ended I stuck a watermelon jolly rancher in my mouth. I’d been sucking on jolly ranchers bought from the gas station all afternoon to help soothe my throat. I’d forgotten cough drops, and the taste would have driven me crazy after one or two anyhow. I think all the sugary candy eventually made my stomach churn, but I was fine for the moment.

I settled into a fast-ish pace as we started and then pulled down my sunglasses as we headed west. I wanted to average as close to 8-minute miles as I could, so I decided to start a bit faster to get clear of the crowd and then see if I could hang on. Ideally I would break 50:00, but feeling like I did that would be a stretch.

The first 5K for me was fast but controlled, and people were cheering as the finish got closer. More runners were doing the 5K, and they split left for the finish while us 10K ladies headed right to take another loop. They had a sign pointing 5K left, 10K right and a person announcing the same directions.

The second lap felt harder, of course, but I just kept trying to push. Around mile 4 I caught the end of the 5K walkers. This meant I was dodging and weaving around walkers and other runners for the remainder of the race. It wasn’t ideal, but I also felt a lot of respect and admiration for the slower ladies on the course. Some were just doing a moderate walk, but others were slowly running or doing a run-walk pattern. You could tell they were putting just as much effort in as anyone, even if they didn’t look like your typical runner. Old, young, heavy, thin — it simply didn’t matter. We were all empowered by the goal and the atmosphere.

Because I wasn’t feeling great I’d brought my iPod to pep me up if I needed. I had stuck in my earbuds about halfway, and I intermittently took them in or out based on spectator support and what song was playing.

As I rounded the last stretch toward the finish I was already over 50:00, but I could still maybe break 51:00. I had been following another 10K runner through a clump of walkers, and I saw her go right instead of left to the finish. A woman was still calling out “10K right, 5K left,” so I figured they must want the 10K runners to finish on the other side.

I’d removed my earbuds for the end and stuffed them in my pocket, but somehow they fell down and started tumbling to the ground. I grabbed for the thin wires and missed. They tangled around my ankle as I ran, and I slowed down to grab them back up. I didn’t trip, and I hoped nobody was laughing too much on the sidelines. Ahh!

I saw the finish barricaded to my left, and I realized I definitely went the wrong way after all. I should have went to the main finish, and I saw the 10K girl who had been ahead of me crawling through a small opening in the barriers to get over. I slipped through too, but it took me a few more seconds to step over the timing mats because my shirt snagged on the fencing.

The music was loud and volunteers were everywhere handing out chocolate milk and water so nobody commented (or maybe even noticed) our error. I got my photo with milk snapped by the ladies handing it out, and then I was back in a sea of women enjoying food, music, wine, and celebration.

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Officially I ran 51:21, and at first I was a touch disappointed in my time. I knew I gave a solid effort though, and considering my finish line fiascos I was fortunate to have an official time! I’ll always have another shot at a PR, and I was grateful to be part of this event.

I made my way to the Team Chocolate Milk booth and eventually found Chrisann, one of the team captains. She’s a mom, triathlete, and Ironman finisher who also goes to several sponsored races to help manage the team presence and booth. It was so fun to meet her and hear about her background and journey. We also talked with one of the race managers and got a neat inside perspective on the evening and other races in the series. They do a great job welcoming first-timers, and I became a little bit convinced I’d like to try the duathlon they put on in Minnesota next spring. If I can just make more time for riding my bike…

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If you’ve got an Esprit de She race near you, I’d recommend checking it out. I know several are still happening around the country this fall.

I’m also newly inspired to take advantage of more team races if I can, but no matter where I’m racing or in what color I’ll continue to speak up for milk. Thanks for all your comments and congrats online after this race. It’s always fun to put up pictures in real time and get instant feedback. The fall weather is really getting beautiful, so I hope to race a few more times before the snow flies. I’ll keep you updated!

Posted in Race Reports, Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Birthday and Stuff

Four years later, and here I am.

Four years ago I created this little nook for myself on the Internet, and I’m still writing. I don’t know how far my blog will reach or how long it will last, but I can’t imagine giving it up anytime soon.

Three years ago I introduced our blog calf, and today Etta is having a birthday as a newly three-year-old cow.

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Change happens so quickly, doesn’t it?

And yet many things are the same. I’m still caring for calves and cows, still writing about farming, and still chronicling my running and racing journey. My family has grown with nieces and nephews since I started writing, but it remains as close and important to me as ever. My friends may be geographically further from me with new jobs or growing families, but when I talk to a close friend we can usually pick up right where we left off.

Here on the blog, I’m glad to still have some of my original readers following and commenting, and I’m always pleased to see new readers joining in too.

I don’t have any big fireworks or giveaway planned, but I do want to say thank you for stopping by and reading! I value your comments, perspective, and suggestions.

In the near future you can watch for a race report (I was thrilled to run the 10K on Thursday with Team Chocolate Milk at Esprit de She – Maple Grove) and a collection of my thoughts on a big issue impacting animal agriculture.

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If there’s anything else you’d like to hear about just ask! Once again, thanks for reading.

Posted in Henrietta (Etta for short!), Running, This and That | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Photography and Farming

For the past few days we’ve been “in the field.” That expression sounds straight forward to me, but it might not be clear if you haven’t grown up on a farm.

Whether it’s planting season, harvest, or any type of field work, once we’ve started I say we’re in the field. When weather is uncooperative or soil is too wet during a key time, farmers lament to each other they can’t be in the field. Even if we’re using long hoses to apply manure to fields without actually driving through them, it’s still “in” the field.

This is corn silage season, and trucks come and go from the dairy at all hours dumping loads of whole chopped corn plants into piles. These pile(s) are packed by a tractor driving over them, eventually covered with thick plastic and tires, and given time to ferment into a highly digestible forage feed for the cows – corn silage.

It’s still early and the corn is too wet to combine, or harvest, for dry corn kernels, but it’s just right if you’re making silage. We use a Claas self-propelled chopper to cut the silage, and JR is nearly always in the driver seat. I don’t see him very often this time of year unless I bring him lunch, supplies, or have a few minutes to ride around as co-pilot. I also usually help him get the chopper cleaned off and ready in the morning, but it can get busy as we balance caring for the dairy with bringing in the harvest.

This spring I learned that every year Claas sponsors a calendar contest. The winners are featured in the next year’s calendar, so I’ve been snapping photos here and there during hay and corn silage trying to get a few nice shots.

I’m not sure which I’ll submit yet, but I need to get them in before the end of the month. Here’s a look at some of my views of forage harvest.

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I’ve also been trying to keep JR well fed and help feed the extra truck drivers. Sandwiches can get boring, and JR claims fresh fruit and vegetables don’t work so well for dirty hands.

We still have some of the turkeys we raised last year in the freezer, so I thawed one for several days and finally roasted it last night. The meat was still flavorful and tasty, so I’m hoping it will perk up sandwiches for a few days!

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After roasting a few of our turkeys last year, I found it is seriously easier than I thought. Once it’s thawed fully in the refrigerator, I just rinsed in cold water, added a little butter, salt, and pepper, and tucked it in an oven bag in a pan. With a bit of butter on the skin, it still came out crisp and golden from the bag.

It took about 3 hours at 325 degrees for this smaller bird, and I checked for 170 degrees with a meat thermometer before I took it from the oven. Then I carefully saved the broth and let it cool some before I took the meat off the bones.

We’re hoping sometime next week we will finish silage, and we can go back to just normal chores. :-) So far the weather has been dry and sunny, and we’re thankful it’s helping us make good progress!

I hope you’re all enjoying the beautiful days of early fall too.

Posted in Agriculture ( in general), Cooking and Foods, Crops | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Lengthy Sunday

Some days have a way of lingering on while I do odds and ends, but other days charge forward so fast I wonder where the hours go.

This is especially true when I’m doing morning or evening calf chores solo. The hours go so fast sometimes I can hardly keep up! It doesn’t seem like feeding and watering calves should take that long, but when you add the calf hutches with the older pens of calves, the small steers, the heifers in the pasture, and a few tasks in the main barn … Well, things add up.

Then put a few new baby calves and any setback into the mix, and it’s a recipe for a late night.

This past Saturday we went to a friend’s wedding, and that meant schedule shuffling.

Congratulations to the lovely couple! We so enjoyed your beautiful outdoor ceremony and unique touches. Catching up with many friends and dancing to the dueling pianos made for a fabulous evening.

I worked most of Saturday before we left, and then I knew it would be just me on Sunday afternoon. When we arrived back at the farm Sunday they’d already had four heifers born throughout the morning.

I secretly hoped this meant no more calves for the day, but I had my doubts.

The evening went a little too smooth, and as I was washing up bottles about 7:30 I noticed water was starting to build up around the main floor drain.

We added on a separate room for the calf pasteurizer, washing, and storage a few years ago, and the floor drain all gets pumped through a small pump with a float to the main barn drain.

Sometimes a small object (dirt, straw, etc) gets lodged just so in the pump, and it quits.

I went in search of a screw driver, pulled the pump up, and starting flushing it with water. I pried at the pump bottom, and I just couldn’t get it to budge. Usually I can fix this in a matter of minutes, but I think it was almost half hour before I got out the wedged rock, the size of a mere marble, and had water draining. At this point JR had finished what he was working on, and I told him I’d gotten the drain working and I’d be done soon too.

I checked in one last time with the milkers and knew that wouldn’t hold true. They told me there was another new calf in back. I drove to the maternity pens with the gator and found a small, spotty bull calf. As I gathered him up I noticed yet another mother calving. She had two big feet and a thick nose coming through the birth canal, and she looked exhausted. She needed help. We check for enough space and normal positioning when we see a cow with labor beginning, but sometimes a cow needs help even with normal front feet first.

I moved the first calf and then brought the stainless steel obstetrical chains back to the maternity pen, which I double wrapped around each front baby hoof. I attached the handles to the chains and began to pull as the mama pushed. By the time one of our milkers came back to help me I’d just delivered a large black bull calf.

I brought this second calf to a hutch next to the first, and I was pleased they both easily sucked down two bottles of colostrum.

By then it was after 10:00, and as I went to put away the gator I saw Calvin patiently waiting there for me. He’s not used to nights this late either, and he wanted to make sure he wouldn’t get left behind!

Here are our two late night arrivals; pictured at two days old.

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On this Sunday night it was good I had to stick around to fix the floor drain; which meant I was also around to care for these two calves. I guess I don’t even mind late night too much as long as they’re not everyday. :-)

I also got to take in the beautiful moon.

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Hope you’ve all had a great start to your week!

Posted in Agriculture ( in general), Baby Calf Care | Tagged , , | 2 Comments