Another Colorful Update

I love garden flowers. My mom always had lots of vibrant perennials while I was growing up, and I loved hearing how some of the flower beds traced back to my grandma and great-grandma.

We had spindly white daisies that would pop up by the garage every summer, and bright orange tiger lilies and magenta peonies would come soon after. The delicate white cala lily was always my favorite. My sisters and I would help plant low maintenance annuals like petunias, marigolds, and zinnias to fill in the empty places. We always had a large vegetable garden too, and many hours were spent planning, planting, weeding, and harvesting for our family of seven.

My own thumb isn’t as green, but I still like fresh vegetables and fresh flowers. When my husband and I moved into our first house, we had a few tulips and day lilies that would come up each year. Beyond that I would usually plant several pots of geraniums, begonias, and petunias for color. We had tomatoes, peppers and melons, mostly thanks to my husband, but that was it.

When we moved houses two years ago, the yard came with a wealth of blooms. Many of the flowers from my childhood — tiger lilies, white daisies, and peonies — were present, plus many more lilies and plants.

I think God suspected that I needed these flowers, but I would never get around to planting them. And he provided. :-)

As I’ve mentioned a time or two this summer, our vegetables fell far behind this year. We have just a few plants instead of a garden-full, but my trusty flowers help fill the void. (In spite of minimal care.)

I shared some of the early flowers in A Colorful Update, and now I’ll show you what July has brought.

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Last but not least, these ladies are looking pretty nice too. (I know they’re not flowers.)

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Posted in Cows, Gardening and Yard Stuff, This and That | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Making 5K Strides

Running has become very seasonal for me over the past five years. It’s not the most important thing I do, but I continue to enjoy it. It has great and rough points like everything else, but almost without thinking, it’s something I do.

January brings a time to set new goals, and I try to get on the treadmill a little longer and brave the winter cold on decent days to start getting in better shape. By February and March I’m in training for the Earth Day Half Marathon in April, and I’m possibly eyeing a marathon or another half later in the spring. Fall is a time when I relish running outside in the crisp air, and I start running longer more consistently if I have a 10 mile or half marathon on the calendar. By December I’m evaluating the almost-gone year, doing a few more miles on the treadmill, and thinking ahead to future goals.

But summer —

Summer is the season of 5K’s. Nearly every small town around has a festival that includes a race on Saturday morning. Then there are the schools, hospitals, churches, and businesses that organize runs as a fundraiser or family event. Sometimes a 10K is included or the distance is changed to 4 or 5 miles, but 5K is the norm.

Usually my spring training leaves me in decent shape for summer 5K runs, but I’m often missing that fast speed work to stay strong in the last stretch. I’ve come to find that a 5K can REALLY HURT when you run it hard, but there’s a true feeling of satisfaction crossing the finish knowing you gave your best effort for those 3.1 miles.

Last year was rather dismal for my 5K progress. I did a nice April race where I just didn’t run up to my potential and an August race that was hot, humid, and more hilly than I’m used to. I never got within a minute of my 23:10 PR (from
February 2012), and I decided maybe I didn’t really like 5K’s that much anymore. After taking over five minutes off my time in the previous few years, possibly I was now beyond the point of improvement. Maybe??

Looking back now I realize how silly that thought was. I had a few lackluster races, but I’m still only 29. I don’t have any super fast teenage or college times to beat, so if I keep working hard there is plenty of room to go faster.

This summer I now find myself having run three 5K races in the past six weeks. The first was our small town’s race, which was two weeks before Grandma’s Marathon. I didn’t think I would run that well, but I wanted to support the local event and program it benefitted.

It was a small race – under 100 runners – and I ran 24:10. I was under 8:00/mile pace, and somehow I managed to be the first female across the line! This has never happened to me before, and may never happen again. I savored breaking the thin tape they held out for me at the finish. The previous year’s first female had been much faster, but somehow the right mix of runners allowed me to win this year. It was just the confidence boost I needed going into Grandma’s and to convince me I wasn’t horrible at 5K’s after all.

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Over July 4th weekend I ran another with my family, and this time I came in at 23:32. It felt great to see “23:XX” again, and it was a hot day so I knew I could go faster in better weather.
The fun of this race was magnified by having so much of my family around either running or cheering.

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Then last weekend, I ran another. I got the urge to look up area races in the middle of the week, and I saw a 5K/10K in a nearby town. I thought about doing the 10K, but I decided I wanted to see if I could keep my 5K improvement going.

It was a humid morning but overcast, so as July running weather goes it wasn’t bad. I started near the leaders and just tried to keep the pace uncomfortable. My breathing and arms were as relaxed as possible, but I knew I wouldn’t run my best unless I kept attacking the pace.

I was exhausted as I hit mile two, but there were a few people just far enough ahead of me to keep me chasing after them. I passed two, but I couldn’t quite beat the third guy to the line.

Final result?

23:12; fifth place woman overall.

I was thrilled with this time, even though it was a mere two seconds from my PR. {I think the course was a few hundredths short, so that curbed my disappointment of not being a few seconds faster.}

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I’ve been keeping up a strong running schedule through July, so I’m convinced that when cooler temperatures arrive I may finally get a new 5K best.

No matter what, the journey is fun. Local races are certainly different than the excitement of a marathon finish, but there are still great things about running in your hometown or with family and neighbors. Not to mention you feel okay getting out of bed the next day!

I may be done with marathons for the year (I think), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of worthy goals to go after.

How is your summer exercise and training going? What do you like best (to eat, drink, recover) on a hot day after your workout?

Posted in Race Reports, Running, This and That | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Dairy Farms, Myths, and Why it Matters

I take my dairy seriously. I work with cows everyday, and I eat dairy foods everyday. I’m particularly interested in the role dairy products play in a healthy, active lifestyle.

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When I see “dairy” in the media, my interest is piqued.

Sometimes balanced perspectives about informed food choices or farm families make news, but often it’s sensationalized claims and inflammatory language aimed at making us worry about our food.

On a personal level, I believe in the large body of research on the health benefits of eating dairy foods. Nobody likes long lists of research, so I’ll just mention a few here, here, here, and here.

I know we’re lucky to have a well-regulated food supply in America with an excellent record for safety. Whether you’re buying organic or conventionally raised milk or dairy products from anywhere across the country, they are quality and nutritious . I support the right to choose which foods you buy, and I know many factors — taste, preference, economics, nutrition, science, and availability — come into play. It is my sincere hope, however, that you don’t make your food choices based on fear.

I feel saddened and frustrated when I read myths about food and farming that promote misunderstanding and fear. Unfortunately, I suppose that’s the goal of scare-tactics.

One of the first terms I think of when it comes to these tactics is “factory farm.” It doesn’t sound nice, and it brings negative connotations.

What exactly is a factory farm?

Let’s explore some possible scenarios…

Does a factory farm mean you use robots?

That can’t be right because I know of plenty of caring farms like this one using state-of-the-art robot technology to milk their cows. Organic dairy farms even use robots.

Many dairies of all sizes and types also use regular milking machines (handled by people) to milk cows, and that works well too.

No matter what type of equipment we’re using, caring for the cow well is always the goal.

Maybe a factory farm means the farm is owned by a corporation?

Many businesses, large and small, can decide to incorporate or hire outside employees. This is true across all farms too. A family may work with an accountant or lawyer to develop a business structure that makes the most sense, whether it’s a sole proprietorship, partnership, LLC, or a corporation. None of this will have an adverse effect on cow health or welfare.

So is a factory farm just based on size?

If that’s true, then I wonder what the cutoff is? Average dairy farm size has definitely increased over the years, but so have things like labor efficiency and cow comfort research in today’s barns. There is no minimum or maximum size for organic or conventional dairy farms, but any type of farm must be properly permitted for their location and inspected in order to sell milk.

Dairies can be large or small no matter where they are, what label they sell their milk to, or even if they have their own dairy processing plant.

What about antibiotics??

Antibiotics can be a touchy subject, but I don’t think they need to be. First, any dairy food you buy will always be free of antibiotic residues. Any drug that’s approved for dairy cattle will have a specified withhold period. During that time the cow’s milk will be diverted from the main tank and dumped. Milk is tested before it leaves the farm and again at the processor to ensure it’s safe, clean, and antibiotic-free. Many farms believe in modern animal medicine, including antibiotics, when appropriate, and a thorough system is in place to ensure antibiotics don’t enter our food supply.

Organic dairies are not allowed to use any antibiotics, so they must find alternative remedies and deal with sickness or infection in other ways. The key to remember is whether you eat organic or conventional dairy, it’s all antibiotic-free. The only difference is organic cows can never be given antibiotics, and other cows may have needed them at some point.

On our dairy we work with our vet to make responsible choices and get proper prescriptions when needed. Within the last few years it also seems like more new supplements and natural remedies are available. I use more natural preventatives for my calves, and we give all our cows these little green vitamin pills (which are organic approved) shortly after they give birth. Antibiotics are not always the answer, but sometimes an infection or respiratory disease means I think they’re the best choice.

It’s official; I don’t know what a factory farm is.
Okay —

Like any savvy reader, you’re probably questioning my motives and biases about now. I’m a dairy farmer defending my beloved dairy foods.

Certainly we as dairy farmers need people to keep buying milk. It is indeed our livelihood. But there are much easier ways to make a living. Pretty much anything is less labor-intensive 365 days a year than milking cows.

But we believe in raising dairy cows. Our family farm has done so for over 100 years. We aim to make a profit because we’re a business, but we also like cows. Somedays I wonder if I even know how to do anything else. Could I do anything else?

Yes, I crunch numbers, organize spreadsheets, and share writing and pictures on my blog, but my entire life has always revolved around dairy chores in one way or another.

We may milk hundreds of cows instead of ten or twenty, but that doesn’t make our farm a factory anymore than having hundreds of people in a school or hospital makes them a factory.

Next time you hear or read a news story that tries to scare you into a food decision, just take a minute to breathe. Think about the background, and use your own good judgement. Maybe you want to do some quality research or connect with a farmer, but maybe it’s a scare tactic that’s not worth your time. Either way, I hope fear never has a place at your dinner table.

Got comments? I’d love to chat and hear your perspective.

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Posted in Agriculture ( in general), Cows, This and That | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Birthday Girls

In the world of baby calves, a single birth is the norm. Twins also come along, and they may account for 5% or more of births depending on the farm.

I’ve even heard of triplets, but we’ve never had any born here that I know of.

Two years ago on July 10th, two little black heifer (girl) twins entered the world. They looked more identical than any twin calves I’d ever seen, and I hoped they would both grow up big and healthy.

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I know you can’t see the twin behind very well, but this is the only baby picture I could find in my archives.

Cattle twins are a little different than human twins. If a heifer calf is born twin to a bull (boy), the chances are overwhelming she will be sterile and unable to ever get pregnant. Around here we call these females freemartins, but I’m sure there are other terms across different areas. If a heifer never has a baby then she can never give milk either. That means instead of becoming a dairy cow she’ll spend her life fat and happy being raised for meat. Which I think is still an important and noble purpose.

However, I prefer it when we can keep the heifers around for awhile as milk cows. These are twin girls, as I said, and they are both due with their first calf within the next month. August 1 and July 31 respectively.

It’s amazing to me how often I see them hanging out near each other. Do they know they’re sisters??

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I posted these 2-year-old birthday pictures on social media and got mostly positive reactions. Someone did comment that neither heifer looked very happy to be having a birthday. To this I say, “I’m still having a hard time getting cows to smile on command!”

Speaking of birthdays, I happen to be having one myself very soon. 29 forever. ;)

I actually wouldn’t want to stay 29 forever. Good things happen with each passing year, and as a runner I also appreciate moving into older age groups. Though I will say a lot of 30-something’s are often faster then us 20-something’s!

I hope you enjoyed meeting my birthday girls. Enjoy the thick of summer — because mid-July is about as thick as it gets.

Posted in Baby Calf Care, Cows | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Short on words, long on memories

I like words.

It’s refreshing for me to put words on paper or screen and know they capture the moments they describe forever.

Okay, maybe not forever. But they will be preserved, waiting for me, unless I decide I don’t want them anymore. {Words on a blog also take up a lot less space than the overflowing boxes stored in my closets and garage. :-) }

During the seemingly endless daylight of summer, it can be hard to make time to finish writing what I start. I really do start. Sometimes it’s a few paragraphs composed internally that never get farther than my brain, but more often, I write words meant for my blog that don’t make it out of the “draft” file.

Not all my posts will be finished – maybe some aren’t even meant to be. But to prevent this one from drying up, I’m going to cut the words short in a minute.

Instead of trying to describe the inquisitive steps of my niece as she saw our cows on Friday, I’ll show you her face.

I’m not going to give you a play by play of the fun and frenzy of the weekend, but I’ll chronicle some of it with photos.

I’m not even going to walk you through the hot and humid 5K we ran on Saturday, but I will say I’m happy I went. I’ll also mention that my sister in purple is amazing for pushing a double stroller 3.1 miles in nearly 80 degrees!

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Happy 4th of July. Thank you, veterans.

Posted in Family Fun, Race Reports, Running | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments