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Fancy Macaroni

Smoked Gouda. Bacon. Mushrooms. Butter. Best Macaroni and Cheese EVER! I had purchased a small block of Apple Smoked Gouda and while I normally just eat it by the slice, I wanted to do something amazing with it. I had it narrowed down to bacon macaroni and patty melts, but ultimately took the macaroni route. It was an excellent decision on my part and fairly easy to make. I honestly don’t recall how much cheese I used and guesstimated. There is no such thing as “too much cheese”, so by all means, ADD MORE! I call it “Fancy Macaroni”; real creative, huh? Here is what you need:

INGREDIENTS:
4 cups of penne
8 slices of bacon
2 cups of shredded smoked gouda
1 cup of shredded cheddar
2 4 oz. cans of sliced mushrooms
2 cups of milk
3/4 cup of sour cream
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
1 egg
salt and pepper for seasoning

DIRECTIONS:
1.Pre-heat oven to 375 and grease a baking dish.
2. Start by frying the bacon until almost crispy and give it a rough chop. If you want to reserve a little of that bacon grease and mix it in with the sauce, I won’t judge you. In fact, I will applaud you.
3. Cook pasta al dente and mix it with the softened butter. Pour the pasta into the greased dish and mix with the chopped bacon and mushrooms.
4. To make the sauce, add the milk and sour cream to a pot and stir on low/medium heat. Add the flour to thicken sauce and slowly add the cheese. Be sure to reserve some cheese to sprinkle on top! Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and quickly stir in the egg.
5. Pour sauce over the pasta and mix everything together.
6. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top.
7. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until bubbly.

I made this last night, and my husband and I just about devoured the entire dish. I hope you love it too!

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Who’s Your Daddy: Artificial Insemination

Things are getting HOT today, we are talking about reproduction! (Cue sexy music). Okay, cool your jets; it is not as wild as you might think. In fact, on many dairy farms, reproduction in cattle doesn’t even involve a live male (bull). A majority of today’s dairy farmers artificially inseminate their cattle with specially selected semen that they purchase from a stud, a.k.a. a company that collects and sells semen.

Artificial Insemination is great for a number of reasons:

  1.  It eliminates the need to keep bulls, who tend to be mean and dangerous by nature, on the farm. I have heard and experienced horror stories involving bulls and am thankful that the stories I am familiar with did not have a fatal ending for any of my family members. 
  2.  It allows farmers to choose from a variety of bulls therefore, decreasing the chance of inbreeding. 
  3.  Farmers are able to control when the cow is bred and predict a due date.
  4.  Farmers are able to produce higher quality animals by choosing bulls that are known for specific traits such as milk production, size, longevity, feet & legs, calving ease, etc. Seriously, the list could go on and on. The amount of information that is available when choosing who to breed your cow to is amazing!

Every dairy farm is different and focuses on particular traits when choosing “who will be the daddy”. On our farm, we choose bulls with traits that will produce a cow that milks well, is of proper size to be comfortable in our facilities and lives a long, healthy life. Once per month, our semen salesmen pays us a visit and talks bulls with my husband. There are always new bulls to choose from  and we normally purchase semen from 12-14 different bulls.

The semen collected from the bulls is frozen and kept in a tank of liquid nitrogen until it is ready to be thawed and used. (How the semen is collected is a crazy story for another day, but if you just can’t wait, learn more here.)

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Virgin heifers are bred for the first time around 13 to 14 months of age, depending on their size and health, and older cows are eligible to be bred around 70 days in milk (or days since they have given birth). Now, you can’t just be throwing semen at cattle hoping they will get pregnant, you have to be certain that the cow is in good health and watch for a “heat”. Cows come into heat every 21-24 days and provide a short window of time to be bred and become pregnant, this is called the estrous cycle.

Signs a cow in heat include:
– mounting other cows
-mucus discharge
-swelling and reddening of the vulva
-bellowing, restlessness and trailing
-head raising, lip curling
-decreased feed intake and milk production

Cows in heat can be quite humorous and fun to watch:

 

Not only are we able to detect cows in heat visually, but we can also use pedometers to identify a cow that is ready to be bred.  All the cows on our farm wear a collar with a pedometer and it is part of an activity system. The pedometer monitors the cows’ activity and relays the information to our computer.  When a cow has increased activity a signal is sent to the computer and we take a look at the cow; it is likely that she is in heat and ready to be bred. In order to keep our herd growing and to remain profitable it is important to breed the cows via artificial insemination in a timely fashion; the activity system helps us do this.

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Sometimes, cows don’t show a good heat and can be tricky to get pregnant.  When this happens we have our vet check her out and usually give the cow a series of reproductive hormone shots that make her come into heat and increase her chances of becoming pregnant.  It is somewhat similar to fertility drugs in women.  The reproductive hormones given to the cattle are hormones that the cow produces naturally and will have no effect on you or the dairy products you consume.  Many dairy farmers choose to keep a bull or two around to breed the cattle that are difficult to impregnate; nothin’ gets the job done like the real deal.

Once we have detected a cow in heat, we unthaw the semen that has been specially selected for her and put on the long, plastic glove.  We palpate the cervix through the rectum and things tend to get messy (hence the glove).  After the cervix has been located, the straw of semen is inserted through the vagina and the semen is ejected.  We give ole Bessie a friendly slap on the rear, send her on her way and hope that we have a confirmed pregnancy in 32 days.

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 Find out how we preg check our cows and what to expect when your cow is expecting by reading here and here!

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Parading the Product

Today my good friend, Jill, shares with us another side of the dairy industry; the “show” side.  That’s right, cow beauty pageants.  Dairy farmers are extremely passionate about dairy and many enjoy showing off their quality animals.  Farmers travel great lengths with their cows to participate in cow shows and compete with others.  Showing cattle is a great way to bond with cows and other folks in the dairy industry.  Read below to learn more about the show circuit!    

I’d like to thank Modern-Day Farm Chick for giving me the opportunity to share a piece of my story with you! I first met Mod Farm Chick while showing cows at our county fair.  I was known as the girl with the Brown Swiss and I knew her as the girl with a lot of cows.  Throughout the years not much has changed; she still has a lot of cows and I’m still showing my Brown Swiss.  My family milks around 75 cows and over 60 of them are Brown Swiss.

The Holsteins stick out quite a bit next to the Swiss.

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One of the main reasons we chose to raise mostly Brown Swiss is because we enjoy showing them at local, state and national shows. And their calves are adorable.

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The most common question I hear when I tell people “I show cows” is, “What does a judge look for?”.  To put it simply, a judge is looking for a well uddered cow, who walks on a good set of feet and legs, and isn’t carrying excess weight for her stage of lactation.  Here is the official “scorecard” that every judge bases his/her decision on when evaluating animals.

Each summer, our farm prepares for the upcoming show season by leading, washing and clipping the animals. Local 4-H kids help out and show our cattle at the county fair. They come to the farm a couple of times a week and work with the animals they choose. Below is a photo of one of the first times they lead their animals this summer.  As you can see, the animals were not yet properly trained and a bit uncooperative.  We enjoy having kids take our animals to local shows and fairs because it gives them the opportunity to work with farm animals and learn about agriculture.

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After the county fair, we continue to work with a few animals and get them ready for the state and national shows that take place in the late summer and fall. We live in Western Wisconsin and show at the Wisconsin State Show and the Minnesota State Fair. These shows help us determine how great, average or poor our animals rank.  It also helps decide which cows will make the cut to be shown at the biggest show of the year, World Dairy Expo.

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World Dairy Expo, or just known as “Expo”, is the highlight of the year for the dairy industry. Over 2,200 animals from all over the United States and Canada head to Madison, WI to strut their stuff on the colored shavings. It’s not just a cattle show; the trade show has evolved into quite the attraction.  With world-class dairy cattle and a trade show with the latest and greatest technology, it is no wonder that over 70,000 people are expected to attend World Dairy Expo this year.

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My favorite part of Expo is the cattle show. It takes a lot of passion, hard work, and dedication to get animals ready. The days are long, the nights are short and sleep is very limited.  We tie our animals in a “string”. It’s usually a group of farmers and friends from various farms who work together during show week. The cattle get around the clock supervision to make sure there is enough hay in front  of them to eat and no manure in their bedding.  You might find it surprising that we catch their manure in a bucket and wipe their butts, talk about special treatment!

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We share supplies with each other and help out when it comes to chores and show day. Each day the animals are washed and their bedding or “pack” gets fresh straw and saw dust to keep them clean and comfortable. The cows in the string get milked like they would at home, either twice or three times a day.  On show day, the cattle are prepped for the show ring. They are fed beet pulp and hay to get their bellies full.  Their coat of hair is groomed and the hair on the cow’s top line is blown up to resemble a Mohawk. Immediately before the animal heads into the show ring, her tail is brushed out, hooves are painted black, fly spray is applied and a “final mist” is sprayed for an over all shine.

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We prep each animal that way for every show and, depending on the show, our string can range from 5 to 35 animals.  It leads to long days and short nights.  You learn to nap whenever and wherever you can (this includes metal show boxes).

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Later this week, our farm will be making the annual trip to World Dairy Expo to show our animals. This is the 9th year in a row for our show string.  It will be an exciting year because there are two, brand new barns on the Expo grounds!  Previously,there were ten smaller barns and three tents that housed cattle during Expo week.  Although we’re going to miss Barn 1 and all the memories made there, we can’t wait to see what these new barns will be like!  They are pretty fancy.  You can take a look at them by visiting www.worlddairyexpo.com.

Thanks again to Modern-Day Farm Chick for allowing me to share with you all! If you would like to keep up with the latest happenings at Expo, search #wde14 and #worlddairyexpo on social media.  You can also find me on Instagram at jilliancowles.  A lot of folks are super excited and have been counting down the days to Expo for quite sometime!  Heck, I am already looking forward to Expo 2015 as I have some young calves that will be eligible to show that year!

I was telling my cow, Flirty, Expo is this week and she got all excited!

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Cows, Antibitotics, and You

See this happy, healthy cow chowing down on some TMR?  Well, last week she wasn’t so happy…or healthy; she had mastitis.  Mastitis is an inflammatory response to infection causing visibly abnormal milk (clots, off-color). As the extent of the inflammation increases, changes in the udder (swelling, heat, pain, redness) may also occur. Mastitis is caused any bacterial or mycotic organism that can invade tissue and cause infection.  We do our best to keep our cows and their environment clean and dry, but occasionally mastitis occurs.  Especially in the summer months when warmer weather allows bacteria to grow and spread at a more rapid rate.  On average, we have a couple of cases of mastitis per month; some more or less severe than others.  Either way, it is no fun.  Last week, this gal was in rough shape and we were working extra hours to fight the infection and make her feel better.

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Luckily, we had antibiotics to help us.  We use antibiotics only when warranted and find them to be a great tool when it comes to a sick animal.  Antibiotics, plenty of fluids and a little TLC brought this cow back to health and I am happy to report that she is back to her old self!  Without antibiotics to fight the infection, I am not sure if this girl would have made it.

Do you have to worry about the antibiotics given to this cow invading your dairy products? Absolutely not.  When a cow is given antibiotics, she is identified with a colored leg band and her milk is discarded.  Her milk cannot and will not enter the general milk supply.  This is a mandatory practice on every dairy farm.   On our dairy farm, we identify cows treated with antibiotics by placing two pink leg bands around each hind leg and moving the cow into the hospital pen.  These leg bands signal to everyone on the farm that this cow must  be milked into a bucket so that the milk can be disposed.  The leg bands will stay on the  cow and her milk will continue to be dumped until her milk tests negative for antibiotics.  We sample the cow’s milk and test it using this handy, little contraption and special test strips.

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Now, what if someone makes a mistake?  What if someone has their head in their butt and milks the cow with the rest of the herd? You still don’t need to worry.  Every load of milk that leaves our dairy is tested for antibiotics when it reaches the creamery.  If the load tests positive for antibiotics, the ENTIRE load of milk will be disposed of and the farm will be out a lot of money.  No dairy farmer wants to lose thousands of dollars or produce an unsafe product, so farmers take antibiotics very seriously.  We use antibiotics when necessary and follow the label’s instructions.  Farmers use antibiotics to help sick animals, while still producing a safe, quality product. Farmers are extremely careful when it comes to cows, antibiotics and you.  Long story-short, all dairy products are safe and nutritious.  No matter what your choice is in the dairy case, know it is safe.

Quit Putting Fear in My Food.

Maybe it is because I just got done sorting cattle and a cow slipped and splattered manure all over me, but I sure am fired up today. First, I discover that The Original Muck Boot Company supports HSUS, a company that “claims to save animals”, but in reality only a small fraction of their profits goes to shelters. While this really cheeses me off, it is not what has my blood boiling. It is the Food Babe. Food Babe prides herself on spreading information on America’s food supply when, in reality, all she is spreading is fear. She targets large companies and uses popular food buzzwords to trick people into joining her “food babe army”. The Food Babe targets what she doesn’t understand. Whether it is a word she cannot pronounce or modern farm practice that she knows nothing about, the food babe attacks it. She claims to be an expert, but she has no experience or education in food safety, food science or agriculture. What she does have is a degree in computer science. Computer Science. Oh, and if you try to correct her or offer insight, she will block you from her site. (Yes, I have been blocked).

Her Facebook army consists of over 600,000 people who believe anything she says. This is alarming, but if folks would sit back and think before “liking” and believing every word, the Food Babe might have a few less in her army. And that is the goal of this post, folks; to make you think. Just because you don’t understand something or can’t pronounce a word, doesn’t mean it is bad. Do research, read credible sources or ask a farmer. Don’t fall victim to food buzzwords, scare tactics or misleading labels. Think things through.

Farmers are doing their best to deliver safe, quality products to your table. We feed our families the very food we produce and stand by our products. Don’t let the Food Babe or anyone else confuse you or put fear into your food. If you have any questions regarding food or farming that you think I might be able to help you with, feel free to ask!  While I am not an expert on everything, I am sure I can direct you to the right place. :) Here are some other sources that I recommend when it comes to food:

Common Ground

Food Integrity

Nurse Loves Farmer

Genetic Literacy Project

Dairy Doing More

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#FARMGIRLPROBLEMS

I am a proud farm girl and feel blessed to live such a lifestyle, but let’s be honest: the farm girl life ain’t always easy; we have our problems.  Problems only other farm girls can understand.  Let’s take a minute to show some sympathy for all the farm girls out there.

Farm Girl Problems:

1. It is not unlikely to go days, weeks, possibly months without doing your hair or make-up.

2. You have a closet full of beautiful clothes, but they only get worn once in a blue moon.  By the time you get a chance to wear all your summer clothes, clothing stores are coming out with their fall lines.

3. Operating a skidsteer or tractor requires a sports bra.  After a spring thaw and  freeze, you may want to double up.

4. If you wear mascara in the winter, it will freeze, thaw, melt down your face and leave you looking like a street-walker.

5. It is impossible to make plans too far in advance, because you never know when you will be making hay or harvesting.

6. After a long, hot, summer day on the farm you get home,look at yourself in the mirror and think, “Man, I got a nice tan today!”. After showering you realize that was all dirt and you are still as white as a ghost.

7. The tan lines you do have, are not the kind boys sing about in country songs.

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8.  At the end of the day, you find enough hay in your bra to produce a small square.

9. On average, you talk to animals more than people.

10. A manicure will NOT last more than one day, but you keep painting your nails to hide the dirt.  It is a vicious cycle.

11. Animals will mistake your hair for hay and try to eat it.

12. Your city friends think you are over-sharing when you say, “Swing into Fleet Farm, I need some rubbers.”.

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13. Your city friends fail to understand what shade of yellow resembles calf scours.

14. You must plan major events around planting, harvest and Expo.

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15. With so many layers, going to the bathroom in the winter is a twenty-minute process. Oh, and peeing outside? Been there, done that.

16. You lay awake in bed wondering if you locked the gate.

17. Running late for events is common and Freebreeze sometimes substitutes a shower.

18. Try and keep your vehicle clean; forget about it.

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19. Your pregnant city friends will say things like, “I’m in my second trimester.” and you will be screaming in your head, “What? Just tell me how many days carrying calf you are!”.

20. There will come a day when your favorite barn jeans will being hanging by a thread and have to be retired.  It will feel like the end of the world.

21. Callouses, cuts, scars…man hands.  Just man hands.

Okay, so maybe these aren’t major problems, but I think they are issues that only other farm girls can understand.  Being a farm girl ain’t easy, but some one has to do it!  Cheers to all the farm girls out there; FARM ON!

 

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Down on the Farm

I have gained many new followers, so I thought now would be a good time to introduce you to the family and show you around the farm.  Perhaps you caught my farm tour on Instagram via My Day in Ag, well here is a more thorough tour!  Be sure to click on the links as you read, the will connect you to more information on the topic.  And don’t be afraid to ask questions!  The best thing about this tour is that you won’t get any mud on your boots and you won’t stink up the joint after it is over!  Lets get started.

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My in-laws established the dairy in 1986, starting small and slowly progressing to our current size of 500 milking cows.  The four of us recently formed a LLC which allows all of us to be partners in the business.  We are family owned and operated, but also employ 7 full-time and 3 part time-employees.

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Our cows are housed in a free-stall barn which consists of sand bedded stalls for each cow, plenty of feed, easy access to water and proper ventilation.  The barn has large doors and tarp like curtains that can be rolled up or down, depending on the weather.  The barn also includes a sprinkler system and fans to keep the cows cool in the summer.  The cows are free to move about the pen as they please.

I would say our farm color is red.  We have lots of red trucks and red buildings.  Seriously, our farm slogan could be “We are the guys in the big, red trucks!”.  Here is an outside view of the free-stall barn:

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Our cows are milked three times per day in a double 8 parallel parlor.  This means we can milk 16 cows at one time.

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Front view of one side of the parlor

It takes about 7 hours to milk the entire herd and clean up.  By the time we are done, it is time to start milking again!  Check out this video of our cows entering the milking parlor:

 

While the cows are being milked and are away from their pen, we scrape away the manure, rake the beds of sand, clean the water tanks and provide plenty of feed.  This happens three times per day; I bet you don’t clean your room that often! Here are some cows resting in their freshly raked beds.  As you can see, there are already a few cow pies in the alley; it doesn’t take them long to dirty up their “room”!

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On average, there are two calves born everyday on our farm.  We sell all our bull calves as they can grow to be mean and dangerous.

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All the female babies are vaccinated, fed colostrum, given a set of “earrings” with an identification number and moved into their own hutch.  The hutch is bedded with shavings and also includes an outside area.  The hutch provides shelter and proper ventilation for the calf and allows us to keep a close eye on her in these first, critical weeks of life.  This will be the baby’s home for the next 7-8 weeks.

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Around 7 weeks of age, the calves are weaned off of milk and moved into a group pen.  Now, their diet consists of grain and water.  The girls will hang out here until they are 3 months old.  At 3 months, they are sent to our heifer raiser in a nearby town.  There, they will be introduced to hay and other forages and simply hang out.  They will be bred via artificial insemination around 14 months old and brought back to our dairy a couple of months before they are due to calve.   Here you can see the girls sunbathing outside.  What a rough life, huh?

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We work with a custom harvester to grow and harvest corn and alfalfa on our land.  The corn and alfalfa are chopped and made into silage to feed the cows.  Hiring a custom harvester allows us to produce quality feed while not losing focus on the cows.  It would be easy to miss a sick calf or cow if we were stuck in the field during planting or harvest time.  By working with a custom harvester, we can stay in the barn and keep a close eye on all the girls!

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The cows are fed TMR twice per day.  TMR stands for Total Mixed Ration and is a cow version of a casserole. Every farmer’s “recipe” or ration is different, but are usually somewhat similar.  The ration we serve up to our girls is formulated by our farm nutritionist and  includes haylage, corn silage, dry hay, corn gluten, high moisture corn and a protein mixture.

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We throw all the ingredients into our mixer and deliver the feed to the bunk.

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Farm life is the best! I find my husband to be a pretty cool guy, so I feel blessed to be able to work with him all day, every day.

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I get to hang out with my trusty side-kick too!

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The tour wouldn’t be complete unless Judy made an appearance!  She is my favorite cow on the farm and is always getting into shenanigans.  She loves to people watch, stand in inconvenient places and pester my pup, Cash.  She has a real personality!

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This tour  never really ends; as long as I continue to blog you will receive farm updates!  Be sure to “like” Modern-day Farm Chick on Facebook, follow modfarmchick on Instagram and Twitter and sign up for email updates on my blog.

Thanks for following my modern-day farm life!