An Ode to Judy

Ugh.  Not a good start to my week.  Let’s start this story from the beginning…  This past weekend I went back to my hometown to visit family and help a good friend of mine pick out her wedding gown.  I was ecstatic early Saturday morning when I received a picture message from my husband informing me that my favorite cow, Judy, had gone into labor.  If you follow me on Facebook, you are likely very familiar with Judy.  She is truly a one of a kind cow and has real personality.  Judy was even Employee of the Month a time or two!

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Soon after the first picture message, I received another; Judy had given birth to a healthy baby girl!  Everything was going well and when my husband joined me at my grandma’s house for a belated Christmas celebration, he told me that Judy and baby seemed to be doing great.  I didn’t think much about it the rest of the weekend and was looking forward to Monday when I would get to meet the new calf and give ole’ Judy a pat on the butt.

Sadly, I never got to give Judy that pat on the butt.  It seems that after my husband left, Judy started to go downhill.  Post baby (or “post fresh” in the dairy world) is a critical time for dairy cows.  It is important that the new mothers are provided with the best comfort, care and nutrition.  We do our best, but sometimes cows fall ill and/or don’t make it.  It doesn’t happen a lot, but there are occasions when new mamas require critical care or have to be put down.  We aren’t exactly sure what was wrong with Judy, but she didn’t make it.  I found out when I arrived to the farm this morning and am heartbroken.  I know that it is part of the farm life, but it really sucks when it is one of your favorite animals.  My dad always said, “Where there is livestock, there is deadstock”.  Life happens; cows get sick, they get hurt, they get old, etc.  We do our best to make sure that our cattle live a long, happy and healthy life, but there isn’t a happy ending every time.

I’m really bummed that this happened to Judy and am sad I wasn’t around to help her or give her a scratch goodbye.

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There is a silver lining, Judy’s baby, whom I think I will name Janet, is doing great!  She has made a cozy home in a little hutch and is an awesome bottle drinker.  In a day or two we will begin to teach her how to drink from a pail and introduce her to grain.  I will be keeping a close eye on baby Janet and am hopeful that she has Judy’s quirky personality. Based upon this photo, I think she will be one sassy gal! Judy and Janet definitely look alike :)

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How to Respond When Your Farming Practices Are Attacked

I have been blogging and sharing stories from my farm life for a little over a year now.  I am a proud 5th generation dairy farmer and my goal is to share the truth about modern agriculture with dairy consumers.  With so many misconceptions about the dairy industry, I find it extremely important to show consumers exactly what goes on at a dairy farm.  Every decision a farmer makes is for the better of the farm and/or animals.  Raising food and fiber ethically and sustainably is not only our duty as farmers, but also ensures a better life for all.  Farming is our way of life, our livelihood and is absolutely a business.  Those of us in the agriculture industry understand this, but there are many who do not.  Most of my followers are perceptive and genuinely interested in what I have to share, but there are always a few who disagree or don’t fully understand each practice. Then, of course there are the activists. (sigh) Go ahead, just pour yourself a glass of alcohol now.

I had my first run-in with a few animal rights activists just last week.  I couldn’t believe how rude and disrespectful some people could be!  I was being called every nasty name in the book and told to “get a real job” (Is there any job more “real” than farming?).  Many of these commenters were immediately banned from my page.  Cyber bullying…ain’t nobody got time for that.  However, I didn’t want to ban everyone just because they had a difference in opinion.  So, if the person was polite I would engage in a conversation with them.

Getting your message across on such an emotional and passionate topic can be tricky, but here are a few tips that work for me.  I am no expert, but I hope you find these tips useful the next time you find yourself in a conversation with a disagreeing party.

1. Stay calm.

Getting fired up and chewing their head off is not going to solve anything.  If you want respect, you have to give it.  While it may be tempting to fire back after being accused of untruths, don’t.  Having passion and pride in what you do is great, but leave it out of the conversation.  Arguing (especially on the internet) never ends well for anyone.

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photo 1 (2)2.Understand where the person is coming from.

This person is entitled to his/her opinions and concerns.  It is up to you to understand and address the concerns.  Find common ground and ensure them that you aren’t so different from one another.  Maybe you are a mother or father, just like they are?  Perhaps a school board member of a soccer coach?  Find commonality.

3. Keep it simple.

You could go on and on about why your farm adopts certain practices, but too much detail can be confusing and stir up more questions and emotions.  An outsider who does not see what happens on a farm everyday may find your specific details difficult to understand.

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4. Know when to end it.

If things get out of hand, if name-calling begins, just stop.  Be open to those who have genuine questions and concerns, but know when to draw the line.   If you are having the conversation online, you have the ability to moderate the conversation.  It is your choice to ban and delete anyone or any comment that you deem inappropriate. Many activists don’t care what you have to share and are just using your page as a platform to spread their views.

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If your conversation is face-to-face, agree to disagree and politely excuse yourself.  It is a waste of your time to try to change the view of someone who is anti-whatever.  Remember who your audience is and who you are trying to convey your message to.  It is the folks who consume your product that you want to share with; put your time and energy in with them.

5. Don’t give up.

Agvocating and sharing your story can be frustrating and there WILL  be people who will make you want to pull your hair out.  Don’t give up.  I guarantee that for every negative response you get, there are ten more positive responses.  It can be easy to focus on the negative comments, but don’t forget about all the folks who appreciate what you do.  Most importantly, FARM ON!

 farm on

 

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What Do Dairy Farmers Do On Holidays?

There are no days off on the farm.  Cows don’t care if it is Christmas and that you have eggnog to drink; they still need to be fed, milked and cared for.  It may be business as usual at the farm, but we still make time to celebrate with family and friends.  The whole crew works together to get chores done and we all find time to eat, drink and be merry.  Each year is different, but here is how Christmas went down at the farm this year.

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Christmas Eve morning started with all hands on deck.  My father-in-law fed the cows as usual, my mother-in-law and her helper fed calves, and my husband and I cared for the hospital cows,  newborn calves and their mothers.  Meanwhile, other employees worked in shifts to get the cows milked and pens cleaned.

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Morning chores were soon complete and things settled down.  Slowly, but surely, everyone was able to take a break and prepare for Christmas celebrations.  My husband and I left around noon and headed to my mother’s house a couple of hours north.  The farm would be in the good hands of my in-laws and a few others while we were away.

Every year my mom throws a big Christmas party for nearby friends, family and neighbors.  My sisters and I do our best to help her plan and prepare.  This year we presented a pasta bar to our guests!  Using recipes from the Pioneer Woman, we offered a variety of noodles and three different sauces: Marinara with Beef, Vodka Sauce with Chicken and Alfredo Sauce with veggies.  Oh, and of course plenty of cheese!  Brushetta, garlic-cheesy bread and other yummy appetizers were also on the menu.

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While the food is always delish, what our guests really come for is the holiday cheer.  And by cheer I mean booze.  We usually whoop it up pretty good at the Christmas party.

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Christmas morning quickly came, presents were opened and my husband and I trucked on back to the farm.  Morning chores were taken care of by the time we arrived home, but there were pens to clean and new calves to care for, as well as evening chores.

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  My mother in-law and I fed the baby calves a Christmas dinner of warm milk!

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By evening, my husband and I were cleaned up and ready for a cup of cheer!  Around these parts, the Christmas beverage of choice is a Tom & Jerry. It seems as though many folks are not familiar with this drink and that the mix cannot be found everywhere, but if you ever see it…BUY IT!  The directions are right on the container and they are easy to make.  Can’t find the mix? Make your own!  Be warned, these suckers will catch up with you quick!  My husband and I spent Christmas evening together organizing our brand spankin’ new house!

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Christmas celebrations and farming continued through the weekend as my husband’s sisters and their families arrived to town.  Friday was lunch with grandma followed by an evening with my husband’s family.  The entire crew worked to get things done quickly on Saturday so that we could open gifts and feast that night.  While there were a few snags along the way, we eventually all made it inside to see what Santa had brought.

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With one last Christmas/Packer celebration on Sunday, the Christmas week was complete!  While I enjoy the holidays and love seeing everyone, I am glad it is over.  Between moving into our new home, farming and celebrating, my husband and I stayed quite busy!  It will be nice to get back to the daily grind.

We are extremely thankful for all of our employees who help us care for the cows everyday and allow us to take time away from the farm.  If it wasn’t for the great team we have at our dairy farm, we wouldn’t be able to do all the things we love and enjoy.

Hope you all had a VERY Merry Christmas and made dairy part of your celebration

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If Your Belly is Full, Give Thanks.

These days it seems that just about everybody has an opinion on how their food should be grown and produced. Organic vs. Conventional, GMO vs. non-GMO. etc.  With so many food buzzwords, misconceptions and various opinions, debates tend to get heated. I often wonder if folks would have less to say about the food on their plate if their bellies weren’t so full.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t care about how your food is grown or that you don’t have the right to choose.  I think it is extremely important to understand how your food is grown and visit farms whenever you have the opportunity!  But, can we be honest and say that some food requests get a little ridiculous?  “Excuse me, I would like the chicken parmesan, but only if the chicken is free-range and organic.  I would like the noodles to be gluten-free and the cheese to come from cattle that haven’t been treated with hormones.  Oh, and could you tell me if the chicken was on an all vegetarian diet?”.  Seriously people, just eat the damn chicken.   If we offered the hungry children of Africa a meal of chicken and corn, do you think they would care if the chicken was free-range or if the corn was derived from a genetically modified seed?  Probably not.

 These sound like topics of luxury, discussed by a nation who pushes away from the table with a full belly.

- Ashwani Gujral, CEO of an Integrated poultry company in India.

Sure, it would be great if everyone could just grow their own food in whatever way they desire, but that is not reality.  Not everyone has the time, land or resources to grow their own corn or milk their own cow.  The reality is that the population is quickly growing and we have more and more mouths to feed each day.  In the U.S. alone, 15.8 million children live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.  Estimates indicate the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, including middle class growth of 3 billion.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts a 60-percent increase in demand for meat, milk and eggs by 2050.  More than ever, we need farmers.

How lucky are we to live in a country that not only has plenty of readily available foods, but also a variety of choices?!  You want a free-range turkey this year for your Thanksgiving feast, well by golly, get yourself one!  Need some fresh tomatoes in January?  Perhaps some strawberries for a Valentines Day dessert?  Not a problem here in the United States!  It is awesome that at any time of the year we have access to a plethora of affordable foods, whether they are in season or not.  I hope you never stop caring about where your food comes from, but the next time you feel the urge to bite a farmer’s head off because he/she chooses to utilize farming practices that you don’t quite understand or agree with, can you just remember that your belly is full.  Full of foods that many don’t have access to or will ever be able to experience.  We may not all agree, but be respectful to each other.

Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.

-Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty

Know that farmers are doing their best to ethically produce a safe, quality product for your table   This year I am thankful for my full belly and my right to choose.

COWfessions: Stories From the Barnyard

Growing up on a dairy farm has taught me many things.  One of them being that funny, embarrassing things happen and the best thing you can do is laugh about it.  Life is too short not to laugh!  I asked my Facebook followers to share their crazy farm stories with me and now I share them with you.  Do you have a funny farm story? Please share it!

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“When we were still milking in our tie stall barn, my sister-in-law and a friend were over chatting with me when I was milking. I have a space between my front teeth. I went to say something at the same time the cow I was squatting next to hit me in the face with her tail and a dingleberry on her switch got stuck between my front teeth! Needless to say…I have a great immune system :-)”
-Kris, NY dairy farmer


As a kid, nothing was quite as funny as seeing my dad get kicked in the balls.”

  -Dirk, WI business owner


“I was feeding calves and pigs a few weeks ago and things were hectic, we were chopping corn and I was in a hurry to get back to scrape the barn and get the next group of cows for the milker. I was carrying a full bucket of milk for the pigs and tripped on a root. I fell, landed on my forehead and my wrist. Now I’m on my knees and laughing and crying. I have a very sensitive vagus nerve and tend to get light-headed and nauseous when I get suddenly hurt so I was staying down till I got my bearings. My partner in crime looks back, not realizing I had hurt myself, and asks me (while holding back her laughter) if I was crying over the spilt milk or had I gotten hurt? We still break out laughing when retelling the story!”
-Corinne, NY dairy farmer


“We were out doing calf chores and I caught my daughter, Taylor, letting a calf lick her stomach. She was totally oblivious to the fact I took her picture because she had her shirt over her head.”

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-Macy, WI dairy farmer


“When I was a little kid, we had a bull named Lucky.  I would be out in the woods and Lucky would see me, take off running and bucking his head toward me. He would stop right in front of me and want me to scratch, rub, and play with his head.  He did this to my dad once and later that day he was gone. I was sad and told dad he just wanted to play, we do it all the time. Lucky wasn’t so lucky after all.”
-Chris, WI dairy farmer


“I was feeding calves at a small dairy during college and  was normally in and out within two hours, so having to use the bathroom was never much of an issue. Well, one day I had to pee and I was not even close to done with my chores. I didn’t feel comfortable going into their house to use the bathroom, so I  decided to pee in a pen, which I certainly had done before, except this time  one of their sons walked in the barn and kept calling for me to see if I needed help.  It was not easy getting my jeans and  bibs up without him noticing… just a little awkward!!!!!”

-Angela, WI nurse


“My brother’s heifer would mount him whenever he bent over.  I am certain it was her way of hugging him back.”.
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-Jillian, WI dairy farmer

“I was training a heifer to lead for the show season.  She was a heifer that spooked easily, but didn’t cause me too many problems, up to this point.  I was leading her around the yard by a rope halter and everything was going fine.  I don’t recall what spooked her, but the heifer all of a sudden took off, running like a bat out of hell.  Well, you know the saying “Never let go of the rope”?  That is what I was trying to do…not let go of the rope!  So this heifer is running and I am keeping up until she meets the footbath that lays right in front of the barn door. The heifer suddenly stops, takes a flying leap over the footbath and jumps into the barn; meanwhile, I am still holding on to the rope! When she jumped, I was jerked  forward and I took a nose dive into the FULL foot bath.  At that point, the heifer got away from me and was running around the barn.  I turn around (while still in the footbath, mind you) and my dad, who watched this whole thing, says “Well, go get up and get her!”  And so I did!”
-Ashley, WI dairy farmer

 “I was “cow sitting” for two wonderful fair heifers. Being a city girl turned ag student, I was fairly familiar with how to act around animals and what to expect. What I was not prepared for was a crazy jersey that came into heat during my care. I started piecing it together after hearing some awesome bellaring at night. However, the next day solidified it when I went out to feed them and the Jersey decided to mount me. Nothing says hands-on learning like being taken to the ground by a hormonal teenage heifer. Let’s just say it now makes a great story to tell my students about heat detection.”
-Kellie, WI teacher

 “I once witnessed my dad give mouth-to-mouth CPR to a dying calf. It lived.”
-Gena, MN student

 “As a nine-year-old 4-H’er, my grandpa had picked out a special calf from his herd for me to bring home to our farm. After chores that night, it was time for our very first leading lesson. It was going well until the calf took off, and I tripped. I did my best, holding on the the rope and remembering “NEVER LET GO!” That is, until the calf came to the bench in our front yard. She sailed over it, but I wasn’t so lucky.  Fortunately, it didn’t dampen my love of showing, even though that girl didn’t make it to the fair that year!”
-Heather, Iowa dairy farmer

“This was in the office at a dairy I worked at.  A cow got out of a pen and managed to open the door of the office and the fridge. Never found out how good her DC-305 skills were as new employee!”
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-Wiebe, WI dairy farmer

“Forty-five years ago we had a lot to the west of our barn containing steers. As it sometimes happens, we had a sick steer out there that needed some attention. Well, Mom and I follow Dad, who is carrying a lasso out into the lot to where the steer was laying. We wanted to get him into the barn to separate it from the others and to treat him. We walk up to the steer and he does not move. Dad slips the lasso around his neck so we can lead it to the barn. Dad gives a little tug on the rope, the steer launches to his feet at about 15 or 20 mile an hour, Dad grabs hold of the rope. Dad becomes one of the fastest distance runners on record hanging on to this rope, attached to a steer which is now running at full speed.  After the first lap, the steer and Dad pass Mom and I, who have now turned into spectators, “Grab the end of the rope!” dad hollers. I am thinking, “Yeah, Right”. By the time Steer and Dad made the second lap around it was, “What the Hell you guys laughing at, grab the rope.” Mom and I were in hysterics watching this steer tow this large man behind.  Suddenly the steer turns around and knocks Dad on his back and proceeds to put a hoof just outside the four corners of the imaginary box that my Dad is now in and does this dance with his head down looking between its legs, mud and manure flying from all four, but never so much as touched my Dad.”
Oh, Dad let go of the rope….
-Tregan, Nebraska beef farmer

When me and my brother(Ben) were young, every Saturday morning we would go down to our neighbor’s (Todd) dairy farm and do chores. Well, this Saturday wasn’t any ordinary one! Todd and I were waiting for the feed cart to fill and Ben was cleaning the mangers.  Todd and I were standing there and all of a sudden he yelled, “Behind you!”. I  turned around and saw a big rat crawling on the extension cords! I jumped out of the way as Todd whacked it with a broom! It fell down and ran through a crack in the wall! We ran around to the other side where Ben was sweeping the mangers. He asked, “what are you doing?”. We told him there’s a rat under the hay bale! As Ben grabbed a cat and Todd with a broom they told me to pull the bale away! I decided well why not! So I pulled half the bale away and jumped back! The rat started to run down the walk-way with Ben and Todd in hot pursuit! As the rat made a U-turn, Ben stopped and Todd collided with him! In all the mix up somehow Todd got in front of the rat as I turned to grab a shovel as a weapon! The rat ran at Todd and went up his leg inside his jeans. He started shaking his leg! With a big kick he got it out as it flew through the air and hit me right on my back pocket! As it held on for dear life I was jumping and shaking trying to get it off! Eventually it fell off  and was hit with the broom! It felt like an hour long scenario,  but was likely only a few seconds!
-Luke, WI student
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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!