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!

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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, Antibiotics, 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!