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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watermelon Salsa

This stuff is as good as it looks and is the perfect summer snack.  I found a similar recipe from the Pioneer Woman, but changed it to my liking.  My husband can’t quite take the heat like the Pioneer Woman’s family, so I tamed the recipe.  Eat it with chips, serve as a side dish or top your chicken with it!  I served it with tortilla chips and paired it with BBQ Chicken & Pineapple Quesadillas and Blackberry Margaritas; DELISH! This recipe makes a lot, so if you don’t have a lot of friends, cut it in half.  But, I am sure you can find plenty of people to share it with.  :) Heck!  This watermelon salsa will probably make you some new friends!

Here is what you need:

  • Half of a small, seedless watermelon
  •  1 green bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • Half of a red onion
  • A handful of cilantro
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Pinch of garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

All you have to do is dice it all up, dump it in a serving dish,  squeeze in the juice, mix and ENJOY!

NO MORE “FACTORY FARMS”!

You know what label I am tired of hearing, “factory farm”.  What does that even mean?  “That farm has large barns and a lot of cows, so it must be a factory.”?  The term has such a negative association.  Have any of you used this term before and made an assumption that the cows aren’t happy and the farm isn’t family owned?  Have you ever stopped to talk to the farmers to find out why they chose to have a particular number of cows, why the cows are housed in large free-stall barns, or if the farm is family owned?

On our farm, we milk 500 cows and on the farm I grew up on, they milk 1,500 cows.  Due to their size and modern facilities, both would fit into the “factory farm” stereotype.  However, neither farm is anything like a factory.  Both dairy farms are family owned and operated.  Did you know 96% of farms are still family owned?  As our families grew, so did our farm.  We needed more cows to support our growing family and to allow all family members to be involved in the business.  By increasing the number of cows, we are able to do what we love and make a good living.  Another perk of having a larger dairy farm, is that we are able to take time off and enjoy other activities.  With more cows, comes more people.  Large dairy farms are able to involve multiple family members and employees while still remaining profitable.  We can count on each other to take care of the farm and cows while one is away.  It is nice to be able to get away from the farm and enjoy life, something that might not be possible if you had fifty cows and only a husband as a hired hand.

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So, you know why we grew in size, but what is the deal with these big free-stall barns?  Why aren’t the cows on pasture?  The modern dairy barn is termed a free-stall barn and consists of a barn with a stall for each cow, plenty of feed, easy access to water and proper ventilation. The cows are able to move about the pen; eating, drinking, and laying down whenever they please.  Our free-stall barn is able to comfortably house 360 cows; the remainder of the herd is housed in two, smaller green-house shaped barns.

The stalls provided are commonly bedded with sand, but mattresses, water beds, and dry solids can also be used.  We prefer sand on our dairy farm; it is easy to keep clean and provides adequate cushion when the cows get up and down.  Summers get hot and winters get cold.  Free stall barns have large, tarp-like curtains and doors that can be rolled down in the winter to keep cows warm and rolled up in the summer to keep cows cool.  Just like you and I, cows hate extreme temperatures; perfect cow weather is a breezy, fifty-five degree day.  Many free-stall barns also utilize giant fans and sprinkler systems to keep cows cool.   We do our best to keep cows comfortable and free-stall barns allow us to do this.

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The cows are milked three times per day, but they are never away from their pen for more than three hours a day.  We bring the cows to the parlor in groups; we start with pen 1 and work our way through the barn.  Our parlor is able to milk 16 cows in a matter of minutes and the entire pen in an hour.  While the cows are being milked and the pen is empty, we scrape away the manure and rake the beds of sand.  We also make sure they have clean water and plenty of feed.  It only takes 10-15 minutes to milk the first group of cows in a pen, but it takes us a half hour to clean the pen, so the cows must patiently wait in the cow yard until we are done.  The cow yard is provided with water, shade, and salt blocks to keep the cows happy while they wait.  It doesn’t take long and the cows are back up to their pen where they can eat, lay down and do cow stuff.

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I still haven’t answered the question, “Why aren’t they out on pasture?”.  Mother Nature is hard to control and so are pastures.  If you are even able to find enough land for your cows to graze, a lot of upkeep comes with pastures.  Pastures need to provide proper vegetation and need to be rotated.  If a group of cows is on a particular pasture for too long, they will eat it down to dirt.  You also want to make sure your pasture isn’t to rocky or have obstacles that could increase Bessie’s chance of somehow injuring herself.  What about when it rains, gets really hot, or gets really cold?  Is Bessie close to a shelter area?  What if Bessie gets sick on the edge of the pasture that is miles from the barn?  How quickly will you be able to track her down?   Cows are domestic creatures and need to be cared for; they won’t thrive on their own.  You cannot just kick Bessie out the door and say “Have fun!”.  Whether your cows are in a barn or out on pasture, there is a lot of work to do to keep them happy.  For us, and many others, free-stall barns allow us to keep our cows happy and well cared for.  In fact, I sometimes think our cows prefer their barn over the outdoors!  There have been multiple times when the cows have managed to open their gate and run around (little rascals), but I never get too worried.  After the excitement of finding new territory dwindles down, the cows quickly find themselves back in or near the barn.  The barn is the perfect temperature, has food, water and comfy beds of sand…I wouldn’t want to leave either!

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Just because our barns are big and we milk a large number of cows, doesn’t mean our animals aren’t properly cared for or make us a factory.  We are simply a family that is passionate about dairy farming and wants to continue to grow and evolve.  The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, well, don’t judge a farm by its size.  Big, small, organic, conventional; all types are vital to the dairy industry and are doing their best to keep cows happy and produce quality milk.  So, lets quit using the term “factory farm” and just call them what they are…large family farms.

 

 

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches Aren’t Just For Kids!

In honor of June being Dairy Month (and because I LOVE cheese), I thought I would put together a list of grilled cheese sandwiches to try.  These aren’t just your plain, old American cheese on white bread sandwiches, these ooey-gooey delights are master pieces!  Click on the link for the recipe and celebrate Dairy Month with some vigor!

1. The Flat Iron

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Wisconsin Brie, crispy bacon, hash browns, and a fried egg on French toast -start your morning off with this deliciousness.

2. Bleu Cheese & Onion

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Rye bread, muenster cheese, bleu cheese and caramelized onions….probably not going to get your kids to eat this one.  Mmmmm, but it sounds divine to me!

3. Bacon & Pickles

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I never would have thought to add pickles to a grilled cheese sandwich!  Now it is all I can think about.  Cheese, bacon, pickles…what could go wrong?

4. Honey Basil Grilled Cheese

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Mozzarella, fontina, fresh basil, tomatoes and honey.  Feed your Italian side with this creation.

5. Grilled Portobello & Cheese

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I am a big mushroom fan, so this one excites me. Boursin and provolone cheeses, roasted tomato and Portobello mushrooms.  However, I have never heard of Boursin cheese; going to have to look that one up.

6. Gruyere with Caramelized Onions 

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Oh baby, this one has my name written all over it. Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions.  Simple enough.

7. Grilled Apple & Swiss

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A few of Wisconsin’s finest products, apples and cheese. Not sure how I feel about this one, but I love Swiss cheese.  It is worth a try!  Perhaps add some bacon?

8. The Dagwood

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Smoked ham, Swiss & American cheese, tomato and red onion on sourdough; what’s not to like?

9. The Biloxi

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This sandwich features fontina cheese,  pulled barbecue pork, and creamy coleslaw.  My mouth is watering.  Get. in. my. belly.

10.  Grilled Avacodo & Pepper Jack Sandwich

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I’m not a Pepper Jack fan, so you won’t find me chowing down on this one.  Grilled avocado, tomato, sweet onions and Pepper Jack cheese on sourdough. I have a few family members who are wild about this spicy cheese, so I felt I better include old Pepper Jack in the list.

 

How many will you try?  What is your favorite??

Why I’m PRO GMO

If you eat food, read newspapers, watch television or surf the internet, it is likely that you have heard about genetically modified organisms.  It is also likely that the media has instilled some fear into you when it comes to biotechnology.  In my opinion, there is nothing to be fearful of.  GMOs are used to help farmers use LESS land, LESS water, LESS fuel and FEWER pesticides/herbicides.  With a growing population and fewer available resources, using a technology that allows farmers to grow more with less sounds like a no brainer to me.  So, what is the hype all about?

If you ask me, it is fear of the unknown.  For some reason, advancements in technology are viewed positively in just about every industry… except agriculture.  You wouldn’t demand that your surgeon use only techniques that were developed in the 1960s, so why are farmers expected to use out-dated methods?  Consumers are looking for that big, red barn on the hill with two cows, two pigs, two sheep, two chickens, etc. and that vision is one of the past.  Just like every other industry, agriculture is growing, advancing and using modern technologies to become more sustainable and profitable; it seems to freak people out.  The population is increasing and folks are growing further away from agriculture.  Back in the day, if you didn’t grow your own food, your neighbor did. During that time, consumers were producers and saw first hand how crops were grown and animals were raised.  A majority of today’s society is extremely distant from modern agriculture and there is much they are not able to see or understand; GMOs being one.

GMO foods have a long, safe track record (18 years in the marketplace).  Most people don’t even realize they have been eating GMO foods since the mid-1990s.  Since their introduction in 1996 until now, foods derived from GMO products have been deemed safe and nutritious by regulatory agencies.  Currently, three major agencies regulate genetically modified crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The purpose of genetic engineering is to insert a gene or genes from a donor organism carrying a desired trait into an organism that does not have the trait.  It is that simple, take the good from one organism and insert it into another and create an organism of greater quality. It is too bad we cannot do this with men. :)  There are several genetically engineered products currently on the market including, corn, squash, canola, soybeans, and cotton.   A majority of these GMO products have been produced to help farmers with age-old problems such as, drought, insects, weeds and disease.

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GMO varieties are able to withstand pests and weeds, therefore allowing farmers to use pesticides and herbicides sparingly, if at all.  There are varieties that are more resistant to disease, allowing farmers to yield a better crop.  There are even GMO products that can tolerate and prosper in dry soils that would otherwise not support growth.   According to the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report, at our current rate of consumption, it takes the Earth 1.5 years to regenerate the renewable resources we use in a single year. At this rate, by 2030 we’ll require double the planet’s resources to meet the population’s needs.  Genetic engineering helps farmers increase yields while using less available resources.

Some think this new technology is just crazy, but humans have been using similar techniques longer than you think.  For years, farmers have been keeping seeds from the best crops and planting them in following years, breeding and crossbreeding varieties to make them taste sweeter, grow bigger, last longer.  With this technique, we have transformed the small, wild tomato into today’s big beefsteak variety.  We have crossbred dogs to make them more resilient to disease and increase their life span.  How about vaccinating our children to make them more resilient to disease?  Genetic modification is nothing new.

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If you ask me, GMO products will play a vital role in the future of agriculture and our food supply. Close to 870 million people—most of whom live in developing countries—were chronically undernourished in 2010–2012, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.  GMO varieties allow farmers to produce more of a high quality product and allow consumers to purchase at a lower price. Estimates indicate the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, including middle class growth of 3 billion.  Not only will GMO products increase yields to feed this growing population, but they will offer the poor and middle class a safe and affordable option to feed their family.  Another bonus yet, GMO products allow farmers to be more profitable.  By using less and yielding more, we can put a few more dollars into our wallets and do a better job of providing for our families and yours.  Activists would like you to believe that those using genetic engineering are giant, money-hungry corporations, but many of today’s farmers grow GMOs and feed them to their own families.  They are farm families that have been working and sustaining the same ground for generations.  Families that drink the same water as you, breathe the same air as you, and play in the same dirt as you.

Perhaps you are skeptical and that is fine, you do not have to agree.  In fact, you do not even have to eat GMO products if you don’t want to; you have a choice.  Choice is one of the great things about our food supply.  You have the choice to buy organic, conventional, natural, genetically modified or even grow your own.  My kitchen is filled with a variety of choices; I grow some of my own, buy some from the local farmer’s market and buy some GMO products from my nearby grocery store.  I feel comfortable knowing that no matter what my choice is, I have a safe and nutritious product being served on my kitchen table.  I am PRO GMO.

 

Mini Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecakes

I have a bit of a cheesecake making obsession.  I think it is because they are quite simple to make, yet seem so fancy. But, here is the weird part…. I don’t like to eat them.  I know it, I am a freak.  I just don’t care for sweets.  My husband, mom and youngest sister are the opposite and think I am crazy when I grab veggies and dip instead of dessert.  I can easily turn away from the sweets, but I have no control when it comes to french fries.  Mmmmmm, grease and salt.

Any who, back to the cheesecake.  My family loves this decadent dessert and I feel like Miss Fancy Pants when I make it.  I made these mini cheesecakes a few weeks ago in honor of Mother’s Day and my mom’s love for peanut butter, chocolate and dairy products.  The recipe is an adaptation of various recipes that caught my eye and the best part is that it doesn’t require a springform pan!

Here is what you need:

Crust:

  • 16-18 Oreos (crushed)
  • 1 Tbs. of butter

Filling:

  • Two 8 oz. blocks of cream cheese (softened)
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. of vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of hot fudge topping

Topping:

  • Drizzle with hot fudge topping
  • Garnish with Reese’s peanut butter chips or pieces

Procedure:

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Mix melted butter and crushed Oreos.  Tip: Use a blender to crush Oreos quickly and with ease.

Press 1 tablespoon crushed Oreos into the bottom of 12 lined muffin cups.

Warm up peanut butter in the microwave for about 20 seconds and drizzle into each muffin cup.

Place in the refrigerator until ready to fill.

Beat together softened cream cheese and sugar until smooth.

Slowly, mix in vanilla and eggs.  I love when I get to use my Kitchen Aid mixer. :)

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Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the  filling into each muffin cup.

Bake at 325°F for 20-25 minutes until puffed and set.

Allow cheesecakes to cool before drizzling with hot fudge. The muffin liners can be removed prior to adding chocolate, if desired.

Garnish with peanut butter chips.

Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours or until ready to serve.

My ma loved the cheesecakes SO much that she told me I am her favorite daughter!  Enjoy!

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A Few Things Every Farm Chick Needs

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Farm chicks are busy gals that commonly get down and dirty.  That doesn’t mean we don’t do our best to look our best!  After all, you gotta catch and  keep the eye of the farm dude. :) Today, I am sharing a few of my favorite items that keep this farm chick and her home on point!

1. Bath & Body Works 3-wick Candle

These candles are the best!  Their scent quickly fills the room and they burn cleanly.  When your home commonly takes in stinky socks, boots and barn clothes, you burn a lot of candles. Normally, these candles are priced around $20, but if you purchase during a 2 for $22 sale it is a steal! (I always stock up)  I am in love with this scent, Mahogany Teakwood.

2. Corral Boots

I am obsessed with boots in general, but Corral boots are my favorite.  I own three pairs already and this fringe pair is next on my list.  These are definitely NOT work boots, they are going-out boots.  Expensive, but well worth it.  Detailed, durable, and sassy.  There is quite the variety to choose from! Perfect for when your farm dude takes you out on the town!  I have purchased all of my Corral Boots from the Boot Barn, however they are sold in many other stores too.

3. Covergirl LashBlast Volume Blasting Mascara

The cows don’t really care what I look like or if I put on makeup, but I do try to at least look alive and that requires mascara.  I have dabbled with a few different brands of mascara from various price ranges, but I always come back to Covergirl LashBlast.  It lengthens and volumizes without looking chunky.  The best part…it has a great price tag!

4. EOS Lip Balm

Midwest winds will dry a farm chick’s lips right out!  No one wants crusty lips; you gotta moisturize those babies.  On and off the farm, my favorite lip balm is EOS, mint flavor specifically.  I don’t know if it is the fun shape or the quality, but I just love this stuff.

5. OPI Nail Polish

My hands and nails really take a beating and don’t always appear very feminine.  But, nothing hides dirt and rough nails like a good polish!  OPI polishes seem to work best for me.  It dries quickly and lasts a long time.  I still end up painting my nails 2-3 times per week, because polish never really lasts long for a farm chick.  I could probably paint them less if I wasn’t so OCD when it came to a slight chip of polish.  Using a nail cleanser and buffing the nail prior to polishing eliminates oils that make your polish easy to peel.   It really helps lengthen the life span of a polish job.   Girls, get your self a good nail cleanser.

6. Vaseline

I have said it before, and I will say it again, a farm chick’s hands go through a lot in a day: water, muck, wind, cold temps, rough materials etc.  In order to keep my lady-like hands and to avoid callouses and dry skin, I slather Vaseline on my hands whenever I get a chance.  It is a super duty moisturizer and I love the cocoa butter scent!