You ever think about life without weather issues? All the farmers I know watch that weather forecast like it’s a child next to water. What is going to happen next, when, how much, can we predict the next season by using the farmer’s almanac or old wise-tales. Well, one thing that is for sure is that nothing can predict how much damage high winds or a tornado will do until it has made its path. Last night we had high winds that destroyed our old lean-to building and the roof on our house. We are fortune we didn’t have a tornado like the devastation of the tornadoes down south.
One year, at my parents place, we had plenty of warning that we were in for a doozy of a storm. My brothers, parents and I went through the farm, putting anything and everything inside buildings so they wouldn’t get damaged. Tractors, trucks, machinery, lawnmowers, you name it – we stacked all the buildings as tight as possible so they wouldn’t get hailed on, which was very strange for us. The big doors on the sheds each had a one, if not more, big T posts holding them from flopping in the wind. I remember thinking to myself when we were all inside the house, “what am I going to do if I need to go to bathroom and I’m in the fruit cellar?” Well my question never got answered but we thought for a moment the storm missed us…it was calm. But just like that the wind came, trees were tilting and cracking. We watched out the kitchen window at one of our tobacco sheds that was gracefully falling on our Allis Chalmers – WD tractor and two trucks that we just put into the building. My mom, slightly happy that there might not be a chance that we couldn’t raise all the tobacco the upcoming years, but then remembered the vehicles inside getting smooshed by this once strong tobacco shed. Through all the storms, we never made it to the fruit cellar but the winds have taken out a number of our trees and put an empty grain bend in the pond which was fun trying to fish out with log chains. We were the talk of the town once again as the cars drove by assessing our situation. Friends drove in with chain saws, food and hands to help us.
Seems like our ridge gets hit with a strong storm at least once a year – most of the time I’m milking cows during the storms. Talking to my neighbor the other day that milks cows also, we talked about where we could find each other in case we need to take shelter and we can’t make it to basement. I will be in the gutter or milk house I said, and he said he will be in his manure pit area. I guess it will be like the captain going down with his ship, but we have more of a “Jack-ass” movie ending with jumping in manure.
The one nice thing about farming is that you can drink on the job, if you are the boss anyways. I rarely drink when I’m milking or driving a tractor but when I’m doing paperwork that is when I like to. Taxes and our organic annual application seem to be less stressful and challenging with a bit of “I don’t give a .…” in my belly and mind. A little bit of RumChata in my cappuccino or hot chocolate has helped with this task for years. My numbers are all double checked by a professional anyways, so I’ve just got to be close to being right.
Back in the day on this ridge in Vernon County, Wisconsin during the probation, our farmers made their own beer, whiskey and wine like most of the country. We found bottles in every nook and cranny in every building. In the rafters, under the barn cleaner, on the fence line and even in the corn crib, just everywhere! Stories about these old fellers so drunk that they fell off their new tractors and combines and even slept in the corn field were not lies. At my parents place they must have used the bottles for target practice – glass everywhere. My annual summer project for me was to clean up under the tree near the pond, my own little fort with my kittens. Now my Mom has a cute garden there and less glass, needless to say, glass is like rocks. Our neighbor calls our type of rocks – sex stones, because it always seems like they breed every year. So a toast to us farmers for working in the hot sun picking up those sex stones, making hay, and planting crops ….a bit of booze is a good treat for hard working people.
Weather in Wisconsin can be a friend or a worst enemy of a farmer. This winter was the coldest on record in Wisconsin and challenging for dairy farmers. Many farmers dealt with frozen cow teats and so much frozen manure in free stall barns that we would have liked to skip over those cold days and go right to these rainy days we are having now … at least we know it will be planting time soon again. This is also the time we hire more chore hands to get some of these extra duties done that get pushed into April. This month is full of extra work and mud. Just this week I found myself with more paperwork, having more calves, doing dehorning and vaccinations, extra breeding of cows, and picking up the farm of garbage and sticks. Not to mention my husband is in the shop fixing tractors non-stop and hauling extra manure on to flat fields due to the rainy spells.
Chore hands this week started ripping out more of our fence that has served its purpose for 50+ years. It’s time to clean out that brush that shorts out my electric fence and start fresh. They also milk cows and are starting to understand that not all cows are the same. Cows do not have the same personalities as each other and they don’t have the same “nipples”, which I like to call teats on a cow udder, as each other. Growing up, we would occasionally like to mess with our peers and tell them stories about our brown cows producing chocolate milk or that an uncle milked a bull by mistake. I remember one time we had a kid stand on the flat rack as we green chopped feed for the milk cows. We told him just what he needed to do – catch the grass and place it on the outside edge of the wagon so the cows can reach it. Well, needless to say he was covered in seconds with chopped oat grass. When we started the field our green chopper was like a lawnmower on steroids. Luckily we never lost any friends by pulling these stunts with them and to them; just a lot memories and laughs to pass the cold and rainy days away.
So again, I have a lesbian cow. Seems like every year I have a cow that prefers the love of another sexy cow. Not every day will cows jump on each other just for fun like they are in heat, but most days they will. So it’s really difficult to know when they are really in heat. Neighbors that come over say “you got a cow in heat” and I say “nope, they’re lesbians.” Then they nod and give me a story about their gay animals. I have found out through a number of stories, it is always better to have a gay milk cow than a gay bull. One of our Vernon County, Wisconsin farmers bought a young bull from a “bull guy” and put it in with a group of heifer so in a few months they should be all breed. He noticed the bull kinda stayed by himself a lot more than an average bull does, never seeing him get excited the whole first month. Than one day he got a call from the neighbor to come over – his bull was in with his group of heifers. When he got there, the bull was not interested in the ladies but he was, let’s just say VERY excited to be with his new guy friend. So needless to say he didn’t get any heifers breed and he was sold soon after.
Animals are funny, they don’t care who is watching them poop or just start humping your leg for no reason. It just funny to me that I have had explain these natural things to kids and adults from time to time. The other day at the elementary school I was explaining what my job was as a dairy farmer. The questions of “how do you tell the difference between a boy cow and a girl cow” and “how does a bull breed a cow” came up. These questions made me think of myself seeing my first calf born and all the questions of “how did that happen?” I’m not sure how old I was but I learn a lot that day and remember it like yesterday. My Dad was like Jack Hanna explaining the mating patterns of elephant in Africa, all the way to this wet slimy calf in front of me. My mind kept thinking about all the times cows were having sex and I didn’t even know it. Now today I’m in my Dad’s role of explain those birds and the bee’s questions. Although I may not be as scientific as he was, I am entertaining using my hands as example. So if the kids weren’t embarrassed enough by asking the question, they are afterwards. I don’t think I traumatize too many kids but maybe adults!
Rainy, wet, miserable days are known to me as Blackberry Days. It seems like that is the days Blackberry Brandy goes down the hatch quicker than others. I’m not sure if drinking Brandy really cures the ailment but it’s worth the try! So speaking about miserable days leads me to tobacco harvesting. Tobacco was a crop that was a necessity for many dairy farmers, in the mostly Norwegian prominent Vernon County, Wis. like my family. Price of milk was never enough to pay the taxes and the final bills of the year. We would grow about 5-11 acres of tobacco and consider a couple acres was just to pay for the labor that was helping us. We hired just about anyone that had motivation to work and paid more if they would risk they life by climbing up in the shed on little poles to hang tobacco to dry it.
For many years a lot of those workers were people that were incarcerated at one time or another. Apparently being outside of a building and the chance of falling 25 feet was better than any jail cell. You could tell which ones were just recently out, the way they kept looking around for a good place to run and hide or to just enjoy the fresh air and laying down in the grass on breaks. One guy we called Scarecrow who would stand out in the field with his arms out catching the breeze. Stoned or not stoned, not sure, he was odd. When it came time to write out the checks, my Mom almost wrote Scarecrow on the check. Most of the helpers had nicknames since Dad couldn’t remember their name. Farmers hired these people for less than a month and then would never see these people again, and we’ll drink to that. “To Norway” as we say as we drink a shot-worth out of the Black Berry Brand bottle!
I got thinking about geese the other day as I was doing some cleanup around the farm. As the flock of 100 some flew over my head, headed to the Mississippi, I was glad I could put my hood up. What if they all decided to fire and aim at me, would I post a picture of me covered in bird poop….it’s questionable. My Norwegian Grandpa & my German Grandma had a pond near their farm in Edgerton where thousands of geese flock too year after year. I remember as a kid we drove by the pond and was in udder amazement of the noise pollution. I was glad we didn’t have to live near that pond.
We have a pond on our dairy farm that attracts a pair of mallards, an occasional goose or two and our dogs. But what it really attracts are the cattle. I know it’s not the healthiest for cattle to be in water or mud, but the heifers that get to stand in there during the hottest days of the year, don’t seem to mind what professors and vets might say. Some of my best photo moments are them lined up on the bank of the pond and them goofing around like little school girls. If I had an issue with diseases I would have to band them from all that waterpark fun, but not today!
Last week I get a frantic call from my brother’s chore hand – HELP WE HAVE A PIG OUT! Now normally, I’m the one calling my brothers, parents and neighbors do to my own stupidity of leaving the gate open. Cows always seem to find the best looking corn or alfalfa field. At least once a year I panic, I mean panic…cows stomachs can only handle so much alfalfa before they bloat. Last year my one brother started a small organic farrowing sow farm. These big girls must weigh 400 lbs. or more with or without mud on them. They will eat anything and everything, tear up the yard like you have never seen. So the fear of these potential human-eaters out, kinda freaks me out.
Growing up my FFA project was cattle and my one brother’s FFA project was breeding and farrowing pigs, so I’m not clueless on pigs, since I helped do lots of the work with them. So, anyways back to the rodeo…apparently his chore hand was not so experience with pigs. This poor guy thought we could just throw a rope around the head and lead her into her pen. Well that doesn’t work with many animals, including cows when they are free like this. Nate, my husband, and I watch him TRY to tackle this pig, that is easily double his weight, and try to put this little rope around her melon. Needless to say after the 5th time of sliding off the back like a wet noodle, he confessed he drinks and smokes too much, and he didn’t think his plan was going to work. Trying to be nice and not laughing my ass off, I went and got a pail of feed and opened the door and the pig seem to find her way towards me with one guy holding her tail and another one holding one leg, you know, just in case it tries to retreat.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another, that what the older Norske from Westby, Wis. always told me. Farming for me has always been a fun and rewarding. Maybe cause I don’t take life too seriously and live a kind of UFF DA lifestyle. You can explain a lot in those words – UFF DA. Like this past winter in Wisconsin…UFF DA…see it works!
Ever since I was a wee little girl washing cows in the barn for my Dad, I always figure I’d be a dairy farmer. Never did I think life would take me only a mile away on a beautiful farm in SW Wisconsin. Nate & I bought our farm from a Norwegian bachelor, bought my cows from a Norwegian farmer making Rømmegrøt at a Norwegian church for our Norwegian Festival – Syttende Mai. All sealed up with blonde hair and blue eyes for a Norwegian UFF DA Farm. Now to make life more exciting we just doubled our herd by buying my parents organic cattle. So our once full Ayrshire-Organic herd of 35 milk cows now will be mixed with a jersey, jersey crosses and a couple Holstein cows.
Keep tabs on our farm and our farm lifestyle by link to Danika Dairy Diary and Danika Wehling on FB!
Spring is for me, the girl that doesn’t have allergies, is a wonderful time of year! The cows are just itchy to spend time more than their normal hour outside in the sun. Running and jumping, kicking and farting…yes they do fart! It is one of the happiest and funniest times of the year for a farmer like me.
Besides the farting, cows love water. All winter long our cows drink water in the barn out of small drinking cups. When it’s nice enough in the spring we tip over the water tank and start filling it. As many heads as you can fit in the water tank is the goal, it seems. I feel like I’m in college standing by the keg! They just fill themselves up, and splash around like they are a bunch of kids. You don’t dare walk away from the tank otherwise they will tip it or shift it so it wouldn’t work right with a float. You really get to see who is the boss-cow and who is in training.
Keep tabs on our farm and our farm lifestyle by link to danikadairydiary.com and Danika Wehling on FB!