Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Part 3: How a cow changed my life

Continued from Part 2 ...

I took a class at Purdue on applied animal management better known to my fellow Boilers as "Pet-a-Cow." Part of the class included on-site laboratories at each of the university farms - beef-sheep-poultry-swine-dairy. So er "pet-a-cow, pet-a-pig" ... you get the picture.

I remember distinctly the class lab at the swine farm when we processed baby pigs. My brother raised feeder hogs in FFA, but aside from that, I had VERY little experience with hogs. Each student was asked to step forward and process AT LEAST one baby pig. This included snipping their tail to only nubs (to limit tail biting and aggression), castrating the males and ear notching (for identification). I was so nervous. But I wanted an A, so I grabbed a baby pig notched his ears, snipped his tail and castrated him (I won't go into vivid detail with that last one).

As I finished "processing" my second pig, the farm manager turned to me and said "You are really good at this, perhaps you should marry a hog farmer someday."

Ha! I laughed it off ...

Little did either of us know that in fact, someday, that shy, dairy girl from Ohio would MARRY a hog farmer after all. Legit!

When I first saw Big D from across the room, I thought he was out of my league and honestly I could've cared less if he grew up on a farm at all. I don't believe in love at first sight. But I was definitely interested in getting to know this guy. That was the fall of 2003.

We spent the next several months getting to know each other and sharing our dreams and aspirations. We quickly found that we both shared similar ambitions and hoped to one day own and operate a farm.

Nine months later ... Big D proposed.

A year and two months later, we were married.

We started our own farm operation just a year after we were married. Big D grew up on a small hog operation, but his family liquidated the hog herd shortly after we were married. We saw an opportunity to start farming through a partnership with the farmer Big D worked for. We didn't have a whole lot to lose, so we ventured in the world of farm business. It was tough. I think most people thought we were crazy, insane.

But through all the ups and downs, our farm was able to grow to the point where we were marketing thousands of hogs a year.

We are still small relative to the industry, but to me, it was an adjustment to be raising more than like 50 pigs at a time. Raising hogs in general took a little getting used to and I still have so much to learn. But it's been an adventure and while I don't work in the hog barns, I'm happy to support Big D and help in any way that I can. Sometimes I'm just the ear that he bends and I'm ok with that.

I could've never imagined that I would sometime be a farmwife and co-owner to a hog operation marketing over 12,000 pigs a year. But the industry is growing and to stay competitive and support our family, we had to grow. And it's ok. We are very much your typical family-owned business.

We are independent so there are no other parties aside from the government telling us how to raise our hogs. Good animal care practices are absolutely a number one priority on the operation. We're not perfect, but we are constantly improving and re-evaluating our operation for areas that can be fine-tuned.

Expansion, sure it's always a possibility. I want to give my girls an opportunity to come home and farm someday and raise their families on the farm, so to do so, we may need to consider new opportunities in the future.

Despite the fact that we own and operate a large farm now, I'm very proud of my small town, small time dairy roots. But I'm also appreciative of the fact that now I have a broader understanding of modern agriculture systems and that it truly takes all kinds and all sized farms to feed our world. There are still plenty of 36-cow dairies still running strong and there are a few multi-thousand cows dairies as well.

So today, I'm not just a voice for small family farms, but also mid-sized farms and I'd be glad to stand up and support larger farms as well, because we're all on the same team. A team working together to feed the world and there is no other team that I'd rather be a part of.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Part 2: How a cow changed my life

Continued from last week ... 

When I enrolled in higher education i.e. college, I had long-term career ambitions of one day serving as the voice of the small-time, purebred livestock producer. It's true.

While young and naive, I noticed the trends in the dairy industry. I watched as my dad's dairy buddies slowly went out of business and liquidated their herds. The little guys being pushed out of the picture by larger, corporate dairies. I wanted to do everything I could to protect small family farms from the same ill fate.

I majored in agricultural communications and quickly joined the dairy club. There were a few in the dairy club who didn't grow up on a dairy farm per se, but those that did had many more cows than my dear old Dad. I got to know dairy kids from all sized operations and quickly gained an appreciation for the way they operated their business and oh yea they were family-owned, too, just like Dad. Hmph ...

Then I traveled to the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., not only opening my eyes to the dairy industry nationwide, but also dairy on a global scale. I also began to see how many dairies were incredibly diversified and there wasn't necessarily just two options as I had originally thought. Those two options ... go big or go organic. Two options, ha. How about thousands? Dairy producers raising only heifers, dairy farmers raising chickens, hogs, growing and selling hay, starting excavating businesses; agritourism, processing and selling farmstead cheeses and dairy products. The options .... endless really.

And those bigger dairies ... guess what ... most started out just like Dad, but because of family members wanting to come home and milk cows, too, they had to milk a few more cows and farm a few more acres to support more families. And so the government didn't tax the bejesus out of them, they formed a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) or a Corporation (Inc). Corporate dairies, an accurate statement, but not in the context I once thought. My old school theories were being shattered and my eyes were opening.

But still, I wasn't sure I was comfortable with the idea of raising thousands of cows or definitely not thousands of pigs.

A small town girl that grew up on a small time dairy. It was my comfort zone. My home. I wasn't sure I could raise animals that I didn't have a close connection with. Regardless, I pursued my college career and keep my eyes open, absorbing the possibilities. The future was uncharted.

And then I met this guy who changed it all.

To be continued ...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How a cow changed my life

I am the product of a traditional small family farm and I'm pretty proud of that.

My dad milked 36 dairy cows and farmed 500 acres, which by today's standards is quite small. We also had a few hogs, beef cattle, sheep and horses through the years. Some of my best memories growing up took place on the farm.

I was active in 4-H and FFA and started my Jersey dairy herd at the ripe young age of eight. I started with one crazy heifer named Shirley and I'll never forget my early memories in the show ring as she'd freak out and drag my 80 pound body across the arena. Good times...NOT!

The most cows Dad ever milked at one time was just over 50 and I knew every single one of their names by heart. (Today, there is a farm in Indiana that milks 30,000 cows, that's nearly 1000% more than Dad!)

Most of the cows were pretty sweet. But there were the occasional ornery ones. And the meanies too. Have you ever had a cow actually try to bite you? Think angry buffalo. It's not common at least not in my experience, but lookout if "she" is having a bad day.

But there were always plenty of sweeties to even out the angry buffalo in the group. I always sneaked the sweeties a little extra grain and alfalfa flakes when Dad wasn't looking. But when he would catch me, we'd both just laugh, because he would often do the exact same thing.

I had my favorites too of course. Katherine and Macaroni. I used to sit on Katherine's back when I was little, like age 3. Her neck tag read Number 1. She was the sweetest. I miss her.

Macaroni was beautifully colored with a dark black face, a chestnut colored body, a white star on her face and a white tail. I helped name her as a baby calf when I was maybe eight or nine. I remember the day we sold all of the cows when Dad liquidated the herd the first time in 1994. I couldn't believe she was being loaded up and sold to someone else. No one could never love her like I did.

I helped Dad feed baby calves, bed pens, throw hay out for the heifers, clean the milk house and if he was milking through supper time, I'd bring his dinner out or we'd order pizza and chow down in the center barn aisle together.

Dad loved the farm and the cows. And it didn't take long for me to share the same love. When I graduated high school, I wrote a career goals summary that indicated my plans for the future. What degree I wished to obtain and my intentions for a career path after college.

My focus was on "supporting the sustainability of small family farms" nationwide and "saving the small family farm" from corporate agriculture. These were the words I used.

So how exactly did I get from 36 dairy cows to over 12,000 pigs a year. Good grief what a scale change. When I was 18, I would've scoffed at the thought. Where is my heart today? And how do I feel about small family farms versus and/or corporate agriculture. And what exactly does corporate agriculture mean.

Guess you'll have to read next week to find out!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Caution: Sweet Baby Smiles Ahead!

It's hard to believe our little Ruby May is 10 months old and Miss RayRay will turn 4 later this year!

When I look back on the last 10 months, it's amazing how busy we have been. While I can agree that my blog has been severely neglected, I can tell you that we sure have been living life to the fullest. Life is all about making priorities and unfortunately, my blog has fallen to lower end of my priority list.

But now that work (oh yea I started a new job in September) has slowed down for a bit, I'm excited to get back online and let you know what we've been up to and what's ahead for the Hoosier Farm Babe. Soo much going on! Seriously, exciting stuff!

So let's get all caught up, shall we... Now, I shall proceed with an insane photo dump of life.

I shared the big news of Miss Ruby May's birth last May, but not a whole bunch of photos to commemorate her special day, so let's start there ...

This goes away back., well relatively. May 2013. Big moment! Ready to deliver our girl! 

3.5 hours later, she's here. Completely different birth experience than Miss RayRay. Fast and furious. We were over the moon to welcome Miss RubyDoo to the family last year. She has been a beautiful breath of fresh air, and the happiest, easiest baby you could EVER ask for. What a blessing she is to our family. Miss RayRay has absorbed the title of Big Sissy pretty well, though she's not too into RubyDoo taking, let alone touching her toys. 

Miss RayRay meets her new baby sissy. Not quite sure at first!

An attempt at our first big family photo - not real effective as you can see ...

Grandpa and Grandma meet Ruby for the first time!

Grammy meets Ruby. Precious moments!

Grampy meets Ruby. So sweet!

Fun in the sun! Oh I miss the sun! 

First cow show of the year!

Daddy's 31st birthday!

Miss RayRay competing in the Pet Parade at our County Fair. She was a sheriff and the baby pigs were bandits!

My brother and sis-in-law visited the farm last summer.

Cousin pic with Grammy!

Reunion with HS friends and their babies. Love these girls!

Miss RayRay going for a wagon ride with her Cousin Henry

Grandpa drives the wagon.

We arrive at Houghton Lake for our annual summer vacay with friends in July.

Gotta love a cottage right on the beach.

Daddy helped with the sandcastle er sand tunnel...

Our third trip to Mackinac Island. Love the Grand Hotel!

Our good friends who joined us on vacay! Great memories!
Miss Sassy Pants

Sweet RubyDoo just 3 months old here.

Great Aunt Caroline and Cousin Karen with Ruby!

Time to blow out the candles, Miss RayRay just turned three (well in July, of course!)

See you next year Houghton Lake. I heart this place! 

4 months old in August. Smiling and oh so expressive. Such a sweetheart!

Last day at my old job in August. 

Miss RayRay at Bass Lake in September. Getting' a bit more comfortable in the water.

Entertaining some friends - Nathan and Lydia. 

Until next year Bass Lake!

Nearly 5 months old. 

First day of preschool for Miss RayRay.

And also first day at Mommy's new job. Big big day!

Miss RubyDoo at 6 months!

Silly girls!

Harvest 2013

My hard-working farmer unloading grain.

Ruby tries solid foods for the first time. Yum, rice cereal! October.


Halloween 2013. Rapunzel and a unicorn.

Our sweet little unicorn!

Ruby's baptismal dinner, November 2013.

Baptism of Ruby, 7 months.

Thanksgiving 2013

Miss RayRay and Ruby meet Santa at Farm Bureau!

Writing a long wish list for Santa!

Christmas at Grammy's in Ohio!

Christmas at Grampy's Ohio!

Our beautiful girls at Christmas!

Santa ate the cookies! Yes!

Christmas at Grandma & Grandpas with Uncle Mike! Ruby is 8 months old.

Our happy girl at 9 months! Crawling and climbing and very chatty!

OMG, seriously, that face!! Miss Ruby at 10 months climbing, standing and very busy!! She says "Dadda," "Mama" and a few other words! Weighs in at nearly 23 pounds, bigger than Miss RayRay at 18 months old.

Fancy face!

Look at me, I'm standing! My baby is growing up!!

Three words: happy, happy, happy!!!

You may've noticed a few less photos from January to March. Yea, work amped up and we traveled to San Antonio to Virginia Beach, with three or four additional conferences in Indiana sprinkled in, two of which that I was in charge of. Craziness! 

In just a few short weeks, we will FINALLY start the renovation on the big house. I have photos of the house we lovingly call the "castle" that I'll share soon and keep you in the loop on all the fun updates & before and afters.

Plus, spring planting is JUST around the corner, can't believe it's that time again. And just when Big D hits the ground running, Miss RubyDoo will turn ONE. What?! 

Life, seriously, slowww down! 

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