Saturday, November 30, 2013

Flat Aggie

I volunteered to host a very special guest on our farm this month all the way from Kansas! Flat Aggie is part of a super fun and educational school program that introduces classrooms to different sectors of agriculture. We had a lot of fun showing Aggie our farm and this is the report for the classroom to enjoy! If your interested in hosting a Flat Aggie or starting your own program, I can put you in touch with the mastermind behind this project from Tales of a Kansas Farm Mom.

 Welcome to Oregon Flat Aggie! 

And more specifically the foothills of the Cascade Mountains that border the Eastern side of the Willamette Valley. The area of the Willamette Valley is one of the most agriculturally diverse in the whole nation. On a drive past our neighbors we can see everything from grapes in a vineyard for wine, grass seed, food crops like; corn, beans, peppers, cauliflower, orchards of apples, cherries and hazelnuts, berry fields full of every kind of berry; blueberry, blackberry, marionberry, boysenberry, ornamental flowers, hops for beer, Christmas trees and so many other crops. The Valley's temperate climate, not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter allows for all this variety. But we are a different kind of farm. Oregon is also home to about 350 farm families that do the same thing we do, Dairy Farm!

Aggie is greeted by Jen, who requires scratches on her nose and behind her ears!
On our Dairy Farm, Abiqua Acres, we milk around 85 registered Guernsey cows are brown and white in color and produce milk that is high in protein and butter fat. This rich milk is used to make your favorite products like yogurt, butter and ice cream! First things first I introduced Aggie to the "most important" job on the farm, giving the Ladies their daily dose of love! Each cow is a special individual in our herd and we identify them by name. I think Aggie would have liked to give every cow special scratches, but we had work to do!
Sunset welcomed Aggie with a
big slobbery kiss!

Hello Baby Bull!

While Aggie was here, we welcomed two new baby calves. Aggie got to meet the bull (boy) calf when he was just a few minutes old. The bull calf will go to another farm to grow up. Aggie helped feed the other new baby a bottle, a heifer (girl) named Sunset.  We are always excited to get a heifer calf because we will keep her to grown up and become a milk cow. A big part of our daily chores is the twice a day feeding of all the calves. Currently there are over 40.

Newborns move into individual stalls that we call the nursery, here we can monitor their care closely. They continue to receive milk until they are about 4 months of age. We learned our lesson with Sunset and Aggie stayed a safe distance from curious calf mouths! Besides milk the calves are also fed a special mix of grain that is formulated to help them grow. Once old enough the calves join a group pen of other calves their age. In these pens they are also fed grass hay that we grow and bale here on our farm in the summer.

With all the calves taken care of, Aggie learned just how much you have to feed a producing dairy cow. To make wholesome delicious milk for you and me, a dairy cow will consume a bath tub full of water and eat over 100lbs of food a day. On our farm our cows are fed grain in the parlor where they are milked, and then corn silage and top quality alfalfa hay. Aggie arrived just in time to see our hay barn almost completely full. In the Fall we purchase 350 tons of alfalfa to feed our Ladies through the winter and into the next growing season. These alfalfa bales are 3' tall, 4' wide and 8' long and weigh over 1,500 pounds. To feed them we use a skid steer loader.

Where's Aggie?

Nom, nom, nom, The Ladies enjoying their alfalfa hay!

Aggie helped drive the skid steer!

Aggie even got rained on shutting the gate!
Aggie arrived just as we shut the cows in off of pasture. For as many months as Oregon weather will allow us, our Ladies also rotationally graze fresh green grass from our fields. This is usually from March to about October. This Fall was especially dry so we didn't close the pasture gate until November!

All that food that dairy cows consume of course goes into their producing milk, and the heart of every dairy farm is the parlor where the cows are milked. Every cow is milked twice a day in one of our six milking stalls in the parlor. Here they enjoy their ration of grain and the relief of being milked. Their teats are washed and dried and then a milking machine is attached. The machine has a sensor that knows when the cow is done and takes the machine off. The milk travels through food grade hoses and then stainless steel pipes to the milk tank where it is cooled. Our milk tank is big enough to hold over 12,000 lbs. Currently every over day the milk truck is picking up over 7,200lbs, that's over 830 gallons! We sell our milk to Darigold cooperative and after it is on the truck and leaves our farm it is up to them to decide what delicious product to use our cows' milk in. Milking of the cows takes about 3 hours and the feeding chores about another hour. So just in daily chores we spend 8 hours caring for our cows. That definitely keeps our schedule full and almost makes the days feel longer when we go through the time change in November. It's dark when we start chores at 4:30 in the morning and dark again when we start chores at 4:30 in the afternoon! 
aggie parlor

November is a bit of an "off" season for us, in that the weather slows things down. Besides all the above and more that has to be done every day, twice a day, even Thanksgiving, we find ourselves trying to catch up on some extra projects in the Fall. This year it was replumbing our milking parlor and cutting down some trees in the barnyard that had died. Farmers are also continually expanding their knowledge and Aggie had the chance to join us for a dairy meeting with fellow producers.

We enjoyed having Aggie tag along with us in November! And we hope Mrs. Piatt's entire class learned a lot about dairy farming in Oregon in the Fall. Here's a few more facts about dairy farming and November in Oregon:

-Dairy Farming in Oregon-
*Oregon is known for excellent milk and consistently ranks in the top 5 states in the nation for milk quality.
*Milk is Oregon's official state beverage.
*There is over 120,000 Dairy cows in Oregon, with the average herd size over 350. We are a very small dairy at our herd size of 85!
*Oregon's most popular breed is Holsteins, with Jersey's coming in second and other breeds, including Guernseys, making up a small percentage of the rest.  The other three breeds represented are Ayrshire, Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorn.
*Oregon Dairy farmers produce roughly 2.2 billion pounds of milk annually.
-Weather in November in Oregon-
*The daily average high temperature drops at least 10 degrees over the course of November from 57 to 47
*We see an average of  over 6 1/2 inches of rain in November.
* Our first "storms" of the season blow in from the Pacific Ocean with high winds and lots of rain.
*We also see our first freezing temperatures
*And lastly HERE'S a great visual map of the agricultural diversity in Oregon*

Thanks for Visiting Oregon Aggie!!

While Aggie was with us, we also welcomed 11 baby chicks! Could you help us name them? There are 7 yellow ones, 2 black ones and 2 brown ones!

Friday, November 29, 2013

As the Pasture Gate Closes

We've come to that point in the year where the Oregon weather has made the ground wet enough that it's time for the Ladies to come off the pastures and into the barns for winter. We rotationally graze our herd for as many months out of the year as the weather allows. But once the rain starts it ultimately becomes too wet......soggy ground + over 80 cows stamping around would = ruined pasture for next year. One of the many steps we take to ensure we are making sound decisions for the environment and land that helps support our Ladies.

So while we would love to see the Ladies out on the fields year round, it just isn't a sound decision. So as we close the gate for the year and they are confined to the barn for winter we make every effort to ensure they are extra comfortable and well cared for. So what are some of the extra steps that go into winter care:

The Ladies have a nutritionist that works with us to make sure they are getting everything they need in precisely the correct portions. When they come in off of pasture that ration has to be reworked to adjust their diet to the absence of fresh grass. They are fed grain, top quality alfalfa, and a corn silage. They get all this year round, but consume more of course when not also getting fresh grass. And that consumption is huge; the average cow eats approximately 100lbs of forage a day. So in the fall, the end of the growing season, we purchase 400 tons of silage and 350 tons of alfalfa hay to feed our Ladies through the winter and into the next growing season.

Clean Up
A big part of dairy management and the other side of these large animals consuming that much feed, is that it all has to come out the other end, in manure form! And confined to the barn that manure builds up quickly. So every day, twice a day, all alley's are scraped clean of manure. This provides a clean environment for the Ladies which is important to their health and clean milk production. It also provides us with the opportunity to utilize that waste as fertilizer for the pastures.

Our barn also provide a comfortable place for our Ladies to lay down. Called free stalls, these beds are padded with rubber tires and also bedded with sawdust, the perfect bovine mattress! Each Lady is free to choose when and where she wishes to lay down. Confining the Ladies in close quarters we also try to make sure they're not only comfortable, but also content.
They also have areas where brushes are set up to scratch and groom their winter coats. There is often a waiting line at the brushes!

Besides extra scratches, because they are in the barn and we are interacting with them more then when they are out to pasture, the Ladies also routinely see our veterinary once every month. Our vet is checking up on the cows that have just calved, checking for cows that are pregnant and just helping with general cow wellness. Really the Ladies probably see their doctor more often than the average person! Veterinary care is routine no matter the weather, but hoof care becomes even more important in the winter. Our hoof trimmer, or bovine pedicurist, routinely comes every 3 months to make sure the Ladies feet are in pristine condition. Sometimes throughout the winter we will have him come an extra time for any Ladies that aren't dealing with being inside as well as they should. The hooves are very important to the health of a cow as they must carry all of her weight. A cow with sore feet, is a cow that doesn't want to walk, which results in not wanting to move around to eat and drink and ultimately affects her production. So hoof care is a very important part of winter management.

*A picture's worth a thousand words: I have pictures for all these categories, but my internet has been so dreadfully slow, they are not cooperating in uploading. I promise to repost as soon as I can make the pictures happen! One of the many joys of living in the "boonies"!!*   

So while some of the Ladies do continue to look longingly out at the pastures, they definitely are content with the spa like treatment they receive while shut in for the winter. And in a few short months when the weather allows, the gate will be reopened to rejuvenated green grass

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Christmas in the Country!


I am so excited to be joining CountryLinked and ThisUnchartedRhoade for Christmas in the Country! They came up with such a fun idea!  Really looking forward to a wonderful event with fellow "aggie bloggers'!  I feel like my Holiday spirit (how in the world is Thanksgiving already here?!?) has totally been lacking all year long. Maybe this can jump start my love for Christmas!

Are you a blogger? I hope you'll join us too!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Favorite Thing about Dairy Farming

I have several posts sitting in my blog that are waiting for a final edit before I publish them. Ok in all honesty there is over a months worth of drafts staring me in the face. And as I was writing all of them something more important kept nagging at the back of my mind. It just so happens to be my favorite thing about Dairy Farming:

As I am writing these posts about our farm and the way that we choose to do things I want all readers to be clear on one thing:
Each Dairy Farm Is Unique! 

 And I LOVE that!
We all live in different places, climates and areas of the Country as well as the World. We all have different facilities, whether newly built or 100 years old. We all have a different herd of cows, from difference in numbers, breeds and personalities. There literally are hundreds of factors that are unique to each dairy farm that dictate the management and decisions that each dairy farmer makes.

So I want you to understand and learn how we do things on our farm and all dairy farms. Where besides those differences, we are all united in a common cause to produce a wholesome and quality product.

Sometimes those factors that make us all unique result in different management or decisions than what I might write about. And that is my favorite thing, that although we are united as an industry we have the freedom to makes choices that best benefit our situation and ultimately the cows within our care.

So whenever you read one of my posts, know that you are reading about our farm as an individual as well as part of the greater dairy industry. Those challenges that we all face as dairy farmers are in every day decisions, and we meet them with arsenal full of information and technology that is always growing and helping us to take the best care we possibly can of the lovely Ladies that produce for us.

And in the end I think for all Dairy Farmers it simply comes down to love! We love what we do. And that is my Favorite Thing about Dairy Farming.