The best relationships begin in the barn

The day that I met my husband-to-be was just another day on the farm, or at least that’s what I thought. I had fed the baby calves that morning, and around 8am, the farm owners came over to where I was working with some new employee following close behind. They introduced me to him, which I only somewhat remember because I was busy finishing up my chores. They asked me to teach him how to bring hay bales into the weaned calf barn, which requires operating a skid-steer in tight quarters and preferably does not include smashing the lights, the feed manger, or the walls of the barn in the process (not that I have ever done any of those things…). I would later learn that Ryan is a total grease monkey, and can operate equipment with the best of them. In fast, I was about 1000 times less qualified to be “coaching” him that day, but I think he pretended I was teaching him something 🙂

That day was almost exactly four years ago, and it began a path that would change my life. Ryan and I worked together every day on the farm for over two years until I decided to go back to graduate school in 2014. Working on the farm together made us a better couple and the best of friends. There is nothing like chipping frozen manure off of concrete when it is 30 below, or sorting frisky heifers on a warm summer day, to test and strengthen a relationship. Especially when a certain somebody never wanted to sort the heifers the RIGHT way (ahem…).

So several years and many heifer sorting compromises later, on December 29 2015, I said “YES” to marrying the man of my dreams! As if he wasn’t perfect enough, he even waited to propose while we were in California visiting my parents for the holidays.

I can’t wait to be a farmer’s wife. I love riding in the truck with him while we are harvesting hay and corn. I love spending evenings brainstorming about the new projects on the farm. I love that even though I no longer am an official employee on the farm, he keeps me in the loop and updates me regularly about all of my favorite cows. Don’t get me wrong, if marrying a farmer is anything like dating one, then it’s not all going to be roses and fairy-tales. But in the end, it’s absolutely worth it, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Win a milk frother, and help families in need!

There is nothing better than a steaming latte on a cold winter morning. Or a warm summer morning. Or in the afternoon. Ok, who are we kidding, coffee basically fuels our lives. Frothed milk is icing on the cake.

Thanks to the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, I get to give away a super easy to use, steam-free Aerolatte milk frother. And entering the contest is easy, just post a picture of your favorite dairy food or winter pastime on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #MooMilkFrother

And as a bonus, the winner of the #MooMilkFrother contest will have a donation of $100 of milk made to to Great American Milk Drive, which provides milk to families experiencing food insecurity.

Ok, so lets recap
1) Take a picture or write a post explaining your favorite dairy food (ice cream, duh) or your favorite winter pastime
2) Post it on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook
3) Don’t forget to include the hashtag #MooMilkFrother

This contest will end in one week, on January 14, 2016 at 11:59pm. Ready, set, post!

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Celebrating Dairy at The Great New York State Fair 

Imagine 375 acres of fair grounds covered with deliciously bad-for-you food, animals of every shape and size, and more rides in the midway than you would see at most theme parks. Welcome, because you have arrived at The Great New York State Fair!

The New York State Fair is the oldest state fair in the country. In 1832, a group of farmers, legislators, and other farm enthusiasts founded the New York State Agricultural Society with the goal of promoting agriculture. In 1841, the first ever state fair was held in Syracuse, NY. Today, over 150 years later, the State Fair attracts about a million visitors during the 12 day event, and let me tell you, there is definitely something for everyone to do at the fair.

The fair has grown, but one of the most important (if you ask me) parts of the fair has stayed the same: the celebration of agriculture. In 2012, agriculture brought more than $5.4 billion to the state’s economy. New York is home to more than 35,000 farms that cover 7 million acres, or approximately 23% of the state’s land. Milk is the state’s leading agricultural product, with more than $2.5 billion in milk produced every year. Milk is incredibly important to New York, so it’s no surprise that there are many events and attractions that celebrate dairy at the fair!

The Celebrity Milkshake Contest
Dairy is celebrated every day at the fair, but the festivities really get going on Dairy Day! One of the most creative events that I enjoyed watching this year was the Celebrity Milkshake Contest.This would be an incredible idea for birthday parties (for older kids), graduation parties, family reunions, etc. So here’s how it workes:
1) Everybody gets on teams of 3 to 5 people. For the Celebrity Milkshake Contest, it was one or two news anchors, radio personalities, etc and one or two Dairy Princesses.
2) The team spins the wheel (pictured below) and finds out their mystery ingredient! The mystery ingredient has to be included in the milkshake! 
4) Then you pick out other ingredients for the milk shake, like these folks below. Try to find something that matches the flavor of your mystery ingredient!
5) Make your milk shake!! Every team had their own blender and about 5 minutes to make their shakes. At the end, a few people judged the shakes and picked the winner! The competition was a great way to promote dairy with the press/media and was tons of fun!

The Dairy Cow Birthing Center
This year was the 3rd year of the Dairy Cow Birthing Center. Local farmers bring in a few cows each day who are due to give birth. Mother Nature can have her own schedule, but the goal is that three cows give birth each day. This is a huge hit at the fair, and people sometimes wait for hours for an expecting mama to give birth.

While people wait for the birth, they also have a chance to mingle with dozens of volunteers from the dairy community. This gives them a chance to meet real life farmers and ask any questions they want. After all, as the back of the volunteer t-shits says, “there is no udder place for the answer.” 

The Butter Sculpture
What happens when you combine 800 pounds of butter and an artist? A butter sculpture! This year’s sculpture theme was “Thanks for the milk, Moo York!” It featured a dairy farmer, a processor, and a dairy sales person along with a slightly modified statue of liberty (note the milk gallon instead of a torch) and many of the common sights to see when you visit New York State! This year was the tallest statue ever, and barely fit in the case!

The Rainbow Milk Bar
Another big hit in the Dairy Products building is the Rainbow Milk Bar. Fair goers can purchase an ice cold glass of white or chocolate milk for just 25 cents – probably the least expensive beverage at the entire fair! This year, guests are encouraged to Give One, Get One Too – or to donate an additional 25 cents to bring a glass of milk to someone who needs it. Milk is the most requested food at food banks nation wide. As part of The Great American Milk Drive, the Rainbow Milk Bar will be donating milk to food banks around New York State, just in time for the Holidays!

The Dairy Cow Show
The fair wouldn’t be complete without the esteemed dairy show. Farmers from across the state bring their best animals to compete – and the animals were absolutely gorgeous. Just like registered dogs, cows have pedigrees and are bred to have good confirmation and good health. Some farmers like to see how their animals stack up against other farmer’s cows, so they bring them to the show. These girls are pampered like you wouldn’t believe (and this is coming from someone who has literally followed a cow around with a bucket and baby wipes in case she needs to use the restroom on the fair grounds).

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Milking Cows!
And of course, dairy cows need to be milked! A cow will have her first calf when she is about two years old, and will have a calf every year after that. The two months before she has her next calf, she gets a two month vacation from being milked. So not all of the cows at the show are being milked, because some are too young, and some are on their 2 month vacation. But the ones who are giving milk need to be milked two or three times a day, and their time at the fair is no exception!

Some farmers bring their own milking stations, like what is pictured below, while others milk their cows at the fair’s milking parlor!

The Dairy Barn
When the girls aren’t in the show ring, they’re back in the barns resting and relaxing! And after a long day at the fair, I know I was temped to lie down right next to this girl and take a nap myself!

The Great New York State Fair is a perfect opportunity to get outside, enjoy the last few days of summer, and to celebrate the people who produce the food we all enjoy! Dairy is extremely important to New York’s economy and food supply, and it was great to see the many ways that dairy – the farmers, the cows, and the food – are celebrated at the fair! See moo next year!

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Agvocate for the Moveable Middle

Over the last year, I have participated in several communications trainings, and one of the most commonly discussed concepts is when to “agree to disagree.” As an agricultural advocate, I have had practice shaking off comments from people who inherently have different views of the world than I do. When a vegan/animal rights activists is rude on Facebook or Twitter, I summon my inner Taylor Swift because after all,  haters gonna hate (sorry, I couldn’t help it). But in all seriousness, when someone calls me a murderer for being a farmer, it’s so ridiculous that it’s actually pretty easy to move on.

And then someone hits you where it hurts. Yesterday afternoon, I logged on to a page I manage on Facebook and I saw this comment. Dumping Milk 2 Continue reading

A Visit to Tom’s Elk Ranch

This week I had the opportunity to visit my first ever elk ranch! I have never been to a farm that raises domesticated elk, so the visit was a great learning experience! According to the North American Elk Breeders Association, elk bring more diversity to a farm than almost any other livestock species. Elk can be sold for meat, raised for hunting stock, or sold for breeding stock. In addition, elk antlers are extremely valuable because they contain glucosamine and chondroitin. There is a huge market for elk antlers in Asia, where they are used to make medicinal tea.

Tom and Gloria have been raising elk on their land in upstate New York for almost 20 years. Today, they have just under 50 elk, including a dozen babies (that were seriously adorable!) who were born at the end of May. Tom and Gloria’s elk have superior genetics, so other elk farmers from across the country buy offspring from Tom and Gloria’s herd. In fact, one of their elk bulls won second place in the country for the size of his antlers, which weighed in at 48 pounds and were valued at $1,600!

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Dairy cows help reduce food waste

Flex fuel cars and trucks are gaining in popularity because they can easily and automatically adapt to many different types and blends of fuel. The dairy cow is nature’s flex fuel user, and she too can consume many different sources of feed while maintaining health and productivity. Perhaps most importantly, dairy cows can consume byproducts of other food industries, which have little to no nutritional value to the human, but are easily digested by the cow.

Byproduct feeds common in dairy cow diets include citrus pulp from orange juice processing, sugar beet pulp, almond hulls, cottonseed hulls, baked goods, and even coffee and cocoa bean hulls. California’s dairy cows consume 4 billion pounds of almond hulls every year that otherwise would be destined for the landfills. A byproduct that is fairly new to the dairy cow’s dinner plate is whole tomato seeds. The effects of dietary whole tomato seeds on dairy cow productivity were recently evaluated by University of California, Davis researchers and published in the Journal of Dairy Science.

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Rabbits in the garden? It’s wabbit season. 

I grew up in the 90s, so naturally Looney Tunes was a huge part of my childhood. Like all kids at the time, I loved watching Bugs Bunny, and I found the constant battle between Bugs and Elmer Fudd to be hilarious. Well, it’s not so funny anymore.

After an amazing weekend in Denver for my younger brother’s college graduation, I have a whole new appreciation for Elmer Fudd’s struggle. Ryan and I came home and our beautiful garden had turned into a rabbit salad bar.

My reaction: “Sshhhh. Be vewy vewy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits.”

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