Tag Archives: cows

Whatever You Do…Don’t Milk The Cow!

I have always loved the fall time, but the past 12 years have been especially wonderful. You see, my husband, Dustin, and I fell in love in the fall. I remember the beautiful fall leaves, crisp apples, harvest time and freshly weaned calves bawling, their foggy breath making white clouds on the crisp mornings. All of it led up to the best move I ever made. I said “yes” on that snowy December day to the man I thought only existed in fairy tales, and forever looks better every day.

Life back then was happy, simple and exciting! Little did I know it would soon get more challenging – still wonderful – but more difficult in ways I didn’t anticipate.

Shortly after becoming engaged, Dustin and I were visiting his mother’s family in the town of Beaver, Utah. After hearing that we were engaged to be married, a sweet, little, old woman took me aside and (after congratulating me of course) said, “Whatever you do, don’t milk the cow. I’ve been married for 60 years and although I am very good at milking cows, I never once showed my husband I was because as soon as he knew I could milk the cow then guess who would be taking the late night milking, with a baby on each hip, when his church meetings ran late.” She smiled at me and shuffled off.

I remember considering her advice for a while, and on the ride home, I told Dustin about the encounter. I thought her advice a little silly. I was, after all, a strong, independent woman who could handle a milk cow as well as any man, maybe better. I did not think of the old woman again for several years, when I would finally understand what she really meant by “don’t milk the cow.”

My realization came slowly, more and more with the birth of each of our children. I will never forget Valentine’s Day ’06. I had a new baby and the weather outside was bitter, bitter cold; the wind was relentless. Dustin was called away on business and left his very capable wife – me – to take care of two of the range cows who had just calved. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, there was a problem: both cows were “big teat” cows, which means the teats on the cows udders are too large when full of milk for the small calves to be able to nurse. To remedy this problem, the cows must be milked until the teat is small enough that the calf can fit its mouth around it and nurse. Still sounds relatively easy right? Until you do some baby calculations…

First off, I had a new baby. How often does a newborn baby eat? Every few hours, right? Which meant I was spending much of my time feeding her. Then there were the new baby calves. How often do newborn baby calves eat, especially in below freezing temperatures? You guessed it! A lot! Add to all those times the babies needed to eat the fact that these were not milk cows, but beef cows on the range that were not used to being milked by human hands and you can see I had quite the challenge.

So, I would feed my own baby, pile all my kids into the car and then drive my car to the corrals. I turned the heater on full blast for the kids and told my oldest to roll down the window and yell if the baby got fussy. Then I ran the cows into the chute and milked them while managing to dodge the hooves of disgruntled mother cows expressing their displeasure at being milked. It was miserable! I couldn’t concentrate on the task at hand with my little ones in the car.

Was I a capable mother? Yes! Was I completely capable of handling the cows and calves? Well…were Dorothy’s shoes red? Did Moses part the Red Sea? Are John Deere tractors green? Of course I was capable, but when I mixed the two the situations, they were almost more than I could handle. To add hail to my parade that was already being rained on, it was Valentine’s Day! Where were my dozen roses?!?

I laugh now as I remember having the thought, “It’s lucky Dustin was smart enough to take the truck and trailer with him because if he hadn’t I would load those cows up and haul them to the livestock auction!” It was then I remembered the old woman and what she had told me: “Don’t milk the cow!” That wise woman had been trying to spare me this day. She knew how hard farm life could sometimes be for women trying to balance the needs of children, husbands and the farm.

So now the moment of truth: If I could go back to the day the old woman imparted her wisdom, would I still have shown Dustin that I could milk the cow? Would I have ridden right alongside him every day, over rivers and mountains and meadows?

Well…do Dalmatians have spots? Do mules wait 50 years to kick you good and hard in revenge for a long ago mistreatment? Does my husband think the bovine is the most amazing animal God created? The answer is yes! And yes! And yes! Do I understand now how small children can make the work of a farm wife a bit more challenging – more wonderful a hundredfold – but still more challenging? Yes I do! I am so grateful for my five daughters and that they are “milking the cow” on our ranch every day. They have loved to work right alongside their dad from the time they were big enough to toddle to find their boots. I wouldn’t change it. I’d milk the cow again.

So, here is a shout out to all the farm mom’s out there and for all your “late night milkings.” I think of my own mom, a mother of nine, who grew up in urban Phoenix. She adapted and did amazing!

To all you farm husbands out there: remember to treat your farm wife like a princess at least once a day. She may be wearing muck boots, but she deserves a crown of jewels.

And to all you single women in agriculture who are amazing and running the farm as well as any man could: keep a steady eye on the horizon, prince “farming” may be right around the next windrow. He’ll come and carry you off with his 150 “green horses.”

My prince showed up in cowboy boots and rode a horse named Bess. Yes, I’d milk the cow again and again!

Keeping Cows Comfortable

From the heat of summer to the cold of winter, farmers and ranchers do everything in their power to keep their animals as comfortable as possible.

We have been busy at the ranch installing more windbreaks for the cows to enjoy protection from the wind. In addition, our cows also enjoy wind protection from trees and other natural sources. We have been building man-made windbreaks close to the water tanks so the cows can enjoy some protection without having to go too far for water. Checking the water tanks to ensure all the cows have fresh, cool water to drink is always a daily task and another way we keep them comfortable. Our cows’ health is a major concern for us. We want to do everything we can to keep them as comfortable and healthy as possible.

A professor at the University of Missouri also noticed the need to be able to monitor cattle more effectively, so he created an app to do just that. According to the DairyHerd Network, the ThermalAid app tracks humidity and temperature through a GPS function, and the farmer or rancher uses the app to submit a cow’s respiration rate and other determining factors. By using this app, farmers and ranchers can tell exactly how their cows are handling the weather conditions and intervene as necessary.

According to Don Spiers, ThermalAid’s developer, “Each summer, the dairy industry loses $900 million nationally in productivity and the beef industry $400 million. And that’s data from 2003 when the industry was smaller and summers less intense.” Think about how big those losses are to the dairy and beef industries, especially when you realize the weather is out of a farmer’s control.

From windbreaks to high-tech apps, it’s good to know that farmers and ranchers are always trying to prevent heat stress and keep their cows comfortable.

Learning to Ride the Farming Roller Coaster

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “Life is a Roller Coaster?!?” This describes the life of a farmer very well. I am Crystal Wooldridge and I didn’t grow up on a farm, so adjusting to a farmers way of life has been a learning experience for me! I have been on my husband’s family farm for four and half years now and seem to have settled in pretty well. It did take a little getting used to, but I’ve learned you just pick up, go with the flow, and help where help is needed and WHENEVER it is needed.
Last spring everything was going great. We had 46 new heifers that we were raising to calf in the spring of 2012 and the hay meadows were looking great. We got all of hay equipment serviced and started getting geared up for an amazing hay season!! We have on gentleman that works on the farm with my husband who has been there since he was 16 years old. He is now 70 and can’t quite do everything that he used to. So, when it comes to cutting, raking, and baling the hay – Marty and I do most of it but he has a few friends that will come help him during the day while I am at work. Before I leave my office, I change into my hay baling clothes, and head to the field. We had some very late nights last spring. We baled about 400 acres – 1,500 bales – from the middle of April to the middle of June, mostly by ourselves!
It took me about two years to convince Marty that I could do this!!! He just didn’t want to ask me to come work in the field with him after spending a long hard day in the office. I kept telling him that it was a different kind of work for me! I enjoy getting on MY tractor with the radio going (and air conditioning) and just raking away. There were many evenings I had to make him turn on his lights, just so we could finish and get those last 10 bales baled!! He then accused me of working him too hard.
I have to admit that I was glad to see the end of that first cutting, but I had no idea it would be the ONLY cutting of hay for 2011. Around August or September, Marty tried to cut one field but it just wasn’t worth it. It was the first field we cut for the year and we only got a fifth of the bales we got out of the first cutting. He decided that was it, no more. We were officially in a drought, the worst drought in 11 years. Going into the fall, we started feeding cubes with my newest wedding/anniversary/birthday present – the cuber or the cube wagon. We fed cubes three times a week for about 2 months with minimal hay, until we HAD to start feeding a full serving. We then started cubing twice a week and putting out hay.
After about 150 days without rain and 100+ days with 100+ degree temperatures, we started getting about one inch of rain a week for quite a few weeks in a row. Then we got a couple of inches a rain once a week for a few weeks in a row, and we have never been so happy to see this wonderful rain falling from the sky! Over the next three months, with lots of rain and mild winter, the pastures are greener than they have ever been and the cows are “happy cow!!”
Around March 7, 2012, the 46 heifers that we were raising started calving. As of today, we have 4 left!!! We are currently in the processing of getting our hay equipment serviced and getting geared up for an AMAZING hay season. We have a new tractor and a new baler this year, and we are hoping to break them in right next week.