Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer Stress Management: Coffee and Wine

Starbucks hasn’t returned a single e-mail of mine about the creation of an espresso machine that runs off the PTO on a tractor. Seems like a missed opportunity. But there’s got to be another way I can steam milk and brew espresso on the run? Maybe I’ll just cut out the middle man and start eating coffee grounds. Eat enough of those and you’ll become an accidental go-getter.  
We’ve been burning both ends of the night here at Jones Farms. I sincerely hope that last sentence now has you humming the lyrics to ‘That Summer’ by Garth Brooks. On top of corn season, we’ve got hay to tend to this time of year. The conditions have been perfect for baling hay all week…. Right around midnight. So Dad and I are a bit worn out, especially since it seems like every piece of equipment we’ve tried to use in the last two weeks has broken down faster than a Biggest Loser contestant at a donut convention. Thank God my father is a pretty skilled mechanic, and I’m really good at driving to pick up parts. I’m trying to learn more about our equipment, but it all takes time, I suppose. 
This time of year we typically feel a little overwhelmed. After our first few cuttings of hay and we get the corn off to a good start and get into an irrigation rhythm, we collectively catch our breath and the daily activities turn into a steady hum for the rest of summer.   Luckily I have a great stress management program in place for the days that get a little intense. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: it involves wine. 
As I look over our herd records, I feel a little anxious for the upcoming months. For the size of our operation, we have a lot of cows scheduled to calve during summer. While more babies and more fresh cows is a good thing, it does mean we’ll be spending more time making sure cows calve out properly and transition well, and more time in the calf barn. 
With my time being split between the farming, calf management and the whole host of other time-consuming activities it takes to help this place purr like a kitten, the last thing I want to worry about is colostrum inventory or whether or not a calf got fed adequate colostrum. 
We typically try not to use colostrum from first-lactation heifers since it’s usually lower quality, but this time of year we don’t always have a choice. When our inventory depletes and we have more first-time heifers calving than cows, sometimes we have to dip into heifer colostrum. This is why it’s great to have LIFELINE Boost on hand to bump up the solids and serum protein in lower-quality colostrum. 
When we have a lot of calves, sometimes we completely run out of colostrum, and that’s why I love having LIFELINE Rescue on hand. It’s a complete colostrum replacer that’s nutritionally equivalent to maternal colostrum. I’ve used it on many calves and seen great success with the product, especially when combined with other products in the line.  
It’s not a secret. We’re busy all year long, but this time of year we really rock and roll. The good news is that I truly love being part of this business and I have the privilege of working with my family every day. And we still kind of like each other, which is more than I can say for many folks who work alongside their loved ones every day. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sick kids are the worst.

I wasn’t allowed much TV time as a kid, so I looked forward to watching TV in the evening with the family, even though it usually involved the evening news and other boring stuff. Since I was the youngest child, I didn’t get to watch a whole lot of my favorite programs until I was old enough to physically fight for the remote. The day a large man came to the house to install our new satellite (which was roughly the size of a mid-size sedan) I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Whenever I was able to watch the TV undetected, I would surf through the channels, rotting my brain and absorbing useless entertainment. That's how I discovered the Game Show Network and began to gorge myself with reruns of Family Feud, the Match Game, Password and Hollywood Squares. The only problem was that the best game shows came on during the day, most likely because their target audience liked to listen to the Price Is Right theme song over the sound of the Bingo caller. I knew I had to find a way to take a break from the stresses of childhood to fulfill my need for crappy game shows. 
In the winter of ’98 I saw an opportunity for an entire week of couch time when chicken pox hit my elementary school. I quickly learned to recognize the signs of this malady, and hatched a plan to infect myself. I chased the feverish kids around the playground  (those who hadn’t yet discovered those small bumps sprouting all over their bodies weren’t mosquito bites) in an effort to get sent home. I wasn’t the fastest kid in school, but I could certainly pick off the sick ones. 
The good news is I eventually caught the pox, and despite the fact that I had irritated most of my friends in my quest to infect myself with the disease, I felt pretty good about the diagnosis. The bad news is my plan hit a speed bump when my sister also caught the pox and we were forced to share the couch and fight over the remote and the calamine lotion. She was not a fan of game shows.  
The one thing I hadn’t thought through all the way was how cumbersome it would be for my mother. At the time, she was not only raising all of our calves and filling in on the dairy, she was also spending hours in the office to keep our business running smoothly and our records up-to-date. Having two sick kids in the house was a huge inconvenience. Luckily she’s always had a knack for taking care of us. She knew just what to do to make us feel better. This would remain true as I entered adulthood and she shared her homeopathic NyQuil recipe—which is essentially a hot drink with lemon, honey and three fingers of Canadian whiskey. The woman thinks of everything. 
I’m not a parent, so I don’t know how it feels to deal with a sick child, but I knew how much she worried about us kids when we were sick. I know I probably don’t experience the stress to the same extent, but I certainly can relate to the worrying feelings of dealing with a sick child. Dealing with calves who are under the weather is the most time-consuming, difficult and stressful part of my job. Many a night I’ve lied in bed awake wondering how a particularly sick calf might be doing (and a couple times even driven to then dairy to check). These little creatures have no choice but to trust me with their care, so when one is sick, or heaven forbid one dies, I take it extremely personally. I’m responsible for their little lives, and it’s a responsibility I take very seriously. 
That’s why when I find  a new way of caring for these animals, or discover a new tool to add to my arsenal that provides results, I use it. If I’ve learned anything during my time raising calves, it’s that dehydration is a killer. You can give a calf all the antibiotics you want, it won’t do any good if she’s not hydrated. In my experience, the most susceptible calves are those under 21 days old, and when you think about it, they’re essentially infants—they require a lot of care, and they don’t necessarily know the best way to provide for themselves, even when you provide the tools they need, like water. Free-choice water isn’t always enough when an animal is sick, especially when you’re dealing with scouring and/or a particularly stressed calf. 
It’s no secret that sick calves don’t always want to eat or drink. The most important thing you can do to help an animal over the hump is provide it with the proper hydration and nutrition. LIFELINE’s Intervene isn’t just another electrolyte on the shelf. It’s a fantastic product that provides results. It’s easy to administer and is recommended to be fed twice a day for five days. 
The feature I appreciate most about this product over other products on the market is that it isn’t just a product to replenish fluids. Intervene contains electrolytes, natural globulin proteins and vitamins and minerals to quickly get calves functioning at full capacity. I’ve used this product on a lot of calves and so far I’ve seen nothing but rapid and drastic improvements in the health of the calves. In fact, I am so pleased with the product I’ve began ordering it by the case.
When it comes down to it, I firmly believe in providing the best possible care to my calves as I can. Intervene is the best product I’ve come across when it comes to giving calves the boost they need when sick and dehydrated. I like adding some extra protein and calories to the mix to get calves focused on growing instead of scouring.
If you’re looking for more information about Intervene and the entire line of LIFELINE products, visit their webpage at Don’t forget to share your success stories by tweeting @APCLifeline and using the hashtag #watchthemthrive.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Triple the fun.

I tend to have a love/hate relationship with this time of year. On one hand, all of the best barbeques and social events seem to ramp up as the mercury rises, but I’m typically too tired to go. This time of the year, we have extremely long days, and as I get older (physically) and my maturity level rises (debatable), I tend to limit my social outings to ones that put me in bed long before the airing of The Tonight Show. I do enjoy having a few friends over for a cook out every so often, but when I’m especially tired, I’ve inherited my late grandfather’s knack for entertaining. This means if I feel people have overstayed their welcome, I’ll take off my pants, go to bed and ask them to lock the door and put the dog out when they leave. The lack of shame in my family is laughable.

It’s not just the strenuous social calendar that takes a toll on everyone this time of year, at Jones Farms we’re usually running ourselves ragged trying to get corn in the ground, and once it’s there, we don’t really take a breath until it’s been chopped into silage and put into the pit. So I tend to spend most of the summer alternating between an IV drip of coffee or Gatorade.

Not only are we concerned about crops, we’ve got cows to worry about. This time of year can be especially stressful for cows and the babies in the barn. I have the honor and privilege of raising the calves. It’s a tough gig, and can be extremely frustrating, but for the most part it’s very rewarding. Providing the best possible start for these wee ones is imperative, but isn’t always convenient. Last week, I had been on a tractor for most of the day and when I pulled back into the dairy late in the evening, I noticed a cow was in labor. Upon checking the records of the cow, I realized she was pregnant with triplets, and not only did I need to safely bring these wee ones into the world by myself since everyone had already gone home, I was going to need to feed them colostrum and take care of the mama. I began to throw a pity party for myself for being so tired, until I realized Sorrow Fest 2014 was cutting into my daylight hours and promptly began gathering the tools I would need to deliver the calves.
After checking the mama cow, I determined she was fully dilated and ready to deliver. She would need a bit of assistance however, because the first baby was coming backwards and had both back legs forward, so when I reached inside, all I could feel was a tiny calf butt. Luckily I was dealing with an extremely deep-bodied, fourth lactation cow (who gave us 36,000 lbs. last lactation), so the inside of her uterus was quite spacious. In fact, I’m fairly certain a 1960s-model Lincoln Continental could have safely executed a three-point turn in there.

After getting the legs positioned correctly, the first baby girl slid out with little to no pressure. The second baby bull was already on deck and practically walked out on his own. The third baby, a little girl, was resting quite comfortably in a hard to reach spot. Every time I reached for her foot, she fought me and made it clear she was quite comfortable where she was. After struggling with her for a few minutes, she came into this world. It was apparent as soon as she came out of the womb, she was the leader of this group.

As for the cow, she stood up during the entire delivery and only stopped tunneling through the alfalfa I had put in front of her long enough to take a breath and look back at me to determine the progress. However, once all the babies had been delivered, she became Super Mom, somehow cleaning all three babies simultaneously and ensuring they were off to a good start. I named the little miracles Janet, Latoya and Michael after the Jackson family. It just felt right. You might be asking why we decided to keep these calves when there’s a good chance one or both of the females could be a freemartin. Since they were born so small, we knew they wouldn’t bring much money at market, so we decided we’d keep them for a while and see how they develop. Not only that, but we just had our first set of LIVE triplets, and I fully intended on raising them. I was fully prepared to accept the financial burden of these animals and even let them sleep on my back porch if it meant I could keep them. Luckily Dad accepted my plea and they’ve been rooming in their calf condos ever since.

I milked the mama cow and realized her colostrum had some blood in it, so I thawed some colostrum we had on hand and prepared to feed the calves. Based on their birth weight, I knew feeding a gallon of colostrum to each calf was not only impractical, but potentially dangerous to the calves, so I opted to feed each a little over five pints. Being born so small and a couple weeks early, however, I knew these babies would be faced with certain challenges in the first days and weeks of their lives. Providing adequate colostrum would be extremely important to ensure long-term health and performance. 

The only problem was the colostrum I had on hand only measured 21.3% brix. I typically only feed colostrum measuring over 22%, and while it may not seem like much of a gap, experience has shown me even small variances in the quality of colostrum can make a huge difference in the performance of these calves later on. For this reason I mixed LIFELINE’s Boost product to the colostrum to add additional globulin protein (about 30g) to each calf. It was extremely easy to mix, pre-measured, and gave me some peace of mind knowing these babies would be getting the jump start they need.

The main advantage to using Boost is that it’s the only product on the market designed to be added directly to colostrum and fed. This saved me time since I didn’t need to follow the colostrum feeding with a supplement feeding. I could tell the day after using this product I had made the right decision. All three babies were rambunctious and eager. It was clear they were going to be just fine.

They’re now a little over two weeks old, and I am extremely pleased with their progress. All three are performers and they love attention, so their Jackson-family names are quite fitting. They’re all growing like weeds. I look forward to updating their progress on the LIFELINE Facebook page and on my personal Instagram account (@winesandbovines).

If you’re looking for more information about Boost and the entire line of LIFELINE products, visit their webpage at Don’t forget to share your success stories by tweeting @APCLifeline and using the hashtag #watchthemthrive.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A fresh perspective...

What a week it was. There were definitely some firsts for this lactose lovin' dairy kid. I learned to tolerate tofu, feast on fiber and soak up spaghetti squash. Although the smells of more traditional foods seemed more appetizing at times, I was never tempted to cheat. The audience we had along for the ride encouraged accountability, and I'm so glad to have had everyone following this adventure.

I know there will always be folks that disagree with my love of dairy products and meat, there's not much I can do to change that. What I can do is continue to share my story and at least respect the opinions I cannot change. Being an agriculturalist is more than just looking the part and following the motions. It takes true passion to rise up out of bed every morning and care for the crops and animals which comprise our livelihoods. I care so much for the animals I work with every day, and I know I'm not the only one. Agriculture always sounded to me like a term you'd see in an anthropology book. It's not that I don't like the word, but I think that this path we've chosen for ourselves is more than just culture. It's a passion. It's a love. It's a lifestyle. That's where the name of my blog comes from.

Perhaps one of the greatest things I walked away with this week is the realization that the voice which barks the loudest is not necessarily the voice of the group. It's refreshing to realize not everyone who doesn't understand you is out to get you. My humble blog posts stretched further than I imagined they could this week. To herbivores and carnivores alike. Thanks for joining, thanks for your input, thanks for your comments and thanks for your support. This is my last blog for Vegan Week, but certainly not my last blog post. Continue to follow along and share in the triumphs and tragedies of this wonderful industry and way of life.

Until Next Time,

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Our last video...

Thanks for sharing in our journey! Check out our last video below and stay tuned tomorrow for my last Vegan Week post.

Our last video blog

The final countdown.

I meant to post last night, but after returning from a lovely dinner with some family, I had another baby calf to take care of. I think I will nickname this one Goliath, because I just about threw out my back trying to pick him up. By my estimate, he weighed over 150 pounds and was the size of a Toyota Corolla. This monumental bundle of joy was fun to take care of, even though it was raining and cold. I didn't mind the sheeting rain so much, mostly because we've had a bit of a dry spell and any level of rain is indeed welcome.

Back to dinner with the family... I never thought I would ever visit the Natural Cafe in San Luis Obispo, and as a matter of fact, I've often scoffed at the idea. Last night, however, we decided this was the one place where we could all get something to eat. Everyone else ordered things that looked quite tasty: pesto pizza, fish, quesadillas... I ordered grilled vegetables with sauteed tofu and brown rice and a side of Moroccan Vegetable soup. While I would much rather have ordered something different, the vegetables were grilled to perfection and tasted great. The soup was the best part. I'm not sure I even took a breath while trying to shovel the entire cup into my mouth. Had I not been taught proper table etiquette as a child, I would have licked the entire bowl clean. My aunt was especially proud of my food choices, noting that as a kid I had the blandest taste buds on the face of the planet. Even cheese pizza was often too much for me. Luckily, my willingness to try new things has evolved, otherwise I would likely have perished this week.

I would by lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to a piece of meat and glass of milk. I have considered ordering a pizza at 12:01 Sunday morning, but we'll just see if a) I'm up at that hour, and b) my craving is so strong that I can't find something in my house. Stay tuned for the last remarks of this adventure. Carrie and I plan to cook dinner tonight as a last hurrah.

Vegan Week Food Diary Day 6
Vitamin water
Kettle Chips
Mike n' Ikes (the chips and candy were a gas station purchase, and my lunch)
Jelly sandwich
Grilled veggies with tofu and rice
Moroccan Vegetable Soup

By the way, gave us a shout on her blog today, take a look!

Friday, January 20, 2012

We're in the home stretch

Today should be an interesting day in the life of a temporary vegan. Today for a dairy class, I'm going on a field trip to a dairy in the Fresno area. This means I will probably have to bring my lunch with me just in case. When I return this evening, I plan to go to dinner with some family in town and I'm positive this will be a challenging experience. I don't know where we're going, but I'm definitely not going to make them eat vegan along with me or go to a vegan restaurant. I may just have to have a green salad.

After having a wonderful Jamba Juice for dinner last night, I wasn't really in the mood for anything sweet, but Carrie had made an attempt at a vegan chocolate cake, and I felt as though I needed to taste this phenomenon. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate on chocolate anyhow, but the lack of eggs and/or butter just didn't work for me. Poor Carrie is developing a complex. Two failed cooking attempts have made her feel like she's a bad cook. She's not, but let's not tell her I said that. I want to poke fun some more.

This week hasn't been too hard. Albeit yesterday was the first day I really began craving chicken and beef. For lunch I went to retrieve some vegan chili, and the smells of campus dining made my mouth crave something with some meat in it. Don't worry folks, I don't give up that easily. I may be ordering a pizza at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning, but we're in the final stretch. There's 39 hours left. I'll live.

Thanks for coming along with the adventure, and since I didn't post last night, here's what I ate yesterday.

Vegan Food Diary Day 5
Vegan chili
Ritz crackers
Odwalla Berry GoMega
Kettle chips
Jamba Juice
Sweet potato