January 4-11, 2008

Miner reunion!

I came up to Vermont and stayed with Wanda so I could ride along with Dr. Henderson and the others at Northwest Vets. I watched a LOT of pregnancy checks and palpations. I think I will make it my goal in life to be as good at palpating as Dr. Henderson is. It’s all the more impressive when you think about the fact that a cow’s ovaries are only the size of pecans, and first you have to find them, and then you’re feeling them through layers of gloves and intestine. I also saw a lot of DA surgeries, 7 LDAs and 1 RDA. I helped prep for all of them, by clipping and scrubbing the surgical site. We dehorned quite a few calves, too, and I got to give the injection of lidocaine and Rompun that numbs the horns and sedates the calves. But that was just the boring stuff!

There was a farm that had almost 100 calves come down with a bad respiratory infections, so we did tracheal washes to try to figure out what was causing it. To do a trach wash, you have to insert a needle through the wall of the trachea, then thread a catheter through that needle. Twenty or thirty mLs of sterile saline are injected through the trachea, and then you try to recover as much as you can so it can be cultured. What I learned from that was that I hope I never need one done to me.

One of the most interesting cases was a post-mortem exam. We found huge blood clots, which indicated the cow died from acidosis or rumenitis, but I’m not sure how a stomach problem could cause blood clots. Maybe it’s that ulcers developed and then perforated.

One of the farms we went to had cows with horns—that was scary! I stayed entirely out of the way until the cow we needed to work on was tied up. She turned out to have pneumonia and a uterine infection. That same day, at a different farm, we did a DA on a cow with a terrible uterine infection. Dr. Henderson drained at least a gallon of pus from her uterus.

The most fun cases were ones I could help with. I placed 2 IVs that week, which I supposed might get boring eventually, but right now, I still think it’s cool. Whoever came up with the idea that you could stick a needle through a creature’s skin and find its blood vessels and let blood out? Placing IVs also reminds me of one of the perks large animal medicine has over small animal and human medicine: huge veins.

My favorite part of the whole week was visiting Miner and seeing Anna and Cricket.

It was terrific to see everyone again! Claire and Lindsey were there, too, and we called Blake and he told us about getting into vet school, which is awesome. The coolest part was the Cricket really seemed like she remembered me. Later in the week, I went to a conference with Anna in Burlington. It was the Poulin Grain Dairy Producers Conference on Feeding and Forages in the New World. Most of it was over my head, but some of the parts that dealt with chemistry I understood.

All in all, it was a great week and I was so glad I got to visit Miner again. I’m hoping to make a trip up this summer, maybe for the fair. Doing my thesis project on mastitis this year has given me lots of tastes of dairy farming, so that has been nice. I have to reiterate what I said in my last post: farming agrees with me. This spring, I have really felt that strongly. What I’m loving about it now, with the changing seasons, is how it is tied inextricably to nature. No matter how technological agriculture gets in the next decades, crops will still have to planted in the spring and harvested in the fall, and I like that.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Well, it's officially the beginning of the end. I've started packing, and I wish I'd written down what I packed in each bag and box. It's like trying to do a puzzle without looking at the box top. It's impossible not to think back on the summer as I fold my Carhartts and wonder where I'm going to pack the armload of books I have. Big things stand out, but it's the little things that round out any experience and make it real. Like my friend Chris says, it's the little things; there's nothing bigger. It is the little things that I hope I'll remember:

The sound of the milk truck braking to turn into the farm driveway.
The train whistle, and hearing it get closer and closer and then farther and farther.
Coming home smelling like hay after merging all day, but mostly from pulling armloads of it out of the merger when it clogged.
Seeing the Milky Way on a clear night.
The sweet smell of the corn when it tassled, hanging over the whole farm.
All the different ways manure can smell, from just the way a barn should smell, to eye-watering.
Listening to country music lyrics that describe our days: "...cruisin back and forth to the Tastee-Freez..." "...he gets up before the dawn..." "...take the tractor another round..." "...it ain't always pretty, but it's real..."
The chicory that is my exact favorite shade of blue growing the whole length of the cornfield.
Dressing in the dark and eating breakfast by the light in the microwave.
Getting up with and going to bed with the sun.
The way getting mail could make an already good day 100 times better.
Picking sweet corn and eating it less than an hour later.
Eating tomato-basil salad with tomatoes and basil that I grew.

Based on these photos Mom emailed me, it seems I was always destined to end up spending at least one summer with dairy cows...
A paper mache cow with a rubber glove for an udder that we made at home. I was 6.

A visit to the University of Illinois ag research farm one summer. I was 7.

Friday, August 10, 2007

I had a lot of time to think this week, sitting in the tractor, and spent most of it musing about farming. I even wrote some of it down:

Farming agrees with me. The combination of familiar routing and never quite knowing what each day will bring gives a comfortable stability and consistency that are never really boring. I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to run a farm, and in the process, learned a fair amount about myself. I like working outside. I love animals. I like working with people and the sense of accomplishment you get from cooperating to get a job done. I like the self-sufficiency of growing crops to feed our cows, and using our cows’ manure to feed our crops. I like how we strive everyday so our cows can do their job (making milk) better and easier. I like country music, especially now that I’ve experienced more of what the songs are about. These are experiences that are unique, yet I share them with countless people across the country and throughout the world, people who make it their business, their life’s work, to put food on the table for the rest of us. I like the way farming grows kids up and gives them a sense of purpose and direction. Never was I more sure of this than listening to two guys not any older than I am discussing how much fertilizer goes on their fields. I like the risk and the gamble of betting your life on Mother Nature’s whims. Maybe I am only fascinated by this aspect of farming because I’ve never experienced the loss it can produce, but farming wouldn’t be the same if, at the very bottom of it all, the ability to coax more corn out of the ground and more milk out of the cows didn’t matter.

As I enter my last week here, I am amazed by how fast the summer has gone by. Even with the corn as a very visual indicator of passing time, it doesn't seem possible that 3 whole months have passed. I am eager to get home and especially back to Chestertown, to my friends, professors, and eventually, my thesis, which I am proud to say has a topic that was inspired by my experiences here. Briefly, when our cows come down with mastitis, we have a range of antiobiotics available to treat them. Organic farms do not have this luxury, and thus concentrate their efforts on prevention. I want to compare the treatment and prevention of mastitis on conventional and organic dairy farms, and hopefully also compare which pathogens are present on the two different farms. Wanda invited me to conduct some of my research here at Miner, so I will be returning some time after Christmas to ride along with Dr. Henderson so I can interview some of his other clients.

It has certainly been a fabulous summer, and I am already looking forward to returning.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

All this week I have been sitting in the tractor, stirring the manure pit. I finished both Farmer Boy and Harry Potter by Tuesday, tried to read James Joyce on Wednesday, and settled on James Herriot's Yorkshire for the rest of the week. So basically, stirring the pit for many days in a row is pretty boring, but not boring enough to read James Joyce.

Tonight Anna and I went to the Franklin County, NY Fair in Malone. This is the same fair where the Wilder's would have shown their animals, crops, and needlework. The cattle show is so big there that they have to split it between the Holsteins and the other breeds. The Holstein show ended Wednesday so we didn't see any of them, which meant we also didn't see any of the families we made friends with at Clinton County Fair. However, it also meant that we saw more of the other breeds than I have ever seen in once place, even Milking Shorthorns. So now I have seen, in person, all the dairy breeds. The main attraction (outside of the dairy barn) was bull-riding and it was pretty fun. Unfortunately it was dark and I didn't get any good pictures.

Saturday and Sunday, August 4-5, 2007

Saturday I went out on the boat with Cory, his friend Keith, and Katy. It was a fabulous day, sunny, breezy, and clear. We put the boat in at Point Au Roche, about midway between Plattsburgh and Chazy, and then we took it to the Plattsburgh City Beach, anchored, and walked on the beach a little bit. Saturday night I went to Field Days again, this time with Anna, to see the tractor pulls. There was plenty to see other than tractors, too, like this corn that towered over my head. This little 4H heifer was named Mystery for the question mark on her face.
These were a team of Holstein steers named Teeny and Tiny. They were the biggest cattle I've ever seen! Each one weighs at least a ton and they aren't even finished growing yet. This picture really doesn't do justice to their size.
This tractor pull was much better than the one at Clinton County Fair, because the tractors were actual farm tractors, not souped up so much you couldn’t even tell they were tractors. Some of the tractors at Franklin County looked like they drove in straight from the fields.

Sunday I went to the Almanzo Wilder Homestead in Malone, NY. It was very cool to see the farm in real life, even though it had been years since I’d last read Farmer Boy, the story of Almanzo Wilder’s childhood. I bought a copy of the book at the gift shop and so far have enjoyed reading it with the images of the real farm in my head.

The Trout River where Almanzo fished and where sheep were washed.
Damselfly enjoying the beautiful weather.
Pumphouse. The
The original home of the Wilder's.
This tree is old enough to have been there when Almanzo was growing up.
The barns.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I was on equine today. In the morning we feed and much stalls. We finished pretty quickly so Christina and I took Sara driving.
I got to drive, too, which was really cool. Since you can’t use your legs to make the horse go faster, you have to use your voice (and the horse has to be trained to listen to you voice). Sara even knows the difference between “trot” and “trot UP” which means faster. In the afternoon I rode Reggie again.
This evening was Sean Stebbins’ farewell cookout, because he’s been working at Rover’s all summer but Wednesday is his last day there and then he goes home to VT. I made peach-blueberry cobbler again and everybody loved it!

Saturday-Monday, July 28-30, 2007

This morning I went with Roxanne to Cha-Liz farm, where they are conducting a study on the effect of diet during the dry period on health after calving. This involves taking blood samples from 20-25 cows every day. It’s actually very simple, because we draw blood from the tail vein. It’s harder to miss the vein than it is to find it, and the cows don’t need more restraint than just standing in the stall provides. When we got back to Miner, Anna said we had a cow that had suddenly gone blind. It turns out she has the cow version of pink eye. Part of the treatment included giving her a sulfanomide antibiotic in her vein, and I got to place the IV. The interesting thing about sulfanomide drugs is that they are secreted from the body in the tears, among other routes, so we know the drug will attack the infection in her eyes. I went up to the hutches to say hi to the calves and here is a picture of our C-section calf, who is making good progress.

Sunday morning, I did fresh check by myself. It was pretty straightforward. The most exciting part was when I listened to 1144. She’s been on glycol all week and was still not making very much milk. We had expected her to have a DA but she had good rumen movement. We’ve listened to her everyday, just in case. I was telling Ralph about her, and decided I better listen to her just in case. Well, sure enough she had a DA, finally!

I milked Monday morning, and then we had a meeting with Wanda about our management project. She went over how to score the hocks and then we printed a list from Dairy Comp of all the cows. We split up the dairy barn and also did far dry and close up. That took most of the morning.

Here is a tomato update: