Saturday, December 21, 2013

"The Cattle are Lowing"

I love Christmas time. Trees and lights, presents under the tree in a warm house. Hot chocolate by the fire with the ones I love.  I must admit that I even use wrapping paper with glitter on it, much to my husbands displeasure. It's all just so cozy. The love that fills homes and families, the closeness of being together.  How I wish I could pause the beauty of the Christmas season and let it linger just a bit longer. 

But every morning I must leave the hot chocolate and presents behind. One step at a time my Muck boots carry me out the door. Out the door into the cold, into the stress, into the busy. Into a world of animals and people that don't recognize how much I have on my list to accomplish by December 25th. 

But it's out this door that I find things that fill me with as much warmth as any Christmas lights ever could.

I find a happy cow, warm and dry.

I find a bucket of steaming, warm milk to feed calves.


A sleepy kitty.

A curious face.

Ice crystals in the dirt.



Something that makes me stop in my tracks.

New concrete.

Constant companions.

A tolerant baby.

Christmas. I find Christmas.

There in the dark, in my dirty clothes, without having all my presents wrapped yet I remember how to enjoy Christmas. 

So I gladly dust off the glitter, put on my boots, and take my hot chocolate to go.  
After all...

"Away in the manger 
No crib for his bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
The stars
In the bright sky 
Look down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Take Up Your Spade

I never knew there was so much waiting in farming. For those of you who know me, patience has never been a strong characteristic of mine. I have to work at it, hard. Yet here I am, in a career where waiting is a part of life. 

Wait for the seed to grow and wait for the rain to come.

 Wait for the calf to be born and wait for it to grow strong and healthy.

Wait for spring to come again.

Since the beginning of Advent on Sunday, I have been thinking a lot more about all this waiting. Every year, my husband Scott climbs to the top of the silo and carefully fastens a beautiful star he built for his mother a few years back. And every year I am reminded that the season of waiting can be a beautiful thing.

For the past several years we have been planning, and drawing, and then re-planning the construction of a new dairy facility for our cows. It has been a lot of waiting. 

There have been many walks out onto the hill in the evening, pointing here and pointing there. We have agreed, we have disagreed, we have laughed and we have cried. 

There have been meetings and contracts and many cups of coffee shared at the kitchen table. Phone calls and emails and decisions have seemed never ending at times. 

But a few weeks ago, on an unassuming cloudy November morning, the bulldozer pulled in and began its trek onto the hill. The hill that so many times I have stood on envisioning these plans in my head. The hill that so many times we have walked out on and then walked home again with a faint smile at the thought of what is to come. 

And this day, at 7:30 a.m. it feels like the waiting is over. Something is happening on the hill. I can see it with my own two eyes.

I run behind the dozer, desperate for one more picture. And then I stand there and watch. 

It's like the plane has taken off and all I can do now is watch it fly.
Now we just have to wait for it to land.

There is a song I was introduced to a few months ago that resonated strongly with me during all this waiting. 
I was reminded then and continue to be reminded that we must make the most of every day whether we are waiting or ground has been broken on the project of your dreams. That we must take up our spade and continue to work towards what we believe in, even if it's a little at a time.

"Take Up Your Spade"
 by Sara Watkins

"Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is yours
Take up your spade and break ground
Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget not where youve been
Shake off your shoes,
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground
Give thanks, for all that youve been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Break ground, break ground, break ground"

Scott looks on as we "break ground" 

Laura demonstrating how much dirt has moved thus far

Sunset on the grading site

View from new barn site looking back towards dairy

Quitting time
Bandit watches the bulldozers work

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Some days...stink

Ice. Everywhere. I put on two layers and get ready for what I know might be a long day. 

I shed a tear early for a new one who didn't make it though the night. I try hard not to let the cold work it's way into my heart. Keep going...keep going...

As I feed, it rains. And then rains harder. 
I check all the girls. Some are dry, some are not. I worry about them in the cold, but one reassures me with her happy demeanor as I pass by. 

There is steam rising from them and I am reminded their bodies are warmer than mine. 

Mmmmm, they leave me as their fresh feed arrives. 

The day moves on, the rain keeps falling. By lunch I am ready for dry clothes. By 4 o'clock I am ready for more dry clothes. 

I finish feeding calves as darkness falls. I pick up my buckets to leave. Oh, I forgot to feed the cats. 

"Come on kitties" I say as I walk quickly towards the cat food dishes. They are under my feet, they can't contain their excitement! I reach down to pet one as we arrive at the bowls. 

Eeeek!! I jump away! One of the "cats" running along in front of me is none other than a huge, bushy tailed skunk. 

I run half way back through the barn. I wait for it to run out. It doesn't. 

I slowly creep back to the "cat corner". I am tip toeing, holding my breath. 

And there is the skunk, patiently waiting with the cats, for me to put out their food. 

In that moment I start to decide I might not classify this day as "good". 
I am ready to go home. 

I only have one last thing to do, check for new calves. Surely they would at least calve in the barn on such a nasty day.

With my light, I spot a cow at the gate. All the others are sleeping cozy in the barn, and here is this girl outside. As I get closer I see she is leaking milk and has obviously had a calf. Where is it? In the barn? No. Has it slipped out the gate? I don't see it. I bet I just missed it in the barn. Hmm. Not there. 

In fear, I began searching around the corners, down the hill. Oh no it's so cold and raining harder than ever. I worry every moment I am looking. 

 I need a brighter light and more help, both of which I find and continue the search.
After a few long minutes of flashlights beaming through the dark, I hear words of relief.
"Found it!"

And there around the corner, under a bush, sopping wet, is a very small new baby heifer wobbling towards us in the rain. 

The bad parts of my day begin to wash away as we carry her in a blanket towards the barn, where she will sleep warm and dry. 


Monday, November 18, 2013

Drip. Drop.

Drip. Drop. I am startled awake by the feel of tiny drops of water hitting my face. I open one eye. There are a set of little green cat eyes looking at me as if saying “oh, were you sleeping?” While waiting on me to wake up, Lola the cat seems to have found an abandoned glass of water on my bed side table and proceeds to bathe her tiny paws in it. She is intrigued by the way it sloshes in the glass. 

 I walk into the living room to find the dog sleeping more comfortably than he should be on the couch. At least someone else is getting a slow start to the day.

 And then it starts. The list making in my head. I wonder how many things I can cram into today. There's the feeding and the breeding (cows that is). This group needs to be moved here and this other one there. I need to go to the grocery store and then get back in time to feed again. I'm sure tonight I'll have plenty of time to cook dinner, maybe even dessert.  So I guzzle the rest of my coffee and I'm off to complete the tasks I have decided I'm sure I can accomplish in a day.

But a funny thing happens. Things that weren't on my list.  

There was the sweet girl who takes longer than I think to eat her bottle. She's brand new and I stand hunched over close to her, patiently waiting as over and over she attempts to learn how to adjust to her new world. Slowly she succeeds.

Then there was that cow in the wrong group. I put her back. Again.

There is the one who you didn't think was going to calve today and the one you didn't expect to get sick.

There is 1823 who you have to stop and pet because you have been too busy to notice her lately.

There are phone calls and emails and “oh no I forgot to send you that yesterday”.
Something breaks, “okay I'll be right there”.

And, at last, that beautiful sky with a slowly sinking sun. How I did not plan to be so captured by its beauty. So I watch it set.

And in that moment, my list is suddenly forgotten.
It’s then I realize how blessed I am to live a life with cows and sunsets, and all the things that weren't on my list.

Car rides

Moon rise

Feeding buddies

Lunch in the field
Coffee breaks

New friends


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

New Girl

10:45 p.m. Checking on the maternity cows. Waiting on one to calve, so I'm sitting in my car eating goldfish crackers. While I wait I'm checking Facebook, looking at Pinterest, ya know the usual farmer things.

I check again, not much progress. I'm afraid to lean my head back and rest in fear that I might wake up in the morning sleeping in my car. So I keep waiting. Five minutes feels like an eternity when your eyes are getting heavy.

Again, I go back, shining my flashlight in anticipation. Still no progress so I tip toe closer. I gently put my hand around the tiny foot. It jumps! I can't see much now since I had to put my light down.

Mama cooperates and in just a few short minutes our herd increases by one.  A tiny baby heifer! Wet and warm, the wiggly baby sucks in a deep breath, and then another. She picks up her head, looking for mama. All is well. My work is done.

So at 11:15 on a Monday night I get in my car to go home. My hands are cold, but I am smiling.

9 hours old. Taking a nap in the leaves.

All settled in at the calf barn. Friends already.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Happy Chorus

All is quiet. The sun is making it's grand appearance, again too astonishing for words. 

I take my last sip of coffee and inhale the still for one more minute. I get out of the car, put on my gloves, find my Tingley boots. For those of you who aren't familiar with the term they are the black, over the shoe boots necessary when your daily routine takes you to "deep" places if you know what I mean. Next is the usual routine of shaking them upside down to make sure I don't squish a woolly worm, or more importantly end up with a spider on my leg.  And then, I'm off on my trek to the barn. 

First is Teddy the cat, waiting every morning under the same tree. I would love to have a picture of him there to share with you but as soon as I am in sight he runs to me. I guess I got the name "crazy cat lady" for a reason. Then there's Junie the cow, perching at the water tank. She is standing there looking like you must ask her permission before you can enter the barnyard. I pass the test. 

 I walk on, a few more cats have filed in behind me now, like a small parade. Up to this point it's still quiet. You can hear the birds, the parlor equipment running it's cleaning cycle after the morning milking, the small sounds. But for me the day hasn't yet begun. It's like when you can see the light but not yet the sun. And then, they see me...

My happy little chorus! They shuffle their feet as quickly as they can in the straw to jump up, like it's a race. I have never seen such excitement at once, a whole barn comes to life in an instant. A little moo, a big moo, someone stretches their tongue out as I walk by. The quiet has been replaced by noise. All kinds of noise. Noise that I have come to love because it means they are happy and well, ready to eat their breakfast and they are waiting on me to bring it to them. 

So on I go, carrying buckets, feeding bottles, all the morning chores. The song of the day has begun, I have to keep up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Fall in Full Swing

"I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

We had a cool and wet summer in Virginia this year so seeing blue sky has been a welcome change this month. It's hard to believe October is coming to a close already! Fall is always busy around the farm but this year it has been moving at a blinding pace it seems. We had our first frost last week which was followed by a dusting of snow 3 days later. The excitement of snow has worn off a bit since there is never a 2 hour delay at a dairy farm :) The silage is finally done and we are in the midst of building a new calf barn (a feature on it will be coming soon). I hope everyone can spend a few minutes today admiring the beauty of October! Happy Wednesday everyone!

Friday, October 25, 2013


 Envision it if you can. A gentle breeze, a blue sky, cows grazing on the hillside. A tractor hums, a calf is bawling, a dog is meandering.  While not every day on a dairy farm is this picturesque, there is something about it that can't be mimicked, where work and beauty are so intertwined in a pace so constant. My goal for this blog is to give you a glimpse into everyday life on a dairy farm and share our experiences with you. That you may know the compassion we have for our animals, the hours spent tending a crop that's yield is beyond our control, to answer the questions you may have and to share that beautiful harmony of work and beauty with all who pass this way. Welcome to Harmony on the Hillside!