I cleaned my house today

You guys. I finally did it. I cleaned my house.
We’re talking scrubbing floors and picking up clutter.
We’re talking sorting mail into one pile of industry magazines that need to be read. That pile, stacked neatly on my floor, reaches above my knee. Yikes.
We’re talking laundry.

This is what laundry after stacking hay looks like. You should see the floor of my car…and then you should vacuum it for me ;)

Why is this a big deal? Because it makes me feel like a human with a normal routine. And because I’ve been putting it off since I can’t remember when. I’ve swept the barn floor more than my kitchen floor in the past season. Thankfully my neighbor cooks for me several times in a week, so my kitchen is just a room that I walk through each day on my way out. (Thanks Mom!)

You know that sign that says, “Excuse the mess, my kids are making memories?” My sign should say, “Excuse the mess, I’ve been working on the farm.” Except if I had a new sign to hang in my house it would get stacked on the table next to the paperwork that needs filing. Another day.


Zucchini lamb taco boats

Last weekend we were part of hosting a Lamb and Wool festival in our little town for the 17th straight year.

One component of the event is a sheep shearing school. This training provides beginning and intermediate shearers with hands-on, step-by-step instruction to handle a sheep with care as it is shorn.


Another thing that we do is offer a brief farm tour to discuss pasture and animal health. The questions that come from this tour help us consider things from another perspective.


However, quite possibly the best-kept secret of the behind-the-scenes festival organization is our vendor dinner. Each vendor is invited to relax and enjoy fellowship with a lamb dinner. This year Sherrie came up with one of the best menus (we probably say this every year and every year it’s true).

This is one easy dish for your household…or up to 75 of your closest friends:

  • In a skillet, brown ground lamb with taco seasoning. Set aside for placing into zucchini boats.
  • Trim the top and bottom from medium-sized zucchini, then slice in half longways, scoop out center contents.
  • Shred lettuce and cheese enough to top each taco boat, and serve with salsa.
  • Serve hot.



Slow down for school zones

I will admit it. I hate driving 25 miles per hour (mph) in school zones. When I remember, I will take an alternate route. When I don’t remember, it’s usually because I’m in a hurry. And then I’m really annoyed because I don’t have time to slow down to the safe speed.

But we do it for the kids. We do it for teachers and playground aides and crossing guards and paraprofessionals. We do it because we respect the zone.

This holiday weekend I have another reason to drive 25mph. Yet again, I’d prefer to be driving 80mph oops…I mean 70mph, Mom! Instead, our family is making the most of the holiday weekend to farm.

But unlike a school zone, tractors and other equipment change “zones” (fields) as soon as crops are ready to be harvested. I would really prefer to stay out of high-traffic areas, but our best fields are typically ready at the most inopportune time for other motorists – northern tourist season.

Just like a school zone speed limit sign, farmers do their best to communicate with traffic by using a slow-moving vehicle triangle sign. They’re typically orange, but I’ve seen older signs that are gray and red. They’re not driveway markers but I commonly see them used this way, which dilutes the meaning.


I know it’s annoying to slow up an exciting day. I totally understand. I’m about as excited to get in the fields as most people are excited about getting to the lake. But just like you respect the safety of a school zone, please respect traffic laws when you encounter my family and me on the road with farm equipment.

We’re thankful for courteous motorists and we’re especially thankful for this wonderful job of working alongside nature to provide food for your family and our own.


Add a gallon of milk to your Fitbit challenge

This weekend I worked out. OK, I worked out(side). But that counts, right?

I don’t own a fitbit. I don’t eat many fruits or vegetables. I really don’t even like to walk between my farm and my parents’ farm…and we are nextdoor – country style – neighbors. But this weekend I rediscovered every single muscle while walking more than 15,000 steps per day. Sidenote: I only know this because my smart phone knows.

Why would I do this? Because we’re having spring lambs out on beautiful, green pastures that are as tall as my waist. So here’s how the workout(side) muscle discovery goes:


Ear tags aren’t animal fashion accessories – they’re a way to trace our animals back to this farm as a way of protecting public health

My feet ache from wearing too-small, too-old rain boots.

My legs are tired from all the walking, a little running, from trudging through tall grass and uneven ground, and they ache from floating over the electric fence as carefully as possible so as not to be zapped by the current. My thighs and knees hurt from carefully supporting lambs while eartagging each one.

My arms and abs are sore from carrying lambs when it was necessary to match up moms and babies or to bring a lamb into the barn to be a bottle baby. They hurt from carrying the equivalent of a gallon of milk – all the tools we need for eartagging, banding tails and keeping good records inside of a 5-gallon bucket this season (an awkward shape to carry anyway!). They hurt from using pressure to hold down the fence with a shepherd’s crook so my sore legs could more easily cross the hot fence.

Know what feels great? Taking care of animals. Doing my job to the best of my abilities. Being trusted by my parents to handle the responsibilities of three farms while they took time away. It feels amazing to be here on the farm while juggling tasks of my usual work routine, too.

I don’t do yoga, I farm. And that’s enough for me. But if you are into fitness, I recommend adding a gallon of milk to your workout. Either in weight carried around, or drinking it as often as possible for muscle ache recovery and to increase sales for my dairy farmer friends.


Grass-fed, Grain-fed…what do these labels mean?

Last night I attended a “Bringing Everyone to the Dinner Table: Understanding Farm to Fork and Today’s Agriculture” event hosted by the Macomb County Farm Bureau (as in, Michigan’s outskirts of Detroit-area).

Michele Payn-Knoper, founder of Cause Matters Corp., Indiana dairy farmer, book author and fellow Michigan State University graduate (see her Spartan Saga here), was the guest speaker. She encouraged the attendees to share the dinner plate when it comes to food and farming topics.

On our farm, we recognize a variety of farming methods are needed to make the community healthy. Small and big farms, organic and “regular” farms, farms that use horsedrawn plows and tractors that use autosteer and GPS, heritage vegetable plots and GMO seeds…the list goes on and on. What we LOVE is to celebrate the choices that we have as American farmers.

Know what those choices mean? Choices in our grocery stores. Heck, choices at the direct on-farm markets and your local downtown farmers markets. The world is not black and white, as much as I would love clear rules. Right now we want things to be green anyway ;)

One more thing that seems to be murky these days, though, are the labels found on foods and other products. Grass-fed, grain-fed…what do these labels mean? Do they matter?

Not to start researching what others already know and have written about, I visited a blog entry from “Mom at the Meat Counter,” written by a mom/farmer/meat scientist/when-does-she-sleep rockstar. Because even though we raise sheep on pasture and our lambs get a “grainola” mixture with most homegrown crops, I know our way isn’t the only way. I’m not always right. (But please don’t tell my dad, OK?)

I always hope to learn from others’ questions. Foodies, I hope you ask a farmer (you’re looking at one) those questions, and farmers, take time to understand those questions. Foodies, you’re our customers and our neighbors. We care about making sure you feel confident in the choices we have. After all, farmers are food customers too!

How to instruct like a dad

New to being a dad, giving instructions or farm terms? Gotcha covered because I have the best examples from my farmer dad. And by the way, these make me laugh – I’m not even mad about it.

Tell me to do something by telling me what you would do
For example, “I would wait until 7 a.m. to feed the animals.” Well, since he’s so smart, I’ll do the same!
Give a command by asking a question
This sounds like, “Do you want to throw down ten bales?” Why, thanks for asking! Apparently I do want to, and I will get right on it.
Gesture in the general area of what you’re talking about
Like, “Bring me that gate over there,” and wave your arm toward an area with 15 different types of gates
And be vague about your end-point goal
…continued scenario from above. Where exactly do you intend for me to bring the gate? Because taking off 100 yards from the location of where you actually want to use the gate may be the most frustrating…and tiring…thing ever. Please don’t make me follow you around with a bulky gate.
In fact, use vague terms all the time
We all have different experiences in life. With this experience, we may end up using words differently. My favorite is, “Can you give me some directions?” And I end up with a list of north, south, east, west…instead of a detailed list of how-to’s.
Give me your whole task list for 6 months as if you want to achieve it all today…or this morning
Or, can we please just talk about your priorities?

When all else fails, just assume I will and can read your mind.
Love you, Dad!


Balance of food animals and wildlife

We find value in providing wildlife habitat on our farm. We have an appreciation for the natural surroundings and we feel there’s a need for balance between our food animals and local wildlife.

This hunting season, a friend of ours set up a trail camera that captured some awesome sights. It’s a reminder to us that we’re providing more than what meets the everyday eye.

Michigan wildlife

We have a huge variety of animals crashing in the woods on our farm. This doesn’t even show the beef cattle a friend had here this summer and fall.

That said, sometimes we do have to protect our domesticated sheep from being prey. Our electric fences are typically enough to keep predators at bay, but sometimes coyotes will make a wrong, life-changing choice to enter a field. I’m not trying to be funny – this is merely a reality of farming.


One coyote has threatened our sheep this year.

Trust me when I say that there are plenty of coyotes left in these woods. One simply has to listen on any given night to the sweet eerie sounds of activity. Personally I like that coyotes keep the deer population somewhat in check – less chances for me to have an auto accident. But our sheep are off-limits. Usually.