Most days on our farm are good days. Some can be exceptional. Those days are when we walk to the barn to see a heifer having an easy calving, and then she walks right into the robot and starts eating the pellet treats. No kicking, no stepping up into the feed bowl, just standing and getting milked for the first time. That is the start of a great day.
But, every once in a while, we have a bad day. These bad days typically revolve around heifers too. Sometimes heifers are funny and cute, and other times they all work together to make our job challenging. Heifers seem to have a secret body language and are always working to keep us on our toes. As soon as that one rebel heifer gets it in her mind to race, they all want to race. That is when we all have to stop and wait until they calm down.
The heifers in the freestall barn get moved every day from one side of the barn to the other so the manure can be scraped into a tunnel to the pit. Anna, our daughter, is good at driving the skidloader, and she gets the job done in under half an hour. The heifers know her and know the plan. They all get up, they all poop, and then they all walk to the other side. That is, on a good day they do that. Every once in a while, there is one rebel that has to see if she can run fast and get out before the gate closes. Very rarely does this heifer get out. She usually has to stop fast, because the gate has latched before she was successful.
Farmers know what happens when a running animal stops fast in manure that is 3 inches deep. The wave of manure comes flying, landing on us in every possible spot. That fast stop can ruin a good day fast. Anna and I can move heifers from pen to pen fairly efficiently, calmly and without getting too much manure splattered on us. Add Duane to the mixture, and it can go good or bad.
Did I mention Duane hates getting splattered with manure? Well, last week we all had a really bad day.
Duane came into the house with his clothes wet. He huffed when he walked in the kitchen on the way to the laundry room. When he was changing the activity monitor collars on the bred heifers and moving them to the new group of heifers, he slipped and fell in the manure. He went to the milkhouse to spray off the manure. He must have landed flat on his back because he was wet from head to toe. I do not know why, but I always laugh. I simply cannot help it. My laughing then got him more upset, and because he had hip surgery, he could not get his wet pants off, so he had to ask for my help. He grumbled something on his way to the shower while I was still giggling.
Not much longer than an hour, Anna came into the kitchen. She was all splattered too. Well, remember that wave of manure? She described the moment when those rebel heifers started racing while she was trying to move them over in the freestall barn. A couple of them beat her to the gate. The heifers won that round, but eventually she won when they all got back into their pen. Anna was splattered beyond her bibs. She took them off outside and headed to the laundry room. She headed off to the shower as well.
I had some good chuckles at Duane and Anna’s bad day but didn’t even think about what could have happened next. I was moving weaned calves to the next group pen. I put a halter on them to try to lead them out of the nursery. The first four calves went great. They walked out, and then they did a little run. I followed trotting behind. I got them to the gate of their new pen, and all was great. They love to go to a big pen, running, kicking and jumping in the straw bedding.
It was the fifth calf that was going to ruin my day. She didn’t want to leave. I had the halter on. I tried to push and pull, and leaned on her with my legs to try to get her to move. She wasn’t having anything that I was trying to give her. Before I knew what to do, she took off. The halter was in my hand, and I spun around and landed flat on my back in the dirty calf pen.
Now, I wasn’t the one laughing. I was trying to curl up so I didn’t get my hair in the manure. Picture a turtle on its back rocking back and forth. Let me just say, rocking doesn’t work at my age. I had to roll over on my side to get up. Meanwhile, that heifer ran back and forth in the nursery. She was most definitely laughing at me while I was covered in poop.
As farmers, we work in and around manure every day. If it wasn’t for the days when we are covered in it, we wouldn’t appreciate the days with just a little poop splatter. Some days are good, and some days are bad.
    Tina Hinchley, and her husband,  Duane, daughter Anna, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  The Hinchley’s have been hosting farm tour for over 25 years.