First it was the week of endless rain. Then the heat that was so oppressive I think even the barn cats had enough of it, as they flattened themselves out on the cool cement. Unless you have an air conditioned walkway to your barn, and everywhere in between, dealing with the heat was unavoidable. The heat brought with it thunderstorms and flooding; this time severe and damaging. The corn has picked up its growing speed and now towers above my children, who are growing fast under the sunshine and fresh air.
    A wise person once said, ‘Where you have livestock, you have dead stock.’ Wise indeed – an honest, yet depressing mantra. We have more than 800 cows. We are bound to have dead cows. That being said, it is still hard to accept. Earlier this month we had a string of freak accidents that sent three young cows to butcher shops. A broken leg in the parlor return lane and two broken hips in a milking pen equals buying a new freezer to house the unanticipated hamburger. The silver lining was that the cows were edible, and it always feels better to use them to feed people in their so-called next life versus composting them.
    Last week we weren’t as lucky with our down cows. An old cow injured her back, and despite a day in the float tank, still wasn’t able to stand properly. Toxic mastitis that was exacerbated by the extreme heat took out another cow, even with following the proper treatment protocol. A mystery illness granted one a ticket to heaven, and even after a necropsy, dad was still befuddled. These girls weren’t edible, so their loss was felt a bit more.
    We managed to sneak our second crop of alfalfa off the fields, with a very minor rain delay. I didn’t even hear any tales of anyone getting stuck. The rain interrupted us, but was so minimal that we were able to restart by noon the next day.  The pile was covered by seven p.m. and all were happy and fed, with cold beverages in their hands.
    Our ducks and chickens have survived the heat, marauding night creatures, and nosy cats. The broilers are a week away from their date with the farm freezers. We raised 40 this year, and I think Ira will be the happiest to see them plucked and bagged. He’s been on chick detail for all of summer vacation. He has them trained to leave their coop during the day and head to an outside area with more room to roam, which also means more chicken poop to scoop. The ducks also fall under his jurisdiction, and he has them coop trained, too. We had one near death experience that brought out the tears, followed by accusations, and death threats to all cats on the farm. He was missing three ducklings one morning after I had let them out on my way to the barn. Careful listening discovered two hiding under boards in the shed, and the other reappeared on its own with a missing piece of skin from its neck. I’m pleased to report that all are fine, including the cats.
    We had our 21st Ocooch Dairy Farm Party this past Friday, when we were all so hot we thought we were melting from the inside out. Some people braved the weather and joined us in the shop for make-your-own pizzas, cake, and drinks. Our crowd was notably smaller than normal, attributed to the extreme heat, but those that came went home with full bellies and ghost-white, corn dust covered children. The farm is mowed, weed-whacked, and in prime form now, for at least a few days until the grass starts to pick up speed again.
    The boys have completed two weeks of swimming lessons, which meant every day was a flurry of ‘hurry-ups’. Hurry to do morning chores, eat lunch, get big boys on a lawn mower, little ones down for naps, and start cooking for the next day’s meal. Stacy and I swapped running them in, so we could share the excitement of sitting at the pool for an hour and a half daily.
    As we approach the end of the month, the number of calves due to arrive is dwindling. We started the month with 110 due, and it’s been a steady flow since. I’ve taken to giving an IV of CMPK to older cows, and all that have twins; as I’m convinced it helps them get their feet under them faster. With the stress of calving when it is 90 plus degrees, they need all the help they can get.
    Part of our parlor team was gone on vacation in recent weeks, which meant the “B” team got called in to work. Ira was trained to scrape pens, push cows, and milk in the parlor. He pulled four hour shifts a few days to help alleviate some of the stress of having missing people. One afternoon desperation was high and the “C” team took over the parlor. Stacy, Dane, I, and a couple other 9-year-olds milked for an hour. Ira was packing the pile, and when he was relieved, jumped in the skid steer to scrape. The main crew was having a team meeting and grill out, and the cows still needed to be milked. Dane was also recruited to scrape pens so Jose could put sand away before more rain came. They are both becoming very essential helpers in the barn.
    The kids have snuck in time for building a bunker plastic slip and slide, complete with a hay bale block at the end to form a small pool. More than once I’ve come back to the barn to witness streams of water being shot out of the milkhouse and hospital parlor at each other. In the midst of all of the ups and downs of weather systems, the hay to harvest and lawns to mow, we farm, chase children, and keep on keeping on.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.