A useful U-gate and Carlson cow update

Some people never part ways with “stuff”, but usually on our farm –if it isn’t used — it doesn’t stay. If you start to keep everything you just might use, maybe someday, you’ll soon have so much stuff on the farm that you’ll never find what you are searching for. It is a rule my husband has learned from his father.


However, we just broke the rule. Do you know what a U-gate is? It is when an employee (because, you know, we never make mistakes, ahem) is backing up a skid loader and forgets that they are nearing the end of a pen and whammo…the skid loader meets the gate. The gate is no longer a straight line and usually so much shorter that it isn’t useful.

We used a u-gate today. (It had been somehow saved.) To do something we have never done before — load cattle on to a double-decker style trailer. Why?

Well today, after exactly 3 months of housing Carlson Dairy cows following that terrible storm near Pennock, Minnesota, we sent some of them back home! I hope they are enjoying their newly renovated barn!

Carlson’s poured the final needed piece of concrete on Labor Day, let the cement cure for a week, lined up some semis yesterday, and welcomed 90 cows back to their farm today.

As I have a very flexible schedule with my main objectives being more to care for my family, I was able to help out. Our herdsman, Bryan, is fantastic at this type of thing so we worked together. At this point, we think we may do this same thing the next 2 Mondays, because it is convenient for the trucking company.

I hope you will not be troubled next time you try to de-clutter your home or farm. Most of the time things like U-gates aren’t useful. There are just exceptions to every rule.


2 years post-surgery and 1 week pre-corn silage

Today marks two years since Ava's nerve transfers in Cincinnati following our farm accident. She is currently sleeping on our couch, flat out from what we have termed PFS (Post Fair Syndrome). All kinds of kids picked up a stomach bug that incubated for a long time and then hit hard.
Initially, we were told that Ava would continue to see improvement for two years as her nerves slowly grew. So that would mean today is the last day for gains. However, a few months ago at a visit, they said that they still think Ava may gain some hand function yet. We are still hopeful but working in our hearts and minds to make peace with the situation if she never is able to have a helper hand.
When she went in for surgery, I honestly thought that today, her arm eventually would look and function a lot more like a normal one than it does. However, I have learned that a little is a lot. The things she has gained are
1. Shoulder stabilization.
2. Ability to use forearm to hold paper in place.
3. Ability to carry something between bicep and ribs.
4. Ability to bicep curl half-way to hold something up while she manipulates it with her other hand. (Like husking corn video I had shared)
Many more gains are possible if she had the ability to open and close her hand!!! She sometimes has motion in her fingers if she is activating other muscles, but not voluntarily.
Please pray for this!!!!

On the farm, we are anxiously awaiting making 4th cutting hay but have received 6 inches of rain in the last week. Joe is just finishing up a building project in the holding area, where our cows wait for their turn to be milked 3 times a day. We recently had some major landscaping done with some bulldozers and other construction equipment. As soon as we can dry out and get haylage up, it is a mad dash for the crew to switch the chopper from it's hay head to the corn head and take off for South Dakota. We picked up another farm out near Canistota last year that we make corn silage for their cows. Then, lots of other dairies including ours. Joe loves the challenge!
Our son, Vince, is in denial that school starts soon. I may be, too. Ava hopes to get healthy soon so she can enjoy these last few weeks of summer break.

Best birthday present

I am not the only farm wife in the world that wishes she simply had more time to spend with her husband. I get it, though — I know that when your passion is your job, there are never enough hours in the day.
But not today. Joe came to a work-out with me!

Joe joined me for a class offered by our local YMCA that combines yoga and weights. It's pretty sweaty.
We LOVE our local Y…Joe is on the board of directors. They offer free child-care so parents can work-out! And the pool is both indoor and outdoors, which is as good as it gets in the summer time with 4 children of all ages and stages. I am not the type of person that MUST work-out to feel normal, but I love to! Also, the programs offered to the kids are great so my car can pretty much auto-pilot there.
Right now, Violet is napping. Liv and Ava are outside painting their nails. Vince and Joe are recycling some old light fixtures and doing some office work. I am about to try to weed that jungle that is my garden.
Life is good. 37 years young and hopefully many more years as a farmer's wife!

Camp Elk Run 2017

A Bible, a jackknife, and work gloves. These were on the list of required things for Vince to pack yesterday. 

We are short a farmer around here…Vince left this morning for a WEEK-LONG camp.  And it looks to be a bit of an unusual experience. 

More than 1000 boys and counselors are attending.  It is in the Black Hills, in an area owned by South Dakota Game Fish and Park.  Basically, it is in the middle of nowhere 30 miles northwest of Custer, South Dakota.  

Vince got on a bus at 10:00 this morning with 2 of his close friends.  

Vince, with his good friends from our church group for boys.

When they arrive, each group will receive 12 foot poles, a 30×40 piece of plastic (like what we farmers use to cover silage piles), plastic and twine.   They will use these things to build a tent. All meals are cooked themselves at their campsites (most years over a campfire but they may be bringing in grills due to the drought).  There is no electric access for the boys and all water is brought in.  

They will experience archery, marksmanship, geocaching, hiking Harney Peak, visiting Mount Rushmore and doing a service project.  A live praise and worship band will be a part of each of their evenings.   Not all boys attending are members of the Christian Reformed Church like we are, but the boys program in our church is called Cadets, and if you wanted to attend this Internationak Camporee, you had to do the necessary Cadet work to qualify. 

It seems to be that some of the objectives of camps like this is to break kids down physically and emotionally so that they will be raw spiritually and ready to hear God speak to them. I never thought I would say this, but Vince has been less of the easy-going, hard-working, fun-loving boy that he was.  The past year, he has been so much more emotional and influenced by his friends opinions on things like what is and isn’t cool.  It really breaks my heart, and is certainly a rough part of parenting for me.  I keep telling myself it will get better as he ages through this part of his childhood. 

Can you imagine how icky the laundry will be after a week?  Vince packed deodorant but your guess is as good as mine as to whether he will use it.   Part of me thinks a professional dental cleaning will be in order when he comes home. 

In any case, I am so thankful for all the volunteers to make this happen!  I pray that he is safe and doesn’t need his knife to fend off coyotes at night or whatever.  I hope his new work gloves come back worn after a tough service project.  But more than anything, I want him to read his Bible and feel that closeness to God.   That is what this Mom really wants!

Ava’s arm update:  no more tan lines

Yesterday, we met with the brachial plexus team at Cincinnati for a check-up of Ava’s arm.  If you are new to my blog, 2 years ago Ava became unbuckled from our side-by-side and suffered complete paralysis of her right arm.  She received nerve transfers in August of 2015, and we were told that we would then wait for 2 years to allow the nerves to grow so we could see what she gained, and then discuss more surgeries. 

So, we walked in ready to talk about some surgeries.  After showing them what Ava can do and can’t do, we were shocked to hear them say “keep waiting”.   They had initially said nerves grow a millimeter a day, an inch a month….but Dr. Schwentger said that is just something they say and it doesn’t apply to the fine and tiny stuff near the end. Even though the “inches rule” signifies we are done, the expert says we are not. 

I think that is really good news!  More potential. They want to see her in another 12 months but we are to call and chat and maybe meet up if something tightens or she is losing something she has gained. 

You can see her tan line! And some electrodes that I use to do her E-stim treatments at night.

I am so excited to share that very few people will immediately recognize Ava as different anymore, because we can ditch the pink or beige splints she has worn for the past 2 years!!! If I had a dollar for every nice person in the grocery store that has noticed and kindly commented on Ava’s condition, my food bill would be zero. 

The change of thought:

1.  The likelihood of a broken bone in her arm is less than it was.  Even though her balance is still not perfect, it is much improved.  Her arm bones are smaller and less strong than an average child, but they aren’t overly worried.  

2.  Her hand won’t become overstretched like they had originally been concerned about because…. Her pronaters never kicked in.  Her supination did.  So, she always holds her forearm upside-down, in a supinated position.  Thus, her wrist is never dangling and never tightens in a weird way. 

3.  Let her just be normal.  What kid would want that label and that attention?

They also left me with a lot to think about regarding Ava’s therapy schedule.  Ava currently goes to to each of these once a week:  physical, occupational, speech. They told me that I know my stuff; these therapy sessions are impeding regular life.  Let her be a kid, activities like swimming and track are just as useful.  I should just continue do my nightly routine with her.  When I looked at the main surgeon to double-check within her eyes if she was being honest, she looked at our other 3 children and said, “You certainly must have other things going on as well.”    That was of course hard to hear as I try to balance my time in being fair to my whole family.  So lots to think about there. 

In another year or two, Ava will undergo a surgery that they swear is “no big deal” to flip her forearm so it isn’t always upside down. It’s called an osteotomy.   Cut the bone and realign it.  We live in a palm-down society where most of the things we do (ride bike, drive cars, use a computer mouse) require that position.  There are very few cases like Ava’s but they have recently figured out that it isn’t so successful to cut both of the bones that operate in your forearm or the muscles will simply pull things back to the way they were.  I guess now they are just cutting one bone and aligning that way.  While it seems like the wrong thing to do, they are getting better results. 

Lastly, we signed a contract that places Ava in a study so that all her information can be shared, analyzed and used to improve the outcome in kids that will suffer brachial plexus injuries in the future. 

I apologize if this was strange writing but wow, my brain doesn’t function as well when we aren’t in our own home, eating normal foods and in our normal routines.  I think I am worse than a kid for adjusting to travel!

Continued Care

Continued Care

I’ve been asked many times, “How long will you have these Carlson cows?”.   Here’s the answer: we don’t really know.  

We have done enough construction here on our farm to be quite aware that any guesses as to a timeline for fixing a building is kinda a lie.

We will just keep caring for them as long as needed!  I had a 3-day stint as a full-time cow secretary as many of us were trying to get things under control from a record-keeping side of things.  It was fun to be in the mix of things, but I was pretty happy to transition back into my mom role by the end of last week.  

As a mom, it has been super busy.  My oldest two, Vince and Liv are at a 4-H camp.  I really miss them for their company, as well as the work they do here for us.   Here’s a pic of those two after Liv took a tumble in the heifer pasture last Sunday!

My heart is breaking here, though, because I dropped those two off to get on the camp bus and came home to find one very ill mama goat.  Tess, Vince’s champion goat from the fair last year, came down with some sort of weird neurological illness that caused her to have labored breathing and weak legs.   I immediately called a veterinarian and we treated her, but she didn’t come around.   When we started this 4-H project, I wanted the kids to learn about the circle of life.  This is going to be a tough story to tell them, though.  

National June Dairy Month continues and I gave a tour this morning to 20 incoming high school freshman of our local high school.  Our very own Ocheda Dairy started as my father-in-law’s FFA project, so I hope they were inspired today.  I tried to take a selfie:

Ava update:   We are still doctoring with Cincinnati Children’s following Ava’s nerve transfers in her arm nearly two years ago.  Our next appointment is on Tuesday.  We will take the time to go out there as a family, and leave the cows in the care of Dave, Bryan, Corey and a lot of other great employees.   It is crazy to try to get things ready to go away, but I think we need to do it anyway.  

Paying it back 

We are currently providing emergency housing for 310 milking cows that had their barn severely damaged by a windstorm/possible tornado near Pennock, Minnesota, two days ago.  Caring for these Carlson Dairy cows is an honor for our family. 

Preparing for the arrival of these cows on Sunday was true teamwork here at Ocheda Dairy. For everybody else that helped, from our long-time faithful employees to my pregnant sister-in-law who showed up donning work gloves, they did the work necessary simply because it was the right thing to do.  For me, however, in my heart, it was so much about “paying it back”.  After experiencing the overwhelming outpouring of support following Ava’s accident two years ago, I wanted the Carlson family and all those involved within their farm to be surrounded with that same love and care.  To be able to help out a family in need is a huge sign of God’s perfect timing and presence. 

Here’s some photos from the afternoon and evening. 

My son, Vince, and father-in-law, Dave, scrubbing out water troughs because we knew the cows would be thirsty for a clean drink of water upon arrival.

My husband taught our long-term employee all about fencing cows and welding gating this past winter, so Ever was called to come and help.

As part of the construction project from the past year, we have a portable welder on a pallet and, without knowing that these new cows would be as calm as they have been, we wanted to be sure our milking parlor return alleys were secure. So, here, Joe is prepping to go weld in a bit more fencing.

If you know Ocheda Dairy, you know Bryan, who knows the ins and outs of cow care (as well as employee care), better than anyone.

Joe, with our brother-in-law, who is a vet (super-handy to have one of those in the family that lives just a mile away!)

After the 11th, and final, truck of the evening was unloaded, our mechanic and feed center manager, Corey, signs some papers. He had been working with each trucker as they arrived to get trailers backed up to the chute correctly.

My mother-in-law was caring for these 5 cousins and there was never a moment dull enough to merit changing out of church clothes!

The teamwork that was displayed on our farm is just a drop in the bucket when one considers the enormous amount of volunteers that stepped forward to help at Carlson Dairy. To hear reports of hundreds of working hands, donated casseroles, and faithful prayers lifted, well –that is what makes farming in Minnesota the treasure that it is.   I spent a lot of time in contact with members and closest friends of the Carlson family yesterday as we sorted out the details on how to best care for these cows.  They have been articulate, compassionate and grateful, and I am certain that one day, if given the opportunity, they would certainly step forward to “pay it back”, too. 

 Thanks again for all your support, now and in the past.