Selling the Family Jewels

Well the time has come for my mom and dad to retire from milking cows. As a result I have written something to commemorate our family farm.

As this chapter of Watertown Holsteins comes to an end I can’t help but write a little something in remembrance of my family’s dairy farm.   First off it is hard to grow up, and we are all still doing it no matter our age!  My childhood on the farm with my sisters and brother, mom and dad, are filled with so many good memories.  All too often, it is easy not to say or write the things that our loved ones need to hear.  So I am taking this opportunity to do just that.  I consider my mom and dad to be fairly young even though they might disagree, and I am grateful they are just a phone call away.  My parents were both a big influence on me while growing up, and for that I am also thankful.  However, keep in mind I used to joke they had six kids so we could do all the work for them!

The truth is, all the lessons they taught me and my siblings through the family farm life will benefit us the rest of our days.  My parents taught me who God was at an early age, so I knew who created me and all the animals I adored.  However it wasn’t until I was about four or five years old that I became comfortable around cattle since they were so big!  All of my siblings and I had responsibilities in the house and on the farm growing up.  Through my early years I had to unload the silverware, sweep the floors and take out the garbage.  My older sisters always thought I got by way to easy, but I disagreed.  I discovered my favorite task, making the morning pancakes after dad got in from chores though.  I used to sneak outside in the morning before my mom and sisters woke, just to go see my dad milk the cows too.  Then I got my first job on the dairy, sweeping the hallway outside the office, bathroom, and milk room.  I still remember finding some change (placed cleverly by my dad) in all the dirt and feeling so accomplished since I made a few cents at the age of five!  My responsibilities grew as I did and so did the opportunities.  In the morning and evening I got to fill many bottles full of milk for all those cute Holstein calves and in the afternoon build amazing forts in the cottonseed pile.  Talk about a blast for young kids and a nightmare for our mom and sometimes dad too, especially if we forgot to take the shovel out of the pile, sorry dad!  Once we headed back in the house, our clothes mysteriously managed to carry cottonseed in, sorry mom!  Then it was riding on the lawn mower for hours in the evening with my dad because I wanted to drive the mower, but I was too short.  As soon as I was tall enough, I got to be the full-time grounds keeper.  During the summers it was wanting to cut green beans but instead I had to wash them since I was too young to play with knives.  Not to worry, eventually I cut plenty of green beans!  When I was still the baby of the family, my older sisters, Joelle and Maria, helped me ride my bike around the section sometimes every day even though I struggled to keep up at times.  They also opened up the ice cream shop straight from the garage door and made me some very tasty treats.  Then soon I was a big sister and my little brother Samuel was volunteered for daily tours of the farm in his stroller, by tour guide Ana, so my mom could do what she needed.  Then eventually I was taking my younger siblings around the section on bike rides just like my older sisters did with me, and guess who needed the patience then!  As siblings we created a ton of fun memories on the dairy.  Maria and I dug traps with poop in the bottom for my sister Joelle to step in but instead dad found them first, sorry dad!  We ran through the sprinklers, built teepees in the trees, set up tents in the backyard for campouts, shot each other with water guns, pelted empty pop cans with Maria’s BB gun, but not to worry we got back to work.  We got to show calves together in 4-H every summer too, which was a huge highlight in my summers.  My dad taught me how to clip and fit cattle, and I loved the smell of the clipper oil and still do.  As I got older and stronger, my dad let me do more and more.  I got to push the manure from the barn alley into the gutter after each cow took her stall in the early afternoon.  Then eventually I was wheel-barrowing out manure from the box stalls with my sisters and brother.  By the way, that wasn’t punishment that was just chores.

Learning how to watch over younger siblings and how to care for the farm and its animals were blessings my siblings and I got to know early in life.  We all started milking cows around the age of fourteen, though other farm and house responsibilities started long before then.  Believe me, I have milked many cows and I enjoyed it.  Some of the best conversations happen when milking cows!  I got spend hours with my dad, my mom, my older and younger sisters, my brother, and all the hired hands.  All the way through middle school, high school and college I earned money on the farm for each hour I worked.  Whether it was feeding, bedding, milking, painting, cleaning, mowing, driving, farming or gardening.  Mom and dad gave me the responsibility to give an offering to God, save money for what I needed and wanted, and to help others too.

While life on the farm wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows I will always remember all of the good times I had with my sisters and brother, mom and dad.  From showing cattle together, to milking cows together and some days struggling together.  I know that the farm life made my family ties stronger even though we don’t all live in the same place anymore.  The relationships that we have are a huge blessing and their start was on Watertown Holsteins alongside two of the hardest working people I know, my parents.  Mom and dad, never forget that I look up to both of you.  I am proud of you both and all that you have accomplished.  You have a BEAUTIFUL herd of cows, and I am so proud and thankful that I got to learn from you and help you in your endeavors.  You gave me so much, and most of all you taught me to pursue a relationship with my Maker, to give it all I got and never give up!  Though it breaks my heart and brings tears to my eyes to have a big part of the family business dissolve, I know that there’s MUCH MORE to come and no matter what we are blesssed to have one another.

All the blood, sweat and tears have been worth it, there is no better way to grow up than on a dairy farm.

Ana Schweer Ruiz

Check out the Facebook page, Watertown Holsteins for all the details on the sale.  Cow photos posted daily with updates to come!

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Dancing Cows

There is just something about watching a dairy cow kick up her heels and enjoy herself.  After all the hard work that a dairy cow does on a daily basis, it sure puts a smile on my face.  It’s also a great indicator of her overall health and well-being.  Although she may spend 12 hours of the day resting and ruminating.  She uses 10 more for walking ‘n’ romping around with her fellow herd mates, gulping down her favorite beverage, water (bet you thought I’d say milk ;)) and eating.  She turns feed that can’t be processed by us, into a delicious whole product, milk!  The other two hours of the day are used for her to be milked, which generally happens 2 to 3 times a day.  

Source: http://www.cowsignals.com/moo/success_in_the_fight_against_mastitis_from_australia?utm_source=CowSignals+klantenbestand&utm_campaign=fc8ec67d85-Success+in+the+fight+against+Mastitis&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_86d698a3bc-fc8ec67d85-124212029

Ruminating: In this case, I’m referring to a cow who chews feed over and over again to extract as many of the nutrients as possible for digestion.  Eventually the nutrients can be used as body energy as well as energy to make milk. 

Feed: For example I am referring to forages such as alfalfa hay, grass hay, or corn silage.  These all contain cellulose which requires a lot of chewing, referred to as “cud chewing’ and microbial flora in the gut of a ruminant to be digested and efficiently used. 

March ‘Moo’ness

In lieu of March Madness in the college basketball arena, I thought it only fitting that I go along with the ballers only as March ‘Moon’ess!  March has flown by as one fantastic month here in Idaho.  Unfortunately I wish I could say the same for my homeland, South Dakota.  I am praying everyday that the weather in the Midwest breaks in to a full on SPRING TIME —- sooner than later!  The Idaho weather has been delightful, and I am thankful to be excelling as a AI relief technician for ABS Global.  Last post I mentioned all of the information that a relief AI technician has to learn to be successful.  As of now I have learned the basic reproductive protocols for about 15 different dairy operations in the Boise area.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that you’ll never know how much you can do, learn or remember until you decide to do it!!  When I first arrived in Idaho for work I had probably bred less than 150 animals in my whole artificial insemination career.  Now I know I have easily hit the 1,000 animal mark.  Keeping my ‘one cow at a time’ in mind has proved itself a great mindset.  It’s affirming to hear about, and see improvements in your own job performance.  I am thankful for all the people who have helped me learn and improve thus far, from Watertown Holsteins in South Dakota to Maddox Dairy in California and now working with ABS Global here in Idaho.  The best measure of my success right now is the conception rate for the animals I breed at each dairy location.  For cows a great conception rate ought to be over 40%, for heifers it ought to be at least 70%.  As of now I am meeting all the marks and keeping up with all the breeders here for conception rates.  The best part is, I have lots of time to continue developing my technique and become an even better breeder for the years ahead of me in the dairy industry.  Happy March ‘Moo’ness to all! This post is dedicated to shooting to win, best of luck to all the ballers out there!  I may not be balling for baskets, but I’ll sure be shooting to meet the mark!  After all, we need more cattle to keep on making all those leather basketballs. 😉

Dr. Daniela the Embryologist

The first photo is Dr. Daniela fertilizing some oocytes in vitro (IVF)!!  The next photo is in preparation for what she is able to do in the lab, it is called Ovum Pick-up (OPU), where a technician uses the ultrasound machine and a needle to aspirate the ovaries of cows to ‘pick-up’ the oocytes on them.  Learning how to make bovine babies in a laboratory, it has been one awesome first week!!  From learning how follicular waves work, to how each hormone affects superovulation, palpating ovaries, and learning how to move the cows reproductive tract – mastering these things are just the beginning!

It feels great to be back in the Golden State, and I am enjoying the warmer weather as I’m used to colder South Dakota weather in November.  As one who tends to over-think many things about life, this week was no different.  Not only did I learn a lot of the the details of embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization, I learned a lot more about myself as well — a win, win!  Praying for guidance and looking to make choices that I will be happy with later in my life has always helped me make decisions.  The future is not certain, nor is life.  So I came to the conclusion this week (FINALLY!! …and will certainly need reminding in the future) that I don’t need to stress about my veterinary school applications, the future, or honestly anything.  For many, it’s way to easy to get worked about things that we have no control over.  I know I am not alone on this.  Control, what does that even mean?!  We have to give it up!!!  We’ve got to keep doing our best no matter what we do, and keep learning. 

For I know the plans I have for you, “declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  —-Jeremiah 29:11

“The reason many people in our society are miserable, sick, and highly stressed is because of an unhealthy attachment to things they have no control over.” —-Steve Maraboli 

“Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.” —-Ralph Ellison

“Incredible change happens in life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” —-Steve Maraboli

This verse and these quotes are reminders that we need to trust and take a leap of faith each and every day of our lives, no matter if we are young or old.  

 

Why Do We Transfer Embryos?

Growing up in the dairy industry on my family’s registered (purebred) Holstein farm taught me a lot about what the ideal (true-type as we call it in the dairy world) Holstein looks like. At a young age I started judging and showing dairy cattle so that deepened my understanding of what desirable characteristics both dairy farmers and dairy cattle judges search for. Through a course at South Dakota State University, where I gained my Bachelors in Agriculture Dairy Production, I learned more specifically why each of the characteristics are desired and what their specific purpose is. Each trait or characteristic that a dairy cattle judge views as ideal has a purpose beyond just “looks”. For example, the udder is the most important part of a dairy cow because it is what produces the delicious milk for all of us. So when a judge is looking at an udder, he or she wants that udder to look a certain way, because often times when the udder is phenotypically correct (looks correct) it CAN perform it’s function well, by producing a lot of quality milk! There are many more details to looking at an udder as a judge, but I hope that helps you understand the general idea. Beyond learning about specific characteristics, I personally learned what the ideal Holstein looks like through working with dairy cattle most of my life, and got to see why these traits are necessary and why they help the cow. The topic of this post is about embryo transfer making that a long introduction that doesn’t exactly cover the very scientific, technical procedure of transferring embryos. While there may be some of you interested in the science side of embryo transfer that isn’t why I am writing about it today. I would just like to help folks understand why we do it. Although the science is very interesting so I would encourage you to read this book, found at the Hoard’s Dairyman, http://www.hoards.com/bookstore/EMBR. I share a copy with my brother, and highly recommend it!

First the definition of embryo transfer, according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, Veterinary Medical Board, “Embryo transfer is a procedure whereby an embryo is removed from a donor cow and placed in the uterus of a recipient cow for the duration of gestation (full-term pregnancy). The procedure is commenced by administering hormones to the donor cow to induce “superovulation” (meaning the cow ovulates more than one egg) whereupon the animal is usually artificially bred. Approximately seven to ten days later, the transfer takes place by administering an epidural anesthesia to the donor cow and removing the fertilized ova by a manual procedure of directing a catheter through the cervix into the uterine horn. Several doses of small amounts of nutrient medial are placed into the uterine horn and then pulled out by either suction with a syringe or gravity flow. The media recovered from the uterine horns is searched for ova and those deemed viable are inserted into the recipient cow in a procedure similar to artificial insemination.”

Last summer, while interning, I had the opportunity to shadow a veterinarian, Dr. Daniela, also known as the embryologist for the Maddox Dairy and RuAnn Dairy, for a couple of days (www.maddoxdairy.com for more information). My other experiences around embryo transfer are on my family’s dairy, Watertown Holsteins, where my younger brother, now certified in embryo transfer, performs the procedure. In the past we have also had another great embryo transfer technician from Simple Dreams Genetics Inc. of Hull, IA. So here’s the point, we along many other dairy farmers and ranchers use embryo transfer to help increase the rate at which our genetics improve. As stated earlier, the traits we want in animals help them to live happier and more productive lives. We choose to flush, (slang for embryo transfer, in reference to flushing the uterine body) cows because they have those desirable traits that make give their bodies longevity, productivity and beauty. Another huge part of the decision to flush a cow is knowing the cow’s pedigree, who her parents and grandparents were. In the dairy world we call her mother, her dam, and her father, her sire. Then granddam for grandma, and grandsire for grandpa. Currently there is a huge boom in genomics in the dairy industry, and that also largely affects which cattle are chosen for the embryo transfer procedure. By increasing the rate at which our genetics progress in our herd, we can increase the number of animals that have the desirable characteristics, and decrease the number that don’t. Basically we would like more beautiful cows, who do a fabulous job producing high quality milk. Instead of waiting for that one beautiful cow (who has the desirable traits, pedigree, and produces lots of milk) to have one baby a year, we can have multiple babies from her! The thing is, she doesn’t have to physically have all of the embryos found thanks to being able to transfer the embryos to recipients for the full pregnancy. As the world population increases to 9 billion people by 2050, farmers and ranchers across the livestock industry will be expected to produce more food. As we look to do this we want and need to have cattle that perform their best, look their best and because they look their best, in turn will feel their best since these traits help that cow live a longer, happier and more productive life. Having my cows feel their best is very important to me, so next time you hear about embryo transfer remember it is not only about having better cows, but cows that feel better and do their job better too!

Be sure to email any questions to me at schweerana@gmail.com. I love telling people about one of my passions, dairy!

Clean, clean, clean equipment to #milk those #cows so you and I can enjoy those delicious, quality #dairyproducts! #milk #icecream #cheese #yogurt

Here at Watertown Holsteins we disinfect and clean our milking equipment BEFORE AND AFTER we milk our 90 cows.  This is a very common practice among most dairymen and some dairy farms even disinfect each milker in between cows!  Hygiene is extremely important to us here on the dairy!  We do it because it keeps the cows healthy and it keeps you and me healthy!  

Hold that Vein!

Today we trimmed hooves here at Watertown Holsteins and it was a rather eventful day!  Unfortunately one of my family’s cows, with one of her freshly trimmed hooves, gouged her udder causing one of the veins in it to break!  500 gallons of blood run through a cow’s udder to produce one gallon of milk.  On average a cow here on our farm produces around nine gallons of milk a day.  That means there is A LOT of blood going through their udders ALL THE TIME!  So in the emergency my dad grabbed towels and a hemostat, which is a clamp.  Fortunately I have seen an accident like this before and was able to clamp the vein shut.  Then I waited with the cow till the veterinarian arrived to sew her vein shut.  Fortunately, the vein that was cut won’t affect her milk quality and she’ll continue to help put quality milk in the world’s cereal!  I am very thankful that she is doing fine and the vet seemed to think she would heal in no time at all.  There is never a dull moment on our dairy farm, and that’s just part of the reason I love my job here.  Dairy farming has it’s challenges but everyday I do my best caring for God’s creatures – even when it means holding that vein!