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Read online content from popular columnists including Ryan Dennis and Yevet Tenney, as well as comments from Progressive Dairy editor Karen Lee.


Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s a hotly debated question, one that can puzzle a small child and stump an adult to come up with the correct answer.

Today I find myself with a similar question: what comes first, the calves or the milk replacer?

You see…the calf barn for our small farm is now complete, thanks in large part to my husband who built it in his spare time with occasional help from family and friends.

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In the last issue, I promised I would share more gifts you can give to your children – not from the perspective of changing the child so much as changing the parent.

These are not textbook theories; they were gleaned in the furnace of mistakes and struggles for solutions. Children do not come with instruction manuals taped to their chests.

I wonder if we would read them even if they did. If you are like me, you look for the pictures and do the “this looks like this goes here and that goes there” approach. Then we turn on the contraption and hope it works.

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Milk flashes into the claws, crashing against the plastic windows in steady pulses. The inflations squeeze each teat that they hold, gently, and then release them in perfect unison. Yellow hoses shake along the pit.

The vacuum is the unseen force that drives it all in a deafening throbbing sound that you, if you didn’t know any better, would assume was your own heartbeat. It pulls milk from the cow, from the parlour and to the bulk tank at the other end of the barn. Its airy whispers are relentless. I descend into the pit.

There, below the cows, the pulsing is louder, surrounding me, stifling the radio. I grab a dipper and fall in line with those already at work preparing the udders. My boots slide across the rubber mat as I move from cow to cow, dipping each teat in succession, working swiftly and automatically.

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Back in 2009 when the U.S. was struggling with low milk prices, a camera crew from a local news station stopped by my family’s farm to talk to a dairy producer to see if times were really as tough as everyone said it was.

When the interview was over my dad walked the camera crew around the farm. He showed them the freestall barn and milking parlour. They went to see the baby calves and the heifer barn, and finally he took them past the dry cow barn.

The news anchor was soaking in this newfound knowledge of the dairy industry and when he saw this pen full of 50 dry cows clearly separated from the rest of the herd, he couldn’t help but ask, “If you need to produce more milk to cover your expenses, why don’t you milk these cows?”

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There are a few things I have learned in raising 11 children and teaching in the public school for several years. I am not an expert – but close. I have probably made every mistake in the book and had to figure out how to correct my errors without causing a bigger travesty.

I did a few things right the first time around but the mistakes I made gave me experience in the school of hard knocks. That qualifies for a doctorate degree in “parent management.” I don’t say “child-rearing” because most of what good parents do is teaching their children by example. You can’t teach what you are not.

I wasn’t blessed with children of my own. I married a man that had six ready-made children ranging in age from 9 months to 17 years old. Then, because I still wanted children, we adopted five children, one from Bulgaria and four from the foster care system.

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