big cows

Thursday might just have been another summer morning except for an unusual pre-dawn sky. I stepped outside to retrieve my gloves and tipped my head to scan an expanse of wispy clouds backlit by the moon. They appeared like breaking waves on a dark sea. A half-halo of rainbow light embraced the moon. It was mesmerizing. Not just another day in paradise.

When we arrive at the barnyard early in the morning, I pull off and park to the side. The Hubs proceeds to a small open shed with calf feeding supplies. He leaves his truck running to illuminate our work. He confirms supplies before stepping into a skid steer waiting nearby.

His first job is to check cows on the verge of calving. A cow in labor sometimes needs assistance. By the time he returns to the shed, I’ve finished preparations. We load buckets of milk, bottles, nipples, pitchers and other supplies on the skid steer. I turn off his truck and walk behind the skid steer to the calf barn, not far away.

On this morning, as I stepped out of my car to exchange shoes for boots, a movement caught my eye. “Cows! There are cows out! Cows!” I yelled, frantic to catch his attention before he took off in the skid steer. He could barely hear me across the distance and over his truck engine.

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second sleep

There’s one major hitch with my she-farmer gig: sleep. More accurately, lack thereof. Women about my age often empathize with my challenge of getting a good night’s sleep. I’m too hot. Too cold. I toss and I turn. Midnight to 4:00 a.m. is no-man’s land. If I get stranded there, I count on 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. to redeem the night.

Well, that’s doggone inconvenient as a she-farmer. I’ve often just settled into my “second sleep” when the Hubs nudges me awake with gentle peck. I stumble out of bed with only one thought: I need more sleep. The mere hope of resuming sleep after I finish chores propels me forward.

The concept of second sleep was introduced some years ago on an urgent trek to locate an Amish midwife. Continue reading second sleep

silos away!

IMG_4773Upright silos are familiar features of North Country landscape. Like iconic windmills of the Netherlands, they were built for another era. Structures rose steadily in the 20th century on small farms with limited acreage. In the last few decades, feed storage has trended to concrete bunks. Some silos are torn down and rebuilt elsewhere. Some, like ours, stand empty in the midst of a farm embracing progress. Others keep quiet watch over barns falling to disrepair.

Once new facility construction was underway, attention turned to clean up of the barn fire site. Included in the mess were two blue metal silos compromised by the fire. Additionally, two 80-foot concrete silos at the main farm stood empty and smack dab in the way of progress. One of those was the monster that almost stole the Hubs’ life in 1997. All four silos were destined to be razed. Good riddance!

Who knew silo demolition could be so much fun? It was like a good ol’ fashioned field day for grands and adults alike. A lot of excitement for our small corner of the word. But when I heard an Amish crew would dismantle all four silos, I was sure I’d misunderstood. Seriously? How does that work?  Continue reading silos away!

milk bath morning

It’s dark each morning when we leave to feed calves. Even the songbirds have sense enough to sleep in a bit. I hear the soft call of a turkey and the deep bellow of a bullfrog on the riverbank. Otherwise, not a sound. The only thing getting me out of bed at this insane hour is knowing the Hubs was able to sleep in some himself. That’s something, anyway.

After ten days, the Hubs and I have synced pretty well on a calf feeding system. I know my job and can do it without too much trouble, freeing him up to do other stuff. Usually this means he wrestles the smallest calves through bottle feeding.  This morning he switched it up a bit.
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she farms

#SheFarms Series
she farms | refining firemilk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows|


One of my greatest joys as “GiGi” has been helping our grandchildren learn to appreciate the farm. Even as preschoolers, they are eager to help out when given a chance. One by one, they’ve found their way to the calf barn in the last few weeks to lend a hand.

Henry and Sadie proudly show the others what is what in calf feeding protocol. Rosie and Oliver join in the action. Anna “Beasy” uses the same voice as with her baby sister, “Hello, baby moo-cow!” She crinkles her nose and meets them eye-to-eye with her beguiling smile. They are so adorable; it’s almost too much cuteness to contain. Their great-grandparents and dairy farm founders, Lloyd and Betty, would be proud.

Continue reading she farms

refining fire

The past few weeks I’ve often found myself contemplating the refiner’s fire.  That’s no surprise, given the extent of upheaval in our lives. We have been feeling the heat of late! I can almost hear my Aunt Bea proclaiming, “We’re really in it!”  Well, yes; it’s become quite toasty.

Among a series of unfortunate events the most dramatic, by far, was a barn fire in mid-April. It was devastating, leveling an entire barn and milking facility, damaging two silos beyond use, disrupting operations for months to come and creating an immense mess on the property. Oy.

Yet it could have been so much worse! We are grateful for tremendous community support in fighting the fire and recovery thereafter. We’re especially thankful for no loss of life. Even so, dealing with the aftermath has been overwhelming.

For the first few days, farmers moved in a sleep-deprived daze of disbelief, the smell of fire acrid in the lingering haze. A smoldering pile of debris reignited periodically, requiring continual observation and occasional attention. Hundreds of cows had to be relocated immediately, some to another property we own and others to neighboring farms. It will be very late in the fall before all the cows come home.

Meanwhile, everything the Hubs and our boys thought they knew and were on the verge of implementing in strategic innovation (a.k.a. Plan A) had to be reconsidered. They scrambled to realign plans and goals, to reconsider their aspirations as farm owners and operators. After multiple facility tours and extensive consultation they solidified a new business plan (a.k.a. Plan B).

This then required weeks of testing to confirm feasibility, detail components, and secure support. Unfortunately, as the U.S. dairy industry slump continues, each decision point and delay are extra weighty. In all of this, there has been no respite from the stress. Insurance claims are slow to resolve. Financing is complicated. All-consuming planting and harvesting seasons progress and overlap with urgency. Open questions and unknowns loom like dark clouds overhead. Numerous loose ends taunt us, wagging wildly in summer’s hot winds. We pray for wisdom and favor. And for expediency.

Our bodies and spirits sag under oppressive heat and humidity.  We pray for a reprieve. Dirt turns to dust. The corn begins to shrivel and brown. We pray for rain and more rain. We pray for livestock and crops and farmers to endure; sometimes the strain seems almost unbearable in our little corner of the world.

Global and national news stories lend some perspective. There are so many “hot spots” that it can be overwhelming. We empathize with west coasters living under the threat of wildfires burning wildly out of control. We pray for those in the path of fierce, fiery destruction of all types. We pray for fire-fighter safety. With all of this heat — both literal and figurative — it’s no wonder the refiner’s fire has been on my mind.

Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4

This is not the first time I’ve experienced an extended period of “heat” from exceedingly difficult circumstances and concluded the master refiner was at work in my life. To me, that is a hopeful thought: I am clearly not able to control this mess! Experience tells me that I can trust him in this.

A refiner has selected raw material and uses a carefully controlled flame for precise purpose. A refiner’s fire doesn’t destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire or barn fire. It does not burn out of control, consuming everything within reach. The refiner’s fire consumes the extraneous, removing impurities. A refiner clarifies and purifies until all that remains is beautiful and pleasing.

Most importantly, the refiner is always near. In the midst of turmoil, in the heat of the flame, the refiner is attentively present. He manages the process with care and confidence that the end product will be worth the effort.

And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Zechariah 13:9

As much as God wants to reveal us as his own — the refiner’s fire is nothing if not such a process — he also wants us to acknowledge and call on him. I’ve no hesitation to do so but in the midst of the heat I call more frequently. I need to know he’s near. I want to feel his presence. I long to hear him say, “I’ve got this.”

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

It’s been three months since the barn fire and there is hope on our horizon. New facilities are rising. Many questions have resolved as solutions have surfaced. Searing temperatures have lessened. Thunderstorms brought much needed relief last weekend. There’s more rain in the forecast. May it be so!

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I awoke today with the song, Still, sing-ringing in my brain. I received it gladly, as a gift and affirmation that God is near. He has been here all along, just as he promised. I was encouraged. I hope you will be, too.

~ Sondra

#SheFarms Series
she farms | refining fire | milk bath morning | silos away!
second sleep | big cows | dill pickle proud

lilacs of late

Observant North Country folk will notice an abundance of blossoms appearing on woody clumps of bushes this time of year.  I’ve seen light and dark purple, pink and white blooms in this area. Most, and especially those in the wild, are light purple. The lilac’s scent is unmistakeable; it hangs heavy and sweet and travels on the breeze. Delightful.

Lilacs are zone three hardy. They can take anything the No Co dishes out, including weeks of subzero winter temps if necessary. (That degree of cold seems increasingly rare these days; no complaints.) Some lilacs, like ours, hedge the property line. Others appear randomly, spreading along roadside or far back in fields. Lilacs return like tried and true friends.

Continue reading lilacs of late