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!


No Matter How Big or Small

I once told my old neighbor how lucky I was to work with my family on our farm for a time and he stopped me cold in my words!!  He said, “Ana, there is no such thing as luck! You are blessed!”  At first I thought, well that is what I mean anyways.  But then I got to thinking.  There is nothing in my life that comes from luck.  I believe it is all directed by God himself.  I believe He gives us each a freewill, but knows exactly what we need, when we need it.  Often times it’s hard to for me to think of God as great as He is because in His world we confine everything to human terms since that’s what we’ve seen.  He is much greater than what I think, and I know without a doubt He has sent blessings into my life.  Anything no matter how big or small is a blessing from Him.  Whether it’s the heartbeat in my chest, or the socks on my feet.  When I take a walk outside (today being my day off) and view things without a mind full of tasks I see even more detail.  I see those little things I often take for granted about creation, about my family’s farm, about the life God blessed me with.  No matter who you are – He has blessed you, even if it is in the smallest measure. 

Dealing with Dairy Bulls!

 This topic has been near and dear to my leg since this last Tuesday when a ten to eleven month old bull kicked me!  Thankfully it was JUST my leg J.  To put your mind at ease, I assure you I am fine and the leg is hurting a bit, but healing well.  In fact, I am sort of ashamed to even write such a story because I grew up around cattle and know how they behave.  But that just goes to show that cattle are dangerous – especially bulls.  No matter how much experience you think you have, you must be careful.  So here’s my story.  As an intern on Maddox Dairy, I wanted (and still want) to get a lot of hands on experience and that is just what I was doing.  At ten forty in the morning I climbed back behind the headlocks to give four bulls their shots.  I went up to the first two bulls and jacked up their tails so they couldn’t kick and gave them their shots just fine. (If you are unfamiliar with tail jacking see the FYI below.) Then I did that same to the third bull, jacking his tail up in the air so he couldn’t kick me.  With his tail in one hand and the syringe in the other I gave him the first shot in his right flank.  Then I stepped back to reload the syringe for his left flank.  I jacked his tail one more time and started giving him the shot.  Then all of the sudden he started to dance around, my grip weakened, and before I could move – BAM!  It happened fast!  He got his shot and I guess you could say I got mine!  So now I have a nice big bruise on my left quad muscle.  Hence, I chose to write about safety around bulls.  As an animal handler on a daily basis at the dairy, I know the benefit of understanding cattle behavior patterns. (Even if I did get kicked this week. ;))  Behavioral patterns of cattle are heavily relied upon not only for safety of the animals, but also for safety of the handlers.  They are also indicators of the health and well-being of the cattle too.

            Bulls are considered one of the most dangerous domestic animals.  There are many breeds, sizes and dispositions, but none of them should be trusted.  Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal behavior expert wrote a short article called Preventing Bull Accidents.  In it I found out that, “The most dangerous dairy bull is a bull that has not been properly socialized to his own kind. When a young bull calf becomes mature at age two, he needs to challenge the top bull in the herd. If the bull calf has been raised alone and has not had the opportunity to interact with other cattle, he thinks he is a person and he wants to exert his dominance over the “herd”. This can result in dangerous attacks on people.” I encourage you to read that whole article at the link below.  Her expertise makes a lot of sense and it goes to show how important it is that anyone handling bulls understands their behavioral patterns.

            I enlisted the help of Jack Albright’s Hoard’s Dairyman article, Why and How to Read a Cow or Bull, to help explain bull behavior.  Bull’s specific behavior patterns can be a display of threats, a challenge, or a territorial activity and who would have guessed these activities flow from one to the other! The display of a threat is the broadside display of a bull’s body; this means that something or someone has invaded his space (anywhere within twenty feet of him).  He will show his body broadside for his greatest profile, showing how powerful he is.  Then his head will go down and if the fight is what he decides to pursue he will start shaking his head, protruding his eyeballs and the hair on his back will stand erect.  A direct threat is a bit different; he will stand head-on to the opponent with his head lowered, shoulders hunched and neck curved to the side toward the opponent.  He may also paw with his front feet, making dirt fly or start rubbing the ground and horning it too.

If a bull does display any of these threatening signs to any opponent, another bull or person, and the bull or person slowly moves at least twenty feet away, the encounter may pass and the bull may turn away.  If not, the bull will circle the opponent, and basically charge.  At the first sign of any threatening behavior, humans should avoid the bull and obviously exit ASAP!  If you go into a pen with bulls make sure you have a quick, predetermined exit route.  Accidents are not always preventable but when you know behavior patterns and heed their warnings the incidence can be less.

Other important things to remember:

Proper bull handling facilities should be installed before bringing bulls on a farm.

Signs should be posted for visitors and employees where bulls are present.

Keep all inexperienced individuals away from and out of pens with bulls.

Bulls showing any sign of aggression should be sent away as soon as possible.

You should never turn your back to a bull. You can’t read his behavior when he is behind you.

A bull should never get a second chance no matter how good he might be.

Most importantly learn and know bull behavior patterns.  It could save your life, or someone else’s that you love.

Experienced, brave, fast, and daring people die in bull accidents; if you remember anything from this article remember that handling bulls is very serious business.  In 2010, a bull killed a woman in central Minnesota while she was just out moving cattle with her husband one evening.  She left behind several kids and her husband.

 FYI: Tail jacking is similar to the act of pressing your opponents head down in a fight so I they can’t throw a punch at you, or kick you!  All you do is push the bovines tail straight in the air; it doesn’t hurt them it just prevents them from kicking you; at least it is supposed to J.