Tag: farming

Cows Are Cool: Bottle-Feeding A Calf At SkyView Farms

I never stepped foot on a farm until moved to Iowa. Growing up, we only saw farm animals at the State Fair or the exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo. This is my first time hanging out with farmers and I’ve now met a goat, chicken, and pig. When Laura extended an invitation to visit her farm and bottle feed a calf named Lena, I enthusiastically accepted the opportunity.

“I’m going to visit a cow farm and bottle-feed a calf!” I exclaimed to my coworkers. “Have you ever been around cows?” They smiled and replied they have many times! In fact, they also grew up in families that raised cows. It’s interesting to be the odd woman out in terms of having grown up around cows.

Laura, a third generation cattle farmer and her husband Aaron operate SkyView Farms. Their cows live in a type of open air barn in the winter and roam their pasture in the spring, summer, and fall. They eat a combination of grass from the pasture in addition to alfalfa and corn silage. Laura said their family has never administered their cattle antibiotics or growth hormones. Learn more about how Laura raises her cows here.


Laura’s husband Aaron took us on tractor rides. Basically, tractors pull things. I knew what a tractor was but had no idea what it actually did until I moved to Iowa. When we reached the end of the pasture, Aaron asked me if I’d like to drive.

I considered his offer. When would I have the opportunity to drive a tractor again? I said yes and we quickly switched seats. He adjusted the gears, flipped a switch, and told me to push a lever that increased the tractor’s speed. I tried my best to drive in a straight line. “You know that I don’t know how to stop this thing,” I reminded Aaron as we approached the group. He easily stopped the tractor just when I thought we were going to run over everyone.

View from tractor

Gals tractor

From left to right: Donna Hup (Donnahup.com), Beth Ann (ItsJustLife.me) & myself.

Then it was time to meet the cows. One of the first questions I asked Laura is why they would need to bottle-feed a calf. Don’t cows nurse their young? Laura explained that every once in a while, something will happen where a mom will not want to nurse her young. In Lena the calf’s particular case, her mother ignored her after birth and would not bond with her so Laura had to start the bottle-feeding process.

When Lena was younger, Laura fed her multiple times a day. Now, she feeds her twice a day and has begun to introduce solid food. Laura has become like Lena’s surrogate mom. Laura showed us the different types of bottles they use. Some calves prefer different sizes and Lena likes the small bottles.

Laura bottle

Laura mixed the formula with water that was exactly 100℉.

Laura bottle pour

Lena knew it was meal time and greeted us with loud moo’s. We each fed her a bottle and she drank each one within minutes. Afterwards, she kept searching for more milk. Laura patted Lena’s little belly assuring us she was actually quite full. Lena sucked on Laura’s pants and our fingers.

lena jeni Collage

As Laura walked around the barn, Lena followed her around headbutting at her knees.Laura described how calves headbutt their mother’s udders when they want to nurse. Whenever Laura would skip around the barn, Lena would prance after her.

Lena butting Laura

Mother cows lick their calves’ backs, so Laura tries to replicate some of these processes such as rubbing Lena’s back. I asked Laura how she learned how to care for cows and bottle-feed calves and she replied that her dad first taught her how to bottle-feed a calf when she was five.

Laura petting lena

We met more of her herd. On this day, the cows were in the barns, but would return to the pasture that weekend.

cows looking

They enjoyed an alfalfa snack.

cows alfalfa

Cows are intriguing. I’ve heard from many that they are curious creatures and found this is true. They watched at us quizzically with their big, warm eyes. If I stood near the fence, they’d slowly congregate in front of me and stare with curiosity. If I extended my hand towards them, they’d back up. If I turned my head or took a step backwards, they’d move forward again. Every once in a while, a brave cow would step forward and gently lick my hand while the rest observed. These cows had black tongues with a rough texture.

Laura assured us her cows were gentle. Occasionally she would climb the fence and wander amidst the herd without hesitation. They just moved around her.

Beth licked cow
The cows are happily grazing as you read. You can see a short clip of me bottle feeding Lena and Lena prancing around the barn after Laura in this short, minute-long video.

Cows on pasture

Kindness & A Grain Co-op

I grew up learning nothing about farming.

The closest I got to farm animals was the exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo and our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair. My dad recounts visiting a family member’s farm growing up, but the rest of the farmers in our family have lost since passed.

As I start a new job in a field I never expected to find myself, I’m reflecting on all of the new experiences I’ve had while living in Iowa. Many of my new experiences are very old experiences for friends. Just a year ago, they were aghast that I’d never stepped foot on a non-hobby farm before. I couldn’t tell the difference between a tractor or combine and had no idea that people took pride in owning red or green ones. Last week, I made people laugh when I admitted that I’ve never seen a cow in real life.

One thing I’ve noticed about Iowans is that every time I mention something I’ve never experienced in my city upbringing, someone always extends an invitation to their home or farm. I’m not naive to the evil and sadness in this world, but I continually encounter good people who makes me never run out of hope. Generosity can sign big checks for nonprofits and go viral when caught on video and shared in social media. But generosity can also take the form of quiet acts of kindness whose effects shouldn’t be discounted. I’m always humbled by the kindness of others, especially when I lave myself in strangers’ care while visiting places away from home.

During last fall’s harvest, the team from Five Star Co-Op in Burchinal, Iowa invited Sara and I to visit. Jake and I have often stared in awe at co-ops and grain dryers since our move to Fargo, North Dakota and speculated about their functions. I’ll never forget the quiet winter evening we visited the Crow Bar in Sabin, MN. We parked along the main street and stared in wonder at a towering grain elevator illuminated only by the stars.

To us city kids, these buildings seemed as mysterious and ominous as skyscrapers might to those who grew up in a smaller agricultural community.


Now that I know more about these buildings, they feel friendlier.


Vertical Collage


This is the view from the cashier’s window.


Trucks full of grain go through a weighing process to determine how much grain they carry. A probe “pokes the load” and collects a few kernels that deposited into a bucket. Then, a machine determines the grains’ moisture content and an employee examines it for quality. The farmer is then offered payment for his or her load depending on these factors. This past harvest was tough for many North Iowan farmers because precipitation made the grain moister than what’s ideal. Grain that’s too wet can be dried in the co-ops grain dryers for an additional fee.


When the grain is dried, it goes into trucks that take it to a processing facility to be made into feed or ethanol.


Our co-op guide explained how corn dust is highly flammable, so it’s important to sweep down the areas where corn is loaded and unloaded.


The control panels inside a corn dryer are massive.


The controls looked like something from a space ship or Cold War movie.

More buttons

One of my favorite things I learned is that each strand of silk corresponds to a kernel of corn.


As my friend Donna always says to farmers discussing agricultural concepts to us, “Explain it to me like I’m five.” She’s a city girl like me who grew up in South Florida and moved to a smaller agricultural community for her husband’s work. It’s fascinating to learn the differences between the norms my new friends and I carry, having grown up in a big city or smaller community.

There’s a lot that I don’t understand about farming and only a tiny amount of what I do. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had this year to connect with local farmers, both large and small, organic and conventional. All have treated me a great amount of hospitality and kindness that I’ll never forget.

I Got Chickens: Meet Twisted River Farm

Every day that we live in Iowa, I learn how much I don’t know about farming.

Jake’s still a city kid at heart, and I thought I was, too. But since our move to North Dakota, I have become very taken with the rolling prairie and big skies. I was driving back home to Mason City from Riceville at dusk the other night and realized that I like feeling humbled by nature. The vastness of the colorful sky and bobbing of the fences along farms made me feel small and I liked it.

One of the best things about moving to Iowa has been connecting with all types of farmers. Many of these farmers are gifted bloggers who I enjoy following. They share their favorite recipes and glimpses of their lives caring for their farms. I especially get a kick out of Cristen’s stories about raising pigs on her blog Food and Swine. Her recent post about their pig Cookie Dough blowing bubbles in their kiddie pool made me giggle.

Two North Iowa farmers we’ve connected with are Steve & Marcy of Twisted River Farm located in Rock Falls, IA. This is their first year farming.

PicMonkey Collage.jpg

Photo by Twisted River Farm

When Steve told us they were beginning their farming efforts by raising chickens to harvest, we jumped at the chance to order them. Through social media, they chronicled raising the chickens in a pen that they rotated around a pasture for seven weeks.


Photo by Twisted River Farm

In the pen, the chickens had access to sunshine, grass, and exercise, plus a diet of all the bugs they could eat and organic feed produced in Webster City, IA. Steve explained that these birds were raised in a pen because the particular breed is slower and easy for prey to catch.

The great news is that Twisted River farm sold out ALL of their chickens this first go-around.

Unfortunately, Steve and Marcy won’t be able to raise another harvest of chickens this year. In the meantime, they are not only working full-time jobs, but strategizing how to grow their business and taking time to research what will fit their efforts by touring other farms. Many customers requested that Twisted River Farm sell eggs next year, so Steve and Marcy hope to add eggs and produce in the future.

We ordered two chickens and enjoyed one immediately after delivery. I simmered the bird and pulled the meat from its bones (which I froze to make stock with later). Then, I made Jake’s favorite thin crust pizzas and topped them with the moist chicken.

You can find my favorite pizza crust recipe in my recent post about making beet flatbread. Before you bake the flatbread, coat it in a light coating of olive oil and season it with salt and pepper.


We may have discovered our new favorite combination of pizza toppings! Our finished flatbread reminded me of the Roasted Chicken and Basil Pesto Flatbread we loved ordering from Maxwell’s in Fargo, ND. Try the following:

  • Minced garlic scapes, if available. Otherwise, spread some finely minced or grated garlic on the crust under the cheese.
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Pulled chicken
  • Roasted kholrabi (peel, dice, roast with olive oil, salt & pepper at 375℉ until golden)
  • Caramelized onions
  • Diced tomato
  • Reduced balsamic vinegar to drizzle over the baked pizza

Once you top your pizza, bake until the crust and cheese are golden brown and sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes if you like it spicy.

Twisted River I

Photo by Twisted River Farm

Thanks for the chickens!

Learn more about Twisted River Farm on Facebook & Twitter.

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