Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Pork Sliders with Apple Butter

Summer is the time for barbecues and lots of get togethers with family and friends. If you are tired of the same old hot dogs and hamburgers, mix it up with these Pork Sliders with Apple Butter.

They're also great for those busy times of year when you need meals you can eat on the go. Pork burgers are a huge hit at the Indiana State Fair. Why not enjoy something similar year round? 

If you're eating these in the tractor or somewhere else and don't want to make a mess, simply add less apple butter. Use it more as a spread and not as much as is shown in the photo. 

Speaking of tractors, have you seen any on the roads this summer? Planting in April/May and this year replanting in parts of June brought lots of tractors and planting equipment onto the roads (more about planting here). Corn, soybeans and other crops are growing now, but tractors and equipment are still in the fields spraying for weeds. Most of this was already done. When corn reaches a certain height, it's best not to be out there driving in the fields. 
 Pouring seed into the planter in the spring

Tractors are now out with hay equipment. Hay is dried grass and is fed to cows all year long, especially in those times of the year that the grass isn't growing. Dairy cows that are fed a TMR (Total Mixed Ration...that casserole of ingredients that I've mentioned before), enjoy hay in their mix everyday. To learn more about how we make hay, click here.

Putting in hay in the summer

Before long, it will be time to chop corn silage. The corn is chopped at a much higher moisture level than the corn that is shelled with the combine later in the fall. Corn is still green at this point. The corn shelled in the fall is brown since the moisture level is pretty low (usually somewhere between 13-15%).

Chopping corn silage in late summer

Shelling corn in the fall

Regardless of where your farming activities or other adventures take you this summer, try out these sliders when you're looking for something new in your lunch box.

Pork Sliders with Apple Butter

What you'll need...

  • Pork loin or boneless pork chops, cooked prior to making this recipe (I seasoned them with salt and pepper)
  • Slider buns
  • Apple butter (either make your own or buy your favorite brand at the grocery store) 
  • Butter, melted

Kitchen Equipment
  • Cutting board
  • Knife


How to make it...

  1. Cook pork loin or boneless pork chops according to package instructions 
  2. Melt butter (enough to coat slider buns)
  3. Brush melted butter on the slider buns and toast in the oven until toasted to your desired level
  4. After slider buns are toasted and pork is cooked, place pork on bottom slider bun
  5. Add as much apple butter as you'd like on top of the pork (if you're eating this on the go, use the apple butter as a spread on both sides of the pork so it doesn't create a mess)
  6. Add the top of the slider bun & enjoy!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Chicken Caesar Wraps

Chicken Caesar Salad is a perfect meal any time of year. Summer tends to be a lot busier, especially on the farm. If you're looking for a recipe that is easy to assemble and can be eaten on the go, you'll love this one!


Our favorite meal to take to the barn as kids was a plain quesadilla. Just cheddar cheese melted a tortilla. As I got older, I became a big fan of salads and especially chicken caesar salads. This is a great meal to eat on the go - regardless of whether that means you're in the car commuting between meetings or in a tractor. And sometimes, we aren't traveling but need something quick and easy.

When I think of tractors in the summertime, my mind immediately goes to making hay. Hot weather helps, like the 90 degree temps they are getting at home right now. The days are very long and there never seems to be enough time. And then there's the threat of rain. That is no good if you are a hay farmer. Usually when rain is on the way, it means there's a lot of scrambling to get the hay baled and put into the barn before it gets wet. Rain can ruin hay. Also not good.

The cows eat the hay in the times of year when the grass isn't growing, so it's equally important to them that the weather cooperates and everything gets done.   

If you're a farmer, grab this healthy and delicious meal during busy times of year, such as hay season, while chopping corn silage or harvesting crops. Is there ever a slow season between April and November? Not really. Meal planning and prep is key to preparing healthy meals (or anything that doesn't originate in a drive through window). Enjoy!      


Chicken Caesar Wraps

What you'll need...

  • Chicken tenders, cooked prior to making this recipe (I seasoned them with salt and pepper)
  • Lettuce, washed and chopped
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Caesar salad dressing
  • Croutons
  • Your favorite tortilla or wrap

**Amounts of the above ingredients will vary depending on how many servings you are making. 

Kitchen Equipment
  • Cutting board
  • Knife

How to make it...

  1. Cut chicken tenders into bite-size pieces
  2. In a bowl, combine chopped lettuce, parmesan cheese, croutons and Caesar salad dressing; mix
  3. Add chicken to the salad mix; mix again
  4. Heat a tortilla or wrap for 30 seconds to warm it up (and make it easier to create a wrap)
  5. Add chicken Caesar salad to the middle of the tortilla/wrap; tuck the ends in and roll it up
  6. Cut in half if desired or eat it whole
  7. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Burrito Bowls

Burrito bowls are my go-to order at Qdoba and other quick serve Mexican restaurants. If you'd like to have these great flavors at home, then you'll love this Burrito Bowl recipe! To enjoy it on the goal, wrap it up in a tortilla for a no mess meal.


Have you ever been so busy at work running around that you literally don't have time to eat unless you can eat your meal with one hand and it doesn't interfere with the task at hand? Meals like this are great since you can eat it as it's listed when you have time to sit down or you can wrap it up in a tortilla to eat on the go (as a burrito). Hay season is one of those times for us. Grandpa usually made it in the house for meals, but some folks don't like to stop.

During planting season and harvest, it's a race against the weather. And we all know how much we wish we could control the weather! Sometimes it's best not to stop at all. For more about planting season click here, or more about hay season click here.

Putting in hay takes a lot of time and labor, but it's one of the best workouts around

If you find yourself in a situation like that or even if you have time to sit down for a relaxing meal, this recipe is easy to put together and healthy if you don't add a lot of sauce to it. I didn't add sauce to mine, but you can if you'd like.


What you'll need...

  • Chicken tenders, grilled (sprinkle with your favorite seasoning. I used lemon pepper seasoning)
  • Tomato
  • Romaine lettuce
  • White or brown rice
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans
  • 1 16 oz. bag of frozen corn
  • Southwest salsa (you can substitute your favorite salsa if you can't find the southwest kind)
  • 1 lime
Kitchen Equipment
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Pan to cook rice
  • Small sauce pan to cook corn
  • Mixing bowls

How to make it...

  1. Grill chicken and let it rest to cool down. Once it's cool, slice into bite-size pieces
  2. Cook rice
  3. Cook frozen corn
  4. Add cooked corn, drained black beans and southwest salsa together. Mix.
  5. Add lime juice to the salsa/corn/bean mixture
  6. Chop romaine lettuce, place in a bowl
  7. Chop tomato, place in a bowl
  8. Once everything is cooked and chopped, layer the ingredients: rice on bottom, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa mixture, chicken
  9. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A day at the spa...for cows?

Ladies, how do you feel after an afternoon at the spa or nail salon? Your nails are done, feet are smooth and you usually have a better outlook, right?

Photo credit: Gould's Salon Spa

Did you know cows also are pampered with this treatment? Now, they don't go to the salon or spa for it. Usually the hoof trimmer, who is trained to work on cows' hooves, comes directly to the farm.

Cows are on their feet a lot, but they also spend about half of their day laying down and relaxing. Just as people's nails grow over time and other conditions occur, such as corns or calluses, the hoof trimmer looks at the overall health of cows' feet.

Photo credit: Ironmines Veterinary Clinic
This is the type of hoof trimming chute we used. The bands under the cow's stomach help support and balance her and each leg is lifted individually so the hoof trimmer can work on it without being kicked

Dairy cows generally have this done regularly, but beef cows also get the royal treatment. Our beef cows are on grass and only have one small slab of concrete near the feed bunk so they tend to not have very many issues. Recently, my favorite cow Hannah wasn't walking properly and wasn't putting weight on a particular leg like she usually would. This is a good indication that there's something wrong. My brother called the hoof trimmer and he came out to check on her, trim her hooves and evaluate if there were any other issues. While he was there, the hoof trimmer also worked with some of our other cows.

Cows getting a bath at the fair. Cows needed to look their best for show day!

I worked for the university dairy farm while I was in college and also served as the cow comfort manager for the student group managing a herd of dairy cattle on campus. One of my duties was to assess the overall condition of the cows throughout their lactations, identify and treat any issues related to hoof health and maintain the overall comfort of the cows. Whenever a cow got a wart on her feet that caused her discomfort, I would treat it. If a cow wasn't walking properly, I'd bring her into the vet room to look at her hooves and assess if there is something wrong that needed treatment. I also coordinated the hoof trimmers visit and prepared the list of cows that needed to be seen and if they had any pre-existing issues that he needed to be aware of.

Time for hair cuts! Before each fair, we gave our show cows hair cuts to help them look their best for the judges. This was my Holstein heifer, Allie.

Just as a regular trip to the salon is a part of your wellness plan to keep you looking and feeling good, a regular visit with the hoof trimmer keeps cows feeling their best.

Wellness includes so many things, not just feet. Nutrition is also a key component. I've been working with a personal trainer the last few months and sometimes I wish I had a personal dietitian with me whenever I'm about to eat something to make sure that it's the healthiest choice. It would be even better if they mixed up and plated the meal for me so I didn't have to think about it. While this is only a dream for me, it's reality for dairy cows. Dairy farmers work with several professionals, including an animal nutritionist, to keep cows in tip top shape.

The nutritionist balances the cows' diet based on their stage of lactation and how much energy they need. This means there will be several rations created for cows at different stages of lactation and other rations for calves, heifers (the teenagers) and dry cows (the cows on vacation for 60 days before having their calves). Several feeds are combined into a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) to create this unique balance of nutrients the cows need. These feeds can include but are not limited to corn silage, soybean meal, alfalfa hay, distillers grain, a vitamin and mineral package specifically designed for the cows, and more.  Protein, carbohydrates and fat are balanced, as are vitamins and minerals. How much digestible fiber is in the ration? What percent is indigestible fiber? And so on. It's truly a science.

The nutritionist prepares a recipe with ingredients and the amount that needs to be added for a particular group of cows. Water is also added in a specified amount to make the ration stick together and be more palatable for cows. Think of it as a casserole. A dry casserole generally isn't that great.

Beef cows don't need as much energy in their diet since their purpose is to add muscle for beef instead of producing milk. We don't hire a nutritionist for our beef cattle, but we do keep a close eye on what they are eating. In the summer, they love being out on pasture eating the lush green grass. While they're lounging in the fields, my brother and his crew are working hard making hay (more about that process here) for them to eat in the winter when the grass isn't growing. We've supplemented them with corn and other nutrients in the past, but it's generally grass.

What's included in your wellness plan?

This post was sponsored by The Glass Barn, which is funded by the Indiana Soybean Checkoff. All thoughts and opinions are mine.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The decision that changed everything

"Wow, you're this big city girl that knows about cows?" said one of my fellow Toastmasters at a club meeting a few weeks ago. Quite the contrary. "I work downtown, but I'm hardly a city girl," I replied.

When people outside of agriculture meet me and find out about my passion (more like obsession) for farming, they usually ask how I found my way into that field. It's in my blood. But it almost wasn't my destiny. One well thought out decision involving a pros and cons list and days of deliberation changed the course of my life, but I wouldn't know it until years later.

So what changed? Let's start at the beginning.

If it's summer, we knew we could always find Grandpa on the tractor mowing, raking or baling hay in one of our fields. If he was raking, then it was our lucky day since we could go ride with him. His open cab, '50s model Massy Ferguson tractor made it easy for rocks to fly up when mowing hay so kids were not allowed to ride along. Not that today's giant tractor cabs offer much more protection without a rock guard. A few of my brother's tractor windows can attest to this. When we weren't riding on the tractor in the summer, we were helping him take the grass he just cut with the lawn mower to the cows. The cows loved fresh cut grass! Or we were racing our bikes down the lane. There was always something to do.

The cows LOVED fresh cut grass!

Fast forward to middle school. What an awkward three years, yikes. I was finally in 6th grade and determined to be cool, whatever that meant. I started thinking that maybe I was finally old enough not to spend my summers at the farm and that it would be much better to hang out at the mall or somewhere else. I was drifting away from the farm to try to fit in with my suburban classmates. I was 12 and my parents weren't about to let me go off and do whatever I wanted. And rightfully so. I was 12.

My uncle started talking with my brother over the next year about his 4-H days and my brother became very interested in joining 4-H,  so the family attended the Christmas Party meeting of the 4-H dairy club in town. I was still too cool for this type of outing, but I went along with it. It's good I did because I met my friend Sarah there. She had just joined the club and we became fast friends. My brother was all in on this, but despite being asked if I'd like to join, I wasn't sold. Over the next few months, Sarah and I wrote each other letters (because Facebook and social media or having our own cell phones were not a thing yet) and she kept telling me to join the club and about how much fun it would be. Fast forward three months to March and the family drove up to Monroe, determined to purchase a 4-H calf for my brother.

"Are you sure you don't want one too? Are you really sure? We are here and there are cows...," My dad continuously asked. Nope, I'm good. I don't need or want a cow. Thanks.

Ha, well that all changed on the ride home from the youth calf sale. "I think I want a cow!" I announced. "What?! We were just at a sale and you kept saying you didn't want a calf!" My parents exclaimed.

I find all of this hilarious now. During the next few weeks, we went out to one of the dairies in town and picked out a calf and bought it. Meet Allie, my stubborn three-month-old Holstein calf. What a pair we were.

Allie and I

I had no patience and she didn't understand what happened and why she was not hanging out in the heifer barn with all of her friends. The calf wouldn't move or cooperate. I really didn't know what I was doing either. And no surprise here, we placed last or second to last at every show that first year.

It all came to a head at the state fair that year when Allie was in heat for the first time and not only did we lose miserably, but she ran into other cows, almost knocked over the table with the ribbons and dairy princesses and tried to destroy the fence separating the two show rings. It was all I could do to hold it together and maintain my composure. Until I got to the barn. I tied the heifer up in her stall and went over to an area where I was sure no one could see and hear me and started crying. I couldn't do this. What was I doing anyways? This just wasn't worth it.

Enter Amanda, who's cows were tied on the other side of the wall that I was sitting near. Turns out that she placed one spot ahead of me in that class. She heard me crying and came over to see if I was okay. She was in her second year of 4-H and could relate to what I was going through. That conversation is why I didn't quit showing cows after that day. You never know when something you say will make such a significant difference in someone's life.

Amanda and I and a few of our other cow-showing friends
at the state fair a year later

The years and cow shows that followed went much better. I learned what I was doing, began to love working with my cows throughout the year to train them and we placed high at the shows. I also became involved in club leadership positions. As I learned what I was doing, I relaxed quite a bit. I'm sure my show cows appreciated that. Ha!

I learned a lot about grit and perseverance from showing cows and my overall experience in 4-H. And Amanda? She's been my best friend since that day in 2001. We laugh about it now.

4-H and showing cows isn't actually about the cows or the rosettes you get from winning. Hanging out with cows at the fair is awesome, but that misses the point. It's about the lifelong friendships built at fairs and club meetings, like the ones I still have with Amanda and Sarah, and the life lessons learned in the barn and in the show ring.

Until 4-H, I was extremely shy and public speaking terrified me. The required annual demonstrations about dairy topics to the rest of the club eventually changed that. That's why I thought it was ironic when, at a different Toastmasters meeting, I drew the topic "Which charity/organization would you donate your time to?" I chose 4-H. That's a given. The organization, my fantastic 4-H leaders and everyone else involved with it gave me an opportunity that completely changed the course of my life.

It's because of this childhood experience that I decided to major in agriculture in college and pursue a career in one of the best industries around. To say it opened doors for me is a huge understatement.

Me and my biggest fan (Grandpa) before college graduation

It's also ironic that the organization I joined in 2017 (Toastmasters) to polish up my speaking skills for a few upcoming keynote addresses - one ironically to 4-H members - is drawing parallels to the one I joined in 2001 (4-H) that helped me get over my fear of public speaking.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Weekly Meal Plan #20

This week's meal plan includes Blackberry Bread, Homemade Chicken & Rice Soup, Lemon Pepper Tilapia, East Coast Seasoned Charcoal Ribs, Quick Turkey & Dumplings, Gnarly Mexican Burgers, and Brownie Raspberry Chambord Whipped Cream Trifle.

If the recipes on the days we listed don’t work for you, just shuffle them around. We did most of the legwork, now make it work for your family & kitchen!
Fuel up with protein for breakfast with this Spinach & Tomato Veggie Omelet from Kimmi's Dairyland.

Get out the slow cooker for this delicious Crockpot Mac & Cheese from Organized Island that the entire family will love.

Lighten it up tonight and take advantage of the fresh produce in season with this Spring Asparagus Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette from The Crumby Cupcake.

It's the week of the slow cooker and fresh vegetables. Pull together the ingredients for Turkey Vegetable Soup from The Shirley Journey in the morning and dinner will be waiting for you when you get home.

Pick a few fresh tomatoes and some basil for these Caprese Sliders from Kimmi's Dairyland for an easy Thursday dinner.

Give the grill the night off and make ribs in your slow cooker. These Sweet Onion Teriyaki Ribs  from My Fearless Kitchen will leave everyone asking for more.

You can't forget the chocolatey dessert! These Mini Chocolate Chip Cakes will give you your chocolate fix whenever you need it this week.

Take the weekend off, enjoy your leftovers, or eat out. We’ll be testing more recipes for you in our own kitchens!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Caprese Sliders

If Caprese Salad is one of your go-to's at Italian restaurants, you will love this spin off of the traditional slider recipe. Melty mozzarella, dried basil (or fresh if you prefer), grape tomatoes dipped in balsamic vinegar... all on a Sweet Hawaiian roll. These are perfect for lunch or appetizers.


A few months ago, we hosted some of my friends for dinner and had barbecue sliders. It was delicious and everyone had a great time. This group of friends mostly comes from agriculture. One of the ladies grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin; another on a beef farm in Virginia; and the other friend used to be my neighbor. She's great and puts up with all of us talking farming all the time.

We are all very passionate about agriculture, but none of us farm exactly the same way and we don't agree on absolutely everything. That's the great thing about agriculture. While there are plenty of choices in the grocery store for you, there are also many production methods for farmers to accomplish the same goal of taking excellent care of their animals and producing a healthy, nutritious and safe food supply. Choice is a good thing.

When talking about dairy farms, the cows may be out on pasture, they may live in a free stall barn where they can lay down in any stall they want and have constant access to feed and water, or they may live in a pack barn without stalls where they can also choose where to lay down and they have around the clock access to feed and water. There are so many ways to do a great job taking care of animals. For more about how dairy farmers take care of their cows, check out this post.

At the end of the day, farmers all work hard. Farming is not easy work and it takes a lot of time and dedication. Those that aren't dedicated usually don't last very long in this business. Cows don't take holidays and they can't read a clock. You can plan all you want, but ultimately those cows may make you late for an event or two (or a lot more than that!). However, ask anyone who farms and they likely will tell you they don't want to do anything else. This passion is passed down from generation to generation with the farming legacy.

As you get together with your family and friends this summer, take some of these sliders! They are sure to be a hit.


Caprese Sliders

What you'll need...

  • Sweet Hawaiian rolls
  • Butter, melted
  • Dried basil
  • Mozarella cheese, sliced
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Balsamic vinegar
Kitchen Equipment
  • Frying pan(s) to fit the number of sliders you are making (if you want to make them all at the same time)
  • Small bowl to melt butter in
  • Small bowl for balsamic vinegar
  • Brush for melted butter

How to make it...

  1. Melt butter in a small bowl in the microwave for 30-60 seconds until melted (the amount you need will vary depending on how many sliders you are making
  2. Before dividing the rolls, slice the sheet of rolls through the middle to form sliders (rolls will be divided afterward)
  3. Using a kitchen brush, cover the bottom of the slider buns with melted butter 
  4. Slice cherry tomatoes in half (after washing them, of course) and dip into balsamic vinegar
  5. Slice mozzarella cheese at your preferred thickness
  6. Distribute cheese slices throughout the sliders
  7. Place grape tomato halves dipped in balsamic vinegar on top of the cheese
  8. Cover both with dried basil
  9. Place the tops of the sliders over the basil
  10. Using a kitchen brush, cover the tops of the slider buns with melted butter, then add basil
  11. Cut the sliders apart into bunches to fit your frying pan (there should be several attached in the frying pan at one time) and place into a hot frying pan
  12. Using medium heat, watch the level of browning on the bottom of the slider buns. The goal is to be slightly brown and to melt the cheese. 
  13. Once cheese is melting and before the bottom of the sliders burn, flip the sliders over for a minute (like you would with a grilled cheese sandwich)
  14. Flip again and remove from the frying pan
  15. Let sliders cool for a minute and then cut apart into individual sliders 
  16. Enjoy!