Where I Come From, You Do Not Drive On Lakes

This past summer I lived for three months in South Dakota while I interned with Monsanto. It was an enjoyable internship experience. I got to see a lot of beautiful scenery, learn a lot about corn and soybeans and I was thankful I was able to try living in the Dakotas for a three month period and not on a permanent basis. Their summers in the Dakotas are extremely mild compared to hot and muggy Alabama summers, but I wanted to go and see what winter was like. During Christmas break I paid a winter visit to South Dakota, and let me tell you it is an entirely different ballgame than what I am used to.

ImageTemperatures were below zero the majority of the time I was there. The wind chill was anywhere from -13 to -45, until I got off the plane in Aberdeen, I had never felt temperatures below zero. However these low temperatures are very conducive to recreational activities that I have never participated in like snowmobile riding and ice fishing.

Ice fishing was what I was most excited about getting to attempt on my trip. Zack, who preaches at the church I attended this summer agreed to take me. So he got out the fishing rods the night before we went and got them all ready to go. I was surprised at how tiny they were!

ImageThe next morning we woke up early, I put on almost all the clothes I had brought with me (literally, even my pajama pants) and we drove to Pickerel Lake about 60 miles east of Aberdeen. Pickerel is a big fishing lake, a beautiful area I frequented this summer to watch sunsets and walk. Zack brought along his wife Elizabeth and their two year old son Isaac. We pulled up to the lake and Zack instructed us to roll down our windows “just in case the car fell through the ice.”

ImageI did a double take. In Alabama our lakes hardly ever freeze over, much less do they freeze where you can walk on the ice, MUCH LESS DRIVE ON IT! But sure enough there were vehicles scattered all over the lake.

ImageWe started out across the lake in their Honda Accord. The snow was blowing which made it hard to see the tracks made by other vehicles. We made it a few hundred feet and got stuck. I didn’t have on my coveralls yet, but Zack and I jumped out to push the car out of the deep snow we had got stuck in. We drove out to where some of the other vehicles were. We got out and sure enough you could walk around, it was tough to tell you were even on ice because it was covered with snow except for a few patches here and there.

ImageZack and I drilled some holes in the ice with his hand auger.

ImageThe auger makes a nice little 6 inch hole. You have to have some way to drill a hole, the ice is so thick you cannot break it by hitting it with something. The ice was about 3 foot thick.

ImageAfter you drill a hole you can use a fish finder or even just drop your line in and see if you get a bite.

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We finally decided on a spot and set up our ice shack. Ice shacks reminded me of campers, you have some that are super fancy and some were super simple.

ImageThe one we used was a little pop-up deal that fit nicely inside a hard sided case.

ImageIt isn’t made of much, but I was surprised how warm it was inside, especially because we had a space heater since little Isaac was along. Just being out of the wind helped. The wind was so strong we had to made sure someone was in it so that it did not blow away!

ImageThe kind of fish that we were fishing for are pan fish like blue gill and crappie. You can barely feel their bite so the strategy was to watch the tip of the rod for movement. Since we had Isaac along in the shack with Elizabeth and I, it was very hard to do and we had little luck.

Imageeing able to go ice fishing was definitely a new experience, ice of that proportion was new to me. I am now by no means an experience ice fisher. If someone who is a seasoned ice fisherman was to read this, they will probably laugh at my description of the endeavor and terminology, however for an Alabama gal, I was doing good to be out there sitting on a frozen lake.  I would like to try it again sometime, can you ice fish where you live? What has been your experience?

Webster South Dakota ice fishing

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My Trip to An Alabama Dairy Farm

Last week I had the opportunity to learn about something I know little about.; dairy farming. When you think of dairy states you think of Wisconsin, and maybe California, you don’t think of Alabama.  Alabama actually ranks #43 in milk production. The top dairy state in the United States are 1. California, 2. Wisconsin, 3. New York, 4. Pennsylvania, and 5. Idaho, however dairies are found in all 50 state and Puerto Rico.

If you go back several decades we used to have quite a few dairy farms in Alabama, but many have went out of business. When I heard that there was a gentleman in Lee County who had started dairy farming recently I was very intrigued and asked if I could come visit.

Meet Dr. Darrel Rankins:

Darrel Rankins Lee County Alabama Agriculture

Dr. Rankins and his family reside in not too far from Auburn, Alabama on their family farm. An Illinois native, he came to Auburn University 1989 and worked with livestock producers of Alabama for 25 years with his expertise in nutrition in beef cattle through research, teaching and extension. Rankins retired in April of 2013 after his 25 year tenure with Auburn University.

“I decided after 25 years I was ready to do something different” Rankins explained to me.

Rankins decided he wanted to get in to the stocker heifer business (having female calves usually 6-9 months old that you are feeding until they are of harvestable weight) or have a pasture dairy. After much consideration Rankins decided to enter the dairy business. He started visiting other pasture dairy farms across the Southeast to get a better idea of how he wanted to build his farm.

In April of 2013 after his retirement he started working daily on building his milking parlor (which is where the cows are brought to be milked). He built his parlor from the ground up all on his own.

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On November 15, 2013 DarLin Dairy officially opened for business upon the arrival of the cows. The cows are pasture raised and are therefore grass fed. There is no difference between milk that comes from pasture fed and those who are not. If cows aren’t raised in a pasture what do they eat? Dairy Carrie has a great blog post about “What Do Cows Eat Anyway?”

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Right now Rankins is milking anywhere from 50-56 cows, 2 times a day. The number he milks varies depending upon when some of the cows are in their “dry period”. After giving birth the mother produces milk usually anywhere from 10-12 months and then has a dry period which is when milking is terminated about 60 days before the next calf is expected to be born. Since November, Rankins has had 18 calves to be born.

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Rankins milks in the morning and in the evening.

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His parlor can milk 12 cows at a time, but it holds 24 at a time so that he can be preparing the next 12 while the first 12 are being milked. I was surprised the cows knew when it was time for milking and they made their way to the barn with a little encouragement from Rankin’s sons.

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Into the milking area they went.

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