Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Barn Chicks Who Blog- Interview with Ashley of The Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

     I have recently started reading a blog by a young dairy farmer's wife, in Indiana, who is so bubbly that it comes right through on my laptop computer. Bubbles on your computer? Isn't that a bit messy? A-hem. As I was saying, Ashley is lots of fun. On The Young Dairy Farmer's Wife, you can watch as this amazing (and pretty) young wife and mother navigates life on a farm. She married a farmer, but she ended up being the farmer when he was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army National Guard! And she did it all with a baby in a backpack. My chiropractor would love her!
     Here's my interview with Ashley.

Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife
1. Please tell me about your farm.
I live on an organic dairy farm. It belongs to my husband's family and the original homestead was awarded the Hoosier Homestead award in 2006 which means that the farm has been worked by the same family for over 100 years. The farm has only recently been certified organic and we belong to the Organic Valley Coop. I have also started my own little homestead on the 1.44 acres that my husband and I own that connects to and was originally part of the "big farm". It's called Birch Creek after the creek that runs behind our house, even though there isn't a single Birch tree on the place!

2. What animals do you have?
On the "big farm" we raise Jerseys, a few old barn cats, and 3 farm dogs that pretty much think they belong to everyone. On my own farm, I keep dual-purpose chickens, three dairy goats (soon to be more when they start kidding in Feb.) and a geriatric horse. The horse (Sandy) watches over the goats and my kids. She's so gentle that I even rode her when I was pregnant with both of my boys. We have our own dog, a Brittany Spaniel and she's great with the kids. She trades houses with the in-laws dogs: a yellow Lab/mix named Bailey and an Australian Shepard named Jax. We just added 5 fish for the boys that are the only house-pets.
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

3. How do you come up with animal names? (I ask everybody this one because there are some fun answers.)
Oh boy! I LOVE naming animals. For the cows, they're mostly very "traditional" names. The cow that I call my own is Clementine (Clemie). The best cow we ever had who passed recently was Betsy, and her daughter Vidalia. One of her last daughters that we have is Itsy Bitsy because she looks just like her, hence Itsy Betsy-Bitsy. Then there's Zinnia, Got Milk?, Roxy (because she has a crazy hair-do that makes her look like she belongs in an 80's girl rock band), Duchess, Pilar, Abby & Gail were sisters. . . I could go on and on about the cows. I try to keep the mother-daughter relationships in themes, it's easier to remember them that way.
My dog is actually named after me. Her name is Cali which is short for Calamity Jane - that's what The Husband calls me because I'm always getting into a pickle, and I like to hang out with the guys. I haven't had the chance to name any goats yet, but if my doe Moonpie has a buckling I'll name him RC Cola - because what goes better with a Moonpie than an RC Cola? The doeling that I bought was named Belle by the breeder's 4 yr old daughter. I almost changed it because there's a million goats named Belle until I learned that her twin (that they kept) was named Cinderella. Leave it to a 4 yr old to name goats after Disney Princesses!
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

4. You're a country girl, but new to farming. How has the transition been?
It's been pretty easy for me because all my friends growing up were farm kids. I was so jealous of them! They had cool chores like bottle-feeding calves and collecting chicken eggs; I had to babysit my brother and sister and take out the trash.
I have to admit, I was a lazy farmwife for the first couple of years. If the baby wasn't awake, I wasn't either. I helped milk every evening, but I wasn't getting up early to do anything - luckily my animals were very forgiving. I was also going to school full-time, working 2-3 part-time jobs, and being a pregnant/new mommy. When I graduated with a degree in Business Administration, I realized it was kind of a waste of money. Not the education, but where I spent it. I should have gone into something AG because I realized that this is what I really want to do, I want this to be my life.
The work and the animals actually comes easy for me and I enjoy doing it, despite still being in the middle of the learning curve. But it's been difficult in other ways. My husband is also in the Indiana Army National Guard and was recently deployed for 10 months - just after I had our youngest son. It got a little tricky, I tried to plan naptimes around chores and when the baby wasn't tied to me, my constant companion was the baby monitor. FYI - you need a digital one with the longest range possible when you're on a farm. The analog kind don't like metal barn roofs or electric fences and you never know when the cows are going to get out and no one else is home to herd 'em back in.
A quick funny story - my grandpa about fell over when I told him that I bought some goats. When I was three he took my little brother (who was 1) and I to a little petting zoo called Story-Book Village. There was this little train that you could ride around and they had pymgy goats and chickens that ran all over that you could feed. Well, we were riding the train and this little billy jumped into our car looking for a snack. I freaked out, screamed bloody-murder, and climbed on top of my grandma's head trying to get away while she was holding the baby. "Get him out! Get him out, Papaw!" Papaw threw him off but for years he teased me about the attack goat. Just goes to show how far I've come!

5. I read that you are learning soap making. Do you do any other crafts?
The soap making is so much fun, and addicting! I'm actually trying to start my own little business. I love trying new ingredients, figuring out what works/what doesn't. By the way - fresh black raspberries DO NOT! I do a little bit of everything. I knit and crochet - usually baby items and washcloths and the like. I sew a little, I want to learn to quilt. I'd like to learn to tat soon too. I paint some, nothing spectacular, but whenever something need painted around the farm, I'm usually the one that does it. And I might add a little flair if I'm not specifically told NOT to, like on the chicken coop. . .
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife
The chicken chalet was painted by Ashley

6. Do you cook, can, or garden? How about making maple syrup?
I'm a terrible cook so far. I was just never taught how to cook. I've finally mastered lasagna and if I have the time I make pumpkin bread and butter. From scratch, and I mean SCRATCH - cooking down the pumpkin and all. I recently screwed up chicken 'n' noodles, despicable, I know. I know what I did wrong so I'm going at it again soon.
My gardening so far has been pumpkins and gourds. We don't have great ground for gardening on our little plot, but it's getting there. This year I'm actually going to try growing a "salad" garden.
Ah, yes! The Maple Syrup. We're going to be tapping trees here soon. I haven't had any experience in the cooking operation, but the boys and I always help collect the sap water once or even twice a day. All I know is that it's a sticky mess, but it's SO worth it! The cooking operation used to be set-up 1/3 mile away at my husband's grandparent's place, but this year we've moved it back to this part of the farm in an old syrup shack that my father-in-law built. I'm hoping to be a bigger part of the cooking process this year. It's great stuff and we usually get enough to last the year if we're stingy with it. 
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

7. What was it like to be the farmer while your husband was deployed?
That was tough. While that was the longest he's been away, we've actually spent more time away from each other than we've been together because he joined the Army just months after we started dating. Of course, I made it harder on myself by buying three dairy goats while being home alone with a 2 yr old and a 5 month old on top of helping milk cows. You've gotta be tough, that's for sure. The Husband wanted to sell the critters before he left to make things easier on me, but I like to say that I don't let Uncle Sam get in the way of living my life. I wasn't about to start all over in a year just because he was going to be gone.
I'm kinda proud of myself in what I accomplished. I picked enough berries to have several cobblers when The Husband did come home; I dragged my butt out of bed to help milk cows in the morning - and then a first-freshening goat; I got to watch my own chickens hatch their first batch of eggs - and those chicks are getting ready to start laying themselves; I protected my flock from a rather fat raccoon (having never shot anything in my life!); I made butter from our own milk - using a hand crank churn. All the while weaning, feeding, changing, and chasing our boys. Worrying about where he is and if he's ok all the time doesn't help things, but the farm actually helped keep my mind occupied. 

8. How do you feel about raising your children on a farm?
I love it! I envy my kids really because it's the upbringing I always wanted. My oldest son has known how to milk a cow since he was 18 mos. old and could also start the four-wheeler (luckily he can't reach the gears). He even has chores - he helps carry buckets from the calf barn back to the milking parlor and he feeds the dog and fish every night. The youngest loves to ride cows around the lot. We're also surrounded by family, everyone lives within a mile of us and the neighbors call it Wegnerland (I call it The Compound). Practically living with your in-laws can be tough too, ever watch Everybody Loves Raymond? That's our life! But they're good people and it's a very close-knit family which is important to me as my own is spread out all over the country and we're not very close. It's what I want for my kids.
My mom thinks I'm nuts. It scares the tar out of her that I let the boys be the milking parlor with the cows. I've raised a few batches of chicks in my mud-room, with babies in the house, and she thought for sure that they'd get Avian Bird Flu, haha. Luckily her dad (my Papaw) grew up farming and he used to laugh when my mom would freak out. He gets it.
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

9. Throughout your blog I've seen pictures of you doing things on the farm with a baby in a back pack. What have you been able to do like that? How's your back holding up?
Ha, everyone laughed that my youngest would never learn to walk because he was always strapped to my back. It's my life saver! I do everything with it, milk cows, ride horses, feed the calves . . . I can't be cooped up in the house and I'm not satisfied to just watch work being done. I even fetch calves on the four-wheeler with the baby on back. My back and arms are pretty strong from all that. I'm sure it'll catch up to me later, but it keeps my hands free and saves my sanity.

Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

10. What's your favorite thing about living on a farm?
The animals, the air, being able to see the stars. Was I just supposed to pick one? I love all of it, good and bad. It's my sanctuary. I especially love that we're organic. I grew up celebrating Earth Day in school as a kid and I'm part of that "green revolution" generation. I believe that you can't improve Mother Nature and while it's not always feasible for us yet, I try to do as many things as down-to-Earth as I can.
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

11. What's the most challenging thing about living on a farm?
The uncertainty. I was always used to: you put in so many hours of work - you get paid for so many hours of work. We've had some really bad growing seasons the past couple of years. Flood, drought, unseasonable weather. It makes you realize how fragile everything is. Farming is a 24/7 job, just like motherhood, and you don't get paid by the hour - otherwise farmers would be the richest people on Earth! It's easy to complain about the rain when you live in town and you have to walk to work in puddles, but like the song says, "Rain is a good thing!" I wear rubber boots nearly everyday and I apply that logic to my life now: A good pair of muckboots will get you through life's nastiest crap!

12.What's in the future for your farm?
I have no idea. Well sort-of. Long-term: The Husband and I are on a 5-year plan. We're going to make a living on our own for 5 years, which right now has The Husband working for Uncle Sam full-time. It's to give the Big Farm time to grow. That doesn't mean we don't still work the farm. It's hard not to when it's in your front yard. The husband still helps on his days off.
Since it's winter right now - and a cold one at that - I'm stuck inside with the boys. I'm working on short-term goals: planning my garden, getting ready for kidding season and tapping season, and starting my own goat milk soap business from home. I'm starting it as a way for the goats to pay their way. This is a farm after all and everything has to earn it's keep. If it takes off, I'll be expanding my goatherd.
We're also planning a move in the next 5 years or so. Not off the farm, just to another part of it as our family is still growing and we're quickly outgrowing our house. We knew we wouldn't be in this house forever so it's ok. Even if we should have to move away because of the military, we'll always keep a place here and we'll always come back. I want to grow old here. Like my dad always says, "No matter where you go, there you are." I always thought that was a dumb saying, but I'm learning it has a lot of meaning.
Photo property of the Young Dairy Farmer's Wife

Thanks for the interview, Ashley! I wish I had half your energy! Keep up the good work. I'll be looking forward to hearing about those new goats.


  1. I don't know what I feel the most: exhaustion from reading all she achieves; admiration from....ditto; joy at the way she tackles life; love for the life she and hubby are giving the kids.
    That was wonderful. I-n-s-p-i-r-i-n-g!
    Phew! I'm off for a lie down! x

  2. The energy just shines through!

    Good tip on the baby monitor - I do the same thing during naps.

  3. Oh yeah. I'm tired. She's adorable - just a beautiful family! I hope all their dreams and plans come true!!! I can so relate to the 'town kid growing up among farmers' thing and am glad she can give her boys the life on a farm! :)

  4. I've been reading Ashley for quite a while now and she is cute as a button which shines through in her blog! Glad you interviewed her!

  5. Ashley is my cousin....hard to believe I used to push her around in the stroller as a baby and now she is a grown woman with 2 adorable boys and accomplishing so much on a daily basis. I live at the beach in Virginia and though I don't quite "get" the whole farming lifestyle, I can certainly appreciate it and am so proud of her for doing what makes her happy! Very proud of you Ashley!!!

  6. Very nice interview. I do enjoy your interviews.

  7. Nice interview! I love living on a farm too!

  8. Great interview. Always like meeting a fellow Hoosier farm wife.

  9. A great interview with a real go-getter in life.

  10. What a great interview! I'm so glad I found them! It's midnight, I should be in bed but I'm STILL reading!
    (and I'll never complain about the little bit of work I do compared to THIS young lady again!)


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