Thursday, February 9, 2017

Women in Ag Join this seminar today!

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am passionate about women in agriculture and encourage them to take the lead for the future of food.  I am also all about education and improving ourselves.  Here's some great news on that front!  There's a great seminar coming up next week for women in Agriculture in Minnesota! Next week on February 16, join the University of Minnesota staff in Willmar for Women in Ag, Planning our Future.   Why should you attend?  Here's 5 reasons why:

1. Networking with other women in agriculture who know what you are going through and can offer you advice and wisdom!
2. Learn from Amanda Fruend and her amazing venture CowPots!
3. Betty Berning gives you some great tips to develop an effective business plan for all of your ventures!
4. Pauline Van Nurden will coach you to set financial benchmarks!
5. Staff and extention will be available to help guide you on how to make your dreams reality!

The take home message, if I wasn't on a trip to Texas for work next week, I would be in Willmar and I would be taking in everything that I can to help out women dairy producers.  If you want to go and you haven't registered, please register today and even if you have you can still win a FREE registration by commenting on the blog post below! Leave a comment and I will pick a winner on Valentines Day (Free registration will be able to be redeemed at the registration table in Willmar on the 16th!) I look forward to your comments below!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

It isn't "Big Milk's" Fault, it's the "Big Picture"

NPR posted an article 2 weeks ago "As Big Milk moves in, Family-Owned U.S. Dairy Farms Rapidly Fold." This article highlighted a Vermont dairy farmer who was selling his cows, exiting the industry like so many other farms in the country.  The article goes onto to describe from the farmer's perspective that large dairies are producing more milk, more economically and forcing smaller family farms out of business.  It took me some time to come up with an adequate response to this article because my first reaction was a heart wrenching, blood boiling one.  "Big milk" isn't the issue in this story, it is more of a "Big picture" issue for U.S. dairy farmers, no matter the size or scale. 

It's no secret that dairy farming is a capital intense industry but what does that REALLY mean?  It means that in order to produce any amount of milk, there are so many large and expensive purchases that need to be made.  Everything from cows that cost $1500 or more each to vacuum pumps that make it possible to milk cows and move milk to the cooling tanks that cost over $5000.  Add a new barn for 150 cows that might cost over $400,000 and a parlor that is also $400,000.  These prices aren't top of the line either.  If a dairyman wants to add technology to his farm, those prices go even higher.   To try to control these costs, often, brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, uncles, and grandparents are joining to form farm family companies.  This means that the over all cost of the farm can be spread over more family members and allows for younger family members to have a chance to farm like their elders.  97% of all dairy farms are family own and operated. 

Another way to stay in the business is diversification.  Many dairy farmers have a spouse that has an off farm job that pays for family expenses and health insurance.  Some dairies are diversifying into producing other agricultural products like beef, sheep, and pigs.  Maybe those farms are making their own cheese and yogurt.   I know locally many farmers that are raising vegetable crops to make extra income to survive.  Many others are capitalizing on markets for organic milk, noting that all milk is milk, safe and nutritious but that there are consumers willing to pay more money for organic milk and these farmers are willing and able to produce it. 

Dairy farming is very difficult to start and it is even harder to continue doing, especially with the volatile milk prices and consumers that are demanding more from already stressed farmers.   Consumers demands are a good thing in most cases, encouraging sustainable practices and improved efficiencies but these demands often come in the form of expensive regulations that make paper work a full time job for most dairy farmers.  Innovation is expensive and often in order to implement innovations a dairy farmer will have to increase his milk production either through adding more cows and/or increasing the amount of milk produced per cow.  The great news is that dairy farmers are producing more milk with less resources, leaving a smaller carbon footprint than our predecessors but this increased milk is also keeping milk prices low. 

Another factor is that the average American is falling short on getting their 3 servings of dairy each day and we are also seeing continued decreasing in consumption of fluid good old fashion white milk.  Truth is that consumers are no longer having meals as families and as a result they are not drinking milk with their dinners but soft drinks and water instead.  If each American had 3 servings of dairy the impact on family dairy farmers would be huge!  So the question becomes, as a consumer, what can you do to save these family dairy farmers???
  • Drink Milk! 3 servings each day for your health! It's local, traveling within a 200 mile radius of the store you buy it at and from cow to table in 48 hours!
  • Understand the issues of sustainability and environment that face farmers.  In order to achieve these goals there has to be extra income to pay for these innovations and that income usually comes in the form of more milk. 
  • Understand that technology that makes the quality of life better for a dairy farmer costs a lot of money and that makes it very difficult for smaller farmers to add technology to their farms.
  • Advocate for your local farmers by telling your friends about how great and local milk is!  It takes all sizes of farms to feed the world, we need all farms!
  • Understand that multi-generational farms allow for small farms to be packed into larger farms, which provides technology and innovation.   We're doing more with less!
  • Spread the word that all farms are reducing their carbon footprint and making a real impact on the environment, which is good for everyone!!!
It's not "big milk" as much as it is the "big picture" so pour and glass of cold milk and support your local dairy farmers!!!  Help keep them in business for their next generations of dairy farmers!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cold Weather Challenges

It's outright miserable out there in this frigid January weather!!!  Thoughts and prayers are with the many dairy farmers out there working hard to keep everything going, and believe me it is going slow for many of them on days like today.  It was -20 when I woke up this morning.  Those temperatures are downright dangerous for any unprotected skin and that includes cow skin.  These temperatures freeze up engines and doors.  There are water lines that freeze and fountains that freeze.  I thought I would brain storm all the different ways dairy farmers are experiencing working challenges this week.
  • Frozen water lines that take hours to defrost and get much needed water to livestock.
  • Engines to tractors have cold oil and fuel making them hard to start making chores hard to clean pens and deliver feed.
  • Batteries are cold, making starting machines practically impossible.
  • Water in pails to baby calves is frozen and impossible to drink which means that farmers have to feed water more frequently and make sure it is always warm.
  • Milk in calf bottles cools down fast and baby calves need warm milk.
  • Silage (fermented forage/plants) has become frozen and it takes extra work by the equipment to break up the pieces of silage into bite sized pieces for cows.
  • Calf starter is stuck together and hard, which takes more work to allow calves to eat their food.
  • People are cold and frozen, and there are not enough layers of gloves and water protection to keep the cold and wet out.  Milking cows makes your fingers go numb.  Feeding calves makes your hands go numb. 
  • Driving 4 wheeler makes your eye lashes frozen solid and  your face cold and numb.
  • Just the slightest breeze makes your eye lashes freeze shut and your snot drip out your nose.
  • Water hoses in the parlor freeze before you can clean up after milking.
  • Milk freezes on the milking units making it impossible to clean up well without a heater.
  • The heated shop is the most popular place on the farm.
  • Manure freezes onto any metal surface it touches including the skid loader bucket and manure spread.  Manure also freezes to concrete floors.
  • Doors freeze shut making you walk around buildings to get inside.
  • Water fountains become impossible to walk around unless you want to look like a little old lady with a walker.
  • Skating rings appear on every road with heavy traffic.
  • Dangerously low temps cause teats to freeze and can cause skin damage.
  • Finding new born calves is critical because if a wet newborn is left outside she will freeze immediately in these temps, first losing her ears and then her hooves in serious cases.  Thank goodness for calf jackets and calf warming pens!
All in all we want everyone to stay safe and be careful. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

2017: Are you grateful?

A very wise friend of mine has a gratitude journal.  Inspired by that journal, I started my own version of that journal.  It was and is still a word document where I have a conversation with God about my struggles and I give thanks for my joys.  Over the period of the past 2 years this simple practice of writing to God every few days has opened up a part of my heart I didn't know I had access to, the place where I could truly find joy, blessings and gratitude for my struggles and my cross.  As a Catholics, we talk about our crosses.  Each woman and man have a cross that they are to bear.  That cross is our opportunity to find joy and turn it into a ministry.  It's a simple practice to think about our crosses but it is a difficult task to turn those crosses into positive parts of our lives. 

During an extremely difficult part of my life (at least so far) I said very off the cuff that I was turning the shit that I had been given into fertilizer and I would grow some amazing flowers with that shit.  It was a very real metaphor for the life that I want to live.  We are all going to have hard times and difficult times but we have the power to turn that shit into fertilizer and grow some amazing produce or flowers.  This metaphor helped me power through the last 2 years and helped me make good choices as a result.  I am proud of my ability to dig into my farming roots and find so much hope and love there!

This attitude of gratitude has now become a habit.  Just the other night (New Year's Eve) I was sleeping at a friend's house and awoke to some very loud snoring. I was patient, waiting for the snoring to stop but it did not and I could not fall back to sleep.  It was in that moment that I quickly said a prayer in my head.  It came so naturally that I am still in awe that I could find gratitude even in this moment, and then I fell peacefully back to sleep.  What was that simple prayer? "Dear Jesus, thank you for this amazing friend that I am able to spend New Year's with.  Thank you for his rest and thank you for the reminder of the blessing to be able to rest together in a house full and surrounded by family and friends, rather than empty and alone. Amen."

I am going to challenge you going into 2017 to find your attitude of gratitude.  Are you blessed with a messy house? Because that means you have loved ones that enjoy this journey known as life with you.  Are you blessed with a job that is difficult? Perhaps this will help you grow as a professional or push you to pursue a dream?  Do you have a difficult friend or family member?  Perhaps this blessing means that you get to grow and be the bigger person! Maybe you have a loved one struggling with a terminal illness?  Use this time to experience life with them as well as death.  So much gratitude can be found in more than just our actual blessings but also our struggles and crosses! Here's to a 2017 filled with gratitude and joy!!! God bless you all!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Passion becomes a Career

My love for cows and farming runs deep.  A good friend of mine told me that I was the most "dairy-centric" person he knew, and I took that to heart.  I am not currently farming but love of dairy farming has only strengthened.  A few months ago I was presented with the opportunity to apply for a new job, a potential long term career, working for the dairy farmers of Minnesota.  I took the chance and applied and it is with great joy that I start today on my first day as the Industry Relations Program Manager at Midwest Dairy Association/Minnesota Milk Producers.  This job is really the sum of my passion put into a career, one I can definitely see myself doing long term as long as I don't let Minnesota farmers down.  This new job not only is my passion wrapped up into a career but it is also the sum of so many small choices made over my lifetime.  I can see God's hand in the road that I have traveled to get to this place, and I can see his plan coming to light. 

I look back to the moment I made the choice to be a county dairy ambassador at 15 years old.  I remember the choice to attend college at South Dakota State University where I would encounter one of the greatest professors I would ever know, Dr. Arnold Hippen.  I remember 2002 as a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, an opportunity of a lifetime to represent my county and the dairy farmers of Minnesota.  I remember my choice to go into dairy farming with a full heart after graduation and the first few pictures I posted on Facebook of new calves or field work.  I remember Sherry Newell reaching out to me to ask me to start posting some short blogs for a summer series for Midwest Dairy Association.  I was so excited for the opportunity to reach a larger audience!  Following that summer, Sherry encouraged me to take it one step further, "How about you start a blog?"  In 2009 I started this little blog, took advantage of every training opportunity I could get, and you have this, my own little outlet to the world.  Every step of the way I took a small chance in making what seemed like a small decision, which brought me to this place.  From the people that I met: my dairy woman strong role models including my best friend Annie, my roommates and classmates from college, my peers Carrie and Laura, and countless others who have been instrumental on this journey.  Each one gave me a little bit of encouragement and a pat on the back to keep on going.  Each risk followed God's plan to make good choices and put me where I belong.  Yes, I absolutely lost faith in his plan several times and I became full of anxiety and discouragement but I stayed the course (even when I went off course) and here I am with this exciting news!!!

I still don't know my final destination or where this journey may take me but I have faith that if I keep making these small choices to do God's will, I know it will be a beautiful ride, with amazing people and experiences!  I have so much gratitude for everyone that helped me get to this place!  The positive feedback from everyone has been overwhelming and I hope that I won't let you down! Wish me well, I'm off to help grow the Minnesota Dairy community in any way that I can! Go Dairy!!!