Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Busy Farm Update!

Oh life on the farm never slows down! Good news from the milk inspector...we passed! All of the hard work paid off, but we didn't expect not to pass, so that was good. I had a nice chat with the inspector while he was cleaning his boots before leaving. He complemented us on our upcoming preschool tours, noting that more than a handful of local dairies also host grade school kids in the spring for tours. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HOSTING! Those kids will have memories that will last a lifetime!

Another bit of exciting news comes from the local FFA Chapter. The Sleepy Eye FFA Chapter participated in the 80th Minnesota FFA Convention this past weekend. My brother in law and youngest sister were members of the Dairy Judging Team, and we are PROUD to announce that after much hard work, they won 1st place! And a trip to the National FFA Convention this fall! Congratulations to Chris, Angela, Laura and Shawn for a job WELL DONE! FFA does an excellent job of teaching agriculture to students rural and urban, and we proudly support their work!

Jonathan (my husband) and Steve (my father in law) are leaving tomorrow for another road trip, machinery shopping. This means that I will be solely in charge of the chores and cows tomorrow! I am excited, because driving 10+ hours to Southeast Minnesota and Wisconsin to look at choppers didn't sound like a lot of fun to me. I willingly volunteered to stay home. I will be in charge of morning and evening milking and calf chores as well as feeding the cows and heifers. I am also hoping to get a head start on my dairy princess' schedule for the coming summer promotion season, that is if nothing goes wrong-God willing! I wish the guys the best tomorrow as they pursue a good deal and a new addition to our forage processing fleet. Hopefully I will have pictures of a new harvester soon!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Cleaning!

Tis the season for spring cleaning! I am so excited that this weekend I completed the parlor portion of spring cleaning. As mentioned in a previous post, the milk inspector (state employee who inspects dairies 2 times a year to assure milk quality and issue liciences to sell milk) will be visiting us in the coming days. While we maintain a clean parlor every single day of the year, a little tidying up is always needed. We try to make sure that if a visitor should happen to stop in and see us, the parlor and barn would not deter them from drinking milk, but instead impress them regarding our concern for milk quality and food safety. Anything in our barn and parlor is fair game for inspection, therefore EVERYTHING needed to be cleaned. An added incentive is the upcoming arrival of preschoolers in May for our annual school tours! We like to have the farm sparkling when visitors arrive! I sorted through a closet which was home to 4 years worth of construction "leftovers" as well as scrubbing the parlor and milk house spotless for hours! While it takes time to do, the end product is very rewarding....a parlor any consumer would be willing to drink milk from!

Another part of spring cleaning came from mother nature. We have been behind in yearly rainfall, but today mother nature "washed" everything for us. We received just shy of an inch of rain, first starting as a thunderstorm and then gently raining all day. This much needed spring rain "washed" away what was left of winter and helped to escort spring in. By the afternoon we saw SPRING finally come! The grass and alfalfa fields are all green now. Flowers are taller, green and tulips are blooming. Birds are chirping, and worms are coming out of the soil to play. Spring is finally here!!!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy Earth from Orange Patch Dairy!

Well, it's technically not Earth Day anymore, since it's past midnight, but after a busy day at the farm, this was the first time I had all day to get my thought out on the keyboard. I am sure all of you heard the buzz words of the day "carbon foot print" "pollution" "protect the environment" "do your part".....I like the last one the best "do your part"....

Dairy farmers have been "doing their part" for many years. Here at Orange Patch Dairy, we have been enjoying some great technologies since we built our new barn to make our dairy more efficient and environmentally friendly. The following are some of those things:
  • Plate Cooler: We have a great piece of equipment called a plate cooler. It's job is to pre-cool milk before it reaches the bulk tank to reduce the amount of electricity needed to cool milk from 100 degrees to 40 degrees. The plate cooler works much like a radiator. Cold water runs through the plate cooler, as the milk flows through the "fins" the water cools the milk to about 60-70 degrees. The water is warmed as it flows through the plate cooler and is returned to the cow barn...where the cows enjoy warm water to drink. Interestingly, cow prefer warm water to drink, even in the hot summer months. Cold water will "shock" the bacteria in the rumen of a cow.
  • Variable Speed Milk Pump: The pump we use to milk cows has a variable speed drive. This means that as we milk cows and put a load on the pump, it adjusts. As the load lightens, the pump works to save electricity. Our utility bills are much lower as a result!
  • Collecting of Wash Water to Reuse: Water we use to wash the milking system out every day twice a day, is collected in the parlor. This water is then used to wash down the floors and walls of the parlor-thereby we use the water twice before it goes down the drain!
  • Manure Management Plan: We have been working on and using a manure management plan for years. When we built our new barn 4 years ago we were required by the state to have a Manure Management Plan in place. This plan, in writing, declares the acres that we will use for manure application, based on the amount of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous that will be applies. We use this plan under the advisement of an agronomist, who is always working to help us do what's best for our land.
  • Buffer Strips: When we built our barn we also had to update our manure management in our heifer yards. As a result we constructed and planted grass buffer/filter strips that help to capture rain run off from our heifer yards and filter the water BEFORE if reaches the ground water. This method of filtering allows the grass to get nutrients naturally while protecting our ground water for the farm.
  • Grazing: We graze our heifers in the summertime. This helps to reduce feed costs while reducing the weeds in the pastures. We also are able to use land that would not have been able to produce row crops like corn, soybeans, or alfalfa.
  • Alfalfa: Alfalfa makes a great cover crop, while putting nitrogen back into the ground. Alfalfa also helps to maintain top soils since fields planting in alfalfa will not be tilled for 3 or more years.
  • Wildlife Habitats: We have lots of spaces where we host wildlife. Places in the landscape where we can't grow crops but can support wildlife like squirrels, deer, and pheasants.
  • Crop Production: By using our soils to produce the most amount of food for our cows per acre helps the environment....thereby reducing the amount of acres we need to feed our cows. Technology such as new seed hybrids, correct use of fertilizers, and weed control all contribute to better production per acre.

Some new technologies that we are looking forward to in the future include the following:

  • Plastic Recycling: Right now we have no good way to dispose of the plastic bags that we use to store our feed. We look forward to the addition of an Agricultural Plastic Program in our county, much like ones in other neighboring counties. What a great way to help out the environment!
  • Methane Digesters: We have been excited about this technology for years! We love the idea of turning cow manure into a bio gas which can be used to generate electricity for our farm and many more homes in our neighborhood. Digesters help to reduce the odor of manure as well as producing a very good fertilizer which can be used in the fields. What a great renewable energy source!!!! We visited a farm in Minnesota which has been in inspiration for us. Haubenschild Dairy Farm Digester

So as you can see, dairy farms have been working on celebrating Earth Day EVERYDAY of the Year!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cows Eating at Orange Patch Dairy

I thought I would post a video of our cows eating at Orange Patch Dairy.

Our cows eat a balanced diet. Our nutritionist balances our ration to meet the needs of our cows every day. Our diets are 62% forage (plants) and include haylage, corn silage, alfalfa hay, and grain mix (corn, soybean meal, minerals, vitamins). This was right after feeding our you can see, they really enjoy their lunch!

Our tank overfloweth....

As were milking cows tonight we discovered something exciting...we filled our bulk tank (the stainless steel tank we store our milk in) was filled to the TOP!!! In fact we spilled a little milk out the sides of the tank and on to the floor. We have a tank that holds about 1650 gallons of milk. Each of our 84 milking cows make over 10 gallons on milk each day!!!! We are VERY excited about this good you can tell! Our milk flows into this tank and is cooled to about 38-40 degrees. We hold the milk for 2 days and then it is picked up by a tanker truck from our local creamery. Now, as a result we will need to have the tanker truck pick up our milk every day to ensure that we will not have to lose anymore milk to the floor. Needless to say it was a good night tonight. This increase in milk production can be attributed to a variety of things. The first thing is a change in haylage (chopped fermented alfalfa stored in a silage bag) and an increase in the number of fresh cows.

The change in feed has been awesome! The cows LOVE the new bag of haylage! We opened the bag that contains alfalfa cut last May 2008. It is our best feed and we were saving it for the best cows to calve this winter/spring. Our goal is to produce the BEST quality feed possible. Better feed means that we can feed a higher percentage of our total diet as forage. Right now we average about 62% of the cows' diet as forage. The remainder of the diet is concentrates (corn, soybean meal, vitamins, minerals, and other "goodies"). With a higher forage diet we also keep our costs down. We have to purchase less concentrates if we can feed better quality forages. The other advantage to feeding more forage is that we can also increase rumen and cow health. More forage helps to make rumen microbes happy! Forage helps stimulate cud chewing, which helps the cows make buffer in their saliva-helping their overall health.

The addition of more fresh (recently calved) cows has also increased our total milk pounds. We have calved in about 25 cows in the last 2.5 months. These cows are all producing the most milk that they will produce in their 305-365 day lactations. A cow typically peaks at about 60 days into their lactations....our cows average about 67 days in milk. That peak is the highest amount of milk that they will produce, then they will decline until they are dried off (vacation time) and calve in with their next calf. Many of our cows are between 1-60 days in milk. These cows perform well and make lots of milk if they are taken care of post-calving. We do our darnest to make sure that they are off to a great start after calving. Every day for 10-14 days post calving we take our cows temperatures. We watch them eat, making sure they eat. We also monitor their personalities...making sure they are "bright eyed and busy tailed" every day. Cows should be eager to eat when they get fresh feed, so we always check them at feeding time. Overall cow health has been awesome this spring!

Our milk production is the result of all of the cows' hard work. We do not "push" our cows or force them to milk. We respect dairymen who use rBST, but we do not. We have always felt that we can manage cows to milk better, but we do see a place for rBST in the industry. Our cows milk naturally...we provide them the BEST feed possible, the BEST care possible, and the BEST love possible and in return the cows pay us in the bulk tank!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Made it through Easter!

Just a note, we made it through Easter! It was a busy weekend, we visited Jonathan's family on Saturday and we visited my family on Sunday. It was great to spend a couple of days with family. Granted we did have to milk cows and feed everyone every day, but no extra special projects during the day time. No as for today, that's a different story. Jon and I had a busy day filled with manure hauling from the calf huts. It was well overdue and we finally had field conditions that were cooperating! The weather looks warm and dry for the coming few days, neighbors started planting peas, wheat and oats today. The warm weather is helping dry out the fields so we can drive our tractors out there safely. I will keep you up to date with how that goes!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Got a cold :( Prepping for the milk inspector

It's a beautiful 50 degree day in MN, and I can't enjoy it because I got a cold. YUCK! I am usually very healthy, but thanks to a VERY busy weekend taking care of the farm and getting my husband Jon to his band performance (yep, Jon plays in a rock band which played at a local bar this weekend) I was running myself too thin. It caught up to me. 5-6 hours of sleep is not enough sleep to fight off a cold, and so now I suffer with a sore throat and runny nose right before Easter. So it goes, cold or no cold, there's really no sick days on a dairy farm.

So sniffles and all I headed out to the farm with a full schedule on our plate. We worked to bed in all of the heifers and calves today. It is important that they stay clean and dry every day, making sure that they stay healthy. I also worked to continue my efforts in the milking parlor. We are expecting the milk inspector any day now, so we are cleaning like mad. The milk inspector comes every 6 months to check out how well we are taking care of our cows and facilities, assuring that we are shipping a safe, wholesome product-milk. The milk inspector goes through EVERYTHING on a dairy farm! They have the rights to look at everything, and they do. SO....we need to clean everything. I am a bit of a perfectionist, so I am always striving for a perfect score on our inspection. A perfect score is nearly impossible to achieve, but its a goal. Today I crossed off pressure washing the parlor and cleaning the was a good day, sniffles or not!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Central Plains Dairy Expo

Last week was a very busy week for us, hence no blogging. We made an honest effort to leave early in the morning to make our way to the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It's a short 2 hour 15 minute drive from the farm, but we wanted to make it early for seminars and exhibits. The highlight of making a day trip like this is seeing old friends and dairy professionals from MN, SD, and IA. It's a blast to see everyone! The overall mood at the Expo was a positive one, even considering the milk prices and current economic situation. This positive mood was contagious. Dairy producers talking to dairy professionals about strategies to make it through the hard times to the good times down the road-inspiration for all of us! My father in law once said "Misery loves company", in regards to the low milk prices, but I would take a more positive route, "Misery brings people together, rising to the challenges".

It was exciting to see the new technology coming soon, to make milking cows easier for the dairy producer, but also making dairying even more "animal welfare-friendly". New tools are coming which will allow dairymen of all sizes to monitor daily temperatures of cows, cow movements, push up feed more often, keep cows clean and milk cows faster. All of these help to increase "cow comfort" (a term we use to describe the work to achieve an ultimately comfortable cow). Comfortable cows make for profitable cows. Some interesting technology that sparked our interest were the robotic milkers. Lely, a company from Europe, is currently producing robots to milk cows. The advantages to robots is that dairies will no longer have to hire labor to milk cows, and cows will milk themselves at their convenience and as frequently as they like. One farmer reported that his cows averaged being milk 3.8 times each day. Cows that are milking right after they calve like to be milked more each day compared to cows who will be ending their lactation soon, who like to be milked less. Cow will no longer have to wait to be milked, and dairy farmers will have more free time to focus on feeding, breeding, and cow care during the day. Lely also had 2 other new technologies of interest. While expensive compared to alternatives, the innovation was intriguing. One was a robot for pushing up TMR to cows and the other was a robot built to push manure into pits. Both were so intriguing!

Overall it was an uplifting day in Sioux Falls, we wished we could have stayed longer, but unfortunately we don't have a super cool Lely robot to milk our cows for us...... YET!!!