Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ready to leave 2009 behind!

I think I speak for a number of dairy farmers that I know....we are all ready to leave 2009 behind! It's been a rough 12 months in the dairy industry. We started 2009 knowing that we would be facing low/unprofitable milk prices, but none of us could predict that those low prices would persist for as long as they did.

This year tested even the hardiest farmer, not only with prices, but also with weather. The weather was cool, the growing season was poor, the winter 2008-2009 was long, and the harvest of 2009 was even longer and muddier. The stress tested every one's spirits and wills. The resilient survived, but those who didn't make it weren't bad farmers....just in bad circumstances. And lessons were learned. At Orange Patch Dairy, we learned a few good lessons that I thought I would share as well as our goals for 2010:

Lessons Learned from 2009
  1. Always save for a rainy day-this was our saving grace this year. When times were good, we put away as much money as we could. That money helped pay bills that we didn't have enough cash flow to pay for.
  2. Take a Vacation. Taking a break from the stress of the farm has no value. Time off to be with family and friends is invaluable...we know this is true.
  3. Top notch care for our cows always comes first, no matter the cost! We worked the entire year making sure that we sacrificed nothing for the cows, but instead spent less on ourselves. Our cows' care always comes first on our dairy farm, they are loved greatly.
  4. Keep doing what you do best. We know we take good care of our cows-we worked all of 2009 to continue doing that, and making the best care even better.
  5. Breathe-find JOY in the small things. If we couldn't have financial success in 2009, we had small successes: a new born heifer calf, a healthy cow, a beautiful sunset, all of God's great blessings.

Goals for 2010

  1. Improve our cow facilities: We have comfortable barns now, but we know we can make improvements to make them better. Now that we will hopefully be producing milk for a profit we hope to return those profits to new renovations this year. I also hope to post those renovations on this blog.
  2. Continue to find JOY. How could we not take this goal from 2009 with us?!?!
  3. Continue to improve cow and calf health. There is always room for improvement here. I look forward to a day when we have facilities that will provide environments for our animals that prevent disease so we don't have to treat disease. Our barns are good but there's always room for more fans, better heating, more feed space, etc.
  4. Milk more cows. I don't want to milk more cows for more money but because I love all of my cows so much, I can't bear to part with them or their kids. We hope to milk about 110 cows the full year through. That's enough cows for me though, any others will need to be sent to good homes on other dairy farms.

All of these goals and aspirations we look to on a daily basis, helping us make good decisions working towards our goals. Orange Patch Dairy looks at 2009 as a learning experience, and at 2010 as an opportunity to do better. As they say in 4-H " To Make the Best Better"

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Snow-magedon 2009-Dairy Farm Version III

Final video, with a walk through the calf huts. We take excellent care of our calves for they are the future of our herd. Their comfort is our top priority!

Snow-magedon 2009-Dairy Farm Version II

Video #2, making TMR (total mixed ration) for the cows on Christmas Day.

Snow-magedon 2009-Dairy Farm Version

Check it out! My 1st of 3 videos on our recent Christmas snow storm in Minnesota!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Snow storm coming!

Looks like we have a monster of a snow storm coming our way. Sounds like we will receive snow between 12-20 inches over Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. While I love a good snow storm, it gets to be a lot of work on the farm. Today Jonathan and I were "battening down the hatches" trying to prep for the storm, so hopefully we can enjoy a little bit of Christmas with family if possible or with each other. On our list was:
  • Bedding in all of the cows
  • Bedding all of the calves
  • Sealing up the calf huts
  • Storing extra bedding for the heifers so we don't have to dig it out of the snow banks
  • Feeding all of the cows and heifers extra feed for extra energy to get through the snow
  • Fixing and sealing curtains on the milking barn
  • Hooking up the snow blower so we can make sure the milk truck can make it to our barn
  • Plugging in tractors so we can start them in the morning-to move snow just to milk cows
  • Moving cows that are close to calving, so we can watch them more closely and don't have to move them to the milking barn in a blizzard
  • Making snow fences to stop blowing snow from drifting in our feed bags

PLANNING, PLANNING,'s going to be a crazy couple of days at the farm! Wishing you and yours a Very Merry Christmas....and a safe one at's hoping we can make it home from the farm to enjoy Christmas here instead of sleeping with the cows.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Snow Storm is coming....

The Weather Channel is telling me that there is a Christmas Snow Storm coming this week. The timing is terrible, but what can we do-arguing with Mother Nature never works in our favor. Christmas is hard with cows, mainly because we have to work twice as hard to get everything done so we can travel to our various parties. We have been blessed to live so close to most of our family, so we won't be traveling too far from home, but with a snow storm comes some extra chores and snow removal. I know it will look so lovely Christmas morning, but all I can think about right now it how much more work we will have. I am also thinking about all of the cookies and candies I have left to make and presents to wrap....tonight I finished some more sweet creations.....check out the recipe below, which uses REAL butter, from REAL cows! Yummy!

Shannon's Butter Toffee
1 cup Butter
1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Water
1/2 cup Miniature Chocolate Chips
1/2 cup Almonds (slivered)
Mix butter, sugar and water together in a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat for 13 minutes, stirring constantly. Liquid should read 300 degrees on a candy thermometer or make a brittle string when dropped in cool water. Pour quickly onto a cookie sheet and spread out. Sprinkle with chocolate and almonds. Cool for 2 hours and break into pieces. These makes great gifts, and are super easy!
Just an update on our calving season, since Thanksgiving we have welcomed 13 bulls calves and 12 heifer calves, including 2 set of twins....we are waiting for 5 others to have calves this week, and then we will have a couple days of reprieve until New Year's Day when we have 4 due on one day. So far so good! Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's a "Help Out" not a "Hand Out"

I have been reading a lot of comments floating around on the web regarding the announcement yesterday about the $290 million set to be distributed to dairy farmers from the government/FSA/USDA. I have some thoughts I would like to share.

First and foremost, this aid is just that...aid. To an industry that needs to fix it's pricing system so a year as dramatic as 2009 doesn't happen again. This is a "Help Out" not a "Hand Out". As dairy farmers, we provide a product that is necessary for life. You can live without a car, but you can't live without food. This money will be returned to our local and state economies through purchases for feed, fuel, and so many other materials we need.

I believe that as dairy farmers, if we work hard to produce a safe, wholesome product for consumers and ourselves, then we should be paid for it. I wish we didn't have to accept a payment from the government to pay our bills or just survive, but it's the reality of our situation. Today we received our milk check for our milk produced in November-we FINALLY received enough money to pay our monthly bills and put a little in the bank. I couldn't believe it-it's been almost 12 months since we actually produced milk "in the black". Did you have to go to work this year and pay admission? I did, every day for the last 12 months. I didn't really complain about it, I was more focused on giving the best possible care that I could to my cows-so we didn't lose as much money as we could have.

2009 was the "perfect storm". We had higher feed costs, higher fuel cost, and we had a recession taking away our, me, and citizens of the world. We hope with the help our government officials we can change how milk is priced and reduce the volatility in the markets. I believe that challenges like this bring out the best in dairy farmers, but in 2009, even the BEST farmer produced milk for a LOSS. Those of us that are left after this year, have repairs that NEED to be done since we put them off, we have broken equipment that NEEDS to be replaced, we have savings accounts that NEED to be refilled, we have bills that NEED to be paid, we have banks and lenders that NEED to be paid back, and we have families that could use a much needed vacation.

Jonathan and I plan to use our portion of this money to pay our bills. We hope that if we pull enough money out of our last remaining savings account and use this money that we can start 2010 with no bills due from 2009. I can't believe how hard 2009 was, but 2010, we hope can be better. We only ask for a fair price and for no more government dollars, but for now...we will take the help. Thank you US Tax payers....your dollars did go to a good place, and we will pay it back when we start to earn a salary once again!

Yevette and the calf barn

Video of Yevette from early November. Check it out!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Late Night Ramblings

Here I am, up at 1:54 in the morning, listening to some rock music, working on e-mails. Why you ask would I be working on e-mails at 1 in the morning? Well, the answer is easy...we didn't get home from the farm until Midnight tonight.

It was a good day at the farm, but a long day. We have been working on a cow, Number 20, who has a mystery illness. She gave birth to twins 3 nights ago, and since then she has not been eating as much feed as we hoped that she would. We had the vet look at her yesterday but he couldn't find anything directly wrong with her, so we assume that it is a couple of different things. As a result we "treated" her twice today. She received a "soup" of yeast, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to help out her rumen-she drank this. And she got a couple liters of IV fluids. She isn't on antibiotics, because she is not sick from an infection but appears to have a digestive upset. Tonight, it was a night and day difference-she was eating everything in sight, so we hope we are over this hurdle.

We delivered 2 new bulls calves today, so we had to tend to the mothers and the boys. All are bedded in and well fed tonight. We also bedded in all of the heifers, dry cows, and milking cows. We had to fill hay feeders in the dry cow lot and the heifer lots. And then at the end of the night we had to head back to the dry cow lot, to look for cows calving-we have 3 that look to be giving birth before sunrise....which brings me to now-this is why I am up....I will be leaving shortly to drive out the farm and check on them. Making sure that in the case that they do calve tonight someone is there to help them and the new calves. I am hoping for no calves until morning-but Mother Nature always wins this argument. So, of to the farm I go, hopefully 3 news calves and 3 happy mothers will greet me =)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Another Saturday Night at the Farm

It's Sunday, and I am recovering from another Saturday night at the farm. It was a good day yesterday. We had nice weather, temperatures in the 30's and sunny. The snow melted, and the heifers played. We had 2 heifers calves born in the afternoon, and I had some time to head to town to start my Christmas shopping. I came home to do evening chores. On the last group of cows in the parlor I had a "bad event". I was prepping or cleaning the teats of a new fresh heifer in our barn. She's a little feisty and started to kick at me. But instead of hitting me she hit the mature cow next to her. The mature cow tolerated this kicking for a little while and then she couldn't take it any more, she fired back. The mature cow tried to hit the heifer but misfired and hit me, when I wasn't even looking.

I am fine, but as a result I have a very nice "hoof" shaped bruise on my forehead as well as 2, 4 inch long abrasions on my forehead and eye brow. I was a little shaken up. I did not fight back. Why would I? Contrary to some beliefs, we do not abuse our animals. It was not the cow's fault that she hit me, she was just trying to settle down the heifer next to her that still wasn't used to getting milked in the parlor. Sometime I think a helmet should be mandatory issue for milking cows, but most times the cows hardly ever fuss. We pride ourselves on having nice, calm cows. I work hard to play with the calves and heifers. Some night I can even play a game of "tag"---yes, tag with the cows. When they have to try something new, like milking, well they go back to their basic instincts-fight back as an animal-kick. It happens, very seldom do they hit us, but sometimes they do hit, BUT we NEVER hit back. The moment we hit back we teach them that we will hit them, teaching them pain. Peaceful cows are happy cows!-and they make a lot of milk too =)

Friday, December 11, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

The radio is blaring Christmas tunes, and the weather is agreeing with the season-we have snow, we have cold, and we have blowing. It's been hard to deal with this winter weather though, because it is so extreme. We have been dealing with temperatures much below zero, wind chills much below zero, winds over 30 mph, and 6 inches of snow. This weather has cause a few problems and challenges. With cold weather we have do to some extra things each day to continue to take good care of our cows.

  • Frozen pipes: Those pipes, with the right amount of wind will ALWAYS freeze! Water is a critical nutrient for cows and calves so we HAVE to thaw the pipes everyday, sometimes twice a day.
  • Snow removal: snow blows everywhere and gets into everything. We must push snow, shovel snow, and blow snow in order to just get into the barn to feed and milk the cows.
  • Moving: yes moving is so much harder now, with 4 plus layers of clothes on it get to be pretty cumbersome to walk around.
  • Starting Tractors: yeah, tractors really don't like to start in the winter-it's too cold and their fuel systems like to "gel" up.
  • Frozen manure: hot, fresh cow pies will freeze in an instant on the right day. Manure is so much harder to move when it is frozen-making clean up so much more difficult.

Extra Cold Weather Tasks:

  • Feeding the cows extra feed: cows need extra calories to stay warm during the winter months, just like we do. Long winter hair helps to keep cows warm, but heating from the inside out works for cows just like hot soup in people =)
  • Bedding the cows extra: Cows need extra bedding to stay dry and warm. Cows and calves like to "nest" in their bedding in the winter. Therefore we need to make sure that we supply LOTS of straw for everyone.
  • Feeding the calves extra milk: Calves need extra milk as well for extra calories, so even get a calf "jacket" or "blanket" to stay warm on those cold winter nights.
  • Baby Calf Watch: We have to keep an extra eye on the dry cows due soon to have their babies. Winter is not a great time to have a calf. Typically we would be enjoying temps about 25 right now, but thanks to this artic chill we have about 12 cows yet to calve before Christmas and they are all at risk for frost bite. We check on each of them at least 6 times each day, so that the moment that they start labor we can move them to a warm pen indoors to have their calf safely-we always do the best that we can for our cows and calves so a good start is critical!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why do you farm?

I went to a great speaker yesterday at the Midwest Dairy Expo. She inspired me to write this post. She posed a very thought provoking question to us in the audience.....

"Why do YOU farm?"

Hmm, I guarantee you that I don't farm because I enjoy working in the winter time. Today we had to wear over 4 layers of clothing just to go outside, shovel the snow before we could get into the barn, move the snow before we could get to the silage bags, and bed in everyone of the animals so they can stay warm and dry all day. Farming is hard. Not everyone can farm, but a number of smart people do farm. These farmers are smart enough that they could be excellent employees for any other company, but they run their own family business instead. When I left my job in January to come home and farm, I had 3 different jobs where I could work a 5 day week, making a sizable salary, but I chose to farm instead. Some would say that this would be an unwise choice, but it was the best choice for me-it just felt right.

I farm because I enjoy working with and in nature. I enjoy working with cows, one of the best creatures that God ever created. I enjoy the satisfaction of learning to do a new task, learning a new idea, starting a new project. I hope that some day that when Jon and I have children that we can use this farm to teach our kids how important life lessons like: respect for the environment, responsibility, strong work ethic, patience and passion. I farm, because at the end of the day I want be proud of the job that I did, the best possible job possible taking care of my cows and producing a tasty, wholesome, nutritious product for my family and yours.

Just so you know.....THAT'S WHY I FARM!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tour of the Calf Huts

A warm Novemeber day....wishing for those back again! Meet our 7 baby calves, which now is more like 17 baby calves....but I wouldn't trade them for the world!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another Minnesota Winter

Oh Geeze, looks like another Minnesota winter has arrived at the farm. We tried to hold it off as long as we could, but it turns out we ran out of time. Needless to say this wet fall has made for a major delay in our "to do list". We are still trying to finish up fall work and some fall work will have to go undone. But winter prep also was left behind.

These last 2 days we have been dealing with frozen hoses and water pipes. If we had enough time, we would have "winterized" these items, but we were busy doing "fall" things. As a result we spent at least 30 minutes these last 2 days thawing out the hoses and pipes to make sure that the cows and heifers have adequate water. The cold weather makes for difficult starts for all of the tractors. Some tractors, critical to our daily operations couldn't be started today. The cold weather makes everything twice as difficult, and that's not fun when we are calving many cows.

Today we welcomed 3 new calves! 2 heifers and a bull calf. All of them healthy and happy. Because of the cold weather we had to work fast to get the calves dry and warm. Once they are warm, filling their stomachs with warm milk from their mother's (colostrum) is very important. All of our calves drink at least 1 gallon of colostrum in the first hours of life. The cooler temps and weather also make life more stressful after birth, so we make sure that each calf is vaccinated for any possible disease and feed additional milk during the day to ensure that they have adequate calories to stay warm. For some calves that are struggling, we will cover them in a calf blanket and/or use a heat lamp to warm them. Making sure that their mothers are inside and protected from the elements is also important. Cold air and wind chills can cause skin on cow's teats to freeze and crack. The cold weather also stresses the mother, so we make sure the 2 months before the birth that they consume enough calories and protein to grow a healthy calf as well as care for her needs. Nevertheless, cold weather makes for extra work, but we love what we do. Just, grateful for insulated coveralls, heavy sweatshirts, and stocking caps!!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Small break in the calving...

Today we enjoyed a small break in the calving for the week. On Tuesday we had a plethora of calves heifer calf, one set of twins (1 bull and 1 heifer) and one little heifer that didn't make it. We were really sad about the heifer that didn't make it. Her mother was in labor overnight, which is not good for us-we live 7 miles from the farm so we can't check on our cows as much as we would like to. Some farms have closed circuit camera and some have people hired to watch cows calving 24 hours a day, but since we are a small farm we have to rely on our own abilities to check on cows. We missed this cow calving at 2 or 3 am, and she was having problems, the calf was coming out backwards. When we found her calving at morning milking, we rushed to her aid, but it was too late for her little calf. As a woman, I think I always take these moments harder than Jonathan does, but often I do catch a small tear in his eyes as well. It's always heartbreaking to lose an animal on our farm, whether she's young or old, it's hard to watch. That is why we work so hard to make sure that all of our animals have the best care possible and we can't wait to move to the farm when the opportunity arises-to keep a better watch on our girls.

On a happier note, the calf barn is busting with 4 bulls, and 3 heifers, and I am waiting for 4 more cows to calve before Friday. I can't wait for more babies, even though it takes me double the time to do my calf chores every day twice a day, I love caring for the little ones. They are full of discovery and amazement and I think that's what makes the job so fun! Hopefully I have more pictures of little calves, and I hope we don't lose anymore of our blessings.