Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Passed the milk inspection!!!

Well, the milk inspector stopped out today for our surprise inspection and we are certified to sell milk for another 6 months!!!!  We were not worried that we would fail this inspection, as we are always working to have clean equipment and safe, wholesome milk, but every dairy farmer knows that the moment that the milk inspector sets foot on the just get nervous.  It's a guessing game as to whether or not we will get a violation, and we definitely do not want to have a violation so severe that it would warrent a re-inspection, which we would have to pay a fine for.  Today's good news was that we passed...but Alan did leave us a short list of changes that he thinks we should make before he comes to visit us again in the fall.  Simples stuff like painting a storage box, scrubbing off some hard water spots off of the pipeline in the corner of the parlor, and making sure the milk house door is shut~as Alan showed up when we were cleaning up after treating a cow and we had the door propped open.  It's not that an open door or a storage container with chipping paint are bad for the quality of our milk, but its that if we make these improvements we will continue to have a clean and safe environment to make safe and wholesome milk.  Sometimes it just nice to have another set of eyes to check out the job that you are doing.  In case you're wondering what a milk inspection looks like, check out this video from the Minnesota Department of Ag....and check out this video from about milk quality!

Just a note, I might not be around much in the coming days.  We have a tour group of preschoolers coming to the farm next Monday, and I have a lot of activities to organize beforehand.  Since the sun is shining Jon tells me that we will also be hauling out the dry cow yard's manure and hopefully hitting the fields to plant our first field of corn for silage!  I promise to take lots of pictures in the meantime!  Happy Spring!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Do cows get the "flu"?

As I type this I am dealing with the "crud" that's been going around thanks to our dramatic weather changes in MN.  It's been 70's for a week and now, today, it's 50's and rain...which means "crud" for my throat.  It got me thinking about a question that I was once asked...."Do cows get the flu?"

About 2 weeks ago, when Jon was gone for his grandfather's funeral, I was left home alone with the cows.  While doing morning chores, I noticed something was terribly wrong with my girls...most of them had the diarrhea!  I immediately went into detective mode.  What was causing my cows to be sick?!?!?!  After taking the temperatures of a couple of them I determined that they had contracted the "cow flu", known to dairy farmers as dysentery.  Dysentery is contagious, so once a couple cows get it, a few more will follow until the whole herd has had it...just like the flu in humans! I have never seen a cow with a vomitting flu, but just diarrhea.  

So does this affect milk quality?  Absolutely not, the milk is still safe for humans!  Unlike some other pathogens, when a cow gets dysentery, she lowers her milk production until she feels better, but she never produces milk of poorer quality, and humans definitely don't get dysentery from cows, otherwise Jon and I should have had it more than a couple of times.  Needless to say we have both experiences the messes of cows with diarrhea on our clothes and in our faces.  It's a virus known only in cows, carried by birds (which we have) or transfer by people moving from farm to farm.

Just like people, its been a couple of years since we had dysentery so the cows got it bad.  So what happens to cows when they have to flu? How do you treat it??? Cows lower their milk production so that their bodies can focus on getting better.  They work on lowering their fevers, feeling better, resting, eating, and increaing milk production back to previous levels.  Sometimes later lactation cows (cows that have been milking over 200 days) have a hard time gaining back lost milk production since they are also later gestation (only a couple months from having another calf).  These later lactation cows will focus on their calf instead of milk, and that's just fine with us.  We want them happy and healthy.  If we didn't treat the cows, they would actually get better all on their own.  It takes a couple of days, but most cows will recover without a problem and without intervention.  However, I care for my cows and decided that we were going to spend some money on a treatment.  Since this is a digestive infection, we opted for probiotics (bacteria which help to keep the cow's stomach healthy).  Probiotics are natural and readily available.  I chose  a combination of natural yeasts and lactobacillus bacteria.  These worked to keep my cows eating until they recovered.  I mixed them into their TMR (feed) making sure that each cows had a taste of the "good bugs".  Other than adding "good bugs" to the feed for 10 days, we just watched the cows making sure those that got sick were still eating and getting better. 

A couple of fresh cows got the "flu" worse than the other cows...just like how some people get the flu worse than others.  We treated these with electrolytes (just like Gatorade) to help replenish their fluids and IV fluids if we needed to act quickly.  Since these cows just had calves they were more susceptible to the symptoms of dysentery; their immune systems where not as active as the milking cows. 

When did the cows recover?  I can honesly say that our cows took exactly 2 weeks to recover completely.  It took 14 days for the dysentery to go through the entire herd, a couple cows each day.  But as of today the herd is milking at the same level that they were before they got sick, about 90 pounds per cow per day.  We lost on average, about 10 pounds of milk per cow during the worst of it.  This means each day we lost about $160 income, or $2240 total, in the past 14 days.  We don't focus on the lost income as much as the success of getting everyone through the "flu" with everyone still alive and kickin'!  We are hoping that the girls are exposed to it now and should have immune systems set up to handle the "flu" the next time it comes around.

Moral of the StoryFarmers care for their cows every day, their health is our number one priority!! 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day from Orange Patch Dairy!

Earth Day EVERY Day

Please check out our YouTube video highlighting just one of the many areas of our farm where we care for our planet Earth.  I know that popular media would have you believe that farmers abuse the planet, but we instead care for our resources just as much as we care for our animals.  We know that without healthy soils and safe water sources we would not be able to produce forage for our cows, so that they can be nurished and healthy.  Taking care of our planet is critical for our livelihoods and the future generations of farmers to come.

Planting Peas in MN

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Caught with Our Pants Down

I guess I could say that we gave been "caught with our pants down", at the farm.  Typically spring doesn't officially arrive in our part of MN until early May.  This year we have been treated with some awesome temperatures (in the 70's) for more than a couple days!  These warm days have really pushed the plants along.  Our alfalfa fields are currently on track to need harvesting almost 2 weeks earlier than scheduled.  Our neighbors have been planting corn all week.  Last year (2009) we would have been laughing at them, since we still had snow in some fields at this time!  (last spring was abnormally cold and wet)  Today I had to start mowing the lawn around the dairy barn~which I normally don't do until May 1st, but the grass REALLY needed.  I love the smell of cut grass though, it was amazing!  Since it appears that we have lost 2 weeks of time we are "caught with our pants down". 

We would have used those 2 weeks to do some many other tasks.  I have so much trash to pick up in the ditch that goes past our farm...apparently people have yet to learn NOT to litter!  Makes me so mad, when we work so hard to have a nice farm site and take care of our environment and others just throw their trash in our ditches.  Oh well...I will get to trash later in the coming weeks.  I need to pick up the AgBag (plastic that we use to store our silages) plastic that blew away during the winter storms and hid in the snow drifts.  We need to finish up last minute touches in the parlor before the milk inspector comes~I am almost there but not quite.  I have also been working on doing some much needed fixing in the parlor on the milking equipment.  It works just fine, but there are some parts that need to be replaced.  New works just a little bit better than used.  We have a couple of lots with manure in that need to be hauled out quick before the corn and beans go into the soil...and  FINALLY we have fields to work also to get started planting our own corn....phew I am getting tired just thinking about it. we go, trying to fit in 2 extra weeks of work into as few of days as thing you learn on the farm is to always be "flexible"!!!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Manure Management Meetings on Friday

It's been a busy weekend, but I wanted to take some time to recap some of the things that we worked on Friday.  We had a BUNCH of meetings on Monday at the farm with the various professional that we work with to help us make good choices for our land and resources.  This year we are planning to grow our 1st crop of corn!  Previously Jonathan and I purchased all of the feed that we feed our cows from my father in law.  Growing our own crops (at least part of our feed needs) will allow us to save money as we can work to grow feed at a lower cost than we can purchase it...not that my father in law ripped us off, but now we can use our own labor instead of paying him and our own manure instead of giving it away to neighbors. 

We work with our local cooperative's agronomy department, which helps us mange our soils and crops. We pulled soil samples a few weeks ago to determine the quality of the soil in our field.  The good news is that with the management of manure in the previous years resulted in some very fertile soils that will only require a small amount of commercial fertilizer to get the corn started.  The remaining nutrients are already in the soil thanks to cow manure from last fall!  Another excellent bonus is that this lower level of commercial fertilizer will not only reduce the total cost of growing corn but increase the biological activity of the soil microbes (bacteria) which break down cow manure and crop residue (leaves and stalks left over from last year).  We were excited to hear this news and even more excited to get into the fields to get that corn planted!

We also work with a private practice agronomist/manure management specialist.  His name is Al, and he helps us keep track of so many things on our farm regarding manure.  Al has been sampling our manure for the past few years, making sure that we don't over or under apply manure to our soils.  This insures that we will always apply our cow manure at the appropriate rate.  We have even calibrated all of our manure spreaders so we know how many pounds/tons of manure we apply per acre.  One project that we have our friend Al working on right now, is recalculating our manure management plan.  Our manure management plan is a document of many pages which accounts for the amount of manure that our cows produce each year and how many acres that are required in order to apply that manure.  A series of manure samples, soil samples, and calculations are included and used to determine those acres.  As our herd has grown this past winter, we have to re-calcualte the manure management plan, making sure yet again that we do not over apply manure. 

Maintaining our soils is our number one goal.  Manure is not a pollutant when used properly, but instead a GREAT fertilizer which grows some of the best corn in the area!  I even use manure to grow my flowers, fruits and vegetables....and I have an amazing crop each year!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Honoring a Leader in the Dairy Industry

I still remember the first time I had the honor of meeting Brant Groen.  I had decided to visit Jonathan at college in Willmar, MN (Ridgewater). I made the 2 hours drive swiftly, and arrived to find out Jonathan was still at school working in the Ag Shop on a tractor.  I stopped into visit him and Jon gave me my first tour of the Ridgewater Dairy/Ag Department.  I met all of his instructors and then I finally met the "famous" Brant!  Oh how many late night phone calls with Jon, would I hear about how Brant taught them a new skill or concept at class~he made learning interesting and exciting.  Brant was Jonathan's Dairy Management Instructor and well, a mentor.  Brant greeted me with a smile and a joke to Jon about how I was too good for him.  I laughed.  He asked me how long I was staying.  I was going to stay through the next day, and he invited me to class the next day.  Needless to say it was not my last class with Brant....he always invited me to join when I visited (only a handful of times) and everytime that I went to class with Jon, I would learn something new.  I admired Brant's teaching style.  He was a hands on teacher and I know that we can credit him for teaching Jon (and me too) everything that he knows. 

Brant did an excellent job of using real life farms and professionals to teach important skills needed to be a good dairy farmer.  A dairy farmer that is knowledgable and caring.  His retirement made Jonathan and I so sad.  Brant has influenced so many MN dairy farmers, his leadership will be incredibly hard to replace....and we will miss him dearly :( 

Best wishes Brant as you start your next venture in life, and know that you have helped to develop some of the best dairy farmers in the state of Minnesota!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Top 10 Myths about Dairy Products

Check this us out!!!  I like this article for multiple reasons, but mainly that it is setting the record straight regarding so MANY myths that so many anti-dairy groups use against dairy products.  Dairy products do NOT cause acne, mucus, heart disease, or weight gain.  Dairy products when included in a balanced diet result in reduced weight gain, healthy skin, and healthy hearts.  Amazing...milk is nature's perfect food!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Small Farms vs. Large Farms~Labor & Family Time

Often times I hear people talking about small farms vs. large farms, or family farms vs. corporate farms. I think it is funny that people think that there is a distinction between the two.  In fact 99% of all farms are family owned.  In the dairy indsutry a small farm is categorized as any farm with "less than 300 milking cows".  Imagine that!  Everyone of the farms in our county is a "small farm", but I would bet that if you drive by our farm or others you might think to yourselves that we operate a "large farm".  I also find it interesting that large farms are thought of as having poor management, unhealthy animals and bad milk, but I know so MANY large farms with a high standard of excellence.  But I should get back to my main point.....labor issues and family time on a "small farm".

Jonathan and I operate a "family farm" that is "small", and ALL of our labor is family labor.  We currently have no employees, but hire neighbors to help us on the weekends when they don't have to go to work, when we have a wedding or want some time off.  This puts us in a tight spot when something happens during the week, which was what I was thinking about tonight as I hosed down the milking parlor.  I wished that we had an employee or 2 tonight.  This past Saturday, Jon's grandfather from Southeast Minnesota passed away, and the funeral was planned for Tuesday.  We would have both liked to attend the funeral, but since we are the ONLY employees at our farm and those cows need to be fed and milked each day, I volunteered to stay home and "man the fort".  I am in charge of milking for tonight and tomorrow morning as well as heifer chores and feeding calves.  I am comfortable with working solo, but it's nice to have Jon around to help.  We have an awesome neighbor that is coming over to feed the cows for me~I am not a big fan of mixing TMR in the mud.  If we had a larger farm we would have employee that would be trained and dependable.  They would have been able to fill in for me in my absence.  Other times during the year, we would be able to have time off for other family events as well.  Often times, families decide to milk more cows so they can afford to hire employees or in some case install robots to milk their cows.  But in either instance, its about making sure that the care of the cows comes first, so the care of the family can be increased. 

I can honestly say that I am looking forward to have an employee or 2....making them part of our "dairy farming family".

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hauling Manure-Day 3, DONE! FINALLY!

A quick look back at what it was like to be finished hauling manure, back in November 2009!  We hauled it out again this spring but instead of being hauled to the field it was stored at a friend's farm where he will spread it this coming fall on his fields.  Spring manure hauling sometimes is tricky with wet soils and spring rains we can have soil compaction, making for poor growing conditions for the crops. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Steaming Manure?

A short video from November 2009, explaining why our compost pack barn manure is steaming and other fun facts!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Manure for Fertilizer

Removing the Manure from the compost barn-Fall 2009 Check out my latest post to YouTube.  While its old it is relevant as we are prepping to plant our first field of corn this year.  Learn more about how dairy farmers care about the environment at Dairy Farming Today!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Recap

I hope everyone had a very Happy Easter, including a dinner filled with delicious foods produced by American farmers. We celebrated Easter with our families on Saturday and decided to stay home on Sunday. Turns out that was a wise decision!

On Sunday morning we worked quickly to finish chores, attended Easter Sunday Mass, grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to the farm to mix the 2nd batch of TMR for the afternoon (those cows sure do eat!). Upon returning to the farm, it turns out the Easter Bunny left us a little surprise....a new baby heifer calf!!!! My cow Judas was 5 days over due, which usually means that we will be getting a bull calf (heifers usually come early). Judas was resting contently on the bedded pack of corn straw in the cow yard. Next to her was her very beautiful, dry and clean heifer calf, whom we named "Jelly Beans". She's such a blessing, especially since we had 3 bull calves in a row, as heifer calves are the future of our herd in the next years. Jelly Beans had over 10 pints of colostrum on Sunday, she's got an aggressive appetite!

Today we were blessed with another heifer! Theresa Marie, twin sister to Theresa Ann, delivered another beautiful heifer calf, whom I named Theresa May. Theresa May drank about 8 pints of colostrum within 1 hour of being born, she too has an aggressive appetite. A good appetite helps to develop a good immune system. A fun story about Theresa Marie though....

On the night of May 17th, 2008 our great cow Terry started calving. We finished up chores that night and returned to the dry cow yard to check on Terry. She had successfully delivered a beautiful heifer calf who I named Theresa Ann. We moved Terry to the new barn and we moved the calf to the calf barn. When we got Terry to the barn we put her in the hospital pen, where she had access to feed and water, as well as clean, well bedded pen. We watched her for a little while to make sure that she was doing well-we do this for all fresh cows. We noticed that she was pushing awful hard for just having a calf. We wondered if she was trying to hurt herself, so we chased her out of the pen and into an area where we could better examine her. Jon reached in to find another calf!!!!! We worked quickly to pull the 2nd calf out, she was we pulled her out, rear legs first, we knew something wasn't right. Once she was out, we discovered that she was not breathing!!!! Jon immediately started giving her mouth to mouth, while I worked on chest compressions. It's a rough technique, but our version of Cow CPR has worked more than once. We worked for about 20-30 minutes. This calf was struggling to breathe, but with each compression and breath she began to get the "light back into her eyes". Meanwhile Terry was trying to help us by licking her calf off....assisting in stimulating the calf. We administered a shot of steroids to reduce the potential swelling in her brain. I named the calf Theresa Marie, as she was a miracle to be breathing, and over night I prayed that she would still be alive in the morning. We moved Terry and Theresa Marie back into the pen, where Terry continued to lick the calf. In the morning Theresa Marie was ALIVE!!! She was hiding in the corner of the barn behind a tractor!!!! We carry the story of Theresa Marie's miracle with us all of the time, as sometimes Cow CPR works....and the fact that Theresa Marie had a heifer today, makes the miracle almost 2 years ago, all the sweeter! Thank you God for the blessing that is Theresa Marie! =)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Field Trip to Central Plains Dairy Expo

2 days ago Jon and I made the trek to Central Plains Dairy Expo, in Sioux Falls South Dakota. We usually try to head out every year for this expo. For me, its like a class reunion, as most of my college classmates are either working on dairies or working for dairy companies in the dairy industry. For Jon, its a chance to meet with different companies that could be potential suppliers for future investments for the health and well being of our cows. Overall it's a great experience!

I attended a seminar where I met with other dairy producers who are also interested in telling the stories of their farms, families, and cows. How uplifting it was to hear those farmers tell about sharing through speaking events, online encounters, and social media. All sharing the honest truth about their farms: they care for their cows, they care for the environment and land, and they care about the consumers who choose dairy~! I am really looking forward to hearing more dairy farmers share their stories, consumers want to know where their food comes from and we should not be afraid to tell them how hard we work and how much we CARE for they food they eat.

Another interesting part of the trip was the amount of field work going on. Last year we encountered a snow storm on the way to South Dakota, but this time it was 70+ degrees, sunny and breezy. It's been an amazing week of weather here! When we left MN we saw farmers in our area digging fields and sowing in their wheat, oats, and alfalfa crops. When we got closer to South Dakota we saw farmers combining 2009 corn that they had to leave in the fields thanks to our soggy fall and early winter snows. Those same farmers were also taking advantage of the warm dry weather, they were baling up dried corn straw/stalks to be used on their cattle farms as bedding. It was really a tale of 2 season....Fall 2009 and Spring 2010. I know that this warm weather has been a real blessing for each of those seasons and we are truly grateful!!

At Orange Patch Dairy, we received a short shower of rain today, and it was as though God himself took a crayon and colored the grass and alfalfa fields green in minutes....EVERYTHING is green and beautiful! Spring is officially here!!!!!