Monday, May 30, 2011

Saturated & Muddy!

Saturated & Muddy!  That's how I would describe the "environment" on Orange Patch Dairy, these days.  There are so many things to be done on the farm, but there's literally too much mud, rain, slop, and muck to get it done.  I would take pictures to share our misery, but it's almost embarrassing.  Just when the weather clears, and the soil finally starts to dry, and it might look like we can get back in the fields (we have corn to finish planting, soybeans to start, and alfalfa to chop) we receive another 1/2 to 1 inch of rain.  This morning we were "blessed" with another 1+ inch of rain.  The forecast has more rain predicted for tonight as well as Thursday night.  The sun might actually come out this weekend, but that's just in time for my brother in law's graduation party....which means we can't be in the field. 

Then there's the cows.  It's so muddy in the cow yards right now, it has become impossible to get bedding to the cows.  Thankfully the sand corners of the pens are drying during the day, so the cows can rest on dry "islands" in the sun.  It looks bad though.  I was out fixing fence in our yards today, and sank into the mud as I stood still, like in quick sand.  I nearly lost my boots twice, stuck in the mud as I tried to walk out.  I've never been more grateful for the concrete portions of our yards, where are animals can find additional reprieve from the mud, as well as eat and drink in mud-free peace. 

Even if we get into the field, the mud is so severe by our silage bags, we will not be able to make our new 2011 haylage bags in the yard.  We will be searching for the highest, driest location on the's crazy to think about not being able to put a silage bag on our pad for weeks.  So please wish us well...these soggy dairy farmers could really use a dry break for the next 2-3 weeks, then we'll take some more rain.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Teaching the importance of consistency....

In a previous post I commented on some of the changes that we were making on the farm. One of the first changes was hiring our first employees. For the first couple weeks, things went really well. Jon and I both reaped the advantages of having extra help on the farm, but not too long after that we started to have some problems with one of our employees.
Dairy farming is a 24-7 job. Cows are always producing milk, and need constant attention. Cows crave consistency. Cows do not like changes. Cows expect to be milked everyday, twice a day. One of our employees missed that point. This employee decided that it would be okay if he didn't come to work, not once, not twice, but three different times in the past weeks. When you depend on someone to be there, and they don't show up, it's a huge let down. But on a dairy farm it has long lasting implications...this week was proof of this. Not only was Monday a complete disaster (we basically got cows milked, fed and bedded, but that was it, no extra projects for us), but we also had a mismatched schedule for the rest of the week. For example, today, I dried off cows that should have been dried off on Monday.
It's been easy for us to teach the importance of being dependable, responsible, and consistent to our other employee, but for the other, it was more than a challenge. We knew we would be at risk for employees that just might not care as much as we do about our cows, but we didn't think we would face it so soon.

We love our cows, and we expect our employee to care for them as well. In fact, we also expect them to get to know them by their names and personalities. We have a book/manual about cow behavior, we ask them to read. We also expect our employees to understand how much not only us, but our cows, depend on them to show up to work on time and do a good job. Without good employees we would not be able to provide our cows the care that they deserve. Needless to say, our truant employee put in his notice yesterday, before we could formally let him go. Our lesson was learned, and we will continue to work harder to teach our employees the importance of their roles in food production and cow care!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Antibiotic Tests

Did you know dairy farms test for antibiotics on farm? Shown here are 2 samples from 2 cows in our herd.  The yellow sample is a cow that is negative for antibiotics, and will return to the milking herd, producing milk for consumers.  The purple sample is a cow that tested positive for antibiotics and will NOT return to the milking herd.  She will remain in the sick cow pen, where her milk is dumped and NEVER used for human consumption!  Milk is tested 17 times before it reaches the consumers!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Photos I was Afraid to Share

Our cows, resting on the bedded pack in our dairy barn.

An example of a photo I was afraid to share....
cows walking in "poop" (manure).
 As part of my goal with my blog, I believe that there is nothing to hide about what we do on our farms everyday!  Some have accused me of "sugar coating" the truth about dairy farming, but rest assured, everything that I post is the honest truth.  That being said, I had a startling realization the other day.

I was talking with our hoof trimmer Brian (the lovely man who comes to give our cows pedicures twice a year) about the health of our cows' feet and hooves as compared to other types of dairy farms.  He shared with me a very interesting point....but I'll start at the beginning first.  Our cows are housed in a pack barn (see above picture) where they are allowed to roam freely each day around this pen.  We bed it every few days with fresh wood saw dust.  The bedding helps to keep our cows dry as well as comfortable.  As you can see, they rest very comfortably.  Much like a traditional modern free stall barn, we have a feed alley where the cows can also freely walk to and eat.  In this feed alley, they walk in "poop" (manure).  In fact, on certain days, with certain cows, they actually accidentally sleep on "poop".  The "poop" is removed from the floor twice daily, but during parts of the day there is "poop" on the floor.  Pictures that I have taken in our barn of cows eating on the alley have been carefully edited, cropped or avoided all together because I wasn't sure how I could explain to a consumer the fact that our cows walk in "poop".  The funny thing is that I give tours to preschool kids and parents, where they see first hand the cows walking in "poop", and I was able to explain to them why this was ok, but I couldn't do it on my blog. 

So...back to the hoof trimmer.  Brian shared an interesting fact about cows that walk in "poop"...their hooves are actually in the best condition of all the feet he trims!  No way!  Walking in "poop" is actually good for cows...much like cows on pasture which will walk in mud, or create cow paths that may get moist!  The moisture from the mud or in the case of our farm, "poop" acts a a moisturizer for cow feet, thereby helping the cow maintain good hoof growth (hooves grow like human finger nails).  Brian also shared that cows that have feet that are always kept dry and clean, actually have a painful problem: their feet get hard, dry and brittle.  In some cases the hoof material actually stops growing!  So...I no longer need to feel ashamed to share a picture of our cows standing on a "poop" covered floor...because the truth is that our farm facility is natural to the cow and provides for her excellent hoof health!  So rest assured...I am willing to share everything!

Friday, May 13, 2011

2011 Projects-Phase 2: The Patio!

Arrival of the feed bunks! Another muddy day!

So much rain meant Jon had to work in the rain a lot! Dedicated to get the job done!

Finished project!  Happy Cows! Success!
Since late March, we have been working diligently to start and finish our second project for 2011.  We wanted to do this project last November, but thanks to our lovely Minnesota winters, we were greeting with snow a little too early.  Late March we started moving dirt, poured concrete in April, laid the bunks in place in April, welded gates & fencing in April and let the cows out for their first night on the patio just before May began!  Our patio was inspired by a visit at a fellow dairy farmer's farm, Laura Daniels of Wisconsin.  Laura had a patio on her farm for her Jersey cows to roam out to, which allowed her to add more eating space for her cows.  BRILLIANT IDEA!  We saw this idea in October, and wanted to add it immediately, but there were some hoops to jump through...all dairy farmers have to do some serious planning before a project, even a smaller one like this.

First we started to lay out the "floor plan".  We then contacted the local county office to visit with our County Feedlot Inspector.  Our inspector came to the farm for a visit in November to check the site, overview our plans and give the "go-ahead" to start.  The primary concern for the county, with outdoor feeding, is manure run off.  We designed the patio with curbs and bumpers which keep the manure from running away, even in a heavy rain storm.  Next we contacted local contractors to bid the project and worked with our banker to secure financing.  So...why did we add this patio?!?!?! 

Easy!  We have more heifers calving each month, and we have a very low cull rate (percent of cows removed from the herd via sale), therefore each month our herd grows with additional cows-the result of excellent animal care!  Our growing herd had plenty of space in our bedded pack barn for laying down, resting and sleeping, but as we add cows the amount of feed bunk space got lower and lower.  We managed around this by pushing up feed frequently each day, as well as feeding twice a day.  The cows never ran out of feed, but the competition for feed increased.  Research recommends 24 inches of space per we added the patio.  The patio also allowed the cows to go outside to enjoy the sun and get a little exercise.  They enjoy the sun shining in on the south side of our curtain barn, but this was an added bonus!  Even on a rainy day, there's at least a couple standing out there!  Check out the pictures of the progress that got us to our final goal!  Ultimately, the new Patio allows us to continue the excellent care our cows get everyday!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

2011 Projects....Phase 1

Well I have been busy, as you can see by my absence from the blogging sphere.  There are some great reasons for this, which I will explain in the coming posts.  We expect 2011 to be a great year for our farm, we have some big plans to make our farm better for our cows (first priority) and for us (second priority).  Phase 1 of our projects was to hire a full time employee or 2 part time employees to assist with milking and clean up of the parlor.  We started our search for employees locally in mid-April.  After interviewing a couple candidates we settled on 2 men to help us.  One is responsible for coming to milk in the morning, while the other assists with milking at night.  Both have the good fortune of milking with me! (haha!)  By hiring employees, we free up Jon from the responsibility of being in the him the opportunity to work on other projects around the farm. 

Now that we have the "kinks" worked our of our schedules and we have a more settled routine, we can see the advantages of having additional help.  In the mornings, I am able to milk cows and do cow health checks while Jon is able to feed 2 batches of TMR (total mixed ration) to the milking cows, feed the dry cows and feed our heifers all before noon!  In the evenings, Jon is able to haul manure, fix various pieces of equipment, and work with cows that need additional care.  It's been amazing how much more efficient we have become.  Because we have feed to all of our animals, earlier in the day, we have seen an increase in milk production.  Because we are able to milk our cows faster, the cows are able to spend more of their day resting, eating and drinking.  It's been great to see the cows relax and reap the benefits of such a simple change. 

Neither one of our employees have any previous experience milking cows, but we have been working to teach and train.  They are fast learners and have a great respect for our cows.  I think that's been the best part of adding employees....teaching them about how much we respect and care for our cows.  In fact, last Saturday, our morning milker brought his 10 year old son to milk with us.  It was awesome to see Clif share with his son the importance of cleanliness in the parlor, proper cow handling, and the value of agriculture in our local economy.  So, as we continue to work out the kinks, we hope to have more good news about hiring employees.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

So Why's your farm called Orange Patch Dairy???

After writing this blog since 2009, I realized I have never posted about why we call our farm "Orange Patch Dairy"...interesting, since that's a really good here we go....

My husband Jon, who I have had the good fortune of knowing my ENTIRE life (yeah we've known each other since we were toddlers!) shares my passion and love of dairy cows and farming.  In addition to his love of dairying, he also loves his orange colored tractors (Allis Chalmers, Agco Allis, Agco, etc) and his sliver combines (Gleaners).  When we married, I not only married  him, but his vast collection of orange and silver toys, magazines, caps, advertisements, catalogs, parts, and clothing.  He's been literally obsessed with orange since birth.  You see, his Grandpa has been farming with orange since the day he started farming, and that's impressive since he was raised on a green farm (John Deere).  Jon's Dad continued that legacy with the purchase of a couple more orange tractors, making our farm the home to 12 very special and very used orange machines.  There is also a silver combine in the machine shed!  Farmers in the neighborhood, who chose to drive green or red tractors, often joked about the "pumpkin patch" down the road, with all of the orange (pumpkin) tractors.  My in laws ignored their jokes, they drove dependable tractors that just happened to be different than everyone else.

So when Jon was just starting FFA in high school, and needed to have a name for his herd of dairy cows, the choice seemed perfectly clear for him: Orange Patch Dairy, and the name just stuck.  Because you see, our farm is not home to a Pumpkin Patch, but home to 12 orange tractors, although gaining in years, still loved and care for each day.  So our farm name highlights the fact that we chose to be different, unique and special.....and why not!?!  Someone has to be a trend setter ;) 

So there you go....why we are called Orange Patch Dairy