Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Moving forward on our lagoon...

Success!  Today we received our final approval from the county board of commissioners for our manure lagoon!  Now all we need to do is secure financing and we can call the contractors to move forward with this project.  It's been another long and busy road to reach this point.  The process started over 3 months ago, when we finalized the design of our lagoon.  Our lagoon will store enough manure, waste water, run off water, and rain water for our 240 milking cows, a future additional 160 more cows, and 50 dry cows, plus an additional 8% extra....so basically, we're prepared for anything!  This lagoon design had to be approved by an engineer, which we hired, and then sent to the county feedlot inspector for approval.  After a number of changes to meet specs for the engineer and the laws of our county, we finally had plan.  Then we had to revise our manure management for the additional "future" storage.  That manure management plan had to be presented to the commissioners as well as the plans for the lagoon.  We had a hearing last week with our county board, and then today we had final approval for the plans.  Thankfully, we were not opposed by any neighbors, but we've been talking to all of them about this project for over a year.  Only one commissioner had a handful of questions for Jon, so basically pain-free. 
Now we are excited to move forward, in hopes that this winter we can enjoy the convenience of not having to haul manure, and the ability to only have to apply manure to our fields in the fall, when we can maximize those nutrients as a natural fertilizer!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Drought 2012: How it's affecting US Dairy Farmers

I'm hoping to share a more personal reflection of the Drought of 2012 on this blog in the coming weeks, but for now I have a great resource for you to check out!  Please check out www.dairygood.org for their latest article featuring perspectives from some great dairy farmers across the US.  The article Dairy Farmers Endure highlights a lot of the very same issues that we're facing on our own dairy farm.  Rising feed costs, the risk of not having enough forages on hand, and the stress of financial issues are all hot topics on our farm.  So, please take some time to read this great article!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Teaching the importance of Consistancy

Note: I found this gem in my drafts, which I never posted, but I found it to be especially well written, I hope you enjoy!

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!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Shutting down rumors & stating the facts...

Well it looks like the 'ol Rumor Mill of the local small towns are up and running once again.  As our family enjoyed the area county fair this week, several of us were pulled aside and asked some peculiar questions regarding our dairy farm.  As it turns out, these questions were based on rumors which were started by some confusion regarding a legal notice in the newspapers.  So, let's start with the rumors:
  • No, we are not milking 3 times a day, we just have some odd hours of operation, therefore the lights never really shut down.  Also, often times, such as tonight, Jon or I are out in the barn treating or caring for a cow or calf.
  • No, we are not currently milking 600 cows...we only have 240 milking cows on site, which are shared between Jon & his dad.
  • No, we are not adding cows, and we are especially not adding 600 cows.
So, now for the facts....
  • This week we have a meeting with the county commissionors to approve the final stage of our expansion/updating project.  Recall, that last year at this time we were refused a permit to build a lagoon since our proposed lagoon did not meet county regulations, but we were granted a permit to build a new barn.  Now, we are seeking a permit to build a new lagoon, one which will meet the requirements of the county law (providing us 12 months worth of manure storage for our cows).
  • But the legal announcement states that we're building for 400 cows.  That is in fact true.  We're building a lagoon that will be large enough to store 12 months of manure for 400 cows.  However, we do not have 400 cows, we only have 240 cows, and plan on staying at that size for several years.  The truth of the matter is that since the permitting process is such a battle, we decided we'd build an oversized lagoon, which allows us the ability to build another barn for additional cows in the future without having to add a "mini" laggon to the proposed lagoon....otherwise we would be adding lagoons over and over again, and that's not practical.  BUT...we want to abide by the law, so we're being up front and honest.
Seems like once the fire got started, it burned way out of proportion!  I am glad that so many neighbors and friends were willing to ask us in person.  We're definitely open to answer questions and addressing concerns.  We're looking forward to this proposed lagoon for several reasons, but the primary one is the environmental issues related to manure.  The county granted us the right to haul manure everyday last year, but this is not practical from a time management stand point nor is it from an environmental stand point.   We're looking forward to being able to better control and manage our manure nutrients, aiding us in growing excellent crops to feed our cows.  We're also looking forward to hauling manure only in the fall, when we can control the field conditions more readily.  So...I hope that cleared the air, stay tuned for more updates.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

10 years ago....braces and all, I was a Finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way,
an experience I will never forget!
Wow has time flown by!  As I write this, we have finished 1st cutting of alfalfa.  Thankfully that frost earlier in April was not as detrimental as we expected it to be.  Thanks to lots of rain (5.25 inches in one week) we postponed planting our corn in exchange for cutting hay on May 12th...the earliest we have EVER cut alfalfa.  We also welcomed 13 new calves to the barn....all of which were born within the same week as making hay.  Now I am working on my presentation for the Dairy Princess event this weekend.  Here, talented dairy farmers' daughters and employees are competing to be one of the 12 Finalists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way.  The scary part is that I was one of these young ladies a mere 10 years ago!  Wow how things have changed, yet they are still the same!
The dairy princess program in Minnesota is still going strong, perhaps even stronger than ever, since so many young women are realizing the importance of sharing their stories with others.   Passionate doesn't even begin to describe these young women.  They are leaders, innovators, communicators, and most of all they LOVE the great community we call the dairy industry! 
10 years ago I had no idea how important the dairy princess program would be in who I am today.   Today, I am still advocating for dairy farmers like myself....using some of the same skills I had back then, with the same amount of passion, but with different tools...like this blog ;)
The final 12 will have the great experience of getting their likeness carved in a 90 pound block of butter at the Minnesota State Fair this summer!  A real honor!  (much like I did 10 years ago!)  We're wishing all these young ladies well, as any one of them would be an excellent Princess Kay!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tulips and alfalfa are confused....

On eof the many tulips I have, wondering is it winter or summer in MN?
Boy does this weather in MN have my plants, flowers & veggies confused!  Not to mention the poor cows.  Just yesterday afternoon we were dodging thunderstorms in a humid 70 degree haze.  Today we are talking about snow, wind chills, and oh yeah....FROST!  Last week we endured a low overnight of 19.  That's not only harmful to my precious flowers....but also to our alfalfa.  It's scary to think what this next cool night might bring.  Last week's frost nipped the tops of all of our previously georgious alfalfa plants.  Most appear to have survived, but they are most definitely stunted.  Tonight's weather is going to put some already stressed out alfalfa plants at greater risk for more damage and even possibly death!   Our alfalfa crop is critical.  Healthy plants, harvested correctly, will make healthy feed for our cows...thereby growing healthy cows ;)  So, we are praying with fingers crossed that by the end of the week our dear alfalfa field will have survived the cool weather and resumed their path to an early harvest in May. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nutrition...a confusing maze of information!

Like all young people, Jon & I are working on making sure that we are eating the right foods and taking care of ourselves.  With the change/move to the farm, we have been able to have at least one solid meal with each other, everyday.  Usually that meal is at about 1-2pm, when all of the cows and calves have been fed.  In addition to sitting down for an hour for a hot meal, we also talk about the daily happenings at the farm and catch a little daytime TV.  We bounce between local news and Rachel Ray.  Later, when doing dishes and book work I might catch the Doctors or Dr. Oz. 
While I am not an avid follower of any of these shows, their rhetoric lately has caught my attention.  In an effort to capture viewers' attention they throw out words like "organic", "natural", "toxic", "poison", "miracle cure", "fountain of youth", and many more sales pitches!  Since we are early on our journey to better nutrition, I thought I would find the information on these shows to be useful and informative, but instead I found it to be inflated and false.  My perception was that it was a lot of hype for a variety of  "natural" solutions with false promises.  Example: I would love to eat a miracle berry from China that can reverse the signs of aging while taking a plethora of supplements for every possible ailment I "could" have in the future.  If even half of these ideas worked I should live for...well, I don't know, how's about forever!?!?!?  The saddest part of this revelation is that the average consumer doesn't fact check it, and therefore falls into a trap of misguided intentions. 
My personal experience has led me to believe that the miracle cure & fountain of youth lies within ourselves and how we handle our everyday lives.  My grandmother passed away at the age of 93, my grandfather is still alive and will reach 90 soon.  My father boasts of being in his late 50's and still not needing an ounce of medication for his heart.  The key to their successful, healthy lifestyles.....a balance!  A balance of good nutrition, exercise/daily activity, and reducing stress through positive relationships.  I know for a fact that their lives had/have balance.  My grandmother was noted for her lunches and dinners.  My father still brags about how she'd feed everyone 5 times in a day!  (morning rolls, breakfast after chores, noon dinner, afternoon snacks, and finally supper)  She balanced fruits and vegetables with meats and breads, in addition to dairy.  without even knowing, my grandmother was teaching invaluable lessons.  My father starts each day with the same breakfast before milking...an orange, some type of cereal with milk and flax seed, and 2 slices of toast with jam.  Add his farming lifestyle, filled with physical activity, and his heart is that of a healthy 20-something.  And even though my grandfather is almost 90, he still comes to the farm to help my dad....staying young! 
I guess what I'm trying to point out is that with all of the hype about good nutrition these days, it pays to look back at see what worked.  Those skills that my grandmother passed down are far more important to good health than any special berry from China or supplement from the store.  As for me, I'm sticking to my basics...a balanced diet, lots of physical activity, and relationships with others to help me enjoy life.....and I too hope to live well into my 90's as well!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Appreciation for Mothers of Multiples

Just a couple of the sweethearts I get to feed each day!
After the past couple weeks, I am gaining a new appreciation to those mom's who have multiple children or even more so, have multiples.  It's been crazy busy in the calving pen at the dairy barn.  In the past 10 days we have delivered 8 calves.  5 heifers and 3 bulls.  In addition to that, our cows have delivered a total of 23 calves in March!  Needless to say, we're running out of room to put them all.  I've decided to get a little creative and pair some of the newborns together until we can make space in other huts. 
This buddy system is working great for me though.  I have the ability to feed bottles of milk to 2 calves at one time instead of battling through daily feedings 1 calf at a time.  The calves don't seem to mind at all either.  Now they each have their own cuddle partner until they grow to be larger and then will "want their own room".  The added newborns have been keeping me busy, with an additional hour added to each morning and evening feeding, not including the extra times I stop by in the afternoon and night to make sure everyone is doing well.  I love spending time with my little calves, but with all of these newborns, I just not sure how moms with multiples can do it.  And I don't even have to change their diapers ;)  So...back out for afternoon calf check!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Amazing Week So Far!

Pen 1 (Cows who have had 1-2 calves) enjoys a tasty lunch in the new barn.
We have been having an amazing week so far.  While the mornings have been early and the nights have been late...it's been worth it all. 
On Monday we had our monthly DHIA test, where we learned how the cows have been adapting to their new home.  It was awesome to see how well they are doing!  In all honesty, the past couple months have been a trial for them.  The old barn was over crowded, and the bedding was piling up.  The freedom and space of the new barn, combined with the comfortable stalls and added feeding space has really paid off.  Our #1 cow...Orange Patch Rockette...or you can just call her Rockette, produced a whopping 168 pounds of milk in one day (almost 20 gallons!)!  She's definitely a rockstar in our eyes!  Our #1 heifer (had just 1 calf so far) named Orange Patch Morty Blessing...or Blessing for short...produced an also impressive 120 pounds per day!  Both of these cows, are like so many others in our herd, who are exceeding our expectations, and we are truly blessed with the opportunity to work with them.
On Tuesday we had herd health in the new barn.  We used the headlocks (as seen in the picture above) to "lock" our cows, so our veterinarian could check them out.  Using the headlocks proved to be an enjoyable experience for us humans, but more importantly for the cows!  They really enjoyed being able to eat while we did their check ups, and even after we released them, the cows kept coming back for more attention.  The good news is that we have another 18 cows and 4 heifers ready to have calves in September!  We're really excited about that! The better news was the herd health took less time, but more importantly, was kinder and gentler on the cows! So cool!
Today, was another great experience....we enjoyed visiting with the area high school animal science class.  The 21 students came to our farm this morning with a really good general base of knowledge about dairy farming, thanks to their awesome ag-teacher.  With the knowledge they asked some great questions about the practices we use on our farm.  I can't say enough good things about the importance of ag-education in high schools and the importance of teaching our teens where their food actually comes from!  Overall this was one of the best, if not the best tour group of teens that we've ever had! Just awesome! =)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

They're Home!!!!!

Sparkles and her friends on Day 1 in the new barn..  These cows have never seen a stall before.
We were so proud of them for figuring out right away how to use their new beds!!!
Well, we finally did it!  We moved the first group of cows into our new barn!  The barn is not completed yet, we have many little things to do, but we were running out of space and our girls just couldn't wait any longer to check out their new home!  It's been so amazing to just walk up into the new barn and see how calm and comfortable the cows are!  Jon and I often just sit and watch them, resting in their sand bedded free stalls, chewing their cuds, and relaxing!
I'm really looking forward to getting some time to sort through the many pictures and videos I took along our journey, and getting them posted to our blog.  It's been a wonderful...nope make that AMAZING winter in Minnesota for construction, so we were truly blessed.  And, hopefully at the end of this project I can feature more videos and pictures of the cows.....enjoing the fruits of their (and our labor)!  Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012!

Happy New Years from Orange Patch Dairy!!! Bring on 2012!!!!
Well it's been WAY too long since I blogged!!!!  I'm entirely to blame for that, but I have a great reason...I had to put my cows FIRST.  Often at the farm we need to choose which projects get attention, and well thanks to our new barn construction (which has been going well) and the awesome brown winter we have, well I haven't run out of things to do at the farm.  Each of my projects have been done with the final goal of making the lives of my cows and calves better.  So....with that being said...we are VERY EXCITED to welcome 2012 at the farm.  This year we have so many great things to look forward to!  We have a new barn to move into, we have more calves to be born, and Jon & I will be moving from town to the farm.  All of these changes will help us to take better care of our cows, which in the end makes for VERY happy & proud dairy farmers.  Happy 2012 everyone!  We hope you have many blessings!!!!!