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.