Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lingering damage from Drought 2012

Well Spring has finally arrived in Southern Minnesota!  That's the good news, the bad news is that we're quickly finding out what lingering damages exist from the Drought of 2012.  As spring starts, usually our alfalfa fields start to green up just like perennials in a flower garden, but this year the plants have been really slow to green up. 

We work very closely with a agronomist who has been scouting our fields for weeks already.  He's not finding very good news for us.  We know at this moment that we will need to re-seed at least 40 acres of alfalfa that never made it through the winter.  We planted this field last fall, and thanks to the drought only half of the seeds germinated, the other half sat in the field for the winter.  Those seeds that did germinate never made it through the rough winter, as they didn't have enough moisture in the fall to get a good start.  Moral of the story: 40 acres of alfalfa seed is now dead or rotten.  Yuck! 

Since we were building our lagoon last year we also postponed planting an additional 40 acres of alfalfa....so we need to plant 80 acres of alfalfa, hopefully this week!  It's possible these fields will yield at least one cutting of haylage for us this year, but we're going to need some serious rain and sunshine to push it along.  So that leaves us with the remaining fields from the past years (we plant a field of alfalfa and keep it for about 3-4 years).  While the acres are small, they are very valuable....our only source for alfalfa for the summer.  We still don't know that status of these fields.  Hopefully with 70's in the forecast, we will have excellent news by the end of the week! 

So what does this mean for the cows???  Well, we have already worked with our nutritionist and lowered the amount of alfalfa haylage in the cows' diet and replaced it with more corn silage.  Our inventory of haylage from 2012 is disappearing VERY quickly!  We'll be completely out in only a couple weeks.  Alfalfa is a very important feed to our cows, supplying protein and fiber, so we want to continue to feed it while we can.  By adding more corn silage we will be using more of our inventory than we expected as well...which means in August we may be rationing out our corn silage and replacing it with haylage....it's a balancing act.  Ultimately we will continue to do our best to make the best forages possible for our cows....sacrificing nothing for our cows...they deserve the best care & nutrition!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

We're more than a team...we're a family

It's been a little while since I've blogged, but I have a good reason, like I always do.  Exactly one month ago our only full time employee, who had been with us for almost 2 years, didn't show up for work.  In fact he not only stopped coming to work but we were not able to contact him or his family.  It was a complete shock to us that with no notice he would basically disappear!  We've been working together 5 days a week for almost 2 years.  We knew his family and he knew ours.  How could he do this to us?  We tried to encourage him in his job, offer him opportunities to learn new skills and educate himself.  He was genuine interested in our cows and cared for each of them.  A person, an employee, that ACTUALLY cares about our cows is priceless to our team.  It takes a team of people to care for cows, but more importantly, over time, each employee becomes a member of our family....that cares.  We were so hurt by this action at first.  We were frustrated.  We were angry, also, but now we're just disappointed and feel let down.  But...like in all things in dairy farming and life...we move on...

So taking a really bad situation, where Jon and I were the only ones here caring for our cows, we decided take the opportunity to make some changes to our family.  We have since hired 2 full time employees and have also added another part time employee.  With our growing herd comes some serious increases in the time required to give each cow the care they deserve.  We decided that we need an even bigger team to care for our cows.  In the past month we have evolved our team to be more like a close knit family...and we think we have the right people in place to do a good job providing our cows the very best. 

My cows are my babies, and I really have to trust an employee to leave them in charge of my girls...just like a member of my family.  We're working on teaching the right skills to move our cows calmly, milk them gently, and feed them correctly.  We're also working on teaching responsibility, so we have people in place to save Jon & time during the day...so we can do other things, like play with my calves ;)  Wish us luck as we keep on building our family!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Celebrating National Ag Day!

We sincerely hope that you take some time today to celebrate National Ag Day!  Please join us in celebrating the agriculture industry that makes our country great and our food choices so rich and bountiful! 

How wonderful it is that we can go to the grocery store, and for a mininum percent of our wages, be able to purchase so many different types of fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and of course dairy foods! 
How wonderful is it that we are so blessed in our country to have choices as to how our food is raised, produced and cared for!
How great is it that we can purchase our foods knowing that 97% of all farms in our country are family owned and operated.  Families that also feed their own children what they raise!
How awesome is it that we can purchase food at the grocery store and know that it was inspected, tested and checked for quality before it even reached the shelves!
How amazing is it that our farmers each have a choice as to how they raise and produce food, but they know that those choices need to be made for the generations of farmers yet to come!
How awesome is it that we have the use of technology, which is abling farmers to use their resources of land and water even more wisely when they grow food!
How great is it to know that farmers, such as ourselves and many others, are still willing to work tirelessly to care for livestock in all weather conditions, raising healthy animals with the utmost respect for them!
How generous are our farmers, to often be the leaders in our communities and organizations in feeding the poor and starving of our own country and others!

How GREAT is Agriculture???  You ate today, right??? Help us celebrate an industry which helps feed the world!  http://dairygood.org/

Friday, March 1, 2013

Everything I need in Life I can learn from my Cows...

Tonight was one of those moments in life, those moments when something hits you square in the head and makes you realize that everything is going to be just fine!  My cows teach me everyday, and tonight my new heifer Ida reminded me of a very important lesson.  First, you should know a little bit about Ida, to truly understand our relationship...

Ida gave birth to her first calf last week, an adorable little heifer, which we have named Idaho.  Ida was an excellent mother and an even better cow.  Training new heifers to enter the parlor is a very delicate adventure.  Peace and calm are the keys to success.  The first time we milked Ida, she walked into the parlor like a champ!  She was not even startled when we washed and cleaned her teats.  When we placed the milking unit on, she released her milk, and we were able to feed it to her calf.  It was almost too perfect.  The next morning Ida did not let us down, she walked confidently into the parlor, like she'd been doing it all of her life.  We washed and cleaned her teats, she let her milk down, and we milked more milk for her little Idaho.  Just like clock work....until 2 days ago....something changed.

We're not sure what changed her attitude, but 2 days ago, suddenly Ida was determined not to be milked.  She enters the parlor with the same confidence as before and even stands to be washed and dried but the moment we approach her with a milking unit she kicks and jumps.  Keep calm.  Cows don't understand human speech, but the do understand your tone & volume, so yelling at cows is useless.  Hitting them will always make them more scared or agitated....so that also does not work.  My first instinct was to restrain her to keep her legs on the floor so we could milk her.  I chose to use what I call "bracelets" which are little belts that go around the legs of our cows to either help them walk when they are injured or restrain them when they kick.  Ida did not like the bracelets, and was still able to kick her milking unit off with little trouble at all!  My next idea was to use ropes, and tie her legs safely and securely to the nearest post, thereby making her stand still.  This idea was a colossal fail.  Ida was such a determined cow that she stretched the ropes to get her legs mobile and then to kick off her milking unit. 

In frustration today, I even consulted my vet for advice.  I love Ida, and I want to keep her as a milking cow in my herd, but if she continues to kick her milking unit off she will be at risk for infections and a danger to my employees & me.  The vet suggested that we give her medicine to help her udder feel better.  New mothers can relate to Ida's problem: she has some edema or swelling, which could be causing her tenderness.  After dwelling on this problem all afternoon I decided to go back to the basics....take off all of the restraints and milk Ida like all of the other cows, only this time instead of walking away from her and expecting that she'll leave the milking unit alone, I will stay with her.  I will comfort her and help her seek relief....so I tried it tonight.

AMAZING!  A miracle!  By just calmly holding the milking unit for Ida and talking to her gently, we were able to milk her completely out without a single kick off.  Sure, Ida tried often to kick her unit off, and she tried hard, but as hard as she tried to kick my hand, I worked harder to avoid her.  Sitting there with Ida took time, but it took less time than if I used the ropes or even the bracelets.  It was so gratifying to milk her out by just going back to the basics of cow handling...never lose your cool and go with the flow.

So what did Ida teach me?  Ida taught me/reminded me that even though my life is not where I wanted it to be, my life is a busy, frantic, chaotic mess.....as long as I don't dig out the restraints, get frustrated, get stressed out, but instead go with the flow & get back to basics....it'll all be fine.  We'll achieve success, and we'll be there in no time!  Thanks Ida for that reminder ;)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

No Sick Days for Dairy Farmers

Heifers enjoying the bright sun on a frigid Minnesota day.
Well, I'm back ;)  Part of my 2013 resolution is to get myself back in the blogging mode!  So to start my year out right...here we are!  2012 was chaotic and busy, but hopefully will lead to a less stressful 2013.  I'm sure many of you are recovering from holiday celebrations, as we are, but we are also trying diligently to stay healthy.  We found out recently that we were exposed to Influenza A this weekend at a family gathering.  In dairy farming there are no sick days.  I can remember my father milking cows with a bad case of the flu, and I have done the same. 
I find myself washing my hands for a few more extra seconds, making sure I'm taking my daily vitamins, and also enjoying a little more Vitamin C in my diet. If we (Farmer Jon and I) were to get sick, there would be no one readily available to feed the cows, feed the calves or bed in everyone.  Sure we have employees hired to milk cows and help with clean up in the parlor...but it's the rest of our daily tasks that make the biggest difference for our cows.  Hopefully, in the coming years we can train other employee to cover these tasks for us, but for now...no sick days for us....well until next week.
The second reason we're being extra cautious about getting sick is that Jon is scheduled to have surgery next week.  After battling through 3 years of sinus infection, after sinus infection....daily headaches of varying degrees of pains and unbearable ear pressure....Jon is finally having surgery on his sinuses.  The surgeon made it sound incredibly successful, so we are hopeful, but the surgeon also made the procedures sound painful and potentially life threatening.
Jon will be forced to stay in the house for at least 1 week, and be on limited farm duties for 3-8 weeks depending on how he heals.  This is no easy task for a dairy farmer to do.  I know already it is going to kill him to be "locked" in the house for that long, only to watch me run around the farm covering his chores.  BUT...I also know that if he is a good patient, he will heal faster and return to work sooner.  So in the coming weeks please help us pray for Jon's quick recovery & successful surgery....our cows are depending on him (and me too!).