Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Stopping to Take it All In

This Christmas I found myself being more reflective than I have been in the past.  I think so often, especially on livestock farms, we get so caught up in the tasks of farming and getting stuff done just to spend a little time with family during the holidays that we neglect to stop and take it all in.   I found myself noticing my nieces’ smiles, laughing with my goddaughter as she played hide and seek with Nana, and smiling when I watched my 93 year old great grandfather just watch his family around him.  I also took some time in the barn to take it all in.  I was asked by my brother to milk cows and do chores so that he could visit his in laws for Christmas.  Since I have a more flexible schedule I decided to help him out.  For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I was at my family’s farm working with my parents and sisters.  This year, more than ever before I needed to stop and take it in.  This is the last Christmas Eve and Christmas morning that I will ever milk in my great grandfather’s original barn, as in the coming months my family’s herd will be moving into a new parlor that my brother is building.  I am overjoyed at the farm’s progress but I can’t help my smile and tear up a little bit thinking about the memories in that old barn.

My favorite mornings and nights to milk are during Christmas.  I love the calm in the barn, the calm in the moonlight and star light at winter time, the calm in the morning at sunrise just as the sun shine hits the frozen Earth.  I love the gentleness of the cows as they pass into the barn, a soft nudge while I lock them into their milking stalls, and a wet kiss with their scratchy tongues as I pet their heads.  I love the smell of cows, their feed, the fresh bedding, and I even think freshly fallen Christmas snow smells.  I will always remember the years we put Christmas lights on the pasture fences, the silo pipes and the milk room, and how they made the whole farm glow in the snow.   I love the memories of working as a family to get chores done in time to make it to Grandpa’s house and the stories told by my father and mother of Christmas’s past.  I can’t help but feel connected to my past when I’m in that old barn.  I bet those walls have some amazing stories from Christmas when my dad was a little boy, or even when my grandfather was a boy!  I bet there was lots of laughter, as my dad’s family is filled with pranksters and story tellers.  I can’t even begin to imagine how much wisdom and lessons learned happened inside those walls!  The good news is that my family doesn’t plan on tearing that old barn down.  It will remain a pillar of the farm for the future.  The barn will be used for calving in fresh cows and taking care of newborns, but it won’t be the same life it had as a milking barn with a vacuum pump firing up in the morning and lights on late at night.  So as I reflect on my last Christmas milking in that barn, I can’t help but feel blessed to have an experience that only a few are blessed to have. 


Thursday, December 24, 2015

My 2015 Christmas Card

My 2015 Christmas Card Letter, too all of my readers, I wish you the most blessed Christmas Season! 
Tis the season for Christmas Cards and well wishes once again!  What a year it has been!  This year I thought I would use my 2015 Christmas letter to highlight some of the things that I have been so grateful for during this year of growth and renewal. 

1.       I am so grateful for the family who reached out to me and helped while I was moving.  Thank you to all of you who were generous, who allowed me to land while I waited for God’s plan for my life to unfold.  Thank you for the family who loves me unconditionally and have shown me what unconditional love looks and feels like.  I hope I can return your love.

2.       I am so grateful for my friends that have been there through everything with me.  What a blessing you have been to share my journey, to listen, to send me a text just saying hi, and it is an even greater blessing it is to be able to listen to you and share in your journeys.  I am so blessed to be able to see your vulnerabilities, to see your strengths, to watch you grow.  I had some of the best times with friends at concerts, events, girls’ weekends, a Friday night out, or just enjoying the company of you and your families!

3.       I am grateful for the opportunities that I took this year to go to conferences, growing my leadership and personal skills, reading more books, and meeting more people.  I am so blessed by the opportunity to live in the moment and experience life to the fullest, to have conversations with new people I meet, and marvel in how great these people are.  I am blessed to have attended several Women in Agriculture events this year, and each time I went I came home with so many more ideas to apply to my personal and professional life. 

4.       I am grateful for the job I have as a dairy specialist.  I get the pleasure of working with dairy farmers, some of the greatest, kindest people I have ever known.  I get to help them make their farms better, and while I don’t have a farm of my own it still allows me the chance to still be involved in making food for people and providing the best care possible for cows.  I am also being challenged to learn new skills like welding and plumbing, while working with our team.

5.       I am grateful for my nieces, nephew, goddaughters and “adopted” nieces and nephews (my friends’ kids).  While I don’t have children of my own, it is such a blessing to see life through these innocents’ eyes.  It is a blessing to be a part of their lives, make play dates and watch them grow into awesome people, just like their parents.  I try to never take their little hugs and kisses for granted.

6.       I am grateful for the house I now call my home: for its cute rooms and DIY projects, its bountiful vegetable garden in the back yard, the beautiful flower beds in the front yard and the kind neighbors I now enjoy.  I am so blessed to live in New Ulm, a city with a lot of history and charm as well as amazing people and even though I miss my country living, this will keep me happy for now.

7.       I am grateful I have more time to use social media and my blog to educate others about what is happening in agriculture.  It is priceless to open the eyes of just one consumer to the importance of agriculture and the value of avoiding fear tactics in marketing.  It is a blessing to make these connections with others as well as connect with other farmers who are striving to do the same.

8.       I am grateful that I have my health and I was able to participate in several 5K runs with friends this spring and summer.  More importantly I was able to go on bikes rides, walks, and runs with friends and family.   

9.       And Most of all I am grateful for our Lord and Savior, who during this Christmas season reminds us of his selfless sacrifice.  How blessed are we that God sent his only son as an infant to die for our sins, to love us unconditionally!?!  I pray that when you gather with your families this holiday season that you too, can reflect on the many blessings in your lives, how even the hardships and the suffering can be blessings in disguise and then be sure to express your gratitude to God, for through him all things are possible.

God Bless You, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Generations that came before Me

Doing calf chores on my family's farm.
I had the pleasure of milking cows with my dad last night.  I took advantage of the situation and asked him about his memories of his dad and grandfather.  He started sharing stories from the past. The stories that are so awesome that you hope you can remember them forever.  While dad was talking about his family, I asked him what his grandfather, my great grandfather, would think about the happenings at the farm (new parlor being constructed).  My dad smiled with a big grin, “I think he would be proud.  I think he would say to me, ‘That’a boy! Way to go!’” I smiled.  I know dad would be right but what I didn’t expect was the reason dad thought his grandfather would be proud.  My dad smiled again, “Your great grandfather would be proud because we are still working and milking cows, in fact almost 130 cows in the original barn that he built when he started farming here years ago.”  It was the idea that we were still using something that my great grandfather built and that through the generations has become a legacy of farming for my niece and nephew.  I couldn’t help but smile and be proud also.  It has been such a blessing to be the collection of the generations that came before me: the ideas and dreams that they had, the hard work that they did, and everything that they strived for.  If it wasn’t for certain decisions at a certain times by these ancestors, I might not be who I am today doing what I am doing.

A path was laid out for me before I was born, this I know and I have complete faith in.  A perfect example of this path is when my father was a graduate from high school.  My grandfather asked him what he wanted to do with this farming career, there was no doubt my dad was coming home to farm it was just a matter of what was he going to raise and grow.  My grandfather had a variety of crops: corn, soybeans, oats, wheat, alfalfa and he even grew peas for the local canning factory.  My grandfather also raised dairy cows, beef steers, hogs and in his younger years, horses.  When my dad was a senior in high school my grandfather was moving towards having only pigs and beef cattle.  He had built a hog barn and he was breeding his Holstein milking cows to Herefords, starting his beef herd and transitioning out of dairy.  When my dad was faced with the question of what he was going to raise, he couldn’t get himself to have a farm without dairy cows.  My dad and my grandfather went on a shopping trip for Holstein heifers which resulted in a replenishing of the dairy herd as well as breeding all of the dairy cows back to Holstein bulls.  If dad had not made the choice to have dairy cows on our farm, my siblings and I would not have had the opportunities that we had growing up.  Sure, we would have had beef cows and pigs, as well as crops, but there is something special about dairy cows, something special in all of our hearts.  Without dairy I would have never had the opportunity to show cows for 4-H or be a finalist for Princess Kay and have my head carved in butter at the Minnesota State Fair.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have gone to college for dairy production, had the opportunity to operate a family farm or work in a career where I am able to help other dairy farmers.  Based on that single choice that my dad made, because he wasn’t ready to have a farm without dairy cows, I am who I am.  I am the collections of all the generations that came before me and that is just cool!  It’s this very reason that I enjoying spending a little time asking my dad these questions and learning more about those who came before me.  I have so much to learn from them. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Advent and the Year of Mercy

In the holiday spirit I thought I would post a blog about what I truly believe the holidays are about, and conveniently it also works to post about the celebration of the Year of Mercy.  Pope Francis celebrated the start of the Year of Mercy yesterday, a perfect platform for the holidays to discuss what Christmas is really about.  Advent is a time of renewal and preparation; it is a time for growth, but when you combine it with the Year of Mercy it truly amplifies the opportunity for growth.  So what is mercy all about and why should we care?  Mercy is more than forgiveness and thankfulness, it is putting grace into action.  So what are some things that we can all do in this season of advent to help perpetuate mercy?

As a child growing up I remember the importance of going to the sacrament of reconciliation during advent.  This was part of the process of getting ready for the coming of Christ at Christmas, but I would challenge you to go one step further.  Have we asked for forgiveness from those we have wronged?  Have we asked for forgiveness for the pain we have caused others?  Have we given forgiveness to those who have wronged us, even though they have never asked for forgiveness?  It is a very humbling experience to go to those that you have wronged and ask for forgiveness, especially when you know you don’t deserve it, but it is also completely liberating.  Even if we never receive forgiveness from those we have caused pain, just the action of coming to them and asking for forgiveness alone can free us from the suffering that comes with sin.  Mercy takes forgiveness one step beyond the confessional.  How often we hear stories of people who have been called to forgive those who have murdered, raped, threatened, assaulted, or harassed?  Somehow these special people find strength in the vulnerability of forgiveness to do the unthinkable, to forgive those that don’t deserve forgiveness.  These inspirational people go on to live life liberated from that suffering.  Are there people in your life that you need to forgive that don’t deserve forgiveness?  Who are we to decide who deserves forgiveness and who doesn’t?  This is where real mercy comes into play, forgive those who don’t deserve it, love those who are unlovable, be Christ in our world.

Perhaps forgiveness at this level is too big of a step, then start small.  Donate money, toys, food or clothes to a local charity to help them during this holiday rush.  How about taking the time to visit with an elderly neighbor that doesn’t have a family during the holidays to visit them?  Have you taken some time to visit with coworkers or employees outside of work, and shown them appreciation for all that they do?   Have you considered making a meal for a family that just welcomed a new baby?  I’m sure a little bit of relief would be gladly appreciated, or even a free night of babysitting so friends can have a special date night.  Have you taken the time to be kind and show appreciation to your spouse and children?  When was the last time you talked to a good friend and just listened to them talk about their joys and stresses?  What about the family member that lives far from home, when was the last time you talked to them?  During the busyness of the holidays, I really encourage you to stop and take a little inventory.  Where can we show mercy to others, to be kind, to be love?  Where can you make life better for someone else, because it is in giving of ourselves that we become truly blessed!  Happy Advent to everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Wisdom: Finding Gratitude

As we move into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I pray that everyone who reads this is able to truly find gratitude and thankfulness in their lives.  Maybe it is a consequence of growing older or maybe it is just the realization that there is more to life than “stuff” and “things” but with each passing year I find myself increasing my sense of gratitude for all that I have been blessed with.  It isn’t the “stuff” or the “things” that I am grateful for, it is the opportunities and the relationships that God has blessed me with.  Even in the hardest days or in the simplest moments, there are moments of gratitude.  I started a gratitude journal a couple years ago when I was going through a hard and painful time in my life.  At the end of each day I would write down at least 3 things that I was grateful for during that day.   I have continued this journal and write almost every night.  I was recently at a women’s conference where one of the keynote speakers, Laura Daniels of Heartwood Farm, spoke about the importance of keeping a gratitude journal, especially to keep us grounded in our crazy hectic lives.  How right Laura was!  That gratitude journal helps me focus on the joys in my life rather than dwelling on the sorrows as well as an increasing sense of happiness for life itself.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratitude I would like to share some of those gratitude moments for the Thanksgiving Holiday:

·       I am so grateful to live in a country where we have dedicated servicemen and women who sacrifice their lives for my freedoms; I will forever be grateful for their service, God bless them all!

·       I am grateful to live in a country where I am free to practice the religion of my choosing; a freedom a hope to never take for granted by continuing to develop my faith in God.

·       I am so grateful for a government that while it is dysfunctional at times, does provide leadership and democracy for our nation when so many other countries live in oppression.

·       I am grateful to have family and friends that are near and dear to me; that have been there for me in my darkest days and shared in my brightest joys.  These people are irreplaceable and I know God has blessed me with them for a reason.

·       I am grateful for a career in agriculture which allows me to work with some of the best people in the world, those who would give you the shirt off their backs and invite you to supper.  Farmers are some of the most humble, honest, and caring people and I pray for all of them. 

·       I am grateful to be me, with all of the wisdom and knowledge that I have acquired in my few short years and I pray that I have the ability to be open to whatever may come my way in the years to come.  I pray that I will be open to new opportunities, have the courage to take risks and the strength to pursue my dreams with love.

·       I am grateful to have grown up on a dairy farm where I was taught values and morals that have helped me to be the best person that I can be, caring about my community and environment.  I am truly grateful for all of the times this farm offered me the opportunity to show love to people, to animals and to the land.

My father shared some precious wisdom growing up.  On Thanksgiving, many years ago, we worked as a family to get milking and chores done as quickly as possible so we could enjoy a huge family meal, made by my mother, with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.  After a few hours we had to leave our company and return to the barn for milking and chores, which we also did as a family.   As we walked out to the dairy barn I will always remember the words my father said: “I am thankful to be able to go to the barn and do chores at the end of Thanksgiving Day!  How else can you work off all of those calories and still have room for another piece of pie?”  I sure do love my father!  Thanksgiving Blessings to All!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Disappointed in Subway; Caving into Fear

Subway announced today that it will serve meat without antibiotics in its restaurants.  As a loyal Subway customer, this crushes me.  Here's a little secret: all meat is antibiotic free.  I feel very passionately that Subway made a rushed choice that fed into fear tactics from radical minority groups rather than searching for the facts about the farmers that raise their food.  Moving to antibiotic free is nothing more than a marketing ploy to raise prices and draw consumers through the door under false pretenses.  Ask farmers about what they are doing on their farms and you will quickly learn how ridiculous these claims of antibiotic abuse are.  Advocate Ryan Goodman does an excellent job in his blog to give resources and information to better tackle this topic but I really feel that I need to share my personal experience about this issue as well as a snap shot into the possible outcomes of fully removing antibiotics from farmers' toolboxes.

I have been blessed with experience in several facets of animal agriculture.  First as the daughter of a dairy and pork producer.  Yes my dad raised milk cows (sold milk and beef) as well as raised pigs.  I learned at a very early age that prevention was the key to disease control.  My dad worked hard to make sure his animals were in clean environments, under minimal stress, and vaccinated.  Antibiotics were a measure of last resort when animals became ill.  In fact, I seldom remember dad using medication in the feeds for our pigs.  Even today my dad will try several other methods of health care before using antibiotics.  Antibiotics are expensive, especially when prevention is the best choice.  Even 25+ years ago my dad was worried about antibiotics in the food supply.  I remember him dumping milk from cows that were treated and holding pigs back from sale until they were healthy.  You see, farmers have an intense pride in the animals that they raise, they only want the best for their consumers and their families (yes we ate meat from the animals on our farm). 

In college I worked on the campus swine research farm.  During my 3 years we did many experiments for graduate and PhD students involving feed medication and using organic or natural options to help pigs stay healthy.  The take home message from those experiments was that antibiotics will always be a method of last resort for farmers.  They are expensive and they need to be carefully used with the strict advisement of a veterinarian.  The natural and organic additives, such as oregano and garlic did yield some positive results as well, which helped open my eyes to the fact that we can learn much from our organic farmer friends.  There are other alternatives to help improve animal well being, and sometimes it is as simple as a good environment and good care. 

After graduation I worked at a local feedmill which sold feed to livestock farms ranging in size and scale, raising everything: sheep, beef, dairy, swine, goats, chickens, turkeys, and even llamas.   At that time we were beginning to see the start of increased regulations for feed additive antibiotics (2005-2009).  I remember the paperwork required to give feed grade antibiotics to a group of pigs or cattle.  The veterinarian needed to sign off on the medication with the reason it was being given.  At the mill we needed to keep samples of all feed manufactured and equipment used to mix and make treated feed needed to be flushed clean before being used to make untreated feed.  Every day we did a detailed inventory of all medication at our mill, documenting how much was used, when it was delivered, what truck delivered it, and where it was delivered to.  Every year the list of medications that we could use became shorter and shorter, as the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) removed them.  Each year farmers lost tools in their tool boxes.  Feed additive antibiotics needed to be removed from the feed weeks and sometimes months before animals could be sold for meat.  Why would these farmers use feed grade antibiotics?  The answer is easy when you have an illness going through a population of animals.  It becomes easier to treat the whole herd via feed rather than stick each animal with a needle every day, and it's definitely easier than watching the animals die needlessly.  Truth be told, our organic farmers also used antibiotics, but that was the method of last resort, and obviously those animals were sold in non-organic markets.  But when it comes to humane animal care, even organic producers know that they might need to treat an animal, for the animal's best interests.

Finally, as a dairy farmer I have first hand experience every day working with dairy cows whose milk is sold and the occasional cow is sold to be beef.  All milk is antibiotic free.  Do you know what happens if we treat a cow with antibiotics?  We dump that milk for days, sometimes weeks; if it's not perfect we pitch it!  The cow's milk never reaches the tank until she has been tested for antibiotics.  We take antibiotics so seriously on dairies that we test every tank, tanker, and silo of milk.  Yes, we do sell cows for meat and guess what?  We take our meat sales just as seriously.  We usually go above and beyond the regulations to make sure our cows are antibiotic free when sold for meat.  Often we keep cows up to 3 months past their last treatment of antibiotics, first to ensure they are in good health, secondly to make sure they produce high quality beef and thirdly to ensure for a fact they are free of antibiotics.  We are terrified of getting caught selling a positive cow, so much so that we test urine on cows (antibiotics can be detected just like a drug test at work!).  Food safety is on the forefront of our goals. 

Antibiotics are a tool on our farms, but a tool to help ill animals heal and recover.  Prevention has always been a priority for farmers, but to remove antibiotics from our arsenals would put us in a very difficult position.  As consumers continue to buy into the fear, I am very concerned livestock producers will lose a tool and be forced to watch animals die from simple illnesses which a couple days on antibiotics could have saved.  Livestock farmers don't take dead animals lightly.  I can confess to crying on numerous occasions when I lost a cow or calf.  We take our jobs very seriously.  Please, get the facts from farmers before buying into the fear.  It's in everyone's best interests to keep diversified tools to help farmers achieve the best practices possible for their animals.  Meat has always been antibiotic free, and it always will be. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Removing "I can't" from my Vocabulary

A friend of mine were catching up this week and it was cause for reflection.  As I was discussing the accolades of my job this week I had a "pinch me" moment where I couldn't hardly believe what I have been involved in.  When I was hired, my job was specifically as a specialist to help advise dairy farmers in area of milk quality (making milk even better than it already is and improving cow comfort).  What changed recently was that I found myself working more as a team player.  Instead of doing the usual parlor visits and farm evaluations I am now assisting in construction and all that comes with the start and completion of construction.  My dairy farming background and team player attitude makes me willing to jump in when needed.  Some days I am just a helper or a grunt woman, other days I have been the site manager with a group of co-workers.  Today I was an advisor, providing my expertise on important layout decisions for 2 different projects.  Yesterday I was a welder, but I have never welded until this week.  We have worked hard to install plumbing, in floor heating, parlor structures, mount posts, install fencing, and building structure for pouring concrete.

I turned a personal "I can't" into a "I can". In fact I have turned several "I can't"s into "I can and I will".  A little over a year ago I made a personal promise to myself to start eliminating "I can't" from my vocabulary.  Wow what a change that made in my life!  I have been a fairly confident woman for most of my life but there are so many moments when I froze because of fear and walked away from a possible great opportunity.  Fear is crippling.  Fear steals your joy.  Fear is a wall to hide behind, preventing yourself from being vulnerable.  It was during this time of reflection this week that I realized how much my life had changed both personally and professionally.  I have always operated with a commitment to do my best no matter what.  I have strived for excellence and fallen far from the goal.  But in so much of life it is better to have tried and failed than never tried at all.    I have a new found passion for life and all that I have been able to experience.  Have you tried to eliminate "I can't" from your vocabulary?  I dare you to give it a try!  The only thing standing between you and a new goal or skill is yourself.  Try a new skill, set a higher goal, explore new ideas.  Get out there and live life without "I can't"!  Stare fear in the face and let the walls come down!
Some of structure we welded to pour concrete for the parlor.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Family Farming at its Best!

As I get older I find myself stopping and reflecting on the many blessings in my life.  Over the Labor Day weekend I had the great opportunity of working on my family’s farm, helping to harvest corn silage. While I was waiting for loads to haul I couldn’t help but smile and thank God for how blessed we are to have our family and our family farm.  We were able to keep moving with the help of a good family friend who helped us for 2 days when he could’ve been relaxing with his friends.  This weekend both of my younger sisters were home helping do chores, feed calves, milk cows and delivering new calves (we had 3 new calves this weekend!).  My mom was busy with her job in town but still made time to cook meals for us and bake us treats.  My sister in law did the same, making us a delicious meal for supper one night and bringing my niece out to the field to watch her daddy chopping corn.  I love my niece, watching her farm girl personality just get ignited by the activities in the field was amazing.  The girl really loves her farm implements.  My 93 year old grandfather drove out into the field on Labor Day.  Watching him smile with pride and joy as his son and grandson farm the very land he and his father farmed together, well frankly that expression on his face was priceless.  I will always remember Grandpa's smile and his wave as I cruised past him.  I will also remember how proud my dad was to make his dad proud, dad was grinning from ear to ear.   Very few professions are linked with this type of legacy and the connection to the generations past, present and future.  It was so great to see everyone working as a team to accomplish the goals of the day. 

Putting silage into long bags for storage for the year.

I love helping at the farm! Watch me haul silage home!
Another great blessing for the day was the beauty of watching the growing crops being harvested for food and feed for the growing dairy cow herd.  Corn silage is the main ingredient in cow diets.  Not to be confused with corn grain, corn silage is the complete plant (stem/stalk, leaves, and corn grain/cob) chopped up into small bite sized pieces for cows.  My brother and dad did an excellent job to get the corn harvested at the correct moisture, and then set the chopper for the correct cut length.  The result is a feed that smells amazing and will help supply very important nutrients for the cows.  Working with nature is such a blessing: planting seeds and watching them grow through the heat, rain, wind, and storms; reaching full maturity to be harvested for nutrition for cows, which produce milk, a nutritious food for humans; it’s a beautiful cycle. 

During our harvest my brother has been an amazing farmer.  He made sure to take breaks for church and rest on Sunday.  He has been planning ahead to have everything ready for the people helping him.  He also made sure that everyone is well fed and caffeinated. Even through breakdown my brother kept his cool, fixed the broken parts and we kept on moving.  It’s been fun watching my brother grow into a really great farmer, and I am very proud of him.  Family and farming is what it is all about and I am so blessed to have been and still be a part of such a great profession!  97% of all farms are family owned and operated just like ours!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Immigration Reform, a Personal Persepctive.

I am not going to claim to know much about this subject, let me make this clear.  I am not a politician and I do not desire to write laws, but what I do offer is personal experience from an employer’s perspective in agriculture who has employed a vast variety of different types of employees.  In the US we have a long list of “Dirty Jobs” that most of our citizens believe they are “above”.  Like it or not, but many believe that once we head off to college we are “above” menial tasks like cleaning, construction, food service, and agriculture.  I am so blessed that my parents taught us that we were never “above” any of these jobs or tasks.  My father told me “I don’t care what you do in life, you can be a garbage woman for all I care, I just want you to be happy and do it honestly”.  Wise advice from a wise man.  When operating my own dairy farm I led by example, I never sent an employee into a job that I wasn’t willing to do myself.  In fact, most times I was alongside them, working in the heat, cold and mess.  I’m not complaining, I enjoy hard work and getting dirty, I find it very rewarding and so did many of our employees.  This is where my experience as an employer comes into perspective.

My best employees, the ones that really cared about their jobs were the ones that I took the time to talk to and let them know that their job mattered.  What they thought was a menial task such as cleaning the parlor walls, was so much more important than “just cleaning”.  They were a critical part of producing safe and clean milk for consumers.  I’m not inflating their positions either, they were very important to making our farm successful and producing a food we could all be proud of.  Unfortunately these amazing employees were sometimes immigrants with false documents (which we found out after they left) or children of undocumented workers born in the US.  We followed the law when we hired these employees, collected all the paper work, checked social security numbers, and everything checked out.  We paid taxes and FICA on their behalf, dollars that they will never be able to claim in a tax refund because they used a false social security number.  As employers we followed the law and as employees they were just happy to have a job, especially one where they were valued as a part of our team.  My heart aches for these families as they work hard to provide for their children.  Not all immigrant workers are like this, but my personal experience has been nothing but positive.  They are here, just like my ancestors, trying to make a better life for their children. 

As employers we worked hard to make sure that our employees had time with their families.  We encouraged them to take time off to be at their children’s events at school.  Over time I have seen these families become important contributors to our area communities and schools.  I know of several dairy owners that even provide translators to help non English speaking employees get their kids into school and communicate with the teachers and administration.  As employers I know many dairy farmers that struggle to provide a wage for their employees that is not only competitive but also can sustain a family.  That is an incredibly difficult task!  Milk prices ebb and flow so dramatically, it is hard for farmers to even pay themselves a wage that can sustain their own families, but I know for a fact that most will pay their employees well before they pay themselves.  As farmers we are indebted to the valuable people who work for us.  Believe me, finding good people is an almost impossible task.  I have definitely seen my fair share of poor employees; people who didn’t care no matter how much we paid them or how much we respected them, and unfortunately those were mostly non-Hispanic employees.  Those bad apples definitely tested our faith and trust in others.

Regardless, there was still a certain amount of joy that came from being am employer.  It was very rewarding to know that our business was also helping to support other local families.  When we paid them, they were able to buy homes locally, shop downtown and give back to their other family members.  We were able to share culture with each other: language, food and customs.  It was awesome to spend a little time educating our employees and watching them take that education and grow.  Working for us was an opportunity which some used to better themselves and get higher paying jobs in other local businesses, and we were so happy for them.  As a Catholic, we are called to help the less fortunate, and as an employer I saw that role as an opportunity to help those that just needed a lift.  I don’t know what the legal solution is for immigration reform, but we should do whatever we can to help those that want to stay here and work legally, be able to do that.  This isn’t as simple as “sending them all back” and “building a wall”.  We need these people, they are pursuing the American dream, no different than our ancestors.  “Help the less fortunate” ~ it is the right thing to do.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Blessed are the Persecuted

It's been a crazy couple weeks: county fair, state fair, farming, and work.  During this time I have been tested more than once for what I believe in, in taking the high road, in being the bigger person.  How often in life we are faced with challenging situations that check us for what we believe in, stand for and truly want to be known for?  I have had more than my fair share of successes and failures in my short 32 years, but one thing I learn over and over again is that I am so much more than my successes and failures.  I have recently used this phrase: "My past with not define me but refine me".   When faced with challenging situations I have tried my best to evaluate all benefits and consequences of my choices, but at the end of the day I have to be willing to take responsibility for my choices no matter what may come.  And then, I learn from those benefits and consequences.  It's the learning part that becomes so critical for growth and I am still a work in progress on that. 

Lessons learned this past week include that some people will hate you no matter what you do.  It's the truth.  It doesn't matter how much I can explain myself or defend myself, certain people will only hear what they want to hear and see what they want to see.  I stand where I stand and I am coming to terms that I will upset them for holding true to my integrity and strength.  I have always tried not to outright offend people and be kind, I know I have failed some times, I am willing to admit to those times and take my responsibility in those situations.  In this situation I was in the "right" and just, but it doesn't matter.  The truth for me is that hatred that I feel towards me is real and it hurts.  It hurts when we try so hard to defend what we know to be just, truth, and fair only to be persecuted for it.  I keep playing a quote from Matthew 5:10-12: Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.  Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I will not back down from my stances in life, in fact I find myself more convicted.  Part of that ever growing integrity includes being empathetic to those who do hate us.  So this week have been trying to pray for those who hate me.  Not that they learn to "like" me again, but that whatever they have going on in their lives can be healed by God's everlasting love.  It's a an incredibly humbling experience to pray for those who hate or taunt you.  Today, try praying for those who hate you, you may be surprised by the love and grace you will feel. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Buying Local

There’s lots of hype about buying local and while I’ll bet you’re reading this thinking I’m about to start talking about how you can buy dairy and other foods locally, you’re wrong.  I’m actually going to talk about how dairy farms help to keep their local economies running by being part of their communities and how dairies benefit from their local communities.  I bet you didn’t see that coming!

Sunday night I was helping milk at my dad and brother’s dairy.  We were about 2/3 done milking their 120 cows in the middle of a pretty good thunderstorm, when we lost electricity on the entire farm.  Everything stopped, barns went dark, and we couldn’t milk cows.  It only last a few seconds and then the power came back on again.  A lightning strike was extremely close to the dairy farm and knocked the power off.  Shortly after the electricity came back on we were able to keep on milking, well for only a few more minutes when we lost vacuum.  Vacuum is what works to pull the milk away from the cows teats, contrary to the belief that we “suck” the milk out of them, we just use it to move milk through the pipelines.  My brother and I rushed into the milk room where we could smell smoke from an electrical fire and quickly assessed that we have blown the vacuum pump motor.  We quickly decided that we weren’t capable of fixing this and made a call at 9:30pm to the local electrician.  Within 30 minutes Bill was on farm and working on the situation.  Thankfully it was a quick fix, a contactor had blown out from the load of the power surge.  We were only down for about 1 ½ hours, and we were very grateful to be milking again, as were the cows. 

Blown out contactor on vacuum pump
Once we were up and running again, we reflected on how this situation could have been worse.  We could’ve had a fire, we could’ve had a motor that was damaged and more importantly we could’ve been waiting a long time for help.  We are blessed to have a local infrastructure that is very supportive of agriculture.  It’s important not to take those businesses that support agriculture for granted.  Without a local electrician that could help us, we could have been waiting for hours or more importantly our cows could have been waiting for hours.  When you have an udder full of milk and it’s milking time, the struggle is real; poor cows.  When you have an emergency on farm it is crucial to have your key services local.  I know my dad has always valued the importance of working with local vendors for farm supplies, services and materials.  I see now that I am older that we really depend on having those small businesses local and take a lot of pride in impacting our communities.  We feel confident spending our dollars with these companies and keeping our towns thriving.  So, thank you local businesses for your support for all agriculture in your area!  We greatly appreciate all that you do, especially when we are desperately in need.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

I'm Fine

“I’m Fine” are the 2 worst, most deceiving words in the English language.  They are used so often to cover up our true feelings of sorrow, grief, sadness, pain, shame, weakness, embarrassment, struggle, anger, frustration, and just plain ol’ fashion vulnerability.  We act like “I’m fine” is a good enough protect us from being seen; to help others feel at ease rather than being honest and real with what is actually hurting us or how we feel.    No wants to admit feelings but so often we need to in order to free ourselves and grow.  Dairy farming is tough, there’s no way around that, and right now it is very tough.  Farm prices for milk are once again at an industry low.  While these prices are nothing compared to the catastrophic year of 2009, these are tough times once again.  Another factor is the ever increasing costs of farming, whether it is land, feed, insurance, labor, or even regulations.  Now ask a dairy farmer how things are going on their dairy and most will reply, “I’m fine”.  Only on certain days when farming has really got them beat down will they be honest about the sacrifices that they have to make. 

Then they will tell you how much it hurts to feel so vulnerable to the markets and have so much of their life out of their control.  How hard it is to know that you might not be able to pay all of your bills this month.  How disappointing it is to have an excellent employee leave your business because you just can’t justify giving them a raise for their hard work, right now.  How much it hurts to look at their families and know that they can’t give them everything that they need or want, and that as a family they will have to be the first to sacrifice so their employees and their families can be paid and fed first before their own.  Disheartened over the next major machinery repair, which means unplanned bills that will have to be paid, because you can’t go on without that vital piece of equipment.  Every cow, heifer, and calf was already a valuable living being, but their wellness is even more critical when prices are low because illness and death are expensive.  Essential equipment upgrades have to be put on the back burner, until prices are better. 

It’s ok to be honest about these feelings and challenges.  I think consumer should hear the struggles of the American family farmer.  A very wise friend pointed out that so often we let egos get in the way of what we’re really trying to feel and say, especially in agriculture.  I think he is right, let the egos go.  Be honest.  When you get asked how things are going on your farm, let be real with each other and consumers.  It’s not all roses and butterflies, in fact some days it gets down right ugly.  If given the chance, though I’m certain all of us would keep on farming regardless, that’s what we’re made of: perseverance, passion and drive.  Lets be honest with each other and consumers, it’s not all pastures and prairies; it's floods, droughts, storms, and most days rainbows.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Best of Friends: Reunion Weekend

This summer I have had some great adventures, I have gone to some amazing concerts, traveled around the Midwest, and spent time really enjoying the blessings that surround me, gifts from God.  On all of my adventures though, the best ones are the ones that were with friends and family.  A month ago we had a gathering of college friends (hard to believe it's been 10 years since we graduated college!) and this past weekend I was with my roommates from college.  I was blessed to live with 3 amazing women in a cozy 2 bedroom apartment right across from the South Dakota State University campus.  Inspired by one of our mothers, we decided to make a promise to each other to spend a one weekend a year with each other.  This is a commitment that as we get older we are more determined to keep.  Friends are there for you when life gets the hardest, and these are no exception.  These women have been married for 4-11 years and bring their spouses and kids when they visit. 
It was funny reflecting on how we had changed in 10 years.  When we were in college we shared meals, prayers, support, friendship, laughter, joys, sorrows and fears.  We are still sharing those things.  One of our first reunion weekends we stayed at a hotel with an indoor water park that was open late at night.  We spent that night laughing, drinking and playing on the water slides and kiddie pool.  I have the scars on my knees to prove it.  Fast forward 10 years, and I'm pulling 6 little kids around a hotel swimming pool on fun noodles.  We have changed, life happened, but I don't think we would change it for the world.  We have a few broken hearts, there have been sorrows and failures but our hearts are fuller, our lives have greater depth, we have greater joys than we could have ever known.  Even though hundreds of miles separate us and we still debate the Motherland versus God's Country, our friendships are stronger than they have ever been.
These women live their lives in big and small ways, and they are an inspiration to me.  They are devoted wives, hold jobs and professions, they are mothers, they are role models.  I know they will think that I am over praising them, but that is because they are humble women.  When I need support and prayers, they have my back.  If I need someone to talk to all I need to do is call.  God blessed me with the most amazing friends and if they ever need anything I would be there in a heartbeat.  If you have friends as amazing as this, don't take them for granted, make it a priority to visit them, call them, send a card, anything to share a relationship with amazing people.  We all know these women and aspire to be them...find some and don't ever let them go.

Monday, July 20, 2015

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Dairy Farming is a very unique business.  You can’t use the same solutions, decisions or business models on the same two farms.  Every farm has its own unique family structure, business plan, goals, environment, and animals.  I often get asked why I am not farming with my father and brother.  The answer is easy: we’re not the same type of farmer.  That doesn’t make one of us right and the other one wrong, it just makes us different and unique.  There is no single one way to produce milk, but all milk is produced by farmers that care about their animals, their land, their families and the families that consume their products. 

My brother is a smart farmer.  He makes choices that work best for his family and the farm that they work on.  A few years ago he made the choice to build a new free stall barn to give his cows a better environment to live in.  Instead of taking the jump and building a new parlor at the same time he decided to postpone building the parlor until he was in a better financial position.  This wouldn’t have been my choice, I am more aggressive and would have built the parlor, but this is what works best for him.  He will never own a large dairy or employ a bunch of employees.  He knows what works best for his skills, goals and dreams. 

My brother decided to use the existing tie stall barn and make a few adjustments to milk cows faster as he grew his herd.  Now he is working towards building the parlor.  His herd is growing in numbers and because of the nicer living environment his cows are producing more milk per cow.  Those cows are also producing an even better product because the new barn helps them to stay clean and prevent infections.  What my brother decided to do worked as he predicted and was the best choice for him.  Now on the weekends, as my schedule permits, I am able to go home and help him milk.  I enjoy working in the original barn that has so many memories of my youth.  I was able to milk cows with my dad here.  This is where we shared the joys and stresses in our lives.  My brother did it differently than me, but in the end he did it the way it works best for him.  One size does not fit all in dairy farmer, but the end goal is the same: family farmers producing wholesome milk from healthy cows on land they care for. 
Dad's Tie Stall Barn: cows coming in for evening milking. Such a pleasure to milk beautiful cows in this timeless barn.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

My Passion and Calling

This weekend I had the opportunity to help on my family farm.  While some part of me wanted to be at the lake for the 4th, once I took my seat in the tractor, I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.  I milked cows, I helped care for cows, and I hauled home alfalfa which was stored to make delicious food for the cows.  I worked hard and I sweated profusely in the 90 degree heat but it was the best vacation I could’ve asked for, I was right where I was supposed to be.  I have a deep faith in God and I believe that God calls each of us to a specific vocation to do his work.  From a young age I knew I was called to be a farmer.  As a young woman that seemed like a daunting vocation, but as a maturing woman I know there is no better fit for me. 

Farming is a noble vocation.  It is a vocation of faith and charity.  Farmers grow nutritious food, fuel and fiber for a growing population while caring for the land and God’s creatures, all while hoping for future generations to take the torch and keep on farming.  I am so proud to be part of the next generation of farmers as well as inspiring yet the next generation to follow.  God put cows in my heart for a reason.  God put a love of the land in my heart for a reason.  While hauling hay home I was in complete awe of the beautiful gifts the Lord blesses farmers with.  Farmers see the wonders of nature, capture the glories of life to give life.  Farmers feed people; what an amazing vocation!  Farmers care for the land; what an astonishing responsibility!  Farmers care for livestock; what an awesome duty! 

There is a small segment of the population that possesses the skills and passion required to grow and raise food to feed people and I am so proud to be called to that elite group.  There comes a time in life where you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be.  Where it just clicks.  Farming is hard work and there are difficult days but I would take a bunch of difficult days for just one great day farming.  Farming has never felt “like work” for me.   Don’t get me wrong, it is hard and I am not trying to sugar coat it, but I have always felt drawn to keep on trying no matter what my farming life threw at me.  Farming is my calling and my passion and I will keep on fighting for my vocation, it is God’s work that I am called to do. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Farming Fathers, a Tribute to Dad

Christmas 2014: 4 generations: Grandpa, Dad, my brother, my niece.
I am blessed.  God has blessed me with a great father.  I am who I am because of two really good parents, but this week I am going to blog about my dad.  My father is the only son, with five sisters. My grandfather is the only son, and my brother is the only son.  We have a long line of women in my family that have rose to the occasion to be active members on the farm.  My aunts were tractor drivers, cow milkers, calf feeders, chicken raisers, manure pitchers, and hog farmers.  They knew the value of hard work and did it with strength and grace.  My sisters and I followed in their footsteps as well.  My dad often jokes about how his sisters picked on him, but the truth is they helped form him into a great father for his daughters.  Dad learned at an early age that women can do anything they put their mind to.

My dad never shied away from teaching his daughters to be independent.  He taught me to change my car’s oil, rotate tires, taught me the difference between metric and standard wrenches; he taught me that I did not need a man, but I might want a man.  He is my standard to which I compare all other men.  As a farmer he showed his daughters compassion in how he cared for his dairy cows, his pigs, and his land.  We saw our father struggle through the tough times and celebrate the good times.  We saw him love our mother, and forgive her.  We saw our father sin and ask for forgiveness.  Most importantly we witnessed our dad’s great faith.  Life hasn’t been easy for him, but through it all he never lost his faith.  Farming is a testament of any farming father’s faith.  Dad depended on God to care for his family when times were tough, when crops didn’t grow because of drought, when floods drown our fields, and when illness ravaged the dairy herd.  Farming is not for the faint of heart.  It was his great example which inspired me to be just like him. 

When I was troubled, he listened to me and let me cry.  When I was boastful, he taught me humility.  When I was sad, he taught me to know that sadness was temporary and happiness is a choice.  He taught me to appreciate the little blessings in life and see God in all around me: family, friends, nature, and farming.  He showed me the importance of family and friends, and to value those relationships the most.  He believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself and gave me the freedom to fail and make mistakes.  I knew no matter what he loved me and believed in me.  Just knowing that gave me all the strength I needed, add a little faith in God and I am the woman I am because of my dad.
Happy Father’s Day to all of the farming fathers!  You are influencing your sons and daughters in more ways that you can possibly imagine through the way you farm, the way you love, and most of all through your faith in God above.  Keep up the good work!  You’re raising the next generation of awesome people!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

New Hay, smells so good!

I wish my camera and computer had smell-o-vision, then I could do this photo justice.  This is a picture of the feed that my brother’s cows eat every day.  This is called TMR (total mixed ration).  It’s like a big salad or hotdish.   My brother mixes all of the feed that his cows need for their daily nutrient requirements.  Just like humans, cows need energy (calories), protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Dairy farmers build their diets on a solid base of forage.  Forage is plant material that is harvested from the field, it is the complete plant that is chopped into bite sized pieces for the cows to eat and chew.  My brother feeds a combination of chopped up corn, alfalfa and oat plants.  May is the beginning of hay season so fresh alfalfa is on the menu for the cows.  If you look closely at this picture you can see the bright green stems.  Fresh alfalfa is very aromatic.  The smell is hard to describe; it’s like fresh cut grass but better.  This TMR smells so delicious I might even consider eating it and the cows just eat it up!  Milk production is increasing a little too because the cows are eating a little extra feed.  Fresh feed is such a treat for the cows!  Eat up girls!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Where did all these Clothes Come from?!?!

My closet, all neat and organized!
I’ve been pretty busy with life lately.  I recently moved into my first home that I own, which I am very excited about (I will be posting DIY stories in the coming weeks for sure!).  The first room I tackled was my bedroom.  I refinished the original maple wood floors and painted the walls a nice warm color.  It turned out very nice!  For the past few months I have had most of my clothing and possessions in boxes and totes.  Once I got my furniture moved into my room I quickly realized that I needed to move my clothing into my closets and dressers.  Yes I used the plural tense of those words and here’s why.  Like any good farm girl, I have multiple wardrobes.  It makes me feel like a hoarder or as though I have an addiction to clothing but the truth is that I don’t have an addiction, it’s a necessity to have this much clothing.  Here’s a snippet of the different wardrobes that I have in my collection:

1.       The Dressy Clothes: All good farm girls will eventually admit that we like getting dolled up every once in a while, even though we are most comfortable in our everyday chores clothes.  My wardrobe consists of dresses, suits, and “church clothes” because we all like to feel like a classy lady.  While we seldom wear these, they are nice to have.

2.       Nice “Going to Town” Clothes: These consist of the nice dark wash jeans, shorts, blouses, tops, and tanks that are appropriate for a night out on the town, causal outings with friends, shopping, meeting with the banker, stopping by the feed store, etc.  Nothing too fancy but just enough to look professional and nice.

3.       “Hanging around the House” Clothes: These outfits are a combination of sweatshirts, t-shirts, shorts, yoga pants, etc. mostly from 4-H, FFA, and college events from the past combined with freebies from dealerships that we work with on the farm.  These clothes are clean and comfortable and in a pinch can be worn to town for a quick errand.  More importantly they are appropriate for answering the door when deliveries come to the house or friends stop by.  They are also comfortable for afternoon naps on rainy days.

4.       “Chores Clothes” The Nice Set: I admittedly have 2 sets of Chores Clothes.  The nice set includes jeans with working zippers and no holes in the knees or pockets (I always get holes in my pockets from all the stuff I carry!).  These clothes also include t-shirts, shorts, tanks, sweatshirts and jackets that don’t have holes, so you can wear them to town for parts runs or a visit to the feed store, as long as they aren’t covered in manure.

5.       “Chores Clothes” The Worn Set:  These outfits are the clothes I can’t part with.  I know there are dirty and messy days on the farm and I can justify getting these clothes covered in manure, grease and dirt.  They have holes, they are faded, they have stains I can’t get out, but they fit well and some are my favorite 4-H t-shirts with so many memories.  Don’t forget my Uddertech pink gear either!  I would never go to town in these clothes and I will hide if the wrong salesman comes on farm, because I wouldn’t be caught in these clothes, but they are my favorite outfits!

6.       “Oh Crap it’s Cold Out” Clothes: In Minnesota these are required for at least 5 months out of the year and include long underwear, Under Amor, heavy jackets, vests and bibs.  These are very bulky and are hard to store for the remaining 7 months of the year, but we need them, they make life so much easier!

7.       “Work Uniforms”:  Since starting my new job 5 months ago, I now have clothes specifically for work.  I have uniforms and work clothes to be on farm but they take up much needed closet space which I am coping with slowly.

As you can see I have lots of clothes in my possession, don’t judge, but it’s required for me to be comfortable and well dressed for all my roles in life.  A shout out to other women in agriculture who suffer from the same problem, you are not alone!  And don't worry, I used this move as an opportunity to sort and give away clothes I don't wear, it’s just a lot of stuff to sort and unpack J