Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Using Your God Given Talents

This past weekend I had the privilege of milking cows and helping do chores for my brother while he went on a short weekend trip with his wife.  I had the opportunity to help my dad take care of their 120 cows, and it was a great weekend!  My brother was in the process of working on 4 cows before he left, to help them feel better.  On Friday night my dad was a little stressed over the thought of caring for these cows without my brother there, “never fear, I am here!” 

Saturday morning, after morning milking and chores, I dusted off my cow care and diagnostic skills and went to work.  Each cow got a thorough check up.  I used a stethoscope to check heart rate, respiration rate, and rumen movement (if their stomachs were moving).  I used a thermometer to check their temperatures, making sure we didn’t have cows with fevers.  I also sleeved up and palpated the cows that had just had baby calves, ladies you know what this is all about if you’ve ever been to the gynecologist.  2 of the 4 cows were doing just fine, the other 2 were doing only ok, but were going to need a little more work.  We don't accept anything less than excellent health for our cows.
Close up shot of my thermometer, this is the cow with a low grade fever (average temperature of a cow is about 101.5) yes we check temperatures rectally.
Felfie of me checking for rumen movement with my stethoscope.

After having a good look at their medical histories (yes, dairy farmers keep detailed records on their cows’ medical histories!) we came up with a plan of action for treatment.  One cow was treated with antibiotics because she had a low grade fever (sign of an infections) and her milk was discarded for the following milkings.  The other cow was not treated with antibiotics, but with probiotics, vitamins, and a little boost of sugar.  By Sunday night those 2 cows were doing so well.  There is nothing more gratifying that using my God given gifts and talents to treat and care for God’s precious creatures.  I take animal care very seriously, and believe they always deserve our very best.  Having the gifts and skills that I have from God, makes it even more important for me to put animal care first....not everyone can be a dairy farmer or dairy farmHer ;)  Prevention is always key on a dairy farm, but when we make sick animals feel better…the feeling of joy and pride is priceless J 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Do you see Dirt or Potential?

It’s planting season again in Minnesota.  It’s so amazing to see the tractors rolling day and night putting in the crop!  I am often amazed at the hard work of all farmers, but even more so by their ability to be optimists.  When they look at a barren field; black and empty, they see a canvas waiting to be worked, cared for, tended, seeded, nurtured and harvested.  They look at that field and see potential, not dirt, but life giving soil, which they are responsible for.

Soil, not dirt, is a delicate ecosystem of macronutrients, micronutrients, soil bacteria, soil insects and organic matter (decomposing plant material).  Dirt doesn’t give life, but soil is filled with potential to give and support life!  Farmers carefully till the soil, working it to the right conditions for seeds.  Some farmers do no-till, some do deep tilling, some do shallow, each type specific for the type of soil they have.

As you drive by a field you may see sprayers and other agronomy equipment cruising through.  I’ll bet most of you will jump to the conclusion that these farmers are applying dangerous chemicals to their fields to control weeds and pests.  I’ll bet you would be surprised that these farmers are actually applying fertilizers, micronutrients, seed treatments, and yes some herbicides and pesticides.  Farmers work with agronomists to make the best choices for their soils.  I’ll be you didn’t know what farmers often take soil samples each fall to determine specifically which fertilizers will be needed.  In fact, with GPS technology we can even apply specific fertilizers in certain places in a field so we don’t waste resources and produce a more consistent crop. 

Some farmers will apply herbicide (weed killer) at the beginning of the season to give the crop a head start without competition for resources (sun, rain and soil nutrients) from weeds.  Once the crop canopies over (the point where the foliage covers the soil below the plant) sunshine is prevented from reaching weeds below. That means for some fields, one application is all they will ever get of herbicide, and they will grow chemical free for the remainder of the season.  You see, farmers are very wise with their choices.   Herbicides and pesticides are expensive, farmers work on very tight budgets and can’t afford to overdo it.  They have to use a smart combination of tillage practices, crop rotations and seed selection to help them control pests, weeds, use their resources wisely and take care of their soil. 

Most farmers are the product of multiple generations of farmers and they have hopes of passing their farm onto the next generation, their sons and daughters.  It’s in their best interest to care for their soil the best they can because it has the “potential” to support the next generation of America’s farmers.  Farmers don’t see dirt, they see Potential!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Hope We All Make It

Last week, while reading my email, I found my latest copy of the Minnesota Milk Producers (MMPA) Newsletter.  MMPA is a group I proudly joined a couple years ago because of their dedication to Minnesota Dairy farmers, specifically in relation to legislation happening in our state that affects the farmers' way of life.  As I was reading this newsletter, I was immediately drawn to an letter in response to Land Stewardship Project (LSP).  A few weeks previous LSP circulated a letter to rural Minnesota citizens, calling them to action against a proposed "factory farm" in Stevens County Minnesota.  I remembered that I had also received that letter and went to the mail pile.  I had actually filed it with all of my junk mail, because while I appreciate the principles that LSP work for I don't appreciate their approach (scare tactics). 
When I opened the envelope and read the contents I was torn between being sick and being angry.  Sick, because I hate the fact that farmers and rural leaders are pitting themselves against other farmers, and angry for the same reasons.  There were examples of facts that were most certainly being exaggerated in addition to emotionally heavy words like "corporate agriculture", "factory farms", "toxic pollution", "environmental nightmare" and many others.  There were also false claims of health and environmental dangers.
If you want to read the scare tactics, you can go to the LSP web site, and if you want to read MMPA's response please see this link.  I think MMPA has a great response to LSP.  As dairy farmers, we're all in this together. We need to focus on educating the public on farming practices from all styles of farming rather than scaring them into believing that a large farm will be the death of their rural economies and environments.
I know first hand the struggles even a small dairy has with environmental regulations.  In our county we were required to notify all land owners within a one mile radius of our farm of any additions to our animal units or manure storage.  We were also required to submit manure management plans each year and expected surprise annual inspections from our county officer.  I'm not going to lie, these regulations were a pain in our butt, however I am glad that we have them in place to keep all farmers honest in their practices....big or small.  I think the key factor all consumers, rural leaders and farmers forget is that we're all in this together.  We share the same resources, we share water, air and soil.  We want and need to farm in a way that is sustainable, but because we share our environment, what we do to our environment will also affect us.  If a large or small dairy pollutes their water, they are also polluting water for their cows, employees and families.  It's not in anyone's best interest to destroy our environment. 
Moreover, the accusation that large dairies will put small dairies out of business is absurd. Having a larger dairy will help to keep local business running, whether that's feed companies, agronomy companies, lumber yards, equipment dealers, banks, hardware stores, trucking companies, manufacturing/processing plants, and so many more.  $1.00 of milk sold from any sized dairy will generate about $3.00 worth of local economic activity!  Smaller dairies also help local communities!  We need farms of all sizes and styles to have a thriving industry.  Why to small dairies sell out?  They can't afford to upgrade, there isn't another generation to take over the farm, the business plan didn't work, there are many reasons, but to point fingers at large dairies is ridiculous.  We need all sizes, we need each other, and at the end of the day, farming is hard enough the way it is.....I hope we all make it! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

An Occupation of Faith

Spring time rains are here!  We’ve been pretty dry here in Southern Minnesota, so much so that they put us in a “Moderate Drought” category.  Last week strong winds were blowing top soil everywhere, but this morning I awoke to the gentle sounds of rain drops hitting my window pane.  Praise be to God!  I know there are lots of happy farmers, because their prayers are being answered.  Weather is something no farmer has control over and they are at complete mercy to it.  Because of this, I believe in order to farm you have to have a deep sense of a higher calling or a higher power.  Farming is an occupation of faith. 

So often farmers place their hope and trust in something bigger than themselves.  Farmers have faith; it is a requirement.  They have faith that there is a plan, that God will provide, that if they do their best on Earth to be care takers of the land, water and animals, that they will be rewarded.  Sometimes though, life doesn’t as planned.  Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate.  Sometimes the cards that farmers get dealt make no sense.  But at the end of the day, farmers are resilient, they know their calling, and they have faith that they will be able to try again; they keep trying again. “Maybe we’ll get it right next time or next season.”

In my heart, I am a farmer, I have faith.  I know my calling in life and I trust in God’s plan.  I am so blessed to have grown up on a farm, to have first-hand knowledge and experience in God’s glory.  I have seen my parents struggle through difficult times in farming history, wondering if we would have money to feed our family or pay the bills, but they never lost faith.  They have been great examples of resilience and the important of dedication and passion.  But when you boil everything that they went through to keep on farming, it came down to having faith, and I have faith in God’s plan for me and my farming future!