Monday, November 28, 2016

Passion becomes a Career

My love for cows and farming runs deep.  A good friend of mine told me that I was the most "dairy-centric" person he knew, and I took that to heart.  I am not currently farming but love of dairy farming has only strengthened.  A few months ago I was presented with the opportunity to apply for a new job, a potential long term career, working for the dairy farmers of Minnesota.  I took the chance and applied and it is with great joy that I start today on my first day as the Industry Relations Program Manager at Midwest Dairy Association/Minnesota Milk Producers.  This job is really the sum of my passion put into a career, one I can definitely see myself doing long term as long as I don't let Minnesota farmers down.  This new job not only is my passion wrapped up into a career but it is also the sum of so many small choices made over my lifetime.  I can see God's hand in the road that I have traveled to get to this place, and I can see his plan coming to light. 

I look back to the moment I made the choice to be a county dairy ambassador at 15 years old.  I remember the choice to attend college at South Dakota State University where I would encounter one of the greatest professors I would ever know, Dr. Arnold Hippen.  I remember 2002 as a finalist for Princess Kay of the Milky Way, an opportunity of a lifetime to represent my county and the dairy farmers of Minnesota.  I remember my choice to go into dairy farming with a full heart after graduation and the first few pictures I posted on Facebook of new calves or field work.  I remember Sherry Newell reaching out to me to ask me to start posting some short blogs for a summer series for Midwest Dairy Association.  I was so excited for the opportunity to reach a larger audience!  Following that summer, Sherry encouraged me to take it one step further, "How about you start a blog?"  In 2009 I started this little blog, took advantage of every training opportunity I could get, and you have this, my own little outlet to the world.  Every step of the way I took a small chance in making what seemed like a small decision, which brought me to this place.  From the people that I met: my dairy woman strong role models including my best friend Annie, my roommates and classmates from college, my peers Carrie and Laura, and countless others who have been instrumental on this journey.  Each one gave me a little bit of encouragement and a pat on the back to keep on going.  Each risk followed God's plan to make good choices and put me where I belong.  Yes, I absolutely lost faith in his plan several times and I became full of anxiety and discouragement but I stayed the course (even when I went off course) and here I am with this exciting news!!!

I still don't know my final destination or where this journey may take me but I have faith that if I keep making these small choices to do God's will, I know it will be a beautiful ride, with amazing people and experiences!  I have so much gratitude for everyone that helped me get to this place!  The positive feedback from everyone has been overwhelming and I hope that I won't let you down! Wish me well, I'm off to help grow the Minnesota Dairy community in any way that I can! Go Dairy!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks for Suffering

Tomorrow we will sit around tables filled with delicious food, surrounded by family and friends.  We will count our blessings and give thanks.  Tonight at mass, Father talked about counting our blessings.  The gospel included the story of the 10 lepers which Jesus healed and only one returned to give thanks to Jesus for his healing.  While we sat in the pews and thought about our blessings I couldn't help but drift into thinking about being grateful for my sufferings.  Some day I hope to be able to write about my sufferings here but for now I will summarize it as a heavy, broken heart. I am on the other side of my suffering and I can speak with confidence that there is healing and growth on the other side of suffering. 

We talk about strength when we face hard times.  Dairy farming is full of hard times, difficult times, challenging times, but life is harder.  Dairy farming creates people who are determined, persistent, resilient, tough, passionate and strong, but I would argue that strength is more than these.  Strength found in suffering, which is the result of growth from the hard times and heartbreak, is vulnerability.   It is compassion, kindness, and honesty.  When I look back on my suffering, I am grateful for this growth that created the ability to be vulnerable.  Being strong all of the time is hard and it can be cold.  Being vulnerable is harder than being strong because it is real and you have to feel everything.  The sadness is sadder and the happiness is happier, but that's the benefit, it is real. I look back on my sufferings, and there were some very dark days. 

I chose to lean into the feelings and be completely vulnerable.  I was vulnerable to the people that hurt me and I was vulnerable with God.  I made my confessions many times, working hard to forgive myself, but when I look back, the biggest healing came from being vulnerable.  I am so grateful for this suffering.  If given the chance to live my life over again, I would do my suffering over again.  Sure I would make different choices to avoid hurting people I love but I know the end result would be the same.  If I hadn't leaned into the heart ache then I wouldn't have grown in the ways that I am today.  I am thankful for the suffering, for my compassion, for my honesty, and for my vulnerability.  It makes me real and it helps me live life to its fullest.  Here I sit, reflecting on Thanksgiving, knowing if it wasn't for the suffering, I wouldn't have my second chances either, to live life to the fullest with the deepest love possible.  Thankful and Blessed :)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Don’t be Afraid to get into the Picture

This weekend I had the opportunity to do some photography for friends and family.  I made the leap to invest in a camera that I know I will really enjoy for the years to come.  Since my 4-H years, photography has been a great pastime of mine.  If you stop by my home, my walls are covered with my favorite pictures of family, friends, and my favorite places.  During my adventures this weekend I had an adorable 9-year-old amateur photographer-in-training with me; she would like to be called a paparazzo.  I let my paparazzo take my camera and go to town taking her own pictures.  My paparazzo stopped and asked me to get into the pictures she was taking.  I hesitated.  I didn’t want my picture taken.  First, I was dirty.  We had been walking down field roads all morning on our journey and I was covered in dust.  Secondly, I was wearing a scrubby t-shirt and some super short running shorts, but those things are so darn comfortable.  And finally, I am always hesitant to get into pictures because I will find something wrong with how I look, my weight, my angles, my curves, my muffin top, my wrinkles, my sun spots, my list could go on and on.  But who am I to say no to this adorable, insistent 9-year-old paparazzo.  I couldn’t say no, she wouldn't let me.  I couldn't let her down.  

I hopped into the pictures and I did what she told me to do.  I wasn’t certain that she was getting my good side or not and I was a little shy about it at first, but she was just thrilled to have me participate in her creative process.  We did some funny shots, we did some serious shots, and we had a blast making memories.  This was not my usual place.  When I am out taking pictures I take pictures of other people, I seldom take pictures of myself, other than the usual Snapchat selfie on the farm or at work.  Pictures make me feel self-conscious, especially about my body type.  I have struggled with my body type and image for as long as I can remember, that’s an honest statement.    God made me to be a beefy, strong woman, not a delicate, petite one.  I know that I am more confident that I have ever been but I still have days where I feel exposed or vulnerable about how I look.  I feel like a 6 on most days rather than the 10 I know God wants me to be.  I want to be known for my brains and personality rather than my appearance.  Am I beautiful?  Yes I am.  But on those days when I am feeling low, I let all of the little things about myself that are not quite perfect bother me more than seeing the positives overall about myself.  I tell myself I’ll take pictures again when I lose 10 pounds or get my hair to look perfect.  
Floored, that this is how my paparazzo sees me, for all my good things!

My little paparazzo took me out of comfort zone and I am so grateful for that!  Because, when I took a look at the pictures she had taken, absolutely there were some that I didn’t like and made me feel insecure and vulnerable but there were also some amazing pictures that I LOVED!  She captured my smile, my personality, and actually…she captured how she sees me.  I was completely floored and honored that this girl could do so much for my self-esteem in such a short afternoon.  Children don’t care about your muffin tops or your wrinkles, they care about you being there with them, in the present.  They want you to be confident in who you are and what you represent as a human, as a woman.  Children just need you to be your beautiful self.  Be confident, be vulnerable, be beautiful, and for Pete’s sakes….get yourself into those pictures with those kids and make some memories!  Those memories will last forever and your children will have a memento to last a lifetime!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Happy People First, then Happy Cows

The Dairy Community has been preaching for years about how we put the cows first.  We have done amazing things on our farms making sure our cows and their well-being come first, but there is a personal consequence for this: marriages, families, friendships, mental health, and so much more.  As a dairy community we need to make sure we put people first, then the cows, because if it wasn’t for the people we wouldn’t have the cows.  More important are the selfless owners/farmers/managers of these dairies.  So many stories have been popping up in my newsfeed of dairy farm families in so much hurt, sacrificing everything they have for their cows, but losing so much of what makes life worth living. 

Wonderful women are sharing heart breaking stories about how they are doing it all.  They are taking care of their kids, milking cows, managing employees, pulling extra milking shifts, driving tractor, taking care of harvest meals for their husbands, cleaning their house and at the end of the day they feel guilty that they didn’t do enough.  They didn’t make the fancy crafts with their kids, they didn’t deep clean their fridge, they missed a night out with the girls, all for the sake of the cows.  These women wear their sacrifices like a badge of honor on their sleeves but show the signs of being drained and destroyed.  Just the thought of doing something for self-care, like an hour to take a bath, enjoy a book, or spend some prayer time immediately spawns feelings of guilt and selfishness.  Some of these women even cast judgement on others who do take time for themselves and let something else in life slip.  Ladies, we are not in competition with each other!  Stop it right now!  There is no pride in cleaning your house instead of spending time with your kids.  There is no pride in working yourself to a thread all for the last 5 pounds of milk.  There is so much more to life than cows and milk production.  We can’t do it all and we shouldn’t.

Humans were meant to be in community with each other and help each other.  If you’re a spiritual person, you know we were meant to need something other than people and ourselves, we need God.  We were not meant to be independent, but interdependent.  Ask someone for help, share responsibility with your husband.  Take an oxygen mask ladies and help yourself out.  If you don’t take care of yourself first then how can you possibly take care of anyone else?  And men do this too! (but they aren’t willing to talk about it because heaven forbid they sacrifice their male pride)  I will never forget the relief I felt when a friend shared with me that she was hiring a housekeeper to clean her house 4 times a year! Wow! Did I ever feel better about my dirty house after that!  Or when I discovered that a family made the choice to play with their kids instead of chopping silage on a Sunday.

Personally, I did it.  I tried to do it all.  I tried to be the farm manager, herdsman, calf feeder, heifer breeder, accountant, the HR manager, the social media specialist, all for the cows and the last 5 pounds of milk.  Was I successful?  You know I was, I’m determined.  Did my cows come first? Definitely! But what did I lose?  I lost my marriage, I lost my sanity, I lost my health, I lost myself.  My friends tried to hand me an oxygen mask but I didn’t take it.  I didn’t take it until I hit rock bottom.  It was then I realized how much I was missing out and how much more I could accomplish if I just took even one hour a day for myself.  If I said no to some activities and volunteer work.  If I let employees do their jobs and trust them to do their jobs.  I made time for God, for exercise, for reading.  I made time for family and friends.  My own niece was scared of me because I spent so little time with her.  My house was a mess, I lost our farm, but I salvaged what was left of me and rebuilt what I have now become.  Ladies, please do yourself a favor and take the oxygen mask!  There is no pride in working yourself to death!  Do something for yourself, take a nap, spend some time just playing and laughing with your kids.  Call a friend for coffee and help.  You matter! Because at the end of the day there will be no cows and no farm if it wasn’t for you and your drive and passion.  And gentlemen, please take note as well, because you matter too!  Ask for help and take care of yourselves!  I’m cheering for you!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Battle of the "-free's"

There has been much discussion lately about various pulls from consumers for "antibiotic-free", "rBST-free", "GMO-free", and whatever kind of "-free" you can come up with.  Whether grounded in science or not, these demands from consumers are becoming increasingly louder and more prevalent.  If you ask me, it is the result of social media and companies capitalizing on fear marketing, but my opinion doesn't matter, at least not yet.  I have had several conversations with various farmers over the past few weeks that are facing some serious demands by the processors that they sell their milk to.  While most processing companies are dairy farmer owned and a board of dairy farmers serve and lead those companies, consumers and marketing are now in the driver's seat for the products and quality that farmers must produce.  Rather than premiums being paid for higher quality products dairy farmers are being asked to make changes on their farms or be forced to take a penalty for their milk.  Let me provide a couple "real life" examples of the costs that a dairy farmer faces with these challenges.

One cooperative is forcing its farmers to produce milk with lower bacteria counts and not use any chemicals or cleaners on farm that contain a certain chemical in order to meet the demands of their foreign export markets.  In order to avoid this chemical, dairy farmers now have to buy more expensive cleaners from a smaller pool of possible choices.  In order to lower their bacteria counts, milking equipment has been upgraded, which is also expensive.  Those dairy farmers do not see a pay increase for their milk, it is just another hoop that they jump through in order to have a market to sell milk to.  Is that the price they pay to have a market to sell to? It appears that way.  Were these changes good for the farmer?  Most were, but they were expensive at a time when milk prices are low.  Did the farmer get paid more for their milk because of the benchmarks met? No.  Most people resist change, dairy farmers are no different, but the milk produced from these farms is no safer than the milk they produced last year, before these changes.  They just jumped through another hoop, spent some more money and didn't get paid any more for their efforts, however they did appease the standards to ship dairy products abroad.

Another couple of cooperatives are discussing only buying milk from dairy farms that do not use rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin).  In several states already (Michigan for example) this is already commonplace.  rBST is a growth hormone used to increase metabolism activity and feed efficiency in dairy cows.  rBST has decades of research proving that there is no difference between milk that comes from a treated cow and milk from a non-treated cow, however there is an implied understanding from consumers that any added hormones are bad.  I will note that as a dairywoman I did not use rBST and found I was better off without it BUT I do see a place for it on our farms.  I see where it can help a farmer keep a cow healthy and productive.  I also see where it helps a farmer be more efficient converting feed into milk (which is really good for our environment!).  rBST is another tool that is available to dairy farmers to help them do what's best for their cows, their families and their resources.  Eliminating rBST from the toolbox is fine but again there is no premium paid to the dairy farmers for having one less tool to use.  Instead these farmers will have to spend money increasing their management and care of their cows to hopefully recoup the lost milk production and efficiency.  These farmers will also potentially have to sell cows for slaughter that they would have been able to keep with the aid of rBST.  I know with the advancement of management skills and facilities rBST is becoming increasingly outdated, but to completely remove it from the toolbox does have me concerned.  Yet another hoop to be jumped through with no premium paid to the dairy farmer to make those changes.  Farmers are forced to keep swallowing the costs instead. 

My proposal: let's meet in the middle.  Consumers have concerns and dairy farmers have costs to make those changes.  Admittedly some dairy farmers won't change, there's always someone like that.  I know as a dairy farmer I would have no problem meeting those demands as long as we can reach agreements that make sense for everyone involved.  I want a future market for milk because I want another generation of dairy farmers. I want to be able to send our dairy products to foreign countries and reach consumers who have never had dairy products before.  But I also want changes in standards and benchmarks to make sense for the dairy farm families involved.  Right now, with record low milk prices yet again, these challenges are a hard sell to farmers.  Consumers want transparency and believe it or not dairy farmers want to give that transparency.  We're proud of what we do every day and we love the milk that we produce and the cows that we care for.  Just ask us!!  Instead of battling each other over the "-free's"  let's have a conversation, respect each other, and meet in the middle for what makes sense for everyone involved!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Keeping Cows Cool: It's more than sprinklers and fans!

Last week supplied some down right unbearable heat in the upper Midwest! I know several dairy farmers were posting pictures of their cows enjoying sprinklers and fans on their dairy farms. Other than spraying dairy cows down with cool water (cold water actually causes shock in cows!) and blowing them with fans, what other options do farmers have to keep cows cool?  Additionally, how does hot weather change the day to day operation of the dairy farm? 

Cows laying down is an excellent sign of cow comfort and cooling!
You’ve been hot all day, chances are you are not very excited to eat anything.  Cows and calves are the same way.  Dairy farmers will work hard to keep extra cooler water available for the baby calves to drink as well as even supplementing water with electrolytes (much like Gatorade).  Calves can be bedded with sand instead of straw which in the shade of their calf huts actually provides a dry and cool place for the calves to rest in the heat of the day.  Calves can be further cooler by opening hatch doors on their huts and even lifting the huts up to accommodate more air flow.

For cows and heifers, they might be fed at night rather than the heat of the day to help them feel cooler and more eager to eat.  Additionally, cows and heifers might be fed more frequently in the heat so they have the opportunity to have fresh feed more often.  Feed spoils more quickly in the heat so fresh feed is critical.  There are even electrolytes for cows that can be added to their water to improve their hydration.  Dairymen and women might postpone doing some extra tasks during the week of heat stress, focusing on only doing the necessary tasks that provide excellent care.  Vaccinating calves and cows during this weather is not advised, so not to put the animal’s immune system under even more stress.  Moving cows to different pens is also not advised, however, when cows decide to have babies, that cannot be predicted.  Cows calving are kept in cool, shaded locations and when they have delivered their calves, they receive plenty of cool water to drink.  Cows are provided with lots of fresh bedding to keep dry after their sprinkler baths.  Most dairy farmers will avoid breeding cows during the heat because the increased internal temperature of the cow reduces her chance of becoming pregnant. 

In operations, dairy farmers are working to do everything they can to keep cows cool and keep them from getting stressed.  Farmers will change feeding time from morning to night.  They might not vaccinate or dry off cows during an extreme heat week like last week.  The might also only do the necessary jobs on the dairy, allowing them to take care of themselves.  So often farmers in general, will work tirelessly to take care of their cows and forget about themselves.  It should be noted that they are some of the best people because of this but they put themselves at risk.  I know dairies with employees will stock fridges with cool beverages and lots of frozen treats.  They will encourage their employees to also take breaks when doing extremely physical tasks, like cleaning stalls.  When a heat wave like this comes through, it effects everything from the cows to the people on the farm!  Stay cool everyone!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

We farm so you don't have to

"Everyone of us that is not a farmer is not a farmer because we have farmers" Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

Check out this video link below, this is an excellent speech from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack!

This speech from Sec. Vilsack came across my newsfeed this week and it had me thinking about the small portion of people who are trained, experienced and qualified to raise food for the people of this country.  It's truly impressive the small number of people who rise food for so many and in places where food shouldn't grow we are using technology and conservation practices to make it grow.  It's astounding!  Going to the grocery store is something generations of people have taken for granted.  Consumers have the convenience of driving a few minutes to the nearest store to pick up anything they might want for supper as compared to having to raise, plan, store, and preserve food for their suppers.  By having their food that simple and cost effective, consumers are free to have more time to do their other jobs and taking care of their families. 

I attended an on-farm meeting this week where a banker in attendance had a young woman with him.  This young woman was the banker's intern for the summer and he was taking an opportunity to show her the inner workings of a dairy farm.  When we were leaving the meeting I approached the young woman and thanked her for her time as well as asked her what she had learned from attending this meeting.  Her words have stuck with me ever since we talked.  "I will never take for granted my next glasses of milk! Wow! These people are truly tirelessly selfless! They do things I could never do and get up at crazy times of the day just to do work that they obviously love!  I am truly floored!"  That right there is exactly why we need to tell/share our farming stories, because it is so important that the consumers of today have the ability to see how and where their food comes from.  If we just open our doors and minds, and listen to the concerns our consumers have we can make a priceless impression, just like this young woman. 

This reason is also why I decided to spread my wings a little and agree to do an interview with a local fitness blogger.  She wanted to interview a farmer who is using fitness in her life and as a result we had a good conversation about what I hope consumers learn from my work and the work of many other great farmers and ranchers.  We want you to know we CARE!  Feel free to check out the link below for Tough Muddette's blog, it's a good one!  And expect me to keep telling me dairy's story!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Heirloom Flowers, Family Traditions

I come from a long line of green thumbs.  Both of my grandmothers were gardeners, each specializing in their own specific flowers and my mother is also an avid gardener, both with flowers and vegetables.  I developed my love of flowers as a young 4-Her.  I had quickly learned that I had an eye for floral design both in arrangements and in the garden and I loved to grow my flowers.  I rose to the challenge of flower gardening through the 4-H project and that project evolved into my own personal garden which mom let me design and plant.  Every where I have lived and farmed since those early years, I took my flowers with me.

My Grandma S had the most beautiful peonies and roses on my home farm.  Those roses could withstand the harshest of Minnesota winters and the peonies would make Grandma S smile every time that she visited the farm in the late spring.  I took some transplants of those roses with me when I got married and moved to our farm, I wanted that piece of Grandma S with me and now that she is gone I smiled with a tear in my eye, every summer when they bloom.  I know that is Grandma S smiling down on me. 

Grandma D had these glorious irises that she planted all over her home site.  Those beautiful flowers came in pretty colors of purple, rust, yellow, pink, peach and white.  I also took a transplant of these flowers with me when I moved, first from Grandma D's garden and then from Mom's garden.  Grandma D also had a long fence line down her driveway.  There she planted these beautiful dahlias and gladioli!  These flowers quickly became my favorite flowers to grow for 4-H county fair shows.

Mom had lilies in her gardens.  Gorgeous, dramatic lilies in reds, oranges, yellows and whites.  She taught me to transplant bulbs.  In the spring she had these beautiful tulips of red and yellow in the front of her house.  I believe her love of tulips inspired me to plant tulips at every place that I have ever lived.  I have tried so many colors but my favorites will always be Mom's.

Mom trusted me enough to let me have my own garden. I started my garden with Grandma S's roses and Grandma D's irises.  My inspiration from both grandmothers and mom led me to plant hollyhocks along my dad's pasture fence.  For several years we had beautiful hollyhocks along the whole length of fence by the highway and several sales reps made comments on how pretty it looked.  It took a little weeding to keep the fence line clean and later when I wasn't at the farm anymore, my brother mowed them down.  Mom saved a few seeds and replanted them by the garage.  Some day I hope to plant another fence line of holly hocks on my own dairy.  In the meantime I am in awe of their beauty at my parents' farm and I am thankful for my genetic green thumb and heirloom flowers!
Hollyhocks at my parents' dairy, a legacy from my 4-H years at the farm.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Proud Daughter/Sister Moment!

Dairy Star reported the state list, including my family, Autumn Breeze Dairy.
I can’t even begin to express how excited and proud I am of my dad and brother!  This week they received their notice that they were among the top dairymen and women in the state of Minnesota for milk quality, producing milk with a SCC below 100,000 for the year. 

Here’s a little science education on milk quality:  every time the milk truck comes to a dairy, the milk truck driver collects a sample of milk to be tested for a variety of quality measurements, including SCC (somatic cell count).  Somatic cell count is a measure of the white blood cells in milk.  Yes there are white blood cells in milk.  All of the nutrients that a cow needs to make milk in the milk making cells of her udder need to get carried to her udder via blood.   Contrary to popular belief by the anti-milk crowd, milk does not contain actual blood because there is a blood/milk barrier in the udder (milk making cells filter out the nutrients that they need to make milk proteins and fats and send the blood back to the heart) but the occasional white blood cell will slip through because it is a protein based cell.  These somatic cells are an indicator of overall cow health and levels of mastitis (infection) in the cows’ udders.  When the measurement is low, the cow herd is healthy and when the level of SCC is high, this is an indication that there is a problem with the cows, environment, equipment and management.  Healthy cows in a good environment will produce milk with a SCC of 200,000 or less.  Milk produced at a high level of SCC is considered illegal and processors will not accept this milk.  Stress like a cold or flu can cause SCC to rise in addition to poor animal handling or bad ventilation.  SCC quickly becomes the measure of overall quality care of the cows.  It doesn’t matter which type of housing, whether grass fed, organic or conventional all of these different management styles are capable of producing safe, wholesome, high quality milk.  So now you know the science….here’s why I am so incredibly proud of my family……

It wasn’t always this way.  It wasn’t always easy to produce high quality milk and give cows the best that they deserve.  These things cost money, take time and planning, and they take patience.  Things like new barns, concrete to keep cows out of the mud, better education and management, testing individual cows, and yes culling out cows that just couldn’t produce high quality milk (some of SCC is definitely genetic).  Decades ago, I remember when my dad was producing the occasional tank of illegal milk, we had to dump milk, and we were at risk of not having a place to sell milk to.  It wasn’t dad’s fault the cows went swimming in the mud after a rain but it was dad’s responsibility to make sure that milk that he sold was safe for consumers.  It was then that my dad made a commitment to improve his milk quality and keep working on that.  I would say my dad became down right anal.  If it wasn’t perfect, we pitched it. 
The first steps were improving cow comfort in our tie stall barn, adding more bedding and making stalls larger.  Dad poured concrete in the yard to reduce mud and he made sure that cows didn’t go out to pasture unless it was dry out.  My brother went off to college and came home to farm in partnership with my dad.  My brother took it one step further by implementing DHIA (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) testing, where each month each individual cows were sampled and checked for SCC. 
DHIA testing monthly helps my family make sure each cow gets individualized care.
Cows with high SCC were sold, while others were treated with antibiotics and allowed to heal.  My brother added milking detachers to make sure cows were never overmilked, which can cause damage to cows’ teats and increase SCC.  Within a couple years the cows were housed in a much more spacious state of the art sand bedded free stall barn.  Those cows went from a cozy Super 8 to the Hilton.
Cows rest comfortably in the new sand bedded free stalls.
Finally this winter my brother completed the last step in improving milk quality and cow health: the milking parlor.  With new equipment with a better design, cows are able to milk out quickly, comfortably and completely.
The new double 8 parlor helps milk cows gently, completely and quickly.
Keeping SCC low is easier, cows are more comfortable, and making perfect milk is almost effortless, but it didn’t come easy.  This was years of dedication to achieve this goal.  This was never losing sight of the fact that cows’ health is important and making sure the consumer deserves the very best dad could offer.  This was the result of tough decisions and trying times.  This achievement didn’t come easy.

I hope dad can look back and see how far he’s come.  I hope he knows how proud I am of how hard he worked to achieve this.  I hope my brother knows how much I respect him as a dedicated dairyman and peer.  But most of all this Father’s Day Weekend, I hope they both know how amazing they are as dairymen, husbands and fathers!  #prouddaughter #proudsister


4 generations of my family: my dad, my nephew, my brother, my grandfather, celebrating 100 years of farming on the same farm as well!


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Dropping Milk Prices, Emotional Stress

If you don’t know by now, consider this your notice, milk prices on-farm have been dropping for months and currently are at the lowest point they have been in almost 7 years.  The last time financial impacts like this hit the dairy community there was a mass exodus of producers, many of which wish they didn’t have to sell their cows but they couldn’t provide for their families anymore.  This is our current reality.  Today I read articles about record cheese inventories in the United States putting pressure on milk price to drop even lower.  I heard from fellow dairy farmers that the exodus has started again, dairy farmers are being forced to sell their herds and even land in order to pay off debt and save themselves.  This dip in prices will have long lasting effects on the dairy community, no matter the size of the farm.  It does not discriminate.  So as a reader, why should you care?  What is my purpose in sharing this with you? 
These dairy farmers work tirelessly for their families, their cows, their farms, and yes you the consumers.  They are experiencing emotional stress that you can’t even describe.  These dedicated farmers wake up every morning fully aware that they are literally paying admission to milk their cows.  They are not receiving income from their farms, but paying just to keep them.    Many farms are accumulating thousands and even millions of dollars of debt just to feed and care for their cows.   But it isn’t the financial situation that concerns me the most.  What concerns me the most is the emotional and mental health of these amazing people.
These men and women will most likely sacrifice everything they have to give to keep doing the one thing they know and love, milking cows.  I talked to a dear friend in Ohio who has a small herd.  He told me he will farm until he’s completely broke and go to a food bank for himself and his wife before he sacrifices his cows.   That’s right, he would sacrifice for his family before he would sacrifice for his cows.  He’s not alone, I know many just like him.  I know of farmers trying to make cuts to the budget, but they refuse to compromise their soil, water, and cows’ well-being.  These passionate men and women believe in a hope that is impossible to describe, because many believe if they keep pushing forward through the hard times that good times will soon follow.  Their perseverance pushes them to keeps them fighting for their calling.   Crops were planting this spring and hay is being harvested, farmers’ optimism continues, but at what price?  I can see the stress on their tired faces.  The worry is in their eyes: how will they feed and clothe their families, how will they pay even part of their monthly bills, how long will this last and can they make it that long? 
What can you do to help farmers?  Keep drinking milk, eating cheese and enjoying yogurt.  Dairy foods are some of the most local foods we have available, with the average gallon of milk traveling no more than 100 miles to the grocery store from the nearest dairy farm.  By drinking milk, you are helping your neighboring dairy farmers.  Please help these amazing farmers provide for their families and yours, by doing something as simple as making sure you and your family enjoys 3 servings of dairy each day.  And while you’re at it, please pray for these hard working heroes, they need all the love and support they can get!  Thank you!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy Mother's Day to my Mom

In order to properly give recognition to my mother this weekend, I thought it was time that I did a blog post dedicated to her.  So here’s my Mother’s Day Dedication to my Mom.

I am the oldest of 4 children.  I have 2 other sisters and a brother.  My mother and I have bucked heads since the earliest memories I have.  I am an independent spirit, I am passionate, I am head strong, I am willful, I am just as much my mother’s daughter as I am my father’s daughter.  If she doesn’t realize it, she should now.  I can remember the fights with her in kindergarten when I wanted to wear my favorite purple corduroy pants for picture day and she wanted to put me in a flowery and lacy dress.  I won that fight, and I stood proudly in the back row of my class picture.  I remember demanding to grow my bangs out in 5th grade and the awfulness that came after that.  I was a tom boy and my mom was hoping for more of a little lady.  I wanted to tag along with dad doing chores, milking cows, riding in tractors and getting dirty. 

When I hit my teen years I really challenged my mother.  I wasn’t too much of a trouble maker, but every time she gave me a boundary that I thought was unrealistic I challenged it.  I tried shorts that were too short and speeding tickets to football games.  These were not my proudest moments and I know I am responsible for more than a couple gray hairs, but my mother remained firm.  Every time we fought, I apologized and tried to do better.  I knew my mother was being firm out of love for me.  Now as a 30-something woman, I look back and see how much of blessing she was for my siblings and me.  Those boundaries helped keep me from bouncing too far off the straight and narrow path.  When there was an injustice at school, mom went to bat for us, meeting with the principle to make sure our lives were fair.  Her love for us was so passionate at times that it came out as frustration when we made choices she knew were less than our ability.  She taught her daughters the value of modesty and respecting ourselves for more than our appearance.  She encouraged us to travel and try new things, but at the time seemed like she was just bossing us around.  She taught us the value of a dollar, hard work, and how to save and sacrifice for something we really wanted.  She gave her time to drive us to school events making sure that we experienced the arts, sports, and community service through 4-H and church. 

Most of all mom led us in example of how she treated our father.  She has always worked to care for dad: doing cooking, cleaning, laundry, running errands, serving him lunches in the fields.  She ended her career to stay at home and raise 4 children, while helping my father farm.  Dad often says that was one of the most wonderful things mom ever gave him…4 beautiful children.  Their marriage like so many others faced hard times, and it wasn’t perfect but it worked for them.  Mom prayed with dad and shared that faith with us.  I’m sure more than once she said a novena on my behalf.  To this day I will default to praying the rosary in times of crisis or severe weather thunderstorms; that is all mom.  Mom made sure we knew that you could argue in a marriage and make up, that you could work through the conflicts.  So much that mom did for us while we were growing up, I feel like I took it for granted at the time. 

I see women especially, that didn’t have a mom like mine, and I see how much they struggle in life trying to find out who they are.  If it wasn’t for the hard boundaries and lessons in faith and self respect from mom, I don’t know if I would be half the woman I am today.  I see now how important her example was in who I am today.  Yes we still buck heads but we can handle conflict because of how she taught me to handle conflict.  I know at the end of the day, when mom gets really passionate about something, it is because she loves me so much and only wants the best for me.  On this Mother’s Day weekend, I say thank you and I love you to the best mom I could’ve ever imagined! And God Bless you always and forever!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What's Your Ideal Size?

A close friend of mine asked me a very personal question about my fitness and health. “Through your exercise, what size or weight are you aiming to reach?”  You should never ask a lady her weight or size, it’s just impolite.  But this was a good friend and I laughed because I had fought with this issue for several years.  In my short lifetime, like many other women, I have battled with what my “ideal” size and weight should be.  I have had the years where I went into healthy overdrive and shrank to an unhealthy weight and I have had the years where a change in lifestyle and stress level caused me to rise to an unhealthy weight.  I know as women we change sizes so much and let’s face it, it effects our self-esteem and our confidence.  It’s ridiculous what women will put themselves through in order to try to gain back their self-esteem.  Then one brilliant day, I came to terms with one outstanding revelation: no matter my shape, size or age, I will always be ME, and I love ME, so why not just keep on being ME. 

So, what’s my ideal size or weight? ME!  I want to be a healthy ME.  I want to be able to physically play sports that I enjoy or go on a long walk without getting winded.  I want to be able to eat chocolate cake guilt-free but also make a healthy dish with vegetables and fruits.  I want to go to the doctor for my yearly physical (yes, I do those) and not fear my blood tests and heart checks because I know I am in good health. I want to be able to run after the cows when they get out of the pen, to stop them from going onto the highway.  I don’t want my lifestyle to revolving around my workout schedule or feel like I am in competition with other women.  I want to have the freedom to go on a leisurely Friday night walk with a friend but also veg out on my couch and watch movies on a Saturday.  I want to be able to put in my ear buds and enjoy a podcast and nature while out on a hike on a beautiful Tuesday night, after work.  I want to use this time to collect my thoughts and get back in touch with my soul.
I have been doing a little bit more running since it is finally nice outside again, and this is what I am after.  I want more of this!  I have lowered my resting heart rate 10 beats per minute, to 52 beats per minute and I’ll bet my blood test is awesome.  Have I lowered my weight or a pant size? Nope, and that’s ok, because I want to like exercise and I want to look forward to eating.  Health is about balance.  It is a balance of nutrition, fitness, mental, social, and spiritual.  Here’s to your health journey, and finding an ideal size or weight for yourself!

Friday, April 15, 2016

How to Fit Exercise into you Busy Life Schedule?

The follow article was published in the Dairy Girl Network March Newsletter, be sure to check out all of the great articles in their amazing newsletter and their resources!
How to Fit Exercise into your Busy Life Schedule?

*Disclaimer: I am not a trainer or coach, just a dairy girl offering some practical advice to help make exercise a part of your daily life.

We all know exercise is important to healthy living but let’s be real it takes time and commitment and we’re all very busy women.  A few weeks ago a post on the DGN page shared some favorite ways to de-stress, many of those comments included physical activity.  Personally, for years exercise was not a priority and I paid for it dearly in my mental, emotional and physical health.  I let the craziness of the farm dictate my diet and lifestyle choices which yielded very poor results.  I had no energy, even with sleep I felt tired.  Slowly, small changes really started to change my attitude, self-confidence and physical health.  For me the actual act of unplugging from the hectic schedule at work and the farm forces me to relax, think, recharge and heal my body and soul.   Besides the physical benefits of exercise there are many social, psychological, mental and spiritual benefits.  So we know it’s good for us, how do we fit exercise in?

·       Write down your goal to have physical activity at least 5 times a week, giving yourself a couple days to “cheat” and take a break.  We all know writing down goals is an important first step.

·       Pick a time of day that you can consistently commit to, for me it was right after feeding calves in the evening.

·       Start small and light, perhaps 30 minute walks or biking around your neighborhood (be sure to wave hello to the neighbors when you pass by!).

·       Sign up for a local 5k, thereby setting a deadline and a goal to train for.  Represent Team Dairy while you train by refueling with chocolate milk!

·       Choose a variety of activities: I do everything from running, walking, hiking, biking, and even dance cardio in my basement.  Mix it up!

·       Play with your kids!  This totally counts!  I don’t have children but I will gladly go running with my nieces! Plus this makes some great memories for your kids!

·       Schedule time to work out with your friends.  Some of the best workouts I had were when I helped a friend train for a marathon.  My friend ran while I rode bike with her.  It was almost effortless to workout with someone, plus we had time to talk to each other and we had each other to keep accountable.

·       Bring tunes or your favorite podcasts!  I love my phone and ear buds!  Walks and runs are the perfect time to catch up on your favorite podcasts, audiobooks or even listen to some spiritual music to get in the right state of mind.

·       Make sure you are getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and making moderate food choices.  All of these factor into your energy level and total health.

·       Give yourself permission to take time for yourselves.  When we are better versions of ourselves we are better wives, mothers, friends, co-workers, bosses, and women.  Be sure to give yourself permission to take care of yourself, because you are worth it!

Enjoying a beautiful day for a hike/run in the woods, complete with my favorite podcasts for meditation time.

Friday, March 25, 2016

My Favorite Sugar Cookies

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

1/2 Cup Butter
1 1/2 Cup White Sugar
2 Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla
1 Tsp Almond Flavoring
3 1/2 Cups Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp. Soda
1/2 Cup Sour Cream
Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, vanilla, almond flavoring and sour cream.  Mix thoroughly.  Measure in  separate bowl the dry ingredients.  Slowly fold in the dry ingredients into the creamed butter and sour cream mixture.  Cool dough for 2 hours.  Roll out on flour or powdered sugar to about 1/4 inch thick and cut with your favorite cookie cutters.  Bake at 425* for 4-6 minutes. Cool on wire rack or wax paper.  Ice and decorate.

I love making sugar cookies for Christmas and Easter, in fact if the mood strikes me right I love making cookies just about any time.  The best part of delicious cookies besides being made with love is the butter.  I use real dairy butter in the cookie (even sour cream) and butter and milk in the icing.  Below are my favorite recipes.  Be sure to try them out!  They are so delicious!

Mom's Favorite Cut Out Cookies

1 Cup White Sugar
1/2 Cup Shortening
1/2 Cup Butter
2 Eggs
1 Tsp Vanilla
1 Tsp Almond Flavoring
3 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
Cream together sugar, shortening and butter.  Add eggs and flavorings.  Slowly fold in flour and baking powder.  Cool dough for at least 2 hours.  Roll out with powder sugar or flour at about 1/4 inch thick and cut with your favorite cookie cutters.  Bake at 375* for 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack or wax paper.  Ice and decorate.

My Favorite Icing Recipe (makes roughly enough for a double batch of sugar cookies)

1 Pound bag of Powdered Sugar
2 Tsp Vanilla
1 Tsp Almond Flavoring
1 Stick of softened Butter
Milk to add to correct texture (roughly 1/2 cup)
Put softened butter and flavorings in a large mixing bowl.  Add powdered sugar.  Pour milk a few tablespoons at a time until the correct thickness is reached for icing and blend until smooth.  Dye according to your liking. 

Easter Cookie Deliciousness

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Washing Other's Feet

It's Holy Thursday and I was in church for a very beautiful mass with our area bishop.  Tonight, focusing on Pope Francis' Year of Mercy, our bishop encouraged everyone in the church to focus and pray for those that we are called to serve.  Are we serving others like Jesus served his apostles? 

Gospel Jn 13:1-15

Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come
to pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

I couldn't help but be called to stay after mass for adoration and reflection time.  Where in my life is God calling me to serve others?  Am I do everything I can to be merciful to others and show love?  So often we forget that we may be the only love a suffering person may come in contact with.  Also so often we also forget that our suffering and pain offers us the opportunity to know and show love.  I also couldn't help but also think about the times when I turned down help from others.  Was I refusing love in my life?  Was I blocking God from washing my feet?  Are you open to the people working in your life to offer you mercy and love?   So many thoughts, many of which moved me to tears. 

I have been so blessed with people in my life that have washed my feet.  I didn't deserve to be served, I didn't feel worthy.  I am a sinner, but people have reached out regardless and washed my feet, in fact just like Jesus washed Judas' feet even though Jesus knew he was his betrayer.  How beautiful is our Christian faith to have a God who humbled himself to become a man, to serve men and then suffering a humiliating death on a cross.  With each passing year I find even more beauty in this Holy Week.  I encourage you to also reflect where you are being called to love and receive love.  Let us wash each others' feet.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Bad Asses of Farming

“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real bad asses”  Brene Brown, Rising Strong.   I love this quote.  I just finished this book and I love it!  This quote has got me thinking about all the bas asses I know, especially right now in farming. 

Milk prices are low, crop prices are low, and farmers are facing difficult financial times, yet again.  Seems like we “just” went through a rough patch not that long ago, basically every 3 years.  Traditionally, farmers have generations of history proving their stoic personalities.  During the Great Depression, the Farming Crisis of the 1980’s, every drought or flood, and every time the prices come down there are proud stories about how farmers tightened their boot straps once again and made it through.  As a group, farmers will be proud of how they made it through times like this, but I think they’re missing a key part of their successes.  What about the suffering and failure?  I see it happening more often, but maybe not enough: farmers being honest with themselves and others about how difficult times like now can be.  I’m not even talking about the financial woes or making the hard decisions about what is getting cut out of the budget.  I am referring to the emotional, physical, psychological, and mental stress that happens to these farm families during times like this.  I don’t think enough of us are honest about what other issues come from this intense stress and anxiety.  But to the bad asses that are honest, God bless you! 

I am blessed to have groups of great farming friends where we have a safe place to talk about the stress.  It is in these safe places that the real bad asses of farming are born.  Here, farmers, male and female alike, share their stories about how they worry.   Will they have enough money to take care of their families?  Will they have enough money to pay their employees fairly? Which employees will they have to lay-off in order to keep afloat and how will those employees’ families handle that?  Can they handle the financial stress of another expensive repair bill on a critical piece of equipment (tractor, mixer, etc.)?  How far will they fall behind on their farm payments?  They are forced to work harder and longer: who will suffer more their spouse or their children?  Can they find time to take care of themselves?  How will they find time to stay active or eat health meals?  Can they even talk to their non-farm friends about how they feel right now?  Will we continue to have a place to sell our milk and crops to?  What if consumers ask more from me and I can’t afford to make those changes? Can I pass my farm onto my sons or daughters, and if I can do I even want to?

These are heavy topics, with real and intense emotions.  Low prices are so much more than financial issues.  Low prices are just the start of a lot real problems that farm families face.  To the bad asses I know right now that are digging deep and being honest about how they feel: YOU ROCK!  God bless you for sharing your struggles and fears with us, with the consumer, and with yourselves.  You are showing so much courage in your vulnerability!  To those of you too scared to talk about it, please find a trusted friend or peer that you can vent to.  It is not healthy to keep this stuff in.  Be a bad ass and talk about your struggles and fears.  We might not be able to fix our pricing issues just yet, but we can at least know we don’t have to wade through these murky waters alone.  Stand tall! I’m cheering for you!    

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Epic Winter Flashback

Today in my newsfeed there was a story from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources about the 20th anniversary of the epic winter of 1996. If you're interested in the details check out the article! That year I was 13 years old and willing to do whatever it took to have a snow day.  Snow days were a special treat in my younger years, not that it meant that I got a day off but that I got to spend the day with my dad and family.  The special treat of a snow day was helping care for our livestock (dairy cows and pigs) with my family in the inclimate weather. 
The winter of 1996 was especially wicked.  I remember the days when the temperature, not the wind chill, but the actual air temperature was lower than -25!  Not just for a date but several days.  The governor called off school for us.  Thanks Governor Arnie Carlson!  We had mountains of snow in the yard in front of our house and in the yards where the cows went out of exercise.  I remember shoveling out the drive way to house. We worked hard to shovel out the snow around the calf huts and to the pig barns.  My dad used a snow blower on the tractor to clean out the rest of the farm.  My brother and I worked with dad all day feeding the animals, bedding them all in to stay warm, thawing out water lines, and of course milking cows twice that day.  Winter is difficult for livestock farmers because the animals still need to be fed and cared for.  Epic storms of winter are where stories are made and told.  This is my story.  The air hurt my face. I remember walking into the house that night.  It was almost 10pm and the world was silent.  Snow stacked piles high, the moon shown onto the drifts and stars had a special luster.  I will always remember that night.  So beautiful and amazing.  Even in the epic winters there is so much beauty.  Cold, calm, still.  God does amazing work, even in the dead of winter.
Minnesota has a long history of this winter beauty.  Minnesota is known for its epic blizzards.  My mother tells the stories of the January blizzard of 1975. During that blizzard, my mother's family worked tirelessly to feed and care for their cows but they had an exceptionally hard time because they had no power for several days.  During this time there was no water for the cows because it takes power to pull water from the well.  My grandfather and his children had to go through extraordinary means to care for their livestock and during that storm over 15,000 head of livestock perished.  My mom's family did not lose any animals even without power.  My mom tells stories of using candles to light and heat their house as well as cooking with fire.  We have been raising livestock in the Midwest for centuries even through our epic storms.  I used to joke only the tough survive, but truthfully we innovate, we stay and we keep on working to make life better for ourselves and our livestock.  Here's to Minnesota and the rugged farmers that have lived here, currently live here and will live here.