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!