Monday, September 29, 2014

The Importance of Listening..

I was scrolling through my comments for this blog for the past 2 years, then I read through some of my previous blog posts.  I started this blog with the intention of educating consumers about my love of dairy farming and the importance of agriculture and food.  As I was reading I could see my passion shine through, however I noticed a certain "defensive" tone to my writing.  Maybe it's age or maybe it's experience, but I think now I can see with greater clarity the importance of listening and that was very evident in the comments that I was reading.  Many of the comments that I read today were very angry and very inappropriate.  I stick firmly by my personal rules to not engage in conversation with those who cannot be polite and civil when expressing their opinions, but perhaps I was also guilty of jumping to some prejudgments and defending my opinion without actually listening to a differing opinion in it's entirety.  I also realize how important it is to agree to disagree.  I should make it completely known that I am not against Vegan diets, organic agriculture, or anything different than what happens on our farm.  I believe in the freedom of choice, I just hope that those choices are made with a full understanding of all of the facts. And the way we all get understanding is through listening...so maybe this blog's purpose is shift towards engaging in a productive conversation about practices on our farm and many other farms and how that impacts the diets of so many people.  The way that we can make this conversation is through active listening....so I'm listening, feel free to leave and comment and hopefully my readers will also listen too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Increase the Dose....

I saw this quote the other day, and while it pertains to life, I found it to be particularly important for dairy farming as well: " A Physician once said the best medicine for humans is love. Someone asked him what if that doesn't work? He smiled and said....Increase the Dose!"

The same can be said about cows and calves on a dairy farm.  We have emergency veterinarian care at the dial of a phone, medicine on hand for almost any possible ailment, skilled employees to find sick cows and we feel prevention is the best cure.  Even with all of the technology and medicine, the best medicine we can give is our love for our animals.

The other day one of our employees came to the rescue of a cow having her calf.  The calf was 45 days premature.  While the calf was born early, it was alive, and that little bull calf fought with all of his might to stay alive.  We worked hard to give him the very best care that we could.  With as much love as possible, we fed him multiple small meals each day.  We gave him medicine to help his lungs develop and antibiotics to keep away any infections.  As hard as we tried, however, Mother Nature was not on our side.  This little guy was born without the ability to pass manure.  As much love as we gave him, we knew that he wasn't going to make it.  At two and a half days of age, the little bull passed away.  I can't help it, every time I lose a little calf, I cry, even if there was nothing I could do, other than increase the dose of love that they received.  With all the wonders of modern medicine and technology, we will still have sick animals and we will still lose some calves, but at the end of the day I know that I gave the best medicine first...love, and if that didn't work, well I always increase my dose.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Milk Testing...If it's not perfect, we pitch it!

What's up with these things?  Little known fact....EVERY tank of milk that is shipped from US dairy farms is tested for antibiotics.  I bet you didn't know that each dairy farmer is required to keep ANY cows treated with antibiotics separate from the other cows that are not treated with antibiotics.  The milk from all treat cows is usually disposed of and does not enter the human food supply.  If it's not perfect, we pitch it, every time, everyday! So if we have a sick cow...and we treat her with antibiotics to help her heal and feel better, we first move her to a separate pen to assure that her milk will also be kept separate.  Secondly, she is marked with 2 red colored leg bands to let everyone on our dairy know that she is treated with antibiotics. 
When our cows finish their complete treatment, we then wait the recommended time, also called the withdrawal time.  This withdrawal time is determined by veterinarians.  We follow the directions for each antibiotic that we use and each of those antibiotics are prescribed to our cows.  Even though we know that we waited the required time of withdrawal we take precautions.  One of those precautions is that we collect a milk sample from each treated cow.  That individual sample is tested with an on-farm testing kit that we own.  The photo above is an example of 2 such samples.  The yellow sample is a cow that is negative for antibiotics however the purple colored sample is a positive cow.  Milk from the purple sample cow will continue to be discarded until her  sample test turns yellow in a few more days.  We take antibiotics very seriously.  They are an important tool to help us keep our cows healthy when they get sick, but we also know that it is critical that NO antibiotics enter the milk tank.  The safety of our milk is one of the most important goals on our farm.  Every employee is trained to know and understand this importance....so rest assured that every glass of milk you enjoy is safe, wholesome, and nutritious.....and also free of antibiotics!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lingering damage from Drought 2012

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2013

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

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

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

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