Ring in the new year with some cheese

Got New Year’s Eve plans? Maybe you have a huge gathering planned or maybe just a quiet night in, but either way…it calls for a cheese tray!

Cheese trays beg to be gathered around and enjoyed. I am not a professional by any means, but I have really enjoyed making them the last few weeks. I’ll be honest though…if you want the fanciest tray with artisan cheese made right on the farm, go visit my friends at Redhead Creamery.

However, if you want to throw together a tray on your own for New Year’s Eve, follow along.

Grab a cutting board or two. The one on the left is an old wedding gift, and the one of the right is one I was given as a gift for giving a farm tour. Place a bowl or two on it, and then start with the cheese. Arrange it nicely and then add some crackers here and there. Meats (I think the fancy term is charcuterie) are a nice addition too. Add something fresh like fruit or nuts in small groups to fill in spaces. Just have fun!

I hope you have a fantastic New Year’s Eve. My most memorable one ever was 2000 — I hung out with a good college friend in her hometown of Lake Henry, Minnesota. We spent the evening partying with dairy farmers and everybody stayed up until it was time to milk cows at 4:30 a.m. That was crazy. I wouldn’t recommend doing that and can’t say that I plan to stay up that long partying ever again. If I did, I would definitely forget to bring my cheese tray home with me.

How To Know When It Is Cold

In our family, on our farm, there is a very clear way to know when Joe decides it is finally cold. He gets out his black coveralls! That day has now happened for this year — on Monday.

He has been tiling fields, which he refers to as “ditch digging”. It’s a process that involves a big tractor, a mini excavator and a side-by-side pulling a tile stringer, and of course, GPS. He is installing lots and lots of perforated plastic pipe underground so that excess moisture can seep into it, run downhill, and into a ditch or lake. It’s a ton of hard physical work but it’s the right thing to do for the land/environment and a fast return on your money as far as farming investments go.

So, on Monday, when school was two hours late due to poor weather conditions, guess who was the crazy man out tiling in his field? Yep, Joe. But don’t worry, he was wearing his black coveralls.

Black coveralls. I believe they are called Arctic Chill by Carhartt.

I don’t even like cold weather. My joke was always that I had a pair of coveralls already worn out by the time Joe started wearing his black ones. Now in this season of my life, with a baby and 4 other children, I don’t wear my coveralls every day from September to May anymore. They aren’t needed for chauffeuring kids and working on committees.

If you are looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for that farmer on your list, warm weather gear is always a good choice. Santa never disappoints by giving a pair of insulated work gloves. Well, unless you are like Joe, and choose to be tougher than the weather.

P.S. The tile plow’s last day is today. The ground is too frozen. Hooray! Let it be Christmas.

What could possibly go wrong

I grew up in central Minnesota, so when we visit my family it always involves some travel from our southwestern corner of the state. Yesterday, my siblings (minus one) and their families gathered in Staples, Minnesota to celebrate another year, albeit challenging from a farming perspective.

Today we are driving home. This is where the story gets interesting. Halfway home, we decided to make a 2 mile detour to show the kids the brick house where I lived when I was a baby. We had just passed the turn so we had to make a u-turn that added a couple of extra minutes to our drive. Good thing, though, because one mile later we spotted my Uncle Chuck walking across his yard.

At this point, you feel almost obligated to pull in and say hi. So we did. We made some small talk about our Thanksgiving and I mentioned we were going to have lunch in a few minutes in New Ulm and then search out a Christmas tree farm 15 miles away.

My Uncle Chuck had a way better idea. He was planning to have all the kids home tomorrow and then cut down 6 evergreen trees that are in the way when he drives around his grain bin to unload wagons. Lucky for us, he only has 3 kids. Obviously, a tree to spare for us!

Somehow the tag was never taken off, so we know it is a Colorado Spruce. Nice coincidence, because my Uncle Chuck planted this tree when it was 5-ft tall 5 years ago, right before we all gathered in Colorado for our extended family vacation together.

Before Joe could say this was too ridiculous to happen, my Uncle Chuck and my cousin Jake had a chain saw and a rope and we were driving our car down to their grain bins.

Cousin Jake cut down the closest tree and we trimmed the bottom few feet off so that it maybe will fit in our living room with 8 foot ceilings. Joe, not a former Cub Scout, wrapped it up with a rope. Of course, I carry a utility knife in the driver’s side door of my car. One just never knows when it may be come in handy to cut a rope to strap a tree to the top of your family car.

We are about an hour from home and the tree is still holding holding fast. I have been calling Joe “Clark” and he googled the wife’s name from the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation so he can call me “Ellen” for a few days. We will make sure to shake the squirrel out before we bring it into our home.

We decided before we departed that the Christmas Tree Farm is responsible for any accidents such as a poorly fastened evergreen tree blowing across traffic on 4-lane Highway 60. Really, what could possibly go wrong?

All hands on deck

2019 corn silage (I guess people are now calling it cow chow) is finished for Ocheda Dairy. Here’s the numbers.

9 days of harvesting

((Edited: Joe read this post and reminded me it was only 7 days for our dairy. We were harvesting for other farms before that.))

24 hours a day

30,000 ton

Look who is waving!

The semi looks so small next to the pile!

It takes quite a few people to get all those hours worked:

2 main chopper drivers (my husband tries to open the fields during the daylight hours and Corey handles the exhausting evenings)

20 truckers (some work 13 hour days and sometimes somebody will just pop in for a couple hours)

6 packers (drive tractors with blades to shape pile and pack out the air…my favorite packer is my son, Vince.)

We have some people take vacation from their regular jobs, some people are retired, some people moonlight, and absolutely every last regular employee from the dairy works extra hours to get it done. It’s all hands on deck.

The world does not need people like me operating large equipment. I specialize in Employee Retainment and Morale Boosting. Sounds fancy but it looks like preparing and delivering home-cooked meals twice a day.

One of my favorite numbers is that it takes 2.5 minutes to fill a truck.

Our pile this year is the biggest ever by far. It looks intimidating!! Last night, 50 people worked for 5 hours to put a tarp on it and hold that down with recycled tires. We love joking with our cow chef (full-time employee who gets recipes from our nutritionist that he mixes up every day) that the pile is now going to be fed by him, one bucket at a time. Guess that is good job security.

Harvest is far from over though. Our main pile may be done, but we will chop corn silage for a few other farmers and then also need to make heifer feed. And I guess we shouldn’t forget all the “fields of opportunity” (Joe’s term) — the fields that other area farmers chose to prevent plant and we seeded to sorghum. Combining beans and some corn will get done sometime in there too.

We want to express a huge “THANK YOU” to all the workers who worked safely and quickly to bring in the harvest, to the spouses that allowed them to be gone, and certainly to the Lord for the opportunity to farm!

Sell seed, truck silage, catch a quick rainbow photo….the guy responsible for this photo can

do it all!

S is for Silage

Our little Violet just celebrated her 5th birthday, and is enjoying her second year of preschool. On Monday at school, she received a gallon Ziploc bag with a note inside that said she had to find something that began with the letter “S” and put it in the bag for Show N Tell today.

Notice how the new silage is starting to pile up next to the old. It is best for new silage to ferment for a month or two, so some farms choose to layer it in like this. Then, they start feeding from the opposite side of their old pile.

I am assuming these teachers wanted a bag of silage in their room, because what else would a farm kid bring in September? This is even better — South Dakota silage. That’s two of the letter “S”.

While Violet was pleased that her favorite trucker went with to get the silage sample, it wasn’t easy for everybody else to smile as easily. It’s been a rough start to this harvest.

We made 4th cutting haylage and even chopped some Teff grass that we had planted as a cover crop because of the wet spring we experienced. The Teff grass turned out way better than expected, so that was a bright spot.

Then, we began with some corn silage and it has been rain rain rain, and/or equipment getting stuck or broken since! It is disheartening because this feed is very crucial to have harvested well so our cows can enjoy it all year long.

We could say it is just the weather or just the breakdowns, but the reality is that our community keeps experiencing so many tragedies of lives lost too soon, and it hurts. Are these the last days, or is it that our hearts have grown to hurt more, or is it just a stretch of loss?

I do know this. God uses times of tragedies, times of struggle, times of breaking us down to teach us to look to Him. It is in these times that we realize we are not in control. He is.

What do we do? We just keep marching forward, one step at a time. We choose joy. S is for silage and S is for smiles. God is good all the time, all the time God is good. Find a reason to smile.

Where the Gricklegrass Grows

I always support Joe and hard work. Until last week. I gave him a deadline of having until Saturday at midnight to be done planting for the spring. It is the middle of July anyhow.

This is how dirty Joe has been when he comes into the house the last few months.

He and employees have worked together to plant an extra 2,000 acres. There actually isn’t any gricklegrass growing here in southwestern Minnesota (only in Dr. Suess books) but there is brown-midrib dwarf sorghum, Japanese millet and teff grass. We have been collectively referring to this in our home as gricklegrass.

I seriously had to google this stuff to see what in the world is going to be growing. The reason I made Joe quit planting is that I know what goes up must come down. Meaning, that whatever is planted will need to be harvested, and 3 months of 24-hour, 6-days-a-week harvesting of cow feed is …. ridiculous. Joe assures me that it won’t take that long. I hope he is right.

Rain that just kept coming all April, May, and June is the reason for all the extra gricklegrass. Farmers that are strictly corn and soybean farmers in the area and do not have livestock, gave up on getting a decent crop. So, as livestock farmers, we planted crops on their land that need fewer days to reach maturity and then will harvest them for cow feed.

My husband LOVES the unknown. He thrives on craziness. To him, this has been a dirty, hectic, unpredictable stretch of fun.

I don’t like to be a fun-hater, but sometimes a wife has to draw the line. Set a deadline. Put her foot down. Even if it is in a lot of extra Gricklegrass.

Purple Hay

When we turned the page on 2018, we were thinking we were going to return to a more moderate weather pattern. 2019 has been anything but! That’s why we are making purple hay.

Here in southwestern Minnesota, we make alfalfa hay 4 times per summer, typically starting in late May/early June and then every 4 weeks after. Due to so much rain this spring, our first cutting hay was late and now this cutting is too.

When alfalfa matures, it blooms purple. Not good. That means that the plant is changing in how it is allotting it’s energy, and has moved into a reproductive stage that isn’t as nutritious for our cows.

I honestly can’t remember the last time we couldn’t find a decent window to make hay so long that we had to wait until it was this purple. It has just been so so wet! 2019 is one for the record books for sure.

Joe has been taking lots of samples this cutting because there is a lot of variety in what he is chopping — some of it has some other stuff interseeded because of winterkill (can’t even get a normal winter here!). All those samples need to be frozen before being sent off to the lab. We recently butchered a cow and my freezer is nearly full. I’m tired of playing Freezer Tetris so I stuck these in my father-in-law’s freezer, next to some ground beef and on top of 3 butterheads from when Joe’s sisters were dairy princesses.

I am beginning to think there is no “normal”. Today, it was so incredibly windy that hats are flying and semis are swaying. Is this the weather pattern we will be stuck in for years? Who knows…all I can say is that I am glad we have some more feed for our cows, even if it is purple.