Jingle Bells: Dashing through the days of 2013

J — Jersey. We decided farm kids just plain ought to have a dog, and our search for the perfect puppy ended when my brother-in-law called to say he had a stray brought into his vet clinic. Jersey is a light brown color and full of energy. She is also a thief….gloves and tape measures disappear all the time.

I — Individuals. We are amazed at how unique God has created our kids to be. They are certainly siblings, but also individuals and I guess that is one of the wonderful things about parenting.

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Photographer standing near our mailbox, looking north to Highway 60.

N — NASCAR race. Joe and I broadened our horizons by attending a NASCAR race in Newton, Iowa this past summer. It was a free trip for us and a fun, short getaway. We also celebrated our 10-year anniversary a few months late while in Colorado to attend Joe’s cousin’s wedding.

G — Growth. Vince is 8, Liv is 5, and Ava is 2. Time has flown. Sometimes I look to find my little boy, and there is a three-fourths grown Vince standing there. Liv is loving kindergarten and Ava likes to destroy the order I try to keep in our house.

L — Lazy and Crazy. Vince and Liv raised 2 bottle calves again this summer. Vince’s calf was pretty spunky for being just a day old so he named her “Crazy”. Liv looked at her exhausted calf and announced, “Mine is just so lazy.” The fair continues to be a highlight of our summer.

E — Eye Surgery. The tear duct for Ava’s right eye has never worked. She has always had tears dripping onto her cheeks. Her doctor finally convinced me to do something about it. What was supposed to be a simple surgery in September in Sioux Falls didn’t work, so we tried again in October at the U of M. It was all great until Ava pulled the stent out six days later. So now, some days her duct drains and some days it doesn’t. One of the things we learned in the process is that Ava has astigmatism in her right eye, so now she sports a pair of glasses whenever I can keep them on her.

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My 3 munchkins! I bought the sled at our neighbor’s auction last spring for $15.

B — Blogging. I began a blog this year at soshemarriedafarmer.wordpress.com. It is my hour per week to promote all the goodness that goes on at our farm, as well as farms across this nation. I enjoy writing and posting photos, although I sometimes struggle to carve out the time each week to get it done.

E — Extra-curriculars. Ava loves to be around people, Liv enjoys dance and gymnastics, and Vince likes all sports and continues to be forced into piano.

L — Lawn-mowing. Vince has taken over this job on the farm, and shows a lot of God-given talent in operating machinery in general.

L — Legos. All the time.

S — Side-shooter. Joe has put a lot of time and effort into developing a side business of chopping corn silage for farmers in the area. He continues to love to work with all aspects of the farm and I love to be a stay-at-home mom so it all works out pretty dandy.

Here’s to a great 2014!!

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How long do you keep a cow?

“How long do you keep a cow?” is a question I get asked all the time while giving tours of our dairy.  I was also asked this question by some new friends that Joe and I met at a ProFarmer conference earlier this week, and so it is just time to blog about it.

The answer to that question is sort of simple, sort of complicated.  It certainly varies from farm to farm, and each dairy has its own parameters.  This is how it works at Ocheda Dairy:

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Joe and our daughter, Livvy, finish up a little bit of computer work before hauling cows on a Thursday. Sadly, Liv is now in kindergarten but our 2.5-year-old, Ava, took her place today!

Thursday (usually, but not always) my husband starts his day at the computer.  Why Thursday?  Well, that is the day that the closest cattle sale barn, in Sheldon, Iowa, is open.  Sitting in a chair in the office, Joe brings up the milk production report, and begins to sort through the cows.  It isn’t as straight-forward as just taking the cows from the bottom of the list.  If a cow is pregnant, she usually gets a free pass.  When a cow calves (read: gives birth to a calf), she begins a new lactation with a new peak and all that stuff.  So, the potential for her to make more milk later, as well as a valuable calf inside her, keeps her off the trailer.  Also, sometimes a cow has had a rough week and that is something that needs to be determined on an individual basis.

Other thing that are taken into account are:

1.  Mean cows.  If a cow is really just a danger to work with, we need to protect ourselves and our employees.

2.  Difficult to milk.  On my parent’s farm when I was in high school, we had a cow named Amy.  She was a good cow, but the size of her teats made it a very lengthy process to milk her completely out and there were a few ‘tricks’ to it.  My dad did the milking on a weekend that my siblings and I traveled to a Minnesota Junior Holstein Convention and was not impressed.  That next week, Dad sold that cow while we were in school.  I can’t believe I still remember that.  So, I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes not everybody is in agreement!

3.  Appearance.  A good cow person that has been around animals a lot develops a sixth sense in a way.  Sometimes, a quick physical exam can provide you with the information you need to make the call.

Another similar question is, “How old can a cow get?”.  Typically, at our dairy, 10 years old is a max.  I have an aunt and uncle who are a bit famous (maybe “known” is a better word in the dairy world) for having cows that grow exceptionally old.  Typically, as a cow ages, her reproductive system begins to fail and her whole body just plain gets worn out.  The average life expectancy of a dairy cow is a bit more than four years, but as you can see, there is a lot of variation.

I had 2 stay-at-home parents

So, I’ve always been the weirdest person you know, but I have an excuse.  I grew up with TWO stay-at-home parents.  In this day of working moms, it is hard to imagine that was even possible.  

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I respect my dad so much. He is a hard-working, humorous, proud, and at the same time humble man.

If any of my high-school classmates are reading this, do you remember in Mr. Sauer’s 9th grade civics class in which he taught us the acronym, DINKS? Standing for Dual Income, No Kids.  Well, my parents didn’t follow that route…they had 5 kids in 6 years.  Yet, another reason I may be the weirdest person you know.  

Anyhow, back to the subject of two stay-at-home parents.  My mom was busy bouncing babies and taming toddlers inside the house.  My dad, on the other hand, was outside on the farm, but very much still at home to me.

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Here, my mom paints my daughter’s nails while at a park bench in Falls Park, Sioux Falls.

 

My dad ALWAYS ate dinner with us.  Supper, too.  Breakfast when we weren’t in school.  Mashed potatoes with beef roast for our noon meal wasn’t unusual.  I didn’t really realize that wasn’t normal for a lot of years of my life.  

My dad was always teaching us.  He taught me how to snap when I was watching him milk cows in the barn. (I never did catch on to his whistling.)  I remember him giving me a big push on my banana-seat bike as he was talking to the neighbor boy and that’s when I first learned how to pedal and not fall.

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This bike was the coolest.

One of the most fantastic things my dad taught while at home with us kids, was that we were capable.  To lift bales of hay.  To bring water to the calves (which my banana-seat bike assisted me with for over 8 years).  To use a pitchfork.  To be a part of a team that is your family. 

It is fun to think that my dad, a dairy farmer with 50 cows, did not milk a cow from 1986-1996.  (Or so, maybe my siblings can help me out on the exact dates here!)   He taught my oldest siblings how and as each one graduated, the next oldest stepped up.  I am very privileged among my brothers and sisters to say that I had the chance to milk cows with my dad.  I was the youngest and milking was a two-person job.  So, from 1996-1998 (the year I graduated high school), it was the two of us working together before and after school.

So, I guess, the barn on our farm was really just an extension of our home.  It wasn’t that my dad didn’t work, he just worked from home.  In the last month, my parents have moved off the farm and are beginning a transition to retiring.  (Remember the caption under my dad’s photo saying he was hard-working….yeah, he still drives to the farm a few times each day and logs about 8 hours).  He is 70 and it is time to pass the torch on to my brother.  

I wish all of you safe travels as you go “home” for Christmas.  Remember that nobody’s family is normal!  Mine included.  And lastly, may Santa bring you a banana-seat bicycle.

Have you ever tried Babybel cheese?

Joe was reading in a dairy magazine (that I can no longer track down….we get at least two a day) about a new cheese plant being built in South Dakota.  Have you heard about that?  It is scheduled to open July 2014.

170,000 square feet plant.

$100 million to build.

Needs 15,000 cows to provide milk for it.

400 new jobs in Brookings, South Dakota.

What kind of cheese?  Well, fancy stuff.  The company’s name is Bel Brands USA and they produce Laughing Cow cheese wedges, Mini Babybel snacking cheeses, as well as Boursin, Kaukauna, Merkts and a few others.  Bel Brands USA is a subsidiary of Paris-based Fromageries Bel.

I thought I had better try this out.  Our local Hy-Vee has a HUGE and WONDERFUL cheese selection, so of course they carry this.

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Babybel cheese. Original flavor. 6 little packages, each weighing .75 ounces for $4 or $5.

This snacking cheese was very easy to open.  Probably even easier than the string cheese I often send to school with my kids.  It has a really good flavor to me, yet I think that each person has their own scale for judging cheese.  It is a bit soft and creamy.

On the company’s website, they say that they “expect to produce 1.5 million delicious individually wrapped, portion-controlled Mini Babybels EACH DAY at the Brookings plant”.  That’s a lot of snacks!

Anyhow, as Joe and I were discussing this, I began to dwell upon the explosion of dairies in South Dakota.  When I graduated from the University of Minnesota 11 years ago, Purina Mills hired me as a dairy nutritionist.  At that time, dairies were just starting to spring up all over in South Dakota along the I-29 corridor, and they thought placing more nutritionists in that direction to sell feed was a move for the future.  Long story short, I really didn’t like my job with all the time on the road cold-calling.  Six months later, Land O’Lakes merged with Purina and I got cut because I obviously wasn’t making much money for them yet.

Moreover, the dairies continue to be built.  A lot of it is fueled by the state’s desire to help farmers get the permitting and paperwork in order.  Also playing into this is the region’s ability to provide good feed for dairy cows.  In any case, a lot of the dairies have been/are being built by people who have moved here from Holland.  It is extremely difficult to begin a new dairy or expand a current one over there, so Dutch farmers been picking up their families and moving to the middle-of-nowhere-South Dakota.  I’ve met some families in this situation and they are very hard-working, determined types.

Joe’s take on this whole issue is:

20 years ago, if you would have said that a French-based company would be building a $100 million cheese plant, in middle-of-nowhere-South Dakota, and that the farmers producing the milk for this cheese would be Dutch-as-a-first-language Hollanders, people would have looked at you as if you were from the moon.  How things can change.  Hope you get a chance to enjoy some Babybel cheese!