Saturday, November 11, 2017

A new lease on life

sunrise over dairy farm

Like the sun rising on a new day, a big change here on our farm has given us a new lease on life.

A couple weeks ago, we hired our first full-time employee.

This might not seem like a big deal to some, but it's a big change for us. For the past 12 years, Glen and I have done most of the work here. We get extra help as needed from family and friends, including a good friend who has done relief milking for us for over 10 years now.

But that was no longer enough.

To put it simply, our herd size has grown considerably over the past year. We’re now milking 100 cows. The reasons for this growth could fill another post with a complicated explanation of dairy markets and economics. What’s not complicated to understand, though, is that milking more cows means more work for us – more work than we could handle ourselves.

We trudged through the spring and summer with a workload that left us completely exhausted. Most days, it felt like we were barely getting through the day, or worse, falling behind.

I can’t even remember when we started talking about hiring full-time help. It came up during milking one morning. We’ve talked about hiring in the past, but never gave it serious consideration. This time, it was clear: We really need another person here.

We found that person a couple weeks ago. The young man we hired is a quick-learner, has a great sense of humor, and is fun to work with. In the short time we’ve been working with him, we already feel like he’s part of the family.

We also feel like we can breathe again. Instead of feeling constantly behind, it now feels like we’re moving forward. The exhaustion and frustration we felt before have been replaced with energy and satisfaction. Dairy farming is fun again.

I am so incredibly thankful we made this decision when we did. I'm thankful, too, for this young man's interest in working with us.

What's more, and just as important, is that we're once again finding time for the other things we enjoy. We took the kids out to eat. Glen got to go deer hunting. I've actually been cooking supper. Glen and I went to an auction – together! That counts as a date in my book.

Thank goodness for changes for the better and for more good things to come.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A wonderful whoops

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

Forget flowers and chocolates and jewelry. I got the best Valentine’s Day gift ever – even if it was by accident and it arrived a little early.

It all started nine months ago on May 10, 2016.

“Do you think maybe there were a few things going on that day?” Glen asked cheekily, looking back.

I don’t remember exactly what was on our to-do list that day, probably fieldwork and planting. But I do remember standing in the barn office with Glen, talking about the heifers that were caught in the headlocks for work that morning.

“Your Milking Shorthorn heifer needs to be preg checked,” Glen said.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

Most of our pregnancy checks are done via blood samples, so we simply needed to collect a vial of blood from Dallas to bring to the lab.

“And Wonder is in heat,” Glen said.

Wonder is a stylish Holstein heifer out of our W family. She carries a polled gene, so Glen selected a red-and-white polled bull for her first service, but she didn’t settle. Glen decided to try the same bull again for her second service.

Later that day, when Glen and I stopped to discuss the day’s progress, he made a confession.

“I made a mistake,” he said.

He went on to explain that when he pulled the thawed straw of semen out of the thaw unit, he double checked the straw before loading it into the gun. But the straw wasn’t the Holstein bull he had in mind – it was one of the Milking Shorthorn sires we had in the tank.

“I think I still had Milking Shorthorns on my mind after talking about Dallas,” Glen tried to explain.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

You’ve heard of distracted driving; well, this is what I’d call distracted breeding.

Instead of discarding the Milking Shorthorn straw and thawing a Holstein, Glen put the Milking Shorthorn in Wonder. I know some dairy farmers would have chalked it up as a loss and thawed another straw. I think it is proof of how much Glen really loves me – or he’s just that frugal.

Upon hearing his admission, I jumped for joy.

“Maybe she won’t settle,” Glen said, half hoping.

But Wonder did settle. And I jumped for joy again when we got the pregnancy report 30 days later.

We already had several roan calves out of the Milking Shorthorn bull that Glen accidentally thawed, so I knew there was a really good chance Wonder’s calf would be blue roan. The prospect almost made me cry.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

My last blue roan, Glory, passed away unexpectedly in April of 2015, leaving me heartbroken. She passed so quickly, I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye. She was, undoubtedly, my favorite cow. For eight years, she was my reminder of and connection back to the beautiful blue roans I grew up with.

Glory: blue roan dairy cow

Some of Glory’s descendants are red roan, but I knew deep down she was my last blue roan.

We decided several years ago that we were done crossbreeding. The Jersey crosses would all be bred continuously to Jersey; the Milking Shorthorn crosses would all be bred to Milking Shorthorn. All Holsteins would be bred to Holstein – no new crosses. Without a Holstein x Milking Shorthorn mating, it would be next to impossible for another blue roan to be born on our farm.

But miracles do happen. Sometimes in the form of accidents.

“Please let it be a heifer!” I cheered every time I saw Wonder’s mating in our record system.

Then, Wonder showed up on the Heifers To Calve list with a due date of February 14, 2017 and my excitement tripled. It would be hard to top a Valentine’s Day blue roan heifer calf.

When Wonder started showing signs of calving early, my hopes intensified. An early calf was more likely to be a heifer.

All of my hoping and cheering paid off.

On February 2, Wonder delivered a beautiful little blue roan heifer calf.

blue roan Holstein x Milking Shorthorn dairy calf

I was so ecstatic I could hardly sleep that night. I’m still excited. Wonder herself calved in looking just as stylish as she did as a heifer. This little blue roan calf could turn out to be pretty spectacular.

All because of a wonderful whoops.

P.S. After much discussion, my little blue beauty's name will be Whoops.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Dairy Star.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Farming with the one you love

My husband, Glen, and I will celebrate 15 years of marriage later this year. For 12 of those 15 years, we have been dairy farming together.

We’ve learned a thing or two (or three) about taking care of our marriage while also taking care of our cows and crops.

1. Compromise

Every marriage requires blending two different sets of values. Couples who farm together often have to combine two different philosophies on farming, as well.

I take a lot of pride in the fact that, in many ways, our dairy farm represents the best of the very different dairy farming systems Glen and I grew up with.

This hybrid system required a lot of compromise. Compromise is often associated with accepting lower standards . . . for us, compromise meant accepting something different than what we were accustomed to.

I can remember sitting in the haymow, bawling my eyes out, the first winter day we kept the cows in the barn overnight. I was accustomed to housing cows outside, but that wasn’t an option on our new farm. We needed the cows’ body heat to keep the waterlines in the barn from freezing.

I didn’t need to be concerned, though. Glen had a lifetime of experience with housing cows inside. We used his experience to create the best environment possible for keeping our cows comfortable.

On the flip side, Glen had relatively little experience grazing dairy cattle before we started farming. Now, grazing is an integral part of our farming system.

2. Communication

I know this sounds cliché, but clear communication really is essential for married couples. Yet, it’s so easy to slip into subpar communication habits.

Part of the issue is that farming couples spend a lot of time together — far more than our married counterparts with nonfarming jobs. After awhile, we tend to assume our partner should automatically understand what we mean when we speak (or gesture), but we all know what happens when we assume.

Planning is another area where communication is essential. A quick conversation in the morning about the day’s plans can prevent a lot of issues.

We had a hiccup right after I upgraded from an old school phone to a smartphone. Not because I was spending more time with my phone than my hubby . . . that’s a real issue for some couples . . . but because I started using the calendar on my phone instead of the paper calendar in our kitchen. Glen said not being able to see the week’s activities . . . everything from the kids’ activities to my meetings . . . made him feel like he was out of the loop. Now I keep track of activities and events in both places.

3. Compassion

There are three little words that, when used appropriately, can make all the difference in a marriage.

The words aren’t “I love you.” They’re even easier to say than that.

When your partner gets kicked by a cow or a gate falls on their foot or they smash their thumb with a post maul, show a little compassion and ask, “Are you OK?”

Yes, it might be clear that they’re OK because they’re still standing, but save the tough love for somebody other than your spouse. “Are you OK?” sends the message that “I care about you and your well-being.”

Ninety-nine times out of 100, the incident victim will feel just fine physically within minutes, but a little compassion will leave them feeling loved for the rest of the day.

And nothing beats feeling loved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This post originally appeared in the Hoard's Dairyman Notebook.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Delicious Giving + Oatmeal-Brown Sugar Cut Out Cookies

Two events have me thinking about cookies right now.

Christmas is the obvious occasion. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without a tray of homemade goodies. Decorated cut out cookies with icing and lots of sprinkles always make an appearance on my cookie trays – both the trays I bring to Christmas gatherings and the ones I give as gifts.

The other event is the fundraising auction our school holds each year. While the auction isn’t until spring, the auction committee is already at work collecting donations for the auction. Last year, I donated a gift certificate for custom-made decorated cookies along with samples of each of the cookie flavors. The winning bidder got to choose from Raspberry-Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies, Chocolate-Hazelnut Cut Out Cookies (from Bridget Edwards' cookbook, Decorating Cookies), Peanut Butter Cut Out Cookies, and Oatmeal-Brown Sugar Cut Out Cookies (see recipe below).

I haven’t decided whether I’ll donate decorated cookies this year or go with something like gift certificates for milk and my homemade Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. But I do know that whatever I donate will be edible.

Edible gifts are perfect in so many ways. Few things speak kindness more than homemade cookies or delicious treats. Plus, most people already have enough “stuff” so receiving (or bidding on) a consumable gift is often much preferred.

For the several years now, we have given edible gifts to teachers, bus drivers, our mail lady, and others. A pound of Land O Lakes® Butter, a tub of Land O Lakes® Cinnamon Sugar Butter Spread, and a package of Land O Lakes® Co-Jack® Snack Cheese fit perfectly inside these assemble-at-home cardboard boxes. I add a handful of paper shreds to make it look festive and the kids decorate the outside of the box with markers or simply tuck a card inside.

If you like the idea of edible gifts, here a few more ideas from the Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen to consider:
And, last, here’s the recipe for my Oatmeal-Brown Sugar Cut Out Cookies.

If you like the combination of oatmeal and brown sugar as much as I do, you’ll love these out-of-the-ordinary cut out cookies.

I was so excited when I first spotted a recipe for oatmeal cut out cookies while browsing a recipe site. Unfortunately, that recipe resulted in downright terrible cookies. My dog wouldn’t even eat them.

I decided that the idea of an oatmeal cut out cookie was worth pursuing, so I fiddled around with the recipe and several tweaks later ended up with cookies that are definitely worth getting excited about.

I outline my cookies with royal icing (using Bridget’s recipe from Bake at 350). Then I fill the cookies with vanilla-flavored Cookie Icing and top them with sprinkles. They would also be divine with cream cheese frosting.

Oatmeal-Brown Sugar Cut Out Cookies


1 cup Land O Lakes® Butter, softened*
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup oatmeal, ground fine
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger


Cream butter and sugar together in large mixing bowl. Beat in egg, vanilla, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk ground oatmeal, flour, cinnamon, and ginger together. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture in three parts and mix just until flour is completely incorporated. Divide dough into two pieces; shape each piece into a disc and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

*Note: You can prepare the dough for these cookies with cold butter, as well. Cut the butter into chunks before creaming with sugar using heavy-duty mixer. Reduce chilling time to 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. On a well-floured surface, roll one piece of dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet. Place cookie sheet in the freezer for 10 minutes (this helps the cookies hold their shape while baking). Bake the cookies for 9 to 10 minutes or until they look done in the center. Let cool for 10 minutes on cookie sheet, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Decorate as desired.

I am a Land O'Lakes Cooperative farmer-owner. I received compensation from Land O'Lakes for this post. All opinions are my own. Land O Lakes and the Indian Maiden brandmark are registered trademarks of Land O’Lakes, Inc.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pretty Little Christmas Wreath Cookies

The great thing about decorated cut out cookies is that the sky is the limit when it comes to creating new shapes and designs. I follow some incredible cookie decorators and they're always putting cookie cutters together to make new creations.

I saw wreath cookies similar to these a couple years ago, made out of gingerbread and decorated with royal icing. They looked adorable but tasted horrible. No offense to the bakery that made them; I'm just not a fan of gingerbread or royal icing.

So last year I decided to try recreating these with my Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies and Cookie Icing.

I used this 8-petal flower from a cookie cutter set that had been my grandmother's. The miniature curvy hexagon (or whatever it is you call this shape) came from a set that I got as a gift from a friend.

The two cookie cutters worked perfectly together. The bakery wreaths had a simple circle in the middle, which would work, too. But I really like the look with the curvy hexagon.

I outlined with cookies with royal icing. I often outline simple shapes with my Cookie Icing for Outlining, but for intricate shapes like stars and these wreaths, I find that royal icing works better and doesn't change the taste of the finished cookie.

Then I filled the outlined cookies with Cookie Icing for Filling. If you're new to outlining and filling cookies, I highly recommend reading Bridget Edwards' cookbook, Decorating Cookies. She explains the process incredibly well.

Once the cookies were filled, I placed red confetti circle sprinkles around the wreath and covered the rest of the cookie with green sugar sprinkles.

Ta-da! Pretty Little Christmas Wreath Cookies. If I really wanted to get fancy, I could have added some red fondant bows or other decorations of the sort, but I like to keep things simple.

Merry Christmas!

Pretty Little Christmas Wreath Cookies

  • prepared sugar cookie dough (try these Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies or use your own favorite recipe)
  • a 2½-inch flower-shaped cookie cutter (with 6 or 8 petals)
  • a 1-inch curvy hexagon cookie cutter OR use a 1-inch circle (mine came in a set like this one)
  • royal icing (I use the recipe from Bridget Edwards' blog, Bake at 350; I usually make a half of a batch, since I'm only using it for outlining)
  • icing bag and a #3, #4, or #5 round tip
  • Cookie Icing for Filling
  • squeeze bottle for icing (or use a plastic zipper bag with the corner cut off)
  • toothpicks
  • red confetti circle sprinkles
  • green sugar sprinkles
  1. Roll sugar cookie dough out into 1/4" thickness.
  2. Using well-floured cookie cutters, cut flower shapes out of dough.
  3. Cut a curvy hexagon out of the center of each flower.
  4. Bake cookies according to recipe directions and allow to cool completely.
  5. Outline inside and outside of wreath cookies with royal icing, using the round tip.
  6. Let royal icing dry. (This doesn't take very long.)
  7. Fill royal icing outlines with cookie icing, spreading with toothpick as needed.
  8. While cookie icing is still wet, place red confetti sprinkles around the wreath.
  9. Immediately top rest of icing with green sugar sprinkles.
  10. Let icing dry for a couple hours before handling or packaging cookies.