Saturday, December 20, 2008

She's here!

The newest member of our family has arrived!

No, not Dan's little brother or sister. Our new puppy, Annie.

Look at all those adorable puppies!

After reading my column in the Dairy Star about losing Rosco, we got an email from another couple who loves animals. Mark and Michele wrote to express their sympathy and, in one of the kindest gestures we've ever received, offered us pick of the litter from their Australian Shepherd, Duchess.

At first, after Rosco's death, we thought we were just going to not have a dog. But as time passed we realized how much we missed his constant companionship, his "something's in the yard" and "there's a cow out" barks, and the importance of his job in keeping the cats out of the barn. So we took Mark and Michele up on their offer.

Dan was in heaven.

The puppies were born on November 4. We made the arrangements to pick one out last week. Talk about a tough decision.

This little girl is the one who stole our hearts.

We ended up picking one of the tri-color puppies. She was the first one who came up to Dan when I put him in their pen. She was also very calm.

Annie has now wiggled her way into our hearts and quickly erased any hesitation we had about getting another dog.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Somebody hit pause, please

There are times when I wish life came with a pause button. For those days when life is happening so fast I can barely keep my footing as it rushes past. Yesterday was one of those days.

Maybe a pause button is only a Band-Aid solution, but it sure seems appealing.

For example, when Dan sits me down and asks me to play I could hit pause and the world outside my little bubble would slow to a halt. I could play to my heart's content with Dan, without worrying about getting out to the barn or supper or the million other tasks that need my attention. The cows are on hold – they'll wait. The world is on hold – my year-end bookkeeping deadline can wait. Right now I'm just going to enjoy this time with my son.

I believe the experts call this concept 'living in the moment'. It's the secret to happiness. Well, it's a secret all right; because without a pause button, it's awfully hard to sit for awhile without worrying about what else one should be doing. I guess that's why we take vacations. It's a lot easier for me to just sit when I'm away from the calves that need bedding or the floor that needs sweeping.

Or, take last night, for another example. Glen came in for help after I'd gone in to make supper. A new heifer had calved. Somebody hit pause, please. The casserole I have in the oven magically won't burn. The rest of the world will wait while we coax Dixie into a stall, harvest her colostrum, and feed her little heifer calf. When we do finally crawl into bed after our perfectly-done supper, we won't be an hour behind bedtime and faced with another short night. Oh, imagine the possibilities of life with a pause button.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Finding a farm

Midwest Dairy Expo marked the two-year anniversary of the start of our search to find a farm.

Two years ago, we were expecting our first child, working for another farm, and wondering what on earth we were going to do when our year-long herdsman appointment expired. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked us "What are you going to do when you're done here?" we wouldn't have needed a loan to buy our farm.

Our answer was always the same: "We don't really know yet, but we'll figure something out." We were operating in a state of blind faith and forced optimism. We really couldn't see around the next corner, but we kept moving in that direction anyway.

For me personally, not having a 'plan' was incredibly unnerving. Looking back, though, I realize the experience changed the way I look at life. We refused to dwell on 'what if we don't find a farm' and instead faced each day with the belief that we truly would find something. I've always been a relatively positive and optimistic person, but this was a larger-than-life example of the power of positive thinking and turning thoughts into action.

We ran into our Farm Business Management instructor from up north at the 2007 Expo. We talked with him about what was next and decided to organize a search team. We met with our search team, which later developed into our Dairy Profit Team, in the spring of 2008.

I can honestly say the advice offered at that meeting is the primary reason why we own a farm today. We had been asking around about farms since we moved to Stearns County; since there weren't too many options for buying a farm we had turned our focus to finding a farm to rent. Our search team turned our focus back towards farm ownership.

So, with our young son in tow, I started the process of finding a farm. I taped a map of the county to our kitchen wall and drew two big circles around our preferred areas. I followed over two dozen leads on farms to rent, eventually visiting a half-dozen. I looked for weeks for farms for sale before finally finding a candidate. It turned out not to be a good option: it was too far away and needed too much work to be functional. I was so disappointed I told Glen I was taking a break from farm-finding.

Then, on the day I declared my break, I drove by a farm-for-sale sign on my way back to the house we were renting. That particular farm hadn't showed up in any of my online real estate searches. I found the listing after I searched the exact address. The farm met all of our requirements. I could barely contain my excitement when Glen got home that night. We called a realtor the next morning. Looking back, we maybe should have hired a realtor in the very beginning and saved me the stress of searching, but hindsight is always 20/20.

We visited the farm and made an offer. By mid-summer, after three months of ironing out the details of buying a farm and relocating cattle, we were on the farm. By fall, we (ourselves and our cattle) were finally all in one place again. (While we were working as herdsmen we had cows and heifers in five different locations.)

Now, whenever we start to lament about the challenges currently in front of us, one of our loan officers kindly reminds us, "Look at how far you've come." It's hard to remember to look back and recognize our achievements when we're so focused on moving forward and what the future holds, but our loan officer is right. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is a successful dairy farm. Sometimes we need to put our concerns about what we don't have on hold and celebrate what we do have.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Relief [milker] is on the way

Thanksgiving, Midwest Dairy Expo, and Christmas are right around the corner. For me, that means I've been on the phone for the last couple weeks trying to line up relief milkers and feeders so we can be away from the farm for awhile. We've found it extremely important to budget for and take regular time off. As hard as it may be sometimes to leave when we know we've got two heifers and a cow due to calve, we do manage to take a milking off here and there and get away for the weekend every now and then.

We learned early in our career that something may go wrong while we're gone, but it likely would have gone wrong even if we were home. The long term mental and physical costs of not taking time off are greater than just about anything that can go wrong on the farm.

Part of getting away without worrying the whole time is having good relief milkers and feeders we can trust. The people who milk and feed for us do a great job with the cows and never seem to have much trouble while we're gone. We pay them fairly (at least I hope they think so) for their time in exchange for the service they provide us.

Despite our good working relationships, I always find it hard to pick up the phone to call and ask for relief. I'm getting better at it, but I still feel like I'm calling to ask them to donate a kidney or something. It might have something to do with not wanting to take advantage of a good thing or worrying about wearing out our welcome.

Calling for relief becomes doubly hard when the holidays are involved. I figure being with family and friends is as important to our relief helpers as it is to us. I'll muster up the courage anyway, swallow my fear of rejection, and dial the numbers, hoping someone will feel drawn to spending a couple days with our cows.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hope for our heifers

With the abundance of precipitation we've had this fall here in central Minnesota, the conditions in our heifer yard are approaching short-term hopelessness. We feel awful about the mud, but we really have no other place to put them. So, until the ground freezes, it's pretty much a 'grin and bare it' situation.

There is hope for the long-term, though: concrete. Now that the majority of our mental energy is no longer being spent on the manure pit, we've started talking about options for pouring concrete in the heifer yard next summer. We know that our next farm improvement project will be some sort of heifer shed, shelter, or structure along with concrete lots.

We don't anticipate being in a financial position to build a heifer facility for a couple of years yet. But we're thinking we can go ahead with some concrete already next summer.

As we move forward with the planning process for our heifer facility, we need ideas. If you have a great heifer facility — or know of one — let us know, either by email or a by posting a comment below. We know from past experience that visiting other farms and seeing how those farms operate is the best way to gather ideas for our own farm.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A manure pit in the making

After over a year of planning, paperwork, and patience, we're finally starting to see physical progress on the construction of our manure pit.

The excavation crew has been at work for nearly a week now: the clearing and grubbing are done; the top soil was scraped off and piled out in the field; and the tile lines around the pit were finished this morning. Now they've started excavating and shaping the floor of the pit. If you look out the west window of the barn, you can actually see the makings of a manure pit. With only the paper plan to guide me, I had a hard time visualizing what the final design was going to look like — now I have a better idea.

We're hoping for this nice weather to continue so the crew can keep working. With another week or so of dry days, most of the dirt work will be done and we'll just have concrete, fencing, and minor details to finish up. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We are so looking forward to wrapping this project up and stamping it "done"!

We've learned a lot about project planning, design, and execution through this process. And a lot about working with the various agencies involved in permitting, designing, and cost-sharing manure storage systems. When this project is all said and done, we'll post our top tips for putting in manure pits (based on our experience).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Hello, we are Glen and Sadie Frericks of Blue Diamond Dairy. Welcome to The Next Generation — our blog about the joys and challenges of being young dairy farmers.

We milk cows together on a small farm near Melrose, Minnesota. We have a son, Dan, who will be two years old in December, and we're expecting a baby in March. We started farming three-and-a-half years ago and bought this farm in July of 2007. We milk 50 cows and grow 200 acres of corn, alfalfa, and oats to feed our cows and heifers.

We hope you'll visit our blog from time to time. We'll be posting questions for other farmers — those just starting out like us and those with years of experience to their credit. We'll also be answering questions, as best we can, from readers, so feel free to ask.