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).