Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An unbelievable honor

Late last month, we were graced with an honor that, to us, is still pretty unbelievable. Our family farm was named 2012 Producer of the Year by the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

To be honest, we thought awards like this were only given to larger, well-established farms. My first reaction when we were told was actually, "Are you kidding me?"

But, disbelief aside, we are honored to represent the dairy farmers of Minnesota and hope that this award is proof that every Minnesota dairy farm — regardless of size — and every dairy farmer — regardless of age — is important to our state's dairy industry.

Here's the video of our farm that was used during the presentation of the award at Midwest Dairy Expo in St. Cloud:

(If the video doesn't work, try this link.)

Our story was also featured in several publications:

The Dairy Star

The Country Today


Finally, here's one last photo of our family before Little Frericks #3 arrives.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Butter Crunch Lemon-Cheese Bars

New life for old cottage cheese

I hate throwing food away. For that matter, I hate wasting anything. But it really bothers me to see food go to waste, so I try hard to gauge our grocery needs and purchase accordingly. I also try to minimize leftovers (for fear they'll get lost in the back of the fridge) and find ways to use up fresh foods that are past their prime.

This anti-waste philosophy of mine is what led to the discovery of Butter Crunch Lemon-Cheese Bars.

A buttery, crunchy crust topped with a tangy, lemon filling.

When we got home from our trip to Hawaii last January, I found an outdated container of cottage cheese in the back of the fridge. Oops. Even though it was outdated, it still looked and smelled like normal cottage cheese, so I decided it was still edible. I was not, however, willing to eat it without cooking it. So, I turned to the Internet for ideas on how to use it up.

After scanning several potential recipes, I settled on this recipe from Not only did the recipe use ingredients I already had on hand, it was originally published in Cooking Light, a magazine known for its more health-conscious recipes.

There was only one problem with the recipe: it was designed to fill an 8 x 8 baking pan. In my opinion, there's no point in making a pan of bars that small. If I'm going to put in the effort to make a pan of bars from scratch, there might as well be enough of the finished product to last at least a day. Plus, I needed to use up more than one cup of cottage cheese, which is what the original recipe called for. So, I did some tweaking and ended up making the bars this way.

Butter Crunch Lemon-Cheese Bars


2/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger*
2 cups whole wheat flour


2 cups cottage cheese
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch
1 teaspoon ground ginger**
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice***
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray. (I use the nifty non-stick Pan Lining Paper from Reynolds Wrap.) If you use a glass pan without parchment paper, you might need to reduce the cooking time for the crust.

To prepare crust, combine butter, brown sugar, salt and ginger in a mixing bowl and beat with a mixer until smooth. Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup, level with a knife and add to butter mixture. Beat at low speed until mixture looks like large crumbs. Firmly press crumbs into baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

To prepare filling, place cottage cheese in large food processor. Process on high for two minutes, scraping sides of bowl half-way through. Add granulated sugar and remaining ingredients; process until well blended. Pour filling over crust. Bake at 350° for about 40 minutes. I start checking at 35 minutes and bake until filling in center of pan is firm and edges are lightly browned. Cool bars and chill for several hours before serving. Once cool, I lift the whole bar out of the pan, remove the parchment paper and set the bar back in the pan to cut. Cut the bars small; they're very rich.

*The original recipe calls for ground mace or nutmeg. I think you could also use cardamom, allspice or no spice at all.

**Original recipe uses grated lemon rind. I've also used raspberry extract.

***Original recipe calls for fresh lemon juice. I think they turn out fine with bottled juice.

After taking his first bite, Glen, who serves as my main recipe critic, said, "You can make these again!" He also wouldn't let me give any of them away.

I agree that these bars are super delicious. I also like that the recipe is very flexible. I've made these a couple times now and, each time, I've tried something new. For the last batch, I used three cups of cottage cheese and increased the other ingredients accordingly. I also keep reducing the amount of sugar, to try to obtain a less-sweet bar.

If you give these a try, let me know how they turn out for you. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

P.S. You'll need a large glass of milk to wash these down!

Friday, September 28, 2012

One combine, two happy kids...

...and a happy farmer

It's hard for farm boys to keep up with their farming after they start school. Dan was pretty bummed about missing out on chopping corn silage and earlage this year, since all the chopping was finished before he got home from school. So, when it was clear that we'd still be combining corn into the early evening, Glen asked Erv if there would be room in the combine for a little boy. Erv said there would be room.

Right after we finished our after-school snack, Erv pulled into the yard with the combine. I asked Dan if wanted to go ride in the combine. No, he said, he wanted to play. I told him this was the last harvest work of the year, so it was his last opportunity to ride along. He still said no. I asked Monika if she wanted to go and she jumped up and yelled, "Yes!" As I was bringing Monika out to the combine, Dan decided that he wanted to go, after all.

I asked Erv if there was room in the combine for two little people and he said he thought so. We all climbed up and I helped Erv get Dan and Monika buckled in. As they drove out of the yard, their smiles were mile-wide.

I can only imagine the chatter inside the cab of the combine while the last of this year's corn was gleaned from the field for one last semi-load. But, by the time the combine pulled up to dump the last bushels, everyone was still smiling — including one happy farmer.

For Glen, the corn harvest always comes with anxiety. Between starting a day ahead of schedule, coordinating the combine and the trucks, and deciding how to market the corn we didn't have contracted, Glen was overwhelmed. He said he was more than relieved to be done.

All in all, the harvest went well. We don't have the last scale ticket yet, but it looks like our yield was less than we had calculated. The moisture levels and test weights on the first loads looked good, though, so we should do okay.

From the big picture stand-point, we did great. Given the growing conditions this year, we could have easily been left with no corn to combine.

And that would have made for one very disappointed farmer and one very disappointed little boy.

Thank you, God, for timely rains and for another safe harvest.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Before Christine was Princess Kay

I'm not sure words can adequately describe how I excited I became when Mary Zahurones, the 58th Princess Kay of the Milky Way, placed the crown atop Christine Reitsma's curls at the coronation held Wednesday, August 22 at the Minnesota State Fair Bandshell.

I was excited for several reasons.

First, Christine is from Stearns County. I may not be a Stearns County native, but Stearns County is my home now.

Second, Christine is the first Princess Kay from Stearns County in 59 years. Stearns County has sent dozens of well-qualified candidates to the contest in the past, but has never had one of its own crowned.

Third, Christine is the first Princess Kay I've had a chance to see in action promoting agriculture before she was Princess Kay. Through her FFA Chapter, Christine has been helping with the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm for several years. This year she helped with the breakfast as a county dairy princess. Each of those years, she helped with the educational exhibits — the part of the breakfast I help coordinate. In the photo below, from the 2009 Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm, she was asking a small boy if he wanted to pet the piglet.

And that leads to the final, and most important, reason I was so excited when Christine was crowned: I know Christine will do an excellent job representing Minnesota's dairy farmers. Christine's enthusiasm for promoting agriculture is so evident, it's contagious.

I can't wait to see Christine at the 2013 Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm as Princess Kay of the Milky Way. This time, we'll be sure to get a photo of Christine with a dairy cow or calf.

Christine at the 2010 Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm

Monday, July 30, 2012

Our first show season

The Stearns County Fair was last week and now that it's over, so is our family's first ever show season.

The season started with the selection of calves.

With a little guidance from us, Dan picked a March Holstein calf named Bonita for his show calf.

Monika decided she wanted to take three calves to the fair — Star (aka Rockstar), Sandy, and Cookie.

Dan and I took Bonita out for a walk one nice April afternoon. Dan didn't let go of the halter when Bonita went from stubborn to wild, but he ended up with grass stains in his hair.

After that, I changed our strategy. We tied Bonita up in the calf pen so she could get used to the halter while Dan brushed her. Dan even managed to trap her in the feeder stall one time all by himself so he could brush her there. We did that for quite awhile before we took her outside again.

Monika was mostly content to socialize her calves by simply hanging out with them. She's hanging out with Star, an April Jersey calf, in the photo above.

Our first ever show was the Central Minnesota Youth Dairy Days show on June 15. Our goal was for this show to be a learning experience and an opportunity for Dan and Monika to see what showing is all about.

Dan and Bonita got third place in their class.

Monika took Sandy, a May Jersey calf, to the Dairy Days show and they got third place in their class, as well.

The show was a bit long for both kids' attention spans, but after watching senior showmanship, Dan told me he was going to lead Bonita every day so that she would walk nice.

We didn't lead Bonita every day, but she led very well at the Stearns County Fair, especially considering that she comes from a line of remarkably high-strung cattle.

Dan practiced saying Bonita's name, birthday and sire so that he could tell the judge when he asked.

Monika and Star did very well, too, but we didn't get any good pictures in the show ring.

Bonita was the first place spring Holstein calf in the Open Show at the Stearns County Fair. Star was the first place spring Jersey calf. I'm not sure if Dan and Monika understand how special that is, but we (Mom and Dad) are pretty darn proud.

We debated taking Bonita and Star back out for the Junior Champion line-up, because Glen said baby calves never get picked for higher honors. I decided we should take them back out because it would show good sportsmanship. Plus, who knows when we'll have a first or second place calf again.

As Glen predicted, older Holstein heifers were selected for junior champion honors, but then, the unthinkable happened.

In the Jersey Junior Champion line-up, the judge pulled Star and two older heifers out for top honors. I could hardly believe it and figured Star didn't have a chance against the other two. But she was named Jersey Reserve Junior Champion and also Top Bred & Owned Jersey of the show.

Monika definitely doesn't understand how incredibly well Star did, but she was beyond excited about getting a purple and a pink ribbon. She even wanted to take the ribbons along on the fair rides after we were done with the show.

My camera died right before the junior champion line-ups. I used my phone to take the picture of Monika with her ribbons so we could send it to Glen, since he had gone home to finish cutting third crop. But I got the dead battery to take one last picture of Monika at the fair.

Showing calves is hard work for a three-year-old. She sat down in this lawn chair by her uncle's horses while I was loading the trailer and promptly fell asleep.

Since my camera died at the show — and it was just a bit crazy there — I took a couple last photos of the kids and their calves together before we put Bonita and Star back in their pens.

Our first show season was fun and rewarding. We're looking forward to many more.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Little green frog

So far this summer we've had an assortment of creatures housed in containers in our kitchen: Wooly Bear Caterpillars, tent caterpillars, moths, ants, grasshoppers and an American Green Tree Frog. Here's the story of the little green frog.

A couple weeks ago, I sent Dan and Monika outside to jump on the trampoline one afternoon when it wasn't so blazing hot. I was hoping to catch a short nap before chores while the house was quiet.

Five minutes into my nap, I heard the storm door open and the kids come running in.

"Mom, we found a frog!" Dan yelled from the kitchen.

I didn't exactly want a frog hopping free in our house, so I got up to intervene.

Cradled in Dan's sweaty little hand was a very dehydrated green tree frog. The kids said they had found him on the trampoline. At first I thought the frog was dead. It had been so hot and dry for most of that week, it made sense that moisture-loving amphibians were suffering, too — especially if they were hanging out atop the black surface of the trampoline.

I told the kids I thought the frog was dead, but they assured me it could move. So we put the frog in a plastic container, added a little unsoftened well water, and covered the container with cheese cloth (secured with a rubber band).

I told Dan and Monika the little frog needed time to rest and soak up some of the water. They went back outside and I went back to the couch.

When we checked on the frog before going out to the barn, the transformation was almost miraculous. What had been a nearly lifeless little frog was now fully hydrated and reactive. At Dan's request, we added a stick to the container for the frog to climb on.

When we came in from the barn that night, the frog had recovered enough to climb again and was suctioned to the wall of the container up near the top.

We kept the frog in the container that night, with the agreement that we'd have to let the frog go outside the next day. This didn't go over so well with Dan. He really wanted to put it in the aquarium like the first frog who showed up in our house.

The next night we let the frog go, ushering it out of the container and into the potted plant on top of our picnic table. I didn't want to let it go on the ground because the barn cats were hanging around on the patio that night.

Dan and Monika checked the plant the next day, but didn't find the frog. We could only hope that he found a tree to hide in and some bugs to refill his tummy.

Then, one night last week when I was coming in late from the barn, I spotted something on the picnic table.

It was a little green frog.

I didn't want to wake the kids up to come see it, so I grabbed my camera instead. I have no way of knowing if this little green frog is the one we rehydrated, but it feels good to think it is.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sweet, sweet rain

It seems like every summer the weather here in Minnesota gets more and more bizarre. (Actually, the winters have been pretty strange, too.)

We started this summer with more rain than we could handle, at least here in the central part of the state. We have a couple spots where the corn didn't grow because the washed-out soil buried the seeds. Lots of our neighbors have low spots in their fields where nothing grew at all, except ducklings and goslings.

But then somebody turned the garden hose off and those temporary ponds dried up. After a couple weeks of scorching heat, the soil in those empty ponds cracked up like over-baked peanut butter cookies. Then the soil cracked up everywhere. The corn and beans curled. The alfalfa tried to produce a third crop. The crops in sandy spots turned brown.

We don't keep track of precipitation here, so I'm not exactly sure how long we went without rain, but I think it was over a month. I took the picture above of a dry spot in one of our fields ten days ago. I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of our worst corn.

Finally, though, after weeks of watching the approaching storm systems split and go around us, one system stayed its course and delivered rain on Wednesday morning. Of course, there had only been a 30% chance of rain, so we had loads of straw bales sitting in the yard, but a little wet straw was a small price to pay for rain.

The downpour started just as I was loading the kids into the van to bring Dan to school and Monika to daycare. I had to change shoes after carrying Monika to the garage under the umbrella. My clothes were soaked, too, but I've never been so happy to be drenched.

After the brief downpour, the rain slowed and we ended up with close to two inches of sweet, sweet rain.

The sun is shining again today and it's a toasty 90° outside. There's a lot of summer left for the crops to get through. We're hoping that the next month won't be nearly as dry as the past one and we're praying that our fellow farmers in even drier parts of the country get some much needed rain, too.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Scents of summer

After the Stearns County Breakfast on the Farm, held earlier this month, the St. Cloud Times' story about the breakfast featured a photo of a little girl holding her nose while touring one of the host farm's barns.

So often it seems that when visitors come to dairy farms, the first thing they notice is the smell of cow manure. Most of us who live on farms don't usually notice the smell because we're accustomed to it.

What we do notice are the dozens of other scents that come with living on a farm.

During milking tonight, the barn was filled with the aroma of the blossoms from a tree in our front yard. I don't know what kind of a tree it is; and most of the time I'm cursing it for leaving such a mess on our patio and sidewalk; but right now, with its heavenly perfume filling our yard, our house and our barn, I can overlook the messes and be thankful for its presence.

Thinking about the tree made me notice several other scents on the farm tonight – some delightful, some less so.

There's a small stack of big square bales of second crop sitting in the yard, waiting to be fed to the heifers. Walking by the stack is like walking through a cloud of the sweet, herbal scent of sun-cured alfalfa.

A less delightful scent – but not a bad smell, at least to my nose – comes from the pig pen. We're raising a pair of pigs this summer and the corner of the heifer lot where their pen is located smells like pigs.

Every day when Monika helps me feed our lambs, we stop to give the pigs their feed first. As we get close to the pen, Monika always says, "I smell our pigs."

Another new scent on our farm this summer comes from the raw wood shavings we bought from an Amish sawmill. We're using them to bed our heifers and the pigs. With each bucket of shavings that comes into the yard, I flashback to the Minnesota State Fair. The shavings smell just like the wood chips the beef exhibitors use to bed their cattle.

I think it's neat that, much the way a song on the radio can take you back to a particular place or time, certain scents can do the same.

The scent of the ripening sweet grass (at least that's what my family calls it) that comes from the road ditches right now always reminds me of childhood trips to southeastern Minnesota and Iowa during the summer to visit family. My dad always says the smell reminds him of Nebraska and his childhood trips there to visit his mother's family.

What scents of summer do you notice right now? What scents bring back memories of your past?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

In memory of Skippy

In loving memory of Skippy, Dan's (and sometimes Monika's) best friend for the past two-and-a-half years. We're really going to miss you, Skippy. Rest in peace.

Their very first picture together – the day Dan got Skippy for his birthday. Their bond of brotherhood was instant.

Skippy's first portrait. It was hard to get him to sit still for a picture.

Dan and Skippy playing in the yard. I put a small bell on Skippy's collar so that the cats and chickens would have a warning when he came running. The clanging of that bell against his vaccination tags was also my child locator, because wherever Dan was, Skippy was, too.

Skippy loved to come along when it was time to get the cows from pasture.

Skippy's stand-off this spring with a migrating muskrat. The kids and I watched from the kitchen window for what seemed like an eternity while Skippy and the muskrat danced across the yard. In the end, the muskrat got away.

I wish I had a more recent picture of Dan and Monika and Skippy together. We'll have to rely on memories.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Goodbye, Love.

We had to sell Dan's favorite cow, Love.

Cows like Love are hard to come by. She was like a bovine jungle gym. As soon as she'd lay down after being milked, the kids were in her 'house' — as they called her stall — petting her and climbing on top of her and laying on her. And Love never moved.

I took these pictures two nights before we sold her — and before I told Dan and Monika that Love would be leaving.

You can read the rest of the story in my last Dairy Star column, which will be posted on the Dairy Star website on Tuesday, April 17. I'll add the link here when it's available. Here's the link.

P.S. The story has a happy ending named Lucy. I'll post pictures of Lucy as soon as I snap a few.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Chickens and eggs

My dream of having a flock of free-range laying hens came true in 2008 – the summer after we bought our farm.

Glen's family wanted a bunch of broilers to put in the freezer. We had a chicken coop, so I agreed to raise the birds. And since I'd be going through the work of raising the broilers, I said I wanted to raise a dozen layers with them to start my flock.

Well, when Glen's dad ordered the chicks, he went a little overboard on the layers.

I ended up with 40 laying hens.

I felt like I had eggs coming out of my ears.

I loved — and still do — having our own supply of fresh eggs. But washing that many eggs always turned into a chore. And, even though we eat a lot of eggs, we can't eat that many eggs. Thankfully, our friends and neighbors like eggs, too.

Little by little, the size of our flock decreased. Then, we got our dog, Skippy, and the size of our flock decreased a lot.

Last year, I was picking up milk replacer and the store manager said they had 10 chicks that were in urgent need of a home due to an ordering error. They came home with me.

The kids were thrilled with the surprise. I was excited, too, about replenishing the flock and having brown eggs again. (For some reason, the only hens left after the summer of Skippy were six California Whites and one Americana that lays green eggs.)

The new red hens are all laying now. And they even found the nest boxes after we tore the old chicken coop down and moved the boxes and roost to the machine shed.

Going into their fifth summer, my old hens are still laying and the Americana decided to return to the nest boxes just in time for Easter! (We only collect the eggs from the nest boxes and the square baler. I don't have time for daily egg hunts.)

Now my only challenge is collecting the eggs before the kids find them and want to 'help'!

P.S. I hope you had an egg-stra special Easter!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mowing the lawn in March...

...and other spring fun

As much as we enjoyed our mild winter, our enjoyment of our unseasonably warm and early spring is double that.

Even though, as farmers, thoughts of drought and the summer of 1988 linger in the backs of our heads, the current weather has us smiling.

We should be able to let the cows out to pasture a full two weeks early this year – something both us and the cows are excited about. Jillian, one of the dry cows, found an unchained gate yesterday and took off for a jaunt. I know the rest of the cows are just waiting for the pasture gate to open.

Spring grazing – 2011

Words can't even describe how much the kids are enjoying the spring. I'm ready to start putting them to bed in clean barn clothes because they're out the door in the morning before they've changed out of their pajamas.

Monika got a trampoline for her birthday. (Technically, it's Monika's and Dan's, but we're letting Dan believe it's Monika's for awhile because every other play thing was his first.) The kids and their cousins were out jumping as soon as Grandpa finished setting it up. And, yes, Dan was still in his pajamas.

We had a beautiful day for Monika's birthday party. We ate outside, opened presents outside and played the year's first game of kickball.

The day after Monika's party — March 25 — I took the lawnmower out. The grass behind the barn was ready for a trim. It didn't get mowed last summer because the grass got away from us when our lawnmower broke down — and once the grass behind the barn gets too tall, mowing that area becomes an occupational hazard due to the steep banks. Plus, we were super busy with our construction projects. I'm determined this year to keep it mowed.

Maybe we'll look back later and shake our heads at our early spring, but right now we're having fun!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Switching again

It's official. We're switching cows again.

Maui and Trixie calved on Monday morning within minutes of each other. I know that happens all the time on bigger farms, but it doesn't happen very often around here. Both cows gave birth to heifer calves, which made the morning doubly exciting.

The arrival of these two little heifers also means that we're now milking more cows than the barn can hold. And there aren't any more cows to dry off until the middle of April.

We already dried off a couple cows early to make room for the cows that calved earlier this month. Not nearly as many as we did during the winter of 2010-11, though. This past fall we 'wintersized' the herd, as one of our salesmen dubbed it, so we wouldn't end up with so many cows on extended vacation.

The challenging part of switching this early in the year is that the cows aren't out on pasture yet. But they will be soon. For now, the switch cows are relaxing on a pile of corn stalks in the cow yard.

The challenging part of switching itself — other than the extra time it takes to milk and move cows — is knowing that come fall we'll have to downsize again to fit the herd back into the barn.

Unfortunately, we can't double cows up in stalls as easily as Trixie's and Maui's calves doubled up in the calf warmer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pink Pancakes for the Birthday Girl

It's amazing how a couple drops of food coloring can turn an everyday breakfast into a birthday treat!

Pink Pancakes
Makes 50 2½-inch pancakes

4 eggs
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
couple drops red food coloring*
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ tsp baking soda

In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Whisk in yogurt, sour cream, vanilla, sugar, salt and coloring. Then whisk in flour and baking soda.

Preheat large nonstick pan over medium heat. (The burners on my electric stove go from 1 to 10; I set the burner at 4 for these pancakes.) When water dropped on pan instantly bubbles, pan is ready. Spoon one tablespoon (an actual measuring spoon) batter for each pancake. Cover pan and cook pancakes until bubbles on top start to pop, then turn and cook until lightly browned.

Serve hot with the accompaniments of your choice. I like these pancakes plain, Glen likes them with pure maple syrup, and our kids like them with honey butter or whipped cream.

*The pancakes are just as good with blue food coloring (Dan's favorite) or none at all.