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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Waiting To Get Our Hands Dirty

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Spring on the farm always means planting season. As a youngster I remember spending many hours with my mom and siblings- planning, preparing and planting the garden. I always thought that selecting what to plant was the best part of gardening. There was so much to choose from and every plant and vegetable pictured on the packets looked colorful and tasty. But then reality set in when it was time to actually get my hands dirty. Often times my mom would set a timer saying, "You can quit working in the garden when the timer rings." Planting, weeding, and harvesting were all part of the grand scheme to get yummy fresh veggies on our table. But jeez, won't that timer ever ring?

Farmer John, on the other hand, can't wait to get his hands dirty. The only timer John is waiting for is the "starting bell" to begin Spring fieldwork. No, there isn't really a starting bell, but there are preparations in the works. 
Our first delivery of corn seed has arrived. We plant several brands and varieties of seed which are chosen by John and our agronomist to ensure the best crops for our cattle, and our soil and weather conditions. We plant 140 acres of corn, which typically feeds our animals for the following year. This picture shows 30 bags of corn seed. 30 bags x 2 acres per bag = 60 acres of corn. Each acre will be planted with 35,900 corn seeds! How much does corn seed cost? See for yourself...

Remember, this invoice is for 60 acres of seed and we plant 140 acres. We will be receiving another delivery of seed for the remaining 80 acres. That's another bill of nearly $30,000 plus the bills for the oats and alfalfa we also plant! We farmers are risk-takers. I think that's why we always have one eye on the weather, and a prayer on our lips.

Typically field work begins in April, however it's all up to the weather. John will have to wait patiently while the soil warms up and dries out a bit. Planting too early may cause the seeds to rot in the ground or not germinate due to the cold. In past years, some farmers have risked planting too early, only to have to replant again later when conditions are right. This is a costly mistake since you have to purchase twice the seed and invest twice the time and fuel to replant.

So for now Farmer John is dusting off the planter and getting it ready, and waiting for that "starting bell" to ring.

PS- I don't plant a garden any more; haven't for years!
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

This And That Thursday - 19

A little bit of this and a little bit of that- here's what we've been up to.
Each Spring we are visited by Canadian geese heading north on their way back home. Every year I am amazed at their size, and the volume level of their squawks as they spend a few days on our farm.

I think they enjoy the snacks that Farmer John spreads in the field. These "goose snacks" are actually a mixture of manure and straw bedding from cleaning the cow and calf barns each day. Our high-flying visitors also find tidbits of corn and corn stalks too. As quickly as they arrive, they leave for the next leg of their journey. See you next year!

Also this past week we began our "auditions" for farm workers. My post In The Blink Of an Eye  will give you an understanding of our search. Our "3 shift trials" are going very well, as we have hired three outstanding, young people who are all eager to learn about dairy farming.  
No, this picture of Bessie the cow promoting June Dairy Month is not a mistake. I know it is still April, but June will be here before I know it. I am looking for some help from you in preparation for June Dairy Month. Each June I write an A to Z Dairy blog-a-day celebrating dairy farming and dairy foods. Here's where you come in...I'm looking for suggestions for each letter of the alphabet. What would you like to know? So leave me a comment, click on the contact me tab, tweet me or use Google+. Just a warning...I've already done D Is For Doo-Doo and Z Is For Zebra. Thanks for your help!

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Great American Milk Drive

Imagine cereal without milk... 

What's a chocolate chip cookie without a glass of milk?

Spicey food? Where's the milk?

"Where's the milk?" If you are the 1 in 6 Americans who struggle with hunger and rely on food shelves for your groceries, you may be asking this question. Milk is the number one requested food item by food banks. The average food bank client needs 68 gallons of milk per year, and 95% of food banks don't receive enough milk to meet clients needs. Therefore, on average only one gallon is donated per client, per year!

What can we do?

The Great American Milk Drive is the first-ever, multi-year, nationwide program that will provide milk to food bank clients. Through the Feeding America network of more than 200 food banks that serve thousands of local community agencies and pantries, consumers have the opportunity to make milk donations online or via text. It's a quick and easy way to help our neighbors who aren't receiving the powerhouse of essential nutrients that milk provides. 

I've made my donation. Won't you join me?


Saturday, April 5, 2014

"Once" Upon A Time

...upon a time a young man named Michael was shopping for a Christmas present for his mother. His mother was not difficult to please, but it seemed that she was in need of nothing. "I have everything I need," she always said. Michael, being the savvy online shopper he is, chose to explore the options of journeying to Minneapolis with Mom to see a play or a concert. After much searching, Michael narrowed the choices to comedian Jim Gaffigan, the musical "Once", or the musical "Sister Act".

Christmas finally arrived and Michael anxiously awaited the time for his mom to open the gift from him. Before opening the package, mom made her usual predictions of what may be inside. "Is it a puppy?" she quipped. Not exactly...wrong again. But she was not disappointed to discover the coupon with the three choices.
April fourth finally arrived and Michael, Mom (and Sara too) took the long, 23 minute drive to downtown Minneapolis, home of The Orpheum Theater. The 90 year old theater, which none of us had ever been to, was a beautiful step back in time; a time when seeing the architecture and decor was almost as enjoyable as the production on stage!

And the production- Once, the musical was amazingly wonderful! The music, dancing, instrumentals...all amazingly wonderful! We all totally enjoyed the evening. So where was farmer John? He had an amazingly wonderful evening too...at home milking cows. Yes, he is not much of a theater person, and especially not the musical version. So while we were appreciating the beautiful sounds of talented actors, he was appreciating the gentle moos of contented cows. 
Thank you Michael for this mom's night at the theater. My birthday is in May...another night at the theater, Michael? Hint-hint...

Loving life, on and off the farm!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In The Blink Of An Eye

We are a family owned farm, with three generations of family members working side-by-side each day. Because of the size of our farm, and the desire and abilities of each of us, we have not hired any farm help in the 31 years that Farmer John and I have been married...until now. In the blink of an eye, our "employee status" has changed.

My mother-in-law is our morning calf feeder and also keeps our barn sparkling. After a car accident in early February, she is recuperating from her broken bones, and for this we are grateful! My father-in-law usually helps with feed preparation and tractor driving, until early March when he suffered a serious heart attack followed by emergency heart surgery. Thanks to the grace of God, he is returning to good health at a transitional care unit.

With one third of our work force recuperating, and three of the remaining four family members having additional jobs away from the farm, we were all feeling the emotions and exhaustion of the situation. After much discussion, we decided to start the employee search. Our first decision was to determine what hours needed to be covered and what the responsibilities would be. Since we have not hired help for over three decades, it was not easy to give up a bit of control. It was decided to look for morning and evening help with calf feeding and milking assistance. 

I have an amazing network of fellow farmers, and it was time for second opinions. I sent out a request asking for suggestions on rate of pay, probation periods, code of conduct, and any other information that would make this transition go smoothly. My fellow farmers didn't let me down as I was flooded with help and suggestions. 

Our next step was to advertise. With the help of Facebook, a newspaper ad, and posting the position in our local high school career center as well as the farm implement dealership and grain elevator, we started receiving phone calls and emails inquiring about the positions. We are now in the process of having each "future farmer" work a three shift trial period to see if they enjoy the job and also that we feel it is a good fit for us. 

One of the forms that each employee must sign is a code of conduct; an outline of Bremer Farms general principles including accountability, leadership, openness, honesty and respect. Each principle includes details of what we expect of our employees. Another agreement that each is to sign is a commitment to uphold the highest standards of animal care through the See it? Stop it! initiative. This agreement pledges proper animal care and also reporting any signs of deliberate animal abuse or neglect, by other employees, to us, since our animals remain our top priority!

We have currently hired one high school age girl, who is working out wonderfully! Additional eager "future farmers" will be completing their first shift this weekend. Wish us luck...