Using Cover Crops

As dairy farmers, we feel that we have two main jobs: taking care of our cows and taking care of the land. Most of the things we do around the farm, starting with the decisions we make, are based off of what is best for the cows and the land.

One of the things we do to take care of the land is plant cover crops on some of our fields. Cover crops are planted in the fall after harvest and hold the soil and nutrients in place. We plant cover crops in fields that have a higher risk of erosion — usually areas with a lot of hills and waterways and those near rivers. For example, there’s a field right near the farm that is extremely hilly, and we always make sure to plant cover crops there in order to prevent erosion.

When we plant crops to make the cows’ feed, we’re more concerned with the part of the plant that is above the soil. With cover crops, we’re more concerned with the roots. The roots are what help hold the valuable layer of top soil in place so it doesn’t wash away from the field. We also spread manure nutrients on the cover crops. The cover crops take up the nutrients and use them to grow. Then, in the spring, the plant breaks down and the organic matter is added back to the soil. It’s nature’s way of working the soil without us having to intervene.

In the springtime, we will plant the spring crops right over the cover crops. The organic matter is all in the soil because soil nutrients weren’t lost due to erosion. The only cover crop we actually do harvest before replanting the field is winter wheat. For us, winter wheat is a “dual purpose” crop. We plant it in the fall with the other cover crops, and then in the spring, instead of planting crops over the wheat, we harvest it to make feed for the cows. The winter wheat is an amazing crop — holds the soil in place all winter, and then we’re able to use it for the feed!

If you ever see a green field during a warm winter, know it’s a cover crop working hard to protect the soil.

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Preparing for Harvest 2018

This summer has gone incredibly fast, and suddenly we’re looking at fall harvest right around the corner.  This year’s corn silage harvest will likely start close to September 20th.  Summer has been very dry for us, and we won’t know the true effect of this mild drought especially on our lighter soils until we start fall harvest in a few weeks.

Preparations for fall harvest begin with the equipment. As soon as we start harvest, the equipment will be in the fields chopping corn for a solid three weeks. Then we go right to combining soybeans, putting winter wheat into the ground and putting the nutrients back onto the fields. Once it’s started, we’ll be working on it almost nonstop until about late November. The ironic part about this time of year is that we haven’t even started the 2018 fall harvest, but we’re already planning for next year’s crop rotation. We’re making decisions about what crops will be in what fields and how much seed we’ll need for each crop. Even though spring planting is still months away, we’re already thinking about it.

We just finished harvesting the wheat, which I think is one of the most beautiful crops to harvest. One of our team members always manages to get amazing pictures of the harvest, and they’re some of my favorites.

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Keeping Cows Cool in the Summer Heat

This summer has been a warm one, with more days than usual in the upper 90s. This is our first summer with all of the robotic milkers up and running, and we couldn’t be happier with how the robotic milkers are handling the heat.

We do a lot on the farm to make sure the cows stay cool and comfortable during the hot, humid summer days. The fans are constantly on in the tunnel-ventilated barn, and the curtains are actually up instead of down. With the barn closed, it’s like the cows are always in an air-conditioned space. The fans offer a 7-9 mph wind speed that helps keep the cows cool. Since the cows are able to be milked whenever they want, they can spend most of their days lounging under the fans in the “air conditioning.”

Having them inside the freestall barns where they are in the shade and out of the hot sun (Did you know cows can get sunburned?) is another way we keep them cool. The cooler they are, the less chance there is for their milk production to decrease, which farmers often see in the summer.

Our cows are the most important part of the farm, and we do everything we can to keep them comfortable and cool.

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Facing New Challenges

There has been a lot of uncertainty in the dairy community this past year. It was a rough winter and spring with low milk prices and high-cost expenses. We were starting to see a glimmer of hope that we might be able to get a little bit closer to break-even, and then the news of the dairy tariffs came. I understand that something has to be done, but the timing is horrible.

To make matters worse, other costs — feed, minerals, machinery, repairs — continue to increase, while milk price may continue to decrease, as a result of these new dairy tariffs. It’s a very difficult situation to be in.  The normal market factors that we knew have shifted.

Sartori, where we ship our milk to be made into artisan cheese, currently exports to 49 countries. Ten percent of their cheese is exported, and there were plans to increase that to 30 percent over the next five years, but that might not happen until the tariffs are sorted out. Jeff Schwager, president of Sartori Foods, talked about the impact on not only Sartori, but the cheese industry in this article.

Ultimately, it’s the uncertainty in everything. For farmers, uncertainty is not good. It’s not good for anyone, really. Especially because none of this is in our control. Our biggest uncertainty in farming has always been the weather, but now all of a sudden, there’s something else on top of it that’s out of our control. That’s where it gets tough. There’s a lot going on, and everything is coming all at once, and it’s making a lot of people nervous.

However, even with all of these new challenges facing the dairy industry, we will keep caring for our cows and making milk because it’s what we love to do.

 

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Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center

Today, most people are several generations removed from farming. Less than two percent of the population produces food for the other 98 percent. Many Americans don’t know where their food actually comes from or how it is produced.

Wisconsin is one of the most important states in the agriculture industry. To help people learn about where their food comes from, how it is produced and who is producing it, Wisconsin built a state-of-the-art interactive education center – the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center.

When we heard about the idea for this center a number of years ago, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. And now, what started as a vision has come to life! When I walked into the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center a few weeks ago, it was a surreal experience. What we had talked about for years was there before our eyes, and it was better than I had imagined.

At the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, there are a number of interactive exhibits that show how Wisconsin farming has advanced over the years. From a horse pulling the plow to automatic tractors, at the Discovery Center it is obvious what leaps agriculture has taken in technology. There is even a combine simulator that allows you to take that combine for a spin and harvest crops!

One of the most exciting parts of the Discovery Center is the birthing barn, where people will have the opportunity to see cows from a nearby farm have a calf. It will be an amazing, unforgettable experience.

The number of hours and resources people and businesses in Wisconsin have donated to the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center is astonishing. Majestic Crossing Dairy is proud to be one of the “Believers” (the original supporters of the efforts to create the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center) of the project. It has been an amazing experience to be on the board of directors and help this project come to life.

Majestic Crossing Dairy is listed about halfway down the list.

This weekend is the grand opening of the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center, and we encourage you to go visit! The Discovery Center is located in Manitowoc County right along Highway 43. You can’t miss it if you’re driving between Sheboygan and Manitowoc!

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Zooming Out to See the Big Picture

This spring, I went to a meeting in Arizona where former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke. He is currently the president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). USDEC represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy farmers, processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders.

Listening to former Secretary Vilsack speak was incredibly motivating. He is so connected with agriculture, so pro agriculture and dairy. We are really lucky to have such a passionate person in his position to make an impact on global agriculture.

One of the things that former Secretary Vilsack said that still resonates with me months later was when he talked about the American farmer. He said, “We are less than two percent of the U.S. population.” Less than two percent. He went on to say that in the U.S., 28 percent of the workforce is in agriculture and food production. That is over 25 percent of the population that is connected to agriculture in some way. That number is huge!

Often times, we get so caught up in what is directly impacting us — the small radius that surrounds us. Listening to former secretary Vilsack speak really made me “zoom out” and think about the big picture of agriculture and the impact dairy farmers have on the population. It doesn’t matter the farm size, every farmer is employing people (whether it’s directly on the farm or working with a consultant) and making milk that is made into delicious dairy foods, from cheese to ice cream to even powdered milk!

We get so caught up in the small things, especially when so many farmers are struggling. It was a great message to hear former Secretary Vilsack talking about how important U.S. dairy farmers are, not only in our local communities, but around the world. In hard times, it’s important to hear that we matter. We need to continue “zooming out” and seeing the big picture and the impact we have on the world.

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Celebrate June Dairy Month

As a dairy farmer, I celebrate dairy all year round, but especially in June since it’s National Dairy Month. You all know how much I love Sartori cheese!

This year, the theme for June Dairy Month is “Undeniably Devoted to Dairy.” People are celebrating everyone connected to the dairy community, from dairy farmers to milk truck haulers to food scientists to chefs. There are a lot of people devoted to dairy, and it’s been fun seeing people’s stories across the internet. To read some stories of dairy devotion, visit the Dairy Good website.

I think during June Dairy Month it’s not only important to celebrate the people behind making the dairy foods we eat, but also you… The consumers who enjoy the dairy foods. Thank you for trusting us to make a product that is wholesome and nutritious (and really delicious to eat). If you didn’t love eating the foods as much as we love helping make them, we wouldn’t be here doing what we love every day.

Happy June Dairy Month!

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Meet Our Team: Bryan Neeb

Here on Majestic Crossing Dairy, we have a team of 18 people that help us get things done every day. Some of the employees here grew up on a farm and have experience working on other dairy farms, but others don’t. We are so grateful to have employees that come from different backgrounds and bring their unique experiences to our farm.

Bryan Neeb is the Operations Manager at Majestic Crossing Dairy. In his role, he oversees the machinery and equipment. His busiest times of the year are spring planting and fall harvest, when all of the equipment is in the fields. During the winter months, Bryan makes sure all of the equipment is maintained and ready for the next planting season.

Before working full-time at Majestic Crossing Dairy, Bryan spent 21 years working for Riesterer & Schnell, a John Deere dealership. During his years at Riesterer & Schnell, Bryan had a lot of different roles, from working as a service technician for broken machinery, to being a service manager, to being a precision ag consultant. As a precision ag consultant, Bryan worked a lot with tractor GPS data management.

Bryan’s favorite thing about working here is all of the variety and being able to work on several things at once. He is able to use technology to make sure we are using the soil to its maximum potential, which makes the best feed for the cows to eat. Bryan appreciates being able to spend his days outside.

Like all of the employees, we appreciate Bryan’s hard work at Majestic Crossing Dairy. He is vital to the success of our farm, and we couldn’t get our jobs done every day without him!

And, in case you were wondering, Bryan’s favorite Sartori cheese is a tie between the Black Pepper Bella Vitano or the Montemore Cheddar. Both good choices, if you ask me.

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Ag in the Classroom Tour

In the early days of May, we hosted around 1,000 fourth graders at the farm for Ag in the Classroom. The weather was not as cooperative as we would have liked it to be, but we had a really nice set up for the event. We were mostly inside, which was good.

The first bus of kids arrived at 9:00 a.m. From 9-11:00 a.m., the kids went around to all of the stations. There were nine stations total: Wisconsin dairy facts, Wisconsin agriculture diversity, all about calves, robotic milking, cow heath with a veterinarian, a day in the life of a cow (all about freestall barn life), machinery with a Riesterer and Schnell representative, what a cow eats with a dairy nutritionist and all about other livestock (beef, sheep and pigs). After they went through all the stations, they went back to school. The next group was at the farm from 12:00-2:00 p.m.

When we gave the tour, the kids really loved being able to see the calves. There were two new calves in the pen, and the kids loved petting them. We rearranged the holding area of the old parlor so that the maternity pen was larger, and the kids could walk alongside the pen and look right in.

There were schools from all over the area that came to the farm. It was really interesting because you could tell which kids came from a rural background based on the questions they asked. One even asked about the RPM of some of the field equipment, and I thought, “You’re only in fourth grade!” I was amazed at how much the kids from farms knew.

Another thing that was amazing to me was how much the kids understood about the technology. They weren’t surprised at all when I told them I get all of the information from the robotic milkers on my phone. They have so much experience on their computers and with phones — it’s the era we’re in.

We are passionate about educating consumers — no matter what age — on farm tours. One thing that I think would be neat is if there was a way to get the same kids back on the farm when they’re older, maybe right before high school. Then, you can touch on things differently, more in depth. They would have a better grasp of the technology capabilities and everything it takes to make cheese or any other dairy food.

Thank you to everyone who volunteered for this great event. We are looking forward to working with Ag in the Classroom in the future!

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Spring Planting 2018

I feel like every year for the last few years I’ve started spring planting by shaking my head and saying, “This is another interesting year.” Last year we had a lot of rain in January, where everything thawed but then re-froze. Because of that rain, our alfalfa fields took a pretty big hit, and some had to be replanted. It was a wet winter, followed by a wet spring, which meant spring planting was delayed.

This year, our spring planting has been delayed again. But, we’re finally in the fields cutting hay now, and we’ve planted some of the corn and soybeans. It seems like every time the ground is ready to be worked, and it will only be “one more day” until it’s dry enough, we get more rain… Just enough rain to delay us again.

The year started out really dry and everyone was talking about a drought. Now all of a sudden, it is super wet, so we decided to start cutting our hay now. We know it’s early to be cutting hay — it actually isn’t quite ready — but we have to be ready to plant the corn if we get nice, dry weather. This spring, I’m really wishing I had a degree in meteorology!

We’re at the point where if things are ready and look good, we’re hopping in the tractor and going. Last Sunday, I was checking the fields and noticed one looked ready to be worked. So, I just hopped in the tractor and got to work. I kept an eye on the weather forecast for Monday the whole time, and it kept changing. Rain one minute, clear skies the next. By 11:00 p.m., I decided it wasn’t worth it. If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that I can’t control Mother Nature!

Good luck to all the farmers out there trying to get their crops in! And remember to watch for farm equipment on the roads. We’re doing the best we can and want to get home to our families safely, so please slow down and be safe!

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