Our Christmas Wish: Above-Freezing Temperatures!

Photo of Majestic Crossings cozy barn
The cows are comfortable even on cold days, because the barns are
approximately 15 degrees warmer than the temperature outside.

When you own a farm, someone always works on Christmas. There are cows to feed and bed, waterers to check and calves to be born. On Christmas, we keep our fingers crossed that Mother Nature is kind to us. Warmer temperatures give us a better chance of fully-functioning equipment, meaning we can spend more time with family rather than fixing things around the farm. If a farmer can get through Christmas and New Year’s without bitter cold and freezing equipment, it’s definitely a more pleasant holiday.

As we all know, Wisconsin winters can be harsh. We have certainly had our fair share of bitter cold holidays where the tractor didn’t start, or the skid steer didn’t work because of the below-freezing temperatures. We work hard to keep things going, but if all else fails, we find a way to do things differently. When this happens, it adds extra hours to the day where we aren’t home with family celebrating the holidays.

One Christmas I remember very well was during the winter of 1998 when we built our barn. The temperature was so cold that we were only able to stop at church for a short time, and then had to go right back to work caring for the cows. Luckily, even with below-freezing temps, the cows are very content. Cows will typically adjust their caloric intake by eating more food in order to stay warm. This makes it extra important to ensure that they have access to plenty of food and unfrozen water during these cold winter months. And, those high-tech side curtains that allow a cool breeze to enter the barns during the summer months are pulled down to block the wind chill and keep the barns approximately 15 degrees warmer than the temperature outside.  

Christmas time may pass, but the cold weather certainly doesn’t leave us once the new year arrives. These below-freezing temps also seem to make appearances throughout January and February — for even a week or two at a time! As the winter drags on, the hours of work on the farm get longer, and all of us get more and more tired. In the bitter, windy cold, even the sound of the fabric of your jacket crinkles differently. One year during a cold week, I noticed a day where my jacket finally didn’t crinkle. It was still zero degrees outside, but there was no wind. I actually found myself feeling some relief.

There is something special about caring for the cows on Christmas — as long as it isn’t too cold. This year, I’ll make sure to ask Santa for a beautiful snow-covered ground and the sun in the sky on Christmas day. Happy Holidays, everyone!

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More Than the Cows

When people think of dairy farmers, oftentimes they only think of how we milk and care for cows. The reality is that dairy farmers also do a lot to care for the land. Taking care of the soil — a living, breathing organism — is a huge responsibility for dairy farmers.

One of the benefits of dairy farming (aside from the delicious dairy foods) is that the crops we plant help to protect the land. The nutrients in the soil are crucial for the crops. When the land is bare, it could expose the soil to erosion, and if the soil erodes, potential nutrients could go with it. Nutrients, like phosphates and nitrates, are essential for crop growth and nourishment. If these nutrients erode off the soil, they can go into the water supply, which isn’t ideal for aquatic plant growth or water oxygen levels.

The crops planted on our land — from cover crops over the winter months to alfalfa in the spring, summer and fall — hold the soil, including those essential nutrients, in place. The roots of these crops not only hold the soil in place, but also help to maintain the integrity of the soil. Also if we can provide a healthy soil, water infiltration is increased and the potential for soil movement is reduced. We are proud that by using cover crops, winter wheat and alfalfa, 35% of our land is covered. If we include the corn and soybean fields where we leave the stalks present in winter, that number rises to 45%.

Because we have livestock, it is important that we keep the land protected all year round to provide our animals with nutritious feed. To be able to grow the crops that we need to feed our cows, we need healthy soil. Not only are our cows benefitting from the healthy soil, but the environment as a whole is better off, too.

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The Season of Thanks

It’s no secret that the dairy industry has had a rough year. Even though it’s been hard, we have so much to be thankful for. We have our health and food on our plates. We have a great team of employees caring for our cows and the land. The cows are comfortable and well-fed and continue making milk that is made into delicious artisan cheese for everyone to enjoy. Our community is supportive of agriculture, and for that, we are so grateful.

We’re thankful for you, the people who continue putting dairy foods in your grocery carts. Without your continued love and support of dairy foods and the people who make them, we wouldn’t be able to continue doing what we love every day.

When I really take a minute to zoom out and think about it, we are very fortunate to have the variety of foods we do in our grocery stores. For the most part, we have the choice of what we like to eat versus limited options or no options at all. Farmers continue to be dedicated to producing these foods, from growing the crops in the fields to caring for the animals that make the products. Processors transform the products like milk into cheese, yogurt or ice cream. And, consumers love to eat these foods as much as we love making them.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, from all of us at Majestic Crossing Dairy.

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Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin

One of the things I’m passionate about, aside from farming, is being involved with committees and organizations related to agriculture. Being involved gives me the opportunity to network with not only other farmers, but other agriculture industry professionals. We share ideas, things that have worked for us and things that haven’t.

I have been involved with Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin (formerly known as the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board) for nine years. I am on the board of directors and have served as the vice president of the board for five years. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin helps promote Wisconsin dairy products including butter, milk and, of course, the cheese that wins. Wisconsin cheesemakers win more awards than anyone else.

The organization also helps educate consumers about dairy farming and where their favorite dairy foods come from. There are so many misconceptions about dairy farming, from how we treat our cows and the environment to the things that are added to milk. Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin works with farmers to teach all of us how to talk to consumers to help them understand that animal care is one of our top priorities on the farm, and we have rigorous testing practices in place during the entire farm-to-table journey of milk to make sure it is high quality and safe for everyone to drink.

It isn’t always easy taking time away from the farm, but it’s always worth it when I’m able to work with other dairy farmers and organizations to help consumers understand what we do and why we love to do it.

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Fall Farm Tours

During the week of World Dairy Expo — the first week of October — we tend to have a lot of tour groups come to the farm. Many people are in Wisconsin for World Dairy Expo in Madison, so it is easy for them to make the two-hour drive to our farm.

This year, one of the tours we had was a small group of Dutch, Italian and Danish farmers who came with Lely, the company we purchased our robotic milkers from. These farmers travel a long way, and they come prepared with questions. The Lely group actually wasn’t even in Wisconsin for World Dairy Expo, they just wanted to see robotic milkers. They spent their time touring different farms to see how the robotic milkers worked in different settings and on different farms.

We also had a tour come through with ProCross, the company we do our genetics work with. I’ve become good friends with one of their representatives from France, who brought a group of farmers from Mexico and France. They wanted to see how our cows are milking, what they look like and their overall performance and health.

I enjoy small tour groups because when the groups are really small, we’re able to have more of a conversation. With larger groups, there are usually a lot of questions asked in a short amount of time. I like sharing my knowledge of farming with these large groups, and I always encourage questions, but one of my favorite parts of farm tours is having those small-group conversations where we are able to discuss new and innovating ideas and farming methods.

Our guests from the Netherlands, Denmark and Italy visiting with Lely.

 

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Fall Harvest 2018

We’re starting to wind down harvest 2018. We’ve had more rain this fall than we’d like, but it seems that overall, we’ll come out okay. The corn silage harvest went well, and we were happy to see our yields above average. With these high yields, we will have plenty of corn silage to feed our cows and get us through to next year’s harvest.

We started harvesting soybeans about ten days later than we originally anticipated. The cloudy rainy weather for the first two weeks of October really threw us off mentally, because while we didn’t actually start soybean harvest that late, it felt much later than usual. The other issue was that during those first two weeks of October, the weather felt like early November.

Because of this rainy and colder-than-usual October weather, the winter wheat was planted about two weeks late. Ideally, we like to plant it at the end of September, but the ground was too wet, and the field conditions were less than ideal. We are hoping the winter wheat fields turn out okay. It’s all up to Mother Nature now!

We planted cover crops again this fall, but this year’s crop isn’t a great one. We love the idea and science behind using cover crops, but on this side of the state, it’s really a toss-up. We have heavy clay ground with rich soil, so timing is extremely crucial for planting the cover crops. With the cloudy, overcast weather, we didn’t get the height and growth we have had for the last two years. Growth is important because cover crops not only absorb nutrients, they protect the soil from erosion.

It’s a trade-off. You don’t want too much growth because too much mass slows down spring planting. However, you want just enough to protect the topsoil for years to come. I guess when you are working with Mother Nature, everything is a trade-off.soybeans harvest fall 2018

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