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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Meet Our Team: Rick Knoflicek

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 dairy farms, and others don’t. We are so grateful to have employees that come from many different backgrounds and bring their unique experiences to our farm.

Rick Knoflicek joined the Majestic Crossing team earlier this year as the Assistant Operations Manager. Rick grew up on an 80-cow dairy farm where he milked cows with his dad. In 1996, Rick started his own trucking company and hauled livestock all over the country. Then, this past winter, he wanted to get back to his roots of working on a farm. He parked his truck and started working here at Majestic Crossing.

In the trucking world, the regulations were getting more strict, and it was becoming more and more difficult for him to do his job and haul livestock. He was spending the majority of his nights away from his home and his family. He decided it was time for a change.

Working on the farm was like coming home for Rick. It’s also very different from what he’s been doing for the last 22 years. Rick likes all of the variety that comes with working on the farm. Some days he’s working in the shop; some days he’s working in the barns; some days he’s working in the fields.

Rick appreciates the challenges and the rewards that come with spring planting. Putting the seed in the ground, working through the weather and then being able to see the crop that is grown and harvested. Being back in production agriculture, Rick likes being able to see what was accomplished over the last year, taking that information and knowing if things should be improved or stay the same.

And, Rick is no stranger to Sartori cheese. At every holiday, the Black Pepper Bellavitano makes its way onto the table!

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Automatic Cow Brushes in the Barns

In addition to the robotic milkers we put into the freestall barns, we also added automatic cow brushes. The cow brushes are exactly what they sound like — they’re big, round brushes and give the cows a good back scratch when they are near them. Who doesn’t like to have their back scratched?!

The brushes work automatically. When a cow walks up to a brush and touches the brush with her back, the brush starts rotating. The cows just stand under the brush and get a nice, satisfying scratch for as long as they want. If the cows push too hard on them, the brush will automatically stop moving. We put a few brushes in each pen, and there are always cows using them. An added bonus of the brushes is that they help keep the cows clean.

In all honesty, I didn’t realize how much the cows would love them. Had I known, I would have installed the brushes a long time ago. They are so happy, and that makes me happy. We added the brushes to the barns purely for cow comfort. The cows are relaxed, clean, comfortable and content.

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Robotic Milker Spring Update

In the last couple of months, we’ve really hit our stride with the robotic milkers. We’re learning how to work with the milkers, and the cows are also adjusting well to the new process. We think a big part of it is because we’re adjusting so well to them by continually tweaking and learning as we go.

One thing we’ve noticed recently is that it has been really nice to have cows already know what to do when they come back into the milking groups after having a calf. Since we started using the robotic milkers last year, the cows were used to them before they were in their dry period (the vacation they take from milking before they have a calf). Now, when they come back to the milking herd, they don’t have to be trained to use the robotic milkers.

When we were in the process of putting in the robotic milkers, it was hard to imagine getting to this point — a place where we are more confident in the management of the robotic milkers and working with the cows to use them. There was a lot of stress in the fact that things were working well here before, when we just had the milking parlor. Our system and management weren’t broken, but we decided to make drastic changes anyway.

Our management style has changed since we’ve installed the robotic milking machines. When we milked the cows in the milking parlor, the management was more tailored to a group mentality. In the parlor, we were able to see each cow individually, but her milking time was determined by the entire group. Feeding was the same because all of the cows in each group got the same feed.

Now, it’s almost like going back in time to how we managed the cows when we were in the stanchion barn — on more of an individual basis. Each cow is able to decide when and how long she is milked for. Even for feeding, each cow gets a meal tailored right to her needs when she walks into the robotic milker. Because we have so much information on each cow, we are able to analyze it and make sure she is getting just what she needs.

Happy cows make for happy farmers!

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Ag in the Classroom

I talk a lot about how we believe in supporting our community. We try to be involved and educate not only consumers, but also the youth in the community. In the past, I’ve been able to talk to students in their classrooms, showing them pictures from the farm and explaining what we do on a daily basis. Now, we’ll have the classroom coming to us.

Ag in the Classroom is a program coordinated by Wisconsin’s Farm Bureau that provides teachers and K-12 students with the understanding of how their food is made. The goal of the program is to help students gain a greater awareness of agriculture’s role in the economy and society. In addition to the in-class portion where volunteers, local educators and representatives from agricultural organizations and businesses go into the classroom to teach the students about agriculture, in Sheboygan County we also have an on-farm portion.

Our farm will be the new host farm for Sheboygan County’s Ag in the Classroom program. Two days in early May this year, over 1,000 students will visit the farm. While they’re here, they’ll be able to see what they’ve learned at their desks in action. We’ll be able to educate them about the different things we do on the farm for cow care and milk safety and different ways our farm helps the local economy.

We’re excited for this new adventure! We’re very fortunate to have such a great opportunity within our community to contribute to educating our youth and sharing our story — agriculture’s story — with so many people.

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Spring is on its way

Every year I go to California to attend World Ag Expo. This year, my family came out with me for a few days before the Expo for a nice vacation. I love seeing the new ideas and technology available to the agriculture community. It sure has come a long way since people were working their fields with draft horses pulling plows.

January seemed to be a long month getting our budget finalized and finishing up our planning for 2018. Now, I blinked, and February is done, and we’re halfway through March. This year’s weather hasn’t been as crazy and unpredictable as last year’s. Early in March we got about five inches of snow, but that’s ok. What really hurt us last year was the extreme freezing and thawing we had throughout January and February.

We don’t have any water sitting in the fields at this time of year like we did last year. As of right now, our alfalfa fields should be fine and not need replanting. We always know that anything can happen though — a late spring snow storm followed by 60-degree temperatures. Hopefully that won’t happen this year!

Our winter wheat fields are also looking pretty good. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in early August as a grain. Winter wheat is used as a cover crop for us, so it prevents soil erosion over winter. One of the benefits of winter wheat, aside from the fact that it’s really easy to manage, is that it helps build organic matter in the soil. The organic matter holds nutrients and water, so it is essential for plant growth.

Right now, we’re in a sort of holding pattern waiting for spring to come. We’ll be ready when it does.

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