A Year Without Dean.

Today marks one year since our family lost my brother Dean Strauss. While our farm’s ownership and the labor force are made up of more than just the Strauss family, Dean’s passing changed so much for everyone here on the farm. I wanted to share some reflections on what the last year has been like for our farm and for me personally. 

Rick snapped this photo of the sun setting over the farm the day that Dean passed.

On the farm, everyone has their role. They often overlap some and working together was always an important part of what makes our farm work, but with Dean’s passing suddenly the jobs he did had to shift to others. Everyone had to step up and take more onto their shoulders, the day to day job duties and responsibilities changed, but our goals and purpose did not. 

Before Dean’s passing, I focused more of my attention on the cows, I am a cow guy. I often joked that I knew we grew corn, beans, wheat, and hay but that was as far as I went on the crop side. Dean did a lot of the financials, crop, and nutrient management planning and office type jobs, so in the last year, I have shifted to a more front office and people management role. Now I not only know what we grow but I can tell you what’s in each of our fields. 

I have enjoyed learning more about nutrient management planning. It was a learning curve for me to go from the sidelines where I knew the overview of the plan to now being the point person. In the last year, I took on all things related to cow manure. I have spent a lot of time learning the regulation and paperwork side of balancing the nutrient needs of our land with best practices for manure application. It’s been a shift for me but whether you’re feeding cows or feeding the soil, it’s all the same. You put in what you get out and you get out what you put in. It may not be glamorous to be the manure guy for the farm, but I wear the title well.

As anyone who has followed along here for the past few years knows, Dean was also kind of the public face of the farm. He wrote a lot of posts here on our blog and Facebook, and he served on various boards as well. So, even though I prefer being in the background, I have taken on sharing the story of our farm here with you guys. 

I am definitely not alone in the shift in responsibilities and we wouldn’t have been able to get through this last year without everyone on the farm stepping up.  My dad gave up some of his well deserved free time and took on keeping our office running and doing payroll. Pancho and Hector our herd managers stepped up to fill my role with caring for the cows. Bryan, Rick, and all the guys in the shop took on more too. All of the partners on our farm did what they could to help us get through too. I really appreciate all the extra everyone involved with the farm has done in the last year. It’s been stressful and there’s been a lot of uncertainty, but we made it through.  

Of course beyond the business side of the farm and losing an integral coworker, I lost my brother. 

Dean and I are seven years apart. I always teased him that I was the taller and better looking younger brother. With our age gap, growing up we weren’t super close but we grew up milking cows in the stanchion barn and doing chores together. That set the stage for after college when I came back to the farm, we knew we had a common dream and goal.

As I said before, we each had our own areas of the farm that matched our strengths, and that worked well for us. But when we decided to start looking into crossbreeding our cows Dean and I took several trips to California to visit dairies there that had adopted crossbreeding. The decision to crossbreed our cows was one we made together and we really enjoyed our trips to visit California together. 

The sunset over the farm this summer.

This last year has been difficult. Throughout the year I’ve told myself that if I could get this first year without Dean under our belt, I would know that I had this. So today is a day for me to look back over the last year and see how our team and our farm has continued. I can see that we’ve got this and I am proud of our team and what we have accomplished. Dean’s contribution to our farm helped build the strong foundation needed to continue and his memory will guide us into the future. 

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Introducing the team- Francisco

There is no I in team may be a cliche but it’s true. I am going to introduce you to some of the people here at Majestic Crossing that I work with each day. Majestic Crossing Dairy wouldn’t be what it is today without the work and dedication of many people coming together with a common goal.

Darin Strauss

My name is Francisco Miguel I am a herdsman and manager at Majestic Crossing Dairy, I came to the US in February of 2000 from Veracruz, Mexico when I was 21 years old. 

I never really planned on leaving Mexico, but my brother asked me to come and help him out and I ended up staying. I found a job at a golf course and I really enjoyed it because I like to be outside. In the fall of 2008 I decided I would try working on a farm while the golf course was closed for winter and I ended up here at Majestic Crossing. 

The work we do here on the farm is hard work, we are always busy but I like that. My job here on the farm is to both manage people and work with the cows. I take care of our fresh cows, I make sure our milkers know what to do, but I also do anything else that needs to be done. I went from not knowing anything about cows to learning how to care for them. I never really planned on staying here at the farm, I thought once the golf course opened in the spring I would go back there. In Mexico I worked in crops and I didn’t know anything about cows. I started here on the dairy part-time because my wife was still in school and we had young daughters. But after a while, it worked out for me to be here full time. So I went from not planning on being here for a long time to now I am a herdsman and manager and my wife and I and our 4 daughters live here on the farm. I had my own plans but God had a different plan for me.

I like my job here, but I decided to stay here because of the people. The people I work with make me want to stay here- the people keep you here. I feel important and respected here. Early on in my career here Darin told me that he wanted me to be the herdsman here one day. I didn’t believe him because like I said, I didn’t know anything about cows. But he said he meant it and then he started teaching me all about the cows. He showed me how to deliver calves, how to take care of our fresh cows and I realized I really liked it. That changed how I thought about this job. Instead of this being a temporary job, I started thinking about what I needed to learn or do to become a manager here. 

Today Darin is my boss, but he is also my friend. He has helped me so much. I remember one day he asked me how I was doing and I told him I was stuck. I had been working on trying to get my residency here in the US but I didn’t have a sponsor. He immediately offered to be my sponsor. I was so surprised that he would offer to do that for me. A lot of people would think he might have offered as a way to keep me here on the farm. But he told me “I’m going to do this because I want to help you. Don’t think I’m going to hold you after you get a social security card you have to stay here with me. If you have a better opportunity you can take it.” 

He did that for me and in 2011, I got my green card. I am able to go back to Mexico and visit my family now. When my Mom called me to tell me my Dad was really sick Darin was supposed to be leaving for vacation. I told him what was happening and he told me he could go fishing another time but my family was more important. He missed his trip so that I could be with my Dad before he died, that meant a lot to me. 

I took a chance to come to work on a dairy farm when I didn’t know anything about cows. But because I did I get to raise my daughters on this farm and they really love the cows. I can’t force them to do what I do, but they love the cows too.  Sometimes we just walk together through the barns and look at them. One of my daughters talks about being a veterinarian one day. She’s still young but so she might change her mind, but maybe she will work with cows one day too. 

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I am an Outdoorsman and a Farmer

After my brother Dean passed away and I took over writing this blog I never really introduced myself. I thought I would share a little more about who I am.

My brother Dean wasn’t a big outdoorsman, but somehow he managed to land a 30” walleye. That was his one claim to fame as an outdoorsman and the mount now hangs in our farm office. While outside of farming Dean wasn’t really drawn to the outdoors, I am. Like many of you reading this, there isn’t a season where you won’t find me outdoors. Whether it’s bow hunting, ice fishing, turkey hunting, or working in my garden, I am the happiest when I am outside. 

Around the farm they like to joke and call me the Fish and Game Manager. It’s a good thing that my role on the farm is focused on caring for our cows and the day to day operations, more than the crops because I might have a little bit of a conflict of interest, wanting to keep a patch of corn here or plant a food plot there.

So what does this all have to do with farming? Actually, I think being an outdoorsman and a farmer really go hand in hand. I’m passionate about every aspect of the food we eat. I grow a garden. I enjoy cooking and canning. In the early spring we tap maples and then make syrup with our employees and their families. I take pride in the food I produce, not just what I grow and harvest for my own family, but the delicious dairy products our cows provide for your family. 

As a farmer I see the cycles of nature in our crops and our cows. As an outdoorsman I see the seasons in a different but no less remarkable way. I am thankful to have both perspectives. 

-Darin Strauss

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Our world still spins, because it has to.

Obviously COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds right now. Our farm has not been called on to dump milk but seeing others in that position and seeing the milk markets drop as they have is very unsettling. We are of course taking extra precautions like limiting visitors and making sure our employees can reasonably social distance while still caring for the animals here. We want to make sure everyone on the farm stays healthy.

There has been a lot said about essential workers and we fall under that heading. We know we are on the front lines, but we think of ourselves as more of the people supporting everyone else. As farmers, it is our job to make the products so that grocery stores and restaurants can supply everyone else with the food they need. We are just one link in the chain and we are doing our best to keep our link strong.

On the farm, it is mostly business as usual. From a day to day perspective our focus is the task at hand, caring for our animals, and gearing up for spring planting, so life feels mostly normal. Things have definitely changed, our milk market, the dynamics of our industry, we’ve been thrown a wild card, but everybody’s been thrown a wild card no matter what job you’re in.

I think our current state has been a bit of a wake-up call for all of us. We are so used to being able to get just about anything we want at the grocery store, order something from Amazon and have it on our doorstep the next day. From the outside it looks simple, don’t have to get off the couch or get in the car and we have the world at our fingertips. But our current situation has really brought supply chains and how complex they are to the forefront and people are seeing that life isn’t quite as simple as it seemed. Maybe we will walk away from this a little more grounded and with more understanding of our world.  

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Animals are our first priority

Keeping our cows cozy.

Winter goes pretty quickly even though Mother Nature challenges us with extreme cold and snow. Any measurable snow makes it difficult to keep the farmyards clean for our team to get in and out. We own our own snowplows on the front of pickup trucks. In the winter, we also use our front loaders to not only feed the cows, but to move snow.

The animals are our first priority. The side curtains come down on our barn to keep the cows out of the wind, sleet and snow. Cows like cooler temperatures, but not the driving wind.

When our cows give birth, the calving team takes extra attention and care. It’s important to get the calf dried off quickly and into clean, fresh fluffy straw where they can nestle in and get warm. We put a calf jacket on them to help retain their body heat. We have dedicated staff to care for the calves and cows 24/7. We can’t forget that people are fighting the cold, as well. Their ambition and dedication to care for the calves goes above and beyond. They put the cow’s and calf’s needs ahead of their own.

Farms can’t close during a snowstorm. In extreme weather, I’ve had to go get staff to help get them here. Everything works well at zero degrees, but at 10 to 15 below zero, you have to be on your toes.

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Farming replenishes the earth

Harvesting silage at Majestic Crossing Dairy

Harvest was a struggle. The rainy weather started in the spring before planting. This fall, during silage harvest, we fought the same elements to get the crops out of the fields. The rain forced us to shorten our growing season. That means, we lose yield, which means less feed for our animals. We have one window each year to provide enough feed for our cows for a full year. We have had three wet years in a row, so feed inventories are low.

We started harvest on October 7th. Usually, we start on September 12th. Most of our days start at 7 a.m. with pre-maintenance on the chopper which includes fueling up, greasing the chopper, filling the tires, and sharpening knives on the front that chop the corn. It’s important to do an equipment check so all our tools for that day are at 100% working capacity. We start chopping at 8 a.m. Normally, we run to 10:00 p.m. at night.

In previous years, we chop directly into a semi-trailer. This year, we had to use a tractor and dump cart, and dump the silage into the semi-trailer on the road because the ground was too wet to bring it in the fields. That required three additional employees and three more pieces of machinery, which meant higher fuel costs, wages and wear and tear on machinery.

Farms operate in a rhythm. Starting late affects everything on the farm. It especially affects manure hauling. We need that fertilizer to keep the farm recycling running. We feed crops to our animals, who produce meat and milk, the cows produce manure and the cycle begins again.

We finished harvesting silage on October 24th. There is still plenty to do on the farm. We have to harvest our corn and soybeans.

I believe farming replenishes the earth, especially the soil. It all comes back to feed us.

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