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.
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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.
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.
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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Work on the farm never stops. No matter what happens, there are cows to feed and crops to tend to. The afternoon of Dean’s funeral service, we were chopping silage and feeding cows within hours. During the past few months, we have key team members who stepped up to keep everything going. On a farm, there is always the next day to plan for, the next tractor to maintain, the next cow to give birth … Time moves on.
The families and employees who own and operate Majestic Crossing Dairy are committed to continue to share what agriculture and the dairy community is all about on our blog and Facebook page. We want to help build understanding on where food comes from and how we produce milk, which is made into Wisconsin cheese.
I’m Darin. I’ve always joked that I’m the taller, younger,
better-looking brother. I will be writing the blog and posting on Facebook. I’m
the dairy operation manager, so anything that lives and breathes on the farm,
including the cows and our dedicated team of people, I manage. I make sure the
cows are healthy, including managing vaccinations, medical checkups, making
sure the cows eat a balanced diet, are milked and cared for as well as
I look forward to sharing the story of life on our farm. I
welcome your questions and comments. We will continue on.
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It is with heavy hearts that we update you on Dean. Our son,
brother, husband and uncle is in his final days. Dean has been moved to Sharon
Richardson Community Hospice in Sheboygan Falls. If you would like to visit to
say your goodbye, please limit your visit to ten minutes. Our hearts are
fragile. Your words of support extended to our family have been overwhelming.
We thank you for your comfort and your prayers. Our faith comes up against the
fear of death. We trust that our Father will do what is right, what is loving.
– The Strauss Family
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In 2011, four families that had been dairy farming in the area for generations came together to form Majestic Crossing Dairy. This partnership has allowed us to support all four families, expand our sustainability efforts, and invest back in our community.
We are proud to know that every glass of milk we produce on our farm contributes both jobs and income for local community members, including our milk truck drivers, veterinarian, animal nutritionist, and area bankers.