Farms, perhaps even more than other business pursuits, have plenty of examples of beginnings and endings. The life cycle of the crops we grow every year is continuous from planting to harvest.
Calves are born, grow, mature into cows, many give birth several times, lactate and eventually leave the herd. Some cows we miss. Others not so much. Adored farm dogs and cats are part of farm life as our companions to daily routines. Even when they have been gone for years, these pets are remembered fondly.
Windbreaks that surround the farm offer their protection and are wildlife havens. We take them for granted, until one day we find those trees have died or blown down, needing to be sawed up and hauled away. Their absence leaves a blank space on the horizon that seems unsettling and out of place.
On the people-side of things, there are starts and finishes as well. Our family and farm have experienced the retirement of many trusted dairy advisors and expert helpers in the past few months and years. I guess we are approaching a certain age when our peers are reaching this segment of their lives.
We do already miss or we will soon miss our veterinarian, bank lending specialist, agronomist, nutritionist, genetic advisors, milking equipment technicians and many people who market the products we use. A lot of these people, who have become our friends, have recently finished with their life-long careers or will be moving on to what’s next in life very soon. They have certainly earned time for relaxation and pursuit of other interests after all of their years of dedication to their work. Though it is sad to see them go and we will miss their humorous banter and their unique knowledge of our farm’s goals, struggles and preferences because they have worked with us for so many years, there will be newcomers. These people will bring their own talents and insights as they step up to the plate to advise us in various ways.
The dairy industry changes at a more rapid pace than when we started 35 or so years ago. We now need an even higher level of knowledge and expertise of people who have spent the past few years learning cutting-edge technology, data analysis as well as a collaborative approach to identifying, tackling and solving the daily problems we face on our dairy.
When our offspring who have recently obtained their college degrees (or will within a few more months) come home to our farm for a few days to help us, it seems we accomplish more in those 24, 36 or 48 hours than we do during the rest of the days of the week. Besides all they can accomplish with their younger muscles and youthful energy, their presence leads to some good discussions into management ideas and computer help plus insight into how we could streamline our efforts and save labor in the future. They also bring a positive attitude that rubs off on everyone. We appreciate what they have learned and what they offer to help our farm improve and move forward.
We are glad they are pursuing the start of their careers away from home for a time. They will learn so much from other bosses, co-workers and managers. They can bring all of the skills, ideas and know-how they have soaked up with them if they choose to dairy farm someday.
Besides our own kids, we can reap benefits from working with those stepping into roles of people we’ve worked with in the past few decades. We look forward to this even as we miss the well-honed expertise of those moving on.
It will of course take some time to establish relationships with new people, and not everything will go perfectly as they learn their new roles and apply what they’ve been studying and practicing to real-time situations. Their learning curve will likely be steep. It will pay off to be patient as all of us learn to work together.
It is said that time does not stand still. We will need to begin a plan to transition our dairy to a new generation at some point in the future. The foundation is solid, but there are always improvements to make. It is good to have youthful enthusiasm to spark this process while we keep on with all of the day-to-day tasks. What can we do now to expand on the positive aspects of our farm? Which changes will keep improving the business aspects that keep our farm profitable and enjoyable to operate in the future?
Hopefully the younger people in our own family and advisors we will work with can help us to research and pursue potential answers to these questions. We have confidence in them.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.