Anniversaries have a way of making us pause for a moment and reflect upon the passage of time and all we’ve experienced. July 7, 2007, was the day we bought our farm, which makes this year the 15th anniversary.
Fifteen years! Sometimes I feel like we’ve lived an entire lifetime in that decade and a half; sometimes, I feel like these years have flown right by.
Certainly, these past 15 years have been full. We became parents and bought our farm within about six months of each other. And it wasn’t long before we became involved in our cooperative, our county’s breakfast on the farm, and writing for this newspaper.
As I look back, some things remain the same: we’re still parents, and we’re still engaged in the greater dairy community. Our farm itself and the way we manage it, however, have changed considerably.
Fifteen years ago, we grew the majority of our cows’ feed on the acres adjacent to our farm. Today, we buy the majority of our feed from neighbors and a network of forage growers who have become friends and valued partners.
Fifteen years ago, we did almost all of the planting and harvesting ourselves. Today, we custom hire our neighbors to do all of our cropping.
Fifteen years ago, we had 2 acres of pasture. Today, we have nearly 100.
Fifteen years ago, we spent countless hours hauling manure. Today, we sell the majority of our manure to other farmers.
Fifteen years ago, our farm had a manure stacking slab that drained into the pond. Today, we have a lagoon that collects both manure and all of the yard runoff. The pond is beautiful, and we hire a local company to inject the manure into our cropland. Last year, we experimented with a new way to inject the liquid manure into an existing alfalfa stand. The result, with the help of timely rain, was an excellent first crop and a second crop that exceeded first in both tonnage and quality, despite weevil pressure.
Fifteen years ago, we used a reduced tillage cropping system. Today, all of our corn ground is protected with fall cover crops, and we no till everything.
Fifteen years ago, we had a lot of mud. Today, we have a lot more concrete.
Fifteen years ago, we drug hoses around the farm to water all the groups of heifers. Today, we have automatic waterers. I try to impress upon the kids at least once a year how easy they have it.
Fifteen years ago, our cows had only concrete to rest upon. Today, they have acres of pasture, foam-filled mats, and sand-bedded free stalls.
Fifteen years ago, our barn was dark and dim. Today, LED lights over both the aisle and mangers make our working environment bright and provide the cows with long-day light.
Fifteen years ago, we fed and bred our cows for milk production. Today, we feed and breed for a balance of milk and components. Back then, our butterfat percentage hovered around 3%, with summertime dips that started with a two. Today, our butterfat holds steady well above 4%, even in the summer. Protein production has done the same.
Fifteen years ago, we bred cows and heifers off standing heats. Today, we have an activity monitor, and our phones moo at us whenever there’s a cow or heifer in heat.
Fifteen years ago, all of our herd records were documented on calendars and paper breeding logs. Today, I can find Daisy’s last service date in an app on my phone instead of walking to the barn office and flipping through pages. We still use a paper calendar for some lactation events; there’s a sense of security that comes with having certain records in writing.
Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have cell phones. Today, we have Wi-Fi in the barn. A dairy farmer friend helped us figure out how to bridge the Wi-Fi from our house to the barn, which makes the aforementioned herd management technologies possible.
I could list dozens more comparisons. I’m sure in the years to come there will be dozens more. All of these changes have been made with the overarching goal of continuous improvement. How do we make our farm better for our cows, better for us, and better for our land?
Buying our own farm 15 years ago gave us more than just a place to live and milk our cows. It gave us a home for our family and a home for our dreams.
Buying our own farm gave us a blank canvas upon which to create a dairy farm that’s uniquely ours. Each improvement is like a brush stroke that adds more detail to the painting. Hopefully, when we finally decide our masterpiece is finished, we can look back and agree it was perfect for us.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, 15, Monika, 12, and Daphne, 9. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com