As Bob Dylan sang, these times, they are a changing. You can see the subtle changes of color throughout the tree lines as patches of red, yellow and rust start to mix with the green. The fiery tinge of sumac fills the undergrowth. The alfalfa fields look like a velvet carpet of green as the leaves capture every ray of sunshine to store in their roots for a long winter season. The Canada geese follow the chopper trail of fallen kernels among the solitary stalks as they grab a quick snack on their long trip. As the geese fly southward, orange Minnesota Department of Transportation trucks, complete with snow blades and flashing lights, migrate north; both traveling in anticipation of winter weather to come.
    The only thing out of place in these changing times is the weather. Where were all the sun, wind and warm temperatures when we were trying to put up third- and fourth-crop hay? The record high temps and southerly breezes are sucking any moisture left in the corn stalks. We are having to search fields for the final loads to help pack down the silos. One good thing to look forward to with the drying weather is at least we will not have to splurge on propane to dry down the corn. Lowering that expense will help to soften the blow of lower grain prices.
    The biggest changes this summer have been in the operation of our farm. Our youngest son, Austin, graduated with his college degree in May. We are putting this education to the test of reality. He is helping us to make changes to help with the continuing operation of our farm with an aging work force and very little outside help. His suggestions and decisions will have an actual impact on our bottom line and not just his grade point average. He has taken this challenge seriously and I might add patiently.
    Our heifer shed was his first project to tackle. When it was built in 1981, it was a unique idea to raise youngstock outside in the Minnesota winters. It was a good change at the time, but times have changed. Ventilation was not a big issue back then. Today, it is a known factor in animal care. The windows/doors in the back of the shed blocked out the winter winds but also stopped the summer breezes. Austin measured, planned and then started to tear off the back wall to open up the shed to a fully-ventilated barn. A curtain will go up later this fall to keep the winter winds and snow at bay. The youngstock seem to be enjoying their new environment.
    The next big change was to our feeding system. Everyone agreed we needed to upgrade to a portable TMR mixer. Our current stationary mixer could handle everything, except the dry hay. It was a challenge to find the right amount of feed to have in front of the cows during the day and still leave them hungry enough at night to eat all of their hay. We have made it work well enough over the years but it was time for a change to utilize our resources. Austin demolished our feed room wall to start rebuilding our feeding system. It seems to be working well. The cattle are getting a complete TMR. We do not seem to have as much refuse feed to clean up in the morning. We are still adjusting to the changes, and Austin is experimenting with how to make the whole process run efficiently. The change has eliminated a couple of tedious jobs which is already a win in my book. The real test of this new system will come in the dead of winter when animal, people and machines struggle to move.
    As Austin worked out our feeding system, his calculations brought to light that we were putting up too much feed. We feed out of bags and silos. Trying to move enough feed every day to maintain freshness proves to be difficult during the hot summer months. Austin figured out we needed to make some changes in how we managed our silos. This meant we did not need to fill every silo to the top a couple of different times. We could use feed from one bag or silo and move the feed to the other animals around the farm.
    Well, this is the point where the tires met the pavement as the new ideas threatened the validity of how things have been done. Sometimes we fall into a routine which gets a job done. We often do not look for other ways to complete the task because this one works. Over time, it becomes carved in stone as the only way to do a job. When questioned why, just because becomes an unacceptable answer. Well, then things can get complicated.
    Our first year of farming was the drought of 1988. Enough feed was hard to find and good feed was impossible. From that point on, we would fill and refill every silo. Hay and straw bales were packed into every shed and corner. We wanted to be prepared for another bad year when it came our way. This philosophy has served us well. We have never run out of feed. We have always had enough on hand to help us through tough times. So when Austin suggests we do not need to put up so much feed, it stops us dead in our tracks. Experience and education collide like two run away trains on the same track.
    We tell our story of the early years. Austin reminds us that central irrigation pivots we have installed have eliminated the threat of feed shortages due to drought. With a new system of feeding, we only need to partially fill some silos to meet the needs. Questions fly. Well, how much is enough? How many doors? How many loads? How many tons? Mediating through these volleys of questions and uncertain answers, a solution is resolved. We will not pack every nook and cranny with feed, but will put up more than the anticipated need as we venture forward in these times of changes. We will have to wait until next harvest season to know if Austin’s calculations were correct and the education passed the reality test.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother, Al, Schmitt farm together near Rice, Minn. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are great help around the farm and are pushing Natalie out of several jobs. Therefore she is thankful to have something else to do. For questions or comments please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.