Is it possible that we have all stepped a bit back in time to help us move forward?
    When our milk company told us that we needed to send less milk in the coming months, we immediately started brainstorming ways to do this in the best way possible, while still being prepared for the markets to shift again in our favor. Raise piglets? Feed the excess milk back to the cows in a form of topdressing? Feed millions of kittens? (We tend to get outlandish when we are in full brainstorming mode). Switch from milk replacer to milk in the calf barn? This would not be an easy task; our feeders are currently set up for replacer only.
    The most attainable idea seemed to be to dry up cows early, giving us the reserve we will need if it happens that we can produce more milk in the coming months. I took stock of the available dry cow treatment, and Stacy and Carmen granted 60 cows vacation that week, followed by 20 of their comrades the next week. Peter and Dad combed the pen lists and found more cows to sell that were sitting on the fence between staying and going, so the go list became longer.
    We relocated cows based on days carrying calf, and made two pens of all pregnant cows that don’t need to be walked daily to check for heats. This leaves us with three pens of cows to watch for heats. The day we moved hundreds of cows around into their new homes was a long one. It was mentally exhausting. I try so hard to move cows into the pens that I think they will perform the best in, and instead of telling the cows to be their best selves, I left the barn feeling as though I told them to just do mediocre for a while. Stacy kept reminding me that we were still taking good care of our cows; it wasn’t as though we gave up on them. The movement of cows into pens designated by days in milk and pregnancy status instead of sizes and ages was something we did years ago. I had forgotten the handiness of having all of the cows needed to go dry being found in two pens instead of walking through five pens searching for a cow.
    We switched our milking schedule to starting at four in the morning, and again at four in the afternoon. A true-blue, two times a day milking schedule – we haven’t done that in years. A milking takes about eight hours, and the downtime in between them is filled with pushing feed, scraping the dry pens and extra cleaning. Stacy had the genius idea to start running the dry cows through the foot baths two days a week when the parlor is quiet. This had never been a convenient option before – the parlor was busy almost around the clock. They bring all the cows and springing heifers in, spray their feet, and run them through a fresh foot bath twice.
    It has been a great way to squash the number of warts that popped up in the dry pen with the influx of 80 cows.  
    Stacy is in the barn more than I am, and the effects of that have been fantastic. She is on top of the mixed up cow lists on the daily, and there have actually been days when all the cows are where they are supposed to be. She is much more efficient at keeping cow records up to date. She is farming in the morning, while her afternoons are full of working on things to help her students from a distance. Her brain is busy and her feet are always moving.
    I am teacher in the morning, head cook in the afternoons, and my evenings are spent with the cows. I have been knocking on the door of the bread-making club for a while, but now the door has been kicked wide open. I am following a trail of yeast packets and old recipes to the golden loaf of bread. I feel as though I have been channeling my inner Grandma Ike. Stacy and I succeeded at making raised doughnuts last week. We are certain of this, because upon tasting one, Grandpa Ike said, “Tastes just like Grandma’s.” There is no better compliment than that. I know perhaps I sound like one of the many out there who are baking things in these wild times, but I know that it won’t be a passing spree for me. Not that the kids or my dad would let it be – the taste of homemade bread has them spoiled. I see it as sticking, like those bits of dough left beneath my fingernails. It leaves me fulfilled in a way I didn’t know it could. When I take a loaf of bread out of the oven and it gives that lovely little knock, I know I am grinning like a fool. Stacy and I could hardly wait for it to cool to slice a piece off and lather it in jam. It was blissful.
    Our step to return to twice a day milking has had its visible benefits. We are able to do things like extra cleaning or running the dry cows through the foot baths, and it is oddly quiet and calm on the farm for a few hours. The employees seem less rushed to milk, and we think that has helped the cows stay in their proper pens. The backwards movement on our farm has given me a glimpse of how the farm could be in the future. When we have breaks between milking shifts, it can give us time to do things together as a farm family with all of our employees. The intangibles of a less hurried way of life in general seem to be helping all of us move forward in this new uncertain world. It is grounding and fulfilling, calming and rewarding. These are all things that I want the future to hold.
    Jacqui and her family milk 800 cows and run 1,200 acres of crops in the northeastern corner of Vernon County, Wis. Her children, Ira (12), Dane (10), Henry (5) and Cora (toddler), help her on the farm while her husband, Keith, works on a grain farm. If she’s not in the barn, she’s probably in the kitchen, trailing after little ones, or sharing her passion of reading with someone. Her life is best described as organized chaos – and if it wasn’t, she’d be bored.