Over the past few months, I have come to truly realize just how bottom of the food chain us dairy farmers really are. We are price-takers rather than price-setters. We settle for whatever price we get for our cull cows, heifers and bull calves. We strive to gain premiums on our milk checks with higher fat and protein and lower somatic cell counts, only to be put diminished by the increasing hauling charges. Besides this, we have had a rain cloud over our land all summer, and its effect on the quality of our forages and crop yields will be seen for months to come.
    Several times I have heard of producers who have sold their youngstock and started breeding all their cows to beef bulls. This makes sense financially as they can sell all their calves for a premium, eliminate the cost of growing heifers and purchase heifers for replacements cheaper than they could raise their own. I pondered if we would implement this strategy. On the positive side, we would need a lot less labor and maybe I could even get a second job. Besides this, I could focus my efforts to the milking herd, giving attention to sick cows faster and catching more cows in heat. On the downside, I would be giving up a part of dairy farming that gives my job meaning. I remember when I worked at another dairy and worked strictly with the milking herd. I loved how well I could manage the cows, but I missed out on the joy of delivering a heifer calf, feeding it each day, moving her from pen to pen as she grew and especially seeing her freshen. In each ear tag we write the birthdate, sire and dam of the calf. As I walk through our first lactation pen, I read their ear tags, remember what their dam looked like and decide if they are an improvement or not. I compare the different sires, making sure to tell Dad which sires are making cows with bad legs or which ones have especially good udders. I notice similar stubborn, friendly or high-strung attitudes between cows that have the same dam or sire. Any Absolute or Redburst daughter is sure to be bossy and our Bradnick daughters are always the last to leave the pen, as they think they must be petted first. This simple joy of watching calves become cows and knowing my cows, gives my role on our farm purpose.
    Brown County is blessed with great dairy farmers, and I enjoy being a part of such a hard-working community. It is a joy to be a part of showing dairy at the county fair, working in the ADA malt stand, attending twilight meetings and events with our creamery. I love looking at farms and getting ideas. I am grateful that when I unexpectedly run out of calcium or a different supply, I can text one of the neighbors and get what I need. Likewise, I have a neighbor that texts me for advice on cows and knowing I can offer her help makes me happy. I pray the surrounding farms can make it through this challenging period and continue dairy farming. Without their companionship, dairying would be lonely.
    There is no doubt the stress of dealing with this prolonged downward cycle is taking a toll on our attitudes. I am sure pregnancy hormones are partly to blame for my poor attitude, but I must admit I am not near as excited and optimistic for each day as I once was. When I see a semi pull into the yard with feed or a truck stop to fill up our fuel tanks, all I can think is, ‘There goes our milk check.’ I can tell my dad is not in his usual mood. I see it hurts him to have to change who hauls our slaughter cows and who buys our bull calves because we have to go with whomever can get us a better deal, rather than the good people we have been working with for years. My uncle gets worked up even quicker than usual. It is clear the stress of having such short windows to get our haylage chopped, manure hauled and seeing the below average crops frustrates him.
     We had a meeting with a milk marketing consultant a few weeks ago, and I had little hope that we could even reach an agreement. I did research on the current markets, read several articles, called a colleague that works in milk contracting to get advice and made a list of our options; follow the consultant’s advice and do puts/calls, strike a price or go with whatever the creamery price will be. After two hours of discussing our options, we decided to strike a price for September and October, but wait and see what the market does before we went any further into the future. The price we were able to set is right around our breakeven, and I know we all slept better that night because the three of us agreed on our strategy, and we could look forward to those two months. Since that meeting, I have noticed all three of us seem to be calmer. We still have a long way up before we feel comfortable operating each day, but we are one step closer. I will take that single ray of sunshine over the clouds any day.
    Laura Scholtz farms with her father, John Rosenhammer, and uncle, Greg, on Roseview Dairy near Sleepy Eye, Minn. They milk 200 Holsteins and run 580 acres of cropland.